NearandFarAZ

“Well I know what’s right, I got just one life

in a world that keeps on pushing me around

But I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down”

As we belted out the words to Tom Petty’s feisty anthem, fists pumping along with the rest of the crowd at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus, the decades seemed to melt away

All of a sudden, it was just me, a 31-year-old newly single mom, sitting at the steering wheel beside a four-year-old tow-headed boy, cruising the south-of-the-border roads to the seaside resort town of San Carlos, Mexico.

The year was 1989, and we were on our first official road trip. Technically, there were just the two of us in the pickup truck. But it turned out our friend Tom was there the whole way as well. Time and time again on that long, hot drive, we popped a tape of Petty’s recent hit album, “Full Moon Fever” into the cassette player.

A good 20 years before “The Walking Dead” would make zombies all the rage, my son  gravitated to “Zombie Zoo.” I had a soft spot for “Alright for Now.” We both loved “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “I Won’t Back Down.”

Little did I know at the time that road trips – and really, travel of all kinds – would become a lifelong thing for my son and me. Or that, from that week forward, whenever I heard the opening chords to “Free Fallin,’” I would be back in my old truck, feeling the warm breezes and the sweet bonds of motherhood.

So, when my son – now the same age I was that long-ago summer – bought tickets for a Tom Petty concert as an early Mother’s Day gift to me while I was visiting in his new hometown of Austin, Texas, it couldn’t have been more meaningful.

 

It got me reflecting on how that trip to Mexico, which turned out to be epic in so many ways, whetted both our appetites for travel.

Over the years, we’ve taken countless more trips together. Weekend jaunts to the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico. Multi-day cross-country marathons from our home in Arizona to visit family members in North Dakota. And one especially wonderful three-week-long camping trip up British Columbia’s west coast and then south through Alberta’s spectacular mountain ranges.

Every growing-up milestone, it seemed, was celebrated with a trip. High school graduation: A cruise to Jamaica. College years: A backpacking trip to Ireland, the Netherlands, and Italy. College graduation: Waikiki and the North Shore of Oahu.

Then, when my son met the girl of his dreams, we all traveled to Taiwan to meet her family and see her beautiful country. A couple of years later, another major milestone: A destination wedding along the Russian River in California’s Sonoma Valley.

I’m back to traveling mostly solo now, while my son and daughter-in-law make their own adventures. I can rest assured, though, that I raised a good traveler – one who learned to take the inconveniences in stride, and appreciate the differences of foreign places rather than finding the faults. So, on this week that celebrates mothers, I raise my glass to the pleasures of raising a child. It’s a fun ride!

Sure, there were some travel fails along the way. Don’t ask me about the pitfalls of taking an 18-year-old boy to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Or one slightly awkward visit to a coffee shop in Amsterdam. Or the confused looks we got while traveling together in Europe, where we learned very quickly that mothers and daughters travel together all the time; mothers and 21-year-old sons – not so much.

But overall, I realize that I used travel as a parenting tool. It was a way to bond when the going got rough. There’s nothing like 12-hour days together in a car to clear out the cobwebs in a parent-child relationship.

And always, somewhere along the way, we would hear or play or sing one of those Tom Petty songs. Because, really, what says “road trip” better than this?

“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down

I had the radio on, I was drivin’

Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ Little Runaway

I was flyin’

 

Yeah, runnin’ down a dream

That never would come to me

Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads

Runnin’ down a dream”

(Lyrics by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Mike Campbell)

Whenever I hike the Peavine Trail in Prescott, Arizona, two questions come to mind: How can so many amazing features be packed into 5.5 miles? And why aren’t more people using it?

As my hometown trail, the Peavine has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve hiked it in every season, and I’ve checked out all of the “white-dot trails” that lead off of the main trail into the spectacular Granite Dells.

Certainly, the trail has grown in popularity through the years. It is a staple for locals out for a stroll and an increasing draw for tourists. Still, on a recent Sunday afternoon – under partly cloudy skies, with temps in the high 60s – I saw no more than a dozen other hikers and bikers as I slowly ambled along an eight-mile round trip.

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I have to say – this trail has something for everyone: A lively history as one of Arizona’s first rail routes; a smooth, wide surface with a gentle grade; a great location just a few miles from downtown Prescott; and stunning views of not just the orange-hued granite formations of the Dells, but also of the blue waters of Watson Lake.

