The primitive road less traveledby Lorin Shields-Michel on Oct. 30, 2013, under Tucson Life and Heritage
I grew up in the Northeast. In New England, where I spent much of my high school years and all of my college, I got used to coming across unpaved roads. The house my parents built in New Hampshire was at the top of a road that was at the bottom of a hill. Our road continued down about half mile or so, dead-ending on a dirt road. This road was not heavily traveled. Several abandoned houses could be found nestled in and amongst the pine trees. There was also an abandoned quarry. New Hampshire is known as the granite state and there are quarries in nearly all of the woods. Dirt roads often lead to them. When the heavy equipment used to mine the granite hits a water vein, the quarries quickly fill with water that remains ice cold even in the dread of summer.
We used to swim in the quarry off of our dirt road. We’d turn from the dirt onto a path, park where we could and set up on one of the rocks made flat by the mining. It was rumored that there was still a crane at the bottom of our quarry. No one ever got deep enough to find out.
For the last 25 plus years, I lived in Los Angeles. Concrete city. There was no mystery. The only creepiness came from the Knott’s Berry Farm Haunted House and Hollywood Boulevard. Granite came from tile stores and Lowe’s, not from a hole in the ground. Los Angeles is cement and asphalt, all of which contribute to heat and oppression, especially in the summer. The manmade surfaces attract and absorb the sun and then hold it close all day. It is much the same in all Western cities, except San Francisco.
When we moved to Tucson we knew we were moving to a smaller metropolitan area, nearly 86 percent less populated than Los Angeles. It’s but one of the things we liked best about this part of the desert. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Tucson had a population of 524,295 in 2012 (980,263 for the entire metropolitan area) spread out over 227 square miles. While it’s not as small as where I lived in New Hampshire (the entire state, after all, has only 1,320,718 people), it has something that I didn’t expect to find in any city in this country: dirt roads.
The husband unit, Coop d’Ville and I are currently living in the heart of the urban area of Tucson. The main roads are all asphalt and while many of them, especially those south of River could use some serious repair, they are still paved. The sidewalks are cement. But there are a surprising number of unpaved roads right in the middle of it all. Even just off of Campbell, we’ve found dirt and gravel roads. There are signs limiting the speed limit to 15 mph because of dust. There are intersections where roads cross and remain dirt. Some paved roads, like Martin turn into dirt. There are houses along these roads, all with crushed gravel and dirt drives. I wondered if it was by choice or by city ordinance. I wondered if perhaps it was a way of paying homage to the state’s rich history.
We’ve already walked a number of these roads, often starting out on asphalt and then crunching our way forward onto dirt. I find myself looking down more on dirt than on the pavement. I suspect it’s because there are deep pockets in the dirt left there by too many tires and too many monsoons. I recently found a piece of pottery, a shard. I picked it up and ran my fingers over it. I was sure it was a treasure, from some long forgotten ancient burial site right here in the middle of the city. I quickly discovered that it was from World Market. Part of the store’s recognizable logo was visible on the shard, stamped and partially worn away.
According to an article in the Daily Star in September of 2012, some of the dirt roads in the city are left over from old ranches and have been that way since World War II. And many of the people who now live off of these roads have no desire for asphalt. They like their rural living. Everyone slows down; life along with it.
Off of Catalina Highway, heading toward Mount Lemmon, there are large homes dotting the foothills. We own a piece of property out there; eventually we’ll build a house. Our road is paved, but just before you turn to make the journey to our piece of dirt there’s a caution sign about the Primitive Road ahead. Evidently primitive is not the same as dirt. Primitive means that it’s not maintained.
When we get to that fork, I can’t help but think of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
We haven’t taken that particular road; not yet. But we will. Perhaps, like Mr. Frost, we will sigh as we realize that primitive and dirt roads are nothing more than roads with different surfaces, making all the difference when it comes to navigating our new life in the Old Pueblo.