Diversion, Walks

Diversions: ‘Tis the Season

I awoke Sunday morning to crisp, cool temperatures; the colors of the landscape full of burnt umber and orange, beckoning Judy and me out for a Fall morning walk.  ‘Tis the season.

As we tied our walking shoes and pulled-on some warmth, we also grabbed water and sunscreen, for this Autumn walk would not be among shady elms and maples losing their leaves, but among the red rocks cliffs of Sedona, Arizona. On this fall day, the sun shone bright on the multi-hued rock strata that makes Sedona such a magical place. During a weekend designed for relaxation, we were ready for a bit of adventure.

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When Judy and I met, I had lived one the east coast for nearly 10 years, having lived most of my life beforehand in Southern California. I joked with my west coast friends that California had only two seasons — brown and three weeks of green — as I welcomed the changing seasons. Judy took me on my first “leaf peeping” trip to Pennsylvania. A to Z trips to Krakow and Nuremberg were conducted in winter. In Venice, we experienced “Aqua Alta;” in Hawaii, torrential rains. We have never confined our trips to one season, because experiencing different seasons and weather around the world is part of the adventure!  

Since we’ve moved to Arizona, we’ve come to appreciate seasons even more, and this little weekend getaway to Sedona was a reminder that no matter where you are or go, there are great opportunities to get outside and experience the constant change that nature brings us.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, and enjoy whatever the weather brings you. ‘Tis the season!

wine glass and menu
Food, Road Trip, travel, Wine/Cocktails

Luck or a Nose for Good Food and Wine?

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you have probably noticed we often seem to find really fun and interesting places to eat and drink. This past weekend was no exception.

Friday afternoon we decided it was time, once again, to jump in the car early Saturday morning and hit the road for a day trip. New to Arizona, we have a long list of places we want to see in a day. This particular Saturday, with the forecast for the Valley of the Sun calling for high temps over 100 ˚F,  we opted to head for the hills.

Prescott is in Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains and at just over 5300 feet, it tends to be a nice cool getaway on a hot summer day. Saturday was no exception. As our neighbors hid in air-conditioned comfort, we strolled the adorable historic city center under sunny skies at a pleasant 82˚.

Arizona wine region map
A state map shows the wine growing regions of Arizona

While hopes for cool temps helped choose the destination for the day, luck, karma or instinct had us drive right into the town’s celebration of “Territorial Days.”  It turns out Prescott was the capital of Arizona before it became a state and the annual celebration includes dozens of artists selling their crafts  on the town square. Families wandered easily past the displays. Children played in the grass. One vendor offered face painting. Musicians fiddled. It was a fun, festive party!

Wine tasting
Two whites and three reds are featured on the tasting menu

After a bit of shopping and enjoying the scenes unfolding around us, we saw a sign advertising “Wine Tasting. All Arizona Wines” pointing to the Back Alley Wine Bar. What a great find! Lindsay walked us through five wines from our new home state and dazzled us with her knowledge.

wine glass and menu
The menu offers a refill as I near the end of a delicious red blend.

We ordered another glass each and continued to sip and share stories as other customers came and went.

As the time ticked away, our stomachs noisily reminded us we should eat something, so with Lindsay’s suggestion, we headed three blocks away to Farm Provisions. WOW! A robust farm-to-table menu enticed us with mouth-watering choices. We marveled over the fresh burrata on crostini with slow-roasted tomatoes and aged balsamic. 

Farm Provisions scallops
Farm Provisions scrumptious scallops

The farm fettucini with pancetta, wild mushrooms, Arizona-sun-dried tomatoes and aged pecorino was exceptional. The incredible day boat scallops were drizzled with a pomegranate gastrique and Arizona lemon beurre blanc while floating on a bed of butternut squash puree. Roasted Brussel sprouts, roasted baby beets and pomegranate seeds added color and perfect taste pairings. With our taste buds celebrating flavor perfection and our tummies happily full, we made a decision to schedule another trip to Prescott just to try the dessert!

As we drove out of town with the sun setting behind us, we wondered how we always seem to find these food and drink havens. Sure, we typically ask a local for options, but there is more to it than that. We asked each other, “Is it luck or is it some sort of nose for good food and wine that we are lucky enough to be blessed with?” Whatever leads us there, we plan to keep finding these amazing spots.

After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … follow lady luck or your nose and go see, eat and drink it all in.

A roadrunner sits among various trees and plants in an Arizona neighborhood landscape.
Musings

Musings – The “Sounds” of Silence

Up at dawn, I lace-up my runners and grab my sunglasses as I head out the door. Even this early, the Arizona sun is blazing; the temperature already hovering around 80 degrees.

This early morning ritual, taking a long, contemplative walk before the world awakes, energizes me. It helps me clear my head so I can think big thoughts, plan my day, or contemplate the meaning of life. I leave the iPhone and the earbuds behind. This is not a time for music to intrude on my well-deserved solitude. I don’t need some app to tell me how far I walked, or the number of calories burned. This is a time for reflection; an opportunity to be outside and savor all the world has to offer.

