NearandFarAZ

When it comes to life’s simple pleasures, I believe there are few things that can top a walk through beautiful scenery, capped off with a bite to eat or a frosty brew (or both!) in an out-of-the-way café or brewery.

With that in mind, I am kicking off two new blog series, “A Hike and a Bite” and “A Hike and a Brew.”

Along the way, I plan to feature treks through the stunning, rugged terrain so common in the U.S. Southwest, as well as strolls through the fascinating city centers that I love to explore all over the U.S. and around the world.

Every now and then, the two converge for an extra-special adventure of gorgeous hiking and charming city sidewalks. (Sedona, AZ; Durango, CO; and San Francisco, CA come to mind).

For my introductory “A Hike and a Brew,” I am heading to a city that is virtually synonymous with beer – Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Brew Town

Although Milwaukee has a number of nicknames – MKE, Cream City, City of Festivals – I like the simple “Brew Town.” After all, it WAS beer that made Milwaukee famous all those years ago.

These days, the city has transformed from the heyday of its massive beer industry into a hub of fun craft breweries and scenic riverside trails.

IMG_1944On my recent trip I set out to see the city from the Riverwalk, a wide concrete path that follows the Milwaukee River through the downtown area.DSC00353I started from the cozy Uber Tap Room & Cheese Bar located in the Old Third World Third Street area, just steps from the Riverwalk.

I must say that it came in very handy that, along with a great selection of local beers, the taproom also served Wisconsin’s other specialty – cheese. A flight of beers and a cheese board were definitely in order!DSC08007 (1)IMG_1902Once on the Riverwalk, I loved the springtime flowers that were just starting to bloom, the rowing teams that were gliding across the shining river surface, and the quirky public art dispersed along the trail.DSC08042DSC00362IMG_1922Serious beer

Not far from the downtown, the Riverwalk passes by the popular Lakefront Brewery, a cavernous old coal-fired power plant that was converted into a brewery in the late 1990s. The brewery does a brisk business in draft and bottled beers, with names like Riverwest Stein Amber Lager, Happy Glamper Ale, and Eazy Teazy Tea-Infused Ale. Lakefront’s bottled beers are sold all over town, but sometimes you just have to go to the source.DSC08141DSC09929DSC09927Situated right along the Milwaukee River, the brewery’s outdoor patio seating offers a sweeping view of the Holton Street Viaduct Bridge, with the impressive Marsupial footbridge below it.DSC09909DSC08183DSC08192Changing landscape

After the Lakefront Brewery, the scenery transitions once again to a quiet, leafy refuge, where frequent bridges offer unobstructed views of the river and skyline.DSC00084DSC09953DSC00104Beerline

Keep going on the Riverwalk, and the trail soon turns into the Beerline, a relatively new biking and walking path that preserves a bit of Milwaukee’s industrial-brewery past. The 3.7-mile stretch of trail follows the old brewery freight line that became known as the Milwaukee Road.DSC00013DSC00008DSC00046The railroad shut down in the mid-1980s, and the abandoned old rail line was later converted into a multi-use trail. The unique murals and public art along the route make it an interesting and fun trail to walk.DSC00043DSC00066DSC00063And rest assured, you won’t go thirsty along the Beerline. The trail passes closely by Cafe Corazon, a neighborhood Mexican restaurant that serves tasty, authentic food in a historic building. Many other breweries, bars, and restaurants are also clustered nearby.DSC00003DSC09997Lakefront

A walk through Milwaukee would not be complete without a visit to the the city’s greatest natural feature – Lake Michigan. And dominating the lakefront is the stunning Milwaukee Art Museum. Whether sunny or cloudy, the sight of the graceful, white-winged building is breath-taking.DSC00346DSC00242DSC08257DSC08229Don’t stop with the museum, though. I also recommend a walk along the Oak Leaf Trail on the waterfront for great views of the harbor and the city skyline.DSC00297DSC00284DSC00180

 

Although Milwaukee is a large city of nearly 600,000 people, its center is compact, and it’s a great place for a stroll. Oh yes, and a brew!

Getting there is surprisingly easy, as is getting around once you’re there. I didn’t rent a car, and I was able to see everything I set out to see in a few days. Milwaukee’s main airport, General Mitchell International Airport, is served by most major U.S. airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, Frontier, Alaska, and United). The GO Riteway Shuttle booth at the airport offers quick rides to many downtown hotels, while taxi companies and Uber and Lyft also offer service to and from the airport, as well as around the city. To guide foot traffic downtown, dozens of informative street signs point the way.

 

 

“Well I know what’s right, I got just one life

in a world that keeps on pushing me around

But I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down”

As we belted out the words to Tom Petty’s feisty anthem, fists pumping along with the rest of the crowd at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus, the decades seemed to melt away

All of a sudden, it was just me, a 31-year-old newly single mom, sitting at the steering wheel beside a four-year-old tow-headed boy, cruising the south-of-the-border roads to the seaside resort town of San Carlos, Mexico.

The year was 1989, and we were on our first official road trip. Technically, there were just the two of us in the pickup truck. But it turned out our friend Tom was there the whole way as well. Time and time again on that long, hot drive, we popped a tape of Petty’s recent hit album, “Full Moon Fever” into the cassette player.

