A Long Weekend in Tuscon

The Wednesday night before the United States became crazy about their toilet paper because of the Coronavirus, we boarded a Southwest flight to wing our way south to Phoenix where we planned to rent a car and drive to Tucson for a four day weekend. Our plane was full with kids going to baseball tournaments and adults wanting to see spring ball. By the next day spring ball and all the kids tournaments were cancelled. We continued on with our plans to go to Tucson. We had no clear agenda from the beginning. The weather in Tucson is so inviting in the spring, it is easy to stay outdoors and away from others.

Thursday, my husband picked up the rental car from the Phoenix airport. Rentals are expensive (or were when we started because this is high season). We chose the “managers special” to save money. That means you get whatever car is available. We got a new Jeep Compass which was a great car for touring the countryside. On our way out of Phoenix, we stopped by the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande site is a tribute to more than 650 years of irrigation in the desert. Archeologists are not sure of the purpose of the site but the monument houses the remains of the largest earthen building in North America. Civilization in this location lasted over a thousand years until about 1450 C.E. The location was abandoned. Without written word the people responsible for an elaborate irrigation, farming, and trading culture remain a mystery.

When we arrived in Tucson we checked into the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort. The Wyndham is located in the Sonoran Desert. When looking for a hotel in Arizona make sure to pick one with outdoor pools, and places to sit. The sunsets in Tucson are gorgeous and free. There’s nothing like sitting on your balcony after an afternoon soak in the pool with a glass of wine and watching the sun set in a colorful sky.

Friday we headed to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. The drive took us through the Saguaro National Park. Named for the large saguaro cactus, native to the area, we had our lunch sitting on a rock looking at the grand landscape. The afternoon we toured the museum which is actually an outdoor adventure showcasing native desert plants and animals. I particularly enjoyed the hummingbird exhibit. If you have kids with you, plan your trip to see the raptor flyover scheduled once a day right now.

Saturday we headed to the Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. There are 30 miles of trails in the recreation area. Once again we took a picnic lunch to eat outdoors. We had bought tickets to go on the tram which proved to be an open air crawler. Because of recent rain in the area, we were only able to get to the dams and see the flooding, rushing river. In dryer seasons, the crawler takes you all the way up to two glorious waterfalls.

Sunday we met friends. But by Sunday, the country was awash with alarm over the Coronavirus and things were starting to shut down. We were literally one of about 10 people on the usually bustling University of Arizona campus. If you were traveling during more usual times, I would recommend you plan Sunday to drive to Tubac about 40 minutes south of Tucson. Established in 1752, Tubac is a charming artist colony with gorgeous colors and eclectic items in all their stores. On the way down or back stop at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, meaning White Dove of the Desert. The Mission was built by Spanish Franciscans in the 18th century and sits on the Xavier Indian Reservations. You can’t miss it’s rising dome as you drive by on the highway.

Monday we headed back to Phoenix and an amazingly uneventful flight home. The plane was packed. As we walked through an empty Boise airport, we saw 6 or 7 people waiting for a plane to San Fransisco, one of the hot zones for the virus.

At some point, life in the US will return to normal. Americans love to travel abroad as witnessed by the lines at the 13 funnel airports this weekend. But we have wonderful sites here in the states. If we have to stay in our country’s boundaries for while so be it. We live in a glorious, mysterious place.

Comparing Sun Valley and McCall-Two Idaho Ski Resorts with Very Different Personalities

This year the snow hounds are running Idaho’s ski slopes with gleeful abandon. The snow started early, late October.  By Thanksgiving, Sun Valley, Idaho’s premier, internationally-known ski resort was open.  With an average of 220 inches of snow and 3,400 vertical feet of mountain, Sun Valley deserves the kudos as one of the World’s great ski resorts.  Sun Valley was recently ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 25 ski resorts in the world.Sun Valley Logo

Sun Valley has a long and storied history, opening the first chairlift in 1936. Sun Valley has produced some of the nation’s best skiers and snowboarders, including a large share of Olympic team members and medalists. In honor of this history, Sun Valley has runs  named after medalists such as Gretchen’s Gold (Gretchen Fraser, first American to win gold medal in skiing, 1948), Christin’s Silver (Christin Cooper, silver medal, 1984), and Picabo Street (Picabo Street, first American woman to win the World Cup and three Olympic medals, 1998).

The summit of Bald Mountain (Baldy), the main hill, rises a majestic 7,540 feet. The resort hosts 19 lifts transporting skiers to 80 runs, the longest providing 4 miles of terrain. Sun Valley attracts celebrities and the wealthy to its slopes.

Straight down Sun VAlley
At Sun Valley, skiers get 3400 vertical feet of mountain.

