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Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 6 comments

Historic hotel in Peoria AZPhillip read an article an old hotel that had been sitting abandoned for years with plans to tear it down when the city decided instead to preserve it.

Historic hotel in Peoria AZ

He wanted to go find the Edwards Hotel on his day off, so we drove to the Peoria address in the article. It wasn’t hard to find.

Edwards hotel

Even from outside the chain link fence, it was interesting to guess what had been there originally and what had been added later.

IMG_9564

Then we took a stroll around Old Town Peoria, where there’s currently not much going on, but they have a revitalization program in the works.

 

Peoria

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Peoria

State bird quilt

In the meantime, they have ornate, agriculturally-themed bus stops, a handful of historic buildings (including a church that was turning 100 the week we were there),  and a nice little community center with paintings and quilts on display. It was all a cozy contrast to the hollowed-out hotel.

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Peoria

Peoria

 

Peoria Quilt




 

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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The Opening Of The Fire Pit

Posted by on May 5, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

After our morning hike at Tumamoc Hill, we returned to the Mission Garden that evening for demonstrations on agave rope making and roasting, tequila tastings, a display of products made from agave fibers, plant sale, and The Opening of the Fire Pit.

Agave products

Tequila

The day before, probably about the time Phillip and I were driving from Phoenix to Tucson, a group had gathered at the Mission Garden. Jesús García, an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, was demonstrating how to build a fire in a traditional roasting pit and fill it with agaves. They would be covered with metal from the side of an old washing machine and then layers of dirt to keep the heat inside the earth oven.

Jesus Garcia

Other than the repurposed washing machine, the pit would be similar to the ones we had seen evidence of on our hike that morning, the charcoal gray rocks contrasting with the reddish desert clay only hinting at what was under our feet.

Agave plants

We don’t know exactly how the ancient roasting pits worked. Current tribes in the area have not continued this tradition. However, Jesús García pointed out that just a few miles south of the border, “the tradition is still alive.” He talked to his family in Mexico about the process, taking notes and drawing extensive diagrams about every step. Adapting those techniques to the Tucson area has taken some trial and error. Apparently. Last year’s cooking time wasn’t quite enough.

So this year, they would give the agave a full 24 hours to cook underground before literally digging in and opening up the fire pit.

Agave

That must be the magic number. It was soft and slightly sweet. Each variety had a different flavor. One tasted like sweet potatoes.
Roasted agave

So what if you don’t happen to have access to a 5-foot by 6-foot roasting pit?

Carolyn Niethammer shared how she roasts quartered agave heads in her home oven – just roast at 350 for 17 hours (!)

Carolyn cooking demo

Once they’ve been roasted, you can add them into other dishes. With an electric skillet, she demonstrated how to saute up some agave along with nopales (prickly pear pads), peppers, and tepary beans, a drought-tolerant heritage bean that has recently come back into use. It was delicious!

Agave and tepary beans

She followed up by passing around some “Aztec delights,” bite-sized treats she made from amaranth, chia, agave syrup, and chocolate.

Dessert at Mission Garden

It was a sweet finish to our Mission Garden visit.

 

 


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6, 6pm: Agave Fest tequila party at Hotel Congress. $35
  • May 7, 11am: Agave Heritage Brunch at Carriage House. Proceeds from this brunch help benefit Mission Garden. $55



We were guests of Hotel Congress and Maynards Market + Kitchen.

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Ancient Agave Tour

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Agave

To kick off the Agave Heritage Festival, Stephanie and I got to play archeologists for the morning.

Mission Garden Tucson

After getting to the Hotel Congress late the night before, I used my front-desk-issued earplugs to get some sleep, so we could get ourselves to the Mission Garden by 8:15 am.

Paul and Suzie Fish

We met our gracious guides there: Paul and Suzie Fish, emeriti professors of archaeology from the University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum. The plan for the day was to carpool over to some pristine desert land several miles away at the base of Tumamoc Hill, where U of A Desert Laboratory is located, hike in about a half mile, and then be guided by the archaeologists on a tour of an ancient agave horticultural/gardening site and roasting pit used by the Hohokam people of the American Southwest.

Desert hike in tucson

While on this tour, I was surprised to find out that the Tucson area has evidence of farming estimated to go as far back as 5,000 years! The fields we were to tour are estimated to date to the 1200-1300s.

