Don’t miss Costa Rica’s La Paz Waterfall Gardens

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Even if your only stop in Costa Rica were to be this wonderful combination resort and sight-seeing attraction, you would have seen much of what this Central American country is famous for: beautiful butterflies, amazing hummingbirds, colorful snakes and frogs, lush tropical gardens surrounded by spectacular rivers and waterfalls. All of this flora and fauna is set in a magnificent hillside cluster with fishing lake and boutique spa resort. But the Costa Rica ‘to-do’ list wouldn’t be finished without volcano and coffee plantation tours, forest canopy zip-lining and river rafting. Guests at the adjacent Peace Lodge can arrange nearby day tours to these areas as well. La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge are centrally located between Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose and other iconic Costa Rican tourism highlights: Arenal Volcano and hot springs resorts near Fortuna. It’s an ideal location for those considering a vacation in Costa Rica.

Butterfly feeding time at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Hummingbird taking a rare rest break

Aviary birds are perfect close-up 'models'

Colorful ox cart ready for passengers

Favorite photo opportunity along 'Trail of Falls'

Restaurants, lodge rooms -- even restrooms have the feel of the tropics

These photos don’t really do justice for this wonderful Costa Rica park, wildlife refuge and hotel. Find more descriptions and a photo gallery on the website.

US Airways flies from Phoenix to San Jose International Airport daily. Best times to visit are November through April. This is the high season, so expect rates to be higher.

Windmill Winery is versatile venue

Windmill Winery isn’t just a winery and tasting room. It’s also a farm, market, plant nursery, wedding venue, restaurant, corporate meeting place, entertainment location and farm implement museum. It’s also a nice destination for an afternoon day trip.

Windmill Winery

The winery features a different set of wine selections monthly, making it possible for wine lovers in the San Tan Valley area to enjoy a variety of varietals from different wine regions. Plus Windmill Winery has its own private label including a sweet white wine and a robust red.

Located at the western edge of Florence, Windmill Winery is just a short half hour drive from the southeast suburbs – probably just over an hour from Phoenix. It may have started out as a nursery, but it has grown into a popular wedding and reception venue, as couples opt for a setting of country charm. When we arrived, owner Harold Christ immediately made us feel welcome and invited us to sample some of the white Hummingbird Nectar and the red Dutchman’s Bold. Although these wines are from grapes grown and processed outside Arizona, plans are in the works for grape vines to be planted onsite. In about seven years, if all goes well, Windmill Winery may be boasting not only its own label, but its own wine.

Windmill Winery burro

With wine in hand, we strolled outside to the tour the grounds. A quaint outdoor patio welcomed us at the door. The patio encompasses several tables and gas heaters for the cooler evenings. The lush setting made us forget we were in the desert – the entire property reminded us of an eastern or mid-western farmyard. And after learning the history of the big red barn, we knew why. The 45-foot high structure was dismantled in Green Bay, Wisconsin then shipped to Arizona and reconstructed on the 60-acre property.

Windmill Winery, as an entertainment venue, has all bases covered. Events such as Brews, Brats and Blind Man’s Bluff, Mardi Gras Madness, and Murder Mystery Nights are upcoming dates the winery’s calendar. Diners need to book these events in advance as they sell out early. The Valentine’s Prime Rib dinner was already sold out. These special events are for advanced purchase only. Also in February, Windmill Winery starts Friday happy hours from 4 to 7 p.m. with half price specials on house wine and light appetizers. There’s also a solid collection of craft brews and local beers available.

Poultry on parade at Windmill Winery

Catered dinners on one night a week provide visitors with a menu that would make any master chef drool.

You might choose from a gourmet burger, created with homemade garlic-mayo aioli, with horseradish cheddar served on a bed of Arugula leaves, topped with a fresh-baked Kaiser roll, including a special condiment of bacon jam or a platter of Hawaiian-style pork with sea salt herbs and spices, slow cooked in banana leaves with a coconut rice grilled pineapple and slice of Pina Colada bread. Hungry yet? Many of the ingredients were grown on Christ’s same property, known agriculturally as Florence Farms. Much of the Florence Farms harvest also finds its way to the kitchens of about a dozen local resorts and restaurants.

One of Windmill Winery's unique landscape features

Although it’s not actually a museum, there’s a collection of farm implements on display such as John Deere tractors and other implements. Harold and his wife Katie recently were featured in an installment of Massey Ferguson’s’ online magazine: MyFarmLife.com. Windmill Winery, located at 1140 West Butte Road in Florence, is open Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. and Friday noon to 10 p.m.

