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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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The Freedom Trail

Boston, Massachusetts

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Boston for a day or two, the Freedom Trail is a “must see – must do.” Just follow the red brick line on the sidewalks throughout Boston and you be led on the 2.5 mile tour of 16 American Revolution sites. This is a great outdoor activity perfect for most ages and especially suited for history buffs. Just wear comfortable shoes and plan on spending 2-5 hours walking, exploring, visiting historic sites, and best of all – getting to know the city.

They are several ways to enjoy the Freedom Trail. My suggestion is to do it on your own so that you can spend as much or as little time as you choose at each location. If you get too tired the first day, stop. Pick it up the next day where you left off and do different parts on different days. For the techies, there is a phone app you can download ($4.99) that can be very helpful. There are also paper maps (for us old folks) that you can get from stops throughout the city or from your hotel. The National Park Service has a visitor’s center at Faneuil Hall where they offer tours and give out free maps. There are also several independent tour companies that offer 1-hour guided tours, private tours with a driver, or photowalks. (Photowalks are led by someone helping you capture each historic site in the best light and from the best vantage point.) You will see various tour groups at several of the stops. They are hard to miss since the tour guides are dressed in period costumes, wigs, stockings, shoes, tricorn hats, etc. 

My husband and I have always preferred walking the trail on our own. That way, we can stop for a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, and maybe even a pastachio cannoli  – whenever the mood strikes! The trail takes you by some fabulous places to eat or stop for a “spot o’ tea”, a cup of coffee, or a cold brew. We actually had lunch with Benjamin Franklin one day! How many people do you know that can say that?

Most of the Freedom Trail guides will start you at Boston Common – America’s oldest public park and in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House. It will end at the Bunker Hill Monument. You see famous sites, old buildings, interesting people, the North End (Little Italy), the financial area, markets, eateries, churches and graveyards. Some of the streets are very quaint and narrow since they were first made in the 1600’s for horses, carriages and wagons – not the heavy city traffic we all know today. All of the historic sights are very well conserved and attended. Thirteen of the sixteen stops are free, and three require a small admission fee (Paul Revere’s House, the Old South meeting House and Old State House).

If you only have one day, be sure to see the Old North Church, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, Faneuil Hall,  and Granary Burial Ground. The last time we stayed in Boston, our hotel was right across the street from the Granary Burial Grounds. This cemetery is one of my favorite places in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and houses the remains of Samuel Adams, victims of the Boston Massacre,  Peter Faneuil, Mary “Mother” Goose, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. If you remember your history lessons, only 5 civilians were killed in the Boston “Massacre.” The Revolutionists’ great PR team made it seem a much more tragic event to play up the role of the evil, murdering British. 

There is a small pub across the street from Granary Burial Grounds. We were told by our Duck Tour guide that “this is the only place in Boston where you can drink a cold Samuel Adams while looking out over a cold, dead Samuel Adams.” Tasteless – but still kind of funny!

There is SO much history in Boston. Take it all in. It makes you proud of those early Americans who rose up against a mighty nation and demanded their rights and civil liberties. Walking the Freedom Trail puts it all in perspective – at least it did for me. It is hard to stand on the hill in the North End and look up at the tall steeple of the Old North Church and not think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride….”one if by land, two if by sea.” When you walk the Freedom Trail, you are truly walking in the footsteps of our forefathers. Walk tall and walk proud….and please do not forget that cannoli!

 

 

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Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska

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Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

 David and I had the opportunity to go on a small Alaskan cruise (Un-Cruise) two summers ago and this trip remains one of my all-time favorite vacations. We flew into Juneau a couple of days early to do some exploring before setting off on our adventure cruise. One of the excursions we took while staying in Juneau was to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier. 

On a gorgeous morning at the end of May, we loaded up on a city bus and rode the 12 miles from downtown Juneau to the nearest bus stop for the Mendenhall Glacier. From the bus stop, we walked approximately one mile to the entrance to the park. This was a very easy walk and we enjoyed it. We saw beaver dams, thick alpine forests, mossy boulders, and scenic views all along the way leading up to the glacier. The weather was perfect.

We soon  arrived at the entrance of the U.S. Forest Service’s historic Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. There is an upper entrance with a ramp and lower entrance with elevators. The views from here were stunning! There are many viewpoints on the outside of the center where you can observe the marvelous river of ice, the alpine ridges, Mendenhall Lake and floating icebergs – all in the distance. 

The Visitor Center was very nice and was well worth a visit. There is an educational movie every 20 minutes (very informative), exhibits, rangers, maps, and a bookstore. One of my favorite exhibits contained photos of the glacier and its progression/recession throughout the years. There is also a glacier bear (taxidermy) which was very unique with its pale blue/silver color – most unusual. Mother Nature adapted this color change to camouflage these brown bears who live on the ice. Very interesting.

