As I saw the mountains looming ahead in the distance, I gripped the steering wheel in excitement. I felt like a small child waiting for Santa Claus. In dreams I have seen these same mountains, standing tall and proud, beckoning me to come home. "Home" is Bisbee, a small dot on the map in Southeastern Arizona, right next to the Mexican border. As I drove into Bisbee that afternoon, I was in a nostalgic frame of mind. I had spent my childhood in this town, moved away after completing grade school, and now, years later I had returned.
Around the turn of the century Bisbee was a bustling mining town. The town grew, and soon became filled with the noise of mining machinery and activity. After years of digging, Phelps Dodge Coroperation had then closed the mine, leaving the town silent and empty. When the mine closed, my family moved away, leaving behind a lifetime of memories.
I first wanted to drive by the house where I had spent my adolescent years. As I turned down the familiar street, I became aware that the whole neighborhood had changed. I could visualize my friends and me, riding bikes and playing football in front of my house. Then when I looked at my house, I found it different. Flowers of all colors had been planted along the fencerow, and grass was growing in the front yard. Someone had spent days coaxing that grass to grow, for in southern Arizona a green lawn takes much patience and skill. The house had an entirely different aura; there was no trace of my family who once had lived there.
I parked my car on a seldom used side street west of the house. The street was unpaved and rocky. I got out of the car and walked up the low hill on which I had once played. I stood there in the sunshine, taking deep breaths of the clean, clear mountain air deep into my lungs. Cactus of all sizes and shapes were scattered in every direction. I found a huge rock and climbed upon it to sit down. As I gazed around, I noticed an old newspaper tangled on the bottom of a cactus and a smashed paper cup lying near the rock where I had spent so much of my childhood daydreaming about whether I would become a nurse or a teacher. To see the trash scattered there angered me. As I gazed down my old street, the sun faded slowly, spilling brilliant colors across the landscape. A chill crept into the air as I returned to my car. I had a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach as I drove to the motel to spend the night.
Early the next morning I decided to see the open pit mine where my father had spent so many years digging out a living for his family. I drove to the observation point and parked by the fence. As I got out of my car, to the right I saw a new building that was a souvenir shop where tourists were busy buying replicas of mining tools. As I entered the shop I saw that the counters were lined with bits of turquoise jewelry called "Bisbee Blue". I was saddened to think that the town I held so close to my heart could be sold so cheaply. I knew what Bisbee once was. I knew how proud she had once stood. Now she had been stripped of everything. Somehow she had lost her individuality and purpose. She had been used up, and her remnants were being sold off, discarded like an old shoe. I walked outside and gazed through the fence, down into the pit. My eyes followed the road as it spiraled downward. On the very bottom of the pit were shallow pools of water of different colors. The soil had all shades of reds and browns swirled together as if mixed up in a blender. Faint streaks of blues and greens ran through the soil, as if carelessly tossed there as an afterthought. In my mind I could hear the engines of the pit trucks and even see them, busy as bees scurrying back and forth. They would be loaded with dirt before heading out to different dumping locations in town. The pit trucks were orange, with black numbers painted on the door. The tires were twice as tall as an average man. Day and night these trucks moved, always taking the same route to and from. I looked behind me and remembered the tin roofed conveyor belt that had once brought the cooper ore from the pit up over the highway to the spot where the crushing mill had once stood. The conveyor belt had always been full of rocks, slowly moving from the primary crusher to the secondary crusher. As I stood there, the silence engulfed me. I felt I was mourning for this mine, for the life it had once had.
I drove up into the very heart of Bisbee. Houses were built on the side of the mountain, seeming as though at any moment they would topple off into the street below. Cement steps were built from the main street, going upward, leading to houses up on the mountain. The streets behind these houses were extremely narrow and crooked, some having dangerously sharp curves. It takes a cautious driver and good brakes to maneuver these streets. The Copper Queen Hotel was still there, with tourists hurrying in and out. This was one of the oldest hotels in Bisbee. I walked up to Castle Rock, which is a high place where you can view most of the town below. As I sat looking west, I saw the Huachuca Mountains spread out as if resting. I could see an old mineshaft on the mountain to my left. Far above it was a huge "B" formed out of large rocks. Each year the freshmen class has to climb the mountain and repaint the "B" as a type of high school initiation. This is a tradition that Bisbee has had for many years. Off to my right was Mule Mountain Pass, a long tunnel carved through the mountain, taking you to the other side. The tunnel is lit inside with long lights mounted against the wall. As a child it seemed so large and frightening, now it seemed lonely and desolate. Almost all of the stores and cafes I had been familiar with as a child were now closed. The buildings were boarded up with graffiti sprayed on the doors and walls.
I went by the large vacant lot where the circus would always set up once a year. There was a large shopping center built there now. I walked into the Safeway store, trying to find a familiar face amoung the crowd. What had happened to all the people I had left behind all those years ago? I cut my visit short and decided to leave that afternoon. I felt hollow and empty. I had come home to find a piece of my past, instead, I had found my past was gone. All that I had left were memories of my childhood that had seemed so magical, happy and carefree. On my way out of town , as I drove up through Mule Mountain Pass, I stopped and looked back. Something made my eyes water . Perhaps it was the bright sunshine.....