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Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

We partnered with Visit Tucson, Loews Hotels and Chevrolet for this visit, and the opinions expressed here are our own as always.

There’s just something special about Tucson that draws people from all over the world. Maybe it’s the spikey saguaro cactus that sticks up from the desert floor, or the purple and red mountains that surround this high desert hamlet. Or maybe it’s the darn good food? Whatever floats your boat, there are tons of things for families to do in Tucson. It really is a desert paradise.

Our recent visit here was guised as a college tour for Sophia, who is now a high school junior. At this age, juniors have to start thinking about where they might like to apply for college. Most don’t have a good concept of what they are getting into, thus the college tours. Parents like us go to great lengths to show our kids a variety of options so they can better envision themselves on a campus somewhere. We love Arizona, so we loaded up the spacious hatch of a sweet new 2019 Chevrolet Traverse and headed for Tucson.

2019 Chevrolet Traverse hatch open with luggage

The 2019 Chevy Traverse fit all of our bags and still had three rows of seats for spreading out.

Of course while there, we explored some super cool spots to share with you for your next visit.

Things for Families To Do in Tucson

Not sure why, but some people’s impression of Arizona is a bunch of retirees. Well yes, there might be some of those mixed in with the young families, hipsters, scholars, artists, adventurists, makers and scientists. In Tucson, you get all that and more. A pool of blue in a red state, Tucson is liberal, progressive and undeniably chill. It’s a live-and-let-live kind of place, where LGBTQ families like ours are welcomed with a hug.

Ventana Canyon mountain landscape

The mountains behind Loews Resort Ventana Canyon are breathtaking, especially in the bright clear mornings.

Full of history and Western lore, the city of Tucson has maintained it’s blended roots from Native American, Mexican and Spanish influences. People from all over have been attracted to this place, and now that diversity makes it really special.

If you visit here, we’ve got some recommendations on things for families to do in Tucson. And if this is not enough, check out Visit Tucson for more suggestions and ideas.

For a Taste of the Old West

Head to Downtown Tucson to catch the flavor of the Old West. In the blocks surrounding the Hotel Congress, the early roots of this town can still be seen and experienced. In fact Hotel Congress looks a lot like it did back in 1918 when it was built. The Hotel is famous as the site where legendary gangster John Dillinger was finally captured, after hiding out at the Congress from the long arm of the law. (He’s now celebrated there with his own Dillinger Days events every January). Now the Hotel is full of old-time memorabilia, hip guests with a downtown vibe, some pretty great live music, and a really great cafe (see below for more on the restaurant).

Cup Cafe interior Hotel Congress Tucson

The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress in Tucson serves up a mean French Dip Sandwich with a southwest flair.

Fun Fact: The Hotel Congress did not have air conditioning until 2010. Say what?!? Summer temps in Tucson rise to 100-degrees+.

For the Desert Flora and Fauna

If you love the desert landscape and its scrappy critters as much as we do, you will love the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Just so you know, “museum” is not really the right word for this place. It’s like a zoo and botanical gardens and aquarium and bird show and art gallery and nature hike all in one. Phew! There is a lot to see here, so don’t plan on doing it in 90 minutes.

burrowing owl at Desert Museum Tucson

This little dude gave us the evil eye when we arrived at the Desert Museum in Tucson, and the burrowing owl did too.

From the moment we walked in, were were greeted by a man with a Burrowing Owl on his arm. From there, it was a cavalcade of desert animals including vultures, coyotes, javelinas (wild boars), prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and more.  Heed the advice of the kind guides when they suggest you make your way into the gardens for the Raptor Show. As these impressive hawks and owls fly overhead, it’s fascinating to observe their delicate wingspans and learn more about their desert homesteads.

napping coyote at Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum Tucson

We’ve seen a few coyotes in our neighborhood at home, but never as relaxed as this dude at the Desert Museum in Tucson.

Fun Fact: Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests. They lay their eggs in the abandoned nests of other birds. Squatters!

For Homage to Early Missionaries

If my Catholic mom were still alive, she would be proud we visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac while in Tucson. The thing is, we’re suckers for mission architecture and this one is pretty spectacular. Built in 1783, the Mission is considered by experts as the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Tucson

I promise the sky above the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson was even more beautiful than this photo shows.

From the exterior, it looks unfinished – like the builders never got to the second bell tower. But from the inside, the frescoes and tile work are truly impressive. Combined with the flickering votive candles and the voluminous ceilings, the effect made me feel like I was in Europe. For those feeling perky, there is a nearby path that climbs to a cross on the hilltop. We did not make that pilgrimage though, opting instead for some warm and delicious Indian Fry Bread purchased from locals in the courtyard.

