Saturday, August 4, 2012

Love Old Westerns? This could be the Weekend Getaway for you!


On the road to Juniper Well Ranch, Skull Valley, AZ
Put on your jeans, boots and cowboy hat and head on over to the Prescott, AZ area. Last weekend I did a quick getaway with hubby, Dan. But this would be a great escape for the girls, families or even the solo traveler. We made our base camp at Juniper Wells Ranch in Skull Valley only twenty-five minutes from historic downtown Prescott, AZ.
I’d never been to Skull Valley before so I expected sand, desert and bones of long-dead steer lining the road. Instead, we found an oasis of 200-year-old alligator junipers tucked below massive Granite Mountain complete with frogs – quite alive – jumping along Prescott Forest Service Road 336. We did arrive during monsoon season and the ditches were spilling over.
Our hosts Dave and Linda Bonham welcomed us to the guest ranch and vineyards. Dave’s father, a writer of Western fiction, started the ranch in 1980 and you can see why Frank Bonham chose this place. The valley, its blue skies and granite backdrop make for the perfect Hollywood “Cowboys and Indians” set. There’s a stone pump house for the well -- hence the name Juniper Well Ranch – and horses, mules and a donkey in the corrals. You can image a stagecoach pulled by six muscular horses hauling down the gravel road until it stops and Maureen O’Hara alights in her petticoats.
Frank Bonham’s book Last Stage West was made into a movie Stage to Tucson in 1950. “My dad wrote western books until TV killed the western book market and half of Americans – men – quit reading and started watching westerns on television.” Frank continued to write television screenplays.
You can rent a cabin and have your own slice of the Old West. Juniper Well Ranch is a great place to continue celebrating the Arizona Centennial. Cabins come complete with fully equipped kitchens, outdoor grills, linens and firewood for the woodstove on chilly nights. There are plenty of trails for hiking, horseback riding and ATV-ing.
Saturday, we enjoyed a winetasting at Juniper Well Ranch’s winery. The Bonhams started planting vineyards in 2004 and had their first harvest in 2008. They continue to make wine and I was delighted to hear Dave weave tales about his Dad as he poured wine. The wine labels are designed around the cover art of his father’s books. Tastings from Superstition Meadery are also available in the winery. Superstition Meadery makes mead from Arizona honey, water and yeast on the premises. Meads provide a “little something different” for tasters. If you plan your retreat on the second Sunday of the month, you’ll also get to experience live music, demonstrations and crafts with your festive wine tastings.

Winsome Expandable Wine Bar

Next we drove to Chino Valley to explore the Granite CreekVineyards. Under lush green elm trees, we ate, tasted more wine and listened to live music. The 100-year old farm served as a dairy and Chino Valley’s only gas station. The rusty vintage gas pump and rustic barn are part of the charm of the place. Block Six Catering is onsite to provide light fare every weekend.

Planted originally with organic Concord grapes in 1974, the vineyards have been certified organic ever since. The granite soil now produces wine grapes that are made into Certified Organic Wines with no sulfites added. Granite Creek Vineyards is worth a day-trip, if you can’t manage to get the whole Prescott-area getaway weekend into your schedule.

For dinner, I recommend the rooftop bar at Raven Café where Prescott loves to hang out. One of the reasons that people congregate at the green café is that they don’t get the bum’s rush once they’ve finished dining. “Our customers can sit at a table all day long if they like,” touts Bar Manager Coleen Fitzpatrick. The encyclopedic wine and beer lists are more reasons to keep clients in their seats. I’d never seen so many beers on tap in one place.

After a dinner of local and organic ingredients, I suggest getting up to tour the grand wine cellar. You’re free to ogle at amazing high-end wines from around the world. See something you like? The Raven has a “To-Go” liquor license and offers $5 off the wine list price for to-go items. The vast wine collection is part of what earned the restaurant the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2012.

After dinner you can head back to the ranch, put your feet up and listen to the quiet night punctuated with crickets, the chit-chit-chit of cicadas and the quiet tap of moth wings against Mexican tin lanterns.

If you’re lucky, maybe Maureen O’Hara will come tuck you in.

Stacey Wittig "Vagabonding Lulu" is an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, AZ. She loves to share free travel tips. Don't miss her next article, subscribe to her blog on the upper right.

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