Blue Ridge, AZ
To say I love annual vacations is an understatement. Traditions mark the time of year and give a sense of anticipation and something to look forward to. Labor Day is one of those special times of year for me when summer begins to fade and make way for the much deserved fall season. It is on this long weekend that a group of our friends annually venture up to Blue Ridge Reservoir, which is about 25 miles north of Strawberry and Pine, AZ. This three-day weekend never fails to impress and every year we all return a little more relaxed and rejuvenated.
This year we designed our Arizona road trip to be nothing short of action packed. On the agenda was fishing for pike and walleye at Long Lake, shopping at the Pine Strawberry Arts and Crafts Festival and attending the Sportsman’s Chalet raffle. Each day would entail something fun and entertaining, so this particular year was one I was highly anticipating.
On the drive up Highway 87, I couldn’t help but notice how green and lush the surroundings were. The extra precipitation of the monsoons had really created a magical view from my passenger seat, which was good for my driver, because I tend to be a “Nervous Nelly” when it comes to highway driving.
We traveled through the city of Payson where I started to feel the slower pace and mountain town mentality starting to set in. The next marks of civilization were the charming towns of Strawberry and Pine, where my excitement grew for the weekend’s art festival. (Note to self: start holiday shopping list.)
About forty minutes later we made our final turn off on a tree lined drive, and were soon greeted by our headlamp-donning friends at the campsite, happily offering freshly grilled burgers and cold beverages—oh, how I love the Arizona outdoors!
The first day was fishing day. We awoke predawn and we were casting lines an hour or so later at nearby Long Lake. This fishing hole is unique because the road to get there resembles nothing short of a washboard and is around an hour’s drive, hindering many anglers from even considering it. We joined the one other fishing boat and enjoyed the warm morning sun. It finally felt like Labor Day weekend. A few short hours later, our first pike emerged from the water and fought its way onto our vessel. Our friend and avid fisherman did his best to control the wrangling beast before easing the snapping fish back into its habitat. Shortly after, we had another large fish aboard, squirming and fighting, and a very proud catch for our fellow fisherwoman indeed. The day ended with walking the shoreline hunting for crayfish and enjoying the balmy 80 degree afternoon; perfect Arizona weather.
The next day we headed into town for the Pine Strawberry Arts and Crafts Festival. The streets were dotted with a collection of white tents and a billow of smoke carried the intoxicating smell of cinnamon almonds and barbeque beef.
We meandered through the community of artisans, ogling all of the treasures only found at these one-of-a kind festivals. I picked up some horseradish pickles, a jar of mango corn salsa and several hand- crafted organic soaps. After a healthy dose of retail therapy, we headed to the world-famous Sportsman’s Chalet, an eclectic lodge attracting locals and tourists alike that occasionally hosts holiday events. This day they were hosting a raffle, with prizes ranging from rifles to flat screen TVs. We sat outside and enjoyed the excitement of each of the winners’ announcements. The monsoon clouds rolled in right on time and gave us a light dousing of rain, something this Phoenician will never complain about!
Back to The Valley
Our trip closed with a slow drive back to the Valley the next day. We made sure to include a hearty lunch at the Knotty Pine Cafe in Payson to ensure our bellies had one last taste of vacation.
I highly recommend a visit to this charismatic corner of Arizona if you haven’t done so already. This region is friendly and welcoming year round. This trip was a reminder of the array of choices we have for travel in Arizona, and right in our own backyard!
Lindsay Norman is the Advertising Specialist for the Arizona Office of Tourism. She is a native Arizonan who enjoys fishing, good food and exploring new places to unplug with friends and family. She makes the trek to Blue Ridge Reservoir at least once a year, twice when lucky.