Canyon Lake

I love the Arizona deserts: the rocks, the cacti, the mountains. There is a LOT of desert. That’s why it’s even more stunning to find blue blue water nestled among the mountains. After we hiked up to Praying Hands and back, the afternoon was still young, and I’d not had my fill of gorgeous scenery, fresh air and sunshine. We’d seen signs for Canyon Lake on our way to Lost Dutchman State Park and so we thought we’d head that direction. According to the maps, Rt 88 would lead us directly to Canyon Lake. Canyon Lake is one of 4 reservoirs created off the Salt River.

This shot is actually from the hike down from Praying Hands but that rock face is seen on Rt88

I was slightly better this trip than I’ve been in the past. I only pulled the car over once so that I could inhale scenery and take pictures. It is so beautiful. My photos never quite capture the magnitude of the views, but I keep trying. Rt 88 is an incredibly twisting curving winding 2-lane road. When we headed out of Lost Dutchman the posted sign said ’25 mph”. I mentioned to my son that I thought perhaps that was unduly cautious and wondered why. He said, being prescient, that maybe it was because the road was going to be twisting ahead. (I was driving, he was looking at maps.)

view from Rt 88

Rt 88 is definitely twisty. With beautiful views. There was a lot of traffic on the road. It was a Saturday, gorgeous weather, out in the country. A LOT of motorcycles. We came around a curve to a stupendous view but there was no place to stop. As soon as I saw a spot ahead I pulled over – as had several other cars. Unfortunately where I was did not have as great a view as the middle of the road just prior to my pulling over. I decided that it was probably NOT a good idea to walk back and stand in the middle of the road by a blind curve. 🙂 Just take my word for it.

view on the OTHER side of rt 88

I got back in the car and we continued on and reached the overlook for Canyon Lake. Breathtaking. As we made our way down Rt 88 to the lake I pulled over yet again to take photos from another angle. Between the rock faces and the water I wanted to stand there and stare forever.

Our first glimpse of Canyon Lake

We got down to the actual parking and boat launch area and got out of the car to walk around a bit. We shared the water’s edge with some ducks. I took a video of the gentle lapping of the water at the edge – poetry for my soul.

There is a little town, Tortilla Flat, right along the lake. It was jammed packed with people. It looked to be the most amazing “tourist trap” I might have ever seen. My son kept describing it as the epitome of kitsch. 🙂 Yes, we were probably being unduly harsh. There IS a US post office there – it’s a real town. And if you click through on the link you will see that there is an official population of 6. I really should have taken some photos but I had no idea I was going to want them. 🙂

According to the website: “Tortilla Flat is an authentic remnant of an old west town, nestled in the midst of the Tonto National Forest, in the Superstition Mountain Range. Tortilla Flat started out as a stagecoach stop in 1904 and neither fire nor flood has been able to take away this historic stop along the Historic Apache Trail.” We did see lots of folks enjoying ice cream and further down the road a motorcyclist told me that the “best fudge ever” can be had in Tortilla Flat.

We decided we were not in the mood to deal with all those folks so we continued east on Rt 88. According to the map we could reach Roosevelt Lake, another reservoir created off Salt Lake. More twists and curves and bends, but now there were very few cars.

Can you tell yet that the text is merely an excuse for the photos?

The road climbed up and there was an overlook and a sign. The sign said that the road was closed ahead and that there was no pavement past the sign (that was true – we could see that). I pulled over and got out to take some photos. There were 2 motorcyclists there as well and I asked one of them if it was true about the road.

He said that it was, that the Woodbury Fire of 2019 that raged through Tonto National Forest had destroyed the road and the bridge. He said that the only way we could reach Roosevelt Lake was to go back to the highway (a good 30 minutes away) and head NORTH, and then approach Roosevelt Lake from the north. I did a little research once I was home and it was not actually the fire that destroyed the bridge. It was the horrendous rain storms in 2020 over the fire-scarred terrain which caused massive landslides and wiped out the bridge.

View from where we had to turn back on Rt 88

It was already late in the afternoon by that time, and it would have been getting dark by the time we reached the lake. We’ll have to do that another time and hope that the roads are open and we can get there. There is, of course, a lot of controversy over re-opening Rt 88. Arizona DOT has said they will NOT reopen the road until it is reforested (which will take years). We will have to get there from the north when we go.

Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come, all the way back to Chandler. By that point I was exhausted. I’d gotten something in my eye at the last stop and my eye was hurting and tearing – I made my son do the drive back home. I got into the hotel pool & hot spa to recuperate before we headed out to dinner. I leave you with this video of gentle waves upon the shore. 🙂

Hiking the Superstition Wilderness

Last time I attempted to hike Superstition I discovered that it makes a huge difference if the hike is going up and up, or more around and up. I was back in AZ and although it was a very short trip, I still had a day that could be spent hiking. I’m in much better shape than I was when I attempted Fremont Saddle via the Peralta Trail. All those mornings back home walking 2.75 miles, not to mention the TWO hills and the gradual incline, have definitely given me more stamina. Yes, I’m well aware that gasping my way up a suburban street is NOT akin to hiking up a mountainside, but it is some exercise. I did some internet surfing and discovered Treasure Loop to Praying Hands. I read the description MUCH more carefully based on my hard-won knowledge. It looked do-able.

