NearandFarAZ

While researching my recent road trip to Yosemite, I came across a famous quote from Yosemite naturalist Carl Sharsmith. You know – the one about Sharsmith being asked how best to spend your time if you have only one day in Yosemite? And Sharsmith’s response about how he would “sit by the Merced River and cry” if one day was all he had?

Well, I was feeling pretty good about myself after reading this, because I had allotted TWO whole days in Yosemite – as a part of my whirlwind drive from my home in Arizona to Sonoma, California, via Yosemite.

Of course, I also read numerous online accounts from travelers who had spent some serious time – a week, a month, years! – exploring Yosemite, and felt they had barely scratched the surface.

So, I went in knowing I wouldn’t be able to see everything. Still, I wanted to take in the major sites: Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Tuolumne Meadow. I also wanted to do some hiking along the way.

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I recently entered the wonderful, wandering world of travel blogging. Over the past six months, I’ve immersed myself in hundreds of travel blogs – many of them authored by adventurous young people who have thrown in the towel on their conventional American lives, and hit the road.

I applaud them! I love to read about their travels and their enthusiastic attitudes. There’s really nothing like traveling when you’re young. That feeling of invincibility! That sense of awe on your first international trip. That youthful stamina that allows you to sleep on a train overnight and then hit the ground running the next morning in Rome, Athens, Lisbon …

Still, I sometimes wonder about the blogs’ subtle message that you must travel in your 20s, or you’ll become so bogged down in the grind that you’ll never have the opportunity again. I know from experience that it just isn’t so.

As a 50-something who has loved to travel all of my life, I know that you can fit travel into your life, regardless of age, income, or circumstance.

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If variety is, indeed, the spice of life, then my recent accommodations on a road trip through Arizona, Nevada, and California were as “spicy” as an order of jerk-chicken wings and a side of flash-fried shishito peppers (I really did have these tasty appetizers at Bartlett Hall in San Francisco’s Union Square, but that’s another blog!).

As I was planning the road trip that would take me to such diverse stops as Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Sonoma wine country, and Big Sur, I decided that I didn’t want my overnight stays to be a string of homogeneous chain hotels. Rather, I wanted the places to reflect their surroundings.

The result: An eclectic collection of charming/luxurious/quirky abodes that were all delightful in their own ways.

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Indecisive? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as spontaneous. As I was planning my road trip from Arizona to Sonoma, California, via Yosemite, I changed my mind about the route numerous times.

Allotting myself about five days to get to San Francisco, and then on to my son’s wedding in Sonoma, I knew that my road-tripping time would be limited. I needed to be strategic! Still, I would be traversing some of the world’s most beautiful territory. Could I really skirt it?

Finally, practicality won out, and I settled on a route that would take me to Las Vegas via I-40 and Highway 93, then north on Highway 95 to Tonopah, Nevada, and west to Yosemite. It was the quickest route, and one that came up consistently as the first alternative on the major mapping sites. I screen-shotted it, and texted it to my son. Done deal.

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As a long-time resident of Arizona, I know that these are the dog days of summer. As August rolls along, it seems that Phoenix is in a continuous heated battle with Palm Springs, Calif. for the dubious honor: Hottest spot in the country.

In recent days, Phoenix has logged in at 117 degrees Fahrenheit. For those who’ve never experienced it, 117 is an oven-like, oppressive heat that melts asphalt, turns steering wheels into blistering rings of fire, and gives the streets of Arizona’s largest city the feel of an abandoned movie set. Northern Arizona is marginally cooler, but still sweltering.

Still, with the heat comes SOME perks. Everyone in the state seems to know a few secrets for beating the heat, and most of them involve water (in addition to the obvious – air conditioning!).

For me, the hot season typically conjures up two retreat options: a Phoenix resort (preferably with an awesome pool), or a Mexican beach. For those willing to brave the heat, Phoenix’s high-end hotels are usually a super bargain from Memorial Day in May through Labor Day in September, making out-of-reach resorts suddenly affordable. As for Mexican beaches, the locale of choice for much of Arizona is Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), just an hour across the Arizona/Sonora border.

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This summer, I combined both in one trip, and it was wonderful. It also allowed me to do a side-by-side comparison of the two summer-retreat options. Here’s how the two experiences, including the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and Princesa de Peñasco, stacked up:

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I had heard the stories, of course. Scary accounts of trumped up traffic tickets, nights spent in Mexican jails, and requests for bribes. Fortunately, though, I had never had a run-in with a Mexican policeman. Over the past 25 years or so, I have driven south of the border dozens of times – sometimes with kids, dogs, and camping gear in tow. And although we often got the once-over at the border, I had never been stopped alongside the road.

I wasn’t so lucky this time, however. As I drove into Sonoyta (Sonoita), the Mexican town just across the border from Lukeville, Arizona, on my way home from a short stay in the beach town of Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), Sonora, Mexico, I noticed a pick-up truck behind me, headlights flashing. I pulled over, and as the officer approached my car, he was shaking his head.

