Category Archives: Southwest

Bravo Show Low

It rare that I like a town shortly after arriving in it for the first time, but that happened in Show Low.   Ruth and I went there because we had not explored that part of Arizona and I was used to reading raves about its community museum.

Show Low has an elevation of 6,347 feet, making it a cool getaway for parched desert dwellers.  The White Mountains that cause this altitude contain more than 30 lakes.   Fool Hollow and Show Low lakes are either in or near town and magnets for fishing fans and campers.

Show Low’s setting is superior.   The town spreads out as it grows to showcase its glorious Ponderosa Pines.   Some of its literature boasts that this is the largest stand of these trees in the world, and that was probably true until forest fires altered the landscape.

Show Low is on the eastern edge of the Mogollon Rim, which I had to relearn how to pronounce–mag ee on.   Some say “muggy own”.  A local citizen told me that Mogollon is the lowest level of the Colorado Plateau.   A natural feature of Arizona, Mogollon’s volcanic uplift gives this state some heat-relieving high country in summer and 2 major ski resorts in winter, one of them called Sunrise, which is 42 miles southwest of Show Low.

July is Show Low’s biggest tourist month with about 40,000 outsiders showing up.   July is especially popular because of this town’s huge and often unique 4th of July parade.  Check out its 2016 Freedomfest entry form on and the parade’s YouTube awesomeness.

Show Low has a pleasant appearance.   One of the fastest growing cities in the Southwest, its population has increased 40% since this century began. Mormons were its first settlers in the 19th century.  Although it was established in 1870, it wasn’t incorporated until 1953.  Today it has all the amenities of a much larger town like a Walmart Supercenter and WME Show Low 5, a cineplex that boasts, “All Stadium, All Rocker-Loveseat, All Digital Sound”.   It may be up-to-date, but Show Low’s main street is still Deuce of Clubs.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about its unconventional yet small-town-normal Historical Society Museum where Ruth & I experienced a warm welcome and spent far more time than we planned.    How often does one get to experience a thunder gourd?




Route 66 Interest Continues


In our travels across the Southwest, it has been impossible to ignore the many attractions that cater to those who are exploring The Mother Road, old Route 66.  It stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica until the new Interstate System began to replace it, and this part of the country has remained especially loyal to it.   However, there are museums devoted to it in every state it passed through except Kansas.  My favorite is in Clinton, Oklahoma.

This coming November is Route 66’s 90th anniversary, and there is some resurgence of interest along its 2,400 miles.  For the first time, this summer I met young Americans traveling along it and devoted to learning about it. There is even some revivalism going on, like the restoration of Boots Court in Carthage, Missouri.   The National Park Service maintains a Route 66 Corridor Restoration Program that has recently been extended until 2019.  Tour companies in places like Australia and Germany offer popular excursions.  A couple of years ago Ruth and I shared The Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Arizona, with a busload of Asian tourists who were buying everything in sight.  It was early winter.

This summer Ruth & I weren’t especially looking for but found unanticipated Route 66 attractions in New Mexico and Texas.  My personal favorite was the Conoco Tower in Shamrock, Texas.   The original building built in 1936 had art deco details and offered bright neon.  Recently restored with an expanded visitor center and gift shop, a Tesla Supercharger Station, a continued art deco look, and a tribute to Bill Mack, the still active Midnight Cowboy/radio personality who grew up in Shamrock, this is a must-see attraction for those passing through Shamrock.   The Disney animated film Cars featured Ramon’s, a body art garage.  The U-Drop Inn in Shamrock was its inspiration.

dsc05742 About 20 miles west of Shamrock in McLean, Texas, is the unique, seasonal Devil’s Rope Museum devoted mostly to barbed wire.  However, it also showcases Route 66 in a middling tribute.  Also in McLean is the 1st Phillips 66 Station in Texas.  It has been restored to its circa 1929 glory.  It was a service station for over 50 years before becoming just a small town Route 66 landmark.


Albuquerque, New Mexico, has to be the city on Route 66 with the most surviving structures.  Route 66 followed Albuquerque’s Central Avenue through this city, passing Old Town.  It continued through downtown and eastward toward Tucumcari, which has 2 or 3 minor route-related attractions.   By 1955 Albuquerque had 99 motels along Route 66.  Few remain.  However, we saw a 66-era diner, some signs that celebrated The Mother Road like the one at the top of this blog, etc.

And now there’s The Singing Road on old Route 66 south of the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque.  A sign announces its presence near Tijeras.  If a driver slows to exactly 45 mph and steers atop the rumble strip with the car windows slightly down, all in the vehicle will hear “America the Beautiful”.  It’s fun.  You have the National Geographic to thank for this almost unique attraction.  There’s another singing road in Lancaster, California.   There you have to drive 55 mph to hear the “William Tell Overture”, also known as the Lone Ranger’s theme song,  I have not been to Lancaster.  I expect to hear about a singing road franchise operation soon.



Fall in Love with Art at Shemer



I had to visit Shemer twice to understand it.  The first time I was delighted by my conversation with Board Member Goldthwaite H. Dorr III and a particular Shemer Art Center show called New Art Arizona.  I took no notes.  After the 2nd visit, I received some explanatory information from Executive Director Shonna James.  She emphasized what makes her art center special–the gift shop, an outdoor sculpture garden, rotating group and solo-artist exhibits, classes, workshops, lectures, and frequent community events.  She summarized it as “truly a home for the arts”.   I’d call it a “do-it-yourself art experience”.

