Diversion, Road Trip, Travel

Over the Desert and Through the Hills

NOTE: Greg and I got lucky amid all the Coronavirus restrictions. We planned to spend the spring exploring our new backyard … day and weekend road trips in and around Arizona. That means we really didn’t have to cancel any plans or reservations AND we could still do much of what we had hoped to … until the end of March. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued stay-at-home orders and foiled the rest of our plans. Luckily, we managed to get a fun, scenic road trip in before the order was issued. As long as the new restrictions are in place, we are following the orders and staying put. You should, too.

Route 60 weaves through the Superstition Mountains.

The Valley of the Sun is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation and includes nearly 15,000 square miles of desert and mountain foothills. Top down on the Fiat, we leave the house on a sunny Sunday morning on the west end of the valley. The plan: drive across the valley and up into the Superstition Mountains to Globe. Staying off the highways as much as possible will turn the drive into a six-hour excursion. 

Spring is a great time to enjoy the desert, with moderate temperatures and wildflowers in bloom.We head out Route 60 through the Queen Creek Tunnel and into stone-lined canyons as we climb to nearly 5,000 feet. The views along the route are stunning. Rock formations and twisting roads climb and curve. Around one curve, we spot the old road far beneath us and the historic Pinto Creek Bridge. It appears to be part of a hiking trail today. Several small groups  walk along the dirt road leading to the old structure; dozens of other trails weave through the stone outcroppings.

Through another pass the scene shifts dramatically. The brown and red stones give way to rocks bleached nearly white by the sun and copper mining operations turn natural rock formations into strip-mined flat tiers. A few more turns finds us in Miami then Globe. We stop to enjoy our picnic lunch on the trunk of the car before following the signs to cruise through the old town of Globe. Frankly, there isn’t much to see here, but the drive alone is worth it.

With the sun high in the sky, we turn around and head back down to the valley for the picturesque drive home. At a junction, we turn left instead of going straight to explore some new backroads and areas we’ve not yet seen. 

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. In these hard times of “social distancing,” there’s no getting out to stroll the towns along the way or enjoy tourist sites, but you can still enjoy the stunning views!

Stay safe and keep dreaming of future travels.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip

The Great Outdoors as Therapy for Troubled Times

Social Distancing. Mandatory Telework. Who has toilet paper?

The Coronavirus has created a new vernacular; some fear this intrusion in our lives may become the “new normal.” But there is always something we can do to improve our own health and well-being … get outside.

After a week mostly cooped-up in the house — Judy running the business, me doing my day job —  Saturday dawned bright and sunny with temps forecast to rise to the mid-70s. Plans to do spring house-cleaning quickly vanished. We threw a picnic lunch together, hopped in the car, put the top down and headed out.

The plan was simple. After a stop in central Phoenix to pick up some wine we had ordered at a recent festival (see “Spring is Festival Season”), we’d head due south on Central Avenue to the point where South Mountain rises from the Valley of the Sun and enters the South Mountain Park and Preserve. The road twists and turns up the mountain to the TV antenna-filled summit. At 2,330 feet, the views of the valley from Dobbins Summit were spectacular with photo opportunities galore. Farther down the road was the Gila Valley overlook, with views to the south and east of town. The sky was so clear you could almost see Tucson! (not really, but you get the point.)

We ate our simple picnic of sandwiches and iced tea under the shade of a ramada (spanish for open porch), one of many throughout the park. We munched as hikers tightened the laces on their boots and grabbed bottles of water to take on some of the 51 miles of trails the park offers. We didn’t hike this day, but we’ll be back to do so, or to possibly let a horse do the work for us, available from the Ponderosa Stables at the park’s entrance.

On this gorgeous day, we weren’t the only ones enjoying this opportunity to be outside. For the most part, people kept up their physical distancing, but smiles abounded and talk was not about the difficulties but about how great life could be when you simply get outdoors.

Refreshed, we drove down the mountain and went home via side streets and roads, avoiding the highway to enjoy the sun in our faces and the breeze in our hair. All in all, the trip took us about four hours but it felt like we were days away from the daily (and new) routines of our lives. It was a great reminder there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go outside and see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Wine/Cocktails

Our Own Winery? Well, Not Really

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Okay, it’s not really ours, but it’s kinda cool to have a winery nearby that shares your last name. There’s nothing like having personalized wineglasses and wine bottles in the cellar to make your guests wonder!

