Not so “private” property

Yesterday, as I’m bundling up to go work outside, I walk pass the living room window and see a person walking along the back part of our property down by the shed. We live on what I like to refer to as “2.5 acres of leave me the fuck alone”. I have done my time living in close proximity to others and really prefer having acreage as a buffer. Our property is WAY out by the Superstition Mountain. Who is this person and why are we walking out here?

I grab my walking stick and head out unsure what I am getting ready to face. I regularly wear steel toe boots on the property for safety. I’m wearing leggings, jeans, two shirts, two flannels and a head wrap because it’s 50 degrees outside. This lizard needs heat she can peel away as she works up a sweat.

Now three times my actual size, I stomp outside to greet the intruder.

Oblivious and casually walking, it’s an elderly woman armed with a camera. I can take her.

I yell down to her “Hey! Can I help you???”

“…No.” She answers and continues on her trek towards my water tank.

My face at that moment had to have been priceless.

What the hell is happening this morning? Another reason why I’m not a fan of Mondays.

I am now forced to hike on down to have a more personal conversation and to be honest I’m not smiling and sweet. I’m annoyed. Like I mentioned, I’m on 2.5 acres and had no intention of walking the perimeter of it when it’s “freezing” outside first thing in the morning.

As I get closer she’s startled. She roughly in her 70’s, thin, socks with her semi- appropriate hiking sandals, loose legging type pants and light jacket. I again ask her if she needs something. Confused she says, “This isn’t a road?” We are standing next to my water tank. Yes, its technically a dirt road that does not lead anywhere but my property.

This is where it gets better. “Does this take me to the Heiroglyphics Trail?” she asks. “They said it was within walking distance. An easy hike.”

Only locals will openly laugh at this. And I did as I hung my head shaking it. Who the hell sent this poor woman so far off track? We are roughly 3 miles from the parking lot of that trail. I refuse to tell anyone a hiking trail in this desert “easy”.IMG_0445 (1).JPG

Thank heavens it’s not Summer, she didn’t go much further and get lost or hurt!

I’m not saying that to be dramatic, I’m serious. She had no water with her and she was alone. Though out casually walking, she was oblivious to the much-documented fact that my property is a thoroughfare for a healthy pack of coyote and a growing herd of javelina with baby in tow. IMG_2524.JPGHad I allowed her to continue on she could have easily walked right over to the main wash all the animals use.IMG_2102.JPG

It’s cold for the desert so she was not really all that in danger of meeting a rattler but again all bets are off when a reptile needs heat and comes out to find a spot in the sun.

We have a sign that reads “Private Driveway” with a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign right below it. She said she thought it was for the other property where she was staying and dismissed it.

One of the things I giggled about when we bought the property was the entrance having a chain across. Why would Elwood and Gerd need a chain? Cute elderly couple who had been living up on a hill way out in the desert for years, really a chain is necessary to keep people out?

We don’t use it most the time but found out quickly it proves useful certain times of the year.

Now I’m being reminded our Snowbirds are back and the chain needs to start going back up. Visitors flocking from anywhere its cold and snowy to come soak up our perpetual sun. They are easy to spot, they have on much less clothing than the locals and they are pale.

As I escort my lost Snowbird back up to the front driveway she tells me she is staying in the house next to us. He air BnB’s it or whatever. “It’s huge inside!” she marvels “… have you been in there? Lots of rooms….”

Yeah lady lots of rooms not as many windows. H.H. Holmes style construction. 6000 square feet of crazy is situated right next to my property line. No, I haven’t gone in that place for a visit. I prefer to watch him from a distance half assed roller brush it with blood red paint.IMG_4910.JPG

I say none of this out loud.

We stop at the beginning of my driveway. As she continues talking I find myself feeling guilty about how I reacted to her earlier. The nice woman standing before me had simply been lost. She meant no harm. But because of having lived my life, I am not all that trusting, seen too much. My first animal instinct was to protect. Protect me and mine. But somehow my Momma Stace protection mode had shifted into keeping HER safe. I had stopped growling at her.

By this point I had relaxed enough to share stories of the mountain and encouraged her to go over to the Superstition Mountain Museum to learn more then sent her back over to where she came from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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what about Bob

Friday night about nine o’clock I went to let the dogs back into the house and noticed Tucker nose down, locked in on something. It was a good- sized scorpion sitting right at the back door. Now remember, I’m desert and not all that sane, when I say “good- sized” that means I’m not playing around and taking pictures with my cowboys next to it. I’m debating on saddling it up and riding it. This thing was a respectable sized scorpion.

But my brain went to “this beast would be amazing at the museum for my Saturday talks! Go grab a container!”IMG_1635.JPG

I get the dogs safely inside and grab a deep plastic, Costco sized, humus container and plop it right on top of the scorpion so I can figure out my life. My husband won’t be home for a few more hours. I don’t have an aquarium. I need to be at the museum in the morning. What do I have that can house my new friend in until I find a better option?

