Tag Archives: Arizona

Arizona Calling

Where to start?

I was in paradise, otherwise known as Scottsdale, Arizona, from February 8-15. It was a much-needed reprieve from a month that has seen life-sucking, record-breaking temperatures in Edmonton. According to local weather prognosticators, our city has only been this cold for this long two other times in the last 50 years (2nd longest in the last 30 years), with extreme cold warnings issued almost every day since the beginning of February. (ADDENDUM March 1: We did it! We suffered through the coldest February in the last 40 years! The average temperature for the month has been -19.7 C)

But enough whining.

Did I mention I was in paradise for a week?

Sharon was in Scottsdale with Stella for her usual month of holiday. Joanne and Steve traveled at the same time, and I showed up a week later (sans Tom, who won’t travel to the US). On the same day I arrived, my cousin Cathy and her husband Larry also arrived from Winnipeg (via Palm Springs) for a couple of days. For 24 hours there were six people in Sharon and Vic’s condo, plus one large dog. It was a blast!

By mid-week, it was just the sisters, and Stella – an honourary if rather hirsute sibling.

This was the first time that I’ve been down to Scottsdale for more than just a few days. I don’t have a ton of holidays built up since switching jobs, but this seemed like exactly the right thing to do with one of my weeks. How often do I get to spend time with family like this, on holiday? Never.

The weather was on the cool side for most of my stay (around 15C), but we had a few days at plus 20C. It didn’t really matter. It always feels like some kind of miracle to sit on a plane for a few hours, only to disembark in an entirely different climate. One with palm trees, cacti and air that doesn’t want to kill me.

It took a long time for my suitcase to show up, so we were late back to condo. Larry had bought pizza for everyone, which was very kind, and oddly, very apropos. Earlier, while I was still on the plane, the seat belt warning suddenly came on. There was no turbulence, but at that moment the cabin filled with the smell of mushroom pizza. Maybe it was a way of keeping the passengers strapped down while the crew enjoyed a slice or two? No judgement, although my free packet of tiny pretzels suddenly seemed very inadequate.

The next day, after a walk with Stella around the golf course, we all headed to Old Town for a parade, or as it locally known, the Parada del Sol. The day wasn’t exactly sunny, but what it lacked in sol, it more than made up for in Americana, including marching bands, horses and flags. Lots of flags. No MAGA hats, thank god. It was interesting and a nice introduction to Scottsdale life.

Cousins Cathy and Larry at the parade

Sharon and Stella taking a break at the parade

Steve flew back to Edmonton around dinnertime, and we just hung around for the rest of the evening, drinking margaritas, before taking Stella for her final walk, which usually involves a trip down to the pond to see if the night heron was stationed at its usual spot. It was.

The nice thing about walking Stella in Scottsdale, other than walking Stella, is that the birds are very different, and therefore, the ambient sounds very different. No magpies. No chickadees. None of our usual over-winterers. They have grackles, lots of them, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, Gila woodpeckers, starlings, quail, cormorants, egrets, herons, cardinals, some Canada geese (which I warned not to return to Edmonton just yet) and many other birds that we just don’t see, or hear, in Edmonton – at least not at this time of the year, if ever. It was wonderful. A feast for the ears, and one of the biggest pleasures of traveling to this part of the world.

Desert Botanical Garden


Angry Hummingbird is angry


Starling Peekaboo

Day Heron

The landscape also speaks to me. I love the desert. I love the flatness spiked by saguaro cacti and terra cotta mountains. I love the smell of the air, the flat roofs, the shiny cars, and the ice-free sidewalks. In fact, the only thing I stepped gingerly around was a lovely little snail.

In the middle of a harsh winter, it is phenomenally cheering to be in the presence of living things like flowers and grass, and the huge variety of bird life. This place is surely a cure for seasonal effective disorder, or at least, a temporary break. I’m not sure that I suffer from SAD exactly, but the daily anxiety of walking on slippery surfaces and driving in snow storms is mentally and physically exhausting. And, it was so nice to say goodbye to the layers of heavy clothing and micro-spiked boots for a week.

We did lots of things, especially walking. One warm day we took Stella out for a hike to the Gilbert Water Ranch, which was extremely nice. A flat trek, with lots of dust, gravel trails (hence the dust), egrets, bunches of tiny scurrying bunnies, and wading birds like the Black-Necked Stilt or as I called it, the Black-Stilted Neck. Stella had a blast running after the bunnies (on leash), and to her credit, my shoulder eventually popped back into its socket.


Upon reflection, I have no egrets

Other highlights:

I really enjoyed the Queen Creek Olive Mill, which Joanne, Sharon and I visited on the Wednesday. I had bruschetta sampler plate, and it was outstanding. And then we all loved the boutique store, with olive oils and balsamic vinegars made on site. I bought a few things. Maybe a lot of things.

