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Posts tagged ‘nature’

red rock secrets

We ended our ten-day trek through Arizona and New Mexico in Sedona – one of the Southwest’s most acclaimed destinations. In addition to the gorgeous red rock buttes that ring the town, what struck us most is how different Sedona felt culturally and spiritually from the rest of the state.

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polar vortex

As the polar vortex dipped down from the Arctic and a deep chill enveloped the District a couple of weeks ago, we were a lot better prepared to keep warm than the previous month when a pair of snowstorms caught us off guard in the Southwest.

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Southwest chill

Somewhere between the haphazard backpacking days of our youth and the meticulously planned vacations our parents favor lies the perfect balance of trip planning. Showing up in a new town without pre-arranged lodging or definite plans and only a vague timeline for departure still seems conceptually exciting but is no longer practical, especially when we travel with two little rugrats in tow. After years of travel we’ve learned to throw together a pretty good trip at the last minute with only minimal research — an approach that is not without drawbacks.

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top of Texas

A third of the way through our Southwest road trip, Christmas Eve found us in Artesia, NM – a small town that owes its name to a long ago depleted artesian aquifer and whose present existence is supported mainly by oil and gas refineries. A ghost town under ordinary circumstances, Artesia seemed doubly so as we navigated its deserted, halogen-lit streets. Even grocery stores were closed on account of the approaching holiday. The neon billboards of fast food restaurants, which remained stubbornly open, provided the only sign of life as night approached. We had stocked up on groceries before our arrival and hunkered down in our inn with a board game to while away the evening.

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hidden beauty

Hands down, the top highlight of our most recent trip to the Southwest was a visit to Chiricahua – a little-known national monument that is tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. The park receives between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year – less than one-tenth of the number of people who visit nearby Saguaro, where we had spent the previous day.

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western wonders

One wonders what the United States would look like now if the first colonists had landed on the shores of California instead of at Jamestown and Plymouth Bay. Would the lands comprising California’s nine national parks have survived in their pristine state if colonization and the War of Independence had played out on the West Coast? Would America’s eastern shore have been spared some of the ravages of industrialization?

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dino tales

In a way, our end-of-year Southwest road trip was the vacation D had envisioned taking six months ago, when we wrapped up our assignment in Kigali.

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shut down for what

TV screens tuned to CNN and Fox News trumpeted the impending government shutdown as we made our way to our gate two Fridays ago, boarding our flight to Phoenix hours before a lapse in appropriations, which is now in its 13th day and appears to have no immediate end in sight. Our automated furlough notices arrived the next morning, as we started our second Southwest road trip with an ambitious itinerary of national and state parks in Arizona and New Mexico.

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between two worlds

Azure, still waters of an alpine lake, shimmering under the glare of the noontime sun, cold as the snow-melt that feeds it. The craggy contour of jagged mountains, dappled in snow, ringed by evergreens. The flutter of a bird-wing and its owner’s clarion song — nature’s calling cards, beckoning us toward adventure. These are the mementos from our home leave road trip this past summer, and the images that fill our imagination in planning our next sojourn out West over the winter holidays.

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icescapade

For months we had been talking about taking a day trip to Shenandoah, but never quite finding the time or energy to go. Tied up with seemingly never-ending settling-in errands, catching up on language study and sleep, foiled by a handful of rainy weekends. The park entrance is less than a two-hours’ drive from DC, but for some reason the outing felt like it necessitated a three-day weekend. Columbus Day would have been the perfect occasion to go, with the fall foliage in its fully resplendent display, but D was away on a work trip.

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