Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Thoughts on Phoenix

I always thought that a mythological bird that was constantly regenerating was kind of cool. The phoenix, rising from the ashes, seemed indestructible. Perpetual renewal, while remaining itself to its very core.

The Arizona city, on the other hand, is a very different creature, and while there appears to be constant growth, the city seems to spread without any true core. And within Phoenix, the heat does burn.

Phoenix seems to comprise several suburbs, including Scottsdale, Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe, Glendale, Chandler, Goodyear, and Litchfield Park. The heart of Phoenix, which seems to house the area's only multi-storied buildings, takes a small section of real estate that is surrounded by highways 10 and 17. It's a fraction of the size of Ottawa's Centretown region, with fewer tall buildings.

The suburbs, to me, seem to take the same layout of small, single-storied buildings (a few have two levels) on street blocks that are sheltered by palm and other trees that try to conceal the existence of structures. I found it difficult to tell the difference between Mesa and Scottsdale, between Gilbert and Chandler. And the sprawl is so vast that it seemed like it took a half an hour, or more, to drive anywhere.

Luckily, we were in Phoenix to visit family, and for the first four days, that's exactly what we did. DW's brother lives in Goodyear, on the far-west side of Phoenix, not far from Luke Air Force Base, from which we could see F-16 fighter jets taking off. On our first day, as our girls were adjusting from the time shift and from a late flight, they hung out with their cousins while my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and eldest nephew took us on a drive around the neighbourhood to give us a lay of the land. We also stopped at Verrado Trail, where we got our first taste of the Arizona desert landscape.

It was my first photo opportunity, so I took it.

Our second full day put our bodies to the test, as we climbed Camelback Mountain. What DW and I thought would be a leisurely hike became a challenging excursion, as we negotiated rocks and steep climbs. At the two-third to three-quarter mark toward the summit, my wife and I both felt like giving up, but her brother, a fit Scouts leader, urged us on.

Our fears, once we reached the summit, turned towards the descent, but at least the view was breathtaking.

I have to hand it to my brother-in-law. He got us to push ourselves and he brought the tools for our return to the base of the hill—walking sticks. Without one to lean on, I doubt I would have made it down in one piece.

Lessons learned were to not carry my full camera bag—to only take what I needed for the day—and to make sure we carried enough water. The dry Arizona heat is a killer.

It took a full day to recover from the climb up and down Camelback Mountain, but we filled our time with a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum, some shopping, dining, and relaxing in the backyard swimming pool.

Phoenix is not one of my favourite cities. I don't like the layout, how it's spread so far when it could be built up without obscuring the mountainous landscape. For me, the main attraction is family. Without them, I doubt that I would ever consider returning. 

On our fifth day in Arizona, we said goodbye to my brother-in-law's family and headed north, almost to the Utah border, where we turned more to the photography element of our trip. Page is a small town with an almost alien landscape, and it is home to a photographer's Mecca: the Antelope Canyons and Horseshoe Bend.

For tomorrow's Wordless Wednesday, I'll take you through a hallowed site, where I was led by a Navajo guide on a journey of colour and shapes, and a peace that emanates throughout.

Stay tuned...

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