Q&A: A Tucson Artist Depicts the Buffalo Soldiers

Courtesy of David Laughlin

Last April, we talked with Tucson artist David Laughlin about his life as an artist and how it's changed since his 2001 stroke. In February, a collection of Laughlin’s work featuring the Buffalo Soldiers was hung in Tucson's Quincie Douglas Library in honor of African American History Month. The collection was extended because so many people enjoyed it, and a piece from the collection may soon be featured in a permanent Buffalo Soldiers memorial at the Quincie Douglas Center in Tucson.

We spoke to Laughlin about the collection and what inspired his work.

Tell me a little about the collection of your work that is being shown in the Quincie Douglas Library. How did it all come about?
Well, it has a history. When I first heard about them doing studies on the Buffalo Soldiers, I went down there — it was still after I had my stroke — and talked to the director, who at that moment was an African-American woman.

They are considering doing a bronze sculpture memorial to the Buffalo Soldiers down there. But they’re a long way from doing a bronze sculpture, because they just don’t have the money for it — it’s a very expensive medium. My daughter has an alternative of using one of my images on a tile and enlarging it on a big tile — they sensitize the surface of the tile, print an image on it, fire it and the image is there. So that is a possibility.

There’s been a regular showing of these about every two to three years at the Quincie Douglas Library.

Have you done other work on the Buffalo Soldiers?
I have a set of my Military Hours series — it's 24 hours of a day in the life of a Buffalo Soldier, in a print medium. It doesn’t have that many guns in it; it’s all about what a cook does, how they stand guard, how they report in at different times of the year in different places in Arizona. If you have all 24 images up, you can see the kind of activities they got involved in that weren’t necessarily military.

The project with the Buffalo Soldiers started in 1981. I had six pieces made of the original group of 24, and they were finished in 1996.

I looked at the Buffalo Soldiers as peacemakers — it was not a military exercise. When they came here in 1885 and 1886 from Texas, they were only one of several cavalry and Army units on foot, and they were all just peacemakers. They kept the Indians on the reservation so they didn’t get into trouble.

What inspired you to create these pieces?
The interest was purely visual. It was something that was so impressive, and I thought that Bob Burton’s VisionQuest was doing a wonderful job with it. It was something I had heard about, but I had never seen anything where people actually did something, and Bob Burton actually took 20 or 30 kids and they marched in parades and chanted songs and verses and so on that the cavalry would’ve used. I followed them from the parade to the university. Bob Burton and the kids were my inspiration.

How long did it take you to research this project?
Well, I did the research while I was doing the project. I got to a point where [when] I finished the prints, I realized I had enough material to write a book. I made a little paperbound book from their founding; it’s all done with pen and ink, page by page. The style of it is very much 1950s comic-book style.

What medium did you use for the ones featured in the library?
Oils, watercolors and pen and ink. There’s three different mediums, but all the same subject, close-up of Buffalo Soldiers, riding against the background. Every one of them has a story, and I could give you chapter and verse on it.

What do you hope people take away or learn from viewing this collection? What has been the response from those who have seen the collection?
It’s a curiosity — it happened a long time ago. These people didn’t have radios or cellphones, and it’s hard to imagine a home in those days that used coal oil for a lamp. It’s my most variegated work in the sense that I’m not limited to one thing. I’m a realist artist, and my work tells a story.

The work is a piece of history, and I hope that it’s relevant to people of color and people who are white who are interested in the military.

— Emily Balli

For more on David Laughlin’s work, visit www.davidlaughlinfineart.com. If you’re interested in purchasing prints of his work, you can email his daughter at [email protected].

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Q&A: Celebrating Page's History Through Photos

Glen Canyon Dam takes shape beneath the completed Glen Canyon Dam Bridge in an aerial U.S. Bureau of Reclamation photo.

Mike Adams grew up in the Northern Arizona city of Page during the 1960s. His interest in the history of the town and Glen Canyon Dam, coupled with a desire to share his experiences growing up on the bank of Lake Powell, inspired him to create a photo archive of the history of the region. In conjunction with our May issue on Lake Powell (on newsstands now), we asked Adams a few questions about Page's history, his own experiences and his current work.

