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Archive for April, 2012



Different species start and stop at different times but by May everything will be aflame with color.

“You live in the Desert?”, folks ask from time to time. The “Sonoran Desert”, I always reply, “it’s different.” But still people first conjure up scenes from Lawrence of Arabia and figure you hang out at the waterholes.


The Sonoran Desert stretches from the Verde River north of Phoenix, down to Alamos, Sonora where the Tropical Thorn Forest begins or roughly 100,000 square miles and includes most of the southern half of Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. In between lies one of the riches desert in the world, featuring more than 2,000 plant species and made from the finest soil in the world, just add water.

The life cycle of the desert begins with wildflowers showing up in the middle of March and being greeted by the purple bloom of the Hedgehog cactus in early April. From that moment on, everything begins to bloom and since the last dozen years have been the warmest on record, lots of blooms are a bit confused and out of cycle. The saguaro blossom for one, was scarily seen until late May or early June, now they are one of the first blooms out. Most of the prickly-pear type plants are showing color, as well are the Ironwood and Palo Verde Trees and Octillo, who rely on high wind to move their seeds. So every year when the golden coat covers up the Blue Palo Verde Tree, winds always pickup within a few days, and carry those amazing coats away. They are replaced by another Palo Verde which has a dirty yellow coat but it lingers for a month to come. Every since I built my back porch I have fathered more Doves than any other one person, it allows their mothers to tuck away and find from the egg thieves, many of whom, find their way but as soon as one Dove finishes another starts up and so it goes.

Swapping out on-the-nest-time with the Dad, the Mom finds a few minutes to freshen up and gather groceries before coming home to the grind.

In Tucson Arizona the city spreads out from mountain range to mountain range, maybe 40 miles square, and for years construction pushed out the wildlife that surrounds this desert land. In recent years the wildlife has begun to return and fit in, into the folds of life where people come and go and basically leave the critters alone while going on about their lives. A mother big horned owl Has set up a nest at the end of busy La Canada Road in Northern Pima County inside Oro Valley.

Neighborhood sensations sitting atop a saguaro, runners, joggers, school kids waiting for the bus all check in on the Owls. Last I checked, the small one was alone in the nest making me think the bigger one was out hunting with mom.

First indicator of Spring in the Sonoran Desert, once this bad boys light up, every thing else is just around the corner.

This brilliant yellow coat never lasts long, usually rain or strong winds come along and throw their seed to the wind.

These blooms will linger for a month of two before being eaten.

A wildlife re-habilitar modified the nest with a cardboard box to provide extra space and shade for the babies and everyone seems pretty comfortable. The nest has become a major curiosity and folks go by regularly and see how the owls are doing. Lots of Kodak moments, kids with binoculars, and curious walkers, motorist all who do a slow roll by, trying to see if the baby horned-owls are hunting yet on their own in Honeybee Canyon.

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Not enough feather yet to fly, this horned owl is waiting for the moment of flight.




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THE OWL of LA CANADAWhen lightning sliced from the sky last summer and exploded the top five feet of the neighborhood saguaro, residents felt it tragic, but few could imagine it set the stage for what happened next! Few noticed in mid-March when a horned owl started hanging out, eyes started noticing when it was obvious the momma owl had babies. Soon neighborhood walkers, runners, schoolkids, sidewalk superintendents, everyone started coming by the north end of La Canada Road and checking out the nest. Real drama unfolded last weekend! When eight year old Alexander burst into the kitchen yelling, one of the owls had fallen from the nest. The mother of two, Marian, called Fish and Game and alerted them to the horror unfolding on Pima County’s northwest side.

Mom with baby and new shaded nest.

The baby owl had scooted beneath a bush and more than fifty people gathered to help, or do what they could…since a riot was probably not far off Oro Valley Police responded and was able to keep peace in the neighborhood and to keep traffic moving. When “Karen the Owl Lady” showed up to help out, the state and federal licensed wildlife re-habilitator, first secured the baby and then folks in the crowd provided a ladder tall enough to deal with the almost 20′ high saguaro.

Heros of the day, Marian and Victoria called Game and Fish and provided materials...

Showing Fido the Horned Owls

Mother Marian, son Alexander and four year old Victoria dug up a large cardboard box and duct tape enough that the owl lady could set up a bigger platform and shade for the trio. As Karen climbed the ladder, mother owl flew away, the remaining baby stayed in the nest, while the owl lady fashioned a new larger cardboard nest and duct taped it around the top of the blown off saguaro. Karen reported the nest had a dead rabbit so the babies had food enough for a couple days. With the loose baby re-nested, the whole neighborhood now sat on pins and needles awaiting to see, if mom would come home. Nothing happened the first day but by the second day mom was seen watching from near-by housetops and soon she came home with dinner.

