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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.
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
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I decided to dig through the archives for today’s photograph. I have a mountain of pictures that not only haven’t been published, but have almost been forgotten. I like to sift through old files, look back on all the faces and scenery I’ve been blessed enough to photograph. When my motivation is languishing – when I’m feeling the impulse to create something but don’t know where to begin – going through old photographs always helps.
One of my favorite places in the whole world is the hilltop that overlooks Brewery Gulch and all of Old Bisbee. That old Arizona town is unspeakably picturesque. Years ago, I’ve been told, a local man – I wish I could recall his name – could be seen hauling materials, an armload at a time, up and down the rocky path that winds up the hill. And anybody who visits Bisbee eventually sees the big white cross on the hill. Most folks aren’t able to find the trail without being shown the way.
Local folks have added their own candles, keepsakes, statues, prayer flags and vials of water. A local woman placed her husband’s ashes up there. A small red dollhouse-sized memorial was fixed onto the hilltop when Derrick and Amy Ross – our Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl – passed away a couple years ago. On the backside of the hill is a makeshift shrine for those who braved the desert heat in an attempt to cross into America. Toothbrushes, children’s shoes, baby bottles, rosaries, backpacks, sunglasses, and clothing have been collected and hung atop the rocks beneath the visage of the Guadalupe Virgin.
I hiked up there several times a week, not often running into other people. I never grew tired of the view. Just thinking about it, I can almost feel the sense of calm in the wind in the summertime, watching monsoon storms roll in from the distance. It is a very special place. I look forward to being there again soon.