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There’s a hilltop in Bisbee, Arizona, just a few miles north of the Mexican border. It sits over Brewery Gulch, casting its shadow over the canyon homes. The last several months I lived in Bisbee I was in a deeply disturbing relationship and everything around me seemed to be in chaos, but I would hike up to the cross on the hill every morning with my dog and enjoy the quiet and the peace.
I’m not a religious man, but I believe in the power of intention. I’d heard stories about the man who built this shrine, decades ago, and about the effort it took, hauling concrete and materials, an armload at a time, from Tombstone Canyon up to the hilltop. In the years since the cross was erected, other people have added onto the shrine. The ashes of peoples’ loved ones have been spread there, piles of candles have been left on the backside of the hill where a shrine to the Guadalupe Virgin has been built. A mural of Jesus is painted on the side of the hill and a monument to the people who have died in the desert trying to cross into America has been established; at the site, people deposit items found in the desert, left behind by border crossers, from backpacks and worn-out shoes to tooth brushes and baby bottles.
My heart is still in the Mule Mountains, even if it’s no longer in Bisbee. I will never forget the brief moments, sitting on the hilltop on those silent mornings, watching the sun rise over the desert.
Today I stumbled across an old photo, taken during the first few months I had lived in Bisbee, Arizona. It’s a mile-high historic town where one of the largest copper mining operations in the world existed. On a, 80 story hilltop overlooking the canyons the comprise most of the town is a makeshift shrine, evidently constructed by a single individual, who hauled mortar and supplies up the trail to the top of the hill, one small load at a time.
The folks that live in town have added to the shrine their own little flourishes. Candles, prayer flags, and sculptures have slowly accumulated, and the cross at the top of the hill kind of belongs to the whole community now. Even in the tumult of my last few months in Bisbee, with a flagging relationship and commensurate flagging reputation among some hostile locals, I always found peace hiking up into the hills to look at the view and be alone with my thoughts.
On the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, about ten miles south of downtown Tucson, rests “the pearl of the Sonoran desert.” San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic mission, erected between 1783-1797 near a natural water spring fed by the Santa Cruz River. It’s the oldest European structure in Arizona, considered by many to be one of the greatest specimens of Spanish Colonial architecture. The natural spring no longer exists, and this stretch of the Santa Cruz only runs for part of the year.
This is one of my favorite places in the world. There’s no way I could every take an original photograph of it – it has been photographed countless times by tourists, photo enthusiasts, and professionals. Most famously, Ansel Adams turned his lens to the beautiful structure; the images reside at The Center for Creative photography on the University of Arizona campus.
This particular image was made in the Spring of 2001. This is one of the earliest visit I’d made to San Xavier, although I would make the drive out on a regular basis during my tenure at the University of Arziona. Up on the hilltop, in the background, is where I would often sit and listen to the wind. It’s the most peaceful, magical place. A wonderful site to clear one’s head.