Rockin’ a Road Trip to the Verde Valley: Craft Beer and Hikes

Getting back to normalcy in April for Carolyn and I meant returning to all of our outdoor activities. Carolyn was back to running longer distances and both of us hiking the great outdoors without worry of Covid aftereffects. Easter Weekend had us in Payson with Carolyn’s mother and we decided to follow Arizona Governor Ducey’s advice on visiting a state park. For some background information the Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego had closed all city parks for picnics and gatherings due to fears of another Covid outbreak. Governor Ducey didn’t much care for that so he promoted in a video that state parks were open and mentioned two as possible places to visit. One was the Tonto Natural Bridge in Payson area and the other mentioned was Rockin’ River Ranch in the Camp Verde area.

We decided to travel to the Rockin’ River Ranch. This state park had never been open and has gone through a long process of making it into a state park. I made the assumption that Governor Ducey knew something that I didn’t and that maybe the state was doing a “soft” opening as a gift to the residents. We travel the 60+ miles only to discover that it still was closed and somebody had given the Governor some bad information. I’m guessing we weren’t the only ones to travel to a closed ranch state park based on his recommendation.

Rockin’ River Ranch is located close to the Copper Canyon Trailhead and we decided to head there for a hike. We took Carol on part of the loop trail to the waterfall area. Carolyn and I had hiked this area last year and it is a nice area with little traffic. The waterfall is spring fed and a very peaceful area to visit. Our total hike was about 2.7 miles with little difficulty. I highly recommend doing the close to four mile loop trail that is moderate with some elevation gains.

Every good hike deserves a good beer and we head over to the Verde Brewing Company located in a warehouse area off of I 17. We have been here multiple times but they had been closed for almost a year during the Covid shutdowns and had recently reopened. Verde Brewing doesn’t get much for style points on location and ambiance but their beer and food are winners. The Gold Buckle Blonde Ale is one of my all-time favorite craft beers. It contains Verde Valley honey and is phenomenal. Their Wildflower IPA is also exceptional brewed with wildflower honey. I don’t always rave about specific beers but these two are Allstars. We shared the “elote” style nachos and some chili and they are fantastic. If you are ever in the area, this place is great. Just do it.

After our noon stop at the brewery we drive to Cottonwood and the Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Our first state park attempt failed so we were determined to visit another. In all my years, I had never been to this state park. It is located close to Old Town Cottonwood along the Verde River. Very nice and we hiked around the lagoons for a peaceful walk. The park has multiple trails and Carolyn and I are determined to return and just maybe hike the 15 mile one way trail that goes to Red Rock State Park near Sedona. I might make the 15 miles but to certain how I would get back. I suppose I will have to figure that one out.

While in the area, we decided to visit a new to us brewery, Smelter Town Brewery, located in the old mining town of Clarkdale. Clarkdale has a cool vibe and they are restoring and repurposing some of the historical buildings. The Verde Canyon Railroad is located here and brings in many visitors. The brewery opened in the Fall of 2020 (Covid time) in a 100 year old restored building that also has a hotel. The ambiance of this place is something else. It is a beautiful building and we order samplers to taste their different beers. It is good to see that a small town can work together to get projects off the ground and completed. Clarkdale just might be on to something and the Smelter Town Brewery could be a cornerstone for other projects. Another spot you need to see.

Sampling The Smelter Town Brewery

Our trip back to Payson is nice and easy with little traffic on a late Saturday afternoon.

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Back On My Feet Again

Gonna break these chains around me
Gonna learn to fly again
May be hard, may be hard, but I’ll do it
When I’m back on my feet again

Gonna feel the sweet light of heaven
Shining down its light on me
One sweet day, one sweet day I will feel it
When I’m back on my feet again
by Dianna Eve Warren

After being down with COVID 19 for two plus weeks, I was ready to break the chains around me and get back on my feet again by hitting the trails that include brewery stops. Granted I started off slowly with longer walks around our Phoenix Dreamy Draw neighborhood and into the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Carolyn was back to running and working to regain her stride before her Covid setback and she definitely broke the chains much quicker than me. To commemorate my three week anniversary of testing positive we celebrated with a five mile round trip canal/street walk to North Mountain Brewing Company. If I was going to break those chains, I had to put in a brewery for a reward. North Mountain is a hidden gem off of 7th St and Dunlap. The “Golden Ale” is their signature brew and it has a great touch of honey that makes it an easy sipper.

The following day, Carolyn and I returned to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Lost Dog Trailhead. Carolyn did a trail run and I read a book and then we headed out on the trails for a nice loop hike. Nothing real strenuous since I still wasn’t 100%. The hike was about three miles on the Lost Dog Wash to Ringtail. Very beautiful desert hike that had some slight elevation gains. Our reward for this adventure was a trip to Bone Haus Brewing located south of Shea close to the Fry’s supermarket. Another hidden gem with a great atmosphere and good brews. Our personal favorite is “Englemann’s Elixir” a prickly pear pale ale. We really like this one and on tap it is something special. Check out if you are ever in the Fountain Hills area on Shea.

I could feel myself getting stronger as the after effects of Covid were decreasing day by day. Carolyn and I decided that it would be good to see how I felt on a longer, more strenuous hike. On the last Sunday in March, we hiked in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve from the Desert Vista Trailhead located northeast of I17 and Jomax. For a Sunday afternoon, we did not encounter many other hikers. Our trail was the Hawk’s Nest to Dixie Mountain Loop. Our total hike was was over 4.5 miles and elevation gain of 850 feet. In the spring a great horned owl returns to her nest in a saguaro, gives birth and the baby owls are so cute to view. Those babies and their momma are something to see. (Carolyn did this hike with me after running on another strenuous trail loop of around four miles.)

