Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TPThursday: A one-day island get-away

One of the best things about living in Washington State’s Puget Sound area is the ability to escape to an island, if even for a day. 

VashonIsland 2012 001On Sunday two friends and I did just that. We drove aboard a Washington State ferry at 9:30 a.m. and 15 minutes later arrived at Vashon-Maury Island, in south Puget Sound.
Detailed map of Vashon-Maury Island, Washington
Encompassing 37 square miles (an area bigger than Manhattan) but with about 10,000 residents, the island is made up of small acreages, stunning beach front mansions, farms, fields and forests. It also boasts more than 20 Bed and Breakfast accommodations and some wonderful restaurants.  It is accessed only by boat.

Geographically the island is made up of what once was two islands: Vashon and Maury.  An isthmus built in the early 20th Century by the Army Corp of Engineers connected the two.

We  took a wrong turn en route to a garden tour and found ourselves heading  to the Point Robinson Lighthouse on the eastern side of Maury Island.

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The lighthouse  began as a fog signal in 1885 and a light was added two years later. It is built on 90 pilings, with walls a foot thick. The Fresnel lens traveled from Paris to Vashon in 1915.  Lighthouse tours take place from noon to 4 p.m. every Sunday from mid-May to mid-September.

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Two Keepers’ Quarters, built in 1911 have been beautifully restored and are now vacation rentals.

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The sound of the water, the driftwood lined beach, the salt-sea smell in the air, water birds and the views over the Puget Sound shipping lane made us think perhaps a longer stay on the island was in the future.

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On the west side of Maury Island we made a stop at Dockton Park (we knew we’d get to that garden tour eventually).   This 23-acre park with dock and boat launch was once the island’s industrial center; home to sawmills, ship yards, brick yards and processing plants.  We didn’t have time to follow the Dockton Historic Interpretive Trail and walk through the area’s history – but we will certainly do so next time.

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This summer the island’s favorite festival, the Vashon Strawberry Festival (now in its 103rd year) gets underway July 20, 21, 22nd.  It is funny because Vashon no longer has commercial strawberry fields but back in 1909 records show they shipped 120,000 crates of berries from here.

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The festival includes a parade and street festival, music and art. But some places like Snapdragon, a wonderful bakery and cafĂ© on the Vashon Highway (the main north south road) was celebrating strawberries on Sunday morning.  (Yes, we also stopped here en route to that garden tour.)

And just in case you were wondering, we did make it to the garden tour and it was spectacular! A fabulous island getaway and I had left at 8 a.m. and was back home at 5 p.m.

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For information on accommodations, eateries, Strawberry festival, garden tours, events and other reasons to visit Vashon visit the Vashon Chamber website. For information on renting the Keepers’ Quarters, write or phone 206-463-9602.

It’s Travel Photo Thursday so be sure to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox. And for those following our road trip, I have lots to tell you so check back this weekend. Our travels today were spectacular. And if you haven't been following, click back through this week's post to see where we've been and where we are headed.  (The map is copyright free, and taken from Wikipedia.)

WAWednesday: Off the Beaten Path

WAOR2012 001With that paper map in my lap -- and being referred to quite often ---- we left the Interstate Highway at George, Washington (no joke, there is a town named George with a Martha's Inn in it, as a matter of fact!)

The first leg of our summer road trip took us east across the state of Washington. We crossed from our western side of the state into the east on Snoqualmie Pass and then over the Columbia River at Vantage.

Each time I see that magnificent river, the song we sang with gusto in elementary school comes to mind:

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“Roll on Columbia, roll on.
Roll on Columbia, roll on.
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn,
roll on Columbia roll on.”

From the river we began a journey through miles of cultivated lands, often driving the ribbon of roadway without passing any other vehicles. With the sun roof open we took in the smells as well as the sights: fresh cut grain, pungent mint, all the fresh, earthy smells that fill these miles of agricultural land.

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The  two-lane roadway held promise of new adventures just waiting to be discovered as we cast off the confines of the big city where we live.

WAOR2012 005 We drove through charming – non-tourist towns – among them, Creston, Wilber, Reardon. . .each with a wonderful sense of community communicated through highway signs advertising civic events and celebrating youth. 

And each with its own distinct grain elevator and storage facility prominently towering over the town.

WAOR2012 003 During our pre-trip research I’d found a motel in Davenport, the county seat of Lincoln County, just 33 miles west of Spokane that prompted at least a stop for lunch in its wonderful cafe.  We ate at the  Black Bear Cafe, a part of the Black Bear Motel.

