Another Week of Discovery in Phoenix

More fun in the Phoenix area during week 2 as we explore the Desert Botanical Garden, Arcosanti, the Heard Museum, and Pinnacle Peak Park.  And in case you’re wondering, no update on the leaky pipe in the condo back home this week.  Maybe soon . . . .

Desert Botanical Garden

Papago Park, located primarily within the city limits of Phoenix, features distinctive red sandstone buttes and a long and colorful history.   During the late 1800s, the land was within the boundaries of an Indian reservation for the local Maricopa and Pima tribes.  In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the area a national monument (Papago-Saguaro National Monument), but that status was withdrawn in 1930, and the land was divided among several public entities.  During World War II, the site housed as many as 3,000 POWs, and afterwards, the facilities were converted to a VA hospital and later served as an Army Reserve site.

In the latter half of that timeframe (1939 to be exact), a group of volunteers committed to protecting and preserving the fragile Sonoran desert established the beginnings of what is now the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Papago Park.  Over the years, DBG has expanded to 140 total acres (55 under cultivation) and over 50,000 plants,

We spend an enjoyable afternoon and evening at DBG, strolling through the various exhibits and learning just a wee bit more about the Sonoran desert ecosystem.

We extend our visit through the dinner hour with fine food at Gertrude’s, the on-site restaurant, and afterwards, a walk through the Electric Desert light display, best described on DBG’s own website as the uniting of “desert, light and sound . . . in a mesmerizing display like never before. Cactus and desert become a living canvas in this nighttime experience, taking visitors on an immersive journey through the Garden using light and original music.”  One of the most original and creative exhibits I’ve ever seen.  I included a couple of photos just for fun, but they are a poor substitute for the real thing.


Arcosanti, a 1970s-era experimental development in the high desert about 60 miles north of Phoenix, was the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, an Italian-American architect who first came to Arizona to study with Frank Lloyd Wright from 1947-1949.  A few years later, after a few years of living and working in Italy, he and his wife, Colly, settled down in Scottsdale.

Soleri was an interesting guy.  His architectural focus was urban planning, with a goal to create a new type of city based on minimizing consumption of resources while preserving access to the natural environment.  Arcosanti is the physical representation of his design solution.

Our day trip to Arcosanti begins with lunch in the dining room – a bare bones make-your-own sandwich and salad bar.  We are underwhelmed, but at $7 apiece, the price is right.

After lunch, we enjoy a 60-minute guided tour ($15 each) followed by a self-guided walk on the visitor’s trail behind the developed area of the property.  Our guide does a nice job of connecting the dots between Soleri’s vision and the design details of the buildings.  More info available at this link: Arcosanti.

Paolo Soleri is equally, or perhaps even better known, for his signature bronze windbells, which are a major (but insufficient) source of funding for the ongoing operation and future development of Arcosanti.  We received one as a gift many years ago from Ken and Gloria (brother and sister-in-law).  After the tour, we head for the gift shop and carry on the tradition by purchasing a couple of windbells to give to other family members.

Paolo Soleri died in 2013 without seeing his Arcosanti development achieve its full potential; the actual population fluctuates from 50-150, which is a small fraction of the master plan’s vision of 5,000 people.

Although Arcosanti still has devoted champions, the movement seems to lack significant forward momentum.  In fact, it looks a little tired and in need of basic maintenance.  Even though the rationale and drivers behind the initial development are still (and perhaps even more) relevant today, the Arcosanti experiment seems out of step with today’s sustainable living solutions that focus on mixed use urban developments, walkable cities, use of renewable energy, and better mass transit.  Plus it’s just SO MUCH CONCRETE – not very warm (literally and figuratively) and inviting, at least from my perspective.  Nonetheless, worth a visit if you are in the area.

Heard Museum

Next up on our 30 day Phoenix tour is the Heard Museum – nationally recognized for its collection of Native American art and artifacts, educational programs and festivals.  Founded in 1929 by Dwight B. and Maie Bartlett Heard to house their personal collection of art, it expanded over the years to include other indigenous populations from around the world.  The current collection includes over 40,000 items.

The highlight for me is learning about the various Indian tribes that live (or that once lived) in the Southwest U.S., and I gain an appreciation for the diversity of beliefs and cultural practices among the groups, which today include the 19 pueblos of New Mexico plus Hopi, Navajo, Apache, San Juan, Kaibab Paiute, Yavapai, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yaqui, Maricopa, and Tohono O’odham tribes.

We are disappointed to miss out on the Indian boarding school exhibit, which is currently under renovation.  It’s already on the list for our next trip to Phoenix.

Hiking in Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park is a 150-acre natural area located in the midst of residential Scottsdale.  We decide to hike the park’s only trail, an out and back hike just under four miles total with a total elevation gain of 1,300 feet.  Not too long, but a little more up and down than our hike the previous week.

We arrive around 10:00 in the morning and claim one of the last open spots in the parking lot.  The trail is packed with people, perhaps more than usual because it’s the start of long holiday weekend.  We complete the scenic trek in a couple of hours – a nice way to kick off our own holiday weekend.

Pinnacle Peak Trail: The Rocks

Pinnacle Peak Trail: The Cacti

Pinnacle Peak Trail: the Flowers

How can it be that our Phoenix vacation is already half over?  The days are flying by.  Can we make it through the bucket list in the next two weeks?  Please stay tuned!


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  1. Love reading your adventures. We visited the Arcosanti Shop and Foundry in Scottsdale a couple years ago. Came away with a Wilderness bronze bell that I dearly love. Look forward to your next adventure. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi BJ – thanks for your comment. When we downsized, we parted ways with a huge amount of our “stuff,” but the Soleri bell is safely tucked away for that someday when we settle down again.


  2. Thanks for the update on Arcosanti. It’s been many years since I’ve been there, and they’ve made a bit of progress.

    Liked by 1 person

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