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Make a Mt. Lemmon Day Trip

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Mount Lemmon wildlowers

You start in the Tucson heat surrounded by saguaros. An hour (or so) and a few thousand feet in elevation later, you can be sitting among spruce trees in air cool enough to not melt the chocolate chips of the oversized cookie in front of you.

Summerhaven tables

Welcome to Mount Lemmon, a 9000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

Mount Lemmon view

Drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway (also called the Mt. Lemmon Highway, the Catalina Highway, and – officially – the General Hitchcock Highway) through beautiful landscape and six (6!) different climate zones.

Mt. Lemmon

Mt Lemmon

Then you can hike or picnic or ride the year-round ski lift. (Yes, it gets cold and snowy enough in the winter for skiing up there!)

Mt Lemmon trail

When Phillip and I and my parents went, we stopped at a picnic area (Box Elder, I think-?) before driving to the parking lot at end of the road and taking a little hike from there.

Mt. Lemmon

Along the way is the town of Summerhaven, a one-and-a half mile high city that caters to visitors seeking shelter from sweltering Tucson summers.

Cookie Cabin

It’s also home to the giant cookies of Cookie Cabin. Four of us split one sampler cookie. There was literally a line out the door but plenty of nice outdoor seating.

Mount Lemmon cookie

I taught my dad how to use the Hyperlapse app, so we could take timelapse videos of the drive up. You can see the dramatic changes of scenery compressed into two minutes.

Mount lemmon

– More Mt. Lemmon info –

  • Be prepared to pack out your own trash.
  • Ski lift – The “sky ride” to the summit lasts about half an hour. Off-season (summer) adult tickets are $12/ride. Winter lift tickets are $45/day. Details at
  • Keep the high altitude in mind when you’re planning hiking or other activities.
  • We were there in mid-August, right at the end of the summer wildflower season.


Scenic Drive:

Mt. Lemmon - Ski Valley


  • Many places you can park on Mount Lemmon require a pass, including the visitor center, picnic areas, etc.
  • You can purchase a Coronado Recreation Pass on the mountain at the Palisades Visitor Center or buy one before you go.
  • Passes are available at several locations, including the Coronado National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 300 W. Congress near Downtown Tucson.
  • Day passes are $5 per vehicle. ($10 for a weekly pass.)
  • Instead of worrying about which specific places require it, consider just getting a day pass in town before you make the drive. It’s only 5 bucks and helps to support the forest.

Mount Lemmon

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6 Airbnb Getaways in the Western US

Posted by on Mar 18, 2017 in Travel | 4 comments


There is something so restoring about getting into nature, whether you’re taking a hike or just taking in the view.

If you’re feeling like you need a weekend away, here are some peaceful spots we’ve booked through Airbnb that are perfectly positioned for enjoying the great outdoors in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada. All of them are close to hiking and most have kitchenettes.

I’ve included drive time to nearby cities and towns for reference.

Airbnb tucson

Airbnb 101

For those who have never used Airbnb, it’s a site that allows people to rent out spare rooms or guest apartments, so you end up with a really unique stay with a more personal touch. As you’ll see, we’ve used it to find and book places like a cottage in remote Southeastern Arizona, a trailer near Monterey, and a cabin room near the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

You can get $40 off your first stay when you sign up at (Full disclosure: using that link also sends some credit my way…so win-win!)


1. Pasadena Glen Separate Cottage

The Setting: Lush, quiet neighborhood at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains that’s maybe technically part of Pasadena but feels like its own world.

  • Old Town Pasadena (or The Huntington) – 15 minutes
  • Downtown L.A. – 45 minutes
  • Phoenix – 5.5 hours

The Room: The cottage is like a standalone studio apartment next to a larger house.

  • Very comfortable bed.
  • Included mini fridge, dishes, fruit, breakfast bars, electric kettle with Starbucks Via and a selection of teas.
  • Lovely garden/mini-yard area outside with a table.
  • Private 3/4 bathroom inside the apartment.
  • Separate entrance with keypad.


  • There’s a hiking trail at the end of the street.
  • You may get apples from one of their trees!
  • Sign a waiver if you plan to use the pool.
  • Two or three dogs also roam around the yard and will probably come to say hello. One of them is very large but very sweet.

How we ended up here: We stayed for a week while Phillip took a class at Fuller Seminary’s main campus in Pasadena.

2. Trailer or Tipi Camping

The Setting: Travel trailers (and a tipi/teepee) surrounded by sprawling gardens and DIY-projects-in-progress, wandering chickens and a few cats, a goat pasture, and forest.

