Wed. March 23- Amherst, N.Y.
We were up early, having slept little. We had tried to check in on-line, with Southwest Airlines, after midnight , and had no success. Given our tight time frame today, we were apprehensive about boarding our flight later this afternoon. Whatever happened to assigned seats for paid tickets? It was cold, 32 degrees out and a light snow was falling.
We met at the airport around 2:00 P.M., for the 4:05 P.M. flight. We were surprised to be able to sail through everything and make the “B” section” of our Southwest flight. We would get decent seats for the 4-hour run to Phoenix ,on flight #1464. Snow was falling, as we off-lifted, but we experienced no problems.
The flight was standing room only, but we managed well enough. I was reading “Deception Point” by Dan Brown. The time passed quickly enough. Four hours later, we touched down at Phoenix’s Skyharbor airport. We found our way, in the busy terminal, and retrieved our luggage. Someone was supposed to greet us at the airport and transport us to the Doubletree Hotel in nearby Scottsdale. We searched around a bit, before realizing we were on a fool’s errand. A few phone calls revealed that we were on our own, so we hailed a cab outside. It was a cool 60 degrees outside. Our hotel is located about 13 miles from the airport, so we settled back to enjoy the new surroundings. The Southwest is so very different from everything we know as normal . Shortly, we arrived at the Doubltree. I paid the cabbie and we checked in at the desk.
The Doubletree is a lovely hotel, with well flowered grounds that spread out everywhere. Two pools, tennis courts, exercise facilities and a restaurant and bar make this a comfortable place to stay. We unpacked our gear, glad to be here. It was only 7:00 P.M.. because of the time difference. We walked down to the lobby and decided to try the restaurant out. Salads, crab cakes and some Calamari were accompanied by a decent cabernet. We enjoyed the meal and the restaurant. The day was waning and so were our energy levels. We returned to our room, settled in with our books, and let the sandman claim us. We were glad to be here. Scottsdale itself looked interesting even at night. A former collection of huge citrus groves, and named for 19th century army general Winfield Scott, the area now bustles with 225,00 residents.
Thursday, March 24,2005- Scottsdale,Arizona
We were up at 4 A.M. The time difference always does this to us for the first few days. We enjoyed some coffee in the room, while we watched the morning news programs. The sun rose shortly and we dressed and headed out for a walk. The cacti, flowers and other flora were a delight to us, just coming from the frozen tundra of Buffalo. We walked across the busy boulevard and headed through a subdivision towards Camelback Mountain in the distance. We were now walking into Paradise Valley. The one-acre building lots here start at $900,000. We ogled the Grand Cassas stretched out before us, in neat rows, like small movie sets in the desert. The huge suguaro cacti, of all sizes, looked almost surreal to us. The sky was a bright, turquoise blue, and the sun was shining benignly on a wealthy land of milk and honey. We walked back to the hotel, impressed with the relative wealth of the area.
We sat, on the outside patio near the pool, enjoying some coffee with the morning sun. Colorful flowers, of all types, made the greenery lush and inviting. Next, we sat down in the restaurant for a breakfast of mexican omelets. It was the beginning of a delightful caloric onslaught that would stretch out over the next 10 days and engulf us in some memorable tastes and aromas. We then showered in our room and prepped for the day. We had called the local tour company and arranged for a Phoenix city tour in the early afternoon.
At 12:30 P.M. “Chet” picked us up in a twenty seat tour van. George and Geraldine, from Poughkeepsie N.Y. were already aboard. The back door of the bus was loose and rattled noisily. The seats were cramped and uncomfortable. Was this to be an endurance test? Chet drove us to downtown Phoenix where we picked up “Enrique” from Cuba. Luckily there were only five of us on the tour, so we could spread out and minimize the noisy and cramped seats. Chet started the narrated tour. He had all of the breezy charm and rapier-like wit of day old bread.
Downtown Phoenix itself had undergone a rebirth of sorts since the early 1970’s. Several shiny new bank buildings, a huge sports arena and convention center compliment the state capitol building complex to make an attractive downtown area. Green Park areas, several restored 19th century homes and a general aura of clean prosperity greeted us as we drove around the bustling city. We were also in the home of the famous Maricopa Tent city Jail system.
The city itself is enormous, stretching some 40 miles in across and encompassing several large mountains. Camelback, South and newly named Piesowa Mountain, which was renamed from Squaw Mountain, to honor the first Native American woman soldier recently killed in Iraq dominate the skyline. Miles of hiking trails lace these three mountains and comprised an enormous city park. The entire area is set in the huge Sonorran Desert that stretches for 2,000 square miles all around us. Early city leaders had built 130 miles of aqueducts to carry water in from the Salt and Colorado Rivers, in the nearby White Mountains, to nurture the city. It has never yet experienced a water shortage in spite of its desert locale. Much of Arizona was a surprise to us. Huge forests, high mesas and mountain ranges, with suguaro cacti everywhere, are beautiful. Much of Arizona is federal land (54%) Another 17% of its land is on native American reservations. Only about 27% of Arizona’s land is held privately.
The huge Suguaro cacti stood all around us. They grow very straight and tall for the first 75 years. They then start to sprout “arms.” The Cacti can grow to enormous size, live without water for up to seven years and exist for over 300 years. They are also a protected species in Arizona. They are eye friendly and attractive in all of the settings we were to see them in.
Chet drove us through the grounds of the very exclusive Arizona Biltmore Hotel. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and has two eighteen hole golf courses on its grounds. The nightly tab starts at $400. In a previous generation, you had to be invited there to stay. The homes surrounding the Biltmore grounds are equally impressive. Paul Harvey and Glen Campbell still called these impressive haciendas and faux Roman Villas home.
