SR 260 Expansion Set for Fall Completion

One of the new roundabouts on State Route 260 between Camp Verde and Cottonwood. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX – Work on the 9-mile State Route 260 widening project that will enhance travel and mobility between Camp Verde and Cottonwood is in the final stages leading up to completion this fall.

Currently, traffic is using one lane in each direction along the new alignment and using all seven roundabout intersections between Interstate 17 and Thousand Trails Road. Crews are finishing the curbs of roundabouts and installing permanent road signs along the project area.

Once the curbs and signs are complete, crews will add another layer of pavement to the highway. This process will take several weeks. After that, crews will lay the top layer of pavement known as friction course. They will then return a few weeks after that to lay down permanent striping.

In addition to the seven roundabout intersections, the widening project also features a multiuse path between Wilshire and Cherry Creek roads that was completed in May and a new bridge over Cherry Creek that was completed in January.

For more information on this $62 million project, visit azdot.gov/projects and click on North Central District.

Real-time highway conditions are available on ADOT’s Arizona Traveler Information site at az511.gov, by calling 511 and through ADOT’s Twitter feed, @ArizonaDOT. When a freeway closure or other major traffic event occurs, our free app available at ADOTAlerts.com will send critical information directly to app users in affected areas – where possible, in advance of alternate routes.

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ASU Makes Sierra Club 'Cool Schools' List

Tempe Town Lake is the centerpiece of the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, where Arizona State University's main campus is located. | Dana Smith Northey

The national magazine of the Sierra Club says Arizona's largest university is also one of the greenest colleges around.

Sierra magazine, in its annual "Cool Schools" ranking released late last month, ranked Arizona State University fifth in the country out of 269 schools that participated in the ranking of North America's greenest colleges and universities.

The organization says the schools ranked in the top 20 "have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibilities."

Researchers for the Sierra Club ranked the universities based on their commitment to high environmental standards, the group says.

The top spot on the list was a tie between the University of California-Irvine and Vermont's Green Mountain College. There were no other Arizona schools on the list, but others in the region included Colorado State University (fourth), California State University-Chico (ninth), Santa Clara University (13th) and Loyola Marymount University (19th).

You can view the full rankings and learn about each of the schools on the list on the Sierra Club's website.

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Throwback Thursday: September 1945

From the issue: "On the front cover is a picture of M W Larry Domino the 29th, top Hereford herd sire of the 1945 Tucson Livestock Show, sold for $10,000 to the Sears-Roebuck Foundation and presented to the University of Arizona last fall." The name of the girl is not included, nor is the name of the photographer.

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California Condor Release Set for Next Weekend

A California condor. | Courtesy of John Sherman

The public can get a rare glimpse of one of the world's rarest birds at an annual Northern Arizona event next weekend.

On Saturday, September 22, at 11 a.m., The Peregrine Fund will release captive-bred California condors from holding pens atop the Vermilion Cliffs, north of the Grand Canyon. (The event was originally scheduled for September 29, but it's been rescheduled to coincide with National Public Lands Day.)

The public can view the release from an observation area below the cliffs, along House Rock Valley Road (Bureau of Land Management Road 1065). Spotting scopes will be provided, but visitors can take their own scopes or binoculars. They also should bring sunscreen, water, a chair, a hat and layered clothing, The Peregrine Fund says.

As Arizona Highways reported in 2015, there are fewer than 100 California condors in the wild in Arizona and Utah. The species has been decimated by poisoning from lead bullets in carcasses scavenged by the birds, and the condors nearly went extinct in the early 1980s. The Peregrine Fund conducts releases of captive-bred condors every September, and the birds later make their way to places such as Navajo Bridge and the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

For more information about next weekend's release event, visit the Condor Cliffs Facebook page.

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'The Thing' Opens Expanded Museum

The Thing | Via Facebook

If you've driven Interstate 10 in Southeastern Arizona, you've seen the billboards for "The Thing," the roadside attraction 17 miles east of Benson. Maybe you've even stopped to try to answer the question on those billboards: "What Is It?" (We're not exactly sure ourselves.)

Now, the attraction's operators have opened an expanded museum to give motorists more reasons to pull off the road.

Bowlin Travel Centers says the new 30,000-square-foot facility is more than three times as big as the previous museum, which was made up of several buildings. It also is climate-controlled and incorporates the site's Dairy Queen restaurant, an expanded retail space and more, the group says.

The new retail space offers handcrafted Indian jewelry, Southwestern merchandise and museum souvenirs.

"The Thing" dates to the late 1960s, when Thomas Binkley Prince built a tourist stop around his colleciton of oddities and unique items. It's since been the subject of numerous news stories, many of which attempt to identify what "The Thing" is. We won't bother. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.

