Christopher Creek wasn’t much more than a store with a bar, a gas station, and some cabins along the narrow, winding Highway 260. He remembered it as being green and lush. He had no idea that someday he would live there. The year was 1969 and he had just returned from Southeast Asia. His three-year and eight-month stint in the Air Force ended when he landed in Seattle. His folks were living in Tempe, Ariz. now and that is where he headed. He bought an old beater of a car, the first one he saw. Shortly thereafter, he was off on a road trip to see some of this Arizona.
As a kid, he always had a thing for road maps. Back in the late 1950s, every gas station had maps that were folded up to eight ways from Sunday. One in particular put out by Standard Oil intrigued the Iowa boy. It had 15 western states on one map. At the age of around 12, he wrote to the state capitols of a dozen of these, asking for information. Some sent business envelopes with a couple of brochures. Arizona sent him a large manila envelope stuffed full of brochures, photos, a letter from Senator Goldwater, and a dandy Arizona road map, with a picture of the Grand Canyon on the front.
It was from a map he picked out his destination for the adventure — Canyon Creek. The route took him through Globe, past Roosevelt Lake, over the Sierra Anchas, into Pleasant Valley, up to the Rim and down to Canyon Creek. He passed by the new hatchery, crossed the creek and followed the road to the end. He noticed a gate with a simple board on it with the brand OW. The path ended at Mule Creek and from there he could see the ranch house. Less than 20 years later, he would be sitting at the large table in the kitchen, having a huge meal with Dwight and Betty Joy.
After camping overnight, the journey home led him off the Rim and shortly through Christopher Creek. In just two years, he would return to discover there was more to the tiny town than what you could see from the highway.
The year after the big flood found him at the cabin of Ed and Mimi Tidwell for a weekend visit. Somehow the weekend turned into nearly two weeks filled with fishing, exploring, hiking the woods, and meeting new folks. His love affair with the Creek had been kindled. Over the ensuing years, there were many camping and fishing trips to the Creek and the Rim lakes. He bought gas from Jack Broadston at the station, listened to Blanche and Heber White entertain at the Christopher Creek bar. Over the years, ownership of that establishment changed from time to time. Bill Hahn changed the name to the Landmark. On one trip he tried out the new place in town called Creekside. There on a Saturday night was a barefoot entertainer named Dennis Louchart, singing to a full bar. A fella by the name of John Matus joined in and Olive was undoubtedly back in the kitchen. Everybody we met was relaxed and friendly.
Being a desert rat was not to his liking. After the housing crisis in late 1986, his construction company and fledgling real estate career ground to a halt and a year or so later he had the opportunity to return to the Creek. Tony and Janie Sotomayor were the new owners of the Landmark. He had a chance to help with the cleanup and remodeling of the bar interior. He lived in a 16-foot trailer in the corner of the property. By the end of that first summer, the Valley was calling but he did not answer.
Yes, he later was pulled back to the Valley for a business venture that ended up lasting nearly five years. But, he intended to “hit a lick” and return home. The Creek was home. And, now, it’s 33 years later. He traded the heat, the hubbub, the stress, and the money for a quality of life seldom found. Regrets — he had none. Friends and neighbors along with this life in the Creek are priceless. End of story.
Some sad news came our way last week when we heard of the passing of Mary Wenning. She was one of the original Firebelles. You would find her at the fire station on Saturday nights when her husband Leo was up front calling out the bingo numbers. Leo and Mary lived up on the end of Acorn Drive. Happy trails, Mary.
It’s terribly quiet in the Creek this last month. The highlight of my week was a trip to town for gas, propane, and a visit to Bashas’. We had a frosting of snow and over an inch of rain on Monday. Something is going to happen soon and then we’re gonna have a party ... and that’s another ’rona week in the Creek.