Saturday, February 28, 2015

Phoenix, Arizona

In the heart of winter in Toronto, with piles of snow and -25 degree Celsius temperatures, one dreams of getting away from it all and escaping to the warmth of some southern state.  So we jumped at the invitation from Rich's brother to spend a few days at his winter getaway in Phoenix, Arizona.

The mild weather was perfect at the end of February with temperatures in the low 20s and sunny for the most part.  We were able to wander around in shorts and t-shirts, spending an active 3 days hiking on the Butcher Jones trail around Saguaro Lake, playing tennis while admiring the mountains and various varieties of cactus in the background, and going for an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ride through Bulldog Canyon where we saw some breathtaking desert landscape as we bounced along the rugged terrain.

One evening, we watched a fascinating play at the Phoenix Theatre called Five Presidents, which imagines what might have been discussed when the five living past and current presidents of the United States congregated to attend Richard Nixon's funeral.

We had a great time wandering around the antique and oddities shops in Cave Creek.  In particular, the one called "The Town Dump" had the most unusual items and reminded me of a similar store named "Primitive Designs" in Port Hope, Ontario.  There were so many fun, albeit totally impractical items for sale at The Town Dump, including what I think of as the "Bootylicous" stool, quirky metal and ceramics works, and some big brass letters of the alphabet that Rich got mischievously creative with.

Several furniture stores also had some interesting item on display including some really intricately decorated Native Indian pottery, a mosaic-covered guitar which is now probably more decorative than functional, a cool lamp whose base formed a humanoid sculpture, and some kitschy items that simulate a spill of various substances including coffee, pop, ice cream, nail polish.  I was momentarily fooled when passing by one of these spill contraptions, placed strategically atop a beautiful end table.  

On the last day of our trip, we did a short hike through part of the Apache Trail to see more beautiful scenery.  It must be the time of year, but I was surprised at how much greenery there was to be found in a desert.  We stopped by Tortilla Flats, which had old buildings that were remnant of an Old West cowboy town and which now have been restored to host a general store, shops and a saloon / restaurant.

We stopped by the saloon for a quick snack, pretending to be cowboys by sitting in saddle bar stools and drinking sarsaparilla (which is like root beer).  The walls were lined with US $1 bills as well as currency from other exotic countries like Canada, China, and Costa Rica.  There were so many bills mounted on the walls that you wouldn't need to break into the tills to rob this place–just go around and strip the money off the walls.  The ladies washroom stalls were decorated with the torsos of old saloon dancing girls, with the thought that you could put your head over the stall door and take a photo.  Unfortunately, the stalls were made for giants (or people taller than 5 feet) since only half of my head made it over the door.

Our final stop was to the Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum to feed Rich's love of aircraft.  The highlight was a tour of a Boeing B17 plane used to bomb Germany during World War II.  It was nicknamed the "Flying Fortress" because it had so many machine guns.  On the bottom of the plane was a ball turret, which was a small sphere from which a gunner could shoot at enemy aircraft attacking from below.  The tour included the opportunity to climb into and walk through the B17, but the space was so small and tight that I was the only one in my party that decided to try it.  In one portion of the plane, even I had to walk sideways to squeeze through.  At the other end of the plane were a set of machine guns that tourists could hold and pretend to shoot.

Not knowing much about planes, I was mostly attracted to the ones that had cute decorations on them, including ones with faces or pinup girls painted on them.  Rich told me the one painted like a shark baring its teeth was a P40 Tomahawk, a Chinese National airplane flown by an American flying squadron that called themselves the "Flying Tigers".  Pilots were known to count their bombing runs by painting bombs on both their planes and their bomber jackets.  One jacket had a unique sign on its back–an American flag, plus a message written in 6 different languages indicating that the USA would pay for his safe return if the pilot was captured.

This short but sweet trip was a great respite from the chilling Toronto winter weather.

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