A Spring Trip to Arizona and Illinois:
Sightseeing, Finance Conferences, and Family Fun



We’ve been planning this trip since sometime in January—a cold, bitter and rainy day in Boston. Of course, come mid-April, we were still facing cold, bitter, rainy days in Boston, and the reality of our trip seemed to have faded. So, when the Spring semester ended for me on Wednesday, April 28th—when I met my deadline with my editor a day early, on Thursday the 29th—when I finished grading all my final papers and filing final grades on Friday the 30th—it was quite a shock to realize that we were really going away for ten days. Robert’s traveled a lot this spring: a week to London, a week to California, a week to Colorado, odd rise-at-4:00-get-home-at-10:00 days to New York, another week to California, and one insane rise-at-4:00-get-home-at-3:00 day to New York most recently. We’ve spent some time with friends, of course—dinners (sushi with Jef, sushi with Jef and Max, sushi with Jef and Elena, sushi with Jef and Max and Annie), birthday parties at other people’s houses (Ben’s, Valentina’s), random parties at our place (sushi night, carb-loading pre-Marathon nights), and movies (Hellboy, Dawn of the Dead, Kill Bill 2)—but really the last four months have been a windy mess of people and places and late nights and early mornings and work and school and train rides and dinners and gym nights and exhausted, falling asleep in front of our TiVo, midnights.

On Friday, though, with an 8:00 a.m. plane ride ahead of me, I was exhilarated and ready to get started. I’d already packed, of course, and cleaned up the house and dried the last of the laundry, so I tried once more (third time’s a charm—sort of) to dye my hair pink. I’d had a vision of myself with pale pink tips—about the lower two or three inches—and I found what I’d thought was the perfect dye in a Korean supermarket in New York. Sadly, the dye—tried one night a week ago while Robert was away—did nothing. No pink, no red, no stains on towels or the bathtub, and nothing at all on my hair. The next night, with Robert in a different city, I tried an all-natural organic dye I picked up at the Whole Foods. This time, I imagined that I could see faint reddish (not really pinkish unless I took off my glasses and squinted) highlights, but still, essentially, nothing. On Tuesday, with Robert in still another city and with it being Ben and Jerry’s free cone day, I made a late-night Target run with Sarah Hart and Debbie, courtesy of Debbie and her trusty car. There I was talked into trying yet another kind of pink dye; I was skeptical because the dye specifically said “Lasts 6-8 weeks!” but I was still enthusiastic about my pink vision. This dye was more fuchsia than pink, and I didn’t have a chance to try it between Tuesday and Friday, which is how I came to find myself painting it on (it’s a high-lighting/hair-painting kit more than a whole-head dye) late Friday night in our bathroom (which thankfully is already mostly pink). Robert, now home, criticized my technique of irregular gloppy swirls, but it turned out that only the gloppiest spots had any color at all—the rest, the conservative, neat painting, was once again invisible. Still, the overall effect on Friday night was of a fuchsia halo, and I was enchanted. I planned all pink dresses for our getaway to complement my hair, and when the color was duller on Saturday, still duller on Sunday, and washing out on hotel towels like mad by Monday, I was only mildly disappointed.

Robert of course thought I was crazy as I ran around the house straightening things up until 2:00, and then, too excited to sleep, lay awake in bed reading until 4:00. Still, I woke up happily and we made our plane with plenty of time to spare. We were changing planes in Denver, although Robert cursed our connecting flights many, many times, because I’d found some wonderfully cheap one-way fares. Our flight plan was:

Saturday, May 1: Boston-Arizona by way of Denver
Wednesday, May 5: Arizona-Chicago by way of Denver
Monday, May 10: Chicago-Boston nonstop (for once).



After a nice sojourn at the Denver Airport—one of our favorites—we landed in Phoenix around 1:00. We were at the rental car place signing out our vanilla PT Cruiser convertible at 2:00, and I was strangely not at all exhausted. With our top down, sunscreen on, and a quick stop at a Dairy Queen for a fast-melting Blizzard, we braved the 98-degree heat to drive to the Swapmart in Phoenix, an indoor, delightfully tacky, flea market. We bought Kettle Corn at the entrance, browsed the tacky but air-conditioned aisles of stalls, and ate Navajo fry bread tacos before heading over to our Motel 6 in Scottsdale.

There we checked in, relaxed, changed, and went back out again to the Desert Botanical Gardens for an early-evening educational and not unbearably hot stroll.


We learned many fascinating details about cacti and other succulents at the Botanical Gardens (including the importance of the cacti's special aureole in distinguishing a cactus from a completely different plant). At left is a picture of the remains of a saguaro cactus after it was struck by heat lightning. Below are additional garden pictures: (from left to right) the two of us at a desert oasis; Robert at the picturesque entrance to the gardens; and Robert doing one of his famous saguaro cactus imitations against a backdrop of friends.

