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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Unforgettable helicopter tour over Kauai

Chuck and I celebrated another wedding anniversary in June. Often this time of year, we reminisce about past anniversaries and the many ways in which we have celebrated over the years. For our 10th anniversary in 2007, we spent a memorable vacation in Hawaii. Our itinerary was so jam-packed with places to go and things to see over two weeks on two islands that some vacation memories have gotten a bit ‘fuzzy’ with time. But our helicopter trip over Kauai is one anniversary trip activity we won’t soon forget.

Who could forget the breathtaking scenery over the Garden Isle?  We soared high above Kauai’s spectacular beauty — each sight made us imagine we were dropped onto a page of a Hawaii photography coffee table book, a flashy, souvenir calendar or a colorful tourism website.

Inter-Island Helicopters was recommended by friends and also came highly rated in the tour guide known as the “blue bible” — The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook. We opted for a deluxe tour which landed us at a private waterfall where we enjoyed a break from the loud whirring of blades. Some of us even took a quick dip in a crystal clear pool at the base of the falls. As I understand it, the waterfall landing tour is no longer available, so we feel really fortunate to have been able to go when we did.

Inter-Island is one of a few Kauai helicopters companies to offer tourists door-free rides. It’s one thing to fly a couple thousand feet above the azure blue waters of the Pacific and the lush Hawaiian tropical canopy; think about riding in a helicopter without doors!  After a few minutes getting our heads (and stomachs) adjusted to the motion and height of the take-off, we felt much more at ease. The pilot’s narration and humor helped us to relax a bit more.

Yet as we looked down over the landscape, we were quickly reminded that the only thing holding us in was a combination seat belt/shoulder strap. Our white-knuckled fists stayed firmly wrapped around the nearest grab bar — aka the “Oh-(insert expletive)! handle.”  At one point when the helicopter climbed up out and over the island’s northern cliffs, we glanced back and forth in both directions — we could see up and down the Kauai’s iconic Na Pali Coast. These overwhelming views kept the exclamations rolling off our tongues: “Wow!” “I can’t believe this!” “Incredible!”

Gorgeous landscapes, infinite coastal beaches and dazzling canyons were not the only sights from our Kauai helicopter tour. We also were able to spot wildlife — mountain goats, wild boars and of course, those famous Kauai chickens.

Here are some of our favorite photos and a short video from that unforgettable anniversary helicopter tour.

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Hills of southwest Kauai

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Waimea Canyon

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Along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

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Monowaiopuna Falls

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North coast near Tunnels Beach

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We landed in a clearing in north central Kauai

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Multiple waterfall sights on Kauai helicopter tour

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Patchwork farmland of south central Kauai

Rocky Point: Much to do at the beach (or not)

Almost every time we plan a trip to Puerto Penasco, Sonora, our friends will ask, “What do you do down there, anyway? Just sit around on the beach?” Our answer: “There’s so much activity!” We proceed to list a host of activity options. Here are just a few of these pastimes in pictures:

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1. Talk a morning walk with a friend or two

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2. Search for seashells to add to your collection.

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3. Look for creative ways to photograph a sunset

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4. Take a relaxing drift on a ‘lazy river’

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5. Spend quality time with family

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6. Kick up your heels along the surf

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7. Enjoy delectable dishes from the Sea of Cortez

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8. Purchase refreshments without leaving the shade of your palapa

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9. Capture some lifelong memories for your scrapbook

10. Make a list of ‘things to do’ at the beach:

Watch a sunset, bury yourself in the sand, build a sand castle, watch for dolphins, fly a kite, read a book, listen to music, wiggle your toes in the sand, draw messages in the sand, watch pelicans and gulls, take a ride on a horse, Jet Ski, banana boat or an Ultralight, go boating, fishing or body surfing, watch a sunrise, paddle through the waves in a kayak or a stand-up board, snorkel, get a massage, shop for jewelry, pottery, blankets, wood carvings, or souvenirs such as “your name on a grain of rice.”

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11. Know that sitting around on the beach doing not much of anything is perfectly fine, too.

 

 

Airline flight packing tips to ease strain on wallet and back

Thank you to free, Microsoft Office Images.

Packing for your next vacation? What will you take? If you’re flying, there’s much to consider. Should you only use a carry-on or check your bags? You can find an abundance of tips online to help eliminate possibility of excess airline fees — and back strain.

When I was packing for my recent 10-day vacation to the United Kingdom, I decided to use the simplest methods possible — packing only what I thought was absolutely necessary — at least so I thought. I had not packed enough of some items, and had over-packed with other non-essentials. Packing for an international vacation is like any other trip. You want the least amount of weight in the smallest suitcase, but you want to take it all! Packing simply requires a lot of common sense and a little ingenuity. I know many of my readers who are experienced travelers have tons of tips. Feel free to add these to comments below and help me improve — for my next trip!

