Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: New Book Offers a Personal Take on Historic Route 66

Dyana Muse | Historic Route 66

Dyana Muse | Historic Route 66

Historic Route 66 contains a kind of nostalgic awe, the fading memories of a bygone era. The 66 Kid, a new book from Bob Boze Bell, an artist and editor of True West magazine, revives those memories on the page through pictures, maps, graphics and cartoons. It’s a graphic novel of sorts — at least, that’s how Bell sees it.

The book is about 70 percent visual and 30 percent text, Bell says, and it weaves together a portrait of his own life with the world of ’50s and ’60s Kingman along the famous highway. From the inclusion of personal photos and postcards to museum archives, The 66 Kid illustrates Route 66 from the perspective of someone who grew up on it. Bell spoke with us about his book and the process of putting everything together.

Courtesy of Bob Boze Bell

Courtesy of Bob Boze Bell

Tell us a little bit about your inspiration. Where did the idea for this book come from?
I always kind of knew I wanted to do a book on growing up on Route 66, and then I had a heart attack while playing the drums at a band reunion in 2008, so that was a wake-up call. I thought, “If I’m ever going to do it, I better get my little patootie in gear.” And I really started to get serious about it. I had a friend in Kingman who does Route 66-themed books, and he turned me on to his publisher, and they bought the idea and we were off to the races.

You have a friend who does Route 66-themed books?
Yeah. His name is Jim Hinckley, and he’s got eight books out on it, and I just called him up and I said, “Hey, would your publisher be interested in a book about growing up on Route 66 as it applies to Kingman?” And he says, “Well, that’s pretty specific.” I said, “You know, that’s the book I want to do.” And they bought it.

Tell us about the research you had to do to complete the book.
I knew I needed historic photos, and for that, I was really blessed by the fact that my mother kept really good scrapbooks, and she had fantastic photos. I also had 8mm film, because when I grew up in the gas station, my father would get broke tourists coming in and trying to make it to California, and he’d bill them every day with different prices, like binoculars and Bowie knives. He came home one day with an 8mm camera, and I started taking film. So, I had a lot of film, original footage of my dad’s gas station in the 1960s. I really had a lot of stuff.

I still needed more, and by that, I went to the Mohave Museum, and they allowed me to use their photos. So, between all three of those, and then I used a person who we call “The Mapinator,” Gus Walker — he does stuff for me at True West. Between all those different venues, we had a great visual attack.

Tell us about the visual focus of your book.
It’s very Americana, very ’50s, a lot of coonskin caps, ’57 T-Birds, full-service gas stations. Really, it’s a road picture. It’s a road picture on paper.

How did you select which parts of your own life you would include?
The ones that I could print and that my grandson could read — that was the criteria. I was a rock ‘n’ roll drummer and underground cartoonist, so I led a very, shall we say, “colorful” life. I wanted to be honest, and I wanted to not leave things out, but I wanted to, at the same time, tell the story as a celebration of being on Route 66. That colored some of the text. It’s the PG version of an X-rated life, let’s put it that way.

What was the most difficult part of putting the book together, and what was the most rewarding?
It was really tough. The deadline was to do 16 pages a week for 12 weeks, and we started on January 3 of this year. By we, I mean my art director and I, Dan Harshberger — we grew up together in Kingman, so this is a project of love for us, a love letter to our hometown. We had to hand in 16 pages a week, and that was laid out, with photos and captions and spell-check. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’m a deadline person, and I’ve worked on deadline my whole life, but that was really almost insurmountable. But when we got it done, it was something I’m very proud of.

So is that what you would say was the most rewarding part?
About the book? Yeah, the book. And actually having — I’ve had people approach me and say, “You grew up in Kingman, right?” And I’d say yeah. And they’d say, “Well, I’m a postcard collector, and I have a postcard of the Hillcrest Motel; where was that?” And I’d say, “Well, it was right across from the Kingman Motel and catty-corner from my dad’s gas station, Al Bell’s Flying A.” It dawned on me after three or four questions what we take for granted [because] we grew up there. We just assumed that everybody knew where all these businesses were, but when you go up there today, it’s really hard to envision where all these things were. So one of the critical components of the book is to have a five-page map section showing where all the businesses on Route 66 going through Kingman were.

