Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scenic and Historic Towns of Jerome & Prescott, Arizona

Today we decided to drive the scenic loop from Camp Verde to Jerome to Prescott and back to Camp Verde. We allocated the entire day and glad we did for we found there was much to see and do along the way. As we made our way toward Jerome we decide to drive through Old Town Cottonwood. This old downtown area is located near the town of Clarksdale and is made up of several shops and restaurants. We didn’t stop here for we knew there would be plenty of shops to explore in Jerome and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do the complete loop today.Old Town Cottonwood is near the Tuzigoot National Monument, a Sinagua Indian pueblo built in the 13th Century. (We plan to come back to this at another time, so stay tuned....)

We continued our route until we came to the town of Jerome. This is an historic old mining town built a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill. Founded in 1876, Jerome boomed and thrived as a copper mining town until 1953 when the mine was closed. In 1967, Jerome was designated as a National Historic District and now the once wild mining town is a community of artists, galleries and shops that attract many tourists each day.

As you enter into the town of Jerome from Cottonwood, the first set of buildings to note is the Old Jerome High School on the left. The rooms of these buildings now house various artist studios and art galleries. Unfortunately, when we were there most were closed. After talking with the owner of one of the galleries that was open today, we learned that because most of the artists have part-time jobs, their shops aren’t open on set schedules. However, we found out that they are always open during the Jerome Art Walk which is the first Saturday of each month from 5:00 to 8:00pm. This is the opportunity to meet many of the artists, as well as enjoy some wine and cheese offered by the many galleries. There is also a free shuttle service that’s available to help with the hilly streets.

After stopping at the old high school, we continued up the windy narrow road for about a mile to the main part of town. We immediately went to the Visitors Center and got a walking map of Jerome which helped us plan how we would explore the two streets of eclectic art galleries, funky gift ships and restaurants. After walking for a while we stopped in the Grapes Restaurant for lunch. The restaurant had indoor and outdoor patio seating. The menu had many upscale items at reasonable prices from sandwiches, pizzas, salads to sandwich/salad combinations. We decided to split a hot pastrami sandwich that came with small Caesar salad and Brad ordered a bowl of their split pea soup. The food was terrific, but the wait staff could have been better. The Grapes also had a very nice wine list that seemed to complement their food well. After lunch we had a need for something sweet, so we kept our eyes open while we finished walking the street and soon enough we came upon Copper County Fudge and bought a few pieces of their handmade fudge. Yum!!!

Jerome Tips:
1. Walking the sidewalks of the two main streets can be steep and uneven so make sure you watch where you are walking.
2. On the right just past the first parking area on Hull Street you will find a very small building that is the Visitor Center. Here you can get a walking map of the town which offers a little information about each historical building but more importantly helps you navigate Jerome.
3. Watch for information plaques on the outside of many buildings. These plaques have interesting information about the structure or about life in Jerome during the mining days.
4. Parking is free but can be difficult to find if you don’t get to town early. Make sure you take that first spot that you find.

Continuing our journey we stopped in Prescott’s old downtown area. This is a courthouse square where the courthouse is surrounded by stores that make up the perimeter of the square. On one side of the square are a series of old bars/saloons and a few shops. In the day, beer and whiskey were made and sold in some of these establishments thus the nickname Whiskey Row. In its prime, this area was frequented by the unlawful and colorful people of the area and it seems that it’s still the case today. Now horses have been replaced with Harleys and some of the Whiskey replaced by gourmet coffee. If you want to do more shopping, there are plenty of studios, shops, and restaurants in the streets around Courthouse Square.

Conclusions about the day and scenery:
We enjoyed Jerome but didn’t find Prescott that interesting. If you really enjoy exploring shops then stopping at Old Cottonwood, Jerome and Prescott is for you. If you can only take one significant shopping experience then definitely make it Jerome. The scenery throughout this loop drive was not that spectacular, except for the drive out of Jerome where there were expansive views of Verde Valley. Be sure you stop at the big turn-out on your left as you leave Jerome - that's the best view of the day.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Camp Verde RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Camp Verde RV Resort is a Western Horizon Resort and we’re staying here under RPI. It is a small RV resort with an activity center, pool and hot tub, laundry, book exchange, pickleball courts, shuffleboard, and activities scheduled daily. The staff (well, the one woman with whom we spoke) was nice, and as typical with Western Horizon Resorts, their WiFi is not reliable. The Verde River flows along the eastern edge of the park, and Brad saw a river otter when he wandered around and took pictures. (Now, he didn’t get a photograph of it, so we’ll just have to believe him. :-) )

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Camelback Inn, Scottsdale & The Phoenician, Phoenix, Arizona.

Are you looking for a special place to spend an afternoon, perhaps enjoying a cocktail with a beautiful view? If so, then definitely check out either the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale or The Phoenician in Phoenix.

