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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Hiking With An Attitude of Gratitude: Pass Mountain and Granite Mountain Thanksgiving Week Hikes

After our quick San Diego trip, we returned to the desert for more hikes. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Carolyn and I went and hiked the Pass Mountain Loop Trail located in the Usery Mountain Regional Park. We hiked about 7.6 miles with total elevation gains of over 1000 ft and since it was a Friday, we encountered just a handful of hikers during our 3.5 hour journey. I did encounter a tarantula which I thought unusual.

Once again socially distanced in the desert yet close to 2 million people. We took the loop clockwise and about half way in, it does get rocky and on the way down the stepping down does take a toll on my joints but it was well worth the hike.

We started our day with some Hava Java coffee and ended with a stop at Barrio Brewing located at Gateway Airport. Both are excellent places and the brewery is located next to the runway where one can watch planes come and go. It was a great day from beginning to end.

Still on furlough with no end in site and not working Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years, I decided, with the help of Carolyn, to do thinks different this year. The Phoenix area weather was sunny so we decided on a Thanksgiving picnic at Cave Creek Regional Park with some turkey cranberry sandwiches from Sprouts with a growler from Huss Brewing.

We picked up Carolyn’s mother Carol and arrived in the early afternoon with no fanfare and few people in sight. Our picnic was not glamorous but it was a nice time outdoors together enjoying and thankful for the times together. I’ve never been a big fan of holidays so this was perfect for me. Sitting in the warm glow of the sunshine eating our simple meal and reflecting on the year and thankful for our health and being able to enjoy mother nature was perfect.

Once our meal and growler was completed, we took a nice short hike of close to two miles on the Overton Clay Mine Trail Loop. We have now been on every trail in the Cave Creek Park so our mission was accomplished.

For some time now, Carolyn and I have wanted to go to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park located near Yarnell and to hike the trail to the memorial site. There are only 12 parking spaces so we arrive at sunrise to make sure we can park and it is cold with a strong wind blowing. Our trek takes us a bit over 6.5 miles and a total elevation gain of 1800 feet. It is a combination of two trails, the Hotshots Trail and the Journey Trail that goes to the Fatality Site. The state has built an excellent memorial park with 19 memorial granite plaques that share a photo and some detail of each of the fallen hotshots. It is a very strenuous and not an easy hike. The state built the trail since the only other access to the Fatality Site would be through private property. As we hiked we stopped and read each plaque. It is the most significant hike I’ve ever done.

The emotions one feels knowing the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy is at times overwhelming for me. I cannot describe the feelings knowing that these young men died after being overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire is chilling. After reaching the overlook you will see a Tribute Wall that has many items placed on it from other first responders all across the nation and other countries. It is something to behold.

Carolyn and I pass only two people on our way to the fatality site. We spend a large amount of time paying our respects. It is moving to see the crosses with their names at the location of where they made their final stand.

As we hike out, Carolyn and I reflect on lives cut short by a senseless tragedy. We pass more hikers that are coming in as we are returning.

I struggle writing about it knowing the details of the story. When the tragedy happened on Sunday June 30, 2013, Carolyn, Jordyn, and I were listening to the news in Flagstaff as we were returning from our rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon. I’ll never forget it when a breaking story came on the radio about a hotshot team missing and getting the update around 7:00 pm that they had perished. I was angry, confused, stunned, and emotional, thinking “Why?”. Having had the opportunity to fight wildfires during the summers of my years at NAU, it just hit me hard.

Six and half years later I pay my respects and this hike to the fatality site will always be something I will never forget. When we finished our hike, we met one of the young State Park Rangers and listed with him for awhile. What a wonderful representative for the state. He was filled with knowledge and quite passionate about his position and the park.

Carolyn and drive through Yarnell to Prescott reflecting on the hike. We finish our day by stopping at the Prescott Brewing Company for some Christmas Ale, Thumb Butte Distillery for a tasting of their spirits, and to Lonesome Valley Brewing for dinner.

Our final hike of the weekend was a sobering event for us and truly left an impact on our lives. Our Thanksgiving trip has been a significant trip reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.

