Archive for the ‘ Arizona ’ Category


Mountain Ranch Resort

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

The Grand Canyon State of Arizona is an amazing place and its diversity never ceases to amaze me. Like a lot of folks from the Valley of the Sun, I try to escape the summer heat as often as I can. Thankfully, the pilgrimage is only a couple hours north of the Phoenix area via Interstate 17. As a road trip blogger, however, I try never to drive the interstate, but rather the scenic highways and byways—the slower we go, the more we see.

It was mid-July and the humid monsoon was just beginning, so I was itching to get out of town. I began my journey from Wickenburg and headed north via Highway 89 up Yarnell Hill, (Yarnell may sound familiar as it received a lot of national media attention last year due to a devastating wildfire that clamed the lives of 19 hot shot firefighters). It didn’t take long before I had climbed over 2000 feet and began to see and feel the climate and topography change from the desert floor below. As I continued north, I discovered an idyllic area called, Peeples Valley, where I saw plenty of white pipe rail fenced horse property and large ranches. The ascent continued and it wasn’t long before I had climbed an additional 1000 feet in elevation and was now at 5500’ and driving through the first capital of Arizona, Prescott. Continuing north on Highway 89, I drove through an extremely unique geological area scattered with colossal sized granite boulders and towering hoodoos called, the Granite Dells.

I drove another hour or so and climbed yet another 1000+ feet and was soon in the town of Williams…it was so cool and comfortable it felt like I was in another state. Williams is known for being the gateway to the Grand Canyon and borders the historic Route 66 Highway. It’s also just 25 miles or so west of Flagstaff. The rolling hills and tall pine trees were a clear indication that I had indeed escaped the heat of the desert.

Just outside of Williams, and nestled at the base of Beacon Hill, is where I would call home for the next several days…Mountain Ranch Resort. This hotel was built back in the 60s, but has been family owned and operated since 1985. Just recently the hotel has been going through a dramatic transformation…from a place to stay the night while visiting the Grand Canyon, to a destination with a strong emphasis on health and wellness. From myriad activities like tennis, volleyball, hiking and mountain bike riding, to functional fitness classes, a wellness spa (coming soon) and, a restaurant serving only fresh, organic (when possible), healthful menu items, the Mountain Ranch Resort is committed to providing and promoting a sanctuary for guests who want to learn about, or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As soon as you walk through the beautiful solid wood and iron doors into the lobby, a staff member, who is most likely one of the owners or a family member, warmly greets you. The lobby is so inviting with its oversized leather furniture and large stone fireplace. The old gift shop has been converted into a fashionable boutique where the lady in your life will rejoice. From stylish jeans, hats of all sorts to jewelry and jackets, there are many unique items to choose from.

All the rooms at the Mountain Ranch Resort are being renovated…I stayed in a Superior room that was just completed in May of 2014, which was quite spacious. The Bernhardt furnishings gave the room a hint of Northern Europe, with its sophisticated edge and rustic appeal. The bath area includes a tub-shower combination, granite top vanity area, two luxurious bathrobes, weight scale, hairdryer and a Keurig coffee maker. There is also a 39″ flat-screen television in the room with complimentary Wi-Fi.

An amazing breakfast is also included in your stay. Adhering to the health and wellness theme, breakfast consists of your choice of a made-to-order omelet with your own selection of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses, or, a whole grain Belgian waffle. There is also fresh cut fruit, berries, oatmeal, homemade granola, and an array of healthfully fresh-baked breads and muffins. You can also have a glass of freshly squeezed juice or cup of organic, locally roasted coffee.

After breakfast, you may want to participate in a functional fitness class that will certainly burn enough calories to keep you in a deficit during your stay (see clips in video above). If you’re looking for something a bit less strenuous, you can take out one of their complimentary mountain bikes and explore the trails of the Kaibab National Forest at the back of the property. If you’re from a lower altitude like I am, be warned that it won’t take long for you to be out of breath like I was. Regardless of the lack of oxygen, I had a blast riding around Beacon Hill. I ended up riding the bike as high as I could go until it was just too steep. I locked the bike up and decided to hike the rest of the way. Once atop Beacon Hill, you have a marvelous 360 degree view.

They also have stables on the property and you can sign up for a couple different horseback rides. If you just want to relax, you can do that too…either by the pool, or, while receiving a spa treatment (coming soon).

In addition to all the on-site activities, there are also a number of nearby things you won’t want to miss. For starters, you can’t overlook seeing the Grand Canyon; it’s just 60 miles due north of the Resort. If you don’t feel like driving, you can head to downtown Williams and hop aboard the train. It departs at 9:30am and allows passengers a few hours to explore before returning to Williams at 5:30pm. If you take the train, there is a little ol’ western surprise on the ride back waitin’ for ya…that’s all I’ll say. Back in town you might want to peruse the streets of downtown, one of which is the historic Route 66. I really got a kick out of taking pics of some of the old buildings, cars and signage. There are, of course, a lot of gift shops and tourist attractions, but there are also some nice restaurants and live music. You can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia walking along Route 66.