At sunset, we left the gardens and drove back to downtown Phoenix to get ribs and strawberry soda at Hap’s, and then back to Scottsdale to the drive-in movie theatre we remembered from our last visit to Phoenix (1999). Though Kill Bill and Dawn of the Dead were playing as a double feature, we chose Envy—a movie we were far less keen to see, but therefore far less upset to miss when our heads started bobbing and we fell asleep in our reclined convertible seats under the stars.


On Sunday morning, we got an early start but then drove around for what felt like hours and hours and hours, getting lost as we tried to find a specific breakfast burrito place. We finally found it, all right—no givers-in are we—but it was closed. So, we gave in at last and followed a family with four plump, happy children into a different burrito place (La Salsita), where we had the most marvelous mango agua fresca we’ve ever enjoyed, some very respectable breakfast burritos, and delicious tacos.

Our sight-seeing stop of the day was Mystery Castle, at the foot of South Mountain south of Phoenix. Mystery Castle was unknown to every single other person I met in Phoenix or otherwise talked to about the trip, but it was a hysterical, wild, and completely worthwhile stop. Built between 1931 and 1945 by an apparently crazy amateur architect who was diagnosed with TB and sent to Arizona to die, for the little princess-and-castle dreaming daughter he left behind, it grew and grew over fourteen years as its builder just didn’t die as instructed. Instead, he added odd grottos and nooks, stole tombstones and Grand Canyon rocks and old mining cars to make his walls and furniture, and quarreled friendlily with Frank Lloyd Wright, who was building his own—somewhat more planned, perhaps—home nearby. Well, in 1945 he died—supposedly, the story goes (though I will say it might not be the most reliable story) of stomach cancer inflicted when a rattlesnake bit his horse, he fell from it, and was pricked by a cactus in his stomach—and his wife and daughter, long since abandoned, came to Phoenix to live in the castle. His daughter has lived in the house ever since, giving tours to characters as varied—again, the story goes, though she is the unreliable source—as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, and one of the September 11th hijackers who was training at a flying school nearby. We had the pleasure of having this utterly batty, but delightful, woman give us the tour as well. Below left, you see a view of downtown Phoenix taken through a picture frame her father built on the top deck of the house; at right is a view of the "frame" itself, formed out of over-fired bricks.

Our crazy tour guide had rocks around the house which were painted, very realistically, to look like cats, and when asked she explained that a local artist painted them of all the pets she’d had over the years. After glancing around just one room and seeing more than forty of these rocks, Robert asked, “So, just how many pets have you had over the years?” She sighed impatiently.

“Ask me a question I can answer, young man!” she said.

Robert obliged in the kitchen, when he asked—nearly interrupting her constant patter—when plumbing and fresh water was brought out to this house in the middle of the desert.

“1955,” she replied. “City water—best there is.”

“Really?” Robert asked, skeptically. “Is it really any good?”

“Here, try some,” she said, running some tap water into a Cola-Cola plastic cup she’d found on a counter. “You can keep the cup.” She seemed to warm up to him.

The water was not great, but certainly not awful. We nodded thanks, and Robert stuffed the cup into a shorts pocket.

At the end of the tour, we decided to drive up South Mountain peak just behind the house to get a better view of Phoenix. Everyone kept recommending the hiking trails off of South Mountain to us, but since I was nearly ready to expire from heat and lack of water (and whenever I did get any water it was always body temperature in the heat), we figured we’d drive and avoid the trails. The view was not worth it, and the gnats and mosquitoes pecked at us unmercifully at the top as we ate a strawberry popsicle, a Jamaica juice (described as “fruit punch,” tasting like a horrendous mix of grape juice and prickly pear juice with a dearth of sugar), and the best mango I’ve ever had.

An old Mexican woman saying, “Mango? Mango?” sold the mango to us for $2 out of the back of her car; she peeled it—it was a fat, greenish-red one—impaled it on a wooden stick straight through the pit—and cut it deftly to look like an artichoke, with the sections ready to fall away into your mouth like leaves from the pit. Then she doused it with lime juice, sprinkled it with chili powder and salt, and handed it over. I ate it leaning against the bumper of our car, as it was far too messy to eat sitting down. Juicy, salty, sweet, and tart, it was possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I’ve said the view wasn’t worth the drive or the hassle up the mountain, and that’s true—but the mango in the parking lot at the top certainly was.



Phoenix Sights | Scottsdale Conference
Downtown Chicago (Kids) | Family Pictures (Party, Etc.)

Go back to web essays or over to links.
robertandchristina.com was made with a Mac.
© 2003 C&R Enterprises
christina@robertandchristina.com or robert@robertandchristina.com
Created: 5/11/04. Last Modified: 5/11/04.