Louis Lortie & the Phoenix Symphony Sunday, Mar 22 2015 

Our seats for last night’s Phoenix Symphony placed us in a different location than where we usually sit. We exchanged an earlier concert for this one because of a schedule conflict. Sitting in row 13 section B rather than row 6 section A gave us a different view of the performers, especially the soloist Louis Lortie. This French-Canadian pianist has an impressive recording history and resume. We were not able to see his hands as he played Frederic Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor for Piano & Orchestra, Opus 11. We did have a great view of his facial expressions and witnessed one young at heart who enjoys making music. The evening’s selections started, after a fifteen minute introduction by conductor Tito Munoz, with Anton Webem’s Im Sommerwind. Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Opus 90, by Felix Mendelssohn concluded the evening’s performance. After traveling from San Antonio with its two hour time difference, it was difficult for me to keep my tired eyes and body focused on the great music.

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San Antonio, Texas (part 3) Saturday, Mar 21 2015 

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

The next day we took a taxi to Mission San José, established in 1720 by Franciscan Father Margil de Jesús, which is considered the best example of a restored mission in the United States. The building of the limestone church, with Spanish colonial Baroque architecture and statuary, began in 1768. At that time there were 350 Coahuiltecans residing in 84 two-room apartments. The famous “Rose Window” and carved stone façade at the entrance are examples of the fine detail and craftsmanship of the artisans who built the mission. Mission San José came to be known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Congress created the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in 1978. The National Park Service has cooperative agreements with the City of San Antonio, County of Bexar, State of Texas, and San Antonio Conservation Society. We walked three plus miles to Mission Concepción where remnants of the original frescos are still visible within rooms of the mission. We learned that four colors were used. Yellow is hydrated ferric oxide, also called ochre or sienna. Red is from iron oxide, also known as red ochre or burnt sienna. The oxides occur naturally in nearby sandstone formations and clay deposits. Black is a carbon pigment. The blue pigment is most likely indigo from plants. The paints contained limestone and goat’s milk as binders. The Franciscan friars converted the region’s Coahuiltecans, previously hunter-gatherers, to farmers and ranchers. They also learned how to quarry and build with stone. We returned to downtown San Antonio via public bus.

San Antonio Botanical Garden

San Antonio Botanical Garden

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, which opened in 1980, is a great place to cultivate your self. Their mission is “To inspire people to connect with the plant world and understand the importance of plants in our lives.” This 38-acre living museum offers colorful floral displays, a serene native forest walk, exotic specimens from around the world, futuristic glass pyramids, and historic log cabins. The five glass pyramids designed by Emilio Ambasz house exotic plants from around the world. Some 6,000 cubic feet of sandy loam and clay was transferred to the East Texas Pineywoods trail so that acid-loving woodland species could survive surrounding a one-acre lake. The authentic hand-hewn post oak, red cedar, and cypress log cabin was built in the 1850s. The South Texas trail showcases dryland trees as well as the cacti that populate this area of Texas. A century plant and Spanish dagger caught my attention. An adobe structure is on display. A Bird Watch with a mirrored glass front offers close-up viewing of birds. The Hill Country trail features plants adapted to rocky alkaline soils. Did you know that sawtooth grass can have ten foot roots? The Schumacher House was originally constructed in 1849 near Fredericksburg. The Auld House was adapted from an 1880s piñon pine cabin located near Leakey. I favored the Texas Hill Country Landscape during our walk down WaterSaver Lane. We observed purple martins gathered on their condominium housing after we left the Sacred Garden. We enjoyed lunch in the Daniel Sullivan Carriage House which was built in 1896 and more recently moved to this location. After lunch, because it was raining, we decided to return to our hotel by bus rather than visit another of this vibrant cities’ attractions. San Antonio is a great place to visit!

P.S. For a different taxi experience in San Antonio, try the Discocab (210-875-8382). Gabriel will give you 3-D glasses, turn on disco lights, and act as your personal DJ. He is a capable driver who delivered us at the airport for $5 less than it took us to get from the airport. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/rush247good

San Antonio, Texas (part 2) Saturday, Mar 21 2015 

Tower of the Americas

Tower of the Americas

For lunch we had a bird’s eye view of San Antonio from the revolving Chart House Restaurant some 600 feet atop the Tower of the Americas. This distinctive landmark, surrounded at its base with various water fountains, was built for the 1968 World’s Fair. After lunch we went up two floors and walked around the observation level. The Alamodome, located below us, was the San Antonio Spurs’ home from 1993 to 2002 and is now a venue for trade shows, conventions, and concerts. It is hard to fathom that it held 73,086 people at a recent concert. We missed a rain shower while in the Tower of the Americas.

