‘Quirky’ is normal at Sonoita winery

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

According to most dictionaries, “quirky” is an adjective meaning ‘full of quirks,’ which basically means: odd, peculiar or offbeat. I wanted to look it up again before I started writing, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t using the word incorrectly. You see, many of my fellow bloggers seem to use this word quite frequently. They describe themselves as ‘quirky travelers’ or ‘quirky foodies.’ They visit quirky destinations, eat at quirky restaurants and stay overnight at quirky inns, bed-and-breakfasts or Airstream trailer parks. Recently Chuck and I stopped by a wonderful place to spend an afternoon tasting wine – at an southeastern Arizona winery that fits the definition of quirky – Arizona Hops and Vines in Sonoita.

But this winery is not only a location for wine lovers to sample and buy their reds and whites. It’s a family-run business, a popular local tourism destination and, if SB1301 makes it way through the Arizona legislative process, Arizona Hops and Vines, could also be called a brewery. Current state law prohibits brewing beer at a winery property. (Read more here.)

Here are a few other examples of this winery’s fun twists. It may be a bit offbeat, off the wall, off the cuff and even a little off the beaten track, but Arizona Hops and Vines is well worth the drive to Sonoita.

Fun-filled events: Back in February to announce a new beer-wine blend of a libation called Drag Queen, Arizona Hops and Vines hosted, “The Drag Races.” In this fundraiser to support a expectant mothers’ shelter, any contestant could dress up in drag and race in high heels for a free glass and a tasting. Coming up on May 11 is the Annual Bachannal Festival, a celebration of wine, micro-brews, arts and crafts, food and music. This should be a perfect time to enjoy those expansive views from the hilltop winery’s patio. Take a look at its Facebook page for more information about upcoming functions and photos of past events.

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Fascinating pets: Arizona Hops and Vines owners-sisters Megan and Shannon must love their animals almost as much as they love family, friends and their farm life. Animals are everywhere: goats, chickens, turtles. Chuck and I were properly introduced to pets Vino and Lola inside the tasting room. Both cat and dog also are respectively quirky. (Admittedly, cats are just quirky by nature.)

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Novel palate cleansing methods: Cheetos are served from a large red tub on the tasting counter. I’m no expert so I can’t tell whether or not these cheesy puffs actually cleanse the palate, but they do taste pretty good in between sips of First Crush or The Fluffer.

Arizona Hops and Vines' full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Arizona Hops and Vines’ full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Imaginative wine names and labels: Take a look at some of the wine names, not to mention the unique blends of fruits, flavors. I’m not saying that Arizona Hops and Vines set the standard for quirky appellations, but it’s definitely following suit.

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery's unique identity

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery’s unique identity

Interesting traditions: Read more about Arizona Hops and Vines interesting yet quirky traditions on its website, including The Wishing Barrel, and Buffalo game. You can even join a brewers group called The Buffalo Club. There’s something for everyone in the family at Arizona Hops and Vines: a soda making room called, The Sober Shack,” a petting zoo for the younger set and outdoor games such as Tetherball, horseshoes and bocce ball for adults and teens.

Find more information about things to do at Arizona Hops and Vines on its website. Better yet, why not plan Arizona road trip to Sonoita on some Saturday or Sunday and find out for yourself? You may even find a wine that pleases!

 

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

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Music Instrument Museum deserves (at least one) encore appearance

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum's main staircase foyer

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum’s main staircase foyer

 

"Electric acoustic" guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

“Electric acoustic” guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

 

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

The Music Instrument Museum is “number one” among Phoenix area museum attractions on Tripadvisor.com. In December I had the opportunity to find out why. It’s like a Disneyland for music lovers; one could easily spend the entire day here, and still wanting more.  I suppose if you absolutely hate music, maybe one day is enough.  It’s not merely a museum for old folk instruments; and it’s certainly not just all about music. It’s more about global cultures and all forms of expression, communication – the total human experience. During our recent visit, I immediately began making notes how my next visit could be enhanced. Here are some things to know before you go:

1. Go early. Naturally if you haven’t been to the MIM yet, you’ll just have to trust me: Time will pass very quickly. I’d recommend getting there soon after the 9 a.m. opening and be prepared to spend a good chunk of the day.  We arrived shortly after 10 a.m. on a Monday morning and before we realized what was happening, we had already spent three hours and we were still in the first geographic exhibit room.

2. Visit on a weekday. One drawback about visiting the MIM when schools are in session is you may be competing with field trip tours for quality listening space. You may want to steer clear of the school groups as you move about the exhibits. However, on the day we visited, the loud school groups were gone by lunchtime and we virtually had the entire second floor to ourselves. I found this advantageous for taking photos (non-flash) of the exhibits or spending extra time listening to various recordings. If a large family or school group is concentrated on one exhibit, simply move to another then circle back later.