What can you tell us about the history of the region?
Page was founded in 1957. Originally, it served as a housing community for those working on Glen Canyon Dam and their families. It was originally called Government Camp and was later named in honor of John C. Page, who served as commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation from 1936 to 1943. The city of Page was built atop Manson Mesa as the result of a land exchange between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Navajo Nation. The Bureau of Reclamation began the job of paving roads and oversaw the construction of a number of block homes on Manson Mesa, as well as the original hospital and other buildings that served as warehouses and administration buildings during the construction of the town and the dam and bridge. I remember the bureau selling those houses in the late '60s, after work on the dam was complete and the population of Page had dwindled significantly. Homes with a garage originally sold for $12,000, and those with a carport went for $11,500.

What is your family's history and connection to the Page area?
Our family moved to Page in late 1959 or early 1960, and my wife and I moved away in 1985. I started first grade there. My dad was a pilot, and until that point in time, his work consisted largely of crop dusting. When we moved to Page, we literally lived at the airport. Our trailer was located 50 to 75 feet behind the hangar, and since we lived right there, my dad managed the airport after hours for Royce Knight and was one of the pilots who flew scenic flights over the area. I have a lot of good memories from that time, and I remember well what the area looked like from the air. When I wasn’t in school, my spare time was spent in the hangar and/or on the tarmac, watching people who flew in, fueled up and usually flew right back out. There are several posts on my blog featuring aerial shots of the area in those early days.

The construction of Glen Canyon Bridge was complete by the time we moved there, but the construction of the dam was still in its early stages. It was fascinating to walk onto the bridge in those days and look down at the construction of the dam and watch the activity. Watching the trucks below hauling dirt out of the way, and the overhead cranes on either side of Glen Canyon moving large buckets of concrete to their rightful place, was something I will always remember. There was an elevator attached to the canyon wall on the Page side that seemed to run nonstop, carrying people and who-knows-what up and down the canyon wall. The sights and sounds are captured in an episode of the old TV series Route 66. If you can get past the cheesy acting, the background sights and sounds in this episode are worth watching. I wrote a short blog about it that I called Route 66: Season One, Episode Nine. Since writing that blog, I found that episode on Amazon Video and purchased it for a couple bucks. Well worth it.

I spent the next four years watching the dam rise from the vantage point of the bridge, the old visitors center lookout just downstream of the bridge on the Page side of the canyon, and from the air. That visitors center lookout is still there but is closed to the public now.

What was the motivating factor that made you start your photo archive?
I’m a big fan of history, and I love poring over old photos. I started my photo blog as a way to preserve the things I had seen, for myself and for others. I have so many memories of growing up there during the dam construction that I wanted to share the experience. I wanted others to see what I had seen, and I wanted to provide one place on the web where these old photos were available for anyone else who lived there during those early years. I’m by no means the most qualified to do this, but before I started my blog, I spent quite a bit of time searching the web for something similar to what I envisioned. I saw no point in reinventing the wheel. But there wasn’t anything like this on the internet at that time. There were a few pictures scattered here and there, but I couldn’t find one repository by someone else who lived there during that time, like I had. For me, this started as a somewhat selfish hobby, and it continues to be a hobby. It’s one I enjoy.

How long have you been documenting the history of the area?
I had what I call a false start in 2001 or 2002. I started a humble self-hosted website and threw some of my pictures on it. I didn’t have very many of my own, but I wanted to start something in hopes it would grow. It didn’t really go anywhere, and I ended up shutting it down. I started the website that you see today in 2013. I had gathered more pictures by that time, and I used them initially. Some of those are still there, but the quality is suffering. Then a friend, whom I had grown up with in Page, offered me 8x10 pictures his family had of those early years. His dad worked for the USBR, and his family had a great supply of photos. So I bought a scanner. Following that, several others who were there, or had a connection to someone who was, have supplied me with many more.

What is the most interesting thing you've uncovered about the region?
The evidence of what used to be. I love doing “then and now” comparisons. I’ve blogged a few of those. It’s interesting to pour over an old black and white photo and then get on Google Earth and look at the same spot to compare the two. It’s amazing to see the evidence of what used to be there, still there. There was a go-cart track in those early years, and parts of the paved track are still visible on Google Earth if one knows where to look. I blogged on that go-cart track at least once. Search for it on the site and see what comes up. There was also a foot bridge across the top of the canyon, upstream of the dam. Remnants of the parking lot on the west side of canyon are still visible today. The old visitors center parking lot and lookout area are still there but no longer accessible. I posted a great photo of the bridge that was taken from that lookout point. It’s in a post I called A Bridge Under Construction.

