The Wild West: Superstition Mountain Museum and Apacheland

Dear Students,

This morning found us in Apache Junction near Lost Dutchman State Park. The Superstition Mountain Historical Society  is open 7 days a week, from 9AM. We pulled in at 9:15 and found the place uncrowded. The Superstition Mountain Museum is free for children 16 and under. Adults are $5.00, students (with ID) are $2.00.  With the cost of our overnight campsite, our weekend getaway was $16.00. $6.00 for the campsite and $10.00 for our morning touring the Apacheland movie set and the Historical Society grounds and museum. A full weekend for a bargain price.

Apache Land

photo by Raw Processor found on Flickr

I wish every historical society was set in such an exciting location. Normally my poor boys play with my phone while I browse (for too long) the books. Outside a horse was hitched to a post and the Muleskinners were assembling for their choreographed shoot-out.

The Superstition Historical Society has a busy calendar of classes, author visits and kid friendly activities, all reasonably priced or free.  I picked up some children’s items for my gift closet (good selection, less chance that the child already has it and I support a local business.) The boys had a blast sifting through the trolley of smooth gemstones and filling tiny velvet bags with citrine, carnelian, jasper and quartz.

Desert Wildlife taxidermy display in the museum, very well done

We took a walk through the museum. I loved the taxidermy exhibit. I read that arrowheads and clay shards were as common as seashells on a beach in this part of the country. The museum had several fine pieces, all found on local farms. Incredible. I picked up some arrowheads and a sheriff’s badge for the boys. I love for them to have a hands on sense of where they live. Arizona is very special.

This petroglyph rock was donated by a local farmer to the historical society. Tiny museums like this give an intimate view of a community. You can feel the connection to the land in this  small, uncrowded, lovingly assembled museum.

Because of Apache Junctions intersection with the Wild West, Indian Wars, Hollywood Movie stars and mining legends, this museum has tremendous depth. You can learn about cowboy westerns, soiled doves, gold mines, history or desert beauty. As a history buff, I love the story of Audie Murphy. Apacheland includes exhibits about Audie Murphy and Elvis Presley. The Elvis Presley chapel is a fun spot for a vow renewal…my wheels are turning. I was not able to stay as long as I liked. What a great resource for our area. I’ll be back for a solo visit when I can browse in peace.

I loved these guys. They were hilarious. The shoot out was LOUD! The outlaws were a riot. Here they are in their death throes. Can’t beat it.

I follow local historian Tom Kollenborn on Facebook. His love for the Superstition Mountains is contagious. He posts pictures, stories, hidden retreats and is a wealth of knowledge. Today I marked several items off my Valley bucket list. I wanted to visit the Historical Society and see if I could find one of his books. I also wanted to check out the Apacheland Movie Set and hopefully catch a gun show. The museum always has something going on and I was tired of missing it. Have you been to Apache Junction? What did you do during your visit?

Bang, bang, bang,

Mrs. Kenney

Epic Natural Beauty: Camping in Tortilla Flat

Dear Students,

We have an ambitious family goal of camping once a month. April looked shaky, we didn’t know where to go. I pulled out my trusty 144 best campgrounds in AZ late Friday night, but could not decide. It is the cusp of the season here. The winter campgrounds are hot, the cooler campgrounds open in May. We considered Tonto Natural Bridge, Christopher Creek. I dismissed Tortilla Flat because I wanted to sit in the trees. To be honest, I know very little about camping and even less about local campgrounds. The only way to change is get out and go.

In the morning we attended a final soccer game, then home to an unpacked car and a messy house and no destination in mind.

With his participation trophy and his fabulous Coach

So with no better idea, and the fact that we were running into the afternoon, we picked Tortilla Flat. It was close by. Finding trees and shade is too much drama in this part of the world. We packed hastily, chucked a cooler in the car and hit the grocery store on the way out for hot dogs and smores fixings.

We took the Apache Trail, the drive is relentlessly, crushingly, world heritage style beautiful. I took this photo with my phone, I can imagine a real photographer happily spending their career here and never running out of inspiration. It’s that awesome.

The Apache Trail is a state scenic by-way. Simply driving on the trail makes you think you are on vacation. It’s recommended as fun for people that live in Phoenix. I disagree. I think it is great for anyone in the world. I honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies and I felt like the Apache Trail was just as gorgeous. What a treat.

We arrived around 3PM to a nearly empty campground, blazing heat, no shade and buzzing black flies. The awesomeness of the scenery made up for all of that. We made our own shade with the mini van and waited for the relief of sunset.