Often, I encounter several others … neighbors out for their morning stroll, walking their dog, people running or biking, golfers heading to the club in their electric cards, construction workers and landscapers driving to the job in their pickups. Today that traffic, both literally and figuratively, is light.

A roadrunner sits among various trees and plants in an Arizona neighborhood landscape.
A roadrunner, one of the many types of birds in this part of Arizona, tries to hide among the neighbor’s plants. (J. Romano photo)

The man-made silence opens up the landscape to sounds … a variety of birds chirping and singing, bees buzzing, lizards skittering. It’s not unpleasant. In fact, it’s a happy chorus to my thoughts, reminding me that this is good; that nature is truly all around as and we are just a part.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … even right outside your front door. Go see it!

 

 

Distractions, Diversion, Uncategorized

Same Road, Different Season

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A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Bucket List, The World A to Z

When Fear Kills a Dream

Fulfilling a lifelong dream can be exhilarating. Realizing it is within reach, planning the details, booking the flights, and making the reservations add to the anticipation of checking that item off your bucket list … an item that has been there since you were eight years old.

Grand Canyon view
This was my first view from the rim.

In my case, the dream was to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend a night next to the Colorado River in a cabin. In October, I was talking about the dream with my husband when he said, “Why wait? Let’s do it!” I was shocked and thrilled all at the same time. No one had ever embraced the idea before. I went online, checked out the process and made a call. I was able to find two available openings in mid-February. Sure … it can be cold, even snowy, that time of year, but why let a little harsh weather ruin a dream?  I booked the trip and started ironing out the details.

This kind of trip requires some planning. I knew we would need riding clothes and warm weather gear, but what else? Back online for research. There are “must-have” items and “optional” gear. There are videos to give you an idea what to expect. I created a packing list and watched a couple of the videos. I have a little fear of heights, so I was trying to get a visual idea of what to expect. Several websites made it clear that this ride is not for those with a fear of heights. I looked at a couple more videos and decided this was a case of mind over matter. I would defeat this fear and make my dream come true.

I bought cold weather rain gear. I ordered hand and toe warmers for the ride. I bought a strap to secure my glasses. I watched the videos over and over. I can do this!

Arriving at the Grand Canyon the afternoon before the ride, we checked into the Bright Angel Lodge, confirmed we would make the weigh-in restrictions (it is a FIRM 200-pound limit and my buff husband was close) and headed out to walk along the rim. I bravely walked to the edge and looked down – STRAIGHT DOWN!  “Um, OK, I got this,” I said to myself as I took a couple steps back, “No problem.” I worked on that mind over matter thing. I smiled at Greg and we wandered along the rim taking in the views. I’m not sure if he realized I had positioned him between me and the edge.

Grand Canyon luggage
All packed … two nights provisions.

We snagged a table with a canyon view for dinner, then headed to our room to pack our “Grand Canyon luggage” – two small plastic bags that were our limit for the ride. We were spending two nights at the bottom, so we got one bag per night. Packed and ready, we hit the hay with the alarm set for an early morning call at the stone corral.

Bright and early, we layered on the clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast and, with our breath visible in the sub-freezing morning breeze, we walked to the corral to meet our guides and riding mates. There would be six of us, plus two guides, for the descent. Stable master, Don, gave us a 30-minute safety talk, filled us in on what to expect and introduced us to our rides. I would be on Burt. Don laughed as he explained that Burt was a bit noisy and would snort and grunt all the way down. I gave Burt’s nose a little nuzzle, climbed up into the saddle and settled in for the five-hour ride along the edge of the paths on the Bright Angel Trail.

Mules at Stone Corral
The mules were saddled and ready for the ride down.

We walked out of the corral and immediately stepped out onto the trail. I did all the things I had talked to myself about. Look out across the canyon and the magnificent view. Trust your mule to stay sure-footed (no one has EVER died on this ride). Look at the rider ahead of you. DON’T LOOK DOWN.  Then I did it – I looked down. We were maybe 50 paces into the ride. I gasped! Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I have hyperventilated ONCE in my life and all of a sudden I was gasping for air and wheezing. Ten more steps and we approached the first turn on the path. My lungs were screaming. My brain was screaming. I wheezed out a whisper, “I can’t do this.”  Gasp, gasp … louder this time, “I can’t do this.” I felt tears start falling. The guide must’ve heard me and turned in her saddle, “Are you OK?”

“No,” I gasped. She looked concerned. She got on her radio and called back up to the corral. She stopped the group as we had discussed in the safety talk. We would all stop, turn our mules out to face the canyon, enjoy the view and take a drink of water. I barely remember stopping. Someone was standing next to me helping me dismount. The guide at the back of the group was repeating, “Breathe, just breathe, you’re OK.” I hugged the wall as far from the edge as I could get. I started walking back up, both my clear plastic bags in my arms. I don’t remember how they got from the saddle bags into my arms, but there they were.

Boda bags -- our "canteens" for the ride.
Our souvenirs from the trip … we got to keep our “canteens” even though we never finished the ride.

