Tag: Arizona (Page 1 of 4)

Backyard (Re)Discoveries: Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

Unsurprisingly, having spent all this time at home, I’ve been getting a little stir-crazy. With Labor Day holiday rolling around, I wanted to get outside – something that wasn’t the usual walk around the neighborhood – but I was worried about heading anywhere that would be too crowded. After taking a look at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden’s website and feeling pretty confident about their social distancing measures, I decided to treat myself to a stroll in the Garden.

Since they’re limiting capacity, my partner and I reserved our time and paid for admission online. We chose the opening time slot because we figured it would be the coolest weather-wise (opting for the least sweaty mask experience since face coverings are REQUIRED for guests 6 and older) and better chance of fewer visitors.

We arrived at the Garden at 7 a.m. sharp (if you’re tardy to your time slot, you may be stuck waiting to see what capacity allows) and were rewarded with just barely a handful of other folks waiting to get in. It was a couple minutes to simply scan the tickets on our phones and then we basically had the run of the place!

We were able to leisurely walk about the Garden trails. I had the luxury of stopping whenever I wanted to take photos or when I was very patiently waiting for a butterfly nearby to flutter over and land on me (which never happened). Very rarely did we cross paths with other wandering guests, and each time we all politely gave each other room to pass.

Kudos to the Garden team who must have worked very hard (and continue to work very hard) to make this not only a safe experience for guests and staff, but also one where you have the time and space to enjoy the beautiful place that they have cultivated.

You can find full details about the new Desert Botanical Garden visitor guidelines here.

Stay safe and find joy where you can!

<3 Katie

Hiking the Hassayampa River Preserve: Walking Along the Upside Down River

The Emerald of Central Arizona

hassayampa river preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Central Arizona is a dry place. Stay here long enough and you will start to see water as the precious resource that it is. Due to this, green places are very special. The Hassayampa River Preserve is one of these green gems, and its right in Phoenix’s backyard. Furthermore, thanks to the hard work of the Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, a stretch of the habitat offered by this unique river is protected for all to enjoy.

What is the Hassayampa

The Hassayampa River was given its name due the unique way in which it tends to flow underground along most of its length. While the river bed is apparent in the desert, it often appears to be dry. This is because the water is below the surface until there is sufficient rain and runoff. In the Hassayampa River Preserve, the river surfaces due to changes in the depth of the stone layers that the water flows over. This makes the area of the preserve into an oasis in the desert, which has drawn people and wildlife for hundreds of years.

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An Arizonan’s Guide to the Pinnacle Peak Hike

Why Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

The Pinnacle Peak hike is an insular island of mountain goodness tucked away on the northern edge of Scottsdale. The star of this hiking show is Pinnacle Peak itself, which will immediately dominate your view when you pull up and park. It isn’t particularly tall, comparatively, but this little peak is characterized by some really neat boulders and the rocky spire itself is definitely picture-worthy. Pinnacle Peak Park is a great place to take the family for a short trek to see the peak and some wonderful views of the McDowell Mountains. For regular hikers, it is also a good exercise trail and you will immediately see that it has more of a work out culture than a hiking one.

You can also go rock climbing at Pinnacle Peak, but I have never been, so I would suggest checking out the park website for more info.

Trail Statistics

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Length: 3.5 miles round trip (1.75 in one direction)

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult due to the incline, particularly in the final section of the trail

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft

Cost: Free

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes

 How to Get There

pinnacle peak hike

Almost no matter where you are coming from in the Phoenix-area, you will need to head north to reach Pinnacle Peak Park. You can take the 101 to either the Pima or Scottsdale exit. Then follow either of those roads north. You will then take Happy Valley Rd to the east until you hit Alma School Rd which you will take north. Finally, follow signs to the parking area.

Infrastructure at Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak hike calls Scottsdale, one of the richest parts of the city, home, and it shows. The trailhead has a very nice building where you can go to the bathroom and get information about the trail. There are maps available and staff/volunteers to talk to. Along the trail you will also note that there is very good signage for different landmarks. This is really nice for the photographers among us. There are also emergency markers along the trail. And there are volunteers that hike it every so often to keep an eye on things.

Rules for the Trail

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Pinnacle Peak Park has some special rules that you will need to know before you head over there. In addition to the average rules and manners to keep in mind, they have some restrictions on hiking times and photography.

