staycation: grand mesa loop

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One of the best things about living where we do (near Glenwood Springs, Colorado), and one of the reasons we’ve chosen to live here twice, is its proximity to so many wonderful places. Within three hours we can be in Denver, Breckenridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Moab, Ouray and Ridgway, Steamboat Springs, Grand Junction…you get the idea. That makes it easy to get away for a week or just a weekend without traveling too far.

Sometimes, though, we can’t get away for a whole weekend (one of the downsides of owning a retail store) but still need to leave the house and yard work. It will always be here when we get back. I keep hoping that won’t be the case, but time and again it’s still here.

Solution? A staycation daytrip! We have lots of options, for which I’m forever grateful, and last weekend it was the Grand Mesa Loop. It was a favorite back when I was a badass motorcycle chick and it’s still a favorite when I’m in the passenger seat of the Jeep.

The Grand Mesa Loop route goes from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale to Redstone on the West Elk Scenic Byway, over McClure Pass, through Paonia, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge, over the Grand Mesa, through the Debeque Canyon Cutoff, and then I-70 back home. It’s 234 miles and five plus hours according to Google Maps, but that’s without all of the fun stops along the way.

This trip, our first stop was in Redstone to check out the General Store. The new owners have made a lot of improvements, including lots of seating out front. We bought a couple of treats, they have lots of fun, old-fashioned candy, and walked through the park as we ate them. This is such a picturesque setting, I’m awestruck every time. (See top photo.) It’s easy to spend a full day or weekend here, which we did on one of our anniversaries, with tours of the Redstone Castle and lots of galleries and shops. And, you’re off the grid.

Black Bridge Winery in Paonia

Next up, over the pass and through the woods to the Black Bridge Winery in Paoinia. We found this gem years ago returning home from watching a volleyball game in Delta and stop in whenever we can. The setting on the North Fork of the Gunnison River is ideallic, and they have thoughtfully placed Adirondack chairs where you can picnic on the wine and goodies from the store. We walked way with six bottles of wine, locally made summer sausage and cheeses, snacks, two kinds of hot sauces and some handmade soap. Score!

Alongside the North Fork of the Gunnison River at Black Bridge Winery

By now it was lunchtime and we knew exactly where we were headed: Big B’s Delicious Orchards. There is a lot going on here, and it’s all good. It’s a farm and orchard where you can drink hard cider, eat good food, camp in the orchard, listen to live music, play on giant swings, pick your own fruit and veggies, buy locally made or grown products and have a swell time while you’re at it. They have great festivals as well. This trip we split a flight of ciders and had lunch at the bar since it was raining lightly outside. I love the tamales, and Scott loves the BBQ pulled pork.

Cider tasting at Big B’s Delicious Orchards

Our next stop was a new one for us, one of nine in the West Elks AVA, also known as the North Fork Valley Wineries. Mesa Winds winery is off the beaten path in Hotchkiss and definitely worth a stop. Honestly, it doesn’t look that appealing driving up but inside the covered patio tasting area is a different story. There are a handful of table facing the Mesa, each with bouquets of fresh flowers. You can taste their wines as well as guest wines from other Colorado wineries. We were able to try wines from Sauvage Spectrum in Palisade and Buckle in Gunnison. We were full so we didn’t eat, but the menu options included a charcuterie board, a crimini mushroom and goat cheese tart, a ham and provolone panini, pan-seared Verlasso salmon (YUM!) and salted caramel bread pudding. I’ll save room for some of these treats the next time we stop.

Wine tasting at Mesa Winds Winery in Hotchkiss

We’d planned to visit the Snow Capped Cider tasting room in Cedaredge next, but apparently it didn’t survive the pandemic. We stopped where we thought it was, which was lucky for me because there were several shops inside and my favorite new shirt just happened to be right next to the ladies room. I want to spend more time there and check out the Williams Winery tasting room, cafĂ© and gallery. The Apple Fest in Cedaredge is worth a visit in the fall.

Score!

From there it was up and over the mesa, which is a spectacular drive on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. There’s a nice visitor center at the top, but the storm clouds were gathering so we headed down and back home. It was the perfect, one-day vacation that we needed to satisfy our wanderlust.

wanderlust during a pandemic

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Isla Mujeres

This time of year is when I am normally planning our late winter or early spring vacation. For retailers, particularly in the liquor business, the frenzied holiday shopping grinds almost to a halt in January and doesn’t return to a more normal pace again until March or April. It’s a much-needed reprieve, especially after a record-breaking year like 2020. I miss travel planning, and my Facebook memories aren’t helping. It seems like every single day a travel memory pops up, taunting me. Here are the trips I’ve been thinking about.

4 years ago, we were preparing for our first vacation in Mexico. We chose Cancun because it was a non-stop flight, which is important when flying to and from the mountains in winter. Otherwise, you might make it back to Denver but get stuck there, and your car is in Eagle or Aspen. Not fun. It is actually the opposite of fun.

We’d heard great things about Dreams Resorts, but wanted a relaxing trip sans anyone else’s kids, so Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera won our business. It’s the adult-only sister company of Dreams, is all-inclusive and has lots of restaurants, activities and entertainment. Our goal was to sit on the beach and relax, as opposed to many of our previous vacations that tended to have lengthy itineraries. There was no itinerary here, except one outing to sail on a catamaran to Isla Mujeres and do some snorkeling. (The header photo was taken on the island.) That was the only time we left the resort. It was awesome.

