It broke my heart to see the bulldozers leveling the area that once housed the Big Corral.
Situated on the southern bank of Sols Wash in downtown Wickenburg, the Big Corral was one of the few links left to the old days of Wickenburg, when it really was a western town. It was a horse boarding facility that also offered trail rides. The corrals were old and run down and the building looked as if it had been built in the 19th century. The whole area was surrounded by desert vegetation, including plenty of trees that blocked the view of less attractive areas from the road. But talk about location! The tourists couldn’t miss it!
I remember bringing one of my horses, Jake, to the Big Corral when he twisted an ankle on a long ride from my house into town. We’d ridden down Cemetery Wash, then hopped onto South Tegner Street. Walking alongside the road there, Jake had stepped into what was probably a gopher hole. (Do we have gophers in Wickenburg? I’ve never seen them, but I have seen the holes.) He immediately came up lame. Riding him back to my house was out of the question. So I led him into town, right down Frontier Street, and brought him the the folks at the Big Corral. When asked if I could put him in a pen for an hour or so while I fetched my horse trailer, they told me it was no problem. I got a neighbor to drive me home, hitched up the horse trailer, and came back to retrieve Jake. I cleaned up the few droppings he’d left in the pen. When I offered the folks there some money, they told me to keep it. That it had been their pleasure to help me out.
The other day I spoke to a long-time Wickenburg resident about the Big Corral. He told me about the days when he was a kid. He’d attended the little red schoolhouse (which, thank heaven, still survives) and, after school, he and his friends would go to the Big Corral to help out with the horses. They didn’t get paid but they didn’t care. They just wanted the chance to work with the horses and have some fun. (I can’t imagine today’s kids having the same idea. Horses don’t seem to compete well with video games, television, and the Internet.)
The bulldozers came months ago tore everything out. Building, corrals, trees —all gone. The area filled with dust and dirt, caught up by the moving graders and blown into town by the wind. Pebbles, tracked onto the road by the earth-moving equipment and dump trucks, broke windshields on North Tegner Street. The folks in the condos at Frontier Village had to keep their windows closed to keep the dust out. (Ironically, these were the same people who complained about the smell of horse manure.)
A new sign went up: “Future Home of Gold Mine Village.” Gold Mine. That was a good one. Who’s gold mine was it? The new owner of the property?
It was just what Wickenburg needed. Another strip mall. It didn’t matter that the newest strip mall, located on East Wickenburg Way on the east side of the bridge, couldn’t fill half of its units. (It’s now offering a few months free rent to entice new people in.) It didn’t matter that many new Wickenburg-based businesses were going out of business in less than a year, unable to survive in the local economy.
I talked to some people knowledgeable about the plans for Gold Mine Village. I was assured that the developer planned an upscale shopping mall. Some impressive potential tenant names were thrown around. I wondered how those buinesses planned to survive in Wickenburg, a town where the majority of the high-season population would rather drive 30 miles to Wal-Mart in Surprise than shop locally.
Months went by. The earth-movers, after creating an impressive flood wall along the side of Sols Wash, went back to wherever earth-movers go when they’re not moving earth. The dust settled, at least until the wind picked it up and threw it around town. An ugly chainlink fence was erected around part of the property. And then the Gold Mine Village sign disappeared, replaced with a For Sale sign posted in the middle of the land.
Seeing the sign on that big, bare plot of land made my blood boil. Someone had stripped away yet another part of Wickenburg’s quaint and historic past and left behind a barren, treeless lot with a lot of dust. It appeared that the grand plans for Gold Mine Village were a developer’s pipe dream that had turned into an eyesore on the face of the town.
Progress. The destruction of the Big Corral was done in the name of progress.
“You can’t hold back progress,” I overheard a woman from Phoenix say at a town meeting discussing the Bypass years ago. (Don’t get me started on the bypass issue.)
But what is progress? Does it have to ruin the asthetics of the surroundings? Does it have to destroy a town’s past, replacing it with a new and shiny name brand everyone knows? Do we really need another fast food joint? A Starbucks? A Gap? What’s wrong with having horses in town?
Will progress be the blinding factor that lures the town’s leaders into letting more of old Wickenburg get stripped away? They’ve already allowed developers to strip away the desert vegetation in other parts of town to build condos for those part-time residents they love so much. They’re willing to sell out to other developers intent on putting high-density housing where it doesn’t belong: in long-time residents’ back yards. They seem more than willing to turn Wickenburg into something that everyone from big cities or the midwest can recognize.
Do they understand anything about the quality of life? That more isn’t always better? Don’t they understand that some people move to Wickenburg because they like the way it is now (or when they moved here, in my case). Do they have any understanding of the importance of the town’s year-round residents? The folks who brave the hot summers to keep the town up and running when half the high-season population is gone?
And what of the hollow cry to “Keep Wickenburg Western”?
Does anyone really care? Or am I the only one?