This park has strict hours and you will not be allowed to hike when the park is closed. The hours change with the season, so reference the following link to see when the park will be open on your hiking dates.

Commercial activities are not allowed in the park, and that includes photography that will be directly used for commercial purposes. As I mentioned previously, volunteers do monitor the trail, so if you are planning on setting up an Instagram shoot, make sure that you are allowed at the information station. If not, you will likely get caught.

Trail Culture

The Pinnacle Peak hike has a trail culture that is becoming more and more common in Phoenix. Specifically, it is dominated by people who are either visitors or people working out. For old-school hikers, this means that you shouldn’t expect to see Leave No Trace or hiking etiquette. There also tends to be a lot of people on the trail and most won’t greet you like in less exercised-focused trails.

Journey Across Pinnacle Peak Park

Inwards and Upwards
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak Trail starts at a beautiful trailhead with all the amenities, bathrooms, maps, helpful volunteers, and water fountains. From there, you will pass through the metal gate that is closed off-hours, and begin winding your way up towards the peak itself. After making you huff a bit, the trail will give you a bit of a break as it takes you around the mountain. The path will turn away from the trailhead and climb up to the rock spire for which the park is named. It then snakes out across the boulder-covered mountain to the west.

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

A bit more elevation gain and you will be up high enough to get some great pictures of the spire. There will also be views of Scottsdale and Phoenix stretching off in all directions. For some, this will be the place to turn around. But if you want to complete the trail, you will keep walking as the path dips down into the saddle between the spire and the rest of the mountains in Pinnacle Peak Park.

You will then climb upwards again, before running into some signs that warn you about the difficulty of the rest of the trail. From here, should you decide to continue on, you will follow a steep decent back into the neighborhood. The hard part is that this trail is not a loop, so everything you just went down, you will need to get back up.

Inwards and Upwards… Again
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Make your way back up the steep section of the trail. You will get a bit of a rest as you trek across the flatter parts of the path that come directly after. But your trek home won’t finish climbing uphill until you pass the spire again. Overall, all the elevation gain and loss makes this an impactful workout for its relatively short length. And the spire, Pinnacle Peak, makes it a unique place for visitors.

Need More Arizona Inspiration?

For more information and inspiration on all things Arizona, be sure to check out our guide to our home state. I guarantee there will be places on there that you hadn’t thought about before.

pinnacle peak hike

pinnacle peak hike

Why You Need an Arizona Christmas Vacation in Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part Two

If you live somewhere cold, and you’re feeling like you need some fresh air and sunshine, Phoenix, Arizona might be the destination for you. The capital of Arizona is no longer a characterless surburbia. There are museums the likes of which you will find no where else. It has a unique climate perfect for getting some winter vitamin D. There are tons of desert trails to explore. And Phoenix has a growing foodie scene. However, that is not what I want to talk to you about today, because Phoenix is also the annual home to some beautiful Christmas light events that make it the perfect spot for an Arizona Christmas vacation. For families, this is a great time to visit, and experience the wonder of the holiday season without the freezing temperatures and threat of blizzards.

Zoolights

Zoolights has basically become a yearly holiday tradition with family and friends. Who doesn’t love strolling around the Phoenix Zoo when it’s decked out in thousands of holiday plant and animal-shaped lights while sipping a cup of hot chocolate?

Zoolights lights up the night typically from the third week of November through the second week of January. If you can swing it, we recommend going on a weekday instead of weekend because the zoo can get PACKED (plus, parking can get kinda hairy on busier days). Plus, if you go on their value nights, admission is about five bucks less! Check their website for the value night dates and full admission info.

If you’re hoping to see animals during your Zoolights experience, it’s going to be pretty limited.  The animal enclosures are dark and most of them have turned in for the night. However, you CAN visit their Stingray Bay for a chance to pet some stingrays – basically my favorite thing (which was included in admission this year, although we didn’t go 🙁 ). Alternatively, maybe you can make a zoo day out of the trip and see the animals during the day and the lights in the evening.

The Phoenix Zoo is located in the heart of Papago Park, and also conveniently located next to our other holiday lights attraction, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens.