The Camelback Inn is a Marriott resort on 125 acres at the base of Mummy Mountain overlooking the famous Camelback Mountain. Recently reopened in September, 2008 after a $50 million renovation, this was an absolutely beautiful place. The grounds were gorgeous with beautiful patio seating of large couches, chairs, and fire pits. The views of Camelback Mountain were awe-inspiring, and even if you do not stop and have a cocktail or just a cup of coffee, this is worth a quick stop to enjoy a few moments on their patio amid their lush grounds.

The Phoenician is also based in the Camelback Mountains, and is just over the border of Scottsdale, technically in Phoenix. Also a beautiful resort, the Phoenician also has a large area to enjoy an afternoon cocktail or cup of coffee or tea, and the views from its patio are of the surrounding mountains, as well as their beautiful pool area. Again, even if you do not stop for a drink, this is a nice place to stop by and enjoy the views.

Monday, February 23, 2009

View Point Golf Course and Club House Grill, Mesa, Arizona

Champions Grill
If you are staying in the View Point resort or are a resident, then you are eligible to receive a 20% discount at the Champions Grill. The grill is located in the clubhouse of the View Point Golf Course. The building and grill are new, clean and very nicely decorated. The grill has indoor seating where one can sit at the bar or at the many tables and watch your favorite sporting events on the numerous televisions. There is also patio seating with nice views of the golf course that has a cover to provide shade on those really hot days. The menu has what you would expect from a grill styled restaurant; appetizers, sandwiches and a few entries. We decided to sit outside to enjoy the calming view of the golf course. Suzanne ordered the plain hamburger and Brad the patty melt. The hamburger was a good size sandwich that came with a good portion of french fries. The quality of her sandwich was average. The patty melt that Brad ordered was on the greasy side with the accompanying coleslaw and draught beer being the only saving grace to his meal. In addition, the service that we received was below average. Maybe it was due to the fact that we were there in the middle of the day so lunch wasn’t the focus and it was too early for dinner. Overall, this is an okay place to go after a round golf or if you are using your resort discount, but I wouldn’t go otherwise.

ViewPoint Golf Course
The View Point Golf Course is located inside the View Point RV Resort. It is an "18-hole Championship Course” that is open to the public. Greens fees start at $38 and they offer the ability to book your own tee times online. The course itself has mostly tree lined fairways and is green throughout, unlike other desert style courses where only the tee and greens are kept green. This course also offers scenic views of the Superstition Mountain and other nearby peaks. View Point Golf Course is a good all round course for the beginner and more experienced player.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

21st Annual Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace, Festival Village, Arizona

The Renaissance Festival is a very large, annual festival which runs every weekend in February & March each year. If you are unfamiliar with a Renaissance Festival, it is set in Medieval times, thus all the buildings and staff are in authentic costumes and character. In fact, this spirit is shared by many patrons who also come dressed in medieval costumes, adding to the atmosphere of the festival.

The festival outside of Phoenix consists of many shows and events, a variety of food, artisan shopping, arcades and manually run carnival rides that were relevant for this period of time. The number of shows and events offered throughout the day was surprisingly large and with much variety - if you go, be sure you check the back of the festival grounds map for the schedule, and if you have kids, be sure you look for the LC rating of some shows (LC = "loose cannon", comparable to PG-13). The shows and events include musical acts, comedy, juggling and, of course, the popular jousting shows. The shows are free, but expect a hat passed around at the end of the show for tips. (The exception to this was the jousting display.)

The shows we saw included the Tortuga Twins (LC), the Birds of Prey Show and Lord Franko – Master Hypnotist. The Tortuga Twins are a comedy troop that tell a famous tale (we saw Little Red Ridding Hood) using people from the audience as well as adult humor. The show contained a lot of improvisational moments and was a lot silly of fun. The Birds of Prey Show is live bird demonstrations which provided educational information about each bird as well as live birds in action. It was quite interesting to see and learn about each bird. Our favorite show however was Lord Franko – Master Hypnotist. This was a hilarious, gut-splitting show where twelve people from the audience were hypnotized on stage and asked to do wacky things. Don’t miss this show and don’t be afraid to be hypnotized.

The food throughout the festival was reasonably priced and the quality was quite good. You can expect to find everything from slices of pizza, bake goods, Greek food, to the traditional roasted whole turkey leg (people were gnawing on them everywhere). Alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks are also sold. Lastly, there are tons of artisan shops that are themed in Medieval times. You can expect to find handmade one of a kind items, Medieval styled clothing and accessories such as candles and pottery.

Overall, the festival (located east of the city of Apache Junction, right off Hwy 60) offered a full day’s worth of entertainment and fun. Brad was reluctant to go at first, but after spending the day, he was glad he did. If you haven’t been to a Renaissance Festival before, this would be a great one to attend.


1. You can save $2 on each adult ticket (prices at the gate are $20, $19 for seniors) if you buy in advance at any Phoenix area Fry's grocery stores.

2. Parking is free.

3. Only sealed water containers are allowed inside the festival grounds.

4. The festival grounds are wheel chair accessible.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort, Mesa, Arizona

Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort is a very large resort (hundreds of sites), yet more of a mobile home park, as there are a large number of mobile homes with a small area dedicated to RV spaces, and other RV spaces interspersed among the mobile homes. After checking-in and touring the resort, we sort of have mixed feelings.

