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Winter on the Hassayampa

Now I remember why I love living in Wickenburg.

It was difficult in August, when we returned from vacation in Alaska and Canada. The desert was sere, boring, dry as fine print. Temperatures were high, tempers were short, and that lasted into October.

But now it’s winter, and we’ve had a lot more rain than usual. The desert floor is so green that golf courses suffer by comparison. Poppies are blooming on the roadsides, and spring will arrive in a couple of days.

The Hassayampa River has had water on top of it, continuously, for more than six weeks, and that’s a phenomenon. It’s not the Hudson, or the Yukon, but it will do. The Hassayampa Seal, a threatened species, is back, barking with his usual dry cough. Santa Cruz Sand Sharks, not accustomed to water, are fighting for their lives.

An old friend passed through here on his way home to Idaho, and he claimed he saw dolphins from the U.S. 60 bridge over the Hassayampa. Bob never lies, but I think they were probably porpoises. Some people can’t tell them apart.

The boundary between Yavapai and Maricopa Counties lies about a mile upstream from the Wickenburg Institute For Factual Diversity. The rushing water moved the county line south, expanding Yavapai County and diminishing Maricopa. There’ll be hell to pay when the Board of Supervisors hears about that.

The population of Wickenburg doubled with the arrival of winter visitors, and winter residents. I’ve seen license plates from every state except Mississippi and Rhode Island. There can’t be anyone still at home in Minnesota, or the Pacific Northwest, or any of the Dakotas.

Some snowbirds stay at the resort ranches for which Wickenburg is renowned. Others arrive in fifth-wheel RVs, or gargantuan motorhomes.

One fellow said that when he came through Wheeling, West Virginia, the front wheels of his motorhome were in Ohio while the SUV he was towing was still in Pennsylvania. The SUV had Maine plates and a chrome license plate frame that said, “Be Patient …I’m Pushing This Big Rig.” Cute.

When I was a kid, I lived in Flagstaff, a summer town. There were no interestate highways, so U.S. Route 66 came right along Santa Fe Avenue. The highway was quiet in winter, and bumper-to-bumper in summer. Downtown stores that sold Indian jewelry and rubber tomahawks took on a carnival atmosphere in the evening.

Those tourists were mostly young families traveling across country. The winter crowd here is much older.

Two fellows from Montana met at the Wickenburg post office yesterday. One said, “Say, I hear your brother died.”

“That’s right.”

“Well…which one are you?”

We don’t have to count license plates for amusement, or go down to the railroad underpass to see if a truck got stuck underneath it. There’s lots to do here in winter.

The Del Webb Foundation put up big bucks to turn the high school auditorium into the Webb Center for the Performing Arts, and we get good road shows.

Newcomers are surprised to learn that the Desert Caballeros Western Museum includes a world-class museum of western art. We saw the last show five times–once just the two of us, and four times to show it off to folks who came to visit us.

The DCWM opened two new exhibits last night. One of them is the work of painter Frederic Remington. Old Remington himself is in town for the opening, along with Charlie Russell and Elvis.

That kicked off the 57th annual Gold Rush Days, expanded to eight days this year. Folks will be admiring classic cars, and panning for gold. There will be a carnival, rodeo, dances, art shows, barbecues.

The Gold Rush Days Parade, next Saturday, is the fourth largest parade in Arizona. The chamber of commerce is advertising “1,000 horses.” If you need to travel from Phoenix to Las Vegas, you’d best do it early in the day, or after noon. That parade takes up a lot of town.

Miss Ellie and I always enjoy the parade. And we’ve got tickets to the old-fashioned melerdramer the night before at the Saguaro Theater.

The rain has abated. Daytime temperatures are in the high 60s or early 70s. To assure myself that I’m really living in the right place, I check the temperatures of places I loved last summer. The high yesterday in Dawson City was minus-36.

Maybe today I’ll see a license plate from Yukon Territory. I’ll trade you three Wyomings for a Rhode Island…

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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