October day excursion to Sycamore Creek Canyon

Fall in Arizona means desert dwellers and out-of-state visitors swarming to the north and east parts of the state to the mountains to see aspen, oak and maple leaves changing color. They often overlook a visit to the Verde Valley for the cottonwoods, willows and sycamores. Along the Verde River, Oak Creek and Sycamore Creek they’ll find a wide array of spectacular scenery and fall color changes. One Sunday in early October, we opted to make a way to Sycamore Creek Canyon to hike the Parsons Springs Trail. Although it was a bit early for the most dramatic colors below the Mogollon Rim, we were still able to spot a few splashes of yellow, splashed against a canvas of azure blue.

Parsons Springs Trail is a beautiful 7-mile out and back walk along the creek, crossing about six times and before reaching Parsons Springs. Unfortunately, due to some tire issues on the way into Cottonwood, we had to cut short our hike on this particular outing.

Sycamore Creek serves as swimming hole for some brave, hot souls during the summer. On this particular fall day, water flows were slow. The creek appeared stagnant, buggy and muddy in spots. No wading or swimming this time!

We loved the 360-degree views of the canyon at the trailhead. The parking lot has plenty of space for a tailgate picnic after hiking. The trail was quiet; we only encountered a few hikers on the way in, a few more coming back. A few had overnight packs, indicating they likely had set up camp in the wilderness area north of Parson Springs.

A clear, sunny and relatively cool day in Sycamore Canyon reminds one of a creekside landscape in an eastern or midwestern state: Shady with lush, thick growth along the path. But you only need to look up to the red rock walls and your thoughts will be transported back to Arizona. Watch out for poison ivy; we spotted several patches.

The trail is relatively level, with only a slight incline heading back to the parking lot. Molly was getting hot and tired toward the end of the afternoon, and after a couple of hours, we had our appetite worked up for a bite to eat at one of our favorite cafes in Old Town Cottonwood.

It was too bad to see our shiny, new Subaru Forester so dusty, but that’s why we bought it, to award it with a little dirt and dust while exploring Arizona and western states. We didn’t need to use the 4WD for this trip, but it was nice to know we had it, plus we easily cleared any high spots on the road.

Late September through November is prime time for fall foliage excursions around Arizona. Get out and explore!

Beautiful, fun September day in Julian, California

The town of Julian is a small mountain hamlet (can I say hamlet?) about 40 miles east of Escondido. The geography surrounding Julian is simply gorgeous. It’s a picture of pine- and oak-covered rolling hills, curving two-lane highways, unique shops, cool eateries and colorful characters with many stories to tell.

 

We had the chance to pick our own apples, taste a sampling of specialty hard ciders at Julian Hard Cider, shop for homemade goods, dine at a country cafe for lunch.

We made the trip to Julian on a Monday which allowed for much less tourists, but also some businesses seemed to be closed. Something to check on before you go.

Apple picking? Sure! I guess just about anything grows in California, right? The apple trees in Julian are just right for the picking. No tall ladders needed at this orchard.

 

The apple pie at Julian Pie Company was unbelievably good! Take it from a non-pie-eater. I thought I would sample a fork-full of my husband’s piece, and I think I finished most of it, much to his dismay.

Don’t miss the chance to pick your own apples at one of the area’s orchards. We gathered a couple of bags at Volcan Valley Apple Farm. The apple picking is finished for this season but if you’re planning a trip to the San Diego area, make a point to save some apple-picking time for next September!

 

Eat tacos and get gas

 

Not that kind of gas! Gasoline. Fuel for your Ford or Fiat. Over the past few months, we’ve noticed that some of the best taquerias are those located immediately adjacent to gas stations. Combine your fuel stop with a food stop. Location, location, location!

Las Palapas Taco Grill

One such restaurant is Las Palapas Taco Grill in Yuma, Ariz. Our trips to San Diego recently have been more frequent and we have made it a point to stop in Yuma for gas. (It’s also a few cents per gallon less here than in California.) Next to the Chevron off of Interstate 8, on Fortuna Road is Las Palapas. It’s a counter service eatery and each meal is made to order. Expect a little bit of a wait during busy times, but we’ve always been very satisfied with the quality of the food and quick service. 

