Big City Tales

A Summer’s Tale of Two Desert Cities

November 2, 2017
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As anyone who lives in a desert climate can attest, summer typically isn’t the best time to visit. Oppressive heat, turbulent winds and crowded pools top the list of reasons to stay away, but there are just as many compelling reasons to go. In 2014, I threw caution to said heat, winds and crowds and headed to Palm Springs, California in July and Phoenix, Arizona in August. Here is my summer’s tale of these two desert cities…

PALM SPRINGS – It’s Hip to Be Cool 

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Palm Springs has long been a weekend get-away and/or permanent residence for the rich and famous, but the city also holds a special appeal for the ever-growing breed of ‘snowbirds’ from Canada longing to escape the doldrums of winter or, in my case, a rainy spring/summer. With 350+ days of sunshine and very little annual precipitation, I eagerly soaked up the dry, warm air that hits you immediately like opening an oven door. Upon landing at Palm Springs International and strolling through the Sonny Bono Concourse, I was also reminded of the city’s show business/Hollywood playground notoriety first made popular by iconic stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore dating back to the 1940s and onward. It was hip then for the “Chairman of the Board” and his “Rat Pack” friends to hang out in Palm Springs, and it’s still cool in the 21st century to venture to this desert oasis.

Soak Up the Sun, Bask in the Color

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In the summer, traditional desert plants bloom in a frenzy of bright, bold colors and grow in a variety of interesting shapes and sizes, such as the Golden Barrel Cactus above.

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Surprisingly, flower beds and shrubbery also flourish. I was delighted to discover that the grounds of Indian Wells Tennis Garden were ablaze in shades of burgundy, fuschia, pink and purple with hints of white. Even though the facility is more active earlier in the year when it hosts the annual BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, it would appear that the grounds are immaculately maintained year-round making for prime picture-taking no matter what month you visit.

Find the Fun in Funky Public Art

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While window shopping at The Gardens on El Paseo, my eyes happily landed on a painted big horn sheep fittingly named ‘Spring Time’ owing to its floral motif and bright/cheery color scheme. As I subsequently discovered, the statue is not just a random, funky art piece; it’s part of an initiative that was sponsored by the Bighorn Institute back in 2002 to bring attention to the plight of the Peninsular desert bighorn sheep that are endangered in the Coachella Valley. There are 33 other sculptures found throughout the region and the project known as ‘Path of the Bighorn’ continues to attract positive attention for a good cause.

PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun Heats Up BIG TIME in the Summer

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With the temperature soaring well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and barely a breath of wind to offer any cool relief, it did not surprise me to find the streets of downtown Phoenix pretty much empty during my mid-August visit. Even shaded benches and inviting water features in the city’s core could only entice a few people to venture outside the comfort of air-conditioned buildings. As I quickly discovered, the blazing sun (as depicted above in the decorative copper sculpture at City Hall) really heats up in the summer and taking cover is a must in order to keep from feeling like a wilted flower or fried egg!

Taking Cover in the Arts

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As luck would have it, West Side Story happened to be playing at the Herberger Theater Center and last minute tickets were available. Although it was a local high school theater group putting on the show, the teens gave it their all and it had the look and feel of a full Broadway production. Tonight, tonight, I was feeling all right in the comfort of a cooled room and a bunch of cool cat Jets and Sharks singing and dancing up a storm.

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With its permanent collection ranging from Western American to Asian and European, as well as Contemporary and Modern holdings, another great spot to escape the heat was at the Phoenix Art Museum. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around this expansive space, the largest museum in the US southwest, and admiring some of its more than 18,000 objects. The Nude Man sculpture below was gifted to the museum on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, and the Thorne Miniature Rooms feature many historically accurate and highly detailed interiors, the one shown being an Italian dining room circa 1500.

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Taking Cover in the US Airways Center

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Having never attended a WNBA game, I was excited to learn that the Phoenix Mercury were in town and that the team was playoff bound boasting the best record in the league. On a steaming hot Saturday night outside, the temperature-controlled stands were a nice reprieve but the mercury would soon be rising.  Indeed, the Mercury Train inside was in full motion and the action quickly heated up with one roaring rally cry after another! The players were pumped, the fans were vocal and their boisterous support helped the home team come away with another win. Go Mercury! Turn It Up! NOISE!

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Taking Cover in the Cool-ish Morning Air

Not wanting to completely shy away from the desert heat, I figured an early morning walk was the best way to enjoy the outdoors. I was rewarded with crystal clear, electric blue skies, a slight breeze and just the right amount of warmth to make my stroll around the downtown campus of Arizona State University absolutely delightful (and, by the way, perspiration free!).

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The Moral of the Tale of Two Desert Cities Story

Truth be told, I do like warm, dry air but I have to admit that visiting the desert in the heart of the summer was too much even for this self-professed sun seeker. I’ll be back, but it will be in another season when it’s not so scorching hot out…all the better to appreciate and admire the beauty of the desert city landscape!

 

 

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A Colorful Time Out in Tucson

October 25, 2017
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Rubber Ducky, you’re the one. You make pool time so much fun. Rubber Ducky, I’m awfully fond of you…especially when you greet me in early spring on a much-needed time out in Tucson, Arizona!

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Aside from the promise of days on end of brilliant blue skies and sun-kissed golden pretty posies all in a row, mid-April turned out to be a magical time to visit the desert for other colorful reasons.

Shades of Pink

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Even from a distance, it was hard to miss the mass of pink that is the Pima County Courthouse. The surrounding gardens, full of vibrant shades of pink flowers and bushes, perfectly complemented and strikingly contrasted with the pale pink hue of the building’s Spanish Colonial exterior. Just like the soothing digestive effects of Pepto Bismol, the pinkness of the Pima County Courthouse washed over my being and definitely soothed my work-weary mind.

Purple Ribbons and Bows 

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The main entrance of Saint Augustine Cathedral beckoned me to its doors with regal — yet friendly — shimmery purple bows, presumably to coincide with the festive Easter season. The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the building’s stone facade features numerous varieties of local desert plants.

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In an effort to enhance the cathedral’s sacred space and worship experience, a major interior and exterior restoration project was completed in recent years. An outdoor stage featuring a charming and beautiful arched canopy decorated in flowers and butterflies immediately caught my eye. From top to bottom, inside and out, I was inspired by the entire cathedral complex that can’t help but appeal to parishioners and visitors both young and old.

Fiery Red-Orange Hues of Terra Cotta 

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Perhaps one of the most distinctive colors of the desert, terra cotta truly stands out. As soon as I walked past the El Charro Cafe with its quaint windows and arched doorway, trimmed in said desert color, I knew that I would be coming back to enjoy an evening meal. Offering authentic Mexican cuisine in a casual atmosphere, I was sure to leave room for some tasty sopapillas and churros for dessert.

Goodness of Green

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While I expected to see a lot of green in the form of cactus plants, I was pleasantly surprised by the other forms of greenery I came across in Tucson, most notably the plethora of trees and shrubbery around the campus of the University of Arizona. The soft green steel benches added to the oasis garden-feel of the grounds, and I thought the precisely cut-out ARIZONA lettering provided another layer of visual interest (and probably served the purpose of instilling a healthy dose of school and state pride!).

Colors of the Rainbow

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Finishing off my tour of Tucson back in the downtown core, this public art display captured the essence of this colorful southwest gem of a city. For me, Tucson in all its spring glory proved to be the perfect place for a quick time out!

“The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth.” ~ Albert Einstein