Charred rock

The first stop was the roasting pit. It’s a good thing we had trained professionals to take us here. Most anyone would have walked right by the spot, which looked like any other unremarkable clearing in the desert. A closer look yielded the clues: a few potsherds here and there, a slightly more charcoal-colored soil, and pieces of “rind.” Rind is the bubbly mix of stone and organic material that forms around such pits due to the high temperature in the roasting process.

Agave roasting site and cactus

The roasting was probably done every few years as it takes years for agave to grow to the harvesting stage. During its lifetime, little “pups” or rhizomes, which are essentially agave clones, grow out from the plants. Farmers would have taken these and used them to plant new agaves, which would have helped stagger the harvesting seasons.

Agave pups

Our guides explained that the agave was cultivated for three reasons: food, alcoholic beverages, and fibers – Stephanie filmed a jaw-dropping demonstration on how agave fiber can be made into a rope within minutes!

Since it would take at least 24 hours to roast the agaves, apparently, the Hohokam would multitask, using the time to work on other projects like making spindles for forming the fibers into thread or ropes.

Suzie Fish

As Suzie was explaining this to us, she reached down and grabbed a few bits of pottery sherds to show us. So I stooped down to glance at the dirt around my feet.

All of the sudden, the desert seemed to bloom with evidence of past humans. I found some pieces of the rind that our guides had described and some pottery pieces. Most interestingly, I found a rounded piece of pottery that Suzie told us was likely the beginnings of a spindle for making thread. Therein lies one of the most amazing aspect of archaeology – to touch an object that had been made with such intentional effort by another human centuries removed from me.

From the pit, we moved on to the remains of the gardens.

Desert

While there are no original agave plants left, our guides pointed out rocks arranged along the sloping hillsides to guide water to various miniature terraces where the agave would have been. Farther along, we started seeing evidence of experiments being done by the University of Arizona to replicate agricultural techniques used by the Hohokam. Since the early 1980s, scientists have been using this spot to try to replicate Hohokam techniques with agave horticulture.

Agave oasis

My favorite example was seeing how the terraces set up to encourage agave growth would not only foster significantly better growth for agaves, but they would also have a variety of plant neighbors which would grow up alongside next to them. They also benefited from the more advantageous microclimate of the terrace.

Desert terraces

I was in awe of how observant and creative the Hohokam were to create a space where they could cultivate agave on a larger scale. Indeed, our guides say that agaves are seldom naturally found below the 3,000 foot elevation mark. With a few ingenious adaptations, the Hohokam were able to make it work!

 

Ocotillo

 

– More Archaelogy Info –

The Southwestern United States and Arizona are hotspots for archaeology.

If you’re interested in getting involved in local AZ archaeological preservation efforts, one place to look is the Southwest Archaeology Team. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with archaeology on an amateur basis. They’re based in Mesa, Arizona and affiliated with the Arizona Museum of Natural History. I joined the organization for a time during high school and used the opportunity to take a class they offered in archaeological field surveying. In addition to educational opportunities, they provide volunteering opportunities in archaeology.

You can also check with local community colleges. As a high school student, I was able to take a class at Mesa Community College on archaeological field methods to learn the tools, techniques and terms of the profession.
Tucson desert


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 1:30pm: Talk on Cryptic Gardens and Pre-Columbian Agave Clones at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 5pm: Cinco De Mayo Party at Club Congress. Free until 9pm, then $3
  • May 5, 6:30pm: Agave Heritage Dinner at Maynards Plaza Patio. Proceeds from this dinner help benefit Native Seed Search. $110
  • May 6, 6pm: Agave Fest tequila party at Hotel Congress. $35
  • May 7, 11am: Agave Heritage Brunch at Carriage House. Proceeds from this brunch help benefit Mission Garden. $55



We were guests of Hotel Congress.

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Good Times at Monticello (part 2)

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

Monticello

Let’s say you read last week’s post on Monticello, and now you’re ready to plan a trip.

On the positive side, there’s so much good info on their site. On the challenging side, there’s so. much. info.

So here’s the breakdown on admission and tour options and when to be where – the stuff that confused me when I was first planning to visit Monticello.

Monticello visitor center display

Getting In: How Much Is Admission?

Unlike a museum with optional tours, there’s not a general admission that lets you just wander around Monticello. Instead, you purchase a timed tour ticket that also acts as your day pass.

