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Hot Air Balloon Adventure – Sedona

April 21, 2014

Out of all the experiences I had during my 6 weeks in Arizona, one soared above the rest, literally and figuratively.  On the last morning of our mother-daughter weekend in Scottsdale and Sedona, we did something that I hadn’t even realized should be on my bucket list – a hot air balloon ride!

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

At 6 a.m., the three of us jumped in a Red Rock Balloon Adventures van and headed out to the launch site.  As a bonus, this early wake-up call meant that we got to see a spectacular sunrise.

Sedona Sunrise

It was a chilly morning, but the anticipation of our ride kept me distracted from the nippy air.  Plus, it was really interesting to watch the crew set up the balloons.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The balloons themselves were even bigger than I’d expected.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the flames used to inflate the balloons? Yikes.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Once the balloons were ready to go, our group split among the two balloons and 16 of us piled into each basket.  I was worried that we’d be cramped with that many people squeezed in, but the basket was deceptively spacious.  It was divided into 4 sections of 4 people each with the balloon pilot and equipment in the middle.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

I had a few last-minute butterflies before we lifted off, but once we started our ascent the whole thing just felt peaceful and surreal.  Before this experience, I would have thought it’d be windy in the balloons, but because you are actually floating with the wind, it is perfectly calm and peaceful up in the air.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the early morning light on Sedona’s red rocks was just spectacular.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The wind conditions were ideal that morning, and we were able to fly all over, checking out every site that our pilots wanted to show us.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

In all, we were able to stay in the air for more than an hour.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

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Even in the tight confines of the basket, we were able to score some mother-daughter pics in between gawking at our surroundings.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona is a popular ballooning spot, and I thought it was really cool to see a handful of other balloons floating through the air at the same time as us.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the views!

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

At one point we floated by a butte and could see our shadow silhouetted against the rocks.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Then, we lifted up and soared over the top of the rock formation.  The highest we flew was about 2,000 feet, and even though looking straight down was a tiny bit unsettling, the height didn’t freak me out the way I’d thought it might.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The other balloon that we launched with flew nearby throughout our ride and the two pilots communicated with each other by radio, as well as the crew on the ground that would meet us at landing time.  It was easy to tell that these guys enjoyed working together and they had a pretty hilarious schtick going back and forth.  The little comedy routine added an extra dimension of fun to the spectacular views.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

After almost an hour and a half, it was time to land.  A ground crew had driven over to a clearing to meet us, and our pilot started to set us down expertly, exactly where we needed to be.  When we were about two feet off the ground, the basket hit a large rock on the ground and startled us all.  I had to laugh that the tiny jolt was the biggest scare of our entire journey.  The pilots at Red Rocks really know their stuff and we felt very safe in their hands.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Upon landing, we all carefully piled out of the baskets and made our way to an area where the guys set up a small picnic of muffins, fruit and mimosas to toast to a successful morning.  After a snack and a little more comedy from the guides, they loaded us back into the vans and our balloon adventure was over.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

If it’s not already, I highly recommend that you add a hot air balloon ride to your bucket list.  And if you choose to try it in Sedona, I have only good things to say about Red Rocks Balloon Adventures.  At about $200 per person, it’s not cheap, but it felt 100% worth it in my opinion.   I absolutely loved everything about our morning in the balloons.  Don’t believe me? Check out my goofy expression of joy when we touched down at the end of our flight.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

 So, what’s the next adventure that I should add to my bucket list?!

Shopping, Sunset, Sedona.

April 10, 2014

After exploring the sights on our way into Sedona and checking in to our hotel, it was time for a little lunch and shopping.  It was a girls weekend, after all!  We headed over to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, a shopping area a friend had recommended we check out.  Between the architecture, sycamore trees and lovely galleries, shops and restaurants, it was a simply lovely area to spend an afternoon.  Our first stop had to be lunch, and we quickly chose The Secret Garden Cafe.

Secret Garden Cafe Sedona

It was a great place to grab a light lunch.  We sat on a semi-enclosed patio that kept out the wind while allowing us a view of the market around us.  I enjoyed my salad, while my mom and sister also gave their lunches high marks.  There was also a bakery in the entrance that enticed us throughout our meal.  We each left with a house-made dark chocolate salted caramel cup that was divine.  And the waiters were cute.  What more do you need?

After lunch, we wandered in and out of galleries selling mostly southwestern-style art, interspersed with a variety of boutiques.

