Get Energized at The Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale

The Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale from the front drive on Drinkwater Blvd..

If you’re thinking about joining a health club, The Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale offers an inspiring choice for local residents with a Spa & Swim Club membership. It’s $300 for the year or you can try it for 6 months for just $200.

It’s an attractive offer because in addition to being able to access the 24-hour fitness center, members also get access to two heated or cooled pools. If you don’t live in Phoenix, you’re probably not aware that outdoor pools without heaters get too cold to use comfortably after September. Plus, the pool water in the summer time can reach 90 degrees. So having access to pools that are comfortable year round is a nice benefit.

As if that wasn’t enough, members also get 20% discount on spa treatments and food and beverage, as well as one free night per year.

It sounds like a great deal to me!

Plus, the Saguaro is speaking my language with dynamic exterior paint colors, which provide an inspiring counterpart to the desert landscape.

The yellow pop of color provides a nice welcome to members and visitors, as do the palm trees and saguaro cacti.

The front drive of the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale is lined with palm trees and saguaro cacti.

I took a room tour while I was there and the rooms on the ground floor facing the pool have a nice patio with lounger, which would make for a nice staycation or restful space for out of town guests.

You will really like the park entrance to the hotel as well. This entrance to The Saguaro, while still colorful, has a more serene feeling with the trees shading the pathway.

The Saguaro Hotel, Scottsdale, Arizona

From what I heard from the desk clerk, the meeting rooms are  popular with local businesses who need offsite space for meetings. I’m not surprised. The setting of The Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale would make for both inspiring meetings and restful breaks after sessions.

My Obsession With Agave Gardens in Tucson

If you’re visiting Tucson, I highly recommend you check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a hybrid botanical garden and zoo designed to educate visitors about the Sonora Desert.

While you can’t go ten feet without seeing a saguaro cactus in Tucson and the Saguaro National Park is well worth visiting, at the Desert Museum, I re-discovered my passion for agave. Here’s a photo post with my best shots from their Agave Garden.

I am usually good about taking a photo of the placard next to each plant so I can remember the name of it, but there were a couple I couldn’t find. Can you help me name them?

I’m thinking of printing one or more of these. Which agave photo do you like best? I’d love it if you’d drop me a note in the comments. Thanks!

Now on to the agave…

Twin Flowered Agave

 

Bald Agave

 

Hohokam Agave

 

I’ve named this agave Pink Tucson Agave, but maybe you know its real name?

 

What’s the name of this Agave? I’ve named it Tucson Agave for now.

 

If you are visiting Arizona, I recommend you take time to visit Tucson. It’s a fun city with lots of great art, food, drink and outdoor activities. I have certainly enjoyed my time here.

Hello From Steller’s Jay

Hey, Pay Attention!, Steller’s Jay, at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

This little Steller’s Jay flew past my head as I crouched down to take a photo of another bird. He landed at my feet and proceeded to hop around to get my attention. For a moment, I thought he might peck my toes. It was really cute how he cocked his head and looked up at me.

Then he flew up to a nearby pillar and sat really still while I took a few shots.

Hello, Steller’s Jay, at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

When I sat down next to him, he sang me a little song. Then he pecked at the brass ties on my shirt. I’m guessing his song was something like “feed me, feed me, please, I’m hungry.” I imagined I still smelled like the Thanksgiving dinner I had enjoyed earlier.

The behavior of this Steller’s Jay is true to form. According to the Cornel Lab website, these birds:

…are bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy. Steller’s Jays spend much of their time exploring the forest canopy, flying with patient wingbeats. They come to the forest floor to investigate visitors and look for food, moving with decisive hops of their long legs.

Mr. Steller’s Jay, you inquisitive investigator you, what wisdom do you have for me?

“You never know what you might learn if you ask more questions!”

My cousins would tell you that asking questions is something I’ve been doing since I was a little child. However, it’s worth remembering.

Nature Photography

Whenever I photograph birds or animals, I always send out loving vibes to let them know I appreciate them. I think it calms them and lets them know I mean them no harm. I also think it calms and centers me, enabling me to take better photos.

