Staying Warm (or Cool) at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Cave Mountain Park features an extensive cave system. | Noah Austin

On the way back from a recent Arizona Highways assignment in Southeastern Arizona, my wife and I were looking for something to do in the Tucson area. Having visited Kartchner Caverns State Park last year, we decided to check out another well-known cavern in the area: Colossal Cave Mountain Park, located east of Tucson.

On an hourlong tour past the cave's stalactites, stalagmites and other unique formations, we learned while Colossal Cave is similar to Kartchner Caverns in many ways, there also are important differences between the two caverns. For one, water continues to flow into Kartchner Caverns, meaning that cave's rock formations continue to grow. Colossal Cave no longer has water flowing, although it's not technically a "dead" cave — a bit of monsoon runoff trickled into the cave this summer, the first time that's happened in 12 years, our guide said.

The other big difference is the caves' human histories. No one had ventured into Kartchner Caverns before its discovery in the 1970s, and its designation as a state park has kept it in pristine condition. In contrast, Colossal Cave was used for storage by the Hohokam people about a century ago, and after white men discovered it in the late 1800s, it became a hideout for bandits and a target for treasure hunters. Many of its rock formations were broken off to be sold as curiosities.

But Colossal Cave is still a spectacular place to visit, starting with the above-ground facilities constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. CCC crews also built the walkways inside the cavern, where the temperature stays in the low 70s year-round. The basic tour, on which we were joined by three others on a rainy Sunday morning, follows a half-mile loop and includes information about the cave's history, geology and legends. More extensive tours that utilize CCC ladders and rock-climbing techniques also are available.

Our tour guide addressed one popular legend: that bandits hid a stash of gold somewhere in Colossal Cave. If they did, he said, it's never been found, and park personnel have extensively explored the cave. Even without a stash of gold, though, Colossal Cave is a treasure worth seeing.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park is located at 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail in Vail. For more information, call 520-647-7275 or visit

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

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Ancient Textiles on Display at Camp Verde Museum

One of the Sinaguan textiles now on display at the Verde Valley Archaeology Center. | Courtesy of the museum

A new exhibit at a Central Arizona museum focuses on 800-year-old textiles discovered in a cliff dwelling along Wet Beaver Creek.

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center in Camp Verde last week announced the opening of the exhibit of ancient textiles from the Paul Dyck Rock Shelter, named for the Paul Dyck Ranch, in Rimrock, where the cliff dwelling is located.

Extensive excavations at the cliff dwelling in the 1960s and '70s unearthed more than 10,000 artifacts, including perishable materials preserved in dry midden deposits inside the dwelling. The artifacts include woven materials such as textiles, sandals, skirts, ropes and bags, the museum said.

"The Dyck textiles represent the most extensive and well-preserved collection of Sinagua textiles ever recovered," the center's director of archaeology, Dr. Todd Bostwick, said in a news release. "Some of the 800-year-old textile fragments have retained their color so well, they look like they were woven yesterday."

The fragile textiles are being rotated into and out of display to protect them from deterioration. Among new items recently added to the display is a plain weave (pictured) with a dark brown tie-dye pattern.

The museum is located at 385 S. Main Street in Camp Verde, and its exhibits are open and free to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., although the center will be closed December 23, ahead of Christmas, and December 30, ahead of New Year's Day.

For more information, visit

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National Parks Waive Fees for Veterans Day Weekend

Saguaro National Park near Tucson is one of the parks waiving entrance fees this weekend. | Vijay Kannan

The National Park Service's final fee-free days of 2017 are coming up this weekend, in honor of Veterans Day.

Saturday and Sunday, November 11 and 12, all Park Service sites that charge admission fees will waive them. That includes Grand Canyon National Park, which currently charges $30 (per vehicle) for a seven-day pass, so visiting this weekend could be a prudent financial move. (As we told you recently, the Park Service is considering increasing entrance fees at Grand Canyon and other parks during peak season. That proposal would not affect the fee-free days, though.)

The waiver applies only to entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Campsite, concession and other fees will still apply.

Even if you can't make it to a national park this weekend, keep in mind that the vast majority of Park Service sites charge no entrance fee at all. And there are 22 such sites in Arizona that are open to the public. To find a park near you, click here.

The Park Service has not yet announced its fee-free days for 2018, but the first one is likely to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, January 15).

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Northern Arizonans Visit Meteor Crater Free This Weekend

Meteor Crater | Noah Austin

Residents of Northern Arizona can check out one of the world's best-preserved craters this weekend — at a less-than-astronomical price.

On Saturday (October 21), from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Meteor Crater, located east of Flagstaff and south of Interstate 40, will give free admission to Northern Arizona residents. All you need to do is show proof of Northern Arizona residency or a student ID card from a school in the northern part of the state.

As we detailed in a blog post a few years back, Meteor Crater is certainly worth a visit. It's the site of an impact, 50,000 years ago, of a 300,000-ton meteorite made mostly of iron. About 80 percent of the metorite likely was vaporized on impact, leaving a nearly mile-wide crater. Pieces of the meteorite have been found several miles away; the largest is on display at the visitors center.