Why should people care about Route 66? Why are these stories important?
I didn’t understand this when I was growing up. This road that my parents made a living on — my mother worked in the highway department, my dad had a gas station, and I worked for tips in the gas station — and I didn’t understand it. This road, to me, was just another road. I finally realized when I was in Spain on assignment to find “Cowboy Ground Zero” for our True West magazine. I was standing on the beach where Columbus left on his second journey to go to the New World and bring cattle and horses, which led to the vaquero and ultimately the cowboy — I was just thinking about how important this was. After about 10 minutes of standing there, I turned around, and there on the beach was the Route 66 Bar. In Spain. So I went, “Oh, I get it. I get it. This is a big deal. What goes around comes around. This thing is a big deal worldwide.” And I thought, “I’m going to do in-depth reporting about a very specific part of Route 66 and what it was like to grow up on the world’s most famous two-lane blacktop.”

Where can the public learn more about you and your book?
You can go to, where I do a blog, and you can see more about the pictures of the book there. You can go to, which is where all my artwork is. Between those two things, you’ll get more of Bob Boze Bell than you ever wanted.

— Molly Bilker


Filed under Books, News, Q&A

Q&A: New Book Explores Grand Canyon’s History

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park | I-Ting Chiang

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park | I-Ting Chiang

A new Grand Canyon book has hit the scene, but this one has a twist.

Suzanne Silverthorn, the co-author of Grand Canyon: Past and Present, is an avid collector of vintage postcards featuring scenes from the national parks of the West. According to Silverthorn, her interest in postcards and national parks is drawn from her experiences summering in her family cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado, as a child, and a train trip she took with her grandmother to the Grand Canyon when she was 10 years old. Years later, she discovered an old box of brochures, maps, and postcards she had sent to her family in that time. So began the process of sorting through other family possessions and collecting other souvenirs from her trips to the West’s national parks.

“As I began acquiring these postcards,” Silverthorn says, “I was immediately struck by the grit and determination of the early-day sightseers and what was required to reach the parks — first by dusty stagecoach and horseback trails, then the more comfortable, but exclusive train excursions, and later by auto — the great equalizer. I became fascinated with the evolution of national-park tourism and the men and women who devoted their lives and fortunes to create the camps, lodges, roads and other visitor services to accommodate this new industry.”

The result is a compilation of photographs and keepsakes of the Grand Canyon that serves as a timeless account of the park’s significance, not only for its beauty and grandeur, but also for its focus on society’s contributions to the park in its transformation as a tourism destination over time. “The combination of past and present images shows an evolving landscape within a man-made environment and its juxtaposition with the incredible scenery,” Silverthorn says.

We asked the author a few questions about the process of compiling this unique collection of Grand Canyon memorabilia.

A postcard of El Tovar, circa 1906. The sender describes the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon from the hotel. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A postcard of El Tovar, circa 1906. The sender describes the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon from the hotel. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

Q: Describe the format and contents of the book.
A: The book uses a combination of postcard images and present day photography to offer a timeless account of the park’s scenic and historical significance. With chapters on the South Rim and North Rim, the book introduces readers to the park’s early promoters, including prospectors and homesteaders. Also featured are the significant contributions of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads. It’s a pictorial account in which historic postcards are paired with award-winning images of today, courtesy of landscape photographer I-Ting Chiang. Scenes include dramatic rim views and rugged trail-side settings, plus El Tovar and other historic properties once operated by the Fred Harvey Co., as well as the stone-sculpted visitor facilities crafted by Mary Colter. Together, these images tell the story of the development of modern tourism in the Grand Canyon. The book is a treasured keepsake for history buffs and an inspiration to others who marvel at the adventurous spirit of the early entrepreneurs.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A vintage El Tovar decal, produced by the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Co. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A vintage El Tovar decal, produced by the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Co. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A: What I find remarkable about the Grand Canyon is the timeless appeal it has on our souls. It’s an emotional and spiritual connection that transcends our ancestry and culture. And while those who came before us weren’t particularly well traveled, their instincts told them this was a special place — a place to be shared with others. The inspiration for the book comes from an admiration of the early-day pioneers that devoted their livelihoods to share the park with those who had longed to see such a site while paving the way for today’s visitors. The past and present images demonstrate the park’s scenic timelessness while also illustrating the progression as a tourism destination. While many readers will connect with the book to reminisce about earlier visits, my hope is that new visitors will not only be moved by their own experiences associated with the park’s majestic views, but will use the book to appreciate the park’s fascinating cultural history and preservation efforts.

