Convention tips and tricks for Star Trek Las Vegas

vegas_logo_2013The Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas is coming up fast! Trek fans: Do you remember your first Star Trek Convention? If you were like me (a convention newbie in 2011), for your first convention you wanted just three things: to see everything, do everything and know everything. In an attempt to be the most prepared as possible for my first convention, I searched the Internet for any advice or tips I could find for Trek convention-goers. Some of you may remember asking the same questions: Do I need to wear a Starfleet uniform? Do I need to dress up as a Klingon? Do I need to learn the Klingon language? Do I need to eat gagh, drink blood wine and participate in mating rituals? (Okay, maybe not the last one.)

Well, this blog post is NOT an attempt to answer those questions, but I can offer a few tips to those who are new to the convention. These tips may also be useful to those of you who are ‘con veterans’ but are new to the next week’s event, which runs August 8-11.

At the Rio Las Vegas Resort & Casino:

Sign up for a Total Rewards card. Even if you don’t plan to gamble, it’s worth the five minutes it takes to apply online. Have your card number handy when you check in to your Rio suite and you can start earning reward points immediately. Show your card everywhere. Not only can you continue to earn points for comps and deals for future visits to any Caesar’s Entertainment resort, but you’ll immediately reap benefits with shopping and dining discounts while at the Rio. Look for the reduced Total Rewards prices on Rio restaurant menus. Read the FAQs and fine print and shop through Total Rewards retail partners throughout the year — inactivity will cause your points to expire in six months.

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Make advance dinner reservations. Why wait in long restaurant lines with a bunch of overpowering Jem’Hadar? Advance dinner booking may work best if you’re confident you’ll be dining on a particular day and time. For example, if you’re already planning a meetup with your fellow Ferengi for a 7 p.m. Friday night dinner at the All-American Bar & Grille, know you can make that reservation online and not wait for a table. (Not available at all Rio eateries.)

Enjoy the resort and the city. Gamble, shop, eat, drink, go to shows — do all that Vegas-type stuff. Get to know what’s playing and who’s performing, whether it’s part of the convention or not. Relax at the pool. Check out the VooDoo Lounge. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment. Explore one of the new casinos. Smart con-goers pad their stay with a day or two before or after the convention for this purpose. (Also see “10 reasons to stay at the Rio.”)

Ask for a map. Especially if you’re new to the Rio, a small map or smartphone image helps immensely. There’s nothing more humbling (or embarrassing if you’re not alone) than walking for half an hour down the wrong hallway… of the wrong floor… of the Ipanema Tower. Only you suddenly realize your room is in the Masquerade Tower! You could ask for one at check-in or find some handy maps and property info on Caesars’ properties website.

At the Convention:

Pack some snacks. Speaking of long walks, it’s a fair jaunt out from the room towers to the convention wing. Now I (almost) understand why so many ‘non-disabled’ people use those mobility scooters!  At my first two conventions, I found it helpful to pack some granola or protein bars to nibble on between panel sessions. Hopefully, again this year a deli-type food concession will be set up adjacent to the registration rotunda for light breakfast and lunch. You may want to bring along a plastic water bottle to fill up at one of the many water stations.

On a related note: Wear comfortable shoes. Standing, walking, waiting: you’ll need them. Even if you need special footwear to complete a costume or to comply with strict Starfleet (or Guinness World Record) uniform regulations, you’ll eventually want to slip into a pair of flip-flops or sneakers.

Don’t forget batteries and chargers — for the laptops, tablets, cameras, phones, phasers, tricorders or portable transporter devices. I like my Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone – it gives me almost an extra day of usage, while on my cell service network. The alternative is paying $13.95 per day wireless internet access in the room or $22.95 per day for access throughout the resort. Of course for some, like those who require WiFi, those extra fees may not seem like a such a bad deal.

Take your time in the dealers room. You may want to plan your tour around the dealers room. For example, you might compare the dealers room to the galaxy: Divide it into quadrants and get ready to explore… or assimilate. Back in 2011, I had the temptation to run around and see every vendor and celebrity in the first hour of the first day. Now I take my time: talking to the vendors, enjoying the parade of fans, chatting with the celebrities, shopping for souvenirs and collectibles — posters, shirts, jewelry, accessories and props.

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Take advantage of phone apps, websites and social media. Regularly check Twitter using the hashtag #STLV. This is a great way to stay in the loop with all the impromptu meetups, breaking convention announcements or last-minute schedule changes. Keep track your convention activities with Bloodhound, a smartphone app developed for business conferences. With Bloodhound, you can customize your own schedule of events, view maps, connect with other attendees, and link to Twitter and Facebook.

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Help set a new Guinness World Record for most Star Trek costumes in location. After my blog post on Trekmovie.com about the record attempt, I found a webpage outlining the costume regulations. It’s from a Texas Lottery promotion’s attempt from earlier this year. Please set your alerts and alarms to be there. Hopefully the powers that schedule events this year won’t put competing sessions during the half hour or so it takes to complete the World Record attempt.

Finally, and probably the most unnecessary tip: Have fun! I say “unnecessary” because at my first two conventions, I was so amazed and impressed! There’s no dispute — Star Trek fans are the best! They’re the most friendly, patient, courteous, helpful, fun-loving, tolerant convention attendees! Where else can you find several thousand people with different backgrounds, ages, nationalities (or from different planets?) with one common bond? If the Star Trek community is like a big family, the convention is a big family… on vacation!

Please add to this list: What convention tips can you suggest?

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Note: Please check out Trekmovie.com for “all things Star Trek,” including news, information and opinions about Star Trek TV shows, movies, events, science & technology, and celebrities. This article is cross-posted there.

Prescott Valley pioneer statue dedication

Not So Gentle Tamer in front of Prescott Valley Civic Center (photo courtesy Town of Prescott Valley)

Not So Gentle Tamer in front of Prescott Valley Civic Center (photo courtesy Town of Prescott Valley)

While strolling around the Phippen Museum Western Art Show in Prescott last May, a 10-foot tall woman stopped me in my tracks. And I was not the only bystander to stop and take notice of this tall figure. A small crowd had gathered around her and as I quickly learned, she’s a bit of a local celebrity. She’s the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” —  not just a bronze statue, but the epitome of a western pioneer woman. Looking into her eyes, I could see her strength, courage and determination.

With a rattlesnake in one hand and a hoe in the other, she was attracting a growing crowd at the Prescott Courthouse square. But her new official home is in front of the Town of Prescott Valley Civic Center, 7501 E. Civic Circle. The unveiling and dedication ceremony is at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 27.

At the Memorial Day weekend art show in downtown Prescott, another local celebrity was also drawing some attention. Bob Boze Bell, popular Arizona artist, cartoonist, columnist, writer, radio personality, True West Magazine owner and authority-on-all-things “old west,” stood behind a table signing prints of the colorful painting of the same towering bronze statue. My curiosity peaked. Bell is known for his drawings and paintings of “Old West” characters, scenes and themes, so at first I thought he might be dabbling in a new medium.

He must have seen my puzzled look as I glanced back and forth from the stack of colorful prints of the “Not-So-Gentle Tamer” to the 10-foot bronze statue with the same name, so he proceeded to offer up the short version how his commissioned painting for the centennial evolved into a statue bronze.

The story is a fascinating one. After Bell was asked to create a painting for the centennial, he captured memories of both his grandmothers’ personalities and lifestyles into one pioneer woman character — that of a sweet, but strong-willed rancher’s-farmer’s wife. Bell remembered his maternal grandmother, the wife of an Arizona rancher, would show both a soft side and firm hand. He recalled she could “calmly dispatch rattlesnakes with her trusty hoe.”

Bell’s original painting was so well-received; Prescott Valley Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye had the idea to transform the work to bronze. Fast forward a few frames: Vice Mayor Nye contacted Ed Reilly, an owner of Bronzesmith, a Prescott Valley foundry, who then contacted local sculptor Deb Gessner, who would agree to create the 10-foot clay-to-bronze representation of Bell’s painting.

Vice Mayor Nye aptly tells about the Arizona pioneer woman characterization of American West in an online video: “The men won the West, but they did not tame it — the women tamed it.”

And many pioneer women, like one Arizona rancher’s wife, were “not so gentle.”

 

Thanks to the Town of Prescott Valley for permission to use these photos.

Cool off with culture in downtown Chandler

IMG_1807Arizonans don’t have to travel far to take advantage of cool, cultural offerings. Five air-conditioned locations in downtown Chandler offer respite from the heat and provide satisfaction for summertime cultural cravings — music, theater, art, film and literature.

At Chandler Center for the Arts, free summer concert performances start Friday Aug. 2 with the Bad Cactus Brass Band at 7 p.m. Other performances are jazz musician Dmitri Matheny on Aug. 16, a blend of flamenco and mariachi — “FlaMEXico!” on Aug. 23, and a music variety show for youth, “Plugged In” on Aug. 24. Tip: Since these shows are free and seating is first-come, first-served, you may want to get there when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. Allow extra time to check out the center’s gallery.

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Xico Arte y Cultura Galeria is an art gallery, shop and studio dedicated to traditional arts and crafts by Native American and Latino cultures. Find jewelry, paintings, multimedia art, folk arts and crafts at the shop, located on the west side of A.J. Chandler Park. Many of the items carry colorful Dia de los Muertos themes. Tip: Check this non-profit organization’s Facebook page for upcoming special exhibits and artist demonstrations. Open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m.

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Stop by the versatile Vision Gallery and view special exhibits: “Decision Portraits by Susan Lenz” until July 26 or “Fine Art Photography by David Miller” beginning Aug. 2. About 300 regional artists’ works are on a rotating display. Don’t miss the popular “Art-O-Mat” — itself a mini art gallery, a showcase of mini art. It’s really a converted cigarette machine. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tip: Sign up for the gallery newsletter and you’ll get first news about special exhibitions and artists’ opening night receptions.

Cool off with a “hot” read from Chandler Public Library’s Friends of the Library summer book sale. Buy Library discard books at 4 for $1 through the month of July! And if you stop by on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. through Aug. 6, you can watch a showing of one of the flicks in the Get Reel Documentary Film Series hosted by the Library in partnership with Public Television’s Point of View series. Tip: Don’t forget your library card to check out a Cultural Pass for free local museum visits.

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Gangplank, downtown Chandler’s collaborative workspace, comes alive with arts, crafts and music as the indoor location of the Downtown Chandler Art Walk on third Fridays during the summer months. Desks and computers make way for displays of sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics and jewelry from 6 to 10 p.m. So if you don’t have plans yet for this Friday, July 19: Come and enjoy music by Chris Buzan and a glass of wine while you stroll through the exhibits at Gangplank, located at 260 S. Arizona Ave. Learn more about Gangplank and its Wednesday brownbag series talks, health initiatives, community classes, business workshops by visiting the website or signing up for the weekly newsletter. Tip: Park in the city parking garage directly across the street, on the east side of Arizona Avenue. (Entrance to the garage is on its east side — off of Washington Street. It’s No. 10 on this handy downtown Chandler parking map.)

Combine any of these “artsy” venue visits with dinner at one of downtown Chandler’s cool restaurants, and you have the makings of a masterpiece — a memorable night out on the town.

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Pack up the pooch for pet-friendly Prescott

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

If you’re looking for cool ways to spend a summer Arizona weekend, consider spending a day, weekend or — even an entire week in pet-friendly Prescott. Just like we do, our furry best friends also deserve an cool getaway during the coming ‘dog days’ of summer. Here are some suggestions for Prescott:

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit's Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit’s Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Start a Saturday morning by visiting the Prescott Farmers Market at Yavapai College. The market is held weekly from 7:30 a.m. to noon in the college parking lot, at 1100 East Sheldon Street. Find local produce vendors, crafty-types, ready-to-eat brunch and lunch items, artists and live music. We strolled the booths shopping for mesquite honey, artisan breads, homemade soaps and farm-fresh veggies while listening to laidback tunes such as a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” We snacked on authentic Kenyan samosas — a delicious baked pastry, puffed and stuffed with one of several meats — beef, pork, chicken or chorizo.

We shared our samosas with our border collie, Molly who politely walked along the aisles of this ample farmers market. Know that the Prescott Farmers Market has a policy for dogs — mostly just common sense — but we acknowledge some dog owners need to be reminded: Keep your dog leashed, close to your side, away from the market vendors’ wares.

Crooked Sky Farms' booth at Prescott Farmers Market

Crooked Sky Farms’ booth at Prescott Farmers Market

If there’s a show, exhibit, fair or some other type of activity at Courthouse Plaza (and there usually is on summer weekends), you’ll want to check that out, so venture over to downtown Prescott. Because our visit fell on Memorial Day weekend, we were fortunate the 39th Annual Phippen Museum Western Art Show and Sale was in full swing at Courthouse Plaza. It seems most western art buffs must be dog lovers as well — numerous vendors, shoppers, both visitors and locals had brought their canine pets to the square.

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Some events at Courthouse Plaza in fact, are just for dogs. The first weekend of June was Woof Down Lunch, a fundraiser to benefit United Animal Friends. The annual event is a pet fair featuring training demonstrations, contests, handcrafted pet food, music and pet adoptions. It was held on June 1st, so we just missed this event but we’ll mark our calendars for next year. Coming up in the fall on October 6th is the 7th Annual Dogtoberfest and Adop-a-Thon, sponsored by The Prescott Dog and the City of Prescott.

After the show, you’ll undoubtedly want a bite to eat. And you won’t have to travel far to find a dog-friendly patio restaurant in downtown Prescott. We opted for the Firehouse Kitchen, just half a block and around the corner from Whiskey Row. We did not see any Dalmations at this two-level firehouse, but we did notice some well-behaved dogs with their owners. Know there are TWO dog patio (one on each level) to allow enough space for pooches to spread out. Our server brought us our lunch meals without hardly any wait, considering this very busy weekend. Chuck ordered a satisfying crab melt with tomato and avocado, covered with cheddar cheese and served on an English muffin. I selected a delicious barbecue brisket sandwich on Kaiser roll with sweet potato fries. Molly noshed on doggie treats from home. She was very impressed that our server brought out a dish of water. Being on second floor, Molly enjoyed watching the street traffic below while we dined. A perfect lunch!

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

After lunch, you and “Fido” may want to exercise off some calories at a local dog park. Willow Creek Park, located at 3181 Willow Creek Road, is a City of Prescott dog park. Take some time to let your dog run off steam without the leash before heading back to the Valley or checking into your hotel room.

If you need suggestions for pet-friendly overnight lodging, more dining options or things to do with your dog in Prescott, there are a number of websites with information. Here’s a partial list:

1. Prescott.com

2. Petswelcome.com

3. Bringfido.com

One we checked out before our trip is The Prescott Dog, a locally managed website. The information seems to be fairly comprehensive, current and accurate, but we make it practice to confirm pet policies of restaurants and hotels before we go. Two downtown pet-friendly Prescott hotels at which we previously have stayed are  Hassayampa Inn and SpringHill Suites Prescott.  If hotel lodging isn’t an option for you, consider of several nearby campgrounds in Prescott National Forest.

Take the opportunity to visit pet-friendly Prescott at least one weekend this summer. It’s the perfect way to escape the Valley’s hot ‘dog days.’ We already have planned our next weekend in Prescott.

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‘Quirky’ is normal at Sonoita winery

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

According to most dictionaries, “quirky” is an adjective meaning ‘full of quirks,’ which basically means: odd, peculiar or offbeat. I wanted to look it up again before I started writing, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t using the word incorrectly. You see, many of my fellow bloggers seem to use this word quite frequently. They describe themselves as ‘quirky travelers’ or ‘quirky foodies.’ They visit quirky destinations, eat at quirky restaurants and stay overnight at quirky inns, bed-and-breakfasts or Airstream trailer parks. Recently Chuck and I stopped by a wonderful place to spend an afternoon tasting wine – at an southeastern Arizona winery that fits the definition of quirky – Arizona Hops and Vines in Sonoita.

But this winery is not only a location for wine lovers to sample and buy their reds and whites. It’s a family-run business, a popular local tourism destination and, if SB1301 makes it way through the Arizona legislative process, Arizona Hops and Vines, could also be called a brewery. Current state law prohibits brewing beer at a winery property. (Read more here.)

Here are a few other examples of this winery’s fun twists. It may be a bit offbeat, off the wall, off the cuff and even a little off the beaten track, but Arizona Hops and Vines is well worth the drive to Sonoita.

Fun-filled events: Back in February to announce a new beer-wine blend of a libation called Drag Queen, Arizona Hops and Vines hosted, “The Drag Races.” In this fundraiser to support a expectant mothers’ shelter, any contestant could dress up in drag and race in high heels for a free glass and a tasting. Coming up on May 11 is the Annual Bachannal Festival, a celebration of wine, micro-brews, arts and crafts, food and music. This should be a perfect time to enjoy those expansive views from the hilltop winery’s patio. Take a look at its Facebook page for more information about upcoming functions and photos of past events.

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Fascinating pets: Arizona Hops and Vines owners-sisters Megan and Shannon must love their animals almost as much as they love family, friends and their farm life. Animals are everywhere: goats, chickens, turtles. Chuck and I were properly introduced to pets Vino and Lola inside the tasting room. Both cat and dog also are respectively quirky. (Admittedly, cats are just quirky by nature.)

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Novel palate cleansing methods: Cheetos are served from a large red tub on the tasting counter. I’m no expert so I can’t tell whether or not these cheesy puffs actually cleanse the palate, but they do taste pretty good in between sips of First Crush or The Fluffer.

Arizona Hops and Vines' full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Arizona Hops and Vines’ full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Imaginative wine names and labels: Take a look at some of the wine names, not to mention the unique blends of fruits, flavors. I’m not saying that Arizona Hops and Vines set the standard for quirky appellations, but it’s definitely following suit.

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery's unique identity

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery’s unique identity

Interesting traditions: Read more about Arizona Hops and Vines interesting yet quirky traditions on its website, including The Wishing Barrel, and Buffalo game. You can even join a brewers group called The Buffalo Club. There’s something for everyone in the family at Arizona Hops and Vines: a soda making room called, The Sober Shack,” a petting zoo for the younger set and outdoor games such as Tetherball, horseshoes and bocce ball for adults and teens.

Find more information about things to do at Arizona Hops and Vines on its website. Better yet, why not plan Arizona road trip to Sonoita on some Saturday or Sunday and find out for yourself? You may even find a wine that pleases!

 

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

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Relive Arizona history Saturday at ghost town’s festival

Fairbank's schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

Fairbank’s schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

It’s festival time in Arizona! Late winter and early spring bring some kind of event to every town all around the state. There’s a festival, show or fair for just about anything and everything — gem shows, coin shows, gun shows, car shows, horse shows and RV shows. There’s a fest for science and technology, beer, wine, pecans and gourds. Chandler — my own hometown — alone claims several this time of year: a science spectacular, a classic car show and fests for barbecue and beer, jazz, ostriches, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. It would be possible to travel from town to town around Arizona for weeks on end celebrating one festival after another.

You have another option for this Saturday. For a change of pace, consider a road trip to ghost town to celebrate and learn more about Arizona history in one day. Pack up the family and head to southeastern Arizona for Fairbank Day.

Fairbank is a ghost town north of Sierra Vista along Highway 82, 10 miles east of Highway 90. It was primarily known as a railroad stop for trains transporting silver ore from Tombstone to the mill works in Charleston, Contention City and Millville. At its peak, Fairbank recorded 100 residents, several stores, houses, saloon, stagecoach station, and of course, the depot.  River flooding and a rare Arizona earthquake caused the decline of the mines and mills, which trickled down to a decreased necessity for the railroad stop at Fairbank.

f3By the 1940s only a few buildings remained but it wasn’t until about 1974 that Fairbank bid farewell to the last businesses and residents. A few structures from Fairbank’s 1880’s heyday still can be viewed at the site, including the Adobe Mercantile Building, a couple of houses, stable and schoolhouse. Most of these aren’t accessible to the public however. The school building which was constructed in the 1920s to replace one destroyed by fire, has been restored and operates now as a visitor’s center, gift shop and museum.

Fairbank Day observes the long history of the town plus the local area around the San Pedro River. Activities include: townsite tours, guided hikes to the nearby ruins of Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate, train robbery reenactments, Spanish settlement recreations, prehistoric settlement archeology presentations, U.S. Calvary demonstrations, book signings and discussions by local authors, plus music and food. Donations from the event will benefit the Friends of the San Pedro River organization, which provides support for conservation efforts, advocacy and education in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management.

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

There's obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

There’s obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

Vistors can take a short "hike to history" on one of the nearby trails

Visitors can take a short “hike to history” on one of the nearby trails

 

How Fairbank looked about 1890 (From Wikimedia Commons. Image in public domain - copyright expired.)

How Fairbank looked about 1890

 

Fairbank ghost town has its 'day' this Saturday

Fairbank ghost town has its ‘day’ this Saturday

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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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Salsa Trail ends at Safford’s Salsa Fest

Delicious lunch at Salsa Trail's La Casita in Thatcher, Ariz.

It’s that time again in Arizona – fall festival time! And if you love Mexican food, especially all kinds of salsa, then chances are you’ll want to head to Safford for the Arizona Salsa Festival Sept 28-29.

Salsa is famous throughout the Southwest, and in Safford (located 165 southeast of Phoenix), there’s a literal melting pot of salsas of all types and flavors. As there are many different types of chile peppers; so is there a wide variety of salsas. And these varieties are likely to end up in the judging sample bowls for the Salsa Fest.

Safford is one of the primary Arizona cities along what’s known as Arizona Salsa Trail. The ‘trail’ stretches between Thatcher and Clifton including smaller communities such as Duncan, York, Solomon and Pima.  Several independent, family-owned Mexican restaurants, cafes, markets, plus a chile company and a tortilla factory participate in this culinary tourism route, dating back to 2005.

AzGetawayTravel picked up part of the Salsa Trail this past weekend, as we ventured to southeast Arizona. We stopped for a Saturday lunch at La Casita in Thatcher. Naturally — and very typically — we guzzled up the hot sauce with the chips before our entrees arrived. I ordered the taco-enchilada-burrito combo and Chuck requested the taco salad with beef. His looked wonderful: crisp, freshly cut vegetables, ample amounts of roast beef chunks in a bed of warm tortilla chips. I was glad I had no rice or beans to accompany my combo, since it was obvious I would already need a “to-go” box. My meal was so tempting I almost forgot to take a photo before I dug in. Oops — that’s why the above photo shows the burrito already dissected. I couldn’t wait to take a taste of that green chile beef filling. After eating my cheese enchilada, I decided to ‘take out’ the taco.

Salsa Fest in Safford is Sept. 28-29Tip: If you intend to try one of more of these Salsa Trail restaurants on a weekend getaway, you’ll need to plan ahead and check their business hours. Many of these are closed Sundays.

Festivities for the Salsa Fest kick off on Friday evening Sept. 28 with colorful hot air balloons on Main Street in historic downtown Safford. Saturday’s events include Chihuahua dog races and costume contest, live music, custom car show, kid’s activities, jalapeno pepper eating contest and of course, the salsa making contest, salsa recipe judging and salsa sampling.

Readers, I just have to ask: What’s your favorite kind of hot sauce or salsa? Do you like the smooth, blended red — or salsa verde? Or maybe a chunky style? Or are you a fan of pico de gallo? What’s your hot index?

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Wings Over Willcox nature festival bolsters tourism

Willcox, Arizona is earning a well-deserved place among Arizona’s tourism communities. When Arizona visitors think about Willcox, they will not only imagine singing cowboy-actors, apple orchards and agriculture, but also quaint shops, museums, fine wines and nature festivals.

Willcox can boast about being hometown to one of Arizona’s favorite celebrities: singing movie cowboy Rex Allen. His son, Rex Allen Jr. also brought his own fame to the small, but growing southeastern Arizona city. The region around Willcox also became known for its famous apple orchards and pistachios. More recently, a new crop of wine grapes has flourished and wineries have sprung up around Willcox. The town is now a popular spot for wine tasting.

What many don’t know: Willcox is famous for birds, birding and bird watching. Wings Over Willcox (WOW) is an annual birding and nature festival with the main focus on the winter migration of sandhill cranes. Seminars, trade show and bird tours bring visitors to Willcox for the four-day festival. This year’s event is January 12-15.

While in town for the event, visitors and festival attendees will have much to do and see. The chamber website has listings for attractions as well as dining and lodging.  The city’s website also contains visitor information. Here are just a few of the places we recently visited:

Downtown Willcox, along Railroad Avenue holds several of Willcox' main attractions. Willcox Commercial Store is said to be the oldest, continuously operating retail establishment in Arizona.

 

Also on Railroad Avenue, Rex Allen Museum is a tribute to the singing cowboy-actor and his son

 

Vintage Photography, Gambing Hall and Parlor is full of antiques and vintage clothing

 

Coronado Vineyards, a few miles northeast of Willcox, is one of several area wineries. Its retail shop has a large selection of quaint gifts, and wine, of course.

 

A Taste of Coronado offers Willcox visitors an option of upscale dining

Wine-tasting at Carlson Creek Winery

 

 

Window shopping along Railroad Avenue

Wine tasting room at Keeling Schaefer doubles as art gallery

Readers: what are your favorite things to do in Willcox? Any favorite restaurants? Attractions?

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