Friday, December 20, 2019

What's in a Name?

(Originally written February 2019)
Santa Fe and Albuquerque both made TripAdvisor’s list of “20 of the Top Places to Visit In the U.S. In 2019.”  Just sayin!

Seeking some New England comfort food we celebrated Super Bowl Sunday with "Grandma Lynch's Boston Baked Beans" – recipe supplied by our dear Wethersfield friend Roberta in the Wethersfield Family Heritage Cookbook, which Marsha assisting in compiling and editing for the historical society.  Thankfully the game – aka 3 1/2 hours of our life we will never get back – effectively ended in time for us watch the latest episode of Victoria on PBS

Well, Punxsutawney Phil isn't the only one reawakening this time of year.  In Santa Fe the lecturers have also come out of their winter hibernation.  

This past Tuesday UNM professor & historian Dr. Richard Melzer spoke about his latest book, "Captain Maximiliano Luna, the Rough Riders, and New Mexico Statehood."  One-third of Teddy Roosevelt's 1,000 Rough Riders came from the Territory of New Mexico, which was having difficulty becoming a state partially because of doubts about the loyalty of its Hispanic residents to this country.  Maximiliano Luna was a Captain in the NM National Guard who volunteered to accompany TR in Cuba to help prove the patriotism of NMers.  He was unjustly accused of cowardice in battle, so later re-upped for the U.S. war in the Philippines where he died heroically.  Two side notes: (1) the Rough Rider's horses were color-coded by division to facilitate re-organizing during battle. (2) Maximiliano's father and uncle were successful sheep ranchers and leading Republican politicians.  All of the sheep had names – and they all voted.

Thursday we heard author David Morrell – Santa Fe resident, Penn State alumnus, tenured Professor of Literature at Univ. of Iowa, and creator of "Rambo First Blood" speaking about Thomas De Quincey – 19th century English essayist, best known for his "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater."  De Qunicey took the drug regularly for over fifty years in the form of laudanum – widely used by the Victorians as a narcotic painkiller.   
De Quincey invented the concept of the subconscious; created the modern true-crime genre; and wrote the first modern memoir among other books. Morrell has penned four historical-fiction-mystery novels featuring the Englishman and his daughter as the crime solvers – all of which we both have enjoyed reading.  The talk was put on by Santa Fe non-profit called Renesan – a place for former academics to continue to do research and share their knowledge.

Both speakers were amusing, entertaining, easy to understand, and informative. Far different than the profs we had in our collegiate days.  Maybe presentation techniques have gotten better over the years.
What's in a Name?

