We could have done any number of things on our one full day in Phoenix, but we decided to enlist our cab driver friend Enrique to take us to the far end of town to the Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM. Something in the description caught my eye, which took me to their website.
I'm not sure where I found it, but Tony Bennett said that MIM was his favourite museum anywhere in the world and that "everyone needs to see it".
When I shared that with Dylan, he was all in. Ben was hooked from the first mention.
It was a long (and expensive) cab ride to get there; no buses take you that far, but the reasonable entry fee balanced things out.
They had a number of special exhibits on the first floor, including a stunning guitar collection, and a sampling of instruments from around the world. They even had a mind-blowing gathering of music machines in their Mechanical Music Gallery.
The spot I spent the most time in was the Artists Gallery, where we were able to get up close and personal with the last guitar that Elvis Presley used, a violin that was once used by Joshua Bell, and several instruments played by Johnny Cash, just to name a few.
A word of explanation about the experience. When you arrive, they give you a headphone set. As you approach a video screen at a specific display - let's say the Carlos Santa collection - you automatically tune into that audio. It's just that simple. The only thing you might need to adjust from time to time is the volume.
The Experience Gallery was the most fun. This is where we got to play a wide variety of instruments. All three of us got into the spirit and tried everyone in the room.
Dylan was taken with the drums. Ben got super creative with the Theremin, an instrument played without touching anything.
I fell in love with the harp, and found some beautiful notes to play one of my favourite melodies, "Doe Eyes" by Clint Eastwood, from the soundtrack to Bridges of Madison County.
Lunch in the MIM cafeteria was extraordinary, and I don't use that world lightly. I had a tilapia salad that was delicious. Dylan had an equally exotic salad. Ben had his normal request of burger and fries. Expecting run-of-the-mill museum food, we were completely surprised and delighted.
The remainder of our time was spent in the Geographical Galleries, displays of instruments from all corners of the world organized by continent. I particularly enjoyed the many how-to video demonstrations of how to build instruments ranging from a guitar to a piano, from an African drum to a cymbal.
If I could offer one word of advice about MIM: pace yourself. Somewhere in the middle of the Asia section, I began to lose steam, and one display blended into the other. Take breaks. Rest your mind. Visit the store. Then continue on. If you can, do MIM over two or three visits. There is so much to enjoy, absorb, and reflect on. I would have enjoyed watching and listening to every single video - there are hundreds - but in 4.5 hours, it's just not possible.
We caught our ride back to the hotel where we were able to recharge for our pizza dinner with Lara and Nigel. Lara is a friend who I grew up with in Kamsack who I hadn't seen since our 10-year high school reunion in 1995, though we've stayed connected thanks to Facebook. Nigel is her son.
The pizza was great, but the conversation was better. Lara, Dylan and I chatted outside for a good 90 minutes while Ben and Nigel engaged in some much-anticipated parkour outside the science center.
We hadn't seen each other for almost 20 years, but it was like no time had passed at all. We talked and talked and talked as the boys ran, jumped and played.
I ended the evening by working on the fourth Native American chief of the trip: Sitting Bull. These are just exploratory sketches in preparation for a chiefs portrait series I want to do. Drawing is also a great activity for me, that helps focus and settle my mind.
This trip to Arizona has been lovely. Sedona is a heavenly place. Phoenix is entrancing. It is clear to me that there are many treasures yet to discover. I have no doubt that we will be back. Time to pack and head home to Fort McMurray. We'll be nestled in our own beds by the time this day comes to an end.