J U N E 2 0 0 6
Braves Bear Dens
A Hiker Seeks
a Peak Moment
of Tony Hillerman's
Nervous Nellie on the Edge: A Mottherr Teetterrss on tthe Norrtth Riim
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
Monument Valley awaits
the return of the gods.
LeRoy DeJolie shares his legacy.
5 TAKING THE
Explore Arizona oddities,
attractions and pleasures.
43 ALONG THE WAY
Wild things drive a wildlife
44 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
A 27-mile ramble to Camp
Wood skirts history and
plunges into solitude.
46 HIKE OF THE MONTH
sheep-watching hikers face
tough choices along the East
Fork of the Black River.
FRONT COVER Sunlight streams through the swirling sandstone forms of Lower Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Indian
Reservation near Page. No wider than 18 inches at its start, the depths of the canyon reveal a phantasmagorical world of color
and form throughout its quarter-mile length. paul gill n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit arizonahighways.com.
BACK COVER Showy flowers cover a diminutive fishhook pincushion cactus. Generally less than 6 inches tall, the tiny Mammillaria
grahamii bursts into bloom after the first rains of the summer monsoon season. See portfolio, page 22. john p. schaefer
16 Peak Moment by bill broyles
The Tucson Mountains inspire an odd
compulsion in a front-porch sitter.
photographs by jack dykinga
22 Portfolio: Flowers
Cacti show their softer side as
seasons change in the desert.
written and photographed by john p. schaefer
30 Hell of a State by gregory mcnamee
Names with a whiff of brimstone get
stuck on some heavenly scenery.
32 Nervous Nellie
on the Edge by robin n. clayton
A single mother discovers courage and
coolness perched on the North Rim.
photographs by gary ladd
40 Bearly Brave by stan cunningham
A biologist sneaks into dens, armed with courage
and a can of pepper spray for confidence.
Online this month, discover the
mystery and majesty of Arizona.
From the monoliths of Monument
Valley, to the peaceful pine
country of the North Rim, to the
beauty of botanical gardens, go
to arizonahighways.com and click
on the “June Trip Planner” for:
• Thrilling Hillerman country trips
• North Rim recreation
• The buzz on botanical gardens
HUMOR Our author imagines
cavalry life at Fort Huachuca.
ONLINE EXTRA Find the
silver lining along Arizona’s
“Million Dollar Highway.”
WEEKEND GETAWAY Walk on the
wild side at Out of Africa Wildlife Park.
HISTORY Meet Jessie
Frémont, Territorial Arizona’s
enchanting First Lady.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan
a trip using our statewide
calendar of events.
contents june 2006
8 A Man of Mysteries
Revealed by rachel dickinson
A war, a healing and a string of best-selling detective
novels connect author Tony Hillerman to Navajoland.
photographs by leroy dejolie
10 Guide to Hillerman
Country by pauly heller
Track fictional Navajo Policeman Jim Chee from one
great place to visit on the reservation to the next.
ICONIC IMAGE Carved from the red sandstone of
the Colorado Plateau through the action of countless
centuries of wind and water, the striking buttes
and pinnacles of Monument Valley remain the final
testament to the ancient seas and sand dunes that
once covered the area. See story page 8. leroy dejolie
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191
or visit arizonahighways.com.
all who wander
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Produced in the USA
JUNE 2006 VOL. 82, NO. 6
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
Editor PETER ALESHIRE
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Managing Editor RANDY SUMMERLIN
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HANDS OF THE GODS
The Navajos say that the
Mittens, ‘Ná Tosh, are formed
from the giant hands of the
gods left behind as a promise
that they will one day return.
sadly, i come driving.
Full of care, I come driving.
Wondering, I come driving.
For I drive a loop in the heart of Monument Valley, bemused
and misplaced in this place of blood and awe.
Looking upon these 1,000-foot-tall prayers of sandstone, I
can see the myths, tragedies, ironies and truths in layers, from
the sacred springs at their feet to the windswept, fossilized
sand dunes on their brows.
I am out of place.
I know too much history.
I feel too much blame.
I look upon the formations the map arrogantly labels
Mitchell and Merrick buttes. These formations, sacred to the
Navajos, now bear the names of James Merrick and Ernest
Mitchell, soldiers-turned-prospectors who ignored warnings to
stay away. The two men persisted and here in 1879 some
Indians found them — maybe Navajos but probably Paiutes.
Mitchell was shot as he emerged from his mine near the butte
that now bears his name. Merrick fled, but was killed a short
distance away in the shadow of the rock now named for him.
So two brave, greedy, reckless men get their names on the map.
The Navajos have different names for such places, better
suited to sacred ground.
I cannot pronounce them.
Some say these great towers of rock are water baskets. Some
say they are holy people turned to stone. Some say they are the
line of stepping-stones upon which the gods went off to
wherever it is they have gone. Medicine men still gather water
and grass for their ceremonies here, although all the oohing and
ahhing tourists detract from the necessary sense of reverence in
the busy summer months. These cloud-scraping mesas are
intimately connected to rain and wind. Some say that
Monument Valley dried out even more when white people
climbed to the top of the monoliths of the nearby Yei Bichei
Formation, which some say is really a line of dancing gods. The
Navajos say that the most-photographed formations in the
valley, which the maps call the Mittens, were left behind by the
gods as a promise that they would one day return.
But I am just another white guy who has come from a long
distance to drive this loop and marvel. I have
learned the stories of my own clan, tales going
back 250 million years to the end of the
Permian period when massive sand dunes
covered this great region and the whole dry
surface of the Earth was gathered together into
a single supercontinent dubbed Pangaea.
Then the Earth shifted and nearly all living
things died mysteriously in one of the most
terrible mass extinctions ever recorded — just
as the Navajos say that the exasperated Creator wiped out the
Third World, which came just before this one.
Pangaea broke up and its pieces went wandering, rootless as
a band of white guys. Those great sand dunes were soon
buried, heated, pressurized and turned to the thick layers of
swirled rock we have dubbed DeChelly Sandstone.
Then the Earth shifted again, thrusting these newly made
rocks back up into the light, where the rain, thunder, ice and
wind conspired to render them into the form of gods.
So I come now with empty hands, seeking a place to stand
here among the stone gods and the mass extinctions and the
misnamed buttes. I have read my geology and my history and
also the Blessingway, hoping that these things may fit me to
this place. For I have lived my life in many places, thinking
always of other times, but in my heart I am jealous of the
medicine men who know where they belong.
I turn off the engine and get out of the Jeep in the fading
light. The engine block crackles as it cools, accentuating the
wind-caressed silence. I walk a little way from the road, the
Blessingway humming in my ears.
And then it happens suddenly. I fit. The Mittens glow in the
long light. The gods have returned or perhaps they never left.
The wind ripples in the red sand echo the fossilized 250
million-year-old sand dune buttes, reincarnated now as holy
people making their ancient prayers to the clouds. The
continents and the sand dunes and the sandstone and Merrick
and Mitchell and the Yei Bichei and I have all wandered the
world to come finally to this place at this moment, as though
our single purpose all along had been to watch the light deepen
into dark. In the words of the Navajo Nightway chant:
Feeling light within, I walk.
With lively feelings, I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
Seeking a Fit Between
the Blood and the Awe
2 J u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
by Peter Aleshire, editor
Howling Females With Pitchforks
I’m a linguistic anthropologist, and I
really do understand. About the myopic
patriarchal roots of our language and
our culture, about how nobody really
intended to exclude women from virtually
everything for all those years, about
how unreasonable the feminists were.
Everyone’s tired of the argument, right?
But I’m looking at the cover headline
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”
(February ’06), and it’s underneath a
picture of a woman on a horse, and
it’s just so . . . absurd. My heroes have
always been cowgirls. I bet you knew
something like this was coming and
are barricaded in your office at this very
moment, awaiting the crowds of howling
females, armed with pitchforks, who
are working their way up the mountain,
torches flickering in the moonlight.
Christina Maris, Albuquerque, NM
You’re right. I savored the irony. But now I‘m worried
about the pitchforks. — Ed.
Blurry Eyed Editor’s Lapses
I would like to comment on some of your
March 2006 photographs. 1) Page 13, out
of focus acacia bushes in the foreground.
2) Page 36, both the arch in the
foreground and the background are out of
focus. 3) Pages 40 and 41, middle ground
is blurry. 4) Page 57, excessive contrast.
The good photographs in the issue are
superb, as usual: the “Crescendo of Color”
(pages 18-19), “The Great Flower Chase”
(pages 24-25) and the wonderful back
cover. Why the lapses above?
Good eye. In some of those cases, we were
using 35 mm images to capture more action and
people. Unfortunately, 35 mm cameras don’t allow
adjustment of the film plane the way a view camera
does, so there’s a tradeoff. But we’re trying to mix
more people and action photography with our
landscapes these days. — Ed.
Don’t Feed the Danged Wildlife
I must question the judgment in
publishing the article “Playful Prairie
Dogs Put on an Entertaining Spring Show”
(March ’06, “Along the Way”). I also live
in Tucson, and problems with feeding
wildlife have been in the news, including
the controversy over Arizona Game and
Fish Department’s having to kill mountain
lions in Sabino Canyon and earlier
problems with feeding bears on Mount
Lemmon. There have been many requests
to citizens of the area to not feed wildlife,
and small animals can lead to larger
predators frequenting the area.
James E. Carnahan, Tucson
Excellent point — feeding wildlife creates problems.
But it gets worse. We later figured out that although
the picture showed a prairie dog, the writer was
probably actually feeding round-tailed ground
squirrels — since the only prairie dogs in Arizona are
way up north. — Ed.
Big Boulder Boo Boo
The article “Phoenix Urban Hiking”
(March ’06) interested me. In a caption
I was shocked to read that schist is a
type of granite. Being a geologist, I was
astounded to find that granite, which is
an igneous rock, is now being referred to
as a schist, which is a metamorphic rock.
Somebody goofed! Perhaps the rock you
referred to was originally a granite that
has undergone metamorphism to form a
gneiss rather than a schist.
Karl Koenig, Texas
You’re absolutely right. Gneiss catch. — Ed.
Puckered Lips or Just Poppies?
After my first glance at the March cover, I thought I
was looking at the facial profile of a Native American
woman smelling some of our state’s wonderful Mexican
goldpoppies. Then I realized they were all flowers
and not a face at all. In reading the caption, I was
dumbfounded to find out that the picture was taken
along the Apache Trail. The “connections” did not stop
there, however. The issue also mentioned the story of
Mexican native Juan Diego, the Aztec earth goddess
Tonantzin, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose legend
deals with the image of a woman produced by flowers.
Sam Mendivil, Tucson
I went back and looked. Unnerving. Of course, poppies often have that effect on me. And if there’s one
thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that everything is connected. — Peter Aleshire, Editor
onlineFor more letters, see arizonahighways.com (Click on “Letters to the Editor”).
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
hoop it up
leroy dejolie caused his mother a lot of grief
when he entered this world in the early morning hours of a
spring day in 1960. He’s dedicated considerable time since then
to making the world a better place for those around him.
DeJolie was born to the Rock Gap People, Tsé deeshgizhnii,
his mother’s clan. Respect for his Navajo roots shows in his
fervor to give back to the culture that raised him. He devotes
his time and skills as a father, photographer, author, mentor
and conservator. And he does it all while working full-time as
a steel fabricator for the past 28 years at the Navajo Generating
Station in Page.
Realizing his tribe’s cultural values are slowly disappearing,
DeJolie’s efforts to preserve them are twofold: document
traditions before they fade away, and pass the torch to the next
“I like to think that I can utilize my cameras both honestly
and objectively,” he says. “I feel I can help in some way to
protect, to preserve and to support the forces of conservancy.
