Friday, February 14, 2014


On the way to Yuma!
We recently returned from an amazing two weeks in the great state of Arizona. The last and only time I had been there was some 21 years ago and, though we drove from far south to Vegas and back, it was the images of the red rocks of Sedona that were forever etched in my mind. I can't believe that it took two decades to make my way back. However, this time I was able to gain an even greater appreciation for the scenery of the great Southwest (beyond just famous Sedona).

Along with my husband and sister, we flew into Phoenix, rented a car and headed to Yuma. My husband's dad and some extended family call that area home now, having moved from Idaho and other up-North climates. Some of them are still "snow birds," coming down for the winter and heading back home as the temperatures rise in the South and stop plummeting in the North. Our timing was intentional. Family is important to both my husband and I and this visit was long overdue.

I had never been in the Yuma area before. For the most part, the scenery is typical desert Southwest. Vast, flat plateaus dotted with towering Saguaro cactus, thorny Buckhorn Cholla, and Ocotilla, also known as Coachwhip. Serving as a perfect backdrop for the deserts were foothills of various mountain ranges, but for someone who lives in the Texas Hill Country, they were all mountains to us.

Date Palm tree orchard near Yuma.
Two features of the Yuma area came as a surprise.

First, it's not all dry desert. In fact, the area is a huge supplier of vegetables. We would drive past fields upon fields of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and more. Fact: Yuma county is the nation's third largest vegetable producer and tops in winter vegetables. The second surprise: dates. OK, so you do find palms in the desert. But I never thought about acres of palm trees thriving in Southwest Arizona. They have the most delicious Medjool dates. And don't even get me started on the date milkshakes. Wow, who would have thoughts that bits of date blended into ice cream would be so tasty? Another little fact for you: the Yuma area grows more Medjool dates than anywhere else in the world!

One of hundreds of booths in Quartzsite.
In addition to some quality time with my father-in-law, one of David's brothers, a special cousin and an aunt, we took a few day trips around the area. One highlight was a few hours spent in Quartzsite, north of Yuma. The little town is, for some reason, a huge draw for RVers who come in droves during the winter months. Plus, it has at least 9 big rock-n-mineral-n-gem festivals each year and acres of swap meets. We walked one of the shows, where hundreds of exhibitors gathered to sell their jewelry, beads, rocks and art.

David's family hosted a bonfire while we were there. We spent the evening watching the fire burn as the sun set on the desert, while listening to stories from his wonderful aunt, a "snow bird" from Wyoming, along with cousins, dad and brother. His family has a long tradition of heading South for the winter, where they park their RVs and travel trailers on the desert and soak up the sun for several months. We were grateful for this quality time with his family.
 As you may have noticed, I haven't mentioned anything about art or galleries. This part of the trip was more about family and a little sight seeing. After our week in Yuma, we headed back to Phoenix to drop my sister at the airport since she was heading back home. The next week, David and I spent exploring the greater Phoenix area and beyond, with our focus on finding gallery representation for my wildflower art.

If you are not familiar with the area, here's a little info. While people talk about Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa as four cities, if you look at the map and drive the streets a few times, they really are just part of a larger metropolitan area. Sort of like interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces. Yes, they each have a "feel" that you sense as you drive from one city limit into the next, as well as their own street signage and downtown areas, but they are seamless. Then there are several more cities and communities in the same general area. Once you get outside of this metroplex, you find more towns, like Fountain Hills, Carefree and Cave Creek to the North/NW; Sun City and Surprise to the Northeast; and Gilbert and Chandler to South/SW.

Since Scottsdale is one of the nation's top art destinations, we had that high on our list to visit galleries and see what contacts we could make for my wildflower art. However, we also wanted to make a visit to Sedona, for both business and pleasure, a top priority. So, after one night in Phoenix, we headed to north to Sedona for a few days.

A glorious sunset in Sedona!
The rocks were just as red and just as majestic as I remembered from 20 years before. It was David's first time to Sedona and we took great joy in sharing the experience. In addition to drives in the area and catching both sunsets and sunrises that ignited the landscape, we visited several wonderful galleries in Sedona. The gallery submission process requires patience. I did make a couple of good contacts and hope to find a good home for my work there when the time is right.

Ready for take-off...Sedona by helicopter!

While in Sedona, we decided to treat ourselves to one of those helicopter sight-seeing tours. Soaring over the rock formations, between the mesas, and near the ruins of cliff dwellings from centuries past was an amazing experience.

On our way back to Phoenix, we took a side trip to visit a town we had never heard of until this trip, Jerome. Once a thriving copper mine in the late 1800s and early 1900s around which a town was built literally on the side of a mountain, Jerome was discovered by artists over the last 30-40 years and is now home to dozens of galleries, shops and restaurants.

Street view in Jerome, AZ.
If you are ever in the area, the climb up the switchback roads are worth the trip!

We arrived back in Phoenix (technically Mesa, where we booked our hotel for the rest of the trip) in time for the weekly Thursday night gallery stroll in Scottsdale. Streets lined with galleries were filled with art lovers as they popped in and out of the shops, meandered alley ways, hopped on and off trollies, or took horse-drawn carriage rides. One visit and you certainly see why Scottsdale is known for art. Fact: With more than 125 art galleries and studios, it is one of the highest per-capita anywhere in the US.

