Category Archives: Arizona

Everything’s Coming Up Chihuly

Glassblower’s art in Phoenix now & coming to Colorado.

Chihuly-logoWe caught superstar glass artist Dale Chihuly’s Garden & Glass traveling exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden when we were in Phoenix a few weeks ago (it’s there until May 18). When it leaves there, it is moving to the Denver Botanic Gardens, and I can’t wait to see it in another botanical context. It will be in Denver from June 14 through November 7. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s Chihuly Rediscovered exhibition from May 3 through September 28 overlaps with it.

Below are some images from the way it was installed in Phoenix, where it glowed it the bright desert sun.

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Cool Hotel in Scottsdale

Stylish luxury at W Hotel.

P1060483Last baseball season, I attended a Colorado Rockies game at the invitation of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau — a natural connection since the Rockies’ spring training is there. I lucked out when my card was one of several drawn for a two-night stay and even luckier that it was for the W Hotel Scottsdale. The other properties are beautiful golf resorts with splendid spas, but I like to be within walking distance of restaurants, art and scenery — especially when I’m new to a place and am more interested in exploring than relaxing. Therefore, it was a perfect match for me and my husband.

It is stylish and modern, and the vibe is young and active. Our room was not huge but comfort compensated for lack of square footage.

The bathroom is trendy, thanks to the tasteful mix of glass, stone and tile.
The bathroom is a trendy and tasteful mix of glass, stone and tile.
Big, comfortable bed with quality linens and a selection of pillows.
Big, comfortable bed with quality linens and a selection of pillows.
Dusk from our room. Not a full panorama, but not bad either.
Dusk from our room. Not a full panorama, but not bad either.

Within walking distance or ride by bus or free trolley of the W were numerous things to see and do — and we managed despite the heat. The Paolo Soleri Memorial Bridge was right around the corner. Scottsdale is a wealthy community, so the public art is nothing less than spectacular with more than 70 pieces around town. Galleries and museums were a walk or a ride away.  The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, touristy and fun Old Town Scottsdale and the Arizona Canal with its multi-use path and classy, costly real estate developments were all nearby. We were even there for the Thrusday evening Art Walk, which I loved. Totally.

Scoping Out Scottsdale

Public art aplenty in tony Phoenix suburb.

Scottsdale-logoColorado and Arizona are connected by baseball. During spring training, the Colorado Rockies are at home in Scottsdale. The Rox are back at Coors Field, but I’m in Arizona for a few days — not to visit the team’s other field or even to see the Fiesta Bowl but to explore a vibrant desert city,

Yesterday was the kind of day I like in a place I don’t know or don’t know well — that is, a day with a few want-to-see goals linked by random wandering. I’m not big on shopping, though the boutiques and shops look impressive, For me, the most impressive was Scottsdale’s extraordinary display of downtown public art. Here’s how my husband and I spent our day:

The Doors by sculptor Donald Lipski. The outside is composed of three tall wooden slabs with metal strapping and other fittings.
The Doors by sculptor Donald Lipski. The outside is composed of three tall wooden slabs with metal strapping and other  metal fittings.
The interior of the sculpture is mirrored, so the effect is kaleidoscope-like. Here is a selfie of my husband and me, peeking around a mirror. When you stand on a certain part of the pavement, you hear the sounds of Jim Green's audible art.
The interior of the sculpture is mirrored, so the effect is kaleidoscope-like. Here is a selfie of my husband and me, peeking around a mirror. When you stand on a certain part of the pavement, you hear the sounds of Jim Green’s audible art.
Soleri bells hang between two shorter pylons on the south end of the bridge.
Soleri’s Goldwater Bells hang between two shorter pylons on the south end of the fascinating Paolo Soleri Bridge.
The mission church in Old Town has been restored and is now open to the public and also available for weddings.
The mission church in Old Town has been restored and is now open to the public and also available for weddings.
Scottsdale's interesting little historic museum, originally the young community's first schoolhouse.
Scottsdale’s interesting little historic museum, originally the young community’s first schoolhouse.
"Leslie Shows: Surfacing" at Scottsdale's Museum of Contemporary Art. Admission is free on Thursdays.
“Leslie Shows: Surfacing” at Scottsdale’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Admission is free on Thursdays.
One rendition of Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture in Scottsdale's Civic Center Mall, a park filled with fountains and outdoor art.
One rendition of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture in Scottsdale’s Civic Center Mall, a park filled with fountains and outdoor art. When front-lit, it is red.
Free trolleys run on several routes.
Free trolleys run on several routes.
The old and the new in Scottsdale: Bronze sculpture depicting the Hashknife Pony Express, re-enactors who ride every year for 200 miles from Holbrook to Scottsdale in the manner of the Pony Express. In the background, another luxury building under construction.
The old and the new in Scottsdale: Bronze sculpture depicting the Hashknife Pony Express, re-enactors who ride every year for 200 miles from Holbrook to Scottsdale in the manner of the Pony Express. In the background, another luxury building under construction.
ArtWalk every Thursday evening from 7 to 9. Main Street boasts the greatest of galleries.
ArtWalk every Thursday evening from 7 to 9. Main Street boasts the greatest concentration of galleries.