We looked at the area maps and picked a couple of trails to explore. We chose Trail of Time and Nugget Falls Trail – both of these trails were easy to walk, took us through a segment of the forest and meandered along the lake. We followed the trails through moss & lichens, skunk cabbage, blueberry & salmonberry bushes and beautiful flowering plants. Our goal was to end up at the base of Nugget Falls. 

After walking a half-mile or so, we started hearing the roar of the falls in the distance and were anxiously anticipating seeing it “up close and personal”. We soon did!

The sight of Nugget Falls cascading down the mountainside near the glacier was breathtaking. The sound was immense! We were dwarfed in comparison to the size, scope and power of these falls (see photo below). We approached the falls, got covered in the cool spray and took lots of photos. As we walked along the rocky beach – we had even better views of the glacier, ice caves, and small icebergs floating in the lake all around us. This was one of those special “pinch me” moments!

We took our time and explored the beach here for awhile. The weather and the scenery were both perfect and we knew we needed to treasure this moment and imprint these sights & sounds in our memory. We collected some small glacial rocks. We pulled icebergs (“bergies”) out of the water and played with them. We watched a group of canoers paddling out to the glacier. We watched small areas of the huge glacier “calving” and releasing more small broken chunks of ice into the clear blue, icy waters. We spotted turquoise blue ice caves at the glacier’s edge. This was Mother Nature at her best.

Experts tell us that by the end of the century, the Mendenhall Glacier will no longer be visible from the current Visitor’s Center. This 13 mile long glacier is melting at a rapid rate due to global warming. Decades ago, there was not even a Mendenhall Lake – this lake was formed due to the glacier ice melting and receding. I highly suggest that if this is something you would like to see, go sooner rather than later! You can visit on your own as we did – or book a guided solo trek,  a helitour, a guided walk or a canoe tour. It is truly a fantastic place to experience first hand. Photos and words cannot do it justice. See it for yourself!

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Sonoran Desert Tour

Scottsdale, AZ

I just returned from a wonderful four-day weekend to Scottsdale, Arizona and the highlight of my trip was an ATV tour of the desert. After doing a bit of research before I went, I chose a tour close to Scottsdale where the company actually picked us up from our hotel in a very nice Mercedes van.

There were plenty of independent tours to choose from. Some used dune buggies, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, jeeps, hummers, segways and even hot air balloons. This Green Zebra tour I picked was 2.5 hours long, with only  a 30 minute drive from our hotel to the starting point, and provided us with water and a colorful bandana. It sounded like the perfect plan for us. A morning tour of the desert left us with plenty of time for a late lunch and shopping in the afternoon!

We dressed in closed-toe shoes and grubby clothes, grabbed our sunglasses and hats, and were ready to roll. Our driver/guide Mike picked us up from our hotel and we drove through Scottsdale towards Fort McDowell. Mike explained many of the sights along the way. Our starting point for the tour was actually on tribal land belonging to the Yavapi Indians. We pulled into the main facility (which reminded me a little of the Alamo!) and unloaded. We used the restrooms, donned our bandanas, and listened intently as Mike gave us our instructions for the trail.

The TomCar ATVs were gas powered, military grade and did not have power steering or power brakes. There were two-seaters and four-seaters. We elected my daughter Rachel to drive our four-seater with me in the back and my sister-in-law in the front passenger seat. Luckily, the TomCars did had “over-the-shoulder” harness type seat belts (to keep you from bouncing out) and windshields (to keep a large percentage of red dirt and dust out of your face!). The main rules were to stay on the trail behind the guide and to stay 1-2 car lengths behind the car in front of you. We had this!!

The scenery along the way was gorgeous! The Sonoran Desert has heavy rainfall in the summer and winter and it was more lush than I had imagined. It was rugged but very beautiful. Our TomCars drove through brush, climbed rocky hillsides, and bumped along through dry rocky riverbeds and canyons that showed evidence of flash floods during the rainy season. Our excursion took us from rushes of adrenaline to quiet peacefulness in this remote landscape.

Our first stop was a high overlook at the Verde River. We actually talked to an Arizona Fish & Wildlife employee who had set up cameras at this location to study nesting bald eagles in the large trees down below. The scenery here from this high vista was amazing. We saw Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, and Phoenix in the distance. We could see how the Verde River split the tribal lands down the middle. Mike pointed out the Yavapi’s reservation housing and their expansive acreage. The Native Americans farm citrus groves, pecan groves, alfalfa, and other grains for their vast livestock. When investors wanted to dam the Verde River miles upstream decades ago to create luxury waterfront real estate, the presence of bald eagles here (then on the endangered species list) kept this from happening and the Yavapi kept their lands fertile with this water source. They are presently a very wealthy and prosperous tribe.

