Monday, October 31, 2011

Camp SP-6-A, Tucson, Arizona

by Phil Brown, Saguaro National Park Ranger, Tucson, AZ,

Camp Pima (SP-6-A) Is Established: On May 9, 1933, Charles Sanders and ninety-five other young men from Tucson and Ajo became the first Arizona enrollees in the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Sanders and the others in his group were sent to Fort Huachuca for a few weeks of physical training.

When they got back to Tucson, their camp was not yet ready, so they were put to work at a camp in Randolph Park. In October, they moved to a temporary tent camp in the Tucson Mountains, west of town, for a few more weeks. A well had been dug on the selected site for a permanent camp in the Tucson Mountains, and two recruits—Clarence George Lundquist and Red Wills—were sent to the site to monitor the flow from the new well. During this time the camp sent food over to them. “Peanut butter and jam sandwiches. That’s all we got, morning, noon and night. Oh, and apples. For two weeks!” Lundquist later remembered. Once they had established that there was enough water, the company moved to the new site. This was Camp SP-6-A, known variously as Manville Well, Tucson Mountain Camp, Recreation Area Camp, or Camp Pima. This camp was in use from November 1933 to June 1941.

The CCC in the Tucson Mountains: Tucson Mountain Park had been established by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1929. When the CCC became available, the supervisors requested two camps in the Tucson Mountains under the auspices of the National Park Service’s State Parks unit. Camp SP-7-A lasted only one season, as the water supply was inadequate and unpredictable. Camp SP-6-A flourished.

The camp was occupied in the winter months, and the companies moved to higher elevations for the summer. Two summer seasons saw activity at Camp Pima: one year by a unit from the Department of State Camps (designated DSP-1, in 1934) and another year by a company of World War I veterans (Company 1826-V, in 1937). In 1940, the camp was re-designated as CP-1 (County Parks).

Work Projects: The CCC boys worked on projects to develop the recreational areas and to combat soil erosion. They built or improved the unpaved roads into and through the park. They established miles of trails with restraining walls and erosion barriers as needed, and chiseled steps out of local stone. They also used local stone to build fire rings, picnic tables and benches, restroom facilities, buildings, and ramadas (picnic shelters).

At the top of Gates Pass, a scenic route through the Tucson Mountains, they built a parking area and restroom, scenic overlook, and even an amphitheater.  In park canyons, they constructed twenty-six debris or check dams to back up flash floods and slow the rate of erosion. The boys put in several windmills with cisterns and overflow ponds to provide water for wildlife and built “spreader” dikes to spread water from smaller washes out over the nearby desert.

CCC boys built the “lodge” or “Mountain House”—two large adobe buildings with fireplaces and beam ceilings connected by a covered breezeway—at the site of the planned Tucson Mountain Park Headquarters. They also built an electrical building and stable at this site. The two adobe buildings became the entrance complex of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo and botanical gardens. The stable building now houses the museum’s maintenance department.

Camp Life:  Tucson CCC boys “adopted” a local herd of javelina (Collared Peccaries; a piglike native mammal) and fed them on kitchen scraps. They invented a kind of game of “tag” with the animals, with the barracks serving as a safe base for the enrollees.

Enrollees ate three good meals a day, often simple food but nutritional and lots of it. Enrollee Francisco “Chico” Bejerano, who was at SP-6-A in 1938, was asked if he could recall any particularly memorable meals he had had in the CCC. He replied, “Yeah. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner!”

Origin of Enrollees: Boys at SP-6-A were nearly all from the CCC’s Eighth District, and came from Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas; some came from Oklahoma. Few were from places farther east, and Arizonans often expressed their distaste for “easterners” and “hoodlums” from New York or Pennsylvania.

Camp Pima Closes: The last CCC company departed Camp Pima in June 1941. In 1942, the Army took the barracks and other buildings down and sent them to a mechanics’ center in Phoenix as part of the World War II effort. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy designated the northern half of Tucson Mountain Park as Saguaro National Monument’s western unit. In 1978, the land containing the site of Camp Pima was added to the national monument. In 1994, Congress re-designated the monument as Saguaro National Park.

Camp Pima Today: The site of Camp Pima is now quiet, sandy desert, with cement slabs, crumbling adobe walls, pipes, posts, and little else to suggest it was once a bustling community. But the trails, picnic areas, and roadways built by the Camp Pima CCC boys in Pima County’s Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park’s Tucson Mountain District are still in use today.

Note: A fuller version of this article will appear in the CCC Legacy Journal ( for December 2011.

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