Romano Vineyard and Winery is in Brandywine, Maryland, in southern Prince George’s County. PG County, as the locals know it, is mostly urban and suburban; home to the likes of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Cente, NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Joint Base Andrews; and, according to U.S. Census data, the most affluent county in the country with a primarily African-American population. But this area of PG County is decidedly rural…former tobacco farms now yield lots of corn, soybeans, and more importantly, vineyards.  It’s a stone’s throw from historic St. Mary’s and Charles counties…even the infamous Dr. Mudd House, where Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth had his broken leg set, is nearby.

I’d like to say that Judy and I stumbled on this gem of a winery as one of our regular diversions, but this story is a bit different. When the winery opened in 2011, I lived just a few miles away with my previous wife and saw the “bootleg” signs announcing its opening and wine-tasting availability along the rural roads I regularly took to work. I vowed to visit and introduce myself to the proprietors.

Romano vineyard

That never happened. In 2012, I moved out, filed for divorce, and moved to much more urban Northern Virginia. When Judy and I got together, we discovered a shared passion for good wine and often enjoy visiting wineries as a regular weekend activity. Virginia’s wines have become world-class and there is no shortage of wineries to visit. Our neighbors even gave us a Virginia Wine Pass to enjoy regular discounts!  But I still harbored the desire to visit the winery that shares my family name, so when a trip to Annapolis offered an opportunity for a Southern PG County diversion, we jumped at the chance.

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We weren’t disappointed. Unlike many of the Virginia wineries, the Romano winery has a very casual, rural farm feel. Owners Jo-Ann and Joseph Romano were delightful. We quickly figured out we weren’t related, but then, we Romanos are like the “Smiths” of Italy…many in number, not related, but all happy to meet one another.

The wines were excellent, too, so naturally, we joined the Romano Wine Club. We received our membership materials a couple of weeks ago, including our card for two free glasses of wine each month.

Today, we found ourselves in the area once again, top-down on the Fiat spider enjoying the spring weather with temps in the low ‘60s – a nice break from recent freezes. Naturally, we stopped at “our” winery.  Jo-Ann instantly recognized us. We sat outside, each enjoying a glass of merlot.  We chatted with several ladies who were enjoying a similar fine day.  With other errands to run, we didn’t stay long, but for a brief respite, Judy and I reveled in the joy of each other’s company, a fine glass of wine, and the peace and quiet that only a rural atmosphere can bring.

We have long held that part of the fun of traveling is getting off the beaten path to find hidden gems like Romano Vineyard and Winery.  Stop in and say hello, even for a just few minutes.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it.

Fiat at Romano

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017

Distractions

Seven Oaks for Seven Senses

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About an hour outside Washington, D.C., is Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in the little town of Catlett, Va. Far enough away from the hubbub of the big city, but close enough to make it a day trip, Seven Oaks is a feast for the senses.

After a week of heat and humidity and just a day after storms dropped flooding rains, the morning brought partly sunny skies and mild temperatures. We dropped the top on the roadster and headed out, avoiding the highways and sticking to two-lane roads that sometimes required us to pull slightly to the right when farm trucks passed. Our route even took us over a well-traveled gravel road. “Maleficent” (our aptly named 2009 Pontiac Solstice roadster) wasn’t too happy with that arrangement, but the road was only about a mile long, and we were soon pulling into Seven Oak’s grassy parking area. We paid the $6/each entrance fee and headed up the hill.

Judy decided she wanted to try out her crafting skills making a lavender wand. This required weaving ribbon between the folded-over stems of the lavender sprigs, such that the flowers were encased within the weave. Judy’s instructor, Monique, learned the art of lavender weaving at an early age in Belgium; she patiently worked with Judy, demonstrating the deft touch such weaving required.

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the wand Monique shows Judy how to weave the ribbon between the lavender stalks. Once complete, you only have to squeeze the wand lightly to unleash the fresh scent of lavender. Monique say it can last as long as 30 years!

After snapping a few pics, I sat in the sun, mesmerized by the sight of an ever-changing tableaux of clouds…a palette of white, blue, and grey above the verdant earth with oaks, firs, and pines bordering fields of corn, sunflowers, and, of course, purple lavender.

Sitting there, the scent of lavender intermixed with the pungent smell of fresh manure, brought on the breeze from the dairy farm across the road. With Judy’s tasked completed, we sipped lavender infused ice tea and lemonade, the tastes tickling our taste buds as we walked the grounds, the sounds of laughter from young children bringing joy to our ears.

Stopping to take some pictures, we experienced some of the more non-traditional senses. Kneeling to take pictures of bees and butterflies on the new growth, we experienced the coolness of the rich earth, damp from the previous night’s rain.

