Manic Month, Part 2

A hot air balloon sporting an image of a cowboy on a horse In the previous part of this multi-part posting I wrote about our Christmas lead-up to our holiday in the States. And so, the next instalment is here, taking us on board a Boeing 474 747 to Phoenix for eight days in Arizona. We managed to cram quite a lot into those eight days, so for now I’ll tell you all about our time in Phoenix and leave telling you about our time in the Grand Canyon for the third and final part.

Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Nights

They can’t have much liked the look of the seven of us at Heathrow – we got taken aside for a thorough search through our luggage before we were allowed to check-in. Still, good to know that extra precautions were being taken – better than being sent back home again mid-way through the flight.

News of the earthquake and tsunami in South-East Asia reached us soon after take-off while flicking through the channels of on-board entertainment. The impact of the disaster didn’t really sink in when reading the newspapers in Phoenix, the death tolls reported on the front page rising with each day. I actually felt quite cut off while in Phoenix. The USA Today newspaper at the hotel was about our only source of news – we didn’t turn on the television at all while there.

I don’t like flights much and I had never been on a flight quite that long before. It was a smooth flight though and the in-flight entertainment helped the ten hours pass quite quickly. We landed late afternoon on a warm-enough Phoenix Sunday for our four days at Tapatio Cliffs – nice! We were all tired on that first extended day, but one night’s sleep is all that was needed to sort out the jet lag (although the trip back was a different story).

One of the first things I noticed (well, being my first time in America) was the hospitality – everyone’s really nice to you, especially in restaurants. Of course, one of the next things I noticed was the automatic service charges – mind you, I heard that they generally add a tip to the bill in the States for large parties, which we were. Also noted was how much saltier foods seemed while over there – an American taste? Funnily enough, I noticed a lot of “lo-carb” foods while I was out there, which I had never seen much of at home in the UK, only to find ads on TV and products in Tesco upon my return.

We spent our first couple of days settling in and figuring out what we were going to do for the rest of our stay. We spent some of the first day walking the desert tracks on the outskirts of Phoenix, while others went playing golf – the real reason for choosing Phoenix I think. We also spent some time chilling in the hot tub. One girl told us how she liked our accents. Actually, we had a few people tell us that over the course of the holiday. Not sure that we were the ones with the accents though!

On our second day, we went to the Heard Museum of Native American art (passing a ““Shea”: Boulevard” on the way), while others played more golf. It was an interesting museum with a lot of atmosphere. Some of the exhibits told some poignant stories of how badly the Native American peoples were treated by the government – taking their land and interfering with their cultures. There was some amazing art on display. After going all the way around, we spent quite a while in the museum shop picking out souvenirs and presents to take back home. There were some absolutely beautiful things in there – art, textiles and baskets, jewelry, pottery, music and books… I think this was one of the only shops we went to where everything was authentic Native American art and craft – no “Made in China” stuff as we found up nearer the Grand Canyon.

Back at the hotel, we had a really nice meal in a French-Italian-Mediterranean restaurant called Different Point of View. It was up on top of this huge hill and had a great view of Phoenix. While we were there, I noticed this really odd display of red lights on the skyline which would fade in and out. I had noticed it when we left the airport a couple of days earlier, so I thought it must have been something to do with the air traffic control. We never actually figured out what it was though – if anyone knows, please do tell.

Of course, while we were in a big American city, we went to a mall for the compulsory shopping experience – another chance to get presents and souvenirs! We noticed a lot of cars, big cars, and hardly anyone walking in down-town Phoenix. We thought it a little wasteful – a bit like the towels in our room getting replaced every single day despite our following the hotel’s “towels on the floor get taken away” policy.

Our final day in Phoenix had to be the best. We were picked up at 7am from our hotel and taken just outside Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert for a ride in a hot-air balloon before breakfast. Due to the cloud cover, it took us a while to find somewhere to launch from, but it was so worth the wait! We had such a great view of the desert, the mountains and of parts of Phoenix. It’s a bizarre feeling, being up in a hot-air balloon. I could hardly feel it as we took off – you could just see the ground drop away from you! At one point, an ascending balloon below us forced us up into the cloud. It was absolutely amazing. You couldn’t see anything but pure white in any direction. After an hour or so up in the air, our pilot landed us in the desert for a champagne breakfast! So, now I’ve been up in a hot air balloon… and I’ve got a Certificate of Aerostatic Ascension to prove it!

After that fantastic experience, we headed back to the hotel to relax. I chilled in the pool while the girls went for some spa treatments and the others went to play yet more golf! I’m not one for golf really… and I’m pretty enough as it is! Our last evening in Phoenix took us on another trip out into the desert. The night before, we had booked a trip out in a Hummer to go star-gazing, but it had to be cancelled due to cloud cover. So we went on that last night instead and it was great. The Hummer is an amazing vehicle and a lot of fun I’d imagine. Our driver took us over some land just outside Phoenix that had been set aside for off-roading. We stopped and an astronomer was there with a telescope set up to show us a few things: we saw Saturn, the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own. Our driver also had night vision goggles so that we could see the desert flora and fauna, but it was the wrong time of year to see much of the wildlife.

So, that brings me to the end of our time in Phoenix. In the next final part I’ll tell you about almost plummeting to my death down the Grand Canyon, our surprisingly quiet New Year celebrations and the trip back to reality.