It’s a sunny Friday, March 2, 2018, with 46-degree weather. It’s cold with a clear blue sky without clouds. Bernie and Chris are a bit anxious. My normal time to exercise them is seven in the morning, and now it’s after eight.
Today they are in for a surprise. We are visiting Aguila, Arizona. It is right up the road, or at least it feels that way. It’s a straight shot west for about eighty miles.
We drive about a mile to the dog’s exercise area. They will playfight a bit while I walk the sidewalk for my exercise.
I’ve learned to tire them out before subjecting them to a long ride in the car. It’s less than a mile to Grand Avenue, otherwise known as Hwy 60. We head west for more than an hour. Wickenburg is about forty-five minutes away, and Aguila is another twenty-five miles west on Hwy 60.
As we drive, a long train pulled by three diesel locomotives pass us heading east. The single railroad track parallels Grand Avenue for about twenty more miles, where Grand Avenue becomes US 60, where we leave civilization behind. We drive through a rural desert landscape of stunted brush, skinny trees, and some cactus.
As we approach the railroad overpass, I spot an old building I’ve seen more than a dozen times I’ve traveled this road. It is worth stopping and snapping a photo.
It’s in very sad shape. That For Sale sign has been there a few years. I wonder how many people know it’s history.
“The Morristown Hotel / Store was built in 1899 and is located at U.S. Route 89 NW Castle Springs Road, Morristown, Arizona. The hotel was built by Frank Murphy, brother of the territorial governor Nathan Oakes Murphy. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 12, 1991, reference # 91001003.”
A lot of history during those early years, but I wasn’t able to locate any stories. Less than thirty minutes later we enter the city of Wickenburg. I’ll save its history for another day.
During the journey from Surprise to Wickenburg, the elevation increased over two thousand feet. The rise in elevation wasn’t noticeable until we approached Wickenburg. Once past Wickenburg, it levels out. We are now driving between two low mountain ranges.
The flat land and mountains tell why people settled in Aguila. Copper, silver, gold, gypsum, and other minerals were mined in the mountains.
One of the thousands of mines dug by prospectors in the nearby mountains. “Aguila, Arizona includes 20,305 nearby mines.”
However, besides mining, the mountains had provided another use. Rising 5,681 feet, Harquahala Peak was used by the U.S. Army in the 1880’s as a heliograph station.
The device is a wireless solar telegraph that signals by flashes of sunlight. The operator used morse code reflected by a mirror. It allowed long-distance communication without a fixed infrastructure. It was very portable and did not require any power source. It was also relatively secure because it was invisible.
Around the Aguila area, the rich soil’s flat land is ripe for vegetable farming. To irrigate the fields, wells were drilled to tap nearby mountain water sources.
Although spinach is a fairly new crop for the area, for generations, cotton and melons have been major crops.
Aguila’s population has not changed much in the last fifty years. The town originated around 1905. Today the census is around eight hundred for most of the year. Two major farms work the vast majority of vegetable farming. During the harvest season, about 500 imported workers temporarily increase the population.
Two signs quietly announce Aguila.
US 60 speed limit is 65 mph, and the entire community is less than a mile long on the highways south side. It’s easy to zip by.
I searched for the cobblestone tourist cabins that Frank Lapham built about the time US 60 was paved. No one knew about the cabins.
Here’s how they probably looked. I took these photos of genuine abandoned cobblestone cabins in Youngstown, AZ
The Aguila school has grades 1-8. High School Students attend Wickenburg High School about twenty-five miles away.
I found the Aguila School but didn’t go to the office.
A high-security fence surrounds the school.
Many homes have barking dogs. Signs on fences announce keep out and a bad dog.
I wasn’t surprised by the warning signs. While doing my research, I read this blurb “Aguila has endured difficult press in recent history, with the media branding it as a town riddled with drugs and burglaries.”
To its credit. Today Aguila doesn’t have any bars, and its small 800 population supports five churches.
The only place to shop is the recently opened Family Dollar store.
The nice lady told me how to find the Library.
Located tucked behind an abandoned building, it’s easy to miss.
The small library is part of Maricopa County Library District. Inside I counted several computer terminals. Aguila may be physically isolated, but it is digitally connected.
The digital connection allows a few people to own homes and fly their plane directly to their home.
The Liberian told me about a five-acre plot of land listing for $275,000. It is situated next to the private community runway.
He said the street signs in that very small upscale community are positioned less than four feet high. It allows the owner to taxi from the runway through the street directly to his home.
Almost fifty years ago a dozen family-owned motels lined US 60. Today only one motel exists in the same dirt lot as the only eatery.
Aguila is a small tucked away community. The warm climate and digital access make it possible to operate a business.
A thin booklet advertises Aquila as “a town of several hundred ninety-eight people that includes airplane and car collectors, seasonal and year-round farm workers, and a smattering of professional ranchers and ropers.”
Apparently, the lack of ‘visible wealth’ keeps the criminal element away. The few people I spoke with enjoy living there. The casual atmosphere promotes a positive social attitude.
Still, unless you delve deeply into the uniqueness of this community, the first impression is seeing dust, broken down cars, and farm equipment.
That’s being a bit harsh. Look at your neighborhood with the eyes of a stranger. What do you see?
The people I met were friendly and helpful, which lends credence to “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”