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.

flowers

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.)

breakfast

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.

larrys

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

aliensign

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

pillsbury

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!

 

Ready for winter hiking in Arizona?

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Saguaro Lake's Butcher Jones Trail is perfect start-of-season hike for winter

Saguaro Lake’s Butcher Jones Trail is perfect start-of-season hike for winter

 

Hunter Trail is a popular option at Picacho Peak

Hunter Trail is a popular option at Picacho Peak

 

Don't forget Phoenix's South Mountain Trails, take the National Trail to Garden Valley and Fat Man's Pass (shown here)

Don’t forget Phoenix’s South Mountain Trails. Take the National Trail to Garden Valley and Fat Man’s Pass (shown here)

 

Boulder Canyon 103 heading back

Another winter hiking possibility starts across from Canyon Lake Marina: Boulder Canyon Trai

Chuck, Molly and I in front of the forest service sign

Hieroglyphics Springs Trail is a great one for showing off the Arizona desert to your visiting out-of-towners.

Ready for a winter hike? Take a look at AZGetawayTravel’s hiking list.

See you on Arizona’s hiking trails!

‘Parting shots’ of Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park will close for the summer season on May 24. To my knowledge, it’s the only Arizona state park to shut down completely during the hottest part of the year. The park will re-open Sept. 14. Although there are only a few weeks left to visit the park before it closes, you can still squeeze in some early morning hikes, picnic lunches and long, respectful gazes of this famous historic and geographical Arizona landmark.

In April we spent a Sunday morning hiking along a couple of the trails at the park, located just off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Poppies, lupine and most cacti had completed their flower shows weeks before. Only the Ocotillo continued to splash its red and coral colors onto this canvas of Sonora desert rock and sand. As we returned from our hike, and as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees, we noticed the noon heat was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable for hiking. Fortunately, a Dairy Queen has been strategically placed across the highway from Picacho Peak State Park.

We look forward to hiking the trails of Picacho Peak next fall, winter or early spring. And as usual, we’ll be promising ourselves to be better prepared: “We’ll have amped up our gym workout. We’ll leave the dogs at home. We’ll start earlier in the day. We’ll have more water and better footwear.”

Yeah, whatever. And of course next time, I’ll try to keep my eyes focused on the ground right under my feet and not on the ground 1000 feet below.

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Here are some shots taken April 14, 2013.

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

"If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" -T.S. Eliot

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” -T.S. Eliot

What’s on your hiking checklist?

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

 

Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):

  • Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
  • Compass/GPS
  • Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
  • Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
  • Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
  • Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
  • Small flash light or headlamp
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
  • Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
  • Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
  • Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
  • Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
  • Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
  • Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
  • Tissue pack
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
  • Ace bandage
  • Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
  • Benadryl
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lip protection
  • Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Identification
  • Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches

Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!

You can also find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Escape desert heat on Oak Spring Trail

chuck on trail

Hiking in close proximity to urban or residential areas, I have become very accustomed to encountering ‘fitness hikers.’ They rarely stop and smell wildflowers, gaze out over a panoramic lookout point or fumble around with an uncooperative camera case. And they surely don’t spread out a picnic lunch over a flat rock. But on this particular May Saturday morning, my husband and I found the “Oak Spring Trail via Hardscrabble Road” completely devoid of hikers.

The trailhead is fairly easy to find and because it’s within a mile of cabins and vacation homes in nearby Pine, we thought we’d see somebody — fitness hikers, nature hikers, maybe even a couple of backpackers. Nope! No one!

