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Many of these photos have been made over the years and do not necessarily show critters now housed at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The magnificent ram above in 1987 was killed by man who wanted to hang his trophy horns in his living room. This senseless killing shocked the entire facility, as well as, the Tucson community. The ram had lived at the museum much of it’s six years, originally from the Chocolate Mountains in California. It had two offspring and a 38 year old California man was arrested for killing the ram after the rack was found during a traffic stop. The man was sentenced to five-years in prison and received a $8000 fine.

Walking the dusty desert trail, chirping from a Cactus Wren chirps fill the air. In the distance, I hear the thunderous sound of the Javelina running about in the morning chill, the slightly overcast skies silhouette a passenger jet crossing over the Tucson Mountains

headed for TIA, the engine thunders as they slow for landing. Enjoying these sounds and resting on a bench Fred Fisher from San Jose, Ca says he comes every year for the Gem and Mineral show and now extends his visit each year to spend four or five days visiting the Desert Museum. “We come as often as we can–when we are here, it is so exceptional. “Spectacular”, he says, “this quiet solitude, the magnificent wildlife and birds.  We’ve been coming to Tucson for 12 years now. We started spending a few hours here and now we spend whole days. Monday was a modest crowd he said. Tuesday was completely jammed ! I thought we were going to get trampled.”

Some ideas hit the ground running, grow, embellish and over-take their mentors before anyone knew what happened.  Folks say they are no-brainers, but it takes courage for the first and unsteady steps that leads to such success—Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one example. VISITORS TUCSON AZ-SON DESERTMUSUM-5728 Called “one of the ten best museums in the world” that title might be argued, however, it’s success is without doubt. Tucson residents might be guilty of taking such a treasure for granted, visiting on birthdays or when relatives come to town, but ASDM can be busy as a beehive during Southern Arizona’s cooler months, thousands of visitors come to town, rent motels, eat in Tucson restaurants and spend their entire day surrounded by the incredible beauty of the Sonoran Desert.Saguaro090***

The parking lot fills up daily and stays full all day long with license plates from 30-35 different states including 2-3 Canadian providences each day.  When things slow with the approach of the summer months, ASDM opens earlier, so visitors can beat the heat and enjoy the Museum’s wildlife, before they bed down away from the sun’s heat. Throughout the year, special events are held after dark, when the critters once again come out, so a world-class wildlife experience, is available anytime of the year. The biggest contribution to ASDM success is the fact that it has grown with the times and has expanded over the years.


After these Jaguars died, this exhibit was discontinued for decades and funding for a planned a new  1.5 acre exhibit, “Coasts to Canyons” recently failed a voter referendum.

When the Museum first opened its doors in 1952, cages where laid out in the desert and folks walked around the critters behind bars. Today, new techniques and technology, the museum has engineered fake rocks constructed to contain their critters and allowing them to live in settings designed for their comfort and in habitat typical of where they would live in the wild.  Jaguar-ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM-Back in the day, the Jaguar, was the last cat to live behind bars because of it’s ability to escape and resourcefulness, after that cat’s death, ASDM decided cages were no longer true to the Museum mission and the species went dark for decades.  Today plans are on the drawing board for a new 1.5 acre exhibit called “Coasts to Canyons”, perhaps the most ambitious and expensive habitat, ever envisioned for the facility. Its completion would greatly increase visitors and no doubt bring out the locals to see the new digs and blow away visitors with the new air-conditioned exhibit. While this exhibit was part of Proposition 427, a $99 Million bond designed to improve roads, water control making Tucson a better place to live, it was defeated by a 39% voter turnout most of which were Republicans who felt an additional $18 a year would break their backs. Lots of private funds have been donated to ASDM and those monies alone will open the new “Winged Wonders of the South West” in 2015 and the million dollar “Midden Project” in 2017 where visitors will be greeted by a 75’ Diamondback Rattlesnake which they can choose to climb through.


Cabo Pulmo, the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez, is highlighted in the Museum’s most recent Exhibit featuring 14 aquarium of fresh water and saltwater residents.

In 2013,VISITORS TUCSON AZ-SON DESERTMUSUM-5787 the Desert Museum opened it’s first major exhibit in a decade. The aquarium exhibition, called “Rivers to the Sea,” highlights the role of the rivers, including the Colorado and the Gulf of California. The 1,100-square-foot aquarium exhibit, housed in one of the historical structures built in 1937, includes many now-endangered species of freshwater fish, as well as several dozen species of fresh and saltwater creatures found to be at home in the brackish waters near the Sonoran coast, and the Sea of Cortez. That $1.3 Million project was opened with private donations.

Some might complain that $20 a visit might be a stiff ticket to buy, but ASDM basic membership costs $55 for a year and includes two guest tickets for the following year, allowing a year and a half of access, and that should be affordable for most.


