A Different Kind of Flying: Vintage Stunt Championships Mark 30th Anniversary

Vintage Stunt Championships participants show off their control-line model airplanes. | Courtesy of Jim Hoffman

Thirty years ago, at Whittier Narrows in Southern California, a group of hobbyists gathered to compete in a contest dedicated to a cherished childhood pastime: flying control-line model airplanes. These planes, controlled by 60-foot cables and an internal combustion engine, were popular from the 1940s to the 1970s, before radio-controlled airplanes became the norm.

Since 1988, the event, now known as the Vintage Stunt Championships, has been held annually in Tucson, and today, it's the largest control-line event in the Southwest. Although the control-line model-airplane community is relatively small, hundreds of people turn out each year for the VSC, which this year is March 13-17.

A variety of competitions are planned. The stunt contests start early each morning, because of more ideal weather conditions. During these contests, each pilot performs a series of tricks with his or her plane in about six minutes, then receives a score from the judges on how perfect their loops, figure-eights and other maneuvers were. There are several different specialized stunt contests individuals can compete, such as Ringmaster, Super 70s, Old Time and Classic. Each has its own set of rules.

A fan favorite of the VSC is the appearance competition. Unlike more modern model airplanes, these planes are never bought from a craft store. Each plane is meticulously handcrafted and hand-painted, and takes hours to complete. The planes are laid out in rows on the ground, and judges then arrange them from best to worst appearance. According to VSC contest director Jim Hoffman, this is one of the most popular parts of the competition, because everyone is together and can see all the beautifully made planes at once.

Because flying control-line model airplanes is a hobby of the past, the VSC is a chance not only to compete, but also to celebrate history and keep the tradition alive. A new and popular part of the VSC is the exhibition event. Participants are invited to bring a unique item related to control-line model planes from the past and show it off. This event isn’t a competition and is open to anyone who has something special they want to share.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the event, for the first time since the first VSC back in 1988, all the contestants will pose for a group photo. Although the participants come to Tucson to compete, Hoffman said for him and many others, it’s really about the community that has formed over 30 years.

“Most of us have been doing this most of our lives, we all know each other, and there’s a camaraderie that goes with that,” Hoffman said. “People go there for the camaraderie and to see the airplanes and to be together more than the actual competition. As much as I enjoy all the other stuff, the hugs and the gratitude from so many people that have become lifelong friends are really my favorite part.”

The Vintage Stunt Championships, March 13-17, will take place at Christopher Columbus Park and the Hotel Tucson City Center. Admission is free. To learn more, visit www.azucontrol.org/vsc.html or contact Jim Hoffman at 480-329-3316 or [email protected]net.

— Emily Balli

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New Sites Added to Forest Service's Cabin Rental Program

One of the common buildings at Big Springs Cabins. | Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service has added two remote locations near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to its Rooms With a View cabin-rental program.

Both sites, Big Springs Cabins and Jumpup Cabin, are in the Kaibab National Forest's North Kaibab Ranger District. And according to Forest Service archaeologist Jeremy Haines, both offer "a great tipping-off point for numerous hiking and biking adventures."

Big Springs Cabins, on Forest Road 22, has six cabins available to rent. Each cabin has two twin-size beds and one full-size bed, and the cabins share a shower house, fully furnished kitchen and dining hall. As the Forest Service notes, it's a good base camp for day hikes on the Kaibab Plateau or the North RIm.

Jumpup Cabin, on the edge of the Kanab Creek Wilderness, is more rustic and has fewer amenities, but it includes a two-room cabin and a composting toilet. There is no electricity, propane or running water at this site.

Both sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while both sites aren't open until later this year, reservations are being accepted now via the Recreation.gov links above.

To learn more about the Rooms With a View program, click here.

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Wickenburg's Gold Rush Days: A Step Back in Time

Courtesy of Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce

They travel from the north, south, east and west. They come from far away and from just down the road. Every year, thousands of people from all over the country travel to Wickenburg to celebrate the historic town’s rich mining and ranching heritage at Gold Rush Days. This year is especially significant for Gold Rush Days, as it’s the 70th anniversary of the event — as well as Wickenburg’s 155th birthday.

The four-day event, running February 8-11, is jam-packed with a variety of Western-themed activities and performances, both free and paid.

The festivities kick off Thursday, February 8, with a Wickenburg history exhibit at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a carnival and a performance by the 3 Red Neck Tenors.

The rest of the weekend, eventgoers can check out the classic-car show on Frontier Street, wander around the arts and crafts fair at the Wickenburg Community Center, watch mining contests or catch one of the melodrama performances at the historic Saguaro Theatre.

Year after year, the most popular of the many Gold Rush Days events are usually the parade and the rodeo, said Julie Brooks, executive director of the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s parade, recognized as the fourth-largest in Arizona, will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. and will feature close to a thousand horses. The parade’s theme is “Ropin’ the West,” and the grand marshal will be Cody Custer, a Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association world champion.

The Senior Pro Rodeo Slack will take place Friday, February 9, at 11 a.m., and the Senior Pro Rodeo will be on Saturday and Sunday, February 10 and 11, at 2 p.m. Both will be held at the Everett Bowman Arena.

Admission to most of the activities are free, but tickets must be purchased for the rodeo, the melodrama and the Thursday and Friday night concerts. You can pay at the gate, but it's recommended that you purchase tickets in advance online, at www.outwickenburgway.com.

Those who live in Arizona’s fourth-oldest town seem to always look forward to Gold Rush Days because they’re able to show off not only the town’s long-standing traditions, but also all the other great things Wickenburg has to offer, Brooks said.

“The whole town is very thrilled with this signature event, because it’s a wonderful time in Arizona, weather-wise, and there’s a number of things that visitors can do besides all the things that are a part of our schedule of activities,” she said.

“We have local restaurants, hiking trails, a beautiful Western museum, concerts at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts and horseback riding. They can do a lot of things during that weekend that would bring them to stay a little longer than just for the special event,” she added.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary, a limited-edition poster was designed by Maverick Engelhart. You can buy one, or learn more about Gold Rush Days, by contacting the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce. at www.wickenburgchamber.com or 928-684-5479.

Find a full schedule of events and ticket prices at www.outwickenburgway.com.

— Emily Balli

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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 www.colossalcave.com.

— 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 www.vvarchcenter.org.

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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 www.meteorcrater.com.

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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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