Celebrate the Arizona Trail With 'AZT in a Day'

Courtesy of the Arizona Trail Association

Fifty years ago next month, the National Trails System Act was enacted to help establish and preserve thousands of miles of trails across the United States. To commemorate this special anniversary, the Arizona Trail Association is encouraging hikers, bikers, runners, equestrians and nature enthusiasts of all kinds to attempt something that’s never been done before: complete all 800 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail in just one day.

Of course, they don’t have to do it all themselves. "AZT in a Day" participants will work together Saturday, October 6, to complete nearly 100 sections of the trail, which runs from Mexico to Utah and includes eight wilderness areas, four national forests, two national parks, one state park and one national memorial.

Those familiar with the diverse landscapes and terrain of Arizona know that no two sections of the trail are exactly alike. The path paints a full picture of Arizona as it traverses a variety of hiking and tourist destinations, including the Superstition Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, the San Francisco Peaks, the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs.

Everyone is welcome to participate in AZT in a Day and should complete their portion of the trail however they’d like, Shannon Villegas of the ATA says.

“Some people are going to do an out-and-back on a particular section of the trail and then have a barbecue back at the trailhead; others are going for multiple days and camping,” Villegas says. “Arizona Trail is one of the only national scenic trails that allows all kinds of use, not just hiking. We allow mountain biking, equestrians — anything non-motorized. However you want to enjoy it with your family or your friends, there isn’t any limit. It’s going to be an amazing experience for everyone, whether they spend 15 minutes or several days on the trail.”

Building and maintaining this incredible scenic trail since the 1980s has been no small task, with additions and construction continuing to this day. Right now, the ATA is working on an 18-mile addition to get the trail off rough forest roads in the Happy Jack area south of Flagstaff. “From [the 1980s] until today, the trail has just grown exponentially,” Villegas says. “Now that it’s recognized as a National Scenic Trail, we’re getting a lot more people coming to visit.”

Villegas says this one-day event is also an opportunity to draw awareness to the importance of the nation’s public lands.

“More and more, we have fewer important things to pass on to future generations,” she says. “Decades ago, these places were set aside and deemed as important. As time and technology have progressed, what we value seems to have shifted. The things that are our natural resources and national treasures are right outside our back door, but fewer people from our own country are visiting them. We’re probably just taking these places for granted and not caring for them like we used to. But if we don’t protect these wild places, we won’t have anywhere else to escape to.”

To learn more about AZT in a Day or the Arizona National Scenic Trail, visit www.aztrail.org.

— Emily Balli

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Orchard's Corn Maze Honors John Deere

Courtesy of Apple Annie's Orchard

A corn maze opening this week in the Southeastern Arizona town of Willcox honors the centennial of one of America's best-known brands.

Apple Annie's Orchard will debut its John Deere-themed corn maze on Saturday, September 15, the orchard said in a news release. The 12.5-acre maze contains 600,000 stalks of corn, along with a depiction of an old-time John Deere tractor.

Mandy Kirkendall, daughter of orchard founders Annie and John Holcomb, said the corn maze is "a fun time to be had as you wind your way through many twists and turns of corn as you try to find your way out of the largest corn maze in Arizona."

The maze has three levels of difficulty, allowing it to be completed in 10, 30 or 45 minutes, the orchard said.

The orchard has been creating corn mazes every year since 2008. Previous incarnations marked the 50th anniversary of space travel, the 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes and the state's own centennial, among other milestones.

Apple Annie's features more than 7,000 apple trees and 4,700 peach trees, along with 37 acres of pumpkins and 19 acres of sweet corn. To learn more about the orchard's offerings and the corn maze, visit www.appleannies.com.

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Mobile Version of ADOT Bike Map Now Available

Susan Stocker | Lake Havasu City

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX ­­­– The Arizona Department of Transportation is making it easier for residents and tourists to bicycle throughout Arizona by updating the free Cycle Arizona Bicycle User Map available at AzBikePed.org and adding a mobile-friendly version.

