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The joys (and the sun) of Phoenix

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Arizona has always held an allure for me. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Wile E. Coyote chase the Road Runner across the desert. Or perhaps because so many old Westerns made the landscape seem so exotic and exciting.

Whatever the reason, I was happy to finally visit Arizona and soak up its charms — and sunshine.

Phoenix is the capital city, and nicknamed the Valley of the Sun. A sprawling metropolis surrounded by mountains, Phoenix is situated in the Sonoran Desert and boasts more than 300 sunny days annually.

Contrary to what some might think, this desert is not barren. It’s teeming with animals such as coyotes, bobcats, and rabbits. It has lizards, snakes, scorpions, and other creepy crawlies. The plant life is diverse, too, with flowers, shrubs, trees, and — the coolest thing for a northerner to see — great big desert cacti!

I saw my very first cactus less than one minute after leaving the airport and I had my face pressed up against the car-window glass from then on. These spiky plants are bizarrely beautiful in the desert. Some are small and round, while others are tall and thin. My favourites were the ones with ‘arms’ that look like they’re reaching out, waiting for an embrace. So I hugged a few of them. Carefully.

Arizona’s scenery is spectacular, and an ideal way to view it is from above. Hot Air Expeditions picked us up at our hotel, the brand new Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, and delivered us to a remote locale for our adventure. We watched as crew assembled the apparatus, attached large wicker baskets to balloons, and filled them with hot air.

We climbed aboard and were treated to the tranquil experience of floating over the expansive grandeur far below, drifting as far as the air currents would carry us. I’ll admit it’s a little scary being up so high and at the mercy of the wind, but there’s also a real peacefulness to it. Most of all, it makes you appreciate having your feet on the ground.

After coming back down to earth several miles from where we lifted off, the crew set up picnic tables where we indulged in croissants, fresh fruit, cheese, orange juice, and champagne. They also gave us a keepsake flight certificate.

Located just east of Phoenix is Mesa, one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. It is connected to Phoenix by the Valley Metro light-rail line, an innovative public transit system that has helped further revitalization of Mesa’s downtown.

Even though Mesa lies in the heart of the desert, visitors can take advantage of its close proximity to a water recreation paradise. There are three lakes and two rivers within 30 minutes that allow for boating, fishing, waterskiing, canoeing, and paddleboarding.

A cross between kayaking and surfing, paddleboarding works your core and cardio, improves balance, and is a whole lot of fun. Southwest Stand Up Paddle has rentals and lessons, and their guides can get you going from kneeling to standing to cruising around in just one session.

RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller and outdoors woman who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. She’s also been known to hug cacti. Email her at rascreative@yahoo.ca.

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