Lake Havasu sunset surprise

Lake Havasu is known for its lake–a reservoir of the Colorado River. It is also known as a Spring break party town with boats so jammed into the lake that you can walk from one to the other without a life jacket. Who knew, though, that it could boast a peaceful and enchanting sunset cruise as well?

Last weekend, my husband, parents, and mother-in-law took one of the most memorable cruises any of us have been on, thanks to Captain Kenny Samp at the Sunset Charter & Tour Company.

sunset cruisers on a boat
We arrived for our three-hour cruise and Captain Kenny immediately made us feel welcome with comfy chairs and bottled water.
Sunset cruise wildlife
On the cruise, we saw rams, owls, herons, and lots of other wildlife.
Rock formations at Lake Havasu.
We also saw interesting rock formations and learned about what made them so unique.
Lake Havasu lighthouses
Lake Havasu is dotted by replicas of lighthouses that can be found in their original forms in other parts of the world.
London Bridge in Lake Havasu Arizona
Of course, a lake adventure in Lake Havasu is incomplete without the London Bridge.
Sunset on Lake Havasu
But the reason we were on the lake to begin with was to experience the sunset. Weren’t we in for a treat!

Every person on the boat agreed–our three hour cruise melted into one of the most peaceful, satisfying experiences we could remember. Captain Kenny’s sunset tour left us feeling like we had been in a sweet dream filled with rippling water, beautiful vistas, and enchanting stars.

To see more photos of our sunset cruise, watch the slideshow below.

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Jennifer Berry puts passion into animal rescue

With thanks to Jennifer Berry and all those at RESCUE for putting your passion to work for the sake of others. Your work saves the lives of thousands of animals and brings fullness to the people who adopt them. Without you, there would be far less joy in the world and far more sadness. I know, because my own life was less complete without the joy of knowing Lukas.

The Great Experimenters

Jennifer Berry arrives at the Maricopa County Animal Shelter filled with dread. It is August and, even at 8:30 in the morning, the temperatures are close to 100. She opens the door of her van and, as she steps out, is hit by the heat like the blast from an oven door. Her thoughts go immediately to the dogs and cats inside the shelter. If it’s hot outside, it means the animals are hot too. If it’s cold, so are they. And if there was a thunderstorm the night before, she knows the animals will have been terrified the entire night, with no one to comfort them.

She looks at the building in front of her. A sprawling, one-story cement structure painted surprisingly cheerful oranges and blues. Lining out the door are people with dogs panting on leashes or cats meowing in cages. She does not know whether the people…

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Hotel Valley Ho stays fresh while paying homage to the hippest parts of its history

In the scurry that is Sunday morning at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona, Hubby and I, along with a group of eight or so other people, met with Ace Bailey of Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours to learn all there is to know about this Mid-Century Modern hotel with a Southwest twist.

The Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona. The concrete panels mentioned below can be seen lining the roofline of the porte-cochere along the entrance.

Built in 1956, the hotel was the first year-round resort in Scottsdale. It was lined all around with 350-pound concrete panels that have an “arrowhead” design set in them. The design marked the hotel as “Southwest” while keeping to the slick minimalism of Modern design. The hotel drew Hollywood’s elite to the Arizona desert with the lure of luxury and anonymity. Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood celebrated their wedding reception there. Jimmy Durante was a favorite guest who could often be found tickling the ivories at the purple piano in the lounge.

A column in the lobby has the arrowhead design in it. I don't know about you, but I see "V's" in it, for "Valley Ho," maybe?

Through the years, the hotel went through different phases of facelifts. Ramada acquired the hotel in the 1970s and tinkered with cosmetic changes. By the early 2000s, though, the hotel had seen better years and was up for demolition. In 2004, though, Westroc Hotels & Resorts took on the task of bringing the hotel back to life with a full restoration and update, inspired by the building’s cool history. It now embraces its hip past while setting trends for today. It boasts that it is “posh but never stuffy. Relaxed but far from dull.”

Below are pictures from our tour. I think you’ll agree that the hotel definitely clicks along to a familiar, fun-loving groove, inspired by its mid-century roots.

Old pictures of the original design can be found beside the concierge stand. Here is one of the original restaurant.
The lobby has a great expansiveness to it with the stone-clad wall extending outside, beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. The fireplace is fantastic.

When the hotel underwent its most recent facelift, the developers went out of their way to reuse and recycle as much as they could. In fact, they managed to save 20,000 tons of waste from ever reaching the landfill by restoring the hotel instead of tearing it down. The fireplace in the lobby is one example as to how they did that. Instead of throwing out glass doors that had broken, they used them as a decorative feature in the fireplace. Today, the hotel has been classified as a “Green Hotel“, thanks to its environmentally friendly policies.

The environmentally friendly fireplace.
Seen here, the massive concrete "arrowhead" panels lining the hotel, and a Saucer Pendant Light first designed in 1952 by George Nelson, which is translucent plastic spray-coated onto a steel skeleton.
This is the bar/lounge area as it is today. I think they've done a great job of mixing the best of yesterday with what's cool today. I particularly love those "bubble" mirrors and those white lamps.
This curved wall leads from the lobby of the hotel to the lounge area. It is clad in shiny glass tiles. Layered on top of those is a hard-to-miss, funky design made of felt or some other soft fabric in blues and chartreuse.
A toast to cool: 1950s Fenders hang in the lobby area, behind the concierge desk.

