By the Time I Get to Phoenix...
(the Arizona Hokies Will be Waiting)
by Bill Klink, 12/17/03
Pack that sunscreen, donít forget the shades, and by all means donít forget those maroon and orange colors and famous Hokie spirit weíve been bragging about to the Insight Bowl and the Arizona Republic, and GET READY FOR THE BOWL EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME! Phoenix is bracing for the Hokie Nation invasion.
Iíve prayed for 10 years that just once I wonít have to play travel agent for my family and plan those plane, car, and hotel reservations to far away bowls after Christmas. Now itís your turn, and in the process, youíll enjoy the warmth and friendliness that is the "Valley of the Sun" (or just the "Valley" as we Phoenicians prefer to call home ... although one local, Ron Wolfley, a sportscaster and former Mountaineer and Arizona Cardinal, insists on calling it "The Basin" Ö go figure).
The first thing you need to know is that this city of nearly 1.5 million folks is that it doesnít feel "city." The only tall buildings are in the immediate downtown, where you may be staying, and up Central Avenue where the Fiesta Bowl parade winds south at 11AM on December 31st (a "donít miss" event if you can stayÖmore later). Phoenix is "low density" with seemingly infinite suburban neighborhoods spreading to the north, west, and east. There are so many things to do and see if you can leave downtown aka "the Dead Presidents area" (streets, starting with Jefferson , the location of Bank One Ballpark and the Insight Bowl and the American West Arena, are named after dead chief executives--Washington, Adams, Monroe, Fillmore, RooseveltÖyouíre out of downtown when you leave the Prez behind).
Weíll start with a promo of our free tailgate party, then give an overview of Phoenix, downtown, and then zero in on restaurants (my "short list," geared toward Mexican and standard Western fare), non-sports stuff to see, and end with my "Magical, Mystery Tour" for that one day road trip that will give you a taste of the Grand Canyon state and leave you wanting to return for more.
"THE" TAILGATE PARTY
The best free event this year is the first ARIZONA HOKIES FREE TAILGATE PARTY from 1PM to 4:30PM on Friday at the Immaculate Heart Church parking lot at 909 East Jefferson, two blocks east of Bank One Ball Park. Co-sponsored by my agency, Sun City All Lines Professionals, and TechSideline.com, weíll be serving up free hot-dogs, baked beans, chips, hot and not so hot salsa, and good Hokie times. This is a bring your own beverage event (so I guess itís not totally free).
A few ground rules apply . We must confine our partying to the parking lot, no loud demonstrations (thatís for after the game), and no restrooms as I understand it (stay as long as your bladder holds out!). There is usually a nominal fee if you park in the church lot. Iím asking only that you RSVP with number attending, your names, and date(s) of graduation from Tech so I can have a name tag made up for you and get a decent head count (the email is [email protected]). Please let me know by the 22nd if possible.
Weíd also ask that if can spare a can of food or a pair of new socks for the poor and homeless of Phoenix, please drop them in the canisters provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. My family, as well as members of our Arizona Hokie Club, will be helping out. Iíve dreamed of such an event for a way to say thanks to all Hokies who have made my familyís ten annual trips to Bowl games throughout the nation so much fun, as well as our three annual (next year six!!) autumn trips to the Center of the College Football Universe.
Weíve got 325 days of guaranteed sunshine (235 are heavenly and the other 90 are from hell; we like to call August "the cover charge to live in Arizona") and Iíll bet you get three or four of these "sweet days." Expect weather in the high 70s and low 80s in the day and pack a light jacket or sweater for the game. (Remember, weíre talking about the weather here!) Iíll predict game time temp in the mid 60s, dropping to the high 50s by the time the Hokies nail down another victory. GO HOKIES!
Phoenix is easy to navigate (unlike San Francisco) as itís laid out in a grid pattern, occasionally punctuated by a peak or ravine. All numbered "Streets and Places" (e.g., 7th Street where the Park is) are east of Central Avenue (the main north-south street) and "Avenues and Drives" are west of Central. Named streets run east-west and follow from north to south. Major streets occur every mile northbound (Van Buren, McDowell, Thomas, Indian School, Camelback, Bethany Home, Glendale, NorthernÖ.) as you head out of downtown.
