It’s sort of silly, but you sometimes like to get on your bike and play a game you call Desert Tour Guide. In your favorite pretend scenario, you’re the director of a guided excursion through Papago Park and its amenities.
“Don’t forget to admire the Hayden Flour Mill,” you shout over your shoulder to your imaginary clients as you point your Schwinn Hybrid onto Mill Avenue Bridge, headed toward Phoenix. “But first, check out Tempe Town Lake! Woo hoo!”
You explain to your fantasy group that the lake is man-made and actually a reservoir full of water from Colorado. You don’t mention that the west side of the dam that contains the lake collapsed one time, causing it to drain like a tired water balloon; you figure even make-believe tourists don’t like disaster stories while they’re riding over a bridge. Instead, you point out the paddle-boaters who took off from Tempe Beach Park, with its live-music amphitheater, its baseball diamond, and its Splash Playground that’s magically kept puddled with two inches of water for year-round kiddie splashing.
You wave toward Moeur Park on your right, pointing out that this former rest stop is filled with historic shade structures and seating areas created by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. And then, all at once, you’re turning into the 1,500 acres of hiking and biking trails that are Papago Park, where you really start rolling with your best pretend-tour-guide schtick.
“The range of Papago is made mostly of sandstone,” you hear yourself saying in your head, “with massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. There’s an archery range here, as well as a fishing lagoon, a golf course, and the Hall of Flame Museum.”
You wave in the direction of the museum and think, not for the first time, that the best thing about make-believe tourists is they don’t ask to actually visit the places on your tour, they’re content to have you just point them out and say things about them. That comes in handy as you pedal past the entrance to the Phoenix Zoo, because actual sightseers would want to go inside and look at the giraffes. You’ve seen them — the sloths and the pelicans and the cotton-top tamarin, too — so you pause just long enough to rattle off a brief history of the zoo, which was founded in 1961 by the owner of Maytag Appliances. Today, it’s home to a world-class collection of black-footed ferrets, Chiricahua leopard frogs, narrow-headed garter snakes, thick-billed parrots, and a whole lot of monkeys, all courtesy of a guy who made washing machines for a living.
“So think about that the next time you’re doing a load of whites,” you always like to say at this point in your imaginary tour.
By now, you’re bike-trailing it past Hunt’s Tomb, that little white fenced-in pyramid where Arizona’s first governor and his family are interred, then circling around to get a gander at Hole in the Rock.
“It’s a natural geological formation,” you tell your invisible customers, “a bunch of openings eroded into a hill of red sandstone formed about 12 million years ago. It’s said that the Hohokam used sunlight shining through Hole in the Rock as a kind of sundial to mark the passing of seasons.”
And then you’re off again, headed toward your personal favorite: the Desert Botanical Garden, its 140 acres a beautifully spare home to more than 4,000 species of desert plant life. At its entrance, you’ll wax poetic to a bunch of people who aren’t really there about the garden’s agave collection, its commitment to cactus preservation, and its ongoing exhibits by glass artist Dale Chihuly. And for a moment, you’ll be so caught up in your love of your beautiful desert home, you’ll forget there’s no one there to hear you.