3 Arizona Restaurants Honored by James Beard Foundation

Fry Bread House, Phoenix | Via Facebook

An upscale Paradise Valley restaurant, a Tucson fast food joint and a Phoenix eatery named for a Native American staple have all received an honor from a prestigious dining organization.

El Chorro Lodge, El Guero Canelo and the Fry Bread House are among the new America's Classics Awards winners from the James Beard Foundation. The awards, created in 1998, recognize locally owned restaurants that serve "quality food that reflects the character of their communities."

It's actually the second such honor for the Fry Bread House, which received the same award in 2012. The Phoenix restaurant, which opened in 1992 and moved to a new location on Seventh Avenue in 2013, serves fry bread and other Native American dishes.

El Chorro Lodge in Paradise Valley specializes in upscale American fare, while Tucson's El Guero Canelo, which started as a hot dog stand, serves Sonoran-style Mexican fare.

For the complete list of America's Classics Award winners nationwide, click here.

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Exotic Fish With Teeth Like Human's Found in Tucson Lake

An example of a pacu, a South American fish species known for having teeth like those of a human. | Creative Commons

An Arizona fisherman got a toothy surprise recently when he caught a fish native to South America in Tucson's Silverbell Lake.

As The Arizona Republic and other media outlets reported, Jeff Evans was fishing on the north side of the lake January 12 when he caught a pacu — a fish species known for its teeth, which are uncannily similar to those of a human.

If that seems like the stuff of nightmares ... well, we can understand, especially since pacus are related to piranhas. But pacus mostly eat plants, experts say — even though Evans told The Republic that this pacu tried to bite him a few times.

How did this pacu end up in Silverbell Lake? It likely was dumped there by someone who bought it as a pet, then released it when it grew too large, according to a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Doing so with an invasive species can crowd out the native and stocked fish in a waterway, the department said.

The species is on Game and Fish's list of species that cannot be purchased in Arizona without a permit, but illicit purchases still occur, officials said. One Game and Fish worker said he's seen 10 to 12 pacus caught in the state over his 26-year career.

The department advised anyone in a similar predicament with a pet pacu to find another way to deal with it — such as by returning the pacu to the pet store.

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Poaching, Other Game Violations Spur $75K in Fines in Arizona

Susan Beebe | Show Low

The Arizona Game and Fish Department issued 76 citations totaling nearly $75,000 in fines in 2017, the department said in a news release last week.

Of the 76 citations, 55 were for the illegal taking of big game, such as deer and elk, the department said. Other infractions included fishing violations, feeding wildlife and the illegal taking of raptors.

Game and Fish said in 2017, it received nearly 1,100 phone calls and online submissions to its Operation Game Thief program, which encourages the public to report suspicious activity. Nearly a third of those reports were regarding illegal taking of big game, the department said.

The department also revoked 51 hunting or fishing licenses last year as part of the penalty for violations. One of those was a lifetime revocation.

The $74,500 in fines goes into a fund that pays for Operation Game Thief rewards and promotion, the department said. Game and Fish receives no general-fund money from the state. Any meat that is seized from hunters is typically inspected, then donated to charity.

Game and Fish noted that mistakes and accidents happen, and that the department works with hunters and anglers who immediately self-report a violation via the Operation Game Thief hotline or online form.

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Fountain Hills Receives Rare Honor for Dark-Sky Preservation

A full moon illuminates the night sky over the Fountain Hills fountain. | Rob Mains / Courtesy of International Dark-Sky Association

The town of Fountain Hills, on the edge of the Phoenix area, is best known for its namesake 560-foot water feature. Now, it's getting worldwide recognition for something even higher in the sky.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has named Fountain Hills an International Dark Sky Community. It's the 17th city or town worldwide to receive that honor; it's also only the second such community to be located near a major metropolitan area. The IDA works to preserve areas of darkness so that stars, galaxies and other celestial wonders remain visible at night.

Scott Feierabend, the IDA's executive director, called the designation "an important moment for the movement to preserve dark skies in the American West."

A group of Fountain Hills citizens, who later formed the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association, began pursuing the designation three years ago, partly out of concern that the advent of bright LED lights would contribute to light pollution. As a result of the group's efforts, the town's outdoor lighting and sign ordinances were updated to address new causes of light pollution.

Mayor Linda Kavanagh said the town has pursued dark-sky-friendly policies since its incorporation in 1989. Many residents attend local star parties or even maintain domed observatories in their backyards.

Arizona's other International Dark Sky Communities are Flagstaff, Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek and the Kaibab Paiute Tribe's land. The IDA also designates International Dark Sky Parks, and that list includes several sites in Arizona. In addition to Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant, Wupatki, Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon national monuments are on the list, as are Oracle and Kartchner Caverns state parks.

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Horse Racing Could Soon Return to Prescott Valley Facility

Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley hasn't hosted a horse race since 2010. | Google Maps screenshot

A Central Arizona facility that's been closed since 2010 has new owners and could soon resume hosting horse racing, according to media reports.

The Arizona Republic reported last week that Prescott Valley's Yavapai Downs has been bought by JACOR Partners, a Phoenix-based development company, for $3.22 million. The 90,000-square-foot facility opened in 2001 at a cost of $23 million, but it canceled its 2011 season due to financial troubles and hasn't hosted a race since.