Tours vary based on what they cover and cost. The most basic, most popular one is the Monticello Day Pass and House Tour ($20-28, see below).

 

Monticello house model

Which Tour to Choose?

All Monticello Day Passes/Tour Tickets include:

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You’ll want to find a tour that fits your interests, schedule, mobility, and the time of year you’re visiting, so here are summaries to help you sort it all out.

Tours Offered Year-round:

Monticello Day Pass and House Tour – This is the main tour, and it takes you through the first (ground) floor of Monticello.

  • 30-40 minutes
  • Wheelchair accessible. (Small strollers are also allowed.)
  • Adults: $20-28, Children (ages 5-11): $9

Behind the Scenes House Tour and Day Pass – Tour of the first, second and third floors, including the Dome Room.

  • The upper floors are not wheelchair accessible.
  • Not recommended for children under 7.
  • $48-60.

Monticello Neighborhood Pass – Combination ticket that includes Monticello Day Pass and House Tour, Ash-Lawn Highland admission and tour (home of fifth U.S. President James Monroe), and the Michie Tavern ca. 1784 Tour.

  • Save up to $6 on adult passes, if you visit all 3 sites.
  • If you only plan to visit 2 of the sites, buying tickets individually is a better deal.
  • I was not able to confirm whether you have to visit all 3 sites in one day.
  • Adults: $34-43, Children (ages 5-11): $19

Touch Tours for blind / seeing impaired individuals or groups are available by advance appointment.

Monticello Private Guide – Tour for 1-8 people, which includes the Dome Room and the gardens and grounds or museum galleries. Tailored to your interests.

  • Call (434) 984-9884 at least two weeks before your visit to schedule your tour. Subject to availability.
  • 3 hours
  • 1-4 people: $600, 5-8 people: $750-1200

Monticello garden sprouts

Tours Offered Seasonally or on Select 2017 Dates:

Hemings Family Tour – Interactive tour of the House and Mulberry Row that centers around stories of seven members of the Hemings Family.

  • February – November, Friday through Sunday
  • 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Not wheelchair accessible.
  • Not recommended for children under 12.
  • $27-30

Family Friendly Tour – House Tour with hands-on activities geared toward children ages 5-11.

  • April 3 – 23, June 10 – September 4, October 7 – 9, December 26 – 30
  • 40 minutes
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • Adults: $20-28, Children (ages 5-11): $9

Walk-Through Tours – Alternative to Monticello House Tour with guides stationed in each room.

  • April 14 – 15, May 27 – 28, June 3 – 4, July 1 – 2, September 9, October 7 – 8, November 26
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • Adults: $20-25, Children (ages 5-11): $9
  • Add 30-minute Upper Floors Tour on these dates: +$25

Hamilton Tour Takeover – Interactive House tour that contrasts the ideas of Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, followed by a moderated discussion.

  • April 7, 28-29; May 6, 12 – 13, 19; September 15 – 16, 22 – 23, 29 – 30
  • 1 hour
  • $40

Jefferson

How to buy passes?

  • In-person at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion, subject to availability. Plan to wait in line.
  • Online and print out yourself – This gives you more choices of tour times, plus you can skip the lines when you arrive. Under delivery options, select “print at home” at checkout. As far as I know, only paper tickets are accepted.
  • Online and pick them up at Will Call – If you don’t have access to a printer or don’t want to worry about losing/forgetting tickets, you can select “Will Call” under delivery options at checkout. You may have a small wait for Will Call, but otherwise you get the same benefits as above.

Regardless of whether you print or pick up, purchasing online saves you about 10% on adult passes. You can buy tickets online from maybe 3 months in advance up until midnight the day before you visit.

Monticello

Other Event Tickets:

Tickets for other events at Monticello may not include a House Tour/Day Pass. To attend a Harvest Tasting Tour (offered weekends May – October), for example, you’d need to purchase one of the Day Passes above plus a ticket for the tasting tour itself ($15). There are also a la carte workshops (which we sometimes feature on our Happenings List) like Get to Know Your Trails on April 1 ($18) or Toddler Time, the third Saturday of each month ($10).

Monticello

When Should I Arrive?

Even if you’ve already purchased and printed your pass, you can’t just roll up to the parking lot at tour time. It takes time to get up to the House. Here’s the “Last-Minute Monticello” list of the minimum time Monticello recommends you allow each step of the way.

