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Arizona Road Trip

I love the old west feel of Arizona, though their pistol packin’ policies give me pause. In spite of that, and in anticipation of “The Big One,” I decided it is never too early to begin searching for my beach-front Arizona property.

Using MapQuest and Triple A travel books, I mapped out a 4-day trip for late October in order to visit Wickenburg, Cave Creek, Scottsdale, Apache Junction, Florence, and Casa Grande. Never having traveled to any of these places other than Scottsdale, I convinced my friend Barbara that it would be a grand adventure to explore these areas. Ever the good sport, she was game!

Exiting off I-10 just east of Quartzite we took AZ Hwy. 60 through the Harquhahala Mountains and across the high desert. It was as if we’d traveled back in time to the old west, with not much but sand, sage brush and cactus between here and there. Arriving in Wickenburg we found our first great discovery in the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Old Town. Founded in 1960, their website says, “The purpose of the Museum was and still is to collect and preserve the history, lore and mementos incident to the development of Wickenburg and the Arizona Territory.” They have done an excellent job in accomplishing this.

For me, the two most impressive exhibits were the Hays’ Spirit of The Cowboy Collection, one of the largest collections of historic cowboy memorabilia ever on public view, from the collection of A.P. Hays, and The Hall of History Dioramas, which depict important episodes and themes in the history of Wickenburg and its region. In March the museum is the venue for Cowgirl Up! where women artists who work to capture the spirit and the lifestyle of the West are invited to come to the museum to exhibit their western paintings, drawings and sculptures. If you are traveling to Arizona it really is a “must see.”

After stopping at McDonald’s for a snack, no “Old West” there, we headed to Cave Creek. My research for the trip turned up the Buffalo Chip Saloon that sounded like a colorful joint in this sleepy little town and a great place for a burger and a beer. It did not disappoint, and the nearby shopping area designed like an old west town, complete with dirt streets, gave us another chance to stretch our legs, buy some grape-flavored licorice, settle the burger and beer on our stomachs, and contemplate dinner.

The drive from Cave Creek to Scottsdale took us through the town of Carefree just as the sun was sneaking behind the mountains. What a gorgeous area with beautiful homes built to look as if they were part of the rock formations nestled amongst the mesquite. It reminded me of Santa Fe, NM. But you probably can’t let dogs and cats run loose or they would most likely end up coyote or bob cat food. Plus, I kept thinking about the snakes and scorpions that were lurking in the nooks and crannies of the awesome rock formations. I’m such a wuss!

My last trip to Scottsdale was about 10 years ago and I was always disappointed that Cort and I hadn’t made more of an effort to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. I remembered that it sat out in the middle of nowhere at the time. This was not the case on this trip. Now there doesn’t appear to be any “wild west” between Cave Creek and Scottsdale. Housing developments and shopping centers were everywhere. Great if you wanted a track home or for shopping but I want the Wild West!

By cocktail hour we’d checked into the Marriott hotel located adjacent to Old Town Scottsdale which was perfect for walking off the happy-hour nachos and Margaritas. This area has fabulous art galleries and restaurants. They happened to be celebrating a new art exhibit so there was lots of activity, which made for great people watching. There was also a guitar-playing, singing cowboy on horseback that added to the old west flavor. I didn’t need any artwork (no wall space) but I did discover a book store in a state of perpetual chaos that had a book of Maynard Dixon’s wonderful artwork of the West. Another treasure!

The second great discovery, one not to miss if you are in the Phoenix area, is the Goldfield Ghost Town located northeast of Apache Junction on the historic Apache Trail, gateway to the Superstition Mountains. (The mountains are a bit ominous looking but breathtakingly beautiful. They obviously live up to their name given the fact that a plane recently crashed into the side of the mountain leaving nothing but a black smudge.) I am a sucker for ghost towns and have traveled to quite a few, some more ghost-like than others. Goldfield is definitely a tourist destination but is really quite authentic, journeying you back to the 1890s Old West. You can wet your whistle at the saloon (are you picking up a theme here?) and tour a brothel complete with charming young ladies playing the part of soiled doves. I cringed when she told us how many people shared the same yucky bathwater. ‘Course the madam always took her bath first. You can purchase trinkets at the general store, or buy your sweetheart a treat at the jewelry store. There is also a working gold mine, though the miners who own it won’t tell you whether or not they are bringing in any gold. A narrow gauge train takes you on a short trip around the outskirts of the town and period actors play out the gunfight scene in the middle of the street. Corny but always fun.

