For travelers heading south along Highway 89 down the hill from Yarnell, a special guest greets them as they traverse the hairpin turns of the road. Just before reaching the bottom, around an especially tight turn rests a white elephant painted on a sheer rockface at the bend. No one is sure how, when, or why the elephant was painted there but it is a source of pride for the locals of Yarnell.
There are numerous tales of the origins of the elephant, however, no one seems to know for sure why it is really there. One story claims that a circus wagon traveling near the spot overturned and killed an elephant. Another similar tale tells of the same circus caravan crashing but the elephant surviving. Either way, the artwork can be seen either as a monument to the death of the pachyderm or a tribute to its survival.
A different story is that local high school students created the painting after successfully making it through the winding turns of the road. Still another tale is that it is a warning to motorists of the winding road ahead.
Either way, the elephant has been a famous local peice of art for many years. The citizens of Yarnell have taken the upkeep of the elephant upon themselves. Each time the painting is defaced the locals quickly remove the graffiti. When the paint gets faded, they are quick to apply a fresh coat and on holidays the elephant sports various festive decor. Each Christmas season ornaments are known to be placed on its back. On Valentine’s Day a red heart is placed upon the creature and removed the following day. This past Memorial Day a single American flag was the decoration of choice.
It doesn’t matter where the elephant came from or why it is there. What is important is that it is a source of pride for the people of Yarnell and a peice of artwork for drivers of Yarnell Hill to enjoy. Hopefully it will stay that way for years to come.