From a Reader: Aravaipa Canyon's Mysterious 'Doorway'

A strange "doorway" shape in the rock wall of Aravaipa Canyon. | Courtesy of Craig Kent

The cover story in our April issue focused on the work The Nature Conservancy does in Arizona — in particular, at Aravaipa Canyon Preserve southeast of Phoenix. That story spurred Craig Kent, a Tucson resident, to send us an email, which included this photo.

"One of my favorite yearly backpacking trips involves the Aravaipa Canyon," he wrote, "and I've enjoyed the shoutouts to this special place in recent issues of Arizona Highways (which I love and have been reading since the '70's). Every time I hike through the canyon, I am floored by this distinct 'doorway' in the face of the canyon wall and have to believe it is nature-made and not man-made (I pray). With the many resources you have at hand, have you ever heard of any explanation for this freakish wonder? I am just curious, that's all."

To find an answer to Craig's question, we reached out to Mark Haberstich, the director of the preserve. He offered his theory of how this "doorway" formed.

"The layer of rock that covers much of this part of the canyon is called a volcanic tuff," Haberstich said. "It is made up of ash that spewed out of a volcano erupting in this area millions of years ago. Somehow the ash settled against a rectangular rock of another material. The rectangular rock fell away more recently (in geologic time) as the canyon has eroded. This left the distinct 'doorway' impression that stands out from the other tuff around it."

Haberstich added that he's fairly certain the shape occurred naturally, "but I'm sure you could get a lot of interesting explanations."

We hope that answers Craig's question. If you've got a question about Arizona's history, terrain, etc., drop us a line and we'll see if we can help!

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From a Reader: A Doll and Its Blanket, Explained

In our March issue, we featured Jerry Jacka's photographs of Canyon de Chelly. One of the images shows a swastika on the wall of the canyon, but as our editor noted in the magazine, the swastika was a Native American symbol long before the Nazis used it. That's what led Judy Swarens of Carthage, Missouri, to write to us. She sent us the above photo and the following letter:

Enclosed is a picture of a doll and the blanket she has been wrapped in for a very long time. The doll was given to my grandmother as a young girl — she was born in 1898. She was passed on to my mother, born in 1918, and then to me, born in 1942. This doll has not been played with and has her original dress, coat, hat, leather shoes and lace stocking, and petticoat.

When I saw your March 2016 magazine, the picture of the Antelope House Design and editor's letter about the swastika symbol, it was a confirmation about the story passed on about the blanket and what that symbol really represented. The blanket is stitched together out of old flannel cigar box liners and has kept the doll safe for many years.

I really enjoy the magazine — thanks for this article. I have visited Canyon de Chelly — love the country. I plan to keep this magazine with the doll, as it will be passed on to my daughter and granddaughter."

Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Judy.

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A Familar Sight in Our March Issue

Jerry Jacka's photos hold a special place in Chuck DeMund's North Carolina home. | Courtesy of Chuck DeMund

Waxhaw, North Carolina, resident Chuck DeMund picked up his March issue of Arizona Highways recently and saw something familiar on the cover.

"That Jerry Jacka photo, and the other nine in the portfolio, hang here in my North Carolina home," DeMund told us in an email.

For those who haven't seen it, the portfolio was in the Arizona Highways vault, and no one from the magazine had laid eyes on it until recently. A very limited number of prints of Jacka's photos of Canyon de Chelly were made, and it seems DeMund was one of the lucky people to obtain a set. Here, in DeMund's words, is how it happened.

In the late 1980s, I was the advertising and promotions director at defense contractor General Dynamics. We were the largest employer on the Navajo Reservation at the time, and as part of a corporate image advertising campaign, I wanted to do a print ad about that. I needed a striking photo from the reservation to use in the ad, and as a longtime Arizona Highways subscriber (I grew up in Phoenix, and my own photographic career was launched by a 4x4 Graflex camera that our then-next-door neighbor, Barry Goldwater, gave me when I was 14 years old), I called Jerry Jacka to see if he had such a shot. He said that he thought he did, and I took a couple of my ad agency folks to Phoenix to see what he had. We chose a Monument Valley photo and used it in our ad campaign.

While in his home, I spied some black-and-white prints and Jerry showed us a bound portfolio with the very same 10 photographs you featured on the cover and inside your new March issue. It is a long story as to how the pictures wound up on my family room wall here in North Carolina. Suffice it to say that when General Dynamics "downsized" in the early '90s and left their longtime corporate offices in St. Louis to move to the Beltway in D.C., they left a lot of things behind for anyone to take home.

