Friday, November 9, 2012

Gallery of the Sun - Tucson

     Tucson is one of our favorite destinations because of all the historic and natural attractions found in and around the Old Pueblo.  One of those many "favorites" is the Gallery of the Sun.  If you have never visited this wonderful studio, let us encourage you to put it near the top of your "Arizona Bucket List."  Sure hope you enjoy our story!

     Arizona’s most famous artists certainly must be Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia.  His art was once the artistic face of the United Nations Children’s Emergence Fund.  Since each October brings UNICEF’s yearly celebration of the children of the world it becomes the perfect month to get out and visit DeGrazia’s Tucson studio, the Gallery of the Sun.
     It was 1960 when Ted DeGrazia began his paintings of children for UNICEF.  Soon his art became famous in countries around the world.  His paintings of Los NiƱo’s, of angels and of native Southwest cultures for UNICEF were soon found on plates, jewelry, stained glass and canvas.  Arizona’s Ted DeGrazia became one of the world’s most reproduced artists.
     As DeGrazia’s fame and wealth grew a permanent place to display his life’s artistic works was needed.  In 1952 he had already built an adobe chapel, the Mission of the Sun, to honor one of his life’s heroes, the great missionary priest of Spain, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. 
     Father Kino had first come to this area in 1692 when he visited a Tohono O’odham village known even then as Bac.  Years after Kino’s death, in 1775, Spanish commander, Hugo O’Connor, would select a site near Bac and establish the old adobe Presidio of Tucson. 
     In 1963, just north of downtown Tucson, Ted DeGrazia again started making his own adobe bricks to build an art gallery beside his Mission of the Sun.   He would call his art center the Gallery of the Sun.
     The main building of the Gallery of the Sun opened in 1965, the 254th anniversary of the death of Father Kino.  It contains six permanent collections of his paintings of the children, of the cultures of Arizona and Mexico and of his most cherished work, the paintings of the life-story of Father Kino.  Rotating exhibitions throughout the year display some of the other 15,000 original works of art created by Ted DeGrazia.
     Arizona artist, Ted DeGrazia died on September 17, 1982 but his works of art remain an integral part of Arizona’s history. 

One of the many gallery rooms

The Chapel of the Virgin of Guudalupe

Grave of Ted De Grazia found at the Gallery of the Sun, Tucson.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Three Men Hurled Into Eternity...."

          Those words just might be a part of the greatest newspaper headline ever written in the Wild West.  They told of the Gunfight at the OK Corral which occurred on October 26, 1881 when three young cowboys died from the guns of the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday.
          Now, 131 have passed since that 3:00 p.m. showdown but Tombstone, the "Town Too Tough To Die", is worth visiting in any season.  We have written several stories over the years about Tombstone.  Here is the first one dealing with their just completed annual Helldorado Days.

