Life starts where the pavement ends for the residents of Cascabel.
The rural community of about 200 ranchers, artists, farmers, ecologists and retirees sits along the banks of the San Pedro River. It rests on the east side of the Rincon Mountains, about 25 miles north of Benson.
You’ll find no traffic lights, or asphalt for that matter, along much of the dusty, winding road that snakes its way through Cascabel’s main corridor, then splinters off toward Redington Pass, San Manuel and other points north.
Mail is delivered three times a week. School buses from the Benson Unified School District and the Cochise County Library Bookmobile will only go as far as the paved roads will take them — a cattle guard about eight miles south of the Cascabel Community Center.
Many of the creature comforts of today’s world are at a bare minimum. No grocery store. Nearly non-existent cell phone service.
It’s a way of life that suits residents like Barbara Clark, who has called Cascabel home for more than 40 years.
“When things get too big, they get messed up,” said Clark, 66. “Going bigger doesn’t always help. Small is good.”
Next weekend, Clark and her husband, David Blocker, will host the 34th annual Cascabel Community Fair on their property, an 83-acre plot of land set amid native grasses and twisted mesquite trees, where the couple live and operate their Cascabel Clayworks pottery business.
The fair, which will feature live music, food, and vendors from all over Southern Arizona, is a way for residents to come together and showcase all that they have to offer.
Funds raised will go toward the community center, the Cascabel Volunteer Fire Department and the Cascabel Community Garden.
Mosaics, soaps and salves, hand-quilted pillows, and the Clayworks’ own hand-thrown pottery will be sold on-site.
Next door, painter Ivan Wilson will hold an open house and a Christmas store with wreaths, jewelry and original works available for purchase.
Five minutes down the road, the staff at Oasis Sanctuary, one of the largest exotic bird sanctuaries in the country, will give tours of its multiple aviaries.
Set on 72 acres of what used to be the Teran Pecan Orchard, Oasis is home to more than 800 exotic birds, including African grey parrots, cockatiels and macaws.
Cascabel resident and Oasis founder Sybil Erden started the sanctuary in Phoenix in 1997, after several years of taking in birds whose owners could no longer care for them.
The demand was more than she anticipated.
“Before she knew it, she had more than 200 birds on her property,” said Janet Trumbule, the executive director of administration at Oasis and one of nine staff members who work at the facility.
A sizable donation from a New Hampshire couple who had recently won the lottery and had heard of Erden’s efforts, helped Erden purchase the land in Cascabel in 2000.
Today, the sanctuary takes in rescues from all over the country.
“We get birds from every walk of life,” Trumbule said. “A lot were companion birds. Some were breeders. We work with Fish & Wildlife in San Diego. When birds are brought into the country illegally, they contact us to help.”
Staff members live on or near the Oasis property, which can be a challenge, Trumbule said.
Trumbule worked in the mortgage industry in Denver before quitting her job and selling her house to work for Oasis.
“I am a city girl, but I always wanted to live rural,” she said. “I came for the birds and learned to love the desert.”
She said employees of the sanctuary have to be ready for what living in Cascabel means.
“Before we hire someone, we require them to work here for a week, so they get a feel for what it is like,” she said. “It is a commitment.”
Residents from up and down the river will be in attendance at this year’s fair.
That includes the Foreman family, who moved to Cascabel in January.
The Foremans, Jesse and Amy Foreman and their seven children, Louisa, Isaac, Elijah, Elaina, Grace, Benjamin and Jacob, are the new kids on the block, but have already made themselves an integral part of the community.
The family moved to Arizona from Hannibal, Missouri to help Amy overcome her severe allergies and chemical sensitivities.
They landed on a 12-acre plot of land in Cascabel.
“We wanted a garden and to do something with animals,” Amy said. “It is that Midwestern part of us.”
Since moving to the valley, the Foremans have taken full advantage of the activities offered.
Several of the Foreman daughters have been hosting the weekly coffee chats that take place at the community center. All of the kids have participated in Cascabel’s Writers on the River writing program.
Wednesday mornings you can find the family working at the Cascabel Community Garden, tending to corn, watermelon, lettuce and carrots among other fruits and vegetables.
Louisa, the eldest child at 19 years old, said she misses the green grass of Missouri, but the family has learned to appreciate the browns, golds and reds of the San Pedro Valley.
The kids, all of whom are home-schooled, spent their first summer in Cascabel hiking the area and swimming in the pond on their property.
“We always traveled to the mountains when we went on vacation back home,” Louisa said. “Now it is like we are living on vacation.”
Clark has seen countless residents come and go since she moved to Cascabel 44 years ago.
She arrived in Arizona from Colorado in the late 1960s as one of several potters looking for a place to homestead.
When they arrived in Cascabel, a land that had been home to farmers and ranchers for generations, the property was a thick stew of second growth mesquite trees and brush.
“We had to peel our way through it,” she said. “We lived here for a couple of years without electricity. We didn’t have anything. No sense, no money. Nothing but spirit.”
The group eventually built a home, with a residence, a pottery shop, and areas for gardening and raising goats and cows.
As time passed, members of the co-operative moved away or died. Today, Clark and Blocker, who started dating in 1999 and married in 2007, share the property with a few goats. Clark’s son, Robert Farrington, lives in a neighboring home.
Clark has served as the backbone to the Cascabel community.
She was involved in one way or another in getting several groups and projects off of the ground, including the Cascabel Community Center, a central spot for activities year-round and the volunteer fire department, which has members and first response vehicles stationed up and down North Cascabel Road.
Clark has always appreciated her surroundings, the natural beauty of the area and how important it is to the overall ecosystem.
The San Pedro Valley is a significant corridor for migrating birds and home to hundreds of species of mammals, butterflies, bats and reptiles.
In the last 15 years, Clark has taken to working part-time as a land manager for several properties owned by the Nature Conservancy.
“A lot of us work pretty hard to figure out how to live next to the wild because we love it so much,” Clark said.
She never plans to leave.
“Where else would I go?” she asked. “It is too nice here. We have wonderful neighbors. I want to die in this place.”
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8430.
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