Preferring back roads to highway, my return home from a recent road trip was scenic, and inspiring. I wound my way from the desert to the top of a mountain. Switchbacks with beautiful views of the desert below greeted me with every turn. Ascending 1300 feet in four miles made the mountain seem larger than it truly is. A convertible, with its top down, passed me at one point. I was guessing more northerners enjoying the mid 50 weather as I was. Called Yarnell Hill by the locals, this road is a destination for motorcycle riders.
When I was reaching the top of the mountain, I saw realty signs. Acreage for sale. My first thought was, “Who would live way up here with nothing in sight?” My second thought was, “I would!” As I drove near the top, I saw a painted frog on the other side of the road. Of course I pulled over for a picture. Between sunlight, and on-coming traffic, the picture didn’t turn out well, but the frog stayed in my thoughts long enough that I later looked it up on the internet and found it was painted prior to 1928 by a mother who lived and hiked the area with her kids, and thought the rock looked like a frog. My kind of people.
Soon I was entering the small town of Yarnell. It didn’t stand out to me, other than its isolation on top of the mountain, until I saw the used book sale. Not only do I love to read, and love a sale, how could I pass up a book sale sign with a turkey vulture being used to advertise it? Of course I pulled in.
The library was so approachable, the way a library should be. Colorful and artistic, it was inviting. Children would love it. The multi-colored chairs, the cactus shaped ashtray, the patio with another vulture covered in newsprint, chairs positioned outside so readers could relax and soak in the atmosphere while they browse a book.
The used book sale was in a cottage, separate from the main building. The librarian handed me a key, and I went out to search for some finds. Other people that had been passing on the road also stopped and came in while I was there. The buzzard invitation seems to work. The books were mostly hardbacks and priced between $1 and $3.50. I quickly had over $30 worth, and even returned to the building another time after I had paid for the first two bags of books.
Across the way I saw a community thrift store. While I didn’t make any purchases, I was glad I had walked over as the turkey buzzard out front was the most whimsical I had seen yet. This was a small town that knew how to have fun.
When I arrived home, I searched for an internet story to explain the vultures. Every spring the town hosts a “Buzzard’s Bash” to welcome the turkey vultures home from their winter in Mexico. The buzzard has become a symbol for the town. Sadly, I had also seen a memorial for the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots that tragically died in the Yarnell wildfire of 2013. I recalled reading about the tragedy at the time. Fittingly, a vulture rising from the ashes has become a new symbol in this town.
Yarnell’s slogans are, “Where a Desert Breeze Meets the Mountain Air” and, “Life’s so Fine, on Route 89.” It is a place I hope to return to, and explore in more depth.