Showing posts from 2019

What the Casa Grande Ruins Can Tell Us About Arizona’s Future

It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday in June and it’s already 100º F as I drive down a highway that’s 14 lanes at its widest point. Heading south out of Phoenix, I pass through exurbs of stucco houses, strip malls, and one chain restaurant after another. It’s not long before I exit the sprawl and enter into the vast irrigated fields of Pinal County, Arizona.

The miles pass by as I switch from one state highway to the next. Water from aquifers, from the Gila River, or carried uphill across the state from Lake Mead fills concrete-lined irrigation canals, forming a moat between the blacktop and bright green fields. Lonely farmhouses are surrounded by Italian cypress, Australian eucalyptus, or shaggy California fan palms, themselves forming another kind of moat around homes. All this continues until the fields give way to the natural creosote flats of the Sonoran Desert. A huge structure dominates this clearing: a crumbling earthen tower capped with a modern metal roof.

Photo Post: Walkable Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona

You can think of Flagstaff, Arizona, as the gateway to all that northern Arizona has to offer. From Flagstaff, it’s easy to daytrip to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, encounter the enduring cultures of the Hopi and Navajo people, retrace historic Route 66 in all its kitschy glory, or go hiking and skiing in the San Francisco Mountains. But all these activities, as attractive as they are, require you to be stuck in your car for hours at a time.

Flagstaff’s historic downtown gives you the freedom to get out of your car, stretch your legs, and begin to acclimate yourself to more than 7,000 feet of elevation. This district’s regular grid of streets makes it easy to navigate the neighborhood, while dense, human-scaled development makes cars unnecessary to get from one hotspot to the next. Here in downtown, a new storefront opens up every few steps, from bookstores and hiking outfitters to healing crystal stores and candy shops.

7 Reasons Why I Love Arizona’s Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I killed a jade plant within weeks of moving to Arizona three years ago.

That poor succulent never stood a chance: its pot had zero drainage, the soil wasn’t sandy enough, and, in retrospect, I was probably over-watering it. I even tried to dry it out by sticking it in the hot Phoenix sun, but that ended up burning the poor thing’s leaves.

To atone for my houseplant sins but still soak up all the whimsy and greenery that turned succulents into an interior design craze, I decided to take a daytrip a one-hour’s drive east of town to the oldest botanical garden in the state: Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Here, I got to see tiny potted jade plants surviving—thriving, even!—as well as enormous agaves taller than I am, a menagerie of birds and butterflies, and a grove of fragrant, towering eucalyptus trees that seemed out of place in the dry, dry desert. I was hooked, and ever since that first serene visit, I’ve come back half a dozen times, bringing friends and family members to share with the…

Where to Eat in Tempe, Arizona

What makes Tempe, Arizona, a great destination for good eatin’?

This college town is home to the main campus of Arizona State University. And as you’d expect, thousands of students live here in constant need of snacks and caffeine. Tempe is situated in the core of the Phoenix metro area, which means there are plenty of older constructions with inexpensive rents that independent bars, coffee shops, or restaurants can afford. A handful of regional chain restaurants like Cornish Pasty or Pita Jungle had their start here before branching out to other cities. And Tempe sits at the gateway of the East Valley’s pan-Asian immigrant community.

I had the privilege of living in this city for three years—plenty of time to try a variety of coffee shops and restaurants in central Tempe. Moving to Tempe was a great introduction to Arizona for me, and while I’ve since moved across town, I’m glad I still work in Tempe and can keep going back to my old haunts on my lunch break.

Wherever I travel, I try…

Top 10 Things to Do in Tempe, Arizona

What draws people to Tempe, Arizona? You might not have ever heard of this city east of Phoenix, but it’s no mere Phoenix suburb.

Tempe (pronounced “tem-PEE”) is home to the main campus of Arizona State University—one of the country’s largest public research universities—so you’ll often see people coming to this college town to drop off their kids at college or to attend academic conferences. Businesses like operating in a community with an educated workforce, so regional headquarters and office towers dot the city from north to south. Plus, Tempe’s location in the middle of the Phoenix metro area makes it an ideal home base for tourists exploring the region.

Folks visiting Tempe and looking for things to do will often be told to check out places technically in Phoenix or Scottsdale, like the Desert Botanical Garden, Old Town Scottsdale, or even county parks and national forests. These are all great places to go to, but…

What if you wanted to do fun and interesting things while never l…

Making New Memories in Galveston, Texas

Do you have any un-memories? Something you know that happened to you when you were really young but you don’t remember? Like meeting your great-aunt Genevieve when you were a toddler, moving across the country as a baby, or—and I’m stating the obvious here—being born.

Something I know that I’ve done before—but which I have zero memory at all of—is visiting the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, as a little tyke. My parents have a photo on their fireplace mantel of my dad and me at Galveston Beach, with him showing me some seashells…apparently it was my first time at the beach, ever.

But I have zero memory of this seashell encounter ever happening, so when I went “back” to this gorgeous city southeast of Houston over Memorial Day weekend, it really was like seeing it for the first time.

I loved taking a daytrip to this historic Gulf Coast city, where I made “new” memories by exploring some historic districts, appreciating excellent architecture, and enjoying fresh seafood. Galveston’s c…

Photo Post: The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas

I spent three years living and working in Spain as an English language assistant, which meant I had to travel from Dallas down to Houston three summers in a row to apply for a student visa to live in Spain. After my third and final trip to the Spanish consulate, I played tourist for a bit and visited the Menil Collection, an art museum not too far from the Hostelling International hostel in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood.

