Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

Pinal County saguaro June 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Candace Hughes @ 4:15 am
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Pinal County saguaro

A dirt road goes around a giant saguaro in Pinal County, Arizona.


Miners honor fallen workers May 30, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Candace Hughes @ 3:13 pm
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Miners honor fallen workers previously published


By Candace S. Hughes


Mammoth – Manny Flores remembers the day he was working in the San Manuel copper mine and heard that a miner had been killed. He waited around for awhile, but it was taking some time for the body to be brought up so he went back to work.


Later, he found that his father, Carlos T. Flores, had been killed by three runaway ore carts.


The son was 20 and the father was 64 on July 6, 1956, when the accident occurred. Manny Flores’ friend, Victor Borboa, also lost his uncle, Manuel Jaramillo, in a cave-in.


While the two friends are now retired from the mines, they found that they were no longer seeing each other – except at the funerals of their friends and former co-workers as the men grew older.


To renew their friendships and to honor their culture and workers killed in the mines, they came up with an activity that would bring them back together for several years.


A group of seven retired miners – : Manny Flores, 70; Louie Vargas, 70; Victor Borboa, 70; Alfred “Teddy Bear” Trejo, 73; Abeardo Llamas, 77; Martin Sanchez, 71; and Fred Molina, 76; – decided to have fun and renew friendships by creating a memorial to miners killed in the San Manuel, St. Anthony and Tiger mine operations.


Many of the deaths and injuries were due to falls, cave-ins, electrocutions and falling rocks and sometimes carelessness, said the group, who gathered at the memorial to show photos, a book and other memorabilia concerning the mines.


Flores’ father was trapped in the narrow space in a mine shaft and when three loaded cars uncoupled he was unable to get out of the way.


In addition, a retired miner has written about his mining work life.


Memorial Day of 2007 brought a commemoration in Mammoth for the 55 miners killed in mines in southeastern Pinal County from 1939-1993. While there were deaths before 1939, that was the year when officials began to keep records.


Memorial Day dedication attracts 800


When it was dedicated, more than 800 people attended to honor the workers killed in accidents and to celebrate their lives. The memorial is a large granite boulder carved to hold a miner and depicts the skill necessary to work in the mines.


For more than two years, the group gathered to do clean-ups and yard sales, build an outdoor barbecue and complete renovation and construction projects to raise about $20,000 needed for the memorial. They laughed, joked and ate together as a local restaurant fed the workers who made the memorial.


Flores, 70, who calls himself the baby of the group which ranges up to age 77, says the men searched for a rock for the sculptor to use and found it in the yard of Grant “Loading Stick” Kempton, in Oracle after searching in Superior and Globe.


Kempton is retired, but was a raise miner and a supervisor of raise miners for many years. A raise is a vertical or inclined opening connecting with another level of the mine.


Micky Garcia, a retired tramp miner, found the stone and came up with a model for the scrap iron sculpture, which was made by Bruce Butler of Tucson. A tramp worker is a traveling miner, Flores explained.


Helping carve the opening for the sculpture were: the underground miners Llamas, Sanchez, Borboa, Vargas and Trejo.


By the time the boulder had been carved with an opening to hold the sculpture of a miner, the stone weighed 32 tons. Rock work was done by Vargas, Molina, Borboa, Llamas, Trejo and Flores, who scoured area canyons for flat rocks suitable for the project’s base.


Community and corporate efforts help raise money


BHP Billiton paid $12,600 for a crane to lift the boulder and also helped with additional cash and equipment to haul stone to the site, Flores says.

Contributing to the effort was the town of Mammoth providing $11,200 and equipment and land with the assistance of Town Clerk Shannon Ortiz, and the town also provided sand and gravel and loaned tools. In addition, the volunteer fire department helped.


The Town Council approved the land for the memorial near the Valley View Cemetery. Mammoth resident Onofre Tafoya also received a $500 grant from the Pinal County economic development program to help with the memorial.


Flores adds that the retired miners’ wives also must be recognized because the men weren’t doing their chores at home while the memorial was under construction. They are: Anita Flores, Delores Vargas, Rosie Molina, Maria deJesus Borboa, Norma Sanchez, Rosario Llamas and Angie Trejo.