A good 20 years before “The Walking Dead” would make zombies all the rage, my son  gravitated to “Zombie Zoo.” I had a soft spot for “Alright for Now.” We both loved “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “I Won’t Back Down.”

Little did I know at the time that road trips – and really, travel of all kinds – would become a lifelong thing for my son and me. Or that, from that week forward, whenever I heard the opening chords to “Free Fallin,’” I would be back in my old truck, feeling the warm breezes and the sweet bonds of motherhood.

So, when my son – now the same age I was that long-ago summer – bought tickets for a Tom Petty concert as an early Mother’s Day gift to me while I was visiting in his new hometown of Austin, Texas, I couldn’t have been happier.

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Whenever I hike the Peavine Trail in Prescott, Arizona, two questions come to mind: How can so many amazing features be packed into 5.5 miles? And why aren’t more people using it?

As my hometown trail, the Peavine has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve hiked it in every season, and I’ve checked out all of the “white-dot trails” that lead off of the main trail into the spectacular Granite Dells.

Certainly, the trail has grown in popularity through the years. It is a staple for locals out for a stroll and an increasing draw for tourists. Still, on a recent Sunday afternoon – under partly cloudy skies, with temps in the high 60s – I saw no more than a dozen other hikers and bikers as I slowly ambled along an eight-mile round trip.

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I have to say – this trail has something for everyone: A lively history as one of Arizona’s first rail routes; a smooth, wide surface with a gentle grade; a great location just a few miles from downtown Prescott; and stunning views of not just the orange-hued granite formations of the Dells, but also of the blue waters of Watson Lake.

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Water – it’s precious anywhere, but in Arizona, it takes on a value that I think only desert dwellers can understand. Think 115-degree summertime temps and near-zero-percent humidity, and you get the picture.

So, when there’s a spot where sparkling, blue-green water is gushing through a rugged desert canyon, it gets people’s attention.

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You know that feeling you get when you return to a place you love? You know exactly what you want to do, and you’re excited to get started? That’s how I felt on my most recent trip to San Francisco.

I arrived on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t wait to hit the streets. Just one little problem, however: Rain. The online forecast for the weekend was all clouds, umbrellas, and raindrops.

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View from under the umbrella

Still, as I checked into my hotel on that slightly dreary Friday morning, I was encouraged by the attitude of the hotel concierge. “We’ve had worse,” he said when I asked him about the weather. With that, I tucked an umbrella into my tote and headed off.

Although I’ve visited San Francisco a number of times over the past eight years and experienced all types of weather, this trip was unique in one way: It was the first time I was completely on my own. When none of my friends or family members could get away to join me, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to come up a personalized agenda of favorites.

So here goes – my very own list of San Francisco treats:

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The third Monday of January – it’s that blue time of the year when I come to terms with a few things: the Christmas tree MUST come down; the sun doesn’t ALWAYS shine in Arizona; and I NEED to plan some adventures.

Last year at this time, I took advantage of mid-January – officially the bluest time of the year – to set some travel goals. Not only did it get me through my least favorite month, but it served as a springboard for some truly awesome trips.

At the time, I was about eight months into my travel and hiking blog, and I had some big plans for the coming year.

Now, it’s time to see how I did on my list of travel resolutions of 2016, and to set some new ones for 2017.

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Think of a flamboyantly colorful landscape.

What just came to mind? The Caribbean? The Greek Islands? Hawaii’s North Shore? The California coast?

Well, prepare yourself to add a new landscape to that colorful image – the Arizona desert!

I know, hearing “colorful” and “desert” in the same sentence is probably an oxymoron for most people. But trust me, visiting the Arizona desert in the springtime is sure to expand your horizons and open your mind.

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It’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Hundreds of thousands of baseball spring-training fans already know it. Winter-weary residents of Northern Arizona know it. And sun-seeking spring-breakers from throughout the Midwest know it: Phoenix, Arizona in the springtime is hard to beat.

 

Unlike other parts of the country, where March and April can be a slushy, windy slog, Phoenix is at its best in the spring (in my opinion), with its warm breezes, sunny skies, and blooming wildflowers.

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So, it was with anticipation that I looked ahead to a Saturday trip to the Valley of the Sun in early March. To take full advantage of the season, I decided to put together a little itinerary of some of my favorite activities – hiking, sightseeing, eating, and shopping. In my mind, the perfect Phoenix day!

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I’m not a native Arizonan. But in a state of transplants, my nearly 30 years in the Grand Canyon state often make me feel like an old-timer, with the accompanying insight into the vernacular, culture, and natural treasures.

So, when I noticed that lists were circulating on social media about things people in other states will never say, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list from my adopted home state.

One caveat: Some of these are probably wishful thinking on my part – especially among those recent transplants!

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It’s funny how the story in your head can change in an instant.

There I was practically skipping down the Granite Mountain trail, with a blog idea formulating in my head: The many faces of Granite Mountain.

And who could blame me on that warm, sunny Sunday? Granite Mountain – arguably  Prescott, Arizona’s most iconic promontory – had shown itself well that day. Backed by an azure-blue Arizona sky, the views of the pink-tinted mountain had shifted constantly as we ascended and descended its 7,600-foot summit. Despite the tough climb, I was relishing the many different faces.

Then, wham, I got an up-close look at Granite Mountain from an altogether new vantage point: In my face, as I slammed into a piece of granite jutting into the trail.

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