Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

State park ranger deals with it all July 8, 2011

Filed under: green — Candace Hughes @ 4:57 pm

Snakes, trash, phones, campfires
all in a day at Lost Dutchman

By Candace S. Hughes
Special to the Republic

Apache Junction – The friendly voice answering the many calls about wildflowers and scenic campsites at Lost Dutchman State Park just may be the new park manager relocated from Lyman Lake State Park near Show Low.

Tom Fisher also may be caught picking up trash from under bushes at the base of the Superstition Mountain, but not without first making noise to ensure no rattlers are taking shelter there as the temperatures increase.

About once weekly Fisher or one of the other three full-time employees use tongs with a long set of handles to extract an unwanted camper from the area loved by RVers, place the diamondback in a bucket, add a lid (very carefully) and transport the noisy reptile to a location far from hiking trails, picnickers and wildflower enthusiasts.

Located northeast of Apache Junction on Arizona 88 or the Apache Trail, the assignment is a big change for Fisher, who only came across two rattlers during his 13 years at Lyman Lake.

The 57-year-old started at Lost Dutchman in August, when the park is quiet, and is now adjusting to the heavy winter visitor season.

“We’re one of the few parks operating in the black with about $300,000 taken in annually in fees for campsites, ramada rentals and admission to the park,” Fisher explained. Campsites are $12 daily, but have no electricity or water to the site. A fee of $5 per vehicle is charged to enter.

The park’s outdated wastewater treatment plant will receive a $600,000 upgrade in May, said Fisher, who may start a day by calling a technician to unplug the stopped up dump station.

More than 100,000 people visit the park yearly bringing in up to $4 million to the area, according to a state parks’ survey.

Fisher is returning to Lost Dutchman after he started there as a seasonal employee in 1984. “The development around the park has really changed. There were only a few houses close to the park’s boundaries then,” he says.

He still enjoys having more than 100,000 acres of the Superstition wilderness in his backyard where he hikes early in the morning and on his days off. “That’s my passion when I’m not working.”

Brittlebush and chuparosa are blooming, but only a few lupines and poppies have been found in the upper locations of the park near the formation called Praying Hands, he points out. A Ranger Cam on the state parks’ Web site shows recent flower photos taken on hikes in the park.

One of his most amazing sights to date at the park was a group of six deer drinking from a concrete pool near the contact station, he brags. The park draws many birders and Fisher’s glad to see cardinals, a bird he never saw at Lyman Lake.

While at Lyman Lake his rescues were mostly stranded boaters, but here he’s uses the park’s quad to help haul out the injured on the park’s heavily used trails, and also has volunteered to go outside the park to the First Water trailhead to search at midnight for lost hikers. While he helped the parents of the young people look for several hours in the dark, Superstition Search and Rescue found the lost hikers and does most of the rescues in the upper elevations of the mountain.

The diversity of the work is what keeps Fisher with the state parks system. When his seasonal job ended at Lost Dutchman in 1984 as winter visitors left, he was transferred to Lyman Lake where visitation goes up in the summer and stayed there working his way up to park manager.

“I’ve seen the movie ‘Endless Summer’ and it appealed to me,” he jokes of the move from Apache Junction to the Show Low area.

Fisher now enjoys building Saturday night campfires where talks are held at 7 on such subjects as bats (April 4) and reptiles (April 11). A March 28 program will cover the “Reel West vs. The Real West: Hollywood vs. History.”

Fisher emphasizes he couldn’t do it all without his staff, including a transfer from one of the closed parks, and volunteers. Many of the unpaid helpers are leaving as the temperatures climb in Arizona as well as in their home states, he laments.

Before Fisher moved into the park manager’s residence, it was occupied by Bob Sherman, who held the position for more than 20 years.

Sherman transferred to Oracle State Park 40 miles north of Tucson in Pinal County and retired Feb. 28.

If you go

WHAT: Lost Dutchman State Park named after Jacob Waltz, a miner, who is rumored to have buried a treasure map in the Superstitions

WHEN: Open every day sunrise to 10 p.m.

WHERE: 6109 N. Apache Trail (five miles north of Apache Junction on Arizona 88). Take the Idaho Road exit off the Superstition Freeway or U.S. 60 and turn north on Idaho Road.

FEE: $5 per vehicle. No senior discount.

TELEPHONE: 480-982-4485

INFORMATION: http://www.azstateparks.com

ACTIVITIES: Guided hikes 9 a.m. Saturdays are two-three miles, two-three hours focusing on plants, wildlife, local history and legends of the Superstition Mountain. Most hikes include steep grades. Free maps at ranger station. Check for moonlight hikes at 7. Free with park admission. Bring water.

Individuals with disabilities may request special accommodation such as alternative formats or assistance with physical accessibility. For more information, call Arizona State Parks Department at 602-542-4174.


Treasure Loop Trail #56 — moderate 2.4 miles roundtrip
Prospector’s View Trail #57 – moderate .7 miles
Jacob’s Crosscut Trail #58 — easy .8 miles along the base of the mountain in the park and continuing 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions
Discovery Trail — easy .5 miles connects campground and day use areas featuring information signs, wildlife pond, bird feeder and viewing bench
Siphon Draw #53 — difficult to very difficult up the canyon with a 1,000-foot elevation gain in a two-three hour hike entering the Superstition Wilderness. The hike beyond the basin is a very difficult steep climb not recommended for the average hiker. Those going to the Flatiron should be prepared for the 1,800-foot climb and plan to be gone four-six hours.

Camping: 70 non-hookup campsites on paved roads for RVs and tents. Includes dump station, showers and water. Each site has a picnic table and barbecue grill, but no fire pit. Pets on leashes are welcome.


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

Filed under: green — Candace Hughes @ 10:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

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.