It's Official: Arizona Is Hell

And other tales in this strange state

I live in a state where the official bird, the cactus wren, refuses to live in half the landscape.

The official tree, the paloverde, appears leafless.
The official necktie, the string bola, is so goofy most wives won't let their husbands appear in one.

Of the 400 richest people in America, not one chooses to live in Arizona. Dusty New Mexico, by contrast, has managed to attract one example of the super-rich, while barren Nevada has attracted five.

The town I live in, Tucson, is decorated by two grand statues to shady historical characters--one, a killer and a bigamist and the only general ever to invade U.S. territory (Pancho Villa), and the other, a Jesuit S&M freak (Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who, while colonizing the desert for Spain, did penance by whipping himself).

So perhaps it's only fitting that, of all the fifty states, Arizona contains the most hells.

This official word comes from the U.S. Geological Survey, which has painstakingly compiled a voluminous gazetteer listing the names of every geographical feature in the country.

In case anyone asks, Arizona contains 55 hells of wide variety.
We nudge out our closest competitors in this regard, Utah (46 hells) and California (which has enough Death Valley-style territory to come in at 45 hells).

Our Arizona hells go all the way from Hell Hole Valley to Helldive Spring to Hellgate Mountain.

We've got four Hell Canyons, two Hell's Gates, no less than five Hell's Half Acres and a Hell's Half Acre Canyon.

Not to mention the valley in Maricopa County known fondly as Hell's Hip Pocket.

It seems like everywhere you step there's a Hell's Hole--the total is seven--spaced around in Greenlee, Apache, Yavapai, Mohave, and Gila Counties.

We can also boast of a pair of Hell's Hole Canyons, a Hell's Hole Creek and--in a geographical inversion I'd like to see--a Hell's Hole Peak.

Now that I've brought this up, no doubt people will be zipping around Arizona, visiting all the hells. The type A's will be fired up for a new all-consuming recreation. In other states like Colorado, they have peak-baggers, who climb to the top of all the highest mountains for glory and scenery. Down here, it's more like hell-bagging.

I can imagine the panorama up in Yavapai County from Hell Point at sunset--or perhaps a pounding high noon in late June would be the time to check out Hell Point. Summer before the cooling rains would be the high season for true hell-baggers.

In the dead of next summer, maybe I'll mosey over to Gila County to hike up Hell's Neck Ridge, and stop in Coconino County to sip the nectar at Hell's Uncle Tank.

I'd like to lie down on the banks of Hellzapoppin Creek--though, come to think of it, the banks might be rocky and choked with thorny bushes and aslither with lizards and poisonous serpents.

Once I ticked off all the hells in Arizona, I could start on the devils. Devil's Bathtub in Pima County, Devil's Bridge in Yavapai, and in Santa Cruz County, I'd keep my eyes open for any glitter while climbing the ridge known as the Devil's Cash Box.

Devil's Hump, Devil's Chair, Devil's Chasm, Devil's Windpipe, Devil's Slide Rapids--I'd be busy, all right.

Then we get into the Diablo Canyons and Diablito Mountains.
It's a question of where you draw the line.

We've got four Hell Canyons, two Hell's Gates, no less than five Hell's Half Acres and a Hell's Half Acre Canyon.

TURK THE TURD IN THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE
Gayle Bell is trying to maneuver his stagecoach out of the way of the approaching monster tour bus from Las Vegas.

Bell snaps his frayed packaging-twine whip and commands, "Get on! Get on!" to the bored-looking team in the traces--the chestnut horse named Comet and the big, black mule he calls Turk the Turd.

Roaring down on the stagecoach, the tour bus hogs most of narrow and allegedly historic Allen Street in Tombstone. At the last instant, shaking the reins and cursing, Bell coaxes Comet and Turk the Turd between the bus and the shiny sedans lining the curb by the frozen yogurt shop.

Comet lifts her tail and drops a pungent load on the pavement. Bell motions for one of his boys to clean it up.

"You wandering bastards," Bell yells a while later, yanking the team to a halt as the street is blocked by a backing-up station wagon, South Carolina plates. "They back right into you, you give 'em a chance," he mutters.

It's a headache, operating a stagecoach in modern Arizona--even in Tombstone, the quintessential tourist town that's desperately fixated on a flash of frontier history.

The real Tombstone, the booms from silver mining and the shoot-out between the gangs led by Ike Clanton and the sainted Wyatt Earp, lasted only a couple of years and ended more than a century ago. Since then, everything in the town has been a faint echo.

Bell is thumbing his little Radio Shack mike, giving his canned spiel over the stagecoach's P.A. system, in a curiously flat, sing-song drawl: " . . . On our right is the OK Corral, site of the famous gunfight, go in and see where they walked and where they fell . . . A whiskey barrel exploded and the town burned down in 1881 . . . Doc Holliday wasn't much of a dentist, he pulled more triggers than he did teeth . . . "

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