Just down the street from the Mountain Ranch Resort is a very cool wildlife experience called, Bearizona. This wildlife exhibit is unique in that the first part is a several mile drive through the animals’ natural habitats (note: you cannot get out of your car and windows must be rolled up). Here, you’ll see bears, buffalo, wolves and other animals. After the driving portion is complete, there is a zoo-like area where guests can walk around to a variety of enclosed habitats. One thing not to miss is the Birds of Prey performance that takes place at three different times each day. Hawks and owls fly right over the heads of those in attendance. It’s really a neat experience (Again, see the video for some footage of this venue).

After a full day of activities, you won’t want to miss a healthful culinary journey at the Ranch Bar & Grill. Chef Darren Kirkpatrick and his team have a wonderful menu that encompasses something for everyone. The best part is that you may feel as though you had an indulgent meal, but without any of the guilt. Everything on the menu has been painstakingly thought through to make it as fresh and nutritional as possible. During my stay I tried just about everything on the menu…here are some of my highlights:


  • Crab Cakes with a whole wheat panko, romesco sauce and a jicama slaw.
  • Beet Caprese with roasted golden beets, fresh mozzarella with a basil pesto and black truffle balsamic drizzle.

    • Pork Tenderloin with peach chutney, baby bok choy and roasted purple fingerling potatoes.
    • Gamberetti Pasta with fresh prawns, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, stuffed pepper with pesto cream sauce over linguini.
    • Chicken Sandwich with avocado feta puree, arugula, Campari tomatoes with a lemon citrus aioli on a wheat telera roll.
    • They even have a full bar with some delicious signature cocktails.

      The Mountain Ranch Resort is one of those places where I think guests will be pleasantly surprised by the overall value and will certainly want to stay more than a single night just en route to the Grand Canyon.

      If you’ve ever stayed at the Mountain Ranch Resort in Williams, Arizona, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you think.

      Mountain Ranch Resort Contact Information:

      Phone: 928-635-2693
      Address: 6701 East Mountain Ranch Road | Williams, Arizona 86046
      Rates: $129-$304 (varies based on accommodation level, dates and amenities)

Blue Agave Bed and Breakfast, the nectar of Tucson

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

As you travel just six or seven miles northwest of downtown Tucson, Arizona, you’ll find yourself in a sparsely populated area in the foothills of the majestic Tucson Mountains—here, is where I discovered the marvelous Blue Agave Bed and Breakfast. The Blue Agave is situated on fifteen acres and is perched atop a bluff, in one direction overlooking the city of Tucson, in the other, peaks of the Tucson Mountains.  As I made my way up the declivitous driveway, I was struck by the sumptuous architecture and landscape…the Blue Agave was grand, with varying lines that indicated a truly unique layout and design.  I later discovered that famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, inspired many of the home’s design elements.

After parking my vehicle, I made my way toward the entrance…the hefty and beautifully designed iron gate opened to a large courtyard that was impressively landscaped with plants indigenous to the Southwest.  Original artwork accents the property throughout, much of which has been created by owner/innkeeper extraordinaire, Dana Smith, who is a highly accomplished artist. The Blue Agave is a fair size at 5500 square feet. However, the home looks much, much larger with all its covered outdoor open space. From the courtyard, you can head in one of three directions; to the right will take you down a breezeway to the four guest quarters, each with a private entrance, and each with its own private patio to take in the extraordinary views. As an early riser, I found myself gravitating toward the patio each morning for a cup of coffee to enjoy the sunrise over the butte in front of the B&B.

As you head toward the opposite direction of the guest rooms, you’ll enter the kitchen, dining and living areas. The living room is quite expansive and handsomely decorated. French doors lead one onto an extensive patio with a large outdoor fireplace and plenty of places to sit, relax and enjoy the views. I imagine during the cooler months, breakfast must be served on the patio, but as it was during my visit, it was already getting quite warm by 8am. As you meander around the exterior of the home from the main patio, there is a barbecue area, and as you continue, you come to the pool area which makes you feel like you’re at a top-notch resort. Not only is the pool beautifully designed with a near negative edge, but the décor includes a number of comfy chaise lounge chairs on which you can relax. Just beyond the pool is a covered area with outdoor furniture to provide a reprieve from the sun.

One of the many impressive aspects of the Blue Agave is how you are immersed in nature. During the construction of the home, many of the enormous Saguaro cacti were left in place and the home designed around them. As a matter of fact, the location of the Blue Agave within Tucson Mountain Park, has probably the highest density of Saguaro Cactus you’ll likely ever see. From the B&B you can walk to miles of hiking trails throughout the park, which allow you to get up close and personal with the Sonoran Desert.

