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Grand Canyon

Arizona – South Rim

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My first view of the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. It wasn’t until some close friends went a few months ago that the urge hit me again. Their photos were spectacular and I wanted to see it up close and personal for myself.

My husband and I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona for a few days and decided this would be a great opportunity to drive on up to the Grand Canyon for a day. I had knee replacement surgery a few months ago and realized that days of hiking, riding burros, or camping overnight in the bottom of the canyon would not be for me. A day trip seemed to be the perfect option and it really was the right choice for us.

We had taken a Pink Jeep Tour to some ancient ruins on our first full day in Sedona and we had a wonderful tour guide named Stephen. He often drives tour groups into the Grand Canyon for the day and gave us some great pointers and advice. His suggestion was to drive into the park’s east entrance and return to Sedona through the south entrance, which is extremely busy and crowded. In other words, we would go against the traffic and crowds. It turned out to be great advice. 

The drive north from Sedona was quite scenic and enjoyable. It was a two hour drive with hardly any traffic. We drove through pine forests, curvy mountain roads, sparse desert mesas, and the flat red lands of the Navajo Nation. As we entered the Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, there were only two cars ahead of us. What great luck – thank you for the advice, Stephen!

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Our first stop was at the Desert View Visitor Center. This was a great spot with few visitors, ample parking, restrooms, restaurant, and a gift shop. There is a tall stone tower (modeled after ancient Puebloan towers) and an overlook with fantastic views of the Grand Canyon. This is where I walked up and got my first look at the majestic canyon. I will never forget that moment and readily admit that photos do not even come close to doing it justice. We stood for several minutes taking in all the colors, the expanse, the depth, and the silence. This was most certainly a true “pinch me” moment. There were some great views of the Colorado River from this overlook (over one full mile below us!).

We took our time here and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance. We stopped at several of the overlooks and pull-outs that our tour guide had suggested for us. Each stop gave us different views and a different perspective of the canyon. Mather Point, Navajo Point, and Grandview Point were a few of the stand-outs. The scenery was spectacular and there were only a few people at each of these stops. It was a most enjoyable day with almost perfect weather. 

 Later in the day we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center. It was packed with tourists, tour buses, shuttle buses, and cars. Luckily we found a parking spot relatively close to the center and we found our way to the overlook area. Once again, the views were spectacular but there were so many people that it was difficult at times to get to the railing to take good photos. We then explored the area and it was expansive: restrooms, snack bars, gift shops, movie theater, information & education centers, bike rentals, shuttle stops, etc.  The most exciting thing about this stop was getting to see two elk that had wandered up to drink from the water fountains! 

Everyone has a different agenda when visiting the Grand Canyon and for us – one full day was enough. It was glorious, spectacular, breath-taking and immense.  David and I lucked up and had perfect weather this particular day. We enjoyed every minute of it and the images will be embedded in my mind for years to come. If you have never made this trip, I hope you will make plans. It was well worth the effort.

Check this one off my bucket list. It is done. Now on to my next adventure!! 

 

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!

Mount Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

 

 

I was so glad that I finally got to check Alaska off my bucket list. We went on an Un-Cruise adventure a few summers ago and it was one of my most favorite travel experiences…ever. We arrived in Juneau a couple of days prior to our cruise and had lots of fun touring the downtown area, riding up Mount Roberts and exploring the Mendenhall Glacier (see earlier blog posts).

 

 

The Mount Roberts Tram near downtown Juneau was built in 1996 and travels 1,800 feet up through the tall trees of the mountainous rain forest. The ride is very smooth and only lasts a few minutes. Each car carries up to 60 passengers but we were the only passengers onboard the afternoon that we booked our trip. The expansive views as you ascend up the mountainside are spectacular!  The main streets of Juneau, the cruise ship docks, Gastineau Channel, the thick evergreens, and eagles sitting in the treetops are just a few of the sights we saw on this clear summer day.

 

 

The tram car docks at the Mountain House and Nature Center, about halfway up the mountain. You quickly disembark and have the opportunity to visit a gift shop, grab a snack, shop in the art gallery, or use the restrooms. We stopped by the Nature Center and saw a couple of live eagles – one named Lady Baltimore (pictured above) is in permanent rehab here due to an almost fatal gun shot wound. There is plenty of educational info detailing the geography, history, wildlife, plants, and the Native Americans of this area. We also found information about the hiking trails and located maps that helped us decide which route would be best for our ability and time allotment.

