It does not seem so long ago that Arizona’s capital city was a sleepy burg which was best known for being mentioned in the title of Glen Campbell’s gigantic 1967 hit, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” According to civic officials Phoenix is now the sixth largest city in the United States. Despite its rapid growth Phoenix still retains a small town charm. Traffic jams are still infrequent outside of rush hour on I-10 and there is little pollution to be found. You can still clearly see the various constellations in the sky at night with the naked eye.
Although Phoenix is a modern city in every sense the city takes pride in its rich southwestern heritage. The Heard Museum, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, contains the largest collection of western Native American art, and artifacts from Arizona’s largest tribes as the Navajo, Hopi, Apache and Tohono O’odham are on display. To its credit, the museum does not shy away from controversy. Its current second floor exhibit focuses on the little-reported but shameful practice in the early 20th century of removing Native American children from their parents by the federal government and forcing them to attend special boarding schools in the eastern part of the U.S. so that they could learn to be “civilized.”
A few blocks down on Central Avenue from the Heard is the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM). As expected, the jewel of the museum is its collection of paintings and sculptures of the American West in its infancy from such legendary artists as Frederic Remington, Maynard Dixon and Albert Bierstadt. The PAM also contains works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Monet and Gauguin. If you are feeling a little homesick then you will enjoy the paintings of the late American impressionist Ernest Lawson who specialized in capturing New York neighborhoods in the late 19th century.
The Pueblo Grande Museum is an active archaeological site, which has been excavating what is believed to be the ceremonial center of the ancient Hohokam tribe. The Hohokams, like their relatives the Aztecs, were a very athletic people, and a playing field is on display which experts claim was used for a soccer-type game around 1200 A.D.
On a more modern note, the Hall of Flame Museum houses the largest collection of fire trucks and municipal fire department memorabilia in the world. The Hall of Flame also pays tribute to those firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty and there are photos of all of the members of New York’s Bravest who gave their lives on September 11, 2001.
The Phoenix Zoo located in Papago Park takes pride in being known as a sanctuary for injured animals as opposed to being a breeding zoo. Among its residents is a majestic bald eagle that has been living there for fifteen years and the very endangered Mexican wolf. The zoo also is home to almost every kind of primate. Sadly its most famous animal, Ruby the Elephant who was famous for painting on a canvas, passed away recently but copies of her work are on sale in the gift shop. Next door to the Phoenix Zoo is the Desert Botanical Garden, which contains practically every kind of cactus and other flora that can be found in the Phoenix area.
Spectator sports are popular in the Valley of the Sun. The Arizona Diamondbacks play in the Bank One Ballpark (more commonly called “The Bob” by the locals) which has become famous for its swimming pool behind the right-centerfield wall. A new pool is being installed in time for the 2005 season. Baseball fans from all parts of the country come to the Phoenix area in March because nine Major League teams make Phoenix and its surrounding cities their spring training homes.
Across Jefferson Street from “The Bob” is the America West Arena, which is home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. The America West Arena is one of the more spacious indoor athletic venues you’ll find and there is enough neon flashed around its many scoreboards to rival Times Square.
With its warm dry climate Phoenix is an ideal place for partaking in such sports as golf, tennis, hiking and swimming. Both the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak and Pointe South Mountain Resort allow you to do all of the aforementioned sports and have fine restaurants and modern spas to boot. The Squaw Peak has more of family atmosphere while the South Mountain has more of corporate convention feel to it but both offer good deals even during high season to savvy leisure travelers.
If you want to feel like you are back in the old Arizona of Barry Goldwater’s day then check out the Hermosa Inn, which was built in the 1930s in the nearby suburb of Paradise Valley. With its adobe villas, Mexican-influenced furniture and floors, and its cactus rock garden, you’ll feel as if you are on the set of a Clint Eastwood western. You can occasionally even hear a coyote howling from Camelback Mountain at night.
Getting to Phoenix from New York is not much expensive than it is going to Florida because Phoenix is the hub city and corporate home of America West Airlines, which is the nation’s second largest discount carrier behind Southwest Airlines. America West offers three daily direct flights from JFK to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. In addition Queens’ own JetBlue Airlines offers a daily evening flight from JFK to Phoenix and it is rumored to soon be adding a daytime departure.
For more information call the Phoenix Visitors Bureau