Quirky Characters Reveal a BISBEE STATE OF MIND
J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 7
in the Air
Lindbergh’s Lucky Find
Soar and Survive
contents january 2007
Soar, fly, drift and glide through the skies above our beautiful
state this month. Whether by helicopter, biplane, hot air balloon,
glider or with a parachute strapped to your back, get a bird’s-eye
view of Arizona at arizonahigways.com. Click on our January
“Trip Planner” for a comprehensive list of Arizona Air Tours.
HUMOR Our writer creates a new travel destination.
ONLINE EXTRA Visit the Grand Canyon by air.
WEEKEND GETAWAY Get to know more of Bisbee’s quirky side.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan a trip with our calendar of events.
Photographic Prints Available
n Prints of some photographs are
available for purchase, as
designated in captions. To order,
call toll-free (866) 962-1191 or visit
Adventures in the Arizona Air
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
Viper pilots soar through desert skies.
How does a daring photographer reach the top?
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Explore Arizona’s oddities, attractions and pleasures.
42 ALONG THE WAY
A ground-hugger risks a biplane ride.
44 HIKE OF THE MONTH
Table Top Mountain trail climbs a staircase of stone.
46 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
Agua Caliente Road passes agate fields, rock art,
a ghost town and hot springs.
A Grob glider and strong nerves enable a novice flier
to seek the seams of the sky. by dave eskes
photographs by don b. and ryan b. stevenson
15 Fly, Float and Fall
Our air tour guide provides 10 ways to get a natural high.
16 Lindy’s Luck
Charles Lindbergh played a little-known role
in Southwestern archaeology. by erik berg
22 Raw Wonder
A landscape photographer takes to the sky in
his homebuilt aircraft to get close to the land.
text and photographs by adriel heisey
34 Great Weekend:
A Bisbee State of Mind
The quirky character of a quaint mining town-turned-
artist-colony offers a thoughtful escape
from the psychology of modern life.
by tom carpenter photographs by david zickl
FLIER'S VIEW Ponderosa pine trees poke
through a thick cobweb of morning fog in
the Coconino National Forest, north of
Sedona. See aerial portfolio, page 22.
n To order a print of this photograph, see
information on opposite page.
FRONT COVER Monument Valley’s
earthbound buttes appear in a dramatically
different light when captured from an
airborne vantage point in an evening sky.
See portfolio, page 22. adriel heisey
n To order a print of this photograph, see
information on opposite page.
BACK COVER Bisbee waitress Kristen
Glover serves up a hot cup of copper-town
character at Dot’s Diner. See story, page 34.
For more letters, see arizonahighways.com (Click o online n “Letters to the Editor”).
2 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
all who wander by Peter Aleshire, editor
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JANUARY 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 1
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
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An F-16 makes a high-speed
turn in the clear skies over
Sedona. All the F-16 pilots
in the Air Force undergo
their six months of
advanced fighter training
at Luke Air Force Base.
courtesy u.s. air force
lt. col. bob egan, better known as “Festus” to the brave,
raw recruits he turns into honest-to-God fighter pilots at Luke
Air Force Base in Glendale, is cruising along happily at 500 feet
and 500 knots in his 3,600th hour in the air, cockpit time that
cost the taxpayers of the nation he has spent his life defending
roughly $18 million.
Lean, mild and steel-tempered, Egan exudes command
so effortlessly that he can make everyone in the room lean
forward just by lowering his voice. An instructor at the air base
that trains all the nation’s regular Air Force F-16 pilots, he’s the
latest in a long line of airmen who have taken advantage of the
desert’s empty skies and perfect weather to train generations of
fliers. The influx of pilots during World War II introduced so
many young people to Arizona that it laid the foundation for
the postwar population boom that followed.
Suddenly, something goes violently wrong with Egan’s F-16,
the lithe, lethal fighter jet pilots call the Viper. For 30 years,
the F-16 has served as the most nimble, flexible jet on the front
lines of the nation’s defense. Now the 25,000 pounds of thrust
blasting out the back of his bomb-fitted jet packed with 11,000
pounds of explosive fuel devotes itself to shaking apart the
With the jet rattling so violently he can’t read the displays
and the ground a fraction of one wrong move away, Egan
reacts instantly to point the nose up as the ravenous engine
dies in a great gout of flame. Still moving at 650 mph, the
dying F-16 turns its rapier tip to the heavens and on sheer
momentum rises to 6,800 feet as it slows to 230 miles an hour.
Distantly, Egan can hear his wingman shouting into the radio
that 100-foot-long jets of flame are blasting out the back of
Egan’s aircraft. So Egan pulls the big, rubber-coated, yellow-handled
ejection seat lever.
“I pulled the handle — and I remember thinking, Why am
I not getting out of this airplane? So I looked back down at
the handle and suddenly I’m out. There’s this violent rush
of wind — like a hurricane until you’re in the chute, then
you’re coming down and it’s completely quiet. I never did
see what happened to the plane,” says Egan, one of the most
experienced F-16 pilots in the world.
The seven-minute drift to the ground is the worst. “It
seemed like an eternity. I’m afraid of heights,” he says.
That was one of some 23 crashes at Luke in recent years.
Six were due to pilot error — including the death of a veteran
colonel who became disoriented and flew into the ground. One
was the result of a turkey vulture flying into the air intake. The
rest stemmed from mechanical failures in the aging jets. Most
crashes took place over 2.7 million-acre Barry M. Goldwater
Air Force Range some 60 miles south of Luke, which provides
the empty air space needed to train fighter pilots. Ironically,
that same desert shelters a struggling herd of endangered
Sonoran pronghorn antelopes.
“I can no longer say that I’ve had as many landings as
takeoffs,” jokes Egan, whose 19 years in the Air Force included
a stint dodging missiles over Bosnia. On his first mission there,
he dodged one missile then watched a second explode just off
his wing. Born on an air base, he always yearned to fly. After a
stint as an engineer, he yielded to his fate.
“You can’t live without it. Love is not too strong a word. It’s
my mistress — its looks, its capability. It’s like sitting on the
front of an arrow.”
The training crash over the desert was the closest Egan came
to dying for his country.
Fortunately, he used that experience to sharpen his
demands as a trainer. Which could explain why the thousands
of pilots trained at Luke have not lost a dogfight since the
I got to know Egan while working on Eye of the Viper, a
book about the six-month process of turning 13 raw pilots
into fighter jocks. I found myself thinking of him often, as
we prepared this special issue on having fun in the sky over
After all, one reason our air space remains free is that they’re
out there every day, breaking the sound barrier — with the
yellow handle of the ejection seat close at hand.
Wild Blue Yonder
Who Pays the Bills?
Arizona Highways is owned by the Arizona
Department of Transportation (ADOT), so
does that mean tax money pays to publish
this magazine? I wouldn’t imagine the
subscription fees alone would cover all the
work and salaries needed to put out your
— Gordon Hugh, Gilbert
Great question. ADOT does own the magazine, but
we don’t spend any taxpayer money. Subscriptions
and the sale of books, calendars and other items
underwrite our costs. We struggle sometimes, but
remain entirely self-supporting. — Ed.
Thank you and writer Kathryn Eastlick
for the “Along the Way” (“Rediscovering
Dad at Hi Jolly’s Tomb,” August ’06). I
shed a tear as it reminded me of my own
father who died in 1996. Not a day goes
by, especially now that I have sons, that
I don’t think about sharing something
with him. But it had been quite a while
since I recalled traveling in the car
throughout Arizona and listening to my
father — who was a history buff, especially
Arizona history (my sister and I are third-generation
Arizonans) — tell a story about
this mountain range or that pass. My sister
and I would roll our eyes. As an adult, I
find myself regaling my kids with the
history of Arizona as we travel through
our wonderful state, and it was great to
be reminded about where this knowledge
came from. My only wish is that he was
here to share them with me, my sons and
my sister’s daughters.
— Kimberly Currier McAdams, Gilbert
I lost my dad awhile back, and I know exactly what
you mean. In my case, he taught me to notice birds,
so every time a noteworthy bird flits past, I want to
turn and point it out to him. I am happy that the story
was a comfort and a reminder. — Ed.
October Issue: Wonderful or Disappointing?
Wow, you’ve outdone yourselves this time; the
October 2006 issue was fantastic! What a great
project for those lucky writers and photographers
to undertake. Thanks so much for the inspiration
and joy. I didn’t know the magazine could get any
better than it already was!
— Diana Minton, Arcata, CA
Too Many People Pictures
I was really looking forward to the expanded
October 2006 issue, but it arrived today and I am
extremely disappointed. Most of the pictures were
of people, not of the beautiful state of Arizona.
Most of them could have been taken anywhere.
And where you do have scenery as a background, as often as not, it is out of focus. I
would have thrown it away except that I would not therefore have had a complete set
for the year. Please return to the format that made this magazine great in the first place.
— Dr. Harold A. Widdison, Flagstaff
Yikes. October did indeed include more people pictures, since that helped capture Arizona’s great diversity.
Never fear, we’re still hooked on landscapes. We also had printing press problems with the color in the issue.
Fortunately, we’ve fixed that problem. — Peter Aleshire, Editor
Right Up There With Cattleman
The October 2006 issue was swell; so glad I “re-upped” for another three years and
didn’t miss it. As a matter of fact, we’ve been getting Arizona Highways for some 20 or
25 years. Every issue. “Mama,” my wife of 51 years, and I love Arizona. But we belong
here in Oklahoma at our Coyote Gulch Ranch. It’s small, but to us it’s as grand as the
Grand Canyon. I am professor emeritus, agricultural communications/agricultural
education, Oklahoma State University. I think you’re doing a most wonderful job in the
captain’s chair. Arizona Highways is the nation’s best magazine. (I would have to say the
Oklahoma Cattleman magazine is right up there, too.)