Have you made any memorable connections working on this project?
Yes. Some amazing people have come forward to offer photos and their own personal stories of having lived there in those early years. These people have been invaluable in filling in many of the blanks that would otherwise exist and in answering questions that I have, because, believe it or not, even though I was there, there are things I don’t know or don’t remember. I am indebted to everyone who has helped me and to those who continue to support my endeavors. I couldn’t do this without them.

What is something that someone unfamiliar with the area should know about Page and Lake Powell?
It’s a beautiful area that’s perfect for vacationing. The boating is unmatched. The lake is beautiful against the Navajo sandstone. There’s a lot there to explore. If you go, take some of my pictures with you to get a feel of what was there then versus what’s there now. Spend a good amount of time in the dam’s visitors center. Walk up to the upper visitors center parking lots and know that huge cranes used to sit on rails there and lower giant buckets of concrete into the canyon. Watch the movies of the construction of the dam that are offered in the theater inside the visitors center. Become familiar with the area, and you’ll be glad you did.

What is the best way for individuals interested in the project to contribute?
I’m constantly on the prowl for more photos. If you have some you would like to contribute, you can reach me via the contact form on my website. If your pictures are hard copies, I can scan and return them to you. I’m looking for pictures of the construction years, the 1950s and '60s. As much information as can be provided with each photo is appreciated, including who is in them, where was it taken, what’s in the picture, the date (if known) and the photographer (if known).

— Roman Russo

For more information, you can visit Adams' website, www.pageaz.org; follow along on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/pageaz; or follow his Instagram feed, www.instagram.com/page.az.

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Q&A: Katie Lee's Folk Opera

Courtesy of Katie Lee

Our May issue, on newsstands now, focuses on Lake Powell and Glen Canyon, and includes managing editor Kelly Vaughn's essay about the esteemed Katie Lee — who's spent most of her 97 years protesting Lake Powell's existence. Today, the actress, folk singer, author and wilderness activist lives in Jerome and is assisting on the first-ever production of Maude, Billy & Mr. "D," a folk opera she performed on her traveling show in the 1950s. It's being produced by the Blue Rose Theater of Prescott and will be performed one night only, Saturday, May 6, at Mingus Union High School Theater in Cottonwood.

We asked Ms. Lee to tell us a little about the opera, what inspired her to write it and what viewers can expect.

When did you originally write Maude, Billy & Mr. “D”?
I wrote it way back in the '50s, and for years I performed it as the second part of my concerts when I would do shows. I was on the road for many years, and I did concerts for universities, and for organizations and for clubs. I always used this because it was a beautiful thing to put at the end of a show. Kids from 4 and 5 years old through up to 95 years old, they just sat very quietly and watched this little drama unfold. It’s quite a story.

But I didn’t write [the original story]; I read it as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post, and the woman who wrote the story, Helen Eustis, actually wrote the first paragraph in rhyme. Maybe she knew it, maybe she didn’t, but that just set me off. I said, “This story needs music!” So I just began writing music for it, and that’s how it all began.

I played it for her one time where she lived in New York; while I was on the road, I stopped in and played it for her, and she said, “That’s the best treatment I’ve ever heard of my story.” It had been done as a short for television and in the movies, but she didn’t like the way they treated it.

Did the Blue Rose Theater approach you to put on the show, or was it your idea to put on the show? How did it all come about?
That came about very strangely. I met this little girl a couple of years ago at a book signing who is a classical violinist; her name is Erin Burley. It seemed that she really wanted to make music, rather than read music. She was playing with orchestras, and she was also a teacher of violin.

We became friends, and I introduced her to Peter McLaughlin, who is an incredible musician and songwriter. They got together, and he started teaching her how to listen to words and make the music fit the words — that’s the way folk musicians work. She loved doing it, she was good, and she was quick to learn.

She wanted to use a song from the folk opera, which I had given to her to listen to. All she wanted to do was to come up and celebrate my birthday and play some songs for me with some other musicians she knew, and it just mushroomed. When I told my friend who owns the Blue Rose Theater over in Prescott, Jody Drake, she said, “Oh, my God! This needs to be produced!” And from there it just snowballed.

[Erin] became very ill, and we’ve missed her a lot because she can’t come to the rehearsals. But we’re still very much in touch with her, and we’re hoping she’s going to be able to come to the production with her family and sit in the front row and see what she started. Really, we just owe this whole thing to her.

When was the last time it was on a stage?
It has never been produced before. I put it on a CD back in the '70s, after I performed it for 20 years or more on the road, as a traveling musician. This is the first and only performance so far, but I know there’s an organization down in Tucson that wants the show, so it will probably be performed more than once.