Treasure Loop is the big loop – Praying Hands is the skinny line.

We decided to give it a try on Saturday, a day when we had absolutely nothing else planned. We could spend all day hiking if that’s what it took me – zillions of rests. The elevation gain did not look that difficult – only 834 feet compared to 1430 feet. The distance was also much less round-trip: 3 miles compared to 4.7 miles. And we were hiking in February, NOT early September. We checked with my son’s friend and although he made some faces, he thought I was probably able to do it. 🙂

We parked in the P by Maintenance. 🙂

It is only about 40 minutes from Chandler to the trailhead in Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction. We got there a little after 11 am. *laughing* I probably should NOT put this here but oh, well, you know that for a supposedly smart woman I can do some pretty dumb things. 🙂 First, we ended up parking in the overflow parking because of a sign in the road talking about the parking being closed. Upon later closer inspection the sign was only intended to convey the information that you could NOT park overnight. But it WAS in the road and there was another car leaving that area coming at us, so we took it to mean the lot was full. 🙂 As it happens, I think that ended up being a good thing for us.

Keep your eye on that middle group of rocks.

We parked in the overflow and then tried to find the trailhead. Go ahead, laugh. I was getting a little worried about us that we could not even find the trailhead for Treasure Loop and what – I wanted to hike up to Praying Hands? 🙂 We wandered around the Cholla day-use area and decided it was NOT what we wanted. We made our way up the not-closed road to the Saguaro day-use area. Again, we saw lots of parked cars but no obvious trail-head. I was beginning to feel cranky. Just as I spied a sign that looked to be a trailhead sign, a gentleman called to us to say the trailhead began behind the restrooms. We went that direction but it was NOT the trailhead for Treasure Loop. Those of you who know me can imagine just how cranky I was at this point. I snarled my way over to where *I* thought the trailhead sign was and YES! I was correct!!! So we started out on Treasure Loop #56. If you click any of my links, or read anything online, you’ll see that all of the guides say start at the Cholla day-use area.

Very close.

I’m going to tell you that my son and I disagree with all of those trail guides. We started from Saguaro and ended at Cholla. Starting at Saguaro means you do the steepest, rockiest part FIRST, when you are still fresh and eager. The mountains are ahead of you, in all their beauty, and you start climbing immediately. The Cholla side of the loop is nearly flat, in comparison. Which makes it boring and a bit ho-hum. There were a handful of other groups of hikers – I’d guess fewer than 15 – both going our way and coming back towards us. All of these hikers were friendly and calling hello and smiling. My recollection of hiking Devil’s Bridge was that although the vast majority of the hikers WERE friendly and warm, there were definitely the groups who belonged walking in the city, where avoiding eye contact and smiles is considered the norm.

To know him is to love him.

For the most part the hike up was easy enough, but hard enough that we did need to pause a few times to catch our breath. We had a good cadence. You reach what seems to be the top of Treasure Loop where there is an aluminum bench. 🙂 We paused there to take some photos. We didn’t realize we were at the top until we met some other folk coming the other way (from Cholla) and they told us that we were. We could still see the Praying Hands a bit away, so we knew there had to be more to the trail. I remembered from when I found this trail originally that it was a loop with a line leading away from it – like a hanging pendant.

Wow Getting smaller.

We kept walking the way we’d been going and did indeed come to a sign pointing to Praying Hands. This path was definitely narrower and we could see it was much steeper than what we’d been doing. All of that fit my recollection of the first description I’d found. I keep talking about my “first” description because we downloaded an app: Route Scout which is an app from Hike Arizona . It wasn’t working for us. *grin* Oh be quiet. We were doing just fine without it.

And now you can barely see the details at all.

We headed up this trail towards Praying Hands. Definitely steeper. Definitely more loose gravel. Only 2 other groups doing this path -a group of 4 young women, and a young couple. We took some photos of the women all on one of the rocks, with the world spread out below them. 🙂 In return they taught me how to use Airdrop on my iPhone so that they could have the photos. 🙂 My son and I ALSO got up on the rocks for them to take pictures of US, but I chickened out and we stood on the CLOSER part of the rock ledge, not on the place where they stood. Honestly it is simply so gorgeous up there. I wish I could post every single photo. I took far fewer photos than I usually do. I wanted to experience the climb while it was happening, and many of the photos would look the same. What IS interesting was how the perspective changes. Rocks that looked so far away as we started got very close and LARGE. Then as we kept hiking up to Praying Hands they got smaller and smaller. We thought we’d come a long way at one point, but when we got up to Praying Hands and looked back at the huge rock at the top of Treasure Loop – wow. That huge rock was not a long trip at all.

