Urban Planning at its Finest

I’ll admit, I wasn’t always a fan of Phoenix, Arizona. Quite frankly, if our son hadn’t moved here eight years ago, I’m not sure how much time we’d actually spend in Phoenix, but let’s add in the fact that our daughter also lives here now …. well, need I say more … this place has definitely grown on me.desert wildflowers

With that said, Phoenix, Arizona, has since become our ‘home’, our home base so to speak.  We always manage to find some place in the Phoenix valley to park the RV for a desert birdlengthy stay and get in as much parent/child time as possible.  Although, from Al’s and my point of view, there never seems to be enough time spent with the kids.

Gosh, they are adults after all and do have demanding jobs and lives of their own.  Thus, we take what time we can get.

Our two favorite pastimes to spend together as a family are hiking and eating, and there’s no shortage of either around here.

As far as urban planning goes, I think Phoenix has done a fabulous job.  Traffic can be a bear just like any other major city, but the road system is laid out in a hikingsomewhat  organized manner compared to other cities and is easy to navigate. There are several expressways looping around the city to assist in keeping the dense amount of traffic moving.

Over the past several years of visiting Phoenix regularly, at all times of the year including summer, we’ve had the opportunity to observe traffic patterns and noticed there seems to be a sharp increase in traffic during the months of January, February, and March when the valley is loaded with snowbirds from the north.  Once these snowbirders move on …. come April, the density of the traffic seems to lighten, and by May the city can once again breathe.

Phoenix, AZ

This sure doesn’t look like a big city, does it? And check out the dense amount of wildflowers.

But what impresses me the most about Phoenix is the park / trail system.  No matter what side of the valley we park the RV, there’s always a trailhead within a short distance.  Quite hiking in Phoenixoften these trails feel remote, are rugged, and vary in challenge.  Don’t be fooled, there are some very challenging hikes in this city.

There’s also tons of groomed, kid friendly parks with playground equipment perfect for families. Yes, urban planning at its finest.

Although the Superstition Mountains remains my favorite place to hike while in Phoenix, I’ve discovered several other wonderful trailheads.

Most recently, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time hiking at the Sonoran Preserve.  The Desert Hills Trailhead was recently completed and is less than ten minutes away from our RV Park.  The Apache Wash Trailhead is located a little closer to where our children live and makes for a great place for us to meet up.

desert wildlfowers

the wildflowers have added a joy to my hiking

This spring has been especially enjoyable hiking with the abundance of dense wildflowers.  I’m a girly girl and a sucker for flowers.

hiking

hiking with my daughter regularly has been a wonderful treat

So, while it may not have been love at first sight, I’ve come to appreciate and embrace all that Phoenix has to offer.  Of course, the fact that my babies live here adds to mommy’s overall enjoyment ☺

Sonoran Preserve

Sonoran Preserve – Desert Hills Trailhead

share the trail

Whether you’re in the heart of the city or further out, you’ll share the trails with all kinds

share the trail

“I don’t mind sharing the trail”

desert birds

it’s not just the sights that are lovely … natures sounds are musical

desert wildflowers

love, love, love the desert wildflowers

happy camper

Me – happy camper, hiking near Lost Dutchman State Park

Moon Take a Hike Phoenix: Hikes within Two Hours of the City (Moon Outdoors)
Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard

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Color of Spring in the Desert

Thanks to the unusual and excessive rainfall this past winter in the desert southwest, the hills have come alive.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Phoenix valley so green, but it’s not just an abundance of green that has carpeted the land.

hiking in Phoenix

Superstition Mountain – Apache Junction, Arizona

Everywhere I look, I’m greeted with a delightful kaleidoscope of color. The wildflowers are on steroids this year and I’m loving the view.  Each bloom, bush, and tree is a wonderful sight to behold.

poppies

me photographing the wildflowers

desert wildflowers

The stunning display of wildflowers is an unexpected surprise to those visiting the desert for the first time.  The desert southwest is lush with vegetation and color and a far cry from the drab, barren brown most folks associate with a desert.

Phoenix hiking

Spring hiking in the desert is the best!

desert wildflowers

I always look forward to spring in Arizona, and couldn’t wait to share some of my favorite Phoenix valley spots with my daughter.   First up was hiking at the Superstition Mountain located on the far east side of the valley. This is my absolute favorite place to hike in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain

My daughter – it was a glorious morning to hit the trails.

March 2nd – Al and I managed to snag a lovely campsite in the overflow loop for a couple of nights of dry camping at Lost Dutchman State Park.  This is a popular state park and without a reservation, it’s difficult to nab a site with electric.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

By camping at the base of the Superstition Mountains, I was able to hike multiple times throughout the day and photograph the beauty that surrounded me. Sharing this amazing scenery with my daughter was a special treat.

wildflowers

Fields of poppies blooming at the base of the Superstitions

If you ever find yourself visiting Phoenix and looking for an entertaining way to spend a day, here’s a post I did a while back about the Apache Trail that you might find fun.

Lost Dutchman State Park

The desert provides the best skies

Who knew the desert could be so colorful?  ‘I know, I know’, she exclaimed with raised hand!  And once the wildflowers wither, it’ll be time for the cactus to bloom. The color of spring in the desert is a memorable and unique experience …. not to be missed.desert wildflowers

CMT 1 Pair – Anti Shock / Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles

Pinty 2L Hiking Backpack Hydration Pack with Water Bladder Cycling Climbing Camping Bag (Pink)

Take a Hike in New Mexico

Some places resonate with me much more than others. I’m not always sure why or what the deciding factor might be, but when I stumble upon a unique landscape that gives me goose bumps, I know I’m some place special.Kasha Katuwe

The blogosphere is one of my favorite venues to search and find exciting travel ideas. The moment I saw a hiking trailsphotograph of those cone-shaped tent rock formations on Anne’s blog, I knew this was a must see.  A visit was in the plans last year, but when our daughter decided to move from Denver to Phoenix, all those plans went out the window.

