Don't Spark a Fire: Check Chains, and Don't Toss Cigarettes

A motorcycle fire caused this brush fire, along Interstate 40 near Seligman, in late April. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

With summer temperatures at hand and the landscape extremely dry across Arizona, dragging chains, tossing cigarette butts or even having underinflated tires can start fires along state highways.

To get ready for fire season, Arizona Department of Transportation crews mow vegetation along highway shoulders in the winter and spring. They remove brush, thin trees and spray fire retardant within the ADOT right-of-way to prevent fires and slow the spread of those that occur.

But motorists have an important role as well, including not tossing burning cigarettes that can tumble or be blown into grass and brush. Here are other ways motorists can help cut down on sparks that lead to fires:

  • Dragging chains during towing can cause sparks. Check and secure tow chains, and never substitute parts when towing.
  • Make sure nothing is hanging beneath your vehicle and dragging on the pavement.
  • Check tire pressure before you travel. Exposed wheel rims can cause sparks.
  • Don’t park in tall grass, as the heat from parts under your vehicle can start a fire.

Besides the obvious danger to lives, property and the landscape, fires can snarl traffic as firefighters work along the highway and also can lead to lengthy closures. On April 25, for example, a rider whose motorcycle caught fire pulled into brush along eastbound Interstate 40 between US 93 and Seligman, igniting a fire that temporarily closed the freeway while firefighters managed to limit it to 6 acres.

“Each of us can do some simple things to cut down on the risk of fires along state highways, starting with checking tire pressure and making sure vehicles and trailers aren’t dragging something that can produce sparks,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “On the road, please use common sense. One burning cigarette flying out a car window can start a wildfire.”

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, dragging chains is one of the main causes of fires along highways including Interstate 17 heading into and out of the Phoenix area. On May 9, for example, dragging chains caused five brush fires along 8 miles of US 191 south of Safford. Fast action by firefighters prevented the fires from spreading beyond a tenth of an acre each.

“We continue to get multiple fire starts along Arizona's highways due to unsecured chains,” said Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “The drought conditions and dry fuels equate to very high fire danger across the state. One spark is really all it can take to start a fast-moving wildfire.”

ADOT participates in the “One Less Spark One Less Wildfire” campaign the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies launched to focus on the role drivers and homeowners play in preventing wildfires.

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Closures in Effect for Arizona National Forests

The Rattlesnake Fire burns in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in late April. | Courtesy of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Concerns about forest fires have prompted the closure of parts of four of Arizona's six national forests.

As of Wednesday, May 30, the closures were affecting parts of the Coconino, Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab national forests. Follow the links below to stay updated on which areas are open to visitors this summer.

For updates on closures in the Coconino National Forest — including the San Francisco Peaks, parts of the Mogollon Rim, and the Flagstaff and Sedona areas — click here.

For the Tonto National Forest — where closures include parts of the Mogollon Rim and the Four Peaks area — click here.

For the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests — which also closed areas of the Mogollon Rim, along with parts of the White Mountains — click here.

For the Kaibab National Forest — which, at time of publishing, had closed only the area of Bill Williams Mountain, near Williams — click here.

If you're visiting any national forest in Arizona, be sure to call the forest ranger district ahead of time to make sure the area you're visiting is open and safe.

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I-17 to Close Overnight for I-40 Bridge Improvements

The San Francisco Peaks tower over Interstate 17 near Flagstaff. | Tom White

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX – Interstate 17 will close overnights at the I-17/I-40 interchange in Flagstaff for the next two weeks while crews set up support structures in order to replace the I-40 bridge decks.

Beginning Tuesday, May 29, northbound I-17 will close where the highway passes under Interstate 40. The same section will close nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Saturday, June 2. Traffic heading north on I-17 into Flagstaff must exit on to I-40 east and use the Butler Avenue exit to come around to I-40 westbound and take the Milton Road exit into town.

On Monday, June 4, southbound I-17 will close under I-40 nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Saturday, June 8. Drivers heading south out of Flagstaff must take I-40 west to the Flagstaff Ranch Road exit and come around to I-40 eastbound to take the exit for I-17 south.

The $10 million project includes replacing the I-40 bridge decks in each direction over Beulah Boulevard, immediately west of I-17, as well as the westbound bridge deck over I-17. The eastbound I-40 bridge over I-17 will get a new concrete surface.

The project will also increase the cross slope of the roadway over the renovated bridges, helping to drain water off of the road surface. It also includes guardrail and paving work.

For more information, visit azdot.gov/FlagstaffTI.

