I would drive 17 miles….

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My husband and I chose to do the 17-Mile Drive during our honeymoon because it is a fairly quick drive right off the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1). Our goal during this trip was to see the beautiful coastline on the PCH, as much as we could, and this certainly fell that category. It also fit perfectly into our very tight schedule. 17-Mile Drive is a scenic road that goes through the Pebble Beach area. It’s located on the Monterey Peninsula in California and has several pull offs, so you gaze off into the mesmerizing ocean, watch birds, listen to harbor seals or even ogle lavish mansions. It is one of those offbeat things we didn’t want to pass up while we were in Monterey/Carmel. We got up fairly early, had a quick seaside breakfast and then hopped into the car.

The 17-Mile Drive costs $10 per car, as non-residents of the Pebble Beach community have to pay to use the road. For some people one of the attractions for the 17-Mile Drive are the expensive mansions which are all found deep within the drive. Right at the beginning there’s lots of beach to see and trees covered in a thick, green wispy moss. A bit later you’re welcomed with several pull offs with names for each beach.

Down below a churning, restless sea can be seen. Well, unless it's foggy and the sun is being a jerk by hiding behind a wall of clouds.

Down below this sign is a churning, restless sea, er ocean, and it is beautiful. Well, unless it’s foggy and the sun is being a jerk by hiding behind a wall of clouds and vague fog, like it was for us.

We stopped at the Restless Sea sign, because it sounded awesome and it was what it said it was! A quick peek revealed restless water that churned over the rough stones below, making the current look dangerous and unpredictable. Certainly not something you’d want to tackle if you were out looking to ride a wave, or take a quick swim. A few stops later and we were at Bird Rock, which had piles of birds and harbor seals lounging about, taking in what little sun they could get. They were kind of far off and hard to make out. So, I paid to view the rock through one of those nifty little view finders placed along the railing, but it really didn’t zoom in worth a damn and I left wishing I could get my cents back.

It's a good thing this isn't Mount Everest and this isn't the movie 2012, because that guy wouldn't be making it to the top of the mountain before the plotline stopped making sense.

It’s a good thing there are signs for this, because seriously, I would have no idea what to do. 

We also saw a tsunami sign that, for this landlocked girl, I found myself intrigued with. It’s surprising how differently we all live based on whatever the geography roulette wheel gave us. In Tucson, AZ (home) it’s “a dry heat” which could literally mean dehydration, seat belt buckles that burn your legs and the occasional drought. Hey, in California coastal towns apparently it’s earthquakes, tsunamis and FOG, which I think are a bit more concerning. I mean have you ever read The Mist by Stephen King?

At this point, we continued on until I spotted a beautiful hawk (which was later identified as a Red Shouldered Hawk) the flew up from the side of the road toward a nearby fence. Its wingspan had me staring at it with my mouth agape; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good sized hawk. Then, it jumped from the fence, to the roof of a nice looking home. From here I was able to get a few photos before it disappeared into the surrounding cypress trees. Quite a lovely bird.

A Red Shouldered Hawk. We're lucky as humans that we don't get names that describe us, I'd be "Girl Who Needs a Haircut."

A Red Shouldered Hawk. We’re lucky as humans that we don’t name our children literally. If my parents did they’d have gone with something like “Girl Who Always Needs a Haircut.”

In various places throughout the drive, but most notably Fanshell Overlook, there were walls built up with signs telling us that it was baby Harbor Seal birthing season and that we weren’t allowed to bother them. So, we didn’t. But that didn’t stop me from whining about how I really wanted to see baby harbor seals, and it didn’t stop my husband from looking for places where we might find some. We never did see any, at least not here (we saw baby seals later on at Point Piedras Blancas near Hearst Castle).

We continued on until the houses became two story homes and had huge yards, all the while still facing the ocean, of course. We joked about buying one and living there part time. Because who doesn’t want ocean front property in their wildest dreams? Only weirdos who love the mountains, that’s who! Another attraction for this drive is what is called the Lone Cypress Tree. This cypress is part of the 5,300-acres of surrounding Monterey Cypress trees and is hundreds of years old. Cypress are rugged trees, which can be a great sight especially if they’re very old, or packed tightly together. Parking to view the this cypress was fairly easy, but during busier seasons I wouldn’t be surprised to see a line waiting for spots. Once parked, the Lone Cypress can be found clinging to the granite facade in the distance with a stone wall surrounding its base. And, you guessed it, it’s mostly alone out there, dangling above the ocean. We took pictures with it in the background, like total tourists, and then headed out eager to see the Ghost Cypress!

A lone cypress. It would have been cool if this was an Ent and it picked up its roots and started walking.

A lone cypress. It would have been cool if this was an Ent and it picked up its roots and started walking.

Back in the car we noticed that it’s around this location that the houses became mansions and the figures became 5-10 million dollars for these homes. How’d I know what the houses are worth? Well, Zillow of course! A 10 million dollar mansion is certainly a sight to behold. Some of the mansions on the drive had their fancy or clever names emblazoned upon huge stone signs. Distracted by the ridiculously lavish mansions we quickly arrived at the Ghost Cypress tree. Sadly it was simply a dead cypress tree, I guess I should have figured that out. But come on, the name was intriguing, but not completely obvious. It probably has a story and some history that I completely missed as I was complaining about how it’s just a dead tree.

