Historic Tour: Stroll Through Old Town Scottsdale
M A R C H 2 0 0 7
contents march 2007
Beyond their ability to fly, birds, bats,
butterflies and bees share in their capacity to
conduct a symphony of desert blooms. This
month, imbibe the fruits of their labor and
take a walk on the wildflower side of the
Sonoran Desert with our expanded wildflower-viewing
guide. Visit arizonahighways.com
and click on our March “Trip Planner.”
HUMOR Our writer compares apples
and oranges to golf and meatloaf.
WEEKEND GETAWAY Fabulous food, fine art
and plenty of family fun — Scottsdale has it all.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan a trip
with our calendar of events.
RED ROCK BLUES A
ray of sunset light, aimed
laserlike at Cathedral Rock
out of a cloud-laden Sedona
sky, resulted in this dramatic,
captured on film. See portfolio,
page 22. peter schwepker
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on opposite page.
FRONT COVER Filtered light
lends an ethereal quality to the
translucent wings and delicate
antennae and proboscis of a
nectaring sulphur butterfly. See
story, page 8. joyce berquist
BACK COVER Velvet mesquite
trees reign over a bacchanalian
festival of Mexican goldpoppies,
indigo-blue lupines and reddish-purple
owl clover in the Quinlan
Mountains on the Tohono
O’odham Indian Reservation. See
story, page 8. jack dykinga
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on opposite page.
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 www.magazineprints.com.
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
Eternal question: Fish or take pictures?
Re-creating photographs on canvas
by jerry sieve
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Explore Arizona oddities,
attractions and pleasures.
42 ALONG THE WAY
Revenge of the Birdlady.
44 HIKE OF THE MONTH
A chorus of birds, bighorns and
breezes serenades on Rose Peak.
46 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
Search for Saddle Mountain
wildflowers turns into a
mud hole too far.
8 Bees Gotta Buzz
Sonoran spring has sprung — cue the pollinators.
by frank jennings
15 Flower Trips
Five places to wallow in flower power.
by michael famigliet ti
20 Eye for Love
Bug-eyed butterflies flutter on the ultraviolet side.
by cheryl a. sweet
pollinators p o r t f o l i o
22 Earth, Rain, Wind and Sun:
Nature’s Dramatic Concerto
Paradise for a photographer in search of dazzling images.
writ ten and photographed by peter schwepker
32 Risen River
Tres Rios Nature Festival celebrates the comeback
gurgle of the Gila. by robin n. clayton
34 Pursuit of Truth
The facts get trampled in a thrilling chase of three reckless
bandits. by leo w. banks / illustration by kevin kibsey
38 Great Scott!
History tour of Old Town Scottsdale would please
and confound its founder. by jackie dishner /
photographs by don b. and ryan b. stevenson
2 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
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MARCH 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 3
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fishing pole in hand, camera at the dangle, I stand on the
fan deck of my rented houseboat surveying the glitter of the
lengthening light on the waters of Lake Powell.
Fish or take pictures?
Fish or take pictures?
Fish or take pictures?
The question seems fraught with significance, a touchstone
to the haphazard improvisation of my life — the crumbling
keystone to my character.
Either that, or I’m indulging in irritating overanalysis.
But here’s the thing.
I’m a passionately mediocre fisherman.
And an intensely so-so photographer.
And I cannot tell if I just need to focus or if I am mediocre
by nature with a short attention span that has condemned me
to a lifetime of unimpressive competence at an impressive list
But for years past, I have always equivocated at this
moment when the light is saturated and the fish are satiated,
skittering back and forth between my passions like an engaged
man sneaking out to a singles bar out of a pathetic fear of
Suddenly decisive, I set down my camera and stride down
the gangplank across an expanse of sand to reach a peninsula
made of swirled, fossilized sand dunes.
I spend the next hour, casting and retrieving and working
the shoreline as I plunk a pale plastic worm with an engaging
double tail into a reflective back bay of possibility. I get only
ambiguous nibbles, but at intervals a striped bass pursuing
a stray shad breaks the surface with a glimmer and a plop,
egging me ever on.
Then the wind dies. In the sudden stillness, I notice that
the reddening buttes and the shadowed shreds of the sky are
reflecting perfectly in the mirrored surface of the inlet to my right.
I am instantly seized by a lust for that image.
I throw down my fishing pole and without reflection, run back
to the houseboat, seize my camera and sprint back to my spot.
The wind has resumed, spoiling the sky’s mirror. No matter.
I will wait. The wind will die.
In that moment, a boil of striped bass feeding on shad breaks
the surface to my left. Shad are little minnowlike baitfish that
form the basis of the underwater food chain in this 186-mile-long
reservoir. Striped bass hunt together to herd schools of
shad into tight bunches near the lake surface or up against the
shoreline so that the voracious bass can tear into the struggling
mass. I have seen expert bass fishermen cast repeatedly into
such a mass and pull in big stripers with every cast.
So I put down my camera, seize my pole and cast toward the
now-vanished stir in the water. I cast four times without result.
The wind dies. The reflection returns.
I put down my pole and take up my camera.
Right in front of me, the water erupts into a shimmer of shad.
I grab my pole and cast.
The wind comes up. The shad vanish.
Suddenly, the water comes alive again opposite my position
where the striped bass have trapped the shad right up against
the shore. Desperate to escape, a silvery shad leaps out of the
water up onto the muddy beach. It quivers there, all quicksilver
I drop my pole and my camera and run around the small
cove toward the desperately dying shad. I sink into the mud
to my calves as I flounder to reach the dying fish. I find it
iridescently alive and so grab it and cast it back into the lake,
where life and bass await.
Then I flail back through the muck, extract my flip-flops
from the bottom of the bog of my footprints and return to my
camera and fishing pole, having missed both the perfect light
and the pack of bass.
And so, neither fishing nor photographing, I sit perfectly still
as the darkness gathers, the wind dies and the silence deepens.
Now and then, the soft plop of the last bass in the last light
carries to me across 200 yards of dark water.
And in that moment, I am passionately mediocre, but
The Eternal Choice:
Fish or Take Pictures?
Saved From the Mobs
I watched televison and wondered
if I really missed anything after last
Thanksgiving, as Black Friday mobs
trampled each other for “bargains.” Oh,
well, bring in the mail. Then I opened
your gifts. Plural, of course — stunning
beauty and soaring words. Can there
be a better offering from one friend to
another? I think not. Thank you, one
and all, for the “Greeting Card” to my
world in the December 2006 issue.
— Rita Ryan Micklish, La Mesa, CA
Ode to Shelton
Richard Shelton was my poetry teacher
at the University of Arizona in 1978
and 1979. I admired him when I was
his student. He worked tirelessly with
the students, encouraging us always
and “teasing out” the best writing
we had to offer. I knew then that as a
published author, he probably had a lot
of important things to do, but I always
felt he gave me all the time and attention
I needed. His poem “Five Lies About the
Moon” (December ’06) demonstrates
the incredible talent of Mr. Shelton: his
authentic voice, his level of comfort in
revealing the quirky way he sees the
world, his sense of humor, his keen
sense of observation, his empathy and
his love of nature. Reading the poem, I
felt like I was visiting with an old friend.
— Dana (Rudner) Denney, Tucson
Reflections on Pearl Harbor
Two comments after reading “Black
Tears Still Seep” (“Along the Way,”
December ’06): It is important to note
that the Rt. Rev. Julius W. Atwood, the
Episcopal Bishop of Arizona, gave the
invocation prior to the launching on
June 19, 1915. To quote his diary of
that date, “Gave the Invocation at the
launching of the battleship Arizona in
New York.” As a personal aside, I wish
the article’s author had, indeed, been
able to visit the U.S.S. Arizona. He might
have experienced, as did my wife and
I, the awesome wonder of visiting the
burial site of many hundreds of its crew.
He would have “heard” the silence of
the normally raucous tourists as we all
stood topside and remembered President
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words now
etched in our minds, “. . . a date which
will live in infamy . . . .”
— Rolfe B. Chase, Prescott
The Grandest Story
Thanks for the thoughtful, insightful
article, “The Grandest Gym,” by Lawrence
W. Cheek (“Along the Way,” November
’06). His premise that as humans we lose
by trying to reduce nature to something
that can be measured by our own human
limitations is right on target. I’ve put this
article in my personal “Words of Wisdom”
file to refer to again and again. I hope we’ll
read more from him soon.
— Jan Gulledge, Fort Myers, FL
Best Holiday Issue Ever
The December 2006 issue is the best holiday issue
ever! What a treasure. The explanation on page 2 of
how the issue came about is downright eloquent. I am
sending copies to all of my friends across the country.
I hope you printed more than usual because I am sure
everyone who reads this issue will feel the same way.
Kudos to you and your staff and a great big thank you.
— Sandy Futch, Tempe
Longing for Home
Your beautiful article, “Edge of Transformation,” in the
December 2006 issue almost moved me to tears. High
compliments indeed! I lived in Arizona but now live in
Texas and miss Arizona so much it literally hurts. Your article brought that feeling to the
page, of feeling alive and connected to a place of beauty and fear. I feel alive in Arizona in
a way that I could never feel here. Hopefully, I’ll make my way home again someday for
good — if my boyfriend would just decide that Arizona is the place for him, not Texas!
— Annie Fitzsimmons, Dallas, TX
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
Late light on a Lake Powell
inlet illuminates the tough
choice facing any photo-fisherman.
all who wander by Peter Aleshire, editor
For more letters, see arizonahighways.com (click o online n “Letters to the Editor”).
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4 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
by Jerry Sieve, guest columnist viewfinder
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
in the 30 years i’ve roamed arizona
photographing its wonderful landscape, I’ve
experienced thousands of beautiful scenes.
Now I’m a painter, too. And for the past four years
I’ve been re-creating my photographs on canvas.
Because of this dual role, I’ve learned plenty from
both sides of the camera and palette.
I have no plans to give up photography. Certain
images make stronger expressive statements as
photographs than as paintings — and vice versa.
Some of my landscape photographs improved when I
re-created them on canvas. The truth is, I’ve learned
much from studying the techniques of the masters of
both photography and painting.
My photographic influences come from the work of
Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Edward Curtis,
while the styles of Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Corot
hold artistic sway over my painting. These masters
have helped me learn to “see” the world in a particular
way. This is the key word — to “see” the world.
In 18 years of teaching photo workshops, I have
stressed that the camera lens does not see in the same
way as the human eye-brain connection. Some have
a hard time understanding this difference. Many are
disappointed when what they see with their eyes
doesn’t appear in their photographs. Learning to see
as the camera lens sees requires work and cultivation.
