Magical History Tours at Musical Instrument Museum

Posted By Mike Padgett


Feb. 22, 2014

PHOENIX – This musical time machine encourages visitors to follow musicians into history. Listen to their stories. Study their instruments.


The multimedia exhibits in the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) include the works of legends. Museum visitors, as they tour the exhibits, will hear music and narratives that likely will revive memories of favorite songs, lost loves or personal journeys.

IMG_9141 - Version 2

The Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix. Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett 

When they look carefully at the instruments, they will see a few scars from concerts and road trips. There are the nicks and scratches Elvis Presley’s guitars received from his large belt buckles. On display is the Martin guitar Presley played in his last concert. It was in Indianapolis in June 1977. He died two months later. The guitar was found in 1982 in a closet at Presley’s estate, Graceland.



Elvis Exhibit

The Elvis Presley exhibit includes a selection of Presley’s outfits, posters and guitars. Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum


And there’s the crack in John Denver’s favorite guitar, the 1910 Gibson his grandmother gave him when he was a boy. She played it when she was a child. Denver said the guitar was cracked when a lumberjack who didn’t like Denver’s singing of a Hank Williams song hit him with it. Denver died in the crash of his private plane in 1997.



IMG_9023 - Version 2

John Denver received his first guitar from his grandmother. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


The MIM, with its two floors of exhibits, is like a candy store for music fans. The 200,000-square-foot museum houses a collection of 15,000 instruments and other items representing more than 200 countries. About 6,000 items are on display at a time. Many are enclosed in clear cases.


One of the museum’s historic instruments is the first Steinway piano ever made. It dates to 1836, or 60 years after the approval of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.



The first Steinway piano. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


My favorite places in this magical history tour are the Artist Gallery and the United States-Canada Gallery. Both galleries are filled with guitars, pianos, costumes and the handwritten lyrics of hit songs spotlighting the achievements of many singers and songwriters.


IMG_9130 - Version 2

Displayed are two of Carlos Santana’s guitars. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


There are guitars played by Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Carlos Santana, Dick Dale and others. These legends created memorable melodies from inspiration, dedication and metal strings stretched across hollow or solid body guitars. Imagine the stories these instruments could tell.


IMG_9110 - Version 2

A special treat for visitors is the piano John Lennon played while he composed “Imagine,” a song released in 1971. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Visitors enjoy the historic concert video clips showing wicked guitar or piano performances of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Ventures, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, to name a few.



IMG_9115 - Version 2

Next to Roy Orbison’s guitar is the Grammy awarded posthumously to him in 1990 for his song, “Oh Pretty Woman.” Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


In the Jazz exhibit nearby are instruments from giants of the Big Band Era. There are clarinets played by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. There is a trumpet played by Harry James.


Female rockers

A special exhibit is “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power,” coordinated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Featured are the song lyrics, concert posters, videos and costumes of more 70 female artists, including Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Cher, Melissa Etheridge, Linda Ronstadt, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Janis Joplin, Madonna and many others.  The WWR exhibit is open through April 20.




“Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” exhibit at MIM closes April 20. Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum


The MIM is a place where one could spend many hours. As a journalist, I admire the way songwriters can create powerful songs with a melody and a few descriptive phrases.


During a recent visit over two days, I gained a new appreciation of the museum’s collection. I watched visitors gently sway or nod in time to the music from their wireless headphones. I was ready to play my air guitar.


A teenager at the Rock and Roll exhibit nodded in time to the music. Two others approached him from behind, their eyes transfixed on the video. A man stood motionless in front of the C.F. Martin guitar exhibit. He was captivated by the video explaining the family business that was started in 1833.



IMG_9068 - Version 2

The C.F. Martin guitar exhibit highlights the company’s history. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Music’s impact

Scientists are unsure why music has such an impact on the human brain, but they are gathering clues. A study in 2008 found that children with after-school music classes developed higher IQs.


A 2009 review of 23 studies involving 1,500 patients concluded that music helped reduce the patients’ heart rates, blood pressures and anxiety levels.


A 2010 study concluded that many people have experienced spine chills listening to music.



One could say some music, whether soft or energetic, can become immortal. Listeners experience the music. They feel it. The musical chemistry brings back to life some favorite memories, first loves or sad goodbyes. They remember high school dances. Or a special event, like a wedding, baptism or funeral.


Human physiology can be influenced by a song’s mix of instruments. For example, various instruments in Elton John’s powerful “Runaway Train” paint a mental vision of a powerful train racing along its tracks. This song is an energetic musical journey that includes Eric Clapton on blues guitar and shared vocals. The song is on my list of favorites for inspiration and long drives.



IMG_9001 - Version 2

Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson guitar. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


9/11 songs

Inspiration for music is found all around us, from personal adventures to national headlines. It has been estimated that more than 120 songs were sparked by the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.


One of those songs is “Freedom,” by Sir Paul McCartney. In a 2007 interview, McCartney said he was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport when he saw the World Trade Center burning. Before his plane took off, the airport was closed. Across America, all aircraft were grounded for days. The day after 9/11, McCartney began writing “Freedom.”


Bruce Springsteen wrote several of his songs on his “The Rising” album to honor the 9/11 victims, first responders or family members. The album won several Grammys.


But back to the museum’s collection. Visitors should check out its many other instruments. One is a piano its display says was originally made for Czar Nicholas I of Russia. He was Russia’s emperor from 1825 to 1855. The piano is one of only 24 made by Johann August Tischner (1774-1852).



A piano made for Czar Nicholas I of Russia. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


MIM is on Tatum Boulevard in north Phoenix at 4725 E. Mayo Blvd. It has a restaurant and a 300-seat theater for concerts. The museum was founded by Robert Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corp.


Many more details about the museum, its concert list, admission, design and architectural team are on the museum website,


(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all photographs and other images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)




Feb 22nd, 2014

A Partial List of Pleasures Awaiting Visitors to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada

Posted By Mike Padgett

Sept. 19, 2013

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – One of our most memorable journeys took us to a historic hotel in the Canadian Rockies. It is a place of soaring mountain peaks, ancient glaciers and icy lakes, this destination where nature’s beauty competes with hotel luxury.


Life is too short, so 12 months ago we indulged ourselves with a few days at the luxury Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The hotel occupies an important place in the history of Canada’s westward expansion in the late 1800s. Plus, this Canadian icon is surrounded by  majestic mountains blanketed with evergreen forests.


IMG_1810 - Version 2 All images are ©Mike Padgett/


The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is an elegant hotel where – if it were possible – we would grab time’s pendulum to stop the clock.


Our stay at the hotel in the small community of Lake Louise fits into the mother lode of upscale travel. The eight-floor hotel – it has 554 rooms – is dignified and polished but not overdone. The many positives we experienced at this hotel place it very high on our list of favorite high-end hotels.


After checking out, we thanked the vacation gods for giving us a string of sunny days in a region that often receives significant rainfall during its short summers.


Today, a year later, I often think about our stay at this luxury hotel. It is in a region where nature occupies center stage. On the nearby Trans Canada Highway are fenced overpasses built for wildlife to use to avoid traffic.


Besides the friendly and helpful employees, many other things to love about the hotel and its surroundings include:


• The rugged beauty of the mountains surrounding the lake and the hotel.


IMG_1651 - Version 2


• Tranquil walks at sunrise in the clean mountain air on the trail along the glacial lake.


• Stops on the trail to look back at the hotel and its image reflected in the lake’s mirror-smooth surface. The only sound is morning mist dripping from trees.


• The lake’s brilliant turquoise color, caused by “rock flour” created by glaciers grinding rocks into powder. Melting snow and ice carry the rock flour into the lake that freezes during winter.


• Breathtaking vistas of the lake. Between some of the snowy peaks are glaciers.


• Pausing to relax on a trail bench made from peeled logs sawed in half lengthways. Across the lake is the rental canoe dock.


IMG_1609 - Version 2


• Breezes whispering through the dense evergreen forest.


• Morning dew dripping from the trees and merging into tiny rivulets that trickle off the slopes, across the trail and into the icy lake.


• The history of the lake and the luxury hotel, which traces its origin to a guest chalet built in 1890 by the Canadian Pacific Railway.


• The hotel’s colorful flowerbeds, kept fresh by a friendly staff.  Flowers dominate the landscaping between the hotel and the lake and also in creative arrangements in the driveway to the hotel’s main entrance.


• Watching the lake color change through the day, depending on smoothness of the water and the angle of the sun reflecting off the lake.


• Postcard vistas of the lake and the snow-capped mountains through the Lakeview Lounge’s arched windows.


