CategoriesUncategorized

VIDEO: The Pivin Loop and Papago Park

The Pivin Loop at Papago Park has become unbelievably fun over the past few years. It didn’t even exist until a few years ago when the City of Phoenix decided to — without public input — plow the existing singletrack trails.

There was plenty of howling and gnashing of teeth (including myself). Some people wanted the trails restored to their original state. I thought that was a crappy option. I could see the use in the new trails, even if I didn’t like the method. The wide, smooth trails are perfect for runners and wheelchairs. I advocated for building new trails.

And sho’ ’nuff, someone did. It wasn’t the city, that’s for sure. Because these trails rock hard. They exceed the original trails in every single measure. More fun, more challenge — yet beginners like the dudes I met this weekend were undaunted and willing to try their luck (a few pointers from a certain rider helped them clean an obstacle that had stymied them).

The Pivin Loop at a Glance

Some guy on Strava mapped this loop out. I don’t think he actually built it. But he sure as hell staked his claim to history by IDing this 4-mile loop that encompasses all the good that Papago Park has to offer.

There are other new offshoots of the Pivin Loop. None have worn in as nicely, though. None can match the variety and ever-elusive and hard-to-define flow of the Pivin Loop. There are even a few little jumps scattered around to make things more fun.

In retrospect, I welcome the 5k and say good riddance to the old trails. The Pivin Loop thoroughly whoops their ass.

What Next?

I’d like the city to actually legitimize these trails. Someone did what they couldn’t — faster and inexpensively, to boot. And cities that have offroad trails need to figure out a way to tap these resources. Why not welcome them into the fold to use their expertise and time?

Bureaucracy has a place. But this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s just people having an idea about using the existing resources better.

Anyway, on to the video. Enjoy!

CategoriesFitness

Rio Salado Bike Path: A Ride Guide (With Video)

The Rio Salado bike path is one of the most-overlooked places to ride in metro Phoenix. It’s a 16-mile stretch of sweet car-free riding. I’ve had many local riders act completely surprised to hear about it.

So let’s lift the lid on the Rio Salado bike path, which doesn’t even seem to have an official name.

Rio Salado Bike Path Overview

There are very few places to ride in Phoenix where bikes are completely separated from traffic. This is one of them. From the family-friendly Mesa Riverview Park to the Mad Max-style apocalypse-opolis of 18th Avenue and the Rio Salado, riders don’t have to cross a single street. It’s all separate bike path.
rio salado bike path

A look at the handy (but not perfect) MAG bike map.

You’ll have to dodge other trail users from McClintock to Priest Avenue. And that’s because Tempe is a prime place to park. You’ll find more users there who aren’t aware of trail etiquette, so be prepared.

As you head west, you’ll pass Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Liberty Wildlife and the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

Depending on whether you’re chasing a Strava PR, you can stop to have a look at them.

underpass rio salado mcclintock
Construction has started to link the Rio Salado bike path under McClintock Road. That will make it much more convenient.

Who Should Ride the Rio Salado Bike Path?

There’s a little something for everyone. Serious riders will use it as part of a higher-mileage ride. The route doesn’t offer much climbing, but there’s usually a stiff headwind in at least one direction.

But there are several other places where you can do a less-intense ride. Families and more laid-back riders should start somewhere like Mesa Riverview, Tempe Beach Park or Central Avenue and the Rio Salado. Each spot has parking, restrooms and water.

What’s the Best Bike for the Rio Salado Bike Path?

My Lynskey Urbano gravel bike! But seriously, you can ride nearly anything here right now. The pavement is in good condition, so road bikes are pretty good to go — just be careful going under Central Avenue until that gets paved.

There’s very little climbing along the Rio Salado, so even single-speed beach cruisers will work.

What are the Path Conditions?

The Rio Salado bike path is in overall great shape. Here are a few good-to-know bits:

  • The Mesa portion has a 15-mph speed limit. That’s ridiculously slow, especially since it’s nice and wide with lane dividers.
  • Tempe could put some thought into educating trail users. I’ve seen some awful behavior, mostly users meandering on the wrong side and not paying attention.
  • Speaking of Tempe, you can use the pedestrian bridge west of Mill Avenue to ride to the North Bank.
  • The City of Phoenix made some recent upgrades: repaving some chopped up areas and adding underpasses. Its signage could be better, and the 7th Avenue underpass could use some paving. It’s fine for gravel bikes, but road bikes won’t be happy.

Improvements for the Rio Salado Bike Path

Overall, this is a good riding experience. But there is room for improvement:

  • Add more viable, safe connections leading to the Rio Salado bike path. This is especially true on the west side, where there’s literally no good place to ride once you leave the river bottom.
  • Add more bathrooms and water stops.
  • Stretch it out further west, preferably on the South Bank. The City of Phoenix appears to own the property where a fence spells an end to the ride. I wonder how viable it is to move the fencing a bit to allow bike access.
rio salado bike path rio reimagined
Near the end of the line of the Rio Salado bike path on the north bank.

About the West Side: It’s awful past Central. The area needs development. But I know that’s a challenge because of property ownership. But it should be a priority. Until the west side connects to someplace cyclists want to ride, this ride will be a mere out-and-back that pales in comparison to other cycling infrastructure. One good starting place, though, would be figuring out a way to link the Rio Salado path to the new Grand Canalscape bike path.

Fitting in With Rio Reimagined

Redeveloping the Rio Salado is part of an ongoing discussion that’s been tagged “Rio Reimagined.” It’s one of those projects that could last more than a generation. And it involves multiple governments. Sustaining some cooperation, coordination and vision will be hard for the long term.

rio reimagined rio salado bike path
As the Rio Reimagined project progresses, addressing the dead end at 15th Avenue must be a priority.

The Rio Salado bike path is arguably the first tangible link in this chain. Maybe the organizations trying to make this happen should focus there. It’s a perfect starting point for a connected, healthy community. It could fuse transit, recreation, business and residential development.

The Rio Reimagined effort should definitely engage supporters of The Loop in Tucson. That’s 130 miles-plus of car-free riding. And Phoenix cyclists who know about it are jealous. It’s an example of what’s possible with political will and funding.

Planning a Long Ride

Typically, I take Rio Salado Drive out to Mesa Riverview Park. That’s where I’ll hop on the Rio Salado bike path and head west as far as it goes.

I now stay on the south bank since Phoenix re-paved the munched-up sections. Then I’ll usually turn around and head back to Tempe, crossing Tempe Town Lake via the pedestrian bridge. From there, I have a few options for adding more mileage as I like.

rio salado bike path
There are some places along the Rio Salado bike path here you can forget you’re in a major metro area.

Of course, you can plan your own ride. And the MAG Bikeways map is a huge help. It’s not fully up-to-date, though: For example, it doesn’t show that the section under the 143 is finished. It also doesn’t indicate the quality of the routes — a pristine piece of new pavement with barely any traffic is marked the same as a choppy bike lane populated by speeders and semi trucks. Also, it doesn’t point out water sources, bathrooms or parking.

