Jim Hoffman 2005, ANaturalSight.com

Having survived the mayhem of Christmas and the endless barrage of holiday music that started at Thanksgiving and getting past the New Years hangover it was time to get outta Dodge. Gloomy northeast February seemed perfect.

Arizona is rich in scenery and surprise for the visitor. A week is my recommended amount of time to explore some of what Arizona has to delight you.

Arriving at Sky Harbor in Phoenix be prepared for a long walk to the baggage claim and rental car area. If you are handicapped ask your flight attendant to arrange transportation for you, upon exiting the aircraft you will find a wheelchair and someone to take you to the baggage claim. Everyone that assisted me was prompt, friendly and informative.

If you are renting a car, talk to your automobile insurance company before leaving home. Some companies cover you if you are driving someone else’s car. If you are not covered and you buy insurance at the rental car counter, be prepared for sticker shock. One rental company quoted me a price of $39.00 per day for their insurance.

If you are traveling alone or do not have a navigator to read a map I highly suggest a car with a GPS system such as the Hertz Never Lost system. If you have internet access use a mapping and direction site such as Mapquest. Print out your maps and directions, I keep them handy during a trip so I can pull over and check them when I need to. A good sense of North, South, East and West is extremely helpful as most if not all major roads and highways run in these directions.

Phoenix is flat and the roads run straight and long. I found most intersections were clearly marked. Arizona drivers are courteous and not prone to believe they are either race car or demolition derby drivers. It took a day to become more relaxed and get used to the easier pace of driving here. However once I became acclimated I found getting around enjoyable and fairly easy.

Phoenix and the surrounding cities cover a large expansive area with much open space interspaced. Watch for wildlife in these areas, I saw a coyote strolling along the roadway in Scottsdale. It rains sometimes in February and most rain comes in downpours. Arizona does not appear to believe in gutters, storm drains or culverts. This causes dips in the road to flood, washing sand and gravel onto the road but these areas are clearly marked with flooding signage.

Speed limits on most roads around the city are 45 to 55 MPH. The Freeways are 65 MPH around the cities but increase to 75 MPH once you are out of town. You need to watch for these speeds to change though as there are some mountainous areas with 6% grades and speeds are reduced to 55 MPH in these areas.

The 101 Freeway goes around Phoenix like an inverted U with Interstate 10 going across the south side of town connecting the legs of the U. Of all the large cities I have driven in I found Phoenix to be the easiest by far. I did get confused when I asked for directions, residents there will tell you to continue on road XYZ south until you see company ABC on a southwest corner then go southeast etc, etc. No one said go 6 blocks and turn left on MNO Street. However everyone I met was friendly and tried to be as helpful as they could.

Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers, everyone does it and you can pick up some excellent tips on restaurants, etc. Once they find out your from out of town they seem to genuinely want you to enjoy yourself. Usually after the first words were out of my mouth they knew I was a visitor. You will not meet many native Arizonians; most residents are transplants and truly want you to love their adopted state.

The weather in February is changeable. I found evenings and mornings cool with temperatures in the mid 40s and rising to the mid 60s during the day. It was anywhere from just breezy to downright windy during my stay. Bring sweatshirts, especially ones with hoods, and a warm jacket. This is not t-shirt, tank top and shorts weather. Yes this is the desert, but it is winter! Still among the many verities of cactus you will find some flowering plants.

Photograph by Jim Hoffman, ANaturalSight.com

Trees in Phoenix seemed more like large bushes to me, of course coming from the northeast I think of trees like oaks and maples.

BRING YOUR CAMERA! There is so much to photograph on the trip. Sunsets are always spectacular no matter where you are at the time.

Photograph by Jim Hoffman, ANaturalSight.com

I would purchase my film when I got to Phoenix. That way you do not have to ask for a hand search at airport security. There are also numerous 1 hour photo developers throughout the area so you can get your shots developed before leaving for home. I always look for one that uses Kodak paper as I have found it gives me the best print results. These developers will also provide you with your images on CD. If you are a Digital shooter many of these places can print right from your memory stick or card.

I suggest you purchase lots of film upon arrival; you might want extra memory for your digital. If you want to, you can also purchase some one time use cameras when you arrive if you do not want to haul your own. I have gotten some very excellent shots with them when I found myself somewhere without my own. Here I also prefer the ones manufactured by Kodak.

The air is very clear and you can see for long distances, so you will find many great landscapes. With this clear air I found I only needed a polarizer, and it is a filter I recommend if your camera will accept one. During mid day the sun is rather harsh, but photographing in canyons and mountains at anytime of day is fantastic as the play of colors and shadows are constantly changing.

Since I wanted my cameras and lenses with me and they weigh a bit, I mailed them ahead using the US Postal service’s Express Mail with 3 day delivery. Fantastic, when I arrived there they were awaiting me and I didn’t have to schlep them along with a suitcase and carryon bag thru the airport.

Well now that we are prepared and have arrived, LETS HIT THE ROAD!



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