A park all their own

  • Petrified and International Petrified national forests

    Map by Diane Sylvain
  • Marvin Hatch and Terrence "Shorty" Reidhead on Paulsell Ranch

    Katherine Keith photo
  • Petrified wood is scattered through the property

    Katherine Drouin Keith photo
 

HOLBROOK, Ariz. - When seasoned businessman Marvin Hatch bought a northern Arizona ranch, he and business partner Terrence "Shorty" Reidhead knew the land would yield more than just hamburger.

The 60,000-acre, $3.3 million Paulsell Ranch is littered with Indian ruins, artifacts and petroglyphs. The ranch's resources are so important that its neighbor, Petrified Forest National Park, has unsuccessfully tried to add the land to the park.

Although it's not yet open to the public, billboards already promote what Hatch is calling the International Petrified Forest. Land and air tours will shuttle tourists through the area to ooh and aah at the tumbled stones of pueblos and the fossilized wood, animal teeth and bones that are scattered in dry washes throughout the ranch.

The Paulsell Ranch has long been recognized by scholars from around the country for its archaeological and paleontological value. Rare paleo-Indian sites, Pueblo religious and community centers, and artifacts that may be more than 10,000 years old have been found in the region. Reidhead and Hatch hope to tap into the millions of tourists who flood northern Arizona every year to visit places like Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park. And the venture's board of directors, a group of local businessmen, say they want to manage the property for "preservation, education and profit," Hatch says. "We want to keep it there for future generations."

Hatch, 63, and Reidhead, 67, are descendants of Mormon pioneer families who settled the area in the late 1800s. They've been buddies since they attended high school together in the 1940s and have made millions selling cars and construction materials.

Although neither has formal training in archaeology or paleontology, they've been poking around in the desert all their lives, engaging in "salvage archaeology," as Reidhead puts it. They say preservation, not profit, is their main goal. However, Reidhead adds, "We have spent quite a bit of money and we hope to get it back someday."

At the Paulsell Ranch, tourists will be supervised, but Hatch and Reidhead anticipate some poaching once they open it up to tourists. "Most people probably are gonna pick up a piece of wood, darn it," Reidhead said. He doesn't want visitors to the ranch to be policed like tourists at the nearby national park. Petrified Forest staff "have a mania for that," he says.

Petrified Forest National Park Superintendent Micki Hellickson is reserving comment on the International Petrified Forest for now. Hatch "is free to establish any kind of a business he would like and he is free to call it what he'd like," she says. Hellickson also holds out hope the National Park Service will someday acquire the property. "The National Park Service has outlined in its general management plan a very broad vision for the expansion of the park," she said. "That vision includes the acquisition of at least a portion of the Paulsell Ranch. That vision is still valid."

In the meantime, she's keeping an eye on what happens at the Paulsell Ranch. "We would be concerned if we felt the resources in which the Park Service was interested, if any of them were threatened. We don't know anything is threatened right now," Hellickson said. "If I felt something was happening, I would try to make others aware of the situation."

Trinkle Jones, an archaeologist with the Park Service's Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, is more worried about the venture's potential impact on the ranch's resources. "By having people pick these up and move (artifacts) without collecting additional information is to lose that data that's so important," she says. "I can see people going out there and saying, "This is really cool," picking something up, then seeing something else and saying, "This is better" and throwing the first thing away and mixing things up. And then we'll never know what happened 6,000, 8,000, 10,000 years ago. We could lose our story line. We could lose our chance of ever figuring it out."

The Arizona State Land Department also wants to ensure the land's archaeological resources are protected, says Commissioner Dennis Wells. Because part of the land is owned by the state as well as by the Bureau of Land Management, plans for the ranch must be approved by the state. "If profits are being made on state trust land, we must be involved," he says. "We would want to license the activity."

But one local rock-art scholar says a tourism venture may be the best way to protect the treasures of the Paulsell Ranch. "Once things get vandalized or destroyed or removed, then (Hatch and Reidhead) won't have the attractions anymore," says Ekkehart Malotki, a Northern Arizona University language professor and Southwestern rock-art researcher. Malotki says he'd like to see walkways built around sites to keep people from walking on them or touching them.

Jones also says that guided tours are a good idea, but only if Hatch and Reidhead adopt some of the Park Service's leave-no-trace ethics, so "things don't start to disappear or get sold," she says.

Hatch says he'll hire archaeologists and paleontologists from local colleges as tour guides, and he says they may also try to restore some of the ruins. For now, Hatch says, he'll maintain the property as a working cattle ranch, helping him to avoid higher taxes. Seven hundred head now graze on the property. "We'll continue ranching until someone tells us that it's detrimental to our preservation," he says.

And Hatch and Reidhead aren't stopping with the Paulsell Ranch. Early this summer, they plan to open a museum of Native American artifacts just a few exits down the interstate from the ranch. The projects are keeping both men busy.

"I'm an old man. I have people running businesses for me," says Reidhead. "All at once, I have a purpose ... I've never enjoyed putting something together as much as this."

Katherine Drouin Keith is a freelance writer living in Tucson, Ariz.

You can contact ...

* International Petrified Forest, 520/524-9178;

* Petrified Forest National Park, 520/524-6228;

* Western Archaeological and Conservation Center, 520/670-6501.

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