Best Blog About Phoenix By Someone Who Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Jon Talton's Rogue Columnist

Former Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton now lives in Washington state and writes about economics for the Seattle Times, but the Grand Canyon State remains very much on his mind. His David Mapstone mysteries are set in Arizona, and he maintains a regular blog on all things Phoenix, entitled "Rogue Columnist," where he opines on everything from Phoenix's lost (or about to be lost) architectural gems, to the unsolved and unresolved Don Bolles case, to the Republican's misplaced faith in tax cuts, and so on. Consider this: He writes the blog pro bono publica, despite having to churn out several columns a week for the Seattle paper. Now that's love, baby. True love. Because it's obvious from Talton's blogs that he cares deeply about Phoenix and Arizona and the quality of life here, and so expends a terrific amount of intellectual energy on serious discussions of Phoenix's past, present, and future. We hope Talton never grows tired of writing about Arizona, because we know we'll never grow tired of reading him.

Tom and Judy Nichols know a thing or two about writing, and they certainly know the road — their journalism careers have taken them many places. So when they announced that they had quit their jobs, sold most of their earthly possessions, purchased a Roadtrek (lovingly nicknamed The Epic Van), and were blowing this Popsicle stand, we considered hitching along. Then we heard they planned to document the trip, so we decided to stay home and follow along from afar. We have not been disappointed.

Unlike Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty, the Nichols haven't lost everything in Vegas — yet. But they have had some adventures. You can read about them on the blog, follow their route on Google Maps, and even catch some tips and tricks for hitting the road yourself. After the first year, they documented their spending and reflected on what went wrong and right. All of it makes for great reading from (full disclosure: their son Nate writes for us) two members of the extended New Times family.

Peter Corbett has been hitting the Arizona trails forever — both by foot and on wheels — and has compiled a wonderful guide to places far and wide, but all within the Grand Canyon State's boundaries. The longtime newspaper editor (he recently joined the Arizona Department of Transportation's communications team) has been using his vacation time wisely, documenting spots from Bisbee to Yuma and many in between. He also includes information about lodging and national parks. We come for the pictures and stay for the stories. You will, too. Better put in that vacation request first.

MIM

Looking for the most legit cultural institution the Valley has to offer? It's a stretch up the Loop 101 and housed in a stately contemporary complex where, if you're into counting, you'll see more than 6,500 instruments on view. Which is why it's called the Musical Instrument Museum. Home to both musical instruments and related objects, the museum's amassed a collection of almost 16,000 things — from Arizona's own rock 'n' roll history to folk and tribal instruments. You'll find galleries organized by region, a space dedicated to mechanical music, a look at modern popular music, and hands-on areas where you're totally allowed to touch the goods. The MIM also hosts concerts in its theater space and special events focusing on various global cultures throughout the year.

Whatever was going on with alien technology in 1947 must have resulted in galaxy-wide vehicular recalls. That year, UFOs were crashing all over the damn place, most famously in Roswell, New Mexico — giving birth to one of the most famous conspiracy theories in U.S. history — but also here in Phoenix. In his 1950 book, Behind the Flying Saucers, UFOlogist Frank Scully (no relation, it seems, to Dana) alleges an extraterrestrial craft crashed at the Dreamy Draw Recreational Area near Piestawa Peak, and that two alien bodies were yanked from the wreckage. Theorists suggest the Dreamy Draw Dam was built to cover up evidence of the ship and while that's, you know, not true — the dam wasn't built until 1973 — it's fun to wander the placid desert landscape there and speculate that there's something otherworldly behind the mysterious hum that can be heard near the structure.


Our Lady of Guadalupe, the iconic representation of the Virgin Mary encircled by gold rays with the moon at her feet, is a cross-border phenomenon. It's also a symbol of resilience.

To see a stunning example, check out the 18th-century painting Virgen de Guadalupe at Phoenix Art Museum. First seen last fall in the exhibition "Masterworks of Spanish Colonial Art," the painting is now on permanent display.  A generous grant provided for conservation of the painting to remove decades of soot and salts from water damage, bringing it back to life. It is the only 18th-century, large-scale painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe displayed in the Valley.

One of the things that makes the painting unique is that the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is depicted in the four corners of the painting. It's the story of an underdog, chosen by the Virgin to be her messenger. She appears before an indigenous man, Juan Diego, in 1531. He gets an audience with the archbishop to tell him what has happened, but is disbelieved. The Virgin then instructs Juan Diego to collect roses in December. He finds them, and takes the roses to the archbishop. When he opens his cloak, the roses fall to the floor. The painting depicts this narrative and the devotional image together.

Transcending borders as both a religious and cultural icon, devotion to her is almost as widespread among religiously minded Mexican-Americans in our community as it is in Mexico.

We're not here to praise Governor Doug Ducey's business leadership group, "Arizona Zanjeros," who, we suppose, are hoping to increase the flow of business opportunities into our state. No, we're talking about actual zanjeros: ditch riders, men and women, who control the flow of water through our city's system of canals by opening and closing the gates on canals and irrigation ditches across the Valley. These zanjeros helped make our desert way of life possible — and in some ways, continue to do so.

In spite of Ducey's group's recent cultural appropriation of the zanjero title, let's not forget: Historically, it was the labor and expertise of Latinos living in Phoenix who proved instrumental to the early irrigation operations. They helped with the physical construction of the canal system, and often served as zanjeros, covering hundreds of miles a day. Nine canals make up the Valley's complex canal system, largely constructed between 1870 and 1913. They were built upon the prehistoric irrigation canals of the Hohokam, which were feats of engineering genius in and of themselves. The Hohokam were present in Central Arizona for 1,500 years, producing one of the largest canal systems in the New World. That's a legacy to be proud of.

Today, being a zanjero is a trade that is disappearing, as farmland gives way to development.

Also known as the Changing America Desk, the Fronteras Desk is a collection of four public radio stations – including Phoenix's own KJZZ 91.5 FM – reporting on immigration, Native American, economic, and environmental news in the Southwest, reaching from Southern California to central Texas, i.e., the border of the United States and Mexico. Stories usually feature multilingual reporters broadcasting pieces like "Panama Canal Expansion: Challenge And Opportunity For Southwest Economy" and special reports like "Child Migrant Crisis At The Border." Fronteras Desk pieces have been featured on KJZZ scheduled shows like "Marketplace," PRI's "The World," and "Here and Now." This multimedia collaboration started in 2010 as a joint project between KBPS San Diego and KJZZ Phoenix. Listen up. You might learn something.

A couple of years back, ASU Art Museum exhibited the politically charged works of LA artist Eduardo Sarabia in a show titled "Moctezuma's Revenge." Delving into and sometimes turning on its head Mexican culture, Sarabia skewered narco machismo with an eye toward history — and style. Carved from Mexican canterra stone and reaching seven feet in height, Sarabia's Snake Skin Boots with Snake Head still stands tall outside the Tempe museum, embellished with smiling snake heads and a nod to the Aztec god of war. It's a heavy statement, both literally and figuratively, as the sculpture piece weighs in at an immobile 4,000 pounds.

It's impressive enough that Phoenix artist Annie Lopez is a fourth-generation Arizonan. But she's also a prolific art pioneer who first entered the local art scene in 1982, where she was part of a dynamic artist collective called MARS (Movimento Artístico del Río Salado). MARS Artspace, which operated in various Phoenix locations through the years, brought visibility to works by Chicano, Hispanic, and Native American artists. Today she's a nationally renowned cyanotype artist whose photographs, sometimes created on tamale wrapping paper and sewn into dresses, tell stories of her own experiences and those of her family. Many reference her Mexican roots — sometimes exploring the cultural stereotypes prevalent in contemporary society. Long before the border became a political topic du jour, Lopez was using her art to prompt reflection on the ways borders affect people's perspectives and actions — paving the way for more artists to incorporate themes of social justice into their art practice.


Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of