— Bob Reisbeck, Stillwater, OK
We’re flattered to stack up to Cattleman, especially in the eyes of an ag prof. — Ed.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
Viper pilots hurtle along just
one wrong move from disaster
4 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
by Peter Ensenberger, director of photography, firstname.lastname@example.org viewfinder
hoop it up
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(Click on “Photography”).
adriel heisey can turn a routine airplane
flight into a magic-carpet ride. He’s a
photographer with wings, roaming Arizona
skies with one eye on the altimeter and the other
on the magical interplay of landscape and light
Clutching his medium-format camera in both
hands, control stick strapped to his leg and both
feet on the rudder pedals, he simultaneously
functions as photographer, navigator, flight
engineer and chief mechanic of his homebuilt
airplane. Multitasking comes with the territory.
“While I’m shooting, the man/machine interface is
so smooth that I usually don’t even think about it.
The plane just moves naturally where I need it to
be,” Heisey says.
Hold the jokes about flying lawnmowers. His is a serious
aircraft. “The airplane is not an ultralight by the FAA’s definition,”
Heisey says. “It produces 100 horsepower at full throttle, and
has taken me over Hawaii’s, Arizona’s and Colorado’s highest
For Heisey, photography and aviation intertwine. Wings
provide him a lofty perspective from which to observe our
world. “I am drawn to see the Earth from above because in
doing so I often have an experience I can only describe as
communion with the connectedness of all things,” he says. “I
feel how everything exists simultaneously because I can see all
at once so many things which, when encountered at ground
level, seem disparate and singular.”
For a guy who spends so much time in the air, Heisey remains
deeply connected to the land. He’s especially drawn to the
sculptured landscapes of the Navajo Indian Reservation in
northeastern Arizona. So strong is his attraction to its monolithic
landforms that Heisey and his wife, Holly, lived on the reservation
for many years. They recently relocated to Montrose, Colorado.
“The chaotic geometry fascinates my eye, and the mysteries
of their formation tantalize my mind,” Heisey says. “These
otherworldly wilds are the perfect antidote to the monotony of
modern civilization. For that reason, I am a passionate advocate
for their protection, and regard my photography as part of the
larger mission of awareness and care for them.”
Even with all his preflight planning, Heisey never knows
what he might encounter when he leaves terra firma. It’s not
called the wild blue yonder for nothing. Rapidly changing
conditions aloft can create conflict between his dual roles as
photographer and pilot. The photographer’s craving for drama
can test the pilot’s nerve.
“I normally avoid thunderstorms in my plane because they’re
just too dangerous,” Heisey says. On one flight, he’d kept his
eye on the summer storm clouds gathering over the Arizona-
Mexico border. Showers were imminent, but the cells were
scattered. Confident of safe zones between thunderheads if he
needed to retreat, he took off from the Nogales airport as evening
“I knew it was a thunderstorm because I could see the lightning,
so I kept a respectful distance,” he recalls. “I watched its dark
clouds roil and glower. I wondered how close was too close, and
thought darkly that if I sustained a direct hit by lightning I’d
probably never know it.”
A terrestrial photographer could have only watched as the
storm moved away. But in the air, Heisey stayed with his quarry,
maneuvering and photographing until sunset. “As the storm was
losing vigor, the red ball of the sun flared behind the shifting veil
of rain,” he said. “The scene was so short-lived that I abandoned
my chase and just shot the amazing tableau before me. I was
exhilarated to share airspace with this modest behemoth.”
Heisey landed in the fading light at the Nogales airport, and
taxied back to his waiting trailer. He still remembers the smell of
the air, perfumed with the fragrance of desert creosote. “Warmth
enveloped me as I rolled to a stop, and I wasted no time stepping
out of my flight suit,” he says. “I was down from the sky.”
A magic-carpet ride had returned to Earth.
Flight of Fancy
ADDITIONAL READING: Several books feature the aerial photography
of Adriel Heisey, including Under the Sun: A Sonoran Desert Odyssey,
Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson; In the Fifth World: Portrait of the Navajo
Nation, Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson; and From Above: Images of a
Storied Land, The Albuquerque Museum.
TRAVELING FIRST CLASS
Adriel Heisey designed and
fabricated a fiberglass
camera pod and pilot seat
for his homebuilt Kolb
TwinStar airplane. This
month’s portfolio, “Raw
Wonder,” beginning on
page 22, showcases Heisey’s
breathtaking aerial artistry.
You’ll Wonder Where the Yellow Went
all day long, drivers do double takes along Interstate 40, 3 miles east of
Holbrook. No, it’s not another Jurassic Park-gone-concrete. If Tyrannosaurus
rex is the “tyrant king,” then Holbrook is the king of kitsch. Situated in the
middle of one of the richest paleontological sites in the world, the town has
embraced its prehistoric predecessors. Along with others of his ilk, this concrete
creature stalking northern Arizona’s Painted Desert is getting a paint job of its
own, courtesy of Carver (who uses only one name). During a recent renovation
at Dinosaur Park, near the entrance to Petrified Forest National Park, volunteers
spruced up the ‘saurs, giving each a shiny new coat of paint to ensure that these
T. rexes will tease and terrorize travelers for a long time to come.
6 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
Dude, It’s a Pterodactyl
“dude, there’s a pterodactyl
in your back yard!” This statement
prompted me to run in hopes of
catching a view of a Jurassic-period
creature metamorphosing from the
ground like a mystical phoenix bird in a
very suburban neighborhood.
No 150 million-year-old “flying lizard”
awaited, but the creature standing
stoically on the block fence eying the
golden koi in the small lily-covered
pond was just as imposing. Its long bill,
piercing golden eyes, stately legs and
gray-blue feathers identified it not as
a dinosaur but as a hungry great blue
heron, hoping to slurp a fantail down its
gullet before my father charged him in
defense of his beloved fish.
— Brian Minnick
Monument to One Man
and 1.4 Million Lions
each january, Lions Club International members converge
on Fort Thomas to lionize the monument honoring club founder
Melvin Jones, born on this military outpost in the Gila River Valley,
some 146 miles east of Phoenix off U.S. Route 70.
Jones spent the first seven years of his life at Fort Thomas,
which was then plagued by raiding Apaches and malaria and
typhoid fever. His family moved to Chicago, where Jones
eventually opened his own insurance company and enjoyed
substantial success. In 1917, he and other civic-minded
businessmen formed the Lions Club to support humanitarian
efforts, especially help for the visually impaired, which was
inspired by an address Helen Keller gave to the group in 1925.
Today, the organization boasts 45,000 clubs with 1.4 million
members, many of whom will gather on January 13 for the
38th annual rededication of the Melvin Jones Memorial in
a quiet valley no longer worried about either Geronimo or
Information: www.lions-mjm.org. — Tom Carpenter
Making Rugs the
navajo rug prices have
soared in recent years, as
evidenced by the $401,000 sale
price of a diamond-patterned
19th-century weaving in 2001. But
for collectors like Steve Getzwiller,
it’s not the money — it’s the
authenticity that matters. That’s
why at Getzwiller’s Nizhoni Ranch
Gallery in Sonoita, southeast of
Tucson, you can still buy the real
thing — traditionally made rugs.
The Spanish brought herds of
Churro sheep to the Southwest in
the late 1500s, and Navajos used
their long wool to make tightly
woven, water-resistant blankets.
Larger blankets were later used as
rugs. Weavers passed on to their
children the formulas to make yarn
dyes by boiling plants and rocks.
Many weavers switched to
synthetic dyes and commercially
processed yarn to meet growing
demand in the early 1900s,
but Getzwiller offers contemporary
and historic weavings made
by traditional Navajo weavers who use naturally dyed, soft
Churro wool. The hand-spun wool makes the rugs much
smoother and heavier than imitations, due to the smooth fibers
and lanolin in the wool.
Information: (520) 455-5020; www.navajorug.com.
— Kimberly Hosey
THESE TWO PAGES, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: RANDY PRENTICE; PETER ENSENBERGER; DAVE BLY; TOM VEZO
Navajo rug weaver Suzie
Yazzie spins Churro sheep
wool for her rugs.
A Thousand-year Birthday Bash
the 75th anniversary of the 83,840-acre Canyon de Chelly National
Monument marks the latest notable event in a 1,000-year run of triumph and
tragedy. The beautiful, undulating, 1,000-foot-tall red cliffs sheltered the Puebloan
people (also called Anasazi) before they mysteriously vanished. The Navajos took
their place, farming along the stream, tending sheep introduced by the Spanish and
growing peach trees, probably acquired from refugees of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt
against the Spanish. The Navajos held out in their canyon fortress until famed scout
Kit Carson led the military expedition that torched their fields and forced them into
a painful exile. The government eventually relented and the Navajos returned to the
canyon. To protect some 700 archaeological sites, President Herbert Hoover made it
a national monument in 1931, during the Great Depression.
Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de SHAY) probably derived its name from
the mispronunciation of tségí, meaning “rock canyon” in Navajo. Despite
temperatures that range from 105 degrees to –30 degrees, Navajo families still
raise crops, livestock and peaches on the canyon floor. Concerns about the
preservation of the cultural and natural resources within the canyon prompted the
U.S. government to establish a national monument, giving the Navajos the right
to rent horses and guide visitors into the canyon, with the exception of hiking the
steep trail to White House Ruins.
So after sheltering human beings for a millennium, life in the canyon remains
constant despite the wars, moon walks and iPods of the outside world.
Information: (928) 674-5500; www.nps.gov/cach. — Janet Webb Farnsworth
Canyon del Muerto,
Canyon de Chelly
The cable looks thin and vulnerable
as the stubby towplane revs up, then taxies down
the runway. A couple of tentative jerks, a blur of Low
Sonoran Desert shrubs, and the ground drops away.
We’re airborne. ( The towplane climbs west, then
banks right toward a craggy foothill guarding the Sierra
Estrella mountain range (“Star Mountains” in English). A
few minutes later, pilot Jason Stephens releases the cable
with a thunk and our Grob glider drifts to starboard.
soars past fear
BY DAVE ESKES
DON B. AND RYAN B. STEVENSON
SUNSET SOARING Sleek and silent as the red-tailed hawks that often
signal the presence of thermal drafts, a Grob G 103A sailplane glides
home at sunset to the Estrella Sailport near Maricopa south of Phoenix.
Our goal is to soar the length of the
Estrellas, a 20-mile-long mountain range
southwest of Phoenix. Despite their proximity
to the city, the starkly rugged Estrellas remain
largely overlooked and remote, as evidenced
by occasional sightings of reclusive moun-tain
Jason sniffs out a thermal updraft, a rising
column of hot air and works it, circling,
to gain altitude. On good days, thermals
quickly boot gliders up to 8,000 or 10,000
feet. Today is different.