New Skywalk in Jasper National Park

Glacier Skywalk nearing completion

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World Of Stock Photo

The quartet of adjacent national parks set along the backbone of the magnificent Canadian Rockies (Banff and Jasper in Alberta, and Yoho and Kootenay in British Columbia) include s handful of commercial islands: two real towns (Banff and Jasper) and three major ski areas (Lake Louise and Sunshine Village in Banff National Park and Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park). Jasper and Banff National Parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and this United Nations cultural agency sees no disconnect between natural and careful man-made wonders.

A prime example of an attraction that most likely would never be approved in a US national park but works so well in Canada is Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park.  It was developed years ago with walkways to enable winter visitors to safely view the magical landscape of frozen waterfalls, surreal ice formations and frosted limestone walls. Several Jasper tour companies lead guided walks down into the canyon. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I loved it.

Artist rendering designed by RJC Engineering & Sturgess Architecture
Artist rendering designed by RJC Engineering & Sturgess Architecture

Now comes the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park scheduled to open to the public in May.  The immense powers of glaciology are on breathtaking display from a fully accessible, cliff-edge walkway that leads to a glass-floored observation platform suspended 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. With the new awareness of climate change, more people are interested in glaciers and their impact on the land, and this Skywalk provides an easy and again safe way to gain some insights. Brewster Travel,  the concessionaire that, among many other services, operates park transport as well as the Ice Explorer vehicles that travel over the surface of the astounding Athabasca Glacier. This popular summer excursion directly off the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff also includes information about the glacier’s history and surrounding area.

In the US, the Grand Canyon Skywalk opened several years ago, providing a comparable experience but over a deep desert canyon. A major operational difference is that unlike the Glacier Skywalk in a national park, the older Arizona version is on Hualapai Nation land.

Two Grand Canyon Lodges Spruced Up

Improvements to South Rim’s Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges

The Kachina Lodge's guest rooms and public space have been refurbished, but in the case of this Grand Canyon lodge, it's what's outside that counts.

Whenever any renovations to Grand Canyon National Park’s iconic El Tovar are contemplated, changes absolutely must be historically and architecturally respectful, as well as comply with National Park Service requirements. After all, the hotel was built in 1905 and has hosted such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Western author Zane Grey and others. Not so with the nearby Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges, which are unremarkable in style and prove that only three things really count: location, location and location.

These lodges, which perch directly on the canyon’s South Rim and are just steps from the Rim Trail, couldn’t be more spectacularly situated. Between them, they feature a total of 104 rooms of similar design and the same room types (either two queen beds or one king bed and full bath).

They have been refreshed with new wall-mounted lighting; new paint; new wall photographs; new carpeting; refurbished granite-top furniture; better linens; flat screen televisions, and closet makeovers to accommodate the in-room safe and coffee pot setups, irons, ironing boards and luggage racks, and general maintenance in bathrooms. Public spaces feature new furnishings, doors, carpet, lighting and artwork, and everyone cheers to learn that bathrooms have been repaired and upgraded. Rates at both lodges are $180 nightly for a street-side room and $191 for a canyon-side room. Children 16 and under stay free when sharng parents’ room. Reserve online or by calling 888-29-PARKS (888-297-2757).

Off-Season Visit to Canyon de Chelly

Spectacular scenic beauty & great rates at Canyon de Chelly in winter

The Canyon de Chelly National Monument can be described as being in the middle of nowhere. It is a 90-minute drive from Gallup, N.M.; three hours from Flagstaff, Ariz.; four hours from Albuquerque and approximately five hours from Phoenix. The nearest community is Chinle, Arizona, recognized by fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo detective stories.

Canyon de Chelly pinnacles without snow.

Like much of the desert Southwest, the canyon can be wickedly hot in summers (spring and fall too, in fact). That makes winter the most comfortable season — and the least crowded, least expensive time too. When my husband and I last visited in May a few years ago, we were not even able to get a room in one of the site’s single lodging property and we ended up staying at a motel in Chinle.

