Boulder Canyon Trail climbs high above Canyon Lake

We wanted to view the Superstitions from a different angle. Phoenix area hikers, especially those from the East Valley, can appreciate this: spring is prime time for desert hiking and you’re thinking about taking advantage of the Arizona weekend sunshine. You would like to hike some Superstition trails, but heavy use at the Lost Dutchman Park and Peralta trailheads leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic. That’s what we were thinking too, until we remembered the First Water and Canyon Lake trailheads. (There are several other minor trailheads, but these are the most popular, with more opportunities for loop and shuttle-type hikes.)

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Sun rises on the bluffs above Mormon Flat Dam and Canyon Lake Marina

Note: Although it’s not the prettiest website, we like the hikearizona.com site for its user-based data, images and general info. If you select any Superstition hike, you can scroll down to see the dynamic trail finder. Hover over the trails to see the description and various loop possibilities. We especially like the “live” elevation graph and topography map index to see exactly how much of a climb we can expect.

 

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Top of the hill view above Canyon Lake on Trail #103

So we opted to start from the Canyon Lake trailhead on a recent Sunday morning. The trailhead is well marked across from the Canyon Lake Marina. Just park in the designated hiker spaces at the south end of the marina, closest to the highway. The Boulder Canyon Hike #103 which climbs up quickly along a hillside and soon you’ll have panoramic views looking north at the lake, the canyon below and the bluffs rising over Tortilla Creek to the northeast. After the highest point, we continued around a ridge to the northeast, which opened up to excellent, but distant views of Four Peaks, the Superstition Mountains’ Flat Iron and Weaver’s Needle.

 

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Tarantula takes a hike along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Although the trail continues for another mile or two before heading down the hill into La Barge Canyon, we turned around at approximately the 2.5-mile point. We found an excellent grouping of big rocks to stop for a quick snack before our return trip. This made for a pleasant 5-mile, 3-hour hike. Plus, it’s a nice way to work up an appetite for lunch at the marina’s Lakeside Restaurant. (Tip: the Friday Fish Fry is worth the beautiful drive).

Boulder Canyon 103 heading back

Heading back to Canyon Lake Marina, along Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Eight reasons for spring break at Cancun’s Royal Resorts

Ready for a spring break getaway? Soon many Arizonans will be heading to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), San Diego, Las Vegas or Colorado while others may be setting their sights on farther destinations, such as Cancun.

So right now, you’re thinking: Cancun craziness of college spring breaks, wild drinking and partying. Well, it’s not necessarily true of all Cancun resorts. In fact some, such as the Royal Resorts properties, discourage the wild spring break scene by requiring guest-registering adults be 25 years old or older. Plus, strict behavior and noise policies inhibit unruliness. A family-friendly atmosphere is just one reason why we like Royal Resorts. Here are seven more:

2. Floor plan of the ‘Flexivillas’

With the main living area in the middle of each two-bedroom suite, the unit is a perfect floor plan for families. One side is the studio lock-off side, a self-contained room with full bath and kitchenette. The one-bedroom side has the main entrance to the suite, with separate one-bedroom with dining area, fully equipped kitchen with full-size appliances. Each living room area not only is spacious but it also features fold-down Murphy beds. The two-bedroom is an ideal setup for two couples who like some privacy, or a family with four children.

Spacious living room in Royal Resorts suite -- perfect floor plan for family vacation

3. Site design

It’s not really fair to say this ‘horseshoe’ layout is only typical at Royal Resorts, in fact many properties in the hotel zone are designed the same way, with the buildings fanned out with a clean view of the Caribbean, but from what we’ve experienced, the building layout of the Royal Mayan, Sands, Islander and Caribbean seems superior, both vertical and horizontal spaces are maximized. From almost every suite balcony in the resort, guests can set their eyes on the aquamarine color of the Caribbean. Most walkways are open breezeways. Restaurants, lobbies, gift shops, offices, convenience markets all are on the ground floors, so even the lowest floor of suites is higher than the restaurant building, usually set behind or next to the well-manicured gardens and pool areas. Best suites are up in the front row with spectacular ocean views. Steps or elevators take guests down to the palapas on the white sand beach.

Waterfalls cascade over well-groomed landscaping at the Royal Islander

4. Your fridge is filled upon arrival

After you’ve confirmed your reservations, you can place a grocery order to the Royal Resort market to have various items placed in your refrigerator before you get there. So if your flight is delayed, or you missed your transportation from the airport, and arrive at the resort late, you don’t have to worry, your fridge is filled with beverages and groceries for that evening, the next morning or for your entire week, if you want – all at no charge. In fact, many reservations for tours, spa visits, dining, or special events can be arranged online before you get there.

5. Royal shuttle

Unless you plan on driving around the Yucatan, you probably don’t need a rental car. Or, you could rent one for a day or two of sightseeing. Taxis can be an excellent alternative. But the best deals are these Royal shuttle buses – they’re free. Some readers right now are probably cringing because these boulevard buses can be the noisy reminders of civilization we wanted to escape from. But we appreciated the Royal shuttles to carry us between all of the Cancun-area Royal Resorts. So we could visit the beaches in front of the Royal Caribbean, or eat lunch at the Royal Mayan. We could travel from the Royal Islander to the Royal Sands for a spa day, or take a five-minutes walk down the boulevard to the upscale shops at Kukulkan Plaza.