Our brewery reward for this hike was Simple Machine Brewing Company located in the Deer Valley Air Park. This was a new brewery experience for us and once again another winner. Great open air pub with a patio and a local following. We will return when in that area. My personal favorite was the “Day Crusher” blonde Ale.

My day went so well, I figured I should get back on it and Monday we headed to White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Being Monday, there was very few encounters with humans on the trails. Our big hike for the day was a loop that took us on the South, Bajada, Mule Deer, and Goat Camp Trails. We managed 7.25 miles with elevation gains of 530 feet. Located close to Luke Air Force Base, our start was quite noisy as their jets flew over multiple times. White Tank area has been known to have snakes but the only wildlife encountered were small rodents. After this hike, I still had some energy left and we ended up hiking the Waterfall Trail. There is a waterfall, only after big rains, and this hike is worthwhile to view the many petroglyphs. I’m always fascinated by the ancient drawings and this trail has many to view. We adding two miles and another 400 feet of elevation gains to our daily total.

On the way back home, we found us another brewery to stop and visit, State 48 Brewery in Surprise. State 48 has six locations in the Phoenix area but this a first for us in Surprise. Our food was really good and our beer was ok. They happened to be out of several that day.

These hikes bring me to the end of March. I started the month of March under the weather with Covid but I continued to get better and by mid month I was back on my feet again hitting the trails and stopping at breweries along the way. Craft beer and hiking–it doesn’t get much better then that. Back in the day, we used to listen to Michael Bolton. The song for me always represented overcoming adversity with some encouraging words. In case you forgot who he was, I have attached “Back On My Feet Again” by Michael.

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Gonna Fly Now: Coming Back From Covid

There are moments in your life where something is said to you that you never forget and the words change your life forever. For example, my wife saying, “I’m pregnant!”. That was life changing and when Dr. Zonakis called and told me that my lab results for a mole showed melanoma, that was life changing. Or as recent as February 27, the physician assistant at a NextCare Urgent Care telling me that my nasal swab showed I was positive for COVID. Yep that was life changing as well.

During January and February, I officiated high school basketball in eastern and central Arizona. On the last Tuesday of February, I worked in Camp Verde and I believe I may have contacted the virus from an asymptomatic person who had stated throughout our games that he must have had eaten something bad because his stomach was causing “issues”. We worked with masks but in the locker room you let down your guard and I can’t say with certainty that is where I was exposed but that’s my guess. The following Friday, I officiated in Cottonwood and on my drive back to Payson, I called Carolyn and told her that I wasn’t feeling right, “I just felt off.”

Once arriving in Payson, Carolyn and I watched some Netflix before retiring. I was still achy and running a slight fever with an intermittent cough. Carolyn suggested we drive to the closest place for an instant test on Saturday and I made an online appointment for 1:00. The night was filled with night sweats and it became more difficult to urinate. (one of my symptoms) On our journey to NextCare I was feeling very lethargic and my body temperature at urgent care was 103. After testing positive for Covid, I immediately notified my neighbor and my basketball commissioner so they could start the process of contacting those who were in contact with me over the past week not knowing for sure when I was exposed. On our way back to Payson, Carolyn picked up a variety of supplements including zinc, and Vitamins C, D, B.

Now that I am in my 60’s, I was definitely concerned on how this virus was going to impact my life. I should note that I had scheduled my first dose of the vaccine on Sunday the 28th but that just wasn’t meant to be. On Monday, Carolyn returned to Phoenix for work and I stayed under quarantine in Payson with our 15 year old dog Roxy. From Sunday to Friday, I would get out and walk an average of 3.5 miles a day. I was able to continue my daily regimen of making healthy smoothies loaded with super greens and fruits high in antioxidants. I continued to run a low grade fever 99 to 100 that was controlled with acetaminophen. I called my long time family doctor, James Schouten, to see if he had some ideas and he prescribed zithromax Z pack with a methylprednisolone pack of steroids. Not certain how effective it was and In hindsight I wish I had taken the monoclonal antibody treatment that he mentioned as an option, but it went right over my head. The first week included awful night body sweats, fever, mild body aches, the “Covid” cough, and a feeling of fatigue.

I joined Carolyn in Phoenix Friday night, and she had started to develop similar symptoms. She tested positive on Saturday. We were now in quarantine together in our condo. My second week was much worse then my first week. Not only did I continue with my previous stated symptoms, I added a tightness with pains in my chest and the cough worsened, my pulse rate was high, became unable to focus when trying to read plus the fatigue worsened. The fatigue overwhelmed my desire to do anything and my making of the daily smoothie ended because I just couldn’t do it. Even Roxy would run and hide in the closet as my cough scared her to death. Carolyn and I spent the week watching multiple movies and shows on our various entertainment apps. (That part was enjoyable) My outdoor daily walks were now down to less then 2 miles as I lacked motivation and struggled with fatigue.

Week number three for me and number two for Carolyn saw improvement for both of us and Carolyn returned to her home based work with Southwest on Friday. I still had a reoccurring cough and the fever finally abated. I was on the mend but the fatigue issues continued. By Sunday, Carolyn and I returned to some hiking with a walk of over 5.5 miles in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve which felt good to do.