Because of the area's lack of precipitation, Meteor Crater is perhaps the best-preserved impact crater in the world. Today, the site also features a visitors center, a gift shop and a 3-D film showing how the crater was formed.

If you can't make it Saturday (or aren't a Northern Arizona resident), the regular cost of admission is $18 for adults, with discounts for veterans, seniors and children ages 6 to 17. Active-duty military and children 5 and under are free. To learn more, visit

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Kartchner Caverns Honored as International Dark Sky Park

Courtesy of Kartchner Caverns State Park

Kartchner Caverns State Park is best known for what's underground. Now, it's being recognized for what's up in the sky.

The park, located south of Benson in Southern Arizona, recently was honored by the International Dark-Sky Association, Arizona State Parks and Trails announced recently. It's the second state park in Arizona to be named an International Dark Sky Park; the first was Oracle State Park north of Tucson, in 2014. Both are "silver tier" parks, meaning they have minor light pollution but still feature good night skies.

Sue Black, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails, said in a news release that the designation "supports our mission to preserve and protect Arizona's natural resources."

Of course, most people visit Kartchner Caverns for its spectacular underground caves, which can be explored via guided tours. But there's also a campground and picnic tables, and the park hosts guided hikes and other events throughout the year.

The IDA began its Dark Sky Places Program in 2001. Other IDA-designated dark-sky locations in Arizona are Grand Canyon National Park; Wupatki and Grand Canyon-Parashant national monuments; and the communities of Flagstaff, Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.

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Running Through Navajo History at the Canyon de Chelly Ultramarathon

Dustin George | Canyon de Chelly

On October 14, one of Arizona's most unique athletic events celebrates its fifth anniversary.

The Canyon de Chelly Ultramarathon takes runners 55 kilometers through the heart of the national monument that shares its name. Despite the length of the run and its out-of-the-way location, demand is high. Last year, registration traffic for the 2016 run caused the organizer's website to crash, and this year, the race filled up in just a few minutes.

Generally speaking, an ultramarathon is any run that goes farther than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles — and, although it seems extreme, thousands of Americans take part in these runs annually. What makes the Canyon de Chelly race unique is that it crosses through the national monument. Runners work their way through the canyon over miles of sandy trails, across dozens of streams and past ancient stone houses built in the cliffs by the Ancestral Puebloan people.

Most visitors to Canyon de Chelly see the ancient dwellings from one of three viewpoints along a scenic drive on the rim of the canyon. To get a closer look at the 5,000 years of history at the floor of the canyon, including the stone structures and rock art, guests may hire a registered guide. The race is one of the few opportunities that non-Natives will have to enter the canyon without a guide accompanying them. Prior to past races, runners have received an orientation from a park ranger and a tribal elder.

The race is the brainchild of Navajo runner Shaun Martin, who told racers and a reporter from the Deseret News that the idea for the event came to him on a long run. While striding alongside a herd of horses, he realized that he could champion a race through Canyon de Chelly.

Martin had unique qualifications to found the race. He's an exceptional runner who competed at the college level and has since gone on to place at a number of ultramarathons. Martin also coached cross-country running at Chinle High School, where he fostered a number of elite runners who went on to earn college scholarships in a region where many students struggle to find opportunities for post-high-school education. Proceeds from the ultramarathon have been used to provide these Chinle students with shoes, uniforms and even textbooks.

The intangible benefits of the race may be even greater. The ultramarathon honors an ancient tradition of running in the Navajo Nation, and the event itself is draped in ceremony. In the past, Martin has ushered in the start of the run with a story and prayer. Finishers and winners are rewarded with mutton stew, fry bread and locally made artisanal goods like turquoise necklaces, moccasins and blankets.

Runners will tackle a challenging course complete with a 1,200-foot climb out of the canyon. If you'd like a less strenuous visit to Canyon de Chelly, try hiking the national monument's trails or taking the scenic drive. To learn more, visit the monument's website.

— Jason Strykowski

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6 Centuries of Hopi Pottery at Scottsdale Museum

A few of the pieces in "Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks from the Allan and Judith Cooke Collection." | Courtesy of Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West

A Scottsdale museum that recently was gifted a large collection of Hopi pottery will unveil it to the public next month.

Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West, located at 3830 N. Marshall Way in downtown Scottsdale, says more than 65 examples of Hopi pottery, spanning six centuries, will go on display Saturday, September 16, as "Canvas of Clay: Hopi Pottery Masterworks from the Allan and Judith Cooke Collection."

Those pieces are about half of the total collection, which Dr. Allan Cooke, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas, donated to the museum. The museum says the collection includes early black-on-white ware; 14th through 16th century Sikyatki polychrome masterworks; and more fluid, artistic interpretations by 20th and 21st century Hopi potters.

