The Hohokam people, an ancient civilization once native to Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, disappeared off the face of the Earth almost 600 years ago. No one knows what happened to them. But we do know quite a bit about their culture. Famous for their ingenious irrigation systems, their beautiful coiled pottery and other art, as well as their thriving trade with neighboring tribes, the Hohokam were one of the most sophisticated peoples of their time. It's no wonder that, even now, scholars and nonscholars alike find them fascinating.
Walter Coe, a volunteer naturalist at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, is one of these fascinated people. Ever since he first heard about the Hohokam in a volunteer-training session, he's been making it a point to learn everything he can about them. And he eagerly shares his knowledge every Tuesday with a big display under the visitors' center ramada. Armed with maps, prehistoric pottery shards, intricately carved shells and a bunch of other interesting artifacts, Coe is prepared to show and tell visitors everything they'd like to know about the Hohokam. He even has examples of the corn, squash, beans and other foods they ate.
Why should you care about the Hohokam? "We think today we're pretty smart," says Coe. "We think we're so high-tech. But these people accomplished a lot with their resources even before Columbus got here. They used everything they had in the desert. They were amazing."
So stop by the ramada some Tuesday morning through April 10, and learn something about a culture that sustained itself for 15 centuries. Bring your kids, too! It's free with the price of admission to Sabino Canyon. --A.M.
A lot of people like watching plays, but have you ever taken part in one? Probably not, unless you're a thespian. Also, murder mysteries are great to read, but have you ever really solved one? Probably not, unless you're a detective.
If either of these activities sounds fun, you can do them both--without altering your career path--at the Mystery Mansion Dinner Theater's special New Year's Eve show.
Here's how it works: you're seated at a candlelit dinner table in front of a stage, where you watch a murder mystery unfold before your eyes. You're handed a card, and throughout the play, you work on discovering the murderer and the motive. If, at the end of the play, the guess you've written on the card turns out to be right, you get a "Silver Sleuth" award, and you might end up with more than one funny and/or valuable prize.
The interactive part comes when the actors drag audience members onstage to be a part of the play. Ross Horwitz, the Tucson show's director and producer, won't disclose exactly how the audience will be incorporated into this particular production. (That might ruin it, he says.) But he does tell me there'll be some "magic stuff," a comedy routine and a dance contest in which the audience can take part. And guess who'll be serving you dinner? The actors! It's all part of the play.
"It's extremely fun," says Horwitz. "The food's excellent; the price is reasonable, and it's live New Year's entertainment--not just some guy spinning CDs at a bar. People laugh a lot. We like to say that over 3,000 people have died laughing at our shows."
Admission is $69 including dinner, the show, a midnight champagne toast, a balloon drop and lots of party favors and prizes. Kids are welcome. --A.M.
Did you know that saguaros only breathe at night? Unlike most flora, these cactuses don't open their pores to receive carbon dioxide until after dark, when the temperature is lower, and the humidity is higher. That prevents moisture loss. Interesting, right?
This is just one of the cool facts you'll learn about the Sonoran Desert if you go on the Sunset/Moonrise Hike offered this Wednesday through the Saguaro National Park. As knowledgeable park ranger Jeff Wallner leads the seven-hour, seven-mile hike along the Garwood, Carillo and Douglas Springs trails, he'll cover all kinds of topics, from local human history to desert ecology. One of his main focuses, according to fellow park ranger Josh Bowles, will be the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between what goes on in the desert during the day and what goes on at night. Basically, as far as Sonoran Desert wildlife goes, the night is where it's at.
"Most desert animals are nocturnal," says Bowles. "On the hike down, the normally quiet desert will start to come alive with the sounds of animals ... coyotes, javelinas, foxes, rodents. Bats are active at night, too, and owls do most of their hunting during the evening. They fly silently, but you often see them."
And even if you're not so interested in animals, you'll definitely love another highlight of the hike--dinner. "Where dinner is," says Bowles, "there's a viewpoint at which you watch the sunset to the west, and then you turn around 180 degrees and see the moonrise. Regardless of what you learn on the hike, that's really quite a beautiful thing to see."
The hike is free with park admission fees, but it's best to register at least two days in advance. Participants will be mailed directions and detailed program information. Bring water, a trail dinner and a flashlight. --A.M.
When Tom Walbank was a 15-year-old boy in Devon, England, he heard John Lee Hooker and got hooked on the blues. Now that he's all grown up, he's a master boogie guitarist and harmonica player, and he's been living and playing here in Tucson for about seven years.
Walbank seems to love duality. Aside from the fact that he's an Englishman devoted to an American music form (which is pretty contradictory in itself), he can play two very different kinds of blues--both the fast, danceable kind and the slow, heartwrenching kind. Even his reason for loving the blues comes from its dichotomous nature. "It's the simplicity and the complexity of it," he says. "It's a very simple music to play, but very complex to play right in a way that'll move people."
And moving people is definitely Walbank's primary goal. "I don't want any obstacles to come between me and the audience," he explains. "I like the energy to flow from me to the crowd and back again so there's a definite communication. It's a communal thing." To keep it pure, Walbank stays away from rock influences in favor of old '50s blues, preferring to "stick with the beat" rather than distract people with a lot of extravagant guitar solos. Judging from his local popularity, this technique is pretty effective.
So if you're feeling a little post-Christmas letdown, head over to the 17th Street Market and commune with Walbank yourself. "(The blues) is a salve for the soul," he promises. And it's free. --A.M.