What The Rio Salado Bike Path is Like in 2020

The Rio Salado bike path has some growing pains. The cities have built it, but they’re doing a terrible job overall on a few key elements: They haven’t consistently signed it, and they haven’t educated users about some basic matters of safety and courtesy.

That means you have people wandering all over both sides of the path with no situational awareness. You have unauthorized motor vehicles (mostly ATVs). I’m also not thrilled with the Tempe Center for the Arts golf carts blocking traffic; we use this path to get away from vehicles. There’s no way the arts center couldn’t shuttle people elsewhere.

Take a look at this video. Keep in mind this is just one ride featuring literally everything I mentioned. At least I didn’t get chased by unleashed dogs on this ride. That also happens often.

And look at this guy from my previous ride. Keep in mind, stuff like this happens all the time. By that, I mean multiple times per ride.

It’s impossible to make every human behave themselves. But striping this path and having directional arrows would at least give people a clue. And a bit of attention from park rangers or police could keep motorcycles and ATVs off.

The Rio Salado bike path could be a world-class asset with some attention. Until then, we’re stuck with mediocrity. Building it isn’t good enough. We have to maintain it.

CategoriesTravel

Is Swoop Airlines Your Ticket to the Northern Lights?

One challenge of being a traveling family is deciding what the littlest person in your family is ready to experience. With a nearly 4-year-old, we’re trying to figure out a few things: Is she ready for the huge crowds of Tokyo? Is she ready to deal with motor scooters zooming every which way – even on sidewalks and staircases – in South Korea? Is she old enough to be completely mesmerized by the aurora borealis?

That last one is particularly on my mind. I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, and I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I honestly do think the little person is ready – but a few serious issues remain. First, will she be able to handle a frigid northern latitude night, which is part of seeing the aurora? And then there’s just getting there.

We live in metro Phoenix. Since I love long flights, my preference would be going back to Tromso, Norway (obviously not in summer, this time). But from here, that’s a minimum of two legs aloft, and more likely three. Traveling with a small person adds some complications with that many legs.

swoop airlines 737
A Swoop Airlines 737. (Courtesy of Swoop Airlines)

Swoop Airlines – Is it the Ticket North?

Right now, though, there’s a possibility of making it one leg. Swoop Airlines is flying from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to Edmonton. And Edmonton is a solid jumping-off point to some areas with nice, dark skies that are perfect for seeing the aurora.

Swoop Airlines is owned by WestJet, which I flew a few years ago to Toronto. At the time, WestJet advertised itself as a low-cost carrier. While the fares were reasonably priced, the experience onboard was quite a bit nicer than legacy carriers. I’ve been looking for an excuse to give WestJet more business ever since.

Ultra Low Cost — But a Better Version?

Think of Swoop Airlines as the ultra-low-cost type of carrier. You pay for everything you want, and nothing you don’t. That puts it right in the same classification as carriers like Allegiant and Spirit, which I absolutely refuse to fly.

Swoop’s association with WestJet, though, makes me willing to take a shot at them. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport increases our travel time to the airport from about 10 minutes to 30. On the other hand, it also changes the parking and security situation for the better.

I decided to get an idea of what a quick Northern Lights getaway on Swoop Airlines would take.

swoop airlines
Here’s a look at the Swoop Airlines Route map.

Swoop Airlines Pricing and Schedule

I priced two adults and our little flyer for a flight departing Dec. 22 and returning Dec. 26. Swoop Airlines only has two flights a week from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to Edmonton, which limits possibilities. The base price of the tickets is $1,153 USD.

Unfortunately, we can’t go any further from there to get an exact fix on price with seat choice and extras included; the website wants to enter traveler information at that point. I did backtrack a bit to the front page of the site, where the FAQs reveal a few optional fees. The food and snack options are reasonably priced, as are the fees for picking seats.

The same itinerary on American Airlines is $1,800 for economy class seats. These days, you don’t get much on American Airlines. Economy class on American is pretty much an ultra-low-cost carrier dressed as a legacy carrier. American also flies a regional jet as opposed to the Boeing 737-800 that Swoop Airlines flies.

Just in case you’re wondering, Phoenix to Edmonton is about 3-and-a-half hours.

On the Ground

I figured a simple keyword search like "edmonton aurora" or "edmonton northern lights" would get me started. But no. It seems like every sort of business in Edmonton is called Northern Lights Whatever -- Northern Lights Properties, Northern Lights Festival, Northern Lights Cemetery, Northern Lights Racoon Removal (I’m only slightly exaggerating here). Most other results were the sort of tourism and chamber of commerce stuff I disdain.

I really didn’t find any recommendations for hotels our tours that made me say "a-ha!" But maybe I don’t need to: This terrific blog post from Robin on the Cantankerous Mule blog is proof that seeing the Northern Lights in Edmonton is pretty easy to do yourself. This is exactly why I prefer getting my information with bloggers who share their personal experiences rather than commercial websites or anything like tripadvisor or travelpod.

Edmonton Oilers Lisa Gansky Swoop Airlines
I’d love to see an Edmonton Oilers game. (Photo by Lisa Gansky)

Chasing the Aurora

Be ready for weird hours, have your camera gear packed and get moving! Robin even included some nice photography tips that I will keep handy. Apparently, the Aurora Watch website is also a must. Edmonton isn’t a huge city at short of a million, so it should be easy to get to the darker outskirts according to what aurorawatch.ca recommends.

Aside from the aurora, I’d have to schedule around an Edmonton Oilers game. They were one of the teams I grew up watching during the rise of the Gretzky era. I consider Edmonton fans a serious bunch of hockey people, and it would be great to watch a game with that crowd. (And let me know if you have other ideas for what to do while visiting Edmonton in the winter.)

Is Swoop Airlines the Way to Go?

The price is more than competitive. I have high hopes for the onboard experience. The airport is further away for us, but might be a wash with security lines being shorter. It would be nice to have service more than two days a week. I am more than interested in trying Swoop, so we’ll see if I can fit it into the plans when the time comes!

CategoriesTravel

Hawaiian Airlines 787: What It Could Mean for Travelers

It’s been nearly a month since Hawaiian Airlines announced its switch from the Airbus A330-900 to the Boeing 787-9. This was great news, but I was also too caught up in writing about gravel bikes to put much effort into a post here. The Hawaiian Airlines 787 will now get its due. Airline geeks will debate the merits of these two aircraft ad nauseum in some of the most opaque language. Fine. That’s what they do.

From a passenger experience side, this is good news. As a Phoenix resident, I think of Hawaiian Airlines as my secret airline. If I want to go anywhere on the Pacific Rim, they’re a strong choice that allows me to avoid Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. I flew Hawaiian Airlines to and from New Zealand with my wife and then-2-year-old daughter.

Hawaiian Airlines 787
Will the Hawaiian Airlines 787 take over service from Phoenix Sky Harbor from the 767?