Painting has helped me understand even more of the
subtleties in each scene. As a photographer, I thought I noticed
all the subtleties, but as a painter I became acutely aware of
barely-there light and color effects. Arizona painter Sergio
Ladron de Guevara calls this process “observation.” In truth,
even many people claiming to be artists will look, but not see.
As a landscape photographer, I understand how light affects
the land, which explains why I work in the early and late hours
of the day.
That long study of light has helped me paint, which requires
expressing a particular light value on canvas. However, not all
painters and photographers understand how to see light and
its effects. And if one cannot see light, then it’s impossible to
render it in any medium.
So which is more difficult? Which is more artistic? Neither.
Painting and photography are both forms of artistic expression
that require the artist to learn the lessons of light.
Photography is challenging because one must know how
the camera, lens and film (or digital file) relationship affects
the final image. Landscape photographers have no control over
what the Earth will present on
a particular day. If it’s overcast,
well, it’s overcast and so may not
yield the image we envision. That
makes landscape photography
among the most difficult forms,
since atmospheric conditions
can overwhelm all the photographer’s skill and knowledge. As
Ansel Adams said, “Landscape photography is the supreme test
of the photographer — and often the supreme disappointment.”
However, painters can render whatever light conditions
they choose. Still, the subtleties of colors and values will make
a painting, but without a keen sense of light, all the skillful
brushwork in the world will not result in a great landscape
I’m fortunate to view these grand traditions from both sides,
so that photography helps my painting and painting improves
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(click on “Photography”).
in the Tip of a Brush PAUL AND JOYCE BERQUIST
human guys bummed out by the dating scene can at
least comfort themselves that they are not praying mantises, whose love
life is the classic bad blind date. Everything starts out all lovey dovey,
with the pint-sized male wooing the amorous female. Alas, the moment
the little guy thinks he’s Mr. Macho, she twists around, traps him in her
barbed embrace and commences to devour him. A handful of other
insects also consume their mates during the reproductive process, for
reasons that still befuddle biologists. Praying mantises are particularly
open-minded about whom they’ll place on the dinner table. They’re
fond of close relatives like cockroaches and grasshoppers, but even the
bitty baby mantises will sometimes dine on hatching siblings. We cruised
the Internet and found some perfectly appalling pictures of mantises
eating hummingbirds. On the other hand, our online research safari also
yielded a fascinating video clip of a young girl popping a squirming
praying mantis into her mouth and chomping happily away. Which
perhaps brings us full circle to the very scary modern dating scene.
And for Dessert . . . What?
editor’s note: Frequent Arizona Highways contributer Jerry Sieve
will exhibit his photographs and paintings through March 25 at the
Arizona Fine Art Expo at 23023 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale
(southeast corner of Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads).
Photographer Jerry Sieve
developed an alter ego: Jerry
Sieve, the painter. Re-creating
his favorite landscape
photographs on canvas forced
him to relearn the subtleties of
light and color for a different
medium. both by jerry sieve
6 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 THESE TWO PAGES, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: RICHARD MAACK; TOM VEZO; COURTESY FORT HUACHUCA; EDWARD MCCAIN; PETER KROCEK; ILLUSTRATION BY RANDY SUMMERLIN A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
Labyrinths Circling a Mystery
the ancients left the concentric, connecting
paths of the labyrinth symbol all over the world, but
no one actually knows what it means. Priests or
artists carved labyrinths into stone in diverse places
such as Peru, Iceland, India, England — and here in
Arizona. Employed as religious, spiritual or cultural
symbols from ancient times to today, the designs
can be found at Baboquivari Peak, Oraibi, Casa
Grande and at the Franciscan Renewal Center, also
known as the Casa, in Scottsdale.
Some believe labyrinths represent life’s journey
with all its twists and turns. Different from the dead
ends and wrong turns of a maze, labyrinths offer
only one way in and one way out with no possibility
of going astray.
In Roman times, walking a classic seven-circle
labyrinth may have been a substitute for long
pilgrimages. But you don’t have to travel back in
time to walk a labyrinth. Situated at the foot of
Mummy Mountain, the Casa’s labyrinth offers
visitors the chance to walk its paths to help clear
the mind, seek a solution, meditate or simply enjoy
some peace and quiet in the desert.
Information: toll-free (800) 356-3247 or (480)
A Berry, Berry Tough Barberry
never judge a desert by its thorns. At first
glance, the sun-blasted volcanic landscape
of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge just
off U.S. Route 95 north of Yuma
looks terminally barren. But the
jagged peaks of the Kofa and
Castle Dome mountains harbor
surprising treasures and a
strange bit of holiday cheer.
The 665,400 acres of pristine
Sonoran Desert boast bighorn
sheep, saguaros, desert
olives and skunk bushes,
plus remains of mines from
the early 1900s. Better yet, the
refuge harbors some unlikely
survivors. Palm Canyon at the west end of the
refuge hides the only palm trees native to Arizona,
probably escapees from the last Ice Age. Now, burst
forth with Christmas carols to celebrate the unlikely
survival of the Kofa Mountain barberry, a 3-foot-tall
evergreen shrub with hollylike leaves, yellow flowers
and small blue-black berries. Known to grow only
there and in the Ajo Mountains to the south, the
barberry’s closest relatives have produced drugs,
dyes, jams and jellies. The other barberry bushes
live in assorted woodlands, but the Kofa species
makes a living in a place that goes months — even
years — without rain. Berry impressive.
Reflecting on the Galaxies
the steward observatory mirror lab may hug
the east side of the University of Arizona’s football
stadium, but the lab sure doesn’t hide in the shadows.
There they developed the unique honeycomb design
for massive telescope mirrors and created the largest
telescope mirror in the world.
A free one-hour tour introduces guests to the
process, people and machinery that turn glass into
a vision of the universe. For security and safety
purposes, the tour requires a photo ID and closed-toed
shoes. Make your reservations at least 10 days
in advance. In exchange, you’ll receive a trip into a
giant’s workshop and your own view of what it takes
to connect with other worlds.
Information: (520) 621-1022
with 16,500 acres of desert
preserve in its boundaries, South
Mountain Park in Phoenix
ranks as the world’s largest
city park. Petroglyphs by the
ancient Hohokam Indians dot
the landscape, and miles of
trails wind through the Sonoran
Desert habitat. Only 36,000
people enjoyed the solitude of
this protected park when it first
opened to the public in 1924.
Today, more than 3 million people
sample South Mountain Park’s
scenic roads and hiking trails
People Don’t Die in Yuma — or Was It Just Pride?
in 1885 yuma was a bustling trade center. Here, the Southern Pacific Railroad
crossed the Colorado River, and steamboats chugged upstream and back. Most sup-plies
and visitors to western Arizona arrived through Yuma and, even though the tem-peratures
were unbearably hot in the summer, the residents were proud of Yuma. The
April 4, 1885, edition of the Yuma Sentinel newspaper gleefully copied this paragraph
from Tucson’s Arizona Citizen:
“Every issue of the Yuma papers contains notices of one or more births or marriages
but very seldom death. People don’t die there—in fact they have too much pride in
their town to be caught dead within its limits.”
—Janet Webb Farnsworth
U.S. Army Intelligence operators in the field
Steward Observatory Mirror Lab
Franciscan Renewal Center
bald eagles rack up a lot of
frequent-flier miles, according
to a new study conducted by
the Arizona Game and Fish
Department and the Army National
Guard at Camp Navajo.
“Some eagles travel up to 2,100
miles north from Arizona into
different parts of Canada for the
summer,” says Arizona Game and
Fish biologist Mylea Bayless.
Eagles use parts of Camp
Navajo, a National Guard training
and storage facility about 8 miles
west of Flagstaff. Biologists wanted
to know if activities there affected
wintering bald eagles in northern
Arizona. So biologists trapped six
eagles during the winter of 2004
and gave them holiday gifts of
a sort — lightweight backpacks
equipped with GPS-satellite
transmitters. Signals broadcast six
times daily enabled researchers to
track the eagles’ migrations.
“It’s exciting to see how far
the birds travel,” says Arizona
Game and Fish biologist Valerie
Fort Huachuca Museum Displays an Intelligent Past
whoever claims “military” and “intelligence” don’t go together has never toured the U.S.
Army Intelligence Museum at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista. Where else can you find street signs for
both “Counter” and “Intelligence”?
Since its opening in 1995, the museum has been a teaching tool for the U.S. Army Intelligence School
at the fort, which once housed the famous Buffalo Soldiers of Apache War fame. The museum
now includes three concrete sections of the late and unlamented Berlin Wall and a strange
group portrait of the Army cryptography class of 1918 that spells “knowledge is power” in
Morse code based on how the people pictured turned their heads.
Serious code breakers will find several code-breaking machines including a World War II
Nazi message-encrypting Enigma machine and a cleverly encoded 1886 letter from the Mexican
government to the governor of Sonora informing the governor not to trust Geronimo.
Need more? How about a pair of early unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the ancestors of UAVs now
in use in Iraq. In fact, the museum covers the development of military intelligence beginning with the
Revolutionary War and progressing through Operation Desert Storm, all for free.
Visitors to the Fort Huachuca museum need a driver’s license with a photo ID, car registration and
proof of insurance to enter the post.
Probably it’s best not to try to get a laugh at the door with that “military intelligence” oxymoron
joke. It wouldn’t be, well, smart.
Information: (520) 533-5736. —Jane Eppinga
8 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 9
Every spring, following a decently wet winter,
the ancient and intricate conspiracy between
flowers and flutterers conjures perhaps the
planet’s richest display of wildflowers from
an unlikely desert landscape.
So tropical bats and iridescent humming-birds
set forth from South America to follow
a pollen path into North America.
So the monarch butterflies set out from
Mexican forests on a generations-long migra-tion
linked to the bloom of milkweed.
So pipevine swallowtail butterflies lay eggs
on their namesake plants, so their caterpillars
can chow down on poisonous compounds
that protect them from hungry birds.
So the white spot in the throat of the bee-pollinated
purple lupine turns pink so other
bees won’t waste their time.
So tarantula hawks take a break from
hunting hairy monsters to pollinate yellow
So yucca moths deliberately move pollen
balls from one yucca to another before sealing
up their eggs in a flower’s ovaries, knowing
the emerging larvae will somehow know not
to eat all the seeds.
BGeoetsta Buzz The hummers hover.
The bumblebees buzz.
The poppies progress.
For against all plausibility, the symphony of spring once more
shimmers up from the hard, jagged soil of the Sonoran Desert,
life’s intricate instruments creating a rising composition of joy,
all petaled and fragrant. Cue the pollinators. Forget “desert,” as
in bleak and brown. Think wild — as in flower.
