Prescott Valley pioneer statue dedication

Not So Gentle Tamer in front of Prescott Valley Civic Center (photo courtesy Town of Prescott Valley)

Not So Gentle Tamer in front of Prescott Valley Civic Center (photo courtesy Town of Prescott Valley)

While strolling around the Phippen Museum Western Art Show in Prescott last May, a 10-foot tall woman stopped me in my tracks. And I was not the only bystander to stop and take notice of this tall figure. A small crowd had gathered around her and as I quickly learned, she’s a bit of a local celebrity. She’s the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” —  not just a bronze statue, but the epitome of a western pioneer woman. Looking into her eyes, I could see her strength, courage and determination.

With a rattlesnake in one hand and a hoe in the other, she was attracting a growing crowd at the Prescott Courthouse square. But her new official home is in front of the Town of Prescott Valley Civic Center, 7501 E. Civic Circle. The unveiling and dedication ceremony is at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 27.

At the Memorial Day weekend art show in downtown Prescott, another local celebrity was also drawing some attention. Bob Boze Bell, popular Arizona artist, cartoonist, columnist, writer, radio personality, True West Magazine owner and authority-on-all-things “old west,” stood behind a table signing prints of the colorful painting of the same towering bronze statue. My curiosity peaked. Bell is known for his drawings and paintings of “Old West” characters, scenes and themes, so at first I thought he might be dabbling in a new medium.

He must have seen my puzzled look as I glanced back and forth from the stack of colorful prints of the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” to the 10-foot bronze statue with the same name, so he proceeded to offer up the short version how his commissioned painting for the centennial evolved into a statue bronze.

The story is a fascinating one. After Bell was asked to create a painting for the centennial, he captured memories of both his grandmothers’ personalities and lifestyles into one pioneer woman character — that of a sweet, but strong-willed rancher’s-farmer’s wife. Bell remembered his maternal grandmother, the wife of an Arizona rancher, would show both a soft side and firm hand. He recalled she could “calmly dispatch rattlesnakes with her trusty hoe.”

Bell’s original painting was so well-received; Prescott Valley Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye had the idea to transform the work to bronze. Fast forward a few frames: Vice Mayor Nye contacted Ed Reilly, an owner of Bronzesmith, a Prescott Valley foundry, who then contacted local sculptor Deb Gessner, who would agree to create the 10-foot clay-to-bronze representation of Bell’s painting.

Vice Mayor Nye aptly tells about the Arizona pioneer woman characterization of American West in an online video: “The men won the West, but they did not tame it — the women tamed it.”

And many pioneer women, like one Arizona rancher’s wife, were “not so gentle.”

 

Thanks to the Town of Prescott Valley for permission to use these photos.

Pinal County Historical Museum fascinates visitors

One of the many examples of early transportation at Florence's Pinal County Historical Museum

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial with a visit to the fascinating Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence. And I use the term, “fascinating” because at the museum, it could cover any one or more related words to captivate our interest: extensive, macabre, unique, bizarre, ornate, tragic, comprehensive, amazing, weird or unbelievable.

Impressive display of saguaro cactus wood furniture at the museum

Arizonans have long associated Florence with the Arizona State Prison, but the Pinal County seat has a lot more to offer visitors: Poston Butte, McFarland State Historic Park, a walking tour of interesting historic homes and commericial buildings, plus some decent Mexican food restaurants. Nevertheless, it makes sense that the Pinal County Historical Society maintains an extensive archive of rosters and items from the prison at its museum.

Mason & Hamlin pump organ is one of the musical instruments exhibited

Words such as macabre and bizarre are appropriate but loose synonyms for “fascinating” to describe the museum because of the prison’s collection. Visitors can view a two-seater gas chamber chair, nooses used for hanging with corresponding mug shots of those executed prisoners, and various other devices and artifacts used at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.

Feeding chair, stroller, play table and potty chair all in one! Fascinating?

Unique and amazing are words that could describe other exhibits including chairs, tables, lamp stands and magazine racks made either from cholla and saguaro cactus wood. These two words might also describe the huge regional collection of documents, letters, magazines and photographs from 100 years or more of Arizona history.

Ornate could be an adjective for any number of pieces in the museum such as the 1880’s carriage or the antique clothing of the same era. The wagons, saddles, rifle displays and barbed wire exhibits could be interpreted to be rather both extensive as well as amazing.

Two seater gas chamber chair -- very bizarre

Seeing items from the incarceration era of Winnie Ruth Judd, the “Trunk Murderess” of the 1930s, and reading the articles about Arizona’s most notorious female inmate, prompts these words to come into mind: weird and unbelievable.

We utter the words, tragic and bizarre with a sad head shake when we read about the life and terrible fate of Tom Mix, one of Hollywood’s 1930s cowboy movie stars. His life was cut short in 1940 following an automobile accident along state route 79. Memorabilia related to his life is on display at the museum.

But our list of “fascinating-encompassing” descriptors doesn’t stop there. In the rear yard of the museum building is an outdoor display of farm implements and machinery, a blacksmith shop, pioneer cabin and fire engines. The museum also houses a large collection of Indian pottery and blankets, as well as “old west” general store merchandise. Yep — comprehensive.

Lavish looking 1880s Brougham horse carriage

Pinal County Historical Society offers speaker’s programs monthly. Two are coming up: one on Feb. 11, a pictorial history of Arizona by Jim Turner and another on March 11, a program about Arizona’s Japanese-American Internment, given by Karen Leong. Both are at 2 p.m. My advice: tour the museum at 11 a.m. when it opens, enjoy a homestyle Mexican lunch at L & B Inn across the street before the program.

