The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.


March 28, 2017 – Storm on the Salt River

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Last night we found ourselves somewhat stranded. Cracked radiator on the short drive from dinner in Show Low, Arizona to nearby Pinetop. Angry hissing under the hood when we arrived, with an engine running hot. This morning was a scramble of phone calls and worry, trying to get the vehicle repaired so we could get back on the road, and back home to our jobs, our lives, our responsibilities.

Dark clouds descended in the early hours of the morning, dumping sleet and snow and unexpected cold. Thrift store jackets kept our unprepared asses (somewhat) warm, and we huddled against the circumstance, resigned to what was being thrown at us. And out of the frustration and cold, an unbelievable number of kind and generous people entered our lives, sparing us long walks through the snow, giving us advice and warm food, and wishing us luck on our return journey.

Sometimes bad luck is just good luck in disguise. This short little trip didn’t go as planned – not in any way. Instead, we were thrust, vulnerable, into the arms of strangers, only to be reminded how wonderful and kind people can be. We got the Jeep repaired and made our way back south, with the winter storm on our tail. The snow turned to rain, but the dark clouds were chasing us all the way through the mountain passes and rugged canyons. The image above is the salt river canyon, right around the time we finally outran our shabby luck.

We drifted into Tucson at sun-down, purple light igniting the back-end of Mount Lemmon. It felt like we’d been gone for two weeks, instead of just two days. It was a ride. But it always feels good to get back home, even though we spend most of our time wishing we were away.

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January 21 – The Drifter

01-21 The Drifter post

“I will never lose the love for the arriving, but I’m born to leave.”
~Charlotte Eriksson

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I couldn’t leave it with just one. Yesterday’s image led to me pouring through several folders of photographs that I hadn’t looked at in a good long while, most of them from Tucson and other areas scattered throughout the southwest. I could probably put a photograph of a vintage sign out every day for a year without having to entertain another theme.

Old motor lodges are about as classic as Americana can get. We are a car-loving people, and cars have taken us up and down the country, from east coast to west. We’ve carved paths through this territory, and all we have to do is fill the tank and push the pedal down. Because we are a car-loving people, we are also an adventurous people – or at least we used to be. Today, the world is at our fingertips; with technological innovations we couldn’t have imagined a generation ago, there is less of a need or desire to step out into the sun and get lost in a foreign land. Comfort is a hell of a drug, and our culture has become much more homogenized.

Americans abroad look for familiar fast food like McDonald’s because we’ve forgotten how marvelous newness can be. We’d prefer guaranteed mediocrity than uncomfortable novelty. We drive hundred of miles to lock ourselves in a room and watch the same television shows we could watch at home, nibbling on Pizza Hut pizza, emerging occasionally to grab a soda from the vending machine down the hall. This kind of “travel” has been lampooned, it’s a new discussion topic in university classrooms, and it’s written about in novels.

I wouldn’t necessarily frame all of this negatively. It’s just an observation. I’ve done the same thing myself. I’ve driven in a car for six hours, wanting nothing more than delivery pizza and the passive, lazy novelty of cable television after checking into the hotel room. Perpetually worried about utilities, rent, food, and car maintenance, I find myself taking that extra-long hot shower and cranking the air-conditioner to absurd temperatures that I would never indulge in were I at home. I get it. Comfort is a thing we all have a weird and twisted relationship with, and I guess my only point would be that we should at least acknowledge this.

If we can just accept that we’ve kinda turned into wimps, maybe we can change it a little. Maybe we’ll take a walk down that dark alley that’s always sacred us, take a risk, cross that busy street, brave the noise and discomfort. Maybe, if we do, we’ll be a little less timid, a little more self-assured, and maybe we’ll be reminded again how big and beautiful this world really is, despite all of the treachery and violence and uncertainty.

Be a drifter. I dare you.