Amazingly enough I was up before my 5:15 AM (yes AM!!!) wakeup call. I bound out of the bed, quickly get ready, and head out the door. I am to meet my group at the Deer Valley Airport about 20 minutes away. After a quick call to Hot Air Expeditions (www.hotairexpeditions.com) when I arrive to see where exactly where I am meeting this group. I find them, grab my stuff, and check in. I am surprised how many people showed up. After a few snafoos with the van seating, were off. We head abut 10 minutes outside of town for the desert.
Soon enough we arrive at our appointed destination. In total there are about 60 people flying today and we are dived up into groups and given a briefing of what we can expect. There are 10 others in my group and we climb up in our basket and eagerly await our descent. Captain Mark gets us ready and soon the heat from the flames can be felt and our balloon starts its descent. We were the first balloon up this morning. I start to think of the Disney song "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. "Unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings, soaring, tumbling, freewheeling, through an endless diamond sky ". That is how I am feeling now. Spread out before me the unmatched beauty of the Sonora Desert and the mountain ranges all around. Up here, hundreds of feet in the air, you find a quite calm. No cells phones ringing and chatter is kept to a minimum while gasps and confirmation of the beauty we are seeing rang through. Our Captain, Mark (who sounds like Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs), does a fantastic job of telling us the history of the area and answering any questions we had. As we traverse the hauntingly natural beauty of the desert below us, we spot rabbits, sheep, and what we think are pigs but quickly find out are javelinos. As each of the other 5 balloons began their own rise over the rugged landscape, the blue Southwest skies fill with the colorful balloons and present picture perfect opportunities for everyone.
We're up about 2 hours but for me it seemed only a short ride before Captain Mark goes through instructions for our landing. Luckily for us, Mark is piloting our balloon. We safely land with only a slight bump as we touch down. We are tethered to a van and driven a short drive and we proceed to balloon ski! Our group climbs back out of basket and meander around talking and taking pictures waiting for our champagne brunch. The crew that followed us, are preparing our victory feast. As we are summoned to our table, Captain Mark read the Ballooners Prayer. Brunch consists of champagne, Mimosas, and juice with croissant with chocolate inside (yummy), quiche, fruit, bacon, and cheese. We all toast this exciting trip and enjoy talking to new found friends. Then we are off and back to enjoy our day. It is now 10:00 and this is how my day is starting!!!!
I arrive back at the airport and head out to Taliesin West. I go into the gift shop and find out I have to be on a tour and I will not have time to tour before my 12:00 Segway tour. So I go back to my car, set my GPS for my next destination, and head towards Old Scottsdale.
I pull into the shopping area and find the Segway office and set off to do some exploring before my tour. John and I did our first Segway tour last year in Raleigh. While it may look complicated, this mode of transportation is quite easy to pick up. I have done several since that time and always look for one when I am traveling. I knew the Arizonia Biltmore where I was staying had one, but it would not start for a few more weeks and it only covered the grounds of the hotel. I wanted to see something else so I did a Google search and found the Contempo Rides of Scottsdale (www.contemporidesegway.com).
After reading their description, it sounded like fun. So I called and made my reservations. As my tour time came near I headed back to that end of the shops and went and checked in. When I made my reservations I was told several other people would be joining me but I came in, paid for my tour, and James came out to lead escort me around. I stepped on the Segway and after a few runs, I guess James determined I really did know how to do this and off we went.
We went behind the shops, crossed the road and went to the water front. This area of Old Scottsdale has been revilitized and upscale shopping galleries, and million dollar condos make up the area. There are a number of amazing statues along the way and we stop at several so I can take pictures and James offers to take my picture. Next we head through the shops of Old Scottsdale and over to the park. Since this is a dry dessert, fountains can be found all over the place. The park is just gorgeous and fountains abound. James and I go up down the park stopping for photo ops and talking. James is a great guy and I am enjoying talking to him. We go back across and head back to the office. It has only been an hour and this was to be a 90 minute tour. Usually when I take tours and show I know my way around a Segway, we get extra time as usually the first 30 minutes are spent learning how to use this people mover. Not this time though.
When my tour is over I am deciding if I want to drive around Phoenix photographing the Frank Lloyd Wright Houses listed in my guide book or what I want to do with the few hours I have before my evening tour of Taliesin. I decide on lunch and then I plan to head back to the hotel and hot the weight room and then a nap before heading back out.
I head towards a place called Las Taquitos (www.ltgrill.com). I am a huge fan of Guy and his Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives on the Food Network and I always go to places recommend by Guy. So far he hasn't failed me with his suggestions. This place is in a strip mall and when I walk in, it certainly is a dive. I ordered a chicken burrito, beans, and rice. I go to my table to wait for my number and notice where Guy left his make and signature. My number is called and I go up to get my order and oh my, this burrito is HUGE!!!!!!!!!! And here I am by myself. Wow! The food is delicious and this huge feast cost me a me only $7. While this place isn't much or décor or ambiance, it is extra long on taste and the whole time I am here there is always a crowd packed in the limited number of booths available.