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A November To Remember: The San Diego Hikes

Friday the 13th of November, exactly eight months to the day that I was officially furloughed from my hotel position in Phoenix. (Friday the 13th of March) Since we were in San Diego on the day I was notified, Carolyn and I returned to finish the official Five Peak Challenge that we had started in January. Due to Covid pandemic concerns and the multiple shutdowns in CA, we were unable to finish what we started.

Quinn Ashton and I at Sky Harbor, Phoenix, AZ November 13

Phoenix Sky Harbor had more activity then we had seen in a long time. While at the gate, I had this masked man (yes everybody had a mask) approach me and ask “Are you Tim Fruth?” (something like that) Lo and behold it was Quinn Ashton from St. Johns, Arizona. I had actually refereed some of his high school football games he played in and later on we have officiated multiple high school games together. We got to visit for awhile since he and his wife were on our flight to San Diego to catch a plane to SLC to visit their son. For the record, everybody wearing a mask really throws me off. That was a cool start to our road trip.

Once arriving in San Diego, we decided to roll our luggage to the Little Italy area to pick up our rental car since we had plenty of time before our scheduled time. This 1.5 mile hike was a great warm up to what was ahead. Carolyn probably thought it was because I was being frugal but truth be told, it was a beautiful morning for a brisk walk and it the perfect warmup for my stiff joints.

Most people from Arizona, including Carolyn and I, visit San Diego for beach time. Carolyn and I have added some local hikes to our times in San Diego that have included Potato Chip rock and most recently the Mission Trails Regional Park Five Peak Challenge. We had previously hiked North Fortuna and South Fortuna in January 2020 on a beautiful day and on a rainy day on March 12, 2020 we completed Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak. We had planned to return and hike our final peak, Kwaay Paay Peak in April but Covid restrictions put that on hold. We would have traveled but CA had specific restrictions that basically prohibited us from going and staying in a hotel and transportation was problematic.

The morning was beautiful and Carolyn and I decided we would add some mileage to our hike be putting a loop together after our summit. We started our summit to Kwaay Paay be hiking from a parking area on the furthest SE side on a trail that skirts a housing area and then connecting back to the main trail and on to the summit. There were few hikers to be encountered making social distancing not just a saying but a reality. It seems that most of the ones we encountered were hiking with a face mask and we just weren’t going to do that. The elevation gains on the summit trail are about 875 feet over a well defined trail that is rocky in places and could be slippery when wet. At the summit we just enjoyed the view of San Diego to the south and west and the peacefulness of being at the top. The trail is rated moderate to hard but it is short so not too much of a struggle.

On our trip down the mountain we took the first fork in the trail to head towards the San Diego River and the Grasslands Loop Trail. Our hike ended up over five miles with a total elevation gain of 999 feet. The grassland areas are beautiful in their own way and the loop is a great way to see a different side of the area. We were able to avoid others and just take our time enjoying the warm sunshine and the time of being together out in mother nature.

Carolyn on the Grassland Loop Trail

Our next stop is the Hilton in Torrey Pines for a couple nights. It is a beautiful property by the golf course with views of the ocean but there is nobody there. It’s just different. After getting settled, we head out for dinner and a beer. No hike for us would be complete with out a stop for local beers so we head to Draft Republic located in La Jolla. Really a cool spot with a great selection of local craft beers and good eats. We get to enjoy one of our favorites from Latitude 33, Honey Hips. Great way to end Day One.

Day two starts with a strange way to do breakfast. No indoor seating and menu but we get a to go omelet and sit by the pool ready to start hiking in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, named for the rare Torrey Pine tree. It is a beautiful area on the coastline with some interesting history. During the day we log over 6.5 miles of hiking on a variety of trails and find some time along the beach. With highs around 68 and sunny, we stroll through a variety of terrain. There are many out on this Saturday enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather.

Since hiking and exploring craft breweries is one of our things, our first stop is the Viewpoint Brewing Company. The place is packed for having social distanced seating and we get to sit outdoors in a beautiful waterfront setting. This place is very popular with the locals and we were glad we found it. Excellent beer and some good fish tacos. We end up with an Eddie Van Lager and a Big Hat Blonde. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like my blondes, beer that is.

