Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

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Arizona Opry provides local entertainment November 17, 2011

Filed under: travel — Candace Hughes @ 4:43 pm

Opry food and fun

attracts music lovers

By Candace S. Hughes, Editor

Pinal Ways


Apache Junction — A wide variety of talent, music, jokes and instruments is among the offerings during the 21st season at Barleen’s Arizona Opry Dinner Theater ending in April.

From classical selections to Broadway tunes to Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” to pop such as “Boogyin’ Beethoven” by Julliard trained violinist Kevin Wong (complete with wig), the entertainment pleases most tastes. In fact, about 60,000 attend the Opry each season.

Some of the instruments include an Alp horn on which George Staerkel plays “Amazing Grace” and a saw, also mastered by Staerkel, with a recognizable version of “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Staerkel, a graduate of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., uses as many as 18 instruments in one song. He is the show’s music director and producer, and his wife Barbara is the co-producer.

“Barb is a great idea person. She comes up with a lot of neat stuff and most of the new ideas. Then it’s my job to get it from the idea stage to the performing stage and write the arrangements,” Staerkel said.

Broadway tunes such as “New York New York” by twins Brenda Barleen and Barbara Barleen-Staerkel round out the full range of songs.

Family act entertains audiences

The “girls,” in the show, who are now 45, began singing at age 2 in Waterville, Kan., “where there was always something going on,” says Brenda, who sings and plays the drums as well as managing the Opry.  Their first professional engagement was in 1979 at age 17, when the family opened a dinner theater in Estes Park, Colo.

The act moved to Apache Junction in 1987 to open the Opry, and

Brenda lives in Gold Canyon. Barbara, a vocalist, and her husband George, a musician, are snowbirds who travel from Mountain Annie’s dinner theater in Ruidoso, N.M., in the summer, to Apache Junction in the winter.

The twins’ father, 87-year-old “Daddy Lloyd” lives one block from the location on Old West Highway, but is unable to attend shows now due to health problems.

“We experiment with new material quite a bit during the summer,” the 53-year-old Staerkel added. “The stuff that works the best is brought over to Arizona for the show there.”

One of the new selections is a medley of songs using the ‘celebrity’ horns, all playing the original hits recorded on them such as the “Lonely Bull,” “Tijuana Taxi,” “Java,” the ‘Rocky’ movie theme and others,” he said.

New show and album

“Barb has some new stuff and a new album. She’s stretching out quite a bit. She does some Sarah Brightman material including Broadway and light classical and a New Orleans medley combining the songs of Billie Holiday and music made famous by Al Hirt played on his original trumpet,” Staerkel said.

“That has been a crowd favorite,” he exclaimed.

Others include a Johnny Cash and June Carter segment with Brenda singing the tunes, and she’s also featured on a drum solo. Rounding out the family act is Staerkel’s father, who performs some Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong pieces.

Bill Wells, another winter visitor from New Mexico, brings rock-and-roll from the 50s with his Les Paul including a performance of “Mariah.” The musicians aren’t afraid to get silly, and Wells brags that he could imitate Elvis (dressed in a shiny Spandex jumpsuit) without throwing a hip.

Shows alternate, so not all selections are heard every night, and entertainment is updated with the seasons. “The Beatles” have even been known to appear, complete with mop top wigs.

Instruments on display

The audience can enjoy admiring instruments during the intermission. They include an 18-karat gold trumpet played by Al Hirt when he recorded the 1960s hits. Other horns include a Herald trumpet used to open the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles with the official flag attached.

In addition, Doc Severinsen’s 24-karat gold trumpet used on his farewell tour is part of the collection.

Other celebrity instruments are a tenor sax used by Tex Beneke to record “In the Mood” with the Glen Miller Orchestra. The 1936 hand-crafted model was the top professional instrument of its kind in the 1930s and is the first “famous” instrument Staerkel acquired.

The audience also may hear tunes played on Herb Alpert’s trumpet, which has interchangeable bells and lead pipes to make different sounds. Staerkel has a CD for sale featuring all the “celebrity” horns.