Prior to catching Covid, Carolyn had been training for a half marathon in Utah slated for April 10. Thankfully her recovery was a bit quicker then mine and she returned to running even though the two weeks hindered her training she was determined to get moving. She has not returned to peak form but she is improving and she won’t do as well as she hoped but she will finish.

I continued to improve during my 4th week with more energy and the cough was almost gone. I was thankful that I had never lost my sense of taste and smell during my battle with Covid. Carolyn lost her sense of smell and taste for several days during her first week but it was short lived. My doctor thought I probably had one of the variants of Covid (UK version) due to not losing my senses of taste and smell.

Prior to having Covid, my last illness was March 19 to about March 24, 2020 when I ran a slight fever with the nightly body sweats and just being sick. Who knows what I had then since testing was minimal and I never felt the need to get medical attention. Carolyn also had the same type of symptoms during that time frame. I’m not saying we had Covid, simply pointing out that we had nothing for a year in the way of illness.

Being seven years older then Carolyn, I do believe that age plays a factor in recovery. Carolyn and I (as far as I know) have no underlying conditions that would play a role in the virus symptoms. Overall my health has been excellent and I do believe being active helped us get through it with a good recovery and I am so thankful that we never had to seek out emergency medical help but were able to just quarantine, hunker down, and get through it. During the Covid time, my oxygen levels remained good running from 93 to 97. My pulse levels remained high and are still higher then prior to having Covid.

Those who make light of the coronavirus should be ashamed. I hear and read where people state that it is no worse then the flu and some have even said it’s no worse then a cold. The commonality amongst most of them is they have never had it and their statements are reckless and inappropriate. For me, I never have had a sickness that lasted close to three weeks and left me with residual effects that have lingered on. (Still have bouts of fatigue) Maybe younger folks have less symptoms but I consider Covid dangerous and the real deal. I have friends who are still not fully recovered after several months. I also know many who have not recovered their sense of smell or taste. Both Carolyn and I know those we worked with that died from the disease. We both took it serious prior to catching it and now that we have recovered we still attempt to follow the CDC guidelines. Wearing a mask at stores doesn’t bother me just like wearing shoes and a shirt into a restaurant doesn’t bother me.

Covid had interrupted my life in many ways and I have been on furlough from my hotel job since March 13, 2020. I did referee high school basketball but Covid ended my season abruptly. After notifying Arizona Interscholastic Association, I never heard a word from them on how I might be doing and it goes to show that even if you have worked for them for 30+ years they just don’t care. My oldest daughter, Caitlin, had it last June, my son in law James in January, (Jordyn tested negative like four times even though she had the symptoms and my mother in law Carol caught the Covid while visiting relatives in Florida in January/February. So Covid was not a stranger to us.

Carrying around the burden of not knowing whether you infected somebody is real and I suffered anxiety for awhile. Nobody wants to be the one who passes it on and puts others at risk (there are so many who treat Covid like a hoax, believe themselves to be immune, and don’t have to follow any guidelines so I won’t lose sleep for them). Thankfully it appears that I didn’t pass it on. (Except for Carolyn)

I feel fortunate that during 2020, Carolyn and I were able to have many social distanced adventures out on the road. We wore our masks, avoided crowds, stayed social distanced when possible and still managed to have loads of fun. I have recently been able to return to hiking and my walking distances have slowly increased. My craft beer intake from various breweries has returned. Carolyn, Jordyn, Caitlin, and I are headed to Utah where Carolyn and Jordyn will run in the Vacation Race near Zion. Our adventures continue and they will soon return to my blogging activity. Three plus weeks of Covid is in the books and I am gonna fly now. I ain’t no Rocky but the struggle was real.

Trying hard now
It’s so hard now
Trying hard now

Gettin’ strong now
Coming on, now
Gettin’ strong now

Gonna fly now
Flyin’ high now
Gonna fly, fly, fly

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Life Is A Teacher, Time Is a Healer

As I have sat in “bloody” quarantine (been watching British Netflix shows) contemplating the great outdoors and missing my wintertime treks into the desert, I have continued to read vociferously (between rounds of Spider Solitaire) and to watch some outstanding movies on a variety of smart tv apps. For the record, I was officiating high school basketball in AZ and knew something was not quite right so I went and got an instant Covid test that was positive on February 27 and I will address that at some other time.

Since my hiking times have been put on hold, I’m going to highlight a book and some “quarantined” movies that have deeply impacted my thought process on why Blacks in America just might be a bit angry and without any politics state that yes black lives do matter since that was not always the case in America. I will get back to hiking at the end as some recent articles allude to hidden racism in the outdoors. For the record, I am a rural guy having lived my formative years in rural Ohio, then my career years in rural Arizona.

My interest in the prevalence of racism in the USA has led me to some fantastic movies. I started with HBO Max and the new film Judas and The Black Messiah. It is a powerful, well acted film about Fred Hampton, (The Black Messiah) the young charismatic leader of the Chicago area Black Panthers in the 1960’s and how the FBI, used William O’Neal (Judas) to infiltrate the organization to keep tabs on Hampton. It is a powerful film and it sparked my interest in reading about the events and it appears to be fairly accurate and of course some events are glossed over which is to be expected in movie making. The movie clearly portrays the assassination of Hampton by the FBI and the Chicago police. The movie really did make one think especially given the times we live in with the focus on not only equality but equity amongst blacks and whites. Clearly in the late 60’s, Blacks were treated quite different by law enforcement in Chicago. Highly recommend watching and should lead to some interesting conversations with those around you. Also it should be pointed out that J Edgar Hoover and the FBI were the ones to call Hampton the “Black Messiah”. It has garnered six Oscar nominations including best picture.

