Mortimer Sánchez

Spring in Flagstaff

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With museums struggling through the economy to stay open, I thought I’d do my part and drive up to Flagstaff to visit a few and put some money in their coffers. We rarely visit them, but we’ll notice when they’re gone.

I wanted to start with the Fort Tuthill Museum. This is a gem for you Latino history buffs. It’s where Arizona’s largely Hispanic 158th Battalion was stationed from 1865 to 1948. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for remodeling.

Other museums would surely be open to check out. I hopped in my truck and pointed it toward Lowell Observatory. This is where Percival Lowell discovered Pluto. In fact, Percival’s tomb is on the grounds. Maybe I would see him actually turning over in his grave, now that Pluto’s been demoted.

I walked in and purchased my ticket, but the next tour wasn’t for two hours, so I wandered the grounds on my own. The tomb was quiet, and all the doors were locked. I snapped a few shots with my camera and watched the last tour return to the lobby. I decided to catch the tour guide and ask if he knew any Latinos who’d worked at the observatory over the years. All his tour-guide bravado faded as he struggled to think of anyone, past or present. After he flipped through a couple books and even had the cashier look through a personnel phone book, I decided to end their discomfort and leave.

The Flagstaff Arboretum was starting their next tour in a half hour anyway.

Four miles down a dirt road, the arboretum touts itself as the nation’s best mountain arboretum. Only problem is, I and a few other visitors showed up a month early. It was April, and the forest floor was melting snow and mud. Only a few snowdrop flowers had peeked through the soil. By May, everything will be sprouting. We did see a man-made lake where the endangered Little Colorado River Spinedace fish is found, a couple of greenhouses and one lizard brave enough to get a jump on spring before her competition arrived. Finally the tour guide left us alone with fair notice that the “birds of prey demonstration” would begin in 20 minutes. That would make up for walking around an arboretum of mud and snow.

It was too cold for demonstrations, though. They only brought out a couple birds for us to look at, a Harris hawk and a peregrine. In a nearby cage was a recycling raven that knew the difference between paper and plastic and stuffed tips in a can to help keep the arboretum funded. A few more people wandered over to quiz the two trainers, but I lost interest and tipped the raven before moving on.

I wanted to hit one more place before museums started closing down for the evening. After touring the Riordan Mansion back in town, I could find a meal and call it a night.

I showed up just in time, as a tour guide began describing the house from where we stood in the old garage.

We wandered back through time, looking at the history of the logging family that had built the house in 1904 and helped build Flagstaff to what it is today. When the tour was done, I decided to harass the guide with the same question I had at the Lowell Observatory. Surprisingly, after a moment’s thought, he recalled Tim Riordan’s right hand man was a Basque from Spain by the last name of Perris, who’d come over originally to join sheepherding relatives. He then added that Gregorio “Curly” Martinez cared for the property and trained horses at the Riordan Mansion years ago; just passed away at 98. Last year, Curly was honored as Flagstaff’s citizen of the year for his contributions, including many years as a member of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Posse.

With the sun setting, and the Riordan tour guide getting impatient to close, I decided it was time for dinner and headed to my truck.
Next time, maybe I’ll visit Flagstaff in season. At least this time I’d made a small contribution to the survival of a few museums.

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