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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
After two hours of walking and photographs we had only scratched the surface; we will definitely return to this beautiful and fascinating treasure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After three delightful, restful nights at Tubac Golf Resort it’s time to head north to Tucson. The trip up the Interstate is only about 45 miles but we make a couple of interesting stops along the route.
One activity that came highly recommended was the ASARCO Mission Mine Tour. A museum, visitor center, gift shop is located a short distance from Exit 80. We had not made reservations and the next tour was already filled.
Tours last about one hour with a bus taking the group out to a viewpoint of the active open-pit copper mine. Then the tour stops at the mill where the ore is ground into a fine powder so that the copper minerals can be separated by flotation. Instead of waiting for the next available tour we spend time in the museum and watched a couple of videos explaining the mining/smelting process.
A cactus garden studded with retired mining equipment surrounds the Mineral Discovery Center. Bob stood in one of the large scoops and beside a giant economy sized dump truck to give some perspective of just how big the equipment is.
Our other destination was a return visit to the San Xavier del Bac Mission. Recognized as one of the finest examples of Mission architecture in the United State the church glistens in the desert setting. Ongoing preservation and renovation protects the artistry of the historic gem.
The interior is breathtakingly ornate, a combination of baroque and art reflecting the colors and cultures of the Tohono O’odham people. Respectfully we sit silently in admiration and inspiration.
Outside we can’t leave without a plate of traditional fry bread dusted with cinnamon sugar and photos of the blooming cacti before saying farewell to The White Dove of the Desert.
Known as an artist colony Tubac, Arizona’s more than 125 galleries, shops and artist studios welcome visitors with warm Western hospitality; no snobbishness or pretensions. Located 45 miles south of Tucson on I-19 Tubac is a popular day-trip or weekend getaway. Visitors discover a broad range of merchandise – original art and sculpture, colorful Mexican pottery, collectibles and souvenirs.
I found an especially appealing group of shops at 19 Tubac Road, including Lily’s, Sweet Poppy, Artseeds and Geren Gallery.
The Tubac Center for the Arts is always worth a stop. The center’s new Master Artists Gallery showcases those who were important in creating Tubac’s reputation, “Where Art and History Meet.” Other galleries feature temporary exhibits and new works by local artists. We found the gift shop worth checking out, leaving with a unique piece of jewelry.
When feeling almost overwhelmed by painted wall lizards and rusty metal javelinas or coyotes we find a quiet, shaded courtyard for a restful break. Even then we find appealing scenes to photograph.
Elvira’s exterior fits into the artist community of Tubac perfectly – tan plaster walls, red tile pieces, colorful pottery, unusual metalwork. Walk through the door to find absolutely nothing usual. Stunning would be an understatement.Brightly colored light fixtures, baubles of blown glass reflect magentas, blues, crimson, gold and silver.
Chef/owner Ruben Monroy has a graphic arts and interior design background. Combining traditional and contemporary Mexican arts he shares the colors and culture of his native country. From every angle, in every nook and cranny there’s a new detail to note and admire. One’s tempted to play a game of I Spy With My Little Eye.
Ornately framed mirrors, flying cherubs, Mexican tin star lamps, multi-globe chandeliers, creative flower arrangements – what do you spy?
The original Elvita’s served customers in Nogalas, Mexico from 1927 – 2008. Monroy reports 95% were coming from north of the border. The Tubac restaurant opened in 2009. The menu displays Monroy’s creativity as much as the decor. Among the five or six mole choices Mole Negro remains “The King”, 34 ingredients in perfect balance. Seafood selections include at least eight shrimp preparations, Chilean sea bass, flounder, cabrilla and ahi tuna.
When visiting Tubac let yourself be dazzled by the cuisine, service and decor of Elvira’s.
When You Go: Elvira’s is located at 2221 E. Frontage Rd, Building A-101, Tubac, AZ, 520-398-9421, http://www.elvirasrestaurant.com. Open Tuesday – Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday 11am – 3pm. Closed Mondays.
Chili in every form imaginable, plus a few more, calls customers to theSanta Cruz Chili Company a few miles south of Tubac, Arizona. I find it interesting to watch people enter: some come with shopping list in hand, other are totally intimidated even leery of sampling something from the tasting table. Many are awed at the multitude of products. Today a woman with cell phone in hand was calling a friend in Wisconsin for her requests. In addition to their own products, grown and processed in the fertile Santa Cruz Valley, they carry selections from other companies featuring Mexican and Southwest flavors.
Looking for cookbooks, regional history or adventure? A wide variety awaits perusal. After taste testing I must leave with a mango salsa, spicy bbq sauce plus several packets of seasonings for pork, tacos and beans. Once discovered Santa Cruz Chili is a must stop in Southern Arizona.
When You Go: Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company is located just north of exit 29 off of Interstate 19 on the East frontage road, 520-398-2591. Store is open 8am – 5pm Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday (Summer 10am – 3pm), Closed Sundays.