Do You Know What to Do During a Dust Storm?

A massive dust storm rolls into the Phoenix area in 2011. | Daniel Bryant

Massive dust storms, or haboobs, are a regular occurrence in Phoenix and other parts of Central Arizona during the summer monsoon. The Valley of the Sun experienced a good one last week, when a mile-high wall of dust rolled through town.

But do you know what to do if you're on the road and a dust storm hits? Here are a few tips from the Arizona Department of Transportation, which promotes dust storm safety via its "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" campaign.

  • Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.
  • If you encounter a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway — do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
  • Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.

Dust storms can be scary, but they usually pass fairly quickly and you can be on your way again.

For more information, visit ADOT's Pull Aside, Stay Alive page.

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Group Seeks Historic Trail Designation for Route 66

Mindy Montoya | Historic Route 66

A national nonprofit group is traveling the country this summer to bring attention to its goal: having America's most famous highway designated a National Historic Trail.

Historic Route 66, which passes through Arizona and seven other states on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles, is the focus of the trip by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, KTAR radio in Phoenix reported. 

The tour is scheduled to be in Arizona July 26-31, although details of the stop had not been worked out. You can visit the National Trust's website for updated information.

It's up to Congress to decide whether something should get the designation. Currently, there are 19 designated National Historic Trails, including the Lewis and Clark route and Alabama's Selma to Montgomery march, KTAR reported.

There's plenty to celebrate about Route 66 in Arizona, as we noted in the May 2015 issue of Arizona Highways. The Grand Canyon State has several surviving segments of the trail that are in use today, including the route from Seligman to Kingman and the drive from Kingman to the Colorado River (via Oatman). Additionally, Petrified Forest National Park is the only National Park Service site that includes a portion of the Mother Road.

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Jaguar Photographed in Arizona Is Believed to Be Dead, Officials Say

This trail camera photo shows a jaguar in the Huachuca Mountains of Southern Arizona. The jaguar is thought to have died recently. | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

One of the only jaguars to be caught on camera in Arizona in recent years is believed to have died, conservationists and federal officials said last month.

As the Associated Press and other outlets reported, the male jaguar, which was photographed in Southern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains in 2016 and 2017, had spot patterns that match a recent photo of a jaguar pelt. The Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project acquired a copy of the photo, and several Arizona Game and Fish Department officials believe it is the same jaguar, the AP reported.

The group did not say where it got the photo and did not know where it was taken, the AP reported.

At one point, jaguars were fairly common in the southern United States, but hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction in the U.S. There are many more jaguars in Mexico, but even there, the big cat occupies only a fraction of its historical range, especially in the country's northern areas.

Another male jaguar, known as El Jefe, is thought to be living in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson. After the apparent death of the other jaguar, El Jefe could be the only jaguar still living north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Feeling Flat: Lessons From a Desert Ordeal

Susan Stocker | Sonoran Desert

Twenty years ago, my dad taught me how to change a car tire.

That's Part 1 of this story. Part 2 was late last month, when I used that knowledge for the first time — and learned some valuable lessons about traveling in Arizona's less-visited areas during the hot summer months.

As I've written on our blog before, my job at Arizona Highways takes me to some interesting places. On a recent assignment, I was in Western Arizona, checking out something for an issue of the magazine that you'll read later this year. And when I say Western Arizona, I mean Western — about two and a half hours northwest of Phoenix, to be exact.

My destination was at the end of a 25-mile dirt road that started smooth and wide, then got rough and narrow. Then it got rougher and narrower. Then it started going over some hills. Then those hills became more like ... well, mountains. But I made it without much trouble, got what I needed and started the drive back to the Valley.

About 5 miles into my return trip, it happened. A strange chime, and a flashing orange light on the dashboard. And a message on the dashboard screen: "Low Tire Pressure."

I should mention at this point that I was driving an Arizona Department of Transportation vehicle, which we often do at the magazine — you might not know this, but Arizona Highways is a division of ADOT. So all these stimuli were unfamiliar to me, but it wasn't hard to figure out what had happened: I hit something, probably a sharp rock, and punctured a tire.

My brain started rationalizing: Maybe it's a slow leak and you can make it back to civilization. I got to a flat part of the road and opened the door. Hissssssssss. I could feel the air rushing out of the tire, which confirmed that I wasn't going much farther on it.

