N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 7
The Plane That Crashed in Sedona's Red Rocks
The Grande Dame
of Rodeo Photography
Juan Miller Road:
One of the Best Drives
in the White Mountains
Hint: It's not far
We're not kidding.
See page 22
FRUITFUL FUN Kids of all ages dash for sweet treats during
the “Fruit Scramble” event at the 4th Annual Natoni Horse Race
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 16. tom bean
FRONT COVER Navajo hoop dancer Tyrese Jensen, 7, competes in
the 16th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held at the
Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. See story, page 32. jeff kida
BACK COVER A hiker amounts to a Tiny Tim on the window
"sill" of Los Gigantes Buttes Arch near the Lukachukai Mountains
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 24. tom till
n To order a print of this photograph, see information on opposite page.
contents november 2007
The natural beauty of Western Arizona is showcased at
Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, which plays host to a wide
variety of species year-round. To find out more about
Cibola and other Arizona wildlife refuges as well as the
state’s western region, visit arizonahighways.com and click
on our November “Trip Planner.”
WEEKEND GETAWAY Soar past Yuma’s Marine Corps Air
Station and land a tour at the Saihati Camel Farm and
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park.
SLIDESHOW See more Louise Serpa rodeo photography at
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan your Arizona getaway with our
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 arizonahighwaysprints.com.
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 EDITOR'S LETTER
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures.
42 ALONG THE WAY
Boys will be boys.
44 HIKE OF THE MONTH
Cottonwood Creek hike offers rugged
wilderness close to Phoenix.
46 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
A rough road winds through brilliant fall
color on the way to the Blue River.
HOO BLINKS FIRST? A burrowing owl, roughly the
size of a feathered football, stares from a roadside
post on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge near
Yuma. See story, page 22. george stocking
FRONT COVER Viewed from the California side of the
Colorado River, a bank of clouds at sunrise mimics the
river’s course through the Cibola refuge. george stocking
BACK COVER Bigtooth maple leaves coat the forest floor
along the Sterling Canyon Trail in the Coconino National
Forest near Sedona. See story, page 16. larry lindahl
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on opposite page.
8 Rodeo’s Grande Dame
Tucson photographer Louise Serpa won
her buckle and spurs with true grit and
broken bones. by tim vanderpool
16 In Plane View
Of Sedona's many scenic wonders, Vultee
Arch is among the most impressive. Prior to a
plane crash in 1938, however, few people, if
any had ever seen it. by larry lindahl
22 Western Exposure
If you think Arizona’s natural beauty is limited to
its northern, southern and eastern regions, think
again. The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, just
north of Yuma, is a natural wonder that attracts
sandhill cranes, deer and the occasional burro.
by george stocking
34 Earp Lives
Tombstone re-enactors step back in time to
keep the spirit of the Old West alive.
by leo w. banks photographs by david zickl
40 Virile Reptile
Mountain spiny lizards are usually laid-back,
but once a year, the males puff up their
chests and overdose on testosterone.
by john alcock
We live in Connecticut and will eventually
be moving to Buckeye. I wish to commend
you on a great magazine. We look forward to
receiving it out there and using it as a guide
for future travel in what will be our lovely
home state of Arizona. We’ve already begun
an itinerary for future travels in Arizona,
and we’d love to capture the essence of
Arizona in pictures as well as you do.
Ron and Diane Bedard, Newington, Connecticut
I recently “discovered” your magazine, and
now I’m a brand-new subscriber. On our
vacation out to Arizona I (briefly) saw a
roadrunner. I was quite taken by him, and
wondered if you’ve had any stories about
them recently. If not, are you planning any
in the near future? Sure would like to learn
about them. By the way, love the photos.
Keep up the good work.
Bob Burrell, Pocasset, Massachusetts
Editor’s Note: We haven’t done anything recently on
roadrunners, but if you’d like to learn more, visit
Engulfed by the Canyon
Your June 2007 issue, which featured the
Grand Canyon, was one of sheer majesty.
Like the Canyon itself, you managed to
leave the reader in a state of awe and
majesty. From the beginning “appetizer”
article, “Father and Son Create a ‘Mystery of
Grand Canyon’ ” [page 5] showing a young
David Muench, to the “main course piece
de resistance” article, Charles Bowden’s
“Point of View” [page 28], I felt like I was
one with the Canyon. I needed to reread
Bowden’s article several times, because
each time I read it, I was brought to tears.
And that’s what the Canyon wants from
us — to be totally engulfed in all its glories.
Celia M. Horwood, Cowley, Alberta, Canada
Looming in the Distance
I was quite interested to read about Leo W.
Banks’ encounter with Elijah Blair in the
July 2007 issue [“Satisfying Serendipity,”
page 42]. I met Mr. Blair when I went to
Blair’s Trading Post in Page in 2005 to look
for wool for a rug. I’d been told by a
Navajo woman that I’d met earlier that it
was the best place, locally, to find wool. My
plan was to make a “Navajo” rug, but on a
floor (or horizontal) loom, not on the
traditional vertical loom used by the
Navajos. My husband and I were traveling
through Southern Utah and Northern
Arizona and every Navajo I shared my plan
with asked, “Why?”
At any rate, Mr. Blair was in the trading
post the day I was there and started talking
to my husband, who told him my plan. He
expressed surprise, saying he’d learned
weaving on a floor loom in Kentucky, but
he’d never heard of anyone making a
Navajo rug on one. If I succeeded, he
asked me to send him a picture.
I bought the wool I needed that day and
started the rug in the fall. It took nine
months, but I did it — in the traditional
Ganado red style. I sent a photo to Mr.
Blair, of course, to let him know that
almost anything is possible if you’re dumb
enough and stubborn enough to try it!
Mary Christner, Detroit, Michigan
western arizona is a little
like Rodney Dangerfield. It gets no
respect. Other than Lake Mead and
Lake Havasu, there aren’t a lot of
postcard opportunities in that part
of the state — if you want to impress
somebody in East Lansing or South
Bend, you send them something from
Sedona. That’s the theory, anyway. Even the Colorado River,
which is exalted for its run through the Canyon, gets little
regard for its 250-mile stretch along the Arizona-California
border. And then there’s Yuma, apathetically known to
Phoenicians as the “rest-stop on the way to San Diego.”
Needless to say, there’s much more to Yuma than that,
including the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, which is hidden
along the river just north of the city. As the name implies, this
place is a sanctuary for sandhill cranes, deer and the occasional
wild burro. There are coyotes and other mammals, too, but
mostly there are birds, especially this time of year, when the
snow geese and Canada geese settle in for the winter. They’re
attracted by the water and the nearby cornfields. The fact that
it’s beautiful means nothing to them. It means something to us,
though, which is why we put the refuge on this month’s cover
and featured it in this month’s portfolio.
As you’ll see in “Western Exposure” by photographer
George Stocking, Cibola is worth visiting and worth writing
home about. Really, if you think the state’s natural beauty is
limited to its northern, southern and eastern regions, George’s
gorgeous photos will change your mind. Take a look. The place
is beautiful, and George is an excellent photographer. So is
Unless you’re a rodeo enthusiast, you’re probably not
familiar with Louise. You should get to know her, though.
In the same way that Annie Leibovitz is the high priestess of
celebrity photography, Louise Serpa is the grande dame of
rodeo photography. Her ascent, however, was hardly expected.
As a young socialite growing up in New York, the “wild
West” was a world away. That is, until age 9, when her mother
headed to Nevada for a quick divorce. Louise was in tow, and
along the way she caught a glimpse of her future. It took her
awhile to get there, including a detour through Vassar, but
when she had the chance, she embraced John Soule’s (not
Horace Greeley’s) “go-west-young-man” mantra — so what if it
wasn’t politically correct, she knew where she wanted to be.
In “Rodeo’s Grande Dame” by Tim Vanderpool, you’ll learn
more about this remarkable woman’s journey, and her ultimate
rise to the top of a profession dominated by men. You’ll also
see a sample of her work — exquisite black-and-whites that
normally grace the walls of museums — and when you do,
you’ll be impressed. If you think it’s tough taking a picture of
a 5-year-old on a pony, imagine trying to capture a cowboy on
a bucking bronco with a three-second window of opportunity.
It’s not easy, which is why Tucson’s Louise Serpa is the reigning
champion of rodeo photography.
Like the grande dame, Gerard Vultee was a champion of
sorts. And likewise, he made a name for himself in Arizona. As
an aeronautical engineer, Vultee was renowned for designing
some of the fastest planes in the world, as well as the first fully
retractable landing gear. In 1938, however, his story took a
dramatic turn in the rugged backcountry near Sedona.
He was flying one of his own planes from Washington, D.C.,
to California when he and his wife encountered a snowstorm
about 60 miles southwest of Winslow. As Larry Lindahl writes
in “In Plane View,” “Vultee desperately tried to escape the
blinding storm . . . But flying without instrument training, he
soon grew fatally disoriented. Three miles north of Wilson
Mountain, 37-year-old Gerard Vultee flew his plane into the
ground, igniting a huge explosion.”
Both passengers died, but in the search for the wreckage,
rescuers “discovered” an incredible 40-foot sandstone arch.
No doubt Native Americans were familiar with the spectacular
landmark, but prior to the crash, European settlers had never
seen it. Today, Vultee Arch — named, of course, for the man
who helped unearth it — stands as one of the area’s most scenic
wonders. And like the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in
Western Arizona, it’s yet another way to impress the folks back
in East Lansing. Postcards are available in Sedona.
