BEST URBAN FISHING 2005 | Encanto Lake | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Our out-of-state buddies love teasing us about how the only bodies of water we have around these parts are the various "fake lakes" dotting the arid local landscape. "Back where we come from, ponds don't need to be filled with recycled toilet water," they exclaim, before deluging us with their various fish tales. Despite the contempt, our so-called friends would be surprised to know there are actually some decent angling experiences around the Valley, particularly at the 7.5-acre central Phoenix urban lake at Encanto Park. Folks gather during the early morning and late evening hours to engage in the age-old battle of man against beast, attempting to lead catfish, bluegills, sunfish, bass and carp to their doom using shimmering lures and nontraditional bait like hot-dog chunks, shrimp, or bits of corn. The more compassionate fishermen release their catches back into the drink, while others harvest their prey while licking their lips in anticipation of a seafood dinner. It ain't The Old Man and the Sea, but it'll do nicely.
Every fall and spring, thousands of folks flutter over to this desert sanctuary to join the butterflies in an orgy of color and movement. Inside the pavilion, surrounded by native foliage and blooming wildflowers, the humans observe the butterflies in all their glory. Those really in the know can tell the Sleepy Orange from the Painted Lady, and the Southern Dogface from the Common Checkered Skipper. Adults and small children seem to be equally enchanted by the moment. Last spring, we watched a hyperkinetic 9-year-old instantly slow to the speed of a chanting Tibetan monk as the butterflies surrounded and landed on him. A magical place. On October 1, the garden's Mariposa Monarca exhibit opens -- you can dance with the butterflies 'til November 6.
If you're motoring into Phoenix from Los Angeles after the mind-numbing negative space of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts -- or even just returning from a visit to the West Valley -- this perspective of downtown and uptown with the Phoenix Mountains and Camelback Mountain looming to the left is simply breathtaking. This elevated stretch of eastbound 10 is one of the few spots from which our Valley looks like a true metropolis and like the fifth-largest city in the U.S. The nighttime view is just as stunning, with lights shimmering like freshly cut diamonds on black velvet; but our favorite time of all is summer sunset, when the feverish sun casts its dimming rays on the reflective glass of the buildings, and that singular desert mist hovers over the mountains like a soft blue shroud. There aren't too many things to like about either Phoenix summers or Valley freeways, but here's one.
We love a parade, but we love a carnival even more -- you know, an old-fashioned, cheesy cake walk of a good time. But where to find the accouterment? We discovered rows of old cardboard boxes stuffed with carnival goods at Fun Services, an oddly named warehouse of a party store in Tempe.

The store stocks all the best traditional party goods -- enough paper goods to throw a palm-tree-themed party for 100, confetti in all sorts of shapes and a large costume shop with clown gear galore. But our favorite part was the back warehouse, which you have to ask about. When you do, a staff member will helpfully offer you paper and pencil to record your purchases, and leave you alone (there's no air conditioning back there, so who could blame her?) in the dim room, stocked with Santas waiting for the right season and the aforementioned boxes of carnival goods.

We dug for what seemed like days, never reaching the end but stuffing our basket with harmonicas, oversize sunglasses and kewpie dolls in assorted poses. We found blow-up guitars and oversize, glittered "microphones" for a sock hop, and enough plastic crap to satisfy our carnival cravings for good.

Whatcha doin' next Saturday?

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