I’m compelled to capture as much as I can for my family, for my
people and for generations to come.”
This sandstone land of heroic buttes and sculpted canyons
represents much more than a photographer’s paradise for
DeJolie. His allegorical landscapes pay homage to Dinétah, the
Navajo homeland. “Navajo culture influences my passion for
putting the spirit of Navajoland into photographic images,”
he says. “I feel very much a part of my homeland, and my
homeland is very much a part of me.”
Reverence for his birthplace grew from tending his family’s
sheep as a kid on ancestral land of the Kaibito Plateau. That
experience taught him of the land’s importance in the Navajos’
agrarian ways. Growing up, he heard the Navajo Genesis
stories recounting how all life emanates from Earth itself.
“Since there are no texts or written documentation of our
history, our culture and traditions have been compiled and
preserved only by our oral traditions and the perpetuation of
rituals,” DeJolie says. His images of this timeless landscape
contribute to the recorded history of Navajo culture in the 21st
Lavishly illustrating our story “Land of Mysteries,”
beginning on page 8, is DeJolie’s Dinétah through the keen
eyes and passionate heart of the native son. This theatrical
setting featured in Tony Hillerman’s best-selling novels is
where fictional Navajo policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn
ply their detective skills solving mysteries on the reservation.
Woven into Hillerman’s storylines are truthful portrayals of the
beliefs, values and ceremonies of traditional Navajo culture.
Hillerman and DeJolie are kindred spirits from divergent
backgrounds. Each helps shape the world’s view of the Navajo
Nation. DeJolie applauds Hillerman’s ability to commune in the
modern world and the traditional Navajo world. Similarly,
DeJolie moves with equal savvy and grace in both worlds. He
attributes that to his early education in government-subsidized
boarding schools, and later learning metallurgy as a teenager at
a trade school in Los Angeles. He’s comfortable in both cultures.
“Yes, I wear a watch and show up when I’m expected in
one world,” DeJolie says. “However, in my Navajo world, my
concerns are more about culture, tradition, relationships and
spirit. In this context, time is not a strict numerical concept
as much as it is an indicator of when people should plant or
harvest, or when sheep will breed and give birth.”
Preserving these traditional values for the next generation
inspired DeJolie to found his “My World” project. Through his
underprivileged kids on the
reservation explore their own
lives and the world around them with cameras.
“Each child is given a camera, tripod and film, and personal
instruction. At the end of each workshop, the film is developed
and each is able to keep his interpretation of the world,”
DeJolie says. “These workshops are so popular that several
children have repeated them.” Learning photography opens
their eyes to a new form of self-expression, and expands their
view of the world.
He knows firsthand the power photography holds to inspire
a young mind. A book of old photographs from 1902 by
Earle Robert Forrest titled With a Camera in Old Navajoland
influenced young LeRoy to begin photographing his beloved
homeland 28 years ago.
One day a Navajo boy or girl may see DeJolie’s photographs
from 2006, sparking a fire within to explore the possibilities
of photography to document Navajo traditions. And the torch
will be passed.
Shares His Legacy
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(Click on “Photography”).
4 j u n e 2 0 0 6
After working through the night to light the
huge interior of the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas
for an Arizona Highways story, my assistant
and I settled into a booth in the hotel’s coffee
shop, dead-tired and near-ravenous. While we
sipped our coffee and worked through massive
plates of bacon and eggs, the morning sun
began to stream across the chrome stools
along the counter opposite our table.
The repeating pattern of the stools appealed
to me, and although my tripod was packed away,
I did have my camera. I positioned the Nikon
with its motor-drive and 20 mm wide-angle lens
directly on the tabletop to expose a few frames.
And then . . .
A lone cowboy walked into the coffee shop
and picked a stool directly in the light of the
window. Clad in a red shirt and a white hat, he
sat down with his newspaper, creating a perfectly
balanced composition that couldn’t have been
scripted any better. I managed to squeeze off the
few remaining frames on my roll of film. By the
time I reloaded the camera, more diners had sat
down at the counter and the moment was gone.
Cowboy Coup by Richard Maack, Arizona Highways photography editor
Shiprock Peak forms a craggy
landmark in the northwestern
region of the Navajo Reservation.
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
by Peter Ensenberger, director of photography, email@example.com viewfinder
two hundred acres. Two thousand five hundred species of plants. Three miles of trails.
Why is this place still a secret? The Arboretum at Flagstaff hides away down a dirt road in a lush
ponderosa forest just west of Flagstaff. It stands at a higher elevation than any other arboretum
in the country.
Growing plants in the high dry climate with only a 75-day growing season
challenged California transplant Frances McAllister. The philanthropist dedicated
her land and home to help other gardeners and help preserve native plants. This
year, the Arboretum at Flagstaff, at 4001 S. Woody Mountain Road, celebrates its
25th anniversary. The secret is out. To join the celebration, take State Route 66 west
through town and turn south on Woody Mountain Road. Wander the trails to see the
Flagstaff Fabulous Plants or rare treasures like the Sunset Crater penstemon, which
grows only on the extinct volcano and on the grounds of the arboretum.
Docents lead tours daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., April 1 through October 31.
Information: (928) 774-1442; www.thearb.org. — Vera Marie Badertscher
“by crikey” it’s a crocodile—
despite previous thinking that
isolated teeth found in Petrified
Forest National Park matched those
of a plant-eating dinosaur named
Revueltosaurus callenderi, which
roamed the swampy marshes of
the prehistoric Southwest
approximately 210 million
years ago. But in March
2004, park paleontologist William
Parker discovered a complete
fossilized skeleton to go with the
teeth and threw a monkey wrench
into scientific theory.
Instead of a being a dinosaur, R.
callenderi was actually a very early
ancestor of today’s crocodiles. The
creature, 3 to 4 feet long, with a
stubbier, flatter skull, had a less
sprawling leg posture than today’s
crocodiles. Another unusual
feature was that armor didn’t cover
the entire body, but was limited to
two lines down its back.
Revueltosaurus (named for
Revuelto Creek, New Mexico,
where the original teeth were
found) proves that some ancient
crocodilians had teeth that looked
just like teeth from ornithischians,
the branch of dinosaurs that
includes Triceratops. Not only was
this mistaken identify, but it means
that paleontologists will need to
rethink the order of dinosaur
evolution. Revueltosaurus will
eventually be displayed at the park’s
Rainbow Forest Visitors Center.
Information: (928) 524-6228.
— Janet Webb Farnsworth
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
in 1895, curator Herbert
Brown recorded the
acquisition of the Arizona
State Museum’s first piece
of pottery — an ancient
Maricopa bowl. Since that
first pot, the museum’s
ceramic collection located at
the University of Arizona has
grown to more than 20,000
vessels spanning 2,000 years
of Southwestern history.
an official project of
the Save America’s
Treasures program, the
collection — the largest of
its kind — will be preserved
under glass in the Pottery
Project’s viewable vault.
This year, the ceramics will
move from five storage
areas in two buildings to
their permanent home in
a viewable glass-walled
storage vault, where the
vessels will be on display,
preserving the past for
the future generations to
— Carrie M. Miner
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MELISSA MILLAGE; THE ARBORETUM AT FLAGSTAFF; KEN MATESICH & RHOD LAUFFER CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: BICAS; NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
tucson kids are taking shooting
lessons in Arizona parks and wilderness
areas — pointing and shooting lessons that
is. In 1999, the Morris K. Udall Foundation
teamed up with the Tucson Boys and Girls
Clubs to form Parks in Focus, a program
that creates environmental awareness
by giving select youths a chance to see
the state’s natural wonders through the
viewfinder of a camera. Since its inception,
Parks in Focus has conducted yearly
photography workshops and trips for up
to a dozen middle-school students at a
time, providing them with cameras and
the skills to use them while wandering
through Arizona’s natural wonders.
Participants keep trip journals and
interact with professional photographers,
environmental educators, naturalists and
park rangers, all the while taking aim at
everything from landscapes and wildlife to
Following the trip, students learn to
create Web pages featuring their photos
and journal excerpts. This month, 12 future
shutterbugs will zoom in on Oak Creek
Canyon, Slide Rock State Park, Tuzigoot
National Monument and the Grand
Canyon. To see the results, log onto www.
udall.gov/parks/. (Or wait a few years and
check back with us). — JoBeth Jamison
Mistaken Identity–It’s a Croc
6 J u n e 2 0 0 6
25 Years of a Secret High Life in Flagstaff
Susan Ruble of High Country
Raptors holds a red-tailed hawk
for two young visitors at the
Arboretum at Flagstaff. Raptor
demonstrations are held every
weekend from April 1 through
October 31 at noon and 2 p.m.
Student photographs document Parks in Focus.
Junk Bikes and Fine Art
surrounded by the artists who work and
perform in the old warehouses on either side of Stone
Avenue just north of Tucson’s downtown, BICAS,
which stands for Bicycle Inter-Community Action &
Salvage, encourages new ways of relating to your
bicycle, including wearing part of it as jewelry. At 15
years old, one of the oldest community bicycle shops
in the country, BICAS goes beyond repairing bikes to
use gears, chains, saddle seats and reflectors to create
art and adornment. In 2001, the governor recognized
its ingenious recycling, presenting BICAS with the
prestigious Governor’s Award for Community Art.
In the cool, dim basement workshop, bikes
hang from the ceiling and huddle in clumps on
the floor. The location at 44 W. Sixth St. once
served the nearby railroads as a warehouse.
Inside, tools arranged neatly on pegboard
await customers needing to fix a broken bicycle.
They also find new uses for old bike parts, says
administrator Ignacio Rivera de Rosales, and aim
to make sure that people understand their bikes.
That means classes in repairs and construction
and encouraging everyone from high school
volunteers to the homeless to provide sweat
equity to keep the wheels turning.
BICAS welcomes visitors to the art gallery
Tuesday to Friday from noon to 7 p.m.
and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Check for the
schedule of classes for bikes and art.
Information: (520) 628-7950; www.bicas.org.
— Vera Marie Badertscher
8 a p r i l 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 9
A war, a healing
and a string of
By Rachel Dickinson
Photographs by LeRoy DeJolie
Tenacious Toehold Sprouted from a pine nut possibly
a century ago, a once-hardy, drought-resistant piñon pine
tree maintains a rocky toehold on Hunts Mesa overlooking
the iconic rock formations of Monument Valley — one of Tony
Hillerman’s favorite haunts — in northeastern Arizona.
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit arizonahighways.com.
10 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 11
ONY HILLERMAN TAKES UP A LOT OF SPACE,
whether it’s in the front of a packed room of
admirers all crowded around clutching dog-eared
paperbacks and brand-new books for him
to sign, or sitting at a table in the local diner eat-ing
a chicken-fried steak dinner. Physically, he’s a
big guy, bearlike as he lumbers across the room,
his gait the result of stepping on a mine during
World War II.
But it’s more than that. He’s got a long face and
big ears and thinning hair, and his sonorous voice
carries in a crowd. His best-selling detective novels
made the nation more aware of the Navajo Indian
Reservation, and spawned an entire travel industry
centered on “Hillerman Country.” And although
he brought a Navajo worldview to jaded American
readers, he was embarrassed by all the fuss.
Since he first stumbled upon an Enemy Way
ceremony in 1945, Hillerman has been studying
the Navajo culture. He was sent to El Paso, Texas,
after stepping on the land mine in France, and
while convalescing, he took a job driving a truck
loaded with oil-field equipment out to the Navajo
Reservation. “I just happened to drive into—liter-ally—
an Enemy Way ceremony for two Marines
who were just back from the Pacific war,” said
Hillerman. “And of course, if you know about
Enemy Way ceremonies, their primary goal is to
get you back into the culture and let you forget
all the bad things you learned and get rid of all
the anger—forgive and forget. That’s really deeply
ingrained in the Navajo culture. I thought about
all the people I knew who fought the Japanese and
just hated them. What a difference this was from
the way I was greeted coming home. More than
any single thing, this chance encounter caused me
to be attracted to the Navajo way.”