Has Sprung —
Cue the Pollinators
by Frank Jennings
SPECIAL DELIVERY Strands of
mature pollen, called viscin threads,
pack the sticky body of a honeybee
with reproductive power inside a
cholla cactus blossom (left).
paul and joyce berquist
The bountiful blooms of an
evening primrose (inset) await an
overnight pickup from nocturnal
workers. Honeybees are not the
world’s only pollinators. However,
in North America alone, they are
responsible for approximately
3.5 million acres of crops.
10 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 11
These intricate relationships
between plants and pollinators
date back millions of years, life’s
dance of dependence. They come on exuberant dis-play
every three to five years in the Sonoran Desert,
when a wet winter dribbling into a mild spring spurs
a vigorous regional growth. About once a decade, the
weather conspires to produce a mind-wrenching riot
of wildflowers all across the Sonoran Desert.
Ironically, the hardships that produce a desert also foster these outbursts. In
areas with year-round rain, plants cover every bare patch of ground. But desert
rains won’t sustain continuous ground cover and force the permanent plants
to scatter themselves widely. So when the capricious weather patterns produce
a wet year, the permanent plants can’t soak it all in.
Cue the wildflowers, whose seeds wait in the soil for just such an opportunity.
In some areas, past outbursts of wildflowers have left 200,000 seeds in every
square yard of desert soil. These wildflowers are brilliant opportunists
that can soak up every drop of extra water, even in a very wet year.
But desert wildflowers face a second crucial problem: They need pollinators.
HOME SWEET HOME
While the white petals of the saguaro cactus blossom, Arizona’s state flower, rely on
cross-pollination from a variety of winged strangers to survive, the gilded flicker (above)
makes its home inside the mother plant. paul and joyce berquist
As the sun sets, the fruits of pollinator labor come to life in the shape of sand verbena and
birdcage evening primroses that carpet the Mohawk Dunes near Yuma (right). jack dykinga
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
12 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
This link between plants and pollinators has shaped
the evolution of life on the planet, since the roughly 300,000 spe-cies
of flowering plants provide food and oxygen to help sustain
the creeping, crawling and flying creatures. Fortunately, the great
array of flowers has spawned a heartening variety of pollinators.
In fact, flowering plants have made possible the diversification
of life. Flower imprints in the fossil record started some 100 million
years ago, halfway through the long reign of the dinosaurs. Until
then, plants relied on the wind and spores to reproduce. Flowers
evolved to enlist the help of pollinators, which dramatically
increased the efficiency of pollination. The increased mixing
of genes sped up the plant diversification, which created
the specialized habitats that drove an increase in the variety
of insects and animals.
The number of plant species rose from an estimated 500 some
286 million years ago to 22,000 some 65 million years ago and
on to 300,000 today, thanks largely to the “invention” of flowers.
Of course, the alliance comes at a cost. Plants devote roughly 10
to 18 percent of their resources to producing flowers, pollen and
nectar to keep up their end of the relationship.
Pollinators play an especially vital role in the Sonoran Desert,
with its struggling, widely spaced year-round plants and the
patiently waiting seeds of the annuals. Rather than a few domi-nant
pollinators, the desert has produced pollinators for every
niche and pattern. For instance, one survey concluded that the
680 different flowering plant species in the desert and mountains
around Tucson are pollinated by 1,000 different species of bees —
which represent nearly one-quarter of the bee species found
in all of North America.
The diversity of desert bees provides a perfect example of the
remarkable relationships on display in a Sonoran spring.
Desert bees range from itty-bitty to ponderous. The desert
boasts both the world’s smallest bee — the Perdita minima, .08 of
an inch long — and the 1.5-inch-long wood-boring carpenter bee.
Blind to the color red, bees prefer flowers that are sweet-smelling
and loaded with nectar. Most desert bees live in burrows,
some more than a foot long. Semisocial bees like the cactus bee
crowd hundreds of thousands of burrows in a space the size of
a couple of tennis courts to take advantage of the spring flowering
of saguaros, prickly pears and chollas. Bees pollinate an esti-mated
80 percent of desert flowers, and only the deserts of Israel
can compete with the Sonoran for bee diversity.
NECTAR OF THE GODS
Nectar isn’t essential to the reproductive process, but it draws
pollinators to plants such as the cuplike barrel cactus flower
(below right) and tubular agave blossoms, whose pollinators
include nectar-feeding bats (below left).
left to right: tom vezo, jack dykinga
THE PERFECT MIX
Cross-pollination can bring the dry desert landscape near the
Superstition Mountains (left) alive with a plethora of Mexican
goldpoppies and scorpionweed. Just add water. jack dykinga
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
14 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
On the other hand, desert bees face a tough competitive
threat from highly social European honeybees, which are helped
along by beekeepers whose portable hives pollinate at least 30
percent of the region’s crops. A single honeybee colony forages
over a 60-square-mile area and stashes 85 pounds of pollen per
year. That would be like people in Phoenix foraging throughout
the entire state and spilling over into California, according to
one biologist’s estimate.
In return for pollination, plants pack their pollen with amino
acids, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and carbohy-drates
the bees need. Moreover, the nectar provides the quick
energy needed to power the bees’ flight muscles. Many desert
flowers also provide oils vital to the bees but useless to the
plants. The bees collect the oils with scrapers on their legs, then
either mix the oils with pollen to feed to their larvae or use the
oils to produce a musky scent that drives lusty bees wild.
Other pollinators like butterflies also depend on compounds
in flowers, nectar and pollen. Some 250 species of butterflies
flutter over desert wildflowers. Most stick close to the plants on
which they lay their eggs, since their caterpillar larvae usually
have adapted to digesting the defensive chemicals of only
certain plants. Besides gladdening the hearts of anyone with
eyes, butterflies showcase the complexity of living systems.
Consider the connections between the pipevine swallowtail
and the pipevine plant. The plant produces small, musky flowers
that look so much like a mouse’s ear that they attract the mindless
attentions of a blood-sucking fly. The flower traps the fly inside
overnight, to make sure the tiny insect crawls about long enough
to pass along pollen from the last plant it visited. Then along
comes a metallic blue pipevine swallowtail, gussied up with red
and yellow dots, to lay its eggs on the vine. The resulting purplish
caterpillar thrives on the plant’s protective compounds and even
turns those toxins into its own defense against hungry birds.
Nearly every family of butterflies flurries through the desert.
The white, yellow or orange sulphurs often congregate around
mud puddles to drink and absorb minerals and salts. The
jewel-like gossamer wing butterflies feed on poisonous desert
mistletoes. And the booming family of brush-footed butterflies
includes such restless souls as the monarchs, fritillaries, admi-rals
and painted ladies, which sometimes produce enormous
population surges that spatter the windshields of cars hurtling,
heedless, through a desert spring.
Alluring soaptree yuccas in the Pinaleno Mountains (below left) offer a last call
to daytime pollinators. randy prentice
Like retail stores at Christmas, many plants have evolved to attract pollinators, marketing
themselves with competitive sights and smells to avoid extinction. A two-tailed tiger
swallowtail butterfly (below right) finds a sweet deal. tom vezo
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 15
Spring Wildflower Guide
Wildflowers, like many beautiful things, prefer perfect conditions — just enough rain and sun without too many ants and kangaroo rats. In a
perfect Sonoran Desert year, wildflowers outshine even Arizona sunsets, producing one of the planet’s most spectacular outbursts of blooms
and their pollinators. For the state's parks and gardens, wildflower season means busy trails and camera flashes. (For wildflower updates,
call the Arizona State Parks Wildflower Hotline at (602) 542-4988.)
Clad in their signature skirt of Mexican goldpoppies, lupines and cholla cacti, the Superstition Mountains wear springtime well. tom danielsen
NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Southwest of Tucson, 38 miles south
of Three Points on State Route 286
at Milepost 7.5
Drive along Pronghorn Drive or hike the
Arivaca Cienega Trail, and see the caltrops and
Mexican goldpoppies compete for attention
with morning glories and lupines. Caltrops
have a slight advantage with five petals instead
of four, but lupines attract more attention
because their leaves tilt to follow the sun.
For those itching to get out of the car, the
visitors center offers small exhibits on natural
history and interpretive signs that explain
the ins and outs of hydrology. Watch for
endangered masked bobwhite quail and wary
herds of pronghorn antelope. (520) 823-4251;
DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
If Mother Nature keeps all the rain to herself
and cancels wildflower season, this garden
offers the perfect backup plan — the Harriet K.
Maxwell Wildflower Trail and the new Desert
Herb Garden. The wildflower trail has all the
usual suspects with some other interesting
plants thrown in, including the Monardella
arizonica, which is native to the state but hard
to find. Its leaves give off a minty scent when
crushed. The Desert Herb Garden, another
new addition, showcases native herbs
and their medicinal uses. (480) 941-1225;
LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction
Made famous by stories of hidden gold, this
state park owes a lot to the past for its present
popularity. The Dutchman himself, a fellow
named Jacob Waltz, probably didn’t pay
attention to the flowers blooming near the
Superstition Mountains when he kept the
location of his reputed 1870s goldmine hidden.
But the Papago lilies and lupines scattered
along Jacob’s Crosscut Trail have wowed
visitors for years. The yellow blooms of the
brittlebush, which early missionaries used to
make incense, also await those with a keen
eye. (480) 982-4485; www.pr.state.az.us/
ORGAN PIPE CACTUS
Off State Route 85, south of Ajo
Cruising down Ajo Mountain Drive by car,
bicycle or on foot gives visitors a chance to
glimpse the evasive Ajo lily along Estes Canyon.
Ajo, Spanish for garlic, refers to the plant’s
edible bulb. It grows in washes along the
21-mile drive, providing a unique wildflower
alternative to the prolific Mexican goldpoppy.
Guided van tours and small exhibits enhance
the designated wilderness area. Because of
the site’s proximity to the U.S./Mexico border,
road closures and safety warnings may affect
travelers. (520) 387-6849; www.nps.gov/orpi.
PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK
40 miles north of Tucson
off Interstate 10, Exit 219
History buffs and wildflower seekers will rub
shoulders in this historic park come springtime.
Mexican goldpoppies come to life on the
Sunset Vista Trail, and dozens of riders will
re-enact Arizona’s largest Civil War battle
on March 10 and 11. (520) 466-3183; www.
National Wildlife Refuge
Picacho Peak State Park
Organ Pipe Cactus
onli n e Find more bloomin’ bonanzas at arizonahighways.com (click on the March “Trip Planner”).
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
But not all pollinators can produce millions of young-sters
in the good flower years, which means they need some
other strategy to take advantage of the seasonal wildflower
Cue the migratory pollinators — including bats and humming-birds.
These remarkable creatures follow a sequential blos-soming
of flowers from the South American tropics, into the
Sonoran Desert and often farther into North America.
