Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

Three Pinal County state parks help celebrate anniversary April 14, 2010

Filed under: green — Candace Hughes @ 10:42 pm
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This was published three years ago, but I wanted to let people know the value of state parks to Pinal County and the surrounding areas.

Three Pinal County state parks
help celebrate anniversary

By Candace S. Hughes

This fall three Pinal County parks – Oracle, Picacho Peak and McFarland – will be part of a year long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of state parks.

On Oct. 13 Oracle State Park will help by hosting Fiesta de las Calabazas, a fall harvest festival, on the same day as the birthday celebration.

Picacho Peak will celebrate with Hike the Peak Oct. 27 and Maricopa Search and Rescue will sell hamburgers, drinks and chips to support its all-volunteer group. Hikers will receive safety tips from the 27-member crew.

And the McFarland Park will celebrate Veterans’ Day weekend Nov. 10-11.

Oracle park offers environmental education

The newest of the three Pinal County state parks celebrating this fall, Oracle State Park, was dedicated in 2001 as an environmental education center and wildlife refuge. The opening was only after more than 10 years of planning from the time the Defenders of Wildlife offered the property to the state as a park.

Originally, the 4,000-acre Kannally Ranch was donated to the non-profit wildlife group as a perpetual wildlife reserve in 1976. The Kannally Ranch House now is open for tours Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

With the involvement of area residents, little new development has occurred at the site with the exception of a visitor center and limited picnic sites and parking spaces.

The park now continues the efforts of the Oracle Education Project to offer cultural and environmental programs concerning the area.

During the state park 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 13, the park also will host Fiesta de las Calabazas with food, pumpkin decorating, arts and crafts and entertainment from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. with a $2 fee for the shuttle ride from Oracle to the park.

The eighth annual festival also will include games, hay rides, authors and animal exhibits.

The state parks anniversary celebration will be at 11:30 a.m.

Picacho Peak landmark attracts hikers

Picacho Peak State Park, which opened in 1968, attracts hikers to its 1,500-foot volcanic structure used as a landmark since pre-historic times.

Explorer Juan Bautista de Anza recorded passing by the mountain in the 1700s and the Mormon Battalion constructed a wagon road through the pass in 1848.

Places where the thirsty explorers found water are recorded in “A Historical Guide to the Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Trail” by Dan Talbot.

Each spring historic re-enactment buffs replay the largest Civil War clash in Arizona. They commemorate an event of April 15, 1862 when Confederate and Union soldiers collided in the Battle of Picacho Pass.

Known for its wildflower display when rains have fallen, the 3,747-acre park offers camping and is a quiet respite for weary travelers.

Pinal County friend donates McFarland park

The creation of Arizona’s state parks was supported by a Pinal County friend, Gov. Ernest McFarland, with a park named after him in Florence – McFarland State Historic Park, said Daniel Brown, a park ranger at the small park on the historic main street of Florence.

In 1957 McFarland signed the bill creating the State Parks Board, and asked the board in 1973 to accept the donation of Florence’s first courthouse which he had purchased for $8,000.

The park was dedicated in 1979 after renovation using state funds as well as an endowment of $27,000 from McFarland plus a deposit of $40,000 of Mountain States Telephone Bonds in the State Park Fund.

McFarland, who served the area as county attorney and Superior Court judge, also was majority leader of the United States Senate while representing Arizona and was chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Built in 1878, the restored building now displays McFarland family history and artifacts concerning Pinal County. After use as a courthouse until 1891, the building was converted to a county hospital and used for the purpose for about 50 years. It also was a welfare and public health center.

From 1968-1970 the Pinal County Historical Society Museum was located in the building and then it was vacant until sold to McFarland at a 1974 public auction. The building was designed by Levi Ruggles and made from locally produced adobe bricks and wood brought by wagon from northern Arizona.

Another Pinal County state park – Lost Dutchman – hosted the kickoff of the 50 years of state parks during a celebration in 2006, and Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park held a birthday party in January.

If you go

Fall birthday parties for Pinal County state parks are:

Oracle State Park

Location: 3820 Wildlife Drive. The park is off State Route 77 and requires a left turn on American Avenue when heading south on 77, a left on Mount Lemmon Road, and left into the park.

Telephone: 520-896-2425

For more information on Fiesta de las Calabazas Oct. 13, visit the Web site at: http://www.calabazas.org or call 520-896-2425.

The music state schedule for Oct. 13 includes Freddie Terry, an oracle folk singer and songwriter, who will perform from 11-11:30 a.m. Also appearing will be the bluegrass band Oracle Junction from noon-12:45 p.m., and The Tortolita Gutpluckers, a bluegrass band, from 1-1:45 p.m.

Other entertainment will be Ismael Barajas, a flamenco guitarist, from 2-3 p.m.; Zephyr Strings, a jazz and Celtic band, from 3-4 p.m.; and Bob Meighan with Norm Pratt and Dick Furlow providing dance music from 5-7 p.m..

Activities will include pumpkin decorating behind the Kannally House and a gourd gallery with voting for favorite gourd art created by students from Oracle, San Manuel, Mammoth and Catalina.