Growing up during the Great Depression in
Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, Hillerman was no stranger
to Indian culture. He attended a Pottawatomie
Indian boarding school run by the Roman Catholic
Church as a day student. He went there partly
because the religious education was important to
his family, but also because his father wouldn’t
allow him to attend the public school where the
teacher was a bigoted political extremist.
Hillerman grew up with Indian friends, both
Pottawatomies and Seminoles. “We were all friends
and grew up together and didn’t get into any of
these racial differences,” said Hillerman. “We had
one thing in common that held us together —
everybody was dirt poor.”
Hillerman’s father ran the general store in town.
When Hillerman was a teenager, the family moved
a couple of miles out of town onto a 40-acre ranch
bought with money his mother made by selling
a homesteading lot she owned in the Oklahoma
panhandle. Not long after the move, his father
died, leaving his mother responsible for three teen-aged
children. Hillerman’s sister attended nursing
school, and Tony’s mother was determined that
one of the boys would go to college. Barney, the
older brother, offered to stay home and work the
farm. Soon World War II intervened, and both
boys found themselves overseas. After the war,
the GI Bill allowed Tony to finish the education
he started half a dozen years earlier.
Hillerman grew up surrounded by books. His
father, in particular, was a voracious reader and
passed the love of reading on to his son who
eagerly read everything he could get his hands on.
His mother passed on a sense of adventure and a
deep love for the land. As a teenager, she left
Nebraska with her brother, two teams of horses, a
wagon and a buggy and staked a homestead claim
in the prairie of the Oklahoma panhandle. She
built her own sod house and lived in it long enough
to get title to the land. This remarkable accom-plishment
by such a young woman wasn’t lost on
her son, who has shown a similar sense of adven-ture
and passion for the land throughout his life.
After working as a newspaper reporter and edi-tor
for 15 years, and teaching journalism
courses at University of New Mexico from
1966 to 1987, Hillerman tried his hand at
fiction. A couple dozen books later, he thinks
he’s gotten it mostly right. With millions of
By Pauly Heller
Travelers can now follow
the tracks of author Tony
Tribal Police detectives Lt.
Joe Leaphorn and Officer
Jim Chee through Diné
or call (866) 438-6877.
In Hillerman’s novel The
Blessing Way, a murder
takes Leaphorn to Ganado,
home of Hubbell Trading
Post, the oldest continuously
operating trading post in the
United States. Established
by John Lorenzo Hubbell in
1878, the nonprofit Western
National Park Association
now operates the post. The
site maintains its original
160-acre homestead, family
home and visitors center,
enhanced by Navajo artisans
still trading there.
Open daily, May through
September, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,
and October through April,
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed
Thanksgiving, Christmas and
New Year’s Day. User fee $2.
From Flagstaff, take
Interstate 40 east to Exit
333, then drive north on
U.S. Route 191, 38 miles to
Ganado, then west on State
Information: (928) 755-3475
Note: The Navajo Indian
daylight-saving time, while
Arizona does not.
Sculpted Sandstone Appearing from aboveground as a mere
crack in the earth (opposite page), Antelope Canyon’s play of light
and shadows on wind-and-water-sculpted sandstone may be visited
only by arrangement with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park.
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit arizonahighways.com.
12 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
readers eagerly waiting for the next installment of
the mystery series featuring Tribal Policeman Jim
Chee or Lieutenant Leaphorn, Hillerman has
managed to crank out a new mystery almost every
year. Characters from the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and
Apache tribes appear in his mystery novels, but he
always comes back to the Navajos and tribal
policemen, Chee and Leaphorn. His readers have
learned about Navajo ceremonies, beliefs, history,
cultural clashes and a colorful Western landscape
of canyons and mesas and hogans and ancient cliff
Listening to Hillerman talk is like reading one
of his books. He lends a strong narrative voice
to his written work and is a consummate story-teller
in person. Descriptions of weather, rain,
sun, approaching storms, gusts of wind — and
the landscape — are seamlessly woven into his
stories until they become like characters. In fact,
Hillerman’s people are always pausing to look at
and comment on clouds, rock formations, ero-sion
patterns, colors, shadows and the vastness of
the land. The author says that Navajos will stop
their cars to look at cloud shadows on cliffs or
cloud formations in the sky. “I know of one great
expanse of erosion — it’s all colors — that’s called
Desolation Flats on a Bureau of Land Management
map,” he says. “I asked Austin Sam [a Navajo
friend who was riding with Hillerman that day],
‘What do you guys call this valley here?’ He said,
‘Our name for it is Beautiful Valley.’ You see the dif-ferent
attitude? To the white guys, if it doesn’t look
like money, it’s desolation. But the Navajos see
all those beautiful colors and the shapes and the
forms and that erosion and see the beauty in it.”
After the publication of his eighth tribal police
book, the Navajo Tribal Council declared Tony
Hillerman a “Special Friend” of the Diné. Recently,
Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. praised Hillerman’s
books in a speech at the Pueblo Indians Cultural
Windswept Patterns The rising sun beyond Monument Valley’s Totem
Poles emphasizes the textured patterns of windswept fine sand at Sand Springs.
n.To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit arizonahighways.com.
the place in
the Chuska Mountains
where Lieutenant Leaphorn
is shot in Skinwalkers,
stands Diné College, the
community college in the
United States. With hogan-inspired
seven-story Ned Hatathli
Cultural Center forms the
college’s core, offering
a museum and gallery
with cultural exhibits and
sales of Navajo arts and
various crafts. The Diné
College Bookstore carries
volumes on Navajo religion,
language and culture.
Open Monday through
Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Information: (928) 724-
6600 or www.dinecollege.
Blind Listening Woman
gives Lieutenant Leaphorn
insight into solving a
murder in Monument Valley.
To see the valley’s iconic
rock formations—such as
the Mittens and the Three
Sisters—take U.S. Route 89
north from Flagstaff to U.S.
Route 160 east to U.S. Route
163 north. Drive 4 miles to
Indian Route 42 east into
Monument Valley Navajo
Tribal Park. The Navajos
consider the area sacred, so
visitors must stay on this
road unless accompanied by
a licensed Navajo guide.
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
April through September,
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October
through March. Closed
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admission: $5, age 10 and
Information: (435) 727-5870
14 j u n e 2 0 0 6
Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because they
got so many Indian children interested in read-ing.
Hillerman feels honored by these accolades
from the Navajo community. He notes that his
Navajo nickname is “Afraid of His Horse,” which
goes back to a festival in Window Rock where he
declined to ride a horse in a parade — he thought
the horse was a little too spirited — and opted
instead to ride in the Chevrolet convertible with
the Navajo beauty queen. The people parked their
pickup trucks along the highway to watch the
parade. Hillerman said, laughing, “These people
were all cheering the queen and they were look-ing
at me and they were yelling, ‘Who the hell are
you?’ I’ll never forget that.
“What I see especially among the Navajos and
the Zunis and the Hopis is a culture of people who
have been smart enough to learn a lesson that
we’re awfully slow to get,” notes Hillerman. “They
know that being rich doesn’t have a damn thing to
do with how much money you’ve got. It’s got to do
with are you happy and are you content. Most of
the Navajos I know, and the Hopis and the Zunis
and the San Juan Indians and the Taos Indians,
like the life they live,” he says. This doesn’t mean
they don’t have problems. As Hillerman points
out, the “imported good old West Coast problems
like cocaine” plague the reservations. However
he says the Navajos “pretty much hold onto the
old ways — the traditional ways — certainly better
than we do.
“One way Navajos aren’t very similar to the aver-age
American is that they don’t have what they
don’t need,” says Hillerman. “They’re not greedy.”
Hillerman often writes about the Navajo belief
in witches. He says that if a Navajo believes a
witch is causing a string of bad luck, he’ll look for
the greedy guy — the one “who’s got more than he
needs and is not sharing it with the people.”
James Peshlakai, a Navajo friend and shaman
who shows up as a character in several Hillerman
books (Hillerman often uses his friends, or at
least their names, as characters), thinks Hillerman
has influenced the Navajo culture. “When Mr.
Hillerman’s books became popular, the Navajos
were among the first readers of his novels,” says
Peshlakai. “Then the young people wanted to
know, ‘Are these legends accurate?’ and the
elders had to answer their questions. We were
on the verge of losing our cultural ways and Mr.
Hillerman got the young people’s interest back in
their culture and history.”
Acclaimed Navajo photographer LeRoy DeJolie
agrees. “Tony Hillerman is a very thorough
researcher, and he uniquely combines the two
worlds together — the modern-day world we all live
in and the cultural exchanges of the traditional
Navajo world. Hillerman exquisitely intertwines
these into one knot.”
Not everyone can go into a culture and get
an understanding of its worldview. But because
Hillerman grew up among Indians in the West, he
gained access to details about Navajos that might
elude others. Fortunately, he’s spent the last 35
years introducing this culture to the wider world
through his mysteries.
“I get pretty much 100 percent cooperation
from the Navajos when researching a book,” says
Hillerman. “I say, ‘Do you guys still do this? Does
this tradition still hold?’ and they’ll say, ‘Yeah,
my clan does,’ or ‘No, I haven’t heard of that for
years.’ You know, once they know you’re honestly
interested in them and are respectful and have a
legitimate, honest interest in something, then they
respect that. I grew up a country boy, as they did,
and they know I respect them.
“I want readers to come away with, first and
foremost, a respect for the Navajo culture, and for
the other tribes I write about. I want them to get
some inkling of the religion of the tribes and of
their devotion to it. The Navajos aren’t secretive
about their religion. With the Pueblos, you have
to be very careful because if unauthorized people
know some things, it diminishes powers. I’m care-ful
not to reveal . . . well, if it’s secret I don’t know
Peshlakai says Hillerman generally gets the
details right when he writes about Navajo his-tory
or ceremonial characters. Peshlakai describes
Navajo belief as “metaphysical — more science
than religion.” He worries that Navajo oral his-tory
is being diluted because outside religions are
being adopted or mixed in with Navajo beliefs.
He hopes Hillerman’s books will actually help
younger people learn about their culture.
At 80, Tony Hillerman is slowing down a little.
One day he decided to try and get all his legal
paperwork in order, but while going through his
filing cabinet, he began pulling out folder after
folder of story ideas and piling them on the edge
of his desk. He still hasn’t located the legal papers,
but the folders have got him thinking about a non-fiction
book he’s been wanting to write.
As he sits at his desk, Hillerman can see the
trees outside his window turning yellow, and
behind them is a bright blue cloudless sky. On
the wall hangs a LeRoy DeJolie photograph that
draws the viewer through an eroded arch and
into a great expanse of the landscape of Navajo
clouds, cloud shadows, the rising cliffs and the
palette of Western colors. Hillerman country. A
landscape Hillerman’s spent a lifetime painting
in words—trying to get just right—for a grateful
audience. He doesn’t do it for them, though, he
does it for himself. For his need to capture elusive,
ephemeral, ever-changing elements on paper.
Nature’s Cathedral Church Rock’s shadowy
spires extend heavenward against the violet hues
of a post-sunset sky near Kayenta.
About 4 miles southeast of
the sacred springs at Fort
Defiance involved in
Leaphorn and Chee’s
investigations in Talking
God, Hillerman readers can
investigate the Navajo Nation
Administrative centers at
Window Rock. Within the
circular walls of the Navajo
Nation Council Chambers,
visitors can watch the 88-
member council conduct
meetings in English for
federal business and in
Navajo for tribal business.
