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…

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.

Find Historic Charm in Phoenix Encanto Park Neighborhoods

Too much haze to get warm colors for sunset, but cool blue is pretty too. Encanto Park, 15th Avenue & Encanto Blvd, Phoenix

Take a walk around Encanto Park at sunset and you’ll find this lovely water feature, families grilling out, parents pushing strollers, men fishing, and joggers making their way around the park.

Encanto Park features an amusement park for children called Enchanted Island. There’s also a sports complex, swimming pool, two golf courses, and a nature trail for visitors to use. This park is a community gem.

I considered moving to one of the historic neighborhoods bordering Encanto Park when I first moved to Arizona. I looked at several homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. Ultimately, I decided it was too far from work in Chandler to drive everyday, as I wanted to keep my commute under 30 minutes.

If you take a drive around the park, you’ll notice the homes in these neighborhoods have a lot of curb appeal. There is definitely pride in ownership of these historic homes.


First Timer’s First Friday at the Heard Museum

The Heard Museum, First Friday, November, 2017

The Heard Museum is well known for their collection of Native American art. A great time to visit is on the first Friday of each month when admission is free from 6-10pm. This first-timer had no problem with finding my way and parking at the museum. For extra security, there is a security guard watching comings and goings.

If you’re like me and want to capture a few photos to remember your First Friday visit to the Heard Museum, you’ll want to review a night photography tutorial before you go. Night photography will require you to make trade-offs in ISO, shutter speed, and aperture because of the low light conditions. Plus, you’ll want a tripod to better control camera shake to get photos as sharp as possible.

The Heard Museum, 2301 N Central Ave, Phoenix.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to lug my photography gear and tripod all night, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and accessible parking was to the museum grounds. I was able to do some night photography outside with my tripod and then drop it back off to the car before going inside to enjoy the collection of Native American art. Double win!

Tonight’s Favorites in the Collection

This art fence by Tina Jojola and Rosemary Lonewolf took my  breath away. The spectacular Southwest colors and materials refer back to the fences built by Indigenous peoples. Just as this fence is strong, beautiful and persistent, so too are Native cultures.

Indigenous Evolution, 2004 by Tony Jojola, Rosemary Lonewolf, Santa Clara Tewa.

This basket by Mary Thomas caught my eye. The center of the basket is a coiled snake and the outside ring depicts a friendship dance. I don’t know that I’d want to make friends with a snake. As with people who are snakes, I’d rather just give them a wide berth and find my true friends instead.

Basket by Mary Thomas, Tohono O’odham, 1981

I really love the colors and detail in this acrylic painting on linen by Tony Abeyta.

Grand Canyon, 2016 by Tony Abeyta, Navajo

And, saving the most disturbing piece for last: see the barber chair below and read the copy above the chair. Heartbreaking cruelty in the name of creating “civilized” children.

Barber chair at the Heard Museum, Boarding School exhibit.

First Fridays in Phoenix

I didn’t realize how many of the museums and galleries in Phoenix have special public programs to encourage art appreciation on first Fridays. Now that I know, my First Fridays for the foreseeable future are booked: I’ll be checking out all the arts districts by light rail and riding the free trolly so I can see more of the Phoenix art scene.

Eat, Pray, Shop at Phoenix Art Museum

Most often, it’s the art I find in hallways, entryways, or courtyards of a museum that leaves the strongest impression on me. That was certainly the case when I visited the Phoenix Art Museum this week.

Turning into the parking lot, I see a big red sculpture. It makes me wonder if I put a big lawn ornament in my front yard if I could slow the traffic down below 50 mph.

Vortex, Alexander Calder

A big red dinosaur in a cage, Sui Jianguo’s Jurassic Age, sits at the entrance to the museum. Emblazoned, Made in China, it’s political commentary on toys conceived in the west, manufactured in China, and distributed around the world.

Jurassic Age, Sui Jianguo

The 25,000 butterflies of the Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales swarming the entrance hall made me stop and swivel around trying to take it all in.

Black Cloud, Carlos Amorales

One of the exhibits that really impressed me was by Marissa Roth called Infinite Light. According to the poster description, it’s her “love letter to Tibet,” depicted through 72 photos and designed to be viewed as a walking meditation. As I moved through the space, I could hear a Buddhist meditation bell ringing to aid in the visual appreciation of the prints all placed in a row at eye level.

#InfiniteLightPhxArt #PhxArtTibet

This woman made me smile. The way she is positioned in the frame makes me think she’s in a hurry. She’s not doing any walking meditation in this view. She seems to be interrogating someone, if only with her eyes: seriously!?

#InfiniteLightPhxArt #PhxArtTibet

Another thing that I liked about this exhibit was that non-flash photography was encouraged. The hashtags for this project include: #InfiniteLightPhxArt #PhxArtTibet.

The Phoenix Art Museum is open late on Wednesday nights and First Friday nights–both with free admission. You could squeeze in a visit after work for happy hour, browse the galleries or have dinner one evening at the onsite restaurant, Palette.

The holidays are approaching and museum shops have some of the best novelty items. It’s one of my favorite places to shop. The window displays give me ideas about how I might fill my vases at home wth flowers and decorations for the holidays. The museum shop will even be open on Black Friday with discounts of 10% for non-members and 20% for members. Plus, it will be a great time to purchase an annual membership with $20 off the normal price (details here).

If you’re visiting Phoenix, be sure to check out the Phoenix Art Museum, restaurant and gallery shop. The museum is  billed as the largest museum in the Southwest and has a huge variety of collections and special exhibitions.

Papago Park Sunsets for Photographers

Papago Park makes a great urban park. It’s a wonderful place for nearby residents to hike, mountain bike, and walk the dog. Plus, it’s a great place to watch the sunset, especially if you’re game to hike up to the top. But if you want photos of the landscape without people in them, then you might just avoid the frustration and try elsewhere.

On top of the people issues, there are signs everywhere that the park closes at sunset. For a landscape photographer looking to see what the blue hour might yield, you have to do so under constant worry that you might get a ticket for using the parking lot after sunset.

I talked to a couple hikers and they said they hadn’t had a problem, but they also acknowledged that they wouldn’t be there very long that night. With the days getting shorter, it’s getting harder to get enough time to walk before it’s too dark.

Still, sunset views like this one have the power to melt the stress of the day away.

Papago Park
It’s a nice view at first glance, then you notice the people camped in the middle of the frame.

As long as you go into it knowing you’ll get mostly “snapshots” vs. “keepers,” you’ll be happy with the views and your walk.

On the other hand, if you’re a portrait or wedding photographer, you may just love the park. In the hour before sunset, the light hits the sandstone buttes and warms everything up.

For this Phoenix destination, it’s all in what you make of it.