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The new Phoenix: desert and downtown.

For the six million visitors who will descend on Phoenix this winter and spring, we have a couple of suggestions. Take a look downtown. And explore the desert right in the city's back yard.

Most vacationers to Phoenix are there for the sunshine, golf, tennis, and other pleasures of the mild-winter desert. You won't find downtown on their list of local attractions. With all-too-typical urban sprawl and traffic congestion, staggered by cycles of boom and bust, downtown has been terra incognita for visitors and anyone else who doesn't have to go there to work.

But now, just as the Census Bureau is reporting that Phoenix-with nearly a million people-is the eighth largest city in the U.S., the pace downtown is quickening. There are signals that the city is ready to deal more creatively with its climate, to parlay its desertness into a unique asset and a source of pride. Our six-page report first takes you downtown, to look at some recent and new-right-now attractions, as well as future ones. Then, beginning on page 82, we show you where Phoenicians go to enjoy their back-yard wilderness areas.

November, with daytime temperatures in the 70s, is an excellent time to visit.

Downtown, building and planting with the desert in mind

Midway through an unprecedented 20-square-block, six-year building program, Phoenix's downtown is getting interesting enough for a visit. The map on page 81 highlights the improvements-finished, the program has created a new entertainment complex and places for dining.

As you explore this area, you may already note evidence of the city's recently adopted design review guidelines. Out of favor are fortress-like buildings that accommodate cars but not pedestrians. In favor are passive-solar, energy-efficient structures with shady overhangs and cool plazas that encourage workers and visitors to step outside and enjoy the weather.

"We have a fantastic climate nine months of the year," says Andy Conlin, project director of Arizona Center. "Let's celebrate that rather than scurry indoors because of a couple of hot months."

To cleanse the smoggy air and to cool a city whose miles of pavement cause temperatures to soar, native vegetation is returning in force. Planting of palms, palo verdes, and mesquites along the 3 1/2 miles of Central Avenue between Camelback Road and the future site for Deck Park should be completed by November. By next summer, trees and awnings will shade the several blocks of Monroe Street between the Mercado and the convention center at Phoenix Civic Plaza. "We're developing a new appreciation for native trees," says Mayor Paul Johnson, "especially in the spring when they're in full bloom."

Phoenix is about to join Los Angeles and Tucson in pursuing a massive citywide tree-planting goal: a million more desert native trees within the next five years.

Take a stroll through downtown. Arizona Center opens this month

The year-old Phoenix Mercado and Herberger Theater Center are already bringing people downtown, and a major new project opens midmonth. Here, we focus on that opening, then suggest other spots in the area worth visiting.

Arizona Center. The first half of downtown's biggest project opens November 15 with fireworks and a splashy four-day festival. Developed by Rouse, the company that created Boston's Faneuil Hall and Baltimore's Harborplace, the center already has two office buildings open. The latest stage includes a 3-acre urban garden with a lagoon and palm trees, some 20 shops, 13 restaurants, and 4 nightclubs. Opening day, hours are noon to midnight; after that, shops will be open 10 to 9:30 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 Sundays.

Patriots Square. Scheduled to open by December 8, a laser show will cast a light onto canvas circles and into the night sky; call (602) 262-6412 for details.

Weekdays, try one of this park's free noontime concerts, which present everything from folk to rock, reggae to jazz. While there, you may catch glimpses of Phoenix's newly informal downtown police, wearing shorts and riding bicycles.

Downtown theater. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at noon, Herberger Theater Center, at 222 E. Monroe Street, diagonally across from Arizona Center, hosts popular one-act Brown Bag Theater performances of original locally written plays, usually comedies ($3.50; lunches also for sale). Other Herberger performances generally run Wednesdays through Sundays; call 252-8497.

Phoenix Civic Plaza is also home to Symphony Hall, which hosts the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera; for tickets call 262-7272.

Phoenix Mercado. Two blocks east of Arizona Center, this Cuernavaca-inspired "village" contains boutiques (open 10 to 6 daily) featuring clothing, jewelry, and crafts from Africa to Mexico. It also offers two Mexican fast-food places open for lunch only, as well as two restaurants-Sesame Inn (Chinese; open 11 A.M. to 10 P.M.) and Cafe La Tasca (Spanish; open 7 A.M. to 9 P.M.). You may witness wedding and confirmation parties posing for pictures outside the new Mexican Cultural Center.

