Around Arizona Attractions Chandler Arizona

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

Around Arizona

Van Dickson Ranch: Event venue and polo club

Skull Valley Polo Club action at Van Dickson Ranch (photo courtesy of Carolyn Harris)

To see horses in rural Arizona surely is no surprise. But polo ponies? I’d have never guessed this small ranching community located 20 miles southwest of Prescott would be the home of the Skull Valley Polo Club.

Indeed, the Van Dickson Ranch, owned by C. Paul and Carolyn Harris, is the site for polo lessons, scrimmages, matches and tournaments of the Skull Valley Polo Club. Carolyn explained they are not the first owners of this ranch to keep polo ponies. The ranch’s original owner, John “Van” Dickson, raised horses in the early 1900s. Not only was Van Dickson a rancher; he was also known as a world class rodeo champion and a friend of early film cowboy Tom Mix. According to Carolyn, Van Dickson raised and trained polo ponies which were leased to famous cowboy-humorist-polo lover Will Rogers.

Skull Valley Polo Club at Van Dickson Ranch offers lessons and hosts tournaments from spring until early fall. It also provides a casual polo environment for seniors who want to keep playing, amateurs who like to play for fun, and even professionals who want a field for a relaxing game or to train new ponies.  In addition, the high country polo field gives polo players from the Valley an option for summertime participation.  The club was featured in the January 2011 issue of Polo Players’ Edition, a national polo sports magazine, and more recently in the local media — on the Prescott Daily Courier’s website.

But Van Dickson Ranch is known for more than the site of Skull Valley Polo Club. It has also become a popular venue for weddings, retreats, large parties and family reunions. The 600 by 250-foot polo field transforms into a event site with large tents, white-cloth covered tables, and food service. The Harris’s back yard — a tree-lined, green-grass grove makes a close-to-nature setting for outdoor western-themed weddings. On some summer Saturdays a polo match may occupy the field at morning then it’s prepped for a wedding reception in the afternoon or evening. The Harrises are also able to offer full catering services. As former Texans, they probably know how to put on a pretty good barbecue.

We made a visit to Van Dickson Ranch earlier this month. On our visit, the ranch house was surrounded by cottonwood, oak and walnut trees, still decked in fall foliage. It was a perfect picture of Arizona in autumn. Van Dickson Ranch really is a versatile venue — for a western-style wedding or a polo tournament. To Paul and Carolyn Harris, it’s also “home.”

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Just to get a feel for what it’s like to play polo at Skull Valley, watch this fascinating “view from the saddle” video.

Recent wedding ceremony at Van Dickson Ranch (photo courtesy of Carolyn Harris)

Fall colors still on display in November at Van Dickson Ranch ( photo)

Horses take time out on a chilly Saturday at Skull Valley Polo Club ( photo)

Van Dickson Ranch's regular visitor (Tom the Turkey) inspects the wedding seating arrangement (photo courtesy of Carolyn Harris)

"Front yard" at Van Dickson Ranch is both polo field and wedding venue (photo courtesy of Carolyn Harris)


Sunnylands: historic estate and gardens in Southern California

Slow down the pace at Sunnylands gardens


Often called “the West Coast Camp David,” Sunnylands, the estate of billionaire Walter and Leonore Annenberg, should be on every Southern California visitor’s list of ‘things to see.’ Open to the public as of March 2012, it has quickly become one of Rancho Mirage’s most popular attractions. The 200-acre property encompasses a desert botanical garden, a visitors center with art gallery, gift shop, café and the 25,000 sq. ft. historic home.

From the mid 1960s until Mrs. Annenberg’s death in 2009, Sunnylands was a private home. Walter, who died in 2002, made his millions in the publishing industry, and later became an ambassador to the United Kingdom. He and his wife hosted Hollywood celebrities, several U.S. presidents and foreign diplomats at their desert modernist home, designed in the 1960s by architect A. Quincy Jones. Even today, Sunnylands continues to be the site of many political retreats and diplomatic summits. A recent one brought politicians and government officials to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations.

Now the public may tour the home on a limited basis. Tickets are only released on the first and 15th of each month except July 15 and August 1st at a cost of $35 per person. Because tickets sell out quickly, and well in advance, we weren’t able to tour the home on our visit, but we did have the chance to see the gardens and visitors center. These are open without a charge. Hours are Thursdays through Sundays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A bright, spacious lobby area greets guests as they enter the visitors center. It’s evident in the lobby, a fusion of sunlight and building materials was carefully mapped out by architects. They followed the vision by the Annenbergs who sought to allow as much sunlight as much as possible throughout their home. This has extended to the design of the visitors center.

Late fall blossoms at SunnylandsAt Sunnylands, the use of sunlight comprises so much more than simple daylight or sunshine. Architects were clearly ‘leading edge’ with their innovative use of sustainability practices, eco-friendly design and construction. Sunlight becomes an artistic medium for aesthetic expression.

Arizonans who make the three to four hour drive to Sunnylands from Arizona for either a long day trip or as part of a weekend getaway to the Palm Springs-Coachella Valley area, should allow extra time to walk the well-planned and manicured gardens. Those who are frequent visitors at Desert Botanical Gardens and Boyce Thompson Arboretum already know this: you don’t want to zip along through these nature paths. That’s why there are so many benches — to stop and take it all in. And there are a multitude of images to absorb at every turn.

After a tour of the gardens, peruse the lobby with its wide spans of plate glass. I recommend watching the two short videos describing the Annenbergs’ lives, their vision for their estate and their legacy. It’s fascinating to learn how the house design and construction evolved. What’s most notable about the Annenbergs is not their home or their beautiful property — it’s their efforts in philanthropy. The Annenbergs, through the Annenberg Foundation, have made very generous gifts in the areas of education, arts and healthcare. Plus, their vision to establish their estate as a site for stabilizing international relations continues.

Sunnylands visitors will see a sampling of the Annenberg’s art collections in the center galleries. Many famous artists from a variety of periods are represented. Consider ending a visit to Sunnylands with a browse through the gift shop or a relaxing lunch at the café’s outdoor patio.

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Galleries display silver-gilt dinnerware from the Annenbergs' collection

Sunnylands gardens and visitors center

Interactive, educational gallery exhibits

Sunnylands visitors center


San Jacinto Mountains provide a nice backdrop for Sunnylands gardens



Attractions Getaways

10 favorite images of Costa Rica

Of all things to see in Costa Rica, we’ve chosen 10 favorites. These are only ten images out of hundreds we photographed while vacationing in Jaco, Quepos and La Fortuna. These ten photos prompt the most memorable experiences from this beautiful, tropical Central American country. And we can’t wait to go back for more…

1. Black Ctenosaur explores the gardens at Casa de Mariposas, Jaco

2. Infinity pool, gardens and view of Arenal Volcano at Arenal Lodge, La Fortuna

3. Blue and Yellow Macaws near Arenal Lodge, La Fortuna

4. Crested Guan outside our suite at Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, La Fortuna

5. La Paz Waterfall Gardens

6. Blue morpho butterfly feasts on bananas at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

7. American crocodiles bask in the sun at Rio Tarcoles Bridge

8. Dark sand on Jaco Beach, near Club del Mar Resort

9.White, fine sand beach at Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos

10. Red ginger blossoms at Tabacon Resort

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