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Phoenix Arizona: Hot Air Balloons, Native American Heritage, and Musical Instruments

Phoenix, Arizona, encompasses mind, body and spirit from the essence of the Sonoran Desert to stimulating outdoor activities, entertainment, arts, culture, relaxation and inspired cuisine. The city offers travelers a full agenda of exciting and fun opportunities year round.

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Hot Air Ballooning

An early morning sunrise peeks over the hills in North Phoenix, as several brightly colored hot air balloons begin their ascension. One by one, the balloons drift silently through the blue sky, while passengers standing in their baskets gaze with wonder at the beauty and vastness of the Sonoran Desert spread beneath them.

Have you ever watched hot air balloons on TV or from afar and wished you were up there gliding over picturesque hillsides, mountains and valleys? Hot Air Expeditions, located in Phoenix, will take you on an amazing ride over the Sonoran Desert at either sunrise or sunset. Guests can choose a pickup at their hotel by the company's shuttle; or you can meet up at the Deer Valley Airport for a drive to the launch site.

Once you arrive, the excitement starts with the balloons filling and expanding to rise in the air; they are colorful and enormous. When you're in the balloon basket with the captain and a few other guests, you start to ascend, barely noticing you're off the ground. It is so tranquil and quiet as you drift up to see an astonishingly beautiful view of the Hieroglyphic Mountain ranges, distant lakes, cities and the Sonoran Desert below. The fresh air, blue sky and soaring over scenic landscapes offer a freedom and inner serenity seldom felt in our harried world.

After landing, about an hour of air travel on a sunrise tour, be prepared to enjoy a flute of luscious champagne and a delicious breakfast; it is a custom that dates back over 100 years. In addition, you may want to ask for Captain Patrick Stevens; he is great fun to fly with and a seasoned pilot! Make sure to bring your camera/video to capture the amazing view and preserve the memory.

Heard Museum

The rich heritage of Phoenix's Native American culture and art is fascinating to explore. The best place to start is at the internationally celebrated Heard Museum, located on N. Central Avenue. In 1929, Dwight and Maie Bartlett Heard opened the museum with the goal of education about the culture, heritage, arts and ways of life of the American Indian tribes of the Southwest. Unfortunately, Mr. Heard passed away a few months after the museum's opening, which left Maie to run the museum, as well as be the director, curator, custodian, lecturer and guide for more than 20 years. Initially, the museum consisted of one building and Maie lived next door. She would come to let visitors in when they rang the museum's bell.

The Heard Museum has expanded a great deal since the '50s with the addition of several added structures, collections and artifacts; it houses a significant collection of Native American art, as well as archives, an extensive research library, exhibit galleries, education center, auditorium, museum shop (exquisite handmade Native art) and bookstore.

Two of the permanent exhibits to experience that are particularly fascinating are the Hopi Katsina Dolls and the Boarding School Exhibit. The small, brightly painted wooden Katsina dolls were used for multiple purposes, such as teaching morals for children; and for babies to chew on so they would absorb the attribute of the specific supernatural spirit of the doll. Girls would receive two dolls a year during the solstices. The dolls range in complexity of design and some are just downright fearsome.

The Boarding School Experience exhibit displays and explores the first effort to Americanize Native Americans in the late 19th century. Although not easy to view at times, numerous photographs show the distress, sadness and bewilderment of Native American children that were first sent through the process. The exhibit continues with four generations of first-hand accounts, artifacts and memorabilia that portray the changing of Native American culture.

Musical Instrument Museum

Music is a part of almost everyone's life, yet how many of us know what some the instruments are, what they look like and where they originate? The remarkable Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix opened in 2010 with a massive collection of instruments from around the globe.

The cool modern MIM covers two floors that span 190,000 square feet. One of the smartest aspects of the MIM is the wireless headsets for visitors to wear throughout the museum. As you approach the various exhibits, the headsets lock onto the individual music and info for each display. Moreover, the MIM has a profusion of great lectures and programs based on themes for different genres and cultural events that extend to the awesome museum shop and the gourmet Cafe at MIM.

Make sure to visit the Cafe, as the made-from-scratch cuisine is excellent and changes every few days.

The first floor features several galleries with exhibits by themes, such as string instruments, ranging from cool electric guitars, to intricately handcrafted renaissance lutes. The Experience Gallery features an interactive experience for visitors and is especially enticing with numerous instruments for visitors to play. Among the instruments is an electric Theremin (the otherworldly sounds from '50s Sci Fi movies).

Upstairs, the museum instruments and exhibits are arranged by five major regions of the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, United States and Canada. The exhibits are located in different rooms but are connected and all flow into each other. Several of the regional displays present clips from the artists on flat screen TVs, as well as personal instruments and stage apparel, such as the famous Indie Phoenix rock the band the Gin Blossoms, legendary performer Alice Cooper and rock vocalist Stevie Nicks. Flat screens, located throughout the exhibits, present artists performing on instruments to demonstrate how they sound.

The MIM is a fantastic and fun museum with a great deal to see, experience and participate in year-round for all age groups. Make sure to check the museum's Performance Theater and website for a calendar of performances, events and great programs.