IMG_1544 - Version 2


• The ethnic mix of hotel guests speaking languages from the Far East to Europe and the Middle East.


• The tasty menu selections at the hotel restaurant, the Glacier Saloon. For economical meals and for picnickers, the hotel’s sandwich shop offers a wide selection of fresh sandwiches and hot meals.


• The private Gold Lounge on the seventh floor. We’re not fond of crowds, so this level of privacy and service is worth the extra price. We enjoyed our breakfasts here. In the afternoons, the private lounge offers an honor bar and generous canapés. We had our choice of tables close to windows or in alcoves. The windows offer upper-floor views stretching from the hotel’s entrance to the mountain peaks in the distance.  For privacy, we chose tables in the alcoves.


• The courtesy and conscientiousness of hotel and restaurant employees. Hotel staff in the Gold Lounge and at the front desk helped us receive and return documents to negotiate a real estate transaction during our stay.


• The view of the lake from our corner room’s windows. Several mornings, we watched a morning breeze cross the lake, painting its glassy surface with ripples.




• Relaxing with favorite books in our room or in the concierge floor lounge at the end of the day.


• Finding excuses to walk again along the lake. Photo ops are around every turn in the trail.


• A thundering sound echoes occasionally across the lake, even on sunny days. We are told the sounds likely are snow avalanches in the mountains.


• Reading about the hotel’s history, and imagining the challenges construction workers faced before there were power tools and concrete trucks.


Sadly, major flooding scarred Alberta’s beauty in June. Floodwaters damaged or destroyed homes, businesses, bridges and roads. Southeast of Lake Louise, the Trans Canada Highway was closed for a short time because floodwaters damaged the four-lane highway between Banff and Canmore. Nearly a week later, the highway was repaired and reopened.


We send Albertans our wishes for a speedy recovery from the historic flooding. Theirs is a magnificent country where its natural beauty can erase fatigue.


Our experience at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise boosted our interest in luxury travel. We are planning more similar journeys in our slower and gentler lifestyle AD, or After Deadlines.



(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all photographs and other images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)


(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)


(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to


(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)






Sep 19th, 2013
Comments Off on A Partial List of Pleasures Awaiting Visitors to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada

To the Ocean, to Read and Recharge

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 1, 2013

SAN DIEGO – Ocean, ocean, ocean, she chants softly with eyes closed and arms stretched in front of her like a conductor. She is resting her head back against the passenger’s seat.

We’re racing west on the interstate to find a slow path on the beach. I’m anticipating salt air with my morning coffee.

My Best Friend opens her eyes and lowers her arms to resume typing on her laptop. We’re halfway across the Arizona and California deserts. Twin dust devils spin in the distance to our left. Three hours ahead is San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.

It is late spring. The possibility of a gray May and a June gloom – a regional saying referring to cloudy or rainy days this time of year – is irrelevant.

Actually, the unpredictable spring weather and the collective daily activities at sunrise on the coast are exhilarating, not gray or gloomy. There is brisk morning air with drifting clouds or fog. We can share endorphins with joggers, cyclists, kayakers and sailing enthusiasts. It is a grand new day, every day.

IMG_8355 - Version 2

Sunrise over the Coronado Bridge in San Diego. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

With each new dawn, Nature offers her personal orchestra. Rays of sunlight reaching through clouds and landing on anchored sailboats turn the watercraft blinding white on dark water.

Pelicans fly single file overhead or glide inches above waves. Solitary motionless herons stand in shallow water, waiting for a meal to swim by.

We’ve made this Phoenix-San Diego road trip many times since our paths crossed years ago at the intersection of Future Journeys and Best of Friends. We are drawn to the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The ocean breezes and the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean offer beauty and solitude.

The ocean reminds me of the quote, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Isak Dinesen, pseudonym of Danish writer Baroness Karen Blixen, author of  “Out of Africa,” and “Seven Gothic Tales,” wrote it.

On the beach, all we need are light jackets and each other. And a camera to capture the occasional spring flowers as bright as airport beacons.


Flowers seem more vibrant in marine environments. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We enjoy California’s rich variety of cultures, climates, moderate politics and more tolerance of individual differences. During an earlier trip, after learning we live in Arizona, a San Francisco waiter said, jokingly, “You sure have your problems.” He referred to Arizona headlines that are trapped in negative viral mode.

When we visited San Diego a year ago for a conference, I took a seat at our 23rd floor window to watch the day begin. My coffee was too hot. Joggers wound their way on their routes between the downtown high-rises and along the marina.

I watched as a three-deck yacht, one of the largest in the marina, was maneuvered from its slip. On the yacht’s top deck was a small silver helicopter. I wonder about the boat’s ownership.

On our newest visit, 11 months later, the time is ours. No business meetings. No conferences. We set aside this time to read, to leave our car parked, and to walk along the bay. No standing in lines at museums and restaurants. No fighting traffic. No searching for parking spaces or gasoline stations. Coronado is our destination.

IMG_8372 - Version 2

Solitary fishermen often are the first to greet sunrise on San Diego Bay. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

On our morning walks along the bay, we encounter several other early risers. The earliest to greet the new day are fishermen. They are in their boats, positioned at favorite spots but out of the water traffic lanes, as we walk past. Next are joggers and bicyclists. A man on a skateboard – one foot pumping, the other on the skateboard – races to keep up with his dog on a leash. A few walkers, of all ages, walk alone. A few others walk hand in hand. We pass an exercise class for a dozen young mothers, each with a baby buggy, on the promenade.

During our pre-dinner walk our first night on this trip, we stop to watch a dozen small, dark amphibious craft,­ each carrying four or five passengers, cruise at high speed  – in single file – on San Diego Bay. Since it was after sundown, maybe it was night military training. Naval Amphibious Base Coronado is nearby.

We walk a short distance to Currents, the restaurant at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa. Dinner was seared salmon filets. Dessert was a shared slice of chocolate and peanut butter pie with caramel sauce.

The next morning, after a breakfast of lump crab hash topped with a fried egg, we spend the day reading, checking email and watching activity on and around the bay.

This part of Coronado has been one of our favorite getaways for many years. We remember when the hotel was the Coronado Island Le Meridien. In the late 1990s, the Marriott Corp. announced its plans to buy the property, according to news accounts.

From our villa patio, we can watch the daily slowmo parade of Navy and cargo ships on the bay. A man, on his stomach, paddles by on a surfboard. He passes two kayaks. Passing him is a giant cargo ship. We check the behemoth ship’s name on the Internet and learn that it is delivering new European automobiles to dealers on the West Coast. San Diego was its first stop after passing through the Panama Canal.

We watch a few sailboats cruise by slowly, their sails filled with gentle breezes. The sky is clear. A water taxi crosses the bay, carrying several passengers to downtown San Diego.

In the distance is the Coronado Bridge where, on weekday afternoons, the Coronado-to-San Diego rush hour traffic can slow to a crawl. A recent road rage incident on the bridge between a motorist and a motorcyclist is in the news.

Life goes on. In the hotel, we enjoy the waiter’s recommendation – sea bass on a bed of mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.

On previous trips, we enjoyed walking through Coronado’s residential neighborhoods, filled with small bungalows, larger contemporary homes and restored mansions.

We also enjoyed morning walks on the promenade in Coronado along the bay and under the Coronado Bridge. If you go, follow the path past the anchored sailboats, under the bridge and along the golf course.

IMG_1839 - Version 2

Sunset on the beach in Southern California. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Walking along the beach or bay allows time for reflection. There are no I-shoulda-dones, and the only regret is, time passes too quickly.

The following morning, on another day set aside for more reading and walking, we begin with a breakfast of blueberry scones, bananas and caffeine. We’re planning to order gyros for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Dinner? We haven’t decided. Our week is going well.



(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)


(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)


(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to


(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)




Jun 1st, 2013

Stuck in Heathrow, by way of Ankara, Istanbul and a London Gothic Icon

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 29, 2013

LONDON – The situation was grim. It was dark and raining. We were anxious to get home. But our British Airways jet, because one of its engines refused to start, was grounded at Heathrow Airport.

We had expected to be airborne on this nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from England to Arizona. Sorry, the captain announced, but everybody must leave the plane and return to the terminal.

We grabbed our carry-on bags from the overhead bins. No smiles in this group. Baggage handlers returned to our plane to unload the hundreds of bags and freight they had just stowed.

Crewmembers handed out vouchers for meals or drinks as passengers filed out of the airliner. We could do nothing but wait for news about Plan B for our flight home.