Q: What did you enjoy most about the process of compiling this book?
A: I enjoyed the research associated with the book, which led me to connect with some wonderful people who graciously offered their help and support. The list includes author Michael F. Anderson, an expert on the park’s history; Wayne Ranney of the Grand Canyon Historical Society; Michael Quinn with the National Park Service; Julie Herrick with BNSF Railway; and Patricia LaBounty with the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. I thoroughly enjoyed poring over old brochures and pamphlets published by the railroads and the National Park Service. The material in these early publications included lodging rates, what to wear, what to do, how to get there, etc. The postcards, too, offered an interesting glimpse into the past with first-hand accounts of early travels to the Grand Canyon. I also found the reference librarians at my local library to be extremely helpful in assisting in the research of elusive dates and other details. It was a great reminder of the tremendous resources and personal assistance offered by our local libraries.

Q: What were some of the challenges or surprises you encountered in compiling this book?
A: Before I began researching the book, I had no idea of the contributions of Mary Colter and her design influences throughout the Southwest. She was clearly ahead of her time in the way she approached the design and construction of Hopi House, Phantom Ranch and her other projects within the park and is only now receiving the kind of recognition she deserves as a pioneering architect. Look for additional discussions on the Fred Harvey/Mary Colter fan page on Facebook.

Q: Do you have any more projects lined up?
A: This month, a yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of Rocky Mountain National Park will be taking place. I’ll be working with the libraries in Grand Lake and Estes Park, Colorado, to help commemorate the anniversary later in the year. I’ll also continue to add to my postcard collection. My goal is to acquire postcards of every lodge from every decade from every national park.

Q: Where can the public find out more about you and your new book?
A: The Grand Canyon book is the fourth in a series of past and present books; the other books are profiles on Glacier, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Ask your local library to obtain copies of any of these books from the interlibrary-loan program. Copies are available for sale at or

— Alexandra Winter

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Q&A: Swinging From the Trees in the White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

Recently, we received an email from James Nesslage, a construction contractor with Nessco Designs in Sanders. Nesslage thought we’d be interested to know about his seasonal project: From late August to mid-October, he and his crew harvest pine cones from trees in the White Mountains, and the U.S. Forest Service uses the cones to plant new trees in areas damaged by the Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires.

Indeed, we were interested. We reached out to Nesslage and asked him a few questions about this unusual line of work. He’s also going to have someone on his crew shoot photos of the work being done, and we’ll bring those to you in a future post.

Q: How did you get into cone-picking?
A: I am actually a construction contractor but kinda stumbled into cone-picking. I was just perusing the FedBizOpps [Federal Business Opportunities] page one day and came across a solicitation for seed-cone harvesting. After reading the scope of work, I thought, “We could do this!” I’ve had years of climbing experience, and I have always gravitated toward niche-type occupations anyway, so it sounded like a lot of fun. Go camping, climb trees and get paid for it! Sweet!

The first season was a little hectic because we didn’t even know we had the contract until I got a call on Saturday, saying, “Start Monday.” Yikes!  Well, we scrambled up our equipment, jammed down to the White Mountains and started picking. Our first week was just myself, a couple of my regular employees and my granddaughter living out of the back of my truck. By week two, we were starting to get things together and lined up some more help, along with a little better camping situation. Still pretty primitive, but we learned a lot and had some fun. Well, when the season was over, we told a lot of our friends about it, and everyone was pretty jazzed. When the next season came along, we had lots of folks who wanted to join us. Now we work with a crew of 15 to 20 people, with some rotating home or only working part of the season because they have to go back to their real jobs. It takes someone who has a great spirit of adventure and a good work ethic to do this kind of work. It’s hard, it’s dangerous, and it requires a lot of trust in your teammates.

Q: What’s a typical day of harvesting like?
A: The typical workday starts around 6 a.m. with breakfast and a safety meeting. Then, it’s off to the trees. We use standard climbing equipment, including ropes, harnesses, friction savers, ascenders (no climbing spikes!) and so on. I try to have some trees rigged the night before so there is minimal time lost getting the pickers aloft. We use a powder-activated launcher to send a light line up into the tree and over a good, strong branch. Using the throw line, we pull the friction saver (a kind of strap with two rings, one on each end) over the limb and then the climbing rope through the friction saver. This protects the bark of the tree and prolongs the life of the rope.