The weather is ideal, with temperatures in
the mid-80s, but thermal activity is uneven.
We circle often.
At 32, Jason has been flying gliders for
19 years. “I grew up in the back seat of a bush
plane,” he says, alluding to his boyhood in
Alaska, where his father owned a construction
company. In 1987, spurred by deflating
oil prices, the Stephens family moved to
the Phoenix area and purchased Estrella
Sailport. His dad oversees the business,
while Jason serves as a staff instructor for
a clientele drawn mostly from England,
Germany and Japan.
“If you travel halfway around the world,”
Jason rationalizes, “you want to make sure you
have good weather and lots of flying time.”
Another thermal bumps the glider like a
WHAT A DRAG With no engines of
their own, gliders rely on motorized
aircraft, such as the Piper Pawnee
pictured here, to tow them aloft.
ABOVE THE STARS Late-afternoon
light creates a haze between
a sailplane and the rugged Sierra
Estrella mountain range.
STEADY NOW Austin Fox trots
alongside one of Estrella Sailport’s
three Grob G 103As, keeping the
wings balanced as a precautionary
measure prior to takeoff.
HORIZON? WHAT HORIZON?
Earth and sky appear dizzyingly
out of kilter as pilot Jason
Stephens banks into a turn
above central Arizona’s
Sonoran Desert (left).
On good days, thermals quickly boot gliders up to 8,000 or 10,000 feet.
12 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
bass tugging on a line, and Jason follows
the action, turning this way and that, the
lurching joystick between my knees a
nuanced choreography of control. We
climb swiftly, then drop a little and climb
again until we have gained enough alti-tude
to swoop over a desert pass to the
southern end of the Estrellas.
It is cooler than I expected, thanks to
a vent in the instrument panel. The only
sound is air rushing past the cockpit.
I glance up, and we are headed straight
toward a massive rock outcropping.
A friendly bump, the nose lifts and we
soar up and over the ridge.
To fly a glider is to read nature. Pilots
constantly analyze clouds, sunlight, terrain
and weather. Even birds play a role. Jason
keeps an eye out for red-tailed hawks
and turkey vultures to assist in locat-ing
thermals. They are the real experts.
Sometimes they fly along with him.
Although gliders depend on fickle
thermals and updrafts to stay aloft, they
can fly for hours under optimal conditions.
Jason has flown to Tucson and back on
several occasions, while other area pilots
routinely make round-trip flights to the
Grand Canyon, New Mexico and other
According to veteran Scottsdale com-petition
pilot Paul Cordell, “Eight-hour-plus
flights in the summer are possible.”
Cordell says pilots flying along the
Appalachian Ridge often fly for 14 hours
and cover nearly 2,000 miles. Similar
flights are made along the California
coast. In 1986, Robert Harris set a world
soaring altitude record over the Sierra
Nevadas by piloting his sailplane
to 49,009 feet. The temperature plum-meted
to 65 below and frost covered the
canopy. He had to descend, using his
backup oxygen system.
Jason recalls spiraling up to 17,600 feet.
“It was 114 degrees on the ground,” he says,
“but it was freezing up there.” The average
summer thermal in the Phoenix area
ranges from 12,000 to 14,000 feet.
As we nose around, we are suddenly
bumped upward as if by a giant hand.
“Here’s a big thermal,” Jason says jubi-lantly.
“The biggest yet. It’s about time.
We’re climbing up at about 900 feet
“There are so many variables in finding
a thermal,” he muses. “You never figure
it all out. You play the odds and go to
the places where it should be working
and see what happens. Luck is a factor.”
Now comfortably high, we head north-west
along the spine of the range.
There is a forbidding quality to the
Estrellas when seen from here. Massive
and barren, they dominate the sweeping
desert vistas like a brooding prehistoric
beast. Composed of Precambrian rock,
the oldest on Earth, there is no softness
to them, only a ruthless beauty.
To the north, a wide green riparian strip
that is the Gila River winds west between
the Estrellas and South Mountain. The river-bed
betrays no glint of water. Farther north,
Phoenix sprawls hazy and indistinct.
Montezuma Peak — Jason’s favorite,
YEAR-ROUND SPORT With a Grob’s 57.4-foot wingspan
and empty weight of just 859 pounds, a skilled pilot can
take full advantage of Arizona’s thermals from late March
through October, and ride winter’s winds over mountain
ranges the rest of the year.
WANT ONE? You can purchase your
own used G 103A (left and below),
originally manufactured in Germany by
Grob Aerospace, for $35,000 to $50,000,
although newer designs currently sell in
the $100,000 to $140,000 range.
AND THEN I . . . Sailplane pilots Tom
Allen (left) and Jason Stephens swap
stories of the day’s exploits.
The only sound is air rushing past the cockpit.
Location: 27 miles south of Phoenix.
Getting There: Take Interstate 10 south to Exit
164; follow State Route 347 south to the town of
Maricopa and turn right onto State Route 238.
Drive west 6.5 miles to the sailport entrance.
Travel Advisory: Only a weathered white sign
indicates the dirt road entrance to the sailport.
Additional Information: Estrella Sailport, (520)
14 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
because it produces huge thermals — rears
up below us. At 4,308 feet, it is the second
highest peak in the Estrellas. (The high-est,
at 4,500 feet, is unnamed.) A lonely
weather station and tower, dwarfed by its
host, hugs the jagged peak.
“Down there to your left is Rainbow
Valley Airstrip,” Jason says. “It’s one of
our alternate [emergency] strips. I’ve
pulled a few gliders out of there over the
Glider pilots seldom land in the des-ert
anymore. There are numerous alter-nate
strips, and glider performance has
improved. The Grob, for example, has
a glide ratio of 37 to 1, meaning that
for every mile of altitude, it can glide 37
miles. Cordell’s plane, a Schempp-Hirth,
has a glide ratio of 60 to 1, plus a Global
Positioning System device that can be pro-grammed
with vital flight information.
Of course, nothing is a hundred percent.
“I landed in a Texas field once during an
air race,” Jason says. “Within two minutes
a lady drove up in a truck and handed me
As we soar across the Estrellas, I
search for Quartz Peak, an outcropping
of the snowy mineral found nowhere else
in the range. But I miss it. Down there,
too, obscured by flanks and shadows, is
a mine, reputed by some fanciful history
buffs to be of Spanish origin, with stone
ruins and a 70-foot vertical shaft.
At the northern end of the Estrellas,
Jason directs my gaze to a tiny oval in
the distance. It is Phoenix International
Raceway. It was there, I wistfully recall,
that I once took a few laps with four-time
Indy winner Rick Mears. As we headed
into a turn at 120 mph, Mears chatted
casually. Easy for him — he was driving.
Our return flight is nearly a straight
shot. We are at 7,500 feet with altitude to
spare and moving swiftly, as the bump-ing
and amplified rush of air testify. We
have been up a little more than an hour.
Before landing, we make a wide arc
over a huge auto recycling yard — “Good
lift,” Jason observes — and the soft green
checkerboard of farmland skirting the
town of Maricopa. It is a sight that awaits
Jason every morning when he climbs into
his RV4 kit plane at Chandler Municipal
Airport and flies to work.
The sailport is dead ahead, and Jason
noses the Grob down for a flyby.
Air screaming, we streak low over
the buildings and runways at 120 knots,
then up, out and around for the approach.
We float for only a moment before the
runway rushes upward to greet us.
Even in a state of hikers,
climbers, kayakers, swimmers
and skiers, some people feel at
home in the air — and, really, it
makes sense. As we float,
fly or fall, the state reveals
itself as a wonderland of
intricate structure. Lizards
and rabbits dash under bushes,
hawks and eagles soar on
thermals, the cacophony
of the streets below fades
into a faint grid. Perspective
grows and contemplation
abounds. So consider these
HOT AIR BALLOONING
Lift off gently to watch the
sun rise over the red rocks
of Sedona and savor the
magnificent views and after-flight
Red Rock Balloon Adventures,
Sedona. (800) 258-3754;
Roping the Wind, Mesa.
San Tan and Superstition
mountains; (480) 807-0001;
Zephyr Balloon, Phoenix.
Sunrise flight; (480) 991-4260;
Sky King Soaring, Payson.
Hop into a sailplane or
motorglider and have a close
encounter with a cloud while
drifting over the Mogollon Rim,
Tonto Natural Bridge or Payson.
Take flight while hanging from
a frame-and-fabric wing.
Sound too risky? Never fear,
hang-gliding schools offer
tandem flights, with an
instructor ready to take the
controls. After all, gliding’s
a breeze — it’s the landing that
worries you. So let it worry
the instructor while you
enjoy the scenery.
Sky Masters School
of Hang Gliding, Phoenix.
Learn from the oldest hang-gliding
school in Arizona;
(602) 867-6770; www.
Venture Flight, Prescott.
Drift over history, forests
and scenic Prescott;
If you prefer a rotor and
a floor, hop on a helicopter
and tour Sedona or
the Grand Canyon.
Papillon Grand Canyon
Helicopters, Grand Canyon
Airport. (800) 528-2418;
Arizona Helicopter Tours,
Sedona. (928) 282-0904;
Adrenaline junkies take note:
Why fly when you can fall?
Drifting on a breeze is dreamy,
plummeting from 13,000 feet
is a rush. For an extreme view
of Arizona from the air,
try these parachuting pros,
who offer tandem jumps.
Skydive Arizona, Eloy.
(520) 466-4777 or (800) 858-
Skydive Marana, Marana. (520)
682-4441 or (800) 647-5867;
Fly, Float and Fall: Air Tour Guide By Kimberly Hosey
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT A sunset sky promises
another fair day of soaring for pilots Allen
(left) and Stephens (right).
AT YOUR SERVICE Utilizing the Stephens’ fleet, most beginners averaging 15 to 20 minutes of
flying time per session can earn a private glider license within 10 to 15 hours of flight time.