3. Consider bringing your own wireless headphones. I didn’t really have any problems with the headphones given to me at the counter, but I had wished I had a pair to better cancel out extraneous, external noise. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find the “hotspot” of the streaming music at particular exhibits, and several times I was picking up streams from other nearby exhibits.  I thought it may be a better listening experience to have premium equipment. But of course, the experience is only as good as the recording, in most cases.

4. Have lunch in the cafeteria. This is a special treat in itself. Much of the menu comes from local farms and food sources.  Don’t miss this! Plan to take a leisurely lunch break and enjoy farm fresh and deliciously prepared menu items. Even the beer and wine are local. Kick back and enjoy the bright and airy lunchroom. You will need a lengthy lunch break to give your eyes, ears and feet a well-deserved rest.  Portions are fairly large: we split a sandwich, salad and dessert.

5. Plan your self-guided tour.  Next time we’ll know this: map out your route around the rooms before embarking the exhibition expedition. Each of the geographic galleries has its own merit. Because we started chronologically through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, by the time we got to America, we were already tired and hungry.  On our next visit, I think we’ll start in Europe and North America with popular, contemporary music, then work our way back through time.

6. Don’t miss the special galleries. No matter where you start your tour of MIM, don’t forget the first floor galleries, including a “hands-on” experience gallery where you can pound on drums and pluck harp strings; a rotating gallery featuring a famous musical artist’s life and work; and a special exhibition gallery for traveling exhibits.

7. Watch instruments being restored and preserved. In the conservation lab, visitors can watch through a window as technicians preserve, restore and repair instruments for display.

8. Check the concert calendar. Because we visited during the Christmas season, the calendar included holiday music. These evening and matinee performances are fee extra, but well worth consideration. For example, Grammy winning composer-songwriter Jimmy Webb is in the house this week.

9. Consider leaving the toddlers at Grandma’s house. Although there are several instruments children can try playing in the Experience Gallery, most exhibits would simply not appeal to children younger than elementary reading age. I think most toddlers would simply be bored by visiting MIM. I’d recommend bringing them along when they are old enough to appreciate the listening and learning about music.

10. Know at least one more visit is required. Even after six hours, we still didn’t see it all, but we acknowledged that with the traveling and rotating exhibits, some instruments being repaired, there was no possible way to see everything. Just knowing that the geographical galleries were still being filled and expanded prompted us to anticipate our next visit to the Music Instrument Museum.  There’s so much happening here, you’ll want to sign up for its newsletter and announcements, or even consider becoming a donor or volunteer.

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Arizona road trip to historic Skull Valley

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Skull Valley Depot Museum

Whenever I’d return from a trip to Prescott, friends frequently would remark: “Have you ever gone up the back way? It’s a nice drive up the back way.”

I had no idea what they meant. Which ‘back way?’ There are possibly dozens of ‘back ways’ to Prescott when you consider all the forest service roads, county and state highways and US routes. I’m guessing they mean the ‘front way’ must be the Interstate 17-to-State-Route-69 way, and any alternate route would be the ‘back way.’

For me the back way to Prescott usually was described in two different routes: Route 89 from Wickenburg to Prescott or through Crown King using Senator Highway. The latter  would require a four wheel drive vehicle.

While I was scanning the map looking for other possible ‘back ways’ into Prescott, I found Skull Valley on the map. I’d seen this dot on the state map before but didn’t know about the access or anything about the community. Many times these dots are merely highway junctions with a few houses and cluster of post office boxes.

Our drive to Skull Valley was a gorgeous road trip on this sunny, but a bit blustery Saturday. All roads along this route are paved, but the roadway from Skull Valley to Prescott (Iron Springs Road) currently is under construction. December through March may not the best time to be traveling up the hill to the northwest side of Prescott because of possible snow storms and icy roads. Please check local conditions.

However, if you make the trip, when you arrive at Skull Valley, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. The center of this community is an intersection: a general store on one corner, a working ‘fillin’ station on another corner, and a hometown diner just across the tracks.

Just steps away from the intersection of Old Skull Valley Road and Iron Springs Road is the Skull Valley Depot, now a museum maintained by the Skull Valley Historical Society.  June through Labor Day, the museum is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.  Tours can be arranged by appointment by contacting curator Ida Downing.

The depot building itself was constructed at Cherry Creek near Dewey until 1926 when it was moved to Skull Valley. Trains moved through Skull Valley from 1894 to 1969. It was an important Santa Fe station in Skull Valley, because here the trains had to add engines otherwise they wouldn’t have made it up the steep mountain grade to Iron Springs and on to Prescott. The depot museum exhibits feature antique train and railroad equipment, agricultural tools and other items donated by longtime Skull Valley residents. Adjacent to the depot is the Railroad Section House, where the railway section boss lived. Here, visitors can view more Skull Valley history on display such as a wooden wringer washer, a 1920s kitchen stove and an antique pedal pump organ.