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The restaurant was a trip back into history – our meals were served in aluminum pans – reminiscent of the tin pans of olden days.

I’ve got to tell you this town was charming. It's courthouse belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting.

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Our trusty maps hadn’t let us down – we were off the beaten track in the midst of Washington's agricultural heartland -- and we were having a blast..

Sunday, June 24, 2012

On the Road Again – With a map in my lap

We will soon be on the road again.  The Sun-Seeking Smiths are heading east and south across Washington State, looping down into northeastern Oregon and back again. Joel's the driver and I read the maps.

VashonIsland 2012 036We’ve been studying our trusty maps -- those wonderful paper fold-up types that allow the voices in our heads -- and not a mechanical one -- to determine our routes. We don't leave home without them.

Yes, before you tell us. . . we realize a GPS could do the thinking for us and get us there by the quickest and most direct route (and we know many of you love them). But on our road trips the journey is as important as the destination. So determining the route is half the fun of the trip for us.

We’ll head east and spend a night or two in the state’s second largest city, Spokane, the metropolitan hub of an area long known as ‘The Inland Empire’. We’ll head south on a portion of the old Inland Empire Highway as it meanders through agricultural land and the small towns like Spangle and Rosalia scattered among the fields. 

Our Oregon destination is the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

We will stay at one of our favorite Northwest places: Wallowa Lake Lodge. We celebrated our anniversary there three years ago. We’ll do the same this year.

Map picture

Our return trip may include a stop in Pendleton, Oregon, where we will go underground on a history tour or to its famed woolen factory. . .or maybe to Walla Walla for a night in the heart of Central Washington’s wine country. 

We’ve got little structure to this trip –  we are leaving ourselves open to some new discoveries along the way.  I’m sure those old paper maps have some in store for us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

TPThursday: The Wickedest Town in the West

Wickedest? So they say.
Ghosts among its residents? So they claim.
A ‘Must See’ for Arizona travelers? Without a doubt!

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Just 100 miles from Phoenix, Arizona we hit the mother lode of tourist stops: Jerome, the old copper mining town on the slope of Cleopatra Hill

Remnants of those good old mining days are visible along the twisty, turning drive that leads to the tiny town - like the slag heap below:

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In its heyday – 15,000 residents in the 1920’s – Jerome was Arizona’s fourth largest city.  Today’s population is 445 (not sure if that includes the ghosts) and its pay load is tourism.  It’s a paranormal paradise for those of that persuasion.

And this welcoming little place, according to their tourism folks, was once, ‘the wickedest town in the west’.

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Souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries, B and B’s and hotels are housed in restored buildings. And some buildings like the old theatre simply offer an open door to imagination: What was it like in its heyday?

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Other buildings simply gave way to the passing of time.

Arizona2012pt1 027Jerome began as a frontier tent city in the late 1880’s.  The copper mine that gave it life was the largest in Arizona, at one time producing three million tons a month.

The last mine shut down in  1953.

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We’d considered staying at -- and perhaps ghost hunting -- at the Jerome Grand Hotel.  It’s prominent profile towers above the town and can be seen for miles. It’s address – no joke - Hill Street. Guests can join in “Ghost Hunting” tours ($20 per person)  on selected week day evenings.  Participants are taken into ‘off limits areas’ of the hotel and are provided ghost hunting equipment as part of the hotel’s efforts to document its paranormal activities.

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The hotel is housed in a 5-story Spanish Mission style building that when built in 1926 was the United Verde Hospital. It was considered the most modern hospital of its time, serving all of Northern Arizona. The hospital closed in the 1950’s and remained vacant (well, aside from the ghosts, I guess) until 1996 when renovation began. It opened as a hotel in 1996.  It’s restaurant, The Asylum, has the sign above posted at its entry.

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We’d also considered staying at another place on Hill Street, near the old hospital, The Surgeon’s House Bed and Breakfast. It was built for the hospital’s Chief Surgeon and has been on the National Historic Register since 1966.

Arizona2012pt1 029 One reason we didn’t stay in this gem of a town (and are kicking ourselves for not doing so now) was our concern that it might be a bit dead – no pun intended – when the day trippers left and stores closed. 

We shouldn’t have worried. The number of restaurants and watering holes alone would have kept us busy hiking up and down the steep streets bar hopping.

Or we could have taken in a movie at the 1918 Liberty Theatre, the oldest operating silent movie theatre in Arizona.  They now show silent  films and ‘talkies’  for $3 a person.

