Hi guys! I’ve missed you! You may or may not have noticed that I’ve taken more than a month off from blogging. Oops. I recently started a new job (Does anyone want to buy some insurance? Anyone?), and while I’m enjoying it I definitely underestimated how draining my new gig would be. Between stepping outside of my comfort zone into a sales role and talking to customers all day long, I’ve been coming home from work totally beat. For a while, wine and the show Scandal were the extent of my evening activities, but now I feel my energy and writing mojo flowing again. I don’t think I’ll be back up to my previous posting frequency anytime soon, but I’d love to chat with you guys at least once a week!
I’ve had an eventful spring and early summer and look forward to filling you guys in on Florida, San Antonio and Minnesota, among other adventures. But first let’s rewind. Remember how I spent most of February and March in the Phoenix area? I ended up liking the area a lot more than I’d anticipated. One of the things that surprised me the most was what a great city it is for hiking!
The Phoenix area is interspersed with small mountains that rise out of the desert floor around the city. The most iconic of these is Camelback Mountain. Camelback has two primary hiking trails: the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail. I hiked both trails on two different evenings, starting with the much easier Cholla trail.
All of my Phoenix hikes took place in the evening after completing full days of training. On this particular night, my friends and I got started WAY too late and it was already sunset when we started up the trail.
We didn’t make it very far before turning around and heading cautiously down the trail. By the time we reached the bottom, we were using iPhone flashlights so that we wouldn’t run into a cactus or break an ankle – it was like a lesson in what not to do on the trails. The day I hiked the Echo Canyon trail, I set out much earlier. That turned out to be a good thing, because the highly technical trail would have been a nightmare after sunset. Sections of the trail were so steep that metal handrails became absolutely necessary to navigate up the rocky incline.
Seriously, when I read reviews on this trail before hiking it I totally didn’t take them seriously and underestimated the level of difficulty I’d be facing. The adventure had me using my hands almost as much as my feet and treading carefully though areas in which it was hard to balance.
I couldn’t figure out how to take a picture that would show just how steep this trail was, but the one above comes pretty close. Luckily the tricky climb wasn’t too long, and I found myself at the summit in under an hour.
The 360 degree views over Phoenix made the hard work worth it.
I shared the summit with quite a few people – this is a very popular trail – and was surprised that so many hikers of varying fitness levels conquered the trail. It was pretty awesome to see.
I didn’t linger too long at the top because the sun was setting and there was no way I wanted to navigate the descent in the darkness. I started down carefully and was actually proud to only slip and fall on my butt once. I recommend shoes with some serious tread if you’re going to try it! The sunset kept getting more and more beautiful as I made my way down.
By the time I was almost down (and done with the technical portion of the trail – whew!), it was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever seen.
Seriously, are any sunsets more gorgeous than Arizona sunsets?
The other area I found to hike close to Phoenix, but without Camelback’s crowds was the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I hiked the Sunrise Trail, which provided great desert scenery.
Seriously – how cool are cacti?
This hike was pretty, uncrowded and totally exposed. I was so happy to have brought a hat! I was warm hiking it in March, so I’d imagine that this time of year you’d only want to go early in the morning or in the evening.
The views from the summit – which I had all to myself – were so lovely that I spent a while relaxing on my little rock perch.
Getting up in the hills among the cacti helped me decompress and truly appreciate Phoenix while it was my temporary home. While I’m loving early summer in Colorado right now, looking back through these pictures actually makes me miss the desert a little bit!
Tell me, what has surprised you the most about a city you’ve recently visited?
Last Sunday, we closed down Vail Mountain in style. A friend reprised last year’s brunch party that was such a big hit, we all donned costumes and toasted the end of the 2013-2014 season. A few other Colorado resorts will stay open a while longer, but once Vail and Beaver Creek are done for the season, I’m generally done as well. And so I close the book on another ski season – and it was a good one! Such a good one, in fact, that I deemed it worthy of an open thank-you letter.
Thank you, ski season…
For convincing me to spend so much time in the great outdoors this winter.
For giving me an excuse to count a Bloody Mary or a beer as part of an athletic activity.
And an excuse to dress up in silly outfits.
Thank you for humbling me in the bumps.
For making me feel like a hero on the groomers…
And the luckiest girl alive on powder days.
For giving me time to catch up with friends and bond with interesting strangers on the chairlift rides.
Thank you for the adrenaline rushes.
For reinvigorating days of solitude…
And fantastic days spent with friends.
