NearandFarAZ

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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That is the case with the waterfalls along Fossil Creek. Once, the creek was a little-known, word-of-mouth kind of destination. I had heard about it years ago, and it’s been on my must-list forever. But for a variety of reasons, I had never made it to the remote location in the middle of the Coconino National Forest.

In the meantime, though, Instagram and Facebook happened to Fossil Creek, and all of a sudden, the spot was a statewide sensation. Because, really, this place is super photogenic.

 

 

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I finally made it to Fossil Creek over the weekend, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype. Sure, there were flocks of bikini- and board-short-clad college students waiting to leap from the top of the waterfall.DSC06699

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For the most part, though, it’s a laid-back scene, and there are plenty of spots to wander off by yourself.

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And did I mention the water?

I’m accustomed to the run-off water that flows through Arizona creeks during the rainy season. This isn’t that. The Coconino National Forest describes Fossil Creek this way: “One of two ‘Wild and Scenic’ rivers in Arizona, (it) seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. Over the years these calcium laden waters have laid down huge deposits of a type of limestone called travertine. That rock-like substance encases whatever happens to fall into the streambed, forming the fossils for which the area is named.”

So yes, the water is special.

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Because of Fossil Creek’s growing popularity, the Forest Service imposed a permit requirement, starting April 1. Since we visited in March, we didn’t have to worry about that. But info is available on the Coconino National Forest’s website.

A couple of other caveats on Fossil Creek. First of all – as I mentioned – it gets crowded. When we visited on March 19, the parking lots were packed by the time we headed out. I would recommend going early if you want to get a space. We arrived by about 10:30 a.m. and left at 1:30 p.m.

And second – probably most important – is that Fossil Creek is very remote. After driving through Camp Verde on the paved Highway 260 for about 10 miles, we headed off onto a dirt road. The Forest Service directions: From State Route 260, between road mile 228 and 229, Forest Road 708 (Fossil Creek Road) will intersect SR260 to the south, signed as Fossil Creek/Verde River. Travel 14 miles down this rough dirt road (high-clearance vehicles recommended) to the intersection with Forest Road 502.

And when they say it’s a rough dirt road, they mean it. I didn’t have a high-clearance vehicle, and I made it OK, but it definitely would have helped. There are many places where sharp rocks protrude from the road, and I had to drive very slowly. And IT’S 14 MILES!

Also, about the trail: It’s a fairly easy one-mile hike from the main parking lot to the falls. Still, parts of the trail are fairly rough and rocky.

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Overall, though, the obstacles are so worth it. In my mind, Fossil Creek is as close to paradise as you’ll get in Arizona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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With an evening hike in my sights, I surveyed the sky. Arizona’s monsoon thunderstorms had been wreaking havoc on my plans to get outdoors recently, and I was hoping for a small window of sunshine to hit the trail.

What I saw was encouraging: An afternoon of intermittent thunder and lighting had given way to mostly sunny skies. And not a lighting strike in sight. A perfect evening to chase some clouds, I thought.

I quickly considered my options, and decided to head for Prescott’s northern Peavine Trail, where I knew I would have unobstructed views of the puffy clouds to the north.

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I’ve road-tripped all over the left side of U.S. map. Any state west of the Mississippi? Yep, I’ve put rubber to the road there.

But until recently, Montana sadly was not on the list. For some reason, I had missed the Big Sky state on my trips up the West Coast, through the Southwest, and down the Midwest.

That all changed this summer, when I took the ultimate American road trip – heading straight north from Arizona to Glacier Country in Montana.

And as it turns out, it seems that I saved the best for last. Yes, I’ll say it: Montana is tops for road-tripping in the western U.S, and here’s why:

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