Thursday, January 9, 2020

AZ Staycation Destinations: Montezuma Castle and Cave Creek Regional Park

With Philip's knee replacement surgery behind us and Elsie (our shiny new RV) just itching for her first real adventure, we visited a couple of "staycation" destinations right here in Arizona.

CAVE CREEK REGIONAL PARK

Between Christmas and New Years', we parked Elsie a mere 30 miles from home in the beautiful surroundings of Cave Creek Regional Park.  The beauty of the desert never gets old!




This park has 11 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking.  We were joined by hikers Pepe, Otis, Dolly, Cheyenne and Sprinkles ... oh, and their humans too!



There is also on-location horseback riding, with plenty of greenhorns visiting from Ohio and South Carolina for the Fiesta Bowl this week.


A few of the campsites have their own horse corrals, although with the evident proximity of multiple coyotes howling all around our campsite at night, I don't think I'd leave my horse there unattended like some hapless sitting snack ....


An unusual custom RV was spotted in the campground.  I jokingly asked where our Amazon Prime delivery was, and the owners were not amused.  I imagine they've heard that one before ....


Hot air balloons take off from the deserts surrounding the campground nearly every day, a beautiful sight with morning coffee or an evening cocktail.



And of course, the most magnificent part of any Arizona camping adventure are the breathtaking sunsets, here crested by a tiny crescent moon and its planet escort up high in the sky.



We determined the new RV to be spacious enough for even the largest (and furriest) dinner guest!


We've been camping with Ryan and Erin and their daughter Kate since 2013, and this was our first trip with Connie and Les.  Friends around the campfire does a heart good!


Kate helped Philip put our new electric ice cream maker (a Christmas white-elephant-exchange acquisition) into play with our first round of homemade strawberry ice cream ...yummmm!

 


MONTEZUMA CASTLE NATIONAL MONUMENT

Montezuma Castle National Monument is in Camp Verde, about midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff.



Montezuma Castle was thoughtlessly and incorrectly named by clueless American settlers who didn't bother to consult Siri, and instead just assumed this dwelling was Aztec in origin.


It was built between 1100 and 1300 AD by Southern Sinaguan Native American farmers.  Back in the day (through the 1950s), you could "tour" (tromp through all willy-nilly) this site, leading to looting, graffiti and extensive deterioration.  So, now you can only gaze from afar.


The ruins of this 5-story, 20-room dwelling are available for viewing from a short, paved footpath.  Beams from these type of sycamore trees were built into the ceilings of the castle.


Also on site is another less-well-preserved site uncreatively named "Castle A," that had about 45 rooms, presumably without room service.  Here is all that is left of Castle A.



MONTEZUMA WELL 

Part of the Montezuma Castle complex but a 10 mile drive away, Montezuma Well is a huge sinkhole that is still spring-fed.


It's pretty crazy that Montezuma Well gets only about 13 inches of rainfall a year, but the Well has over 15 million gallons of water!  It continues to receive new water by percolation through rock and by a vertical wall of rock under the Well that acts as a dam.


Like Montezuma Castle, this area has the remains of inhabitants built into the walls and under rocky coves.





It also has graffiti, but ancient graffiti, from the late 1800's! So, not really graffiti at all anymore.  Now it's an "artifact."



This particular fella, George Rothrock, was an enterprising photographer who took advantage of Montezuma Well's popularity and painted his very own advertisement for all to see on the overhead rocks.  The earliest form of social media, perhaps?


The remains of a pit house was probably built by the Hohokam, probably on a staycation themselves from the Salt River Valley in southern Arizona.  


Shut the front door! Here is where it was located.  100-150 people lived here between 1125 and 1400 and used the nearby water sources to irrigate their crops.


A on-site picture gives a better representation of how it looked and how it was probably very cozy, a forerunner to today's "tiny home" craze.  Probably also a "smoky home."



FORT VERDE STATE HISTORIC PARK  

This small but interesting fort in Camp Verde, just down the road from Montezuma Castle, is the best-preserved Indian Wars-period fort in Arizona.  (Granted, that's a short list, but still.)


Soldiers, scouts, officers, doctors, and their families lived here in forts like this from 1865-1891.





Besides a variety of furnished homes you can walk through, there is also a small museum housed in the former Military Headquarters.  During the holidays, they are decorated in period style, including an actual sock (hopefully clean) for a stocking on the mantel.



The parlor is where the family would gather for activities.  If the family had children, they would have slept in the kitchen. 


Wheelchairs, cameras, and ambulances have sure come a long way!