UNAMITA

UNAMITA

The mission of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) is “To support bi-national understanding and integration through education, language teaching, cultural diffusion, academic extension, and synergy with other educational organizations in the United States. “UNAMITA,” another sculpture by Sebastian is located outside the college. It was dedicated in 2004 to recognize 60 years in San Antonio. Inside the college, we visited a gallery filled with sexually accurate pottery from the pre-Hispanic period. Several interesting sculptures grace the grounds between the college and the Convention Center. An open door, “My Home Is Your Home” (Mi casa es tu casa) was a gift from San Antonio’s sister city Monterrey, Mexico in 1992.

We walked around La Villita, the site of San Antonio’s first neighborhood, which dates back to the 1750s. Today it is home to a wide range of artisans.

Guitars in the Market

Guitars in the Market

Later, we walked by the Spanish Governor’s Palace which was built in 1749 as the residence and headquarters for the captain of the Spanish Presidio. Nearby Market Square, El Mercado, with more than 50 shops, is said to be the largest Mexican Market in the U.S. I was encouraged to take a photograph of colorful guitars at one shop, but was not allowed to take a picture of colorful hats in the shop next door. On our return to our hotel, we passed the Santa Rosa Hospital with a striking 9-story image of a young boy holding a dove while his guardian angel (with a part of her wing damaged) watching over him. I later learned that Jesse Treviño, an injured Vietnam vet, completed this mural, “Spirit of Healing,” in 1997. A statue of multi-talented T. C. Frost looks across Houston Street to the modern rendition of the bank, Frost Bank, which he chartered in 1899.

San Antonio, TX (part 1) Saturday, Mar 21 2015 

Alamo

Alamo

San Antonio is a terrific travel destination. We took advantage of a four night stay to visit several of its attractions. We stayed near a River Walk access point where we descended 20 feet to the meandering walkway along the San Antonio River. We oriented ourselves on St. Patrick’s Day which brought out a crowd, and most everyone was Irish. A bagpiper set the tone for some serious partying. San Antonio has a wealth of public art. “The Torch of Friendship” (La Antorcha dela Amistad) by Sebastian, a gift from Mexico in 2002, is an important downtown landmark. On our first morning we arrived at the Alamo as it opened. The white granite of the Alamo Cenotaph, “Spirit of Sacrifice,” was back-dropped against a blue sky. We learned that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas saved this historic site and continue to maintain it through donations. From signage we learned that the history of the Alamo can be divided as follows:

  • Mission Period, 1716-1793
  • Decline of Spanish Rule, 1794-1821
  • Struggle for Independence, 1822-1835
  • Birth of the Republic of Texas, 1836
  • From Republic to Early Statehood, 1837-1885
  • From Warehouse to Shrine, 1886-1997

Given the views on immigration of some today, it was interesting to learn that Stephen F. Austin brought the “Old 300” to this area where the American immigrants pledged:

    1. to obey Mexican law,
    2. to practice Catholicism, and
    3. to use Spanish as the official language.

It was interesting to learn about the historic 13-day siege by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna that ended with the deaths of almost all defenders including Jim Bowie, Davey Crockett, and Colonel William Barrett Travis.

Nishan

Nishan

We walked to the Institute of Texan Cultures, part of the Hemisfair Park. The museum presents the history of Texas by documenting the contributions from more than two dozen ethnic groups. In the excellent section on Native Americans, I was surprised to see that Kickapoo from Illinois and Wisconsin made their way to Texas. In the section recognizing African-Americans, the first Black United Methodist Church Bishop, Ernest T. Dixon, was recognized for serving the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences. The biggest surprise came from the contributions of families from the Canary Islands. The Spanish conscripted 400 families living on the drought stricken Canary Islands to travel to San Antonio, but only 15 families (56 individuals) arrived in 1731. Nevertheless, they made important contributions. School children were learning about Texas history through a 26 screen multi-media presentation, examining interesting artifacts, and listening to volunteers as they demonstrated spinning, quilting, and cowboying. I especially learned from a special exhibit, “Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab,” sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History. Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa brotherhood with five “Ks”:

  • Kes: uncut hair
  • Kangha: a comb, a sign of cleanliness
  • Karha: a steel bracelet stands for one God and strength
  • Kirpan: a sword raised only to fight injustice
  • Kaccha: breeches, a garment worn by warriors.

The Nishan, popularly called khanda, is the central, double-edged sword that stands for divine victory. The circle represents a kettle, an object associated with charity, while the two outer swords symbolize spiritual and worldly justice. I gained respect for Sikhs, and was impressed by the diversity in Texas.