See that rock in the foreground? That’s where the young women were standing.

We made it all the way to the top. The 4 young women had gotten there before us and we could see them off to our right, on a rocky ledge along the mountain face. The young couple reached us at the top flat ledge, where there was a pyramid of rocks. We could see Praying Hands across the way. I thought we were done. The young couple hiked down off the ledge and onto a very gravelly, OPEN SIDED path heading towards Praying Hands. Again, those of you who know me will recognize my reaction: heck, if THEY can do it so can I. Sigh. My son looked at me because he could see this next bit of path was not going to be fun. I said yes, we’re going. And we did.

I probably should have cropped this more but I liked the rock and the grass.

Reader, I hated it. 🙂 But we baby-stepped our way along that gravelly, long-way down on the left, irregular path all the way to the base of Praying Hands. We took a photo and pasted it to Facebook so you know that it really happened. 🙂 I also posted that I had no idea how I was going to get back down. Because that last little piece was really scary. Not for that young couple obviously but it was for me. Up is SO MUCH EASIER than down. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life up there, and I’m told calling for helicopter rescue is very expensive and frowned upon, so I knew I’d have to get down that steep loose gravel.

Pyramid of rocks at what I thought was the top.

Of course within my first 5 steps I slid and landed on my tush. My son’s friend asked me later “were you wearing proper hiking boots?” Of course not, don’t be silly. I don’t OWN proper hiking boots – I was wearing my sneakers. Hey – at least I wasn’t wearing sandals. 🙂 One of these days I really will invest in hiking boots and a walking stick. Once I was down there on my butt, and my heart rate returned to normal, I decided that was indeed the best way to continue. That’s what I did for that scary part. I reached a part where I could stand without too much fear, and for that part I proceeded on all 4s – 4s being my hands and feet, not knees. I’m probably mistaken about that being more balanced and secure but it felt better to me to have more contact with the ground and to be closer to the ground. It really is a VERY steep drop from that point. Trust me – I looked.

Praying Hands seen from the pyramid of rocks ledge

We made it back to the flat area with the rock pyramid. There were some steep parts from there back down to Treasure Loop, but they were fine after what had come before. There may have been one other place I trusted to my tush over my feet. We reached Treasure Loop and walked to the Cholla Day Use area. As I said to start, by then that part of the trail felt like walking on level ground. 🙂 All in all we were hiking for 3 hours. It was lovely – not too hot, sunny, not too crowded with other hikers. There was just enough challenge and risk (for me) to make it exciting. It was still early in the day so we decided to head toward Canyon Lake. But that’s a story for another day. 🙂

Escape from February

Happiness at the Hilton Phoenix Chandler – becoming my home away from home

I am a Jersey girl, born and bred. My idea of Paradise is the Jersey shore, more specifically somewhere on LBI (Long Beach Island for those of you who need a translation). But no matter how deep my roots, and they are very very deep, I can no longer endure February in NJ. My memory tells me that once upon a time when I was younger our winters were COLD but sunny. We had snow more often than rain. Now it seems that we are lucky to see the sun once every 2 weeks. The temperature is in the high 30s, low 40s, not cold enough to feel like winter but too cold to be at all enjoyable. Add to that covid and the 2nd year in a row when I can’t throw my blow-out-Superbowl party –> well, I need to run away.

Ahhhhhhhhhh

I planned to head to AZ to spend a week with my son around his birthday. One thing and another and I decided that week was not going to work well. I picked a different week and HE couldn’t make it. 2 days after I cancelled THOSE tickets/plans, we had another disgustingly damp, gray, miserable northeastern weather event. I told my son I didn’t care if he couldn’t take off to join me, I was coming to AZ. I neeeeeeed SUN and HEAT.

Flowers. In February.

I guess a lot of people felt the same. I could not get tickets for the days/flights I wanted. (I learned that the PGA Phoenix Open was happening this weekend.) So I made a shorter itinerary and got the plane & the hotel. I am staying at the Hilton Phoenix Chandler, where the people are absolutely wonderful. It’s becoming my home away from home. 🙂 I flew out on a Thursday afternoon, arriving that night. I took Friday as a vacation day and my son took off Friday afternoon to join me.

