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A barrel of thrills -- and fun -- at the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo

Just outside the dirt arena, barrel racer Leigh Ann Billingsley sits atop her most experienced steed, a horse by the name of Mr. Jiggs. In a moment she is off, sprinting toward the three metal barrels making a triangle in the middle of the corral.

The horse makes a turn and she whips around the first of three barrels that make up the course. The goal is to get around each of the barrels in a clover-leaf pattern and in the least amount of time possible.

In a moment, she is around the first barrel and has cleared the 90 feet to the second one, her body leaning with her horse as she does. She makes for the third and almost slides around it, the horse’s hooves driving deep into the soil.

Now only the last straightaway is left and she rides hard to shave as much time as possible. In all, she is riding for only about 18 seconds, making four sharp turns and covering nearly 255 feet.

This is barrel racing at the 2018 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo.

But even so, Billingsley was not as pleased with her time.

“It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped,” she said, adding that she always tries to be under 17 seconds. On a cloverleaf pattern course such as this one, the fastest she has ever ridden was 17.3 seconds.

But at least she was able to get around every barrel cleanly -- riders receive a five-second penalty for hitting a barrel -- and without falling over or falling off. Hitting a barrel also just hurts. The barrels are heavy and metal and Billingsley said she always wears shin guards when she competes. 

Billingsley, who lives in Phoenix, started barrel racing when she was 10 years old. Her father worked at rodeos and would travel from one rodeo to the next, always in search for the next job. During the summer, when Billingsley wasn't in school, she would travel with him.  

But no matter how Billingsley feels about her ride, 13-year-old Lily Alsever and her mother, Ellie, think a successful run alone is still quite the feat.

Lilly and her mother live in Cave Creek and drove up to Flagstaff Thursday because barrel racing is Lilly’s favorite rodeo sport. It’s also one that, until just a few years ago, she regularly competed in. Lilly started riding when she was only 2 and began to barrel race when she was 7, her mother said.

As with Billingsley and so many barrel racers, Lilly said the sport’s biggest draw has always been the adrenalin rush, comparing it to skydiving.

“It is so much fun to get out there because you and your horse, you get all amped up and you can feel your horse get all amped up,” Lilly said. “Just the feeling of dropping it; just letting him go. It’s just so much fun because you get to go really, really fast.”

It also takes a lot of skill, Lilly said, not just for the rider but for the horse. Billingsley's steed is an American quarterhorse and specifically bred to sprint short distances. Most horses can’t make the turns or accelerate enough on the short straightaways to be competitive without special training.

“There is no room for only you or only the horse,” Lilly said. “It’s very conjoined because if you’re on one page and your horse on the other, then you’re no longer going to be on your horse.”

During the competition, horses can get up to almost 30 mph, and at times, Lilly said, the hardest part about barrel racing is getting the horse to stop.

Unlike many rodeo events that have histories going as far back as when the Spanish controlled the Southwest, the sport of barrel racing is fairly young.

Started primarily by women, barrel racing has its origin in the 1930s, when the contestants would be judged for the best mount, the best dressed and for the best horsemanship. At the time, the last was not strictly decided by who had the shortest time and the women would ride in a figure-8 pattern vs. the more challenging cloverleaf pattern today.

This slowly began to change when all-female rodeos becoming popular during the Second World War. In 1948, after being fed up with the lack of competitive opportunities for women at the rodeo, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association was created and dedicated itself to the promotion and advancement of women in rodeo.

Now, barrel racing is almost exclusively governed by the WPRA, which is also the oldest standing women’s professional association in the United States and the only professional association governed entirely by women, according to the WPRA’s website.

This was the only competition Billingsley was taking part in at the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo. She also plans to compete in a rodeo in Prescott.

As for Lilly, she said she hopes she can start taking part in competitive barrel racing once again, although she will need a younger horse. In the meantime, Lilly and her mother sit back and watch -- not the rodeo, but the horses.

In the corral, a cowboy is wrangling a calf, but it’s his horse, standing stoically to one side, that Lilly and her mother are admiring.

“That horse is awesome,” Ellie said. “The cowboy is not bad, either, but the horse is awesome.”

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Take a hike: Going deep into West Fork

Editor's note: Although major parts of four national forests in northern Arizona are closed to the public, there are still plenty of trails and destinations open.  Today, take cool hike up verdant West Fork in this trip report from 2008.

It was the Monday morning before Labor Day weekend. I took the day off. I reached a point where I needed time alone, in the natural world. I chose my hike carefully — the West Fork of Oak Creek.

I have found that West Fork stands as two places. In the first place, it has become the heavily visited, bring-the-children-and- grandma outdoor destination — complete with a pay-by-the-car paved parking lot and maintained pit toilets. But hike a mile into the side canyon, and its wilder side begins to emerge.

The canyon walls begin to embrace. The plants and small trees grow thick and lush. In the days following the monsoon weather, the wildflowers and mushrooms flourish. At the place where the creek meanders and bends back on itself, novice day-hikers become confused. The trail forks in three different directions. Here, each time I hike back into West Fork, I see footprints stop and double back on themselves.