There are also a number of nearby things to do while at the Blue Agave…here are just a few you may want to consider:

  • Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum encompasses 21 acres and fuses a botanical garden, zoo, art gallery, natural history museum, aquarium and restaurants into a wonderful educational excursion.
  • Old Tucson Studios is an old western movie set not far from the Desert Museum. It’s now closed to the general public, but still worth a drive by. Old Tucson is open to tour groups and special events.
  • International Wildlife Museum highlights over 400 species of insects, mammals and birds from around the globe.  Some of the collections are more than 100 years old and all the animals found at the museum were donated by various government agencies, wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoos and individuals.
  • Saguaro National Park is home to the nation’s largest cacti, the giant saguaro, which is the universal symbol of the Southwest. At Saguaro National Park you’ll have a chance to see these enormous cactus up close, and, during the evening, see them silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.
  • Gates Pass – There is a fantastic spot just a few miles from the Blue Agave, near the top of Gates pass, to which you’ll want to take your sweetheart to watch the sunset. Click here for map.

Toward Tucson (east of the above activities) you’ll find an array of art galleries, live music, horseback riding, historic tours to world-class restaurants and many more activities to excite and thrill.

Back at the Blue Agave you can wind down and find solace on your own patio, or in one of the many common areas. Wildlife is abundant, and so too are the changing skies, casting vibrant light that accentuate the rugged, yet beautiful desert landscape that surrounds the property. Each morning you’ll be treated to a hearty breakfast that celebrates the culinary influences of the Southwest. In the evenings, you’ll likely see guests enjoying a glass of wine or a cold cervesa on the patio near the fireplace.

The four guest rooms are only slightly different from one another, the main difference is in color scheme, which takes decorative cues from the vibrant Southwest color palate. The accommodations are relatively modest in size and luxury…in comparison to the rest of the property, but comfortable nonetheless. Standard amenities accompany each room, but what’s nice is each has a mini-refrigerator—which allows guests to pick up snacks and refreshments, limiting the need to venture out as often and simply enjoy the property and stellar surroundings.

The bottom line is that the Blue Agave Bed and Breakfast is a fantastic property I highly recommend. Every aspect of your stay will be a memorable one, including your interaction with the innkeepers, Dana and Peter—both of whom are very personable and attentive, not to mention absolutely fascinating. As I mentioned, Dana is a highly accomplished artist, as well as registered nurse…the compassion from being in the health care industry translates well into accommodating guests. Peter is a well-known planetary scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he played an integral role in the Phoenix Mars Mission. He also plays a mean tambourine, as you’ll hear toward the end of the video above.

If you’ve ever stayed at the Blue Agave Bed and Breakfast in Tucson, Arizona, please leave a comment below and share your experience with my readers and me.

Blue Agave Bed and Breakfast Information:

Address: 455 N. Camino De Oeste – Tucson, AZ 85745
Phone: 520-250-2202
Email: click here
Rates: $220-$245 per night, two night minimum
Accommodations: Four rooms to choose from

Cozy Cactus: Not fancy…just fabulous

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Heading north on Hwy 179 toward Sedona, the landscape is similar to that of the drive from Phoenix.  However, just a few miles after you round a bend in the road, the landscape dramatically changes, revealing the first signs of Sedona’s awe-inspiring red rock formations.  As you enter Oak Creek Village, three monolithic formations immediately captivate your attention; Courthouse, Bell Rock and the Castle Rock. While staying at the Cozy Cactus Bed and Breakfast, these three sandstone monuments delighted us as clouds whisked by the peaks by day, and as night fell, the nearly full moon’s illumination provided a new and magical perspective.

When we arrived at the Cozy Cactus, Mark and Carrie, the owners and innkeepers for the past six years, warmly greeted us.  During our stay we saw just how passionate the couple is about providing their guests an enjoyable and welcoming visit. As a matter of fact, we met a couple from Quebec who’ve been to the Cozy Cactus five times in the past five years. One of the things they shared with us was…while the amazing views attract guests for the first time; it’s the hospitality that Mark and Carrie provide that brings folks back time and again. After staying three nights at the Cozy Cactus, I concur.

Our first night was spent in the Desert Rendezvous room, which was a bit small, but really “cozy.”  [My girlfriend Terri and I kept ourselves laughing throughout our stay with all the, “cozy” cliché remarks we’d come up with]. The leather love-seat and sliding barn doors accented the room nicely. There is a lovely private patio with vibrant flowers, colorful mural and bistro table where we enjoyed our morning coffee.

As evening began to take hold, we noticed some of the guests out on the patio with libations in hand, so we decided to take our own glasses of wine and join them.  There are two fire pit areas to stay warm and “cozy,” with plenty of seating. It’s an enjoyable experience meeting new people at B&Bs, as they are generally well traveled and have a lot in common.  After wine time we walked across the street for dinner at a Thai restaurant that I’d visited before. It was a lovely end to a wonderful first day in Sedona.

