Road Trip Retro, 2018: Giving Those Noticing Muscles a Good Workout

As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.

It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)

So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.

Seemed like a good omen.

Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:

Who doesn’t love some good sweet cron on a summer day?

Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.

“Don’t take my picture! I’m shy.”
Redwoods, shmedwoods. Look at me!

Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…

…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:

Dora, my bike, enjoying a lil’ break

Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…

Monaña de Oro State Park

…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.

2 years later, we came right back here and were treated to javelinas in our front yard!
I adore this place. Sunrise on sycamores is just frosting on the cake.
OK, I know- -I’m getting away from my “noticing the little things” theme…

In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…

New Mexicans are a little spoiled. But as a Washingtonian, I can relate.

…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:

Green chile, blue corn…need I say more?

Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.

Boiling Springs State Park

Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!

Yay for noticing muscles.

The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.

The lake itself…bleah. But awesome cabins!

Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!

Well, HEY, cutie!

Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.

Pause for a moment here to send lots of love to poor ol’ Nashville.

With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…

(with Mate in foreground)

…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?

No muscles required here.

At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:

Mom in her pickup (hauling horse trailer)
…my parents’ shoe collection (part of it)…
…Mom’s loom (the smaller one)–here w/ Son Two, aka Grandson Two…
Chapel Hill’s Tarheel fire truck (Go Heeeeeeeeeeeeels!)

…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:

Allen & Sons BBQ, slaw, hushpuppies & fried okra. Again–no noticing muscles needed here. Dare you NOT to notice.

Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.

Sorry, Red Rover! Be right there.
I felt OK sharing this photo because everyone’s so hidden under their hats. Whee!

Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?

Louisville Loop

Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.

At least it’s a protected site, if not exactly promoted. Then again, we were there on a Sunday.

Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.

Pike’s Peak sunrise from the kitchen window–are you kidding me? Gotta love the juxtaposition with the light pole.

A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…

…the Mate couldn’t help but notice how much Gretchen likes standing at the edge of things.

Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.

The Mate auditioning to be a mushroom rock
Jabba the Rocks–off the beaten path, just hangin’ out…

One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.

Uff. Something so wrong here.

Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…

No place like home.

…every tiny bit of it.

Ditto.

Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.

The Annual Thanksgiving Post: Full of Respair

Here we go. This horrible year, 2020, I am thankful for…

…being able to feel thankful. (Will that become the new meaning of “2020 hindsight”?)

…a friend who sent me the link to the podcast, “A Way With Words,” where I learned, just in time, of the word “respair,” which means to have hope again. Seriously!!!! Yes.

…flowers.

…mushrooms taking the place of flowers when flowers are not available. (Could there be a lesson here?)

Beautiful local veggies also filling that flower-role, and way tastier.

…Zoom (can I get an Amen?).

Say “Happy Birthday, Dad!”

Beauty close to home.

Thanksgiving dinner made of leftovers, and no pie, because–the Mate’s birthday cake is the queen of all!

Happy Birthday, babe.

Togetherness in any form, even masked. Health. Democracy. Music. Things I will never, ever, ever take for granted again.

As always, I would love to hear some of the things floating to the top of your list! Still standing? Let’s give thanks.

One Month Till the Election? Mountains Please!

Full disclosure: this post has nothing pithy nor deep to add to your thoughts today. This is full-on escape. I was able to take last Sunday with my overworked Ironwoman Goddaughter to drive, then hike up to nearly 7,000 feet on the Cascades’ Pacific Crest Trail to breathe some clear air and see some fall color.

Keep trekking long enough and, with luck and faith, just mayyyybe some beauty will reward you.
Yes! Not all uphill walks are this glorious, so I’ll take ’em where I can.
Pretty much muted by joy and gratitude at this point.
This kind of scene actually hurts to behold.
Not forgetting the trees for the forest…
****celestial music****
Time to head back down…still keeping thoughts at bay.
In a month this color should be blanketed by snow. But it’ll stay with me when I need it most, in the coming dark months.
Thanks, Ironwoman Goddaughter. We needed this. God knows we all need something LIKE this.

May you all be well and find some inspirational beauty where you can. Till next time…

Catch-22 or the Starfish Story? A Trashy Tale

First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”

That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.

