By Nicola Bridges
A short 30-minutes' drive from Phoenix, Arizona — and another half-hour from each other — are two very different experiences that together make for a great day trip: Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale and the headquarters of Ass Kickin' hot sauce in Goodyear.
Stepping inside the largest indoor rainforest conservatory in the United States is quite a spectacular sight as I stand amazed in a swirl of all the rainbow's colors flitting around my head, some darting close to my face to check me out before just as quickly flying away. A giant azure blue, white and black butterfly lands on my baseball cap and I stay perfectly still for a photo.
My friends and I stretch our arms out to the sides, palms raised and still, and within minutes butterflies of all kinds large and small hover briefly, land and settle for a moment, their wings closed together upright like soldiers standing to attention before they once again fly around the high-ceilinged atrium, fluttering among lush flowers and tropical plants. One lands on my smartwatch, and I wish my motion-triggered butterfly-design screensaver would light up for such a perfect shot. But I daren't move a millimeter. The screen stays dark, and then the butterfly is gone.
The conservatory is laid out along a pathway past sections of different tropical plants from around the globe that each attract different species of butterflies and moths. We meander around awhile and sit on small benches to just be in the presence of butterflies, these fascinating specimens of nature with their glorious and vividly colorful asymmetric designs on their wings — some intended to look like eyes to scare away predators, others carefully camouflaged to blend in with the leaves on which they stay still.
When you've had your full of the fluttering, it's fascinating to see live chrysalises emerge into butterflies in front of your very face in their glass cabinets in the Emergence Gallery. Then it's on to the 3D movie, where giant butterflies fly at your face and clouds of thousands swarm around your head and cleverly by.
Feel like a snack? How about coconut brittle mealworms, scorpion lollipops or chocolate-covered ants from the Entomophagy Station, where you can learn — and taste — the practice of eating insects. Hmm, perhaps they'd go down a little better with a touch of hot sauce?
We hit Interstate 10 and head over to Goodyear to the headquarters of Southwest Specialty Foods, home to Pepper Acres, Ass Kickin' hot sauce and the donkey it's named after, a distinctive burro that bares his buck teeth laughing his you-know-what off from the label.
The Red Savina habanero is the common ingredient across the Ass Kickin' line of hot sauces, barbecue sauces, meat rubs, condiments and even hot popcorn, in flavors from mild to "kick yo ass"! And it thrives in the Arizona desert's perfect climate for growing next door in Pepper Acres.
Heading into the corridors of the small, pristine plant to watch the family-run brand's production line, we're sidetracked by round sampler tables of peppered popcorn and peanuts, working our way around to the bowl with the hottest heat, a flavor that sets your mouth on fire, grabs your tongue and makes you want to yank it out.
We chug our bottles of water and head to watch how the hot sauces are made, bottled and packed. From its beginnings, when owner Jeff Jacobs concocted his first hot sauce in his kitchen, Southwest Specialty Foods today sells millions of bottles of its 200 specialty products worldwide, and visitors come from all over the globe to the epicenter of its heat.
Grabbing hot sauce to-go in the gift shop, we step out into the desert's own hot temps. With our mouths puckering from the powerful pepper tastes, we head over to say howdy to the Ass Kickin' donkeys and mules in the petting corral while deciding where to go next. Ice cream, anyone?
WHEN YOU GO
Butterfly Wonderland: www.butterflywonderland.com
Southwest Specialty Food: www.asskickin.com
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
A butterfly lands on the author's cap at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Nicola Bridges.