Tell us a little about the show; what is it about, and what should viewers expect?
Maude Applegate is a young girl that goes out after Mr. Death to get him to stay his hand against her boyfriend, who just got shot up. While Billy lies there dying, Maude decides to go find Mr. Death, get him to stay his hand against her true love, and that begins the story. It’s a story kind of destined to discover whether true love can overcome the power of death.

The show features really fine performers that are actors as well as singers. It held audiences just spellbound when I used to perform it. It’s a simple story, but it’s really hard to explain — but people leave the theater feeling elated.

What role have you played in the production?
I’m not singing in this show. They just consult me whenever they need to know anything about the script. I help wherever I can. I’m just in the background, watching and waiting to see what’s going to happen.

— Emily Balli

Maude, Billy & Mr. "D" will be performed one night only, Saturday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mingus Union High School Theater in Cottonwood. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/bluemaude, or call 928-899-5472 to purchase tickets.

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Q&A: The Rare Crested Saguaro

Crested saguaros exhibit a rare mutation whose cause remains unknown. | Courtesy of National Park Service

When you think about Arizona's landscape, the saguaro cactus is one of the quintessential images that come to mind — and Saguaro National Park, the subject of our March issue, celebrates this iconic Arizona plant. Saguaros are rarely symmetrical, but on even rarer occasions, an anomaly causes the tips to grow in a splayed, fan-like shape. These are the elusive crested saguaros — also known as cristate saguaros. It's not known why this mutation occurs, although scientists have a few theories.

Joe Pleggenkuhle and other saguaro enthusiasts joined forces to create the Crested Saguaro Society, dedicated to locating, cataloging and teaching people about these rare saguaros. We asked him a few questions about his passion. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

When was the first time you came across a crested saguaro?
My first crested saguaro I saw was on a tour of the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. My first wild crested saguaro I found was in Yavapai County — it's a double crested saguaro. My niece had heard that I found a champion saguaro, and she wanted to see it, so I showed it to her. I was explaining to her that there were crested saguaros, too, and she points over my shoulder and says, “You mean like that?”

I had never heard of a double crested saguaro, so I started writing several places, and I believe Arizona Highways sent me an article that included a double crested saguaro many years ago.

When you first saw the one on the tour, did you know what it was right away?
No, but the tour guide did a great job of explaining what it was.

What are some of the theories about what causes this mutation to happen?
Many theories of what causes it. Frost; insect infestation; damage from birds, animals, people, weather, power lines. Mine is that the top or tip's growth pattern gets disturbed, and it changes from a circle to being elongated with a seam.

How many of these saguaros has the society cataloged?
Roughly 3,000. More if you count other crested cactuses.

How many in Saguaro National Park?
I’ve heard 48, but I suspect there are more than that in both the east and west parks and in Tucson Mountain Park.

How did the Crested Saguaro Society get started? 
That’s a good question. A person in Tucson was documenting them, and his health was declining, and a couple from the Southern Arizona hiking club sort of picked up where he had left off. They soon were giving presentations of their crested saguaro finds to their club. One of the other members, Rex, sort of got us together and named us the Crested Saguaro Society.

There isn’t a lot of information as to where people can find a crested saguaro; is there a reason?
We do love our crested saguaros, but several have been dug up or vandalized, so we don’t publish GPS locations of any of them. A fair amount of them are on private property. Some are located in steep, remote canyons.

— Roman Russo

To learn more about the Crested Saguaro Society or get involved with the group, visit its website.

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Q&A: The Story Behind an Iconic Sonoita Sculpture

This metal sculpture greets visitors to Sonoita along State Route 83.

The February issue of Arizona Highways featured a Where Is This? item familiar to residents of the Sonoita and Patagonia area: a metal cutout sculpture called Gathering Strays. The artwork, designed by sculptor and Sonoita resident Deborah Copenhaver Fellows, has been along State Route 83 just north of Sonoita since early 2008. It depicts a cowboy on horseback guiding a cow and a calf. From afar, the sculpture could almost fool you, because at sunset, it looks like the silhouette of a cowboy riding by.

This sculpture has become an iconic symbol of the Sonoita countryside. And readers of Arizona Highways might recognize Copenhaver Fellows' name — J.P.S. Brown wrote about her in our October 2016 issue. We asked her about her creation and how it came to life.

