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.

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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Go, Go, Go in Gold Canyon Arizona

We have been on the go the last since we arrived in Gold Canyon Arizona on March 2nd so I haven’t really had time to sit down to write a blog post. My bad…but I will try to redeem myself.

Dinners out with friends, happy hour get togethers, cooking dinner for friends, playing pickle ball, hiking in the Superstition Mountains, concerts and having friends visit from out of town have filled our days to capacity. No complaints from these two retired people but looking forward to a few sleep-in days!!!

The Handlebar Pub and Grill in Apache Junction, know as AJ by the locals is one of those places you might just drive by and not notice. If you do notice it, you might still just drive by because it doesn’t look like much from the road.

 

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The inside is a bit dive bar-ish in a good way but the outdoor patio is the place to be. Live music most nights…actually good live music and a great selection of beer on tap. This place isn’t going to win any James Beard Awards but the food is good and the Green Chili Cheeseburger is one of my favorite things on the menu.

 

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The patio has a funky, cool vibe.

 

We decided this is the place to go when you roll into town and need something simple and easy that is prepared by someone else – no dishes to do afterwards either!!! Seems we are not the only ones who like the Handlebar as it is full with a waiting list almost every night.

We have gone on several hikes the last two weeks. The hiking options in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness which are just out our back door in Gold Canyon are abundant. Many people think that Arizona is a big, flat desert but that is so WRONG!!! The Superstitions are one of many mountain ranges and the elevation reaches up to 6,266 ft in the Supes’.

 

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The Praying Hands formation near Apache Junction.

 

One of our favorite hikes is the Garden Valley Loop Trail which takes you through really interesting varied terrain on the 5.6 mile hike. On a wetter year (not this year) there is water in the creeks around the canyon making it a great place to stop for lunch and to bird watch. It is really a beautiful hike, lots of variety with canyons, vistas, creeks and mesas so we wanted to share it with our Portland friends Dave and Tanya during their recent visit.

 

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We did see one of these beauties on the drive out from the trailhead  – a Phainopepla, known as a Black Cardinal. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Bird Watcher.

 

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Loved having you here in Gold Canyon Dave and Tanya!!!!

 

Garden Valley was farmed by a small group of Hohokams probably some one thousand years ago when the climatic conditions were more favorable. It was cool to stand on the knoll above the valley where the old Indian grinding pots are still visible and imagine how their community worked and lived.

 

 

 

I did some research online about the Garden Valley area and found Tom Kollenborn’s great website that chronicles the history of the Superstition Mountains. It is thought that this large valley floor had more than 200 acres of usable farm land when there was a sufficient supply of water. Today mesquite and chain cholla have become the primary vegetation because the cattle growers over-grazed this area for the past century. The indian ruins and the cattle ranching may be long gone in Garden Valley but the history of its occupation can be traced back for centuries.

 

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The Hohokam people lived around the Mesa area of Central Arizona for almost 1,500 years. They appeared around 1 CE and disappeared about 1450. Their agricultural society flourished around the middle Gila River and Salt River. These sources allowed them to farm beans, squash, corn, and cotton. The Hohokam were skilled agrarian’s, managing the soil to replace lost nutrients. Additional food came from extensive gathering of wild plants, dry farming agave, and hunting deer and small animals.

At one time a ruin was located in the center of the valley. This structure probably housed twenty-five to thirty individuals, while small caves on the fringe of the valley contained other families. Prior to 1930, the valley floor was literally covered with stone tools used by the ancient inhabitants who cultivated this special parcel of land.

 

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In the middle of this photo is a knoll where the ruins once stood.

 

The Apaches and Yavapais probably moved into these rugged mountains around 1500 A.D. The Apaches and Yavapais both constructed temporary rancherias or farmsteads in locations such as Garden Valley, Frog Tanks, Dismal Valley, Rock Tanks, Reavis Valley, along Tortilla Creek and many of the tributaries draining into the Salt River.

 

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This is the only water we saw on the hike.