In the terminal, we found seats away from a handful of whining passengers. My Best Friend reached for her iPad, on which she stores a growing collection of  books. I pulled out my iPod. Music helps me relax. It sent my thoughts back over the past few days. I began to realize that on this romantic journey in London, despite our sore throats, we had set our personal adventure bar a little higher. We had traveled back in time in a fairy tale icon from a different era.

IMG_2664 - Version 9

After renovations, the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel opened in 2011. It first opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Creative genius

I thought about the history we absorbed during our stay at St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel. The once-neglected Victorian hotel, after renovations, is one of London’s most popular attractions.

I imagined to myself that if we lived in London, we would frequent St. Pancras, which is in the King’s Cross area in central London. With its history and architectural beauty, St. Pancras offers a unique energy. We would sit at a window table in O’Neill’s Pub across Euston Road and dream about the hotel’s earlier years. We would raise a toast to the hotel’s grand architecture and to its important role in London’s history, past as well as future.

We would salute the creative genius required to design and erect this landmark gothic structure in the 1870s. The architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott. The architectural gem opened as the Midland Grand Hotel.

Survived air raids

Over several generations, the building served its original purpose with flair before it fell into disrepair, starting in the 1920s. It was closed in 1935. During World War II, the hotel withstood three bombings from German air raids.

After World War II, according to hotel literature, the once-grand hotel was renovated into offices for British Rail and its hospitality business. British Rail moved out of the building in 1985, after which time the building sat neglected and mostly empty.

In its 2006 press release, Marriott International announced that its Renaissance hotel brand will be “part of the St. Pancras Chambers historic restoration project” in a management contract with owner Manhattan Loft Corp.

The recent restoration project included converting the upper floor of the main building into 67 apartments. For hotel guests, there are 38 suites in the restored building and 207 rooms in the hotel’s new wing.

Movies and trains

The gothic hotel’s unique architecture has been featured in several movies, including Harry Potter, Batman, Richard III, and others. The hotel also is a key part of the western terminus of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which connects London to France and Belgium. We walked through the hotel’s Booking Office restaurant and into the adjoining rail station. The arriving and departing trains reminded us of our earlier trip on the Eurostar from Paris to London.  The trip crosses picturesque English and French countrysides and goes under the English Channel.


IMG_2705 - Version 2

The trip between Paris and London, on the streamlined Eurostars at speeds up to 200 mph, lasts about 2 hours 15 minutes. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Proposed for demolition

It is hard to imagine that the St. Pancras hotel sat empty for several years or that it once was proposed for demolition. Eventually, after forward-thinking minds prevailed, the grand building received historic status. After renovation, it was reopened in 2011 as the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel. On Manhattan Loft Corp.’s website is a short video about the reconstruction work.

Our suite was a few doors from the hotel’s grand staircase. The winding three-story cantilevered staircase features giant stained glass windows tall enough for cathedrals.


IMG_2685 - Version 2

Looking down one side of the grand staircase. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Each day, as we passed the elegant staircase, its architectural beauty reached out to us. We admired the gold fleur-de-lis stenciling on the red walls, and the graceful wood railing that tops the staircase’s original iron grillwork. It was easy to imagine the fashions of the late 1800s descending the stairs. Ladies  in decorative hats and bustle dresses. Men in suits and top hats, carrying walking sticks.


IMG_2595 - Version 2

The grand staircase landings feature polished stone pillars and intricate stone arches and gargoyles. The staircase’s vaulted ceiling is painted with a celestial scene. Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett

The hotel’s architectural beauty has the attention of others, too, including real estate developers. During our walks through the neighborhood, we saw that this part of London is undergoing a commercial rebound. We counted several construction cranes within a few blocks of the hotel.

A retreat at the Chambers Club

Our retreat to St. Pancras included access to the hotel’s Chambers Club, which offers guests a quiet, cozy atmosphere for meals. We found the gracious manager and wait staff as courteous as long-time friends. We preferred the Club’s smaller tables in alcoves. Most guests talked in whispers. The Club became our temporary home because we were struggling with sore throats. Over-the-counter meds and cough drops we found at local pharmacies helped. As a result, we canceled plans involving crowded tours. Instead, we immersed ourselves in the hotel’s history and its ambiance.

The Chambers Club also offered Internet access. That amenity became critical on this adventure because, prior to our journey, we had initiated the purchase of another home while planning for the sale of our existing home in Arizona. The back-to-back transactions meant staying connected with our Realtors and lenders to keep the paper work on track.

Midnight landing in Ankara

This journey partway around the world had started two weeks earlier with a late night landing in Ankara. It was our first trip to Turkey, often called the cradle of civilizations. Our adventure to the former Ottoman Empire began months earlier in 2012 when my Best Friend received an invitation to speak at Turkey’s first national education conference at Middle East Technical University.

After landing in Ankara, we had become separated from our luggage. When we landed in Istanbul on an international flight from London and boarded a domestic flight to Ankara, we assumed we would claim our luggage in the domestic flight area in Ankara. Eventually, we found our bags in the international part of the terminal.

Our luggage search made us an hour late in meeting our driver and interpreter at the curb. It was now after midnight. And to their credit, they had waited for us. We’re sure we were the last visitors to leave the airport that night.

They drove us to our rooms on campus. The next morning, with help from our driver, we registered for the conference. Over the next few days, in conversations with many educators, we saw their dedication to teaching is similar to what we have seen throughout the United States and in Australia, Ireland and other nations. Educators, wherever they teach, have similar noble goals – showing young lives what is possible, helping them grow, and finding their individual paths to their personal best.

Gracious friends with us at the METU conference helped us navigate Ankara. They gave us an insider’s view of their wonderful city. We dined in several fine restaurants and visited the mausoleum of the founder and first president of modern Turkey.


IMG_2368 - Version 2

The mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of modern Turkey, on one side of the Ceremonial Plaza. Ataturk died in 1938. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


IMG_2364 - Version 2

One major entrance to Ataturk’s mausoleum and the Ceremonial Plaza is the Road of Lions, a walkway lined with several pairs of stone lions. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Foodies will enjoy Turkey’s culinary delights. In Turkey, one does not eat and run. The meals are social events. The menus include sea bass, seaweed, eggplant, bonito, calamari and many other fresh items. The large selection of seafood originates in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, which surround much of Turkey.

From a lunch menu at a university restaurant in Ankara, I ordered a chicken chimichanga, a popular fried burrito filled with cheese and chicken. The Turkish version of the Mexican chimichanga was tasty, but it was mild. I prefer a chimi with spicy salsa and guacamole.

Five lanes in four

In Ankara and Istanbul, we learned much about driving in Turkey. We saw that five lanes of slow traffic, even with large trucks and tour buses, fit easily on a four-lane road. Stripes marking the lanes are ignored. So are speed limits.

Winding two-way streets in historic parts of Ankara often are wide enough for only one vehicle. When two drivers meet on these streets, one of them turns into an alley entrance or parking spot to let the oncoming driver pass.


IMG_2427 - Version 2

From the patio of a high-rise restaurant, a view of the skyline of an older part of Istanbul overlooking the Bosporus Strait. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


A friend driving us to lunch in Ankara asked if I’d like to drive in Turkey. I declined. He smiled. A short time later, as our friend approached a security checkpoint, he was waved over by security guards. They checked the trunk while we were escorted into the guardhouse, where we were asked to walk through X-ray machines and open our bags. A few minutes later, the guards thanked us and we were on our way. Security, our friends told us, is part of life in Turkey.

Wrong line at Ankara airport

We met many gracious friends and strangers in Turkey. One stranger was the agent at the airport gate at Ankara on our way to Istanbul. We were late for checking in at Ankara, so we hustled to the gate after getting through two levels of security – first at the terminal entrance and then again past the ticket counter.

At the gate, not knowing Turkish, we stepped into a line. Wrong line, but the gracious agent waved us through. We found our separate seats on the plane.

Once in Istanbul, after collecting our luggage, we found the taxi queue. The driver stowed our luggage. We had guesstimated that our hotel was 45 minutes away, maybe an hour, depending on traffic.

Bad luck was with us. It was 6 p.m. on a Saturday. The September day was very warm. Our moods were affected by the sore throats we had developed soon after arriving in Ankara. Over the next hour and 20 minutes, in Istanbul’s stop-and-go freeway traffic, we saw two accidents. In one, a car was on its roof. Onlookers stood in the median.

Vendors were hawking bottles of water on the freeway. They walk between the vehicles when traffic stops or slows to a crawl. Outside the car ahead of our taxi was a man reaching through the passenger’s window, handing a bottle of water to the driver. The water vendor’s flip-flopping leather sandals stayed two steps ahead of the car’s rear wheels.