This mule litter was used to evacuate the sick and wounded.  Looks cozy, no?


Our Arizona staycation came to an end, as we returned home to begin de-Christmassing the sticks-and-bricks house.  We love Elsie and have already practically forgotten the Lucky Charm, though we hope she has found a happy home with a new family by now!



Santa knew just the right gift ... Elsie was made all the more lovely with the perfect neon dash accessory! 


We'll be taking a few more short trips in the next couple months, before spending April/May/June in the Carolinas and Georgia.  Wishing you a fun-filled 2020 with friends and family galore!



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

BOLT: "Best of the Loop Trip"!

Our big, lazy, five-month, 8,479-mile loop around the Northeast and Canada gave lots of special memories.  Invariably, when we return, people ask "What was the best thing you did?"  Add some of these "best of the best" locations and activities to your travel bucket list ... you won't be disappointed!

BEST STATE OVERALL
Maine


What's not to love about Maine?  Gorgeous picture-postcard scenery, endless cheap lobster, perfect summer temperatures in the 70's, crashing waves, charming small towns galore, outdoor recreation in spades, lighthouses, boats, and friendly, low-key people.  LOVE!

Runners-Up:  Vermont, New Hampshire


BEST NATIONAL PARK
Acadia National Park (Maine)


Acadia has both a "quiet side" and a "crazy side" and they're both terrific.  Scenic drives, pebbled carriage roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, free Island Explorer buses, seven peaks above 1,000 feet, rocky coastlines, ranger-led tours, and pet-friendly (rare amongst national parks)!

 Runners-Up:  Arches (Utah), Canyonlands (Utah), Mammoth Cave (Kentucky)


BEST STATE PARK
Watkins Glen State Park (New York)

WGSP is a gorgeous state park located walking distance to its famous Gorge Trail with 19 waterfalls in just 2 miles.  395 wooded sites have electric and water hookups, towering trees, hot showers, and even an Olympic-size swimming pool ... say whaaaat!?

Runners Up:  Gooseberry Falls State Park (Minnesota), Hocking Hills State Park (Ohio)


BEST HIKE (PET-FRIENDLY)
Corona Arch Hike (Moab, Utah)

The largest arch located in Utah not located in the nearby Canyonlands, this relatively easy 3-mile round-trip hike takes you to two different arches located next to each other.  And pet-friendly too ... Sprinkles wants you to know that it doesn't get any better! 

Runner-Up:  River View Trail, Gooseberry Falls State Park (Minnesota)


BEST HIKE (NON-PET-FRIENDLY)
Beehive Loop Trail (Acadia National Park, Maine)

If you've got the guts (and aren't too afraid of heights), the Beehive Loop is the most fun you can have on two feet!  With giant stone steps, multiple sets of iron rungs embedded in rock, exposed cliffs with steep drop-offs, gorgeous distance views, and 520 feet of elevation gain over 3.2 miles round-trip.  If this doesn't get your blood pumping, nothing will!

Runner-Up:  Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park (New York)


BEST KAYAKING
Boundary Waters National Recreation Area (Minnesota)

 The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is over 1,090,000 acres of watery goodness straddling the U.S. and Canada.  So close to the border, the Customs Department has an office here just for people entering the U.S. by canoe or kayak.  Whether an hour or a week on the water, there's a reason National Geographic calls this one of the "50 Places of a Lifetime!"

Runner-Up:  Peaks-Kenny State Park (Maine)


BEST BIKE TRAIL (DISTANCE)
Fred Meijer White Pine Trail (Michigan)


92 miles running from Cadillac to Grand Rapids, the White Pine Trail follows an old rail bed and is part crushed limestone, part paved, and 100 percent car-free.  Philip loved it for the isolation, the beautiful countryside, covered bridges, and the smooth asphalt covered with leaves made it feel like heaven.

Runner-Up: Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail (Minnesota)


BEST BIKE TRAIL (CASUAL)
Carriage Roads, Acadia National Park (Maine)

Acadia has over 45 miles of carriage roads, made of broken stones, and 16 pretty stone bridges, built by John Rockefeller and other wealthy industrialists who vacationed here. The roads lead into the heart of the park, and are today shared by bicyclists, pedestrians and horseback riders, all of whom enjoy the park the way Rockefeller did generations ago.  So fun!

Runners-Up:  Towpath Trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio), Little Traverse Wheelway (Michigan), Razorback Greenway (Arkansas)


BEST LARGE CITY
Old Quebec City (Quebec, Canada)

Visiting the fortified city of Old Quebec will make you feel like you've been whisked away to Europe, with loads of French-Canadian culture, old architecture, art galleries, shopping, museums, sidewalk cafes, and more.  Voted best destination in Canada by Travel + Leisure, Expedia, USA Today 10BEST, and others, Old Quebec City definitely warrants a place on your travel bucket list!

