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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ I do so love a water view! πŸ™‚

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

Cruising NJ

D&R canal, taken from the towpath in Lambertville, NJ

By now you’ve probably realized that I like driving about NJ, especially when the weather is warm enough for the red convertible with the top down! I took a week of vacation in September, just before Rosh Hashanah. I convinced my sister that she needed to join me in our car when I went cruising. “Our car” requires an explanation before she jumps in here. πŸ™‚ It is true – the car is part of our inheritance from our mother. Yep, our 80+ year old mother drove a red convertible. Obviously we both wanted the car once my mother stopped driving, so we put both of us down as owners. The truth is that we each have the car for approximately half the year. I have it from April through October, and my sister has it November through March when it is wintering in her garage. *grin* What? You don’t think that is equitable? *shrug* Works for me!

Beautiful purple berries along the towpath

Back to the storyline here… My first day off we decided to head to New Hope, PA to check out the fun stores there and have lunch along the Delaware. To get to New Hope we pass through Lambertville, NJ first. Lambertville has lots of fun stores and restaurants as well. We made a sudden decision to stop there first. I made the last possible turn before heading over the bridge to PA. We parked the car on one of the main streets and began to walk.

D&R canal, from Bridge St, Lambertville NJ

We didn’t get very far. We were parked in the first spot from the corner. We turned the corner and we were at the 5 and Dime, also known as A Mano Galleries. Quoting from their website: “A Mano, Contemporary Craft Gallery, in Lambertville, NJ,  is known for its unique collection of jewelry, pottery, home decor, hand-painted furniture and local artisans.  We carry products for men, women and children, specializing in American crafts.” This store is SO MUCH FUN!!!! It was like being at some of our favorite craft shows. As you know, there have not been any craft shows inside or out since the beginning of March. Walking into the 5 and Dime was like coming home. It was filled with all sorts of fun and beautiful items, functional and decorative, things that could be worn, things you could sit on, things you could display. I have no idea how much time we spent there. I DO know how much money I spent, because I fell in love with a hand-made copper and metal watch. I love watches. I’m not one who lives with her cell phone in one hand. I like to put it away and use it when I need to do something. I’d much rather have a beautiful watch on my wrist for checking time. And now I do. πŸ™‚

Sounds like my life πŸ™‚

We were laughing and chatting with the proprietor, Carla Riley. Her personality alone made being there worthwhile. Besides my watch I found a robe. I mention this because I’ve been needing a new robe for months, if not longer. Nothing I saw in the department stores appealed enough to buy. I love this robe. This is exactly the robe I wanted – a floral pattern, the right length, the right material. As we all say nowadays – “it” must bring you joy. This robe brings me joy LOOKING at it, and even more wearing it. Joy is good. I also found a sign that now hangs in my breakfast room. It seemed to summarize my life quite well.

Bull’s Run Recreaction Area, Raven Rock, NJ

We cruised about a few more shops, including a thrift store. I believe my niece now has a nice pair of boots. πŸ™‚ One of the requirements for lunch was that the restaurant must serve cocktails. Many restaurants had been recommended to us, but only one met the cocktail requirement – Lambertville Station. They were set up for outdoor dining (including having moved the ‘front desk station’ outside. We got a table outside, along the canal. (The Delaware & Raritan Canal is between the Delaware River and the NJ shore line.) We had a lovely lunch, then strolled back to the car, walking along the canal tow path. Many private properties border the tow path, with beautiful gardens, and porches. Most are screened from passersby by trees, hedges and fences, but you catch tantalizing glimpses as you walk.

From the pedestrian bridge, Lumberville, PA, looking South towards NJ (Bull’s Island)

We did indeed finally drive over the bridge into PA, but we weren’t hungry and we were “shopped out” so we kept driving. I recreated my June escape, crossing back to Stockton, NJ at Dilly’s corner, and then heading north on Rt. 29 to Bull’s Island Recreation Area in Raven Rock. I showed my sister the lovely green area along the canal, and we went out on the foot bridge. She loved it as much as I do. As daughters of an engineer, we are both fascinated by locks and enjoyed reading the details. After that we tried to “get lost” in Hunterdon county. *grin* I had a paper map in the car (we also both LOVE maps) and I told her to navigate us home without getting on any road that had more than 2 lanes. There were definitely times I was humming the theme to Deliverance because some of the roads we found were, well, less than 2 lanes. πŸ™‚ Ultimately we made it home (safely) and agreed it had been a great day.

