Jenna’s AZ bucket list No. 71 – See the Gin Blossoms Live

… at the Arizona State Fair, no doubt!

It’s hard for me to think of any other definitive Arizona bands that we followed, growing up, except for Jimmy Eat World and the Refreshments. I don’t really like Jimmy Eat World, or the Refreshments, musically. Just my personal taste.
But, growing up, I was very into the Gin Blossoms. In junior high I knew all the lyrics to every single song on their 1992 break-out album, Another Miserable Experience.

So when my friend Allyson Bills invited me to see them at the Arizona State Fair this year, I couldn’t say no.

It’s actually a wonder I’ve never seen them in concert live before this year. Actually, I won tickets to their show at some out-of-the-way Northern Arizona casino, playing a bill with Everclear, earlier this year, but I couldn’t go. I had to give my tickets away.

So, when I finally saw them in 2017 after being a fan for like 25 years, it was well worth the wait. They did all my faves like “Hey, Jealousy,” “Found Out About You” and “Allison Road,” and some of their biggest hits like “Hear it From You” and “Follow You Down.” And a special highlight of the show was a Tom Petty cover, as an homage, since we lost his earlier this year.

All in all, the GB didn’t disappoint. Now, time to kick back with some Hendrick’s or Beefeater and try to forget those crappy $12 state fair beers I drank before the ferris wheel…

butter balls
This is what you eat at the AZ State Fair.
Robin Wilson, lead singer of the Gin Blossoms, at the Arizona State Fair, Oct. 2017.
Deep fried cheesecake state fair food
Deep-fried cheesecake with a total sweetie, Allyson Bills. AZ state fair Oct. 2017
Gin Blossoms power jam at AZ State Fair 2017
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Jenna’s AZ Bucket List no. 73 – Grand Canyon Railroad

I’ve always wanted to try the Grand Canyon Railroad, ever since I heard an ad on a local radio stati0n when I was out in Thatcher, AZ, for an overnight trip a few years ago.

I decided to really make the experience authentic for our family we should stay at the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel, too. We were pleased that the hotel has a giant kids’ playground nearby, a beautifully refurbished indoor pool and spa (I’m a little biased because my dad worked on this pool) and a nice convenience store for RV visitors. Also if your family stays at the hotel, you can tour their small on-site train museum and depot, eat in the hotel restaurant and get up early in the morning to watch a live cowboy action show.

We rose early because we needed to check out before we boarded the train. Boarding happens promptly at 9:30, so you do not want to be late!

We were so happy about how much fun this was. The train has many historic cars, refurbished so it feels like you are back in the 1920s. We rode in the Pullman class car, which is literally an old passenger car restored from that era. I was a little apprehensive because I read a review online that this car had no central AC. However, with the windows open, we found the ride to be quite pleasant. Plus, if you need to get up, stretch your legs or get a snack, the cafe car is only one car over.

During your fun ride up from Historic Williams AZ to canyon country, traveling marauders sing country tunes, yodel at you and tell stories. I heard that occasionally the train even gets robbed by bandits!

We loved this experience. The 2.5 hours to the canyon flew by because there was so much to do. We were even allowed to pack our own lunch. There’s a dining car, a bar car, a dome car for better viewing and luxury cars available, too.

The website, however, isn’t the best. I couldn’t figure out much about what the experience would be like from their page. I think they need to make the website simpler and more straightforward. I’m a seasoned traveler, so we figured out things OK. But I feel the ticket ordering process is unnecessarily complicated. You don’t really know what you’re getting when you order. If we hadn’t stayed at the hotel the night before, I don’t know what we would have done about camping. Also, just because you can bring food, doesn’t mean you should bring a lot. We almost brought a giant cooler with us. That would have been a pain in the BUTT to carry around the canyon rim for 3-4 hours!

Many of the structures at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government agency started by FDR to get people back in jobs at the end of the Great Recession and, simultaneously, an effort to build up the U.S.’s national parks and infrastructure. Read more: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fdr-creates-civilian-conservation-corps

There’s a rule you can’t buy plastic water bottles inside Grand Canyon because there’s been too much trouble with garbage, so you must bring your own water in and take it out. We were so concerned about the availability of water, we brought way too much. It turns out there are many, many water bottle refill stations along the rim, sometimes you just have to look around or ask.