At this point, I should set the scene. I was 20 miles from pavement, on a road that literally has only one destination: a place most sane people don't visit during the summer. I had zero cellphone service; in fact, I'd noticed that my signal had disappeared shortly after I'd gotten on the dirt road. I was in an unfamiliar car, and I wasn't sure how well the emergency jack would work on dirt. Oh, and did I mention that the car's temperature gauge read 114 degrees when I stopped?

In short, if I didn't get the spare tire on the car, I was going to be there awhile. I knew this, and I'm pretty proud of myself for not panicking. Not when I couldn't find the lug wrench (it was attached to the jack). Not when I couldn't get the lug nuts off (I finally got them to budge with a good kick on the wrench). And not when I started jacking up the car and the jack dug ever so slightly into the dirt (it ended up working just fine).

Once I got the spare on, I had to nurse the car another 20 miles back to the paved road with no further margin for error. Thankfully, I made it without more trouble, and my day trip ended with me at home on my couch, rather than rationing water in the Sonoran Desert.

I told my dad about it later. "Not panicking is half the battle," he said. So that was one thing I did right. The other: I told my wife where I was going and when she could expect me back. If I hadn't come home that night, she would have known something was wrong and been able to give the authorities a general idea of where I was. In all likelihood, I would have survived, even if the tire change had gone awry.

But I could have done some other things differently. For one, I didn't take enough water — because I didn't think I'd need it, because I wouldn't be out there long. But you never really know how long you'll be out there, do you?

It also would have been wise to travel with someone — a friend, a co-worker, whomever. That person might not have been much help in this situation, but two people usually make better decisions than one person does. And if your traveling companion has a different cellphone provider, maybe he or she will be able to get a signal when you can't.

Finally, I should have filled up the gas tank before hitting the dirt road. I had about half a tank when the tire blew, but a full tank would have bought me some more air conditioning time in the event I got stuck out there.

I guess the best way to put this is that even though I made it out of this situation fine, I'd give myself a C-plus, at best. And in some situations, that wouldn't have been good enough. I'm learning from my mistakes, though. As I'm writing this, I'm out on another assignment, this one in Southern Arizona. It's still hot, and I'm still bumping over dirt roads with rocks jutting out of them. But this time, I'm keeping the gas tank full. And taking more water than I normally drink in a week.

I'm still traveling solo, though. (Nobody's perfect.)

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, July 1936

From the issue: "View of lofty San Francisco Peaks from the South, three miles from Flagstaff on the Fort Valley road, quaking aspen in the foreground. The 12,468-foot summit is reached via a 16-mile highway and a short hike. Photo by Norman G. Wallace." (The highway mentioned here is now the Weatherford Trail, and the hike to the top of Humphreys Peak is about 9 miles round-trip.)

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An 'outLANDish' Look at Arizona's Fossil Creek

Courtesy of Your Forests Your Future

A recent episode of a forest-themed podcast explored one of Arizona's most popular recreation destinations.

Fossil Creek was the focus of the "outLANDish" podcast, which is produced by Your Forests Your Future — a project by the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations. The project, according to its website, is "a national campaign to get Americans involved in shaping the future of their forests."

Of the Fossil Creek podcast, the group had this to say: "On this episode of outLANDish, we explore one of our nation's raddest rivers, hidden in the great Arizona desert. Fossil Creek was one of the last hideouts of the Apache, subject to power plants and dams, hosts a Shangri-La of hot springs. Tune in for the adventure on this Wild & Scenic River."

You can listen to the podcast right here, or on the Your Forests Your Future 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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Q&A: International Honors for Tucson Thai Chef

Courtesy of Senae Thai Bistro

Since 1987, chef Amonwadee “Dee” Buizer has been cooking up unique Thai dishes at restaurants around the country. In 2016, she opened upscale Thai restaurant Senae Thai Bistro in Tucson, where she strives to create fresh, creative cuisine that stays true to her Thai roots.

Senae Thai was recently awarded the official Thai Select Distinction by the Thai Ministry of Commerce, an honor that is meant to recognize and promote authentic Thai cuisine worldwide. Shortly after receiving this honor, Buzier was one of only seven chefs from the United States selected to attend the recent THAIFEX 2018 International Trade Exhibition in Bangkok.

