Of cacti and other prickly observations 

The iconic cactus is unique to Arizona and thrives only between the altitudes of 1000 to 3000 feet. It does not begin to sprout its’ characteristic arms until more than 60 years old! These arms appear to help with stability once it grows to be a certain height. Thousands of cacti were dug up and used in landscape gardening around the city of Phoenix where they sit forlorn and stressed. Thankfully it is now illegal to uproot the cactus. 

I write this blog as I relax in the Phoenix Hilton Suites for an extra unplanned night! Snow in the Grand Canyon. The suites are fabulous. Separate bedroom, bathroom and lounge room. This compares to what is apparently the single if not singular, place to eat at this hotel – the “Great American Grill”. It is one of the saddest, bleakest and depressing places at which I have ever sat to eat. It is situated in the huge atrium with the glassed in lifts that the reader will immediately correctly visualise as common to many upmarket high rise hotels. In this establishment the elevators ascend into heaven on the 12 floor suite but truely descend into hell. 

I should have been immediately suspicious that all was not as it seemed when for most of the night, the Great American Grill was as silent, dark and empty as the Tomb of King Kanute. I succumbed twice –  being twice, the lone diner . Both nights I ordered the Avocado, walnut, artichoke salad with cherry tomatoes and garden fresh lettuce.

One assumes that in describing any menu dish, the literal order of ingredients would refer to the importance and hopefully the quantity – the one caveat perhaps being caviar or black truffles. Let me tell you that at the Great American Grill the order of the list is inverse. So in an iceberg sort of way, the eponymous lettuce submerged to the bottom of the ocean all other ingredients, drowning out any evidence of avocado and there were perhaps two if not three crisp Californian walnuts all smothered in an emulsion of balsamic vinegar, an oil of some sort and sugar, having the consistency, colour and taste of sugared sump oil.

I was almost about to mark the kitchen up after two bread rolls arrived which had been warmed. If the bread has been heated, this is usually the first indication to me of an honest attempt at haute cuisine – I am easily pleased. Sadly the bread rolls were heated I suspect as it was the only way to rescue two bread rolls that were so stale as to resist all attempts to cut them in half even using the hand saw of an Arizonan lumberjack. Tonight I will try Tony’s Diner in downtown Phoenix.

A couple of random observations: 

In breathless anticipation of some retail therapy I took the tram and bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct – well,  in much the same way as every airport duty free shopping is same, same – so the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct is an  exact replica of any and all Westfield shopping complexes in Australia! Food court on the lowest level where the vast majority of humanity sits and consumes and then groan and waddle their way through 3 floors of speciality shops without actually buying anything. 

A young woman accosts me at a booth and asks if she can apply an anti wrinkle cream to my lower eyelids. Normally I would politely decline but as I am in a foreign country – everything is foreign to me even the language, I allow her to apply this miracle unguent to my left lower eyelid. She chats away as only the Americans can, whilst fanning my face and then after a minute asks me to sit in front of a mirror and compare my left lower eyelid with my right lower eyelid. She is, as god is her witness, convinced of the miraculous improvement in my left eye. If this single application makes such a difference, imagine what an application of the miraculous unguent to both eyes, every night at bedtime for six months, would do! The only way to extricate my way out of this potentially financially crippling dermatological soft sell is to inform her that I am from Australia and a plastic surgeon specialising in face lifts! 
What’s more unlike Sleeping Beauty, “mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” , the mirror is not reflecting a falsehood. I still see wrinkles even without my spectacles! 

Arizona is and always has been, Republican. It is a macho white male state where the motor car rules and this is not any motor car! Indeed the vast majority are huge  SUV ‘s that resemble a Hummer that has been cut in half and called a “Suburban”. It has seating for 8, a huge rear compartment and comes, like the model T Ford, in multiple colours as long as it’s black. I failed to see any such “Suburban” SUV with more than a single occupant in all the time I walked the streets. 

