It is summer. It is time for the palo verde beetles to emerge for 30 days of fun in the sun. The palo verde beetle is one of the largest beetles in North America. They grow to 3 1/2 inches or so. Continue reading »
Last night I explored the grounds of the Superstition Mountain Museum after hours. My intention was to capture the sunset, then later the Strawberry Moon as it rose over the Superstitions.
To be honest, I have seen more spectacular sunsets. Any sunset I see is good, it means I survived another day. It means I am not in jail. It means I can expect to see another sunrise. Continue reading »
Only mad dogs and Englishmen…
“But, it’s a dry heat.” So is my oven, tell that to the pot roast!
The temperatures are hovering around 110º F (43ºC). There is a stiff breeze. The sky is cloudless, not even a stray wisp of cirrus. What better excuse to take a short hike in the mountains? Continue reading »
Governor Ducey signed into law legislation banning dog racing in Arizona. The law was inevitable, as these dogs are often mistreated, and it is cruel and inhumane. That said, Liz and I attended a dog race at Captain’s Lounge in Apache Junction.
Okay, so this wasn’t real dog racing. It was Chihuahua racing – and the proceeds benefited our own Paws and Claws animal shelter. We have had dealings with Paws and Claws, and they are a first rate organization. Their primary goal is to adopt out animals, not euthanize. Euthanisation is a last resort, with many of the volunteers adopting the unadoptable. Continue reading »
The original Pony Express never traveled through Arizona. Founded in 1860, it lasted less than two years, and ended in bankruptcy. The route ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, CA. Arizona was not even on their radar, maybe because radar would not be invented for another 70 years. The completion of the Pacific Telegraph Line sounded the death knell for the Express. Continue reading »
We finally took the plunge and took a tour on the Dolly Steamboat. Dolly is a replica of the classic American sternwheel boat. It is docked on Canyon Lake, the smallest of the four lakes formed by hydroelectric dams that provide electricity to the Valley by the Salt River Project.
Canyon Lake is 130 feet deep at places – so I won’t be swimming to the bottom anytime soon. It is 950 acres, and surrounded by cliffs and mountains. There are several free camping areas – some accessible only by boat.
The tour is a 6-mile route. We saw bighorn sheep and nesting bald eagles. The mountains and cliffs were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The cliff faces are painted with yellow, green and black patterns and streaks of lichens and “desert varnish”. Desert varnish is composed of bacterial microorganisms that stain the cliff sides.
We saw nesting bald eagles, and a couple bighorn sheep on the cliffs. Unfortunately my telephoto lens wasn’t strong enough to capture and decent shots of the wildlife.
Years of erosion created the Slat River, and man-made dams created the lake system. Canyon Lake is closest to Apache Junction, and a favorite destination of boaters. There is a swimming area and there are boat ramps available to the public.
The Dolly Steamboat offers several cruises. Ours was a dinner cruise, catered by the Mining Camp restaurant.The captain also acted as docent, providing a constant stream of anecdotes and history of the area, as well as an education on the flora, fauna and geology of the region. The bar offered mixed drinks and cold beer at not affordable prices.
There were plenty of small fishing boats, and canoes and kayaks and even a cabin cruiser on the lake that night. I was surprised to see Mallard ducks swimming along the edges of the lake, sheltered by the cliff sides. One cliff was comprised of petrified tree trunks – that was one helluva forest before this area became desert. So what was that you said about global warming? Our climate has been anything but static – and a hundred years is not enough to base any long term predictions of doom and gloom.
If you are into fishing, the lake boasts walleye, rainbow trout (yum), large mouth and yellow bass, and crappie. All of this less than a half hour drive from my house. The river divides the Superstition Wilderness from the base of the range that comprises Four Peaks. Four Peaks is home to the largest amethyst mine in the northern hemisphere. The mine is owned by the same man that is responsible for you being able to track your packages that are shipped via UPS or FedEx. The mine is accessible by helicopter, or by an extremely arduous climb up the side of the mountain.
North of Canyon Lake, you have Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 (the same year that Arizona became a state) and was named after Teddy Roosevelt. It is 22 miles long, and more than 21,000 acres.
As we debarked the boat, we were treated to a wonderful moonrise over the mountains. It was a full moon, or close to it. One of the Dolly Steamboat tours is an Astronomical Tour. In the pitch black of the wilderness, you have a view of starts you never knew existed. That is on my agenda some time in the future. The lake is quiet in the daytime, and I imagine it is eerily so at night. To imagine the Pima tribes, and the Apaches that wandered these mountains hundreds of years ago adds to the mystique.