 

 

Most of the hiking trails were very well-marked and considered a “moderate” level due to slight inclines in certain areas.  The trail we explored took us by wild-life viewing platforms, colorful wildflowers, gorgeous views, and native tree carvings. We walked through mountain meadows, hiked up dirt paths into the forest, and walked single file along trails that hugged the side of the snow-topped mountains. One of our destinations was Father Brown’s Cross, a very scenic stop with amazing views of Juneau below. This cross is a replacement for one placed here in the early 1900’s by a Roman Catholic priest who made Juneau his home.

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Photo op at Father Brown’s Cross overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Juneau docks

Mount Roberts Tram is the most popular tourist attraction in southeast Alaska with over 200,000 visitors each summer. It runs May through September and tickets are $33 per person. In my opinion, it was worth every penny! Don’t miss these spectacular views and gorgeous hiking trails if you have the opportunity to visit Juneau.

 

 

 

Chautauqua

Boulder, Colorado

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Chautauqua National Historic Landmark sign at the park entrance

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself near Boulder, Colorado with some free time, make your way to Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. Located in the shadows of the Flatirons on the southwest side of Boulder, you will find picturesque views, hiking trails, a dining hall, and over 60 lodges or accommodations for overnight stays.

This is a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. There is a Visitor’s Center at the park’s trail head where you can learn about the plants and animals in the area and also pick up a map showing the 151 miles of trails. There seems to be a trail for every level of hiker. Most of the trails start out on the large meadow in front of the Visitor’s Center and go up into the Flatirons. You can hike for 30 minutes or all day. Some trails meander along the base of the mountains through dense forests. Other trails have moderate to steep inclines and wind up well into the Flatirons for breathtaking views. Trail markers are visible all along the way. According to the season, you may see many types of flowers, flowering trees, tall pines, boulders, streams, cacti, birds, chipmunks, deer, and sometimes – black bears.

Chautauqua is where the locals go for their daily exercise. While many “flat-landers” like myself have to stop every few yards to catch their breath in the higher altitudes, locals come running by or hurriedly walk past with one baby strapped on their front and a toddler on their shoulders – moseying along like it takes no effort whatsoever. Really?! Embarrassment on the trail is when a couple, likely to be in their eighties, scamper by at a quick pace and smile at you as you sit on a boulder gasping for air. I do admit, as hard as some of the hikes have been – it has ALWAYS been worth it!

Another thing I love about Colorado and Chautauqua in particular – it is a dog’s paradise. All the trails are dog-friendly and you see all shapes and sizes of canines. All the dogs seem to be smiling, have pep in their steps, and are loving every minute of their life!  We actually parked by a “doggie van” last time we were there that picks up dogs at their homes and then takes the dogs for hikes or runs at Chautauqua. What a great idea for “doggie day out!” This could easily be my dream job….if I was in a little better shape.
Not only humans and canines enjoy hiking up Chautauqua. On one visit, I actually saw a guy coming down from the Flatirons with a big ole yellow tabby cat riding on his shoulders. Yep, it is the truth….only in Colorado.

We have been to Chautauqua during all seasons. In summer, you need to get an early start before the sun beats down on you. In the spring, the wildflowers are glorious and the trees and grass are all shades of green. In the fall, all the trees turn golden yellow, orange or red and the views of Boulder from the mountain are a burst of colors. In the winter, the snow turns the Flatirons into a silent, winter wonderland (and people are still hiking!).

Chautauqua actually became a place of refuge for me several years ago. My son, a CU college student, had spinal surgery and I lived with him in Boulder for several weeks following his surgery. When he was well enough to return to classes, I would drop him off at campus and head directly to Chautauqua. Most times I hiked short distances- other times I sat on rocks and reflected, prayed, read books, or just enjoyed the solace. It became my calming getaway and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I recently came across a travel magazine article on Chautauqua that explained in detail the history of this wonderful place. It seems there is a very strong Texas – Colorado connection. Who knew? In Austin, Texas in 1897 the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association began. Its purpose was to conduct a summer school for Texas school teachers. Boulder, Colorado was chosen for the location due to the cooler summer temperatures. A $75 fee covered the 6-week session for each teacher. The tuition included room and board, lectures, entertainment, and round-trip rail fare from anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Ft. Worth. The “continuing ed” for these early teachers included cello, guitar, mandolin, piano, vocals, math, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, English, Latin, Greek, French, German and English Literature. When not in class, the participants enjoyed symphonies, motion pictures, burro rides, horseback rides, hikes, and stagecoach rides. This association was very active for over 30 years before the attendance began to decline. If you go on the property today, you see many of the original buildings from this era. The Dining Hall has many old photos depicting some of the summer sessions – very interesting for history buffs.