The positives first ~

  • Lots & lots of activities! In fact, we were a bit overwhelmed at the number, and we can see why people enjoy spending months here.
  • The staff so far seems very nice.
  • The facilities are extremely nice – there are three swimming pools, spas, sauna, multiple card rooms, a billiard room with 12 tables, a very large library, ballroom, a great fitness room, restaurant, well-kept softball field, nice looking gold course, two grassy dog areas, 10 tennis courts, horseshoe pits, beauty shop on site, masseuse on site – and so on…. Imagine it, and it’s probably here.

The negatives ~

  • Expensive. We’re not sure why we decided to stay here – perhaps when we knew we’d need to be in the Phoenix area this week, this was the only place with an opening….. In addition, they charge a $3 per day “resort fee” – just gives one the feeling of being nickel-and-dimed.
  • WiFi – They use TengoNet and self-admittedly tell people that it is not reliable nor is it free. One would think with the price of the park (and that “resort fee”) it would be free and reliable, but alas, no on both accounts.
  • Laundry – There are two very large & nice laundry rooms, but you have to first purchase a card to use in their machines (which costs $2) and then use the cards exclusively (no coins). So, if you do not use the entire amount on the card – you lose out. Again, there's that " nickel-and-dimed" feeling......

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hiking the Sendero Esperanza Trail in Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

We went back to the Saguaro National Park today (this time to the west side in the Tucson Mountain District) for another hike, but we first stopped at the Visitor Center…………..

The Red Hills Visitor Center
Here we found very nice exhibits showcasing the plants and animals of this park. We also watched a continuously running film about the spirituality of the Saguaro cactus to Native Americans. The movie provided interesting information, however we would have preferred to learn more about the Saguaro Cactus as a plant. There are also a couple of outdoor patio areas that provide great views of the valley and the forest of Saguaro cacti against the nearby mountains. Lastly, we got some hiking recommendations so off we went………………

Sendero Esperanza Trail
We chose a 3.4 mile roundtrip hike on the Sendero Esperanza Trail which takes you through fields of Saguaro cacti, ironwood and Palo Verde trees and tons of prickle pear cacti. The trail starts right off the Golden Gate Road across from the Ez-Kim-In-Zin Picnic area. The first mile of the trail follows an old sandy mine road and is an easy hike. The last .7 miles is more difficult for you take a series of switch backs to the top of the ridge which is the Hugh Norris Trail. Here you get grand views of the surrounding mountains and distant valleys. Even at various times on the trail, we could smell Javelina in the area but did not see them. This hike took us a little less than 2 hours and overall was a moderate hike. The views at the top are the definite highlights of this hike, but we preferred the Loma Verde hike we took last week on the east side. After the hike, we went to see some Native American petroglyphs…………….

Signal Hill Picnic Area Petroglyphs
Just off the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is the Signal Hill Picnic area. Immediately from the parking lot there is a small hill made up of boulders. We took the trail over many stone steps and down through a wash area, and soon enough noticed dozens of petroglyphs carved on these boulders that make up the side of the hill. Continuing on the trail, we walked to the top of this hill where there were more petroglyphs just a few feet away. According to the information, these petroglyphs are more than 800 years old and the geometric symbols were the preference of the prehistoric Native American people that once lived in this area. The moderate round trip walk to the top of the hill is .5 miles and is not wheel chair accessible due to the stone stairs. However, the largest portion of petroglyphs can be viewed using binoculars from the parking lot.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exploring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part zoo, part history museum, and part botanical garden on 21 acres near the western section of the Saguaro National Monument showcasing flora and fauna from the Sonoran desert. We spent nearly 5 hours there today, and enjoyed every minute of it! When we first arrived we went to the Warden Oasis Theatre where we enjoyed an hour long presentation by two staff members – one with a Gila Monster and one with a Diamondback Rattle Snake (pictured above). Not only was the presentation educational and informative, but incredibly well done – probably one of the best we’ve seen – definitely make time for a presentation like this when you come to the museum.

Then we (and it seemed everyone else in the museum) went to see the Raptor Free Flight show where up to four Harris Hawks were showcased as they soared freely through the air. Again, the show was informative, interesting and enjoyed by everyone in the crowd - it was amazing to see these birds of prey balance on the tops of the prickly saguaros.

Now you know how hungry we get ~ so we ate lunch at Ironwood Terraces Restaurant – although the food was fresh and fairly good, it was quite expensive for what we got (a chicken sandwich for Brad and Caesar Wrap for Suzanne) – so we recommend you bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it outside the museum, perhaps in your car.

Stomachs full (and wallets slimmed), we spent the next couple of hours roaming the grounds and enjoying not only the botanical gardens and cacti, but also very much the variety of animals ~ including Javelina, Mexican wolves (who sadly number less than 50 in the wild), Mountain Lions, and a number of beautiful birds in two different aviaries – one for a general population of birds, the other specially designed for hummingbirds. There are some neat and different views of some animals, such as the view of the beaver den beneath the dam where we saw beavers eating, sleeping, and then eventually leaving through their “door” and out onto the pond.