I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)

The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.

Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.

After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”

I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)

By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.

Here I come to save the day!

Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.

Yesss!!!

After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.

Uh-oh.

Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.

Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.

Shit.

There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.

You’re not the boss of me, garbage.

But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)

I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.

Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.

Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.

I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.

Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?

Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.

We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.

But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.

Limbo: Trying Not to Go Low

Have you noticed how long it’s been since I last blogged? Me neither. All I’ve noticed is that I haven’t felt like it. My last post, exactly one month ago, was a re-post of my friend’s, about the Say Their Names memorial in our little village.

photo courtesy Iris Graville

Now I’ve just returned home from a ceremony honoring those signs and moving them to their next home, as they were not constructed to withstand fall and winter weather. And I’m finally feeling moved to write again…about the limbo I’ve been in.

Limbo. Two definitions come to mind,* neither of them Biblical:

1) “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”

2) “a West Indian dance in which the dancer bends backward to pass under a horizontal bar that is progressively lowered to a position just above the ground”

(*both definitions from Google)

Things that seem stuck in limbo:

–since the COVID shutdown, millions of people’s education, jobs, projects, plans–hell, our lives.

–the forward movement toward racial justice that many of us deeply want to believe in , as the forces against change gather for counter-attack, and as weariness or fear threaten to overwhelm action.

–somewhere in all of that–me. And, very possibly, you.

I don’t want to go into the details of my own personal limbo, which has to do with my two creative passions, writing and music. I want to write about avoiding the “how low can you go?” part of limbo.

Here’s what I am doing to “stay high” in this uncertain period:

  1. Working on the main source of mood-overwhelm: continuing self-education about the prospects for racial justice AND participating in Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns in several key states.
  2. Finding assurance and inspiration in certain voices. Right now, my main Muse is Michelle Obama, via her wonderful podcast.
  3. Sharing good food with near & dear people, and good Zooms with far & dear.

    Like picking blackberries with my sons and turning them into…

    …pie! (The berries, not the sons.)

  4. Reading good books–like Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass–and writing often in my journal.
  5. Worshipping regularly in the Church of the Great Outdoors.

    Amen! (Photo by Suzanne Strom)

How about y’all? How are you avoiding the lows of your own limbo? Please share inspiration here.

Time, Tide and Salmonberries: Blessed Be the Regular

Like probably most people in the world right now, my sense of the calendar has gone all wonky. I’m frequently not sure what month it is, let alone the date. Day of the week? Forget it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I know all too well what year it is.

The arrival of fresh cherries and strawberries at a fruit stand took me by surprise. Wait–it’s Solstice already? Since then, I’ve been trying to pay more attention. Salmonberries have helped. 

Salmonberries  are a huge thing around western Washington. Whether battling them as ferociously scratchy pests around our yards or admiring their bright pink flowers in Spring, we probably spend more time thinking about them than we even realize. And then they make berries!

If looks could taste…

I used to make fun of salmonberries for being so un-delicious: The only reason anyone even thinks about eating you is because blackberries aren’t ripe yet.  

But (again, like a lot of folks) I’ve been walking even more than I usually do, and trying to pay even more attention to things besides the global pandemics of COVID and racism. So I’ve been nibbling salmonberries again, as part of my noticing–and guess what? Turns out if you wait to eat them till they’re so ripe they’re juuuuust about to fall off their thorny ol’ bushes, they’re actually pretty tasty.

So what else merits my noticing, and my thanks?

The tide. Twice a day. EVERY day. Talk about essential work!

I know this isn’t exactly a glam shot, Tide–but this is you your work attire.

And some of the humblest of flowers–look at these ones here, engaging in a socially-distanced Easter bouquet!

C’mon, guys, it’s June, not April. Shouldn’t you be decorating for wedding season?

That’s more like it.

What basic, REGULAR things are you feeling grateful for right now? Postal carriers? Baby birds? Marshmallows on display shelves? Let’s celebrate the regular where we can find it!

