Q&A: Unlocking the Secrets of Petrified Forest

Ray Lee | Petrified Forest National Park

Our February issue, on newsstands now, celebrates Petrified Forest National Park. Though the park is best known for its 200 million-year-old petrified wood, it also has an extensive human history. That's where park archaeologist William Reitze comes in. For the issue, we had Reitze annotate a story that originally appeared in the April 1963 issue of Arizona Highways. We also asked him a few questions about his work.

Tell us about your background. What led you to a career in archaeology, and how did you end up at Petrified Forest?
I have always loved archaeology. When I was a little kid, I got to go hiking and camping with my family quite a bit. We often got to go and see archaeology sites throughout Colorado and Utah. I love learning about the past and working outside, so archaeology seemed like a good career. I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico and my master's at Colorado State University. I am currently finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona.

I ended up at Petrified Forest through the student Pathways program. This program allows the Park Service to hire students to work in parks while they are in school. I was looking for a job, and this seemed like an interesting opportunity. When I started here, I really had no idea how much archaeology was actually preserved here at Petrified Forest.

What’s something about your career field that people might not know or understand?
A lot of the people I talk to think that archaeologists are always looking for the biggest sites or the rarest artifacts. But often, the more interesting questions that we can ask are how people in the past lived on a day-to-day basis. This involves looking at a lot of small sites through time and getting a detailed look at all of the artifacts that they left behind and how they relate to each other.

What’s a typical workday like for you? (If there is such a thing as a typical workday.)
Describing a typical workday is difficult. During the summer months, when there are more staff and the field crews are bigger, I spend a little more time working on paperwork to keep them in the field. But most days start at 7 a.m. (or 6 a.m., if it is a really hot summer). We will then typically go out into the field for the day. Our fieldwork is typically broken into three different types of activities. First is systematically looking for new sites on the landscape. Second would be documenting those sites in detail, including recording and mapping the artifacts and features found. Third is site preservation, or preventing erosion or other damage from occurring on these sites.

So on field days, I’ll typically be out hiking in the field until 4:30 p.m. In the summers, I’ll do this with a crew, but often in the fall, winter and spring, a lot of my field time is on my own. So on a field day, you’ll have to carry everything that you might need for the day, including water, your lunch and field recording gear.

But field days are always offset with office and lab days. All of the data that we collect needs to be timed up and entered into different databases. Artifacts need to be drawn, photographed and analyzed; site maps need to be made; and forms for the site files need to be written up.

What are some interesting things going on at Petrified Forest these days that relate to your job?
I think that the most interesting thing happening in archaeology at Petrified Forest is the boundary expansion. Right now, the park is doubling in size to protect additional archaeology sites, which is not something a lot of national parks are doing. This allows us to explore whole new areas, find new sites and set up new directions for research in archaeology.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love going into the field to discover something new. Here at Petrified Forest, we have the opportunity to find really fascinating new archaeology all the time, which is great. A lot of people who pass through Petrified Forest do not realize the human story that is here. People have been living and farming here since the end of the last ice age. We have more than 1,000 recorded archaeology sites, and there is a lot of human history here to experience.

To learn more about Petrified Forest National Park, pick up our February issue or visit www.nps.gov/pefo.

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Lowell Observatory Begins Renovating Pluto Discovery Telescope

The Pluto Telescope was where dwarf planet Pluto was spotted in 1930. | Courtesy of Lowell Observatory

Two years after completing a renovation of its most well-known telescope, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff is rehabbing an instrument whose history is just as notable.

The observatory announced this month that it's starting a renovation of the telescope Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto in 1930. That scope, known as the Pluto Telescope, has a 13-inch lens and dates to the 1920s. It's technically known as an astrograph, meaning that it's specifically designed for making photos of objects in space.

Pluto, of course, is Lowell's primary claim to fame. Originally considered the ninth planet of the solar system, it's since been downgraded to a "dwarf planet," though a debate continues among visitors to the observatory, which bills itself as the "Home of Pluto."

The $155,000 restoration project — which is being funded through crowdsourcing, private donations and a grant — will involve cleaning, repainting and replacing telescope parts; repairing the instrument's dome by replacing rotted areas and weatherproofing the structure; and adding educational exhibits to the dome.

In 2015, the observatory completed a nearly $300,000 renovation of its 24-inch Clark telescope, which dates to the 1890s and now is used for public viewing. That process was documented in a July 2015 Arizona Highways story.

Lowell also announced this month that it has received $1.4 million in grants from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation of Phoenix. That money will go toward research on the facility's Discovery Channel Telescope, along with facility upgrades and long-range planning efforts.

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Explore an Underground World at Kartchner Caverns This Weekend

The stalactites and stalagmites at Kartchner Caverns State Park have been forming for 200,000 years. | Courtesy of Kartchner Caverns State Park

Kartchner Caverns State Park, home of one of the world's most stunning underground caves, is hosting its annual Cave Fest this Saturday and Sunday, January 21 and 22.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day at the park — located just south of Benson, in the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains — special guests from the University of Arizona and Arizona Game and Fish Department will present programs on water conservation, the cave's unique qualities and more, the park said in a news release.