Our final stop of the day is New English Brewing another cool spot with a great patio. The sun has gone down and it has become cold so it’s just a quick top to try something new. One of the many things I’ve learned is that to remain open in California, patrons at all breweries (bars etc) must order food and just can’t have a drink. I’m not certain how this practice stops the spread of Covid but it is interesting. So we have to order food from the taco truck just to have a drink. If one was to go to multiple places it could get expensive and lead to some unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain. Carolyn and I manage to split food orders to keep our calorie intake down. Our choice at New English Brewing is the Blueberry Blonde. It is very tasty and has a great purplish color that adds to the experience.

Our trip is done with some great hikes and great beers as we have to get on the first flight out of town to Phoenix since it is the only one that has seats for us standby passengers. Our flight leaves in the six o’clock hour so it’s up early to drop off our car and catch Lyft to the airport. Another November adventure complete. With Covid numbers still on the rise, Carolyn and I are trying to get some outdoor adventures completed while still honoring social distancing and traveling with our masks. Mission accomplished.

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A November to Remember: Hiking the Desert

Socially distanced hiking in unseasonably warm weather seems reasonable to me. Since being furloughed in March, I refuse to be “locked down” indoors and have continued to enjoy simple adventures around the areas that I live.

Carolyn had been requesting that we return to the Superstition Mountain Wilderness for a hike near Canyon Lake on the Boulder Canyon Trail. Our first Friday adventure has been decided and off we head to the Apache Trail and the Canyon Lake Marina.

Our start to the day is a slow one due to my ADD as I was quite discombobulated due to this reoccurring disability. Scattered and lacking focus, we head out and I left my hiking poles behind. Thank goodness I did remember water and snacks.

Once arriving we start our hike at 9:20 only about an hour behind our planned start. Once again, we are socially distanced only passing a couple returning from their morning hike and we will not see anyone else until the very end on our return. The hike is quite strenuous for me due to the rocky nature of the trail. Walking on rock takes its toll on my back and hips but I get through it. The scenery is beautiful. Deep in the Superstition Mountains the trail heads up before descending down to a wash that you crisscross multiple times. We fail to see any wildlife (not including me) but it is very peaceful and the views of Battleship and Weaver’s Needle are simply amazing. We hike in about 5.5 miles from the road and we could have continued but I just knew getting out would take a toll on my joints. The elevation gains total about 1800 feet and it is the going down that pounds on my lower back and hips and I missed my poles. The climb out is significant so be prepared as it is strenuous.

The views of Canyon Lake are special. Our journey lasted about six hours with plenty of stops to take in the scenery. Even with the pounding, I was happy and glad that I did it but sure that I will have plenty of residual aches and pains.

Upon returning we stop in to the Well Done Grill for some fish and chips, (A Friday thing) and they just happen to have Barrio Blonde one of our favorite light craft beers. On our way back to the Dreamy Draw condo, we stop by Goldwater Brewing Taproom in the Longbow Marketplace in East Mesa. We had no idea that Goldwater had opened in this area but what a lovely stop. Talking about favorites, their Desert Rose is a Kolsch style brewed with organic prickly pear that we have always loved. Not only does it taste good, it’s got a beautiful color to it. What a great day of hiking and crafting our way through Arizona. For an ADD guy, my attention was quickly focused on enjoying a cold one.

Our second hike of November takes us to Cave Creek Regional Park easily accessible and a beautiful area that doesn’t get overcrowded. After the pounding my body took Friday, I still manage to move around willing myself to get outdoors with Carolyn and her mother.

Another beautiful day in the desert and our hike gets started around 1:30. For November, it is a cloudy day but beautiful hiking weather. Today’s mini adventure takes us over 3.5 miles on the Overton to Go John to Overton Loop trail. We gain about 500 feet and we remained socially distanced with only a few encounters with hikers. Very peaceful with some good views looking south towards Phoenix. Only about 35 minute drive from our condo and we are in this beautiful county park. It is amazing to me that we are so close to 1.7 million Phoenicians yet far enough away to find solitude and peace. The hike starts by the Visitors’ Center and heads north behind one of the mountains with a gradual climb and eventually meets up with the Go John trail which is probably the most popular trail in the park. From there we head towards the picnic area parking lot rejoining the Overton Trail to complete the loop.