Raptor Flight brings out the photographers and Snowbirds alike….

Lots of snowbirds que up at the Raptor Free Flight. Two kids fidget as they await the Docents that remove the ropes allowing the crowd to filter into the performance staging area. The two boys, each carrying a stuffed lion, have the white pasty legs of folks living back east who have not seen the sun for months. The large crowd gathers 25 minutes before the start of the Raptor Free Flight, where about a 100 people stand at the entrance and there is standing room only, water bottles stick out of purses.

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Three Desert Museum docents walk down to the crowd, they ask the crowd not to move until they finish their count to ten and one docent “who drew the short straw” has to take down the chain … that lets the Raptor Free Flight Crowd advance. “Please keep to the rails”, they ask. “You folks talk funny”, notes one docent, “flex your knees and steady yourselves,” another docent tells the crowd.


Trainer Wally Hestermann welcomes the crowd and gives a quick run down on the birds he will be working with for the 10 am show, first comes the Chihuahua Raven and the magnificent Great Horned Owl who came to the Desert Museum from a top shelf in the Oro Valley Home Depot. The Prairie Falcon–drinks no water, says Hestermann, “they get all their water from their prey”. The Ferruginous Hawk used to thrive here on Prairie dogs”, he says “but since those critters are now extinct, we don’t see this hawk around here anymore.”


“Red-tail Hawks in the wild, often die in the first year, reports the trainer “they know they have it good here, we take care of them, they can take the day off if they want.” “We want these birds to look natural, so they wear no equipment, this soaring behavior took six months to learn and they respond to visual signals from 2500.” Redtails can live 7-10 years in the wild or 10-25 years in captivity and one holds the record for 65 years. They eat farm raised mice and quail or “tissue meat”. “Our birds are orphans from rehab”, but these social birds often hunt and play in family groups of five to seven birds.


Arizona has four owls, three falcons and 7 different hawks and the Golden Eagle. The 2 pm Raptor Flight performance is different from the earlier show and features different avian residents of the desert.


One Phoenix photographer, Stu Glenn told me he often comes down to Tucson spends the night and both days at the Museum’s “Raptor Flight” a very popular performance during the cooler months. “It’s quite spectacular,” he says killing time at the Big Horn enclosure. I didn’t come down here for pictures of the rear end of a ram, he says, yesterday I got the “most excellent Harris Hawk images”, he coos.


Crowd awaits Docents to lower the chain and allow them into the Raptor Flight performance area. This lineup begins an half hour before the show.

While birds have little issue with the desert heat, non-desert-dwelling spectators have been known to drop like flies, and before the show concludes in April the Museum places “spotters” in the crowd looking for tourists who frequently collapse from the warm days and harsh sun.  Regardless, “Raptor Flight” is a huge draw for spectators and photographers alike, in spite of the size of the crowds, there is not a bad seat in the show. Photographers should hang to the fringes or outside of the crowd, the birds which have been trained to feed on the branches surrounding the large group move all around and everyone gets a front row seat.  I would have said it impossible if I had not seen it for myself. Some birds receive an audio signal from their trainers and perform accordingly, no bird is a prisoner, they jump at the chance to show off for treats. Photographers should be using their fastest shutter speeds to stop the flapping of these birds wings, an amazing photo opportunity.

Photo opportunities do not stop there.  Early morning will find coyotes, black bear, otters, Javelina and Mexican wolves or “Lobos” all out to delight your camera. “That coyote, doesn’t seem as big as the ones in my neighborhood—they are probably controlling his diet–he probably doesn’t get a tabby cat every night, said one visitor. The coyote called “God’s Dog” by the Navajo is often “the trickster in Native American legends has an evasive and puzzling role as the fool or demigod in Native American traditions.

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Coyotes complaining about their Museum diet, rather than a nice “Tabby” from time to time


Mexican Wolf or Lobo

The Mexican Grey Wolf, has a sign in front of its enclosure that says there are 50 now living in the wild but recent headlines have said its population has doubled reaching 100, a South West success story.

DESERTMUSEUM BABY-3131The amazing Hummingbird enclosure, full of lots of species who nest and buzz about the visitors and their cameras. Their eggs look like gum drops, the hummers are going so fast, one visitor jumps back, a baby cries, camera shutters click, big cameras and cell phones alike. One parent tries but can’t pull one kid away from his cell phone. “I hear the hummingbird!  He’s way up there,” attempting to get his picture. “See the hummingbird?” says another dad, “brace yourself with that long lens,” he coaches.

VISITORS TUCSON AZ-SON DESERTMUSUM-8660The Museum developed this enclosure and garden while and in doing so it developed new understandings of what attracted these fast-moving birds and what it took to keep them happy and alive.  They wrote the book on Hummingbird gardens.