We’ve been a patron of Las Palapas probably four or five times and all the tacos we’ve eaten have been delicious: Ensenada fish tacos, Baja shrimp tacos, pastor and carne asada steak tacos. There’s no scrimping on the fillings. The fish tacos are among my favorites. Although the menu says it’s Alaskan pollock, the fish tastes so fresh and is perfectly breaded and fried; it actually melts in your mouth! You’d think you’re sitting next to the Sea of Cortez eating a fisherman’s catch of the day. The salsa bar provides a variety of tasty hot and mild choices for both topping and dipping. Tortilla chips are crispy and fresh.

Don’t be discouraged by a few negative comments on some restaurant review sites. To us, Las Palapas Taco Grill never disappoints. We look forward to our next taco lunch!

El Salsas Taco Shop

Another taqueria we have recently discovered, is on the route from Phoenix to Las Vegas in Kingman.  Just as Yuma is sort of our unofficial halfway point between Phoenix and San Diego; Kingman is our unofficial halfway point between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Immediately adjacent to the intersection of Interstate 40 and State Route 93 is El Salsas Taco Shop. If you can’t find it on the map, just look for the Chevron gas station. It’s next door.

We’ve been to El Salsas only once, but judging by some of the other patrons’ reviews, it’s among the best you’ll find for a quick and convenient taco lunch on your next trip through Kingman. The entrance is unassuming; you’ll find it tucked neatly next door to the Chevron’s convenience mart. 

The time we stopped, I ordered the fish (my favorite) and Chuck opted for the carne. Our tacos were fresh and very tasty, and like Las Palapas, they also feature a well-stocked salsa buffet. Tasty tortillas and plenty of fresh meat (or fish), and veggie fillings made these tacos memorable. We’ll have to return or another meal here soon. Who’s ready for a trip to Vegas or northwest Arizona?

Next time you’re driving through Yuma or Kingman, Arizona, take a travel tip from me: Get gas and eat tacos!

A memorable evening at Cordiano Winery in Escondido, Calif.

As we drove into the San Diego area from Arizona, I texted a friend living in Escondido we were arriving that evening. She suggested we meet for pizza and wine at the Cordiano Winery. She jokingly mentioned the wine was passable but the pizza is good. Well, I’d have to correct her on her remarks. After our dinner there, I thought the wine was good, and the pizza was excellent. 😀 But what made our visit to Cordiano Winery special was the total package experience.

Cordiano Winery sits nestled in the hills overlooking the San Pasqual Valley. Highland Valley Road takes you on a meandering journey up to the winery and surrounding vineyards. Cool June breezes at the top of the hill greeted us as we exited the car. We almost felt too chilly, but it was welcomed after a 119-degree week in Arizona.

As we entered the dining area, I imagined how one must feel at a family gathering at a vineyard in the coastal regions of Italy. There were large groups of families and friends, sipping their wine and laughing. Couples stood arm-in-arm gazing out to the West while the sun beginning its descent. Children were running between the tables, dodging both diners and servers. This dining area had the atmosphere of a rural family estate; the true ambiance of vineyard dining.


After the hostess showed us to our table, we were given menus to select a pizza and wine. We chose three different pizzas for our group, a veggie with tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and roasted bell peppers; a supreme with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers; and a Margherita pizza. Our wine choice was the Duetto, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. My husband volunteered to put in the order for our group up at the counter and he soon returned with the wine and glasses.

The Duetto wine was light and easy drinking; and our conversations kept us occupied while the sun continued its disappearing performance and we were served our pizzas. These pizzas were delicious. Their crusts were flavorful and well-seasoned without being overly done and the toppings were fresh and plentiful. And we tried keeping up the discussion while eating but our appetites and the tasty pies won the battle, and we soon found ourselves with short stints of silence between bites.

