Monday, March 25, 2013

My Favorite Place For Horseback Riding In Phoenix

Riding a horse in Arizona is as close to "iconic" as you can get.  The term cowboy was coined in the late 1800's and the era was short lived; but it's a defining trait of the West . . .riding a trusty horse through rough terrain, sleeping on the earth and looking up at vast starry skies.  But what about today?  The horse was replaced by cars and ATV's, by PlayStations & Wii consoles.  Is there anything worth doing on a horse anymore?  And if so - where could one go to live the dream?

Horseback riding in Phoenix

Well, the answers are short & sweet, but require a bit of disclosure.  I lived on a farm in the 80's and we did a lot of work off the back of a horse; we drove cattle, we hunted and basically considered our horses a main source of entertainment.  Then I became a mountain biker - almost the antithesis of horseback riding.  Seeing the Arizona landscape from the back of a horse immediately conjures images of being a cowboy.  It's almost natural to look out over the horizon and wonder if there is an Apache raiding party out there. . . but when you ride a mountain bike you're more concerned with breathing & not crashing.  At least that's one of my concerns.

With that said, my opinion comes from someone who has a lot of experience in both saddles and I know firsthand how nice it is to ride a horse without mountain bikers zooming by . . .

If you were to ask me where I'd ride a horse my answer would always be "outside town somewhere".  What this means to someone that doesn't live here is that while there are some great mountain parks within our city limits, I'd prefer to ride where the masses don't frequent.  Places like the Cave Creek area, or even further out.  The desert just north of the metropolis is a bit higher elevation than in or south of the city; this leads to more biodiversity.  My absolute favorite place to ride is in the Tonto National Forest just north of Anthem, near Black Canyon City.

When you finally get out into the middle of nowhere the true impression of riding a horse is magnified.  You won't have to compete for trails with other users as the further out you go the fewer people there are out there.

If you're visiting Arizona then there are a few things on the MUST SEE/DO list.  The Grand Canyon is certainly on the list, but horseback riding should be too.  Riding in the American West today is as dramatic & awe inspiring as it was when the cowboys ruled the ranges.

About the Author: Bruce Leadbetter is the consummate adventurer and owner of 360 Adventures.  When not horseback riding in Phoenix, he can be found scaling canyons or riding the beautiful Arizona trails on his mountain bike.

Photo credit: David

Monday, March 23, 2009


If you're tired of the usual Mexican chain restaurant fare, try Eliana's.

Oh. My. God.

Eliana's is a family-owned restaurant featuring food from El Salvador. Our server was the owner, father of the namesake Eliana, and an amazing salesman. (Be prepared for the upsell on drinks, appetizers, desserts - and do what he says. He knows what he's talking about.)

We started with pupusas, grilled masa (corn) patties stuffed with cheese, grilled bell peppers, and optional pork. It's a little oily but absolutely delicious. I could easily have a few of those as a meal and leave very satisfied. We also tried platanos con fritos, fried plantains served with refried beans and sour cream. The combination of the slightly sweet platanos with refried beans and sour cream is different, but surprisingly good.

The special of the night was rice cooked with chicken, shrimp, peas and carrots (possibly called arroz de valencia, my meat-taster can't remember). They also had a fish dish that brings the fish out whole, something my friend who spent a semester in Mexico was brave enough to try. At a table of 16 attendees, every single person was happy with their meal. Impressive.

We were all so full of pupusas, platanos and entrees that we skipped dessert entirely. Kind of disappointing - I was looking forward to the sweet platanos fried and served with ice cream, or to try the flan and see if it was different from the Mexican version I'm used to. But I'll do that the next time - this is definitely a place we'll be going back to.

Find it! - Eliana's, 1627 N. 24th St., Phoenix; north of McDowell on 24th St. (602) 225-2925.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Papago Park

As a kid, the bubble mountains always intrigued me. We saw them on field trips to the botanical gardens, or the zoo, and once we even had our sack lunches at one of the ramadas at the base. But I never got to go check out those weird bubbles.

But then for Valentine's Day, my boyfriend took me and our dog hiking up the bubble mountains. Finally!

Papago Park has several miles of biking, hiking and riding trails, mostly ranked easy to moderate. Those more adventurous/more fit than I can climb up the buttes. There are several unofficial trails that lead you right up to them.

(I know, that doesn't look like it leads to a butte, but the base of the butte was just to the left.)

Taking 64th Street/Galvin Parkway south from McDowell, there is a parking lot on the west side of 64th you can enter from the light named - you guessed it - Papago Park. There's a ramada right by the parking lot, maps of the trails, and a paved trail. At least to start; the further you get from the parking lot, the fewer people were on the trail. It's very dog friendly, though I would be careful if your dog likes to chase jackrabbits. We saw 3 of them in less than a minute, but thankfully Nala missed every one of them. Not for a lack of trying, though.

