A city has many historical and tourist spots listed on websites as must-see places to visit, but there are many hidden gems within a city’s limits, from the buildings that tell stories, the artwork that brings culture to their exteriors, to the people who work within them, and residents who have made their home in a community that has more to it than meets the eye.
The historic landmarks, activities and quaint businesses are one reason downtown Mesa charms those who walk down Main Street – the people who make those places special is the other reason. The residents who run their businesses in downtown Mesa and community members who frequent them, participate in organizations and entertaining activities in the area know history is etched on the sidewalks and the buildings hold many stories behind their windows.
“There’s little stories that unless you really dig around, you’re not gonna know,” said Mesa resident Lori Ann Mecham, founder, owner and tour guide of Arizona iNG Tours. Specializing in giving tours in Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona iNG Tours guides both residents and out-of-towners through various tours by exploring historical, cultural and entertainment aspects of the cities by bikes or walking.
Mecham said she traveled internationally for a long time and at a certain point she decided she wanted to make a living out of giving tours. She started a small tour company with a few tours a year before starting Arizona iNG in summer 2016. Since then, Mecham said she has had a lot of interest from both Mesa residents and people who live in the state who participate in the Historic Mesa Bike Tour, Phoenix Legends Historic Bike Tour, Street Art Experience and the Light Rail Art and Foodie Tour or “The Tempe Spice Trail.”
“For tourists, I think there’s great value…connecting with a real person (a tour guide) who is telling the story who loves their city I think is valuable to humanity,” Mecham said. “I really feel strongly about this…there are lots of ways people can connect with people who are like themselves,” Mecham said, citing exercise classes or religious affiliations as a few examples. “In the tourism industry…people are learning about someone who is different from themselves, for me that’s the value, it creates an atmosphere or can create open-mindedness for people.”
Mecham holds the tours once a month for up to 12 people ages 16 and older. She said the tours can last between 90 minutes and two hours depending on how interactive people are by talking and asking questions.
To determine the bike tour route, Mecham researched historic neighborhoods, talked to shop owners on Main Street and through her experiences living in Mesa, created the route including landmarks, businesses and unique local spots that won’t be listed on a tourism website.
Tempe resident Chris Higgins, who participated in the Historic Mesa Bike Ride Tour in September 2016, said as a local history fan he has attended historical events and tours in Tempe, but not many in Mesa. The bicycle commuter and recreational cyclist had ridden all over Tempe, however, Higgins said he wanted to explore Mesa by bicycle, and after receiving an email about “What’s Happening in Downtown Mesa” with Arizona iNG as one of the activities, he signed up and attended the Arizona iNG Historic Mesa Bike Tour.
“The tour was fun and interesting and packed a lot of sights and information into two hours, and prompted me to seek more information about the historic buildings and neighborhoods we rode through and the public art we saw,” Higgins said.
The Historic Mesa Bike Tour usually begins at the Arizona Museum of Natural History then travels through the 2nd Avenue Historic District before visiting homes on the National Historic Register including McDonald House, they make their way to the Mesa Temple, then view the Mesa Urban Garden and stop at the Mesa Arts Center and finish by riding their bikes down the back alley of Main Street and sometimes stop into the businesses.
“I realized that there is a lot to see and do in downtown Mesa and I’ve been back to the area many times since the tour to explore,” Higgins said. “One surprise was the wonderful community garden a stone’s throw away from the Mesa Arts Center.”
Mecham said when it comes to tourism, she thinks it’s important for people to learn about others who are different than them – including their cultures, and the historical and geographic impacts of certain areas – which she said people can’t do unless they get out and rub shoulders with others.
“Arizona iNG Tours are geared toward both out-of-town tourists and curious locals like myself wishing to learn more about Phoenix area art, architecture, history and diversity, and provide those experiences in a small personalized group setting,” Higgins said.
Mecham said it’s exciting to see the revitalization that’s happening in Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe, which adds another dimension to the tours.
“So now that they’re revitalizing these areas, it also brings to life the things that have been sitting there for a long time, but people weren’t drawn to it,” Mecham said now that people are drawn to those things, “now let’s tell the rest of the story that’s been dormant for a long time.”
In the future, Mecham said she wants to have more tour guides who are knowledgeable about the cities, their history and the landmarks to do more tours and expand the types of tours in additional cities.
Higgins said he would highly recommend people participate in Arizona iNG Tours.
“Sometimes Arizona residents need a reminder that there are many historical and cultural avenues to explore all over our state, and Arizona iNG Tours and their very knowledgeable and personable guides provide enjoyable opportunities to do so.”
To learn more about Arizona iNG Tours or register to participate in a tour, visit: Azingtours.com.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.