We learned from a Navajo friend who is a pottery artist, descended from a long line of medicine women, that Superstition Mountain is known as the Healing Mountain. Her mother was a renowned medicine woman who had never been to the mountain, but knew from family history that the mountain is home to herbs and plants that grow nowhere else, plants that have healing properties. Yet one more reason to cherish the wilderness, and to protect it.
The Hackberry Spring loop is a quiet and easy hike in the Superstition Mountains. You will need moderate trail-finding skills, as the trail is one of the unmarked wonders. One wrong turn, and the simple loop doubles in duration. Today we just wanted a short hike, as we have chores and life calling.
To access the trail-head, you take Rt. 88 to First Water Road in the Tonto National Forest. This is an unimproved road; it is graded for most of the tourist season, but it sometimes has deep ruts and is not recommended for passenger vehicles. A Chevy Cavalier will do okay, a Porsche not so much.
About four miles in you will come to a parking area for horse trailers. This is the best place to park for the beginning of the hike. From the parking area, head North from the northeast corner. The trail is clear. Before long you will be walking alongside a cliff covered with green lichen. Lizards will cross the path, and if you are lucky you might see some ground squirrels. Today we saw a red-tail hawk soaring above the cliff.
A honeybee was hovering around a thistle in full bloom. The washes were all but dry, with only the vestiges of water puddles left from the winter rains. Flowering plants with buds of blue, yellow and lavender speckled the landscape. We hiked to the First Water wash, which was mostly bone dry. At the wash, you can turn right, which will take you to the abandoned corral and back to the road. We crossed the wash and headed left. Cairns mark the way, as the trail gets fuzzy here. You will know you are on the correct path when you spot the trail heading between a crevasse of two outcroppings of mountain.
This is a wonderful area, as there is always a strong breeze and the area is in shadow most of the day. There are numerous caves and indentations in the rocks to explore. The vegetation is lush, and often the wash is full of bubbling, running water. The going is a bit tricky and you need to be sure-footed as the path is rocky.
Pretty soon you will find yourself at Hackberry Spring, a lush oasis in the middle of the harsh desert mountains. You are surrounded by a grove of trees, with a carpet of green grass. Once through the grove, you are back on the mountain trail. You need to use trail-finding skills here. If you follow the main trail, you will find yourself on a treacherous and steep pass that takes you to the Garden Valley and Black Mesa. This is a very rewarding hike, but will double your hike. At the small mesa, you will want to to take the trail that heads to the right.
The views are nothing short of spectacular. We passed one couple hiking today. This is the perfect trail if you prefer seclusion and a solitary hike without the interference of other hikers. When I hike I want peace and quiet, to hear the sounds of nature and not the chit-chat of others. Just call me anti-social. We said hello tot he couple we passed, and they told us they had just spotted a Gila Monster on the path 500 yards from where we were. Lucky folks, Gila Monsters are very shy, and you are fortunate to see one.
The hedgehog cactus were in full blossom today. The usually monochrome landscape was speckled with blue, yellow, orange and lavender flowers. The sky was vacant of clouds. The washes and creek beds had puddles of standing water – not conducive to drinking unless you have a purification system. The mountains were still green from the heavy winter rainfall – this is not a good thing. As summer comes on, the vegetation dries and dies and becomes tinder for wildfires.
We came to the long forgotten entrance to the ranch. Once upon a time cattle roamed these hills, and cattlemen and ranchers born of sturdy stock walked these same trails. The trail leads to a defunct corral, with the skeletal remains of a windmill and a water tank on the hillside.
Our hike today was short – just over two hours. The final stretch is an uphill hike over a rocky path. Soon you hit the cattle gate, a hundred feet from the road. From there it is a short walk back to the parking area.
This is the perfect hike to experience all of the varied landscapes of the wilderness without wandering too far off of the beaten track. As the trail is not marked, you do not meet many novices. It is an open secret, and relatively easy. It is one of my favorite hikes. Along the way you can cut it short, or make it longer simply by choice of an alternate path.
Today Liz and I took a day trip to Superior. Liz’s niece in Michigan owns property in Superior and asked that we send her some photos. She is going to have to arrange for somebody to cut down the overgrowth. One day they plan to build a house on the lot, which has a grand view of Apache Leap. More on that in a second.
