2014 US Southwest — Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ

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On the road to Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff is just a pit stop to our final (and most spectacular) city of our Southwest trip!

Dates:  February 17 to February 18 — one night stay each in Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.

It is 632 miles (approximately 9 hours of driving time) from Santa Fe, NW to our last major stop of our Southwest trip.   Frankly, neither my DH nor I have the attention-span to drive that long.  Thus, we decided to throw in a day trip each to Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.   Both stays were so short that I decided to list them in the same blog entry — hope you don’t mind my laziness.

Drive Time from Santa Fe, NM to Albuquerque, NM:  62 miles (approximately one hour via I-25 South).

Albuquerque was so close to Santa Fe, how could we not take the opportunity to visit Albuquerque’s Old Town and pick-up a couple of souvenirs for our dog-sitters?  Plus, it gave us another chance to go to Chez Jean Pierre!

Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico and the 53rd-largest United States metropolitan area.  In New Mexico, Albuquerque is the place to go since it is home to over 300 other visual arts, music, dance, literary, film, ethnic, and craft organizations, museums, festivals and associations.  It’s a happening place!   This is our second visit here.

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Interesting red rock formations can be seen on the road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.

We stayed at Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn (1015 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM), an older but very comfortable hotel with a pool and an on-site restaurant (where the complimentary breakfast was served from a real kitchen).   But we did not spend a lot of time at the hotel.  We went straight to Old Town Albuquerque!

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The San Felipe Church is in the center of Old Town Albuquerque. It was a wonderful day — warm and sunny! We were able to have a great lunch and find all the gifts we needed for our dog sitters!

We enjoyed a nice lunch of fish tacos and pork burritos at Back Street Grill (1919 Old Town Rd).   Both dishes were yummy!  We sat outside at the high tables enjoying the warm, sunny day.  Our meal was light because we wanted to save our calories for another fabulous French meal at Chez Jean Pierre!

It is the day after Valentine’s Day so we decide to make reservations at Chez Jean Pierre — just in case the holiday is still being celebrated.   Good thing we did because their was only one opening for this evening — 8pm (apparently anyone who could not get a reservation on Valentine’s Day made a reservation for tonight).   As before, the food was gooood  good!  We also had the pleasure of getting to know the nice couple sitting next to us — two french citizens living in Albuquerque!   We talked and we talked and we talked…

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We started our dinner by sharing a bowl of French Onion Soup. The soup had a rich beef broth sweetened with caramelized onions. It was topped with a crusty bread and gooey cheese — yum!

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I ordered the saute fish served with a lemony caper sauce. The brininess of the capers really came through!

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My DH ordered the salmon in a light pesto sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce was light and tasted of basil.

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Of course, we had to share an order of the chocolate mousse — again! This time there was less mousse but the two fat chocolate covered strawberries more than made up for the lack of mousse.

Drive Time from Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ: 322 miles (approximately 5 hours via I-40 West).

Coming up on Flagstaff! The sky is wide and the clouds were sweeping across the plain!   On our way, we stopped off for lunch at the Railroad Cafe in Gallup, NM.   I love  roadside diners and according to Yelp, picking were slim on this highway.    I ordered the the pork chili.  My DH ordered a hamburger.   The chili was good and spicy with green chilies.  The hamburger was HUGE and prepared medium rare.   We ate the soup, some of the hamburger, and all of the fries.    We took the hamburger with us for dinner.

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The Railroad Cafe. a busy place — food must be good!

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After lunch, we are on the road again to Flagstaff.

For our one evening in Flagstaff, we stayed at the Highland Country Inn (223 S. Milton) — a nice basic motel on the boundary of the Northern Arizona University.

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Flagstaff is a small ski town. After we checked in at our hotel, we took the short walk to check out downtown. Flagstaff is small and charming! But since we arrived late, most of the stores were closed. Needless to say, we finished our chilly tour in about half an hour.  Just as well, we had to get back to the hotel to watch “Downton Abbey.”  We had to.