Tlaquepaque

The shopping area itself could not have been any prettier.

Tlaquepaque

I don’t remember the names of my favorite shops, but the area is small enough that you’d hit them all just by wandering around.  I found a gorgeous earring/necklace set at one boutique full of wonderful accessories and knickknacks, a handmade coffee mug to bring home to the boyfriend from a pottery shop, a lovely maxi dress at a clothing boutique and more.

Tlaquepaque

One of the best things about Tlaquepaque is how warm, friendly and talkative many of the shopkeepers were.  Everyone seemed excited to see us, find out where we came from and ask us how we were liking Sedona.  One thing came through loud and clear: these people loved their hometown.  Are our smiles any indication of the fact that we totally understood how Sedona would be a great place to live?

Tlaquepaque

Seriously, prettiest shopping area ever.

Tlaquepaque

Tlaquepaque

Tlaquepaque

When leaving Tlaquepaque, we saw this sign across the street:

Sedona

I’ve mentioned that new age spirituality is big in Sedona, right?  We couldn’t resist checking it out.  It was actually a lot of fun walking around this shop enlightenment center, where there was table after table of different types of crystals, each labeled with the properties that they promote (stress relief, empowerment, love, etc.).  We even picked up a few to bring home to friends as souvenirs.  I figured a little crystal power couldn’t hurt anyone!

By then it was almost sunset, and time to head off to an overlook to take in the end of this beautiful day.

Sedona Sunset

The best place in town to catch the sunset – which is a big to-do in Sedona – is the Airport Mesa overlook.  By the time we got there about 30 minutes before sunset, the overlook was already crowded.  Undeterred, we claimed a couple of rocks as our own and settled in.  The light against the red rocks across the valley was already getting pretty beautiful.

Sedona Airport Mesa

And then a little more amazing.

Sedona Airport Mesa

It was definitely a prime place for sunset views because we could see across almost the entire Sedona area.

Sedona Airport Mesa

It got a little chilly while we waited for the sun to drop, so we amused ourselves by – what else? – taking photos.

Sedona Airport Mesa

Sedona Airport Mesa

When the sun went down, it was actually a little anti-climactic.  Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but I preferred the dusk views.  What do you think?

Sedona Airport Mesa

Once the sun went down, it was time to eat again.  On the recommendation of one of the awesome people we’d chatted with earlier at the market, we headed to Dahl and DiLuca for Italian food.  I decided to abandon blogger-mode and simply enjoy dinner with my mom and sister, but it was a truly wonderful restaurant that I’d recommend to anyone visiting Sedona.  Make a reservation if you plan to go – we walked in and had a choice of an hour wait or sitting at the bar.  We opted for the bar and had a delicious, cozy meal with wonderful service.  Yum.  Just go.

After dinner it was back to The Orchards Inn for an early night.  We had an early wake-up call the next day for the highlight of our time in Sedona: a hot air balloon ride!

A Stunning Arrival in Sedona

April 8, 2014

As much as I loved our home base in Scottsdale, Arizona during girls weekend with my mom and sister, I was super excited to get on the road up to Sedona to check out an area I’ve been wanting to visit for years.  Sedona is about two hours’ drive north of Phoenix and is known for its gorgeous red rock scenery, new age spirituality and wonderful galleries and shopping.

Sedona Red Rock Views

Speaking of Sedona’s spiritual side, our first stop on the way into town was one of Sedona’s vortexes: Bell Rock.  What is a vortex?  Well, that link probably provides a better explanation than I can, but basically Sedona is home to a handful of spots where many people believe that a strong energy emanates from the earth.  Some report feeling a sensation of some sort when visiting a vortex – anything from a general sense of energy, to calm, to prickles on the back of your neck, to stronger reactions and visions.  I wasn’t sure that I bought into the notion of the vortexes, but I figured it was worth checking out, especially once I realized that they were gorgeous viewpoints on their own.  I bring you Bell Rock:

Bell Rock Sedona

We circled for a few minutes before finding parking at the trailhead, and then walked the easy path out toward the rock.

Bell Rock

Bell Rock Sedona

There’s a more ambitious hike that takes you up onto the rock, but we didn’t have time for that.  Our agenda was just to check it out and see if we got goosebumps.

Bell Rock

Bell Rock Sedona

No goosebumps, but that could have had something to do with hiking in a long-sleeved black dress and flip flops.  Either way, it was pretty!