Stories of a town’s past can sometimes be gleaned from the names of its thoroughfares.  Witness “Hang Dog Lane” in our former hometown of Wethersfield, Connecticut.  The legend goes that back in colonial times, some of the original New England patriots hung the mutilated body of a local British sympathizer's pet pooch from a tree in that area.
It is pretty hard to top that one.  But some of the avenues in our new place of residence do have their own interesting etymological history – beginning from back when Santa Fe, New Mexico was pretty much a one-street village.
That singular roadway was The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro ("Royal Road of the Interior Land") – a 1,600-mile long trade route between Mexico City and San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico that passed through Santa Fe.  Travelers on the trail entered the city via any of three routes (one of which likely ran across our housing community of Rancho Viejo) and continued northwest toward town where the route narrowed to street-width becoming the “Calle Real” into the Santa Fe Plaza.
After winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico renamed the highway “Camino Nacional”  – removing its reference to the rejected European monarch.  However, hardcore Santa Fe old-timers continued to use the original name into the early 20th century.
In the mid 1800s, after the its takeover of New Mexico, the U.S. in turn retitled el Nacional as Agua Fria Street – a name borrowed from the small community just south of Santa Fe.  A late 20th century movement to return to the original historic name failed after opposition by local residents and businessmen.  The new Anglo occupiers also renamed Calle Real as San Francisco Street in honor of Santa Fe's patron, St. Francis.
In spite of the Camino Real’s possible cart tracks on its land, our community’s “Rancho Viejo” name itself does not seem to have any local history attached to it.   However one of its streets, Chili Line Road in the Windmill Ridge section, traces its etymology back to the ambitious plans of Denver and Rio Grande Railway founder William J. Palmer for a 2,400-mile north-south narrow gauge train line from Denver to Mexico City.
“The Chili Line” was the nickname given to the 125-mile portion of the route that connected Antonito, Colorado, to Santa Fe  – referring to both its cargo of New Mexico chile peppers, and to the eating habits of its patrons at both ends of the line.  (“Chile” is the Spanish and New Mexican spelling. However, “chili” is far more common – e.g. in Colorado.  Hence the chiles were transported on the Chili Line.)  This section of railway was particularly important to the subsistence farmers of Northern New Mexico who were now able to get their goods to more markets, quicker.
The line ran from January 1887 to September 1941, and in spite of local outcry and national media attention was completely dismantled in 1942.   In naming the street in the early 2000s the developers of Rancho Viejo averred that the RR’s route could have passed through (or at least close to) that portion of the community – although most railroad historians disagree.
So, what’s in a name?  A Santa Fe County ordinance mandates that any “driveway with four or more separate addresses or plots of land” must have a street name, which if possible, the residents get to select. And, other than no repeats, there are few actual rules.
As a result “Muscle Car Lane” sits on the outskirts of town, just up the road from “Camino Del Mi Angel.”  Jessica Henninger’s father gave her the choice of naming their road, which she described as being “12 miles into fields.”  She decided on “Goa Way.”  “People just don’t believe you when you give them your address or directions.”
Brilliant Sky Drive itself, where we now reside, seems to have no explanation other than being a pretty accurate description of the normal celestial conditions above it.  Theories put forth by some of you that the venue was thusly entitled in honor of renowned Polish pastry chef Radoslaw Brilliantski have proven to have little basis in fact.
Nonetheless we thought that, in the spirit of the above resident-generated appellations, another even more accurate moniker might be in order for our home street.  Given the frequency with which cats and small dogs are reported missing in on our somewhat rural community, we were thinking maybe “Calle Coyote Café.”


It began in the pre-dawn of our first December 25th in Santa Fe, NM, when our physical bodies were in the southwest, but our sleep patterns were still on Eastern Standard Time.

Some of you may have heard part of this before. We came to northern New Mexico for the first time in 1992 to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. We wanted to go someplace special, but stay inside the United States – and recently had seen a Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective in New York City.  So we decided to visit the desert southwest and see what inspired her abstract paintings.

And we made the first two of our three Santa Fe discoveries. (1) Her artwork was NOT NONrepresentational. (2) This was where we belonged.

Not being in a position to drop everything back home in Connecticut we satisfied our Santa Fe fever as best we could by vacationing here at least once a year – usually in mid autumn. And hyped our new favorite place to M and B (our daughter-in-law and son.) They visited a couple of times – once on their honeymoon at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa – quit their high-pressure Washington, DC jobs – and moved to the City Different in May of 2005. We still were not able to pull the plug on our CT residency, but as soon as they moved, we began spending our Christmas vacation time our here every year.

Since M & B were initially living in a small apartment and had busy work schedules, we chose to stay in one of the compact casitas located ten minutes from the town plaza. We returned to the same compound each December thereafter through our last vacation visit in 2016.

At first, since all four of us were basically tourists, we did some of the touristy holiday things – such as Christmas Eve dinner at a fancy schmancy downtown eatery followed by the “farolito walk” with 15,000 of our new closest friends up Canyon Road; Native American dances at pueblos in northern New Mexico (which Jim wrote about in 2008); and an evening hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa. Somewhere in there we also added “Jewish Christmas” with M & B’s friends of that ethnicity, and Boxing Day game night with two other of their BFFs from Canada.

The first of these new “traditions” to go was the pre-walk Dec 24th dinner out – which was deliciously replaced by bowls of Monica’s homemade posole (a Mexican soup/stew of hominy with pork, and optionally garnished with chile peppers, radishes, avocado, sour cream and limes) served after the holiday hike. 