Readers: What are your favorite small towns of Arizona? Do you have any personal travel plans to commemorate Arizona’s Centennial?

Be a tourist in your town: Arizona Railway Museum

I’ve driven back and forth along Arizona Avenue and McQueen Road in Chandler for the last few years and never paid much attention to the small blue sign, pointing to the Arizona Railway Museum. Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to stop.

The Arizona Railway Museum, located at 330 East Ryan Road, comprises a collection of railroad cars and a museum building displaying a miscellany of memorabilia: tools, signs, photos, lanterns, timelines, an antique control center plus various parts and pieces of trains and rail systems — even samples from railroad company china cabinets. What caught my eye were the old photos of some of Arizona’s train stations, now long gone. A gift shop provides visitors with a wide selection of hats, shirts, mugs and toys. We spent a few minutes strolling around the museum, gaining a renewed appreciation for the era when rail transportation was both prevalent and popular.

But when we made our way outside to the tour the railway cars, I felt my heart beat faster. Simply walking between the cars prompted a childhood memory of a trip from Cleveland to Milwaukee on a pre-Amtrak passenger train. Memories of all those train sounds, sights and smells suddenly rushed to mind. When I was about 6 years old, I was more than a little apprehensive to climb up those steps to our seats. Last Saturday, I was eager to jump aboard.

At the Arizona Railway Museum, visitors can board several parked rail cars and walk between others onsite, some of which are in various stages of restoration. There are big mining company engines, shiny silver passenger cars, cabooses, locomotives, dining cars, sleepers and track maintenance vehicles. Train buffs and non-train enthusiasts alike, young or old, can spend an enjoyable afternoon at the museum, open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., September through May.

Volunteers work to restore cars and act as docents to help visitors by giving tours and assisting at the museum and gift shop. The museum has several fundraising events each year. According to Tour Director Holly Antosz, the museum’s most recent event, “Dinner in the Diner,” held each December, was so popular, it had to be expanded to a third evening. She said an additional “Dinner in the Diner” event on St. Patrick’s Day is in the works. On our visit we were informed another major event at the museum is National Train Day on May 12, when all cars will be open for viewing. National Train Day commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Arizona Railway Museum always welcomes new volunteers as well as visitors; contact information is on the website. A visit would be a great way to celebrate the upcoming city or state centennial.

Antique traffic control center

Schedule board from Chandler Station

Southwestern decor in one of the passenger cars

Dome allows for the ultimate in scenery viewing

Walk alongside the cars at Arizona Railway Museum

Museum highlight is the steam locomotive Southern Pacific 2562

At the end -- Santa Fe caboose

 

 

 

 

 

Alamo Lake: Start the New Year at an Arizona state park

Instead of sleeping it off on New Year’s Day morning, consider hiking it off. As part of the First Day Hikes program from America’s State Parks, 12 Arizona state parks will be offering guided day hikes on Jan. 1. America’s State Parks began the program 20 years ago to promote outdoor recreation. 2012 is the first year all 50 states will be participating in the program.

Consider making a trip to one of Arizona’s state parks on New Year’s Day for a First Day Hike. Your New Year’s resolution for 2012 might be to visit all of Arizona’s 31 state parks. And if you start at the top of the list, you can check off Alamo Lake for your first state park visit and your First Day Hike. Add a couple of nights’ stay, and your Alamo Lake visit could be your first Arizona getaway of 2012!

Alamo Dam view from the Bill Williams Overlook

Alamo Lake is neatly tucked away from Arizona’s cities in the Bill Williams River Valley, about 36 miles north of Wenden, Arizona. It’s about half way between Wickenburg and Lake Havasu City, “as the crow flies.” There are only two roads into Alamo Lake. Most people will use the paved route north from US Route 60 from Wenden. An alternate route is a dirt road from State Route 93 near Congress.

Alamo Lake is 4900 acres for fishing, boating and water sports

Alamo Lake was created when the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dam on Bill Williams River to protect the Lower Colorado River area from flooding. Alamo Lake became a state park in 1969. When state budget cutbacks were made, the future of Alamo Lake and other state parks was in jeopardy. With the help of nearby communities’ funding and private donations from support groups such as The Friends of Alamo Lake, state park board members voted to allow the park to remain open.

Bill Williams Overlook at Alamo Lake is a nice spot for a picnic

Alamo Lake thrives as a riparian home to many resident and migratory birds such as orioles, tanagers, warblers, owls, eagles and hawks. Mammals seen at the park include coyote, mule deer, javelina, bobcat, fox, beaver and burros. Yes, burros! Miners from the mid-1800s set their burros free when they moved out, overpopulating certain areas of northwestern Arizona. Now they are protected, and populations are managed through adoption programs. Herds of burros have been spotted roaming the hills and washes around the lake, and also walking along the park roadways.

Although there are no boat motor restrictions, fishing is the main reason visitors come to the lake, and largemouth bass is the popular catch. Heavy rains during the late 1970s and early 1980s caused the lake to increase in size. Tent and RV campers will enjoy the lakeside campsites. A small park store stocks all the basic camping fish and boating gear plus bait, licenses, day permits, even the ingredients for “s’mores.” Camping reservations can be made online. Because of its location, far away from city lights, Alamo Lake is a prime spot for stargazing. Each November astronomy enthusiasts converge at the park for the “Night Under the Stars” program.

Long, lonely stretch of highway between Wenden and Alamo Lake State Park

If you’re new to Arizona or a long-time resident who has never before gone northwest of Wickenburg, I recommend making a visit to Alamo Lake State Park. Maybe you’ll consider making the trip for your first hike of the New Year. Here’s a list of all the First Day Hikes at Arizona State Parks for 2012. Great way to start Arizona’s Centennial.