Arizona’s Agriculture and Adventures

Yumafarming

Farming in Yuma

When one thinks of a warm winter getaway, the Caribbean or South America may come to mind.  But how about vacationing in the United States, where you don’t have to worry about money exchange or international cell charges? You can enjoy breathtaking views of the gorgeous Sonoran desert and take in unmatched sunsets that bring on a sky full of hues of orange, red, pink and blue.  That place is the beautiful state of Arizona. Divided into a few regions, I’d suggest renting a car and exploring the various parts of the state, as each one offers gems of their own, and are only a few hours apart.  There are so many incredible places to stay and things to see and do in the valley of the sun.  Below are some of my favorites.  You can do everything from becoming a farmer and rancher to pampering yourself at a five diamond resort.

coloradocanoeing

Colorado River

1)   Become a farmer for a day in Yuma with the Field of Feast tour and a visit to Martha’s Date Farm. The field of feast tour gives you a hands- on farming lesson in conjunction with the agricultural experts from the University of Arizona.  With your hairnets, lettuce knives, and a recipe card in tow, you’ll pick produce to take both with you and to give to the Arizona Western College culinary students, who will prepare a fabulously healthy lunch from the produce you picked from the field.  At the Martha Garden date farm, you’ll get to learn about and try the healthy Medjool date in either a shake, macaroon, or prepared with pecans, walnuts, and coconut.  The date was introduced to Yuma is 1944 and the region is now the world’s largest producer because of the favorable microclimate along the Colorado River.

2)   In the morning, take a leisurely canoe ride down the Colorado River with the City of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department.  For lunch, stop into Lute’s Casino.  You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time as soon as you step into this restaurant and bar, which has been family owned since the 1920’s.  Learn the history, listen to nostalgic piano music, and see all the cool memorabilia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.

orangepatch

The Orange Patch

3)   Explore Mesa by picking your own oranges at the Orange Patch, having lunch at Joe’s Farm Grill next to the family farm, Agritopia, and enjoying “udder delights,” the homemade icecream at Superstition Dairy Farm. The Orange Patch is one of Mesa’s original citrus growers and guests can watch the picking and production process before tasting their delicious freshly squeezed orange juice.  Lines form around the block at “Joe’s Farm Grill” from locals and visitors alike.  Created in 1966, they pride themselves on “making common food uncommonly well.”  At Superstition Farms, take a tour, learn modern dairy operation, make friends at the petting zoo, and go home with something from their Moo-tique.

4)   Visit the Queen Creek Olive Mill, Arizona’s only family-owned and operated working olive mill and farm, just east of Mesa. Learn the process of making extra virgin olive oil and sample a wide variety of infused oils.  My favorite oils were the chocolate and bacon (not together in one!)  You can enjoy fresh gourmet foods at their eatery, Del Piero, and be sure to try the olive oil cupcakes!

Brushfire_027

Windmill Winery

5)   Get married in a barn at the Windmill Winery in historic Florence.  If you’re looking for a beautiful and unique setting for a wedding, this is it!  The gorgeous mountains and beautiful sunset make the perfect backdrop as you ride in on horseback down the stone pathways.  If you’re not planning a wedding, you can still visit the wine bar and tasting room, open to the public Thursday through Saturday.  Once a month, they host themed dinners in the barn.  I sampled the food and can tell you it’s better than any wedding food I’ve ever had!

6)   Enjoy some great Mexican food at places like La Fonda Restaurant and Tortilla Factory in Yuma, where they make their own corn tortillas on premise every morning.  In Tucson, stop for some good Mexican fast food at El Guero Canelo, and in Gilbert, Joyride Taco offers slow roasted meats in house-made tortillas. While not Mexican, a great breakfast stop is T.C. Eggington’s Brunchery in Mesa.  Their menu is healthy and fresh, including egg white omelets piled high with local veggies and fresh smoothies.