— Robert Stieve
editor’s letter by Robert Stieve
My wife recently bought a house in Green Valley,
south of Tucson, and after her last trip, she brought
back a copy of your magazine [August 2007]. I’m a
professional photographer — my work is mostly
shown in art galleries and museums of
contemporary art — so I’m not exactly your average
customer who’s happy to see a couple of pictures in
a magazine. Usually, most of the photos are taken as
a job, no love, no passion, just boring color on paper.
But now comes one of those exceptions, actually,
two of them, in one magazine — that is really rare! I
don’t know who Mr. Steve Bruno is, but I can see he’s an outstanding photographer
by the way he composed the photos on pages 22-31 [“Wet Wizard”]. It’s very
impressive and a real joy.
In addition, I have a question: Why show only two photos by somebody who
really knows how to photograph animals? Mr. Marty Cordano’s job on the cicadas
[“Troubadours of Summer,” page 36] is among the best I’ve seen in a long time, so
I’d love to see more work of this superb artist with the lens.
Heinz Lechner, New York, New York
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
NOVEMBER 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 11
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
Editor ROBERT STIEVE
Senior Editor RANDY SUMMERLIN
Managing Editor SALLY BENFORD
Book Division Editor BOB ALBANO
Books Associate Editor EVELYN HOWELL
Editorial Administrator NIKKI KIMBEL
Editorial Assistant PAULY HELLER
Director of Photography PETER ENSENBERGER
Photography Editor JEFF KIDA
Art Director BARBARA GLYNN DENNEY
Deputy Art Director SONDA ANDERSSON PAPPAN
Art Assistant DIANA BENZEL-RICE
Map Designer KEVIN KIBSEY
Production Director MICHAEL BIANCHI
Promotions Art Director RONDA JOHNSON
Webmaster VICKY SNOW
Director of Sales & Marketing KELLY MERO
Circulation Director HOLLY CARNAHAN
Finance Director BOB ALLEN
Information Technology CINDY BORMANIS
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2 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7
Arizona Highways magazine has inspired an
independent weekly television series, hosted by
former Phoenix TV news anchor Robin Sewell.
For channels and show times, log on to
arizonahighways.com; click on “DISCOVER
ARIZONA”; then click on the “Arizona Highways
goes to television!” link on the right-hand side.
Arizona Highways® (ISSN 0004-1521) is published monthly by the
Arizona Department of Transportation. Subscription price: $24 a
year in the U.S., $44 outside the U.S. Single copy: $3.99 U.S. Send
and change of address information
to Arizona Highways,
PO Box 653, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0653.
Periodical postage paid at Phoenix, AZ and at additional mailing
office. CANADA POST INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS MAIL
DISTRIBUTION) SALES AGREEMENT NO.
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© 2007 by the Arizona
Department of Transportation.
in whole or in part without
permission is prohibited. The
magazine does not accept and is not responsible for unsolicited
Produced in the USA
highways on tv
Louise Serpa isn’t your
typical rodeo photographer.
She grew up in New York,
went to school at Vassar
and excelled in a world
dominated by men.
4 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
“the future is simply the past crouching in the
present.” Or so I was told as a student at Arizona State
University. This revelation came about the same time I
interned at Arizona Highways magazine.
Little did I know that an incident involving the lowly task of
organizing photographs in filing cabinets would educate me
about the cyclical world we live in. Sometimes, only in looking
backward do we realize that things appear as if they were all
laid out according to a master plan. Inspiration and vision,
coupled with courage and a dash of luck, can form a perfect storm
out of which true magic is manifest, much like Arizona Highways.
Tom Cooper, the magazine’s editor in 1978, assigned me to
sort and organize what seemed to be a room filled with filing
cabinets containing black-and-white photographs. These were
archives on loan from contributors to be used as the editors
needed. One of the cabinets was stocked with yellowed mat
boards, each containing multiple images. A plain rubber-stamped
inscription affixed to each read simply, “Ansel
Adams.” The quality of the images wasn’t very good, but I was
assured these were work prints for review and not for actual
reproduction. The final selections were printed specifically
for the magazine’s use and called in later as needed. These
assemblages were acquired in the early 1950s, born out of a
wonderful relationship that developed between Adams and
then-Highways editor, Raymond Carlson.
I recently found some correspondence reflecting the
enthusiasm of both the photographic genius and Carlson, the
“philosophical architect” of Arizona Highways. What began
as a strictly working relationship between the two men grew
rapidly into a genuine friendship. Their mutual respect for
each other generated visual concepts that spawned brilliant
photographic essays filling the pages of the magazine from
1952 to 1954.
“I am pregnant with ideas!!!!” wrote Adams to Carlson on
March 14, 1953. “Maybe there will be a multiple birth!! Luff to
you and yours.”
Ansel Adams’ style, the unique vision, powerful foregrounds
and dramatic use of light was a catalyst that slowly
transformed the look of the publication from its documentary
roots into the stylistic and inspired magazine it is today.
Looking back, it’s as if it was meant to be.
Sorting the images geographically, I waded through the
collection, bin by bin. As I got to the bottom drawer of one
cabinet, I noticed something different about one of the mats.
Peaking out from beneath the now-familiar boards was a
different color and texture. Anxious and curious, I hurried to
uncover it. What I held in my
dusty hands was amazing.
I held an 11-by-14-inch
image of White House Ruin
mounted on rag board. This
wasn’t a work print. It wasn’t
discolored or stamped. It
was signed by Ansel Adams, master photographer. A legend. I
would be lying if I told you I didn’t think long and hard about
a new personal acquisition. How long had this stuff been here?
Who, if anyone, knew about this particular image?
After some serious soul-searching, I walked into Tom’s
office and laid the print on his desk, suggesting it needed to
be properly displayed, either in our offices or possibly in my
apartment. It was his call.
Needless to say, it was cleaned up, meticulously framed and
hung appropriately at the magazine, a reminder of our heritage.
Those long-forgotten work prints were recently donated to
the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. A fitting
destination considering the center retains the archives of Adams
and many other great 20th-century photographers. Among the
notables are Edward Weston, Richard Avedon, Lola Alvarez
Bravo and W. Eugene Smith. Not only is this an amazing
repository and research center for students and educators, but
it’s also open to the public, free of charge. Individuals and
groups are invited to view works in the art collection by
advance appointment, having selected the photographs they
would like to view. I sometimes wonder if anyone ever asks to
see the Adams/Arizona Highways work prints.
If you’re in Tucson, check out the center. Who knows,
maybe there’s a budding Ansel in our midst, searching for just
the right conditions to set the wheels of inspiration in motion.
Maybe it will happen to you, and your future will be realized
by looking ever so closely at the past.
Sign of the Times
if you find yourself at the crossroads
outside Cibola National Wildlife Refuge,
you might be overwhelmed by all the
choices on the signpost. With so many
options, just pick an arrow and jump back
on the highway. You could take a back-road
adventure to Hart Mine or a quick
trip to Paradise. Inside the refuge, loop
around Canada Goose Drive to see many
of the birds that take sanctuary there.
In fact, close to 85 percent of Arizona’s
wintering goose population lives on the
refuge, so you’re bound to spot a few. Of
course, you could bypass it all and head
straight to Miller Time.
by Jeff Kida, photography editor, email@example.com
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(click on “Photography”).
This photograph of White House
Ruin was made in 1951 by Ansel
Adams close to midday from the
floor of Canyon de Chelly. The image
was first published in Arizona
Highways in June 1952 and later
reclaimed from the depths of a filing
cabinet. ansel adams
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
For more information, contact the Center for Creative Photography,
(520) 621-7968; www.creativephotography.org/.
6 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
A Bottle of Bubbly Awaits ‘The Last Man’
a current phoenix museum exhibit looks a lot like a New Year’s celebration just
waiting to happen. A bottle of champagne and two glasses sit in the Arizona State Capitol
Museum in Phoenix, awaiting the surviving sailor who will indulge in the bubbly.
In 1976, 21 shipmates organized the USS Arizona Reunion Association, which later
expanded to include wives, relatives and friends, and now boasts 700 members. When
the number of the battleship’s survivors diminishes to just one man, he will open the
champagne and knock back the vintage chosen to commemorate Gerald Ford’s visit to
Spain in May 1975.
Lt. Commander Oree Weller, now deceased, donated “The Last Man” bottle of
champagne, which has a gold-plated label affixed atop a piece of satin. The sailor will toast
the memory of the men who served aboard the ship, before returning the empty bottle to
The museum houses other exhibits and USS Arizona displays at 1700 W. Washington St.,
Phoenix. It is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information: (602) 926-3620; lib.az.us/museum.
recipe for fun: Before heading out on a
family camping trip, pack some sugar-water and a
hummingbird feeder. After setting up camp, hang the
feeder from a low branch, and before you
know it, you’ll have a host of hummers swooping in
for a visit.
Bruce Aiken: Grand Canyon Treasure
in the tradition of thomas moran, Samuel Coleman
and Maynard Dixon, artist Bruce Aiken (above) uses his intimate
knowledge of the Grand Canyon to render stunning illustrations
of the Canyon’s scenic landscapes.
In Bruce Aiken’s Grand Canyon: An Intimate Affair — a new
book from the Grand Canyon Association written by Susan
Hallsten McGarry that features 130 full-color reproductions of his work — the artist
explains his relationship with his muse.
Says Aiken, “I’ve been accused of adding detail for the sake of detail, but the truth is
that the Grand Canyon is vastly more detailed than I could ever hope to convey. After 33
years of painting the Canyon, I’ve concluded that it is my job to point out her distinctive
features — to say, ‘Look at that beautiful spectacle and savor her magnificent complexity.’ ”
Growing up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Aiken listened to his artist mother’s
stories about her childhood in the Southwest. When he turned 20, Aiken decided to see
the state for himself. After studying art at Phoenix College, he moved to the Grand
Canyon and worked for the National Park Service tending the water supply at Roaring
Springs near the North Rim. Aiken, with his wife, Mary, and their three children, lived
there for 33 years and studied the Canyon’s geology, wildlife and plant life, giving him the
knowledge he needed to bring the Grand Canyon to life on canvas.