The cost per person is $13, and well worth a visit. The paths are all wheelchair accessible, and there are special areas designed specifically for children.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Camping at Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountains, Arizona

Today we moved to Gilbert Ray Campground and we are very glad we did as it is beautiful here! Gilbert Ray is a Pima County Park and is located south and adjacent to the western Saguaro National Park in the Tucson Mountains. This campground puts you in the middle of beautiful Sonora Desert full of saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, Gila woodpeckers (the ones that nest in the Saguaros - see picture below), hummingbirds and great views of the Tucson Mountains looking east. Gilbert Ray Campground puts you just minutes from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios and Saguaro National Park. It’s a great campground and locale for exploring this fabulous area.

The campground has 75 sites with electric only (first time we’ve experienced that). However, each loop has several water spigots and restrooms (no showers on the premises), and there are dump stations as well. The campground roads are all paved and each site being gravel, so dust is not a problem. The cost is $20 for RVs and $10 for tents.

Trivia Question Answer from yesterday’s post:

Q: Where and what is Biosphere 1?

Click here For the Answer

Monday, February 16, 2009

Touring Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona

Today we drove 30 minutes north of Tucson on Hwy 77 to explore the famous Biosphere 2 facility. This is a 3.14 acre greenhouse that supports four distinct environmental regions; tropical Savannah, ocean marshlands, coastal desert, and tropical rain forest. This facility was originally constructed to find out if a completely closed environment or ecosystem (air, soil and water isolated from the outside) could sustain human life. From 1991 to 1993 this question was put to the test (and made famous) when 8 people called Biospherians were “sealed” inside. This meant that these 8 people lived, grew their own food. and obtained their water only from the ecology of the facility. We were surprised to learn that the research was not about the people, but rather the sustainability of the environment for which they lived, and at the end of the program, the experience and experiment was deemed successful. Today the facility is no longer a closed environment and is used by University of Arizona scientists to conduct research to determine the role that water plays on the earth’s biology and geology.

The tour that we took is called the ‘Under the glass tour’. The tour starts with a 10 minute movie which provides an overview of the facility and its current research mission. You then proceed to Biosphere 2 where a guide takes you in groups through the tropical Savannah overlooking a million gallon saltwater ocean, ocean marshlands, coastal desert, the technosphere (the basement that contains the mechanical systems that sustain the environments), and a tropical rain forest. All along the way, the guide provided information about each region, talking about upcoming research projects and answering any questions. Our guide was one of the original guides from when Biosphere 2 opened, so he provided a lot of historical background information which was very informative and helpful.

Overall we found the facility and tour interesting. Brad found the engineering and mechanical side of Biosphere 2 more interesting than the environments and research conducted, whereas Suzanne enjoyed the regions of Biosphere more, but wanted to learn more about the Biospherians themselves. It’s a unique place that if you are in the Tucson area and have the time it’s worth a visit. Biosphere 2 is opened daily and the tour costs $20 per person (there is a AAA discounts of $2 on the adult ticket price) and keep your receipt, as 50% of your admission price is tax deductible as a charitable contribution. Unfortunately, due to the number of stairs during the tour, it is not wheel chair accessible. However, the grounds and the outside of Biosphere 2 are wheelchair accessible, but you should call before visiting to understand the restriction completely.

Trivia Question:

Q: Where/what is Biosphere 1?

Please respond with your answer as a Comment to this post, and look for the correct answer in this post tomorrow!

2/17/09 Answer: Jim was correct….it’s the Earth!!! Thanks for your responses!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pima County Fairgrounds & The Tucson Winter Classic Horse Show, Tucson, Arizona

We decided to move a bit closer to Tucson so we don’t have to drive so far everyday to see the Tucson area attractions, and we’re currently staying at the Pima County Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds are quite large, with RV spots to accommodate over 2000 RVs, believe it or not. They have some full hook-up sites, some with water & electric only, and of course, some dry camping. The fee is $20/night for full hook-ups, and a weekly rate of $100, so if you’re staying for 5 days, you might as well stay for a week. Overall the place is typical of fairgrounds – not the cleanest, but reasonably priced and easy access to area attractions. They do have free wifi, which works pretty well.

Now you’re probably wondering why there are pictures of horses …..well, when we got here, we found out that the Tucson Winter Classic Horse Show was here, and every Sunday (for a few more weeks, starting at 2:00 pm) the $25,000 Grand Prix (jumping competition) is held as the main event. So off Suzanne went to watch the competition, which was a great time and very educational ~ horses/riders that refused to make a jump twice were “excused” (not eliminated), horses/riders that did not finish were “retired” (not quit) ~ stuff like that. There were also other competitions in other rings – all very interesting. If you are in the Tucson area during the next few weeks, this would be a great was to spend a few hours (the competitions/shows are Wednesday – Sunday and you can meander around the stables as well). Keep in mind that the Grand Prix is Sunday afternoon, be sure to wear old shoes/boots (there was an awful lot of manure around), and the price ~ free! By the way, if Brad were writing today’s post, it would read: “Blah blah blah horse. Blah blah blah jump.”

