Desert spring: Fear and roaming in Phoenix

John Peel/Durango Herald

The hexagonal-shaped cabaret theater at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz., has nearly perfect acoustics, our tour guide Weiss Kelly tells us. She also mentions that after years of doing summer tours, she’s going to refuse this year. Who can blame her? Frank Lloyd Wright was smart enough to skedaddle when the mercury started to soar.

PHOENIX – Each fall, Frank Lloyd Wright and a bunch of his students would drive from Wisconsin to his “camp” in Scottsdale, Ariz. His famed Taliesin West had no air conditioning, at least in the modern sense, so in May they would pack up and high-tail it back to Wisconsin for the summer.

That was in the 1930s. Made sense then. Why not now? Why is this really such a difficult concept for today’s American?

You don’t live in a place such as Phoenix in the summer.

It’s ridiculous. Or, if you do stay for fry-an-egg-on-the-hood season, you should live next to a cool-water oasis, shaded by palo verde and mesquite trees, that you can dip into at any time.

So there’s probably enough oases for about 50 people. That means, in a few weeks, the other 4,263,186 in the Phoenix area should pack up and git-along. Go somewhere cool for the summer, like Vegas or L.A.

Maybe ol’ Sheriff Joe Arpaio wouldn’t mind staying with a few deputies from May to September to fend off the looters until everyone returns. Seems like the right guy for the job.

Anyway, Phoenix in the spring makes sense. The scoreboard at Salt River Fields, where the Colorado Rockies play their spring training home games, underlined that point last Monday night. The game-time temperature, it showed, was 72 degrees. The temperature at that moment at Coors Field in Denver, it also showed, was 47. I know where I’d rather be sitting in a T-shirt and shorts, cold beer in my hand.

The weather was perfect, but not so for the Colorado Rockies. That they lost 4-3 was inconsequential. Is it just me who is in agony trying to watch former great Todd Helton hit a baseball hard? It’s like watching a chihuahua struggling to jump up onto the dining room table. Note to new manager Walt Weiss: Did you notice that young guy Ben Paulsen, also a first baseman, like Todd, hitting a home run in the ninth inning?

Baseball is just one of many spring attractions. You can bike among the saguaros and other assorted cacti at McDowell Mountain Regional Park northeast of Scottsdale. Just don’t fall over in the wrong place. That’s what happened as we were pausing at the intersection of the Pemberton and Boulder trails.

A woman mountain biker rode up and asked if we’d take a photo. As I was saying “sure,” her riding partner, apparently on his first off-road cycling adventure ever, toppled over to his left, unable to disengage his foot from his pedal.

He was remarkably silent as he tumbled onto what I believe was a staghorn cholla cactus. We helped him up carefully, a track of staghorn planted in his forearm from elbow to thumb.

Ten minutes later, we’d freed him of pads and stickers. He was worried about damage to his arm, but recalling that a Durangoan had died on this trail in the not-too-distant past, I wasn’t too concerned.

What else to do in Phoenix? There’s always tennis and golf, the latter being a natural for the desert. Swaths of grass are fairly common in the Phoenix area, although it’s strange that wherever you see grass, it’s in long, thin strips and someone has built a golf course on it.

Phoenix golf courses use somewhere around 150 million gallons of water per month. That’s more than the entire city of Durango (100 million gallons) uses in a year. Why is this important? I don’t know, but I do know that big cities and golf courses were not meant to be built in the desert.

Sprawling metropolises laid out in grid-like form have a dehumanizing effect. So does driving around with 4.26 million of your fellow humans in a 16,573-square-mile area.

Fortunately, there’s an HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lane that you can use if you’ve got a whopping two of you in the vehicle. On our way out of town on Loop 101, I couldn’t understand why the HOV lane was so vacant.

Then I glanced around and into the nearby cars that didn’t have tinted windows. Turns out carpooling isn’t highly popular in the Valley of the Sun. The HOV lane was lonely and blazing fast.

Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted as saying, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”

The quip may not have anything to do with this story, but it’s kind of fun to think about. We’ll conclude with one final piece of advice:

If you’re going to Phoenix, do it soon, and don’t stay long. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

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