Credit Photos:  Dan Germain
            “Three Men Hurled Into Eternity…” is arguably the most famous newspaper headlines ever written in the Wild West.  It appeared as the banner for the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper, retelling the events of October 26, 1881 along Freemont Street, just outside the back entrance to the OK Corral.  And even though the Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred 128 years ago, the good folks of Tombstone, Arizona continue to memorialize that historic gunfight during their annual Helldorado Days*.
          It was a lonely miner by the name of Ed Schieffelin who was warned by a United States Cavalry patrol that if he did not watch himself, the only thing he would find in the isolated hills of the San Pedro River Valley in southeastern Arizona would be his tombstone.  Well, Ed remembered that warning and when he struck a rich vein of silver in the spring of 1877, he named his strike and the town that grew up around it, Tombstone. 
          Other mines quickly were discovered and given some of the Wild West’s most unique names -- the Tough Nut, the Mattie Blaylock and the Good Enough.  To these new mines came thousands of people to both work and to serve this newest of western boomtowns.  And what an amazing group of human kind they were.
          If ever there was ever a perfect template for a Wild West town, Tombstone must surely be the model.  Between 1879 and 1889 the streets of Tombstone saw the most unique mixture of miners, gambles, rustlers, ladies of the night, lawmen, preachers, saloon owners and plain common folks that  any town in the Arizona Territory.
          One such group of newly arrived Tombstone residents were called by the law abiding folks of Tombstone, cow –boys.  In 1881 this term, cow-boys, was not an endearing name as it was used to describe those “ranchers” who earned a living by stealing other folks cattle. And as fate would have it, in mid-afternoon on a cold October day in 1881, on the dusty streets of Tombstone, a group of cow-boys would come face-to-face with their destiny in the form of another historic Western clan, the Earp brothers.
          In a space no large that 15 feet wide and 30 feet deep, eight men and two horses came to stand within a few feet of each other.  A sixth man, Doc Holiday, stood with a shotgun on the edge of Fremont Street.  “Throw up your hands”, U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp shouted to the cow-boys!  Within a moment, the guns of both groups began firing; 30 shots were fired in less than 30 seconds.  When the smoke and dust cleared, 3 cow-boys lay dead.
          The Gunfight at the OK Corral was not the most deadly gunfight of the Wild West but it is surely the most famous.  And it is this gunfight along with all the historic people and events of this Wild West Silver Boom Town that is celebrated each year during Helldorado Days.
          The first Helldorado Days were held in 1929 so this year’s celebration will be the 80th anniversary of those early, rip-roaring days of Tombstone.  The Tombstone Vigilantes are the sponsoring organization of Helldorado and they always plan to make the 3-day festival fun for everyone who makes the effort to come and to join in the merriment. 
          This year's celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. on October 16 along Allen Street with the playing of our National Anthem followed by entertainment “every ten minutes” till 5:00 p.m.   Saturday is filled with all sorts of entertainment from gunfighters, line dancers, belly-dancers, cowboy stories and western music.
           On Sunday the 18th, the official parade steps off from 6th Street and Allen and features the renowned Cowboy Walkdown followed by the always, crowd pleasing “Yee Haw” contest.  Yes, Tombstone, the “town too tough to die” is celebrating their historic past once again and warmly invites all Arizonans to get out and enjoy this year’s Helldorado Days on their famous streets of Tombstone.   

*In July 1881, a down-in-his-luck miner wrote a letter to the Tombstone Nugget newspaper, lamenting the fact that most miners like he, had come to Tombstone to find their “Eldorado”, their fortune in mineral riches.  Instead, they ended up washing dishes, sweeping saloons or cleaning corrals, thus finding instead their “Helldorado!”

Past Helldorado Days fun...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wings Over Willcox

     Before leaving the Willcox area, we want to highlight an annual area event called "Wings Over Willcox."  Check out this website for updated information,, but this is usually a late January/early February celebration.  It is very cold at sunrise in these barren fields around Willcox so if you choose to go, dress wisely. 
    The photos here belong to Robert Shantz.  We thank him for sharing with us his pictures.  Hope you enjoy our story.    

     The small towns of Arizona have many unique and fun celebrations and Wings Over Willcox would certainly be at the top of that list. The National Geographic Society ranks this Arizona avian gathering of Sandhill Cranes one of North America’s two greatest wildlife events, sharing the spotlight with the great caribou migration in Alaska.
    In an area defined by the Dragoon Mountains to the west and the Dos Cabezas Mountains to the east, a natural bird sanctuary is created which attracts over 500 species of birds that spend their winter in this Cochise County avian paradise.  It is within this natural corridor that the annual Wings Over Willcox celebration occurs.
    Last year over 36,000 cranes visited the 60-square mile preserve owned and operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department who flood a portion of the land each year to create a 6-inch deep pool that the Sandhill Cranes find just perfect for winter roosting.
    The highlight of a visit to the Wings Over Willcox celebration is the pre-dawn guided tours to the crane roosting fields.  Here, dressed in cloths created for mid-January in Chicago, the curious and enthusiast people wait for sunrise and the Sandhill “liftoff.”
    In a moment, thousands of birds, with wingspans up to 6-feet and weighing up to 14 pounds, take flight.  The sight and sound of this morning leap into the air is what attracts thousands of nature lovers to Willcox each year.
    Once airborne, the cranes quickly line into a V-formation to pass another day flying from harvested cornfield to cornfield in search of food.  Their daily adventure delight and mesmerize onlookers who just can’t seem to get enough of these long-legged, longneck-flying wonders.
     The Sandhill Cranes will hang around the Willcox area until early March when the lengthening days will again make them take flight to their summer artic breeding grounds.  Some of these Arizona winter bird visitors are known to migrate as far as Siberia.
    Wings Over Willcox organizers promise that this year’s event will be better than ever before.  New tours dealing with astronomy and wildlife of the Chiricahua Mountains will be offered.  Seminars will be presented with topics ranging from the Arizona jaguar to wildlife tracking to rainwater harvesting and more.  For those who love nature and the out-of-doors, Wings Over Willcox is an ideal opportunity to get out and discover another special part of our Arizona!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chiricahua National Monument