Runners-Up:  Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vermont; Grand Rapids, Michigan


BEST SMALL CITY
Boothbay Harbor (Maine)

We fell in love with the walkable charms of downtown Boothbay Harbor, with amazing gardens, shopping, lighthouses, festivals, and restaurants and breweries.  There are, of course, lots of Maine towns that fit this description, but Midcoast's Boothbay Harbor has a special charm that is undeniable!

Runners-Up:  Eureka Springs, Arkansas; Bayfield, Wisconsin


BEST TOURISTY PLACE
Niagara Falls (Canada & New York)

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Canada and the US share the falls, and both sides have different experiences!  We really expected to hate it, and then we couldn't help but love it!  All the hype is warranted and you've got to go, at least once in your life!

Runner-Up:  Mackinac Island (Michigan)


BEST CHEESY ATTRACTION
Mothman Museum (West Virginia)

The 1966 visit of "The Mothman" to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was sufficiently noteworthy as to inspire a Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere.  The tiny museum was stuffed with artifacts and renderings, and the statue is the town's point of pride.  Suspend your disbelief for an hour, just as you will when you visit Roswell, NM.

Runners-Up:  Corn Palace (South Dakota), Branson (Missouri), Wall Drug (South Dakota)


BEST TOUR
Shawshank Prison (Ohio)

Our #1 best tour was of Portland, Maine, and that was because our friend Sue Seriachick took multiple days to be our own private tour guide to Portland and Peaks Island.  But since most of you don't know Sue and therefore can't take her "tour," the next-best was the prison where Shawshank Redemption was filmed.  Really a fascinating facility and So! Much! Fun! if you liked the movie!

Runners-Up:  Mushroom Houses (Michigan), Holland Windmill (Michigan), "Gossip Tour" at Fort Ticonderoga (New York)


BEST CONCERT
Niagara Falls Queen Anne's Park (Canada)

The night-time LED light show on Niagara Falls, plus a brief but beautiful fireworks show, happens every night, and many summer nights there are also live music concerts in Queen Anne Park across from the falls on the Canadian side.  And you won't find better people-watching anywhere on earth!

Runner-Up:  The Boneheads @ Shore Hills Campground (Maine), Americana Vineyards (New York)


BEST STATUE/MONUMENT
World's Largest Picnic Basket (Ohio)

It's a basket!  It's a building!  It's both!  And it's also abandoned.  But still really cool!  200 feet wide and 7 stories tall, the former headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Company is pretty impressive and will make you feel oh-so-very-small. 

Runners-Up:  Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (Minnesota), World's Tallest Filing Cabinet (Vermont), Lakenland Sculpture Park (Michigan)


BEST SHOPPING
Niagara-on-the-Lake (Canada)

Canada's #1 Food and Wine Destination (according to TripAdvisor) is super cutesy.  Flower-lined streets, charming shops, fine restaurants, horse-drawn carriages rolling by, and finely restored 19th-century Victorian buildings will have you wondering if you're in Canada, or on the streets of Disneyland.

Runners-Up:  Portland, Maine; Old Quebec City, Canada; Bar Harbor, Maine; Eureka Springs, Arkansas


BEST MUSEUM
Corning Museum of Glass (New York)

With 35 centuries of glass art and history, a floor dedicated to glass science and innovation, a stunning contemporary art wing, and the largest hot glass demonstrations space in the world. Add a Make Your Own Glass experience and you've got a full (I mean FULL) day's worth of excitement!

Runners-Up:  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Ohio), NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame (Ohio), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Arkansas)


BEST MOUNTAINTOP
Mount Washington (New Hampshire)

It's fun in a terrifying sort of way to get to the top of Mount Washington, the first and oldest man-made attraction in the USA, opened in 1861.  8 miles of a 12% grade straight up up up, on narrow roads with steep drop-offs and no side railings!  At the top, "the worst weather in America," where the still-standing world record wind gust of 231 MPH was recorded in 1934. 

Runners-Up:  Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park (Maine), Whiteface Mountain Auto Road (New York), Mount Battie, Camden (Maine), Cannon Mountain (New Hampshire)


BEST CAVE
Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

The world's longest cave system was used for gunpowder manufacturing, a TB sanitorium, and for tours for wealthy people in the beginning of the century, including women in corsets and high heels crawling over rocks through the dark by candlelight for 10 hours.  But today, tours are much more tame ... just watch out for the section of the cave known as "Fat Man's Misery"!

