Chiricahua National Monument reopened and ready for visitors

If a new year signifies growth, recovery and renewal, 2012 can’t come soon enough — especially to those affected by Arizona’s wildfires. Fortunately signs of growth and recovery are beginning to sprout up in some areas affected by the Horseshoe Two Fire, one of Arizona worst wildfires this past year. Chiricahua National Monument, 36 miles south of Willcox, is one location these signs are evident.

Chiricahua National Monument is best known for its unique rock formations

The Horseshoe Two Fire is the fifth largest fire in Arizona history. It began May 8 and ended with total containment on June 25. Officials determined the fire was human-caused and began about 15 miles south of the national monument, in Horseshoe Canyon. Although much of the park was burned, because the fire had varying degrees of intensity, many areas remained green. Three weeks ago, the park reopened its main roadway, Bonita Canyon Drive. Workers started the repairs on the fire-damaged guardrail back in October and finished in early December.

On the road from Willcox to the park, Dos Cabezas (two heads) towers above state route 186

Massai Point and Echo Canyon areas were also reopened with the completion of the Bonita Canyon Drive repairs. Now that the repairs are finished, the hikers’ shuttle operations have been resumed as well as the entrance fee collections. Now the entire park is back in business and visitors are welcome to return.

On our Dec. 4th visit to Chiricahua National Monument, we were greeted with snow showers and freezing temperatures. The wintry day provided a backdrop of snowy peaks, empty highways and low clouds. Although we came before the park drive was reopened, we were able to check out the grounds surrounding the visitor center and main entrance. The visitor center provided park history as well as information about the Horseshoe Two Fire. On display were many of the satellite maps showing the progress and coverage of the fire. To see the immensity of it was a bit overwhelming. Some of the same information can also be seen on the Incident Information System website, or inciweb.org.

Coues deer are returning to the fire-ravaged area

On the way into the park, we noticed a couple of Coues (Arizona white-tail) deer cautiously working their way through some brambles of pinon pine. A hawk soared over the trees. Gradually more wildlife will be returning to the park and the surrounding Coronado National Forest. Growth, recovery and renewal also will return to this park, also known as the “Wonderland of Rocks.” And, like the wildlife, it will be a welcomed one.

Visitor center at Chiricahua National Monument

A gift of travel: An Arizona getaway to Sunglow Ranch

Dogs and cats know the perfect spot to relax. Pets know a beam of sunlight streaming through a window creates the perfect place for producing long sighs of contentment. Instinct invites them to bask in the warmth and glow of the sun. Humans can also find place to bask — at a resort in southeastern Arizona: Sunglow Ranch.

Outdoor common areas for relaxing, reading

 

A getaway to one of Arizona’s resorts or guest ranches — like Sunglow Ranch would make a perfect gift, for any occasion.

Sunglow Ranch, located about 45 miles southeast of Willcox, Arizona, reclines at the base of the Chiracahua Mountains, and the boundary of Coronado National Forest. We made a side trip to Sunglow recently as part of our weekend in Willcox. Upon arrival, we were immediately accommodated with a warm welcome. General Manager Brooks Bradbury and his wife Susan, gave us a quick tour of the ranch.

Sunglow Ranch is nestled at the foot of the Chiricahuas

 

Ranch is a bit of a misnomer; even the words “guest ranch” don’t do adequate justice to describe Sunglow. Indeed, it does have horseback riding and stables. It does have gorgeous views of the “great outdoors” — rolling grasslands and sprawling mountain ranges. (Cue western movie music here.) But there’s a line where the rustic meets luxury and that’s the casual comfort that defines Sunglow. Wood and leather permeate the guest rooms, dining room and common areas. Flowers and fountains add a touch of color and finesse to  the outdoor decor. The casitas also are nicely designed — with floral and plant accents, hand-painted walls and innovative lighting features.

 

Stone path leads to pool area

Because we only had a quick tour, I don’t really feel qualified to give a full review but I feel confident recommending Sunglow to anyone who’s considering a “getaway gift” this holiday season. The nightly rates start about $300 per night for two adults which may seem a bit pricey to some, but that includes a country-style breakfast and three-course dinner. Since the meals alone would add up to about $80 to $100 per day; these inclusive rates are appropriate. Guests can choose from one- or two-bedroom units. All have separate entrances and patios — perfect for enjoying a glass of wine while watching the setting sun.

Comfortable seating to watch hummingbirds feed

 

Most amenities are included with the room: use of heated pool, hot tub, fitness room, bocce ball and horseshoe courts, fishing rods, mountain bikes and canoes. Massage services and horseback riding are extra and can be arranged separately. The resort also offers special events such as cooking classes, yoga and photography workshops, stargazing programs and winemaker dinners.