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We ended our visit experiencing what can only be described as the seventh sense…the sense of love being together, holding hands, smiling under the bright sky.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2015

Diversion

Solomons Island

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A beautiful, sun-filled day near the Chesapeake Bay calls you to the water. That’s how we ended up on Solomons Island, Maryland on a Saturday in May instead of touring embassies in downtown Washington, DC or even at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware, both considered top options until the sun and wind called us elsewhere.

Solomons Island is where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake and across the water from a US Navy installation that’s been around since the war of 1812 with an ever-changing mission due to its location at the mouth of the river.  Greg had heard about the Calvert Marine Museum for years while living in nearby Prince George’s County, but had never been. So, with the top down on the car, the wind whipping through our hair and the sun shining pleasantly on us, we headed to the museum.

What a great little treasure tucked away on this Southern Maryland island. The maritime-focused museum is chock full of artifacts and information about the crucial location of the island in the war of 1812 against the British, about its fishing and maritime history and even a peek at the history of speed boat racing and recreation on the river and into the Chesapeake bay.

The friendly lady who sold us our admission tickets, $9 per adult, mentioned an optional tour on the Wm B Tennison. The one hour cruise takes you through the Solomons inner harbor, around the end of the island and under the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge then turns at Point Patience and returns to the museum dock. The $7 per person price seemed reasonable, so we opted in. Brilliant decision!

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We had just enough time to pop next door to the Anglers Seafood Bar and Grill to grab a bite to eat before the cruise. We postulated that if you can’t get good seafood in a fishing town, where can you? We ordered crab cake sliders and bacon-wrapped scallops. Both were magnificent … fresh, cooked to perfection and exactly what we needed for a waterside lunch.

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A mad dash back to the Tennison had us make it just in time to shove off and head out. The weather was perfect, the captain and first mate filled the outward cruise with tidbits of information about places of interest on shore, then turned off the microphone and let us enjoy the peace and quiet of a cruise on the water as we returned.

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The Drum Point Lighthouse, once a beacon to sailors and other mariners entering these sometimes dangerously shallow waters, is no longer in operation and has been moved to the dock for visitors. A two-bedroom home with a kitchen and living space, an outdoor privy and what looked like all the amenities of a quaint home made us talk about finding a lighthouse bed and breakfast for a weekend getaway at some point.  Entrance to the lighthouse is part of the museum admission.

We stopped at the wood carving shop and watched a couple of gentlemen building boats inside for a while, then headed back to the car for a leisurely drive home.

EPILOGUE:  When we arrived home we checked in online to discover a MAJOR accident had closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in both directions. Our last-minute decision to scrap our plans to head to Dover turned out to be fortuitous, not only for the incredible find we stumbled on, but for our dodging a traffic nightmare at the end of our day.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2015

Diversion

Nostalgia

Anyone who thinks billboards don’t work must not travel the roads we do. Whether it’s across the country or north to south, we, like most people, tend to hop on the Interstates when we want to get somewhere quickly. Unlike most, however, we get off regularly onto local roads. What determines when and where we get off is usually some sort of sign – actual signs!  We’ve diverted to small museums because of brown recreational direction signs posted by departments of transportation. We’ve diverted to small towns because of small signs (ok, posters) posted on restaurant bulletin boards or truck stops. We’ve diverted to stores and tourist “traps” because of billboards.

To set this story up, I should let you know that Greg and I keep talking about buying a house that has a room we can use or convert to a bar or lounge … a place for entertaining. We’ve considered a lot of decorating options including mid-Century “atomic” looks (think Mad Men!), but our home has a real travel theme to it and we’ll probably end up with something that leans towards travel.

Back to the road … and billboards.  We were headed out to Paris, Tennessee, crossing the state from Bristol through Knoxville and Nashville. Just west of Bristol, as we approached Knoxville, a great billboard caught our eye for an “antique” store called “Nostalgia: Knoxville’s Vintage Market.”  Even the sign had a fun mid-century vibe to it. We were intrigued. We googled it from our phones to see what time they were open. The timing was right! We needed a little break from the road and what better break than a stroll through a cool vintage market, right?

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We agreed – DIVERSION!

What fun! I should take a moment to mention we don’t tell anyplace we mention in our blogs that we are bloggers. We don’t usually even decide we’ll blog about something until it’s already happened! The cheery staff of Nostalgia has no idea I’m writing this, which I hope adds to the authenticity of our blog.

