Grand Canyon Ranger Wins Prestigious Award

One of the 76 entries left on a typewriter at the Grand Canyon's Plateau Point during the "Towers & Type" project.

A ranger at Grand Canyon National Park has been selected to receive a prestigious award for an innovative project at one of the park's remote viewpoints.

Elyssa Shalla is being honored with the Intermountain Region 2018 Freeman Tilden Award, the park announced in a news release last month. (Readers of Arizona Highways might remember Shalla from Now Performing, a profile by Nikki Buchanan in our February 2015 issue.)

The award honors a project Shalla created at Plateau Point, a vista accessed via a 6-mile hike from the Canyon's South Rim (via Indian Garden). For the project, "Towers & Type," Shalla set up a typewriter at Plateau Point and invited hikers to share their thoughts over a three-day period. As she explains on the project's website:

I was seventeen years old when I acquired this typewriter from the Iowa City Goodwill store. Its mustard accents, the crisp reflexes of its keys, and its sturdy traveling case were worth the five dollar price tag. Neglected in my parents’ basement, I rediscovered it a decade later, stashed it in the trunk of my car and drove it west to Grand Canyon National Park. A couple of years after that, it was packed down the Bright Angel Trail in the pannier of a mule named Cookie. In the final 48 hours of 2017 a new ribbon was installed and it was carried in a backpack from Indian Garden to the edge of the Tonto platform. ...

During three days of unseasonably warm weather, the typewriter was placed at Plateau Point with an invitation for visitors to reflect on their experience and type a note on the analog machine. A total of 76 entries were left behind.

Shalla now will represent the Park Service's Intermountain Region in the national Tilden Award competition. The national winner will be announced later this month.

At the time she was profiled by Arizona Highways, Shalla was a park ranger at Indian Garden. She now works for the Park Service's Division of Interpretation as a seasonal supervisor in the North Rim and Canyon District.

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Thunderbird Park: An Evening Lesson

Bradley Crim | Sonoran Desert

EDITOR'S NOTE: We occasionally receive poetry submissions from our readers, and while we no longer publish those submissions in the magazine, we occasionally feature them on our blog. Mark Cooney recently sent us this one. Thanks for sharing, Mark.


Thunderbird Park - an Evening Lesson
By Mark Cooney, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Sonoran Desert
To some desolate and bleak
To be conquered, overcome
But it signals with its beauties and frustrations
To mankind

Palo Verde's green tangled serpents
Foreground to sun's scarlet farewell
Yonder rough hewn peaks
Nearby crags of slate gray rocks
Look scorched from desert kiln
Behind last light illuminates
Sandpaper desert peaks
Amid electric buzz of cicadas

Desert breeze pulses
Like breath of a dragon
The city encroaches
On this desert preserve
People settle here by millions
But the desert reacts subtly
Beyond its fiery rebuttal

Palo Verde, like brood of snakes
Fights against the workman's saw
Somber rock walls say
"Try to conquer me"
And cicada's electric buzz says
"Do not bother me"

The desert cries like you or I
"I want to live - to fight another day"

Thunderbird Park,  Phoenix, Arizona  7/2005

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New Prescott Center Honors Hotshots

Courtesy of Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center

It's been more than five years since 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. Since then, several memorials, including Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, have been created to honor the fallen firefighters.

In June came the latest addition: the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center, a permanent museum where visitors can honor the hotshots, learn more about the Yarnell Hill Fire and view thousands of items of tribute.

When news broke that the 19 hotshots had died, a massive outpouring of love and support came not only from the community of Yarnell, but from around the world. Thousands of items of tribute — including letters, T-shirts, artwork and other memorabilia — were left along the fence of the crew's Fire Station 7. The items remained along the fence until September 2013, when volunteers formed the Tribute Fence Preservation Project and took the time to carefully remove, catalog and photograph them. Once the more than 9,000 items were cataloged, they were made available to view digitally and then placed in a Prescott building, where they mostly remained in boxes for the next four years.

As the years went by, Prescott community members, volunteers, friends and family of the fallen hotshots felt it was time to put the items on display. In 2017, Diane Clevenger and her husband, Jack, worked with fellow community member Nancy Christie to champion the creation of a tribute center.