We kept the beautifully bound portfolio unopened, in the box that Jerry and Lois had shipped it to St. Louis in, through our 15-year stay in the San Diego area after I retired, and when we moved to the Charlotte area in 2007. With a brand-new house here in the South with bare walls, and perhaps with a desire to keep a little Arizona in sight, I opened the box, took the mounted prints to a local framer and hung them in our family room along with some of my own Arizona photographs.

I retraced Barry Goldwater's steps to Hunts Mesa in 2014 to duplicate the photo you used of him in your September 2010 Arizona Highways issue. I was successful in my quest and would be glad to share the results of my effort if you would like to see them. I did Canyon de Chelly for the fifth time on the same trip. I am a fortunately spry 83 years young and look forward to more Arizona photography expeditions.

Keep the wonderful magazine coming.

Thank you so much, Chuck, for sharing your story. The March issue of Arizona Highways is on newsstands now. If you've got a connection to the people, places or photos we feature in the magazine, we'd love to hear about it!

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Reader Submission: The Succor of Trees

Rebecca Speer of Encinitas, California, wrote to us recently and included the written piece you see below. "I grew up in Arizona," she says. "My father, D.C. Speer, had a road-building business. I moved with him as he built roads all over the state."

The Succor of Trees
By Rebecca Speer

My childhood trees were Saguaro Cactus, arms rising into intense blue Arizona sky.

Their tough surface warned of puncturing a child’s delicate skin.

The thin strip of shade in the hot layers of air around them was not cool enough for even a skinny child to find comfort.

Around them lived poisonous wildlife: rattlesnakes, clicking wasps, scurrying scorpions, the waddling jeweled Gila Monster, and our pets the Horney Toads who spit blinding blood from their eyes, according to desert children.

These creatures accompanied me via vivid pictures in my mind from looking at my father’s Arizona Highways Magazines.

Still, I left our air-conditioned home for exciting solo adventurous days in the brush. Against expert advice to stand still, I ran from rattlesnakes. No way, I thought.

When I discovered the school library, my heart moved into thick novels. I entered the forests of Narnia, silent and snow-laden. I rode a Black Stallion through wooded paths and was lost in dark, tangled forests, The tall shelves that held those books were, for me, full of magic.

Heart fed, never-the-less my spirit still longed – for what?

I sang to myself a song I heard on the radio adapted from Johnny Mathis:

They say there’s a tree in the forest.
A tree that will give you life,
Great blossoms of white that burst into light
And your love will be true evermore.

Secret answers came to me in the sacred pine forest behind my Grandma Mary’s Flagstaff home. Sitting down on layers of pine needles in silence for hours under those old trees, I touched and wondered at their puzzle-piece bark. Generations of Indians lived among these pines, their whispering wisdom still present, sifted down into my young soul, moistening my faith, refreshing my mind. Saving me.

Photo: Tim Van Den Berg | San Francisco Peaks

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A Love Letter to the Arizona Desert

We recently received the following letter from reader Ginger James. She writes: "I am currently enrolled in a creative writing class that required me to write a love letter to an object. As a native of the beautiful state of Arizona, I decided to focus my words of affection on the Arizona Desert. I have been encouraged by my instructor (and my mom) to submit my work to be shared with others. Please feel free to include the attached document in your magazine or online postings if you feel it is worthy of Arizona Highways. I welcome any feedback that may be provided me."

Dear Arizona Desert,

I have known you my whole life. Your saguaro cacti and your rocky soil were the backdrop of my childhood playground. You introduced me to jack rabbits and cotton-tails, and taught me the difference between the two. It was you that taught me the value of a shady parking space far outweighs even the closest parking space. You showed me why I should never leave Chapstick in my car in July, and taught me “haboob” is desert lingo for “giant wall of dust.” You taught me there are several shades of brown, each with its own subtle personality, and that Bermuda grass and bougainvillea can grow virtually anywhere. You introduced me to various insects and snakes, and painfully taught me that a scorpion sting will not kill me.

Over the years, I took you for granted. At times I was very angry with you. I blamed you for robbing me of snowy winters filled with sledding down hills and ice skating on frozen ponds. Now I can see that you never robbed me, but you spared me. Your splendid, sunny rays spared me from shoveling dirty snow and driving on icy roads each winter. You continue to wrap me with sunshine that heals and soothes my very soul each day. You spoil me with colorful, brilliant sunsets that fill the unending sky with pinks, purples, and oranges each night. You fill my days with rocky road ice cream, spray-on sunblock, and Old Navy flip-flops. Thank you.