Also, if you are negligent or irresponsible with your food and a squirrel gets it or you feed them, a park ranger WILL slap you with a $500 fine. We saw a family get fined and get angry just because their kid dropped something. You need to stay away–far, far away from the wildlife. Fleas in Coconino and Navajo counties in Arizona recently have tested positive for the Bubonic Plague. I am not kidding. Do not feed the wildlife.

Finally, visitors REALLY, REALLY need to be told to bring enough water, sunblock and sun shade devices. There’s not much shade on the rim, nor on the trails. You don’t know how many extremely sunburned folks we saw walking around. That’s how you end up with skin cancer.

So, even though the train tickets were quite expensive (I paid more than $200 RT for our little family of four) it was worth it. I would recommend this experience to families, couples, or winter visitors–appropriate for all ages.

Rent these far-looking binocs for only a few cents.

 

red fox bearizona

Jenna’s AZ Bucket List no. 75 – Bearizona

Finally made it up to Bearizona in Northern Arizona. This the amazing wildlife park where you can actually drive your car through a number of wild animal habitats–safari-style.

red fox bearizona
Adorable Red Fox, native to Arizona, featured in a habitat at Bearizona wildlife park.

 

We got to see black bears, white wolves, white and brown American bison, Alaska Tundra Wolves (giant white wolves that look like friendly backyard dogs), elks and mule deer–all right outside the windows of my Camry. It was amazing. The plains area where the bison roam had the most animals.

We were even more enraptured by the walk-around zoo area in the park. The very first animals we saw were cute little orange foxes. They were so playful and healthy looking. The trainers gave them marshmallows as a treat and they chased each other for fifteen minutes.

White Bison Bearizona
A classic North American plains animal, the white bison are literally right outside your car window at Bearizona park.

We went into the petting zoo and held exotic chickens and got to brush some sheep. They also have more bears (of course!), live peafoul roaming free, big healthy looking porcupines and bobcats. The bobcats are shy.

black bear
Of course you will see many, many bears on the drive thru safari experience at Bearizona!

Last year (2016) they added jaguars. They have a beautiful male and I guess they have a female, too, but they don’t live in the same habitat. We overheard a trainer saying they don’t get along. The jaguar was amazing. If you stood at just the right angle you could see that its coat is not solid black, but has large round spots on its coat, kind of like a cheetah.

Bearizona’s male jaguar.

I’m looking forward to our next visit to Bearizona. They are expanding the park, they have a nice enormous restaurant, an outdoor food cart area where you can get beers, cocktails and ice cream, and an enormous gift shop. I heard they are working on building a hotel. Hopefully we can stay there next year.

Jenna’s AZ Bucket List No. 77 – Be on KJZZ, local NPR station

Last month, I got to fulfill my long-time dream of hearing my voice on KJZZ, our local NPR station. I was invited by host Steve Goldstein and his team to come in and have a brief chat about the history and current state of Phoenix’s art scene.

You can hear my piece about half-way through this 8-minute segment: “Art Museums Turning More Towards Contemporary Exhibitions”

Enjoy!

Jenna’s AZ Bucket List, No. 78 – Sedona Film Festival

I got the opportunity to visit the Sedona Film Festival last month (2/25). I heard from an old, dear professor of mine from The New School in New York City. Doug Morrione was basically my senior thesis adviser when I was working on editing my Kooz documentary. Doug has a strong background as a professional film and television editor. He’s worked on many documentaries and different reality TV series-es. Anyway, he decided to go it on his own and make a documentary–like actually assemble the concept and film it himself. The result was “Everything in the Song is True,” a documentary about cowboy poets, trick riders and ropers, ranchers and generally, honestly salt-of-the-earth talented and hardworking people of the Southwest.
I had been wanting to experience Sedona Film Fest for year. I didn’t realize it’s been running for more than 20 years! (I thought it was relatively new, like Phoenix Film Festival). I can’t say that I got to experience it as a true insider, because I only attended one event, but Doug’s film was sold out and I could tell from the emcee, festival organizers, and other filmmakers that I met that the experience was a success. I was especially impressed with the availability of parking in various areas around Sedona and the shuttle system they had set up. I imagine the after-party at the Hilton was pretty fun, too. I hope to return next year and maybe ever splurge on the VIP pass. Like anyone needed an excuse to get up to Sedona! (But then again, for me it had been more than 10 years. Conclusion: gas money well-spent!)