Nature photography is not easy. It’s an exercise in patience. The animals have minds of their own and sporadic actions, which means it’s challenging to catch them in the right light and frame them perfectly.

Whenever I visit a garden or zoo with an aviary, I like to practice my skills. It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or so, and if I’m lucky, I might come home with a shot or two that I’m willing to save.

Scottsdale’s Eldorado Park, A Community Favorite

Eldorado Park at sunset, Scottsdale, Arizona

In Eldorado Park, the city of Scottsdale has a much-loved community park. It’s good for all ages with playgrounds, soccer, volleyball, basketball, skateboarding, swimming and even fishing.

Or, if you’re just there to photograph the sunset, in addition to palm trees and the water feature, there are several convenient benches where you can relax and wait for the colors to emerge.

With picnic areas and ramadas, it’s also a nice place to have a meal with friends or family after work. You can even make a reservation for a picnic area which is nice for large groups and planned events.

You can find Eldorado park at 1891 N. Miller Road in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s open from Sunrise to 10:30 p.m.

Revisiting Papago Park

Notice the ramada in the foreground for visitors.

There is more to see at the picnic areas at Papago Park than the trail head across the street. They have ramadas both near the mountains and near the water for visitors to get out of the sun and share a meal or simply rest from the trail for a bit.

Plus, the muscovy ducks are fun to watch.

Muscovy duck at Papago Park

I’d like to explore the hiking trails at Papago Park next. They are all marked “easy” with slight elevation changes, from .2 miles to the 3.1 mile fitness trail. There’s the hole in the rock to see and Governor Hunt’s tomb, but the trail to his mausoleum is a bit of a climb.

 

The Best Restaurants at Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at sunset taken from inside Terminal 4.

The first touchpoint for many tourists to Arizona will be Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). As a visitor in transit, you’ll appreciate the powered walkways between terminals and the bottle refill stations in every terminal so you can avoid paying $5 for a bottle of water. That is, if you remember to bring your refillable container from home.

TIP: Did you know you can go through TSA security with ice? As long as you don’t have your container filled with water, you will likely sail right through. Of course, you may get an officer who shakes your bottle just to double check, but I’ve never had an issue with ice only.

Another pleasant surprise tourists will find at PHX includes food from several of the best restaurants in Phoenix that have locations at the airport.

Here’s a list of the 9 best restaurants post-security organized by terminal:

Terminal 2

Barrio Avion – Mexican – Choose your favorite fillings and you’ll be on your way to enjoying some of the most flavorful Mexican food I’ve tasted.

Terminal 3

Taberna del Tequila – Mexican – I haven’t eaten at this restaurant, but from among the options available in Terminal 3, this restaurant would be my first choice in this terminal.

Terminal 4

Olive & Ivy, Gate A3 – I’ve been to their flagship Scottsdale location, which has more choices. If I was in the mood for something light, I’d grab a salad from this airport location.

Pei Wei, Gate A22 – Asian – While this restaurant is a national chain, they serve a tasty spicy chicken rice bowl that I’ve enjoyed several times.

Matt’s Big Breakfast, Gate B5 – Bacon with eggs, burgers or bloody marys. Try their other locations across the valley for a breakfast that can’t be beat.

Madeleine, Gate B20 – French – The salads and new dinner and wine entrees look very appetizing.

Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, Gate C13 – The next time I fly out of Terminal C, I’d like to try the fish or shrimp tacos here.

Barrio Cafe, Gate D1 – Mexican – I love the Cochinita Pibil at this restaurant. Plus, the service is really top notch. I’ve been to the flagship Phoenix location and adore the table-made guacamole. They serve it with a garnish of pomegranate seeds.

La Grande Orange, Gate D1 – You’ll have a hard time making a choice from all of the fresh selections. I’d choose a salad, but you might prefer a sandwich or bakery item. At the Arcadia location, I really like their smashed potatoes.

Any recent PHX travelers care to add to or debate my list? Drop a comment below for your tips.