Runner-Up:  Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota), Nada Tunnel (Kentucky)


BEST UNKNOWN NATURAL LANDMARK
Red River Gorge (Kentucky)

Red River Gorge Geological Area is an incredible part of Kentucky that includes sandstone arches and towering cliffs sculpted over millennia by the scenic Red River, with 500+ miles of hiking trails. With more than 100 arches, waterfalls, and old-growth forests, it borders Natural Bridge State Park and the complement to the above-mentioned "Fat Man's Misery" ... here it's "Fat Man's Squeeze"!   

Runner-Up: Buffalo National River, Franconia Notch (New Hampshire)


BEST WATERY FUN
Hurricane Deck - Cave of the Winds, Niagara Falls (New York)

Strap on your souvenir flip-flops and plastic poncho, cuz you're a-gonna get WET!  Take an elevator 175 feet down to a series of wooden walkways that will bring you to the unforgettable Hurricane Deck, just feet from crashing Bridal Veil Falls and a whole lotta water!  Tons of fun and laughter!

Runners Up:  Swimming in Echo Lake (New Hampshire), Rockland Lighthouse Breakwater (Maine), Seawall Point - Acadia NP (Maine)


BEST BOAT RIDE
Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls (New York)

With 600,000 gallons of water falling all around you, it's the best possible way to experience Niagara Falls, short of going over them in a barrel.  Safer and more fun, to be sure.  When the boat gets right next to the falls, you will really appreciate the power of H2O!

Runners-Up: Camden Olad Schooner (Maine), Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)


BEST FERRY RIDE
Lake Champlain Ferry to Burlington (Vermont)

Leaving Upstate New York, we loaded Lucky Charm onto a ferry bound for Burlington, Vermont.  They advised vehicles' height could be no more than 11'3" -- Charming is 10'11."  We jussssst fit!  Once the terror of driving on subsided, the one-hour trip was relaxing and beautiful.

Runners-Up:  Casco Bay Line Ferry from Portland to Peaks Island (Maine), Local Motion's Burlington Island Line Bike Ferry (Vermont)


BEST SCENIC DRIVE
Valley Loop Drive, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

One drive on the park’s 17-mile loop of geologic majesties will make you ready to saddle up your horse and take up a new way of life.  The highway cuts straight through the center of this park where many Western movies have been filmed, and the scenery simply can't be beat.

Runners-Up:  Scenic Loop, Badlands National Park (South Dakota), Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park (Maine)


BEST FORT
Fort Ticonderoga (New York)

Fort Ticonderoga is a beautifully preserved fort, but what really brought this place to life was their "Gossip Tour."  A guided walk regaling tales of drunken soldiers, stolen wives, unsolved crimes, and attempted murder made "real" history come to life!  If only high school American History class had been this fun!

Runners-Up:  Fort Mackinaw (Michigan), Fort Niagara (New York)


BEST RESTAURANT
Restaurant at Skylon Tower, Niagara Falls (Canada)


This 775-feet tower (think" Seattle's Space Needle, or Vegas' Stratosphere) has a revolving restaurant at the top with 360 degree views of the falls.  Bonus:  the food was great, the live piano music was a bonus, and we got to go outside on the platform a floor below afterwards. 

Runners-Up:  Buffet at Grand Hotel - Mackinac Island (Michigan), Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train (New Hampshire), Wharf Gallery - Corea (Maine), Betty's Pies - Two Harbors (Minnesota)

BEST BOOZY PLACE
Boothbay Brewery (Maine)


Arguably one of the best breweries in Maine, their beer flight and homemade brick-oven pizza was complemented by a dog-friendly patio.  Yessss!

Runners-Up:  Stoneyard Distillery (Colorado), Cellardoor Winery (Maine), Americana Vineyards (New York)


BEST MEAT SHOP
Bell's Meats (Pennsylvania)

We are STILL dreaming of the meat they sell at Bell's.  Let that sink in.  STILL DREAMING OF IT.  Months later. Every single thing they sell is that good.  Lemon pork chops, marinated flank steak, 25 kinds of homemade sausage (get the Greek), and so much more.  To die for!

Runner-Up:  Harbor Fish Market - Portland (Maine)


BEST GROCERY STORE
Market 32, Pittsfield (Massachusetts)

We almost skipped this place because its full name is Market 32 by Price Chopper, which sounds kinda like a dollar store.  Imagine our astonishment when we walked in anyway, and found it to be the nicest grocery store we would encounter on the entire trip!  In nothingsville Pittsfield, Mass. Wow!