Without warning, we glanced around and found ourselves in the middle of empty tables. The staff had begun their closing routine, folding up umbrellas, tablecloths and napkins and we knew it was time to end the evening. Good food, good wine, great conversation between friends and family, but most of all — the delightful environment truly made this evening more than simply memorable. It was perfect. We’ll be back in Escondido soon and we’ll most assuredly make it a point to return to Cordiano Winery.

Short hike to Annie’s Canyon near San Diego

Annie’s Canyon Trail is more a destination than a trail. Or perhaps it’s best described as a “trail within a trail” – part of the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve trails. Our short 1.5 mile round trip trek started at the north end of North Rios Avenue. (Find parking information, maps and a trail guide online.) We parked at the cul-de-sac and followed the trail easterly along the San Elijo Lagoon. You’ll quickly see it really is an interpretive nature trail complete with park benches and label posts for trees, bushes and other flora. Look up ahead you’ll see Interstate 5; look back over your shoulder, you’ll see the lagoon and a glimpse of the ocean.

In less than half a mile, you’ll reach a fork to the right. Continue walking, as this only is another neighborhood access point, not the direction to Annie’s Canyon. However, if you want to make a side trip you can, but there’s not really much to see along this section, except for a very large tree. On a warm day, you may want to enjoy the shade of this old twisted trunk and limbs of what may be a eucalyptus tree (I’m not sure). It reminded me of the “tree of life” from Game of Thrones or other fantasy fiction.

Back to the main trail, continue heading east until you see the Annie’s Canyon sign. Now here’s where we were a bit confused. We knew this was a loop canyon hike, but didn’t realize it was a one-way loop. The recommendation is to stay to the right and climb up through the slot canyon up to the viewpoint and complete the loop on the other side. We took the left trail, which indicated a more moderate ascent. When we reached the viewpoint, we realized we should have taken the other direction.

At the top, looking west are sweeping views of the lagoon, the ocean, and the occasional water birds surveying the landscape. Looking east, the fast moving freeway traffic between Solana Beach and Encinitas is a reminder you’re still in the city.

Once at the top, we enjoyed our views, snapped a few photos and backtracked down, and around, headed up the canyon slot section for a little ways. But the afternoon was slipping away, and we wanted to enjoy some beach time at Fletcher’s Cove so we cut our short hike even shorter, and headed back to the car.

The San Diego area is one of our perfect getaway destinations, because it has everything we enjoy — taking a morning hike through the canyons and lagoon parks, followed by a few hours at the beach, then topping it off with a dinner of pizza and local craft brews.

Coachella Valley-Rancho Mirage-Palm Springs Getaway

Often our trips to the Palm Springs, Calif. area involve little more than dining, shopping, relaxing poolside with an icy drink and a good book. We wanted to do a bit more this visit; we planned a couple of hikes, a tramway trip to the top of San Jacinto Mountains followed by the inevitable dining, shopping and relaxing poolside. But we found ourselves in the first week of this month with temperatures well below the average, accompanied by strong winds, rain, and at the top of the mountain: snow. Which brings us to the number one travel tip: Always have a “plan b.”

The first morning we started out with a short hike. The winds were whipping around the desert at 30 mph, so we located a short hike that was somewhat protected by nearby hills and a thousand or so palms: the easy 1.7 miles to McCallum Pond at Coachella Valley Preserve.

Our second hike on this getaway weekend was also fairly short. We made the 1.8-mile climb up to Tahquitz Canyon Falls.

Both hikes are excellent for all ages and abilities. Both offer great views, geographic variety and photographic possibilities. Both can be prime activities for those looking for one to two hour excursions to supplement a day of shopping, sightseeing, a round of golf or lounging poolside.

In the case of inclement weather, always have a few indoor activities lined up. Several museums, shopping malls, galleries in the area provide indoor things-to-do. Because both my husband and I enjoy craft beer, we opted to visit two of several craft beer breweries. One is La Quinta Brewing in La Quinta, a 15-20 minute drive from Palm Springs. Old Town La Quinta is a picturesque and pleasant array of shops, galleries and eateries.