Last-minute Monticello:

  • Arrival – At least 30 minutes before tour time (1 hour if you plan to watch the introductory film)
  • Shuttle – Board at least 15 minutes before tour time. (Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes.)
  • In front of the House (East Walk) – 5 minutes before tour time.

Allow additional time during peak travel times (weekends, holidays, etc.).

If you are pressed for time, you can check out the visitor center exhibits after your tour.  (This is what we did, because we were really tight on time.) However, arriving at least an hour before your tour allows you to get some context before going up to the House.

The Monticello Mellow itinerary is my suggestion for a less rushed way to take it all in.

 

Monticello

 


Monticello Mellow

A mid-morning tour time would allow you to explore the visitor center and get up to the mountaintop before the most crowded part of the day (11am – 3pm).

  • Arrival – 1-2 hours before tour time. Park, pick up tickets (if needed), see the introductory film, and visit exhibits.
  • Shuttle/walk – 30-40 minutes before tour time be at the shuttle stop or walk (.5 mile) up to the mountaintop.
  • If you get to the mountaintop with time to spare before your tour, check out the dependencies, cellar, fish pond, or hang out on the West Lawn. You may want to set an alarm so you dont get so engrossed that you miss your tour!
  • At the East Walk of the House – 5-10 minutes before your tour, find your way to the staging area for your ticket group. Check with a guide to make sure you’re at the right spot.
  • House Tour lasts approximately 30 minutes.
  • Afterwards, explore the rooms below the House and Mulberry Row.
  • From April to October, there are additional tours offered that are included with admission, no reservation required. If time allows, check out the Garden and Grounds and/or Slavery Tours.
  • When you’re ready to head back down the mountain, you can check out the Monticello graveyard (the shuttle stops there on the way back) and/or any exhibits you missed at the visitor center.
  • Have lunch at the cafe, drive over to Michie Tavern, or pack a picnic.

Monticello fog

You could probably spend most/all of the day at Monticello if you wanted to. Or, spend a few hours there then take a hike, tour another historic site (both Ash-Lawn Highland and the tour at Michie Tavern are included in the Monticello Neighborhood Pass), visit at vineyard, or just chill in Charlottesville.


We were guests of Monticello.

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Our Time at Monticello (part 1)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Monticello

The fog had started rolling in as we wound through the woods on the way to Monticello and had thickened by the time we were standing outside the House itself. It obscured the view, swallowing up all but the nearest trees. We stood on the side of the House away from the waning crowds, and, for a few moments, it was as quiet as if we were the only ones in the world. As if we had traveled back in time. As if, at any moment, we would hear approaching hoof beats and see Thomas Jefferson emerging through the white-gray veil.

Monticello

Even in his day, visitors to the House would not have been unusual. In fact, Monticello had already become a tourist attraction during the former president’s lifetime [audio].

People touring the U.S. or who wanted to learn more about Jefferson stopped at his Charlottesville, Virginia home frequently enough that they strained the resources of both the residence and the residents.

Monticello

Today, people continue to stop there for many of the same reasons as those early admirers – although a visit no longer comes with free wine or overnight lodging.

The House and plantation buildings continue to perch atop their hill (a.k.a. the “mountaintop”) with orchards, vineyards, and gardens stretching out across the landscape.

Nearly 100 years ago, a foundation was set up to maintain the House and the grounds, continue research, and manage the steady flow of visitors. In keeping with Jefferson’s ardor for order, the whole place still runs like clockwork.

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Places you can visit at Monticello:

Monticello visitor center

1. Visitors Center

The entry point for contemporary visitors is a complex of buildings at the bottom of the hill. The Rubenstein Visitor Center, Smith Education Center, Milstein Theater, Smith Gallery, gift shop, and cafe all form kind of a square around a central courtyard.

Visitor center exhibits take a variety of forms: models of Monticello, a projection of key Jeffersonian ideas, hands-on activities for kids, explanations of Monticello’s architecture, and interactive LCD screens about liberty.

Monticello

At the far end of the square, there’s a shuttle stop with a covered waiting area. Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes to take you to the mountaintop, parking you directly in front of the East Walk to the House. You can also walk the half mile (25 minutes) to the top. Either way, make sure you have your ticket first.