Others include a 7-foot tall, 90-pound contrabass saxophone used to play a song by the Dominoes. The custom-made instrument comes from the Orsi Co. in Milan, and only 14 have been manufactured with two of those at Disneyland and Disney World.

“Screamer” instrument acquired

A recent acquisition is the legendary saxophone of Boots Randolph, who played “Yakkity Sax” in the 1963 hit. “What a screamer!” Staerkel said of the instrument.

Staerkel communicated with Randolph shortly before he died earlier this year to negotiate a lease of the instrument however, the 80-year-old musician died before sending the terms to Staerkel.

When Randolph’s son discovered the agreement, he finalized a sale of the instrument to Staerkel in a letter: “I hope you enjoy my father’s saxophone. I can only assume as he made arrangements for you to have it that it is going to a good home and that his legacy will be taken into consideration by you as you use it in your performances.”

Staerkel displayed and performed on the instrument in New Mexico this summer, and makes its winter home in Apache Junction where listeners hear “Yakkity Sax” and other Randolph tunes.

The Opry’s collection includes 88 instruments, with about 50 of them on stage at a time, Staerkel said.

Jokes are abundant throughout the show, which includes Ardis Larson bringing a humorous edge to aging as she is helped onto the stage and visits the audience during the intermission to demonstrate flashing ruby-red lips and other toys available for sale. Larson also adds yodeling to the act.

Other jokes include banter about Staerkel’s “acquisition habit” with a spouse questioning how many instruments are necessary and how much the purchases cost.

If you go

Location: Take US 60 (Superstition freeway) to Tomahawk Road (exit 197) and go north one mile to the Old West Highway. Turn right or east and go one-half mile. The theater is on the south or right side of the road at 2275 Old West Highway.

Prices: $27 for adults, children 12 and under $20. Includes dinner and show. Show only tickets are $20.

Times: Though April. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. with the show at 7:30 p.m.

Telephone: 480-982-7991 for required reservations Group: 480-215-2396

E-mail: info@azopry.com

Web site: www.azopry.com


Use the Boyce Thompson Arboretum as respite from hurry August 30, 2011

Filed under: green — Candace Hughes @ 3:58 pm

Use the arboretum as respite from heat and hurry

By Candace S. Hughes

Birds, bobcats, butterflies and buzzards visit the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park for food, water, rest and cover.

People also are invited to the garden to fulfill the same needs, and to enjoy the poppies, lupines, globe mallow, penstemon, red monkey flowers, verbena and tree and cactus blossoms.

While many of the wildflowers disappear with the coming of hot temperatures, visitors still are encouraged to visit the garden and may enter as early as 6 starting in May.

A walk along the main trail to the Herb Garden brings refreshing scents and an early morning visitor may be lucky enough to spot a bobcat.

The Demonstration Garden features cool running water and ideas for landscaping.

Cold drinks, snacks and air conditioning are found in a gift shop with handmade paper notes, chimes, cactus packed for shipping, desert-themed toys, pottery from Mata Ortiz, Mexico, and books including a collection of essays on Arizona washes.

Guidebooks, plant, flower, mammal and bird identification booklets and membership information also are available.

A March plant sale attracts gardeners and an art gallery changes monthly. Painter and photographer Paul Mudersbach will greet visitors at the gallery 10 a.m.-2 p.m. March 17. Summer exhibits last year resulted in $5,000 in sales, 15 percent of which was donated to the arboretum.

Just as Pinal County is rebounding after the opening and closing of mines, the garden on the site of a former mine is renewing itself with continued research, plenty of visitor activities and challenging opportunities for volunteers.

Volunteers have fun, help out

Workers interested in helping remove weeds not native to the Sonoran desert are invited to help Saturday mornings under the direction of a volunteer knowledgeable about tamarisk and other species trying to gain a foothold along Queen Creek. Gloves are advised.

Other well-trained volunteers help with a monarch butterfly tagging project studying the insects which frequent specially planted areas in the arboretum, but also migrate to parts south of Pinal County.

