On a whim, the husband and I decided to stop at Lake Pleasant after an overnight trip in Yarnell. So we took I-74 and cut across the desert. I’ve been to Lake Pleasant a handful of times now. That’s where I did my PADI SCUBA open dives for certification.
We drove into the park (Maricopa County Parks) and at first he was dismayed because there was a line of cars to get in. Keep in mind this was 1 p.m. on a hot August Saturday. But the line moved quickly, kudos to the park service for that, and we paid our $6 to get in. We had the dog with us, some sandwiches and a cooler full of water.
If you go and want to rent boats or jetskis, follow the initial signs towards the campgrounds and then look for the signs for Scorpion Bay Marina. When we pulled into the marina parking lot, at first we were confused, because it feels like you are up on a big cliff far away from the water’s edge. In fact, you are! But don’t fret. The vender has a tall staircase (kind of steep) and two self-service trams (they kind of look like outdoor elevators) to get you down to the dock. We had no problem with our load and our dog. In fact, it was kind of fun to operate the tram. But watch out for fingers when you close the heave doors.
The dog has never been on a boat before, so he was being a real baby about the dock and the water and the heat on his paw-pads. But eventually we got him down there.
Everyone in the rental office was so nice. We’d never driven a pontoon boat before, but they assured us it was easy. We got the 20-foot pontoon because it was cheapest by the hour and there was just the two of us so we didn’t need a huge party boat. Check out their website for all rentals and the rates. They do reservations for half- and full-day rentals, but not for hourly.
All-in-all, we had a fun few hours on the water. No one got hurt or sunburned. We captained the boat around and took turns parking in spots in jumping in the water. Fun activity and I’m glad we did it!
I got the opportunity to visit the Sedona Film Festival last month (2/25). I heard from an old, dear professor of mine from The New School in New York City. Doug Morrione was basically my senior thesis adviser when I was working on editing my Kooz documentary. Doug has a strong background as a professional film and television editor. He’s worked on many documentaries and different reality TV series-es. Anyway, he decided to go it on his own and make a documentary–like actually assemble the concept and film it himself. The result was “Everything in the Song is True,” a documentary about cowboy poets, trick riders and ropers, ranchers and generally, honestly salt-of-the-earth talented and hardworking people of the Southwest.
I had been wanting to experience Sedona Film Fest for year. I didn’t realize it’s been running for more than 20 years! (I thought it was relatively new, like Phoenix Film Festival). I can’t say that I got to experience it as a true insider, because I only attended one event, but Doug’s film was sold out and I could tell from the emcee, festival organizers, and other filmmakers that I met that the experience was a success. I was especially impressed with the availability of parking in various areas around Sedona and the shuttle system they had set up. I imagine the after-party at the Hilton was pretty fun, too. I hope to return next year and maybe ever splurge on the VIP pass. Like anyone needed an excuse to get up to Sedona! (But then again, for me it had been more than 10 years. Conclusion: gas money well-spent!)
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.
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
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?
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.
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!
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!
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…
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?
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.
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.
I want to do something a little different this week. Switching from places I have been in the last year or so, I’d like to focus this week on a handful of places I’d like to go. I’ll explain the importance of each place and provide some Internet-research based descriptions and plenty of links.
Apparently there is a giant room at the Kierland Resort is Scottsdale dedicated to more than 200 different types of Scotch and whiskey. I have also heard a rumor they have a tasting room. I have no idea what the cost for tasting flights is, but all I know is, as a Duncan and a person who likes whiskey. Scotch and Bourbon—I must go some day before my time in AZ is up! Methinks I will need an Uber driver to take me home that night. Either that or a suite.
When I was a kid, maybe fourth grade, my school took a class trip to Mesa Verde National Park to tour the sites of the large Native American dwellings (ruins) built into cliff faces in Southwestern Colorado. For some reason, I wasn’t able to go on the trip with them. Maybe I was sick or we missed the deadline to put down a deposit. Regardless of the reason why, I was disappointed. To make it up, my dad took my sister and I on an epic road trip all over the Four Corners area. We hiked and climbed big wood ladders to get to some of the tucked away ruins in Mesa Verde park, we stopped at Four Corners and stood in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah all at the same time, we drove through the Petrified Forest and we hiked and hung out in the woods in Durango.
That trip was amazing and required loads of driving, so it’s surprising to think I’ve never been to the Pueblo Grande ruins site, which is right down the street from my house. I was also surprised to learn that Pueblo Grande AZ is not even a national park, but is operated and maintained by the City of Phoenix. This is beyond surprising to me, as I consider this ancient living site to be very important and worthy of the highest caliber protection. I have faith that NPS will always be funded, but I sometimes worry that Phoenix and Maricopa County, in general, don’t always prioritize the preservation of important cultural and historical landmarks.
That said, my general feeling is that I better get to Pueblo Grande soon… and take a lot of photos!
It might be hard to believe, but somewhere sitting out there in the desert, just a little bit south of Tucson in Sahuarita is a complete, once-fully-operational missile launch site. It’s just sitting out there in what I imagine are a big group of silos and underground secret buildings. I don’t know, because I haven’t been yet. But you better believe this one made the AZ Bucket List!
I’ve been wondering about this place since I lived in Tucson, circa 1999-2001, and used to see the billboards all the time. I had a friend who was very into photography, and a couple times we went and skulked around the airplane graveyard. That was incredibly fun, thrilling and interesting, and I can only imagine an old, fully-automated missile launch area is even more mind-blowing.
The Titan Missile Museum used to be known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8. It was deactivated in 1982. The Titan II was the largest land based nuclear missile ever built or used by the United States.
Admission is less than $10. I am thinking I’m going to roll this one into a Southern Arizona weekend, and roll in my next bucket list item, which is…
Spend a night in Bisbee
The only time I’ve ever spent in Bisbee was on a day trip that I took by myself. I drove for what felt like all day from Phoenix. By the time I got to Bisbee, the sun was high and I got thirsty fast. Still, I walked around this little, charming, oddball ghost town, looking into windows of art galleries, roaming around noting the weird paint job on a lot of the classic old mining town houses, and wishing I had more time to actually go INTO the mine (I love going underground). I also wished I knew someone local who could show me around.
I wished I’d done some research and found a good concert or art event to go to. I also wished I had a room at the Copper Queen Hotel, because I was NOT looking forward to the five-hour drive back home. But rates were really high that night—about $250 (it was a weekend in the dead of summer) and I just couldn’t rationalize this expense for little ol’ me. Instead I sat in a bar that was completely dead and ate a hamburger, talking to this dark-haired bartender dude who was the epitome of hippie.
I’ve been dying to go back to Bisbee and actually spend a little more, but I have not had the occasion. This would make for one excellent stop on a group road trip, I’m thinking!
Shady Dell Airstream Park
Shady Dell is an entire trailer park full of old (but cute!) fully restored Airstream RVs. For a very affordable fee, you can drive down to this park near Bisbee and stay in a trailer fully made up to look like the 1950s. We are talking vintage couches, record player, cute dinette set, tiny mobile kitchen—the works. They have about 10 of these adorable refurbished models ranging from the years 1947-1959 with cute names such as the Tiki Bus, Spartanette and El Rey.
On two different occasions I had reservations and serious plans to go down to Shady Dell. And on two different occasions some big life event happened and I had to cancel. I’ve been disappointed about this since the year 2000.
I’m not a big vintage clothing fan, but I do love to go visit relics that remind us of a time in AZ past, so add Shady Dell to my AZ Bucket List Southern Arizona weekend getaway plans!