After driving west for 1.5 miles on Hardscrabble Road from state route 87 in Pine, we spotted the two-way trail crossing sign and the two-car pullout, just the way our favorite hiking website described it. This must be the place! Hardscrabble Road is a well-traveled, well-graded dirt road. So I was a bit surprised to see no other parked cars. The trailhead is on the left (south) side of the road.

wide trail at beginning

Oak Spring Trail starts out as a wide, easily visible trail

As you start out, the trail appears wide and well used. We thought because of its location and condition at the beginning, it would also be maintained, but as we continued to hike south, we realized the easy-walking, shaded path was becoming increasingly overgrown with oak, Ponderosa pine, juniper and manzanita. We followed the trail to a small creek bed, which at least on this trip was dry – not even a puddle or two. Then the light bulb went on: no creek water, no hikers.

Here, the trail location was a bit fuzzy. We zigzagged the creek several times, believing we had seen the last of several rock cairns.  We finally picked up the trail again on the right (west) side of the creek and it led us uphill away from the gulch, to a clearing. In a hundred feet or so, we spotted the trail intersection marker of Oak Spring Trail, Walnut Trail No. 251 and Oak Spring Trail No. 16. The latter is a three-mile trek east, ending at the Pine Trailhead, located just east of SR 87, 12 miles north of Payson. If we do this trip again, it would be nice to make a shuttle hike, parking a second vehicle at the Pine Trailhead. At the meadow, we searched for the spring — or any kind of water — without success, but I think we may have not hiked far enough past the trail intersection.

 

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Trail marker identifies three-way intersection. Note the small Arizona Trail system marker at the bottom.

Although many sections of the short Oak Spring Trail are nondescript, I recommend this trail to hikers looking for a short, easy hike into the Mogollon Rim country. Since it’s close to Pine and Strawberry, it could be combined with additional trails, or other family activities and attractions.  An ideal time of year for this hike would be March or April when the creek would be flowing.

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Century plant's new sprout seen on the Oak Spring Trail

Boulder Canyon Trail climbs high above Canyon Lake

We wanted to view the Superstitions from a different angle. Phoenix area hikers, especially those from the East Valley, can appreciate this: spring is prime time for desert hiking and you’re thinking about taking advantage of the Arizona weekend sunshine. You would like to hike some Superstition trails, but heavy use at the Lost Dutchman Park and Peralta trailheads leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic. That’s what we were thinking too, until we remembered the First Water and Canyon Lake trailheads. (There are several other minor trailheads, but these are the most popular, with more opportunities for loop and shuttle-type hikes.)

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Sun rises on the bluffs above Mormon Flat Dam and Canyon Lake Marina

Note: Although it’s not the prettiest website, we like the hikearizona.com site for its user-based data, images and general info. If you select any Superstition hike, you can scroll down to see the dynamic trail finder. Hover over the trails to see the description and various loop possibilities. We especially like the “live” elevation graph and topography map index to see exactly how much of a climb we can expect.

 

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Top of the hill view above Canyon Lake on Trail #103

So we opted to start from the Canyon Lake trailhead on a recent Sunday morning. The trailhead is well marked across from the Canyon Lake Marina. Just park in the designated hiker spaces at the south end of the marina, closest to the highway. The Boulder Canyon Hike #103 which climbs up quickly along a hillside and soon you’ll have panoramic views looking north at the lake, the canyon below and the bluffs rising over Tortilla Creek to the northeast. After the highest point, we continued around a ridge to the northeast, which opened up to excellent, but distant views of Four Peaks, the Superstition Mountains’ Flat Iron and Weaver’s Needle.

 

tarantula

Tarantula takes a hike along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Although the trail continues for another mile or two before heading down the hill into La Barge Canyon, we turned around at approximately the 2.5-mile point. We found an excellent grouping of big rocks to stop for a quick snack before our return trip. This made for a pleasant 5-mile, 3-hour hike. Plus, it’s a nice way to work up an appetite for lunch at the marina’s Lakeside Restaurant. (Tip: the Friday Fish Fry is worth the beautiful drive).

Boulder Canyon 103 heading back

Heading back to Canyon Lake Marina, along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

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.

