Five Reasons to dine at Babe’s Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage

Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse beer sampler

After a short but steep morning hike in the desert mountains of Rancho Mirage, Calif., (see previous post), we opted for lunch at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse. Hot, tired, thirsty and hungry, we may have found any restaurant option more than adequate, but we were authentically impressed with this casual barbecue eatery at The River shopping center. So here are five reasons we’ll be returning to Babe’s:

1. Barbecue. We loved the large variety menu selections of barbecue sandwiches, combination plates and platters. Our lunch sandwich temptations included choices of chicken, pork, sausage, brisket or tri-tip with two side selections of French fries, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, baked beans or turkey chili. As a no-risk diner, I stayed on the conservative side and ordered a simple sandwich lunch but other menu selections that raised my interest were: the tri-tip or shrimp po’ boy, or the smoked black angus short rib sandwich with hot link sausage, brisket, grilled onions, pickles with Babe’s spicy sauce. My pulled pork sandwich plate comprised two sandwiches. The meat was tender and juicy and dabbled with Babe’s own barbecue sauce. It wasn’t smothered with sauce, as others have attempted, as if to mask a tough meat cut or to soften up a dried, overcooked brisket. Only negative about this sandwich: it was served on a white refined flour bun. Babe’s barbecue sauce compensated for the bun drawback — it’s just the right balance of smoke, spice and sweet to pair with pork, or any barbecue meat.

2. Service. Our service was right on the mark. Sometimes servers get a little too anxious to try to move customers — ours was not. Some servers lose track of tables and neglect customers — ours did not. Some servers are a little too aggressive, trying to pump up sales for the larger tip — ours did not. He was knowledgeable about the menu products, brews and local area.

Three pigs welcome diners to Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse

3. Vibe. I’m not sure about using the ‘vibe’ category, but I suspect this includes a description of décor and clientele. One word to describe the casual interior at Babe’s Brew House: whimsical. Okay, maybe the word should be kitschy. Porcine objects are everywhere: pig lamps, pig windows, pig statues, pig pictures. Seating is comfortable, ranging from cozy booths to spacious tables to accommodate groups. We stopped by on a Sunday around noon, so we witnessed an influx of The River center shoppers, seniors, large families and the after-church crowd.

4. Price. All menu items are fairly reasonably priced – especially when you compare prices to other restaurants in the area. Our two sandwiches with beer samples came to less than $50 with tax and tip. (The beer samples were at least half of the bill.) Meal portions are large so two persons could easily split an entrée or sandwich plate.

5. Brews. We sampled six of Babe’s beers: Hog Tie Rye, Babe’s Classic Golden Ale, Honey Blonde Ale, a wheat beer called Das Schwein Dunkel Weizen, 29 Palms Pale Ale and Blackfin Lager. I thought three of the samples were very good: the honey blonde, the dark lager and the 29 Palms. The latter was my favorite — it had just the right balance of malt and hops, an easy drinking pale ale.

Added notes: Babe’s original owner was Donald Callender, known for founding the Marie Callender’s restaurant chain (Marie’s son). He died in 2009, but current chef/brewer/manager Arthur Vasquez continues his legacy.

According to Palm Springs Life’s Desert Guide, Babe’s is the valley’s only onsite brewery.

Babe’s has won awards for Palm Springs Life magazine’s Best of the Best for Best Barbecue Restaurant, Best Happy Hour and Best Cocktails. This  pub’s not only known for its beers, but its signature cocktails.

Pulled pork sandwich platter at Babe's could feed two

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Hike like a local on California’s ‘Bump and Grind’ Trail

Hike like a local on the Bump and Grind Hike

 

Valley and mountain views attract hikers, bikers and runners to Bump and Grind HikeView from our turnaround spot on Bump and Grind TrailPlanning a California getaway to the Palm Springs area? Hiking on the to-do list? Then hike like a local — on the “Bump and Grind” urban hiking trail in Palm Desert.

Our concierge recommended this one. She said it’s where all the locals go. As long as you’re in pretty decent shape, you can make it to the top, and the views up there are terrific, she attested. So we’d thought we give the Bump and Grind a try. (By the way, it’s also known as the Mirage Trail.) This trailhead was near our resort, the Westin Mission Hills (about four miles), so we didn’t have to eat up a good portion of a weekend day driving around or riding a tramway to get to the trailhead. Another advantage: it’s free.

From Rancho Mirage, we drove south down Bob Hope Drive to Highway 111 and parked behind the Desert Crossing shopping center in Palm Desert. It’s a good thing we got there fairly early, as the street parking was filling up fast. (Phoenix urban hikers surely can relate.) Plus the day’s forecast temps were mid- to upper 90s. Dozens of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers of all ages and abilities wanted to get an early start.

The path itself is much drier, softer and sandier than desert trails we’re used to in the Phoenix area, but it’s wide and well-marked – for the most part. The trailhead is designated as the Mike Schuler Trail at this at the parking area, but it actually picks up the wider Bump and Grind Trail (no sign) as you come around the back lot of Moller’s Garden Center. The first quarter mile is fairly narrow but widens out considerably – like an old Jeep trail.

For those who make it all the way to the top of the approximate two-mile, 1000 feet climb, it’s great workout. It’s a decent workout even going the first half mile. We took our time — snapping pictures, stopping for plenty of water, enjoying spectacular views of the Coachella Valley, Santa Rosa, San Jacinto and Little San Bernadino Mountains, and yielding right-of-way to faster, decisive traffic. We came up to about 1000-foot point (probably about two-thirds of the total distance) before we turned around. The Bump and Grind also is much less ‘green’ than those North or South Mountain or Superstition trails around Phoenix. Very little vegetation is found along the way – only brittle creosote bush.

But local hikers aren’t necessarily there to enjoy plants, wildlife or the trail’s photogenics. Sure, they hike to enjoy the panoramic views from the top. Of course, they hike to burn off calories for their daily or weekend workout. But most importantly, they are hiking there now because ‘they can.’ After a long and hard grassroots effort against California Department of Fish and Game, they can finally hike without threat or fear of being fenced out or hauled off.

It’s a long story, but basically the DFG closed the upper end of the Bump and Grind hike because it claimed big horn sheep used the area during lambing season. Locals cried foul when the DFG claims couldn’t be supported by wildlife management studies. Plus there were confusing proximity issues that seemed baseless. To the local hiking community, shutting down the best section of this scenic hike year-round seemed completely unnecessary. Naturally, locals took all the next logical steps. They started a Facebook page, “Save the Bump and Grind” and wrote to their representatives in the state assembly. Finally new legislation and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown last month reversed the DFG decision — the last one-half mile would remain closed only for the February to April lambing season.

All’s well that ends well: Local hikers have access restored to most of their Bump and Grind Hike; Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert visitors (like those of us from Arizona) have another hiking area that’s worth exploring.

Tips: 1. No dogs. 2. Consider taking a loop hike in this area. Combine the Mike Schuler Trail-Bump and Grind Trail with the Herb Jeffries Trail and the Hopalong Cassidy Trail. 3. You can also begin the Bump and Grind Hike at the Rancho Mirage-Palm Desert boundary, just past the Desert Drive-Hwy. 111 intersection. Park in the furniture store lot on the west side of the street. 4. Get up-to-date info and advisories before starting out. 5. Pay attention to hiking trail etiquette.

And by the way, if you haven’t tried EveryTrail.com yet, this wiki-style content website and mobile app is worth a closer look. I really like viewing elevation contours and user-posted photos and descriptions along strategic points along the trails.

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Create your own travel memories

Re-create vacation memories with sensory reminders (Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis)Not all vacation memories come in the form of photo snapshots. Not all souvenirs are found in gift shops. You can establish your own souvenirs of your vacation or weekend getaway by re-creating and re-stimulating the senses.

I just returned from a weekend escape at the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, California. It was an all-too-quick, but wonderful little getaway – a change of scenery, simply to relax and recharge. I didn’t book any expensive spa treatments and I didn’t take out my frustrations on a golf ball. But I wanted to remember those relaxing “ah” moments. Through my travels, I have found the best way to do that is to bring back little sensory mementos.

Even maps and brochures can bring back vacation feelings

Sight. Obviously all the photos, videos, brochures, postcards will bring back those great vacation feelings immediately. Just upload all the images to your computer and push play. The brochures, maps and cards you picked up at the concierge desk will fill in the blanks if you want to refresh details about your visit. Even my hotel site map from my weekend will bring back some pleasant thoughts of our gorgeous morning walks along the gardens, golf course fairways, tennis courts, spa and playground. Another ideas: Get creative. Remember the way your towels were arranged or folded in your hotel room? You can do the same in your guest bath at home. Like a gallery print from the lobby? You can undoubtedly find one very similar online for your home. Sometimes just simply arranging your seashells in a clear vase or desk lamp pedestal will send you back to your getaway.

Sound. This is a good memory jogger. Most people will remember old songs then recall the accompanying circumstances and situations linked to those songs. On our first night of our Rancho Mirage weekend getaway, we heard a really nice Fireside Lounge performer, Michael Keeth. His music put us into one of those “please-suspend-this-moment-in-time” mind frames. We were perfectly content to listen to the acoustic guitar music while sipping our drinks. We didn’t want to leave. But we were able to get one his CDs. Now we have musical reminders of that wonderful evening.

Candles, soap, lotions are perfect souvenirs

Smell. So many fragrant plants and flowers surround the gardens and golf course at the Westin Mission Hills. Sometime I may want to re-capture that same fantastic aroma to recall a garden walk or morning breeze on the balcony. So I’ll do a little research: identify the origins of those scents and purchase them to enjoy later. Taking home the complimentary hotel hand and body lotions will produce a similar, less dramatic reaction. The same fragrances will remind me of an extra long vacation shower or a bubble bath soak. I like Westin’s fresh White Tea Aloe bath and body collection, so I’ll use it during the hectic work week. The fragrance alone will send me back to my October getaway weekend at the Mission Hills. Other suggestions: buy a candle, sachet, spray or diffuser oil from your spa resort to put in your office. What a great instant de-stressor!

Taste. Ever have such a fantastic dinner — you just had to have the recipe? Just make a simple inquiry. Many chefs will share their most requested dishes, and many bartenders will be happy share their signature drinks. Or if you like experimenting in the kitchen, just try to re-create the dish at home. Investigate possibilities of bringing back or shipping regional delicacies. Check resort websites for posted recipes or online booksellers for cookbooks. It would be nice idea to again share that special honeymoon vacation dinner on your anniversary.

Find resort bedding in online catalogs

Touch. No, I’m not recommending packing up hotel towels or bathrobes. But an increasing number of lodging brands offer linens, bathrobes and other merchandise to guests through a “home collection” catalog or website. Westin, Marriott and Hilton all do. Then you can order that big thirsty bath sheet or snuggly duvet cover for your own home.

Going forward, I’m going to strive to be creative about ways to bring home vacation memories — no more wasting money on cheesy key chains, refrigerator magnets or shot glasses!

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A ‘down-home’ getaway weekend in downtown Safford

Halloween decor at Gingerbread & Co., a popular downtown Safford gift shop

Traveling throughout Arizona to its smaller towns and cities, I’ve learned to allow time to explore the downtown areas. Window shopping, browsing through antique or thrift stores, visiting local attractions and relaxing in town squares have been important activities of my Arizona getaways. My visit to Safford’s historical downtown area provides another snapshot of an Arizona small town.

Historic downtown Safford

Safford’s central business section is attractive and well-kept, but like most historic districts, some buildings still need a facelift. The downtown includes a well-defined Main Street, rolling out to a city and county government complex and park. Side streets include many additional businesses, offices and light industrial firms. Safford’s downtown reminds me of the “Back to the Future” movie town – “Hill Valley.”  Walking down Main Street, one can envision Michael J. Fox’s character hopping on a skateboard and careening over parked cars. Even the Graham County Courthouse strikes a keen resemblance to Hill Valley’s courthouse – sans the clock. I guess classic revival or neo-classic architecture style must have been popular for government buildings constructed during the early 20th century.

I was expecting to find quaint shops and eateries lining the thoroughfare, as I often have discovered in other Arizona ‘historic downtown’ districts. I found a few, but with all the historical storefronts, I really thought there would be more.  Much of the street level commercial frontage seems to be undergoing renovation. Some existing businesses were simply closed on Saturdays such as professional and medical offices or business services providers. Obviously downtown Safford doesn’t exist to the whim of tourism and clearly Safford is not attempting to be the “shopping Mecca” of Arizona.  Local commerce here is more about providing goods and services for its townsfolk. Granted, on this particular blustery Saturday, clouds and winds threatened monsoon rains so I didn’t spend as much time wandering the downtown as I’d hoped.

Gingerbread & Co., a spacious market for home decorating and gift ideas

However, a few shops did manage to capture my interest — I’m really glad I took the time to browse two women’s apparel stores: Sorella’s Elite Fashions and The Wear. I find independent, locally owned clothing retailers especially appealing. Call it nostalgia, but I like the way clothing, shoes and accessories are neatly and tastefully displayed at these shops. It makes shopping extra enjoyable. Friendly customer service is a bonus. Another recommended store is Gingerbread & Co., a gift and home accessory shop. If you’re drawn to decorative knickknacks, this place is for you. Plan to spend a while here, browsing through odds and ends: frames, signs, wreaths, bookends, you name it. Let’s put this way: if you have an empty spot on a wall, table or shelf in your house, it may be filled when you return from Gingerbread & Co.

Outdoor seating at "A Step Back in Time Coffee Shop and Deli"

With all this walking, visitors to Safford’s historic downtown may need a ‘little pick-me-up,’ so I can recommend A Step Back in Time Coffee Shop and Deli. This was another downtown highlight. Coffee, tea, smoothies, sandwiches, pizza and breakfast dishes make up the menu.  I stopped in for a late morning latte and a chat with the barista on duty. Downtown Safford is still going through some changes; storefronts are being reconstructed and renovated, I learned. Businesses are moving to larger spaces and new shops are opening. A Christmas decoration shop was preparing its new inventory during my visit.

 "A Step Back in Time" was once a old hardware store. Now renovated, plans include an onsite bakery

Safford is about a three hour drive southeast of Phoenix. The trip would make a wonderful getaway for anyone wanting a kind of “country Christmas” or “downhome” autumn weekend. You could shop for unusual gifts and holiday decorations while getting acquainted (or more familiar) with one of Arizona’s more rustic county seats. (Don’t forget to pick up a few dozen tamales at one or more of those wonderful southeast Arizona Mexican restaurants.)

There were several other interesting retailers I wanted to visit, but we just ran out of time: Pollock’s Western Wear — a well-reputed western apparel and boot outfitter, and a liquor store that appears to be located in the middle of an intersection, on a traffic island, called — appropriately enough: Triangle Liquor. Those will have to wait until next time.

More reasons to visit Safford and Graham County in October: Graham County Fair is Oct. 11-14; Cowboy Poets and Music Gathering is Oct. 26-28; and Harvest Festival is Oct. 27.

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Explore Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park in Safford

Discovery Park's shuttlecraft Polaris takes 'tours' to the planets

When I would think of Safford, the first thing that would come to mind is a small town in southeast Arizona, the center of Arizona’s patchwork of agricultural acreage. Now, after a visit last month to the Graham County seat, other images will appear: Safford — as the site of the world’s largest binocular telescope atop nearby Mount Graham, and as the location of Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park campus.

Discovery Park is several educational attractions in one. It’s more than just a community college campus, it’s the official visitor center for University of Arizona’s Mount Graham International Observatory, where travelers can embark for day-long tours to the top Mount Graham to view three world class telescopes: the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter (Radio) Telescope of the Arizona Radio Observatory, and the Large Binocular Telescope. The latter is reported to be the largest binocular telescope in the world.  Through advance reservations, visitors may book a 40-mile road trip up to the top of 10,720-feet high Mount Graham. They are treated to a sack lunch along with a tour of each of the telescope facilities. Trips are arranged through Discovery Park from May through October and spaces are limited, so those interested may want to call well ahead of time to reserve space for May 2013.

Old butter churn, paddle and mold: Discovery Park's also a temporary host for Graham County history

Discovery Park visitor center is also a historical museum. Portions of the Graham County Historical Society’s museum exhibit, originally housed in an aging school building in neighboring Thatcher, have been moved into the galleries at Discovery Park until the Historical Society can find a new home. Now Discovery Park visitors also will be able to get a glimpse into Graham County history. Here you can view artifacts, farm tools, cooking utensils and historic documents from the mid- and late19th century pioneers.

Learn about light and sound in Discovery Park's science gallery

And the Discovery Park visitor’s center also is a space science center, so it’s an especially great place to bring the kids. Families can learn about the planets, the Sun, and light and sound waves of space. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to “hear” space. The history of astronomy and contributions by important innovators of planetary, earth and physical sciences are described in the galleries. If you plan your visit on a clear Saturday evening, you’ll be able view the night sky through Governor Aker Observatory’s Tinsley 20” telescope.

A highlight of our visit to Discovery Park’s visitor center was the Space Shuttle Polaris, a flight motion simulator vehicle, which takes passengers on a 10-minute jostling, jolting tour of all the planets, lifting off from the top of Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains. It’s reminiscent of Disney’s Star Tours ride attraction, with elevators, doors, long drops and fast swoops. Even though you’re only watching an on-screen video for the ride, you may want to hang on to the seat — some of those visual effects can be knuckle-whitening!

Walk through riparian wetland areas - part of Nature's Hideaway at Discovery Park

After my flight simulator ride, it was time to get a little fresh air. So, while I regained my composure, I learned that this multipurpose venue continues beyond the visitor center doors. Discovery Park is also a wildlife preserve. The riparian wetland area below the visitor center, called Nature’s Hideaway, includes several desert trails and walkways. During our visit, summer monsoon rains were preparing to refill the low-lying ponds, which attract migrating ducks and other waterfowl. Our visitor center host provided us with some snack crackers for Howard. (The duck, of course.) We walked down the sloping driveway to the grassy, reedy ponds looking for Howard. We didn’t see any ducks that afternoon, but we did find an excellent environment for watching wildlife.

It's snack time for Discovery Park's box turtle and tortoise

Just as we were leaving, we passed a miniature locomotive engine, the Discovery Park Express and its cars now sitting idle beyond a chain-linked fence. We were told that steep insurance costs now prevent the park from offering train rides. We hope — through private funding, grants or with a ‘Friends’ fundraising group — this train may once again may be chugging down Discovery Park’s narrow gauge track.

Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park campus, located at 1651 Discovery Park Blvd, is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no shuttle rides after 4:00 p.m.) and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Call 928-428-6260 for tours, special event reservations and more information.

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