Filler RV Odyssey

Heading Home In An Ancient Bucket O' Bolts.
By Kevin Franklin

THE YEAR IS 1965. This summer you and your brand new Clark Cortez recreational vehicle are touring the Southwest. The road you're traveling is the Pinal Pioneer Parkway, a.k.a. Highway 79, designated a scenic stretch of Arizona just this year. The view is beautiful, your machine tip-top and your hair thick.

Now, 31 years later, you're bald, living in Cleveland (the view is not beautiful) and in the '80s you traded your RV for a Yugo.

Perhaps you can find consolation in knowing a couple of 20-something grease-monkeys have taken command of your dilapidated RV and are about to drive it along that scenic highway once again; the African Queen meets the Dukes of Hazard.

Out There Out There friend and sometime mechanic Bob Moulton and I are in fact firing up this ancient house on wheels. With a new job, Bob needs a home that can roam. Our odyssey begins north of Florence at a dormant copper mining operation where the stowed RV is collecting dust. Poston Butte dominates the surrounding landscape, just across the Gila River from the highway. Beneath the stones capping the butte lies Charles Poston, the "Father of Arizona." Poston was a promoter of Arizona before it was a state or even a territory and, during his brief periods of political favor, was an important element in putting the state on the map. Among other things, he owned mining claims, attempted to create a U.S. seaport in Guaymas, Mexico, re-established Tubac, (running it as a self-described Utopian village), and married dozens of couples. Poston's tenure as a no-charge marriage-maker came to an abrupt halt when Catholic Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy of Santa Fe found out about it, writes Marshall Trimble in Arizoniana: Stories From Old Arizona. Lamy claimed Poston had no authority to bless weddings and declared the marriages invalid. Certainly the absence of the $25 fee the Church charged to marry peasant farmers had nothing to do with the Bishop's outrage.

Finding dissatisfaction with the Catholic bureaucracy, Poston became a worshiper of the sun in his later years. He sought to build a temple to the cosmic fusion furnace on the hilltop in Florence. The penniless Poston was never able to make it happen, but a group of concerned citizens did move his body up there in 1925, 23 years after he died.

Under the shadow of this well-meaning eccentric Bob and I do our best to resurrect this equally eccentric vehicle. The Clark company principally makes fork-lifts. The Cortez resembles a typical RV in a tin-shack kind of way, but mechanically it's a forklift running backwards.

Image Nonetheless, we get the Cortez rolling again.

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway was the primary means of getting to Phoenix until the Interstate was built. In 1965, Wayne Earley was in charge of roadside development for the Arizona Highway Department. He was the driving force behind getting the road designated a parkway.

"It was one of the prettiest drives in the country," the retired Earley says. "It was a real ecological classroom."

Earley used to drive the road all the time as a UA student in 1948. When the road received its parkway designation, 550-foot easements were supposed to be acquired on either side to ensure the road remained scenic; they never were. Most of the adjoining land was government owned, but that's rapidly changing and so is the appearance of the road as commercial ventures sprawl onto the parkway.

"The Pinal County Board has been too timid to tick off a land owner," Earley says. "If the parkway is going to have any longevity and significance, it needs to have the power lines and billboards kept away."

For now, the parkway remains beautiful. Most people dread the drive to Phoenix on the Interstate. The parkway's wild botanical garden of giant cholla, saguaro, palo verde and ironwood displays better than most places the intrinsic artistry of our sculptured desert landscape. The view takes our minds off the thousand bolts moving in loose formation below us and somehow we survive the drive to Tucson.

The next time I pick up out-of-state friends in Phoenix, we'll drive to back to Tucson this way for a windshield introduction to the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert. We just won't do it in a 30-year-old time machine. TW

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