Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kayaking and camping at Saguaro Lake

My return to Saguaro Lake's campsites was just as memorable as the first trip. Instead of canoes we rented inflatable kayaks from Arizona Hiking Shack near Thomas Road and 32nd Street in Phoenix. We inflated the two kayaks on the parking lot using the pump we were provided with. In a few minutes the kayaks were ready to go; one would carry most of the camping gear in two large watertight bags ($5 each to rent) and one person, while the other held a pump, two people and smaller items.

The possibility of the kayak beginning to deflate during our 2 mile journey from the marina to the campsite spurred knots in my stomach. But there was no turning back.

It's initially difficult to get two rowers on the same rhythm. But you flow much more efficiently once you achieve that rhythm. The views remained as impressive as our first visit. On an overcast day, the lake wasn't as populated with wake boarders and fishermen, though of the few we encountered some wondered what we were up to by kayaking so far.

 We stopped in a cove along the way to rest and snack.

Much to our surprise and excitement, the campsites were nearly empty. We only saw one being occupied by a family, but when the sun set we were the lone campers, with the exception of a couple who docked their boat and slept there.
Empty campsites at Saguaro Lake.
Our campsite had views of Four Peaks and the lake.
Sunset at Saguaro Lake.
Spider near our fire.
 After dinner the skies quickly darkened and we still had a bunch of food to put away. We weren't fast enough. Soon we heard something rustling in the bushes. Skunks. Our first instinct was to rattle our car keys and make noise to startle them away. It worked for a short time. But they would come back. Our next visitor was a raccoon. I spotted it first, and it just stared back, seemingly not afraid. It, too, ran away when we created noise. When it returned shortly thereafter, my friend threw a stick and hit it in the head. Not sure that was smart, but it worked. We heard the animals return around 3 a.m. My concern was that our tent would be sprayed by a skunk, but we made it out unscathed. What a night.

Our reward? The stunning view of sunrise that morning, reflecting off the lake, coloring the water and skies with oranges and gold.

We had to pack light. Here's a list of what we took:

  • Paper towels.
  • Eating utensils.
  • Small propane stove.
  • Water pack and water jug.
  • Wet wipes.
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • 2-person tent and a 1-person tent.
  • Knife.
  • Clothes: 2 hoodies, sweatpants, hiking shoes, boots, gloves, warm hat, extra socks, water shoes.
  • Camping heater and 2 bottles of propane.
  • Food: Canned pasta, canned fruit and vegetables, hot-dog buns, turkey dogs, bananas, Wheat Thins, chips, apples, canned beans. Our friend brought steaks, instant mashed potatoes and a burrito.
  • Small hand towel.
  • Camera.
  • Watertight box to hold keys, wallets and phones.
  • Lighter.
  • Plastic bag to hold trash. (There is no trash service.)
  • Hammock.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Update: Renting a canoe in Phoenix

Last year, we rented a canoe from Arizona Outdoor Fun and had it strapped atop the car. When we went to rent one again, after we had filled out all the paperwork and paid, we were informed they no longer allow that and that we would need a trailer. To rent one would cost $65 a day plus a $500 deposit. That was a deal-breaker. Instead, we rented an inflatable canoe from another company, Hiking Shack. Total cost was about $180 for two canoes for two nights, plus two watertight bags for our gear. Wish us luck!

Update: The canoe worked out perfectly. We've since also rented hiking backpacks and other items from Hiking Shack. Graham and I highly recommend them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Camping and canoeing at Saguaro Lake

I'm going to Saguaro Lake this weekend, so I thought I'd recap a memorable 2011 camping trip.

Did you know there’s a camping spot at Saguaro Lake accessible only by boat? Our problem was that we don’t own a boat. The solution?  We rented a canoe from Arizona Outdoor Fun in Phoenix. It cost $40 a night in December 2011, but the price has since gone up to $70 a day or $50 each per day if you rent two canoes. (You also need a $100 deposit.)

We had it all planned out. We would wake up at 6 a.m. and pack our camping gear, then pick up the canoe when the office opened. The worker helped us secure it onto our vehicle and we were on our way.  We first stopped to stock up on food and drinks, bought our recreation pass ($6 at the Walgreens on Power Road) and drove to the Saguaro Lake marina. That’s when we made a mistake. We parked our Jeep Liberty at the boat ramp, which is supposed to be 15-minute or so parking. In our haste to get in the water, we took off without moving our car.

We canoed on the lake several miles with our camping gear aboard before I realized we didn’t move the vehicle. We were several miles out by then, and it would take at least an hour of paddling to return to the car, move it and then canoe back  across the lake to the campsite. We decided to take our chances and hope our Jeep wasn’t towed.