Meanwhile the neighborhood has it’s focus back and everyone is coming by and checking out these massive horned owl babies. Many dog walkers bring fido by and those owls eyes get huge as they see this moveable feast shaping up at the base of their nest. Game and Fish posted the area trying to get the owls some space and hopefully the owls will move along before they are big enough to take Fido with them.

In the evening, Marian reports she hears the mom owl hooting with her mate, who visits, sitting on houses nearby and hoots about the days news. The owl lady says it will be a couple weeks yet before the babies will be able to fly and soon after they will be off hunting in Honeybee Canyon, as their ancestors have for centuries.


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Where ever hard rock miners scratched the Arizona soil, they found mineral wealth, like gold, silver and copper, now-days low grade rare earths are needed for plasma TV’s and the demand for minerals, right now, is roaring. The insatiable appetite of China and the entire Pacific Rim has Arizona Copper Mines working hard to extract low grade ores for big dollar returns, jobs are being created and the trickle down economy will benefit us all. The first copper mine creation in 65 years happened in Safford, Arizona. Rosemont Mine wants to start up in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains and its creation is extremely controversial. “It’s the environmentalists” said Roger Stokes who leads Mine Tours for ASARCO Discovery Center in Sahuarita, Az. Stokes leds tours of snowbirds and tourists to viewpoints, to the crusher facilities and educates them with facts and figures about copper mining.

Many prefer this view to that of the Grand Canyon say tour leaders at the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center six miles south of Green Valley, Az

Stokes meets hundreds of people who appreciate the awe, the scale and the grand color which the setting sun brings out of the wall of the open pit. Some folks say it is almost as beautiful as the Grand Canyon says Stokes of the ASARCO Pit whose 100 plus years of mining has left a hole 2 miles across by 1.75 mile and a half mile deep. The tailing stretch for almost twenty miles.

Next spot that will be completely covered by copper mine tailing.

“Pecans use lots more water than we do!”, offers Stokes, aware of the ever present push and pull of politics in Southern Arizona. It is no secret Farmer’s Investment Co.(Fico) is opposing both a new pipeline from ASARCO’s CAP tap to the proposed Rosemont Mine. Pecan groves are among the largest water users in the area, largest Pecan Orchard in the United States and locals says the region is undergoing notable ground subsidence due to the pumping of groundwater. Estimates suggest a mine the size of ASARCO’s Mission Mine and the proposed Rosemont Mine would both require the water needed for a town of 25,000-30,000 people.

Right next to the ASARCO Mine which has held water rights since 1898.

The Federal Bureau Of Reclamation concluded that “plans for taking and using the CAP entitlement will not result in significant environmental impacts to the Green Valley/Sahuarita area, Upper Santa Cruz Sub basin of the Tucson Basin Aquifer, or the human environment in the vicinity.” As long as the CAP delivers water to Southern Arizona, the mines have been promised water.

Aerial view of one of three southern Arizona Open Pit Copper Mines, this is the ASARCO Mission Mine

The Mission Mine dates back to the 1898 Mineral Hill Mine which grandfathers water rights for this ever-increasing footprint of a copper mine. The proposed Resolution Mine in Superior plans to use CAP Water, as does the proposed Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita foothills near Tucson. One theory is the pipeline from Pima Mine Road to Rosemont would be paid by Rosemont Mine owners Augusta Resources, another possibility is that it will be paid for by the next 25,000 residents who move to the valley and hook up, Green Valley Water will simply pass the cost along to new customers.

Lots of ore must be moved, crushed and separated for pure copper ore to be made.

Spinning cages with ball bearing that wear down the ore to small pure concentrations.

The ASARCO Pit is pure efficiency, everything is hooked to the grid. It produces about 1000 jobs. The trucks, crusher, tumblers all run on electricity, the monthly Tucson Electric Power bill amounts to about $1 Million. They use pine oil to separate copper and silver during the floatation process before pouring off the waste and adding to the miles and miles of tailing. The tumblers begin with boulders up to 5 feet, mixed with 8 inch steel balls, and reduced until mixed with 3 inch steel balls, more tumbling, until a 28 per cent pure copper powder is produced. Ten pounds of 28% pure copper ore is produced from one ton of copper ore and ASARCO produces 130,000 tons of copper a year.

Twenty five trucks haul 28% pure ore every day 90 miles north to Hayden, AZ Smelter where other mines also ship their concentrated ore and have for more than a 100 years-smelted ore into 99% pure 750 pound anode which is then shipped to Amarillo where a refinery takes all the 99% pure ore and takes it to 99.999% purity making it electrically conductive. This process was once handled by a century old smelter in El Paso, Texas has now shut down and the courts have negotiated a $50 billion plus cleanup required of ASARCO.