Delaware River, looking north, NJ on right, PA on left

September Shore Trip

Ocean City, NJ Boardwalk

My sister and I snuck in one last trip down the shore while it was still (nominally) summer. There was a craft show and farmers’ market down in Ocean City, NJ. One of my favorite artists/vendors was going to be there and I wanted to see if she had any new tops for me. I was taking the whole week off as vacation, so driving the 2 hours to Ocean City was do-able.

It was a tiny market, but Gretchen was there. My sister and I both ‘scored’ new tops, as well as some new face masks, and some produce. The market is only a few blocks from the boardwalk. We moved the car closer and walked up. Ocean City has a HUGE boardwalk, with marked lanes. It designates direction, and lanes for bicycles and for joggers. It was quite impressive. Of course I have to add that the vast majority of folks on the boardwalk were NOT following the lanes. πŸ™‚ On the other hand, there weren’t that many of us that it was a problem. Although the calendar said summer, it felt more like early fall, it was the middle of the week, so folks were either at work, school or doing some fall activity. You can see that there were still hardy souls enjoying the sun, sand and surf.

We strolled the boardwalk, people-watching and stopping into some of the stores that were open. Many stores and restaurants were closed, both because of the season and because of the pandemic. We had lunch outside at a small restaurant. Everyone had masks except when eating. There was a lovely breeze off the water and warm air despite the clouds. We decided to splurge on dessert and go find an open ice cream stand. πŸ™‚ Yum!

Can you see the rabbits under the bush?

There is wild life down the shore, despite all the people. We had a lot of fun watching the rabbits. I don’t know what variety of rabbits they were, but there were a lot. Amazing how 2 grown women can act like young children who have never seen a rabbit before. We watched them for quite awhile, taking lots of pictures. πŸ™‚ It’s a bunny!!!!!

Is that a jack rabbit? Looks big to be a bunny.

Other than lunch and our farmers’ market purchases, there wasn’t too much that tempted us in the way of souvenirs. One store was selling “mask chains”. These are the same concept as eye glass holders – a necklace that lets you remove your glasses/mask from your face, but leave them hanging around your neck for easy access. When we went in to check on this, they were sold out. That was a little disappointing as we’d been dropping and replacing our masks all day as we strolled about, getting close to others, and then being socially distanced.

Fun for all ages!

On previous trips my sister and I have gotten matching ankle bracelets, and other little souvenirs. We saw a shop with the same kind of chains as our ankle bracelets. We stopped by to check out the chains, and began chatting with the proprietor. We mentioned the mask necklace and he told us he could make them for us, that he had some already. We each picked out the beads we wanted and he made them right there, for considerably less than the other store was charging for the ones they DIDN’T have. (That reminds me of a joke. Mrs. G went to the fish store looking for a “nice piece of cod”. Mr. R, The proprietor, said “Here it is, $7/lb.” Mrs. G exclaimed “SEVEN dollars? Mr. Y up the block is only charging FIVE dollars a pound!” Mr. R. said “So go buy from Mr. Y.” Mrs. G. replied “Mr. Y is out of cod.” Mr. R. said “When I’m out of cod, I only charge $5/lb as well.” *grin* I LOVED that joke when I was young and first discovered it.)

Meteor Crater

I was out in Arizona to relax and refresh. When my son mentioned that the hike he picked for us was up in Sedona, my first reaction was dismay. Although I love Sedona, I was SO TIRED. Driving up and back in one day is exhausting. I’d already booked my hotel in Chandler for the entire week. But as I thought on it my attitude changed. I love Sedona. It sounded like a great hike. My hotel wasn’t costing all that much. We needed a break. I decided that we would drive up to Sedona (after all, isn’t that a perfect trip for a convertible Mustang?) AND we would stay overnight. Yes, I’d be paying for 2 hotel rooms at the same time, but I decided it was worth the cost. I started flipping through “What to do in Arizona” sites, and saw that up by Flagstaff there was something called Meteor Crater.

First stop on the rim tour

I like looking at holes in the ground. πŸ™‚ After all, what are the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon but big holes in the ground? Okay – maybe they are more like wide cracks in the ground, but still – ‘in the ground’, not above. I liked the Ramon Crater in Israel – another hole in the ground. I suggested that we drive up to Flagstaff and see the Meteor Crater, and then drive down to Sedona for dinner and stay the night. We’d get up refreshed and go hike, hang about Sedona, then drive back to Chandler. My son agreed with that plan. (He’s actually very agreeable.)

