By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
So John Laird has been in the thick of promoting tourism in Gila Bend, since the tourism campaign was largely designed to encourage people to go look at sites he discovered. Over the years, Laird and other town promoters commissioned a variety of economic projections on the tourism potential of the sites.
The projections showed there wasn't any.
This is not something that John Laird can easily understand, or that can be neatly incorporated into his sunny philosophy about the importance of his hometown.
His museum, however, is one concrete result of the tourism campaign. A vigorous town manager in the 1980s, Dick McComb, got the museum started.
McComb, now the town manager of Surprise, loves Gila Bend, and still shakes his head about the sad state of its economy. "If it had a golf course, I'd probably still be there," he says.
For some peculiar reason, a great many conversations in Gila Bend eventually work their way around to the need for a golf course. It is almost uncanny. Duke Fox talks about the golf course. John Laird has a wonderful story about a man who wanted to develop a golf course and ended up disappearing into Mexico instead, a couple of steps ahead of the law. Check into the Yucca Lodge, and the young East Indian woman who manages the place will tell you, "This town is going down and down. The retirees don't come here because there's no golf course."
Even people at the Air Force base talk about the lack of a golf course.
@body:Jim Keck is the kind of military commander who will invite you to sit in on his staff meeting if you happen to arrive early for an appointment. He can do this because, contrary to one's expectations, military secrets are not being discussed. An Air Force staff meeting is as boring as the ones you are forced to attend in your own place of business.
Jim Keck has been the squadron commander of Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field for about a year now. He loves it, but then Jim Keck is kind of like John Laird, in that he probably would love anyplace the Air Force sent him, because he would discover the good in it.
With the help of slides, Keck explains exactly what happens at his Air Force base. Things get blown up. Planes come down there to practice shooting at targets, either big bull's-eye targets suspended from a frame or simulations of enemy tanks and convoys fashioned from wood.
Keck and a whole collection of people, including the new head of security, the base chaplain and a visiting colonel, pile into trucks and go have a look at some F-16s shooting at bull's-eye targets. Along the way, the convoy passes the base's somewhat scruffy driving range, which is when the subject of the golf course is raised by the new head of security.
At the test area, the planes come zooming in at 600 miles per hour, shoot at the targets from an altitude of about 100 feet and then zoom away. It is all highly satisfying. The planes are a good deal less noisy than you would think, although the sound their guns make is an awful lot like the rude noises your mother told you not to make in public.
The "Auxiliary" in its name means that Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field is actually the offspring of Luke Air Force Base, an outpost of a larger whole much like San Lucy Village is an outpost of the Tohono O'odham Nation. It is a complete base, in miniature. Only 130 military people and 98 civilians work there, so it has the feel of a small town, existing in some universe parallel to Gila Bend.
After lunch at the dining facility, a postprandial stroll will bring you to the weather station, where Frank Fox and Bill Simons are standing around outside, looking like they're waiting for the weather to change. With the help of some maps, they can explain why Gila Bend gets so hot in the summer: It appears to have to do with the North Pacific Ridge, ocean currents and a thermal low that sits over the Colorado River.
More to the point, Frank and Bill have some information that might be encouraging to Duke Fox in his campaign against Bullhead City. They say they've measured temperatures at the base that are hotter than the ones in town. By a degree or two. Frank and Bill say they report these temperatures to the Air Force, and assume the Air Force reports them to the National Weather Service. They don't know why these higher temperatures have never been registered.
Possibly the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field temperatures are cooling down on their way from the Air Force to the National Weather Service.
@body:John Laird owns most of what's in the museum he oversees, and that's nothing to sniff at, since the collection ranges from scorpions and Chinese opium boxes to Hohokam pottery and Papago baskets.
If John Laird doesn't own it, he can tell you who does. Bud Conrad lent those big Papago pots. He and John Laird used to go out to abandoned Papago villages and find them just hanging in the trees. The beaded Apache vest and the bow and arrow belong to Jack Carpenter. Someone else found that rifle and sword in an old line shack on the railroad.