Camping at Tortilla Flat requires a 24 hour Tonto Day Pass ($6.00). These inexpensive passes are available at many local businesses. We bought ours at the Circle K in Queen Creek. We passed a CVS that had a sign advertising Day Passes Sold Here. The closer you are to the Tonto National Forest, the more vendors you will find, pop in any convenience store and ask. If you don’t have a pass you risk a fine.

The campsites were arranged in three lanes, in tiers, You drove through a one way loop and looked for the best one. All were flat, treeless and covered with fine gravel. We picked #14.

Recreation choices abound at Tortilla Flats. There is a marina, a small row of stores/museums in the tiny town of Tortilla Flat (population 6). As the afternoon waned, the experienced people filled up the campground (and avoided the baking heat).

The dusk brought out the wildlife. Mine and the desert dwellers.

The Tortilla Flat campground is situated in the Canyon Lake Recreation area. As the afternoon fell, a coyotes howled across the canyon. At dusk he loped downhill, thin and grey as smoke to join his friend. I did not take a picture I was too busy picking up Max and walking backward to let him go by unimpeded. From our vantage we could follow him in and out of view, I was glad for the sparse desert vegetation. As the sun set over the canyon rim, the bats came out fat and chunky, feasting on bugs. I wished we would hear the coyote again and was rewarded twice more that night with their lonely desert music. Heaven. I will go back over and over again just to hear coyotes calling within a canyon.

After we made smores, the boys washed up in the bathroom that had flush toilets AND sinks with running water. A real bathroom. I was so excited I felt like someone had given me a one hundred dollar bill. These bathrooms were situated throughout the campsite, sealing the deal of Best Campground Ever.

The next morning found us breaking down camp fairly quickly, without shade the campsite was not a welcome place to spend the day. The camp closes for the season on May 1. We will be be back in November, Tortilla Flat made the list for local winter camping. Of the six places we’ve camped this past year, we saw the most wildlife here: coyote, rattlesnake, bats, quail, turkey vulture and hawk.

The Lesser Long Nosed bat is an endangered migratory bat. I don’t know if this is the bat we saw, but it may have been. The flowers were in bloom at this time of year. Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle Bat Conservation International

Under a wolf moon,
Mrs. Kenney

Guns to Salute the Fallen: U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Missouri Guns Arrive in Phoenix

It’s all about honoring the people who protected our freedom, not the guns.

AZ Secretary of State Ken Bennett, April 20, 2012

Guns to Protect the Fallen Ceremony

Artists rendering of the proposed memorial

Dear Students,

School was closed on Friday and that meant a trip downtown to witness the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Missouri guns arrive by rail. I’ve followed the story of the project online. Having a free day meant my boys could see the plaza, mingle with people that love history and welcome the guns to the State Capital. We can donate online, we can attend the dedication and later we can enjoy picnics near the monument and know we are a small part of it’s story. It felt great to welcome the train as it pulled up to the Capital. There was an audible feeling of happiness in the air. Volunteers from BNSF railroad had polished the engine the night before for the ceremony.

Gov. Brewer speaks with Nelson Mitchell, Pearl Harbor Survivor at the event. It was an honor to see her. She said the best part of her day is any time she spends with veterans. Her remarks were gracious and her pride in Arizona was evident. (Secretary of State Bennett is to her left in a baseball hat.)

I am curious about these guns, so I did some research. The U.S.S. Arizona is at the bottom of  Pearl Harbor, so where did the gun come from? It seems this particular gun barrel was on the USS Arizona from 1925 until 1938, when it was relined and sent to Dahlgren for testing. It later was installed on the “super dreadnought” USS Nevada in 1942 and supported the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The gun fired 244 rounds between June 25, 1943 and Aug. 26, 1944, according to Navy records. The Arizona barrel still includes the yoke and breech mechanism, part of the gun’s firing assembly. Other gun barrels at Dahlgren are missing those components. “The fact that this one is intact is kind of nice,” said Capt. Michael Smith, the NSWC commander. Because both of these ships were involved with the beginning and the end of the war (the peace treaty was signed on the U.S.S. Missouri) then the guns are considered an alpha and omega to World War II.

Max with Shorty. He said he was decorated by President Truman and dubbed the shortest decorated navy man in the service. He served on board an aircraft carrier, the Shangri La during WW II. It was great to shake the hand of a man who shook Truman’s hand.

