Staying Cool in Flagstaff

What do you do when it’s 96 degrees outside???

  • Stay inside with the AC on – Boring!
  • Head to the mall for a retail intervention – No Way!!!
  • Hang at the pool and lounge in your floatie – Hmm, not a bad idea.
  • Take a road trip somewhere cooler – BINGO!!!

The forecast in the Phoenix Metro area was hot, hot, hot a couple of weeks ago with two days being in the high 90’s so the idea of spending a day somewhere cooler was appealing. We would normally have been on the road by now and out of hot Arizona but a trip back to KY to see my Mother and attend a family reunion is on the agenda for late April. I found a ridiculously inexpensive flight, nonstop from Mesa Gateway airport to Louisville on Allegiant Air some months ago so we were locked into staying in the area until my return. So buck up and get through some hot days was my mantra but geez, there were a lot of them on the horizon.

After looking at a heat map, Flagstaff at 6,910 foot elevation was offering up a 74 degree day and three national monuments that we had not seen. SOLD…we even got up early – 6am early – which we rarely do anymore, to pick up our friends in Mesa and get on the road. It’s about 175 miles to Flagstaff from Mesa but all easy freeway driving.

Not only does Flagstaff offer some great outdoor excursions, it has a charming, vibrant old downtown area with loads of great restaurant choices. If craft beer is your thing, you will be right at home in “Flag” – as the locals call it! We had some good grub and brew at the The Lumberyard Brewing Company.

 

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The historical downtown area has some really cool old neon signs.

 

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The county courthouse has been beautifully restored.

 

Flagstaff’s early economy was based on the lumber, railroad, and ranching industries. Today, the city remains an important distribution hub for companies such as Nestlé Purina PetCare, and is home to Lowell Observatory, the U.S. Naval Observatory, the United States Geological Survey Flagstaff Station and Northern Arizona University. Flagstaff has a strong tourism sector, due to its proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, Oak Creek Canyon, the Arizona Snowbowl, Meteor Crater, and historic Route 66. So much to do here….

 

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Love this old sign…the inside of the hotel is just as nicely restored.

 

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The Weatherford Hotel has survived since 1887 and has a  great story.

 

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Right off the historical Route 66, old town would be a great place to stay if your’e planning a visit.

 

Yes, seriously there is a ski area in Flagstaff which we were tempted to check out but the idea of being that cold wasn’t that appealing. Instead, we drove straight out to Walnut Canyon National Monument and did the 1 mile Island Trail hike.

More than 700 years ago Walnut Canyon was a vital pueblo community and this 4 1/2 mile long canyon has over 200 caves. We hiked the Island Trail that leads you back in time and highlights 25 cliff dwelling rooms along this part of the canyon with more being visible across the canyon.

 

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Can you see all the dwellings along the ledges?

 

While not a long hike, this trail takes you down 240 steps and back in time when you can imagine a thriving pueblo community who’s cave dwellings ring the canyon walls. Going down was a piece of cake but coming back up was a bit of an aerobic workout considering we were at almost 7,000 ft elevation.

 

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Sinagua is Spanish for “without water”. By living in such a dry region the Sinagua were believed to have become experts at conserving water and dealing with droughts. Walnut Canyon was supplied a vital water resource and was 350 feet below the canyon rim. Now that’s a hike and no nice steps either !!! The Sinagua were also believed to have been active traders that stretched to the Gulf of Mexico and even as far as Central America.

 

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These resourceful people built their homes under limestone ledges, deep within the canyon, taking advantage of the natural recesses in the limestone cliff walls which were eroded over millions of years by flowing water. 

It is thought that the Sinagua left around 1250 CE because of fear of neighboring tribes or droughts, of course no one knows for certain but they left over 80 cliff dwellings behind.

 

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After lunch in town, we headed back out to explore the Sunset Crater National Monument and the Wupatki National Monument which are not far apart. Truly this area deserves more than the 8 hours we spent touring so if you do plan a trip here just know you can see all three monuments in a day but why not stay a few days and enjoy the ambiance of “Flag”.

 

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There are some great hikes at Sunset Crater and the geology is fascinating.