Nectar-sippers like lesser long-nosed bats follow two differ-ent
corridors of blooming agaves through Mexico and into the
desert. Often, they move from one safe roosting site to another,
tucked into caves during the day, then spreading out at night
to lick nectar from the pale, sweet-smelling flowers they prefer,
including the saguaro's and agave's. Many agaves compete so
fiercely to attract the attention of the bats that the plants liter-ally
kill themselves by putting all their reserves into growing a
single, towering stalk loaded with flowers. The saguaros, with
their huge, white flowers open for business all night, also rely
on bats, although the deep-desert-adapted white winged doves
work the saguaro blossoms during the day shift.
Bats have benefited from their long connection with plants,
and they now account for 1,000 species and a surprising one-fourth
of the world's mammals.
The springtime flower explosion in the Sonoran Desert also
summons forth a migratory flash of hummingbirds, jeweled
hovercraft unique to the New World. Although more than 300
species of hummingbirds flit through the tropics, 16 species
live in North America. Along with New Mexico and Texas, the
“sky island” mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona boast the
greatest diversity of hummingbird species in North America.
Champion fliers like the tiny, aggressive rufus hummingbirds
can fly thousands of miles each year to complete the longest
migration route of any bird relative to body length. With flight
muscles making up a quarter of hummingbirds’ body weight,
their hearts pound along at nearly 1,200 beats per minute so
they can flap their wings at an average of 60 to 80 beats per
second. They’re the only bird that can hover and fly backward,
and they can also dive at speeds of 60 mph. They prefer bright
red tubular flowers, often with little scent — since flowers attract
bird pollinators by sight rather than smell.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
The irresistibly fragrant aroma of magenta hedgehog cactus
flowers and neon-yellow creosote blooms (left) can ensure big
business from potential pollinators. tom danielsen
Flapping its wings up to 80 times per second, this Anna’s hummingbird
(below left) fills up on the sugary syrup of a cactus bloom.
paul and joyce berquist
Contrary to its name, the sand-dwelling sawtooth evening primrose reveals
a softer side of the Navajo Indian Reservation (below right). jack dykinga
18 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
Biologists fret about the plight of many of these exquisitely
adapted pollinators. Development, grazing, drought and other changes
have encroached on the migratory corridor on which hummingbirds and
bats depend. Bats have lost vital roosting spots. Native bees face debilitating
competition from introduced European honeybees, which have in turn
been displaced in some areas by much more aggressive Africanized
honeybees. Introduced grasses have carried brushfires and choked out
wildflowers in some areas. Cattle-grazing has hammered desert soils,
changing the pacing and diversity of the wildflower outbreaks.
Still, the poppy seeds linger in the soil, waiting for the overture of that
first deep winter rain. The bees play the piccolo of the first movement of
the symphony as they tend their stores in their deep burrows, waiting
for that rare blessing of a damp spring. The hummingbirds come in like
the string section as they pause in their tropical scurry, feeling the urge
to travel as the agaves pour their last energies into a towering stalk.
Cue the poppies.
Cue the pollinators.
Frank Jennings joins his pollinator friends with a buzz of his own —
but his is caffeine-related.
RITE OF SPRING
Owl clover and five-needle fetid marigold (left) and prickly pear cactus
flowers (below) are typically sighted every spring in the Sonoran Desert, but
with the perfect combination of water and winged creatures, a simple sight
can blossom into a breathtaking landscape. both by randy prentice
20 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
of the really unique things about butterflies,” he notes, “is the
diversity of mechanisms that they use to produce colors. This
includes a variety of chemical pigments, like the carotenoids
that make carrots orange, and microscopic structures like the
particles in the sky that scatter blue light and the thin film of a
soap bubble that causes its shimmering rainbow of colors.”
To test his theory about female butterflies’ preference for col-orful
males and the role of UV light, Rutowski and his team
observed orange sulphur butterflies in Arizona alfalfa fields.
“Studies from the 1970s had shown that female orange sulphurs
find the ultraviolet reflectance of male wings attractive,” notes
Rutowski. “As a male’s wings lose scales, his ultraviolet color
diminishes with age.
“We wondered if age reduces a male’s seductive charms. Our
suspicions were confirmed when we found virgin females pre-ferred
males with intact wings to males with worn wings — a
choice apparently driven by color, ensuring a younger mate.”
What continues captivating a butterfly biologist for decades?
“There are aspects of butterfly diversity and behavior we don’t
even know about,” muses Rutowski. “For instance, how does
courtship behavior vary among species and why? This type of
behavior is difficult to observe. We’ve just scratched the surface
in terms of knowing and understanding the diversity of court-ship
behaviors in butterflies.”
Thriving in the Arctic tundra, in deserts, in humid rain for-ests
and other habitats, butterflies have survived for 35 million
years — with no end in sight. “With so many species living in
so many types of environments,” reasons Rutowski, “it’s hard
to imagine an ecological or other catastrophe that would wipe
them completely off the face of the Earth.”
ROYAL RESTING SPOT
The male empress leilia butterfly (opposite page) searches for mates in washes
near desert hackberry bushes, where caterpillars of the species feed and
pupate. Researchers say that ultraviolet light plays an important role in how
male and female empress leilia butterflies (below) attract one another.
both, ron rutowski
PERCHED ON A PEBBLE in a desert
wash northeast of Phoenix, the quarter-sized
butterfly appears to be serenely sun-ning.
Much more is happening, however,
than meets the uninformed eye. On a mat-ing
mission, the male empress leilia displays
a boldness far overshadowing his size. Wings
outstretched toward the sun to elevate his
body temperature for rapid-motion readiness,
he chases birds, bigger butterflies or anything
else daring to dart within his domain.
Focused on a nearby desert hackberry bush, where caterpil-lars
of his species feed and pupate, the orange-brown butterfly
pays intense attention to only one thing: female virgins, emerg-ing
“This empress male is desperate to detect a female,” quips
butterfly biologist Ron Rutowski. An entomologist and behav-ioral
ecologist at Arizona State University, Rutowski has been
studying the relationship between butterfly vision and mating
behavior for nearly 30 years. With some 12,000 butterfly spe-cies
identified, behaviors preceding butterfly sex have been
described in only a few dozen species.
Supported by the National Science Foundation, Rutowski’s
research is shedding new light on how butterflies
recognize and seduce one another. “While
we know something of mate-locating tac-tics
in butterflies, there is much to learn,”
he says. “I’m always stunned to find that
quite fresh females have already been mated,
even in relatively low-density populations.”
With empress leilias’ mating period spanning
March to November, favorite Arizona mating areas
are washes by desert hackberry bushes in the Mazatzal
Mountains. Bordered by Four Peaks to the south and extend-ing
north toward Payson, the area is ideal for studying this
species’ mating behavior.
Predominantly portrayed as carefree creatures feeding on
flowers and flitting about with no apparent purpose, butterflies
are actually extremely goal directed. Empress males spend their
10-day existence focused on passing their genes to as many
females as possible, while females mate just once.
In the world of butterfly attraction, looks matter immensely
to females, who call the sexual shots. Despite extreme near-sightedness,
butterflies possess a visual ability linked to mating
behavior that is unattainable by humans: They can detect ultra-violet
light, thought to help females measure males’ suitability.
“Females may visually assess the fitness and age of competing
males by viewing ultraviolet scales on the males’ wings through
receptors in their eyes that enable them to see UV wavelengths,”
Besides sending signals to females about the male’s health,
UV colors are thought to convey information about a male’s
potency. “When males are mating with females, they contribute
not only sperm, but an enormous package of proteins and car-bohydrates
— around 6 percent of their body weight,” explains
doctoral student Nathan Moorehouse, who works in Rutowski’s
lab. “Females use this package, called the spermatophore, to
produce eggs and to live longer. We think males of better qual-ity
or younger males might contribute more of this package
Rutowski’s current research regards butterfly coloration. “One
Butterflies Seek the Ultimate
Mate in the Ultraviolet
by Cheryl A. Sweet
E a r t h , R a i n , Wi n d a n d S u n
n a t u r e ’ s d r a m a t i c c o n c e r t o
my philosophy on landscape photography
tends to follow a cloudy sky, looking
for formations of drama overhead, then
capturing the magic orchestrated by clouds
on the land. Storms are nature’s way of
bringing out the Earth’s most spectacular
The landscape will never quite be the same
as it was during the passing of a storm on
a particular day. So photographing before,
during and after storms captures more than
just a scene or location. It captures a moment
The challenge, for me, is to allow the
viewer to “feel” the mood and the light. If
I can capture earth, wind, rain and sun in
perfect concert, the viewer can feel the breeze
and smell the freshness of the earth after a
I watch the sky for another reason. Clouds
give my photographs a painterly quality
through the variance in light and shadow. I
break many photographic composition rules
to capture nature’s light show. Following
nature forces me to keep my mind open for
things I had not foreseen, which represents
the photojournalist coming out in me. When I
have a clear Arizona day, I spend my time
investigating light details on the earth like fall
aspens reflected in a pond or the sun reflecting
through the trees into a swirling creek. Storm
or not, try to allow nature to paint the picture.
Waiting many hours for that perfect
photographic concerto of the elements can be
discouraging. But even when the light does
not cooperate, I have had the privilege of
being side-by-side with nature. This portfolio
attempts to reflect my respect and love for
nature. Each one of my photographs has with
it a memory of place, time and circumstance.
I am left with visions of grazing deer and elk
or star trails across a night sky during a long
exposure. I would not have seen any of it but
for my love of nature photography.
STORM OF THE CENTURY (Preceding panel) Lit by a flash from a portable strobe under brooding
storm clouds, a red-stalked century plant towers above a rocky hilltop studded with prickly desert flora between
the Verde Valley and Sedona.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
CRACKLING REFLECTION Patient planning and endurance pay off in this image of an electric
light show passing over Cathedral Rock reflected in a pool of water at the Sedona landmark’s base.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
Text and Photographs by Peter Schwepker
I try to allow nature to paint the picture.
The landscape will never quite be the same as it was
during the passing of a storm on a particular day.
FROZEN MOMENT Shot with a telephoto lens on a frigid day,
this view of 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak is literally “frozen” in time.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
WAT E R M U S I C Swirls of color reminiscent of Monet’s impressionistic
water lilies dance with the hues of the sky, trees and red rocks punctuated by
midday sunlight on the surface of Beaver Creek. Because of its unpredictable
outcome, the photographer considered this a “gamble shot.”
26 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
The viewer can feel the breeze and smell
the freshness of the earth after a summer rain.
SOLO VERDE A chorus of yellow-leafed
autumn aspens appears to back up a solo renegade
stubbornly clinging to its summer green.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
I would not have seen
any of it but for my love
of nature photography.