This means straight roads where folks drive really fast. The biggest drawback to Phoenix is not the heat of the summer (more bearable than Tidewater, I assure you), but the traffic and the drivers. Accidents are common, especially at the one mile intersections. Drive slowly and never run red lights here. Still, the best way to see Phoenix and the Valley is by car, so pop $50 and rent one (downtown, not at the airport, which has higher fees) and hit the road for a day.
If golf (now thatís a slower pace for sure) is your game, youíve come to the right place. With over 200 golf courses, the National Golf Foundation calls Phoenix "The Golf Capitol of the World". Try to book the municipal courses during the week.
Shopping? Try the Biltmore Fashion Square at 24th Street (Eastside, right?) and Camelback (6 miles North of downtown). In addition to great shopping, it offers a stunning view of one of our many famous urban peaks, Piestewa Peak, probably listed as Squaw Peak in your tour books. It was renamed earlier this year after Lori Piestewa, an Army corporal from Northern Arizona who was killed in Iraq. Just north of Camelback and 20th Street, you can hop on the 51 Freeway (The Piestewa Parkway, of course), and drive north through one of our mountain preserves and enjoy great views of the city, our famous sahuaro (pronounced "sah-WAH-ro") cactus, and homes precariously perched on mountain bluffs.
More shopping in "Americaís Most Western City," Scottsdale, is just minutes east on Camelback Road. The best shopping is between Camelback and Indian School on Scottsdale Road, the Fifth Avenue shops. Pricey, but excellent quality. Itís the first stop on Saturday or Sundayís "Magical Mystery Tour."
DOWNTOWN, PARKING, AND FOOD
Staying downtown? Thereís no need to hail a cab. Look for the roving "Copper Square Dash" buses which take you everywhere downtown for FREE (grab one at the SW corner by the Hyatt Regency at 122 North 2nd Street) and take it to the Park (check with a "Copper Square Ambassador"--602.253.6394-- for "Dash" times on game day). These roving concierges wearing copper and black uniforms are on foot or bicycle and will direct or walk you anywhere downtown. They are the ultimate goodwill ambassadors!
Letís talk pre- or post-game food at my "big three," downtown for that true local ambiance (but donít forget a stop at our Arizona Hokies FREE FOOD tailgate party, mentioned earlier). Remember Alice Cooper (not the one you dated as a sophomore!)--the rocker. Heís a Valley icon and has his own restaurant, CoopersTown, located at 101 East Jackson (hey, another dead President). A great sports bar with super memorabilia and food to match. Lines are long on game day so call ahead for reservations (602.253.7337) . They are open from 11AM to 1AM game day. Bring your steel guitarÖyou might bump into Alice himself and do a set.
A local Mexican restaurant hangout just a stoneís throw from the park at 602 East Lincoln (just over the 7th Street bridge south of the park) is the Tee Pee Tap Room. My wife and I have eaten at this restaurant in the working class neighborhood that adjoins the park. Food is good and, like virtually every Mexican restaurant, reasonably priced. Most notably, local Hispanics dine there. Here, that speaks volumes. A bonus is that they may allow parking for free if you dine or at a nominal fee (call ahead at 602.340.8787).
Oh yeah, parking. There is plenty of free parking on the street side (Streets are east , remember.) IF you arrive early. You may park on Jefferson east of the park or any of the adjoining streets, 8th, 9th 10th, etc.) If you arrive late, expect to pay $5 to $10 in the lots---not $20 like the Gator Bowl. If you park west of the park, you are in downtown and itís all metered (maybe not the day after Christmas). There is a high rise city lot due north of Bank One Park, just across the street.
Back to food. Just a long Marcus Vick pass west of the park at 27 West Monroe (those Presidents) is Sing High (602.253.7848), our favorite Chinese restaurant in town. Locally owned for over 50 years, itís a great place for Chinese. There is also a city parking garage directly across the street.
Another great Mexican restaurant with prices under $10 per entrťe is three miles north of downtown. There are Macayoís are all over the Valley, but this is the original one Woody started over half a century ago. Check it out after the Fiesta Bowl Parade (hope you can stick around). Located at 4011 North Central (602.264.6141), they have great margaritas too! Be sure to get yours in the souvenir "Cha Cha" or "Senor Bob" ceramic margarita mug. Marianne has them all over the house and grows small cactus dish gardens in them. (Cactus dish gardens are great souvenirs available in shops and will grow in Virginia if you donít water them too much.)