I spent the morning reading at the pool, soaking up warmth and light. We headed to Tempe to the promenade along the Rio Salada. I guess they call that area, or part of that area, Tempe Town Lake. We parked by one of the boat launches. When we got out I heard the most interesting bird chirps. Of course the moment I tried to record it he stopped cooperating but I did manage a very short bit. We started strolling along the river. It was heavenly. 🙂 There are plaques set into the concrete wall along the river. Some plaques are pictures, some have inspirational sayings, some have thoughts to ponder. My favorite image is NOT here because apparently a bird did not agree with my opinion and left a physical comment on the plaque. I liked the picture a lot but not enough to clean it off for a photo. 🙂

After walking for a bit we went and got some lunch at the Varsity Tavern. This was NOT where we thought we’d end up. We ate here back in October 2020, during the depths of the pandemic, and we were very very disappointed. Perhaps because we were comparing it to The Corner Room, a Penn State tradition, and a very fond and special memory for us. We were hungry and they could seat us so we gave it another try. I’m very glad we did. Our meals were delicious, and our waitress was great. Without question Varsity Tavern is back on our list of places to dine. 🙂 After that I had a somewhat unusual request: I wanted to go to a book store. When my son first moved out here, and I flew out to help him look for a place to live, we often had to kill time between appointments. One such time was spent in a bookstore, Changing Hands. It was a wonderful wonderful bookstore, with all the side gifts and items you want in a book store, as well as a HUGE inventory of new and used books. We discovered 2 new authors that day. We headed there after lunch and I had the joy of buying books for my son (we read a lot of the same authors).

If you are interested, I bought him Arkady Martine’s “An Empire Called Memory” and “A Peace Called Desolation” and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. In return he has loaned me 3 very heavy books: Margaret Weiss & Robert Krammes’ The Dragon Corsairs trilogy. The amusing bit about THOSE books is that I have actually read at least the first 2. I’m not a very careful reader most of the time and have a habit of skipping parts that don’t interest me. 🙂 It was YEARS later that I discovered that the pirate ships were in the SKY, not water. Which finally cleared up that whole section where they sailed DOWN to somewhere else and all the action was happening, so I thought, under water. 🙂 Oops. There was no way I wanted to carry that weight on the plane so I have handed them over to the front desk to mail home for me. Yes, I AM a princess, why do you ask? 🙂

Ring in the New Year

frozen moment of the fireworks “raining” down in front of the hotel (do watch the live version below!)

And oh PLEASE let 2022 be MUCH better than the last 2 years!

You know by now that I fall into the “extrovert” category. As annoying as people can be, I neeeeeeeed them. 🙂 I love the excitement and energy of New York City. I love parties. I love meeting new people and talking to them. Okay – that last might need a few parameters but it’s essentially true. Covid has cramped my style greatly. Don’t misunderstand – I am EXTREMELY grateful that to date that is ALL it has done to me personally. My family and I are vaccinated, booster’d and wear masks when in public locations. We’ve been eating out at restaurants, going to the theater, being in the NYC holiday excitement. But even I am cautious about throwing a party at my home.

I got brave and decided to have a small dinner party to start the new year. I invited 8 others to join us for dinner on January 2, outside, with propane heaters, and canopies to shield us from the possible rain. (Okay – originally Jan 1 but the weather looked so bad that I moved it to Jan 2.) But if we are outside, we’ll be wearing coats and warm clothes. *I* wanted to GLITTER and SPARKLE. I decided my husband and I would go out for dinner on NYE so I could have someone else do the meal prep & serving & cleanup and *I* could SPARKLE. We made plans for an “earlyish” seating – 8:45pm (earliest I could get by the time I decided to do this) – even though *I* thought we should go for a much later seating so we’d still be in town when they set off the fireworks outside the restaurant at midnight. My husband nixed that but promised he’d stay awake to get in the car and drive to some point where we could see those fireworks. 🙂 I know he thought we’d both be asleep so it was a safe promise. So we were booked for dinner at 8:45pm at Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick.

gotta glitter everywhere even if i haven’t had a mani/pedi in forever

Well. The best laid plans, right? In this case, however, the plan for fun was EXCEEDED. I dressed up – spent a good hour trying to put together the correct pants and footwear and necklace for my new glitter – oops – GLITTER – top. I felt pretty confident I’d nailed it. 🙂 I even wore makeup (no, the image below is NOT how I did my makeup). 🙂 We got to the restaurant and were seated, right on time. The tables were spaced very well, the wait-staff wore masks. We were at a table for 2 with only one table to our right (no tables directly to the other sides). We ordered cocktails (oh what a GREAT cocktail I had!!!) and as we were doing that the table to our right was seated – a family of 4. Two men in the chairs facing my wall, 2 women on my wall also. We all glanced at each other but kept on with our lives.

No, I don’t know why I don’t publish my RL face in this blog.