This year was different, and since we didn’t have any firm commitments after mid August, I knew the timing was perfect to lay eyes on this unusual landscape.

Normally I like to keep my blog posts in some sort of chronological order of our travels, but I was so moved by one of the best hikes I’ve ever taken that I couldn’t wait to share the trail with all of you. So where is this amazing place?

National Monuments35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a complex and unique geological landscape called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This relatively new monument was designated as such in 2001.

The sculpted cliffs and peaked hoodoos were formed from volcanic eruptions that occurred more than six million years ago.

There is a somewhat uniform layering of volcanic material causing bands of white, grey, beige, and pink colored rock.  It’s a fascinating and perplexing sight.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentOver time, wind and water sculpt these rocks creating canyons, scooping holes, and contouring hoodoos. Mother Nature’s artistic and creative hand had me awed and smiling during the entire two plus hour hike.  I found myself hiking this fun trail several times during our two-week stay in the Santa Fe area, and trust me when I say, once is not enough.  I already long to return. Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentWithout further adieu, let’s take a hike…..

As we approached the fee booth station, we were greeted by a ranger. There’s a $5.00 daily fee (as of Aug 2016) or free with your Annual National Park Pass (this is a Federal park after all).  From the fee station, we continued for five miles down a paved road that crosses private property owned by the Pueblo de Cochiti.  We are asked to respect the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monumenttraditions and privacy of the local Indians and thus, no stopping along the way, no photography/video, and no drawing/painting.  Also, no commercial photography within the park is allowed without a permit.

Once we neared the trailhead, there were three different gravel parking lots that can accommodate just about any size vehicle (including RV’s).  There’s a couple of vault toilets, but no water….. so be sure and bring plenty of drinking water.  You’ll need it.

Awed beyond words!

Awed beyond words!

Unlike most national parks and monuments, there are no scenic overlooks near a parking lot around here.  The only way to view the tent rocks and observe this stunning landscape is by foot; hiking via a dirt, sometimes sandy trail.  And by the way, no dogs allowed.  You won’t even be allowed through the fee station with a dog in the vehicle.Kasha-Katuwe

The 1.2 mile Cave Loop Trail is rated easy and partly handicap accessible.  There are some unique rock formations and a hand dug cave along this trail, but the real gem of the park is the Slot Canyon Trail …… definitely not to be missed.Kasha-Katuwe Cave TrailKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

 

 

 

 

The Slot Canyon Trail is a 3 mile out and back hike with a 630 foot elevation gain and connects with the Cave Loop Trail.  We hiked the combination of both trails making for a wonderful 4.2 mile hike that, for my level of hiking ability, offered me the perfect amount of challenge and visual stimulation.

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

Although from Al’s point of view, there may have been way too much visual stimulation(if there is such a thing) which resulted in an excessive amount of photo-op stops, much to his chagrin.  Perhaps that’s why my subsequent hiking visits to Kasha-Katuwe were tackled as a solo hiker 😉

Kasha KatuweKasha-Katuwe

The moment we connected with the Slot Canyon Trail, the cliff walls rose on both sides and I felt like I had entered a secret garden of sorts.

I believe, oh my gosh, was uttered by me around every bend.   As the canyon walls continued to narrow, we were greeted with obstacles along the trail.Slot canyon hiking

Nothing we couldn’t handle … however, those that are vertically challenged or suffer from short leg syndrome, like moi, may find themselves stretching out those leg muscles just a tad.

Easy peasy!

Easy peasy!

At some points the slot canyon became very narrow, so narrow that there was only room for one foot at a time.

one foot at a time!

one foot at a time!

one hiker at a time!

one hiker at a time!

How cool is this?

How cool is this?

Fits like a glove!

Fits like a glove!

Loved it!

Awesome!

Once we exited the slot canyon, we were welcomed by those tee pee shaped hoodoos …. each uniquely sculpted by the elements and each equally as impressive.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

cairns

hikingIt didn’t take long and we could feel the trail climbing and instead of looking up at the amazing tent rocks, we were now looking down upon them.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentWe continued up the trail and stopped frequently to look back.New Mexico hikingKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

 

 

 

 

 

As we reached the top of the trail, we had temporarily hiked away from the tent rocks. The trail continued out onto a narrow mesa which provided a bird’s eye view of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

trail - drop offs on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be near Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake

Trail drops off on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be as near as possible to Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake Campground

And of course, a few more “Oh…. my…. gosh”es were uttered as I stood on the edge gazing down.

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below - hey look, there's the trail

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below – hey look, there’s the trail

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is a out and back hike, we'll be down there shortly!

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is an out and back hike, we’ll be down there shortly!

Heading back down the trail.

Heading back down the trail.

Easy for someone 6'3".... entertaining watching the 5'4" short legged gal

Easy for someone 6’3″…. entertaining watching the 5’4″ short legged gal

I steady myself

I steady myself

Not an obstacle I couldn't handle on my own!

Not an obstacle I couldn’t handle on my own!

This is where being short works in my favor ;-)

This is where being short works in my favor 😉

The return hike to the trailhead was every bit as amazing as it was entering.

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

The Pueblo de Cochiti people view Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks as a very special place and justifiably so.  After Al and I made this first hike, I returned three more times to tackle this perfect (in my book) hike.  Perfect – even when considering all the obstacles one might bump into.

Oh no, someone wasn't paying attention!

Oh no, someone wasn’t paying attention! At least I managed to stop the blood from running down my leg.  I did attract a little attention from fellow hikers…. You know, those “Are you ok?” looks and comments.