The old mining site at the bottom of the crater – those little specs of white

I went to chat with the front desk at the hotel and told them my plans, and asked if maybe they could help me find a place at a “sister” hotel and maybe get me a better rate. They explained that they did not partner with any of the other hotels up there, not even ones owned by Hilton. But, she said, what I can do is help you out here. How about if I take off one night here for you, would that be okay? Would it be okay? It would be delightful. We had a long chat about Sedona, hiking, scenery, vacations. The folks at the front desk of the Chandler Hilton are so friendly and helpful. With this plan I didn’t have to pack up and check out and then come back and check in again. Not only that, but we’d not had room service yet. I scheduled room service for the Monday we were leaving. That way we’d come back to a nice clean room and if there were any germs floating about, they should have settled/evaporated by the time of our return. (Again – all the hotel personnel wore masks and followed all the social distancing protocols.)

Just a slight shift in position and the light changes.

Hotel rooms in Sedona are expensive and not plentiful, even during a pandemic. I checked out several and finally went with one of the less expensive ones, right near the lower center of town. It was a Hilton property as I thought it only fair. πŸ™‚ We packed up our backpacks, made sure we had suntan lotion and water, and started out after breakfast Monday morning. *laughing* I think we ended up making 3 trips back to my son’s house for things we forgot before we finally got out to the highway.

Turning my back to the crater and looking out towards the tribal lands

Although we started out cruising with the top down on the car, we were traveling at such high speeds (love the Arizona speed limits) that I pulled over and put the roof back, and turned on the a/c. That made for a much more comfortable (and faster) drive. Route 17 goes through beautiful desert, then up to the forest, over the mountains and on to Flagstaff. I found this quote while trying to remember what we saw on Rt. 17: “You will gain more than a mile in altitude on your drive between Phoenix (1,117 feet) and Flagstaff (7,000 feet), cruising through ever-changing desert ecosystems dominated by saguaro, juniper, and Ponderosa pine.” Yep – they said it MUCH better than I did.

Making our way around the rim. It’s mostly flat except for that last bit we did.

We saw the sign for Montezuma Well and made our usual jokes. We saw a sign for Walnut Canyon and thought we might stop there during this trip as well. When I’m in NJ, I have a fairly accurate sense of how long a given trip will take given the mileage and the roads. For some reason I misjudged the distance to the crater. I kept thinking “Flagstaff” but it’s actually located 35 miles east of Flagstaff. Given our late start, and the slower driving with the top down, it was around 1:30-1:45 when we arrived. We were just in time to join the 2:10pm tour.

We’ve gotten a bit further counter-clockwise on the rim, down the steep part

Obviously the website will give a much better description of the crater and why it is so cool to see, but I’ll try to do some of that here for you folk who don’t click through. πŸ™‚ Oh – and for one of you – “The Meteor Crater RV Park is located just off Interstate 40 exit 233, less than a 1/4 mile to the right. The large parking lot includes a Mobil Gas Station and Country Store for checking in.” The brochure says this is “the best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth. 50,00 years ago a huge iron-nickel meteorite, estimated to have been about 150 feet across and weighing several hundred thousand tons, struck the northern Arizona rocky plain with an explosive force greater than 20 million tons of TNT. In seconds, the result of this violent impact was the excavation of a giant bowl-shaped cavity (550 feet deep and 4,000 feet across) known today as Meteor Crater.”

At the top, to the left, about 10:00 – you see a dark spec – the museum building (just right of the tall tan peak) – gives a sense of perspective if the little white mining dots didn’t

The land is privately owned, although surrounded by much tribal land. The guide told us that astronauts have used the site for training and they have used the site for film locations as well. You can no longer go down into the crater – the change in air pressure is so extreme (it actually gets thinner at the bottom) that many people cannot get back out. When that happens they have to call in the US Air Force to medivac them. That gets extremely costly. There is a tour on the rim, but for only a small part. Thank goodness! I can’t remember the exact distance but I know there is no way I could do a hike around the perimeter.

