Catherine Sweeney

May 142017
 

Family-friendly attractions in and around Scottsdale

It’s been so much fun for us to explore new places in and near Scottsdale, and it’s been especially fun when we have visitors to show around. There are many things to do for residents and visitors of all ages and abilities. Here are a few tips on places that will have something for the whole family to enjoy.

Kovach Family Nature Trail

Lost Dog Wash Trailhead
12601 N. 124th Street, Scottsdale

Family fun on the Kovach Family Nature Trail in Scottsdale

Family fun with my niece and her three children on the Kovach Family Nature Trail in Scottsdale

The Kovach Family Nature Trail is a fun and educational one-half mile walk in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve that is great for children of all ages. The trail begins at the entrance to the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead. There are signs along the way that cover many of the key facts about desert flora, fauna, and geologic history.

Getting a Sonoran Desert education on the Kovach Family Nature Trail

Getting a Sonoran Desert education on the Kovach Family Nature Trail

The trail is ADA accessible with smooth surfaces for wheelchairs and strollers. If you and your companions are in the mood (and prepared) for more challenging hiking, other moderate and difficult trails can be accessed at this trailhead.

Easy walking on the Kovach Family Nature Trail

Easy walking on the Kovach Family Nature Trail

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

7301 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale

I must confess that I enjoy taking train rides through parks and the train at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park at the southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Indian Bend Road is a really fun one.

Fun ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale

Fun ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park

Besides the ride on the train, kids will also enjoy exploring the old western town play area and riding the carousel. There are also picnic tables, playgrounds, model railroads, and an interesting museum that includes the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car, a luxury car of its day.  This car was one of the last built by the Pullman Company and its passengers included the presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.

Kids of all ages like hanging out in the Stillman Stagecoach

Kids of all ages like hanging out in the Stillman Stagecoach

Butterfly Wonderland

9500 East Vía de Ventura, Scottsdale

Butterfly Wonderland is the largest rainforest conservatory in the United States. This is an amazing exhibit of over 3,000 butterflies from around the world. As you walk through the conservatory, it’s almost magical to see the butterflies freely fluttering about.

Mr. TWS wasn’t overly excited when he first heard about this activity, but after he got there he was very impressed. Just being in the tropical setting with its vegetation is almost worth the visit alone.

Gorgeous orange butterfly enjoying the flora at Butterfly Wonderland

Gorgeous orange butterfly enjoying the flora at Butterfly Wonderland

Green butterfly on foliage at Butterfly Wonderland

Butterflies are everywhere you look at Butterfly Wonderland

Having butterflies land on you is part of the fun (and thought to be lucky). Wear white if you want to increase the probability of them landing on you. Be careful not to step on any butterflies that may have landed on the walkway and make sure the kids don’t touch them, as tempting as that might be.

The butterflies at Butterfly Wonderland sometimes land right on people

Lucky me with a butterfly on my shoulder

Desert Botanical Garden

1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, just on the border with Scottsdale at McDowell Road and 64th Street, has five trails showcasing more than 50,000 plants and wildflowers in dramatic desert landscapes. Each themed trail highlights various characteristics of conservation and desert life.

Though we had already walked a number of local desert trails and seen a lot of cacti and other flora, we were amazed at the diversity and number of new flora we saw here. We also learned the names of a few things we had seen before.

Blooming cactus at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Blooming cactus at Desert Botanical Garden

Throughout the year, there are special exhibits, lectures, workshops, and tours. When we visited, the featured experience was the Spring Butterfly Exhibit in the garden’s new butterfly pavilion which was still a treat even though we had already been to Butterfly Wonderland. Although we haven’t dined here yet, the on-site restaurant, Gertrude’s, has come highly recommended. In our interview with Scottsdale resident, Mike Shubic, he told us about the free outdoor concerts at the garden during the summer.

On one of the five trail loops through the Desert Botanical Garden

On one of the five trail loops through the Desert Botanical Garden

Consider getting an annual membership. You will receive free admission during the year, guest passes, reciprocal admission to 300 gardens and conservatories in the United States, and other benefits.

Family travel tip: “It’s a dry heat”

As Phoenix area resident, Julie Cohn, mentioned during our interview with her — it’s important to stay hydrated when being outside and active in the desert.

Many visitors do not understand the heat index in Arizona. Arizona has a “dry heat” with low humidity, so people do not feel as hot as they actually are. It is easy to overheat and become dehydrated, especially while hiking, jogging, etc. Keep water with you at all times and drink twice as much as you normally would, plus watch the local weather reports, as our local news will post warnings when it is too dangerous to do outside activities.

There are more family-friendly Scottsdale attractions that we’re planning to visit soon. Stay tuned.

May 012017
 

Taking it easy on the Scottsdale hiking and biking trails

Have you checked out our top 5 Scottsdale hikes (so far) in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve? Ready for more?

There are trails for all abilities in the preserve and other Scottsdale locations. Here are two tips for easy hiking and biking in Scottsdale — a nice easy hike in the preserve plus a favorite easy biking path on the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt.

Easy hiking and biking in Scottsdale

104th and Bell Trailhead (Bell Road east of Thompson Peak Parkway)

104th Street Trail and Levee Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Dramatic view of the valley under gorgeous blue skies from the Levee Trail -- easy hiking and biking in Scottsdale

Dramatic view of the valley under gorgeous blue skies from the Levee Trail

After a .2 mile walk on the 104th Street Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve you can either continue on the trail toward Gateway Loop Trail or turn right to follow the Levee Trail which will also leads to the Gateway Loop, Bell Pass, and Paradise trails. We were just looking for a short, easy hike so took the Levee Trail option which goes along an old levee — hence the name. It’s a comfortable one-mile hike on mostly wide paths. The terrain has lots of uneven rock, gravel, and sand, so watch your step.