The following day we visited the Heard Museum North, just north of Scottsdale, a smaller version of the main museum in Phoenix. There you can spend about an hour, which was just our attention span, taking in Native American artwork and artifacts. We also went to Taliesin West and took the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s impressive architecture and artwork. Built in 1937 it was Wright’s winter home, studio and architectural campus. Wright would not be pleased with how close the town has moved towards his property which was originally out in the desert boonies. It remains as an accredited architectural school. The tours are well worth the time.

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The fourth day circled us home through Casa Grande and on through the Chocolate Mountains. When choosing destinations and travel routes it is always fun to pick places that have interesting names. As it turns out, AZ Hwy. 95 through the Chocolate Mountains and the Castle Dome Mountains is in the middle of the Yuma Proving Grounds, one of the US Army’s largest military installations. I didn’t read the fine print on the map before embarking on this route so didn’t notice the restricted areas. Fortunately, we weren’t in the line of fire of any missiles. Nor did we see any chocolate or castles in the mountains.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road, though we did pass a few snowbirds in RVs headed for Yuma and other parts south. But there were some great “whoop-de-dos” in the otherwise straight-as-an-arrow road that made us glad we hadn’t had a large breakfast. Remember when you were a kid and your dad hit those areas of the road that made you throw your hands in the air and yell, “whoop-de-do!”? The highlight of the day was the huge, pointy speed bumps in the road just as you pulled up to the little kiosk that looked similar to a border patrol building. We hit them hard and dead-on! We were laughing so much by the time we pulled up to a very-serious looking young service man, (I don’t remember what he asked us), we even made him laugh. Hey! What trouble can two old ladies bring? Plenty!

This was a thrill-filled adventure. It made me realize how much I like green grass and palm trees and that this is the best place to be…at least for now. I will worry about “The Big One” later.

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It’s the Little Things that Tickle Me

“Poet’s Paradise” is how I think of life in the desert. It is rich in happenings, etching snapshots into aging brain cells, poetry and prose blossoming like a faded lily rejuvenated by hi-grade fertilizer.

My kitchen window is like an IMAX movie screen with short films playing throughout the day. Hummingbirds flutter like fairies in the spray of the sprinkler, gleefully screeching to each other as if to say, “The pits! The pits! Don’t forget the wing-pits!” Red-tailed hawk sits patio-side eyeballing Dakota sleeping in her perch, oblivious to the hawk’s need to eat. Multi-colored hot air balloons drift in formation the length of the valley, silent except for the occasional whoosh of hot air lifting them higher.

This past year has been a smorgasbord of discoveries, from exploring desert “must-sees” to finding a good belly laugh lodged in the mundane of everyday life, fueling the muse, feeding my need to write in flavors full-bodied and sweet—like a pairing of Cabernet and juicy strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

Have I ever mentioned how friendly the people are here? Some encounters have been a little friendlier than others, with a few leaving ever-lasting visuals.

“Joey.” One day last February I was walking across the parking lot at Ralph’s Market after a mani/pedi appointment when I heard a male voice behind me yell in his New York accent, “You have the most beautiful red hair!” That got my attention. I whipped around to see a Joey Buttafuoco look-alike coming up behind me. “Uh, thanks,” I replied, not knowing quite what to do with a man who approaches me in a parking lot with a statement like that, except to continue walking.

He followed, chattering on as I responded in one-syllable answers. I have to admit that I was flattered. I’d like to think I’m aging gracefully and when I apply my “Bondo and paint,” as Cort would have called it, I don’t look too bad. But I was a bit nervous. Reaching my car I turned to face him.

“Ya know, we should get together sometime…for drinks or something,” he said.

Stammering at the “or something,” I listened to him continue. “Oh, by the way, I’m married. Is that a problem?”

“Uh, yeah, dude, it is. Give my regards to your wife.” Driving off I took satisfaction in watching him search for his car. So taken with my red hair, he’d forgotten where he’d parked.

“Target blonde.” Several months later I was putting my Target purchases into the back of my car when I heard a female voice behind me say, “Excuse me, this is a bit forward of me, and probably inappropriate, but could I ask you something?” Once again I whipped around to see the face behind the voice— a striking blonde 40-ish woman driving a fairly new white Mercedes SUV.

Now what? I thought, remembering my last parking lot encounter. Hesitating, I asked, “Yes?”

“Well, I was wondering how much you paid for your car. I’m getting a divorce and just found out this morning that they are repossessing my Mercedes this afternoon so I need to buy another car.”

When I told her what I had paid for Thelma, my Cadillac SRX, she bemoaned, “Oh, I think that is over my budget.”