Beers sampled at La Quinta included the Poolside Blonde, an easy-drinking, light blonde ale, the Bloody Hot Summer, a refreshing, fruity beer, the Even Par 7.2 IPA, a smooth, perfectly balanced IPA, the Heatwave Amber Ale, a tasty brew with malt and caramel, and the Koffi Porter, with rich coffee, chocolate and malt.

 

The second brewery we visited was Coachella Valley Brewing Company, located about two miles north of our resort Westin Mission Hills.

Coachella Valley Brewing (or CVB) has many types of brews with a wide variety of flavors and blends, something for almost everyone, except the amber, red or brown ale drinker.  Beers we enjoyed were the I-10 IPA, a lower alcohol session IPA, the Kolschella, a refreshing Kolsch-style German ale, the Harvester, an imperial IPA with grapefruit, and the Palms to Pines, a triple IPA at 13 percent APV!

After a weekend of wind and rain, we wrapped up our getaway with a day of abundant sunshine next to the Westin Mission Hills pool. We like to recommend: Allow ample time on the last day to let the events of your vacation soak in. Let the intermittent bursts of kids splashing and laughing blended with faint sounds of different styles of music and low rumble of adult chatter lull you into relaxation as you turn the page of your book or magazine or swipe your Kindle. Gaze up at the sun through the palms, take a deep breath and know: no matter what the weather or other environmental factors; you’ve had the time to unwind.

“Lost” in the Superstition Mountains: A conversation

Okay, maybe we weren’t ‘lost’ in the purest sense, more like disoriented. But in the Superstition Wilderness, there’s a fine line between being disoriented and lost. It all boils down to the quantities of confidence, water supply and daylight.

Always download the map to a GPS or phone. Don’t depend on cell phone service, as it’s usually spotty. Carry a paper map as a back up, as well as plenty of water, emergency provisions, first aid kit.

“We just came down this path the last time we were here a few years ago, right?”

“No, I think we came down from a different trailhead, but we’re still coming out in the same place… at least I think. It all leads to about the same place.”

“Yeah, I don’t remember this at all.”

“Doesn’t this trail go past Hackberry Springs… where we saw the mules last time?”

“I think so.”

 

“Wait, I think we’ve gone too far down First Water Creek! Aren’t we supposed to cut back up the hill toward Garden Valley?

“It all looks so different now, after just a couple of years.”

“It’s been more like six years… Yep, it’s way overgrown now. All the rain and snow melt.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to get turned around like we did that time when we started down into Boulder Canyon and thought we were headed to Hackberry. That would’ve been a long day of hiking.”

“Okay, this looks all too familiar now.”

“Yep. This is Garden Valley. I can see Weaver’s Needle.”

“Now we’re back at the intersection of Black Mesa and Second Water Trails. So, the First Water Trailhead should be up past that rise.”

“Should be. We have to cross First Water Creek again.”

“Hey, look! More poppies! Boy, I bet Lost Dutchman (state park) has a bunch in bloom right now!”

What was supposed to be a five-mile loop turned into a 7.5-mile loop. When we arrived at the main First Water parking lot, it was full so we were forced to turn back and park at the staging area. We began our Hackberry Springs/Garden Valley Loop from there, heading down toward First Water creek, unknowingly passing by the old windmill and corral area, and wallking along the creek on the west bank, heading north, and ultimately missing the turn heading east. When we realized our error, we reversed course, crossed over the creek and come up around the bluff at Hackberry, gradually along the ridge to Garden Valley. Not having gone this clockwise direction before, most of the territory appeared unfamiliar.