ASARCO Discovery Center
1421 West Pima Mine Road
(520) 625-8233

For Mine Tours and gift shop

The multi-colored pit wall reveals the varied ore content.

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Jo Holt, candidate for Senate LD26 speaks with Adam Hawkins,lobbyist for Resolution Mine with a backdrop of Apache Leap Mountain’s mantle top. APACHE LEAP Mountain, when mining begins robots will extract 4,000’of ore, subsidence will drop the roof of the mountain and the surface will become unstable, foot traffic will not be allowed to traverse the Oak Flat Campground area.

Highway 60 traffic splits Superior in half and leads you on top of Apache Leap Mt.

Arizona’s Copper Triangle for a hundred years developed huge mining complexes which produced small company towns that served the worker, educated the children and hospitalized and doctored the sick. Many believed the mines were GOD sent, since it fed, clothed the family and many felt it had their back, and made every difference in their lives. Others knew if you worked hard, did what you were asked, got-along by going-along, the mine was your friend. If you talked back, got into trouble or made waves the mine was not there for you. Mexicans were discriminated against; from the jobs they could have, to where they could live and where they could drink or eat. Whites made more money for the same work and corrupt supervisors extorted kickbacks from Hispanic workers to keep their jobs. The Unions fought to enter the mines and won numerous concessions, an hourly wage for everyone and for Mexican-Americans the right to train for the better jobs.

Faded mural on a downtown wall showing a smelter and miners.

Over time lives were built, copper was mined, families grew up and the youth left for college, or to work or find opportunity anywhere but Superior, Hayden or Globe-Miami, most leave to join the military, to see the world, many come home, some find a better life. Small town fever is nothing new, but copper towns in Arizona have seen the boom and bust cycle that rolls up the sidewalks in a place like Superior, Globe, Hayden, Jerome, Bisbee, Douglas, Clifton-Morenci, Tombstone, Kentucky Camp, Rosemont, San Manuel, Silverbell and Ajo–all great Arizona Copper company towns who peaked and busted when the money left, most have water problems and health concerns left behind like in the smelter towns like Hayden, Ajo, or Douglas. The $6 billion mining project near Superior, is the third-largest undeveloped copper resource in the world and the largest and most accessible ore body in North America.




More than $352 million has been spent sinking and restoring shafts nine and ten for the deep mine.

Resolution Copper says their project will create at least 1,400 jobs on site and more than 3,700 related jobs at full production when the project could produce a billion pounds of copper per year, representing 25% of the U.S. annual demand for copper. It could become one of the largest copper mines in North America. In 1937 Magma built the Superior Hospital which served the community until 1983, in 1973 the hospital had 22 beds and 35 doctors, nurses and the lowest semi-private room rates in the state. The building then sat empty for 20 years following the Magma closure in 1996. When Resolution Mining started reclamation on the old Magma Mine it thought to tear down the hospital since it was almost a century old, but many residents began and ended their lives there, the mine chose to restore it in a good faith effort to show support for Superior. Restoration crews reported hearing voices, tapping on walls, lights turning on and other “ghostly” appearances.

For decades miners were born and many died in this hospital...

A developer has said he will pump more than $3 million into restoring the Magma Hotel...

“The streets of Superior should be paved in gold,” says ex-mayor Roy Chavez about the billions of dollars taken from this “mining camp” during the past century. Instead of prosperity-paint peels in the hot sun, the faces of miners flake off boarded up buildings downtown. New red “Discover Superior” banners line Highway 60 as traffic wind through town and straight up 2000’ to the Oak Flat Campground, where a simmering battle is mounting between Resolution Copper, a global mining company and “the people” folks who have visited there for centuries, the San Carlos Indian Tribe and others who believe their “Home Tree” is endangered. Not unlike the battle in Avatar, the Apache fear mining will destroy their water source and render their land uninhabitable. Meanwhile, “people are scared” Chavez says. “We’re dying on the vine. As for the mine “you are either on one side or the other, folks watch what they say for fear of being blacklisted, you are either for the mine or you are against it, if you speak out you might be negatively impacted. All of us (mining towns in the copper triangle) have lost people.” Superior’s population in 2010 was 2800, a constant decline from 7,000 since the 1996 mine closing. Roy Chavez Sr.’s High School class in 1950 Superior had 100 graduates, his grandson Josh, four years ago graduated in a class of twenty-four.