Afterward visit the Veterans
Navajo members of the U.S.
military forces, open daily,
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Just over a mile from
Window Rock, a natural rock
formation used in Navajo
ceremonies stands over the
complex that includes the
Navajo Museum Library &
Visitors Center, open Tuesday
through Friday, 8 a.m. to
8 p.m., and Monday and
Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
From Interstate 40 east of
Flagstaff, take U.S. Route
191 north to State Route 264
east, then north on Indian
Route 12 beyond Window
Rock to Fort Defiance.
Information: Navajo Nation
Council Chambers, (928)
871-6417; Navajo Museum
Library & Visitors Center,
(928) 871-6675; Veterans
Memorial, (928) 871-6413.
Bursts of Yellow Sandpaper mules ears—a reference
to the plants’ leaves’ rough texture—adds bright starbursts
of color to the arid landscape below Red Mesa on the
Navajo Indian Reservation.
Rachel Dickinson, who loves Arizona and Hillerman country,
writes about science and nature from Upstate New York.
Navajo LeRoy DeJolie’s photographs are best understood
within the cultural context in which they have been
created — for the preservation and regeneration of the
Navajo ways of life. He lives near the people he loves most
on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page.
I want readers to come away with,
first and foremost, a respect for
the Navajo culture . . . — Tony Hillerman
For the most up-to-date
information on Navajoland,
call the Navajo Nation
(928) 871-6436, or go online
additional reading: In Navajoland: A Native Son
Shares His Legacy, LeRoy DeJolie describes and
pictures his homeland as a ruggedly beautiful part of
his heritage and culture. The softcover book, with a
foreword by Tony Hillerman, can be ordered by calling
toll-free (800) 543-5432 or online at arizonahighways.
com. $12.95 plus shipping and handling.
16 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
a compulsion in a
by Bill Broyles
Summit Fever Driven by a
mysterious urge, author Bill Broyles
(above) begins his hike to the crest
of Wasson Peak as sunrise shadows
guide his path along Tucson’s Rillito
River Parkway. Morning light
sculpts a spiky sonata along the
pleated edges of saguaro cacti
(right) on the Sweetwater Trail to
18 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 19
W elevation in 4.6 miles. We talked and walked, joked and
chuckled, especially over a bumper sticker Jack had seen:
“The older I get, the better I was.” It seemed appropriate for
two older guys out proving they still had whatever it takes.
Deer tracks crossed the trail and rabbits hid when they
saw us, though they only had reason to fear the red-tailed
hawk high overhead.
Soon we crossed an imaginary line and entered the
Saguaro Wilderness Area. In a few hours I had gone
straight from a warm bed to a pristine wilderness, thanks
to Cornelius “C.B.” Brown, who foresaw that Tucsonans
would need rough-and-tumble natural areas close to home.
He was the county agricultural agent, and in 1929, per-suaded
local politicians, Arizona Sen. Carl Hayden and
Congress to create Tucson Mountain Park.
Over the years, more land was added, and part of it became
the western unit of renowned Saguaro National Park, prov-ing
the adage that no one ever regrets creating national parks,
but they do lament not making them sooner and bigger.
From the trail we could see the summit, but eyes aren’t legs
and we weren’t on top yet. We paced ourselves to make steady
if slow progress toward the peak named for John Wasson
(1833-1909), who founded the Tucson Citizen newspaper in
1870. He had drifted into Arizona, and eventually became the
state surveyor-general. Another Wasson Peak, in Arizona’s
rugged Bradshaw Mountains, was also named for him.
At the saddle where our Sweetwater Trail met the King
Canyon Trail, we rested and prepared for the 1.2-mile push
to the summit. The slopes on both sides of the trail are
loose and threatening. The peak just west of Wasson is
named Amole, for the numerous shin-dagger agaves that
bedevil anyone who dares step off the narrow path.
AS SOON AS we reached the summit and dropped our
packs, I first looked for my porch, but I would have needed
strong binoculars to pick it out on the grid of landmarks. I
could easily see entire mountains, so I recited the names of
the ranges rimming Tucson, some of them 60 miles away.
Enjoying the time-out from hiking, we lingered for the last
glow of sunset.
The coy sun teased us by peeking through the clouds
before it finally sank below the gray veil, suddenly and
vividly lighting the clouds from below as if a paint factory
exploded. We were giddy with color. I stood stammer-ing
while Jack hopped from rock to rock taking photos,
hardly knowing where to focus next. The flaming reds and
oranges and yellows erupted like the volcano itself when it
spewed molten lava and hot ash 15 to 70 million years ago.
We weren’t seeing a sunset — we were inside the sunset,
drenched in color. We had gone to heaven and “dyed.”
Finally the colors drained, and after the first stars
appeared we reluctantly started our two-hour descent. Pale
flashlights illuminated the trail 10 feet in front of us. A
mere sliver of new moon hung briefly in the sky. We were
quieter, subdued and remarkably satisfied, though I had to
WASSON PEAK, THE SUMMIT of the Tucson Mountains west
of town, dresses daily in the gold of sunrise or red of sunset. In
season, it wears spring green, the brown of early summer or,
infrequently, winter white, but for those of us who live in the
valley below, the peak always catches a smile, like a familiar
photo framed on the wall. The other evening as my wife and I ate
dinner on the porch with Wasson watching us, an urge startled
me and without thinking it through, I blurted out, “I should
walk to the peak.”
The route, about 30 miles round-trip, would curve along the
Rillito River and then ascend the foothills before entering Tucson
Mountain Park. Granted, I never was a world-class adventurer
like Marco Polo, Lewis and Clark, or even the lesser-known
hero Göran Kropp, who bicycled 7,000 miles from his home in
Sweden, climbed Mount Everest alone, without supplemental
oxygen, and then bicycled back home. But I don’t have to be in
the major leagues to enjoy playing the game, so I decided to see
if I could at least run — or walk — the bases.
Before sunrise I tromped through my back door, down the
hill and into the sandy arroyo behind our house. Several times
a year, the wash actually carries water to the Rillito—the “little
river” in Spanish and Rillito River in English, as if repeating the
meaning could gush water in a dry bed. A few kitchen lights
burned, but the only car I heard was the paper carrier making
At the Rillito I turned west, downstream, and by the time the
first beams of sun colored Wasson, I was several miles closer. At
my pace I felt like a grain of sand being slowly tumbled from the
hills to the distant sea. Good trails line both sides of the riverbed,
so we can jog, bicycle, roller-blade or ride horseback for 11 miles
without pausing for a stoplight. Eventually Tucson will be ringed
with trails, shade trees, drinking fountains, picnic tables, rest
rooms and exercise stations.
As I journeyed, two mothers jogged past and waved cheer-ily.
A bicyclist zipped by, dressed for the office. I chatted with
a Vietnam veteran who walks at least 2 miles daily on doctor’s
orders. In an enjoyable relay, he has covered the entire trail many
times over. “This walking has saved my life,” he said proudly.
From the riverbed, a coyote stared at me and I stared back.
Redwing blackbirds loitered on the banktop railing, and occa-sional
trees reminded me of the magnificent mesquites, cotton-woods
and willows that once lined both banks. A hawk perched
atop a pole, and nervous squads of sparrows and finches pecked
the ground under saltbushes.
By midmorning I reached the confluence of the Rillito and
the Santa Cruz River, a dry intersection near the railroad and
interstate. Had I been here 3,000 years ago, I would have waved
to farmers tending cornfields irrigated by canals. Today the river
runs for a brief stretch through an artificial wetland, and at the
crossing I took off my shoes and waded barefoot across soft sand
in water that soothed my already tired feet. I half expected to
hear a beaver slap the surface or see a heron lift off.
From the riverbank, my route would climb through foothills
to the summit. As I left the city, the homes grew farther apart
and some had barns with horses, chickens and goats. The hill-sides
are studded with cacti — saguaro, barrel and cholla, plus
paloverde trees and ocotillos. In spring, the colors are enough to
make my eyes spin.
At the park’s trailhead, I joined a friend, photographer Jack
Dykinga, with whom I once climbed snow-covered Pico de
Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico and third-highest in North
America. Although both were formed by volcanoes, Wasson
stands only one-fourth as tall — 4,687 feet, but on that day we
were relieved it wasn’t any higher.
The trail to Wasson grates over rock and gravel and through
patches of cacti, jojoba and acacia, gaining almost 2,000 feet
Endless Vista An otherworldly sunset rewards
Broyles’ climb to the top of Wasson Peak with a view to
the horizon featuring the silhouetted outlines of
Baboquivari and Kitt peaks, more than 40 miles away.
A Hiker’s Reward Late-afternoon on Wasson Peak (below) yields a
panorama that includes Saguaro National Park West, and the sprawling Avra
Valley beyond. A vast floodplain, Avra Valley gathers seasonal rainfall from
surrounding mountain ranges and funnels the runoff toward the north, where
the floodwaters ultimately reach the Gila River.
20 j u n e 2 0 0 6
laugh at one thought: Geologists predict that in another 7 million
years erosion will level Wasson Peak, so it’s good we seized our
The air cooled, and city lights reminded us that nearly a million
people live within sight of this wilderness. No one was at the trail-head
when we arrived. Jack offered me a ride home, but I declined,
switched off my flashlight and headed down the winding road
toward the glow of the city. The shadowland along Camino del
Cerro — “street of the mountain” — filled with familiar shapes
and simmering fragrances. To my right I heard something crash
through the underbrush, likely a javelina or a mule deer.
For a few miles the road was mine, but then cars grew more
frequent, forcing me to shield my eyes from their headlights. My
weary legs twitched uncontrollably whenever I paused for rest, so
I pushed forward. I lost all track of time and walked in one glori-ous
moment. The land flattened, as a rough sea calms, and
abruptly I was out of the foothills and back in town.
I turned and caught the river path. Someone moved quietly
toward me walking a dog, and it didn’t bark. A mother called
out to her son playing in the back yard. I was amazed how much
I could see in the dark: bricks of buildings, makes of parked cars,
leaves on trees, cats walking along fencetops, rabbits nibbling
fallen mesquite leaves. I heard horses whicker in a neighbor-hood
where I’d never suspect them. On the far bank of the river,
two forms walked hand in hand, occasionally silhouetted by a
porch light. We each were alone on the land, as close to the stars
as to Earth.
With every step the scenery glided by, like ceaseless water past
my bow. I avoided well-lit intersections, not once tempted by the
lure of convenience stores with their doughnuts, sodas and candy.
The darkness along the river was more comfortable, rewarding
and secure. I had felt my town’s pulse as it awakened, as it worked
and as it returned to sleep. Its vigor energized me. Its wilderness
By midnight my feet throbbed and my legs sagged, but I plod-ded
on. I left the river trail and slowly headed up my arroyo, still
not using or needing the flashlight as I climbed the hill to my
porch. Almost wishing the walk to last forever, I paused at the top
step to look back at Wasson. Its shape was barely discernable, but
I knew it was there, every rock and thorn and glow of it.
Many towns and cities have a Wasson, a hill, peak or knoll that
is close, familiar and tempting. Phoenix has Camelback and
South Mountain; Flagstaff has Elden and Humphreys. Traced in
our minds and etched by our feet, these are part of who we
can — and have — become.
At odd moments I can’t take my eyes off Wasson. I see the
foothills and trace the road to the trailhead. I remember where
the path runs behind conical hills and then cuts up the side of the
ridge. I remember the saddle where I sat and ate an apple before
tramping up the switchbacks. I see the top of the ridge where the
trail curls for the final climb, reaching for the sky. I feel the rock
underfoot, reliable and sturdy, at once comforting and instructive.