Thank you for a truly excellent season! Now that I’ve paid my respects, I’m 100% ready to recharge with a quiet (ish) mud season and jump into summer as soon as the weather allows. Tell me about your fun summer plans!
Out of all the experiences I had during my 6 weeks in Arizona, one soared above the rest, literally and figuratively. On the last morning of our mother-daughter weekend in Scottsdale and Sedona, we did something that I hadn’t even realized should be on my bucket list – a hot air balloon ride!
At 6 a.m., the three of us jumped in a Red Rock Balloon Adventures van and headed out to the launch site. As a bonus, this early wake-up call meant that we got to see a spectacular sunrise.
It was a chilly morning, but the anticipation of our ride kept me distracted from the nippy air. Plus, it was really interesting to watch the crew set up the balloons.
The balloons themselves were even bigger than I’d expected.
And the flames used to inflate the balloons? Yikes.
Once the balloons were ready to go, our group split among the two balloons and 16 of us piled into each basket. I was worried that we’d be cramped with that many people squeezed in, but the basket was deceptively spacious. It was divided into 4 sections of 4 people each with the balloon pilot and equipment in the middle.
I had a few last-minute butterflies before we lifted off, but once we started our ascent the whole thing just felt peaceful and surreal. Before this experience, I would have thought it’d be windy in the balloons, but because you are actually floating with the wind, it is perfectly calm and peaceful up in the air.
And the early morning light on Sedona’s red rocks was just spectacular.
The wind conditions were ideal that morning, and we were able to fly all over, checking out every site that our pilots wanted to show us.
In all, we were able to stay in the air for more than an hour.
Even in the tight confines of the basket, we were able to score some mother-daughter pics in between gawking at our surroundings.
Sedona is a popular ballooning spot, and I thought it was really cool to see a handful of other balloons floating through the air at the same time as us.
And the views!
At one point we floated by a butte and could see our shadow silhouetted against the rocks.
Then, we lifted up and soared over the top of the rock formation. The highest we flew was about 2,000 feet, and even though looking straight down was a tiny bit unsettling, the height didn’t freak me out the way I’d thought it might.
The other balloon that we launched with flew nearby throughout our ride and the two pilots communicated with each other by radio, as well as the crew on the ground that would meet us at landing time. It was easy to tell that these guys enjoyed working together and they had a pretty hilarious schtick going back and forth. The little comedy routine added an extra dimension of fun to the spectacular views.
After almost an hour and a half, it was time to land. A ground crew had driven over to a clearing to meet us, and our pilot started to set us down expertly, exactly where we needed to be. When we were about two feet off the ground, the basket hit a large rock on the ground and startled us all. I had to laugh that the tiny jolt was the biggest scare of our entire journey. The pilots at Red Rocks really know their stuff and we felt very safe in their hands.
Upon landing, we all carefully piled out of the baskets and made our way to an area where the guys set up a small picnic of muffins, fruit and mimosas to toast to a successful morning. After a snack and a little more comedy from the guides, they loaded us back into the vans and our balloon adventure was over.
If it’s not already, I highly recommend that you add a hot air balloon ride to your bucket list. And if you choose to try it in Sedona, I have only good things to say about Red Rocks Balloon Adventures. At about $200 per person, it’s not cheap, but it felt 100% worth it in my opinion. I absolutely loved everything about our morning in the balloons. Don’t believe me? Check out my goofy expression of joy when we touched down at the end of our flight.
So, what’s the next adventure that I should add to my bucket list?!
After exploring the sights on our way into Sedona and checking in to our hotel, it was time for a little lunch and shopping. It was a girls weekend, after all! We headed over to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, a shopping area a friend had recommended we check out. Between the architecture, sycamore trees and lovely galleries, shops and restaurants, it was a simply lovely area to spend an afternoon. Our first stop had to be lunch, and we quickly chose The Secret Garden Cafe.
It was a great place to grab a light lunch. We sat on a semi-enclosed patio that kept out the wind while allowing us a view of the market around us. I enjoyed my salad, while my mom and sister also gave their lunches high marks. There was also a bakery in the entrance that enticed us throughout our meal. We each left with a house-made dark chocolate salted caramel cup that was divine. And the waiters were cute. What more do you need?
After lunch, we wandered in and out of galleries selling mostly southwestern-style art, interspersed with a variety of boutiques.
The shopping area itself could not have been any prettier.
