Arizona Stories and Tips

Why, Arizona

Welcome to Why Photo,

Driving west from Tucson, Arizona along Highway 86 (known as Ajo Way in Tucson) the first time traveler is surprised to encounter a familiar blue and white highway information sign, that reads "Gas - Food, Lodging, Camping". Nothing unusual about this sign other than a second sign, mounted atop the first one, bearing the words "Why".

One of the delights of a motor trip along secondary roads is the surprises one encounters in out of the way places. The scenic view, the quaint store or farm house, or town or village with a strange name. The town of Why, Arizona is just such a surprise.

You see, the "Why" on the sign is the name of the town, and not a question about the need for "Gas - Food, Lodging, Camping". Why would people name a town "Why". Strange as it may seem, the answer is rather simple. As Highway 86 makes its way west through the Sonoran Desert it reaches a point, about 120 miles west of Tucson, where it intersects with Highway 85. But, instead of the usual "T" intersection it forms a "Y" in which one branch, which at this point consists of both Highways 85 and 86, angles northwest toward Ajo, Arizona. The other branch, which is just Highway 85, angles south toward Lukeville, Arizona and the Mexican border. Being the intersection of the only two major roads in the area (even today the few roads branching off from Routes 85 and 86 are mostly dirt and are generally simply long driveways leading to a few ranches) the intersection became the logical place for a general store to locate. Since the store and few homes next to it were not any type of incorporated municipality it had no formal name and the locals began to simply refer to it as where the roadsformed a "Y" or simply "Y". Eventually the population of the surrounding area grew to the point where it was determined, sometime in the 1960s, that a Post Office was justified thereby saving the ranchers from having to go to Ajo or Sells for their mail. But, mailing something requires a place name and, while all the locals knew where "Y" was, a single letter of the alphabet was not sufficient for the U.S. Postal Service. So, the site on which the general store stood, and the general store was to be the Post Office, was changed from "Y" to "Why" thus providing the U.S. Postal Service with a name that was a real word and, at the same time, enabling the locals to continue referring to the place as "Y".

Why appears to have grown a little in recent years. In addition to the Why Not Travel Store, which appears to be one of the older buildings in town, there is a new looking Chevron gas station, an RV park and the Golden Ha:sañ Casino. A few dirt roads branching off from the two highways contain some frame and trailer homes.

The Why Not Travel Store appears to be either the original general store or its direct descendant. It is a charming, older building that sells everything from gas, to snack food, to souvenirs to Mexican auto insurance. The Mexican auto insurance is important because car accidents are considered a crime in Mexico and, unless the foreign driver involved in the accident has liability insurance through a local Mexican company (which the local courts can force to make payment in the event the driver is found to be liable), the general practice is to hold the foreign driver in jail until either cleared of liability or a check is received from the driver's American insurance carrier. Since Mexico is one of only two destinations available when heading south on Route 85, the other being Organ Pipe National Park, Why is a good place to buy the insurance if you have not already purchased it from an agent in Tucson or online.

Since Why is just a gas stop for me when heading toward either Organ Pipe National Park or Rocky Point in Mexico, the only place I have actually visited there is the Why Not Travel Store. However, there is a Chevron gas station across from the Why Not Travel Store on Highway 85 just south of the intersection. While the Chevron station and Why Not Travel Store sit opposite each other on Highway 85 just south of the intersection, a new, modern casino, the Golden Ha:sañ Casino, which opened in 1999, sits on the northeast corner of Highways 86 and 85. While I have never visited the casino, the ads for it indicate that it offers 100 slot machines and a grill type restaurant. It appears to cater to the mostly winter visitors staying at the RV park on the edge of town. While hardly a tourist destination, Why remains an interesting little hamlet reminiscent of similar isolated hamlets found scattered across rural America in the 1950s.

Oh, one more thing. Some time in the past decade or two, the Arizona Highway Department straightened out the roads converting the intersection from a "Y" to a "T". However, on a map you can still see the two highways angling off past Why and forming a crude looking "Y" image.

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