I also loved the Heard Museum in Phoenix, which is dedicated to the American Indian. We went there on my last full day, which was raining, and I fell in love with the Hopi Katsina dolls, of which they have hundreds. All very weird. When we got home, Sharon and I sat in the hot tub for half an hour in the rain. It was surprisingly pleasant.

Now that’s a dolly!

And of course, the Desert Botanical Garden – which we visited twice. On Sunday night, we all went to see their Electric Desert exhibit, which is exactly as it sounds. The whole place was lit up like a disco, only pricklier. It was beautiful, kind of like being underwater at a coral reef. Even the mountain had light images undulating across its surface. Whoever runs this place is endlessly creative with their annual feature exhibits. One note, I was absolutely frozen, which I know sounds weird considering it was about 11C, but I was not dressed for a desert night in February. Long pants would have helped, and the sandals were also a mistake. I wasn’t going to die from the cold, however, and that’s the difference.

Electric Desert

Electric Cathy and Larry

Electric Joanne

The next morning, Sharon, Larry and I were back at the garden with the birders. Saw some cool birds, some of which I was able to capture on my camera, others not so much.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum was also a treat. I thought I had been there with Dad and Shirley way back in the 90s, but it must have been some other arboretum (or Are-borea-torium, as my dad pronounced it) because it wasn’t familiar at all. Lots of little winding trails and far more lush than the botanical garden. It was hot outside too, which was awesome. Stella enjoyed it as well, although whoever was holding her leash had to make sure she didn’t walk into cacti. As Joanne pointed out, some of the locations looked like the battle scene between Kirk and the Gorn on Star Trek. No gorns, but we did see turtles laying on a rock in the sun. That’s a first. We had a picnic lunch in the tree grove. Can’t remember what they were, but they were huge. And apparently, full of cardinals.

Me at Boyce Arboretum

Happy Valentine’s to you too, succulent!

Sharon, Boyce Arboretum

My first turtle sighting!

Throughout the trip, I felt enormous gratitude toward for my sister and brother-in-law for kindly purchasing this condo in Scottsdale in 2013, and for opening its doors to family and friends. And especially, for the opportunity to spend some time with my sisters in total relaxation. Sharon had to do all the driving since their car is a standard, but I think…I hope…she was relaxed. Stella certainly was relaxed, when she wasn’t on high alert in the car, or hyper-focused on her favourite blue ball, which, by the way, I accidentally threw over a wall and lost. My sporting abilities continue to amaze.

I was sad to go, and if I had been a better planner, I would have stayed for another couple of days. Once the plane was in the air for about 20 minutes, the landscape became white, and we landed in Edmonton in a white-out snow storm.


As the Westjet spokesman said, “As you step out the door of this plane, please remember, you asked us to fly you here.”


Nevertheless, it was a great time. Thanks Sharon and Vic and Joanne and Steve and Cathy and Larry and Stella!!

Don’t make me get off!!

Never complain, never explain. But…

Never complain, never explain.

Too late. I have already complained, and I am about to explain.

I spent four days in Scottsdale, from Thursday, February 16 to late Sunday. It was a wonderful. All of it. Even the parts I complained about and will now attempt to explain. It was a relief to leave, however briefly, a Maggie-less house. Nice also, to be under the sun (for two of the four days) and next to saguaro cacti, which always seem so human to me. And to see my sister Sharon, who has been on vacay for a month.

Proving to instagram that I was in Arizona

Larry and Cathy

My cousin Cathy and her husband Larry were also down in Arizona, so it was a great family visit on top of a much-needed desert holiday. Shortly after arriving at the condo, Sharon and I took off to her home away from home, the Desert Botanical Garden. It’s a beautiful place. The breadth of plant life (mostly succulents) in Arizona in combination with the flat landscape and the afterthought mountains continue to amaze. It’s truly a gorgeous place and I’m always happy to be walking among the pricklies, even if now some of those pricklies are actual pricks (of the Trump variety).

American Starling

Billy Idol Starling

Turns out, on previous visits I had totally missed entire sections of the garden. In my defense, it’s huge, with lots of twists and turns and a great gift shop. Many photo opportunities, especially birds. Apparently there are also snakes, lizards and roadrunners, but I have yet to see any of those. On this trip, I saw mostly starlings, which are a spotty bird with a lovely green sheen. They enjoy sitting on the tops of cacti. Either they have good padding or they are very, very dumb. And, I would imagine, sore. Also, lots of quail and pigeons, although down here they call them doves.


We did all the usual stuff. Walked to Old Town. Ate Mexican. Drank latte’s at the Coffee Bean. I had a particularly nice phone conversation with Tom while sitting on a lounge by the pool as dusk approached. Very balmy. Very relaxing.