At our hotel, our driver stopped at the security guardhouse at the entrance to the hotel property. The guard looked at our luggage in the trunk. He then used a mirror on a pole to look on the underside of our taxi. He waved our taxi through. It was a short distance to the hotel’s front door. There, our luggage was taken to an X-ray machine at another security checkpoint inside the hotel lobby.

The view from our room in the Hilton Istanbul was from the European side of the Bosporus Strait, looking east across to the Asian side. We appreciated the graciousness of the staff as well as the variety of meals offered.


IMG_2408 - Version 2

From the balcony of our room in Istanbul, we watched civilian and military ships cruise the Bosporus Strait between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


We saw a variety of ships cruise the Bosporus Strait, including cruise ships, freighters and military ships. My Best Friend saw a trim military ship with the Russian hammer and sickle insignia. Russian ships, friends told us, often cruise these waters.

One afternoon, friends guided us through a historic shopping district of Istanbul. There, in this major city of a largely Muslim nation, we visited St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral, the largest Roman Catholic church in Istanbul. It was filled with visitors.


IMG_2445 - Version 2

Interior of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Our friends also took us for a walk across a university campus on a hillside overlooking the Bosporus Strait. Later that afternoon, they treated us to a meal in a restaurant across the street from the Bosporus. Mist from splashing waves drifted over the sidewalk.

A few days later, after enjoying Istanbul, we hired a taxi for the ride back to the airport. We were booked on a sunrise flight to London. The traffic was light because it wasn’t yet rush hour. But our taxi ride, because speed limits generally were ignored, reminded me of the chase scene (minus the collisions) in the movie, “The French Connection.”

Replacement jumbo jet

My memories of our friends in Turkey, their graciousness and the culinary delights helped pass the time waiting in Heathrow for a replacement airliner. Eventually, we heard good news. We learned that British Airways had a replacement airliner. Local crews had finished their maintenance on the other jet, making it available for us. Our original plane could not be repaired in time.

The other airliner would be waiting for us at a different gate, the agent announced. We picked up our bags. It’s several hours past our departure time, but we’re headed home. The experiences shared by new friends in Ankara, Istanbul and the romantic St. Pancras hotel have set a new standard for our future travels.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

Apr 29th, 2013

Hikes at Dawn from Historic Hotels in the Canadian Rockies

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 4, 2012

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – Summer sunrises in the Canadian Rockies are among the best work of nature’s saints and angels. They make the air brisk and refreshing. They return colors to the forests and mountains.

One morning in mid-July, before dawn, I cross a Canadian castle’s empty lobby. My goal is sunrise photos along an icy and primeval lake. Exploring the previous day, I found several spots for photos on the trail bordering Lake Louise.

When its namesake lake is smooth as glass, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is reflected in water the color of turquoise. Dawn’s dew dripping from evergreens along the shore causes occasional ripples in the lake.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My fuel for the hike is a cup of caffeine and the anticipation of a few keeper photos.

This morning in the Rockies is overcast. The aroma of tree bark compost in the hotel flower gardens greets me as I exit the hotel. A grounds worker and I exchange greetings. She is watering the poppies and other flowers from the tank she pulls with her garden tractor.

Vibrant Icelandic poppies add sparkle to hotel gardens at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Out on the trail, I share the dawn and the forest’s aroma with two other early morning hikers. This is grizzly country, but the bears shouldn’t be a problem.

I hear a distant train whistle. The haunting sound is part of the region’s heritage. As in the American West, railroads were major players in the settlement of the Canadian West. The Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890 built a guest chalet that years later became the Chateau Lake Louise. The railway also is linked to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the town of Banff, less than an hour’s drive to the southeast.

Lake Louise and its historic luxury hotel are in a remote storybook setting far from sirens and traffic and airports. Occasionally, we hear helicopters. Pilots offer tourists bird’s-eye views of forests and jagged peaks. They fly over glaciers feeding into a turquoise lake that, on summer afternoons, is dotted with red rental canoes.

The lake trail is an easy walk. Water percolating from the hillside trickles across the trail and into the lake. The tree line partway down from the mountain peaks marks the end of soil for the forest.

There is no time on this hike to find the end of the lake trail that threads its way up the mountain and onto glaciers. There will be a future visit.

This turquoise jewel of a lake greets us each morning. One day, with the sun’s rays touching the glacier in the distance and reflecting in the lake, several hotel guests (lower right) rush to the lake’s edge to photograph the day’s spectacular beginning. I capture this image from our hotel window. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Several times, on clear days, we hear what sounds like thunder. One morning, the rumble greets me as I turn off my 5 a.m. alarm. We learn later the sounds probably came from avalanches of snow and ice high in the mountains.

The rumbling startles us on another morning hike. My Best Friend and I had become separated on the lake trail, each concentrating on photos. She is back on the trail, around a bend. I glance at a man paddling his rental canoe not far from shore.

He freezes in mid stroke. I follow his gaze upslope beyond the head of the lake to Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier. Slowly, the man resumes paddling. We see no avalanche.

A hotel worker later explains that unless you see an avalanche, by the time you hear it, the avalanche could be over. Sound travels much slower than light.

Canada’s rural scenery

Lake Louise is less than a two-hour drive northwest of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. The drive across the prairies and into the mountains goes too quickly.

A few miles west of Calgary, I spot a herd of Hereford cattle on a sloping pasture in the distance. The rural scene brings to mind Canadian author Wallace Stegner’s writings about his boyhood in the early 1900s in southern Saskatchewan.

The highway takes us across rolling fields of grain and grasslands painted shades of green by spring rains. Occasionally, the blue skies over the prairies are dominated by thunderheads taller than the Rockies.

Alberta’s History

At the lakeside chateau, we soak in the region’s history. We marvel at the determination and grit of explorers, miners and railroad workers whose roles were key in the westward expansion in North America.

An afternoon view of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Native Americans called the lake Ho-Run-Num-Nay, or Lake of Little Fishes. We learn that in icy freshwater lakes, fish grow at slower rates.

In the early 1880s, the lake was named Emerald Lake by a guide packing supplies ahead of construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1884, it was renamed Lake Louise in honor of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria.

The original chateau erected by the railway in 1890 housed a dozen guests. Today, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has 554 rooms.

Winters in the Canadian Rockies

In the silence of the forest, standing next to an amazing lake, the tasks and deadlines waiting back home fade into the background. We hold hands. Share photo ideas. Dodge mud puddles on the trail. It is so quiet and still, we whisper.

For a time, until others follow us on the trail, we are alone in an ancient forest surrounded by jagged mountains cradling a lake fed by glaciers. We discover that the lake will change color, depending on the time of day and whether the sky is clear or cloudy.

A peaceful morning view of Mount Victoria reflected in Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We learn that during the long winters, the lake freezes thick enough for skating. Ice sculpture competition is a major event.

To countless generations of Native Americans, this lake was part of their world. But to European explorers, and the armies of settlers, ranchers and others who followed them, this lake’s color made it unique.

Lake Louise gets its color from the “rock flour,” or silt, suspended in the water. The silt is created by the grinding action of glaciers for eons on mountain rock.

We wander through the hotel. We find the hotel’s photogenic arching picture windows that the railway in the early 1900s featured in Art Deco travel posters and postcards.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s giant arched windows offer views across Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Lake Louise and its mountain chateau have an international following. Several bus tours arrive during our short stay. One evening, while waiting for our dinner reservations one, a group of 13 Australians moves through the Glacier Saloon’s swinging doors ahead of us. We hear visitors whispering and talking in several other languages from Asia and Northern Europe. Several guests, like me, wander through the hotel, camera in hand, admiring the design and construction.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s lobby at dawn. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

This grand hotel surrounded by nature is an exhilarating stop on Canada’s trail of history. But after a few days, our time here is over. We pack and head southeast 56 kilometers to Banff.

Along the highway is a paved trail for cycling and walking. We pass several helmeted hikers traveling on roller skis, which resemble shortened skis with rubber wheels. Maybe they use roller skis and ski poles in warm months to keep in shape for cross country skiing during the winter.

We pull off the Trans-Canada Highway at the Banff exit and drive through the picturesque town, following signs to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. We cross the Bow River bridge and head upslope on the winding road. The historic hotel towering above the forest soon comes into view.

