Winter 2014/15 Was Spent Exploring Several Phoenix Area Attractions

Published: March 19th 2015
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Since I relocated my winter headquarters to Phoenix metro early in 2014 and since one of my sister’s granddaughter’s (my great-niece) relocated to Chino Valley AZ in mid 2014, my sister has been planning a trip to Arizona and, then, to California to visit her best friend. She dislikes the snow and the cold of Illinois winters as much as I, but, all thing considered, it’s not really practical for her to relocate. At 84 years young, she doesn’t have the stamina to walk even moderate distances anymore, so I tried to pick a few attractions that wouldn’t tax her abilities too much and saved them for her visit in mid-February – a GREAT time to escape Illinois.

Our first stop was the Wells Fargo Museum in downtown Phoenix AZ. There is no parking lot for the free museum; however, several adequate “one hour” parking meters are located directly in front of the museum. In addition to Phoenix, Wells Fargo hosts museums in Anchorage AK, Charlotte NC, Los Angeles CA, Minneapolis MN, Philadelphia PA, Portland OR, Sacramento CA, San Diego CA and San Francisco CA. According to the attendant, all the museums are similar but have local flavor.

For example, a placard relates how, on March 18, 1881, four highwaymen robbed the Wells Fargo stage between Benson AZ and Tombstone AZ. Two people were killed but nothing was taken. After it was determined the robbers were members of the “Cowboys” cattle rustling gang, two posses set out to capture the culprits. One posse included Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Bat Masterson. The robbery escalated the ongoing feud between the “Cowboys” and the Earp brothers which eventually led to "The Shootout at the O.K. Corral" in Tombstone on October 26, 1881. A short, very interesting account of the events surrounding the robbery and its aftermath is available here. I haven’t authenticated the story so take it for what it’s worth, but it IS two minutes of good reading.

The museum has a limited number of interesting artifacts and a nicely appointed art gallery, The visitor also has an opportunity to “drive” a stagecoach, to have his/her likeness imprinted on “money” and to have the visitor’s portrait taken in front of the Wells Fargo stagecoach. Everything in the museum is free, and the small museum is a worthy stop for those with limited experience in “things western” or for those with
Treasure Maps To The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine – Which Is Legitimate???Treasure Maps To The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine – Which Is Legitimate???Treasure Maps To The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine – Which Is Legitimate???

Superstition Mountain Museum - Apache Junction AZ
limited mobility. The drive back to Apache Junction during rush hour was pretty cool – we got to use the “High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV)” lane!

Another attraction I suggested to my sister was the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction AZ. Our visit followed the History Channel series premier of Legend of the Superstition Mountains by only a few days. I’m not sure if the series caused the interest or if snowbird boredom was the trigger, but the place was PACKED!

This small museum has a nice sample of geographically relevant mounted taxidermy specimens and turn-of-the-century western artifacts along with displays germane to the Superstition Mountains. A map locates the ranches of the area’s settlers, several maps to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine are on display and placards briefly outline some of the legendary characters who provided the area with its rich history. The gift shop/book store has a plethora of relevant books and would be a wise stop for the researcher. There are several displays outside, but by the time we completed the indoor museum my sister was “museumed out,” so we called it a day. The museum is recommended without my application of the “highly” adverb.

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Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix AZ
final attraction I suggested for her was the Musical Instrument Museum in northern Phoenix. I thought this attraction would be small, but it is so massive a two-day discounted pass is offered. Whoever planned this facility deserves a gold star. The displays are uncrowded, and there is plenty of room for expansion. Padded benches are provided for the weary. The visitor is provided with a Wi-Fi headset, and stopping in front of one of the dozens of TV monitors opens the headset for the auditory signal.

The museum collection is presented in geographical galleries that focus on five major world regions including the Africa and Middle East Gallery, the Asia and Oceania Gallery, the Europe Gallery, the Latin America Gallery and the United States/Canada Gallery. Virtually every country in each geographical region is represented, and “its” TV monitor includes three to five 15-20 second presentations of music from the instruments on display and/or of music representative of the culture of the region and/or of selections from iconic musical legends from that country, i.e. Jamaica’s monitor aired two snippets of Bob Marley’s music. Larger countries and countries with distinctive regional variations have multiple displays and, therefore, multiple TV monitors.

