Day 1: My parents picked me up from the Phoenix airport, and we headed straight to Scottsdale for dinner. We ate at Distrito, Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant. Eating our spicy southwestern food on the patio might not have been the best idea, though. It was our first day adjusting to the 106 degree weather!

Day 2: We woke up at sunrise to climb Camelback Mountain. Mountain hiking quickly became my new preferred method of exercise. (Hello, where can I find a mountain in Cleveland?!)

Hiking Camelback Mountain at sunrise 

View of Superstition Rock and Phoenix valley

My mom spotted MacAlpine’s soda fountain and vintage shop. She introduced me to the amazingness of ice cream sodas. While she stuck to the classic (chocolate soda, vanilla ice cream), I opted for butter pecan ice cream with butterscotch soda. We capped the evening with dinner at 5th and Wine, a soul food restaurant. Hello mac ‘n’ cheese and juicy bison burger!

MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain

Day 3: Another sunrise hike, but this time at Squaw Peak—and it was the first time I ever hiked to the top of a mountain! I’d rather climb a mountain twice than have to descend from the steep peak. Yikes!

From the top of Squaw Peak

My mom, the refined foodie in our family, finally succeeded in her search for authentic mom and pop Mexican food. El Rinconcito was a real hole-in-the-wall place, run by a family, and all the other clientele were Mexican. Our tummies stuffed, we stopped by the historic Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, for a night cap.

Huaracha with carne asada 

Arizona Biltmore, gorgeous art deco architecture and design

Day 4: We took a short, fairly flat hike to Superstition Rock so we could get on the road to Flagstaff. My mom was devastated to realize her favorite restaurant in Flagstaff, Brix, was not open for lunch. Flagstaff has a lot of great historic buildings that we were able to explore… and we walked along the famous Route 66!

Historic Route 66 in Flagstaff

Only we could attract rain in Arizona, so we hit the road to Sedona as the rain clouds rumbled toward us. The winding, mountain roads were fabulously draped in fog, but the ceaseless rain in Sedona dampened my mood. At least mom was happy, chatting away with the wine connoisseurs at Page Springs Vineyard after our wine tasting session.

Winding roads along mountains shrouded in fog 


Lucille Ball’s house in Sedona 


Page Springs Vineyard

Day 5: Another fairly flat (and endless and hot) hike, this time at the base of South Mountain. We stopped by the soda fountain again (this time I got the Marilyn Monroe—peach soda and cake batter ice cream) before cooling off in the air conditioning at the Phoenix Art Museum.

One exhibit was especially amazing and blew us all away. Yayoi Kusama made You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies. The description says, “Kusama has used a variety of media to create seemingly infinite spaces that explore the themes of self-loss. Here, she uses computer-controlled LED lights in a mirrored room.” Pictures can’t do this justice, but see the galaxy-like image below.

We opted for Southwestern cuisine for my last meal in Arizona, and El Chorro was a marvelous choice. As we ate, I enjoyed the warm air (our bodies must have adjusted, because it was still over 100 degrees!) and watched the sunset reflect its orange glow against the red rocks.

Paradise Valley

Day 6: My plane took off at 6 a.m. heading west. As we banked to the right, I had the perfect view of the neon orange sun rising over the mountains and the Phoenix valley that was slowly shrinking below me. Landing and taking off in Chicago, I had a fabulous view of the hazy skyline. Finally, we flew into Cleveland from the north, so I was able to see the Cleveland skyline from a rare angle.

Chicago skyline