A few minutes later, after our cocktails had arrived, the man closest to my husband leaned over and tapped my husband’s shoulder. I, despite my hearing aids, could not hear what they were saying over all the ambient noise. I should have known. *I* am the one who is still living in the same town where she was born and bred decades ago. My husband is the one who knows people anywhere we go. 🙂 The gentleman and my husband had worked together on a construction job. My husband is a structural engineer, Paul is the owner of a construction company specializing in concrete structures, my husband’s personal favorite material. Those of you who know us both will not be at all surprised that from that point on the 2 of them exchanged a few comments, I ended up exchanging compliments and small talk with the women. Just before our dinners arrived, a table to our other side finished their meal and stood up to go. I was astounded when 2 of them came over to us. OMG!!! It was our neighbor Suzanne and her son Michael, who grew up with our son!!! It was great to see them, and hear what was happening. I took a photo to send to my son. Even funnier in the “isn’t it a small world” sense is that Michael lives outside of Knoxville, TN, which is where a good part of my husband’s family lives now as well. It was so lovely and wonderful to see the 2 of them! And I’ve made a resolution to get together with Suzanne one day soon.

We sat back down for our dinner, noticed that Paul’s table had been served as well. We ate our dinners and enjoyed the festive atmosphere and good food and service. Then we were all done with our main courses. In another day and age, the men would have repaired for cigars and brandy and the women off to to their chitchat elsewhere. In this day and age, my husband and the other man started talking construction, totally oblivious to the rest of us. 🙂 It was now around 10:30pm, and they were having a wonderful time chatting. I started plotting.

I excused myself ostensibly to use the rest room. I found one of the managers and asked if the table next to us had been drinking alcoholic beverages. Upon learning that they had, I ordered a round of champagne for the 6 of us. 🙂 I went back and sat down, but slid over the bench (the women’s side of the setup was one long upholstered bench) to join the women and 3rd man in conversation. 🙂 Our champagne arrived and we had to forcibly interrupt my husband and Paul to participate in the toast. 🙂 I learned that Paul had apparently also paid for a round of OUR drinks. Great minds think alike! As you might have guessed by now, we were all still there talking and enjoying when the management gave everyone the 20 minute warning for getting drinks and heading outside for the fireworks. 🙂 I took my champagne glass and we all headed outside to the street. As long as we stayed within the little fences we could bring our drinks with us.

oh just watch the video. 🙂

The weather was cooperating, it was warm, not raining. We had a countdown to midnight, and then the fireworks began! They were a lot of fun and not what I’d expected. They were shot off from the hotel roof across the street. There was music playing through a sound system. Loads of people cheering and laughing. Even so – we were not crowded into anyone else. When the fireworks were done we were still fairly near the other family. We walked over and hugged happy new year. Paul’s wife suggested that we should get together for dinner together some time (they live in the next county). I said that I would LOVE that! I’d just been remarking to someone recently about how does one make new friends at this age if you are not going in to work??? I guess go out to dinner!!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy new year to come, filled with peace and joy. And food and friends and fun and fireworks!

Skating in SL

Last night I was a bit cranky, a bit down. My mind kept circling in the same grooves, all of which were annoying. I remembered that “back in the day” when I was in this kind of mood, I’d head into SL for friends, live music, some relaxation.

I logged in and decided to head to my favorite go-to location – Fogbound Blues club. There was a time in this blog when I’d remember to capture all the links, the map locations. These days when I log in I can barely remember how to move myself, much less my camera, and even less remember how to find and save information. Trying to change out of my jeans & sweater to my adorable skating outfit was almost painful. 🙂

I’m extremely adept at physical activity in SL. 🙂

I made it to Fogbound and had a very difficult time moving about, or even getting my camera to do what I wanted. I finally saw an open chair and SAT there, listening to DJ Panther for a bit. As I sat there I IM’d my friend Honey who was inworld. She invited me to come skating. Ahhh, memories. We used to skate all the time back in the day, back at ShengriLa. (That is not a typo.) I said that sounded like a great idea and she sent me the TP (which is NOT toilet paper, for all you relative new-comers to this blog – it is Teleportation address).

I was just about to accept it when I realized one of my 2 absolute favorite musicians – Noma Falta – was playing live at the moment. (The other absolute fav is Komuso Takagawa, without whose music I could never survive the yearly traumatic procedure on my tongue.) I bopped over to hear Noma. I did a tad better once I got there, remembering how to find her, move closer, not bump into anyone. I stayed for one great blues song but then TP’d to ice skate.

What fun. For those of you who have never become immersed in a virtual reality, you have to believe me when I tell you that for me being in SL, living through my avatar, feels extremely real. My brain can accept what my eyes and ears send it and translate that as “real”. Honey and I skated and chatted and caught up on life. It was simply fantastic. Just what I needed. Well, maybe what I need is a new gaming computer. This Lenovo does NOT render the graphics anywhere near as wonderfully as my Alienware did in its day. My husband and son have fancy-dancy gaming computers. Maybe if *I* had one too, I’d spend more time in SL. Heaven knows reality has not been such a joy the last few years.

Yes, you are seeing a flying sleigh. 🙂 And look how HIGH I can lift my leg!!!!

