Kartchner Caverns State Park Adds New Hiking Trail

Courtesy of Kartchner Caverns State Park

One of Arizona's most distinctive state parks is celebrating the opening of a new hiking trail, along with an existing trail's renovation, this weekend.

Kartchner Caverns State Park, south of Benson in Southeastern Arizona, will hold a grand opening event for the Ocotillo Trail on Sunday, April 22, at 10 a.m. Following the grand opening, there will be a guided hike for the public at 10:30 a.m. The cost of the event is the park entrace fee of $7 per vehicle.

Kartchner Caverns is best known for its namesake caves, but it also features multiple hiking trails above ground. The park said in a news release that the Ocotillo Trail was constructed in response to visitor requests for additional and more challenging hiking trails. All trail work was completed with hand tools by Arizona Conservation Corps trail crew and park staff. The work was funded by a federal grant, the park said.

The new trail is 1.75 miles long and considered challenging. Those hiking it should wear appropriate shoes and clothing, and take plenty of water. Also being celebrated Sunday is the renovation of the park's existing Foothills Loop Trail, a moderate 2.5-mile route.

Guided tours of the caves will be available for an additional fee during the grand opening, but those seeking tours should make advance reservations by visiting the park's website. And if you stay until evening to do some stargazing, keep in mind that the park has been recognized for its dark skies.

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Adopt a Highway Volunteers Put Up Big Numbers in 2017

Daniel Clarke | San Manuel

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

Almost 1,500 miles of landscape cleaned along state highways. Fourteen-thousand bags of trash collected. Half a million taxpayer dollars saved. 

That’s what nearly 11,000 volunteers wearing lime-yellow vests accomplished in 2017 through the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Adopt a Highway program.

With many other highway stretches available for adoption, even more can be accomplished in 2018.

“As a frontier state, Arizona has a long history of self-sacrifice and volunteerism, and these impressive numbers illustrate those values,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “Highways provide a first impression of Arizona for many visitors, so we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who are investing time and effort through Adopt a Highway.”

Regardless of how many people volunteer for Adopt a Highway, Halikowski said, everyone has a responsibility for keeping Arizona litter-free.

“We have to continue changing the culture until everyone instinctively knows that littering is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

Volunteer groups can apply for two-year permits to adopt highway stretches using an application available at azdot.gov/AdoptAHighway. Highways are available in ADOT engineering and maintenance districts around Arizona, and each district has someone available to help groups make selections.

Those accepted for the program get their own instantly recognizable blue sign featuring the name of the organization or group. Groups are expected to clean their stretches of highway at least three times a year.

Volunteers must be at least 12 years old, and cleanup crews should consist of six to 10 people. Groups schedule their cleanups ahead of time with their local ADOT districts, which provides trash bags, scheduled collections and safety training.

Adopt a Highway also has a sponsorship program through which businesses use ADOT-approved providers to clean up along busier highway stretches that tend to attract more litter. Participants in the sponsorship program can have their names and approved logos on blue Adopt a Highway signs.

Mary Currie, who oversees Adopt a Highway volunteer programs, said volunteers include those drawn to service, including retirees, civic organizations and faith groups, as well as families who adopt in memory of a loved one who has passed away. Volunteers tend to have two characteristics: a lot of drive and a love of the outdoors.

“It’s not easy working under the Arizona sun,” Currie said. “But it’s a great way to get exercise and have fun with friends, family or colleagues while providing an invaluable service to Arizona.”

More information on Adopt a Highway opportunities is available at azdot.gov/AdoptAHighway.

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Video Captures Bobcat, Rattlesnake Facing Off in Phoenix Area

A rattlesnake battles a bobcat on a Scottsdale sidewalk. | Laura Lucky via ABC 15

A real estate agent in Scottsdale recently came upon a startling sight: a bobcat doing battle with a rattlesnake on a nearby sidewalk.

As Valley news station ABC15 reported, Laura Lucky was out showing houses when she spotted the animals. In the video she shot, the bobcat paws at the snake as it tries to slither away. The snake strikes at the bobcat, but it's unclear whether it lands any bites.

Ultimately, the bobcat clamps down on the snake near its head and carries it out of view, into the desert.

Wildlife experts told the news station that bobcats are not immune to rattlesnake venom, but that it isn't unusual for the opportunistic felines to go after animals. As we recently reported, rattlesnakes are a more common sight in the Sonoran Desert this time of year, with temperatures on the rise.

You can watch the video here.

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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park Hosts Open House

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park | Ray Minnick

An open house and brunch this month at one of Arizona's most unique sites will feature natural wonder, Old West charm and a delicious breakfast.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, northwest of Payson on State Route 87, is hosting the event Sunday, April 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The park is best known for its namesake, a 400-foot-long, 183-foot-high natural travertine bridge that's believed to be the largest such bridge in the world.

But the "Brunch at the Bridge" event will focus on the park's Goodfellow Lodge, which was built in the 1920s. It now features 10 guest rooms and is available for overnight stays. Brunch attendees can take tours of the lodge, and they'll also get updates on planned trails and development at the park.

The park's new manager, Dan Roddy, also will be introduced at the event. "This park is a hidden gem, and we want to show off the amazing assets you can find just minutes away from the town of Payson," Roddy said in a news release.

The cost of the event is $15, which includes brunch — scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, juice, coffee and more — and an all-day park pass. For more information, visit the park's website. And if you make the trip, keep in mind there are plenty of other things to do on the Mogollon Rim while you're there.

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Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Up for National Award

An owl takes flight in front of an audience at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. | Steve Wolfe

A Tucson-area facility that focuses on Sonoran Desert flora and fauna is one of 20 finalists for an award chosen by USA Today readers.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is competing for the title of Best Zoo in the newspaper's 10 Best Reader's Choice Awards. Voting continues online through Monday, April 30; the 10 winning zoos will be announced Friday, May 4.