Since it is Saturday and we still have some time for a little enjoyment, we drive to the Cave Creek/Carefree area for a craft cocktail at the Elysian Desert Distilleries Cave Creek Tasting Room. Elysian is very unique place owned and operated by a mother/daughter combo. The bartenders make up some great tasting and unique cocktails that uses their Carefree Bourbon and some of their other spirits. It was fun to hangout and enjoy a local small business. On our way home we stopped for a pizza at Oregano’s.

A great start to our November outdoor adventures escaping the stresses of this Covid 2020 year. There is always peace to be found in the desert, socially distanced by choice and circumstance. In other words, Get Outdoors!

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From the Mountains to the Desert: More October Hikes in AZ

One of the best parts of living in Arizona is the different climate zones for outdoor activities that are all close enough to be in whatever type of hiking you desire. So one weekend we can be in a cooler mountain area and the next we can be wandering around the desert. I’ve read of many that do these 52 hike challenges in a year and living in Arizona that is relatively easy to accomplish. Carolyn and I haven’t even tried but we have averaged over 50 a year for the last three years.

In mid October, we head to Payson for some kicking back and R&R at our “cabin”. I laugh about it being our “cabin” since Carolyn and I have raised both of daughters K-12 in our quaint little home and have owned it since 1994. Now that we often stay at our condo in Phoenix, our acquaintances and coworkers often ask if we are going to our “cabin” in Payson. That’s it our cabin. When in Payson and with weather permitting we always try for a day of being outdoors on a walkabout so we decided to hike up the Horton Creek Trail by Kohl’s Ranch.

For a Sunday, not many hikers out on the trail and it is me and my girls, Carolyn, Caitlin, and Jordyn, plus Jordyn’s husband James. It’s a cloudy day but a beautiful day for a hike. Carolyn and I have hiked this trail multiple times over the years since it is easy to access and close to our “cabin”. It was a great time being with family especially having our daughters with us on this one.

We even found some color on the leaves along the way. The trail is well marked with easy access to the creek for relaxing and listening to the water flow. Elevation gains are gradual and the trail is appropriate for all levels of hikers. Dogs are often present and it is always appreciated to find friendly ones and ones that are on a leash. Just saying.

A weekend later, Carolyn and I went to Estrella Mountain Regional Park, a Maricopa County Park. The park has multiple areas for picnics and a great visitors’ center plus areas for camping and even has horse back riding vendor if that is your thing. This park is south of Goodyear in the SW part of the Valley. Easy to get to and a very nice park.

It was quite warm for our Halloween hike in the desert but once again there was absolutely nobody on the trails. Close to the city but yet we were all alone. We ended up hiking over 6.25 miles on the Rainbow Valley/Toothaker Loop. Our total elevation gain was 600+ feet so a good workout in the heat. Usually I would add some photos but I can’t since I deleted them all by user error with me being the user. This trail is used by mountain bikers and is moderate and easy to follow. Quite social distanced and easy to get to. I enjoy the loneliness of the desert and hiking and reflecting on all things. The desert is very Biblical when you think about it. That wilderness that Jesus roamed for 40 days was a desert where He fasted and was tempted by the “Devil” before returning to begin His ministry. I’m obviously no Jesus but there is something spiritual about hiking in the desert.

While on our sojourn in the desert, Carolyn and I have worked up a thirst, Carolyn and I decided to try a new to us brewery located in Goodyear, Saddle Mountain Brewing Company. Very cool place and they have a great patio to social distance for a beer and food.

November is here so more hikes are on the horizon.

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From the Desert to the Mountains: October in Arizona

It was another warm Saturday in Phoenix when Carolyn tells me that we should go for a hike at the Cave Creek Regional Park, a Maricopa County Park.

A 30 minute drive from our condo and we find ourselves in the park with absolutely nobody around. We have visited the park several times hiking the Go John Trail Loop that is a nice hike. The Maricopa Trail is accessible from this area as well.

Our journey today is the Slate Trail to Military Trail across Flat Rock Trail to Quartz Trail and back on Slate to the Trailhead. Our loop ended up being 5.25 miles with some elevation gains of over 500 feet on a nice, smooth, well maintained trail. Even though it was warm, it was great to be out in the desert with nobody around.