RARIN’ TO GO
Budding glider pilots
like Brian Henry of
(left) come from all
over the world to
take advantage of
Dave Eskes of Phoenix admires all types of
unconventional aircraft and looks forward to
the day when dirigibles rule the skies again.
Don B. and Ryan B. Stevenson of Tempe
teamed up to capture both sides of the soaring
story — from inside the cockpit (Ryan) and by
air-to-air (Don) — each envious of the other’s
Discover other Arizona aerial adventures
at arizonahighways.com (click on “January Trip
. . . for every mile of altitude, it can glide 37 miles.
Shortly after marrying, Charles and Anne
Lindbergh escaped publicity hounds and
took refuge in the West. While flying over
the Navajo Indian Reservation in 1929, they
viewed several ancestral Puebloan ruins such
as Pueblo Bonito Ruin at Chaco Canyon.
photograph courtesy museum of new mexico
With climbing gear slung
over his shoulder, Charles
surveys the view from a
rim in Canyon de Chelly.
photograph courtesy yale
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
The archaeologists sat quietly around their campfire near Antelope
House Ruin in Canyon del Muerto one lonely afternoon in the summer
of 1929, a hard day’s drive on bad roads from the nearest town —
alone but for the ghosts of an ancient past. < Or so they thought.
< They might not have been surprised if ancient ghosts had rustled
out of the ruins. < But they were flat amazed when the most famous
couple in America suddenly appeared around a bend in the canyon,
a young man with a lanky build and a petite woman with dark locks and
a shy smile. < Charles and Anne Lindbergh had married under a glare
of publicity a month earlier, but now stood before the startled
group of scientists in one of the most remote corners of the Southwest.
< b y E r i k B e r g <
CHARLES LINDBERGH PLAYED A LITTLE-KNOWN ROLE IN SOUTHWESTERN ARCHAEOLOGY
18 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 19
Charles was the first to break the silence. “How are you
fixed for grub?” he asked casually.
Two years earlier, the shy airmail pilot from Minnesota
had made the first successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean
in his custom-built monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. An instant
hero, he received a ticker-tape parade in New York City, became
Time magazine’s first “Man of the Year” and toured the country
promoting air travel. The introverted loner had become
the embodiment of America’s fascination with aviation. Fans
and reporters besieged him wherever he went, businesses
begged him for endorsements and promoters hounded him
with offers. Pained by his celebrity status, Lindbergh fled crowds
and interviews. His historic flight had shrunk the world, and
now it was closing in around him.
But fame had benefits, too, including a job as technical adviser
for the Transcontinental Air Transport (T.A.T.) Co., which was
to offer the nation’s first coast-to-coast air service. Lindbergh
helped identify the route and supervised the construction of
airports, including those in the Southwest at Albuquerque,
New Mexico, and in Winslow and Kingman in Arizona. Fame
also introduced him to Anne Morrow, the daughter of the
American ambassador to Mexico. Mousy and shy, with a love
of poetry and reading, Morrow understood Lindbergh’s fragile
inner world. She also learned to share his disdain for the
press, who reported their every public appearance and bribed
household staff for details. Even after their marriage in May
1929, reporters and photographers spied on them during their
honeymoon cruise along the New England coast. “They found
us again this morning,” wrote Anne from aboard their ship,
“ — that terrifying drone of a plane hunting you, and boats.”
Upon returning to New York, the couple immediately set
out again on an inspection tour of the entire T.A.T. route before
its July 11 launch. The journey also had a second, secret purpose,
to take aerial photographs of ancient ruins and geographical
features across the Southwest. The request came from the
Carnegie Institution of Washington, which was funding
several excavations in the area and hoped the photographs
would identify new ruins and help reveal the full extent and
layout of known sites.
Flying an open-cockpit biplane, the newlyweds reached
Albuquerque on July 5 and then discreetly veered northwest over
the Navajo Indian Reservation to take photographs of the ruins
in Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. The following day,
they flew over the Grand Canyon before continuing to
California. Excited by her first view of the Southwest, Anne
wrote her mother from Winslow about flying over “desolate
country but very thrilling, over deserted canyons where the river
was dried up and we saw the ruins of old Indian cities along
the river bed.” She was also fascinated by the traditional Navajo
dwellings, or hogans, which she described as “funny little stone
houses (like igloos) with a hole in the top for smoke.”
The couple’s arrival in Los Angeles put them back in the spotlight.
Surrounded by movie stars and business leaders, they smiled
and waved for the cameras while longing for the freedom and
solitude of the skies.
After meeting in Los Angeles with officials from the Carnegie
Institution, they agreed to visit archaeologist Dr. Alfred Kidder’s
Pecos field camp near Santa Fe, New Mexico. They left on July 21
and stopped in Winslow to photograph nearby Meteor Crater
before heading to northern Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly and
Canyon del Muerto. For several hours, they traced the chasms
from the air, marveling at the beauty of the canyons, photograph-ing
the ruins and buzzing the field camp of Kidder’s friend and
associate, Earl Morris. Charles would lean out of the cockpit
to take pictures while Anne practiced her developing skills as a
pilot. Along one wall of Canyon de Chelly, they spotted a cluster
of rooms hidden in a large alcove just below the upper rim, dif-ficult
to detect from the ground. They carefully With archaeologist Omer Tatum (right), the Lindberghs search for a Canyon de Chelly cliff ruin that Charles had viewed from the air. courtesy yale university photographed its
The first aerial photographs of Arizona taken by the
Lindberghs gave scientists a better understanding
of the state’s unique landmarks, such as Meteor
Crater (above). courtesy yale university
During their flights, the Lindberghs marveled at the
splendor and serenity of the Grand Canyon (right).
courtesy museum of new mexico
In their flights over Arizona, Anne honed her piloting skills while Charles
leaned out of the cockpit to snap aerial photos. This image shows Canyon
del Muerto where it enters Canyon de Chelly in the northeastern corner of
the state. courtesy museum of new mexico
In a little over a week, the Lindberghs observed dozens of ancient pueblos,
like White House Ruins (in shadow, center of photograph), proving the
worth of aviation in archaeology. courtesy museum of new mexico
20 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
location before continuing east toward Kidder’s camp at Pecos.
Over the next several days, Kidder directed the Lindberghs in
flights across northern New Mexico to photograph known sites
and explore new areas. They treasured the simplicity of camp
life and the Navajo artwork they saw in Santa Fe. But passersby
began to wonder about the strange airplane, and eventually
reporters learned of their presence. The world was closing in
again. It was time to move on.
So Charles and Anne decided to make one last flight to drop
prints of their Canyon de Chelly photographs of the unknown
ruins into Morris’ camp from the air. As they prepared to
drop their package late on July 27, Charles spotted a cliff-edge
landing site. He set down and they followed a rough foot trail
to the canyon bottom. Unfortunately, Earl and Ann Morris had
left two days earlier to meet visitors in Farmington. But their
assistants, Oscar and Omer Tatum, and a young student named
Edward “Bud” Weyer Jr., quickly welcomed the famous strangers
Earlier that summer, the archaeologists had stocked up
on cheap tabloid newspapers to use as wrapping paper when
packaging artifacts. As a result, the glaring headlines of “Anne
and Lindy Married” covered the camp. Noting their guests’
embarrassment, Bud and Omer quickly hid the papers while
Oscar helped set up their bedrolls. After dinner, they all studied
Lindbergh’s aerial photographs and talked archaeology late
into the night. Charles and Anne were entranced by the beauty,
grandeur and quiet solitude of the canyons. Here they were no
longer celebrities. For perhaps the first time since their marriage,
they could truly relax. “I didn’t know it was possible really to get
away from things,” Anne observed wistfully. That night a storm
rolled in, filling the sky with lightning and coating the cliffs
with sheets of rainwater as the archaeologists and their visitors
slept beneath the cover of a large alcove.
In the morning, Bud and Omer joined Charles and Anne in a
search for the mysterious rim-top ruin the Lindberghs had spot-ted
from the air during their earlier flights. They climbed out
of the canyon and set out for Canyon de Chelly, but the outing
proved longer and rougher than expected as they pushed
through dense underbrush, scrambled across gullies and
checked their location against the photographs. They soon
ran out of water and were forced to drink from potholes in the
rocks. Shortly before noon, they finally located the ruin in the
northern face of Canyon de Chelly, hidden in a wide indenta-tion
below the rim. Here the ancestral Puebloans had walled off
a number of small alcoves to create a collection of cozy rooms.
After exploring their discovery and eating a brief lunch,
the group returned to camp.
Throughout the long hike, Anne impressed everyone by
keeping pace with her long-legged husband without complaining
or asking to rest. Upon their return, however, she removed her
boots to reveal silver-dollar-sized blisters on both feet. After a
short rest, the Lindberghs began their long journey home.
“How are the rice and curry holding out?” asked Oscar after
their famous guests had departed. “We want to be ready to receive
the King of Siam, case he comes riding up the canyon on the
back of an elephant.”
In a little over a week, the Lindberghs had observed dozens
of archaeological sites, discovered several new ones and created
an unprecedented photographic catalog of the ancient Southwest.
The project had successfully demonstrated the value of aviation
in archaeology, and the published reports by the Carnegie
Institution probably helped influence Congress and President
Hoover to establish Canyon de Chelly National Monument in 1931.
Moreover, the Lindberghs had briefly regained a sense of freedom.
Charles and Anne remained friends with the Kidders for many
years, and would reportedly slip into Winslow from time
to time to escape the public eye and remember the adventures
of their youth.
When he died in 1974, Charles Lindbergh requested that his
funeral ceremony include words from a Navajo prayer. Like the
archaeologists, he had come to Canyon de Chelly to hunt secrets,
but like the Navajos, found instead respite and refuge.
de Chelly National
Monument is near the
town of Chinle in the
heart of the Navajo
Getting There: From
Flagstaff, take Interstate
40 east 135 miles to Chambers near the
New Mexico border. At Chambers, take
U.S. Route 191 north 38 miles to Ganado.
From Ganado, take State Route 264
west for 6 miles and then drive north
again on U.S. 191 for 30 miles to the
Chinle turnoff at Navajo Route 7.