The deeper parts of the creek and side canyon remain for the more ambitious hikers. During my late August walk, the canopy of trees closed in, while the three-foot ferns crowded the trail. The water of West Fork slackened and pooled in places. Dragonflies hovered around cut-off pond areas thick with the vibrant green of aquatic plants. The aroma of wood-rot and ripe water drifted through the canyon. Birdsong spilled from higher places in the trees.

I took a breath and let myself become wonderfully lost in the chaos.

I walked fast, with my Chaco sandals strapped tightly to my thorn-nicked and bug-bitten feet. I splashed through crossing after crossing. Someone had placed logs at a number of the crossings, but I skipped them in favor of getting wet.

I reached the place I covet, where the rootsy-red Coconino Sandstone curves up like a steep wave along the creek. I stopped to eat an apple in the shade it created while hover flies zipped around me.

With an early morning weekday start, I made it two miles into the trek without passing one person. I listened to the sound of the creek as it rippled through a jumble of stones. I looked around me to the 500-foot red-and-white cliffs that flanked the edges of the lush Eden. I also looked around me to the blue tones cast as a contrast to the warm colors of the rocks.

I walked back further, until I reached a place where the canyon and the canopy opened at the center. Here, the cliffs stood prominently before me. I listened as hummingbirds rocketed across the sky, in search of morning nectar. I basked in the warmth that began to build.

With storm clouds billowing to the west, I knew it was time to turn back. As if on cue, I passed my first hiker — a middle-aged man on a solo hike — after I moved through the double bend in the canyon.

Then, every few hundred feet, I met the other solo hikers, the families and the elderly couples. They walked a short distance to be greeted with a natural marvel. Soon, I neared the place where the hiking starts, near the orchard and the remains of Mayhew Lodge, which burned down in 1980.

Mayhew was the place where Zane Grey was inspired to write "Call of the Canyon," and this is one of the reasons I like to stop. West Fork offers moments of nature with a little history on the side.

The lodge entertained a number of guests, including Lord Halifax, President Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Stewart, Walt Disney and Maureen O'Hara. The history and prominence of Meyhew Lodge resonates from the foundation and stone that remain.

By the time I reached the parking lot and my car, the area had found a bustle. The lot was two-thirds full and the Sedona visitors were arriving from their vacation homes and motel rooms.

I pulled away, and carried with me a piece of sanctuary that I found deep in the canyon.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun file 

The West Flag Little League Black Diamondbacks celebrate with pitcher Connor Iniguez (7) after he threw the game-winning strikeout at Mark Grace Field during a majors city title game against the Continental Little League White Diamondbacks.

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Flagstaff moves into 21st century with new public works yard

After nearly 70 years of use, the city’s public works yard on Bonito Street has been replaced with a new facility on West Route 66.

In a statement at Friday's ribbon cutting, Mayor Coral Evans said the new yard brings Flagstaff into the 21st century before thanking the staff who made the new yard possible. Also getting credit were Flagstaff voters, who in 2012 approved a $14 million bond to partially pay for the yard.

Evens said she was happy the city was able to provide the new yard within the projected time and budget.

Interim City Manager Barbara Goodrich said staff have been wanting to replace the public works yard since she started working for the city in 2000. Originally, the old public works yard had been used as a carriage house.

Public Works Director Andy Bertelsen said the fact they were using a carriage house to repair and maintain all the city vehicles, including fire trucks, snowplows, police cars and garbage trucks, limited the amount of maintenance that could be done on certain vehicles and was a problem the city had to address.

The new public works yard does not have these problems. It also has the space to allow the city’s fleet of vehicles to be kept indoors and out of the elements when not in use. At the old yard, a lack of space meant many vehicles were stored outside.

When combined with the better maintenance facilities, Bertelsen said the new yard means the city will be able to use their vehicles and heavy equipment longer.

“If you invest in a good piece of machinery and you take care of it over time than you can extend the lifespan of that piece of machinery, and with the services we will be able to provide, we hope to be able to do that,” said Bertelsen.

Bertelsen also said the new yard should last the city at least as long as the previous yard, and in the new location they have room to expand. At the moment, the new yard is home to the street maintenance section, solid waste and recycling, and fleet maintenance, but this could go up as more departments relocate to the new yard.

The yard also allows the city to track their vehicles using GPS and see the routes vehicles are on. Bertelsen said this can help the city figure out what is happening if someone reports their trash has not been picked up or their road has not yet been plowed. This technology is something that is becoming more and more common, Bertelsen said.

With the old yard in the middle of town, Bertelsen said the city had also received complaints from people about of all the noise caused by such large vehicles and pieces of machinery moving in and out at all hours of the day and night.

The city will also not have to move vehicles through the busy downtown, and Bertelsen said the new location allows them to easily deploy vehicles across the city.

The future for the land of the old public works yard is still not known, but Evans said many on council have been interested turning it into a park, with some pieces of the land used for affordable housing.

