Best Salt Mine 2011 | Morton Salt's Glendale plant | People & Places | Phoenix
Admit it. You've said it; we've all said it: "Well, time to go back to the salt mines." But did you know there is an actual working salt mine here in metropolitan Phoenix? It's true: An enormous salt deposit — we're talking 15 to 30 cubic miles of salt — makes up the Luke Salt Body, which runs under the facility. Hundreds of years' worth of salt! Salt production began at the facility in 1969 by the Southwest Salt Company, but the joint has been owned and operated by Morton Salt since 1985. There is no blasting here; the facility produces solar salt using a solution mining method, in which salt is pumped out of the ground by injecting water through a series of pipes that dissolves the salt (creating brine) and brings it up to the surface and into a solar pond. Arizona's intense sun evaporates water from the brine, causing salt crystals to form. The almost-pure salt is stockpiled in impressive tall white peaks. But don't expect it to end up on your lunch. This is not your average "when it rains it pours" table salt — about two-thirds of the salt produced at the Glendale plant is used for water-softening products, distributed throughout Arizona and Southern California.
Harder to find than a shaded parking space in July, the Phoenix basement is a rarity. The story goes that, because the ground here is typically so hard, digging into it is costly and difficult. (In colder parts of the country, the foundation of a house is set below the frost line; digging a few more feet to provide room for a basement is a snap.)

Whatever the reason, few homes in the Valley have basements. And, for people with a tendency to hoard, like New Times contributor Robrt Pela, that may be a good thing. Because, as he tells us, it's easier to pile up crap if you have a giant hole in the ground under your house, where no one can see the neatly arranged rows of Rubbermaid boxes filled with stuff that you're certain you'll need someday.

"Not that I would know. I mean, sure, my basement contains several dozen boxes filled with the stuff I use to make assemblage pieces for the occasional art exhibit. And, yes, I do have, down there tucked just behind the furnace, an entire set of vintage Melmac dinnerware, service for 12, still in its original packaging. And seven boxes of old Tiger Beats and Esquires and Archie Comics titles. And 15 packing crates filled with books that I read and didn't like but that, if I ever find the time, I plan to take to Bookmans to trade for store credit. And four coffin-size containers of carefully wrapped paintings and contemporary art that I don't have room for upstairs on the walls of my house. Also three pieces of matching luggage and an electric fan that doesn't work but is too cute to throw out.

"In the Midwest, where I hail from, people actually live in their basements. There's usually a wet bar down there and maybe a tiny kitchen and always a sofa that leaks its stuffing a little but is perfectly good for sitting on while watching television. But this is Phoenix, and my basement is what is referred to as "unfinished," which means it's a great place to put things so that my house remains tidy and doesn't look like an episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive. Which is a show that wouldn't exist if everyone had a basement."

There is only one way to describe the lobby of Pollack Tempe Cinemas: jacked-up. Michael Pollack (you might recognize his name, since it's on practically every strip mall from here to Tucson) has a big, odd collection of movie memorabilia and life-size figures, and it's on display for all to see. If you can get past it, you'll also get to see not-quite-new-releases at bargain prices — just $3, and $2 on Tuesdays. You can't beat that. Be sure to bring cash, because Pollack Tempe Cinemas doesn't take plastic and their ATM doesn't always work. But the A/C's cranked low, the seats are comfy, and you can't see Pollack's collection from the theater, just a nice, entertaining movie.
From the rooms named after famous former guests like Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart to the Hollywood-style stars embedded in the exterior sidewalk, the Hotel San Carlos is proud of its past. But these days, the 83-year-old landmark in downtown Phoenix is probably best known for the various guests who may have checked out — but never really left. Yes, this hotel is a hotbed of haunted apparitions, including the ghost of a heartbroken young woman who jumped (or was pushed) from the roof while dressed in a full evening gown mere weeks after the grand opening. Then there's the basement, which features water wells dating back to 1874, when the site was home to Phoenix's first school house (and supposedly a sacred Native American watering hole before that). Which might explain why many guests report hearing the sounds of children playing in the basement, or even creepier, their screams echoing out of the well shafts.
The flicks that Dr. Zombie screens at his occasional Movie Lab of Terror aren't actually scary. It's tough to get terrified by old-school movies like The Brain That Wouldn't Die, The Evil Brain from Outer Space, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians when we live in an era of ultra-dark, violent and disturbing cinema. But modern horror is rarely as much fun as the B-movie stuff, and Dr. Zombie taps into the rich tradition of Elvira, Vampira, and Morgus the Magnificent as he showcases his titles with an over-the-top, campy glee. He boasts a lot about his plans for world domination, but his reality is far less sinister, tapping into a time when scary movies were more about suspending disbelief and having a real killer, ghoulish time.