6. Save your cash

Put your cash away in your room safe when you check in. Except for the occasional tip, you probably won’t need much cash – at least while you’re at one of the Royal Resort properties. The room key card is your payment method for all bar bills, dining room meals, grocery and gift shop purchases, tour bookings and spa services. You simply pay for the entire week when you check out. It makes it easy not to have to carry cash with you or worry about misplacing it. Of course, this convenience could be a drawback, especially when you get to the gift shop and are tempted by a fine leather briefcase, a giant stuffed dolphin or a huipil — a colorful, embroidered Mayan blouse.

Even during the busy season, it's possible to find some midday solace on the Royal Islander activity deck

7. Many amenities

Some hotels or resorts will charge as much as $20 per day for parking and Internet access. Both are free at Royal Resorts. Daily maid service was an important one to us too. The well-stocked convenience stores carry many popular American and Mexican brands of just about everything: cereal, snacks, candy, liquor, beer, plus fine local favorites: coffee, chocolate and vanilla. You can have an order (over $30USD) of groceries delivered to your condo for free. Activities are plentiful, frequent and everywhere. Or you could choose to do absolutely nothing but sit on the white sand and soak it all in. Even on the resort grounds, it’s easy to find a quiet corner to finish that novel you started on your flight.

8. Information everywhere…

The website impressed us – it’s very easy to navigate around each of the resort pages to make reservations and check amenities. Online, you cruise around the resorts via a virtual tour while standing in the Caribbean at the Royal Cancun or watch the parasails land on the beach in front of the Royal Mayan. From the comprehensive company newsletter link, “Royal Resorts News,” learn about safety in Mexico, latest news updates from Cancun, tips and travel tools. Here you can link to the Royal Channel, the resorts’ video and photo collection to see recent guests enjoying their Royal Resorts vacation.

Beautiful ocean views from almost any vantage point

US Airways still offers daily nonstop round-trip flights from Phoenix to Cancun ranging from about $600 to $700.

What are your favorite spring break vacations? Have any getaway recommendations you’d like to share?

 

 

Gas saving tips for motorists

With gas prices escalating again to expected highs of $4.00 per gallon or more, it’s wise to take another look at our driving habits.

The Department of Energy’s consumer website offers motorists advice about keeping your car in shape, planning trips, choosing a vehicle and the following, about driving more efficiently:

Drive Sensibly

Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 5–33%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.17–$1.15/gallon

Observe the Speed Limit

While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.

You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.28 per gallon for gas.

Observing the speed limit is also safer.

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Fuel Economy Benefit: 7–23%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.24–$0.80/gallon

Remove Excess Weight

Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2 percent. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 1–2%/100 lbs
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.03–$0.07/gallon

Avoid Excessive Idling

Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner (AC) use. Turn off your engine when your vehicle is parked. It only takes a few seconds worth of fuel to restart your vehicle. Turning your engine on and off excessively, however, may increase starter wear.

Fuel Cost Savings: $0.01–$0.03/min. (AC off)
$0.02–$0.03/min. (AC on)

Use Cruise Control

Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.

Use Overdrive Gears

When you use overdrive gearing, your car’s engine speed goes down. This saves gas and reduces engine wear.

Note: Cost savings are based on an assumed fuel price of $3.48/gallon.

Data Sources

Estimates for fuel savings from sensible driving are based on Energy and Environmental Analysis, Inc., Owner Related Fuel Economy Improvements, Arlington, Virginia, 2001.

Estimates for the effect of speed on MPG are based on a study by West, B.H., R.N. McGill, J.W. Hodgson, S.S. Sluder, and D.E. Smith, Development and Verification of Light-Duty Modal Emissions and Fuel Consumption Values for Traffic Models, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, March 1999.

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Hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach shows Kauai’s beauty

The formidable and intimidating Kalalau Trail. Just the thought of considering a hike along this very challenging trail on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast was overwhelming. On a recent trip to Kauai, we had thought about making the long hike, but without overnight permits, camping equipment or the ‘moxie,’ we decided to hike only the first two miles of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

View of Na Pali Coast from Kalalau Trail

Most hikers in fairly good physical condition will find the first, short piece of this 11-mile hike is an easy to moderate hike. It may be muddy, with some rocky creeks to plow through, and crowded, with the occasional traffic jam while some hiker ahead lingers to gaze out over Ke’e Beach or snap some photos of the coastline. Oh, wait — that was me. However, all the slippery mud, knee-skinning boulders, high density traffic conditions are far surpassed by the spectacular coastline and majestic mountains of Na Pali Coast, and beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach and Valley.

