The Town That Never Was Why Yavapai

 

Robson Mining World Sign
Robson Mining World Sign – The entrance to Robson Mining World is bullet-riddled Yavapai Apache riding a pinto.

I grew up during the era of the TV cowboy. After dinner, my family would gather in the living room and watch shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Maverick, and Have Gun—Will Travel to name a few. My dad was a tyrant about the shows we watched and we kids were the remote. Maybe that’s the reason I—and perhaps all my generation—have a fascination with ghost towns. We grew up with Tombstone, Dodge, and Virginia City on our TVs, and vowed to visit them one day. Maybe we’re longing for a simpler time—when the good guy wore a white hat.

The ghost towns best known in Arizona are Jerome, Tombstone, and my favorite, Bisbee. All of these places have residents, so they’re not as much a ghost town as they are tourist traps. A mining town’s fortune is dependent on the mineral wealth removed from the ground. The town’s size correlates perfectly with the amount of ore; be it gold, silver or copper. As soon as the ore plays out, people move on to the next bonanza leaving the hovels and shacks they occupied behind. Without maintenance, those relics soon rot or they’re repurposed for sheds, outhouses, or worst of all, firewood. Most often, when you visit a ghost town, the only things you find are a slab or wall. There’s not much interesting left to photograph. Fortunately, there are exceptions where a state or county government acquired and preserved the scene as a park, such as Bodie and Calico in California.

Yavapai County, where Queen Anne and I live, has its share of Ghost Towns—including Jerome—the most famous. Most of the old sites are high in the Bradshaw Mountains, but mining towns are scattered throughout all the Yavapai mountain ranges; including Congress—our hometown. It wasn’t until we moved here a couple of years ago that I learned about the best ghost town ever, and it’s a mere fifteen miles down the road tucked into the south-eastern flank of the Harcuvar Range.

Travel west on Highway US 60 and Aguila is the first small farm community you’ll come to. The name is Spanish for Eagle derived from the eagle-shaped window in the low mountain overlooking the town’s cemetery. The western terminus of Arizona State Route 71 is a mile east of Aguila, and that’s the short-cut you take if you’re heading northeast to Congress or Prescott from California. Just before the road crosses the Maricopa-Yavapai County line is a sign with a bullet-riddled Indian riding a pinto horse. The sign is for Robson’s Mining World—the ghost town you can see at the mountain base. It’s a mining town that no one ever lived in, but has an interesting story nevertheless.

Robson Ranch Booth
Robson Ranch Booth – When you enter the town’s soda parlor, you’d expect to order a milkshake. You’d be disappointed because it’s all for a show.

The gold mine at the end of the trail was first claimed in 1917 by Westley Rush, an Aguila melon farmer. Rush’s two daughters—Nella and Alameda, for whom the Nella-Meda gold mine was named—managed to hand dig through the first 115 feet of solid rock before Ned Creighton—a Phoenix banker—bought the claim in 1924. Ned hired a crew to work the mine, and over decades he expanded the claim to its present size. His crew worked until World War II when the Feds shut down all private mines. The mining engineer, Harold Mason, stayed on as caretaker and eventually got the property deed after Ned passed.

After the war, Charles Robson was building his fortune by farming, running the Saguaro motel in Aguila, and hustling the health benefits of his local bee pollen. Harold and Charley became acquaintances when Mason let Robson place hives at the mine. There were minerals around the mine that made the bee pollen exceptional and the bees deterred poachers. That informal partnership lasted until 1979 when Charlie bought the mine from the aging Mason. Robson had bigger plans for the place.

Cash Register – What this old cash register lacks in functionality, it makes up for with class.

Meanwhile, in 1922, Wilber T. Johnson migrated from Missouri to Apache Junction—a community east of Phoenix at the foot of the Superstition Mountains—so he could work in the mines. In 1930, Wilber traded his pick and shovel for an engineering degree from the University of Arizona which made him a highly valued employee. Now we’d call Wilber a hoarder because he collected mine junk—lots of mine junk—for the next fifty years. Johnson got his stash from abandoned mines in the Superstition Mountains, the Mazatzal Mountains, and other mines east of Phoenix and because of its size, his collection wasn’t a big secret. He reputedly turned down a multi-million-dollar offer from Disneyland Tokyo because he knew that they cherry pick the best and discard the rest.

