NearandFarAZ

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

Living at a mile high has its perks – four distinct seasons, cool summer nights, and long, gorgeous autumns.

But, at about 5,200 feet elevation, the wintertime weather sometimes appears unable to make up its mind: Will it be snow, rain, sleet, or hail?

Early January 2016 was a prime example. Prescott, the mile-high city of Arizona, seemed to be right at the snow line. For several days in a row, the nights brought several inches of snow, while the days alternated between watery sunshine, icy rain, and snow. Invariably, the snow melted during the day – just in time for the next night’s snowfall.

Good for daytime driving conditions, maybe, but what about those snowy long walks? Not so much.

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“Why don’t we come here more often?” my friend asked as massive stone walls opened into a spectacular red-rock bowl before us on Sedona’s Mescal Trail. Good question, I thought.

Living just an hour and a half from the gorgeous Arizona community of Sedona, we take the occasional weekend trip. But every time I go, I think the same thing – I need to come back SOON.

Although Sedona certainly gets snow now and then, its winters are more often warm and sunny. That was the case this past Sunday, when a group of friends – three on mountain bikes, and two hikers – took to the Chuckwagon Trail and the Mescal Trail.

The red rocks spoke for themselves…

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We’re sitting at a cozy booth, polishing off the last of a skillet-full of gooey pimento mac-and-cheese, and balsamic collard greens, when the server stops by and hands us a stuffed paper bag, folded over at the top.

 

It seems that the restaurant, The Wandering Goose, was getting ready to close for the day. “We had some extras; hope you enjoy them,” the server told us. I had seen her give a similarly bulging bag to the guy sitting next to us, but had assumed it was a take-out order.

 

Cool gesture, and so typical of the day we were having crawling through Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Occupying a steep incline just east of Seattle’s downtown district, Capitol Hill is home to countless cafés, bars, and pizzerias. On my visit over the Christmas weekend, I was determined to visit as many as possible. That Saturday, my son, who lives in the neighborhood, agreed to take me on a tour of some of his favorite spots.

 

The Wandering Goose, located on the trendy/quirky 15th Avenue, was the spot we had decided to have a late lunch. It definitely had a Seattle feel, with its slogan, “I’m a wandering kind of goose” burned into the surface of the wood tables, and the wall of vintage leaded-glass separating it from the restaurant next door.

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About eight months ago, I had a brilliant idea: Why not parlay my co-loves of travel and writing into a travel blog? Wow, how original, right? Little did I know that thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of people were already doing just that.

 

Since starting my blog, nearandfaraz, in May 2015, I have explored countless travel blogs, and drooled over endless accounts of trips to stunning destinations. I’ve also taken a few trips of my own – most notably, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Sonoma, Big Sur, Zion National Park, Seattle, and Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

 

I’ve had a blast – both on the trips, on which I’ve given my iPhone a workout on more than 150 Instagram shots and hundreds of tweets; and later, at home, while writing my blog posts.

 

To commemorate my first half-year of travel blogging, as well as the start of a whole new year (YAY, 2016!), I decided to come up with my big-10 travel and blogging resolutions for the coming year. Here goes:

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I freely and unabashedly admit: I enjoy being a tourist.

 

On my first trip to Seattle a year ago, I happily joined the throngs taking the elevator ride up the iconic Space Needle, and I braved the cold wind to take in the views of the city from the outdoor observation area. Afterward, I roamed the adjoining Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit, completely absorbed in the graceful glass art. It didn’t bother me one bit that the attractions are considered by some to be tourist traps. I thought they were fabulous.

 

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Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit

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I’ve also been known to go a little crazy over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan, the Panama Canal in Panama City, and the Grand Canyon in my home state of Arizona. All tourist attractions, to be sure, but still amazing sights.

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