 

A major population influx began soon after the eruption of Sunset Crater in the 11th century (between 1040 and 1100). The eruptions covered the area with volcanic ash which is believed to have improved agricultural productivity and the soil’s ability to retain water. This area supported crops like maize and squash which were raised from the arid land without irrigation. 

By 1182, approximately 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo but by 1225 this site was also abandoned. It would be fascinating to how what happened in this era that caused so many of our ancient people to simply disappear.

 

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The ruins of a “Tall House”.

 

At one time, there were many settlement sites scattered throughout the monument  which were built by the Cohonina, Kayenta Anasazi, and Sinagua. Wupatki was first inhabited around 500 AD. Wupatki, which means “Tall House” in the Hopi language, is a multistory Sinagua pueblo dwelling comprising over 100 rooms and a community room and ball court, making it the largest building for nearly 50 miles. Nearby secondary structures have also been uncovered, including two kiva-like structures.

 

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So much history here in the SW … I often leave an area with way more questions that I will ever have answers but that’s what makes traveling so compelling.

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Great Hike at Saguaro Lake

 

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I love the 5 mile hike at Saguaro Lake especially when I stumble upon some wild kingdom relics. Not sure, but we think this deer might have been poached… but who knows maybe coyotes make a clean cut at the base of the spinal cord too?

I saw this deer head in the bushes as I was hiking out and gotta admit, it kinda scared the shite out of me as my brain just registered “head in the bushes”. I was flooded with relief, in the split second that I saw it and I looked around to see that it was a deer head looking at me and not a human.

 

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The crazy thing was that all four of us hiked right past this macabre looking scene on our way in and didn’t see it. It’s was just the right angle on the way out and my timing was near perfect as I glanced over to the right. Wally had already hiked by and didn’t see it so he was surprised when I called him back to have a look. I was listening for rattlesnakes but now I have to wonder what else we hiked by and didn’t see!

 

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Sans the deer head, the lake really is quite serene during the week when all the jet skis and crazy power boaters are at work. We did see quite a few kayaker’s out enjoying the day as well as some bass fisherman.

 

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Despite the lack of rainfall this winter, the desert is still trying to put on a show. I was really excited to see a few saguaro cactus in bloom. The saguaro that were producing flowers had a lot of other buds while many others nearby produced no flowers at all.

 

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This cholla cactus was ready to pop. The flowers have a pinkish – red hue but open up bright orange with the red tips and yellow centers.  The bees were silly happy about the flower too.

 

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Isn’t this hedgehog cactus flower just stunning, love the magenta color. The hummingbirds were going crazy for all these desert flowers.

 

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This saguaro was way dead and we normally don’t see them still standing like the one in the picture below. The skeleton makes for a beautiful sculpture, the cords at the top were gently waving as we hiked by – so friendly!!!

 

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We also saw some wild horses with a new foal but didn’t stop to take any photographs as they can be a bit protective of their babes.

 

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See ya later Saguaro Lake and thanks for a beautiful day.

 

The Coolest Party in the Desert!!!

Celebrate tequila, food and live music at the coolest party in the desert? Now, that sounded right up our alley, so when friends invited us to attend Agave on the Rocks at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, of course we said yes!!

This is a annual fundraiser for the Desert Botanical Gardens whose mission is to help people understand, protect and preserve the desert’s natural beauty. For more than 70 years, the Desert Botanical Garden has been teaching and inspiring visitors from the local community and around the world so it was great to be able to attend their gala and support the cause.

 

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The gardens were magical by night with the desertscape lit up by multi-colored lights and the temperature was perfect for wandering the 140 acres. Upon arrival we were treated to a refreshing margarita (aren’t all margaritas refreshing?) in a glowing glass. From there we made our way to one of the areas in the gardens where culinary treats prepared by some of the Valley’s best restaurants and caterers were being served.

 

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It was fun to wander the gardens, drink in hand and nosh at the different food stations.

 

Throughout the night, there was a rotation of bands, most of whom were from the local phoenix area. Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers are an area favorite and they were fun to listen to. One of our favorites was a small band led by Miguel Melgoza. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, this singer-songwriter, drummer and percussionist began playing music professionally after moving to Phoenix, AZ. I was really impressed with talent in this three-man band, especially Miguel who is a drummer and the lead singer – that’s kinda unusual.

