Music Instrument Museum deserves (at least one) encore appearance

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum's main staircase foyer

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum’s main staircase foyer

 

"Electric acoustic" guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

“Electric acoustic” guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

 

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

The Music Instrument Museum is “number one” among Phoenix area museum attractions on Tripadvisor.com. In December I had the opportunity to find out why. It’s like a Disneyland for music lovers; one could easily spend the entire day here, and still wanting more.  I suppose if you absolutely hate music, maybe one day is enough.  It’s not merely a museum for old folk instruments; and it’s certainly not just all about music. It’s more about global cultures and all forms of expression, communication – the total human experience. During our recent visit, I immediately began making notes how my next visit could be enhanced. Here are some things to know before you go:

1. Go early. Naturally if you haven’t been to the MIM yet, you’ll just have to trust me: Time will pass very quickly. I’d recommend getting there soon after the 9 a.m. opening and be prepared to spend a good chunk of the day.  We arrived shortly after 10 a.m. on a Monday morning and before we realized what was happening, we had already spent three hours and we were still in the first geographic exhibit room.

2. Visit on a weekday. One drawback about visiting the MIM when schools are in session is you may be competing with field trip tours for quality listening space. You may want to steer clear of the school groups as you move about the exhibits. However, on the day we visited, the loud school groups were gone by lunchtime and we virtually had the entire second floor to ourselves. I found this advantageous for taking photos (non-flash) of the exhibits or spending extra time listening to various recordings. If a large family or school group is concentrated on one exhibit, simply move to another then circle back later.

3. Consider bringing your own wireless headphones. I didn’t really have any problems with the headphones given to me at the counter, but I had wished I had a pair to better cancel out extraneous, external noise. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find the “hotspot” of the streaming music at particular exhibits, and several times I was picking up streams from other nearby exhibits.  I thought it may be a better listening experience to have premium equipment. But of course, the experience is only as good as the recording, in most cases.

4. Have lunch in the cafeteria. This is a special treat in itself. Much of the menu comes from local farms and food sources.  Don’t miss this! Plan to take a leisurely lunch break and enjoy farm fresh and deliciously prepared menu items. Even the beer and wine are local. Kick back and enjoy the bright and airy lunchroom. You will need a lengthy lunch break to give your eyes, ears and feet a well-deserved rest.  Portions are fairly large: we split a sandwich, salad and dessert.

5. Plan your self-guided tour.  Next time we’ll know this: map out your route around the rooms before embarking the exhibition expedition. Each of the geographic galleries has its own merit. Because we started chronologically through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, by the time we got to America, we were already tired and hungry.  On our next visit, I think we’ll start in Europe and North America with popular, contemporary music, then work our way back through time.

6. Don’t miss the special galleries. No matter where you start your tour of MIM, don’t forget the first floor galleries, including a “hands-on” experience gallery where you can pound on drums and pluck harp strings; a rotating gallery featuring a famous musical artist’s life and work; and a special exhibition gallery for traveling exhibits.

7. Watch instruments being restored and preserved. In the conservation lab, visitors can watch through a window as technicians preserve, restore and repair instruments for display.

8. Check the concert calendar. Because we visited during the Christmas season, the calendar included holiday music. These evening and matinee performances are fee extra, but well worth consideration. For example, Grammy winning composer-songwriter Jimmy Webb is in the house this week.

9. Consider leaving the toddlers at Grandma’s house. Although there are several instruments children can try playing in the Experience Gallery, most exhibits would simply not appeal to children younger than elementary reading age. I think most toddlers would simply be bored by visiting MIM. I’d recommend bringing them along when they are old enough to appreciate the listening and learning about music.

10. Know at least one more visit is required. Even after six hours, we still didn’t see it all, but we acknowledged that with the traveling and rotating exhibits, some instruments being repaired, there was no possible way to see everything. Just knowing that the geographical galleries were still being filled and expanded prompted us to anticipate our next visit to the Music Instrument Museum.  There’s so much happening here, you’ll want to sign up for its newsletter and announcements, or even consider becoming a donor or volunteer.

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Arizona road trip to historic Skull Valley

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Whenever I’d return from a trip to Prescott, friends frequently would remark: “Have you ever gone up the back way? It’s a nice drive up the back way.”

