Vacations for the Student-at-Heart

By: Edie Jarolim

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July 4, 2011

Take a break to learn something new on one of these educational Arizona getaways.

About the author

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim is the author of three travel guides and one dog guide. Her book, "Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All," is a memoir about her career as a guidebook editor for Frommer’s, Rough Guides, and Fodor’s and as a Tucson-based freelance travel writer.

If the idea of mindless relaxation makes you uneasy, not to worry. From archaeological digs to stargazing camps, Arizona offers lots of options to visitors with learning urges.

Studying the skies

Clear, dry nights, abundant mountain ranges, and ordinances against light pollution create prime conditions for stargazing – which explains why so many world-renowned astronomical observatories have scoped out Southern Arizona. Kitt Peak National Observatory, east of Tucson on Tohono O’odham land, offers an excellent guided dinner and stargazing program, including an overnight option.

The Kitt Peak observatory also conducts daytime guided tours, as does Safford’s Mount Graham International Observatory – perched near the top of the 10,713-foot mountain for which it’s named – and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on the 8,550-foot Mount Hopkins, south of Tucson.

Members of the public can peer through the 16-inch telescope at the Flandrau Science Center on Tucson’s University of Arizona campus, and the U of A’s Alumni Association and its Steward Observatory run a series of annual astronomy camps for adults and teens.

Cooking classes

It’s tough to find a top resort in Scottsdale that doesn’t offer some kind of culinary instruction. Standouts include the healthy cooking classes at The Boulders Resort, which focus on recipes created by the on-site Golden Door Spa. The bi-weekly Monday Night Chef’s Table program run by Chef Charles Wiley at Café ZuZu in Hotel Valley Ho emphasizes seasonal vegetables and fruits. Geared toward ages 5 to 10, the interactive Kids in the Kitchen program at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa teaches all aspects of the culinary routine, including cleanliness (good luck with that in your home kitchen).

Chef Helen Saul spent time in the Yucatan, and regional Mexican cuisine is among the specialties she teaches at the Bisbee Cooking School, where all classes highlight native Southwestern ingredients. In Flagstaff, classes offered by The Seasoned Kitchen run the gamut from Italian to Malaysian, and from local talent to visiting experts.

Archaeology adventures

The area’s original native settlers left behind a lot of evidence of their existence. Among the programs geared toward studying – and, in some cases, recovering – ancient artifacts are those of Tucson-based Old Pueblo Archaeology, ranging from lectures on pottery types to lessons on field technique and archaeologist-led digs.

In addition to tours of the 1,500-year-old Hohokam village on which it is sited, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix has a hands-on exhibit of archaeological techniques and runs several public field trips.

Under the aegis of Arizona State University, the Deer Valley Rock Art Center showcases the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in Greater Phoenix – some 1,500 drawings made between 800 and 5,000 years ago – and teaches visitors about methods used to preserve them.

For more than three decades, professional archaeologists have supervised public excavations and research technique programs at Elden Pueblo, a prehistoric Sinaguan village and Hopi ancestral site near Flagstaff.

Photography with the pros

Good news for those who have ogled the pictures in Arizona Highways magazine and felt as awed by the photographers’ skill as by the scenery they captured. A series of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops taught by several of the magazine’s top shutterbugs shows you how to take your best shot in some of the Southwest’s most stunning locations, including Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.

Lessons in urban planning

Whether you consider Arcosanti visionary or quixotic, this unfinished model city is bound to fascinate. Paolo Soleri, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, chose a spot in a remote desert north of Phoenix to serve as a laboratory for his ideas about eliminating urban sprawl.

Take a standard one-hour tour of the grounds and you might see residents casting the bells and wind chimes sold here and at Cosanti, Soleri’s home and architectural studio near Scottsdale. Those really interested in “Arcology,” as Soleri termed his theories, can book a one-week seminar at Arcosanti, which includes face time with the nonagenarian Soleri (b. 1919). Another option: Spending five weeks on site working to complete the city.

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