Electric Desert and the Luminaries at the Desert Botanical Gardens

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens is a must-see for any first time visitors. It is set in the beautiful Papago Park, and features desert plants from Arizona and around the world. Many have adapted so well to the desert that they have taken on exotic and beautiful forms. Even people with little interest in plants will enjoy seeing these unique little lifeforms. Strolling through the Botanical Gardens is enjoyable either way, particularly in the cool weather of the winter.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Cacti in the night (c) ABR 2018

During the holiday season, the Phoenix Botanical Gardens plays host to a variety of events that cater to both local and visitor interests. During October, they celebrate the Day of the Dead with ofrenda installations designed by local artists (October 26, 2018 – November 7, 2018). And every Christmas they do a beautiful luminary display (Dec. 1 – 23 & 26 – 31, 2018). However, the Desert Botanical Gardens has also supported a variety of unique lights-in-the-night art events. A few years ago, they had a park-wide Chihuly installation that they lit up at night. This year they are hosting Electric Desert. This event melds music and light to create immersive experiences that accentuate and highlight the organic shapes of the garden plants.

Desert Botanical Gardens Logistics

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

While Electric Desert is only here until May 2019 (October 12, 2018 – May 12, 2019), if you plan your Arizona Christmas Vacation for 2019, the Desert Botanical Gardens is worth a visit. I find that the Desert Botanical Gardens is great for adults spending the night out. It is has some class and tranquility that really sets it apart.

You can visit the Desert Botanical Gardens during the day (8a-4p) for $24.95, and the Electric Desert/Luminaries costs $34.95 – $39.95 for the night. I believe that you can also purchase a joint ticket, but I didn’t see this on the website. If you go for a joint ticket plan on spending at least 3 hours in the park. You might also want to enjoy the surprisingly amazing food at Gertrude’s, the park restaurant.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

CURRENT Hours For Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.  (Daytime admission)
The Garden is open for Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert ticket holders from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. nightly.

Christmas Lights: Christmas at the Princess

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018.

We would be remiss if we discussed any Arizona Christmas vacation (or staycation) without mentioning that Phoenix has many opportunities to enjoy traditional Christmas lights in the less than frigged air. My old family tradition was to drive through the neighborhoods with cultures of spectacular lights. For the sake of responsible travel, let’s leave those places for local families. Not to worry though! There are events throughout the city to enjoy so you will not be for want of Christmas lights.

Arizona Christmas vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018

One such event is Christmas at the Princess, where you can enjoy a mix of light draped trees and whimsical light animals, boats, Christmas characters and more. The Princess also does a variety of Christmas-themed activities that you can pay extra to enjoy, such as a skating rink, train rides, Build-a-Bear workshops and more. Probably not our cheapest option with all the add-ons. But you can keep your eyes open for Groupons to this event. (If you love these pictures of Christmas at the Princess, be sure to check out the rest of Stephanie’s photography on Instagram!)

If you have rented a car, another great option is to skip town and drive two hours north of Phoenix to Prescott. Some call this small town the Christmas capital of Arizona, and I think that the name is fitting. The downtown square of Prescott is decked with lights and Christmas decorations every year. There are a variety of great restaurants to enjoy along with the night of celebration and small-town charm. This event is free, but it has been getting more press. So I would suggest arriving earlier in the day so you can find a place to park. It is likely that you will need to pay to park as well, unless you decide to go the extra mile and reserve a hotel there for the night.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Food Finds: Arizona Mead Company

Happy Monday! We’re here to help you kick off the week with another segment of Food Finds – leading you to tasty food and beverages one post at a time. And on this occasion, our tastebuds led us to the…

Arizona Mead Company 

Mead is an alcoholic beverage, that’s not quite a beer and not quite a wine, and made from fermented honey and water. You don’t see it very often on a restaurant menu and it might be pretty hard to find in your local grocery store, BUT don’t fret! Because right here in Chandler, Arizona, the Arizona Mead Company makes their very own craft mead.

They have a variety of different meads to choose from, and if you can’t make up your mind, try the flight – you get a sample of four. Check their website to see what they have on tap currently.

If you want to give mead a chance, you better put it down on your calendar because Arizona Mead Company has pretty exclusive hours: open Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays 3-9 p.m.

Their tap room is small, so if you’re worried about not fitting in (literally), you might want to visit earlier rather than later. Or if it is full, you could always take a bottle home with you instead!