Living History

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, with more than 500 rooms, is another of Canada’s premier historic properties. One of its most popular rooms is Mount Stephen Hall, a favorite across Canada for weddings and other events. Its giant windows look out across Bow Valley. A suit of armor stands in a prominent corner of the room decorated with antique-style European furniture.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is designed like a Scottish baronial castle. Tour buses often pull up each morning to collect their passengers. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The existing hotel was built “by the Canadian Pacific Railway in stages between 1911 and 1928,” according to a brass plaque greeting visitors. The hotel’s origins date to 1888 when a wooden structure was opened for guests by the railway. More details about the history of the hotel and the region are available at, and at

Mudslide blocks highway

After we check in, we stop in Rundle Lounge for a late lunch. It was about 3:30 p.m. Our table next to the window overlooks Bow Valley and Bow River. A sudden afternoon thunderstorm sends restaurant guests on the patio scrambling inside. The rain creates temporary waterfalls streaming down Mount Rundle, which rises to about 9,700 feet.

Later that day, we learn the storm causes a mudslide that blocked the four lanes of the highway about 2 kilometers west of Banff. We passed that location an hour earlier.

The closure of the highway for several hours sends more traffic into Banff where, according to news accounts, motorists book all remaining empty hotel rooms and create more business for local restaurants. The highway was opened the next day.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel’s Mount Stephen Hall is referred to as one of the most popular rooms in Canada for weddings and other special events. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Another hike at dawn

A few minutes after sunrise one morning, I walk to a place offering a view of the river’s falls, called Bow Falls, and the elegant hotel.

It was a Sunday, a perfect morning for sunrise photos. I start up the stone steps adjacent to Bow Falls. No distractions. No one else is at the viewpoint. But a minute later, I’m surprised by a jogger approaching from the other direction. She passes me and makes her way down the steps to the parking lot next to the river.

The viewpoint is downslope from the hotel. At the top step, mist rises from the river’s falls, which are heard long before they are seen. The falls are just upstream from where the Bow River meets the Spray River.

Behind me, the hotel sporting Canada’s familiar flag is bathed in the new day’s rays. The morning sun spotlights the historic hotel rising from the woods.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel surrounded by the Canadian forest. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Echoing through the trees were the occasional songs of birds, including the sounds of the raven. One could say the raven’s voice was created when the Great Spirit was in a grumpy mood.

Summer days in Banff are changeable. At sunrise Monday, the day began with wet streets and a partly clear sky. Then the sky clouded over. In the distance, mountain peaks vanished twice behind a curtain of rain. By day’s end, the sky was overcast again. High temperatures hovered around 60 degrees.

During our stay, we drove to a viewpoint called Surprise Point. It’s on the other side of Bow River from the hotel. The route is a short drive back across the bridge and along the other side of the river. The location offers a view of the hotel and beyond, up the slopes to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, from near Surprise Point across the Bow River. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Other summer activities at the two Fairmont hotels include trail rides, aerial tours, hiking, rafting, golf, tours of the hotels and visits to the glaciers.

At both hotels, the employees – the bellmen, the housekeeping staff, the wait staff and their managers – are friendly and attentive. Their smiles, courtesy, interesting conversation and graciousness brighten each day.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

Aug 4th, 2012

Soaring Metro Phoenix Home Prices Could Level Off Soon

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 1, 2012

Press Release

TEMPE, Ariz. — Phoenix-area home prices have been zooming up for months, and the streak continued in May. However, a new report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University takes a closer look at the short supply of available houses, an increase in foreclosures, and a possible leveling off of skyrocketing prices this summer.

The report on Maricopa and Pinal counties reveals:

*  The median single-family home price went up more than 32 percent from May 2011 to May 2012.

*  The overall housing supply dropped by 50 percent in the same time frame.

*  The number of completed foreclosures of single-family homes and condos combined went up 18 percent from April to May.

The median single-family home price jumped 32.4 percent from May 2011 to May 2012. It went from $111,000 up to $147,000. At the same time, the median townhouse/condo price soared 37.3 percent, from $69,900 to $96,000, and the average price per-square-foot shot up more than 22 percent. Prices have been increasing since they reached a low point in September 2011.

The report’s author, Mike Orr, says high demand and low supply remain the dominant factors in the Phoenix-area housing market. For example, the number of active listings for single-family homes without a contract in the greater Phoenix area was down to 8,550 as of June 1. Fierce competition for available homes has continued to push prices up.

“Most houses below $250,000 priced realistically are attracting large numbers of offers in a short time, and many exceed the asking price,” says Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “We recently saw a Chandler home get 84 offers and a Glendale home receive 95. The Glendale house closed within four weeks for 17 percent above asking price. Needless to say, this is not something we would see in a normal market.”

The amount of overall sales activity is down, due to the short supply. The number of single-family home sales fell 5.8 percent compared to last May. Orr says things are especially quiet in the luxury and active-adult sectors of the market, where there’s less demand. But new-home sales are up 57 percent over last May, as buyers look for alternatives to the intense competition for existing homes under $250,000.

Orr says, “Contractors are trying to keep up with the new construction demand by supplementing a small skilled labor pool. They’re attempting to lure away competitors’ employees with higher pay and to attract back foremen who’ve gone on to other housing markets or industries.”

Investors are also playing an influential role in the area. In May, almost 28 percent of home purchases were made by investors. Orr says the average area home buyer faces an uphill battle against those offering all cash, instead of a financed offer requiring an appraisal. He does believe, though, that things are about to calm down somewhat.

“Prices gained further strength over the last month, but I suspect they cannot continue to rise at the extremely fast rate we experienced this spring,” says Orr. “This rate can’t be sustained long term, and the most likely time for prices to stabilize is during the hot summer months of June through September.”

At the same time, foreclosures are unfortunately going up in the area. The new report shows completed foreclosures of single-family homes and townhome/condos combined went up 18 percent from April to May this year. However, Orr doesn’t see this as reason to worry yet.

“Completed foreclosures were still down 52 percent year-over-year in May,” he explains. “Since the signing of a legal agreement between the states and five of the nation’s largest lenders, we have seen a slight uptick in the rate of foreclosure notices, but we are still a long way below the peak levels of March 2009.”

The areas of the Valley most affected by the foreclosure crisis are now seeing the biggest surge in prices. For example, El Mirage, Maricopa, San Tan Valley, Glendale and Apache Junction are doing much better. The areas least affected by foreclosures have seen prices improving slowest. Still, some are moving into positive territory, such as Cave Creek, Fountain Hills and Sun City. The only areas still showing a decline in average prices per-square-foot over the past year are Eloy, Paradise Valley, Rio Verde, Sun City West and Sun Lakes.

Orr’s full report, including statistics, charts and a breakdown by different areas of the Valley, can be viewed at More analysis is also available from knowWPCarey, the business school’s online resource and newsletter, at

For more information, please visit and


(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

Jul 1st, 2012
Comments Off on Soaring Metro Phoenix Home Prices Could Level Off Soon

Army Veteran Helping Others During His Journey Into Blindness

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 15, 2012

GILBERT, Ariz. – The blind Army veteran depended on his nose to lead him to the pizza joint. But his guide dog, responding to his command, entered two doors too early.

That wrong turn in the shopping center in 2004 became another turning point for the former Army captain. Tom Hicks was struggling with the loss of his eyesight, which was diagnosed in the late 1990s as retinitis pigmentosa. He was on his way to the pizza restaurant when he accidentally entered a karate school.

As he turned to leave the martial arts school, Hicks asked the instructor if he could teach a blind student. He already knew a few self defense techniques from his work as a military policeman. The instructor hesitated, then later agreed to enroll Hicks. Hicks graduated in 2009 with a black belt. Today, at 45, he holds a third-degree belt.

After he became blind, Army veteran Tom Hicks earned a black belt in karate, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked the Grand Canyon. Courage, he says, is the conquest of fear. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Hicks is a vision counselor at Phoenix VA Health Care System in central Phoenix. He helps other veterans cope with their deteriorating eyesight. He expects to work with more veterans returning with head injuries received in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On his own time, twice a week, Hicks offers karate lessons in Gilbert, a suburb east of Phoenix. His karate school’s web site is His students range in age from about 3 to 56. Despite his blindness, his instructions about karate and life help his students see how to improve their physical health and boost their self-confidence.

Hicks was in the Army from 1984 to 1997. He first worked as a military policeman and in military corrections. He also was selected for a temporary assignment as a bodyguard for the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe.

Later, Hicks’ application to Officer Candidate School was accepted. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in field artillery. A few years later, his fading eyesight was discovered. It happened about the time Hicks was promoted to captain and enrolled in intelligence training at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona.

Hicks was discharged from the Army in December 1997. His journey into darkness brought on by retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, was marked with many earlier clues that went unnoticed.

“It’s a progressive condition that has some pretty classic conditions,” he says. “Things like night blindness, and color vision starts to be affected. I started injuring myself frequently. People just thought I was tall and clumsy. I thought so too.”