A section of the yard will be used as a urban farm for the city’s new urban farm incubator program.

Will Arizona take advantage of new online taxing power?

PHOENIX -- Key state lawmakers want to take advantage of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lets states collect online sales taxes.

But they don't want it to be a new burden on taxpayers here.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard told Capitol Media Services he sees no reason why purchases made by Arizonans on the Internet should be exempt from the state's 5.6 percent sales tax while local brick-and-mortar retailers are forced to collect the levy.

"We haven't had the authority before now,'' the Chandler Republican said.

All that changed on June 21 when the nation's high court ruled that South Dakota could enforce its law requiring many out-of-state businesses to collect taxes on sales made to local residents.

Prior to that, courts had said sales taxes could apply only to businesses with a physical "nexus'' to a state, whether that meant having local retailers, offices or warehouses.

That's why Amazon in 2012 agreed to begin collecting sales taxes in Arizona after state revenue officials began proceedings against the company based on the fact it has "fulfillment centers'' in the state. That deal settled the $53 million assessment against it that had been made by the state Department of Revenue.

But Amazon does not collect taxes on sales made by its network of third-party retailers.

It's for the same reason that Arizonans purchasing from web sites run by companies like Walmart and Target end up paying the same state sales taxes as if they had bought the items in local stores.

Purchases from others with no clear links to the state, however, have gone untaxed because of that "nexus'' rule -- the one the Supreme Court threw out.

How much is out there is unclear.

In a report last year, before the court ruling, the federal Government Accountability Office estimated that state and local governments could pick up another $8 billion to $13 billion a year by taxing online sales. The agency's predictions for Arizona, both at the state and local level, ranged from $190 million to $293 million a year, though some of that would go to cities and counties, both in the form of shared state revenues and their own local levies.

But if state-only dollars increase by just 2 percent -- the lower end of the GAO prediction of untaxed sales -- that still amounts to an additional $94 million a year into the state treasury.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he is interested in Arizona getting its share of taxes from online sales. But Farnsworth told Capitol Media Services that implementing such a chance is "a very delicate question.''

The key, he said, is what Arizona would do with any new revenues.

"I have always been one to consider if we can lower taxes in one place and broaden the base is not bad idea,'' Farnsworth said.

"If we decided to add a tax, then we would want to reduce taxes somewhere else,'' he said. The trick, said Farnsworth, is figuring out how to do that -- and do it in a fair way.

His preference: Cut income taxes. But Farnsworth said he's divided as to whether that should reduce the corporate levy, which already has been cut by close to a third in the past decade, or trim individual income tax rates.

Mesnard shares that desire for a net neutral overall tax burden.

"I have never advocated from the perspective of taking more from taxpayers,'' he said.

And Mesnard said that new -- and unexpected -- revenues provide opportunities to consider how to reform the overall tax structure of the state.

But he's not sure whether that should involve cutting overall income tax rates, increasing deductions or perhaps lowering the sales tax rate.

"That's a level that hasn't been developed because, up until now, this really wasn't a reality,'' Mesnard said.

Several states already are on track to cut taxes to compensate for new revenues.

The Associated Press reports that a 2016 South Dakota law which raised the state sales tax half a percent, to 4.5 percent, requires that rate to be reduced by one-tenth of a percent for every additional $20 million the state collects from Internet sales. And Wisconsin has a 2013 law requiring a dollar-for-dollar cut in state income taxes if that state can collect revenues from online sales.

But Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said the question for lawmakers here is not limited to whether to tax Internet sales. She said the state needs to look at the larger question of digital goods that also are purchased online.

Earlier this year she shepherded a bill through the House to forbid the state from imposing its sales tax on everything from digital books and videos to cloud-based software, online storage and web-hosting services.

Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the state needs clarity on what is -- and is not -- taxable, saying that both the state Department of Revenue as well individual cities have been less than forthcoming in providing details. She said if lawmakers don't set down some clear rules, the courts will intercede.

The measure, however, failed to clear the Senate.

Daniel Scarpinato, press aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, said his boss has reached no conclusion on whether Arizona law should be altered to permit taxation of Internet sales, much less what the state should do with any additional revenues. The problem, he said, starts with the lack of information.

"It's very much a hypothetical,'' he said.

First is the question of whether the Republican-controlled Legislature would approve expanding the tax base to include online sales. And then there's the numbers game.

"Having seen numerous estimates on these kinds of things over the years, it's very difficult for us to know what kind of revenue we would actually see,'' Scarpinato said.

But he said that Ducey does have some philosophical touchstones on the question.

"He doesn't want Arizonans to pay more taxes,'' Scarpinato said.

And if there are new revenues, Scarpinato said the governor would want to take a closer look at how to allocate those dollars.

"Any time we make a change, we want to do it through a prism of are we improving the overall tax code and making it simpler,'' he said.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Andy Bertelsen, the Public Works Director for the city of Flagstaff, begins the ribbon cutting ceremony by thanking everyone who helped turn dream into reality Friday.