Traveling with Dale

Traveling parts of the Arizona Trail with Dale

Dale Shewalter’s dream of the Arizona Trail showed up in an Arizona Daily Star article written by my friend Doug Kreutz in January of 1989.  I can still picture where I was, at my desk in the back of the KGUN-TV newsroom in Tucson when I called to ask Doug how to get in touch with that guy. I was determined to do something with him.

Perhaps the most strategic idea I ever had was to have Dale meet my news director, Ray Depa, at Tohono Chul after work.  Sitting in the sunset, on the patio, with a beer, was the perfect way for Ray to hear Dale’s ideas.  He agreed to let us do a half-hour documentary on the Arizona Trail.

My photographer, Jim Randall, was the perfect choice.  I didn’t know until the first day we worked with Dale that they were both Vietnam veterans.  That instantly told them so much about one another.

Dale didn’t love being in front of the camera, but he loved the trail, and as a sixth-grade teacher, he understood that engaging someone helps them learn.  He answered questions, crossed rivers, explained the challenge of getting across Roosevelt Dam.  We shot at 20 different locations over five days, from Coronado National Monument to House Rock Valley in Utah.

At various points, he did interviews.

Why an Arizona trail? “If there’s magic anywhere in this part of the world, it’s certainly found in Arizona.”

How the idea got started: “When I was dangling my legs off the Mogollon Rim, looking to the east and to the west, I determined to walk its length.”

On transition zone: “If you can kind of get in your mind the Colorado Plateau dancing with the desert.”

The point of the Arizona Trail: “Being able to experience Arizona, and the beauty and diversity of our landscapes, one step at a time.”

Back then, Dale wasn’t sure he could even get this project to work.  There were some trail stewards, but more questions than answers.  But his equanimity and enthusiasm kept him pointed in the right direction and his eye on the prize.

The only decision Dale questioned was when I showed him the finished piece and he heard himself say, “I think we had a taste of tequila with us at the time.”  He didn’t want his students to get the wrong idea.  I pulled out every persuasive stop and I’m glad I did.  He let it stay in.

In Flagstaff after shooting our way from Globe, through Pine, into Flagstaff, we were staying at Little America.  Dale and Madeleine met us for dinner there.  Dale was always relaxed at the end of the day, but he came alive with her.  He had a great laugh, and we heard it most that night.  It was hearty and deep and warm.  Clearly they were great for and with one another.

The longest day was driving from Tucson to the South Rim, then up to House Rock Valley.  That night we stayed at the Marble Canyon Lodge.  The young Diné woman was so ready for us to go after dinner.  Her “what do you want now?” sent us all into fits of helpless fatigued laughter.  Dale had discovered Enya, and lent us “March of the Celts” for that day’s drive.  He liked Irish music.

The documentary aired in March of 1989.  That year I persuaded Channel 3 in Phoenix to hire me for a Northern Arizona Bureau.  The week I moved,  Dale was the only person I knew in Flagstaff.  I called him and he introduced me to Flag by walking me through Buffalo Park. He pointed out the cricket cheeps, and said they accelerate as the seasons change to fall.  He took me to his favorite Mexican restaurant.  He made the whole idea of living there far less scary.

After he got diagnosed, I didn’t see Dale again.  I think he preferred to be the guy we’d worked with; lithe and energetic and strong and fun.  For good or ill, it worked.  Dale is forever, in my mind, the one making up the song, at that last camp on Mt. Lemmon, about the Trail.

“We started down in the Huachucas,

And made our way up to the north (north – that’s going to be hard)

We travelled by horse and mule,

And rode them for all they were worth.


I’ve travelled the whole world over,

And I’ll tell you the next place I’ll go,

I’ll ride on the Arizona Trail

From Utah to old Mexico.


From Utah to old Mexico,

From Utah to old Mexico-oh,

I’ll travel on the Arizona Trail,

From Utah to old Mexico.”