We wandered the aisles of the smaller of the two Nostalgia stores. The lady at the counter said the other store has more furniture and “larger pieces.” This one was chock full of really fun-looking mid-century décor. There were lamps, mirrors, coffee tables covered with ashtrays (yeah, ASHTRAYS!), funky kitchen appliances (I wonder how many still work?), and loads of other pieces. We kept pointing out certain things to each other, “Hey, we had one of those growing up.”

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Then we saw it … a set of eight glasses in a rack. It screamed travel and 60s and all the things we are drawn to. I hesitated. Have you ever noticed in these stores when you see something you love how the price always seems to be way too high? I reached for the tag tied on the carrying handle of the rack … WOW! $30! Should we?

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We strolled another aisle before going back for the glasses. How could we pass up something like that? Even if we didn’t ever have a bar in our future home, we always need glasses, right? It even came with the original box…with a shipping label dated 1959.

Our fun find put us in a great mood to finish the drive to Paris. We will stop at the other store at some point. Maybe by then we will have the bar we wish for. If not, at least it will be another fun diversion.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2015

Diversion

Scenic Overlook: Worth the Stop

One of the things we have discovered (as you have read in previous posts), is staying off the beaten track and taking the road less traveled leads to unexpected delights. We recently hopped in the car and headed for a visit with family in the tiny town of Hillsville, Virginia. While much of the trip was spent relaxing around the house and enjoying my young grandsons, there was a diversion as we headed into Radford. Since we were visiting locals, we were able to take the back roads and ended up on a winding, narrow section of US 11 up and over a mountain.

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At the top, a pair of scenic overlooks called out to us to stop and check out the view. On one side, a dazzling view of the New River Valley (or so we think since it was not marked or labeled).

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On the other side, there was an expansive vista overlooking the Draper Valley.

A roadside marker tells the story of a 1755 Shawnee Indian raid. According to the marker, the Shawnee traveled from the Ohio River Valley to raid the Western Virginia Frontier along the New River.

The result of one of those raids, Bettie Draper and her sister-in-law Mary Draper Ingalls were taken captive and taken back to the Shawnee Camp in the Ohio River Valley. Mary Draper Ingalls soon escaped and traveled more than 850 miles back to the New River Valley. Bettie Draper lived with the family of an Indian Chief for the next six years before her husband John Draper found her and bartered for her return. They returned to the New River Valley and settled in 1765 in what is known today as Draper Valley in Pulaski County.

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The fascinating tale on the marker doesn’t mention the ruins of a small home up a flight of stone steps from the overlook, but we imagined it had been the home of an earlier settler to the valley as we made our way up to the ruins.  Whoever lived here certainly had an amazing view … in BOTH directions.

It was a short stop, but worth it for the views, the diversion, and the insight into one of the many tales of American history that are so local they are rarely published in textbooks, instead taught just in the areas where they happened.

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From there we passed through Pulaski with its interesting blend of old Victorian homes, small Cape Cod style cottages and newer construction. It’s pretty off-the-beaten-track, but that’s the sort of fun you can have when you choose to get off the interstate, slow down and enjoy whatever happens.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2015

Diversion

Memorials in South Central Pennsylvania remember the fallen

Editors Note: We’re baaaacccckkk! Judy and Greg have been in major wedding planning mode for several months and as a result, we’ve failed to post some blogs written MONTHS ago. So we’re playing catch-up. Join us as we journey back in time…to the summer of 2014…

June 28-29, 2014

Deep in the heart of rural Pennsylvania are two memorials, reminders of man’s mortality and the dangers of complacency. Though they are within a short drive of each other, they are worlds apart. But like most of our diversions, they show what great places you can find when you get off the beaten path.

The first represents the ever-present challenge of man versus nature. On Memorial Day in 1889, the South Fork Dam that held a man-made lake 14 miles upstream of Johnstown, failed after several days of heavy rain. Some 20 million tons of water and debris bore down on the prosperous steel town. Telegraph warnings went largely unheeded and more than 2,200 died in the tumultuous, churning floodwaters that raced through the valley.
Tucked away on a quiet road but within earshot of busy U.S. 219 is the Johnstown Flood Memorial. It overlooks the area that once was the peaceful lake where the rich and famous of the day sailed, rowed and fished. The remnants of the dam are there; each side still visible while the once sturdy center is now a gaping hole, a painful reminder of the deadly destruction. Paved walking trails allow one to walk right up to the precipice. At the National Park Service visitor’s center, exhibits, displays and audio/visual presentations relive the terror of that day, and tell the story of the town’s rebirth. The world came to the town’s aid. American Red Cross founder Clara Barton led a contingent of doctors and nurses to bring relief to the stricken town and prevented massive disease outbreaks, firmly establishing the young Red Cross as the nation’s premiere disaster aid organization.
About 30 minutes south is a memorial of a different kind, a testament to the terrors and complacency of our day…and the bravery of some unlikely heroes. The story of United Flight 93 has often been told, when the 40 men and women onboard refused to be pawns of the Taliban’s terrorist plot and prevented Flight 93 from reaching its intended target. They gave their lives in the process, and forever gave new meaning to the phrase, “Let’s roll.”

