State Park Aims to Tell Full Story of Colorado River

New signs and a new name are coming to Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park. | Jeb Lund (via Flickr)

A state park in Yuma that previously was focused on the Colorado River's history is rebranding itself and adding a new focus: the river's future.

The park, formerly known as Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, has been renamed Colorado River State Historic Park, the city of Yuma announced early this month. But there's more to the name change than just new signs, the city says.

The park's existing exhibits detail the site's history as a shipping site along the Colorado River in the mid- to late 1800s. What wasn't being told, according to the city, was what came next: an array of dams, canals and other structures built to serve the Yuma Valley and feed the area's multibillion-dollar agriculture industry, which is thriving today.

Charles Flynn, the director of Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area (which manages Yuma's two state parks on behalf of the city), says the rebranded park will address "the uncertain future of the Colorado River and how we can all play a part in addressing this challenge." That includes looking at Yuma's importance as an agriculture hub, environmental challenges, overallocation of river water and increasing demand, Flynn says.

The park also is installing a new exhibit on John Wesley Powell, and park officials have created a small theater that will show films daily. Ultimately, Flynn says, the park plans to build a new building called the Center for the Future of the Colorado River, in which "people can better understand and appreciate the challenges ahead."

For more information about the park, visit its website.

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Northern Arizonans Visit Meteor Crater Free This Weekend

Meteor Crater | Noah Austin

Residents of Northern Arizona can check out one of the world's best-preserved craters this weekend — at a less-than-astronomical price.

On Saturday (October 21), from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Meteor Crater, located east of Flagstaff and south of Interstate 40, will give free admission to Northern Arizona residents. All you need to do is show proof of Northern Arizona residency or a student ID card from a school in the northern part of the state.

As we detailed in a blog post a few years back, Meteor Crater is certainly worth a visit. It's the site of an impact, 50,000 years ago, of a 300,000-ton meteorite made mostly of iron. About 80 percent of the metorite likely was vaporized on impact, leaving a nearly mile-wide crater. Pieces of the meteorite have been found several miles away; the largest is on display at the visitors center.

Because of the area's lack of precipitation, Meteor Crater is perhaps the best-preserved impact crater in the world. Today, the site also features a visitors center, a gift shop and a 3-D film showing how the crater was formed.

If you can't make it Saturday (or aren't a Northern Arizona resident), the regular cost of admission is $18 for adults, with discounts for veterans, seniors and children ages 6 to 17. Active-duty military and children 5 and under are free. To learn more, visit www.meteorcrater.com.

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Coming to Tombstone: Never-Before-Seen Wyatt Earp Documents

Courtesy of Arizona State Parks and Trails

Documents related to one of the Wild West's most famous lawmen will soon be on display at a state park in Tombstone.

Wyatt Earp, best known for the role he and his brothers played in the O.K. Corral gunfight of 1881, is the focus of a collection of letters, photographs and other documents recently donated to Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Arizona State Parks and Trails said in a news release.

The documents include handwritten letters from Earp's wife, Josephine, to Earp and others, along with notes from interviews with the lawman and photos of Earp and his wife. According to Arizona State Parks and Trails, they've never been shown in public. They'll be processed into the park's archives and then be put on display sometime in 2018.

The agency's executive director, Sue Black, said the collection "will open the door to the past and make Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park an international destination."

As its name suggests, the park is located in the old Victorian-style courthouse, constructed in 1882. It housed Cochise County's offices until 1929, when Bisbee replaced Tombstone as the county seat; the last county office left the courthouse in 1931. It opened as a state park in 1959 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

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Chuckwallas Relocated for South Mountain Freeway Construction

A chuckwalla is relocated from the path of the South Mountain Freeway. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

A population of lizards unique to Phoenix's South Mountain Park is making a move so the Valley's newest freeway can be built.