I rip the cardboard from a notepad and slide it under a now really pissed off good-sized scorpion and with humus container firmly in place flip it over and get the lid on.

It is at this point I get to see just how long we are as it stands on end trying to raise the roof. I’m right, this IS a “good- sized” scorpion. I need a habitat.

See, at the museum we literally meet people from all over the world. Scorpions are not found everywhere and quite an amazing critter to watch. Seeing a live scorpion for some folks is a once in a life time experience but not so much for local desert dwellers. I knew if I was going to bring one and show it off my locals would be tough on me about it. It better be “big enough” to be worth the conversation. Yes, little scorpions can be nasty and dangerous as well but just aren’t impressive.IMG_1698.JPG

I find a larger clear plastic container. It’s not as deep as I would like but much better looking for show and tell and has a lid.

I clean it out and add rocks. Rookie move. I should have known better. The added rock gives enough traction and the container is not very deep. The second I drop the scorpion in it stands on end and truly is big enough to flop right on out. But I’m quick and get the lid and stuff it back down like I am Daffy Duck stuffing the Genie back into the lamp (mine! mine! mine! down! down! down!)

I win that battle but it is now really mad at me.

I put two large rubber bands around the lid so scorpion arm strong doesn’t pop the lid off while I pretend to sleep.

I name it Bob after a favorite movie that I could watch too much, “What about Bob?” I have no idea if it’s a boy or girl yet but it’s name is Bob.

Bob spent the entire night systematically checking for any weakness in the container, searching for the way out. Sorry Bob, I’m not that new.

Bob was a huge hit at the museum. It didn’t matter that Bob sat in a condensed habitat with rubber bands around it. Everyone wanted to see Bob.

An amazing volunteer named Jerry came up to me just a few hours later. Holding a small aquarium, he tells me Bob has a new home. Jerry had left, saw a yard sale, stopped, got the aquarium and brought it back to me and Bob! Jerry got a hug.

Best I can tell so far is Bob is about 4 inches when stretching up to try to escape. My zoo friends will help me verify what exactly I now own in terms of what type of scorpion, male or female, all the facts.IMG_1696.JPG

So now Bob sits in a lovely aquarium filled with all the comforts that creature needs. He will be spoiled as best I can. He will be an ambassador for the desert and scorpions everywhere. Come visit me and Bob at the Superstition Mountain Museum on Saturdays.

doin’ the rattlesnake shake…

We both see it at the same time. It’s laying in the road up ahead. Is it dead? And what kind is it?

We slow down to a crawl to get a better look. It’s a rattler.

No longer alive, yet I’m still terrified. The head took the impact of this hit and run. The rattle broken off and gone. But this has happened recently. The body is squishy and warm.

My husband knows what’s going to happen next. I want it. I want this snake so it’s life wasn’t wasted. It will come teach with me at the museum. The skin will educate.

He also knows he was the one driving and pulled over so….

But honestly, my brain was on pickle ball just minutes ago so mentally I am a disaster now.

We had gotten up early and were heading over to a park in Apache Junction that has nice, free outdoor courts. I am dressed for pickle ball not roadkill recovery. I don’t want to smell. I’m positive neither does my husband. We also don’t drive an open truck. We have an Expedition that I put things in I shouldn’t. There really isn’t a way to describe what a few week dead coyote smells like. It’s currently down in the shed waiting it’s turn to become educational…I will write about that later.

Grabbing a box, we scooped up the dead snake, put the lid on and threw it in the back of the car. My brain has basically exploded at this point. Yuck!, gross!, OMG this is super cool!, how am I doing this?, what am I doing? I don’t know how… must go to youtube, oh yeah pickle ball.

Adrenaline.

Up until this past April, I had never seen a rattlesnake in the wild. I am born and raised desert. Now, thanks to living around the Superstition Mountain and working at a museum with a very old barn and stamp mill, I have.

They are terrifying. A living, moving, breathing diamondback is beautiful and deadly at the same time. I have great respect for our wildlife. I don’t really have it in me to be the one who would kill a snake. It would have to be attacking my dog or something where I was defending. I’m more catch and release.

Hitting the pickle ball around for a while was greatly needed but still didn’t drain my anxiety. I brought the rattler home, I was going to have to skin it. I have absolutely no idea how.

youtube.

I find some crazy dude in Florida that sounds like someone I would hang out with and watch his video. His snake is huge, but in Florida they have all kinds of crazy reptiles so the one he had was probably average and he was right at home working with it.

But watching and doing are two entirely different things.

This snake body I have is squishy. I have no real area or tools dedicated to this new hobby of mine. I improvise.

Though my husband is awesome, supportive and a Marine, no he is not going to touch this. He hands me an axe and protective eye wear.

The mangled head must go. Again, I am new, this is my first beheading. I am having an out of body experience. I tell myself it’s already dead and I’m just cleaning it but that doesn’t slow the high- speed train of adrenaline pulsating through me.