One morning, I hit the trail at 8:15 and encountered only one couple on the trail for that first hour.  It was awesome having this amazing place to myself and hiking in solitude.  All of my senses were alert.Kasha-Katuwe

The visual delight of the sun peaking from behind a rock was a reminder of a new day unfolding.   I listened to the light sound of a lizard moving, and the loud squawking of birds soaring overhead.  I breathed in the crisp clean air scented of pine.  There was the random sound of tiny rocks tumbling, acting as a reminder that this land is in a constant state of change.Kasha-KatuweThere was the occasional touch of admiration and respect for this special and sacred place.

sitting on the edge!

sitting on the edge!

Yes indeed, some places touch my soul more than others and Kasha-Katuwe touched mine more than I ever expected.  I know I’ll return!

My church!

My church!

Kasha-Katuwe

Eerie yet Beautiful

Upon entering the park for the first time, I was met with a diverse flood of thoughts ranging from eerie to beautiful.  The land appears stark and foreboding, but if you look close, a vast array of life can be seen.Craters of the Moon

I was lucky to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve at the very beginning of wildflower season, and since arriving in Arco, Idaho, in early May, I’ve been dropping by the park regularly to keep an eye on the status of the craters of the moonwildflowers.   With each visit, more and more delicate beauties were popping up.

In early June, I was able to share this strange and scenic place with friends, Faye and Dave.

I believe the peak of wildflower season is suppose to be in mid June, but we thought our timing was darn good and were overjoyed with the abundance of blooms everywhere we looked during our early June visit.

Dave and I were going crazy with our cameras trying to capture the gorgeous periwinkle color of the Scorpionweed.

those wildflowers captivated our attention

Scorpionweed flowers captivated our attention

Since I’d had a few weeks to explore Craters of the Moon before Faye and Dave’s visit, I knew exactly where to find an abundance of wildflowers to photograph up close, but that would require a bit of a climb… a climb up the inferno cone.

it was hard to photograph 'inferno cone' and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail - offers scale.

it was hard to photograph ‘inferno cone’ and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail – offers scale.

me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

With less than a half mile up and back, this large, black, barren hill is worth the 160 foot elevation gain.  Once at the top, there are views in all directions and a surprise bonus of wildflowers.  We were also able to observe the spatter cones from above.

At the top of inferno cone - views of spatter cones

At the top of inferno cone – views of spatter cones

What exactly are these cones?  A cinder cone, like the inferno cone, are formed when gas-rich volcanic froth erupts high into the air then falls back to earth forming a huge mounded pile of cinders.  Spatter cones are miniature volcanoes that form when thick, pasty globs of lava plop up to the surface, piling up in the shape of a cone.

Craters of the MoonThe volcanic nature of the park, creates a lunar like terrain.  So much so, that NASA routinely uses Craters of the Moon NM for research and development.  In 1969, Apollo Astronauts prepared for their moon mission here at Craters of the Moon.

Next week, the Mountain View RV Park (our work camping home this summer) will be hosting a large group of NASA scientists/engineers, which will keep all of us super busy for a two week period.  All hands on deck!

After Faye, Dave, and myself hiked the inferno cone, it was time to explore another interesting geological feature – a lava tube.  Lava or magma?  Hot, molten rock from deep within the earth is called magma. When magma erupts onto the earth’s surface, it’s called lava.  A lava flow that hardened on the outside while the lava still flowed within, creates a lava tube.

me inside Indian tunnel lava tube

me inside Indian tunnel lava tube

There are several lava tubes in Craters of the Moon that are accessible for exploring, but most are geared toward those familiar with caving.  Since we didn’t fall into that category, we opted to hike the Indian tunnel cave/tube which is clearly marked and offers enough daylight to explore without a flashlight.  There is one short section though where I thought the aid of a little artificial light was helpful.

There is a fair amount of rock scrambling involved in this hike, especially at the end of the tunnel where we exited out of a small hole.

The exit

The exit

Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube

Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube

Before embarking on any lava tube exploring, a permit is required.  The permit is free and is simply a matter of answering a few questions at the visitor center regarding any previous caving.  This is for the health of the bat population and to stop the spread of white nose syndrome.

Yes, we were hiking down in there!

Yes, we were hiking down in there!

I have to admit, the first time I hiked the lava tube, I was extremely uncomfortable.  This time around, I knew exactly what to expect and was familiar with the general area of the trail.  Thus, the second time around was much more enjoyable.  Oh, and entertaining company always helps 😉

me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel lava cave tube

Me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel.  Dave enjoyed introducing us as “his wives” to fellow hikers.

Although the caving was a fun experience, those wildflowers were calling.  And several more stops were in order.  Over 600 different types of plants have been identified growing in Craters of the Moon.

Dave stalking wildflowers!

Dave stalking wildflowers!

We stayed on the road to photograph the stunning display of wildflowers.  These delicate plants have to overcome a lack of moisture, meager soil conditions, and surface temperatures that can exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  The thought of accidently stepping on one of these beauties, was not an option.  Respect and admiration for these tough little things were at the forefront of our minds as we took in the amazing sight.

Cryptantha

Cryptantha

Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat

Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat

Equally as striking were the carpets of pink produced by the Dwarf Monkeyflower.  If there was any open space, the Monkeyflower was eager to fill it.

a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower

a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower

Monkeyflower

Dwarf Monkeyflower up close

Dwarf Monkeyflower up close

Thank goodness for digital photography or I fear Dave and I would’ve easily run out of film.  Eventually, we returned back to camp where Al was eagerly awaiting our return.  While we were having fun, he was busy building picnic tables and seems we all had worked up an appetite.

Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place at in Arco, Idaho

Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place in Arco, Idaho

We enjoyed a healthy meal of grilled chicken, baked potatos, steamed broccoli, followed by my somewhat healthy carrot cake cupcakes.  For my carrot cake cupcake recipe, click here.

I’m sure as the summer progresses, I’ll continue to visit Craters of the Moon, but up next, Al and I take a vacation!

Craters of the Moon

Syringa growing in a crevice

Live life to the fullest.  Don’t let the weeds smother out your flowers – unknownWildflowers

Here’s my latest addition to my arsenal of photography toys…. after having a camera topple from a fence post, I felt it was time to invest in a light, easy to carry, tripod.JOBY GorillaPod Hybrid Tripod for Mirrorless and 360 Cameras – A Flexible, Portable and Lightweight Tripod With a Ball Head and Bubble LevelJoby gorilla pod

Hoodoo You See?

When it comes to traveling, one of my greatest joys is immersing myself in a new place.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a city or some remote wilderness that I’m visiting for the first time, setting off on foot allows me to discover things up close.

I see the face of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Do you?

I see the face of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. What face do you see?

Whether I’m hiking, walking, strolling, meandering, or whatever pace I’m keeping at the moment, I love allowing my legs to transport me to exciting new visual delights .

hiking Red Canyon was a delight

hiking Red Canyon

Years ago, my son and I visited my parents in the Chicago suburbs and took the train into the city for a day of sightseeing.  We walked, and walked, and walked some more…. no cab rides for us.  According to my dad (who knows the city of Chicago like the back of his hand), Logan and I must have walked at least ten miles.  By doing so, he and Bryce Canyon National ParkI observed so many unique details in this bustling city – from architecture, to art, to the beautiful parks and shops, to the sounds and smells. It was a memorial day spent with my son along with discovering the city’s special character.

My week spent in Bryce Canyon Country was equally memorable and just like that day in Chicago, I knew I had to get out on foot to immerse myself in this mesmerizing landscape.

Each overlook is breathtaking!

Each overlook is breathtaking!

I started off my Bryce Canyon National Park visit by stopping at every single overlook and getting a feel for the lay of the land.

I see you!

This hoodoo sees you!

Seeing Mother Nature’s work of art from the rim of the canyon is breathtaking, but hiking in the depths of her creation left me awe-struck and speechless.  Around every corner was another perplexing sculpture.  So many of the rocks seem to have faces and personalities.   Then there are rocks that resemble people, things, or even a queen – Queen Victoria to be exact.Bryce Canyon

And now we know why the trail is called the Queen’s Garden Trail.  It took me a moment to grasp the resemblance, and of course, the aid of a sign was helpful.

Can you spot the Queen?

Can you spot the Queen?  Can you also see the hiking trail? Yep, I was down in there!

The Queen’s Garden trail is a fantastic hike that put me in the center of some of the most bizarre and interesting terrain that I’ve ever seen.  It’s obvious why it’s the parks most popular trail.  We saw hikers of all ages and ability on the trail, although I will say the 600 foot elevation climb back out of the canyon seemed to be a challenge for some, especially for those not accustomed to the 8,000 plus foot altitude.  Note the pointy hoodoo in the photos below.  The trailhead is high above that hoodoo.

We had to climb out of the valley above the pointy hoodoo

We had to climb out of the valley above the pointy hoodoo seen on the left.

Bryce Canyon

Al and I enjoyed this hike so much so that we actually hiked it twice.  On our first day, we started the hike at the Navajo Loop trailhead which will eventually meet up with the Queens Garden trail.  The term “loop” is a bit of a misnomer because the return part of the Navajo trail loop has been damaged and eroded to the point it had to be closed off for safety reasons. Thus, no hiking loop at the time of this writing.Bryce Canyon

This land never rests due to weather and erosion.   These statuesque limestone rock formations called hoodoos are caused by the extreme weather changes… from snow and ice melt, to soaring heat.  The constant contraction and expansion causes cracks, collapses, and further sculpting. You won’t find any rock climbers around here considering the rock is soft, unstable, and ever-changing.  Because of this instability, its vital hikers stay on the trails and wear proper footwear for traction.

Evidence of instability are easily seen. I wonder how deep that crack is?

Evidence of instability are easily seen. I wonder how deep that crack is?

Starting off at Sunset Point, we headed down the Navajo trail into the canyon floor via a series of switchbacks, and found ourselves hiking in a pine forest.  The crisp fresh air scented with pine made for a very pleasurable hike.

hiking with pines

hiking with pines

 

Hikers will find several tunnels along the trail

Hikers will find several tunnels along the trail

Once we veered onto the Queens Garden trail, we exited the pine forest and the terrain became more stark and barren, but those hoodoos were up close and personal.

The next day, Al and I hiked the trail in reverse; starting at the Queens Garden trailhead and exiting at the Navajo trailhead.  Is one way better than the other?  No!  Regardless of the starting and ending point, the scenery is out of this world and I can’t recommend this hike enough.  The first day it took us a little over two hours to complete the hike because someone kept stopping to take photos 😉  The second go around took us less than two hours to hike, even though an equal amount of photos were taken!

hikers can be seen on the Queens Garden Trail

hikers can be seen on the Queens Garden Trail

BUT, if you’d like to start out with a couple of super easy hikes that are still beautiful, but won’t have the elevation change……

hoodoo you see?

hoodoo you see?

On highway 12 just east of highway 89 is the Red Canyon Visitor Center.   There’s a series of short trails that interconnect allowing one to hike the short interpretative trail only or add a little more distance by continuing onto the Pink Ledges trail and/or the Birds Eye trail.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

The scenery here is beautiful and worth the stop.  Since we were camped just a few miles down the road, I found myself meandering around here a couple of times.  It’s amazing the new sights I saw each time I hiked the same trail.  The more I looked at the rocks, the more faces I saw.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

 

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

Continuing east on Highway 12 past the turn off to Bryce Canyon National Park are more hiking trails.  Year’s ago (I’m talking more than twenty plus), Al and I traveled Highway 12 through this part of Utah.  It’s a stretch of road I’ve longed to revisit, but alas the weather this day would not cooperate.

