After my morning hike, I repacked my things to make my way to Phoenix. About a two-hour drive South of Sedona. The winding roads through the cactus-filled mountains were steep, deep, vast, and acutely elevated the whole way through.
I made great timing arriving in Phoenix and met up with my lovely host for the next three days Olivia. She was previously my a coworker at Bloomingdale’s. Just like me, she is all about exploring. We immediately hit the road, after dropping off my rental car, and made our way to the downtown Phoenix area check our their art district. It was Sunday, so it was pretty deserted while we were there, which is good when you don’t want anyone blocking your photo opportunities! The wall art there is impressive. My favorite was this abandoned house that was painted with all different types of graffiti and sketches. In the same neighborhood was a modern coffee shop that we stopped by to grab some drinks to cool us off in the sweltering Arizona heat. It’s the epitome of minimalism, something that would be perfect in Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago.
After we walked around for a bit, we both decided that the next move had to be for food. Earlier in my planning, I found out the area was hosting a Taco Fest, so we made our way to Scottsdale to check it out. It was a fantastic food festival. Super organized, fair prices, and fabulous tacos! Compared to ones that I have been to in Chicago, it was supremely better. They had several different tents to grab drinks, VIP access for optimal margarita tasting(if you were trying to spend some big bucks) and a lot of food vendors. I think what sold me were the prices. Tacos were only $2 each! I spent $20 on seven tacos and a drink. Not bad at all!
After a long hot day, we made our way back to her place. It was still pretty nice outside, so we went to the pool to soak in the hot tub and spill the tea. We had a lot to catch up on from the past two years that we hadn’t seen each other. It was great to talk about where we were and where we so desired to be. A fabulous way to end my first night there.
Day 6: Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Mesa
The sixth day I was able to catch up on some long ignored e-mails as well as some news and gossip. Crazy how much you don’t pay attention to those things when you are busy soaking up a new place. It’s almost like the rest of the world stands still.
After we got dressed, we went out to explore some of Olivia’s favorite spots, which are fabulous and Instagram-worthy. We made our way to Luci’s for brunch. The grocer/restaurant was charming. The food, eh. The best thing about the meal was the drink. An “Arnold Palmer” like a concoction of green tea and watermelon flavored lemonade.
After that, we made our way to AZ Pops to grab some popsicles. Super nostalgic. I can’t think of the last time I had a homemade popsicle like the one at AZ Pops. I chose the peach and prickly pear combo. It was very different; prickly pears are flowers found only on a particular type of cactus. As I later learned at the Desert Botanical Garden, they can be made into candies or eaten raw. The popsicle was great, and I even had a chance to chat with the store owner. Another person on my trip who had some pretty strong ties to the Chicago area( her husband was born and raised in Oak Park). We also stopped by some nice stores in the area. One, in particular, had a friendly Cali vibe, which is to be expected in this area of the country. Clothes were cute, but sizing was limited.
We were both parched after a light afternoon of walking so we made our way to the Royal Palms Resort for a refreshing beverage and a little exploration. The hotel has amazing architecture, a Spanish Colonial Revival villa that was once used as a winter home back in the 1920’s. The resort is at the base of Camelback Moutain and is absolutely fabulous.
After our daytime romp of the lavish resort life, we made our way to dinner at Cornish Pasty. A pleasant looking restaurant with the feel of an Olive Garden on the outside and an underground dive bar on the inside. That was my first impression, at least at this location. I had never heard of a pasty and was excited to try the British born dish. A pasty is associated with Cornwall, England, a once well-known mining community. The original pasties would be filled with both meat and vegetables as well as sweets, each on their respective ends of the pasties.
The pastys at Cornish are so varied that anyone from carnivore to vegan can find something that they like. I decided to try to Roast Beef Sarnie. The pasty was a combination of house roasted beef, red and green bell peppers, portabello, onions, swiss and cheddar blend served with a horseradish sour cream sauce. Oh my gosh, so good! Everything blended well and was perfectly seasoned. The beef wasn’t too tender, and the sauce was the perfect addition. A chef recommended another sauce which was excellent as well, not sure what it was called though. Something to note about Cornish Pasty is the dishes come as they are described, you cannot pick and choose the ingredients you want inside the pasty. It is literally all or nothing. Go with the all; it’s totally worth it.
Olivia was dead set on making it to the Fountain Hills neighborhood to watch the sunset. So we quickly got dressed and dolled and made our way to the high-priced neighborhood. We found our way up to Copper Wynd Resort, looking absolutely fabulous. I swear, I had a Waiting to Exhale moment here. It reminds me so much of the area that the film was shot. I know the movie is old, but buildings last a long time so I could be right! We arrived just in time to see the sunset and get some glamour shots in as well.
After Copper Wydn we made our way back into the downtown Phoenix area to see what bars were popping on a Monday night. Not too many. We found our way into the Valley Bar, where we grabbed another drink(excellent drink prices), talked life, and finished up another fabulous night.