While scientific understanding has been expanded in the decades of working with the animal and plant species living in the Sonoran Desert.  Spring can often brings great delight, this year’s second week of April, produced two baby Big Horn Sheep, an ewe and a small ram both now are on display with their moms and their magnificent father.


Learning the ropes, Big Horn are noted for their sure-footedness, and this little guy born just a week ago is being schooled in the art of not falling off the mountain.

Further west of the Big Horn exhibit, is the Black-tailed Prairie Dog exhibit has a bunch of new pups, who enjoy wrestling and running, delighting crowds every hour of the day.




The Desert Museum has perhaps the most incredible settings found anywhere in Southern Arizona, the only spot in the United States where the giant cactus, the Saguaro, is found to grow. The smallest detail in this lush desert is found to have the most delicate beauty. The mid-March wildflowers season is followed in early May with cactus blossoms that bring yellows from the Prickly pear, purples from the Hedge-hog, yellows and reds from the Cholla and get a ladder for the white bloom on the Saguaro. Finally the two species of Palo Verde drape the entire desert with brilliant yellow blooms, finally yielding to the Ironwood trees purple coat. The Desert Museum also features more exotic species found in the nooks and crannies of the Sonoran Desert, one like the Boojum, found in north central Baja.


Not all visitors to the Desert Museum are people.  One photographer I know was amazed by a scene he captured between a wayward rattlesnake trailside and an impromptu ground squirrel.  He saw a women making pictures with her smart phone and he moved in tight with his Nikon and “got some amazing images” but he had never considered that rattlers might be found trailside, regardless of signs, warning folks to be alert to the possibility.

Years ago, I setup a camera on a tripod behind the Desert Museum about 2am hoping to photograph a meteor shower.  As I stared into the brilliant sky alive with stars and meteors streaking across the huge expanse I was rattled into self-awareness when something behind me let loose with a loud terrifying growl. In less than ten seconds, the tripod was down and I was pulling away from my pullout on the McCain loop. The shivers up my spine had been rooted in primal concern for my very existence, the only cat in the Sonoran Desert capable of launching such a roar, was a Jaguar, who no doubt was just another visitor to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Wandering the grounds of the Desert Museum and listening to comments from visitors from all over the world gives one an appreciation for the rarity and the uncommon value found here at this popular visitor spot.



“Look it is a hedgehog cactus!”, says one visitor pointing to a prickly pear cactus. “This cactus has ears” says another. “Deer?”  “I can see deer at home” says one!  “I don’t see the parrot? “ You can see the wolf, he’s behind the agave.” “Wild turkey, heh!  “Excellent, I could use a little wild turkey about now, says one noontime visitor. “Can you seem ’em ?”


“Let’s see the big turtles”, upon their return, “did you see your turtle?” “Nope–he’s hidden now-shall we see if the tortoises are around?” “I don’t think they hibernate in the desert”, said another. “I didn’t see any terrapin.” ”We saw nothing, I don’t know where they are!”

“This would be a cool scavenger hunt, bring a bunch of kids and see how many animals they see, offers one visitors. “I see something moving but I can’t tell what it is-a black something” (Coatimundi).

“You can see the roadrunner.” “Is anyone else being co-operative?” “Possibly not, but you have to look, like in the Gray Fox enclosure there are two sleeping beneath the ledge.”


“The beaver’s down this way, we’re on the right road. I want to jump in and cool off with that Beaver.” “Look, there’s fish in the water, 1-2-3-4-5-6-there’s the beaver.”


“Has every one seen enough of the desert?”

“What do you think about the Sonoran desert?” “It’s okay!” said one burned out Asian visitor. “Just look at this beautiful place” says another. “Now that Bighorn, I’d like to see him climb out,” says a woman with a leopard-skill umbrella shading her head from the sun.

The direct Desert sun can be harsh on folks who rarely see it, even on a day when temps top out at 79. “When we are all sunned out-we can go into the air-conditioning-there is a pop machine there and we can refill our water bottles.”

Critters from the Sonoran desert learned from birth, like the Bobcats sleeping under their ledge, that an afternoon siesta, is the best way to handle the heat. Because of that the Museum does feature indoor air-conditioned exhibits like the new reef display featuring 14 aquariums, or the beaver exhibit, snakes or spiders, cave underground or geology exploration or the shaded Aviary, so when visitors finally decide they don’t want to go back out in the sun they can go see the Hummingbird enclosure or explore any number of cooler options.


Two older women, stooped over, and barely moving up the grade, says “we’re pretending we’re kids. Running past these enthusiastic visitors must be 30 kids all wearing red-t-shirts which mark them from the same school, making it easier for their tenders, to know which kids to roundup or push along and to take home a day’s end.


