Thursday, October 02, 2014

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Mission Impossible

A new PBS documentary shines divine light on the Spanish priests and colonists who first settled the American Southwest.

The first explorers to put down roots in what would become Arizona didn’t arrive on wagon trains yelling, “Westward Ho!” Long before the earliest English-speaking, fur-trapping mountain men entered the future state in 1825, Bible-toting Spanish pioneers had migrated for centuries from another compass point.

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Unfiltered Camels

For a brief spell in the 1800s, the drought-resistant beasts took their lumps in the Arizona heat.It’s not surprising that the big reddish-brown mountain looming over East Phoenix was given the name Camelback. To be sure, Arizona can put one in a camel-like state of mind: obstinate, old-fashioned, comfortable in the heat, transplants from somewhere else. Where stereotype is concerned, camels seem like natural Zonies.

It’s not surprising that the big reddish-brown mountain looming over East Phoenix was given the name Camelback. To be sure, Arizona can put one in a camel-like state of mind: obstinate, old-fashioned, comfortable in the heat, transplants from somewhere else. Where stereotype is concerned, camels seem like natural Zonies.

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Dromedary on Aisle 12

In early 2007, Brad Archer, then curator of ASU’s R.S. Dietz Museum, got a call from a friend at the construction site of a new Walmart store in Mesa. Archer’s friend, a nursery owner who dabbled in paleontology, was excavating a hole for a tree when he turned up bones.

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Gutter Ball

Spanish Trails was to be Dr. Kenneth Hall’s pièce de résistance, the first in a nationwide chain of massive bowling alleys featuring a French restaurant and multiple nightclubs. Set in a Moorish/Disney-esque fortress built from recycled materials without any bank financing, the project fell shy of its lofty goal. “It was our family’s Vietnam,” his son Walter Hall says. “Its craziness only seemed to alchemize more craziness. He took umbrage when my brother told him, ‘Dad, bowlers aren’t really into French food.’” 

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Diagnosis: Bananas

Dr. Kenneth Hall operated a Sunnyslope hospital with a primate zoo until unauthorized medical surgeries used to illegally finance a nearby bowling alley led to his downfall

Mixing apes and appendectomies seems like an ill-advised business practice, but not to Dr. Kenneth Hall. In 1955, the maverick physician opened Sunnyslope’s North Mountain Hospital, a resort-like medical facility with stunning views of Phoenix. Even more sensational was the bizarre attraction located on the hospital grounds: a monkey zoo.

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Tour Grind

When Papago Golf Course opened in the fall of 1963, Arnold Palmer was the toast of the Valley golf community, having won three consecutive Phoenix Open championships. Although Arnie’s legendary “army” of fans would continue to cheer for their hero every year, Palmer would never again claim victory at the tournament. But that didn’t mean Palmer didn’t keep trying, looking for every possible edge. In the early 1970s, John Pickrell owned Scotty’s Blacksmith and Machine Shop, located on the corner of Brown Avenue and Second Street in Scottsdale. A few days before the start of the Phoenix Open, Pickrell was shocked to see Palmer walk into his grimy industrial space looking to have a little weight taken off his sand wedge. Pickrell confessed that he had never worked on a golf club. The famous golfer told him not to worry, that he wanted to use the grinder himself. After donning goggles and gloves, Palmer ran the clubhead along the grinding wheel a few times, hefted the club for weight, and repeated the process. Finally satisfied with the feel, he thanked Pickrell and handed him a five-dollar bill. Asked where he had learned his machine skills, Palmer responded, “I grew up on a golf course where my father was the greenskeeper. I’ve always fixed my own clubs.”

Fairway to Heaven

After a few rounds in the rough, Papago Municipal Golf Course returns to splendor on its 50th birthday.


The night air is lush with the aroma of blooming citrus as a snaking line of parked cars lies in wait for the approaching dawn. The men inside try to nap, but most are simply too jazzed – soon, the gate will fly open and these links-loving fools will rush in.

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