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For dinner, we stopped at the Natural Grocers for some fruit to go along with our leftover hamburger from lunch (it was right across the street from our hotel). What a nice store! They had great produce — and the cookie aisle was pretty awesome too! I liked the painting of the cow.

Departing Thoughts.    Albuquerque is a lovely place.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot going on there to justify a longer stay.   Flagstaff was lovely too — small and sleepy but still lovely!  But to be honest, we couldn’t wait to get to our last major stop on our trip — it was all we could talk about!

2014 US Southwest — Tucson, AZ

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Into the desert…

WHEN:  February 7 to February 12, 2014

After our visit to Phoenix, we drove to Tucson, AZ for no other reason than “why not Tucson?”   My DH had been to Tucson a number of years ago and was impressed by a fabulous garden he saw there.   For me, this would be my first visit and I was curious about this garden he kept yapping about.

Tucson is the second-largest populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix.   Just so you know…

So far on our trip, the weather had been cooperating nicely!    Our timing was perfect — just as it was getting hot in Phoenix, we were on our way to a cooler Tucson (due to its higher elevation).  Niiiiice!

Travel time from Phoenix, AZ to Tucson, AZ:    116 miles via I-10E  (approximately 1 hour and 47 minutes).  It was an easy drive.   So easy, I vaguely remember it.

Hotel:   We checked into the  Quality Inn & Suites ( 7411 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ) around 3pm.    Once we got on Oracle Rd. (a massive main road lined with tons of shopping and restaurants in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains), it was easy to find.   The hotel was nice and comfortable.  Our room had a view over the Tohono Chul Park.   We watched the sun set behind the peaks of the Saguaro National Park from our hotel window.   Sweeeeet!

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Sunset in Tucson, AZ.

Activities:  Mostly, we just hung out in Tucson like we did in Phoenix and Scottsdale.  We enjoyed the weather, the malls, and the restaurants.

We started our exploration of Tucson at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures — a 15,560 square foot, state-of-the-art museum displaying an entertaining and interactive array of antique and contemporary miniatures as well as enchanting artifacts.  There are over 275 miniature houses here.   It took us a couple of hours to see them all!    Most of the pictures did not turn out since the rooms were dark and the glare of the glass protecting the miniatures kept ruining the image.

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The miniature houses were indeed wonderful!

But let me tell you about that garden….

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Our morning drive to the Saguaro National Park was breathtaking!

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Wow-wee!

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Entry to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum located in the Saguaro National Park.

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The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west by the modern city of Tucson.

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Cacti go as far as the eye can see!

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Lots of types of cacti are everywhere!

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We also found Joshua Trees here…

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…and Long Horn Sheep…

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…and birds of prey…

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…here comes a hawk now!

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Sunset in the desert is just as amazing as sunrise!

It is a given that if there is any attraction of a Hollywood nature nearby, I gotta go there!  The day after our visit to the  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we went to Tucson’s Hollywood offering — Old Tucson Studios.  Of course, this meant another drive through the Saguaro National Park — hate us if you must!

Old Tucson Studios is a movie studio and theme park.  It was built in 1939 for the movie Arizona, it has been used for the filming of several movies and television westerns since then, such as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Little House on the Prairie, and my personal favorite — Young Guns 2. It was opened to the public in 1960, and historical tours are offered about the movies filmed there, along with live cast entertainment featuring stunt shows and shootouts.  It was a good time!  Interesting fact — we met quite a few snowbirds from Wisconsin during our visit here. 

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The Train Depot. Look familiar?

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The Saloon. Look familiar?

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Your basic desert backdrop. That is Monument Mountain on the right — a famous Arizona landmark that was used in numerous openings and closings of classic Western movies.

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The view of the famous desert backdrop. Admit it, if you are a fan of movie Westerns you have seen this thousands of times!

