Brand New Dead Things

The sign has seen some weather, the drive is worth it.

Twenty-five miles north of Wickenburg, Arizona, in the high desert that has snow in winter, is the town of Yarnell. You arrive there after a twisting, winding ride up state road 89 that is the joy of motorcyclists. At least five miles of switchbacks up a rockface mountain gives you a feeling of leaving the Sonoran desert floor and arriving in another Arizona. Less demanding, less scorched, more, well, small town.

On the East side of state road 89, after you pass the diner, sits the shop of a woman who harvests the desert. The shops name is Santa Fe House, but everyone calls it Brand New Dead Things, because that is what it says on the sign. The proprietor, Ann, is knowledgeable and friendly. She sits among minerals and dried gourds, polished rock chunks and dried skulls. Feathers, seed pods, jewelry, and insect specimens pack the cases in the store. Wood bowls and walking sticks lean against skeletonized saguaro branches.

There are several boxes of desert treasures that aren’t for sale. You can poke through them, moving back

Two Dog pottery sits across the street from Rumors restaurant.

through time by touching the fossilized ivory that was dinosaur teeth, a piece of spine that came from a very large mammal, at least as large as a human and surprisingly humanoid-vertebra shaped. There is the 4-inch long polished bone, and its companion, that has been made into an awl.

Ann tells you what she knows about the pieces–some she harvests, some are brought in by friends who know the store. The visit is worth the drive. The drive is wonderful on its own. If you are hungry after the distance traveled from Phoenix–about 85 miles–drive a few blocks north and look for Rumors on the West side of the street. The small restaurant in what looks like a former motel will delight you with daily specials, soup, sandwiches, Angus-beef hamburgers and a chef who will entertain you with the list of cities he’s cooked in. From Germany to Australia, South Africa to cities on the East and Middle Coasts, when you sit down at Rumors, you’ll be happy he settled in Yarnell.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who loves picking up treasures in Yarnell to draw in her raw-art journals.

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