Back in the day, connecting rooms didn’t exist, so the architect came up with the idea of using rotating screens on the patios and balconies so friends and families could visit one another in their PJs. The screens are still in use today, but perhaps as more of a novelty since there seems to be less concern about being seen in one’s pajamas these days.

Look closely to see the bars which hang from the ceiling and allow the screens to rotate.
From the roof of the hotel, circles of tables perfectly aligned for, what looks like a celebratory dinner.
A view of the pool from the rooftop. Notice the shape--a circle within another circle. It is meant to be the view one might see when looking down upon a martini glass with an olive sticking out of the side. The pool shape is not original to the hotel. It had to be completely redone when Westroc took it over because it was in disrepair.
The view of a pleasant balcony for one of the rooms which, I believe, is an executive suite.

Rates for a signature king started at $229 a night when I did a search on their website for a weekend stay. The hotel also has several packages available.

The hotel also offers several rooms to those traveling with pets, providing some special amenities for your furry loved one.

If the price of a night’s stay is too rich for your blood, perhaps visiting Cafe Zuzu for dinner would be more to your liking. While the service can sometimes be a little off, I can personally vouch for Chef Wiley’s American cuisine. They offer new twists on old favorites.

There is a spa on site, as well as a fitness centerMyTown365, another blogger based in the area, recently posted a picture and information of one of the yoga classes provided on the rooftop of the hotel. From the looks of it, it is a very popular class among guests and the community at large.

Finally, if you do nothing else at the hotel, I highly recommend taking the tour with Ace Bailey. The price is $19.56 (in honor of the year the hotel first opened) and the 90-minute tour not only provides access to places within the hotel not usually available to the general public, you also receive discounts to the VH Spa and Cafe Zuzu. For more information about how to sign up for the tour, click here.

Hotel Valley Ho is located within walking distance to Old Town Scottsdale at 6850 E. Main Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. To make reservations or for more information, go to their website or call 480-248-2000.

MIRAZOZO is the place to be at the Mesa Festival of Creativity

Creative friends of mine, people who are artists and know art, have told me that I need to go see MIRAZOZO at the Mesa Arts Center. So, when I got this email about it, I thought it might be something worth sharing with others too. If you’re in the area of Mesa, Arizona anytime between now and March 18th, head over to MIRAZOZO. Maybe we’ll bump into each other in the giant sculpture of air, light, and color.

Please view the Parking Map below for alternate Parking around the Mesa Arts Center
Mesa Arts Center Box Office: (480) 644.6500 One East Main Street Mesa, Arizona 85201

© 2011 Mesa Arts Center. All Rights Reserved.

A return to bees

When Hubby and I are not traveling, we call Arizona home. It is delightfully warm and sunny during the winter months and the summer months give us more reasons to travel–to get away from the heat!

After this last trip to Palm Springs, we were welcomed home by a swarm of bees that was perched in a pepper tree in our backyard. For those of you not familiar with this part of the world, we have several varieties of bees that can take up residence, and one of those varieties is the infamous Africanized bee, also lovingly known as the “killer bee”.

Our bee visitors. (Photo by M Dryja.)

The Africanized bee is most known for being incredibly aggressive. Stories abound about people being killed by swarms that felt threatened. Whether the stories are all true or partially exaggerated is unknown. Still, I can’t think of anyone who would come home to a swarm of bees in their tree and not at least consider it a little dangerous.

Hubby and I discussed what we should do. Neither of us wanted to have them killed. It’s not in us to take action against nature unless it threatens us real, undeniable harm. I do not kill spiders in my house, for example. I have killed ants in my kitchen only because I know no other way to lure them permanently outside. Beyond that, I try to make my home inhospitable to creatures that might want to live inside. Outside, we have to figure out a way to live together.

Fortunately, Hubby found the answer to our questions when he did some research online to find a Pest Control Guy. He learned that swarms of bees in vegetation, such as trees, often are there to rest the queen and not to stay permanently. Swarms mean that they are looking for a new home, but treehouses are not usually what they consider suitable real estate. Also, we learned that they can be in the trees sometimes up to a week before leaving, depending on what their scouts find further out. And, when left alone, bee swarms are usually harmless. They’re too busy with the work at hand. Throwing rocks at them, poking them with sticks, and otherwise making their lives difficult are acts of aggression and, if bees attack a person for doing that, that’s not the bees’ fault. Pretending to be a cloud and floating up on a balloon in an attempt to steal honey is also not a good idea, for those out there named Winnie the Pooh.

Truth be told, I was scared of the swarm. I never went out, like my husband, to stare at it from underneath the tree. (He, by the way, decided to name them all “George”. If memory serves, he may wish to change that to “Georgette” since most worker bees are female.)

