Alright, class, settle down. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen, then put away your backpacks. Today we’re starting with a pop quiz. There is only one question, and you have 15 minutes to answer with 10,000 words—or more. You must cite your sources. Spelling and punctuation will be graded. Are you ready? Your question is, “What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman, Arizona have in common?”
I have talked before about old trading trails morphing into the well-laid-out highway system that we have today. Most of us don’t care how it happened, and we just drive on them. They think that Eisenhower signed a paper in 1956, and the freeways just popped into existence. I think that’s because people younger than me—and that’s pretty much everybody—didn’t experience the change first hand. Our forebearers built most roads over existing paths, and there are reasons someone blazed those original paths. Mark Knopfler describes this phenomenon well in his 1982 song Telegraph Road from the Dire Straits album Love Over Gold.
There have been trading trails across Northern Arizona since the first Pueblo inhabitants. European settlers didn’t use them much because the New Mexico territory was Spanish. Their roads came up from Mexico to towns like Santa Fe and the Old Pueblo at Tucson. Those roads followed the Rio Grande and Santa Cruz Rivers because there was always reliable water. The rest of the desert was a wasteland. What changed that? It was gold.
In 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California. In less than two years, California became a state—that’s instantaneous in government time. They needed to move goods and people to the Golden State—and get the gold back to Washington. But, there were no east-west roads, so they put Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves in charge of a surveying expedition, and he laid out a railroad route around the 35th Parallel.
Then in 1857, the Fed’s paid Edward (Fitzgerald) Beale to build a wagon road from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles—again along the 35th Parallel (remember, Tucson was still in Mexico). He built his road in a year using camels because they needed less water and food than oxen and horses. By all accounts, it wasn’t much of a road, but Beale bragged that it was the shortest route by 300 miles and “It is the most level: our wagons only double-teaming once in the entire distance, and that at a short hill . . .” His road became the Santa Fe line in 1880, then Route 66 in 1926, and finally Interstate 40 in 1978.
His wagon road wandered a bit from the 35th as it meandered across the desert, but wagon tracks are visible in places on Google Earth. As vehicles became more efficient, each of the subsequent roads shortened its length. Some silly people hike the old road just for giggles. I’m not that ambitious. However, I do know of a place where you’ll be in Ed’s footsteps. Yep, you guessed it. It’s our Union Pass on SR 68. While Sitgreaves went through Oatman, Beale found a more accessible way to Fort Mohave and his river crossing.
I took this week’s picture on the west side of Union Pass, and it shows layers of lava and ash (tuff) that have been turned horizontal by geological forces. As Don Sprinkle commented in another post; “. . . just like the Grand Tetons.” It was sundown as I took this photo, and that’s why the ordinarily dark rock has a beautiful red glow, and that’s why I called it Sunset Wall.
So, back to your quiz; I’m going to let you grade your papers. What did you answer to: What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman have in common? If you said that they are both along Interstate 40, you get 50%, and if you said that they both have a Beale Street, you get another 50%. I must add that there is a difference too. While Kingman knows who they named their street after, according to the Wikipedia entry for Memphis’ Beale Street, nobody remembers who Edward Beale was, which I find amusing. Maybe it’s forgotten because he was a Union Naval officer.
You can see a larger version of Sunset Wall on its Web Page by clicking here. Please come back next when we begin December’s project and new pictures.
Until next time — jw
One thought on “Sunset Wall Picture of the Week”
Great history lesson, Jim! Four years ago I did my last big motorcycle trip and the last leg of it started in Barstow where I-40 begins. I was pretty quickly in Kingman, looking for geocaches and Route 66 memorabilia. A few days later I was in Memphis looking for a “Welcome to Tennessee” sign. Such a gorgeous country out there.
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