And if you’re not sure WHERE the tap room is, just look out for this sign:

And this door:

That’s it for Food Finds! If you’re looking for other recommendations, check out our first Food Finds post here. Also, if you’re absolutely terrible at directions like me, there’s a handy map for the Arizona Mead Company below.

Thanks for visiting!

xo,
Katie

Food Finds: Reathrey Sekong and Novel Ice Cream

Hello again, travelers! Welcome to a new segment of Nightborn called Food Finds. We love checking out new places, supporting local businesses and of course, eating tasty treats, so we figured we share them with you, too. Today’s finds are dinner (or lunch) and dessert (or, as I’d like to call it, anytime food) at Reathrey Sekong and Novel Ice Cream.

Reathrey Sekong

Reathrey is a cozy Cambodian restaurant tucked into mid-town Phoenix. Inside you’ll find a smattering of tables and booths – a perfectly-sized space that, even when it’s full, doesn’t feel crowded. (If you have a larger party, you might want to call ahead to see what the dining situation is like. Take-out is an option, too.)

I’d never had Cambodian food before, but it wasn’t too unfamiliar, with some element of the dishes reminding me of a combination of Vietnamese and Thai food (which might make sense, considering that Cambodia is sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand).

I’m definitely coming back for this ginger tofu stir-fry.

The menu isn’t large (nor does it need to be), but it has a variety of dishes. Between my companions and I, we got a beef skewer dish, steak and vegetables, catfish and a ginger tofu stir-fry. Re: the catfish, check with your server to see if it’s available to order. For you vegetarians out there, I think there’s a noodle dish you can request as a vegetarian meal, and my ginger stir-fry was originally a beef/chicken dish that I subbed with tofu. But, I’m not sure if the sauce is vegetarian, so you’ll want to ask about that too.

Did I mention that staff was very nice and accommodating? Well, I have now.

Next time I stop by, I think I’ll try to be more adventurous with my choices and get something different (although that ginger tofu was REALLY good).

Steak and veggie dish with a tasty sauce that had a surprising kick.

Novel Ice Cream

Novel is little ice cream shop on the fringes of downtown Phoenix in the historic Grand Avenue arts corridor. You’ll find it across from the Grand Ave. Pizza Company, nestled in the ThirdSpace plaza.

The shop itself is small, so if it’s busy, you might find yourself squeezing inside to order, but no worries, you’ll get your turn and there’s plenty of seating outside. The staff is friendly, passionate about their ice cream and encourages you to try the flavors – so, try!

Are you WAFFLE-ing about what flavor to choose? Good news – you can pick more than one!

They’re well-known for their doughnut and waffle ice cream sandwiches (yes, you read that right), but if you’re feeling like a simple scoop, they’ve got a cake, sugar or waffle cone with your name on it.

The doughnut is absolutely as good as it looks.

That about wraps up this installment of Food Finds. Come back soon for more! (Or keep reading if you’re trying to find the perfect chai in Phoenix.)

Eat Well,
Katie

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,
Katie

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

Backyard Discoveries: Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Just south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is Liberty Wildlife – a hidden gem, nestled away from the hustle and bustle of traffic and planes flying overhead.

I can’t remember this owl’s name and I feel like he’s judging me for it.

Liberty Wildlife is wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center, that specializes in avian, reptile, amphibian and small mammal species. Though they are kept busy caring for animals seven days a week, they open to the public on Wednesday, Saturdays and Sunday for us curious visitors.

This lil’ guy had part of his left wing amputated. 🙁 The hardest part of visiting Liberty Wildlife is hearing what happened to some of these guys before they arrived.

Tips to Know Before You Go to Liberty Wildlife:

  • As mentioned above, the visiting window is limited each week. The facility is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Admission is very reasonable! Adult – $6, Seniors (65+) & Veterans – $5,   Children K-12 – $4  and Children Under 4 – Free admission.

A feeding demonstration with one of their Bald Eagles, Sonora.

  • Primarily, you’ll be seeing the birds that they are rehabbing or now live at their facility. They also have a couple big windows that let you catch a glimpse into the rescue rooms, where they work on and keep other animals that they take in.
  • If you visit earlier in the day, you have a better chance of catching their programs and feedings – where you get a closer look and learn more about the wildlife that they rescue.

Sonora was full of sass.