There was a bit of construction on the road leaving the Ghost Tree and it was hectic in this particular area. So, now it’s time for something whacky for those of you comic book nerds out there. My husband and I had to stop and take a photograph of the logo for the “Bay Area Traffic Solutions.” It reminds me of the Dark Knight, Batman logo! It’s fantastic. I have to confess, yes the million dollar mansions were cool, but stumbling on the “BATS” logo for the first time and imagining Bruce Wayne was living among the rich and powerful on the California coast, was somehow slightly more fun to imagine. This find was certainly cooler than a dead tree.

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

To end the drive we finished it with a short drive toward a green and gorgeous golf course. We exited around at the Pacific Grove “entrance” and then headed out to the Pacific Coast Highway, but not before cruising through some land that looked like an enchanted forest! It was really beautiful and capped off the drive in a very pleasant way. In retrospect, I would imagine the entire drive is far more outstanding when the sun is burning bright, the sky is blue and the ocean is clear and visible. We were driving our little convertible during the beginning of April and unfortunately, for us it was cold and windy, but it was still fun. There’s nothing quite like looking at all the lovely nature and expensive homes, in this maintained California coastal area, to remind you just how much nature can affect us. So much so that people would pay millions of dollars to be wrapped within it.

The title is sang to the tune of The Proclaimers - I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), just for fun. 

You can’t steal free books

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I peruse Kickstarter (a fantastic haven for new projects seeking funding) from time to time, usually checking out what’s happening in my town. Tonight I learned about something that seems extraordinary in its simplicity and magic. It’s called the “Little Free Library,” a place where a system is in place to share books for free. The key word here is free. There’s a host, or steward as the website calls them, that maintains the outdoor bookcase. This is all offered to people who can abide by the honor system: simply take a book and replace the book with a new book, or return the original book. It’s a community project allowing people to enrich themselves or their children with free books.

What’s especially interesting about the Little Free Library is that these adorable little boxes can be found all over the place, and I don’t just mean in the United States! Someone took the time to peg each location on a Google map. Here’s the map, if you’d like to see if you have a Little Free Library in your town. My town, Tucson, Arizona, has two locations. I spent at least half an hour looking at places in the world that had a box. If you click on the house icon on the map, you can see a photograph of the little library box, which in many cases looks like an oversized birdhouse. During my world wide review of boxes, I found a box in Spain and clicked on it. The photo took me to Flickr and I could see people in Madrid actually using the box. Children and adults were browsing through the books that were contained in the bookcase. So neat!

The boxes themselves even tell a story about the country or the people. For example a box in Isreal will show you its rough and worn edges. It gets the mind wandering; perhaps the story about this box is that it was crafted quickly, but not diligently kept up. Then if you search for a box, say in Bradley, Maine in the USA, it’s a beautiful little box shaped like a house painted in teals and purples, and is probably maintained by a steward that takes great pride in the project. It’s a very simple project and the fact that it exists makes my heart very happy. In the FAQ section a question is asked: “Won’t people steal the books?” the answer is as simple as “You can’t steal free books.”

Waterfalls, old barns and chipmunks

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Pagosa Springs, CO. A place of great beauty, hot springs, waterfalls and tourism. My brother and I had planned a trip to Pagosa Springs for our mother, who is afflicted with pancreatic cancer. With some plotting and planning we located a Bed and Breakfast that would take a group of three couples during the 4th of July holiday weekend. Be Our Guest Bed and Breakfast was a delightful log cabin style, three story house, complete with a gorgeous resident Pyrenean Mountain Dog, shaved to look like a lion. My mom loved this place instantly. It’s a warm and cozy home with a host and hostess that welcomed us with a kindness that was comforting. Mom got the room with a jacuzzi tub with windows that opened up onto a beautiful grassy hill.

We arrived on Friday July 5th and stayed until Sunday afternoon. Pagosa is a pretty little tourist town packed with color, greenery and buildings designed to look like old log cabins. As far as our trip went we hadn’t planned a tight schedule, but we had a handful of things we really wanted to try. One thing we knew for sure: mom wanted to hike to a waterfall. Sadly, some of the sites we had looked into were closed due to the West Fork fire in the Wolf Creek areas (sorry for the popup this is the best map I could find). And to this day those fires aren’t getting better. Thankfully, our host and hostess were the kind of people who could answer a question about the town and its surroundings without skipping a beat. Tom, said that some of the fires will likely burn for months afterwards due to the heat of the embers, but suggested some falls that wear close and open. In fact, as of this writing the fire had crossed the U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass, causing parts of the road to be closed to through traffic.

After some discussion and yummy biscuits and gravy, we chose Treasure Falls. Treasure Falls is about 15 minutes outside Pagosa. It’s approximately 300 feet of elevation gain and approximately 1 mile round trip. The falls are said to be about 100 feet tall. They are nothing short of spectacular, from far away to close up, we were not disappointed. Rumor has it there’s gold buried up in the hills somewhere, buried by Frenchmen. The link above gives a little more detail on the story. The only treasure we found while we hiked was the splendor of the surrounding lush land and waterfall.