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At Old Tucson, there were lots of little skits and other entertainment to be seen.  We noticed that they recycle the same actors from one show to another.   These guys were pretty funny.

One last sight of interest was the San Xavier Mission del Bac.  We went on a lovely day that required yet another lovely drive through the Saguaro National Park — yeah, really!

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This mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.

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The entry to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

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The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

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The dome of Mission San Xavier del Bac.

 

On our last morning in Tucson, we took a walk through the  Tohono Chul Park next to our hotel.

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It was our last look at the Arizona desert in the Tohono Chul Park .

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But we got to see an native hawk up close and personal.   What a magnificent animal!

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My DH says that this animal is pretty magnificent too!

Food Memories:    There was no lack of places to eat while in the Tucson area.   Here is a list of the places we enjoyed the most:

 Vero Amorie (Plaza Palomino, 2990 N Swan Rd, Tucson, AZ ) — Italian, Pizza.   This was our first stop when we reached Tucson because (1) we were hungry, and (2) it was close to the  Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures.   This was a nice lunch place with dark tables and white animal skulls on the walls.   Our waiter talked us into trying the Pizza with Salami, the Potato Mushroom Soup, and the Cherry Truffle Gelato!   All were excellent and he got a big fat tip for that!

 Saint House Rum Bar (256 E Congress St. Tucson, AZ 85701) — Caribbean.   There is not a lot to see in downtown Tucson.   The University of Arizona is located here and the downtown area is all about bars.   It had the worn look of a college town — lots of dark coffee shops, odd stores, and a few dance clubs with young students lined up outside.   However, this restaurant was modern and upscale — we figured this was where the parents ate when visiting their kid in school.   The place was packed and we decided to sit at the bar.   The bartender suggested a few appetizers so we agreed to try the Ceviche, the Jerk Chicken Wings, and the Cheese Roasted Ear of Corn.  The Ceviche was fresh and spicy and served with crisp tortilla chips.  The jerk chicken curled my toes — just as it should!  The Roasted Ear of Corn was fattening, messy, and soooo good!   Yeah, yeah, yeah — I had a Mojito too, it was fiiiiiine!

Wildflower (7037 N. Oracle Rd.  Casas Adobes Plaza, Tucson, AZ) — American.   Another upscale restaurant on a strip of road that turned out to be our “go-to place” for just about everything while in Tucson.   This place was noisy due to all the shiny surfaces but I really liked the chairs covered in a leopard-like print.   We shared the Scallops, Steak, and Sangria (actually I was the only one to drink the Sangria).   Overall, an excellent meal in a place just down the road from our hotel.

Giuseppe’s (6060 No. Oracle Rd, Casas Adobes, AZ) — Italian.   This place was right out of  “The Godfather” movie — except with cacti.    We were out all day and starving!  We stopped here for a late lunch and we were glad we did.   I ordered the Pork in a Cheese Sauce, my DH ordered the Meatballs and Pasta.   Both were yummy and huge!   Still, I saved room for the Vanilla Cake with Italian Cream and Chocolate — it was amazingly light and refreshing.    Actually, we liked this place so much that we came here again on our way out of Tucson. This time we tried the Stuffed Mushrooms and the Chicken Salad.    Another fine meal and we had enough leftovers for days!

Departing Thoughts:    I was expecting to find Tucson to be a smaller version of Phoenix.  But unlike Phoenix, I immediately liked the small town feel of the place!   During our stay, I found Tucson to be the old West I was searching for!  If you want to see the southwestern desert, Tucson is the place to go!    The Saguaro National Park is a “must see” attraction — even the drive in and out of the park was wonderful!

 

 

2014 US Southwest — Phoenix, AZ

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Arizona — the land of the Cactus.

WHEN:  February 1 to February 6, 2014

Our visit to Phoenix, AZ was our main reason for our road trip in the first place.   My DH visited Scottsdale, AZ (a suburb of Phoenix) and absolutely loved it!   “Let’s move there!” he said.   I figured I should check it out first before I made any commitments to the place.

Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the state of Arizona.  It is the most populous state capital in the entire United States (nice to know), as well as the sixth most populous city nationally, after  New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia — impressive, no?   Residents of the city call themselves Phoenicians (very sweet).

Scottsdale is adjacent to the Greater Phoenix Area.  The New York Times described downtown Scottsdale as “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach” and as having “plenty of late night partying and a buzzing hotel scene”.  Its slogan is “The West’s Most Western Town”.  Well, we did see plenty of horses and stores that sell western clothing.    Scottsdale is also affectionately nicknamed “Snotsdale” due to its financially affluent white population.  Needless to say, Scottsdale is a clean and modern neighborhood with some fabulous malls and restaurants!

Travel time from Palm Springs, CA to Phoenix, AZ:  A 3 hour and 50 minutes drive via I-10 West for  268 miles.

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On the road from Palm Springs, CA to Phoenix, AZ. An easy drive through acres of cacti and sagebrush.

Hotel:   We stayed at Casa Mescal-Phoenix, AZ, a B&B run by Pat and Dave — two of the nicest guys you would ever meet!   Our room was nice with a private entrance and bath.   This room was nicely decorated in dramatic red and beige walls with a large comfy bed.   On our arrival, the tray on our bed held a nice bottle of Merlot and a small pumpkin bundt cake — how lovely!  After we settled in, we spent some time socializing with Pat and Dave (and their four dogs of various sizes) by the pool over cocktails — how civilized!

Dave was an amazing cook!   Every morning at 8:30am, he made us breakfast (my DH and I have rediscovered our love for blueberry muffins, french toasts, and all things carb).  While we enjoyed breakfast, Dave and Pat would answer all of our questions regarding our plans for the day.  The dogs had their tennis balls at the ready in the event we were willing to participate a game of catch (we were).   Yep, we would stay here again.

Activities:  Mostly, we just hung out in Phoenix and Scottsdale enjoying the weather, the malls, and the restaurants.   We also drove around the neighborhoods looking at houses through fences and gates.   However, we did do a couple of touristy things…

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The highlight of our trip to the Phoenix area was our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden. On this visit, they were featuring the glass work of Chihuly, strategically positioned among the cacti. Personally, I think the cacti doesn’t need any help to look interesting.

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Really, this garden is all about the cacti…

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… and some of the cacti are scary huge!

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The Musical Instrument Museum was a pleasant surprise — it was really interesting!   Each country has an exhibit of their musical heritage here.  There are also exhibits for each musical genres (like rock, country, jazz, and the symphony).  Above is just a small part of the guitar exhibit.

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Our visit to Taliesin West was interesting. We toured the house built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and learned about the school he had here.  This house is all about triangles — as inspired by the winter icicles that would hang from the eaves of his home in Wisconsin.

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This is the view of Phoenix from Taliesin. When the power lines went up, Frank was furious! He threatened to tear down the house and to relocate the school elsewhere. But his wife said “No” — Frank did not have the money to be so impulsive.

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The desert make a great backdrop for some wonderful sunsets…

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…the heavy traffic gave us plenty of time to enjoy those sunsets.

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Our one cloudy day while in Phoenix — just in case you think our road trip is just too perfect.

Food Memories:    There was no lack of places to eat while in the greater Phoenix area.   Here is a list the places we enjoyed.   Also, just so you know — it only took me four days to finish off the Merlot and bundt cake!   I showed a great deal of restraint, I think!

Rebel BBQ (181 S Lovekin Blvd, Blythe, CA) — BBQ and Burgers.   On our way from Palm Springs to Phoenix, we stopped here for lunch.   MY DH had the Brisket Sandwich and I had the Pulled Pork BLT.   Both were fantastic!  The baked beans and the potato salad were tasty too!