 

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Miguel Melgoza

 

Having spent the last 12 year of my career in the non-profit sector, I have attended some really nice fundraisers and I must say that the Desert Botanical Garden did a really nice job. My only criticism was that the Mexican Moonshine Tequila and food pairing experience was lame. The tequila and food itself was good but standing in a que for what seemed like forever because there was only one tasting bar was what was LAME. I also wasn’t impressed by the signature cocktails that were served at the bars which were well located all over the gardens. Guess I was spoiled by my colleagues at the Oregon Humane Society who knew how to mix some damn fine cocktails. Miss you Barb, you would have loved this event!!!

 

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Photo courtesy of the Desert Botanical Garden

 

No one went hungry… “Main Stage” Ceviche served in a tortilla cup with plantain chips, Spanish “Rock” Corn Cakes with chili braised beef, Olive Citrus Polenta Cake with whipped cream and strawberry cigars.

 

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The tortilla crusted chicken skewers and edible desert terrariums were delicious. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Catering.

 

“Spotlight” Southwestern Style Paella with cilantro crema, Ibarra Chocolate Pot de Crème with Southwest chile threads, Red Hot Chili Peppers Poppers, Red Jalapeno and beef machaca relleno with poblano crema, “Limp Bizkit Biscuits” – Grilled shrimp, chorizo gravy and cotija, “Pearl Jam Shortcakes”, Petite Machaca Flautas with nopales, queso, guacamole, and fresno hot sauce, Ga’ivsa Porridge with agave syrup, chili smoked pecans and pomegranate arils. Quite an impressive list of food!

 

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So beautifully presented.

It was a wonderful evening under the stars with good friends, live music and delicious food. I highly recommend the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for a day visit as well but if you just happen to be around in March check out Agave On The Rocks.

 

 

Get Lost on the Apache Trail Scenic Drive

The 40 mile Apache Trail Scenic Drive that winds right through the Superstition Mountains sounded like a great way to spend the day. Ernie, our 2013 SUV Chevy Equinox was certainly up for the challenge. With his low, sporty front spoiler I was a bit worried but the unpaved section of the road was not a problem for Ernie. This being said, the narrow and rugged route requires attention while driving but offers endlessly unique views.

 

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From Gold Canyon, which is just east of Phoenix, the drive starts in Apache Junction. The Superstition Mountains offer a rugged backdrop as you start heading out. Yes, they are ruggedly beautiful but that ruggedness is also what made them so hard for early travelers to navigate throughout history. I am happy to report that we didn’t really get lost on the drive, except maybe in the beauty of the backcountry.

 

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During the 19th century, the main route through the mountains was a path carved by the Apaches– later adopted by stagecoach travelers—hence the name, the Apache Trail. It’s still one of the best ways to drive through the Superstitions and a whole lot safer I imagine now in a car than it was then. This trail is a modern driver’s dream and a big rig RV driver’s nightmare with hairpin turns, sweeping curves but loaded with stunning new views around every corner. Seriously, I can’t imagine bringing the Road House back on this wilderness road. The trail was turned into a road in the 1930s to support the development of dams along the Salt River with Theodore Roosevelt Dam being the big boy.

We thought about bringing Bentley except he isn’t a big fan of windy, hairpin turns but he sure would have loved to swim in Apache Lake.

 

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Well graded!

 

There is a lot to explore along the way, mining history, ghost towns, three lakes and the amazing Roosevelt Dam. All this plus the natural beauty of the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest make for a great day of driving.

The Goldfield Mine and Superstition Mountain Museum are the first stop just outside Apache Junction. The museum offers exhibits that educate folks about the rich history of Arizona, starting with the story of the Apaches. The area is known for lore about lost mines and ghost towns. The museum may spark your interest about these mysteries but I am always a bit suspect of a museum that offers an Elvis Memorial Chapel along with a 20-stamp ore crusher. But who am I to judge, maybe some folks want to get married and host a reception at a museum with Arizona history and an Elvis Chapel!!