The next day we moved to the Cowboy Hideaway, which is quite spacious and can accommodate two couples or a family with its second bath and bedroom. This room actually has two outside doors, one in the front, and one that opens to the most fantastic patio view you’ve ever seen. There is also a mini-kitchen that we utilized for basic food preparation so we didn’t have to venture out all that often. It’s worth noting that there is a gas barbecue on the patio for those who wish to fix lunch or dinner and not leave the B&B. I recall Mark telling me that they are striving to make the Cozy Cactus a “destination,” which I could see. Guests can easily stock up on food, and with all the nearby activities, rarely have to the leave (if they so choose). You can rent bikes across the street, take hikes straight from the back of the B&B, and, they even have a couple of carts that can be used to drive directly to one of two nearby golf courses.

Each morning at 8:30am, a wonderful three-course breakfast is served (except for Tue). Depending on the weather, breakfast may be served inside or out on the lovely patio enjoying the views. Every other day they alternate between a sweet or savory main dish. First course is a freshly baked muffin made by Mark, the self-proclaimed “muffin czar.” I’ll admit I’m not generally a fan of muffins, but these were outstanding and quite different each morning, from orange peel with honey butter, to peach/apricot/cranberry…to the best brand muffins ever. The next course is a fresh fruit plate, which, one morning, was an array of fresh berries with a slightly sweet dessert cheese I’d never had before called, Mascarpone…it was such a great combination of flavors. Entrées during our visit included a quiche, a breakfast burrito and a baked scone-like dish with glazed fruit and a sausage link.

There are a number of other amenities guests are welcome to use during their stay…from the golf carts I mentioned, to ice chests and ponchos. Each room also has some light snacks, coffee/tea/cocoa and many other items that will make your stay that much more enjoyable. Terri and I both had a fantastic time staying at the Cozy Cactus, and we think you will too.

If you’ve ever stayed at the Cozy Cactus before, please leave a comment below and share your favorite things or memories.

Cozy Cactus Bed and Breakfast Contact Info:

Address: 80 Canyon Circle Drive – Sedona, AZ  86351
Rates: $160-$340 depending on season and room

Loews Ventana Canyon: A sanctuary for looking into the soul of the Southwest

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

One of the most beautiful areas of Tucson, Arizona has to be Sabino Canyon, which is located at the base of the iconic Santa Catalina Mountains.  Situated in the heart of Sabino Canyon is one of the most revered resorts in Tucson…the Loews Ventana Canyon. “Ventana” is the Spanish word for “window,” which is such an apropos description for the resort.  Loews Ventana Canyon is the window to so many things during your stay.  For starters, as you look to the east the resort is the window to the Sonoran desert, as you look to the west your elevation provides amazing views and is the window to the expansive city of Tucson below. You’ll find this “window” theme throughout the property—from the southwestern cuisine, playing golf on a world-class course, to the exploration of the extensive and unique array of cacti and wildlife. The Loews Ventana Canyon is a luxurious hub into an ecosystem that will tantalize your senses and rejuvenate your soul.

My traveling companion (Rhonda) and I had been in southern Arizona exploring several parks, i.e. Saguaro National Park and Kartchner Caverns for a few days prior to our Loews Ventana Canyon arrival.  As we made our way to the resort, we were met with a very unique weather phenomenon…a blizzard! A blizzard in any other part of the country may not be considered a “phenomenon,” but this was the desert. A dusting of snow on the nearby mountains is not a rare occurrence, but cotton ball sized snowflakes in the heart of town certainly is.  While the weather was unexpected, it was an exciting opportunity to capture a few rare photos. I even filmed some video of folks throwing snowballs at each other in the heated pool. The resort was all abuzz with the unique weather that lasted on/off most of the day of our arrival.

After we checked in, we were excited to see our accommodations…needless to say they did not disappoint.  Our king grand was spacious and luxuriously appointed with rich, warm colors in true southwestern style.  Our room was certainly designed with comfort in mind…from the soft plush bed, linens and pillows, to the elegant oversized marble bathtub (so big I could almost swim laps).  Of course there was also a flat-screen TV along with a loveseat and sleek desk with an ergonomic chair to take care of a bit of blogging business. The best part may have been the terrace deck overlooking the city of Tucson as the night-lights glimmered in the distance.

After getting settled, we had to go explore the property and revel in the snow.  The front of the property provides views of the golf course and large koi ponds, while the back has amazing mountain views with lots of nature trails. The focal point is an 80’ waterfall cascading down the mountains that feeds a stream running through the nature trail system and ends up in one of the massive koi ponds. At first glance it looks like this fantastic desert waterfall is all natural, and while it is, it doesn’t take long to figure out that having a year-round waterfall in an area with little rain doesn’t quite add up.

There is an interesting story as to how the waterfall became a focal point of the property.  During the planning phase of the resort, Mr. Tisch (the president of Loews) was flying above the site in a helicopter with his architect when he spotted a huge cascading waterfall…he said, “we need to build the resort around that!” It probably wasn’t long after, that they discovered the source of the waterfall was short-lived caused by the heavy rains of monsoon season.  Either way they were committed to figuring out a way to share this experience with guests year-round, so a 2.2 million gallon koi pond reservoir system was constructed and the water recycled all the way back up the mountain.  I can’t imagine how powerful the pump system must be to accommodate this wondrous endeavor.