I wrote about that. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, here’s the long and short of it:

  • Great service and decent food
  • Huge variation between aircraft
    • The 767s flying between Phoenix and Honolulu range from fairly updated inside to, well, let’s just call it long in the tooth.
    • The A330s flying between Auckland and Honolulu absolutely suck for tall people. I had to remove everything from the seat pockets to prevent my knees from touching the seat in front of me.
Hawaiian Airlines 767 Iwa
My little person gives two thumbs up to Hawaiian Airlines. She was a trooper on four legs from Phoenix to Auckland and back.

I’ve flown in 787s from San Jose, Calif., to Tokyo and from Shanghai to LAX in a variety of configurations. Even the United Airlines 787 was comfortable. Some travelers squawk about that one because United Airlines configured it with 9 seats – three rows of three seats each. Even being 6’2 and 200 pounds, I was comfortable. The cabin was also quiet, and the seats had all the latest amenities (hello, USB ports!).

I know Hawaiian Airlines intended to replace the 767s serving Phoenix with the A330; I hope that means Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will get its first 787 service from Hawaiian. Most airlines will tell you that fleet commonality is a good thing, so it’s possible older A330s in the fleet get phased out in favor of the 787. I haven’t found any confirmation that Sky Harbor will be served by the Hawaiian Airlines 787, but it fits the situation well. They didn’t respond to a tweet asking about it.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 Nahiku
I’d much rather fly a Hawaiian Airlines 787 rather than the A330 pictured.

This is could be great news for people who want to travel to the Pacific Rim while avoiding LAX, SFO and other busy, crowded airports. If it plays out the way I expect, Hawaiian Airlines and Sky Harbor should talk this up. I’m not sure what’s behind the hesitation. Phoenix Sky Harbor lags in intercontinental service for a city its size; that’s a combination of proximity to other intercontinental hubs and an economy that isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. But weather rarely cancels flights here. Savvy travelers could easily latch onto the Hawaiian Airlines 787 flights as a way to travel the Pacific without a stop at busier, more chaotic airports. I hope that Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t do something silly and replace the 767 with a single-aisle A321, which it has done for certain routes. I guess we’ll find out.

CategoriesTravel

Can Condor Airlines Help Phoenix Become a "Real City?"

Condor Airlines just might help Phoenix become a real city. Here’s what I mean: Whenever Phoenix and Philadelphia play leapfrog in the city size rankings (which invariably makes our local journalists generate reams of predictable content), I always bring up Sky Harbor International Airport and its lack of intercontinental flights.

My view: I don’t care how many people live here – Phoenix won’t be a "real city" as long as its residents must go to Los Angeles or New York or Houston to fly to locations far abroad.

And finally, at long last, Sky Harbor has made a step in the right direction: In June, Sky Harbor announced that new service to Frankfurt, Germany, would begin in 2018 with twice-a-week flights on Condor Airlines. Condor will use a Boeing 767-300 for the flights, which are scheduled to fly May-September.

Condor Airlines
Autumn in Germany

Condor Airlines Reconnects Arizona to Germany

If you’ve lived here long enough, you might remember that Lufthansa used to connect Phoenix and Frankfurt. But that’s been gone for a long while, with only British Airways connecting Arizona to another continent. That, my friends, is not the stuff of a true "big city."

So the Condor flights are definitely a nice addition, even if it belongs in the "It’s About Time" file. And it’s only twice-weekly service. But it’s an airline rated 3 stars by Skytrax (that’s a star better than most domestic airlines, right?). Condor also has partnerships with Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines, if that matters to the air miles hogs out there.

Hoping for More Condor Airlines Flights from Phoenix

I’d also like to see that window open up a bit more: To me, October is THE time to be in Germany. You want to talk about an amazing autumn? Then you need to see a place like Schwabisch Hall or Rosengarten in October. And that whole Oktoberfest thing, right? Still, I’ll take any service at all at this point. And I really want to motivate Arizonans to just get on this plane already.

Condor Airlines
A Condor Airlines 767 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look, Arizona -- traveling abroad is a good thing. You need to get out there and see a bit of the world, and Frankfurt is a terrific gateway to the rest of Europe. From there, you’re close to some really nice parts of Germany and also a fast train ride away from France, Belgium – just about anywhere in Europe!

So book some flights on Condor. Show the airlines that we’re not a bunch of insular homebodies who won’t go anywhere. Help Phoenix become a real city. And then maybe Sky Harbor can score daily service instead of twice weekly. From there, who knows? Maybe Asia?

CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Destroys Some of the Nation’s Best Urban Mountain Biking

NOTE: See the updates at the end of the post.

Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.

By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races

Phoenix destroys papago trails
That feeling when bureaucrats destroy something awesome in your city.

No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

  • Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
  • There appears to be no motive.
    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    It’s mountain biking, Jim – but not as we know it.

    No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s

    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    This concrete drainage will not hold up well – as Phoenix could’ve found out if they consulted IMBA or some real trail builders.

    wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.

  • Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
  • I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
  • It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.

Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.

SOME UPDATES

Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.

Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.

CategoriesUncategorized

Lightning Over Scottsdale

I don’t usually do photo-only posts. But I snapped a nice shot from the nighttime storm that rolled into Phoenix. I’m not sure if this is actually a monsoon storm or not … but hey, call it what you will. It’s something besides hot, dry and sunny. This shot of lightning over Scottsdale is probably my best storm shot so far.

Lightning Scottsdale Arizona (Photo by Justin Schmid. Commercial use without permission is not allowed.)

And look! Here’s some slow-motion video of the lightning over Scottsdale to go along with the still. The photo came from my Pentax K-50. The video is from my GoPro … the original Hero, not any of the fancy new ones!

CategoriesTravel

What Makes Phoenix Better Than Tucson?

tucson
A fun bit of Tucson funk.

People from Phoenix love to shit all over Tucson by saying things like "It’s dirty" and "the roads are terrible."

(Disclaimer: I am an Arizona State University graduate. But I also have little regard for silly-ass tribalism. I also like Tucson more and more with every visit.)

While those who bash Tucson run their mouths, downtown Tucson gets steadily more interesting. I’m not ready to proclaim it "Portland in the Desert."

But that day could come.

During my most-recent visit to Tucson (May 2014, as of this blog post), here’s what I did:

  • I visited a museum that is literally a one-of-a-kind in the entire world. I didn’t visit the Pima Air Museum this time, but that’s also a better museum than anything in Phoenix. And yes, that includes the Musical Instrument Museum. That gives Tucson two museums that are better than anything the Phoenix area can offer.
  • I walked -- and saw interesting things. Yeah, Tucson is a sprawling desert city kind of like Phoenix. But it has more pockets of densely packed interesting stuff like art studios and  independent restaurants than you’ll see in Phoenix. Scottsdale is by far the worst offender of useless space – you can walk for miles in that city without seeing anything interesting. And no, "Old Town" Scottsdale and its rubber tomahawk shops don’t count. Sadly, downtown Mesa currently out-cools downtown Scottsdale, and would comprehensively throttle its snooty neighbor to the north if it could convince businesses to stay open later.
tucson
A look at the tidy-but-cool downtown Tucson area.

My perception of Phoenix is that it erroneously believes everything has to be fancy and "high end" to be interesting and viable. It only embraces the funky and weird – like the 5th Street and Roosevelt area – under duress and as a last resort. Tucson mixes it up nicely, especially downtown and near the university.