It was a nice excuse to stop for lunch at the Jade Grill, a very intimate little restaurant run by Superior native and master chef Lucy Wing. The cuisine is Asian Fusion – the presentation is nothing short of artistic. Highly recommended. Lunch for two ran $24.
It was also an excuse to do some shopping at Funky Junk, an eclectic thrift store. We walked out with a coal burning stove and an old pick-axe that Liz purchased for the Superstition Mountain Museum miner’s cabin exhibit. I walked out with about 15 feet of antique barbed wire which I plan on fashioning into a wreath. He refused to charge me, and offered two bundles of wire. I didn’t want to take advantage.
You never know what you are going to find at Funky Junk – antique furniture, musical instruments including outsider art electric cigar box banjos and cigar box amplifiers, old mining equipment, a jackhammer, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass Band 33 1/3 RPM albums, coils of barbed wire, fine antique china, a vintage smelter (if I had the cash I would have walked out with it) and an odd assortment of books and CDs and DVDs.
The son of the owner was lamenting the loss of business due to the highway expansion. The only highway between Phoenix and Miami/Globe is shut down for three days a week for construction. Superior is in the middle, and they have lost a lot of the tourist traffic they rely on. Superior is an old silver mining town that was shy of becoming a ghost town before the Chamber of Commerce created a sort of arts district in the downtown.
The highway is closed for blasting, as the mountains have to be chipped away to make room for two more lanes of road. Superior is a town that is at once charming and also creepy. Artists have taken up residence in neighborhood that reek of poverty – of real poverty. Superior is on the outskirts of what used to be Apache territory – a few miles further east past Globe and you are on Apache reservation. If you are a White Eye, you do not want to screw up or do anything stupid. The Apache remember.
Which brings me to the story of Apache Leap.
The Apache had inhabited this territory since before recorded history. The Apache and The Navajo are descended from the same people. The Navajo settled and created an agrarian community. The Apache wandered and roamed, and hunted for sustenance. They also raided and took what they needed to survive, whether from white man or other native tribes. When the White Eyes began encroaching on their land, they did not rest easy.
Superior was once a farming settlement, and was named Florence Settlement. Frequent Apache raids were cause for a military fort to be situated a few miles west at Picket Post Butte in 1870. Picket Post Butte was originally names Tordilla Peak.
This was the location of the town called Pinal, which boasted the Silver King Mine. A stamp mill was built here, and the silver was stripped from the vein. A few miles east rose a mountain named the Big Picacho. It is a huge up-cropping of rock whose face has been eroded by thousands of years of precipitation.
The Apache had established a small community at the top of Big Picacho. The path to the top was obscure, and the Apache felt safe in their secret hideaway. They used this vantage to observe military movement in the valley below, and via smoke signals communicate with other tribes. The military post eventually discovered the hideaway and were able to find the secret path to the peak.
A group of military and civilian posse surprised the Apache. The Apache quickly surrendered, understanding the futility of fighting a larger force, they had no route of escape. The posse, however, would not accept surrender, figuring that the Apache would one day attack anyway. They killed man, woman and child. The Apache, with nowhere to go, ran to the ridge and lept to their deaths.Many Apache warriors rode their horses off the cliff, as some of the stories go.
Apache Leap overlooks Oak Flat, a parcel of land that indolent politicians in cohorts with international corporations have conspired to sell for the promise of a few low paying local jobs. While not tribal land, indeed the land is part of Tonto National Forest, it has a certain meaning to Apache tribes in the area. It is considered sacred because of the Apache Leap incident.
The company buying the land is an Australian/English consortium that has mines with Iranian interests. One of their mines had 15% Iranian interest. Money and greed have no national boundaries, and allowing terrorists to profit comes in second to personal riches.
The copper vein that would be mined lies miles beneath the surface, and the mine would destroy a landscape that is unique not only to Arizona, but to the United States. A gaping hole would be left in the wake of wanton avarice. Some jobs would be created for residents of Superior, and as unemployment is at an all time high, it is enticing to give consideration, however, the high paying administrative jobs wold go to foreign nationals that have no interest other than self-enrichment.
Spring is just around the corner, and it is time for the Annual exhibit of Mexican fine craft at the Superstition Mountain Museum. A four day event, artists travel from the small village of Mata Ortiz (population around 200) located in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, and as far as Oaxaca. The artists practice craft handed down for generations.