After our snow filled stroll, it was time to get ready for dinner. We headed to the signature restaurant on site, the Flying V Bar & Grill.  The atmosphere was warm and inviting and we were lucky enough to score an intimate table for two right next to the fireplace.  The Flying V serves up southwestern cuisine with a Latin flair. When weather permits, a huge outdoor seating area overlooking the golf course and city lights awaits.  Click the following link to read my full review of the Flying V Bar & Grill.

Concluding dinner, we went back to our room to enjoy a soak in the massive tub with a couple glasses of wine.  We then snuggled up in one of the most comfortable beds you can imagine and watched one of our favorite programs.  We especially enjoyed the feather down pillows and plush linens.  We left the drapes open so we could enjoy the falling snow and twinkling city lights.

The next morning we headed to Canyon Café (another restaurant on the property) for some breakfast.  Shortly thereafter we met one of my best friends (who lives in Tucson) in the lobby where they have several chessboards set up.  We’re all chess enthusiasts, so we had to play a few games to see who would come out on top—that ended up being moi!

After our chess match and a quick tour of the property with my buddy, Rhonda and I scouted some shots with the remaining snow as a reminder of the rarity of the weather just a day before.  As we strolled the property we were trying to decide what we should do next.  There are so many activities to choose from, here are just some of the highlights:

  • Half mile paved window walk nature trail.
  • Full spa with relaxation center.
  • Two award-winning golf courses.
  • Tennis courts.
  • Recreation area that includes basketball, playground, ping-pong and croquet court.
  • Two swimming pools with Jacuzzis.

While the sun was peeking out, the temperature was still quite chilly, so we opted for a soak in a Jacuzzi and enjoyed the mountain and landscape views as the snow melted exposing the beauty beneath.

The Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is one of those exceptional properties that you simply must put on your bucket list, especially if you’ve never been to the Sonoran Desert before. Painstaking effort went into the construction of this resort to have it blend and complement nature, while giving guests a sanctuary in which to enjoy it.  Built in 1984, Lowes Ventana was “green” even before the green movement.  As a matter of fact, when the resort was completed, Architectural Digest named it the “First environmentally-conceived resort in North America.” The split-face block was made using some of the natural earth on the site in order to blend the color perfectly into the landscape. And, the construction of the pillars represent the ribs of a saguaro cacti.  Also worth noting is that not a single one of the 3500 saguaros was destroyed during construction. Some of the saguaros are highly unique in shape, and are some of the oldest in the area…dating hundreds of years.

Click the following link to see more of my pictures from Loews Ventana Canyon. If you’ve ever stayed at Lowes Ventana, please leave a comment below and share your experience and favorite aspects with me and my readers.  If you found this post to be helpful, and/or interesting, please share it with friends and family.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Information:

7000 North Resort Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85750

(520) 299-2020
Lowes Ventana Canyon
398 rooms, including 26 suites.

Omni Tucson tees up ultimate resort experience

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Tucson, Arizona is synonymous with luxurious resort lodging and world-class golf. One of the pillars of the resort golf community is Omni Tucson National—where for more than two decades the resort played host to the prestigious PGA “Tucson Open” tournament.

My stay at the Omni Tucson National Resort was actually my very first Omni property visit. One of the initial things I noticed upon my arrival was the fact that there was no front desk; rather the check in process is more like a concierge experience. Even though there were other guests being attended to, my traveling companion and I were greeted immediately by a staff member who got the process started for us.  As our turn approached, we sat down with the attendant who provided us with all the necessary information about the resort, answered our questions and proceeded to have a porter show us to our room.

Many of the rooms at the Tucson Omni have been newly renovated and are simply spectacular.  I thought they had given us a suite, but actually their standard rooms just feel that way.  The accommodations are quite spacious at 600 square feet and have a desert chic feel with hues representative of the rugged landscape.  Our room had a private terrace with breathtaking views of the golf course and the Santa Catalina Mountains in the distance.  The avocado and chocolate brown leather furnishings were ultra comfortable, with two high-back chairs, loveseat and large ottoman.  The king size bed was wondrously comfortable and included feather down pillows and triple-sheeting linens.

The bathroom was decorated using high quality materials like travertine marble countertop and tub, while the shower was lined in slate…all accented with modern fixtures.   There was also a separate vanity, which is great for couples wanting some space while getting ready.  We really appreciated the large walk-in closet that allowed us to keep our luggage out of sight, and, out of our way.

There were two services included in the resort stay that were a pleasant surprise.

  • First was the evening ice-bucket service. Housekeeping comes by around 5pm just to see if you might need some ice.
  • The second was a morning refreshment service.  You place a hanger on the door indicating what time you’d like it delivered and they’ll provide you with two items per person.  Coffee and juice for example.