For more information on the book, contact the Grand Canyon Association, toll-free
(800) 858-2808, ext. 7030; grandcanyon.org.
Shrine for a Sinner
juan oliveras, a young shepherd
living in Southern Arizona in the 1870s,
had the misfortune to fall in love with
a married Tucson woman — some say
she was his mother-in-law. Caught in a
moment of passion, he was murdered
by the cuckolded husband, and his
body, being that of a sinner, was
buried in unconsecrated ground.
Neighbors came bearing candles
and prayers for Juan’s lost soul until
his resting place was saturated with
wax. And Tucsonans still come to
Main Avenue south of Cushing Street
in the Barrio District to light candles at
El Tiradito (“the little castaway”), left,
the only shrine in the United States
dedicated to the soul of a sinner. Many
versions of the El Tiradito story exist,
and new ones are being created. But
everyone agrees on one thing: If your
candle stays lit until morning, your
wish will come true.
“it is said that a wicked soldier died here [Fort
Yuma] and was consigned to the fiery regions below
for his manifold sins; but unable to stand the rigors of
the climate, sent back for his blankets.”
—J. Ross Browne, 1869
arizona’s first automobile arrived in 1899,
and was appropriately named Locomobile. It was
shipped in by train from Boston to Tucson for
Dr. Hiram Fenner (above). Six years later, the city
required that all horseless carriages be licensed,
and the doctor was given license number 1. Dr.
Fenner also has the distinction of having Arizona’s
first fender-bender when he crashed the steam-powered
vehicle into a saguaro cactus.
—Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: RANDY PRENTICE; JERRY MCCURLEY; GEORGE ANDREJKO THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY; JOHN RUNNING; BRUCE AIKEN; BRENDA MCLAIN
Going for Gould’s — What a Wild Idea
diminished turkey populations might seem unlikely as photos of turkey farms
become ubiquitous this month, but Gould’s turkeys (below) — one of only two wild
turkey subspecies in Arizona — had disappeared from the state a few decades ago. A
reintroduction effort joining the Arizona Game and Fish Department, National Wild
Turkey Federation, Forest Service and the Mexican government has brought them back.
Twenty-five turkeys captured in Mexico were released in the Santa Catalina
Mountains, darting like feathered racehorses from cardboard boxes. The release was
the first in the Santa Catalinas and part of an ongoing effort to repopulate the birds
in Arizona’s sky-island habitats.
Since 2003, 82 turkeys have been transferred from Mexico to the Chiricahua,
Huachuca and Pinaleno mountains of Southern Arizona. Some of the birds sport
radio telemetry devices, and biologists have watched their numbers and range grow
dramatically. A 2005 survey of the Huachuca Mountains showed 321 turkeys, up
from 90 the previous year.
Danielle McCurley of Peoria.
8 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 9
A champion photographer
won her buckle and spurs with
true grit and broken bones.
By Tim Vanderpool
Grande DaBm e
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST Rodeo
photographer Louise Serpa poses with her
camera at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds Arena.
10 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 11
OB Out her stories tumble, like cowboys
off a bronc: tales of bucking horses
and chest-deep mud, of calf-riding
kids bursting from chutes like minia-ture
hellions, of rodeo’s royalty and all
those magical honky-tonk nights.
More tales spill from exquisite pho-tographs
filling Louise Serpa’s home
on a onetime ranch now swallowed
up by Tucson. As rodeo’s first woman photographer, she spent
decades portraying this American tradition in all its grace and
beauty and muscle and sweat. Her images are gorgeous thrillers,
brilliantly rendered in taut black and white.
To Serpa, rodeo is life itself. But it’s life laced by deadly risk.
Like that time in Boulder City, Nevada, when she crossed paths
with one particularly nasty bull.
“Thank God he didn’t have horns,” she recalls with a chuckle.
“He came out of the chute, took one look at me, and made a beeline
my way. I was trying to get up the fence, but there was a cattle
truck full of cowboys parked there, so there was no place to go.”
When the bull tossed her into the air, she says, “I thought, Is
this all there is to it? But when I came down inside the ring, he
started after me. I went into a curl because I’d just bought a new
Leica camera, and didn’t want him to hurt it.”
Forcing a hoof inside her curl, the bull snapped ribs and split
her sternum before bareback riders lured the animal away. Then
a cowboy hollered, “Did you get his picture, Louise, or do you
want us to run it through again?”
She kept her cool. If she had cried or made a fuss, they would
never have let her near another arena. “So I finished shooting the
bull ride,” she says. “I went to the hospital — and then I fell apart.”
“Never don’t pay attention.”
Rodeo has little use for bellyachers. Nor is Louise Serpa much
for moping over war wounds. After all, nobody promised her a
rose garden back in 1963, when she earned her Rodeo Cowboys
Association card through sheer grit and an eye for action. In
those days, the RCA hadn’t yet tacked “professional” to its name,
and most little ladies were firmly kept to the side. Even Serpa ate
plenty of crow before they let her shoot from inside the arena.
“I wasn’t trying to prove anything,” she says. “Rodeo was being
billed as the world’s most dangerous sport, which it was in some
ways. I just didn’t feel that a woman should be in the ring. So I
started from the side. In fact, I backpedaled quite a bit with the
RCA in the beginning.”
But soon she was inside the fence, and shaping her signature
style. Working beside the chutes, just a whisper from the action,
conferred an intimate intensity to her photographs, elevating
them into fine art. These days, Serpa is acclaimed in the arena
and in galleries and museum exhibits. She’s ranked among the
top Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association-sanctioned pho-tographers
ever. Her images have appeared in magazines across
the planet, and by the 1980s, she’d
already achieved that nexus of celeb-rity
— a profile in People magazine.
In 1994, Rodeo, a book of her photo-graphs
with text by Larry McMurtry,
was published by the prestigious
Meanwhile, generations of ropers
and riders have passed through her
lens. And although she’s a legend, some rodeo newcomers don’t
always know her face. “A lot of those young guys probably won-dered
who that old lady out there was,” she says. Never mind that
this “old lady” photographed their fathers 20 years back, or that
some of those images, like Skeeter in the Dust, are now classics.
Serpa’s story is also classic, kind of Horatio Alger in reverse.
She was born into New York’s social set, where young ladies
were to be refined and delicate. But she tasted the brawny West
at age 9, traveling to Nevada so her mother could get a quick
divorce. They decamped to the scruffy hills near Virginia City.
“We were just on a dusty little dude ranch,” she says, “but
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Number one, I was
allowed to get dirty. And number two, I was allowed to ride
horses as much as I wanted.” In short, she’d found home.
By the summer of 1943, she was working in wide-open
Wyoming. “A friend from high school had a grandfather who
owned the Valley Ranch in Cody,” she says. “It was during the
war, and he was having a hard time running the dude ranch —
the kitchen and everything —by himself. We worked at that
ranch for six weeks, washing johns and waiting on tables. I
knew how to ride pretty well, so I also wrangled for dudes.”
That’s also where she first found true love. A writer-turned-cowboy,
Lex Connelly was another Easterner in flight. “When
he told me he was going into rodeo, I thought, What nonsense,
what a waste of time,” she says. “I thought he should finish
college, learn to write and do all the things he was going to do.
I told him to forget about rodeo.”
By fall, Connelly was fighting overseas and Serpa was study-ing
music at Vassar College. But whenever she heard about a
rodeo in New York, she’d bribe her way out of the dorm, catch-ing
a two-hour train to Madison Square Garden. There, she’d
always find Connelly’s pals.
“We’d be riding horses through the chutes in back, just mess-ing
around and having a blast,” she recalls. “I’d do my homework
on the train, and get back to my hall at 2 o’clock in the morning.
The only reason I got away with it was because the night watch-man
at my hall came from Wyoming. If I’d bring him day sheets
from the rodeo, he wouldn’t say anything.”
“Rodeo is the great equalizer — there’s no room
for braggarts, bullies or the fainthearted.
No guts, no glory. . . . As long as you have heart and
try, and never take yourself too seriously, you can
belong to the greatest fraternity imaginable.”
—Louise Serpa from her book, Rodeo
Although her romance with the cowboy turned star-crossed,
PICTURE THIS Surrounded by photographs in her Tucson home gallery,
Louise Serpa (left) looks over her work. Although not professionally trained,
Serpa’s natural ability to capture the rough-and-tumble rodeo action
jumpstarted a career that has lasted more than 40 years. edward mccain
Serpa shows off her Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association
2005 Photographer of the Year belt buckle.
(Text continued on page 15)
12 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
“SKEETER IN THE DUST” Roy “Skeeter” Humble
rides a feisty bronc during a dust storm at the
1964 Chandler Junior Rodeo. louise serpa
of the chute,
look at me,
and made a
14 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 15
Serpa’s brush with rodeo did not. After a brief marriage to a
Yale graduate to make her family happy, she headed West again.
She met Gordon “Tex” Serpa in Nevada in 1952. They married
the following year and eventually bought their own spread in
Oregon’s Rogue Valley. While there, Gordon Serpa gained fame
for leading the On To Oregon Cavalcade, a wagon train retracing
the original Oregon Trail.
By 1960, however, Louise was divorced and living in Tucson
on a tight budget with two little girls. That budget snapped
when she wrecked her car and one daughter was diagnosed
with rheumatoid arthritis. Medical bills piled up. “Suddenly,
I had to figure out how I was going to make a living with two
kids,” she says.