Z’Tejas @ Fashion Square (7014 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ) — Tex-Mex, American (Traditional).  When I visit the southwest, I always think of Tex-Mex food.  When I mentioned this to Dave, he suggested this restaurant for dinner.  According to Yelp, there are multiple locations of Z’Tejas in the area, but we decided to go to this location to check out the mall.  Scottsdale has some big malls and Fashion Square is one of its biggest.  Z’Tejas was upscale and noisy!  But the service and the food was surprisingly good for a chain.  My DH ordered the Roasted Trout in an attempt to eat healthfully.   I had the Pesto-Rub Chicken with the same thought in mind.  Both were flavorful dishes.  But, oh — the cornbread…

Spinato’s Pizza (1614 E. Bell Rd. Phoenix, AZ) — Pizza.  After our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, pizza and a cold soda sounded good!   This place was hard to find.   Apparently they had just moved recently and their sign consisted of a piece of typing paper that said “Spinato’s Pizza” taped to a window under the shade of a tree.   In any case, we did find it and the Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza was worth the effort!

Cafe Aleggro @ MIM (4725 E Mayo Blvd. Phoenix, AZ)  — American (New), Desserts, Pizza.  Normally, we have a policy never to eat at restaurants in museums because they are generally over-priced and the food is sub-standard (with the exception of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris where the Restaurant is over-priced but the decor and food are worth every penny).  However, on this day we were not prepared for how good the museum was or for how long we would be there.    We were starving by the time we emerged from the gallery!   My DH ordered the French Roasted Chicken and I ordered a bowl of the Black Bean Soup.   Both meals were affordable and excellent.    We even told the chef we enjoyed our meal — high praise indeed!

Citizen Public House (711 E. 5th Ave. Scottsdale, AZ) — Gastropub, American.   It always seemed to work out that by the time we got to the shopping mecca of Scottsdale on 5th Avenue, all the shops were closed.   Lucky for us, the restaurants were open.   Even though we are not into beer, we heard the food was good here.   My DH ordered the Lamb Burger and I ordered the Beef Belly BLT — EXCELLENT!    The dining room was dark and noisy even though it was not crowded — I thought I would just mention that.

George and Son’s Asian Cuisine (11291 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, AZ) — Asian Buffet.   It appears that my DH cannot go very long without some sort of Thai or Asian food — he had been dropping hints for days!    So we decided to finally, finally, finally try an Asian buffet in the area after an afternoon of neighborhood cruising.    We arrived just a few minutes before 2pm as they were closing the buffet.   Fortunately, George took pity on us and let us finish off the buffet!   The Egg-Drop soup was very good!   They made up some more of the Broccoli Beef and Asian Noodles for us.   All the food was very good!   We were happy campers!

Pizzeria Bianco (4743 N. 20th St.  Phoenix, AZ) — Pizza, Italian.  This restaurant was written up in the Wall Street Journal.   As avid readers of the Wall Street Journal, we had to go here!    The restaurant interior was minimalist chic and we opted to eat at the bar because there was an hour wait for a table.  However,  there was nothing minimal about the pizza!  The Pizza with Cheese and Basil was tasty on its thin crispy crust!   We also ordered the Wide Noodles with Meat Sauce because the bartender talked us into it (and we were hungry).   That too was delicious!

Bootleggers BBQ Modern American Smokehouse (3375 E. Shea Blvd. Phoenix, AZ) — BBQ and Steaks.    Yep, this was my choice — the name had me at “BBQ”.     And this BBQ place did not disappoint!   First, the place looks very “Urban Cowboy” but without the spinning bull.   Second, the BBQ was smoky and tender just as it should be.   My DH and I shared a plate of brisket and pulled pork.  There was way too much protein for two little people like us — not that that stopped us from eating it all!

Departing Thoughts:    We enjoyed our time in Phoenix.   We enjoyed the newness and the abundance of Scottsdale.   But, the place is getting big!   Like, L.A. BIG!    Our conclusion is that the Phoenix area is a nice place to visit.