The Tucson Omni seems more like a boutique resort as far as the room count and attention-to-detail is concerned.  They have 128 guest rooms with 23 haciendas for folks needing a bit more space.  While the resort my not have hundreds of rooms, the property is expansive and all-encompassing.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Resort is situated on 650 acres
  • 36-hole championship golf course
  • 13,000 s.f. spa facility
  • Ballroom with eight meeting rooms
  • Huge negative-edge pool with hot tub and five private cabanas
  • Three on-site restaurants
  • Several outdoor relaxation/lounge areas with fireplaces/fire pits

During our stay we opted to try the spa for a couple of Swedish massage treatments.  The resort spa experience is really like none other.  The pampered feeling you get by the amenities and top-notch service are hard to match at a local day spa.  It all starts with the check-in where you receive a key to an individual locker where you leave your clothes,  don a plush terrycloth robe and relax in an expansive lounge for your therapist.  The lounge has refreshments and other distractions such as a T.V.  Moments later you are escorted to a private room that’s warm and relaxing.  After enjoying my soothing massage it was back to the locker room where I just had to use some of the amenities, such as the sauna and whirlpool tub.  You’ll also find showers and countless accoutrements to help you get ready for your next resort activity.

There is so much to see, do and explore at the Omni Tucson that you really don’t have to leave the grounds. During our stay we had a lovely dinner at the “Legends Bar & Grill,” which offers an awesome outdoor patio with large fireplace as the focal point.  They also have a nice pool room for some recreation before or after dinner.  We wanted to try the acclaimed “Bob’s Steak House,” but it’s closed on Sunday and Monday, the two nights that we just happened to be there.

The Omni Tucson National Resort has it all—from the picturesque setting at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, fine dining at Bob’s Steak & Chop House, to the lush fairways of its 36-hole desert-style golf course, and relaxing spa with host of services. Tucson is a world-class city rich in history with a plethora of sights and activities to enjoy. If you’ve never been to the southwest before, you simply must put it on your bucket list.  If you plan a trip to Tucson, I have no doubt that the Omni Tucson National Resort will be able to accommodate all of your lodging needs.

Click the following link to see more of my pictures from the Omni Tucson National Resort.

If you’ve ever stayed at the Omni in Tucson, Arizona, please leave a comment below and share your experience with my readers and me.  Tell us your favorite aspect or activity at the resort.

Omni Tucson National Resort information:

2727 West Club Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85742

(520) 297-2271
Omni Tucson National Resort

Notes: The Omni is located 30 minutes from the Tucson airport and 90 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Flying E Dude Ranch

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

If you’re looking for a truly unique vacation experience…enjoy history and the outdoors, do yourself a favor and check out a dude ranch.  I recently visited the Flying~E~Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona…this ranch dates back to the mid-40s and still offers guests a way of the west cowboy experience.  You’re not going to find five star resort-like accommodations, but what you will discover is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.  The connection you’ll have with guests, the staff, the horses and even the land will make you want to come back again and again.  I met guests who’ve been to the Flying E Ranch 9,10, 15…even 36 times.   That says a lot about the enjoyment and memories created.

I’ve only been to a handful of guest ranches, but I’ve found a common theme… the camaraderie and connection that guests have with one another is like none other.  Guests quickly make friends with other guests and end up planning their next visits together. There are a number of reasons why the dude ranch experience connects folks as it does…for starters, many of the ranch activities are conducted as a group.  Whether it’s horseback riding, a communal meal or square dancing in the barn, you end up seeing the same friendly faces over and over, which provides that opportunity to bond with folks.  You just don’t experience this connective occurrence at a typical resort or other vacation venues.

When you first check in to the Flying E, you’re greeted with some old fashioned western warmth and a tour of the property.  The ranch encompasses 20,000 acres and provides amazing mountain and desert views.  The southwestern sunrises and sunsets are some of the best in the world—and, with little light pollution in Wickenburg, the stargazing is also spectacular. There is a heated pool and spa, a game room, horseshoe pit, tennis courts, ping-pong table, stables, pasture and a storage room full of western garb in case you forgot your own boots or cowboy hat.  Once you’ve gotten a lay of the ranch, you’ll be shown to your accommodations.  There are a number of room variations depending on your needs.  The rooms are a bit dated, but very clean and comfortable nonetheless.  While the ranch is quite old, it has been extremely well maintained.  I was impressed by how well-groomed the grounds are…from the common areas, to the stables.

The focal point inside the lodge is a stone fireplace, which greets and warms guests on those cold desert days during breakfast, lunch and dinner service.  There are always freshly baked goods and refreshments available throughout the day. Prior to the dinner service you won’t want to miss happy hour (note: BYOB – appetizers supplied) in the saloon—this is a great time to mingle and get acquainted with fellow guests to talk about the day’s activities and to further bond with family and new friends. There is a wonderful deck attached to the saloon, which is the perfect spot to enjoy one of those amazing Arizona sunsets.