What are your favorite day trips around Arizona? I would welcome any ideas, suggestions or recommendations from readers. Just let me know by emailing me at azgetawaytravel@gmail.com.

Be a tourist in your town: Arizona Railway Museum

I’ve driven back and forth along Arizona Avenue and McQueen Road in Chandler for the last few years and never paid much attention to the small blue sign, pointing to the Arizona Railway Museum. Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to stop.

The Arizona Railway Museum, located at 330 East Ryan Road, comprises a collection of railroad cars and a museum building displaying a miscellany of memorabilia: tools, signs, photos, lanterns, timelines, an antique control center plus various parts and pieces of trains and rail systems — even samples from railroad company china cabinets. What caught my eye were the old photos of some of Arizona’s train stations, now long gone. A gift shop provides visitors with a wide selection of hats, shirts, mugs and toys. We spent a few minutes strolling around the museum, gaining a renewed appreciation for the era when rail transportation was both prevalent and popular.

But when we made our way outside to the tour the railway cars, I felt my heart beat faster. Simply walking between the cars prompted a childhood memory of a trip from Cleveland to Milwaukee on a pre-Amtrak passenger train. Memories of all those train sounds, sights and smells suddenly rushed to mind. When I was about 6 years old, I was more than a little apprehensive to climb up those steps to our seats. Last Saturday, I was eager to jump aboard.

At the Arizona Railway Museum, visitors can board several parked rail cars and walk between others onsite, some of which are in various stages of restoration. There are big mining company engines, shiny silver passenger cars, cabooses, locomotives, dining cars, sleepers and track maintenance vehicles. Train buffs and non-train enthusiasts alike, young or old, can spend an enjoyable afternoon at the museum, open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., September through May.

Volunteers work to restore cars and act as docents to help visitors by giving tours and assisting at the museum and gift shop. The museum has several fundraising events each year. According to Tour Director Holly Antosz, the museum’s most recent event, “Dinner in the Diner,” held each December, was so popular, it had to be expanded to a third evening. She said an additional “Dinner in the Diner” event on St. Patrick’s Day is in the works. On our visit we were informed another major event at the museum is National Train Day on May 12, when all cars will be open for viewing. National Train Day commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Arizona Railway Museum always welcomes new volunteers as well as visitors; contact information is on the website. A visit would be a great way to celebrate the upcoming city or state centennial.

Antique traffic control center

Schedule board from Chandler Station

Southwestern decor in one of the passenger cars

Dome allows for the ultimate in scenery viewing

Walk alongside the cars at Arizona Railway Museum

Museum highlight is the steam locomotive Southern Pacific 2562

At the end -- Santa Fe caboose

 

 

 

 

 

Tuzigoot tour: In the steps of the Sinagua people

"Step Back in Time - Visit Tuzigoot"

Sometimes when I visit a historical monument, I’m reminded of the adage: “to understand people, walk a mile in their shoes” (or moccasins, sandals). It’s a good way to get the most out of my visit – to imagine how life must have been during that era. I thought about that on my recent return to Tuzigoot National Monument. I gained a new appreciation for these hunter-gathering people who lived in the Verde Valley between 700 and 1400 AD. I considered myself walking that ‘mile’ – or even just a few steps.

 

 

Tuzigoot visitor center entrance has its own historical significance

1. Step Inside

 

Visit the Tuzigoot Museum and Visitor’s Center. I recommend seeing this before the ruins. Interpretive and interactive exhibits explain the story of the Sinagua people. Learn about the structures and the differences between these pueblos and other nearby ruin sites. Even the museum itself has an interesting story. If you’ve been to Tuzigoot before but haven’t been recently, know that the exhibits are continually being updated. Kids of any age will enjoy the Junior Ranger program.

 

View of the visitor center and limestone ridges in the distance

 

2. Step Out

 

It’s time to take a little walk up that path to the pueblo. The developed path from the parking lot to the pueblo seems easy enough. After all, it’s paved and even. Imagine if you lived 1000 years ago, and were walking up from the fields in the valley by the river, carrying a heavy load of corn or deer meat.

