My mom and stepdad live in Arizona - a place we’ve never been before last year and a completely different place from what we’re used to here in the Pacific Northwest!
Every time we board the plane, our daughter gets so excited to see the changes...from wet and gray weather to hot and bright, cloudless skies; pine trees to cacti; green, lush landscapes to rocky, sandy desert; and gray, steel buildings to tan, stucco structures. The differences are night and day!
On our last trip to Arizona, it was only the kids and I because Vuong (my husband) couldn’t get time off from work. It was the kids' winter break and we wanted to spend the 1st part of Christmas in a much warmer part of the country and Phoenix was the perfect spot. Not only was the weather going to be warm (yet mild), we had family there.
The flight time is comparable to that of flying to Vegas (about 3 hours?) but we had a layover in San Diego so it took well over that. Once we landed in Phoenix, my mom and step-dad picked us up not too long after.
We only had a few days in AZ so we chose a couple places to visit. First stop was the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, which, was about 30-45 minutes away from my parents' house. Being a member of the botanical gardens ensures you get a discount on pricing; otherwise, it's regular price.
We set aside half the day to tour this beautiful desert garden oasis. We arrived fairly early to find good parking (which, to our luck, wasn’t too hard to find). Right before entering, the pathway was lined with the different plant species that we would come to find in the gardens. Chihuly glass sculptures sprouted out from the landscapes and were lighted (though, it was a little hard to see in the day).
All throughout the gardens were a few massive head sculptures propped up on a metal table surrounded by botanicals and desert florals. The heads were crafted by Japanese-American artist, Jun Kaneko. I’m only featuring 3 because my battery was running low. These were truly beautiful in person and really gave the place some added life with their bright colors and commanding presence.
Walking further in, you could find an occasional fountain placed around the property surrounded by native plants, botanicals, etc. Each fountain had an organic, modern vibe to them so that they blended into the gardens.
Colorful sculptures such as the wall of glass seen below, was one of Ava's favorites because the way the light filtered through created a rainbow-like effect in the area. It reminded her of some kind of candy land.
There was a butterfly garden that seemed to be a little bare of butterflies; however, I was able to catch a couple photos. Native species were seen throughout the property especially around the little cafe we stopped at for for lunch.
Birds such as the woodpecker and hummingbird were seen throughout, as well. If only I could get a photo of the hummingbird, you could see how magnificent these little tiny forces of nature are up close.
If you've ever watched any of those old Woody Woodpecker cartoons as a child (again I'm showing my age here), this place definitely reminded me of my childhood. The woodpecker. as mentioned early, is native to Phoenix and I remember seeing cactus in quite a few episodes. The Saguaro cactus seems to be the popular type throughout - these are the tall ones that appear to have several arms raised - but we saw other species as well such as the round, ball shapes (barrel cactus) and the flat, fan-like cacti (the prickly pear).
There were several huts that depicted the different types of shelter built by natives way back when. As you can see, the kids had a great time pretending they lived in them. There were little informational placards telling you a little about each structure which posed a few questions from each. Not only was this trip educational, but it helped the three bond by prompting some forms of discussion - both silly and serious.
The stucco building with beam detail you see behind me in one of the photos is common in modern-day Arizona with its Southwestern rustic charm.
Lookout Points and Trails
There are many trails and lookout points throughout the property to add to the learning experience for all so make sure you wear comfy shoes and load up on your sunscreen (see my tips at the end of this article). The kids were able to see the different, rocky mountains and small towns around the area. Very different from the abundance of hills and greenery in Washington, indeed!
You've probably noticed some of the little yellow boxes lining the property in some of the photos...otherwise known as Las Noches de las Luminarias. According to one of the employees we had the pleasure of speaking to, some of the staff members light each and every single one of the 8000 lanterns on the property for 21 straight evenings during the winter months of November and December (check the site for exact dates). Warm cups of cider or cocoa is available as well as the ability to dine alfresco (so definitely a great outing for anyone of all ages). Various band ensembles add to the ambience and is perfect for anyone wanting to have a relaxing evening in the desert.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to experience this because the kids were tired so the adults made it a point to come back and watch the magic happen. Maybe Vuong will be able to join us the 2nd time around.
Christmas in the Desert
For some odd reason, Ava thought that Christmas would be a little bit different in Phoenix because of the lack of pine trees but it seems that the place followed through with this massive tree found at the gardens. It made Ava feel like we were home in Washington (she was feeling a little bit homesick because she missed her daddy).
You're going to do lots of walking in the heat so make sure you do the following:
No doubt we'll be back next Christmas to spend time here as a family in the evening so that we get the full experience of the grounds.
For more information on this beautiful place, check here: www.dbg.org/
- XOXO, Mari