You can do as much, or as little as you’d like during your stay at the Flying E.  There are two rides per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.  Many guests will not miss a ride, while others might enjoy a nearby hike, a game of tennis, a soak in the spa, or a sweat in the sauna.  Everything is provided for you at the ranch, but you can also mosey outside the grounds for a round of golf or an off-road excursion.  Each day of the week provides a different schedule of events in which you are welcome to participate. You can visit the Flying E website for a list of annual activities to see what time might best suit your needs.

The chuck wagon breakfast cookout is a treat that I got to experience (I believe this takes place on holidays and special events).  Everyone at the ranch gets together for an early morning ride out to the desert where wranglers and staff have a full breakfast meal waiting.  This activity really makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time.  You can even get your butt or your boots branded (as seen in the video). I also enjoyed watching guests trying to steer three reluctant calves into a boxed pen during a team-penning contest at the corral. Evening entertainment includes square dancing in the barn, western music, or simply some fun and competitive games in the ranch house.  Of course depending on how long you stay, there’s enough free time to relax, swim, read, or just soak up the Arizona sunshine in a quiet, restful atmosphere.

You’re also bound to see some wildlife roaming the hills while on a ride or wandering the ranch…from whitetail deer, javelina, coyotes, quail to bobcats and mountain lions.

The Flying~E~Ranch is certainly a peaceful, relaxing place and the entire staff will go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable and welcome.  It amazed me at how the staff made a concerted effort to know everyone’s name and to make sure they introduced new guests to ones who’ve been there for a few days.

If you are looking for a real dude ranch experience, look no further than the Flying~E~Ranch for a realistic flavor of the Arizona frontier.

Click the following link to see pictures from the Flying E Ranch.  If you’ve been to the Flying E before, please leave a comment and let my readers and me know what you like best…or share a fond memory. If you enjoyed this post and video, please click the “like” button and share with friends and family, it really helps when you spread the word.

Flying~E~Ranch Contact Information:

2801 W. Wickenburg Way
Wickenburg, AZ 85390-1087
(928) 684-2690
(888) 684-2650

Map: Click here for Google Map

A Review of the Briar Patch Inn

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

A Review of the Briar Patch Inn Bed & Breakfast in Oak Creek Canyon – Sedona, AZ.

When you first arrive at the Briar Patch Inn, you can’t help but notice the lush gardens that encompass the property, which span nine pristine creek-side acres along the famed Oak Creek.  There are an abundance of sun-filtering trees that cast shimmering light among the many textures—from the glistening rapids of the creek below, to the contrast created by the many shadows.  There are meandering paths, superfluity nooks and captivating crannies that will continue to disclose themselves throughout your stay.

Located just a few miles from downtown Sedona in Oak Creek Canyon, Briar Patch Inn is very accessible and the property is situated on some of the best stretches of the creek that you’ll find.  There are a number of rapids that are both beautiful to look at, as well as listen to.

Each of the nineteen cabins is individually decorated in a rustic, but comfortable style.  Most of the cabins have real wood-burning fireplaces, private decks/patios and kitchenettes, which make extended stays a bit more affordable by preparing some of your own meals.

The Briar Patch Inn offers a lot of privacy to its guests, with ample separation from other cabins and a lot of vegetation.  Made of nature materials, such as river rock, flagstone and knotty pine, some of the cabins almost appear camouflaged by the quantity of flora and fauna.

The grounds at the Inn are without question the star of this B&B, there are so many wonderful paths and places to see, explore and relax.  While my stay was during the spring, I imagine any time of year would be a good time to visit and would provide a memorable experience.

Breakfast at the Inn is served buffet in an upgraded continental style…each morning you’re treated to homemade baked goods, granola, oatmeal, fresh fruit and the quiche-of-the-day.   Everything is quite good, however I imagine if one were staying for more than a few days they might yearn for more variety.  The afternoon brings more treats, from cheese & crackers, to fresh baked cookies, with coffee and ice tea also available.  The common area where breakfast is served is absolutely wonderful…very cozy with a variety of alluring scents in the air, including juniper coming from the fireplaces.  There are many seating choices throughout…intimate spots for lovers and larger areas for family gatherings.  Or, better yet…on a nice day you can take your breakfast or snacks out to the creek-side lounge area.  I’m told during the summer months there is live music five days a week.

Many of the structures on the property were constructed in the 1940s to accommodate individuals of the movie industry.   Back then this place would have been considered quite luxurious for its rural setting.  Today, Sedona (and the Oak Creek Canyon) has become a thriving tourist area with an amazing art scene and other refinements. The accommodations at Briar Patch, like the furnishings, are also on the rustic side.  As a seasoned traveler, I know some people might be disappointed by the lack of quality amenities offered in a more refined establishment…such as heated flooring, Jacuzzi tub, his/her sinks, luxurious linens and toiletries. Personally, what I like about the bed & breakfast experience is that each one is unique and interesting in their own way—each excel in different ways offering a distinctive experience.  You just don’t find that when you stay in a hotel.

