My meandering brings me to one of the DBG’s educational offerings: sunset yoga. I grab a mat, and allow instructor Emily Stooks from Urban Yoga (1 East Lexington Ave., Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 602-277-9642. www.urbanyogaphx.com) to guide me through a light ashtanga class. She’s got a lot to say, so much so that I wish, on occasion, that I could revel in the gift of silence, rarely accessible to me in Manhattan. But amid the chatter she drops this pearl of wisdom: “Yoga is not just about stretching, but about acquiring skills to get through life, which can sometimes be difficult.” Ain’t that the truth?
Eating is my go-to activity when my emotions are stirred, so I’m fortunate to discover Gertrude’s (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 480-719-8600. www.gertrudesrestaurant.net), the DBG’s on-site restaurant. Named after Gertrude Divine Webster, the environmentalist and benefactor who was instrumental in the museum’s creation, the restaurant is an exceptional example of contemporary cuisine with traditional roots. Executive Chef Matthew Taylor draws inspiration from a surprisingly large bounty of locally sourced products to produce unique riffs on familiar dishes such as hummus made with heirloom Tepary beans and served with pickled vegetables, along with handmade garden seltzers prepared with fresh berries and herbs. I can’t resist an order of Dirty Chips, a heaping pile of homemade potato chips slathered with blue cheese fondue, blackened chicken livers, and smoked onions. Fortunately, I’ve got a morning hike scheduled to balance my indulgence.
The following day begins bright and early as I make my way to Usery Mountain Regional Park (Mesa, Arizona. www.maricopa.gov) to meet Mandy Snell, founder of Meaning in Motion (Tel: 480-600-3512). She is a facilitator of CoreClarity (www.coreclarity.net), a company that “works with individuals to uncover their unique talents so that they can intentionally build on those talents to create strengths, which, in turn, enhances personal productivity and improves interpersonal effectiveness.”
Mandy incorporates elements of the program, a research-based proprietary framework often used in professional management training workshops, to “embark on a journey to connect your discovery with the magic of the mountains.” We switchback our way along Wind Cave Trail, a 2.9-mile trek that offers unobstructed views and plenty of photo opps. She takes advantage of a particularly photogenic spot and whips out a small chalkboard and asks for a simple intention for the coming year. The very act of writing feels nostalgic in this age of “likes,” “followers,” and “swipes.” I hold the chalk and breathe, wondering what manifestation might best suit me for the coming year. I write my word, Mandy snaps a photo to be sent at a later date as a gentle reminder, and I continue to huff and puff my way along rocky path with the belief that it might just come true.
By the end of the hike, I’m high on life and curious to discover how Arizona’s blue skies and clean living have inspired local businesses. I head to the SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place (148 N. Center St., Mesa, Arizona, Tel: 480-694-9931. www.swherb.com) and meet up with Kathy Gould, an herbal practitioner who’s been bringing her unique perspective on health and wellness to Mesa and the greater Phoenix community for more than a decade. Kathy began exploring the healing world of medicinal plants to address her son’s ADHD, and today the shop is a hub of activity for locals and tourists alike. She strikes me as Penny Marshall’s lost (and considerably more mellow) sister as she walks me through the converted historical home and offers insights on an array of dried herbs, tinctures, salves, and teas.
There are a handful of apprentices buzzing about, and I soon learn that she’s never had a paid employee. After a day of mandatory training, they’re put to work in the shop with a minimum commitment of one day per week for three months. My freelancer sensibility sours at the idea that one would give his or her time and talents away without compensation, but looking around it doesn’t appear that anyone is chained to the place. On the contrary, there is calm air of camaraderie among the staff as they mill about. One of them steers me toward a liver and immunity enhancer smoothie blend. The seven-ounce bag, filled with a propriety blend of ashwagandha, turmeric, eleutherococcus, bladderwrack, and a few other unpronouncibles, looks like the remnants from my DustBuster and costs about the same as a really good craft cocktail back home. I buy it anyway in hopes that a bit of the Kathy’s endearing Southwestern spirit will make it with me through the baggage check.
A s I head south toward Tucson, I pit stop at another local success story: Queen Creek Olive Mill (25062 S. Meridian Dr., Queen Creek, Arizona, Tel: 480-888-9290. www.queencreekolivemill.com). While on vacation in the late 90s, Perry Rea and his wife Brenda were astounded to discover an abundance of olive trees growing in the Phoenix area. The couple was ready to leave their bleak Detroit winters behind, so they packed up the family, planted 1,000 olivetrees on the outskirts of Queen Creek, and sure enough, found themselves in the olive oil business. Perry became a master blender and Brenda now oversees a line of olive oil-based home and body products.
Together they’ve created a multi-faceted agritourismo in the spirit of Perry’s Italian heritage. I have a simple picnic lunch under the olive trees amid gatherings of friends and families and a pretty awesome live band. Heading indoors, I sample Perry’s various blends of extra-virgin olive oil, including a Meyer lemon olive oil and the company’s first “Partner in Passion” single variety blend: the Arbequina limited edition made in cooperation with Ray Rogers of Corning Olive Oil Company.
For my last night of fitness and focus in the desert, I exercise my desire for indulgence and settle in for an evening at The Camby (2401 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, Arizona, Te l: 602 -468-0700. www.thecamby.com). The former Ritz-Carlton recently underwent a major renovation and rebranding and is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection . The 277-room property, named for nearby Camelback Mountain, pays homage to Arizona’s five C’s: cotton, cattle, citrus, climate, and copper. Designed by Stonehill & Taylor, both the public spaces as well as the guest rooms offer unexpected twists, vibrant pops of color, and design elements such as a modern, neon-white chandelier that juxtaposes the property’s more classic architectural features, and funky in- room details including a copper inlay above the bed, synthetically sculptured taxidermy, and large art graphics.
Dinner that night is enjoyed under the watchful eye of the Camby’s director of culinary experience , Chef Dushyant Singh, who oversees the Rooftop Bar, Bees Knees (a modern cocktail bar), and Artizen, where his 16 years of culinary prowess shine bright. From his foie torchon with purple mustard to roasted Thai curried cauliflower, Singh deftly honors a range of locally sourced ingredients while interjecting an international perspective. The best bite of my entire trip comes in the form of lamb-neck stew served with a soufflé-like cheddar corn bread and garnished with a jewel-sized bite of candied Habanero pepper.
I can’t help Instagraming the culinary play-by-play, and I slowly feel myself returning to the frenetic life that awaits me upon my return. I’ve gathered a few tools to get me through the rough times, though the handbook has yet to be written. I suppose another trip to the Arizona desert may be in order.