Two weeks ago, I meandered through the desert, past the beautiful blue waters of Lake Havasu, and into the Valley of the Sun. Phoenix has definitely lived up to its nickname, as UV rays have been in plentiful supply here, and there certainly hasn't been a single drop of rain.
I even got to experience a day at what they refer to as the "century mark" when the mercury climbed to 100 degrees on Sunday. You always hear people say that it's not as bad because it's a "dry heat." They're telling the truth. I'd take a million 100 degree days at 6% humidity over 90 degrees with 90% humidity back home. Heat is infinitely more tolerable when you don't feel like someone wrapped a wet blanket around your head. Sorry, Ohio Valley.
While I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer, I've definitely enjoyed my time here. I had visited Scottsdale several years ago, but didn't really get to do or experience much on that trip. I honestly had no idea how large the city was until I got here. With a metro area of around 4.5 million people, it's around 3 times the size of my Louisville hometown.
It's been especially fun to spend some time with my friend Kalisha, who relocated to Phoenix from Louisville at the first of the year. She was kind enough to tour me all over the metro area, and I truly got a more local perspective thanks to her. We attended a self-defense class, visited the farmer's market, saw the city sprawl from up high at South Mountain Park, gazed at Camelback Mountain, hopped up to the hole in the rock at Papago Park, went to a Young Nonprofit Professional Network event, and devoured a few delicious meals.
Kalisha also scored me a free pass to the Desert Botanical Garden. As a self-described "plant nerd," I think was probably the highlight of my time in Phoenix. Other stops included the Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera exhibit at the Heard Museum, the Rose Garden at Mesa Community College, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. I took a day trip to Sedona and hiked in Oak Creek Canyon, and stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument's gorgeous cliffside dwelling on the way back to the city. I enjoyed lunch and olive oil tasting at Queen Creek Olive Mill (olives!!). South of Phoenix, I visited Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, a multi-story structure built in the 1300's by Ancestral Sonoran Desert People.
I also was really happy that my return to the Sonoran Desert unexpectedly coincided with the saguaro cacti's annual bloom. The white flowers, which open at night and only last through the following day, are Arizona's state flower.
One of the things I enjoy about being somewhere on a more extended timeframe is the chance to just spend time like a normal person. I ate some great Mexican food, spent a lot of time with my paintbrushes, shopped a little, enjoyed my Tempe neighborhood, and put some new tires on my car. After nearly 16,000 miles of traveling, it was time!
There remains plenty I haven't seen, done, or experienced in Phoenix, but I've learned to let that go and not wear myself out. Sometimes you have to walk the line between tourist and pretend local... between vacation and real life.
Where to next? I'm really excited to hit the road this morning and head toward one of our nation's least visited national parks, Great Basin National Park in Baker, Nevada. I'm very excited about the diversity of this remote park, which includes mountains, a glacier, ancient bristlecone pine trees, and a cave. Time to put some wear on these new tires!