The coronavirus pandemic has many in America rethinking summer vacation.
Instead of a long cross-country or international flight, many people are looking around their own backyard for quick weekend getaways or day trips including to the popular White Mountains in northeastern Arizona.
Pinetop-Lakeside has seen a surge in visitors, said Julie Dopp, acting executive director of the area Chamber of Commerce.
“The golf courses have never had such record numbers of players in April and May. People who have second homes here came up immediately” after the state closed down in March, she said.
But the early influx of visitors — Pinteop-Lakeside’s population swells from 5,000 year-round to 15,000-plus in the summertime — has led to new cases of COVID-19 and has the town rethinking some of its summertime festivals and community events, including its popular balloon festival planned for June 26-28. The town council decided last Thursday to eliminate some activities at the event, including allowing spectators a chance to ride in a balloon. Dopp said vendors also will not take part this year.
While the town’s restaurants, movie theater, shops and golf courses are open with some limitations, the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s casino and campgrounds are closed. Dopp advises campers to check with campsites to make sure that they are open before they arrive.
And while neither Pinetop-Lakeside or its neighbor Show Low have rules requiring the use of face coverings in public, Dopp said they are highly encouraged.
Even with social distancing restrictions in place, the lure of getting out of Tucson for a change of scenery after spending most of early spring in lockdown is overwhelming, even if it’s simply a day trip to the Sonoita-Elgin wineries or a long weekend up north.
Here are a few summer escapes if you can’t help but hit the road. But remember to call, check websites and social media for possible changes, cancellations or closures.
Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside in northeastern Arizona
A four-hour drive from Tucson will take you to cooler climes and pine-dotted rolling hills.
The White Mountains area is home to more than 50 sparkling creeks and streams for fishing and boating and water adventures, lush green golf courses, hiking trails, camp grounds and rich Native American cultural landmarks including the Fort Apache Historic District Walking Tour that encompasses 27 historic buildings at the core of the 288-acre National Historic District. There are dozens of resorts, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and cabins between the neighboring towns of Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside.
This time of year, the tiny towns — Show Low has just shy of 11,000 full-time residents, Pinteop-Lakeside has almost 5,000 year-round residents — swell into small metropolises that still manage to maintain their small-town feel. Most of the restaurants and taverns, including the historic Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse and the cowboy/Southwest chic Grumpy Jake’s BBQ & Catering, are within walking distance of one another on White Mountain Boulevard — the town’s version of Main Street. A newcomer to that stretch has a Tucson tie: Longtime Tucson businessman Jay Zucker just opened his Wine Mountains Tasting Room, the area’s only wine bar and tasting room. It’s open Thursdays through Saturdays.
Great Wolf Lodge
7333 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale
This is the perfect family getaway, a resort centered around an indoor water park complete with a dozen water slides, wading pools, shops, restaurants, a climbing wall, bowling alley, arcade, mini golf and a Build-A-Bear workshop.
Your room at the resort comes with water park passes and the good news is that since the park is indoors, your risk of sunburn is pretty low to non-existent.
The resort was closed throughout the spring and only reopened on Tuesday, June 9. Reservations are required and capacity may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Sonoita/Elgin wine country
There are more than a dozen farm wineries in the Southern Arizona wine region and all of them are open for business. But it’s not business as usual.
Most have instituted social distancing measures that limit the number of people in their tasting rooms at one time. And they are required to make sure their patrons are having a little cheese with their wine. Not literally, of course, but winery patrons must consume food on premises — even if it’s a bag of chips, a burger you brought in from the outside or fare from a food truck parked in front of the winery. That’s a requirement from the state liquor authority, said Lori Reynolds, the longtime winemaker of the state’s oldest winery, Sonoita Vineyards.
Reynolds said her winery is conducting tastings on the patio and limiting use of the tasting room and bar area except on slower weekdays.
Reynolds said Sonoita Vineyards had a busy weekend over Memorial Day, but business has slowed a bit since. She and her fellow vintners usually see their busiest times in the spring, which was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of 10 or more will be broken into smaller groups.
Since relaunching tours three weeks ago, Karen Hinderberger is limiting her Arizona Winery Tours to six people per vehicle taking off from Tucson to Sonoita/Elgin and Willcox and from Sedona to the Verde Valley wine district.
Hinderberger said she has averaged three tours a week, down from her pre-coronavirus five a week, and most of the people on the tours are new customers. She was half expecting that most of her initial restart business would be from people who had to postpone earlier tours, “but I was surprised. We are actually getting new customers versus people who are rescheduling earlier tours,” she said.
To book a tour, visit azwinerytours.com.
Tombstone and Bisbee
If you’ve lived in Tucson long enough, chances are you’ve made the drive southeast, through small towns like Benson and St. David on Arizona Highway 80 to Tombstone, once home to Old West legends like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Many of the town’s businesses have reopened since the state lockdown with social distancing measures in place.
Tombstone has a touristy vibe: Plenty of gift shops, restaurants and reenactors strolling along East Allen Street, the town’s main drag. It has managed to preserve that cowboy-era aesthetic since its founding in 1879. For a true dose of history, visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, 223 E. Toughnut St., which is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and includes a variety of Old West artifacts; things like pocket watches, Faro playing cards, and plenty of space dedicated to Earp and his brothers, Southern Arizona’s most famous lawmen.
After taking in all that history, swing by the Tombstone Brewing Company, 107 E. Toughnut St., one of the town’s newest additions, producing some of the most popular craft beers in Southern Arizona.
Continue 30 minutes south on Highway 80 and you will find yourself in Bisbee, the former mining town in the heart of the Mule Mountains and worlds away from its neighbor to the north.
Once a hard-scrabble mining community, today Bisbee is known more for its art galleries, bars, restaurants and antique malls, most of which can be found in Old Bisbee at the north end of the city.
Many of the businesses have yet to fully reopen. The fine-dining establishment and long-time Bisbee staple Café Roka would normally be the perfect spot for dinner, but it is only offering pick-up Fridays and Saturdays. And the Room 4 Bar, Arizona’s smallest bar, in the Silver King Hotel is way too tiny to social distance.
But there are signs of life.
Restaurants like Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant in Brewery Gulch is now offering dine-in, and Thuy’s Noodle Shop at 207 Tombstone Canyon Road will soon be serving on the patio.
You can stroll along Main Street and stop into Miners & Merchants Antique Center, 7 Main St., which has reopened with limited hours.
If you are spending the night, try the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours. Head to oldbisbeeghosttour.com for tour availability and rules.
With an elevation just shy of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is a wooded wonderland about two hours north of Phoenix via Interstate 17. Think Mt. Lemmon but with a population of 75,000, its own university system, museums and some of the tastiest restaurants and breweries in the state.
Flagstaff is slowly getting back into the swing of things. Popular restaurants and bars, including Mike and Ronda’s The Place, a spot known for its gigantic portions, and the Flagstaff Brewing Company are opening with limited inside seating and patio service. The Arboretum at Flagstaff, a 200-acre botanical garden, has partially reopened its miles of trails but all public buildings are still closed.
For fans of the outdoors, Flagstaff and the surrounding areas can’t be beat and several major attractions have reopened. The biggest attraction by far, Grand Canyon National Park, is only 90 minutes north of the city and the South Rim entrance is now open 24 hours a day with some visitor services available, according to the National Park Service website. Go to tucne.ws/grandcanyon for the latest updates.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch
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June's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Bars, gyms face shutdowns; Tucsonans worried telemedicine might disappear
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