So this time we prepared ourselves for the mass march with mugs of hot Mexican chocolate, and took in the launching of the “flying farolitos” on what would prove to be their last appearance at the event. As well as M & B’s. Next year they skipped the walk, but kept the posole pot boiling for a warming, post-prowl repast for the four of us – which thereafter became the new normal.

Christmas day itself was brunch at M & B’s beginning at around ten a.m. The problem was that the two of us were still basically in a time zone two hours to the east – which meant that we were up sometime around six. To which Marsha’s first Christmas morning in Santa Fe words were, “let’s walk into town and have a Starbuck’s coffee.” (She had checked and knew that the coffee house opened at seven.)

We wondered as we wandered whether anyone other than us and a tired-looking barista would be there. But to our surprise there was a line of ten or twelve people waiting for the doors to open – along with a couple of canine companions, this being Santa Fe..

By their clothing we concluded that some of our fellow coffee-seekers were folks on their way to the local ski slopes; others were guests at nearby hotels looking for a Starbuck’s to go; and the remainder seemed to be carrying most if not all of their life’s belongings with them. We queued up – and ordered two tall, skinny, decaf, egg nog lattes, with whipped cream. Then settled into an available table, opened up our copy of the Santa Fe New Mexican from the machine outside the store, sipped, read and people (and dog) watched.


After finishing we strolled around the plaza where Marsha noticed the way the rising sun lit a portion of the square – and took the first of what became our our annual post-egg-nog-latte-Christmas-morning-in-Santa-Fe snapshots. The last one was taken in 2016 before we moved out here the following May and decided that a warm bed and some home-brewed joe worked just as well now.

Which leads us to Santa Fe discovery number (3). Traditions may change. But the best ones still include the people and places that are special to you. And, if you are really lucky, a warm bowl of posole, and a good cup of java too.

Felices Vacaciones! (Happy Holidays!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Arizona Visit Part Two

As we mentioned in an earlier posting, on our October trip to Sun City West, Arizona to visit our friend K we spent two nights (Thursday 10/17 and Wednesday 10/23) in Winslow, AZ. This gave us three half days to explore some of the attractions in that part of the Grand Canyon State – the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater.

The first two are located at different ends of the 230 acre Petrified Forest National Park, connected by a twenty-eight mile drive off of which are a number of walks, hikes, observation points and photo ops. To give ourselves more time in each section we chose to see them on two separate visits – the first afternoon of our westward leg, and six days later in the morning before heading back to NM.
The easternmost entry point to the park leads into the Painted Desert. After a picnic lunch outside the visitor center we watched the Park Service’s introductory video, armed ourselves with maps and tourist info and drove a short way to the parking lot of the no longer in business Painted Desert Inn. From there we took a short hike above the “badlands” along the Painted Desert Rim Trail. (Badlands are an area of rock strata that has been naturally cut and eroded over millions of years into gullies and other irregular shapes, with virtually no vegetation.) As we walked we looked down onto what could have been a layered sand terrarium of geologic formations in shades of grey, red, white, black and other muted colors of rocks – and a little greenery.
 After our trek we visited the former hostelry – now a museum. It was built in the 1920s out of petrified wood and local stones by Herbert David Lore who operated it as the “Stone Tree House.” According to the National Park Service website, “Visitors could eat meals in the lunchroom, purchase American Indian arts and crafts, and enjoy a cool drink in the downstairs taproom. Six small rooms—cubicles really—were available for two to four dollars per night. Lore also gave two-hour motor car tours through the Black Forest in the Painted Desert below the inn.” (While most of the petrified wood in the park is located twenty-eight miles to the southwest, some can also be seen at this end also – accessible today via a five mile loop trail beginning at the inn/museum.. The logs here are darker in color – thus the name.)
In 1936 Petrified Forest National Monument (not yet a “Park”) bought the building , reconstructed it in the Pueblo Revival style as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project, and reopened it as a hotel in 1940 only to close it two years later. It was then purchased by the Fred Harvey Company which brought in the firm’s lead architect and interior designer, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter who created a new color scheme; placed new plated glass windows in strategic walls of the Inn to take advantage of the magnificent view; and hired renowned Hopi artist Fred Kabotie to paint murals on the dining room and lunchroom walls showing aspects of native Hopi culture such as the Buffalo Dance, a trek to a sacred salt lake, planting time, and Tawa – the Hopi sun god.
 Structural damage to the inn forced the Harvey Company to move to the park’s newly completed visitor center complex in 1963. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
After a self-guided tour of the property we drove further on to into the park to visit Newspaper Rock – home to over 650 petroglyphs created by ancestral Puebloan people living, farming, and hunting along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago – and the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, where some of these ancient artists may have resided. The village was constructed in the 1200s AD when a series of droughts led the native people to move out of small, scattered hamlets and instead build larger communities – this one near Rio Puerco. The one-story high complex of hand-shaped sandstone blocks, built around a rectangular plaza. would have had about 100 rooms and twice that number of residents. Much of the permeable sandstone has deteriorated, as seen in this photo.