The park has a visitors center and it does cost $7 to get in but Maricopa Parks are well maintained and have many areas for picnics and when fire dangers are lower, they even have grills to bbq. Great park close to the city but far enough to be socially distanced. Today’s hike was really socially distanced. I’ve always enjoyed socially distanced hikes long before socially distanced became a thing. No masks on the trail. The park is almost an island surrounded to the east and west and south by private land with houses but they are hidden in the landscape. Northern boundaries still are quite desolate. For a quick getaway from the urban areas, I highly recommend this park.

No hike would be complete without a stop on the way home at a local brewery in Cave Creek. Normally we would stop by the Cave Creek Beer Company but Covid 19 has taken its toll on one of our favorite stops. So what to do?

We decide to stop by the Elysian Desert Distillery in Cave Creek. What a great place. The bartender was a gem. He actually could talk anything bourbon related and he made us a couple fabulous cocktails using their Carefree Bourbon. He made a special one for Carolyn on the fly and not only was it good but it was good looking. He also is responsible for hand crafting the different bitters. The tasting room is currently open on Friday and Saturday 2 to 7. Not cheap but a nice splurge.

Bourbon Cocktails

The following weekend, Carolyn and I returned to Payson to take her mother to the Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff to ride the chairlift and take in some fall colors in the area. Beautiful day to go and upon arrival there were many out on a Friday. The lift wasn’t to busy and our trip up and back was cold but we liked it so much we rode again.

After our rides, we decided to do some walking in the area and we did the Aspen Loop Trail, a 2+ mile hike that was really nice and not difficult in any way. We were pleasantly surprised that there were few people on this specific trail and the Aspens still had color. It was very pleasant with plenty of sunshine.

On our way back to Payson, we stopped by Dark Sky Brewing Co, Flagstaff Brewing Co, and Historic Barrel+ Bottle House. FYI, we did not have drinks in all these places as we took turns on who would order and where but we did eat a burger at FBC, and a fantastic pizza at Dark Sky, and enjoyed the newer cocktail lounge at Historic.

Love Arizona adventures.

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Down In The Florida Keys: Part 2

It was rainy season and we expected to get some rain and we did on several of the days but we always had sunshine as well. The Casa Marina is a fairly old complex but lots of action going on with several beach weddings on Saturday. It has the flavor of the Caribbean. The sister property to the Casa Marina, The Reach had breakfast every day, a nice happy hour and some good food so we would walk over there and have a nice relaxing time just watching the waves come in. The employees at both properties were great, friendly and accommodating. iXPBzT7wSU+bt%YrV68z7A

Several days we just hung out relaxing and for me reading. Nothing better then beach-side reading times. It was so relaxing. Once again, Carolyn and I did not rent a car. For what we had planned a car was just an added expense that we could avoid. Lyft to and from the airport, cruiser bikes, and walking, that’s our style. Our times at the beach are fun and relaxing. I finished several books, beach type reading, an Allison Brennan “Lucy Kincaid” novel Nothing To Hide, and a mystery that takes place in Florida by Rick Mofina, The Lying House. Easy, beach style reading. Of course, every beach deserves several good beers and Key West has some excellent choices.

We learned that the best way to get around was renting cruiser bikes for several days. We could get plenty of exercise, yet get to where we wanted to be fairly fast. We rode many miles around the island and into town checking out the various places. Duval Street is the party street area and Covid may have slowed it down some but it was hard to tell. Most places have some outdoor seating areas and most have happy hours and most have seafood options. I’m not certain what I ate but sure enjoyed it all.

As an avid reader, I had to visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. You can take a self guided tour or have one of the guided tours. I did a combination of both. Hemingway was an interesting individual who died relatively young just short of his 62nd birthday. Married many times, he died by his own hand whether intentional or accidental is debatable. klPIvmWbQUyatxrGzoL+Aw

His house in Florida looks just like it did when he resided there. We rode our bikes by the Truman Little White House but we ran out of time to visit. It is very historical and I guess it will be the next time. I love history and was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find the time to visit.

Carolyn and I visited Fort Zachary Taylor Historical State Park several times during our stay. It is a beautiful beach area with plenty of picnic tables, grills, sand, bike paths, and an actual fort that you can visit. Very cool and once again very historical as it was a working fort for many years. We walked around (no masks) during the hot humid times of day. The beach times were fun even though there were storms way off the coast and the water was rougher then normal. Still a great place to hang out. Our bike rides along the beach were epic.