Spectacular views along the trail

Before our party of four started out, we packed up our gear. Although hikers will travel this short piece of Kalalau in about 3-4 hours round-trip, we thought we’d spend more time at the beach. So we packed some fruit and sandwiches and filled up our 100-ounce Camelbak MULE packs. (This isn’t really an endorsement, but we’ve had these well-used packs for about 14 years now and they’re still in very good shape.) We were also equipped with our Keen sandals, which we found gripped the mud-slippery boulders well, and one walking pole each, to add that “third leg” of stability and balance.

Hanakapi'ai Beach

Ke'e Beach seen from first half mile of Kalalau Trail

We arrived at the trailhead early in the morning before the Ke’e Beach parking lot overflowing. If we had waited until late morning, we would have been driving around in circles until someone left. Hikers may find additional spaces in the overflow parking by the caves, which is just a five-minute walk from the trailhead.

Sand, surf, sky at Hanakapi'ai Beach

After the first half mile on the trail, we stopped and looked back to see we were far above the coast. We could almost see the full-length sandy expanse of Ke’e Beach, until it curves around to the northeast. We then marched onward, following the trail and the single rank and file of hikers up and down through stream beds, over ridge lines and around hillsides. On the final descent to Hanakapi’ai Beach we could hear the crowd who had already arrived, plus the crash of breaking waves.

Spend some time at Hanakapi'ai Beach relaxing in the shallow pools

Hanakapi’ai Beach is a small spread of white sand with the creek from the mountains spilling in to the Pacific. Upon arrival, we immediately kicked off our sandals to soothe our feet and ankles in the fine sand and warm pools. (We visited during June.) We staked out several large boulders to set up lunch and watch the skilled surfers in the waves. It’s safer to stay out of the open ocean here, since the rip currents can be treacherous. Hikers have been reminded many times, online, at the trailhead and with signs along the trail. We decided not to add a few more hours to our trip by venturing upstream to Hanakapi’ai Falls. That side trip, plus the next nine miles of the Kalalau Trail will have to be added to a future Kauai vacation itinerary.

Hawaii State Parks’ website has the official information plus a detailed, downloadable brochure.

Pinal County Historical Museum fascinates visitors

One of the many examples of early transportation at Florence's Pinal County Historical Museum

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial with a visit to the fascinating Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence. And I use the term, “fascinating” because at the museum, it could cover any one or more related words to captivate our interest: extensive, macabre, unique, bizarre, ornate, tragic, comprehensive, amazing, weird or unbelievable.

Impressive display of saguaro cactus wood furniture at the museum

Arizonans have long associated Florence with the Arizona State Prison, but the Pinal County seat has a lot more to offer visitors: Poston Butte, McFarland State Historic Park, a walking tour of interesting historic homes and commericial buildings, plus some decent Mexican food restaurants. Nevertheless, it makes sense that the Pinal County Historical Society maintains an extensive archive of rosters and items from the prison at its museum.

Mason & Hamlin pump organ is one of the musical instruments exhibited

Words such as macabre and bizarre are appropriate but loose synonyms for “fascinating” to describe the museum because of the prison’s collection. Visitors can view a two-seater gas chamber chair, nooses used for hanging with corresponding mug shots of those executed prisoners, and various other devices and artifacts used at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.

Feeding chair, stroller, play table and potty chair all in one! Fascinating?

Unique and amazing are words that could describe other exhibits including chairs, tables, lamp stands and magazine racks made either from cholla and saguaro cactus wood. These two words might also describe the huge regional collection of documents, letters, magazines and photographs from 100 years or more of Arizona history.

Ornate could be an adjective for any number of pieces in the museum such as the 1880’s carriage or the antique clothing of the same era. The wagons, saddles, rifle displays and barbed wire exhibits could be interpreted to be rather both extensive as well as amazing.

Two seater gas chamber chair -- very bizarre

Seeing items from the incarceration era of Winnie Ruth Judd, the “Trunk Murderess” of the 1930s, and reading the articles about Arizona’s most notorious female inmate, prompts these words to come into mind: weird and unbelievable.

We utter the words, tragic and bizarre with a sad head shake when we read about the life and terrible fate of Tom Mix, one of Hollywood’s 1930s cowboy movie stars. His life was cut short in 1940 following an automobile accident along state route 79. Memorabilia related to his life is on display at the museum.

But our list of “fascinating-encompassing” descriptors doesn’t stop there. In the rear yard of the museum building is an outdoor display of farm implements and machinery, a blacksmith shop, pioneer cabin and fire engines. The museum also houses a large collection of Indian pottery and blankets, as well as “old west” general store merchandise. Yep — comprehensive.

Lavish looking 1880s Brougham horse carriage

Pinal County Historical Society offers speaker’s programs monthly. Two are coming up: one on Feb. 11, a pictorial history of Arizona by Jim Turner and another on March 11, a program about Arizona’s Japanese-American Internment, given by Karen Leong. Both are at 2 p.m. My advice: tour the museum at 11 a.m. when it opens, enjoy a homestyle Mexican lunch at L & B Inn across the street before the program.

Readers: What are your favorite small towns of Arizona? Do you have any personal travel plans to commemorate Arizona’s Centennial?