When the temperatures hover in the triple digits in the Valley of the Sun, weekends become beacons of cool hope to many Phoenicians. Lucky for us, Arizona has a handful of options within reach from centrally located Phoenix, and depending on your budget or getaway style, your options can range far and wide. Our objective for this weekend was simple: we wanted cool pines, peace and quiet and a good hiking or running trail. And we found it all in a town called Strawberry. Just before departing for our destination, we added one more item to the weekend wish list -- strawberries in Strawberry. We’re pretty high-maintenance.

The short trip up (just shy of 2 hours) took us through the proud rodeo-town of Payson. We took Hwy 87 from there, and at 5,000 feet, the temperature had already cooled off noticeably. We cracked the windows, welcomed the familiar scent of pine, and coasted into the sleepy town of Strawberry.

We pulled into our bed and breakfast just off of Fossil Creek road, the “main drag” in Strawberry.  Our weekend abode was called “Up the Creek Bed and Breakfast” and was a three-bedroom, family run establishment about three miles from the town. We reserved the room upstairs with the connecting patio, and as we unloaded our bags and settled in, I was reminded of the unique charm these small-town bed and breakfasts possess. Touches of hospitality and warmth greeted us in the freshly baked cookies on the nightstand, the chilled bottles of water on the armoire, and the nightlight lighting the way to our personal restroom complete with embroidered hand towels. The patio door was cracked, assumedly also in preparation for our arrival, and the evening breeze was absolutely perfect.

Strawberry Delights

We awoke to the lazy draft of a country morning and the aroma of a homemade breakfast –another perk of staying in a bed and breakfast. In a casual place like most all B&B’s in Arizona, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw on a sweatshirt, socks, and a loose ponytail to enjoy your breakfast, and often, other guests’ company. We were delighted to scoot into our seats to find French toast and…strawberries. Strawberries in Strawberry -- Check!

Llama lane-edited.jpgBellies full, we didn’t let that deter us from a quick stop to the Fossil Creek Creamery next door before heading out of Strawberry. For several years, I’ve wanted to visit this local farm, and it actually came as an added bonus that it was literally next door to our B&B. This local Creamery raises llamas and goats, and makes their own artisan cheese and fudge onsite. I had trouble making my purchasing decisions – they have a lot more than just yummy edibles -- but ended up settling upon llama wool for my mother (for the seamstresses out there, they sell this pre-strung with silk), and of course, pure chocolate fudge. Don’t let the rural farm vibe discourage you folks; credit cards are accepted. And, while llama petting is not required, it comes highly recommended.

Hiking in Tonto National Forest

For our hiking trail requirement, we were happy with a route we found just outside of Pine, aptly named Pine Creek Loop Trail #280.  We chose the circumference trail, and in under an hour, we climbed to breathtaking vistas, came upon sections of the trail adept for trail running, and even spotted the large-hooved tracks of either deer or Elk. In my mind, a workout is always better when you’re so distracted by the scenery you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Consider this hike one of those instances.

Our short jaunt home was a perfect cap to the weekend and the scenery took center stage. What was somehow less obvious on our journey up became the main act on our way home. Boundless landscape spanned as far as the eye could see, producing a feeling of being very, very small. For me, this smallness is an emotion that’s often difficult to invoke in our busy lives, however it’s a feeling unsurmounted by almost anything else. For those moments, I was a tiny, wonderful cog, a part of the magnificence that is the fabric of Arizona’s landscape, and a part of something greater.

Serenity achieved.

Bio pic for RB-edited.jpgRebekah Bell is a 5-year-resident of the Valley of the Sun, she can be found seeking outdoor adventures across the state, sampling locally crafted brews, or exploring quaint AZ hideaways. The town of Strawberry, and its colorful hammocks, are among those lovely hideaway spots.