The way to get to Bisbee, Arizona is, of course, to get back on that ubiquitous artery, I-10, and head west. A string of trucks pulled out and skirted me as I accelerated from the on-ramp onto the freeway. The dogs, recognizing the syncopated popping of the seams in the road meant we’d be driving for a while, circled their bed a couple of times, plopped down, and were almost immediately snoring. I settled into my comfy captain’s seat and set the cruise control for sixty-five.
About twenty miles past Las Cruces all traffic had to exit for a Border Patrol checkpoint, then it was back onto the freeway. (I’m just going to mention, this seemed odd, since we were around 50 miles from the Mexican border. Lots of cameras trained on us. Lots of armed Border Patrol personnel. A weird moment, for certain.)
The day was bright and sunny, and my eyes couldn’t seem to get enough of the landscape – sharp mountain crags, shades of tan, ochre, brown, beige, alien-looking scrub and cacti. About an hour into the trip I began to notice bright yellow flowers scattered by the highway, first clumps, then whole swatches, then I came up to a rise and looked out, and on both sides of the freeway the New Mexico desert was in full riotous bloom, an egg-yolk yellow carpet as far as the eyes could see.
When I stopped at a rest area I took some pictures, but my efforts were half-hearted. Nothing could capture the wonder, the dazzling flowers overtaking the harsh dry landscape.
Another hour into the trip I came to the turn-off for NM 80, the two-lane highway that would take me south, on into Arizona and to Bisbee. Something felt so familiar to me, and I was trying to put my finger on it when all of a sudden it came to me. In 1963 my father, a business executive, had taken a position as a consultant with a furniture manufacturer in Mexico City, and we drove the whole way there. In his 1960 British Racing Green Jaguar sedan touring limousine. I am not kidding. If ever a trip seemed surreal, that was it, and not just because of the topography.
The tiny enclaves I drove through on the way to Bisbee – five or six houses and a green sign giving the name of the place – reminded me of the Mexican towns where we would stay for the night, a small inn with five or six rooms and maybe a house or two on either side, with the distant mountains looming. And nothing else, for miles and miles.
I was reminded, too, as I continued to drive forward on the road but backward in my memory, of a trip I made to Israel in 1994, when our tour group traveled around the “Negeb,” the southern desert area where the dust and the stony ground resembled a dead planet, and near where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered in a cave in a rocky hillside in the Judean Desert.
Then I recalled the words of my Old Testament professor during my first semester in seminary back in 1986, how he described much of Israel as a barren desolate place, hot and dry, and how the Biblical references of “streams of waters in the desert” in Isaiah and elsewhere were almost laughable, they were so improbable. We were meant to understand the prophet was casting forth a vision of fulfillment of impossible promises the people hoped their God would somehow keep.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. (Isaiah 35:5-7)
During that 1994 trip, driving back from the desert toward Jerusalem, I was surprised to look out over the dry valley and see numerous patches of deep green. As we drew closer, we could see irrigation systems and then vegetable and strawberry farms, and roadside stands with baskets mounded high with bright red fruit.
Recent spring rains have transformed the New Mexico desert, and seeing the wildflowers in bloom, I was mindful of the fact that, whether by human hand or the grace of the skies, given the slightest encouragement, signs of life still insist on shining forth.
I pulled into Bisbee mid-afternoon and checked in at the Queen Mine RV Park that overlooks the small quaint town on one side and on the other the abandoned Copper Queen Mine. The dogs were glad to get out and stretch their legs, and the walk in to town took about five minutes.
One of the bars is dog-friendly, so the boys came inside with me while I ordered a local brew and a smoked brisket sandwich. The place has a lovely porch where you can get out of the afternoon sun and the breeze whisks through in nice clean sweeps.
Just as I predicted, shiny happy people keep turning up. Folks who watched the dogs while I made a restroom dash. A young mandolin player who, in exchange for a beer, told me his story of traveling from Ohio to Bisbee. A bartender who has the inside skinny on music and art and food. And a pocket full of dog treats.
And lovely folks from Maine, Pinky and Mike. Mike was sporting a red t-shirt with Pinky’s sister’s restaurant featured front and center, a walking advertisement. The establishment does so much philanthropy that President Obama made a point of recognizing them before he left office. Check it out. The Red Barn. If you are near Augusta, seems like just the place to get great food and help with some great projects.
More on Bisbee next time, as I will be here for several more days. I’m scheduled to meet with some amazing women musicians who will be tearing it up on April 1st in the Bisbee Rotary Club sponsored concert, “Women Who Rock Us.”