I have scissors dedicated to this sort of thing after I used them to remove the skin from a Javelina corpse.

I will spare you the rest. How anyone would eat snake I don’t know.IMG_1256

I get parchment paper and lay the skin out flat but realize this is going to make jerky quickly since it’s 100 degrees outside before noon. I go back to my youtube guy and see that if I want my skin soft and pliable I need to soak it.

So that’s where we are now. Soaking.

…it’s about the animals

I knew I had a calling for the Superstition Mountain Museum right away. My first walk around the property where Apacheland Movie Ranch once stood, just minutes from my house, left me with a such a strong personal experience that I wrote about it, photographed it and then went to the Museum and Volunteered.

Believing my calling must have something to do with that certain time in movie history, I watched the Elvis movie Charro! twice every shift so I would know the details and could explain why we had the Chapel on the Museum grounds.IMG_0001.JPG

I began learning the history, ordered the tshirt (seen above in picture) listened to  the stories and even met a few actors who had filmed there. I learned about Pasty Montana, first female country artist to sell a million copies of her single “I want to be a Cowboys Sweetheart” and the men who found her lost foot prints. I tell every girl I meet about her so we don’t lose valuable female history.IMG_0168.JPG

Though extremely comfortable in this “Historic Old West” style land I was now immersing myself in, I knew in my heart I wasn’t the right puzzle piece…not yet.

Then in April and May I met my first rattlesnake, then my second…my third…my fourth. And though my enthusiasm was still in full swing for Charro! happily playing on the mini T.V. in the General Store, my tales of snake encounters were what was truly exciting my guests. Such a common question “Do you see snakes out here?” I simply would tell the truth and show pictures.IMG_0397

I offered to work on Fridays inside the main museum gift shop. I wanted to learn more and the barn wasn’t going to help teach me to become a Docent. No, my dear friend James “Jim” Swanson and a few others would teach me and had already offered.IMG_4202.JPG

When I asked my boss Jeff aka “Crispy” about becoming a Docent, he handed me a few pages stapled together with something that had been reprinted multiple times. My eye sight is so bad I strained and with my usual tact said, “What the hell is this?

( Jeff aka “Crispy” with our self appointed Union Leader Karen)IMG_4789 (1).JPG

Long story short, the manual had been a work in progress and a really good one at that, but my buddy Jim’s health issues got in the way and time had passed. Could I fix it?

What better way to learn all about something then to read and write about it? I would change no words just update, add my pictures and learn a ridiculous amount of history with the help of an amazing few Docents we have.

But once I started working inside the gift main shop, I quickly realized I hardly belong near expensive one of a kind pottery that I know nothing about. Or the amazing jewelry I don’t wear. It’s not me.IMG_1430

Instead I would hover by the animal exhibit. With my Phoenix Zoo background, being born and raised desert and now living in crazy town Gold Canyon photographing every critter possible plus my recent snake encounters with pictures, I was right at home.

Then it happened.

I hear excited shouts over by our side patio. A grandmother, mother and child have their faces pressed up to the glass “Baby Roadrunners!”

Now to be honest, and I have two resident roadrunners on my property that I see regularly, I cannot say I have ever seen a “baby” roadrunner in the wild in my life. If there are baby roadrunners on the museum patio I’m running over there with my camera (iPad).

What I see when I look out are nothing more than what, for lack of a better term and it doesn’t matter anyways, I am going to call generic desert birds. Not baby roadrunners. I attempt to use my zoo training and go to tell them these are not in fact baby roadrunners but are…

I get a mad Grandma insisting that those are indeed baby roadrunners and they have them all over their property! Hmph!!

No, you don’t have baby roadrunners all over your property you nit wit is what I wanted to say but I smiled and said, “Oh really? Nice.” and walked away.

Later, same day, I over hear someone who should know better say a Javelina was a rodent. (uh…no)

A small pop happened at the base of my skull. It’s the animals! Duh! I love animals! My favorite part of being at the zoo was helping bridge the gap between the general population and the animals. My local animals obviously need the same help!

I go to Crispy and tell him I have an idea. I made an “animal fun facts” sheet, could we post it so our guests could learn a bit more? Much to my happiness it was received so well from our Museum Queen and leader Liz that it was mounted on the exhibit!

Then I ask about the display. If you know me this is not a surprise. I’m going to want more. Can I get more snakes? A jackrabbit? Turkey Vulture? What can we do? I am told to call the taxidermist but I make Crispy do it.

Between my personality and the taxidermist…let’s just say more than a few people were excited to see us meet. Fascinated by anyone with this career I couldn’t wait. We hit it off beautifully.

My enthusiasm and respect for the animals met a talented, artistic and unique man more than generous in spirit and kindness who understood my collecting of dead animals I find. I have been told he claims to have visited other places outside of this planet. I will be grabbing my spoon for those tales. If someone is smart they would film us chatting.