About that time, Serpa went
to a junior rodeo with friends.
It was such a hoot — wide-eyed
youngsters clinging to calves or
roping goats — that she asked to
get into the ring and snap photo-graphs
with her little $27 cam-era.
“I guess the officials didn’t
see where I could do too much
damage,” she says. “Then I got
the kids’ names. And the secre-tary
was kind enough to give me
addresses, so I could write their
mothers and fathers and say, ‘I’ve
got a picture of Johnny coming
out on a calf, and would you like
a 5x7 copy for 75 cents?’ ’’
People loved it, and a career
was born as she hit the circuit,
traveling back roads and visiting
languid hamlets. “I’d sleep in the
back of my station wagon if there
were no motels,” she says. “I’d
shoot a junior rodeo on Saturday,
and another on Sunday.”
Serpa started making connec-tions,
and three years later she’d
moved up to the pros. It was a joy-ous
hustle, shooting all day and
processing film on the fly. “Many
times I have taken duct tape or
tinfoil,” she says, “and blacked
out a bathroom in a motel and
then done the proof sheets over-night,
so the guys could look at them the next day.”
It was also a moving classroom, as she learned the dynamics
of each event. “For instance, there’s only one place to get a good
team-roping shot or one place to get a calf-roping shot,” she says.
“And each horse has its own different pattern, as far as bucking
goes. Bulls, too. One will go to the left, one will go to the right or
drop a shoulder. They have certain habits, and if you know your
stuff, you’ll be ready instantly when they come out of the chute.”
She also began to work hunter-jumper events, becoming
the first woman on the course of England’s Grand National
Steeplechase in 1970, and first in the ring of Dublin’s Horse
Show. But after a time, rodeo would always tug her home.
Today she pauses, glancing at the saga framed against her
walls. Then she grins. “I’d start to get sludgy in my shooting,” she
says. “When that happened, I’d always just go back to rodeo.”
The New Yorker magazine wrote of her: “[Serpa’s photographs
have] extended what Eadweard Muybridge did with horses in the
1870s, and with the human form in the 1880s. In her own way,
Serpa has revolutionized thinking about bodies in motion.”
Over time, rodeo has changed. No longer can a single person
command the arena. At the Tucson Rodeo, for example, scores
of photographers now jostle for a handful of slots. And no longer
do cowboys rumble from town to town in sprawling, chummy
caravans. Instead, they fly, often working several competitions
over a weekend. “You don’t have that personal feeling so much
anymore,” Serpa says.
Then there is the shutterbug’s body, finally rebelling against
years of demanding, very physical work. Now in her 80s, Serpa
says: “I’m old enough that I don’t think I have any business being
in the arena anymore. So I mostly retired from the arena in 2005.
It was the first year I hadn’t worked the Tucson Rodeo.
“That’s also the year they gave me the buckle for ‘Best
Photographer of the Year’ for pro rodeo. I said ‘What on earth
for? I only went to one rodeo that year!’
“And they said, ‘Well, it’s about time.’ ”
Time. To Louise Serpa, that’s just space between stories, all
told in stunning black and white.
“MISCALCULATION” Rodeo rider Clay West attempts to wrestle a steer. (1983) louise serpa
THAT AIN’T NO BULL Pam Rogers, then 6 years old, maneuvers her horse around a barrel and kicks up a little
dust. In the background, Debbie and Hal Earnhardt watch with interest. (1969) louise serpa
Tucson-based writer Tim Vanderpool might be full of bull, but he’s not yet
chanced to ride one.
(Continued from page 11)
16 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
The winter cold cuts deeply into
Oak Creek Canyon as Jean Kindig
and I step across the stream, north
of Sedona, onto the A.B. Young Trail.
Before tackling 33 heart-pounding
switchbacks up 1,996 vertical feet to
the canyon rim, we listen to the mel-ody
of rippling and rushing cascades.
Jean spots a water ouzel (Ameri-can
dipper) among shiny wet rocks.
She tells me about its transparent
inner eyelids allowing the tiny dark
bird to forage underwater.
“Come spring,” she adds fondly as
the dipper flits into the water, “both
parents take turns tending the nest.
It’s one of my favorite birds.”
In her early 70s, Jean’s curiosity
and youthful spirit keep her busy.
She’s an active hiker with the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club,
and recently compiled into a book the history of each Sedona
trail and landmark, an interest we share.
On today’s adventurous 8-mile quest, we step into the
Depression-era story of a man’s passion for flight lifting him to
international prominence, and then carrying him to death. His
wrecked and rusting plane sits on the brink of the Mogollon
Rim, somewhere on an outcrop called East Pocket Mesa that
we’ll access from the A.B. Young Trail.
Roughly 1,500 feet below the tragic site, and less than a
mile as the raven flies, Sedona’s most graceful sandstone arch
hid — virtually unknown and without a name — until Gerard
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY LARRY LINDAHL
FINAL RESTING PLACE The
tarnished landing gear of
Vultee’s plane (above) has
forever retired on East
Pocket Mesa, an outcrop of
the Mogollon Rim.
TALE OF AN ARCH The graceful
sandstone arch was virtually unkown and
nameless until Gerard Vultee’s fatal plane
crash on January 29, 1938, when it
became known as Vultee Arch.
n To order a print of this photograph, see
information on inside front cover.
Of Sedona’s many scenic
wonders, Vultee Arch is
among the most impressive.
Prior to a plane crash in 1938,
however, few people, if any,
had ever seen it.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 19
Vultee’s fateful day in 1938. Weeks before searching for the
crash site with Jean, I had taken a solo journey into Sterling
Canyon to visit the arch.
Traversing the banks of a gentle wash, the 1.6-mile Vultee Arch
Trail follows an ancient Indian route through a scented forest of
Arizona cypress northwest of Sedona. Ancestors of the Hopi peo-ple
traveled Dry Creek Basin — evidenced by their stone shelters
and pictographs hidden in the basin’s many cliffs — over to the
clear-running waters of Oak Creek Canyon and back again.
Scattered agaves, yuccas and manzanitas give way to a canopy
of oak, spruce, maple and Douglas fir trees shading the sandy
trail. As I approached a wooden sign pointing to a spur trail
venturing left, a woodpecker rattled the silence between 6,810-
foot East Pocket Mesa to the north and 7,122-foot Wilson
Mountain to the south.
I took the left turn and climbed the quarter-mile onto red rock
terraces where the trail stops. Here, the south-facing rampart
steadfastly holds the graceful 40-foot span of Vultee Arch.
Scrambling up a short, rough route far below the East Pocket
rim, I crossed a cactus-studded chaparral slope with an awk-ward
final descent onto the arch. Triumphantly sidling across
sandstone only 8 feet thick, I warily eyed the sharp drop and
the ground 35 feet below. The bird’s-eye view of Sterling Canyon
and a landscape where deer and mountain lions still occasion-ally
roam make this a special place indeed.
The mountain rising beyond was named for the respected
pioneer Richard Wilson, who was mauled and killed by a large
grizzly bear in 1885. Sterling Canyon, I later learned from Jean,
gained its name from settler Charles Sterling, reputed for hiding
out in Oak Creek Canyon counterfeiting money when he wasn’t
stealing cattle. But who was Vultee?
for a man not yet 40, Gerard “Jerry” Vultee had amassed
an impressive résumé. He worked at Douglas Aircraft, and then
Lockheed Aircraft, which promoted him to chief engineer at age 28.
Vultee designed the Sirius plane for Charles Lindbergh, sporting
a top speed of 185 mph, and innovated the fully retractable land-ing
gear. He left Lockheed in 1931 and joined E.L. Cord, whose
empire included three automobile companies (Cord, Auburn
and Duesenberg), five engine-manufacturing companies and
the Airplane Development Corp. of which he named Vultee vice
president and chief engineer.
Vultee’s fast planes began setting speed records, including one
he set himself in 1934 — while on his honeymoon with his wife,
Sylvia, a Hollywood debutante he met while surfing in Southern
A year later, Jimmy Doolittle — who would lead the U.S. air
attack on Tokyo near the beginning of World War II — flew a
Vultee aircraft coast to coast in the record-setting time of 11 hours,
59 minutes. Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh
all adored Vultee’s planes.
American Airlines bought 10 Vultee V-1A eight-passenger com-mercial
air transports, each with a top speed of 235 mph, but the
Depression slowed commercial sales, and Vultee changed focus
to military planes. He began selling Vultee V-11 dive-bombers
to China, the Soviet Union and Turkey. With sales going well
overseas, he flew to Washington, D.C., hoping to interest the U.S.
Army Air Corps in a new plane design. He took Sylvia on this trip,
and they flew in his small Stinson monoplane.
On the return flight, they landed in Northern Arizona at
Winslow Airport, which served as one of TWA’s transcontinen-tal
stopovers, and slept in town overnight. After refueling on
MOUNTAIN SILHOUETTE Wilson Mountain
casts shadows over the ridged chasms
of Oak Creek Canyon (left). On the left horizon
sits East Pocket Mesa, the site of Vultee’s crash. The
San Francisco Peaks loom in the background.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on inside front cover.
FALL SPRINKLES Bigtooth maple leaves
blaze small trails of autumn color on the floor
of rocks that line Sterling Pass Trail (right).
. . . a landscape
where deer and
mountain lions still
makes this a special
20 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
Location: Coconino National Forest,
about 125 miles north of Phoenix.
Getting There: To reach Vultee Arch Trail,
drive west 3.2 miles on State Route 89A
from its intersection with State Route 179
(the Y intersection in Sedona). Turn right
(north) onto Dry Creek Road, drive 5.2 miles
and turn right onto Forest Service Road
152 labeled as Dry Creek Road, but also
called Vultee Arch Road. Drive 9.6 miles
on this rough, dirt road to the trailhead.
