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Journey Ends at Brenda
[Small Town America] US 60 Part 14
David McLane (davemclane)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2010-01-15 02:56 (KST)   
Getting back to US 60 from the original alignment along Van Buren Street in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona is simple: go west on Van Buren until you get to 7th Street and turn right, and then almost immediately left which puts you on Grand Avenue-US 60 going north-west.

If you look closely for the next few miles you can see the remnants of what used to be motels now made into apartments or left derelict. You pass through Peoria, Sun City and finally Surprise before you're in more or less open desert which stretches north to Wickenburg. There's a new bypass around Wickenburg where you want to keep going west on US 60 instead of north-west on US 93 which takes you to Las Vegas, where most of the traffic is headed.

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Just before you come to the first stop-light two blocks away is the Bar Seven Lounge and Restaurant. The long sign across the front says "Lounge" and "Restaurant" but the Bar Seven is just a "7" with a bar over it, like a cattle brand, and doesn't stand out. What does catch your attention is the life-size cowboy and dance hall girl depicting evening social activity in early downtown Wickenburg.

Cowboy and Dance Hall Girl, Wickenburg, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

There are six such pieces plus 16 smaller pieces of local area desert creatures providing linkage between the major downtown sculptures, all by artist J. Seward Johnson. If you push the button behind the dance hall girl, you get an audio narrative from Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble. Here's what he has to say about the cowboy and the dance hall girl:
The men and women of the old west are the most cherished figures in all Americana. They are the rugged symbols of the making of a country, and the group that stands out from these are the cowboys, often geared in an overly romantic life, they are idolized and imitated, not only in this country but throughout the world. They represent the best in American character, hard work and honest determination. self reliance, honesty and independence.

Aside from the Hollywood myth, ridin' and ropin' was their main stock in trade. They've been described as bowlegged fellers who worked from the hurricane deck of a cow pony and hated any other kind of work. But when payday came around, they couldn't wait to ride into town for some soft feminine companionship. You see, the whole west was a land where men were the vast majority and just being female was enough to attract a crowd. As soon as a cow town was big enough to have a saloon, shady ladies, dance hall gals, arrived to set up shop providing feminine companionship for the lonely, love-starved cowboys.

These women, with colorful names like Snake Hips Lulu, Crazy Horse Lil, and Little Gerty, the Gold Dollar, plied their trade in the world's oldest profession, dance hall entertaining and card playing. They belonged to occupations completely ignored by census takers of the time and just might have been the largest group of working women in the west.
The Bar Seven is a long time landmark having opened in 1936 with its famous bartender, Wes Bodiroga, starting at the age of 22 in 1942.

If you want more information about Wickenburg, instead of continuing west on US 60 at the stoplight, the Chamber of Commerce is in the old Sante Fe Train station, two blocks to the right, one to left.

Chamber of Commerce, Wickenburg, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

I had a brief chat with Carol Wallace about how the town was faring during the hard times and she said the problem wasn't so much the hard times, but the bypass which had cut the amount of traffic coming through the business district so much that some place where having a hard time making ends meet.

When I asked her whether she agreed with what I'd been hearing from people in other towns all across the country, that the people in the Federal Government knew almost nothing about what life was like in small towns, she agreed and said, "We're on our own."

THE END OF US 60 AT BRENDA is only 75 miles (120 km) west of Wickenburg so there wasn't far to go to the end of our journey.

Once upon a time, this was the main route from Los Angeles to Phoenix, but nowadays there are only a few towns, a few RV parks for winter visitors, and a few leftovers from days gone by.

The first town is the unincorporated community of Aguila, "Home to the World's Finest Cantalopes," obviously not home to the world's finest spellers. But who knows, maybe a cantalope is similar to a jackalope, a semi-imaginary animal described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns. Having lived in the desert for the past 10 years, I've learned to consider anything possible.

Anyway, just before you come to the business district proper -- another kind of jackalope to my way of thinking -- you come on the Coyote Flats Cafe and Bar.

Coyote Flats, Café, Aguila, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

Right next door is the Burro Jim motel whose sign is in the same condition as the one for Coyote Flats so maybe they were built as a pair. I went first to the motel which had a poster from the bicycle riders we'd come across up in Nevada (We Like Bike) but nobody was in the office so I went over to the cafe.