The 98 acres of the Museum continue to be owned by Pima County and leased to the Museum. ASDM is governed by an independent Board of 24 members.


The Desert Museum is ranked on TripAdvisor.com as one of the Top 10 Museums in the country and the #1 Tucson attraction. Unlike most museums, about 85% of the experience JAVELINA TUCSON AZ-SON DESERTMUSUM-8569is outdoors! The 98 acre Desert Museum is a diverse experience: featuring a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium. The 21 interpreted acres has two miles of walking paths through various desert habitats, housing 230 animal species, 1,200 types of plants with 70,000 individual specimens. It houses one of the world’s most comprehensive regional mineral collections. Beyond merely an attraction, the Museum’s conservation and research programs are providing important information to help conserve the Sonoran Desert region. The Desert Museum’s Art Institute inspires conservation through art education and gallery exhibits. The Museum’s publishing division, ASDM Press, has produced over 40 books and guides on the natural and cultural history of the Sonoran Desert.


The Desert Museum is recognized as one of the finest docent corps in existence today, it began in the fall of 1972. The genesis was a small group of volunteers trained to take school children on tours of the grounds, but now the docents are stationed around the grounds to provide live interpretation to all who visit. These docents, who undergo a rigorous 15-week training program, are now devoted to giving demonstrations on the grounds, and contribute today more than 75,000 hours annually to do this.


Hal Gras 1977

Hal Gras 1977

The Museum’s other education programs developed over the years, most notably by Hal Graswho created a program to take live animals to schools and other venues. His program, begun in 1955,  dubbed “The Desert Ark”, touched tens of thousands of people. Even though Gras retired from the Museum in 1985, many people today recall being inspired to learn about the desert from Gras and his Desert Ark.













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The wild West lives today, in the hearts and minds of its fans and historians.  But in Marana, the spirit of  western culture, lives on in a dusty corral next to Interstate 10 which routes horse-lovers there from all over Arizona.  The Marana Western Heritage Arena sets the stage for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages to grow up Western and realize their ambitions and goals.


Most weeks folks converge there to barrel race and ride bulls.  Every friday night, kids come and “to hang out” watching family and friends perform in the arena.  Bull riding starts at 7pm and varies whether you have experienced riders or someone new trying on the sport for the first time.  Why would someone climb onto the back of a huge bull, knowing it would eventually launch them skyward?

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“A passion for animals and the adrenaline for life,” says Jessica Reyna whose teenage son, Benaiah has decided he would ride a bull tonight, his first, but not his last.  “He’s a bull-rider now!,” comes the voice from the speakers, “Welcome to the family!” as Benaiah picks himself up, dusts off and climbs out of the arena.  Some fridays, dozens of younger kids show up for “mutton-busting”.  Climbing on top of huge sheep, grabbing the rope, and letting go. The kids love it and for many, it is just a question of time, before they trade sheep for bulls.  It’s not all guys who climb onto the unridable, two girls, who come most Friday because their friends are here say if they had the cash they would go for it.  They felt sure, that in the beginning, they might “come off pretty early” at first, but eventually they could get a good ride. Their day is coming they say…

Tonight, behind the chutes, four or five friends are stretching, talking, laughing and getting ready.  Wives and girlfriends stand near talking but watching as the guys get ready. Many of these riders are active Air Force, airmen who had to get their CO’s permission before they could ride bulls. Most have been here before, Mike Fuentes has been riding for about a year and wants to improve his ranking and get his PRCA card, maybe win some cash.  He is real impressed with the arena and folks who attend, it’s like family he says, when I first came out here I had no gear just wanted to ride.  Folks pulled together enough gear for him to get thrown off, since then, he keeps come back for more. “It’s like family here”, he says.

When the riders are queued and ready for the gate to open.  Most wearing face mask, chest protection and rubber mouth guards, they suck it up as the g-forces grab them.  Everyone has their smartphones out filming and capturing the ride to be dissected later for fun and training, either way, they want a record for their ride tonight.  Who would believe it otherwise ?


John Schmidt is a one-man rodeo, he’s is master-of-ceremonies and announcer, he helps load bulls and picks up cowpokes off the ground. He doesn’t ride bulls anymore, after 15 years he wants to pass his skills on to others, while keeping the arena running safely. While Schmidt gets much of the credit for the friday night bull adventure pitting 160 pound cowboys against 2400 pound bulls, he is the first to pass the credit on down the line.  “Dan idea for the arena”, he deflects, “was to create a place where folks could bring their families, to visit and play together”.  Ten years ago Dan Post built the arena, bull chutes and corrals, most nights he is the fella on top of the tractor who smooths out the soil in the performance area and gets it ready for the next group of riders.