“Each year there were smaller and smaller remembrances for the 19,” said Diane Clevenger, who now is a board member at the center. “People started saying, ‘We have to have something in Prescott to commemorate the 19. We need to have a place or something.’”

After dozens of meetings, the museum began to take shape. Clevenger and other newly appointed board members partnered with Prescott to lease a space inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, and on June 29, a day before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center opened to the public. On the first weekend, nearly 700 people visited.

At the center, visitors can see permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on paying homage to each of the hotshots, wildfire education and memorabilia from the fence at Fire Station 7. Currently, the largest exhibit in the center is “The Shirts Off Their Backs,” curated by Katie Cornelius. The exhibit features a display of 223 of the 1,100 T-shirts that were left on the fence or donated.

Visitors can also see a diary from fallen hotshot Eric Marsh, artwork inspired by the hotshots and created by local artists, and props from Only the Brave, a movie based on the tragedy. The center plans on rotating the items in the exhibits every six to 12 months so that all 9,000 of the items in the collection will eventually be displayed.

“People who visit can take away so much,” Diane Clevenger said. “When you visit, you come away feeling a sense of closeness to each of the 19 and what they did. You come away with an understanding of how many people this impacted in the world. This was not just a little community happening; this was heart-wrenching for everybody in the world. You also come away with new information about how quickly the fire spread. It’s important this center exists so people can remember and so that the 19 will not be forgotten.”

The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center is located inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, at 3250 Gateway Boulevard in Prescott. The Center is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, visit www.gmihc19.org or the center's Facebook page.

— Emily Balli

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Photographs by Barry M. Goldwater: The Arizona Highways Collection

Over the years, Arizona Highways published hundreds of photographs by Barry Goldwater. The first was this shot of Coal Mine Canyon, which ran on page 16 of our August 1939 issue. | Courtesy of the Barry & Peggy Goldwater Foundation

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following letter from Editor Robert Stieve appears in the upcoming December 2018 issue of Arizona Highways.

I met Alison on a Saturday morning. At a parade. We were introduced by a mutual friend, one of the few hippies in Old Town Scottsdale. Like most parades, Parada del Sol is loud. It’s hardly a place to hatch a plan, but that’s where this began. This issue. This collaboration. This attempt to rescue valuable artifacts.

Despite the commotion, Alison pulled me aside and started talking — 2,600-pound Percherons, hell-bent tuba players and varsity cheerleaders are no match for Alison Goldwater Ross. She needed help.

“I’m trying to preserve my grandfather’s archive,” she said. “There are thousands of negatives and transparencies. And they’re disintegrating. Film deteriorates. Did you know that? If we don’t do something, all of that history will be lost.”

She spoke with a sense of urgency. Like Paul Revere that night in Boston. I don’t think she ever came right out and asked for help, but she didn’t have to. I’d been looking for something like this for a while. Something that might transcend the pages of the magazine. When she finally took a breath, I shared my vision. And then we started brainstorming — right there on the corner of Main Street and Brown Avenue. Two years later, the firstborn of that collaboration has arrived.

For more than 80 years, we’ve presented our December issue as an exclamation point on the calendar year. “A Celebration of the Season.” “A Postcard to the World.” Every year we try to make it something special, and 2018 is no exception. This time around, we’re featuring the photography of Barry Goldwater. Although he’s best known nationally as a public servant, a man who dedicated his life to the people of Arizona, his passion for photography was as powerful as his love of politics.

“Barry set out to visit and photograph remote parts of the state,” Matt Jaffe writes in Barry Goldwater, “bringing together an artist’s eye and an anthropologist’s commitment to record his homeland’s ancient cultures and timeless, yet fragile landscapes.”

“My photographs have been taken primarily to record what Arizona looked like during my life,” Barry said. “The first photograph I sold to Arizona Highways was in 1939. [Editor Raymond Carlson] and I were driving along one day by Coal Mine Canyon up near Tuba City. Ray said, ’You wouldn’t have a picture of that, would you?’ I said, ’Yeah, I’ve got a good one.’”