Unable to adapt to the changing climate of the late 1300s, the inhabitants of Puerco Pueblo abandoned the site in search of a more suitable area. By 1380 it was all but empty.
And we likewise moved on to our accommodations in Winslow AZ for the night – a two-story building of mostly wood, built around a central hallway – no part of which will be around in 700 years. 

The morning of 10/18, on on way to Sun City West, we stopped at Great Meteor Crater – “the world's best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth” – a hole in the ground large enough to be a stadium holding 1,000,000 spectators watching football games being concurrently played on 200 fields. This enormous depression is the result of a collision 50,000 years ago with a nickel-iron meteorite about 160 feet in width traveling at 29,000 mph, whose impact generated the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT. Tremors from the crash would have been felt as far as our new home town, 250 miles away.

In August 1964 a Cessna 182 airplane piloted by off-duty American Airlines pilot Capt. John L. Kidd, with fellow pilot Gary Chapin as a passenger, crashed into the bowl of the crater when the hot thin air caused a loss of lift. Both men were seriously injured but survived, and Captain Kidd returned to his career at American. 

The plane was partially removed by helicopter, with the remaining parts pushed into an abandoned mine shaft left over from a twenty-seven year, unsuccessful attempt to locate a large deposit of meteoric iron. Then owner Daniel M. Barringer – the first to suggest that the basin was produced by meteorite impact – drilled to a depth of 1,375 feet. But no significant deposit was ever found. During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA astronauts trained in the crater to prepare for the Apollo missions to the Moon.  
Fortunately they were not deterred from their mission by the sight of crash debris, some of which still would still have been on the ground.
Meteor Crater sits within the 326,000 acre Bar T Ranch, but is privately owned by the Barringer family.  There is no access into the 550 foot deep depression, so we took the guided rim tour. Our docent took pictures – but this is as near to the edge as we got.

As former residents of a town with an area of 8,400 acres, which had two meteorite crashes of its own (1971 and 1982 – each baseball size – each penetrating the roof of an occupied house) we didn’t know whether to be more impressed by the vastness of the ranch or largeness of the fallen space object – just two more things out here that really mess with our deeply engrained CT sense of distance and size. BTW the odds of your house being hit by a meteor are 182,138,880,000,000 to 1. Unless that is you happen to live in Wethersfield, Connecticut – or in the middle of nowhere on a really, really, big cattle farm.

This is the edge that we did not get close to.