The museum was founded in 1952, and today, it features nearly 5,000 living animals and nearly 250 species. There also are more than 50,000 plant specimens and nearly 17,000 mineral and fossil specimens. The facility is perhaps best known for its live animal demonstrations, which include Raptor Free Flight shows every day from mid-October through mid-April.

The Desert Museum was the only Arizona zoo to make the list of finalists, but other competing zoos in the region include the Denver Zoo; the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, in Palm Desert, California; and the San Diego Zoo.

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Fountain Hills Plans Festival to Celebrate Dark-Sky Honor

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

Earlier this year, Fountain Hills became the 17th place in the world to be designated an International Dark Sky Community — the result of two years of work from community members. This month, to celebrate the honor, the town is hosting the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Festival on Saturday, April 21.

Joe Bill, a Fountain Hills resident and the co-chair of the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association, says his interest in dark-sky communities started a few years ago, when his wife, Nancy, noticed the bright LED lights that were hitting the market. “She read about it, and it’s one of the factors contributing to light pollution. There are many forms of pollution: water pollution, noise pollution, and there’s such a thing as light pollution,” Bill says. “She learned about the International Dark-Sky Association — which is actually based in Tucson — and we started reading about how you can get a community designated as a dark-sky community.”

The Bills started explaining their idea to other Fountain Hills residents, including Ted Blank, co-founder of the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club, who was immediately on board. But the path to the designation required a lot of steps, including getting Fountain Hills' outdoor lighting ordinance changed so it complied with IDA requirements. “After lots of questions and lots of time at the podium, we got unanimous support from our Town Council,” Bill says.

Next came a 100-plus-page application that included letters of support from town organizations. Finally, on January 8, the group received the news: Fountain Hills was officially designated the world's 17th International Dark Sky Community. “After that much effort, it was a high for us, really," Bill says. "We were ecstatic, and it was fun to pass the news on to key leaders in the community that we had achieved our goal. That led to: ‘OK, that’s a big enough achievement that we should plan a festival,’ so that’s what we’re working on now."

The April 21 Dark Sky Festival is scheduled for 3 to 10 p.m. It'll include nationally known speakers and filmmakers, plus a star party — where amateur astronomists from across the Valley set up telescopes for visitors to use. Also planned are art and photography displays, food trucks and a beer garden.

While the star party is happening, astronomers will conduct laser tours of the night skies. “They’ll be talking about both the mythology and the science of the constellations, pointing out those features in the sky with the lasers and talking about what you’re looking at, pointing at planets, galaxies, et cetera," Bill says. "It’s going to be an educational experience for anyone interested in what’s up there.”

The town's museum, library and community garden will also host activities during the festival. The museum will offer live animal displays with owls, raptors and snakes, as well as family discovery stations with crafts. At the community garden, visitors can take tours from master gardeners.

The designation has been positive for the town, Bill says: "It really put Fountain Hills on the map." And even though the town is celebrating its distinction this month, that doesn't mean the association is done working. “We feel that Fountain Hills — on the edge of a metropolitan area, but virtually a dark-sky oasis — has the potential to develop some astrotourism," Bill says. "We think maybe someday we could have a public observatory in town, which would really be a neat experience.”

— Kirsten Kraklio

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Saguaro National Park Using Microchips to Deter Cactus Thieves

Saguaro cactuses guard a hillside in Saguaro National Park's Tucson Mountain District. | Vijay Kannan

People continue to steal Arizona's iconic saguaro cactuses, and a national park in Southern Arizona is turning to high-tech measures to try and stop the thefts.

Saguaro National Park, which has districts east and west of the Tucson area, continues to implant microchips in its namesake cactuses, Cronkite News reported last month. (Arizona Highways reported in 2015 that the park was using the technology.)

While it isn't feasible to microchip each of the park's 1.9 million saguaros, the park said it spent $3,000 to implant the chips in 1,000 cactuses located in perimeter areas most accessible to park visitors. The chips do not broadcast a signal, but a special device can scan the cactus and tell if it was stolen, officials said.

The park is hopeful the technology will help deter thieves, who sometimes can fetch as much as $100 a foot for a stolen saguaro. It's illegal to disturb plants and animals in any national park, but Arizona also outlaws the removal of saguaros from state or private land without a permit.

Saguaro National Park isn't the only Arizona park using high-tech means to stop theft, Cronkite News reported. At Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, a photo-mapping system is used to keep visitors from stealing pieces of petrified wood.

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Jerome Home Tour Will Feature Katie Lee's House

Katie Lee's iconic home is a highlight of this year's Jerome Historic Home and Building Tour. | Courtesy of Jerome Chamber of Commerce

An annual tour of the old mining town of Jerome's historic structures includes a special addition this year: the home of one of the town's most legendary residents.

Conservationist, author and musician Katie Lee, who died late last year at age 98, lived in Jerome for much of her life. She was a frequent writer of essays, and subject of stories and essays, in Arizona Highways. Her home there will be featured next month in the 53rd annual Jerome Historic Home and Building Tour, which is May 19 and 20 and is hosted by the Jerome Chamber of Commerce.

The two- to four-hour event's first tour begins at 9 a.m. each day, and the last tickets are sold at 3 p.m. each day. A van will take participants to most locations, but a few are within walking distance of each other. Also featured this year is an East Avenue home that once was the Cottage Inn, billed as the longest-running B&B in Arizona; and the newly restored Anderson Home, on Main Street.

Tickets to the tour are $25 for adults and $10 for children; children age 3 and younger are free. Participants are advised to wear comfortable shoes. For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit www.jeromechamber.com.

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