Our next adventure took us through dense mesquite groves, where we saw recent evidence of a herd of wild horses. The trail ended at a low spot by the Verde River, so we stopped and got out for a water break. Mike then explained all about the mesquite trees and how important they were to the Native Americans. The wood was used for firewood and smoking meats. The flowers and pods were edible. The “peas/beans” were a source of protein in lean months and could be dried and ground into flour. The sap was used as a hair product. These mesquite trees are much larger than the scrubby ones we see in Texas.

Our third and final scheduled stop was to check out the cacti near the trail. This huge saguaro we examined was over 200 years old. Mike also pointed out many other plant and cacti species that thrive in this desert climate. He talked about the geology, history, and wildlife in this area – it was very interesting. He also had a killer John Wayne impression! We then found several kangaroo rat burrows, but unfortunately – no rats. They were wise and stayed hidden from us (as did the rattlesnakes). Mike told us these desert rodents live their entire lives and never drink water (they get moisture from the seeds and vegetation they eat) and instead of urinating liquid, they excrete a small drop of yellow paste. So being the mature adults we are….we then spent the next five minutes looking for mustard colored kangaroo rat droppings, but never found any.

This was a such a fun and educational experience! My sister-in-law Linda is not the most adventurous type – but even she enjoyed the tour and got out of her comfort zone a little (okay… a LOT!). My daughter was completely in her element with this excursion and loved driving our TomCar. We were covered in dirt from head to toe when we finished and our clothes were a dusty mess. It took a couple of showers and many kleenex and Q-tips to erase all the “evidence” of this adventure – but it was well worth it! We made wonderful memories on this morning and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same one day.

If you would like, please leave me comments or additional information relating to this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on this trip and your own experiences. I highly enjoyed this brief trip to Scottsdale and urge anyone to visit – especially if you enjoy excursions like this. Please subscribe to my blog for more travel and dining updates. Thanks!

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the beautiful Sonoran Desert on a warm, cloudy morning

One World Observatory

New York City, NY

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If you have the opportunity to visit New York City in the future, be sure to put One World Observatory on your “must see” list. 

The building itself is a breathtaking site as it rises 1776 feet up from street level. The One World Observatory is located on floors 100-102 of this beautiful new One World Trade Center Building. On a sunny day with blue skies, this reflective building is even more impressive. It proudly claims the title of the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building.

I was recovering from knee surgery when we visited NYC this past summer, so we booked our visit online and paid extra for the VIP “Skip the Line” Expedited Entry tickets. These upgraded tickets were a god send! Instead of standing and sweating outside for hours with hundreds of others, we bypassed all the general admission ticket lines and were ushered right in. We entered through the front doors, cleared security and walked directly to the elevators. We were inside the Observatory in less than 5 minutes. The VIP tickets were a little costly but they were worth every penny to me.

The 60-second ride in the elevator to the 100th floor was very smooth. The elevator walls were LED screens that illustrated 500 years of NYC’s past history as we ascended to the top floors. When the elevator stopped, we stepped out and saw the skylines and city scenes that awaited us. (Near the elevators, you can rent iPads that actually label the sights you are viewing.) The Main Observatory had outstanding panoramic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and all surrounding areas. On a clear day like we had, we could see 50 miles out in every direction. Fantastic!

In the center of one area was the Sky Portal. This is a large glass disc that you can walk across or stand on. It shows the actual street 100 floors below you and was a little scary for me. I did not care for standing on glass and seeing people, cars and taxis moving below me in real time…..a little unsettling, to say the least.

 As we walked around the circular site, all the area views were spectacular from this vantage point. We saw something different in every direction. We spotted the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the NYC bridges, the rivers, barges & boats, Time Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Chrysler Building and the 9/11 Memorial next door – just to name a few. It was a very neat experience and something I will never forget. 

The observatory itself was quite open and spacious and there was plenty of room for everyone to get great views. The elevator rides are conveniently timed to keep crowds evenly dispersed. We never felt crowded or unable to see what we wanted. There were restrooms, restaurants, a gift shop, and various speakers scattered throughout the 360 degree site. You choose to spend as little or as much time here as you prefer.

When you decide to leave this building, you are merely steps away from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It was somewhat mentally difficult and quite emotional for me at times being in this building on this very sight. More than once, I stood and gazed out at the horizon looking for airplanes and imagining that horrific day that will forever be locked in my memory.

This sight has so many memories for all of us and I think NYC has done a tremendous job with the One World Observatory. Please visit if you have the chance – it is very worthwhile. If you have visited, please leave your comments below. I would love to hear of your experiences.

Rest in peace, all those unfortunate souls who lost their lives here on 9/11. Your spirits live on.

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