Buizer just returned from THAIFEX, and we asked her to tell us about her recent trip and what inspires her in the kitchen. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in Arizona.
I came to the U.S. from Bangkok at 11 years old, when I was starting sixth grade. I opened my first restaurant, Sweet Basil, in Berkeley, California, with my sister in 1987. Then I opened two other restaurants with my siblings in Los Gatos and San Francisco. Jim, my husband, swept me off my feet and took me to Washington, D.C., and there we raised our children. I had the opportunity to open a restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2000, and while we were operating that restaurant, my husband was recruited by Arizona State University.

We decided that we would move westward, and I took some time off to raise our children while in Tempe. All the while, the University of Arizona was recruiting Jim to come and work with the climate scientists in Tucson. After our daughter graduated high school, we moved down to Tucson, and I discovered there are not many Thai restaurants, and a lot of them are a mixture of other Asian cuisines, so I opened Senae Thai in July of 2016.

Was cooking a big part of your life growing up? How did you become a chef?
My mom was a wonderful cook; she actually opened the very first Thai restaurant in San Francisco back in 1968 with her sister. When I was in high school I watched her in the restaurant and learned from her, but as a teenager I thought I would never open a restaurant.

As an adult I found a passion for cooking because as I traveled, I was attracted to various types of food and wanted to learn how they were prepared. After coming back from trips, I would try to imitate the flavors. Back then we didn’t have Google, which would’ve made my life much easier, but that was a challenge that I put on myself to be able to re-create wonderful dishes while also refining my skills.

How would you describe your cooking style and what inspires you in the kitchen?
I try to source locally and work with the freshest ingredients I can possibly attain. I don’t drown my food in spices, but rather let the natural flavor of each of the ingredients shine on their own. I make sure all the flavors are there in one dish, well balanced, but you can distinctively taste each of the flavors in each dish. In Thai cuisine you have spicy, sour, sweet all nicely blended.

I would say people inspire me to be creative in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking for people and getting to please their palates as best I can. In the presentation of my food, I use the food itself to present it in a beautiful manner. My philosophy is you need to please the eyes before you please the stomach. When you do that, then you enjoy the dish even more.

What do you feel sets Senae Thai Bistro apart from other Thai restaurants in Arizona?
I believe the great attention to detail of freshness of the food and the refinement of my cooking, as well as presentation of the food and ambience of the dining room. My dining room is like my extended living room; I want people to feel warm and welcome. When people think of upscale restaurants, they usually think they have to dress up and pretend not to be themselves when they eat. But in my dining room, people do feel comfortable being there and enjoy their evening, while it’s still upscale. My kitchen is also semi-open and you can really see its beauty.

Each wine on the menu is nicely paired with the food that we offer, and it’s a pretty extensive selection for a Thai restaurant. I believe I have the best pad Thai in town, but I have other beautiful dishes that people should come and try.

Your restaurant was recently awarded the Thai Select Distinction. How did you feel when you received this honor?
I had no idea such an award existed, and a person called me from the Thai Ministry of Commerce Thai Trade Center in Los Angeles and said they were coming to my restaurant and they wanted to present this award to me. The award was wonderful, and it truly affirms what I was doing here after all these years in the restaurant industry.

You were also selected to attend the THAIFEX 2018 International Trade Exhibition in Bangkok. What was that experience like?
When I was invited, I was excited and at disbelief, actually, to be one of 32 chefs worldwide and one of seven out of the States who were invited. It’s such a great honor. The purpose of the trip was to thank us for doing such a good job of cooking Thai food abroad and maintaining the authenticity, as well as being creative and innovative. In addition to that, they wanted us to explore the options of perhaps using other Thai products in each of our restaurants.

The event itself was three full days of so much food, every day, all day long. There were thousands and thousands of ideas and products that I saw at THAIFEX. I met with the Top Chef of Thailand 2017 and Iron Chef of Thailand 2018; that was really exciting, and they actually cooked for us.

It was great to share knowledge and ideas with chefs from around the world. I loved visiting different places in Bangkok to get some new ideas to improve or introduce in my Thai cooking here in America.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs and restaurant owners?
You have to be passionate about what you do. That’s the driving force for me. It’s hard work. I love to cook, but it’s really hard work. Without passion, I don’t think one can exist in the restaurant industry so well.

Senae Thai Bistro is located at 63 E Congress Street in Tucson. To learn more, visit www.senaethai.com.

-- Emily Balli

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