Finally, we posted some more photos ~ Casa Grande & Benson ~ enjoy!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley, Arizona

Image your job is to carry out the order from the President of the United States to launch the largest nuclear missile in retaliation of a nuclear attack. That was the pressure and enormous responsibility faced every minute by the 4-person crew who manned the underground Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silo during the Cold War.

Today 53 out of 54 Titan II silos have been destroyed, except for the deactivated missile #571-7 which is now the Titan Missile Museum. This is the only museum of its kind in nation, preserving how the silo stood 20 years ago (devoid of the rocket fuel and of course its nuclear warhead). Completed in 1963 and in operation until 1987, the Titan II missiles were a retaliatory weapon to be used to stop a nuclear war, with the primary mission of providing “Peace Through Deterrence” as we learned during our visit. The museum contains some informative and interactive displays that give you the context of the missile’s importance in the world’s recent history. The main attraction, however, is the one hour tour that takes you underground to see parts of the silo’s three facilities.

The tour starts with an educational and informative 15 minute video that provides an overview of the silo and its operation. You then proceed with a tour guide to see all the above ground rocket fuel delivery systems, a stage I & II rocket engines, antennae, and an impressive straight-down view of the missile from the partially opened hatch. Finally, you actually go underground to level 2 (out of 8 levels), where you can see the rocket up close as well as the control center where your tour guide performs a simulated missile launch. We learned from the simulated launch, that once the order came from the President and the launch sequence had been activated, there was no way to stop it and no self-destruct mechanism once in flight - simply the missile would lift-off in a few short minutes and proceed to it’s target. Done. For Brad this was one of the most unique and truly one-of-a-kind experiences that he's ever had. For Suzanne, although she found it interesting, if she were the one writing today's post, it would be more reflective of what she heard: "Blah blah blah missile. Blah blah blah silo." But seriously, you don’t have to be a military buff to enjoy this experience. This is a must visit if you are in the Tucson area.

This tour cost $8.50 for adults and $7.50 for seniors. (There is a AAA discounts of $1 on the adult ticket prices.) It is wheel chair accessible. In addition to this one-hour tour, the museum offers many special tours that take your through all 8 levels of the underground silo, to private tours, to even an overnight stay in the quarters where the women and men slept while taking a break. These special tours require reservations so call ahead.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Exploring & Hiking Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The Saguaro National Park is actually located in two different regions – the one to the west of Tucson is the Tucson Mountain District, and the one to the east of Tucson, where we hiked today, is the Rincon Mountain District.

Upon entering the park, there is a Visitor’s Center with a nice variety of books and a small display, as well as a short movie that tells the story of the national park that protects the saguaros and the animals that call Saguaro National Park their home, such as Gila Woodpeckers, Mountain Lions, and Black Bears. Once through the gate ($10 per vehicle, but remember, you can purchase an America the Beautiful Park Pass) you can drive or bike along Cactus Forest Drive, a mostly one-way road that leads you to all of the trailheads and areas of interest in the park.

Our first stop was the ¼ mile, concrete-paved path (wheelchair accessible) Desert Ecology Trail that had signs every few yard with educational tidbits about Saguaro National Park – this is a nice, quick stop to get more information about the park and its flora and fauna.

Further down the road was the trailhead of our longer hike – the Loma Verde Loop, an easy 3.6 mile walk/hike with little elevation change. This was a beautiful hike – starting first along the Loma Verde trail through mesquite trees, prickly pear cacti, ochatilla, and a variety of other cacti. After passing the Loma Verde Mine (no longer accessible), the saguaros begin to be in abundance – we were amazed as the numbers of saguaros – it seemed a forest of them. The trail continues onto Pink Hill Trail which gives a 360-degree view of the cactus forest and the Rincon and Catalina Mountains. In about ½ mile, we turned south to Squeeze Pen trail (where we saw Javelina tracks and coyote scat) which leds back to the start of the Loma Verde Loop. This was a great hike – easy and very beautiful – definitely do this if you’re in the area – you will not be disappointed.

Some interesting facts about the Saguaro Cactus ~

  • The spines of the Saguaro cactus not only protect it from animals that might eat it, but also provide shade in the hot summer sun.
  • Saguaro Cacti grow arms so they have more surface area for photosynthesis (remember, they have no leaves), and more arms equals more places to grow flowers, which means more seeds for reproduction.
  • It generally takes 47 to 67 years for a Saguaro to reach a height of 6 feet. (As a comparison, it took Brad about 18 years to grow that tall!)
  • Saguaros grow up to 50 feet, are up to 85% water, and weigh up to 8 tons!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Famous Tombstone Arizona

When one thinks about the wild, wild west, one has thoughts of cattle drives, saloons, outlaws, cowboys and of course gun fights. Tombstone Arizona is probably one of the most notorious towns of the west. Tombstone started in 1877 when silver was found and grew to close to 20,000 people by the mid 1880s. But silver mining is the lesser reason that this town is famous, what made it legendary was The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. This famous gunfight between Wyatt Earp (and brothers), Doc Holliday and the McLaury, Claiborne and Clanton brothers built the town’s legendary status in history. Today the town has preserved and reconstructed a portion of the old historic district along Allen Street. The street is dirt and the sidewalks are wooden in many places, so you get the feeling of the old west. All the shops along Allen Street are in the style of the time. There are plenty of shops to explore ranging from western clothing to tourist gifts with a western theme.