Clues ignored

Hicks blamed himself for bumping into open doors or chairs left pulled out from tables. He was unable to read name tags and insignias on military uniforms, especially on the camouflage or battle dress uniforms.

“There were quadrants of my vision that were just completely gone. The photoreceptor cells had died, so I was banging my head on various things, or not recognizing people after I would walk from outside light to indoors. It just took extra long for everything (to come into focus). And driving became uncomfortable.

“All these things that were really telling me, ‘You need to get your eyes checked.’ And when I’d get my eyes checked, everything would be fine because they weren’t looking for RP.”

“I hate to say this, but you’re blind.”

Eventually, the day of reckoning arrived. It happened while Hicks and other officers were jogging. Hicks was following another officer who yelled over his shoulder to Hicks to watch out for an obstacle.

“I don’t know what I thought I heard but it wasn’t what I needed to hear because when I got to where he was giving me a warning, I fell into this four-foot aquaduct. And I scraped my whole front of my body,” Hicks says.

“And as much as I was in pain, I was humiliated so I just jumped right out of there and kept running. And then I fell again. There was a barricade that said, ‘Warning – Joggers.’ It was to warn the traffic that we were out running. And I just went head over heels (over the barricade).”

“Two officers came up beside me, left and right. They grabbed me and said, ‘You’re running with us the rest of the way.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”

When Hicks’ supervisor heard about the incident, he ordered extensive eye tests. It was likely out of disbelief, and maybe concern about a brain tumor, that the eye specialist tested Hicks several times. Finally, she spoke.

“She says, ‘Captain Hicks, I hate to say this, but you’re blind. How long has this been going on?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, six months.’

“But how do you really put a time on it because it is insidious, you don’t realize it’s happening. And so it was that kind of a thing.”

No more driving

“She said, ‘You can no longer drive. You’re done. At this time, I don’t know what to say or what to tell you. You need to go home. I’ll notify your chain of command. You’re to go nowhere. Sorry.’”

Hicks felt panic. What was in his future? How would he support his family? Then he entered that stage of ping-pong denial, arguing with himself. You are blind. I’m not blind. You’re blind. No I’m not.

“So I instantly felt like I started seeing worse when I was labeled blind, which is, I know, just psychological. But my first fear wasn’t blindness. My first fear was, how am I going to feed these kids? So my first fear was the job. How am I going to work? What I knew about blindness was, blind people are massage therapists and blind people tune pianos or they can play instruments and sing. And I can do none of that, nor was I interested in any of that. So I was a bit terrified on how I’m going to take care of my kids.”

Knocks commanding officer down

The military process of evaluating Hicks’ medical condition and processing his Army discharge took several months. One day, Hicks hurried into a building. Before his eyes adjusted from the bright daylight to the dim interior, Hicks slammed into his commanding officer, knocking him to the floor.

“And he was so mad,” Hicks says. “He just started throwing a fit. Instantly threw a fit. But he looked up, he saw it was me, he says, ‘Oh Tom, it’s you.’ So he forgave me instantly. He knew this guy’s blind, you know.”

His final days of eyesight, eye tests and stumbling into other officers were about 15 years ago. Since then, Hicks hasn’t seen the faces of his children, who now are adults. In his memory, they have children’s faces.

He hasn’t seen any more sunrises, newspapers or the newest cars, iPods or laptops. When he goes shopping with others, Hicks ignores racks of magazines and candies at checkout because he cannot see them.

Hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and Grand Canyon

Hicks walks daily with his guide dog. On Sundays, he jogs four miles with a sighted guide. Plus, he’s head instructor at his karate school in the Power Ranch community in Gilbert.

In 2009, Hicks was part of the group of visually impaired hikers from the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix who trekked to the 19,340-foot-high summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

A year later, Hicks and others from the Foundation hiked the Grand Canyon’s 24-mile rim-to-rim trek.

“…leave it on the mountain.”

Hicks says one of his goals in climbing Kilimanjaro was to overcome feelings of failure and humiliation and the loss of confidence that can accompany blindness.

“I just wanted to leave it on the mountain,” he says.

“This adjustment (to blindness) is daily. In the beginning, it’s a lot of panic, a lot of anxiety. You can really take things so personal, everything. I just learned that if something comes in, I just let it go. It’s no big deal.”

Hicks says climbing Mount Kilimanjaro became a life-changing event for him.

“I think what changed me, coming back from that experience, for sure, was, ‘I’m going to be okay.’ I just need training. I just need proper support. And I’ll be fine. No matter what happens, I’ll be fine.

“So I just really came to terms with the idea that I can do this. I just need solid blind skills. So that’s how I transformed. And then I just thought, ‘Man, it is so cool to get out there and make a difference, to be part of that, to motivate people in the Foundation for Blind Children.”

Courage is conquering fear

Hicks says what he left on Mount Kilimanjaro includes panic, anxiety, a fear of failure, even fear itself.

Hicks continues: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s just the conquest of it. I’m afraid constantly but I won’t let it paralyze me.

“Blindness is no different. You hit the ground in the morning, the challenge starts. There’s a lot of emotion behind losing your eyesight. So much, you just can’t believe it.”

Hicks tells me about his blindness as we sit in an office at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Phoenix. Hicks is coordinator of the Phoenix VA’s Vision Impairment Services Team. He is seated at a desk. I sit about six feet from him. Joining us is Paula Pedene, a Navy veteran who is the Phoenix VA’s public affairs officer. She has a different type of RP.

A few years ago, Pedene and Hicks formed a local group, called Veterans and Friends for Vision, to help the national Vision Walk organization raise awareness and funding for Foundation Fighting Blindness.

I ask Hicks if he can see shapes.

“Currently, to look at you, I see nothing over there,” Hicks says, motioning his left hand in my direction. “I can’t tell the difference between what you’re wearing and your flesh. You blend in with whatever’s behind you. There’s nothing. But if I scan around, I’ll pick up something. But it’s nothing that’s a detail. It’s not discernible. That’s kind of how I see. But I could never pass an eye exam. I can’t see anything on that chart whatsoever.”

RP patient numbers expected to increase

Pedene has a similar story about losing her sight, but it was due to a dominant form of RP. Hicks has a recessive type of RP. Medical groups estimate that RP affects between 50,000 and 100,000 people in the United States. Those numbers are expected to increase in relationship to the rising numbers of baby boomers and as people live longer, Pedene says.

Out of six children in Pedene’s family, “five of us have it,” she says. The difference with her form of RP is that it progresses slower. She struggled with fading eyesight for years in the Navy, where she specialized in broadcast journalism. Eventually, when she applied for officer training, she was told her eyesight was too poor. Pedene says she was told “that I really needed to let go of the Navy.”

Pedene finished her tour in the Navy Reserves. Eventually, she was told that her vision had deteriorated so much that she had to stop driving. She heard those words at a VA testing center in the Midwest. That day was 19 years ago when she was 35. She felt devastated.

“…it was a sad day. I cried…..”

“I still remember that day. And it was a sad day. I cried. I mean I cried and cried and cried. You don’t realize. Just like Tom (Hicks), you just think you’re clumsy. You’re bumping into things that people see. I often joke about the bruises I have.”

Without realizing it, she had entered what’s called a “disease of denial” in which she compensates for fading eyesight. She looked down while walking. She put out her hands to touch walls.

“You are looking down when you walk because you have no peripheral vision so you look down so you don’t fall,” Pedene says.

Geiger counter? Pogo stick?

Pedene and Hicks say it took a while to set their pride aside and begin using a white cane. Today, Pedene calls her cane her best friend. Hicks says he is surprised that some people don’t realize that many blind people use white canes.

“One time in particular, a guy said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he goes, ‘Is that a Geiger counter? Are you taking radon readings?’ And I say, ‘No sir, I’m blind and this is a cane.’ He goes, ‘Oh I’m sorry.’ I say, ‘You don’t have to be sorry. I’m okay. I’m accepting of it.’”

Pedene shares her own story. “Last week, I went to my niece’s recital. So I’m standing there after the recital and her little friend comes up to me and he goes, ‘How come you get to carry a pogo stick like that?’”

Hicks and Pedene praised the VA for offering counseling services and cane training. Their spouses began shouldering some of the burdens, such as driving them to and from work, to mass transit stops, and to appointments and shopping.

When his children want to show a gift to Hicks, they put his hands on the item and describe it while Hicks runs his fingers over it.

“You start to build your life around it (blindness),” Hicks says.

The blind karate instructor

It is a few minutes before 8 a.m. on a Saturday, two days before Memorial Day. About 20 youngsters dressed in black karate uniforms hustle into a community building in Power Ranch.