Next up on my watch list, was a Matthew McConaughey film Free State of Jones. This movie is from 2016 and never got much traction but it is a hidden gem about Newton Knight and his desertion from the Confederate army and his fight against the Confederates as he leads runaway slaves and other deserters in stands against the army. Taking place during the Civil War and the end of the Civil War in Mississippi, Knight is seen as a white person who fights for equality against the racists who eventually enact laws that attempted to negate many freedoms that had been awarded to those of color. The movie also touches on the them of the poor southerners versus the rich elite southerners. Some interesting points in the movie include how the blacks when given the right to vote all registered as “Republicans” since it was the “Democrats” that opposed “equal rights”. They don’t sugarcoat that in the movie. Also laws preventing blacks and whites from legally marrying are mentioned and the movie ends with the great grandson on Newton Knight who is described as 1/8 black being found guilty for violating the law of interracial marriage in 1948 almost a hundred years after the end of the Civil War and we still had made little progress in the South for equal rights. The film I found to be very powerful on noting that the Civil War did not bring about equality in the Southern USA. It also reinforced in my mind that things may have been quite different if President Lincoln had not been murdered. The Reconstruction years were disastrous under President Johnson and the states in the south were basically allowed to put into places many laws limiting the rights of freed slaves. The film is quite touching and once again an eye opener for me on many of the “glossed” over parts of years after the Civil War.

Next on my film journey was a new docudrama Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. Using transcripts from the FBI wiretaps and some real interviews this film touches on “White Privilege” and the wealthy elites who cheated and bribed and did many unsavory things to get their privileged children into what are considered the top-rated elite universities. Excellent film that really does point out how pointless it is that kids think they have to go to these specific schools when in reality it doesn’t matter where one gets a degree, it is only about prestige and privilege. It will make your blood boil at times especially when they list the punishments as being so little. Once again the white wealthy elites definitely get an unfair advantage in our court systems.

While searching for another film, I discovered another gem of a movie Mudbound. Mudbound is from 2017 and Netflix bought the distribution rights and it also received several Oscar nominations. Fantastic well acted film that takes place during WWII and at the conclusion of WWII in of all places, Mississippi. It follows two families, one black and one white, that farm the area. It really shows us how the racist mentality was running full throttle and the reign of terror on black people by the KKK and how blacks in the south had little rights as were still subservient to white people. The most telling part was how the son of the black family who served in WWII and was treated like a hero overseas had to return to Mississippi and be completely mistreated and denied basic rights simply because he was black. Once again a gem that really grabs a hold of you and should make you uncomfortable since this period piece takes place a mere 70 years ago right here in the USA. Fantastic film. Mary J. Blige is great as the mother and the song that she wrote and sang Mighty River is powerful.

Prior to being quarantined, I had picked up several novels by Jodi Picoult at yard sales with the idea of reading eventually as they sat in the garage collecting dust, Plain Truth and Small Great Things. Picoult is an outstanding “liberal” writer who really has a knack of writing about family and social issues. One of the most meaningful novels I had read was written by Picoult, Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting and the impact on a community by a 17 year old male that was bullied at school. Incredible story. I finished Plain Truth prior to quarantine and it is a great story that takes place in an Amish community in PA. It’s an amazing book.

Finally, I pick up Small Great Things and start reading. Picoult picked the title from a quote of Martin Luther King Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”.

Wow, is an understatement. The book is the most timely novel that I have read concerning race, racism, equality, and equity. Told in her style through three main characters, Ruth Jefferson, a black widowed single parent labor and delivery nurse, Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, and Turk Bauer, a white supremacist who’s wife delivers a baby in New Haven, Connecticut. The book is tedious at times as she develops the characters but never becomes “preachy”. You might think it is about “overt” racism but Picoult gets into the often overlooked areas of racism that include the difference in how blacks might be treated from whites. For example, as a white person when I walk into a convenience store or even a high end department store I don’t have eyes following me around. Still happens where a black person walks in and they eyes may follow as if they should be watched. The idea of who do you sit next to on public transportation or how does law enforcement respond to a black man vs response to a white man. Picoult in telling this sad tale of Ruth Jefferson, gets into these things and how it impacts her teenage son. This story has a heart warming ending which is not always the case with Picoult stories. It is an excellent book that I’m glad I discovered.

Back to the outdoors. Is racism inherent in being an outdoors person? I read the following in an article “Racism In The Great Outdoors: Oregon’s Natural Spaces Feel Off Limits To Black PeopleCooper said when she did go out for a hike, she felt unwelcomed, invisible and that she didn’t belong. She said she was ignored by white people in these spaces. If she did interact with white people along the trails, she felt a sense of hypervisibility.

As a white person who loves to hike, I can assure you that when it comes to hiking I’m quite colorblind. Most of Carolyn and my hikes are away from people and we often discuss how few we see on the trails that we choose. I don’t go hiking to hang out with people. I don’t typically talk and strike up conversations with other hikers unless it is in area I’m resting. We always say hello when passing others no matter what the color or condition of the hikers. I take a bit of offense to the statement of feeling unwelcomed. I don’t hike many urban trails due to the sheer number of people on them because part of me being outdoors is just being away from others. Over the last 15 years, I have definitely noticed an increase in the number of people of color hiking. That’s a good thing. The outdoors is a wonderful place for healing, relaxing, and getting rid of stresses and should be colorblind.

