When Tucsonans aren’t dodging the potholes on Dodge Boulevard, we’re swerving around the craters of Craycroft Road. For every Buick in this valley there’s a blacktop black hole on Broadway. Drive Miracle Mile for one mile without hitting a bumper-busting, trunk-popping pothole and it’s a Vatican-approved Miracle.
That’s why I was pleased when President Obama designated our mammoth midtown pothole a national monument. Tucson’s ninth Wonder of the World, a colossal crater measuring 2 miles across and more than 850 feet deep, will be getting the recognition it deserves. Pothole Crater National Monument will be the crown jewel of Tucson’s “Rocky Road” pothole archipelago, dwarfing all lesser potholes.
Municipal neglect combined with the forces of erosion created Pothole Crater, a concave chasm as legendary as it is vast. A “Prairie Breeze” RV, last seen in the winter of ’96, is said to lie at the bottom of Pothole Crater. At night you can hear the haunting voice of a woman, drifting up from the darkness, chastising her snowbird husband for refusing to ask anyone for directions.
In the spring of ’79 I hiked Pothole Crater from rim to rim, camping overnight at the legendary Airstream guest ranch, a lodge cobbled together from ill-fated trailers nestled among an astonishing array of bolts, mufflers and suspension springs.
Pothole Crater National Monument will be a spectacular tourist attraction featuring a modern visitors center, a theater, rim trails, dramatic overlooks and a gift shop featuring curios made from rusted suspension springs.
Pothole Crater’s distinguished history deserves to be a permanent exhibit in the visitors center. In 1864, Jules Verne was traveling on the Butterfield Stage when his driver, Emilio Diego, blinded by the setting sun, drove his coach and six quarter horses down into the great hole. “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” inspired by his subterranean experience, became an international best-seller. His molar will be on display next to posters advertising a Jazz Age stunt that rocked the Southwest in 1924 when the great Harry Houdini, chained, straitjacketed and blessed by an Apache shaman, was lowered into Pothole Crater in a 1919 Model T Ford with much fanfare. Motoring out three days later to applause, Houdini was accompanied by an 83-year-old Emilio Diego. The old coach driver resembled a crushed accordion.
In 1976, the world witnessed Evel Knievel’s jump across Pothole Crater astride a steam-powered rocket that tore through the Midway Drive-In screen and landed in Reid Park lake, killing three ducks and a goose, which will be displayed at the museum, along with Mr. Knievel’s original medical bills.
This week Mickey “Butter Toes” Wallenda, a sixth-generation tightrope artist, announced his intention to walk across the Great Pothole to call attention to Tucson’s spectacular potholes. Unfortunately, while driving crosstown to acquire the necessary permits, he answered a text from his agent and blindly motored past the asphalt lips of one of Tucson’s lesser known but equally treacherous potholes. His car rattled down the side of the gulch like Wiley Coyote on roller skates skittering south on a washboard, shaking all 20 lug nuts free, liberating all four tires to bound merrily off in all four directions as his hood sprang up, his bumpers, mirrors and windshield wipers took flight, and his muffler bounced away like a pebble skipping across a lake.
Wallenda’s head jackhammered against the ceiling of his cartwheeling Yugo until it skidded into a rusted Dodge pickup, scattering dust, a flock of bats and three turkey vultures. Suffering 327 broken bones and an a inability to stop stammering, Wallenda immediately set about making a bonfire that was noticed by Allen Kath, who alerted the Tucson Fire Department. The Air National Guard working in tandem with the Catalina Canyoneers lifted Wallenda to safety.
The Swiss-cheese nature of the pockmarked road to the trauma center left him with a crippling case of TPSD, Tucson Pothole Stress Disorder. The remains of the Dodge pickup driver, which date back to 1957, will be displayed at a Pothole Crater National Monument exhibit fully funded by the Glicksman Foundation’s Adopt-a-Pothole program.
Centrally located, Pothole Crater was considered as a site for a minor-league baseball stadium in 1999 until the proposal was dismissed as “too practical.” In 2002 a Canadian firm wanted to develop it as a natural amphitheater for concerts. It gave up on its widely ridiculed proposal and turned to copper mining.
Today Pothole Crater National Monument’s future is bright. The National Geographic Channel announced plans to mount and film an expedition to the bottom of Pothole Crater next year. The resulting Imax feature will bring global attention to our remarkable asset and boost community pride. I suggest that you heed the warning from the city of Tucson’s Transportation Department. When driving to the theater, drive carefully.