JACKPOT Barrel Racing-8354 (1)

Then he does it again, and again, all night long. “This is my service” says Dan Post, with the humility of a guy who doesn’t want the limelight.  Fact is, Dan’s service extends to the Marana School Board, where he has served ten terms, helped build all of Marana’s Schools and knows all the employees who have been hired in their public schools for the past forty years.  He’s running again this year for the school board, “Because they need my experience!” he says.  Post’s experience is unparalleled, he’s lived in Marana over 50 years and while he misses the old days and “hates seeing all the farmland go away”.  As President of the Town of Marana Western Heritage Committee, whose mission is to promote a Western way of life, allowing opportunities for people wanting an equestrian experience. Post’s prominent role on the school board, may be the reason, the arena was built on high school land. 


Either way, it fills up most weeks for the varying events, some with jackpots, bull riders for $50 can get into the money if they stay on for eight seconds.  Some nights they might win $500, but eight seconds can feel like eternity, so some don’t. Jackpot Barrel racing, open to both Cowboys and Cowgirls, on the first Wednesday of each month, might bring out 50-60 riders who could win $150-$200 with some style and a quick ride.

Saturday can often bring hundred’s of youngsters and horses out for Horse Gymkana’s that run the kids and their critters through the paces, pillons or barrels. Four-H groups from all over southern Arizona and Tucson turn out to await their turn as they navigate the obstacle course. They learn valuable lessons in caring for animals and meet kids they will grow up with, each taking their place in the competition’s rankings.


Lots of energy goes into making up Marana’s Western Heritage Arena, covering the

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Shayse Riera lays one on Maverick

events, coaching the kids, organizing the livestock, watering down the dust that fills the air and might drift onto I-10 if Dan Post wasn’t driving the water truck around and dampening it down, nailing down all the loose soil in the area.

Because the Marana Arena is such a class act, the Grand Canyon Rodeo Association, often has a rodeo there on the grounds bringing in top ranked cowboys and cowgirls to compete for bigger money and eventually getting into the big money which makes Rodeo a full-time job for lots of cowpokes.  It is something you have to love because many suffer lots of broken bones, cuts, scrapes and dislocations, whatever, they all go back for more because they love to Rodeo…



Bull Riding Practice Every Friday 7 PM Sharp

Mutton Busting, Calf Riding, Steer Riding, Jr. Bulls and Bulls $5 admission adults, Children 12 & under free

Mutton Busters must weigh under 70lbs $5 fee Steer Riding $10, Bulls $20

First time Bull riders are welcome equipment available at the arena rope, helmet, vest

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Directions to Arena

I-10 exit 236 take eastbound frontage at Chevron 1/2 mile east at Postvale Rd.

For more info call 520-248-1736






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The lush Oak Flat campground, once a quiet island of green in Central Arizona, is known to the nearby San Carlos Apache as “where the Creator touched the land”. Its lush canopy of trees and streams surrounded by the brown Sonoran Desert leaves  little doubt this small gem is worth the fight looming in its future. It is the classic battle of good, fighting corporate greed aided by “political corruption”, against a Native American tribe that historically has been pushed to the end of their Earth.


Apache babies once hung in cradleboards from these Oaks as their mothers, aunties and grandmothers and all their older brothers and daughters scampered about picking acorns.



The Apache, disconnected from their lands and culture, were taken prisoners-of-war and were victims of genocide. Still they endured, survived and have taken up their battle for holy land to the highest court in the land, their creator! Ussen, placed them on this earth and made them stewards of the land from the day they are born to the day they die it is inherent to the Apache to protect the land their ancestors died fighting for, today it is their fight.


During both marches, young and old, have stepped up to the challenge of Saving Oak Flat.

More than a year ago, few knew of Oak Flat, for many, it’s the top-of-the-world-a high spot where one can see forever. Roughly a hundred miles southeast of Phoenix and a long way from all the green golf courses, resorts of Scottsdale where folks sip light beer poolside. More than 200 San Carlos Apache marched on a crowded curving roadway, backed up by vans of elderly. They marched 50 miles to Oak Flat from the Tribal headquarters in San Carlos some walking and others running across some of the hottest, inhospitable land in the United States.

APACHE MARCH-ONE YEAR-2661Today, one year plus and counting, activists are marching for Oak Flat in Honolulu, Seattle and Sacramento and protests are being held elsewhere in the U.S. The San Carlos Apache began their 2016 anniversary march in February from “Old San Carlos”, 13 miles from present day tribal headquarters, when Coolidge Dam was built it plugged the Gila River. As the water rose the historic, painful and criminal San Carlos Indian Agency was lost to the waters, as well as, 400 Indian graves.