A JACOR representative told The Republic that the company plans to host horse races in summer, when Prescott Valley is significantly cooler than the Phoenix area. That would continue a long tradition in the Prescott area: Yavapai Downs replaced the old Prescott Downs, which started hosting races in the early 1900s.

The new owners plan to invest heavily in improvements to the facility, The Republic reported. No opening date was specified.

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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, January 1967

From the issue: "'Beavertail Cactus.' M. Paul Jarrett. From Wickenburg take Arizona 93, about five miles north of the overpass at the junction of the Aguila-Congress Road, turn off onto the Alamo Road. About five miles out on the Alamo Road is a cattle guard. From there on is one of the best displays of Beavertail Cacti and Joshua trees to be found." (Disclaimer: We have no idea if this is still the case 51 years later.)

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Key I-10 Rest Area Closes for Renovation

The Sacaton Rest Area on Interstate 10 will be closed for about six months. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

Upgrades and renovations will close a rest area along Interstate 10 south of Phoenix for about six months, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced this month.

The Sacaton Rest Area, between Phoenix and Casa Grande, closed January 8, according to an ADOT news release. Both the eastbound and westbound components of the rest area will close for the $4 million renovation, the department said.

ADOT is making upgrades to the rest area to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's also replacing a water line, septic tanks and sewer lines; upgrading the rest area's electrical and mechanical systems; and painting the facility.

Because of the closure, the nearest facilities for travelers on that part of I-10 will be in the Phoenix and Casa Grande areas and on Gila River Indian Community land.

Other upcoming renovations of ADOT rest areas include Interstate 19's Canoa Ranch Rest Area, this spring; the Meteor Crater and Painted Cliffs rest areas on Interstate 40, in 2019; and the Mazatzal Rest Area on State Route 87, in 2020.

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Q&A: Lowell Observatory Adding Observation Deck

This rendering shows the Giovale Open Deck Observatory, a project planned for Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory. | Courtesy of Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff has announced plans to create a new observation deck to help with its increasing number of visitors each night.

According to the observatory, the new deck will be named in honor of longtime Lowell supporters and advisers John and Ginger Giovale, who made a lead gift for the project. “One of the things that prompted us to support this project is the vision being developed there at Lowell Observatory for major revamping of the campus and the visitors' experience," John Giovale said. "We saw this telescope plaza as a way in which momentum may be created towards that bigger objective, that bigger vision. And we were excited about that.”

Molly Baker, communications manager at Lowell, said the Giovale Open Deck Observatory project is “only the beginning of an exciting five-year-long expansion for Lowell Observatory.” The expansion is slated to include more room for exhibits, a larger visitors center and even a theater.

Baker shared additional details on the new observation deck.

Why is an additional deck needed at the observatory?
Lowell Observatory has been attracting 100,000 visitors for the last several years, and our original Mars Hill facility simply can't handle our average nightly admission anymore. The Giovale Open Deck Observatory will provide more telescopes for more guests without the long lines and wait time, and also without the hassle of pulling the telescopes out every night, as the roof housing them will roll off and they can stay stationary.

How many additional telescopes will the observatory house?
The GODO will house five telescopes, all of which provide a different view for the observer. It was important to Lowell Observatory that these new telescopes be of the highest technology, as it is our goal to be a premier private observatory in the nation and internationally.

When is the Giovale Open Deck Observatory expected to open to visitors?
Construction is scheduled to begin this spring. As long as everything goes smoothly, we expect to open the GODO in a members-only sneak peek, and then to the general public, in fall of 2018.

The observatory has created a "Telescope Wish List." What is needed, and how can people donate?
While the construction of the deck is fully funded by the generosity of the Giovales, we are still searching for funding of the large cost of the telescopes. These telescopes add up to a large sum, as they are the best in the industry.

As a nonprofit, Lowell Observatory funds our public program and science research purely on the generosity of our members, donors and grants. This is all possible because of people, like the Giovales, who believe in the mission of Lowell Observatory: to bring pure science research to the public, making discovery accessible to everyone.

People who wish to donate can do so by visiting our website or contacting our development manager, Lisa Actor, at [email protected].

— Kirsten Kraklio

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Recent Dry Spell Was Arizona's Longest in Nearly 700 Years, Scientists Say

Adrienne McLeod | Saguaro National Park

Arizona's ongoing drought can claim another dubious distinction, according to a study by scientists at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The scientists say a recent six-year stretch of below-average river flow, which ended in 2017, was the longest such stretch since the 1300s. Before that recent dry spell, the longest stretch without a year of above-average flow was five years, the Phoenix New Times reported last month.

The LTRR scientists based their study on tree-ring data, using that information to estimate the flow levels of rivers that provide water to the Phoenix area and other parts of Central Arizona.

While the stretch of below-average river flow was broken by a wet winter in 2017, Arizona remains in the throes of a 21-year period of abnormally precipitation. That's expected to continue for several years, and it could soon trigger a reduction of water allocations to the state from Lake Mead — which currently is at 39 percent of capacity, the New Times reported.

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