While flying to Tucson in March, in order to be with his mother in her final hours, our son overheard two passengers behind him excitedly discussing the reason for their flight from Seattle to Tucson. When he heard the words, “Oro Valley,” he quite naturally, as you or I might have done, tuned them in. It took little effort. They were speaking in loud, chortling voices – full of themselves and success.
It was not difficult to discern that their vocations had to do with real estate development; great untrodden tracts of undeveloped land. In this instance, one described for his companion a vast, open area north of Oro Valley; one where my son and I spent countless hours traversing every trail for more than10 years in our four-wheel drive International Scout. Quail hunting was our bonding thing.
Arroyo Grande, north of Oro Valley. is still an area where one can walk for hours and never encounter a fence, and with a great corridor to the north provided by the constructors of a power line several decades past, this is where we were on most fall and wintertime weekends. There is probably not one square mile in the area between Tangerine Road and the Tom Mix Wash north of Oracle Junction that we have not walked upon. (Fried quail, especially those prepared in the field, is the best food ever offered a gourmand).
We also frightened great numbers of deer, coyote and javelina, the odd tortoise, and once, a great porcupine.
We also found a metate, the shallow, smoothly-rounded depression in a rock that usually weighs less 30 pounds, that when used with a smooth, round hand-held river rock usually about the size of a baseball, the two stones become a primitive milling device: a mortar and pestel for grain. At the time we discovered it, the metate was a few feet above the surrounding terrain, ground down into an enormous boulder that weighs many thousands of tons. This artifact will never grace a back yard, or for that matter, a museum.
For acres roundabout, the small arroyos are littered with pottery shards, with more turning up spontaneously with each rainfall. We named the ancient ones, “The Clumsy Pot-Breakers.”
So, we have intimate knowledge of the area of consuming interest to the representatives of huge investors and developers, and more than a bit of interest to the expansionists now holding the levers of power on the Oro Valley Town Council.
My understanding is that those substantial gentlemen on Southwest Airlines dripped Big Money. From their expressions, they revealed themselves to be more important than mere minions of some gigantic commercial entity. These guys spoke as if they were the principals, who not only managed and directed the investments of a vast fortune beyond imagining, but may also be the owners of many millions, perhaps billions of ready cash themselves. They were flying to Tucson to prepare the ground for some grand enterprise.
They spoke of Oro Valley as if it was some yet hidden treasure with the same enthusiasm as must have Coronado, Cortez, Desoto and Pizzaro, the Conquistadores of Latin America. I imagine that their language was more akin to that used by those who rushed to Sutters Mill and the Yukon – those two great Gold Rushes of 1849 and 1904 —and not unlike the rough speech of the wildcatters who opened the West Texas Oil Patch and those who founded Tulsa, Oklahoma – yes, perhaps identical to the hustle now flowing from those lusting for the opening of the vast untouched and still dedicated lands of the Alaskan Denali Range.
For these two businessmen, the “best was yet to come,” a trite phrase, but I can think of no more appropriate one. The word “Bonanza” comes to mind.
These modern-day carpet-baggers had stored wide cases packed with plans, graphs and data in the overhead compartments. They spoke expansively of the table that had been set before them by a generation of generous and welcoming Oro Valley town leaders; by the naive who are willing to trade off our treasures for a few moments in the spotlight, a rubber chicken banquet and their image in the paper and on TV. It would be more understandable if they were wallowing in corrupt riches.
With the real estate development business in the dumper everywhere, why would any speculator want to come to Oro Valley in the spring of 2008 with an all-consuming interest in the area north of town, all the way to the Pinal County line and beyond?
One day we shall know their names, but one need not be a Nostradamus to realize where their interests lie and why. They are just following a money trail to the prettiest town in the West, broken long ago by others.
I rush to say that with no doubt they are entrepreneurs, the kind of people who made the USA the great nation it certainly is; without a mean bone in their corpulent corporate bodies.
The conundrum for us is this: In gaining their goal, which is to turn more desert into beautiful homes fronted with rows of bountiful businesses, what effect will they have on the quality of our lives?
And as for my son who delivered this synchronicity to me: For 15 years he was an errand boy for Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The very least thing about which she taught him to be concerned is the accumulation of more stuff or political power than any of us need in this brief life.
Phil Richardson is a resident of Oro Valley.