We recommend starting at First Water, completing the loop counterclockwise, with the only precaution to not overlook the turn to Garden Valley. Rock cairns usually mark the spot, but not always! After the sign to Black Mesa, look for a trail veering left. After crossing the “valley,” the terrain changes. Keep to your right (easterly), and the trail will lead you along a canyon ridge with sweeping views. After 1.7 miles, you’ll arrive at a sort of rocky roundabout, you may be tempted to take a trail to the left, but stay to the right, Once you’ve descended into the thickly-grown springs area, you’ll have the bluff on your left. Continue along the creek; watch closely and you may see a dripping pipe protruding from the rocks. You’ve made it to Hackberry Springs! Continue along the creek toward the windmill and corral and walk up the old road to the staging area parking lot/trailhead or the main First Water Trailhead and parking lot.

Happy hiking!

 

 

 

Don’t Miss This in Arizona: Sedona/Cottonwood

Most travel writers will inform readers about all the highlights, most iconic things to do and see in a particular part of Arizona. Sedona Arizona is a prime example. Guidebooks and information centers are plentiful, offering the most popular (and most populated) sights. They steer people to such sights as Red Rock Crossing, Cathedral Rock, Slide Rock and Bell Rock… all those rocks! But so many excellent activities and sights are not given enough due in other websites. Here are a few:

Many folks travel to nearby wineries for tasting. Most will sample the vintages at Page Springs Vineyards and Oak Creek Vineyards. We suggest also including a stop and spending a bit more time at Javelina Leap. Step behind the winery’s original main tasting room into the new “Arizona Room” and you’ll find a larger gathering spot for trying out the best vintages from Javelina Leap. There’s even a airy patio for nibbling and noshing when the weather’s right. We not only sampled wines, but some excellent appetizers — tapas —  to cleanse our palate.

Javelina Leap’s Arizona Room

 

Stuffed mushrooms at Javelina Leap Winery

 

Before you spend an afternoon instagramming rock cairns at Red Rock Crossing, which by the way will now cost you $10 to park, visit Red Rock State Park. for a short stroll along Oak Creek or a moderate climb to Eagle’s Nest. It’s amazing what you may see along the way.

Oak Creek weaves through Red Rock State Patk

Doe and fawn mule deer spotted near the visitors center

Gorgeous views at Red Rock State Park

Many Sedona/Cottonwood visitors may have Montezuma’s Castle on their itinerary, but Montezuma’s Well — maybe not so much. Stop at Montezuma Well and follow the trail to the end. You’ll see the native inhabitants’ cliff dwellings and natural springs which feed the well. Roaming rangers and docents will provide the history of the well and its original water users.

Dwelling ruins

US Calvary troops left their names on these ruins

Montezuma Well overlook

Treasure Loop Trail View

Start off a Sunday morning with a hike along the Treasure Loop Trail at Lost Dutchman State Park, in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, Arizona. Sun is starting to show its glaze between the crags near the Praying Hands formation.

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From our 2014 trip to Kauai: Seven beaches in seven days

Donkey Beach is an easy walk or bike ride from Kealia along the Kauai Multiuse Path

Donkey Beach is an easy walk or bike ride from Kealia along the Kauai Multiuse Path

Kalapaki Beach, at the foot of the Kauai Marriott Resort. is often the last beach stop we make before heading to Lihue airport

Kalapaki Beach, at the foot of the Kauai Marriott Resort. is often the last beach stop we make before heading to Lihue airport

Poipu Beach is a great place to take the kids into the water, wading and snorkeling

Poipu Beach is a great place to take the kids into the water, wading and snorkeling

Moloa'a Bay is quiet, calm cove to have beach time away from the tourists

Moloa’a Bay is quiet, calm cove to have beach time away from the tourists

Anini Beach, easily accessed from Westin Princeville Ocean Resort, is a good place to sunbathe

Anini Beach, easily accessed from Westin Princeville Ocean Resort, is a good place to enjoy a picnic lunch

Waipouli Beach, perfect for watching sunrises, stretches along the Kuhio Highway leading to the Hanalei Colony Resort

Waipouli Beach, perfect for watching sunrises, stretches along the Kuhio Highway leading to the Hanalei Colony Resort

Hanalei Beach is a north coast favorite among families and locals

Hanalei Beach is a north coast favorite among families and locals