It’s kind of funny to me, also, that Phoenix and its stepchildren position themselves as great places to shop. I scratch my head over this. I see the same old stuff here, with few alternatives. Let’s put it this way: A few years ago, I was in a band and looking for a new amp. I couldn’t find the one I wanted in Phoenix. I drove to Tucson and found it at one of the several independent music stores down there.Tucson also has Miller’s Surplus, which appeals to my love for surplus stores. Right now, it’s hard to find a decent surplus store in Phoenix.

Tucson
Inside a cool Tucson coffeehouse.

And let’s talk food. Phoenix gets overlooked nationwide, and I absolutely hate listening to people from Chicago overrate its greasy, cheesy artery-clogging fare. And Tucson is no slouch, either. For the past few years, I haven’t considered a visit to Tucson complete without a visit to the Time Market. And during my last visit, my friend and former co-worker Will introduced me to 47 Scott and its accompanying speakeasy Scott & Co. We started out at the speakeasy, where I had a cocktail made with a whole egg and hoisin sauce -- it came off a bit like an aggressive White Russian, which means "completely delicious." I don’t always drink cocktails – but when I do, I prefer for them to be like that!

As for 47 Scott, we slid in just about 15 minutes before it closed and had a stuffed bell pepper, a burger of ridiculously high quality and a crusty bread & olive oil appetizer with some fresh mozzarella. And yeah, I made my ritual visit to the Time Market. I started off with a slice of pizza made with locally sourced lamb sausage, and took a few chocolate bars to go. Yeah, Tucson sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Look, I can understand giving Tucson a hard time. It’s our neighbor to the south, and smaller, to boot. And I laugh every time someone calls the University of Arizona "Nogales Tech." But I can’t honestly say much bad about Tucson. Phoenix is losing its edge over Tucson.

Here’s how I see it: Tucson has awesome mountain bike trails. It has caving. It has shopping, a viable art/music scene. Personality through independent businesses. Great scenery. It’s even a few degrees cooler. Phoenix offers a few more culinary options, sure. Employment might even be a wash. And the airports? Hell, every international trip I take requires a stop at LAX before I can get anywhere cool – so Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has little more than Tucson International Airport to offer.

So, can someone remind me why Phoenix is that much better than Tucson?

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CategoriesUncategorized

Thoughts on Culture and Live Theater in Phoenix

live theater in Phoenix
The Rocky Horror Show – some great live theater in Phoenix. (photo by Jessica Frieling Photography)

People love to say that Phoenix doesn’t have any culture. It’s a notion that people parrot constantly. And it puts me in the mood to brandish a cricket bat in a threatening manner. What they really mean is one of of the following:

    • I’m too lazy to go out and find any culture in Phoenix
    • The culture in Phoenix isn’t exactly the same as Chicago/Detroit/Whatever Fast-Fading Rustbelt Eastern City I’m From, and is therefore not really culture.
    • There’s no place where other people can see me partaking of the culture in Phoenix, so I’m not interested.

Well, first off – "culture" is a pretty encompassing word. I can’t address it all in one blog post. But I can address one aspect of it. And I feel like talking about live theater in Phoenix. Over the past few years, Sarah and I have made a better effort to see more live theater. Hollywood has aided and abetted this plan by making a bunch of terrible "reboots" and "re-imaginings" of "franchises"

live theater in phoenix
The Pirates of Penzance at Fountain Hills Theater.

(known as "movies" to people with an iota of sense).

Then, when my good friend Todd started acting in live musical theater, we had another reason to hit the theater. We haven’t missed any of his shows, and we drop into other shows, too. I’m ordinarily not into musicals, but seeing your friends devote their time to something they love doing is a very cool thing. And it’s part of a cultural scene that we shouldn’t overlook. I’ll admit, Phoenix does not have on-tap the smorgasbord of high-end theater of bigger, more-established cities. The casts and crews are not the polished professionals you see in the big shows.

So what?

Perfection isn’t the be-all, end-all of any artistic endeavor. They all put some heart into what they do. And yes, there are also some absurdly talented people on their way up. You’ll actually enjoy them, even if you didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket. And here’s the thing: If you want more live theater in Phoenix and want more big shows and huge productions, you need to get out and push.

You need to show interest, and that means going to see shows with just 250 other people in the audience – or even just 25 other people! Alright, I’ve stated my case. Now, let me give you a few ideas of where you can see some live theater in Phoenix.

Brelby Theater Company – We’ve made a few visits to Glendale to catch outdoor shows from Brelby Theater Company. It was really cool watching lightning in the distance while enjoying some Shakespeare. The casts have all been very young, energetic and innovative. They do a lot with very little space and very little staging.

Desert Stages Theater – Even before Todd got into acting, Sarah and I enjoyed Desert Stages Theater. It’s a very cool space with multiple stages that can hold audiences of varying sizes. My favorite so far was their version of the Rocky Horror Show – some excellent singing, and great use of space.

Don Bluth Front Row Theatre – We just made our first visit to the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. And it’s literally fewer than 50 people jammed into a central Scottsdale strip mall. Don Bluth, by the way, is an animation legend who is throwing his energy into this out of honest love for the theater. A very cool way to use his time and resources.

Fountain Hills Theater – I got a nice little surprise from this theater. Culturally, Fountain Hills doesn’t hold much interest for me: no good coffee shops, and no venues for hard-rockin’ live music. But Fountain Hills Theater put on a version of Pirates of Penzance that added a steampunk look to the story. Some very impressive singing here, too. Good fun!

Scottsdale Musical Theater Company – I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone to see The Music Man. But Todd was in it, so I thought "why not?" This was another impressive cast, both in size and ability. One of my favorite parts of it was recognizing so many elements that Matt Groening riffed on in the "Monorail" episode of The Simpsons.

And look, these are all just a start. There are plenty of other theaters around the Valley. Go see a show. Better yet, audition for a part. If you don’t, just realize that you’re why Phoenix doesn’t have the culture you want.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If I didn’t mention your favorite theater, leave a comment and a link. The whole idea of this post is to expose people to cultural opportunities they don’t about … and take away their reasons for not going to a show.

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CategoriesTravel

Hawaiian Airlines Flight Deals to Asia from Phoenix

Hawaiian Airlines flights deals

The latest Hawaiian Airlines flight deals could motivate some of my fellow Phoenix residents to travel further afield. For years, Hawaiian Airlines has quietly offered travelers from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport a gateway to Asia and the South Pacific.

With just one nonstop intercontinental flight from Phoenix (the daily British Airways flight to London Heathrow), most Phoenix travelers have to get to a major intercontinental hub like Los Angeles, O’Hare or John F. Kennedy if they’re headed to a far-flung destination. But Hawaiian Airlines lets locals skip that by flying direct from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Honolulu, where they connect to a broad variety of cities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more. And really, who wouldn’t want to skip LAX?