On the morning of October 24 (day two on our trip back to Santa Fe, and six days after our first stop at Petroglyph National Forest) we again visited it to see the natural phenomenon for which the park is named. This time we we entered from the westernmost end.
First some science.
Approximately 216 million years ago the land where the park now stands was filled by forests similar to those found nowadays in countries such as Costa Rica. When the trees died, they fell into a river, and were buried under layers of silt, mud, sand and volcanic ash, which protected them from decay. Mineral-laden ground water percolated through these layers of earth and saturated the trees with these minerals. The silica, or quartz, crystals bonded with the cells of the tree replicating the original organic material in perfect detail. The result is a recumbent forest made of stone, not wood.
Some other locations where the fossilized wood can be found are: Petrified Palm Deposits in the Catahoula Formation of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi; Ginkgo Petrified Forest near Wanapum Reservoir, Washington; The Gilboa Fossils near Gilboa, New York; and Peanut Wood in Western Australia.
Since the Petrified Forest became a National Monument, it has been illegal to remove any specimens of wood from the park. Exiting vehicles must stop at a checkpoint – although we were not actually “checked” for anything. A more effective deterrent is the dreaded Curse of the Petrified Forest.
“In the 1930’s visitors began to report that after taking a piece of petrified wood from the park they were seemingly cursed with bad luck... From divorce, to being jailed, medical conditions to car problems, unemployment to generally terrible lives, and even death, the Petrified Forest National Park has received bucket loads of confessions, tales of tragedy, and returned petrified wood from those who lived to regret it,” according to
We walked two paths that took us through different collections of these petrified fossils. Giant Logs Trail features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park – including "Old Faithful,” almost ten feet wide at its base. 

And Crystal Forest Trail, so named because of the beautiful crystals that can be found in the fossilized lumber along its route.

We also observed a somewhat more contemporary object that arrived in the park in 2006.
About midway on the twenty-eight mile inner park road sits a 1932 Studebaker, with a series of telephone poles placed so as to indicate the path of the much romanticized Mother of Transcontinental Highways, Route 66 – at its time the shortest route connecting the industrial Midwest to the rural Southwest.

“Ironically, it was the popularity of automobile travel that ultimately led to the highway’s demise through the construction of limited-access interstates in the 1970s. With the slow, incremental opening of the interstates, travel gradually shifted away from the towns and main streets of Route 66, until the highway was officially decommissioned in 1985.” ( 

As seen through the windows of the ‘32 Studie, Interstate 40, on which we, along with seemingly every semi trailer in North America traveled, was one of one of those roads that took its place.

Recumbent timberlands whose once vibrant inner-being has been turned to stone. A canvas of deep lavenders, rich grays, reds, oranges, and pinks – soft and inviting-looking, but incapable of supporting life. An unimaginably ginormous hole in the middle of nowhere (albeit privately owned nowhere) created in an explosion ignited by an object from outer space.
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy – particularly in the desert southwest.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Visit to Sun City West, AZ

In late October we went to Sun City West, Arizona to visit our friend K, who with her late husband R were our golfing buddies back in CT after we took up the game in our early sixties. K and her golf bag visited us here in the City Different in July during our warmest weather of the summer, which she (coming from triple digit country) thought was quite cool and comfortable.

We likewise brought our clubs along for this trip.
Sun City West is a census-designated place in Maricopa County, Arizona, with about 15,000 homes and around 28,000 residents in an area of 11.1 square miles. (Our old home town of Wethersfield, CT had a population of around 27,000 in an area of 12.3 sq. mi – excluding Wethersfield Cove.) 

An “over 55” community, SCW was constructed by Del Webb starting in the late-1970s after its sister-community Sun City, Arizona had outgrown its boundaries. It was built out in 1998 and a third sibling, Sun City Grand, to the west of Grand Avenue in SCW was started. According to its web site SCW offers, “four Recreation Centers with over 100 chartered clubs, seven beautiful golf courses that are constantly maintained, a state-of-the-art bowling alley, movie theater, and countless other activities” – plus a library and enough retail and restaurants to obviate any reason to leave town. The community’s newspaper states that 24% of its residents play golf, versus the national average of 8%. The houses are single-family, one-story Mediterranean style with pitched tile roofs, and come in about twenty-five different styles. currently shows 177 for-sale listings ranging from $199,000 to $589,000.
The green areas on the attached map of the community are the golf courses.

Sun-CIty-West_Retirement_Community_Map_Detailed-1.pdfWe could not find an exact count but a considerable number of SCWers are “snowbirds” – people who live there in the winter, and cooler climes in the summer when temps in AZ top the century mark. This was one of the factors for our visit to K happening in October – before the return of the part-timers when the golf courses will become way more busy, and after the summer temperatures had moderated somewhat.

