PHOENIX – As the winter weather begins to descend on New Mexico, sometimes a quick outing into a more temperate climate can be just the ticket to a refreshed and awakened spirit.
Phoenix, aka the Valley of the Sun, can provide just such a breath of warm air.
A parade of plants
The Desert Botanical Garden is a delightful way to spend a morning or afternoon, strolling through flower-lined paths that curl through all manners of native flora.
With about 1- miles of easy walking paved paths, the 140-acre garden is easily accessible to all.
Being at the northern end of the Sonoran Desert, the mighty and majestic saguaro cactus takes center stage. These bastions of the Arizona desert can grow to 40 feet tall and live as long as 150 years, sometimes taking decades just to sprout a new arm.
Set against the backdrop of the rugged and pock-marked Papago sandstone, against a field of brilliant blue sky and it is a photo-op just waiting to happen.
Of course, there are plenty of other prickly plants waiting to be explored, like the Mexican giant cardón or elephant cactus. Exquisite examples reside in the Heritage Garden, where 10 were first culled at four-feet tall from Baja, Mexico, in 1939 when the garden first opened. Six remain and now soar into the sky 35 feet.
Other species in the section includes an organ pipe cactus that also came to the garden in its opening year with just one branch. It is now 12 feet high and includes 50 branches.
The Desert Wildflower Loop trail is a remarkable example of the desert’s ability shine with a little bit of moisture.
Barrel cacti splurge in vibrant reds and yellows. Butterflies inside and outside the Butterfly Pavilion alight atop a range of flowers from gold and yellow to blood red. Hummingbirds flit about, dipping their beaks into long-stemmed flowers.
As an added bonus, through May, the garden is home to stunningly bold and colorful large-scale sculptures from the artist Rotraut that are tastefully sprinkled throughout the trails, as well as a sampling of her paintings and small sculpture fill the Ottosen Gallery. World-renowned, but based in Arizona, Rotraut’s artwork delves into the natural world, its seasons and exquisite melding of nature with the sky, sun and universe.
Eye in the sky
Moving on to the nearby Papago Park, a short and easy stroll up several hundred feet takes visitors to the Hole-in-the-Rock, a naturally eroded eye in the conglomerate sandstone that the prehistoric Hohokam used as a calendar device to aid in their farming of the Salt River Valley.
Now the Hole is a great spot from which to get a 360-degree view of the Phoenix area.
Name that tune
Another short trip to north Phoenix unveils the Musical Instrument Museum.
A literal smorgasbord of information and examples of instruments and music from across the globe, the museum is not to be missed by any music aficionado with more than 4,300 instruments on display.
A highlight for folks of all ages is the mechanical music gallery, particularly at noon and 3 p.m. each day when the Decap orchestrion named “Apollonia” is played. The largest instrument in the gallery, it is 25 feet long and almost 10 feet long. It is studded with working accordions, drums, bells, cymbals and a xylophone. Now run off a computer, it once used paper programming similar to a player-piano.
The museum has separate displays for numerous countries, with video display boards synched to personal headphones that automatically come on when approaching each display.
And the artists’ gallery is a must-see as well, with displays celebrating Elvis Presley, Tito Puente, Johnny Cash, Roberta Flack, Glen Campbell and Joan Baez, among many others.
And the display for the recycled instruments from Paraguay, in which incredible instruments are built from the refuse collected at the local dump, is a truly a heart-wrenching and yet beautiful tale of keeping music alive even in the toughest of circumstances.