No matter the color of hikers, what I most detest and probably show some contempt for are people who hike blaring their music. Sorry but it doesn’t belong on the trails. Trails are about connecting with your hiking partners, conversation, and the quietness that nature brings. Blaring music detracts from the sounds of wind rustling through the trees, the squawk of birds in their pursuit of food, and in the desert, hearing is essential for avoiding rattlesnakes. For me, diversity and racism is not something I would ever notice on my hikes due to the solitude of the trails we usually are on.

I would argue that due to Covid, it does seem that fellow hikers you encounter are much less friendly and often turn their heads and backs to avoid you. Also, if they are hiking with a mask and your aren’t (I don’t) you will often get “dirty” looks and being a white guy I don’t think it is due to race since all colors and creeds that hike with masks seem to give you a condescending look of contempt.

As soon as I feel up to it and my Covid fatigue has dissipated, my plan is to get back outdoors, away from as many as I can, and enjoy the feeling of being isolated and alone along the trails. In the meantime, check out Mighty River by Mary J. Blige. Great song about healing and coming together. After these weeks of solitude, I do believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism in America. Not certain why we think we have to honor those who fought against the Union and got beat. No where in the world do you see monuments honoring the ones who lost the war or ones who fought against democracy and the unification of the country. Just an honest observation.

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Well, I’m Running Down The Road

This blog is a tad different for me once the on again, off again, and back on again high school basketball season got underway in Arizona on January 19th. My hiking adventures have taken a backseat since the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to allow the season to start and continue as long as masks were worn appropriately by all participants and limiting the number of fans. I was a tad bit skeptical about refereeing with a mask but it has worked out just fine. Having officiated for 30+ years, I put the uniform back on (tighter) and headed out the door and on the road again.

The season does cut into my outdoor adventures with Carolyn but I really wanted to get to work. The season started for me in an ominous way as my traveling partners are out for the season, one with Covid 19 complications and the other with various ailments. For me life on the road is many trips on lonesome highways by myself, late at night traveling anywhere from 180 to 300 mile round trip during various weather conditions. All for the joy of being part of a game that I have loved. The journeys have taken me to small towns throughout Eastern and Central Arizona. They include Eager, St. Johns, Show Low, Snowflake, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, and once in a great while I find myself refereeing in Payson.

After my first road trip to Winslow I battled foggy conditions with a dusting of snow on a lonely Highway 87 passing all of five cars, two snowplows, and three elk from Winslow to Payson, I was fairly beat down. Racing up and down a court at my age, sure beats up the body.

It is always interesting to run into the people I have known over the 30 years of officiating and this Covid season has been interesting. The responses to Covid vary in each and every place I have officiated. In Winslow, fans are very limited as in hardly a soul there to places where the crowds now approach 40% capacity. Some school districts have hardly missed a day of in person school while others have just returned to having students in the classroom from a total online experience.

In Round Valley I have talked with those who have had horrible Covid experiences even though they were by all appearances very healthy individuals. The in person learning continued with nary a complaint. In Snowflake, they have continued in person classes and St. Johns has only had one week that they stayed away from classroom learning.

Camp Verde saw a spike in their local Covid cases after their annual October festival but in school learning continued. Every place I go, has an interesting story. In the White Mountains, as officials, we are quite strict on players keeping masks covering the nose and mouth. In other areas, not so much. I have learned that you can run and adjust to physical exertion with a mask in place on your face.

Since there are no games on Sundays, Carolyn and I managed to get some hikes in that were close by our house in Payson and in and around the Phoenix area. On Sunday, February 7th Carolyn and I hiked along the Peach Orchard Loop with an add on hike along a ridge line. We ended up with close to six miles and decent elevation gains.

The following weekend, we met Jordyn and James at the Lost Dutchman State Park for a cookout on a very windy day and since it was later in the evening, we did a three mile loop hike that was nice and included 600+ feet of elevation gains. An added bonus was talking with the Sheriff’s Department and the number of rescues they had performed that day in the Flat Iron area. I believe he told us they had at least five trips and one we got to watch. It is amazing to know that they just these expensive helicopter rescues with no charge to the rescued.

Lost Dutchman State Park

On Valentine’s Day, Carolyn and I hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve as the weather is better with much less wind. It was a very nice desert hike close to our condo and not many hikers in the area we were. We ended up hiking close to seven miles with 800 total feet of elevation gain so it was a worthy Valentine Day trek. It was a great way to spend the day with my Valentine. Yes, we did also enjoy a Valentine Day Dinner at Picazzo’s in the Paradise Valley area. Our server was fantastic, the food mostly organic and great, as were the adult beverages. Don’t want anybody to think I’m a cheap Valentine.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

These small adventures sure help keep me going as I soon returned to Payson for more basketball on the road. If I can stay healthy, the adventure will continue so stay tuned as we enter the final stages of the basketball season and I can get outdoors a bit more and yes back on the brewery tour. Next planned big stop, Tucson in mid-March.