Finally, any Cubs/baseball fans out there who also like great steaks?. Our favorite is in downtown Scottsdale. Don and Charlieís at 7501 East Camelback (480.990.0900) has autographed baseballs in the lobby and great steaks priced from $15-35 per (ribs, $21.95) in the dining room. This place is about as formal as it gets here. A sports coat would be fine.
NON-SPORTS STUFF TO DO
My wife insists I point out there is culture in this town (I go to the opera with her in trade for three fall weekends in Blacksburg with my sons--six next year according to my oldest son who has fallen in love with the 'Burg and Hokie football).
Letís see, thereís "The Nutcracker" at Phoenix Symphony Hall (where operas are performed) just north of Bank One Park (602.381.1096 or www.balletaz.org) with performances at 11AM and 4PM on the 27th and 11AM on the 28th. Prices range from $7 to $92. Average is $32.
"Grease," a musical dedicated to the fun of the 50s, is at the Orpheum, 200 West Washington; shows at 8PM with prices ranging from $33.50 to $39.50 (less than an Insight Bowl ticket).
Barry Goldwater (all hail the Chief!) and the local movers and shakers made sure we have our share of great museums. The Heard Museum may be the best of the bunch at 2301 N. Central (at McDowell). It offers the stateís best examples of historical and contemporary Native American art with artist/performers doing their thing. To understand and appreciate Arizona, you must understand the role and influence of our Native American ancestors. Check them out at www.heard.org or (602.252.8840).
The Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 North Central, has over 17,000 works. We saw the Rockwell Collection there a few years back. Itís a first class art museum (602.257.1800 or www.phxart.com).
So, Phoenix is not the cultural backwater you may have thought it to be.
NOW PUT ON THOSE MOCASSINS (OR COWBOY BOOTS) AND LETíS HIT THE ROAD
Yeah, you saw the game, bought all the Hokie "stuff" you could get your mitts on, sampled the cuisine, did the shopping at the Biltmore, and even did a cultural thing or two maybe. But pop that Grant (more Presidents!) and get a convertible for a day. Rise early on Saturday (or Sunday), head to downtown SCOTTSDALE for some more shopping if you have any money or luggage space left. Then point that convertible east on Camelback out of Scottsdale and head North at the 101 Freeway. Great mountain vistas await as you head north, but donít speed. This stretch is a real speed trap. Get off at Scottsdale Road and head north about three miles to RAWHIDE (on your right) at 23023 North Scottsdale Road (480.502.5600 or www.rawhide.com ).
This 1880ís Family Style Entertainment complex is fun and has free admission (youíre low on cash by now, right?) Gunfights break out hourly on Main Street, thereís stagecoach, mule, and horseback riding (for a price) in a beautiful unspoiled desert setting. Tour a mine shaft, enjoy a nice steak dinner if you missed the one at Don and Charlieís (these are cheaper). I like shopping there too and once bought a nice leather jacket for my wife for Christmas.
Donít stay too long. Time to aim that pony, er car, down the 101 headed west through North Phoenix. More great mountain views to the North (might even see some snowÖa LONG way off). At Interstate 17 (the Black Canyon Freeway), head north towards Flagstaff. Youíll slowly start to rise in elevation and pass Anthem, Del Webbís latest housing development (Sun City, his most famous "active retirement community" and the home of my folks was due west if you stayed on the 101). Missed that steak dinner? Hereís your chance at Black Canyon City. Look for the BAD ASS STEAKHOUSE (no, Iím not kiddingÖ"ass" as in mule!). We ate there first when it was the more tamely named Squaw Peak (remember Piestewa Peak?) Steak House. Under either name, great steaks at bargain prices. Lots of locals eat there. Very "Old West."
Remember that steep grade from Salem to Christiansburg? Just ahead is Arizonaís answer to that drive. The grade up I-17 just past Black Canyon City is STEEP all the way up to Sunset Point with great views to your left of the Bradshaw Mountains (pull over at the Sunset Point rest stop for more great vistas). Now youíre on the high desert plateau (grasslands for a change). Just ahead is Cordes (KOR-diss) Junction. Pull off at the exit marked Prescott/ Route 69 ("PRES-kit," our first Territorial Capital and worthy of a visit if you skip Sedona or just love antiques and the Old West) and follow the signs and two miles of dirt road to Paolo Soleriís urban laboratory, ARCOSANTI ("Before Things" in Italian ---www.arcosanti.org).
