Best Place to Chase Fireflies 2011 | You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies at Phoenix Art Museum | People & Places | Phoenix
In this year's Best of Phoenix we are taking you underground, but here's a hidden treasure you'll find on the top floor of the Phoenix Art Museum. We admit we're guilty of neglecting our city museum's permanent collections — we're more likely to hit PAM or the Heard Museum to see a blockbuster show. But this year we had occasion to take a stroll through the contemporary collection upstairs at the Phoenix Art Museum, and we were so glad we did. A friendly museum guard told us to be sure and check out the fireflies — and after some hunting we came upon a funny-looking closet-like exhibit lit with hundreds of teeny colored lights, with mirrored ceiling, floor and walls. The effect (once you get over a bit of claustrophobia) is, true to the exhibit's name, like finding yourself in a swarm of fireflies. Best of all, the fireflies are part of the museum's permanent collection, so you can take your time getting over to see them.
You don't have to know the difference between a comet and a meteor to climb up to the rooftop of the Bateman Physical Sciences wing for a killer show. Each month (during the school year), graduate students at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration open their laboratory doors to the public for planetarium shows, informational sessions, and, our favorite, a view of the stars through their telescopes. The open house runs from 8 to 10 p.m. and is free to the public. No reservations are required.
On March 18, 1961, the Roosevelt Dam (on the Salt River northeast of Phoenix) had its Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary). As part of the celebrations, a copper time capsule was placed in the dam. The capsule was removed — but not opened — in 1984 (when Roosevelt Dam was modified) and placed in the Roosevelt Lake Visitor Center. On March 18, 2001, Arizona Bureau of Reclamation deputy commissioner Kira Finkler opened the capsule in front of about 200 guests, revealing voting ballots from 1960s elections, a list of Roosevelt Dam employees at the time, photos, and a letter from then-president John F. Kennedy about the importance of the dam. It was exciting to see some Arizona history unearthed, and more will be buried. The Salt River Project is now designing and filling a new capsule, to be buried this year and unearthed in 2061.
One of the things we like about Scottsdale Fashion Square is that so many of its parking garages open right onto high-end department stores: Like Dillard's men's store, which has an entrance in one of Fashion Square's big, shaded parking garages, just like Nordstrom's does, up the street. We think it's awfully civilized. But not as cool as one particular section of Fashion Square's parking, where we always stash our wheels, especially in the hot, hot summertime. This entrance is on the south side of the mall, in front of Modern Steak, where there's always a traffic jam of cars wanting parking spaces. Beneath this, there somehow are loads of places to park, which means not only coming back to a cool car after shopping or dining (without paying to valet park!), but also getting to go down that fun ramp into the garage itself. Whee!
Next time you're driving down Interstate 10 in Phoenix — approaching the Deck Park Tunnel — take a quick look at the center median. Did you notice anything odd, like a fenced-off passageway slicing right through the middle of the larger tunnel? That, friends, is Phoenix's infamous Papago Intermodal Transfer Station — a.k.a. an underground bus station that was started in 1990 but never actually completed.

According to Valley Metro light-rail director Wolfe Grote, who was involved with the planning of the I-10 tunnel back when he worked for the City of Phoenix's public transportation department, the bus station was designed to serve the needs of the then-red-hot midtown Phoenix area. (One developer was even proposing building a 114-story skyscraper in the area, which would have been the tallest in the world at the time.)

"The thought was to include an express bus station into the plans for the new tunnel that would allow passengers to exit underground and then ride a combination of elevators and escalators up to the park level," Grote says.

Unfortunately, despite spending more than $9 million to build the bones of the structure, the city was never able to secure the $20 million-plus in federal funds it would have taken to complete the project.

Meanwhile, the flood of new developments in midtown failed to materialize, and Valley Metro started delivering workers directly into downtown Phoenix via a new system of express buses. And maybe the last best chance to build out the station fizzled in 2008, when the planned light-rail extension to the west was routed through the Arizona State Capitol area a few miles south, rather than running through the I-10 tunnel.

So for now, this monumental concrete cavern remains a road to nowhere.To see a slideshow of the abandoned bus station, visit of2011.

Stepping inside NRG Energy's underground cooling plant in the heart of downtown Phoenix, you feel a little like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. One minute you're standing outside an anonymous metal door next to the Phoenix Convention Center, and the next you're three stories underground, walking across a metal bridge suspended over a massive holding tank filled with bubbling, neon-green ice water. Named the Downtown Cooling System, this plant, along with two others sprinkled throughout the city core, chills and then pumps near-freezing water to more than 35 buildings across downtown via an underground system of pipes.

The water, which is dyed green in case of a leak, is then used to air-condition everything from Chase Field and US Airways Center to Symphony Hall and the Fourth Avenue County Jail.

Even cooler: The system chills CityScape's outdoor ice rink every December, and also powers the Valley's only air-conditioned Valley Metro light-rail station, at the corner of Second Street and Jefferson.

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