Mini-Reunion XIX, Arizona, May 2-7, 2004

Don Oberdorfer's Report

In early May, classmates gathered in Arizona for Mini-Reunion XIX, "A Wild West Experience," an introduction to the magnificent scenery, terrain, history and culture of the great Southwest, courtesy of three resident classmates, Ted Nicholson, Hobey Henderson and Bill Nicely and their wives, Betty, Betty and Linda, respectively. There were many adventures and a few misadventures, of which more later.

The idea of an Arizona mini was hatched at our 50th in Princeton when Tom Dosdall suggested it to Ted Nicholson. Ted's vision and work - and that of his Arizona colleagues - brought the idea to fruition. Their careful planning and preparation paid off handsomely in early May for 81 classmates, spouses and associates including Nancy Barbe and Susan Kern, two daughters of Dick and Mimi Pivirotto. After three days in Phoenix and Scottsdale, half of the assembled group went on to two additional days at the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

We began on Sunday, May 2, at the historic and elegant Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, where we enjoyed a buffet dinner Sunday and stayed for three nights. The reception area and meeting space for the class exec committee and, separately, a meeting of classmate spouses, was the Goldwater Room, where Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater had his election night headquarters in his unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign against President Lyndon Johnson. From this headquarters, each of us received a western straw hat decorated with a prominent orange-and-black band. For each of the women there was an elegant sterling silver pony pendant, based on an Indian artifact, crafted by Ted and Betty Nicholson's jeweler daughter, Ann.

The weather in Scottsdale during our stay topped 100 degrees - much hotter than normal for that time of the year. Undaunted, we trekked into the heart of the Sonoran Desert in jeeps driven by colorful Arizona wranglers in two groups, Monday and Tuesday mornings. We were introduced to the saguaro and cholla and many other kinds of beautiful and, often dangerous, cacti as well as to other desert flora and fauna. We then panned for gold and garnets under the supervision and encouragement of our guides. None of us struck it rich.

Misadventure number one happened when the jeep bearing Bruce and Barbara Coe (and six others, including Laura and me) bounced more mightily than expected over a very rocky track as the brakes failed, propelling Bruce upward to the metal ribbing of the canvas cover of the jeep. Bleeding but chipper, Bruce was taken to a nearby emergency room where six stitches closed the wound. By nightfall, he reported he was fine.

Other activities in Phoenix and Scottsdale included visits to the Desert Botanical Garden and its butterfly pavilion, led by a docent easily identified in orange-and-black (also a Princeton grad, although of a later class); two-hour guided tours of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona headquarters and the site of an architectural school; visits to the Nelson Fine Arts Center and Arizona State University's Ceramics Research Center; and to the studio of Louise and Bob McCall, the latter being an artist featured at the National Air and Space Museum. There was also time for shopping in Scottsdale and elsewhere.

Monday night's dinner was at Rawhide, a recreated western town, which (fortunately for some) included a working barroom with margaritas, local brews and other viands. A hayride on flatbeds pulled by two compliant mules took us to the outdoor dinner site, where we were serenaded by a western combo as we ate our steaks or chicken. Later we were treated to a Native American hoop dance and, courtesy of the combo, dance music under the stars.

Tuesday night's class dinner was a catered affair at the Heard Museum, one of the world's leading repositories of Native American art. Mindful of our shopping proclivities, the hosts arranged to have the museum shop open exclusively for us before we dined. At the dinner, there was music and later dancing by the local Midlife Crisis Band (are we beyond that?). Also, locomotive cheers for our thoughtful hosts and remarks by Class President Hal Saunders in appreciation of the Arizona team and in anticipation of the Mini XX in Savannah next year. (More about this at the end of the report).

Wednesday morning 42 intrepid participants boarded a bus to Flagstaff and beyond for two additional days, while the rest prepared to make their way home. Hobey Henderson, who has been president of the Arizona Audubon Society and is a very active environmentalist, was the group leader for most of this part of the trip.

Following a visit and picnic lunch at the Museum of Northern Arizona, another extraordinary display of western art and artifacts, we headed off to the Grand Canyon, where we were challenged by what appeared to be misadventure number two. Approaching the gate of the National Park, our bus and all other unofficial vehicles were turned back due to a supposedly controlled fire and burnoff that got out of control in high winds and jumped its containment line. The Park is closed, we were told in no-nonsense terms by park rangers, which put our plans in doubt. Fortunately, Hobey had preceded the bus to Thunderbird Lodge, our digs at the edge of the great canyon, before the closure. He kept us informed by cell phone as we sat waiting and wondering outside the park. After about 90 minutes, the gate closest to us was reopened, although about 80 rangers and others continued to fight the blaze elsewhere in the park until late at night.

Thunderbird Lodge, like nearly all the venues we visited, was dramatically placed - in this case, within yards of the South Rim of America's most famous geologic site. We sipped cocktails on a balcony of the Lodge looking over to the Canyon and dined in an adjoining private room. Making sure we did not miss any of the glories of the place, Hobey led a sunrise hike into the canyon for all those who were willing to rise at 5:30 a.m. to participate.

Next we traveled by bus to the dramatic red-rock cliffs of Sedona, seen in many western movies and posters of the beauties of the American West. First, many of us traveled to Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is not a castle as we know it but hillside cave dwellings of an Indian tribe which lived in the area from about 600 to 1400 A.D. and then mysteriously disappeared. We then repaired to our rooms in the Hilton Sedona, which looks out on the amazing red cliffs. As does the Sedona Golf Resort a few yards away, where we enjoyed our final dinner together, Mexican and western fare.

On Friday morning the bus took us back to Phoenix airport, where there were goodbyes and expressions of thanks for the Arizona classmates for one of the most memorable mini-reunions ever.

At the Tuesday night class dinner, Walt Culin announced some of the plans he and his team are making for Mini-Reunion XX, to be held March 31 to April 3, 2005 in Savannah, Georgia. The mini will coincide with the Savannah Music Festival, the annual Tour of Homes and Gardens and, Walt promises, the colorful bloom of the city's many azaleas. Savannah is one of the oldest, most beautiful and most exotic of American cities. To examine its eccentric side, see the recent best seller, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.

-- Don Oberdorfer