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Phoenix Mountain Preserve to Sunrise Peak and Brewery Stops

At our condo in Phoenix, I often see some interesting looking hiking trails in a small section of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve just north of Northern Ave. The trails appear to have no name but they are clearly used and visible so I decided that I needed to find my way in and explore. Driving into a residential area, I found a sign for the preserve at a dead end spot on 16th St. parked my car and headed off into a smaller section of the preserve west of the 51, north of Northern, east of 12th St. and south of Dunlap. Surrounded by city but a desert paradise with mountains to climb, I spend a Friday afternoon exploring.

The trails are well defined but unnamed and easy to follow. I spend two plus hours and hike over four miles and gain 400 feet of elevation in and around with only a few encounters with other hikers. Beautiful views of the city and just a great day for stumbling around in the desert without leaving the city.

Saturday rolls around and I have decided to take Carolyn to the area that I had explored on Friday and added some different routes. It was so beautiful out and to think it was literally just down the road. On Saturday’s hike, there were only two people we encountered, social distancing without even trying. The trails are unnamed and none of the climbs to the peaks are named that I can see. That keeps the non-locals away I’m thinking.

It’s Sunday and we decided to return to NE Scottsdale to hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The weather is beautiful and we get a late morning start from Lost Dog Wash Trailhead. Carolyn has decided that I needed to get up on Sunrise Peak. Our hike is an out and back hike that starts at the busy trailhead but the further you go the less number of people you encounter. The trail is much smoother without to many jarring rocks to pound your knees, hips, and back. The views at the summit are great, looking out towards Four Peaks, or looking back to the city. Once again you can even see the Cardinals stadium out in Glendale. We even see some deer looking down on us, thanks to Carolyn’s observation skills. On all my hikes, I haven’t seen many deer in the desert.

My hiking attire includes a Packers’ hat and as we approach the summit, we meet a group that was hiking from the eastern side of Sunrise and they were all big Packer fans so it was quite fun conversing with the group. Our total elevation gains are over 1200 feet so it was a great workout on a beautiful day. Our hike back to the trailhead has few hikers until we get close to the start. Social distanced was not a problem.

A great day of hiking leads to the pursuit of craft beer and we decide to hit up a new to us brewery located off of Shea Boulevard in the Fountain Hills area, Bone Haus Brewing. What a great find. Carolyn had brought home a prickly pear ale from Bone Haus several weeks ago that she had found and we liked it but had no idea about the brewery. Our Pub Pass had a stop at Bone Haus where you can acquire a pint for a penny. It is a great stop where the theme is skeletons and they have some great looking logos on their cans. The people that work there are friendly and eager to serve. Plenty of open and outdoor seating areas with some tasty brews. Food truck was setting up as we were leaving.

We have to head west on Shea to get back to our Phoenix condo and we just happen to have our recoupon book from Arizona Craft Brewers Guild that gets us 20% off everything at Fate Brewing (North Scottsdale Pub). Social distancing is not an issue with some outdoor seating and indoor seating. We order us a pizza, the Jess, and the Farm Salad, to go with our drafts. I get something called the Hatch Chili Gatos and I was pleasantly surprised on how it was. Described as Bronze Medal 2020 Great American Beer Festival & Gold Medal 2018 World Beer Cup! Oh my Gatos Golden ale with the addition of roasted Hatch Chiles. Huge Chile aroma, mild flavor and very little heat.

What a great weekend of hiking and craft beer. January has got us off to a good start as my basketball season of officiating begins which is limiting for our adventures together. We shall make the most of it when given the opportunity.

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Socially Distanced on the Gateway, Bell Pass, and Windgate Loop Trail + Some Isolated Brewery Stops

Another weekend, another hike, another brewery. I must confess that we actually went to two breweries Saturday night on the western part of the Valley of the Sun. Carolyn and I put our Pub Pass and our Recoupon book into action and went to the Peoria Artisan Brewery for dinner and a craft beer. The food was excellent, service was great, and the beer was good. Nice setup with an outdoor patio. We split the “London Bridge” Beer Braised Beef | Brown Gravy |Mash | Peas & Carrots | Brioche plus a salad. It was awesome and we washed it down with a Kennett Farmhouse Ale. Great spot and just wish it was closer.

From there we went to the Throne Brewing Company Tap Room and Brewing Facility located in Peoria in a warehouse location. The Blood Orange IPA was excellent. The young lady working was fantastic and gave us lots of information about how Throne had bought out several breweries and rebranded just in time for the original Covid shutdowns but they are up and running and it was a great stop and end to our Saturday craft beer discovery day.

Looking out on Four Peaks

We got a late start on Sunday to our big 9.6 mile hike from the Gateway Trailhead in Scottsdale. Scottsdale has provided a great opportunity to explore the desert and the parking lots are packed. We head counterclockwise on our hike and there are many other hikers on the first part of our journey since there are multiple hikes and trails available. After three miles or so, there are few encounters with hikers until we are on our final stretch back to the trailhead. The hike is very rugged with plenty of rocks but the trail is in great shape. The desert scenery is fantastic with multiple viewpoints of the Four Peaks, and the city areas. It always amazes me that we can be so isolated but yet surrounded by several million people and still get to be out and alone. Out total elevation gains are over 2050 feet and coming down on trail is the tough part for me. Lots of wear and tear on the back, hips, knees. You can see all the way over to the Cardinal’s stadium. Our time on the trails are around 4.5 hours and the desert really is beautiful. No wildlife discovered today but one must always be aware of the snakes since these areas are noted for people seeing snakes in the spring and summer.

