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Life at the end of U.S. 93

The Journal of Prevarication
Here lies Jim Cook

Following the timeless cycles of life on the desert, the spring thaw has started. The dirt is breaking up on the Hassayampa River.

Actually, the rhythms of nature are sort of herky-jerky this year, like everyplace else, but without the drastic results that hit places north and east of here.

We had a chilly January. I met a man from Alaska who was complaining of a “summer cold,” and he was generous enough to give it to me.

We had a short February–I only noticed twenty-four days– and suddenly, it’s spring.

Here on the old Looking Cross Ranch, the dudes have returned to Canada and Minnesota, and we’ve laid off the livestock for the summer. My old saddle horse, Fidget, lives here year-round, along with our dog, Fibber, but the cattle have to find work elsewhere.

End 93The old Looking Cross is right near the end of a major U.S. Highway, Route 93, one of the things that make life interesting around here. Where it crosses the Looking Cross, U.S. 93 is also known as North Tegner Street.

Back when I was a historian, I got interested in how highways developed. Everyone was pretty confused there for a while, but in 1926 and 1927, the federal government started numbering highways.

Depending on which way you’re going, U.S. 93 either begins or ends at the original traffic light right in downtown Wickenburg. (Wickenburg has four traffic lights now, but I’m talking about the one right downtown, where you turn right at Circle K if you’re headed for Las Vegas.)

I remember when they paved U.S. 93 between Kingman and Wickenburg back in the mid-1960s. I drove over the fresh pavement, and I saw a new pair of ten-inch pliers lying in the road. There wasn’t much traffic, so I stopped and picked them up. I wouldn’t risk doing that today, because 93 gets pretty busy.

From downtown Wickenburg, U.S. 93 goes north 1,457 miles, through an unlikely part of Nevada, up through the farmlands of central Idaho, and into western Montana. North of Eureka, Montana, the highway crosses into British Columbia and becomes Provincial Route 93, the most direct route to Cranbrook.

That light in downtown Wickenburg is causes the closest thing we have to a traffic jam hereabouts. Most afternoons, it backs up traffic for a mile on Tegner. Just before a holiday weekend, traffic seems to back up all the way to Cranbrook, but it’s actually only stacked up a mile or two north of the ranch.

I have not found a sign in downtown Wickenburg announcing that U.S. 93 begins here. But there is a rather prominent sign that says “End 93.”

Now and then, a befuddled traveler will stop and stare at that sign, while his spouse consults the road map. This is likely to cause a raucous honking of horns, and a visit from a policeman, because that’s a bad place to stop. It’s the worst traffic bottleneck for hundreds of miles in any direction.

Most travelers know that if you’re going to Phoenix, this is the point where you turn left onto U.S. 60, which was in place and numbered long before U.S. 93.

The combination of U.S. 60 and 93 connects two of the fastest-growing cities in America, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Long-haul truckers can make that tight left turn in their sleep, and often do. The miracle is that no one has put an eighteen-wheeler through one of the picturesque old buildings downtown, which people are working mightily to preserve.

For that reason, a bypass will be built in the next year or two, taking U.S. 93 around the east end of downtown Wickenburg. It will part company with U.S. 60 east of the bridge over the Hassayampa, which was built in 1937, and jump that raging torrent of sand on new bridges.

One New Years Eve a few years ago, some partying adolescents decided it would be a great prank to take down the sign that says “End 93.”

That didn’t bother the U.S. 93 regulars, who’d never noticed the sign anyway. But several conscientious map readers just kept going south on Tegner. It was dark, and they were tired, a precondition for traveling U.S. 93.

They drove on down Tegner, past the school, and the farm where Heny Wickenburg first settled in the 1860s. They drove through a couple of resorts, and found themselves driving on the bed of the Hassayampa River.

Fortunately, the river was frozen over, so they didn’t bog down in the sand.

Most of the cars and trucks found their way back onto U.S. 60 down around Monarch Wash. But one guy driving an eighteen-wheeler didn’t figure he was driving on a river until the Hassayampa joined the equally dry Gila River, down around Arlington. Fortunately, Gila Bend was on his route anyway.

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