Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rock and Rolls

I was stretched across three seats, back on a Red-Eye again on my way to the West coast. This time I was heading far West, not quite the coast, but far away enough for it to be a sweltering and sultry 25' Celsius while New York fluctuated around the 0' mark. Though a night flight, my eyes captured the visible build up of mountain contours as we panned across the many states en route to Phoenix, Arizona. Our flight path covered some states that are probably more beautiful at 30,000 feet than on the ground: Nebraska; Kansas and the desolate likes. The aerial experience of seeing civilization diminish with every mile toward the West, was apparent as the topography became much more spread and scarce in 'life'. Few and far between dots of lights and clusters of raw earth filling the spaces- very dramatic from above, especially with a black starry night backdrop.

I bought with me a small carry on bag, as well as a preconceived notion that Phoenix would be pure desert, devoid of a chief city center. But as I adjust to Mountain Time (-2 hours from NY time), I noticed Phoenix is just as much a metropolis as any major city, with the company of a defined city center and all attractions suited for an Urbanite. But, what gives it a signature definition are the interspersed pockets of cactus' and desert. 
Rival Scenes: Sunset and Cactus
As I only had two full days of Arizona, my cousin Katherine and I took to a quick a.m. Starbucks and began the drive around the city. Before we got to the thick of the city, we went through several neighborhoods where I got eye-fulls of beige, nude and drab colours- this is Arizona's main colour scheme, which repeats itself all throughout the city. Whilst it sounds mundane, this palet is reinforced with the intensity of the sun and sky. Below are your typical, almost European houses that maintain the above colors, but they boast luxury and tranquility
Spanish Vibes

Vast gardens, and a lake running through the grounds: perfect. This complex if you will, is part of where Katherine lives, except these are the houses- she lives in a humble condo. Like the Middle Eastern 'compounds' the 'Lakes' community have communal facilities: Tennis courts; club house etc. 
Back To The 70s

A real sense of happy peace prevails this complex, as the spread yet contained friendly locality struck me with its relaxed vibe- a vibe that exists across the boards. The West is famed for its loose yet in tact way of life: the term 'going with the flow' speaks to the West entirely.  The pace is like a diminished stroll, in the face of the East coast 'chop chop'- and I could get used to it in a matter of seconds.

The View Of The Lake From Katherine's Condo

And just to affirm the insouciant lifestyle, I left Katherine to her work (it was a Friday) and relied on my natural navigating devices. I walked along the streets of Tempe- the area in which Katherine resides, is a suburb of Phoenix. My zen-like languorous walk picked up a pace (I can never escape the East Coast rhythms) as I gained proximity to 'Kiwani Park', but I slowed to a crawl, breathed in fresh air; and laid down on the 'corn field' grass. And from above was a golden beacon penetrating the one scattered cloud in the sky. Sheer Sublime. 

Along the side of 'Kiwani Park' is one of the many canals that moat the city.

 Being primarily a desert state, the region suffers from a major water deficit, but seeing all the canals and vegetation one hastens to banish this fact, for the plentiful amounts of shrubbery and Palo Verde trees negates the state's central look.

Interestingly enough, Palo Verde trees are  trees with green branches, that are found across the landscapes of Phoenix. Palo verdes comes in two species: Cercidium microphyllum and Cercidium floridum. The former is clothed with yellow leafs and the latter with blue- but the green trunk stems from the Spanish word: palo verde, meaning green stick. Notice how the image below is all green'- I'm not sure which specie this particular tree falls under, but the green branches and trunk bare visible traces to the root of the 'Palo verde' meaning.

All Green, Eco Style Tree
 As I retreat back to Katherine's home, I was abuzz from the Phoenician flare that had, at that point, crisped the tip of my nose. Somehow I shunned a typical South Western feature initially, but caught it in reverse. 
The Mexican/American borderland consumed my mind at the sight of this emblem. There is a real bleakness about the above; maybe it's the barbed wire, maybe it's the arid ground- but the encompassing greenery injects much needed life into this dead scene. Phoenix is but a 1.5 hour drive away from the border. My cousin tells me with narrowing eyes that it's a danger zone, fraught with tension- but the border towns can be a great way of sampling local Mexican culture.

On this Mexican note, the heavy Hispanic and Latino influences extend to all corners of the state. From the car drives, I picked up on the Mexican vibes that bounce from one wall to another, notably the colors. Lots of yellows, browns, deep reds and earthy greens- they all compliment each other providing a soothing scope of relaxation. 

And just to enhance your relaxation, an endless array of resorts are dotted around Phoenix for weekend retreats. One of the many we visited on our discovery was the fittingly titled: 'Sanctuary' in the Paradise Valley region, where overtired and overworked individuals come to bask and crisp in the Phoenician glow- careful though, it has fiery power. And to say that you're lounging around a pool during February is pretty spectacular- a lifestyle I would subscribe to on a yearly basis during the icy months. It's escapism in ultra style.

Beyond the low lying lush grounds are punctuations of the famed 'Camelback Mountain' that rim the resort. This is the most prominent rocky mountain in the region. True to it's name, the mountain scheme takes the form and shape of a camel in a sitting position, as its' 'back' wavers up and down, giving a camel hump impression.
Dramatic Setting
Whilst I was not able to go to the Grand Canyon, I did however strap myself into hiking gear for a semi mammoth mountain hike. And it's not as if you have to reach to far flung parts of Arizona to do it; there are mountains on the urban horizon just waiting to be tackled. 

My cousin and I went to 'Papago Park'- one of six major mountains and desert preserves in Phoenix. This red rock mountain can be taken lightly, or heavily- there are gentle and steep slopes of your choosing, though hiking up is astronomically easier than retiring downwards.

Papago Mountain
Katherine and I En route To Some Heights
Through erosion, holes in the red-rock buttes, called tafoni, form to make the scenery even more dramatic. Sometimes these tafoni are so large and deep, one can sit and gaze out over the park.

As we hiked in the valley of the sun, I was slipping from all the loose rock- it doesn't matter what footwear you have, the loose rock will get you big time. You do need stamina to reach certain heights though, the moderate levels are fun and easy to surpass, but once you enter the hard core zones, muscle action is required. At intervals however, we deferred our progression to further heights, just to catch our breath and take a few panoramic shots of the ceaseless landscapes.

Challenge Accepted
There were of course more heights to combat, but the grazes and gashes were becoming a perennial obstruction- I had to treat a well deserved cut due to profuse blood collected on my palm. But that did not hinder, in any way shape or form the experience of hiking in Arizona. I was expecting to meet some inhospitable wildlife on our venture, but there were no snakes or such to be seen.
Regularly hydrating yourself is an integral part that you need to factor into your hike time, you need the strength to get down.Once we 'rolled' down eventually we did not feel accustomed to the horizontal surface! It was brilliant nonetheless.

The brief hiatus from the East had come to a close, after two full days of Arizonian excursions, and amazing food, compromising mainly of Mexican cuisine and healthy salads and cool drinks. The Phoenicians are adept both physically and mentally as they mediate their lives between a 'live well' and 'eat well' motto.

- the sun filled sky is the best incentive.

Relax and Enjoy