Some casitas have adjoining living areas

 

Sunglow Ranch is eco-friendly too; we noticed the system for recycling rainwater for watering gardens. Locally grown foods and produced goods are emphasized here, plus the wine list includes many fine Arizona selections including one of my favorites: the 2009 Three Sisters Syrah from Keeling Schaefer Vineyards. Arizona beers from Mogollon and Four Peaks breweries are also served.

The bedroom in the two-room Burro Casita

 

Sunglow Ranch definitely isn’t for the jet set. This is place to relax and unwind. Rustic or luxury, Sunglow Ranch can be whatever you choose. It’s both a place to curl up with a good book next to the fire, or a place to soak in the hot tub after a day of strenuous hiking in the Chiracahua Mountains.

 

Certainly a stay at Sunglow Ranch would be a thoughtful gift for anyone on your list. And after you visit the resort’s website, you may just want to treat yourself!

 

Corner table in the Sunglow Cafe

Other than a honeymoon or wedding trip, have any our readers ever been surprised with a gift of travel? Vacation or a resort getaway? What’s your favorite weekend getaway-place to escape and relax?

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from AZGetawayTravel!

Stocking stuffer suggestions for the travel lover on your list

Even if you’re not Santa Claus, who has to consider who’s naughty or nice, you may be thinking of another list. Maybe you’re a travel aficionado; you already have a list of your own — a wish list — with visions of new destinations dancing in your head. Or perhaps you have a shopping list and you’re looking for a few hints for that travel lover in the family. Here’s a list of some suggested gift items for those stockings hung by the chimney with care:

Comfortable shoes

Although this stocking stuffer might not fit into most regular-sized Christmas stockings, this gift would show that you really care — at least about their feet. And for the time being, TSA still requires shoes be removed at airport security check-in sites. I recommend some comfortable slip-ons with ample foot support — for running from gate to gate. You don’t have to shell out the big bucks. For about $10, Avon.com sells soft indoor-outdoor unisex slippers that would be ideal. They actually don’t even look like slippers, with tread on the bottoms. Yet they are comfy, with memory foam inner soles. They also are wonderful for running around the hotel mezzanine at your next convention.

Traveler’s Survival Kit

You could get creative and devise a traveler’s survival kit of your own. Simply find a cosmetic or shaving kit bag and add some handy things necessities such as mini-luggage scale, luggage tags, hand sanitizer, three-ounce plastic containers for flights. Other items I would suggest are these handy foods and beverages for a long road trip or airline flight: tea bag, instant coffee, hot cocoa mix, lemonade, powder vitamins, noodle soup. These can be easily and conveniently mixed with either hot or cold water. Visit minimus.biz or your local Target or Walmart store for an extensive selection of travel-sized toiletries.

Leatherman

For that hiker, biker, backpacker, camper, outdoors-lover on your list, a Leatherman knife tool makes the perfect gift. There are many varieties and models to fit just about any holiday budget. Remember to add it in the packed luggage for your flight!

Fruit

Fruit is the perennial favorite to fill up those oversized stockings which by now are hanging on the mantel. (Doesn’t it seem like Christmas stockings are get bigger and bigger? Do people actually think Santa is going to take time to stuff gifts all the way down into the toes of holiday hosiery?) Assorted types of fruit fit perfectly into the stocking toe. For road trips and domestic flights, apples and Mandarin oranges work very well, because they don’t have the mess! Also, those little Cuties Clementines are in season!

Binoculars

Everyone who travels should have a pair of binoculars – either in their checked bags or carry-on. You never know where you’ll be when you need binoculars. They’re not just for bird-watching. You may be at a conference in Cleveland and want to get a better view of the Great Lakes Science Center or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from your room atop the Marriott.

Packable Dinnerware

We love these colorful dishes and plates from Fozzils.com. We found ours at our local REI store. They are completely flat for packing for use as dishes and cutting surfaces, but the corners snap together and convert into bowls for cereal or even soups, since they are heat resistant to 110 degrees. These are lightweight and since they’re flat, they will fit almost everywhere. They’d make welcomed gifts by pet-owning travelers too!

Extra long cables and charger cords

Finally here’s something almost every traveler would appreciate: And it’s a must for the iPhone owner in the family who’s always on the go. This xlSync Extra Long Sync Cable is a practical stocking stuffer. Extending 6.5 feet long, it charges at the same rate as the original equipment one from Apple, and works with all iPhone, iPad, iPod models except the iPod Shuffle — from cablejive.com. For a longer cord extension to get around the tables at the airport coffee shop, consider the 10-foot cable from Khomo, available from Amazon.

Do our readers have any other gift ideas for travelers? We always love to hear about new travel gadgets!

