A Few Days In Phoenix

Finding the bright spots in the Valley of the Sun:

Maybe you'll be in town to catch some spring training action or are wondering what else there is to do in Phoenix, or maybe you'll be passing through before or after a trip to the Grand Canyon. Whatever the reason, you'll find there's plenty to do around Phoenix other than play golf, hang out by the pool, go to a spa, or go shopping (although these are all favorite Phoenix pastimes).

First of all, you should be aware that the Phoenix metropolitan area, known as the Valley of the Sun, covers an area roughly 50 miles in diameter. Leave yourself plenty of travel time for getting across this sprawling metropolis.

For a first stop, you might want to acquaint yourself with the desert by wandering the paths of the Desert Botanical Garden, which is located amid the red rocks of Papago Park (which itself is a good place for a short hike). Also not to be missed is the Heard Museum, which is the nation's foremost museum of Native American cultures. Not far from this museum you'll also find the Phoenix Art Museum, which is the largest art museum in the Southwest.

Although Phoenix is the state capital and is home to several excellent museums, nearby Scottsdale is the metropolitan area's top tourist destination. Although this wealthy community on the east side of the valley likes to think of itself as a wild west town, it's more Rodeo Drive than cattle drive and the mustangs tend to have alloy wheels instead of iron shoes. If you live to shop, this is the place, and even if you can't afford to buy a $40,000 bronze statue for the back patio, it's fun to window shop along streets lined with art galleries. Scottsdale is also home to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which, with its bold styling, serves as the valley's premier venue for cutting edge art (no cowboys on horseback here).

The Phoenix area is full of unusual architecture. In part this is due to the fact that Frank Lloyd Wright once made his winter home here. Taliesin West, where Wright lived and worked, is on the north side of Scottsdale. Although still in use as a school, Taliesen West is open to the public by guided tour.

While Scottsdale is still where Phoenicians go to shop, downtown Phoenix has been undergoing a renaissance in recent years and is now well worth a visit, even if you aren't on your way to a basketball game at the America West Arena or a baseball game under the retractable roof at the Bank One Ballpark. You can learn all about the city's past at the Phoenix Museum of History, which is adjacent to Heritage Square, a collection of restored buildings that date back to the late 19th century. Also in this same area is the Arizona Science Museum, which has a planetarium and a large-screen theater and is a great place to take the kids. A few blocks away, you'll find Arizona Center, a shopping center with several restaurants and nightclubs, and good souvenir and gift shopping. For a glimpse of the old Phoenix, I mean really old, visit Pueblo Grande Museum & Cultural Park, which preserves a Hohokam Indian village that was abandoned in the 15th century.

If you tire of the traffic and the city, don't miss an opportunity to get out of town and see some real desert. East of Phoenix is a loop driving tour called the Apache Trail. This route circles the Superstition Mountains, which are home to the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine (which remains lost to this day). 

Part of the Apache Trail is on gravel road, but if you take it slow, it's usually passable to a regular passenger car. Along the route, there's a ghost town tourist trap, a state park, a lake with paddle wheeler cruises, and Tonto National Monument, which is the site of the southernmost cliff dwellings in the state.

Another interesting excursion is to the side-by-side towns of Cave Creek and Carefree, on the northern edge of the valley. Here you can catch a glimpse of how the old west and the new west are coming together. Cave Creek is a sort of false-fronted tourist cow town, with plenty of saloons and wild west appeal, while Carefree is a planned community that is home to The Boulders, Arizona's premier golf resort.

The Route:
To drive the Apache Trail, take Hwy. 60 (the Superstition Freeway) east to Apache Junction and then go northeast on Hwy. 88, which soon becomes a gravel road. At Theodore Roosevelt Lake, the gravel ends and you continue on Hwy. 88, stopping at Tonto National Monument, to Globe, where you pick up Hwy. 60 west to return to Phoenix. To reach Cave Creek and Carefree, either go north on Scottsdale Road or take I-17 north to exit 223 and then go east.