About 150 volunteers donated 11,000 hours to the garden in 2006 by staffing the admission booth and guiding tours as well as helping with grounds keeping.

Col. William Boyce Thompson chose the University of Arizona to establish the garden in 1924, and the state park remains affiliated with the research institution. The garden’s staff has received a $65,000 grant from the Wallace Research Foundation to study desert legumes. In addition, the University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station has approved a proposal for a reference guide on legumes.

Legumes range from soy beans to forage plants such as clover to ornamental plants such as redbuds.

The arboretum’s international focus continues with 68 plants propagated from seeds collected in Turkmenistan in 1998-99 and planted east of the Herb Garden on the site of a future Central Asian Exhibit.

Garden members receive many benefits

Members learn through a newsletter how the gardeners experiment with the appropriate mix of chile powder spray on plants to keep javelina and other beasts from munching cactus, succulents, bushes and trees gathered from the world’s deserts.

Tales of ringtails invading computer rooms during cold weather as well as other pieces of information about the area abound in the newsletter sent to members periodically.

Memberships are $45 for individuals and $60 for families. Some upcoming activities for members include 20 percent off on gardening and selected books; talk and walk with Mark W. Bierner, director, 9:30-11:30 a.m. March 22; and star night 6-9 p.m. April 14.

Members may reserve a place at an occasional breakfast or ice cream social or provide a dish for the star night potlucks.

More than 4,000 memberships bring in seven percent of the arboretum’s revenue, with Arizona State Parks contributing 17 percent, the University of Arizona six percent, admissions 17 percent and gift shop sales of $302,17 in 2006 comprised 18 percent of the garden’s income.

Donations bring in 16 percent, investment income 18 percent and programs and events one percent of the revenue. In 2006 more than 63,000 visited the park’s site, which includes 300 acres.

When the area was covered by a heavy wet snow in March of 2006, members gave $46,000 to help the garden recover from the loss of trees and limbs. Despite the devastating impact of the snow, the wood was converted into art and some of the turned objects are for sale in the gift shop.

Seventy-five percent of funding is put into program services, Bruce Klewer, business manager said in a report to members. The arboretum has about 30 part-time and full-time employees.

Leandra Lewis, former Arizona Clean and Beautiful executive director, has been hired as development director to help raise money to update and improve the arboretum.

Among the new features benefiting from donations is a children’s horticultural garden.

Visit http://ag.arizona.edu/bta for more information and updated wildflower reports or call 520-689-5858.


Bed and breakfast attracts history buffs August 19, 2011

Filed under: businesss,green,travel — Candace Hughes @ 6:03 pm

Bed and breakfasts expand offerings

By Candace S. Hughes

Sharon Holnback, owner of Oracle’s Triangle L Ranch, specializes in providing bed and breakfast guests with a relaxed experience of the Southwest, while adding her artistic values to the business’ operations.

Her efforts are among the unique way hosts of the home-based businesses attract guests to their properties.

Holnback, 47, owner of the ranch for seven years, continues its reputation as a laid back bed and breakfast, but is adding art as an interesting feature.

After selling her Tucson gallery, she offers some of the ranch’s housing to artists and employees who either pay rent or help with animal care, landscaping and shooing cattle off the 50 acres of land near Coronado National Forest.

Water troughs are abundant amid sculpture in the desert as well as places to rest while enjoying the quiet environment and abundant wildlife.

The ranch’s old workshop is now a gift shop with recycled glass flowers as light fixtures and metal art made from items found in the desert and in the Oracle junk yard. A garden hut also is constructed of found metal.

Recent events include an edible architecture exhibit and raffle and holiday house party starting off a progressive self-guided tour of gingerbread houses.

In addition, she has added to her offerings the Oracle Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning and hosted an opening reception for her ADOBE Gallery’s Winter Exhibition.