The Briar Patch Inn is all about being close to nature, therefore it’s important to note that there are no TV’s or phones in any of the cabins, nor is there wi-fi anywhere but the common area, which closes at 8pm.  And, cell phone coverage is hit or miss.  As a travel writer, I have no problem with the lack of TV’s in the cabins, but wi-fi is essential for me to get any work done.  :-)   Then again, that might be the point…it’s all about relaxation and getting away from the “every day.”  With that said, there is no escaping the fact that we now live in a “connected” society and wi-fi is not really choice, but a necessity for many.  An iPod music docking station/speaker system would also be nice to see.

Family owned for nearly thirty years, the Briar Patch Inn is a Sedona staple—it’s known for providing its guests with attentive and individual service.  Many of the employees at the Inn have been there for over twenty years, which says a lot about the way the place is run.

Click the following link to see more of my pictures of the Briar Patch Inn.  To get more information about the Inn, click here.  If you’ve ever stayed at the Briar Patch Inn bed and breakfast…please leave a comment below and let my readers and I know what ya thought.

The Wonder and Mystique of Sedona, AZ

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Sedona is one of those magical places that should be on everyone’s top-20 list of places to visit.  The brilliance of the red rock spires, the adventure of exploration,  the spiritual feeling one gets when meditating on the serene banks of Oak Creek…it’s just an amazing place.

There is so much to see and do in Sedona, from the various Jeep tours to meditation and walking tours. To shopping, gallery hopping, hiking, biking and dining at wonderful restaurants to playing in the crystal clear waters of Oak Creek in the Slide Rock state park.

Sedona has been a magnet for people of all walks of life…from those seeking adventure and beauty to a relaxing spa retreat, to those looking for a spiritual journey—trust me, Sedona accommodates your needs.

I have lived in Arizona off/on for most of my life and have been to Sedona countless times.  I’ve stayed at a variety of places, from hotels, B&B’s to timeshare condos and even camping out.  My favorite place is a place I’ve never even stayed, it’s called the Briar Patch Inn and it’s located on the most majestic stretch of Oak Creek Canyon that I think you’ll find.  Briar Patch Inn sits on a huge nine acre parcel, much of which is right on the banks of Oak Creek.  They have nineteen cabin/cottages with some wonderfully landscaped common areas that include hammocks,  creek-side table & chairs and pathways throughout…many leading down to the creek.

I’ve eaten at a number of restaurants in the Sedona area…many cater to the tourist crowd and are fine, but often over-priced for the quality.   A couple of places that stand out are just outside of the downtown area, D’Lish is a great vegetarian place on the West side.  If you like Thai food, there is a great (albeit small) place just south of downtown on 179 called Tara Thai. For a bit higher-end, try Fournos or L’ Auberge for wonderful creek-side dining. For breakfast, I love the Wildflower Bread Company, it sits atop the downtown area with wonderful patio views—they have the most scrumptious breakfasts with wonderful coffee and pastries.

Visitors to Sedona have a great choice of activities and sites to see. There are several world class golf courses and spas; adventurous, fun and educational jeep tours; ancient ruins; hiking and Mt.-biking trails that wind through what USA Today declared “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” In addition, Trip Advisor announced that Sedona won fifth place in its top-ten Travelers’ Choice US Destinations.

Tourists often find the following nearby attractions of interest:

Click the following link for additional pictures of Sedona.  You can also view my photo gallery for pictures of Slide Rock, Chapel of the Holy Cross and Oak Creek Canyon.

Desert Rose Bed and Breakfast Reveiew

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The Desert Rose Bed and Breakfast, just outside of Cottonwood, AZ is a charming place with a lot to like.  When I first approached the area however, I was a bit skeptical given the vicinity—located in an unassuming residential neighborhood.  Once I arrived though, my doubts were squelched…a long driveway takes you to the rather large estate.  I was greeted by one of the owners (Betty) who promptly showed me around.

The Desert Rose offers just three rooms (so book early), but I believe they are remolding to add another.  Additionally, there are some very large common areas on two different floors. One area is smartly decorated and is used mainly for reading.  They also have a computer for use and library area, with of course wi-fi.

A very cool feature is the star gazing room, a remodeled atrium where they have a large telescope and several chairs for your star-viewing pleasure.

My room was nicely appointed with a king-sized bed and luxurious linens.  The bathroom included both a shower and a Jacuzzi tub.

The grounds are rather expansive (I’m guessing two acres) and nicely landscaped with some mature shade trees.  The property also includes a number of fruit trees and an amazing waterfall—which is a wonderful place to sit and relax with your morning coffee.

If relaxing pool-side is more your thing…they have that too.

Breakfast is a step-up from your basic continental variety and included a great mix of fresh fruit.

The Cottonwood area itself has a wonderful walkable downtown area with some great restaurants to chose from, I enjoyed a meal at The Tavern Grille and would certainly recommend it.

While there is a lot to see and do in Cottonwood, I would have to say the main attraction is the Verde Canyon train ride.  People from around the world come to ride the fully restored vintage train, one of only a few left in existence.

Check out the video below for a tour of the Desert Rose Bed and Breakfast. If you stay there, be sure the tell them Mike sent ya.