images

Casino del Sol

7)   Get your gambling fix at the Casino del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center in Southwest Tucson. This new resort owned by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is more than just a casino. This AAA four diamond property features the phenomenal award winning PY steakhouse and bar. The bar features a wine list of over 1000 labels and their own reserve of tequila and bourbon.  The creative mixologist will prepare drinks for every taste bud using only the freshest of ingredients.  In the morning, visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.  In this outdoor nature park (most of the museum is outdoors), you’ll learn all about the plants indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and come close to animals like the mountain lion and prairie dog.

hotairexpeditions

Hot Air Expeditions Balloon Ride

8)   Eat your way through Old Town Scottsdale and learn the history with the Taste of Scottsdale tour.  Stay at the brightly multicolored Saguaro Hotel, which is in the perfect location for exploring Downtown Scottsdale.  You can borrow one of their bikes and explore the local area or relax by their pool and spa.  Also, while in Scottsdale, be sure to check out the Musical Instrument Museum.  This is no ordinary museum!  See instruments and taped performances from all around the world.  Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time!

9)   Take a hot air balloon ride and drink champagne in the desert with Hot Air Expeditions.  They will pick you up at your hotel and you’ll watch as they blow up the balloons and ignite the flame.  Step into the large basket and soar up to 7500 feet off the ground and capture the mountain and desert scenery.  Upon landing, they will have a champagne brunch or dinner waiting for you.  They offer a sunrise and sunset tour in the winter months and just a sunrise one in the summertime.

fairmontprincess

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

10) Pamper yourself at one of the amazing spa resorts in Scottsdale.  The five diamond Fairmont Princess in the northern part of Scottsdale is a true gem.  If you are traveling on your own, this is the perfect retreat for your body and soul.  At the Well and Being at  Willow Stream Spa, enjoy the modern fitness center or one of their many classes including  aerial yoga and dance, crossfit, and TRX.  Meet with an exercise physiologist and get your body fat tested in the state of the art, “bod pod,” said to be one of the most accurate measures of lean muscle and body fat.  The spa offers a huge list of options, including the “Havasupai Falls Rejuvenation,” which incorporates a body scrub, full body massage, and ends with hot oil being dripped on your forehead and into your hair with a scalp massage.  It is truly heavenly. When not in the spa, sit by the lake, watch the ducks and read a good book.  La Hacienda offers some terrific Mexican food and the bar offers over 240 varieties of tequila!  You can also perfect your golf game at the 18-hole championship courses-one of which is home to the annual PGA Phoenix Open.

As you can see, Arizona is a state booming with a huge variety of activities and places to eat to satisfy everyone’s cravings.  For the latest events and activities, you can visit www.arizonaguide.com.  Don’t forget your sunscreen!

 

 

 

 

Grab Your Lasso and Head West!

P1080063When you think of the wild wild west, what comes to mind?  In the movies, it’s all about the cowboys with their big belt buckles, boots and spurs and cool cowboy hat with lasso in hand.   If you’d like to live your own real life wild west adventure, you can visit one of many dude ranches in the United States. The Dude Ranch Association’s website will give you a list of the various ranches throughout the country.   I have always wanted to see what it would be like to put myself in the middle of a wild wild west adventure. That’s why I chose to visit the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona.  It is perfect for singles, couples and families alike, with a gorgeous backdrop of the Sonoran Desert and the Saguaro National Park.  The ranch sits on 650 acres, houses 180 horses, and is surrounded by the protected Saguaro National Park. This New York City girl has always loved country music, but has never owned a pair of boots or a cowgirl hat. That all changed when I arrived to the ranch.  As they say, when in Rome…or when at a dude ranch, this is your chance to have some fun and dress the part!   I signed up for my first horseback riding lesson and was led into the arena.  In no time, I was following a real life cowboy as he led us on horseback through the breathtaking mountainous terrain.