The climber ties in and is hoisted up into the lower branches. With the right equipment, you can pull yourself up, but we found that by the time the climber pulls himself up to the top, he’s so tired that he has to wait quite a while before he’s able to start picking, so we do that part for him.  We keep two climbers in each tree for safety, as each can help the other to tie off or belay. The ground crew makes sure the climbers have anything they need, including picking bags, water, snacks, whatever keeps them going.

After the climbers pick a bag of cones, they are lowered to the ground and the ground crew sorts them for quality control. Sometimes they will have insects that eat the seeds or other defects. The cones from each tree are kept in separate sacks and tagged, each tag listing the region, location and specific tree, including GPS coordinates.

Q: What species of trees do you harvest, and how much is done in one day?
A: Most teams can pick two trees in a day, with three or four bushels of cones from each tree. Primarily, the species harvested are white pine, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Each species has distinctive cones, so the number of actual seeds collected varies. We will do a field test on a couple of cones from each tree before picking to make sure the cones are healthy and the seeds are mature enough to pick.

After we harvest, the bags of cones are stored in a cooler in Alpine until a truck takes them to a nursery just outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where they process and sprout the seeds and then grow them for a couple of years, until they are seedlings. When they are ready, they are shipped back to Arizona, and a team plants them in the same area the seeds were harvested. That’s why we do all the record-keeping. The genetics of each tree are, of course, passed on to its seedlings, so we have to be pretty picky about which trees are harvested. Healthy, straight, no forked trunks, et cetera. That way we get good seedlings for reforestation.

Q: What are the challenges of this kind of work, and what do you enjoy about it?
A: The real challenges are mostly psychological, but you do have to be in fairly decent physical shape to climb. Primitive living conditions (although we try to make that as comfortable as possible), close living with a sizable group, working in somewhat hazardous positions, and the guts to work until the job is done. With that being said, it’s the best office I’ve ever had. There is something almost spiritual about sitting in a tree, 150 feet above the ground, a slight breeze of clean air blowing the tree with a gentile rocking, watching eagles and hawks soar just above your head and feeling the sun warm you. Almost puts you in a trance. I’ve actually taken a nap up there.  Yeah, it’s awesome!

Q: Can people come watch the work being done? Or can people join the crew?
A: If anyone would like to come watch, they can just email me ( and I will let them know where we will be that day. I have to be pretty choosy about who helps because of the challenges I mentioned, but I am certainly willing to talk to someone if they would like to join us.


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Q&A: Highways Contributor’s Book Series Becomes Animated TV Series

dinotruxChris Gall is a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways. Lately, he’s been our go-to illustrator for J.P.S. Brown’s essays (and he’s got another great one slated for our October issue). Gall’s other projects include several children’s books, such as his Dinotrux series, which features dinosaur-truck hybrids. Recently, Netflix announced that it will launch a Dinotrux animated series on its streaming service in the spring of 2015. The series will be produced by DreamWorks Animation, which signed a deal with Netflix last year.

We asked Gall a few questions about the process of bringing Dinotrux to the big screen:

Q: How did the Dinotrux series come about? Did you approach Netflix about the idea, or did they approach you?
A: In 2009, before Dinotrux had even gone to print, DreamWorks Animation approached me with interest in buying the movie and TV rights for the book. The studios keep a keen eye on newly published titles (and often, as in my case, titles that are about to be published). They are always looking for a new idea that might be suited for a film or series. While initially their development was aimed towards a feature-length motion picture, over time the strategy changed and it was thought the franchise would be better suited in television. Later still, the whole TV and streaming landscape changed overnight, and DreamWorks partnered with Netflix for all of their television distribution.

Q: What was your reaction when you found out a Dinotrux animated series was going to become a reality?
A: When I was out at DreamWorks last year, I was shown preliminary character models and animation sequences. Suddenly, after four years of uncertainty, it became reality. Sitting in the offices of DreamWorks and seeing my characters on the screen, coming to life, was quite a moment. I didn’t jump up and down, but I did stop by the gift shop on my way out and buy a dozen DreamWorks Animation T-shirts.

Q: What will your involvement be in the production of the series?
A: Early on, I was involved as an informal consultant. The production team at DreamWorks is just first rate, and as such, they definitely have the last word on all creative development. Dinotrux is a picture book, so the story is really simplified for the young reader. DreamWorks’ job is to flesh out the entire world and take the story to a whole new level. Unlike a novel, where the story lines, dialogue and characters are very clear, a picture book yields more challenges for the studio and more opportunities for creative development.