Starting in August I will be doing Animal Fun Fact talks in front of the exhibit we have at the Superstition Mountain Museum! From 10-2 I will hang out on Saturdays and share as much as they will let me!

I am also still in the process of helping update the Docent Manual they currently have with more information and pictures. Jim is always my helper as my legitimate historian. A walking tour handout for the inside of the museum I am just finishing up and hope our guests will soon enjoy.IMG_4474.JPG

I contribute to the monthly newsletter “In the Loop” by creating a way to introduce the volunteers to one another called “have you met…?”. When you have over 200 volunteers it’s easy to feel like you don’t know anyone. Trust me, I’m going to include everyone! My least favorite thing on the planet are people who exclude others.

I have come a long way since becoming a volunteer a year ago. I cannot wait to see what this next year brings. It’s going to be awesome. Come see me. I’ll show you around.IMG_0701

have you seen the lady with the donkey?

A friend of mine that usually works up in the main gift shop in the Museum came out to the barn Saturday afternoon and asks “Hey, have you seen the lady with the Donkey? Did she come through here?”  Now horses and mules are no strangers to our place, especially the barn, but this particular friend of mine has a great sense of humor and a poker face so this question came loaded. “No, no…?”

I knew it must be good when she told me “Go ahead, I will cover for you, they are in the Museum.” “IN the Museum?” I ask. “Yeah they are inside… it’s a little donkey”

There are people in this world who have such creativity that it lands on another level completely. One of those magic individuals was now alone inside our Museum with her donkey discussing the displays!

I stood there mesmerized, the imaginary spoon going into my mouth because I could not eat this up fast enough. Not one but two new characters had come to life before my eyes! I had to go meet them.IMG_4823

The attention to detail was amazing. Never breaking character I was welcomed into their world as if this was nothing new. I was introduced to Digger the donkey and Wanda. Honestly she has a “W W” something before her name( wild west wanda?) but I lost it because my mind was way too busy absorbing every nuance of the donkey’s clothing and movements. Then as my attention shifted to Wanda my brain went into overload simply giddy with childlike delight. I was sold. I could write down her name and the details later. Someone give this pair the information to come live here at the Museum permanently please! Ok give them the info to volunteer. Something. My boss already had.

A little while later they came out to the barn. It was so obvious that they would fit in as part of that energy that changes our place from ordinary to extraordinary.

With the Museum already having one of the prettiest back grounds the Superstition Mountain, the Stamp Mill and the men who run it, the amazing train and the team that takes care of it, barn dwellers like me, the Elvis chapel, all the people who maintain the grounds or help build the different structures, a blacksmith, the Superstition Mountain Museum still has plenty of room for more good natured, giving volunteers, especially one with a donkey!IMG_4810.JPG

I look forward to seeing them again. I promise next time I will write down her complete name!

Nice to have met you Wanda and Digger!

Remember what the wise man said…there’s nothing to fear…

It is so easy to give a “thumbs up” to the quote “Do what you are afraid of.” The most popular of the overused yet under realized current online “positive messages”.

I include myself in the group of individuals who have kicked themselves out of a self-imposed safety zone and stepped into the land of fear.

Do not for a moment confuse this with recklessness.

Fear comes in all forms. Confronting fear does not always include a danger to your personal safety. Speaking in public can be as debilitating for some as the rattlesnakes I face.

Due to the pride I feel, the free education I receive, the friendships I have formed and sense of community that comes from volunteering at the Superstition Mountain Museum, I will not give up  simply because the reality of where I will be doing it might be unsettling.

Volunteering in the barn requires me to face my greatest fear as a life-long desert kid. I will see live rattlesnakes on a regular basis.

The quote “Oh someone else will do it.” should actually be what gets hundreds of those easily given “thumbs up” online.

“Someone else” seems to live in a magic land “somewhere” and shows up magically when everyone else decides not to bother or care.

You see, magic individuals moved the barn I stand in piece by piece over to the museum. Each slat of wood numbered so it could be rebuilt exactly as it was before fire destroyed everything around it. The barn holds memories I am now proud to help protect.IMG_0701

For free.

Why should I get paid to stand in that amazing old barn for a few hours every Saturday? In an air-conditioned shop, selling trinkets and ice cream and watching Elvis, why should I receive anything when around me are people who don’t and have given so much more?

Because there are rattlesnakes and “someone else” can do it.

Well guess what?

No, there isn’t a line of eager people who can seem to give a few hours of their time. Nope. Too busy. Plenty of excuses. Someone else can.

My most recent encounter with a very aggressive rattler had a profound effect on me physically once it was all over. I don’t want you to think for a moment it didn’t.

Facing your fear is bigger and means so much more than a stupid “thumbs up” from a stranger online.

As evil as I can be at times, being completely alone facing a rattler who has reared back is not anything I would wish upon anyone.

