Arizona Adventure

My family and I traveled to Arizona for our spring vacation this year. It was remote, wild, and different from anything we've done before.


Worldmark Bison Ranch

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on April 27, 2005

Worldmark at Bison Ranch is an RCI Gold Crown Resort in the very small town of Overgaard, AZ, about 140 miles northeast of Phoenix. The resort itself is attractive and comfortable, with well-appointed one- and two-bedroom units in a multiple-building complex designed to look like an old Western town. There is a reception and activities center on one end of the complex, with a small sundries store with video and DVD rentals, pool, ping-pong, and air hockey tables (all for a small price), a few pinball/video games, an outdoor patio, a small sitting room with TV, and free coffee at all times.

Several of the buildings, specifically those facing Highway 260, have timeshare units over retail space. There are a few stores in these retail spaces, a restaurant, a coffee and snack shop called Twinnies (which also sells an obscure "Marilyn" merlot, which I was not able to taste, but at $38 a bottle, better be pretty good), a Buffalo Museum, a couple of gift shops, and an arcade. Other than Twinnies and the restaurant, these venues were generally closed when we were at the resort (the museum, which we were told was actually quite interesting, was ONLY open for a few short hours on the weekends). It appeared that a few new businesses would be opening soon in the space, including the Overgaard Animal Clinic. There are also dozens of single-unit "cabins" on an adjacent property, along with a half-constructed building resembling the main buildings in which we were staying. I discovered that the entire property was actually owned by Bison Ranch/Mirage Homes, and that this Worldmark Trendwest resort – essentially the units and recreation/reception area - is actually a member of the homeowner’s association within the ranch (hence the Worldmark "at" Bison Ranch moniker). No issue, except that the management of the resort had no direct association with any of the retail businesses. And yes, there is a herd of bison on the property.

Although the entire property was in excellent condition, it – in fact both towns of Overgaard and neighboring Heber – is very remote (as my 15-year-old daughter says with a bit of exasperation, "It’s 3 hours from ANYTHING!"). This was not a real problem for us, but it would be frustrating for anyone looking for bustling activity and particularly any kind of nightlife. The two closest areas of any significant size are Payson, about 40 miles west (this is the town where you’ll switch from Rte. 87 to 260, driving to the resort from Phoenix – stop at the Safeway here for groceries on your way), and Show Low and Pinetop/Lakeside about 30 miles east. All are right on Rte. 260, so you won’t miss them. There are Wal-Mart superstores and Safeways in either direction, some good restaurants (Charlie Clark’s, El Rancho, Annie’s Sandwich Shop & Tea Room) and a Family Fun Park (go-carts, mini-golf) in Pinetop, as well as a small cinema and a few antiques stores.

Worldmark at Bison Ranch
2269 HIGHWAY 260
Overgaard, Arizona, 85933
(928) 535-3010

Vista Cantina

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on May 3, 2005

The Vista Cantina is a relatively new Mexican restaurant in the center of Sedona on the second floor of an open-air shopping area. It is aptly named, as the views of the surrounding mountains from the huge windows lining the outside wall are truly breathtaking (the picture I’ve included just does not do it justice). The authentically prepared Mexican dishes were delicious (my 8-year-old son will always remember this as the place where he discovered his love of quesadillas). The decor was interesting and gave us lots to talk about without looking like something out of Disney World. Bottomless chips and salsa (and ice-cold Coronas for the adults) kept us happy while we waited for our food. The service was great. Lunch for three adults and one child came to $45 plus tip.
Vista Cantina
320 N. Highway 89
Sedona, Arizona
(928) 282-0002

GN Santis Italian Stallion Resturant

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on May 3, 2005

This is the one and only full-service restaurant at Bison Ranch. It served a decent variety of pasta dishes and a few non-pasta entrées. Garlic bread and a fresh salad come with the meals. The atmosphere is very relaxed and casual. Dinner for two adults (each with a drink) and two children came to $45 plus tip. There is also full bar and lounge, which looked pretty lively, though very smoky. This is a decent restaurant made significantly more attractive by the fact that it is the only one on the property.
GN Santi's Italian Stallion

Overgaard, Arizona

New China Buffet

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on May 3, 2005

If you are looking for a quick and very filling meal that will please everyone, I highly recommend the New China Buffet in Tucson. In addition to a full array of Asian treats (many styles), we – and especially our children – were thrilled to find pizza, french fries, all kinds of fruit, ice cream, and other desserts. The place was spotlessly clean, and service was quick and friendly. This was exactly what we needed after our morning tour of Saguaro West Park and before a long car ride back to Overgaard. The total bill for four adults and a child was just over $30.
New China Super Buffet
3000 West Ina Blvd.
Tucson, Arizona
520)219-7388

Charlie Clark's Steakhouse

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on May 3, 2005

Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse is a restaurant and bar in Pinteop-Lakeside, Arizona, located on White Mountain Boulevard, east of Show Low. It is notable as the only "nightlife" venue in Foder’s Arizona guide, but there it is given high marks. We went for a family dinner during our vacation at the Worldmark Bison Ranch, about 30 miles west in Overgaard. The restaurant was fairly typical Western style, with dark-wood paneling, tables, and chairs. The meals were traditional and simple: steak, prime rib, bakes chicken, and some pasta dishes.