Winter in Canyon de Chelly is different. Weather is brisk, dry and clear, with temperatures typically ranging from 40 to 60 degrees with lows averaging around 20 degrees. It occasionally snows in tye the canyon, which is as beautiful a sight as you’ll see anywhere even, even though it is generally no more than a few inches

The 74-room Thunderbird Lodge, located on the site of an 1896 trading post, reduces winter rates from November 1 through February 29 by up to 43 percent off summer rates. Also, guests who stay Saturday, Sunday or Monday nights get a complimentary continental breakfast, 10 percent off canyon tours and 10 percent off gift shop purchases.

Canyon de Chelly with a dusting of snow.

Nightly winter room rates are $66 for a single room, $73 for double, $80 for a triple, $87 for a quad, and $95 for a suite. Lodge rooms feature comfortable beds, full bathrooms and satellite television. The original trading post built in 1896 is now the lodge’s cafeteria-style restaurant. Something of the heritage remains, since the Thunderbird Lodge’s gift shop and rug room offer fine examples of Native American jewelry, crafts and Navajo rugs, as well as tourist mementos. I actually bought my Tree of Life Navajo rug, which was woven by Grace Torey, in the Chinle motel gift shop.

Be sure to sign up for a tour into Canyon de Chelly via rugged six-wheel drive touring vehicles operated by experienced and knowledgeable Navajo guides. They are at home in the canyon and explain it as a sacred as well as historically and culturally significant place in the Navajo Nation. The canyon boasts prime examples of ancient ruins, pictographs, petroglyphs and the sites of confrontations between the Navajo and the Spanish, Mexican and American governments.

The canyon is administered jointly by the Navajo National and the National Park Service. While there is no entrance fee, the park closes at night and visitor access is restricted at all times. With the exception of hiking the White House Ruin trail, travel in the canyons is permitted only with a park ranger or authorized Navajo guide. Half-day winter tours via vehicle (minimum of six participants or no tour) leave from the lodge at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for excursions into the lower halves of both Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto. Daytime temperatures are usually suitable for an open-air ride, but during inclement weather, the vehicles are covered with clear caps engineered by the lodge’s maintenance staff. Through March 1, 2012, the 3 1/2-hour tours are $49 for adults and $38 for children 12 and under. For reservations, call 928-674-5841 or 800-679-2473.

Chilean Volcano & Southwestern US Wildfires Impact Travel

Volcanic ash cloud drift affects Southern Hemisphere air traffic & wildfires are scorching the Southwest
Ash cloud over Cape Town. (Cape Town Tourism photo)

“It’s a Small World After All” are the lyrics to a cloying song played over and over and over at a Disneyland/Walt Disney World ride of the same name.  That’s what I thought when I received a press release from Cape Town, South Africa, that began, “Chilean Volcano Puyehue-Cordón Caulle that has been erupting since June 4 has reached Cape Town airspace, affecting flights in and out of Cape Town International Airport. The ash cloud has circled the globe and has, in the last 2 weeks, disrupted flights in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand.”

American news reports — obsessed with insurrections/upsrisings/revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, the growing financial crisis in Greece, flooding and tornadoes in our own country, a debate in New Hampshite by a bunch of 2012 Republican Presidential hopefuls in early June 2011 and the former Representative Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal — pays scant attention to air travel problems so far away. A United Airlines computer freeze in this country is one thing, buttravel  disruptions in the Southern Hemisphere have barely caught anyone’s attention hereabouts.
Arizona Wildfires
Then again, I get it — the cloud, not the political cycle or Weiner’s hobby — because Colorado weather has been affected by the smoke from the devastating wildfires that have been burning in Arizona since late May. These wildfires have been reported on in the American press.  Uneasonable cloud cover is, of course, trivial in light of the impact on Arizona itself, where nearly 700,000 acres have burned. The Wallow Fire, which broke out on May 29, has burned its way through much of the burning up much of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and has spread over nearly 800 square miles was reported 44 per cent contained — and “contained” does not mean extinguished.
The Monument Fire drove 3,000 residents of Sierra Vista from their homes. The Horseshoe Two Fire burned about 210,000 acres (nearly 330 square miles) and is now 75 per cent contained. These are sparsely populated areas, and  many of the scores of buildings reported destroyed are remote cabins.

