Tag: Phoenix (Page 2 of 2)

Phoenix Blurb: The Desert Botanical Garden

(c) AB RaschkeThe Desert Botanical Gardens, tucked away among the beautiful buttes of Papago Park and just down the road from the Phoenix Zoo, is one of my favorite places in Phoenix. In general, botanical gardens are something that I enjoy visiting (so far I have been to botanical gardens in Brazil, New Zealand, Kauai, Maui, and Ireland among others). Each of them has their own appeal, and I have enjoyed every one, but the Desert Botanical Garden really stands out among them all.

Its focus on desert species is fairly unique, and the permanent displays are informative and beautiful. They have several areas devoted to Arizona species, and their showcases of non-native species are perfectly juxtaposed to illustrate parallel evolution and similarly adapted species. One of my favorite spots for this is their aloe and agave garden. Furthermore, they have information on sustainable living throughout the park, with a trail devoted to desert living, as well as information on growing and caring for native plant species.

My personal favorite section of the park is the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail. This trail has been designed to envelope visitors in several different plant communities of the Sonoran desert including grasslands, mesquite bosque, and a beautiful little wetland. It also has traditional Native American structures from a variety of tribes, which are not only beautiful in their own right, but instructive as well.

(c) Desert Botanical Garden

The botanical garden is a wonderful place to visit throughout the year, but they also have several different events that they host which make a visit even more attractive. They have a yearly butterfly exhibit, and cultural festivals (such as those for El Dia de los Muertos). (c) AB RaschkeThis year, they also hosted Chihuly in the Desert, which showcased Chihuly’s glasswork throughout the garden. Although this made the park a bit crowded, it was well worth the trip, as the pieces were not only lovely, but their placement among the desert plants was inspiring as well.

(c) AB RaschkeEven more fanciful, however, was their Noches de las Luminarias this year. The trails of the garden were lined with hundreds of luminaries, which made for a very romantic, peaceful atmosphere. Along side the luminaries, Chihuly’s work was lit up as well, making for an almost surreal experience that reminded me of the bioluminescent science fiction world. Amid the trails of glowing glass and flickering candles were a variety of live bands ranging from mariachis to Native American flute players.

(c) AB Raschke

Phoenix Blurb: The Phoenix Art Museum

I have to admit, as much as I love making art, I have to be in the right mood to spend a day in an art museum. My favorite kind of art, which I’ve never seen showcased in any art museum, is scientific illustration and concept art. While I can appreciate all forms of art, and could probably name a favorite for each major era and genre, I tend to get bored pretty easily in art museums. All that being said, I have gone to the Phoenix Art Museum on multiple occasions, and I enjoy it every time.

Often, it is the temporary exhibits that bring me back, and the Phoenix Museum has had some pretty unique showcases in the past. The most recent of these was the Art of Video Games, which was surprisingly interactive, and definitely unexpected. Going in, I was hoping to get a chance to enjoy some video game concept art, but that turned out to be a very very small part of the exhibit. Most of the showcase was a display of different gaming systems, and scenes from influential games. There were also a few places where visitors could try out games from different consoles and eras.

Despite displaying traditional art like European portraits, landscapes, and various forms of modern art, the Phoenix Art Museum has always had a uniquely interactive nature to it, which made the Art of Video Game exhibit fit in well with the rest of the museum. Of the permanent pieces that are featured in the museum there are two that I never get tired of seeing.

Image Found on Google

Image Found on Google

The first is Cornelia Parker’s Mass (Colder Dark Matter), which is not only beautiful but has an interesting story. The piece itself is a suspended cube made out of small chips of wood on the outside, and larger shards in the center. They all hang there on nearly invisible strings, twisting in the slight breezes of the museum. The wood itself came from a church that was struck by lightning and burned down. From loss comes something of beauty. It is a piece that has always spoken to me.

And my all time favorite is Yayoi Kusama’s You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies. In order to experience this piece, the visitor steps into a dark room of mirrored walls, filled with hanging lights. As they slowly change color in the calm air, the dangling lights look to be an infinite field of fireflies. Every time I come here, I wish I could just sit in a corner and watch the lights for a while. They are mesmerizingly beautiful, and no matter why I come to the museum, this is always the highlight of the trip.

Image Found on Google

Image Found on Google

Phoenix Blurb: The Aloha Festival

(c) AB Raschke

I went out and partook in the Arizona Aloha Festival for the first time on Saturday. This is the 19th year that the event has taken place, so it isn’t new to the Phoenix-area scene, but I had never heard of it before, so it was exciting to attend for the first time. It is a free event, and this year (I am not sure about the location in past years) it was located at the Tempe Beach Park, which is generally a very nice area. The festival featured Polynesian dancing, music, food, and merchandise. I was particularly interested in the dancing, and the festival had shows running all day at a large, central stage and a smaller stage. The set up was great, and neither location was too crowded to get a good view of the performers. There also seemed to be a good variety of different performances, as in the time I was there I saw a smaller show with young dancers from a local school, and adult performers doing traditional Hawaiian dances, as well as dances from the Phillipines (which, yes, itsn’t part of Polynesia, but it was still great to see), New Zealand, and Tahiti.