The Room: Boho vintage travel trailer with cozy sleeping area, dinette, and posssibly-working kitchen.

  • Microclimate tends to be cooler and cloudier than surrounding area.
  • Primative toilet in the woods (with privacy screen) and solar-heated shower.
  • Self-serve breakfast available from a pantry with oatmeal, granola, fruit, etc. and fresh eggs in the chicken coop.
  • Fire ring available for cooking or evening bonfires.


  • Think camping without the set up! Of course, if you’re not into camping, this is not for you.
  • You may be able to use the host’s Monterey Bay Aquarium pass at a discount.
  • The chickens greet you in the morning – and provide breakfast!
  • There’s also a tipi option, subject to availability. (It was already occupied when we stayed there.)

How we ended up here: We were going to be in the area the same weekend as the Monterey Jazz Festival, so lodging options were limited and pricey. We were on a tight budget and decided to take a chance. And we’re glad we did! It was the quirkiest place we’ve stayed via Airbnb, but it was a lot of fun!



3. True Grit Mountain Retreat

The Setting: Cabin-like home with big picture windows looking out over gorgeous Colorado scenery and the San Juan Mountains.

  • Ridgway – 7 minutes
  • Ouray – 20 minutes
  • Denver – 5 hours
  • Albuquerque – 5.5 hours

The Room: On the split-level second floor, there are 2 guest rooms available with bathroom and laundry in between. (There is a second guest bathroom downstairs.)

  • The Queen Room has a queen-size bed and Mexico-inspired decor.
  • The Spruce Room has twin beds and a private balcony.
  • Lovely breakfast in the dining room.
  • Hot tub outside.


  • It’s available during the summer only.
  • Get there before dark, if possible. Being out in the country means less light pollution – great for stargazing, challenging for finding house numbers.
  • Use of the kitchen downstairs is limited and may require an additional fee.
  • Nearby Ridgway is a one-stoplight-town that’s worth a stop. It’s home to the maker of the Grammy Awards and was the location for the 1969 western True Grit starring John Wayne. And a nice little roadside market!

How we ended up here: We needed a place to stay on the way home from a Denver road trip.

Tucson airbnb view


4. Studio Cottage in Gated Community

The Setting: Quiet neighborhood street that winds through the Sonoran desert.

  • Downtown Tucson – 20 minutes
  • Phoenix – 2 hours

The Room: Roomy southwestern casita with dining table and kitchenette, colorful ceramic tile, and a pink clawfoot tub.

  • Food and coffee aren’t included, but the kitchenette is stocked with the dishes and appliances (coffeemaker, microwave, toaster oven, fridge) to let you do it yourself – everything including a kitchen sink.
  • Pool/hot tub.
  • Parking and separate entrance through the garage.

Airbnb tucson

How we ended up here: Basically, we’re always looking for excuses to go to Tucson and neat little places to stay there.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

5. SE AZ Hiking, Birding, and Quietude

The Setting: Remote casita near the Dragoon Mountains.

  • Willcox – 30 minutes
  • Tucson – 1.25 hours
  • Phoenix – 3 hours

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
The Room: Separate little adobe house.

  • Well-stocked kitchen with sink, coffee, grinder, and milk in the minifridge.
  • Composting toilet and shower in a separate building.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

  • Breakfast may be available for an additional fee. (I think we paid $10/person. We had so much delicious food that even Phillip was stuffed.)
  • Property backs up to state land with hiking trails. You’ll want to get written directions (or a map) before you head out. We got mixed up and went the wrong way.
  • They provided a flashlight (for night visits to the outhouse, etc.), but you may want to bring a headlamp or other hands-free light if you have one.

How we ended up here: This is where we stayed for our 10 year anniversary after picking apples in Willcox.

Red Rocks, Nevada


6. Las Vegas

The Setting: Neighborhood in the Las Vegas suburbs near the edge of where city streets give way to Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area.

  • Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area – 10 minutes
  • Las Vegas Strip – 30 minutes
  • L.A. – 4 hours
  • Phoenix – 5 hours

Las Vegas Airbnb
The Room: Apartment with a full bath and a few midcentury modern touches.

  • Keurig, coffee and tea pods, and snacks included, as well as minifridge, microwave, and dishes.
  • Separate entrance but very near the main house.


  • We didn’t meet the hosts, but everything (including check-in) was taken care of with lots of thoughtful touches.
  • There’s a really cool guestbook/journal you can leave a note and/or memento in.
  • Check out our Las Vegas Off the Strip list for a list of non-casino things to see, including Red Rock Canyon picnic spots and easy hikes.

How we ended up here: Avoiding the craziness of The Strip while in Las Vegas for a wedding!

