Guaymas, Sonora pearl farm a ‘must-see’

pearl on chain

Sea of Cortez pearl set in sterling silver

No vacation to the San Carlos-Guaymas coastal resort area of Sonora, Mexico is complete without a stop at Perlas del Mar de Cortez, (Sea of Cortez Pearl Farm). The attraction is not only a tourist destination; it’s an ongoing research facility of pearl-producing oysters, a scientific enterprise of pearl farming and also, a kind of historical landmark.

Natural and cultivated, single- and multicolored pearls from two main regional species: the black-lipped pearl oyster and the rainbow-lipped pearl oyster have found their way to various aspects of culture, notably John Steinbeck’s, “The Pearl” and less notably, but more interestingly, “El Mechudo — the long-haired Yaqui.” Find more fascinating cultural and historical references on the Perlas del Mar de Cortez website.

If you’re considering a tour of the pearl farm, plan to spend at least two hours. You will want to either book a tour with your San Carlos or Guaymas resort concierge, or simply venture out on your own, to the location on Bacochibampo Bay. The tour includes a general history of pearls and New World pearls, especially those from Mexico. You will learn how they are created naturally, artificially and also get a lesson about different pearl varieties. You’ll also receive information about how this educational facility began and its current endeavors and challenges.

Dock facility at pearl farm (2004 photo)

Dock facility at pearl farm (2004 photo)

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Actually, there’s not a lot to do or see at the farm – it’s a small group of buildings and a boat ramp. However, your tour guide will spend most of the tour time (an hour) explaining the intensive and fascinating process underwater (the farm), in the lab and at the dock. You will be able to see the black floats, like buoys, out in the bay indicating the location of each submerged cage of young, growing oysters and other implanted oysters developing the pearls. In the submerged cages, or “pearl nets”, it usually takes about 18 months for a young oyster to reach the stage to be seeded and another 18 to 24 months for a seeded oyster to develop the pearls. During this time, workers remove and clean the oysters about every two months — a very tedious, but necessary task.

floats

Black floats mark the location of pearl nets

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After your pearl farm tour, a visit to the pearl gift shop is also a must, because, even if you choose not to buy, you will want to see the finished products – beautiful pendants, earrings, rings and individual pearls in all shapes, sizes and colors!

Tip: After a morning at the pearl farm, take a little detour to one of Guaymas’ many colorful shopping centers for souvenirs and lunch. Also consider visiting other Guaymas sights including Tres Presidentes Plaza, City Hall and San Fernando Church.

Readers: Have you been to San Carlos or Guaymas? Can you tell us: What are your favorite activities and places to visit?

We last visited Guaymas in 2008. Please note that the farm photos are actually taken in 2004. I’m assuming the dock building was rebuilt following the September 2009 storm. Any reader updates or comments would be welcomed and appreciated.

Start Jerome, Ariz. tour at historic state park

jero

Enjoy the views from Jerome Historic State Park

 

Visitors to Jerome, Arizona are smart to choose Jerome State Historic Park as their first stop when they come into town, to discover the town’s rich and colorful history. Stories of wealthy mining families, town fires, floods, gambling, prostitution and ghosts are circulated at Jerome State Historic Park.

The park comprises the James Douglas family mansion, separate carriage house, and exterior exhibits of a stamp mill crusher and several mining cars. Jerome Historical Society maintains the Audrey Headframe Park, located just west of the mansion, also worth a visit.

gargoyle

Gargoyle greets visitors to the Douglas mansion at Jerome Historic State Park

 

When arriving in Jerome with our out-of-state guests, Jerome State Historic Park usually is our first stop. The five-dollar admission fee is money well spent. The 28-minute video presentation seems much shorter, probably because it’s packed full of exciting tidbits about Jerome’s most notorious characters and earthshaking events. I highly recommend seeing that video first, before you tour the rest of the mansion. Everything you’ll be seeing behind the display glass will make more sense, plus you’ll really have a greater appreciation of your other stops in historic Jerome.

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Rock specimens on display inside mansion rooms

 

At Jerome State Historic Park, you’ll learn about the Douglas family, the rise and fall of Jerome’s mining industry and other significant events, offering a deeper understanding of the town, its culture and colorful past. Plan to spend at least an hour at the park, if not more. Afterwards, you’ll want to take in all the panoramic views as you stroll around the grounds and exterior exhibits.

engineering instruments

Surveying instruments are part of Jerome Historic State Park railroad exhibit

 

Interesting side note: the Douglas family didn’t spend much time at this mansion. It was used more for entertaining guests, investors and mining company VIPs. The home was a model for opulence, complete with wine cellar, marble shower, even a central vacuum system — very innovative for that time! But the mansion also served as party hall, as mine officials hosted a huge Christmas party for the miners and their families each year.

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One of the main living areas in the Douglas mansion at Jerome Historic State Park

 

Tips for visiting Jerome: When planning a walking tour of Jerome’s shops and cafes, first pick up a historic building and business map at the visitor center. Consider parking at the spacious lot located just past the Fire Station on Perkinsville Road. That way, you’ll have an easy walk to the shops, starting at the United Verde Apartment building, then making your way down to each street level. The first Saturday of each month is the Jerome Art Walk.

Spring’s in bloom at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

barrels

Boyce Thompson Arboretum provides center stage for a bunch of barrel cacti in a spotlight of sunshine

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hedgehog

Hedgehog cactus in bloom

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From wildflowers to wildlife, if you’re in Arizona in April, you must go to the Arboretum. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, that is. Almost any spring day between mid-March to late April, depending on temperatures and rainfall, is prime time for wildflower watching.

Hedgehog, barrel, prickly pear, saguaro cacti blossoms come alive with color at various times throughout the spring season. Also look for lupine, poppies, mallow and many other wildflowers. The state park provides several wildflower walking tours this month — upcoming walks are scheduled for April 14, 22 and 28.

Ayer Lake

Rock formations reflect in Ayer Lake's still waters

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Don’t forget your camera! Even if you’re a novice at wildflower photography, just research some photo tips online: here’s one website. Or perhaps you’d like to simply stroll along the Main Loop trail and enjoy the colorful sights, knowing that you’ll find plenty of guide books, postcards, brochures and pamphlets in the park’s gift shop.

Remember to pack plenty of drinking water, and if you’re like me; also bring some tissues and Zyrtec. Wildflowers, blooming trees can also mean sneezing, wheezing and watering eyes. Although springtime visits to the arboretum bring many visitors for wildflower watching, there are additional tours, classes and exhibits happening at the park throughout the year. Check the website’s calendar for upcoming events and plan your trip accordingly.

old truck

An old truck on the Arboretum's grounds makes an excellent background

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Not too keen about memorizing all those wildflower names? You could download an identification app such as those available from Audubon. Or obtain a copy of an Arizona field flower guide from your local library or while you’re in the Arboretum gift shop. I found this handy online identification guide from delange.org, but I found its formatting to be a bit outdated and rather tedious to view on mobile. What I did like about this site however, was its color key index for searching and cross-reference index for both scientific and common flower names.

cactus flowers

Pink blossoms of the fishhook cactus

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It also helps to get your head out behind the camera lens once in a while to simply “take it all in,” especially before the Arizona temperatures will reach 100 degrees. All ages will enjoy much about the park: the many species of birds, small mammals and reptiles, unique rock formations, historic park buildings, picturesque creek crossings and huge eucalyptus trees.

wildflowers

Vibrant red blossoms sprout from the rocks at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is located west of Superior on U.S. Highway 60 and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults or $4.50 for children 5-12.

Also check out the Boyce Thompson Arboretum Facebook Page.

Readers: I would love to see your comments about other spring desert wildflower locations around Arizona. What are your favorite places? Have any photography tips to share?

Random notes from Arizona wine tasting rooms

I’ve watched people at wine tasting events and wineries and remember how connoisseurs will jot down wine notes or dictate messages into their cell phones. They want to remember their wine tasting experiences, save information about the wines. They make notes about the wine’s appearance, aroma, taste and finish.

On a recent day trip to Jerome and Cottonwood, I jotted down some notes of my own — of the tasting rooms themselves. Here are some excerpts taken from my day trip travel journal about three tasting rooms I visited:

Arizona Stronghold

Appearance: Rich colors; dark sandstone red. Oak and iron. Exciting, bustling, comfortable atmosphere. Warm, friendly and inviting.

Second impressions: Oil paintings of sunsets. Bold, edgy. Surreal. Apache photos and symbols. Uninhibited.

Tasting experience: Friendly and relaxed. Smooth. Five for $9

Location: 1023 North Main Street, Cottonwood. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 12-7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday 12-9 p.m.

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Arizona Stronghold tasting room in Cottonwood

ASV1

Arizona Stronghold tasting room celebrated its 'birthday' in March with balloons and entertainment

Bitter Creek Winery

Appearance: Bright, airy. Vivid burgundy-colored walls. Welcoming, friendly.

Second impressions: Gallery of watercolors and ink. Panoramic views of Verde Valley from picture window. Artistic labels and unique names for blends. Gifts. High ceilings.

Tasting experience: Informative. Innovative. Mystical. Sultry Cellars reds: Four for $10. Bitter Creek reds and whites: Four for $8.

Location: 240 Hull Ave., Jerome. Hours: Sunday – Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open one hour later, beginning in May.

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Bitter Creek Winery

Bitter Creek Winery tasting room features sitting area to enjoy panoramic views of Verde Valley

Bitter Creek Winery

A gallery of watercolor, ink and charcoal towers over the long wine bar at Bitter Creek Winery

Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room

Appearance: Red brick. Walnut and maple wood. Steel gray wine bar with brushed chrome hardware.

Second impressions: Imaginative. Bold. Rustic-looking with modern edginess. Shop is definitely worth a browse. Apparel and wine accessories.

Tasting experience: A bit pricey. $14 per flight of four wines.

Location: 158 Main Street, Jerome. Hours: Monday-Thursday, Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Caduceus Cellars

A cozy, intimate atmosphere at the Jerome tasting room of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards

Caduceus Cellars

Unique wine accessories and apparel in the shop at Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards tasting room