May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 14-17, Fort Stockton to San Antonio to Galveston: Dear Ones in Texas

In this blog’s travel morph, I’ve never made a secret of my lack of love for Texas. I’m sure I’ve said some unkind things. That attitude, of course, comes back to bite me when I see a travelogue like this through the eyes of folks I love who happen to live there. So I’m going to avoid my negativity for once and just write about what’s been great about the past few days.

Hold up. Let me first get this out of my system: Fort Stockton contains no one I love, AND it doesn’t have a single bike path. So I’m not going to try & emphasize the positive about Fort Stockton, other than to say it offered us a comfy motel at the end of a long day’s drive from Arizona. If you’re reading this and you’re from Fort Stockton, please chime in with something cool about your town.

OK, on to San Antonio.

My older sister and her husband live on the outskirts, far enough away from the Riverwalk that we’re not tempted to go there. We’re family, not tourists. (And my sister’s dining room is the best restaurant in town anyway.) Along with catching up on family stuff and playing music with my bro-in-law, I’m always happy to cuddle their super-fluffy cats.

Starved for kitty love.

And THIS town has a bike path! Boy, does it ever.

Curvy and swoopy and green…A+.

Also, thanks to my sister’s tree, we are now the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, Oranges AND Grapefruit! (not pictured ’cause I’ve been eating them in the car–sweeet) But here’s another cat picture instead.

Such…fluffy…feeeeet!

We only stayed one night in San Antonio because we’d timed our trip to Galveston to coincide with our friends’ weekend there.  We usually visit them in Dallas where they live (in Oak Cliff, Dallas’s cool side), but they’re just putting the finishing touches on a new condo in Galveston, the childhood Happy Place of one of them, and they invited us as inaugural guests.

Galveston? Where the heck is that anyhow? (asked Gretchen, about a month ago).

Oh! Okay. Thanks, Wikipedia.

According to our friends (also Wikipedia), it’s an island in the Gulf of Mexico, 27 miles long, no wider than 3 miles. It was practically wiped out in a hurricane in 1900 which killed over 6,000 people. More recently, Hurricane Ike did a ton of damage, but Galvestonians are a resilient bunch, and they love their town. One of my favorite parts of our stay there (other than walking on the endless beach) was biking through the old town, stopping to take pictures of pretty houses.

Ooooh.

The sunrise view from our friends’ condo:

Good morning!

The giant ships entering the harbor, bound for Houston, reminded me of the ones we used to live with during our 20 years in Tacoma. Here there are so many, they line up along the horizon waiting their turn to unload. At night the whole Gulf looks like it’s ringed with stars.

Big ship, and big pelican! I love those things.

Biking around, I kept thinking about seeing Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande as we’d passed through El Paso a couple of days earlier. Yes, the Mexican streets and houses look poor, in some places desperately so. But they are so colorful! Pink and green and blue and purple–as if to say, “C’mon, America–why you gotta be so DULL?” Well, Galvestonians are NOT dull.

Wish I had the nerve to paint my house that color.

Mardi Gras was last week. I kept running over beads with my bike wheels, and lots of decorations were still up.

The day was overcast. Imagine how this home would look in bright sunshine!

Must’ve been quite a party.

Take that, Nawleans.

Galveston also hosts a thriving fishing industry. My friend took this picture as I waited in line for gigantic shrimp. Moments later, when she stepped outside, they brought out the two-man-sized fish.

The day’s smaller catch.

If I were more of a beach person, I would have taken more pictures of the beach. Maybe. The best thing about THIS beach, for me? Walking and talking and sitting and talking and drinking wine and talking with my friend. (not pictured) So here’s another jaw-dropping house:

Daaaaang.

Our friends went to Mass on Sunday for the first time here (they’re still getting to know their new town) and came back jubilant at having discovered a vibrant, extremely multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation. Another warm fuzzy for Galveston. Maybe I just need to spend more time in all Texas’s towns? Well…all the ones with places to bike in, anyhow.

I don’t feel bad about the opinions I have about Texas which are related to its history and current dominant politics. I do feel bad if anyone I love who lives there feels like I love them less because they live there. And for those other loyal Texans whom I don’t know…please tell me more cool stuff about where you live. I’m trying not to have a Texas-sized ego about this. 🙂

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.