Among those in attendance were vets, a WWII WAVBuffalo Soldiers, representatives from the Rotary Club and BNSF railroad who all had a stake in making the monument happen. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett described how he called the Navy Department of Inactive Ships (INACTSHIPOFF) to track down the guns. He asked for the U.S.S. Arizona gun (understanding it was their last one) and the Navy said no, how about one from the U.S.S. Missouri, we have seven? Secretary Bennett persisted, as we are Arizona after all, and not Missouri. He said, “how about both?” In recognition for thinking big, we were granted both and the challenge of bringing them to the state. Secretary Bennett joked that this taught him that when you ask for one thing from the government the answer is no, but if you ask for two things, the answer is yes. I was impressed at the tenacity of the journey to bring this monument to life. Apparently Senator John McCain started the process in 1990 and here we were 22 years later, welcoming them to Phoenix. It is easy to walk by a monument and take it for granted but I learned from growing up near Gettysburg Battlefield that each monument represents a caring community who want to honor their loved ones.

Pearl Harbor Survivor Lambert Mudder (91), my boys and Pearl Harbor Survivor Nelson Mitchell (91)

Following the ceremony, we had the privilege of meeting some of the vets. Lambert Mudder is 91 years old. He is known as “Old Gramps” to the students at Greenway Middle School. He visits the school every year to talk about Pearl Harbor. One particular class impressed him so much that he invited them to join him in Hawaii for the 2011 dedication of the Visitor Center–against the odds, they raised the money and joined him. Nelson Mitchell was a server aboard the USS Jarvis, during the attack. His ship was one of the first to engage the Japanese and join the fray. When I researched both of these men, I found coutless incidences of them showing up around the community speaking, inspiring and making history come alive. This is one reason we call them the Greatest Generation.

The USS Arizona

The boys on board the U.S.S. North Carolina, Wilmington, NC. The North Carolina is identical to the Arizona. (2011). 

The Arizona State Capital was converted to a State Museum in 1977, it is free and open to the public. 2012 is Arizona’s Centennial, which makes this the best time to take advantage and visit the museum. I’m always looking for a way to beat the heat in the summer, so we will be sure to stop by again in June and tour the interior. The copper domed capital is set in a plaza with free 2 hour visitor parking. The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza is a generous sized green space in the capital complex, in the style of the National Mall. It features 30 monuments or memorials set among trees, pavilions and grass. The boys ran all over the grounds, lacing in and out of monuments. The U.S.S. Arizona currently has two monuments at the plaza, a ship anchor and a mast. I knew I was pushing it with 3 little boys under the age of 7 taking them to a ceremony. They made me proud.

Following the ceremony the boys were delighted to canvas the park, running like maniacs in the heat. I wish I had their energy.

Alpha and Omega,
Mrs. Kenney

P.S. The story behind the addition of the U.S.S. Arizona mast is a testament to the power of one person to make a change. “…The upper 26 feet of the USS Arizona Signal Mast or “pig-stick” can be found at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. The superstructure above the waterline was removed soon after the attack. Admiral Earnest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, sent the signal mast to his hometown of Lorain, OH. Commander Edwin C. Keyes, a close friend of Adm. King, commanded the naval armory in Lorain, OH. He had the mast modified and erected at the armory to be used for training purposes. The Navy added the yards (cross pieces) to the mast. Allen A. Perhach, of Lorain Steel Fabricators, made other modifications including the 36 ft. length added to the bottom of the USS Arizona’s original 26 ft. mast. The vertical shaft represents the 1,177 crewmen who gave their lives on that “Day of Infamy.” The yard stands for all those who served aboard. The USS Arizona’s modified signal mast was used until the armory was razed in 1980. It was offered to the city of Lorain, OH but was refused. In order to save the mast from destruction, Cdr. Keyes obtained authorization from the Navy for Brenne Donofrio, a naval engineer to take possession of it. The mast was moved to Brenne Donofrio’s property where it was stored for 10 years. Robert Manzetti, a retired railroad engineer from OH, learned of the mast while visiting his daughter who lived near Lorain, OH. Mr. Manzetti and Dr. Earl L. Field, a professor at Arizona College of the Bible and both residents of Glendale, Arizona formed the U.S.S. Arizona Signal Mast Committee. The Committee purchased the mast, transported it to AZ and erected it in Wesley Bolin Plaza. It was dedicated and donated to the state of AZ on December 7, 1990.” –(Source: Trip Advisor: Travels with Food)

Max with the AZ Buffalo Soldiers. Max is very cooperative, Brady not so much.

Discovery’s Final Flight: Sharing A Historic Moment from Far Away

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am 
to be blessed.” 
― Mary OliverEvidence: Poems

Dear Students,

This morning I grabbed my phone and found myself in the middle of a spontaneous party that erupted across the net. I didn’t watch it on TV. I used Twitter, Flickr and Facebook to watch the space shuttle Discovery ride atop a 747 on it’s final trip bound for it’s new home at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum annex in Virginia.