WALT Z O F T H E WAT E R S As unchoreographed as
Oak Creek’s flowing water itself, pirouetting patterns reflected
from the colors of earth, grass and sunset sky are captured in a
long exposure through a 150 mm lens (above).
M I D N I G H T S TA R T R A I L S During a 20-minute
midnight exposure with a 50 mm wide-angle lens, the landscape
(right) was illuminated with an SB-28 Nikon speed light.
n To order a print of this photograph, see inside front cover.
30 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
plan to restore the corridor of cottonwood-willow habitat that will
eventually allow the Gila River south of Buckeye to run as it did 50
years ago. The Gila ran past reeds where herons and egrets stood
steady and watchful. The water that supported the herons and
desert fish, beaver and hundreds of species of migrating birds also
drew the Hohokam people to the area 1,500 years ago. They hacked
out hundreds of miles of deep irrigation canals to divert its flows,
and built great cities before disappearing mysteriously in the 1400s.
Pioneers arrived in the mid-1800s and used the old Hohokam
canals to irrigate their own crops.
“I want the kids to see it like it was
when I was growing up, and be able to
walk the river like I did. They should be
able to see that,” says Jackie Meck, life-time
Buckeye native and general manager
of the Buckeye Water Conservation
The El Rio restoration project will turn
a 17-mile reach of the Gila River, between
the confluence of the Agua Fria River in
Goodyear and Maricopa County Highway
85, into the meandering wetland he re-members.
Using diverted farm runoff
and effluent, the restoration project’s river
span will connect with another 7-mile
segment where cottonwoods, willows
and intermittent marshes already offer a
growing network of hiking and riding
trails for birders, joggers, strollers and
A joint effort among the Flood Control
District of Maricopa County, Arizona
Game and Fish, Buckeye, Avondale and
Goodyear, the main purpose of the resto-ration
effort is to provide flood control.
Since 1920, nine major floods have hit
the area — including a devastating out-burst
in 1993 that sent floodwaters crash-ing
downriver all the way to Yuma. The
El Rio project will provide flood control to protect development
in the booming region west of Phoenix. It will also create rec-reational
opportunities by returning the land to the lush ripar-ian
habitat that existed before dams on the tributary Salt River
in the early 1900s gradually reduced the river to a rocky bed of
sporadic water flow.
But to restore that habitat, the introduced, fire-resistant, salt-tolerant,
weedlike salt cedars must give way to the natural willow-and-
cottonwood corridors, which some biologists say remains
the most biologically productive habitat in North America.
Originally planted along the river to stabilize its banks, the
salt cedars spread along the banks of both the Salt and the Gila
to create a tough, scratchy wall of shrubby trees that can suck
up 200 gallons of water per day. Not only did they effectively
dehydrate the natural vegetation, but also the mass of vegetation
actually forced the river from its bed.
“It forces the water out of the river bottom. The water can’t
flow through the trees, so it moves to the open space and the
floodwaters spread out. Water flows to the path of least resist-ance.
We want to keep it in the original river channel,” Meck
says. Although the cottonwoods and willows consume the same
amount of the Gila’s precious waters as salt cedars, their growth
can be controlled.
One small lake in Avondale and a proposed Buckeye lake will
provide the core of an eventual 17-mile-long project. Bank pro-tection,
levees, lakes and trees will restore the wildlife habit
when project managers remove the salt cedars. A 50-acre dem-onstration
area south of State Route 85 and west of Miller Road
in Buckeye will provide a preview of the project by restoring a
small area that burned in 2005. The demonstration project will
test methods of replacing the salt cedars with natural vegetation
and will gauge how many willows and cottonwoods it takes to
restore the natural balance.
“They will fill in the area with natural
foliage — cottonwoods and willows —
and make it look like what we hope the
rest of the project will,” Meck says.
The festival gives nature lovers a chance
to preview the proposed restoration. Just
up the shoreline among the reeds, canoes
launch into the Gila waters as festival
visitors explore. Some study the reeds
and skies with binoculars, hoping to
catch a glimpse of wading birds or cir-cling
hawks. Others set off on guided
wildlife and petroglyph hikes.
Children wander among the displays,
ogling the hawks, vultures, owls and
other birds. They gaze with fearful curi-osity
at venomous reptiles lurking in
cages while wildlife experts teach them
about the creatures.
Standing at the water’s edge, it is easy to
imagine the full force of the Gila, flowing
past the mighty cottonwoods, bendable
willows and reedy marshes, where wet-land
birds play hide-and-seek.
But Meck’s fond memories are now
taking concrete shape in the lethal loops
of the red-tailed hawks, the thrashing of
wings among the reeds and the gurgle of
the life-bringing waters of the Gila. With a little luck and a lot of
cooperation, future generations can run barefoot along the shores
the Hohokam once loved.
Perhaps one day they will remember the river as always being
there, the living force of the Phoenix area desert.
RSEN RIVER Tres Rios Nature Festival Celebrates the Comeback Gurgle of the Gila
Location: Base and Meridian Wildlife Area on the Gila
River adjacent to Phoenix International Raceway in
Getting There: From Phoenix, take Interstate 10 west to
the Avondale Boulevard exit. Go south 5 miles to the Gila
River and turn east past the bridge at Indian Springs Road.
The Buckeye Water Conservation District impoundment
lake is open to the public only during the two-day Tres
Rios Nature Festival.
Dates: March 17 and 18.
Hours: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fees: Admission is free; however, some activities require preregistration and
fees. Activities include hikes to petroglyphs, bird-watching, wildlife tours,
wildlife and environmental displays, entertainment and a fishing clinic.
Additional Information: (623) 204-2130; www.tresriosnaturefestival.com.
B y R o b i n N . C l a y t o n OOnce again sluicing through arid deserts, the ghost of the
Gila River has risen with a gurgle from its rocky burial, to the
delight of bird-callers, trail-strollers and nature-lovers — at least
for a little while.
To recognize the fitful comeback of a river that has nourished
civilizations, the annual Tres Rios Nature Festival at the Base
and Meridian Wildlife Area this month celebrates an ambitious
restoration project that will restore a 7-mile stretch of one of the
richest wildlife habitats in North America at the confluence of
three of the state’s major rivers — the Gila, the Agua Fria and
the Salt. Children crowd the shores of an impoundment lake
that belongs to the Buckeye Water District, baiting hooks and
dropping lines while Arizona Game and Fish Department vol-unteers
give hints. Occasional squeals draw a crowd to gaze at
the prize catch of a nearby lucky angler, only to return to their
own poles in hopeful anticipation that they, too, will catch one
of the stocked fish.
Take notice: The Gila River is back, despite the drought and
the dams and even the invasion of salt cedar, a now-obnoxious,
foreigner imported to help in flood control.
Formerly, the Gila sustained ancient civilizations and
spawned great floods. Now it is mostly a dammed-up trickle,
except for occasional brief monsoon floods that pound into the
hard desert floor before soaking into soft soil downstream. Along
most of its length, the once-vital river is fitful and intermittent.
But that has begun to change. A hidden lake already hints at the
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
Robin N. Clayton lives in Glendale, but spends much of her time wandering
the desert river areas west of Phoenix. Her first experience at the Tres Rios
Festival sparked a love for the restoration project and drew her back as a
volunteer for the event.
Base and Meridian
Forget Eagle-eye The eyes of a great white egret
easily spot prey below the water’s surface, which the
bird spears with pinpoint accuracy. This symbol of the
National Audubon Society is making a comeback, much
like the riparian corridors it stalks. peter ensenberger
Treasure in a Haystack The Tres Rios demonstration wetlands include the
Haystack site, which comprises two wetland basins. Used to study water
quality and habitat development, the area doubles as a recreational haven
with trails and areas for picnics, birding and photography. les david manevitz
34 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
by Leo W. Banks | illustration by Kevin Kibsey
facts get trampled in a thrilling chase
of three reckless bandits
36 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
“First he cut and peeled a willow switch and,
with soap suds worked up on the
silk handkerchief, he used the switch to force
the handkerchief through tHe wound.’
‘First he cut and peeled a willow switch and,
with soap suds worked up on the
silk handkerchief, he used the switch to force
the handkerchief through the wound.”
‘First he cut and peeled a willow switch and,
with soap suds worked up on the
silk handkerchief, he used the switch to force
the handkerchief through the wound.’
t might win the title of the Arizona
Territory’s greatest chase.
Under pressure from a posse of U.S. marshals,
three Utah cattle rustlers — Tom McCarty, Matt
Warner and Josh Swett — abandon their stomping
grounds at the Mexican border and flee north.
These young roustabouts, Swett with a bullet hole in
his shoulder, make a bone-rattling, eight-day ride over
the length of Arizona to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado
River. They arrive at water’s edge at a gallop, only to
find the posse men still at their backs, and the boat-man
on the opposite bank.
Thinking quickly, Warner hollers to the boatman a
$50 bet that he can’t make it to the near bank in two
The boatman poles as fast as he can and thinks
he’s won. But for his trouble he gets a pistol in his ribs
and orders to take the three outlaws back to the other
They land on Utah soil just as the frustrated mar-shals
reach the water. The lawmen shout curses at the
bad guys, who respond with taunts. For good mea-sure,
McCarty, Warner and Swett abduct the boatman
and continue their wild escape, turning him loose
Thrilling, incredible, a classic episode of Western
adventure — if it really happened. Some historians
believe the Great Chase of 1883 is actually a great hoax.
Each of the outlaws later told his side of things in
print. In 1930, when he was 70, Swett gave an inter-view
that didn’t appear in print for another 34 years.
Warner included the chase story in his 1938 autobi-ography,
The Last of the Bandit Riders, first published
in Cosmopolitan, then a general interest magazine that
often published Western stories.
But these recollections — 56 years after the fact for
Warner, 48 for Swett — demand skepticism on two
First, the exciting riverside hostage-taking. It most
likely was invented.
Prior to his death, P.T. Reilly, author of a history of Lee’s
Ferry, said that descendants of Warren Johnson — the
ferry operator between 1879 and 1896 — knew nothing
of the episode. Reilly’s conclusion? It never happened as
Warner and Swett described it, since Johnson’s family
never mentioned it in their interviews with Reilly.
Second, Warner and Swett claimed they killed sev-eral
U.S. marshals, but that doesn’t hold up either. Such
an event would’ve made headlines across Arizona, and
But this doesn’t mean the chase story is fake.
The third outlaw, McCarty, in recollections penned
in 1898, 16 years after the fact, told the same basic
story — with a less dramatic river crossing and with
stockmen, not U.S. marshals, in pursuit.
“McCarty’s story is much more compelling because
he was such a straight shooter,” says Cove, Oregon,
author Jon Skovlin, who, with wife Donna, wrote a
biography of Tom McCarty and his brother, Bill. “We’re
convinced the chase happened as he described it.”
