Arizona: Mesa & Phoenix

I start out with a delicious goat cheese and mascarpone tart, followed by a citrus-lacquered Tasmanian sea trout, and a butter pecan cheesecake to finish.

Other intriguing items on the menu include foie gras and waffles, pork belly with popcorn puree, suckling pig and tribal buffalo.

The table service makes dinner more like a performance than just a meal: one server is paired with each guest, and each movement—serving food or clearing polished-off plates—is executed entirely synchronously.

The next morning, Roger Pablo, head wrangler of nearby Koli Equestrian Stables, takes us for a ride. The Maricopa Medicine Man-in-training exudes warmth and a complete comfort in his surroundings: he points out the jack rabbits leaping from behind sage bushes as we ride, the cactus sparrows, wild horses (of which there are up to 200) roaming the property, the South Mountain ranges and Sierra Estrella beyond.

Medicine man in training…

Of course, it’s impossible to leave this area without hiking through the mountains that surround us on all sides.

On my last night, I do a brilliant sunset hike at Superstition Mountains with companionable AOA guide Denny Brua.

We begin at a leisurely pace on a dirt path along Siphon Draw Trail in Dutchman State Park. But before long, the trail starts to head sharply upward, so that you’re almost climbing: this is when we turn back.

But as we do, the sun is beginning to set, so that a pinkish hue contrasts against the darkening lines of the saguaro and other cactus before us.

The next morning before my flight, I say good-bye to Arizona on a sunrise hike in Usery Mountain Regional Park.

Two knowledgeable volunteers take us along an immaculate trail around Tonto National Forest before we stop in at the nature centre for a yoga class, which brings me back to the beginning of my story – to the yoga in the desert, and the sound of Om through the quiet.

 

IF YOU GO:

•    Try an award-winning cupcake at The Coffee Shop (featured three times on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars) in Agritopia, a neighbourhood with a cool intersection of rural and urban.
•    Visit Joe’s Farm Grill, a ‘60s-style burger stand converted from the former family home of its owners, also in Agritopia.
•    Travelling with your dog? Visit the award-winning Cosmo Dog Park, where your canine can take a dip in the lake, join the agility run, or go to the timid area, if crowds aren’t his thing. Alternatively, there are free “tails on trails” fitness hikes at Usery Mountain Regional Park for beginner and experienced canines.
•    With mountains everywhere, you can go for a hike in almost any direction. A carload costs a mere $6 or $7, with many free guided hikes to choose from. Check out www.maricopa.gov/parks/usery/ to get the schedule for Usery Mountain, including evening scorpion hunts and full moon hikes with the grandkids.
•    At Queen’s Creek Olive Mill (owned by Perry and Brenda Rea, who hail from London, Ontario), you can tour the olive mill, enjoy Superstition Mountain coffee, a pizza lunch, wine tasting or sit at outdoor tables with live music and dancing on weekends with the grandkids. But beware: the sign at entrance reads, “All children found unsupervised will be pressed into olive oil.”
•    Drive around Mesa in March and April to enjoy what National Geographic rated one of the top 10 U.S. food road trips of 2010 with “everything from tamales to tangerines being sold from car trunks and pickups.”  The Peach Blossom Celebration is being held March 1 to 3 at Schnepf Farms.
•    Seeking outdoor adventure? Check out Arizona Outback Adventures aoa-adventures.com/866-455-1601) for hiking, biking, kayaking tours and trips to the Grand Canyon.

 

 

Diana travelled to Arizona in January, 2013. Some services were provided by Visit Mesa and Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau