Variety of car activities makes long road trips more fun

How do you keep your children occupied on long road trips? Do you open up an activity case? Do you set up a DVD player, portable video game, iPod or other device, and… you’re off down the highway?

 

Recent trips with friends and relatives prompted me to wonder whatever happened the conversational, interactive road trip games that would cure the car-riding doldrums? I was able to find a few sites and blogs that brought back some memories, no doubt produced by grown-ups in attempts to capture their youth or unleash part of their upbringing on their kids, as a last-ditch effort to steer them away from these vehicular, electronic babysitters. Shuffling through these sites brought me back to my own childhood memories of road trip games we’d play to pass the time – or more importantly, to keep Dad alert and awake.

 

Because we started playing road trip games when we very young, my family’s games were very simple. “I Spy” was a variation of the 20 Questions-type of game. We would usually pick an object from the passing scenery or vehicles, or even from inside our car. “I spy something blue,” someone would start. Sky? Nope. Big truck passing us? No. Mom’s handbag? No. We’d take turns until the selected objects or the guesses became too ridiculous.

 

We then graduated to an alphabet game for which we had no name, so I’ll just dub it the “Alphabet Sign Game.” It’s best for ages 3-7. The first player would start the alphabet by spotting an “A” in a warning sign, billboard or retail banner, etc. then each passenger would follow suit and continue through the alphabet. Naturally, many miles would pass before unlucky players assigned with the letters, Q or X or Z would see their signs.

Zit-Zingo: The Travel Game. (Not sure what was meant by Zit or Zingo.)

 

Zit Zingo car bingo game card from the 1960s.

My favorite was a car bingo game called, “Zit Zingo.” Now obsolete, it sometimes pops up on ebay.com. Each player would identify various objects along the road, such as cows, horses, birds, buildings, modes of transportation and people. The first player to complete a line or diagonal of objects would be the winner. “Zit Zingo” was fun for all but in the backseat between the three of us kids, the competition ran especially fierce. The hours in the car, as did the miles of highway monotony passed quickly. Another benefit – watching the scenery helped prevent motion sickness. You can find road trip games online including many bingo-type games. Or you can just make your own. On your next long road trip: rather than watching in the mirror as your kids zone out with a movie or music, why not break up the ride with an activity that is engaging, challenging and fun for everyone in the family?

Arizona fall getaway option: Rent a cabin, ranch house or group camp

Are you considering a fall weekend family getaway, but want something a little different from typical motel room? You may want to think about renting a cabin! Arizona is full of cabin rentals and the state has a wide variety from which to choose.

Cabins are perfect for large groups or family gatherings for the upcoming fall and winter holidays. I remember every Thanksgiving, a few of my friends, with their extended families would reserve entire ranches, church camps or scout group sites for their four-day November weekends. These out-of-the-way, rural Arizona locations also make excellent destinations for fall weddings.

If you are considering an event for your large fall gathering, the American Camp Association website is a good place to start your search. The ACA site will redirect you to the managing organization’s website. Among these are church camps such as Mingus Mountain Camp or YMCA camps such as Sky Y Camp; both are near Prescott. In recent years, it was possible to reserve scouting camps and cabin sites. For up-to-date information about church and scout camp policies for outside group rentals, it’s best to call the respective administrative offices.  After the applications are approved, fees are paid and liability waivers are processed, you can start packing.

It’s a sure bet that most of these larger group camps or cabin resorts are already booked for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend, but you may want to consider a year-round cabin in Arizona for a weekend in December or early spring.

For commercial cabin resorts, you can simply search online. Popular locations include most of the mountain communities: Flagstaff, Prescott, Pinetop, etc. But if you want more privacy consider less populated areas such as Greer, Strawberry or Heber-Overgaard. For a comprehensive listing, use this link to Arizona Office of Tourism website. Or try these directory sites for Mountain Dream Rentals or Cabin Rentals.ws.

If you’re considering renting a private-owned cabin or mountain retreat with a certain necessary amount of luxury, check websites like www.vrbo.com. Simply enter “Arizona cabin” on the first search box; then narrow the search by region and availability dates. Read reviews, scrutinize photos and add up the nightly rates, security deposits and other miscellaneous costs like cleaning or pet fees. Consider all the features of the cabins and space needed for your group’s size. Many of these cabins are equipped with all the goodies including major kitchen appliances, fireplaces, flat screen TVs, game consoles, home theaters, even hot tubs.

Let’s say you’re looking for something a little bit more rustic… almost pioneer-like… one step up from the Winnebago. Maybe you’re looking for something to put your family in an old-fashioned Christmas holiday mood. Then consider the public lands option. For cabin rentals in a national forest, the easiest way to get information and make a reservation is go to the www.recreation.gov site. Just click on cabins, then Arizona. Or check this listing on the USDA site. For state park cabins, use this site. Some of these public lands cabins can be quite primitive. They may only have the basic four walls, a roof and a bunk to roll out your sleeping bag. Others are a little more comfortable – with decent mattresses, plumbing, heaters, window air conditioner and kitchen appliances. Suggested items for packing are included in most of these websites. I’d still remember to bring my own sturdy broom, small shovel, axe, water bucket, extra garbage bags, firewood and water.

 

Camp cabins at Dead Horse Ranch now have a/c and heat

 

Nightly rates for the public lands cabins are considerably less than privately-owned or commercial cabins. They start about $50 per night for a single room cabin with double bed and bunk to a three-bedroom, three-bath ranch house that sleeps 10 for $200 per night.

Lyman Lake State Park has cabins and yurts available for nightly stays. What’s a yurt? Find out here.

Don’t forget the GPS, mountain bikes, hiking boots & poles, binoculars, cameras, trail and nature identification guidebooks. For those evenings and the odd chance it should rain; keep the kids entertained the old-fashioned way with books, games, music and jigsaw puzzles.