Hours: Visitors center is open daily,
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Additional Information: (928) 674-5500;
Using photographs for reference,
Charles and Anne check their location
in Canyon de Chelly.
courtesy yale university
Along with archaeologist Tatum, the
Lindberghs get a close look at Beehive Ruin
(above) in Canyon de Chelly.
courtesy yale university
The couple ended their trip when reporters
discovered the Lindberghs’ plane (left) at a
field camp in Pecos, New Mexico.
courtesy peabody museum of archaeology
and ethnology, harvard university, the
Historian Erik Berg of Phoenix has a special interest in the role of science
and technology in the American Southwest. He published a detailed account
of the Lindberghs’ archaeology adventures in the spring 2004 issue of the
Journal of Arizona History.
R aw Wo n d e r
“. . . I p rac t i c al ly l e v i t a ted
int o the g reat spa ce s
above A r izona when
I f i r s t d i s covered them
as a young man.”
An aer ial photographer i l luminates why h e t akes t o t h e sk y t o get c lo s e t o t h e land
To t e m P o l e a n d Ye i B i c h e i ,
Monument Va l l e y
“Shadows come to life when seen from the air, sometimes
stealing the show from the main subject. I can maneuver
in my little airplane to find just the right altitude and
distance to frame the Yei Bichei formation [right] and
Totem Pole [center] in their own shadows. “
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
A P O R T F O L I O B Y A D R I E L H E I S E Y
24 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 25
AAr i zo na m ay w e l l b e t h e b e s t s t a t e i n t h e u n i o n f o r f l y i n g .
That’s a bold thing to say, I know, but I’ve spent two decades of my life proving it. Coming from the murk and
muddle of Eastern skies, where I began my flying career, I practically levitated into the great spaces above Arizona
when I first discovered them as a young man. They held everything I cherished: the drama of weather, of land-form,
of civilizations old and new and air clear enough to take it in all at once.
Flying is what I do. It’s how I put bread on the table, and it’s also how I make sense of things. Add up all my
pilot time, and it goes well past a year spent looking down on the vast puzzle of our world from one cockpit or
another. Some fliers say that time in the sky doesn’t count against their allotted lifespan. A quaint notion, perhaps,
but for me there is indeed a feeling that I’ve somehow stepped out of the ordinary when I’m airborne. I can’t feel
tired or old or jaded. There’s too much raw wonder.
The trouble is that flying has become clinical. This is good for safety and reliability, but we risk making it so
efficient and purpose-driven that the joy is squeezed out. We think of flying as being synonymous with speed
and aloofness. What if it meant the opposite? What if you flew to get close to the land, to linger for understand-ing
and to savor its beauty? What if you really didn’t go anywhere but deeper into the place you already were by
experiencing it in greater wholeness? This, too, can be flying, and it is my favorite kind.
Arizona from above — the intimate, loving regard of a land beyond reckoning — is a personal encounter far
beyond the dimensions of our existence that moves us to quiet the chatter in our minds and remember our place
in the scheme of things. In flight, we find ourselves identified anew with the true character of our home, and
upon landing we are challenged to make good on our fresh understanding.
Bob Thompson Peak,
“The sky islands of southern Arizona are a
different world from the desert floor
below, especially in winter. The day
before I photographed this mountain
[left], blizzard conditions assailed the
peaks, while the San Pedro River valley
nearby received gentle winter rains. I was
in position at a valley airstrip the night
before clearing was forecast, and took off
in predawn gloom in hopes of finding
better conditions aloft. I discovered a
break in the clouds, and enduring the
sting of snow crystals on my face, climbed
to clear air above, where the splendor
of sunrise greeted a wintry world.”
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
Black Butte, Navajo Nation
“Camped in the remote Hopi Buttes of
northern Arizona, I used a little-traveled
dirt road as my runway, flying morning
and evening to photograph the volcanic
landscape [right] in the best light. A
Navajo family living nearby came over to
see my strange craft, and I didn’t
disappoint them; my plane is so skeletal
that you see virtually every part of the
machine in a casual walk-around. Later I
sent them a print of a photo I made of
their homesite — a lonely outpost in a
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
“What i f you f l ew
to get c los e to
the land, t o l inger
for unde r s t anding
and t o s avor
i t s b e aut y? ”
E ro s i o n i n P a r i a C a n y o n
“Sometimes looking straight down at the
floor of the land is an amazing aerial
vantage. This can be counterintuitive in a
place like Paria Canyon, where the great
rock walls first grab your attention. But
erosion, over time, leaves dazzling
patterns that are all but lost underfoot to
the earthbound hiker. As I flew between
the canyon rims to make this photograph,
I had to balance my attention between
the captivating scene below and the
looming rocks around me; this was no
time for ‘rapture of the heights.’ ”
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 29
“ Some f l ier s say t h a t
t ime i n the sk y doe sn’ t
count agai n s t thei r
al lot ted l i fe span .”
S a n t a C r u z R i v e r N e a r Tubac
“Never do I feel more like I’m riding a magic carpet than when flying over a desert river [above] early on a
summer morning. I smell the moist air rising from the treetops and feel the coolness still pooled
in the valley bottom. “
S P M o u n t a i n W i t h L a v a F l o w
“The high altitude necessary to show the lava flow and its
crater of origin together [below] also offered better flying
conditions. I found out the hard way that afternoon
winds across the volcanic landscape north of Flagstaff kick
up into rowdy turbulence closer to the ground.”
C o y o t e B u t t e s
“You would never know I was hanging on for dear life in
turbulent air by looking at this photograph [left], but the
wind was brisk as it flowed over the cliffs and canyons of
this rugged landscape. I struggled for a viewpoint that
would frame both the buttes and their shadows.
Returning safely to my landing strip at Lee’s Ferry that
evening felt like a new lease on life; rough air always stirs
a primal fear in me, no matter how experienced I become.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
P e l o n c i l l o M o u n t a i n s
“While flying in the Bowie area one
spring, I could see far out to the
northeast an unmistakable smear of
color across a distant mountain
range [above]. Consulting my maps,
I identified them as the Peloncillos,
and discovered they held a canyon
with this evocative name. On the
next morning’s flight, I found the
canyon’s namesake flower in full
glory. How long has this hidden
valley been growing wild stands of
poppies to be memorialized on the
L o s t W i l s o n M o u n t a i n a n d S t e r l i n g C a n y o n
“Flying around the rocks at Sedona [above] is great exercise for the imagination. Not only
are the colors and forms endlessly shifting, but the geology makes me feel like a mayfly. I
am waltzing through space that used to be solid rock.”
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
B a rc h a n D u n e s , N a v a j o N a t i o n
“Looking straight down is easy in my plane [left]. Just imagine leaning over in your desk
chair to find a paperclip you dropped on the floor, and you’ve got the basic motion. But
as I lean, my plane begins to bank, and then I have a clear view of what’s directly
beneath me. When I’ve made my shot, I level the wings, and if it was something special,
I’ll turn around and do it again.”
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
“ In f l ight , w e f ind our sel ve s ident i f ie d anew
wi t h the t rue chara c ter o f our home . . .”
Morn i n g T h u n d e r s t o r m
Appro a c h i n g S e d o n a
“Even nonpilots know that flying near thunderstorms
can be dangerous. But I learn to read the signs, like a
sailor reading the sea — and I always have an escape
plan. And then, sometimes, I’ll accept the risk and
move in for a ringside seat. On this late summer
morning near Sedona [left], I made it safely back to
the airport before the front hit, stowed my plane in its
trailer and enjoyed the storm’s arrival like any other
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
“ F l y in g i s . . . how I make sens e o f things .“
U p p e r R e a c h e s o f t h e
S a n t a C r u z R i v e r
“Flying over high desert grasslands [above] is a
different sensation than flying over the Grand
Canyon. I feel as if I could safely land anywhere
below me, at a moment’s notice, and my mood
becomes serene. I notice how my inner state
seems to mirror the topography below me. This
is not a video game. I am airborne, but by no
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
E a s t E n d o f t h e
“Special airspace restrictions over the Grand
Canyon keep pilots at high altitudes when they
cross it [left]. So as I soared 2 miles above the
chasm, bobbing in the currents, waves of awe
and fear washed through me without mercy. A
friend who flew with me once told me that
riding in my plane felt like teetering on a
thousand-foot-tall telephone pole. I never felt
that way at all — until I flew above the Canyon.”
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
34 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
of Beekeepers, artists and offbeat refugees prove that
there’s more to a community than geography
By Tom Carpenter
Photographs by David Zickl
state KILLER INSTINCTS
In a reinforced nylon suit, “Killer Bee Guy” Reed
Booth helps take the sting out of southern
Arizona’s Africanized bee population by moving
them out of harm’s way. (Just for fun, we added
the sting back in by “cloning” some extra bees in
the foreground.) Booth likens a killer-bee hive in
a residential setting to a rattlesnake on the back
porch, calling them “time bombs waiting to go
off.” When provoked, the aggressive insects are
renowned for their ability to take down
anything from humans to horses. In the right
environment though, killer bees can be a sweet
business. A higher metabolism (and the fact that
they work weekends and holidays) enables the
insects to produce twice as much honey, which
Booth bottles for his award-winning Killer B
brand of mustards, honey-butter — even lip balm.
Booth’s killer reputation won him an hour-long
spot on the “Discovery Channel” that will air
next fall. His risky bzzz-ness is also chronicled on
www.killerbeeguy.com, and throughout his
PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID ZICKL AND BILLIE JO BISHOP
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
Bisbee.Is it a place or a state of
mind? Rather than answer that question, perhaps we should
heed the octagonal sign at the intersection of Brewery Gulch
and Howell Avenue that has the word “trying” scrawled
across “STOP.” Perhaps, but it makes sense to move around
town and talk to some of the folks who call Bisbee home. If
they don’t know the answer, nobody does.
Ralph Rattelmueller speculates
that he is “quite possibly the last
independent grocer in America.”
He owns and operates Mimosa
Market, a hundred-year-old gro-cery
store located way up Brewery
He came to Bisbee the way
most folks do, the long way. He
had heard about Bisbee from his
brother, but had never visited.
Then, “I had a kid who worked
for me for a short time who was
from Bisbee. He was a very unique
person. He was just raised differ-ent.