P1080056

When contemplating a dude ranch, one may think of it as working the land and getting down and dirty.  However, there is no reason to have to completely rough it while getting the dude ranch experience.  When visiting Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, you will be spoiled with amenities such as a heated pool in which you can swim laps, a hot tub, and overly spacious rooms, casitas and haciendas, which can house up to six people per room with sweeping views of the Sonoran desert from your private terrace.  You can also take in the most gorgeous Tucson sunsets, which transform the sky into amazing shades of orange, red and yellow.  P1080007

The food at the ranch is plentiful, and is a combination of healthy and traditional.  Breakfast includes a buffet, with fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries and oatmeal, and a menu to order, with all types of eggs, pancakes and traditional American options.  Twice a week, everyone usually gets on a horse or mountain bike and rides up to the homestead for breakfast, where the owner Bob, 80, still flips pancakes for everyone. IMG_0135 The general manager, and his wife, Debra, also make daily visits to the ranch and sit with families at lunch and dinner.  They are always open to hearing feedback to ensure your present and future visits are the best they can be. The ranch has been in Bob’s family since 1957 and there are families who have been going to the ranch for almost as long as it’s been open.  Perhaps that is the best testament to the wonderful hospitality and experience the ranch offers. Lunch is also a buffet with a salad bar, hot dishes and desserts, and dinner is either a sit down in the dining room or a cookout in the Cottonwood picnic area.  You’ll sit around the firepit with live country music and selections such as sumptuous steaks, pulled pork, smoked turkey and ribs that fall off the bone, with collard P1080055greens, baked potatoes, beans and mac and cheese.

So what is a typical day like on a dude ranch?  The schedule is chock full of activities for everyone in the family throughout the day and your toughest part will be figuring out which to do first.  The main focus of the ranch is the horseback riding and there are lessons and rides for all levels, including a “fun”damental class for beginners, and intermediate, and advanced classes.  If you are a first time rider or one who just prefers to take a beautiful ride through the desert, the walk rides will take you on various paths and up into some higher elevations for sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the various types of cacti. P1080158 If you are more advanced and would like to try a loping ride (faster than a trot), they do make you take a loping test to verify you are extremely comfortable on your horse and have all of the skills you need to know.  In addition to the horse lessons and rides, there are daily activities such as team penning, and something they call Fontana, in which you go through various obstacles with the horses.

Because some decide riding isn’t for them, or they would like to do more on the ranch than just ride, there are organized mountain bike rides for all levels, hikes, which range from one and a half to three hours, photo hikes to capture the best light and scenery of the desert, tennis lessons, fishing, nature talks, and water color classes. You can also choose to relax by or take a swim in their heated pool or rest your tired muscles in the hot tub. I tried a little bit of everything, and when asked which was my favorite, I really couldn’t give an answer.  For someone who likes an active vacation with a good mix of relaxation and gorgeous scenery, you can’t beat the P1080193Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.

Speaking of relaxation, while there, you must get a treatment from their Sonora Spa.  My muscles definitely took a beating from all of the activities, and Paige, their lead massage therapist, with a specialty in sports injuries, did incredible work on my neck and back muscles.  Having experienced my share of therapists, I think she was one of the most knowledgeable, and her work was amazing!  P1080167I highly recommend treating yourself to a massage at the end of your stay.  You can also choose from a list of beauty treatments.

I traveled to the dude ranch on my own, but the staff never made me feel as though I were isolated.   In the center of the dining room is a community table, so one can sit there each night and meet new people coming to stay at the ranch.  The hot tub is amazing for sore muscle recovery and also a romantic night of stargazing.  Tucson has a light ordinance, so unless cloudy, you will usually have amazing views of the night sky. You can also grab a drink in the doghouse saloon and play a little pool, or sit on the deck and watch the beautiful sunset. One of my favorite things to do was to sit on the lounge chair on my terrace and just enjoy the peaceful serene sounds of the desert.

P1080101Perhaps what the ranch is most known for is its family visits.  They have a kid’s horseback riding program so the parents can also enjoy themselves, knowing the children are being looked after with good care from the staff.  I spoke with one family who have been going there for 23 years!  Their parents took them and now they are taking their children. Their parents still go, and they have their family reunion there each year. Another family was coming up on their 50-year reunion.  The ranch has a very warm and welcoming feeling, and many make it their second home, with the kids looking forward to going back each year.  P1080233

So grab your riding boots, hat, and gloves, and head to the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. If you forget, or don’t have any of your own gear, their well-stocked gift shop will help you fulfill all of your cowboy and cowgirl needs.  The fun pictures and experiences you and the entire family will enjoy will definitely make memories to last a lifetime!