A getaway in a camp cabin or ranch house can be a great opportunity for a couple, family or large group desiring a weekend to get closer to nature or simply get away from a hectic schedule of school and work.

Don’t sidestep Superior’s sights

There’s a lot more to Superior, Arizona than meets the eye – at least the driver’s eye. For motorists traveling east on US 60 from the Phoenix area, it’s easy to pass up the downtown business section of the small town, located about 30 miles east of Apache Junction. For many motorists, their destination ends at Superior’s main tourist attraction, Boyce Thompson Arboretum or their destination lies beyond the town’s main intersection of US 60 and State Route 177. They rarely turn off the main highway onto Supeior’s Main Street from the west, or Ray Road from the east. But they’re missing the chance to shop at the unique shops or dine at the home-style eateries.

Over the years, after making some trips around Superior, such as Picket Post Mountain, Apache Leap and Pinal City (ghost town), we’d often stop in Superior for breakfast or lunch. I always thought to would be nice to come back and spend some time in Superior, but I never had the chance again — until just recently.

I  recommend making Los Hermanos Restaurant your first stop of the morning. This one is right on the highway – impossible to miss, really. Although my husband and I love all the food here: basic Mexican fare and sandwich platters, we especially like the breakfast menu. There’s nothing better than one of their big breakfast burritos to start the day. The tortillas are homemade — thin, flaky, and always fresh and warm.

Los Hermanos Restaurant: homemade tortillas and delicious Mexican breakfasts

 

Sausage-egg breakfast burrito from Los Hermanos. Took mine 'to go' and eat in the park.

After breakfast, take a drive down Main Street, park your vehicle and explore.  There are some fascinating places! Rolling Rock Gallery is one of those. You’ll find everything here: unique toys and gifts, rock specimens and mining equipment – even handcrafted dinnerware. It’s a museum and gift shop in one, and according to clerk Toni Sanchez, it’s also a temporary employment agency.

 

Rolling Rock Gallery is part gift shop, rock shop and employment agency

Toni Sanchez of Rolling Rock Gallery

The Copper Gecko is another shop that looks worthwhile, unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we did do some “window shopping,” and just gazing inside, we could see all the antiques, gifts and collectible items.

 

Copper Gecko, with antiques and collectibles, in 'downtown' Superior

Because we were traveling with our dog, we didn’t get to visit the Bob Jones Museum, which contains collections about the area’s mining and pioneer history. Also worth a look: the World’s Smallest Museum, a cute, maybe gimmicky, little roadside stop, tourist-type photo op and Porter’s Café, which appears, on Yelp and Facebook at least, to be a popular place for lunch and dinner. We’ll have to have one of their daily lunch specials on our next visit. I guess we’ll have to come back to Superior and spend more time.

Spend some time in Superior, Arizona -- like at this peaceful park along Main Street

A closer look at Kearny, Ariz. reveals ‘hidden gem’

I tried to avoid sifting through the slag pile of mining clichés, idioms and metaphors, but I just had to extract one about digging under the surface to find a hidden gem. In this case the gem is the General Kearny Inn in Kearny, Arizona.

 

Front entrance of General Kearny Inn

General Kearny Inn doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s not a resort you’ll find in AAA’s diamond ratings or on The Travel Channel. But beyond the plain peach-colored bricks and exterior wood panels lies a gem of an Arizona getaway — a clean, comfortable “home away from home.”  It could be ideal setting for a family or school reunion, an organization retreat or even a guys’ getaway or ‘mancation.’

For example, imagine waking up away from the big city, tucked away in a quiet Arizona town at the foot of the Mescal Mountains. Start out a Saturday morning with a little bass fishing on peaceful Kearny Lake, followed by a few hours of off-road trail riding, hiking or horseback riding and a leisurely afternoon of shooting pool and watching some football in the General Kearny Inn lobby. Top that off with a group barbecue dinner. Or maybe dine out for pizza or Mexican fare just a short walk away. Sounds like a great plan for a guys’ getaway, right? Or for that matter, it would make a fun family reunion trip too!

General Kearny Inn lobby-bar area is almost like being at home

General Kearny Inn’s front door opens into a unique combination front desk-lobby-bar-lounge and poolroom. A step outdoors reveals a group seating area that would make a great setting for large group dining. The two-story guest room buildings surround a spacious grass courtyard with a covered concrete patio in the center that is used for dancing, concerts or weddings. Newly remodeled rooms include all the basic amenities plus Wi-Fi, DirecTV and mini refrigerators. Weekly rates are also available which is nice for vacationers who might want use Kearny as a “base camp” for hiking in nearby Aravaipa Canyon or exploring other parts of Arizona’s copper country.

 

Dining patio would be ideal for groups

Covered patio area in the General Kearny Inn courtyard

Kearny Lake park area has a picnic area and RV campground

This Porter air locomotive carried ore and men out of the original underground copper mines. It was a gift to the people of Kearny from Kennecott Copper Corp. in 1955

The General Kearny Inn — like the town — was named for Stephen W. Kearny, a U.S. Army general who during the mid-1800s led his soldiers along the Gila River from New Mexico into Arizona and onto the Colorado River near Yuma. On the Town of Kearny’s website is a recreational cartoon map of Kearny with the caption: “Kearny – Peaceful, Inviting, Unforgettable.”  And the General Kearny Inn – like the town – is all of those.

Just as a side note for those folks following Arizona tidbits of history to commemorate the upcoming centennial, I would recommend learning more about a man who accompanied General Kearny: topographer and scientist Lt. W. H. Emory. It was Emory’s mapping and reporting of the expedition that not only became widely used and accepted in scientific and governmental circles but also became a popular guidebook for pioneer families moving west to California.