Monday, December 26, 2016

Five Arizona Winter Road Trips

    Arizona’s winters are relatively mild when compared to the harsh winters found in many parts of our United States.  And to avoid any possibility of running into snowy roads on of your escape weekends of winter, simply focus on the many amazing natural and made-made destinations found in southern Arizona.  So get out this winter and enjoy these great southern Arizona weekend road trips…

    1.    Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson - -  This world-renowned botanical garden, zoo and natural history museum is located on the western edge of Tucson.  For anyone who loves living in the Sonoran Desert with all its amazing plants and animals, this museum is a must see.  And by visiting many of the outdoor exhibits during the winter months, Arizona’s heat is never a problem.  Distance - 140 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

2.  Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson - - This  museum is the largest privately funded aviation and aerospace museum in the world.  More than 300 of the most significant aircraft in the history of flight are on display here.  In addition, 125,000 artifacts from moon rocks to historic flight gear are displayed in five hangers over an 80 acre site.  A must-see for anyone who loves those flying machines!  Distance - 150 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

3.  Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson - - The Grand Canyon is certainly grand but Kartchner Caverns just might be Arizona’s most spectacular natural wonder.  Winter is the perfect time to visit this system of living caves since all the major caverns are open to visitors which is not true during the summer months when the Big Room cavern closes while it serves as a bat nursery for a 1,000 female cave mouse-eared bats.  If you have never seen this Arizona wonder - go!  Distance - 193 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

4.  Bisbee - - once known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps” this old Arizona mining camp is now a perfect weekend escape for anyone looking for a small town with fine dining along with a creative art and music scene.  Located in the scenic Mule Mountains, a stay in Bisbee is sure to refresh your spirit.  Get lost in the well-preserved historic architecture, ride the rail deep into the Queen Mine or challenge the paranormal on one the many Ghost Tours.  The Copper Queen Hotel is legendary, historic and haunted; the Shady Dell allows you to spend a night in the era of the retro 50s.  Distance - 235 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

5.  Chiricahua National Monument, Willcox - - located 36 miles southeast of Wilcox, this natural Arizona wonders is the preserved remains of an ancient volcanic eruption.  Known as a “Wonderland of Rocks” this national monument has over 17-miles of day-use hiking trails and a beautiful 8-mile paved scenic drive. And, if you happen to visit right after a fast-moving winter storm, you just might get to see the many tall rock spires covered with an incredibly beautiful dusting of freshly fallen snow.  Distance - 257 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

6.  Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival - - Willcox is a mecca for dozens of species of wintering birds.  And, if you are a lover of birds, this annual celebration of all things avian is the ideal weekend road trip for you.  The stars of this weekend are the 1000s of large Sandhill Cranes which annually return to the Sulphur Springs Valley.    This years Wings Over Willcox celebration occurs January 11 - 15, 2017.  Distance - 223 miles for I-17/Carefree Highway.

Here are other great southern Arizona destinations that make for great winter weekend road trips - Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson Zoo, Colassal Cave, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Titan Missile Museum, Tubac State Park, Tumacacori National Historic Park, Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin Wine Country, Tombstone, Fort Bowie National Historic Park, Amerind Museum  and The Thing!

Pictures 1- 3 belong to the Pima Air Museum

4 - 7 belong to the Chiricahua National Monument

rest belong to us!

Pima Air Museum

Chiricahua National Monument

Downtown Bisbee

Copper Queen, Bisbee, AZ

Sandhill Cranes

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Legos and the Phoenix Zoo

      There is never a bad time to go to the Phoenix Zoo!   And right now the Phoenix Zoo is featuring a special exhibit entitled Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks which features 27 animal and flora sculptures built with nearly a million LEGO bricks.
    These large LEGO® sculptures are the creation of New York-based artist Sean Kenney whose artistic works have been featured in venues around the world.  Of his exhibit, Kenney states, “I am excited to bring Nature Connects to the Phoenix Zoo.  Everyone can get something out of the exhibit; whether it’s an educational message about conservation and ecosystems, an appreciation for the beauty of nature, or the fun of seeing giant larger-than-life sculptures built with millions of LEGO® bricks.”
    Several of the sculptures highlight animals which are endangered, threatened or vulnerable to help zoo guests understand the vital connection between animal conservation and the community.  Visitors will enjoy seeing a hatchling sea turtle, a vanishing rhinoceros, a jeweled chameleon, a crouching snow leopard and more all made from LEGO®.  Perhaps the most stunning sculpture is of a life-size polar bear mother and cubs made with more than 133,000 pieces and weighting over 625 pounds.
    The Nature Connects exhibit is now visible to Zoo guests during daytime visits and with general Zoo admission.  The exhibit will be at the Phoenix Zoo until January 2, 2017.
    So make your plans now to get out and visit again the Phoenix Zoo.  It is the only zoo in the Valley accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a non-profit zoological park that is home to over 1,400 wonderful animals.  Photos belong to the Phoenix Zoo.