Chase Field in Phoenix: Baseball, soccer, football and basketball... and more

If you want to catch a major league baseball game while in Phoenix, head to Chase Field (seats 48,000 patrons) to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks take on another team and show them whose turf their playing on. Or, catch soccer, football and basketball depending on the season. Chase Field also hosts events, ranging from concerts to motor sports and trade shows.

The stadium is enormous (there is even a hot tub located in a rentable private box) and the excitement and crowd roars during a game is unbeatable; not to mention the aroma of savory hot dogs wafting in the air, a cold beer and a plethora of delicious fast food booths from which to choose.

Food, Restaurants, and Afternoon Tea

For many, afternoon tea is an event and the location, an important destination. The Ritz-Carlton is known throughout different countries to provide a sumptuous and experiential tea. And, the Ritz in Phoenix is no exception with their sublime traditional and English style Afternoon Tea, served on stunning blue Russian bone china in the beautiful Lobby Lounge.

The lounge presents timeless, traditional and modern decor with gorgeous Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers, soft rosy lighting and a chic, yet comfortable, atmosphere. The event is presided over by the incomparable Jeffery Hattrick, Afternoon Tea Maitre D', with an elegance and appeal that will charm any guest. Hattrick has a grand knowledge of tea, its flavor nuances and health benefits that he imparts during the course of the occasion. In addition, Hattrick and the Ritz's chefs evolved and created a unique and fabulous menu of tea and luscious fare pairings that he introduces as well. From a blackcurrant, chicken salad with bergamot sage cream in a spinach cornet and garnished with a sprig of dill; to a white chocolate mousse infused with hibiscus berry blend in a chocolate macaroon and Rose Melange tea. Guests will revel in this transcendental Afternoon Tea.

Phoenix's prominent restaurant scene is burgeoning with the rejuvenation of the city's downtown and growth in outlaying towns that vie for culinary fusions and healthy cuisine. Here are a few top recommendations for your list:
True Food Kitchen, located on E. Camelback Road, offers delicious certified organically farmed and sustainable menu items based on Dr. Andrew Weil's Anti-inflammatory Diet & Food Pyramid.
The Blue Hound Kitchen, located downtown on E. Jefferson in Phoenix, features contemporary American cuisine in a modern and trendy lounge setting (try the brick oven flatbreads).
Cask 63, located in Scottsdale, features an elegant modern, but almost glam-'50s decor and amazing menu offerings, from savory lamb chops to Scottish King Salmon.

Hotels and Resorts

Arizona excels in resort accommodations and offers a comprehensive variety to suite almost every style and taste.

Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

For visitors who love to golf, shop, indulge in spa treatments or enjoy a pool day replete with cabana, make a booking with the impressive Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. The four-diamond resort opened in 2002 and has gained in popularity with incredible onsite restaurants (Deseo is a must!), a 27-hole golf course, their famous Heavenly Bed, elegant but comfortable decor and unparalleled service. In the evening, the resort is renowned for the Scottish Pipes At Sunset Series, that features Michael McClanathan performing nightly. The Arizona sunset and the sound of distant bagpipes makes for a lovely evening stroll or just sitting and enjoying the Westin Kierland's scenic landscaped grounds. The resort is perfect for families, couples and business travelers; with its spacious grounds, you can enjoy solitude or a bevy of activity and nightlife. In addition, ask about the resort's events, activities schedule and programs, such as healthy cooking classes located within the spa building.

Arizona Biltmore

The renowned Arizona Biltmore opened in 1929 and is known as the "Jewel of the Desert." The magnificent design of the Biltmore was created by architect Albert Chase McArthur, who served as an apprentice draftsman to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired style of the Biltmore attracted Hollywood stars (Marylyn Monroe) to numerous American Presidents who have stayed at the glamorous hotel lending a mystic air and legendary elan.

The Biltmore is an oasis of luxury with ornate-tiled pools and gardens accented with unique sprite statues situated throughout the gorgeous property. Stroll around the Biltmore and you'll find fashion and specialty shops that line outdoor corridors, a full-service spa salon, and two 18-hole championship golf courses, plus a putting course. If you're in need of sustenance, The Biltmore's restaurants provide an amazing array of cuisine to tempt you. On Sundays, their celebrated brunch is served in the fine dining restaurant, Wright's. Be prepared for a scrumptious and outstandingly large selection of gourmet dishes, from petite Eggs Benedict to over 30 different alluring desserts. Or, for dinner, visit Frank and Albert's; the restaurant has been voted one of Phoenix's best.

In the evening, find one of the small bars and order a drink created at the Biltmore, the Tequila Sunrise. Sit in one of the quiet corners with comfy chairs and just chat, or wander about the main hotel and admire the decor, art and photographs. It's a perfect time to explore and get a feel for the legendary history of the hotel.

If you wish something special, book a stay in the Ocatilla building at the Biltmore. The Ocatilla is considered a boutique hotel within the hotel. With elite guest services, luxuriously appointed rooms, a private pool, executive lounge and personal concierge, the Ocatilla is simply luxury at its best.

The Biltmore is much more than a hotel; it's fascinating history, it's a place that captivates and surprises you; it's a destination you will never forget.

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Patrice RapleePatrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Travel-Excursion

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 9, 2016

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