This is one in a series of entries recounting the 2009 trip that Phil Rose and I took to the desert. We are hoping to fund another such trip; for more details or to help out, please check out our Kickstarter. The beautiful photography present in these posts is courtesy of my friend, the very talented Phil Rose.
Kanab, Utah was our last stop in the mormon state. We drove into town still covered in pink sand, and looking for road coffee. Phil and I have both developed an appreciation for the coffee found on road trips. Some of it is very good… I still remember a near-empty coffee shop in Winthrop, Washington that served me a lovely cup of coffee. Some of it is very bad; I also remember a coffee served to us at a diner near a ghost town that we visited, I don’t recall the name, but I think it was near Mariposa, CA… the coffee was yellow, it was so weak, and as we saw our fellow patrons were all post-retirement age, it occurred to me that they probably had complaints about the coffee being too strong and had adjusted their brew until they arrived at this watery mess, bland, without character, and acceptable to everyone.
We found our road coffee at an ice cream parlor in Kanab. It was neither remarkably good nor remarkably bad, which is most often the case with road coffee. In the parlor with us was an octogenarian wearing a cowboy hat with a bluetooth headset stuck in his ear. I don’t know if there’s any more fitting symbol for the Southwest in the modern age than that man.
I remember the streets of Kanab feeling very empty. I’m not sure why I remember it that way… it’s possible that it was empty, and it’s also possible that I failed to remember the people I saw there. The town did have a mildly threatening feeling to it. I remember that Phil and I, in wandering the town, found a burned out old church. Phil walked around the back, and tried to find a way inside. I don’t remember if he got photos of it, but burned buildings have been fascinating things to me ever since I witnessed the fury of a house fire for the first time.
I saw a sign taped up to a shop window and took a closer look… it was a flyer for Downwinders.
Downwinders are folks who lived downwind of the nuclear tests conducted in the American southwest. Unfortunately a lot of those tests were conducted with no real understanding of the consequences or the nature of radioactive fallout. The flyer was talking about meetings, which I am sure had to do with trying to deal with acquiring benefits from a recalcitrant federal government; they are guaranteed compensation, but they have to prove a correlation between the nuclear tests and the health problems that they are experiencing in order to receive those benefits, and I’m certain that proving these things can be difficult and expensive.
Nevada experienced a hundred nuclear tests before the test ban was signed; eighty six of those were at or above ground level. Today, if word got out that a hundred nuclear devices were to be detonated the next state over, there would be a tremendous outcry… and now so many of these people, including Navajo uranium miners and their families, are struggling to get recompense for radiological health effects that can even span generations.
We were on our way out of Kanab, heading south toward the Arizona state line, when we saw an intriguing turn off. We pulled over and investigated.
What we found was a tremendous junk yard, not secured by any fences or locks. Heaps of metal scrap, piled mattresses, and old vehicles littered the piece of land. We didn’t see a house or other structure, just a few sheds… some with doors hanging open, some without doors at all. An old school bus sat off to the side, its bright yellow paint faded by exposure to the sun. This gem of a car, that could’ve been ours for the price of just fifty bucks, sat to the side of the rutted dirt road, and a pile of tires sat nearby.
We explored the mountains of junk and old household appliances, flabbergasted by the array of things sitting out here in the open. We ventured further inward, and came to a place where the dirt road forked. This was decorated with some very threatening No Trespassing signs. Despite our curiosity, we acquiesced; this was, after all, someone else’s property, and very likely their home.
We went back to the car shortly afterwards, and headed out on Highway 89. We were bound for Arizona and the Grand Canyon.