Structures

Or Why I Married a Structural Engineer 🙂

30 Rockefeller Center (formerly the RCA Building)

I see I have not posted anything since Hurricane Ida. I had fallen waaaaaay behind even before that – lots of fun adventures out in Arizona in June, my birthday trip to NYC in July, hiking and sight-seeing in NJ in September – yep way behind. Add to that Sukkot, a trip to NYC in September, again in October, gardening, walking, the theater, and another all-day NYC experience, I may never catch up. I was loading photos from my phone to my laptop today and realized that I MUST share some of these pictures with you.

Main apse St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I LOVE architecture. My son learned this when we were touring in Italy together several years ago. All those paintings of dukes riding out to meet so-and-so. Endless. Boring. Even the Sistine Chapel was only “cool”, not breath-taking. (Yes, I know I am sadly deficient. It happens.) The REALLY cool pictures at the Vatican Museum were in the Gallery of Maps. OMG!!!! LOVED the Map Room! Loved the palaces, the plazas, the buildings. Architecture and maps.

Side entrance St Patrick’s Cathedral

I have several photos from my NYC trips earlier this year, but I’ll save them for when (if) I write up those adventures. In the meantime I’m sharing the pics from this past weekend.

Empire State Building

I LOVE architecture. 🙂 I even really like road cloverleafs and the ramp structures. If you build it, I will admire. 🙂

Paramount Building, Times Square

Saguaro National Park

If we were going to be in Tucson, we were going to Saguaro National Park, that was quite obvious. But there are TWO sides to the Park, which means decisions must be made! Okay, the truth is that some decisions are very easy to make. I was NOT up for hiking. It was late June. Hot. Sunny. Already past 10 am. We were going to do a drive-through tour, not a walking tour. That means the East side of the park – the Rincon Mountain District.

When my son moved out to Arizona 3 years ago, he and his friend stopped in Tucson. Adam, his friend, is a marathon hiker – totally fit, used to hiking high elevations, low elevations, acclimated to all types of trails. My son – not so much. They began hiking on the west side – the Tucson Mountain District. As it happens, I was “watching” them on my Life360 app on my phone at the time. I’d made them promise to have it on the whole trip from Orlando, FL to Tempe, AZ.

I saw the little dot moving in the middle of nothing. I zoomed in. Still just nothing. Zoomed, zoomed, zoomed – finally a skinny little white line indicating a path in the middle of NOTHING. It was July, it was mid-morning. My son turned back at his half-water mark. Adam made it all the way to whatever is at the end of that trail and back. 🙂 Adam rocks but we are NOT Adam. We drive.

It’s always fun to drive to the trails. Long before you get to the rangers’ welcome center you are always deep into the desert/park and surrounded by beauty. We did stop at the welcome center to make sure our water bottles were full. Even in an air-conditioned car it is dry dry dry. I knew I’d be bopping in and out for photos so enough water was a must.

Truth to tell, I don’t remember any individual WOW moment on the loop. While it is starkly beautiful, it did not move me the way the red & white rocks of Sedona do. What I did love were the flowers holding their own against the climate, the way the bushes twist and grow, the unexpected green in the midst of dust.

When we started the loop we were alone – no other cars entered just before or after us. Shortly after our first few pull-offs, however, a van from NC caught up to us. Two women and children in the car. We began by nodding and waving as we passed in the pull-offs, but did ultimately progress to chatting. We talked cameras, national parks, travel in general. 🙂 It was quite companionable and NOT intrusive. Of course, I LIKE chatting with people.

There was another car that came in shortly after we did but I think they either had different expectations or they’d taken a wrong turn. I don’t recall them pulling off and shortly after seeing them they sped off. I know there were not a lot of other vehicles nor did we see any wildlife, but even for this NJ gal who can really open up on the NJ Tpke, I think they were going a bit fast for the venue.

I’m so lucky I do these trips with my son. Either I’ve brow-beaten him into submission or he enjoys the stops as well as I do (unlike my husband and my friend Honour, both of whom seem incapable of slowing down or stopping when I call out -ooo THERE!!). He was doing the driving and he was very patient about pulling into the side spaces or stopping in the middle of the road. Maybe one day I’ll have a very good camera, some talent/instruction, and his forbearance will be rewarded by excellent photographs.

Until then, you get what you get. 🙂 Yes – getting a new camera IS still on my to-do list. The NC van tired before we did and soon disappeared in the distance. We continued along until even I had had enough of rocks and cacti. I’d expected a lot more cacti than we saw. One of the pull-outs had a sign by the viewpoint explaining that there HAD been many more cacti decades ago. Grazing and fires and invasive plants had killed off a lot of the saguaro cacti. The fires were actually a bonus because they killed off the invasive flora. Once the cattle were removed as well, the saguaro began to thrive.

One day I would like to go back and do some hiking on the western side. I’ve learned in the last 3 years, howev16er, that hiking in AZ is nothing like hiking in NJ. I need to get in better shape to deal with the altitude and I need to stop trying to hike in the hottest months of the year. 🙂 One of these days I’ll get out there in the cooler months.