Blessed with a combination of born and raised desert instincts, prior Zoo training and being a Mom, fear stepped into another realm so focus could slide in. Though I was alone, the Museum grounds were not closed, so an unsuspecting person could walk up at any time and I can guarantee they will be wearing flip flops. The rattler was in direct route of me getting help and at the entrance to the barn. My boss was not answering his phone so once the rattler settled back down and started to move on,IMG_0392.JPG I made the decision to RUN as fast as I could to get help while still trying to watch the snake to see where it would go into the Blacksmiths area. I am the only one who knows where this loaded weapon is and I have to get help and get back over there before a child finds it.

In steel toe boots I am a blur across the desert.img_8533

When all was said and done, I sat in my car to go home and I burst into tears. I am not for a moment going to let you think I am some non-feeling desert robot. I got home and threw up. The reality of what I had dealt with, including a sandal wearing idiot who insisted upon leaning over the wooden Blacksmiths counter to take a picture of a loudly rattling snake before the Fire department could arrive, had set in. This man was really lucky I used my stick to move him back and not knock him up side the head with it.IMG_0397

It took hours for me to feel relatively normal again.

Now after that story, not even complete with all of the details, and knowing this was my third straight week in a row of facing a rattler, I am positive there are plenty of you who would say I have every reason to not go back.

Except I am needed and qualified. And as it turns out I am one of those “someone else” who can be counted on to show up not because she’s getting paid but because she said she would and picked up a few more shifts because no one else did.

“Do what you fear…”

So, what are you afraid of really? Less time in front of the T.V? Less computer time for you to give a “thumbs up”? Weight loss?

Afraid of an ounce of inconvenience? A minute of un comfort?

Are  you afraid to sweat?

Or are you afraid I am talking honestly and directly to you and you now feel a need to answer…well don’t. I’m not looking for your thumbs up or your why.

I have two shifts this week…you can put money on it I will see at least one rattler.

Remember what the wise man said…there’s nothing to fear…

Feeling Rattled

It’s about 3 in the afternoon…it’s Saturday at the Museum and we have a wedding in the chapel soon.

I’m in the barn in the General Store ringing up a guest when I hear the screams. I fly from around the counter. A large group mostly of kids but some adults are standing in the entrance of the barn staring at the large rattlesnake making it’s way across the barn floor.IMG_0322.JPG

The train staff is gone. No volunteers roaming the grounds really because we close at 4. If John the Blacksmith is around the corner he obviously can’t hear or would be running to help me so I’m guessing he’s not there.

The snake is moving at a pace quicker than I like and heading towards the old wagons. This is a very old large wooden barn with every crack and hole you can picture. I can’t dial my boss Jeff fast enough.

Pulling out my phone basically gives the audience permission to pull out theirs for this amazing, rare and stupidly dangerous photo shoot.

By the time Jeff and Pete get to me the rattler has gone into a hole directly underneath the General Store. For those of you who have never been there, this store is TINY…size of an average childs room. But the hole goes UNDER not through so really…I’m not that freaked out…

We run around to see if we catch the snake coming out the other side. We wait, but no. Praying it went under the store to nap we all disperse and Jeff (my amazing but now understandably more crispy boss) tells me we are going to close up the store, we (me) have had enough excitement for one day. But a few guests still wanted to buy this or that so we stay.

As we are helping them…more screams. Guess who is not napping under the General Store but back roaming across the barn! Yes…our rattler friend. And we are now heading out around the corner to the Blacksmith. That is NOT the area you want a rattler cozying up.IMG_0329.JPG

Jeff calls 911. Pete has the “snake rope noose on a stick thing” (my words not his) but can’t get a good enough angle at the rattlers now bobbing and weaving head.

Though not rattling at us, it wasn’t pleased and wanted away from this annoyance. It curled back around on itself and wedged in between the concrete and wood.IMG_0340.JPG

With everyone cleared far away, Jeff and I waited and watched.

Well, that spot didn’t last long either and we were back on the move. Sensing it wasn’t getting harassed any longer, the rattler repositioned and headed back into the Blacksmiths Shack.IMG_0343.JPG

After too much time passes with no fire department Jeff calls 911 back…they have sent no one. I’m not about to ask him why at this point.

Our rattler of the day has made it under the Lost Dutchman shed and it’s time for the Museum to close.

No, we did not ever catch this particular rattlesnake. We only relocate anyway, we do not kill.  This is the desert surrounding the mighty Superstition Mountain. Welcome to rattlesnake territory.

so what did you do this weekend?

Have you ever been so tired from talking at work that your face starts to hurt? But you keep going because you still have another hour and a half left. Your head hurts. Your neck hurts. You feel like you have heard yourself say the same thing way too many times?

