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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Once in a while I get a huge desire for a big, juicy burger. Who doesn’t? Again when I feel that craving I hope I’ll be near Sonoita, Arizona, so I can stop in The Café. Chuck and I recently enjoyed a leisurely Saturday lunch at this wonderful little country café, located just east of the intersection of State Routes 83 and 82, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. While I can’t accurately testify about all the menu items, I can report my findings about the Blue Cheese Burger and “the day’s special” green chile cheeseburger. These were among the best I’ve had in a long time.
More reasons to dine at The Café in Sonoita:
On-the-way to wine country
Before an afternoon of wine-tasting at any one or more of the Sonoita and Elgin area wineries, you may want to have a bit of lunch. The Café is one of just a few eateries in Sonoita. The drive from I-10 south to Sonoita along highway 83 is part of an entire stretch of officially-designated scenic Arizona highway. You’ll see some of Arizona’s best farm and ranch lands.
Excellent mountain views
The restaurant itself doesn’t look like much from the outside, but who cares? You came here for a good meal, and you’ll be enjoying it either inside the rustic, oak and brick interior or you’ll be out on the patio gazing at the Santa Rita Mountains or the Canelo Hills while you dine. And those mountain views are excellent. On the warm, sunny Saturday we visited, the higher elevations were still under a layer of snow.
Dog-friendly outdoor seating
A separate entrance to the patio from the outside often will indicate a restaurant has a dog-friendly area. Since each restaurant has its own policy and each Arizona county government has its own health restrictions, I will first inquire before I bring Molly over to the patio gate.
The Café’s lunch list clearly shows that this restaurant is a few steps ahead of other Arizona rural cafés. The menu excites the taste buds with one of these selections: a Black and Bleu Salad with steak, blue cheese with greens and cucumbers, a Hot Bacon Vinn Salad with tomato, apple bacon and walnuts or a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, Swiss, provolone cheese and homemade pesto. The burgers we were served were really tasty — fresh, hot beef patty with melted cheeses, sesame bun, veggies and condiments on the side with crisp fries… need I go on?
Locals eat here
Most of us already know: it’s obvious to distinguish tourists from locals when you step into a restaurant. When you see a solid representation of locals, you can be confident of consistency in food quality, customer service and value. Chuck and I can’t wait to return.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Visiting a fish hatchery may not sound very exciting, but a stop at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery will add both fun and a learning experience to your next family weekend getaway in Payson’s Rim Country. All ages will enjoy a tour of the hatchery and the fish feeding demonstration.
Stop at the visitor center. You’ll learn the entire process of raising trout that eventually will be stocked into Arizona’s fishing waters. Rainbow, brook, brown and native Apache trout have been produced here over the years. The site has undergone numerous upgrades since its opening in 1937. At the visitor center, storyboards, posters and scaled models explain the fascinating fish growing process.
Bring quarters for fish food. Don’t forget to carry some quarters to buy handfuls of fish pellets to drop into adult trout pond. Younger children will especially enjoy this activity.
Watch feedings by hatchery staff. During weekend afternoons visitors will have a good chance of seeing hatchery workers make their presentation about the hatchery operations while feeding the fish. Watch the “feeding frenzy” by the young trout as they splash wildly in the raceways — those long, rectangular fish tanks. Trout will spend their first 15 months at the hatchery.
Explore the grounds. Spend some time exploring the area. Take plenty of photographs. Find out about other wildlife in the area. Learn how those sturdy canopies over the raceways not only provide shade, but also keep the young trout safe from predatory birds.
Make a whole day of it. Combine your hatchery visit with a three to four hour day hike on Horton Creek Trail or other nearby trail, a picnic lunch at one of several day use sites, or fishing in Tonto Creek in designated areas below the hatchery. Also worth a visit is the nearby Naco Paleo Site, located about three miles west of the hatchery turnoff, south of State Route 260. Walk up the old Jeep trail a hundred feet or so, and inspect the sloping side of the hill for fossils.
Arizona wine is no big secret anymore. Wineries and vineyards have sprung up around the state with southeastern and central Arizona being the most popular locations. Although Arizona wine has been around since the early 1980s, the last six or seven years have seen a surge of vineyards and wineries. It just makes sense the area around Willcox should be prime vineyard country; it’s already known to have the right conditions for a long grocery list of fruits and vegetables. A combination of warm sunny days, chilly nights, with the right elevation and soils also produce ideal conditions for wine grapes. For a brief but concise outline of Arizona wine history, see this page from wineinquirer.com.
When creating an Arizona wine tour, you can’t omit Willcox. Most will agree the Verde Valley and Elgin-Sonoita wineries seem more accessible, but Willcox is just a three-hour drive from the Phoenix area, and only an hour and a half from Tucson. Three significant wineries with their corresponding tasting rooms are already in place in Willcox: Coronado Vineyards, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards and Carlson Creek Winery and Vineyard. More are starting up. If you follow Arizona wine news at arizonavinesandwines.com or the Arizona Wine Growers Association website, you know the list gets longer and the numbered dots on each wine map seem to multiply exponentially.
