They call it the “Wild West” for a reason.
Arizonans know that the Grand Canyon State has a history of adventurous people—from cowboys and rodeo champions to artists and prospectors—but did you know that Arizona’s wild heritage continues on today?
From daring desert wildlife rescues to trick riding and roping to hot air ballooning, wild and adventurous Arizonans walk among us—maybe in your own backyard. Here are a few wild Arizonans leading their most adventurous lives near you.
Jan Miller, Wildlife Rescue Specialist and Robert Mesta, Feather Repository Expert
As a desert state, Arizona is home to some of the most unique and extraordinary flora and fauna in the United States. Alongside the rest of the team at Liberty Wildlife Rescue, Jan Miller is working hard to preserve them with their in-house animal hospital and rescue program. Jan is the animal care coordinator at Liberty, overseeing medical care for all the beautiful wild creatures they help. Jan has always loved animals—she described her first job as being an “annoying kid” who volunteered to walk her neighbors’ dogs. In her adult job at Liberty today, she happily helps animals every day, from hawks and vultures to rattlesnakes and ringtails.
Another member of Liberty Wildlife Rescue’s team, Robert Mesta, puts his knowledge of birds and familiarity with feathers to use while heading the Feather Repository Project. When Liberty acquires feathers from any bird other than an eagle in the course of their work, they check if it’s of religious or ceremonial purpose to Native American communities. Then, through Robert and the Liberty Wildlife Non-Eagle Feather Repository Program (LWNEFR), with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they distribute the feathers to members of federally-recognized tribes for religious and ceremonial uses.
Aaron Tsinigine, Rodeo Champion
When most Arizonans think of cowboys and the state’s Wild West heritage, they think of it as a piece of Arizona history. But for Tuba City’s Aaron Tsinigine, bucking broncos and fancy roping are just another day in the life of a rodeo champion. In 2015, Tsinigine was named a World Rodeo Champion, and he continues his involvement in the sport to this day as a competitive roper and roping instructor. A proud member of the Navajo nation, Tsinigine also runs classes teaching rodeo-style roping to Native American youth.
Amanda and Stephanie Long, Second-Generation Ballooning Masters
The Arizona desert is a beautiful sight when you’re driving through it—but there are even better views to be had in the air. And while these are generally reserved for buzzards, butterflies, and other winged creatures, the Long family has been helping Arizonans get a bird’s eye view of their state for decades.
Amanda and Stephanie Long are second-generation hot air balloonists and current owners and operators of Hot Air Expeditions in Phoenix. Their parents founded the company in 1991 after moving from Illinois to Arizona to follow their love of ballooning. As hot air balloon experts, the Long sisters have to be acutely aware of weather, temperature, and safety conditions—not to mention on-the-ground conditions and the terrain they’ll be soaring over—to make sure their passengers have the best and safest possible experience.
Linda Searles, “The Coyote Lady”
Some of Arizona’s wildest and wiliest residents are the four-legged ones. The Grand Canyon State is home to the devious desert dogs known as coyotes, which are wild animals and not to be approached by people without the necessary training. Linda Searles of Scottsdale not only knows her way around these creatures—they have her heart.
Searles is the founder and current director of the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, but her love of coyotes goes back to one little coyote pup named Don. After a farming accident left Don orphaned, and with no veterinary facilities in the area that could take on a coyote, Linda nursed him to health.
That’s how she became inspired to found the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center for creatures like Don in 1994. Today, the Center provides care for wild mammals in need, and education about wildlife conservation. As for Don? He lived happily with Linda and his beloved coyote lady friend, Ashley, for more than 18 years.