As I travelled by bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Square a van drew alongside with this advertising slogan:

Phoenix Arizona Electrician

“Let me take down your shorts”


What every gym junkie should wear a steal at $US 895 at Marcus Neimann

Yes a genuine latte! In Phoenix Arizona! The Barista was even up to scratch

It is forecast to snow 

Sadly I have been strongly advised to drive in and out of the Grand Canyon as a severe cold front is coming through Thursday and it is as inevitable as the inauguration of Trump on Saturday that it will snow for about 4 days! I may be trapped and as I have a plane to catch I can’t risk staying. 

I have vivid memories of that childhood Looney Tunes story of Sylvester the Cat snow bound in the house with Tweetie Bird whilst the quaint old woman has left to buy provisions and every cupboard in the house is filled with Birdseed! Fearing starvation obviously as there is no cat food, Sylvester spends the next 12 minutes of the cartoon trying to catch and eat Tweetie Pie! Even at age 8 one knows this is inevitably futile but there is a childlike degree of sadistic pleasure in seeing the poor pussy thwarted and frustrated to within a inch of his nine feline life’s. 

Anyway I decided to shout myself a helicopter ride – 50 minutes of breathtaking scenery – more than adequate recompense for missing the extra night and day. 

When one thinks of Arizona one thinks of cactus, Cowboys and Indians and searingly hot deserts- at least I did. I was totally dumbfounded to see snow in and around the Grand Canyon Park. I was also amazed to learn that we ascended in our tourist van to 7000 feet and then drove for miles across the plateau (“mesa” in Spanish ). The Grand Canyon is thus a gigantic river valley at 7000 feet and the canyon descends for 3000 feet into the Colorado River basin floor. Please excuse the empirical measurements, I am too lazy to convert to metric. Our tour guide was a delightful man called Mac. If he were Australian and happened to be thin – indeed gaunt, then in our laconic and ironic way his nickname would be naturally “Big Mac”. But this is America ! Mac was by no means undernourished and so he indeed was known as Big Mac! He had a charming Garrison Keillor homespun philosophy to his blurbs as he drove along Route 44 in the Dodge Van at a breakneck 75 mph. 

Those white patches are snow!

The Red Centre of America 

A few photos of the amazing geology that surrounds Sedona Arizona. This area is where all those cowboy movies I watched wide-eyed in the  50s and 60s were filmed – I am truely on location. 
The other piece of trivia is that Lucille Ball had a Mexican style villa in Sedona still standing and a must see item on every tour company’s itinerary 

Last day at the Wild Horse Pass 

I boast that religiously and attentively I attended all the sessions over 2 full days – which were indeed fascinating and many of the breakthroughs will not be routinely available until well past my retirement!

This is the hallway to the conference centre

This panoramic picture is of a nearby “village” called Rawhide! It’s a giant film set and a tourist village basically a forlorn imitation of the many genuine villages and tourist towns- Sovereign Hill in Australia springs to mind

This is the SMALLEST takeaway cup of coffee one can purchase at any and all coffee outlets! Full cream milk is called “2+2” . It may the creamiest concoction to leave a cow’s udder, but it ain’t gunna rescue the revolting black percolated coffee in the monstrous cup. Sadly the Americans fail in quality and predictablely score 100 for quantity. 

As an unrelated aside, one knows one is getting old, when the huge advertising screen extolling the entertainment at the Sheraton Casino, flashes not a 60’s night, not a rock and roll night, not even an Elvis night, no –  Tuesdays are the nostalgic 80s! 

Is it Uluru?

The Wild Horse Pass Sheraton Resort sits in an arid part of Arizona. It is the venue for the 2017 Breakthroughs in Neurology conference. No doubt this is a great facility and I am going to book in for a Spa treatment and rejuvenating facial mask rub using a very expensive “mud” of cactus sap, coyote saliva and fine particles of Arizona desert sand.

The resort has a similar ambience to the resort complex of Uluru but it comes no where near to the magic of the geography and geology of the Australian Red Centre. But I pen this before I visit the Grand Canyon national park 

Golf anyone?