Friday, April 15, 2011

Quick before it gets too hot!

Have you ever just sat and watched a sunset here in Phoenix? You know… just find a place to be still and watch the sun sink into the horizon, setting the heavens ablaze with color and beauty? Living in a city like Phoenix that keeps the midnight oil burning all night, it's hard to stop and behold the beauty that is a southwestern sunset, but it is something that every person should stop and see at least once; probably the more the better. If you haven't been able to do this, I have just the place for you to try it for the first time. You may even forget (albeit for just a moment) that you are in a major metropolitan area.

At the heart of the valley sits a park that is so much more than just a simple park. Papago Park sprawls over 1200 acres between Phoenix and Tempe, and puts on display the inherent but oft overlooked beauty of the Sonoran desert. It's here that you will find the Phoenix Zoo and the highly touted Desert Botanical Gardens, but you will also find several other features that are just as interesting and yet don't get the same foot traffic. Amidst the rolling hills, the native fauna, and a unique brand of formation in red sandstone that all adorn Papago, you will find what is most simply called "hole in the rock". The name doesn't do the site justice except to give an apt description of just what it is. Its just a hole shaped into the sandstone by the ever present effects of erosion, but when you climb the well marked and easily traversed trail, you will find that looking through this "hole in the rock" is kind of like looking through a view screen at the valley below. Large enough to hold a dozen people or more, the hole provides a framework around the downtown area and displays a panoramic view of Phoenix from the business and capital district to the airport. It's also pointed in a generally western direction, providing a great standpoint to watch the sun set over the bustling city below. The hole probably isn't the first place you think of to take a family picnic, but sit down to one here around dinnertime and follow it up with an after dinner show of a magical desert sunset, and this will be a picnic you won't soon be forgotten.

Gov. Hunt's pyramid tomb

While you are in the park though, there are other things to see. Probably the biggest other site to see besides the hole in the rock, is the tomb of Governor Hunt.  George Wylie Hunt was one of the men who shaped the Arizona state constitution and found himself elected as the first governor of the new state of Arizona in 1912. After serving a record seven terms Governor Hunt succumbed to heart problems and was laid to rest in December of 1934 in the white tile pyramid that he commissioned to be built as the final resting place for his wife. Set up on a hill, you don't really get a feel for how big this tomb is until you top the hill and get to see it in all of it's glory. Nearby is a history of what Gov. Hunt did for the state of Arizona and a short outline of his life. And if the history doesn't interest you, the view should. Because of it's advantageous high ground visitors to the tomb get a picturesque view of the park below and the Valley of the Sun all around.

A view of one of the several ponds from the hill where Gov. Hunt's tomb stands
On top of the great views and a little historical context, Papago Park has a lot to offer for just about any kind of patron. For those who like the outdoors and want to see the desert beauty up close and personal, Papago offers numerous hiking and biking trails that are sure to stimulate even an avid hiker. Several urban ponds can also be found. Stocked with fish from local hatcheries, these can be a great catch and release spots for the urban fisher. But don't ignore the two biggest pieces that Papago has to offer. The Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens may get more publicity than the rest of the park but they can be a great way to spend a day traveling in your backyard. Both offer a great example of the heart of backyard travel as both can be seen for free with the Phoenix Culture Pass. The Culture Pass program is one that grants admission to several locations throughout the valley that focuses mainly on museums thus embodying the spirit of backyard travel as something near to home that can be done with the family for not a whole lot of money. (For more on the culture pass click here). Even if you have to pay, the Phoenix Zoo is worth the trip. Exhibiting animals from all over the world, has plenty to see and even features an endangered species native to Arizona, the Bighorn Sheep. The Desert Botanical Gardens takes visitors on a tour of the world through a dazzling array of plants and flowers taken from all over the world. True to its name, the gardens focus on those plants that are sturdy enough to strive in our desert climate. You will find the gardens a peaceful place to relax and take in the beauty around you.