Fun Fact: This Mission was built in New Spain, which transferred to Mexico and ultimately became US territory.

For Your Empty Stomach

Tucson has a broad range of culinary options to match any taste. In fact, the city was recently named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. Here’s a few of our favorites:

Tucson, and Arizona in general, is known for some pretty great Mexican food. And so we did have to try it out, and headed to dinner at El Charro Cafe. Touted as the oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant in the US, El Charro lived up to the hype. The carne seca was delicious, and so were the enchiladas, tacos, chile relleños and more.

family dinner at El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s nice to have family in Tucson that takes us to great places like El Charro for delicious Mexican food.

If a modern take on diner food is more your game, then Welcome Diner is the place. The kids loved the kitschy 1950s architecture, which the owners had updated and funkified from a previous Sambo’s Restaurant location. And the food! Oh that food  – it was a collection really inventive and delicious version of diner food. We viewed fried chicken, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and several kinds of pie.

exterior of Welcome Diner in Tucson

The architecture of the Welcome Diner in Tucson is so kitschy and fun, and so is the food – so delicious.

Back at the Hotel Congress, the lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. With some staff members on the team here for more than 50 years, Cup Cafe and the hotel bar have stood the test of time. The food here is dependable and tasty. My French Dip sandwich had an interesting southwest flavor twist, and the kids loved their breakfast-for-lunch omelettes. But here, save room for dessert because they are famous for it. An old-fashioned spiraling display case shows guests a variety of sweet treats. We chose to try the coconut cream pie and the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Carrot Cake at Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress Tucson

The carrot cake at Cup Cafe is just one of the desserts that called our names at the Hotel Congress in Tucson.

For Your Sleepy Heads

It was a real pleasure to stay at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and we highly recommend it. The rooms are large, and some are connected to a full suite with living room, dining room and even a working fireplace! It was just the right amount of cozy and chic at the same time. We slept on the Murphy bed in the living room suite, letting the girls each have one of the queen beds in the bedroom. Both Ava and Sophia said they were the comfiest hotel beds they had ever experienced.

Front entrance Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson

The architecture of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students.

One of our favorite things about this hotel’s public spaces was all the enormous amethyst crystals and geodes on display. And by enormous, we mean museum-quality sizes. We were told the hotel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. That influence was strong in the unique architecture of these buildings inside and out.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson Arizona

The lobby of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson.

Tucked up against the Catalina Mountains at the entrance to Ventana Canyon, the Loews Resort in Tucson has some gorgeous views of the high desert. From the hotel’s entrance, guests can look down towards the lights of downtown Tucson. We loved the grounds surrounding the hotel, and walked the paths to have an up-close look at the local flora and fauna.

So beautiful.

pool view Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

The view from our room at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was pretty spectacular.


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9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

It’s really hard to believe that Sophia is a Junior in high school already. It was just the other day we were pushing her around in the stroller while she gummed a handful of Goldfish Crackers. Now as a high school Junior, she has to start thinking about college. But where to go? Many parents have to help their kid visualize potential college options by actually going to visit them. We’re starting this now, and wow is it fraught with questions and landmines. Turns out planning college tours for your high school kid is no walk in the park!

This past week, we loaded up a sleek 2019 Chevrolet Traverse (#brandpartner) on loan for our family to test drive, and headed to Arizona. First up on the college tour schedule were Arizona State University in Tempe, and University of Arizona in Tucson.

Chevrolet Traverse with desert background in Tempe Arizona

With the Arizona desert landscape of Tempe in the background, the Chevy Traverse showed up nicely. #brandpartner

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

As we prepped for beginning this process, we learned some things about planning college tours for your high school kid worth sharing. Already we’ve made a couple of mistakes, so let us help you avoid some of our pitfalls and learn from our experiences. I imagine this will be an ongoing series, because we still have a lot to go!

9 Tips For Planning College Tours
  1. Talk with you kid about what they want to study. I know this seems obvious, but when we started planning this process Sophia did not have an answer to this question. Without knowing what she wanted to study, we were flying in the dark on choosing college campuses to visit.
  2. Know your budget in advance. One of our mistakes was planning to visit schools before we had checked on tuition and other costs. Well THAT was a shocker. We live in California, and out-of-state tuition and associated costs like housing, books, etc comes to $44,000/year for ASU and $48,000 for UofA. Not to get into anyone’s personal finances, but that might be a lot for some people to shoulder for 4-5 years. PER KID.
  3. Buy this book: Fiske Guide to Colleges. It lists every college in the US, complete with important stats like tuition costs, GPA/SAT requirements, strong areas of study, acceptance rates, financial aid and more. We’ve been pouring through this book, looking for potential college fits for Sophia using a list of criteria combining her desires and ours. It has been immensely helpful in narrowing down on great options.
    Fiske Guide to Colleges book cover

    This book, Fiske Guide to Colleges, is the bible for kids (and parents!) researching which colleges best suit their needs.

