Just Back from Phoenix

050928_sedona1.jpg Fodor’s editorial assistant Mike Nalepa spent a week in Phoenix this summer and learned first-hand why this area is called the Valley of the Sun. Here’s his report.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Sedona, a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, was the highlight of our trip. We had a lot of fun taking a Jeep tour of the red rocks and browsing the myriad art galleries in town. But the best part of our visit was sitting on a picnic table at an empty scenic overlook at dusk, watching storm clouds roll in over the rusty buttes. I can see why so many people feel a spiritual connection to Sedona — it’s one of the most peaceful, awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been.

What was your best find?

On our last day in Phoenix, we went horseback riding at Canyon Creek Ranch, about 25 miles north of Phoenix. We watched the sun rise over desert mountains and fields of 25-foot-tall giant saguaro trees, saw ancient Native American petroglyphs (rock carvings), and tried — unsuccessfully — to prevent our horses from eating their weight in mesquite beans. As we rode through dry riverbeds and fields packed with cactus and agave plants, our knowledgeable guide imparted useful information, for instance, the recommendation that we sleep near a palo verde tree if we’re ever stranded in the desert, because these green-bark trees give off heat at night.

What was essential during your trip?

Stock up on bottled water at a grocery store — and buy as much as you can. Trust me, you’ll drink it. Ask your hotel for a loaner mini-fridge to keep it cold, and stash a few in the freezer compartment. The slow-thaw method will keep your drink cool on longer car trips. Also, don’t forget a good pair of sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.

050928_sedona2.jpg What was the best thing you ate or drank?

As a former Texan, I’m pretty picky about my Mexican food. So I was pleasantly surprised when I had one of the best meals of my life at Scottsdale’s La Hacienda. The chilled avocado soup and crab enchiladas in creamy pumpkin seed sauce were outstanding, but the ambiance was even better: while we dined by candlelight, a summer storm raged outside, the noise of pounding rain and thunder drowning out the music of strolling mariachis. We also really enjoyed any drink made with prickly-pear cactus, especially kiwi and prickly-pear iced tea and prickly-pear pina coladas.

What advice do you have for someone going to Phoenix?

If you can stand the 110-degree heat of summer, you’ll find some great deals. We stayed at a five-star resort for $200 a day, which included a daily $100 food credit. The downside, of course, is heat stroke. But if you plan to do all of your outdoor activities during the morning and late afternoon, you’ll be fine. Besides, there’s plenty to do during the scorching hours. Obvious choices would be hitting the pool or taking a siesta, but you can also head to one of Phoenix’s many climate-controlled cultural experiences (the Heard Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West). Or catch a Diamondbacks game at Bank One Ballpark, which has air conditioning and a pool.

Photos: (top) The author in front of red rock formations in Sedona; (bottom) Apache’s Seven Pools (foreground). Photos by Sharon Bzostek

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