Emily takes Phoenix

For years, I've been in awe of the southwestern United States. Maybe it's the fact I have spent my entire life in the Southeastern United States, but I find the desert fascinating. The color scheme is so different than the green I am used to; the sand in the desert is even so unique compared to the sandy beaches I see in Florida. Of course, I realize that same lack of green is a reason many grow tired of that landscape. To me it is just so majestic and refreshing, and the plant life is intriguing. And how can I not mention..the MOUNTAINS! Florida is flat. and while I adore this state, there is just something special about the varieties in landscape the western states have to offer. Besides, there are pebble lawns in the desert. I want one.

Landing in the city in the evening after a LONG flight (I mean really long--my flight went from Florida > New York > Phoenix!), it was so dark out I couldn't see a thing from the plane. I was eager to see the reddish-brown color of the sand and check out some mountains.

I have a friend who moved to Phoenix last year, and I reached out to her when I knew about my trip. Fortunately she found a little bit of free time the night I flew in, and offered to show me some of the areas she had grown to enjoy during her time there. She picked me up from my hotel shortly after I checked in, and on the ride to a restaurant, I looked out the window and spotted some homes built on the side of a mountain - it was so cool to see the lights cascading upward. My first foodie stop was a little place called Diego Pops. I passed on taking photos of dinner, as it was a time to catch up with a old and dear friend. It's not often I end up in a new city with someone I know living there! Foodie fail but politeness win.

Diego Pops was a cute place. The atmosphere was very modern, with the neon lit sign reminding me of Miami. The whole style was a bit like what I would expect to see in downtown Orlando, as we have grown into a more culinary appreciative city in recent years and many small restaurants have been booming. The food was fantastico! My friend suggested the plantains, but tragically they were all out. Instead, I ordered a few different tacos, including green chili chicken and adobo chicken, which were phenomenal. The green chili chicken won my heart, though. But I'm leaving out something very important here - guacamole.

I am not a guacamole person. While I love avocados, the guacamole I have tried just never had a good flavor. Well, until this one. It had blistered jalapeno, cotija, lime, and orange, That's right, orange. And ohmygosh was the orange good! I never in a million years would have thought to add orange to guacamole. But that citrusy flavor was awesome, and I am happy to report that I found a guacamole I actually liked. Yum!

Apparently, tacos are a big part of Phoenix (who would have guessed?!). There are loads of options - but I am glad I got to try this one. Man, that guacamole. Am I talking about it again? It was really good.

The following morning, I got up early to make my day as productive as possible. I had all day before I had to go to my event, so I knew I needed to explore somewhere nearby. Because, why would I spent the entire day sitting in a hotel when I am somewhere so new and exciting?! I snatched up a map from the front desk, looking for a spot where I could explore some of the desert splendor.

I headed over to the little cafe at the hotel I was staying at, because who doesn't like free breakfast? A veggie omelet and some coffee got my day off to a filling start. Though I regretted the fruit cup you'll see pictured. Buffet fruit bowls are just breeding areas for colds, and I was reminded of why I generally avoid them a few days later when the sniffles began. Other than the sickly fruit, that was a heck of a free breakfast. I've been lucky in my travels, as my New Orleans experience was great as well. I'm not used to a free breakfast that consists of more than a few boxes of cereal and muffins. I think I'm getting spoiled.

I took some time to enjoy my meal while looking through the hotel pamphlets. The zoo was one of my top choices, but it was a bit further away than I would like. That's when the Desert Botanical Garden caught my eye, and going just by the name I was sold. Cacti?! Yes, please! I imagined myself wandering through sand, surrounded by prickly plants. The cactus is a wondrous plant - though there are many varieties, cacti just stand alone in style.

The hotel was able to find a driver to take me there, as it was out of walking distance. I spent several hours just walking through, taking loads of pictures with my phone. This was the moment I was super glad I had just upgraded to a new phone with a much nicer camera than my last.

The photo below shows a small craters (well, it wasn't huge so maybe not quite a mountain) with several small holes all over it. I felt really drawn to this while we were driving towards the garden, never realizing it was actually a landmark leading up to my destination until we were right there. I found it to be so stunning! This photo was early on in my walkabout, and shows the path I was going down.

The tall cacti were so fascinating - I even trusted a fellow park visiting couple enough to ask them to use my phone for a photo with this massive one. It was chilly out, but tolerable. If this Florida girl can make it, you know it's not bad,

Below is another lovely spot I had to capture during my wandering. This entire garden was just breathtaking. I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

I took to playing around with my panoramic camera as there were mountains all around me I couldn't resist documenting. You could see a mountain peak that was 40 miles away. Mind=blown.

And here we are...the cactus gallery. AMAZING! My dream came true - the sandy path, thorny cacti all around. I had found my zone. My brief description gives this garden no justice. I was there at least 3-4 hours, walking the entire time. I wasn't bored once. This is an absolute must see.

After the garden, I asked the driver to make a pit stop on the way back at a place I knew I had to grab while out west...In n out. In California a few years ago, I had the pleasure of getting my paws on my first burger from the famous restaurant. It is not at all over-hyped. In-N-Out burger is awesome.

I took this lovely bag of food back to my hotel for lunch.

Animal style it is. Cheese, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, special sauce...all piled up on this delicious beef patty. Are you sold yet? Because I'm hungry for another one. We need these in Florida, seriously.

That night, I worked in Downtown Phoenix. The College Football Championships was also being celebrated, which meant the city was live with activity.

...And I randomly walked into a John Cougar Mellencamp (John Cougar? John Mellencamp? What does he go by these days?)

The entire area downtown was slammed, which meant after working I was starved and everywhere was packed. After a few laps, I was fairly starved (there was really nothing right by the hotel I could grab), so I wandered into a Hard Rock Cafe. Expecting an hour or more long wait, I asked the hostess how long it would be before a table for one would be available."Only 20 minutes or so." "Really? I expected worse. I'll wait." I hung around the gift shop for half an hour before checking back in. Despite having handed me a pager, I was never even added to the list. And the wait was over an hour, even for 1. And that's what I get for choosing the Hard Rock Cafe. So tiny little pizza shop--you won for a quick dinner. But, this had no impact on the liking I had developed for the city.

I will say that the weather was slightly chilly (in the 50's, which yes, is chilly for me), but the air was not as dry as anticipated. Everyone had warned me to prepare the lotion bottles or my skin would crackle away and I'd age a decade. Fortunately, it had been raining a lot so really, the air was quite nice. Not as humid as a Florida summer, but that's a good thing. I guess I missed out on that one part of the desert experience.

Phoenix was a lovely city, with so much more to offer than I got to even scrape the surface of. I was told that hiking and skiing are both within driving distance, just in opposite directions. So you can see so much beauty all within a reasonable amount of time. That is a cool place to be.

One last shot before I go. Along the way to and from Phoenix, I got to enjoy some gorgeous views from the plane. I had a layover in Denver on the way back to Florida, and wow, it was cold up there. I am spoiled by generally toasty weather year round.

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