On a Mission to Visit All 417 National Park Service Sites

Courtesy of Mikah Meyer

Mikah Meyer learned something when his father died of esophageal cancer at age 58 in 2005.

"I realized a lot of my peers seemed to think they were guaranteed to live to 80," says Meyer, a Nebraska native who was 19 then. "His death made me realize we're not guaranteed to make it to retirement."

Shortly after his dad's funeral, Meyer embarked on a long cross-country road trip as a way to process the loss. It was a healing experience, he says — and it drove home a lesson: "I might not have the time I think I have to do the things I want to do in life."

Now, it's safe to say, Meyer has fallen in love with the open road. His current road trip, which began in 2016, is taking him to all 417 National Park Service sites in the country. He's aiming to become the youngest person ever to see them all when he finishes the trip next year.

The journey recently took Meyer to Arizona, where he spoke with Arizona Highways before getting on a plane to visit Park Service sites in American Samoa, Guam and Hawaii. When he returns in March, he'll have four more Arizona sites to cross off, including Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Tonto and Organ Pipe Cactus national monuments.

The fourth is a tough one: Hohokam Pima National Monument, which is not currently open to the public. Meyer is hoping someone from the Gila River Indian Community will grant him special permission to visit the site. (If you know a guy, or know a guy who knows a guy, you can contact Meyer via his Facebook page.)

The high points of Meyer's trip so far, he says, have been places other than national parks — such as Chiricahua National Monument and Coronado National Memorial in Arizona, and national monuments and seashores elsewhere in the U.S. "Getting to go to those hidden gems, that's been the real highlight," he says.

Arizona plays a pivotal role in this adventure, because Meyer has visited before, on a trip that included a hike to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. "That was my first time doing real camping in my life," he says. "If I hadn't had such a good experience there, I might not be doing this trip now."

There's an advocacy component, too. "When I started this journey, I realized the outdoors industry had never sponsored an openly LGBT person," Meyer says. "I thought I would have to hide that part of myself, but as people found that out [about me], they wanted me to share it and be that 'openly gay outdoorsman' role model."

In the same vein, he says, "there are very few openly gay Christian role models out there." He stops at churches along his route — including one in Glendale, where he'll be on April 1 — to sing, preach and raise money for the trip.

Meyer now has visited 292 of the 417 Park Service sites. Many of the remaining ones are in California and Alaska, but he'll then have to cross off some farther east — including one that didn't exist when he started his trek. He's aiming for a world record held by Alan Hogenauer, who was 39 years old when he finished the list in 1980. Back then, though, there were only 320 such sites.

Meyer will be 33 when he plans to finish, so he's got some margin for error. But he's not wasting any time.

Mikah Meyer sings and talks about his travels from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, April 1, at Foothills Christian Church (3951 W. Happy Valley Road) in Glendale. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page.

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New Sites Added to Forest Service's Cabin Rental Program

One of the common buildings at Big Springs Cabins. | Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service has added two remote locations near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to its Rooms With a View cabin-rental program.

Both sites, Big Springs Cabins and Jumpup Cabin, are in the Kaibab National Forest's North Kaibab Ranger District. And according to Forest Service archaeologist Jeremy Haines, both offer "a great tipping-off point for numerous hiking and biking adventures."

Big Springs Cabins, on Forest Road 22, has six cabins available to rent. Each cabin has two twin-size beds and one full-size bed, and the cabins share a shower house, fully furnished kitchen and dining hall. As the Forest Service notes, it's a good base camp for day hikes on the Kaibab Plateau or the North RIm.

Jumpup Cabin, on the edge of the Kanab Creek Wilderness, is more rustic and has fewer amenities, but it includes a two-room cabin and a composting toilet. There is no electricity, propane or running water at this site.

Both sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while both sites aren't open until later this year, reservations are being accepted now via the Recreation.gov links above.

To learn more about the Rooms With a View program, click here.

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New Bridge Takes Shape Along State Route 260

This new bridge will carry eastbound State Route 260 traffic over Cherry Creek. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

Travelers on State Route 260 between Camp Verde and Cottonwood might notice a striking sight on the side of the road: a new bridge that's part of a $62 million widening project for the highway.

The Arizona Department of Transportation said this month that the new bridge will carry eastbound traffic over Cherry Creek. It has three spans of about 100 feet each, is 48 feet wide and is about 15 feet above the creek, ADOT said.

The entire project has reached its halfway point, the department said, and is on track to be completed by the end of 2018. It includes new eastbound lanes to increase the capacity of SR 260, along with seven new roundabouts.

Although ADOT plans to maintain two open lanes of traffic during construction, drivers are advised to slow down and watch for workers and lane shifts in the area.

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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, February 1961

From the issue: "'San Francisco Peaks From the Mill Pond' by Jeanne Lee. ... Photo shows Southwest Forest Industries mill pond, one half mile south of U.S. 66 within Flagstaff city limits. The San Francisco Peaks, in the Coconino National Forest, appear in the background."

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Happy Birthday, Arizona!

Rita Erickson | Heber-Overgaard

It's Valentine's Day, but there's something else to love for residents of the Grand Canyon State: Today is Arizona Statehood Day, which marks Arizona's 106th birthday.

Arizona officially became a state on February 14, 1912, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. President William Howard Taft signed the legislation that created the state, which previously was Arizona Territory. George W.P. Hunt, the state's first governor, was on hand for the signing.

It was the 48th state admitted to the union, just behind New Mexico and ahead of only Alaska and Hawaii. To get there, it had to survive a 1906 move by Congress to combine it with New Mexico Territory and admit the two to the union as a single state. But the move required a majority of residents in each territory to vote in favor of it, and while New Mexicans did so, Arizonans overwhelmingly rejected joint statehood.

Despite being one of the nation's largest states, Arizona has just 15 counties — most of which rank among the 100 largest counties in America. In fact, for a long time, Arizona had just four counties — Mohave, Yuma, Pima and Yavapai. A fifth, Pah-Ute County, came along in the 1860s but disappeared a few years later.

Do you know any other interesting facts about Arizona? Let us know in the comments.

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Arizona Elk Rounded Up for West Virginia Reintroduction

Angela Ramsey Tucker | Woods Canyon Lake

We told you last summer about a plan to send some of Arizona's elk population to West Virginia for a repopulation project there. Late last month, that project finally got underway, with 60 elk being captured and quarantined in preparation for the journey.

The elk — roughly 50 cows and 10 bulls — were captured via helicopter at the Raymond Wildlife Area east of Flagstaff, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said in a news release. After pursuing each animal in a helicopter, Game and Fish workers fired a handheld "net gun" to entangle the elk, then blindfolded and sedated it before moving it to a quarantine pen.

The elk will head to West Virginia late this month, the department said. There, they'll join a handful of elk transplanted from Kentucky in 2016.

The project is a partnership between Game and Fish and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. It's only the second time elk have been transplanted from Arizona — the first was in 2000, when the state sent 26 elk to Kentucky. That population has thrived, and today, Kentucky has between 10,000 and 15,000 elk.

Of course, Arizona's elk are themselves the product of a reintroduction effort. Their ancestors were brought here from Yellowstone National Park starting in 1913. From those few handfuls of transplants, Arizona's elk population has grown to about 45,000, Game and Fish says.

An elk subspecies native to Arizona, the Merriam's elk, was hunted to extinction by the early 1900s.

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Bisbee Deportation Documentary Makes Splash at Sundance

Fernando Serrano in "Bisbee '17." | Courtesy of Jarred Alterman/4th Row Films

An Arizona-produced film about an infamous moment in the state's history recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

Bisbee '17 premiered in the festival's U.S. documentary competition. The film, which was shot in Bisbee and used local actors for re-enactments, details the 1917 Bisbee Deportation — in which some 1,200 striking miners in the Southeastern Arizona town were rounded up, loaded onto trains and shipped to New Mexico.