The South Mountain Freeway stretch of State Route 202 (commonly known as Loop 202) will cut through the far southwest corner of the park. While construction there isn't scheduled to start until mid-2018, teams of biologists worked this summer to find and relocate chuckwallas living in the area, the Arizona Department of Transportation says.

Chuckwallas are common in the American Southwest and northern Mexico, and if you've hiked up Camelback Mountain or on other trails around Phoenix, you've likely seen a chuckwalla doing push-ups on a sunny rock. But male chuckwallas at South Mountain Park have bright orange tails — they're the only chuckwalla population known to have that coloration. And rather than flee when threatened, chuckwallas often wedge themselves deep in rock crevices, meaning the freeway construction could end up harming them.

The biologist teams used flashlights and sometimes pry bars to get to the chuckwallas, then captured them and released them several hundred feet away, ADOT says. About 120 of the lizards were relocated, but not before they were weighed, measured and tagged with transponders so biologists can identify them during future surveys.

"With the work that we are doing in collaboration with our partners, we believe the chuckwalla population will continue to thrive in the area surrounding the South Mountain Freeway," ADOT biologist Kris Gade says.

Other animals that could be impacted by the freeway include desert tortoises and burrowing owls. ADOT says it's working to address those impacts.

The freeway is expected to open by the end of 2019.

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Congresswoman Plans to Hike Entire Arizona Trail

Representative Martha McSally (center) speaks last month during her hike on Passage 1 of the Arizona Trail. | Courtesy of McSally's office

An Arizona congresswoman is aiming to become the first member of Congress to hike the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail.

Representative Martha McSally, a Republican who represents the 2nd Congressional District, started her journey in late September at Coronado National Memorial along Arizona's border with Mexico, her office said in a news release. The National Park Service site is the home of Passage 1, the southermost segment of the Arizona Trail, which crosses the state from north to south.

McSally said she plans to hike the trail in segments in the months ahead to draw attention to the trail and the need to protect Arizona's public lands.

"I’m hiking to show our district, our state, and our nation that these treasures matter, that outdoor recreation is important — and most of all — to demonstrate the pride we have in our home of Arizona," McSally said. "Elected officials have a responsibility to help protect our lands for future generations. I’m willing to demonstrate that I take this responsibility seriously."

McSally's method of hiking a few miles at a time is the most popular way of tackling the Arizona Trail, which was designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009 and completed in 2011. Less common is "thru-hiking," whereby hikers traverse the entire stretch in a month or two. It's been done much faster, though — last year, an Arizona native covered the whole distance in just under 16 days.

Sights along the trail include Saguaro National Park, the Mazatzal Mountains, the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon. For more information about the trail, visit the Arizona Trail Association's website.

Coronado National Memorial is in McSally's district, which also includes Tucson and the far southeast corner of Arizona. In 2016, she introduced a bill to have Chiricahua National Monument, another attraction in District 2, declared a national park; she said she's continuing to move that effort forward.

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Q&A: A Grand Canyon Murder, and a Painful Personal Discovery

In "Pure Land," Annette McGivney weaves her own childhood trauma into the story of a 2007 murder in the Grand Canyon. | Courtesy of Annette McGivney

Frequent Arizona Highways contributor Annette McGivney is best known for her stories on hiking and nature. But in her new book, Pure Land, she covers new, much more personal territory. In the book, McGivney delves into a murder in the Grand Canyon, the lives of the victim and the killer, and her own rediscovery of painful repressed memories of domestic violence from her childhood.

We spoke with McGivney about how the process of working on the book changed her life. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I'm the Southwest editor for Backpacker magazine; I’ve been doing that since 1996. I have basically been fortunate enough to be able to make a living out of hiking, and writing about hiking, in the Grand Canyon and other places. I’m also a professor of journalism at Northern Arizona University.