All the walking made us hungry for lunch (of course), so we headed to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Walking into the saloon felt like walking back in time. The saloon still has the original wooden bar, decor and atmosphere (saloon girls authentically dressed, and sheriff patrolling the floor keeping order). The menu had a good selection of sandwiches and other lunch entrees including salads. The food portions were more than enough, but the quality was just okay. There was a live guitar player and singer while we were there, which added to the experience. If you are in Tombstone, this saloon is worth a stop even if you aren’t hungry.

However, after we had spent some time walking this area, we became disappointed with the town and experience. The town felt "fake" in a way. Every historic building, site or event required buying a ticket to see it and get the whole experience. And on top of that, there was always someone trying to sell us something, or persuade was to give them our business. I guess times are tough everywhere and Tombstone is no exception, but we were expecting more of a balance where you could go and see the O.K. Corral as a historical site and not as tourist trap.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Exploring Bisbee, Arizona & surrounding area

South on Hwy 80 about 50 miles from Benson lies the town of Bisbee, Arizona. This mining and western town sits a mile high in the Mule Mountains. Founded in 1880, Bisbee was once the largest city between San Francisco and St. Louis. Located on one of one of the worlds largest mineral deposits (mainly copper), Bisbee reached a population of 20,000 people at its peak. The town is built upon the walls of a narrow and steep canyon with turn of the century buildings that line the narrow streets and passageways. Walking through the main streets of Bisbee you will find a unique blend of antique, artesian and interesting eclectic shops. There is also a museum focused on the mining history of this area. We got the feeling that we were stepping back in time because the town is so well preserved and seemingly frozen in time. The better part of a day could be spent exploring this town and enjoying its history. In addition to the town, the hills and mountains surrounding Bisbee take on the colors of the minerals contain within which adds to the uniqueness and beauty of this area. Just outside of town is one of the deep open mining pits which illustrates the terraced approach to mining. The mining operation has slowed significantly due to the economy.

Copper Queen Hotel

In the heart of downtown Bisbee is the historic Copper Queen Hotel. Open since 1902, this is the oldest continuing run hotel in Arizona. The hotel is well preserved and with the interesting historic photos in the lobby and Copper Queen Saloon restaurant you get a small taste of the hotel’s colorful past. Here we decided to have lunch – Brad’s Miner’s Steak sandwich (with grilled sweet onions) coupled with a locally brewed Dave’s IPA beer was very good, where Suzanne’s chicken Caesar salad was just okay. The chicken seemed to be reheated instead of freshly prepared, but the croutons were great. (Suzanne loves her carbs!). The restaurant has a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Refuge

Northeast of Bisbee in the large Sulphur Springs Valley is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge. This wetland lies in the center of the Chihuahuan desert grassland habitat. The refuge is the winter home for many waterfowl including ducks, doves and the main attraction sandhill cranes. Built in the center of the two main wetland areas is a large viewing platform. This gives you great up close viewing opportunities. We were told the best times to see the sandhill cranes are in the morning hours and late afternoon. Unfortunately, the cranes weren’t there when we visited around 3:00pm. Also on the site are primitive restrooms, picnic areas and trails with information signs that educate you along the way. If you are an avid bird enthusiast then this might be up your alley. It’s a remote location making it a challenge to frequent often which it seems is needed to see the cranes.

To get there: go north to the town of Double Adobe on Central Highway Road. Turn left on Bagby road and travel 1.5 miles on a good dirt road to the refuge.

Cochise Stronghold in the Coronado National Forest
5 miles (last 2 miles is good dirt road) west of the town of Sunsites (located on Hwy 191) is the Cochise Stronghold. This is an area at the entrance of a canyon at the base of the Dragoon Mountains that the famous Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise led his people against the white settlers for over 10 years. Granite rock formations and steep canyon walls provided the Chiricahua people strategic and very effective raiding positions. Today, the area provides hiking and primitive camping. We were expecting sites and information of various battles but were disappointed to find nothing when we got there. The naturally beauty of the area is the feature. If hiking and camping is your interest then this would be an interesting place to explore, however we regretted spending the time finding this place for the purpose of history sight seeing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Valley Vista RV Resort, Benson, Arizona

Valley Vista RV Resort is a Sunbelt property (owned by Western Horizons) and we're staying here under RPI. The park is okay - the sites are rather on top of each other and clean, but not graveled - sort of a mixture of gravel and dirt/sand. There is a club house with a pool table, card tables, large book exchange and TV. The laundry room has about 5 washers & 5 dryers and is spacious and clean. There is a nice pool, a bit smallish but warm, and a hot tub in the same area. The activities are plentiful, with various card games, shuffleboard, pot lucks, and a variety of other games. Two very good things about this park ~ the staff is very nice and the WiFI works and works well!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

American Indian Music Fest at Casa Grande National Monument, Arizona

Casa Grande National Monument will have its first annual American Indian Music Fest on February 13 – 15, 2009 ~ if you’re in the area, it sounds like it will be a great time!