Although we did take a LONG time to traverse the 8 miles, when we had finished we still had plenty of time left in the day. We checked to see what there might be to see in Tucson that was close, easy, and didn’t require preparation. We discovered we were not too far from John F. Kennedy Park, which had a LAKE! After the sere beauty of the cacti, a lake sounded perfect.

Lake at JFK Park, Tucson, AZ

We got there with no trouble, but had to do a bit of circling to find the entrance. This is where relying solely on your phone for guidance can land you in the wrong spot. AFTER we extricated ourselves from the gravel behind the Pima County Public Library, we ignored our phones and relied on our inherited sense of direction (thank you, Ernie!). That was MUCH more successful. As you can see, JFK park is lovely. There is fishing, boating, swimming and ducks. 🙂 Not to mention a view of the mountains. Once we’d relaxed and cooled down in the shade of the tree, we headed out to Culinary Dropout for dinner!

JFK Park lake

South to Tucson

poolside – El Conquistador Hotel, Tucson, AZ

My last 2 vacation trips to AZ we headed north to Sedona to sight-see and hike up there. This time we decided to head south to Tucson. As it happens, it was a fortunate decision. By the time I got out to AZ, the north was burning with wildfires – many of the parks and sites were closed. My son’s landlord had been to the Tucson area. Much like my sister, Colin takes voluminous notes on where he goes, what you should see, what you should pay, what you should know BEFORE you go, and all the other information that can make the next person’s trip the best possible. Of course my son and I are among the group that don’t read directions, or only skim the directions, so sometimes even having fantastic direction can be lost on us.

walk to the pool

Among the things I tend to forget to check is HOW FAR is the resort I am picking from where we need to be/go. One time I booked us into a GORGEOUS resort in Scottsdale (The Boulders), because I “remembered” from my first trip that it hadn’t taken us ‘that long’ to get to Scottsdale to go shopping. Well, the shopping was in SOUTHERN Scottsdale and the resort was in the NORTHERNMOST Scottsdale. 🙂 Not so convenient. This time I picked a resort that was listed in the wine country site as a recommended location. Yes – we’ll get back to the “wine country” bit. What neither the resort site nor that publicity site mentioned was that the resort was more than an hour from the wineries. 🙂 It WAS a nice resort – the El Conquistador Resort, and the drive was not that terrible when that day came. One thing we are learning about resorts is that they have far fewer room amenities than the good old business-traveler hotels. We’ve also learned that neither my son nor I have “resort dining palates”. All 3 Arizona resorts we’ve visited were beautiful. Gorgeous pools, gorgeous scenery, friendly staff – visually wonderful. None of them have had restaurants that served the food we like. Breakfasts are good, but then it’s pretty difficult to mess up breakfast. 🙂 Poolside food is good as well. But when it comes to dinner, there’s just not much there that we like.

El Conquistador Hotel – sculpture

Our plans were fairly basic for this trip. I’d not been feeling very well physically, and given that and the Arizona temperatures we didn’t want to overdo (another one of my superpowers – over-scheduling). We started with a very leisurely breakfast in Tempe, as well as a stop at the automotive supply shop to replace the windshield wiper I broke on my son’s car. 🙂 We had allotted 3 hours for driving to Tucson but the resort was – again – in the northernmost area of Tucson. I think it took maybe 2 hours or less – I don’t really remember exactly. I only remember that it was definitely less than expected. We spent Thursday afternoon hanging out at the pool (lovely) and relaxing. We found a nice restaurant with outdoor dining – Noble Hops in the Oro Valley. At that point all we wanted was a light meal. We opted for several appetizers and beer. The food and beer were very good; the service is meh. But we didn’t care about the service since we had a good table, good weather, lots of interesting dogs on the patio, and a lovely view. It was close to the resort as well. The crispy cauliflower was delicious. 🙂 I think we also had the hummus and the nachos. We headed back to the resort where I read and my son did whatever he did on his computer. 🙂 We rested up for Friday’s planned excursion to Saguraro National Park.

For my sister, whose new ‘thing’ is birds

Working From My Western Office

Chandler Hilton pool

If it’s June it seems to be that I am in Arizona. I’m not sure how I manage to always pick the hottest months to go to Arizona, but perhaps that’s just one of my many superpowers. 🙂 I needed to pick my dates carefully because I had a VERY important 2nd birthday for the cutest grand-niece in the world, and then commitments on the coming home end as well. I took an early morning flight out on Monday morning. The last 2 early morning flights (I’m talking 9am here, NOT 5am) both had the sleeper seats – the kind that recline nearly horizontal. Last time that was a complete waste for me as I was not tired, but this time I thought – why not? I reclined and slept. 🙂 That does make the flight go faster. What I want to know is why I NEVER have those seats on the red-eye coming home. That flight has the old basic seat, but that’s when I want to sleep the entire flight. Go figure.