I don’t remember the names of my favorite shops, but the area is small enough that you’d hit them all just by wandering around. I found a gorgeous earring/necklace set at one boutique full of wonderful accessories and knickknacks, a handmade coffee mug to bring home to the boyfriend from a pottery shop, a lovely maxi dress at a clothing boutique and more.
One of the best things about Tlaquepaque is how warm, friendly and talkative many of the shopkeepers were. Everyone seemed excited to see us, find out where we came from and ask us how we were liking Sedona. One thing came through loud and clear: these people loved their hometown. Are our smiles any indication of the fact that we totally understood how Sedona would be a great place to live?
Seriously, prettiest shopping area ever.
When leaving Tlaquepaque, we saw this sign across the street:
I’ve mentioned that new age spirituality is big in Sedona, right? We couldn’t resist checking it out. It was actually a lot of fun walking around this
shop enlightenment center, where there was table after table of different types of crystals, each labeled with the properties that they promote (stress relief, empowerment, love, etc.). We even picked up a few to bring home to friends as souvenirs. I figured a little crystal power couldn’t hurt anyone!
By then it was almost sunset, and time to head off to an overlook to take in the end of this beautiful day.
The best place in town to catch the sunset – which is a big to-do in Sedona – is the Airport Mesa overlook. By the time we got there about 30 minutes before sunset, the overlook was already crowded. Undeterred, we claimed a couple of rocks as our own and settled in. The light against the red rocks across the valley was already getting pretty beautiful.
And then a little more amazing.
It was definitely a prime place for sunset views because we could see across almost the entire Sedona area.
It got a little chilly while we waited for the sun to drop, so we amused ourselves by – what else? – taking photos.
When the sun went down, it was actually a little anti-climactic. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but I preferred the dusk views. What do you think?
Once the sun went down, it was time to eat again. On the recommendation of one of the awesome people we’d chatted with earlier at the market, we headed to Dahl and DiLuca for Italian food. I decided to abandon blogger-mode and simply enjoy dinner with my mom and sister, but it was a truly wonderful restaurant that I’d recommend to anyone visiting Sedona. Make a reservation if you plan to go – we walked in and had a choice of an hour wait or sitting at the bar. We opted for the bar and had a delicious, cozy meal with wonderful service. Yum. Just go.
After dinner it was back to The Orchards Inn for an early night. We had an early wake-up call the next day for the highlight of our time in Sedona: a hot air balloon ride!
As much as I loved our home base in Scottsdale, Arizona during girls weekend with my mom and sister, I was super excited to get on the road up to Sedona to check out an area I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Sedona is about two hours’ drive north of Phoenix and is known for its gorgeous red rock scenery, new age spirituality and wonderful galleries and shopping.
Speaking of Sedona’s spiritual side, our first stop on the way into town was one of Sedona’s vortexes: Bell Rock. What is a vortex? Well, that link probably provides a better explanation than I can, but basically Sedona is home to a handful of spots where many people believe that a strong energy emanates from the earth. Some report feeling a sensation of some sort when visiting a vortex – anything from a general sense of energy, to calm, to prickles on the back of your neck, to stronger reactions and visions. I wasn’t sure that I bought into the notion of the vortexes, but I figured it was worth checking out, especially once I realized that they were gorgeous viewpoints on their own. I bring you Bell Rock:
We circled for a few minutes before finding parking at the trailhead, and then walked the easy path out toward the rock.
There’s a more ambitious hike that takes you up onto the rock, but we didn’t have time for that. Our agenda was just to check it out and see if we got goosebumps.
No goosebumps, but that could have had something to do with hiking in a long-sleeved black dress and flip flops. Either way, it was pretty!
From Bell Rock, our next stop on our way into town was the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This gorgeous little chapel wows with its stunning architecture site and scenic views. On top of all that, it’s a vortex spot too. That trifecta makes it quite popular, and we had to wait in a line of cars to snake up the rocks to park at the chapel and check it out. Because of the unusual parking situation, I totally neglected to take any photos of the gorgeous exterior of this chapel from below. Luckily, the lovely Lucy of On The Luce gave me permission to post a photo from her Sedona post – check it out for more beauties like this:
I absolutely adore the look of this chapel from below. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Marguerite Brunswig Staude. It took a couple of decades to obtain approval to build the chapel in Sedona’s National Forest land, and it was eventually completed in the 1950s. It is an operating church, but at the time of our visit it felt much more like a tourist attraction. It was easy to see why – check out these views!
We definitely took advantage of the great photo ops!