This turned out to be a dream vacation. The service and the property itself were impeccable. We saw one piece of trash, and it was so out-out-of-place that we sat and watched it for the 10 minutes it took for an employee to find it. (The only exception to this were the cigarette butts some guests left in the sand. Seriously. Some were less than two feet from an ashtray. Grrrrrr!) The food and entertainment were exceptional as well, and I would give the spa 50 stars. Highly recommend!

2 years ago, I was busy organizing a work trip to Napa and Sonoma. I know. Work, work, work. 🙂 It’s trickier than just booking airline tickets and lodging, though. Our wine reps set up tastings for us every day we were there. I had detailed maps of both areas highlighted with distances between each spot and possible spots to eat along the way. This was the mother of itineraries for me! It was around 4 pages long and turned out to be invaluable. We ignored most of my restaurant suggestions and relied on locals to provide us with recommendations, which resulted in some amazing meals at places we never would have found on our own.

RELATED: WHERE TO EAT IN SONOMA

In Sonoma, we visited Rodney Strong, Iron Horse Vineyards, Hannah Winery, Hook & Ladder Winery, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Cline family Cellars, Gundlach Bundschu and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Our Napa stops included Sterling Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Frog’s Leap Winery. We didn’t forget California beer! The Lagunita’s Brewing Company taproom in Petaluna was a sunny afternoon well spent, with live music in the large patio, and no craft beer lover should miss a stop at the Russian River Brewing Company‘s Santa Rosa Brewpub for some Pliny the Elder. Before you think all we did was work, we visited the beach and spent some time exploring the Jack London Historic State Park.

RELATED: A DAY IN SONOMA

Getting to this trip was a lot easier than getting home. With flight cancellation and delays, we ended up renting a car in Sacramento and driving home across America’s Loneliest Highway. It was a fun drive and we got home sooner than our flight would have.

1 year ago, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago, Scott and I separately came up with the idea to visit the Gulf Coast so that was an easy decision. We have family in Indian Rocks Beach, which is a wonderful destination with beautiful sunsets and beaches and lots of great restaurants. We spent several days with our cousins Brian and Peggy in their waterfront home that’s affectionately dubbed Club Peg. Though we did venture to the beach a couple of times, sitting on their dock watching pelicans and dolphins was pretty tough to beat. And spending time with family was something we’ll never take for granted again. They were amazing hosts, and we can’t wait to go back.

RELATED: TIPS FOR VISITING ANNA MARIA ISLAND

Next, we headed to Anna Maria Island, a favorite destination of our best friends. Now we know why. The island is just seven miles long, with gorgeous beaches, a free trolley and lots of shopping and restaurants. Our beachfront condo at Bali Hai was at the northern end of the island, and we could walk to restaurants and shopping. There was a trolley stop right there for easy rides to and from the southern part of the island. Another spot we’re eager to revisit. We are SO glad we scheduled this trip for early February before travel restrictions kicked in.

So, it’s January again, but we have no travel plans. In addition to COVID-19, sometimes it’s just hard to leave town when you own a business that’s open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re hoping to get away for a long weekend or two as soon as it warms up a little, but there’s nothing in the works for anything longer than that. Here’s to hoping we can all hit the road, hop on board a plane or train or ship, and get the heck out of Dodge soon.

Thanks to Heiditown.com for the idea to relive past trips when wanderlust sets in. You should subscribe to her blog if you haven’t already.

Thanks for tuning in to TalesFromtheEmptyNest.com!

Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Anna Maria Island

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Room with a view on Anna Maria Island

We are so fortunate to have spent a week on the beach in Florida before COVID-19 really set in. I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since. Here are a few things we learned about Anna Maria Island so that you can start planning your trip right now.

Shrimp tacos at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut
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a day in Sonoma, California

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Of our four days in Sonoma County, one was spent in and around Sonoma, a historic city in northern California at the heart of the renowned Sonoma Valley wine-making region. Its history is fascinating.

According to VisitCalifornia.com, “In the mid-1800s, the town now known as Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Today, however, Sonoma Plaza is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms and popular restaurants.”

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where to eat in Sonoma County: four faves

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We just got back from a wonderful, wine-filled week in Sonoma and Napa. It was an actual work trip for our liquor store. How sweet is that? Before I get to the wine, and there’s so much wine to discuss, I want to tell you about four restaurants we loved in Sonoma County. Two were recommended by winery employees. Locals have the best insights on where to, or not to, eat. The other two were found on Google.

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ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you. Continue reading

a tribute to outlander

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Memorial Wall at Culloden Moor

I’d love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon if it was pure fiction. Her storytelling takes hold of me and won’t let go until I’ve finished each book, which I’ve now done a few times. The fact that the series is based on real events and many real characters, and the lengths to which she has gone to make it as historically accurate as possible—except perhaps for the whole time travel thing—makes me love it even more. This really hit home when we visited Scotland in 2013. Continue reading

travel tuesday: weekend in steamboat springs

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Sunrise at Stagecoach Reservoir State Park

Sunrise at Stagecoach State Park

Our first official outing with our new truck camper was at Stagecoach State Park, about half an hour outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We’ve camped there a couple of times over the years, but this campsite was the best yet. We completely lucked into it, too. It was the very last site available, and just so happened to be right on the lake. Score! Continue reading

New Year’s Greetings from the Nest

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On the Pauite Trail

Riding the Paiute Trail

Happy 2017! Facebook has been quite diligent in reminding me weekly that the Tales From the Empty Nest page is woefully inactive, so I thought I’d start the year off with a blog post in hopes that I’m a little more consistent over the next 12 months. No promises, but I’m hoping to spend more time writing this year. Continue reading