The Shemer is at 5005 East Camelback Road in Phoenix.  It’s in the very first home built in the Arcadia neighborhood.  After 3 families lived in it, this home became a neighborhood art center after Martha Evvard Shemer bought it and donated it to the City of Phoenix.  Her intent was to preserve its historic value and create a lively community center. Budget cuts almost resulted in Shemer closing in 2010, but civic-minded citizens took over operations and it’s now thriving.  Visitors like me enjoy regularly changing exhibits by talented Arizona artists.  Above is well-named “Zing” by Travis Rice, a scholarship award winner. There is no permanent collection by artists with familiar names.  Locals get involved in classes led by professional artists, students from many high schools contribute to their own annual art exhibition, awards are given, sculpture competitions occur, kids show up for projects like “Yay oh Yay–Duct Tape Day!!”, etc.

Its building is part of the fun.  The beautifully restored dwelling that will be 100 years old in 3 years is in Santa Fe Mission style.  This means adobe walls, lots of cool rooms for art and its creation, and quietly landscaped grounds often alive with sculptures from Arizona artists.   Because the Shemer’s eclectic creations from artists at all levels of development are both traditional and nontraditional, everyone will find something to admire and want to take home.  Every city should have a Shemer.



Riordan Family Ties

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The Riordans grew up in Chicago.  Matt Riordan went west and settled in Flagstaff, Arizona. His sister stayed in Chicago and raised 11 children.  His 2 brothers joined Matt in Flagstaff, and the 3 of them bought a lumber mill on credit for $145,000 in 1887.  They thrived.  Matt moved to California in 1897, but his brothers Tim and Michael stayed in Flagstaff and ran the mill together. By the early 20th century they had 500 employees.  The population of Flagstaff at the time was only 1,400. In 1904, the year that the United States began building the Panama Canal, Tim and Michael decided to build a house together.  It was and still is far from ordinary.

Being from Chicago, they hired an architect, Charles Whittlesey, who had studied with Louis Sullivan and knew Frank Lloyd Wright.  Being lumbermen, they approved of Whittlesey’s design, basically a gigantic 40 room log house with volcanic stone arches, fireplaces, etc. Being fans of the Arts and Crafts movement, they bought Stickley furniture.  Being a bit too close, in my opinion, they lived side by side next to their lumber mill in what is basically a 6,000 square feet duplex connected by a communal space that doubled as a playroom.   Being good Irish Catholics, both brothers married and had children.  At least their front doors faced away from each other.

Because generations of Riordans lived in it, the double house wasn’t acquired by Arizona State Parks until 1978 (East) and 1983 (West).  It opened to the public bordering the campus of Northern Arizona University in 2002.  Today, travelers like Ruth & me must take guided tours limited to 15 people to see it. The East House is furnished as if Riordans still lived there with original artifacts including 20 examples of Stickley furniture.  My favorite piece of furniture was an enormous leaf-shaped dining table that I can now see only in the main Riordan Mansion brochure.  The West House has a museum on the first floor.  Its upstairs is not opened to visitors.  Since photography is forbidden in the East House, those, like me, who want examples of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s style are limited to the museum area.


Reservations are recommended.   The money collected from tours is this project’s only source of revenue other than the gift shop, weddings, etc.  Seeing the Riordan Mansion is a 4 Compass experience.



Lincoln’s Hearse Again


At Bike Week in Daytona, Florida, in 2001, Jack Feather had a brilliant idea.  In his line of vision were a horse drawn hearse and a number of motorcycles.   Might the 2 be combined into a new type of funeral conveyance?   Indeed, they could.

But why?  There are, according to Jack’s business website (, 9 million veterans over the age of 65, more than 11 million cycle owners, and 2 million police and fire fighters.  Isn’t it possible that they, their families, or some forward-looking funeral directors would be interested in using a new type of vehicle for an individualized funeral?   Indeed, it is.

I called Jack when Ruth & I were in Arizona earlier this month, and he graciously invited us to his place to see his new business, Tombstone Hearse & Trike.  We knew about Jack thanks to to our involvement in the rebuilding of a 19th century hearse for the 150th commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Illinois, in May, 2015.   I’ve done 3 blogs about this project.

The hearse was constructed at Blue Ox Mill School for Veterans in Eureka, California, and Jack was in charge of completing this historic hearse, which included painting it.  I wondered how he got involved and now I know.  P. J. Staab, the funeral director in Springfield who oversaw all and now owns this hearse, bought a motorcycle hearse from Jack and is successfully using it for local funerals.

At an age when most men are beginning to look forward to retirement, Jack was reinventing funerals.  In Pennsylvania.  He reinvented himself too by moving to Tombstone and starting a novel new business, Tombstone Hearse and Trike.  It has been very successful.  He has sold and built almost 100 see-into hearses that can be attached to a motorcycle for a personalized funeral cortege.  The next one he will build goes to England. I asked Jack if he is happy in his new home, and he pointed to the landscape surrounding his new business.  “I wake up to this every morning,” he said, completely satisfied.


I asked him if he had regrets about becoming involved in The Lincoln Project, and he said he thought about it almost every day and that it had been difficult but satisfying, in retrospect.  I looked around his interesting office and asked what he would save if the place caught on fire.  He thought this over for a minute and said, “That portrait of General George Patton.”  I turned slightly to see Michael Gnatek’s framed Patton at Bastogne.  Jack didn’t explain why it was so important to him.  I asked him if he had any news about Lincoln’s hearse. Ruth & I hadn’t seen it since last July when P.J. insisted that we climb aboard so he could take our picture.   Jack told us that it might be headed to The Smithsonian and put on permanent display.  Indeed, it should be.