Q: What interests you about animation, as opposed to “static” illustration?
A: They both have their place, of course. As I was working on Dinotrux, I kept thinking, “Boy, this sure would make a cool movie.” So in some ways, I felt myself crafting the story and characters to position the book for studio interest. I was just surprised it happened so quickly. The truth is, I had always had a goal in the back of mind that someday one of my books would become either a movie or a series. I’ve done some short animations on my own to promote Dinotrux and a few of my other books, so I had a real feel for how labor-intensive the process can be. I’ve always been a fan of animated shorts, and when feature-length digital 3-D animation became a reality 20 years ago, it took the storytelling medium to a whole new level. We are living in a new golden age of animation.

For more information about Chris Gall, visit his website.

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Q&A: Fifth-Generation Arizonan Discusses Public-Housing Song Contest, Family History


Meagan Gipson

Meagan Gipson, a Phoenix singer, songwriter and guitarist, is a fifth-generation Arizonan. Among other prominent family members, her grandfather, Virgil Gipson, was a well-known Grand Canyon Village resident (and Arizona Highways contributor) in the 1940s and ’50s, and her great-grandfather, Bert Lauzon, was a cohort of the Kolb brothers. Now, Gipson is making a name for herself: She’s a finalist in the ReThink “Why Housing Matters” Song Contest, which features singer-songwriter Jewel and aims to educate people about the benefits of public housing. She’s also begun a Web project to chronicle her family’s history. Below, she answers a few questions about these endeavors.

Q: Tell us about your background. What led you to pursue music as a career?
I grew up in Phoenix, attending local schools the entire way through, graduating from Arizona State. I now work three jobs, all in the name of pursuing dreams! I work with my dad in our family sign business, where I am a graphic designer and manager. I am also a social worker for two juvenile-law attorneys. And of course, I am a singer/songwriter/guitarist.

When I was in third grade, a teacher (who has since become a good friend of mine) came into our class one day and talked with us about the new strings class that was starting. I was fascinated with the idea of playing an instrument, so I chose violin, and so it began! I played through the seventh grade, until I reached a point where I wanted to play something with a little more punch. My parents gave me a guitar for Christmas my eighth-grade year. Seeing as how I had no idea how to play the guitar, let alone tune the instrument, it sat there in its lonely case until I enrolled in guitar class at Moon Valley High School the next year as a freshman. I learned how to read music for guitar (it was slightly different than that of violin). Come my senior year, I was given a practice room as my “class,” and the deal was I could come to “class” and work on crafting my own material, writing and singing and playing whatever I chose, as long as I played a piece per week that was in the music book from which the teacher taught.

So here I am, this many years later and loving the discoveries of new sounds and the creation of new lyrics and the culmination of new songs that keep my repertoire building and coloring itself brighter and bolder with every new completion! I have had the opportunity to play in the lobby of Comerica Theatre before one of Stevie Nicks’ solo shows, as well as in the Platinum Club at US Airways Center for benefactors before a Fleetwood Mac show. I was invited by the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation to perform at a private event in which Nicks was the guest of honor. I also have done numerous other shows all over the Valley. I love marketing and promoting and playing shows where I have a chance to engage and share my heart’s work with others. And the sweet reward is when I have listeners come up and tell me how a song or a word or a phrase catches them, takes them back or evokes some kind of emotion. People respond to music, and I respond to that!

Q: What is it about public housing that made you want to enter this contest?
Jewel is what it is! I was watching her in an interview, discussing her past while promoting ReThink Housing, and although I had already respected her as an artist and her background, I learned so much more about her on a deeper level in what she shared in the interview that by the end of it, I had an even more profound respect for her. The determination and vision she kept … just amazing. And regarding public housing itself, my entry was inspired by the work I do with children. When I enter homes, they are sometimes foster or group homes; other times, relatives’ homes. I talk to kids who have been through many struggles to a degree others would think could break a spirit, and yet when I listen to them, really hear their voices, their hearts, I can find hope still in existence. And that hope flickers because these children have basic necessities covered and can then start breathing again, looking at creating a future, continuing school, gaining knowledge there is more out there in this world for them. And that comes from a sense of security, structure and love.