Vernelda Granttribal historic preservation officer for the San Carlos Apache Tribe

We have mixed feelings, mixed feelings because, you know, we have the water here now, we have the fish here and these beautiful birds, and the water to us is life, but underneath it all is a lost history. This water covers a painful part of our lives from the past. I think it soothes that pain. For the Apaches, the waters help conceal a painful past. Old San Carlos was a powerful launchpad and an emotional sendoff for the almost 200 marchers and runners who churned through the 50 miles march ending up at Oak Flat for the blessing of the holy land by the Apache Crown Dancers.


Aztec Indians dance to the “Earth’s Heartbeat” and bless this Holy Ground. “We came today to bring our prayers here-to the spirits here and within us”

Since then,  the campground has been occupied, as the Apache continue their protective watch. Meanwhile, forces are at work to turn around the “land swap” that John McCain snuck into the behemoth national defense spending bill that was passed.

Everyone now, has heard of Oak Flat ! The unjust midnight move one year ago by John McCain, bypassing due process, so a foreign copper company could steal land that serves as part of the San Carlos Apache lifestyle and culture. After a decade of successful tribal legal intervention, McCain slipped the rider into the 2015 National Defense (must pass) Bill overnight and passed it the next day, bypassing any public transparency. Today, a goggle search for Oak Flat brings back, hundreds, if not, thousands of hits. From photo spreads in GARZA the French News Magazine to an Op/Ed piece in the New York Times calling McCain and Jeff Flakes bill, “a new low in congressional corruption”, written by Lydia Millet, who says ”the rider should be repealed.” Millet suggests “laws can be reversed by new legislative language.APACHE AT OAK FLAT8162

Tucson representative Raul Grivaljva and presidential candidate and Vermont Senator both have filed legislative action to scuttle the McCain-Flake rider in favor of the San Carlos Apache Indian Tribe.

Jane Sanders visits and speaks at Oak Flat

“Oak Flat is an important cultural and religious area that is vital to the traditions of our Native American brothers and sisters – it deserves our strongest protections,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.

APACHE MARCH-ONE YEAR-7645The Save Oak Flat Act, authored by  Tucson Rep. Raul Grijalva and cosponsored by presidential Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Ruben Gallego and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, would repeal this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, thereby disallowing mining in this area. According to the Save Oak Flat Act, the establishment of a mine would result in, “the physical destruction of tribal sacred areas and deprive American Indians from practicing their religions, ceremonies, and other traditional practices.” Furthermore, the Act considers the potential environmental degradation due to mining waste.

John Welch, an archaeologist, long-time resident of Fort Apache and a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, says Oak Flat, “Is the best set of Apache archaeological sites ever documented, period, full stop.” Oak Flat and Ga’an Canyon are “where the spiritual beings that represent healing live.”

“We demand entitlement to our land and reservation, says Nosie, “through prayer, we are going to win!” “We are bringing down the barriers imposed upon us and today we breakout, the abuse from the people outside (the reservation), ends here today.”

So spoke, Wendsler Nosie, one year ago speaking in one voice for Tribal leaders from all over Arizona and Native Americans everywhere, Nosie announced Thursday February Fourth, 2015, to be “a historic day as the Apache once again took the field once again against the United States of America”.  4f34b001070f1-preview-300Nosie then led his people on a  march to Apache Leap Mountain towering over the mining community of Superior where Resolution Copper plans to use robots working deep underground to collapse the mountain beneath itself imploding the Apache sacred ceremonial grounds where their ancestors are buried, where their daughter’s held Sunrise Ceremonies, where their parents wakes and funerals were enshrined—a holy place for every chapter of Apache Life.


“Ladies and Gentlemen, the San Carlos Brave’s Basketball Team today has won the State Championship this a very afternoon.” Applause breaks out as community members celebrate their children bringing home the top prize from the state tournament. Apache are a very proud people and their children are the center of their universe.


Apache, activist await the arrival of the Crown Dancers who would bless this holy ground…

Apache Leap Mountain gets its name from the Pinal Apache Band who lived in those hills and valley, those rocks still carry rock art left from their dreams of successful hunts for deer and mountain sheep, game that filled their stomachs and fueled their children’s futures. That band of 40 died leaping from the ragged mountain edge as they were surrounded by the U. S. Cavalry who demanded a return to San Carlos, or die by their sabers. The Pinal Apache chose to leap knowing their God knew best how they should live and die. Today the Apache fight for their children.