Courtesy of Pinterest

Jenna’s AZ Bucket List nos. 89-85

AZ Bucket List 89-85

I want to do something a little different this week. Switching from places I have been in the last year or so, I’d like to focus this week on a handful of places I’d like to go. I’ll explain the importance of each place and provide some Internet-research based descriptions and plenty of links.

  1. The Scotch Library at the Kierland Resort

Apparently there is a giant room at the Kierland Resort is Scottsdale dedicated to more than 200 different types of Scotch and whiskey. I have also heard a rumor they have a tasting room. I have no idea what the cost for tasting flights is, but all I know is, as a Duncan and a person who likes whiskey. Scotch and Bourbon—I must go some day before my time in AZ is up! Methinks I will need an Uber driver to take me home that night. Either that or a suite.

  1. The Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel, Winslow

If you watch the film Almost Famous, there’s a memorable scene where the band comes to Phoenix. This scene was really filmed at the Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood Boulevard, LA, but damn–it sure looks like La Posada, an historic and very beautiful old hotel in Winslow, Arizona. I read about La Posada and world-famous Turquoise Room in a travel magazine three or four years ago and ever since, I have been salivating for the dishes created by Chef John Sharpe. The photos of the food make it look like the best U.S.-inspired Southwestern cuisine on the planet (I can forgive him for being British). The architecture makes you dream of a beautiful villa in Spain. I vow that we will stay over night at La Posada and dine at The Turquoise Room some day!

 

  1. Titan Missile Museum

It might be hard to believe, but somewhere sitting out there in the desert, just a little bit south of Tucson in Sahuarita is a complete, once-fully-operational missile launch site. It’s just sitting out there in what I imagine are a big group of silos and underground secret buildings. I don’t know, because I haven’t been yet. But you better believe this one made the AZ Bucket List!

Titan Missile Museum
Titan Missile Museum. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ve been wondering about this place since I lived in Tucson, circa 1999-2001, and used to see the billboards all the time. I had a friend who was very into photography, and a couple times we went and skulked around the airplane graveyard. That was incredibly fun, thrilling and interesting, and I can only imagine an old, fully-automated missile launch area is even more mind-blowing.

The Titan Missile Museum used to be known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8. It was deactivated in 1982. The Titan II was the largest land based nuclear missile ever built or used by the United States.

Admission is less than $10. I am thinking I’m going to roll this one into a Southern Arizona weekend, and roll in my next bucket list item, which is…

  1. Spend a night in Bisbee

The only time I’ve ever spent in Bisbee was on a day trip that I took by myself. I drove for what felt like all day from Phoenix. By the time I got to Bisbee, the sun was high and I got thirsty fast. Still, I walked around this little, charming, oddball ghost town, looking into windows of art galleries, roaming around noting the weird paint job on a lot of the classic old mining town houses, and wishing I had more time to actually go INTO the mine (I love going underground). I also wished I knew someone local who could show me around.

Bisbee, AZ courtesy of www.bisbeeaz85603.com
Bisbee, Arizona, at night. It is a hilly little old mining town! Photo courtesy of http://www.bisbeeaz85603.com

I wished I’d done some research and found a good concert or art event to go to. I also wished I had a room at the Copper Queen Hotel, because I was NOT looking forward to the five-hour drive back home. But rates were really high that night—about $250 (it was a weekend in the dead of summer) and I just couldn’t rationalize this expense for little ol’ me. Instead I sat in a bar that was completely dead and ate a hamburger, talking to this dark-haired bartender dude who was the epitome of hippie.

I’ve been dying to go back to Bisbee and actually spend a little more, but I have not had the occasion. This would make for one excellent stop on a group road trip, I’m thinking!