Tell us about the sculpture and how that project came about.
The Chamber of Commerce got in touch with me here in Sonoita, I think in about 2005, and they asked me to do signage for the communities of Elgin, Sonoita and Patagonia. Two signs for Sonoita, two signs for Patagonia and one sign for Elgin. They asked me to design them, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it, but I have one request: If I design all of those signs, would you allow me to do a large cutout of a cowboy driving a cow and calf?” And they said yes.

My point was, no matter what happens in this country down here, there would always be a cowboy on horseback driving a cow and calf.

How long did the sculpture take you, and how did that process work?
It was about three months. I did the design for it, and a company called T.A. CAID did the cutouts in Tucson. I did the graphics, and they did the cutouts. I sent it to them; they pointed it up, which means they made my drawings larger, and cut it out of quarter-inch steel. Then we had local individuals that created the frames, and then we put it up here in Sonoita, on the stand-up bars.

It was fun finding a spot for it where it reads so well in the sunset and the morning light.

About how big is the cutout?
From the tail of the horse to the tip of the calf’s nose, it’s about 34 feet long. It’s huge.

What other sculptures and cutouts do you have around Sonoita?
Cutouts for signage for the welcome signs in Elgin, Sonoita and Patagonia. I have a monument of a cowboy on horseback down at the fairgrounds here in Sonoita — it’s a tribute to the cowboy and ranching. I have an interesting one in Elgin, which is our wine country, of three women that are stomping grapes, and it’s humorous.

A year ago, in February, I made the Barry Goldwater that’s in the U.S. Capitol building, in Statuary Hall. Quite often, on the interviews in the evening, you’ll see the long-standing bronzes behind the interviewers and interviewees, and one of mine is there right now, I was commissioned by the state of Arizona to do that.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on an 8-foot cast-bronze monument for the city of San Antonio.

What kind of feedback have you had from the community about your creation?
I think they’re pretty happy with it. They use it a lot for postcards and advertising. It symbolizes the whole neighborhood.

— Emily Balli

For more on Deborah Copenhaver Fellows' work, visit the Fellows Studios website. And to read more about Sonoita and Patagonia, pick up a copy of our April issue, on newsstands now.

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Q&A: New Director Takes Reins at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Carol Coyle Hagood | Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, located near Superior, is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state. The arboretum’s 323 acres are home to 3,200 different desert plants, more than 230 bird species and 72 terrestrial animal species. And now, the arboretum has a new director: Dr. S.H. "Sy" Sohmer.

Sohmer has more than 40 years of experience and research in classical botany and taxonomy. He's currently based out of Washington, D.C., where he’s worked the last two years as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. He also works as a faculty affiliate at George Mason University in Virginia. He'll soon make the move to Arizona to assume his new position at the arboretum. We asked him a few questions about himself, his background in botany and his new position.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience in botany.
I’m a classically trained taxonomist. My M.S. is from the University of Tennessee, and that’s where I really got my botanical training. From there, I went to the University of Hawaii and got my Ph.D. in systematic botany. My dissertation there was on what we thought was an endemic genus — a plant or something found nowhere else. It was an endemic genus found, they thought, only in Hawaii, and to my good fortune, there seemed to be one species, an outlier, that was found in the Austral Islands, which are south of Tahiti. I was able to get a grant from the National Science Foundation and go down there.

I really haven’t been able to do research for many years, because I’ve been in administration, but my interests still are with a genus in the coffee family called Psychotria. The coffee family is one of the largest woody families in the world, and Psychotria is one of the largest genera of woody plants in the world. I’ve done revisions of this genus for the Hawaiian archipelago, for the Philippine archipelago and for Papua New Guinea, where I spent a year as a forest officer.

What attracted you to the position of director at Boyce Thompson?
Well, the reason I know the arboretum is because I’m on the board of Biosphere 2. I’d go out to Biosphere 2, and I had heard about the arboretum, and so if I had time, I would drive over there on my own and just be a tourist. I loved it from the beginning. Most of my botanical work has been in the tropical rainforest, so this whole new world of desert plants, arid plants, was an eye-opener to me. I didn’t realize how diverse, how many species, how really interesting the desert flora was.

I had the good fortune of getting to know Mark Siegwarth, who was the former director, and when I would go up there, he would show me around and he was very kind to me; I appreciated that. So when this opportunity came up, I was in the right place for it, and I said, “OK, cool! I’d love to be director of that place!”