ONGOING: SATURDAYS, SUNDAYS & HOLIDAYS: Guided tours of the historic Kannally Ranch House. No reservation needed for 45-minute interpretive tours beginning at 10am and again at 2pm. There is no additional cost; the tour is included with the park entrance fee. Alternate tours may be scheduled by advance reservation only. (520) 896-2425.

Watch for future events such as the December gift fair and wreath-making workshop.

Arizona Trail: An entry to the Arizona trail is available in the Oracle area by following these directions and using a four-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle.

From the intersection of State Route 77 and State Route 79 at Oracle Junction north of Tucson, drive northeast on State 77 for nine miles to American Avenue and turn right or east. Drive 2.4 miles on American Avenue to its junction with Mount Lemmon Road (also called Old Mount Lemmon Highway and Control Road) and turn right or south. At 1.1 miles south of the turnoff onto Mount Lemmon Road, pass a road on the left leading to Oracle State Park. At 1.7 miles south of the turnoff, a sign marks the boundary of the Coronado National Forest. At 3.2 miles south of the turnoff, bear right as the road forks at an unsigned Y junction. At 4 miles south of the turnoff, a signed Arizona Trail entry is on the left.

Picacho Peak State Park

Location: 60 miles south of Phoenix on Interstate 10 at exit 219.

Telephone: 520-466-3183.

Open: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. with office hours 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Fee: $6 per vehicle.

Hike the Peak Oct. 27 starts at sunrise.

Jeep tours of the area surrounding Picacho Peak State Park are offered through the Sunland Gin Visitors Center by calling 520-466-3007.

McFarland State Historic Park

Party: Nov. 10-11

Location: Main and Ruggles, Florence.

Telephone: 520-868-5216

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Fee: $2 for 14 and older.

Information on other Pinal County state parks:

Lost Dutchman State Park

Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction. Telephone: 480-982-4485. Fee: $5 per vehicle

Fall events include moonlight hikes, ranger-led hikes Saturdays in November at 9 a.m. and monthly star talks.

Fees: $6 per vehicle day use except for celebration day at each of the parks when admission is free.

Hours: Most state parks are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day.

Web site: Information on all state parks is at http://www.pr.state.az.us

Please see the Winter 2006-07 Pinal Ways for a feature on Lost Dutchman State Park. The spring 2007 issue featured Picacho Peak on the cover and an interview with John Swearengin, manager of McFarland State Historic Park from 1978-1982. The Autumn 1996 issue also covered the Picacho area. Copies are available at the Casa Grande Dispatch, 200 W. Second St., Casa Grande. They also may be ordered by calling 520-836-7461.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Location: Highway 60 milepost 223 just east of Superior. Car pooling encouraged at all times but especially on weekdays due to widening of the U.S. 60. Call 520-689-2723.

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Fees: $7.50 for adults and $3 for ages 5-12.

Web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/BTA/

Car pool Web site: http://btacarpool.proboards74.com

Fall events:

Dragonfly walk 9:30-11:30 a.m. Oct. 6; butterfly walks 9:30 a.m. Sept 22 and Oct 27; Bible plants guided tour 1:30 p.m. Oct. 7 and 20, Nov. 4 and 17 and Dec. 2 and 15; guided bird walks 8:30 a.m. Oct. 6, 14, 20 and 28 and Nov. 3, 11 and 17; and edible and medicinal desert plants walks 9:30 a.m. Sept. 23 and 1:30 p.m. Oct 13 and 28, Nov. 10 and 25.

Additional Arboretum events include: bye-bye buzzards 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 22; butterfly gardening 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 29 ($20 cost for members and $27.50 for non-members); fall plant sale 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 6-21; and wild foods of the desert 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 7 ($20 for members and $27.50 for non-members).

Other Arboretum activities are: basic herb gardening 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 20 ($20 for members and $27.50 for non-members); landscaping with cactus noon-3 p.m. Nov. 3 $20 for members and $27.50 for non-members; and a live music festival 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 10.

In addition, the Arboretum will offer: Arizona 101 noon-3 p.m. Nov. 18 $20 for members and $27.50 non-members; and fall foliage finale 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 24-25 with live music and spiced cider.

Monarch tagging training will be Oct 13. For more information, call Chris Kline at 520-689-2723.

Arboretum volunteer starts car pool

Helping people save gas and make more friends motivated a Boyce Thompson Arboretum volunteer to start a Web site encouraging car pooling.

C.J. Rider started the site in June to make it simple to share a ride to the park near Superior. “Forty-five miles isn’t really a long drive from Mesa,” said Rider, the car pool coordinator, “but this offers an easy way for people to save gas while doing something they love – spending a morning at the Arboretum.”

The Web site is: http://btacarpool.proboards74.com.

“I love walking the trails, photographing the gardens, bringing my easel up to spend a quiet morning painting in the shade of those huge trees . . . and I hop this Web site encourages people who love the Arboretum to visit more often,” said Rider.

“Car pooling is also a great way to meet new East Valley friends who share your interests,” added Rider, who also believes people who might be reluctant to drive on highways will be able to visit if they use the car pool Web site.

“Car pooling can be a great way to socialize and have a real conversation,” Rider continued.