With Ms. TWS on the Levee Trail in the Sonoran Desert of Scottsdale, Arizona

With Ms. TWS on the Levee Trail

There is a slow, gradual climb, but nothing severe or particularly noticeable beyond a few dips like the one shown below.

 

One of the few dips in terrain along the Levee Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

One of the few dips in terrain along the Levee Trail

I liked the classic desert scenery of cacti, wildflowers, washes, and panoramic vistas on this trail which made me feel like I was on an adventure even though I was so close to civilization and home. There are views of the valley and mountains toward Phoenix to the west and the McDowell Mountains to the east. Spring is a great time of year to take hikes in the desert and we got to see the several white blooms on the saguaros which open only once and for less than a day.

Getting there tip: You just might miss the entrance to the small parking lot at 104th Street on the north side of Bell Road if you’re not looking for it. There are no facilities or water here.

Easy Biking

Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt (access points are found in many locations along Hayden Rd.)

Indian Bend Wash Path — Easy (Walking, Biking, Rollerblading)

Scottsdale was named by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Gold Level for 2011-2019 in large part due to the enormous network of paths and trails in the city. A major route is the bike path on the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, a lush oasis in the desert with paved paths, lakes, and golf courses that is also used as a flood control channel.

All smiles on the Indian Bend Greenbelt paved path in Scottsdale

All smiles on the Indian Bend Greenbelt paved bike path

The path is well-suited for walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading, or just resting on a bench along the way. The Indian Bend Wash path is paved with minimal elevation changes, running for 13 miles through the greenbelt (a flood-control channel) connecting Scottsdale to Tempe. It is easily accessed from points along Hayden Road from Shea Boulevard south to Tempe. We loved riding bikes on this trail when we were renting a condo at McCormick Ranch while looking for a home in Scottsdale. We would usually get on the path at McCormick Ranch Parkway and Hayden Road where we would then ride adjacent to McCormick Ranch Golf Course amid green trees, small lakes, waterfowl, and lovely residential areas.

Easy riding on the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt bike path

Easy riding on the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt bike path

Safety tip: Use caution when you see watering going on in the greenbelt. The sprinklers in some areas produce wet pavement which can be slippery. So slow down when pavement is wet. Mr. TWS learned the hard way with a pretty bad fall.

Are you an easy hiker and biker? Or do you prefer more adventurous outdoor activities?

 

Apr 102017
 

Favorite Phoenix and Scottsdale things to do

Next in our series of interviews with Valley of the Sun locals, Mike Shubic shares some of this favorite Phoenix and Scottsdale things to do. I can’t wait to try out a few of his suggestions.

Night lights at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Night lights at the Desert Botanical Garden

About Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic has lived in Scottsdale on and off for most of his life. He is an award-winning travel writer and seasoned road trip travel video blogger. Mike has been publishing Mikes Road Trip for over seven years and has worked with the Travel Channel, USA Today, Yahoo Travel and is currently a Gnomad for Travelocity. Mike also has his own ROKU channel and later this year his content will appear on DirecTV as they roll out a new streaming technology.

Mike’s picks for Phoenix and Scottsdale area favorites

Restaurant

Citizen Public House is where comfort meets class. Fantastic food, creative cocktails, tremendous service and overall great vibe!

Cocktail hour at the Citizen Public House

Cocktail hour at the Citizen Public House

Outdoor activity

Camelback Mountain has always been a favorite, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a strenuous hike but offers a fantastic reward at the top…360 degree views of the city below.

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain

Cultural Venue

Fairly new on the scene is the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum). It’s not just a museum for music lovers; they also have a top-notch venue for intimate concerts.

Special Event

Scottsdale Culinary Festival. Scottsdale has become one of the best culinary cities in the country and this festival allows attendees to sample food from some of the top local chefs.

Great getaway

Located in the southern part of the state is Tubac, which has received a lot of national recognition over the past few years for its world-class lodging, charming downtown and historical significance.

Mission de Tumacácori in Tubac, Arizona

Mission de Tumacácori in Tubac

Place for romance

Everything just tastes better outside. Ensconced within the Desert Botanical Garden is Gertrude’s, a fabulous restaurant that allows diners to eat al fresco on one of the best patios in the city. After dinner couples can take a romantic stroll through the gardens, perhaps even take in a concert or special exhibit.

Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Gertrude’s at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Mike’s insider tips

  • Scottsdale has long been known for its world-class resorts. If you don’t mind the heat, summer is an opportunity to stay at some of these resorts for a third to one half the price of peak season from January through April.
  • During the summer months the McCormick Railroad Park offers outdoor concerts. It’s a lot of fun to take a picnic meal with your loved one and/or family to enjoy some free live music.
  • Scottsdale was once an artist colony, but eventually the real estate got too expensive and they were pushed out in favor of art galleries, which is known as the famed “5th Avenue Shops.”
  • Scottsdale has been a retreat for celebrities since 1940, when Elizabeth Arden opened Maine Chance Spa, welcoming society mavens, celebrities and royalty.

Mike, thanks for sharing your Phoenix/Scottsdale favorites and insights!

Follow Mike Shubic on social media

Twitter: @MikesRoadTrip
Facebook: Mike’s Road Trip
Instagram: @mikesroadtrip

 

Apr 072017
 

Great Hiking in Scottsdale

So many trails, so little time

Outdoors enthusiasts can find many options in and around Scottsdale. With 330 days of annual sunshine, Scottsdale is perfect for outdoor activities. Many people know about the world-class golf courses and resorts of the area, but there’s so much more. There is an incredible array of hiking and biking trails, from very easy to extremely difficult, that include amazing scenery, flora, and fauna. There are more than 400 miles of trails in the Scottsdale area for hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding and nature appreciation. This was a big part of what made our decision to relocate to Scottsdale very easy.

Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trails

182 miles of Scottsdale’s trails are in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the largest urban preserve in the Americas. We have a lot more of them to explore, but here’s what we’ve tried so far.

Granite Mountain Trailhead (31402 N. 136th Street)

Bootlegger Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Bootlegger Trail accessed from the Granite Mountain Trailhead in northeastern Scottsdale

Distant mountain views from the Bootlegger Trail

We just took part of this trail for the first time over the past weekend and fell in love with it. It’s well worth the drive north to far northeastern Scottsdale even for a short hike here. There’s gorgeous scenery and blooming flora in the springtime to admire as you travel along the narrow sandy paths with giant boulders and rocky hillsides in view. We stopped several times to take in the great views from high points overlooking the desert where we had just been walking toward the eastern mountains.

As we started out, we stopped to look at an old fallen saguaro that showed its woody interior and bark base. There we spoke to a fellow hiker who warned us that the rattlers were out and he had seen two along the way. We didn’t personally see any on our 3-mile walk, but kept our eyes peeled and ears open for rattlers and other desert critters. Further along the trail than we went, it’s said that you might run across a desert tortoise. Hope to see one of those on the next hike.

Bootlegger Trail at the Granite Mountain Trailhead in northeastern Scottsdale, Arizona

Bootlegger Trail at the Granite Mountain Trailhead

Fun tip: It was also kind of fun driving the very wavy section of 136th Street between Rio Verde and the trailhead. You’ll be tempted to drive faster than the 25 mph limit to make the ups and downs more exciting, but don’t!

Lost Dog Wash Trailhead (12601 N. 124th Street)

Lost Dog Wash Trail connecting with Ringtail Trail – Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

We accessed the 2.2-mile Ringtail Trail from the Lost Dog Wash Trail, but it can be directly accessed at the Ringtail Trailhead (12300 block of N. 128th Street). It’s perfect for an easy one-hour hike with interesting twists and turns. There are a few spots where you want to watch out for slippery sand or rocks as you walk. Pay attention when you see signs warning you stay on the path to keep the natural environment intact and they make it easy to differentiate the washes from the paths. There are some nice views of the valley to the south and west from points on the trail, so take a few minutes to enjoy the vistas.

Blooming cactus flowers can be seen throughout the Sonoran Desert in spring

The beauty of blooming cactus flowers in spring

Bonus trail tip: The Kovach Family Nature Trail is a fun and educational ADA accessible trail ideal for families with young children. It is located just beyond the trailhead building.

Gateway Trailhead (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway)

Gateway Loop Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

The Gateway Trailhead is the largest in the Sonoran Preserve. We chose the Gateway Loop Trail hike of 4.5 miles. It has a lot of ups and downs over rocky terrain and there are significant elevation changes. We loved it! Because of the rugged terrain, occasional uphill climbs, and inclinations to stop to see the view, the 4.5 miles might take a little longer than if you were out for a power walk. Views of the valley to the north and east are expansive. Families and individuals of all ages, sizes and conditions were on this trail — some taking it more slowly than others.

Quartz Trailhead (10215 E. McDowell Mountain Ranch Road)

Quartz Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Quartz Trail with the McDowell Mountains in the background

Quartz Trail with the McDowell Mountains in the background

The entire Quartz Trail runs for 4.9 miles, but we were on just a short section that cut through washes adjacent to McDowell Mountain Ranch residential areas. Although homes in the vicinity are often visible and nearby in many parts of the trail you’ll find that the trees, saguaro, and deep washes provide plenty of the desert experience. The trail is very popular with mountain bikers.

Sunrise Trailhead (12101 N. 145th Way)

Sunrise Trail –Difficult (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Mr. TWS heading uphill on the Sunrise Trail in Scottsdale

Mr. TWS heading uphill on the Sunrise Trail

We took about half of this 5.8-mile trail. Gorgeous views and narrow, winding paths with steady climbs make this a fun trail. Accessed from Sunrise Trail, it begins running adjacent to a residential area, but quickly leads deeper into the desert and up the mountainside. The portion of the path we took was a good workout, but I’ve heard it gets more challenging as you move along and over the mountain ridges to connect with trails leading to the Lost Dog Trailhead (mentioned above).

Stay tuned for more about our Scottsdale area hikes.

For important tips about having safe and happy experiences on the Scottsdale hiking trails, Experience Scottsdale has a  Hiking and Trail Guide that you can download for great information and tips about hiking in the desert.

Mar 212017
 

Mr. TWS and I are loving getting to know our new community in the Valley of the Sun. There is so much for residents and visitors to see and do in Phoenix Metro, Scottsdale, and many other nearby places. I’ve always believed that the best way to get to know a place is by asking the locals and that’s what we’re doing in this series of posts.

Check out these favorite Phoenix and Scottsdale things to do!

Julie Cohn is a food and travel lifestyle writer and blogger. In addition to her own site A Cork, Fork, & Passport, she is also a feature hotel writer for the Telegraph. She has lived in the Phoenix area for 17 years. I asked her to share her area favorites.

Julie’s picks for Phoenix and Scottsdale area favorites

Nature and outdoor activities

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix has activities year round, from spring wildflowers to summer garden classes to Los Noches de la Luminarias during the Christmas holiday season.