  1. Shady Dell Airstream Park

Shady Dell is an entire trailer park full of old (but cute!) fully restored Airstream RVs. For a very affordable fee, you can drive down to this park near Bisbee and stay in a trailer fully made up to look like the 1950s. We are talking vintage couches, record player, cute dinette set, tiny mobile kitchen—the works. They have about 10 of these adorable refurbished models ranging from the years 1947-1959 with cute names such as the Tiki Bus, Spartanette and El Rey.

Courtesy of theshadydell.com
Shady Dell Airstream resort park. Stay overnight in vintage luxury.

On two different occasions I had reservations and serious plans to go down to Shady Dell. And on two different occasions some big life event happened and I had to cancel. I’ve been disappointed about this since the year 2000.

I’m not a big vintage clothing fan, but I do love to go visit relics that remind us of a time in AZ past, so add Shady Dell to my AZ Bucket List Southern Arizona weekend getaway plans!

Jenna’s AZ Bucket List, nos. 95-90

  1. Waste Management Phoenix Open

To start, I should explain that I have very little interest in golf. I can’t name many players besides Tiger and Phil Mickelson, I hate the clothes, expensive golf courses with their miles upon miles of greenways like artificial oases repel me (especially here in the desert where I cannot imagine they are very sustainable).

However, I’d always been curious out the Waste Management Phoenix Open because everyone says it’s such a spectacle. And as it turns out: ’Tis!

I somehow got to go hang out at the Open last year (2015) without paying for a ticket (long story). I discovered that all the crazy stories are true. If you get there during the day—like between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the crowd is fairly tame and they are what you’d expect for golf fans—quiet (ish), conservatively dressed, driving nice cars. But they start drinking beer IMMEDIATELY. And then, well… things start to heat up. There is a whole set of young people, brightly dressed and some looking like they might be on their way to Vegas, or even ComicCon, who shows up eventually. There are dozens of vendors selling everything from donuts to shots to cell phone accessories and there are also tons of businesses with little tents set up giving away shwag and trying to get you to sign up for mailing lists. To kill time, I went into a money-grabbing booth (you know the kind? operated with a giant fan, you stand in the middle while your hair blows in your face and pluck $1 bills out of the air) that was being offered by a cosmetic surgeon. Apparently, for every fake Monopoly bill you could catch you were supposed to get a dollar discount ticket towards your next plastic surgery operation. I was curious. But they never called me with my coupon for a consultation. And I legitimately caught a good $62 in that booth!

Anyway, one of the places to party is a temporary bar set up called the Bird’s Nest. That is where big-name performers such as Rascal Flatts, OAR and Robin Thicke perform at the raucus night-time after parties. I didn’t stay for any of that because frankly the place was crowded and I’m not interested in any of that music.

What I did go discover—during daylight hours, mind you—was the 16th Hole. This is where everyone goes nuts, screams and yells, flashes selfie photos, throws Mardi Gras beads… I mean—it really is like a mini Mardi Gras out there on the golf course. There was a lot of drinking going on. I asked everyone what they were so excited about and a young man explained to me the phenomenon of Bubba Watson. He’s a young-ish guy, but a good ’ol boy. Apparently he’s been golfing since he was a kid and is self-taught, according to the legend I heard. He has a sort of unorthodox stance and stroke. It was interesting, because even for someone like me who really doesn’t know anything about golf (and doesn’t care much, either) it was fun to watch him play. It was clear that the crowd really adored this guy, and he seemed to calm and so common. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he got a hole in one that day.

The big thrill for me was actually a spill I took down a grassy and muddy hill. It would have been embarrassing if I’d been hanging out with anyone I knew, but I was solo. Basically, the day before there had been an unexpected downpour and the grounds were still soaked and mud-luscious. I made a false move trying to descend what looked like a pretty easy hill and suddenly I was sliding. I was wearing black pants, but one entire leg was soaked and brown with mud. I had to duck behind a vendor’s booth and steal a blue janitor’s towel to clean myself off. I guess it could have been worse.

Despite me ruining my best dress pants, the Phoenix Open was entertaining. I may not make it an annual thing, but I’d return at least once.