To reach Sterling Pass Trail from
the Y intersection, drive 6.2 miles
north on State 89A toward Flagstaff.
Park on the east side of the road
opposite Manzanita Campground.
To reach A.B. Young Trail from the Y
intersection, drive 8.8 miles north on 89A
toward Flagstaff. Park along the road near
Bootlegger Campground. The trail begins
across Oak Creek. To drive to East Pocket
Lookout from Flagstaff, drive west 2.6 miles
on Historic Route 66. Turn left onto Woody
Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 231).
The first mile is paved, and then it becomes
a dirt road. Follow the signs to stay on FR
231 for 27.7 miles. The gate may be closed
a half-mile from the fire tower. If so, park
off the road so other vehicles can pass, and
walk up the road to the tower. The tower
is open to visitors in the summer only.
Fees: Red Rock Pass, $5 per day, $15
per week, $20 annual pass.
Travel Advisory: Vultee Arch Trail — Hiking
distance to Vultee Arch is 3.2 miles
round-trip (300 feet elevation change).
A bronze plaque near Vultee Arch
commemorates the plane crash.
Sterling Pass Trail — Hiking distance
to Vultee Arch is 4.8 miles round-trip
(1,000 feet elevation change).
A.B. Young Trail — Hiking distance to
East Pocket Lookout is 5.7 miles round-trip
(1,996 feet elevation change). A
Red Rock Pass is required for recreation
on National Forest Service land in Red
Rock Country. The passes are widely
available throughout the Sedona area.
Warning: Roads may be impassable or
closed during winter or wet weather.
Additional Information: Coconino National
Forest, (928) 527-3600; www.fs.fed.us/
r3/coconino; Red Rock Ranger District,
(928) 282-4119; www.redrockcountry.org;
Sedona Chamber of Commerce, toll-free
(800) 288-7336; www.visitsedona.com.
the fateful morning of January 29, 1938, Jerry and Sylvia lifted
off — both anxious to get back to their 6-month-old baby in
On her hand glistened her wedding band, set with multiple
diamonds, and a large diamond-solitaire ring, along with an
expensive bracelet of carved stones. A ruby ring sparkled on his
hand, and he wore the watch he received from the Los Angeles
Athletic Club after his 1925 rescue of passengers from a sinking
boat in Newport Channel.
But neither his wealth nor accomplishments could help him
on that winter morning. About 60 miles southwest of Winslow, a
snowstorm overtook them, and suddenly in the blinding, swirl-ing
whiteout, the Vultees were engulfed in trouble over the cliffs
of the Mogollon Rim.
With a slow but steady pace, Jean and I tackle the chaparral-covered
western slope up the A.B. Young Trail to the Mogollon
Rim. Like many trails out of Oak Creek Canyon, Jean tells me,
this route was originally used to move cattle between seasonal
pastures and for transporting goods to and from Flagstaff. Early
pioneer families had carved these routes, later improved by the
Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Retaining walls
shoring up this trail serve as reminders of their labor under the
leadership of Arthur “A.B.” Young.
As the A.B. Young Trail climbs, the views expand, revealing
Slide Rock State Park far below. Above us a scrub jay squawks
before flying from our sight toward huge sandstone columns
that give false hope of the Rim being near.
Tackling several more switchbacks, Jean and I finally crest
the Rim. Under tall ponderosa pines, we rest and study Jean’s
topographical map on which the crash site is hand-marked. We
resume our hike through oak groves to the wooden fire-lookout
tower crowning East Pocket, to find it locked up tight for winter.
In the summer, the platform offers views of West Fork Canyon,
the San Francisco Peaks, Dry Creek Basin, Wilson Mountain
and Sterling Canyon. But our destination is still 45 minutes away.
vultee desperately tried to escape the blinding storm, flying
a crisscross pattern seeking a break in the clouds. But flying with-out
instrument training, he soon grew fatally disoriented. Three
miles north of Wilson Mountain, 37-year-old Gerard Vultee flew
his plane into the ground, igniting a huge explosion.
Earl Van Deren heard the boom from his ranch in Dry Creek
Basin, and saw the rising smoke. Rancher F.A. Todd heard the
plane go down from Oak Creek Canyon. He joined the sheriff’s
search party offering his knowledge of the rough country, while
his wife made coffee and sandwiches for the searchers. The snow-covered,
thickly wooded terrain proved difficult, and after hours
without success, darkness overtook their effort. Not until noon
the following day was the crash site located.
“The wrecked plane was found near East Pocket, Barney
Pasture, just a few hundred feet from the canyon brink leading
into the deep, rocky chasm,” reported Flagstaff’s newspaper The
Forest Service Ranger H.C. Fosburg, along with Edward
Robinson and James Honea Jr. from the Civilian Conservation
Corps, discovered the crash site. Vultee’s charred body still bore
his watch, which had stopped at 9:56 a.m.
Southwest of the fire tower, Jean and I begin hiking cross-country
along a ridgeline, spotting the fresh tracks and moist,
dark pellets of elk. Bending around undergrowth and fallen
trees, we bushwhack to an abandoned dirt road, and bear left to
parallel the distant rim of Dry Creek Basin. A stone cairn marks
a turn taking us toward the pale-blue basin appearing like a vast
ocean through the trees.
Jean suddenly grabs my arm.
At first I look for an elk in the clearing. But then I see it. A
hundred feet from the rim, the tail section of Vultee’s plane rests
peacefully near an old juniper. The tragedy of two young lives cut
short causes us to pause and feel the sudden chill of mortality.
The pale winter sun rakes across the broken plane’s frame-work.
Scattered metal parts lie among pine needles and snapped
twigs, the rusting colors and texture matching their surround-ings
as the old plane slowly returns to the elements.
Looking down from the edge of the Mogollon Rim into a land
of red rocks and ancient Indians, I realize that despite the trag-edy,
the spirit of Gerard Freebairn Vultee lives on. And tucked
into the canyon far below, a gravity-defying arch endures, for-ever
carrying his name.
WILDERNESS GRAVEYARD The rusting tail section of Vultee’s plane disintegrates near Barney Pasture on East Pocket Mesa.
LEAFY MOSAIC Along Sterling Pass Trail, the sun peeks through
the mixed-conifer forest (right) that includes ponderosa pine,
bigtooth maple and dwarf canyon maple trees.
REMEMBERING VULTEE Located at
the end of the Vultee Arch Trail, a
bronze plaque (right), erected in 1969
by the Sedona Westerners and the
Vultee Club of California,
commemorates the plane crash.
HIKERS’ RETREAT The 40-foot-long,
8-foot-thick Vultee Arch
(above) makes a perfect resting
spot for hikers.
Larry Lindahl of Sedona wrote and photographed the recent Arizona
Highways book Secret Sedona. He first learned of the Vultee story by
talking to the ranger at the East Pocket Lookout.
22 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 23
If you think Arizona’s natural beauty is limited to its
northern, southern and eastern regions, think again.
The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, just north of
Yuma, is a natural wonder that attracts sandhill cranes,
deer and the occasional wild burro.
24 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 25
WWild burros will make an appearance at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge,
along with deer and coyotes, but the majority of the wildlife is made up of
birds — both residential and migratory.
The migratory species, including sandhill cranes, snow geese and Canada
geese, flood the area in late fall — there are so many birds, the cacophony
can be heard from the highway. The best place to see them is along Goose
Loop Drive. There’s also a hiking trail that leads to a viewing platform, and
boats can be launched into the marsh.
Although the migratory birds are the main attraction, resident species are
worth a look, too. Coveys of red-shouldered blackbirds will catch your eye,
while grebes and American coots cruise the waters of Cibola Lake, diving
repeatedly for food. And then there are the deer that wander the verdant
pastures in the early morning, the coyotes that gaze hungrily at the geese in
the fields, and the occasional burros, which are better left alone.
It’s not Yellowstone or the Serengeti, but the Cibola National Wildlife
Refuge, which is situated in the flood plain of the Lower Colorado River
north of Yuma, is one of Western Arizona’s natural wonders.
For more information, visit fws.gov/refuges/.
BLACKBIRDS’ BYE-BYE Red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds (preceding panel,
pages 22-23) migrate through the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in Western Arizona by the
tens of thousands en route to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula in autumn and as far north as Canada
PREDANCE STRETCH A sandhill crane (above) stretches its wings as though
preparing for the elaborate mating-dance ritual the males perform during their winter stay
at the refuge.
PERSONA NON GRATA Unwelcome competitors for native fauna, descendants of
miners’ burros (right) forage on Bureau of Land Management property south of Cibola Lake.
A portfolio By George Stocking
Go wild and discover birds, mammals and reptiles that winter at many of Arizona’s wild-life
refuges at arizonahighways.com (Click on the “Wildlife Refuge Guide”).
26 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 27
28 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 29
FOR FISH AND FOWL Home to sport fish
such as bass, crappie and flathead catfish,
(preceding panel, pages 26-27) Cibola Lake provides
an ample roosting area for waterfowl in winter.
THE EARS HAVE IT Two does, a fawn and a
yearling buck (left) stand up to their shoulders in
nutrient-rich alfalfa cultivated by the refuge, mainly
as food for waterfowl.
SANITATION WORKER An opportunistic
scavenger on the lookout for leftovers from others’
kills, a turkey vulture (below) surveys the possibilities
for its next meal from a dead-tree perch.
Yuma is more than just the halfway point to San Diego. Check out what
this historic town has to offer at arizonahighways.com (Click on “Getaway”).
