Jenna’s AZ Bucket List nos. 84-79

Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List 84-79

  1. Tovrea Castle

When I was a kid living in the East Valley, the mark that determined we were crossing city line into Phoenix was driving past the Tovrea Castle, often on the way to the airport. The cake-like structure captured my child mind with wonder and intrigue. Was it a hotel? Was it some rich dowager’s estate? Was it merely a landmark that the city was invested in?

It turns out that throughout its lifetime Tovrea Castle, also sometimes known as the former estate of failed businessman Alessio Carraro, once was all of those things. Much has been written about this AZ landmark, so I won’t go into too much detail, but Carraro and family had originally hoped it would be a sensational hotel destination for Phoenix tourists (circa 1928). Turns out, in the early 30s a couple other AZ businessmen—cattle ranchers—bought up the land around it, started raising their herds and slaughtering right there near where the freeway bends now. This made the area stink to high-heaven—literally. Not so attractive for tourists. Carraro had a series of bad financial issues and eventually was bought out by E.A. Tovrea, the namesake.

Tovrea Castle image courtesy roadtrippers.com
Tovrea Castle image courtesy roadtrippers.com

His widow, Della lived there until she died in 1969. And then the fate of the odd architecture job was up in the air. There were all kinds of different plans; some called for demolition, some private owners thought of buying it. Eventually the City of Phoenix bought is with monies from a bond election. but even the city had trouble nailing down a business plan. As a teen when ever my family would drive by I’d long for the day I could set foot in this strange, iconic landmark. I wrote an article on the place in 1999 for Get Out Magazine (Tempe Tribune) and one of my sources suggested it may never be open to the public—too structurally unsound. That broke my heart.

Fortunately, through the concerted efforts of a community that really cared for the place as I had all these years, the City of Phoenix got its restoration plan together and they now open it up to volunteer-led tours. There is an admission to consider ($15), and you have to plan ahead of time. It’s only open certain hours and reservations should be made through the Tovrea Castle Tours website.

It’s well worth it. The tour leader drives your group up the front door on a shuttle and you get a couple hours inside. The place is sparsely furnished, but the tour volunteers are all trained as docents, full of fun stories and history. Like the time one of the workman’s sheds caught fire. And another time Tovrea’s elderly widow was tied up and held at gunpoint (there’s even a bullet hole in the kitchen ceiling!). The Tovrea Carraro Society oversees these volunteers and holds special events from time to time. For more information, email: Info@TovreaCarraroSociety.org

  1. Diving at Lake Pleasant

Someone once told me: Hey, Jenna! Go jump in the lake. So I was like, OK.

No, but for reals. I just completed my PADI SCUBA certification with some students and faculty from my school. This weekend we did our real and true first open water dives in Lake Pleasant.

I know what you are thinking: Lake Pleasant—disgusting! Isn’t it all murky and full of drunken boaters?

And …

you would be correct,  Sir or Madam! But when you are 26 feet below the surface level, all of that crap doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. You can think to yourself: I am breathing! Underwater!! Like a fish!

So, thanks Lake Pleasant, for helping me reach one of my Bucket List goals. I am now PADI Open Water certified. Headed back to the lake in a couple weekends to achieve Advanced certification status.

Lake Pleasant SCUBA diving image courtesy Examiner.com
Lake Pleasant SCUBA diving image courtesy Examiner.com
  1. Return to Chiricahua National Monument

When I was a kid, my dad would take us to Vegas on his weekends a lot. But my mom, on her weekends, would take us camping.

I have to give her a lot of credit for this. It isn’t easy to wrangle the kids, wash all the sleeping bags, pack up the tent, the charcoal, the coolers, enough water to get through the weekend AND remember your spare batteries, bathing suits, towels and camping cutlery. But somehow my mom had it together. In fact, I think after a few tries, she probably had a quick-to-go kit on the ready, not unlike something FEMA and varoius other state agencies encourage us all to have. Oh—but how few of us listen! Check out Google searches for FEMA Grab and Go and Ready.gov if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Anyway, those little excursions into nature were refreshing and sometimes breathtaking. There was the time we thought we were going to be attacked by bears out n Southern Arizona. The campground is literally called Bear Canyon Campground. It was extra dark that night and we heard all kinds of unfamiliar sounds. I think my mom went and slept in the car, leaving my little sister and I all alone in our big scary dark tent. There was a hike we did out at the Superstition Mountains where we got—legit—trained in desert survival by this cracked out old hippie guy with a gray beard. I still remember how to build a still well!

Rocks at Chiricahua National Monument
Rocks at Chiricahua National Monument

But the ultimate best adventure camping and hiking that we ever did was in Chiricahua National Monument. The place came up in a conversation with a new friend recently and I was elated that he knew about the place and seems to love it as much as I do. I don’t feel like I am exaggerating when I say this is the most beautiful national park I’ve ever been to (including Grand Canyon!).

First, the thing that takes my breath away is the diversity of natural topography within the park. On the same little parks maintained road you can go from woodsy, to exotic forest with maple trees (yes! maples! in AZ!) to high desert. Second is the incredible mix of wildlife you will encounter. Chiricahua is right dead smack there on the migratory bird path up from Central and South Americas. That means it’s not unusual to see roadrunners, wrens and jays, all kinds of hummingbirds, but also more exotic movers n’ shakers such as: ruby-crowned kinglets, Pacific-slope flycatchers and warbling virios. The National Park Service has recently updated its Birds list.

Apparently there’s a back way through the park that takes you almost through New Mexico but then up to a little town amidst the monument’s highest altitudes, but I don’t want to give away all the good secrets here in my blog. What I do want is another chance to go back to this magical place—it’s been a good dozen years for me. Any campers out there, email me stat. We could go this summer!

  1. Dine at The Stockyards

This one goes along with No. 84. I don’t have much to elaborate on this, except that it’s a dern Arizona landmark and I’ve always wanted to eat there!

I ate at Bill Johnson’s once as a kid. I guess that’s a good thing to brag about, seeing as the company has shrank and several of their outlying locations are gone.

I believe in ethically raising beef and of course, humane living conditions and slaughter. That said, I would sure like to share in the AZ cattle tradition and eat a nice big steak in a place that can proudly say it has called AZ home for 69 years! I suppose this adventure could be rolled in with my day out at Pueblo Grande. Also in the area is…

  1. The Hall of Flame Museum

The building is incredibly nondescript and there really isn’t much to catch the eye. Still, I’ve rolled past it probably 50 times or more and always thought to myself: Hey! I should go to the Hall of Flame Museum some day.

I mean for only $7, even if you spend just ½ an hour that would count. I think I only spent less than an hour at La Brea Tarpits in LA. I actually think I paid more for parking that day than the actual attraction.

Besides, who doesn’t love to look at some firefighters? Even photos of them. Am-I-right?

  1. Hot air balloon ride over Happy Valley

I realize I am going to have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for this one, and that will be a compromise; I’ve never been a morning person. But I imagine it’ll be amazing. If anyone knows pricing, or even better “knows someone,” I am all ears.

Hot air balloon, Lake Pleasant, AZ
Hot air balloon, Lake Pleasant, AZ

I actually asked my hubby when we got engaged if he’d be willing to tie the knot with me up in a hot air balloon. It looked good… on paper. We both realized we hate flying. So we decided—the courthouse, it is!

Still, I’d like to go up there with a bottle of champagne, check out some romantic views, and then come back down to earth. Hopefully avoiding the I-17.

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