The sun will not be hurried as it moves toward the Phoenix horizon, but I would if I could. It’s hard to wait for a more intense darkness here at the Desert Botanical Garden in north Phoenix. As the daylight slowly fades, the eight light-based installations by British artist Bruce Munro gradually reveal themselves, growing brighter by the minute throughout the garden.
We are standing at one of the installations called Water Towers. The 20 structures consist of circular wooden flats supporting recycled plastic liter bottles (216 in each tower) filled with water and feathery light filaments. As the sky darkens, the colors, which melt from one into another, grow brighter. The transformation is set against a soundtrack that includes music from South Africa and some classical selections. Visitors mill about, not wanting to leave before they are sure they have experienced the lights at their brightest.
It is positively celestial. Other worldly. Interplanetary. Fun.
We can’t linger too long because we have yet to see Munro’s other seven, larger-than-life creations that are fashioned of steel, glass, plastic bottles, wood, acrylic, copper, ceramic, light and hundreds of miles of glowing fiber-optic filaments.
Called Sonoran Light, the exhibit came to life after two years of planning; five weeks of installation (Field of Light alone took three weeks to install, and when you see it you’ll know why); the help of more than 100 members of the Munro team and untold garden staff and volunteers; and the placement of more than 30,000 luminescent spheres and hundreds of miles of glowing, multi-colored fiber optics.
One other number: And as of March 1, more than 87,500 visitors had come to the garden see this amazing meld of the desert and man-made and recycled materials.
The Desert Botanical Gardens, amazing without these massive works of art and technology, seems so naturally suited to them. As a whole, Sonoran Light is magical, with each piece evoking different emotions, but it is difficult not to see the installation titled Field of Light as downright mind-boggling.
Many workers over many days (three weeks, to be exact) managed to create what might be compared to a giant lava flow of fiber optics, lights and luminescent globes cascading down a nearby mountain and onto the desert floor.
Seeing this awe-inspiring installation, spread over many acres, is the reward for making it uphill to the farthest section of the garden. An overlook allows visitors to survey all that is light and holy.
This, of course, is high-season for desert visitors and for good reason; it’s also high season for The Big Bloom. Because all growing things in this Phoenix garden are lovingly attended and carefully hydrated (using recycled water), the cacti, succulent and trees here need not be concerned with drought. Visitors will see some of the more familiar plants, but many unfamiliar ones, too. For instance, the newest member of the garden family is a 37-foot, Seussian-looking Boojum tree, a member of the ocotillo family. (You’ll see the resemblance in the leaves and spines.)
Another reason you’ll want to come in daylight hours is to see Arizona’s trademark, the magnificent giant saguaro. The garden has what are probably the largest specimens you’ll ever encounter. Call (480) 481-8101 or visit dbg.org
If you go:
• Plan on staying at least two hours.
• Bring water. Even the nighttime air is dry, dry, dry.
• Wear close-toed, comfortable shoes.
• No flash photography, and keep flashlights pointed low.
• Most of the garden is accessible except the moderately steep path heading up toward the mountain.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@ coastnewsgroup.com