Mack Truck
Mack Truck – A classic truck that miners used to haul stuff.

After Charles Robson acquired the mine, he offered to buy Wilber’s collection and the two men finally struck a deal when Charlie promised that the collection would stay intact on Robson’s property. The ink on the signatures hadn’t dried yet before more than 250 truckloads moved decades of mining history to its new home. For ten years Charles, his wife, Jeri, and their sons reassembled the buildings and filled them with the collection’s artifacts. After Charlie died in 2002, Jeri carried on the dream, and toward the end of her life sold the place lock, stock, and barrel to Western Destinations Corporation—the present owners—on the stipulation that nothing ever leaves the property.

Water Truck
Water Truck – A GMC truck that was used to haul water up from the well to the mine.

There’s a small garden in front of the Opera House where we sat in a mesquite tree’s shade as Brett Bishop told me this story. He’s the current caretaker and he and his family live on site. He’s a young man, and when he’s not greeting visitors he keeps busy unpacking the remaining crates and creatively arranging the contents for display. It’s easy to tell—from the tone of his voice and the sparkle in his eyes—that he loves his job. He calls Robson’s a living museum and he often must unravel the mystery of the items he finds in the boxes.

If you’re a photographer interested in nostalgia, I highly recommend a visit. The cost is $20.00 per person which goes toward upkeep. Don’t count on food or entertainment and even the restrooms are period authentic—that’s right; crescent moons. The mile-long dirt road is navigable by a sedan, except after heavy rains. I know that Robson’s will become one of my resources.

Until next time — jw

Observations on a Winter’s Morning

After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.

I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.

On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.

The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.

Brittlebush in January
January Brittlebush – Brittlebush normally sends out daisy-like yellow flowers carpeting the desert floor in early spring.

At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.

Winter Ash
Winter Ash – Ash trees (background) are always late to turn color in Arizona, this one may have missed the bus.

When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.

Winter Blossoms
Winter Blossoms – Only on the coldest nights of winter do the columnar cactus sprout these cup-like white flowers.

Until next time — jw

Bah—Humbug

I spent all day making this Christmas Card for you.

Candy Cane Remains
A plate full of candy cane crumbs is a sure sign that Santa was here.
Ginger Boy's Tragic Accident
Just because it’s the Holidays doesn’t mean you can ignore safety.
Perfect Dinner
Oh boy! I can’t wait for Christmas dinner because we’re having cranberry sauce molded in the shape of a can.

Until next time … jw

Box-boy Builds A Drawer

I’ve been neglecting my social media for a couple of weeks because I was busy in the shop making my entry for the Worlds-Most-Expensive-Shelf contest. It took me a little over a week to make it—which is fast by my standards, and I installed in the closet yesterday. I didn’t make it expensive on purpose. My pocketbook just suffers because of my cabinetry skills.

I made the shelf to hold my Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine. You probably do not know, I’m a fan of vinyl records and I have a substantial collection. Any serious collector knows the advantages of record cleaners and they care for their records by running them through washers. We geeks know that even new records sound better when you wash the mold release from them, and if you depend on the used market for new vinyl, a cleaning machine is essential.

The Library of Congress uses a Keith Monks for their records and I found mine at an estate sale at a fraction of its original price. I’ve had it in three houses now but I’ve never had a proper place for it. Our shack in Congress has an ideal spot. The previous owners replaced the original air conditioner with a version that sits on an outside slab. That left the utility closet next to the stereo empty, so I claimed it before Anne converted it into another junk drawer. The closet is wide enough for the machine to clear with a half-inch to spare, so I set the machine on the bottom shelf while I thought about the shelf design. After two years, I worked down my honey-do list far enough that I made this project a priority.