McCarty, born about 1850, was the most authenti-cally
criminal of the three. An accomplished cattle
rustler, McCarty and Warner in the late 1880s and
early 1890s recruited Butch Cassidy and other Wild
Bunch members to rob banks and trains. McCarty
became so well-known, the New York Herald dubbed
him “the Napoleon of outlawry.”
In 1883, he teamed with Warner and Swett near
Guadalupe Canyon, along the Arizona-New Mexico
border. He was still at loose ends many months after
the death of his wife, Teenie, Warner’s sister, and
looking to bury his sorrow in excitement in a wild
no-man’s land then teeming with some of Tombstone’s
After making a deal with a crooked rancher willing
to buy stolen beef, McCarty said the outlaws found a
box canyon to use as a temporary camp and began
rounding up cows.
One day, with Warner manning their box-canyon
camp, McCarty and Swett with a herd of cattle encoun-tered
four mounted cowboys. A gunfight erupted, and
McCarty held the men off with his Winchester. But
with darkness falling, the cowboys wouldn’t give up.
As the two bandits stood in a cottonwood grove
deciding what to do, they heard approaching footsteps.
Swett called, “Halt!” The answering shot hit him in
the right shoulder.
Swett called that he’d been hit, then yelled: “But,
hell, I can pull a trigger yet!” This show of bravado
sent McCarty into fits of laughter, whereupon one
cowboy shouted, “We’ll make you laugh before we’re
done with you fellows!”
McCarty emptied his six-shooter toward the voice
and heard “one swear a terrible oath,” as though
Moments later, McCarty spotted a man in a white
shirt and vest approaching. He ordered the stranger to
put up his hands, and told the others to quit firing if
they wanted to see their friend alive.
This opened a strange dialogue between the two
parties, McCarty eventually convincing his opponents
to lay down their pistols. He promised they’d find
them in the grove at daybreak.
McCarty interviewed his captive, a Denver news-paper
reporter staying at his friend’s ranch to write
about a cattle roundup. But now he “only wanted to
stay alive,” McCarty recounted.
After making the reporter promise to send him a
copy of his story about the shootout, he turned the
scribe loose. Then, using skills he learned from his
physician father, McCarty treated Swett, whose “skin
was badly torn and bleeding quite freely.”
Swett described McCarty working on him with the
only supplies available — a bar of castile soap, horse
liniment and a silk handkerchief.
“First he cut and peeled a willow switch and, with
soap suds worked up on the silk handkerchief, he
used the switch to force the handkerchief through
the wound,” Swett recalled. “Every time he pulled
it through I thought I was going to die. Didn’t even
have whiskey to ease the pain. It hurt awful bad, but
it must have been good for the next day the swelling
began to go down.”
After delivering the cattle to the unnamed buyer,
McCarty, Warner and Swett rode north.
On the third day, they met a young cowboy who
said posse men were hunting for rustlers riding big
sorrel horses “about the color of them two,” meaning
two of McCarty’s horses.
Abruptly, the cowboy recognized the trouble he’d
found. He nervously climbed on his horse and rode west
for a distance, whereupon, says McCarty, “he wheeled
his horse and rode at a great speed toward the east.”
That night McCarty couldn’t sleep. “It seemed that
the very air was whispering danger,” he said.
He rousted his partners at 2 a.m. and convinced
them to get moving. His premonition proved cor-rect.
Next daybreak, from a high ridge, he checked
their back trail and spotted eight riders, armed with
Winchester rifles, “coming at a very fast gait.”
“It was now to be a race to get away,” wrote McCarty.
Riding on grass and along streambeds to conceal
their tracks, the outlaws avoided established roads
and moved as fast as they could despite Swett’s pain-ful
In their book, In Pursuit of the McCartys, the Skovlins
trace the outlaws across the Gila River, up the San Carlos
River basin, across the Salt River, up the Mogollon Rim,
through the forests west of Show Low and on past
They crossed the Little Colorado River near present-day
Leupp, and galloped over the Painted Desert to Lee’s
Ferry, covering more than 400 miles in seven days.
In McCarty’s account, the pursuing riders weren’t
in sight when the outlaws reached the river, and the
boatman ferried them across without difficulty. With
Swett in bad shape, the outlaws sought rest on the
But the posse men — three men pulling two pack-horses
— caught up after only half a day. “It struck me
quite forcibly that they were the very men we did not
wish to meet,” wrote McCarty.
The outlaws hurried back onto their horses. “Before
we had got out of sight from the river our friends with
the pack horses were seen calling to the ferryman to
come and put them across,” wrote McCarty.
He made no mention of harassing the unnamed
ferryman, so, most likely, the ferryman brought the
posse across, and the chase continued into Utah.
But the outlaws’ horses had weakened, and Swett
insisted they steal more, saying he “wanted to ride one
more fresh horse before he died.”
They stole what they needed, but in the Mormon
settlement of Kanab, the posse still clattering at their
heels, Swett finally quit the ride. McCarty and Warner
left him behind and rode on alone. They split up
before long, too, ending the chase.
Weeks later, McCarty spotted a newspaper report
stating that the Arizona posse had Swett arrested.
But a jurisdictional dispute prevented his return to
Arizona for trial. Instead, Utah held him for horse
theft, and McCarty said he served a short term in the
The identities of the posse men remain unknown
today. But the Skovlins doubt they were lawmen.
“Lawmen aren’t going to cross into Utah, out of their
jurisdiction, for a couple of dollars a day,” says Jon
Skovlin. “They were probably ranchers who weren’t
going to give up.”
As for McCarty and Warner, they never answered
for their Arizona crimes. Warner landed in prison sev-eral
times. But he straightened out and settled in Price,
Utah, where, late in life, he became a justice of the
peace and deputy sheriff. Swett lived in Nevada at the
time of his 1930 interview, and probably died there.
After the episode, McCarty resolved to lead an hon-est
life, “but as usual my evil spirit followed me.” After
an 1893 bank robbery in Colorado went bad, and two
close relatives were killed, he fell from view, and, like
many outlaws, went on to read reports of his death.
He reportedly retired to Oregon, and although he
spent some time in the Carson City jail in 1877, he never
did prison time before disappearing around 1917.
McCarty’s and Warner’s ties to the Wild Bunch
raise an interesting possibility. Could the famous
chase sequences in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid — during which Butch and Sundance
keep asking, “Who are those guys?” — have been
based on the Great Chase of 1883?
A second postscript to the story deals with the
Denver reporter McCarty captured. He did publish
a story on the shootout, and “this paper was mailed
to me a long time after the event occurred,” wrote
McCarty. He was so impressed with its accuracy that
he sent the writer a $50 bill as a Christmas present.
“If he ever should read this book,” McCarty said, “he
can always be sure that bad as I am in the eyes of the
law, I always will remember him.”
Leo W. Banks, who loves writing about Old West outlaws, says
he got saddle sores just researching this story. He lives in Tucson.
Illustrator Kevin Kibsey is a frequent Arizona Highways
contributor. He also illustrated the Arizona Highways children’s
book, Dr. Bird to the Rescue.
38 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
After plunking down a whopping $2.50 an acre to start a com-munity
that quickly blossomed into a town named after him,
the Army chaplain couldn’t have known that his orange groves,
dairy farms and tent houses would be replaced by multistory
office buildings, popular nightclubs and upscale condominiums.
Fortunately, a few of his famous olive trees still exist, so visitors can glimpse traces of the agri-cultural
mecca he once promoted.
The Scottsdale Historical Society’s self-guided walking tour brochure invited my date and me
on a time traveler’s treasure hunt to see Old Town for ourselves. Complete with a side trip north
of Indian School Road at Brown Avenue, our tour took us to the former site of the chaplain’s
house; it burned down after Scott’s death in 1910. The commemorative statue located in what is
now an office-complex courtyard seemed to say, “C’mon over!” So we did.
The six-block tour takes about an hour. But we got thirsty and decided to stay longer at a few
stops — the Rusty Spur Saloon, where we listened to a country band play a few songs, and then
Los Olivos Mexican Patio, where we dined on sweet corn tamales.
After entering the Little Red Schoolhouse, I was surprised to learn the “West’s Most Western Town’s”
origins have little to do with cowboys. But what about the hitching posts and Western storefronts?
History tour of Old Town Scottsdale would please
and confound its founders
By Jackie Dishner Photographs by Don B. and Ryan B. Stevenson
If the courtyard figure facing Old Town
Scottsdale could actually see, this
bronze version of Winfield Scott
wouldn’t recognize the hip and trendy
metropolis that has replaced the farming
community Scott founded in 1888.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
top left) Touring
carriage; J. Chew
“The Cowboy” sign;
(middle) Old Town
Scottsdale founder, U.S. Army
Chaplain Winfield Scott
40 m a r c h 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
Travel Advisory: The best place to park is on the west side of the parking
garage at First Street, east of Brown Avenue. Other parking spots
throughout Old Town limit drivers to three hours. Pick up a copy of the
Historic Old Town Scottsdale walking tour brochure and other historic
property listings at the Scottsdale Historical Society (Little Red Schoolhouse),
7333 E. Scottsdale Mall. (480) 945-4499; www.scottsdalemuseum.com.
Additional Information: Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau,
(480) 421-1004; www.scottsdalecvb.com.
They were actually part of a successful 1940s marketing ploy.
Before then, Scottsdale didn’t have Arabian horses. Nor did it have
a rodeo parade. Instead, its miles of fruit trees, cotton fields and
vineyards brought Mexican migrant farmers to town to help with the
fieldwork. The workers even built their own adobe brick community
on the site of the current Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
and civic plaza.
Resident historian and Scottsdale native JoAnn Handley provided
historical gems, recalling that her parents moved to Scottsdale and
attended the Little Red Schoolhouse. Built in 1909, it later served
other functions before becoming home to the Scottsdale Historical
Museum in 1991.
Inside the museum, only a few remaining pieces of the founder’s
estate — two chairs, documents, photographs and a coverlet — are on
display. The simple furnishings represent a look inside what Handley
calls “the spartan lifestyle of Scottsdale’s early days.”
Tent houses were, indeed, a common sight back then, complete
with canvas roll-up windows. To create evaporative cooling during
the summer months, they watered down the canvas windows and
slept outside under the stars.
Only 100 people lived in Scottsdale in 1900, says Handley, and
they were families of various Christian faiths. The chaplain was a
Baptist, but he took turns conducting religious services, usually at
the school, with other ministers in town.
“We didn’t have a church or a saloon, but we survived,” says Handley.
The tight-knit community gathered for picnics, swam in the canals
and played donkey baseball. “The animal would buck you off his
back; it was hilarious,” says Handley.