Everything from
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Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix AZ
a horse jawbone from Veracruz Mexico to shell trumpets from American Samoa to clapsticks from aboriginal Australia are on display. There are bagpipes from numerous countries in Europe as well as Appalachian dulcimers. Innumerable stringed instruments, drums and flutes constitute the majority of the collection, but the diversity is incredible. Special exhibits focus on iconic American musical-instrument manufacturers, including Fender, Martin, and Steinway, and “The Recycled Orchestra” exhibit features eight recycled instruments from Paraguay as well as video of the youth orchestra.

If your passion is playing video games, the Musical Instrument Museum probably is not for you. If you have any interest whatsoever in music or culture, it is an absolute must see while in Phoenix. I compare the Musical Instrument Museum to the Smithsonian museum group except that, over time, additions have made the Smithsonian museums more crowded than the Musical Instrument Museum.

One day I drove my sister to Green Valley AZ to lunch with my ex-wife, Barb. Many of my family members remain friends with both my exes, and that is cool by me. We took different routes each way to give her more of a feel for the geography. I took the long way to Chino Valley for the same reason. Her stay in Phoenix metro was short, but I think she had a nice time.

In addition to the “easy” attractions I had “saved” to show my sister, I did do a little sightseeing on my own from time to time. Phoenix, being the capital of Arizona, includes one attraction I have on the standing “must see if practical” list – the capitol building. Arizona’s historic capitol actually is the Arizona Capitol Museum. Typically, I visit these types of attractions on a Saturday, when possible, so I am not in competition with school groups. This site, fortunately, has Saturday hours.

I was promptly greeted by the attendant, inquired about a guided tour and was told the only guided tours are on weekdays and are geared to grade school children. He provided me with a brief overview and a map of the facility and suggested I start on the fourth floor. “Softy” took the elevator to the fourth floor (but did descend via the stairs). The first room I entered contains three dimensional representations of numerous state symbols (bird, flower, fossil, etc.) as well as the state flag. Although the rooms in the attraction do not follow a chronological sequence, each room examines some aspect of the state’s history following Anglo inhabitation of the area.

The impact of The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Spanish-American War, and that of The Gadsden Purchase are outlined as well as the division of the New Mexico Territory into New Mexico and Arizona is highlighted. The Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost engagement of the Civil War, is summarized, and the various territorial capitals are identified. Of course, the events leading to statehood are charted – including the 1906 vote on New Mexico/Arizona joint statehood. Interestingly, 64% of New Mexicans voted for joint statehood while 84% of Arizonans voted against the measure.

Several movements, including the suffragist movement, are discussed, and contemporary subjects such as the differences between a constitutional amendment, a referendum and a proposition are identified, and several landmark legislative events are highlighted. The visitor then enters an area where historic governmental offices are furnished to depict the time of early statehood.

Other rooms highlight significant historic military events such as the sinking of USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, honor Arizona’s military heroes and document the logistical feats overcome during
A Piece Of The Superstructure Of The USS ArizonaA Piece Of The Superstructure Of The USS ArizonaA Piece Of The Superstructure Of The USS Arizona

Arizona Capitol Museum - Phoenix AZ
the transportation of a restored gun barrel from the USS Arizona to Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza across the street from the Arizona Capitol Museum.

I would suggest that the Arizona Capitol Museum be on every Arizonan’s “must see” list. The historic capitol is very “blue collar” and is not an architectural wonder; however, the contents are well documented and interesting. Truthfully, the displays are so well documented there is no need for a tour guide save the historical oral anecdotes provided by most tour guides. Since I have been unable to locate a state museum specifically dedicated to Arizona history, a wordy, impractical (but, alas, more accurate) alternative name for this attraction might be the Arizona Historic Capitol State History Museum. It’s highly recommended for those interested in history.

As I noted a few words ago, Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza is across the street from the Arizona Capitol Museum. I had first visited the park on Memorial Day 2014 but, primarily because of the crowds, had failed to take any pictures. The plaza is home to 29 memorials including the mast and anchor of the USS Arizona as well as memorials to veterans of World War I, World
An Overview Of The Main Components Of The MemorialAn Overview Of The Main Components Of The MemorialAn Overview Of The Main Components Of The Memorial

Phoenix Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Phoenix AZ
War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Although the plaza wasn’t officially established by the Arizona Legislature until March 9, 1978, some of these monuments were erected prior to the inception of the Plaza.