Bell Rock Sedona

From Bell Rock, our next stop on our way into town was the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  This gorgeous little chapel wows with its stunning architecture site and scenic views.  On top of all that, it’s a vortex spot too.  That trifecta makes it quite popular, and we had to wait in a line of cars to snake up the rocks to park at the chapel and check it out.  Because of the unusual parking situation, I totally neglected to take any photos of the gorgeous exterior of this chapel from below.  Luckily, the lovely Lucy of On The Luce gave me permission to post a photo from her Sedona post – check it out for more beauties like this:

Photo by On the Luce.

Photo by On the Luce.

I absolutely adore the look of this chapel from below.  The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Marguerite Brunswig Staude.  It took a couple of decades to obtain approval to build the chapel in Sedona’s National Forest land, and it was eventually completed in the 1950s.  It is an operating church, but at the time of our visit it felt much more like a tourist attraction.  It was easy to see why – check out these views!

View from Chapel of the Holy Cross Sedona

Chapel of Holy Cross Sedona

We definitely took advantage of the great photo ops!

Holy Cross Sedona

In addition to the far-off vistas, we were impressed by the rock climbers above the chapel.  You can juuuust barely make them out here.  They’re the dots on the rocks toward the top center of the frame:

Rock Climbers Sedona

Inside, the chapel’s design is spare, clean and modern (especially for a chapel built in the 60s).  You can tell it’s been designed to take advantage of Sedona’s stunning natural scenery and impart those peaceful views on its visitors.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Chapel of the Holy Cross

I don’t know whether it was the vortex effect or just the atmosphere inside such a small, beautiful chapel, but I did feel very serene and calm inside.  Or maybe I just really wanted to feel the vortex.  I guess we’ll never know.  Don’t judge me.

Another aspect of the Chapel of the Holy Cross that I got a real kick out of were the little signs posted around the exterior to remind visitors of the rules in the cutest way possible.

Holy Cross Sedona

Once we were done admiring the views here, it was time to make our way into the town of Sedona.  Our first stop was check-in at our hotel for the evening, the Orchards Inn.  We barely spent any time at the hotel, and I wish we could have.  It was located right in Uptown Sedona, walking distance to a variety of shops and restaurants.  And the highlight was definitely the thing that most people come to Sedona for: the gorgeous red rock views.

Orchards Inn Sedona

I really regret that we didn’t have time for evening cocktails or morning coffee on that balcony.  Cocktails while soaking in the hot tub below us would have been even better!  But alas, I was determined that we’d pack as much as possible into our 24 hours in Sedona – stay tuned for more of our adventures in this gorgeous town!

Arizona in Shades of Pink

March 24, 2014

I have a confession to make.  (Yes, another one.)  I’m writing this on a snowy Saturday and I can’t be bothered to leave my warm, cozy house to go skiing.  I know, I don’t deserve to live in the mountains right now.  I blame the fact that I spent most of February and March in Phoenix, Arizona for my lack of motivation.  Spring is already in full swing down there, and the warm sunny days, temperate evenings and snow-less hiking trails got me really ready for winter to be over.  I know, I know.

I liked the Phoenix area much more than I expected to.  One thing that surprised me was that the area isn’t as brown and barren as I’d pictured it to be.  This week’s travel theme is pink, and I had no trouble finding photos of the hue in the Arizona desert.

There was plenty of pink to be found on my hikes around the area.  Like this flowering cactus along the trail up to Sunrise Peak.

Flowering cacti

And the breathtaking sunset I encountered while coming down Camelback Mountain.

Camelback at Sunset

Camelback Sunset

The vibrant color didn’t discriminate based on location, showing off both at the hotel-from-hell Aloft Phoenix Airport…

Phoenix airport sunset

Where the sunset views did a little to distract from the constant noise of planes, trains and automobiles (for real).  I was better able to enjoy the scenery across town at the luxurious Hyatt Gainey Ranch.

Hyatt Scottsdale

Hyatt Scottsdale

And my favorite pink moment of my time in Phoenix, by far, was the sunrise on the morning of my hot air balloon adventure.  Stay tuned for more to come on that!