Car travel is not our favorite thing. So, since the trip from our house to K’s takes about eight hours, we stopped overnight going and coming back at the midway point of  – perhaps recognizable to some from the Eagles song “Take it Easy." This allowed us to spend four half-days exploring other parts of “The Grand Canyon State” en route.

In the era of steam locomotives, Winslow was a major water and fuel stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Passengers could disembark and have enough time to have a meal at the La Posada (“the resting place”) “Fred Harvey’s last great railroad hotel.”
According to the La Posada website, “Fred Harvey ’civilized the west’ by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. (He was so legendary that MGM made a movie called The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland.) Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent...Winslow was ideally situated for a resort hotel since everything to see and do in northern Arizona is a comfortable day’s drive.” Among the eighty-four Harvey Hotels are the recently renovated and re-opened Hotel Castañeda in Las Vegas, New Mexico and La Fonda in Santa Fe.
Architected and designed down to the last detail by Mary Elizabeth Jane ColterLa Posada has been restored and reopened by entrepreneur Allan Affeldt and his wife artist Tina Mion – also the redevelopers of the aforementioned Hotel Castañeda – but we planned the dates of this trip too late to be able to book a room there. Maybe next time. We did however have dinner in the hotel’s Turquoise Room on our return leg – Seared Colorado Elk Medallions “free range grazed in Colorado, hormone and antibiotic free” for the lady, and Grilled Crispy Skin Colombia River King Salmon “a classic Fred Harvey dish!..line-caught by the Nez Perce Tribe and flown to us overnight” for the gentleman. Including dessert, it was all prepared, served and consumed with ample spare time to get back on the train, had we been riding it.
Today Winslow is a crew-change point for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway – one of North America’s leading freight transportation companies. Amtrak also provides twice-daily passenger service – one train eastbound and one westbound. We traveled U.S. Route 40 alongside a continuous parade of BNSF engines pulling upwards of 100 freight cars, and passed by scores of other stationary ones sitting on tracks waiting their turn. We also drove the interstate in the midst of what seemed like every semi trailer in North America.
We took advantage of both stops in Winslow (going and coming back) to explore three nearby attractions – the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater. More about this, with photos, in a future email.
Years ago we thought about a Sun City type community as a possible retirement destination. The community-centered clubs and activities seemed like a good way to make new friends and settle in to an unfamiliar place. But we continued to vacation in Santa Fe and learned more about all that northern New Mexico had to offer. Monica and Bram’s relocation out here really sealed the deal. This visit to SCW was our first actual experience in an “active adult retirement community.” And it was a good one – though some things, like the flora and the transportation were pretty disconcerting at first.
In SCW they call them “golf cars” – without the final “t.” They appear of course on the playing fields from which their first name is derived. But – and this is why the 20th letter in the modern English alphabet is not a part of the surname – they also show up on the roads of the community (not in a special lane, but nearer to the curb) on their way to-and-from rounds of the ancient Scottish sport; in special spaces in strip mall parking lots; and in their own indoor residential parking spots, sharing space with their bigger brothers or in their own smaller size garage. They are gas powered vehicles capable of speeds up to thirty-five mph (not coincidentally the maximum allowed in SCW) all tricked out with headlights, tail lights and directional signals – but regrettably not air conditioning. We rode to our first round of golf in them and drove K’s mini vehicle to our second.
From our CT upbringing we had grown accustomed to trees being a normal part of our surroundings – providing shade and, in many cases, obscuring a full appreciation of the sky above. In Santa Fe – as we have mentioned before – the prevailing vegetation is closer to the ground. Shelter from the sun is harder to come by, but the heavens are wide open for all to see. SCW is similar. But its cacti are bigger and showier. And the predominant “tree” is the palm.
And then there are the saguaro – “large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age [that] generally bend upward and can number over 25.” These supersized succulents can grow up to sixty feet in height, weigh as much as 4,800 pounds and live to 150 years of age.

