Friday, December 23, 2016


Pointing the way to Phoenix for some pilots is a doubly-literal landmark written in one-hundred-foot tall letters in the hills above the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club, about 20 miles east of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Air photo courtesy of Google Earth

Pointing Melvin and me to Phoenix was the unrequited feeling that we hadn't seen enough baseball this year. (He probably also felt obligated to check on my mental health.) With the 2016 minor and major league seasons completed, we flew to the Valley of the Sun to see the Arizona Fall League.

Appropriately, our first stop together was Welcome Chicken + Donuts, where we had ... you-guessed-it! The Korean chili sauce, billed as spicy and sweet, was mostly the latter and not to our taste. We think the Vietnamese herb sauce—garlic, fish sauce and cilantro—is the way to go but your tongue may tell you different. (The third choice is a mild Japanese BBQ sauce.)

Was that orange and beet, or orange beets?

We both finished the meal with curried pumpkin pear filled doughnuts. I started off with a chocolate orange beet almond doughnut (above) and Melvin began with lemon vanilla rhubarb. Double-D, this is not.


Welcome Chicken + Donuts was the first of several enjoyable breakfasts, with other meals not as satisfying.

I was keen to try a Sonoran dog, which are common only in Arizona. Grilled bacon-wrapped hot dogs dressed with beans, tomatoes, onions and crema that can then be tricked out further with avocado, pico de gallo, cilantro and jalpeños.

Melvin and I ate ours at Nogales Hot Dogs, under a pop-up tent in a parking lot downtown. We should have topped our dogs with more of the goodies in the cooler next to the food cart.

They were our first but I suspect that they may not be the best.

Brat Haüs attracted us with its extensive selection of craft beer. Before one game, we each had a pint and nibbled on a pork belly, watermelon and jalpeño salad. We went to Citizen Public House later that evening, where the cocktails have earned a reputation.

Melvin and I both tried the Mezcacillin; El Silencio Espadin mezcal, Patrón silver tequila, ginger shrub, lime, campfire smoked agave syrup, expressed grapefruit, Nick & Nora. Tasty but one-dimensional.

The duck burger and bahn mi sandwich were pedestrian. We were comped a half-order of The Original Chopped Salad that really does not deserve all those initial caps (or its own facebook page. Here's the recipe if you want to make it at home.)

We had our last meal in Phoenix at Vovomeena. Two corn and chile johnnycakes, prickly pear maple syrup and sausage for me. Melvin had the most recommended dish, the b.m.o.c; smoked pork chop, waffle, two eggs and—bookend this trip with doughnuts!—a Portuguese donut.


From Welcome Chicken + Donuts we drove to Glendale to see the Desert Dogs host the Surprise Saguaros. All of the baseball was fine even if none of the games stuck out. We could have prospect-watched more avidly if we had put our minds to it. Mostly we were just enjoying sitting in the stands in shorts in mid-November.

a triple, two doubles and a couple singles to start the game but nothing but goose eggs after the second

Juan Kelly (Blue Jays), Anthony Alford (Blue Jays) and Yu-Cheng Chang (Indians) collected two RBIs each in the 5-6-7 spots for the Solar Sox win

Alford's three-run dinger was too little, too late in "Wrigleyville West"
Andy Ibanez (Rangers) and Danny Mars (Red Sox) hit three doubles for five RBIs for the 'unexpected cacti,' as I came to think of them

a Cody Bellinger (Dodgers) home run put the Desert Dogs back on top and Harrison Bader (Cardinals) tacked on two with a line drive double

I am a little worried about Yefri Pérez (Marlins), not because he committed two errors in one inning (no one scored) but because he is 25, playing in Double-A and has no clear position in the field.

A couple of the stadiums, Camelback Ranch and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, were notable for architecturally embracing the desert locale. (Talking Stick is a resort area in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, with the ballpark just one tourist attraction on the rez.)

Camelback Ranch, the spring training homes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox and home field for the Glendale Desert Dogs.

A couple games were sparsely attended. The others drew over 1,000 fans and we couldn't figure out the reason for the difference. Similarly, a couple games attracted more scouts than we had ever seen in one place, others hardly any.

