Sense of Place: Family Roots

Jun 24, 2013

The Hassayamapa wash, located near Wickenburg, Arizona is a relic of the American West. With its slow and gentle stream working its way through the canyons one can’t help but be intrigued by its natural beauty. Every year around Octobe r my dad and I make a trip up to Wickenburg just to ride dirt bikes in the wash. It’s a beautiful wash and canyon and one that my ancestors traveled down 110 years ago.

After following the dusty single lane dirt road down the side of the mountain you reach the wash which transforms the desert scenery into something much more luscious and green. With the sun shining down between the canyon walls, the water becomes pleasantly warm and whatever water splashes up from the motorcycle feels refreshingly comfortable. The deafening sound of my Yamaha Yz250F dirt bike echoes down the walls of the canyon making it nearly impossible to hear the creeks gentle flow. The crystal clear water brings green trees and bushes that make it hard to believe you are still in the desert. The green moss staining the sides of the walls is there from the rains that flow down from the top ridge and slowly leave their mark.

You see the remarkable thing is that 110 years earlier my great great uncle, Stanley Sykes and his family trekked from Flagstaff to Wickenburg, Arizona and went through this same exact canyon with a horse and buggy. Stanley Sykes and his brother wrote their autobiography in 1944 titled A Westerly Trend, which stands as a classic of Western literature. He was truly an amazing western figure as he and his brother engineered and built the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Fittingly, he made the circular roof open with bicycle tires mounted on a track; He and his brother Godfrey owned a bicycle shop in Flagstaff called Makers and Menders.

Stanley, his wife Beatrice and their two boys, Harold and Guy often traveled in the winter down from their home in Flagstaff to lower, warmer locations to pan for gold and generally see the countryside.  The story, as told in a family journal explains that they shot and killed doves, rabbits, quail and ducks for meals along the journey: “A great flock of geese flew over our camp this morning.  A lot of people have come here to hunt and  we can hear banging from all directions.”

They camped in the bottom of the Hassayampa gulch, the same streambed I rode my dirt bike through. However, great, great aunt Beatrice and her two sons walked through this canyon; she and the boys made quite a procession. “Harold carried his toy trains and sucked a long stick of candy while I followed with my rifle in its case.  Little Guy clung to my skirts with one little fat hand and in the other he carried his toy train.”

While I enjoy my time riding in this still remote area, I marvel at the determination and  persistence that my ancestors showed in their travels. Our 3 hour trip from Yuma in the air conditioned, stereo enhanced comforts of our 4 wheel drive truck are a century apart from their month long, often dangerous, journey to the same destination. We were both hoping to enjoy a relaxing family time surrounded by the natural beauty of the American West. I suppose in our own ways, we each found what we desired.

Biography: Gregory Champagne

I was born to a Yuma couple and haven’t left the sunniest city in the United States since. Being a Yuma kid it has taught me to look forward to days when the temps are only 105 degrees and that maybe 95 degrees at night is normal. After graduating high school in 2012, I enrolled in AWC to study my general education classes and look to transfer to a four year university after completing an associate’s degree. Currently I’m employed with Discount Tire Company and work there part time. Sundays are my day off and are usually spent air chairing up the river in our boat in the summer or at Buttercup with my dirt bike in the winter.