Arizona


Chihuly in the Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens & Desert Botanical Gardens

Purple Blue Boat

 

As we stroll the Denver Botanic Gardens and admire the Chihuly glass installations we’re reminded of seeing some of these same extraordinary pieces in the Sonoran Desert setting of the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

AZ - Purple Blue Boat

 

Variations between an arid dessert and a mile-high Rocky Mountain environment offers interesting contrasts. Saguaro and a plethora of other cacti, palms and palo verde create the backdrop in Phoenix. In Denver themes include Rock Alpine, Lilac, Woodland, Montane, Japanese and plains gardens.

 

AZ - Ball BoatAlthough Denver has a semi-arid climate, there are more water features in the gardens giving additional visual opportunities. Boats dry docked in the desert rest in lily pad studded ponds with striking reflections.

 

 

 

Ball Boat

 

 

We’ve been fortunate to see Chihuly permanent collections and special exhibitions in museums and gardens in a dozen cities. There may be similarities but no two shows are identical. In fact there may be changes during the course of an exhibition. Special glass pieces may appear in entirely different arrangements.

 

AZ - Green HornetsGreen Hornets in Pond

 

 

Please enjoy this slide show featuring the contrasting installations seen in earlier shows at the Desert Botanical Gardens and the current one at the Denver Botanic Garden (open until November 30, 2014).

 

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 We always see something we’ve never seen before, a new creation making every exhibition unique.

AZ - Blue Spiky Orb

Phoenix 2014

DBG 3

Denver 2014

Flagstaff to Albuquerque

Painted Desert

On the road eastward and homeward, 350 miles of Interstate complete with a continuous stream of semis. At least the constant need to be alert keeps the driver from being bored. For a break we paid a visit to the Painted Desert section of Petrified Forest National Park. What at first may look like stark, barren land reveals many subtleties on closer inspection.

 

PFNP - Desert Inn

After watching an introduction video at the visitor center we drive to the historic Painted Desert Inn. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the adobe structure in the late 1930s. Working for the Fred Harvey Company architect and designer Mary Jane Colter updated the interior in 1947 emphasizing Hope art and culture. After years of neglect and sitting empty the National Park Service undertook extensive refurbishing  and preservation of the original art. Since 2006 the building serves as a museum and bookstore.

 

PFNP - Glass Ceiling

 

 

 

 

PFNP - Buffalo Dance

 

 

Musical Instrument Museum

Magical International Medley

 

Truly a day of discovery. I knew that a new museum had opened in Phoenix since our last visit but had read little about the Musical Instrument Museum. As we drove into the parking lot and saw the size of the building Bob commented, “What could possibly be in all that space?” Little did we know, much we were to discover.

 

MIM - Sousa Band

 

The Musical Instrument Museum deserves a much more detailed feature than there is time to do now. Tonight I’ll share just a few details and photos as an introduction to this incredible collection and visitor experience. The collection numbers more than 10,000 instruments and cultural items from more than 200 countries and territories. The largest international depository ever amassed.

 

MIM - Stick MIM- Chihuly Piano

MIM - Syrena MIM - Accordian Horn

 

 After spending five hours we had a credible overview, however it would take days to grasp all that MIM has to offer. Upon entrance everyone is given a wireless headset. As one approaches each element of the exhibits you hear a music sample coordinated to videos playing on HD screens, sometimes as many as five or six clips at each location. Seeing the instrument directly in front of you, a video of it being played and the audio strengthens the experience and memory.

 

MIM - Bulgaria

The galleries on the second floor are organized by continent. We started in Europe; after two hours we knew we had to move on although there was more to experience. A sampling of the large United States & Canada Gallery included the anatomy of a Steinway piano, a guitar workshop, rock and roll, brass bands and dozens more.

 

MIM - Anatomy of a Piano

 

Guitar WorkshopMIM - Rock n Roll

 

When we were one hour from closing time we begun a quick walk through of the Asian, African, Middle East, Oceania and Latin America collections. So much more to see and hear from countries we’re barely aware exist and instruments we’ve never heard of or seen.

 

MIM - Turkey

 

MIM - Nigeria MIM - Mongolia MIM - SingaporeMIM - Mexico

I jokingly say I’ll go back when I have someone to push my wheelchair because we both had aching backs from too much standing. If I lived nearby I’d go once a month until I’d covered all MIM has to offer. At least now we know what’s in that massive building.

 

MIM - Bob & Bass

 

Appreciating Creativity

 

DBG - Blue Burst

 

We spent the day in pursuit of the creative spirits who have influenced the Valley of the Sun. First stop was Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter camp. We’ve taken several of the different tours during past visits; today’s choice was the one-hour Panorama tour. Our excellent guide discussed Wright’s philosophy of linking indoor and outdoor spaces. The tour visits Wright’s private office, Seminar Theater, Music Pavillion and Cabaret Theater.

 

TW - Pool

 

TW - EntryThe on-site bookstore/shop sells a plethora of all things Wright. Shelves bear hundreds of books featuring his life and work. Wright designs appear on almost anything imaginable – jewelry, t-shirts, notecards, ties, dishes, clocks, placemats, decks of cards, coloring books, candles, on-and-on.

 

Additional tour options include the 90-minute Insights Tour, a more intensive 3-hour Behind the Scenes Tour and the 2-hour Night Lights Tour. The evening tour is offered seasonally on Friday evenings; from panoramic sunset views to the fire-breathing dragon this is a spectacular experience.

 

Cosanti was our second venue for the day. The former residence of the late Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) is the home of Soleri Windbells. Ceramic and bronze wind bells hang everywhere around the gallery/studio. Shoppers test the tones before making their selection creating a harmonious symphony. Bob knew exactly the sound he was seeking and happily found the right bell to take home.

