AZ Diaries – Electric Desert, an amazing evening in Phoenix

On a fateful Friday, work wrapped up early and I decided to finally be touristy in Phoenix.

To anyone who has never been to Phoenix here are some quick facts:

  • You might already know that Phoenix is the capital of Arizona but what’s worth mentioning is that Phoenix is the only capital city in US with a population of more than 1 million residents and that makes Phoenix, the most populous capital city in the US
  • Phoenix became a state capital in 1912 right when Arizona was included to the United States Union as the 48th state but what’s cool is that, it happened on Valentine’s Day 🙂 February 14, 1912
  • The city is like a valley in fact it’s also known as the Valley of the Sun. With McDowell Mountains in the north, White Tank Mountains in the west, Superstition Mountains to the east and South Mountains to the south, there is no dearth of picturesque views here. There are even mountains within the city, the most popular one being the Camelback Mountains
  • Phoenix has the desert climate, super hot in summers with temperatures soaring more than 100 degrees for most summer days, winters are comparatively pleasant

So coming back to my adventure, I googled and learned the Desert botanical garden in Phoenix is featuring an Electric Desert installation until May 2019, so I decided to check it out. 

I really wanted to look at the various species of cactus and desert plants in the daytime and not just the nighttime displays, so I decided to call the Botanical Garden and find out how I could do both the daytime and the nighttime attractions. They told me I could just come in at 4 PM for the night event and then stay through 11 PM, I was delighted! For timings, tickets and detailed info you can visit the Desert Botanical Garden site. I took an Uber and soon reached my destination.

The Daytime Experience

At the ticket counter you are provided a booklet (although I think a paper map would have been easier) which has a map of the garden. When you enter you would notice a garden shop and a decent restaurant – Gertrude’s.  Once inside the park, there are a variety of loops to cover with beautiful desert settings. from as far as I could see, there were cactus here, cactus  there, in fact there were cactus everywhere 🙂 !

Every now and then I would found professional photographers creating beautiful memories for lovely couples.

Desert Wildflower Loop Trail

I explored the desert wildflower trail first where I learned about the types of deserts in North America; there are primarily four types of desert each with a beautiful diversity of wildflowers- Great basin desert with sunflowers, Mojave desert known for its tickseed, desert pincushion and Joshua tree, Sonoran desert covering Phoenix and south Arizona with Owl clover and Mexican gold poppies as the common wildflowers, and lastly the Chihuahuan desert with my favorite bluebonnets as the wildflower along with Yuccas. Well I have captured bluebonnets and sunflowers already so I made a point to add all the other wildflowers to my photography bucket list.

After spending some time learning the facts I strolled around the loop only to find a lot of humming birds. They were kind of early since the spring had not started in Phoenix but they’re beautiful sounds just made the experience so much more enjoyable.

From here I got on the main desert loop, sun was coming down and I wanted to find a perfect spot to see the sunset. I saw a park ranger and asked for his suggestion. He recommended to take the Sonoran Desert Nature loop trail, he also suggested to see the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert loop trail, since that trail closes early and is quite popular.

Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail

True to its word the plants and people trail was quite something. The saguaro harvesting Ramada is the first thing you come across and is terrific. There are a variety of saguaro cactus here with different shapes and sizes. One of the unique shape I came across is, the crescent cactus, be sure to capture that one.

Did you know –

  • The saguaro cactus can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall
  • The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona
  • Saguaros have a long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. They may grow their first side arm any time from 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. A saguaro without arms is called a spear.
  • Harming or vandalizing a saguaro in any manner, is illegal in Arizona.

As I walked through this trail, I could see woodpeckers constructing new nest holes in the cacti, as well as holes in the ground indicating that some of the low laying desert species have crossed there.

Just after crossing the harvesting ramada on this trail, you might want to turn back and look at the view – it is truly spectacular with all the saguaro cactus is in the background.

I was so amazed by this place that I lost track of time and had to rush out of this trail and get on the Sonoran desert trail for the sunset views.