Give us some background on your latest book. How did you become involved and interested in this story?
The book grew out of an investigative story that I did for Backpacker magazine in 2007 — it was about a murder that happened. A Japanese hiker, Tomomi Hanamure, was stabbed by an 18-year-old Havasupai Tribe member. I investigated that for Backpacker — looking into not only the murder, but also the environment down there, where there had been a lot of recent increase in crime. I was looking at it more from the perspective of Backpacker readers and what they might expect at that very popular hiking destination of Supai.

When did you realize you wanted to turn this story into a book?
The story was published in June of 2007, and I just felt like there were so many questions that I had not been able to answer in that article. I started wanting to find out more about the lives of the victim, Tomomi Hanamure, and the kid who murdered her, Randy Wescogame. I just kept persisting and finally connected with Tomomi’s family, and I went to Japan in 2009 and stayed with them for a couple of weeks. I also continued to investigate Randy’s history, of his family and the tribe.

Law enforcement said the motive for the murder of Tomomi was to rob her, and I just felt there had to be so much more to it than that, because Randy stabbed her 29 times, and that’s such a violent crime. In the Grand Canyon, that type of murder was just so unusual, and I felt there was so much more to explore beyond the simple statement that he wanted to rob her.

How did writing and doing research about Tomomi Hanamure and Randy Wescogame personally impact you?
I wasn’t completely aware of it at the time when I was first starting to explore the lives of Randy and Tomomi, but it turns out psychologically, I was really drawn to investigating the reasons behind violence because I actually grew up in a violent home and my father was abusive.

It was so psychologically terrifying when I was a child that I had sealed off memories of the worst abuse, and I wasn’t consciously aware of it. I knew my father had a bad temper, but I couldn’t remember anything. The more I got into the descriptions about Randy and how he murdered Tomomi and the reason behind it, I was actually chipping away at my own psyche and what I had been hiding from myself. The circumstances I grew up in were in some ways similar to Randy, having a violent father.

The tipping point was when I listened to Randy’s confession that law enforcement had recorded, and he described what had happened in very great detail. There was something about that that triggered my own memories so violently that I was not able to sleep, I was having nightmares and felt like I was being haunted by the murder.

I ended up going to a psychiatrist, and they were able to finally get me to admit what happened to me when I was a child. I realized I wasn’t having nightmares about what Randy did, but about what my father did. I was totally consumed with working through all the traumatic memories that were flooding back into my mind.

How long did the process of writing and researching the book take you?
It’s been 10 years from the time when I first covered the murder. I had the psychological breakdown in July of 2010, and then I kind of set things aside for a while. I put the book aside for about two years while I was working on my own mental health and getting my life recalibrated. I continued to investigate family violence and trauma, because I wanted to understand my own situation — to understand why my body was acting a certain way — and I wanted to understand how my mind could’ve possibly sealed off these memories so completely for years. I also continued to periodically read Tomomi’s travel journal.

Things had shifted so dramatically that it felt like part of the story was how the story had affected me, so I re-envisioned the book to incorporate my own experiences as well. All the while, I’ve been teaching full time and doing other freelance writing.

What was the most challenging part of the process for you?
I wanted to write the book in a way that wasn’t describing things from a distance, but kind of letting the reader know what it felt like to be Randy and to be Tomomi and to be me. Especially when I was a child. I wanted people to understand that when a kid is in an abusive home, it’s really confusing and terrifying.

In order to do that, I basically had to relive what happened when I was a child and really deeply reconnect with those memories. That was scary. I had done a lot of work to get over it and get the PTSD symptoms under control, and I was worried about having a relapse by writing about what happened. It was hard, but definitely not as bad as I was afraid it would be.

What was different about writing this book, compared with your other work?
All my previous books have always been about topics that I cared about — the environment or protecting special places that are under threat. This book was so deeply personal, and I had become so connected to Tomomi and her family. The promise I made to them, that I would write a book that would honor her, was a big responsibility that I took very seriously.