 

According to Tom Kollenborn’s website, in November of 1931, the Arizona Republican co-sponsored an archaeological expedition led by the City of Phoenix archaeologist Odds Halseth. The expedition selectively collected surface artifacts and documented their location before removal. The members of the archaeological expedition made a cursory inventory of surface artifacts they did not collect. Several hundred lithics were inventoried on the surface, recorded, and left in place. The lithics of Garden Valley were primarily indicative of the Hohokam culture.

 

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Last year these creek beds were filled with water and we saw way more birds.

 

Unfortunately, none of these lithics remain on the floor of Garden Valley today. They all have been taken by collectors over the years, however we did see pottery shards as well as the ancient grinding pots.

 

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Past Garden Valley is an abandoned corral and trail going up the other side of the canyon which are part of a cattle ranch that was once there. It’s hard for me to imagine that there was enough grazing for the cattle in this rocky canyons.

 

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The corral area of the abandon ranch.

 

 

 

We all enjoyed this 5.2 mile hike and felt no remorse eating a big meal later that evening with our Oregon/Washington friends. I made a killer Baked Chorizo Bean Dip for the appetizer and not a morsel was left.

 

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We all got in our 10,000 steps for sure!!

 

Boyce Arboretum was also on our list of places to take our Portland friends Dave and Tanya. I wrote about the Arboretum after our visit last year and knew they would enjoy the birding opportunities there as well as the great walking/hiking paths through the 392 acre property. The hummingbirds were abundant, Black Chinned, Rufous, Annas and my new favorite – the Broadbill Hummingbird.

 

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These birds are so hard to photograph so thanks to the Audubon for supplying this photo of the Broadbill Hummingbird.

 

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I love the plant diversity at Boyce – it is a photographers dream.

 

 

This is just a small sampling of our last two weeks but I think you get the gist…go, go, go!

 

It’s Moving Day…

Our time here at the Outdoor Resort in Palm Springs has drawn to a close. Three and a half months has flown by and we have had a great winter so far.

Great weather, making new friends and having old friends visit have been the highlights of our stay here. The weather has been absolutely beautiful and it is great to be so active, hiking, biking and our new passion – pickle ball!

Getting the Road House ready to roll takes the better part of a day. Seems we have collected a few new things along the way but thankfully we have lots of storage under the coach. Wally does most of the outside packing while I concentrate on the indoor chores. In this post, you will get to see all the prep Wally does to get us ready to roll.

 

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All of this, except the big patio table and chairs have to be stowed.

 

Bikes go on the rack that is attached to the hitch on the back of the coach. The traegar smoker/grill legs fold under and it is stored under the coach. The teak bistro table and chairs fold up nicely and also fit into one of the three large compartments under the coach on the drivers side.

 

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Bentley needs to get with the program and stow his toys!

 

The outdoor rug is usually the biggest pain in the buttosky. It does a great job of collecting dirt and sand so we usually blow it off with our battery powered leaf blower, then fold it up and store it in a canvas bag. Again, it fits under the coach in on of the three big compartments on the passenger side. The trick to all this packing is to remember where the heck it all came from and then try to repack it all the same way.

 

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This is another reason a we have a SUV! Ernie is a great rolling storage unit.

 

Well, we did acquire a few things here in Palm Springs …the outdoor fire pit with a 10 gallon propane tank, a small side table and two doggie fencing panels. Hey, we needed that stuff so don’t get all judgy on me!

 

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Bentley LOVES his outdoor area and thinks the fencing panels were a great purchase!!!

 

After Wally gets everything stowed, he takes off the UV window screens that cover the windshield and side door, then he cleans the windshield and applies rainex. A clean windshield makes the driver a happy man! He also has to retract all of our awnings and make sure they are locked. Yes, we had one of them come loose last year and of course it was the big awning on the drivers side slide out. Lucky for us, there was no damage.

 

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Oops, I did acquire some herbs as well  🙂

 

The best is left for last…dumping the black tank and running the cleaning genie which automatically washes down the inside of the black tank.  Wally then has to wash and stow the gray/black water sewer hose. It’s really not that bad as fresh water is run through the sewer line prior to disconnecting and stowing it. Trust me on this one, the hose always goes back in the same compartment and nope, NOT my job!!!!