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix -- Photo by Julie Cohn

Desert Botanical Garden — Photo by Julie Cohn

I love to go hiking in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park. The trails are safe and less difficult than some of the other Phoenix-area hikes. There are also interesting Indian petroglyphs. I also like to picnic at The Farm at South Mountain. The many pecan trees offer a cool, shady refuge from the hot desert sun with beautiful wildflowers and herb gardens to stroll through.

The Farm at South Mountain -- Photo by Julie Cohn

The Farm at South Mountain — Photo by Julie Cohn

Event

We love cars, so enjoy the Barrett-Jackson Car Show & Auction in Scottsdale every January. Some of the most unique luxury and classic cars can be found at the show and the auction is fascinating to watch live.

Getaways

Sedona -- Photo by Julie Cohn

Sedona — Photo by Julie Cohn

Sedona for hiking, art, and dining. Breathtaking views, quiet hiking trails, fun family activities (such as Slide Rock), unique art galleries, and wonderful dining make Sedona the ultimate weekend getaway.

Coronado, California is the place to get out of Phoenix to escape the heat. Thousands of Phoenicians flock to the San Diego area in the summertime, but the best place to stay and dine in the San Diego area is Coronado.

Restaurants

Dinner at Talavera at Four Seasons Troon North in Scottsdale, Arizona -- Photo by Julie Cohn

Dinner at Talavera at Four Seasons Troon North — Photo by Julie Cohn

For gourmet, Talavera at Four Seasons Troon North in Scottsdale. It has an incredible menu with unique flavor combinations and a spectacular view of the city at night. For casual, Chelsea’s Kitchen, just off Camelback and 40th. It is a fun casual place to go with friends, and they have the best white sangria cocktails in Phoenix.

Place for romance or nightlife

Dinner in the wine cellar at Lon’s at The Hermosa Inn. Candlelit dinner for up to 12, with gourmet food, a selection of outstanding wines, and maybe even a few ghostly guests make dinner in the wine cellar a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Insider tips

  • Four and five star hotels and resorts in the Phoenix area lower their rates to 60%+ off during the summer months, so if you can stand the heat, it is a great time to visit or have a staycation.
  • A great cultural day trip is to Montezuma’s Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona.
  • Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon City has the best pies in the United States!
  • The new restaurants at Phoenix International Airport are branches of some of the best restaurants in Phoenix, including Barrio Cafe, Chelsea’s Kitchen, and Matt’s Big Breakfast. It is worth getting to the airport early to grab a bite.
  • Many visitors do not understand the heat index in Arizona. Arizona has a “dry heat” with low humidity, so people do not feel as hot as they actually are. It is easy to overheat and become dehydrated, especially while hiking, jogging, etc. Keep water with you at all times and drink twice as much as you normally would, plus watch the local weather reports, as our local news will post warnings when it is too dangerous to do outside activities.

Personal anecdote

The Phoenix area has a weird weather phenomenon that happens every summer during monsoon season, the haboob. A haboob is a dust storm that comes up suddenly and sweeps across the city. Our first summer in Phoenix, we lived in Gilbert in the East Valley, which seems to get its fair share of summer storms. I was driving home from Phoenix when a haboob started and the visibility was so bad I had to pull off the highway. It is actually a wall of dust in front of you and was frightening to witness the first time. If you are caught in a haboob while driving, pull off as quickly as you can to a safe area and wait out the storm, as they usually pass through in 10-15 minutes. I-10 is an especially dangerous place to be during a haboob, as much of the surrounding area is dry desert. If the weather reports advise a dust storm or haboob, wait until it is over to continue your travels. Haboobs usually occur late in the afternoons when monsoon storms pass through the area.

Julie, thanks for sharing your Phoenix/Scottsdale favorites and insights!

Follow Julie Cohn on social media

Twitter: @CorkForkPassport
Facebook: A Cork, Fork & Passport
Instagram: @acorkforkpassport

Mar 182017
 

Sweeney in the Valley of the Sun

As new residents of the Valley of the Sun with a home in Scottsdale, Arizona we are eager to learn about the great places and activities in our new community and surrounding area. We’ve been pleasantly surprised that there is so much to see and do!

A luxury sanctuary for relaxation and recreation

Recently, we got a glimpse of the beautiful Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in nearby Paradise Valley. Take a look.

On the terrace of elements restaurant for lunch (Camelback Mountain in the background)

On the terrace of elements restaurant for lunch (Camelback Mountain in the background)

Great views, super-friendly staff, delicious and inspired cuisine — we enjoyed it all during a brief visit and lunch at the Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa, situated against the north slope of Camelback Mountain. A tour of the property and lunch at its acclaimed restaurant provided a brief introduction to its accommodations, amenities, cuisine, and ambiance.

Property Highlights

Sanctuary evokes a warm, welcoming, and unpretentious luxury. The resort is updated and upscale but it still retains a sense of the days when the resort was the Paradise Valley Racquet Club which opened in 1957 and then in 1965 became John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch, where movie stars and other celebrities hung out and played tennis. The resort opened as the Sanctuary in March 2001.

Bell sculpture by Paolo Soleri at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa entrance

Bell sculpture by Paolo Soleri at resort entrance

There are lovely touches of art throughout the resort that blend with the architecture and landscape, such as the large sculpture of bells by the late artist and architect Paolo Soleri (once an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright) outside of the entrance to the lobby.

Casitas and suites

Sanctuary has a total of 109 casitas and suites. The Spa Casitas and Suites were refreshed in a renovation of decor and furnishings in 2016. The Mountain Casitas and Suites, including eight Camelback Casitas and Suites (perched high on the mountainside with panoramic views) went through a full-scale renovation that was completed in 2015.