    Willcox, Arizona is also an ideal staging stop for planning a visit to the beautiful Chiricahua National Monument.  This is just another of those very special places in Arizona and if you have never been to the Chiricahuas, it certainly is time to make that journey.  Southeastern Arizona is a great place to discover during the region's mild fall weather and the Chiricahuas are just a great place to hike, bike and take endless pictures of the magnificent rock formations.
    The picture we used for our IN&OUT story and this blog were provided to us by Suzanne Moody who works for the National Park Service.  We are happy to include Suzanne's photos here.  Here is our story...

    “A spiritual place of geological wonder” is how the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona were once described.  Located some 40 miles south of Willcox, Arizona, the Chiricahua National Monument is just another of the spectacular places to visit in the many unique landscapes of Arizona.
    The Chiricahua Mountains are one of the many unique sky-islands of southeastern Arizona.  Rising out of the desert floor to a height of 9,759 feet, this mountain range of ancient volcanic rock has been called Arizona’s “Wonderland of Rocks.”  For the Chiricahua Apache, these mountains are their ancestral home and they call them the “Land of Standing-Up Rock”.
    Yet words do not do justice to this landscape of rock monoliths and deep canyons.  Here the forces of nature have created an amazing collection of boulders balances atop other boulders, looking as if they could fall at any moment even though they have stood together for centuries. 
    Some 27 million years ago a catastrophic eruption occurred in what is called today the Turkey Creek Volcano.  Over 100 cubic miles of volcanic debris were blown from the earth during the enormous eruption. By comparison, the eruption of Mount St. Helen in 1980 only expelled 1/10 of a cubic mile of molten lava.  The great Krakatoa eruption of 1883 was only 1/10 the size of the eruption that once occurred here in the Chiricahuas. 
    When the Turkey Creek Caldera cooled and then eventually died, the elements of erosion began to slowly destroy its volcanic walls.  The result of those many millennia of erosion is the magnificent Chiricahua Mountains we see and enjoy today.
    This sky island of the Chiricahua Mountains is also unique because it is here that four great biomes converge.  The Rocky Mountain and the Sierra Madre ranges come together with the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts to create a natural environment rich and varied in flora and fauna from all four of these natural zones.   For those who like to watch and photograph wildlife, the Chiricahuas are paradise. 
    The Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924.  In 1984 this unique Arizona environment was further protected when 87% of the monument was declared a Wilderness Area.
     The 11,985 acres of the national monument are crisscrossed by 18 miles of day-use hiking trails that range in difficulty from easy to challenging.  An eight-mile, paved scenic drive leaves from the charming Visitors Center and provides breathtaking vistas for those visitors who wish to view the sights from their car.  Twenty-two individual campsites are also available.October brings a beautiful fall to the Chiricahua Mountains so now is a great time to get out and visit this unique and beautiful place found in the southeast corner of our Arizona. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rex Allen Museum, Willcox, Arizona

   When you are done visiting Fort Bowie, let us suggest that you visit the Rex Allen Museum in downtown Willcox.  This is a fun and educational small town museum that does of great job in honoring one of Hollywood's great cowboy stars.  This wonderful museum memorializes a different time in America and well worth the visit.