The Mammoth Miners’ Memorial Women’s Fund Raising Group also helped by creating a large quilt as well as baking food sold to help build the memorial. A tardeada, an afternoon food and dance fiesta, was held at the Mammoth Lions Club.

La Casita Restaurant gave $1,000 in return for a wall that the retirees built, and they also were paid for building a fountain at the facility. In addition, Asarco donated money.


The Saturday morning San Manuel flea market even included some sales to benefit the cause.


Efforts include historical presentations


The project has kept the Mammoth Miners’ Memorial group busy as members participated in Arizona Archives Week in Phoenix by providing a photo of the Tiger Mine as well as articles on copper mining.


“A Pictorial Showing of the San Manuel and Tiger Underground Mine and Surface Areas” was displayed at the Oracle Historical Museum.


In addition to the Miners’ Memorial, Mammoth boasts the first installation of the Ore Cart Trail Project, an effort by artists from Superior to Oracle to place recreated ore carts along the Copper Corridor.


The Mammoth Ore Cart Trail Project shows a skeleton crew of miners created by artist Jerry Parra. With landscaping help from Cisco, the group traveled throughout the area to find the ore placed in the carts.


Despite the sadness and loss of life, the crew of retired miners emphasize they remained lighthearted throughout their work on the project. “We’re all in our 70s so we use humor,” Flores laughs.


They also completed the project to honor their history. “This is our culture. After we’re done and gone this is going to stay here. Every day I see someone here taking pictures. There have been miners in our families for years and we’re honoring them,” Flores emphasizes.


“My father, brothers, my two sons, a cousin, nephews all were miners,” he adds.


Borboa, whose family donated the memorial’s flag pole, points out that his cousins, nephews, brothers and son all worked in the mines. Vargas adds that he has nephews who are currently miners.




In Remembrance


The 55 miners who died in the St. Anthony Mine; Tiger Mine; and the San Manuel Copper Mine, mill, smelter and refinery in the Mammoth and San Manuel areas are:


Henry Padilla, Dolores Rivera, Edwardo Chavez, Manuel Jaramillo, Luis Montano, Angel Miranda Jr. (all in the Tiger underground mine).


Others who died are: Carlos T. Flores, Elton E. Bertsch, Hilario Lerma, Walter J. Schmiezer, G.L. Liddege, D.R. Orta, F. Velasquez, K.I. McGuffee and C.L.Romiti.


Also, R.G. Contreras, K.W. Marshall, Alfred Vasquez, Harvey Hendrickson, Lucianne Robles, Ebert S. Johnson, Richard Torres, William G. McInnis and Carlos Cuester.


Others include: Hector Frias, Willie J. Cox, Alberto Aguirre, William L. Boyd, Ricky L. Wannebo, Homer Fresh, Edward Duarte, Jerry Neff, Jim Trainor, Alexandro L. Ahumada and Robert McLean.


Others are: Arnold Sainz, Luis Canez, Teodoro Pesqueira, Bruno Vargas, Reynoldo C. Duran, Damian A. Quijada, Charlie C. Lopez, Bruce L. McGinnis, Donold Hitt and Edward V. Valdez.


In addition, Terry Bunning, Robert C. Brown, James J. Green, Jerry Thomas, Joe N. Armenta, Donald Riggs, Antonio Martinez, Leonardo Diaz, Arlo Wade and Joe A. Romero.


Mammoth miner tells the story

of workers in Magma mine


Mammoth – Getting a job as a hardrock miner at the age of 26 was the first chance Onofre Tafoya had to feed himself, his wife and their six children.


“I could pay cash for my groceries and gasoline,” he says of the job he took in 1955. He worked at the Magma mine for 37 years.


While his job was dangerous and difficult, he says in his book “Mother Magma” that he loved being a miner. The mine was a “magical place” with friendly workers showing a strong work ethic.


The oldest of five siblings, he was born during the Depression and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 15. His duty took him to the submarine base at Pearl Harbor and he was part of the relief crew on a number of submarines until the war ended.


