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, café 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.

months 7, 8 and 9: recuperating in sunny Arizona

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Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

I’ve been a bad blogger. My name is Mandy, and my last post was in January. The past three months have been a little rough and a lot busy. On the bright side, if all I did was write about beaches, lighthouses, mountains, wine and lobster, you’d get pretty sick of me.

Before and After

Before and After

We spent the winter in San Tan Valley, Arizona, which is between Phoenix and Tucson. On January 13, I had a total knee replacement. I’m not going to lie; that wasn’t a lot of fun. Recuperating in an RV can be challenging, but I was able to spend the first week after surgery at our Aunt Dawn’s house. It was perfect; we had our own room, there were no stairs and she spoiled me rotten with chicken soup, chocolate pudding and fresh grapefruit—right off the tree and into my breakfast. I’m a big fan of fresh grapefruit!

Knee replacements have come a long way, baby. Mine was an outpatient procedure. We arrived at the surgi-center at 6 a.m. By 11, I was wobbling around with a walker and at 1 p.m. we were settling in at Aunt Dawn’s place. An I.V. nurse, a home health nurse and a physical therapist came by frequently to take care of me. The outpatient option is fairly new; I was my surgeon’s 24th patient to try it. There were also no stitches or staples in my incision; it was glued together and covered with a single piece of gauze. You know it’s uncommon when the nurses are surprised.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The first week went pretty smoothly until I had an allergic reaction to the glue. Hello, Prednisone, and all of its side effects. I became a little emotional. And by that I mean that I cried when we got back to our camper because the floor was dusty. Imagine that, a dusty floor in the desert. My husband is a saint.

The next few weeks were a blur of physical therapy and ice packs. We didn’t get out and about much to explore Arizona. When we did, we found some wonderful spots!

Our first outing was to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande, which means great house, dates back to around 1350 A.D. Aptly named, it’s one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, measuring 60 feet long and four stories tall. There’s a nice visitor center and museum. Two thumbs up for this historic site!

The Windmill Winery

The Windmill Winery

In nearby Florence, we visited the Windmill Winery. I know. You’re shocked that I found a winery. The real shocker is that we were just half an hour away and didn’t find it for three months. It’s located on the site of an old brick factory. They’ve used the bricks to make walkways and patios around the property, which is beautifully landscaped. It’s a popular wedding venue. Our favorites were the Dutchman’s Bold, which is made from the Norton grape, and the pomegranate wine, which neither of us expected to like but did.

Schnepf Farms and the Queen Creek Olive Mill are just across the street from each other. I recommend breakfast at Schnepf Farms—the cinnamon rolls are to die for. Burn some of the calories hiking around the farm. We were there at the tail end of the Peach Blossom Festival and enjoyed walking out to the orchard. You can pick your own fresh veggies and there’s a petting zoo with baby goats. I don’t know when the goat craze started, but count me in. Baby goats are just plain fun.

Goats at Schnepf Farms

It doesn’t get much cuter than this.

Next, head to the Queen Creek Olive Mill. There’s a large, outdoor seating area surrounded by olive trees where they hold a lot of special events like art festivals and wine tastings. You can take a tour to see how the olive oil is made, and the store sells more kinds of olives, olive oils, sauces and dressings than you can imagine. You’ll also find Arizona wines, lavender products, coffee, a bakery and a restaurant. We tried the pizza one evening and listened to live music. Good stuff.

Our home for the winter was a 55-plus RV park. They broke the age rule for us because Scott’s Dad has spent the past five winters there. We were definitely the young whippersnappers. I was actually told to slow down on my bicycle by one of the older residents. I almost fell off the bike looking around to see if he was talking to me! Then I felt like quite the rebel. Our neighbors were supportive and friendly. They cheered me on as I progressed from using the walker, to a cane, to limping and then eventually walking around the park.

Schnepf Farms

Schnepf Farms

Those retirees have a lot of fun. Many come back year after year and have developed close friendships. The cocktail hour is alive and well there, and groups gather around campfires most nights. There’s a lot of laughter, and you can occasionally hear snippets like, “and then he took off his swimsuit,” followed by even more laughter.