 I was already nervous about tipping over when powered boats created sizeable wakes, so the car situation only magnified my stress. Our way to avoid the tragic fate of possibly tipping over and losing our gear was to canoe close to the cliffs to our right, away from the boats. This allowed us to enjoy the ride and soak in the views  --  and slowly forget that our vehicle could be towed.

We stopped to rest along the way and munch on sandwiches and snacks. We even spotted an eagle. This brightened my mood considerably and I was actually enjoying myself.

When we reached the campsites, there were about three other tents set up and a house boat docked. It would go on to play loud music on one of the nights, but we didn’t mind. We had our champagne (it was a day before New Year’s Eve) and we enjoyed the entertainment.

We soon discovered that our next mistake was forgetting our tent’s poles. Thanks to some clever engineering we came up with a form of shelter, and it worked well that night. We set up our hammock and used rope and large tree branches we found to hold a tarp over it. We positioned a camping heater nearby. Cozy.

We hiked and ate and talked and drank champagne next to the fire. It was a great night.

From our lakeside camping spot we could see Four Peaks and other mountains in the distance. Studying the ripples in the water calmed me, and the cool breeze gently touched our skin as we looked out from our hammock-tent. In the morning, we gazed at the red, orange and yellow sunrise while birds soared overhead. We’d like to think they were bald eagles, but honestly we don’t know. 

At one point during the weekend, though, the tranquility was disturbed by the sound of gunshots. It seems there were hunters nearby, and the sounds echoed through the area. But the relaxing, fun moments overshadowed the brief disruption.

I wasn’t looking forward to leaving. 

We commented on how fun the camping trip was and how we should return sometime. But the possibility of our car being towed was also in the back of our minds. Toward the end of our canoe ride back I would strain my eyes trying to see if I could spot it. It was the least enjoyable part of the trip. Dodging wakes seemed more stressful. Luckily, as we neared the marina, I noticed a black SUV parked in the loading area. We got lucky! A sweet ending to 2011.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Angels Trumpet Ale House

My beer aficionado friends have been raving about AngelsTrumpet Ale House since it opened, but last night was my first taste. I haven’t been in a hurry to visit because I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I liked the venue (across the street from FilmBar, on Second Street near McKinley Street in downtown Phoenix).  It was spacious, with wooden tables and dim lighting, and quiet on a Tuesday night.

Craft-beer lovers, rejoice! You’ll surely find something to sip on this chalkboard menu, which we were told changes constantly.

I ordered a cider (Woodchuck, not my favorite, but fine for my one drink of the night).

The kitchen was closed at 11 p.m., but this charming, artistic chalkboard intrigues me. I’d like to try one of the homemade poptarts sometime.

Have you tried the brews and food at Angels Trumpet Ale House yet? What did you think?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Desert Botanical Garden's Chiles and Chocolate Festival

There was no more perfect way to spend one of the first 60-degree days we’ve had in Phoenix in a while than a day at Desert Botanical Garden. An added, and delicious, bonus was the treats at the Chiles and Chocolate Festival for us to sample and purchase: chili, sopes, chocolates, cookies, burritos, chocolate martinis, Cave Creek Chili Beer and more. There was even a GroupOn deal available Saturday for two-for-one admission to the garden -- it’s as this lovely day was meant to be. (And I was able to just show my smartphone displaying the deal at the admission gate instead of printing anything out.)

Desert Botanical Garden

The first order of business was to eat. We picked chicken sopes that didn’t disappoint. (Cheese, lettuce, salsa, beans, chicken on slightly dry masa.)

Desert Botanical Garden

Next came a stroll through the garden to check out the sculptures and magnificent plants. I can't think of a more gorgeous setting for a walk.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
A sculpture from "Whispers of a New World" by Carolina Escobar.
Desert Botanical Garden
You'll find wisdom along the way.
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
And you'll learn about Native American history.
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
You'll spot bees hard at work.
Desert Botanical Garden

Be sure to check out Philip Haas’ Four Seasons sculptures -- the most striking. They are so detailed and awe-inspiring. My favorite was Spring, for its blooms. 

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden

You may encounter some critters along the way.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
This little fellow was not shy.
We also checked out the monarch butterfly exhibit ($3.50 extra per person). The butterflies were mostly clustered on the ceiling of the enclosure, but a few could be seen floating throughout.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden

I enjoyed sampling and taking home various local companies’ offerings, including chocolate honey by Made By Bees, barbecue sauce from Anthony Spices and toffee by GoodyTwos. And there was no better way to work off those calories than walking around the garden’s various trails, enjoying the sunshine and breeze, taking in the views.

Desert Botanical Garden
The goodies I purchased from Arizona companies.
The DBG also had unique offerings in its plant sale and gift shop. I wanted everything.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden
I fell in love with this stone owl and turtle.