They drop their gym bags against the walls and step out of their sandals or jogging shoes. A few adjust the belts on their black uniform, called a gi. A few karate parents wander to chairs at the back of the room.

Students in Hicks’ karate classes range in age from 3 to 56. Total enrollment is about 60. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Hicks arrives and takes his place at one side of the large room. He wears a talking digital watch that he touches to hear the time. His school’s website is

The barefoot students line up in two rows in front of Hicks. They sit cross-legged on the carpet. Hicks starts the class with reminders about the holiday’s roots.

He shares a quick story about an elderly blind friend he helps at the Phoenix VA. The older man is an Army veteran who survived the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II.

Karate boosts inner self


Hicks and the other instructors put the students through their moves. In some of the exercises, the students help each other.

After the class, I ask about the veteran who survived D-Day. “He’s got a Purple Heart and he’s got scars and a great attitude,” Hicks says. “I give the guy a talking watch and he thinks I’m a hero. But I’m like, ‘Sir, you’re the hero.’”

Hicks says martial arts helps students of all ages shed negative thoughts about themselves and improve their self images. Karate, he says, can function as an equalizer in society because it can help those who lack self confidence, who struggle with peer pressure, who have attention deficit disorder symptoms or whose shyness can attract negative attention from bullies.

Whether students are physically or developmentally disabled, blind or hearing impaired, blind instructor Tom Hicks says karate “is kind of like a place where everybody can fit in.” Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

“We don’t mock each other,” Hicks continues. “We don’t tolerate that. So if somebody’s just not doing so well (in karate class), you’re never going to make fun of them.”

He adds that the class helps the community raise funds for disaster relief and donates it to the local Red Cross chapter.

Blindness creates new paths

Hicks says veterans facing sightlessness often experience more challenges than other blind patients because of the veterans’ training to be self-reliant.

It was his own inner drive that a few years ago encouraged Hicks to learn karate. He was on his way to visit his daughter at her new job at a Pizza Hut in a neighborhood shopping center. With his guide dog at his side, Hicks started walking down the sidewalk. He thought all he and his guide dog had to do is locate the pizza aroma and follow it to the door of the restaurant.

When Hicks smelled pizza, he commanded his dog to turn at the next door. It was the wrong door.

“I walked in and it dawned on me pretty quickly. I heard ‘Yah! Yah!’ that kind of thing. You get an idea it’s a large open space and not a pizza restaurant. So everybody rushed over to see how they can help me.”

When he was told he was inside a karate school, Hicks asked for directions to the restaurant. It was two doors away. As he turned to leave, he asked whether he could enroll for karate. He already knew basic self defense techniques from his military police training.

Learning this, the karate instructor accepted Hicks’ application.

“There are blind martial artists who have been studying their whole life, and then they lose their eyesight,” Hicks says. “But it’s pretty rare that somebody would earn a black belt who started blind. That was quite a challenge. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”

Hicks continues. “I like the martial arts. It’s good exercise. The part I like being part of is the transformation these people take. They go from being so nervous and they have no confidence and they’re meek.

“They’re just normal people doing amazing things,” he says. “They’re just transformed. And you can apply those lessons to every part of your life.

“And I do.”




(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to


(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)


Jun 15th, 2012
Comments Off on Army Veteran Helping Others During His Journey Into Blindness

Memorial Day 2012 at Sunset in an Arizona Cemetery

Posted By Mike Padgett

May 29, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Near the middle of the cemetery, out among the rows of headstones and small flags, I see a woman alone in a folding chair. She sits with her head down. She wears a wide-brimmed hat, so I cannot tell if she is reading a book or focusing on memories.

I wanted to hear her story, but this isn’t the right time. Maybe another day.

Small flags and occasional flowers add Memorial Day sparkle to the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

When I entered the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona about an hour before closing on Memorial Day, I saw more visitors than I expected. Sunset was approaching. Everyone was walking slowly among the headstones. There were several couples, a few families and several people alone.

A sign outside the cemetery office reminds visitors that if they see a headstone without a flag on this holiday honoring veterans, replacements are available at the office.

A couple leaving the neat rows of headstones walk slowly to their van parked at the edge of the street. They stop for a kiss.

Walking among the headstones, I see tracks that probably are those of a wheelchair. The tracks stretch several rows in a straight line from the street to a specific headstone.

The sun is touching the horizon now. The day’s heat is fading into the night. Several rows away I see a couple kneeling. They are silent as they sweep dust off the name and dates on a headstone.

When I visit cemeteries and read the names and dates, I wonder about all those lives. I wonder about their achievements, their dreams and their legacies. I hope their final hours were in peace, not pain.

I hope this holiday’s meaning is remembered. Memorial Day is much more than a day off from work to enjoy hamburgers, cold drinks and shopping. In fact, the national holiday honoring our military veterans dates to 1868 when it began as Decoration Day.

The name was changed to Memorial Day later. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress.

Today, at many national cemeteries, the special day means a flag at the headstone of every veteran, even if family and friends are unable to visit.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

May 29th, 2012
Comments Off on Memorial Day 2012 at Sunset in an Arizona Cemetery

Colorful Butterflies and Flowers, and the Pause Button

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 21, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Poets describe butterflies as flying flowers, or elusive happiness on wings that might find you if you hit your pause button.

I paused the other day. I made time to visit the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Through May 13, hundreds of colorful butterflies each day will surround pavilion visitors. Garden workers and volunteers, protective of the winged splashes of color, stand at the pavilion’s entrance and exit. They open the doors cautiously and ask visitors to help prevent a butterfly’s escape.

Once inside the door, and then the plastic curtain, thoughts of my world faded into the shadows. These fragile creatures with life spans of a few weeks to several months captured my attention. The spring temperature approached 90 degrees, so the butterflies were very active. A great photo opportunity here, especially while they rested or fed on colorful flowers or slices of oranges in feeders.

I focused my camera on what appeared to be a Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, resting on a flower near the center of a bush. When a Zebra Longwing, or Heliconius charitonius, butterfly approached, the Julia appeared to take on a protective or territorial posture, as if to warn the approaching butterfly to stay away.

A Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, shown resting on a flower in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion in Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Visitors are encouraged to watch where they step while walking the pavilion. Butterflies occasionally will land on the soil. One butterfly landed on my shirt. I think it was a Buckeye, or Junonia coenia. I nudged the creature of happiness gently, and it climbed onto my right hand. I carried it on my finger to the branch of a nearby bush, and the friendly butterfly stepped off my finger.

Seconds after the previous photo was captured, the resting Julia butterfly stretches into a protective posture at the approach of a Zebra Longwing butterfly, or Heliconius charitonius. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I’m as distracted today by butterflies as when I was a young boy. I would stop whatever I was doing – such as riding my horse to move cattle from one pasture to another – to watch a fragile butterfly flitter by. Often, my horse would watch the tiny spot of color flying, in zigzag fashion, across our path.

A Buckeye butterfly, or Junonia coenia, shown feeding or resting on a flower. Copyright  © photo by Mike Padgett

Once, while walking with a girlfriend in junior high school, I reached out to two butterflies circling each other in our path. I caught them with one hand. She was surprised. (So was I. Wow.) I opened my cupped hands to show them to her before letting them fly away.

Next spring, I hope to have many more butterflies as guests. At my Best Friend’s suggestion, I sprinkled desert milkweed seeds around our home. Maybe, if the seeds sprout, wandering butterflies will lay their eggs on the milkweed. The eggs will hatch into caterpillars, which will molt a few times before entering the pupa or chrysalis stage. Under the right conditions, the pupa eventually transition into butterflies, which mature and lay more eggs.

A Gulf Fritillary butterfly, or Agraulis vanillae. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Mentions of butterflies are found throughout literature. French poet Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun wrote: “The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.”

Equally appropriate are the words of American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

One of the most powerful references hinting at butterflies is attributed to Helen Keller, considered one of the 20th Century’s leading humanitarians. She said, “One can never consent to creep, when one feels an impulse to soar.”

The cycle continues. To enjoy, all one has to do is pause.


(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

Apr 21st, 2012
Comments Off on Colorful Butterflies and Flowers, and the Pause Button

Advertising Writer Shifts From Carving Words to Crafting Woods

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 3, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Richard Morris traded wordsmithing for woodworking, his creative energy shifted into high gear. He began stretching himself. He was on a new plateau of personal growth.

It was about a decade ago when Morris began his career transition away from writing advertising copy. Today, Morris designs and creates arts and crafts furniture from quartersawn white oak in his northwest Phoenix shop.