In terms of food, there was a nice selection of Hawaiian BBQ, as well as a Taste of Fiji booth that had some delicious curry chicken and shrimp dishes. There were also booths with Hawaiian noodle dishes, and your more typical festival fare. There was also a plethora of people selling Hawaiian shaved ice. The merchandise being sold was pretty great as well. Some of the bigger souvenir companies from Hawaii were present, but there were also a lot of smaller vendors and artists. In particular, I discovered an artisan who was selling carved shell jewelry that was both unique and very indicative of Polynesia. There were also activities for kids run by the festival organizers, and I heard rumors of free ukulele lessons but didn’t actually see the booth that was offering this.

Finally, in terms of the crowds and the overall organization of the festival, this has been one of the best cultural events that I have been to in the Phoenix-area. The crowds were tolerable, unlike what I have experienced at the Phoenix Japanese festival, Matsuri, and the performances were really well put together and presented. This is definitely a festival that I will return to in the future, and for those of you that haven’t yet been, I would highly suggest checking it out. Be sure to bring cash, and lower your stress level by having a plan of where to park, as Mill Ave parking can be a headache at times.

Link: The Aloha Festival

The Phoenix-Area


I’m a relatively rare person in Phoenix: someone who was born and raised here, and hasn’t run off to somewhere less dry and scorching hot. I spent a few years in Tucson, but other than that, I have spent my entire life in Phoenix, and I have never lived any where outside of Arizona. That being said, I have had an interesting relationship with my home, and there have been times when I have found Phoenix to be a boring, shallow city… especially considering that it has a population that warrants some big city excitement. Lately, I have been rediscovering some of the wonderful things that this city has to offer, and that’s what I am going to focus on here.

One my favorite things about Phoenix are the mountain preserves, and there are efforts within the city government as well as groups such as the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy to use these large areas of preserved desert for a more sustainable city. As it stands now, the Phoenix-area sports some of the largest urban preserves in the country. They serve as habitat islands for desert species, and wonderful places to hike and experience the desert. I will devote individual blog entries to different sections of the preserve, so those can be referenced for details on these areas, but here is a link to the Phoenix Park Department’s Mountain Preserve website: Phoenix Mountain Preserves

Phoenix is also home to a wonderful zoo and botanical garden which I have enjoyed almost yearly since I was young. These are two separate parks, but they are located a mere two minute drive from one another, and they are both nestled in the beautiful and unique landscape of Papago Park.(c) AB Raschke The Desert Botanical Gardens is home to lovely, informative desert plant exhibits, and seasonally they also host a butterfly garden. What is fairly distinct about this particular park, and is something that I have really enjoyed over the years, is the Garden’s “Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail.” This section of the garden showcases several of Arizona’s native cultures and has some interactive areas for kids to explore and learn more about the historical lives of the desert people. The Phoenix Zoo is an equally fun spot to visit, and perhaps more kid oriented than the gardens. In its entirety, the zoo is well kept, the exhibits are nice, and the atmosphere is well done. There are also some distinct exhibits that make the park special- including a monkey village (the easiest way to imagine this if you haven’t been to something similar is a monkey aviary), and AZ animals exhibit which is also set up like an aviary, and houses one of my all time favorite animals, burrowing owls! There are plenty of other reasons to visit either of these parks, but I don’t have the space here to mention them all.
The Desert Botanical Gardens
The Phoenix Zoo

In terms of general areas to check out while in the area, Old Town Scottsdale, Mill Avenue in Tempe, and downtown Phoenix all have their own charm. Phoenix’s downtown will be disappointing if you expect it to be anything like the downtown areas of other large cities. There isn’t a ton of shopping to be done, and even good food isn’t readily apparent without some searching. However, downtown is home to a couple big sports arenas, theaters, and museums (including the Sciene Museum, which is great for kids). It is also the site of events such as the annual Matsuri festival, and the Phoenix Comicon.(c) AB Raschke The Phoenix light rail (which I highly suggest for travelers, although it’s pretty small compared to many other urban rail systems) runs right through downtown, and also connects to Mill Ave on Tempe. Mill is close to Phoenix’s university, Arizona State, and it is great spot for bar crawling. Mill also has some pretty good places to eat, and connects to the Tempe Town Lake which has a nice shoreline park, as well as boats for rent. This is as close as you’ll come to finding a “college town” in the Phoenix-area. In contrast, Old Town Scottsdale is in one of the city’s richer areas, and it shows. The shopping here is similar to that of Sedona as it focuses on pricey art and southwestern souvenirs. A high end mall (Fashion Square) is also in this part of town. I mostly like Old Town Scottsdale for its food, and it makes for a nice stroll on spring or fall days, and there is even a pretty nice public garden there.
Downtown Phoenix
Mill Ave
Old Town Scottsdale