For decades, the Apaches fought and raided encroaching Mexican and American immigrants. In the 1870s, the U.S. government forced them onto camps or reservations, like San Carlos. “HELL’S 40 ACRES” was the nickname for San Carlos Indian Agency for the deplorable living conditions found there in 1870-80’s according to wikipedia, there it reports the U.S. Army showed both animosity toward the Indians and disdain for their civilian Indian agents. Soldiers and officers Wikipedia reports “sometimes brutally tortured or killed the Indians for sport…”


“We were pushed here”! says Wensler Nosie, former Chairman of the San Carlos Apache people and spiritual leader of the Save Ash Flat Movement. APACHE MARCH ON OAK FLAT-NOSIE-5287We used to roam the entire South West, but we were told to stay at San Carlos and extermination was the response when we didn’t. The white man killed our ancestors, my great grandparents, when they tried to continue their nomadic lifestyle. My mother told me, stay on the reservation-don’t bother those white people outside or they will rain down hurt upon you and our people! That was a sickness pressed upon our people by the U.S. government, that ends today,  “Today we pray to our God and through God we will win!”

Councilman Fred Ferreiria from the San Carlos Peridot district says “they gave us this land because no one wanted it — they found minerals — and they took it. If we don’t stop it now, bit by bit, they will take it all away again.” We learned the laws and how things are done, we were doing that and the government broke the rules, we must continue this fight, we are here today for our children.”



“We have champions in Congress and they will help us “Repeal the Law” said Ed Norris, chairman of the Tohono Oodham (above)

God blesses the world–he put us here to protect the land and as long as we put God first–he will fight for us. Apache people were taught to pray and only through prayer will we win. The white man came to America in search of religious freedom but still they deprive the Apache of what is his religious right.” “We are still prisoners-of-war” said Wally Davis, chairman of the Tonto Apache speaking of people forced marched to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. “This is a message to all Native Americans.” “San Carlos is still a prison, ” Davis said. In March 1875, the government closed the Yavapai-Apache Camp Verde Reservation and the Army marched the residents 180 miles to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. More than 100 Yavapai died during the winter trek. After Geronimo’s capture in 1886, and the Chiricahua Band were shipped to Florida, San Carlos was then used to contain all the rest of the Apachean-speaking people until the 1900’s.



“This is Apache territory and Oak Flat belongs to the Apache—they took it away from us and we must take it back says Apache Chairman Terry Rambler. shafts283“I’m very proud of my ancestor’s “Apache Pride” we were supposed to be exterminated but we are here today, let’s take over Oak Flat, this is our time to be involved! Apache were slaughtered and killed here—we will fight for the blood of our ancestors. The chairman said the San Carlos Tribal council voted against any copper mines being built upon their land.”

“The white people came to this land searching for religious freedom, fleeing persecution, they wanted “ to have the ability to pray, we want the same freedom”. Some people have to visualize something, like a church, a structure to express their love of God, Oak Flat is our church, it is no different today. Today is about religious freedom, we need to keep our connection to our God.”

It is a little known fact, that the largest, most-amazing copper deposit in Arizona, lies beneath the city of Mesa. So imagine, if you will, the Mesa Arizona Temple – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets a federal notice that the church is off-limits and will be demolished in order for China to have all the copper they want to sell back to us. That’s Oak Flat, in an nutshell, the church of the San Carlos Apache is threaten by a copper mine and since environmental studies have been ruled unnecessary, the San Carlos people fear for their water and their spirituality.

In addition to the destruction of this place of worship, the Land Exchange will threaten the water quality and water supply of the region. The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 principally to protect the region’s watershed. However, the Land Exchange will effectively eliminate these protections. Under current plans, the mining operation will require an unsustainable amount of water to operate and leave behind contaminated water affecting the Tribe and local communities for generations to come. The resulting hole will be two miles across and resemble “Meteor Crater” near Winslow, Az.

Meanwhile the 1978 American Indian Religious Act forbids government to denying Native Americans access to sites or to interfere with religious practices and customs where such use conflicts with  federal regulations according to  President Jimmy Carter this act stops that. Both Presidents Nixon and Eisenhower signed bills setting aside Oak Flat from mining and development.  It was established as a green space for Americans to enjoy.



A few months ago, the National Museum of the American Indian contacted the SouthWest PhotoJournal to acquire “images for their upcoming classroom lesson plan their Education Department was developing, a lesson plan about American Indian Removal, for teachers and students K-12. The web-based module titled “Many Trails of Tears.” would be a teaching tool to understand the impact and complexity of U.S. Removal Policies, with a wide variety of stories and outcomes. One part of the lesson was to focus on Oak Flat. They asked students to look at Oak Flat and determine whether mining on a sacred site is an example of removal today says Erin Beasley, visual researcher for the National Museum.

“Just recently the web lesson plan went through a review process Beasley reported a couple months later, and “the education team has informed me they had to drop the Oak Flat story in the lesson plan for the immediate future”. “It may come back at some point, but for now I’m very sorry to say we won’t be using the Oak Flat images. Oak Flat is such an important story, I’m sure it will come into another project, or become a growth of this educational project, in the future.”