Both occupations are creative, he says, but the influence of advertising is temporary. On the other hand, the cabinets, chairs and other items Morris is making today could be treasured for generations.

“Part of what I have to sell is the hand of man,” Morris says. “It looks organic. It looks like something that someone has labored over.” Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett

Morris’ clients are scattered worldwide. Some are local. Others are in Chicago, New York and Europe. Morris recreated historic furniture for the Hubbell Trading Post and the Painted Desert Inn, both in northeastern Arizona. He also crafted furnishings for an Oak Park, Ill., home designed in the early 1900s by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Craftsman or Artist?

Morris was busy with a bathroom vanity when I visited him in his shop recently. Our paths crossed weeks ago, via email. I told him I write about people who have interesting stories to tell. He agreed to share his .

After our handshake, he grabs a hand broom and dusts off a drafting stool for my camera bag. I see an organized workplace. There are several power tools for his precision work. Wood clamps and hand tools are on racks within easy reach. His radio is tuned to National Public Radio.

My eyes wander to his planer, table saw, sander, and to lathe tools in a wall rack. Morris is wearing a worn leather apron. In its chest pockets are a pencil, an old pocketknife and a tiny gauge Morris uses to set his table saw blade.

Morris shows me a design for a tall-case clock he is starting for a client in San Diego. He recently shipped a similar clock to a Chicago client who hopes the clock will be in the family for generations.

“She is going to give it to her oldest son, who’s in turn going to give it to his oldest daughter,” Morris says. “And if there’s any justice at all, it’ll be there for several generations after that.”

On the white oak bathroom vanity he’s finishing, Morris shows me the dovetail joints. He marks and cuts the dovetails by hand. Dovetail joints, if you know woodworking, require skill and patience to make them tight, even and straight.

Richard Morris prepares a bathroom vanity for its door hinges. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My appreciation for skilled woodworking kicks in. I imagine an artisan bent over the workbench, gluing together a table or chair. Adrenaline flows faster than glue dries. The artisan’s frown deepens. He rushes to tighten the clamps before the glue sets, adding pads between the wood and the clamps to avoid leaving dents in the wood.

In this arena, craft approaches art. It is a personal zone where magic is created by a good supply of patience, a love of craft and 10,000 hours of muscle memory.

Morris continues. “Once in a while, the little hairs on the back of my neck just stand up, it’s so satisfying. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. It’s just profound satisfaction at having done a thing well.”

Clients Fall Silent

Morris knows he’s been successful when clients, arriving at his shop, fall silent the minute they see their commissioned furniture for the first time.

“Their eyes will close and they stroke it and I feel like I should walk away and give them some privacy,” Morris says. “It happens with some people. That’s one of the things about why I love what I do. I just put it together. The wood is beautiful on its own. All I do is not screw it up.

“It’s really gratifying,” he says. “I mean, it’s why I get such a big kick out of it. I can stand back at the end of the day and say, ‘I created that out of some sticks.’”

Collectors appreciate American antique furniture because of its beauty, the skill used in creating it, and because well-crafted furniture is functional decades after it was made. Properly cared for, wood antiques will achieve a unique beauty. They can become functional art. The skill of the hand of man becomes obvious.

Crosswords Before Sunrise

Morris says woodworking is his fulltime job, “and will be till I die.” During the summer months, to avoid the heat, he works tropical hours. That means he often arrives at his shop before sunrise.

“I love to come to work. Absolutely love to. I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and do a couple of crosswords and have breakfast, and I’m here.

“People talk about retirement and I say, ‘Retirement? This is my retirement.’”

Morris picks up a cabinet door he’s finishing for the vanity. I reach for my camera.

Morris steadies the cabinet door and grabs his cordless drill. I shoot a few photos of him at work. He drills pilot holes in the door and the cabinet frame for hinge screws. He picks up a tiny screw. It nearly disappears between his thumb and forefinger. He scrapes the screw back and forth on a small piece of soap. The soap will make it easier to twist the screw into the wood.

When Morris attaches and closes the doors, their fit is a little tight. The solution, he says, is sanding the thickness of a sheet of paper from the edges where the doors meet.

Writing Advertising Copy

Morris’ path to his shop started in the Midwest, where he worked a short time in radio while finishing college at the time. He eventually received two bachelor’s degrees – one in history with a philosophy minor, and the second in art with a French minor.

After college, he worked for an advertising agency where he wrote copy for radio commercials. That was followed by a stint in the Navy in the 1960s during the Vietnam era. He attended the U.S. military language school in Monterey, Calif., where his days were devoted to studying French.

After his military duty, he worked first for an advertising agency and then for a printing company, both in St. Louis. In the early 1980s, he relocated to Arizona where he worked for similar companies.

Over time, he developed an interest in woodworking. In about 2003, his hobby became a business. He started in his home workshop. At the time, he lived near the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix.

Later, when he outgrew his workshop, he moved his woodworking business in 2007 into leased space in a light industrial area in northwest Phoenix. He now lives close enough to bicycle to work. He also launched a website,, on which he focuses all of his marketing.

Many of his clients are doctors, lawyers, college professors and accountants.

Morris focuses his energies on arts and crafts furniture, sometimes called Mission style. Many of his clients favor quartersawn white oak, often called “tiger oak” because of the unique golden rays created in the lumber by the quarter-sawing method. The arts and crafts designs, which date to the late 1800s, remain popular and functional.

“One, it’s easy to do,” Morris says. “B, I love the look of it, and C, there’s a considerable market for it. For which we can blame Barbra Streisand.”

It was at a Christie’s auction in 1988 when Streisand – by phone – offered the high bid of $363,000 “for an oak and wrought iron sideboard made by craftsman Gustav Stickley,” according to the Dec. 12, 1988, edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Before the auction, the Columbus Avenue Sideboard – which once had been in Stickley’s home – was appraised at $90,000. Stickley, a major influence in the American Arts and Crafts furniture movement, died in 1942.

White oak was the furniture wood of choice during the arts and crafts era because of its beauty, its strength and because it was plentiful. Today, the price of the wood is increasing because oak forests are decreasing in size. Also competing for the wood are the bourbon whiskey manufacturers, who use it for their whiskey barrels.

Historic Furniture

It was on Morris’ new career path where he walked in the footsteps of some historical figures with high profiles in Southwest history. His company was commissioned to replicate office furniture to replace aging originals used in the Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation. The trading post opened in the 1880s.

Desert Craftsmen also was commissioned by the National Park Service to replicate furniture for the original soda fountain in the historic Painted Desert Inn on the Petrified National Forest.

The Painted Desert Inn is about 25 miles east of Holbrook. It was built in the 1920s as a private retreat and a tourist stop by Holbrook businessman Herbert Lore, according to author Arnold Berke in his book, “Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest.” Berke writes that Lore originally called the building the “Stone Tree House” because blocks of petrified wood were used to construct much of the original building.

A flier from the Painted Desert Inn, which was closed in 1963. After it was reopened and renovated several years later, Richard Morris was hired to recreate furniture for the Inn’s lunchroom. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The National Park Service, as part of its expansion of the Painted Desert, bought Lore’s “Stone Tree House” in 1936. The NPS updated the structure from 1937 to 1940. Two years later, because of World War II, the Inn was closed. In 1947, the Fred Harvey Co. took over the concession contract at the Painted Desert Inn and brought in Colter to update the building’s interior. The Inn closed in 1963.

In the 1970s, when the Inn was considered for demolition, public support helped the Inn receive listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That was in 1975. In 1987, it achieved status as a national historic landmark.

Challenging Work

Morris said the major hurdle in his restoration of the Inn’s soda fountain was the lack of any original furniture. The room apparently had been gutted in preparation for demolition.

“All I had to work with were two black-and-white photographs and the original drawings of the fixtures and such – the counter and the booth and the tables – that sort of thing,” he says.

Morris made the replacement furnishings in his Phoenix shop. But in listening to him talk about the property, it was obvious he enjoyed the trips he made to the Inn to take measurements and photographs, and then finally to install the reproduced furniture.

“You can go there at the crack of dawn and sit and watch as the sun goes across. Everything out there changes color. The shadows change shape. It is just fascinating and well worth the trip if you’ve not been there.”

Full disclosure: I wrote about Richard Morris because he has an interesting story to share. After listening to his story and seeing his work, I commissioned Morris to recreate a small table for me. I paid Morris for the table. Never was there any discussion of me writing about Morris in exchange for the table.

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to

Apr 3rd, 2012
Comments Off on Advertising Writer Shifts From Carving Words to Crafting Woods
« Previous PageNext Page »