Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day Trippin: Gila Bend for UFOs, Forgotten Town Cemetery, and Bigfoot

You know, with my love of cemeteries, I have to mention a very special one: Mobile’s Galilee Baptist Cemetery. This cemetery is special because Mobile was the first African American settlement town in Arizona. The cemetery houses its founders. It was nearly forgotten until the Pioneer Cemetery Association came forward at the insistence of a worried resident who believed builders in the Maricopa area might be planning to infringe upon the cemetery. To help document the graves and discover the historic significance of this lonely cemetery, I went along with the Association to log all the graves and listen to the history from the words of one of the founders’ daughters. She even took us into the desert where there was a cattle watering hole once used for baptisms by the locals called “Negro Flats.” It was the most spiritual spot I’ve been to in a very long time, along with Mt. St. Helens and the Vortex on Airport Rd. in Sedona, and a few other stray places, this place really got to me. The cemetery is worth a look-see. It’s very basic, few graves with headstones, but it has a feel to it that’s…exposed and vulnerable, lost and lonely. I felt good just designing a sign for the place and some crosses for the graves because I hate to see a cemetery left to deteriorate and forgotten in the desert.

Take I-10 down towards Tucson and take the AZ-347 S. Queen Creek exit 164. Head west (right). Travel almost 15 miles (you’ll pass a few stoplights in Maricopa) and turn right at the light at W. Smith-Enke Rd. AZ-238. Head about 13 miles down it to 99th Avenue which is easily found by looking for the tower and schoolhouse (there’s nothing else out here, so it’s a no-miss). Turn right at the schoolhouse and head down the dirt road about a mile until you see fencing. That’s the cemetery on the right. You can park inside or along the road that runs beside it or even at the community center behind it.

When you’re ready to head on to Gila Bend, go back out to the schoolhouse and turn right to continue on AZ-238. Go about 26.7 miles and turn left on Pima St/AZ-85 S/E. (We found a listing of a Bosque Cemetery along AZ-238 and we’ve estimated it’s at about the 17-19 mile point—if you can find it, let me know—the last time we were there traffic wouldn’t allow us to cruise by slowly to observe). Once you turn onto AZ-85 S/E, go down a few miles to 401 E. Pima St. You can’t miss the Space Age Café because it has a huge UFO on top of it. This is the best kitsch place in the world for a good lunch and a lot of interesting tourist gifts.

Gila Bend actually has a huge amount of UFO sightings. Some is related to being on the edge of Barry Goldwater range where the Air Force flies and another part is attributed to the distant Estrella Mountains which are the hub of UFO sightings in South Central AZ When you’re done eating, try going further down that Pima St. (right coming out of the parking lot) and go down further to where there’s almost a freeway overpass. To the left before the overpass is a cool abandoned hotel (picture above). It’s a great photo opportunity. Along that entire Pima St. there’s a lot of great abandoned stuff to photograph.

As a side note, there was a reported Bigfoot sighting just outside of Gila Bend. For more info: http://www.searchingforbigfoot.com/Gila_Bend_Arizona_Bigfoot_Encounter
There are event pictographs around there from ancient Native Americans portraying something that looks suspiciously like Bigfoot. Supposedly, he was seen near a dam at a lake nearby. I think if I were a huge 800-pound hairy ape man, I’d probably rather be in the cool wet woods of the NW or even the White Mountains of AZ, but I don’t think I’d be hiding behind boulders and catching algae-feeding fish. But, I guess every social group has to have its indigents. Perhaps this is a rogue one? Hee hee

Anyways, you’ll be driving through some beautiful desert from Mobile to Gila Bend and the drive isn’t very long at all for an AZ daytrip. You’ll get lots of fantastic photos of abandoned sites, see a “town” (Mobile) that you’ve almost definitely never seen, and explore a UFO café and maybe hear some local stories of sightings. It’s a great daytrip, one of my fav’s.

Have a happy and safe trip!

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