Art adds to experience

Her business, Apparatus Iron, remains active although it’s no longer a full-time enterprise. Although Holnback sold her commercial art gallery in the Lost Barrio portion of Tucson south of Broadway, she continues with her own photography.

“It’s going great overall with more traffic and we’re really excited,” says Holnback, who adds that the events are intended to make the ranch more of a destination property. “The art and the bed and breakfast kind of play into each other in my mind,” she explains.

The farmers’ market and arts activities attract people who may want to use the ranch for a wedding or party or stay overnight during an art show, Holnback added.

“It was all set up as a bed and breakfast and I decided to continue with that tradition,” she adds during a discussion from her Arizona room where cardinals and finches are heard close by and a telescope rests for guests to peer at stars in the sky free of light pollution.

Events and workshops are a good use of the property and an excuse to draw people into the retreat. It makes it more lively and I like to share this place,” she adds.

Fall GLOW attracts evening visitors

To draw people into the property, she has been offering GLOW nights during a full moon weekend in the fall. “We create, collaborate and have fun in this place in the desert with illuminated sculpture on the pathways. It’s intended to have anything to do with light,” she says enthusiastically.

Blacksmiths forge, musicians perform and visitors wear glow in the dark clothing while they munch on desserts. About 1,000 people attend each of the two nights. “It’s really a peaceful and a wonderful time,” she says of her creation.

The popularity of the event now requires shuttles from the Oracle State Park and a permit from Pinal County.

Holnback juggles finding the right amount of time as an artist with tending to bed and breakfast guests and has enjoyed experimenting with menus to entice visitors. One of her creations includes breakfast potatoes laced with rosemary taken from her garden. Eggs are freshly gathered from the ranch chickens.

“I’m letting things evolve and this takes time,” she adds, pointing out that she has help from a cousin who teaches welding at the Aravaipa campus of Central Arizona College also resides at the ranch as the foreman.

“I bought this with the intention of it being an artistic haven and since it was set up as a bed and breakfast it made sense to do that. “I’ve met a lot of interesting families and 99 percent of the people are really happy to be here and I enjoy sharing with people,” she remarks.

“It’s nice when it’s busy and nice when I have down time.”

Business has been growing over the years she’s been owner, she says. “Word of mouth, the Internet and guidebooks such as ‘Hidden Arizona’ have helped,” says Holnback, who enjoys hosting weddings on the property.

Other Arizona bed and breakfast properties also have found unique ways to attract guests including the Sled Dog Inn south of Flagstaff, where guests can view a group of retired canines as they relax in a rural area. Weddings and retreats may be planned at the large home, and concierge services are provided.

The Guest House Inn near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument offers visitors a respite from the outdoors, with high speed Internet service if needed.

In addition, the Arizona Mountain Inn provides a bed and breakfast as well as housekeeping cabins on the edge of Flagstaff with hiking and sledding nearby.

Earning a living as a bed and breakfast owner can be difficult, and Susan Woodruff, owner of Cherry Valley Ranch Bed and Breakfast just outside Oracle State Park, holds down a full-time job at the University of Arizona.

The historic ranch offers casitas as well as rooms in the main house, and Woodruff uses assistants to prepare breakfast and welcome guests while she travels southern Arizona with a mobile health unit.

At the same time, she loves to meet visitors when she can and to show off the property’s beauty. And putting together an enticing array of experiences is what the bed and breakfast owners seem to be excited about.

Holnback, who followed Triangle L Ranch’s previous owner around for a day before taking over ownership, remembers from the encounter Margot Easton’s remark: “Congratulations! You are the steward of the land!” And Holnback is working to create what she calls magical spaces on the ranch to attract guests and artists.

History of Oracle and Triangle L Ranch


The Triangle L is more than 100 years old and was one of the first guest ranches in southern Arizona. It was homesteaded in the 1890s by William Ladd, a cattle and sheep rancher. Buffalo Bill is rumored to have been a regular visitor.