I had no idea what they meant. Which ‘back way?’ There are possibly dozens of ‘back ways’ to Prescott when you consider all the forest service roads, county and state highways and US routes. I’m guessing they mean the ‘front way’ must be the Interstate 17-to-State-Route-69 way, and any alternate route would be the ‘back way.’

For me the back way to Prescott usually was described in two different routes: Route 89 from Wickenburg to Prescott or through Crown King using Senator Highway. The latter  would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

While I was scanning the map looking for other possible ‘back ways’ into Prescott, I found Skull Valley on the map. I’d seen this dot on the state map before but didn’t know about the access or anything about the community. Many times these dots are merely highway junctions with a few houses and cluster of post office boxes.

Our drive to Skull Valley was a gorgeous road trip on this sunny, but a bit blustery Saturday. All roads along this route are paved, but the roadway from Skull Valley to Prescott (Iron Springs Road) currently is under construction. December through March may not the best time to be traveling up the hill to the northwest side of Prescott because of possible snow storms and icy roads. Please check local conditions.

However, if you make the trip, when you arrive at Skull Valley, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. The center of this community is an intersection: a general store on one corner, a working ‘fillin’ station on another corner, and a hometown diner just across the tracks.

Just steps away from the intersection of Old Skull Valley Road and Iron Springs Road is the Skull Valley Depot, now a museum maintained by the Skull Valley Historical Society.  June through Labor Day, the museum is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.  Tours can be arranged by appointment by contacting curator Ida Downing.

The depot building itself was constructed at Cherry Creek near Dewey until 1926 when it was moved to Skull Valley. Trains moved through Skull Valley from 1894 to 1969. It was an important Santa Fe station in Skull Valley, because here the trains had to add engines otherwise they wouldn’t have made it up the steep mountain grade to Iron Springs and on to Prescott. The depot museum exhibits feature antique train and railroad equipment, agricultural tools and other items donated by longtime Skull Valley residents. Adjacent to the depot is the Railroad Section House, where the railway section boss lived. Here, visitors can view more Skull Valley history on display such as a wooden wringer washer, a 1920s kitchen stove and an antique pedal pump organ.

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

We worked up quite an appetite touring the depot museum and section house so we stopped in at the Skull Valley Diner for lunch. Because we had our collie Molly with us, we dined alfresco. By this time the winds had kicked up and the temperature had dropped – quickly. Hot soup, coffee and a cheeseburger never tasted so good.

After lunch we wanted to take a closer look inside the Skull Valley General Store. This place is the real deal. We were impressed to see wood floors, “penny” candy behind the counter, several huge antique glass display cases full of convenience items plus a wood stove crackling away in front of a checkerboard table.  On the walls hung signs for fresh bread, eggs, and other locally made goodies. A large homemade quilt hung on supports, possibly a leftover from the Skull Valley Pie, Ice Cream Social and Quilt Show in October. Plan to spend some browsing time in the general store. Shop for books about cowboys and horse ranching or pick up a souvenir Skull Valley cap.

Another notable feature about Skull Valley is its gas station and garage. On many of our trips along Arizona’s back roads and old highways, we often have encountered some old-style gas stations but the pumps have either been neglected or removed. It’s nice to see folks in Skull Valley have maintained or restored parts of this historic community, whether it’s in the form of a gas station, general store, diner or train depot museum. Skull Valley is a great change of scenery from urban traffic jams and suburban sprawl.

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Read more about the Depot Museum and how Skull Valley got its name.

Next week: a tour of the George Phippen memorial studio and gallery

Skull Valley Diner

Skull Valley Diner

 

Back way to Prescott through Skull Valley

‘Back way’ to Prescott through Skull Valley

Skull Valley General Store

Skull Valley General Store

You can still 'fill 'er up' at Skull Valley Garage

You can still ‘fill ‘er up’ at Skull Valley Garage

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Mall shopping in Chandler? Stop by city’s historic home

Fountain at Chandler's McCullough-Price House

If you’re shopping at or near Chandler Fashion Center this holiday season, you may want to take a break from the busy stores and stop by the McCullough-Price House, one of Chandler’s historic homes.

Now a museum, the McCullough-Price House may offer a calm change of pace for the hurried holiday shopping scene. Huge shade trees surround the home, originally built for Michigan winter visitor William D. McCullough. The house was owned by the Price family from 1950 to 2001 at which time it was donated to the City of Chandler. It was opened as a museum in 2007.