The image ran on page 16 of our August 1939 issue. It was just the beginning. Many more have followed, including a portrait from June 1940 that Barry titled The Navajo. “That’s one of my better pictures,” he said. “It was taken back in 1938 at an Indian fair near Window Rock. His name is Charlie Potato, and I guess I must have printed maybe 5,000 of those.”

The Navajo is one of our favorites, too, which is why Barb used it as the opening shot in this month’s portfolio. The runner-up for that spot was a photograph that’s sometimes referred to as The Shepherdess. It first ran on the cover of our December 1946 issue. You might remember it. Arguably, it’s the most famous photograph we’ve ever published.

“It was a cold, raw winter day deep on the Navajo Reservation when Barry Goldwater took the picture we use on our cover,” Raymond Carlson wrote in his column, 72 years ago this month. “The snow clouds were low over Navajo Mountain and the little Navajo girls, watching their sheep, were wrapped in their blankets against the wind. The whole scene is real and simple.”

Turns out, that issue — with Barry’s now-legendary image on the front cover — marked the first time in history that a nationally circulated consumer magazine was published in all color, from cover to cover. In the annals of magazine publishing, that’s significant, but to Barry, it was something more.

“The great thing about photography,” he wrote, “is that through it, I was able to enjoy my state as it was growing up, and capture some of it on film so other people could have a chance to see it as I knew it. To photograph and record Arizona and its people, particularly its early settlers, was a project to which I could willingly devote my life, so that I could leave behind an indexed library of negatives and prints.”

When you do the math, there are more than 15,000 slides and transparencies in his archive, along with 25 miles of motion picture film. As he‘d requested, many of his images are housed at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, the Hayden Library at Arizona State University and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The rest are with the Barry & Peggy Goldwater Foundation, the nonprofit formed by Alison Goldwater to preserve her grandfather’s legacy.

Unfortunately, all of his images are in need of preservation — even under the best of circumstances, film deteriorates over time. What’s worse, as the film slowly disintegrates, so do important pieces of Arizona history. Priceless artifacts.

“What I’m setting out to do with the foundation is to fulfill his wishes,” Alison says. “His wishes were to document Arizona and show the beauty of the landscape and the people.”

The task of doing that — through digitization and optical restoration — will be costly and time-consuming, but the work has already begun, and you’ll see some of the results in our portfolio. All 46 photographs in there have been restored.

The Navajo, The Shepherdess, Big Country ... some of the images have been published in this magazine over the past eight decades. Others have never been seen before. That’s the exciting part. For us, getting access to the family archive was like being let loose in Copenhagen’s Conditori La Glace at Christmastime. There were so many photos to choose from. Too many. Ultimately, we had to expand the issue to 100 pages. And even then, narrowing it down was a challenge. So was writing the captions.

Although Barry created an elaborate filing system, indexed by subject, he could be stingy with details. And sometimes, he’d give multiple names to the same image. Where the information was thin or confusing or nonexistent, we relied on commentary from other photographers, including Ansel Adams, who, like our subject, was a longtime contributor to Arizona Highways.

“Senator Goldwater’s deep involvement in the affairs of the world and at the summit of political activity have undoubtedly limited the time and effort he could expend on his photography,” Mr. Adams wrote. “The important thing is that he made photographs of historical and interpretive significance, and for this we should be truly grateful. We sometimes forget that Art, in any form, is a communication. Barry Goldwater has communicated his vision of the Southwest, and he deserves high accolades for his desire to tell us what he feels and believes about his beloved land.”

We also reached out to some of our current contributors. The names are names you’ll recognize: David Muench, Jack Dykinga, Paul Markow, Paul Gill, Joel Grimes, J. Peter Mortimer. In addition to being a talented photographer, Pete was our photo editor in the early 1980s. In that role, he often visited Barry at his home in Paradise Valley.