It’s possible to machine clean a record while it’s in the closet, but it’s hard to see in the dark—especially in the evenings when I do most of my listening, so my design had to have a slide, and a stout one at that. The thing easily weighs 50 lbs. At our Deer Valley house, I cut a piece of ¾ inch plywood which supported the weight, so I knew the general size I needed.

Drawer pushed in.
It’s possible to use the machine while it’s inside the closet, but space is cramped.

Last week, I set about measuring and drawing up the plans. I had a sheet of Baltic Birch Plywood and a plank of Cherry hardwood I bought for another project that’s still on the to-do list. There were two pairs of 100 lb slides collecting dust on my workbench. With plans in hand, I grabbed the wood and set out to make some sawdust.

With such a tight fit, I cut the side supports so they would just clear the opening … or so I thought. After mounting the outside rails, they rubbed, so I cut a shim out of scrap quarter-inch plywood to properly space the rails in the opening. After they were in place, I carefully measured the space between them so the drawer would be a perfect fit. I cut the piece of cherry to size and milled box joints on the corners to control the frame size. Then I cut a dado and dropped the plywood into the frame. The width was perfect, but the depth was short. To fix that, I cut another strip of plywood and glued it in place. With that done, my shelf was square and the exact size. All that I needed to complete the project was to sand and finish and sand and finish and sand and finish for the next two days.

Drawer Extended.
At full extension, it’s easy to see and work the machine so that I can get the best results.

On Friday, my shelf was on my assembly table all shiny and pretty and I was proud of how it came out. I carefully measured and installed the rail inserts and took it in the house to slide it in place. It didn’t fit. The rails would insert but they wouldn’t slide in. So I did the most logical thing; I got a bigger hammer. With a lot of pounding it went into place and now it wouldn’t come out. “Maybe the shelf is too wide,” so I sanded the sided with very coarse sandpaper. I gave up after a while and left it till morning.

Starting fresh on Saturday, I shaved each side .05 inches. The slides inserted but they’d stop with a clunk, so I looked closely at them and I saw that during my bout with the big hammer, I had damaged them. They were bent and some ball bearings had come out of their races. Then I saw that the right side was not parallel; when I put the ¼ inch shim in, I misaligned the track so it was binding.

After installing the second pair, the rails worked smoothly, but now the shelf was too narrow from all the trimming. Now I had to take the rails off again and use shims to space them correctly. It was late morning before I slid the shelf in place and worked it in and out. For a millisecond I thought about pulling it apart to finish the sides, but I decided to save that for another year when I get a round-two-it. I’m looking forward to next Friday’s music session when I get to relax while listening to clean records.

Till then … jw

Ah … What’s Up Doc?

We have rabbits at North Ranch. They’ve always been a fixture at the park, but with the abundant rain and good growing season, they’ve multiplied like … well, rabbits. On our morning walks, Queen Anne and I have spotted a jackrabbit or two, but they only venture onto the property when there’s no rain and they need to drink. They have black tails, cartoon ears, and they’re large enough that, when they rear-up on hind legs, they could slap a coyote silly. They’re also very skittish. Once they know that you’re looking at them, jackrabbits run off and don’t stop until they’re well out of sight in the desert.

Peter
A desert cottontail trying to make a decision.

More common are the desert cottontails. They are house-cat size with brown coats that blend well with the ground. Sometimes we’ll see two or three of them in a yard or they’ll leisurely hop across the street (presumably to get to the other side where the cactus is greener). Humans don’t frighten them and you nearly have to kick them out of your way. If startled, they’ll run about ten feet before they drop from exhaustion. They’re really out of shape.

Roger
Chain-link fences are useless for keeping rabbits out. They pass through them with ease.

When we first moved here, I’d hear Her Highness say, “Ooh look, a bunny. He’s sooo cute.” That was before she started planting flowers. Neighbors warned her about the rabbits eating everything, so she bought containers. She forgot that rabbits hop. Our house soon became the local Bunny-KFC and only plant stubs were left in her pots. Now she pots things they won’t eat and keeps the flowers on the porch.

