It’s that time of year in Ahwatukee. The scorching dog days of summer drag on – they’ve been here forever and it’s a long way to Thanksgiving, when they might end. The kids are back in class, making midweek escapes from the heat impossible. A funk has set in.
Clearly, it’s “Back to Cool” time.
Labor Day Weekend approaches, offering three days for a brief, and perhaps final, respite before the weather breaks. In October. Or November.
Flagstaff and the White Mountains beckon in the north and northeast. Even Mount Lemmon to the south, at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation, is 25 degrees cooler and it’s a short drive from Gilbert. And historic eclectic Bisbee on the Mexican border is a mile high.
There are many things to see and do at these places, where the climate is something less than a blast furnace. Fish on forest-framed lakes. Chill in caves carved by ancient lava flows. Stroll small towns that have cool temperatures to match their cool cultures.
Here’s a quick look at cool places in the Grand Canyon State to lift you from that hot funk and spark you to make Labor Day Weekend getaway plans.
Flagstaff craft-beer scene: It would be easy to spend a week in Flagstaff and surrounding area. Its quirky downtown is filled with unique shops and restaurants. Lowell Observatory is a place to explore the universe. Arizona Snow Bowl offers spectacular views year-round on its ski lift. Native America culture abounds in the area.
The craft-beer industry downtown also is a draw, no pun intended, and when the High Country beckons Gilbert residents, Trevor Stratmeyer is ready and waiting with a cold one at Lumberyard Brewery, where he is head bartender and floor manager.
“I fell in love with the area and the craft-beer scene,” said Stratmeyer, a transplanted Californian. “I still remember vividly being 22 and trying my first Arizona craft beers, one from Lumberyard and one for Four Peaks. I set my sights on working at Lumberyard as soon as its opened in 2010, and by 2012, I earned a position. I haven’t looked back.”
Stratmeyer researches the multitude of craft beers to be knowledgeable for his customers.
“Not everyone is into IPAs or ales, so they assume they hate craft beer. But there are so many options out there, from stouts and porters to lagers and pale ales,” he said. “I love opening people’s eyes to it all.
“Up here in Northern Arizona, we are a tight-knit group. Flagstaff is home to seven craft breweries supporting key economic-development sectors with a commitment to their craft, providing world-class brews locally and throughout the world. The Flagstaff-Grand Canyon region is the craft beer hub of the Southwest with award-winning ales receiving recognition and honors from the world beer championship and Great American Beer Festival. In fact, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey recently joined in the love for us up here, formally proclaiming Flagstaff as a leading craft-beer city with a commendation back in February.“
There even is cider for those who are gluten free.
Nearby, Michael and Alissa Marquess’ full-time jobs were making them miserable. Everything changed during a quiet, evening road trip on a two-lane highway with their sleeping children. The couple decided to do what they love: brew beer. From it came Flagstaff’s Mother Road Brewing Co., reflecting the lore of Route 66, and a staple for Gilbert visitors seeking relief from the heat.
“We always talk about that road trip,” Alissa said. “We needed to change something to live the way we wanted to live. Mother Road is about finding joy in the adventure.”
The last year has been exciting for Mother Road. The original, now-experimental Pike Brewery and taproom paved the way for Butler Brewery, which produces beer and is a tap room. They fall under the Mother Road name but are casually referred to by their locations.
The Pike Brewery is relaxing, with a small library and board games available to guests. Children and families are encouraged to visit inside, or outside on the dog-friendly patio.
The 20-barrel Forgeworks brew house at the Butler Brewery allows patrons to see their beer being made. It, too, has board games, along with complimentary pretzels and small snacks available for purchase. Food trucks are listed on Mother Road’s events page. Mother Road Butler does not allow pets, but trained service animals are welcome.
“It’s incredible what the team managed to crank out in this space,” Michael said. “We needed the capacity to meet demand, yet have the flexibility to play.”
Lumberyard Brewing, 5 S. San Francisco Street, Flagstaff, 928-779-2739, lumberyardbrewingcompany.com.
Mother Road Butler Brewery, 1300 E. Butler Avenue, Suite 200, Flagstaff, 928.774.0492; Mother Road Pike Brewery, 7 S. Mikes Pike, Flagstaff, 928-774-9139, motherroadbeer.com.
Lava River Cave: About 700,000 years ago, lava flowed through northern Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, forming a mile-long lava tube. Adventurers flock to this Flagstaff cave, open for exploring May through October with $5 day passes. The cave is dark and the temperature is a constant 42 degrees. Pack warmer clothes and a flashlight.
Slide Rock State Park: Cool off just two hours north of Gilbert in the Sonora-red landscape of Sedona. Spend the afternoon swimming in Oak Creek or take a slippery ride down the famous 80-foot natural slide. Summer mornings are an ideal time to explore this stunning wonderland by foot. Slide Rock’s summer hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Entrance fees are $20 per vehicle on weekdays and $30 on weekends.
Jerome: The old mile-high mining town of Jerome, perched in Arizona’s Black Hills, is filled with history, art studios and restaurants. Enjoy panoramic views of the Verde Valley, spooky ghost tours and charming lodging options.
Watson Lake: Watson Lake’s rocky landscape and location within the Prescott National Forest make it a picturesque place to cool down and unplug. Four miles from downtown Prescott, this is a quiet place to relax and kick back with friends and family. Activities include canoeing, hiking, rock climbing and camping.