Artistic touches and interior of Onyx ("O") Spa Casita at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Artistic touches and interior of Onyx (“O”) Spa Casita

We got a look at one of the 24 Spa Casitas and Suites, aptly named for their proximity to the resort’s spa amenities and identified by gems, rather than numbers. The one we viewed is called Onyx. They are situated along walkways bordered by palms, cacti, and foliage in bloom. This time of year (mid-March), the flora was in “superbloom”, and we breathed in the fragrances as we walked about the property.

Consistent with other resort decor, art pieces are also found in the casitas. The butterfly art we saw in Onyx is a nice reflection of the resort’s status as a certified Butterfly Garden due to its landscaping which is conducive to increasing the butterfly population.

Dining with a view

elements (yes, it’s a small “e”), Sanctuary’s on-site restaurant, presents inspired dishes with a focus on freshness under the direction of Food Network star and Executive Chef Beau MacMillan. We dined al fresco on the terrace of elements enjoying close up views of Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain across the valley. When I heard that a pork belly sandwich was the day’s featured entree, I knew immediately that’s what I wanted. The Pork Banh Mi made with tender sliced pork belly, slivers of cucumber, and five spices was served on a Buddha Bun (one of the softest, most flavorful buns I’ve ever had).

Lunch entrees at element restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa: Citrus shrimp salad, Pork Belly Sandwich, Pumpkin cheesecake

Lunch entrees: Citrus shrimp salad, Pork Banh Mi sandwich, Pumpkin cheesecake

Mr. TWS kept it light and fresh with the Citrus Grilled Shrimp salad with spinach, snap peas, avocado water chestnuts and cabbage and he really enjoyed it. Each entree had distinctly Asian flavors.

Our waiter Bryan was friendly and helpful and talked about how much he loves his job at elements where he started as a dishwasher three years earlier.

Exquisite jade onyx decor in jade bar

Exquisite jade onyx decor in jade bar

Wood slats in the ceiling of jade bar are original from the days of the former Paradise Valley Racquet Club. I was really taken by the bar that is made of authentic jade onyx. The vistas from both elements and the adjacent jade bar are beautiful during the day, but they must be spectacular at night with the lights of Paradise Valley’s hillside homes and resorts (shown in a photo below). A good place to catch the stunning sunsets would be at jade bar or outside on the terrace. During the cooler seasons, casual ceremonies toasting the sunsets with champagne are held on the terrace.

Spa and recreation

The resort’s spa includes indoor and outdoor treatment rooms offering Asian-inspired spa therapies, a meditation garden, vitality and tranquility pools, fitness center, and a variety of classes. We spoke for a few minutes with Spa Director LaRae Verros and enjoyed her engaging personality, a trait that seems consistent other staff we met.

Infinity-edge pool (the largest in Phoenix/Scottsdale) of Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Infinity-edge pool with vistas of Mummy Mountain and mountainside homes of Paradise Valley

There are three pools on the property including a lap pool and the infinity-edge pool (the largest in Phoenix/Scottsdale) which is designated as adults-only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and is one of the cell phone-free areas of the resort. It’s a place for health, wellness, and relaxation, after all.

Photographs of celebrity guests; tennis pro Horst Falger at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa

Photographs of celebrity guests; tennis pro Horst Falger

Five of the 21 original John Gardiner courts remain. We had a nice chat with the charming and amusing Horst Falger, the resort’s Austrian-born tennis pro. He has been a key figure at the resort for over 30 years. The pro shop walls are covered with many photos of celebrity guests who played on the courts of the John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch, including Clint Eastwood, Elton John, Eva Gabor, Merv Griffin, John Forsythe, and General Alexander Haig. There is also a display of drawings from the original 1955 membership brochure of the Paradise Valley Racquet Club (below).

Drawings from the 1955 membership brochure for the Paradise Valley Racquet Club in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Drawings from the 1955 membership brochure for the Paradise Valley Racquet Club

Mr. TWS and I appreciated the hospitality of Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa staff during our tour and delicious lunch. Sanctuary’s accommodations and facilities seem to make it a lovely destination resort for leisure, business, and special occasions. It’s also appealing for locals to enjoy the spa, restaurant, and bar. I’m sure that we’ll be making return visits.

 

Mar 072017
 

Spring is a great time to visit Venice, a magical city

I have to admit to a bit of jealousy as I’ve recently seen photos and read posts of friends who were visiting or living in Venice during Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival of Venice) during February 2017. Now that Carnevale has come to a close for the year, I’ve been reflecting upon the few days that Mr. TWS and I had to spend in this magical and romantic city last spring.

Although our stay last April was short, I felt that we experienced a lot of what makes Venice so special – enough to know that we’ll make it a point to come back sometime — sooner rather than later, I hope.

Sunset in Venice --- view of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from the Accademia Bridge

Sunset in Venice — view of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from the Accademia Bridge

On a spring trip to Venice you might experience some rain (as we did upon arrival and for a bit the next day), but it shouldn’t diminish the enjoyment of the city and all it has to offer. So just remember to pack a light rain jacket.

Of course, you’ve probably heard that Venice can be very crowded with tourists in any season, but a visit in the spring will beat the summer throngs. We scheduled our time in Venice to work with a previously set itinerary for visiting other destinations in the Veneto region. That meant that we were visiting during one of the busiest times of the year — the weekend of Liberation Day, a national holiday bringing people from all over Italy to Venice to mark the occasion. But we found that although major sites such as the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco were crowded, there were better times to visit those sites (in the morning or late evening), and by veering off the main tourist areas there were many interesting and less-crowded places to stroll and enjoy.

Our favorite things

Arriving by boat

On our cruise to Venice from Portegrandi on the Silis, a tour boat operated by Navigazione Stefanato, we cruised the lagoon admiring the colorful buildings on the island of Burano and stopped on Murano Island to see a glass blowing demonstration at the famous Murano Glass Factory.

