NearandFarAZ

“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 the “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 attractions. 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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Prescott AZ’s rails-to-trails routes

There’s something about the gradual grade and snaking curves of an old railroad bed that gets my imagination going. Anyone who has childhood memories of hopping from tie to tie on a remote country railroad track can probably relate.

Maybe it’s the fact that in my community in Arizona, there aren’t many intact railroad tracks left – a combination of nostalgia for those faraway train whistles, and regret over the loss of a great resource.

Or maybe it’s the “damn the terrain; we’re going through” attitude that routed local train tracks through thick pine forests and granite mountains. Really, the perseverance required for some of the routes is awe-inspiring.

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What I know for sure is that I simply love walking along old rail beds that have been converted into hiking and biking trails.

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As the hiking saying goes, “My eyes were in my feet.” But in this case, I would have to say that my eyes were in my feet AND my hands.

IMG_3200-1On the final section of my climb to the summit of Angels Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park, I opted to put my virtual ‘blinders’ on. My focus was squarely on my feet as they navigated the ever-steeper rock steps, and on my hands, as they slid along the chain support cables bordering much of the trail.

I knew that on both sides of the narrow path was a sheer drop. Yes, I knew it, but I chose to tune it out for much of the hike. It worked for me. I made it to the top, and, finally, I had a chance to take in the sweeping views.

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“Makes you feel kind of small, doesn’t it?” I asked my friend and frequent hiking companion as we topped a ridge with sweeping views of the Granite Mountain basin.

It wasn’t just the breadth of the view that caused us to catch our collective breaths, however. Spread before us along the Upper Pasture Loop Trail was stark evidence of the devastating Doce Fire that had swept through the area near Prescott, Arizona in June 2013.

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I don’t really have a bucket list; I find it a little morbid. But if I DID have a list of things to do in my lifetime, hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park would have been near the top for the past decade or so.

Ever since I first spotted images of the soaring rock walls bracketing the rushing waters of the Virgin River, I was hooked.

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My obsession only intensified after I started following hiking enthusiasts on Instagram. Every time I saw a photo of The Narrows’ radiant slot canyons, I would mutter “damn,” and wonder why I hadn’t yet made the six-hour trip to Zion National Park.

So, when I recently had a chance to join a group of friends for a long weekend in Hurricane, Utah – just miles from Zion – I was in. Finally, The Narrows hike was within reach.

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Flagstaff, Arizona, and autumn – could there be two any more perfect companions?

For the past several years, I’ve taken an annul trip to Flagstaff in October to get a glimpse of the changing fall colors. I have a thing for the aspens (I know, I’m not the only one!). There’s just something magical, as the glossy leaves turn to a tawny yellow – the white trunks glowing and leaves shimmering in the breeze.

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IMG_2873Over the years, I’ve done hikes at the popular Lockett Meadow, Humphreys Peak Trail, and the Kachina Trail – each stunning in its own way. This year, my friend and I decided to check out the Weatherford Trail – a winding wilderness trail that follows the route of a 1920s-era road that had once carried tourists in Model T Fords to near the top of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks.

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