Fire Trucks, Musical Instruments and a Botanical Garden Tucked into the Hills near Scottsdale

What would YOU do if your spouse presented you with a 1924 fire engine as a gift? Start a collection?

That’s exactly what George Getz did after receiving a fire truck from his wife Olive in 1955. In fact, he subsequently acquired so many firefighting vehicles that he opened a museum near his Wisconsin home in 1967.

When George and Olive relocated to Arizona (smart move – it’s COLD in Wisconsin!), the museum moved also, reopening in 1974 at its current location in Papago Park in Phoenix.

With 35,000 square feet of gallery space, the collection showcases 130+ wheeled vehicles of different types and eras.

The museum also contains poignant tributes to firefighting heroes, including those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

There’s an extensive display of memorabilia from the Sep 11, 2001 tragedy in New York, including one of the many units whose crew participated in rescue operations.

And there’s much more at the Hall of Flame – artwork, alarm systems, uniforms, patches and just about anything you might imagine.

The collection is impressive, and it continues to grow due to efforts by dedicated personnel and donors. Equally impressive was the number of volunteer docents eager to answer our questions – retired firefighters from across the country. Their in-depth knowledge and passion about all things firefighting-related was evident and is no doubt one reason for this museum’s success.

Venturing outside the city, we visited . . .

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

This place is spectacular! An hour’s drive from the heart of Phoenix, it was suggested by friends Rhonnie and Bob as a good place to rendezvous with them as well as with friends Liana and Ken for a super cool day trip. As you can see, we all (unintentionally) dressed in blue to ensure a color-coordinated photo.

The Arboretum was new to us, but it’s on the ‘must do again’ list for a future visit.

Let’s take a spin around the main path to see the sights, then I’ll share the deets.

There are, or course, plenty of cultivated plants.

The natural setting enhances the beauty of the cultivated plants.

In some cases, it’s hard to discern the natural landscape from the additions.

Various structures have been added to the property over the years.

The Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest (opened in 1929) and largest (353 acres) botanical garden. It was the brainchild of Col. Boyce Thompson, a mining engineer who made his fortune in copper. According to Wikipedia, Thompson aimed to “bring together and study the plants of the desert countries, find out their uses, and make them available to the people. It is a big job, but we will build here the most beautiful, and at the same time the most useful garden of its kind in the world.”

About one-third of the land (135 acres) contains cultivated plants – around 19,000 total. The Arboretum covers a lot of bases, featuring plants of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of North America, as well as desert plants of South America, Australia, Africa, India, China, Japan, the Mediterranean, and Middle East. In addition to cacti and succulents, there are trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs, roses and legumes.

And there’s more. The Wallace Desert Garden opened to the public in 2020 following five years of preparation, which required moving nearly 6,000 plants from Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale (now closed) and transplanting onto a newly developed 13-acre site within the Arboretum. They did a masterful job – unless you knew the story, you wouldn’t guess that this section was new.

It was a beautiful day to spend with good friends in a special setting. And did I mention how much we loved this place? We’ll be back.

Musical Instrument Museum

Simply put, this museum is superb. We’re interested in the subject matter, of course, but the overall visitor experience was outstanding – just the right amount of information to tell a compelling story about each display, including both visual and auditory elements.

Opened only since 2010, the MIM was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman of the Target Corporation. It features 7,000 musical instruments and related objects from over 200 countries representing every inhabited continent. The total collection includes another 10,000 items not currently on display.

The museum is huge, and although we had been there twice already, there was (and still is) more to see. (Read posts about previous visits here and here.) Our tickets for this visit came courtesy of Philip and Kim, and we were excited to return.

Slit drums from Vanuatu at the museum entrance

Rather than trying to do too much, we just focused on a few areas. (As usual, we split up, so Bill’s experience was different than mine.) I started at the special exhibit – Treasures: Legendary Musical Instruments – an eclectic collection of rare or one-of-a-kind instruments from near and far.

Each instrument featured a companion performance video that brought the entire exhibit to life. Well done!

After touring the special exhibit, I immersed myself in the Artist Gallery – a wondrous collection of concert footage, instruments, performance outfits and memorabilia for about 40 different, but mostly American, artists. And I do mean different, with a wide variety of music genres represented.

It was a fun walk down memory lane, plus an introduction to unfamiliar artists. Here’s a small sample of memorabilia from the Artist Gallery:

More info about the MIM. There are also five large geographic galleries – Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Latin America, Europe, and United States/Canada. Within each gallery, exhibits are organized by country, and for each country, there’s 1) a map showing the location, 2) a brief description of relevant music styles, 3) a display of multiple instruments used to make music, and 4) associated items such as clothing and ceremonial costumes. 

A highlight of each country’s exhibit is a brief video of actual performances by local musicians. Visitors wear headphones, and the A/V automatically activates when you stand in front of the screen. It’s very cool.

In fact, the entire museum is very cool, and it’s a ‘must do’ attraction when visiting the Phoenix area.

The third and final article in the Scottsdale series will focus on hiking opportunities. I hope you will join me!

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