Adjoining the center is the Museo Chicano, Phoenix's first Hispanic museum. Through December 15, De Colores: Textiles of Mexico features everything from fiesta costumes to handwoven historic and contemporary textiles. Museum hours are 10 to 5 Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; until 2 Sundays. Admission is $2, $1 seniors and ages 10 and under; 257-5537.

Heritage Square. Across Monroe Street, in view of new high-rises, is Phoenix's best concentration of historic architecture-10 houses built between 1880 and 1912 and now recycled as small museums, boutiques, and delis. Guided tours ($3) are given hourly between 10 and 4 daily. At noon and 4 Sundays, docents show the meticulously restored 1895 Rosson House, and give a sense of life at the turn of the century, when Phoenix was a cattle and farming center.

Near Heritage Square, an archeological dig of a Hohokam Indian village is being undertaken on the future site of a pair of new museums, the Phoenix Museum of History and the Arizona Museum of Science and Technology. Also new at the square is a popular farmers' market, open 3:30 to 6:30 Pm. Wednesdays and funded at least through June 26.

An updated science center. Until the new science and technology museum is finished, visitors can get a sense of what's to come at hands-on displays at the original museum, 80 N. Second Street (next to the Hyatt). Museum hours are 9 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays; admission costs $3.50, $2.50 ages 4 through 12. For details, call 256-9388.

New minibus shuttle. To get people more easily from place to place, free city-operated minibuses will connect the State Capitol (2 miles to the west), downtown hotels, Arizona Center, Mercado, and Heritage Square. Scheduled starting date is November 1; to verify, call 262-7242. Shuttle will run from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M. at 5- to 10-minute intervals and connect with city transportation along Central Avenue.

What to expect in the future: a progressive solar oasis

Air conditioning was invented here in the 1940s, and Phoenix contains the nation's oldest reclamation project. Both make this year-round city possible-but probably also played a role in its forgetting what it is.

The most intriguing evidence of a new attitude may be the Arizona Solar Oasis, due to transform the 2-acre plaza in front of Symphony Hall, now a summer heat sink, into an environmental showcase. By June 1992, dining, entertainment, and strolling will take place amid ponds full of fast-growing, edible fish and landscaping that can feed urbanites. Vegetables will be grown in air, water, and earth. Rainwater stored in a 100,000-gallon cistern will feed plants, fish, fountains, and towers, and be recycled.

The oasis is the brainchild of Carl Hodges, director of Tucson's University of Arizona Environmental Research Laboratory. Phoenix also aims to host city planners from more than a hundred of the world's desert cities.

Hike with a llama, picnic at sunset, raft a desert river

Contrary to its image as a retirement mecca, Phoenix is primarily a city of youth; the average age is about 3 1, and its mayor, Paul Johnson, is only 30. Even when the temperature rises to triple digits, Phoenicians of all ages stride, ride, and jog through desert wilderness areas in and around the city. Here we suggest six ways to enjoy the desert for an hour or up to a half-day or more.

Hikes into four desert mountain parks. Each of these parks is within roughly 8 miles of downtown: Phoenix South Mountain Park (at 16,500 acres, the largest municipal park in the world), Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Camelback Mountain Park, and Papago Park. Within 40 miles are Maricopa County desert parks-Usery Mountain Recreation Area, Estrella Mountain Regional Park, White Tank Regional Park, McDowell Mountain Regional Park and, east of Apache Junction, the storied Superstition Mountains. To help you decide on a destination, one thorough hiking guide is Day Hikes and Trail Rides In and Around Phoenix, by Roger and Ethel Freeman (Gem Guides Book Company, Pico Rivera, Calif., 1990; $12.95).

Phoenix's most popular trail leads to the top of Squaw Peak, in 7,000-acre Phoenix Mountain Preserve, 8 miles northeast of downtown. Some weekend mornings, the entire city seems to be walking this national recreation trail. Just over a mile long, it climbs from 1,400 feet through ocotillo, palo verde, creosote bush, and barrel and saguaro cactus to the peak's 2,608-foot summit; views extend to downtown Phoenix.

Other hikes in this part of the preserve include a fairly level 4-mile trail around the peak's base. Or stroll from the east end of Squaw Peak Drive, down a wash, over a saddle, and into a secluded valley, then double back.

To get to the trails from Lincoln Drive, turn northeast onto Squaw Peak Drive. For the first two trails, park near the first ramada on the left side of the road; for the third, park near the end of Squaw Peak Drive. Bring water.