  4. Consider hiring a college coach. This may seem like a luxury for some, but we have found it to be money extremely well spent. You know that thing your teen does, where she looks at you like you are an idiot and know absolutely nothing about anything? Yeah, well they don’t pull that with a neutral third party. The college coach has gotten more information out of Sophia than we have. Plus she’s helping Sophia prepare for writing entrance applications, essays and more.
  5. Plan your college visits to include an actual school day. It may be hard to drag your kid out of school to miss a day for touring, but it will be good to see the campus with actual students and activity. On our recent tours, school was out on vacation and the colleges were deserted. It was a chilly way to see what is normally a bustling campus. Part of the reason for touring is to see the other students, and have your kid determine if they like what they see. Can they be friends with these people? Are these people they could be dorm roommates with?
  6. Make appointments for your college visits far in advance – the dates book up quickly. Most college websites have a built-in scheduling function so you can request your chosen day and time. The tours are very full, and no walk-ups are allowed.
  7. Encourage visits to large and small campuses, colleges and universities, public and private, small town and big city. This will help you kid start to envision themselves in this place, living here for most of the year. Do they like the energy and bright lights of the big city? Or maybe they prefer a quieter, less active country location.
    University of Arizona sweatshirts

    Waiting at the UofA bookstore for our tour of the campus, it was hard not to purchase a signature sweatshirt.

  8. Don’t stress if they hate it. This touring business is as much about helping your kid determine what she doesn’t like as what she does. Just like you, they are not going to like or feel comfortable in every location. Some will naturally drop off the list after touring.
  9. Have your kid keep a notebook for writing down pros and cons of each college you visit. Good advice given to us by our coach was for Sophia to ask herself the same four or five questions after each campus tour.
Tucson mountain landscape

The landscapes in Arizona are breathtaking, like this one in Tucson.

Arizona College Overview

Arizona State University

ASU is located in a sweet little town called Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Located right next to downtown Phoenix, Tempe is a mix of hotels, retail, residences and the Arizona State University campus. Our tour started at the Welcome Center, and was extremely well organized and planned. Starting in an auditorium with a slide show and video, our host guided us through a great amount of information. She was warm and personable, and Sophia felt instantly at ease.

family entering Arizona State University Welcome Center

The ASU Welcome Center was, well, extremely welcoming! Great way to start a campus tour.

After that 30-minute orientation, we were split into groups by major or interest, and off we went to tour the campus. Because it was holiday break, we did not see lecture halls or dorm rooms. However, we did tour the sports center and student union buildings – both were very impressive. Sophia’s eyes were wide open, taking it all in.

University of Arizona

A more informal tour, this one started at the bookstore on the Tucson campus. We were split into random groups and assigned to a guide for our walking tour. Since there was no orientation, the guide became the source of information about all things University of Arizona in Tucson. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, but not overwhelmingly personable. We toured the student union, sports center and even a dorm building.

Old Main building at University of Arizona

The Old Main building at UofA was the original university structure, and now houses administration offices.

Sophia was not feeling this one, and I think maybe seeing a dorm room was the clincher. She will get used to it, but at first glance these rooms are S-M-A-L-L. She did not like the idea of having the shared bathroom down the hall either. We will be encouraging her to shake off the princess attitude, but this first tour was not the time to address that.

After a very brief comparison of pros and cons, Sophia decided that she did not want to pursue either of these colleges in Arizona. We’ll see if that view changes after touring more!

red 2019 Chevrolet Traverse in driveway

This sweet red 2019 Chevy Traverse was our loaner car for our Arizona college tours, and it was the perfect fit for our family. #brandpartner


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Road Tripping: Sedona in the Summer

Road Tripping: Sedona in the Summer

Beautiful Sedona, Arizona, is a must-stop for any family trip through the Southwest. We love road trips and although temperatures are rising, our last visit proved it’s easy to have a great time in Sedona in the summer. Just make sure your car has AC! We piled the kids and all our stuff into the sporty Kia Sorento with room to spare, wheeling down the roads armed with Starbucks and an excellent sound system.

Kia Sorento road trip

Our sporty Kia Sorento was a comfortable ride for our summer road trip to Sedona.

Hope you enjoy our suggestions for how to enjoy Sedona in the summer with kids!

Sedona in the Summer With Kids

Take a Jeep Tour

Sedona is postcard-famous for its amazing red rocks and gorgeous canyon scenery. One of the best ways to see it up close is off-roading with Pink Jeep Tours. The 4-wheeling can get a little wild, and sometimes it felt more like being on a rollercoaster instead of a jeep. Still, we were securely belted in and grateful for the shade canopy as we explored dirt trails and streambeds. The drivers are also knowledgeable guides, and we were surprised to learn the whole area was once at the bottom of an ocean!

Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona

The Pink Jeep tour was a highlight of our visit to Sedona in the summer.

From the canyon floor, we wound our way up rock faces and through narrow gullies. Our driver perched us on top of a gigantic boulder – the perfect spot to get out for a closer look and some Insta-worthy pics.

Tip #1: Put the kids in the back where the ride is bumpiest. They laughed and giggled throughout the whole trip, while the adults rested more comfortably in the calmer seats.

Visit a Real Western Ghost Town

If you want to have a great time in Sedona with kids, there’s no better way than to visit an authentic Old West ghost town. Jerome, Arizona is just an hour’s drive away from Sedona and it’s true Old West mining town. With lots of local color and many tales of historical fiction, Jerome may be a ghost town but it is far from dead. We toured several fun (air-conditioned) restaurants, shops and galleries on the downtown streets. If you read my post about the Haunted Whaley House in San Diego, you know our girls are fascinated with ghosts.

ghost town tour in Jerome Arizona

Abandoned lockers at the old Jerome High School haunted me in more ways than one!

To raise our chances of seeing some spirits, we booked a guided tour on the Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. Although we didn’t see any apparitions, the kids were definitely spooked when we walked through a deserted old high school. It was a ghostly site complete with creepy locker rooms and abandoned gym.

Tip #2: Try to visit mid-week when the summer crowd is even less, and you may end up with your own private tour guide like we did.

Morning Hike at Bell Rock

You can’t talk about having a great time in Sedona with kids unless you include a morning hike. We like to head out before the sun gets too hot. (Our sleep-until-10 a.m. girls grumbled a bit about having to wake up early until they saw the spectacular sunrise.) We drove the Sorento to the trail head, and  kicked off our hike through the red rocks and twisted junipers of Bell Rock.

Bell Rock in Sedona Arizona

The beauty of Bell Rock is just breathtaking, and yes this is a photo I actually took.

Choosing one of the easier hike options, we spied tons of desert flora and fauna along the way. Colorful birds, hawks, bunnies (awwwww!) lizards and butterflies all came out to greet us. The fresh morning air, nature show and the desert in bloom made for some pretty amazing photo opps. It felt like a mashup of True Grit combined with Snow White. (Triton expected at any moment a bedraggled cowgirl would appear with blue birds resting on her shoulders.)

Tip #3: Bring bottles of water, a hat and some granola bars in your backpack. It’s easy to work up a sweat and hunger, and you’ll avoid the kids wanting to run back to the car.

Stargazing in the Desert

One of the things our family loves the most about the desert is the clear night sky, which our kids just don’t get to see in our urban home. Sedona is a designated International Dark-Sky Community, with very few streetlights and far from any big city. The night sky in Sedona is pitch black, making it one of the best places to stargaze in the US. We booked an evening sky tour with Sedona Star Gazing. We geeked out when they heard it would be led by a former NASA engineer, using a real telescope. Plus there was no hiking involved—bonus!

stargazing in Sedona

It was sooooo cool to look through the telescope and see Saturn and her rings.

Sitting in an open field in comfortable lawn chairs, we took turns looking through an enormous telescope. Our guide used a laser pointer to point out one amazing star after another. We even saw Saturn and her rings, Jupiter and some of its moons, and tons of stars and constellations.

Tip #4: Sedona in the summer is colder at night than you might expect, so bring long pants and sweatshirts for extra comfort.

Shopping in Downtown Sedona

When the tours are over, make sure to leave some time for souvenir shopping. We quickly got used to the misters that keep visitors cool as you stroll downtown Sedona. Offering an eclectic mix of art galleries, crystal shops, restaurants and more, downtown Sedona is a bustling scene. The kids had an especially great time in the rock shop. Checking out the large variety of colored rocks and stones, they picked out some special ones to bring home as gifts for friends.

Tip #5: Plan the jeep tour and shopping downtown together. The starting point for the jeeps is right in the middle of the main downtown area.

The cliffs and rock formations surrounding Enchantment Resort are just stunning.

Whether gorgeous scenery, hiking, exploring history, or stargazing, there are lots of ways to have a great time visiting Sedona in the summer with kids.

How to visit Sedona:

Sedona is just over two hours north of Phoenix by car. It’s a beautiful drive as you climb though the Tonto National Forest and into red rock country. The Sedona Visitors Information website has tons of great info and links to hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

Where to stay in Sedona:

There are many fantastic hotels, resorts and B&Bs in Sedona, and we can recommend a couple that we loved:

Enchantment Resort & Spa – This luxury accommodation is tucked into a picturesque red rock canyon, offering rooms and suites decked beautifully in the desert theme. Their spa, Mii Amo, is world renowned and we could totally see why. Summer rates start around $379.

Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock – With views looking out over the desert floor directly aimed at Bell Rock, this Hilton comes perfectly equipped. The hotel is decked out with a spa, tennis courts, large pool area, spacious rooms and more.  Summer rates start around $212.

Prickly Pear Margarita at Enchantment Resort

The signature Prickly Pear Margarita was a nice greeting at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona.

 

 


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Jerome is a Spooky Place (and Haunted Too)

Jerome is a Spooky Place (and Haunted Too)

Jerome is one of those old western towns that conjures up images of dusty bars and tumbleweeds, shoot-outs and sheriffs. And it really is – or was anyway. Just a short drive from Sedona to Jerome,  you can visit one of those real ghost towns you hear about, in more ways than one. We’ve wanted to see an old western ghost town for quite some time, and Jerome fit the bill perfectly.

Dubbed the Wickedest City in the World by its own inhabitants, Jerome, Arizona had its heyday during the copper mining days of the late 1800s/early 1900s. Telephones had just been invented, houses were being outfit with electric lighting, and there was a great demand for copper wire in order to run all these lines. With its caverns and mines rich with copper ore, Jerome was a magnet for miners and workers looking to make big money. Some really did – copper mines made their owners millionaires many times over. Some didn’t fare quite as well, and the town still shows some of that tarnished charm.

We even went to the copper mine, where Triton posed inside this contraption to lower workers

Why call it the Wickedest City in the World? Well at its height, Jerome sported more than 30 bars, a dozen brothels and just three churches to manage the needs of 15,000 men and a few women and children scattered in for good measure.

Our kids really didn’t care much about that history, but they were really interested in the Jerome ghost stories. It seems a number of those old western town residents never left, and continue to haunt the town with regular verified sightings and ghostly occurrences.

Ghost Tour

We researched a few different tours of Jerome in advance, and decided on the Ghost Town Tours‘ Spirit Walk to show us around with some backstory. The air was smoky from a fire that day, so we rode in an air-conditioned van instead, allowing us to go beyond the walking path to see things on the outskirts of the small town, like the actual copper mines and a spooky old high school.

Abandoned lockers at the old Jerome High School haunted me in more ways than one!

Our guide Taylor was fantastic, and we learned a great deal about the town’s history through his colorful stories.

Historical Significance

Jerome was founded in 1876 by a dude named Jerome (go figure) or more accurately his wife, who named the town after him and helped him start one of the biggest copper mines in the Western US. She must have been no shrinking violet to come all the way out here to this rough and tumble rocky town perched on a cliff.  Later on, one of the world’s richest men bought the mine and built the town, railroads, hospitals, schools and even a hotel. Maybe he also had something to do with a few of those brothels?

The town thrived, despite the dangerous aspects of mining and a series of deadly events. Explosives were used in the copper mining process, and several mishaps resulted in many deaths inside the mines. Another year, the Spanish Flu broke out and killed more than a third of the population, overrunning the hospital and morgue with dead bodies and requiring mass burials in giant graves.

The Jerome Grand Hotel, perched on the hill like a desert version of The Shining

So you can see why there was a lot of unfinished business for some of these townsfolk, and they stuck around way after their normal lifetimes. Boo!

Haunted Places

There are a bunch of haunted places in Jerome, and you can check them out by yourself or with an organized tour. Here’s a few to consider:

The House of Joy – former bordello converted into a restaurant, and now a boutique with a few ghostly hangers-on

The House of Joy still looks like a bordello, and is now a boutique.

Jerome Grand Hotel – perched on the hill overlooking the town and site of many ghosts

Old High School – spooky old buildings and abandoned gym – this one really got us

Old Hospital – where thousands of people were brought to die and be buried

Other Stuff

Jerome is a tourist town, and therefore filled with shops and restaurants to lure your dollars, and that they did. We spent money in several shops (nothing was that expensive), had some killer fudge from Copper Country Fudge, and a delicious lunch at The Haunted Hamburger. The restaurant is fun because of all its wacky and spooky decor. Worth the visit, and the food was good too!

These guys were so hungry they scaled the wall at The Haunted Hamburger.

 


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Stargazing in Sedona

Stargazing in Sedona

The night skies in Sedona are pitch-black, seductive and stunning. Coming from a big night-bright city like San Diego, our family is not accustomed to seeing a sky full of stars, so this was a fantastic experience that drew our attention for hours. When we learned there was a Stargazing activity a short drive from our casita at Enchantment Resort in Sedona led by a former NASA engineer using real telescopes, we booked an evening sky tour with Sedona Star Gazing immediately.