I volunteer at the Superstition Mtn. Museum. A big part of my role at the museum is helping our guests understand the history behind the Apacheland Movie Ranch memorabilia we have. Apacheland filmed movies, TV shows and commercials from 1960 until it burned down on Valentines Day 2004. The only structures unharmed were the barn and the chapel and they were moved to the museum grounds.img_4250

I work in the barn in the General Store on Saturdays and for the last year I have watched the western movie “Charro!” as I sell ice cream and trinkets. Elvis made “Charro!” at Apacheland in 1969. He plays a gritty cowboy. There is no singing in the movie. Elvis does sing the opening song but you don’t see him. It’s a fun movie. I watch it roughly 2.5 times a shift. I have the t-shirt for it. I am in a unique club of people who have it memorized.  So far, I am the only member I know of but I’m sure there are more of us out there.IMG_0701

This weekend we had a big event at the museum. Amazing artists came for three days to showcase their work.IMG_1402

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The museum also has a lecture series on Thursdays while the weather is fabulous. You get to learn all kinds of cool stuff for free. Hundreds of people show up to these lectures.img_8527

I am told this past Thursday they talked about Dia de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead and asked the artists if they wanted to put up a display/altar for this weekend. They did. It is fabulous. It is in the Elvis chapel.

(Side note for any out there not familiar..Dia is celebrated Oct 31, Nov 1 and 2 and this is March 10,11 and 12.)

I said yes to volunteering an extra day, going in on Friday and Saturday. I was told I would be a “wrapper” (…of course I rapped…badly…at my crispy but adorable boss. Apparently, that is the standard response and his blank face at me made me enjoy my stupidity even more.)

I get over to the barn and start sweating profusely when I really realize what they are actually asking me to do. Oh, that hand painted one of a kind pottery people are paying lots of money for? Yeah Stace, wrap it up and bag it while they go pay and make sure you give them the right bags when they come back. Don’t drop, chip, bump…breathe…..!!!!!IMG_1424

The wrapping station is in the barn in an old movie prop Saloon area that is too small for me and the elderly volunteer couple I am assigned with. IMG_4264 (1) (actual space…yes we moved the props, no those are not the other volunteers)

The barn is filled with artists showing original works, some worth thousands.IMG_1399

I’m terrified.

My boss comes back about five minutes later…I am needed elsewhere.

Halleluiah thank you baby Jesus! I can’t get out of there fast enough.

“Where am I going?” I ask but honestly don’t care.

As I am being escorted over to the Elvis chapel I am given the edited, ridiculously shortened, a third of a readers digest version of why. The Dia display combined with the Elvis chapel is making some of our guests brains explode (not exactly my bosses wording but…)IMG_1439

I had no idea what this weeks lecture was about. Bad volunteer me I didn’t go. Spank me. All I knew was we had three days of artists coming and it gets busy.

I am also “half Italian and half some form of English Irish mutt mix” is what my dad used to say, who knows. But I’m not Mexican, so no, I can’t give you a museum level run down on Dia de los Muertos on less than a two minute notice with no prep. Sugar skulls are cool. Dia isn’t in March. It’s a celebration. That’s the extent of my Dia knowledge.

But I sure as hell can tell you about Elvis in Charro! and my boss knew it. Plus, he knows my sense of humor and how shy I am….

Throw Stace into the Dia de Elvis Chapel for two days and see what happens.IMG_1441

Instantly its go time.

About two hours in there’s a lull in traffic and I’m alone. A banana falls from the top of the altar sending fruit and candles tumbling onto the floor. My completely inappropriate response to this is to quietly whisper/yell “fuuuuucccckk!!!!”as I am diving to the floor for the fruit and candles.

I have no clue how to put it back and now of course people are coming in. I hastily put the fruit and candle over to the side, positive both my dead grandma and mother just knocked me upside the head from the grave for messing up an altar and cussing at it.

The “Elvis Chapel” is only in the background of the Elvis movie and the top gets blown up. They did not film inside of it for Charro! but I am told Elvis did go inside during breaks.

Combining Elvis with the fact that this chapel didn’t burn down when practically everything else at Apacheland did, well, you will never convince a die-hard Elvis fan that THAT chapel isn’t special. Add hundreds if not thousands of weddings performed to date in the chapel. It’s a special building.IMG_6237

The outside of the chapel photographs beautifully with the Superstition behind it. The chapel is famous in it’s own right but most of our guests have the facts all wrong. Two days of “ no, Elvis didn’t get married here….”, “no…this is not Apacheland this is the museum….” “…you’re right, today isn’t Dia de los Muertos….”

My face hurts.

Charlie and the Guys

Sure, it’s one thing to read about Apacheland being destroyed by a second fire on Valentines Day back in 2004 or hear a third hand story about a friend who was in some old Elvis western way back when. But it is truly something special when you get the chance to hear true stories told in the real settings they happened, especially when they are told by the folks who were there.

The museum I volunteer for, the Superstition Mountain Museum has a free lecture series now while the weather is fabulous. Being a relatively new volunteer I was not familiar with most of the featured speakers so I wanted to make sure to attend as many as I could. Free education!img_4250

The local paper and a local monthly magazine had been gracious enough to print my stories about the museums Stamp Mill and the Train. Not exactly sure of what Charlie Le Sueur’s lecture would be like, I headed over to the museum early so I could get a good spot and hopefully write about it.