An old furnace at the top left. Impossible to avoid all signs of other tourists. πŸ™‚

The tour was very interesting and just long enough, although I was a bit apprehensive from the very first things the guide said once he locked the door behind us. “We are at 5710 feet, higher altitude than Denver, CO (5280 feet). ” If you remember my post last year, I discovered that I am NOT used to high altitudes and had great difficulty attempting to hike in the Superstition Mountains for that reason. I had visions of me fainting and falling into the crater, which is 560 ft deep, and a very, very rocky descent. Obviously I was alright. *grin* For me the most interesting fact was finding out what happened to the meteor. Something that big you would think would still be around. It is. Although one good sized chunk (maybe a foot long) is on display in the museum, the rest of the meteor is underfoot. The guide did a wonderful display of scooping dust and then showing with a magnet that the dust was the meteor – completely disintegrated into the dust under our feet. Definitely a fascinating discussion and explanation.

So THIS shadow is allowed because that’s me, loving the red and tan rocks

I recommend Meteor Crater. Time-wise I think you might want to allow half a day. My son and I thought we’d go to Walnut Canyon on our way to Sedona, but we overheard 3 other groups talking about meeting up at Walnut Canyon. *grin* We decided that maybe it was getting a bit late in the day for another major excursion, and we still had another 90 minutes ride to get to Sedona. We’ll get to Walnut Canyon another time. πŸ™‚

One final look as the sun got lower

Montezuma Well

I usually try to write & post in chronological order. That isn’t working for me these days. The malaise I attribute to life in a pandemic means that I took many photos and could never bring myself to write. My vacation to Arizona has refreshed me and ‘cleared my cache’ so I can again look on the bright side of life. I’m trying to catch up with all those old photos and dreading trying to put my love of Sedona in words. Sedona is beyond words. I may simply end up with nothing but pictures. In the meantime I’m going to stick my toe in the metaphorical water and write about Montezuma Well.

Looking down from the top – little white specks are ducks.

My son and I had seen the signs for Montezuma Well last year on our way to Sedona. It tickled our fancy and made us imagine ridiculous scenarios for what it might be. We didn’t know if it was a place or a thing or both. It reminded ME of that town along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, that is named Jersey Shore. Montezuma (or more properly Moctezuma II) was an Aztec ruler. The Aztecs were not in northern Arizona. Yet there along Rt 17, as we headed up to Flagstaff, was that sign for his well. We couldn’t stop on our way north, but we did have time to stop on our way south.

Stairs leading down to water level

Montezuma Well, together with Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, is part of the National Park Service. They are the remnants of the Sinagua people. The well began forming more than 10,000 years ago from snow atop the Mogollon Rim. That snow melted through all the rocks over the millenia, but hit a vertical wall of volcanic basalt. This volcanic basalt acts as a dam, forcing the water back towards the surface. Ultimately (remember – millenia), it formed the sinkhole that is there today. The water remains at a constant temperature (I believe around 74 F) and near constant volume. You’d think this was a wonderful source for drinking but it is highly carbonated with a very high arsenic content. Quoting Wikipedia: “At least five endemic species are found exclusively in Montezuma Well: a diatom, the Montezuma Well springsnail, a water scorpion, the Hyalella montezuma amphipod, and the Motobdella montezuma leech β€” the most endemic species in any spring in the southwestern United States.” (Yes, I had to look up ‘endemic’ – native and restricted to a certain place.) Wikipedia says the water was used for irrigation, which I find puzzling because of the arsenic. I need to research why the plants do not absorb the arsenic.

Petroglyph

Besides those 5 endemic species, we saw a lot of ducks having a peaceful time paddling about the water. As always, the view from the top of the well is beautiful – flat land stretching out to looming mountains. There are 2 paths but only 1 is open currently – the path down to the swallet. (I learned a lot of new words on this adventure: swallet = sinkhole.) From the top that path looked steep and a bit rocky but I decided to brave it anyway. I’m glad I did because the top view was misleading. Although it is somewhat steep, it was easily manageable – no need to traverse it on my tush. πŸ™‚

Water leaving the well (goes through cave to outside for irrigation)

There are interesting rocks, and views of the dwellings on the far wall, and finally you arrive at water level. There you can see where the water drains from the sinkhole into a small cave to appear above ground outside the formation to provide irrigation. There was a volunteer ranger there as well to answer questions. Down at water level it is delightfully cool and shaded, with a bench for resting. There are at least 2 petroglyphs visible on the rocks.