“I loved the Navy. I had never eaten so good or dressed as warm,” Tafoya says. When he was 18 he was discharged and married and had six children. He and his wife later adopted two additional youngsters.


Before finding work in the mines he was employed at a Phoenix brickyard. He later moved to San Manuel and began his life’s work at the Magma Copper Co. underground mine near San Manuel.


After retiring at age 64, Tafoya penned his book, a memoir of underground life in one of the most productive mines in the world.


Tafoya lowers his readers into the world of the miners, an intense and admirable profession requiring courage and stamina.


Archivist pays tribute to miners


In an introduction to the book, Christine Marin, curator and archivist of the Chicano and Chicana Research Collection at Arizona State University, says:


“They were good and decent men, these miners: ready to do the most precarious work and at dangerous levels beneath the earth. They worked together and some died together. In Tafoya’s eyes, they were heroes in the true sense of the word because of the sacrifices made in the name of ‘Mother Magma.’”


Marin’s grandfathers came to Miami from Mexico and New Mexico in the mid-1900s to mine copper. Onofre Tafoya’s book “Mother Magma: A Memoir of Underground Life in the San Manuel Copper Mine,” may be purchased at Changing Hands Bookstore at Guadalupe and McClintock roads in Tempe, and is available through Amazon.com.


In addition, it may be ordered by mail for $24.95 plus a $3 shipping fee by sending a check payable to the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues, P.O. Box 50553, Mesa 85208.


Contact information for the institute is: www.hisi.org or call 480-983-1445.


In addition to writing the book, Tafoya, 78, worked with the Senior Citizens of Mammoth to help build the memorial.


Besides, Tafoya’s book another publication is in the works. “Copper Voices: Images and Voices From the Copper Miners Community of the Tucson Area” is being compiled by students of Arizona International College of the University of Arizona and will cover the Mammoth area.


For more information on this book, which will cover the history of copper mining in the area, contact Alicja Mann at alicja@word-studio.com. The book also will include historic and contemporary photos and a collection of first-person accounts from former miners and their families.


If you go


The Miners’ Memorial is in Mammoth on the west side of State Route 77 in the Miners’ Memorial Park across from the Mammoth Little League field.





Gravel pit permit hearing May 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Candace Hughes @ 3:29 pm

San Tan Pit receives permit renewal


By Candace S. Hughes

Special to The San Tan Monthly

Previously published 

A Gilbert resident who is building a home near the San Tan gravel pit is complaining that he was not notified of a hearing in which the pit’s air quality permit was tentatively renewed April 17.


During a 3 p.m. hearing in the cafeteria of Walker Butte Elementary School Don Gabrielson and other Pinal County staff agreed to renew the pit’s permit for five years. No members of the public were present and no officials of Pioneer Landscaping appeared to discuss the application.


“I’m very disappointed I was never contacted by the county,” said Kevin Okuszka, a Gilbert resident who is building a home in the El Pedregal development west of the pit. The San Tan Gravel Pit is at 26401 N. Gary Road and has operated in the area since 1996.


Pioneer Landscaping took over the operation from San Tan Mining Co. in 2001 and still runs the operation. Debbie Ellsworth of Pioneer Landscaping was notified of the hearing, said Anu Jain, a Pinal County air quality permit engineer, but she did not attend.


Okuszka and his father-in-law, Al Wood, were the only citizens to file written comments regarding the company’s application to renew its permit. Wood, who lives in Michigan, is planning to build a home on land he owns near Gary and Silver Bell roads and move to the area.


“I had my telephone number on the letter and I was expecting a telephone call,” said Okuszka, who will move to the area with his wife and three children when their house is completed at the end of the year.


“The public hearing notice is always published in the newspaper and I am guessing it was the Florence Reminder (March 16),” said Jain. In addition the hearing notice was published in The Apache Junction News March 23, according to affidavits of publication from the two newspapers.


“I’m not sure if the complainants were provided with a copy of the public hearing notice or not. It also is posted at different sites within the Pinal County Complex,” she added.