As I round the corner, I see the parking lot is full and into the overflow! This is a Thursday at around 1:30. Lecture starts at 2.

Surprised by the few hundred people already there waiting with their fold out chairs, I find a spot on the ground up front.img_8527

For those of you who missed it (and there can’t be many of you, the place was packed!) Thursday January the 12th  2017 the Superstition Mountain Museum’s guest speaker Charlie Le Sueur walked us through the timeline of the movies, actors and stories from Apacheland Movie Ranch. Charlie comes with that wonderful quality that makes you feel like you’ve known him forever. His energy and humor had the crowd at “Does anyone remember Dick Powell?”IMG_8509.JPG

When the lecture turned to questions, I noticed a small group of men gathered off to the side. Men who were more than familiar with these stories. Men who have known Charlie forever. Men whose presence immediately added to the richness and authenticity of the surroundings. Men who Charlie was now generously turning his spotlight towards and including in the discussion.IMG_8542.JPG

As his lecture closed, Charlie was surrounded by fans but I knew if I hung around long enough I could say hello. You must be patient at events like this. Fans come armed with books to sign and stories to tell. So, I waited…

The line for Charlie seemed never ending, but off to my left was a man telling stories that sounded like he knew a thing or two. Only sort of half listening at this point, I hear him say “Elvis” and I leap over and jump smack into the conversation. See, the general store I volunteer in plays Elvis’ western Charro! over and over. (picture of my own t-shirt)img_0181

It was filmed in Apacheland and is the only one Elvis doesn’t sing in. I watch it 2.5 times every Saturday during my shift. Any real info on the King I can give to his army of fans I will take. So far, they have been happy to hear that our very own John the Blacksmith’s mom was an extra in the film. As a kid, he hung around the set and even tried to sit in Elvis chair!

Turns out I’m yakking it up with Hank Sheffer. I don’t know this yet.img_8536

Off to my side I see Charlie is finally free and probably exhausted but still being gracious none the less. I leave my conversation with Hank and his fans as abruptly as I entered and leap over to Charlie afraid I have lost my chance.

I hadn’t.img_8544

The blue sky, the fresh air, the stunning Superstition Mountain and hundreds of people enjoying the afternoon together listening to stories about our history. This was much more than a simple free lecture. This was another gift from our museum.img_8543

Lawrence O’Hara, Hank Sheffer, Charlie Le Sueur, Bob Carney, John Goerger and Larry Motes

For more information on the 2017 Lecture Series go to Superstitionmountainmuseum.org

…as if nothing ever happened

 

There is a patch of desert not too far from my home that, I am told, was the original site of Apacheland Movie Ranch. If I am to believe, this is where from 1960-2004, some 44 years, 29 movies, 17 television series and hundreds of commercials were filmed.

But there is nothing out there. Sure, there are trails used by hikers and dirt bikes but nothing else. Nothing that would tell you the self- proclaimed “Western Movie Capital of the World” was here for 40 years.img_4456

The first time I walked down Kings Ranch towards Apacheland it was lightly raining.

August in Arizona is hot. Random showers during monsoon season bring us relief. I had no problem wandering around in the drizzle to see what I could find. I had walked over alone. I didn’t bring the dogs because I wanted to take pictures. At that time, I thought for sure if there had been a full movie studio and buildings there would be something worth taking pictures of.

There really is nothing out there except for a rock fence that looks like it could have been some sort of corral.img_4418

When I approached this area, I felt this energy then immediately tears welled in my eyes. The only way I could describe it was it felt like someone saying “Finally! What took you so long?”

My reaction surprised me. Why tears? I didn’t feel scared or that I was surrounded by ghosts. I just felt like I belonged there and was wanted.IMG_4391.JPG

It bugged me enough to head over to the museum to see what I could learn.

I learned they needed volunteers and the requirements were easy to meet. I could show up for 3 to 4 hours every Saturday, help sell things in the General Store and watch Elvis pretend he’s a cowboy in Charro! Paid with tons of free reading and education.

Besides, where else was I going to learn about this lost era…for free?img_4272

Born in Las Vegas, raised in the high desert of California and even lived as a kid for a couple of years in BAKER “the gateway to Death Valley”, I can easily say I have desert running through my veins. I had never heard of Apacheland until moving to Gold Canyon Arizona.

A few months and a few hundred viewings of Charro! later, I am meeting people who worked at Apacheland and that can tell actual stories.

The blacksmith John that volunteers at the museum has fun stories. His mom was an extra on the set of Charro! when he was a kid so he was also hanging around the set. Tells me he tried to sit in Elvis’ chair!