He didn’t go to conventional
schools and he had a crazy laugh. He was a very happy guy,
and that just made me think about Bisbee some more.”
Ralph and his wife and daughter took a vacation to Bisbee.
“We had no intention of moving here. We were looking for
something — my wife and daughter and I — for something
to do. We were walking up here to see the Muheim [Heritage
House Museum] and we saw the store. My wife and I looked
at it and said, ‘We can do this.’ ” They had just enough money
from the sale of their home in Denver to buy the store.
“It’s a really different kind of place,” Ralph says. “We have
a lot of artists and writers and musicians here, and those
36 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
WATCH IT GROW
At Bisbee’s Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, Michael
Moore (above) plants the ancient seeds of healing know-how
into the minds of budding herbalists. The self-proclaimed
“practicing humanist” has been teaching the curative powers
of bushes and blooms for more than 25 years. Moore refers to
his notable plant pedagogy as “subclinical” treatment:
avoiding major medical mishaps through preventative and
balanced body care. What began as a simple form of
correspondence has blossomed into an art form for Kate
Pearson (far right) with fellow Bisbee artist and friend
Gretchen Baer, in the Postcard Room above her Naco Road
studio. “I don’t like to waste,” says the image-centric Pearson,
who has been amassing decorative minimail for 40 years. Her
carefully placed collection now exceeds 4,000 postcards.
38 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
are just the kind of people I’ve always gravitated toward
Before he and his wife moved to Bisbee four years ago,
they spent time in Hawaii. He says, “This place reminded
us of that. They call them ‘sky islands’ in Arizona. We have
pretty much an island lifestyle here.”
The Mule Mountains are the sky island upon which sits
Bisbee, the seat of Cochise County. Mount Ballard, eleva-tion
7,365 feet, is the highest point. The road to the Mule
Mountains is State Route 80 from Benson on Interstate 10,
through St. David and Tombstone. The road climbs to the
1,400-foot-long Mule Pass Tunnel, which was completed in
1958, then drops into Tombstone Canyon and Mule Gulch,
where Bisbee clings to both sides and fills the canyon floor.
Nobody in his right mind would build a town here with-out
a very good reason. For Bisbee, that good reason was
copper. The discovery story goes something like this: In
1877, an Army lieutenant named Anthony Rucker was on
patrol in the Mule Mountains with a platoon under his
command when the soldiers noticed evidence of minerals.
The town was founded in 1880 and named after DeWitt
Bisbee, a San Francisco financier who put up money to get
the Copper Queen mine operational. Within a year, the
rush was on, and by the early 1900s, the population hit
20,000. The Phelps Dodge Corp. ceased operation in Bisbee
in 1975, ending a mining era that extracted almost 3 mil-lion
ounces of gold and 8 billion pounds of copper from the
tunnels and open pits in and around Bisbee.
The tidiest place to learn about local history is the Bisbee
Mining & Historical Museum. The photographs and
exhibits provide a remarkable
glimpse of the good, the bad
and the ugly of Bisbee’s rich
past. The coolest and least tidy
place for a history lesson is the
Queen Mine tour that requires
visitors to don a slicker, hard-hat
and miner’s lamp before
boarding the miner’s train
that takes them into the chilly
mine for an hour-long under-ground
Although the population
has shrunk to fewer than 6,600,
reports of Bisbee’s demise have
proven premature. Today, it is
a unique artist and retirement
The brightly painted Adir-ondack
chairs outside the
Belleza Gallery on Main Street
are made by women enrolled
in the Women’s Transition
Project (WTP), which also
owns the Belleza Gallery. Lou
Anne Sterbick-Nelson is the
A retired attorney from
Tacoma, Washington, Sterbick-
TAKING CARE OF
George Bellinger and Lou Anne Sterbick-
Nelson (left) are known for applying their
strokes of creative genius to the canvas of
their community. Sterbick-Nelson manages
Belleza Gallery, which supports a shelter
and job training for women in need.
Bellinger, a featured Bizzart Gallery painter,
promotes global diversity through his work.
Barbara Johnson and Ralph Rattelmueller
(below left) are the latest in the succession
of hometown grocers to occupy 215
Brewery Gulch Road. The pair, along with
their daughter, recently took over Mimosa
Market, which imports worldly goods with
a local family- and pet-friendly flare.
Kristen Glover (below) waits on every man,
woman and child who steps into the
bustling Dot’s Diner for a bite of ’50s-style
fare and Glover’s renowned service with a
smile. John Palomina and Neta Chavez
(opposite page) just can’t seem to get out
of depth. The retired miners guide visitors
into Bisbee’s Copper Queen Mine.
bisbee state of mind
Whether you clap on a miner’s hardhat for an
underground mine tour or just meander the twisting
streets lined with shops, you’ll find something to occupy
you and the family in the old mining town of Bisbee. Just
be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes for climbing
the stairs that stretch up and down Bisbee’s canyon walls.
Greater Bisbee Chamber of Commerce: Information
about Bisbee lodging, dining, shopping and attractions.
One Main Street. (866) 224-7233 or (520) 432-5421. www.
bisbeearizona.com or www.discoverbisbee.com.
Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum: Journey through
the early days of Bisbee and explore the mining activities
that put the city on the map as one of the world’s richest
mineral sites. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. $5, adults;
$4.50, seniors; $2, children 16 and younger. 5 Copper
Queen Plaza. (520) 432-7071. www.bisbeemuseum.org.
Muheim Heritage House Museum: Guided tours take
visitors through the 19th-century home that was built
for Joseph and Carmelita Muheim. Open 10 a.m. to 4
p.m., Friday to Tuesday. $2 donation. 207 Youngblood Hill.
Copper Queen Mine Underground Tour and Lavender
Open Pit Mine Tour: Led by former Bisbee miners, the
underground Copper Queen tours last approximately 1
hour and 15 minutes and start at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon,
2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Dress warmly for your trip on the
mine train, since the mine’s depths stay at 47 degrees.
The underground tour is $12 plus tax, adults; $5 plus tax,
ages 4 to 15; and free, children under 4. Reservations
are suggested. After exploring the Copper Queen Mine,
visitors can tour the massive Lavender Open Pit Mine. The
13-mile narrated van tour takes visitors to the 1,000-foot-deep,
300-acre mine; departure times are 10:30 a.m.,
noon, 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Van tours are $10 plus tax per
person; children under 4 are free. Tours leave from the
Queen Mine Tour Building located immediately south
of Old Bisbee’s business district, off the State Route 80
interchange. (520) 432-2071 or (866) 432-2071. www.
Old Bisbee Repertory Theater: In a converted early 1900s
church in the Historic District, you can enjoy an afternoon
high tea or an evening at the theater. On weekends, high
tea is served from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dinner theater begins
at 5 p.m., with performances starting at 7:30 p.m. Call for
reservations and prices. 94 Main St. (520) 432-9064 or
(520) 234-6732; www.bisbeerep.com.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
things to do in bisbee
40 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
Nelson came to Bisbee several years ago with her husband.
She got involved with the Women’s Transition Project to
help address the lack of a shelter or treatment facility for
women in Cochise County.
“I joined the board,” Sterbick-Nelson says, “and decided
to write grants. The WTP provides a transitional home for
single women and women with children, most of whom
have been victims of homelessness, domestic violence and
The WTP provides the women with housing and the
opportunity to get back on their feet emotionally and
financially. All net profits from gallery sales go to the WTP.
Seventy percent of the artists represented are local. The
high quality of the work, the way the light spills in the front
windows and the homemade sweets she keeps on hand, all
contribute to a soothing and inspirational atmosphere. “I
love it here,” Sterbick-Nelson says. “It is a holy place.”
George Bellinger meets both criteria of the quintessential
Bisbee citizen. He is an artist and a retiree — after a career as
a designer and painter. Of retirement he says, “I’ve lived in
Los Angeles and Paris, but I’ve never been busier in my life.”
He lives high on the hillside overlooking Brewery Gulch in
a small house once occupied by Cornish hard-rock miners.
The steps to his house, like every other home in Old Bisbee,
are many and steep. Lumber is stacked on his porch. He
plans to expand.
He first came to Bisbee seven years ago with a friend whose
hobby is to experience fine dining around the world. His
friend read somewhere that Cafe Roka in Bisbee is the best
dining experience in the Southwest. They came to Bisbee
and ate at the restaurant. “I remember thinking, ‘Interesting.
The countryside looks slightly European, but not quite. I
wonder who lives here?’ And that was the end of it.”
Six years later, his son called him to say he and his wife
were living on 13 acres in southern Arizona and were plan-ning
to adopt a child. Would George be interested in mov-ing
nearby to play “grandpapa?”
“ ‘Find me an interesting place to live nearby,’ I told him,”
George says. “He said, ‘What about Bisbee?’ and I said, ‘No,
no, no. Bisbee is over the hill and over the dale.’ ”
Finally, George agreed to the move and asked his son to
find him a miner’s shack with running water, heat and an
indoor toilet. “The second day I was here, I went on my
porch, and there were irises and chocolate chip cookies and
other assorted things to welcome me to this place. Who are
Now he knows. “I walk down to the post office to get my
mail, and it takes me two hours. Everybody seems to know
everybody. This is a community in the extraordinary sense
of that word. This is an American community, albeit made
up of disparate parts from everywhere. It is the most diverse
place that I have ever lived.”
Ralph Rattelmueller agrees. “It’s the most wonderful com-munity
I’ve ever lived in my life. My favorite definition
of community I read in some other book: ‘A community
is any group of people that cares more about each other
than they have to.’ It’s not about people holding each other
accountable, like in so much of suburban America. We hold
ourselves accountable, and we help each other out.”
Even a single visit to Bisbee leaves an indelible mark.
Whether it’s a night spent in the Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell
vintage trailer park, or fried chicken for lunch at Dot’s
Diner, or a performance by the Bisbee Community Chorus,
mention Bisbee to others, and those who know will try to
explain that Bisbee is both a place and a state of mind. Now,
for us, when someone asks us the same question, we can tell
what we know or heed the sign and “STOP trying.”
Location: Bisbee is approximately
90 miles southeast of Tucson.
Getting There: From Tucson take Interstate
10 to Benson. Take Exit 303 onto State
Route 80 south approximately 49 miles,
through Tombstone to Bisbee.