On the way back to my truck, I couldn’t help but walk 50 additional feet to revisit the Phoenix Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The memorial contains a central cone-shaped structure with a dozen or so plaques chronicling an historical timeline of the Vietnam conflict from the 1941 creation of a grass roots resistance movement (Viet Minh) by Ho Chi Minh to combat the Japanese occupation forces to the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) on April 30, 1975.

The memorial also contains a sculpture with three combatants in varying stages of physical and emotional well-being or anguish, as the case might be, and 7-8 granite panels containing the names of about 600 Arizonans who are listed as KIA or MIA. My research places the Arizona Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tucson, but this memorial is worthy of the title – I can hardly wait to see the Tucson shrine! With admitted prejudice, I highly recommended this memorial to all – especially to Vietnam vets.

Throughout my travels, I have encountered a pattern – attractions that are open one day a week (or less) are generally small and unremarkable. Save the history associated with the museum, the Arizona Street Railway Museum fit the pattern perfectly. The museum houses one very nicely restored original streetcar (#116) and one unrestored carcass from the fleet of 18 cars purchased by the City of Phoenix in 1928. The #116 was one of the last three cars to operate on the streets of Phoenix.

Public transportation in Phoenix began in 1887 when the streetcars were pulled by mules on narrow gauge tracks. After electricity arrived, two electrified streetcars began service on standard gauge tracks. Gradually the narrow gauge lines and the mule-drawn streetcars were replaced by their more modern successors. Expansion of the street railway system continued until reaching its peak in 1928 when buses began to displace streetcars as the preferred public transportation vehicle.

The continuation of streetcar service became the subject of much controversy until October 1947 when a suspicious fire destroyed the car barn and all but six streetcars. The fire was a watershed for public transportation in Phoenix, and the decision
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Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting - Phoenix AZ; Web Site: Hand and Horse Drawn Apparatus Directory Page 2
was made to abandon the service and to employ more busses. The last ceremonial streetcar ride occurred on February 17, 1948. Phoenix was without a public rail transit system until Phoenix Metro Light Rail made its debut on December 26, 2008.

I would suggest that every Phoenix resident make a thirty minute stop at the museum to gain some interesting local history but would recommend the average tourist place the Arizona Street Railway Museum near the bottom of the “B List.” The three interesting docents on duty made my stop quite worthwhile, but I must admit that we talked about a bevy of other subjects unrelated to Phoenix public transportation.

Phoenix is also home to the largest fire museum in the world – the Hall of Flame Fire Museum and the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes. The Hall of Heroes honors firefighters who have died in the line of duty or who have been decorated for heroism. The museum has over 90 fully restored pieces of fire apparatus on display which date from 1725 to 1969. Most of the exhibits are American, but there are also pieces from England, France, Austria, Germany and Japan. One gallery is dedicated to the history of
A Small Selection Of the Firemarks Which Are On DisplayA Small Selection Of the Firemarks Which Are On DisplayA Small Selection Of the Firemarks Which Are On Display

Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting - Phoenix AZ
wildland firefighting in the United States. Display cases sport speaking trumpets, helmets and other memorabilia, and the walls are adorned with cases of shoulder patches from around the world as well as storied firemarks.

More correctly called fire insurance marks, firemarks are metal plaques displaying the emblem of the insurance company insuring the property. These identification marks were used in the eighteenth and nineteenth century – when fire brigades were funded by insurance companies and before municipal fire services came into existence. The firemark was affixed to the front of the building as a guide to the insurance company's fire brigade. When the fire brigade arrived and saw the mark was from its own insurance company, it fought the fire. If not, it went back to quarters.

In time, insurance companies stopped funding fire brigades. The brigades received funding through subscriptions. Subscribers paid fire fighting companies in advance for fire protection and would receive a fire mark to attach to their building. The same scenario evolved – “You are supporting us so we’ll put out your fire.” No firemark = “You don’t support us.” = “We won’t extinguish your fire.” I have read that early firemarks from Benjamin Franklin's time can still be seen on some Philadelphia buildings as well as in other older American cities.