For those of you who are wondering, “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and provided the name for the movement.

I hope you get the chance to visit Chautauqua one day and enjoy it as much as my family does. Go early, dress comfortably, and take plenty of water to drink along the way. Enjoy your hike and then afterwards, have a meal at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Ask to sit out on the veranda and have a great meal while overlooking the park.  Order the “Rachelette” and tell them Southern Savvy sent you!

Cosanti

Scottsdale, Arizona

When an opportunity presents itself to see an art gallery – count me in! On a girl’s trip this past year with my daughter and sister-in-law to Scottsdale, my research kept turning up a place called Cosanti – a Paolo Soleri Studio. This artist’s studio is internationally known for lovely bronze windbells. I had never heard of the place, but I was sold.

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was an Italian born architect and craftsman artist who came to Arizona as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. Soleri popularized the term “arcology” – architecture and ecology as one. His Cosanti gallery and studio near Scottsdale is an Arizona Historic Site and a perfect example of his innovative architecture.

As I first entered the studio property, my first thought was – this is very different. It was a unique and imaginative environment with an almost “enchanted” vibe.  Odd shaped domes, columns, arches, pathways, native symbols, etc. give the whole place an other-world feel. Words really cannot describe it – my best analogy is a cross between a giant Smurf’s habitat and Luke Skywalker’s home planet! It is not large, but spacious enough to display hundreds of gorgeous bronze windbells that hang in domes, corners, and alcoves throughout the property.

Not only is Cosanti visually stimulating, but the sound coming from all the windbells is unforgettable. Some bells had deep, base tones – others were light and airy. Some were quite loud, others were very quiet and delicate. All around us, a light breeze stirred the windbells and the sounds were amazing – an unrehearsed, impromptu concert in a very fitting environment. 

On certain days, visitors can actually see the bronze bells being poured in the on-site foundry. Unfortunately, we arrived late one afternoon and did not have the opportunity to see this. Visitors can witness the silicon bronze ingots being melted in the foundry’s furnace and and see the melted bronze poured into reusable bell-shaped molds (each bell-piece was originally designed by Soleri). The Cosanti Hallmark design is then pressed into each bell impression to make it authentic. When cooled and removed from molds, each artist then creates their own personal designs. Each bell is unique – some have an oxidized bronze finish while others  have the greenish, patina finish. Approximately 50,000 of these windbells are hand-poured each year. (Prices ranged from $30 – $7000.)

Since 1956, Soleri windbells have been hung on patios, in courtyards, and gardens throughout the world. I can attest that two of these beautiful bronze windbells now hang on a back porch in Rockwall, Texas. I will never tire of their clear, peaceful notes and will fondly remember my visit to Cosanti Studios.

Check out this gallery if you are ever in the Phoenix or Scottsdale area and have a few minutes. Pick up a nice windbell souvenir for yourself…..or better yet – bring me another!!

Water Mill, NY

The Hamptons

After watching several television series and movies that featured The Hamptons and Long Island, I was ready to check this area out for myself. After a bit of research, I settled on staying in Water Mill, NY.  This little village is a hamlet of the Town of Southampton and was settled in 1644. It was the perfect location from which to explore East Hampton, Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Montauk and Sagaponack – all just minutes away.

My first bit of luck was choosing The White Fences Inn. This was a wonderful little Bed and Breakfast with a perfect location. Liz and Eric were most hospitable hosts and their goldendoodle Bailey stole our hearts!  The White Fences Inn was originally built in 1740, and the new owners did a fantastic job renovating and remodeling this historic home. It was cozy, comfortable and had all the latest modern amenities. We were served a delicious three-course breakfast every morning on the back patio (weather permitting) or in the lovely modern dining room. We had a great stay here and especially enjoyed getting to know our hosts and meeting some of the other guests.

Just down the road from The White Fences Inn sat what looked like a most unusual and very long barn. This just happened to be the Parrish Art Museum. Being an art major and having free passes from our B&B, we decided to check it out. This unique building houses a very nice modern art collection. I do admit that the building’s architecture – interior and exterior – was as interesting as the art collection. We enjoyed our morning visit here and saw some very thought-provoking paintings by local artists.

This area of Long Island is very beautiful with its green rolling hills, floral gardens, corn crops, and meticulously planted vineyards. It is very similar to Tuscany and Napa Valley. Who knew that this area of the country was known for winemaking? I certainly did not!