There are a few things that make Papago Park really great: 1) it's right in town, 2) you can make a day of it or you can just go for an hour or two, and 3) it's so close to the zoo and the botanical gardens that it would be great to spend a day at the park and at one of those attractions.
Be sure to take advantage of the great weather we're having, it won't be too long before it's too hot to visit Papago Park after 8am.
Find it! - Off Galvin Parkway south of McDowell. Open daily from 5am to 11pm. 602.261.8318.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I spent some time in France the summer between high school and college. One weekend I was in Arles at an open air market, and behind several vendors' tables there were little wooden crates with bunnies in them. My friend Daniel asked me which I liked best, so I pointed out a small white rabbit with light brown patches. Daniel called out to his wife, "Jeannick! Sonia would like this rabbit for dinner tonight!"

Not what I was expecting.

Digestif in Old Town Scottsdale has more rabbit on the menu than even Daniel would require. I didn't try any of it, but it sounded delicious even to me, protector of all things cute and fluffy. The food is is definitely Italian inspired, but many of the items reminded me of something you might see in a French cafe. (Forest mushroom tartlet? Definitely not what I think of when I think Italian.) The restaurant has a quirkiness to it that my boyfriend says reminds him of Greenwich Village. At this time of year, the weather is perfect to sit on their patio, which includes a mural on one wall that is apparently a map of the Village.

The beer and wine list had none of the usual fare, which is definitely a good thing. Both of us were actually excited with our drink choices. (He had a Belgian ale that was outstanding; I ordered an unoaked Chard. Delicious.) The food was absolutely wonderful, very fresh ingredients, though the portions were a bit small. But with dessert, it was just the right amount of food. Just after we asked for the dessert menu, a server approached us with a dessert plate. The kitchen had made an extra chocolate mousse pie, their special for the night; would we be interested? It was an extra and already prepared, so it was on the house, she said. YES I'm interested! The chocolate mousse was infused with Grand Marnier, and served alongside it was a homemade orange marmalade with cinnamon ice cream. I can honestly say that's the best chocolate mousse I've ever had.

For our budget, prices were a little high ($10-$30+ for an entree) but it was well worth it. It's not someplace I could go to on a regular basis, as much as I would like to, but it's definitely good for a special night out. Bring a friend and enjoy.

Find It! - 7114 E Stetson Dr # 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. (480) 425-9463.
Photo credit BPhoenix

Thursday, February 5, 2009

First Fridays

First Fridays is this Friday, February 6 - a monthly event that showcases local artists and venues around downtown Phoenix. Sponsored by Artlink, which also hosts the twice-yearly Art Detour, First Fridays feature artists, musicians, and photographers at multiple locations in and around downtown. These locations can be local museums and galleries, music venues, coffeehouses and tents set up on blocked-off streets. So you kill two birds with one stone, really: you discover local artists, and you discover local hangouts. It's a great place to find home decor, unique gifts, impulse buys.

It runs the first Friday of each month from 6 to 10pm, so gather some friends to meet up at the end of the workweek. You can catch a shuttle from any of the locations, but if you park at the Phoenix Public Library you can get a map of all the stops (slow-loading Flash version here) and take the shuttle from the "start."

Along Roosevelt Row there are not only galleries and street vendors, but places to eat as well. Anyone with a sweet tooth should stop by Tammie Coe Cakes. Cupcakes, cookies and scones, oh my! And for you people without a sweet tooth (which I don't understand) they have real food too. Their sliders are pretty popular, and I'm a big fan of the pesto tortellini with artichoke.

Find it! - Phoenix Public Library, 1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. ArtLink: 602-256-7539.

McAlpine's Soda Fountain

First off, McAlpine's has a big orange sign outside that's kind of hard to miss. (Other than the Suns, I don't know who uses that much orange.) It says "coffee shop" then has antique furniture on the walk in front, just off 7th Street. Walk inside, and you're in an old-style soda fountain that's been in the same spot since the 1920's.

When you walk in, you feel like you're in the 1920's. Jukebox, soda fountain, old Coca-Cola ads adorning the walls. The menu has a story about the restaurant on the inside cover, including the rumor about Wayne Newton getting his start there and stories about other famous Phoenicians who ate there - almost an "I knew them when..." story. For the restaurant. That's longevity.

The back flap of the menu has old-time drinks too - malts, phosphates, egg cremes. It also includes their dessert menu, which features Thrifty ice cream. Does anyone else remember the Thrifty ice cream carts inside Osco's? When I was a kid, it was a big deal to get a scoop. So now, I'm a sucker for any place that serves Thrifty ice cream. The Thrifty ice cream arrives as malts, banana splits, floats, sundaes, or in a simple cone. I'm happy.

The menu is fairly standard fare - burgers, hot dogs, egg salad sandwiches, that sort of thing. Couple exceptions: tonight, their daily special was a pulled pork sandwich, which my friend said was good; also, they don't have french fries. Their potato salad - which normally, I'm not a fan of - is delicious. It's made fresh with red potatoes, and definitely taste like it's cooked in small batches, not the bland version you get at grocery store delis. But for me, the culinary draw is the Thrifty ice cream.

To add to the old-time feel, McAlpine's also plays host to an antique store. Like most antique stores, it's got an eclectic mix of old furniture, scary-old Coca Cola in bottles, and assorted Budweiser collector beer steins from the '80s. Fun to look at, but probably not a place serious treasure hunters would go antiquing. (Is that how you spell it?)

Find it! - 2303 N. 7th St., Phoenix, (602) 262-5545, open 11am-7pm Sunday-Thursday, open 11am-8pm Friday and Saturday.