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The road to Jerome is a paved highway, Arizona 89A, that turns and twists up over the 7,000 foot summit of Mingus Mountain before looping through Jerome on its way to the valley floor.  If you don’t like road trips or heights this isn’t for you, but if you want to take a trip back into America’s Wild West, this place shouldn’t be missed.

For more information: or

This is TravelnWrite’s contribution to Travel Photo Thursday. To take a few more photographic journey’s click on Budget Travelers Sandbox.  If this is your first visit here, thanks for stopping by. Come back again – soon!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

WA Wednesday: Woodinville ~ A Wine Field in the Backyard

YaYa2012 001Have you ever been startled to find an obvious, but overlooked, travel treasure right in your own back yard?

I was. Just this week. 

And it took a visit from two friends (yes, that’s us on the right) from Yakima, the heart of Central Washington wine country, to lead me to this wine field discovery:

Woodinville Wine Country.

Woodinville borders Kirkland, where Joel and I hang our hats when not traveling. Both cities are east of Lake Washington, part of the greater Seattle Metropolitan area. SeaTac Airport is about 22 miles to our south.

Considering the proximity, I am still asking myself why I waited so long to explore this oenophile oasis that boasts nearly 100 wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars in an area only eight miles (a 15 minute drive) away? 

Exploring Wine Country – Our route

YaYa2012 005You can’t tour and taste in wine country on an empty stomach.  . .a perfect reason to first lunch at the bistro-style award-winning Barking Frog restaurant.

The restaurant’s name comes from the Native American storytellers use of the Frog as a symbol of wealth or abundance. When the frogs are barking, it is a sign of peace and harmony in nature. 

(The rain threat kept us from using their patio; we’ll try it next time. And kudos to our waitress who knew her wines, made great recommendations and then encouraged our long, leisurely lunch.)

YaYa2012 007A Monday afternoon may not have been the best time to tour as a number of wineries and tasting rooms were closed. Those we did visit included the sleek modern Novelty Hill/Januik, the French Chateau-style Chateau St. Michelle, and a cluster of wineries housed in and on the perimeter of the old Hollywood School.

We  traveled by auto, but there are 20 wineries/tasting rooms that we could have walked to from the Barking Frog and Willows Lodge with which the restaurant is affiliated. Those folks have prepared a free walking map available for the asking. 

And speaking of maps, for a great overview of the area, there’s nothing better than the map from the Woodinville Wine Country web site which I’ve included below (go to their site and print it off in PDF format before you go):
Woodinville Wine Country Map

If you go:

Willow Lodge, next to the Barking Frog is a luxurious spa resort, 14580 NE 145th St., (Weekends are busy in the summer but mid-week, there's a chance of getting a room – at maybe a better price.)


The Barking Frog, 14580 NE 145th St. Woodinville, is part of Willows Lodge. Bistro style breakfast, lunch and dinners.

YaYa2012 002The Herb Farm restaurant, on the same property, is legendary for its months-long wait lists. It’s nine-course meals, paired with six wines, continues to make it among ‘the’ places to eat in the Northwest.  Prices are astronomical but then so is the experience (we are told).


Get maps, winery and tasting room hours and driving directions from Woodinville Wine Country, (425) 205-4394,  Another good site:

WA Wednesday is a semi-regular feature of TravelnWrite. If this is your first visit to our blog, we hope to see you again tomorrow on Travel Photo Thursday.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Four Seasons: Crescent Moon Luxury and Legacy

Arizona Spring 2012 149Scottsdale, that oasis in the midst of the Arizona desert, is synonymous with ‘luxury living’. Gorgeous homes the color of the leather-tanned landscape are scattered throughout the surrounding hillsides. 

It's a Panoramas-and-Pools lifestyle. The good life.  A dry, warm, sunny good life; a second-home locale for many web-footed Washingtonians like us who are seeking a respite from wet and gray. 

Arizona Spring 2012 143Last year when Joel found the deal -- an interval ownership at the Four Seasons Residence Club Scottsdale for a price too good to pass up -- we joined those desert destined sun seekers. Well, at least for two weeks every year – that’s the way it is with interval ownership. . .and that’s just the way we like it.

