Two Book Reviews, One Arizona Author.
Chasing Arizona: One Man’s Obsession with the Grand Canyon State. By Ken Lamberton
State Flower: Saguaro Blossom; State Bird: Cactus Wren; State Neckwear: Bola Tie; State Butterfly: Two-tail Swallow Tail; State Mammal: Ringtail; State Reptile: Ridge-Nose Rattlesnake; State Firearm: Col .45 Single Action Army Revolver; State Fish: Apache Trout; State Fossil: Petrified Wood; State Gemstone: Turquoise; State Tree: Palo Verde; State Amphibian: Arizona Tree Frog.
Along the way, his additional self-imposed challenge was to visit every county, every reservation, every national monument and every state park. All in the 2012 calendar year.Read More
For us, Mr. Lamberton’s adventure sounded interesting because we have visited, photographed, and written about many of the same places he writes about, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Biosphere 2, Canyon de Chelly, and the Butterfield Dragoon Stage Station. In fact, we have actually met some of the same people he ran into, such as Sandy and John Weber at their Rattlesnake Crafts and Rocks out by Gleeson (now closed forever).
Sometimes he travels with his wife, Karen, or college-age daughters. But often Mr. Lambertson is accompanied by friends who have special knowledge to furnish the reader with a greater depth on local Arizona subjects, such as geology, history, animals and plants. ‘Tis a useful literary device. But sometimes this depth gets bogged down in the esoteric. Mr. Lamberton has a fine eye for detail, but sometimes it’s just annoying minutia. Thus, I found myself skipping chunks of pages.
As a travel writer, Mr. Lamberton can be almost lyrical, yet sometimes mixing near-poetry with the language and style of a science writer. Certainly he’s no Edward Abbey. He’s not even a Robert Shelton, his teacher, mentor, and friend who wrote the delightful Going Back to Bisbee. And he occasionally employs a couple of $15 words, where one $2 word would suffice.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lamberton has a habit of playing loose with historical facts. The following are three examples.
(1) He writes about his visit to Picacho Peak State Park were there is an annual reenactment of what is often referred to as the Western-most Battle of the Civil War.
In the parlance of war historians, the engagement between some Confederate pickets and a Union advance guard, was only a skirmish, not a battle. Moreover, it was not even the western-most skirmish. That was at Stanwix Station, a primitive stage stop about 80 miles east of Yuma. We have discovered these errors in many books and articles.
To his credit, Lamberton does explain one of Arizona’s many redundancies lost in translation. “Picacho” means “peak” in Spanish. So when we say Picacho Peak, we are in effect saying “Peak Peak”. Here's another one of ours. The “Rillito River” drains into Rio Santa Cruz at Tucson. “Rillito” means “Little River”, so we are inadvertently calling it the “Little River River”.
You can read our feature about these encounters and how Tucson became the Capitol of the Western District of the Confederacy.
(2) When Mr. Lamberton writes about his tour of the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, he mentions a large photograph on the wall of a provocative near-nude young woman he identifies as Josephine Sadie Marcus, an actress who came to Tombstone as Sheriff Johnny Behan’s girlfriend and left town with Wyatt Earp. He also transmits the claim that this photo was taken by C. S. Fly in his Tombstone photography studio. “No” on both counts.
(3) Lamberton also takes his readers to the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Station at Dragoon Springs. He points out four nearby graves,, but does not realize there are 5 bodies buried here. All of these graves are fairly well-tended and each adorned with a small Confederate flag. He, like so many who venture here, believes all four to be the final resting place for Confederate soldiers who lost their lives while fighting Apaches at Dragoon Springs. For the real story, go to: Butterfield Overland Mail Company and the Dragoon Springs Stage Stop
Is Chasing Arizona: One Man’s Yearlong Obsession with the Grand Canyon State a worthwhile read? It is if you love Arizona as we do. You will learn a great deal. Just be willing look up some fancy words, do some fact-checking, and wade through occasional minutia.
Dry River: Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz. By Ken Lamberton
The Santa Cruz River “flows” near our home in the Tucson Mountains. From our viewing deck we can look east over the City of Tucson. We, like thousands of others, cross the Santa Cruz almost daily.
Dry River is the story of a 200-mile long river that starts flowing south from the rolling grasslands of the San Rafael Valley east of Patagonia and crosses the International Border with Mexico before making a “U” turn and heading north to Nogales, Tubac, then Tucson, and eventually draining into the Gila River near Casa Grande where it flows west to the once mighty Colorado near Yuma.
Dry River chronicles Mr. Lamberton’s journey of discovery as he hikes, sometimes with family, sometimes with knowledgeable friends, along this (mostly) dry riverbed. In doing so, he passes through thousands of years of Native American habitation; then 500 years of Spanish, then Mexican, then American history in Southern Arizona.
They say by 1902, there was no point in trying to fish in the Santa Cruz as it passed through Tucson. By then, ground water pumping left the once perennially flowing river dry, except following summer monsoon storms that can dump 3 inches of rain in 30 minutes on the parched Sonoran Desert. At times like this, the water level in the dry river can become a 10, maybe 12-foot deep raging torrent in minutes.
Through the literary device of walking this Dry River, the reader discovers some amazing historical places, such as Tumacacori and San Xavier Missions; the Presidio of Tubac; and the once little Mexican village of Tucson. Along the banks of Rio Santa Cruz, the reader also meets some amazing historical characters, such as Juan Bautista de Anza who, in 1775, led 240 poor peasant colonists 600 miles from Culiacan, Mexico to Tubac, AZ , then another 1200 miles across the hostile desert to the coast of California to establish a fort and village they dedicated to St. Francis. All of the original Spanish settlers of the City of San Francisco walked there from Tubac, Arizona, 45 miles south of Tucson.
Dry River is a journey of discovery that involves, not only extraordinary history, but geology and ecology as well. Once the Santa Cruz River was lined with giant cottonwood and mesquite trees hundreds of years old, like the San Pedro River today. No more. But Lamberton points out that there are environmentally sensitive people, particularly Tohono O’odham, who are finding ways to bring the river back to life, at least in a few places.
Mr. Lamberton has provided detailed maps and B&W photos to illustrate this incredible story. It is the story of interesting places and people along a river by which he raised a family. It is also the story about the places and people Ms. Karen & I adopted when we moved from L.A. to Tucson in 2003.
Weather you live in Tucson or other parts of Southern Arizona, or merely visit occasionally, you will find yourself in the pages of Dry River: Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz. Enjoy the book.
For more recommendations on Books about Arizona, Click here.