Okuszka said he was aware of the pit when he bought the land 18 months ago and that the gravel mining operation is visible from the back of his lot, but that he had been told the pit would close in several years.


“The gravel pit itself does not regularly water or control its own dust on its premises that it generates and the dirt, dust that pollutes the air is a constant problem,” Okuszka said in his Feb. 25 letter to the Pinal County Air Quality District requesting a hearing on the permit renewal.


“I am asking for a public hearing for a chance for the families and myself to be heard, to voice their disapproval of this gravel pit and to put a final date on when this gravel pit will be closed,” he said in the letter.


Sharon Okuszka said, “It sounds like they didn’t want to inform anyone. We paid an overnight freight charge to get the comments to them and we have not had one response. We were never informed of the hearing.”


In renewing the permit, Gabrielson, director of the Pinal County Department of Health and Human Services, said he is requiring that Pioneer keep records of spraying during operations.


Gabrielson said that Pinal County only has enough inspectors to take a look at the 40 gravel pits in the county about once every two years. Inspectors will respond if a complaint is made, Gabrielson added.


Okuszka also said he was concerned about the amount of dust created by trucks driving on the dirt road, but the air quality permit is limited to the amount of particulates created by the gravel mining operation.


The issue of homes being built on or near a dirt road and a gravel pit is a zoning concern that isn’t part of the state statutes governing air quality, Gabrielson said.


Okuszka, who said he is working on his house two days a week, said he is unhappy with how often the road is graded and watered. “There is always a plume of dust from the pit,” he added.


Pioneer does water the road, but officials with the company have declined to discuss the renewal with The San Tan Monthly.


Because no violations have been found concerning the recently expired permit, there is little the county can do under state air quality regulations, Gabrielson said.


Anyone wishing to appeal the ruling has 30 days to file a written request to reconsider the decision. The company also has 30 days to pay the $1,000 fee for the renewal once it is issued, Jain said.


Wood said he was not notified of the hearing, and thought that the pit would “go away in the next year or so. My son-in-law Kevin (Okuszka) said the pit’s permit was running out in a year or so that implied that the pit was going to close.”


However, Wood still plans to build a home and run a solar consulting business there in several years. He said his main concerns are with the traffic and gravel trucks tearing up the road, but added that the county is doing a good job in other areas.


“Actually, I’m pretty impressed with some of the planning they’ve done in a short period of time. We beat up on our public officials a lot, but in some cases they’re doing a marvelous job.”


For more information:


Volunteers who wish to attend the Phoenix metro area training for new site stewards should call (602)-542-7143 or send an email to mestes@pr.state.az.us. Classroom session Feb. 18 and field training Feb. 25. Notices of time and place will be sent to those who return applications.



San Tan area residents monitor archaeological sites


By Candace S. Hughes

Special for The San Tan Monthly


“This is the United States of America and I can do anything I want,” an off-road vehicle enthusiast proclaimed when found infringing on land near an archaeological site in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park.


But Georgia Peterson, Denise Head and Alden and Caroline Rosbrook and others in the San Tan area are working to see that these places are protected from further destruction.


Confronting the off-road vehicle rider eventually worked to keep him out of the park, but some damage already has been done to ancient gardens and other places of pre-historic and historical significance.


San Tan Mountain Regional Park is just now being fenced, and a park employee had opened a gate to let debris run through a wash after a rainstorm. The off-road vehicle rider gained access to the park while the gate was open, Peterson explained.


Under the Arizona State Parks Department site protector program, at least 760 Arizonans including Peterson, Head and the Rosbrooks have been trained to watch a site or sites they have adopted and they hike regularly to the areas to watch for incursion.


Peterson, was a teacher for Sacaton Public Schools in the Gila River Indian Community for 19 years, and became interested in the area as she accompanied children to view petroglyphs in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park.


“They ran to the place when we got close,” she exclaimed. The children’s enthusiasm and her years as a teacher of Native Americans helped her gain an appreciation for the significance of the sites.


Just before retirement she and her husband began building an adobe home on private land they purchased near the park. Now she can hike to her site as often as she likes.


Other site stewards monitor places in the Superstition Mountains while some are pilots with the Civil Air Patrol from Falcon Field.