When I wrote Home Is Universal, which is my entry in the contest, I kept each of those children in mind, along with countless others whose lives can be changed when they feel they have a place to call home, a tangible that can honorably accept that definition. And public housing is that answer for many, children and adults alike, because those children grow up. They have goals, dreams and the desire to keep their eye on them. That is important for seeing a future community, city, state, nation and world grow and develop in a positive way. When I entered, I knew that I could possibly lend one more voice to raising awareness, making a difference. And I think this contest has become a beautiful platform for just that. All of the people who entered have made a difference thinking about the idea themselves and having others pause for thought, pause to look up ReThink, pause to discuss with others. That’s making a difference right there. And as an artist, Jewel is making a difference; she is using her talent, her name for good, and how heartwarming that is to see?

Q: How did you react when you learned you were a finalist?
Probably by squealing with joy inside. I really was overjoyed, utter excitement comes to mind, only after the residue of shocked delight wore off (that took several minutes)! My alarm had just gone off, my email notification followed. I read the email, smiled, started getting ready for my workday and my fingers and voice and eyes kept up a fast pace the entire day, making sure all social-networking outlets were notified, people were called, emails were sent, and so on. I knew this was special; this notification meant people were aware, people listened, people read, people absorbed, people supported, but the icing on the cake was the fact that people took action! Taking action, playing your part, taking up space and making your voice be heard, making your vote matter … that matters! And because of those pieces coming together, I am a finalist and so very grateful and appreciative. And ReThink has really put together something great in this, and I hope we can all do our part to raise awareness and give back through the opportunity they are placing before us.

Q: Where can people learn more about the project and vote for you?
They can learn more by visiting People can read my entry, Home Is Universal, and vote here: You can also use the hashtag #HousingMatters and follow @jeweljk and @ReThinkTweets.

Q: Tell me more about your family history project. What spurred you to put it together, and what do you hope to accomplish?
The project is called Grand Canyon Project, and it is a multimedia, music-driven series based on my five generations of family history here in Arizona, most of which really has roots in the Grand Canyon. My great-great-grandfather was W.W. Bass, who started the Bass Trail and on my great-great-grandmother’s tombstone in the Pioneer Cemetery in Grand Canyon Village, it reads, “First white woman to raise a family on Rim of Grand Canyon.” They were true pioneers who started much of the early tourism at the Grand Canyon.

I love history to begin with so delving into the family kind wasn’t daunting at all. There are many amazing pieces of the puzzle, including the fact my great-grandfather, Bert Lauzon, accompanied the Kolb brothers on the last leg of their expedition, and my great-great-grandparents led the likes of President Taft, silent-film star Mary Pickford, George Wharton James, artist Thomas Moran, naturalist John Muir, Henry Ford and many other well-known individuals down through the Canyon on tours. But the most fascinating element was my great-great-grandmother Ada Bass’ diary. She kept an ongoing diary for 50 years! She wrote nearly every single day, documenting life happenings or lack thereof at the Canyon. I have a copy of the contents of her diary and have been reading it and doing research for the last year and a half; the stories are just jaw-dropping.

All of my ancestors were writers and poets, with W.W. publishing more than one book in his time and all having the entrepreneurial fire in their eye. My family line has a definite creative streak, a love for nature, art, entertaining and the blending all of those pieces into a joining and sharing of those exact parts for which we have a passion. My grandfather, Virgil Gipson, was a photographer for Arizona Highways, and my dad and family grew up with the magazine being a staple.

I do hope to keep the spirit of history alive. I think history needs to become more vivid, as opposed to washed out, as is a fear that comes along with the advanced age of technology, immediate gratification, living in the fast-paced, ever-changing world we are in today. But I think that very movement of technology can be beneficial to preserving history if handled with care, handled properly and respectfully. I think in some ways, we can keep better track, better record of history today as long as we keep the interest and understanding intact. I believe education is key, and I think making history interesting again in the way people learn about it and are exposed to it is needed.

My goal is to gain more and more interest in the Grand Canyon Project and find avenues I can take to bring my stories, my songs, my history to people! I want to possibly pique interest, curiosity, find people wanting to learn more about these amazing lives and stories and see commonalities, see motivation, find encouragement. People come along with me on a journey through honky-tonks and train stations, down trails on horses and inside the minds of souls that still reside in the echoing Canyon. It is one for all of the senses when you accompany me!

You can find out more about my project by visiting the new website I just launched,, and by following @GrandCanyonProj and liking

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Q&A: Photographer Dawn Kish Discusses June Cover Shoot

Photo courtesy of Dawn Kish

Hiking in Buffalo Park with Anni and Joth Jacobson | Courtesy of Dawn Kish

Arizona Highways contributing photographer Dawn Kish was once again tasked with photographing our June 2014 issue (last year’s cover was another beauty, thanks to “DKish,” as she’s known around here). Below, Kish talks about shooting the cover and what it takes to get the right photograph.

