Originally posted 4/16/2013
Monday in Wickenburg Arizona was a big day – and I didn’t even know about it! That’s what I get for not checking the town’s event calendar more closely. But, I still saw more than enough to fill my visual gullet.
Project One was to get one of the two 30# propane tanks refilled. I was going to simply do that as part of my town tour and grocery shop, but the 30# tank is tall and easily tipped over in the truck’s bed, so I had second thoughts about parking on a side street with the bed cover open and all the stuff in the bed exposed. So, I made a special trip into town to fill it and minimize the downtime for the refrigerator/freezer.
Approaching one of the two wide washes that Rincon Road passes through, I saw a couple of ATVers in an unhappy situation. Their all-wheel-drive van and cargo trailer were stuck in the soft sand of the smaller wash. See? My paranoia about the nature of the sand here is based on what I’ve observed in my two weeks here, not mere imagination. One guy was taking pictures, while the other was talking to the driver of a towing service’s flatbed tow truck. The tow truck was in the road and, having conventional two-wheel drive, wouldn’t make it far into the wash. I drove past and then remembered I had a tow strap in the bed, so I pulled over. Unnecessary. Just after I got out to walk down into the wash, an old Ford 4WD pickup fitted with a towing arm and wide offroad tires idled past me and went down into the wash. The cavalry had arrived. I returned to my ride and resumed my trip into town.
The first place I went to for propane was a very large gas station that handled gasoline, on and off-road diesel, and propane. Reviews about them on the Internet were very good. Turns out they were also closed – closed for good. I find that kind of thing a lot. I managed to find an RV park in town. Some of them can refill propane tanks. The one I went to didn’t however, and referred me to a place just a mile away. Score! Propane there came to $20, which was less than anywhere I’d found so far on my entire trip.
That done, I decided to top off the Furd’s fuel tank for my upcoming trip to the Prescott National Forest. The GPS listed four other gas stations, so off I went to the nearest one, a Circle K. Oddly, they had no fuel pumps of any kind – it was just a convenience store. The next stop didn’t handle diesel, nor the next. The last one had diesel pumps. Unfortunately they were all taped off and “out of order”. Oh well. I headed for home, got the propane system up and running again, and headed back to “Historical Downtown Wickenburg”.
I stopped at the Ace Hardware store first for a short, threaded metal pipe fitting to replace the plastic one that had snapped in the Tankmin’s vent hole – I didn’t care to tempt fate by snapping off another one. Ace was having half of its parking lot resurfaced and restriped, so the parking that was left was an interesting challenge for the big Ford. That done, I missed a turn in town, and saw ahead that a fire engine was blocking the main drag. There was a parade passing by with some cowboys on horses! I pulled into a side lot to turn around, and a guy came up to ask if I’d be willing to let him cable my truck for a jump start, as he’d left his lights on. He was parked right nearby on the street. He offered to pay me for the help, which is a sad reminder of what helping another person out of a jam has devolved into in these modern times.
Well heck, the entire street was blocked off and clear, so I pulled up close to his car on the opposite side of the street, put on the “Safety First – we have a situation here, please don’t hit me” hazard flashers and popped the hood. He quickly had his pre-connected cable clamps in hand, his car started right up, and he was grateful. However, much to my surprise, I had apparently just caught the tail end of the parade! The fire engine was suddenly gone, and the cars trapped on the other side were rolling right for me. Oops! Hood down, jump in the truck, and veer back cautiously into the right lane. Made it!
I proceeded toward the Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center building, which was the town’s now-unused 1895 train station. Passenger service had ended sometime before 1984 when the town glommed it from the Santa Fe Railroad and restored it. There, I asked about the parade I’d missed, and found that it was the start of the 67th Annual Desert Caballero’s Men’s Ride. The fashionably-dressed young lady explaining it to me seemed a little put off that it was for men only, and even that, by invitation only. There were about 167 riders this year, and after camping, partying and boozing locally on Saturday and Sunday, they head off onto the mountains to ride, camp, shoot guns, eat, and do other assorted manly things. By Friday, they’ll have had enough and parade back into town, probably in search of a hot shower. Sounds like great fun, if you have the butt for long rides. The participants are not just locals, but many come from overseas as well. The group’s info sheet is here, and a spectator-shot video of a prior year’s parade is below.
The other thing that impressed me about the parade and the town’s government is that crews were immediately out on the streets shoveling impressive amounts of horse puckey into the beds of municipal pickup trucks. I mean, the riders apparently gathered from all over, because it was all over town, even out on the main highways outside of the downtown area. I know, I seem increasingly preoccupied with waste materials because of my RVing, but without the modern miracle of indoor plumbing, this topic just becomes one of the issues that suddenly come out of hiding, so to speak.
Wickenburg prides itself on its heritage, and claims that because of the many working ranches and dude ranches around it, that you’ll see “real cowboys!” in town. Well, mostly, it’s just local residents and a pile of visitors, obviously. Now and then, you’ll see someone in a cowboy hat. Occasionally, you will see a cowboy or cowgirl – that is, someone from one of the ranches. You can just tell by the look. Me, when I put on Western wear, I look like that’s what I’m doing. I’m a suburbanite in Western clothing. Some other people look like that here, too. What stands out is that some others look perfectly authentic, even when they’ve swapped in construction boots because of what they’re doing that day. They’re plainly ranchers or ranch hands.
Wickenburg may trade on its Old West heritage and the preservation of it, but that’s only true if you also accept that Wickenburg has had to move on and progress like any other town. There are a very few other more authentic Old West towns around, but they all died and were abandoned many decades ago. All that’s left is a few dry-rotted boards on what were temporary make-do shacks, anyway. Wickenburg is actually as modern a town as can be, but has not yet gutted most of its downtown. The hotel’s long gone, replaced by a Best Western. Most other buildings have been heavily rebuilt and modernized, or absorbed into larger architectures to the point where they are very difficult to spot even with a map. In essence, most of Wickenburg’s original past has been boarded over to the point where it’s often difficult to tell what you’re looking at.
But reality dictates that in order for a town to stay viable, dilapidated and abandoned downtown structures have to be put to use. Most towns tear them down and replace them with McDonalds, auto parts stores, and strip mini-malls. It’s notable that a ton of Wickenburg’s commercial buildings are on the National Historic Register, yet are still viable businesses. Wickenburg is well-adapted for the more affluent tourist, a point which has proven problematic once the great economic snowball began rolling downhill. Many downtown storefronts are closed, empty, or for sale. Tourist-oriented art, crafts, and photography studios have felt the brunt, and as far as I can tell, only well-located jewelry, Western-wear, and saddlery businesses are holding on.
In view of this rather glum assessment, the question has to be asked – is Wickenburg worth visiting? Definitely. Not so much for the building-by-building historical trace, but for its upscale aura solidly augmented by an eclectic Old West style that’s injected here and there. It’s still a working town that has everything you need, a lot of what you don’t, a pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere, and friendly, straightforward people. I’ll be planning on returning simply because it’s a nice little town that bests anything else its size. I enjoy being there, which is more than I can say for most towns.