A road trip on Highway 60 west from Globe to Phoenix in a 1949 Chevy in the summer of 1951 sounds like an exciting trip to a youngster. How does one prepare for such a journey westward? That’s the question I asked my father when he said that our family was making a one-time shopping trip to Phoenix and back to buy school clothes for the children, building supplies for the home, and additional items for the adults. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Just wear comfortable clothes.” Little did I know that, not only would my three brothers and I be riding with our parents, but also with my two aunts and my grandmother— and in a car with no air conditioning! Nevertheless, I looked forward to the trip, especially since I had never been to the big city called “Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun”, with its tall buildings and palm trees along the street known as “Central”.
The U.S. 60 road trip from Globe to Superior captured my imagination. Because my family’s history is linked to the history of the Globe-Miami area, I was familiar with the words that are unique to these twin mining towns: slag dump; head frame; tank house; drifts; concentrator; smelter; ore carts. The terrain surrounding the twin towns, with the Pinal Mountains in the higher elevations, is blessed by their own natural wonders: mesquite; oak; ocotillo; and chrysocolla . What did the land look like once we started?
Nearing Claypool, one sees various mine buildings built within the surrounding hills by the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company and the Miami Copper Company. The slag dumps we passed along the way, those huge heaps of mine waste so common in mining towns, resembled the great white sand dunes of Egypt. The looming Power Plant on Live Oak street, across from the Cleve Van Dyke mansion and orchards, was another prominent landmark in Miami. Live Oak Street took us out of Miami, and onto the highway to Superior, dedicated in 1922 and built partly by prison labor.
In the summer of 1951, that Superior highway demanded my dad’s respect, and tested his skills as a driver because of the many challenges it posed. It was a narrow single-lined highway, with little room for tourists to stop their cars to marvel at the beauty of the jutting mountains. A 1946 magazine article stated that the Superior highway had 67 curves, the sharpest of which was 57 degrees, or a radius of 100 feet before it was improved. To a youngster sitting in the back seat of a ’49 Chevy, the Superior highway brought frightening images of the car falling off the road and down the canyon below. Another landmark was the old Claypool tunnel, with Superior not far on the opposite side of the entrance. It looked like it had been blasted just yesterday, its opening so small and uninviting. Past Apache Leap and into Superior, the smelter of the Magma mine, with sulphur smoke bellowing from the smokestack, dominated the landscape. By contrast, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum along the highway looked peaceful and magical.
Up ahead on U.S Highway 60 lay Florence Junction, with its small café and gas station, provided travelers a chance to rest, eat a meal, have a refreshing cold drink, or fill up the gas tank before continuing across that hot, dry cacti-laced desert. The only reward the desert offered that hinted of civilization up ahead was the Buckhorn Baths, with its soothing mineralized hot waters inviting travelers to soak away their aches and worries. Far away and in the distance was Phoenix. We’d get there one day. My dad promised!
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