Murano Island in the Venetian Lagoon, Italy

Murano Island in the Venetian Lagoon

As we left Murano to head toward Venice, the sky became grayer and the rain picked up which added to the excitement and feeling of intrigue during our slow approach. The conditions also gave a surreal look to the city. I think that the photos we took (shown below) have a look much like Medieval frescoes or scenes in old-fashioned painted postcards.

Approaching Venice in the rain --- springtime in Venice

Approaching Venice in the rain

St. Mark's bell tower and the Doge's Palace seen from the boat as we approached Venice

St. Mark’s bell tower and the Doge’s Palace seen from the boat as we approached

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute seen upon approach to Venice by boat

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute seen upon approach to Venice by boat

Once in Venice, the main way of getting around on the waterways is by vaporetto (water buses) and water taxi (for getting to/from Marco Polo airport). Gondolas are seen everywhere but are mainly for sightseeing and having a quintessential Venice experience, not so much for getting from place to place.

Enjoying sights and sounds of Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Europe, is awe-inspiring. It seemed to always be bustling with people the numerous times we crossed the square during the visit. Its famous attractions are St. Mark’s Basilica, the adjacent clock tower and the Doge’s Palace, but there are also many shops, restaurants, and cafes. The piazza was beautiful on an overcast day, in the bright sunlight, and especially at night with the lights on all of the buildings.

Venetian flags flying in St. Mark's Square on Liberation Day

Venetian flags flying in St. Mark’s Square on Liberation Day

We felt fortunate to be there on April 25th, Liberation Day, which celebrates the end of Nazi occupation in World War II and also the end of the Italian Civil War. It was exhilarating to watch the planned festivities as well groups and individuals waving red Venetian flags promoting Venetian independence from Italy.

Touring St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy

St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica is named for the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark the Evangelist. It is one of Venice’s most recognizable landmarks beneath its iconic bell tower and adjacent to the Doge’s Palace. We took a Walks of Italy VIP night tour of the basilica tour to beat the crowds and we got so much interesting and entertaining background. April 25th is the Feast of St. Mark so there were special flower arrangements on the altar and the panels in the railing were removed so that worshippers on Saint Mark’s Day could fully see the altar where Saint Mark’s remains are said to reside.

Eating like a Venetian

From top left: Fresh seafood market, Prosecco, cicchetti, squid ink pasta

Enjoyment of food and wine accompanied with conversation is part of Venetian culture. We found a wonderful way to be introduced to eating like a Venetian and get tastes of cicchetti (small bites, snacks) and wines of the Veneto region on the Walks of Italy Venice Food Tour, The walking tour allowed us to experience two bacari (cicchetti and wine bars); squid ink pasta for lunch; and the local fish, meat, and produce markets. In late April, we were there in time to enjoy the amazing white asparagus of the Veneto region.

Many of the city’s senior residents slowly make a daily routine of making their their way from one bacaro to the next for food, wine, and meeting friends.

Walking around and getting lost

It’s very easy to get lost in Venice’s maze of narrow alleys, bridges, and squares and those times were some of the highlight of our time there. Just steps away from the main attractions, you can escape the crowds to feel that you’re alone.

Quiet canal scene off the tourist track in Venice

The pretty and serene places you can find strolling through Venice

While taking in the intriguing canals, bridges, gondolas and gondoliers, we came across captivating views.

Classic Venetian scene -- a gondola on the Grand Canal

Classic Venetian scene — a gondola on the Grand Canal

Birds along the Grand Canal in Venice

I appreciate that these birds posed for me in this pretty setting

One of my favorite scenes was the one below of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from the Accademia Bridge over the Grand Canal at sunset (also the location of the photo at the top of the post).

View from the Accademia Bridge, Venice

View from the Accademia Bridge

Listening to the music

I highly recommend attending a concert to further enhance the visit and immerse yourself in the music that beautifully reflects the history and romance of the city. Interpreti Veneziani holds string concerts in several venues in Venice.

Interpreti Veneziani concert at Chiesa San Vidal in Venice

Interpreti Veneziani concert at Chiesa San Vidal

We attended an extraordinary concerto at the beautiful Church of San Vidal featuring the works of Antonio Vivaldi who was born in Venice in 1678. The musicians and acoustics were excellent.

On my Venice wish list:

Carnevale di Venezia!

Gorgeous carnevale mask seen in a specialty shop in Venice, Italy

Gorgeous carnival mask seen in a specialty shop

Perhaps we’ll get back to Venice for Carnevale sometime. I would love to wear this mask that we saw in a specialty costume shop. Wouldn’t you?

Feb 132017
 

Scenes of Scottsdale on Instagram

Mr. TWS and I are finally settled in at our new home and loving it here in Scottsdale.

We’ve been enjoying the sights, activities, and places of our new hometown and have much more exploration to do. It’s easy for us to see why Scottsdale is a desirable destination for travelers as well as being a great place to live. In our first Sweeneys in Scottsdale post in December, I shared a few photos from our Instagram gallery to introduce you to our new little corner of the world. Here is a follow up with a further glimpse of Scottsdale from our Instagram galleries where I post as @travelingwithsweeney and @scottsdaleblogger. If you’re on Instagram, give us a follow!

Our new neighborhood views

Oh, how I love the desert and the dramatic skies above it. This is a scene from a walk through our McDowell Mountain ranch neighborhood looking towards Camelback Mountain.

We were quite spoiled with bay and city views from our home in California, so we were focused on finding a great view in Scottsdale, too. We found it!