Lodging: Canyon Rose Suites, toll-free, (866)
296-7673; www.canyonrose.com.; Copper Queen
Hotel, (520) 432-2216; www.copperqueen.com.; Shady Dell RV Park,
(520) 432-3567; www.theshadydell.com.; School House Inn B&B, toll-free,
(800) 537-4333; www.virtualcities.com/ons/az/b/azb4501.htm.
Dining: Cafe Roka, (520) 432-5153; www.caferoka.com;
Hot Licks Barbecue and Blues Saloon, (520) 432-7200.
Additional Information: www.bisbeemarquee.com.
bisbee state of mind
Crossing the finish line in downtown Bisbee. MARTY CORDANO
Tom Carpenter lives in Flagstaff, but yearns for a Bisbee state of mind.
David Zickl of Fountain Hills got swarmed and took a stinger on the
chin while photographing Reed Booth, the Killer Bee Guy, for this story.
Bisbee offers one of the best small-town Fourth of July
celebrations in the Southwest, but don’t plan on driving
down Main Street first thing in the morning, unless
you’re between the ages of 9 and 16 and behind the
steering wheel of a gravity-powered coaster.
The Bisbee Coaster Race begins at the east end of
town, at the underpass to State Route 80, at an elevation
of 5,650 feet, winds down through Tombstone Canyon
and ends near the post office on Main Street, elevation
5,350 feet. With a 300-foot drop in 1.5 miles, racers can
reach 50 mph in a little over 2.5 minutes.
Started in 1914, the Bisbee Coaster Race has had its
ups and downs during the ensuing decades, but since
1993 it has been an annual event that attracts thousands
of spectators to watch the exhilarating race down Main
www/0501/004.php. —Tom Carpenter
Local musician Buzz Pearson plays it cool in Bisbee’s Royal
Mansion, a 33-foot 1951 Spartan trailer. The Royal Mansion is
one of many themed classic trailers available for overnight
stays at the famous Shady Dell RV Park. With the mansion’s
vintage music accessories and funky decor, Pearson, known
for his brand of blues and “funky soul,” is right at home. Buzz
and The Soul Senders perform frequently throughout
42 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
what am I doing here? I am so afraid of heights
that I often sedate myself for commercial flights. Yet,
here I am loosely strapped into one of the holes of a
red biplane, taxiing down a dirt runway.
The wheels pull up from the desert floor, and we
rise into the clear southern Arizona sky. Larry, the pilot, says
it is a good day for flying, but I imagine he feeds all his patrons
that line. He also mentions something about how I can pick
my thrill level: One thumb up means I’m having fun, two
thumbs up means he should make it even more exciting. Not
likely. Just flying in a straight line at 100 mph in an 80-year-old
biplane sounds like all the excitement I can stand.
Despite my qualms, flying is in my blood. A yellowed
newspaper clipping details how my great-great-great-grandmother,
Jane Uppington Langley, celebrated her 90th
birthday in 1929 with a flight in an open-cockpit biplane much
like the one I’d strapped myself into (except mine’s a relic, hers
was brand new). Other clippings document the subsequent
flights she took over the next seven years and the fuss she
made that her sons refused to fly.
The only other jarhead in the family besides ground-loving
me was also a pilot — my great-uncle, Bob Scott. He delighted
in flying right up until his death a year ago, enjoying the
clouds and the freedom that comes with soaring high above
So, with the propeller rumbling and my nerves restless, I
take some comfort in imagining that Bob and Jane might be
watching over me.
Suddenly, I am Frank Luke and Eddie Rickenbacker rolled
into one, soaring through the desert sky and inhaling a new
perspective on life.
Medal of Honor recipient and Phoenix native Frank Luke
Jr., for whom Luke Air Force Base is named, shot down four
airplanes and 14 German balloons in a 17-day spree during
World War I. The feat earned Luke the nickname “Arizona
Balloon Buster” and made him the Ace of all American Aces,
second only to Rickenbacker. However, Luke died shortly after
his illustrious piloting career began. I only hoped that Larry
and I would have better luck than Luke and make it from
runway to runway in one piece. Or, at least alive.
Something gets into me a few minutes later, however. I think
it is courage. Maybe it is just stupidity. In any case, I put first
one, then two thumbs in the air.
“What did I do that for?” I mumble immediately.
“It’s okay,” replies Uncle Bob in my head.
Larry acknowledges my psychotic moment by graciously
executing a maneuver I can only describe as the hold-onto-your-
butt death dive — a nose-down half-spiral that hurls the
plane at the ground. I try to yell the ground away, but it doesn’t
help. The desert floor races toward me.
What was I thinking? What made my thumbs stick up?
What made me crawl into this archaic contraption?
Miraculously, we level off and fly across Yuma, passing over
perfectly manicured date farms jutting from the desert and the
border town of Algodones, Mexico. Larry waggles the wings,
like he said he would, as we fly over an intaglio. The desert
drawing, known as Intaglio Man, gives me a thumbs up sign.
Helplessly, I follow suit and give Larry two thumbs again. He
obliges with a series of terrifying twists and turns. For some
inexplicable reason, I pump my foolish thumbs several more
times, drunk on adrenaline.
Forty-five minutes later, Larry eases the red biplane onto
the dirt runway with a landing that’s smoother than any
commercial flight I’ve ever sweated through. After taxiing a
short distance to Tillamook Air Tours’ roadside stand, I climb
out a changed person. I’m addicted and want to go up again. I
want to wear the leather helmet until it dry rots atop my bald
head and flies away into the wind.
Unfortunately, my budget won’t allow it.
So, I unstrap the leather helmet, take off the goggles and
brown bomber jacket and walk away — but, only because I must.
Before leaving the airport, I watch the red biplane climb
into the sky again. As the plane flies overhead, I almost see my
Grandma Jane put two thumbs in the sky. Uncle Bob obliges
and they go looping off into the cloudless blue sky — leaving
me with only the memory of our recent flight together and the
hope that one day descendants of my own will muster enough
courage to climb in, take off and throw two thumbs to the
Location: Somerton Airport, 10 miles southwest of Yuma, on U.S. Route 95.
Additional Information: Tillamook Air Tours, (928) 941-4964.
Gives Thumbs Up
to a Biplane Ride
by Clint Van Winkle illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler along the way
Shop online at shoparizonahighways.com
or call our toll-free number 1-800-543-5432.
You can also stop by our our retail outlet:
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009, (602) 712-2200
The Insider’s Arizona Guidebook
Author David N. Mitchell, Photographs by Arizona Highways Contributors
A comprehensive guide to the entire state, includes maps, directions, local
attractions, a lot of history, two dozen always-scenic and usually historic
drives, short hikes and sidebars alerting travelers to shopping ops and local
curiosities. Author David N. Mitchell reports on valuable tips for planning
your own travel. Softcover. 416 pages.
Our newest guidebook for the special price of $20.65 (#AGBS5)
Use Promo Code #8302-MKT7
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‘‘This state is a permanent Fourth of July
display of color, character, charisma,
charm, and, oh yes, cactus.’’
44 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 45
by John Rodgers photograph by Steve Bruno hike of the month
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.
V EKOL VALLE Y
Santa Cruz River
in the clear air of dawn
a mile and a half uptrail,
valleys emerge from the
shadows, counterpointing a
panorama to the far horizon.
For uncounted millennia,
these ridges and peaks have
yielded to the power of
gravity and time. Carved by a
leisurely exfoliation and
buried in their own bajadas,
they are unmoved by the
huddled lights of two Tohono
O’odham villages shining
from tucks in the hills.
A gathering of friends set
out by starlight from camp,
beneath the long scrolling tail
of Scorpius, on the trail that
crawls across the southwest
face of Table Top Mountain.
This wilderness lies within a
corner of the vast but little-known
National Monument, a
beautiful desolation of
volcanic peaks and
serpentine arroyos south of
Interstate 8 between Tucson
Toward the end of the 16-
mile dirt road that leaves
Interstate 8 and climbs out of
A flat, winding path
and a rock staircase climb
to reveal a windswept vista
the Vekol Valley, the
landscape sheds the centuries
to reveal a richer, more
pristine version of the cattle-trodden
lower flats. Lush,
upland plants mingle with
desert-varnished basalt and
intricate mosaics of desert
stand alert on saguaros;
ravens sweep the cliff and
canyon; and flitting
phainopeplas pluck insects
from the air. Beneath the dark
heights of Table Top
Mountain, the road circles
through a campground
containing three sites with
picnic tables and fire rings
and a roofed brick structure
enclosing a toilet.
From the campground, the
3.5-mile trail to the summit of
Table Top Mountain begins
inside a gate and follows a flat,
winding track through green
stands of chainfruit cholla,
saguaro cacti and foothills
paloverde trees. The yellow
blooms of creosote bushes and
brittlebushes and the clustered
red-orange flowers of ocotillos
fire their color against the
eroded hills of black basalt.
At the half-mile mark, the
trail crosses a small wash and
meanders up a ridge. A mile
farther, beyond ancient
ironwood trees in a trenched
wash, the gradient increases.
At 2.2 miles, a challenging
section begins, a staircase of
rocks embedded in caliche
creates a miniature arroyo
carved by boots and running
water. From here to the top,
vistas open up on all sides.
At 2.6 miles, on the far side
of a rugged washed-out area
of red shale, the final climb
unfolds with a series of
switchbacks. A chimney of
basalt rises there on the north
side of the trail, an aerie to
the peregrine falcon that
soars high above. With rain,
these upper slopes support
and the blue efflorescence of
larkspurs, as well as yuccas
and century plants. The last
section passes ancient 3-foot-high
stone walls of unknown
origin before wandering onto
the 4,356-foot peak. From
this 40-acre saddle it is
possible to view the Santa
Catalinas, Baboquivari, the
Superstitions and a score of
Relax on the return trip
and let your eyes sweep
across the stark beauty of this
vast windblown vista; behold
the slow motion of rock
forever shedding itself, grain
by grain, across the eons.
A saguaro forest greets hikers as
they climb the Table Top Mountain
trail. The hardy saguaro cactus has
an average lifespan of 150 to 175
Table Top years and can grow to 40 feet tall.