      For those of the Boomer Generation, shows and names like Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Frontier Doctor, Koko and Slim Pickens bring back memories of youth when the American cowboy was the common hero of Hollywood’s big screens and 10-cent comic books.  One Arizona cowboy by the name of Rex Allen became Hollywood “Cowboy Royalty” during those years and a museum dedicated to his life story is a wonderful reason to get out and visit Willcox, Arizona.
    Rex Allen, “The Arizona Cowboy”, grew up in Willcox playing his Sear & Roebuck mail-order guitar with his fiddle-playing father at local dances.  He first sang professionally in 1948 for Mercury Records and made his first of nineteen western movies, Arizona Cowboy, in 1950.
    In his movies Rex Allen was always cast as himself.  He always wore his white Stetson hat, epitomizing the clean-cut, God-fearing hero of the Wild West who loved his horse named Koko, “The Miracle Horse of the Movies.”
    The Hollywood producers had originally selected Koko for Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, but the beautiful chocolate chestnut stallion with flowing white tail and mane was just too big for Ms. Evans.  Allen said that he fell in love with Koko the moment he laid eyes on him.  Koko was said to have been the most beautiful horse ever to appear in movies.  Together, the horse and the cowboy made cowboy entertainment history until Koko’s death in 1967.
    Rex Allen made the last of Hollywood’s singing western cowboy movies in 1954, The Phantom Stallion.  Yet his deep, soothing voice not only made beautiful music but helped teach generations of American children about their world when he signed on to work for Walt Disney.   For over 20 years it was Rex Allen’s voice narrating Disney’s Wonderful World of Color nature shows.  He also was a voice behind over 150 of Disney’s different cartoon characters, with the barnyard antics of Charlotte’s Web being one of his personal favorites. 
    Rex Allen, The Arizona Cowboy, sang his last western melody in 1999.   His ashes were scattered in Railroad Park, just across the street from the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum.  Here too, in a beautiful memorial park, is found a life-size statue of Rex Allen.  At the feet of the statue lies the mortal remains of Koko - the two Western friends together forever. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fort Bowie - Legend of the Old West

     If you are looking for a great adventure to southern Arizona this fall, let us suggest a visit to Fort Bowie.  We would probably stay in Willcox and then drive to Fort Bowie National Historic Park for as a day trip.  There is so much history here of the time when the Apache people were in direct conflict with the United States government and the thousands of American settlers making their way through and into the Apache land.  It is a special historic site and a great roadtrip.  We hope you make plans to go - here is our story.

      Each of the historic military posts of Arizona are a remaining treasure of a time long past.  The men who once bravely and honorably served their nation at these remote, frontier outposts are the best selling stories of modern novelists and historians.  Eighteen United States Army forts once dotted the wilderness of Arizona from 1850 – 1900.  Fortunately, for Arizonans of today, one of the most remote and important of these frontier outposts is still available to visit and enjoy - historic Fort Bowie.
   Fort Bowie National Historic Site is located some 240 miles from Anthem in southeastern Arizona. Visitors today walk on the same ground and beside the ruins of the same buildings that men named Cochise, Tom Jeffords, Geronimo, and George Crook once walked.  For those who love the Wild West, Fort Bowie is a must see.
      Two battles, known as the Bascom Affair and the Battle of Apache Pass, between the Chiricahua Apaches and the United States Army led to the construction of the first Fort Bowie in 1862 at the site of a former station of the Butterfield Overland Mail route.
     In 1868 a more permanent Fort Bowie was built on the high plateau of Apache Pass giving the fort a commanding strategic view of the surrounding high desert valleys.   For the next 30 years Fort Bowie was the focal point for the conflict known in Arizona history as the Apache Wars.  It became the center of everyday life for enlisted men, officers, their wives, children and civilian employees of the United States Army.   
     None of the Arizona forts of this era ever were surrounded or enclosed by large log stockades including Fort Apache and Fort Bowie.   Those scenes are the invention of Hollywood.  But what is found at Fort Bowie today are the ruins of 38 stone and adobe buildings that once served as barracks, a hospital, an ice machine house, a bakery and even a school.  To walk among the ruins of Fort Bowie is truly a stroll through history.
     With the surrender of Geronimo on September 4, 1886 the need for Fort Bowie began to wane.  The American flag was lowered for the last time over the historic parade grounds in a closing ceremony in November 1894. 
Fort Bowie lay in ruins for the next 56 years.  Locals often visited the abandoned site to take wooden door frames and other building materials.  Finally on December 19, 1960 Fort Bowie was declared a National Historic Landmark.  The remaining ruins were carefully preserved and are now available for modern visitors.
     Because Fort Bowie was built on a high plateau, visiting the historic site requires some hiking.  From the parking lot, follow the signs on a moderately strenuous 1.5 mile hiking trail (3-miles round trip) as it leads past the old Butterfield Mail station, a historic cemetery where a son of Geronimo lies buried and finally on to the site of historic Fort Bowie itself.  A hat, water and good hiking /tennis shoes are recommended. Handicapped access is available by calling 520-847-2500.