  • If you come upon an injured wild animal (no matter how small), you can call their Wildlife Hotline at 480-998-5550 for further assistance and information about animal drop-off and tours. The Hotline is manned to return calls from 8 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Consider them for your next creative event or party idea! They actually had a kids’ birthday party going on the day that we visited.

Aside from just enjoying seeing all the birds at Liberty Wildlife, I was impressed by how knowledgeable the staff and volunteers are and how good they are with the animals. You can tell that they truly care about conservation and their work.

Having a bit of an afternoon snooze.

It’s worth noting that they are a non-profit and could use your support in a number of ways! Check out their website for more information on how you can donate, visit their facility, attend one of their upcoming events or even volunteer.

This is a Golden Eagle adorably puffing up her feathers so they lay back down in a way that would impress her audience of admirers, said a staff member.

Be good to each other!

xo,
Katie

Backyard Discoveries: The Tucson Rodeo

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (or Celebration of the Cowboys) is a time-honored Tucson tradition. What started at just three days of events and competition all the way back in 1925, has grown to a nine-day celebration every February, with its main draw being the Tucson Rodeo.

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta is such a large part of Tucson culture that the schools close for two days just so Tucsonans can go to the rodeo! After hearing that, Nightborn Travel had to check it out.

tucson rodeo

Tips to Know Before You Go:

  • You’ll want to visit the Tucson Rodeo website – there you’ll find a detailed schedule of events and a way to purchase your tickets online.
  • We went on Saturday of the opening weekend and were able to get cheaper general admission tickets (meaning you could sit anywhere in the stands) – we think it was because these were only qualifying rodeo events. You could always call their box office to be sure.
  • Seats are basically open bleachers, meaning that it might get a little toasty if the weather is nice and sunny. Bring hats/sunglasses and sunscreen. We also saw some very smart and prepared people who brought blankets/cushions to sit on.
  • Basically any bag larger than a wallet or clutch isn’t allowed in, UNLESS it’s a clear bag. If you think they’re joking about bag size, they’re not, so you can find a full list of DOs and DON’Ts here.
  • In our humble opinion, you don’t need to know anything about rodeo sports to enjoy it, but it sure helps.
  • In addition to the rodeo, there’s the Tucson Rodeo Parade, which apparently the world’s longest non-motorized parade.

tucson rodeo

Gates at the rodeo don’t open until 11 a.m., so if you make it down to Tucson next year for La Fiesta and the rodeo, we humbly suggest that you give this hike at Tanque Verde Falls a try in the morning and then reward yourself with some tasty lunch at Guilin.

tucson rodeo

Keep Tucson weird!

xo,

Katie

A Hike Worth Hollering About: Tanque Verde Falls

It’s rare for us Nightborn Travel gals to pass up a chance to hike. On our recent trip down to the Ol’ Pueblo (or Tucson, as normal people would call it) we decided to venture out to Tanque Verde Canyon for our first time hiking Tanque Verde Falls.

View from the top of the trail – close to the trailhead.

This trail is located east of Tucson, just barely outside of the city – maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Take note that the paved road leading to the trailhead becomes a dirt road, so take that into consideration if your vehicle isn’t suited for dusty and slightly bumpy (but still driveable) terrain.

A comically angry-looking cactus near the creek bed. You’re welcome.

The hike itself is only about 2 miles long, but if you want to actually make it to the falls, there’s one BIG thing to take into consideration, and that’s water. Should you bring it? Yes. But also, has it rained lately? Because if it has, the creek along the trail will be running and while it will be beautiful, it will make your hike to the falls less of a hike and more of an… attempt.

Mmmm, sweet brown rainwater. (We did not drink this water, nor do we endorse drinking this water.)

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s exactly what happened to us. We made it about halfway up the trail before a mini-waterfall blocked us from going forward. We talked to a couple locals who told us that if the creek is dry or at least more of a trickle, you can scramble your way up the falls.

The mini-waterfall that hike-blocked us.

And here’s another thing to consider, the trail going down to the creek bed is relatively easy going, but from there on you’ll be encountering rock pile after rock pile and some times it will feel less like hiking and more like bouldering.

Rocks on rocks on rocks.

That being said, the area the trail is in is wonderful and the falls are said to be worth seeing, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be back. And, keeping what you’ve read in mind, we’ll hope you visit, too (if you’re not a big hiker, it’s a great little spot to find a rock along the creek and relax).

Happy hiking!

xo,
Katie

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