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Arizona Ranks Among Most Popular U.S. States for Retirees

Maribeth Brady | Scottsdale

Arizona is a perennial contender on listings of the best states in which to retire, and a recent ranking by the website SmartAsset was no exception.

The website analyzed migration data for people age 60 and older to determine each state's "net migration" — the people 60 and older who moved to the state, minus those who left the state — in 2016. By that metric, Arizona had the second-highest net migration of seniors, at nearly 29,000. Only Florida, with nearly 85,000, had more. North Carolina, South Carolina and Nevada rounded out the top five.

Additionally, five Arizona cities made SmartAsset's 10 most popular cities in which to retire: Scottsdale (third), Mesa (fourth), Gilbert (sixth), Surprise (seventh) and Peoria (10th). Scottsdale, with net migration of 1,834, trailed only Henderson, Nevada, and San Antonio, Texas.

Mesa led the nation in net migration by seniors in last year's study, and Phoenix, Chandler, Peoria and Gilbert were in the top 10 on that list.

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Mormon Temple in Mesa Closes for Two-Year Renovation

The Mesa Arizona Temple is shutting down until 2020 for an extensive renovation. | Richard Webb

One of the Phoenix area's most well-known religious facilities will be closed for renovations for the next two years.

The Mesa Arizona Temple — commonly known as the Mormon Temple — shut its doors Saturday, May 19, Phoenix TV station 12 News and other outlets reported.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says the renovation, which should be complete by 2020, will upgrade the 70,000-square-foot building's air conditioning, plumbing and other building infrastructure. It also will demolish the temple's visitors center to provide a clear view of the temple from Main Street in downtown Mesa. The visitors center will be replaced by a "family discovery center" in a different location on temple property, the church said.

Other changes include restoring the temple and grounds to their original design by reversing changes from the last major renovation, in the 1970s.

The temple, which opened in 1927, is perhaps most widely known for its annual Easter pageant and for its Christmas light displays, which draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Those events will be on hold during the renovation, the church said.

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Death at Horseshoe Bend: A Tragic Safety Reminder

Horseshoe Bend is a haven for photographers, but getting the perfect shot shouldn't come at the expense of safety. | Leila Shehab

A Phoenix man visiting an Arizona site familiar to photographers and Arizona Highways readers fell 800 feet to his death last week, authorities said.

The death of 33-year-old Zachary Wallace — who, as the Associated Press reported, fell from the Colorado River overlook the afternoon of Sunday, May 6 — is a tragic reminder of the need to take safety precautions at Horseshoe Bend and other remote Arizona locations.

Until recently, there was no safety railing at Horseshoe Bend, which is near Page and is part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. But in late 2017, the National Park Service announced it was beginning construction of a railing at the overlook; as of April, that project was still ongoing.

The Park Service said the railing will encompass only the area at the end of the trail. It added that visitors could still walk along the canyon's rim in areas without a railing, but that this is "not recommended."

While the circumstances of last week's tragedy are still unclear, there's no doubt that it's remarkably easy to forget about safety when you're in search of that perfect Instagram shot. But keep in mind that Horseshoe Bend has quickly gone from a hidden gem to a highly visited destination: More than 2 million people a year now visit the overlook, according to the Park Service. That means you're likely to be jostling with at least a few other photographers to get that perfect angle.

It's often windy there, too, as it is at many such overlooks. And a strong gust could be enough to knock you off balance and over the edge. So, whether you're at Horseshoe Bend, the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly or some other spectacular Arizona vista, heed the Park Service's recommendation and stay behind the railing, if there is a railing. If there isn't, stay several feet back from the edge.

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Expect Delays for Bridge Replacement on Navajo Nation

This map shows the location of a new bridge being installed along U.S. Route 160 on the Navajo Nation. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX – A $6 million Arizona Department of Transportation project [that started] Monday, May 7, is creating a new US 160 bridge at Chinle Wash in far northeastern Arizona.

Those using US 160 through the area should expect delays up to 20 minutes with this work underway at milepost 429, just west of Mexican Water on the Navajo Nation. A temporary traffic signal will have traffic alternating through one lane on the existing bridge.

The new three-span bridge will be 280 feet long and nearly 9 feet wider than the current bridge. The project, which scheduled to finish by year’s end, also will realign the roadway and install new pavement markings, among other improvements.

For more information on this and other projects, visit azdot.gov/Projects (see Northeast District Projects).

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Scottsdale Artists' School Celebrates 35 Years of Community Art

Courtesy of Scottsdale Artists' School

When you think of art schools in Phoenix, you probably think of the Art Institute of Phoenix or Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. But years before these schools were established, the nonprofit Scottsdale Artists’ School opened its doors for the first time. With hopes of bringing fundamental art training to the Phoenix metro area, a group of artists and community members set out to form a new kind of art school — one where artists of all skill levels could come to perfect their craft or learn something new.