Your beautiful landscape has become my recreation. I love your many hills and mountains, with their random wild flowers and dashing lizards, which provide me year-round hiking and jogging trails. I love your quiet, tranquil backdrop that makes me feel a million miles from the world, even if I’m just a mile outside of town. I love your creosote bushes that fill the air with delightful freshness after a monsoon rain. I love your summer-night lightning storms that consume the black sky and fascinate my eyes. I love your lakes that provide me oasis and entertainment.

It is you, Arizona Desert, which I have called home all these years. My life wouldn’t be the same without you. I love you for being consistent: sunny and hot. I love you for saving me the hassle of winterizing. I love you for brightening my life every day with your cheerful rays and Vitamin D. I love you even on the days your heat chokes my lungs of breath, and on the mornings it is ninety degrees by sunrise. You are, and will always be, my home.

Love,
Ginger

Thank you for sharing, Ginger.

Photo: Debbie Angel | Saguaro National Park West

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More Arizona Poetry: Smoke and Dust

Reader Allison Boley writes:

A proud Arizona native and physics graduate student at ASU, I have delighted in the poems Arizona Highways has begun to share on Facebook. A few years ago, it seemed appropriate to write the following poem about procrastination when I should have been studying for finals. I don't care about getting paid for it, but if you like it, I thought it might be fun to share with the community of fellow desert-philes.

Thanks for sharing, Allison. While we no longer publish readers' poems in the magazine, we do still receive submissions, and we'll continue to occasionally post them on our blog.

Smoke and Dust
by Allison Boley

Smoke and dust and now I wait
Roll the sun in through my window
Kick my shoes off on the dash
I don't need them now

Rail car whistles to the west
Strange the sound means nothing to me
Waves that rise up off the land
Can't match what burns my need

Below the car the rumbling swells
Chase the quail, if only I knew
Sweat and Sasparilla mist
Cool and sweet and fools

Saguaro blooms for kindred soul
Hundred years it sees what's coming
But still we stand and slowly grow
Arms raised high like a king

Now the bells, and my toes curl
Levers lower candy cane arms
My horn's silent, grip the gear
First straight into fifth

Always first straight into fifth

Photo: Gary Smith | Vermilion Cliffs

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More Poetry: A Desert Walk

Poetry, it seems, stirs strong feelings — positive and negative — in our readers. We got a lot of comments the last time we posted a poetry submission we received, so let's give it another go.

This one came in the mail from Wendell Matthews, a South Carolina resident. He writes: "From time to time I visit friends in Phoenix and spend time viewing petroglyphs. After one trip I wrote the enclosed poem." Thanks for sharing, Wendell. And to readers of our blog: If you don't have anything nice to say ... well, you know.

A Desert Walk

I found some scratches on a cliff,
An ancient Indian petroglyph,
And wondered what the image meant —
What was the maker's true intent?
A story, symbol, or a sign?
Perhaps delight in pure design.

I set the task of searching "Why?"

Some scholars write of tribe and date;
How sites and ethnic ways relate.
Through mists of ancient paradigms
Some sense intent has roots in times
When tribes and nature had a tie,
A spirit-bond with earth and sky.

This bond may be a clue to "Why?"

Then I returned to things called real,
My habitat of glass and steel,
Where goals to conquer earth and space
Preoccupies the human race,
Where year by year we broke that bond
And now we struggle to respond.

And still in awe I wonder "Why?"

Photo: A petroglyph at Saguaro National Park near Tucson. | Don Lawrence

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And Now, a Poem About a Saguaro

Longtime readers of Arizona Highways know that we used to publish poetry submissions from our readers. We abandoned that practice in the 1980s, but we still get an occasional submission via mail or email. We recently received this one from Sherry Machen, who lives in Green Valley but (we gather) is a Minnesota native.

A Minnesotan Talks to a Saguaro
by Sherry Machen

You big old cactus!

You’re so sharp
And you don’t give shade.

You’re for the birds –
Holes in your heart their nests.

Wrens cheer from your head
Where white flowers bloom.

I don’t want to love you –
You’re no oak.

But your huge, outstretched arms
Make me want to cry.

Photo: Greg McCown | Saguaro National Park

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Reader Submission: Winter Grand Canyon Memories

Our February issue (on newsstands now) features Timeless Land, an excerpt from our December 1944 issue. In it, writer Faith Baldwin recounted a trip she had recently taken from Prescott to the Grand Canyon in late March. That got LaRocque DuBose, an Arizona Highways reader who now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, thinking about his own experience at the Canyon in winter. He sent us the following, and we thought we'd share it with you.