Sedona Sunrise

In case you’re interested in my other “Travel Theme posts:

 Travel Theme: Work

Travel Theme: Yellow

Travel Theme: Silver

Travel Theme: Possibility

Mini Review: Go to The Herb Box (Scottsdale)

March 21, 2014

If you’re in Scottsdale or the greater Phoenix area, do me a favor and add lunch at The Herb Box to your to-do list.

The Herb Box is located in Old Town, Scottsdale’s downtown area of boutiques and zillions of restaurants.  I had a chance to try a few of these eateries during my time in Scottsdale, and The Herb Box stood out as the best among a crop of pretty delicious meals.

First can we talk about how adorable Old Town is?  I neglected to capture any photos of the area in daylight, but I also loved the look of this lovely pedestrian area lined by illuminated palm trees at night.

Old Town Scottsdale

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Ok, back to The Herb Box.  During an afternoon shopping in Old Town, my mom, my sister and I wanted to find a great spot for lunch.  I turned to my old fail-safe, Yelp, and saw excellent reviews for The Herb Box.  Done and done.  When we arrived, the outdoor seating was all full and we were hungry enough to settle for a table in the dining room.  We actually ended up thrilled with that call, because the interior of the restaurant was charming, rustic-modern and warm.

The Herb Box

With an inviting atmosphere, friendly staff and a delicious menu, it was the perfect spot for a girls’ lunch.

The Herb Box

The Herb Box

They have a delightful cocktail and wine list as well, and we all loved the fresh, refreshing taste of my sister’s Cucumber Basil Mojito.  Then the food came, and it didn’t disappoint either.

The Herb Box Scottsdale

My mom gave her BLT high marks, and my sister and I shared a couple of excellent dishes:  Butternut Squash and Corn Enchiladas that were as delicious as they sound:

The Herb Box Enchiladas

And my favorite dish of the day, the Urban Market Steak Salad:

The Herb Box salad

The piece of steak atop this salad was no joke – tender, flavorful, juicy and bigger than any steak I’ve ever had on top of a salad.  Add in avocado, sugared pecans, roasted corn, bacon and other goodies, and it was one of the best salads I can remember having.

Oh yeah – and when you go to The Herb Box, don’t forget to check out the bathrooms.  They’re gorgeous!

Swanky in Scottsdale

March 19, 2014

You’re not going to believe this hotel.

On the last weekend of my time in Phoenix, my mom and sister came to town for a girls weekend.  We spent two nights at one of the nicest – and certainly the most memorable – hotels I’ve ever stayed in: the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch.

Hyatt Gainey ranch

Approaching the entrance lined with towering palm trees, I knew that I was in for a treat.  And the second I stepped through the front door I felt like letting out a nice, long sigh of contentment.  Actually, I think I did.  Wait for it…

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

Wait for it…

hyatt gainey ranch

Ahhhh…

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

Pictures do not do this lobby justice.  The multi-story atrium is open to a sumptuous courtyard, and the moment I entered I could feel a light breeze and the warm Arizona air against my skin.  This lobby area was full of comfy chairs and couches and included a bar and stage where there was excellent live music every evening.

Hyatt Gainey ranch

Ready for a tour of the courtyard?

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

Cacti, water features, a variety of comfy seating areas…

Cacti

Especially given the perfect weather (sunny, 80 degrees and no humidity) during our stay, all I wanted to do was relax here.  So I did.  My favorite lounge spots were the cushy cabanas.

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

There were a few of these cabanas scattered around, and they made perfect reading nooks and nap spots.

Lounging

Beyond the spectacular patio, things get even more impressive at the Hyatt’s pools.  Yes, pools.  There’s a quiet adults-only pool with this view of the Gainey Ranch golf course and mountains in the distance.

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

There’s a grassy area with lawn games and more games to be found inside the pools.

hyatt gainey ranch

You know what?  I’m going to stop narrating and just show you.

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hyatt gainey ranch

(Yes, that’s a sand beach where those colorful chairs are.)

hyatt gainey ranch

(And that’s a water slide.)  Ok, so I didn’t stop narrating.  But can you believe that pool area?  Unbelievable.  In case you wanted to relax in a more private area, the hotel’s Spa Avania is the most beautiful spa I’ve ever visited.

I had a fantastic massage (ask for Dawn!), and my mom and I spent hours relaxing in the spa facilities.  The outdoor mineral pool and soaking hot tub take a fantastic spa day to a whole new level.  It’s a little creepy to take pictures in a spa, so these photos are from the Spa Avania website.

