An Artisanal Oasis In The Sonoran Desert
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.