For more information on "The Thing," visit www.bowlinsthething.com.

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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 www.appleannies.com.

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Throwback Thursday: September 1929

From the issue: "Bridal Veil Falls on the Little Colorado River below Cameron. It is one of Arizona's beauty spots seldom visited, and it ranks with the scenic spots of Yosemite National Park." (This actually appears to be Havasu Falls on Havasu Creek, not the Little Colorado River. Havasu Falls was known as Bridal Veil Falls before a 1910 flood changed its appearance.)

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Sedona Launches 'Straw Free' Program

Grant Morgan | Sedona

One of Arizona's best-known destinations is seeking to encourage its restaurants to discontinue offering plastic straws to patrons.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau launched the Straw Free Sedona program last week, the chamber said in a news release. The campaign invites businesses in the Red Rock Country city to pledge to stop providing single-use plastic straws, and to provide only paper straws if requested by customers.

The chamber says the campaign comes in response to alarming statistics about how much plastic makes its way into the world's oceans.

"As the public becomes increasingly informed about the detrimental effects that single-use plastics have on the environment, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and other organizers of Straw Free Sedona are proud to be acting for a more sustainable future," said Jennifer Wesselhoff, the chamber's president and CEO. She added that the campaign is the first step toward making Sedona "the most sustainable destination in the USA."

Organizers noted that some customers, particularly children and people with disabilities, may require straws. They said those patrons should be offered paper straws, which are a more environmentally friendly alternative.

To learn more about the campaign, visit www.strawfreesedona.com.

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Scottsdale's History on Display at Exhibition

A golfer at Scottsdale's Ingleside Inn in the 1910s. | Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art

An exhibition opening today in Scottsdale features photos of life in the city's early days.

Historic Scottsdale: Live, Work and Play in the Early 20th Century runs through October 31 at the Gallery @ Appaloosa Library, located at 7377 E. Silverstone Drive. The exhibition, according to a news release, is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Scottsdale City Hall and the Civic Center Library in October 1968.

Visitors to the library exhibition will see dozens of historic photographs from 50 to 100 years ago, organizers said. The collection was curated by Wendy Raisanen, curator of collections and exhibitions for Scottsdale Public Art. Subjects include people shopping for groceries, building canals, hunting and riding in early automobiles, according to the news release.

"It's a perfect time to reflect on the history of every corner of Scottsdale and the men and women who comprise our history," community historian Joan Fudala said.

The library is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit www.scottsdalepublicart.org or call 480-874-4645.

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Q&A: A Unique Art Style, a Unique Setting

Courtesy of Michelle Condrat

The 10th annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art begins this weekend (Saturday, September 8), and artists will once again be welcomed to the national park for a week to create "en plein air" landscape art that will then be on display into January. One of those artists, Michelle Condrat, has known since she was a child that she wanted to have a career in the arts. We spoke with her about the upcoming event and her unique painting style.

What drew you to landscapes?
I really like being outdoors; I like to go hiking and fishing, things like that. I’ve always liked nature a lot, and I like painting things that I enjoy. I’ve always been drawn to the landscape.

How did you get involved with the Celebration of Art event?
I’ve done other plein air events before. My most major one was a Zion National Park plein air event, and someone from the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art saw my work there and really liked it. They told me to apply to the show, so I did. My first year was in 2016.

Describe your artistic style.
My style is definitely different from a lot of the other artists. It’s more of a modern impressionist style. Some people think it’s almost geometric.

It’s developed over the years. Back in high school and most of my college days, I was a really traditional artist, very photorealistic. I just slowly developed it. I was really interested in breaking up edges of things, and the whole horizontal and vertical strokes started developing, and I liked playing around with that. It lends itself really well to the landscape and red rock, because it’s already so linear. My style gives paintings a bit of movement, and I really like that, so it’s not just a still picture of a landscape. I want to give a little bit of life to my painting.

How did people react to your different painting style?
Within the past five or six years, people have really liked it. But when I first started, I don’t think people really knew what to think. I got a lot of funny looks, like people didn’t really get it, because they were used to seeing more traditional styles for plein air paintings. People slowly accepted it, and as they saw it more, I think they really got used to it and embraced it.

What keeps you coming back to the event?
I really like the group of people, the artists and coordinators. And just the fact that it’s the Grand Canyon. It’s a really special place to visit. I know people travel from all over the world to see it, and I feel really honored that I get invited to be there. I really enjoy painting it — it’s challenging, but I really like it.

To see more of Condrat’s art, visit her website. To learn more about the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, visit the event’s website.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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