Your out-of-town holiday visitors will enjoy learning about Chandler’s history at the home, which now houses archives of official documents, digitized images of The Chandler Arizonan newspaper, many photos and family records. The archives are made available for research on an appointment basis. Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. visitors may stroll through the interior rooms, examining the displays and spend some quiet time around the the lush, park-like grounds. You’d never know this little corner of history and serene surroundings is immediately adjacent one of Arizona’s largest shopping districts.

Front door designs copy the motifs from Native America petroglyphsThe most interesting item on the property is the house itself. Built in 1938 in the pueblo-revival style of architecture, the house has many fascinating design features. The front door frame is made from granite with petroglyph replicas. Like the front door, the garage doors on the north side of the house have a geometric design in wood, in an Art Deco style. I found it interesting that a house built in 1938 would have a three-car garage, although the ‘garage doors’ have been permanently sealed. The center door has been remodeled into an alternate exit. Massive interior and exterior beams, large square columns and plaster are defining elements of this popular style of Southwest-style architecture. Some of the house’s features, such as the light fixtures, were added recently as part of the renovation, but are still noteworthy. These were reconstructed from the original plans.

Best advantages about visiting Price-McCullough House in between mall shopping trips? Located at 300 South Chandler Village Drive, it’s literally right next to Chandler Fashion Center. There are no waiting lines. And it’s easy on the wallet — free!

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Three-entry garage on north side of McCullough-Price House

Front door shows Art Deco and pueblo revival style popular during the 1930s

Banners tell the history of Chandler's cotton farming

Pueblo revival style ceiling beams and lighting

Ornate vase on display at McCullough-Price House

Besh Ba Gowah: park visitor tips, random facts

During its days of population, Besh Ba Gowah, an archeological park in Globe, had about 400 rooms. It’s impossible to get an accurate number of rooms because excavation during the 1940s may have bulldozed perimeter areas of the original settlement. No results were published after a five-year excavation project during the 1930s because of the director’s untimely death.

Polychrome pottery can be seen at the museum

Salado Indians who inhabited Besh Ba Gowah (approximately 1150 to 1430) were master potters and used a method known as polychrome – adding black, red and white paint and dyes to create colorful geometric shapes on the earthenware. Interestingly, the Salado had other distinctions such as burying the dead (as opposed to cremating), using advanced irrigation techniques and building their homes from the ground up using masonry-type construction with rocks and boulders. Salado Indians may have been a mixed culture of Hohokam and other regional ancient communities. From the jewelry and artifacts found at the Besh Ba Gowah site, it appears that the Salado were traders; trading networks may have extended to the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.

Besh Ba Gowah is actually an Apache term, used much later to describe the settlement as a “place of metals,” probably referring to nearby mining activity of the 1800s.

Climb up to the second level rooms

Visitors can climb up to the rooftops of some of the buildings. On the second level, you will be able to get a better idea of the massive size and layout of the settlement.

Note varying sizes of entrances such as the wall crawlspace at far right

Noteworthy are the varying sizes of the doorways and the long, once-covered corridors which connect outer sections of the pueblo to a central, open plaza area. These building features may have been built to defend their community. Intruders could have been more easily fought off if they had to crawl through a small “doggy” door or climb up to a second floor level.

Barrel cacti in bloom at Besh Ba Gowah's ethnobotantical garden

Don’t miss a walk through the ethnobotanical and adjacent botanical gardens with a large display of cacti and other desert flora. Learn how the Salado Indians used these plants for both food and clothing. According to its website, the city park accepts unwanted desert plants from area homeowners.

If you’re a first time visitor, I recommend taking time to view the 14-minute video before you stroll through the ruins. It will give you a brief overview of the Salado Indians, their anthropological and archeological history and restoration. For me, it allows a greater appreciation of ruins and museum.

Spend a few minutes in gift shop after your tour.  In addition to the usual Arizona tourist gifts, the shop carries a wide selection of interesting souvenirs plus artwork by local artists.

Besh Ba Gowah Archeological Park is located at 1324 S. Jesse Hayes Road. Admission is $5. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Wait a minute! Somebody's still living here!

Further reading about the Salado culture:

The Salado: A Crossroads in Cultures

Besh Ba Gowah by James Q. Jacobs

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Pinal County Historical Museum fascinates visitors

One of the many examples of early transportation at Florence's Pinal County Historical Museum

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial with a visit to the fascinating Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence. And I use the term, “fascinating” because at the museum, it could cover any one or more related words to captivate our interest: extensive, macabre, unique, bizarre, ornate, tragic, comprehensive, amazing, weird or unbelievable.