To help cyclists plan their routes, the map includes information on shoulder widths, grades and traffic volumes for the state highway system. It has links to resources on laws and policies, local bicycle paths and U.S. Bicycle Route 90, created in 2015 to span 573 miles between Arizona’s eastern and western borders and connect to a national network of bicycle routes.

In addition to PDF versions with statewide and regional views, there now is an interactive version compatible with iOS and Android mobile devices. Users can click on lines and icons to see where there are frontage roads, extreme grades, narrow bridges and places to visit such as state and national parks, trailheads and rest areas. They also can get contact information for resources such as local chambers of commerce.

“The mobile version makes this a great traveling companion for anyone who’s passionate about bicycling, including the many riders who travel to Arizona,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “We take everything from safety tips to local points of interest and literally put it in the palm of your hand, making transportation truly personal.”

A 2013 ADOT study showed Arizona is a destination for out-of-state bicycling enthusiasts due to its weather, newer infrastructure and scenery, among other factors. It found that bicycle tourists contribute more than $88 million annually to the state economy.

Michael Sanders, ADOT’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator, said producing the mobile-friendly map involved reviewing feedback from constituents and researching how other states offer information for bicyclists. The map was produced in collaboration with the Arizona Office of Tourism and Arizona Council for Enhancing Recreation and Tourism.

“The Arizona Management System championed by Governor Doug Ducey challenges all ADOT employees to continuously improve this agency’s value to its customers, and those customers include the many bicyclists drawn to our state’s scenic highways and byways,” Sanders said. “These updates will make it even easier for bicyclists of all comfort levels to enjoy the best of what Arizona has to offer.”

To learn more, visit AZBikePed.org and click on Arizona Bicycle and Pedestrian Maps. To request a free copy of the Cycle Arizona Bicycle User Map, call 602.712.8141 or send an email to [email protected].

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Celebrate the WNPA's 80th Birthday in Tucson This Weekend

Audrey M. Arnold | Saguaro National Park

A Tucson-based nonprofit organization that supports the region's national parks is celebrating its 80th anniversary this weekend.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 21, the Western National Parks Association is hosting an anniversary celebration at its National Parks Store, located at 12880 N. Vistoso Village Drive in Tucson. Cake and coffee will be served, and all visitors will receive a free gift with any purchase.

The WNPA has been a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service since 1938. Purchases at the store are tax-free and support parks across the western United States.

To learn more, visit the National Parks Store website.

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Celebrating Railroad History at the Benson Visitor Center

Courtesy of Bob Nilson

Those who have explored small towns around Arizona may have noticed distinct themes among them. Benson, in Southern Arizona, is no exception, Bob Nilson says.

“Each town has something they’re noted for," says Nilson, a tourism supervisor for the town. "Tombstone is 'The Town Too Tough to Die.' Willcox is famous for its wine. Well, Benson, we’re famous for our railroad." He adds: "We’re only here because Southern Pacific built a town in 1888 when they put the tracks through."

That heritage is reflected at the Benson Visitor Center, where Nilson, described by one visitor as “the most delightful character," put together a G-scale locomotive setup that welcomes guests. "Benson has been a railroad hub for 155 years. I figured we needed to let people know we’re a railroad town,” he says. So Nilson wrote applied for a grant from the Union Pacific Railroad and proceeded to hang 96 feet of track inside the visitors center.

Nilson said he “kind of winged it” when it came to making his idea a reality. After the tracks were set, he wanted to add a control stand so visitors could feel like they were operating real train controls, but options online were expensive. Once the stand was complete — the build took about four months, using components donated by railroad companies — Nilson added a drone camera to the front of the train and added a receiver with a video screen to the control stand.

From there, his co-workers created displays in the corners of the tracks for added interest.

