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.
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.
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.
Arizonans don’t have to travel far to take advantage of cool, cultural offerings. Five air-conditioned locations in downtown Chandler offer respite from the heat and provide satisfaction for summertime cultural cravings — music, theater, art, film and literature.
At Chandler Center for the Arts, free summer concert performances start Friday Aug. 2 with the Bad Cactus Brass Band at 7 p.m. Other performances are jazz musician Dmitri Matheny on Aug. 16, a blend of flamenco and mariachi — “FlaMEXico!” on Aug. 23, and a music variety show for youth, “Plugged In” on Aug. 24. Tip: Since these shows are free and seating is first-come, first-served, you may want to get there when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. Allow extra time to check out the center’s gallery.
Xico Arte y Cultura Galeria is an art gallery, shop and studio dedicated to traditional arts and crafts by Native American and Latino cultures. Find jewelry, paintings, multimedia art, folk arts and crafts at the shop, located on the west side of A.J. Chandler Park. Many of the items carry colorful Dia de los Muertos themes. Tip: Check this non-profit organization’s Facebook page for upcoming special exhibits and artist demonstrations. Open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m.
Stop by the versatile Vision Gallery and view special exhibits: “Decision Portraits by Susan Lenz” until July 26 or “Fine Art Photography by David Miller” beginning Aug. 2. About 300 regional artists’ works are on a rotating display. Don’t miss the popular “Art-O-Mat” — itself a mini art gallery, a showcase of mini art. It’s really a converted cigarette machine. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tip: Sign up for the gallery newsletter and you’ll get first news about special exhibitions and artists’ opening night receptions.
Cool off with a “hot” read from Chandler Public Library’s Friends of the Library summer book sale. Buy Library discard books at 4 for $1 through the month of July! And if you stop by on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. through Aug. 6, you can watch a showing of one of the flicks in the Get Reel Documentary Film Series hosted by the Library in partnership with Public Television’s Point of View series. Tip: Don’t forget your library card to check out a Cultural Pass for free local museum visits.
Gangplank, downtown Chandler’s collaborative workspace, comes alive with arts, crafts and music as the indoor location of the Downtown Chandler Art Walk on third Fridays during the summer months. Desks and computers make way for displays of sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics and jewelry from 6 to 10 p.m. So if you don’t have plans yet for this Friday, July 19: Come and enjoy music by Chris Buzan and a glass of wine while you stroll through the exhibits at Gangplank, located at 260 S. Arizona Ave. Learn more about Gangplank and its Wednesday brownbag series talks, health initiatives, community classes, business workshops by visiting the website or signing up for the weekly newsletter. Tip: Park in the city parking garage directly across the street, on the east side of Arizona Avenue. (Entrance to the garage is on its east side — off of Washington Street. It’s No. 10 on this handy downtown Chandler parking map.)
Combine any of these “artsy” venue visits with dinner at one of downtown Chandler’s cool restaurants, and you have the makings of a masterpiece — a memorable night out on the town.
Although I was already in my 20’s when PBS television show Reading Rainboworiginally aired, I enjoyed how LeVar Burton seemed to instill a desire for learning. Following the young book reviewers’ descriptions, Burton invited his viewers to “check it out” or “find more about it.” The end of the show would list related books or activities as a means to follow-up. Such experiences undoubtedly would spark exploration and discovery.
The same can be said of travel. We read about a fascinating destination or exotic location and we want to go there. And sometimes the converse true. As travelers, when we visit a new location, we naturally want to know more about it. Many of us delve into a kind of in-depth research — finding out all we can about our destination. That’s why travel websites and guidebooks also are — in a sense — concise geographical and historical encyclopedias.
When I visited the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge, UK, I realized I was merely scratching the surface of information about North and South Pole exploration. I wanted to know more about these expeditions — these men — these “heroes” who put themselves in such extreme and dangerous conditions to reach the ends of the earth – literally. The museum, which houses collections of the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, is continually expanding and developing its displays devoted to expeditions of both Arctic and Antarctic regions. Physical sciences meet social sciences with historical evidence through letters, journals, and photographs — all convening under plate glass displays. Museum visitors learn the gripping tales of polar conquest, perseverance, human survival and sometimes, tragedy. Here, visitors can learn about a bit of everything that represents polar exploration — about regional native cultures and indigenous plant and animal species including polar bears, penguins or tiny marine micro-organisms.
Exhibits at the Scott Polar Museum tell a story of various expeditions, especially the British led parties. The museum itself is named for Robert Falcon Scott, British leader of the Discovery and Terra Nova Expeditions. The latter team found its way to the South Pole 33 days after a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen, who is credited with the discovery. After a series of setbacks such as foul weather, poor health and unsuccessful rescue attempts, Scott and his Terra Nova team would not survive the return trip. Journals, letters, personal effects, tools, photos were recovered when the bodies were found months later. Some of these can be viewed at the museum. Other museum exhibits describe similar expeditions. One heroic tale involves The Endurance, the ship of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. Although the ship became trapped in the ice and the entire crew was forced off the sinking ship, a small contingent of men including Shackleton and Captain Frank Worsley miraculously reached a whaling station and returned to rescue the rest of the crew. There are some amazing videos of The Endurance and the rescue story on YouTube and it has been the subject of many books and films.
