New Prescott Center Honors Hotshots

Courtesy of Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center

It's been more than five years since 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. Since then, several memorials, including Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, have been created to honor the fallen firefighters.

In June came the latest addition: the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center, a permanent museum where visitors can honor the hotshots, learn more about the Yarnell Hill Fire and view thousands of items of tribute.

When news broke that the 19 hotshots had died, a massive outpouring of love and support came not only from the community of Yarnell, but from around the world. Thousands of items of tribute — including letters, T-shirts, artwork and other memorabilia — were left along the fence of the crew's Fire Station 7. The items remained along the fence until September 2013, when volunteers formed the Tribute Fence Preservation Project and took the time to carefully remove, catalog and photograph them. Once the more than 9,000 items were cataloged, they were made available to view digitally and then placed in a Prescott building, where they mostly remained in boxes for the next four years.

As the years went by, Prescott community members, volunteers, friends and family of the fallen hotshots felt it was time to put the items on display. In 2017, Diane Clevenger and her husband, Jack, worked with fellow community member Nancy Christie to champion the creation of a tribute center.

“Each year there were smaller and smaller remembrances for the 19,” said Diane Clevenger, who now is a board member at the center. “People started saying, ‘We have to have something in Prescott to commemorate the 19. We need to have a place or something.’”

After dozens of meetings, the museum began to take shape. Clevenger and other newly appointed board members partnered with Prescott to lease a space inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, and on June 29, a day before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center opened to the public. On the first weekend, nearly 700 people visited.

At the center, visitors can see permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on paying homage to each of the hotshots, wildfire education and memorabilia from the fence at Fire Station 7. Currently, the largest exhibit in the center is “The Shirts Off Their Backs,” curated by Katie Cornelius. The exhibit features a display of 223 of the 1,100 T-shirts that were left on the fence or donated.

Visitors can also see a diary from fallen hotshot Eric Marsh, artwork inspired by the hotshots and created by local artists, and props from Only the Brave, a movie based on the tragedy. The center plans on rotating the items in the exhibits every six to 12 months so that all 9,000 of the items in the collection will eventually be displayed.

“People who visit can take away so much,” Diane Clevenger said. “When you visit, you come away feeling a sense of closeness to each of the 19 and what they did. You come away with an understanding of how many people this impacted in the world. This was not just a little community happening; this was heart-wrenching for everybody in the world. You also come away with new information about how quickly the fire spread. It’s important this center exists so people can remember and so that the 19 will not be forgotten.”

The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center is located inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, at 3250 Gateway Boulevard in Prescott. The Center is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, visit or the center's Facebook page.

— Emily Balli

0 Comments Add Comment

Grand Canyon Rafting: A First-Timer's View

Kirsten Kraklio

Early this summer, I was standing in a store aisle, trying to decide how many bottles of sunscreen to purchase for my weeklong Grand Canyon adventure. I asked the employee next to me for her opinion. She looked me up and down, laughed and said, “You probably need one for each day.”

Apparently, as a freckled, pale redhead, I wasn’t exuding Grand Canyon readiness. But I didn’t care. I was doing my best to ignore internal fears and what-ifs. This summer marked my sixth in Arizona since moving from Iowa, and I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t yet visited the Canyon. When my Great-Aunt Heidi casually mentioned last fall that she was organizing a motorized river rafting trip with her friends, I was immediately in. What better way to see the Canyon than by going through it?

In the months leading up to our trip, I purposely didn’t do much research. I bought all the necessary equipment they tell you to buy (although, really, less is more on these trips), but otherwise, I wanted to experience the Canyon for the first time with my own eyes and no expectations. I did, however, purchase The Emerald Mile, thinking it would be a great book to accompany the trip. (Note to anyone thinking they’ll do the same: Maybe save the book for after you return safely, rather than starting it the night before.)

My trip started at the end of June, before water from monsoon storms turned the Colorado its current brown color. It's been a few months since then, but I’ve thought about it every week since. There’s nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written or said about the Grand Canyon’s beauty, but to me, the magic of the Canyon goes beyond the sights and sounds. It’s the connection of people.