  1. Mutant Piñata Show at Bragg’s Pie Factory bldg/Frontal Lobe

I met Beatrice Moore a few years ago when I interviewed her for an article I was writing for JAVA Magazine. She was then remodeling some spaces at the Bragg’s Pie Factory building, putting up some new walls and generally changing things around. She mentioned to me a thing they did once a year called the Mutant Piñata Show. The way the show works is pretty self-explanatory, but the cool thing I should add to whatever you are imagining about this show is that it’s open to the public and they take submissions from anyone and everyone—you don’t really have to be an established artist at all. I’ve even seen work in the show by kids. I think she first told me about it in 2011.

I thought the idea was funky and cool and always imagined myself making a piñata to submit to the show. This is a weird thing to brag about, but as a kid I was really good at papier maché. I assembled materials like chicken wire and started collecting and saving old scrap paper and I always planned to make something. But every year I procrastinated. I finally made three female torsos, roughly about the size of women’s dress forms. But then I procrastinated and missed the entry deadline (I think that was in 2012). Then I thought up a different installation I wanted to use the forms for, and applied for a show in Scottsdale, but I didn’t get it. The piñatas went into storage. Then I went through a couple of moves and forgot about them for three years.

FINALLY, a few months ago, I just happened to be trolling the Bragg’s facebook page in and I saw a posting for the upcoming date for the piñata show. I called my dad, dug the torsos out of storage, dusted them off, and dropped them off at Bragg’s. It’s kind of a silly thing, and I don’t think any of my friends saw my work at all (as a coincidence, my husband was having an art show at the same time at the Chocolate Factory, just a couple blocks down. He got the spotlight in March).

Seems a small feat, I’m sure, but after 5 years, I finally get to cross “Mutant Piñata Show” off my bucket list. Other public art projects on the list are INFLUX and a temporary installation in the Scottsdale Public Library. These are things I hope to collaborate with friends on and I hope to write proposals and apply for these this year.

  1. Rainbows Festival

For years, PHX Pride was on my list, and this year I finally went in person (more on that in a later blog post). But a bit smaller and more localized festival is Rainbows Fest. Put on by the same folks who host Pride, this little festival happens in the fall (usually mid-October) at Heritage Square, and it’s free.

I was excited to go because I imagined the events and vendor areas to be less packed than at Pride, and I was right. Parking around Heritage Square is never that fun or easy. Although, one quick hack for the area: park in the Science Center garage. You may have to pay by the hour, but it’s worth it for the convenience. The festival is free so you don’t have to worry about tickets. They only stop you at the gate to check bags and your ID. There were plenty of beer booths around (I wasn’t drinking because I was hanging out with students) and lots of vendors with information on various communities, identities, community resources and social events. I was impressed because a number of Valley churches had a presence there, and I think that’s awesome. My students had fun because there were dance performances, a vogue-ing contest, and the live music was really good. Small festival, sure, but the attitude was friendly and there was plenty to do; well worth checking out next October.

  1. Ice Skating downtown at CityScape

I want to be fair with this review: Ice skating downtown when they do the temporary rink in the middle of the street near CityScape is not for everyone. I love it for the novelty—it feels like just a tiny little piece of Rockefeller Center is happening in Phoenix. I begged my husband to take me there on a date, and he did. But I don’t think he had nearly as much fun as I did. I can see how some people would not love this tiny rink so I’ll try to balance the good with the bad.

Good: an energetic physical, fun activity that can take you back to childhood. Personally, I only tried ice skating once as a kid. I sucked at it. But over the years and many, many trips to Skateland, I became a very good rollerskater, and as an adult I even skated “semi-professionally” (briefly!) as a derby girl. So a skating rink of any kind is nostalgia for me, and I always have a good time there.

Bad: If you are not good at skating or have never tried it before, this is not the place to learn. There are little kids everywhere (at least there were, the night we went) and the thought of crushing one down can be unnerving.

Good: A little piece of (ok, it’s artificial, but still) white Christmas. It’s chilly on the rink. You may can bundle up in scarves and other fun winter accessories we never get to wear in AZ. But you don’t need to overdo it. Remember: skating is a physical activity and you may overheat. Still, it’s fun to break out the nerdy holiday sweaters, leg warmers and even gloves once in a while.