The upshot was that I was speeding (the actual speeds and speed limits were somewhat confusing – what with the conversion from kilometers to miles, as well as the Spanish-to-English translation). What the officer did get across to me, though, was that he wanted money – cash – or he was going to take me to “the station.”

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When I started writing this blog post, I was going to title it “Rocky Point: Arizona’s Hamptons.” But after returning from my recent trip to the small Mexican beach town just across the Arizona border, I realized that “Hamptons” was too much of a stretch – even in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Really, very little about Rocky Point screams the upscale Hamptons.

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So, in search of another comparison, I decided the vibe of the Jersey Shore more closely matches the sometimes-raucous, unabashedly touristy feel of Rocky Point (AKA, Puerto Peñasco).

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Either way, what I was trying to get across is the beach get-away aspect of Rocky Point. Like New Jersey and New York, most regions of the U.S. have their go-to spots for a day on the water – everything from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to Washington’s islands, to Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

But what about land-locked, arid Arizona? Where’s a desert dweller to go for a day at the beach? For me and thousands of other Arizonans, it’s simple: Head south of the border.

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Pond below Tonto Natural Bridge

Sometimes the backup plan can turn out better than the original. Or, at least it can seem that way when you find a hidden treasure of a destination only because your “Plan A” washed out.

That was the case when a friend and I set off for a day trip to Fossil Creek in central Arizona this past weekend. For years, I had wanted to take the steep hike down to the stunning falls at Fossil Creek. I had heard rave reviews about the place from friends, and I had seen beautiful photos online. But for some reason, I never made it to the place.

Well, I decided that that was going to change, and we planned a Sunday trip to the Camp Verde-area attraction. As luck would have it, though, I was not destined to get to Fossil Creek. As we approached the turn-off along Highway 260, we began to notice an unusual amount of traffic. Then, a large sign at Forest Road 708 announced the bad news: The Fossil Creek parking area was full, and the road  to the trail was closed.

Not to be deterred, we immediately decided to try to get to the trail from the other end – near Strawberry, Arizona. Even though it was a 30-mile detour, we decided it was worth it.

But again – no luck. That trail was also closed. When we questioned the Forest Service employees manning the road closure near Strawberry, we learned that the Camp Verde side had been closed since about 7:30 a.m., and the Strawberry side closed down at 9 a.m. Much too early for our 11 a.m. arrival.

We were forced to regroup again. Based on a recommendation from the Forest Service workers, we decided to check out the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Strawberry.

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First of all, I know that there are many, many gorgeous places that I have yet to see.

I’ve been around a bit, but I am under no illusion that I’ve seen it all!

Still, I have to wonder: Could there be any spot in the world that can top Sedona, Arizona on a hot, clear summer day?

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After a particularly stressful week at work, I needed a little diversion – something to take me to another place. What I needed, I decided, was a hike with a bit of a bite.

And I knew just the place. The Yaeger Canyon Loop Trail in the Mingus Mountain range between Prescott and Jerome has long been my go-to hike for a strenuous, quick workout in a beautiful setting. And some serious seclusion!

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Sometimes it’s about the mind-blowing terrain. Sometimes it’s about the colorful wildflowers. And sometimes it’s about the endurance – just getting it done.

Today, I’d have to say my hike was all about the clouds.

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In northern Arizona, there’s a sweet spot in hiking – that stretch in June, when the temperatures warm to the 80s and 90s, the trees are in full bloom, and the summer monsoon rains have yet to start.

I call it the “pre-monsoonal season.” For the most part, you can plan a hike or other outdoor activity without too many worries about getting caught in a violent thunderstorm. Still, as the dew point rises, and the conditions work gradually up to the monsoon, you’re sure to get some amazing clouds.

It was that kind of day today. As soon as I opened my front door and felt the slightly muggy air (for arid Arizona anyway), I knew the clouds would be cropping up – white and puffy – everywhere.

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Life in the desert. Sometimes it can seem like a hot, dry slog – especially as summer begins, with its promise of months in the 90s and 100s.

But rest assured, there is always an oasis in the distance to remind you of the joys of living amongst the cacti and the lizards.

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I had one of those moments over the weekend, when I decided to check out a new trail (well, new to me) in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

In recent years, my occasional hiking in the Phoenix area had focused on the urban trails – Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak, North Mountain. All are great, challenging hikes, with sweeping views. But I must say, the traffic on the trails can get heavy, even on weekdays.

On this particular weekend, I was looking for something a little more remote. I had heard good things about the views along the Peralta Trail, and I decided to check it out. photo 2(17)With little more than directions in hand, I set off on Highway 60, driving on the freeway through Mesa and Apache Junction.

It’s a bit of a haul, but I hung in there, and soon came upon Peralta Road, just past Gold Canyon, Arizona. After passing through a small community, the street ends, and a sign cautions that the next seven miles would be over a winding, dirt road.

But oh, what a dirt road! On this early-June day, the desert could hardly have been more stunning.

Really – the views through this stretch of the Tonto National Forest are worth the drive. With the craggy range of Superstitions as a backdrop, the desert seems to go on endlessly, dotted with leafy mesquite, blooming cholla, and massive saguaros.

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