Monday, September 5, 2016

OdySea Aquarium

     The largest aquarium in the American Southwest is scheduled to open this September on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community just to the east of Scottsdale.     The OdySea Aquarium will be the newest addition to the 35-acre, multimillion-dollar OdySea in the Desert entertainment park which is already home to the beautiful and amazing Butterfly Wonderland.
    The OdySea Aquarium is a two-level, state-of-the-art facility.  The 200,000 square foot facility will hold  more than 2 million gallons of water and expects to welcome over 15,000 visitors daily.
    Just like the nearby Butterfly Wonderland, visitors to the OdySea Aquarium will be immersed in a interactive, entertaining and educational adventure featuring some of the most fascinating marine life from around the world - from sharks, turtles and jellyfish to penguins, octopi and more. 
    Visitors will be thrilled to walk through a series of giant, submerged acrylic tunnels surrounded by thousands of sea creatures.  Heck, even the restrooms will have viewing windows that gaze right into the shark tank!  Penguins will be the official greeters of the OdySea Aquarium interacting with visitors as they waddle through the halls.
    A beautiful 3D theatre and an interactive Behind The Scene Tour will compliment standing exhibits that feature the Deep Ocean, Rivers of the World, Penguin Encounter, a Shoreline Gallery with touch pools, the Great Barrier Reef and the SeaTrek Underwater walking experience.
    This entertainment park that is home to both the Butterfly Wonderland and the OdySea Aquarium also contains some 30 restaurants and retail stores encircling a one-acre courtyard.  The courtyard has multiple water features and a stage for live entertainment.  The whole courtyard is reminiscent of the popular tourists boardwalks found throughout the world.
    Wow!  What an entertainment paradise OdySea in the Desert has become for those of us who call the Valley of the Sun home!.  So, plan now to get out with your whole family to this new and wonderful Valley entertainment park while enjoying the natural wonders found in both the rainforests and oceans of the world. 

Pictures belong to Bridges Media Group

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mogollon Hiking

    National Geographic magazine ranks Phoenix as one of the best hiking cities in America with over 180 miles of designated trails.  Here hikers and mountain bikers can easily and safely access and enjoy the natural beauty of our Sonoran Desert landscape - except in the heat of summer.  News headlines have already reported  too many medical emergencies with hikers who got overwhelmed by the extreme heat that the months of June, July and August bring.
    But there is a nearby alternative for those who want to continue to hike and bike during the summer months and that is the fabulous trails found along the Mogollon Rim.  Most of these Mogollon Rim trailheads require about a 1 1/2 hour drive from our north Phoenix homes but the cooler weather and the spectacular views found in the Rim Country is a great way to keep hiking and biking all summer long.  Here is a listing of some of the best hiking trails in Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country…

Rim Lake Vista Trail - this trail will lead hikers to some of the most spectacular views from the Mogollon Rim including Four Peaks and the great mound of Mount Ord.  The trail is wide and easy to follow and meanders  close to the rim so that hikers enjoy one awesome view after another.  This trail is near Woods Canyon Lake which is one of seven beautiful lakes found on the Mogollon Rim.
    The Rim Lake Vista Trail is only 29 miles east of Payson off Woods Canyon Lake Road. Toilets are found at the trail head.  It is a 4-mile round trip hike and is rated as easy. 

Pine Trail - this trail is an ideal beginning trail for hikers and mountain bikers who want to begin to experience hiking in the Rim Country’s environments and altitude.  The trail is a 2-mile loop that leads near the base of the Mogollon Rim before winding back down the hill to the parking lot.  Most of the trail is flat and is shaded most of the way.
    The Pine Trailhead is about 15 miles on Highway 87 north of Payson near the southern part of Strawberry.  The Pine Trail loop is rated easy but it is also the entry point for other rim trails including the Highline Trail.

Highline Trail - this trail is affectionately known as the “Mogollon Rim Death March.”  It is for serious hikers who have the 3 - 5 days to complete the entire 52 mile length of the trail.  The trail begins at the Pine Trailhead and heads east toward the Woods Canyon Lake area meandering through canyons and streams, forests and glens of the beautiful Mogollon Rim. This is wilderness hiking so be sure you are totally prepared.   

Horton Creek Trail - this trail is rated moderate to strenuous but the beauty of Horton Springs will be worth the effort for someone who enjoys the challenges of hiking.  It is an 8-mile round trip from the trailhead to the springs and back.  The trail was originally a wagon road but today its used only by hikers as they wind their way through the beautiful forest along Horton Creek.
    Horton Springs creates a spectacular cascade of water flowing over moss-coved rocks.  Many hikers come here just to enjoy a picnic lunch before returning to their cars.
    The Horton Creek Trail is some 16.5 miles east of Payson on Arizona 260 near Kohl’s Ranch and the Tonto Creek Recreation Area.