The local newspaper The Independent has printed two full page articles about the Stamp Mill and the Train that I have written and photographed for the museum. The monthly Superstition Living printed both articles as well. With my Blog, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram, I can share what I continue learning about this amazing area. I truly hope to be a part of preserving this little chapter in history.img_4250

The Original Cowboy’s Sweetheart

“I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was one of 25 songs and other sounds chosen to be added to the US National Recording Registry in May 2012. Recordings are selected for the inclusion based on being “historically, culturally or aesthetically significant.”

Released in 1935, the song made Patsy Montana the first female country recording artist to sell more than a million copies. No big deal?

In 1935 the United States was still suffering the depression with 20% unemployment. April 14th Black Sunday, the worst dust storm in US history. War, or at the very least, “unrest” in Europe looms. A loaf of bread cost 8 cents . Parker Bros. releases Monopoly. IMG_0187.JPGMickey Mouse is seen in color for the first time. The American dream, a new home in 1935 will set you back around $4000.

Selling a million copies of a song for a female recording artist in 1935? That’s kind of a big deal.

In 1964 Patsy released an album on the Sims label in Arizona, notable for having Waylon Jennings as lead guitar player before he made his national debut…for Waylon fans, that’s a big deal.

Patsy, along with the other stars of Apacheland Movie Ranch were immortalized in concrete. Patsy, being petite, her boots sank into the concrete and needed help lifted back out of her footprints!img_0172

When Apacheland was destroyed by a fire on Valentines Day 2004, the Cowboy’s Sweetheart’s foot prints were lost along with many other treasured memories.

December 2015, Lawrence O’Hara and some friends spent about 3 hours hiking the trails back behind what once was Apacheland. Lawrence, off the trail and near a dry wash sees a concrete slab. It was face down and appeared to have been moved. It was Patsy’s.

Being far too heavy to get back to the car and the dates not being familiar with what Lawrence knew about Apacheland, he left the slab there… for a few weeks! while he asked around about what to do. Well, Lawrence asked the right guys.IMG_8535.JPG Hank Sheffer and Charlie Le Sueur.

Lawrence went back, this time with a cart to move the heavy slab.IMG_0166.JPG

Patsy’s footprints are now on display at the Superstition Mountain Museum in the Elvis Memorial Chapel.IMG_0171.JPG

First female country artist to sell a million copies. It’s kind of a big a deal.

Calling Cowboy Elvis

 

33 movies to his credit, over a BILLION records sold, Elvis to this day still has fans combing the globe to see, touch or come anywhere near anything associated with The King of Rock and Roll. I see them. I have met them.I volunteer at the Superstition Mountain Museum, home to the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn, sole survivors of the 2004 fire that destroyed Apacheland Movie Ranch.

For some, Elvis is glittering, throwing sweaty scarves off a stage in Las Vegas.Image result for Elvis Charro! For others, Elvis wears leather or sings in jail. But out here in Gold Canyon, Arizona, Elvis was a cowboy.

Back in 1969, Elvis filmed his only non-singing role in the western Charro! at Apacheland. He plays the ruggedly handsome Jess Wade. Elvis does sing the opening song over the credits but never breaks out into song during Charro!

At a time when Elvis and those around him were making tons of money from the music in his films, Elvis’s manager wasn’t too excited about putting him in a non-singing role. The film was not a huge box office success giving Elvis’s management every reason to never do it again.

But plenty of fans disagree. Had Elvis been given the chance to grow as an actor who knows where it could have led. I’m not saying Charro! is award winning, but it is a fun western with a young Victor French as the bad guy, an eerily sexy Solomon Sturges as his crazy brother and Ina Balin as the luckiest female in the West who gets to kiss Elvis while she is still dripping wet from her bath! Elvis, bay guy trying to go good, smolders as a cowboy. Scruffy, dirty and in need of a shave, that’s MY favorite Elvis.Related image

The chapel in the movie Charro! gets blown up. The actual chapel was not destroyed for that scene, they simply built parts they could blow up. Movie magic. Elvis never sets foot in the chapel nor anyone else in the movie, it just blows up in the background, proving anything even remotely associated to Elvis still, in 2017 draws a crowd.Image result for Elvis Charro!

When Apacheland burned down on Valentine’s Day 2004, the chapel and barn survived. The Elvis Memorial Chapel and Audie Murphy Barn now live over at the Superstition Mountain Museum.img_6237

Through a very generous donation, the chapel has an Elvis statue. Thousands of people have come from around the globe to see where Elvis  played cowboy and to take a selfie with the King, but what we don’t have at the museum is a statue of a COWBOY Elvis.

Now I’m in no way saying replace what we have. Thousands of visitors have group shots, weddings, selfies with the current reigning King of our chapel. It stays. We need a Cowboy Elvis for those whose trek to Apacheland from across the world included a selfie with Jess Wade in the desert where he stayed.Related image

I am positive the simple reason we don’t have one is that all of you out there were not aware we needed one. With the amazing amount of artistic talent and generosity in the world there must be someone who can create, find, make, donate a cowboy Elvis? Free of charge. This is a museum after all.

So, I’m calling Cowboy Elvis! We need you at the Museum!