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This Town Is Too Small to Hyder

Hyder, Arizona: Part one

If you've ever heard the cliché "If you blink your eyes you'll miss it" then you probably know what I'm talking about when I refer to the town where I grew up back in the 1960s.

Hyder is nestled in Arizona's Gila River Valley, approximately half-way between Phoenix and Yuma as the crow flies. When we first settled there, the town consisted of three bars, two makeshift churches, and a few houses (many of which housed workers for the Southern Pacific Railroad, which, in it's heyday had been used to transport troops and supplies for General George S. Patton's troops during World War II). I remember playing on the big cement pillars of that old loading dock (at least I believe that is what it was) sitting across the tracks from Whispering Sands Bar (We just called it Charlie's after its proprietor, Charlie Alexander) and marveling at the lava rocks that made curious black outlines as they lined driveways of the old Hyder Camp where tents had once stood in the sandy sun-baked desert. Here, I also wondered what it must have been like for the soldiers who had once lain hidden behind piles of rocks shooting at an imaginary foe during combat gunnery training and what it was like to ride in a tank, etc.

Not far away stood a monument that paid tribute to soldiers who had lost their lives out there, and I often wondered if a distant relative, who had also served under Genral Patton, had known them personally. I also remember the day when we found an old land-mine during a school outing and how frightened, yet thrilled, we were at the prospect of it's being live. Thankfully it was not! Oh how I wish I had kept all the relics, such as the mess kit, the long-barreled pistol, the Indian artifacts, the rocks and minerals, and the numerous buttons and other articles of clothing my sister and I found out in that desert, for we would have enough to fill a small museum. However, that is for another time and perhaps another story.

Whispering Sands, or "Charlie's", was a combination bar, entertainment center, and grocery store. My sister and I spent a lot of time there listening to the jukebox, playing pool, and just hanging out. I also remember when the sometimes cantankerous owner, Charlie, wouldn't let us play anything but country and western songs on that old jukebox of his. However, little did he know that some of his albums had been switched to rock-n-roll by his ingenious stepson, and these we played to our hearts content whenever he wasn't around.

Charlie's stepson was the hippest guy in town at that time, and he just happened to be my sister's boyfriend, so naturally we spent a lot of time hanging out at his place. He also owned two Harley's (a chopper and a dirt bike) which we rode on with him many times, a drum-set, an eight-track stereo, a jukebox, and just about all the rock-n-roll albums one could imagine. In fact, he had so many albums in drawers, closets, under his bed, and stacked around the room that one could hardly find a place to sit.

My father was a farmhand, but he also worked on a cattle ranch a one time. This is where I learned how to ride horses. My favorite horse to ride was old "Hammerhead" because I could encourage him to do almost anything, including jumping ditches and racing other horses. But my favorite horse of all was a little brown colt. He was a wild little fellow whom the ranch foreman never had time to work with. So he left that up to us kids. I remember being so determined that he would be mine someday that I would stand out in the pasture, with my back turned to him, holding an apple or a lump of sugar in the hand behind me while patiently waiting for him to slink up to take a bite. I can also remember the thrill of excitement I felt when he finally did just that! Then, day after day, I would stand out there waiting for him to search my pockets for a treat just so I could slowly inch my hand around to pet him on the nose, all the while cooing and repeating gentle words of encouragement and praise. Then one day he actually let me face him, and oh what a thrill that was!

Hyder was also the place where I had the opportunity to attend the one-room schoolhouse at nearby Sentinel. What an experience that was, too! This school was so small that I was the only seventh grader for almost a year. I also recollect there only being about 25 other students in attendance, which were taught by two teachers. The one big hang-up to this scenario, in my opinion, was that it just so happened that one of them (mine) was also the principle.

To some people, Hyder was an insignificant little out-of-the-way desert town. But to me, living there was like journeying back in time to a place nearby called Agua Caliente in the 1800s, where people came around the world to bathe in its hot artesian waters, where there once stood a tiny pink house beside Hyder Mountain (my dream home), and where soldiers once trained under General George S. Patton.