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Arizona: The World Leader in Weird Adopt a Highway Signs?

A couple of weeks ago, Arizona made international news when a British newspaper randomly decided to publish a story about how the Satanic Temple has "adopted" a stretch of Interstate 10 near Casa Grande — an appropriate choice since Casa Grande is pretty much hell.

Watching for the roadside sign that the Arizona Department of Transportation has erected in the satanists' honor is certainly one way to make the drive to Tucson less boring. But that blue-and-white ADOT sign (which is near milepost 194, if you're wondering) isn't even the weirdest of its genre. For some reason, Arizona specializes in strange Adopt a Highway sponsorships.

On Interstate 8 outside of Yuma, for instance, you pass "In Memory of Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)," which is often plastered with Deadhead stickers and honors the litter-gathering efforts of the Grateful Dead Club of Yuma. And on the vertiginous drive to Jerome, a sign informs you that the road you're slowly creeping up has been adopted by Psychedelic Mariachi, even though the band changed its name to Latin Express more than a decade ago.

Most Adopt a Highway signs are more mundane than that, but there's something delightful about the diversity of  the groups that pick up roadside garbage. There are V.F.W. posts, dentist's offices, Mormon congregations, high school honor societies, Harley Davidson clubs, RV parks, Walmart employees, Native American youth councils, dude ranches, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The Dream Palace Gentlemen's Club in Tempe has adopted part of State Route 202, as has the Fertility Treatment Center.

Other business sponsors include BoreDumbKids Gallery, a breeder of Pyrenees in the White Mountains near the New Mexico border, and the ubiquitous Jobing.com.

A public records request to the Department of Transportation for a list of all highway sponsors yielded lots of interesting information, such as the fact that one section of U.S. 60 has been adopted by a group called "Squirrels," whose owner is listed as "Barn Owls." It also revealed that Ahwatukee is home to the Austrian Society of Arizona and its fantastically outdated website, and that Yuma residents have the opportunity to join the excellently named S*W*A*G: South West Arizona Geocachers.

Many of the state's highways have been adopted by informal groups of enthusiastic do-gooders, whose Adopt a Highway signs say things like "Odell Family & Everett Family We hunt AZ!" and "Deaver & Friends Takin' Out The Trash 1-17." Others are claimed by small-town fraternal organizations or suburban civic clubs, from the Women of the Moose to the Dons of Arizona.

There are tributes to people with unusual nicknames, including Manual "Boongy" Quijada, Joseph "Hootie" Morales, and Marc "Sasquatch" Philbrook. Both Jack "Pole Cat" Dupont and Dave "Wildcat" Prechel are memorialized on Arizona highways, along with Larry "Lizardguy" Jones. And on the way to Wickenberg, there's a sign which someone may have shot bullets at, letting know you that roadside trash gets picked up by the ominously named Doom Family.

Some volunteers leave their names off the signs in favor of sending a message to passing drivers:
• GOD FIRST / COUNTRY 2ND / MANKIND / FOLLOWS
• ONE NATION UNDER GOD
• AMERICA ROCKS
• SEPT-11 NEVER FORGET 343
• ALMOST THERE

These proclamations become a mystery to briefly contemplate while speeding past. Who is "Scary Larry?" Did the person who wrote "U R CAPAPBLE MAKE A DIFFIRENCE" include the misspellings on purpose? Does some kind of inside joke explain the signs that say "CHAIN GANG" and "PAKRAT JUNCTION"? What is the Apache Nitrogen Team? (Answer: The assorted employees of a nitric acid plant that had to pay over $1 million in fines to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for violating air quality laws.)

Law-and-order types particularly love to sponsor highway cleanups. Driving around Arizona, you can find stretches of road that have been adopted by the Page and Fredonia D.U.I. and Drug Court, the La Paz County Probation Department, the Eloy Detention Center, the Greenlee County Sheriff's Posse, Border Patrol's Tucson Air Operations branch, and for-profit prison operator CoreCivic, just to name a few.

But virtually every interest group that you can think is represented somewhere on the state's highways: The Parker 4-Wheelers, an off-roading club in La Paz County. The Yuma Rifle and Pistol Club. The Quartzsite Gem and Mineral Club. Arizona Rail History Buffs. The Cochise County Lesbian and Gay Alliance.

Once you start paying attention to these signs, you start to discover all kinds of subcultures that you never knew existed. Halau Hula Napuaokalei'ilima, a Hula school in Cottonwood that also offers Hawaiian language classes and beginner ukulele lessons, sponsors a mile of State Route 89A. So does the Arizona chapter of a group called The Modified Dolls, which aims to "erase the negative stereotypes associated with modified women," a.k.a. women who have tattoos and unusual piercings.  

A stretch of U.S. 70 in eastern Arizona is sponsored by the Peyote Way Church of God, which is located on a dirt road in Graham County outside the town of Klondyke (population: 50.)

As the name implies, the church's members take peyote for spiritual purposes, which is legal under Arizona state law but illegal under federal law unless you're a member of a federally recognized Native American tribe. The church's leaders are not Native American; one of the Frequently Asked Questions on their webpage is "Is the Peyote Way Church guilty of 'cultural appropriation'"?

There are roughly 26 miles between the U.S.-Mexico border at Sasabe and the Border Patrol checkpoint that drivers on State Route 286 have to pass through on their way north.

You first pass a sign notifying you that the road (it's a stretch to call it a highway) has been adopted by Arizona Border Recon, a group of armed vigilantes who patrol the surrounding area for illegal border-crossers. Some 20 miles later, you pass another sign, letting you know that this part of the highway is sponsored by Humane Borders, whose volunteers regularly hike into the desert to drop off water for migrants.

Depending on where you stand on the immigration debate, it's likely that one of those signs will disgust and appall you. You might find yourself wondering how the group in question even got permission to sponsor a highway, when in a fair and just world they'd be forced out of town or thrown into jail.

But the Arizona Department of Transportation doesn't take a side one way or the other. ADOT just cares that someone picks up the trash.

Browse the full list of highway sponsorships here, and apply here if you'd like to adopt a highway of your own.

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