This is Not Burger King
©2010 D. McLane
Not so many people, so I managed to strike up a conversation with Chester Daffern, a supervisor for Hispanic workers in the cantaloupe fields. He said he'd been coming through here for 40 years from the Imperial Valley in California which also raises cantaloupe. I told him that we'd started our journey at Mexican border south of Yuma, where cantaloupes are raised using water from the Colorado River and asked him where the water comes from here. He said from wells. Hard to imagine as everything looks so dry.

Chester's wife called him on his cell phone and he had to leave so I talked for a bit with the waitresses trying to find out how old the cafe and motel were. No luck. All they could come up with was "Older than forever." Sometimes hard to know if signs like those on the wall are kidding or for real.

THE NEXT TOWN WAS WENDEN where you can turn off to go to Alamo Lake, otherwise not much except for Brooks Outback which advertises "Hot Beer, Bad Service" and was closed.

From time to time there were remnants of cafes and motels, sometimes all that was left of the walls, sometimes almost the whole thing, like the Amber Hills Motel which looks almost ready to be occupied with the two beautiful date palms. It's been in that condition since we moved to Arizona almost 10 years ago.

Amber Hills Motel, US 60, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

THE LAST TOWN OF ANY SIZE IS SALOME, which lies between Harquahala and Harcuvar Mountain Ranges. You can't miss the huge "United We Stand" mural on the side of Christina's Cafe and Cactus Bar as you come into town from the east.

Mural, Christina's Café and Cactus Bar, Salome, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

The cafe has a huge three-sided counter with tables against the wall, and more tables in another room. The waitresses were busy so I looked around at what was on the wall and found the story of how Salome came to be.

Three guys are responsible, Charles Pratt, Dick Wick Hall, and his brother Ernest in 1904. The town was named after Pratt's wife, "Salome" who at one point took off her shoes and danced across the hot sand, burning her feet. Thus the name, "Salome ~ Where she Danced ~ Arizona." Pratt, with the help of Hall and his brother established Salome in the fall of 1904. Hall named the town after Pratt's wife. The Post Office of established April 14th, 1905, and later moved to the current townsite in 1906.

At last one of the waitresses was free and I asked her how old the cafe was. She didn't know but said, "Maybe he does," pointing to somebody sitting at the counter. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing, and he said his name was Albert Nord and had grown up here but didn't really know anything about the cafe except it had always been there.

Albert Nord, Salome, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

We moved into the other room and Albert told his story. He said his first job was as a truck driver for Richfield Oil hauling gasoline from Los Angeles to Phoenix in 1950. After a pipeline was installed he moved to Phoenix and worked there until he retired in 1981. He RV'd all over the country for 11 years, returning to Salome in 1993. The group I saw him with at the counter was a regular meeting of the "Coffee Club."

When I asked Albert about US 60 he began to talk about the "Brenda Cutoff." Even though I wrote down what I thought he said, when it came to writing it up, it didn't make sense. So I researched the subject and came up with the following.

Starting from Ehrenburg, Ariz. on the Colorado River across from Blythe, Calif., the current Interstate 10 runs east for 31 miles (50 km) to the "Brenda Cutoff" which was named for a gas station.

Up until the early 1970s, this was the last stretch of freeway until Phoenix as US 60 ran north alongside the tracks of the Arizona and California Railroad which ran from Cadiz, Calif. through Salome, Wenden, and Aguila, then connected to the Santa Fe (now BNSF, Burlington Northern Santa Fe) at Wickenburg and ran south to Phoenix. The Brenda Cutoff paralleled the 1920's sand roads that connected Phoenix to Brenda and was 80 miles (130 km) shorter. Here's a map to keep your brain from overloading.

Map, Ehrenburg to Phoenix, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane

Thus the four towns, Salome, Wenden, Aguila, Wickenburg, were off the main route in the 1920s, on the main route between 1920s - 1970s, and once again off the main route from the 1970s until now. History in action.

WE'VE BEEN PAST THE END OF US 60 MANY TIMES. In fact, we came through here last May on our way to the end of US 95 at the Mexican border where we started north to Canada. Seemed like a long time ago, and it was long ago, 165 days and just about 15,000 miles. This time, we watched the sun go down over the far mountains, turned around, and went home.

US 60 ends, Brenda, Ariz.
©2010 D. McLane


I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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