 

Originally the rooms of Tuzigoot were two levels

 

3. Step Around

 

Walk the circumference of the pueblo, which was originally two stories high throughout and comprised 110 rooms. Get the feel for the walls of clay and rock. Think about how long it must have taken to bring all these building materials to the top of this hill. Imagine spending nights in those small rooms!

 

Historians estimate Tuzigoot comprised 77 ground floor rooms

Walk through second story rooms on the way to the roof

 

 

4. Step Up

 

Climb the steps up to the rooftop, the highest point on the remaining second level of the pueblo. Here you will find what may be your most significant memory of your visit to Tuzigoot – the view! You can learn about this vantage point from the visitor center brochure, “A View from the Roof.” Gaze down at the Tavasci Marsh and Verde River where you will see how the vegetation transforms from wetlands to desert.

Excellent panoramic views gained from Tuzigoot's highest point

 

 

5. Step Down

 

Finally, walk the Tavasci Marsh loop, a half-mile round trip. It’s possible to see some of the 167 species of birds here or even the occasional desert river otter among the cattails. Before Europeans arrived in the 15th century, the marsh, river and Peck’s Lake provided lush, almost tropical surroundings. The name, “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water” and was coined in the 1920’s by Museum of Northern Arizona founder and archeologist Harold Colton. It almost seems like a misnomer since water was abundant. Perhaps the name was given as one theory to the group’s disappearance – maybe an extended period of drought? Other theories include: depletion of food sources, disease, conflicts with other cultures or spiritual reasons.

 

View of the "Citadel" from Tuzigoot Trail

 

 

6. Step Away

 

Whether you’re an Arizona newcomer, long-time resident or visitor, you’ll appreciate the step back in time with a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument.  You’ll leave the park with more knowledge about Arizona’s native cultures, natural history and most likely, a renewed appreciation for your modern existence.

Learn about the Sinagua at the visitor center

Don’t sidestep Superior’s sights

There’s a lot more to Superior, Arizona than meets the eye – at least the driver’s eye. For motorists traveling east on US 60 from the Phoenix area, it’s easy to pass up the downtown business section of the small town, located about 30 miles east of Apache Junction. For many motorists, their destination ends at Superior’s main tourist attraction, Boyce Thompson Arboretum or their destination lies beyond the town’s main intersection of US 60 and State Route 177. They rarely turn off the main highway onto Supeior’s Main Street from the west, or Ray Road from the east. But they’re missing the chance to shop at the unique shops or dine at the home-style eateries.

Over the years, after making some trips around Superior, such as Picket Post Mountain, Apache Leap and Pinal City (ghost town), we’d often stop in Superior for breakfast or lunch. I always thought to would be nice to come back and spend some time in Superior, but I never had the chance again — until just recently.

I  recommend making Los Hermanos Restaurant your first stop of the morning. This one is right on the highway – impossible to miss, really. Although my husband and I love all the food here: basic Mexican fare and sandwich platters, we especially like the breakfast menu. There’s nothing better than one of their big breakfast burritos to start the day. The tortillas are homemade — thin, flaky, and always fresh and warm.

Los Hermanos Restaurant: homemade tortillas and delicious Mexican breakfasts

 

Sausage-egg breakfast burrito from Los Hermanos. Took mine 'to go' and eat in the park.

After breakfast, take a drive down Main Street, park your vehicle and explore.  There are some fascinating places! Rolling Rock Gallery is one of those. You’ll find everything here: unique toys and gifts, rock specimens and mining equipment – even handcrafted dinnerware. It’s a museum and gift shop in one, and according to clerk Toni Sanchez, it’s also a temporary employment agency.

 

Rolling Rock Gallery is part gift shop, rock shop and employment agency

Toni Sanchez of Rolling Rock Gallery

The Copper Gecko is another shop that looks worthwhile, unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we did do some “window shopping,” and just gazing inside, we could see all the antiques, gifts and collectible items.

 

Copper Gecko, with antiques and collectibles, in 'downtown' Superior

Because we were traveling with our dog, we didn’t get to visit the Bob Jones Museum, which contains collections about the area’s mining and pioneer history. Also worth a look: the World’s Smallest Museum, a cute, maybe gimmicky, little roadside stop, tourist-type photo op and Porter’s Café, which appears, on Yelp and Facebook at least, to be a popular place for lunch and dinner. We’ll have to have one of their daily lunch specials on our next visit. I guess we’ll have to come back to Superior and spend more time.

Spend some time in Superior, Arizona -- like at this peaceful park along Main Street