NearandFarAZ

Think of a flamboyantly colorful landscape.

What just came to mind? The Caribbean? The Greek Islands? Hawaii’s North Shore? The California coast?

Well, prepare yourself to add a new landscape to that colorful image – the Arizona desert!

I know, hearing “colorful” and “desert” in the same sentence is probably an oxymoron for most people. But trust me, visiting the Arizona desert in the springtime is sure to expand your horizons and open your mind.

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Having a playground of the world in your own backyard is pretty epic.

I’m sure anyone who lives within an hour or two of places like Yosemite National Park, Oahu’s North Shore, or the Swiss Alps can relate: People flock to these attractions from the world over. If you’re one of the lucky ones who live nearby, though, a short drive will have you hiking the trails, snowboarding the slopes, or surfing the waves.

For me, that local treasure is the Grand Canyon. Less than a two-hour drive away from my home in northern Arizona is one of the premier tourist attractions of the U.S., if not the world. Millions have crossed oceans and continents to gaze into the canyon’s dreamy depths.

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I’ve spent my entire life land-locked – first on the Great Plains, and later in the mountains of Northern Arizona. While I’ve loved them both, I have a secret confession: I’m an ocean girl at heart.

 

In my opinion, there is nothing more refreshing and rejuvenating than a visit to the coast. I get giddy just thinking about the foamy surf, the salty breeze, and the screeching gulls.

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So when I planned a recent trip from my Arizona home to Irvine, California for a conference, there was no way I was going to pass up a visit to the Southern California coast.

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It’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Hundreds of thousands of baseball spring-training fans already know it. Winter-weary residents of Northern Arizona know it. And sun-seeking spring-breakers from throughout the Midwest know it: Phoenix, Arizona in the springtime is hard to beat.

 

Unlike other parts of the country, where March and April can be a slushy, windy slog, Phoenix is at its best in the spring (in my opinion), with its warm breezes, sunny skies, and blooming wildflowers.

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So, it was with anticipation that I looked ahead to a Saturday trip to the Valley of the Sun in early March. To take full advantage of the season, I decided to put together a little itinerary of some of my favorite activities – hiking, sightseeing, eating, and shopping. In my mind, the perfect Phoenix day!

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I’m not a native Arizonan. But in a state of transplants, my nearly 30 years in the Grand Canyon state often make me feel like an old-timer, with the accompanying insight into the vernacular, culture, and natural treasures.

So, when I noticed that lists were circulating on social media about things people in other states will never say, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list from my adopted home state.

One caveat: Some of these are probably wishful thinking on my part – especially among those recent transplants!

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It’s funny how the story in your head can change in an instant.

There I was practically skipping down the Granite Mountain trail, with a blog idea formulating in my head: The many faces of Granite Mountain.

And who could blame me on that warm, sunny Sunday? Granite Mountain – arguably  Prescott, Arizona’s most iconic promontory – had shown itself well that day. Backed by an azure-blue Arizona sky, the views of the pink-tinted mountain had shifted constantly as we ascended and descended its 7,600-foot summit. Despite the tough climb, I was relishing the many different faces.

Then, wham, I got an up-close look at Granite Mountain from an altogether new vantage point: In my face, as I slammed into a piece of granite jutting into the trail.

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Let me start by saying that I realize Canadians don’t live on a daily diet of poutine and Caesar cocktails. Any more than Arizonans have a chimichanga and margarita for lunch every day, or San Franciscans, sourdough bread and cioppino.

 

Admittedly, they all sound lovely. But my point is they’re mostly restaurant and/or tourist foods – the images that come to mind when people think about visiting places like Canada, Arizona, or San Francisco.

 

Still, I feel like these types of foods offer a glimpse into the culinary heart of a region. So, when I say “how to eat and drink like a Canadian,” I know I’m not an expert after my brief stay in Vancouver. But I did get a little insight into the appetites of Canadians!

 

First, let me mention the poutine. We had been on the lookout for this distinctly Canadian creation ever since we crossed the border from Washington to British Columbia. Finally, on a Saturday evening in Vancouver’s Gastown, before a big Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames hockey game, we decided to check out a quintessential hockey hangout, The Pint Public House and Sports Bar.

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The stereotype is that Canadians overuse the word “eh” – you know, as in “We are all Canucks, eh?”

 

But while I don’t think I heard a single “eh” on my recent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, I did hear plenty of “rights” – similar to my own overuse of the words, “you know” (see above).

 

In fact, on our first afternoon in Vancouver, our waiter tended to string the words together in a quick “right, right, right.”

 

Like so many of my observations about Vancouver, I found it charming. Without exception, the locals we dealt with in the restaurants, hotels, bars, and markets were friendly, pleasant, and straightforward.

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“Are you traveling alone?” the Canadian customs agent asked me sternly. “No, I’m traveling with my son and daughter-in-law,” I answered, pointing to the young couple talking to a nearby agent.

 

Looking at my passport, he asked, “What brings you all the way from Arizona?”

 

At that point, I decided to play what I’ve come to think of as my “birthday card.”

 

“Well, it’s my birthday,” I said, “and I’m on a weekend trip to celebrate it.”

 

Another quick peek at my passport, and the agent smiled, “Otherwise known as Super Bowl weekend, right?” he asked, (wink, wink). “Happy Birthday,” he said, and waved me on.

 

It was an exchange typical of the responses I get when I take my annual February trip to celebrate my birthday. Through the years, I’ve discovered that the perks of being on the road for your birthday are plentiful. Here are a few of them:

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With all due respect to Ewan McGregor and his epic around-the-world motorcycle trip (“The Long Way Round” – one of my favorite travel series, ever), I had my own – albeit smaller-scale – experience with taking the scenic route this weekend.

Ever since a friend mentioned this past fall that he had taken “the back way” to Jerome from Prescott, Arizona, I had been itching to try it myself.

To be fair, there really isn’t an un-scenic route to get to the mountainside town of Jerome. Taking the usual route over Mingus Mountain on Highway 89A offers its share of spectacular mountainous terrain and hairpin curves.

Still, that IS the “usual route,” and I’ve done it dozens of times. On the other hand, I had never tried getting to Jerome on the longer and slightly round-about way, via Chino Valley and Perkinsville Road. Read More

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