Hawaiian Airlines flight deals
Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor can be your first link to Auckland or Taipei.(Photo credit: Tim Patterson)

I’ve called Hawaiian Airlines Sky Harbor’s best-kept secret for intercontinental travel without the stop at LAX. And it seems they’re making a better effort to spill the beans – I just got a newsletter about Hawaiian Airlines flight deals from Phoenix to Auckland and Taipei. The flights start at $1080 if you book before Aug. 26. The travel dates are limited.

Here’s the thing, though: This seems to be an unadvertised special. I got it by signing up for the Hawaiian Airlines eNewsletter. If you want to find about Hawaiian airlines flight deals, you should sign up at the Special Offers page.

I’d really like to see Phoenix travelers jump on deals like this. I’ve heard from local travel agents that the lack of intercontinental flights frustrates them (and their clients), and I’ve ranted about this more than a few times. This is a good way to show demand and encourage more airlines and routes from Sky Harbor.

CategoriesAdventures

Capstone Cathedral – Visiting a Phoenix Icon

When my family moved to Arizona in 1980, the Capstone Cathedral immediately caught my eye.

Well, more accurately, the awesome glowing green pyramid captivated me. I didn’t know what it was called or what went on inside of it — I was 6 years old at the time. I remember being vaguely aware that it might be a church. One of my brothers told me the church believed that, when Jesus returned to Earth, he would take a seat at the top of the pyramid (being as literal-minded as I was, I asked why the church didn’t put a seat up at the tip of the pyramid to make the savior a bit more comfortable). If you want the real scoop behind Capstone Cathedral, check out this great story on the Phoenix New Times website.

My Capstone Cathedral Curiosity

But the real point: I always wanted to go onside. I had visions of weird cultists crawling around. That was enough to keep me away. Every time I drove by, I stared at the pyramid. Especially at night.

capstone cathedral
The green pyramid looks a bit beat up.

Up Close with an Icon

One day, I drove past the Capstone Cathedral. And I didn’t have much to do. Even more importantly, I had a decent camera in my car. Just a Fuji superzoom, not an SLR. But I figured, why wait? I started with some outside photos.

As you can see, the Capstone Cathedral is worse for wear these days – the paint is fading and some of the green glass in the upper pyramid is fractured. It saddens me to see the neglect. I’m not a religious guy, but the boldness of the architecture fascinates me and makes me believe the ol’ pyramid deserves better.

capstone cathedral
The Capstone Cathedral outer ring looks like a high school gym’s lobby.

Anyway, I got my exterior shots -- and then crept up on a door. Maybe someone was around, and would let me take a few photos inside.

Inside the Capstone Cathedral

I pushed on the first door, and it opened. I couldn’t hear anything, and I decided it was time for a little bit of urban exploration. In I went, camera ISO cranked up to adjust for the low light. The outer ring reminded me of a bad high school gym lobby.

When I pushed my way into the main arena, though -- that was truly cool. First, I noticed a fairly new sound system that was all powered up. Everything looked like it was working, as if waiting for the congregation to show up.

capstone cathedral
A look at the darkened main room.

The light shining through the green dome was everything I expected. I definitely got that "at long last" rush that comes from finally seeing something I’ve always wanted to see. I took my photos and bolted; even though it was open, I knew someone would get bent out of shape by a camera-wielding buffoon wandering the halls unescorted.

What’s Next for the Capstone Cathedral?

I don’t know what’s happening with Capstone Cathedral now. But if I had my way, I’d love to see an enterprising soul turn it into an events and music venue. The potential is definitely there. Unfortunately, the land is just too valuable -- and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to get bulldozed in the near future.

(It still hasn’t happened yet as of Spring 2019)

 

CategoriesFitness

Bike Commuting Still a Pain – In Phoenix, Anyway

bike commuting
Phoenix could use more of this – especially if they actually connect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to give bike commuting another try. That’s because I saw a nice slice of new sidewalk go in next to the canal along Indian School Road just west of Scottsdale Road. It looked like it stretched pretty far. Perhaps far enough to get me close to my office on 24th Street and Camelback.

Bike Commuting Step 1

I got new tires for my still-sweet 1999 Lemond Zurich. I handled that easily enough with a stop at a local bike shop, and a bit of time watching Netflix. The next morning, I started gliding along south Scottsdale’s bike lanes under cloudy skies.

And damn, it was nice! I rode up the canal on 64th Street to Indian School, and found a mile snarl getting across the street.

Then, I was on the new canal path. Ahhh, if bike commuting can be this good, sign me up for more!

Well, that feeling only lasted until just east of 56th Street when the pavement ended. Oh, hey! What a coincidence that this right about the Scottsdale/Phoenix border. Grrr. I just rode the dirt to 56th, took a left and cruised up Lafayette. That’s a decent ride. Not many cars, and a good chance to maintain a nice rhythm.

But the problem comes at 44th Street. Phoenix recognizes this as a bikeway. Yet it provides no safe way for bicyclists to cross 44th Street. Oh, and 44th has no bike lanes. It’s up to us to find a break in traffic, then we have to use the sidewalk (because that’s just not a safe street without bike lanes) to reach Campbell before we turn west. It’s one of my least-favorite parts of today’s ride, and part of why I think bike commuting sucks in Phoenix. It represents so many other half-assed executions of half-assed plans.

I got through unscathed, and it was fairly smooth sailing -- until 32nd Street. The road there is torn up for some task I couldn’t discern. The construction squeezes north/south traffic to one lane each direction, and cars can’t cross from the east or west. Bicycles and pedestrians can -- legally, even.

Once I got across that snarl, I was onto Campbell. That was great until I approached 24th Street. I had to figure out how to enter my building’s parking garage. There is not a single bike lane leading to the building at 24th and Highland. I don’t want to ride in the street along 24th, and people drive like savages on Highland despite the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. It’s really no place for bike commuting.

I settled onto taking Campbell a few blocks west past 24th, hooking north, crossing Highland and riding down the north sidewalk into the building. Hardly optimum bike commuting, but it’s what I had to work with.

There, I went into our handy locker room where I stashed toiletries and a change of clothes. I was ready to use one of the three shower stalls. I opened the first, and found that the plumbing fixtures were ripped out. Same with the second. The third still had fixtures, but no water flowed. Funny, considering how much money the building management spent on prettying up the entrance from the parking garage to the offices – right down to leather couches and an LCD television that nobody ever watches. The only other showers in the building are locked down, with very few keys available. And I was too early to work to possibly find one.

I just used my towels to clean up as best as I could, threw on some deodorant and headed to upstairs to my office.

That’s a whole lot of crap to go through to bike commute to work. Phoenix and Maricopa County make a lot of pro-alternative transit noise -- but I see so few consistent, measurable advances (Step 1? Fine the shit out of companies that don’t provide adequate locker and shower facilities). Until bike lanes quit disappearing – until they link in a sensible manner – until people can stay safe -- bike commuting in Phoenix will continue to be only for a small fringe of the work force.

I’ll probably do more bike commuting – it’s a great way to get some exercise. But the Phoenix-area bike infrastructure will continue to be my biggest obstacle.