The film opened to largely positive reviews at Sundance. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in its festival diary:

In less assured hands, "Bisbee '17" might have come across as an overly schematic thought experiment, rather than the coolly riveting, emotionally galvanizing achievement it is: a movie that doesn't just put history on trial, but reminds us that we're never not living it.

And a review from The Hollywood Reporter provides insight into the film's production:

Locals responded to calls for actors, and together they created scenes. Some would be structured and then improvised, others choreographed and sung. It's when the film makes its first seamless, haunting move between real life and performance that it finds its ghostly pulse.

Rolling Stone, meanwhile, named Bisbee '17 one of the 20 best movies and performances from the festival.

There's no word yet on a wider release for Bisbee '17, but you can follow the film on Facebook to see when it might be coming to a theater near you.

To learn about another aspect of Bisbee's history, pick up a copy of the March issue of Arizona Highways, which hits newsstands this week.


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Parada del Sol Parade, Festival Bring Wild West Back to Scottsdale

Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade | Kent Ennis

The 65th annual Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival is set to bring Wild West adventures and history to downtown Scottsdale starting this week.

Parada President Wendy Springborn said the event dates to 1951. Back then, it was named the Sunshine Festival. Springborn, who moved from Illinois to Arizona in 1969, said she has many fond memories of the festival and parade from her early days in the Valley.

“Back in my grade-school days, there would be a month's worth of events going on in downtown Scottsdale leading up to the parade and rodeo," she said. "It’s gotten a smaller footprint as far as dates over time, but the city is really trying to bring back events for a Western week to give residents and visitors an opportunity to experience some of the history of Scottsdale.”

Parade attendees and festivalgoers can experience Western bands, dancing, activities for kids, an Arizona wine garden, Aztec and folklorico dancers, and more. Those who want more than just one day of Western fun can join in events throughout the week, including an art walk and Pony Express mail delivery.

The upcoming Scottsdale Western Week features a number of free, family-friendly events, including:

Western Spirit Gold Palette ArtWalk
Thursday, February 8, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The Scottsdale Gallery Association transforms its popular ArtWalk series with a Western theme, including Scottsdale’s finest examples of Old West and contemporary art. Visitors can experience live mariachi performances, a rope-trick artist and live demonstrations inside some of the galleries.

Hashknife Pony Express Mail Delivery and Community Celebration
Friday, February 9, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The oldest officially sanctioned Pony Express celebrates its 60th year with riders blazing their trail from the tiny town of Holbrook to the streets of downtown Scottsdale. Arriving on horseback and covering a relay mail route of more than 200 miles, the annual delivery consists of 20,000 pieces of first class mail that bear the “Hashknife Pony Express” insignia.

65th Annual Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival
Saturday, February 10, 10 a.m. to noon (parade), noon to 4 p.m. (festival)

As in years past, 2018’s Parada del Sol promises a variety of horse groups, including mounted riders of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse, the Hashknife Pony Express riders and the Scottsdale Charros, as well as horse-drawn carriages, bands, wagons and stagecoaches.

Arizona Indian Festival
Saturday, February 10, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, February 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Held at Scottsdale Civic Center Park, this two-day, family-friendly event features Arizona tribes sharing cultural experiences, traditional dwellings, art demonstrations, Native American storytelling, performances, music and contemporary entertainment, and an artisan market.

Whether you make it to all the stops or just have time for one Western Week event, consider spending your Saturday in Scottsdale for the parade and festival. “It’s just a wonderful time to come down and see all the beautiful history of Scottsdale in the parade,” Springborn said. “Come out and enjoy a wonderful day and afternoon.”