Growing out of a wild flower-covered field – long-ago a strip mining operation – is a unique memorial to these fallen heroes. A black granite path along the north edge of the debris field leads to a stark, white stone wall that lies along the final flight path; the names of the passengers and crew permanently carved into the stone, an eternal tribute to their memory. A large boulder at the edge of a hemlock grove marks the crater where the passengers and crew perished, and still remain. Construction continues on a visitor center on the opposite side of the field that will offer panoramic views of the somber landscape.

These are diversions well worth taking, so that we never forget those who gave their lives in the face of natural and man-made terrors, and for the beauty that underlies these tragedies that has been preserved.

Links:
National Park Service – Johnstown Flood National Memorial
National Park Service – Flight 93 National Memorial 

The final path of United Flight 93. The rock lies over the filled-in crater where the bodies of the passengers and crew were found.
The final path of United Flight 93. The rock lies over the filled-in crater where the bodies of the passengers and crew were found.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2014

Diversion

Hidden Gem Just Outside the Beltway – Kensington Book Festival

Sunday morning we awoke to a glorious spring day, the kind ideal for top-down motoring.  The weather was perfect to follow through on our commitment to visit two author friends at The International Day of the Book in Kensington, Maryland. Our pale skin was craving some sun, so we threw on some shorts, slathered on some SPF 30, and headed north from our Alexandria home.

Fortunately, traffic on the DC Beltway was relatively light and we soon exited onto Connecticut Ave. You could easily miss Kensington as just another leafy suburb, but we had looked at a map before leaving and knew to turn onto Armory Street to find parking. We found a spot on the street (watch for No Parking and Permit Only signs) and walked a short two blocks to the festival.

Our first stop was a small crafts display where we found the perfect cufflinks to complement my wedding suit. Made from old bowling balls, flecks of gold in the blue/green urethane sparkled in the sun.

The book festival (www.dayofthebook.com) didn’t disappoint. Tents lined two sides of Howard Street along the old B&O Railroad with local authors at the ready to talk about their books and why they wrote them, and they were certainly willing to sign a copy! Unexpectedly, there were several offerings of children’s books and games, making this a true family affair.

We said hello to friend and former colleague Steve Piacente, author of Bella and Bootlicker, (www.GetBella.com) and his wife Felicia. Incredibly, Judy’s friend John DeDakis, writer of Fast Track, Bluff, and Troubled Water, (www.JohnDeDakis.com) was in the booth directly across from Steve’s. I got to meet him, then we introduced them. Ahh, friends in high places!

From left: Steve Piacente, Greg (aka FedFlack), John DeDakis, Judy.  Photo courtesy Felicia Piacente
From left: Steve Piacente, Greg (aka FedFlack), John DeDakis, Judy. Photo courtesy Felicia Piacente

We strolled through the displays and bought a delicious frozen custard at one of the food trucks conveniently parked nearby. The vendor pleasantly pointed out, “This is the real thing … all natural.” We savored the confection and then spent a good hour exploring Kensington’s other hidden treasure: antique shops. All along Howard Street , you can shop for antique (and 50s/60s not quite antique) wares from estate jewelry to truly vintage and reproduction furniture. One lesson learned …  look up! Many of the stores had vintage lamps and chandeliers for sale; one (www.sageconsignment.com) even offered authentic reproductions of virtually every style of light ever produced (okay, that’s a stretch, but the catalog was an inch thick).

In the “you never know what you will find when you browse” category, Judy found a vintage bar set straight out of Mad Men at the Antique Market II. The price was right so it now sits perfectly in our globe bar next to the Woodford Reserve bourbon.

We took a different path to the car so that we could enjoy the charm of Kensington’s nicely restored Victorian and Craftsman style homes. This was the perfect place for architecture geeks like us!

From virtually anywhere in the metropolitan Washington area, Kensington is less than a half-hour’s drive away. Check it out the next time you need to get out of the house for a few hours on a sunny day.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2014