I frankly had expected the change because the battle over Oak Flat is growing very contentious and workers at the National Museum are subject to the will of Congress and to be calling Oak Flat, an example of forced relocation, while Republicans are saying never mind, this campground is no consequence or no major importance, could cost a job.


Sides have been chosen and battle lines drawn both Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, asked the National Park Service to withdraw the Oak Flat application to the National Register of Historic Places, saying it was confusing and vaguely worded in an attempt to undermine the proposed Resolution Copper mine. They noted, among other things, that the application did not cite “Oak Flat,” as the area is commonly known, but called it the “Chi’chil Bildagoteel Historic District,” according to the Cronkite News Service.

“We are concerned that the use of the phrase ‘Chi’chil Bildagoteel Historic District’ and a lack of geographic information is an attempt by these opponents to limit transparency and public comments from constituents that disagree with this nomination, and an attempt to undermine our bipartisan bill” the lawmakers’ letter said.

In the March 10th edition of the Tucson Weekly Republican Congressman Paul Gosar goes nuclear at news that Oak Flat will remain listed in the National Register of Historic Places, despite attempts by himself and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who alleges to stand by Native Americans, to withdraw the site from historic consideration.

In a press release, Gosar alleges Oak Flat has never been a sacred site. According to a letter by former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Nation and organizer of the group Apache Stronghold Wendsler Nosie, Sr., Gosar is pressuring the National Forest Service to kick out members of the Apache Stronghold, as well as allies, who have occupied the area since the site was sold out to the mining company.

“Oak Flat deserves our strongest protections,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “As someone who has fought to safeguard this treasure for years, I fully support designating the land as a historic property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and encourage the National Park Service to evaluate the proposal based on its merits.” 

APACHE MARCH ON OAK FLAT-NOSIE-5391 (1)Wendsler Nosie Sr. marching to Oak Flat

“Today eagle feathers arrived here on foot, this is a spiritual gathering. The idea is to get here so the blessing can be given by God. We have arrived so God will have blessed us…we are all brothers and sisters here. Together we will protect our water so we can continue to live as human beings.The Apache need to be afforded the same protection as all U.S. citizens—we Apache want the same rights afforded everyone else. This is a gift from God to help save the world may we all be blessed from this day forward.”   Wendsler Nosie Sr. 



San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler, Wendsler Nosie behind.

One year ago  Wendsler Nosie ,  spiritual leader of the San Carlos Apache, said a movement had begun and his tribe had “once again taken the field against the United States of America.” Since then members have occupied Oak Flat and continued their lifestyle using the campgrounds and canyon and valleys of Oak Flat, as the scene for weddings, funerals and the Apache Sunrise Ceremonies, the three day ceremony that celebrates Apache women coming of age. This fine stand of Emory Oaks for centuries have brought the Apache here to pick and fill their containers with acorns, to make a long time favorite Apache meal, Acorn Stew, as well as enjoying the acorn itself. Tisha Black says her 84 year old father “loves to pick acorns” at Oak Flat and the former tribal policeman, baliff and jailer stopped picking acorns there a few years ago, after a Highway Patrolman told him he couldn’t pick the nuts at Oak Flat anymore.

Since the required environmental impact studies for the proposed Resolution Mine were rendered pointless by the McCain bill, the tribe and other central Arizona residents, will have no protection for their groundwater and the mine will not be libel if water is spoiled.


Soon, if Resolution Copper gets access to the Copper beneath Oak Flat, the Superior Az community Easter campouts will cease at the campground and everything that has happened at Oak Flat before will cease to exist or occur. Eventually, the campgrounds, canyons and “world class” climbing rock will be place off limits as robots a mile beneath the surface collapse this mountain and ship the ore overseas.


Pomono Tribe from California does a “Pomono Two-step”

“We have to stand up and fight Congress, laws can be made and laws can be changed!  John McCain made a big mistake doing this to us said Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Tribe. These politicians aided Resolution Mine, the Canadian Copper Mine that wants to collapse Apache Leap Mountain and ship the copper ore overseas. Leaving the Apache, the hole and a contaminated water source. “What was a struggle to protect our most sacred site is now a battle. Their angry words leave no doubt that “greedy politicians” like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Anne Kirkpatrick and Rep. Paul Gosar, have worn out their welcome in Indian Country.

“The rape of Indian land stops today on this historic day”, Nosie continues. ” Oak Flat was a gift from God to the Apache people, may we all be blessed from this day forward,” Nosie tells the crowd. “We are spiritually guided here–indigenous people from all over the world are watching our fight”! If America is the World’s Policeman, and this under-handed maneuver is how they treat their native peoples, then what hope do native souls have anywhere?


Earlier Blog on the First March to Oak Flat







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