(c) AB Raschke

Now, one of the things that has always bothered me about Phoenix is it’s apparent lack of interesting restaurants, so I wanted to take some time to list a few of my favorite places:
Cherryblossom (Japanese/Italian)
Curry Corner (Pakastani)
The Dubliner (Irish)
Green (Vegetarian)
Indian Garden (Indian)
Khyber Halal (Afghani)
La Grande Orange Grocery (American)
Sala Thai (Thai)
Stax Burger Bistro (American)
Sushi Station (Japanese)
Uncle Sams (American)

In terms of living and visiting Phoenix, the weather is a big concern. Winters are traditionally mild, but recent years have seen them getting colder. A couple years ago, in fact, it got so cold in Tucson that pipes were bursting all over the city- including at University of Arizona’s massive new chemistry building. If you compare it to states that see real winter, it’s nothing, but it may be a bit colder than expected. Summers in Phoenix are what really get people, and it can be pretty brutal. A high of 120 degrees isn’t uncommon, and while it is very dry, the heat is still dangerous. (c) AB RaschkeFor a person that loves the outdoors, summer can be something of a problem in Phoenix, since it keeps most sane people indoors for most of the day, and those of us that want to hike in the city have to be out on the trail by 430a. Best option for summer hiking is to travel up to Sedona or Flagstaff for the day. Due to its weather, Phoenix is a seasonal home for lots of “snow birds,” and that can also change some of the dynamics of the city, especially on the roads. Due to the weather, winter is the typical time to visit, but for people considering a trip to Phoenix, the summer is actually a pretty great time to come. Yes, it is hot out and you won’t want to spend the day at the zoo in the blistering heat, but hotel prices tend to be pretty low in the summer, and chilling at a nice resort surrounded by beautiful desert is never a bad thing.

The Story of Water in Arizona: SRP and CAP Canals

The story of water in Arizona is something of an epic tale, but despite the feats of engineering that make cities like Phoenix possible, most people take water for granted. But the tale of Phoenix’s water starts in ancient times, when Hohokam people built an irrigation network throughout the Valley of the Sun, and it was this innovation that allowed them to thrive in the midst of the desert for over 1,000 years. Four centuries after their disappearance, American pioneers followed a gold rush into Arizona, and following in the footsteps of a man named Jack Swilling, people started using the old Hohokam canals as a foundation for their own. Private canals thrived in the Phoenix area until a major drought took place in the 1890s, and the Salt River failed to provide enough water on its own for the people of the budding city. At this time, it was determined that a dam needed to be built on the river. However, it was not until the National Reclamation Act was passed that the state could get the project properly funded, and built the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. This project also including a major effort to improve the private canals that had been built over the years, and to bring them under the central control of the Salt River Valley Water User’s Association (currently a part of the Salt River Project or SRP).CanalMap2012 Now, there are 131 miles of main canal in the valley, and the structures are a common sight throughout the city. They not only provide precious water, but recreational activities as well, as many of the city canals have open walkways along them for people out walking, running, or biking.

As much of an engineering feat as the SRP canals are, however, Arizona has an even more magnificent canal system to its name, the CAP or Central Arizona Project canal which is the largest canal system in the United States. Stretching for 336 miles across the state, the CAP canal brings Arizona’s allotment of the Colorado River water down to Phoenix and Tucson. The 3.6 billion dollar project was officially started at Lake Havasu in 1973 and took 20 years to complete. Phoenix now combines the use of SRP, CAP, and ground water as its population grows ever larger. But the CAP has done more than just change the urban landscape, it has altered the ecology of the desert.

(c) A.B. Raschke

(c) A.B. Raschke

Whereas rivers concentrate the flow of water from run off and streams, and then take that water to the sea, canals do just the opposite. They take water away from lakes and rivers, spreading them ever thinner over the landscape until individual people are able to make use of the water. Canals also run across topographic gradients as opposed to rivers which run down them, and this too makes a difference in the desert landscape because canals interrupt natural flows of water, sometimes creating oases and other times cutting of the land from flows of rain water which once supported wash ecosystems.

Whatever way that you look at it, the story of water in Arizona is one of ingenuity and risk, and the evidence of age old, monumental efforts to shape the desert is all around us. The canals are an understated aspect of our city, and our state, but they should remind Arizona’s residents and visitors just what it takes to build cities in the desert.

(c) A.B. Raschke

(c) A.B. Raschke

SRP Canals
Central Arizona Project

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