Each one of the three tasting rooms along our tour had its own unique personality. I liked the warm, fun vibe at Coronado Vineyards; the upscale, art gallery, historic storefront at Keeling Schaefer and the impression of innovation and confidence at Carlson Creek. As for the wines – I guess I don’t feel like my palate is sophisticated enough to review the wines, but I know what I like and I prefer the easy drinking reds and the blends, and at each one I found several worth either taking home, or at least, saving as an excuse to return to Willcox soon.
So is this Saturday too soon? Coronado Vineyards is hosting its Holiday Extravaganza this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will have their choice of craft classes including wine bottle painting, decoupage and grape vine wreath-making. Children can create cork crafts while enjoying a visit from Santa Claus. Christmas music will keep everyone in a festive mood from 1 to 3 p.m. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no charge for entry to the festival. Visit the winery website for more information.
Does anyone still use the term, “Zonie?” That’s the not-so-affectionate name given to Arizonans who, thinking they need a beach weekend or a break from the 100-degree heat, escape to California, especially the San Diego area. View other definitions at your own risk on UrbanDictionary.com. Californians no doubt, still complain about the high numbers of Zonies causing traffic jams and taking up parking spaces. Conversely Zonies may still gripe about the high prices just to experience a few beaches and ocean breezes. That’s why many Arizonans visiting California are always on the lookout for good deals. Look no further for the best lodging value in San Diego: it’s the Dolphin Motel.
Value is our number one reason we love this harborview property. The combination of the motel’s basic amenities, location and inexpensive room rates make it the best lodging value for short stays in San Diego. The Dolphin Motel has free Wi-Fi, cable TV, continental breakfast, refrigerators in some rooms, early check-in and late check-out (upon request) for the low room rate of approximately $55 to $60 per night in San Diego. It’s difficult to find anything less than $100 that’s actually clean, comfortable and close-in.
Visitors to San Diego during the winter months will most likely opt for non-beach activities anyway, so they will prefer to stay close to all the events and attractions. Several big attractions in San Diego are just a short 10-15 minute drive from the Dolphin Motel: Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, USS Midway, Petco Park, Gaslamp Quarter, Historic Old Town, Westfield Horton Plaza and San Diego Convention Center. If you’ll be flying into San Diego, you’ll be glad to know that the Dolphin Motel is just two miles from the airport. On our visit to a boat show at the convention center, we appreciated the short distances to marinas, Shelter Island and Harbor Island parks, seafood markets plus some of the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife in the city.
White walls, white sheets, white blankets and white towels: everything is white – even the patio chairs. It’s not really the way I would decorate but it definitely sends a message of clean. And it’s not a dingy, yellowy, spotted kind of white, either. It’s bright white. The rooms have wall art which provide an occasional splash of color. At least you feel confident these rooms are clean! The outside area is spotless too! This well-maintained, well-cleaned motel creates a peace-of-mind you deserve for a good night’s rest for your short stay. The rooms aren’t spacious, but ample enough for all your gear and your new plush Shamu whale from Sea World.
4. Continental Breakfast
I know, I know: so many places offer breakfast, but here I felt like I was getting something special, even though it’s just coffee, fresh fruit and muffins. While seated on the patio just outside your room, or up on the small corner balcony upstairs, you can eat breakfast, enjoy the harbor views and watch as the sport fishermen prepare to depart. We were fortunate to also see jets taking off and landing at the North Island Naval Complex across the bay.
5. Guest Service
This is the reason Dolphin Motel earns five stars on reviewer-type websites such as Tripadvisor.com. At least in this case, you can trust the reviews. The Dolphin Motel has been in the same family for over 36 years. Following our recent stay, all of us in our party shared the feeling that the owners and staff are sincere hosts who truly value their guests’ stay. The management provides excellent guest service plus great concierge service, giving you all the information you need about San Diego. These folks offer such a genuine welcome and friendliness, you feel as though you were staying the weekend with long-time friends, or relatives. (Okay, maybe scratch out relatives).
If you’re already sick of holiday consumerism, you just might need a little getaway. A weekend in Prescott — “Arizona’s Christmas City” — will transform the grouchiest Scrooge into the happiest of Santa’s elves. Take it from one who has made this Christmas trip for ten of the last 12 years: if a holiday weekend in Prescott doesn’t put you in a festive mood, nothing will. Although holiday-themed events are happening throughout the month, the weekend of Dec. 2-4 is the best time to recapture the spirit of an old-fashioned, ‘old-west’ Arizona Christmas – and not just for old-timers — for everyone.
Here’s a suggested itinerary for your weekend:
Plan to arrive Friday afternoon. Better yet, arrive on Thursday afternoon, so you have an extra day to explore Prescott and the surrounding area. Think museums, parks, maybe even a hike – weather permitting. On your way into town, make a stop at the Prescott Resort to tour the Gingerbread Village in the resort’s lobby. You’ll be amazed to how much effort and creativity have been put into these creations. Afterwards, take a few minutes to stroll through the conference room wing to view the Western and American Indian paintings and sculptures. With its spacious suites, great dining, excellent views, entertainment and events, Prescott Resort is also one of our lodging recommendations.