Mossy Cave and Waterfall trail

Mossy Cave and Waterfall trail

I stopped in at the great visitor center in the town of Cannonville and picked up some local information then returned to the truck in a steady stream of rain.  Feeling somewhat disappointed, I decided to head home.  My exploration of Highway 12 will need to wait for another visit.

Highway 12

Highway 12

Mossy Cave and Waterfall Trail

Mossy Cave and Waterfall Trail

However, on my way home, the weather cleared just long enough for me to take a quick one mile (out and back) hike.  Any disappointment I may have felt was quickly lifted after a brisk walk in this beautiful setting.  The Mossy Cave Waterfall Trail was definitely a worthwhile hike in between rain clouds.Bryce Canyon

So that about wraps up my fabulous week spent in Bryce Canyon Country.  Oh, we can’t forget the beautiful faces of wildlife……

Pronghorn aka antelope

Pronghorn aka antelope

Chipmunk

Bryce CanyonFYI… the trails around here can get slick, gooey, and dangerous.  Proper hiking shoes are a must.  The weather can fluctuate to extremes and change rapidly.  A 40 degree (Fahrenheit) change throughout the day is not unusual.  Dressing in layers is a good idea.  Bring plenty of water and expect high winds.  Being prepared, allowed us to have a fantastic and memorable visit.

Fairyland trail will need to wait for my next visit!

Fairyland trail will need to wait for my next visit – a more challenging trail that I can’t wait to tackle!

The many faces of Bryce Canyon

The many faces of Bryce Canyon

I’ll be back! 

The Many Moods of Hoodoos

As fickle as the spring weather has been, we’ve been equally fickle in regards to our travel itinerary.  The last few days, Al and I have changed our minds about as often as a teenage girl changes her outfit.Bryce Canyon

Last Friday morning, we were all loaded up and about ready to pull away from Lake Powell with a state park near Beaver, Utah, as our intended overnight destination.  Before Al could put the truck into drive I asked, “What kind of Coloradoans are we to let a little cold and snow keep us from exploring a National Park that’s at the top of our ‘must see’ list?”

Two seconds later, we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park.Bryce Canyon National Park

It took us three hours to drive from Page, Arizona, to Panguitch, Utah.  With cold and snow in the forecast, we decided to forego dry camping in the National Park and opt for full hook-ups at the Red Canyon RV Park, about twenty miles from thet Park.   We no sooner had the RV set up and the truck unhooked when we set off to explore.

Yes, it's snowing. The flakes were big, the wind was blowing, but the view was breathtaking.

Yes, it’s snowing. The flakes were big, the wind was blowing, but the view was breathtaking.

Refusing to allow a little snow to keep me from seeing those hoodoos (bulbous rock columns). I bundled up in my winter gear to take in this amazing sight.  It was cold and blustery but OH MY GOSH ….. pictures do not do this place justice!  I was on sensory overload and couldn’t decide where to point the camera.Bryce Canyon National Park

Even Al was awed.  At each scenic overlook, we stood there speechless, admiring the view.  Words can’t begin to describe this perplexing oddity of wind-swept rock.

This morning (Sunday), the weather finally let up long enough for Al and me to enjoy a hike.  According to my darling husband, we spent ten minutes hiking and two hours taking photos, but in reality, we hiked for two hours and snapped photos for ten 😉Bryce Canyon National Park

At 9:45 in the morning,  it was a cold 38 degrees Fahrenheit  (3.3 Celsius).  We started into the canyon via the Navajo Loop trail and eventually turned onto the Queens Garden trail.  The Queens/Navajo Combo trail is about 3 miles long starting at the Sunrise Point trailhead and ending at the Sunset Point trailhead with a 600 foot elevation change.  Although a relatively easy hike, the 600 foot climb back up to the rim can be challenging for some.  The trail can also be muddy and slick in spots.

'Thors Hammer' on the left

‘Thors Hammer’ on the left

beginning of the Navajo Trail

beginning of the Navajo Trail

Perfect hike!

Perfect hike!

The day started off with a beautiful blue sky and little to no wind.  Two hours later, the sky was blanketed in a threatening grey accompanied by swirling winds.   We were glad to be near the end of our hike as the weather started rolling in. hiking

Although the views of Bryce Canyon along the rim are spectacular, strolling among the hoodoos is a surreal experience.  The rocks never rest.  Stones tumbled as we slowly meandered along the trail.  The weather is quick to change causing light to alter hues and shadows.  There are many moods among the hoodoos, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the trees.hoodoos

There are pines of all kinds around here, but the Bristlecone pines are the most intriguing.  They are some of the longest-lived life forms on Earth.  Some of these trees are well over 1,000 years old and their trunks are a unique work of art.  Their ability to grow in such an unrelenting environment is fascinating. Bryce Canyon

The forces of weather continue to erode and sculpt this mesmerizing landscape daily.  We’ve already extended our stay once and may do so again.  Thus, you can plan on seeing more photos and posts on Bryce Canyon National Park.  Stay tuned!Bryce Canyon National Park

This weeks WordPress photo challenge word is admiration ….  after spending the last few days admiring Mother Nature’s creativity along with God’s handy work, it’s obvious who and what have captured my admiration. 