30 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
GEESE DREAMS Caught by the camera’s eye
gazing at snow geese, this coyote will probably dine
on rodents and mesquite beans, which, when
fertilized by its scat, will help the trees reproduce.
32 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
Against a backdrop of California’s Palo Verde
Mountains and invasive salt cedars destined for
destruction at the Colorado River’s edge, Canada
geese fly toward corn planted for their benefit
by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
34 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
BY L E O W. BA N K S PHOTOG R A P H S B Y D AV I D Z I C K L [ Z
36 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
red Yale looks like a righteous
killer behind his lawman’s
badge. He’s actually a high
school math teacher.
Although his students proba-bly
see little difference between
the two, there’s a larger issue at
play here. It has to do with the
reinvention of one’s identity, and the West as the place where
Americans play out the second acts of their lives.
Yale began his second act in August 2004, when, at age 51, he
moved to Tombstone and within days was wearing a pistol and
performing in re-enactment shows at the O.K. Corral.
As changes go, this one was Grand Canyon-sized.
He went from teaching at a private school in Connecticut to
Tombstone High. He traded in his sleek Ford Expedition for a
clunky pickup truck. As for guns, he never owned one before
coming West, but now he fancies them. His weapons count has
Think of it as keeping up with the Clantons. By the way, the
character Yale is most comfortable playing is none other than
“Nobody back home believes that there’s really a place where
you can walk down the street wearing a cowboy hat, boots, a
sidearm and carrying a shotgun,” says Yale, a former competi-tive
bodybuilder and former owner of a professional wrestling
school. “Or that you can tie your horse up in town and go run
errands. I’m still amazed you can live like this. You can relive
what you haven’t done.”
That latter bit of wisdom goes a long way toward explaining
the re-enactment business. It’s an odd racket, a mixing of eras
and life stages that almost always begins with a childhood fas-cination
with the Wild West.
Then the demands of real life commence, and the future actor
walks around for a decade or two feeling that something’s miss-ing.
The discovery of what that something is often happens by
In 1999, a friend suggested that Robin Friestad sign on with
the Highway 50 Association Wagon Train, a group that for 58
years has been putting on eight-day, authentic frontier-style
wagon trips from Nevada to Old Hangtown in Placerville,
From dawn till dusk, Friestad took care of 20 pack and saddle
horses, and rode ahead to block traffic on busy roads to let the
“Whoa!” he’d shout at oncoming cars. Then he’d sit atop his
horse in satisfaction as wide-eyed drivers watched time roll
backward past their windshields.
Friestad had found his missing piece. He signed on with
the El Dorado Outlaws, a gunfighting re-enactors group out of
Placerville, and by the time he landed in Tombstone in January
2000, his identity had changed from disabled Navy veteran to
Buffalo Bill Cody.
With his wavy blond hair, curling mustache and theatrical
goatee, Friestad bears a striking resemblance to the Old West’s
Friestad stepped out of his 1966 Dodge van in Tombstone that
day wearing a cowhide jacket decorated with beads and conchos,
and his stage hat. He looked around, drew a satisfied breath and
thought — I’ve walked into a cowboy storybook.
“Sometimes you can’t find the words,” says the 55-year-old
Friestad. “But it was an elated feeling.” Within a month and a
half, he was packing heat at a Tombstone theatrical venue called
Six Gun City. His skill as an actor eventually drew the attention
of Allen Dickson, an English pub owner who invited Friestad to
his home in Derby, England, for a two-month, all-expenses-paid
tour of duty as Buffalo Bill.
Friestad hung out at the Navigation Inn, traveled to Liverpool,
North Wales, Cambria and elsewhere, and generally had a blast
reliving what he’d never done to audiences of ordinary blokes
who’d never done it either.
“For two months I was a celebrity over there,” says Friestad. “I
never signed more autographs or had more pictures taken.”
The experience taught him something about the worldwide
power of the Old West, thanks in part to the real Buffalo Bill.
As irony would have it — or is it fate? — Bill performed in Derby
on Oct. 22, 1903.
The re-enactment game naturally creates such odd bedfellows.
For almost three years, David Weik performed at Tombstone’s
Helldorado Town, playing a comedic Western character named
It’s an odd racket . . . that
almost always begins with
a childhood fascination
with the Wild West.
PUT UP YOUR HANDS Fred Yale takes on the persona of Wyatt Earp in
Tombstone (preceding panel, pages 34 and 35). Many people associate Earp
with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but he lived in the Arizona Territory for
less than three years.
POKER FACE Robin Friestad impersonates Buffalo Bill Cody playing cards at
the Crystal Palace Saloon (left). Cody, who is best known for his Wild West
shows that dramatized frontier life, earned the nickname “Buffalo Bill”
because of his exceptional buffalo-hunting skills.
38 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
Percy, who was much like the character of Gilligan on the old
“Gilligan’s Island” television show. Weik based this goofy figure
on Billy the Kid.
“Billy laughed at the system and so does Percy,” says Weik.
“Percy dresses like the Kid, laughs like the Kid, wears two guns
and has fun just like the Kid did. I was able to make people
laugh, and that’s what I love.”
How strange is that? Weik turned a real-life murderer and
adolescent outlaw icon into Gilligan — and made it work.
This gets better. In one of his previous lives, Weik belonged
to the U.S. Figure Skating Association and was good enough on
the ice to win medals in regional skating competitions.
Which raises a question: What would Wyatt Earp and Doc
Holliday say if they had to share Tombstone’s testosterone-soaked
boardwalks with a figure skater?
“They’d probably say I was a wus; maybe even a huckleberry,”
says Weik. Then the 46-year-old chuckles and adds, “Hey, I
used to operate a front-end loader, too.”
Re-enactment work breeds high turnover, because it’s hard
to sustain the energy over time, and the money is too low to
provide much of a sweetener. Fact is, the chances of hanging
around are better for women who work the saloons.
Vinnie Jordan spends weekends serving food and drinks
behind the bat-wing doors of Big Nose Kate’s on Allen Street,
and although waitressing isn’t exactly re-enacting, in Tombstone
it nudges right up to it.
The job requires explaining to customers the history behind
the saloon and wearing those come-hither Wild West-style
getups. The saloon used to be the Grand Hotel — the McLaurys
stayed there the night before the infamous O.K. Corral gun-fight.
So the tips are pretty good, and Jordan, a
43-year-old single mom, could use the pocket
cabbage. During the week, she teaches in
But she still has her eye on hitting the
jackpot and thought the Western myth might
be her ticket. When she applied for a spot
on the television show “Survivor,” Jordan
dressed in her saloon outfit and taped her
application video inside Big Nose Kate’s.
“I said I was a schoolmarm by day and a
floozy by night,” says Jordan. “I told them I’ve
worked as a chef, lived on the beach and grew
up as the only girl in a house of four boys, so
I’ve been on ‘Survivor’ all my life.”
She didn’t get the call. Jordan remains one
of Tombstone’s brassiest saloon girls. And
Fred Yale is still a weekend Wyatt Earp on
the West’s grandest stage.
“I’ve always wanted to play cowboy at the
O.K. Corral, but never thought I’d get to do it,”
he says over the afternoon din at the Crystal
Palace Saloon. “You know when I was getting
ready to leave Connecticut, one of my friends
said, ‘What’s the name of that godforsaken
place you’re going to?’ ”
Yale nods and glances over at the dirty
boots, floppy hats and big holstered guns of
the gang gathered at the Crystal’s bar. He smiles under his
drooping white mustache and doesn’t say a word. But this Wyatt
Earp understands second acts as well as anyone.
Tucson-based Leo W. Banks has done countless stories in Tombstone
over the years. He usually does business over a Diet Coke at the Crystal
For photographer David Zickl of Fountain Hills, working on this assignment
provided him the opportunity to live a childhood dream, facing down
Tombstone’s notorious gunfighters. He drew fast and shot.
Location: 70 miles southeast of Tucson.
Getting There: From Tucson, drive east on Interstate 10 for 45 miles to
Exit 306, State Route 80 at Benson. Drive south on State 80 for 23 miles
Additional Information: Tombstone Chamber of Commerce,
tombstone.org; Tombstone Visitors Center, (520) 457-3929.
MAY WE HELP YOU? Waitresses Joyce Ault and Vinnie Jordan (below) pose
on top of bar tables at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone. Big Nose Kate,
who was Doc Holliday’s long-time companion, worked as a dance hall girl
GUNSLINGER David Weik (right) plays the part of Percy, modeled after Billy
the Kid, a frontier outlaw killed at the young age of 21 by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
afternoon sunlight filters through the pines
near Sentinel Peak in the Chiricahua Mountains of
Southeastern Arizona. A small swarm of tiny flies
rises and falls within a shaft of light. From far off to
the south, the sound of thunder drifts faintly in from
a distant summertime monsoon storm.
On the exposed gray boulders that sit as if tossed
about on the ridge, a dozen or so fat-bellied mountain
spiny lizards (Sceloporus jarrovi) lounge about in the
sun with their legs splayed out to the side, rounded
abdomens pressed close to the sun‑warmed rocks.
The lizards look as if they are asleep except for one
stalking a black fly that made the mistake of landing
a few feet away. The lizard creeps across the boulder
like a cat, then rushes forward to snap up the insect.
A gulp of its big mouth, and the fly disappears.
Although the rest of the lizards appear to be tak-ing
it easy, the larger males have been battling one
another at intervals over the last month or so. In the
days of late summer, male mountain spinies begin
manufacturing testosterone, which transforms laid-back
lizards into World Wrestling Entertainment rep-tiles.
They start to wander about looking for trouble.
Confrontations often begin when a male struts into
another’s domain with his back arched and sides flat-tened,
which makes him look as large as possible
while also showing off his bright blue throat patch.