"The ladies I work with made little displays up in the corners, so when the train is coming around the corner, you’re watching it," he says. "They have a fairyland up in one of the corners now, there’s Tinkerbell and little gnomes and houses. The kids will actually slow the train down. Normally they like to go as fast as they can, but when they see all the little items in the corner, they slow down to see what’s up there.”

The team effort resulted in a fun experience for visitors of all ages. "I found there’s a lot of people that love trains," Nilson says. "I had a 91-year-old woman who came in on her birthday and we let her operate our train. We give everyone a certificate — it’s all free — and it says they’re a Benson train engineer.

The variety of visitors is one of the things Nilson says he loves most about his job. He gets to meet people and share Benson’s railroad history. He says the crowds at the visitors center used to be mostly older, but once the train was put in, more families started to visit with their kids. "They smile from ear to ear,” he says.

Nilson has always been a history buff but started researching the history of trains more so he could answer questions from visitors and local groups. "After [I did one panel], I had several of the historical groups have me come talk," he says. "Now they think I’m an expert, but not really. I’m just an enthusiast."

Nilson’s enthusiasm for Benson attractions doesn’t stop at trains. He is also known for his homemade Batmobile, which he built in honor of nearby Kartchner Caverns State Park, a haven for bats. He drives it for special occasions, such as parades, and to work a couple times a month. "I like my toys, the Batmobile, trains … whatever,” he says.

Nilson moved to Benson from San Diego nearly 30 years ago, and while it was a cultural shock, he says he's enjoyed the opportunities the town has offered.

"I really love my job," he says. "I’ve been here 15 years, and I get to meet people from all over the world. We have fun here."

To learn more about the Benson Visitor Center train and other town attractions, visit the town’s website.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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You Tell Us: Can't-Miss Attractions for Arizona Newcomers

Russ Glindmeier | Grand Canyon

Arizona is one of the nation's fastest-growing states in terms of population, which means plenty of people are moving here from other states. And a recently published list by the website Thrillist got us thinking about what those people should do once they get here.

The list is titled "Everything You Have to Do When You're New to Arizona," and it includes some attractions you might expect, along with a few you might not. Here's a handful of the website's "can't miss" choices:

  • Visit the Grand Canyon. This one probably goes without saying, as the Seventh Natural Wonder is Arizona's best-known destinaton.
  • Eat a pie at Pizzeria Bianco. There's no doubt this Phoenix restaurant makes some of the best pizza around — if you can snag a table. (If you can't, Tratto, another Chris Bianco creation, is right next door to Pizzeria Bianco's northern location.)
  • Grab a beer at Four Peaks. This brewpub in Tempe has since expanded to other parts of the Valley, and it topped a 2015 ranking (also on Thrillist) of the state's best breweries.
  • Hike Camelback Mountain. You certainly won't be alone on this Phoenix peak, even in the heat of summer. Make sure you're in good shape and carry plenty of water.

You can check out the full list at Thrillist's website. We'd venture a guess, though, that many native Arizonans might find this list lacking. So, you tell us: What would you suggest for new residents of the Grand Canyon State? Let us know in the comments.

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Exit Is Closed, but Seligman Is Open for Business

Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

Access to one of Historic Route 66's most iconic towns will be limited for nearly a year while bridges along Interstate 40 are improved.

With that in mind, the Arizona Department of Transportation is working with the town of Seligman to ensure Northern Arizona travelers know they still can reach the Snow-Cap Drive-In and other attractions in town.

Exit 121, which takes drivers from I-40 to the west side of Seligman, closed earlier this month so decks on three bridges could be replaced. The bridges are between 40 and 50 years old, ADOT said in a news release, and the 10-month construction project will provide a smoother ride for Seligman visitors.

Exit 123, which leads to Seligman's east side, will remain open while the $4.3 million project is underway, ADOT said. From there, visitors can easily reach the Snow-Cap, Westside Lilo's Café and Angel Delgadillo's barbershop, along with other Seligman destinations. Signs on I-40 will direct travelers to Exit 123 during the project, ADOT said.

