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The Graveyard Crawl - Wanderlust 2018

February 5, 2018

            I'm not one for big New Year's parties, drinking or fireworks. (Yeah, I'm a party pooper.) However, I do have my own tradition of visiting local graveyards on New Year's Day.

            Odd though it may be, I love visiting cemeteries. (Anytime I travel I always try to visit a new one.) There is a peace in them that you can't experience anywhere else in the world. They truly are a place of rest where you can connect with your past and your own mortality. Plus they have the best statues to photograph.

            This year I was able to visit the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, the Camelback Cemetery in Scottsdale and Resthaven Cemetery.

            Out of the three of these, I must say the Camelback Cemetery was by far the most interesting. It's a blink and you'll miss it sort of location down E. McDonald Dr. right across the street from an elementary school. (I'm sure the kids get a kick out of Halloween with this place visible from their classrooms.)

            Parking was a bit of a problem though. There seems to be a turn-in at the end of the cemetery, but it's really just the driveway for a horse estate behind the cemetery. When I went, my group had to park across the street at the school. Thankfully, we were there on a weekend, so we didn't have an issue there.

            Out of all the cemeteries I've visited, this was the first one I'd ever come across that had dirt mounds over the graves. It's an oddly disorienting sight that makes you wonder if it's a cosmetic choice or if the graves are shallower than expected.

            Since this was the first cemetery to serve the area, you'll find that the dates on the gravestones range back to the 1800's. Some research on the site says that there are 900 graves on this two acre plot of land. That seems excessive until you see the small markers denoting grave sites, but missing headstones. On the west end of the lot there is an area packed full of white crosses with no names or identifying features.

            If you're a fan of the Herberger family (of the Herberger theater), you'll find two of their family plots here with reserved spaces for future burials. There is also a large population from the Baha'u'llah faith. (Google them. You'll find an interesting story.)

            Resthaven Cemetery on the other hand is a far more typical site. However, here is why I love visiting cemeteries in late December/early January: the graveyards become a symphony of color and decoration.

            While we here in Arizona celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, we don't have a grave side celebration like Mexico does. We don't have the marigold flowers, the endless candles or the ofrenda in our homes. Yet, if you visit a cemetery around the end of the year, you'll see the graves decorated for Christmas with wreaths, Christmas trees and all manner of decorations. Some I saw even had the grave outlined in garlands or packages of fake snow sprinkled over it. If you stand back and look over the green grass, you'll see a riot of sparkling colors celebrating a family's remembrance of their passed loved ones.

            It's a humbling sight, but one that reminds you of what really matters here in our rush-about lives.

            When I visited Resthaven, I was surprised at the number of burials taking place that day. Being as respectful as possible, I sat on a memorial bench and watched a backhoe digging a new grave. Beside the vehicle was a large cement box. (Not a coffin.) Being a fan of Caitlin Doughty's Ask A Mortician videos, I knew this was one of the vaults they burry and place the coffin in. (FYI, your coffin doesn't go directly into the ground.) I'd never seen one before.