 

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Yes, he will deserve a long hot shower after this chore is done!

 

Wally usually disconnects the water and sewer the night before we roll but leaves us plugged into power. This makes his departure morning go faster and cleaner. He partially fills our fresh water tank so we have shower water the next morning. Isn’t he a smartie!!

There is still chore of getting the tow bar for Ernie ready but we (yes, I am helping on this one) will connect the car and the braking system in the morning after we pull out of our site.

Ta-Da, that is mostly it for pre-departure chores. In the morning, we will both re-check our task lists and hopefully be rolling for Arizona around 8 am.

Oh wait, there is one last chore to be done…..

 

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Time for a cold one and dinner out with some new friends.

I Love Paprika!!!

Yes, the spice Paprika is quite wonderful, especially the sweet smoked version but what I am in love with right now is the recipe app Paprika 3. Being an avid home cook and past personal chef, I have collected recipes for years, created recipes and shared recipes with friends. My recipes were stored too many ways, paper copies, photos and several places online. Most of my favorites resided online in an email folder which had made them easy to access in the past but if the wireless connection was not good (or non-existent on the boat) there were issues retrieving recipes. Not to mention they were in no particular order so it was often frustrating to find recipes or remember what recipies I have. Additionally, this archaic system was really hogging a lot of my precious iCloud storage.

 

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Line Caught Ling Cod Tostadas with Hatch Green Chili and Avacado Salsa

 

I finally decided that it was time to find an app to migrate my recipes to, so after copious amounts of research I purchased Paprika 3. Within a few minutes I was off and running…downloading recipes via their browser and reloading recipes that I had saved in my email folder. I wish there had been an easier way to mass import my existing recipes but alas there was not. The good news is that it just took a few keystrokes for each one and voila my recipes were in Paprika. I would estimate it took me about 4 hours to get all 300 plus recipes migrated. Yes, a bit of an investment of time but think of it as a hiatus from the book you might be reading or from watching mindless TV!

 

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This is a screen shot example of one of my favorite soup recipes – Picante Chicken and Black Bean Soup.

 

The other function in Paprika that is awesome-sauce is the shopping list. Simply pull up the recipe and touch the shopping basket icon and the ingredients are brought into the shopping basket where you can check off the ones you already have on hand. Then hit add for the remaining items…TaDa…now you have a shopping list!! Need some paper towel or dishwashing soap too? Yes, you can easily add these to your shopping list which will organize your items. This well organized shopping list makes it easy to breeze through the store. LOVE this function. The list is easy to access from the app on my iPhone and I can delete or flag items as I shop.

 

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You can also create a menu plan for the week, then create your shopping list and off you go to the store. Creating a menu plan certainly can make your week easier from a cooking perspective and really cuts down on impulse shopping.

If you are really feeling tricky, create a pantry of all the things you already have on hand and then add the things from your shopping list. I haven’t used this function yet but definitely will on the boat as it is hard to remember what is in the bottom of the under counter pantry or stashed under the bed.

I really needed this app during the holidays when I was cooking multi-course dinners as Paprika allows you to pin recipes. Pinning recipes makes it a easier to juggle between several different recipies. Open up a recipe and tap the pin icon in the bottom left. Once you have a few recipes pinned, tap that same pin icon to bounce between them. Paprika will remember any ingredients you’ve crossed off and the directions you have highlighted so you don’t lose your place.

 

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Provençal Vegetable Gratin – an beautiful dish that guaranteed to wow everyone at the table.

 

Scaling recipes is another handy function that the app has and is really great when you are trying to feed a crowd but the recipe is scaled for 4 people.

 

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Crabs Cakes Benedict which I served my sweetie for Valentine’s Day.

 

Overall, the $4.99 investment for the Paprika App was well worth it. I have been using the app now for about 8 weeks and still love it. Just today I created a one week meal plan, a shopping list and went off to the store knowing exactly what I needed to purchase – SWEET!!!

 

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Coming over for dinner???