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Water – it’s precious anywhere, but in Arizona, it takes on a value that I think only desert dwellers can understand. Think 115-degree summertime temps and near-zero-percent humidity, and you get the picture.

So, when there’s a spot where sparkling, blue-green water is gushing through a rugged desert canyon, it gets people’s attention.

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You know that feeling you get when you return to a place you love? You know exactly what you want to do, and you’re excited to get started? That’s how I felt on my most recent trip to San Francisco.

I arrived on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t wait to hit the streets. Just one little problem, however: Rain. The online forecast for the weekend was all clouds, umbrellas, and raindrops.

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View from under the umbrella

Still, as I checked into my hotel on that slightly dreary Friday morning, I was encouraged by the attitude of the hotel concierge. “We’ve had worse,” he said when I asked him about the weather. With that, I tucked an umbrella into my tote and headed off.

Although I’ve visited San Francisco a number of times over the past eight years and experienced all types of weather, this trip was unique in one way: It was the first time I was completely on my own. When none of my friends or family members could get away to join me, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to come up a personalized agenda of favorites.

So here goes – my very own list of San Francisco treats:

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“I had no idea Arizona got any snow!” – It’s a comment I see often when I post snowy photos on Instagram.

And yes, it can be confusing.

Towering saguaro cacti, 115-degree temps, and sunny poolside scenes: These are the images that likely come to mind when most people think of Arizona. But snow? I’ll admit it’s a little counter-intuitive.

But the state is split by elevation. For most parts of the lower-altitude Phoenix and Tucson, snow is almost unheard of. Northern Arizona is a whole different story though. I like to think of it as a hybrid – part desert, part mountain.

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The third Monday of January – it’s that blue time of the year when I come to terms with a few things: the Christmas tree MUST come down; the sun doesn’t ALWAYS shine in Arizona; and I NEED to plan some adventures.

Last year at this time, I took advantage of mid-January – officially the bluest time of the year – to set some travel goals. Not only did it get me through my least favorite month, but it served as a springboard for some truly awesome trips.

At the time, I was about eight months into my travel and hiking blog, and I had some big plans for the coming year.

Now, it’s time to see how I did on my list of travel resolutions of 2016, and to set some new ones for 2017.

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“Isn’t life good?”

This from a complete stranger deep in the mountains of Montana.

I didn’t miss a beat. “Amazing,” I responded.

Considering the surroundings, our mutual effusiveness didn’t seem strange in the least. At that moment, we were passing through a meadow bordered on each side by hundreds of beargrass blooms. The spiky white flowers cascaded down the valley on one side and up the mountain slope on the other. For a moment, I felt transported to a 3-D scene from “Avatar.”

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Have you heard the bit about the rock and the moss, and how they’re “lichen” their relationship?

“Jammer” Carl has, and he rocked that joke (pardon the pun, but I think Carl would be proud) and a whole lot of others all the way over the Going to the Sun Road.

The jokes and puns were nonstop on my recent Red Bus Tour through Glacier National Park in Montana. I found it charming – just one sweet aspect of the Western Alpine tour I took from Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald Valley to Logan Pass, and back again.

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For the past decade or so, it seems, each time I’ve mentioned my home state of North Dakota, I’ve gotten the same response, “Ah, oilfield country.”

An improvement, perhaps, over the previous “Oh, don’t you just love that movie, ‘Fargo?’” but still. It made me wonder if oil activity is what truly characterizes western North Dakota these days.

So, as I was planning my recent road trip to North Dakota, I decided to find out for myself. I hadn’t been back to the western half of the state in years, and I was curious about whether the oil industry had taken a toll on the spectacular scenery I remembered.

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Growing up in North Dakota, I can’t say that I truly appreciated the beauty of the prairie.

Oh, I loved being outdoors, and I regularly explored the acreage of my family’s farm. But to say it was beautiful? I’m afraid I didn’t go there. “So flat.” “No forests.” “Hardly any rivers.” “How far is the nearest beach?” – These were among the laments of my growing-up years.

As I matured, of course, I came to realize the truth of that old adage: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when it comes to the prairie, I can now say that I – the beholder – find a wealth of things to appreciate.

It’s been 30 years since I have lived in North Dakota, and although I’ve visited from time to time, those trips were usually more about seeing family than exploring the countryside.

So, as my 40th high school reunion was approaching this summer, I decided to make my return a road trip, with plenty of time to revel in the things I so blithely overlooked as a child and young adult.

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