The Hall of Flame is very well done and is a must see for every fire buff or firefighter and should be of casual interest to almost everyone. My only complaint is that the well-done documentation is contained in a loose-leaf binder. That gave rise to a wish for another pair of hands for photography. Fortunately, the contents of the binder (with photos of the specimens) are available on the museum web site. That greatly assisted me with the labeling of my photographs.

Those who follow my travels know that I love a great story. The nearby towns of Rockport ME and Camden ME (the area from where my cousin’s wife hails and where I visited in 2012) purchased identical 130 gallons per minute 1866 Hunneman Hand Drawn Pumper and Hose Cart apparatuses (or is that apparati – English is sooo easy). Since Rockport lies four miles west of Camden, its engine was named the "Pacific" while the Camden engine was dubbed the "Atlantic." Pretty cool, but totally useless trivia! Many other pieces of equipment have interesting stories in addition
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Arizona Renaissance Festival - Gold Canyon AZ
to the historical “nut and bolts” on the web site.

Two weekends before my departure from Phoenix metro for the 2015 Chapter of "The Great Adventure," I got a fashionably late start (about 11 AM) for the Arizona Renaissance Festival in Gold Canyon AZ – just east of Apache Junction. The traffic literally was backed up for miles. Since the festival happens on eight consecutive weekends and since it ends at 6 PM, I abandoned my plan to attend that particular day. The next weekend it rained both days, but on the final weekend before my departure the weather was forecast to be gorgeous. It was! I learned my lesson and got an early. The traffic was heavy but not insane.

Thirteen stages/pavilions/parks sported typical renaissance faire fare – jugglers, comedians, sword swallowers, belly dancers, hypnotists, acrobats and storytellers. Glass-blowing, metal forging and other period crafts were demonstrated. Several human-powered carnival rides and midway-styled “games of skill” dotted the festival grounds while stilt walkers strolled about. There were elephants, camels and llamas to rides as well as a petting zoo.

Generally each of the stages/pavilions/parks offered one act of 30-45 minutes duration every 1 to 1-1/2 hours – a
Balancing And Juggling All In One!Balancing And Juggling All In One!Balancing And Juggling All In One!

Arizona Renaissance Festival - Gold Canyon AZ
total of almost 50 different acts. One really had to be selective since there was no way to see everything in one day. I took in Bellydance Carnivale, The Ancient Art of Falconry, London Broil (team juggling), Three Guys & a Bunch of Drums and Wishing Well Winches – a comedy act based on the premise of two women operating a “by hand” laundry service. Everybody within range of water ejected from a saturated bath towel slung in circles above the head of one of the wenches got wet. Oh yes, of course, I made it to one jousting tournament!

There are numerous picnic tables and benches scattered around the grounds and abundant opportunities to find seating in the shade. The privies are real McCoy toilets! All the talent I saw was very entertaining, parking was free and the food was more reasonably priced and tastier than I expected – which made for a very nice day.

Not only did I spend the winter plying my “professional tourist” trade, I spent Thanksgiving in Chino Valley with my great-niece and her family and Christmas Day with my friend Gary’s son and his family. Early 2015 found me undergoing three
People-Powered Kids RidesPeople-Powered Kids RidesPeople-Powered Kids Rides

Arizona Renaissance Festival - Gold Canyon AZ
procedures to blast a matching pair of heretofore non-clinical kidney stones (one on each side) into passable fragments before the boulders became clinical. In addition to planning for the 2015 Chapter of "The Great Adventure," there was routine maintenance on the Ram and on the Pilgrim to ready them for the journey. I also managed to squeeze in a few breakfast/lunch/supper engagements with family and friends. Gary and I frequently met for “free pie Wednesday” at a local restaurant chain and for a “Friday fish fry” at various local eateries. T’was an active, productive winter; but it’s time to be ‹sing it Willie›“ On the road again….”

Additional photos below
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There Are Numerous Photo Ops For The VisitorThere Are Numerous Photo Ops For The Visitor
There Are Numerous Photo Ops For The Visitor

Wells Fargo Museum - Phoenix AZ
Now, THAT Is Ram Tough!Now, THAT Is Ram Tough!
Now, THAT Is Ram Tough!

Superstition Mountain Museum - Apache Junction AZ
The Craftsmanship On Many Of The Artifacts Is IncredibleThe Craftsmanship On Many Of The Artifacts Is Incredible
The Craftsmanship On Many Of The Artifacts Is Incredible

Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix AZ

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