If I was going to tell my own story, I wanted to do it right, and I also wanted to do right by Randy in terms of explaining his situation. This one was much more personal and had a lot more passion behind it. From a writing standpoint, it was much more creative. It’s a narrative nonfiction book, and it was really fulfilling from a creative standpoint.

What do you hope to accomplish with your book? What do you hope readers take away from it?
I was reluctant to tell the story of my family at first, but my motivation for doing that was I’m hoping sharing my story will help other people who grew up in a home that was dysfunctional in some way. Even if it happened in the past, 20 or 30 years ago, you still carry those memories with you, and it will have an impact on you. I want to raise awareness about the impact of family violence.

I also started a nonprofit, called the Healing Lands Project, that is raising money to facilitate wilderness and river trips for children who have been removed from homes for domestic violence. I’m hoping that allowing them to be on a river trip for a week will allow them to find healing in nature, which ultimately for me was the light at the end of the tunnel — that’s how I got through as I was a kid, and that’s how I worked through my PTSD as an adult. Part of the sales of my book are going to support the Healing Lands Project. I want good to come out of telling this story.

Annette McGivney’s new book, Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, and the Search for Heaven on Earth, was released last week and is available to order on Amazon. For more about the book, visit www.purelandbook.com or www.annettemcgivney.com. You can find McGivney on Twitter @AnnetteMcGivney.

— Emily Balli

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Phoenix Could Move Camelback Mountain Trailhead

Camelback Mountain is an unmistakable part of the Phoenix skyline. | Katie Soper

A Phoenix City Council vote today could open the door for moving a trailhead at one of the city's best-known peaks.

Camelback Mountain, whose iconic profile is visible from just about anywhere in the Phoenix area, is wildly popular among hikers, hundreds of thousands of whom summit it every year. One of the two trails up the mountain is the Cholla Trail, which starts on Cholla Lane, a residential street. But as Ray Stern of the Phoenix New Times reported last week, that could soon change.

The City Council is weighing a zoning proposal for redevelopment of the nearby Phoenician resort. Part of that development would include an easement that could be used for a new trailhead location on Invergordon Road, city officials said. That would please residents of luxury homes near the current trailhead, several of whom requested that it be moved, the New Times reported.

No decision has been made on relocating the trailhead, though, and details would still have to be hashed out, officials said.

This is far from the first issue with Camelback Mountain trails. In 2013, the city spent $4 million to improve the trailhead and add parking at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, the most popular place to start a climb up Camelback. And last year, a group of hikers led by the mysterious "Camelback Santa" battled Phoenix's parks department over the right to erect a Christmas tree atop the mountain during the holiday season.

UPDATE (October 5): This post has been updated to clarify that the City Council was voting on a larger redevelopment proposal, not specifically on relocating the trailhead.

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Arizona State Parks and Trails Wins National Award

Catalina State Park, near Tucson, is one of Arizona State Parks and Trails' spectacular destinations. | Joanne Sensabaugh

A national organization has deemed Arizona's state parks system the best in the country, Arizona State Parks and Trails announced last week.

The state agency won the National Recreation and Park Association's gold medal for best managed state-park system at the NRPA's annual conference in New Orleans. Arizona beat out three other finalists, its counterparts in Tennessee, Washington state and Wyoming.

Sue Black, the executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails, said the organization's staff is only part of the reason for the award. "This is about everyone in Arizona who contributes to our success or gets to enjoy our beautiful parks," she said in a news release. "It's a huge honor ... and we hope everyone will get out and see these amazing parks first-hand."

Governor Doug Ducey added that the award "is a tremendous achievement that benefits everyone in our state — from residents to tourists."

In other state-park-related news, Arizona State Parks and Trails will soon accept applications for funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to create or improve outdoor recreation sites. Applicants can request up to $200,000 for a project.

The grant cycle opens October 10 and is limited to governmental entities, such as cities, counties, tribal governments and state and federal agencies. For more information, visit www.azparkgrants.com.

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