Dwellings in the cliff, looking up from the path

Since the longer trail is currently closed for safety reasons, our visit was perhaps 30 minutes in total. We hiked to the top, read the signs, took pictures, and then hiked down to water level. We spent a few moments there chatting with the ranger and taking photos, and then hiked back up. Although it’s a short stop, it is well worth the time. We agreed that we needed to leave more time our next time heading north so we could see Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.

If It Only Had An Ocean

view from my chaise lounge at the hotel pool

Like many people these days, I have been feeling frustrated living during a pandemic. I will say straight out (making every gesture and speaking every saying that averts the ‘evil eye’) that I really have no reason to complain. My husband and I both work from home and have been fully employed. My parents, may they rest in peace, are no longer here and I don’t have to worry about them. I have no children of school age so I don’t have to make the crucial decision of whether or not to let them attend classes in person. I live in NJ where we fought the virus and brought it under control. Well, we did, but now apparently many New Jerseyans are feeling mask fatigue and have stopped doing all the things that protected us all for so long. But I miss my son. I haven’t seen him since the very beginning of February. No trip back home for Passover in the spring, no trip for me to him in the spring or to spend Rosh Hashanah with him. Arizona brought its infection rate waaaaaaay down and I decided it was time to take action.

Ready for takeoff!

I booked myself a trip to Phoenix. I got a round-trip first class ticket for a ridiculously low price, using all of my accumulated airline points. I booked myself into a hotel only 15 minutes from my son’s house. The rates were VERY low for the room – on the executive floor, with a walk-out balcony, and access to the concierge lounge. I’d stayed at this Chandler Hilton before and enjoyed it. The people there are lovely – helpful and cheerful! I even had a reasonable car rental. I decided to go for an entire week, and spend some days on vacation but other days working from the hotel. I thought I was taking this trip to reset MY spirits, but as departure day got closer I realized that my son was also in true need of a complete and utter break from his life.

Somewhere between NJ and AZ

He’s been in his house since mid-April, working from home, hanging out with his housemates. Other than trips to the grocery store once a week, he really had no place to go. For many months Arizona was not enforcing mask usage, and the infection rates were soaring. His friends were sheltering and he didn’t want to risk infection. By mid-July Arizona had followed the example set by the northeastern states and had shut-down all indoor activities. His work, while interesting, had become pressure-filled with deadlines and changes and other elements that can make employment truly seem like “work”. I’d imagined we’d hang out at the hotel, around the pool, but when I got there I learned that the hike he’d planned was up in Sedona. So twist my arm. *grin* We’ll go to Sedona.

First look from the hotel balcony

The trip was wonderful. I began describing it as the two of us clearing our cache. Those of you who understand browser terminology will understand that. We cleared out all the stale information cluttering our brains, and started fresh. Flagstaff and Sedona rate their own posts, but you can see the view from the hotel, and the ridiculously expensive self-indulgent car I rented. They were wonderfully nice and helpful at the Budget car rental at Sky Harbor in Phoenix. When I booked I was told no convertible was available, but when I asked at the desk, they managed to find me one and work a deal. πŸ™‚ We put over 600 miles on that little beauty.

The “A Butte” in the middle of Tempe

It was a very indulgent, relaxing, enjoyable week. We started slowly – cruising about Tempe on Saturday to find nearby spots that could refresh and renew (check out Tempe Town Lake and Beach). Downtown Tempe showed the effect of ASU doing classes remotely. Many closed restaurants and stores. There were still many students around, however, and music and food. (And of course the Tempe Butte, backdrop to Sun Devil Stadium games, is always there.) All restaurants followed the mask and social distancing protocols that have become the norm. Friday night (my arrival) we found outdoor seating at The Keg in Chandler, an excellent steakhouse. Saturday night we ate outdoors at Four Peaks Brewery, a favorite spot. Sunday was spent hanging out at the pool for a few hours reading. We were so relaxed from the heat and the water and reading that dinner was just a little bit of takeout (well, really delivery – the hotel no longer has a restaurant and bar and has worked out a delivery service with a nearby restaurant).

And we had fun, fun, fun!

We both feel refreshed and renewed. I LOVE Arizona. I would move there tomorrow if it only had an ocean. But I am too much a Jersey girl to move too far from the Atlantic Ocean. As much as I am lost in the splendor of the desert, ultimately it is the ocean that brings me complete serenity. Ah, to have them both. Since I can’t, I’ll keep heading out to Arizona to soak in that sun.

