The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Sunday, April 19, 2015

In The Shadows of the Saguaro

Spring Break 2015 Part 3
Gilbert Ray Campground
Tucson, Arizona

    I love the desert. The desert is an exotic environment to me. I am mesmerized by the stark beauty, dark night skies, and the plants and animals that can adapt to such a hostile environment. I live in a place where clean quality water is plentiful. That is one problem we do not have in Ohio. When planning this trip, Melizza and I had our sights set on Arizona and the famous Saguaro cacti that dot the landscape of the Sonoran Desert around Tucson. I had done my research and had high expectations. Those expectations were exceeded. I fell in love with majestic saguaro that surrounded us in Tucson.

     The drive from Santa Fe was uneventful. It is amazing to travel the vast open spaces in the western United States. One highlight of our journey were the green chile burritos that were sold by a Mexican woman at the gas station in New Mexico. The chiles here are so tasty on everything from blue corn enchiladas to cheeseburgers. We passed through the chili capital of New Mexico and we stopped in the western town of Tombstone. It is touristy for certain but if you enjoy a little stroll through an Old West Town with people dressed in period costume, this is the place. We walked into Big Nosed Kate's Saloon and the OK Corral.

     After I quick break, we moved on to the Tucson area. To say I loved the campground at Gilbert Ray would be an understatement. The setting is just beautiful as the park is surrounded by mountains and characterized by the "forests" of saguaro cacti, palo verde trees, prickly pear cactus and cholla.  Gilbert Ray is a county park. It is close to Tucson and all of its attractions but is shielded from the city by mountains. So if you crave an In 'N' Out Burger or have a delicious Sonoran Dog at El Guero Canelo, you are ten minutes away. The only reminder that your are near the city are the occasional flights of Blackhawk helicopters from a nearby base. Just about every campsite boasts a nice view or a saguaro cactus nearby. The campsites electric only so you need to bring water or fill before proceeding to your site. The campground is adjacent to the western branch of Saguaro National Park and the magnificent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is just a few miles away. There are hiking trails the meander through the desert through washes and up the mountains. In short, it was just what we wanted.

Spacious Campsites are the norm.
Bedroom View

The Saguaro tower over the Airstream

     All of my kids grew up reading the imaginative book Cactus Hotel by Brenda Guiberson. This children's book tells the story of the journey of a saguaro seed protected by the shade of the palo verde tree that grows into a Cactus Hotel that houses all forms of desert animals. These giants of the desert live up to 200 years and grow to well over seventy feet tall. They don't grow arms until they are 75 to 100 years old. The descriptions in this well written book were so vivid that child and adult alike have a sense of the place just by reading. Our stay here brought that story to life.

Dream it and then do it.

The Sun Comes Up In a Coffee Cup

Junior Ranger Homework

Ethan and Lucy getting their first Junior Ranger Badges of the trip at Saguaro National Park
    Ethan celebrated his 11th birthday here with a trip to the Titan Missile Museum and lunch at El Guero Canelo. I will save the great museums of Tucson for a later entry but suffice it to say Arizona is a great spring destination for families. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Skies of Santa Fe

Spring Break 2015 Part 2
Santa Fe Skies RV Park
Santa Fe, New Mexico

     Santa Fe is the crown jewel of New Mexico. It is touristy and upscale but retains a unique look that attracts artists, retirees and tourists alike. For me, the allure is in the vibrant color of the sky. It is such a vivid blue. The contrast of the blue sky with the timeless adobe buildings that seem to change color with every minute movement of the sun. Add to that great food, shopping, art galleries and the ubiquitous red chiles hanging out to dry and you have our first destination on our westward journey.

    The journey to Santa Fe involved two long hard driving days but as soon as we arrived at Santa Fe Skies RV Park we knew it was all going to be worth it. This park is a ten minute drive from the heart of Santa Fe. The park is well positioned for both sunrises and sunsets and it does deliver on its name. It is a private park with a unique playground of artistically arranged farm tools and equipment. The bathrooms are immaculate and it has full hook ups which is a rarity for us. This park had artwork and adobe buildings throughout and it felt like you were unmistakably in Santa Fe.

Our campsite at Santa Fe Skies
A friendly game can turn ugly in a competitive family like ours

Ethan wanted to bring the sagebrush home

Great Bathrooms with Hot Showers

    We set out to explore Santa Fe with no real agenda other than to eat some New 
Mexican food. There are so many great restaurants in this town that it is difficult to narrow down the choices. Our first stop was Cafe Pasquale's. We visited here on our last trip before we had any children and I am happy to say they are still going strong. The wait is still long and my lips were burning from the green and red chiles afterward. We spent time strolling around the old town shopping the stalls and stores and marveling at the adobe structures that make this town so famous.

My lips are still burning from the red chiles at Cafe Pasquale's

     A must see for any visitor to Santa Fe is the Georgia O' Keeffe Museum. It is a small museum that gives you a sense of her love the rugged beauty of New Mexico. Her artwork speaks for itself but there is also a number of photographs detailing her experiences at the Ghost Ranch which served as an inspiration for many of her paintings. More than anything, I admire her passion and willingness to follow her dreams. After the death of her husband she moved from New York to the New Mexico ranch where she felt most at home and drew her greatest inspiration.

The Georgia O' Keeffe Museum
The provide sketch pads for the young visitors

     Our stay in Santa Fe was brief but I suspect Melizza and I will return anytime we are passing through the neighborhood. It is not hard too see why so many artists are inspired by the natural beauty. Melizza bought a painting that will hang in our home and remind us of the beauty that is found only in this part of the country.

     I can still taste the vibrant flavors of this pristine outpost of Spanish and Native American paradise.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Remnants Of Route 66

Warm and Cheerful Centerville, Ohio
Spring Break 2015 Part 1

Our first Airstream trip from our new home

      Call it the Manifest Destiny of the Troutstream. Call it what you will but I have always dreamed of heading west in the Airstream. It was inevitable when I think about it. If I could just make the time, we could escape for just a little while. Well I finally did it and the trip was everything I had hoped for. I pulled the kids out of school to extend their Spring Break for an extra week. I managed my work so that the office could live without me for two weeks. I remember sitting in meetings all day just itching to escape to the open road. The vast and often boring plains separate my home in southern Ohio with the wonders of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The beginning of our journey west traced the famous Mother Road known as Route 66.

     Route 66 is the stuff of legends for American automobile travel. The famous route stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles cuts through Missouri, a tiny bit of Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and then the promise land of southern California. On my journey, we caught a few glimpses of the old roadside attractions. In reality, the idea of Route 66 is probably better than the reality. However, you can catch a glimpse or two of the kitschy Americana that is uniquely ours.

     We spent the majority of our time moving as quickly as possible. However, every once in while, we found a roadside attraction to check out like the Round Barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma.

Or the more modern Pops Diner just down the street.

    We also stopped at the restored Conoco Station in Shamrock, Texas. If only the reality of long distance travel could match the romance of this bygone era.

     I am sitting at home with a copy of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey on my night stand. Mr. Abbey would certainly not approve of paved roads in the National Parks allowing travel trailers like mine to have access to these wild and precious lands. However, I do share his love of the precious land resources that are preserved in our National Park System. When I reflect on my long journey, I have only cherished memories of exploring the wonders of the west with my family like others have done for generations. I am proud to live in a country that is endowed with so much beauty and diversity even in this era where everything is digitized, categorized, homogenized and disposable. I will try to break up my posts into digestible components so that I can fully memorialize what for me was a trip of a lifetime. I was a bit road weary at the end but I will soon forget and want to head out again for further exploration.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm
Walland, Tennessee

The Barn at Blackberry Farm
The Horse Barn
    There is resort in Eastern Tennessee unlike any place I have visited before. It is down a country road and nestled in a valley just outside the Townsend entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It all begins with that fence. It is a humble white farmhouse fence with crisscrossing X-shaped patterns. You will never forget that ubiquitous fence meandering over hills dazzling the lucky visitor with it's elegant simplicity.