Alamo Lake: Start the New Year at an Arizona state park

Instead of sleeping it off on New Year’s Day morning, consider hiking it off. As part of the First Day Hikes program from America’s State Parks, 12 Arizona state parks will be offering guided day hikes on Jan. 1. America’s State Parks began the program 20 years ago to promote outdoor recreation. 2012 is the first year all 50 states will be participating in the program.

Consider making a trip to one of Arizona’s state parks on New Year’s Day for a First Day Hike. Your New Year’s resolution for 2012 might be to visit all of Arizona’s 31 state parks. And if you start at the top of the list, you can check off Alamo Lake for your first state park visit and your First Day Hike. Add a couple of nights’ stay, and your Alamo Lake visit could be your first Arizona getaway of 2012!

Alamo Dam view from the Bill Williams Overlook

Alamo Lake is neatly tucked away from Arizona’s cities in the Bill Williams River Valley, about 36 miles north of Wenden, Arizona. It’s about half way between Wickenburg and Lake Havasu City, “as the crow flies.” There are only two roads into Alamo Lake. Most people will use the paved route north from US Route 60 from Wenden. An alternate route is a dirt road from State Route 93 near Congress.

Alamo Lake is 4900 acres for fishing, boating and water sports

Alamo Lake was created when the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dam on Bill Williams River to protect the Lower Colorado River area from flooding. Alamo Lake became a state park in 1969. When state budget cutbacks were made, the future of Alamo Lake and other state parks was in jeopardy. With the help of nearby communities’ funding and private donations from support groups such as The Friends of Alamo Lake, state park board members voted to allow the park to remain open.

Bill Williams Overlook at Alamo Lake is a nice spot for a picnic

Alamo Lake thrives as a riparian home to many resident and migratory birds such as orioles, tanagers, warblers, owls, eagles and hawks. Mammals seen at the park include coyote, mule deer, javelina, bobcat, fox, beaver and burros. Yes, burros! Miners from the mid-1800s set their burros free when they moved out, overpopulating certain areas of northwestern Arizona. Now they are protected, and populations are managed through adoption programs. Herds of burros have been spotted roaming the hills and washes around the lake, and also walking along the park roadways.

Although there are no boat motor restrictions, fishing is the main reason visitors come to the lake, and largemouth bass is the popular catch. Heavy rains during the late 1970s and early 1980s caused the lake to increase in size. Tent and RV campers will enjoy the lakeside campsites. A small park store stocks all the basic camping fish and boating gear plus bait, licenses, day permits, even the ingredients for “s’mores.” Camping reservations can be made online. Because of its location, far away from city lights, Alamo Lake is a prime spot for stargazing. Each November astronomy enthusiasts converge at the park for the “Night Under the Stars” program.

Long, lonely stretch of highway between Wenden and Alamo Lake State Park

If you’re new to Arizona or a long-time resident who has never before gone northwest of Wickenburg, I recommend making a visit to Alamo Lake State Park. Maybe you’ll consider making the trip for your first hike of the New Year. Here’s a list of all the First Day Hikes at Arizona State Parks for 2012. Great way to start Arizona’s Centennial.

Wine-tasting tops Willcox weekend ‘to do’ list

Keeling Schaefer tasting room has art gallery atmosphere

I think Willcox, Arizona is my next favorite Arizona town. And before this past weekend, it had been at least 20 years since I was there. And I can’t really say I was in Willcox. What I really mean is: I probably just exited off the interstate at Willcox long enough to gas up and get a quick bite to eat. There’s actually a lot to do and see in and around Willcox and Cochise County: sightseeing at Chiricahua National Monument, Rex Allen Museum and Fort Bowie plus bird-watching, hiking and fruit picking. Add wineries and wine-tasting to the list.

Tasting room at Coronado Vineyards is just four miles northeast of Willcox

Arizona wine is no big secret anymore. Wineries and vineyards have sprung up around the state with southeastern and central Arizona being the most popular locations. Although Arizona wine has been around since the early 1980s, the last six or seven years have seen a surge of vineyards and wineries. It just makes sense the area around Willcox should be prime vineyard country; it’s already known to have the right conditions for a long grocery list of fruits and vegetables. A combination of warm sunny days, chilly nights, with the right elevation and soils also produce ideal conditions for wine grapes. For a brief but concise outline of Arizona wine history, see this page from wineinquirer.com.

The Willcox Bank and Trust building from 1917 is now the Keeling Schaefer tasting room

When creating an Arizona wine tour, you can’t omit Willcox. Most will agree the Verde Valley and Elgin-Sonoita wineries seem more accessible, but Willcox is just a three-hour drive from the Phoenix area, and only an hour and a half from Tucson. Three significant wineries with their corresponding tasting rooms are already in place in Willcox: Coronado Vineyards, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards and Carlson Creek Winery and Vineyard. More are starting up. If you follow Arizona wine news at arizonavinesandwines.com or the Arizona Wine Growers Association website, you know the list gets longer and the numbered dots on each wine map seem to multiply exponentially.

Winegrower John Carlson, left, explains viticulture to visitors

Each one of the three tasting rooms along our tour had its own unique personality. I liked the warm, fun vibe at Coronado Vineyards; the upscale, art gallery, historic storefront at Keeling Schaefer and the impression of innovation and confidence at Carlson Creek. As for the wines – I guess I don’t feel like my palate is sophisticated enough to review the wines, but I know what I like and I prefer the easy drinking reds and the blends, and at each one I found several worth either taking home, or at least, saving as an excuse to return to Willcox soon.

Cozy cottage is home for the Carlson Creek tasting room

So is this Saturday too soon? Coronado Vineyards is hosting its Holiday Extravaganza this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will have their choice of craft classes including wine bottle painting, decoupage and grape vine wreath-making. Children can create cork crafts while enjoying a visit from Santa Claus. Christmas music will keep everyone in a festive mood from 1 to 3 p.m. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no charge for entry to the festival. Visit the winery website for more information.

Learn how to use decoupage to decorate wine bottles at Coronado Vineyards' Holiday Extravaganza Saturday

Five things we love about San Diego’s Dolphin Motel

Great location, guest services and low room rates make Dolphin Motel an excellent value

Does anyone still use the term, “Zonie?” That’s the not-so-affectionate name given to Arizonans who, thinking they need a beach weekend or a break from the 100-degree heat, escape to California, especially the San Diego area. View other definitions at your own risk on UrbanDictionary.com. Californians no doubt, still complain about the high numbers of Zonies causing traffic jams and taking up parking spaces. Conversely Zonies may still gripe about the high prices just to experience a few beaches and ocean breezes. That’s why many Arizonans visiting California are always on the lookout for good deals.  Look no further for the best lodging value in San Diego: it’s the Dolphin Motel.

The sign says it all: "Why Pay More?"

1. Value

Value is our number one reason we love this harborview property. The combination of the motel’s basic amenities, location and inexpensive room rates make it the best lodging value for short stays in San Diego. The Dolphin Motel has free Wi-Fi, cable TV, continental breakfast, refrigerators in some rooms, early check-in and late check-out (upon request) for the low room rate of approximately $55 to $60 per night in San Diego. It’s difficult to find anything less than $100 that’s actually clean, comfortable and close-in.

Nearby parks and piers provide fishing opportunities

2. Proximity

Visitors to San Diego during the winter months will most likely opt for non-beach activities anyway, so they will prefer to stay close to all the events and attractions. Several big attractions in San Diego are just a short 10-15 minute drive from the Dolphin Motel: Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, USS Midway, Petco Park, Gaslamp Quarter, Historic Old Town, Westfield Horton Plaza and San Diego Convention Center. If you’ll be flying into San Diego, you’ll be glad to know that the Dolphin Motel is just two miles from the airport. On our visit to a boat show at the convention center, we appreciated the short distances to marinas, Shelter Island and Harbor Island parks, seafood markets plus some of the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife in the city.

Nearby to Dolphin Motel is the Friendship Bell at Shelter Island

3. Cleanliness

White walls, white sheets, white blankets and white towels: everything is white – even the patio chairs. It’s not really the way I would decorate but it definitely sends a message of clean. And it’s not a dingy, yellowy, spotted kind of white, either. It’s bright white. The rooms have wall art which provide an occasional splash of color. At least you feel confident these rooms are clean! The outside area is spotless too! This well-maintained, well-cleaned motel creates a peace-of-mind you deserve for a good night’s rest for your short stay. The rooms aren’t spacious, but ample enough for all your gear and your new plush Shamu whale from Sea World.

Marinas are just a short walk away from the Dolphin Motel

4. Continental Breakfast

I know, I know: so many places offer breakfast, but here I felt like I was getting something special, even though it’s just coffee, fresh fruit and muffins. While seated on the patio just outside your room, or up on the small corner balcony upstairs, you can eat breakfast, enjoy the harbor views and watch as the sport fishermen prepare to depart. We were fortunate to also see jets taking off and landing at the North Island Naval Complex across the bay.

5. Guest Service

This is the reason Dolphin Motel earns five stars on reviewer-type websites such as Tripadvisor.com.  At least in this case, you can trust the reviews. The Dolphin Motel has been in the same family for over 36 years. Following our recent stay, all of us in our party shared the feeling that the owners and staff are sincere hosts who truly value their guests’ stay. The management provides excellent guest service plus great concierge service, giving you all the information you need about San Diego. These folks offer such a genuine welcome and friendliness, you feel as though you were staying the weekend with long-time friends, or relatives. (Okay, maybe scratch out relatives).

Pelicans are plentiful around the waterfront areas near the Dolphin Motel