Next, we drove by the 50,000 sq. foot “Hormel Mansion.” It is enormous. Describing it would take forever, suffice it to say it is an architectural wow. Then, Chet dropped us off at Scottsdale’s “Old Town.” It is a few square block collection of Jewelry stores, native american tourist centers and other “tourist attractions.” We wandered through some of the shops, rediscovered our distaste for people under five feet in height, and then stopped for coffee in the afternoon sun. The bouganvilla, cacti and other flora are very attractive. Chet picked us up and showed us finally through something called the “Indian Bend Wash.” It is an old “cement river” like the L.A.River. The Army Corps of Engineers had turned it into lush parkland and a golf course, much enhancing the area. We had had enough of Chet’s rapier wit and were glad to disembark at our hotel. It was till sunny and in the 60’s out.
We chilled out in the room then dressed and set out for dinner. The concierge had recommended a nearby Southwestern restaurant, called the “Tequila Grille.” It was a great find. Casual and comfortable, we had some Dos Equis beer and a plate of Que Sedias that were wonderful A basket of Mexican corn chips and several tangy dips were also great to the tatse. We left there stuffed like Mexican Burros. The hotel drove us there and picked us up with their courtesy van. We enjoyed the service and the meal. ($50) We had enjoyed the entire day in Scottsdale. A full moon was shining high overhead, but these two Pilgrims were ready for the corral. We settled in with our books and let Morpheus embrace us.
Friday, March 25,2005- Scottsdale, Arizona
We were up at 4:30 A.M. again, disoriented by the time zone change. We had coffee in the room, as we watched the television news. Breakfast, at 9:00 A.M. in the hotel restaurant, was pleasant.They even do bagels and lox out here in the West.
By 9:30 A.M, we set off walking along busy Scottsdale Boulevard. We were headed for the very pricey “Fashion Island Mall.” The sun was shining and it was warm and in the 60’s out. We enjoyed the mile walk. The Mall itself is enormous. Sitting over a large parking complex, it is three stories high, with an airy open court. Row after row of shops, like Nieman-Marcus, Nordstroms, Gucci and dozens of other fashion names command your attention. We wandered, browzed and sometimes ogled the wealth on casual display. Crowds of kids were headed to the Cinemas and more crowds of locals were off work for Good Friday.This is a very busy place, especially during the Summer months, when the outside temps can reach and stay in the 100-plus temperature ranges for weeks on end.
We enjoyed a few hours of shopping, then stopped at a Starbucks for some of that strong nectar.Then, we walked back along the boulevard to the Doubletree, enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures. We had decided to make a pilgrimage to Frank Llloyd Wright’s “Taliesin West “ this afternoon. It lies about 13 miles Northeast of Scottldale, high on a bluff in what used to be an isolated desert area.
Frank Lloyd Wright first came here, in 1937 at age 72, to found a Winter sanctum, to cure his ailing lungs.He ,his wife and acolytes camped in tents for four years, until the prarie-style masterpiece took shape and was completed. Low slung and angular, the house, in Wright tradition, seems like it is part of the surrounding land itself. Sited on the brow of a desert bluff, (Taliesin is Welsh for shining brow) just below the crest of a nearby Mount McDowell, you can look out over 90 miles across the desert and seeTuscon,on a clear day. The sun and sky and catci surrounding the place are beautiful. We enjoyed our narrated tour through the small and nautically designed living and sleeping quarters, admirng the many unique architectural features that brand the man a genius. He had a feel for the land and thought of the house as a ship sailing on an ocean of desert. Novel touches, like an acousitcally perfect recital hall, and reflected light everywhere kept our attention riveted to the house and the tour guide. We had seen falling water in Western Pa. and already were Wright devotees.
The foundation that runs the property is a functioning architectural firm, that admits 11 architectural students a year to mentor with working architects. First year students are required to sleep in tents, for a year, to get the feel of the land and the wind and their relationship to the buildings. Second year students have to design and build their own quarters.They also work the kitchens, to be familiar with what design elements should be incorporated in well designed kitchens. Wright also held many soirees at the school, so that prospective students would become accustomed to socializing with wealthy patrons and learn how to secure commissions for work.The man thought of everything.
It was late afternoon and we were tiring, in spite of the arhchitectural brilliance of Taliesin West. We called for a cab, from the Scottsdale Cab Co. and rode back to our hotel.The bell boy had suggested that we rent a car for the day.We wish we had listened. The cab fare there and back was over $65. It was close to 5 P.M. when we returned, so we freshened up for dinner. We were to meet our travelintg companions, for the next 7 days, in the hotel’s Chapparel room, at a Collette Tours dinner.
We met Jerry and Muriel from Boston, cousins Michelle and Jane from New Jersey and a whole passel of friendly Canadians. We had salmon and a glass or two of cabernet, as we chatted and became acquainted with a table-full of fellow travellers.Everyone seemed amiable enough and would prove to be good travelling companions over the course of the next week. Our guide introduced herself as the Collette representative and gave us an overview of the week ahead of us. We were ready for the adventure.
After dinner, we returned to our room and packed our bags for the trip.They had to be ready for pick up by 7 A.M. We settled in with our books, relaxed and rested. We were glad we had come in a day early. Most of the rest of the gang had just arrived, in the last few hours, and looked pretty tired. We were hopeful, as we drifted off to sleep.
Joseph Xavier Martin