Best Place to Find New(ish) Homes with Basements

Mesa's Grove District

Here in the land of endless suburban sprawl, you can find pretty much any style of home, from traditional adobe to super-sleek glass and steel. That said, there's one staple of suburban living that is darn near impossible to find in the Valley of the Sun: homes with basements.

They do exist, if you know where to look.

Mesa's Grove District is a hot spot for basement homes here in the Valley. Not only is the fertile, irrigated soil in these former citrus fields a little softer, but the large Mormon and Catholic populations mean (in the case of the former) generally larger families, who are also encouraged by church leaders to stockpile large quantities of food in case of emergencies. No wonder longtime Mesa realtor Charlie Randall says a home with a basement "sells twice as fast" in this 'hood.

Francis Lazaro is one of those fortunate few who don't have to endure the usual 9-to-5 grind to make his living. He spends most of his daytime hours catching some winks, in fact, probably because the filmmaker spends most evenings at local clubs recording footage of DJs, followed by all-night editing sessions crafting energetic videos. Check out the Vimeo page for his production company, Pheosia Films, and witness Lazaro's genius editing, which he envisions while at gigs and rushes home to start splicing. "I work fast and have all these ideas fresh in my head," he says. "When I'm filming, I'm already thinking about what's gonna be pimp. I gotta get back and get cracking." The method to his madness is paying off, big-time. Promoters have his number on speed dial. Nationally known DJs like Skrillex request his services when they come to town. He even says he's got a record label deal in the works. When we start seeing Lazaro's work on MTV, we can always say we knew him way back when.

Most people who want a glimpse into futurist Paolo Soleri's vision hoof it north an hour to his Arcosanti, when a good feel for the guy is available right here in town.

Soleri lived and worked in Paradise Valley from the 1950s on (not far from Taliesin West, where he studied). Today, his disciples are still hard at work, casting the bells that fuel his now-obviously futile passions.

Located on the grounds of Cosanti, the "Earth House" is billed as the "original underground house." We're not so sure about that (what about the cavemen?) — but we do know the partially submerged building is considered a fine example of underground house construction in the Valley. Built in the mid-'50s, it looks a lot like the Flintstones' house — but with lower A/C bills.

To see more photos of the Earth House, visit

When Robbie Pfeffer started Tempe Starving Artist a little less than two years ago, he had no idea his little 'zine would last beyond the first issue. But Pfeffer, who started TSA just to entertain himself and his friends, has watched it grow from a dinky, photocopied pamphlet to a thick booklet with color covers and advertisements from local businesses. Apparently, people were starved for some quirky, independent coverage of local music and art, and that's what TSA gives them. There are crisp reproductions of photographs, paintings, and drawings by local artists like Scott Bowen, Jamie Fontana, and Sentrock, as well as original poetry and fiction from Valley residents, and slews of interviews with bands, both local (Peachcake, Boys and Frogs) and national (Busdriver, No Age). Now, Pfeffer's expanding his indie empire by promoting shows at The Fixx, the Tempe coffee shop he manages. In fact, he took a summer hiatus from printing TSA to focus on live shows (though new issues were still available online). Now that the college kids are back in school, we can only imagine how much more TSA will grow.
The ladies behind PoolBoy Magazine, a.k.a. Phoenix's newest (only?) hipster porn rag, say they joined forces because they wanted to give women something fun, classy, and local to read in public places. After a year of blogging, raising awareness, and hunting for the right male candidates — male, mid 20s, early 30s, good-looking, but also normal, and, of course, well-endowed — they released their first edition. The glossy 'zine has interviews with local scenesters, girly health information, a few columns, and college-age guys who sheepishly pose nude and answer a few survey-type questions. The PoolBoy team sold more than a few copies online and through local indie shops for $8 and says plans for the second edition are in the works. In the meantime, the ladies encourage all their readers to check out the large doses of pleasure in their small-time package, er, publication.

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