Runner-Up:  On The Vine Marketplace - Scarborough (Maine)


BEST BAKERY
The Bakery at Winter Harbor - Schoodic (Maine)

Open seasonally, The Bakery is literally a tiny screened-in porch on the front of the chef's house.  Don't be deterred ... it was the yummiest of the yummiest baked goods we tried ... and we tried a LOT over five months.  The scones ... mmmmm the best!

Runners-Up:  Village Bakery - Mountour Falls (New York), Standard Baking Co. - Portland (Maine), Sugar Bakery - Trenton 


BEST FARMERS MARKET
Fulton Street Farmers Market - Grand Rapids (Michigan)

It's huge, it under a permanent covered roof, and it has a great variety of foods, plants, meats, vegetables, crafts and more.  Farmers Markets can be a mixed bag of good and bad, but this one is really really GOOD!


BEST LAUNDROMAT
Wash World, Cave City (Kentucky)

One of the challenges of RV'ing is doing laundry.  Usually, its a half-broken dusty washer in a campground, or occasionally you'll get two machines from which to choose.  Imagine my delight in nothingsville Cave City, Kentucky, to stumble into Wash World and see this!  I wanted to pitch a tent and stay the weekend, right there in their aisles!  If you don't understand this, then you haven't RV'ed much.


BEST WILDLIFE (CREEPY)
Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillars (Kentucky)

Ewwwww.  Just plain ewwwww!  And this guy is as long as my entire hand!  Hold up your hand ... go ahead, do it .... and picture this guy that size.  What .... the ..... heck!!!!!


BEST WILDLIFE (CUTE)
Western Meadowlark - Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

From ewwww to awwww, this little guy was perched on the top of our picnic table shelter in the Badlands campground.  I took this photo from the door of the RV, finding him wonderful, until I found out that the meadowlark chirps LOUDLY, and continuously, 24 hours a day.  That made him somewhat less cute. 


BEST CAMPGROUND - OVERALL
Buffalo Outdoor Center RV Campground (Arkansas)

With extravagant views, long/level sites, abundant peace and quiet, full hookups, and a bathhouse with showers that rival the finest hotel spas, all the middle of nowhere, we couldn't believe our eyes!  There was nothing we didn't love about this campground!

Runners-Up:  Fall Lake Campground - Ely (Minnesota), Wanderlust Crossings (Oklahoma)


BEST CAMPGROUND - EXPERIENCE
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Sanctuary (Arkansas)

TIGERS WERE RAHRRRING RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR RV DOOR, ALL THE TIME.  That's all you need to know, to realize how special and unusual this experience was!  With full unchaperoned access to a 93-animal big-cat wildlife rescue sanctuary, it was one of the coolest experiences we have ever had RV'ing, at a truly special place with an amazing staff.

Runners-Up: Stoneyard Distillery (Colorado), Abbott Farms (New York), Steamboat Park (Michigan)


BEST SUNSET
Sunset Bridge - Franconia (New Hampshire)


Well, what do you expect, when a photo is taken at sunset from a place named Sunset Bridge?



BEST LOVIN'
"Love Notes From Home"



Daughter Kelsey made us a box of weekly love notes, with cute pictures or memories or quotes, one for each Monday of the trip, giving us just a taste of family love while on the road -- very much appreciated and enjoyed!  Beyond that, we also appreciated visits from various friends and family at various stops, including Sarah and Sean, Taylor, Kelsey, my parents, and my cousin John and his wife Judy.  It also means so much to have y'all write, or text, or comment on the blog, especially when we are on the road for a longer time. Thank you all!


BEST TRAVEL BUDDY
It's a tie !!!  Sprinkles & Philip


Before and after! 146 days. 8,479 miles. 17 new U.S. states. 2 new Canadian provinces. 7 national parks and 11 state parks. 51 campsites. 1 heck of a summer!



WHAT'S NEXT?

Alas, the Lucky Charm has rolled her last mile with us.  We bought her to either "get us into" or "get us over" the idea of RV'ing, expecting to have an entry-level RV for only a couple years while we gave it a try.  Six years and 50,000 miles later (and lots of lessons learned), she has been traded in on a newer model, which we took delivery of shortly after returning to Phoenix from the Loop Trip.   She's a 2019 Fleetwood Southwind 34C model, and her name is Elsie 2.0  (Elsie = L.C., in honor of the original Lucky Charm).   We are so excited!


Lots more adventures are in the works, including the Carolinas and Georgia in April-June, 2020!
Thanks for rolling along with us!