Speaking of suspect, the Goldfield Ghost Town is supposedly home to an authentic gold mine and the town that once boomed before it died out when the mine dried up. Guessing the original mining town didn’t have a zip line but they do now along with live gunfight reenactments, a Saloon now a  restaurant, horseback rides and a narrow gauge railroad you can ride. Best I can tell there isn’t much left of the town itself that prospered there from 1892-1898. The current owners have done a good job of rebuilding the town so you do get the flavor of being in a old west town…okay, a really commercialized old west town!

One thing this area is rich with is history and natural beauty. The Lost Dutchman State Park is a great destination by itself for hiking, camping or picnicking. In the 1840s, the Peralta family of Mexico discovered gold near Apache Junction and continuously made trips to bring it back to Mexico. As the story goes, the family was ambushed by Apaches while on a gold expedition, leaving all but one or two family members left for dead. Decades later, Jacob Waltz, aka “the Dutchman,” was said to have found the mine, and hid gold in the Superstitions. When he died, he took the location of the mine to his grave.

 

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The park is obviously named after the local lore around the Lost Dutchman and should you be curious about the tales of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine or just want to take in some of the most gorgeous sections of the Superstitious Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park will deliver. You can RV or tent camp in the park which is right at the base of those beautiful red cliffs. Better yet, spend an afternoon hiking and biking through the rugged trails that lead to Tonto State Forest. The park really is worth a day trip by itself  even if you don’t camp.

But getting back to the scenic drive…the next place you will get to ogle is Canyon Lake. The great thing about this drive is that is gives you a good overview of some places you might want to come back and spend more time. Canyon Lake is one of four lakes created by Salt River dams (the others are Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake and Saguaro Lake) and is strikingly beautiful.

 

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I lost count of the one lane bridges on this drive. This is one of the newer bridges at Canyon Lake.

 

The lake offers scenic red canyons with calm water that beckons you to boat, ski, fish, or just take it all in. There is also a campground and the Lakeside Restaurant & Cantina. We have done some hiking in this area and always hope to see some of the local bighorn sheep perched atop the canyon!

 

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No big-horn sheep again on this drive ~ WAH ~ but we did see these rough looking cows.

 

The next stop and the end of the paved road is at Tortilla Flat which was originally a stage coach stop and later a simple freight camp which supported the building of the dams. Tortilla Flat is Arizona’s smallest community – population 6 and still has a post office as well as a voters precinct. Like Goldfields, there is a bit of touristy vibe with a saloon, a mercantile and their own website but hey those 6 hardy peeps have to make a living too!

 

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Tiny Tortilla Flat is nestled down in that dip at the base of the rocks in the middle of the picture.

 

Once the pavement ends so do all the tourist traps and now all you see is natural beauty for the next 40 miles. Granted the road is washboard with hairpins turns but this is some beautiful backcountry.

 

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Apache Lake

 

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Yes, there is a road somewhere in this picture!

 

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It’s a devil Saguaro.

 

Back on the pavement again, we stopped to gawk at the massive Theodore Roosevelt Dam. It was originally constructed between 1905 and 1911 to control the erratic flow of the Salt River and to harness the water for irrigation. The dam turned the Arizona desert into land that could be farmed and was one of four dams constructed along the Salt River.

 

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Theodore Roosevelt Dam is unique in the way it was originally constructed as it was the world’s largest “cyclopean-masonry” dam, a Greco-Roman style of building that uses huge, irregular blocks. These massive blocks were cut out of the surrounding hills…can’t imagine how they were hoisted up over three hundred feet. The dam was later modified in 1996 and is covered by new concrete and stands 357 feet tall. The modifications expanded the lake’s storage capacity by 20 percent — enough for 1 million more people. Phoenix metro is over 4.5 million people and growing so the water and hydropower are vitally important resources.

 

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It’s quite an impressive site…those spillways are massive.

 

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Lake Roosevelt is on the other side of that ginormous dam.

 

By now we had worked up an appetite so we made a lunch stop in Globe at Nerdburger…great homemade burgers in a funky diner. The town of Globe relies on the mining industry which is still alive and well in this area of Arizona.

 

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Green Chile Cheeseburger anyone???

 

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Over 65% percent of the copper output for the United States is mined in Arizona.

 

The total loop drive from Gold Canyon RV Resort was about 127 miles and my only disappointment was the overcast skies which don’t make for the best photography. Hmmm, maybe I just have to go back on a sunny day!!!

 

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