This free museum hiding amongst the shade trees of Montrose redeemed my nerve-wracking visit to the consulate and filled some time before I had to take the Megabus back to Dallas. When I returned to Houston for a proper visit this Memorial Day, the Menil was at the top of my list.

This minimalist museum is only one floor tall, which helps it blend into the neighborhood of single-family houses. Inside, concrete louvers in the ceiling let natural sunlight filter in—while keeping out the worst of that hot Texas sun. The museum’s small, but broad, collection of art spa…

Photo Post: The San Jacinto Monument near Houston, Texas

“Remember the Alamo!”

Nearly every Texan is familiar with this battle cry from the Texas Revolution that refers back to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 at modern-day San Antonio. Today, the Spanish mission of the Alamo is a major tourist destination not only for its historic Spanish Colonial architecture but also as a pilgrimage destination for Texans of all ages.

But as all fourth- and seventh-graders learn in Texas history class, the Texan rebels actually lost the Battle of the Alamo (and most of the defenders perished in combat). It wasn’t until one month later—at the Battle of San Jacinto near modern-day Houston—that they defeated the Mexican Army and gained independence from Mexico.

5 Cuisines to Taste in Houston, Texas

The city of Houston on the Gulf Coast of Texas is tightly intertwined with the three years I was able to spend living and working in Spain. As a resident of Texas, I was required to make the journey to the Spanish consulate in Houston to formally submit my application for a visa that would let me live in the country during the upcoming school year. But because I wasn’t able to renew my legal status during the summers I spent back home in Dallas, I had to return to Houston not once, but twice, to do the same thing, all over again. Safe to say, I got to know the Megabus route and the Hostelling International hostel fairly well.

These brief, bureaucratic business trips left much to be desired, apart from a visit to see a Saturn V rocket out on the bay. Yet this vast city (the fourth biggest in the U.S.) has one of the best restaurant scenes in the country, with multiple culinary influences all contributing flavors, ingredients, methods, and more. In fact, the greater Houston metropolitan…

Photo Post: Rainbow Bridge, One of the World’s Tallest Natural Arches

Natural arches are one of those things that make sense to you on an intellectual level. Of course they can stand up without any external support; an arch is one of the most stable forms known to physics. But on a human level, they float in the air almost as if they’re alive, as if either end of the arch is a massive, giant leg.

Rainbow Bridge is one such natural arch that makes your whole face light up the first time you see it. In fact, it’s one of the world’s tallest arches (and far more impressive than Arches National Park’s Delicate Arch, made famous by Utah’s state license plate). But tucked away as it is deep in Utah’s backcountry, Rainbow Bridge is one of the most isolated national monuments in the country.

Before the Colorado River was plugged up by Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s, Rainbow Bridge required a 6-mile hike uphill from the canyon floor—not to mention running the river south from middle-of-nowhere, Utah.

Utah’s Wahweap Hoodoos: A Fantasyland in the Wilderness

Wild open spaces have been important to me ever since I was a little kid. During recess or Field Day in middle school, my classmates and I would often hang out in the creek behind the school building on former farmland in the exurbs north of Dallas.

We built little shelters out of dried brush plants, blazed trails, and even explored the riparian ecosystem on a greenbelt north of the property. All this unstructured time was a formative experience for me because it gave me freedom to play, imagine, and breathe.

Experiences like this are why I keep going back to the wilderness as an adult and why I did a day-hike in the fantastic landscapes northwest of Lake Powell over last Veterans Day weekend.

Five reasons why wilderness is importantIt’s untouched and pristine land. In contrast to National Parks, state parks, or even city parks, federal wilderness areas by their very nature lack developed facilities and remain off-limits to extractive industries (e.g., mining, logging, ranching, etc.)…

Photo Post: A Warm Welcome to Santa Fe, New Mexico

My breath condensed into a steamy vapor in front of my face, a rare sight in Phoenix. I wasn’t ready for 40 degrees in early October, and the lone Patagonia puff jacket I had packed was barely enough to keep me warm as I walked on sidewalks strewn with glossy, wet leaves. Thankfully, the heater was on full blast at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

I’ve been a huge fan of this New Mexican artist ever since my high school art teacher first exposed me to her work. When I moved to Phoenix three years ago and finally saw some of her paintings hanging in the Phoenix Art Museum, I decided I had to go on a pilgrimage to Santa Fe to her eponymous museum.

The collection isn’t that large (I spent only 45 minutes exploring it), but the works it comprises make the trek to Santa Fe totally worth it. I even saw some paintings of O’Keefe’s I wasn’t familiar with that featured The Black Place, some badlands in the New Mexican wilderness made up of dark black soil. I guess I’ll just have to plan another pi…

Reliving My Childhood at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Because I spent my childhood in Plano, Texas, going to my hometown’s balloon festival year after year, Albuquerque’s own festival that rivals Plano’s has long been on my bucket list. Even after moving to the Southwest, though, I wasn’t sure how I would plan a trip to experience this celebration of ballooning—after all, Phoenix is still six hours away from Albuquerque, New Mexico, by car.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest, with well over 500 registered balloonists. On any day of the weeklong fiesta, you can expect to bump into crowds of 100,000 people as you explore the balloon take-off fields.

With numbers like that, it might seem nigh on impossible to ever visit the fiesta. Enter one late September weeknight of grabbing drinks with friends. While sipping on some Phoenix brews, I got to talking with my friend Dolores, who’s originally from New Mexico. She happened to mention in passing that the following weekend she’d be visiting her brother in Albuqu…