Tunnel Trail -  This is a short, but steep 1.5 - mile round trip trial to a fascinating piece of Arizona railroad history.  In the early 1880’s an early entrepreneur wanted to build a railroad line to transport silver ore from Globe to Flagstaff.  A 3,100-foot long tunnel through the rock of the Mogollon Rim was needed to complete this new line.  Only 70 feet of the tunnel was actually completed before the company went broke but the remains of that tunnel makes for an enjoyable Rim Country hike for Arizonans today.
    The trailhead for the Tunnel Trail is some 40 miles north of Payson on Arizona 87 and Forest Road 300 which is also known as the Rim Road.  Forest Road 300 will also take you by a historic monument for the 1882 Battle of Big Dry Wash, the last battle between the US Army and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

     So there are five of many Mogollon Rim Trails just waiting for you to get out, enjoy and explore.  Be sure to take all the necessary supplies and safety devices. Be aware of those monsoon thunderstorms as you plan your adventure.  Then, escape the Valley heat and travel to the cool temperature just waiting for you in Arizona’s Rim Country.

Here is a great link from the town of Payson for even more Mogollon Rim hiking trails -!mogollon-rim-trails/gk2h4  

Along the Rim Trail Vista Trail

A typical Mogollon Rim view

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Arizona's Sunset Beach

   The Valley of the Sun is blessed with not only an abundance of summer sunshine but with many world-class resorts that offer tremendous deals for family stay-cations.  This year is no different, but the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort may have bettered its summer completion with the opening of their new Sunset Beach.
    No longer do you have to make that 6-hour drive to San Diego to enjoy lounging on the beach.  Some 830 tons of crystal white sand surrounds the Princess’s newest and biggest pool creating an ocean paradise just 40 minutes from north Phoenix residents.  Glamorous cabanas and 102 luxurious new, surrounding guest rooms make Sunset Beach not only a marvelous stay-cation but also a dreamy play-cation. 
    Each weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day a “Summer Beach Party” celebration will occur. This celebration is a splashy mix of fun throughout the resort with cool rides down waterslides, Techno Glo pool parties, Dive In movies, the new 4-story Aqua Flyer inflatable waterslide, the new Mermaid University, Swashbuckler Academy and three summer fairies, Dew Drop, Sparkles and Poppy Pixie, who are delightful new Fairmont friends to meet. Plus, the resort has two relaxing pools just for grown-ups.
    At the lagoons, fishing is fun with Ranger Rick, who also leads nature walks and bird watching with the resort’s falconers. Other unique experiences, for adults, include sampling any of 240 tequilas a La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, escaping to Well & Being Spa, savoring a dish at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak or enjoy the sunset and Pan-Latin fare at Toro at TPC Scottsdale.
    Fireworks explode into the sky each summer Saturday evening as well as the holiday weekends of the 4th of July Freedom Fest and the Labor Day Dreamcation offering even a greater line-up of festivities.
    So this year you don’t have to go to California to enjoy the beach.  All you have to do is get out and make a 45 minute drive to discover the best white sand beach in all of Arizona - Sunset Beach at the Fairmount Scottsdale Princess.  The Sip, Savor & Sand Package start from $179/night with a $50 daily credit. 

Other Stay-cation offerings…

 -Copperwynd Resort and Spa, Fountain Hills (480-333-1900) - complete $5 million renovations-many offering for staycationers who are into fitness - from $157/night

-Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (480-515-5700) - Monthly Mashup dinner series and Kids for All Seasons programs as well as resort’s #FSSummer Story social media contest - from $179/night

-Camelback Inn, Paradise Valley (480-948-1700 - the historic Camelback Inn offers the “Escape Your Way” package that include pools, spas and golf - from $159/night

-The Boulders, Carefree (480-488-9009) - the “Truly Boulders Package” includes the new “Waterfall Rapple” adventure - from $109/night

-Hermosa Inn, Paradise Valley (602-955-8614) - historic old inn decorated with the Western art work of Lon Megargee and the famous Lon’s restaurant.  The “80th Anniversary Stay Package” is more ideal for adults who enjoy great dining and longing in a smaller resort environment - from $179/night 

All Pictures belong to the Fairmont Scottsdale Princes Resort


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Saguaros and Cardóns

      The Sonoran Desert is located in both the southwest region of the United States as well as the northern region of Sonora and central Baja, Mexico.  Within the Mexican region is found the cardón cactus, a close cousin to the saguaro cactus of our Arizona.  Cardóns are the largest cactus in the world and unless one spends time in Baja California, not a common sight.

     But in north Phoenix, along Cave Creek Road, a local plant nursery has several specimens of the world's largest cactus growing.  Over the past two months we have photographed these cardóns as they bloomed, develop seed pods and then open those seeds pods to the birds and animals of the area.  Here are a series of 12 photos comparing the flowers, seed pods and fruits of the giant cardón and saguaro cacti.

Saguaro in bloom

Cardón in bloom

Closer look at cardón blooms

A cluster of saguaro seed pods in the center with a single cardón seed pod to the right

Some more cardón seed pods

Saguaro seed pods open exposing the thousands of tiny, black seeds

Cardón seed pod open exposing the thousands of tiny, black seeds

Saguaro seed pods open

Cardón seed pods with two that have opened
A cluster of cardón seed pods
Cardón seed pods - two open; one not yet ready

Another cluster of saguaro seed pods ripe and ready to open