If you haven’t already purchased and printed out your pass, you pick it up at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion on your way in from the parking lot.

Monticello house

2. The House

When the shuttle dropped us off for our House Tour, there were still crowds of people around the East Portico, waiting for their tour time.

You need a timed ticket to go inside Monticello.

Monticello

While we waited for our tour, we saw how the guides work in sync to keep groups staggered just the right distance apart. Once a tour headed inside, the next one began right there on the front-porch-like portico, while the following one was gathered off to the side.

We saw two different guides’ introductions. They each had their own style but were very knowledgeable and passionate about the place and its history.

The main house tour is wheelchair accessible, but you need to be in a chair that meets a certain size requirement. If not, you can borrow one of theirs. Even though some of the spaces are tight, the guides know exactly how to navigate through and are very helpful, making sure everyone on the tour is taken care of.

Monticello bookshelf

A few objects that stood out:

  • The Great Clock has faces inside and outside and a system of balancing weights that also show the day of the week. The days were listed down the wall and, due to a miscalculation, had to extend down through the floor into the cellar. It is still wound weekly [video].
  • Books – Jefferson’s entire collection went to help re-establish the Library of Congress after it was burned down during the War of 1812. The original volumes are still in D.C. on exhibit at the Library of Congress (Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building). So Monticello curators have stocked the Book Room’s shelves with other copies of the titles he owned that were published around the same time.
  • Jefferson’s bed was wedged into an alcove between two of his private rooms, as a space saving measure, and he would sleep sitting up. (I’m not convninced it actually saved space, but Jefferson was really into putting beds into alcoves.)
  • Polygraph – clever writing implement used to make copies.
  • Wine dumb waiter – contraption to bring bottles straight up from the wine cellar into the dining room (and the fixture in the House I may be most jealous of).

Monticello
To visit the second and third floors, you would need to purchase a Behind the Scenes Tour (or Upper Floors Tour) ticket ahead of time and be able to navigate a steep staircase.

Monticello

3. The Plantation Community and Grounds

Before or after your tour, you can check out the self-guided areas of the mountaintop.

Monticello

Walk through either the North or South Cellar Passage to go under the House. You can see food preparation and storage areas and wander into the wine cellar to find where the dumb waiter lands.

Monticello wine cellar

I should note that present-day Monticello does not shy away from – but certainly doesn’t condone – the fact that many of Jefferson’s workers were enslaved people. The introductory film even addresses the paradox that such an advocate for freedom also denied it to people on his own estate.

Monticello

In recent years, Monticello has moved to provide more information about the entire community who lived there along with Jefferson, highlighting the skills of the craftspeople, adding exhibits about enslaved individuals, and creating a Slavery at Monticello app. There’s also a House Tour option that focuses on the Hemings family, and all Day Passes include the option of an additional Slavery at Monticello tour.

Monticello kitchen

We did not venture into the grayness to find Mulberry Row or get off the shuttle at the Monticello Graveyard stop that already-dark evening, opting instead to head back to the warmth of the visitors center.

Monticello tree

As much as we enjoyed the romance of our fog-cloaked winter visit, condensation droplets hanging on bare branches like tiny glass ornaments, we hope to visit again on a clearer day, when leaves are back on the trees, and we have the luxury of a little more time.

Monticello

 




More info

  • Monticello is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day)
  • Parking is free.
  • Monticello is a short drive from Charlottesville, and there are a variety of lodging options there, incuding the Omni where we stayed and the Oakhurst Inn near UVA.
  • Your tour/day pass is your admission ticket. Adult passes start at $20.
  • Monticello is not a National Park. The House and 2500 acres (of the original 5000) are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization without federal or state funding.

Photos

No photos are allowed inside the house, due to certain items being on loan from other institutions or individuals.

You can also get a glimpse of what the tour is like and a close-up of some of Monticello’s objects and features in videos by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. There are also 360 views of rooms on the first floor, as well as an image gallery on Monticello.org.

Planning

If your schedule allows it, I’d recommend planning on at least half a day there. Visit Charlottesville suggested visiting Monticello in the morning, having lunch at Michie Tavern, and then visit another historical site (like Ash-Lawn Highland) in the afternoon.

I’ll have more itinerary recommendations for you next week, plus tips for picking your tour and planning your time.

Monticello


We were guests of Monticello.

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