Despite the world situation or, perhaps, because of it, I recently went to Bagdad.
It lies at the stub of a dead-end road amid rangy Joshua trees and the rubble of desert mountains. Most of the buildings are white. There is a security gate beyond which you cannot drive without permission.
I drove to Bagdad because it was there, an isolated name on the Arizona map where Arizona 97 gears down to Arizona 96 between Wikieup and Skull Valley.
I drove to Bagdad because it was not mentioned in any books I had about ghost towns or historic places of the Old West. And I knew no one, including state tourism officials in Phoenix, who had been there.
It was high noon when I arrived, following a spur of road that jangles the senses. A youngster in pigtails was playing alone on a backyard slide. Look-alike houses had look-alike roofs. Four or five churches, including a Mormon stake house, stabbed at the sky.
Most of the sidewalks were abandoned, although the supermarket doors swung with business. Hand-lettered signs in front yards advertised macrame and other cottage industries. A fine dust blew in the air.
Bagdad, I soon learned, is a company town. It lives because of the Cyprus Bagdad Copper Mine. I drove north to where the road narrowed and came to a halt at a gatehouse. It was run by a woman, who pushed a visitor's book toward me and gave me a map.
"Drive on the left," she warned. "There's heavy equipment taking those curves. And don't leave the main road."
The map showed the Powder Magazine in Building 13; the public View Point was off to the right, above the open pit. Somehow, I missed the turn and drove down a gravel-covered ledge, much closer to the pit than allowed. It gaped and glittered in the sun, its pale gold layers streaked with green. Earth movers puffed silently toward a distant rock wall. I thought of Ayn Rand. It was time to go back.
I waved to the gatekeeper, then sought out the town's hotel, the JR. It was locked. A sign on the door said the hotel and bar were closed because of the high school football game: Bagdad versus Dixie.
The Hotel's Name
"Is that JR as in Ewing on 'Dallas' or does it stand for Junior?" I asked the young man who filled my gas tank. "Either one," he replied. "You hear both around here." He had gone to the football game the night before. Bagdad lost.
I thought of stopping for coffee at a dinette next to the gas station, but it was closed weekends.
My vote for the town optimist and most original entrepreneur goes to Mr. Finelli, who runs Finelli's Dry Cleaners on the eastern edge of town. Among the services posted in his window: Tuxedo Rentals. I would report on how many he rents a year and whether his customers are mostly mine bosses or high school seniors, but his place, too, was closed.
As I drove down the hill and on to the red barns and golden poplars and friendly General Store of Skull Valley, I realized that, basically, Bagdad was the pit.