“The first time I met Barry Goldwater,” Pete says, “was when Editor Don Dedera asked me to go to Barry’s house to get an envelope of photographs that were going to be used in the magazine. As I drove up the driveway, I noticed that the abandoned Secret Service guard shack was still there — a relic from Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Near the driveway, there was a man in dark shorts and a T-shirt slapping a tar-like substance onto an old, ailing saguaro. As I got closer, I realized that it was Senator Goldwater. I rolled down the car window and he said, ‘You’ve come for the pictures?’ I told him yes, and then I asked what was wrong with the cactus. He looked over at the saguaro and said, ‘Oh, I don’t think these damn things like us very much!’ Then he added, ‘Go up to the house and get some iced tea; I’ll be there in a few minutes.’ Over the years, I was lucky enough to make a number of trips to his house to get photographs. I always looked forward to hearing him talk about the specific images that he was sending back to the magazine.”

In all, we’ve published hundreds of Barry’s photographs, the best of which will be on display from January 6 through June 23 at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. The exhibition, Photographs by Barry M. Goldwater: The Arizona Highways Collection, is another one of the ideas that Alison and I talked about during the parade.

It was an idea that took off, and now, so many months later, Arizona Highways is proud to be partnering with the Barry & Peggy Goldwater Foundation on this important show, a show that wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of Salt River Project. SRP has a long history of supporting arts and culture in Arizona, and this exhibition is another one of the many beneficiaries. On behalf of the Goldwater family and everyone at this magazine, thank you, SRP. We look forward to what’s ahead, including more exhibitions, a coffee table book and a line of related products, all of which will benefit the foundation in its ongoing effort to preserve those 15,000 images.

Stay tuned for details on all of the above. Meantime, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or just a few days off in December, happy holidays, and thank you for spending another year with Arizona Highways.

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Grand Canyon Rafting: A First-Timer's View

Kirsten Kraklio

Early this summer, I was standing in a store aisle, trying to decide how many bottles of sunscreen to purchase for my weeklong Grand Canyon adventure. I asked the employee next to me for her opinion. She looked me up and down, laughed and said, “You probably need one for each day.”

Apparently, as a freckled, pale redhead, I wasn’t exuding Grand Canyon readiness. But I didn’t care. I was doing my best to ignore internal fears and what-ifs. This summer marked my sixth in Arizona since moving from Iowa, and I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t yet visited the Canyon. When my Great-Aunt Heidi casually mentioned last fall that she was organizing a motorized river rafting trip with her friends, I was immediately in. What better way to see the Canyon than by going through it?

In the months leading up to our trip, I purposely didn’t do much research. I bought all the necessary equipment they tell you to buy (although, really, less is more on these trips), but otherwise, I wanted to experience the Canyon for the first time with my own eyes and no expectations. I did, however, purchase The Emerald Mile, thinking it would be a great book to accompany the trip. (Note to anyone thinking they’ll do the same: Maybe save the book for after you return safely, rather than starting it the night before.)

My trip started at the end of June, before water from monsoon storms turned the Colorado its current brown color. It's been a few months since then, but I’ve thought about it every week since. There’s nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written or said about the Grand Canyon’s beauty, but to me, the magic of the Canyon goes beyond the sights and sounds. It’s the connection of people.

Our tour group included 22 people — some families, some friends. Our ages ranged from early teens to late 60s. In the six days we spent together, I never heard bickering or fighting. There was no talk of politics. No one knew what was happening on Twitter or Facebook. No one was distracted by work emails. Instead, we learned about satellites, courtesy of our two new friends from NASA. We learned stories of former river runners, thanks to our current ones. We learned how to work together to efficiently load and unload rafts. We shared stories of home and dreams of the future. We shared sunscreen — lots and lots of sunscreen.

There are countless blogs and guides on the internet that will tell you what to pack or how to prepare for such a trip, so I’ll be brief with my advice:

  • Don’t pack clothes for every day — you will wear the same shirt and pants multiple days, and that’s OK.
  • Do wear protective clothing — I packed UPF pants and shirts, in addition to my two bottles of sunscreen, and came out of the Canyon as pale as I went in (but with a few extra freckles).
  • Don’t forget to check for ants at your selected camp.
  • Do splurge for the river guidebook so you can follow along with your trip.
  • Don’t fear the groover. (OK, maybe fear it a little.)

Finally, do add a raft trip to your bucket list. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Grand Canyon, embrace the lack of connectivity with technology, and enjoy the company of friends, family and strangers. Leading up to the trip, and even in the beginning days, I told myself and others that this was the trip of a lifetime. But on the last day, and in the days since, I’ve realized it can’t just be the trip of a lifetime. I need to experience the morning shock of the Colorado River and the sight of the sun setting on the Canyon walls again.

Even it if it takes me another 26 years to get there.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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Throwback Thursday: October 1983

From the issue: "Autumn paints the Chiricahua Mountains. Rising abruptly from dry savannah, this wonderland of rock thrusts a forested island into the sky, alive with hundreds of species of animal and bird life." Photo by David Muench.

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Rare Guitars on Display at MIM Next Month

A Gibson Les Paul used by Pete Townshend of The Who will be among the guitars on display starting November 9 at the Musical Instrument Museum. | Courtesy of the MIM

Some of the world's earliest electric guitars, along with guitars played by famous musicians, are coming to the Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix next month.

Guitars played by The Who's Pete Townshend, the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian will be included in The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon, which opens November 9 at MIM.

"This exclusive exhibition showcases more than eighty of the rarest electric guitars and amplifiers in the world — from some of the first ever heard to those played by the most famous electric guitarists known today," the museum said in a press release, adding that the exhibition "encompasses the history of the electric guitar from the very beginning, including its most experimental period of the 1930s and 1940s."

In addition to instruments played by Tonwshend, Richards and Christian, guitars used by Alvino Rey, Tommy "Butterball" Paige and Bo Diddley will be included in the exhibition.

Richard Walter, a MIM curator, said the exhibition will reveal "the deep history of the electric guitar and its impact over the years."

The guitars will be on display through September 15, 2019. Admission is $10 for the special exhibition only, or $7 when purchased with general MIM admission. For more information, visit MIM.org.

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Boyce Thompson Welcomes Eirini Pajak

Eirini Pajak

A frequent contributor to Arizona Highways will see her breathtaking nature photography exhibited at Arizona's best-known arboretum next month.

Eirini Pajak's macro photography will be on display all November at the gallery at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park's visitors center. The arboretum, near Superior, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in November. Admission is $12.50 for adults and $5 for ages 5 to 12.

"I studied photography in school, but I gave it up almost as soon as I graduated," Pajak told the arboretum. "Instead I devoted most of my spare time to learning about the natural world around me. I moved around quite a bit growing up, so knowing the land and living creatures around where I live makes me feel more rooted.

"When I moved from California to Arizona, one of the first things I did was obtain several nature field guides specific to this state. Once I set photography aside, it wasn’t until over a decade later that I picked up a camera again. One day, a monk from St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona, suggested that I begin photographing wildflowers. He specifically emphasized that I should not overlook even the tiniest of flowers.

"Since then, I have been drawn especially to making close-up photographs of beautiful but often overlooked aspects of nature."

Pajak's photographs are also on display in an upcoming Arizona Highways book, set to be released in early 2019.

To learn more about the photographer, visit her website.

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Petroglyphs, Flowers and Rocks That Ring

Aleksandra Kolosowsky | Saguaro National Park

By Karen E. Peterson

The ancient Hohokams of Central and Southern Arizona saw an otherworldly meaning in our state’s radiance: in the springtime explosion of bright yellow flowers on paloverde trees; in the carpeting of purple lupines and orange poppies; in crimson cactus blossoms; in hummingbirds, butterflies, even the glint of minerals in the desert sand. For those who lived here first, these were visual thresholds through which they could glimpse the Flower World — the glimmering, iridescent land of the spirits.

The Flower World is a belief system that arose from Mesoamerica many thousands of years ago and spread to Central America, Mexico and the American Southwest. It did not fade with time but became rooted in the spiritual expressions of 30 modern Native cultures, including the Hohokams' descendants, the Tohono O’odhams and Akimel O’odhams.

You can see its influence even today, in celebrations like November’s spectacular Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration, and in the mesmerizing Yaqui Deer Dance performed at Pascua Yaqui communities in Tucson and Guadalupe, outside Phoenix. The beauty and athleticism of the Yaqui Easter ceremony is downright “flowery,” in the sense of what the word means in Flower World terminology — masculine strength and courage.