The Hard to Find Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

If you’re planning your first visit to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art please realize that it is a little hard to find. It’s an urban museum situated between other buildings. Google directs you to a semi-circular drive, just next to the building, but there isn’t a big sign there that tells you that you’ve arrived at the front of the building next door and the side of the SMOCA building.

View from the street in front of SMCOA
Side view of the SMOCA, looking to the street

If you park in the Wells Fargo & E 2nd St, garage, most likely when you exit the parking garage, you’ll see this building. Notice the small “Museum” sign with arrow to the right, in the middle window on the lower right that I’ve highlighted.

Then, when you get around the corner to the right, there’s another sign up the path to let you know, hey, here’s the entrance, up here!

After you’ve made your way here, the best is yet to come.

The SMOCA is a rather small museum, but usually has 2-3 exhibits at one time. They offer free entrance on Thursdays and Friday and Saturday nights from 5-9pm. However, it’s quite a good deal to purchase a reciprocal membership and then you will get entry into other museums in Phoenix and around the country via the North American Reciprocal Museum Program. Plus, you’ll get discounts on all the other tickets you purchase at the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center, as well as free or reduced tickets on other arts events and festivals (more details).

The Exhibits

On the Thursday night that I visited the museum, I made a bee-line to the exhibit: Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists From Aboriginal Australia. Every since my trip to Australia this past September, I am a huge fan of Aboriginal artwork.

The multiple pieces, Djorra, by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu struck me by the varied nature of all of them, as well as their similarities to each other and to other works in the exhibit by more well known artists. She explains, these are not special stories. They are just ideas, stories from her head. She is just drawing more branches for the trees.

Djorra, by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

The Bush Plum by Angelina Pwerle impressed me not only because of its incredible level of detail, but also in the description. Bush plumbs are good for the body and good for the spirit.

Bush Plum by Angelina Pwerle

Last, I really loved Syaw (Fishnet) by Regina Pilawuk Wilson. It’s abstract, but also right on point. Of course, this is what a fish net looks like. I can see it in the details.

Syaw (Fishnet) Regina Pilawuk Wilson

I can’t wait to go back to Australia again. Maybe next year or the year after. Until then, I will just have to appreciate the art from afar.

Photographing at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

When photographing in museums. Be sure to check the policy of the museum on its website or by asking one one of the staff when you arrive. At the SMOCA, photography is permitted with no flash.

My tips for photography at the SMOCA include:

1. Take a picture of the wall plaques that show the artist name and description of the work so that when you get home, you can remember more about it than you took the shot at the museum.

2. Correct the white balance in post. The lighting in museums is notoriously bad. Of course, there is a good reason for this: to protect the art.

3. Don’t photograph everything. You will annoy the other guests and it takes away from your enjoyment in the moment. I suggest you take a circuit around the exhibit making note of your favorite pieces (say top 3) and returning to take photos of just these 3 paintings.

4. When the museum is busy, try to include the other art aficionados like yourself in the photo. I don’t mean selfies. But including people’s reactions and appreciation for the art will add context to your photos and make the story stronger.

What tips do you have for photographing in a museum? Drop me a comment below…

Crossing the Southern Alps at Lewis Pass

Tarn at Lewis Pass, South Island, New Zealand

This photo is one of the first I took after meeting my photography guide in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s of the tarn at Lewis Pass., which is the northernmost pass over the Southern Alps in New Zealand. Looking at this shot now, it really appeals to me.

However, remembering back to that moment–I was standing in a bog while it was raining thinking at the time: what have I gotten myself into?! Am I going to have to endure ten days of cold, rain and wet feet on this photo tour? Having left Phoenix only a couple days before where it was 100+ deg Fahrenheit, this weather was a big of a shock.

On top of that, I’m a girl who likes taking pictures of bright colors and flowers. So I was also thinking, the mountains in the background are all clouded over…everything is all brown and dark green. He can’t be serious. Really?

And yet, there is a natural beauty to the environment even given the less than ideal weather that day. The trees do make a nice reflection on the surface of the tarn.