We New Mexicans are bemused by the frequent appearance of this largest U.S. cactus in advertisements for our own state or its products. It is in fact found only in the Sonoran desert – which does not included any parts of the Land of Enchantment. If the elevation is too high then the cold weather and frost can kill the them. Driving down highway 17 from Flagstaff, AZ to Phoenix your surroundings change from forests of pine trees to groves of saguaros as you enter these lower altitudes.
In Sunset City West they are a major part of the planned landscape. To a first time visitor it feels little being in an orchard of overweight Gumbys.
We got to see more of these arid land plants when K suggested a day trip to Desert Botanical Garden in nearby Phoenix – someplace we had actually been to in the 1990s as part of an Elderhostel program to the Grand Canyon and Sonoran Desert. At that time the facility was in its beginning stages, and consisted of a few dirt trails through native desert plants. Now the DBG has become “the world's finest collection of arid plants from deserts of the world in a unique outdoor setting [with] more than 50,000 desert plants on display throughout five thematic trails that illustrate topics such as conservation, desert living, plants and people of the Sonoran Desert, and desert wildflowers,” according to
In addition “straight from installation of more than 1,000 animal sculptures made from colorful and recyclable plastic” is currently on display. The three of us spent a pleasant day exploring the new and improved trails and overdosing on spiny leafless plants, before enjoying a late lunch at the onsite restaurant and heading back to SCW.

The two of us made one more side trip on day one of our trip back to Santa Fe to visit Arcosanti, an “experimental micro-city seeking the radical reorganization of the built environment by integrating Architecture and Ecology.” Begun in 1970 on 25 acres of a 4,060-acre land preserve to test architect Paolo Soleri’s urban planning concept, which he called arcology (a portmanteau of architecture and ecology.) This experimental town, and training center for Soleri’s disciples, is a prototype demonstrating how to combine the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles, such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. The architect died in 2013. And although his vision has not been implemented in toto anywhere, aspects of the arcological method have been applied piecemeal around the world. Students continue to live at the site ­and – as a source of income – several apartments (including Soleri’s former one) are now available for tourists through Airbnb.  Another money maker is the sale of Paolo Soleri wind bells, which are made in the  the ceramic studio and the bronze foundry at the Cosanti Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ and at Arcosanti. We now have three of them. 


Like the Desert Botanical Garden we had visited this “urban laboratory” on our own after our AZ Elderhostel had concluded. This paradigmatic city however has not undergone anything like the quantum advances at the arid land floral showcase. Notably however it did add a twenty-five meter swimming pool  – “overlooking the Agua Fria River valley and cradled in the basalt cliff [providing] a dramatic setting for summer swimming.”
Not quite the recreational opportunities offered at Sun City West – but probably more in line with the interests of its own residents.
And speaking of SCW. You may be wondering what the golfing was like there. (Or not.)
Admittedly our exposure to golf courses is limited. Most of our games were played on a course in the middle of a public park in Hartford CT with the aromas of garlic wafting from the nearby Italian restaurants and the sound of police sirens wailing in the background. We also have golfed at two other suburban CT courses (once each), at Mt. Snow Vermont, Silver Creek in Emerald Isle North Carolina, Penn State University, and now at two public courses in Santa Fe. One more than SCW has in its community. All have grass in varying lengths and shades of green – or brown – along with some water and sand. All have the same sized cup into which the little white ball needs to be hit. Some have pine trees and pine needles within which errently hit balls can get lost. While others have prairie dog holes and hard pan caliche, or just really high grass, alongside their fairways – which themselves are either narrow or narrower.
Not so at SCW. The grass is uniformly green. And seemingly almost uniformly the same height. Fairways are wide or wider. And the hole just seems larger. They are pretty much what we thought golf courses were like before we actually had played on any of them. Even the wildlife seems to be part of the pre-planned perfection.
As we approached one of the greens at SCW C (K’s friend and part of our foursome) called our attention to a pair of coyotes who were stretched out in the shade atop a small mound immediately adjacent to our prospective putting surface. They seemed completely at ease and remained motionless except to raise their heads to watch our balls roll along the ground.  
Looks like "Arizona's Finest Golf Retirement Community” might also be the perfect place for some of those wily canine retirees – who enjoy watching the sport.  And of course are over eight dog-years in age.