An Ar­ti­sanal Oa­sis In The Sono­ran Desert

Taste & Travel - - Contents - by DIANE PENWILL

DIANE PENWILL is eat­ing well in Ari­zona.

AS TWI­LIGHT DEEP­ENS INTO DUSK, I FOL­LOW the Phoeni­cians into the desert. Mu­sic in the dis­tance beck­ons us and thou­sands of tiny, twin­kling lights il­lu­mi­nate a ghostly panorama of saguaro and bee­hive cac­tus, sil­ver, jump­ing and teddy bear cholla, the lights a wel­com­ing guide through the desert trails. As we drift through the arid gar­den, tak­ing in the fresh, cool evening air, I come upon a brass quar­tet be­hind a gi­ant saguaro. A fla­menco singer tries valiantly to keep the desert's fad­ing heat alive. A Mari­achi band ser­e­nades the sur­round­ing si­lence. I'm at Las Noches de Las Lu­mi­nar­ias, an an­nual year-end fes­ti­val at the 140-acre Desert Botan­i­cal Gar­den in Pa­pago Park, an ex­pe­ri­ence un­like any I've had in an ur­ban set­ting.

The Val­ley of the Sun is a nick­name cre­ated for Phoenix in the 1930s to boost tourism. Pump­kinville was among the op­tions con­sid­ered as pump­kins have long been a cash crop here — the first chal­lenge to my per­cep­tion that noth­ing grows in the desert ex­cept cac­tus. Val­ley of the Sun is in­deed a fit­ting name for a city in a val­ley (the Salt River Val­ley) sur­rounded by moun­tains that gets more than 325 days of sun­shine each year, more than San Diego or Mi­ami Beach. As far as what else grows here be­sides cac­tus and pump­kins — I was about to find out.

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