On The Road to Why — A Poem


Brittlebush © 2013 Bo Mackison

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. ~ Ernest Hemingway

Checking the map, 112 miles to Why, then south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Highway 86, Ajo Highway, I head west on the road of roadside memorials
and shrines, over a hundred I photographed a few years ago.

I travel through urban sprawl, then open space.
Silver Star Road, brown earth, barbed wire fences.
Robles Junction.
Water puddles in the irrigated fields at Buckelew Farms.

Fuller Road. Battered mailboxes along the road, a row of scraped paint,
crushed metal, gunshot holes and red flags.
Where are the shrines and crosses? They’ve disappeared.
Scraped off the desert earth.

Kitt Mountain is due west, dotted with white observatories,
celestial connections on the highest peaks.
Telephone poles string across the desert scrub. Earthly connections.

Tucson Rifle Club. Members Only.
Hayhook Ranch Road. Ranch For Sale.
Watch For Animals Next 54 Miles.

Yellow bundles of brittlebush and desert marigolds crowd the median strip.
Gravel piles stands where once there were roadside memorials,
the adjacent desert has been scraped level for a road widening project.

A bush of orange mallow, waving stalks of purple pestomen,
white sacred datura, like bridal bouquets dropped along the road.
Tohono O’odham Nation. Green desert, red earth.

San Pedro Road. Coyote Trading Store, open for business no gas.
Asphalt shoulders, graded hills with rolls of burlap hold back the earth.
Where are the memorials? Relocated? Destroyed?

Pan Tak Road
Kitt Peak Ahead, Turn Left
Road construction Expect delays

The road is wide, the shoulders wide,
and safer for the driving living.
Fewer memorials on the side of the road.

Saguaros relocated from the easement, twenty feet tall, propped with 2 by 4s.
By law, saguaros must be relocated.
A saguaro must face its original direction, or it will die,
and become another road casualty.

Gouged earth. One giant saguaro still stands
upon the graded bank, its roots exposed and twisted in the air.
Yellow earth movers shovel the ancient earth into piles.

This is progress. A safe road is a good road.
A good road is a safe road.
Smooth and homogenized, the desert tamed.

Three hawks soar high. Far enough west, the road narrows.
Red plastic ribbons flutter from branches marked for the bulldozer.
But for now grasses encroach over the yellow lines.
Mesquite and tree cholla crowd the roadside.


A single white cross remains, decorated with bright flowers.
The peak of Baboquivari, I’itoi’s sacred mountain, pierces the desertscape.
Border Patrol. Their green-striped white truck is parked
under a mesquite while they search the scrub.

Littering Unlawful
You Are Entering Sells, Arizona, Population 2734
Komkcʼeḍ ʼe-Wa:ʼosidk, Capital of the Tohono O’odham Nation
The O’odham name means Tortoise Got Wedged.

Indian Oasis School Baboquivari District

Watch For Animals Next 10 Miles
Papago Assembly of God

Highway 19 Junction, Hospital Here
The Shell gas station pumps regular for 3.47.
Two wild horses, white and shaggy, graze along the road,
unperturbed by passing trucks.

Eugene Tashquinth Livestock Complex hosts
76th Annual Tohono O’odham Rodeo
January 26 – February 4, 2014

Tree cholla forest.
Yellow flowering mesquite, seed beans swing in midday breeze.
Road to Nolia. Turkey vultures. Triple decker saguaro.

Quijotoa. A historical marker tells me
it is Papago for Mountain Shaped Like a Carrying Basket.
Carrying Basket had pockets of gold and silver.
And a mining boom in 1883.

Ghost towns. Logan City, New Virginia, Brooklyn, Allen City,
there was only a small pocket of precious metal.
The desert reclaims the abandoned.

Highway 15 Junction to Santa Rosa Casa Grande.
Desert sprawl, yellow blossoming brittlebush color the cactus floor.
The road narrows, ocotillo arch over the pavement. Toothpick saguaros.
Quijotoa Pentecostal Church of God.

Red and purple bows tied to mesquite branches,
remaining traces of a roadside memorial.
The dirt is leveled, the pull-off blocked with a rock pile.

Flashing lights on a Park Ranger’s truck slow oncoming traffic.
Three teen runners jog in the truck’s exhaust fumes,
one carries a banner. Unity Runners.

Road to Pisinemo.
San Si:mon. Tohono O’odham High School.
San Simon Health Center.

Flash Flood Area Next 10 Miles
Why 18 miles. Ajo 28 miles
Chain cholla glitter silver in the sun.

HIWAYRVPRK next road. Shuck Toak Road
Desert Diamond Casino, asphalt parking lot.
Coyote Howl RV Park. Abandoned.

Road in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ©2016 Bo Mackison

Road in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ©2016 Bo Mackison

Highway Junction 86/85
Lukeville 27 miles. 10 miles to Ajo
Approaching Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, A Biosphere Reserve

12:46 pm. March 18. 86˚F.
Blue skies. Windy.
Relentless sun bleaches color from the desert.

The organ pipes loom tall,
massive and thick, multi-armed.
Alien. Grotesque. Beautiful.


Not so much a poem, more a travel log.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.

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