It really feels like you were in your element when you shot the June cover. What were you trying to convey with your images?
I wanted it to look like someone was having fun in nature. Very natural moments are important to me. Even though we had it planned out, I really tried hard to make it seem documentary-style. Plus, I like rock-hopping myself. Rocks are fun, so I had the talent hiking around on the rocks. I feel like my work reflects me sometimes and how I feel about the natural world.

Did you do much scouting beforehand? Describe your process as you prepared for the big shoot.
I have been up in that park many times because I live at the base of it. I had seen these rocks before and wanted to make landscapes with them. So when [Photo Editor] Jeff Kida asked me to do photos of hikers in Buffalo Park, this is one of the places I wanted to go back to. I feel like the rocks broke up the photo nicely … not your same ol’ “hiker on a trail” photo. Plus, I did go up there to scout the sunrise and sunset to make sure I knew what I could expect from either that time of year.

What challenges did you encounter on this shoot, and how did you overcome them?
Well, when Jeff called about the June cover for 2013, it was shot in September 2012. This time of year is our big monsoon season, so getting the San Francisco Peaks in the background is a bit difficult when they are covered up by the rain clouds. In fact, we did get rained on that afternoon, so I had to fill in light with portable strobes. When he called me in August 2013 for the June 2014 issue, I knew we would possibly be in the same predicament. One thing that helped us was getting out early, before the rain. We got up there when the sun rose at 6 a.m. The models were not so stoked about that wake-up call — they were at my house by 5:30 a.m. Jeff, who was coming from Phoenix, got up at 3 a.m. to be here. Now, that is dedication. To make great photos you need great light, and sometimes that happens really early in the morning.

If I remember correctly, you did your own styling, besides working as the photographer. Are you often a one-man band?
I am usually working a bunch of angles to get shoots done. Usually there is no budget to hire a stylist, assistant, etc. I have done so many shoots and have learned that it is always good to think ahead. Like, what if your model comes to the shoot wearing a bikini, but the shoot is for a winter issue? OK, that is an extreme example, but it is always good to make sure the model knows exactly what you want or need to get the shot. Reshoots are heartbreaking, and I don’t want to waste other people’s time. Props are always important for authenticity, and I tend to use the talent’s gear as much as possible.  When I have a shoot, I usually send out an email list to the talent so they can come prepared with all kinds of things, “just in case” we might need something. Plus, I bring extra stuff too.

HIking in Buffalo Park with Anni and Joth Jacobson. | Photo courtesy of Dawn Kish

HIking in Buffalo Park with Anni and Joth Jacobson | Courtesy of Dawn Kish

Did any image stand out as a favorite?
I definitely like the cover shot because it looks natural, but there was this one moment when one of the other models saw a flower called Indian paintbrush. She was amazed at the beauty and took her iPhone out to take a shot. So I took a photo of her taking a photo because it was her normal reaction to nature. This is exactly what I would do hiking down the trail. I have tons of photos of flowers, lichen, rocks, leaves, etc. This is not the best photo ever but tells a little story about what happens when you go outside for a hike. Oh, and it was muddy too, so I took some shots of the hiking boots looking muddy, and I like that photo, too.

You’re an outdoors/adventure photographer … how did that experience help you nail the shot?
After many years, you learn how to hold ’em, learn how to fold ’em, learn how to walk away and learn how to run. Being observant is key to working with the outside elements. So, learning about different environments is a major part of that success. With photography you are always learning how to do things better or different or more creative with your eye. Plus, I picked “real” hikers. They love to do this stuff, and they are comfortable outside. In fact, Sheree, the cover girl, worked with Grand Canyon Youth (GCY). She was one of the lucky kids who took a Grand Canyon trip when she was a teen. Sheree was so inspired by nature, she became a GCY river guide. She is an outdoors gal now, rowing boats and hiking through the Canyon.

What three tips would you give to a novice adventure photographer?
1) Learn about light. Light is the most important thing in photography.
2) Know what you’re passionate about.
3) Have fun. Photography is fun, so this is what you should be having.

What camera(s) did you use?
I used a Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm Nikkor lens.

—Kathy Ritchie


Filed under Covers, Q&A