As you follow the walking/cycling path that winds around Safford Cemetery, you’ll find inspiring messages and small works of art all around — and it started with a local family’s out-of-town trip.

“About three years ago we took a ride up to the Pinetop-Show Low area and found a painted rock there,” said Patty Curtis. “It was from Pima County and it inspired us to paint rocks for Graham County. When we came back home, my daughter and I and all 10 of my grandkids went to the river, collected uniquely shaped rocks and painted them. Now we paint rocks every weekend; one weekend, we painted 100 of them.”

Along with this, Curtis and her daughter Angela started a Facebook page, Graham County Painted Rocks. Putting the page name on the bottom of every rock, they asked people who found one to take a picture of it and share it to the page, “to put a smile on someone’s face.”

“Within the first week we had over 200 members, so people were finding them and sharing them. It’s been very, very popular,” said Curtis. “It came to a point where other people in the community thought it would be a good idea to paint rocks and surround the Safford Cemetery with them. That’s what all the rock painters have currently been doing.

Graham County Painted Rocks members also post pictures of their latest works before taking them out for people to find, and share art ideas and tips.

Some of the rocks have uplifting messages — “Smile,” “You Matter,” “Keep Looking Up,” “Live a Great Story.” Some are painted with trees, cacti, sunsets, VW buses or rocket ships. Others with the right size and shape have been painted to look like birds; sometimes you’ll see them perched in trees along the path.

The rock art might start out around the cemetery, but it doesn’t always stay there — and that’s part of the fun, Curtis said.

“If you’re walking up there and find one you like, you can take it and put it somewhere else in town for someone else to find. Some people, when they find them, keep them in their homes for a couple of months and then put them out in the community to share with others.

“It’s been overwhelmingly emotional because when people are sad and they see the rocks it just puts a smile on their faces. It’s very rewarding, even to my grandkids. It puts a smile on our faces that someone else found joy in it.”

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