In addition to the far-off vistas, we were impressed by the rock climbers above the chapel. You can juuuust barely make them out here. They’re the dots on the rocks toward the top center of the frame:
Inside, the chapel’s design is spare, clean and modern (especially for a chapel built in the 60s). You can tell it’s been designed to take advantage of Sedona’s stunning natural scenery and impart those peaceful views on its visitors.
I don’t know whether it was the vortex effect or just the atmosphere inside such a small, beautiful chapel, but I did feel very serene and calm inside. Or maybe I just really wanted to feel the vortex. I guess we’ll never know. Don’t judge me.
Another aspect of the Chapel of the Holy Cross that I got a real kick out of were the little signs posted around the exterior to remind visitors of the rules in the cutest way possible.
Once we were done admiring the views here, it was time to make our way into the town of Sedona. Our first stop was check-in at our hotel for the evening, the Orchards Inn. We barely spent any time at the hotel, and I wish we could have. It was located right in Uptown Sedona, walking distance to a variety of shops and restaurants. And the highlight was definitely the thing that most people come to Sedona for: the gorgeous red rock views.
I really regret that we didn’t have time for evening cocktails or morning coffee on that balcony. Cocktails while soaking in the hot tub below us would have been even better! But alas, I was determined that we’d pack as much as possible into our 24 hours in Sedona – stay tuned for more of our adventures in this gorgeous town!
I have a confession to make. (Yes, another one.) I’m writing this on a snowy Saturday and I can’t be bothered to leave my warm, cozy house to go skiing. I know, I don’t deserve to live in the mountains right now. I blame the fact that I spent most of February and March in Phoenix, Arizona for my lack of motivation. Spring is already in full swing down there, and the warm sunny days, temperate evenings and snow-less hiking trails got me really ready for winter to be over. I know, I know.
I liked the Phoenix area much more than I expected to. One thing that surprised me was that the area isn’t as brown and barren as I’d pictured it to be. This week’s travel theme is pink, and I had no trouble finding photos of the hue in the Arizona desert.
There was plenty of pink to be found on my hikes around the area. Like this flowering cactus along the trail up to Sunrise Peak.
And the breathtaking sunset I encountered while coming down Camelback Mountain.
The vibrant color didn’t discriminate based on location, showing off both at the hotel-from-hell Aloft Phoenix Airport…
Where the sunset views did a little to distract from the constant noise of planes, trains and automobiles (for real). I was better able to enjoy the scenery across town at the luxurious Hyatt Gainey Ranch.
And my favorite pink moment of my time in Phoenix, by far, was the sunrise on the morning of my hot air balloon adventure. Stay tuned for more to come on that!
In case you’re interested in my other “Travel Theme posts:
If you’re in Scottsdale or the greater Phoenix area, do me a favor and add lunch at The Herb Box to your to-do list.
The Herb Box is located in Old Town, Scottsdale’s downtown area of boutiques and zillions of restaurants. I had a chance to try a few of these eateries during my time in Scottsdale, and The Herb Box stood out as the best among a crop of pretty delicious meals.
First can we talk about how adorable Old Town is? I neglected to capture any photos of the area in daylight, but I also loved the look of this lovely pedestrian area lined by illuminated palm trees at night.
Ok, back to The Herb Box. During an afternoon shopping in Old Town, my mom, my sister and I wanted to find a great spot for lunch. I turned to my old fail-safe, Yelp, and saw excellent reviews for The Herb Box. Done and done. When we arrived, the outdoor seating was all full and we were hungry enough to settle for a table in the dining room. We actually ended up thrilled with that call, because the interior of the restaurant was charming, rustic-modern and warm.
With an inviting atmosphere, friendly staff and a delicious menu, it was the perfect spot for a girls’ lunch.
They have a delightful cocktail and wine list as well, and we all loved the fresh, refreshing taste of my sister’s Cucumber Basil Mojito. Then the food came, and it didn’t disappoint either.
My mom gave her BLT high marks, and my sister and I shared a couple of excellent dishes: Butternut Squash and Corn Enchiladas that were as delicious as they sound:
And my favorite dish of the day, the Urban Market Steak Salad:
The piece of steak atop this salad was no joke – tender, flavorful, juicy and bigger than any steak I’ve ever had on top of a salad. Add in avocado, sugared pecans, roasted corn, bacon and other goodies, and it was one of the best salads I can remember having.
Oh yeah – and when you go to The Herb Box, don’t forget to check out the bathrooms. They’re gorgeous!