Have you used Airbnb? Where’s your favorite getaway?

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San Xavier del Bac: Before and After

Posted by on Dec 19, 2016 in Travel | 10 comments

The last time – no, the time before last – we visited San Xavier del Bac near Tucson, one of the towers was shrouded in scaffolding while restoration work was done on the 200-year-old mission.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

When we visited just this past week, at the end of a quick trip to Tucson, the restored tower had been unveiled, standing in contrast to its mate that has yet to undergo that process.

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

On the whole, the Mission has held up remarkably well, considering it welcomes 200,000 visitors every year and is still home to an active congregation.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson candles
San Xavier del Bac, Tucson
Weekly masses are open to anyone, and we attended a crowded Easter Sunday service there one year. I love that it’s not just an empty historical building but the center of a vibrant community.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson at sunset

“The Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community here, the village of Wa:k (San Xavier District) on the Tohono O’odham reservation, as it still does today.”

Statement on Mission usage

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Yuma Favorites: Part 2

Posted by on May 21, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments


It’s only a 3-hour drive from Phoenix to Yuma, but we still got a little punchy.


After one of the signs saying how many miles we had left, I told Phillip, “Yuma sweetie.”

At some point, we ended up singing “Yuma be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for…”

I think we each found our lunatic.

Candlewood Suites Yuma

Finally, we got in to our room at the Candlewood Suites Yuma. Even though we were a couple of tired lunatics, we couldn’t resist rifling through the kitchen to see what was in there. They had us supplied with pots and pans for the stove, popcorn for the microwave, and then Phillip made a discovery…

“Ooh! A toaster! I really want something to toast now.”

Yuma Candlewood hotel

Even on trips like this when I plan to pick up food at local markets, I still end up traveling with a pretty serious stash of snacks. But I didn’t have anything particularly toasterable. (Chia-pomegranate Clif bars seemed like a bad idea.)

So while I explored Yuma the next day, I would also be on a quest for local produce – and something for Phillip to toast.

Yuma Garden Company produce

Hay Yu(ma)!

A world record holder for sunny days and the Winter Lettuce Capital of the World, Yuma also happens to be located at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers.

Yuma river

Because of the climate and access to water, agriculture has been important in the area for centuries. Long before Arizona was a U.S. territory, tribes along the Colorado River used the flooding cycle for farming.

Yuma Lettuce

Like Phoenix, Yuma has a growing season that’s kind of the reverse of most of the U.S., running from fall to spring. The hot summers mean agricultural workers pack up and move operations to Salinas, California (the summer lettuce capital) – also Yuma Jazz Company’s concerts move indoors, snowbirds fly home, businesses catering to visitors shut down or scale back sometime in the spring.
Yuma Garden Company

Yuma Garden Company

The Yuma Garden Company is full of dried herbs and teas in apothecary jars. Outside is a plant-filled patio with vegetables and citrus from the owners’ farm and tables for sitting and sipping tea. In April, there were also heaping baskets of tomatoes and peppers everywhere.

Yuma garden co

Their rustic boho space felt warm and established, even though they’d only been open 3 weeks when I visited.

I picked up grapefruit and a bunch of purple carrots.


Martha’s Gardens Date Farm

Just east of town is Martha’s Gardens, a date farm with a store/cafe and better date shakes than we had in Dateland itself. They informed me they could even add espresso shots. Sold. It was like a delicious, datey affogato.

They offer farm tours, but there’s a fee, a minimum of 10 people, and the schedule IRL may not match what’s online. We thought we were there past tour season, but, apparently, that’s not the case. And the sign-up book had spaces through at least June. (I peeked.) So…I guess…call ahead and keep your fingers crossed.


Field to Feast Farm Tours

The Visitors Bureau offers seasonal, hands-on agricultural experiences where you learn to harvest your own vegetables, tour a farm, and then enjoy a fresh-from-the-field lunch.

North End Eats

Speaking of lunch, here are a few options for food around the downtown area.

Lutes Casino

At one point in the Lutes Casino building’s 115-year history, it was an actual casino owned by R.H. Lutes. Currently, it’s an amiably-divey hamburger joint that claims to be “where the elite meet.” They serve salsa in syrup pitchers and have some weird food mashups. Want a hot dog on a cheeseburger? Or wrapped in a tortilla and fried?


My reply is no, but both are on the menu.

Lutes taco dog Yuma

The special of the day was an Angus burger so good it made me think this might be where the elite meet after all.

They probably just don’t order the taco dog.


Das Bratwurst Haus

Das Bratwurst Haus is a German restaurant, apparently catering to the winter visitors. True to his German roots, Der Husband had to go check it out. And then required apfelkuchen, which is like a lovely hybrid between apple pie and cake.