Make a list. Check it twice. (Sorry.) Categorize your list first by items such as clothes, outerwear, shoes, toiletries, medicines, hats, documents, electronics, etc. Then rearrange your list for each bag or container: carry-on, checked bag (if necessary), personal item, pockets.

Layout your items on a flat surface. See how much you’re really going to pack in your suitcase before actually start loading it up. This will avoid unpacking and repacking. If your suitcase has been in the closet, storage unit or garage, check it for stowaway critters such as scorpions. I was stung while packing for a Mexico trip a couple of years ago, and I’ve read accounts that passengers have been stung after boarding a flight.

Consider each item before tossing it mindlessly in your luggage. Ask yourself: Do I really need this? What happens if I don’t take it? Can I buy it at my destination? For example, I probably don’t need a full-size shower gel or a large bottle of Tylenol. I can survive with a smaller amount for a week long trip.  Lotions, shampoos, conditioners, sprays, goos, pastes, gels — all of these pile on the luggage weight. Consider packing basics such as comb, toothbrush and paste, floss, deodorant, shavers, moisturizer and a little bit of makeup. You can probably purchase the remaining sundries at your destination.

Make good use of your shoes. Use Oxfords, sneakers and boots as containers for socks, belts, phone chargers and other small or even breakable items. I usually wear my heaviest footwear — such as sneakers — to the airport, just because I never know when I’ll be spending most of the day on my feet, or running through the airport. Then I’ll pack a pair of dressy shoes, boots or sandals, depending on my destination. My other only footwear is a pair of flip-flops which I pack in the outer, zip compartment of my soft-sided, zippered suitcase. Along with one magazine, these add some stability to my aging, worn suitcase.

If you can, try to eliminate the checked bag and only use a carry-on bag and personal item. I prefer a soft-sided rolling duffel, but currently for most week or 10 day trips, I use a  rectangle case measuring about 20 x 14 by 6 inches. It’s small and light enough for me to lift on to the security check conveyor and the plane’s overhead compartment. Most airlines restrict the carry-on size to 22 x 14 by 9. Many passengers really try to push the envelope with those “expandable” carry-on bags. You know who you are.

My personal item is either a larger “hobo” bag or a smaller backpack which will fit under the airline seat. Personal bag contents: Wallet with one credit card, passport, cell phone, Chromebook, camera, sunglasses, headphones, tissues, prescriptions, mints, water and snacks. If I will need to check a piece of luggage, and I have room in my personal item, I will consider packing a change of clothing.

photo (8)Consider getting rid of the “purse” and packing a small cross-body bag for use at your destination. I pack away small purse in my carry-or my personal item. I bought a small camera backpack in which I would put all my valuables and personal items. It’s a CaseLogic DSLR pack I found on Amazon that not only carries all my gear in neat and compact accessory compartments and zippered pockets, but also fits nicely under the the airline seat. This backpack also fits my Chromebook very neatly. Okay, it may weigh a few pounds, especially when I add a bottle of water, extra lenses and snacks, but I’d much rather tuck a bit of weight underneath my seat and carry it on my back, than attempt to hoist a larger, heavier pack above my head to the overhead bin and strain my back and shoulder pulling it in tow. (Sigh, I guess I’m either too proud or stingy to use a SmarteCarte.)

Carry-on (or checked bag if absolutely necessary) contents: shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, sweaters, jackets — and roll them up tightly — even those unmentionables. I’m not sure if this is something to brag about, but I can fit 10 pairs of rolled undies into a quart size Ziplock bag. Rolls of clothes can wrap around every curve and cubbyhole of your luggage.  If you’re unsure about your destination’s weather, plan to dress in layers.

Pack apparel that can do double duty. For instance, maybe a nice performance workout tank can double as a tankini swimsuit top. Or maybe gym shorts can substitute as swim trunks.

My goal is to save money, and save my back — eliminate the excess: Less to pack, less to tote, less to lose, less to worry about on your vacation.

Thank you to free, Microsoft Office Images.

Who has packing tips and suggestions? I would love to hear some of yours!

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.

Did you know – you also find AZGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook?

10 things to love about Bahamas’ Atlantis Resort

A recipe for the best family vacation starts with a gorgeous beach on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. Add a water park, marine habitat, casino, spa, movie theater, concert venue, designer shops and world class dining and voilà: you have Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

Seeing an email alert this week from the resort about its spring travel deals reminded me of our vacation stay there. Although our vacation was during the fall, Atlantis during any season is pure paradise. (See blog post from 2012.) Spring may is often considered the ideal time to visit, and current discount deals make this popular Bahamas resort on Paradise Island even more attractive. Add to the mix an airfare credit of up to $300 and you may find yourself booking a flight for your family to Nassau today! Here are a few of our favorite things we love about Atlantis:

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1. Swimming pools resemble landscape architecture works of art.

