After learning to fly in college, Arizona native Rob Norberg flew to Alaska, where he spent 20 years traversing mountains, streams, and valleys as a fishing guide and seaplane pilot. But the Arizona climate eventually beckoned him back. Norberg now leads tours five times a day in his Cessna Caravan seaplane, carrying passengers high above sights including the Salt River Canyon, Roosevelt Dam, and Tonto Indian Ruins and providing passengers with thought-provoking facts and history. His nine-passenger plane ensures a window seat for each passenger, and comes equipped with personal headsets so they can each listen to the plane's adorable heartbeat.
It begins with a flurry of activity. Balloon operators prepare for lift-off, checking equipment and tossing ropes as spectators wander the grounds, observing the action. And then it reaches a new level: dozens of balloons take flight at once, filling the crisp December dawn sky with brilliant blues, purples, oranges, and reds that rival the colors around them. The Arizona Balloon Classic's orbs then set off on an aerial hare-and-hound race, drawing cheers from below as onlookers snap pictures.
For one weekend each year, visitors gather on the grounds to snap pictures and watch the balloons inflate and lift-off outside the Gilbert Civic Center for the Classic––a three-day festival celebrating hot-air balloon flight and culture. But the fun doesn't end with the descent to earth. After sunset the tethered balloons begin to glow, lighting up for the DESERT GLOWS portion of the festivities. Attendees browse exhibits and feast on treats from a variety of vendors, and children play in the Family Fun Zone. Last, on Saturday evening, sparks give balloons a run for their money, springing through the sky in a stunning fireworks display.
Holloway Travel Outfitters, an independent family-owned business, has been easing the travels of world-wanderers with high-end luggage, travel apparel, and accessories since 1978. A petite Rick Steves Civita travel bag ($17.95) discretely holds passports, and a Travelon carry-safe anti-theft backpack ($59.95) protects effects from would-be pilferers with a heavy-duty metal wire strap that thwarts cut-and-run attempts and a leash that locks the bag to secure chairs or tables. Country skippers entrust garments to the clutches of an Eagle Creek Crossroads Duffel ($148.50), featuring rolling wheels to keep shoulders free for impromptu airport piggyback races. During business trips, a Samsonite classic toploader briefcase ($59.95), forged from durable ballistic nylon, keeps businesspersons ready for business, smartly stashing important documents, laptops, and emergency stashes of silly string for enlivening flagging meetings.
For owners Sal and Dina Zappone, their eponymous Italian eatery is a dream come true. The newly renovated dining room is rife with modern accents such as earthen clay tiles, solar-powered silverware, and hanging lights like glowing red roses. It’s also a family establishment through and through. While Sal helms the kitchen, garnishing homemade pastas with fresh ricotta, and loading pizzas with fresh fennel sausage and truffle oil, his young son and daughter can often be found in small aprons, advertising their favorite dishes. Diners may also pair meals with an espresso or a light Morellino wine, which offers a fruity nose easier than sticking grapes in your nostrils.
No one knows where Dr. Vantas lost his way. Once an esteemed doctor at the vanguard of electroshock therapy for the mentally insane, the physician let his psychiatric hospital become a madhouse, prompting rumors of Vantas using inhumane experiments on patients. Those who enter The Asylum risk falling prey to its deranged denizens and the quack’s extremely cold stethoscope. This is the spine-tingling, horror-film narrative that plays out to visitors as they creep through The Asylum, a haunted site modeled after an 1870s-style mental institution and half of The Crypt Haunted Attractions’ two-piece tribute to fear.
The other creepy venue, The Crypt, beckons intrepid guests to descend into a vault filled with the living dead. As they tiptoe through the chamber's darkened corridors, voyagers must stay poised as they strafe around staggering corpses groaning about their hunger for brains or the lack of legroom in their casket.
Bighorn sheep and mountain lions dart between the shadows of craggy lava cliffs as bald eagles swoop from sheer rock faces to wrest fish from Saguaro Lake below. Desert Belle has ferried sightseers through this picturesque lakefront within the Tonto National Forest since 1964, giving them rare glimpses of a thriving ecosystem that's inaccessible by foot or car. As the Desert Belle boat cruises leisurely, guides point out various flora, fauna, and extraterrestrials disguised as Arizona wildlife dotting the landscape. As riders listen to the narration from the shaded upper deck or air-conditioned lower deck, they can visually bask in cactus-studded desert vistas.