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Categoriesfeatured

Why I Won’t Commute by Bike in Phoenix

commute by bike
This is why think Helsinki is a world leader in getting people to commute by bike.

There’s no way I’ll commute by bike in present-day Arizona. A post at the Architecture Travel Writer blog made me think about why it’s not one of my transportation alternatives.

Fellow blogger Nichole talked to Phoenix city planner Joseph Perez about improving bike commuting options. His ideas (bike shares, smartphone apps, consultants and developer input, to name a few) show why Phoenix lags  in the movement to commute by bike.

commute by bike
I don’t expect credible ideas that encourage people to commute by bike to come from Phoenix City Hall.

You’ll notice my lengthier-than-typical comment about an open state of war between motorists and bike commuters. My view comes from my past attempts to commute by bike. Here’s what I faced:

  • Disappearing bike lanes – I’d be in a great lane for a mile or two. And then it would disappear. Transportation alternatives need routes users can count on.
  • Debris-strewn bike lanes – Dirtiness and grit that love puncturing tubes.
  • Openly hostile motorists – I’ve had people throw stuff at me, yell at me, cut in front of me and try to bump me with their mirror. Other cyclists will say the same.
  • Clueless motorists – Some motorists think it’s a good idea to blare their horn as they approach cyclists from behind (hint: we can hear their engines). Then there are others who get to a four-way stop first, hesitate and give the "after you" wave. Guess what? The safest place for cyclists is behind you. Obey the law and the four-way stop protocol – your misguided "politeness" doesn’t help.
  • Other bicyclists – The "don’t give a shit about rules or good sense" variety puttering against traffic, ignoring traffic flow and just general being self-centered jerks. These riders deserve a special place in hell – they make drivers paint all of us with the same brush. They make cycling lose political clout among the transportation alternatives.

Too many near misses put me back in my car. Not the heat, not the lack of bike parking, not the scarcity of showers in most commercial buildings. It was the motorists – the antagonism, or just the casual disregard for a cyclist’s safety over their convenience.

English: Picture shows a bike path or ciclorut...
Phoenix also lags behind Bogota, Columbia, in bicycle infrastructure  En detalle la cicloruta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would get me to commute by bike as one of my  transportation alternatives again? Physically separating bike lanes from roadways as much as possible. The canal bike paths are a great start – Step One would be to widen them. Next, get some physically separated connectors to the canal.

The bike infrastructure in Helsinki, Finland, and its below-grade bike superhighways provide the perfect example. The U.S. is decades away from Finland’s harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists -- but we can at least separate bike lanes.

Apps and consultants are half-measures to make it look like Phoenix city officials take seriously the need to commute by bike. None will make a true difference – and they’re not meant to. Phoenix revolves around car culture and sprawl – and looking like it’s trying to change while not actually doing so. City officials seem to have no clue about one fairly easy change that could make its streets more pedestrian friendly – how can we count on them to be any better with bike commuting if they can’t implement scramble crosswalks? I offer a vote of no confidence on bike commuting to current and past administrations.

I expect naysayers to sputter “but, but, we can’t.” People, this is nothing next to light rail. It would take a fraction of the time and money. It could happen … if we approach it with a “how?” attitude. There’s a way to do it if we can overcome the lack of political will.

If you want to see other interesting ideas to make it more feasible to commute by bike, check out the Copenhagenize blog.

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CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Arizona Mountain Bike Trail Profile: FINS

FINS scenery, mountain bike trail
A look at the Fantasy Island North Singletrack terrain.

I hate comparing anything to Fight Club – especially a mountain bike trail. But I have no choice with the Fantasy Island North Singletrack, a great Arizona mountain bike trail.

I first wrote about FINS for Mountain Flyer magazine back in 2009. During my first ride there, I met a couple of other riders. Turns out, they were two of the two trail-building honchos responsible for the network. Read the story for the history – I’d rather focus on the here and now. I’ll just say our conversation spawned the story for Mountain Flyer. I’ve often wondered if they still would’ve agreed to the interview in retrospect: I’ve heard little from them since. So there’s not much talking about Fantasy Island North Singletrack outside the trail builders and local riders. Even the website for the group responsible is -- um, a bit inscrutable.

This past weekend, I checked out what’s happened since my last visit when it totaled about 12 miles. The answer? Plenty! Here are my takeaways for anyone who wonders about an overlooked mountain bike trail.

FINS Trailhead, mountain bike trail
The FINS FINS Trailhead – be sure to drop some bucks into the kitty!

Built for Bikes
Horses aren’t allowed on Fantasy Island North Singletrack. Hikers? Yes, but there are certain trails the builders request that hikers avoid. What we have here are twisty, turny, windy trails. Don’t shut your brain off. Brake before the turns, check yo’self and all that – the next corner or dip is never far away.

All this adds up to a mountain bike trail that’s made for mountain biking. There’s always something happening, and never a dull stretch of trail. Practice your "yahoo!".

Something for Every Skill Level
Let’s say you’re not a mountain biker yet. But you plan to buy a mountain bike after work and hit the trail tomorrow. If you live near Fantasy Island North Singletrack, you can go from "barely able to stay upright" to "total badass." There are smooth, groomed places to get your flow on without taxing your skills or legs. And then there are steep, nasty climbs. Bermed corners. Jumps. Steep descents with tight switchbacks. Even a freakin’ mountain bike teeter-totter! And when you can clean the entire mountain bike trail, get a singlespeed and repeat.

FINS Boneyard, mountain bike trail
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you!”

One Feature Needed
I spent a few hours trying to ride as many Fantasy Island North Singletrack trails as possible, with few repeats. I was able to put in about 17 miles, though I probably could’ve gotten another four miles.

I did more backtracking than I’d prefer. If it’s even remotely possible, I’d love to see an outside loop running 12-15 miles added to the mountain bike trail network. Not easy, I know. But worth considering.

More From These Geniuses
This is a quality mountain bike trail network, not only in fun factor – they appear to be sustainable, too. I admit that some of the steep, switchbacked sections will probably need careful maintenance.

But the rest? So well done. I saw little in the way of erosion. If I were a public land manager interested in improving the trails I manage, I would contact the Fantasy Island North Singletrack crew and hook them up with a paid gig.

FINS from North Star, mountain bike trail
North Star is the high point of FINS.

There is serious knowledge in these trails – just witness the awesomeness of Kimurel’s Hurl, two-tenths of a mile of mountain bike bobsledding! (Check the video and watch for Suicide Squirrel.) McDowell Mountain Regional Park officials have publicly mentioned a flow trail – well, I’d say the FINS team could nail it On.The.Head. Sign ‘em up! And if I managed Estrella Mountain Regional Park, I’d pay them good money to work some magic on the currently tragic, sand-choked, no-flow-havin’ mess called the Competitive Track.

An elevation profile and my GPS tracks, mountain bike trail
An elevation profile and my GPS tracks.

Pitch in
Some people who care have swung their shovels and other implements to make this mountain bike trail what it is. They even provide printed maps, as if the permanent maps posted throughout the trail network aren’t enough. Don’t live in the neighborhood? Too strapped for time? Pitch a few bucks into the handy cash receptacle at the trailhead. They deserve it.

