Written by: John Mendelsohn
To be anywhere in Arizona — the whole Southwest, for that matter! — and fail to visit the Grand Canyon would be like — but a trillion times worse than — being taken to the best restaurant in the world by someone who’s going to pick up the tab, and filling up on breadsticks and ginger ale before the appetizers arrive. To say that all else in the state pales in comparison isn’t to disparage Arizona, for few things in the world compare to this humbling spectacle of beauty and wonder. And the views from the two rims, South and North, is different enough to preclude anyone who’s been only to the much more easily accessed South Rim saying, “Been there, done that.”
If you can’t make it up there after P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon & ½ Marathon, find liquid succor at Tempe’s Four Peaks Brewing Company, which offers refreshing, often wonderfully named brewskis with which to wash down its good food. How could anyone with even a drop of Celtic blood hope to resist a brew called Kiltlifter? Steer clear, unless your greater interest is in being jostled by college students, of the bars on Mill Avenue.
As recently as a year ago, no one would have blamed the casual observer for imagining that the Arizona Mills Mall was in its death throes, but damned if it hasn’t been reborn, Phoenix-like, if you will, with many once-empty storefronts now filled. But do take a bus, a bike, or a Japanese subcompact, as more Ford F250s and F350s have been stolen from the Mall’s parking lot recently than from any other mall parking lot in North America.
A lot of folks, not all of them pyromaniacs, and some of them adults, regard the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting as very interesting, and much underrated. Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park invites visitors to ride a miniature replica of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad while ogling famous railroad cars and an antique carousel. All aboard! Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter retreat and studio, which many believe to be the apotheosis of the the principles of design for which he was famous, may likewise be glimpsed in Scottsdale, along with a great many rich, potbellied Republicans in bolo ties.
Fed up with recreations of Rome, Venice, and Florence? For reasons of its own, the Borgata of Scottsdale recreates the not-so-well-known Tuscan village of San Gimignano, complete with cobblestone walkways, and is home to such only-in-Arizona retailers as Pink Paradise, a Lilly Pulitzer Signature store and fine jeweler James Elliot. The Jewish Collection, also in Scottsdale, is considered by some to be nothing less than the best Judaica store in the whole dang country. Take that, Great Neck, New York, and the Fairfax district of Los Angeles!
In nearby Phoenix proper, the Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum is generally thought to be worth every cent of its $2 admission price, as it offers an impressive collection of minerals, each specimen labeled both as to exactly what it is, and where it was collected. Don’t miss the remarkable “dinner table” on which all the “food” is actually made of rocks! Some will be reminded of the cover of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, and not unpleasantly!
For anyone who savors either a spectacular view or a physical challenge, an ascension of Camelback Mountain is a “must do”. Many visitors to Phoenix believe that a viewing of shock rocker Alice Cooper’s childhood home is no less essential, but this Website neither concurs nor knows the address. Lament your rotten luck at the Alice Cooperstown sports bar and restaurant.
Heard Museum likes to think of itself as the foremost showcase of Native American art and culture in the USA. In addition to exhibits, demonstrations, and live performances, it displays the work of contemporary Native American artists, some of whom are available during the week to answer questions about their work. Musicians provide live music most weekends.
Built in 1945 by Boyce Luther Gulley because he felt guilty about having abandoned his wife and daughter Mary Lou to seek relief from tuberculosis in the desert, Phoenix’s three-story Mystery Castle is made of stone, adobe, automobile parts and petro glyphs, and held together by a cement mixture that includes goat’s milk. Mary Lou, who still lives there, can commonly be persuaded to lead a tour of her unique, slightly creepy, sad, and ultimately very interesting domicile.
At Pueblo Grande, you’ll learn that Phoenix is 2,000 years old and enjoy a map of the pre-historic canal system still in use today. At Canyon Creek Ranch, you can enjoy authentic western entertainment, including Wild West gunfights. Impress the locals by growling your order for whiskey at the saloon and then chow down on authentic cowboy-style, uh, vittles under the ancient mesquite tree in the center of town. Try not to look foolish as you compete in games of hay-baling, steer-roping, axe-throwing, and pistol-shooting.
You have to get up very early for Hot Air Expeditions’ morning balloon rides, but quit complaining; do you suppose actual cowboys sleep in? Your pilot will point out wildlife, plants, cacti and other items of interest as you cruise along for 90 minutes at 9000 feet. When you land, assuming you’ve taken the morning flight, you’ll be greeted with a delicious breakfast that includes chocolate-filled croissants.
The multitalented John Mendelsohn is a writer, graphic artist, and singer/songwriter who lives near New York City. Check out his new song collection, Sorry We’re Open.