Enough political hot air has been inserted into the catastrophic wildfires in the Southwest to ignite a wildfire on its own. According to a UPI.com report: “Illegal immigrants from Mexico are responsible for starting some of the huge  wildfires in Arizona, U.S.  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., alleges. At a Phoenix news conference, the right-wing senator claimed illegal  immigrants light fires in the wilderness for warmth, to send signals and to  distract border agents, CNN said. ‘There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by  people who have crossed our border illegally,’ McCain said. ‘The answer to that  part of the problem is to get a secure border.’ However, he offered no evidence to substantiate his claim.”

New Mexico Fires

Pacheco Fire as seen from Santa Fe. (KRGE.com photo)

The Track Fire near the New Mexico-Colorado state line burned more than 27,000 acres and closed I-25 over Raton Pass for several days, while in the southern part of the state, Carlsbad Caverns National Park was closed for three days as the fast-moving Loop Fire scorched more than 30,000 acres within and outside of the park boundaries. Cacti were the main victims from the plant kingdom, but the Park Service reports that “Smoke and ash present; breathing/health issues – take precautions. Caves, bats, & buildings are OK!” Also in southern New Mexico, Ski Apache near Ruidoso has suspended summer operations at the ski area for the time being, while the opulent Inn of the Mountain Gods and in-town attractions are thus far unaffected.

Oddly, there are two Santa Fe fires burning right now: on, the 6,000-acres Santa Fe Swamp Fire in Florida’s Alachua County and the other, the Pacheco Fire raging in the southern Sangre de Cristo mountains east of Santa Fe and visible from New Mexico’s capital city.  I don’t think even John McCain could blame this one on “illegal immigrants” — or maybe he could.

And In Colorado

Crews are getting a handle on a wildfire near Westliffe in the beautiful Wet Mountain Valley. It rained for 12 overnight hours here in the metro Denver/Boulder area, and it has been snowing in the high country. The Bicycle Tour of Colorado is supposed to go over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake today, but I don’t know what will happen, since the news reported this morning that it is closed due to snow.

RockResorts Returning to Its Tropical Roots

Luxury resort in Costa Rica is latest acquisition of Colorado-based resort lodging company

Currnet swimming pool with mosaic wall at Xandari Resort.

RockResorts, a division of Vail Resorts, Inc., has just begun managing Xandari by the Pacific Resort and Spa on the west coast of Costa Rica. Next spring and summer, the sprawling property with magificent shoreline is to undergo what RockResorts calls a “thorough renovation.” It is to re-launch as Alma del Pacifico Hotel, A RockResort with totally renoved common areas, guestrooms, spa and food and beverage outlets.

Located on Playa Esterillos Este, the hotel and and associated master-planned development are located halfway between Jaco Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park. The total package includes the resort hotel, golf, a spa, spacious private beachfront villas and Del Pacifico at Esterillos, a 700-acre master planned, seaside resort community. Award-winning architects are tasked with the project. The future taps into Vail Resorts’ corporate experience operating high-end resort properties, but the RockResorts history is reflective of one (very rich) man’s, ahead-of-his-time vision that a hotel could offer beauty, luxury and service that are compatible with land and habitat preservation. 

The RockResorts Backstory

The first RockResorts were founded in 1956 by  Laurance Rockefeller, yes, one of those Rockefellers, who created or purchased luxury properties in beautiful settings.  He started with mountain properties, specifically Wyoming’s Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge.  The Wyoming connection was a natural, because Laurance’s father, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife Abby spent more than 20 years assembling tens of thousands of acres of land in the Snake River Valley lobbying the federal government to accept it. The Rockefeller holdings are now Grand Teton National Park and the US highway that passes it is called the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.

Then came the  warm-weather getaways that made RockResorts famous in the hospitality business — Caneel Bay on St. John,  USVI; Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club in Puerto Rico, Little Dix Bayon Virgin Gorda, BVI, and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. Additional RockResorts included the Woodstock Inn in Vermont and The Boulders in Carefree, Arizona. 

RockResorts went through a series of owners, with properties added or removed from the portfolio along the way. In 2001, it became part of the Vail family. Present properties are all luxurious and all in stunning, sporty places. In Colorado, RockResorts  are the Hotel Jerome in Aspen; The Osprey at Beaver Creek and The Pines Lodge, both in Beaver Creek; One Ski Hill Place, opened earier this year in Breckenridge, Colo; The Arrabelle at Vail Square and The Lodge at Vail, both Vail. Others are La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, N.M.; Tempo Miami in Miami, Fla.; Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and The Landings St. Lucia, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.  RockResortsplans for 2011 include the addition of: Balcones del Atlántico, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic; Half Moon, Rose Hall, Jamaica; and above-named Alma del Pacifico Hotel, Costa Rica. And beyond that, future RockResorts include The Mansfield Inn at Stowe in Stowe, Vt., Rum Cay Resort Marina, The Bahamas; and the Third Turtle Club & Spa, Turks and Caicos.