I stepped over to the corral wall, dropped down onto it and started to cry. Greg showed up a couple of minutes later and Don walked us over to the Lodge to check us out of the ride group. I was feeling a sense of loss. I would be fine one second, then crying again. Greg got me some water. We walked over to the restaurant and got a table – one without a view! I was scared, shaking, finally breathing again and crushed.

I was experiencing the end of a dream. We made other plans for our vacation and Greg distracted me as I started to get over it. It’s been a week and I’m OK today, although a little weepy as I relive it. I have other dreams. I know I tried. Life goes on and I will move on stronger for the attempt.

The Grand Canyon is no longer on my bucket list, but there are hundreds of other things still left to see and do. After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored – don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.

Road Trip, Route 66

The Road is Calling

I grew up a Californian. The ocean, mountains, valleys and deserts all have a certain lure; the automobile was my ticket to ride, the vehicle that took me to all these majestic places. From my earliest days, the road was calling, begging me to explore.

I was on wheels at an early age…first a tricycle, then I learned to ride a bike when I was only five…motorcycles when I was 10. Sailing was introduced to to me when I was 8, and I became a water rat. An early dream to fly became reality in the early 90s. But my first love, the road, was always calling.

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Even though I grew up in the muscle car era, hot rods had no appeal…sports cars like those I read about in Road and Track and Car & Driver were my dreams as a teenager. My dentist had an old Porsche 356…he saw my passion and gave me a ride one day. I was hooked!

The road was calling.

In 1976, my family took a month-long road trip from Southern California through Arizona and Nevada into Utah and Colorado; up the eastern spine of the Rocky Mountains into Canada and the glaciers of Banff and Jasper. Heading west, we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We had delayed the trip one week so I could complete Driver’s Training. Learner’s permit in hand, mom let me drive a good chunk of the time. I must have logged 2,000 miles that summer, an experience every new driver should have.IMG_0218

The road was calling.

On my 16th birthday, I was at the DMV when they opened. I passed the test and for the first time I was behind the wheel on a public road alone…well, at least legally. An old Toyota Corona bought from my sister for $300 and a new clutch installed by me with her boyfriend’s guidance became my chariot. Every chance I had, I explored the mountain and coastal roads of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. I discovered that a great way for me to shake off teenage angst and trials was to go for a drive through “a dark desert highway.”

The road was calling.

Forty years later, the road is still calling. This time, it’s Route 66…the Mother Road…the road that Bruce Springsteen sang about…”the highway is alive tonight.” As Judy and I prepare to set off on our epic Route 66 adventure, I can hardly contain my excitement…looking forward to driving through the deserts of my youth, into the high plains of Arizona and New Mexico; tornado alley (in Spring, which might make things interesting) and into the Heartland ending in Chi Town.

The road is calling.

I’ve driven cross country once before, when I moved to the East Coast in 2003. I did it in two and a half days…challenging myself to log as many miles each day as I could. The final push was from the eastern border of Oklahoma to D.C. in 16 hours, with stops only for gas and food. It was a monumental feat, but I missed the exploration…the joy that is called the road.

This trip will be different. We’re taking our time…we’re going to stop at every kitschy photo stop, stay in classic Route 66 motels, and eat all-American style.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, because the road is calling.IMG_0222

Road Trip, Route 66

Getting Ready to Drive The Mother Road

We’re getting ready to drive the “Mother Road.” We are picking up something big in Los Angeles (too big to ship home) and are using it as a reason to take a classic road trip.

As children of the 60s, some of our earliest memories are of family long-distance road trips and this is a chance to recreate a vacation from our youths. What better route than Route 66?

There are dozens of books about Route 66: historical perspectives, turn-by-turn tutorials, tourism guides, etc. There are websites devoted to everything about the “Mother Road” and its attractions. It’s a veritable cornucopia of research material to make the most of the trip. I’ve spent three months digging into everything I can find to plan the trip and decide what we can’t miss, where we should stay and where we should eat.

As the trip draws closer, we’re both getting down to the nitty gritty of what to pack. That list now includes some items we need to buy once we get to LA. We’re flying out and driving back, after all, and some of what we want to have in the car is just too bulky to carry on a plane.

Maps and a camera are essential. Turn-by-turn instructions are crucial so we don’t miss any of the old road sections as they wind through towns of the west and Midwest. A picnic basket is a key piece of recapturing the “good old days” that we hope to relive. We want to be able to stop for lunch and pull out a sandwich and a drink like when we were kids.

We plan to blog the whole trip and capture images of our nation’s towns and cities. We will continue our typical style of chatting with everyone we meet along the way. We hope to enjoy foods native to every region from Santa Monica to Chicago.

Hitting the road is a great way to see things, especially when you stay off the interstate and stick to local highways. Route 66 will take us through ghost towns, struggling towns and places seeing a surge in tourism as more people opt to take a slower pace to enjoy their travels.

There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. This time, we’re taking back roads to do it. Stay tuned.