PHOENIX -- I have lived in Phoenix my whole life, nearly 40 years, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have visited the Desert Botanical Garden, and that is truly a shame.
My most recent visit was a little more than a week ago. Some friends were in town to crew for the Arizona Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. They only had a few spare hours to enjoy the Valley of the Sun, but being from New England and having just endured a vicious late-October storm, they wanted to go somewhere that could give them a good feel for our beautiful -- and comparitively warm -- state.
When David Rogers' Big Bugs exhibit opened at DBG in September, I wrote a short piece about it that I also shared on my Facebook page. My New England friends, Lauri and Matt, saw the post and were immediately intrigued.
It was karmic goodness that they came to Arizona while Rogers' ginormous bugs were here. While I probably would have taken them to the Desert Botanical Garden anyway, it being the epitome of the desert Southwest and generally being considered one of the top places to visit in Phoenix, I have to say the Big Bugs clinched it. We simply had to see them.
We spent a few of Lauri and Matt's precious free hours wandering through the garden, searching out the incredible larger-than-life bugs. It was fabulous -- a perfect morning.
It had been at least a decade since I visited the DBG, and sadly, I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Everywhere you turn, there is something wonderful to see.
It was delightful, and I don't use that word often, to rediscover it with people who had never seen it. And the Big Bugs are amazing, unaffectedly gorgeous in their detail.
The praying mantis greets visitors just inside the entrance. He's about 8 feet tall. I would not want to meet him in a dark alley, but under the bright Arizona sun looking up a blue sky streaked with high white clouds, he is a spectacular sight to behold.
Rogers created each piece with fallen or found woods, cut saplings, twigs, raw branches, twine, bark and other natural materials. The sculptures are range from 7 to 25 feet long and weigh 300 to a stunning 1,200 pounds. They are nothing short of astounding.
All of the sculptures seemed right at home at the DBG, nestled in among the garden's 50,000 permanent residents. While the setup for each bug is perfect, right down to the lady bug in the Steele Herb garden, I have to say the placement of the ants is brilliant. They're marching down the hill at the top of the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail. You see the topmost ant from a distance and when you come around the curve in the trail, the lead ant is waiting for you. It is beyond cool.
We weren't the only ones making the acquaintance of the praying mantis, the lady bug, the ants and their cohorts. There were a couple of groups of young children touring the DBG that morning, and they were as fun to watch as the rabbits, squirrels and quail that dart around the cafe where we had lunch. Let me tell, you, those rabbits, squirrels and quail put on an utterly entertaining show. It's not quite a Southwest version of the Tiki Room, but it's close. Just no singing.
The weather cooperated nicely for our morning meandering. My New England friends got such a kick out of eating outside at the Patio Café, practically a picnic, in November. They just wanted to soak up the sun. Of course, I'm the one who ended up with a bit of a sunburn. Yes, this Arizona girl should have known to break out the sun block. I'll remember next time, especially since I plan to visit the DBG again before another decade goes by. I'm actually thinking about buying a membership.
I think it's fair to say that my visitors and I, that rare thing known as an Arizona native, were equally enchanted by the Desert Botanical Garden and especially the Big Bugs. They are fabulous.
Rogers' bugs will be at Desert Botanical Garden through Jan. 1, 2012, so you have plenty of time to check them out. I highly recommend you do so. It's time very well spent. I'd go see them again, if that tells you anything.
Another thing to check out, which I fully plan to do, is Las Noches de las Luminarias. With more 8,000 hand-lit luminarias and 10 music groups performing each night, this is one of the Valley's most popular holiday events, selling out year after year. I've heard about it and seen gorgeous pictures, now it's time to see it for myself. Visit DBG.org for dates.
Desert Botanical Garden is located at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. It's open daily, 7 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Regular garden admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students 13-18, and $8 for children 3-12. Admission is free for members. If you have an Entertainment Book, there's a two-for-one coupon for regular admission.
Tickets for Las Noches de las Luminarias went on sale in September, but they are still available. Tickets for members are $20 for adults and $10 for children 3 to 12. Tickets for non-members are $25 for adults and $12.50 for children.
For more information about David Rogers' Big Bugs, Las Noches de las Luminarias or any other DBG program or event, call 480-481-8188.