Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Quest to Find Arizona Wildflowers

It’s Easter Sunday and while some kids were up early looking for Easter Eggs, I was up at 6:30 a.m. searching for wildflowers in the Sonoran desert.

I was determined not to miss them this year just in case I only got to spend one spring in Phoenix. Besides, they always say you should take the time to stop and smell the flowers. That time was today.

Of course, I couldn't just pick the desert area where I live. I had to pick some place new – which usually comes through intense research and planning.

Ha ha ha ha…as if I did any research or planning.


Basically, I got up at 6:15 a.m. and being lazy, I didn’t feel like putting my bike in the car like I had planned to do. Instead, I opted for a hike.

After a quick one minute search on Google and I had decided on my wildflower destination of the day.

On, they have all these great hikes listed out. The one that caught my eye was the San Tan Mountian Regional Park around Queen Creek. I hadn’t been to Queen Creek yet (it’s about an hour away from me) so that was one of the selling points. The second thing that tempted me was that the hike was 7.8 miles – which means it would be worth the drive, and the third thing was that the hike was listed as quiet.

I’m learning quickly in Arizona that if you want a quiet hike on some the popular trails and mountains like Pinnacle Peak and Camelback, you’ve got to get there at sunrise or else the trails are packed -- not that there's anything wrong with that.  But for me, hiking and climbing is my version Sunday morning yoga. I’m looking for peace and tranquility – not a whole bunch of people.


If you are looking for solitude and a scenic walk, the San Tan Mountain Regional Park is the place to go.

I got there about 7:45 a.m. and there were only a couple of cars in the parking lot. You do have to pay $6 to get into the park, but it’s worth it.

In the 2.5 hours it took me to hike the 8 miles, I saw only a few people on bikes (this trail is fantastic for mountain bikers) and only ran into a couple of hikers at the end when I was leaving. This could because I was there early or maybe because I choose the longest trail to hike. They do have shorter ones that are only 1 or 2 miles long for those of you who a new to hiking.

Here’s the San Tan Mountain Regional Park website for details.

There were also tons of wildflowers everywhere so my quest was finally complete. 

Brittlebrush (yellow flowering bush) was the most prominent and they were filled with bees. Every time I stopped to take a picture the bees would get annoyed and buzz even louder. But then again, maybe they were buzzing because I was wearing this Hawaiian Tropic lip balm that I love because it has 45 SPF and smells like coconuts.  Hmmm...might have to think about getting a scent-free one for hiking.

My favorite flowers were from the Hedgehog cactus. They are the purple/pink ones. They were closed when I first got there but the blossoms opened up as the sun got hotter.

I also saw my first coral snake. He slithered into a hole in the dirt and I didn’t stop to take photos as I didn’t want to bother him.

Address for San Tan Mountain Regional Park
6533 West Phillips Road
Queen Creek Arizona 85242

Friday, March 15, 2013

Opening night of Jason Koster's portraits

Flyer for Jason Koster's show
Art is never simple. There's always a story behind it, and the story behind Jason Koster's portraits is fascinating.

I attended his opening at the Walter Art Gallery in Scottsdale tonight and was blown away.  I had seen his work online, but when you see it in person, it's really personal and raw.

But, he also told me the backstory that helped create his art -- and because a picture, especially in this case, is worth a thousand words, I'm going to tell you what it is.

The portraits when you look at at them are clear and feel honest.  The models are gorgeous in their natural skins without needing makeup -- but the kicker is they are not models. And these portraits were not shot in a studio with fancy lighting. They were shot in a box.

Yes, a box. 

Jason showed me the box at the opening and it looked like a foamcore structure covered with silver insulation. That's because these amazing portraits were shot at Burning Man in the middle of the desert and the "models" were just people willing to get into the box.

Jason Koster's bike towing the portrait box
"At first it was a black box, but it became an oven in the desert so I added the insulation," said Jason. "I also needed to make sure it was collapsable so I could move with it."

Oh...and I can't forget my favorite part of the portraits. It's the eyes.   

The gazes are mesmerizing in their honesty - so much so that you can't turn away and don't want to. But that's when you notice the rectangular light in their pupils.

It's there you can see the box...and Jason.  In a way it makes the portrait even more personal because you can see the artist creating the work within the work.  

Artist/photographer Jason Koster in the box
You really need to go see it for yourself. The whole thing is kind of interesting and if you check out the show (which runs until April 3), you may see the bike Jason rode at Burning Man parked outside the gallery along with the box where the portraits were taken.

And I'm not the only one who found the box portraits incredible.  Senator John McCain also loved them and had to have his portrait taken in the box.

So I'm asking...would, could you in a box?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wild Wild West Steampunk Conference merges old and new worlds

Wild Wild West Steampunk Conference 2013
Apparently I am into Steampunk, but I had no idea until this weekend that I was. In fact, I didn’t even know that much about Steampunk except for the glimmers that you see on shows like “Castle” or in the new “Oz, the Great and Powerful” movie.

So how do I know I’m into it? I attended the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention yesterday and totally loved it.


Finally, I was with a group of people who knew what Doctor Who and Torchwood were and could actually talk about it in-depth instead of trying to fake the conversation. Yes, there are more people than me out there that watch the BBC on purpose and get excited when they hear the Doctor Who theme song.

NOTE: I actually do the Craig Ferguson Doctor Who dance.  Watch it here so you can dance with me!

Wild Wild West Steampunk Conference

I also really loved that Steampunkers love tea. And they take their tea with biscuits very seriously. They even do tea duels. Don’t worry if you don’t know what this is. I had to ask too as I was a Steampunk virgin and had no idea what any of their traditions were.

It seems a tea duel is between two people who sit down for tea. They choose their weapon of choice (their biscuit/cookie) and then they have to dunk their biscuit in the tea for set amount of time – the longer the dunking time; the harder the duel. The person who can successfully dunk and eat their biscuit without it breaking, crumbling or falling on their clothes wins the duel.

Being raised on tea and arrowroot cookies, I think I may have been training for this duel all my life. I wonder if they do something with toast and marmalade. That would be perfection!

While I admit I wasn’t really into really into the “western” part of it, having the conference at Old Tucson was a brilliant choice. The old movie set made perfect backdrop for the costumes.
Wild Wild West Steampunk Conference
Would I go again? Definitely.   There is so much more to learn – like why did some of the people have little creatures perched on their shoulders like stuffed octopuses, frogs and winged furry things?  Also, everyone there comes in character -- some of the characters they make up and others are famous from the Steampunk culture. Very cool.  Just being there stimulated some ideas for future writing projects and I am into the gadgets and speculative fiction. 

Plus, next time I'm going to wear an outfit (that's the best part).

But I think I may be more Steampunk UK or Canada than Steampunk USA (or maybe because this was the Wild Wild West Convention so that's why the Western theme was so big).  The cool thing with Steampunk is that it can be anywhere from traditional Victorian or Wild West -- to more sci-fi to more Goth meets Old World. In other words, think more of the dark gadgety side of Sherlock Holmes, The Dresden Files, Doctor Who, Warehouse 13 and Jack the Ripper. 

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a world of fantasy that exists within our world, I highly recommend it.

Here are some Steampunk groups I found in case you were interested in checking it out: