Place and Identity


Joseph Campbell once said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” A place I find myself frequenting, often, would be the top of South Mountain in Phoenix Arizona, a lookout informally known as “The TV Towers”, to locals such as myself. My longstanding relationship with TV Towers sprouts from a young age to my current recently found adulthood. This small parking lot takes the average driver, who doesn’t speed, approximately twenty minutes to arrive at, despite the hazardous road curves along the side of the mountain where many have fallen victim in the past. The correlation between myself and why I frequently visit “TV Towers” is simply the comfort I find at those few thousand feet, staring out above the city.

Just south of the Salt River sits South Mountain Regional Park which used to be known as “Phoenix Mountain Park” back in 1924 when President Coolidge sold the 13,000 acres to the city of Phoenix for a mere $17,000. Whichever the locals prefer to call it, I only know it as my favorite escape, as far back as when I was a child. Back to simpler times when my family was whole, my parents would take my younger sister and me for pizza after school, and then to a local park where we’d finish our homework while the sun set behind us. Once the sun set, we packed up and started our long drive up to South Mountain to “Dobbins Lookout” where all four of us would eventually lie down in the bed of the truck to watch the stars and the distant city lights below us. My sister and I fell asleep on that mountain once a week, if we were lucky, and wouldn’t awake till the next morning as our parents would each carry one of our small, sleeping bodies into our house as to not wake us too soon. This is my fondest memory that I catch myself reflecting on occasionally, especially on the days where I take the time to visit South Mountain alone.

Around five years ago, the City of Phoenix implemented a curfew for the South Mountain Park due to the rising number of car crashes along the mountain, from drunk drivers, teenagers who hadn’t yet learned to drive, and just those who had a difficult time seeing at night and were unable to anticipate the sudden turns South Mountain offered. Due to these new hours, I found myself not visiting my favorite place as often as I once had, and whenever I did, it was never under positive circumstances. When life was too much to bear, I always wound up in my car, already fixated on the route to the lookout, as if it the route was subconsciously imbedded; I drove by instinct. Perhaps because of the comfort I used to find atop that mountain, it was ingrained in me to make my way up there whenever I felt myself slipping, which I frequently did.

At times, I still find it difficult to make my way to that lookout that my parents would take me to as a child, even though it is a nice memory to reflect on now and then, but I can’t help missing that time that is now so far away. In hopes to keep that memory alive without feeling that nostalgic pain in my chest, I began my hunt for a new secret spot somewhere on that same mountain, and I found one. Just a few years ago after having a tough day and feeling like I couldn’t take much else, I decided to keep driving up that mountain until either the road or I ran out. Finding “TV Towers” can only be compared to a rare, religious type of experience. My tires climbed the last few feet of asphalt to come upon a small circular parking lot with tire marks from numerous, previous burnouts, as well as the absence of guardrails to prevent the occasional accident, while still allowing the local base jumpers their own access to the sky 3,000 feet above the city limits. Right when I believed I was cured from whatever sadness I was feeling, after I parked, I stumbled upon a small wooden bench just at the tip of the steep drop-off, hiding under a tall, dry mesquite tree. That was the day that “TV Towers” became my own personal sanctuary and escape.

I came from being terrified of never being able to rekindle that warmth I once felt as a child, to making my own without straying too far from the original path. I found that whenever I have trials in my life, however bad, “TV Towers” would always be a few miles away and within my grasp. South Mountain TV Towers has offered me a chance to grow and move on, while still holding onto those fleeting moments as a child. Each time I’m in Phoenix, I always go out of my way to visit the TV Towers to recreate that nostalgic comfort from years past. To be able to find relief and warmth in something as inanimate as a small, old parking lot on a dry and barren mountain is, I believe, a privilege that I have not earned, and yet I am eternally thankful.


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