The mustang appears when you unlock the car. πŸ™‚

Birthday Lunch Down the Shore

highlands beach

I know I’m getting older. Time was if I’d planned to go to the beach, nothing would deter me. But despite having plans to spend Thursday down the shore, I could sense my heart wasn’t really in it. I’ve been hearing horror stories about the traffic and the lines to get into the national park. It’s been so humid that it sucks the life out of me. Late Wednesday night I emailed my sister and said – let’s not go. She was astounded and concerned. The truth was that I’ve been doing so many things that I’ve wanted to get done for so long, and I wasn’t ready to take a day and do nothing. I wrote back and said that nothing was wrong, I really was still her sister Ahuva, and that I was planning to go down the shore for lunch. She was amenable to that change so down to the Highlands we went, back to Inlet Cafe. That place is really becoming one of my favorite spots.

old rusted anchor
local color

We drove down in the luxury car, not the convertible. Neither of us was really up for the 96 degree heat and humidity. I love my new used car – it rides so smoothly and is so powerful. I’m enjoying all the luxuries and appreciate the fine tuning. Unlike dinner on a Saturday night, there was no wait for a table. I probably made a mistake by asking for a table in the shade. We sat close to the building and there was only an occasional breeze. I’m not sure that it would have been better at the tables by the water, however. They are separated by walls of clear plastic now and it’s possible that the plastic would also break the breeze. It didn’t really matter as the food was great, excellent service and a lovely view of the water.

sign board at inlet cafe
sign board at inlet cafe

While we were there I had birthday calls and texts from my niece and my son, so it was a little family lunch. For many years the 4 of us had what we called “our beach day”. Over the years we had traditional stops on the way, traditional conversations, and lots of memories of good times together. Time passes, children grow up and move away, and it’s been awhile since we had “our beach day”.

NOT spqr
NOT SPQR 😦

My sister CLAIMS she reads my blog posts, but she was astounded when I parked the car in the tiny municipal lot by the tiny little beach. Despite signs claiming it was an unguarded beach there WAS a lifeguard on duty. I’d noticed the lifeguard stand when we’d been down there for dinner. There were letters on the back but they were partly covered by signs. My liberal arts Roman history major mind looked at what was visible and was sure the letters were SPQR – Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. For those of you who did NOT study with our beloved Dr. P. B. Harvey at PSU, SPQR is “The Senate and People of Rome”, an emblematic abbreviated phrase referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic. It appears on Roman currency, at the end of documents made public by an inscription in stone or metal, and in dedications of monuments and public works. I had no idea why a lifeguard stand in the Highlands should have SPQR painted on it, but it definitely struck my fancy. πŸ™‚ Since there was someone ON the stand, I couldn’t resist. I walked over and asked the young (cute) life guard what it said. He replied that it was SBOR – Sea Bright Ocean Rescue. I told him I was crushed and started to explain and he nodded and finished the explanation. *grin* Not only cute but learned. Impressive. Ah well, we must learn to live with disappointment.

joe's salt sticks
my brother-in-law’s incredibly delicious salt sticks

I pointed out to my sister some of my other favorite little discoveries around the restaurant. I have always been an LBI fan, especially drawn to Beach Haven, but I could really envision renting down in the Highlands. Actually, I could envision retiring to the Highlands. Too bad my husband is set on moving further south when we actually do this retirement thing.

joe's rye bread
Incredibly moist tasty rye bread

Driving home we had one of those “sister experiences”, where we end up laughing so hard we are crying, our sides hurt from laughing, and we worry about not having a change of clothing. πŸ™‚ I do believe my sister is the only one who makes me laugh like that, where I am crying from laughing, and I scream with laughter. It felt good. I begged her to write a post for this, because she writes so well and we were so out of control, but she decided it simply would not translate properly. We had dinner at her house, as her husband offered to make me anything I wanted for my birthday dinner. He and I cook for each other now it seems. He is always making me bread that is so delicious I cannot stop eating it. All his bread is good but his salt sticks and rye bread are sublime. Many many many years ago I traded my Thanksgiving dinner rights for a yearly loaf of rye bread. On the other hand, *I* make him sugar-free desserts. One of the things I wanted to do on vacation was try a new recipe – a flourless chocolate cake. Since I now have FIVE boxes of Tagatesse, I wanted to see if I could make a SF chocolate cake. I knew once I licked the batter that I had a winner. Flourless cakes are much like thick brownies. We brought over some SF vanilla ice cream and had a fantastic dinner with my favorite breads (and hot pastrami) and a great dessert! Birthdays are fun. Just a shame that they come with aging bodies. πŸ™‚

sf flourless chocolate cake
SF flourless chocolate cake dusted with powdered Tagatesse