This urban organic experiment (OK I was an Urban and Regional Planning major at Tech) is a series of buildings cunningly designed to make the most of the sun-filled high desert environment. Itís the best place in the state to buy Soleri wind bells that youíll never see back East. Good food at the organic restaurant. There, I had to show you I learned something at Tech besides "football appreciation."
Heading back north on I-17 for about 35 miles, youíll go back down a steep grade into the Verde Valley (the San Francisco peaks in Flagstaff with snow on them are in the distance). Take the SEDONA turnoff (Route 179) about 10 miles ahead and behold the red rock formations about 15 miles ahead through the juniper pines. These formations are second only to the Grand Canyon for majesty in the state. Sedona is famous for red rock, crystals (I never got that stuff), and fine shopping.
The best shopping is at TLAQUEPAQUE (T-la-kih-PAH-kee, "over clay hills"[email protected]) at the edge of Sedona as you enter town. Fine shops, galleries, and restaurants (La Esquina, a must for Mexican) await you. The Holiday decorations are impressive. Our favorite shops for jewelry and such are Cocopah (928.282.4928) and Ninibah (928.282.4256). Just past Tlaquepaque is the heart of Sedona. In my humble opinion, itís gotten a bit too commercialized along Route 89A, but nothing detracts from the scenic red rock beauty. The only places with more spectacular red rock are Bryce and Zion Canyons in Southern Utah. But thatís WAY too far and worthy of a non-football vacation.
Want more red rock up close? Try the "Pink Jeep" tours of the red rock country (www.pinkjeep.com). Finally, on the way out of town heading back to Phoenix on Route 179, try to stop at the Catholic Church carved out of the red rock (on your left). Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, this edifice is breathtaking (and free of course). Youíll learn of its connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sorry, no time for a trip to the Grand Canyon (about 3-4 hours beyond Sedona). Roads are usually clear though and, from all reports, the South Rim in the snow is spectacular. I donít drive in snow in Arizona, so my opinions are via the hearty souls who drive further north in the winter!
Back to Phoenix via Route 17, allowing about two hours drive time. This time take the I-17 past the 101 when you hit Phoenix for 15 more miles to Jefferson Street--Exit 199-----itĎs one-way headed east toward the hotels. When you turn in the rental car, itíll no doubt be covered with red dust from your great day in Sedona.
I know few of you will be here for the Fiesta Bowl (as tough a ticket as youíll find, especially if itís for a National Championship), but if you are here on the 31st, the Fiesta Bowl Parade starts at 11AM along Central Avenue and is second only to the Rose in terms of beauty and pageantry. When we are in town we never miss it and wonít this year for sure. This is Arizonaís largest one-day spectacular event, which features soaring balloons, dazzling floats, great high school and college bands, and equestrian units from the state. All this plus about 200,000 spectators! Oh yeah, thatís the rub.
Getting out can be a mess. You may buy a seat in the high-riser bleachers (480.350.0911; try to get as close to the start at Bethany Home Road, as you possibly can). We sit on our own chairs for free by the North Phoenix Baptist Church near Bethany Home and the start point. Thatís the key. Park on the residential streets just south of Bethany Home and walk over to Central and set up shop. Then when the last float/band/horse entourage passes, pick up and scoot for your car and beat the other 199,000 folks who are still waiting for the parade to pass by. Never sit at the end of the Parade near McDowell Road unless you are WALKING back to your hotel. Traffic notwithstanding, itís the best free event in Phoenix every year (except for our tailgate!).
Well, that does it. Everything you wanted to know about Phoenix and Arizona and probably a whole lot more. (But not nearly all there is to know and love! ThereĎs plenty to do South, East, West, and farther North, too.) Finally, I have a stern warning: If you have never been to Arizona before, you might get the "bug." There is no immunization. My wife and I visited here in December, 1978, when we came out to spend Christmas with my folks. We loved Tidewater and our home in Newport News, but during our week here, we decided to embark on a new adventure. So, we sold the house and transferred to Phoenix with Equitable Life. Who knows? Maybe you will too. Weíd love to have you as neighbors! Enjoy your visit to the GREAT STATE OF ARIZONA and GO HOKIES!!