I thought I'd start with a trip report. I'll break it into sections, starting with Phoenix!
What a glorious vacation! We flew into Phoenix on Saturday, and we stayed at the Legacy Golf Resort. It was a fabulous home base for us during our time in Phoenix. (The room had the usual king bed and bath with a sitting room, but we also had a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, a mini-fridge, a microwave, a coffeemaker, a toaster, even and washer and dryer. AND we had a balcony that overlooked the golf course. Beautiful view!) Our first stop? The Fry Bread House, which Frommer's says makes the best Indian taco in the state of Arizona. It was delicious - a fresh, warm, slightly crispy piece of flat fried bread wrapped around beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese. YUM.
On Saturday night, we checked out the Desert Botanical Gardens. What a great place! The plants in Sun Valley are mostly cacti and succulents, with a few feathery trees and bushes. It's so different from what we have in Mississippi. Some of the cacti were in really weird shapes, and some of their forms were twisted and gnarled. We stayed as the sun went down, and we got to see the garden lighting come on, which accentuated the creepy shapes of some of the plants.
We had Mexican food that night at Frank and Lupe's in the Scottsdale area. It was delicious AND cheap! The food there tasted so fresh - lots of fresh tomato, cilantro, lime. (Most of the Mexican food in Mississippi tastes like it comes out of a can.) We loved this place.
The next day, we started out by having brunch at Top of the Rock. It was such a memorable experience! First of all, the views from the restaurant are amazing. Second, they have live music. Third, the food is fabulous. They have everything you can imagine on the buffet, and it's all you can eat! Tons of lunch items, breakfast items, and freshly made omelettes, waffles, and crepes. Plus, they keep the champagne flowing. Although this was a splurge for us, it was definitely worth it.
After brunch, we went to the Heard Museum. They had some of the most beautiful Native American art - handmade pots, clothing, baskets, and kachina dolls. They also had some gorgeous jewelry and hand-carved furniture on display. I especially enjoyed the shaded courtyard, which was punctuated by statuary and two water features. We learned a ton about the Indian cultures that are present in Arizona, and I really feel that going to the Heard Museum early during our vacation enhanced our entire trip to Arizona.
Also in Phoenix, I went for a hike at South Mountain Park. From up in the mountains, you get great views of the city. There are some pretty easy hikes you can take, as well, so there's something for everyone in the park. My hike was a guided one offered by the Legacy Golf Resort, but I would have felt perfectly comfortable hiking alone. Trails are clearly marked, so just bring water, wear a hat, and apply suncreen.
We also found time to shop at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, and I thought it was a very well-planned retail development. While we were there, we had lunch at the Zinc Bistro. It reminded me so much of Paris, with its name spelled out in tile out front, the long zinc bar, the sidewalk tables and chairs, and the richly decorated interior. I had the mussels and fries, and they served them with a dense, chewy peasant bread to soak up all the delicious sauce. Almost too good to eat! Almost . . . :-)
Afterwards, we headed out to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's former home and architecture school, for a tour. We really enjoyed the tour; the house is quite remarkable. (A quick caveat - the tour we went on was fairly long, about 1.5 hours, and HOT. Bring water and wear suncreen.) It was so interesting to me to learn more about Wright and his philosophies on architecture. I even got to play Wright's old piano. (The instrument is, unfortunately, in very poor condition now. The tour guide spoke at length about how much Wright loved to play; seeing his piano in that condition probably would have broken his heart.) I found the gift shop at Taliesin West to be particularly good. I highly recommend stopping by and picking something up; they have items to suit almost every budget.
We shopped in Old Town Scottsdale to finish off our stay in Phoenix. They have lots of interesting little shops where you can buy Southwestern memorabilia, and there are also quite a few art galleries there. We had a little bite to eat at the Sugar Bowl, a charming little ice cream parlor decorated in pink and white stripes. The Sugar Bowl has apparently been written up several times in the old Family Circle cartoons. (The children of the family were always begging to go there!) The food was delicious and the price was right. (My only gripe - the women's restroom is in serious need of renovation. Yuck.)
Well, that was the first few days of our trip. Whew!