Length: 3.5 miles.
Elevation Gain: 2,057 feet.
Payoff: Views of the Santa Catalina, Baboquivari and Superstition
Location: 93 miles northwest of Tucson; 80 miles south of Phoenix.
Getting There: From Tucson: Drive north on Interstate 10 to Interstate
8 and go west about 28 miles to Exit 144. The 15-mile drive south from
Exit 144 is marked by small arrows on slender 4-foot signs at several
junctures. Keep right at the first fork, at about 2.1 miles. At 7.8 miles,
wind past an old barn and continue south. The surface turns rough
beginning at the 11.8-mile turnoff to the left, marked by a corral and
yellow cattle crossing. Stay right from there to the campground and
trailhead. From Phoenix: South on I-10, to I-8 and go about 28 miles
west to Exit 144. Proceed the same as from Tucson.
Travel Advisory: To reach the trailhead, a high-clearance vehicle
is necessary. Always carry plenty of water, at least 1 gallon per day
per person. Hike this trail in early spring, fall and winter. The trail
is virtually impassable in wet weather.
Additional Information: Arizona Bureau of Land Management,
(623) 580-5500; www.blm.gov/az/rec/tabletop.htm.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
by Tom Kuhn photographs by George Stocking back road adventure
heat waves from the
afternoon sun bounced back
from the bone-white adobe
walls of the former Agua
Caliente Hotel. The heat
reached under the carport
roof where Coit Hughes, 82,
of Phoenix, a retired real
estate lawyer, farm owner and
scion of an Arizona pioneer
political family, explained
why he still lavished money
on the old place.
“I keep it up because I don’t
want it to go away,” he said of
the once-popular geothermal
spa where foreigners and the
famous soaked in mineral
springs. Arizona’s first
governor, George W.P. Hunt,
was a guest. So were Buffalo
Bill Cody and lots of Army
officers after the hotel was
commandeered during World
“This is a place where all
the politicians going to Yuma
stopped,” including his father,
Coit Inges Hughes, he
recalled. Opened in 1897, the
22-room hotel closed after
farm wells pumped its
thermal springs dry.
“I retaliated by drilling wells
and drying up their wells,”
Hughes said with a smile.
Now hot water flows again at
110 degrees, but he has no
plan to reopen.
Today the town of Agua
Caliente is considered a desert
curiosity destination for those
seeking back-road adventure
and uncommon sights. It
represents one understated
high point of a 200-mile loop
that begins at Phoenix on
Interstate 10 and snakes
through sparse Sonoran
Desert, past abandoned mines,
spectacular geology and
strange rock art near the
mining ghost town of Sundad.
Leave Interstate 10 at the
Buckeye Exit 112, drive 5.8
miles south on State Route 85
and turn west onto Hazen
Road, also signed Old
Highway 80. Drive 4 miles to
Hassayampa, then 6 miles to
Arlington, and 5.4 miles to the
signed turnoff for the Agua
Caliente Road. At .6 of a mile,
bear right onto the graded
nearly all-dirt road that mostly
travels through U.S. Bureau of
Land Management public
lands, and poses no problem
for low-clearance vehicles.
About 9.5 miles after
leaving pavement, Agua
Caliente Road crosses the
Southern Pacific tracks and
turns westward through
sparse paloverde and creosote
bush desert. Have water and a
good spare tire onboard.
A large rusty storage tank 6
miles beyond the rail crossing
marks the location of the
abandoned Dixie Mine. The
surrounding area is popular
with rock hounds looking for
agates, but avoid the open
Mark and Melanie
Hoffmeyer of Mesa, both
former Air Force noncoms,
started before the heat and by
midmorning, had collected a
bottleful of the oddly marked
stones. “Our goal,” said Mark,
“is to create a lamp with sliced
Beyond the agate fields,
1,358-foot Fourth of July
Butte, reportedly named
by picnickers in the 1890s,
and 2,215-foot Yellow
Medicine Butte — both part
of the Gila Bend Mountain
chain — present prominent
landmarks. Agua Caliente
Road travels through low
mountain curves, gaining
300 feet of elevation through
Yellow Medicine Butte Pass,
then loses 500 feet as it settles
back into the low desert.
Watch on the south side of
the road 18.1 miles past
Fourth of July Butte for
modern rock art comprised of
a large anchor, star, cross and
circles where a 1.5-mile four-wheel-
drive side road leads to
the ghost town of Sundad.
Some crumbled foundations
and a shaft remain. Tailings
are visible from the road.
Montezuma Head, the most
striking landmark around,
lies southeast of Sundad. The
“head” appears as a monolithic
sculpture chiseled into 1,863-
foot Face Mountain.
From Sundad, the road
descends into the Hyder Valley
farming district. At just a little
over 5 miles, turn left (south)
at 555th Avenue. Continue 4.6
miles past the jojoba farms to
Hyder Road, across the
railroad tracks. Turn right
(west) and drive approximately
4.3 miles to 76th Avenue East,
a paved road that runs south
over the saddle of Agua
Caliente Mountain, and into
the town of Agua Caliente.
Once in Agua Caliente,
remain on the pavement for
1.2 miles, past a sprinkling of
houses. An old one-room
schoolhouse built of local lava
rock sits on one side of the
road and the Agua Caliente
Hotel, the largest building
around, on the other. Both are
on Hughes’ private property,
where trespassers are
Some guidebooks list Agua
Caliente as a ghost town, but
that’s only partly true. The
town straddles the line
between Yuma and Maricopa
counties. That was an
important difference when
one county’s drinking laws
were more liberal than the
other’s. The Yuma side is lived
in. Most of the hotel and the
ghost town repose in
The road passes by the hotel
and in .2 of a mile reaches the
scattering of old foundations
and dilapidated walls that
mark the remains of old Agua
In Hot Water AGATE HAVEN
The sun rises over saguaro cacti
and paloverde trees that dot the
foothills of the Gila Bend
Mountains along Agua Caliente
Road. The area is popular with
rock hounds searching for agates
near Fourth of July Butte.
Built of local lava rock, the
sits empty in the old
settlement of Agua Caliente.
46 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
Agua Caliente Road Winds Past Agate Fields, Rock Art and a Ghost
Town to a Closed Hotel Once Known for Thermal Mineral Springs
Agua Caliente Rd. 85
GIL A B END MO UN TA IN S
Yellow July Butte
Agua Caliente Rd.
Painted Rocks Reservoir
To Casa Grande
Old Hwy. 80
76th Ave. East
Caliente. The Agua Caliente
Pioneer Cemetery, in use since
the 1890s, still accepts new
arrivals, but the deserted town
offers no services beyond
those offered by good
About .6 of a mile past the
hotel, turn right (south) and
drive for 8 miles on Agua
Caliente Road, a paved road
that crosses the usually dry
Gila River to Sentinel, where
services and fuel are available
at Exit 87 on Interstate 8. On
the way, you’ll cross the
Sentinel Plain Lava Flow, a
broad tumble of lava
boulders — the largest lava flow in Arizona. Explorer
Juan Bautista de Anza, the
first European to discover a
backcountry route between
Mexico and California,
followed the Gila River near
the Agua Caliente area in 1775.
At Sentinel, the loop drive
returns to Interstate speed.
But consider adding 21 more
miles round-trip and an extra
hour by leaving I-8 at Exit
102, and traveling north on
Painted Rocks Road to see the
prehistoric petroglyph field at
Painted Rocks, a pay
campground maintained by
the Bureau of Land
Management. One of the best
archaeological sites in the
state, it offers shaded picnic
tables, water and toilets.
Back on I-8, continue east
to Gila Bend, where services
and lodging are available, and
then drive 37 miles north on
State 85 back to I-10 and east
into Phoenix. Plan a 10-hour
day for this trip.
On the way to Agua
Caliente, you’ll ride the gold
road to old mines, and it won’t
be hard to imagine the likes of
Buffalo Bill Cody rocking on
the porch of the old Agua
Caliente Hotel, a stone’s throw
from where conquistadores
trekked into history.
The Agua Caliente Pioneer
Cemetery appears forlorn along
the road heading out of town.
Vehicle Requirements: Two-wheel
drive, low clearance okay.
Warning: Beware of poisonous
reptiles. Carry plenty of water;
October through April offers the
coolest weather for this drive.
Avoid abandoned mine shafts,
and carry a spare tire and a
shovel. Map the route, and check
road and weather conditions
before making the drive. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
know your plans. Odometer
readings in the story may vary.
48 j a n u a r y 2 0 0 7
The Sentinel Plain Lava Flow,
the largest in Arizona, lies along
Agua Caliente Road. The massive
flow brimmed from a volcano
less than 2 million years ago
during the Pleistocene Epoch.
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> From Phoenix, drive west on Interstate 10 to Buckeye Exit 112.
> Turn left (south) onto State Route 85 and drive 5 miles to Hazen
Road (also marked Old Highway 80). Turn right (west) and follow the
road for 4 miles to Hassayampa and another 6 miles to Arlington. Pass
the small town of Arlington and drive 5.4 miles to Agua Caliente Road.
> Turn right onto Agua Caliente Road and go .6 of a mile, where the
pavement ends; bear right onto the graded road.
> After 9.5 miles on the graded road, the road crosses the Southern
Pacific Railroad tracks. Another 6 miles beyond the tracks, a rusted
tank along the side of the road marks the old Dixie Mine.
> Continue along the road for another 18 miles through a series
of small mountain curves to the rough road (marked by white rocks
formed in the shapes of an anchor, cross and star) that leads to Sundad.
Continue for another 5 miles to 555th Avenue and turn left (south);
follow for 4.6 miles to Hyder Road, just across the railroad tracks.
Turn right and drive 4.3 miles to 76th Avenue East and turn left.
> Follow this road through the mountain pass into Agua Caliente,
passing the old schoolhouse, hotel and cemetery. Drive approximately
another mile to Agua Caliente Road and turn right following the road
for another 8 miles to Interstate 8 at Sentinel.
> Follow I-8 for 28 miles to Gila Bend and State 85. Drive north on
85 for 37 miles to I-10. Drive east to Phoenix to complete the loop.
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