And now I view the peak much as a child sees a book after learn-ing
Tucson resident Bill Broyles and photographer Michael
Berman recently teamed up on Sunshot: Peril and Wonder
in the Gran Desierto (University of Arizona Press).
Wasson Peak was for many years Jack Dykinga’s back yard. He
has run it, hiked it and photographed its rocky slopes, but this trip
provided his first exquisite view of a blazing sunset from the summit.
His latest book is Jack Dykinga’s Arizona (Westcliffe Publishers).
Lush Landscape The highest
point in Tucson Mountain Park’s
20,000 acres of pristine Sonoran
Desert, Wasson Peak commands a
natural oasis of protected desert
plants and wildlife.
Getting There: To
reach Tucson Mountain
Park and Saguaro
National Park West
from Interstate 10, drive
west on Speedway
Boulevard to Gates Pass
and follow the signs.
Weather: During the summer months,
temperatures can be extremely hot.
Travel Advisory: Always wear a hat and
sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
Additional Information: Saguaro National
Park West, (520) 733-5158; www.nps.gov/
sagu/pphtml/contact.html; Tucson Mountain
Park, (520) 877-6000; www.pima.gov/nrpr/
River Park, (520) 877-6000; www.pima.
Shine on Brightly Venus pierces
the evening sky with luminous
intensity above a sliver of crescent
moon in an iconic saguaro sunset
photograph with a celestial twist.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
22 a p r i l 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 23
Flowers& Thornst e x t a n d p h o t o g r a p h s b y J o h n P. S c h a e f e r
Watch out for the thorns — but
drink in the color of cactus
blossoms. Stout plants bristling
with vicious spines produce
blossoms of extraordinary color
ranging from crimson, salmon-pink
and magenta to fiery orange and
sulfur yellow. Some bloom at 115
degrees, some only after rain,
some after nightfall. Here,
Coryphantha macromeris spreads
its pink blossoms. It’s certainly no
shrinking violet, extending tapered
blushing petals to form 3-inch
flowers in the mid- to late summer
or early fall. The hardy plant can
endure everything from Phoenix’s
searing July heat to frost.
N i p p l e b e e h i v e c a c t u s
Cacti show their softer side as the season changes in the desert
24 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 25
• • • SPRING TRANSFORMS the black-and-white of a Sonoran winter into a
Technicolor extravaganza. Dormant trees flower and burst into a rainbow of color.
Prickly cacti whose spiny thorns warn “stay away,” abruptly erupt with flowers that
cry “come hither,” to both pollinators and photographers.
Spring heralds the desert’s great change of the seasons as normally inconspicuous
cacti flower in colors of breathtaking intensity. The purple flowers of the hedgehog
family lead the way, with yellow, orange and magenta opuntias (the prickly pear and
cholla families) close behind. In May the stately saguaro surrounds its top with a
crown of waxy white blossoms, followed by belts of small pink and lavender blooms
sprouting from the tiny mammillaria sheltered in the shade of native plants and trees.
With the arrival of late summer and fall, barrel cacti blossoms provide a colorful end
to the annual cycle.
C l a re t c u p h e d g e h o g
One of many hedgehog species,
Echinocereus coccineus grows
only about 14 inches tall, but is
often found clustered with
several companions. A few or
as many as 500 stems may join
to form a barbed bouquet,
springing from the ground in a
mound a foot high and up to 4
feet across. It is the only
hedgehog in the United States
to bear red flowers.
‘Stay Away’ turns into ‘Come Hither’
N i g h t b l o o m i n g c e re u s
The Peniocereus greggii looks more
like a dry bush than a queen of the
night. Its drab, ribbed branches
usually sport only downward-pointing
spines. But for one night
each summer, its flower opens as
night falls, emits a sweet perfume and
closes with the first morning light.
Native to the Sonoran and
Chihuahuan deserts of southern
Arizona, the plant is fed by a
turniplike tuber root that can weigh
up to 100 pounds.
26 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 27
J u m p i n g c h o l l a
The daunting, spiny joints of the so-called “jumping cholla,” or
Cylindropuntia fulgida, hide small but exquisite pink blossoms
in the summer. It reproduces largely asexually, growing from
dropped stem joints and fruit rinds. Its method for dispersing
detached segments across the desert floor — latching onto
animals or unsuspecting hikers — has earned it more nicknames
than most plants. Other monikers include boxing-glove cholla
and chain-fruit cholla.
F i s h h o o k p i n c u s h i o n
The Mammillaria microcarpa,
also known as the Arizona
fishhook, seems inconspicuous
until you start looking for
it — then you’ll spot areas where
it seems every desert shrub
shelters a fishhook. Its crown of
pink blossoms blooms in June
or July and lasts several days.
F i s h h o o k b a rre l
Sporting strong, hooked spines,
the Ferocactus wislizenii is found
in gravelly soil throughout
southern and central Arizona. It
usually grows 2 to 4 feet high,
but occasionally tops 10 feet, and
is a slow grower — the 4-foot
plant may be 25 to 100 years old.
The flowers, bright oranges, reds
or yellows, appear in late summer
to early fall.
Cre a m c a c t u s
The Mammillaria heyderi,
covered with dense, pale spines,
grows a crown of yellow and
white flowers in late spring.
The solitary cactus grows round,
like a flattened sphere, lying
low on the desert floor.
28 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 29
C o v i l l e b a r re l c a c t u s
Ferocactus covillei, common in Arizona’s
lower deserts along gravelly, sandy or
rocky hillsides, alluvial fans or washes,
has the heavy, hooked central spines of
its cousins but lacks radial spines, giving
it a “cleaner” appearance and making it
popular with landscapers and collectors.
The white-kissed, deep-red blossoms
might hint of cactus poinsettias, but
they appear in August.
Most of the photographs in this essay were taken in the field on Fujichrome Velvia film
with a Pentax 645 camera fitted with a 120 mm macro lens. To moderate the harsh
desert light, I shaded the plants with a translucent white umbrella. To eliminate the
background distraction of dirt, rocks and stray weeds, I surrounded the plants with
black construction paper prior to making the photograph. The transparencies were
scanned to create digital files and subsequently printed. I hope that the enjoyment
that I feel in making these photographs will encourage you to look more closely—and
down and around—at the remarkable plants of the desert.
John P. Schaefer served as president of the University of Arizona from 1971 to 1982. In 1975 he worked
with Ansel Adams to found the Center for Creative Photography, now home to the world’s largest archive of
20th-century photography. As a member of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, Dr. Schaefer authored
the best-selling Basic Techniques of Photography: An Ansel Adams Guide, a comprehensive introduction to
photography using the methods taught and practiced by Adams. Schaefer’s own work has been featured in
several one-man museum shows, and he enjoys lecturing, teaching and practicing photography whenever
opportunities arise. He lives in Tucson.
G r a h a m f i s h h o o k
Like many small desert plants,
Mammillaria grahamii seeks shade. It is
abundant among debris under cholla and
can often be found hidden beneath and
among desert shrubbery. The first round
of striped, bubblegum-pink blossoms
bursts forth several days after the first
rain of the summer and last about a week.
Photographing flowers in the field
30 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
About a dozen miles south of the town of
Ash Fork, out on a lightly traveled stretch of State Route 89 that
affords a fine view of Sedona and the red rocks to the east, stands a
bridge, a normal sort of steel and concrete affair. Under it, 50 or so
feet down, flows a little creek, ambling through black rock studded
with piñon and juniper trees and tufts of tall grass. It’s a perfectly
pleasant place for a stretch of the legs, a picnic, a photograph.
And the name of this tranquil spot? Why, it’s Hell Canyon.
To modern eyes, there’s nothing especially infernal about the
little chasm. But then again, we’re whizzing over it on a well-made
highway, not trying to coax a herd of cattle or a wagon up and
over its steep walls and along its boulder-strewn bottom. The
stagecoach drivers who sweated and swore their way along the
canyon on the way between Prescott and Ash Fork had good
reason to think unkind thoughts of the place, and the name they
gave the canyon, Territorial historian Will Barnes reasoned, “was
easily applied to it.”
Plenty of other spots on the Arizona landscape have had infer-nal
names attached to them over the years, lending credence to
19th-century Tucson saloonkeeper Charles O. Brown’s notion that
the devil himself harbored a soft spot for our arid corner of the
country. As Brown wrote in his wonderful poem “Arizona, How
It Was Made and Who Made It,” Old Nick took his time picking
out the place as his own, and then, when he “saw there were some
improvements to make,” he studded the landscape with such
challenges as tarantulas, prickly pear and skunks, then filled
the rivers with sand, and then turned the heat up, “That all who
might come to this country to dwell / Would be sure to think it
was almost Hell.”
The atlas bears Brown out. Arizona sports some 50 place-names
that tip their hat to the infernal regions and their fork-tailed land-lord.
There is, for instance, Devil Tank, a waterhole to the east of
the rugged Galiuro Mountains in southeastern Arizona, a place
that must have caused many a cowpoke to question his career
choice. Then there are the Devil Hills, out in the sun-bleached
desert in Arizona’s far southwestern cor-ner,
within shouting distance of the axle-breaking
road the Spanish called Camino
del Diablo, or Devil’s Highway.
There’s the Devils Hump, out in the
Aquarius Mountains of Mohave County,
which must have tried many a pros-pector’s
climbing skills in the day. Not
far from there as the crow flies runs
Hellzapoppin Creek, a remote spot on
the remote Baca Float watched over, hap-pily
enough, by a little rise called Mount Hope.
And, fittingly enough, the next chasm our stagecoach driver
once had to negotiate on the trek north to Ash Fork is the steep-walled
Devil Dog Canyon. Whether it was named for the Cerberus
of legend or some rancher’s snarling hound is anyone’s guess. Just
so, the rough-and-tumble countryside at the northwestern end
of the Grand Canyon seems an appropriate home for 5,881-foot
Hades Knoll, though it’s nice to think that someone inserted that
name in a spirit of fair play to counterbalance the Canyon’s Angels
Gate, just as Bright Angel Creek has its opposite upstream in
Utah’s Dirty Devil River.
Some of our infernally named spots deserve their monikers
even today, equipped though we are with vehicles to stymie the
devil’s best efforts. The Hellsgate Wilderness, about 20 miles east
of Payson below the imposing Mogollon Rim, embraces a series of
spectacularly rugged canyons that, guidebooks warn, are best left
to experienced hikers only. Hellgate Mountain, east of Wickenburg,
is easier to negotiate, but the temperatures there can bake a hiking
boot in no time flat.
Hellhole Bend, a stretch of the Little Colorado River not far
from Desert View, on the eastern end of Grand Canyon National
Park, defies efforts to reach it, whether by boat or on foot. And the
tortuous corner of Skeleton Canyon called Devils Kitchen, down
in Arizona’s far southeastern corner, doubtless made an impres-sion
on would-be homesteaders, at least those who heard about
the mysterious old German who built a hut there back in the
1890s. According to Will Barnes, he dug up and down the canyon
looking for buried treasure until “one day he was gone, vanished
into thin air.”
Should the angels among us feel picked on by the devil’s appar-ent
fondness for Arizona? Perhaps so. But we can all take cheer in
the fact that next-door California has nearly three times as many
spots on its map that pay homage to the bad guy in red. That’s one
contest we shouldn’t mind losing.
Gregory McNamee is the author of Grand Canyon Place Names and other books
about Arizona. He lives in Tucson.
Hell of a
Stateby Gregory McNamee
TOP LEFT: TOM DANIELSEN; RIGHT: DALE SCHICKETANZ
Names With a Whiff of Brimstone Got
Stuck on Some Heavenly Scenery
Hell-o, Cacti The
devil himself might have
loved the prickly thorns
on chollas and ocotillos
along Devil’s Highway
(left) but in Arizona, we
just call them beautiful.