The hill and base of Baldy are populated with 5 day lodges offering a relaxing mid-day break at the bottom or a quick stop off at the Round House at the top or at several other stops along the hill. The resort village is filled with condominiums for the well-off. The internationally known Sun Valley Resort (Lodge and Inn 4 miles from the main ski resort but a stone’s throw from a small hill called Dollar Mountain) offers outdoor skating, bowling, movies, spa treatments, sleigh rides, Nordic skiing, year-round outdoor swimming, an array of restaurants all within a small Nordic village. In and around, the western town of Ketchum, home of the resort, the uber wealthy live in multi-million dollar homes and ranches and dart in on their private jets regularly for long weekends.

Sun Valley reminds me of a wealthy, eccentric older uncle–fun to see occasionally, elitist by nature and difficult to keep up with because of the expense. The lift tickets for Sun Valley this year are adults, $115 ($125 over Christmas Holidays) and children, $65 ($75 Christmas).  The lodging in Sun Valley echoes the bluster of Old Baldy. They are beautiful to see but expensive to utilize.  The restaurants provide exquisite delights at equally astounding prices.

BrundageBecause of the sometimes haughty and expensive nature of Sun Valley; many Boiseans drive 80 minutes north to ski in McCall, Idaho (Sun Valley’s cheaper, friendlier and smaller cousin). Located 8 miles from McCall, Brundage Mountain has no condos at its base.  But it sports 46 trails, 2 terrain parks, 5 lifts and this year has 75 inches of snow at its summit (average snowfall over the winter 320 inches).  The vertical drop at Brundage is only 1800 feet.  So unlike Sun Valley where you can peer over a ridge and look straight down into Ketchum, Brundage terrain is more rolling.  Make no mistake, many Idaho skiers know how to find challenging terrain at Brundage by hiking up parts of the mountain or skiing in the trees.  With one run of 2 miles, Brundage offers wide expanses of skiing before hitting the tows again. Brundage ski tickets cost $62 for an adult, $37 for teens and $23 for children.

brundage powder
This year Brundage has provided skiers with waist-deep powder!

If you buy a mulit-day pass, a teenager can ski for 5 days for about $150.  There are lots of families on the hill and in the single lodge on the mountain.  Because Idaho’s population is small, many days, you will see people you know from Boise (Idaho’s largest city) on the lifts, in the tow lines or taking a break at the lodge.  My daughter’s 30 second elevator speech to describe Brundage this year is “Waist Deep Powder with great food in the lodge!”

 

Brundage is a much better location for children to learn to ski than Sun Valley. Both of my children participated in the Brundage Bear ski program. We would drop them off in the morning, pick them up for lunch and then drop them off in the afternoon.

Children skiing
Brundage Mountain is more kid and family friendly than Sun Valley

This left us free to ski the hill without little children in tow. Now ages 22 and 16, both of my kids are excellent skiers.  On the other hand, when we went to Sun Valley, Bald Mountain is too difficult for young children.  While a children’s ski program is offered, you drop your children off at Dollar Mountain and then ski Bald Mountain 4 miles away.  We actually never utilized the full ski program at Sun Valley. Rather we chose the Kinder Care program where children were offered an hour of skiing with excellent day care.  We weren’t comfortable with young children being in a full day ski program with such a large distance between Dollar Mountain for children and Bald Mountain for adults.  Other parents may feel differently.

 

We own a cabin in McCall, as do many other folks from Boise, because the cost of real estate is relatively inexpensive. We bought the cabin to have a haven for family gatherings.

20151230_100828
We have lots of snow at our cabin in McCall this year!

Like Brundage Mountain, the town of McCall focuses on being friendly and accessible with reasonably priced dining and family activities including an indoor ice skating rink, tubing hill and several natural hot springs located a few miles outside of town. The only movie theater is 30 minutes away on winter roads, so most folks utilize streaming or DVDs for media entertainment.  Winter in McCall is a much more rustic experience than winter in Sun Valley.  If you don’t own your own place, there is one resort, Shore Lodge, and an array of lodging of the Holiday Inn Express variety.  With possibly one or two exceptions, the McCall restaurants while tasty are not gourmet and the prices reflect  this.

 

In conclusion, both Sun Valley and Brundage are part of the Idaho ski hill family but they have very different personalities.   If you are planning a skiing vacation in Idaho and have lots of money and you are expecting a five diamond experience or if you are an expert skier, go to Sun Valley.  If you have a family, or many different levels of skiers in the group consider McCall.  Both resorts are worthy of a visit but depending on your skiing ability and pocket book one may have more appeal than the other.

http://www.sunvalley.com

http://brundage.com/