“Visionaries say the Phoenix growth wave will eventually sweep up Superior but others believe most miners will commute to the mine from the East Valley instead of bringing new life to Superior.”]

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA vs JOHN McCAIN …. McCain wants Iran and China to get the World’s largest deposit of Copper FREE, and Raul Grijalva thinks they should have to pay for it. The Apache’s say Go away!

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and other Democrats have complained that under current law, the mining company does not have to pay any royalties to the U.S. government (or Arizona) for lucrative mineral rights that could be worth tens of billions of dollars and called the mine proposal one of the most significant issues facing Congress this year. “A foreign-owned company (Canadian and Australian) doing business on U.S. public lands which is getting a blank check on extraction (of copper) and a green light from Congress to go ahead and begin this without any return on the money,” he said.



Jon Cherry, a vice president of Resolution Copper, said he is optimistic that over the life of the project, the mine could generate as much as $61 billion in economic benefit for Arizona “without the need for one dollar of federal stimulus,” Cherry said. “We will mine out of this mine in the first year more than they took out of [the old Magma Mine] in its nearly (1912-1996) century of life,” David Salisbury, Resolution Copper’s chief executive. “That’s the difference in the scale of this mine.” Salisbury believes the lifetime of the mine could produce $140 Billion for the total project. Using robotics, not copper workers, working below the surface at 7,000 feet, block cave mining, which strips out large pillars of rock, one pillar at a time, collapsing the rock into ore cars surrounded by temperatures of 175 degrees. Working in this much heat has never been attempted before and special suits will be needed for repairmen working at this depth, to install, maintain and repair, there are many unknowns. As the robots strip out these 200′-300′ high columns, the rock will collapse, as Apache Leap Mountain is undermined, the surface will begin to collapse just like the devastation from a large earthquake.

Highway 60 traffic jets through the spires and pinnacles jutting up on both sides of the roadway.

Shows the impact crater in cross section

Mining studies suggest the Oak Flat Campground will be undermined and made unsafe for the public. What assurance does the state have that the main east-west route through central Arizona will not be severed?

Driving Hwy 60 east from Phoenix, through the vastness of the Sonoran Desert, the heat and glare beats down on the windshield, Apache Leap Mountain stands above the Sonoran Desert just five minutes past Superior via Highway 60 up 1000 feet to Oak Flat Campground in the Shrub Oak-Pine Habitat. The name, Apache Leap, comes from an Apache band, so the story goes, who refused to surrender its land and move to the reservation. Instead the tribe jumped to its death here when finally surrounded by federal soldiers. So today Apache Leap is considered an ancient burial ground by the San Carlos Tribe, it’s the Tribes long-time summertime home where they have collected acorns for centuries and today use it as a sacred spot to minister their Apache Manhood ceremonies.

Oak Flat Campground, its serenity and unique rock formations stands out against the sky and has been called one of the best climbing rock in the United States, bringing in climbers year round. This riparian habitat helps water the land held by theSan Carlos Tribe who fears for its water supply based on the track record of all copper mines. Many miners have offered the amount of explosive necessary to collapse a solid mountain of copper will certainly alter the water aquifer. For backup, Resolution has identified CAP Water from half empty Lake Mead and Roosevelt Lake, as their secondary water source.

Charlie Brush is one of many Americans who lives on the road-he and his Navajo-Zuni wife Debbie for the past 5 or 6 years, have blown into Oak Flat Campground for two week stays, four times a year. Brush is a prospector who once sold enough gold for a tank of gas, but principally he makes and sells jewelry for the little cash he needs to get on down the road. An early riser, he often finds himself tracking deer or coyotes in their Oak Flat habitat. Brush reports finding occasional bear scat as he strolls through the national campground set aside by special proclamation by two American presidents, Nixon and Eisenhower, both protected this spot because they knew it would be threatened. We should respect that. For Charlie and Debbie, Oak Flat was home, a comfortable spot that embraced them both while they were on the road, one of three places they knew on their wide swing from Yuma to South Dakota. Charlies wife died recently and now he finds a special closeness here with the land he once walked with his wife, Debbie.

Apache Leap Mountain

Campground host Wayne Brasher struggles with a silt blockage in a runoff channel in Oak Flat Campground. Brasher finds himself "in the middle" over the campground controversy, he strives to find out the facts from both sides of the fight.

The boulder strewn landscape is the big draw for climbers looking for a challenge.

Superior residents setup camp at Oak Flat Campground two weeks before Easter weekend to lock in their campsite. Meanwhile they locked out everyone else the two weeks prior. "Not very fair!" says the campground host.