Instant Pot

 

Photogenic Joshua Tree National Park

 

Some place are simply hard to capture through the lens of a camera but Joshua Tree National Park has got to be one of the most photogenic place we have been this winter. I am a very amateur photographer so you can bet I was thrilled when I started viewing the beautiful park iPhone pictures on a larger iPad screen later. Joshua Tree was good to me for sure.

 

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That’s a fine looking Joshua Tree!! They are actually part of the Yucca family.

 

Not only is the park a beautiful place to photograph, the hiking is great too. It has been over 20 years since we had visited Joshua Tree so we spent the day getting reacquainted.

 

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I love the texture that you get when taking photos in the desert. 

 

With two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, Joshua Tree National Park has a fascinating variety of plants and animals who make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. The risk taker side of me is really jonesing to be in the desert when a major torrential downpour happens. Not so crazy as to want to be hiking in a slot canyon but perhaps somewhere high enough to safely watch all hell break loose!

The park website has some great info on safely visiting the park (okay, no info on where the best place is to watch a flash flood) as the weather can be extreme and there is no cell service inside the park. “Remember, your safety is your responsibility”. Hmm, was that directed at me specifically???

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Great boulder climbing in the park.

 

Dark night skies and the surreal geologic features make Joshua Tree a popular place to camp. With 792,510 acres, four visitors and nine campgrounds there are days of exploration to be had. We did some recon for sites large enough for the Roadhouse but like most national parks, big rigs like ours have a harder time finding a site that will accommodate length beyond 35 feet.

 

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The campsites at Hidden Valley are nestled in-between the jumbo boulders. 

 

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Camping at Joshua Tree is primitive. No water, so bring plenty with you.

 

There are also many great picnic areas scattered all around this section of the park. We found a great lunch spot at one of the picnic areas near Jumbo Rocks.

 

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Skull Rock…I think it looks like a gorilla head!

 

We spent most of our day in the northwest section of the park doing short hikes and taking in all the natural beauty. We started the day by driving from Palm Springs to the Cottonwood Visitors Center. From there we worked our way up to Keys View stopping at the Cholla Gardens and a few other areas along the way.

 

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The Discovery Trail was designed by students and includes 10 features of interest for kids.

 

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The Cholla Cactus Garden

 

Barker Dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the 1.3 mike hike was my favorite of the day.  The area is just stunning and the water there made it feel like a real oasis in the desert.

 

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A true oasis in the desert…no camels but there were some ducks floating around.

 

The dam was originally constructed by the Barker and Shay cattle company in 1902 and was added to several times by William “Bill” Keys, a homesteader and local legend. The dam serves as a tangible reminder of the tenacity and ingenuity of homesteaders struggling to survive in the extreme deserts of the American Southwest. Rusted metal pipes scavenged from abandoned mines protrude from the top of the masonry and concrete dam that catches and holds seasonal precipitation. No springs exist in the area, so catchments such as Barker Dam were vitally important for ranchers and homesteaders trying to settle the desert.

Sadly, this historical dam has suffered serious vandalism and in 2015 the area around the dam was closed off to the public. REALLY, what the hell is wrong with people – when I read about things like this happening in such areas of beauty I really lose faith in humans. We are fast becoming a failed species.

 

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So unbelievable that people would do this. Photo courtesy of the NPS.

 

Thankfully, the NPS partnered with the University of New Mexico who helped the Joshua Tree National Park develop a method of mitigating the scratched graffiti at Barker Dam.  The year and a half partnership culminated with a weeklong project where architectural conservators from the University of New Mexico volunteered their skills to effectively cover the visual impacts of scratched graffiti from the entire surface of the dam. Okay, my faith in humans is slightly restored!

 

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The restored dam wall.

 

Bill Keys and the Desert Queen Ranch are quite a story. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the tour but it is on my list of things to do when we make another visit to the park. So, I promise a follow up to this at a later date!