Sonoran Desert Loop trail

This trail has a little elevation and offers impressive views. It goes uphill then turns and then goes downhill, right where it turns is a beautiful Mountain Vista point, which offers panoramic views of the valley. You can spot all the mountains in the background as well as the city in the forefront. There are telescopes here to get closer look of the vista as well as some benches to relax and admire the view.

What’s amusing is that I went through the complete 1/4 mile trail trying to find the perfect spot to catch the sunset only to realize I wouldn’t be able to the capture the sun itself, but what I did see are the gorgeous sunset hues from almost any place on the trail.

Did I mention I forgot to take my DSLR camera for this trip and looking at the stunning colors and the beautiful scenery infront of me, I really regretted not bringing it along. I can’t count how many pictures I clicked here with my phone. In fact so many that it ran out of battery and I still had to experience and capture the amazing electric desert. As soon as I came out of the trail I turned left to go to the Patio café. I saw a small refreshments stall on the corner and asked a very nice guy if he knew about a charging station. He pointed an open socket, close to his stall in the Webster center (which is spacious tiered patio and can be booked for private events).

My charging problem was solved to top it off there was even a bench, so I used the time to relax check on my family, make some calls and recuperate.

Electric Desert – The Night-time Experience

While I was resting, out of nowhere the desert music started playing and it was so soothing and ambient.  I checked the time and it was 6 PM on the dot and that’s when the electric desert experience begins.

It got me on my toes and I walked straight to the Ullman terrace.

Ullman Terrace

As I reached the terrace, I was in total awe! The terrace features Garden’s Butte as a stunning backdrop for the unbelievably cool light and video projections of the desert life along with a unique combination of sounds. The experience was totally dreamy as promised.

Electric Desert includes 7 site-specific locations, with each experience inspired by and related to the Garden. It is an installation by Klip Collective, their second after the one in the Longwood Gardens (Philadelphia).

Believe me all I was hearing was aah’s, ooh’s and wow’s for the spectacular show!

The terrace has a number of table and chairs to sit and enjoy the experience, there is even a small Patio café here to grab a quick bite as well as good restrooms.

Sonoran Desert Loop

The Sonoran desert loop trail I climbed for the sunset also happened to be one of the locations featuring the electric desert. It was amazing to be on this trail both in day time as well as the night time. Apart from the cactus projections, because of its elevation, this is also a great location to look at the Garden Butte projections and is comparatively less crowded than the Ullman terrace.

Cactus and Succulent Galleries

From here I walk to the succulent galleries, which are the location of multiple electric desert experiences.

The displays here were wrapped around the cacti to create incredible animations. One part of the succulent garden looked like a living ocean with sea turtles and snakes and other part was like  90s disco. It was so amazing that I was clicking 60 pics per minute, of course I made that number up 🙂 but honestly it is so spectacular that it will make you click and capture continuously.

More than the displays and animations, it’s the music that created the perfect mesmerizing atmosphere and takes you on a desert journey like no other. Sometimes it would play meditative sounds and then slowly it will transform into dancing numbers with visuals to go with them.

Hard to miss here is the infinity crystal that uses neon light to create colorful patterns and creates an illusion of infinity.

It was starting to get chilly and my Fitbit head buzzed already for reaching its daily steps goal, long time back long time back, I knew it was time to head back.

Close to the garden exit is another location of the electric displays featuring the dancing barrel cactus. The entire electric desert experience, transforms the gardens into something surreal. Love the fact that the animations, displays and the sounds are staged all around the various species of desert plants and make the desert actually come alive. The closest comparison I would do is with the bio luminescent night jungle of Pandora (we experienced it in Disney’s Animal Kingdom)!

The place is so exotic and jaw-dropping and pictures really can’t do justice to this place; you have to see it to believe it!

While I was ready to leave, the intriguing garden shop attracted the shopaholic in me (giggles 🙂 ). After buying some souvenirs, I headed back and just when I though I was done, at the exit of the park was this beautiful rotunda with glistening lights, I had to stop, pause and admire the place, before my Uber was here.

My advice before I sign off –  if you happen to be in Phoenix you got to check out this place for sure!

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