Best Green Patch in the Desert 2015 | Steele Indian School Park | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Farmland once sold to the federal government, which built the Phoenix Indian School (attended by 900 students in its heyday), since has been transformed into a thriving urban center of activity boasting indoor and outdoor performances spaces, dog parks, historical displays, open green areas, and covered ramadas. Three of the original buildings have been preserved, and the site also includes an American Indian Veterans Memorial. Now operated by the city of Phoenix, the park is used by multiple generations who enjoy walking, fishing, playing volleyball, and more. Paintings on 8-foot wooden panels done by local artists through a project spearheaded by Hugo Medina are installed facing the street along wrought-iron fencing around a portion of the park's perimeter. Like community gardens at the park, they're part of ongoing efforts by PHX Renews to activate a portion of the park that was previously a vacant lot. It's a fun place to hang out, a community gathering place that draws diverse visitors, and a testament to what's possible when people, organizations, and government collaborate for the mutual good.

Sometimes you have to leave a place to truly love it — and when you're gone for long enough, you may even start to miss it. Luckily, whether it's been a weekend or a few years, reminders of the desert are everywhere, and for a quick fix for the homesickness bug, all you'll need is Instagram — @desert_oasis, to be specific. While the Instagrammer stays relatively anonymous, his public profile provides a beautiful window into the desert. The photographer shoots only with his iPhone, promising to "let nature do the talking" while on kayak runs on Tempe Town Lake, walks through the Desert Botanical Garden, or hikes through Havasupai (often with his dog, @ladypahl). The composition is always perfect, the colors stunning, and the view purely home.

Looking for something fun and educational to do with your kids without melting in the summer heat? Try the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. This year-round venue offers multiple shows every weekday for a killer price: $7 for kids and $10 for adults. The theater has a whole genre of shows dedicated to teaching about life in the Arizona desert, and kids can learn about saguaros, water conservation, the giant condor, and other endangered species. It also makes a great field trip for elementary school classes, and their puppeteers will come to your home for a birthday party. Everything about this place screams fun and creativity: the puppets, stage, and props are superbly crafted, and the building itself is gorgeous with domed ceilings, exposed wooden beams, and a courtyard. Need we say more?

Whether you call them haboobs or just good ol' dust storms, when that giant wall of dust is headed your way, you're going to take notice. You either can take cover or, if you're bold, take out your camera. And if you want to take it to the next level with those haboob photos, we recommend taking a drive and staking out a spot on East Valle Vista Road. Turn north onto North Arcadia Drive off of Camelback Road at the base of Camelback Mountain, and take that seven-tenths of a mile to the second cutback. From there, you'll be able to see almost the entirety of the Valley (south of Camelback Mountain, of course). Pick your spot, set up your tripod, and watch those storms cover the city.

We spotted these feathered friends from afar just as spring was turning to summer — but there was no outdoor trekking required. Local artists Koryn Woodward Wasson and Jamie Chandler created a 10-part series of portal birds, multimedia collaborative artworks for the exhibition "Fireweather: The Dark Forest of Crystal Burn," which also included an installation by Roy Wasson Valle. The show took place in Tucson, but this flock of birds, a stunning combination of vibrant watercolors by Wasson and geometric embroidery work by Chandler, had us swooning over social media and wishing we could fly south. Each piece depicts a pair of mirrored birds: one from the Sonoran Desert and one from the fictional realm of Crystal Burn. We're still holding out hope that the art will migrate up to the Valley so we can get a closer look at those tail feathers.

Best Hidden Gem That You'll Likely Never See

Roden Crater

In the 1970s, big-name artist James Turrell made an enviable land purchase — an extinct 400,000-year-old volcanic crater about 40 miles outside Flagstaff. His vision: a naked-eye observatory and a long-lasting tribute to the desert. For decades, Turrell has wowed audiences around the world with massive installations using light and physical space. What is known about Turrell's art project/world-wonder-in-progress is the stuff of legend in the art world — mostly because very few have been invited to see it. In the Roden Crater, Turrell's apparently been building tunnels and a massive atrium that will act as both an observatory of the desert sky and as a space that captures natural light "linking visitors with the celestial movements of planets, stars, and distant galaxies." Far out.

Best Use of Canals for Something Other Than Transporting Water

Scottsdale Public Art

Once locals thought of canals simply as a means to transport water to and fro, but Scottsdale Public Art has built a solid case in recent years for the role of canals in engaging diverse members of the community in a host of issues and experiences. Most recently, it has presented Canal Convergence 2015, a four-day event held along the banks of the Arizona Canal at the Scottsdale Waterfront. The free event drew people of all ages who enjoyed installations of public art, dance performance, live bands, readings by local storytellers, art vendors, and assorted food and drink. Folks from Scottsdale and beyond hit the canal area, where local artists "Mimi" Shirley Jardine engaged them in collecting small bits of litter for reuse in artwork, and Erin V. Sotak donned her tricycle to engage them in thinking about responsible water use. Saskia Jorda's bird-themed installation raised awareness of the ways human use of resources impacts wildlife. Two art installations were placed atop the water. By using the canal and its surrounds, Scottsdale Public Art is facilitating important dialogue while giving people fun interactive experiences — showing the creativity it takes to keep digital devotees engaged in up close and personal arts and culture.

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