The closest I came to them was the back patio, which is across the pool from the pepper tree. Still, I was equally fascinated. From my desk at home, I can see the pepper tree. I watched the bees and, although I could not make out the minute details of each bee, I could see the activity of their scouts who ventured from the group to look for resources or the next place to land. I watched the shimmer of their mass as they moved around and around to protect the queen at their center. I imagined what it must be like to be a bee in the midst of all those other bees, to not have my own space to stretch and rest, to have other little legs and wings crawling and fluttering over me, on me, and around me. ACK! Of course, I am not a bee and doubt very much that bees think like that. All I’ve got, though, are my own thoughts and those were mine.

The view of the pepper tree (and Hubby's silhouette) from my desk.

We returned on Sunday to The Georges in our tree. On Monday a windstorm blew through. The bees clung to the tree heroically. They were in a large clump, about the size of a basketball. One wind gust was particularly strong, however, and when I looked up from my writing, the large clump had broken apart into three smaller clumps! It was amazing how it ripped, as if the bees were all one piece of fabric and the wind had cut it in thirds! As the afternoon progressed and the wind did not die down, the bees pressed back together, but formed a longer, sturdier structure along the branch. The wind finally faded by Tuesday and, the next morning they were back in their oblong basketball shape.

The bees as they reformed on the branch from the windstorm. (Photo by M Dryja.)

The bees left us yesterday. Although I am glad the danger is no longer so present, I miss them in a way. They were really fun to watch. Our theory as to why they stayed as long as they did is that the stress of the windstorm on Monday wore everybody out. How honored I was to get to see them do their work together for a couple of days. I also sort of felt like I was in on a special secret as I watched them “packing their bags” yesterday. The outer bees were much busier than before, actively buzzing around, as if to tug the others away. One minute they were there, the next they were gone!

Farewell, dear bees, all named George! May you live long and prosper, do no one harm, nor be done harm to.

Evening Sky Tours illuminate Sedona’s night skies

Planet Jupiter was one of the features on our tour.

Sedona, Arizona is considered a “dark city”. It has laws against rows of street lights, lighted signs, and billboards. Those laws might make it a little tricky for getting around at night, but keeping the stars bright by keeping the lights low is one of the reasons Sedona is the perfect location to tour the celestial sky with Evening Sky Tours.

Our visit took place in October. We lucked out. The sky was perfect. Just a day before, there had been rain and the tour had to be cancelled. On the night we visited, however, the stars reached out from their dark canvas and beckoned.

We arrived early enough to get parked and situated. This gave our eyes time to get used to being in the dark. It is a bit eery to walk around a large, empty lot, not knowing what lies beyond the surrounding trees, but as our eyes adjusted, it was surprising how clearly we could see each other without the use of light, other than what sparkled down from the heavens.

The professional astronomers who greeted us were jovial and enthusiastic. The man who guided us the parking area was a personable, older gentleman with long white hair pulled back in a ponytail. As soon as we were out of our car, he took us for a pre-tour peek through a smaller telescope at the moon. I couldn’t remember having looked at the moon through a telescope before. It was an exercise I should do more often because it made the presence of our lunar companion, something I take for granted, more personal and important. In those few seconds of peering through that  long tube, I saw craters of the moon–our moon–and could almost feel the dust astronauts had left footprints in decades before. It set the stage for a tour that was sure to be out of this world.

David, our guide, led us to a row of chairs and offered blankets. He was quieter, shyer than the man who had shown us the moon, but his passion for astronomy quickly took the meekness out of him. As he showed us the large, portable telescope we would be using for our tour that night, his voice grew in strength and authority, bolstered by the kind of joy usually only found in children on the night before Christmas. He introduced us to the universe with fascinating stories about how they were discovered, what certain objects were made of, and how they behaved in space (did they orbit something? Or were they moving through space?). He highlighted his information with a lightsaber-like laser pointer that reached up and out to the celestial bodies we were going to view through the telescope.

Our tour was about three hours long. It started around 8 P.M., after everyone with a reservation had arrived, and lasted until 11 P.M. The length depends on the cooperation of the night sky, the enthusiasm of the participants, and the number of questions asked throughout. There were eight adults in our group, no children, although children six and up are welcome. Prices start at $35 for children 6-12 and go up to $60 per adult. There is a discount for parties of five or more and, if you’d like your own tour with up to 12 friends, the price is $450 for two hours.

We all took turns looking through the telescope at Jupiter, star clusters, nebula, and a galaxy that is close enough to be seen as a fuzzy streak with a bright point in the middle. As David set up the telescope for viewing each new wonder I kept my eyes as open as they could be to take in every visible element. I counted at least eight shooting stars and, even then, didn’t see them all because the woman next to me saw some that I didn’t.

This tour is truly unique. Each experience is different because each night sky is slightly different from the one before. It especially changes with the seasons, which is why I plan on taking a tour with Evening Sky Tours every time I visit Sedona.

Tours are available seven days a week and it is recommended you make your reservations early, before arriving to Sedona, since they do tend to book up quickly. Please be aware that cancellations can happen due to inclement weather. They will call you in advance to confirm and provide directions to the location.

For more information or to make a reservation, go to their website or give them a call at 928-853-9778.