"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, April 7, 2014

Full-time Fun in Phoenix

We had to make some tough decisions while we were in the Phoenix area, because there's so much to see and do.  After getting parked at Usery Mountain Regional Park, north of Mesa, and doing some research about the area, we settled on our top four choices: the Musical Instrument Museum, the Desert Botanical Gardens, a scenic drive on the Apache Trail, and Taliesin West. (I managed to fill in any available interstices with hikes and bike rides around the campground as well.) I'll take each of these fantastic experiences one at a time.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

This park, just beyond the northeastern fringes of the Phoenix metropolitan area, is a real treasure. The campground has roomy sites with lots of desert scenery and vegetation around them; electric and water hook-ups with a convenient dump station; brand new, clean and roomy showers with lots of high pressure hot water; interesting hiking/biking and horse trails of many levels of difficulty; several nice playgrounds; and state of the art natural archery and shooting ranges. 

We had reserved one of several easy in and out pull-throughs more than a month ago. The park seemed to be full every night we were there.

It's very conveniently located in relation to commercial development of any kind you might want, but feels like it's much more remote than that. We found Phoenix very easy to navigate. We got to all the attractions we were interested in on the 202 Loop - a smooth, quick highway with beautiful landscaping and striking desert themed concrete art on the walls that separate it from the surrounding residential areas.  

By the way, while in Tucson and Phoenix I added nine birds to my life list: the curve billed thrasher, gilded flicker, Gila woodpecker, black-chinned sparrow, verdin, cactus wren, Chihuahuan raven, and two with the best names - the phainopepla and the pyrrhuloxia! Although these birds are very common around here - they are not found in other areas of the country at all. We were also revisited by many Gambel's quails and several greater roadrunners.  Not bad!

Musical Instrument Museum

I keep a list of peak experiences I've had since starting full-timing, (there are about 12 of them) and this museum just made the list. I'm an avid fan of musical instruments from around the world so I knew I was going to love it, but I had no idea how spectacular this museum was going to be.

This is the theme of the museum, and it truly conveys the message in so many ways. This banner is posted prominently in many languages throughout the exhibits.

The two floors of this large museum are divided into the major geographical areas of the world, and the large rooms are subdivided into countries. For each country there is a selection of instruments and videos depicting the music, and in many cases the dancing, of that country. It was fantastically interesting. When we entered the first room, I thought I might never be able to leave.  The videos alone were worth the price of admission and the time it took to view them.

Of course, after a couple of hours we were both totally saturated and staggering. The museum was closing, so thankfully we couldn't stay longer, or we would have been tempted. I will definitely come back if we're in the area again, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. It is truly a world class museum.

Here is a quick selection of some of the most photogenic instruments.

And finally my personal favorite, the air guitar. Seriously.

Scenic Drive on the Apache Trail

We and Ms. Subaru tackled the scenic loop (or at least part of it) west of Phoenix, called the Apache Trail.

Our first stop was a scenic overlook of the Salt River. 
You can just see a fly fisherman in the middle of the picture.

Second stop, Saguaro Lake, where there is a scenic boat ride one can take, 
as well as a marina and restaurant. But we moved on.

Third stop was Roosevelt Reservoir where we had a scenic picnic lunch. 

Well here's where our plans changed. After lunch, Ms. Subaru wouldn't start back up again. I guess she wanted to stay a little longer. An hour and a half longer as it turned out, as we waited for AAA to come and give her a little extra encouragement in the form of a jump start.  Seems "someone" had left the lights on and the key in the ignition, and her battery was probably a little low already. It took a long time for the tow company to find us as you can imagine by our location below. How the heck do you explain where you are to a AAA dispatcher hundreds of miles away,  when you've never been where you are before and are on some dirt road in a remote recreation area? Google maps was not so helpful, as many readers may know. When in remote locations their identifying notations can be a little off.  NIce place to be stuck though.

While waiting for AAA I had plenty of time for photography.


I had hoped to take the most scenic dirt/paved Route 88 from Roosevelt Reservoir to Apache Junction, but we needed to drive over to Globe to get a new battery instead. The scenery was still wonderful. 

The last stretch of the drive, from Globe to Apache Junction skirted south of the Superstition Mountains and offered some dramatic desert scenery as a storm passed through. This is a drive-by shot. Yes, by the end of the long day it was a kind of a blur.

The Desert Botanical Gardens

No, this is not a desert bloom.

There was a Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens, so we had a great time taking pictures of his striking glass sculptures that we scattered throughout the landscape and gardens.

Chihuly really does a great job getting his work out there. We've seen him in the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago, and at the Tacoma Museum of Glass, and other places too. 

Some of it is gorgeous and seems to enhance its surroundings. Others…not so much.

The cactus blossoms and other flowering plants were the stars of the show though.
 Not even Chihuly could out shine them.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West

We've been to several other Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) buildings, and so were excited to add Taliesin West to our experiences. This was his home for the last part of his life and is still a school of architecture, as it was in his lifetime. We had a very informative and experienced docent guide us around the property and tell us stories of FLW and his family and apprentices who lived here.

One of the challenges of living in the desert, is creating a safe place for your kids to play. I never thought of that! But of course, all the plants are prickly and there are poisonous biting creatures lurking under rocks and bushes. 

FLW created this soft, contained, lush place, complete with a shallow pool, for his children's safe enjoyment, where he and his wife could oversee their play from many vantage points. 

Taliesin was created by FLW and his apprentices out of very rough concrete and local rocks. Maybe the look grows on you, but it seemed harsh and "Frankly" kind of ugly to us. This perspective shows how the house echoed the colors, shapes and textures of the surrounding hills.  In this picture the patterns of stone walls remind me of a Kandinsky watercolor and I begin to appreciate them more.

Anyway, when FLW and his family lived here, there was no glass in the doors and windows - it was all open air. He felt that was THE way to live in the desert.  He also used lots of rough and raw materials, like the concrete, and rough hewn wood surfaces on furniture and wood trim throughout the interior.  Other typical FLW architectural features included low ceilings and the "squeeze and pop" treatment as you transition between spaces.

There seemed to be more irregular and repeated angles than in other FLW buildings we've seen. Above, the sculpture in the foreground accentuates those angles. The property was sprinkled with sculptures by apprentices gone by and other artists, and with pieces of FLW's extensive Asian art collection.  We especially liked the collection of Heloise Crista, who was also a dancer. This one is called "In the Present Moment," a sentiment we try to embrace in our lives. 

So, on to the next present moment, as we move north toward Utah. 

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