Sunsets are a beautiful thing, especially when shared with loved ones in view of a beautiful layout. So as the weather heats up and we say good-bye to the all too short spring, be sure to take advantage of Papago Park, an outdoor site that offers a unique glimpse of and into our valley.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hello World! Intro to Arizona Backyard Travel

Not too long ago I was sharing with a friend a dream of mine. One day I would love to be a historical travel writer. I know that this is lofty and risky as many people don't care for history, especially someone else's, and many people sadly, don't travel very much. Nonetheless, I yearn to be a new and yet different incarnation of Anthony Bourdain. In his TV series "No Reservations" Bourdain takes viewers on trips around the world and introduces them to the average people of exotic lands and takes said viewers from their own living room to that of the shows subject. Tony gets viewers acquainted with cultures around the world and along the way shows his audience a side of the world that in all likelihood, they have never seen before. I want to do this but in a different way; with a different angle. If I were lucky enough to have a show like Bourdain's, I would want to show people cultures from around the world and instead of talking about how they tick, I want to show what happened to make them tick that way, and while I'm at it show off any points of interest that have historical value. Like I said, it's a long shot and it may never work out, but hey, a guy can dream right? 

Anyways, I told my friend of this dream and she came back very quickly, "Well, why don't you start a blog?" The thought had never quite occurred to me. I've never been into blogs before; I don't even subscribe to one, how am I supposed to create one…what do I write about…will anyone really be interested? Obviously I have figured a few of those things out and I hope that there is someone out there interested in what I have to say about what the world has to offer as far as tourism. Below is a kind of overview of how I want to start my career as a travel writer and what this blog will, with any luck, look like. Again, this may never work but at least I can't say I never tried.

                                       Arizona Backyard Travel 

Arizona Backyard travel is something that came to me in the weirdest of places; I was at an art museum. This is a weird locale because it's somewhere that I wouldn't go on a normal basis. Strangely enough, I really enjoyed myself, and that is what started the thought process. What if there are other people out there like me: they would love see all this but the thought has never occurred to them to come? It really was a cool place to go and was a pretty cheap way to waste the day without having to leave the valley. Then I started thinking of the other places that my wife and I like to go without having to spend the day driving somewhere else, things that we could do in our own backyard.

Backyard travel is pretty much just what it says: it's going out and seeing something new in your own backyard, in my case, that's the Phoenix metropolitan area know collectively as The Valley of the Sun. These are generally things that you don't have to drive a long way to get to and don't usually require an overnight stay somewhere. This can include sites in your city or day trips that get you just outside your comfort zone. I like the idea of Backyard tourism for a few reasons. First off, you get to see something that is close to home and is revisitable; you can see it once or go again and again and develop a personal connection with whatever that place is. This is always the goal in travel, to make a lasting connection. Another pro for backyard travel is that it can be pretty economical. This thrifty facet helps because in a world like todays there isn't always a budget for fun stuff to do on the weekend or on days off. Backyard travel presents an opportunity to do something as a couple or as a family without having to put up lots of money on lodging and travel. You can make a 20-minute or hour drive and see something new and exciting without having to spend a fortune on doing it. So that's the goal for this blog: to show some of those interesting things to do here in our corner of the world. Of course I will hit the obvious places but I hope to also show you something that you have never seen before. So if you are game for a little adventure here in Arizona, then catch a ride with me and we'll take a tour in our backyard. 

  The Ground Rules:

I'm going to try and post on a monthly basis, but if I don't get to please have some patience with me, I do have two jobs and gas is expensive. I will also try and do some neighborhood reviews of different areas here in the valley, I'll go by zip code and try to list some of the best restaurants, parks, points of interest… that kind of stuff. Please don't be afraid to comment or leave suggestions about where I should go, what I should see, or what I should do. Also, tell me how I'm doing, what you like and what you think I can improve on. You can even feel free to tell me I suck, please just be willing to provide a reason and a solution. As always please try to make your comments family friendly and have respect for your fellow reader. 

Thanks for reading, and travel well!