My advice to you — if you sign up for a photography tour, be prepared for all types of weather. Jump at the chance to walk through a bog, stand in the rain and snap photo after photo anyway. It will make for great memories, and you’ll be back behind your desk at work before you know it.

Tempe Center for the Arts Wows Visitors

Tempe Center for Arts, front view, photo from parking lot

The Tempe Center for the Arts wows visitors and residents alike with two theaters and a 3500 sf art gallery. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the TCA also has numerous special events each month, including a happy hour with live music Thursday-Saturday nights.

Photographing Tempe Center for the Arts

Below are my top two tips for photographing the TCA.

1. Walk around the building, looking for interesting perspectives that convey more of the character of the building.

Of course you could grab a quick shot in front of the building when your tour bus drops you off, but then you would miss both the back and side views of this modern building that occupies prime real estate next to the Salt Lake and pedestrian bridge at the end of the development called Tempe Town Lake.

Back of TCA, looking down walking trail along the Salt River
Side view of Tempe Center for the Arts, looking towards the pedestrian bridge.

2. Walk Into the building to see what more there is to see.

The inside of the building is just as spectacular as the outside. You could check out the art gallery, if it’s open, or get a few photos of the lobby view of the theater.

These tips might seem logical, but I watched as a tour bus dropped off visitors and they scrambled to take one photo of the building and another of the pedestrian bridge when there is so much more to see and explore.

 

Holy Salsa, Taco Guild Rocks the Church

I’ve found salsa heaven at Taco Guild, a central Phoenix, Mexican gastropub located in a renovated 1893 Methodist church. Choose your vehicle of choice from the menu to get more of the tasty red sauce into your mouth. Tacos are what they are known and highly rated for, but you can also choose enchiladas or burritos and layer on some of the hot stuff. Or, you could keep it simple and traditional and just dip your chips into the saucy goodness.

Next time I go, I have got to try the fresh guacamole and street corn. I’m also eyeing the ceviche and diablo eggs. Oh, and they also have green chili queso. I guess I’ll be going back multiple times to be able to try everything on the menu. Yum!

It’s not all about the food. You also want friendly service. From the moment you open the front door, the staff has a kind welcome for you.

Once you’ve decided on your order, take a look around at all of the original items that have been incorporated into the decor. From the wood-beamed ceiling to the concrete floors, the stained glass windows and the pews that line the wall–all are original from the old church. If you’re lucky enough to sit along the back wall, there are framed historical items that you can review. (Obviously, it would be hard to take a look at them if other diners are seated there, as you’d be leaning over their table).

If you visit for Sunday brunch (or anytime for that matter, if you’re so inclined), you can do a quick bible study while you’re waiting for your food to arrive. Just use your phone to look up one of the bible verses from the stained glass windows.

The stained glass transom window has a special story. They took extra care to preserve this window and to respect the wishes of the original donor.

You can visit Taco Guild at 546 East Osborn Road, Phoenix, AZ 85012. If it’s not lunch time or dinner time, it’s probably Happy Hour with deals on drinks and food, which is perfect for visitors to Phoenix who may have a more flexible schedule. Enjoy!

Photographing Taco Guild

If it’s your first time to Taco Guild, chances are you’ll want to take a few photos. You’re good to go with your phone to Instagram some foodie shots. However, if you want to get good photos of the stained glass windows, you’ll likely need to take a bit more time to import your photos into Lightroom and use the “transform” module to adjust horizontal and vertical on the window shots so they appear more flat than tilted.

My shots of the bar didn’t turn out very well. I’d recommend taking extra care with those captures. There will be a lot of reflection from the bottles and glassware to deal with. Plus, the staff is busy working behind there, so that is a lot of motion to deal with in order to get the type of shot you want.

I crossed the street (watch for traffic if you attempt it!) to get the full shot of the building with the nice sky. I like the extra sky in the image as it connects with the “heavens” above the old church, now restaurant.

While the church was deconsecrated in 2012, some people might consider eating at Taco Guild to be a holy experience because of the food. I do. Try it and let me know what you think in the comments below.