I’m going to be on a learning curve. One of the first things I want to do is go out and learn the local flora. I’m a botanist, so I know what a cactus is — I’ve seen many species of cacti — but I’m going to be on a learning curve. I’m going to grab someone at the arboretum who knows the flora and maybe have them take me out an hour or two each day, because I want to learn.

What do you hope to accomplish as the director?
I have some ideas, but until I really get fully on the ground there and really understand the rather complex way the place is governed, I think it would be presumptuous of me to declare what I want to do and what needs to be done. But I hope to be able to raise money for the organization in a variety of ways.

One thing I will bring to the arboretum are the connections to a lot of federal funding agencies and a lot of foundations, because I’ve worked with them. I hope that I can use this to the arboretum’s benefit. 

What do you think are some of the challenges facing the arboretum?
Well I think there are a number, but they’re the same problems I’ve seen at other organizations — governance and funding, especially funding. That’s true with every organization I’ve ever been associated with. There’s a lot of good organizations out there competing for the same dollar.

What will your day-to-day look like as director, and how will it be different from positions you’ve held in the past?
One week I might have to spend my time putting up fliers; the next week I might have to spend all my time fundraising. When I do something, I’m on 24/7. That’ll be particularly true with the arboretum. I’ll be working with staff, working on goals with the staff and working with the board.

A very important part of my job will be to be able to publically explain what the importance of an arboretum is, especially the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, for the conservation and knowledge of the ecology and the species and the evolution of arid land plants. And observation is also a very important thing, especially with so many natural habitats disappearing.

It’s important because it’s a unique organization that holds in trust this wonderful diversity of arid land plants and hopefully will be able to maintain these species even as the habitat disappears around it. This will be a bastion where these species will always thrive and not go extinct, I hope.

— Emily Balli

For more information about Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, visit the park's website

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Q&A: Buffalo Soldiers Live On at Fort Verde State Historic Park

Buffalo Soldier re-enactors. | Courtesy of Fort Verde State Historic Park

Each of the past 10 years, Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde has hosted a look back at a key part of American military history.

The Buffalo Soldiers were members of the first African-American regiments of the U.S. Army. Formed in the 1860s, the regiments fought in the Indian Wars, which occurred in present-day Arizona and other Western and Plains states.

The state park honors the Buffalo Soldiers’ legacy with an annual re-enactment event, and this year’s edition is this Saturday, February 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Along with learning the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, visitors can watch a vintage baseball game, with participants dressed in period replica uniforms, as well as demonstrations of how to cook Dutch oven meals.

Arizona Highways spoke with Red Turner, a re-enactor (also known as a “living historian”) participating in Saturday’s event, about what he does, what inspired his passion for history and the challenges he faces when it comes to his work.

How many years have you been participating in the Buffalo Soldier re-enactments at Fort Verde State Historic Park?
This is my third year out there in Arizona. I currently live in California.

How did you get into being a living history presenter?
I joined the New Buffalo Soldiers, based out of Los Angeles, and did things like the Rose Parade. We travel all over California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. We do about 20 to 25 events a year.

It all started after I retired. I’ve always been interested in history. I enjoy reading historical publications. I get different magazines in the mail from all over the country and saw an ad for living historians. My wife did the same thing with the Historical Citizens Association.

What motivated you to join?
People are hungry for history right now. There was a real need for good representation, and it was a good time to educate others. After seeing a need for living historians, I jumped right in to fill the gap.

Before becoming a living historian, what line of work were you in?
I’m retired from law enforcement, and now I do special operations training for the military.

What are some of the challenges that someone interested in becoming a living historian should know about?
Being a living historian is a lot of work. It’s a lot of research. You spend a lot of money on accurate costuming. When you say “living historian,” people think of it as a hobby, but it’s really a lifestyle. That’s the part that is a challenge, but it makes it all worth it when you see the faces of students, or people who show up for these events to learn something.

— Roman Russo

For more information about Saturday’s event, visit Fort Verde State Historic Park’s website.

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Q&A: Unlocking the Secrets of Petrified Forest

Ray Lee | Petrified Forest National Park

Our February issue, on newsstands now, celebrates Petrified Forest National Park. Though the park is best known for its 200 million-year-old petrified wood, it also has an extensive human history. That's where park archaeologist William Reitze comes in. For the issue, we had Reitze annotate a story that originally appeared in the April 1963 issue of Arizona Highways. We also asked him a few questions about his work.