Our daughter came down for spring break during our last week in Arizona. She only had three days off from work, so we made the most of it and took her to some of our favorite places. She’s also a big fan of baby goats and petting zoos, so Schnepf Farms was a big hit. We walked around Old Town Scottsdale and loitered at the Poisoned Pen bookstore hoping that Diana Gabaldon would drop by. If you haven’t read the Outlander series, you should. We didn’t spot her, but we always love a good bookstore.

The Poisoned Pen

Looking for Diana Gabaldon in Scottsdale

Two days later, we packed up and hit the road back to Colorado. We had driven 23,146 miles since we started our road trip last July without any real car trouble. Notice the past tense. In Utah, we had to unload the Harley on the shoulder of I-70 so that Scott could ride back and forth to get the parts to get the truck running again. He had to go to five places to find a suitable replacement, but he found one and was able to make the repair.

All’s well that ends well, right? We arrived at Rifle Gap State Park about five hours later than planned, but we made it safe and sound and got set up right before the rain started. Whew!

My knee gets stronger every week and I’m pretty darn mobile, considering. What’s next for us? We’ll let you know when know for sure. Hint: It involves Colorado. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more Tales From the Empty Nest.

 

month five: brrrrrr!

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Twenty-six states and more than 18,000 miles.

Twenty-six states and more than 18,000 miles since July.

Wow, the five-month mark has come…and gone. Since the beginning of November, we’ve stayed in Ashland, West Virginia; St. Charles and Grain Valley, Missouri; Castle Rock, Englewood and Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Deming, New Mexico; and San Tan Valley, Arizona. The tally since July 9: We’ve been to 26 states and traveled more than 18,000 miles. Whew! Continue reading

feeling thankful this holiday season

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Carriage Ride at Acadia National Park

Carriage Ride at Acadia National Park

‘Tis the season to be thankful, and I have a lot to be grateful for in my life. My family and our health are always top of the list. Here are a few more of the things for which I am thankful: Continue reading

hittin’ the trails in West Virginia

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Ashland ATV Resort Campsite

Ashland ATV Campground on the Hatfield McCoy Trails

The Hatfield McCoy Trail System is one of the largest off-road trail networks in the world, with more than 700 miles of trails in southern West Virginia. Scott has seen it featured on a couple of ATV shows over the years, so we decided to check it out while we were in this part of the country. Continue reading

month three: these are a few of my favorite things

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McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

We’ve been on the road for a little more than three months now, during which we’ve been to 17 different states and traveled more than 12,000 miles. Coast to coast, Portland to Portland, Newport to Newport. In honor of our first three months, here are my three favorite… Continue reading

from sea to shining sea

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We’ve been on the road for three months and have already traveled from sea to shining sea! We spent the morning exploring Acadia National Park, had lunch at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, visited the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and enjoyed a tasting at the Atlantic Brewing Company with ribs from the Mainely Meat BBQ. I’ll write more about this magnificent day soon, but here’s a look at what we saw.

Thanks for visiting Tales From the Empty Nest! Come back soon.

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campground review: Pony Express RV Resort in Salt Lake City

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Pool at Pony Express

Go for a swim at the Pony Express RV Resort.

Why camp here? There are lots of reasons to visit Salt Lake City. It was just a stopover for us this time due to other time commitments, but we hope to stay longer next time to explore the area. The 35-acre Temple Square, the most-visited attraction in the state, is top of the list of places I’d like to see. I also want to tour the Territorial Statehouse  since we enjoyed our visit to the Wyoming Territorial Prison so much. There’s a nice list of locals’ favorites on the Visit Salt Lake website, including the Epic Brewing Company and Tony Caputo’s regional market with, get ready for this, a state-of-the-art cheese cave, old-world butcher shop and the nation’s largest selection of ultra-premium chocolate. A cheese cave and ultra-premium chocolate? Count me in! Continue reading

colorado cheeseburgers i love

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Horsefly Brewery

A couple of 50/50 burgers, a Six Shooter and a Bug Eyed Blonde at Horsefly Brewing Co. in Montrose.

Happy National Cheeseburger Day! In honor of this national holiday (it is a holiday, right?), here are my five favorite Colorado cheeseburgers, in no particular order. Continue reading