Among the pieces are 18 ceramics by Nampeyo of Hano (1860-1942), which Western Spirit calls "the most famous of the Hopi potters." Twenty-two other master potters, including Nampeyo's daughters and other descendants, are represented in the exhibition, the museum says.

The exhibition will run through December 2019, and through December 2018, Native American visitors to the museum will receive free admission. For others, admission is $13 for adults and $11 for seniors and active military members.

Western Spirit is open Tuesdays through Sundays, and operating hours vary by day. For more information, visit the museum's website.

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Family Camping at State Parks — No Experience Necessary

Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is one of the featured destinations for this fall's Family Campout Program. | Melissa Edwards

An annual Arizona State Parks and Trails program aims to introduce families to the joys of camping in the Grand Canyon State.

The department's Family Campout Program is now accepting registrations for its 2017 fall season, which features seven of the state's most popular parks. The weekend program provides tents, sleeping mats, flashlights, chairs and equipment for activities, which vary depending on the park but include archery, guided hikes, live animal demonstrations, birding and astronomy.

Participants are responsible for bringing sleeping bags, pillows and personal items, plus food for lunch and dinner Saturday and breakfast and lunch Sunday (but the program provides propane stoves for cooking). The program is designed for those with little to no camping experience; they'll learn how to set up a tent and cook outside, along with other outdoors skills.

The Family Campout Program costs $90 for a family of four; additional family members are $5 each, but children under age 5 and pets are not allowed. The fall schedule is as follows:

September 16-17: Cattail Cove State Park, Lake Havasu City
September 23-24: Homolovi State Park, Winslow
October 7-8: Lyman Lake State Park, St. Johns
October 14-15: Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area, Show Low
October 28-29: Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson
November 4-5: Picacho Peak State Park, Eloy
December 2-3: Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction

Space in the program is limited, so you'll want to register soon. For more information about the Family Campout Program, or to register, click here.

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Eclipse 2017: How to See It in Arizona

This total eclipse occurred in a narrow area of the Southern Hemisphere in 2012. | Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Maybe you've heard, but later this month, the U.S. will see its first total solar eclipse since 1979. And even though Arizona isn't in the path of totality, you can still see a partial solar eclipse from this state — if you've got the right equipment.

The August 21 eclipse will be visible throughout the country, but a total eclipse can be seen only in the narrow path of totality, which stretches from Oregon southeast to South Carolina. Those in Arizona will see a partial eclipse, when only part of the sun is obscured by the moon.

The Four Corners area, in the northeast corner of the state, will have Arizona's best view. There, about 78 percent of the sun will be obscured. But Phoenix will see about 63 percent of the sun blocked out; it'll be 70 percent in Flagstaff and 59 percent in Tucson.

In all three cities, the partial eclipse will begin around 9:15 a.m. and end around noon Arizona time. The time of maximum eclipse will be just after 10:30 a.m. Arizona time. (To get data for other areas of Arizona, visit NASA's eclipse website.)

Unlike a total solar eclipse, you can't view a partial solar eclipse with unprotected eyes — you'll damage your eyes or even go blind. But you can buy an inexpensive pair of eclipse glasses on Amazon or at one of many retailers. You also can view it with a telescope if you have a solar filter. (If you don't know if you have a solar filter, you don't have a solar filter.)

If you don't have the glasses or a filtered telescope, here's a low-tech solution: Get two index cards or white pieces of paper, and poke a hole in one of them with a safety pin. Then, hold the card with the hole up to the sun, allowing sunlight to stream through the hole and onto the other card. During the eclipse, you'll see that the projected image of the sun has a "bite" out of it.

If a partial eclipse isn't good enough for you, many organizations, including Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, are holding eclipse-related events that include live streams of the total eclipse. Lowell's event also includes telescopes set up to view the partial eclipse here. And you can watch live streams from various places in the path of totality by visiting this NASA website.

The U.S. won't see another total solar eclipse until April of 2024. And Arizona will have to wait until 2205 to be in the path of a total solar eclipse. The last one to pass over what's now Arizona occurred in 1806.

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Enjoy Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West on New Self-Guided Tour

Taliesin West, Scottsdale | Flickr user Teemu008

The former Arizona headquarters of one of America's greatest architects is introducing a tour that visitors can complete at their own pace.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale launched the At Your Leisure Tour this month; it runs through August 27. From 1 to 2:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, visitors can explore the iconic architecture laboratory's public spaces without a guide or group — though docents will be present in each space to answer questions.

The At Your Leisure Tour costs $26 for adults, $22 for students and $12 for children. And this summer (through August 31), Arizona residents receive 50 percent off this or any other Taliesin West tour.

The new tour comes as part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's celebration of the 150th anniversary of Wright's birth. Wright, who died in 1959 at age 91, created countless designs in his lifetime; more than 500 of them were built, and those include several structures in the Valley of the Sun, including Phoenix's David and Gladys Wright House — recently donated to the foundation's architecture school — and Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.

Taliesin West is located at 12345 N. Taliesin Drive in Scottsdale. For more information, visit

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