Flagstaff Nordic Center's snowy trails wind gently through the Coconino National Forest and snake up the scenic San Francisco Peaks. Before making tracks into the wilderness or across the wilderness's carpet, guests visit the Nordic Nook pro shop in downtown Flagstaff to slip into Salomon boots and lock into Fischer skis, or get strapped into snowshoes by Yukon Charlie or Tubbs. Skiers are then ready to glide along 25 miles of nonredundant, groomed cross-country trails studded with classic downhill slopes and an absence of chairlifts. A thrilling descent and views of Humphrey's Peak reward experts that hike up Peak-A-View Trail, and a smooth surface running through aspen groves and a nearby pillow factory coaxes wobbly novices to test the mountainside. Snowshoers trek along a network of paths that begins with easier trails close to the main lodge, and stretches outward, past a warming yurt with a wood stove, in loops of increasing difficulty.
Grapes don't usually grow in the desert's dry heat, but the owners of Oak Creek Vineyard and Winery found a way. They nourish vines of syrah, merlot, zinfandel, and chardonnay grapes with pure water from an aquifer 425 feet beneath the earth's surface. Moisture isn't everything, though; western Arizona's brilliant sunlight helps the grapes to develop ideal sugar content. The combination of warm days and chilly nights further brings flavor to life beneath the grapes' dusk-purple skins.
White curtains swirl around the outdoor patio of an adobe tasting room, where visitors pair sips of wine with meats and cheeses. A jaunt through the grounds reveals views of flowering cacti and tumbleweeds wearing pearls on the sun-browned hills.
Although tumbleweeds don't breeze down its street and there's no hitching post on which to secure your horse, Brix Wine Spot swaps the valley for the Old West while helping visitors earn their sommelier spurs. A 20-foot copper bar corrals patrons as they stampede through the door, surrounding them with country tunes and over 500 of the bar's vintages.
Weekly tastings introduce palates to new bouquets, and every day a minimum of 18 wines are available by the glass, each served at an optimal temperature and right after naptime to ensure cooperation. When stomachs begin to rumble, guests can snack on artisan cheeses, salami platters, and handcrafted cheesecakes, or even bring in their own food—a practice Brix encourages as long as a glass of one of their wines is incorporated.
As its name would suggest, Carefree is a laid-back town, with a sense of humor to boot. Look out for quirky street signs (Ho Hum Road and Nonchalant Avenue) and keep in mind the town’s motto (“home of the cowboys and caviar”). Phoenix lies about 30 miles to the south, and the Continental Mountains rise just to the north and create a nice backdrop opposite the Black Mountain range. There are a handful of hiking trails in the area, but for those who prefer the comforts of saddle, you can rent a bike from the hotel or sign up of for a guided horseback ride through the desert. Read the Fine Print for important info on travel dates and other restrictions.
Nancy Fitzgerald, owner of The Tasting Room, knows the importance of being local–having grown up in the Phoenix area herself–and populates her eatery’s wine and beer lists with local Arizona tipples. Specializing in boutique and specialty wines and beers, she's also amassed a menu of more than 70 wines from across the United States, South America, and Europe that are complimented by more than 20 microbrews and a cider. Her chefs pair these libations with small plates of italian crostini and goat-cheese-stuffed bell peppers, and paninis topped with smoked and cured meats and eclectic cheeses. A variety of pre-arranged specialty cheese and meat plates are also available, or guests can create custom plates from a list of 18 different cheeses and 7 meats with which to impress a date or immediately see the benefits of a low-carb diet.