Unlike the many rolling hills of sand found at other parts of Joshua Tree, Hidden Valley is composed mostly of large boulders and countless rock making it one of the most popular destinations in the park for rock climbers. That, and the fact that there is a campground just across the road with just nine super cool sites tucked back in the big boulders make this a popular place. So listen up avid campers, if you haven’t camped at Joshua Tree National Park, you should put it on your bucket list.

 

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This yucca has the perfect location tucked in next to the boulders. The roots will seek moisture from under the boulders which will help it survive – aren’t plants clever!

 

No climbing for us, instead we stuck to the trail and enjoyed the short walking/hiking trail around Hidden Valley. I can see why climbers love this area – the massive rocks ringing part of the valley are just spectacular. For non-climbers, Hidden Valley is one of the easiest trails in the park, despite the difficulty of rock climbing here. You can take in the rocks scaling to 4,200 feet at their highest point and the climbers climbing on them, all while hiking a loop trail that is just over a mile.

 

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Is that sliver of rock really holding the boulder up?

 

Hidden Valley has some interesting history too. Back in the 1870s a pair of brothers, Bill and Jim McHaney and their band of cowboys known as the McHaney Gang were known for stealing cattle and horses and hiding them between the rocks at Hidden Valley. They rebranded the cattle there, with 55-acres to do so. At the time, the herds had abundant amounts of grass to feed on, as it covered most of the valley’s floor.

After the herds were rebranded, they were sold off in other states. At one time a successful business, by the end of the 19th century, many cattlemen and miners had moved into the region and quickly it became too risky a business.

Our day in Joshua Tree came to an end all too soon and as dusk descended on the park, it was time to head back to Palm Springs. Good thing it is such an easy day trip from the Palm Springs area because we need several more days to explore the many parts of the park we didn’t get to.

 

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Our final gift from Mother Nature was this incredible sunset on the drive back to Palm Springs.

 

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Our driving route.

 

 

 

Texas Hill Country – Part 3

Texas and History, Texas and BBQ, those connections no one questions but Texas and Wine? Does that seem like an oxymoron? Well, it sure did to me. I had only tasted one Texas wine with mixed reviews so I wasn’t expecting much when we went wine tasting near Fredericksburg. Of course, I did a ton of research prior to and learned some interesting factoids about the Texas wine industry.

 

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A Texas high plains vineyard – photo courtesy of Drink Well America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did Ya Know…that Texas is the fifth largest wine producing region in the US?

Did Ya Know… Texas currently has over 350 bonded commercial wineries?

Did Ya Know… Wine production in Texas continues to grow each year with over 1.5 million gallons produced in 2014?

Did Ya Know… There are eight American Viticultural Areas in Texas?

Good grief, I could go on and on as there are some truly interesting things to read about Texas wine history. But I won’t, so check out the link to Wikipedia should you want to dive in further. Just a word of advice, this history goes particularly well with a glass of wine so get out your wine opener!!!

When I wrote earlier about Texas BBQ and history, I told ya’ll this would all tie together – right?? Well, Napa and Sonoma may be more famous for wine, but Texas Hill Country has one key thing they don’t… amazing smoked meats – BBQ to be precise. Couple that with all the historical happenings in Texas and wine and you have a winning trifecta.

With only a week to explore Texas Hill Country, we chose to hit our winning trifecta in and around Fredericksburg. We could have literally spent a week in Fredericksburg just visiting wineries but with only a day to explore we picked out three wineries to visit and taste.

Our first stop was at Becker Vineyards near Stonewall. Becker Vineyards farms 46 acres of estate fruit and owns two additional vineyards near San Angelo and Mason, Texas, totaling just over 87 acres of vines. The tasting room was huge and packed…since it was a holiday week, I think everyone was at the Fredericksburg wineries.

Becker Vineyards’ winery is a 10,000 square foot reproduction of a late 19th century German stone barn, a style prevalent in the Texas Hill Country. Since first opening in 1996, two winery expansions have taken place to accommodate 74 tanks and over 2000 barrels. They also boast state of the art Italian designed bottling equipment, processing 55 bottles per minute.

