Sunglow Ranch offers Digital Detox Package

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Are you a gadget junkie? Anyone with smartphones or tablets knows how addicting they can be. At Sunglow Ranch, in the Chiricahua Mountains south of Willcox, Ariz., guests now can opt for the new Digital Detox package. They will have the chance to put away — or leave at home — those frustrating electronic devices that seem to distract us from the more important things in life.

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Relaxing in the swimming pool from March to October, unwinding in the hydrospa and strolling along the nature trails at Sunglow Ranch will “put your life back in balance” according to owners, Brooks and Susan Bradbury. You see, there’s no telephone or television in the suites.

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The three-night Digital Detox Package includes lodging, all meals, house wine, two private, two-hour guided horseback trail rides, and a one-hour massage. The cost is: $1,500 for two-room casita or $1,250 for one-room casita (plus tax and ranch fee, for one or two guests, double occupancy. Based on advance reservation & availability. Excludes holidays & blackout periods.)

And Sunglow Ranch has added a new suite to its collection: The Blue Heron Suite, a 530 sq. ft. king bed room with views of the spectacular Chiricahuas and the nearby pond, stopover location for the occasional blue heron. The suite’s private porch is the ideal spot to enjoy morning coffee or a glass of wine. Like all of the Sunglow Ranch rooms, the Blue Heron Suite includes coffeemaker, microwave, refrigerator, hairdryer and comfy waffle robes — for that porch time.

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Of course, WiFi is available for those who are not detoxing digitally or others who can no longer withstand the peace and quiet of Sunglow Ranch and all its surrounding natural beauty — and absolutely find it necessary to check the latest Twitter trends.

For other packages and information including spectacular photos of Sunglow Ranch, please visit its website.

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San Pedro River area will offer cool respite from desert heat

Cottonwood tree at San Pedro House

Cottonwood tree at San Pedro House

Now that Arizona temperatures have begun their climb, road trippers already may be planning destinations to the higher elevations.  At 4633 feet, Sierra Vista offers visitors many outdoor recreation activities without the harsh Valley heat. Arizona travelers can enjoy both sun and shade at a cool park at the San Pedro River – at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and San Pedro House.

This long strip of 57,000 acres along the San Pedro River, maintained by Bureau of Land Management, surrounds one of the largest cottonwood/willow canopies in Arizona. In February, I spent the best part of one Saturday afternoon strolling along the river on a short nature walk – a self-guided tour of the San Pedro House trails. As I started out along the path, I immediately realized why birders flock to this area.  While red-winged blackbirds congregated around the cottonwoods, red-tailed hawks soared above the nearby grasslands. According to the trail map/brochure provided at the entrance about 350 species that either nest here or use it as a migratory stopover.

The visitor’s center at the entrance is the San Pedro House, a one-time ranch manager’s house built by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. during the 1930s. Inside is a shop full of local history books, nature guides, maps and gifts.  The store clerk, a volunteer member of the Friends of the San Pedro River, will answer questions about the park and the history of the area. It’s fascinating to learn how the area is being restored to its natural state after years of crop farming and cattle grazing. Trees along the river were cut down during the mining era to provide fuel for area smelters.

As I walked along the river after a day of heavy winter rains, I’m surprised the water level isn’t higher. Recent dry conditions have soaked up the rain water like a sponge. After taking a closer look at the banks, it’s easy to see where significant flood event flows have creased the brush and snapped the branches.

I’d recommend visiting San Pedro House and walking its nature trails to all. It’s a nice quiet picnic spot or rest area away from the busy traffic of the city. Take time to walk the easy path down to the river. Enjoy the cool shade of the cottonwoods. Don’t forget your camera!

San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

San Pedro House gift shop

San Pedro House gift shop

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

 

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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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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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