Buggs
After a hard morning eating expensive landscape, Buggs turns up his nose at rosemary.

I tease her that they could be a cheap source of protein when we become old and destitute. She responded with her normal, “Eww.” People say that rabbit tastes like chicken. I say, “Just eat chicken.” I tried it once in an upscale Scottsdale restaurant and it tasted like … marinara sauce. I like to fish, but I don’t bring them home because she won’t eat them and I don’t care much for cleaning them. I can’t imagine myself skinning and cleaning a rabbit. I’d wind up marinating it with the old Technicolor-yawn before I made it half-way through.

Flopsy and Mopsy
A pair of cottontails scours the bank of a wash for tasty morsels.

In Denali last year we learned about snowshoe hares and how they were the food chain’s staple. Their population rises and falls cyclically. Prey animals that depended on the hare to survive also fluctuate in numbers a season or two behind the snowshoes. I expect that’s true about our cottontails too. I wouldn’t be surprised for them to attract more owls, hawks, bobcats or even a cougar. It’s the coyotes that keep them in balance though. Our local sportsmen have taken to hunting down the packs around North Ranch to protect their favored hound—the mighty Chihuahua.

I’m leery of actions that upset nature’s balance. We should have learned about thoughtless intervention and how often it backfires on us. I’m concerned about killing off too many predators leaving us overrun with desperate diseased and crazy rabbits. Anyone who has seen The Holy Grail knows how horrifying an attack bunny is. I say, this year everybody gets bunny slippers for Christmas.

Till then … jw

Night Creatures

We don’t have pets. We settled that quickly in our first year of marriage. Both of us had dogs before, but Queen Anne prefers yappy purse-dogs and I’m partial to working breeds. Neither was willing to compromise. What ended the debate, however, was that we weren’t willing to clean up after a dog, so we settled on houseplants. It’s worked for us so far.

When we had a fenced back yard, we had no worries about stepping on a surprise package, and we like being outside when the weather’s nice. The Congress house doesn’t have fences and in the past month, we’ve found good size turds in the yard. Our association has a strict dog policy mandating that they don’t run free and the owner must pick-up after them, so I deduced that it was the work of a loose cat I see from time to time. I call him Lucky, because we also have coyotes that move through the neighborhood, yet he’s still alive. Even more of a puzzle is that on our morning walks, we noticed that everyone has presents in their yard. Even the streets have droppings. That’s one hell of a busy cat.

When I got home after a meeting last Monday, I saw a large toad hopping from our driveway into the neighbor’s yard. I forgot about the Sonoran Desert Toads because I hadn’t seen one since I lived in Scottsdale thirty-five years ago. They hibernate most of the year and only come out at night during the monsoon season. Their backs carry poison glands that can kill a dog if it bites into it. You shouldn’t try to pick one up because they’re also toxic to humans. After they mate and lay eggs in standing water, they crawl back into a hole and sleep for another year.

It was our neighbor—Jane— that told us about the toad scat. “It couldn’t be, it’s too big for a toad! It’s gotta’ be a dog,” I thought.  She was right because the poop easily breaks down in a light rain leaving only the undigested insect exoskeletons which look like a handful of dry oatmeal. Damn! You learn something every day, I hate picking it up, but I can’t blame the neighbors anymore.

When we drove home from the Herberger opening reception last Friday, I put on the high beams and slowly turned into the driveway. I hoped to show Anne one of the toads. We lucked out because she spotted something by the porch stairs. Except it didn’t hop, it crawled. “Is there a flashlight in here,” Anne asked.

“Sure,” I answered and dug around in the console to fish it out. I turned it on and got out of the truck and went for a better look. When I was close, I turned and shouted, “You got to come and look.” She walked over from the truck and saw what I had in the light; she ran up the porch stairs without her feet ever touching them. It was a tarantula, about the size of my hand … If I had LeBron James’ hands. We followed it for a while—me from the yard and her from the porch—until I got bored and handed her the light so I could put the truck in the garage.