Seligman also makes an excellent starting point for a trip down Route 66 to Kingman. That scenic drive passes Grand Canyon Caverns, one of Arizona's best-known cave systems.

To learn more about the project, visit ADOT's projects website.

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Traveling Exhibit Explores Past, Present and Future of Water

Bisbee, whose water history is tied to the Lavender Pit Mine, is the first stop for a traveling exhibit about the importance of water. | Gloria Delia Reyes

A Smithsonian exhibit making its way around the state aims to help people understand water's environmental and cultural importance in Arizona and elsewhere.

Water/Ways, a project by the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street, is visiting 12 rural communities in Arizona from now until March 2020. Its first stop is at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, where it'll be until July 15. Future stops include Miami, Sierra Vista, Page and Lake Havasu City.

Each stop on the Water/Ways tour has a "complex and unique" water story, organizers said in a news release. In Bisbee, for example, copper smelters depleted the groundwater supply, causing wells to go dry. And Lake Havasu City is best known for its historic London Bridge, but Lake Havasu itself supplies billions of gallons of water per day to Arizona and California destinations.

All Water/Ways programs and events are free and open to the public, organizers said, and all ages are welcome. The project is supported by Arizona Humanities and Arizona State University.

For a complete list of Water/Ways events, visit the project's website.

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10 Years of Celebrating Art at Grand Canyon National Park

Amery Bohling paints during last year's Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. | Courtesy of Grand Canyon Association

The Grand Canyon has long been a source of inspiration for artists, and that connection is the focus of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, which marks its 10th installment this year.

The event, scheduled for September 8 through January 21, is a thrill not just for artists, but also for visitors, according to the Grand Canyon Association, the organizer of the event. "Art plays a critical role in the appreciation of our national parks, and this event helps to keep the artistic tradition part of the Grand Canyon experience," the GCA said in a news release.

The event's goal is to raise funds for a dedicated art venue at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Perhaps the best-known part of the annual celebration is Plein Air at Grand Canyon, which occurs September 8-15 at various South Rim locations. Visitors can watch participating artists paint "en plein air" (outside, on location), with their works then showcased at historic Kolb Studio in an exhibition and sale.

"Visitors will have the opportunity to watch the artists paint along the South Rim as they interpret the ever-shifting light and shadow," the GCA said.

Other events include a quick-draw event and live auction, on September 15 at Bright Angel Trailhead; a grand opening reception and sale, on September 16 at Kolb Studio; and the exhibition and sale, which runs until mid-January. Most events are free with park admission and open to the public.

For more information and updates on this year's Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, visit www.grandcanyon.org/coa.

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Iconic Sculpture Planned for Prescott Museum's Entrance

A 14-foot version of George Phippen's "Cowboy in a Storm" is shown during the reproduction process. | Courtesy of Phippen Museum

The entrance to a Prescott museum will soon feature a larger-than-life version of an iconic sculpture by the museum's namesake.

George Phippen's Cowboy in a Storm, which the Prescott artist was in the process of finishing when he died at age 50 in 1966, is being reproduced as a monument that will grace the entrance to the Phippen Museum, located along U.S. Route 89 north of Watson and Willow lakes.

The Phippen Museum said the 14-foot sculpture reflects "all of the trademarks of [Phippen's] extraordinary Western artwork: It's accurate, funny and, just like George, larger than life."

Several organizations, including the Prescott Area Art Trust and the city of Prescott, contributed to the project, the museum said in a news release. "Serving as a gateway to Granite Dells and Prescott, and a heartfelt welcome to visitors from far and wide, this permanent tribute to George Phippen is most appropriate and well deserved," it added.

The sculpture will be unveiled at downtown Prescott's Courthouse Square at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 26, during the Phippen Museum's 44th Annual Western Art Show and Sale, before being installed at the roundabout at the museum's entrance. The public is encouraged to attend the unveiling, the museum said.

For more information, call the museum at 928-778-1385 or visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.

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