The remains of Canyon
Diablo Trading Post
(opposite page) sit in a
forlorn spot north of Two
Guns off Interstate 40
east of Flagstaff.
32 a p r i l 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
Onthe Edge A struggling mother discovers courage and
coolness perched on the North Rim
BY ROBIN N. C LAYTON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY LADD
The spectacular heights and sights of the
Grand Canyon’s North Rim can conjure
spectacular fright for those who suffer from
vertigo or high anxiety — problems that these
hikers, perched on the narrow tip of Bright
Angel Point apparently don’t have.
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit
Do You Fear What I Fear?
34 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
I snapped as I reached for Joseph’s arm to jerk him back
before we both tumbled into the Grand Canyon.
“Gosh, Mom, do you have to be such a Nervous
Nellie?” complained my 8-year-old son, with a roll of
his eyes as his sister, Sara, 11, snickered. On the first
hike in a three-day North Rim stay, my paranoia had
already irritated him and amused her.
Anyone who says that the view looks the same from
both sides of the Canyon has never been to the North
Rim, nor walked the trails while clinging to the belt
loop of a fearless, rambunctious young boy.
The trail to Bright Angel Point circling the Grand
Canyon Lodge passes through aspen and blue spruce
trees, and past Canyon overlooks that demonstrate
what it means to be small. Standing at one of the sev-eral
overlooks on the North Rim, which rises 1,000 feet
higher than the South Rim, we saw the jagged heights
of the San Francisco Peaks a little more than 100 miles
south, then gazed downward toward Roaring Springs
3,000 feet below.
My daughter, cautious like me, held every hand-rail
while my son climbed atop the highest rock and
flapped his arms like a bird’s wings, determined to send
me to an early grave. When I felt it working, I decided
it was time to unpack back at the cabin, resigned to my
The Grand Canyon Lodge offers the only accom-modations
on the North Rim, with 165 cabins and 40
motel rooms. After it was destroyed by fire, the lodge
was rebuilt in 1937 with limestone walls and timbered
ceilings, a dining room overlooking the Canyon plus a
sunroom, cafe, saloon and gift shop.
Our cabin had two beds, a desk and chair, a phone
and a bathroom — perfect for our three-day adventure
on the Kaibab Plateau, a Paiute Indian phrase meaning
“mountain lying down.”
Unpacked and relaxing on the cabin steps, we lis-tened
to a squabble of Steller’s jays in the treetops. The
kids scampered about shouting, “Check this out” or
“Mom, hurry, look!” A chattering of ground squirrels
showed up to beg tidbits. The baby squirrels eyed us
dubiously, but the adults wandered in through the
open cabin door to check out the luggage, much to the
delight of my children.
After dark, we prepared for bed, anxious to start early
the next day. Suddenly, Joseph screamed, “MOM!”
I hurried out, expecting a large, hairy spider or a
rabid squirrel — something hideous enough to match
the urgency in his voice.
He was standing wide-eyed and still, staring at a deer
that seemed paralyzed by the scream. The deer stared
at us for a moment, and then fled into the dark. Joseph
climbed into the bed with a smile, convinced no one
could top his animal sighting.
Early the next morning we headed into the crisp air,
set out for Angel’s Window, carved through the base
of an overlook. The paved Angel’s Window road leads
to Point Imperial and Roosevelt Point, winding east
across the Kaibab and Walhalla plateaus. One pullout
sported a sign pointing to a path to Greenland Lake,
a sinkhole in limestone. So we got out and wandered
through the trees to an open field carpeted with waist-high
grasses. A wooden sign declared Salt Cabin to
be 200 yards ahead, and we followed a narrow path
piñon pines grow
old and tall atop
layers of Redwall
n To order a
print, call (866)
962-1191 or visit
‘‘Move back from the edge, son!”
Into Thin Air
Monsoon clouds and morning mist retreat into the depths of the Canyon,
revealing the North Rim’s historic Grand Canyon Lodge.
36 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
through the trees surrounding the sinkhole.
Two large, noisy ravens ranted at our intrusion. They
moved from tree to tree and disputed our choice of
paths. I cawed back, prompting my children to roll
their eyes to express how glad they were that no one
had witnessed their humiliation.
But the ravens liked it. I don’t know what I said
in raven speak, but they spilled the whole sordid story.
Suddenly I was cool — really cool — and my children
were cawing their hearts out.
An eerily lonely wooden cabin waited at the end of
the trail, emitting an aura that prompted us to stop
and peer at the spiderwebs covering the walls as we
wondered who before us had stood on the inside, gaz-ing
out at the tall trees and marshy grasses. Abruptly,
the crunching of leaves in the surrounding woods sent
both of the children scurrying behind me in a flash. I
turned to see a black furry body with a fluffy white
tail scurrying up a tree trunk some 50 feet away. I had
the impression that something larger watched us from
beyond the trees, but I couldn’t make it out in the
Sara was taking no chances and turned and headed
for the car at a run, leaving behind the bear or the
Yeti — or the deer. Suddenly, a place called Angel’s
Window sounded like a better place to hang out.
The lower-elevation Angel’s Window represents a
return to the upper Sonoran Desert landscape, with
Arizona cliffrose, piñon pine, Utah juniper and sage-brush
to frame one of the most photographed places
in the Grand Canyon. It’s among the few North Rim
overlooks from which you can see the muddy rushing
waters of the Colorado River far below.
The kids trudged along the paved trail behind me,
complaining about the heat and yearning for the
cabin, despite my exciting and insightful geology les-sons.
They remained resolutely unimpressed when I
explained that the Canyon had separated the Kaibab
squirrel from its South Rim brothers for so long that it
evolved into a separate species, known as the Abert’s
squirrel. They were slightly more interested in the
bright-green grasshoppers and thick black tiger beetles
that jumped along the ground, red- and bark-colored
lizards, clinging to the trees and the American crow
honking at passersby.
Later back at the cabin, we saw a wild turkey wan-dering
the meadow, her three babies close behind.
Oddly enough, this made me hungry. So we headed for
dinner at the lodge as we watched the sunset shadows
swallow up the Canyon.
The next morning, ominous storm clouds gathered
over the plateau, and I packed the car, determined to
chase down the rain. Just past the park entrance, an
In Hinduism, Vaishnavas look to the sacred Saligrama stone as a means
of worshipping Lord Vishnu, an incarnation of God, known as the Protector.
From Walhalla Overlook, seen here, believers and nonbelievers alike can
look to the distant, multiple stone layers of Vishnu Temple, but the power
of the Protector (and the 5,000-foot drop to the river below) will compel
you to watch your step.
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit arizonahighways.com.
38 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
unmarked road headed off into the dark forest.
“Where does this road go?” Sara asked.
“To the rain,” I said.
“What if we get lost?”
“Now who’s the Nervous Nellie?” I replied.
It got very quiet in the back seat, as their inner
Nervous Nellies stirred and stretched.
I had no clue what I was getting into, but the storm
clouds seemed to simmer now in my veins, so I
ignored their exchanged glances, seized by the need
to either catch the storm or hit a place my low-rider
Ford could not pass.
Yesterday, I’d been clinging to shirttails, but today I
had unaccountably gained courage.
The road led west 17 miles to Point Sublime. Soon
we caught the rain, which muddied the jarring road
and filled the air with fresh pine coolness. We drove
along for a few miles as the rain pattered on the roof,
and I started to worry that I’d get stuck in the mud.
Suddenly, Sara cried, “No, Mom. Please stop.”
“Sara, it’s a little rough, I know,” I said, glancing at her
in the mirror, “but I won’t go anywhere I don’t think
the car can’t. . . .” I stopped short as I followed her gaze
to the left.
Orange-red flames flickered and popped across the
pine-needle covering of the thick spruce-fir forest floor,
licking at the thick trunks of the aspens and blue
spruce. Here we were, in the middle of the Kaibab
Plateau — us, the fire and a sharp stab of fear. As I
turned the next curve and the fire drew closer, I noticed
people moving up in the trees. Firefighters. What a
relief — a controlled burn.
I rolled down the window as a ranger approached.
“Sorry, ma’am. We’ll have the road cleared for you in
about 20 minutes,” said his soot-blacked face buried
beneath a hooded yellow slicker.
“Controlled burn?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. Lightning strike. Get several a day during
this season.” He wandered back into the trees. The very
wonder of nature we had been chasing had unleashed
this fury, a fire that would burn in the rain.
We watched the firefighters work for a long while,
before I turned back, thinking it would be a relief to my
daughter. We headed back, stopping now and then to
get out and wander among the trees singed by previous
“Mom?” Sara said.
“You really didn’t know where you were going?” she
“No, Sara, I really didn’t.”
“That was cool,” she declared.
We spent our last night playing cards on the porch,
casually greeting the squirrels and deer. We slept with
the windows open, the pine-scented breezes wafting
On the last morning, we took one more walk out to
Bright Angel Trail. As we passed a corner with 6 feet of
path between a rock wall and a cliff, I fought the urge
to grab hold of my son. We met a woman coming the
other way with her two teenaged boys, and we veered
to the wall to let them pass on the cliff side. The fretful
woman instinctively reached out, as though the mere
motion would stop her kids from tumbling into the
Canyon. As soon as we passed her, she snapped at her
boys to get back up against the wall.
“See,” I said to my son, “I’m not the ONLY Nervous
Nellie in the park.”
Pane-ful to Look At
While the views atop Angel’s Window
(below) are breathtaking, the safer and
more scenic views of the window happen
along the walkways of Cape Royal.
The biggest danger for
tourists on the North Rim is
catching one of these in
their headlights. Mule deer
feast and frolic near the
highway, making them a
common cause of accidents.
As twilight approaches, storm cloud shadows
spill into Canyon crevasses while the colorful arm
of a rainbow reaches over Shiva, Confucius and
Mencius temples, holding daylight by a thread.
n To order a print, call (866) 962-1191 or visit
On the Safe Side
They may be “wild” turkeys, but these creatures of the Kaibab
Plateau tend to flock in the flat, grassy areas north of the Rim
and are more apt to fall victim to hunters than to the Canyon.
Robin N. Clayton, who lives in Glendale, loves to take her kids
on adventures in the Arizona wilds, and is determined to return
to the North Rim and complete the 17-mile journey to Point
Sublime, this time in a four-wheel-drive vehicle equipped
with a fire extinguisher.
when you go
Grand Canyon North Rim
Location: Approximately 42
miles south of Jacob Lake
on the Kaibab Plateau.
Getting There: From Flagstaff,
travel north approximately
103 miles on U.S. Route 89
to U.S. Route 89A at Bitter
Springs. Take U.S. 89A west
approximately 55 miles to
Jacob Lake, then drive south
42 miles to the lodge.
Hours: The Grand Canyon’s
North Rim facilities are
open May through October
and closed for the winter
months. Call for exact dates.
Fees: Use of the national forest
is free, but there is a $25 fee per
car to enter the national park.
Lodging: Other than campsites,
the lodge offers the only
accommodations at the
North Rim. Reservations are
required and the lodge fills
quickly, so advance notice
is suggested. Cabin and
motel room reservations
may be made online at
com or by calling toll-free
Thunderstorms and lightning
strikes are common at the
North Rim during late
summer, and can create
unsafe and muddy conditions
along unpaved roads
surrounding the Canyon.
Use caution, and turn back
if the rains get too heavy.
Grand Canyon Lodge, May
to October, (928) 638-2611;
Kaibab National Forest,
North Kaibab Ranger
District, (928) 643-7395.