I climb in my rented Camry and head back to my hotel. I changed into my workout garb and try to find the gym. I follow the signs that are leading me to the gym. This place is huge though and soon I am wondering where the heck it is. An employee sensing I am lost asks what I am trying to find and tells me to go past the pool and I will find it. As I pass the stunning pool, I make a mental note that I have to come back and take pictures before I go. When I get to the spa I inquire where the weight room is and twice I have to clarify I am trying to find the weight room, not a spa treatment.
This resort boasts a world class spa with a number of treatments available including the hot stone treatments I am determined to try some time. The weight room here is ok. They have free weights, bench press racks, and 2 nautilus machines, but nothing to do squats. They have a plethora of machines for guests, but I prefer my free weights. Just as most any other time I hit a weight room I am the lone female and before long guys are over looking and I feel like a zoo exhibit. 90 minutes later I emerge pumped and ready for a nap. I go to my plush cottage, climb into my oh so comfy king sized bed, and drift off to sleep for a bit.
After my nap, I quickly shower and get dressed for my 7 pm tour. I make my way towards Scottsdale and Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. I turn and head up the drive. The house has an amazing drive in. Open desert, Sequruois, and mountains dominate your drive in and make it very distracting to keep your eyes on the road. I pull into the drive way and make my way back to the gift shop to check in for the tour. Our group is forming and we are quickly ushered to the front of the house. Our guide for the evening is a lovely young woman named Ashley.
Wright originally spent his life is Wisconsin, but with his health in jeopardy, he moved to the dryer and warmer climate of the Phoenix area in 1937. He purchased 600 areas located at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Construction for the house began in 1940. Construction was done by apprentices who introduced a new way to set the blacks into tapered wood forms with the faces on the outside. This was originally used as Frank's winter home. He and his 3rd wife, Olgivanna would arrive, stay the winter, and then head back to Wisconsin. For along time the renowned architect would not use glass and he has a philosophy of only using natural products. When they would return to the home it would take weeks to clean out the house from all the critters that had moved in while they moved out. Eventually he gave into to his wife's pleas and added glass. After her husband's death in 1959, Olgivanna stayed on at the house until her death in 1985.
Today the house is open year round to the public to tour. It also serves as the headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (www.franklloydwright.org) as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Just as when Frank was here to teach, only a small select number of students from all over the world come here to study. In fact in certain months, there are tours conducted by the students.
With our group assembled, Ashley leads us to the starting point of our tour and gives us a history of the house. We make our way to the area that once was Frank's office and now serves as the offices for the foundation. Ashley lets us know we are very lucky as we would be going inside as well. We could sit on the furniture, touch things, and with the exception of a few places, take as many photographs as we like. I am a happy camper. We start out next at the outside of the house which is lit up at night. We hear about the life of Frank which was full of scandal. We stop for cookies and cider and continue on our tour. Outside is a dragon given to Frank and at night breaths fire. The winds this evening are making it difficult to keep a fire lit, but eventually we got a shot and what a great photo opportunity. As we sit in the living room my minds wonders from the information being given. I slink down in my chair and I think about the fact that this is where Frank lived and where his genius mind would work. This wasn't a house he designed for someone else, this was his house. Having grown up in cities such as London and Charleston, I have always admired and appreciated architecture. While thumbing through a magazine at a young age I remember seeing a picture of his famed Falling Waters built in 1937 for Edgar Kaufman, which sits over a waterfall. When I saw the home I thought it was the most beautiful home in the world. Many decades later, I still agree. So I have been an admirer of his work since then. To sit here where Frank once sat was a true honor. It was also the second thing on my bucket list that I would check off on this trip. We make our way inside and outside of buildings, stopping so anyone can take photos. We stop and the sculpture gardens which are lit up at night. Our final stop is a small theater that Frank and Olgivanna used to entertain guest to the home.
I leave there and head for Alice Cooper's Restaurant, Cooperstown (www.alicecooperstown.com). And yes that is Alice of "Schools out For Summer" fame. This is where he now calls home and owns his own restaurant in the downtown area located right across from the US Airways Auditorium. Unfortunately when I get here there is a concert letting out and roads are closed. By the time I make my way to the restaurant it is almost closing time so I just head back to my room and raid the expensive bar food.
While I had my tripod out, I decide to photograph the Biltmore as it glows at night. I had wanted to stay at the Arizonia Biltmore for several reasons, the main one of course being its connection to Frank Lloyd Wright. Albert McArthur was the architect of the hotel. His dad was a client's of Wrights and he wrote to Wright asking permission to use his California block system. Frank came to Arizonia in early in 1928 and stayed until May to help with the design of the project. The hotel has been operating since 1929. Most of the additions and work done on the hotel since then have been done by the Taliesin Association Architects. To celebrate the hotels 80th anniversary, they invited travel agents to stay for $80. The Arizonia Biltmore is the hotel for those looking for luxurious accommodations. Since I stay at places like the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, the Grand Bohemian in Asheville, and the Metropolitan in London, I have developed a high flalutin' lifestyle (according to one of my clients) on a low flalutin' budget!
After taking my photographs, I head back to my cottage and get ready for the first day of my travel agent portion of the trip. Otherwise know as the working part.