     Blackberry Farm is no ordinary farm. It is a luxury resort and a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux affiliated properties. We first discovered that name in Provence on our honeymoon and it has never led us astray since. The resort is set on 9,200 acres of rolling hills. It is like staying at your incredibly wealthy friends sprawling gentleman farmer estate. There is a main farmhouse, a guest house and many other structures scattered around this estate. Nothing is as simple as it seems. It is very Walt Disney in its perfection. From the picnic shelters to the garden shed and fly fishing shack, every single detail is perfect. There are only 68 rooms in the entire resort ranging from hotel style rooms to cottages. The primary attraction here is the food. Blackberry Farm has long been on our wish list. After dining at French Laundry in California and more recently at the Inn at Little Washington, Blackberry Farm was the final stop on the holy trinity tour of luxurious dining for us. 

    Blackberry Farm was never a secret to us. It was always either too expensive or impractical to leave our kids. With the assistance of our family, Melizza and I escaped for a quick romantic adventure in Tennessee. Melizza loves country sophistication so I knew this would be special. We went in February when the rates came down to earth between a visit from Rick Bayless to sample their craft beer and Valentine's Day weekend. Some weekends, Emmylou Harris stops by for a concert. There is always magic in the air at Blackberry Farm.

The Spa

The Garden Shed

Inside the Barn for dinner

    In the final analysis, this place was worth the hype although the rack rates are crazy expensive. The staff treated us like royalty. They were mostly younger on our visit and to our surprise the place lacked pretension. The meals were exquisite and almost overwhelming. The evening meals were formal in the Barn which like everything else at Blackberry Farm was much more than meets the eye. The Barn boasts an open kitchen and a stunning chandelier with a large scale National Park hotel style fireplace burning as the centerpiece. The meals were always changing and this place is truly farm to table. The breakfasts and lunches were excellent and less formal. I took no pictures of the food for fear of being exposed as for the twit that I am. I never brought up the Airstream to anyone although I would really like to boondock here. Everything here is gourmet. They might serve something pedestrian for lunch like chili but it will be made of beef brisket and will probably be the best you have ever had. They have a card for recipe requests. I think they get more than an occasional request.

   With all of this eating, Melizza and I spent a good deal of our time hiking around this magnificent property. Most of the time, you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. If you had a rich uncle who bought 10,000 acres and made his own private version of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that is how this place felt. It is owned by the Beall family who started the Ruby Tuesday chain. The food here is a bit better.

     Sam Beall, the proprietor grew up on Blackberry Farm and fell in love with the land. After college and culinary school, he apprenticed at the French Laundry in California. He also worked at the Ritz-Carlton, Cowgirl Creamery and California Wineries. He clearly picked up that California love of heirloom ingredients, artisanal products and wine. He brought this knowledge and passion and applied it to the bounty that is available in East Tennessee. Blackberry Farm boasts heirloom gardens, a dairy, creamery, salumeria, honey house and a preservation kitchen. They are attempting to create the conditions to harvest french Periford truffles that were first produced by Dr. Tom Michaels. He cracked the code and is harvesting them in Tennessee. They have Italian truffle dogs, heirloom gardeners, preservationists and many other experts on site. This is truly a farm to table and a foodie geeks paradise.

    Melizza and I spent this rare weekend away from the kids enjoying each other and great food. You can spend as much money as you want here. You can rent a mountain bike for a couple hundred dollars. They have an on site spa, an Orvis fly fishing school. They also offer skeet shooting and even provide guests with a complimentary fleet of Lexus vehicles to drive. Melizza and I opted for some quiet time together in front of the fire between hiking and eating. Our only escape was a quick drive on the nearby Foothills Parkway. If you ever find yourself in need of a romantic escape or a culinary destination you could do a lot worse than Blackberry Farm. This place is a gem and we will sure to be back although it will be on coupon day again.