 

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Becker Vineyards

 

The tasting offering were extensive and expensive at $20 per person for 6 tastings but you do get to keep the Riedel wine glass. Many of the wines we tasted were single varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but also included blends of grapes grown at their three different vineyards. One of my favorites was the 2015 Roussanne Reserve, with its deep rich flavors of pear and mild tropical fruit. The grapes for this wine come from the Bingham Vineyard in the Texas High Plains.

Pedernales Cellars was our next stop where we were warmly greeted by the tasting room crew. Seems this winery has won its share of ribbons, metals and saddles at tasting competitions. Yes, saddles…nice saddles too! I would have happily plunked my bottom in one of those pretty suede seats and ambled around the winery on a tall, lanky texas horse. Alas, that was not offered as part of the tasting experience but we still enjoyed ourselves anyway.

 

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Giddy up!!!

 

 

Pedernales specializes in Spanish and Rhone style wines and sources its grapes from vineyards in the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains – most importantly from the original estate vineyard started by the Kuhlken family in the 1990’s.

We are big fans of Rhone style wines and really enjoyed the 2015 Pedernales Texas GSM Melange. We bought a bottle to take to a blind wine tasting that we were attending back in Palm Springs. Rhone style and Texas are definitely not synonymous when I think of Texas wines so I knew it would be a fun entry.

 

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Our last stop of the day was at Hilmy Cellars which turned out to be our favorite winery of the day. The tasting room was small, intimate and the staff were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the wines.

 

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The Hilmys purchased the winery property in 2006, and planted the first three-acre block of sangiovese clone vines in 2009, so this is a very young winery. The second planting of approximately two-and-a-half acres was put in the following year, and consisted of an experimental block of tempranillo, petit verdot and tannat. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the fruit for their current wines came from the Texas High Plains region, with the rest originating in the Hill Country.

Like most Texas Hill Country Winery’s, Hilmy is working with grapes that are best suited to the hot summer climate which in my humble opinion are also well suited to blending as that can often bring out the best characteristics of all the grapes.

Their white wines were my favorite and they have some more unusual varietals like albariño which is a white grape variety most prolific in Portugal & Spain. Albariño is known for it’s distinct bouquet, bright acidity, and its ability to thrive in high heat. As a result of those characteristics, it is gaining traction in Texas.

We tasted rose, white and red wines and left with a few bottles of the 2015 Persephone which is a blend of viognier and marsanne. The grapes are fermented separately in stainless steel, then married seven months prior to bottling, then aged in the bottle seven more months to further develop the bouquet. This full-bodied, well-structured yet supple wine exudes notes of fresh pineapple, melon and pear. A beautiful example of hot climate whites grown in Texas and definitely on the quality scale with similar wine from the Walla Walla wine region in Washington State.

 

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Hilmy Cellars

 

At the end of the day, I was sure glad I had left my skepticism for Texas Wines behind and ventured out to try some Texas wine. We all really enjoyed our day tasting in Texas Hill Country and wished we had a few more days to see what else was out there!

Texas Hill Country – Part 3

Texas and History, Texas and BBQ, those connections no one questions but Texas and Wine? Does that seem like an oxymoron? Well, it sure did to me. I had only tasted one Texas wine with mixed reviews so I wasn’t expecting much when we went wine tasting near Fredericksburg. Of course, I did a ton of research prior to and learned some interesting factoids about the Texas wine industry.

 

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A Texas high plains vineyard – photo courtesy of Drink Well America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did Ya Know…that Texas is the fifth largest wine producing region in the US?

Did Ya Know… Texas currently has over 350 bonded commercial wineries?

Did Ya Know… Wine production in Texas continues to grow each year with over 1.5 million gallons produced in 2014?

Did Ya Know… There are eight American Viticultural Areas in Texas?

Good grief, I could go on and on as there are some truly interesting things to read about Texas wine history. But I won’t, so check out the link to Wikipedia should you want to dive in further. Just a word of advice, this history goes particularly well with a glass of wine so get out your wine opener!!!

When I wrote earlier about Texas BBQ and history, I told ya’ll this would all tie together – right?? Well, Napa and Sonoma may be more famous for wine, but Texas Hill Country has one key thing they don’t… amazing smoked meats – BBQ to be precise. Couple that with all the historical happenings in Texas and wine and you have a winning trifecta.