Canyon Lake reopens for boating August 16, 2011

Filed under: businesss,green,travel — Candace Hughes @ 9:11 pm

Canyon Lake reopens for boating

By Candace S. Hughes, Editor

Pinal Ways

CANYON LAKE – Anglers anxious to bring their boats to Canyon Lake northeast of Apache Junction are now able to return to the lake, but Dolly Steamboat won’t be in operation until Feb. 18.

Boaters were again allowed to fish Feb. 9, but anglers have been permitted to fish from the shore through the time of lowered lake levels since September while the Salt River Project did dam maintenance.

“The lake was filled up about a week ago ((Jan. 29) in the previous weekend storm,” said Jeff Lane, an SRP spokesman. “When I last checked, our construction work was finished except for a few things that can be completed when the lake is filled,” he added.

“There’s lots of debris such as logs washed down because of the flooding from Fish Creek and boaters should use caution,” said Art Wirtz, Mesa district ranger for Tonto National Forest. The forest service will pick up the items as they are washed to the shoreline, he said.

“Due to recent flooding, the lake has stirred-up sediment,” Wirtz said.  “It’s pretty risky for boaters right now and we are discouraging boating use.

“Boaters risk motor burn-out due to the high sediment load.  The Canyon Lake Marina has already burned up two of their motors due to this situation,” he added.

“There’s lots of stuff in the water that boaters aren’t used to seeing. The turbidity and the churning up of the water from the storms could cause sediment to get into motors,” Wirtz cautions. “It will take awhile for it all to settle out.”

“Anglers were interested in getting back on there, but we caution them to run slowly and watch for debris,” he emphasized.

“The marina is all moved back to its original location and new configuration,” said Chuck Richards, marina manager. “ It should be ready for our marina customers for complete access by mid February.”

Although there had been a road closure at Tortilla Flat during flooding, the Apache Trail is now open from Apache Junction to the lake.

While repairs were being made at the dams on either end of Canyon Lake, volunteers and staff with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have been busy making improvements.

Additional fish and habitat were added to the lake during the boating closure, said Natalie Robb, fisheries program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“We put 3,080 large mouth bass into Saguaro in early November and stocked with 545 small mouth bass also in early November. We are also going to continue stocking large mouth and small mouth this spring,” she said.

“When they lowered the lake, there was still enough water to sustain the fish that were already in there. We are stocking bass as part of a research project to see if stocking bass will help curtail the effects of golden alga on the bass populations at Saguaro, Canyon and Apache lakes,” Robb added.

“The fish habitat project turned out great. We built over 500 structures on Teddy Bear, Mormon Flat and Beaver Landing. We received over 1,000 donated Christmas trees and tied them to the pyramids,” she said of the effort by Game and Fish employees and volunteers.

Vegetation such as cattails in the non-motorized area will come back as the lake levels are re-established and trees weren’t harmed because they normally are dormant during the winter months, he explained.

“There were only a few months without water,” he said.

While wildlife was temporarily disrupted and fewer may be seen for awhile, they eventually will settle back in, Wirtz said.

The March 1 grand reopening from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. will have activities and displays including a helicopter from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with 100 bags for children, a Salt River Project booth, 100 bags for kids, Smoky the Bear and Woodsy Owl from the U.S. Forest Service with gifts for children and a return of two animals to the wild by Adobe Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

In addition, there will be Dutch oven cooking demonstrations, 200 free hotdogs provided by Lakeside Restaurant, a car club exhibit, a history booth by Superstition Mountain Museum and free watercraft safety inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Coastie the Coast Guard robot will also be present.

Dolly Steamboat will have a 10 a.m. kickoff cruise after a ribbon cutting with tours at noon and 2 p.m. There also will be a Little Miss Dolly contest for girls ages 5-10 in Victorian dress.

Dolly steamboat returns Feb. 18 at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Rides March 1 will be at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 5:30 with dinner and sky gazing tours also scheduled. Tickets are required. For ticket information call 480-827-9144 or visit http://www.dollysteamboat.com.

For further information about conditions on Canyon Lake, please call the Mesa ranger district:  (480) 610-3300 or visit the Tonto National Forest Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto