Random images from our Arizona getaway to Cottonwood

We recently made a weekend getaway to Old Town Cottonwood and found there’s lot to do and see in this quaint, historic section of the central Arizona town.

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We started out the morning with a short hike along the Jail Trail in Old Town Cottonwood. At the trail head, we noticed beautiful morning glory vines weaving along the fence at the Wild Rose Tea House.

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Views along the trail include these giant pampas grass clusters on the banks of the Verde River.

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Pampas grass plumes bent to the morning breezes, resembling billowing ostrich feathers.

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Fungus took over residence in a downed cottonwood trunk.

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We lingered for a while at the edge of the Verde River, near the Tuzigoot Road bridge.

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The far end of the Jail Trail connects to the entrance of Dead Horse State Park.  (Tip: Walk-in entrance fee is only $3.)

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After walking along the river, we stopped for a bit of brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe.

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There’s nothing better than a frothy latte on a chilly morning in Old Town Cottonwood.

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Even if you’re not enthusiastic about antiques, you’ll find enjoyment browsing Larry’s Antiques & Things.

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While shopping for unusual antiques, we not only found a “alien receiving” sign, but we found an alien to go with it… 🙂

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Finally, we topped off the day with wine tasting at one of several tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood including the Pillsbury Wine Company Tasting Room on Main Street.

Thinking about a road trip? Now is the perfect time to visit Cottonwood:

March 29 is the Verde River Runoff.

The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is April 24-27.

A blues festival, guitar concert and local history program are among the events dot at the Old Town Center for the Arts.

Check the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce calendar for more events.

Enjoy your Arizona Getaway!

 

Know before you go: Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa

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To many travelers, Costa Rica’s Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa may seems like an expensive and out-of-reach vacation choice, but this popular thermal springs luxury resort can be accessible to most with a little common budget travel sense.

Tabacon is located at the base of Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna de San Carlos. Geothermal hot springs in the local area have made it extremely popular for tourists. Although there are several places to experience the hot springs, Tabacon — with its beautiful gardens, iconic waterfalls, natural wading pools and romantic private grottos — remains on the bucket list of many travelers. Here are some items to consider if you plan to visit this beautiful resort and attraction:

Opt for an overnight stay at one of the nearby resorts. If the nightly rates at Tabacon are out of your budget, if you’re visiting during a peak season, or if the only room available is one of the $1200 honeymoon suites: don’t despair. You can stay at a nearby resort such as the Arenal Lodge and still purchase a day pass for Tabacon. And unless you’re planning to stay a few nights and book several spa treatments, I’d recommend this option. For example, consider buying a day pass for a morning of soaking and strolling in the hot springs followed by a leisurely lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $70. Or you could get a pass for the entire day — from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a meal for $60. There are other meal/day pass package combinations available, and I would recommend having at least one meal at the resort, just to top off the experience.

Relax in the lobby bar. Okay, so you’ve decided to stay one or more nights at Tabacon, and maybe your bus or taxi has dropped you off before your room is ready. Know that you can explore the resort or simply relax in the lobby bar. This is a great place to catch up on some U.S. sporting events, or grab an appetizer while you wait for your room.

Explore the resort. Start out by walking Tabacon’s paths weaving through throughout the property. After getting settled in your suite, obtain a map and take some time to inspect the gardens. Take some dusk or nighttime photos of the spectacular plants and tropical flowers. Visit El Palenque Bar for happy hour at the far reaches of the grounds. Get to know your way around the resort before you spend the next day soaking in pools and being showered by warm waterfalls. You can learn at which water features you will want to spend most of your time.

Wear water shoes or at least flip-flops with some decent tread. Tabacon River rocks and stepping stones can be extremely slippery. Because this tropical paradise gets an average of 137 inches of rain and the springs supply a constant mist over the earth, almost every walkway seems constantly wet. Exercise extra caution when stepping into the deeper pools — and use care when negotiating a seat under the waterfalls — that water pressure is very high. Also, know that water temperatures vary. Some pools are a cool 77 degrees, while others are a steamy 102 degrees.

Schedule your spa treatment early. If you don’t reserve a massage or other spa treatment before you arrive, you may miss out. Consider making a reservation when you reserve your room — or at least a week before you arrive. These time slots will book up early — obviously even more so, during peak seasons such as late fall, winter and early spring.

Learn practical photography tips about shooting in high moisture areas. In an effort to save my new Canon from the moisture, I made the mistake of buying a single use, disposable, waterproof camera for my stay at Tabacon. Unfortunately, my prints — those taken while enjoying the pools and waterfalls — came out extremely grainy when I had them developed. I can’t say what exactly caused that, but I understand now there are much better ways to capture Tabacon experiences on film. I’ve heard this will help: Store the camera in an airtight plastic bag until it can brought outside and adjusted to the current temperature and humidity. Online searches will produce even more suggestions for photography in humid, moist, misty or foggy conditions. And just in case your photos didn’t turn out the best, you can always download some from the resort website.

Watch the volcano. You may not see much action, since Arenal’s activity level has decreased considerably since 2010. We visited in 2007, so we were fortunate to see Arenal still shooting up smoke and ash. And In the evening from our patio, we could distinguish a few strings of lava rolling down the mountain. Although volcanic activity has decreased, you may be fortunate to catch a rare display!

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More photos of Costa Rica can be viewed here.

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Leisurely lunch at The Cafe in Sonoita

Once in a while I get a huge desire for a big, juicy burger. Who doesn’t?  Again when I feel that craving I hope I’ll be near Sonoita, Arizona, so I can stop in The Café. Chuck and I recently enjoyed a leisurely Saturday lunch at this wonderful little country café, located just east of the intersection of State Routes 83 and 82, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. While I can’t accurately testify about all the menu items, I can report my findings about the Blue Cheese Burger and “the day’s special” green chile cheeseburger. These were among the best I’ve had in a long time.

More reasons to dine at The Café in Sonoita:

On-the-way to wine country

Before an afternoon of wine-tasting at any one or more of the Sonoita and Elgin area wineries, you may want to have a bit of lunch. The Café is one of just a few eateries in Sonoita. The drive from I-10 south to Sonoita along highway 83 is part of an entire stretch of officially-designated scenic Arizona highway. You’ll see some of Arizona’s best farm and ranch lands.

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Excellent mountain views

The restaurant itself doesn’t look like much from the outside, but who cares? You came here for a good meal, and you’ll be enjoying it either inside the rustic, oak and brick interior or you’ll be out on the patio gazing at the Santa Rita Mountains or the Canelo Hills while you dine. And those mountain views are excellent. On the warm, sunny Saturday we visited, the higher elevations were still under a layer of snow.

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Dog-friendly outdoor seating

A separate entrance to the patio from the outside often will indicate a restaurant has a dog-friendly area. Since each restaurant has its own policy and each Arizona county government has its own health restrictions, I will first inquire before I bring Molly over to the patio gate.

Green chile burger was the special of the day

Green chile burger was the special of the day

 

Blue Cheese Burger

Blue Cheese Burger

Mouthwatering menu

The Café’s lunch list clearly shows that this restaurant is a few steps ahead of other Arizona rural cafés. The menu excites the taste buds with one of these selections: a Black and Bleu Salad with steak, blue cheese with greens and cucumbers, a Hot Bacon Vinn Salad with tomato, apple bacon and walnuts or a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, Swiss, provolone cheese and homemade pesto. The burgers we were served were really tasty — fresh, hot beef patty with melted cheeses, sesame bun, veggies and condiments on the side with crisp fries… need I go on?

Get there early to get a table -- this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Get there early to get a table — this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Locals eat here

Most of us already know: it’s obvious to distinguish tourists from locals when you step into a restaurant. When you see a solid representation of locals, you can be confident of consistency in food quality, customer service and value. Chuck and I can’t wait to return.

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

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Arizona road trip to historic Skull Valley

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Whenever I’d return from a trip to Prescott, friends frequently would remark: “Have you ever gone up the back way? It’s a nice drive up the back way.”

I had no idea what they meant. Which ‘back way?’ There are possibly dozens of ‘back ways’ to Prescott when you consider all the forest service roads, county and state highways and US routes. I’m guessing they mean the ‘front way’ must be the Interstate 17-to-State-Route-69 way, and any alternate route would be the ‘back way.’

For me the back way to Prescott usually was described in two different routes: Route 89 from Wickenburg to Prescott or through Crown King using Senator Highway. The latter  would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

While I was scanning the map looking for other possible ‘back ways’ into Prescott, I found Skull Valley on the map. I’d seen this dot on the state map before but didn’t know about the access or anything about the community. Many times these dots are merely highway junctions with a few houses and cluster of post office boxes.

Our drive to Skull Valley was a gorgeous road trip on this sunny, but a bit blustery Saturday. All roads along this route are paved, but the roadway from Skull Valley to Prescott (Iron Springs Road) currently is under construction. December through March may not the best time to be traveling up the hill to the northwest side of Prescott because of possible snow storms and icy roads. Please check local conditions.

However, if you make the trip, when you arrive at Skull Valley, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. The center of this community is an intersection: a general store on one corner, a working ‘fillin’ station on another corner, and a hometown diner just across the tracks.

Just steps away from the intersection of Old Skull Valley Road and Iron Springs Road is the Skull Valley Depot, now a museum maintained by the Skull Valley Historical Society.  June through Labor Day, the museum is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.  Tours can be arranged by appointment by contacting curator Ida Downing.

The depot building itself was constructed at Cherry Creek near Dewey until 1926 when it was moved to Skull Valley. Trains moved through Skull Valley from 1894 to 1969. It was an important Santa Fe station in Skull Valley, because here the trains had to add engines otherwise they wouldn’t have made it up the steep mountain grade to Iron Springs and on to Prescott. The depot museum exhibits feature antique train and railroad equipment, agricultural tools and other items donated by longtime Skull Valley residents. Adjacent to the depot is the Railroad Section House, where the railway section boss lived. Here, visitors can view more Skull Valley history on display such as a wooden wringer washer, a 1920s kitchen stove and an antique pedal pump organ.

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

We worked up quite an appetite touring the depot museum and section house so we stopped in at the Skull Valley Diner for lunch. Because we had our collie Molly with us, we dined alfresco. By this time the winds had kicked up and the temperature had dropped – quickly. Hot soup, coffee and a cheeseburger never tasted so good.

After lunch we wanted to take a closer look inside the Skull Valley General Store. This place is the real deal. We were impressed to see wood floors, “penny” candy behind the counter, several huge antique glass display cases full of convenience items plus a wood stove crackling away in front of a checkerboard table.  On the walls hung signs for fresh bread, eggs, and other locally made goodies. A large homemade quilt hung on supports, possibly a leftover from the Skull Valley Pie, Ice Cream Social and Quilt Show in October. Plan to spend some browsing time in the general store. Shop for books about cowboys and horse ranching or pick up a souvenir Skull Valley cap.

Another notable feature about Skull Valley is its gas station and garage. On many of our trips along Arizona’s back roads and old highways, we often have encountered some old-style gas stations but the pumps have either been neglected or removed. It’s nice to see folks in Skull Valley have maintained or restored parts of this historic community, whether it’s in the form of a gas station, general store, diner or train depot museum. Skull Valley is a great change of scenery from urban traffic jams and suburban sprawl.

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Read more about the Depot Museum and how Skull Valley got its name.

Next week: a tour of the George Phippen memorial studio and gallery

Skull Valley Diner

Skull Valley Diner

 

Back way to Prescott through Skull Valley

‘Back way’ to Prescott through Skull Valley

Skull Valley General Store

Skull Valley General Store

You can still 'fill 'er up' at Skull Valley Garage

You can still ‘fill ‘er up’ at Skull Valley Garage

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

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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Relaxing getaway at Roper Lake State Park

Natural hot springs tub makes Roper Lake unique

Remember Roper Lake State Park if you’re considering a peaceful Arizona weekend getaway. When we visited in early September, the place seemed almost empty. Except for a group of scouts loading up canoes, there were only a few several travel trailers plus a couple of tents scattered throughout the park — hardly any activity, granted it was a rather rain-soaked Sunday morning. But I have a feeling when the weather’s better, Roper Lake State Park, located 171 miles southeast of Phoenix, is probably buzzing with action. Roper Lake lures visitors for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

Canoeing, kayaking. Add to that: paddleboarding, sail boarding and inflatable rafting. Exploring Roper Lake’s shores for wildlife sightings is one way to unwind. This quiet lake would be a great place for beginners to sharpen their skills on a non-motorized watercraft. Practice kayaking; try out stand-up paddleboarding. Rest assured: No jet skis or high-powered outboards will go whizzing by.

Mount Graham capped with clouds is a backdrop to Roper Lake's beach

Swimming. Roper Lake is one of 12 Arizona state parks with a designated swimming area and it also has a few hundred feet of “beach.” Although we didn’t see any people in the water on this rainy day — the only swimmers were ducks. I guess I could imagine children wading in the sandy shallows as a possibility, but the water looks to be more like a murky pond: muddy, sandy, with plenty of cattails.

Mariah Mesa Trail walkway starts from the hot tub area

Hiking. A short nature trail appears to be the only marked path. The Mariah Mesa Trail is about .75 mile and takes one up to a short ridge, but hikers are rewarded with closer views of views of Mount Graham and Pinaleno Mountains as well as blankets of Graham County farm fields. Walking around other sections of the park, such as along the lake’s edge and campground paths will measure about five miles. Otherwise serious hikers will be drawn to Mount Graham for numerous possibilities.

Picnicking. There’s a large picnic ramada on Roper Lake’s “island.” This location would be an excellent place for the family reunion, church or company picnic. Better bring the rolling cooler and wagon, because no vehicles are allowed in this area; it’s a bit of a toting distance from the parking lot. However, the grassy lawn area is ample enough to start up a game of touch football – just be alert that those long passes don’t get too long, or you’d be swimming out in the reeds for the reception.

Quaint camp cabins have porch swings

Camping. Cute little cabins have bunk beds, heat and a/c inside, and picnic tables, fire pits and porch swings outside. I’m imagining a perfect weekend retreat for relaxation: sitting on the porch swing finally finishing that novel and ‘cozying up’ around the campfire during the evening chill.

Fishing.  Small, quiet and calm, Roper Lake would be ideal waters for teaching children or beginners how to fish. There’s a fully accessible fishing dock, and 30 acres of surface area. Largemouth bass and rainbow trout are the popular catches. The park store has fishing supplies and bait.

Soaking.  Roper Lake State Park comes equipped with its own natural hot springs! It’s actually just one of many in this part of Arizona. But others are either on private land or difficult to reach. I’m estimating the waters in this park tub are about 95-100 degrees — perfect for a short “ah” moment. Imagine relaxing here after a day of fishing, paddleboarding or hiking.

A snowy egret tests the Roper Lake waters

Wildlife watching. As we strolled along the beach, we saw a number of different waterfowl and wading birds, including a snowy egret. Killdeer piercing high notes split the light breezy quiet of our morning. The high country desert scrub geography nestled at the foot of Mount Graham brings many other kinds of wildlife to view during the dusk and dawn.

Stargazing. Of course, you could venture up to the top of Mount Graham for a close-up view of stars, moons and planets or just relax in front of your cabin or in the hot tub and stare at the night sky. Because you’re far from Tucson or Phoenix city illumination, you’ll have a better view of constellations or the over-passing International Space Station.

Only major negative about Roper Lake State Park? It badly needs TLC. We noticed facilities were fair condition at best. Structures, signs and benches need repair and paint; day use areas need cleaning and clearing. We hope — if not the state parks department — maybe the Friends of Roper Lake will act soon to help with upkeep. Unfortunately, at this writing the group’s website was removed.

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Shopping in Globe’s historical district

This teepee was at one time part of a saloon frontage, now stand alone at the east end of historic Globe

Some of Arizona’s best attractions often are found close to home. You don’t have to drive for hours to find a picturesque, Old West town filled with quaint antique shops, art galleries, cozy cafés, historical museums and street-side parks. All of these can be found nestled on a hillside about 60 miles east of the Phoenix metro area — in Globe, Arizona.

I must admit; I hadn’t considered traveling to Globe just to go shopping. It never even crossed my mind until I recently read about upcoming shows at the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts (see August 6). So often, I only had been a passer-by of Globe only to stop for a quick snack at a Taco Bell or to fill up the gas tank. We were always in a hurry to get to the White Mountains or to get back to the Valley.

In recent years, Globe has been peaking the interest of Arizona visitors and Valley day-trippers on the hunt for quirky shops and novelty stores, antique merchants and unusual galleries. It’s all here in Globe: clock shops, coffee houses, sellers of handmade quilts, vintage clothing and jewelry, furniture, ice cream, candy and collectibles.

Place to eat? There’s a wide range, but what most notable is the number of “Mom and Pop” Mexican restaurants – you know those – the ones that have the homemade everything: sauces, salsa, tortillas, chips, machaca, chile rellenos, carne asada, huevos rancheros…. You get the idea. Globe and Miami could start a “salsa trail” of their own and give center stage to all of these wonderful independent Mexican eateries. Local residents are the best advertisements. When we inquired about the best Mexican place in town, no one could provide a single recommendation. “They’re all good,” we’d keep hearing.  So we picked Libby’s El Rey Café since it was open during the first weekend of August. (Several businesses were closed for a week or two during August.) Everything was delicious and the service was top-rate, too. Our only regret: we should have split a meal.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity to walk off your enchilada combo plate on Broad Street while window shopping and browsing through merchants’ wares. One stop we made was at Stacy’s Art & Soul, a combination gallery, art supply store and artists’ studio. Owners Stacy Waddell and Laura Stennerson who celebrated their grand opening earlier this month, also offer art classes and will be host to additional community art events. Just hearing them describe their new business, it’s easy to see why they’re excited to be a part of the historic downtown Globe community.

“Simply Sarah” was another shop we decided was worth a closer look. It’s a collection of vintage clothing, unique fashion accessories, kitchen gadgets, cooking goodies and ingredients, toiletries and gifts. If you’re looking for that perfect gift for a lady who’s impossible to shop for, you could probably find it here. Owner Sarah Anna Bernstein has created a retail space that transforms each cubbyhole and corner into a colorful conglomeration of curiosities.

When we visited Globe, we didn’t realize that the first thing we should have done was pick up a copy of the Globe Miami Times, the free tourism newspaper which is available at many shops, restaurants and points of interest. The centerfold provides walking maps for both Globe and Miami shopping districts as well as a listing of retailers, service providers and restaurateurs. (Did you know there are at least a dozen antique shops?)

Park at one end of Broad Street as you pull off Highway 60, then walk up one side and down the other. Stop by Kim’s Fashions – an authentic, small-town, family-owned clothing store with special occasion dresses, Dickies and Wrangler jeans. Don’t miss the Palace Health Mart Pharmacy with its antique Toledo scale or the White Porch Gifts and Antiques with additional antiques and crafts. There’s just too many to mention. You’ll have to see them for yourself.

Stacy Waddell and Laura Stennerson of Stacy's Art & Soul in historic Globe

Stacy Waddell and Laura Stennerson of Stacy’s Art & Soul in historic Globe

Sarah Anna Bernstein of Simply Sarah, a store for ‘woman’s spoils’

One of the nostalgic store signs in historic Globe

Take time to window shop along Globe’s Broad Street

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10 Reasons to stay at Rio Las Vegas

Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

A long weekend at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas recently made me realize there’s a lot to like about this resort. I’m not saying the Rio can compare with the flashy newer resort casinos, but it wasn’t hard to come up with 10 reasons the Rio should be near the top of any budget-minded Vegas vacationer’s lodging list.

10. Shopping

Exploring the the Masquerade Village shops, we found many deep discounts on a variety of goods, such as Las Vegas souvenirs, travel incidentals, sundries, apparel and food.

9. Rooms

Because Rio is an all-suite hotel, rooms are more spacious than other Vegas hotels. Most rooms have sofa-beds, refrigerators, larger floor space and expanded bathroom vanity areas.

8. Value

Being a short distance off the strip means lower room rates.  Rio is one of several Caesar’s Resorts with no added resort fees, which makes staying here more practical for travelers on a budget. Rates range from $69 for a basic king or 2-queen suite to about $300 for a large 1100-square foot suite. Seek out discounts on deal websites like smartervegas.com or visitlasvegas.com.

7. Discounts

While we’re on the subject of value: If you enlist in the Total Reward’s program, you then have the opportunity for greater discounts at shops, restaurants, bars and shows. Every dollar you spend at the resort or casino earns you credits to advance to higher benefit tier levels. Ask for additional information about deals, discounts or passes at check in. Also, compare drink prices — since they vary bar to bar. Or simply sit for a spell at the slots and sip your sauvignon — gratis.

6. Dining

Rio has a wide variety of dining options that includes a basic Burger King Whopper Bar in the Masquerade Village, to an upscale Martorano’s with Italian fare. We found good value at the Sao Paulo Café for breakfast, Sports Deli for sub sandwiches at lunchtime and All-American Bar & Grille for dinner. Meal portions are large so most diners could split an entree and still feel well-fed.

Rio Resort and Casino is dog-friendly

5. Dog Friendly

I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to bring their dog to a Vegas resort/casino, but there are certainly are people who do, and the Rio accommodates them with its PetStay program.

Pool area at the Rio

4. Spa , salon and fitness center

While your spouse is busy at the blackjack tables, you can enjoy a massage, spa pedicure or salon facial. At the fitness center, pay a daily fee of $22 or $55 for three days, so you won’t have to interrupt your workout schedule. The spa is conveniently located adjacent to the pool area.

3. Nightlife

Dance into the wee hours at either the Crown Theater Nightclub or the Voodoo Lounge. The latter is 50 and 51 stories up, on top of the Masquerade tower. As you would expect, the views are spectacular. But be prepared to shell out a good chunk of precious winnings for drinks and dinner.

Upside-down Carnival parade "float" from Show in the Sky

2. Entertainment

Rio regularly features Penn & Teller, a magic act with a little bit of everything including “knives, guns, fire, a gorilla and a show girl,” according to the website. Bachelorette-partying girls and their future mothers-in-law won’t want to miss the Chippendale dancers’ show. Add these to special performances by singers, comedians, dance troupes and celebrity imitators and you’ll get a wide variety of entertainment offerings. But we think the best entertainment is the free “Show in the Sky” which is performed hourly Thursday through Saturday evenings at Masquerade Village.

Star Trek Las Vegas convention attendees pose for photos

1. Host to the Star Trek Convention

This, in my opinion, is the best reason to stay at the Rio. This was the second year Creation Entertainment has presented its Star Trek Las Vegas event at the Rio. I like the convention at the Rio Las Vegas for several reasons: Convention corridors are wide; restrooms are plentiful; eateries are abundant; meeting rooms and exhibition halls are large enough to hold record-breaking numbers of Trek fans. Staff is courteous, friendly and employees themselves get caught up in the Trek excitement — they too transform into “Trekkies” for the weekend. Plentiful small group rooms are perfect settings for celebrity photo ops and autograph sessions. Smaller stage halls are used for geeky panel discussions, Star Trek collectibles auctioning, planetary science presentations — even children’s craft sessions. Some Trek fans are still disappointed the convention moved away from its longtime home at the Hilton, but I think the Rio is a good fit. I overheard some grumblings, but they were the usual gripes about high drink prices, smoky casinos or long front-desk lines. But I’m one Star Trek convention-goer who’s happy with the Rio hosting the event. It’s hard to imagine Star Trek Las Vegas at any other resort.

Pros outweigh cons at Ashurst Lake

Arizona visitors to Arizona’s Ashurst Lake likely will conclude the pros slightly outweigh the cons. Ashurst Lake, located about 20 miles south of Flagstaff, has several strong points to its favor, but it does have a few minuses. However, those negatives shouldn’t be enough to keep most people away.

Plus: Ashurst Lake is usually filled. Water from rainfall, snowmelt and a few springs keeps the lake as a recreation attraction, even during dry early summer months. While Mormon Lake and Lake Mary are reduced to large puddles, fishermen could catch their yield at Ashurst Lake. Stocked rainbow trout is the common sight on stringers. Also, shoreline is easily accessible for the most part. From the road, several parking lots or two campgrounds, it’s an easy walk to the water’s edge.

Minus: Sadly, as you walk along the water’s edge you’ll see the large amounts of garbage. I understand some fisherman may unintentionally leave behind a broken bobber or two, but the bags of trash, cartons of empty beer cans, disposable diapers, broken lawn chairs, etc. make me discouraged. Ugh. A major peeve of mine: Some campers or day users are simply too lazy to carry their garbage back to the trash cans or their cars.

Plus: At Ashurst Lake you can see forever… well, at least for miles. You’ll be able lose any claustrophobia you picked up from the dense Ponderosa pines in nearby Coconino National Forest. You can inhale deep breaths of big sky before you realize you’re still in Arizona, not Montana. Late summer afternoons will consolidate those big cumulus clouds overhead. At Ashurst Lake, you’ll have full view of the monsoon storm cells mounting over the San Francisco Peaks.

Minus: Your views and images both from your mind’s eye and on digital media can’t help but include those high voltage electric transmission lines, Yes, I suppose a more ambitious photographer would “photoshop them out” of the photos, but then you’d have to question: Is the scenery around the electric poles really worth the photo editing effort? No: It’s a reality — Ashurst Lake just isn’t that beautiful. It’s more “ruggedly handsome.”

Plus: If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of metro Phoenix, Tucson or Flagstaff (is it okay to use the word, “metro” before Flagstaff?), you can find peace and tranquility at Ashurst Lake. The only screams heard will be those of joy when a youngster catches his first rainbow trout or when a group of teenage girls pretend to rock their canoe to and fro as if to tip it over. Or you may hear a call from shoreline to parking lot to bring down another beer or sandwich from the cooler. You may hear the calls from a huge variety of birds coming from the south end of the lake in the reedy, marshy areas. Great blue herons, ducks and many other shorebirds congregate at Ashurst Lake. Bring your scopes, zoom lenses and binoculars to get a closer view.

Minus: After you’ve spent a nice afternoon walking the lake, fishing offshore or from a small boat you may need to the restroom facilities. Please be warned: You may want to hold it until you get back to your camper, trailer or Mormon Lake Lodge. The restrooms we saw were pretty disgusting.

Plus: Ashurst Lake is great for boating. When we visited, we saw cartoppers, canoes, kayaks and a small, motorized pontoon boat (10HP limit). Most operators had their lines dropped to fish, but I think these boaters were really out on the lake for some of other “plusses.” What’s more, the boat ramp at Ashurst Lake makes launching a breeze.

Power towers, trashy shoreline and stinky outhouses might keep some people away from Ashurst Lake, but I believe most visitors will decide the pros will outnumber the cons. Camping is nearby; the shoreline is walkable; fishing is consistently good; wildlife – especially birds of all sizes and species – is plentiful. And Ashurst Lake is a short half hour drive from Flagstaff.

Note: While I was looking up info about Ashurst Lake, I landed on Arizona Game and Fish Department’s HabiMap. I didn’t even know this existed! If you like mapping and playing with layers, images and attributes like I do, you may want to play around with it. Plus, AGFD is always putting out more data and updates, so if you haven’t been to this mapping website lately, you may want to check it out again.

Don’t miss Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery near Payson

tonto creek fish hatchery

Visiting a fish hatchery may not sound very exciting, but a stop at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery will add both fun and a learning experience to your next family weekend getaway in Payson’s Rim Country. All ages will enjoy a tour of the hatchery and the fish feeding demonstration

Stop at the visitor center. You’ll learn the entire process of raising trout that eventually will be stocked into Arizona’s fishing waters. Rainbow, brook, brown and native Apache trout have been produced here over the years. The site has undergone numerous upgrades since its opening in 1937. At the visitor center, storyboards, posters and scaled models explain the fascinating fish growing process.

Bring quarters for fish food. Don’t forget to carry some quarters to buy handfuls of fish pellets to drop into adult trout pond. Younger children will especially enjoy this activity.

tonto creek fish hatchery

Watch feedings by hatchery staff. During weekend afternoons visitors will have a good chance of seeing hatchery workers make their presentation about the hatchery operations while feeding the fish. Watch the “feeding frenzy” by the young trout as they splash wildly in the raceways — those long, rectangular fish tanks. Trout will spend their first 15 months at the hatchery.

tonto creek fish hatchery

Explore the grounds. Spend some time exploring the area. Take plenty of photographs. Find out about other wildlife in the area. Learn how those sturdy canopies over the raceways not only provide shade, but also keep the young trout safe from predatory birds.

rainbow trout

Make a whole day of it. Combine your hatchery visit with a three to four hour day hike on Horton Creek Trail or other nearby trail, a picnic lunch at one of several day use sites, or fishing in Tonto Creek in designated areas below the hatchery. Also worth a visit is the nearby Naco Paleo Site, located about three miles west of the hatchery turnoff, south of State Route 260. Walk up the old Jeep trail a hundred feet or so, and inspect the sloping side of the hill for fossils.

Note: As of Monday July 2, Forest Road 289, north of State Route 260 to Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, remains closed because of forest fire conditions, according to a spokesman from Arizona Game and Fish Dept. To learn when the forest roads to the hatchery will be re-opened, visit the Tonto National Forest website.