From time to time, the intruder performs a series of
intimidating push-ups. The opponent responds in
kind as the two maneuver, sometimes lining up side
by side only a few inches apart but facing in opposite
directions. The intruder may then concede to the other
male, slinking back to the rock from which it came.
But on occasion, puffed‑up display gives way to
no‑holds-barred biting. Sooner or later — generally
sooner — the match is over with one male breaking
free and departing on the double, often encouraged
on his way by a parting nip to the tail. Usually the
intruder is the one to give up, but occasionally a male
that had been holding out on an attractive boulder is
forced to relinquish it.
The result of these fights is the subdividing of lizard
habitat into a set of mutually exclusive male territo-ries.
But territoriality among mountain spiny lizards
is only a late-summer and early-fall phenomenon. Life
is tranquil in June when females give birth to as many
as 15 tiny youngsters. During the summer rainy sea-son
in July and August, all the lizards, large and small,
male and female, stay busy snapping up insects. Adult
females use their meals to produce a new clutch of
eggs internally, which mature by late summer and
early fall. At this time they become sexually recep-tive.
Not coincidentally, adult males get feisty at the
same time under the spell of their own testosterone.
They stake out their territories, which enclose the
smaller patches where females feed, bask and hide.
Thus, although males fight directly for possession
of real estate, they are indirectly fighting for females,
which occur more often in some places than others.
The male who is able to control a female‑rich territory
will leave more descendants than a male who is forced
off to the side, where females are scarce.
The fact that males only pump themselves up with
testosterone in time for the breeding season suggested
to my colleagues, Cathy Marler and Michael Moore,
while both were at Arizona State University, that there
might be some disadvantages associated with being
hormone‑soaked, highly combative male lizards. To
check out this proposition, they operated on a batch
of mountain spiny lizards in June and July, slipping
a slow-release capsule of testosterone under the skin
of some of their subjects, while others underwent
the same operation but received an inert chemical
They put the two classes of lizards back into the
wild at a time when untreated males had little testos-terone
and little interest in being nasty toward one
another. As expected, the testosterone‑supplemented
lizard group became aggressive much sooner than
they would have naturally, and experienced a much
higher rate of mortality than other males, almost cer-tainly
because these hyper‑territorial males spent
too much time looking for a fight and not enough
time feeding. Apparently, for mountain spiny lizards,
as well as human athletes, the use of steroids comes
with a price.
Mountain spiny lizards are usually laid-back, but once a year,
the males puff up their chests and overdose on testosterone.
T E X T AND PHOTOGR AP H BY JOHN A LCOCK
TERRITORIAL TOEHOLD While protecting
its territory, a mountain spiny lizard
suns itself on a lichen-covered boulder.
John Alcock is a Regents’ Professor of Biology in the
Division of Life Sciences at Arizona State University in Tempe.
He is the author of several books on the biology of Arizona’s
animals and plants, including Sonoran Desert Spring and
Sonoran Desert Summer, both published by The University
of Arizona Press.
42 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7
i watched for feathers to flutter indicating breath and
life, but the handful of fluff remained as still as its mattress of
pine needles. The box once held size 13 sports shoes, but now
brown pine needles softened the cardboard under the small pile
of feathers and the ugly, bulging head of a baby Harris hawk.
“Maybe we should just stop and put it down by the side of
the road and go back home,” my husband said.
“No!” I said. We couldn’t give up now.
Watching the Harris hawk fledglings in their nest, high in
the Aleppo pine tree near our home, had felt like watching
my sons growing up, taking risks and sometimes crashing to
earth. When the little bird got big enough to pull himself up to
the side of the dishpan-sized nest and teeter around the edge,
my heart was in my throat. He’s going to fall, I thought. But I
remembered the rule when my sons were growing up: If they
aren’t going to break a bone, let them explore.
So as I watched and worried, the ball of tan fluff, still far
removed from airworthy wing feathers, continued to seek
adventure. Every day, while his parents were out looking for
food, the toddler hauled himself up to the rim. His oversized
head flopped on a pencil-thin neck.
“He’s going to fall,” I said.
Then one day, I went to pick up what looked like a frayed
rope ball under the tree. When I looked closer, the oversized
eyes and beak of our little explorer hawk peered back at me.
I made plenty of emergency-room trips when boyish,
adventurous spirits went too far. But I wasn’t sure what to do
with this little creature. His high-pitched squeak warned me
off as he lifted his head and wriggled deeper into the debris
beneath his home tree.
Racing back to the house, I riffled the Yellow Pages. Looking
under “Wildlife,” I found “Wildlife Rescue” — just the help I
The calm, experienced rescue worker explained that adult
birds would generally continue to feed a little one that has
fallen out of the nest. It might be helpful to put the bird in a
box and prop it on a branch, she said, but I should not take it
away from the tree and feed it. Take one shoe box and call me
in the morning, seemed to be the advice.
The next day, I peeked into the box. This time the baby
didn’t try to wriggle away, and his warning chirp was barely a
whisper. I called my new friend, Wendy the raptor rescuer, and
she suggested we take our little adventurer to a nearby shelter.
When I called the shelter, the caretaker said, “Come right over.
I’ll thaw some mice.”
It was not an image that I wanted to pursue.
My husband drove and I sat in the back, open shoebox in
my lap. After a few feeble protests, the bird sagged into the pine
needles. I feared the worst.
Suddenly the head lifted slightly and beady little eyes blinked.
At the shelter, freshly defrosted mice proved the perfect
medicine. The next day, Wendy returned to our home with our
fledgling, climbed the tree and placed the little bird back in his
The baby hawk spent the next weeks changing from fluff ball
to feather duster to impressive aeronautical hunter. He graduated
from hopping on the edge of the nest to hopping from branch to
branch, sometimes with a tentative flapping of wings.
After nearly two months of flight training, the youngster
finally swooped low across the desert and landed on a
nearby spindly cholla cactus branch. During all this time, he
continued to freeload on the adults, hollering for his share of
their hunt even when he was nearly adult size.
The hawk’s coming graduation stirred mixed feelings. After
all, I had held him in my hand when he was mere ounces of
feathers attached to beak and claws. For weeks he sat stoically
on the low branches of the Aleppo, watching my every move
as I photographed him from 5 feet away. Each day, I searched
the branches, smiling when I located his hiding place. But still,
I longed to see him soar overhead. It was time for him to leave
I often sit propped on pillows looking at the panorama of sky
and mountains outside my bedroom window. Two mesquite
trees etch erratic patterns across the pure-blue Arizona sky.
One day as my mind wandered across the landscape, a hawk
swooped in and landed on a mesquite branch no more than
6 feet above the ground. A small rabbit dangled from his
beak. He made no attempt to eat his catch, or move to a more
characteristic high perch. His white-spattered chest indicated
his youth. One would think that a hawk would quickly eat his
prey, before someone else came along to demand a share.
I called to my husband, “Our young hawk is back. And he’s
brought something with him.”
Still, he sat.
I went outside. He stared at me across the swimming pool.
“Good job, hawk,” I said.
He flew off to a taller tree nearby and ate his catch.
He had become an adult. And I was as proud as I was
when my sons showed signs of trading recklessness for
Hawks and Boys
and Life’s Challenge
by Vera Marie Badertscher illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler along the way
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44 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 45
hike of the month
“they ridiculed me, my
own people, and I was left
to wander the Earth alone.
I am nobody.” These words,
spoken in the 1995 Johnny
Depp movie Dead Man,
strike an inner chord
during my trips to places
where few people venture.
Even walking up mostly
dry Cottonwood Creek
with my Uncle Ray and
friends Mitch and Jerry, I
feel alone in that quiet way I
find only in the wilderness.
Something about a desert
arroyo or mountain
meadow gives me hope.
This creek, north of
Lake Pleasant and about
45 miles northwest of
Phoenix, has become my
personal Xanadu, where
I may sit alone listening
to the birds. Or I may
impersonate a tour guide
for long-suffering friends,
pointing this way and that,
saying things like “Well,
here on this east-facing
rock is a good example
of an ancient Hohokam
petroglyph,” or “Here, at
the base of this outcropping,
I nearly stepped on a Gila
monster and screamed like a
Today, I can ditch the
tour-guide persona and
concentrate on this desert
oasis. We park, load up and
step over the dilapidated
barbed wire and onto a
path that threads between
cholla cacti and paloverde
trees along the edge of the
creek. After a quarter-mile,
we drop into the creek bed
and a grove of cottonwood
trees. We follow the creek
bed past occasional burbles
of water and pools
wriggling with spry
tadpoles and tiny frogs.
Wild burros — survivors
from when prospectors
scoured these hills — also
Cottonwood Creek, leaving
droppings and tracks. The
federal Bureau of Land
Management more or less
manages the population,
keeping a semitight leash
on the invasive species. As
we hike along the main
arm of the creek, we spot 11
burros on the hillside, their
ears standing up in unison
as a big male snorts a loud,
At the 2.5-mile mark, a
sign notes we’re entering
the Hells Canyon
Wilderness. This imposing
name reflects the
hardships of a different
time, but today it elevates
my spirits with the
promise of adventure.
The trail passes a natural
amphitheater, pocked with
caves up on a ridge. We
climb toward the alcove
through the paloverde and
mesquite. Bird calls echo
down to us, and we flush a
startled Harris hawk,
which drops its lunch and
flees. The would-be lunch,
a dazed Gila woodpecker,
lies for a moment in shock
before it recovers, counts
its feathered blessings and
Noting the dwindling
day, we decide to turn back
toward the car. The warm
autumn weather wears on
the senses and allows me
to test my old adage about
rattlesnakes. I have always
believed that the second
hiker in line will be the
one bitten. The first person
makes the hidden rattler
mad, but the second hiker
suffers the repercussions.
