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  • Wait, I am writing about a road?!

    I had about decided against the idea until Clem plucked up my courage to put on paper what kept me awake half the night. Then I smiled at Pete’s rainbow moment on the turnpike, pleased that it charmed him and his family. So --- I’ m writing about a damned road.

    Some years before I was born, Grandma fed the road crew which rerouted and paved this 30 miles of state highway, the New Road. I realize now that I have few details about that summer of hard work. My mother and her sister went home to help with that large undertaking. How large? How many men did they feed a hot meal daily? Logistically, a noon meal makes the most sense, but in the day of the construction metal lunch bucket I’m not sure. How did they handle that many in the house? Shifts? Maybe tables outside under the cottonwoods? I do know the arrangement was a financial help to the family and very popular with the men of the crew

    Flash forward. Grandpa listened patiently as we sat in the shade of the back yard, nodding as I seriously listed for him every curve in the road from there to Cedar. I don’t know how old I was, still in elementary school probably. I had made the trip back and forth so many times I was sure I was an expert, and he was willing to let me prove it.

    There were plenty of spots in the common vocabulary so he could easily tell where I was on my mental map - up by the mine, the Pinto turn off, Woolsey’s ranch, there by Quitchipah. Within a few years I picked up the family explanation that Quitchpah, the shallow lake in an alkali flat, was a Paiute word for “shit water”. I was amused this year when I read an account of the exploration of the area, which was written as church history, to find that that translation became “laxative water”.

    Long before I was legal, I learned to drive on that road. First I got to drive from the house down to the turn onto the highway, then the distance slowly grew to five or six miles before I had to relinquish the wheel. Several friends also had their early training in our small, used Pontiac. It was a good place: little to no traffic, a straight stretch of road at that point, and a piece of highway where I have never seen any law enforcement.

    Though pleasant, it is not an outstandingly scenic road, but I have always loved the contour of the hills, the juniper trees, and outcroppings of red dirt and rock. Now it holds a some additional geological interest because I know it connects two valleys that were once the bottom of a lake 25,000 years ago, and that it skirts the largest group of laccolithic mountains in the world. To be sure, there were plenty of times when my mother and I cussed the road as we had to drive straight west into the late afternoon sun in a car without air conditioning, and more than once we faced a white-knuckle trip in a snow storm that was always bad “up by the mine.” Still, whenever I drive that highway, it conjures up all the emotions we attach to the phrase “going home”.

    Sixty years later, I just might still be able to list those curves.

    The picture is not the state highway; I’ll have to replace it later. It is, however, in all its hokey display, in the hills by the Pinto turnoff.
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