Every time I return to the Buckhorn Baths to do a story or column, I’m captivated.
I always leave praying for the preservation of its shabby-chic casitas with carports built to shelter the autos of the 1940s, and the cactus garden that surrounds the now-closed bathhouse and hot mineral well. And I never tire of interviewing co-founder/owner Alice Sliger, very likely America’s oldest innkeeper.
Now, it appears the one piece of the Buckhorn I never gave much thought to is the one that may have the best chance of surviving its sale.
This entry on the National Register of Historic Places is officially on the market, according to a sheet of paper in a window of the closed office.
The same building houses the Buckhorn Wildlife Museum, about 400 dead animals brought in by hunters and meticulously preserved by Sliger’s husband, Ted, who died in 1984.
As speculation has run wild over the ultimate fate of her 15 acres at Main Street and Recker Road in the heart of east Mesa, it’s always been Sliger’s wish to keep this menagerie intact.
“It’s animals of Arizona, not only animals but the birds and reptiles and little horned toads,” she said this week. “It’s a collection the state of Arizona should be very proud to have, and it can never be duplicated.”
The Superstition Mountain Museum just outside Apache Junction will launch a drive to raise money for a new $400,000 home for the animals with the Nov. 10 opening of its newest attraction, a barn rescued from Apacheland Movie Studios after its last fire.
Museum board member George Johnston said that under the best-case scenario, a new building for the animals will be finished in a couple of years. “We’re planning dioramas, it’s not just heads on a wall,” he said. “He did them all very artistically, but they’re all stuffed in a room right now.”
Taxidermy isn’t my thing, so I had to force myself to peer into that room through a window. I could make out some heads on walls, looking onto a huge, proud Alaskan wolf standing in the middle of the floor.
I asked Johnston, a former member of the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission, his thoughts on whether the rest of the Buckhorn should be preserved.
He said, with some resignation, “As long as we get the collection intact, that’s history. The ground, that’s up for grabs in this state. Whoever gets it.”
Sliger is coy about potential buyers for her property, though she said she’d like to see it put to some kind of medical use which would feed off the mineral well and the nearby Banner Baywood and Heart hospitals.
And she called me back twice to make sure I published the Superstition Mountain Museum’s mailing address, for potential donors to the wildlife collection. “I’m 100 years old. I’d like to see it get done real quick,” she explained.
How to help
Donations to help build a new home for the Buckhorn Wildlife Museum can be mailed to Superstition Mountain Museum, P.O. Box 3845, Apache Junction, AZ 85217.
For information, call (480) 983-4888 or go to