Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Pioneer Days in Ash Fork, Arizona
I love living in a small town. Once a year I don my 1890's garb and saunter through the streets, making my way with other, similarly clad characters, to the local museum. There awaits a feast of homemade chili and pies along with local entertainment.
Many small towns in the west celebrate a special day centered on their town's history. In Ash Fork, Arizona, it is known as "Pioneer Days". Established in 1882 as a siding of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now Santa Fe Railroad), Ash Fork reserves the first Saturday in May to celebrate its ranching, quarrying and railroading history. There is also a good deal of Route 66 memorabilia involved, as the longest remaining stretch of the Mother Road runs right through town to Seligman, Arizona, 30 miles to the west. My son and I love to pick out scenes from the movie "Cars", pinpointing them on our drives from our house to Kingman, Arizona or Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Since suffering the loss of the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad, which was moved north of town in 1960, and the bypass of Route 66 by Interstate 40 in the late 1970's, Ash Fork has remained a small, quiet community, claiming the distinction of being the "Flagstone Capitol of the World".
Stories abound of the town's better days, when bars and businesses lined the streets, underground tunnels ran between city offices and houses of ill repute, and moonshine was quietly exchanged for cash through basement windows. Ranchers once drove cattle through these same streets, to be loaded onto railroad cars for wealthy appetites in California and in the east.
Now the wind blows without mercy. Cattle graze on sparse grasses and seek shade under juniper trees. Preppers and homesteaders buy up one-time ranch lands and put up solar panels to power their trailers and pursue their self sufficient lives. And an outlaw or two still has a hideout back in the hills where the GPS doesn't reach.