The fans, however, were hardcore! Some were monetizing the pastime, asking players to autograph whatever was put in front of them. Others studiously kept score, many more than you will see at a typical game.

Melvin and I saw all manner of team apparel, from the Huntsville Stars to the Tucson Padres, to limit myself to teams that no longer exist. We saw a teenager in a Pat Venditte Oakland A's jersey. It almost felt like we were attending a convention.


Several games had midday starts, leaving us time for other attractions. Coming back from Glendale, west of Phoenix, we stopped at 8009 West Weldon to see yet another curated yard full of stuff.

How does such an obsession start? With just one item?

Edward Durrell Stone's design for the headquarters of the Mardian Construction Company (1965) is a less elegant variation on the United States embassy in New Delhi, six years earlier. After leaving there, however, we stumbled upon the "cupcake chapel" at the Asbury United Methodist Church (1967), designed by Mel Ensign.

I don't usually use the editing tools on my phone.

The Phoenix New Times called the church one of the 10 coolest buildings in "Metro Phoenix". Melvin and I drove past two other structures on the list.

The Westward Ho (1928), a hotel that was for 30 years the tallest building in Arizona, is now subsidized housing for the elderly and mobility impaired. The "Flintstones Bank" designed by Frank Henry, of the the architectural firm Weaver and Drover (1968), made me "Wow" out loud, causing Melvin to hit the brakes and ask, "What?"

Do you want to see my photograph of James Turrell's Knight Rise, a "skyspace" from 2001 at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art? Like certain other visual phenomena, you have to see it in person. Turrell has built several of them and you should go at dusk.

If you want to see Her Secret is Patience (2009), you should go after dark. Galvanized steel, polyester twine netting and colored lights knitted together by Janet Echelman.

tornado dreamcatcher jelly-fish in the air

We were underwhelmed by Paolo Soleri's bridge over the Arizona Canal and with good reason; we were at the wrong bridge. Later the same day we were two miles downstream at what once was Arizona Falls. Dammed for hydropower in 1902, the current facility (2003) incorporates a variety of public art, some more interesting than others.

All that once wasted energy now provides power to 150 homes.

Between our two visits to the canal, we climbed up to Governor George W.P. Hunt's tomb. This may be a case of the tail wagging the dog, a marginally interesting destination that allowed us to check off the visit on Atlas Obscura. It did give us a chance, however, to drive through 1,496-acre Papago Park, which we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

The pyramidal shape of the tomb may indicate Hunt was a freemason.

Louis Lee has left us but not before he left us his rock garden. It is closed to the public but much can be seen from the street.

certain figures, such of the one in the foreground, are repeated

Unfortunately for us, the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, formerly the Sun City DEVCO Model #1, was closed when we were in the area. We did wend round the concentrically circular streets that make up the retirement community.

The five home models have been individualized considerably since the development opened in 1960, diminishing the visual interest at least for us. One homeowner crafted desert landscapes in his yard, including a couple of spires on the corner of the property.

not to scale

Our visit to the Roman Catholic Vietnamese Martyrs Parish was conflicted. Melvin and I never would have gained access to the gated grounds if we hadn't arrived shortly before evening mass, but the parishioners made us self-conscious about exploring. Corey Taratuta got a guided tour.

"The French Missionaries and the Vietnamese Martyrs in Phoenix"
Image by Corey Taratuta used through Creative Commons license.

Unrequited by our last destination, we got back in the car and drove towards the airport. It went from dusk to dark in the time it took to refill the gas tank. After returning the rental, Melvin and I boarded separate buses for separate terminals because that's how they roll at Sky Harbor. I settled in and waited for a midnight flight. Sometimes when it's over, whatever "it" is, it really feels like it.


But it was a great trip and reading this will be the first time Melvin learns, I want to go back. Not next year but sometime. I want to see the actual Soleri bridge and try someone else's Sonoran dog. The games will be even more fun if we research the prospects in advance.

I would like to take a day trip south to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, which Melvin, Norton and I skipped in 2011. Near there are The Domes and the Corona Satellite Calibration Targets. And I should visit my aunt, just like I should have on this trip.

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