After my Scott Polar Museum visit, my interest in these expeditions peaked, I now find myself searching for old movies and documentaries about polar exploration on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. I am flipping through out-of-print books, journals and Wikipedia references.
See what travel and tourism do to an otherwise normal person? When I’m not exploring physically, I’m exploring intellectually. A little taste of exploration and discovery — even the satisfaction of reaching that destination — and it only makes you want more. Travel — like reading — ignites the imagination. Remember that famous LeVar Burton-Reading Rainbow phrase? “But you don’t have to take my word for it…”
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.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park never fails to inspire and impress me. It’s not only one of the best places to see spring wildflowers and wildlife in Arizona, it’s an ideal spot to bring visiting out-of-state guests who want to see some native flora and fauna — no matter what the season. Plus the popular destination attracts photographers who want to catch a shot of a perfect sunrise, a rare bird or one of the garden’s amazing cactus blossoms.
What’s impressive is the number of activities, classes, guided hikes, plant sales, and other activities and events are held each year. No weekend at Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the same. Of course, you’ll walk the same paths, stop at the same viewpoints, gaze at the same gardens paths and lunch at the same picnic areas, yet it always feels like a new experience. Every time I visit the park, I almost feel like it’s my first time.
Even in the summer, visits to the park can be pleasant — especially during the early morning hours. The huge cottonwood trees in the picnic areas provide cool shady comfort. Walks along the creek and canyon are equally enjoyable.
The park is open daily except Christmas Day. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during May through August when hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last admission is one hour before closing. Fees are $9 for adults/teens 13 and older, $4.50 for ages 5-12. Frequent visitors may want to consider membership options or becoming a volunteer.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
Now that Arizona temperatures have begun their climb, road trippers already may be planning destinations to the higher elevations. At 4633 feet, Sierra Vista offers visitors many outdoor recreation activities without the harsh Valley heat. Arizona travelers can enjoy both sun and shade at a cool park at the San Pedro River – at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and San Pedro House.
This long strip of 57,000 acres along the San Pedro River, maintained by Bureau of Land Management, surrounds one of the largest cottonwood/willow canopies in Arizona. In February, I spent the best part of one Saturday afternoon strolling along the river on a short nature walk – a self-guided tour of the San Pedro House trails. As I started out along the path, I immediately realized why birders flock to this area. While red-winged blackbirds congregated around the cottonwoods, red-tailed hawks soared above the nearby grasslands. According to the trail map/brochure provided at the entrance about 350 species that either nest here or use it as a migratory stopover.
The visitor’s center at the entrance is the San Pedro House, a one-time ranch manager’s house built by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. during the 1930s. Inside is a shop full of local history books, nature guides, maps and gifts. The store clerk, a volunteer member of the Friends of the San Pedro River, will answer questions about the park and the history of the area. It’s fascinating to learn how the area is being restored to its natural state after years of crop farming and cattle grazing. Trees along the river were cut down during the mining era to provide fuel for area smelters.
As I walked along the river after a day of heavy winter rains, I’m surprised the water level isn’t higher. Recent dry conditions have soaked up the rain water like a sponge. After taking a closer look at the banks, it’s easy to see where significant flood event flows have creased the brush and snapped the branches.
I’d recommend visiting San Pedro House and walking its nature trails to all. It’s a nice quiet picnic spot or rest area away from the busy traffic of the city. Take time to walk the easy path down to the river. Enjoy the cool shade of the cottonwoods. Don’t forget your camera!
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)
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)
Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
Matches in waterproof container
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!
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.
Day hiking on holidays has become a sort of tradition for AzGetawayTravel. For the past several years, on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, we have plotted out a hike for a short two to three hour outing. Last year on New Year’s Day, we took a loop section of the National, Pima Wash and Mormon Loop Trails on South Mountain. This year, we made a loop at San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
In past years at San Tan Park, we normally would hike to the top of the Goldmine Mountain, to see wonderful views of the Southeast Valley. The park is a popular destination on holidays. On one Easter Day hike a couple of years ago, a group of hikers had placed Easter eggs along the trail for their family members to find. Some of the steeper trails have a few patches of slippery gravel and steep sections but nothing too difficult for novice hikers or even those recovering from too much Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas eggnog.
This time we decided to keep it simple, and start out ‘Day One’ with ease — taking a rolling stretch of trail along the Moonlight, San Tan and Hedgehog Trails, creating a five-mile loop. Fortunately we climbed up away from the sandy washes of the park and circled around a hill, allowing for more scenic walking. This loop appeared to be very popular other park visitors, because it was heavily used by all — mountain bikers, families with small children and dog walkers. It’s a great destination for your out-of-town guests.
San Tan Regional Park has a wide variety of events coming up in January – there’s something for everyone in the family: archery, photography, birding, stargazing, lunch with the snakes. (Wait a minute… lunch with what?) Just check out the website for more information. And while you’re on the website, take a closer look at the Maricopa Trail, a network of trails and canal paths connecting communities throughout the county. When this is finished it will link all 10 Maricopa County regional parks. You’ll be able to literally walk, run or bike around the entire county! Learn more and see the maps on the Maricopa County parks website.