After the chaplain died, Johnny Rose closed his grocery store and
opened a pool hall. He renovated the building on the northeast corner
of Main and Brown with the eye-catching white glazed bricks that
still adorn the façade of J. Chew Song’s Mexican Imports store.
Across the street, I searched for souvenirs at Bischoff’s Shades of
the West, built on the site of Scottsdale’s first general store and post
office. On the north side of Main Street, a drugstore used to exist
where Saba’s now sells cowboy boots. And you can still walk inside
George Cavalliere’s adobe blacksmith shop. He’d tried putting his tin-shed
shop closer in town, but the town fathers didn’t want to smell
the fumes, so he built an adobe structure at what was then “the edge
of town,” two blocks away. The family still operates the business that
specializes in ornamental design. And the carriage on the roof?
“Oh, that’s just there for attention,” says Handley, “but the shop is
full of history itself, so you don’t want to miss it.”
Though the farms are gone and the only plow you might find is
under cobwebs at Cavalliere’s, it’s clear Old Town Scottsdale hasn’t
lost its old-time charm.
I think Winfield Scott would be glad to see that.
THE WEST’S MOST
WESTERN TOWN BY MARILYN HAWKES
The City of Scottsdale mixes urban living with
Western style. Sleek, modern high-rises tower
over low-slung Old West storefronts, and horse-drawn
carriages clop past Hummers and stretch
limos. If you’re looking for something different
to do in this city of contrast, here are four ideas.
While walking this tour, Phoenix-based Jackie Dishner says she was most
fascinated to learn Arizona’s first tent city came long before current Maricopa
County Sheriff Joe Arpaio started his infamous tent jail.
Tempe-based photographers Ryan B. and Don B. Stevenson roamed Old Town for
hours and discovered many sites and much history they have missed over the years.
SCOTTSDALE MUSEUM OF
CONTEMPORARY ART (SMOCA)
Even if you’re not a fan of modern art, the Scottsdale Museum
of Contemporary Art has some distinctive architecture and a
well-stocked museum store. SMoCA, the only museum in Arizona
devoted to contemporary art, design and architecture, sits next
to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Five galleries host changing
exhibitions and a growing permanent collection. Local architect Will
Bruder, whose work includes the Phoenix Central Library and the
upcoming ASU Downtown Campus, designed the museum. An
outdoor sculpture garden features the work of artist James Turrell.
(480) 994-2787; www.smoca.org.
Just west of Scottsdale
architect Paolo Soleri’s
rustic residence and
among some of
the largest homes
in Paradise Valley.
Soleri built Cosanti
in the mid-1950s
as an architectural
concrete poured over
earthen shell molds
designed to stay cool
in the summer and
warm in the winter.
An on-site foundry
produces bronze and
ceramic windbells that
hang throughout the
in peaceful, harmonious tones. Bells range in price from $26 to
thousands of dollars for a signed, one-of-a-kind piece. Toll-free (800)
752-3187, (480) 948-6145; www.arcosanti.org/expCosanti/.
HOUSE OF BROADCASTING, ARIZONA’S RADIO
AND TELEVISION MUSEUM
Located in a converted second-floor apartment over the Santa Fe West
store, this museum preserves and celebrates Arizona’s broadcasting
industry. Exhibits include memorabilia from local celebrities as well as
national icons like Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings. Don’t miss Buck
Owens’ red rhinestone suit. (602) 944-1997;
PINNACLE PEAK PARK
Run, walk, climb or ride on horseback to discover one of Scottsdale’s
newest parks, once inhabited by the Hohokam people in the 13th
century. The 3.5-mile Pinnacle Peak trail has an elevation gain of
about 1,300 feet with stops along the way for impressive Valley
vistas. Watch for desert tortoises, mule deer, javelinas and gray foxes
along the trail. Depending on the time of year, the park staff offers
interpretive tours, moonlit walks, astronomy evenings and wildflower
walks. (480) 312-0990; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/pinnacle/.
Discover the recreational, restorative and retail paradise of
Scottsdale at arizonahighways.com (click on the March “Trip Planner”).
Hikers dwarfed by the
imposing arms of a saguaro
cactus descend the Pinnacle
Peak trail. In designated
climbing areas, the 1.4 billion-year-
old granite rock
formations provide a
challenging venue for
experienced rock climbers.
42 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
by Kathleen Walker illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler
the birds don’t come to my piece of the desert. No more
mourning doves lulling me into the day. I even miss the idiot
woodpecker who worked my metal chimney like a Gatling gun
every dawn at 5 a.m. The parades of quail, top knots a-flopping,
marching past my gate — gone. The Birdlady got them.
In the midst of some obsession, this neighbor decided to feed
the birds of southern Arizona, all of them. She began with a few
handfuls of seeds, a few feeders, some suet and seed-covered
gewgaws. New flight patterns of the local birds began to emerge.
Quails made their little tracks to her place. Cactus wrens
deserted their cacti. Within a matter of weeks, a visit to this
neighbor took on all the aspects of a lone Piper Cub flying into
50 B-17s heading for Berlin on a World War II bombing mission.
I’d round the corner and here they’d come, a gray mass
flying right at me, their screams joining my own as I covered
my head with my arms. Other birds, driven hysterical by the
interruption of their constant feeding, would slam into the
Birdlady’s windows, knocking themselves silly.
The Birdlady expanded her feeding sites into the desert. She
would disappear into the cactus thicket with her 20-pound bag
of seed and moments later reappear like a wraith. I lost about
10 years of my life on a morning walk because of one of those
surprising glides out of the desert. Shadowy movements in the
underbrush out here are never a good sign.
I had already lost a decade to another desert shadow. This
one stepped out of the cacti in the form of a great hairy beast
the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. His tusks, 3 feet long, curled
like rigatoni. His black pebble eyes riveted on mine. Then, he
lifted one satanic hoof and growled. The King of Javelinas had
I moved, slowly and backward, croaking, “Nice piggy, piggy,
piggy,” in what was left of my voice. He kept watching until I
broke into a full hell-bent-for-Texas retreat. This story kept my
Connecticut Yankee mother housebound for the duration of
her annual winter visit.
Wait till she hears about the bear.
The general belief holds that the Birdlady’s feedings have
upset the balance of nature in this part of the Sonoran Desert.
Never has so much birdseed been wheeled out of the local
hardware store. And, as our ever-fatter feathered friends gorge,
so do those who dine on bird.
We’ve always had our bobcats and coyotes, but they used to
be just a whisper of a speckled pelt or skinny body, gone before
you knew they were there. Now we’ve got bobcats so satiated
you stumble over them rolling on their backs, legs pawing
at the air. Coyotes saunter past in pairs, waiting for the next
seating in the paloverde thicket. The smacking of lips can be
heard everywhere. But bobcats and coyotes come with desert
living. Bears are a whole different matter.
The Birdlady made the first sighting. She drove down the
road, yelling a warning to me and my dog Daisy out for our
“A bear,” she shouted. “Right up there,” she motioned back
up the road.
“No, no,” I said. “That’s just the big red dog some moron lets
out every morning to scare the life out of everybody.”
“No, a bear.” Her eyes were wild. “He was standing up. A big
Nobody believed her. How could you, a woman always
covered with birdseed and feathers? But, a bear it was, down
from the mountains to the north, to feed on garbage, some said.
Others grimaced and nodded in the direction of my neighbor’s
feeding sites as the real cause for the arrival.
“He’s shy,” came the report of the Arizona Game and Fish
Department, which apparently planned to limit its initial
involvement to character judgments.
Shy? Was he going to lower his head and give me those big
black eyes all winking and blinking, all golly gee, with one big
old foot kicking at the dust? No. He was going to eat my dog
and then me.
They did say he wouldn’t like noise. Then, I would sing as I
walked, loud and happy. That first song shocked me more than
it would ever shock a bear.
I opened my mouth wide, stretched back my neck and
pronounced melodically at the top of my lungs: “FROGGY
WENT A-COURTIN’ AND HE DID RIDE, UH-HUH, UH-HUH.”
Good grief, where did this come from, what childhood
memory, what kindergarten morning, what Burl Ives sing-along
resided in the recesses of my brain? And why? Not only did I
remember the song, I remembered every word, every verse,
every hillbilly nuance, and so would every neighbor in a 5-mile
radius. All this from a woman who can barely remember where
she’s put the car keys six seconds after getting out of the car.
The bear went on to meet his demise on a nearby golf course,
shot by some branch of the government who knew the truth
of bears. He had already been removed once from dangerously
peopled territory. He just liked his garbage too much. Which
leaves us only the coyotes, the bobcats, the King of the
Javelinas and the Birdlady.
“Hawks,” somebody shouted angrily at her yesterday. “You’ve
brought hawks.” Like that would be an insult.
of the Birdlady
along the way
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44 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
by Brian Minnick photographs by Richard K. Webb 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.
from talkative birds,
deer and bighorn sheep, to
mines, grizzled road workers,
and trucks with house-high
tires, an excursion to Rose
Peak, in east-central Arizona,
offers the traveler a look into
some of Arizona’s most
beautiful landscapes, the
highs of Mother Nature.
A musty forest greets us at
the trailhead. Billowing
clouds surrounding Rose Peak
have dumped enough rain to
make the forest floor spongy.
Two Phoenix refugees, Josh
Hart and I relish the cool 46-
degree weather as we begin
climbing on the 8,786-foot-high
mountain, the highest in
eastern Arizona’s Blue Range
Primitive Area. The broad
trail quickly narrows after
passing through a wire gate
fastened with a bough of oak.
The yellowing ferns and late-blooming
penstemon covering the path
testify to the trail’s light use.
The steep trail and elevation
strain our lowlander lungs,
demanding a few short rests,
during which two whitetail
does eye us warily from above.
We make it halfway up the
trail, where the pitch becomes
steep and turns into a series of
meandering switchbacks. The
forest has a rich diversity of
midsized ponderosa pine and
Gambel oak trees, which block
the midmorning sun peeking
through an opening in the
clouds. A small patch of
aspens remains about three-fourths
of the way up, but this
is the only evidence of the
majestic white-barked tree. As
we reach the crest, the pines
yield to Gambel oaks.
Although it is listed as a half-mile,
the trail’s twists and
turns and overall steepness,
make it feel longer. A fire
tower, redone in 1981, is a
welcome sight, as the thin
mountain air takes a toll on us
desert rats. Near the fire tower,
the peak boasts a small hut
and an outhouse for the lucky
soul who lives here in the
summer watching for fires.
The view from the top
reveals a sea of green, with
wilderness areas rolling off in
every direction. Veiled in
ominous dark clouds to the
east, the Blue Range Primitive
Area stretches into New
Mexico. Far north in the
White Mountains resides
Hannagan Meadow. To the
west, the skyline drops into
miles of uninhabited chaparral
forest on the San Carlos
Apache Indian Reservation. To
the south lie Eagle Creek, the
San Francisco River and the
10,713-foot-high sky island of
We remain all alone, save for
the distant sound of an
occasional passing car on U.S.