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

Patio dining at Skull Valley Diner

We worked up quite an appetite touring the depot museum and section house so we stopped in at the Skull Valley Diner for lunch. Because we had our collie Molly with us, we dined alfresco. By this time the winds had kicked up and the temperature had dropped – quickly. Hot soup, coffee and a cheeseburger never tasted so good.

After lunch we wanted to take a closer look inside the Skull Valley General Store. This place is the real deal. We were impressed to see wood floors, “penny” candy behind the counter, several huge antique glass display cases full of convenience items plus a wood stove crackling away in front of a checkerboard table.  On the walls hung signs for fresh bread, eggs, and other locally made goodies. A large homemade quilt hung on supports, possibly a leftover from the Skull Valley Pie, Ice Cream Social and Quilt Show in October. Plan to spend some browsing time in the general store. Shop for books about cowboys and horse ranching or pick up a souvenir Skull Valley cap.

Another notable feature about Skull Valley is its gas station and garage. On many of our trips along Arizona’s back roads and old highways, we often have encountered some old-style gas stations but the pumps have either been neglected or removed. It’s nice to see folks in Skull Valley have maintained or restored parts of this historic community, whether it’s in the form of a gas station, general store, diner or train depot museum. Skull Valley is a great change of scenery from urban traffic jams and suburban sprawl.

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Read more about the Depot Museum and how Skull Valley got its name.

Next week: a tour of the George Phippen memorial studio and gallery

Skull Valley Diner

Skull Valley Diner

 

Back way to Prescott through Skull Valley

‘Back way’ to Prescott through Skull Valley

Skull Valley General Store

Skull Valley General Store

You can still 'fill 'er up' at Skull Valley Garage

You can still ‘fill ‘er up’ at Skull Valley Garage

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Section house was home to the railway section boss

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Amazing variety of goods at Skull Valley General Store

Alamo Lake: Start the New Year at an Arizona state park

Instead of sleeping it off on New Year’s Day morning, consider hiking it off. As part of the First Day Hikes program from America’s State Parks, 12 Arizona state parks will be offering guided day hikes on Jan. 1. America’s State Parks began the program 20 years ago to promote outdoor recreation. 2012 is the first year all 50 states will be participating in the program.

Consider making a trip to one of Arizona’s state parks on New Year’s Day for a First Day Hike. Your New Year’s resolution for 2012 might be to visit all of Arizona’s 31 state parks. And if you start at the top of the list, you can check off Alamo Lake for your first state park visit and your First Day Hike. Add a couple of nights’ stay, and your Alamo Lake visit could be your first Arizona getaway of 2012!

Alamo Dam view from the Bill Williams Overlook

Alamo Lake is neatly tucked away from Arizona’s cities in the Bill Williams River Valley, about 36 miles north of Wenden, Arizona. It’s about half way between Wickenburg and Lake Havasu City, “as the crow flies.” There are only two roads into Alamo Lake. Most people will use the paved route north from US Route 60 from Wenden. An alternate route is a dirt road from State Route 93 near Congress.

Alamo Lake is 4900 acres for fishing, boating and water sports

Alamo Lake was created when the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dam on Bill Williams River to protect the Lower Colorado River area from flooding. Alamo Lake became a state park in 1969. When state budget cutbacks were made, the future of Alamo Lake and other state parks was in jeopardy. With the help of nearby communities’ funding and private donations from support groups such as The Friends of Alamo Lake, state park board members voted to allow the park to remain open.

Bill Williams Overlook at Alamo Lake is a nice spot for a picnic

Alamo Lake thrives as a riparian home to many resident and migratory birds such as orioles, tanagers, warblers, owls, eagles and hawks. Mammals seen at the park include coyote, mule deer, javelina, bobcat, fox, beaver and burros. Yes, burros! Miners from the mid-1800s set their burros free when they moved out, overpopulating certain areas of northwestern Arizona. Now they are protected, and populations are managed through adoption programs. Herds of burros have been spotted roaming the hills and washes around the lake, and also walking along the park roadways.

Although there are no boat motor restrictions, fishing is the main reason visitors come to the lake, and largemouth bass is the popular catch. Heavy rains during the late 1970s and early 1980s caused the lake to increase in size. Tent and RV campers will enjoy the lakeside campsites. A small park store stocks all the basic camping fish and boating gear plus bait, licenses, day permits, even the ingredients for “s’mores.” Camping reservations can be made online. Because of its location, far away from city lights, Alamo Lake is a prime spot for stargazing. Each November astronomy enthusiasts converge at the park for the “Night Under the Stars” program.

Long, lonely stretch of highway between Wenden and Alamo Lake State Park

If you’re new to Arizona or a long-time resident who has never before gone northwest of Wickenburg, I recommend making a visit to Alamo Lake State Park. Maybe you’ll consider making the trip for your first hike of the New Year. Here’s a list of all the First Day Hikes at Arizona State Parks for 2012. Great way to start Arizona’s Centennial.