Our time at Key West had to come to end and once again we flew on Silver Airways back to Fort Lauderdale. Carolyn’s cousin Lauranye Croke picked us up at the airport so we could visit with her and her husband Kevin Croke in Jupiter. Uncle Frank and Lorraine Cerar came down to visit and we went out to walk on the beaches and it was great to be able to visit with all. We even got to hang out at one of Kevin’s favorite places The Dive Bar and Restaurant. Good food, good drinks, but even greater company.

Carolyn and I decided to change our flight and overnight plans and we ended up staying in West Palm Beach at a beautiful Hilton only three miles from the airport. Southwest currently only has one flight a day leaving West Palm Beach to Baltimore and we were nervous about whether or not we were going to make our flights due to limited seats available. No problem as we made it to Baltimore and immediately left for Phoenix arriving in the middle of the day.Jh1EHSw%QpSq7zKKPPNl2g

Key West has many venues that host musicians and music seems to be a big part of the scene. I’ll leave you with this Key West classic by a gentleman that has performed there for years, Gerd Rube with the Florida Keys Song. This guy reminds me of a Payson local legend, John Carpino. It is magical.

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Down In The Florida Keys

About a year ago, Carolyn had suggested that we should try to get a room in Key West, Florida if and when any came available using my employee rates. We eventually were able to book five nights for our birthdays in October. We were excited that we would be able to discover some new places and have a relaxing beach vacation in a state we had been to only once before. Along came Covid putting our planned vacation in jeopardy. As we approached my birthday to fly October 1, our anxieties were in full bloom since flight schedules and number of seats available became less and less but we decided to give it a shot. We are glad we did.

We managed to get to Fort Lauderdale via Southwest Airlines with a stop in Denver. We land in the early evening to discover that Broward County had some tight restrictions in place. Our stay was at a Hampton Inn close to the airport and the Three Sons Brewery. We grab a Lyft and head over to Three Sons only to find out that the kitchen had closed. We still grabbed us a brew and discovered that there was a place to order food from just a short walk away the Historic Dockers Restaurant and Pub. The bartender let us know that the restrictions include Broward County checking their sales slips to make sure all food is ordered before a specific time (I believe 10:00 pm). He let us eat our beer battered Mahi fingers that we had ordered to go. They were so tasty. Unknown to us, there was a group next to us that were on our flight from Denver who gave us an impromptu happy birthday song.

Thursday has become Friday and we are flying standby on Silver Airways to Key West. What a great flight on a jet propeller plane that was as smooth a flight as I had ever had. It was beautiful looking out on the ocean as we traveled down the coastline.

Arriving in Key West, the airport has the charm of other Caribbean airports where you walk across the tarmac into the terminal. We grab a Lyft to our hotel the Casa Marina. In a Covid world we are masked up and check in to our upgraded room thanks to Kevin and Laurayne Croke. They just happen to know people. Never knew that was coming. Blessed beyond measure, this trip is looking good so far.

After a quick bite to eat at the beach side restaurant, we decide to get some exercise and walk into downtown Key West. On our walk we pass the southern most point in the USA and head to a quaint, cozy brewery, First Flight, the southernmost brewery in the USA. Filled with history, (the origination of Pan Am Airways) this is a must see stop and place to have a drink. The ambiance is special and the light rain falling makes for a nice quiet romantic spot on our walk.

On this Friday evening, Key West is packed. We walk on down to the Waterfront Brewery to enjoy the Crazy Lady Honey Blonde Ale. What a great craft beer. Light with a taste of honey. Not many better then this.

We avoid the stops that are loaded with people as it appears all the workers have masks on but few of the patrons. Social distancing could be an issue but we loved walking down by the water listening to the vibe from the tourists. Our first day is in the books and it is a great start to our R & R vacation spot.

As we walk down the famous Duval Street we are amazed or maybe astonished at how many people are packed in the various bars and restaurants. We chose not to do any of those but we sure enjoyed the vibe of the area and all the people watching as we walked back to the Casa Marina.

Down In The Florida Keys

This Paradise Seems Made For You And Me

Down In The Florida Keys

The Land Of Love Is Down Here In The Keys by Gerd Rube

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