Your reproduction of Faith Baldwin’s story of her 1944 visit to the Grand Canyon was especially interesting to my wife and me. We followed her seven years later on our honeymoon. We were married on January 29, 1951, in San Antonio, Texas, and intended to go to California for our honeymoon. But our plans took an absolutely wonderful change.

When we arrived in Flagstaff after spending the night in Winslow, I suggested that we make a detour and go up to the Grand Canyon for lunch.  My wife agreed, so we drove up to the east entrance and stopped at the Desert View Watchtower. I had been to the Canyon many years before, but the huge magnificence floored me all over again. We drove along the South Rim, stopping here and there at overlooks, and then reached Bright Angel Lodge in time for lunch. There was snow on the ground, but the weather was quite mild, around 45 degrees.

When we finished lunch, I said, to my wife, “You know, I wouldn’t mind just forgetting about California and spending the rest of our time here.” Her face broke into a broad smile and she said, “Let’s do it!” So I went to the front desk and asked if they had any vacancies. The desk clerk laughed and said, “Counting rangers, tourists and restaurant and retail staff there’s a total of 55 people on the South Rim right now. Yes, we have a vacancy.”

He booked us into a nice cabin whose name I still remember as being Supai 3. It had a wide window looking straight across the canyon to Bright Angel Gorge, a fireplace which the porter  got going for us and he brought us more wood every day.

For the next several days we visited probably every lookout on the South Rim. Deer would approach our car and try to stick their head in the window. Back at Bright Angel Lodge, we would sit on the low wall overlooking the Canyon and let birds and chipmunks eat out of our hands. After dinner on some nights, as the sun was setting over the Canyon, my wife would sit at the piano in the lobby and play DeRose’s “Deep Purple,” which matched what was going on in the canyon, and it always drew an audience of employees and a few tourists.

One morning about dawn we were walking up to the lodge for breakfast, and all of a sudden there was a very loud bang. I thought, “Oh, my God! That ranch house down in the Canyon must have exploded.” I looked down into the Canyon but could see no signs of fire. When we got to the lobby, I told the desk clerk what we’d heard, and he said, “Yes, that was an atom bomb test up in Nevada. We saw the flash 36 minutes ago.”

El Tovar was not open during the winter season in those days, but our two sons and their wives booked us a suite in it for the weekend of our Golden Wedding Anniversary. Oh, what memories that evoked!

We were entranced with Arizona on that honeymoon trip, and after almost 50 years of moving around the country, we wound up in Scottsdale, happy to have, finally, “come home.”

DuBose adds: "As mentioned, we were married on January 29, 1951, the coldest night in the history of San Antonio, Texas, -4° F. (Yes, that's a minus sign!) There was an ice storm covering south Texas and all roads were closed. There were no train, planes or buses, and about two-thirds of the friends and family we'd invited to our wedding were unable to make it. As a result of not being able to drive, we were "ice bound" in the Bridal Suite of the most expensive hotel in San Antonio for five days, an accommodation which I had booked for only our wedding night. And it was expensive, $20.00 per night! (A regular room was $4.00 per night.)

"That expense and loss of expected days made it more advisable for us to delete California from our itinerary and stop at the Grand Canyon. That was a fortuitous set of circumstances and we've been happy for the past 63 years that things worked out as they did."

Photo: From left, LaRocque DuBose, wife Estelle, son Adam, daughters-in-law Kelly and Linda, and son Denis at the Duboses' golden wedding anniversary at the Grand Canyon. | Courtesy of LaRocque DuBose

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John F. Kennedy Jr., Arizona Highways Fan

Photo of letter from JFK, Jr.

Photo of letter from JFK, Jr.

A while back, we received a scanned copy of this September 1995 letter to Lee and Sharon Young of Western Junk in Holbrook. Apparently, the son of the 35th president was a fan of Arizona Highways. Here's a full transcript:

9-20-95 Dear Lee & Sharon: Just a quick note to say hello and to thank you again as I sit here reading my Arizona Highways October issue. The only problem I have with the magazine is every time I read it I wonder what the heck I'm doing on the East Coast! Hope to be out there again soon. Hope you are both well. Sincerely, John Kennedy

We always love to hear about noteworthy people reading our magazine, so if you know of other correspondence like this, please let us know!

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