The school has always operated out of Scottsdale but has moved three times; it’s now in a city-owned Spanish Colonial Revival building that dates to the 1920s. And even though the Scottsdale Artists’ School doesn’t offer an accredited art program, it’s been offering hands-on art courses and workshops since 1983. In the beginning, those were mostly small workshops, lectures and demonstrations. Today, the curriculum has greatly expanded, and nearly 250 workshops are offered a year.

Courses include multi-day workshops taught by artists from around the country, shorter classes and workshops from local artists, and a youth art program offered year-round. There also are destination plein air workshops, where students travel to other states to paint still life landscapes with experienced instructors, along with courses and workshops on fine art fundamentals, drawing, oil and watercolor painting, sculpting and photography.

“Learning at Scottsdale Artists’ School is a wonderful, unique experience,” says Trudy Hays, the school’s executive director. “We’re gathering together a group of people who have a strong love, passion and interest in art, and it has really created an artist community.”

Hays says the organization tries to offer a wide range of opportunities and courses at varying price points and times, so they’re accessible to all. One popular option for those with a busy schedule is Open Studio, offered weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A model and equipment are provided, and anyone can bring their own supplies to paint, sculpt or draw for $10. In addition, the school offers need- and merit-based scholarships.

Aside from the assortment of courses offered, what’s truly set the school apart is the stature of its instructors. More than 500 artists have taught courses at the Scottsdale Artists’ School — from Jim Reynolds, Harley Brown, Richard Schmid and John Coleman, in the early days, to Milt Kobayashi, Gregg Kreutz, Daniel Keys and Rose Frantzen today. And students from Japan, England, Australia, Canada and even Kuwait have traveled to Scottsdale to learn at the school, Hays says.

The school aims to benefit the community by partnering with local organizations, including Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Another ongoing partnership is with ON Media Publications and Act One, an organization that helps provide access to the arts in Arizona. Every year, the school holds an annual online contest where, for a $15 entry fee, artists can submit an original work of art to be considered for the cover of a school publication. A portion of the entry fee supports Act One, and the winner of the contest receives exposure of their work to thousands of art lovers, as well as a $200 gift card to the Scottsdale Artists’ School. (This year’s contest is open until Friday, May 11.)

Although a lot has changed at the Scottsdale Artists’ School in its 35-year history, the organization continues its mission of enriching the arts community and developing artists. “We’ve had people who started their art journey at Scottsdale Artists’ School and are now professional artists and come back to teach a course.” Hays said. “It’s clear that we play a big part in people’s lives, whether they go on to become professional artists or they enjoy doing art as a hobby.”

To learn more about art classes, workshops and upcoming events offered at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, visit www.scottsdaleartschool.org.

— Emily Balli

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Study: Phoenix-Area Cities Among Best for Single Homeowners

With sunsets like this one, it's no wonder single people are opting to settle down and buy houses in Scottsdale and other Phoenix-area cities. | Matt Heacock

A new study places the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Scottsdale and Mesa high on the list of U.S. cities where single people own homes.

As Phoenix radio station KTAR reported last week, the study by Smart Asset looked at one-person households in cities across the country and determined how many of those residents own, rather than rent, their homes. In Chandler, the study found, 54 percent of singles own their homes, putting the city fourth on the nationwide list for home ownership by singles.

Not far behind were Scottsdale, which placed sixth, at 52 percent home ownership by singles; and Mesa, which was eighth, at 51 percent. In Mesa, the study noted, 52 percent of those owner-occupied one-person households are owned by seniors, the highest such rate in the country.

Two Virginia cities, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, took the top two spots on the Smart Asset list. Aurora, Colorado, was third.

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Arizona-Based NASA Project Detects Large Asteroid

Karen Martin | Wupatki National Monument

An Arizona-based group that scans the night sky for near-Earth asteroids recently detected one that passed within 119,000 miles of our planet.

That might not seem very close, but according to KTAR radio, the asteroid — which is about as wide as a football field is long — is the largest space rock of its size to come that close to Earth in recorded history. (To put it in perspective, the moon is about 239,000 miles from Earth, on average.)

The Catalina Sky Survey, based in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, detected the asteroid, which passed by Earth on April 15. (You might remember the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-funded University of Arizona program, from the June 2017 issue of Arizona Highways.)

The asteroid was detected only a day before the close encounter. A similarly sized asteroid created Meteor Crater, east of Flagstaff, about 50,000 years ago, KTAR reported.

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