I’ve never been a huge fan of the Southwest. I prefer cool weather, lush vegetation, and lots of bodies of water over spiders, cacti, and heat, even if it is “dry heat” as we are constantly reassured by those who call The Grand Canyon State home! However, I now have two friends from elementary school living in the Phoenix area so I have decided that I need to broaden my horizons and discover some ways to make my time in Arizona as enjoyable as possible. While planning my trip there, I realized that, with the Tucson Festival of Books taking up the majority of my stay, I would only have time to visit two attractions. Here are my choices:
The Phoenix Zoo
My husband and I haven’t been to a zoo without kids in years, so this was a very different experience for us. The Phoenix Zoo, established in 1962 (the year of my birth!), and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is one of the nation’s largest non-profit zoos. The Zoo prides itself on its commitment to conservation, as well as its ability to inspire visitors to become supporters of, and stewards for, the living creatures who reside there. We began our journey on the Arizona Trail where I learned a few new facts. For example, Arizona is the only state to have four deserts within its boundaries, all unique in their own ways. Interpretive signage also taught us about convergent evolution. This concept highlights species that are from different lineages or that live in different countries or continents, who develop similar traits. Sidewinder snakes, like rattlesnakes, are a great example of this. Though they’re miles apart, sidewinders in Arizona, the Middle East, and Africa all use a similar method of locomotion which give them traction on shifting desert sands. We were able to see dozens of types of desert snakes up close and personal, along with lizards, spiders, and mammals. My favorites were the self-important chuckwalla, the feisty javelinas, and the lurking vultures.
There was also an Africa Trail where we strolled through “Monkey Village”, the only walk-through squirrel monkey exhibit in the United States. It’s an open exhibit where tiny monkeys scamper through bushes and trees just inches away from you. As expected, they’re playful and adorable! My very favorite exhibit however, had a literary connection (surprise!) In the Zoo’s “Forest of Uco” dwells a pair of bears that many of you will remember as a single young bear who arrived in England from “Darkest Peru” with a note attached to his coat that read, “Please look after this bear”. The Andean bears that reside in the Arizona zoo can only be found in the tropical Andes (South America) and are currently an endangered species. They are soft-furred, shy, and lovable, just like the much-adored bear created by Michael Bond. The only difference is that the real bears don’t constantly crave marmalade!
The Phoenix Zoo allows coolers and has a picnic grove which will appeal to those on a budget, since the adult admission is $20. If you’re not watching your pennies, there are plenty of extras for all ages, including a 4-D Theater, Camel Rides, and a Giraffe Encounter. I recommend that you allow yourself at least half a day to fully experience the zoo and don’t forget water, a camera, and sunblock!
The Musical Instrument Museum
This relatively new Museum, which received a Travelers Choice mention on Trip Advisor in 2014, was another $20 well spent, though we initially balked at the price. MIM is open daily and is another place you’ll want to allow yourself at least four hours for. Even with this amount of time, it’s unlikely that you’ll make it through all the exhibits; there is simply too much to see, hear, and do. Once you’ve paid, you’re given a set of headphones which allow you to wander around listening to the plethora of musical selections that accompany each section. A musical performer or genre is featured in each exhibit, along with their instruments and costumes or accessories. The Artists Gallery on the first floor was wonderful. Some of my favorites were Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Pablo Casals, John Lennon’s “Imagine” being sung all over the world, and a brand new discovery, ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro. Check out his incredible skills at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snPQ1z5FoqQ . We both liked the special exhibit, “Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World, open through June 21 of this year, and the Mechanical Music Room, featuring things like calliopes and music boxes. No one was working in the Restoration Gallery, but I was able to see a video of a woman who worked on restoring Elvis Presley’s guitar which was fascinating. Most surprisingly, what we didn’t enjoy at all was the Experiential Room. There were too many rules and the volunteer kept hovering over, and scolding, everyone there. Sadly, we ran out of time so we’ll have to return to visit the second floor.
The breadth of musical history, past and present, contained within MIM’s walls gives you a sense of the impact that many talented and committed musicians have had on all of us over the years. Additionally you will be reminded of how music continues to have the ability to move and unite us all.