Impressive display of saguaro cactus wood furniture at the museum

Arizonans have long associated Florence with the Arizona State Prison, but the Pinal County seat has a lot more to offer visitors: Poston Butte, McFarland State Historic Park, a walking tour of interesting historic homes and commericial buildings, plus some decent Mexican food restaurants. Nevertheless, it makes sense that the Pinal County Historical Society maintains an extensive archive of rosters and items from the prison at its museum.

Mason & Hamlin pump organ is one of the musical instruments exhibited

Words such as macabre and bizarre are appropriate but loose synonyms for “fascinating” to describe the museum because of the prison’s collection. Visitors can view a two-seater gas chamber chair, nooses used for hanging with corresponding mug shots of those executed prisoners, and various other devices and artifacts used at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.

Feeding chair, stroller, play table and potty chair all in one! Fascinating?

Unique and amazing are words that could describe other exhibits including chairs, tables, lamp stands and magazine racks made either from cholla and saguaro cactus wood. These two words might also describe the huge regional collection of documents, letters, magazines and photographs from 100 years or more of Arizona history.

Ornate could be an adjective for any number of pieces in the museum such as the 1880’s carriage or the antique clothing of the same era. The wagons, saddles, rifle displays and barbed wire exhibits could be interpreted to be rather both extensive as well as amazing.

Two seater gas chamber chair -- very bizarre

Seeing items from the incarceration era of Winnie Ruth Judd, the “Trunk Murderess” of the 1930s, and reading the articles about Arizona’s most notorious female inmate, prompts these words to come into mind: weird and unbelievable.

We utter the words, tragic and bizarre with a sad head shake when we read about the life and terrible fate of Tom Mix, one of Hollywood’s 1930s cowboy movie stars. His life was cut short in 1940 following an automobile accident along state route 79. Memorabilia related to his life is on display at the museum.

But our list of “fascinating-encompassing” descriptors doesn’t stop there. In the rear yard of the museum building is an outdoor display of farm implements and machinery, a blacksmith shop, pioneer cabin and fire engines. The museum also houses a large collection of Indian pottery and blankets, as well as “old west” general store merchandise. Yep — comprehensive.

Lavish looking 1880s Brougham horse carriage

Pinal County Historical Society offers speaker’s programs monthly. Two are coming up: one on Feb. 11, a pictorial history of Arizona by Jim Turner and another on March 11, a program about Arizona’s Japanese-American Internment, given by Karen Leong. Both are at 2 p.m. My advice: tour the museum at 11 a.m. when it opens, enjoy a homestyle Mexican lunch at L & B Inn across the street before the program.

Readers: What are your favorite small towns of Arizona? Do you have any personal travel plans to commemorate Arizona’s Centennial?

Be a tourist in your town: Arizona Railway Museum

I’ve driven back and forth along Arizona Avenue and McQueen Road in Chandler for the last few years and never paid much attention to the small blue sign, pointing to the Arizona Railway Museum. Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to stop.

The Arizona Railway Museum, located at 330 East Ryan Road, comprises a collection of railroad cars and a museum building displaying a miscellany of memorabilia: tools, signs, photos, lanterns, timelines, an antique control center plus various parts and pieces of trains and rail systems — even samples from railroad company china cabinets. What caught my eye were the old photos of some of Arizona’s train stations, now long gone. A gift shop provides visitors with a wide selection of hats, shirts, mugs and toys. We spent a few minutes strolling around the museum, gaining a renewed appreciation for the era when rail transportation was both prevalent and popular.

But when we made our way outside to the tour the railway cars, I felt my heart beat faster. Simply walking between the cars prompted a childhood memory of a trip from Cleveland to Milwaukee on a pre-Amtrak passenger train. Memories of all those train sounds, sights and smells suddenly rushed to mind. When I was about 6 years old, I was more than a little apprehensive to climb up those steps to our seats. Last Saturday, I was eager to jump aboard.

At the Arizona Railway Museum, visitors can board several parked rail cars and walk between others onsite, some of which are in various stages of restoration. There are big mining company engines, shiny silver passenger cars, cabooses, locomotives, dining cars, sleepers and track maintenance vehicles. Train buffs and non-train enthusiasts alike, young or old, can spend an enjoyable afternoon at the museum, open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., September through May.