The Andromeda Galaxy

As we drove towards the meeting site way into the outlands of the Sedona high desert, our thoughts veered towards scenes from a horror movie: family drawn to remote location with no lights, no buildings, no one to be seen for miles, unwittingly fallen prey to unspeakable horrors, etcetera etcetera etcetera. The kids even laughed, “Don’t go into that dark room! Don’t open the attic door when the scary music is playing!” (My, don’t we all have active imaginations.)

We safely reached the meeting point at dusk, and were guided us to a parking spot by a friendly group of folks as other cars full of smiling families gathered nearby. Soon we were all comfortable friends, walking into a nearby soccer field to watch the darkening skies. The organizers even had comfortable lawn chairs set up for us, complete with blankets in case the air chilled. Our chairs encircled an enormous telescope – a real one – fat and round and pointed to the stars. I admit I had a kind of nerd attack, geeking out over the thought of peering into the sky for lightyears into the past.

As our guide started to orient us to the night sky, he used a super cool laser pointer to effectively locate stars and planets for us, drawing our gaze towards one amazing sight after another. During our two hours together, we saw nearly a dozen shooting stars (he properly called them “meteors”) with one was so bright-tailed it made our group audibly gasp in wonder. We also witnessed quite a few satellites orbiting the planet, perhaps spying on our little group as we craned our necks to spy back. And planets! And stars! And galaxies lightyears away! It was Trekkie heaven.

It was sooooo cool to look through the telescope and see Saturn and her rings

Some of our favorites:

  • Vega – the brightest star in the sky, made famous by Jodie Foster’s discovery of other life in the movie “Contact
  • Polaris – the North Star which orients us directionally, allowing sailors and navigators to find their bearings
  • Jupiter – the largest planet in the sky at that time, we were able to view it closely and even see four of its 54 moons
  • Saturn – so amazingly cool to look at this planet through the telescope and actually see the famous rings
  • Milky Way – our galaxy is so enormous, we can see it in the night sky because of its dense clusters of stars
  • Doublestar Gamma Andromedae – These twin stars sparkle quite clearly in colorful blue and gold
  • Big and Little Dippers – Right down from the North Star are both dippers, which were also connected to other constellations visible in shapes and signs
  • Signs of the Zodiac – Scorpio, Leo, Virgo and Sagittarius were all visible in the sky during our visit
  • Spinning Satellite – Our guide brought this Russian satellite to our attention because it was tumbling out of control, having lost its power as it rolled in descending orbit visible to the naked eye

Did you know that what makes a star appear to twinkle in the night sky is actually atmospheric turbulence that obscures the light for moments at a time, making the star appear to flash and sparkle? Yeah, we didn’t and were suitably impressed. One star we viewed (the name escapes us now) was shining light visible to our eyes that actually left that star 1,892 years ago. Isn’t that crazy to think about?

This is one activity our entire family can highly recommend. If you have the chance to do this while visiting Sedona, you won’t regret it.

 


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Everybody Loves a Lazy River (But Not Always a Waterslide)

Everybody Loves a Lazy River (But Not Always a Waterslide)

Who doesn’t love a lazy river? On a recent trip to Phoenix, we had the pleasure of staying at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, which sports a built-in waterpark available only to hotel guests. With the summer heat of Phoenix topping 11o degrees at times, any chance to dip into cooling waters was inviting to us. The Hilton was even better, complete with lazy river, water slides, waterfalls into gigantic swimming pools, water volleyball, fountains for the little ones, and more.

River Ranch is the water park available to guests on the grounds of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

The lazy river called to our family, beckoning with brightly colored inner tubes, go-cups filled with chilled drinks, and a slow but steady flow of water to keep the crowds moving, cooling and laughing happily. We couldn’t wait to jump in.

Who doesn’t love a lazy river?

One thing we noticed as we floated by the water slides was the lack of crowds there. The lazy river was chock full of guests, merrily bumping into one another, making chains and hopping in and out of their tubes to cool off. The water slide? Not so much. We must have taken three turns around the river route before I saw maybe four adults take on the waterslide the whole time. Quite a few kids threw themselves happily down the curvy pike, but not the parents. Why?

Well, I will tell you why. Because there is no elegant way to pick your bathing suit out of your ass after hurtling down a slide and being thrown into a pool of water. Once I realized it, I witnessed rider after rider splash into the pool, surface for air, and pick at their ass in a most ungainly fashion.

See? See how everyone waits for this poor woman to splash down with her bathing suit floss?

Now there was a time (I think it was the 80s) when butt floss was acceptably in fashion. Perhaps people even convinced themselves it was moderately comfortable to squeeze fabric deep within their cheeks. A very few actually looked good.

