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The Great Arizona Outback

The McMullen Valley Stage

The Great Arizona Outback, also known as McMullen Valley, is a little-known locale where the frontier never closed. Hope, Salome, Wenden and Vicksburg are a few of the necklace of towns strung out along a desolate stretch of Highway 60 west of Phoenix. The valley was named after James McMullen, who ran the stage between Congress and Ehrenberg. Wells Fargo took over later and made it part of their Butterfield Stage Line.
Wyatt Earp settled there in the 1880s, not long after the shoot out at the O.K. Corral. He worked some gold claims in the nearby Harquahala Mountains and ran a saloon that also offered entertainment of the feminine variety. Other rugged individualists sought their fortunes in this desert solitude. Miners came for the gold; gamblers, robbers, and shady ladies followed along to “mine the miners.”
Arizona pioneers found it helped to have a sense of humor to live in the rugged outback, and Dick Wick Hall, a.k.a. the “Sage of Salome,” helped provide the valley its whimsical mystique. Known as a journalist and “political operative,” Iowan DeForest Hall found a mentor in famed prospector Henry Wickenberg, and says he changed his name to Dick Wick Hall to honor Wickenberg. Hall also claimed that fellow town site investor Charles Pratt’s wife Salome did a little dance when the hot sand burned her feet, giving rise to the name of the town, “Salome: Where She Danced.”
As publisher of the Salome Sun and owner of the “Laughing Gas” gas station, Hall gained national notoriety when some of his outlandish tales about the region (such as claiming the existence of a 23-mile golf course called Greasewood Golf Lynx) were published in The Saturday Evening Post.
Hall is a prime example of someone who came to Arizona for the rich minerals, but fell in love with the place and stayed. When the gold panned out, new dreamers and schemers came for their health, wealth or just a new start. In 1920, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory built the Harquahala Peak Observatory to measure and record solar activity. The observatory closed in 1925, and the Bureau of Land Management oversees the site now.
World War II brought a tank-testing ground to Bouse, located about 15 miles southeast of Parker, and the surrounding area. Brothels and slot machines served those who served, and other residents and travelers as well. A world-class aviary was yet another reason to pause on the long road from Phoenix to Los Angeles. The town of Salome became known at one time as the “Marriage Capital of the World” because of less strenuous license requirements.
McMullen Valley does not get a lot of attention in the broader picture of Arizona history, but it certainly deserves a day in the sun. Dick Wick Hall would be proud to see someone carry on his whimsical wordplay and bring back the attention he brought to the area a century ago.
— Source: “Images of America: McMullen Valley” By Sharon Rubin (painter/photographer) and E. W. Kutner (writer), The Great Arizona Outback Rumor and Innuendo Historical Society.
— Jim Turner. Photo courtesy of the McMullen Valley Historical Society.

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