While the service was excellent and the food good (fresh salad, bread, entrée with fresh veggies, and choice of starch), we were actually surprised at the overall cost for the meal. For two adults and two children (the latter ordering from the children’s menu), the bill was $75 without tip (and no alcohol). This is what I would expect to pay for a good meal in Boston. It was nice but no bargain. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of choices in that area, so they have a bit of a lock on the tourist market.

Charlie Clark's Steakhouse
1701 E. White Mountain Blvd.
Pinetop, Arizona
(928) 367-4900

Salt River Canyon

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on April 27, 2005

We drive through the Salt River Canyon on our trip from Overgaard to Tucson. The canyon is at about the halfway point. On the trip down, I was so nervous about the winding and steep mountain driving that I refused to stop at one of two or three overlooks. Luckily, we timed our trip back the next day during daylight hours, and thanks to the handy Fodors guide, knew to stop at the rest area, where we could walk down to the rocky overlook. This was not quite the Grand Canyon, but it was grand just the same.

Tonto Natural Bridge

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on April 27, 2005

The Tonto Natural Bridge is an excellent natural sight and hiking adventure in the Tonto National Forest, about 10 miles north of Payson on Rte. 87. You enter in a pretty but modest visitor center surrounded by moderate hills. There are several trails to choose from, and all take you to or near the famous "natural bridge," a dramatic rock formation over the Pine Creek, purported to be the largest natural "travertine" bridge in the world (more info at http://www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/tonto.html).

You can walk up to the bridge, venture under a bit, or do as we did and hike all the way through and up the other side (about 2 hours). This was a great hike, quite challenging and even a little scary (small snake encounter and a few rock climbs without much to hold onto). The scenery was spectacular. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

Tonto Natural Bridge
Off of Highway 87
Payson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park and Desert Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on April 27, 2005

The Saguaro West park is a stunning expanse of protected saguaro cactus and other native flora outside of Tucson. It covers over 91,000 acres of land, and can be traversed by foot on marked trails, or by bike or car on the many "loop" roads (some paved, some dirt) throughout the park. Walking trails are dotted with man-made shelters of stone (many with roofs of saguaro "ribs") with tables and grills for picnics or just a rest out of the sun.

The museum building includes a small but interesting display of desert wildlife, including a javelina, rattlesnake, and several birds. The gift shop includes a number of unique items, including cookbooks using local ingredients like prickly pears and mesquite "meal" (which can also be purchased) and CDs of great "native" music that are the perfect accompaniment to those long drives through the Arizona mountains. The 15-minute slide presentation includes moving descriptions by Native Americans of the cultural and spiritual significance of the Saguaro and a dramatic ending that everyone will enjoy.

The website for the park is http://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm. Enjoy (but watch out for rattlesnakes!).

Saguaro National Park
3693 South Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, Arizona, 85730
(520) 733-5158

Tohono Chul Park

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on April 27, 2005

Tohono Chul park is a small (49-acre) but charming park located on a former estate in Tucson, just north of the city proper. It includes many trails showing a wide variety of local plants and wildlife (lots of birds and occasionally other animals). All of the displays have been created to look completely natural, but with a garden designer's eye for texture, plant combination, and complimentary blooming schedule. There were flowers everywhere we turned, including on saguaro and prickly pear cactus. The buildings on the estate have been incorporated into the park as a gift shop, tea room serving lunch and afternoon tea, a museum and several art exhibit spaces, and the Garden for Children. It would only take a few hours to see the park fully, so this is a great activity for those who want some desert hiking but do not have the stamina (or patience) for some of the more arduous adventures in the area. Tohono Chul Park website is at http://www.tohonochulpark.org/index.html.
Tohono Chul Park
7366 North Paseo Del Norte
Tucson, Arizona, 85704
(520) 742-6455

Sedona & Red Rock

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by JaneTamlyn on May 2, 2005

Sedona, Arizona, is a fascinating town that appears to have literally grown out of the crags of the red-rock mountains in north-central Arizona. About a 2-hour drive from Worldmark Bison Ranch and (I would guess) more than a hour from Phoenix, Sedona seems to be a world away.

Of all the places we visited in Arizona, Sedona was the only one where we could understand why people want to move out there. In addition to the breathtaking scenery (and vertigo-inducing angles), the influence of the local art community is visible in the homes, restaurants, and many unique shopping venues around town.

One small caveat - when you enter town, you may be tempted to stop at one of the "visitor centers" for the promised maps and reservations for jeep tours. All but one (the ONE deep in the center of town) are actually timeshare reservation centers. They do provide maps and reservations, and also appointments for a sales presentation. If you have the time and inclination, go for it. The gifts are great, and it may be just what you are looking for. If not, drive on.

We took a Pink Jeep Tour while here (we had no prior reservation - they had space and it ended up as a private tour). We had a great meal (see Vista Cantina). We loved Sedona.


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