Also on hand will be live animal displays, children's activities and food vendors, plus an electronic simulator that gives users an idea of what crawling through a limestone cave is like. The cost of the event is the park entrance fee of $7 per vehicle; guided tours are available for an additional fee, but those should be reserved in advance by visiting www.azstateparks.com or calling 877-MY-PARKS.

The cave was discovered in the 1970s but remained unknown to the public until 1988, when it became a state park. More than a decade of development followed to make the cave accessible to the public; it opened in 1999. For more information, visit the Kartchner Caverns State Park website.

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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, January 1951

From the issue: "'Grand Canyon' From a Painting by James Swinnerton. Jimmy Swinnerton faithfully portrays the grandeur and majesty of the western scene. His favorite subject has been the Grand Canyon, which he has been painting for forty years. Primary noted for his delightful cartoons, Swinnerton is recognized as one of the finest landscape artists in the West."

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ASU Will Lead Mission to Send Probe to Asteroid

This rendering shows 16 Psyche, the asteroid targeted by the upcoming Psyche mission. | Courtesy of Arizona State University

Arizona State University will play a leading role in sending an unmanned NASA probe to a distant asteroid in 2023, the space agency announced last week.

It's the first time ASU, based in Tempe, has been tapped to lead a major space mission, though ASU-designed instruments have been included on probes sent to the moon and Mars.

As The Arizona Republic reported, the Psyche mission will take more than four years to reach an asteroid known as 16 Psyche, which orbits the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid is about the size of Massachusetts, researchers say. The goal is to study the asteroid's all-metal core, which is similar to that of Earth, to understand how planets form.

ASU professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton will be the mission's principal investigator. She and her team of about 150 people plan to study the asteroid for about 20 months as the probe orbits and collects data, the Republic reported.

ASU also has an instrument aboard the OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched in September. That mission is being led by the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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Scottsdale Parada del Sol: Now Featuring Marshall Trimble

Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade | Courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Arizona state historian Marshall Trimble is joining this year's edition of the Scottsdale Parada del Sol, serving as grand marshal for the annual Western-themed parade and rodeo.

The festivities kick off Friday, February 10, with the end of the Hashknife Pony Express Ride, in which horseback riders carry 20,000 pieces of mail 200 miles from Holbrook to Scottsdale. Scottsdale's Museum of the West hosts the riders' arrival.

Saturday, February 11, is the Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade, which features bands, marching groups, Western groups, commercial floats, horse riders and groups, Western vehicles and other participants. It begins at 10 a.m. in Old Town Scottsdale.

Following the parade is the Trail's End Festival, also in Old Town, until 5 p.m. Western, Hispanic and Native American cultural entertainment areas will be on hand, along with activities for children. More than 20,000 visitors are expected for the parade and festival, organizers say.

The festivities conclude March 9-12 with the Scottsdale Parada del Sol Rodeo at WestWorld of Scottsdale.

For more information on all of the events, visit www.paradadelsol.net.

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On a 'Voyage' to See Arizona's National Parks

Stuart Kaner and his grandson, Brenden, at Tonto National Monument. | Courtesy of Stuart Kaner

It's always a thrill to hear that Arizona Highways has inspired someone to explore Arizona. Stuart Kaner, who recently got in touch with us, is no exception.

"I'm a soon to be 65-year-old grandfather with a 12-year-old grandson (Brenden)," he wrote. "Your August 2016 issue on the 22 national parks [in Arizona] inspired me/us to visit all of them.

"We mapped out a total of nine trips, and made the first one last Friday to Tonto National Monument. We're putting a scrapbook together to document the (what we figure will take two years) ‘voyage.’ I just didn't want to be remembered as the Ziede (grandpa in Yiddish) that only took him out to eat.

"I know this will remind him and his children, and so on, as to who I was and how much I loved him. Thank you for providing us with more than just beautiful pictures and articles!"

We so appreciate Stuart sharing his and Brenden's story with us, and have asked them to get back in touch once they've completed their "voyage." The above photo shows Stuart and Brenden during their visit to Tonto.

What adventures has Arizona Highways inspired for your family? Drop us a line and let us know.

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Report: Obama Won't Create Monument Around Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon | Mamie Zembal

President Barack Obama has decided not to create a national monument to protect land around Grand Canyon National Park, news outlets reported Friday.

According to the Associated Press, Representative Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona congressman who pushed for the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, said administration officials told him this week that Obama had decided against the monument. The White House declined comment Friday, the AP said.

The 1.7 million-acre monument would have been the second-largest in the U.S., after Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and would have included sacred Native American archaeological sites, old-growth ponderosa pines and the Canyon's watershed. It would have included large swaths of the Kaibab National Forest both north and south of the Canyon, along with additional land on the Kaibab Plateau.

Indian tribes and environmental groups supported the proposal, while business interests and Arizona's two U.S. senators were among those opposed to it.

Grijalva told the AP that he'll continue to advocate for protecting the area around the Canyon from uranium mining and development.

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