With only a week to explore Texas Hill Country, we chose to hit our winning trifecta in and around Fredericksburg. We could have literally spent a week in Fredericksburg just visiting wineries but with only a day to explore we picked out three wineries to visit and taste.

Our first stop was at Becker Vineyards near Stonewall. Becker Vineyards farms 46 acres of estate fruit and owns two additional vineyards near San Angelo and Mason, Texas, totaling just over 87 acres of vines. The tasting room was huge and packed…since it was a holiday week, I think everyone was at the Fredericksburg wineries.

Becker Vineyards’ winery is a 10,000 square foot reproduction of a late 19th century German stone barn, a style prevalent in the Texas Hill Country. Since first opening in 1996, two winery expansions have taken place to accommodate 74 tanks and over 2000 barrels. They also boast state of the art Italian designed bottling equipment, processing 55 bottles per minute.

 

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Becker Vineyards

 

The tasting offering were extensive and expensive at $20 per person for 6 tastings but you do get to keep the Riedel wine glass. Many of the wines we tasted were single varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but also included blends of grapes grown at their three different vineyards. One of my favorites was the 2015 Roussanne Reserve, with its deep rich flavors of pear and mild tropical fruit. The grapes for this wine come from the Bingham Vineyard in the Texas High Plains.

Pedernales Cellars was our next stop where we were warmly greeted by the tasting room crew. Seems this winery has won its share of ribbons, metals and saddles at tasting competitions. Yes, saddles…nice saddles too! I would have happily plunked my bottom in one of those pretty suede seats and ambled around the winery on a tall, lanky texas horse. Alas, that was not offered as part of the tasting experience but we still enjoyed ourselves anyway.

 

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Giddy up!!!

 

 

Pedernales specializes in Spanish and Rhone style wines and sources its grapes from vineyards in the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains – most importantly from the original estate vineyard started by the Kuhlken family in the 1990’s.

We are big fans of Rhone style wines and really enjoyed the 2015 Pedernales Texas GSM Melange. We bought a bottle to take to a blind wine tasting that we were attending back in Palm Springs. Rhone style and Texas are definitely not synonymous when I think of Texas wines so I knew it would be a fun entry.

 

445A5B7D-9216-49F0-9968-B174A97F1735

 

Our last stop of the day was at Hilmy Cellars which turned out to be our favorite winery of the day. The tasting room was small, intimate and the staff were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the wines.

 

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The Hilmys purchased the winery property in 2006, and planted the first three-acre block of sangiovese clone vines in 2009, so this is a very young winery. The second planting of approximately two-and-a-half acres was put in the following year, and consisted of an experimental block of tempranillo, petit verdot and tannat. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the fruit for their current wines came from the Texas High Plains region, with the rest originating in the Hill Country.

Like most Texas Hill Country Winery’s, Hilmy is working with grapes that are best suited to the hot summer climate which in my humble opinion are also well suited to blending as that can often bring out the best characteristics of all the grapes.

Their white wines were my favorite and they have some more unusual varietals like albariño which is a white grape variety most prolific in Portugal & Spain. Albariño is known for it’s distinct bouquet, bright acidity, and its ability to thrive in high heat. As a result of those characteristics, it is gaining traction in Texas.

We tasted rose, white and red wines and left with a few bottles of the 2015 Persephone which is a blend of viognier and marsanne. The grapes are fermented separately in stainless steel, then married seven months prior to bottling, then aged in the bottle seven more months to further develop the bouquet. This full-bodied, well-structured yet supple wine exudes notes of fresh pineapple, melon and pear. A beautiful example of hot climate whites grown in Texas and definitely on the quality scale with similar wine from the Walla Walla wine region in Washington State.

 

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Hilmy Cellars

 

At the end of the day, I was sure glad I had left my skepticism for Texas Wines behind and ventured out to try some Texas wine. We all really enjoyed our day tasting in Texas Hill Country and wished we had a few more days to see what else was out there!