40 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
and drugging sleeping bears, but . . .
The following February, on a frigid
morning, crew members Laribeth
Kirkendall, Raul Vega and I scrambled up
and down rocky slopes covered in Carhartt-ripping
brush as we searched what seemed
like 100 holes tucked in under boulders.
Unfortunately, signals from radio collars
do not work that well when the animal
wearing the collar is underground.
Ever stuck your head in a hole to see if
a bear was in there? Picture our position,
one hole a time.
But I knew instantly I’d hit the right hole
when the still unseen cubs started squall-ing
and the mother started teeth popping
as I glanced in. The good news: We found
her. The bad news: She’s ticked.
I mixed the drug concoction while my
stomach churned. I put on a headlamp,
stuffed a pistol along my back, and with a
flashlight in one hand and the jab stick in
the other, headed into the tunnel under a
living room-sized boulder. I counted on
my crew. Raul is as strong as an Army
mule, so I figured he might actually win
a tug of war for my body with the bear.
Lari, although smaller, is meaner than
most bears and could probably drive off
an emerging bear.
I had to crawl 10 feet before I was close
enough to jab the bear with the syringe.
As I advanced, I kept chanting Ballard’s
encouragement — “No one has ever died
in a den check.” Then realizing my stick
was in the wrong hand, I struggled to
shift the stick and flashlight. Momma Bear
didn’t like my technique, so she charged
within 4 feet of me, while snapping her
teeth. It happened fast and I did exactly
what the term “jab stick” insinuates, and
jabbed her right in the chest as I bellowed
for Raul to yank me out.
For 20 minutes I kept my “No one ever
died…” silent chant going while waiting
for the drug to take effect. I re-entered the
den and pulled out the small cubs as Mom
snoozed. Looking like big puppies, the
cubs loudly squalled — their half-human
cries oddly endearing. They’re easily han-dled
and object only to this rude interrup-tion
in feeding. When we weighed Mom
by measuring her chest circumference
and then referring to a table formula, we
found she had gained 100 pounds since
Born in the den during a fitful hibernation, black
bear cubs may weigh just half a pound at birth but
weigh up to 165 pounds by their first fall,
depending on the food supply. Arizona Game and
Fish researchers radio-collared about two dozen
black bears to track their movement and weigh
their cubs (right) in an effort to determine how the
bears coped with a brushfire that caused habitat
In Over His Head
Wildlife researcher Stan Cunningham spent years crawling into bear
dens like this one trying to figure out how a wildfire in the Four Peaks
Wilderness Area near Phoenix affected the black bear population.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER ALESHIRE AND ARIZONA GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT
I love my job, but not that moment I
found myself in a bear den with noth-ing
but air between me and a 250-
pound mother bear with two cubs. She was
snapping her teeth, which in bear lan-guage
means Get the h#&% out of here! In
20 years as an Arizona Game and Fish
Department research biologist, the four
years I spent crawling into a total of 30
Arizona black-bear dens provided some of
my most entertaining moments.
The project focused on the effects of the
1996 Lone Fire on black bears on Four
Peaks in the Mazatzal Mountains east of
Phoenix, an area with one of the South-west’s
highest black-bear densities. The
study compared reproduction and cub
survival among bears living in the burned
area to those living in undisturbed areas.
I’m a confirmed coward when it comes
to big animals with teeth, but to count and
weigh the cubs I had to crawl into the den
and drug the mother. Warren Ballard, now
a Texas Tech University professor, trained
me on the technique, noting “you just
crawl in with the jab stick [essentially a
syringe with a 4-foot plunger] in front of
you. She won’t be asleep and may charge,
but don’t worry, no one has ever died in
a den check.”
In the spring of 1997, my crew and I
trapped and radio-collared eight females,
which meant at least eight dens to visit
that first winter. I imagined crawling in
By Stan Cunningham
42 j u n e 2 0 0 6 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 43
I’d trapped her in May. Black bears go on
a serious binge in late summer, scarfing
down acorns, manzanita berries and juni-per
berries to build up fat reserves. Acorns
are super high in carbs, and bears knew
about carbs and fat long before Atkins.
After that first den, I realized that in the
tight space of the den I could never have
reached the gun that was supposed to be
my protection of last resort. So in the next
den I switched to pepper spray—not one
of those puny little purse cans, but a large
aerosol can made in grizzly country. This
den was not as deep, so there was room for
a photographer to peer over my shoulder.
The photographer hovered.
Momma Bear snapped her incisors.
So I jabbed her with my stick. She
growled and lurched forward. The pep-per
spray can was in the same hand as the
jab stick, and though I had no intention of
spraying, my finger jumped as she did.
Should you find yourself in this posi-tion,
remember to always first check the
nozzle direction. I had the can held so
that the stream hit the rock above us and
rebounded into our eyes. Fortunately, the
bear was just bluffing, but we ended up
lying face down in the snow trying to
stop the burn in our eyes. If the bear had
emerged and converted us into an added
layer of winter fat, it would have been a
This was shaping up to be a long and
Still, I found myself helplessly fasci-nated
Al LeCount, Jim Wegge and Bill Carrel
documented a great variety of bear dens
in the 15 years they studied Arizona bears.
Some have a long entrance, which opens
onto a larger sleeping area; others resemble
a hole under rocks. Some are completely
dug by the bears, others are natural caves.
Bears rarely reuse dens, and may use two
or three within the same year. Moms will
only change dens if they feel threatened or
moisture starts to seep into their bedding
material. And you would be amazed at
the spaces into which a 300-pound bear
For up to seven months, a hibernating
bear generally does not drink or eat, and
lives entirely off stored fat. Bears also recy-cle
the waste products of fat metabolism,
whereas other mammals must rise to eat
and eliminate waste periodically. Bears
save energy by reducing their heart rate
from about 45 to just 9 beats per minute,
while lowering their metabolic rate by 50
percent. Unlike other mammalian hiber-nators,
black-bear body temperatures
remain constant, which allows them to
arouse quickly if disturbed. Hence, my
dream of drugging sleeping bears never
Most folks probably picture a bear’s
den as a smelly cave strewn with the all
kinds of bones, even mastodons. But adult
bears typically don’t eat, defecate or uri-nate
while hibernating and what mess is
made by cubs is usually cleaned up by
the mothers, so the dens smell quite nice,
due to a soft “nest” of dried vegetation.
The bears often deftly tuck themselves in
using shredded yucca or agave.
Females give birth in dens and nurse
their young during hibernation. They
mate in early summer, but the 300-cell,
fertilized embryo lingers for months in
the fallopian tubes, awaiting some mys-terious
signal that the female is ready to
hibernate. Born in January or February,
the 8-ounce cubs are smaller than a school
lunch milk carton. But they grow fast on
milk that’s 30 percent fat, some of the
richest milk produced by any mammal.
(Marine mammals’ milk has the highest
Studies of the physiology of hibernating
bears have already provided insight into
things like the function of kidneys and
liver and how to reduce bone and muscle
loss during long periods of bed rest — as
in nursing homes or even in spaceflight.
Luckily, the “pepper spray” bear was
the last to charge. As I settled down and
became calmer, so did the bears. I’m no
“bear whisperer,” but staying calm, avoid-ing
eye contact and letting the bear smell
the needle before gently pushing it into
her worked much better than a quick jab.
After measuring the cubs, I would take
them back in to a sleeping mom, and
watch to make sure Mom was going to be
all right. As I lingered I would sometimes
ponder our findings that a catastrophic
fire significantly reduced bear cub sur-vival,
which is strongly correlated with
dense cover. I hoped our results will help
forest managers manage our fire-prone
forests more effectively.
But mostly, I would just lie there and
listen to the cubs, keenly aware I was
eavesdropping in a place I didn’t belong,
but blessed to savor the sights, smells and
sounds. When the cub’s screams turned to
suckling, and mom’s head bobbed slowly
out of a deep sleep I knew it was time to
return my world.
Black bear cubs often come
in pairs and make the most
Wandering male bears pose
the main threat to baby
black bears, despite the
best efforts of the mothers.
Although grizzly bears have
killed many people while
protecting their cubs, black
bear mothers usually limit
themselves to bluff charges
and teeth clacking even in
defense of their young.
along the way by Bill Coates illustration by Jonathan Twingley
i had to go no farther than to my own front yard to take
up wildlife photography. Our little one-third‑acre plot in south
Phoenix has a bit of a desert feel and animals seem to take to it.
Hummingbirds quarrel over the feeder. Quail march around
and bump into each other like Keystone Cops. Cottontails
make sure to stop in front of the living‑room window, so
the dogs can see them and bark at ear‑splitting decibels.
Chipmunks pop their heads out of the ground in search of
food, like any flowers I might have planted recently.
For a long time I watched the critters come and go, and
thought: I should get some film.
And finally I did, setting out to document the wide world
of nature just outside my own front door. I took a sip of fresh
coffee to fine‑tune my senses. I fitted the long lens on my
camera and stepped into the mixture of paloverde and creosote
I call a yard.
I looked around. Okay, where’d all the animals go?
Apparently they all had previous engagements, except for
the pigeons on the roof across the street. They had nothing
better to do, but I wasn’t that desperate. I wanted real wildlife,
not panhandlers with wings. Anyway, the quail hadn’t gone far.
I could hear them in nearby undergrowth, chattering excitedly.
It sounded like a distress call—something akin to: We’re all
going to die!
I concluded they were scared and might refuse to come out
and have their picture taken.
There was more to this wildlife photography than simply
showing up with a camera. I had the mistaken idea that
animals would stop whatever it was they were doing and look
right into the lens—the way the lion does on a TV nature
show. You can almost sense the lion thinking: Nice camera.
I shouted to the quail: “I have a good camera, too!”
They weren’t buying it.
Okay, forget the quail, I told myself. A male hummingbird
had come back to the feeder. Here I had to wrestle a bit with
my conscience. Is it cheating to get the hummingbird at a
feeder? The real nature photos show hummingbirds hovering
before a brilliant red flower, as their own feathers glow purple
in the sunlight. But as I didn’t have any flowers handy—the
chipmunk saw to that—I’d have to go with the wildlife
equivalent of an office worker hanging around the water cooler.
Slowly and quietly, I worked my way toward the little bird
sipping sugar water.
Can I get close enough? I wondered.
Will he overlook the 5‑foot-11-inch figure with a camera for
a face creeping up on him? Well, no, he wouldn’t.
The hummingbird zoomed up to a nearby telephone wire
like he’d been shot from a cannon. Then he zoomed back for a
quick sip out of the feeder. Then he zoomed after an intruder, a
second hummingbird, and they both zoomed up and down and
all around until they zoomed out of sight.
Sure, I had a zoom lens, but it didn’t help.
I needed something else, something you won’t find in the
photography catalogs or even on the Internet at a great price—
an intangible quality known to professionals as patience. But I
didn’t have time for that right now. My coffee was getting cold.
I went back inside for a sip and to think about what I had to
do to capture nature on film. I stood in front of the window,
watching all the animals return from hiding. That’s it! I’ll get
them through the window. I put the coffee down, raised the
camera and they all disappeared.
This could get old fast, I thought.
Just then the cat jumped up on the windowsill, and stared
into the lens—like the lion on the nature show. My cat’s not
exactly wild, but it is a bit crazy.
Close enough, I figured, and got the shot.
by wildlife photography
For 20 minutes I kept my “No one ever
died…” silent chant going while waiting
for the drug to take effect.
