Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona in Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth

PHOTO CREDIT: kangotraveler. This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

“We are taking the low road from Tucson to a national monument on the border of Mexico. The map says we are now passing through the Comobabi Mountains, but outside the windows of our car the desert is as flat as a sheet of parchment. The saguaros have given way to brush and patches of gravelly dirt; along the highway from time to time are homemade altars. We keep passing them, eighty miles an hour. The next one we’ll stop at so I can see who it’s an altar to. There aren’t even any jet trails out here, the sky is a long, blue yawn.”1

The path down Route 86 in Arizona from Tucson to the Organ Pipe Cactus Monument serves as the setting for the essay “Coyotes” in Jo Ann Beard’s memoir The Boys of My Youth. The essay itself moves back and forth between the perspective of the narrator on a camping trip with her lover and the consciousness of a coyote roaming through the desert. Through both viewpoints, one of an insider and the other of an outsider, Beard is able to create a holistic picture of the landscape. The two characters cross paths halfway through the essay, and then once more by the end, reunited in the darkness at their campsite.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created Organ Pipe National Monument in 1937, by the authority granted to him by former president and distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt in the Antiquities Act of 1906. The area, a preserved representation of the Sonoran desert, has a lot of history with Native American, Mexican, and European groups. Multiple occupations thrived in this area including Hohokam trading, mineral mining, and ranching.

The monument is the only area in the United States where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows in the wild. The fruit of this unique cactus provided food to the Tohono O’odham people during the brutal Sonoran summers.

Find The Boys of My Youth at a local library or on Amazon.

Visit Organ Pipe National Monument.

1Beard, Jo Ann. The Boys of My Youth. New York: Bay Back Books, 1998. 58. Print.

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