December 4, 2006

Arizona: Phoenix & the desert landscape

“ the Arizona sky, the sky is bigger there.
It took my breath away, that doesn’t happen everyday”.

My mental music playlist immediately switched on this tune by China Crisis when Sheila and I emerged from the driveway of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and onto the freeway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. The sky does seem bigger there. And bluer. A deep blue, two shades deeper than sky blue on the color wheel. The words "where the earth and sky are endless" became reality.

I was staring at the sky when something caught my eye at the side of the road. It was a cactus! A tall one at that, and with arms. I’m sure they aren’t called arms, maybe branches, but they looked like arms to me. Like that cartoon cactus with the cowboy hat or sombrero and red bandana with waving arms. Arms that seemed to be waving and saying: “Howdy! Welcome to the Southwestern United States!”. (At this point I start to wonder if maybe I had too much caffeine and too little sleep, or maybe there was a tad too much pressure in the plane’s cabin).

I hadn’t seen Sheila, an old friend from 5th grade to high school, in way over 5 years. I couldn’t pass through Phoenix on my way to Las Vegas without spending a few days with her to catch up. We tried to cram 5 years worth of updates and gossip into our 10 minute drive to the mall in Chandler where we continued our gab fest over lattes. It was so nice to see that she hadn’t changed one bit. Sure she was a mother of four beautiful kids now, an experience which wisened her in ways only mothers can be wisened. But she was the same gorgeous and smart person I knew back then with the same contagious laugh.

She told me about what life was like for her in Phoenix and how she's still trying to acclimitize to the scorching dry heat. From June to September, the temperature can reach or exceed 105°F. Luckily, I missed the heat by a week. We had beautiful weather, sunny and breezy, which was certainly a blessing since we planned to spend a lot of time outdoors.
Phoenix, the largest city in the state of Arizona and the largest capital city in all of the US, is located in the Salt River Valley or Valley of the Sun in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. The Phoenix Metro area is huge, it includes Mesa, Glendale, Chandler, Gilbert, Sun City, Tempe and Scottsdale among others.

After we finished our coffee, we headed to her house in the Ahwatukee Foothills. Her front yard was decorated by the kids for Halloween. She set me up in her guest room which she fixed up with pretty sheets, a bowl of fruits, another bowl this one filled to the brim with assorted flavors of Lindor chocolates, and a vase with beautiful fresh flowers. A brand new shower curtain was hanging in the bathroom, there were freshly laundered towels laid out, and a basket filled with goodies like body wash, lotions, shampoo, and body sprays. When I expressed my surprise (and gratitude of course!), she told me to humor her since she rarely gets any visitors in this part of the world, plus this is merely a product of her hotel training.

After I met her beautiful family (and her adorable dog, Cali) and freshened up, we went out to dinner at Roy’s for some Hawaiian fusion cuisine. Roy’s is the eponymous restaurant of Chef Roy Yamaguchi who was named by the NY Times as the 'Wolfgang Puck of the Pacific'. We ordered the canoe appetizer plate and I had Roy’s Classic Roasted Macadamia Nut Mahi Mahi which was superb!

One of the places I asked Sheila to bring me to was the Desert Botanical Garden. This garden serves as a comprehensive introduction to the desert landscape and all its glory. This 50 acre garden which is located near Papago Park, is home to thousands of species of desert plants and succulents. With map in hand, we explored the trails and learned not only about desert plants but also about the desert dwellers, specifically the native people of the Sonoran Desert and how they lived.

The Garden was teaming with school kids on an educational field trip. We went into the butterfly pavillion with one of the groups. I had fun watching them go gaga over the butterflies. In this age of video games and chat rooms, however, this kind of interaction between youngin and Mother Nature is a rare sight.
More butterflies outside the Butterfly Pavillion

We were shown the versatility of the prickly pear cactus (right)
It is used to make candy, juice, jelly, hair conditioners, and added to omelettes and soups.

Up Next: Arizona: Images of the Southwest

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