 

Why we winter in Phoenix

What is it about the desert southwest that has us returning year after year?  It’s obvious we share our desert addiction with hundreds or more like thousands of other visitors.  Each winter season, droves of people migrate to Phoenix and the surrounding area to escape the cold and snow.desert sunset

Some folks come for a long weekend visit, while others (us included) stay for months at a time.  Let’s face it, with over 300 days of sunshine a year, mild winter temperatures, and sunsets that’ll knock your socks off, it’s hard not to like this part of the United Cactus flowerStates.  But there’s a lot more to the valley of the sun than merely the weather.

Sometimes I relish quiet, remote solitude while other times I like the hustle and bustle only a city can offer.  Phoenix is unique in offering me the pleasure of both world’s.

Phoenix is not only the capital of the state of Arizona but also the county seat for Maricopa County.  Maricopa County encompasses 9,224 square miles (23,890km) and includes the city of Phoenix along with 13 other cities, 10 towns, over a dozen other unincorporated communities, and 5 Indian Reservations.

fawnEach locale offers its own distinct vibe and topography.  Recreational opportunities are endless and diverse ….. hiking, biking, kayaking, golfing, fishing, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, fine dining, casual dining, museums, art galleries, rodeos, car shows, zoos, festivals, casinos, concerts, professional sports, minor league sports, shooting guns, and shooting cameras (my favorite, of course).

Trust me, there is no shortage of things to photograph around here; from wildlife, to beautiful flora – fauna, to distinct architecture and landscapes.  And of course, those amazing sunsets.desert sunset

The Maricopa County Park System is a recreational delight for locals and tourists alike.  Our favorites include Cave Creek Regional Park, Lake Pleasant (week days), and Lost Dutchman State Park.  We’ve heard great things about other regional parks, but  can’t speak from personal experience due to a failure on my part in making a reservation.  wild donkeyWeekends book up and reservations are a must during the peak winter season.

That said, I love going to sleep in a rural setting being serenaded by coyotes and wild burros while the next day I’m able to take an easy twenty-minute drive to shop at a top drawer grocery store/mall or visit a one of a kind museum like the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum).

Or I can drive 45 minutes west and watch cotton being harvested, however if I drive 45 minutes east I can find myself exploring an old ghost town.  Seriously, this place has something for everyone.art gallery

Accommodations vary from rustic tent camping, to RV Park Resorts, to hotels, five-star all-inclusive resorts, to plenty of vacation rentals.  In other words, there’s no shortage of overnight options that’ll custom fit anyone’s taste buds.

giraffe

me, my son, and a friend

I haven’t always liked Phoenix, but the more time I spend here the more I like it.  Of course, it’s a bonus that both my children now live here, but there’s other relationships as well.

Since Phoenix is such a great place to visit, there’s no shortage of social opportunities. I love meeting up with fellow bloggers, RVer’s, or long-lost friends.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a friend whom I hadn’t seen in twenty-three years.  She and I were in a play group together back in the Chicago suburbs when our children were little.  In the early 1990’s, Marianne and her family moved to California while my family and I moved to Nevada.  Once a year we’d exchange Christmas cards while keeping up with each others ever changing addresses.

Marianne and I enjoy tea and crumpets at the English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, AZ. We haven't changed a bit in twenty-three years ;-)

Marianne and I enjoy tea and crumpets at the English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, AZ.  Hmm… there were crumpets on those plates! We haven’t changed a bit in twenty-three years 😉

I picked Marianne up at her son’s home here in Phoenix and the two of us headed out for tea and crumpets.  After five hours of visiting, we bid farewell with the promise of getting together again soon.  Although she and her husband live in Florida full time, they do enjoy regular visits to Phoenix to see their son.  Thus, I’m sure it won’t be another twenty some years before our next luncheon or tea time 🙂

cactusAnd since we’re speaking of tea, I realize the desert isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Me? I’m intrigued by the harsh desert landscape and fascinated by the vegetation and wildlife that are able to thrive in such an unforgiving environment.

I love the diversity of activities available, the weather (well, not the summer), and all the friendships, new and old, that we’ve made since we started visiting the valley of the sun.  I love hanging with my children and although I always hate saying good-bye, the itch to hitch has set in thus the wheels on the RV will start going round and round in a few days, BUT “we’ll be back“!

Love

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Rattled

I’ve always enjoyed walking, but I didn’t develop an interest in hiking until a road trip my daughter and I took back in 2007 to the Black Hills in South Dakota.  I’m not sure what possessed me to agree to the almost four hour round trip hike with a 2,000 foot elevation gain up to Harney Peak, but Ashton had me convinced we could do it.

hiking in ArizonaIt turned out to be a fabulous hike – my knees may have disagreed, but  Ashton and I both agreed it was extremely enjoyable even though we arrived back at our vehicle tired and sore.

Although the hike challenged me, I found it invigorating.  It made me feel so alive.  I couldn’t remember the last time, if ever, experiencing that kind of feeling, and couldn’t wait to plan our next hike.

I should probably mention that at the time, I was an out of shape workaholic carrying an extra twenty pounds more than I currently carry.  The day after the hike, my legs and feet hurt so much I had trouble walking, but I felt awesome.

Fast forward to today, hiking has become a regular part of my life.  Granted, I don’t embark on any epic all day hikes like some of my RVing pals (you know who you are 😉 ) but I thoroughly enjoy those one to three-hour hikes amongst beautiful scenery.wildflowers

This time of year is particularly pretty in the desert southwest with the trails lined with wildflowers.  The cactuses are budding and some are starting to bloom.  Up until two weeks ago, I could be found in the morning hiking three to four days a week for an hour or two somewhere in the Phoenix metro area.  There are so many fabulous parks in Phoenix to hike and explore that getting bored would be difficult.

desert flowersAnd then the weather started getting hot …. hotter than normal for this time of year, which required I get out on the trail a little earlier.  On that fateful morning two weeks ago, I knew I was running late, temps were already in the 80’s (Fahrenheit) and I would need to be vigilant in keeping an eye out for snakes.