Sure enough, we pass a
hidden diamondback. The
first two in our group pass
without incident, Mitch
blunders along third in
line and gets the snake’s
attention just in time for
me. The rattler buzzes and
I dance out of the way to
My feet hurt after hiking
3.5 miles each way; I
sport a sunburned face,
and I came within a split
second of a good dose of
venom, but I’m grinning
uncontrollably. The wild
has that kind of effect.
by Brian Minnick photographs by Jerry Sieve
Desert Oasis PRICKLY PEAK A saguaro forest
spreads across a hill that sits along
Cottonwood Creek north of Lake
Pleasant. Other plant life along the
trail includes cottonwood, sycamore
and willow trees.
Although a Cottonwood Creek hike is mostly dry,
it features a tree-lined route and all kinds of wildlife.
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.
SURE-FOOTED LABORERS Mining
and prospecting in the 1800s were
responsible for most of Arizona’s
wild burro population. The animals’
sturdy build and capacity for hard
work in hot desert climates made
burros perfect laborers.
ANCIENT CIPHERS A small group
of saguaro cacti looms over a
petroglyph on a sandstone boulder.
Signs and figures covering rock
faces in this canyon attest to a
once-vibrant Hohokam society.
Agua Fria River
Agua Fria River
Lake Pleasant Road
Length: Varies on how far hikers want to follow the mostly dry streambed.
Return along the same route.
Elevation Gain: Negligible.
Payoff: A pristine desert experience close to Phoenix with excellent saguaro
forests, varied wildlife and petroglyphs.
Getting There: From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Carefree
Highway. Exit and turn west onto Carefree Highway, State Route 74,
for 35 miles to Castle Hot Springs Road. Turn right onto Castle Hot Springs
Road, and drive 5.1 miles north to parking area on west side of road.
The trail starts at the north side of the parking area beyond a lowered
Travel Advisory: Wear hiking boots and always carry plenty of water.
Warning: Watch for rattlesnakes.
Additional Information: Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix
District, (623) 580-5500.
46 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
“there’s a mountain
lion down there,” said a man
pointing eastward toward the
Blue River from his campsite
in the Lower Juan Miller
Campground. “We heard its
call last night. We’ve seen
some pretty big bears around
there, too. They follow the
food, which at this time of
year is juniper berries.”
That would make Juan
Miller country highly
favorable to black bears in the
fall. The graded Juan Miller
Road (Forest Service Road
475), 27 miles north of Clifton
off the Coronado Trail (U.S.
Route 191), wends its way
about 14 miles to the Blue
River over a jigsaw of mesas,
plateaus and buttes nubby
with juniper trees. Piñon
pine trees congregate along
the breaks; cottonwood trees
fill spring-riddled arroyos.
This landscape of rugged and
scenic open space could make
a cowboy’s heart skip a beat.
Back in 1922, the Coronado
Trail went only as far as
Juan Miller Road, providing
ranchers an alternative
route — besides the San
Francisco River and ridgeline
trails — into Clifton. The
Coronado Trail has evolved
into a federally designated
scenic byway, and Juan Miller
Road provides a respite from
its restless winding. The small
and rustic Upper and Lower
Juan Miller campgrounds,
situated along the back
road’s first couple of miles
at an elevation of 5,780 feet,
offer limited picnic tables,
campsites and vault toilets.
Cocooned in a forest of pine
and Gambel oak trees laced
with a ribbon of sycamore
and velvet ash trees along
Juan Miller Creek, the lower
campground harbors a relic
resembling a hand-dug
cistern. A homesteader
named von Müellar lived
along the creek for years. The
road, campgrounds and creek
carry a corrupted version of
the German immigrant’s
The campgrounds’ forests
glow golden with autumn
color at the end of October,
one of the best months to
explore Juan Miller Road.
A drive down the road to
the Blue River makes a
fascinating side trip into
the land that captivated the
hearts of those who settled it
and still work it. Ranch signs
stand along the road, and the
route passes right through the
working T Link Ranch.
The area’s first cowboy,
Fred J. Fritz, introduced
cattle along the Blue River
in the late 1880s. He built
the XXX (Triple X) Ranch,
near the end of what is now
known as Forest Service Road
475C, a spur route off Juan
Miller Road. Fritz chose this
land, some of the roughest in
Arizona, because it had water.
Even when the ankle-deep
ephemeral creeks that cross
Juan Miller Road dry out, the
Blue River flows.
In 1899, Fritz had an
encounter with one big
bear — and not an
herbivorous black bear that
grazes on juniper bushes, but
one of the meat-eating
grizzlies that once roamed
the wilderness. The legendary
event nearly took his life, and
certainly changed it.
Fritz’s son, Fred J. Fritz
Jr., described the grueling
moment in his memoirs of
life at XXX Ranch. “Father, a
quick and an excellent shot
with a pistol,” fired at a male
grizzly bear right after it had
killed a grown cow. Fritz’s
five dogs immediately took
chase. The trouble started
when Fritz inadvertently got
between the dogs and the
bear in Maple Canyon, a side
canyon of the Blue River near
the XXX Ranch.
“The bear charged
downhill,” Fritz Jr. wrote. “It
jumped on the rear-end of
his big brown horse, Jug, and
the bear’s right paw ripped
the square-skirted saddle
just as Father turned and
shot the bear in the mouth
with his .45 revolver, and
old Jug left.” The grizzly
turned its attention on Fritz
Sr., repeatedly raking its 4-
inch claws across the man’s
neck and back. According to
historian Marshall Trimble,
Fritz tried fending off the
bear with one hand while
the bear gnawed on his other
hand. He shot at the bruin
until he ran out of bullets.
Next, he used the gun as a
club until the weapon broke.
Then he stabbed the bear
with his knife until the blade
snapped off. Finally, he lit
matches he carried in his
pocket in an attempt to burn
If that first shot hadn’t
broken the bear’s jaw,
Fritz Sr.’s life would have
ended early. The wrangling
continued until Fritz’s
nephew, Willie, heard the
ruckus, followed the noise
Along Juan Miller Road
by Christine Maxa photographs by Randy Prentice
PICNIC PARADISE Gambel oak
trees provide a colorful canopy
for this picnic spot in Lower Juan
A rough road winds through bear country and
brilliant fall color on the way to the Blue River.
BLUE AND GOLD Cottonwood
trees shimmer with autumn color
along the Blue River, just south of
Fritz Canyon in Eastern Arizona.
CATTLE COUNTRY Ocotillo cacti
line the back road to the XXX
Ranch (below), where Fred Fritz
Sr. introduced cattle to the region
back road adventure
48 n o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7
to the attack scene, and
killed the bear — one of the
largest taken in the Blue River
country. Though he survived
the attack, Fritz Sr. never
fully recovered. He went to a
specialist in San Francisco for
a nervous disorder, and slept
on a pillow of hops saturated
with alcohol to relieve severe
headaches. Fritz Jr., then 16
years old, ended up taking
over much of the ranching
he never got a diploma for
more than an eighth-grade
education, Fritz Jr. became
speaker of the Arizona House
of Representatives and a state
The signed turnoff for the
XXX Ranch lies 2 miles from
the Blue River. A few miles’
drive in a high-clearance,
drops into cloistered Alder
Canyon at the old Fritz
compound. A dilapidated
hanging bridge built by a
former caretaker dangles
across a spring-fed creek. Ivy
vines and rosebushes add a
manicured touch to the now-abandoned
green and white
buildings. Just beyond the
home, where the road peters
out near the Blue River Trail
(101), lies Fritz Sr. — buried in
the land that held his heart.
Back on Juan Miller Road,
the track passes some of its
most dramatic landscape
during a steep descent into
the Blue River drainage. The
narrow river, retired from its
use as a cattle corridor, flows
quietly in a wide bed lined
with cottonwood trees and
teased by floods. The road
Although the Blue River
cowboys and their cattle
no longer fill the big open
spaces in this country, and
the grizzlies have given the
territory to black bears,
mountain lions and hunters,
this charismatic land is still
big enough to make friends
with anyone willing to
back road adventure
Vehicle Requirements: High-clearance,
Warning: Back-road travel can
be hazardous. Be aware of
weather and road conditions,
especially in the area where
several creeks cross the route.
Carry plenty of water. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
know where you’re going
and when you plan to return.
This back road crosses several
creeks, so heed signs along
the route warning of flash
floods during spring, summer
and autumn storms. During
the mid-to-late fall and
winter seasons, the road may
be closed due to snowfall.
Forests, Clifton Ranger District,
(928) 687-1301; Alpine Ranger
District, (928) 339-4384;
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> Begin in Clifton on U.S. Route 191 driving north 27 miles to Juan
Miller Road, also marked as Forest Service Road 475 and turn right.
> Follow Juan Miller road 12 miles to Forest Service Road 475C
and turn left to drive 3 miles to the XXX Ranch.
> Backtrack on FR 475C to 475 and turn left to follow it another
2 miles to the Blue River, where the road ends.
> Turn around and reverse the route on 475 for 14 miles back to
191. Turn right to head to Hannagan Meadow and Alpine or left to
return to Clifton.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Although the cattle are gone,
abandoned ranch buildings
(right) still occupy the land
known as the XXX Ranch, along
with the burial place of its
founder, Fred Fritz Sr. (below).
BLUE BEAUTY The Blue River
(right) travels through forests of
ponderosa pine, spruce and Douglas
fir trees on its journey to the San
Francisco River, where farther south,
juniper, piñon, cottonwood, alder
and cedar trees line its banks.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on inside front cover.
San Francisco River
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