BULLHEAD CITY — Many of us drive down Highway 95 every single day trying to pay attention to the cars and motorcycles buzzing in and around us, not really looking at much else out the window. Losing focus on this busy stretch could easily spell disaster in a heartbeat.
In 17 years of traveling the road — sometimes four times a day — I had never noticed mystery flags waving in the breeze on a hill behind a row of businesses in the 3000 to 3400 block of the highway — until a reader asked about them.
“I have always wanted to know who placed those flags up there in the first place and who tends them,” she said. “I have never seen them tattered, even after a high wind. To me, and perhaps to many others, this is quite special.”
When I took the time to glance out of my car window and looked toward the top of the first hill, I saw the American flag and I wondered the same thing. A subsequent trip and I saw the other two. The mystery of how and why they came to be there, sparked my curiosity, too, and I started making phone calls. Veterans organizations like VFW and American Legion halls are closed because of the pandemic and no one is there to answer phones. Whoever is taking care of this task, certainly knows the proper protocol.
An employee at Gerber Collision & Glass, one of the businesses in front of the hill, said he has seen the three flags flying up there, but had no idea who put them there.
“The flags have been there for years and they are assembled in the right order,” he said. “If you can even get up there, there are three different hillsides and each one has a flag — the U.S. flag, a POW/MIA flag and the Arizona flag.”
When asking one of my friends who has lived here longer than I have about them, she said, “It’s funny you should ask, but I saw some off-roaders coming from there only yesterday as I was going home, so maybe they were up there to do some maintenance. I’m not even sure how someone would get up there.”
After looking at maps of the city, including a satellite map, my friend (who shall remain nameless) and I decided to find out for ourselves and take a closer look at those flags.
She picked me up at the newspaper office in her large utility truck and we went searching for the dirt trail to get to the mystery flags in the hopes I could get closer for pictures.
We found the tracks, started up the mountain, had made it up only so far and my friend’s truck didn’t want to go any farther. But she wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet and she realized, “I didn’t put this thing in four-wheel drive.”
So we took another stab at it. We were clinging to the insides of the truck for dear life as we climbed further up the mountain, this time, to a little clearing, where we thought about going all the way to the top — until we looked straight up at the remaining vertical climb, and straight down at the vertical drop inches from her truck door. A smaller UTV might have been handier at that point, but we didn’t have one of those.
We decided this was far enough.
I snapped photos out of the window, seeing only the American flag from our vantage point.
Now we were facing the problem — how do we get back down without either rolling backward too far, or underestimating the stability of the dirt the closer to the side we got?
There probably was less than a foot between the driver’s side and straight down in an area with lots of visible erosion. At this point we were sweating it. We both knew how embarrassing it would be to explain how we came to be there and how we got ourselves stuck.
There was enough room to turn around, but we could have been toast if she didn’t get out every few inches to actually see how much turn-around space we had. When she carefully accomplished that, we were poised to come down. All of a sudden, that prospect was scarier than going up. We easily could have gone flying down that nasty rugged path tail over tea-kettle, but she took it really slowly. Boy, oh, boy, were we laughing when we made it down safely, so glad we weren’t dead.
We checked out a nearby road without an outlet to see if there was a better view or different angle for a photo, or to see if the other flags might be visible, but no luck.
After what we’d been through, however, there would have been an outlet — hand-carved perhaps — but an outlet, just the same. She could have turned that truck around on a dime by then.
Our adventure just added more to the flag mystery and our trek didn’t take us any closer to finding the story behind them. But we got a taste of the kind of dedication it takes not only to make it there safely but take care of the area out of a sense of pride, loyalty, patriotism, a tribute to fallen friends or simply because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe that trek serves to keep vandals away. It certainly inspired two crazy ladies to try to climb up the ridiculous face of a mountain just to see what was up there.
Old Glory, forever may your banner wave.