Also, I nearly died.

One of my goals for this trip was to do some hiking. Sharon and Vic have hiked all around the Phoenix area, but I have not. Sharon picked her favourite hike in the Superstition mountains, about half an hour outside of Scottsdale. As we approached the trail, it looked harmless enough. The surrounding landscape was beautiful. Mostly flat right up to the mountain range, with lots of cacti. A scene plucked out of a western movie set. Within 15 minutes, however, things got rocky. Really rocky. It turns out this trail is mostly loose rock and boulders, which apparently is called a scramble. By definition, if you need your hands to make headway up a steep gradient, you’re scrambling. I would add, if you need your hands and your ass to make headway up (or down) a steep gradient, then you’ve made a terrible mistake. I have never hiked up a scramble before. My acquaintance with the word had, up to that point, involved eggs. By the end of it, my brain, and parts of my body, were well and truly scrambled. I was a full English breakfast.

The trail of tears

Cathy, Sharon and Larry

Part of the superstition mountain range

For most of the walk, my eyes were glued to the trail, because I was sure if I broke concentration, I was going to fall. Some of the passes were quite narrow, with uneven, rocky footing. It wasn’t the physical exertion of climbing to 5,000 ft so much as the psychological trauma of anticipating my immediate demise and/or blood spurting and/or bone breaking injury, or the injuries of others. I’m not usually such a whiny little bitch, but I was spooked. When I did stop, the scenery was magnificent! Every time I looked up the peaks of the mountains to our left and right were closer. We had started the walk under cloudy skies, but as we ascended, the skies cleared and the contrast between the red rocks and the blue sky was stunning.

Cathy and Larry, Weaver’s Needle behind

Sharon, photographing Cathy and Larry

Me, apparently alive, in front of Weaver’s Needle

I think my fear has something to do with my lack of fitness. I used to be very fit, and I think there is a confidence that goes with a well-performing body. Also a lighter body. Five hours of hiking would tire anyone, but the mental exhaustion was kind of a surprise. I spent most of the hike wondering if my body would keep me upright. (It is known to be untrustworthy in that regard.) I started chanting ‘the earth will hold me up, the earth will hold me up,” and somehow, it did. I tripped a few times but didn’t face plant. I’m glad I made it, but I’m more than a little surprised and yeah, maybe a little ashamed that I complained throughout. That’s not me. At least not when I’m in nature. It’s supposed to my element. Walking is my thing. Who is this Donna??

Behold, the splendor of nature in all its bouldery magnificence!

It’s OK not to like scrambles. If the trail had been clearer and the boulders less homicidal, I think it would have been different. But even at peak fitness, I’m not an agile person. I don’t look for ways to go up or down hills on my ass, and I don’t like going full old-lady down a trail, grabbing every branch for dear life, including the occasional cactus. I was probably being overly-cautious, and sometimes that can be as dangerous as being reckless (like the douche we passed running up the hill, and then down). Whatever I was doing with my body, and certainly with my mouth, it made me look like an asshole, a million miles from where I used to be just a few years ago. I don’t like being that afraid, and I also felt bad that I made my sister feel like she had taken me on an un-fun hike. It was fun, in hindsight, and the scenery was (probably) worth it. My cousins who are more than ten years older than me had no problem, and they loved it! Sharon, who is managing a health crisis rather admirably, had no problem. We were all tired, but I was the only one complaining. Nice.

My step counter showed 22,487 steps. A record for me.

After we arrived back in the ‘hood, with great difficulty I got out of the car and got myself a latte, and then we all spent the next hour exchanging skins cells in the hot tub. That helped. I wasn’t too stiff the next day, but still felt bad about the whole thing. My inability to deal with the scramble, and my inability to keep my mouth shut about it felt at odds with how I perceive myself. On the other hand, maybe I am a whiny little bitch. I am certainly out of shape.

The rest of the vacation featured few dangers, and very little complaining. Who could complain in that landscape? It did rain on the Saturday, and parts of Sunday, but along with the ease that comes with warm summery temperatures, I also miss rain in winter. We don’t get a lot of it in drought-prone Edmonton and the sound and smell is always so calming. It was wonderful falling asleep to the sound of rain on Saturday night. We also enjoyed walking around the partially flooded golf course on Sunday, watching the cormorants air-dry their wings and just being immersed in green. We followed that up with a great dinner at The Blind Pig, one of Sharon and Vic’s favourites, which had a live country band. Lively atmosphere and the salsa was incredible. And then a direct flight home.

My takeaway? Winter holidays are great, even if they are short. Also, more exercise, more walking and more nature. Fewer boulders.

Cormorants drying their pits