Skywatch Friday – John Wayne Country

A mural at a coffee shop in Springerville

Sorry, not sorry, I am still documenting my recent trip to Arizona for my 50th high school reunion in Eagar/Springerville, AZ. Our family left the area in 1971 when dad got transferred to Albuquerque. I hadn’t been back since so I was really curious. (The two towns butt up against each other so I am just going to call the area Round Valley since that is what the locals tend to call it).


John Wayne had a ranch, the 26 Bar Ranch, in Round Valley up until he passed away in 1979. It went through some changes and is now owned by the Hopi Tribe. He’d show up every now and then and the town had John Wayne days for him with a parade and all that. He was a very nice guy, very approachable, especially with kids. I never talked to him but I stood right next a time or two. The towns are still very proud of him.


The 26 Bar Herefords painted rocks are still there but they used to be a lot more prominent than they are now.

Round Valley is football crazy. They are used to winning and by big margins. The whole town would shut down on game days to either cheer them on at home or caravan to wherever they were playing. Years ago they passed a bond issue and they got the football team a domed stadium. As far as I can tell it is still the only high school football field with a dome in the US. I had never seen it before and I hauled my drone all the way to Arizona just to take a few photos of it. it seats about 5000 or so. They play other sports in it and it has been used as a shelter for some of the big forest fires they have had in the area including the gigantic Wallow Fire in 2011 that burned 538,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico.

Looking off toward the mountains is Flattop Mountain. I had plans of maybe hiking it but reading up on it, it is a nine mile trek with no cover. Nope, not for me.

Instead I headed downtown to the XA Bar. When I was a kid it was the XA Buffet and featured nightly entertainment by the Arizona Yodeler. He wasn’t around.

And it is still a bar. I felt like I was going somewhere forbidden. Bars outside the bible belt in the US are pretty much heavy drinking places. You go in, saddle up and drink her down. I never thought of drinking of being particularly sinful until I moved to Texas after college. I mean you are an adult are expected to control yourself.

So I had a couple of beers and a steak. I enjoyed it thoroughly. There was an enthusiastic crowd in there enjoying themselves as well.

The next day I drove up to the old saw mill and it was gone!! Southwest Forest Industries had a huge sawmill up there and it was the economic driver of the town. The market changed and the sawmill shut down. It was pretty much dismantled for scrap and off it went.

Just a huge empty tract of land and one remaining building left. All shut down. Two huge coal fired power plants started up and provided jobs for lots of people. That is how the town was able to afford the dome. Now the power plants are in danger of being shut down. It will cause some pain but the people there are resilient.

So now back to the reunion. The school was a kind of small and so here was the class.

You can examine the photos and names all you want and you won’t find me because I didn’t graduate there. Remember, I left in 1971. I had stayed in contact with them over the years and they invited me to join them in celebrating the 50 years. So I went and I had a great time! I felt kind of like an interloper but they made me feel welcome.

They had a dinner program the night before the parade and I got to meet people I hadn’t seen in decades. It took a little while at first because I didn’t recognize anybody. After a while it got easier. I was amazed at all my former classmates. Most of them had done quite well with families and careers. A few had challenges but they didn’t seem defeated by the experiences. And several had passed away including one classmate who ended up in Tulsa. She is buried just a few miles from where I live.

Part of the celebration was we got to ride on a float in the 4th of July parade. That’s a sign of being really old I think.

(Photo lifted from a classmates facebook page.)

So there I am sitting on a hay bale in the parade, representing the class of 1973. It was a huge parade, it went on for a long time and we rode for miles.

Also in the parade was this thing. A privately owned armored car. I am not sure what the deal was.

So we sat on the hay bales and waved flags and tossed candy to the kids. And to show their appreciation they threw water balloons at us.

It was a blast. So we finished the parade, and said our goodbyes and off I went back to Oklahoma! And guess what, I got my Albuquerque High School 50 year reunion coming up in a few weeks. Don’t be jealous, riding in a parade is not on the agenda.

Linking with Skywatch Friday and My Corner of the World

25 thoughts on “Skywatch Friday – John Wayne Country

  1. Lisa

    No need to be sorry-not sorry! I find it interesting to see places I’ve never been through eyes of one who has. Nice photos of fun places. Beautiful skies. I’ve never been a fan of John Wayne however!
    Class of ’73. Mine was ’75. A much bigger class.

  2. Ellen

    Not many people get to attend two 50-year reunions. I’m glad you kept in touch with some of your classmates and they invited you to ride on the float. It will be interesting to see what Del Norte’s reunion will be like. I went for my 25th, but none since then.

    I surprised you didn’t mention the time spent at that sawmill loading up the leftovers to take home to heat our house with. Our dad certainly knew how to save a buck. Were you able to find our old house? It was there a couple years ago when we went through, but it took me a while to recognize it. I don’t think it was avocado green anymore.

    That steak and potato looks delicious!

  3. Dee

    I like the idea of riding a float during a class reunion. That’s fun! A very memorable reunion activity, too. 🙂
    We can see you had a great time.

    Re-exploring a place, that too, after decades is oddly satisfying no? (Although you have mixed feelings).

  4. Vicki

    How neat that they invited you to go also! I love parades. I’ve ridden on floats when I was in the Brownies and Girl Scouts. I was also in the Drill Team so I was in a lot of parades.

  5. A ShutterBug Explores

    Wow! That John Wayne mural is fantastic ~ What a wonderful man he was ~ glad his ranch his now in the Native American property ~ What fun you had too ~

    Wishing you good health, laughter and love in your days,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  6. Carol

    I’ve never spent any time in Arizona – drove through it once but it wasn’t enough time to explore. It’s been a long time since 1971

  7. Penelope Notes

    You were in a parade. How cool is that! It’s a wake up call of sorts to learn what’s happened to your peers over the years. The stories are diverse no doubt and some more poignant than others.

  8. Amila

    That’s wonderful that they invited you to join as well! Parades are something I truly enjoy too. The thought of riding a float during a class reunion sounds like such a fun and exciting idea! It would undoubtedly make the reunion a memorable event. I’m glad you captured some great photos of fun places and beautiful skies.

  9. Linda

    I have never been to a high school reunion. They built a new school in the middle of my high school career and we all had to split up.

    I’ve never been close to John Wayne, but I stood next to Muhammad Ali once.

  10. Eileen

    Looks like a great trip, it was wonderful you could attend your 50th class reunion.
    I love the John Wayne mural. Pretty sky captures.
    Take care, have a happy day and happy weekend!

  11. Peter B.

    LOL… having to make the tough choice between a hot 9 mile hike with no shade or enjoying a steak and some cold beer! I think of Orange County as also being John Wayne country, with the airport named after him, his former home in Newport Beach. I think you can still tour Newport Back Bay in his yacht!

  12. Alana

    What a trip – what finds. The John Wayne mural and your trip down memory lane – enjoyed your retelling. Happy you got to ride in the parade and not have to walk. Two high school reunions in one year! I grew up in New York City and one of my high school classes would have been about the size of your entire graduating class. As you can imagine, I didn’t know many in my graduating class.

  13. Eileen Thai

    Love that mural of John Wayne.
    To keep your high school friendship alive over the years takes commitment. You and your class are special. I came from a small town in SE Asia. Every decade or so, we go back and meet up with our old neighbors, classmates and friends. With Facebook, WhatsApp et al, the world is a lot smaller 🙂

  14. Sallie

    Very cool that you got to attend two “golden” reunions!! Bill and I graduated a year apart from the same tiny high school in a tiny town in Eastern Washington, so we got to attend two in a row. Not quite the same thing but interesting!

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