There were several wineries and vineyards in this area, and we visited three of them during our stay. Our favorite was the Wolffer Estate Vineyards down the road from us in Sagaponack. The main Wolffer Estate building was quite elegant – built in a Mediterranean style with lush landscaping and stone terraces. We sat on the back patio terrace on a lovely afternoon and enjoyed a Tuscan board with artisan cheeses, breads, fruits and nuts. We sampled several of their chardonnays, rose’ and red blends. The wines were all delicious and we purchased several bottles to take back home with us. This area of New York is known for their award-winning rose’ wines and now after drinking a few, I can attest as to why!

Another thing that surprised me about this area was the lovely beaches. Our B&B gave us parking passes to the local Flying Point Beach just minutes from where we stayed. Our hosts loaded us up with towels, chairs, umbrella, drinks & snacks and sent us on our way. This beach was gorgeous – fine white sand, sand dunes, sea oats, and more sea birds than people! We had such a quiet, relaxing day here and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was an absolutely perfect day at the beach.

At the end of each day we would go back to The White Fences Inn, clean up, and drive a few minutes into the downtown area of the Village of Southampton for dinner. This neat little town had clothing shops, chic cafes, fancy restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries, delicatessens,  and coffee shops. We had some delicious meals each evening and really enjoyed the local seafood. One night we dined at the Red Bar, a favorite restaurant of the locals, and sat a few tables over from Howard Stern and his wife! You never know who you will see here since so many famous actors, designers, musicians, models, etc. have homes here and live a relatively quiet life. Water Mill, NY is the 14th most expensive zip in the U.S. with the median home price at $2,965,000. I don’t think we will be relocating any time soon.

We had an absolutely wonderful time in The Hamptons and were pleasantly surprised by all there was to see and do.  An earlier blog of mine covered Montauk and the Montauk Lighthouse which is just a few minutes drive from here also.  There were antique shops, old churches, ferries, charter boats, stables, horse shows, pumpkin farms, historical museums, art galleries, sailing, surfing, beaches, etc.  – literally something for everyone. It was a great vacation destination and one that I had not heard much about. After we spent a few days here, we then drove the two hours back into NYC for the second leg of our trip. Great time – great memories! 

 

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Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs, CO

Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is a great place to spend part of a day or a full day. You can choose to hike, go rock climbing, bike, ride horseback, or take a leisurely drive (like we did). There are 15 miles of well-marked trails (22 total) throughout the park.

We began at the Visitor & Nature Center and Museum at the park’s entrance. This is a wonderful building with geology, ecology, and cultural history exhibits. (Be sure to read about the 125 million-year-old, one-of-a-kind dinosaur fossil found here in 1886.) There are many hands-on exhibits and activities for adults and children. The visitor’s center also houses a gift shop, restrooms, a cafe, theater, and an information desk where you can pick up a free full-color trail map of the park. Step out of the center onto the observation deck for spectacular views of Garden of the Gods. This is the perfect spot to take a photo of the dramatic 300′ towering sandstone formations with the foothills of the Rockies and Pike’s Peak in the distance.  What a backdrop!

When you leave the visitor’s center, the entrance to the park is across the highway. There is not an entrance fee – the park is free. 

All the roads, trails and parking areas are well-marked and easy to find. Each turn seems to bring a different, amazing sight. All these rock formations were created by a geological upheaval 300 million years ago. The bright red, pink, gray and white rocks are various shapes and sizes – all motionless and silent. Many were tilted vertically and formed into “fin-like” spikes. Others have been toppled, slanted, pushed around, overturned and eroded.  Most of the rocks are sandstone, limestone or conglomerate and each one is a true masterpiece of Mother Nature.

As the road winds through the park, you can stop for photo ops and explore “Balanced Rock,” located right next to “Steamboat Rock.” Cathedral Valley houses the “Three Graces,” “Gray Rock,” “Sleeping Giant,” and “Kissing Camels” to name a few. There are plenty of pull-offs and parking areas throughout the park. We actually stopped at one trail head and hiked a short distance before having lunch at one of the many picnic areas. There are many trails for easy hikes if you want to check out all the natural flora and fauna. There are also more difficult trails for the athletically inclined people who want to do some actual rock climbing. 

We chose to drive the park on our own this particular day. If interested, there are several other options for exploring the park: private car tours, bikes, jeeps, segways, ATV’s, luxury buses, or horseback. The Park Program also offers 45-minute Nature Walks and Nature Talks daily through the Visitor’s Center. Your call!

We truly had a wonderful day here and I will always remember the sight of those gigantic rock formations. The colors, shapes, and prehistoric-looking landscape will be difficult to forget. It reminds me of how powerful this earth can be, how old this planet actually is, and how land is constantly changing. I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to visit Garden of the Gods.

 

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