Try a new Arizona fall foliage tour this year

Yep, fall is here. The days are shorter. The nights are cooler. It’s time for football games and freak shows (Halloween). It’s one of the best times to travel and explore around Arizona. And about this time every year, the local news media fill their time and space with suggestions for high country trips to see the wide array of autumn colors. Photos of yellow and gold leaves plastered against a backdrop of Arizona blue skies make for great front page color as well as pleasant road trip memories.

I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks, I can travel beyond the MS clipart site for a closer look at red maple leaves

Having spent my childhood in Ohio, I would always enjoy a variety of autumn colors: reds, oranges, yellows, golds, browns. Some leaves had splashes of many colors. Without sounding too trite, now these sights really give me and other transplant-desert dwellers a sense of changing seasons, which is necessary when our Phoenix-area daytime high temps continue to hover around 100 degrees in late September.

But sometimes I feel the need to see some variety beyond the typical cottonwoods, aspen and oak. Sometimes I would like to drive or hike beyond Oak Creek Canyon and Hart Prairie. Maybe, for one October Saturday or Sunday, I’d like to explore a little farther — to see more of the elusive thick clusters of the less common reds and oranges. This year I’d like to seek out the bright red maple leaves.

Tree leaves don’t really turn red; rather the leaves just lose their green color with the loss of chlorophyll. Maples “turn” various shades of red and orange, depending on how much glucose remains stored in the leaves after photosynthesis stops.

The best time to catch fall colors around Arizona is late-September to mid-October. After doing a little checking around online, I found some destinations which I think are worth considering as possibilities for seeing the “reds.” As always, please first check local road and trail conditions online before starting your fall foliage tour. Start on these websites for road conditions and fire restrictions: ADOT, state fire information, national forests, plus check your destination’s local county and municipal websites. These locations may require off-road or higher clearance vehicles. If you want to see maples in a more accessible environment, visit a nearby Arizona arboretum: The Arboretum at Flagstaff or Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Here’s my suggestions, kind of a fall foliage “bucket list,” with their respective links:

Madera Canyon

Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Wilderness

Boynton Canyon

Barbershop Trail

Coronado Trail

For general Arizona fall foliage exploring:

Payson Rim Country

Coconino National Forest

About.com

Finally, I found this newly-launched Forest Service site to see fall color opportunities nationwide.

Packing tips for the ‘pooch’

Like many traveling dog owners, we have over the years put together a list of pet-friendly travel items and tips, but occasionally we’ll come across a new idea. Here are some items we recommend:

Car Harness

Dogs should be restrained in the vehicles whether it is in a designated dog seat (for smaller dogs) or a dog seat harness.  It can be even something as simple as a regular chest harness with ring on the back with a short lead through the ring, then looped through a secured seat belt. Any way to secure the dog’s range of motion is recommended in case of sudden breaking or collision.

Molly is ready for a road trip, secured in her harness

Old Sheets

These come in handy for many situations. They can be draped over the car seat as added protection or even over the doggy car seat blanket.  Old sheets from home can be draped over the furniture at the pet-friendly hotel unit also, in case your dog is tempted jump on the sofa or chair.

Crate

Our dog, Molly is crate-trained, so our collapsible wire crate can be easily stowed on top of the suitcases in our trunk. Most hotels do not allow guests to leave their pets unattended, but an increasing number of resorts will allow crated dogs to be left alone. Pet stores also sell canvas or mesh foldable travel crates. If a crate isn’t an option, you may want to bring your pet’s own blanket, pillow or dog bed.

Washcloths and stain removers

Just in case there is an accident, it helps to have washcloths and cleaning products from home. After a resort tried to charge extra fees for “ruined washcloths” at check out, we carry our own. We pack a small container of a powdered cleaner such as Oxy-Clean or a travel-size spray bottle of liquid stain remover such as “Nature’s Miracle.”

Dog Park Locations

Check online to find the nearest dog parks in your destination city. Because your dog will be on the leash or in the room for the majority of the time, it’s a good idea to have access to the nearest fenced dog park where they can run around freely. Listings of dog parks in Arizona can be found in online directories or on your destination’s municipal website.

Other useful items to consider:

  • Spare copies of dog license, health and immunization certificates, microchip documents
  • Extra leash and collar
  • Homemade pet first aid kit including some items such as self-sticking adhesive wraps, bandages, Benadryl and puppy pads
  • Comb for removing cactus needles, burrs or thistles after hiking
  • Finally, remember to bring plenty of “chewies” and treats to reward your dog. They will enjoy vacations too!