The protectors serve in 27 regions across Arizona, from the border with Mexico to the Arizona Strip, said Mary Estes, resource protection specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office/Arizona State Parks.


Two pre-historic sites and one historic site have been identified in the park, and Peterson recites the research that has been done about “her site.”


It is thought that Hohokam cultivated agaves there as long as 2,000 years ago and up to about 500 A.D. “They controlled water to get to where they were farming and channeled it there, perhaps until about 1540 A.D. — the time of European contact in this area,” she said.


Rocks are piled around the area as well and implanted in the soil showing that there may have been cultivation. “It takes an imagination to see it, but when an archaeologist showed me the site, she made it very clear,” Peterson said.


Unfortunately this place along with many others in the park have been disturbed by off-road vehicles, cattle, hikers, equestrians and four-wheelers, with most of the people unaware that they are even crossing a site, said Peterson, who is now 71.


“It’s amazing that there’s anything left, but they’re still interesting to look at and try to imagine the crops,” she added, mentioning that her site is five miles from the park’s visitor center, but she is forbidden from showing it to others.


“Primarily the mission of the program is to monitor archaeological sites and report vandalism, and to reach out to the public to let others know the importance of leaving the archaeological record in place,” Estes said. “Sites are special, and often, sacred places, for Native Americans living today.”


As part of the State Historic Preservation Office and Arizona State Parks, the program provides certified volunteers who follow a code of ethics. To attend the February training for new volunteers, contact Estes at (602)-542-7143 or send an email to mestes@pr.state.az.us.

“The training consists of learning about the federal and state laws relevent to cultural resources, vandalism and monitoring reporting process, how to protect an archaeology crime scene, and 1/2 day in the field with a professional archaeologist learning a little of the pre-contact cultures and how to identify an archaeological site,” Estes said.


Alden Rosbrook, 68, and Caroline Rosbrook, 67, who also are active with the San Tan Pride Association, are site stewards for the gravesites of Mansel Carter and Marion Kennedy, miners who had claims on Goldmine Mountain for 40 years. They are working to place fencing around the area.


Most of the other sites are archaeological or religious sites, said Alden Rosbrook, a director with the San Tan Pride Association. “The fun part of this is getting together with people from all over the Southwest – hikers, archaeologists and tribal people. I really like the historical part of it. This is fantastic,” he added.


Carter, who lived from 1902-1987, is known as the Man of the Mountain, and is featured in an exhibit at the San Tan Historical Society. The mining apparently stopped with Kennedy’s death in 1960, but it is thought that neither found large amounts of gold or silver, Rosbrook said.


The Man of the Mountain became known for his “cactus curios” of carved animals, and Rosbrook recalled attending Carter’s burial in the park when he made the mistake of wearing black shoes on a hot June day. “I kept moving into the shadow of other people and moving my feet because it was so hot,” he explained.









Moving to Apache Junction, Arizona March 4, 2014

Filed under: green,Pinal County,Uncategorized,wildlife — Candace Hughes @ 3:52 pm
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May 29, 2002 7 a.m. Before it gets too hot, the family of cactus wrens begins to peck at our potted plants on the back porch of our home in Apache Junction, Az. As we settle our belongings after moving from Phoenix, we see the birds lifting plants by the roots and looking for insects. We chase them away and they perch on a large prickly pear cactus farther out in our 1 1/4-acre lot of combined natural desert and scraped landscape. The house, built in 1970, likely had cactus wrens living on the property at the time of its construction, and now they call out to us to remind our three-member family who really controls the area.

Our plants survive the heat and birds until we leave for a week to attend a funeral. When returning, we find the birds are healthy and busy hopping on our porch, while we see remnants of our wilted plants on the cement.

It reminds us of letting go of what we can’t control — the lives of birds who insist on keeping their homes, and the lives of humans, who have free will to choose life or death.

Our curious cactus wrens are more reticent to come close now after one got stuck in a box and died in the heat. An insect must have tempted the bird, who unknowingly entered a human-constructed box.

We still see their feathers around and now they’re busily building nests