Living in Southern California, I’ve always been interested in the dry desert climate of our neighbor to the east, Arizona. Last December, when we finally visited Phoenix, we got a much better idea of landscape of the state and fell in love with its desert plants.
Our first destination in Phoenix was Heard Museum, well known for its great collection of American Indian art. We were drawn right away to the unique garden featuring cacti, other desert flora and various sculptures among the trees and shrubs.
After taking quite a few photos, we stepped inside the museum and were just in time for the start of a performance by Native American hoop dancers. Dressed in bright-hued costumes, the dancers exhibited a visible pride in this exquisite art form, and the audience was captivated by their dancing and singing – a traditional form of storytelling in Native American culture.
After the performance, our tour of the galleries took about an hour, and was a learning experience that exposed us more to the history and culture. Interestingly, the most impressive among all exhibitions was the collection of American Indian dolls.
Leaving Heard Museum, we headed to the Desert Botanical Garden in the afternoon. We’ve always wanted to see its display of desert plants, and finally the sighting of cacti of different shapes and heights there satisfied our curiosity.
As we approached the entrance of the botanical garden, awe-inspiring cacti around 20 feet high came into view. Each of them looked like a giant scarecrow without arms, standing lonely in the midst of low shrubs and bushes.
Once inside the garden, a greater collection of different species of cacti greeted us with various gestures: some were short and chubby with flat leaves; some were ball-like bulky creatures with yellow flowers on top; some were as tall as 30 feet and thin like totem poles; some were cute like cartoon figures, shaped like pumpkins; some were long and spiny, shaped like the tentacles and arms of a squid; some, the size of softballs, clung tightly to the ground and formed clusters; others had the texture of a tortoise shell.
Together with all the other vines, shrubs, trees and flowers – some of which were endangered species – our reaction to the botanical garden was simply “wow!”
Before sunset, we hit Scottsdale, Arizona, to catch a glimpse of the art district there. Strolling along for several blocks, we were surprised to see so many art galleries side by side, some with great collections of American Indian artwork. Scottsdale looked like an ideal place for art lovers and shoppers – and there was more cacti!
In all, the trip changed my previous impression of Arizona: a collage of horrible movie scenes of murders on highway roadsides, desolate gas stations and hotels, mysterious flying objects in deserts, etc.
And importantly, I discovered a newfound love for cacti. Have you ever thought of hugging a pumpkin-like cactus? I have, since then!