Sometimes, a community stops

Standing on the Rt 28/Frying Pan Road overpass in Herndon with Elyse Darling

and waits

Charlotte Geary chimed in at the Netherlands Carillion along the George Washington Parkway

for a moment

A ranger at the Manassas Battlefield National Park took in the shuttle over the old battlefield. Mount Vernon shared a picture on their Facebook page as well.

to enjoy

My childhood friend from Central PA, Tom Lehman used his smart phone to capture the flyover

a last look

My former co-workers looked out the window. Thanks Ami Boshardt for the picture!

at something

Stopping on his morning commute, my high school friend Ed Zakreski caught her as she headed west

very special.

The shuttle is nearly to the airport now and the chase plane is running low on fuel..Elysa Darling captures a last look

Pluto 95 Heavy, you are clear to land

Touchdown at Dulles International Airport photo by Krysta Scharlach. Gallery here.

I scrolled through my Facebook feed and followed #SpottheShuttle on Twitter. I keep my twitter account to participate in conversations that occurring locally, regionally, nationally or globally. All you need is a twitter account, look at “trending topics”  click on a keyword to dive in.

I asked my friend Elysa Darling to share what it was like this morning for my library kids:

I was at the museum last month…and a docent was telling us all about the pending arrival of the shuttle. It was fascinating. I was looking at the Enterprise and wondering how the heck something that size can even get off the ground. Just the amount of fuel to get it here is crazy. He told us it has to stop and refuel along the way since it can’t make it all the way to DC on a single tank.

I remember as a kid staying home from school (I was sick) and watched the Challenger disaster live on TV. For some reason that really had an impact on me and I still remember it pretty well. I think back then it was still a big deal to see a space shuttle launch. We used to get dressed up to go on an airplane ride! It seems to have lost its novelty, so I was so surprised to see the thousands of people who turned out.

Since the schedule was vague I figured I’d miss it, but I had my new Nikon with me just in case I caught a glimpse. I was on the Rte. 28 / Frying Pan Rd. in Herndon overpass across the highway from Dulles Airport. I usually go this route to work every day and love seeing planes take off and land so close since it’s parallel to the runway. It usually takes me 12 or so minutes to get there but it took a good 30 minutes plus today. Hundreds of people were stopped on the side of the road all the way up to the airport. I’d never seen anything like that out here before.

When I pulled of the highway exit onto the Frying Pan overpass everyone was stopped and out of their cars. There was an open spot right in the center of the overpass so I decided to park. People were all gathered around and were so excited. I waited about 20 minutes and finally it came in for the approach. You can see the sequence in my Flickr set:

It came by so close and people were yelling and waving. I just kept clicking pictures. My first though was (I think I said out loud) Wow, it’s so dirty! You could really see the wear and tear on it. Very authentic.

That was the best excuse for being late for work and something I’ll remember 30 years from now.

My friend Andrew shared his thoughts and excellent photos on his blog here.

You can watch the last blastoff of the Discovery here. To learn more about the shuttle transition effort go here.

Christian Guirreri took this photo from Rosslyn, Virginia.

Thank you to my DC/VA friends sharing your experience this morning with me. Stop by Udvar Hazy Smithsonian in person or online to participate in the Discovery Festival.

Max’s friend went to visit Discovery at the Udvar Hazy Museum in Dulles, Virginia as a treat after a trip to the doctor’s. He took this picture for us! Thanks for the pic my friend!!

Into the Wild Blue Yonder,
Mrs. Kenney

Librarian tip: The Museum is free but parking is $15.00. Just thought you would want to know.


“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.” William Shakespeare

Tucson: Reid Park and Reid Park Zoo

Dear Students,

Gene C. Reid Park is a favorite stop on our family trips to Tucson.


Beautiful day

The park is located in the southern end of mid-town Tucson, set your GPS for 900 S. Randolph Way.


These pigeons are rather jaded,they did not scatter so much as hop to the side

The park is 131-acres, with immense exotic palms, dotted with ponds full of a variety of waterfowl. I saw mallards, geese, ducks with plumed heads, sleek black diving ducks and pigeons that my boys were eager to scatter.


Reid Park Zoo has a reciprocal membership with the Phoenix zoo so we enjoyed a discount.

The park is free and open to the public. We go to Reid Park on Thanksgiving for the Turkey Trot, we celebrated my SIL’s birthday with fancy hotdogs and we make pitstops on our way in and out of town.