“Over regulation is never the problem”, says Adam Hawkins, a Resolution Mine spokesman and state lobbyist for Rio Tinto, who oversees much of the permitting process. Tell us exactly what we have to do and we will do it for the permits needed to mine, instead Resolution will spend $5 billion he says and ten years before they make a penny, on courts and the lack of regularity clarity. In return the Resolution mine expects to extract ore for the next 40-50 years, and says it will produce 3700 jobs with a payroll of $220 million, bringing $60 billion plus economic impact to Arizona plus an additional $20 billion in tax revenue.

After all the money is spent, “We have no guarantee in developing this mine, Hawkins says, “Who else is going to do that.” “Mining has a high impact on a place,” Hawkins said. “Anyone who tells you differently is full of beans. But things are better when we leave.”

Resolution Copper is buying up flat land between Gonzales Pass and Florence Junction, for twelve miles west from Pickettpost (below) along Highway 60. In a fifty year plan, tailing will be deposited along the busy state roadway roadside for 12 miles stacking tailing up to 500 feet high in one view of the plan but another view believes the tailing could reach 2000 feet in height...

Working in the San Manuel Underground in the 1970’s miners push ore from the shaft in ore cars moving copper to the surface and eventually the smelter. Superior miners developed San Manuel as a “sister Magma mine and the town San Manuel was laid out and designed by Del Webb.

The view from the "Top of the World" has a spectacular view in all directions.

“Twenty-five to thirty years into the project when the San Carlos Reservation goes dry and where will the people go,” asks Wendsler Nosie, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman in a video protest against the mines’ construction. “Water is the giver of life…you must not place a dollar value on water. From that decision there is no return…. We all have a purpose in this world-we are to keep god’s creation, Mother Earth alive. How it affects the San Carlos Apache, how it affects the world is devastating and from that decision there is no return…. it comes down to a people choice between jobs vs our responsibility as the custodian of life, the preserver of life to come, as parents, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers we have to be responsible for the future…

Tourists stop along Queek Creek for photos of funny rock

One of eight jobs in Arizona is supported by the Copper Industry says the Arizona Mining Association, as of today there are 12 producing copper mines in Arizona who directly employ nearly 10,000 workers, not including contractors and sub-contractors. Half of Arizona’s copper is mined in Morenci. An additional nine copper mines are expected to begin production in the coming years. The Resolution Copper Project, near Superior, is expected to provide 25% of the U.S. demand for copper after it begins production. Other potential new copper mines are the Carlota project (owned by Quadra FNX Mining) in Pinal County and expected to start in 2008, and the Rosemont project (owned by Augusta Resources) in Pima County.

“Mining is the cornerstone of our region, without the mine, we would not be here, says ex-mayor and miner Rudy Chavez. He realizes however this is 2012 and not 1912 we need to look into the future, see how mining technology will change and the reality of the job market. Will the good jobs, be high-tech jobs where hiring won’t be done locally? We can only imagine the technology ten years from now say Chavez who believes “talk is cheap” without a mining operation plan from Resolution spelling out how the mine will work and outlining precautions they are planning to protect the environment. Mining websites show a new driverless technologies, capable of ore delivery, blasting and excavation without people. These copper mines are now reaching their “highest point of profit” says Chavez as new technology replaces people and jobs. Chavez believes the Superior could be run remotely from Magma, Utah, the Australian counterpart is 900 miles away from the mine site. Still Chavez says he wants the mine. “I’d love to see it”. “We want it with some parameters, we need the environmental concerns to be hashed out, prior to being given permission to mine. If the mine was really responsible, regulation would not be necessary. I’m not a fan of government intervention but who else will regulate it. With the proper studies and mandated laws, what complaint would we have? Compliance with existing law is stressed by the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition.
Picnic and Rally April 20-21 Oak Flat Campground…EVERYONE IS INVITED

Mining has changed considerably from the days when all employees were local and they supported their families and the town. Easter weekend Oak Flat Campground was full by Thursday and jammed pack on Sunday as a 1000 people came and went while they barbequed, visited, drank and napped in the cool air. This is the place they come to cool off during the hot summers. For the people of Superior this campground means a whole lot, the place you go for a six pack after work, on birthdays, spot to get snow and it is sacred to the San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, Zuni, Fort Dowell, Apache-Yavapai Arizona Indian Tribes. Roy Chavez believes townsfolk take the campground “for granted and will miss it when its gone”, he worries Jobs are one thing, what good is a job if you live with no water.” Likewise, Chavez believes if the pending land swap is allowed before an operation plan is submitted, most believe, fixing environmental concerns later-would be impossible, particularly if mines don’t have to report any of their environmental failings forgiven by a recent law just sent to Jan Brewer for her signature.



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