Molly and I take a break from shopping at Sedona's Tlaquepaque

 

 

Kohl’s Ranch: Five reasons keep us returning

Autumn is one of our favorite times to visit Kohl’s Ranch. It’s a great time to see changing leaves and feel cooler temperatures of the Ponderosa pine forest at the foot of the Mogollon Rim. Kohl’s Ranch, nestled next to Tonto Creek along State Route 260, is a rustic guest ranch and Arizona historical landmark. We keep coming back to Kohl’s Ranch for these reasons:

1. Tonto Creek

Tonto Creek runs immediately in front of the Kohl’s Ranch’s lodge rooms, cabins and suites so each morning of our stay, we awake to hear the rustling water over the rocks as it makes its way into the Tonto Basin and on to Roosevelt Lake. On the National Forest land north of State Route 260, there’s plenty of space on the banks for fishing, picnicking or just listening to the wind in the pines. Farther up Forest Service Road 289 is Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, a nice place to spend an afternoon with the kids to learn how trout are grown for stocking Arizona waterways.

Tonto Creek's occasional still waters in front of Kohl's Ranch

 

 

Feeding time at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery

  1. Pet-Friendly

Kohl’s Ranch has recently changed their pet policy and now allows pets in selected units. There are restrictions and since only a few such units exist, it’s recommended to call well in advance to reserve a pet-friendly unit. The resort provides a pet welcome kit with treats and blanket.

 

Chuck and Molly walking the fence near pet-friendly Kohl's Ranch

  1. The Lodge

As soon as we enter the building, we’re greeted with the scent of top grain leather sofas and wood, be it from cracking logs in the fireplace or the knotty pine walls. It’s like going back in time 70 years – to when the lodge was popular lodge among hunters and anglers. During the 1950’s and 60’s, the lodge a favorite stopover for vacationing families, with its dining room, ice cream parlor, post office and grocery store.  A gallery of old photographs tells the history. The main lodge building now comprises the front desk, lobby, dining room, saloon, fitness center, kid’s club, studio suites and resort offices.

 

  1. Zane Grey Dining Room

Despite some less than glorifying comments on those always-disputable hospitality review sites, we have always found the dining room at Kohl’s Ranch to exceed our expectations. For one recent meal, we ordered the daily dinner special: Cornish game hens with orange glaze — baked to perfection, with wild rice and steamed fresh vegetables. Our lunch the following day was equally as good. My husband said his onion rings was the best he has ever had — those huge rings of onion dipped in homemade batter. At each of our meals, our servers promptly arrived to our table with menus, drinks, meals and check.

Hiking Trail access

This is probably the most important reason we keep coming back to Kohl’s Ranch – the location. It’s nice to stay in a cabin right near your trailhead. We especially like Horton Creek Trail and other trails nearby. In fact, the Horton Trail is one of our favorites, for a rather easy-to-moderate day hike. This trail has everything: lush forest, lots of wildlife, waterfalls, plus an easy, gradual climb – nothing too steep. Plan to see a lot of hikers on weekends. Check out hikearizona.com or Arizonahikingtrails.com for more information and additional hiking opportunities in the area.

 

Waterfalls along the Horton Creek hiking trail

For anyone who wants to visit some of Arizona’s historical landmarks to commemorate the Arizona Centennial, we recommend putting Kohl’s Ranch on the list. It’s one of the few guest “ranches” still operating in our state – continuing to treat visitors to some western, rustic charm and authentic Arizona hospitality.

Ray Mine overlook affords awesome views

As one of Arizona’s biggest industries, copper mining is still “king” in our state. In fact, Arizona is the largest copper-producing state in the nation. Copper also is one of Arizona’s five “C’s,” along with cattle, cotton, citrus and climate. Recently we made a short road trip to the Ray Mine overlook, one of ASARCO’s copper mines, located just south of Superior.

Teapot Mountain towers over the colorful layers at the Ray Mine

According to its website, ASARCO lists 678 employees at the Ray location. While many probably live in Kearny, others live in the surrounding towns of Hayden and Winkelman. All three communities compose what’s known as the Copper Basin. There’s no doubt some employees coming from the southeast Valley make the commute via the Florence-Kelvin Highway. That drive is a scenic trip in itself, for those who have some extra time.

Copper ore is extracted from the Ray Mine and sent to the smelter at Hayden by way of the Copper Basin Railway.

Visitors can stop at the Ray Mine overlook, located on State Route 177, between Kearny and Superior. Watch for the large sign on the east side of the road. First arriving at the open pit mine, one is both impressed from an engineering point of view and a bit overwhelmed from an environmental point of view. It seems as though the pit is bottomless.

Spend a few minutes at the Ray Mine Overlook to take in its enormity
Large haulers remove dirt from the bottom of the pit

Huge hauler trucks travel back and forth, up and down these roads at steep grades.