Stan Cunningham, who lives in Waddell, is a
research biologist with the Arizona Game and
Fish Department and has studied numerous
species since beginning his job in 1982. He is
currently studying mountain lions around the
Payson area, and black bears near Greer and
Nutrioso, which means he is back to crawling
into dens. He also wrote the Hike of the Month
in this issue.
back road adventure
the 27-mile-long back
road to Camp Wood mingles
spectacular scenery and
lots of wildlife. It starts near
the copper mining town of
Bagdad in central Arizona,
traverses a steep basalt bluff
for 15 miles and gains 1,700
feet through high desert,
juniper flats and ponderosa
forest before finally winding
up in Prescott.
Fortified by extra spare
tires, food, water and a good
map, we started out in two
from the Miner’s Diner
in Bagdad one early June
morning, revved up on strong
coffee — photographer Chuck
Lawsen, Mary Casagrande
and me. We left pavement
just outside Bagdad and didn’t
return to it until 43 miles
later, after a trip through
enormous vistas, creeks, lush
pastures, pinewood hiking
trails, remote campsites and
wandering wildlife on a road
that didn’t require four-wheel
drive but did demand a full
day of bumping along.
Camp Wood Road, or
Behm Mesa Road, officially
designated on the map
as Forest Service Road 21,
crosses over the broad piney
hump of the Santa Maria
Mountain range and stays
mostly on federal and state
public land, despite two gates
that permit passage across
We started from the
Bagdad end near the Phelps
Dodge open pit copper mine.
From there, FR 21 climbs 700
feet in the first 6 miles before
descending suddenly into
Wild Horse Basin at Boulder
Creek. It climbs back out just
as suddenly up the side of the
basalt bluff. For the next 15
miles the road narrows to one-way
traffic and gains another
1,000 feet while traversing
the bluff midway between the
Boulder Creek bottom and
the bluff’s ragged lava rim.
Vantage points along the
way look southward for great
distances across mountain
ridges and down upon desert
plains toward Phoenix, about
95 miles south. The polelike
yellow flowered stalks of
century plant agaves marched
up the side of the bluff and
down into a wet creek bottom.
We caught a glimpse of
reflected light long before we
spotted the rusted A-frame
lift and wooden work shack
of the old Black Pearl Mine
up at the end of a pounding,
44 j u n e 2 0 0 6
A bumpy drive to Camp Wood skirts history and plunges into solitude
We hit one rough, short
stretch of loose rock just
before topping out in a
juniper flat. From that point
the going becomes smooth
for the rest of the trip. A
mile farther along we passed
through a gate at Stratjost
Flat, taking care to close it
behind us. Two miles later,
we reached the border of
the Prescott National Forest
as grasslands gave way to
Two mule deer does
bounded across the road
around midday and stared
back at us from a ponderosa
thicket. Their gray coats
blended almost magically
with the forest shadows.
Casagrande, new to back-road
travel, was amazed by
their natural camouflage.
“Even knowing where they
are,” she said, “I still have a
hard time seeing them.”
Herds of elk move through
the higher elevations of the
Santa Marias. In the range’s
northeast quadrant, where
the land tips downward into
juniper, antelope graze on
At about 22 miles from
Bagdad, the woods gave way
to a fenced, wet pasture at
the Yolo Ranch headquarters,
with a second public livestock
gate. We paused to look
around, but quickly retreated
when a cloud of biting gnats
descended on us.
Camp Wood, site of a
former Forest Service station
just 6.5 miles farther, was
We stopped for lunch
and strung backpack
hammocks under tall pines
for a noontime snooze. It’s
a popular camping spot
for hikers who take Forest
Service Road 95 north to
Forest Service Road 95C west
to the trailhead of the 2-mile-long
Hyde Mountain Trail 6
to the fire lookout on top of
7,109-foot Hyde Mountain.
Camp Wood consists of
the cement foundations of
some 1950s buildings built to
harvest ponderosa logs in the
FR 21 passes several other
signed trailheads, mostly
old ranch pack trails leading
to livestock tanks.
East from Camp Wood, 21
gets more traffic but offers
fewer good views. From a
viewpoint about 1.4 miles past
Camp Wood, we could make
out the snow-crested San
Francisco Peaks 50 miles away,
at Flagstaff. Then the road
began a rapid 15-mile descent
from pinewoods into chaparral
desert, finally returning to the
pavement on Williamson
Valley Road, 25 miles from
Historically, not much
happened in the Santa Marias,
according to the Forest
Service. Fortunately for
people who love solitude on
a slow drive with long views,
that’s still true.
Nothing But View
Vehicle Requirements: High-clearance,
Warning: Back-road travel can
be hazardous. Be aware of
weather and road conditions.
Carry plenty of water. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
know where you’re going and
when you plan to return.
Additional Information: Prescott
National Forest, (928) 443-8000;
FLAMING STALKS Plump, leafy and
tipped with flamelike crimson
blooms following ample winter rains,
an ocotillo occupies the foreground
of this northward look toward the
Santa Maria Mountains from Forest
Service Road 21.
Note: Mileages and GPS coordinates are approximate.
> From Wickenburg, drive 46 miles northwest on U.S. Route 93 to the
Bagdad turnoff, State Route 97. Turn right (east) onto State 97 and drive
14 miles to Bagdad.
> In Bagdad, begin at Lindahl Street on the outskirts of town.
> Turn right (north) onto Lindahl Street. Go 1.6 miles.
> Bear right (confusing sign makes it look like Lindahl goes both ways.
If you go left, you’ll hit the mine entrance.) Go 1.6 miles. (34°36.45‘N;
> Bear left on Behm Mesa Road (also labeled on various maps as Forest
Service Road 21 and County Road 68). (34°36.17‘N; 113°8.58‘W)
> Climb 6 miles, gaining 700 feet elevation.
> Descend into Wild Horse Basin and Boulder Creek.
> Climb 1,000 feet elevation out of Boulder Creek on one-lane road.
> Pass Black Pearl Mine turnoff. (34°42.08‘N; 113°02.62‘W)
> Continuing on FR 21/County 68, pass Prescott National Forest
boundary. (34°45.50‘N; 113°0.93‘W)
> Pass Yolo Ranch headquarters (22 miles from Bagdad). (34°47.29‘N;
> Go 6.5 miles to Camp Wood. (34°48.05‘N; 112°52.79‘W)
> Continuing on FR 21/County 68, go 15 miles to pavement at
Williamson Valley Road.
> Turn right (south), and go 25 miles on pavement to Prescott. by Tom Kuhn photographs by Chuck Lawsen
camp wood drive Kevin Kibsey
Santa Maria Mtns.
Williamson Valley Rd.
BLOOMING STICKS Their name
means “green stick,” but these
paloverde trees (left) west of Bagdad
are vibrant with their annual spring
show of yellow blossoms.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 45
Behm Mesa Rd.
Fish-loving, camera-snapping, sheep-watching hikers
face tough choices on the East Fork of the Black River
on a beautiful june
day, five of us set out on a
3.5-mile hike up the aspen-lined
canyon of the East Fork
of the Black River between
Diamond Rock Campground
and Three Forks. We each
had our own agenda. Ron
and his son, Kyle, wanted
to limber up their bamboo
fly rods. My wife, Lori, and
daughter, Addie, came armed
with cameras. I wanted
it all—fishing for Apache
trout, scanning for wolf
tracks, watching for Rocky
Mountain bighorn sheep and
leopard frogs, Three Forks
spring snails or maybe some
nice California floater clams.
We left one truck as a
pickup vehicle near Three
Forks along Forest Service
Road 249, then traveled
to the Diamond Rock
Campground to begin our
journey. Unfortunately, we
didn’t glimpse so much as a
rump-flash of the bighorn
sheep that often loiter just
above Diamond Rock. No
problem, since chronic
“flyfishinitis” stopped me at
every pool. Within three
stops, I had a nice 11-inch
amber Apache trout, a
native Arizona trout nearly
exterminated by habitat
and hybridization with
introduced browns and
rainbows. One goal down,
many more to go.
The hike itself was an easy
stroll on an unmaintained
trail for the first mile or
so, before it veered into the
streambed in midcanyon,
forcing a lot of boulder- and
downed log-hopping, with a
face-slap of willow pushing
I was so intent on fishing,
Forks in the Trail
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
Before you go on this hike, visit arizonahighways.com for other things
to do and places to see in this area. You’ll also find more hikes in our archive.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE A downstream view
at Three Forks shows off indigenous spruce trees
and rolling open meadow. The pool-laden area is
a fisherman’s fantasy and humble home to many
four-legged friends, like elk and wolves.
ACHOO, MY FLOWER Between Diamond Rock and
Three Forks, docile cutleaf coneflowers mingle with
Western sneezeweed flowers, which are
life-threatening to grazing sheep.
by Stan Cunningham photographs by Robert G. McDonald
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
A downstream view at Three Forks shows
off indigenous spruce trees and rolling
open meadow. The pool-laden arena is a
fisherman’s fantasy and humble home to
many four-legged friends, like elk and wolves.
hike of the month
looking up for bighorns and
down for wolf tracks that I
missed an American dipper
feeding chicks in its nest
until Ron pointed it out to
me. A nondescript gray (dip,
dip, dip) bird that can fly
through the air (dip, dip, dip)
or flap under water thanks to
special feather oils (dip, dip,
dip) and eye coverings, the
frenetic water bobber (dip, dip,
dip) seemed like a demented
comic, taking its obsessive
bows up to 10 times a minute,
(dip, dip, dip).
Still hoping to spot
bighorns, I climbed the steep
travertine gray walls but
found only old sheep beds.
Rocky Mountain bighorns
disappeared from eastern
Arizona at the turn of the
20th century, but migrated
back into our state from New
Mexico, and the Arizona
Game and Fish Department
augmented their populations
From the sheep beds, I
could see the meandering
stream, again home to
Apache trout. Although they
remain listed as endangered,
and stream protection have
now spawned such large
populations that you can
legally fish for them. The
Apache trout could become
the first native fish in the
United States to come off the
endangered species list.
Near Three Forks, Ron said
he found wolf tracks and even
drew a circle around the
tracks and made a large W so
I would see it. I missed it. But
I had a full schedule, with
trout, sheep and dippers. The
last known Mexican wolf in
Arizona was killed in 1975,
but thanks to state and federal
reintroduction efforts, two
wolf packs now use the
We reached the truck,
delighted that the area actually
boasts more wildlife than it
would have 25 years ago; I’m
more than satisfied with that.
As to overly full agendas,
I’ll keep working on it.
48 j u n e 2 0 0 6
MYSTIFYING A stand of silent
spruce trees meditates in the
thickening fog near Three Forks in
the Apache-Sitgreaves National
three forks Kevin Kibsey
Lakeside Hon Dah
WHITE MOUNTA I NS
DECK THE WALLS Orange lichens
scale the canyon walls along
the East Fork of the Black River as
the vibrant green creekside
vegetation hurries to catch up.
Length: 3.5 miles.
Elevation Gain: 229 feet.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Payoff: Opportunities for fishing
and wildlife viewing, especially
birds and small game.
Getting There: From Phoenix,
take State Route 87 northeast
to Payson to State Route 260
east through Pinetop-Lakeside.
Continue on State 260 through
Springerville to its end at
U.S. routes 180/191. Turn right
(south) and continue toward
Alpine approximately 25 miles
to Forest Service Road 249 (2
miles north of Alpine). Turn right
(west) onto FR 249 toward Big
Lake, approximately 5 miles to
a Y junction with Forest Service
Road 276. Bear left (south) and
follow FR 276 for 6 miles to
Diamond Rock Campground.
The road is well signed.
Travel Advisory: Take a good pair
of hiking shoes you don’t mind
getting wet, and bring sunscreen
and bug spray. Carry a lunch and
fresh water. Watch out for heavy
rains and runoff in the late
summer monsoon season.
Additional Information: Apache-
Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine
Ranger District, (928) 339-4384.
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