The focal point of the event is the large variety of pottery and clay work. The black pottery is called Barro Negro, known for the sheen and lustre and intricate design work. Magdalena Pedro Martinez is from Oaxaca. I spent time with them at one of the after parties, and talked with the help of their teenage daughter who acted as translator. Since the extent of my Spanish is “cervesa”, “Besa mi culo”, and “puto” – we needed help. one will get you a cold beer, the other two will get you beat up!
Magdalena and her husband are physicians, but she spends more time creating her art than practicing medicine. She is a renowned artist in Mexico.
I was showing them photos of some of the mosaic installations that Liz and I have done, and was surprised to learn we have friend in common. Magdalena was an artist at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and were guests of Isaiah Zagar during their stay. It truly is a small small world.
One of the features of the four-day event are the daily firings of the Mata Otiz pottery by Lila Silveira and her husband Carlos Carrillo. Lila and Carlos are from Mata Ortiz, hence the name of the pottery. The pottery is made from local clay, which they refine. All of the pottery is hand turned, no pottery wheel. They are made with coils of clay and smoothed as the design of the vase takes shape. All of the colors are natural colors. The paintbrushes are hand made – sometimes using an empty ballpoint pen with a single strand of human hair. The designs are all traditional, with the artist’s own interpretation. One vase will take two weeks to create. These are forty hour weeks. They are fired in the time-honored tradition of a pit kiln.
The firing of the clay is the final step, and one fraught with peril. In forty-five minutes, two weeks of tedious work can self destruct. Carlos heats the ground under the pit, to bring it up to temperature, and to remove any moisture in the ground. Then two buckets are placed over the heated pottery.Wood is piled around the buckets, and the fire is allowed to burn until the wood is nothing but ash. One strong breeze can infiltrate the cover of the buckets and cause the pottery to split. Typically, one out of four or five pieces is lost in the firing. Each destroyed piece is a loss of income. That means one less trip tot he supermarket, which is an hour drive from town.
First one bucket is removed to allow the pottery to cool, then the other – the moment of anticipation. As the pottery cools, you can watch the clay change color, and the pigments will change, too. This year, all of the pottery survived the firing.
Porfirio Guitierrez is a fabric artist, creating rugs and weaving in the traditional Zapotec method dating to pre-Colombian times. Porfirio is also from Oaxaca.
The yarns are all dyed with natural dyes from plants, except for the red which is made from the cochineal, an insect. These colors will never fade, as is attested by remnants discovered in ancient archaeological ruins. Porfirio makes his own dyes, the yarn is locally spun from wool. A weaving can take from several days to weeks.
Porfirio works on a handmade loom of very basic construction. He was taught the art by his father, and says the most difficult part of the process is converting his design into the finished product. He says there is a lot of mathematics involved, knowing the thread count, the thickness of the yarn, the intricacy of the design.
Julia Fuentes is from the village of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca. The daughter of master carver Epifanio Fuentes, she carries on the family tradition with her husband. Here she is painting the intricate designs on a carving created by her husband, Jose Juan Melchor. She was standing in the sun because she was chilly. The climate is just a little bit warmer in Oaxaca.
The table of carvings contains her art, as well as examples of many other artists that could not attend the exhibit. Many were not able to obtain travel visas because they do not have birth certificates.
All of the artists that attend this annual event are masters of their own craft. I would stand in awe watching them work. Their attention to detail coupled with the use of tools that often are improvised, using supplies and materials that are also handmade and an art in themselves just reinforces the idea that Art Will Find a Way.
I guess I have to end this with a photo of some of the other people that make this event possible. The Apache Junction Mounted Rangers provide security during the event. The AJ Mounted Rangers are volunteers, working long hours, as volunteers. Did I mention they work for no pay?
They are an ubiquitous presence, patrolling the parking lots of supermarkets during the holiday season, mingling with the crowds during these events, and exemplifying the Arizona spirit of helping your neighbor.
Of course, this event would be possible without the dedication of the more than 200 volunteers of the Museum, putting in long hours, proving room and board for the artists, and especially hosting the after parties. It is one thing to see the artists practicing their craft and quite another to talk to them, and despite the language barrier, finding many things in common.
I cannot wait for next year, to connect again with new friends, to be amazed at the artistry and to acquire more amazing art for our collection.