Ajo, Arizona Sunday, Mar 15 2015 

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Ajo, Arizona provided us an opportunity to explore both the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Ajo itself is an interesting place. It traces its history back to the Tohono O’odham people and later to Spanish explorers and Mexican miners. Ajo, 40 miles north of Mexico, claims the first copper mine in Arizona. At the Ajo Historical Society Museum, originally the Franciscan St. Catherine’s Indian Mission, we learned that Yale graduate and Rough Rider John Campbell Greenway was successful in developing mining in this remote location by shifting from shaft mining to open pit mining, building a railroad to transport minerals, and discovering an underground river seven miles away that is still used for the city’s water supply. What is now the New Cornelia Mine was dug where the native and Mexican populations once lived. From the Mine Overlook we gazed over the 1.5 mile wide and 1100 foot deep pit. Part of the 10.9 mile Ajo Scenic Loop circled mamoth slag piles from the mine. This well maintained gravel road is an easy way to experience typical Sonoran Desert plants. Greenway built company homes and the city’s Spanish Colonial Revival Style Plaza in 1917. Phelps Dodge acquired the mine, closing it in 1984. After some rough years, Ajo has rebound as a winter destination and retirement community. More recently the U. S. Border Patrol has built new homes for a larger workforce. Artists have also made their presence known through a network of fanciful murals and other forms of art. One of the best known murals, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” an Ajo Street Art Project, graces the front of the Ajo Copper News and extends on the sidewalk on both sides of the newspaper’s entrance. This mural sometimes referred to as the “Singing Cactus Mural” features local landscape, people, animals, and music. While getting gas at the Shell gas station, I chuckled at Carole Hanks work, “Welcome to Ajo,” on the wall of the Shadow Ridge RV Park. Across the street from the 100 Estrell Restaurant is the whimsical “Spy Drones Over Sonora.” Spend some time in Ajo and enjoy the art, but don’t expect great food. We stayed in the Guest House Inn, a four bedroom bed & breakfast, where owner Mike serves up wonderful breakfasts. We tried all of the other major restaurants. The biggest disappointment was 100 Estrell. Don’t venture beyond their burgers. Unfortunately for us, our order was delivered to another couple who came in after us. When we received their order, we had to wait even longer before we could eat. Meanwhile, my $6 craft beer was delivered almost entirely as foam and reduced to about one-third of a glass. After initially taking our order, we were unable to capture the attention of the wait staff. The Ajo Pizza Hut wait staff, on the other hand, was exceedingly solicitous. We took advantage of their $15 Thursday evening special with a small salad bar, breadsticks, and three topping medium pizza, We guzzled 64 ounces of a premium beer for only $7.59. Good job Pizza Hut! For lunch one day we ordered sandwiches at the Oasis and enjoyed them alfresco in the Plaza. For dinner Marcela’s Café & Bakery specializes in Mexican fare which was okay. Ajo is an interesting place to visit, and if you are considering opening a restaurant there are plenty of vacant buildings.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Saturday, Mar 14 2015 

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, originally established in 1939, is administered by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Its 860,010 acres make it larger than the state of Rhode Island. More than 275 different species of animals, including desert bighorn sheep and Sonoran pronghorn, and almost 400 species of plants inhabit this lower-elevation section of the Sonoran Desert. The refuge is administered in Ajo where we registered for a Visitor Permit. Because the military used the refuge as a gunnery and bombing range, many types of ordinance remain, some buried and some on the surface. Thus, registering for a Visitor’s Permit requires signing a number of waivers. One copy of the permit must be displayed in the vehicle and another copy was kept in our possession while in the refuge. Before leaving the Visitor Center, we watched an informative video about the work of the refuge.

Cabeza Prieta Windmill

Cabeza Prieta Windmill

There are three public-use roads to access the refuge. We traveled about 2.9 miles from the Visitor’s Center on Highway 85, Rasmussen Road, and then BLM 8112 to a kiosk where we registered our entrance to the refuge. A 4-wheel drive vehicle with two Fish & Game employees headed into the refuge while we were at the kiosk. We traversed about 10 miles of the unimproved single track Charlie Bell Road’s 12.4 miles before finding the road becoming ever narrower so that paloverde trees could scrap the side of our vehicle. The Sonoran Pronghorn are an endangered species that the refuge is attempting to support. We saw an employee at a management site near Pack Rat Hill. There appeared to be an observation site on the hill and a tall blind on the flat. It also looked like there was some sort of fencing between the refuge and this road. We were aware that this road can be closed between mid-March and mid-July while the pronghorn are fawning. We found a wider section of road so that this employee could pass us. The only other visitors that we saw were in a Jeep at the windmill and Little Tule Well which is about 3.6 miles from the refuge entrance. They exited while I took pictures. The only wildlife that we saw were birds and a squirrel. One small area was bright orange with the globemallows in bloom. Our short time in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was probably the most desolate experience I have had.

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