Welcome to the longtime shire of the most controversial sheriff since, well, nobody else (a Google search for “controversial sheriff” literally pulls up his name), Joe Arpaio. I noticed the street construction immediately, so I had to swing around a bit to even find a place to park, but once I did, it was worth it. It’s a really nice building, and I was trying to figure out if it was made of sandstone or something else. I wasn’t quite sure, but I did know one thing: as I had been offering my water to the state all morning and it was a weekday, it was as good a time as any to tour the courthouse facilities. And by that, I mean go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the guard wouldn’t let me in. So, I had to do one of my least favorite things: I explained the point of my trip, photographing courthouses, and how going inside was also an excuse to see inside. He took pity (?) on me and let me in with the proviso that I only go to the museum on the top floor. I could live with that.
The irony of the courthouse museum being in an old jail wasn’t entirely lost on me. The exhibits on famous legal cases from Arizona such as Gonzales v. Sheely (which predates Brown v. Board) and Miranda v. Arizona were interesting, as was the section about the two Supreme Court Justices from the state, William Rehnquist (though he was actually born in Milwaukee) and Sandra Day O’Connor (though she was actually born in El Paso). Both my camera and my bladder thanked that guard.
I devoted extra time to Phoenix because there were several things I wanted to do and one I absolutely needed to accomplish. The first thing was that I needed a cache, so I went somewhere I could get a handful at once, the grounds of the Arizona State Capitol, the center of political gravity in this town. As a sidenote, I found it interesting that the Capitol has separate congressional chambers. Of course, it is nowhere near as majestic as Texas’, but that’s an issue for another day. There was a plethora of Virtuals about, but one of them especially spoke to me.
Ladies and gentlemen (or however you identify—I don’t mean to be gender assumptive), I give you the anchor of the USS Arizona. Anyone with a passing knowledge of America’s entry into the Second World War knows the significance of that. There were also a couple of the main guns that were pulled up from it. I logged the Virtual there as the official cache of the county, and not just because it was easy and historically fitting. It also fulfills another state name for the State Name Challenge I’m working on.
There was another one at Arizona’s copy of the Liberty Bell. I couldn’t help but notice the irony of having prison workers doing lawn maintenance within view of it. I guess Louisiana doesn’t have a monopoly on that. There were plinths displaying the Bill of Rights, which seems a bit strange in light of some of their more recent political stances. That, and how come nobody has such reverence for the other Amendments? They have just as much validity and force. There was also a new Virtual at the Vietnam War Memorial that left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn’t even devoted to the war itself. One of the ideas they give us from Groundspeak HQ is that if your reason for placing a cache is because there isn’t one in the area, that isn’t the best reason. That Virtual was one of those. After so many Virtuals, I had other work to accomplish. There was another reason I was in Phoenix. I had another cache to find.
As I mentioned previously, my original plan was to complete the entire state of Arizona with this trip. That was my first primary goal. If I wanted to complete the state and not have to come back, I would also have to accomplish a second primary goal: to find the state’s county challenge, Cache Across Arizona. As is tradition, I wanted to log it when I returned home, but that wasn’t gonna happen this trip. I scheduled thirty minutes to an hour to get it. How hard could it be?
I got to the (well, at home, this would be called a greenbelt, but here in the desert it was more like a) brownbelt, nestled between suburbs, peopled with walkers and hikers. Parked at the trailhead, I realized I was in for a little more than I had planned when I saw the cache was a mile and a half away. Regardless, I started walking. Did I mention it was a trail cutting through quartz-filled hills? Up and down I went, occasionally having to reorient after starting down a wrong path. Let me tell you something … I am an effete snob who enjoys complex and dubious pleasures, geocaching not least among them. Some people love hiking. I am not one of those people. But I wanted this cache because I didn’t want to have to come back. So I trudged up and down those hills.
The last five hundred to a thousand feet? Completely rough and off-trail, leading to a rock pile. The good news was that the cache had been replaced recently and found three weeks before so I was pretty sure it was there. The bad news was that the clue was “hidden under a big flat rock.” Really?!? It was a rock pile! They’re all rocks! Whoever rated it as a D1.5/T2.5 should be (with love and kindness, of course) stabbed in the face! Full disclosure: the T2.5 was not entirely unwarranted because I could see the other end of the trail from where I was searching. It was full of height changes (T3) but much shorter (fifteen hundred feet perhaps). I had seemingly come the long way. But I looked and looked. I could not for the life of me find it! An hour passed while searching. So many rocks! And I had no intention of leaving without it because, again, I didn’t want to have to come back. Another hour passed up there. It was only seventy degrees on a winter day and I was tired and sweating like … some clever metaphor that is expected to sweat a lot. I can’t imagine what looking for this thing would have been like in the summer. This experience only reinforced my previously held opinion of Phoenix.
I’ve mentioned this before (and digressive tangents are my bread and butter in a literary sense) but I was reminded of this as I wondered how to continue. Villains have to be strong and powerful. Why? Because anyone else might try to betray them or might be a tool to use and then discard when the time is right. They can only count on themselves. Heroes, on the other hand? Heroes don’t have to be the best or the most powerful or perfect because heroes have friends. Heroes have people who will help them, fight beside them, or even for them. Apparently, I am a hero. Remember I mentioned that someone found the cache a few weeks before? That finder was someone I know, Geocache Talk‘s own Pathfinder33. On that windswept pile, I reached out to him. And he answered the call. We talked for a bit, but reception was spotty on both our ends. He gave me a directional hint and even offered to pop over and give me a hand since he lived close enough to shoot over on his bike. I was willing to take him up on his offer, but ruminating on the extra clue he gave me and thinking a little outside of the box I had confined myself to turned out to be enough.
Ladies and gentlemen (or however you identify—I still don’t mean to be gender assumptive), I give you Cache Across Arizona. And once I signed it, the long trek back to the car began. I thought for a little while about going to get the oldest cache in Arizona but by the time I got back to the car, the voices inside my head were a chorus with the same answer, a resounding “BLANK that.” After what I had already done, that could wait for another day if I ever found myself back here. I enjoyed the cool air conditioning and drank a bunch more water as I decided my next move. I had spent a lot longer in town than I had intended, about five hours compared to the two I had originally scheduled. My next destination would be my last one for the day with sunlight, and while my map dictated where that would be, I changed the destination. After all, so much had changed already that this would be a minor diversion. I set off down the road, putting the Valley of the Sun in my rearview mirror. I might return sometime, but no time soon or in the foreseeable future (I wouldn’t even want to be there in the spring, much less the summer). And, despite three accidents that would slow or divert me, I finally reached my next target…