I left the camera at home wanting to focus on exercise and not allow myself to get distracted.  Yeah, good luck on that!  I always carry my cell phone with me for emergency purposes and it just so happens it takes photographs, which works in a pinch.

I was clipping along, making good time on my morning hike.  In spite of the heat, I kept my pace quick all the while keeping my eyes peeled on the trail in front of me and scanning the vegetation from side to side.  I’m not freaked out by snakes, but I’m also not a fan of the slithery creatures.rattle snakeI was on a trail leading me back to the truck with maybe fifteen minutes left to go and that’s when the movement in the brush stopped me in my tracks.  Mr. rattle snake was coiled in strike position and his head was bobbing back and forth as if he was dancing.  His tongue was flickering while our eyes met.snakes

I stood there frozen for a split second then gently backed away.  Once I retreated, he slowly lowered himself and starting slithering first toward me (I walked backwards some more) and then toward the other side of the trail.snakes

I stopped a women and her dog from passing me.  She was grateful that I had seen the snake first or she might have walked right by it.  We watched the snake cross the trail and counted five rings on his rattle.

This was not my first snake sighting on a trail.  I almost stepped on a bull snake in southern Colorado.   He was crossing the trail and I wasn’t paying attention.  Fortunately, I looked down before stepping on him.  Although a little started initially, I continued on my hike without concern.desert hikingThis encounter with the rattle snake rattled me …. rattled me to my core…. to the point it took me nearly ten days just to get out on the trail again.  Even then, I couldn’t enjoy that hike.  I’m afraid I’ve turned into a nervous hiker, but am hopeful in time my fears will ease.

All photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 5, and thus, not the best quality.  From now on, I won’t leave home without my Sony DSCWX350 18 MP Digital Camera (Black) Since this was my first rattle snake encounter in the wild, I wish I had gotten better photos of the snake, especially considering its my goal not to come face to face with another snake!desert hiking

Asian shrimp

 

Less time on the trails, means more time in the kitchen…… much to Al’s delight.  Click here for my Lemon Shrimp recipe.

The Good, and the not so Good

Tortilla Flat Hubby and I have settled into life here in Phoenix, Arizona, nicely.  Our first month back in the Valley of the Sun whizzed by…. enjoying exploratory outings with our daughter, socializing with neighbors, and connecting with friends, old and new.

The good:  We see our son and daughter every weekend when they stop by the RV and allow me to make them breakfast.  I’ve been having a grand ole time taking it up a notch in the kitchen and everyone is appreciative of my efforts.  Although the constant photographing of food is something they’d like me to tone down a tad 😉Breakfast

I had a blast spending the first two weeks in October with our daughter, Ashton, getting her acclimated to her new home.  I was eager to show her as much of the area’s unique beauty before she had to start her new job.

One of my favorite places around Phoenix can be seen in the far southeast side of the valley; the Superstition Mountains and the Apache Trail.  In my opinion, no visit to Phoenix would be complete without a visit to this area.

approaching the Superstition Mountains

approaching the Superstition Mountains

After a one hour drive from our RV Park in the northwest part of the valley to the Superstitions in the southeast valley, we took a quick spin through the Lost Dutchman State Park so I could point out the awesome hiking trails…… trails that I plan to tackle soon.  I wanted Ashton to be as excited about hiking here as I always am.

Canyon LakeFrom Lost Dutchman State Park we continued on the Apache Trail (aka 88) along a paved, winding road.  Ashton was happy to see a road that could be compared to similar roads in Colorado; you know…. the kind that climb, turn, and have drop offs with no guard rails.  She was feeling quite comfortable and not concerned even after passing a tow truck winching a vehicle up from the canyon below.  Eek, someone obviously had a bad day.  Good idea to take this road slow.

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake

Fourteen miles north of the town of Apache Junction is picturesque Canyon Lake.  Ashton and I have already discussed renting a couple of kayaks and getting out on the water one of these days, and I know our friends, G & T, would love to join us.

Just a little further up the road is the quaint tourist attraction, Tortilla Flat.  We grab a bite to eat in the rustic restaurant and after lunch we stop in the general store for ice cream and fudge.  They are known for serving up the best ice cream around….yum.  Don’t pass it up!

With tummies full, we continued our drive toward a scenic overlook.  The pavement ends and we stir up a huge cloud of dust as we travel on a dry gravel/dirt road.  Ashton isn’t sure how she feels about the landscape and thinks it’ll take some time for her to get used to it.

Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest

When I tell her we are in the Tonto National Forest, she scoffs and with a smirk says, “I’m sorry, but this is not a forest”.

Say what? Don't be dissing my forest.

Say what? Don’t be dissing my forest.

The desert can be an acquired taste, especially for those more accustomed to a lush landscape like that found in the Midwest or Pacific Northwest.  Some folks never adjust, but I know Ashton will eventually come around and embrace the stunning beauty observed in the desert, just as I have.Tortilla Flat

What’s interesting; when we were back in the Midwest this past summer, the dense vegetation started irritating hubby and me.  We had no vistas.  Way too many trees.  We even had a tree damage one of our sky lights, which we’ll be replacing soon.  Although I must admit, Al did a fabulous job using white duct tape to fix up the crack.  It doesn’t even look patched.  Yep, I don’t miss having trees around.Tonto National ForestI have lots more good to share in upcoming posts, but for now, let’s get onto the not so good.

Birds#1 – I’ve been fighting a nasty cold that has put me in a foul mood.  An unsociable mood.  I’ve been sick way too much this past year, and it’s curtailing my fun.  Talk about frustrating!

#2 – And to add insult to injury, my internet connection is sporadic putting a crimp in my blogosphere habit.  I haven’t been able to post or comment as usual and in some cases I can’t even hit the “like” button.  Double frustrating.