But not me. And evidently not many others at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. However, that Lazy River? My ass was quite happy sitting in that comfortable seat, dunked in cooling waters with a icy drink in my hand.

Have fun with that slide, kids!

Guests were happy to splash in the pool and waterfalls at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix


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Stoned at Mii amo Spa in Sedona

Stoned at Mii amo Spa in Sedona

*This experience was sponsored by Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa, and we thank them for hosting our family for this fantastic experience.

Mii amo Spa at Enchantment Resort in Sedona is legendary. In fact, it has been rated among the top ten destination spas in America by Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Town & Country – oh, just a few simple accolades. Not only is it nestled into the stunning red rocks (stones) and picture-perfect cliffs that have made Sedona so iconic, but it is seated fortuitously at the entrance to Boynton Canyon. This canyon is the location of one of the world’s strongest energy vortexes, where the earth’s magnetic energies are focused and the source of Native American rituals for centuries.

The iconic red rock formations of Boynton Canyon are breathtaking

While on a recent road tour of the Great Southwest, we had the pleasure of staying at Enchantment Resort with a special visit to Mii amo Spa. We strolled a short walk down the road from the resort casitas towards the spa, and on the way spied a mule deer and her two fawns nibbling at some grass along the pathway, peacefully unconcerned about us at all. We took this as a very good sign. For more about our visit to Enchantment Resort, visit my blogpost titled Enchanted at the Enchantment Resort & Spa: Sedona.

Mii amo is a jewel within a jewel that attracts visitors from around the world to experience its innovative treatments. Being the big spa whores that we are, we just had to schedule appointments at the best of the best.

And it was. Best, that is. I think the sign of a very successful spa is when you feel like every person there is dedicated to just you and your well being. From the time we entered and were greeted, we experienced singular – and I mean singular – service better than anything we had expected. The locker room attendant, the massage therapist, the facialist, the desk attendants – all were exemplary ambassadors of “ahhhhhhh”. We were relaxed and at peace before a single treatment started, and never saw another soul in the building although they were fully booked. That is some fancy scheduling, and we loved it.

Signature Hot Stone Massage

I’ve had a few hot stones in my day (save your jokes for later) and have always left feeling “meh”. However, there is a reason this massage is a signature at Mii amo – it really is that good. Under the guidance of my masseuse, I melted into a puddle of relaxation. There is something in the combination of very hot stones, which are nestled underneath you at your chakra points, and the very cold stones, with icy punctuation that counterpoints the hot. I’ve never had this treatment – or seen it offered anywhere for that matter – and it was pretty awesome.

When I am able to have massages at home, I always opt for deep tissue treatments to ease my tired and aching old carcass of a body. I often leave feeling more sore than I started, and it takes a day or two to settle into relaxed muscles. With Mii amo’s stone massage, my relaxation was immediate and profound.

Even the towels at Mii amo Spa where the plushest and softest ever

Journeyman’s Facial

I always appreciate when a spa has a men’s facial on the menu. Triton and I like getting facials once in awhile, and are often bummed if we have to endure treatments which were more designed for a woman. This facial was manly all the way. Well, except maybe for that fruit salad they smeared on my face (not complaining really, because it smelled amazing).

My fruit salad included a citrus cleanser, a strawberry serum, a tingling citrus mask, a pineapple scrub (that one was my favorite – I tried to lick my own cheek it smelled so delicious) and a bevy of other natural scents including lavender and eucalyptus. I loved it, and better yet, I looked AMAZING. All buffed, polished and hydrated, I felt like a million bucks.

A Peaceful Moment

When I was finished and back in the lobby fully clothed, Triton was still in his treatment so I wandered around the cavernous lobby for a bit. Clearly we had not planned this to our optimum benefit because I soon realized we could have spent all day long at Mii amo, checking out the nooks and crannies, sweating out the evil toxins in the hot and cold saunas,sampling their delicious natural juice concoctions, and lounging in the indoor or outdoor pools.

As I explored the area I came across a man playing a Native American wind instrument, which I had thought was a recording the spa was playing on their sound system. He was that good, and the perfect accompaniment to this beautiful environment.

Medicine Wheel – Circle of Life

A short distance away, I found a quiet interior courtyard with a Medicine Wheel, a centerpoint of American Indian spirituality that features the Four Cardinal Directions and the Four Sacred Colors:

  • East (Red) symbolizes Fire/Creativity & Energy
  • South (Yellow) directs us towards Air/Communication & Knowledge
  • West (Black) helps us encounter Water/Emotion & Insight
  • North (White) honors Earth/Home & Abundance

The red earth of nearby rock formations is reflected in this inner courtyard featuring the Medicine Wheel

I immediately gravitated South, where the guide suggested I would experience the fresh and new. It stated this is the direction to appreciate the potential for new learning experiences – to see the miracles and harmony. Hmmm, I will have to think on that some more.

The Crystal Grotto

That sounds like the title of a good book, “The Crystal Grotto”. However, this book would be about you and only you, because this Crystal Grotto is based on the Native American Kiva, a place of ceremony and transformation. It was a round room, made from the red earth Sedona is so famous for, and carefully created with energizing crystals placed at North, South, East and West. A round skylight in the roof shines directly on an enormous quartz crystal in the center, which we were told lights up in the middle of the room at high noon on the day of Summer Solstice. Darn, we missed it by just one week!

Taking a moment of zen inside the Crystal Grotto

We Shall Return

OK, it was very nice of the Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa to host a portion of our experiences as part of us writing about our Great Southwest Family Road Trip Adventure. And it worked – we are hooked. Triton and I are already comparing calendars to determine when we can come back. It really was just that special.

And no, we did not get stoned. The natural high was exhilarating enough.

The Mii amo Spa lobby is enormous, tranquil and gorgeous

 

 

*This experience was sponsored by Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa, and we thank them for hosting our family for this fantastic experience.

 


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Hot Food in Phoenix

Hot Food in Phoenix

We had a quick overnight in blazing hot Phoenix on a recent family road trip (click here to read more about our Big Gay Road Trip), and had two meals to die for – dinner at Fat Ox and brunch at The Henry. It’s hard to please the four separate and discerning tastes in our family, and these places happily filled the bill for each of us. They are both in the Scottsdale area, and we highly recommend them to you.

In advance of our trip, I scoped out good restaurant choices on Eater Phoenix. Do you ever consult Eater for restaurant recommendations? It’s my favorite site, because the reviews are created by real foodies who live in that city and possess actual knowledge of what good food tastes like (unlike Yelp, which requires you to trust random people who sometimes know not of what they bitch about).

Man is it hot in Phoenix during the summer – good thing the Kia Sorento had strong AC!

Fat Ox

Fat Ox had a great recommendation from Eater, and I was looking for an Italian place that was upscale, casual and delicious – Fat Ox was all three. Located in Scottsdale, just a quick drive from the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak where we were staying, Fat Ox is a chic restaurant with a full bar and white table clothes. The people inside were dressed smartly and on this Saturday night, ready for a nice evening. Good thing we brought some snappy summer clothes so we could fit in!

And the menu at Fat Ox? It was an incredible collection of deliciousness. We were hungry after that long drive from San Diego, so we sampled:

  • Tableside Caesar with all the regular goodness plus fried capers to add a little punch
  • Veal Meatballs with polenta and San Marzano tomato sauce
  • Cheese and Salumi platter was filled with delicious meats, cheeses, olives, honey and more
  • Steamed Mussels with nduja (a spicy pork salume) and fennel
  • Garganelli Pasta with truffle butter, speck and parmesan
  • Rigatoni Lamb Verde with green tomato, fennel pollen and pecorino
  • And another pasta special I cannot remember but was damn good

The Bailey-Klugh Family rating: 4.5 stars

The Henry

Meeting some much-loved family that lives in Scottsdale the next morning was a treat, and the place they picked for breakfast was a perfect choice. The décor and food at The Henry were both exemplary, and once again we plowed through a series of menu items – in the name of research, of course. Note: they have a bakery window with to-go items that looked out of this world. Next time!

Deliciousness from the take-out bakery at The Henry

Some of our favs from the brunch menu at The Henry included:

  • Sophia: Smashed Avocado Toast (without egg) – Sophia is an aficionado of avo toast, and this one wowed
  • Ava: Caramel Apple French Toast with brown butter cinnamon apple and maple syrup – for some reason Ava picked off the apples, but loved the dish
  • Triton: Spicy Sausage Scramble with chicken sausage, zucchini, corn, spinach, grilled onion and havarti – loved it
  • Jon: Huevos Rancheros with all the regular fixin’s – a perfect combo of crunchy tortillas, eggs over easy, salsa and beans
  • Of course, we had to start off with a couple of The Henry’s famous Brown Butter Salted Caramel Roll, which was served decadently warm, sweet and gooey.

There is also a pretty wicked Bloody Mary Cart that comes to you tableside so you can mix and match all the goodies into your concoction.

The interiors of The Henry are cozy and chic

The Bailey-Klugh Family rating: Again, 4.5 stars

No matter that Phoenix is hotter than the surface of the sun (but it’s a dry heat, they said as we left the cool air-conditioned restaurant for the furnace the locals call “outside”). These two eats (and the great swimming pools) were worth the visit, and I look forward to coming back again soon so we can sample the rest of their menus.