Tell us about your background. What led you to a career in archaeology, and how did you end up at Petrified Forest?
I have always loved archaeology. When I was a little kid, I got to go hiking and camping with my family quite a bit. We often got to go and see archaeology sites throughout Colorado and Utah. I love learning about the past and working outside, so archaeology seemed like a good career. I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico and my master's at Colorado State University. I am currently finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona.

I ended up at Petrified Forest through the student Pathways program. This program allows the Park Service to hire students to work in parks while they are in school. I was looking for a job, and this seemed like an interesting opportunity. When I started here, I really had no idea how much archaeology was actually preserved here at Petrified Forest.

What’s something about your career field that people might not know or understand?
A lot of the people I talk to think that archaeologists are always looking for the biggest sites or the rarest artifacts. But often, the more interesting questions that we can ask are how people in the past lived on a day-to-day basis. This involves looking at a lot of small sites through time and getting a detailed look at all of the artifacts that they left behind and how they relate to each other.

What’s a typical workday like for you? (If there is such a thing as a typical workday.)
Describing a typical workday is difficult. During the summer months, when there are more staff and the field crews are bigger, I spend a little more time working on paperwork to keep them in the field. But most days start at 7 a.m. (or 6 a.m., if it is a really hot summer). We will then typically go out into the field for the day. Our fieldwork is typically broken into three different types of activities. First is systematically looking for new sites on the landscape. Second would be documenting those sites in detail, including recording and mapping the artifacts and features found. Third is site preservation, or preventing erosion or other damage from occurring on these sites.

So on field days, I’ll typically be out hiking in the field until 4:30 p.m. In the summers, I’ll do this with a crew, but often in the fall, winter and spring, a lot of my field time is on my own. So on a field day, you’ll have to carry everything that you might need for the day, including water, your lunch and field recording gear.

But field days are always offset with office and lab days. All of the data that we collect needs to be timed up and entered into different databases. Artifacts need to be drawn, photographed and analyzed; site maps need to be made; and forms for the site files need to be written up.

What are some interesting things going on at Petrified Forest these days that relate to your job?
I think that the most interesting thing happening in archaeology at Petrified Forest is the boundary expansion. Right now, the park is doubling in size to protect additional archaeology sites, which is not something a lot of national parks are doing. This allows us to explore whole new areas, find new sites and set up new directions for research in archaeology.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love going into the field to discover something new. Here at Petrified Forest, we have the opportunity to find really fascinating new archaeology all the time, which is great. A lot of people who pass through Petrified Forest do not realize the human story that is here. People have been living and farming here since the end of the last ice age. We have more than 1,000 recorded archaeology sites, and there is a lot of human history here to experience.

To learn more about Petrified Forest National Park, pick up our February issue or visit www.nps.gov/pefo.

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Q&A: Joe Bill on Lookout Towers and the Lookouts He Found There

Joe Bill checks out the view from a fire lookout tower atop Kendrick Mountain. Humphreys Peak is in the background. | Courtesy of Joe Bill

Joe Bill, the author of Climbing the Ladder Less Traveled, spent four months driving nearly 4,000 miles (and hiking more than 100 miles) to interview 35 fire lookouts. He turned one big journey into a book and acquired an endless number of life lessons. And Jo Baeza, a longtime contributor to Arizona Highways, edited the book. We got the chance to ask Bill a few questions about his book.

What inspired you to take on this project?
My wife and I have hiked a lot in Arizona. Some of those hikes led us to the top of mountains with lookout towers. We would visit with the lookouts, and hearing about their life journeys fascinated me. These people have dared to do something different.

Furthermore, these people spend a lot of time in silence. It’s a lot of time to themselves and a lot of time to think. I always wondered if they would have words of wisdom for those of us who work at lower levels, so to speak. 

How did you go about starting this project?
I had to find out where all the fire towers were located, which ones were staffed and when they were staffed. It was a lot of calls to the Forest Service and ranger stations. I put together a large map of where they were, including the schedules, and started making appointments.

Did you face any challenges?
After my first appointment, with a lookout on Mount Ord, I asked myself, “Is this really going to work?” But while I was interviewing the lookout, a fire broke out. That created a fitting first chapter for my book, because it would give readers a honest description of what a lookout does when fires break out, what they do on the radio and how they coordinate the activities of the firefighters, etc. At that point, I said to myself, “Oh, my gosh, this really is going to work.”

But then it was the challenge of finding the towers. While we were on the Fort Apache Reservation, we were particularly lost. But my son made me stick it out, and fortunately, we caught the lookout just in time before he left for the day. It’s amazing how it all worked out.