Once you know about the Flower World and live in Arizona, its flower metaphors pop up practically everywhere, which is one reason these volunteer petroglyph sleuths are balanced this late autumn day like so many mountain sheep on the upper slopes of a 200-foot pile of rocks and boulders — a cone of stones known as an inselberg, or “rock island.” They're just weeks away from completing what they began two and a half years earlier: a painstaking, physically strenuous, bottom-to-top identification — hand-recorded and tabulated, photographed and GPS-coordinated — of the multitude of images on this aerie canvas 30 dusty miles from Tucson, near the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The hill was the last and smallest location in a multi-year investigation of the Flower World’s presence among the early Hohokams by rock art researchers Janine Hernbrode and Peter Boyle, not by way of conventional archaeological means — finding representations on pottery, for instance — but by closer examination of where people gathered: petroglyph sites like this one.

By late December 2017, the work of Hernbrode, Boyle and their 15 hardy volunteers, collectively the “Rock Band,” was completed, and the overall exploration of petroglyph sites in the Tucson valley at its end, save for crunching the data, Flower World-related and otherwise. Final results notwithstanding, as the work progressed on this little hill, Hernbrode remembers thinking, “Something special is going on here.”

Flowers Everywhere

The remote inselberg on privately owned and fenced ranchland was the culmination of a quest that began in 2012, following an encounter with a rock art specialist from Texas. She pointed to a glyph at a Hohokam site in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of the city, where Hernbrode and Boyle were working on another project, and remarked that it looked like a flower.

“She asked if I’d heard of the Flower World. I hadn’t,” Hernbrode says. She remedied the gap by turning to the work of Jane H. Hill, retired anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, whose specialty was linguistics.

In her groundbreaking 1992 study, The Flower World of Old Uto-Aztecan, Hill explores the emergence of what she terms the “Flower World Complex,” from its Mesoamerican origins to its spread into the Southwest. A belief system grounded in nature, the Flower World found a welcoming home within the Ancestral Puebloan culture of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

“If you wanted to endow something with a sacred quality, you would call it ‘flowery,’” Hill elaborates. “Flowers represent the idea of what a beautiful, sacred holy world would be like.” This world had no barriers — it could be experienced by anyone, shaman or not, by way of faith, song and flowers.

What is less well known is the Hohokam’s embrace of the Flower World during the same timeframe as the Ancestral Puebloans, roughly 1,000 years ago.

The Hohokams' Sonoran Desert homeland was within the path of migration from Mesoamerica, and fieldwork at Hohokam settlements uncovered artifacts from other cultures, indicating a trading route. But more conclusive evidence was needed to confirm the Flower World Complex within early Hohokam spiritual practice.

It could be, too, that the ephemeral nature of how the Flower World was expressed by the Hohokams and their descendants — by song, primarily — made it more difficult to trace. The word “music” in the language of the Tohono O’odhams, Hill notes, translates to “flowers for ears.”  

In her paper, Hill suggested that a re-examination of Hohokam artifacts, including petroglyphs, might offer up clues. Intrigued, Hernbrode and Boyle began looking at previously recorded glyphs at the Santa Catalinas location and atop Tumamoc Hill in downtown Tucson, site of a Hohokam settlement. Both had a good number of what appeared to be flowers, when you knew what to look for.

“My mantra is one is nice, two are interesting, three is a pattern,” says Hernbrode, whose pattern here included related Flower World imagery — birds and butterflies — that help make up the full complement of Hill’s Flower World Complex. With sponsorship by the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, the two opted to take one more look at a location that included this compact stack of stones.

So Much to Say

The Tohono O’odham call the hill “Chuhl tho’ag,” and say the name likely alludes to the once-running, life-sustaining stream at its base. Flat boulders along the banks are pockmarked with morteros — holes created by grinding mesquite beans for flour gathered from trees lining the waterway.  

An oasis for desert dwellers, the O’odhams consider it a sacred gathering site and a seasonal home in the past for mesquite harvesting. Rock Band volunteer William Gillespie, a retired archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, found evidence of a nearby settlement during breaks from glyph hunting.