After finishing, we felt that we had earned another stop for a craft beer and headed to Loco Patron Brewery in North Scottsdale. Loco Patron has several Mexican food type restaurants but at this location they actually brew some of their own beers. Our server was fantastic out on the patio with a heater watching some Saints/Bears football. The seasonal “Holy Mole” was a nice dark ale and the “Local Gold” was also tasty. The tacos were very good and it’s happy hour all day on Sunday. Great finish to a great day hiking and great weekend of trying some new breweries.

Next stop is back in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve but this time we will be headed to Sunrise Mountain from Lost Dog WashTrailhead.

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A New Year, A New Day, A New Trail, A New Brewery: Wind Cave to Old Ellsworth Brewing

After a day of rest, Carolyn and I jumped right back into another day of hiking returning to the beautiful Usury Mountain Regional Park managed by Maricopa County. We had previously hiked Pass Mountain and this time we decided to tackle Wind Cave Trail that is listed as strenuous. For a Monday late morning hike, the park has many visitors. The day is beautiful.

The hike is about 1.5 miles to the “Wind Cave” that really isn’t a cave and the desert views are fantastic. Our elevation gain is around 800 feet and the trail is in excellent condition and not very rocky so easier on all the joints and extremities. The views are great and even though the hike is short, you still get plenty of aerobic exercise. With our later start, there were fewer hikers encountered on the most popular trail in the park.

You can extend your hike from the “cave” by scrambling up and over rocks but I’m not so fond of scrambling in my hikes these days so we passed on extending our hike up the rocks.

On our return we decided to take on another short hike in the park and knock another trail off our list of trails to do in the park. Our decision is to combine two short trails into a figure eight type of hike by doing the Merkle Trail and the Vista Trail. The total hike is only about 1.75 miles but we were once again rewarded with some beautiful desert scenery and views of the Superstition Mountains. Our total gain in elevation is only about 230 feet but the views from the Vista Trail are very nice.

Every hike deserves another brewery exploration, so Carolyn and I head to Queen Creek to the Old Ellsworth Brewing. Our Recoupon book from Arizona Craft Brewers Guild takes us to a new destination and we were happy to discover it. As an added bonus, the food was really good. Their beer menu constantly changes per our server and we just do the samplers and enjoy their selections. Good beer, good food, and great service. It was worth our time to go to this gem in Queen Creek and it appears that they have a pretty good following.

Our January has started off with some great hikes that are easy to access. Carolyn and I have purchased an annual pass for the Maricopa County Park System so we intend on getting out and exploring more of the county parks. Usury is a great example of what a county can do in the way of parks. Many different features that include camping, archery, biking, hiking, playgrounds, picnics, and so on.

Our tradition continues of hiking and having a craft beer from a local brewery. If you ever are in the Queen Creek area, check out Old Ellsworth Brewing. You won’t be disappointed. Next stop on our journey is Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

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New Year/New Adventures: From Safford Hot Springs to Tucson Breweries

The New Year started early for Carolyn and I as we drove to Roper Lake in the Safford, AZ area to meet up with Jordyn and James. They had rented a cabin for several nights and had invited us to stay New Year’s with them and check out some local hot springs. Carolyn and I both had ties to the area as we are both EAC Gila Monster graduates so we were looking forward to revisiting the area. It was very cold when we arrived but James and Jordyn made us some coffee and bacon so all was good.

The first discovery is that Roper Lake has filled in the tub for soaking due to Covid or a bad pump. It depends on who you talk to. Jordyn also found out that the hot springs, Hot Well Dunes, located way out on BLM land were now closed due to Covid concerns. So we scrambled for other options.

After breakfast we went over to Dankworth Ponds and hiked Dos Arroyos Trail to Dankworth Village, a recreated American Indian village located on BLM land. There are recreated huts, etc that were interesting to view. The hike was a total of about 2 miles and we enjoyed walking around the pond. From there we traveled on the road towards Mt. Graham and did a short hike to a creek that had a dam that was very pretty with running water.

I was amazed that vandals had found their way in to deface the rocks in the area. That always amazes me that people can be that stupid. After finishing our hiking we decided to go to some commercialized hot springs at the Essence of Tranquility. We had to wait around for awhile to a get a tub but it was worth the wait. Water was nice and warm and it was good to soak for that hour. Eight dollars a person for an hour soak. Glad we did it.

After soaking, we went in to Thatcher and ate dinner at La Casita Cafe. Small local place that has a good local following and with social distancing seating, we did wait but once again it was worth the wait. The end of day one was a success even though it did not go according to plan.

On our return trip the following morning, we headed towards Tucson with a stop in Wilcox at the Source of Coffee located in the old town area. A former house turned into a coffee shop and it is a hidden gem–nice looking with good coffee. Next stop is Benson for breakfast at Farmhouse Restaurant. Great service and good food with homemade muffins. Their cornbread muffins were the best I have ever eaten. They were incredible.

On Tucson for a mini brewery tour. Both James and I had received the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild Recoupon Book for Christmas. If you like craft beer and want to help out local brewers, this is a great coupon book for using on Arizona road trips since no road trip would be complete with out a stop at a couple craft breweries. First up is Moto Sonora Brewing Company. Great newer brewery located towards southern Tucson in an older area with an awesome outdoor seating patio area. We split a taster and Carolyn likes the Isle of Man a Juniper Pale Ale and I also like the Belly Tank Blonde Ale. Great service and beer.