2 Faces of Ahuva

relaxing at The Vault
Relaxing after a long day at the spa

I am having NO difficulty getting into the vacation mind-set this week. Let me clarify that a little – MY vacation mind-set. As you know, I spent Monday at Spa Ahuva. That night I sat down and made a list of all the things I needed to get done this week, things I’d like to get done this week, things that at some point need to get done around the house, and the list of this month’s donations. I had everything written down – 4 separate pad pages. Impressed with how industrious I was going to be, I treated myself to logging in to SL to hear Calli DJ’ing. She was at The Vault, doing a set of sultry tunes. It was the perfect end to a lovely day. I relaxed, chatted with the friends who were there, listened to the tunes, and savored the moment. I went to bed and slept a good sleep – the result of spending the day at the spa and the wonderful music.

DJ Calli
Always good to hear DJ Calli spin the tunes

I woke up the next day and stayed in bed, listening to my husband puttering about (he’s VERY noisy in the morning). There was no BC to come and cuddle. She hadn’t ‘tucked me in’ last night, either. So really – it was all HER fault. I was relaxed, thinking no need to move, let my husband feed the cats, when all of a sudden I realized: IT’S TUESDAY!!!!! I need to make 100 sandwiches this morning. It was about 10 to 8 in the morning. Lately I’ve been getting there about 8:05. I jumped out of bed yelling “It’s Tuesday – I need to make sandwiches”. I threw on my clothes, brushed my teeth, made a to-go cup of iced coffee, called to my husband – take care of the cats and raced out the door. I made it there by 8:20. πŸ™‚ The other 3 were already there. When I walked in, Helene called out “The Birthday Girl!!!!” It’s true – they were 2 days early, but I’d already said I was taking off Thursday. Jay had baked me cookies, and they had prezzies for me and my brother-in-law, who also makes the sandwiches on Tuesdays. They had face masks from the soup kitchen we are supporting. They also brought the Birthday Crown for me to wear. πŸ™‚ I need to return it next Tuesday because Helene’s birthday is the following week and SHE needs the crown then. πŸ™‚ As you can see – I look stunning.

birthday princess
I have taken better pictures. Please remember that is unwashed hair. Was not intending to have the “off the shoulder look” – just part of the total being off-balance

We got the sandwiches and lunch bags done and out the door by 9:30. The stupid squirrels had dug up my dill, and my radishes had died, so I had 2 empty pots that needed flowers. I decided to give up on herbs and vegetables for the rest of the season. I’d planned to go way down to my favorite nursery, but was too lazy and befuddled at that point. Missing the morning routine had me completely off balance. I went to the nearest big box store to find something that would supply bright color and survive the sun (the temps have been in the 90s now for over a week). Well, I saw some canna lilies there at a very reasonable price. They looked so neglected. They looked like they deserved to be rescued. I did what had to be done – I bought 2 canna lilies and 2 pots of yellow marigolds. They were sooooo root-bound. Let’s hope they flower.

canna lily 1
I do hope it flowers – it was so root-bound

I came home, still somewhat off-balance. I looked at my many lists. I made it to the chiropractor that afternoon, before he left on vacation. The nerve! Who said HE could take a vacation??? I made a few phone calls (on my list, unlike making the sandwiches), crossed off buying flowers. I paid the bills, made the donations, and decided the rest of the chores could just wait until tomorrow. πŸ™‚ I have to say, this is the first vacation where I am truly not thinking about work. I see the emails come through on my phone, but I just delete the garbage, mark others as read, and then stop thinking about them. I’m not at all tempted to just send one email, just do one thing. I have a password that is going to expire this week. I’m trying to decide if I should logon and deal with it or just let it expire and deal with it when I return. This vacation is proving a point that my dear friend Honour has been making for years: There is so much to DO if you are not working. I’m NOT going to be bored. Okay, most of my lists are what some would call ‘chores’, but for me they are very satisfying. I’m finally fixing and changing things around the house that have annoyed me for years. There might be something to this whole concept of ‘retirement’.

canna lily 2
This one looks in better shape. Gorgeous leaves even if it doesn’t flower