To learn more about the events planned around the Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival, visit scottsdaleparade.com.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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Q&A: Snapshots of History at the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff

Some of the cameras and camera accessories on display at the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff. See more photos at the bottom of this story. | Courtesy of Tom Holtje

In a world of all things digital, we seldom think about how the tools we use every day came to be. Photography, for example, is as easy as pulling your phone out of your pocket and pressing a button — or setting your digital camera to automatic. In the days of film and manual settings, things were much different. In November, Tom Holtje, an avid camera collector, opened the Arizona Camera Museum to not only showcase his extensive collection, but also explore the history of cameras and photography. We caught up with him to learn more about it. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Tom Holtje. I’m the curator, founder, operator and sole employee of the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff. I grew up on the East Coast, and I’ve lived in Flagstaff for about six years. I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a camera growing up. My father was the family photographer, and he took a lot of pictures and slide photos. My mom worked at Fotomat for over 10 years, so that was another entryway for me into photography. I got my first camera in high school; I started taking pictures for all sorts of things, like the newspaper and the yearbook.

Have you always collected cameras? How did your collection start?
I started working in photo retail in camera shops. I worked at one in New Jersey, and that’s where I started learning about all different types of cameras. I worked in several different camera shops from 1982 until 2000, and during that time, I started collecting some pieces. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that I seriously started collecting cameras. I used to have a lot of collections — baseball caps, buttons, Beatles memorabilia — but eventually I realized that photography and cameras were where my passion really was.

Once I had more than 60 cameras and camera-related objects, I decided to really put effort into displaying it. I’m an art teacher, so education of people, of cameras and the history of photography is something I’ve pursued.

Tell us a little bit more about the collection in the museum. What are some of your favorite pieces?
I currently have about 100 pieces on display; that’s just a portion of my collection. In the spring, I plan to rotate some of the things on display now. I collect anything photographic: I have cameras, photographs, camera toys and advertising. I accept donations, and that’s sort of growing my collection as well. The one camera that I sort of feature is the StarKist Charlie the Tuna camera from 1971. I also have a camera that’s on loan from a local photographer, Shane Knight; it’s a big 8x10 camera, and it sort of dominates a corner of the museum. He acquired it from the original owner, who had taken four presidents' pictures with the camera. I also have a lot of box cameras.

I like to have the museum be a very interactive experience, so I have some View-Master viewers on display for children and adults, I have a video of some old Kodak TV commercials, and I have some tintype photographs that have a magnet next to them, so the picture can stick to it.

What are some of the fan favorites in the collection?
I have some cameras from the early ‘30s by Kodak called the Beau Brownie; they were updated, and the front of them have this Art Deco, Mondrian-esque design with different colors. I also have these soda can cameras from the late 1990s; they look like soda cans and take 5 mm film. I have a lot of Polaroid cameras; they had a lot of popular, iconic cameras that people really seem to enjoy.

What do you hope people learn or take away when they visit the museum?
Because our current culture is all cellphones, I want people to realize there’s this whole industry that was focused around one thing, and that was taking pictures of a specific event. If you didn’t have a camera, you weren’t able to record it. And also, the diversity of all the cameras out there. Most of my collection is film cameras. I want people to get a really good knowledge of the history of cameras and how important photography is to our culture.

Are there any upcoming events at the museum?
I just started the Cameras and Coffee Social Club, which meets on the fourth Saturday of every month. We’ll meet and just talk about photography-related things. I also offer several classes that cover everything from how to take better pictures and the history of photography, to how a camera works and George Eastman’s contributions to the art of photography.

What do you hope to change or add as the museum grows?
Everybody seems to have a story about a camera, or they know someone who has a collection. One of the things I’d like to do as a museum is incorporate the interest in the community into the collection. I recently had a local artist, Rebekah Nordstrom, do some paintings of antique cameras, and I display them in the museum. I want to start doing showcases for local community members, so they can display their own camera collections. It would be awesome to have a mini-collection inside of my own collection.

I’m also hoping that the museum will become ultra-popular so that I can move into a bigger space. My dream is to be able to do this full time.

The Arizona Camera Museum, located inside the Market of Dreams (2532 E. Seventh Avenue) in Flagstaff, is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. and other times by appointment. The suggested donation for visitors is $5 for adults and $3 for children. To learn more, visit the museum's Facebook page or contact Tom Holtje at 267-506-9810 or [email protected].

— Emily Balli

All photos courtesy of Tom Holtje.

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