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 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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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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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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'Humble Home' Project in Tempe Moves Forward

This rendering shows how a proposed "humble home" project in Tempe might look. | Courtesy of Newtown Community Development Corporation

It's not quite "tiny houses," but an innovative housing project in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe has received a green light from the City Council.

The city this month approved negotiations with a development corporation to build a "humble home" pilot project in the Jen Tilly Terrace neighborhood, near Rural Road and Apache Boulevard in central Tempe.

As KJZZ reported, the city hopes to build as many as 13 units on a 0.67-acre parcel that it will sell or lease to Newtown Community Development Corporation. The units won't be "tiny homes," the trendy dwellings that typically are less than 400 square feet. Instead, they'll be around 600 square feet, KJZZ reported.

The company also plans to create a rainwater and "graywater" recycling program to water the landscaping on the property.

A Tempe City Council said the project, originally conceived by Arizona State University students, could serve as a model for development of smaller parcels of land scattered around the city.

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Poaching, Other Game Violations Spur $75K in Fines in Arizona

Susan Beebe | Show Low

The Arizona Game and Fish Department issued 76 citations totaling nearly $75,000 in fines in 2017, the department said in a news release last week.

Of the 76 citations, 55 were for the illegal taking of big game, such as deer and elk, the department said. Other infractions included fishing violations, feeding wildlife and the illegal taking of raptors.

Game and Fish said in 2017, it received nearly 1,100 phone calls and online submissions to its Operation Game Thief program, which encourages the public to report suspicious activity. Nearly a third of those reports were regarding illegal taking of big game, the department said.

The department also revoked 51 hunting or fishing licenses last year as part of the penalty for violations. One of those was a lifetime revocation.

The $74,500 in fines goes into a fund that pays for Operation Game Thief rewards and promotion, the department said. Game and Fish receives no general-fund money from the state. Any meat that is seized from hunters is typically inspected, then donated to charity.

Game and Fish noted that mistakes and accidents happen, and that the department works with hunters and anglers who immediately self-report a violation via the Operation Game Thief hotline or online form.

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Horse Racing Could Soon Return to Prescott Valley Facility

Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley hasn't hosted a horse race since 2010. | Google Maps screenshot

A Central Arizona facility that's been closed since 2010 has new owners and could soon resume hosting horse racing, according to media reports.

The Arizona Republic reported last week that Prescott Valley's Yavapai Downs has been bought by JACOR Partners, a Phoenix-based development company, for $3.22 million. The 90,000-square-foot facility opened in 2001 at a cost of $23 million, but it canceled its 2011 season due to financial troubles and hasn't hosted a race since.

A JACOR representative told The Republic that the company plans to host horse races in summer, when Prescott Valley is significantly cooler than the Phoenix area. That would continue a long tradition in the Prescott area: Yavapai Downs replaced the old Prescott Downs, which started hosting races in the early 1900s.

The new owners plan to invest heavily in improvements to the facility, The Republic reported. No opening date was specified.

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Key I-10 Rest Area Closes for Renovation

The Sacaton Rest Area on Interstate 10 will be closed for about six months. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

Upgrades and renovations will close a rest area along Interstate 10 south of Phoenix for about six months, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced this month.

The Sacaton Rest Area, between Phoenix and Casa Grande, closed January 8, according to an ADOT news release. Both the eastbound and westbound components of the rest area will close for the $4 million renovation, the department said.

ADOT is making upgrades to the rest area to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's also replacing a water line, septic tanks and sewer lines; upgrading the rest area's electrical and mechanical systems; and painting the facility.

Because of the closure, the nearest facilities for travelers on that part of I-10 will be in the Phoenix and Casa Grande areas and on Gila River Indian Community land.

Other upcoming renovations of ADOT rest areas include Interstate 19's Canoa Ranch Rest Area, this spring; the Meteor Crater and Painted Cliffs rest areas on Interstate 40, in 2019; and the Mazatzal Rest Area on State Route 87, in 2020.

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Recent Dry Spell Was Arizona's Longest in Nearly 700 Years, Scientists Say

Adrienne McLeod | Saguaro National Park

Arizona's ongoing drought can claim another dubious distinction, according to a study by scientists at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The scientists say a recent six-year stretch of below-average river flow, which ended in 2017, was the longest such stretch since the 1300s. Before that recent dry spell, the longest stretch without a year of above-average flow was five years, the Phoenix New Times reported last month.

The LTRR scientists based their study on tree-ring data, using that information to estimate the flow levels of rivers that provide water to the Phoenix area and other parts of Central Arizona.

While the stretch of below-average river flow was broken by a wet winter in 2017, Arizona remains in the throes of a 21-year period of abnormally precipitation. That's expected to continue for several years, and it could soon trigger a reduction of water allocations to the state from Lake Mead — which currently is at 39 percent of capacity, the New Times reported.

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Ranking: Arizona Among Most Pet-Friendly States

Thomas Unger | Lake Havasu City

Whether you're a dog lover, a cat fancier or the owner of some other pet, Arizona is a good place for you, according to a recent ranking of the most pet-friendly states in America.

SafeWise, a company that specializes in safety and home security, produced the ranking, saying it's based on 2015 data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and online pet resources. It used criteria such as strictness of anti-cruelty laws, percentage of no-kill shelters and number of pet-friendly hotels and parks.

Arizona came in third in the ranking — behind Maine and Virginia, and ahead of Oklahoma and Colorado. Here's what SafeWise had to say about Arizona's pet-friendliness:

Arizona is truly for the outdoorsman/woman—and his/her nature-loving pets! With mild weather, hiking, biking, and more adventure, this place is great for pet-lovers based solely on that. It’s also the 10th best state in the country for its percentage of no-kill shelters and 11th for its strict anti-cruelty laws. Hilary Hager from Humane Society of America says that “A truly safe community ensures that pets can stay with the people who love them, even when they fall on hard times, and ensures that animals already living safely in the community remain undisturbed.” And based on the 629 pet-friendly businesses, over 900 pet-friendly hotels, and hundreds of hiking trails for animals, it seems like people here have taken her philosophies to heart.

As Arizona natives know, most of the state's hiking trails are open to dogs (and cats, if you're the kind of person who takes their cat on hikes). Among the only exceptions are the trails at national parks and monuments.

In contrast, Utah, Arizona's neighbor to the north, was 49th in the ranking — ahead of only Mississippi and New York. (There were 51 entries in the list, because the District of Columbia was included.)

What's your favorite thing to do with your pets in Arizona?

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