What is it?
This will be an event celebrating the American Indian culture from prehistoric to modern times. There will be music, dance, storytelling and poetry. American Indian crafters and artisans will be there, as well as the opportunity to taste authentic American Indian foods.

Where is it?
Casa Grande National Monument in Coolidge, Arizona. There wil be parking available across the street at the Safeway, Wal-Mart and Walgreens, with overflow parking available at Shope’s IGA. The City of Coolidge will provide free shuttle service during the event.

When is it?
Friday February 13th through Sunday, February 15th.

  • 12:00pm-5:00pm all three days ~ Performances and concerts

  • 5:30pm – 8:30pm Friday & Saturday ~ Illuminated Casa Grande and evening concerts

  • 9:00am-5:00pm all three days ~ Demonstrations, arts & crafts booths, and traditional food sales

Regular Casa Grande admission ($5 per person over age 16). All America the Beautiful Interagency Passes are accepted.

Travis Terry ~ Akimel O’odham, Flute
Loren Russell ~ Akimel O’odham, Flute & Storyteller
Alex Maldonado ~ Yaqui Tribe, Flute
Gabriel Ayala ~ Yaqui Tribe, Guitar & Flute
R. Carlos Nakai ~ Navajo-Ute, Flute
Michael Graham Allen ~ “Coyote Old Man”, Flute
Scott August ~ Flute
Odel Borg ~ Flute
Randy Granger ~ Flute, Singer, Storyteller, Hang Drum
Navajo Spirit Dancers

Unfortunately we will not be in the Casa Grande area for this event, but think it will be a good time. If you go, let us know ~ we’d love to hear about it!

Have fun!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, Arizona

Today we drove out to explore and learn about the Casa Grande Ruins. This National Monument is located in the town of Coolidge Arizona and is about a 30 minute drive from Casa Grande. The Casa Grande Ruins is the site of one of the largest permanent villages for the ancient Hohokam people. The Hohokam people of this area lived in adobe buildings and walled villages for more than 1000 thousand years. The main attraction of this historic site is the partially restored 3-story adobe building called Casa Grande that is protected by a large roof cover. The rest of the site consists of other building foundations and a few remaining adobe walls. There are information signs along the paths throughout the ruin that help you understand the architectural features (i.e. the astronomical calendar formed by series of windows built into Casa Grande) and the daily life of the people.

The general area around the year 300 supported over 3000 Hohokam people and took up an area of 2 square miles. In order to sustain such a large population, the Hohokam people needed water to grow food which supplemented the natural food from the desert that they collected. Interesting enough, their water came from canals they built from the nearby Salt and Gila rivers. What’s even more fascinating is that some of the canals that they built were 20 miles long with the entire system totaling over 100 miles of various canals and water channels.

In addition, to the Casa Grande Ruin site there is a visitor center that includes a museum devoted to the Hohokam people as well as a 15 minute movie that covers the archaeologist findings of the entire area and their proposed significance of various structures including large oval shaped sports courts. Definitely allow time to see the various museum exhibits and to watch the free movie for coupled together will answer many questions about these ancient people. We spent a total of 1.5 hours and thoroughly covered all there was to see.

1) The paths around the ruin are level and assessable by all.
2) The entrance fee is $5 per person (over the age of 16) so don’t forget to use your America the Beautiful pass if you have one.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mimi's Cafe, Casa Grande, Arizona

Mimi's Cafe is a chain restaurant in the southern half of the US, and we went to one for the first time today for lunch. The restaurant was very busy - the food was good and large portioned (Suzanne had her leftovers for dinner tonight) and the service was equally good. The menu is typical fare - sandwiches, pastas, soups, salads and more - it was a good lunch.

However, the best part of lunch was meeting Joy & Phil of Backroad's Chronicles. Joy & Phil have been fulltimers since June 2004 - they emailed us earlier this week to see of we wanted to meet face-to-face ~ of course we said yes! It was a great time chatting and sharing stories and we look forward to seeing them again as we all meander down the road.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Picacho Peak State Park, Picacho, Arizona

Just off Interstate 10 south of Casa Grande at exit 219 is Picacho Peak State Park. The main attraction of this state park is the horse saddle shaped Picacho Peak which stands at an elevation of 3,374'. This State Park offers several hiking trails; we chose to hike to the Picacho Peak’s summit. We took the Hunter Trail which begins on the north slope of the mountain and takes you through steep desert landscape full of saguaro cactus, barrel cactus and many other desert floras. This is a 2-mile, 1500-foot elevation change, strenuous hike that takes you through steep switchbacks, loose rocks and scrambles over rock formations. In addition, there are 8 to 9 sections where you need to utilize steel cables that have been installed to get up (or down) challenging vertical areas. In these cable sections, you will definitely utilize both your arms and legs. At times you are climbing the face of the mountain, which provides awesome views of the valley floor and gets you close to many swallows - there were numerous times that these guys would zoooooom just a couple of feet by our heads looking for food. Seeing (and hearing, as they swooshed by our heads) these birds was an unexpected bonus on this hike. Once on the summit, we enjoyed amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding desert valley.