North end coffeehouse yuma

North End Coffeehouse

Situated in half of the historic Gandolfo theater, North End Coffeehouse has their own roasting company, in-house baker, and is a welcoming spot to spend time.


Not only did they have some good, well-crafted coffee to remedy the weak brew from the hotel that morning, they had one bagel left.

I got it to-go, so Phillip could test out the toaster.



Our second morning in Yuma started with an herb bagel from North End Coffeehouse and sweet grapefruit from Yuma Garden Company. I also remembered reading a tip somewhere about doubling up on hotel coffee packets, so that helped to rectify the weak coffee situation.

Once we were fueled up and checked out, I wanted to show Phillip some of the historical sites I’d scoped out the day before.

Yuma-st Remember This

The Quechan Reservation

The Fort Yuma/Quechan Reservation straddles the Colorado River, extending into both California and Arizona – probably because the Quechan tribe was there before these state boundaries, before the need to transliterate their name as Quechan or Kwatsan or Kwtsaan, before the Spanish referred to them as the Yuma.


To learn about Quechan history and culture, check out the interpretive trails in Sunrise Point Park and the cultural center inside Quechan Casino.

I’d seen a sign for crafts (yes, please!) the day before, so Phillip and I went in search of the museum gift shop whose museum had to close due to structural damage.

We never did find it and, honestly, that was partly due to getting in an argument over directions. Real life isn’t all late-night Billy Joel and apfelkuchen.

Yuma Quechan Reservation

I now have a better idea how to find the museum gift shop:

  1. Go when it’s actually open (weekdays 8am-5pm).
  2. Follow the signs north of Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge.
  3. Don’t get in a fight with your significant other.
  4. Look for a modular building next to the museum.

The Quechan Senior Center Gift Shop (472 Quechan Drive, Winterhaven) also has handcrafted items.


Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge

When automobiles were still a new thing and Colorado River steamboats a recent memory, a highway across the U.S. was a pretty big deal. The single lane steel bridge over the Yuma Crossing made a crucial connection, which earned it the impressive name “Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge.”

Also, bends in the river/the state line mean that you can go north over the bridge and end up in California without even realizing it.

yuma city hall

A few other notes on historical sites in the area…

  • The St. Thomas Mission on Indian Hill has Saturday and Sunday Masses, or you can call (760) 572-0283 to arrange a visit at another time.


Yuma train

Yuma county courthouse

  • The Art Deco-ness of the Masonic Lodge catty-corner from the Courthouse caught my eye.

Art Deco Masonic lodge yuma

See Yuma Later

We took a different route home through the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Its visitor center is really close to Martha’s Garden but not open on Saturdays. The Refuge itself, however, is always open. There are no gates and only one designated trail (in Palm Canyon, which we visited a few years ago).

Yuma Kofa

We didn’t have time to hike this time, but we are already thinking about when we can return to the area. Maybe we’ll go back during next year’s ArtBeat or once Candlewood Suites finishes the renovations they have scheduled for this year. (We’ll also have to get in town early enough for the evening reception – apparently, they do a whole dinner on Mondays and Thursdays. I need to investigate.)

Yuma Kofa

For this trip, we did stop along the road in Kofa long enough to listen to the quiet, look for desert blooms, and watch the evening light transform the Refuge’s jagged mountain ranges.

Yuma Kofa

Big thank yous to…

  • IHG/Candlewood Suites Yuma for hosting our stay, especially to General Manager Gel Lemmon and Director of Marketing John Lizarraga, who are both fabulous people who took time to fill me in on the area.
  • Ann Walker of the Yuma Visitors Bureau for providing a ton of great resources.
  • Brian Golding, Sr., EDA Director of the Quechan Indian Tribe for providing information on Quechan cultural sights.

Edited: A reference to “Candlewood” was changed to “Candlewood Suites” for clarity and per the request of IHG Corporate Communications.

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Yuma Favorites: Part 1

Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Craft, Travel | 1 comment

Yuma farm view from hotel

Since we arrived after dark, our first glimpse of the view out our window at Candlewood Suites Yuma was the sunrise lighting up puffy clouds and vibrant green farm fields. It was downright gorgeous.


Phillip needed to be at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma base at 0700, I got the coffeemaker going, and we got ready to head out.

Candlewood Suites Yuma

On Base

Phillip, who is nearing the end of his seminary master’s program, had arranged to shadow a military chaplain in Yuma for a day. I’d meet back up with him, the chaplains, and a couple of their wives for lunch and a quick tour of the base.