We also recommend the Marriott SpringHill Suites or the historic Hassayampa Inn; both are conveniently located downtown. You will be able to park your vehicle for the remainder of your stay — it’s an easy stroll to your choice of downtown eateries, quaint shops and other holiday events.
The Marriott offers guests continental breakfast, but heartier morning appetites will appreciate the Hassayampa Inn dining room or the Lone Spur Café. If you just want pastries and coffee or hot chocolate, there are several nearby coffee shops. Keep these in mind if parade day turns out to be cold and rainy, or cold and snowy!
The annual Christmas parade around Courthouse Square at 1 p.m. is the main event! It’s important to stake out a piece of prime curb or sidewalk for parade viewing. Bring chairs, blankets, warm coats, a thermos or two of your favorite hot beverage and some snacks. Don’t forget the camera! This parade exudes more holiday glee than a 4-year-old bursting out of bed early on Christmas morning. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic. You’ll love the wide variety of entries: bands, floats, rough riders, dancers and lots of dogs! Many folks are dressed in Old Western, Victorian or Territorial-era costumes.
After the parade, you can head to Prescott Brewing Company to watch the final weekend of college football or shop for unique gifts in the Bashford Court Atrium Mall or browse through the antique shops on Cortez Street. Another idea: get the friends and family together for an “Old Tyme Photo” at the Prescott Museum and Trading Company. Finish the day at the courthouse steps for the Courthouse Lighting Ceremony and Caroling at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at one of the many fine Prescott eateries. Remember to save some time for the short walk over to Sharlot Hall and its Frontier Christmas Celebration from 6 to 9 p.m
Additional holiday activities happening in Prescott for the first weekend in December and throughout the month can be found on the Christmas City website. One idea for Sunday afternoon – on your way home – is a visit to the Elks Opera House. Not only is the theater a historical attraction in itself; it also hosts a performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Sunday’s matinee is at 2 p.m. — a perfect finale to your holiday weekend getaway. Hopefully, this theater’s stage will be the only place this season you’ll hear the words: “Bah Humbug.”
These websites will provide more detailed information:
Sedona is a popular getaway destination for many living in Arizona. Residents of Phoenix, Flagstaff and even Tucson are drawn to Sedona for its magnetizing beauty even if they don’t buy into the “harmonic convergence” vortex theories. (I’m not going to attempt to explain it. You have Google; look it up.)
We travel to Sedona for a number of more mundane reasons:
1) Close proximity to the Phoenix metro area (only takes about 2 hours)
2) Wide range of lodging and dining experiences because of the heavy volume of tourists
3) Extensive options for outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, camping, backpacking
4) Numerous opportunities for art, music and film fairs and festivals
5) Historical sites
6) Wine tasting in the Verde Valley
Here are some photos of our last trip to Sedona in April. We spent a week there, hiking, shopping, wine tasting, dining, sightseeing and relaxing. This time was very much like previous trips, except we were traveling with Molly, our border collie. And from our point of view, she has lot more energy than those vortices.
When we visit Sedona, we always try to take a different trail, or explore a different area. Marg’s Draw Trail is easily reached from the “Y” — just a short 2.5 mile walk up Schnebly Road. It’s almost an urban trail running path — with plenty of neighborhood residents using this as their morning or evening workout. Don’t be discouraged; this is a wonderful trail with excellent views of many rock formations as it weaves beyond the reach of the subdivisions.
For seven nights, Los Abrigados Resort & Spa would be our lodging. We found it comfortable, but a little cramped. But we spent most of our time on the patio, watching the wind sculptures, soaking in the hot tub and snacking on Verde Valley wine and cheese.
Our dog, Molly really enjoyed being next to Oak Creek, where she could watch the ducks and meet some of the other guests.
No trip to Sedona should be without a side trip to some of the Verde Valley wineries and there are several, but we stopped at three — Page Springs, Javelina Leap and Oak Creek.
One of the sights I would highly recommend is Montezuma Well. Everyone goes to “Montezuma’s Castle,” but few take the extra half hour to see his “Well.” Believe me, it’s worth the time. And it’s more than just a “hole in the ground.” It’s a set of cliff dwelling ruins and an easy and beautiful path to a natural irrigation system, still in use by local farmers. We just happened upon the back entrance to Montezuma Well when we were attempting a trip to the West Clear Creek trailhead. (Our low profile passenger car would not reach that destination without a severe beating.)
Another trail we explored on this trip to Sedona was the Boynton Canyon Trail. We always felt slighted on each of weekends to Sedona, not having the time to fit this one into a short two-day trip, but we finally got our chance to walk the popular “vortex” trail in northwest Sedona.
We thought it was a good idea to get an early start on the trail, for reasons including afternoon temps in the upper 80s, parking availability and the chance of heavy hiker volumes. Boynton Canyon is a scenic mixture of red rocks, manzanita thickets, ponderosa pine stands and soaring cliffs housing ruins of prehistoric cultures. The approximate six-mile round trip is an easy, leisurely walk which will take about 3 hours.
Every time we go back to Sedona, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, we never get bored with the views, trails, dining experiences or resort stays. We’ll always be back.