Saturday, February 16, 2008

Trying to Find Great Grandfather's Tempe (Part 2 of 4—starts Feb. 14)


I'm flying into Arizona. I'll spend one night in Tempe then I'm off to Yuma to see friends before returning to Tempe for another night.

In the late 1800s, my great grandfather and his contemporaries drove their horse carts between the twin Tempe Buttes to get to the best place to ford the Salt River. My great aunts remembered walking the road to get to a beach at the river's edge. I'm determined to see the route they took. This is made a little harder by the fact that Arizona State University (ASU) built Sun Devil Stadium on the buttes. The old timers are still mad about that.

I'm too eager to find the road to the buttes to wait until morning. I drive my rental car directly from the airport to Sun Devil Stadium, despite not having been blessed with a sense of direction and not knowing where I'm going. (Thank you, Arizona highway department, for big stadium directional signs!)

In the dark, I don’t find the road up the north (Phoenix) side of butte, but I find a back way from the south, where the stadium is situated. Natural formations don’t look natural in the eerie glow of street lights. It seems odd to drive a car to a point between two ancient buttes where, for centuries, people journeyed to the Salt River. Even odder is finding a sign that indicates the space I thought was just the size of a road is actually wide enough for a stadium, a Marriot Resort, and an upscale restaurant.

The stadium is dark and deserted, but the hotel parking lot is alive with well-dressed people laughing and talking. I’ve spent so much time imagining this spot in 1893 that it’s hard to adjust to the reality of 2008. The diners will enjoy an expensive meal and view–the same view my great-grandfather saw for free when he headed for the ford in his horse cart. Of course, there are thousands of lights and a freeway he never saw, but I’m not sure they make the view any better.

I want to see the sun rise and set on both sides of these twin buttes. I want to get a feel for the way the formations may have looked to my great grandfather. I will have to come back a few more times—once, just to find the right road—and twice again for sunset and sunrise. The buttes and this project are larger than I anticipated.

1 comment:

Mina said...

Beautiful. I felt like I was there with you. Yes, how grand it would be to see the landscape from 1893. If we only had a time machine...