These bird houses were in the trees near the Elephant enclosure.

Everywhere you look is one more place you want to take a picture.


We took a train ride around the pond at $2.00 a passenger.

A tiny train circles the duck pond. We took a ride for $2.00 a person.


Tiger and my little bear

We visited the zoo in the late afternoon. The mild weather and proximity to meal time made the animals very active.

Reid Park baby elephant

The Elephant pavilion is brand new and gorgeous. It has musical instruments, loads of interactive displays and best of all, a baby elephant.


I took a surreptitious picture of the wedding party. I am sorry you cannot see the bride better. She was a tiny thing in a brilliant dress (you can see her skirt). The groom wore a western shirt in the same peacock blue. We congratulated them on their happy day.

My favorite part of the park is the Rose Test Garden. It has 1,080 rose beds and over 100 different kind of roses.  Thousands of roses can be seen in this garden maintained by the Rose Society of Tucson. The best time to view the roses are March – April and October – November. The rose garden is a popular place for weddings, I love to see if I can spot a bride.


I think we will always seek out a big park when the Thunderbirds are in town. Watching the planes zoom over those giant palms was a treat.

This particular weekend was the Davis-Monthan AFB show, we saw a fly over by the Thunderbirds. The planes came in low over the park, if it weren’t for the trees this would be a good place to watch the show. As it was, we enjoyed the bits that came in and out of the trees.

We had a beautiful weekend in Tucson on a small budget thanks to public shows and public parks, we can’t wait to come back and visit again.

What did you do this weekend?
Mrs. Kenney

Davis-Monthan AFB Airshow 2012: Thunderbirds over Freedom Park

Dear Students,

This weekend 130,000 souls converged on Davis-Monthan Air Force base for the bi-annual open house. The air show is free, but presents numerous logistical challenges. If you want to get up close and personal with the planes, be prepared to walk your legs off, hang out in the baking sun and stay the day. The highlight of the day for me (and many others) is the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds are an elite team of F-16 pilots used to showcase the superiority of the American Armed forces. Thunderbirds tour the country appearing at air shows and sporting events. I marked my calendar for the Tucson Air Show months in advance, excited to see them perform again. I cannot get enough of their precision and daring.

Problem was, I didn’t think I could go. I cannot walk the legs off my kiddos. I can’t let my little redhead bake on the tarmac waiting all day long to watch planes when he would much rather DO than SEE. I want to but I know that it would be too much for them. Too loud for number one. Too long for number two.

What to do? My husband looked for local parks on Google that were near the air field. My mother-in-law reserved a ramada for us. We packed a picnic lunch, frisbees and soccer balls and arrived at the park at 1PM.

That morning, I broke out the Pioneer Woman’s new cook book and made her “restaurant quality salsa” and it was addictive. Just enough heat, cilantro and the right consistency. Oh how I crave good salsa. That recipe made me as happy as those airplanes. The boys feasted on PB and J on raisin bread and we grubbed on chips and salsa and sunshine.

Pioneer Woman Restaurant Salsa (photo by Ree Drummond)


This friendly man had a radio tuned to the Thunderbird airband so we could listen to the crew during the performance. Next time I’ll bring my own radio and tune in. You can find the airshow radio AM settings on the Internet.

The park was lightly populated with other folks sharing the same idea. I covered the picnic tables under the ramada with colorful blankets and anchored them from the wind.


Around 1PM we saw bi-planes perform barn storming manuevers. Davis-Monthan publishes a schedule on their website so we could follow the activities from the park.


Nonna played soccer with the boys (We all took turns. They didn’t stop for a second)

We played frisbee, kicked a soccer ball, petted dogs.


For the boys, chasing the ice cream truck and picking what they wanted was a highlight of the day.

The weather was amazing for Tucson, sunny but not too hot. An ice cream truck patrolled and Papa bought the boys snow cones for $1.50.

The Thunderbirds typically close the air show, coming on around 3:30 PM and flying for nearly a half hour. The six planes filled the sky in every direction. As four planes flew in diamond formation near the mountains the other two planes flew low over the airfield inverting, tightly passing and peeling off striping the sky with white trails of smoke. The sound of the jet engines swelled and shrank against the Santa Rita mountains. A beautiful day, well spent. You can catch the Thunderbirds in upcoming shows by following them on Facebook or checking their calendar.

Breaking the sound barrier,

Mrs. Kenney

p.s. This article about riding in a Thunderbird is laugh out loud funny, I had to share it with you!

They put the wild blue into the wild blue yonder. Thank you for your service!