Oh well, this too shall pass…. after all, tomorrow is another day!

Welcome to Our Campsite Where Friends & Marshmallows Get Toasted At The Same Time Camping Sign Plaque 5″X10″
LEGO City Great Vehicles 60057 Camper Van

Wildlife is the Best

Custer State ParkWe thought a week in the Black Hills would be enough time to see all the sights that were of interest to us, and although we touched on the ones at the top of our list, we could have easily spent another week exploring.

Hubby and I were both curious about the towns located at the northern end of the Black Hills:  Deadwood, Sturgis, and Spearfish.  As we embarked on a scenic drive, our first stop was a quick drive through Sturgis; famed for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Not our thing, but we were curious.  I’m sure this place can get really crazy during the cycle rally.  During our excursion, it appeared to be just another small town with a twist; businesses geared toward motorcycles.

Bear Butte State Park

Bear Mountain is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious practices

While in the area, we checked out Bear Butte State Park and its sacred mountain.

It was then on to Spearfish where we took the Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway.  Twisting and turning through towering limestone cliffs, along mountain streams and waterfalls, the drive was reminiscent of Boulder Canyon in Colorado and very pretty.  We didn’t stop much for photos as our bellies were growling which kept us focused on rolling.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Main Street, Deadwood, South Dakota

We arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, just in time for lunch.  Hubby and I were really curious about Deadwood and this was the focus of todays drive.  We’ve watched the complete series of the HBO production Deadwood ….. a couple of times, which was the catalyst that piqued our interest in laying eyes on this historic town.   The series tried to stay true to history with a little Hollywood thrown in for amusement.

We ate lunch at Diamond Lil’s located inside the Midnight Star Casino and owned by Kevin Costner.

Diamond Lil's

The place is adorned with costumes from Kevin Costner films. Even Whitney Houston’s costume from “Body Guard” was hanging in the place. The wall décor provided a level of entertainment.

The food at Diamond Lil’s was average, but the walls decorated with movie costumes made it interesting.  Gaming in little casinos, average food, tourist attractions playing off of the Wild Bill Hickok days, and plenty of cigarette smoke sums up my take on Deadwood.  I can check Deadwood off my list with no compulsion to revisit!

Pactola Reservoir

Pactola Lake, west of Rapid City, South Dakota

On our way back to Rapid City, we stopped by Pactola Reservoir and fell in love with this picturesque lake.  It reminded us of the many lakes we enjoyed paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota; surrounded by granite rock and pine trees….. pristine and beautiful.

The next day found us returning to Custer State Park and meandering some of the scenic byways around this part of the Black Hills…. again!

mountain goats

mountain goats along side the road

mountain goats

Which one do you want?

mountain goats

Is there anything better than coming across wildlife when you least expect it?  How cute are these mountain goats?  Wildlife is the best!

mountain goats

“I know, I’m cute, but you can’t take me home”!

I could’ve sat there watching these agile hikers for hours, but lunch was calling.  We’d heard Custer, South Dakota restaurantsfrom a couple of bloggers that the Black Hills Burger & Bun was the place to have lunch in the town of Custer, and boy, it did NOT disappoint.

The food was delicious and we wanted to go back on another day before we left town, but they closed for a few days for some much-needed time off.  They grind their own meat daily and everything was very fresh.  Hubby had the bison burger while I enjoyed Angus.  Seriously, for anyone looking for a great meal while visiting the Black Hills, this is the place to go.  FYI – it is a busy place, for obvious reasons.

scenic byways

The scenic byways are a main attraction to the Black Hills

Sylvan LakeOur last day in the Black Hills had me longing to go back to Sylvan Lake just one more time.  We met fellow blogger, Lenore, and her beautiful Golden Retriever, Honey, for a stroll around the lake and a picnic lunch.  We had a lovely visit and the weather was perfect.

Our time in South Dakota’s Black Hills went by way too fast.  I know we’ll need to return for further explorations.

Sylvan Lake

above the damn at Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Al and I at Sylvan Lake

George WashingtonA few of the things that hubby and I didn’t get around to doing that daughter and I did do……

No visit to the Black Hills would be complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore.  After all, it is the American thing to do, isn’t it  🙂

Be sure and stroll this memorial leisurely and take in some of the displays sharing the model and the history of this spectacular sculpture.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse Memorial in the distance

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is another monument not to be missed.  Once complete, this sculpture will be the largest mountain carving in the world.

Daughter - Harney Peak hike

Daughter – Harney Peak hike

Black Hills hikingAnd then there’s the fabulous hiking in the area.  When Ashton and I visited, my hiking abilities at the time consisted of the necessary walking required in a super Wal-Mart or Mall.  I was twenty pounds heavier than I am now and called a workaholic by my children.  The thought of hiking a 7 mile round trip trail with something like a 1,000 foot plus elevation gain was beyond my thoughts….. AND abilities.

Ashton and I started our Harney Peak hike via the less popular trailhead off Needles Highway and quickly took a wrong turn which lead to us enjoying the view of the Cathedral Spires before retracing our steps and taking the correct turn.  This of course added a little distance and a few chuckles to the day.Black Hills hikingThe hike took us about 4 hours, which included some hanging around time at the top.  Upon our return to the trailhead, I was exhausted, but felt incredibly alive.  I hadn’t felt that way in years and I credit this hike with sparking the hiking bug within me.  Even though I was so sore and moaned with each step taken the following day, I looked forward to embarking on my next hike.Black Hills, South DakotaSo that about wraps up our time in the Black Hills.  Next up, we move down into Nebraska.Longhorn

Deadwood: The Complete Series
Merrell Men’s Moab Waterproof Hiking Shoe, Sedona Sage, 12 M US