Payson/Strawberry/Pine: Strawberry is dreamy. From the towering pine trees, brisk air and quaint living, it’s hard to believe this travel destination is just two hours north of Gilbert. The drive is simply stunning as you watch the mountains morph to lush pines. With a relaxing pace, delicious food and cozy accommodations, Strawberry, just north of Payson, is a perfect spot to relax.
The Strawberry Inn is a self-hosted, eight-bedroom hotel. The stylish, luxury lodge is stunning, but holds the same genuine charm and quaint feel of the town. The navy and red exterior features a clock tower, deck with porch swings and rocking chairs, and a windmill. The interior is farmhouse chic with shiplap, woodsy inspiration from the inn’s surroundings. Everything about this inn, inside and out, is crazy photogenic.
It wasn’t always that way. Carson and Amber Eilers rolled up their sleeves and brought back the once-rustic inn.
“We could tell it was a really charming property,” Amber said. “It has the windmill and the doors and the railings, which were so pretty. We thought we could fix this up.”
The Eilers live in Scottsdale with their young girls and work in real estate. Through their work, they stumbled upon a business listing for the inn.
“It needed a lot of work, and I kind of talked myself out of it,” Carson said. “Then I showed her and there was no way I was going back on it because she fell in love with it.”
A popular destination for dinner in the area is Old County Inn in nearby Pine. Sit on the deck and curl up with a blanket and heaters for a prime view of the elk moseying across the street. The menu features wood-fired pizzas, craft-beer-infused green Chile beer cheese and the popular cast-iron cookie for dessert.
Just down the street is The Randall House, which serves coffees, teas, hot chocolate, treats and a hearty breakfast.
On your way out of town, stop by Pine Creek Fudge Ice Cream and Espresso.
Not far south of Strawberry is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The view driving down to the park is incredible, but the road is steep and curvy. Make sure you take a reliable, strong vehicle. Entrance to the park is $7 per an adult.
The Strawberry Inn, 5073 AZ-87, Strawberry, 928-202-7790, thestrawberryinn.com. Rooms average $85 Sunday to Thursday, and $150-$175 weekends and holidays. Rooms are best suited for adults, but there are rooms with single-size sofa sleepers for kids.
Fossil Creek: Fossil Creek near Payson is known for its crystal-clear waters, waterfalls and trails. It is a two-hour scenic drive northeast from Gilbert. Make time for the one-mile waterfall trail. Permits go on sale one month in advance and are required to park a vehicle within the Fossil Creek area April 1 through October 1.
Reservation Lake: This beautiful lake in the White Mountains, an hour south of Greer, is a playground for fishing, swimming and hiking. Spend the night under the stars at Reservation Lake Campground, gawk at some of the tallest mountains in Arizona, and don’t be surprised if you spot an elk or two.
Mount Lemmon/Summerhaven/Ski Valley: Because it is an easy drive, Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalinas northeast of Tucson beckons Gilbert residents looking for heat relief.
Summerhaven, a quaint town at the summit, is 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the desert floor.
The Catalina Highway, surrounded by the Coronado National Forest, is curvy and sometimes a bit congested but the scenery is breathtaking. There are pullouts along the road as well as designated scenic stops where it is easy to park, stretch your legs and take in the view. Among the most-popular is Windy Point.
You’ll pass Rose Canyon, with a campground and lake perfect for fishing.
Hikes include the Butterfly Trail near the Palisades Visitor Center.
At Summerhaven (mtlemmon.com/summerhaven), stop at the Mount Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop for snacks, water, souvenirs and, the best part, homemade fudge in more than a dozen mouthwatering flavors.
The Living Rainbow (thelivingrainbow.com) gift shop is another worthy spot.
The Sawmill Run Restaurant (sawmillrun.com) in Summerhaven has a cozy cabin vibe that pairs well with its soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and “smokehouse favorites,” such as baby back ribs and sausage.
The Cookie Cabin (thecookiecabin.org) in Summerhaven, a family-owned restaurant, serves giant homemade cookies, some topped with six scoops of ice cream. Its website said that one cookie can feed “four people, two raccoons or one hungry cyclist.” The Cookie Cabin also serves lunch, including pizza and hot dogs.
Nearby at Ski Valley (skithelemmon.com), the lift operates year-round. At the top is the University of Arizona’s SkyCenter (skycenter.arizona.edu). The observatory features SkyNights, with public telescopes.
The Iron Door Restaurant (skithelemmon.com/page3.html) at Ski Valley serves breakfast and lunch with nine sandwich options, homemade soups and chili, appetizers and homemade pies.
There are three campgrounds at Mount Lemmon. Cabins (mtlemmoncabins.com) also are available and they’re as cozy as they look. Other activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife viewing and birding. Picnic tables are abundant.
Bisbee: Situated in the mountains at an elevation of 5,500 feet, Bisbee is home to cool temps and a quirky arts-and-culture scene. Head to the Copper Queen Mine to explore Bisbee’s mining past or stroll the town’s shop-filled streets. Enjoy wine tasting, pub crawls and even a ghost tour. The historic Copper Queen Hotel and several bed and breakfasts host overnight visitors.
Tribune reporters Niki D’Andrea, Christina Fuoko Karasinski and Lee Shappell contributed to this report, with contributing writers Alison Bailin Batz, Catherine Hathaway and Gloria Knott, and the Arizona Department of Tourism.