Earlier this month we spent our first week at our ‘vacation home’  basking in the luxury lifestyle for which Four Seasons is known.  We were addressed by name each time we approached the front desk. Pool attendants hurried to spread our beach towels over the cushioned lounge chairs, then bring  pitchers of ice-water and regularly check on our comfort level. One lazy morning when we altered our routine and our room attendant tapped on our door to see ‘if everything was okay’.  Another took Joel’s dusty sandals, had them polished and returned them looking like new within an hour. 

Arizona Spring 2012 256The Residence Club is a small development built around a pool area that features a small restaurant, Ocotillo Grill, an enormous hot tub, quiet pool, kiddies pool and regular pool.  It’s a quick walk to the adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel, where we had access to its pool, gym and spa facilities (even though we had our own pool and exercise room).

Note:  You need not be an owner to stay at the Residence Club – units here can be rented just like the nearby hotel.

East Crescent Moon Drive at Pinnacle Peak – A Legacy of Hospitality

Arizona Spring 2012 253What attracted us to this resort, aside from its reputation for luxury, was its location. Sitting at the base of the 600-foot tall Pinnacle Peak, there are territorial views over Phoenix and Scottsdale and Troon Mountain is just across the street.

The resort’s address is Crescent Moon Drive. One of its restaurants is named Crescent Moon. Both give a nod of tribute to a legacy of hospitality that existed at this location long before the Four Seasons. 

Arizona Spring 2012 255In 1948 George Ellis, a Scottsdale resident who was to become known for his architectural contributions to the area, designed and built Crescent Moon Ranch where the Four Seasons Resort is located.

Crescent Moon Ranch*, a 127-acre property, was owned by cereal heiress Lois Kellogg Maury and her husband. Maury used the  adobe and redwood main house (with a lily pool in the living room), two guest houses and a bunk house as a finishing school for wealthy Eastern debutantes, in addition to renting out guest cottage to seasonal visitors.  

In 1967 it was sold to Gordon Ingebritson, an insurance executive, developer, rancher and philanthropist.

In 1997 the ranch was demolished. In December 1999 the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North opened its doors. 

And are we ever glad they did!
*Historical information used in this post is from Four Seasons Resort and a documents filed with the National Register of Historic Places.

Photos: (in order) Pathway between Residence Club and Hotel; Residence Club library off the lobby; view over pool of Residence Club from our deck; Pinnacle Peak from outside our door, and view from Residence Club.

Four Seasons Resort, 10650 E. Crescent Moon Drive, Scottsdale, 480-515-5700,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ridin’ the Rails in Arizona’s Verde Canyon

“It’s not the Destination, it’s the Journey”  they told us as we began our afternoon aboard Arizona’s Verde Canyon Railroad

They were right.

The vast open spaces that gave way to sheer canyon walls towering above us, the winding river. . . well, what we had feared might be a touristy outing turned out to be one of the best travel excursions we’ve ever taken in our three decades of travel. 

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Two FP7 locomotives – and two of only 10 remaining in North America -- are the horse power for the renovated vintage passenger cars. We chose coach class (and saved more buying at the AAA discount price) although we could have opted for First Class with a glass of champagne or hired the caboose all for ourselves. (All were air-conditioned.)

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We’d planned to spend just a portion of the trip in the open-air viewing car but within minutes of pulling out of the station we knew we weren’t going inside . . .the views were so breath-taking we couldn’t tear ourselves away from that railing  – we stood the entire way, moving from side to side trying to see it all. (Yes, it was in the 90’s that day but the viewing cars had canvas covers.)

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We traveled along the winding Verde River (verde; ‘green’ in Spanish) from Clarksdale, a one-time mining town, to what was once a train stop – Perkinsville - on the line that served this mining area in north-central Arizona. We passed mountains of slag, the remnants of those bygone mining days as well as cliff dwellings of the Sinagua Indians believed to date back to 600 B.C.

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We passed through a 680-foot manmade tunnel and didn’t realize until we came out the other side, just how small that opening was: this is the car behind us as it emerged from the tunnel.

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Cliffs towered above us and beside us, sometimes so close we could have touched them as we passed.

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The Verde River Canyon was such an enchanting place that we want to do this trip again – and highly recommend it to those who find themselves in the area. (Clarksdale is between Sedona and Prescott). In addition to the daily afternoon trips, they have special holiday excursions and in the summer when the moon is full, or when it's not - under starry skies -- night-time wine tasting trips.  I can’t imagine anything more magical sounding than that. Can you?

