It was very early in the morning on September 27, another travel day, within a couple hours we would be on our way toward Arizona when we received the expected, yet dreaded call from John’s oldest brother, Rick, informing us that their mom had passed in her sleep. She would have turned 93 in November. Mom lived a very good and long life and she will always be missed. May she rest in peace alongside her lifelong best friend and partner, John’s dad, Clyde, known to most as Chunky.
The services were delayed which allowed us time to arrive in Casa Grande, Arizona. Once we got settled at Palm Creek RV and Golf Resort we immediately located a kennel for Jackson and flew to Miami for the service.
It was a bitter sweet service as it was terribly sad to know that this wonderful lady was no longer with us, but yet so nice to see the entire family gather together. As we returned to Palm Creek in early October, our emotions took a 180° turn. Our oldest daughter, Katrina, would be getting married on October 26 to Brian Bruckbauer, the absolute love of her life in Lyons, Colorado. We wanted to be there a few weeks earlier so again, we put Arizona on hold.
Prior to arriving in Ft. Collins, Colorado, where Katrina lives, we joined our dear, long time friends, Dan and Sharon, at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley Hotel was first opened in 1909 and is known for being spirited. Also, it was the inspiration for the film “The Shining” starring Jack Nicholson.
Unfortunately, our stay happened to coincide with Halloween week and there were over 1000 people wandering around the property. Parking was a nightmare and finding a bellman or even a single luggage cart for that matter was impossible. After long waits and finally getting settled in, we tried to go the bar but didn’t stay as it was at least 5 people deep. The non-stop ghost tours were being held until after 9 p.m. It was certainly not quite what we had anticipated. Not only was the hotel hosting a masquerade ball, they were also hosting not one but two weddings, plus the usual tourists and hotel guests on site. Funny they don’t tell you any of this when you call for reservations. Oh well, lesson learned, do not go to a haunted hotel on halloween week.
We drove around town and ran into a herd of elk, well known to wander the area. The scenery in Estes Park is spectacular and never fails to mesmerize me, but after having seen and done all we wanted to do, Dan had a fabulously spontaneous idea…
he suggested we go to Vail for lunch. It was quite a drive, but boy was it beautiful and so worth it. The last time we had been to Vail was for Dan’s daughter’s wedding many years ago. We also have a story to go with that, but I digress.
We returned to Fort Collins to begin preparing for the nuptial festivities and to again reunite with family members we had recently seen along with the remaining few who were unable to go to Miami, our adorable grandchildren, and dear friends who made the trip to Colorado from back east. It was also just as lovely to meet Brian’s entire side of the family.
Our friend, Dan, officiated the wedding and if you know anything about Dan, laughter abounded during the ceremony. The reception was equally fun as Katrina and Brian chose a fabulous band which kept everyone dancing and cheerful and until the end of the night.
Since the family had never been to Colorado, of course a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park was a must. So back to Estes Park we went except this time it was to go to the park and spend some time in Sprague Lake. Again, the Rockies are majestic and it was amazing to see the grands enjoy playing in the snow, which had recently fallen, and spending time with Aunt Ashley and Aunt Ivana. Walking around the lake was also special as it afforded everyone with lots of quality time.
As everyone returned to their routines, we drove back to Casa Grande hoping to begin our winter experiences. We chose to winter in Palm Creek because it is a 55+ community which enjoyed amazing reviews, none an understatement. It was quite large and very well maintained. It hosts over 165 weekly activities, including but not limited to 32 pickle ball courts, (the largest in the country), tennis courts, an 18 hole executive golf course within its property, 4 heated swimming pools and spas, a bistro and sports grill, a state of the art fitness room a 15,000 sq. ft. ballroom to host meals, weekly dances and Branson style entertainment, and so much more. Our intention was to stay active. Except, Mother Nature had other plans. Apparently, this was the coldest winter everyone normally wintering in this area had ever experienced and thus, most everyone stayed inside. So in spite of the weather, we stayed active by joining a gym and for purposes of accountability even hired a personal trainer.
Many mornings were cold and frosty as were most evenings but what got us was that there were many days when the sun just would not even make an appearance so it just remained very cold. Believe it or not sometimes it was even rainy as well. As I am usually the one who walks Jackson, in spite of both of us wearing heavy winter coats, yes, Jackson too! it was certainly rough for this Florida gal. Rough enough that I purchased fleece pants, used gloves and ear warmers. Honestly, we do hope this is not the new normal.
On the bright side, the sunsets were breathless!
Equally as beautiful, albeit only seldomly seen by me, were the sunrises.
The park has expanded and the area to which we were assigned consisted of huge sites as they are intended for future park models. They were great to spread out, but kind of a bit lonely too. We woke up each morning making bets as to whether we were going to have any neighbors that day. Inevitably the one who said no would always win, until late November, when RVs started trickling in. It was not until January that our section actually began to fill.
Palm Creek, once all built out, will have 2,500 sites, comprised of both RV sites and park models. It is surrounded by cotton fields and dairy farms. It was pretty to see the cotton fields right before they were ready to be harvested. Interestingly enough the cotton was gathered and bailed right in front of where we were parked.
The park was constantly sponsoring a myriad of activities. Amongst these, a cancer awareness weekend was the largest, where many of the clubs raised funds by having people partake in all sorts of different events including hot air balloon rides. Did someone mention aerial views of Casa Grande? What an interesting way to see it and for a good cause even. So around 7 a.m. on a relatively cold Saturday morning on a hot air balloon ride we went.
As the weather began to improve, we did wander out. Even Jackson got do to some agility training.
It was the season for the Wuertz Farms Annual Gourd Festival, so Jenn and Keith Russell, our new fun-loving full timer friends from Delaware, joined us for this excursion. Having never heard of anything even remotely like this, we decided to go explore.
Gourds are plants in the family of cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, luffa and melons and are most usually known as the hollow, dried-out shells. Wuertz Farms grows 1000’s of these gourds each year and I was mesmerized at how beautiful these are, once hand painted and decorated.
We loved visiting Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler often but really liked Fountain Hill. This small town is just northeast of Phoenix and has, as its centerpiece, an impressive 300′ fountain, once the tallest in the world, which turns on every 15 minutes every hour.
During the holiday season, we, along with the Russells, visited the Desert Botanical Garden which was displaying its luminaries and Electric Desert exhibit. It allowed us to explore around 50,000 desert plants from around the world. The desert, lights and sounds harmoniously united to become a beautiful experience.
On a warmer day, we drove through the Apache Trail, a 40 mile mostly unpaved road, steep and winding with several one way bridges. The scenery was magnificent, surrounded by saguaro cacti and many lakes. First, arriving at an old-west settlement known as Tortilla Flat, population of 6, serves as a great stopping point for food and refreshments and then continuing on to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
We also drove to Mt. Lemmon, just north of Tucson and drove all the way to the summit with an elevation of 9,159′. As we began the drive you can see Tucson along the horizon and would see cacti and as you drove to a higher altitude, they slowly disappeared to be replaced by bushes and ultimately pine trees at the top where skiers seemed happy-as-a-lark. Jackson, now over 8 years old, had never seen snow and it was hysterically funny to watch.