Day 7: Phoenix to Chicago
Day seven was an early start to a very, very long day. We kicked things off with a trip to the Desert Botanic Garden. I would be surprised if there is anything else like it in the world! The garden was amazing. Cactus from all different parts of Central and North America, other desert found foliage, as well as a majestic butterfly garden that was locked down tighter than the White House. Seriously, they were doing the most to keep those butterflies in that garden! We continued exploring the gardens and came across beautiful sculptures as well as some very quirky volunteers who taught us a few things about our surroundings.
After the garden, we had just enough energy before lunch to make it to the landscape wonder, Hole in the Rock at the Papago Park. The hike to the hole in the natural formation is a quick 7-minutes up the rock. This is an ideal place to catch at sunrise or sunset if your timing is right.
After our morning of walking and hiking, we proceeded to have a mini sweet and savory tour of the city. We made our way to República Empanada, a super cute restaurant located in the South Side Heights neighborhood of downtown Mesa.The empanadas were incredibly delicious. We were there for the lunch special of two empanadas plus rice and beans. We both added classic Coke De Mexico’s and enjoyed a less than $10 lunch on the cute patio in the back of the restaurant.
We also stopped by one of Olivia’s favorite spots to grab dessert, The Coronado. They made one of the best brownies I ever had, and it didn’t contain one bit of dairy or eggs. Amazing! We then proceeded to search for some and came across one that featured a mesh of vintage goods, artifacts and other apothecary furnishings called, The French Bee. After perusing that we made our way to a hipster-ish bar to chill and kill some more time before my flight and dinner.
It’s an unspoken rule, that if you find yourself in a city where you know someone and have a pretty good relationship with them, that you let them know you are there. At least, that’s what I try to do. Even if you never have a chance to see the person, at least you let them know you were in town. This day in age, it’s always good to let a few people know you are around. Seriously. If anything for safety reasons. Anyways, I had told my cousin who lives in Arizona that I was visiting. Shame on me that I waited until the morning that I was leaving to see if we could meet up. I know, tsk, tsk.
I asked my cousin Eric to meet us at this restaurant called Fire and Brimstone located at Barnone in Gilbert. Barnone is an innovative retail/workspace for handcrafted goods. It features everything from handmade stationary to experimental winemakers. Great place to craft a small business. At Fire and Brimstone, I opted for The Fire and Brimstone pizza. The 12-inch pizza came dressed in spicy tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, jalapeños, house-made merguez sausage, and cilantro. It was by far one of the freshest pizza’s I have ever tasted! I had a couple of slices that I devoured on my flight back to Chicago. After my week-long adventure, this was a beautiful night, over pizza with friends and family.
I would arrive back in Chicago at 4 a.m. that Wednesday morning.
Reflections Part Two
During the second half of my trip, I was able to reconnect with friends and family. During that time, a lot was discussed that challenged me to consider my relationships in general. Does this person care about our friendship? If so, what type of effort are they putting in? Am I doing my part as well? The trip also resurfaced ideas of changing my own personal landscape. Many people move to an area to be fully submerged so that they can break into a certain industry or career. Others, move far from it and reach a market untapped allowing for success in that arena too. It’s a reminder that growth can happen anywhere, you just have to be the one to make it happen!
If you are wondering how I managed to have such a successful trip solo, here are my ‘haute’ Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do Plan ahead. I looked into accommodations, flights, rental cars, and connections before my trip. This allowed me to use my time in the most optimal manner. I would be surprised at the end of the day how much I was able to get done. Something I need to implement more in my everyday life as well.
- Do get Advice. There is nothing wrong with asking people for things to do, especially if they live there. I asked my friend who grew up in Arizona if he could recommend some things to do in Santa Fe. He gave me my whole ‘cultural’ itinerary. I made sure to connect with my previous co-worker and cousin as soon as booked my ticket to the area.
- Do stay hydrated. There is a lot, and I mean a lot of exposure to the sun in that area. Be sure, especially if you are driving to buy a couple of liters or packs of water, so you never run out. Oh, and snacks too if you are in a time crunch.
- Do look for discounts. You can ask anybody who knows me well. I know a lot of things to do, but I don’t spend a lot of money to enjoy them. If you are traveling, make sure you look into resident discounts, reciprocal memberships, library affiliations, free entry days, Groupon, etc. It will save you money.
- Do try new things. Going to Ojo and experiencing the hot spring was one of the highlights of my trip! I am hooked and want to try every natural spring out there!
- Do carry two phones. I chose to bring my work phone with me as well as my phone. Best decision ever. It’s great for navigation and music if you are forgoing a tradition map. Plus, you never know what will happen, better to have an extra device, just in case.
- Do savor the moment. It is such a blessing to travel. It’s beautiful to see the sunset into various shades of purple, yellow, and orange hues. To look at the starts, uninterrupted by city lights, to see the landscape barely touched by humanity. Breathe it all in. You never know when you will be back.
I am so overjoyed that I had the opportunity to visit these two great states and tackle all the unique cities in between. I was exposed to not only massive amounts of sun, people, culture, art, food, and community. I am hooked on the beauty of the southwest and look forward to seeking more of it in the future. Don’t be surprised if you see a future post of my travels through Utah and Denver or something within that range!I am so blessed to have had this soul seeking experience and can’t wait to revisit both places!