Sun upon the Desert

A family climb up Cholla Trail was the perfect way to celebrate our first sunny day although the coldest day of the year in the dessert.   We were lucky to be able to walk to this trailhead that climbs up Camelback Mountain from our hotel.  We began the hike close to sunset and so only made it up to the first lookout.  The view stretched to the left of where our journey began in Phoenix, to the golf course just below us where my husband had playing that morning, beyond to Scottsdale on the left where my daughter and I had explored earlier that morning, and way out to snow capped Superstition Mountain that we would explore later on this trip. What an amazing view.

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We finished our day with dinner in Old Scottsdale with a restaurant chosen by my daughter, Mission Restaurant.  We were lucky to get a last minute reservation at the shared table and even luckier that a table opened up for us in this packed restaurant serving delicious modern Latin cuisine.  Uniquely prepared dishes wowed us from the appetizers, to our main courses, to dessert.

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There is usually a Thursday night ArtWalk but not tonight. Instead we wandered the deserted streets in the freezing temperatures enjoying the freedom to browse into windows without crowds.

Although our New Years was a huge disappointment (I chose to not post that pitiful evening), the first day of the new year was perfect!

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Freezing Rain and Fate

If it were not for the continuous downpour added with cold temperatures, the road taken that day would have been very different.  The free tickets began the turn and we decided to pursue.  And what to our welcoming surprise then an adored sculptor of mine to welcome us –  Anna Hyatt Huntington – (for those who follow my posts you may immediately recognize this name –  the Visionary behind Brookgreen Gardens that we visited this past summer).

You could take everything out of the Phoenix Art Museum – all of the artwork – and still have an amazing time.  The building itself is a piece of art with wonderful nooks and crannies,  built in benches, glass banisters that make you feel there is nothing separating you from the steps above and the ground below. (And what to no surprise the architect,  Alden B. Dow, was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright)

Add allowing a young artist such as my daughter to freely take pictures in some galleries added to the experience.  Stuffiness was not present in this museum. We fell in love with the works of Philip Campbell Curtis and were certainly more then just a little intrigued by his paintings.

Rain or No rain.  Free or Not Free.   Add this to your list of places to visit in Phoenix.

Rain upon the Dessert

Wandering around viewing a world class art collection while listening to audio describing the piece of art – a French tapestry, a Flemish painting, a Navajo rug,  ancient fossils.. and slippers on our feet sipping on hot tea while the rain taps on the roof above.  Where in the world are we? At our hotel of course!  And after completing such a wonderful tour one is awarded free tickets to the Phoenix Art Museum.  Now how wonderful is that!  This would rank #2 on our list of things to do at that Phoenician!

Hot Chocolate in the Desert

On December 30 we boarded the plane leaving behind mild winter temperatures in our otherwise usually frigid mid Atlantic region to enter similar, if not cooler at times, temperatures in the Arizona desert. This certainly was not we paid inflated airfare prices for but we were happy to arrive with sunny skies.

I was led to believe that our room at The Phoenician  would be ready for an early arrival. It was not and it was hardly warm enough to stay at the resort and swim. (However the pool was filled for unbeknownst to us this would be the warmest it would get.) We decided to explore offsite and have lunch.

We  drove to St Francis – a place I had wanted to visit  and enjoyed a delightful meal sitting outside under heat lamps trying to pretend in our mind as we stared at the sand and cactus landscape eating unique southwestern dishes like flatbread with chilis, honey and almonds that it was indeed very warm outside. Heat Lamps can lead one to such a belief.

We returned and walked the beautiful resort property until our room was ready. Unfortunately our misfortune would continue by being given a room that did not match the category description. The hotel did correct the issue and put us in a Grande Deluxe Room – and it was very grande!

Of all the beautiful features at the Phoenician, one of our favorites was the Cactus Garden. It was lit up with Christmas lights.  We layered on clothes that we thought would remain in the closet during our stay.  With scarves and hats and coats on we ventured through winding and colorfully lit up trail.  Cactus with Christmas lights in the desert when it is 30 degrees. Juxtaposition indeed (and a reoccurring theme during our stay).

Ironton Rail-Trail

What a great ride!  A trail that loops!   Historical sights to see along the way! Beautiful scenery!  This trail has it all!  Once again Traillink  (and the bikers who contribute reviews) guided us to an amazing trail – The Ironton Rail Trail.

We began our journey at Hokendauqua Park – easy to find and provides easy access to the trail.   You wind through the playground and then connect with the trail.  The trail is paved at this point and is for the most part flat with just a slight incline.

The highlight to the first part of this loop (in addition to the great scenery and the Lehigh river!) are the large cement kilns at Saylor Park.  This is a great place to stop and take a break and explore the history of these kilns.   These are the only vertical Portland cement Kilns in existence! They were only used for this purpose for a short period of time – 1893-1904 – but during that time Lehigh Valley produced 3/4 of the cement in the United States! (Apparently at one time there was a museum interconnecting the kilns but that is no longer accessible. There is a large fence around the nine kilns).    Really neat!  And the trail continues with historical markers, remains of the old railroad, and even a caboose that once road on this railroad!Kilns

We decided to take the spur – adding on another 6 miles roundtrip – another beautiful ride past cement historical buildings.  Highlight for me was one of the old structures that was turned into a beautiful bird blind (picture up top).

We joined back up with the loop and continued on the loop to our starting point.  This is a beautiful ride to take right now as the leaves are changing.    The entire trail is well maintained and combined with the amazing scenery and historical sights,  one does not even realize they have already completed a 12 mile journey.

Doylestown Arts Festival

This is my most favorite event in Doylestown.  If you’ve never been to Doylestown, it is a great small town located in Bucks County.  It is about an hour outside of Center City Philadelphia.   There are great shops, restaurants, and bars.  There are wonderful musuems and parks too.  I will need to write another post about all my favorite things . — True old charm.   For the Arts Festival the streets are closed down  in the center of town and filled with artists, food, and music.  What makes this art festival VERY unique is the Pro Cycling.  Saturday is a race through Bucks County and Sunday is the Thompson Criterium of Doylestown – 60 miles of incredible bike riding down hills and steep curves encircling the Arts Festival. We make sure to watch this every year – stationing at a few key exciting spots and also wandering around. Whether you come with family or as a couple (and enjoy a few of my favorite spots in town… soon to be posted) this is a great day to visit Doylestown!  (The date changes each year but it is sometime in the first few weeks of September). 

Back in my own Backyard

The apples are ripening and the pumpkins are growing.  The weather begins to get cooler and the humidity at last will disappear.  The leaves have already begun  to change and the mums are starting to open again.  Oh….we are just a few days away  from the official start to my most favorite season in Pennsylvania – Autumn!  Over the next few months I will journey across my countryside and visit the festivals, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches.  I will ride the rail trails, kayak the lakes, and hike the trails all over Easter Pennsylvania.  Menus will change to roasted butternut squash, apple crisps, and of course our favorite pumpkin beers.  A visit to our favorite brewery, Weyerbacher, will most certainly be on the list of things to do to pick up some of our favorite Imperial Pumpkin Ale… This in my opinion is the best season in Pennsylvania and a great time to visit if you are thinking of taking a weekend trip to visit the countryside surrounding Philadelphia!  

Brookgreen Gardens is more then just gardens

As I leave Brookgreen Gardens, thinking back on my day, it is too hard to pick just one favorite thing.  Perhaps it is the overall history of the property and what it has become over time thanks to Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Archer Milton Huntington. Wandering around the gardens, at every turn there is another sculpture just as beautiful as the first. I particularly liked Fountain of the Muses – a large fountain with 8 major figures & 7 secondary figures (formerly installed at the Met).   Or of course the Live Oak Allee  was particularly amazing that day for it had rained the night before. (I keep thinking the name of the gardens is Brooktree!)  Walking through the Low Country Trail, I felt more in tune with the former history of the property as I looked out over the former rice fields.  And as I entered the Aviary, I am not sure I have ever had such an encounter at a zoo.  I felt like the animal on exhibit as the birds surrounded me from all sides.   They have woven these three areas together.  However to take in everything in just one day is overwhelming …. This place definitely deserves a second visit. Oh .. and how could I not mention grasshoppers the size of your first… this was the first one we saw that day… but would not be the last 2014-08-19 11.00.54

GOODBYE RVA… But not just yet…

Although our plan was to get up early and begin our drive to our vacation destination, we decided we could not miss two final stops in RVA to tour by car. Our helpful guide at the Visitor Center mapped out the best way see them and get to them.  First stop was to follow the blue loop road around Hollywood Cemetery passing Historic Grave Sites – including two presidents.  (Next visit we will definitely take one of the walking tours) Just wish we had known about this great map –   to identify what we were seeing.  HollyWoodNext we did a drive through of Memorial Drive – quick for by that time we were starving!  We decided to once again venture into one of the neighborhoods for food.  Clearly this is where the life is in RVA. – We headed into Carytown and quickly found an incredible lunch experience.. Can Can Brasserie – very well themed (I just love that), with delicious food and great service.   Excellent! Good selection of Beer on tap and in bottles too… I passed for it was too early for me.  However I left with a huge loaf of French Bread!  Yum!   We hit the road, sad to leave for there was so much more to do. I will be back to this city… but would pick another place to stay.  Parking is abundant and so no worries if staying outside of the city and driving in to the see the sites (many of them will pay for your parking!)

It turned out working well for there was not much see to along the way.  We had planned to stop in Wilmington NC  to see where they film the Dome but the traffic was bad and Matilda (our GPS) diverted us another way down a lonely rode through the countryside.  With little to see but crop after crop of tobacco (at the time we had no idea what it was) —   Our one stop was for our first batch of Boiled Peanuts along with some local produce.

Storm King

On our journey north we had many destinations in mind to stop for a quick visit.  And the first, Woodbury Outlets was such that.  However the next stop along the journey now that we had left the busy highway was Storm King.  And there we spent the afternoon amazed by the sculptures we saw.  Each twist down the wooded path would lead to another. And down the rolling green hills the sculptures were even larger in size.  We quickly realized many were just as amazing from afar … some even better.  We spent hours only just getting through the Meadows covered in black eyed Susans and never even made it to the south side.  An amazing visit and one worth exiting the highway to enjoy even when still many miles still to go…….