After I put Fritz away, I walked through the house and joined her on the front porch. Mr. Spider had made it around the porch as she silently watched. The giant spider acted like it was out for an evening stroll and seemed a bit annoyed in the spotlight. It stayed next to the house as it moved south. When I saw enough, I handed the light to Anne and went inside.

Soon the screen door slammed and Anne bellowed, “There’s a tarantula in my front yard. We’re moving.” Then she went to the desk and put new batteries in the flashlight before going back outside. I don’t know when she came in, because I went to bed. When I asked the next morning, she told me that she watched it until it disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Then she explained how we were going to seal up the house so they couldn’t get in. Now, she’s an old tarantula hand, they don’t faze her, but she won’t venture off the porch when it’s dark.

Till then … jw

It Is No More … It Ceases To Exist …

In the months before we married, my ex-wife bought a 59 cent Schefflera from Berridge Nursery as an apartment decoration. It came in a green-plastic pint container and was less than six inches tall with the same amount of shoots having the characteristic radial leaf pattern. She put it on the counter under the kitchen window so it could get enough light. Her cat, Frodo—being a contemptuous animal that cats are—ate half of the tiny plant’s leaves during the night. It would have made sense for her to toss the plant and run down the street to buy another, but she scolded the cat and moved the half eaten plant to a safer place.

Ten years passed, and my ex and I went our separate ways. When we divided the house, I got custody of the Schefflera. By now it was a waist-high shrubbery living in a large pot. When I moved into my condo, I put it at the end of my couch by French doors. It looked good there. Even when Queen Anne moved in, she agreed and promptly named it Harvey, which was how she marked her territory.  Between the high ceilings and southern exposure, Harvey continued to grow. Like kids and shoes, we constantly re-potted him. He grew to eight feet. When we sat at that end of the couch, his overhead leaves would shade us.

After another decade, we wanted a house, and as we looked for a place, one of our considerations was where to put Harvey. He needed space. With the help of a realtor, we found a place only five miles away, and after navigating all the paperwork we hired movers to schlep our crap to the new house. Harvey was one of the last things to go, so he wound up in the back of someone’s pick-up truck. We didn’t trust him with the movers, but as I followed behind, I watched in horror as the forty-five mile an hour wind began to shred his leaves. By the time we put him in the new house, he looked like a tornado victim. He went into shock and the taller branches were wind-burnt, so we pruned and nursed him. He managed to survive, but he was forever stunted.

The next time Queen Anne had her seven-year itch, we were wiser. On this move, we made sure to wrap Harvey in a sheet and put him inside the moving truck. He didn’t go into shock and he made it without damage. He was a bit stubbier but had new growth each year. We found a spot for him in the family room at the end of the couch where he watched TV and listened to music with us for another seven years.

Our latest move was two years ago—to Congress and retirement. By now we were old hands a moving our pygmy tree. Even though we stayed in temporary housing for a month, when we settled in, Harvey took his place at the couch’s end and stood proudly. As we neared our Alaska Trip, he looked scraggly and we worried he wouldn’t make it, so Anne found a plant-sitter to look after Harvey and his siblings. Before we left, we moved everyone to the dining room where the light is better and it’s not as warm. The plant-sitters did a good job and all the plants survived the summer without us.

Even though we’ve stayed home this year, we haven’t been as lucky. With the porch and large Palo Verde tree out front, the light in the living room is marginal. To manage the summer heat, we’ve also been closing the blinds, which means less light. Harvey started losing leaves. To get more light, we moved him to the dining room and then in front of the guest bedroom’s north facing window. Anne has rooted in the soil trying to aerate it. His last leaf fell off on Tuesday. I think he’s root bound and has slowly drowned. He looks like the summer mesquite—just leafless branches. I’m afraid that our forty-five-year-old living room centerpiece has gone to the great salad bar in the sky. I suggested to Anne that we throw in the towel and replace him.

She turned, scowled and barked, “He’s not dead … he’s merely resting his eyes.”

Till then … jw