So while the hill may seem to be (and is) in the middle of nowhere now, back then, it was very much on the beaten path, its bounty of rocks offering up the means for mass communication.

In part, the hill confirmed what Hernbrode and Boyle had hypothesized: The Hohokam’s embrace of the Flower World appears contemporaneous “with its appearance in areas like Chaco Canyon,” Hernbrode says. Confident in their early analysis, she refers to the 900-plus individual Flower World images the team recorded there. Roughly two-thirds are images of birds and butterflies, one-third flowers, among them images that look much like the real thing, from cactus flowers to wildflowers, when photographed side by side.

If that was all the team discovered after years of hard rock labor, the results would be singularly significant, today and for future researchers, who may discover, as Hernbrode suspects, that the Flower World came to the Ancestral Puebloans through the Hohokams first, not vice versa, as assumed.

But the hill had more to impart.                            

To begin, the tidy inselberg is jammed with more than 9,000 images — abstracts to animals, including 900 snake glyphs  — a profusion that may crown the hill as having the largest collection of petroglyphs in Southern Arizona. Hernbrode also suggests that, given its small size, it could have the “densest collection of glyphs” in a state blessed with rock art.

Then there were the “bell rocks” — solid, hefty boulders that when struck with a mallet sound, astoundingly, as clear and joyful as choir handbells. They're found worldwide, but here they counted 40 scattered serendipitously across the inselberg, identified by ages-old strike marks on their surfaces. Tonally ranging over three octaves, each returning a different pitch, some are grouped together to allow for harmonies, notes Boyle, who focused on the bell rocks with volunteer Carl Evertsbusch.  

The relationship, if any, between the Flower World and the bell rocks is unknown, though how special it must have been for congregants — nature’s own music to accompany a belief system delivered in song.

With “beginning” also one of the supposed meanings of Chuhl tho’ag, it is worth musing that the name refers to another intriguing find — imagery of the Hohokam and O’odham origin story. While these images are found throughout the hill, one particular grouping stood out: Glyphs are pecked into a pair of neighboring boulders in such a way that the unformed humans, fashioned as stick-art barbells, emerge from the natural fissure between the rocks to become fully human, though curiously with bowed legs.

“Everyone needs someplace to commemorate their beginnings,” says Hernbrode of the provocative pictorial, adding, “They emerged in groups, holding on to one another.”

What Now?

Hernbrode and Boyle have their work cut out as they sift through the data and begin publishing their latest findings, the first appearing this year in American Indian Rock Art.

As for the remarkably intimate inselberg, it isn’t going anywhere, though all involved are hoping its future is protected. “A sacred site, it is obviously very significant for the Nation,” says Peter Steere, Tohono O’odham historic preservation officer.

Property owner Jesus Arvizu has been happy to share its slopes with the Rock Band researchers. He also allows open access to the O’odhams, as a matter of courtesy and respect. As the hill’s steward, Arvizu receives kudos from Steere, who has walked the rugged area for signs of trespassers — hikers, drug traffickers, vandals — and reports that he hasn’t “even seen a cigarette butt.” As Steere points out, defacing or disturbing petroglyphs in any way is a felony offense under the Arizona Antiquities Act.

A businessman and rancher, Arvizu operates the Cocoraque Ranch and Pavilion, a popular Old West venue for corporate and private events, with its refurbished ranch house, cowboy decor, rodeo corral and plenty of room to dance. He also takes guests on horseback rides to the petroglyph site.

Arvizu has been approached about selling the land, and is willing. Pima County, in whose jurisdiction the hill sits, has the 160-acre property on its open space wish list, but previously secured bond money is gone and all county funding measures were voted down in the 2015 election. Still, county archaeologist Linda Mayro, who said her visit to the site “underscored my goal to see it preserved,” confirms that the county continues to look “for opportunities to ensure the permanent preservation of this exceptional cultural resource."

For now, Arvizu remains its caretaker, visiting frequently as he checks on cattle and fences. While Arvizu admits that he had no idea until recently “how valuable the hill is to history,” he has long understood its allure: “I sometimes sit on the top of the hill. It is so peaceful and quiet. Looking out over the valley, I go back in time and can’t help but wonder how it must have been.”

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