What did you learn from this journey?
I often wondered: How can people spend that much time by themselves in a tower without getting bored and having a sluggish day?

So, I spent some time with Gary McElfresh (Chapter 10), and he trained me to be a relief lookout, which is someone who fills in when the lookout is taking time off. I’ve served as a relief lookout a number of times in a couple different locations. What an incredible experience that was for me.

After about two days of work, you start getting into the zone and not thinking much about what’s going on in the world. You appreciate the quiet — the beauty. It’s a totally different life than the one you and I are probably living.

What do the lookouts do in their down time?
Some were authors, and others were musicians. A couple were into quilting, and a couple others were painters. One person’s hobby was cooking in the tower. They were all talented people.

When you asked the lookouts if they had any words of wisdom, what did they say?
At the end of every chapter, you’ll see a quote from each lookout regarding their philosophical perspective. But to give you a few examples, Jo Baeza said, “By most people’s standards, I’m a well-educated person, but I’ve learned far more from silence than I ever learned from books or classrooms.” 

And after interviewing Adam Henry, from the Fort Apache Reservation where we were lost, he said, “Wherever it might be, find your own quiet tower. Make it your special place and spend some time there.”

Was there one person in particular who stuck out to you?
Let me begin by saying that each person I spoke to is special — they’re all great people. But the one that was most touching of all was the woman in the very last chapter, Chris Magill. I interviewed her on her very last day, after 35 years of service, and she was in her 80s. She said to me, “You know, when you think about life, there doesn’t have to be a last chapter. There just does not have to be a last chapter.” And, guess what, she returned to work the next year as a lookout. So she was right: There really doesn’t have to be a last chapter.

— Brianna Cossavella

Climbing the Ladder Less Traveled is available for purchase on Amazon.

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Q&A: Turning Aerial Photographs Into 'Paintings'

One of Greg Young's pieces shows the Sedona area and the distant San Francisco Peaks. | Courtesy of Greg Young

Greg Young is a retired commercial photographer who resides in Pennsylvania. He’s a self-proclaimed geek, and about a year ago, he found a computer program, Dynamic Auto Painter, to turn his photographs into works of art. We asked Young a few questions about his “paintings” and what keeps drawing him back to the Grand Canyon State.

What brought you to Arizona?
I enjoy traveling with my wife and capturing photos of the different places we visit. Usually, we choose a different destination every year; I’d like to see as much as I can while I’m still here. Arizona is a bit of an exception because there are so many beautiful places to see, and partly because it gives us a reason to see my sister and her husband in Cottonwood.

What is it that you love about Arizona?
I just love the outdoors, I love the scenery, I love the textures, and the colors of Sedona just really wow me. As an aerial photographer, I just love to see that. I can’t approach it like a professional job, because I don’t live there and I can’t spend as much time as I’d like to, but I did charter a plane around sunset a couple of years ago. Originally, Arizona to me was the Grand Canyon, and I didn’t know much more about the state than that. As I got to see my sister in Cottonwood, I learned more about the Sedona area, and the more I was there, the more I enjoyed it.

Tell us about your paintings.
For a year or so, I’ve been working with software that turns photos into some great-looking paintings. It’s not a filter effect; it actually redraws the entire image and provides dozens of presets that were inspired by real artists.

I basically consider it an extension of my interest in photography. In no way do I present them as original paintings or original drawings. I’m sure some traditionalist artists may resent the approach, but I don’t think they should, as long as no one tries to claim that their work is an original painting. In fact, most traditional paintings are done by artists who take photographs of their subject and then paint from the photo. I don’t have that skill. I’m a creative photographer, but I can’t paint worth a lick.

How did you discover the program?
I’m a computer geek, so I’m always surfing the web, exploring different things. I got into digital imaging probably as early as anybody. I was editing traditional photography years before digital cameras. Pictures would be scanned, and then digital images could be brought into the computer. I evolved with the technology. There were some programs doing simple filter effects, which I was amazed by 20 years ago, and now it’s such child's play — you could do better on your phone.

Do you have a preference for the software paintings versus your traditional photography?
I enjoy both. Some subjects just don’t lend themselves to it as well, regardless of the style, but some really do. I think there’s a place for both. I don’t see it replacing any of my photography. There are just things that it does. It enhances the colors and the textures in such a cool way.

— Kirsten Kraklio

To learn more about Greg Young or to see more of his work, visit his website.

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