No, you CAN’T come with me

I picked up my rental car and headed to my Arizona ‘home’ – the Chandler Hilton. I have to give them a call-out – they are always so helpful and pleasant. I really do enjoy my stays there. I’d booked us a room on the executive level so we had a balcony, and access to the lounge (water and coffee and snacks all day long!). We also had a view of the pool this time instead of the parking lot. 🙂 I do so love a water view! 🙂

My son and I both planned to work the beginning of the week, and then take off from Thursday through Sunday for vacation activities. I always get a kick out of having him stay at the hotel with me and then “commute to his office” in the morning – his office being his bedroom since he’s been WFH for over a year now, like many of us. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were fairly uneventful activity-wise. We did go out for a celebratory dinner on Monday. We were celebrating my son’s latest promotion (just learned that morning) and the up-coming vacation. We had dinner at Stone & Vine Urban Italian. We’d eaten there my last trip and both loved it. It has great ambience, outdoor dining beside a lake and wonderful waitstaff, not to mention the delicious food. It was a great start to the week!

Love how my son’s landlord recycles house water for the gardening

Birthday in NYC

New York Harbor, looking upriver – Jersey City on the left, Manhattan on the right

I have very mixed emotions about celebrating my birthday. I’m sure it stems from having a summer birthday and not being able to have birthday parties during my school year. A great number of my friends went away to camp or beach homes over the summer. The last party I remember was in elementary school. I KNOW it was in elementary school because I remember playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. 🙂 How old does that make me??? After that I have no memories of non-family celebrations at all. I had a fantastic 40th birthday because my family threw me a surprise birthday party. I’d always wanted a surprise party and they pulled it off beautifully. My 50th birthday was going to be a full-out no-holds barred party. I’d arrange for hula dancers, an ice cream truck, a huge guest list. Unfortunately that is also the year my father fell down the stairs, into a coma, we had to make that awful decision, and we were sitting shiva on my 50th. After that, my birthday reminded me of losing my father. On my 60th my sister decided I needed to celebrate no matter the sad reminders. She got us concert tickets for the Beacon Theater in NYC to see South Side Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and George Thorogood & the Destroyers. I have some great photos from that, as well as from our yummy dinner that night.

view of Manhattan from the SI Ferry/Mall complex

So if you leave it up to me – I’m not going to do anything. This year was another one of “those” numbers and my sister took charge. This is the summer of the Van Gogh Experience in NYC. There seem to be two competing (?) immersive experiences happening. We went to the one at Pier 36. My sister asked me back in the spring when the publicity first began, and I said it sounded like fun. That was the full extant of my knowledge about the show. 🙂

Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (connects Staten Island (right) to Brooklyn (left))

As the day approached, we began looking at weather reports, and trying to plan other fun activities. I have a tendency to over-schedule – try to cram as many things into a day as possible. I’ve been having some health issues this summer, and the men-folk prefer NOT to be crazed and rushing, so I decided we needed a mellow day. One where we sauntered and savored and sat.

US Coast Guard

The weather decided to cooperate perfectly. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful comfortable day. We began by driving to Staten Island to take the ferry from Staten Island to the tip of Manhattan. The ferry is FREE – yes, FREE. Of course you do have to pay for parking. The last time my sister and I did this both of our offspring were in elementary school (have I mentioned my son is now 30?). At that time the SI ferry terminal was grungy and old. We parked in this ENORMOUS gravel lot – huge and dusty. Now the terminal itself is a destination – right next to an upscale mall. Hey – we even used the bathrooms in the terminal – that’s how new and nice it is! My sister and I dropped the men at the terminal, warning them NOT to buy tickets. *laughing* We’d heard that there are scammers there who will “sell” you a ticket for the FREE ferry. Our husbands are both the type of person who would think “oh wow, I’ll get the ticket now and surprise my wife.” 🙂 They did NOT buy tickets.

Jersey City

The ferries run every 30 minutes and we only had a wait of perhaps 10 minutes before boarding (including the bathroom visit). There is seating inside and out, despite the website still claiming only outside seating. The sail is about 25 minutes (5 miles), with wonderful views of the New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, Liberty State Park and Jersey City. Perhaps the coast guard has always been out there patrolling the harbor, but maybe not so blatantly locked and loaded in the past as it is in the present. I’d mistakenly headed to the starboard side of the ferry, forgetting that The Lady would be on the port side. My sister and I switched sides, but the men stayed starboard and had a view of the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge. My husband has done many bridge inspections in his time, and one of those was the Verrazzano. We have a photo of him WAY up there in the structure, so he was perfectly happy seeing the bridge. But I promised I’d get the side ‘right’ on the return trip.

Statue of Liberty – and/or why I need a new camera