Desert flora and faux fauna

There are quite a few of these wildlife sculptures on the desert landscape throughout the McDowell Mountain Ranch community. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

When we took our nephew on a short trip to San Diego last year, he was in awe of the cacti at Old Town San Diego. Just wait until he visits us here in Scottsdale.

Holiday spirit

There was plenty of holiday spirit in Scottsdale at Christmas. Families had a blast taking in the lights and festivities at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.

Native American Culture

The annual Native Trails festival celebrates Native American culture through dance, song, and storytelling. This year’s festival theme is “unity”. The free performances are held at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.

So many trails… so little time

We are looking forward to exploring all of the great hiking and biking trails in and around Scottsdale — there are many! This is Mr. TWS getting some exercise and sunshine on the Sunrise Trail.

One of my favorite outdoor activities is bike riding and there are so many awesome trails in and around Scottsdale for cyclists of all levels. This photo comes from the Indian Bend Wash Path.

Happy hour

There isn’t a shortage of great places for happy hour and dining in the Scottsdale area. At AZ88, friendly bartender Shaun smiles beneath the bar’s current installation of a beating heart — always cool art and great drinks at this bar/restaurant at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.

It doesn’t just look mouth-watering, it’s totally delicious. This is (currently) my favorite main dish at The Herb Box restaurant on Market Street at DC Ranch in Scottsdale — short rib enchiladas.

I hope you enjoyed this taste of Scottsdale from our Instagram galleries. Stay tuned on the blog and in social media for more from Scottsdale and beyond.

Feb 062017
 

Cultural Traditions at the 15th Anniversary Native Trails Festival

I remember butterflies. A snake coiled up in the desert. Birds surround you.

— Derrick Suwaima Davis

The simple words of Derrick Suwaima Davis of the Hopi and Choctaw Nations describe inspirations from his youth that were his calling to dance. Today, he is the artistic director of the annual Native Trails festival in Scottsdale, and he is also the only adult seven-time World Champion Hoop Dancer. Each year, he and the other festival performers bring their talents and cultural expressions to the festival, sharing their passion and pride in their movements and voices with people of all cultures. This year’s festival focuses on the concept of unity among people of diverse cultures — dispelling stereotypes, finding commonalities, and encouraging cooperation.

Native Trails Festival -- Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Native Trails Festival — Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Last week, at performance under clear blue skies at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, I eagerly took in the Native American cultural traditions and was impressed with its deep meaning and symbolism. Expressing these traditions through song, dance, and storytelling, Native Trails is now in its 15th year. It is sponsored by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and produced by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

With Derrick Suwaima Davis, artistic director of Native Trails, at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall

With Derrick Suwaima Davis, artistic director of Native Trails

The early part of a new year is a perfect time for the festival as it is in keeping with the Hopi tradition of putting away musical instruments in December as the animals are asleep. After the new year in January, the instruments are sounded again.

Expressions of cultural unity in song and dance at Native Trails in Scottsdale, Arizona

Expressions of cultural unity in song and dance at Native Trails

For one hour, we enjoyed vibrant dances that are a combination of specific symbolic movements and inspired improvisation. Each act was introduced with enlightening and entertaining explanations. Many audience members listened and watched from their lawn chairs and picnic blankets. Others stood at the back or just stopped for a few numbers as they strolled the mall. It was clear that they really enjoyed and were immersed in the music and dance. The many young children attending happily moved with the rhythms and enthusiastically applauded with the adults as each song finished.

Eldred Matt of the San Carlos Apache Nation performing at Native Trails Festival in Scottsdale -- Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Eldred Matt of San Carlos Apache Nation — Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

A few of the very popular dances we watched were the “Eagle Dance”, “Men’s Lance and Shield Dance”, “Fancy Dance”, “Women’s Jingle Dress”, and “Fancy Shawl”. A lovely song called “Bluebird” was a highlight for me as well. I also thoroughly enjoyed both the colorful clothing, in many cases specially made for this festival, and learning about the significant amount of symbolism in the dances.

The finale was a great way to end the show and emphasize the theme of unity. The interactive “Round Dance” enabled all of us to join in. As the musicians formed in the center on the lawn, we (the audience) held hands and moved in a circle around them.

Native Trails Festival Round Dance -- Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Round Dance — Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

After the performances, audience members are invited to mingle and talk with cast members whose passion for their traditions and pride in their culture is evident in their eagerness to spend time with the audience sharing their knowledge and stories.

Native Trails dancers talking to audience after the performances -- -- Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Dancers talking to audience after the performances — Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

If you go, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the cast. I loved listening to Derrick’s thoughts about the importance of music to the people of Native American nations. He described music being all around and part of their lives starting from the time they are in the womb. The music they make with their instruments establishes and maintains a balance with nature while asking the questions of creation and life that have been asked for thousands of years.

And there are lessons for all, such as the importance of respecting nature and other people and cultures. The young learn from the old and the old can learn from the young. We can all benefit by taking to heart messages instilled in the tribes and represented in the Native Trails festival.

Although we may come from different cultural backgrounds, as part of the same human family, we hold many common values. There is more that unifies us than divides us.

— Derrick Suwaima Davis

Where:

Scottsdale Civic Center Park
3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

When:

This season’s festival began on January 12, 2017 and runs through March 30, 2017 with performances on Thursdays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. — rain or shine! The performances are moved inside in case of inclement weather.

Special Performances: 

There will be two special Native Trails events incorporating different cultures on February 16th and 18th that will include African and Japanese drumming.

Cost: 

Free!