I took dozens of photos but will stop here and encourage you to visit other destinations featured this week on Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox.  For those wanting more information on Verde Canyon Railroad, schedule and prices, click the link in the opening paragraph to access their website.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Taste of Travel: Reata Pass Scottsdale AZ

Arizona Spring 2012 236A dust-filled rocky trail once led over Reata Pass just to the north of downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1882 there was a one-room stage station there that served the coaches traveling between Phoenix and Fort McDowell on the Verde River. 

Reata Pass is now where we have our timeshare ‘home away from home’ at the Four Seasons Scottsdale Residence Club.  So close were we to the summit that from our place we could see the old water tower.

Our location put us conveniently between three wonderful Scottsdale eatery traditions: the Cavalliere family’s Reata Pass Steakhouse (which was closed for the season) and their Greasewood Flat outdoor eatery (click the link to read about it.)

Arizona Spring 2012 214This time – with a whole week in which to explore the area – we ‘discovered’ Pinnacle Peak Patio – and I say that with a smile because the place has been around since 1957 and we’d never even heard of it until last week.  (Have you noticed? There is just too much to discover when you travel!)

Arizona Spring 2012 243Perhaps a bit touristy, but if you want a taste of the Old West – not to mention some good ol’ Western hospitality – this expansive eatery and brewery (Cowgirl Blonde Ale and Gunslinger Stout among the brews) is the place to go.

We made two visits: once to belly up to the bar and sip some margaritas and the second time to fulfill a need for animal protein.

Arizona Spring 2012 242We dined at the outdoor picnic tables (open from April to October) and listened to some country music. Looking to the west we saw Pinnacle Peak and to the east Troon Mountain.

A  post about this place wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “Big Marv” Dickson – ‘a man of many steaks’ – who came to work here back in the 60’s as a dishwasher/landscaper and progressed up the food chain, you might say. He now holds the distinction of ‘having cooked more than 11 million mesquite grilled steaks.” So. . .that might be a tall tale, but with the number of steaks we saw being served we have no doubt it might be true.

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This was our picnic table view of  Troon Mountain, elevation 3,478-feet (1,060M). To put that in perspective, the elevation of Washington State's Snoqualmie Pass is 3,022-feet (921M).

If You Go:  North on Pima Road to Happy Valley (you’ll see Pinnacle Peak) Follow Happy Valley to Alma School Road. Left on Jomax to reach Pinnacle Peak Patio (10426 E Jomax Rd. 85262, phone 480-585-1599) or continue on to Greasewood Flat and Reata Pass.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Armchair Adventures: Arizona’s Novel Destinations

“Novel destinations” have enhanced our travels through north central Arizona. Using the recommendations from so many of you, we’ve started some armchair explorations of Arizona. Today I’ll tell you about a few of them as we head out to north eastern Arizona. . .

Map picture
   . . . land of the Navajo, Hopi, and Hualapai Indian Reservations.

Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal police – a character created by award-winning writer, Tony Hillerman introduced us to the Reservation.  

With the help of the delightful owner, I selected a couple of used paperbacks from a towering stack of Hillerman’s books on display at Bent River Books and Music, 1010 N. Main Street  in Cottonwood, a small town not far from Sedona

Thankfully, Hillerman’s  got more than 35 years of writing under his belt and a few dozen more adventures waiting for us now that we’ve discovered this New Mexico author.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that in addition to never having read Hillerman, we’d also not experienced  -- until now --the writing of Louis L’Amour, the author of some 89 novels set in America’s frontier – perhaps his best known being the Hopalong Cassidy series. (Photo is from his website which can be accessed by clicking his name above.)

I chose at random, The Haunted Mesa, from a bookstore at the Phoenix airport. The story based on the disappearance of the Anasazi, or 'ancient enemy’ as the Navajo called them – it is so engrossing that I can barely put it down.  And I’ll certainly be reading more of his books – soon.

Product DetailsI must thank a clerk at Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Scottsdale for suggesting Phoenix Noir, a collection of short stories by contemporary authors set in or near Phoenix. It is not a book I would have purchased had it not been recommended – it is dark.  The stories aren’t those that appear in tourist publications, yet it was one of the best books I’ve read this year because it gave me a look at the ‘other side’ of the city. I read them in short doses and let each story percolate before moving on to the next.

Phoenix Noir is part of a series of books published by Akashic Books; all are noir (dark) short stories and the dozens of cities in which they are set stretch across the globe from Seattle to Barcelona.

This post kicks off a new monthly feature at TravelnWrite – our Armchair Adventures. They require you pack nothing more than a book to your favorite chair.  If you have a ‘novel destination’ to be included in future posts, send it our way.


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