Six-foot fence shows how large those haulers must be

No matter what is thought about the mining operations, a visit to the Ray Mine Overlook gives one an appreciation and respect for the mine workers and their challenging working conditions and schedules.

Storyboards at the overlook illustrate operations at the Ray Mine

For more information about Arizona’s copper industry, make a trip to ASARCO’s Mineral Discover Center south of Tucson. To learn more about copper, visit the Geology.com site.

Star Trek Convention may be the ultimate getaway

For the ultimate vacation, spend a few days at a Las Vegas Star Trek Convention. I’m completely serious: if the purpose of the ultimate vacation is to temporarily rid one’s mind of all everyday stress then a Las Vegas Star Trek Convention could be the ultimate vacation.

Ipanema Tower at Rio Las Vegas, view from our suite.

Recently I returned from four days at Rio Las Vegas, and for those four days, not once did I mull through the stress of world economic woes, nasty party politics, unemployment or family health problems. For four days, I was a “Trekkie” – albeit an imposter – more like a “wannabe;” I was a convention “newbie” in a Starfleet uniform.

Convention attendees pose for photos

So here I was in the Rio Las Vegas and I wasn’t here to see magicians Penn & Teller or the Chippendale dancers. I was here in “Sin City,” the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” but I wasn’t here betting at game tables, or even shopping at designer boutiques — not even wandering around with a half-yard of some flavored vodka-infused slushie drink.

Rather, I was entertained by everything Star Trek. I was overwhelmed by the intricate costumes and make-up of the attendees, many even acting their parts from five different television series and 11 movies. I was attending panel discussions, with examinations of such various topics as “Which Star Trek Captain was Best” or “The Geek Girls of Star Trek.”

Fans in costume take on their Star Trek character’s role

My eyes were opened wide on this trip. My son had made several trips to Las Vegas, with friends to the convention and I never realized what kept him wanting to return each year. Now I know. The energy here is both electric and magnetic. There are star sightings everywhere and of course, I’m not referring to those massive balls of plasma in space. Dozens of celebrities casually interact with convention-goers. Many pose for photos with the fans; other sign autographs. But it’s more. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships, that seem to transcend time, and well, space.

Team members from TrekRadio.net and TrekMovie.com

The Rio Las Vegas is an excellent property for this convention and accommodates the attendees very well with ample room for the large sessions, smaller venues for the panel discussions and many meeting rooms for the photo ops and autographs. Lots of eateries meet the needs of all types of wallet sizes and a variety of menus meet the desires for different cuisines. The casino even featured some Star Trek-themed slot machines.

One highlight for me was the merchant’s room – a large exhibition hall that holds all the memorabilia vendors displaying a wide selection of posters, stickers, shirts, hats, jewelry, you name it! Dealers sell everything from those furry little Tribbles to ocean cruises with Star Trek celebrities. I was fortunate to hear three Star Trek Captains speak at one presentation as William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart and Kate Mulgrew took the stage in the main ballroom. But perhaps the part that I’ll never forget was watching Leonard Nimoy bid farewell to his fans, indicating this year would be his final set of Star Trek appearances.

The Tribbles booth in the merchant room is an especially popular stop for the younger fans

After the presentations, panels and appearances during the day, the nights come alive with parties throughout the Rio. Some require VIP tickets, or cover charges; but others have minimal fees or no charge. The party we attended at Rio’s McFadden’s Irish Pub boasted a drink menu that would have made Deep Space Nine bartender Quark proud. Servers rotated around the pub with Warp Core Breach drinks – an explosive concoction of various liquors and fruit punch; and James Tea Kirks – a kind of Long Island iced tea with Blue Curacao. One party featured Star Trek trivia for those with excellent memories – these were very entertaining to watch even if the answers were far beyond the reach of convention newbies like me.

Friends Kayla and Susan enjoy their “James Tea Kirks” at McFadden’s Pub

In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re unable to memorize lines from The Original Series (TOS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9) or other television series. It makes no difference if you can’t distinguish the costumes, culture and language of a Klingon from a Romulan or a Cardassian. (No, not Kardashian!) What is important is the entertainment value this convention can produce. There were activities for children; a kid’s craft workshop was on the agenda for Saturday morning. Trekkies are all ages; they come from all walks of life, from all parts of the globe… maybe even the galaxy? All are brought together for a common passion for Star Trek. Anyone who comes to a Star Trek Convention and isn’t thoroughly entertained and relieved of all stress and worry – the definition of an ultimate vacation — is probably from another planet… or maybe an assimilated cybernetic organism (“Borg”).