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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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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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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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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Canada was never part of the plan. As I was plotting my summer 2016 road trip, I had one major destination in mind: Glacier National Park in Montana. I spent the winter and spring dreaming of hiking the Iceberg Lake and Highline trails and taking a boat ride on the dazzling Swiftcurrent Lake.

But, as I tend to do while planning a big trip, I began researching online for top things to do in the Glacier region.

What can I say? Canada had me at my first glimpse of the Prince of Wales Hotel.

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My trip by the numbers

Days on the road: 15

Total miles: 5,275

Traveled through: 9 U.S. states, 1 Canadian province

Temperature range: 46° F (East Glacier, Montana) to 101° F (Cheyenne, Wyoming; Williston, North Dakota; Pueblo, Colorado)

Thunderstorms: 3 (Spiritwood, North Dakota; La Junta, Colorado; Santa Fe, New Mexico)

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Driving into an intense thunderstorm on I-94 east of Jamestown, ND

Speeding tickets: 1 (Glendive, Montana, Highway 16)

Construction zones: 1 billion 🙂

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