The Hyatt is also home to a slew of restaurants.  My favorite hotel meals were the breakfast buffet at SWB and a light Italian dinner at Alto.   And a cucumber-jalapeno margarita sipped outside in the courtyard.  Yum.

courtyard cacti

Located in North Scottsdale, the Hyatt is a short drive from Old Town and several great hiking areas.  I’m guessing that visitors in town for golf or baseball spring training games would also find themselves well-situated.  So what’s the downside?  I honestly couldn’t find one.  Of course, this level of luxury doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re looking to splash out on lush accommodations for a special weekend in the Phoenix area, I couldn’t imagine a better place.

Tell me, what hotel has made the biggest impression on you?

A Day in Ouray

March 17, 2014

Hi guys! I’ve missed you!  I’ve spent the last 6 weeks shuttling back and forth between Vail and Phoenix for work, which has been both lovely and exhausting.  I’m excited to tell you about my adventures in sunny Arizona, but first I’d like to turn the clock way back to the fantastic 24 hours I spent in the small mountain town of Ouray, Colorado.

Ouray

This quaint town is nestled in a narrow canyon near Telluride.  Once a mining town, Ouray currently thrives on adventure-related tourism.  Ice climbers flock to Ouray for its world-famous climbing, while it makes a great summer home base for hikers and mountain bikers.  (Remember my hike here this summer? So pretty!)  It’s also a great place for relaxation, which is precisely why we stopped there following a couple of active days in Telluride.  We stayed in an adorable B&B, The China Clipper Inn.

China Clipper Inn

China Clipper Inn

Our room was no-frills but very comfortable and homey.

China Clipper Inn

And we loved the extra touches like fluffy bathrobes and towels to use at the nearby hot springs or the hot tub right outside of our door.  The rest of the house was comfortable and beautifully done, and we enjoyed lounging by the fire in the living room.

China Clipper Inn

But where the China Clipper really shone was the delicious breakfast.  The setting was gorgeous.  We got to choose between the richly appointed dining room and a sunny nook with mountain views.  I’m sure you can guess which we went for.

China Clipper Inn

Get a better look at that view.

China Clipper Inn

Our chef and host got us started with fresh fruit, coffee and a selection of juices, yogurt and granola while he worked on the main event.

China Clipper Inn breakfastI was particularly touched to see gluten-free granola added to the spread after I’d mentioned that I was gluten sensitive.  It’s the little things!

IMG_2874

Then, he brought out a couple of plates of eggs benedict with roasted asparagus.  I polished off every delicious bite.

Eggs Bene

We walked off a little bit of our breakfast by strolling over to the main street lined with shops.  This town, nicknamed “The Switzerland of America,” is just the cutest.

Ouray

We had a blast popping into the various stores that piqued our interest.  A few of my favorites were the book store, where we each grabbed a new novel.  I could have spent hours browsing the Colorado section.

Ouray book store

Then we stumbled into a room chock-full of interesting rocks, geodes, and knickknacks.  I think it might have been called the Gator Emporium but I’m not sure.

Ouray shopping

Next we stopped into an excellent kitchen store full of gadgets, local foods and other foodie items.

Ouray kitchen store

I could have wandered this street all day.

Ouray

Ouray Brewery

See that sign above the brewery for the Wiesbaden Motel?  The Wiesbaden is a small hotel that is also home to its own private hot springs and vapor caves.  The natural hot springs in Ouray are known for the healing properties of their waters.  And I don’t know about all that, but the hot waters at the Wiesbaden sure were relaxing!  The vapor caves, however, mostly just freaked me out.  They are underground caves that water and vapors from the underground hot springs fill up like a steam room with a layer of water on the ground.  As someone who gets claustrophobic in steam rooms, I only lasted about 5 minutes in the vapor caves before I wanted out.  Sorry, I didn’t take photos in the hot springs or vapor caves to avoid looking like a creeper.

After grabbing a truffle (her) and some ice cream (him) at one of the local ice cream shops, we hit the road for the 4-hour drive home.  We stopped on the way at one more hot spring, a more natural springs that’s apparently popular with locals in the area.  I promised a friend I wouldn’t publish the name to keep this hidden gem hidden – if you’re interested, shoot me an email!

Ouray

If you’ve never been through this charming part of Colorado, I highly recommend it!  I’ll be back soon with some Arizona sunshine for you – have a great Monday!

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