This hike took us 4 hours to complete, including spending around 15 minutes enjoying the views from the summit. It was the one of the most difficult and most interesting hike (yet not most scenic) that we have done to date. We enjoyed the unique physical challenges as well as the many views. If you are afraid of heights, this hike is not for you. Tip - If you want to hike to the summit but want to less difficult start, you can take the Sunset Vista Trail. This trail connects to Hunter Trail on top of the mountain about 1 mile before the hike to the summit. It is 3.1 miles round trip and begins in the Sunset area of the park.

In addition to the great hiking, Picacho Peak has much historical significance to this area. It has acted as a landmark for travelers centuries and near by was the most significant civil war battle in Arizona on April 15, 1862. In fact, every March, there are reenactments at Picacho Peck of the battles and there are also living history demonstrations.


1. Do not do the hike to the summit without thick gloves. They are a must to protect your hands while utilizing the steel cables and rock. Baseball or golf gloves are not thick enough.

2. Use small packs instead of large backpacks for food, water, etc.... - some of the cable areas are very narrow and would be very hard to negotiate with large packs. We use hip packs and on one occasion Suzanne had to remove hers to get past the narrow cables.

3. Start early and take plenty of water, for most of the most difficult climbing is in the sun.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino, Maricopa, Arizona

Friends of ours wanted to go to the Harrahs' Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa for their buffet dinner (12.99 per person, Sunday - Thursday; $19.99 Friday & Saturday for their seafood buffet), and we joined them (even though buffets tend not to be our thing). When we arrived, we found out that if you get their Total Rewards Cards, they'll give you $20 towards food and $20 towards gambling - so off we all (well, the six who remembered to bring their licences for identification) went to get our Total Rewards Cards! (If you already have a Total Rewards Card from another Harrah's Casino, then you can't do this, but do get $1 off their buffet price.) The low-down:

The Food - typical of buffets, we suppose - there were various "stations" - one of Chinese food, one with Mexican, one of Roast Beef & potatoes, some friend chicken, vegetables, a salad bar and a load of desserts. The service was good and the waitstaff very nice. Given it was free - it was great! Here's a tip - since the coupons for the Total Rewards Cards are $20 towards food, and you do not get back any "money" you do not spend, you can pool some coupons together for one meal, and save some for another. Our group had $120 in coupons, $104 in buffet cost, so we were all covered. However, if we had another coupon or two, they could be saved for another meal......

The Casino - We did not spend a lot of time meandering the casino, but it seemed smallish and typical casino - smoky. It was a Tuesday night, it was not too crowded.

The Gambling - So we had $20 in free gambling coupons (so now you can figure out that Suzanne was one of those who didn't bring her license - not too soon be forgotten by Brad!), and we went to the 2-cent slots, and half an hour later...............we had nearly $20 of real money ($19.87, to be exact)! Cashed out & left!

So in the end - we ate for free & netted $14.87 (we had already left a $5 tip for the buffet waitstaff) ~ not a bad couple of hours!!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Queen Creek Olive Mill, Queen Creek, Arizona

Queen Creek Olive Mill is a working olive mill and farm about 25 miles east of Phoenix. We didn’t know about the olive mill while staying in Apache Junction last week, but it was a short (30 minute) drive form Casa Grande, so we decide to go today. The Olive Mill is open 8-5 M-F, 8-5 Saturday and 8-4 Sunday, and offers tours every hour on the half hour for $5 per person. We arrived in time to grab lunch at their bistro, which specializes in items made with olives, olive oils and tapenades made from their olives. We both enjoyed the turkey sandwich, and it was a good base in which to try their many oils, olives and spreads from their tasting bar. Brad enjoyed their various olives, especially their Tuscan Spice Balsamic Olives, while Suzanne favored the Roasted Garlic Olive Oil.

We decided to take the tour which began with an explanation of the various types of olives (Queen Creek uses mission olives) and olive oils - from pumice oil (made from the byproduct when pressing the olives for the oil) to extra virgin olive oil (made from the first pressing of the olives). We also learned that late harvest olives, which are darker, are form the tops of the trees (which take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to mature) and the early harvest olives (the greener ones) are from the lower branches of the trees. The tour then proceeded inside to the pressing room where we learned about how olives are harvested, pressed, and bottled. We missed the pressing, but if you’re here in the fall (September – November), you can see the pressing in action.

We were surprised at how much we learned – including the fact that Arizona is a prime location for olive growing due to the hot days and cool nights, inhospitable conditions for the olive moth (therefore no pesticides are needed), and a dry climate.

If you’re in the area, definitely go to Queen Creek Olive Mill – and be prepared to bring home some good treats. We enjoyed our olives and olive oil tonight with some wine! Yum!

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