Carolyn and I at Moto Sonora Brewing Company

Next stop is at Copper Mine Brewing Company a short distance away. This place does not disappoint with great service and beer. Carolyn gets the Hibiscus Blonde Ale and I go with the Copper Kolsch. Our coupons include a take home crowler so the Hibiscus travels back to Phoenix with us.

We head our separate ways and James and Jordyn head to Dragoon for their coupon special of buy a four pack get one free for taking back to Phoenix. Carolyn and I head to the South Tucson Costco (yes I know I’m addicted to Costco) and I find a bourbon/rye whiskey bargain as they are clearing out High West Distillery Christmas three pack of American Prairie Bourbon, Double Rye, and Rendezvous Rye whiskey. Bargain shopping done with lowest priced gas in the state from Costco and onward to Phoenix we go.

First weekend and first adventurous road trip complete with plans for more to follow. In returning to Safford, I was a bit disappointed with the downtown area as it appeared to be not as pristine as I remember. It looked like some places had closed up and just didn’t feel the same. Both Carolyn and I have fond memories of the area and they have experienced growth with a new Walmart and Safeway along Highway 70.

Stay tuned as Carolyn and I continue to find joy in a strange new world with no let up in sight for Covid and partisan politics and a disjointed union. Carolyn and I remain committed to celebrating life in any way we can with out distractions. Next up is another adventure in Usury Pass Mountain Regional Park.

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Looking In The Rear View Mirror: 2020 is in the books and on the screen

In a break from my norm of writing on various adventures, I decided to review what I read and watched in 2020. Believe it not, I do other activities besides hiking and drinking craft beers after hiking. I’ll be jumping back to some outdoor things but first some books and shows worthy of mention that were read and viewed in a Covid world by yours truly.

Over the years my neighbor Andy and I have been sharing books to read that we have found at multiple yard sales and thrift stores etc. This has turned into an informal book club as we have passed books back and forth and now include my mother in law Carol and my daughter Jordyn. Then our friend Conrad starting adding books to the mix and it has been lots of fun as we like many of the same authors and types of stories. This year was quite significant due to lack of work.

Since I became furloughed (unemployed) due to Covid shutdowns on travel on March 13 I vastly increased my reading of books from previous years. I’ve always been a reader but this year was a record breaker for me. I finished 53 books, mainly reading fiction as an escape from reality. I discovered some new authors that I hadn’t read before and now look for their books at yard sales and thrift stores, C. J. Box (Joe Pickett stories), Craig Johnson (Longmire). My Top 10 list of books read are not from what was released in 2020 but books that I picked up along the way and read so here are my favorites and in no particular order.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, 2017. Excellent book looking at life in Shaker Heights, Ohio an elite community and was turned into a great Hulu TV show with Reese Witherspoon.
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, 2016. Excellent memoir of Mr. Vance and the plight of the Kentucky Hillbillies that had landed in Middletown Ohio. The book was made into an excellent Netflix movie this year with Amy Adams and Glen Close.
  3. A Death In Live Oak by James Grippando, 2018. Great book about race relations that involves a hanging and is a timely read. Grippando is a great writer with stories that are relevant and relatable. Legal, action fiction.
  4. The Wife Between Us, by Hendricks and Pekkanen. 2018. Great thriller that was bought for movie rights. Very twisty and hard to put down.
  5. The Woman In The Window by A. J. Finn, 2018. This has been made into a movie with no release date but rumored to be acquired by Netflix and stars Amy Adams who was terrific in Hillbilly Elegy.
  6. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, 2017. Great stuff.
  7. The Guardians by John Grisham, 2019. Explores a black man wrongfully convicted for murder. Great timely read.
  8. The Poet by Michael Connelly, 1996. This was a reread for me. A classic crime novel that has you reading late into the night.
  9. Blue Heaven by C. J. Box, 2008. A standalone novel that won the Edgar Award. Cops gone bad in Idaho. Great escape thriller. Movie rights were sold and still waiting on a movie.
  10. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy, 2018. Another book that has many twists and turns. Movie rights were obtained on this one as well.

2020 was also a year that I upped my consumption of tv by watching various shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Max. My favorites for the year included binge watching many shows and are not listed in any particular order.

  1. Bosch on Amazon Prime. I have always loved Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly and this is an excellent gritty series. Season 7 coming in 2021 which will be the final season. Rewatched all the seasons.
  2. The Sinner on Netflix. Originally on USA Network. Two seasons. Great mystery show.
  3. Reckoning Netflix Suspenseful and only one season
  4. Little Fires Everywhere Hulu Reese Witherspoon is great.
  5. Big Little Lies HBO Max Great all star cast and two seasons.
  6. Ozark Netflix Three seasons with another one coming. Didn’t think I would like it but I did.
  7. Bordertown Netflix from Finland. Three seasons. Gritty watched based on a recommendation from Aunt Em. Loved it.
  8. Rectify Netflix Four seasons and from Sundance. Very interesting. Starring Aden Young. He was great in Reckoning and great here as well.
  9. Chernobyl HBO Max. Great miniseries about the 1986 Nuclear disaster.
  10. Succession HBO Max Two seasons and hoping for another.

Watched many others that are worthy of binge watching but there was only room for ten so these are my top 10 for the year. Once again, they aren’t necessarily new in 2020 but they were what I enjoyed in 2020.

Up next will be my year in review staying active in tough times.

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