Dead Horse Ranch packing list: what to bring to a state park that has ‘it all’

The Verde River provides a lush setting for Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park could be called the “ultimate” state park. It’s everything anyone could ever want in a state park. I mean, when you consider its location, events, history, attractions, beauty, activities — did I say location? — it has got to be up there near the top of the list.

I opted to make up a little packing list in case you want make a visit to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located just outside of Cottonwood, Ariz.

 

1. Tent, RV or Sleeping bag and toothbrush

That’s right, you have your choice of accommodations. Some like tent camping; others prefer RV’s and the park has plenty of room for both. Or if you think Motel 6 is your idea of “roughing it,” perhaps you could try out one of the camp cabins. In that case, all you need is your sleeping bag and toothbrush (okay, maybe a few extras). Make your camping reservations online.

Two of the camping cabins at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

 

 

2. Soap-on-a-rope

… for your hot shower of course! Dead Horse Ranch campgrounds are equipped with clean restrooms and hot water showers, so naturally you’ll want to bring your towel, shampoo, conditioner and your soap-on-a-rope (shower gel works too.) And judging from the review sites, the facilities are  very well maintained.

 

3. Picnic basket or equivalent

I’m not sure if people still use these, but if you don’t have a picnic basket then just bring the ice chest stuffed with all your favorite goodies. The park has plenty of tables and ramadas in the day use areas, available on a first-come first serve basis, unless prior reservations are made.

 

4. Paddles

…for the kayak or canoe you’ll want to bring! Picture yourself venturing out on the lagoon or exploring the Verde River.  Please leave behind the Hobie Cats, Jet Skis and 90hp Johnson outboard. These waterways are oar-power only.

 

5. Tackle box

You will need a variety of lures, rods and reels in case you want to try all out the fishing possibilities. Arizona Game and Fish recently stocked rainbow trout for the winter months. Lagoons are favorite spots but river provides good places to try your hand at fly-fishing. Don’t forget your fishing license, but if you do, you can always pick up one at the local Walmart, just four miles away in Cottonwood.

 

 

6. Footwear

You’ll need to bring a variety of footwear from your closet: hiking boots for hiking; riding boots for horseback riding and cycling shoes for mountain biking. There are lots of trails: short nature trails, perfect for strolling along the river or longer ones, such as the three trails that make up the 7.8-mile Dead Horse Trail System. And now that the 15-mile stretch of Lime Kiln Trail is complete, you can ride (or bike) all the way to Red Rock State Park. Almost every trail at Dead Horse Ranch State Park is shared use, so remember to follow trail etiquette.

Horseback riding is just one of many activities at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

 

7. Camera, binoculars and nature guidebooks

According to the Park website, common mammals are grey fox, jackrabbit, deer, bobcat, mountain lion, javelina, skunk, and as we were told by the campground host, even the occasional river otters make their home along the Verde. The Park also hosts the “Birdy Verde,” a short name for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival each April and the Verde River Days, held each September. Both events are not only great family fun, but they promote awareness about outdoor recreation and wildlife. The main reason for the plentiful wildlife is the vast number of cottonwood trees — not to be taken for granted!

Cottonwood trees are 'huge' -- in every aspect of the word

 

8. Credit card or cash

Okay, if you’re still not convinced Dead Horse Ranch could be the perfect Arizona getaway, just remember to bring money. You can always go shopping — at the gift shop in the visitor’s center where you’ll not only find bait, water and incidentals but also souvenirs and t-shirts. Or while your spouse and kids are fishing, paddling, riding, biking or hiking, you can take a two-minute drive into Old Town Cottonwood for a latte or a little lunch, followed by Arizona wine-tasting and window shopping along Main Street  — dotted with quaint gift shops, antique stores and art galleries. And later, If you’re in the mood for some ‘old West’ entertainment, take the family to the Blazin’ M Ranch for dinner and a show. It’s literally just across the street from the park. You’d better add cowboy boots to the list of footwear!