Our tour group included 22 people — some families, some friends. Our ages ranged from early teens to late 60s. In the six days we spent together, I never heard bickering or fighting. There was no talk of politics. No one knew what was happening on Twitter or Facebook. No one was distracted by work emails. Instead, we learned about satellites, courtesy of our two new friends from NASA. We learned stories of former river runners, thanks to our current ones. We learned how to work together to efficiently load and unload rafts. We shared stories of home and dreams of the future. We shared sunscreen — lots and lots of sunscreen.

There are countless blogs and guides on the internet that will tell you what to pack or how to prepare for such a trip, so I’ll be brief with my advice:

  • Don’t pack clothes for every day — you will wear the same shirt and pants multiple days, and that’s OK.
  • Do wear protective clothing — I packed UPF pants and shirts, in addition to my two bottles of sunscreen, and came out of the Canyon as pale as I went in (but with a few extra freckles).
  • Don’t forget to check for ants at your selected camp.
  • Do splurge for the river guidebook so you can follow along with your trip.
  • Don’t fear the groover. (OK, maybe fear it a little.)

Finally, do add a raft trip to your bucket list. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Grand Canyon, embrace the lack of connectivity with technology, and enjoy the company of friends, family and strangers. Leading up to the trip, and even in the beginning days, I told myself and others that this was the trip of a lifetime. But on the last day, and in the days since, I’ve realized it can’t just be the trip of a lifetime. I need to experience the morning shock of the Colorado River and the sight of the sun setting on the Canyon walls again.

Even it if it takes me another 26 years to get there.

— Kirsten Kraklio

0 Comments Add Comment

Rare Guitars on Display at MIM Next Month

A Gibson Les Paul used by Pete Townshend of The Who will be among the guitars on display starting November 9 at the Musical Instrument Museum. | Courtesy of the MIM

Some of the world's earliest electric guitars, along with guitars played by famous musicians, are coming to the Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix next month.

Guitars played by The Who's Pete Townshend, the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian will be included in The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon, which opens November 9 at MIM.

"This exclusive exhibition showcases more than eighty of the rarest electric guitars and amplifiers in the world — from some of the first ever heard to those played by the most famous electric guitarists known today," the museum said in a press release, adding that the exhibition "encompasses the history of the electric guitar from the very beginning, including its most experimental period of the 1930s and 1940s."

In addition to instruments played by Tonwshend, Richards and Christian, guitars used by Alvino Rey, Tommy "Butterball" Paige and Bo Diddley will be included in the exhibition.

Richard Walter, a MIM curator, said the exhibition will reveal "the deep history of the electric guitar and its impact over the years."

The guitars will be on display through September 15, 2019. Admission is $10 for the special exhibition only, or $7 when purchased with general MIM admission. For more information, visit

0 Comments Add Comment

Taliesin West Hosts Photography Exhibit

Photograph by Pedro E. Guerrero | Courtesy of Taliesin West

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's former headquarters in Scottsdale is the site of an upcoming exhibition of rarely seen photos by one of Wright's longtime associates.

The show at Taliesin West runs from October 18 through November 14, and it honors Pedro E. Guerrero, a well-known architectural photographer and native of the Phoenix area.

According to Taliesin West, Guerrero was 22 years old when Wright hired him, beginning a 20-year friendship that "produced some of the most powerful photographs ever taken of Wright and his work."

The show features 14 original, signed photographs taken by Guerrero at Taliesin West in the 1940s and '50s, when he served as Wright's official photographer.

Guerrero's widow, Dixie, said in a news release, said Taliesin West was where her husband "really became a photographer," adding that "he approached it as if it were sculpture, and that seemed to please Frank Lloyd Wright."

The Guerrero collection can be viewed by purchasing tickets to any Taliesin West tour. Prices start at $35 for adults, $25 for students and $19 for youths.

In addition to the showing, Taliesin West is hosting an October 17 lecture on the significance of Guerrero's work, along with a three-day photography seminar.

0 Comments Add Comment

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

— Emily Balli

0 Comments Add Comment

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

0 Comments Add Comment

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 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 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].

One Comment Add Comment

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.

0 Comments Add Comment

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

0 Comments Add Comment

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.

2 Comments Add Comment