Route 191, dubbed the
Coronado Trail after the
Spanish explorer Francisco
Vasquez de Coronado. While
on the summit, our thoughts
turn toward Coronado, who
entered Arizona more than
460 years ago on his ill-fated
search for Cibola and the Seven
Cities of Gold. If Coronado did
pass by Rose Peak on his
search, surely a scout would
have come here to peer into the
distance for a glimpse of a
glistening city of gold.
The clouds congeal into an
approaching storm, and we
decide standing at the bottom
of a 30-foot metal tower is not a
place for idle conversation
should lightning strike. We
descend this beautiful peak,
named for wild roses daubing
its northern face, to the
serenade of a white-throated
sparrow, to which we wave
A chorus of birds,
and breezes plays
on Rose Peak
Length: 1 mile round-trip.
Elevation Gain: 360 feet.
Payoff: Cool temperatures,
seclusion and awe-inspiring view.
Location: 53 miles north of
Clifton on U.S. Route 191.
Getting There: From Phoenix, travel
east on U.S. Route 60 to Globe.
Take U.S. Route 70 east 77 miles
to U.S. 191, past Safford. Drive
northeast on U.S. 191 for 34 miles
to Clifton, continuing north on 191
for another 53 miles to the Rose
Peak (No. 345) trailhead. Parking
is on the east side of the road.
Additional Information: (928) 687-
TIPTOP TOWER The overgrown trail leading to the summit of Rose Peak
reveals one of many fire lookout towers in the Apache-Sitgreaves National
Forests. The vantage point also offers scenic nature views rolling in every
direction, from the bushy growth of the Blue Range Primitive Area to the
skylines of surrounding mountains.
PLANT POWER Framing a layered view looking toward the San Carlos
Apache Reservation and Mogollon Rim, a profusion of plant life stands as a
testament to the light traffic near Rose Peak’s summit.
n Rose Peak
San Francisco River
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
back road adventure
displays of spring wildflowers
occur in deserts and arid
regions. Elsewhere, reliable
rains nourish year-round
plants. But in the desert, the
year-rounders must space
themselves out — leaving lots
of open ground for
wildflowers in the rare, wet
years — maybe once every
three to five years locally and
once a decade regionally. In
key areas after a wet year, up
to 200,000 wildflower seeds
await in a single square-yard
of dry desert soil. But the
displays remain maddeningly,
wonderfully fitful. That
perfect year requires a 1-inch
downpour in autumn to
trigger germination of the
buried seeds, followed by
another 4 to 7 inches of rain
scattered throughout the next
five months, according to A
Natural History of the Sonoran
Desert. But even then, weeds
spurred by summer rains,
winter frosts, premature
warm spells and population
booms among ants or
kangaroo rats can smother a
good wildflower year.
So I can only hope for the
best as we turn off the good
gravel road onto the four-wheel-
drive road leading up
At the base of the hill, I
pull over in triumph.
The slope ahead glows
yellow with brittlebushes,
offset by brilliant patches of
poppies and eyeball-popping
purple orgies of owl clover.
“Wow,” says Kelly. “Sweet.”
I smirk for a moment before
grabbing my camera and
charging out into the
mountain of flowers, lost in
Oz. An hour later, I am
smeared with pollen, and Kelly
looks ever so slightly bored.
Happy as a bee on nectar, I
resolve to pad my triumph as
a tour guide.
“I’ve got petroglyphs and
I’ve got herons about 50 miles
south,” I say.
“Sounds good,” he says,
So we set out for Gila Bend
along a back road. We pick
our way past the flowers, over
the saddle, down the backside
of the ridge and on a couple of
miles to Elliot Road, which
runs through farmland before
reconnecting to Buckeye
Road. Half a mile later, we
turn south on Old Highway
80, which runs along the Gila
River. The Gila once
civilizations, but now flows
only when heavy rains force
water releases from the string
of reservoirs that sustain
Phoenix. On this wet year,
water rushing down the Gila
has summoned the ghostly
Painted Rock Reservoir back
from the dead.
So we trundle about 30
miles on down the paved
road to Gila Bend, then
continue west a few miles on
Interstate 8 to Painted Rock
Roughly 13 miles up that
road, we turn aside at the sign
directing us to the Painted
Rocks Petroglyph Site. The
Hohokam tended their crops
along the then-reliable Gila
for nearly 1,000 years, before
vanishing mysteriously in the
1400s. On this small hill,
they incised on boulders a
demented dance of human
figures, animals and
geometric patterns, pecking
out the shapes with
painstaking care in the thin
layer of desert varnish on the
“Wow,” says Kelly. “Cool.”
I can do no wrong.
So I figure I’ll finish with a
flourish — flocks of water
birds spattering about on the
surface of Painted Rock
Heading back toward Gila
Bend, I turn on a dirt road
heading down to the
reincarnated lake. The
thready road comes suddenly
A PURPLE BLAZE
A vibrant field of owl clover comes
to life in the shadow of the Eagletail
Mountains. george stocking
n To order a print of this photograph,
see inside front cover.
ON THE ROCKS
Ancient petrogylphs, etched by the
Hohokam Indians in the 1300s, adorn
basalt rocks about 20 miles from Gila
Bend. peter aleshire
46 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
by Peter Aleshire, editor
Search for Saddle Mountain wildflowers turns into a mud hole too far
Pete and Kelly’s
i am absolutely,
positively determined to
He’s the Arizona Highways
director of marketing and one
charming son-of-a-gun. By
contrast, I am funny-looking
And now with my editorial
reputation on the line, I have
vowed to impress him with
wildflowers, within 65 miles
of downtown Phoenix. As we
speed out Interstate 10 past
Buckeye, I’m thinking, What
the heck was I thinking?
Wildflowers are like lightning
strikes: Even if you run
around on a golf course with
a 10-foot metal pole in a
thunderstorm, you can only
hope for a strike. Only a fool
guarantees a lightning strike.
Fortunately, I cultivate
clever friends. Knowing that
Director of Photography Peter
Ensenberger hangs out with
photographers who will drive
300 miles on the rumor of a
poppy patch, I seek his
suggestion. Saddle Mountain
in the Eagletails, recommends
So off we go, Kelly oozing
charm and me spitting out
factoids like bug splats on the
In an hour, we approach
the volcanic contortion of
mountains that once
harbored the sacred sites and
hunting grounds of the
Hohokam, who built a
complex civilization along the
intersection of the Salt, Verde
and Gila rivers back where
Phoenix now sprawls.
Today, these mountains
harbor another implausible
The winter-summer dual
rainy seasons of the Sonoran
Desert produce perhaps
the greatest flourish of
wildflowers on the planet. Of
course, most of the brilliant
to the flat surface of the lake,
which has already peaked
and started to recede. The
ground is just muddy enough
to make my Jeep impressive.
So I back up the Jeep and
turn it around smartly. Well,
not that smartly. Dumbly, if
you must know.
Off the compacted road,
the Jeep begins to sink into
the mud. I gun it. Do not stop
when you’re sinking.
Momentum is your friend.
Good advice. But add this
codicil: Don’t turn the wheel
too sharply when you gun it.
The wheels cut into the
muck, the Jeep settles on its
belly and the wheels spin
TOUGH AS NAILS
Hardened Arizona Highways Editor
Peter Aleshire fights the mud at
Painted Rock Reservoir, trying to free
his Jeep. kelly mero
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> Beginning in Phoenix, drive west on Interstate 10. Take Exit 94,
Tonopah Road, and drive south 3.5 miles to Buckeye-Salome Road.
> Turn right (west) onto Buckeye-Salome Road for .5 of a mile to 427th
> Turn left (south) onto 427th Ave., a rough unpaved road leading
up Saddle Mountain.
> Continue driving on the unpaved road over the saddle to Elliot Road.
> Turn left (east) onto Elliot Road, driving approximately 10 miles.
> Turn right (south) onto Buckeye-Salome Road and drive 2 miles.
> Turn right (west) onto Old Highway 80, driving for 33 miles to
> At Gila Bend, take Interstate 8 west for 12.5 miles to Painted
Rock Dam Road at Exit 102.
> Turn right onto Painted Rock Dam Road and follow it for 10.7 miles to
Rocky Point Road, an unpaved side road that leads to the petroglyph site
after .6 of a mile. (Painted Rock Dam is closed to the public.)
> Return to Painted Rock Dam Road and backtrack to return
to I-8, driving east for 12.5 miles to Gila Bend.
> Turn left (north) onto State Route 85; drive for 34 miles to
Interstate 10 East.
back road adventure
GIL A B EN D MO U N TA I N S
Painted Rock Reservoir
To Casa Grande
Old Hwy. 80
Vehicle Requirements: Parts of
this route require 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 are going
and when you plan to return.
Travel Advisory: Please preserve
the Painted Rocks Petroglyph
Site by not climbing or writing
on the rocks. This is an important
archaeological site overseen by
the Bureau of Land Management.
(623) 580-5500; www.blm.
48 m a r c h 2 0 0 7
I’m stuck — really, really
Kelly steps out carefully,
somehow not sinking into the
mud. He then stands calmly
on the hard-packed road,
ready to call out helpful
Avert your eyes now: This
next interlude involves
substantial flopping about in
the mud to find rocks and
sticks to jam under the tires,
followed by much spinning of
tires and the smell of burning
rubber. So I pull out the high-lift
jack, build a foundation of
rocks and sticks to avoid
sinking out of sight into the
mud, then jack up the front
and shove it to the side off the
jack so the front end will
bounce to earth free of the
But as I prepare to repeat
the process on the back end, I
discover I cannot make the
bumper hook on the jack go
down. The little lever-thingy
is stuck. I bang, bash, drop,
kick and curse. Nothing.
Kelly wanders over, cocks
his head and says, “Trouble?”
I briefly consider hitting
him with the jack, but then
decide I would rather watch
him flounder about in the
mud. So I hand him the jack.
He does something
graceful and offhand with the
little lever thing, which
He hands me back the jack.
So I lever out the back end,
regain the security of the road
and flee Painted Rock
Reservoir. As we return to the
clumps of mud spin off the
tires and clang against the
underside of the Jeep. Kelly
leans back, without a care in
“Sure beats working,” he
I nod, abashed.
“Great flowers,” he adds.
He’s absolutely right.
Sure is hard to hate those
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
In the valleys below Saddle
Mountain, Arizona’s most
photographed wildflower, the
Mexican goldpoppy, opens only for
stark sunlight. peter ensenberger
n To order a print of this photograph,
see inside front cover.
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