As much as I wanted to find that perfect fit for my wildflower paintings, and I did narrow the list to a few possible galleries, I just did not feel at home there.

Another area on our must-visit list was Carefree. I'll admit it: Up until about 2 weeks before the trip I had never heard of this community. I ran into a friend while shopping, mentioned our upcoming trip to Phoenix, and she told me about Carefree. She said I had to go and so I did. And I'm glad I did.

A planned community north of Scottsdale with streets named Easy, Ho and Hum, it's about as cute as you can imagine. And it has a small handful of really nice galleries. One in particular, Wild Holly, felt "right" from the moment we walked in. After a pleasant chat with Magda, a nice English lady who minds the gallery when the owner is out, we left Carefree feeling good about taking the time to visit.

In addition to all of the galleries, Scottsdale is home to not one but two huge, 10-week-long art shows held in big tents this time of year: Celebration of Art and Scottsdale Art Expo. Since both are a few miles apart and on the road back to our hotel in Mesa, we made a point to check them out. More than 100 artists are set up at each of the shows. Most not only display their art, which is for sale of course, but also demo and work in their temporary studio space. It was both inspiring and somewhat overwhelming to tour these two mega shows. It never ceases to amaze me at how much really good art there is in the world.

While at one of these shows, I got a call from Magda. The owner was, indeed, interested in talking with me about my wildflower art. We made an appointment to return to Carefree a few days later.

Awesome view of Superstition Mountains along Apache Trail.
As we headed into the weekend, we decided to take a break from the gallery visits and get out into nature. I read up some on Superstition Mountains and the Apache Trail that cuts over and through the mountain range. We headed due east and spent the day driving through the mountains, stopping to enjoy and photograph the awesome vistas along the way. Once on the other side of the mountain range, we turned south on AZ 188, ending up in Globe for a bite of supper before heading back to Mesa on US 60. We were losing light as we drove through even more mountain scenery and both David and I decided that we would need to visit this area again someday.

Church in downtown Phoenix.

Sunday morning we headed into downtown Phoenix to enjoy the heart of the city at it best, when most of the offices and businesses are closed. This has become somewhat of a ritual with us when we are in or near a major metropolitan area. We like to walk the streets on a Sunday morning and find an old, historic church to visit, which we did. We then grabbed coffee at a local coffee shop, took a side trip though the downtown's arts district, and then headed out for our appointment in Carefree.

We met Holly, the owner and namesake of Wild Holly Gallery. By the end of the meeting we agreed to terms, Holly picked out paintings she wanted to start with and I told her I'd be packing and shipping the work once we were back home in Texas.

Holly and I pose for a photo in front of her wonderful gallery!
I'm proud that Wild Holly Gallery will be representing me and offering my wildflower art to collectors in the Carefree and Phoenix metro area! This is my first Arizona gallery and I could not be happier that it work out that way.

We were down to one full day before we would be flying home to Texas and decided to head south of Phoenix to look at a few more galleries. In doing some online research, I came across the town of Tubac, which is located south of Tucson. Like Jerome, Tubac is an artists' community and one that I had never heard of before this trip. But unlike Jerome and Carefree, Tubac isn't even on a map! If you are looking for it on your iPad or phone, follow US19 out of Tucson. Once you get a little south of Amado, zoom into your map and you'll see some streets along the freeway, due west of Tumacacori. That's Tubac you are looking at. While it's not easily identified on a map, people find it. An interesting little bit of trivia: One of the people involved in designing the golf course there in 1959 was Bing Crosby.

Wildflowers were already starting to bloom while we in Arizona.
We headed to Tubac Monday morning and were greeted with more inspiring desert scenery.  Another must-return place on our list now is Picacho Peak, where wildflowers are said to be spectacular. Once in Tubac, we grabbed lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant (whose gourmet, wood-fired pizza rivaled that of the finest restaurants anywhere) and then began to stroll the many galleries and shops concentrated in about a four-to-six block area. These ranged from the highest end you could imagine, with works in the tens of thousands of dollars to small co-op galleries representing mostly local artists and artisans. I was able to pinpoint a couple of potential fits for my wildflower art and am in the process of following up with them. Even if I don't get into a gallery there, just the experience of finding and visiting this arts community was worth the drive. In talking with one of the local residents, we learned that out of the community's population of about 1700, some 400 were artists. Since she was an artist herself, she would know!

As the day was drawing to a close, we decided to hit last one gallery on my list from Tucson. We made it just before they closed and had a wonderful visit. However, we soon learned that this some gallery had a location in Scottsdale, which would be a conflict with our new Carefree gallery. We will visit other galleries in Tucson on a future trip to see what other connections we might make. As we left Tucson, we were treated to the most amazing sunset! What a perfect last day for what was an amazing trip!
Sunset near Tucson, AZ.

We've been home now for a few weeks and we're already planning our next trip to Arizona, hoping to make it back in time to see the wildflowers in bloom. Thank you for reading about this journey. Sharing these "reflections" of our trips, shows and gallery visits have become somewhat of a tradition. If you scroll through my blog posts, you'll see past trips that I've written about. Enjoy!