Lost Boys

The road began from Highway 60 as an inviting blacktop, with the greasy coal black of new asphalt and a tight, bright yellow line down the middle. My 9-year-old and 5-year-old boys were giddy with the thought of spontaneous exploration. This is what dads do on camping trips. They provide little adventures, little secret places, big memories.

Around the first corner, the asphalt ran 200 feet before tailing off into a wide, manicured gravel road. The quick degradation of surface should have been a harbinger. This is the Arizona wilderness below Globe, Arizona, the crossroads between the unforgiving snarl of piñon forests and the smoldering knife gallery of the high Sonoran Desert. I should have envisioned pre-Columbian maps, with warnings scrawled on the unknown seas west of Europe:

Monsters Be Here.

Those maps were warnings to city arrogance and parochial ignorance and physical and mental weakness and unpreparedness. They were made for my lineage.

We were looking for a mine. The boys wanted to see a mine. I got directions in Globe to the Gibson Mine. We drove three miles on a gravel road to find a gate blocking the road long before the mine.

We turned around and came to a fork in the road. Home, left. Surely a mine to the right. The road was good; the minivan felt solid. What the heck.

"Do you want to go find a mine or something?"

"Sure!" my oldest son barked.

"Sure!" my youngest son echoed.

Okay, I thought, I'll take them up for a little adventure, come back down and then call my wife from Superior to tell her we're running a little late. Things come up when the boys go camping. A three-hour tour, at most. It was 11:30 a.m. on a hopeful Saturday.

We wove along a piñon-lined ridge two miles to a junction. To the left, it snaked down into dense piñon and scrub. It had a twinge of mystery.

Down, around, past a few small intersections, up, around, past a few other small intersections, down, around and up to a gate with a large sign that read "No Trespassing!" To the left of the gate flew a large American flag. Surely a militia compound of some sort. Let's get out of here.

Back down, around to the top of another road that dropped down through a tunnel of high scrub. A half-mile down below, I saw the naked, gray trunk of a cottonwood. There must be a creek. Perhaps a long-dead mining settlement. A nice place for lunch and exploring.

We found the remnants of an ancient barn. The boys thought Dad was awfully damn smart. I was on a roll. But I still needed to give them a mine.

Back up and down and around past what I thought were turns I hadn't taken, around, down, up, stop, turn around, back down and through, until I came to a sign that read "Highway 60 — 6 Miles."

Okay. This road doesn't look familiar, but we have a way out. And surely we'll see a mine along the way.

No mine. At what seemed like four miles down, we came to a gate across the main road that said "Road Closed." There was a thinner, rougher road breaking up off to the right. Okay, this must be the way. We must have to go over this ridge to the left.

Maybe two miles up, we arrived at the top of a high ridge from which the road led nowhere close to where I thought I needed it to go. Maybe I was wrong and turned around. Maybe this still was right. I didn't want to go all the way back. That was at least 10 miles. And I didn't know for sure the road out. I continued on, looking for a sign or a landmark I recognized.

"This is pretty, isn't it?"

"Yeah," said my older son Andrew. "Shouldn't we be getting home?"

"I want to go home," Evan said.

"That's what we're doing. We just need to go around over this side over here, and that should take us back around the mountain. It's a shortcut."

I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. I think I was buying into the optimism I was using to keep the boys festive. Or maybe I was trying to convince myself that this was still fun. We weren't that lost. It wasn't that late. We'd find a junction and a sign and a better road and be out of there. That's how it works with roads. If they're bad, they get better. They always lead somewhere. There's always something and somebody on the other side. That's how it works in the city.

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Robert Nelson