Travelogue | Phoenix

Phoenix is beautiful at night. 

The sky doesn’t ever seem to really get pitch-black, but a deep, smoky navy, with a matte-like texture. In some neighborhoods, the stars peek through (which came as a surprise to me, considering the smog that hangs over the downtown in the day)

The palm trees are black, though, at night—silhouettes standing tall against that navy sky. They hover above neighborhoods, straight streets that are silent and still, illuminated by round streetlights casting a dim white glow. Driving on the main streets, crowded with strip-malls and garish, neon signs, you catch glimpses of these little oases—just a glimpse though, never long enough. 

In day, it is hot, even in March. The streets and avenues seem endless, stretching as far as the eye can see, interrupted by streetlights—and they are framed by yellow and fuschia bushes, cacti and dusty sand. 

It’s important to describe the roads, because, in Phoenix, they are a lifeline. This is not a walkable city. You get in your car, and you crank up the air conditioning, and you drive, drive, drive. It’s a sprawling, seemingly endless mass of neighborhoods, all laid out on a neat grid. Main streets provide the front for these neighborhoods, indistinguishable to a New Englander like me who was raised on three centuries of architectural styles and urban planning that resembles a bowl of spaghetti dropped on the floor. 

Phoenix made me want to paint. I wanted to understand it, because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around any of it. Its hugeness. Its gated communities. Its “waterfront” (a canal, guys. not “waterfront”). Its propensity for massive, clunky stucco sort of structures—new condos and apartment complexes and houses. 

I didn’t like the flashy Phoenix, the stuff I mentioned above. But I liked the dusty neighborhoods I kept getting a glance of, and the rust colored craggy mountains, and the cacti everywhere. Those fiercely magenta, so richly colored, flower bushes blooming everywhere and anywhere. The tiny, hole in the wall Mexican joints.The center of the city that was almost wide-open, with its spread apart baby skyscrapers and conference centers. 

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My grandmother hums a lot. It’s something I’ve never noticed, but after two days of staying with her, it’s a constant—and I like it. We pass the time quietly at her apartment, reading and spending lazy mornings on the patio, with muffins and coffee and the morning paper.  I sleep—a lot, and well—and even muster up the motivation to go on (gasp!) two runs. 

In the afternoons, we go out and explore the city, as she shows me her “paradise”—the Desert Botanical Gardens, with a display of spectacular LED lights once the sun disappears behind a craggly hill; a flat-ish trail through the scrubby desert landscape, the sun beating down; a contemporary-looking art museum with mottled paintings of Native Americans. There’s food, restaurants ranging from french breakfast bistros to an All-American, old fashioned diner with a soda fountain—and in between these little adventures are trips to CVS, or the supermarket, or Costco, or the doctor’s office, all very normal things that balance out the “vacation aspect.” I visit my family, who I haven’t seen since my senior year of high school, and I visit my best friend Alysha, who goes to college in the city, on a campus that looks (to me) like a resort. 

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The time comes to go home, and I pack up my things and sail through security, spending two hours writing on my laptop (some of these words included) in the terminal. When we lift-off from Phoenix, the streets are alight, the grid like a patchwork quilt, the highways like stray threads, fading slowly off into the desert. It’s one of the most quietly spectacular things I’ve ever seen. 

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