The rest of the day, my mission would be to learn about this desert city in the southwesternmost corner of Arizona.

MCAS Yuma is typically closed to civilians, but they do hold an open house event once a year. It alternates between an air show and something called the Patriot Festival that features local bands, an obstacle course, singing competitions, and bouncy castles.





I found a couple pottery shops in the Brinley Avenue Historic District on the North End of town.

Tomkins Pottery Yuma

I visited Tomkins Pottery, which was filled with fabulous work by artist-owners Neely and George Tomkins. Their dog Joe helps them run the shop, and they also work out of the studio in back. A green honey/sugar bowl followed us home, but, really, I’d love one of everything there.


Across the street is Colorado River Pottery, the shop and studio of Jan Bentley.


Yuma Art Center

The Yuma Art Center has galleries to exhibit local art and is also an event space.

Historic Yuma Theatre

The Theatre next door has been a performance venue since 1912. It currently features plays, concerts, film screenings, workshops, and choir concerts – with two Art Deco mermaid murals always in the audience.


Artist Co-op

On the other side of the Theatre is the United Building, home of the North End Artist Co-op.



We met artists Larry Yanez, who was installing his art in one of the big storefront windows, and Judy Phillips, who graciously stopped what she was doing to answer questions and give us a full tour of the space, all the way back to the metal trash cans used for making raku pottery.

Arts Yuma


The co-op itself has 13 members, who are all local artists (many of them art educators) but they offer classes open to anyone. On Saturdays, members without their own studio space can come and work, share information and materials, and use the kilns and other tools.

Arts Yuma



The Yuma Jazz Company quintet performs regularly around Yuma:


Yuma Suite-y

I was super relieved when Phillip called to say one of the chaplains would give him a ride back to the hotel, because I was already there – kicked back in the recliner with a glass of wine – and not ready to move.

Yuma hotel


Candlewood Suites

The deal with Candlewood Suites is they’re an extended stay hotel designed for the type of do-it-yourselfers who probably clean up before housekeeping comes and would rather make breakfast exactly the way they want it than take their chances at a buffet.

Candlewood Suites Yuma

So Candlewood Suites offers weekly housekeeping, a free laundromat, and full kitchens stocked with cooking/serving essentials. They have a bunch of stuff you can borrow if you’re looking for something beyond what’s in your room – crockpots, blenders, board games, wine glasses, movies, and barbecue tools for the grills on the patio. You can even purchase food onsite in the “Candlewood Cupboard.” It’s always open and operates on a self-pay/honor system.


Anyway, all that to say, we definitely could’ve just holed up in our room for the evening. But we had heard great things about a restaurant called Julieanna’s, so I pried myself out of the recliner, and we went to check it out.

It was worth it.



The locals we talked to raved about Julieanna’s Patio Cafe. It has a romantic yet relaxed atmosphere and a tropical motif. There are cozy booths inside and an expansive patio outside with mosaic tabletops, a macaw perch area, and a peacock strolling around.


The menu includes a selection of seafood entrees and appetizers, tasty-looking salads, as well as sandwiches and burgers. I ordered salmon served with sautéed spinach and heirloom tomatoes. good. Phillip opted for a classic French dip, which I can confirm was also delicious.


The servers were friendly, helpful, and accommodating without being overbearing.



By the time we arrived, the macaws had already gone home for the day, and the Yuma Jazz Company was getting ready for their set on the patio. The peacock would randomly chime in while they played – so funny!

We enjoyed the quintet’s performance. They played several of their own compositions and gave a little background about what inspired each one, which made you feel more acquainted with new songs. It was all great except for a few too many reminders about the tip jar. After about the fifth one, I was rooting for more peacock cries.



Earlier in the day, I had made a wrong turn and ended up at a place called Catherine’s Cupcakery. So a chocolate strawberry cupcake was waiting for us in our room. Maybe it wasn’t really a wrong turn.

Back in the hotel lobby, we flipped through a couple of the fat binders of DVD selections and chose Little Miss Sunshine. (Why have I not seen that before?! So good.)


Settling in with our movie and cupcake was a great way to wind down from of our first day exploring Yuma.


Part 2 is coming up in 2 weeks! In our next installment, we look for a museum gift shop without a museum, accidentally go to California, visit a date farm, and drive home through the Kofa wilderness. And, yes, there will be more Yuma puns! Yuma-ght as well get used to them!

Our stay was courtesy of IHG/Candlewood Suites Yuma. Opinions are my own and so are the puns. Pretty sure they don’t endorse those.

Edited: References to “Candlewood” changed to “Candlewood Suites” for clarity and per the request of IHG Corporate Communications.

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