Bad: This place is hella busy and there’s a serious shortage of lockers. I recommend NOT taking big purses or duffel bags for changing your clothes, and definitely don’t wear boots or other large shoes. They charge you for lockers and you only get so much space. The seating benches for booting up were also crazy crowded.

Good: The location is perfect for grabbing dinner before or after, or a soothing warming winter cocktail nearby.

Bad: Actually renting the skates, paying to get in and renting a locker is expensive. As are most of the restaurants within reach. This is not a budget activity. I think we dropped about $25 each.

All in all, I want to go again, but maybe with friends who like skating as much as I do, or at least more than my husband. He wasn’t having the greatest time. Though he was so brave for trying it out to me, and I really owing him one for taking me on a fun date that was my idea, he wanted to tap out after about ½ an hour. Which reminds me of one last piece of advice: check the operating hours carefully before you pay your admission. They really aren’t open all that late into the night, and they close down for breaks of around 15-20 minutes frequently to refresh and re-Zamboni the ice. You really need to plan this visit and pay attention to logistics.

  1. Orpheum Theater

This Arizona landmark has been on my bucket list a long, long time. Someone in my family told me they thought I went there as a kid, but I remember nothing of a visit.

Then, just out of the blue, my buddy Bill texted that he had an extra ticket through another friend of ours to see David Sedaris. I love it when kismet helps me knock things off the bucket list, so I’m just going to take a moment here to list out other AZ things I’d love it if someone invited me to: Titan Missile Museum, free hotel room in Bisbee for a night or two, Beckett’s Table, Nearly Naked Theatre, Phoenix International Raceway, the Henry for drinks, Dorrance Planetarium, jazz at the Nash, hiking Echo Canyon, Merc Bar, Maverick Copters, spa at Montelucia, Bearizona, Phoenix Mercury game. Ok—got that outta my system!

Sedaris was hilarious as usual. He came out wearing coulottes (yes, men’s coulottes) and started with a lengthy piece about oddball fashion. His set was excellent and the acoustics in the place are so good that at the end of his set he offered a Q&A with audience members, and we could clearly hear their questions to him from their seats even without them being mike’d.

The Orpheum Theater truly is an Arizona treasure. It is a classic. I read that they first broke ground on the construction in 1927. It comes from a sort of chain or family of “orpheums” nationwide and it has that awesome old-timey, Modernism about it (I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I don’t know any other way to describe this kind of architecture and design). The inside of the theater is splashed with ornate mural work. I like the flow of traffic throughout, although I’d hate to be stuck in the ticket line if it even happens to snake out the door. The restrooms are in the basement, which reminds me of the old Roseland Ballroom that was in the heart of the Theatre District in NYC. Everything about the Orpheum is charming and classic and truly whisks you away to a different era back when going to theatre was a big deal and people dressed up and made a big fuss about. I can’t believe I haven’t been to the Orpheum for more shows. It’s now on my “must return” list.

See also: Friends of the Orpheum Theatre

  1. Harvey’s Wineburger

I can’t tell you what this crusty little hole-in-the-wall first attracted me, except for the name. Located in a completely nondescript little building on 16th Street, tucked back from the street and just south of Camelback, Harvey’s Wineburger, on first notice, does not look like any kind of place you want to invest a lot of time in. Still, I always thought the name was funny. So one day last year I asked Colin to go give it a try with me.

It turns out that a wine-soaked hamburger is actually a very good idea. Yes, this place is a dive with no hip fixtures, sticky tabletops and typical sports on the TVs screens, but there really is something magical about the burgers. As in, I’m thinking of writing Anthony Bourdain an email about this place for his show. The original Wineburger and the Cheesewineburger are my favorites, but I’m curious to go back and try weird menu items such as Sweet chile sriracha wings, garlic parmesan wings (yeah, I know: what-what?) and the Buffalo Bleu burger, which is a wine burger prepared with hot sauce (like Buffalo wings, I imagine) and slathered with bleu cheese.

I hope I’m not on my way to a premature heart attack or diabetes type 2. With places like Harvey’s and Lucky Boy down the block, I need to make sure I eat plenty of my garden greens during regular week days.