 

Soleri BellsBob'd Bell

 

Even lunch met the creative theme of the day. Arcadia Farms Cafe in downtown Scottsdale is a number one location for breakfast and lunch. Supporting local family-owned farms the menus highlight wholesome, natural organic products. Not to be missed are the daily selection of pastries; we managed to devour both the Coconut Baby Cake and a Key Lime Tart in Coconut Crust. We noted that across the street at the Marketplace happy hour means the day’s bakery items are half-priced from 2-5pm.

 

AFC - Crabcakes Key Lime Tart

 

The Dale Chihuly glass exhibit in the Desert Botanical Garden motivated our visit to the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. Entry times are in three blocks of the day. We chose the 4-8pm time, allowing more than 2 hours to see the exhibit in daylight, watch the desert sunset and see the gardens and glass illuminated as night falls.

 

DBG - Twisted

 

DBG - Purple DBG - Grace

 

As fascinated as we were with the Chilhuly strategically placed in the garden we didn’t neglect attention to the garden plantings themselves. Many of the cacti are opening blossoms in celebration of spring. The sunset wasn’t the most spectacular Arizona display we’ve seen but was worth a few photos.

DBG - Blooms DBG Sunset

 

 

The illuminated gardens and Chihuly glass sculptures added even more creativity to a very inspiring (and tiring) day. Each of these sites deserve their own feature blog but that will have to wait for another day.

DBG - Glass Yuccas Night

DBG - Blue Burst Night

 

 

Day of Contrast

Ray Mine

Driving between Tucson and Phoenix along the Copper Corridor Scenic Road West we stopped at the Ray Mine visitor viewpoint. We were amazed at the size of the operation and how toy-like the massive equipment looked in the immense pit. A resonating boom signified a blast, as the dust settled we got the cameras focused. An excited three-year-old boy could hardly contain his excitement as he ran from one view to another, “Let’s find more machinery”

 

Ray Mine Blast

 

Less than 30 miles away we spent the afternoon meandering the trails through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The beauty of the desert in bloom appeared in direct contrast to the mining operation. Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical gardens, now a state park, features not only trees and plants from the Sonoran Desert but from arid climates around the world.

 

BTA - Pathway

 

After two hours of walking and photographs we had only scratched the surface; we will definitely return to this beautiful and fascinating treasure.

 

 

 

BTA - Blooming Cactus - MagentaBTA - Cactus Bloom Pink

 

 

To cap the day we indulged in a ball of spumoni coated in rich dark chocolate at New York’s Best Italian Bistro in Scottsdale.

 

And For Dessert

Best Regional Shopping

WPNA Exterior 2

 

Through the years I’ve spent much time and plenty of money at the bookstores in National Parks. Most of the stores in parks, National Monuments and Historic Sites in the Western United States are served by the Western National Park Association. After purchasing a piece of jewelry at Tumacacori National Historical Park this week I learned that the association has a flagship store in Oro Valley, Arizona, just north of Tucson.

WNPA Pottery

 

It should be no surprise that a visit to the WNPA store went on the “To Do” list. Open seven days a weeks 10am – 5pm we made an early Sunday morning stop. In a new business park we found a delightful shopping experience with great, well-disiplayed inventory and helpful, knowledgeable staff. Anyone looking for regional or nature books will appreciated the well chosen stock. Native American arts and crafts are of high quality and authenticity – pottery, jewelry, baskets, carvings, weavings, original paintings. Regional food specialties, t-shirts, walking sticks, water bottles, souvenirs for young and old can also be found.

WPNA Jewelry 2

We spent more than an hour selecting several items for ourselves and gifts. The WMPA store will always be a stop during a Tucson visit.

 

WPNA Interior 2

Not Always Rosy

 

Lest the reader believes I find every travel experience wonderful, magnificent, enjoyable (generally true), today I share a restaurant that did not live up to expectations. The last time we were in Tucson we had dinner at the original El Charro Cafe, located in downtown Tucson, and were pleased with the experience. El Charro claims the title of the oldest continuously family owned Mexican restaurant in the US. I was determined to return during this trip.

 

I’ll take responsibility for some of tonights negativity. We arrived a little after 5pm on a Saturday evening. We’d had a pretty intense day with plenty of sun, exercise and no lunch; plus we were probably slightly dehydrated. The sidewalk outside the restaurant was already crowded with would-be diners waiting for a table. After placing our name on the list we headed to the bar only to find it much too hectic for our comfort level, so claimed a sidewalk waiting location.

 

El Charro - Bob

When our name was called we were given a table just inside the door on the porch. A support pillar stood less than 16 inches away, a pillar that requires waiters, the rare bus person and new customers squeeze between it and our table. Service was sloooooow, probably 15 minutes to get a drink, napkins and silverware didn’t appear until we begged and 10 minus after the appetizer arrived. Of all evenings, when we needed a calm, relaxing dinner, we were in the middle of chaos, witness to unhappy staff and diners. And, the view out the window was the constant stream of arriving customers jockeying for position.

 

The guacamole was tasty but I bit into two separate stems, couldn’t help but wonder what else was “accidentally” included. Bob ordered El Charro’s signature dish, Carne Seca – lean Angus beef dried in the Sonoran desert sun, marinated, shredded and grilled with green chile, tomato and onions.    The serving was generous but Bob felt it was under spiced and over dried.

El Charro - Nancy

I ordered Enchiladas Banderas, a trio with three different fillings each with a different sauce. This sounded like a good sampler but turned out to be two many flavors all run together with little distinction. By the time we finished our entrees we had no patience to wait for dessert. Waiting for the bill was painful enough. Disappointment all around, a Tucson experience we will bypass in the future.

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