Arizona: World Leader in Weird Freeway Adoption Road Signs
A few weeks ago, Arizona made international news when a British newspaper randomly decided to run an article on how the Satanic Temple “adopted” a stretch of Interstate 10 near Casa Grande – a fitting choice since Casa Grande is pretty much hell.
Watching the road sign that the Arizona Department of Transportation erected in honor of Satanists is certainly one way to make the drive to Tucson less boring. But that blue-and-white ADOT sign (found near milepost 194, if you’re wondering) isn’t even the strangest of its kind. For some reason Arizona specializes in weird Adopt a Highway sponsorships.
On Interstate 8 outside of Yuma, for example, you pass “In Memory of Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)”, which is often covered in Deadhead stickers and honors the Grateful Dead’s garbage collection efforts. Club of Yuma. And on the dizzying road to Jérôme, a sign informs you that the road you take slowly has been adopted by Psychedelic Mariachi, although the band changed their name to Latin Express over a decade ago.
Most Adopt a Freeway signs are more mundane than that, but there is something delicious about the diverse groups that collect roadside trash. There are VFW positions, dental offices, Mormon congregations, high school honor societies., Harley Davidson clubs, RV parks, Walmart employees, Native American youth councils, guy ranches and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The Dream Palace Gentlemen’s Club in Tempe has adopted part of State Route 202, as has the Fertility Treatment Center.
Other business sponsors include the BoreDumbKids Gallery, a Pyrenean breeder in the White Mountains near the New Mexico border, and the ubiquitous Jobing.com.
A request for public files to the Ministry of Transport for a list of all the sponsors of the highway provided a lot of interesting information, such as the fact that a section of US 60 was adopted by a group called “Squirrels”, whose owner is listed as “Barn Owls”. He also revealed that Ahwatukee is home to the Austrian Arizona Society and his incredibly outdated website, and that Yuma residents have the opportunity to join the aptly named S * W * A * G: Southwest Arizona geocachers.
Many of the state’s freeways have been adopted by informal groups of enthusiastic benefactors, whose Adopt a Freeway signs say things like “Odell Family & Everett Family We chasing AZ!” and “Deaver & Friends Takin ‘Out The Trash 1-17.” Others are claimed by small town brothers suburban civic organizations or clubs, of Moose wives at Arizona Donations.
There are tributes to people with unusual nicknames, including Manual “Boongy” Quijada, Joseph “Hootie” Morales, and Marc “Sasquatch” Philbrook. Jack “Pole Cat” Dupont and Dave “Wildcat” Prechel are both commemorated on the highways of Arizona, along with Larry “Lizardguy” Jones. And on the way to Wickenberg, there is a sign that maybe someone fired bullets at, letting you know that the roadside trash is being picked up by the ominously named Doom family.
Some volunteers leave their names on the signs to send a message to passing drivers:
• GOD FIRST / COUNTRY 2ND / MAN / FOLLOW
• A NATION UNDER GOD
• AMERICAN ROCKS
• SEPT-11 NEVER FORGET 343
• ALMOST THERE
Those proclamations become a mystery to be contemplated briefly as you pass at full speed. Who is “Scary Larry?” Did the person who wrote “UR CAPAPBLE MAKE A DIFFIRENCE” include the spelling mistakes on purpose? Does some kind of inner joke explain the signs that say “CHAIN GANG” and “PAKRAT JUNCTION”? What is the Apache Nitrogen team? (Answer: the various employees of a nitric acid plant who had to pay more than a million dollars in fines to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for breaking clean air laws.)
Law and order guys especially like to sponsor freeway cleanups. As you travel through Arizona, you can find stretches of road that have been passed by the Page and Fredonia DUI and Drug Court, La Paz County Probation Department, Eloy Detention Center, Sheriff’s Brigade of Greenlee County, the Tucson Air Operations branch of the Border Patrol and for-profit prison operator CoreCivic, to name a few.
But pretty much every interest group you can think of is represented on state highways somewhere: the Parker 4-Wheelers, an offroad club in La Paz County. The Yuma Rifle and Pistol Club. The Quartzsite Gem and Mineral Club. Arizona railway history buffs. The Cochise County Lesbian and Gay Alliance.
Once you start paying attention to these signs, you start to discover all kinds of subcultures that you never knew existed. Halau Hula Napuaokalei’ilima, a Hula school in Cottonwood that also offers Hawaiian language lessons and beginner ukulele lessons, sponsors one mile from State Route 89A. The same goes for the Arizona chapter of a group called Modified dolls, which aims to “erase negative stereotypes associated with modified women”, that is, women with unusual tattoos and piercings.
A section of US 70 in eastern Arizona is sponsored by the Peyote Way Church of God, which is located on a dirt road in Graham County outside of the town of Klondyke (population: 50.)
As the name suggests, church members take peyote for spiritual purposes, which is legal under Arizona state law but illegal under federal law, unless you are a member of a federally recognized Native American tribe. The leaders of the church are not Native Americans; one of the frequently asked questions on their webpage is “Is the Peyote Way Church Guilty of ‘Cultural Appropriation’”?
It is approximately 26 miles from the US-Mexico border at Sasabe to the border patrol checkpoint that drivers on State Route 286 must cross to head north.
You first pass a sign informing you that the road (it’s a stretch to call it a freeway) has been passed by Arizona Border Recon, an armed vigilante group who patrol the surroundings for illegal cross-border workers. About 20 miles later you pass another sign telling you that this part of the highway is sponsored by Humane Borders, whose volunteers regularly walk in the desert to drop water for migrants.
Depending on your position in the immigration debate, it’s likely that one of these signs will turn you off and dismay you. You might wonder how the group in question even got permission to sponsor a highway, while in a just and equitable world, they would be forced out of town or thrown in jail.
But the Arizona Department of Transportation is not taking sides one way or the other. ADOT just cares about someone picking up the trash.