Look! Up in the Sky. It’s a Canopy of Stars!

Summer stargazing in Utah national parks

The clear, dry desert air makes for great astronomical opportunities. Below are three programs you can take part in with National Park Service rangers and volunteers to help you identify and understand what you are seeing through the telescope.

Cedar Breaks National Monument. With some of the nation’s darkest night skies, Cedar Breaks National Monument celebrates and shares the beauty of these “ebony skies.” Monthly “star parties” (June 10, 12 and 14; July 8, 10 and 12; August 7, 9 and 11; September 6, 8 and 10) are conducted by park staff and astronomy volunteers with a special evening program in the campground amphitheater, followed by star viewing through several large telescopes at Point Supreme. Admission is free. For more information, call 435-586-0787 or 435-586-9451.

Bryce Canyon National ParkBryce Canyon National Park‘s Night Sky Team is a national program stationed at Bryce Canyon that has, in the park service’s words, “an attitude toward the conservation of one of the last great sanctuaries of darkness.” Each night 100 to 300 visitors gather around telescopes to look up at the universe. Viewing programs are offered three times a week and monthly full moon hikes end with stargazing through telescopes. The cost is $10 – $20. The 10th Annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival (July 7-10) is a four-day event packed with activities for all ages. They include the planet walk, model rocket building and launching, presentations by national park rangers, and of course, star-gazing and constellation tours. 435-834-5322.

Natural Bridges National Monument. The National Bridges National Monument spanning southern Utah and northern Arizona is known for three of the world’s largest natural stone bridges, originally formed by stream action in White Canyon. Of course, if the Colorado River had not been dammed to created Lake Powell, there might be more such bridges that are now submerged. In any case, the Monument was designated as the world’s first International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Each summer the Astronomy Ranger conducts Night Sky Programs at The Lees Ferry Campground in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area. For more information and a full schedule, call 435-692-1234.

Arizona Travel Boycott Gains Momentum

Associations and municipalities pull meetings in Arizona; some individuals simply won’t go

Municipal employees in Boulder, a very liberal place that has been described as a city with its own foreign policy, will not be traveling to Arizona on city business in the wake of stringent regulations seeking to identify and detain illegal immigrants. Specifically, it is now a state crime to be in Arizona illegally and requires police and other law-enforcement agents to check documents of people they “reasonably” suspect to be illegal. Those opposed to this law, which requires local law enforcement agencies essentially to act as an adjunct of the federal government and stop individuals with or without additional cause (like a traffic violation), with a demand to produce papers has all the signs of racial profiling.  Mexican citizens have been cautioned against visiting Arizona, and a number groups have begun pulling meetings out of the state.

Arizona has suffered self-inflicted tourism wounds before. It reportedly lost some 170 conventions and the Super Bowl in the early 1990s from boycotts because it refused to approve the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday holiday. Overlapping that boycott was one against Colorado, after state voters approved a confusing, anti-gay constitutional amendment that was never put into effect but that earned it the nickname, “The Hate State.” It seems as if Arizona is poised to take that mantle, with social media calls to avoid Arizona going viral. The Arizona hotel industry trade organization has launched its own defense Facebook page.

In addition to the Boulder City Council vote to boycott Arizona, Boston, San Francisco and Oakland have done so. An immigration lawyers convention has pulled out of Scottsdale, ABC reported that the law, if not repealed, could cost Phoenix the 2011 All-Star Game. The 2009 All-Star Game brought on the order of $60 million. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of Major League Baseball players at all levels (including Minor League and farm organizations) are Latino. Some interviewed on camera say the law does not disturb them, but some of them might well come from countries with random police stops and a requirement to carry a nation identity card.

While some entities and individuals are avoiding Arizona while this law is on the books, others predictably think it’s a damn good thing, by God! A USA Today online  poll currently shows that two-thirds of the respondents clicked on “I’m more excited than ever to visit the state.” The remaining third split their clicks among four other opinions.

Repressive policy. Support from some. Anger from others. Backlash and reverse-backlash. Defensive actions. Posturing politicians. Innocent people (low-wage hospitality workers in particular) caught in the cross-fire. Business as usual.