For more information:

Scottsdale Native Trails

Dec 252016
 

Merry Christmas 2016 from the TWS duo

By Mr. TWS

Sweeney and Mr. TWS in front of the Christmas tree at Bryant Park -- New York City at Christmas

Sweeney and Mr. TWS in front of the Christmas tree at Bryant Park

Sweeney and I kicked off our Christmas season a little differently this year because our relocation to Scottsdale, Arizona from the San Francisco Bay Area was still in progress. Instead of getting our Christmas tree and decorating just after Thanksgiving before heading off to Europe for a holiday trip in early December, it seemed getting to New York City for a few days was the perfect plan. We had commented several times recently that it had been too long since we had been to New York and the visit relieved our itch for seeing the city again but also got us in the Christmas spirit. So this brief sharing of our few days there is also our Merry Christmas greeting to you all.

New York City at Christmas

Red and green of the Empire State Building and Macy's on 34th Street epitomize Christmas in New York City

Empire State Building towering above Macy’s on 34th Street

For me, the Empire State Building epitomizes New York at Christmastime, particularly with its red and green lights (though the colors schemes varied while we were there). The iconic New York site was in view just outside our Murray Hill hotel. On 34th street between 3rd Avenue and Lexington Avenue, the hotel was a great central location for experiencing Christmastime in New York City.

We arrived at the hotel just after dark and after checking in walked a few blocks to another icon of New York City at Christmas — Macy’s. If its Christmas window displays, eagerly-anticipated by most New Yorkers and visitors, aren’t enough to warrant that distinction, its particular prominence as a setting in Miracle on 34th Street, one of the all-time Christmas movie favorites surely does. The displays, a few pictured below, were impressive but not quite as Christmas-y as ones we’d seen before. It was a good start to our visit as was the walk in the brisk air, which seemed especially cold to us as temperatures in Arizona had been in the 80s and 90s (F) during October and much of November.

Beautiful window displays of Macy's

Beautiful window displays of Macy’s

The next morning, we began the day with brunch at Penelope on Lexington Avenue, a popular nearby restaurant with delicious breakfast comfort food. It was well worth the wait of just under an hour.

From there we headed to nearby Madison Square Park to see a real life-sized gingerbread house (this time we didn’t wait in the line — about a block and a half long — to see what was inside.) While there, we also enjoyed the other festive decorations and appreciated the sheer beauty of the park and surrounding skyscrapers.

Gingerbread House in Madison Square Park -- New York City at Christmas

Gingerbread House in Madison Square Park

It was across the street from the park near the landmark Flatiron Building that we got our first glimpse of revelers dressed in Santa gear gathering for SantaCon, the annual pub crawl with frivolity and imbibing continuing from morning to late night. At about noon, we were amazed to see the line for 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar on 5th Avenue. The line stretched at least a block and a half (we couldn’t see around the next corner to see how long but guessed another block) with Santas.

Ho Ho Ho! It's SantaCon! -- Revelers line up to get into 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar in New York City at Christmas

Ho Ho Ho! It’s SantaCon! Revelers line up to get into the 230 Fifth rooftop bar

Throughout the day we encountered clusters of the party-seeking Santas as we walked around the city. We learned that many locals aren’t particularly fond of SantaCon, but we didn’t personally witness any of the predictable downsides of a day-long drinking event.

Winter fun at the Bryant Park ice rink and Christmas market -- Christmas in New York City

Winter fun at the Bryant Park ice rink and Christmas market

Heading north to Bryant Park, one of our favorite places in New York, we enjoyed the walk, Christmas scenes along the way, and energy of city. Bryant Park has a great skating rink and a Christmas market in a wonderful setting next to the New York Public Library surrounded by fabulous architecture.

A walk through Central Park with blogger friends, Aaron Heflich Shapiro and Jeff Dobbins, New York City 2016

A walk through Central Park with blogger friends, Aaron Heflich Shapiro and Jeff Dobbins

On our second morning, we headed back to one of our old haunts for breakfast (it was one of our favorite breakfast spots just blocks from where we had an extended stay in Midtown East several years ago. After a hearty breakfast that was just like those we remembered, we met two blogger friends, Aaron Heflich Shapiro and Jeff Dobbins with whom we enjoyed a nice walk in Central Park. Our friends pointed out spots we’d never noticed before in the park, like the plaques in the sidewalk that commemorate donors who adopted trees in Central Park. In particular, we came across one that was dedicated to Natasha Richardson, the late actress who we’ve always admired.

Wine, cheese, and lively conversation at a cozy Upper West Side cafe topped off a great New York City afternoon.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree -- New York City at Christmas

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

From there we headed to another iconic NYC area, one especially associated with Christmas — Rockefeller Center with its enormous Christmas tree and inviting skating rink. The lights of Radio City Music Hall were dazzling as well.

Christmas lights of Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, New York City at Christmas

Christmas lights of Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall

Also along Fifth Avenue, many extravagantly decorated hotels and department stores drew huge crowds. The light show on the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue accompanied by Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Carol of the Bells was mesmerizing. Don’t miss the performance and displays at Saks Fifth Avenue at Christmastime.

Christmas light show at Saks Fifth Avenue -- Christmas in New York City

Christmas light show at Saks Fifth Avenue

Wending our way back to our hotel at the end of a full day, we appreciated the beauty of the gorgeous red Christmas ball decorations at the pool on Sixth Avenue and the giant Christmas lights decoration a block south.

Giant red ornaments adorn a fountain on Sixth Avenue -- New York City at Christmastime

Giant red ornaments adorn a fountain on Sixth Avenue

It all added to the magic of the day and the trip.

Giant Christmas lights decoration on Sixth Avenue -- New York City at Christmas

Giant Christmas lights decoration on Sixth Avenue

We enjoyed many other New York sights, but I hope these few highlights of kicking off the holidays in New York capture a bit of our enjoyment.

Merry Christmas to you all and our best wishes for a year filled with peace, health, happiness, laughter, and travel!