Without missing a beat I told her to get a different attorney, to which she responded, “I think I better. You are the second person to tell me that.”

“Nick.” Chico’s is my favorite women’s clothing store. In this area it is not uncommon to have young men as sales clerks in cosmetic or women’s clothing stores. That doesn’t bother me. Popping into the store one day, looking for something new to wear, Nick wandered my way and quickly became my best friend for the afternoon. He was a slender 23-year-old young man with close-cropped blonde hair fashionably gelled to a slight point in the middle. He worked with me for about half an hour, learning my clothing likes and dislikes.

He pointed to a couple of tank tops that would co-ordinate nicely with my chosen heap of clothes bear-hugged in his arms. I told him I really didn’t like to wear tank tops because my bra straps always end up slipping off my shoulders, to which he replied, “I know; I have the same problem.” As he spun on his heels and trotted off to my dressing room with the armload of clothes, I stood there, mouth hanging open nearly to my chest. Say what??

After unloading the heap of clothes into my dressing room, he returned to my side with a sly grin on his face, knowing full-well what thoughts were running through my head. Matching his sly grin I inquired, “Okay, Nick. What is with you and the bra straps?”

He proceeded to tell me that he was a female impersonator of Carol Channing, with whom he had lived for several years. He even had some of her clothes, boas, jewelry and shoes. He said he sang her songs, as opposed to most of the impersonators who do Karaoke. I used to love to go to Finocchio’s in San Francisco back in the 1980s where a talented group of cross-dressers would sing and dance, the audience enthralled with their performance. It was great fun.

Nick was a delightful young man, very helpful, with whom I spent three hours, leaving with a good portion of “the heap” neatly folded into three large bags. I told him I would like to see him perform some time so we exchanged email addresses.

A couple of days later I received an email from Nick telling me that he would be performing in Palm Springs at Street Bar, advertised as a “friendly, neighborhood bar attracting locals and tourists.” It is also a gay bar. Hmmm. My friend Lanita, who lives in Sacramento, was coming for the weekend and she is always game for anything. A quick phone call had her replying, “Uh… sure.”

As it turned out, several of the women sales clerks from Chico’s showed up so we stuck together. Seven women, 50 and older, in a gay bar, filled with an assortment of men— young, old, most of them quite good looking, definitely gay. No dating options here. For the most part they were respectful, with the older men more accepting of us than the younger men.

One of the gals had quite a bit to drink so naturally had to go to the bathroom. OMG! No women’s bathroom! Well, duh! It’s a gay bar! She had to take care of business while five guys looked on, snickering in amusement.

“Nicky” did a great job. Dressed in one of Carol’s gorgeous blue gowns, silver pumps, yellow boa, and dripping in “diamond” rings, he belted out songs in a quirky voice like that of Ms. Channing. The joint was a bit rowdy but he did a good job of working the crowd, settling them down, and bringing them to attention. An hour into the show La and I began to get a bit antsy, especially when a couple of bare-chested guys walked by strutting their stuff. I figured if clothes were being shed, it was time to leave.

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I can now cross, “Visit a gay bar,” off my bucket list.

“The best!” I took Thelma to the car wash last week to spruce her up a bit. I ran her through the floppy things that swish back and forth, wiping the foamy soap across her exterior, treated her to a protectant polish, followed by dressing her tires, then through the dryer that, if you let the dog put his head out the window, his lips would flap and blubber just like Hooch, the wrinkly faced Dogue de Bordeaux in the movie Turner and Hooch.

After being cleansed and dressed I drove Thelma to the vacuum area so the attendants could clean out the interior crevices. As I walked over to the bench to wait for Thelma, I smiled at an 80+/− year old man waiting for his car. I sat down on the bench to his left to check e-mail on my iPhone just as he leaned a bit to the right and, well…passed gas. Now, I understand that as we get older we have gastrointestinal issues, and I have a few myself. But Jeez Louise! I tried not to laugh, biting the inside of my cheek so hard it drew blood. I could barely contain myself! Did he think I was hard of hearing? Did he think that the sucking sound of the vacuum would drown out the noise of his public mishap as it snapped out, reverberating off the metal bench? I tried to focus on my e-mail. I tried to think of something that would make me sad. I tried to think of anything except that “snap.”

AND THEN! They beckon him to his polished-to-mirrored-gloss black Ferrari. He climbs in, revs the engine a bit, eases the beauty onto Country Club Drive, and hauls ass in a cloud of pent-up testosterone. By the way, have I mentioned before that Viagra is a big seller here?