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2. Some days you may feel like medieval royalty about to conquer an abandoned castle

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3. Colorful lily pads transform a frog pond into garden water features ‘fit for a prince’

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4. Warmer, calm cove waters and pristine beaches line the resort’s perimeter – perfect for wading

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5. Iconic sights such as the Royal Towers will prompt memories of popular spy-action movies

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6. Leisurely lunches at one of several outdoor poolside & patio eateries

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7. Views in every direction conjure images of the mythical ‘Lost City’

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8. Beautiful walkways and patios along the marina allow easy access to the casinos

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9. River rides can provide either a thrilling tubing adventure…

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…or a relaxing float trip — or both! That’s 10!

Visit the Atlantis Resort website for more information about Atlantis Resort and seasonal specials and discount deals.

We’d love to hear from our readers: What’s your favorite family beach resort? What are your spring break travel plans?

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

 

Checking in? Consider these items before your next hotel stay

Hotel Room Key Atop the Bed

We’ve all been there. Here’s the scenario: You’ve just completed your hotel front check in and you’re on the way up the elevator to your room. You suddenly think, “I wish I had asked about _____________.” You make a mental note, thinking you’ll go back to the front desk later, but after you get settled and start your vacation, later never comes and that question you had falls to the least important thing in your memory.

I’ve been jotting down some of those common concerns and questions many of us have wanted to ask before, during or immediately after we check in, but the vacation excitement of ‘first night syndrome’ takes over. To seasoned business travelers, these issues may be automatic but to the typical family vacationer who travels a couple of times a year — not so much. So here are some common items to consider when you check in:

1. Ask about the room itself. What’s the view like from your window? Which direction does it face? What floor is this on? Am I near an elevator, ice or vending machines, housekeeping closet or stairwell? Does my room overlook the roof air conditioning system? Does the room look out to a back alley or parking garage? If you’re concerned about noise or views, obtain or ask to see a hotel property map or room layout before the front desk staff runs your key cards. Many clerks usually will provide a map once you’ve completed registration, but not always. If there’s any doubt, ask to see the room first before you make your decision. A website and mobile app called Room 77 allows users to see the views from popular hotels in select U.S. cities. Think of it as a sort of a Seat Guru for hotels.

2. Ask about the property’s activities. Are there any construction projects happening during your stay? Are all restaurants, shops, services open and operating? Are there any major events occurring the same time – such as conventions, large weddings, etc.

3. Find out about extra fees and local tax rates. Are there daily resort charges? You’ll want to ask about daily parking fees, Wi-Fi or Internet charges, phone call charges and convenience charges for items such as bottled water, snacks and newspapers. Are there early departure fees? (Here’s an interesting item about resort fees.)

4. Special requests usually are made at the time of your reservation.  A day or two before my arrival date, I normally will call directly to the hotel property and confirm my reservation. At that time I will also verify they have received any special requests I have made.  Often special requests made on a website booking or through a toll-free number tend to get ‘lost in the shuffle.’ Popular special requests include room upgrades, connecting rooms, bed types, smoking preference, ADA access, views, specific phase, wing, room or floor location, early check in or late checkout. (At most hotels, bed type and room access usually are standard room rate preferences. Also, an increasing number of hotel chains are now smoke-free.)  Obviously, a good time to request an early check in is at the time of reservation, with a follow-up when you call ahead to confirm your reservation. But if you want to make a special request such as a late check out, and haven’t done so during your reservation, feel free to do it at check in. And it’s best not to overdo the special requests. If you make too many, they may not honor any of them.

5. Room discounts probably should have been a choice when you’ve made your reservation but in case you forgot, it can’t hurt to mention your eligibility for an automobile club, rewards points membership, travel credit card, professional affiliation or senior, government or military discount at check in.

6. Here’s some additional miscellaneous considerations:

  • Check out time
  • Wi-Fi passwords or computer access instructions
  • Special dining features (such as free breakfast buffet or continental breakfast), deals or discounts at gift shops or on entertainment (especially in Las Vegas)
  • Express check out procedures
  • Pet policies
  • Public transportation options such as buses, shuttles, taxis, rental cars
  • Luggage assistance

This list of hotel check in questions includes only what I have jotted down from my travels in the past couple of years, so I’m sure there are many other items to consider. Readers: I’d like to know your tips. What do you want to know about at a hotel check in?

Please also visit AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

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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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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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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