Volunteers work to restore cars and act as docents to help visitors by giving tours and assisting at the museum and gift shop. The museum has several fundraising events each year. According to Tour Director Holly Antosz, the museum’s most recent event, “Dinner in the Diner,” held each December, was so popular, it had to be expanded to a third evening. She said an additional “Dinner in the Diner” event on St. Patrick’s Day is in the works. On our visit we were informed another major event at the museum is National Train Day on May 12, when all cars will be open for viewing. National Train Day commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Arizona Railway Museum always welcomes new volunteers as well as visitors; contact information is on the website. A visit would be a great way to celebrate the upcoming city or state centennial.

Antique traffic control center

Schedule board from Chandler Station

Southwestern decor in one of the passenger cars

Dome allows for the ultimate in scenery viewing

Walk alongside the cars at Arizona Railway Museum

Museum highlight is the steam locomotive Southern Pacific 2562

At the end -- Santa Fe caboose

 

 

 

 

 

Tuzigoot tour: In the steps of the Sinagua people

"Step Back in Time - Visit Tuzigoot"

Sometimes when I visit a historical monument, I’m reminded of the adage: “to understand people, walk a mile in their shoes” (or moccasins, sandals). It’s a good way to get the most out of my visit – to imagine how life must have been during that era. I thought about that on my recent return to Tuzigoot National Monument. I gained a new appreciation for these hunter-gathering people who lived in the Verde Valley between 700 and 1400 AD. I considered myself walking that ‘mile’ – or even just a few steps.

 

 

Tuzigoot visitor center entrance has its own historical significance

1. Step Inside

 

Visit the Tuzigoot Museum and Visitor’s Center. I recommend seeing this before the ruins. Interpretive and interactive exhibits explain the story of the Sinagua people. Learn about the structures and the differences between these pueblos and other nearby ruin sites. Even the museum itself has an interesting story. If you’ve been to Tuzigoot before but haven’t been recently, know that the exhibits are continually being updated. Kids of any age will enjoy the Junior Ranger program.

 

View of the visitor center and limestone ridges in the distance

 

2. Step Out

 

It’s time to take a little walk up that path to the pueblo. The developed path from the parking lot to the pueblo seems easy enough. After all, it’s paved and even. Imagine if you lived 1000 years ago, and were walking up from the fields in the valley by the river, carrying a heavy load of corn or deer meat.

 

Originally the rooms of Tuzigoot were two levels

 

3. Step Around

 

Walk the circumference of the pueblo, which was originally two stories high throughout and comprised 110 rooms. Get the feel for the walls of clay and rock. Think about how long it must have taken to bring all these building materials to the top of this hill. Imagine spending nights in those small rooms!

 

Historians estimate Tuzigoot comprised 77 ground floor rooms

Walk through second story rooms on the way to the roof

 

 

4. Step Up

 

Climb the steps up to the rooftop, the highest point on the remaining second level of the pueblo. Here you will find what may be your most significant memory of your visit to Tuzigoot – the view! You can learn about this vantage point from the visitor center brochure, “A View from the Roof.” Gaze down at the Tavasci Marsh and Verde River where you will see how the vegetation transforms from wetlands to desert.

Excellent panoramic views gained from Tuzigoot's highest point

 

 

5. Step Down

 

Finally, walk the Tavasci Marsh loop, a half-mile round trip. It’s possible to see some of the 167 species of birds here or even the occasional desert river otter among the cattails. Before Europeans arrived in the 15th century, the marsh, river and Peck’s Lake provided lush, almost tropical surroundings. The name, “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water” and was coined in the 1920’s by Museum of Northern Arizona founder and archeologist Harold Colton. It almost seems like a misnomer since water was abundant. Perhaps the name was given as one theory to the group’s disappearance – maybe an extended period of drought? Other theories include: depletion of food sources, disease, conflicts with other cultures or spiritual reasons.

 

View of the "Citadel" from Tuzigoot Trail

 

 

6. Step Away

 

Whether you’re an Arizona newcomer, long-time resident or visitor, you’ll appreciate the step back in time with a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument.  You’ll leave the park with more knowledge about Arizona’s native cultures, natural history and most likely, a renewed appreciation for your modern existence.

Learn about the Sinagua at the visitor center