The Maricopa County Parks system charges $6 per carload to enter and use the trails. Make of that what you will.

How to Get to Fantasy Island North Singletrack: Go south on Estrella Mountain Parkway from Interstate 10. Continue until you enter the Estrella Mountain Ranch community, and watch for Westar Drive. Head west, and park at either Westar Elementary School (NOT during school hours) or at the trailhead less than a mile up the road.

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CategoriesTravel

British Airways Adds Extra Flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor needs more than a daily flight from London to make Arizona a major air travel player.

British Airways will increase the number of flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to London Heathrow Airport from six a week to daily.

Phoenix city officials are aflutter about the extra flight, which starts Dec. 5.

“Intercontinental flights are huge contributors to the success of our Phoenix airport system, our city’s economy and our region’s overall economic future,” says Mayor Greg Stanton in a press release. The same release claims that British Airways flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor put $100 million into the local economy.

Even if we take that figure at face value (and I’m skeptical), let’s curb our enthusiasm: The mayor’s overstatement of economic impact belies typical Phoenix thinking – measuring success against its own past rather than against cities of similar size.

If I were the mayor, this would be my quote.

“This is a minuscule step in the right direction. The Valley of the Sun is far too populous an area to be served by only one airline that connects us to but one intercontinental destination. It’s an embarrassment that residents need to stop in other cities to reach international centers for business and leisure travel. Phoenix Sky Harbor must connect to the world – for commerce and for tourism – if we are to grow beyond being the nation’s largest small town.”

The press release includes a quote from David Cavazos, city manager: “My goal is to continue to gain additional international routes, while ensuring that this British Airways flight remains successful.”

I hope that’s in his annual review with measurable expectations of success. In my time here, Phoenix Sky Harbor has done a pitiful job of being “international” in anything more than name (remember the Lufthansa service to Frankfurt? R.I.P.). Of course, Cavazos says “international,” which could mean more routes in North and Central America. Big deal.

This extra British Airways flight is nice. But those charged with pursuing new routes and airlines should be cautious about patting themselves on the back before Phoenix Sky Harbor connects non-stop – at a minimum! – to Asia, Oceania and continental Europe.

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

American Airlines and US Airways Merger – One Traveler’s Wish List

Coming soon to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport?

American Airlines and US Airways are destined to merge, if you believe the many airline industry talking heads. If the merger is inevitable, it opens many questions and concerns. But I don’t want to go there. Instead, I offer my wish list for an American Airline and US Airways merger. Are my suggestions practical or workable? I have no idea. But they’re food for thought. What would you add?

Follow US Airways into the Star Alliance
When I fly US Airways, I earn miles that I could use on Asiana Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Air New Zealand or even United Airlines. That gets me to a lot of great destinations on highly rated airlines (well, except for United). On American’s OneWorld side, Qantas and Cathay Pacific are the best offerings. Star Alliance just has a bigger, better footprint.

More intercontinental flights from Phoenix
The nation’s seventh-largest metro area has some of the most meager, provincial airline service in the country. It has just one not-even-daily intercontinental flight to London Heathrow. London is a great gateway to the rest of Europe, and there are plenty of London hotels and other attractions. But for other intercontinental hubs, I have to fly to LAX, Houston, New York or Chicago first. That’s intolerable, and the American Airlines – US Airways merger could be a game changer for a metro area of 4.2 million people. More intercontinental flights would take a bite out of a major obstacle for leisure travel: time and stops.

Turn it into a true US flag carrier
When an American flies a national carrier like Qantas, Air New Zealand or Asiana, we get our very first taste of the countries they represent. And next to U.S.-based airlines, they’re a revelation. Look at what our domestic carriers offer visitors from abroad: a bunch of airlines rated at three stars by Skytrax. A merged American Airlines and US Airways should make it their mandate to represent the U.S. around the globe – and they need to aim for airlines that people enjoy flying.

Bring back the 747
The 747 represents American innovation and longevity. Its latest iteration, the 747-8i, is a magnificent piece of technology. Is it not strange that two airlines that name-drop the country’s name don’t have the 747 in their fleets? Bring it back and, along with the 787, the merged US Airways and American Airlines will represent some of the best ideas in commercial aviation.

Re-Brand with a vengeance
Make this a new beginning. Think of this as using existing assets to create a new entity with no bad baggage. Make it destroy pre-conceived notions. New logos, new liveries, new attitudes, new destinations, new mission, new culture. Make this opportunity more than another bland merger.

This post is sponsored by expedia.co.uk, part of the world’s largest online travel company. It features millions of published and discounted fares from more than 450 airlines. You’ll also find comprehensive online destination guides, maps and more and expedia.uk.com.

CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

phoenix mountain biking
Cruising the red rocks at Papago Park. (Photo by N. Scott Trimble)

Phoenix mountain biking offers any rider some hard choices. There’s no shortage of great mountain bike trails. A few years ago, I published a list of my favorite trails. Now it’s time to refresh it with some new info. Things change – so my old list may not be as much help anymore.

Rather than a "best" list, I’ll list all the Phoenix mountain biking spots I ride regularly and give them a grade. The letter grade reflects trail quality, amenities, traffic and all that good stuff. I’ll make extra notes about location – it’s a bit unfair for some great trails to get dinged for being a bit further away.

This list is NOT complete. If I don’t mention your favorite Phoenix mountain biking, I welcome you to add it in the comments. Click the links in each section for a more in-depth look at the trails.

Black Canyon Trail
Barely close enough to the Valley for this Phoenix mountain biking list. But I can’t let a nationally recognized mountain bike trail go ignored. The southern reaches start off flat and firm. Go north, and the action gets steep. All told, this is supposed to stretch way far north. I’ve heard Prescott and beyond. Far northwest of Phoenix. Grade: B+

Phoenix mountain biking
I have a long history with Trail 100 and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Deem Hills
A new bit of mountain biking fun out in the West Side, right in view of the I-17 freeway. Your ride will start with a hard slog to the top of a mesa. That’s where the fun singletrack lives. Great flow up there once you get up that grunt of a climb. Grade: B-

Fantasy Island North Singletrack
Named for the famous bit of State Trust Land in Tucson. This was built on private land a few years ago – miraculously, the land owners haven’t closed it. Tight, twisty and turny. Only one really long climb, but lots of rolling terrain. Far out to the southwest, but still right for a Phoenix mountain biking list. Grade: A

Gold Canyon
Just did my first ride here in May 2012 since it’s a new addition to Phoenix mountain biking. Well-designed singletrack – tight turns, steep chutes, quite a few technical bits. Some of the best scenery around since it’s right near the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Far to the southeast. Grade: B+

Mountain biking near phoenix
The sort of riding you’ll find at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Hawes Loop
An East Valley favorite. There’s quite a bit of road riding involved. But the downhill sections have great flow. You’ll need to check your speed. If you head a bit north, the terrain will get steeper and more technical. Dead east of Phoenix. Grade: B

McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Pack lunch: You’ll find more than 50 miles of singletrack mountain biking. There’s the Competitive Track, the Pemberton Loop and numerous off-shoots – plus a pump track! Home to some of the best races. Northeast of the Valley, north of Fountain Hills. To me, it’s the gold standard in Phoenix mountain biking. Grade: A

Papago Park
Lots going on here, all just moments for Sky Harbor International Airport. Fast groovy singletrack; gets more technical as you head south. Some short power climbs to get your heart going. Home to the informal STP races. Grade: B

Mountain biking near phoenix
A little Pima and Dynamite fun.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve
Well more than 30 miles of mountain biking near Phoenix. Trail 100 is the out-and-back backbone of this mountain bike trail system. Lots of off-shoots. The far east and west portions are the most fun, with the middle third fairly bleak and rocky without much flow. Great Phoenix mountain biking 15 minutes north of Sky Harbor. Grade: B

Pima and Dynamite
A nearly-uncountable amount of singletrack, most of it on State Trust Land. Wild and wooly undulations, with a high likelihood of wildlife encounters. Gets more technical the further northeast you ride. North Scottsdale. Grade: A

South Mountain
The Desert Classic gets a lot of love, but the really technical mountain biking is up on the Mormon and National loops. Plenty of offshoots no matter where you go. Lots of rattlesnakes in the spring. These trails get a lot of use – check yourself. Grade: B+

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

Aviation Photos – The 161st Air Refueling Wing/Phoenix Sky Harbor

Too big to fit in the frame - a 161st Air Refueling Wing KC-135.

Aviation photographers love any chance to get close to the action. And being on the ground level next to one of the runways at a major airport? Excellent. And if the vantage point is at a military installation? Jackpot!

A few years ago, a work event offered me that chance. The only downside is that I hadn’t yet advanced to using a digital SLR. I took these aviation photos at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, right at the home of the 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona National Guard.

This excursion yielded some great perspectives of the 161st Wing’s KC-135 aircraft. I also grabbed some shots of a 727 and a brightly painted corporate jet. I also got some of the usual 737 sorts of aircraft that are the mainstay of Sky Harbor air traffic – not exactly the sort of thing that excites aviation geeks, I know. But the runway-level perspective turns them into a little something different.

Back from a flight.

My photo friend N. Scott Trimble was also there. I’d love to see what someone with his skills took home from the same place. Of course, with the sheer volume of images a working photographer generates, I expect most of these are long-gone from his hard drives. Then again, he is an aviation geek who might’ve squirreled a few away.

Now that I use a Pentax DSLR, I’d go crazy for another chance at some ground-level aviation photography at Sky Harbor.

The 727 - a blast from the bast.
A cool boulder with malachite - and some little airplane in the background.
The International Jet Dream Chaser takes off.
The tailboom in its upright and locked position.
Two of a kind.
CategoriesTravel

The Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide

Phoenix hipster
Crikey! We’ve got Phoenix hipster scenesters in their natural habitat at Lux. Look at the plaid plumage on that specimen!

Hipsters should keep their trilby-wearing, Indie-loving, PBR-guzzling butts out of Phoenix. There’s nothing for them here, right? Just look at this city: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sad public transit, the dearth of a true creative class. But there’s also a glut of dive bars, indie music venues, thrift shops and espresso bars. Plus you can sound uber-ironic and contrarian by telling your DJ/mixed media artist/php developer buddies back home that you think Phoenix rocks. So maybe a traveling hipster can get something out of Phoenix.

Well, then, let me help you build your itinerary with my Phoenix hipster travel guide. Check out these four places, and you’ll get the real Phoenix hipster experience.

The Clarendon Hotel

If you visit Phoenix, you need a place to stay. Frequent rooftop parties, DJs and modern-retro styling make the Clarendon Hotel a perfect crash pad for visiting hipsters. And it’s a choice location – walking distance from a light rail station -- the preferred hipster mode of transport aside from fixed-gear bikes. Consider this THE choice place to stay in the Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide.

Lux Coffee Bar

A way-too-serious DJ scowling at his Mac laptop like a submarine sonar operator listening for depth charges. A parking lot filled with beat-up cruisers, fixies and Scions. Shouting to be heard over the clamor.

Phoenix hipster travel guide
To get this rare shot of a hipster-free Oasis pool, the management at the Clarendon announced a 2-for-1 oversized sunglasses special in the gift shop. (SOURCE: The Clarendon Hotel via Wikimedia Commons)

This is Lux Coffee Bar. You can find far better espresso in Phoenix. But you can’t find more skinny jeans and awkward facial hair per capita anywhere. The menu has all the usual espresso suspects, plus trendy comfort food items. Finally, Lux has one of the most annoying, ill-functioning-on-all-browsers websites you’ll encounter.

FilmBar Phoenix

Looking for a film that doesn’t rely on explosions? You’re in luck – FilmBar is the place to find the old, the serious, the "so-bad-it’s-good" features that you’ll never see at a mega-movie megaplex. And there’s a genuinely impressive beer list featuring a smattering of Arizona-brewed items -- FilmBar might lose hipster points for not having PBR on the list. But you can’t argue that showing some Ingmar Bergman and French films from the 1950s doesn’t even the score. No Phoenix hipster travel guide is complete without FilmBar.

The Lost Leaf

How hip is The Lost Leaf? It’s website extension is .org, not .com. Odds are, the band booked for the night will have a stand-up bass. It’s no strip mall bar, but a nicely renovated bungalow. That’s hip. There’s also 140 bottled beers, some sake, some wine and even a few non-alcoholic beverages. You may feel out-of-place if you have no odd piercings or tattoos. But you’ll satisfy your people-watching needs, along with the desire for a choice beverage.

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What’s Up With Wasted Dates?

You'll see this all over Phoenix in the late summer. (photo by Balaram Mahalder)

Don’t let the headline fool you. I’m not turning into a dating website (though I offer my friends lots of dating advice that they never take). But dates are on my mind.

The Phoenix area is full of big, beautiful, bountiful date trees. Come the end of summer, they begin to hang heavy with fruit. Before it ripens, though, landscaping crews scurry about. They cut the branches down and toss pounds upon pounds of growing dates into the trash. At grocery stores and farmers markets, these same dates sell for up to $10 a pound.

That’s right: Every date tree that gets pruned is a wasted opportunity -- to make money, to even feed some people. Sure, they’re tasty. They’re also a great source of potassium, iron and fiber. Yet they just wind up in the trash.

To the best of my knowledge, only Arizona State University is smart enough to harvest and sell its dates (and olives!). The university invited volunteers to prune the plants and take the harvest home. Sure, they’re not a revenue source. But at least the dates aren’t feeding and breeding legions of flies in a trash bin.

Every other municipality and property owner with date trees is squandering a great renewable resource. Considering our economy and the growing interest in being green, is there a better time to tap into an easy, ready-made source of urban agriculture?

I’d love to hear from our local city governments and property owners: Why do they allow this waste to continue? Help them do the right thing: Write to your city council representative. Knock on a nearby business owner’s door and say "hey, I’ll harvest ‘em." Figure out a way to harvest your own tree.