Horseback rides. A half-dozen stables in the metropolitan area offer breakfast or dinner rides into the desert, or hour- to day-long rides in local wilderness parks. Call a day ahead, especially if you want a meal. Costs start at $10 an hour; you'll pay $20 to $30 if a meal is included. Three stables are on Central Avenue, close to the entrance to Phoenix South Mountain Park, which has some 25 miles of maintained hiking and horse trails. To set up a ride, call All Western Stables, at 10220 S. Central, 276-5862; Ponderosa Stables, at 10215, 268-1261; or South Mountain Stables, at 10005, 276-8131. For rides into Phoenix Mountain Preserve, call Hole in the Wall Stables at Squaw Peak Pointe Resort, 7776 N. 16th Street; 997-1466.

The first Saturday of October through April, Maricopa County Parks rangers lead 5-hour rides in different county parks. For a schedule, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Maricopa County Parks, 3475 W. Durango St., Phoenix 85009, or call 272-8871.

For other desert rides, look in the yellow pages under Horse Rentals & Rides.

Jeep tours. Experienced guides can help you identify desert wildlife and vegetation, and regale you with stories of local history. Descriptions of these tours, which start at $30 for a half-day, are in the Phoenix/Scottsdale and Valley of the Sun Meeting Planners Guide. The brochure is free; order from Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau, 505 N. Second St., Suite 300, Phoenix 85004, or call 254-6500.

Llama treks. Why hire a lanky, quirky llama as your hiking companion on a day trip? Because llamas are fun, furry, and they'll carry your lunch. The only Phoenix llama packer is Fred Bartbolomae of Blue Mesa Llama Company, 1711 E. Earll Dr., Phoenix 85016; 285-0610.

In South Mountain Park, Mr. Bartholomae and his llamas lead 6-mile round trips through Hidden Valley on the park's most popular trail; cost is $30 for a half-day. Or try this hike yourself. Isolated from city views, you'll see desert wilderness, some saguaro stands, and a rock tunnel. The trail begins at Buena Vista Lookout atop South Mountain's summit ridge and continues 3 miles eastward (and downhill) to Pima Canyon. To leave a car at the trail's end, park at the Pima Canyon gatehouse (48th Street and Guadalupe Road). It's a 15-mile drive back to the trailhead.

Picnics. Desert dwellers will tell you sunrise and dusk-when the intense low light colors the landscape, and the sky can be filled with postcard hues are the best times to enjoy this country. Bring along breakfast or dinner, and savor desert sights, sounds, even smells. If you're looking for a deli to supply the picnic, refer to the weekly New Times, available free from red sidewalk stands around town, or from 1201 E. Jefferson Street, just north of Sky Harbor International Airport.

Echo Canyon Recreation Area is a favorite picnic spot. Here, mounds of red sandstone (see picture on pages 78 and 79) form Phoenix's most famous landmark-Camelback Mountain, which resembles a kneeling camel. The ambitious can tackle a challenging 2-mile hike to the top of the mountain (part of it requires hauling yourself up along a handrail). Or you can choose to simply dine on one of the rocks, with the city at your feet. The park's entrance is from Echo Canyon Place, off McDonald Drive a block east of Tatum Boulevard. Echo Canyon Place leads south about 1/4 mile to trails.

In Papago Park, palm-lined lagoons between Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens are another popular destination. From picnic tables here, enjoy a magnificent sunset view of oddly eroded Hole-in-the-Rock, on the east side of the 880-acre park. Entrance is off Galvin Parkway, between E. Van Buren Street and McDowell Road.

Rafting. A lazy drift through desert wilderness on the Salt or Verde River just east of Phoenix is a year-round option. Amid splendid mountain ranges dotted with stands of saguaro, the trips give serene glimpses of mesquite bosques, great blue herons, and southern bald eagles. Rafts spend 2 to 3 hours on the river; unless noted, transportation from some hotels is included (add 1 to 1 1/2 hours each way, for transportation).

Cimarron River Company offers half-day trips along 4 to 15 miles of river; cost is $30, not including transportation. Other offerings you can ask about include moonlight or jeep-and-river trips. Call 994-1199 or (800) 729-7467.

Desert Voyagers Guided Rafting Tours offers half-day journeys covering 6 1/2 miles of river; $50. Call 998-7238.

Worldwide Explorations also offers half-day trips; $40 ($45 with lunch). Call (800) 272-3353.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1990
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