From the parking loot it looks like a long haul to the base of the waterfall, but it truly isn't that strenuous of a roundtrip hike.

Treasure Falls. From the parking lot it looks like a long haul to the base of the waterfall, but it truly isn’t that strenuous of a round trip hike. Well worth the quick drive and short hike up a few switchbacks.

At the base of the falls, or top of the trail, you reach the Misty Deck, where if you pause long enough you can feel the mist rush over you as the water pummels the rock below. Our mother announced to everyone listening, in her triumphant voice, “I made it to the bridge!” as she pounded her makeshift walking stick on the wooden planks below her feet. We took some pictures with the family and then we made for the the Splash Zone. At the top of the trail (but at the bottom of the falls) is a very beautiful view of the valley below. We got a little splashed, but I think that these falls are suffering from a touch of drought, so it wasn’t too bad.

A closer shot taken from the footbridge below the falls.

A closer shot taken from the footbridge below the falls.

Once we did a 180 to look below us we realized just that there is so much life in the valley below where we stood and gawked. There’s greenery as far as the eye can see, trees, ponds and today storm clouds on the horizon. At the Deck we were spritzed upon by the falls and spent time just truly enjoying the scenery and a quite roar of water against rock,before heading back to the trail head, to the parking lot and our rental SUV. 6-seater for the win!

Oh! Oh! I should probably also mention: CHIPMUNKS! Eeee! These little guys love hanging around in the parking lot, waiting for some sort of handout. Like tiny little beggars that you don’t mind giving something to, because they’re probably not going to waste it on a 5th of cheap whiskey for their dinner. We stood there for a while and unfocused on just the one two around our feet. We could see the ground was alive. WITH CHIPMUNKS!

A chipmunk we named chip, eating a chip. Fine, okay so it's a Bugle, but that's a chip. A chip named chip eating a chip! Get it?

A chipmunk we named Chip, eating a chip. Fine, okay so it’s a Bugle, but that’s totally a chip. A chip named Chip eating a chip! Get it?

Two chipmunk photos for the price of one! It's like Chip - the return of the chipmunk, dun, dun dun! *queue the scary movie music*.

Two chipmunk photos for the price of one! It’s like Chip – the return of the chipmunk, dun, dun dun! *queue the scary movie music*. or the dramatic look! Google it, you’ll giggle.

We returned to town to explore the quaint little shops along the main drag in town. We returned to our car with various treasures: two gorgeous silk wraps (one had butterflies on it), postcards, a pair of silly wine holders that looked like large flip flops, etched signs about cats, and a hand carved walking stick. From here we had a lackluster lunch at Tequilas, which isn’t even worth mentioning except for the fact that the waitress called my mom “señor” and my husband “señorita.” Yeah, that really happened. We were all seriously like “WTF?”

From here we went down to the river, which was literally right below the restaurant to visit the Craft Fair that was going on. The sky immediately darkened. It was beautiful. We could stand on the river walk pathway and see the Pagosa Hot Springs across the river, it smelled, as my brother describes it “like egg farts.” Thank you sulfur! Blech!

We headed east and caught a few vendors before they packed up. I started asking around and apparently the day before a storm came in at around the same time and totally drenched the place, vendors, tents and all. They were trying to avoid a repeat. I caught a wood maker before he packed up and bought a solar light with an outstanding metal design of a wilderness scene. His story goes: His family owned a plot of land and on it stood an old farming house from the 1900s. At some point some family passed on and the land was sold, but before the deal was sealed one requirement was the farmhouse had to go. So, before it was destroyed this woodworker took as much of the weathered farmhouse wood that he could and made things out of it. Namely, these rustic looking solar lights with metalsmithed scenes upon them (not sure if he did the metal work or not). The vendor knocked the price down for me, because I got such a great kick out of the story. I didn’t ask for it, but was super pleased.

A solar light that I purchased at the riverwalk in Pagosa Springs, CO.

A solar light that I gleefully purchased at the Park 2 Park arts and crafts festival in Pagosa Springs, CO.

That’s about the time that the rain began.

And we loved it! Because some of us are from Tucson, AZ and some of the others live in Albuquerque, NM. So, rain = YAY! We looked at a few more booths before bolting to the car in the downpour. As we drove away we watched the vendors run this way and that. Back on the highway toward the B&B we saw the carnival shut down as the lightning bounced about in the sky. A crack of thunder later and we were happy to be back at our “home away from home.”

These are not my tomatoes

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No, this is not my tomato.

Ripe with yummy sweetness.

Ripe with yummy sweetness.

I’d like to take all the credit for these ripe summer tomatoes, but I can’t. The credit belongs to my mother-in-law. A woman who juggles many things, from working a full time job and entertaining friends and family when she gets a chance, to having parties for any reason under the sun to share her good cooking with friends and family. She also grows stuff in her backyard. I’ve always envied her ability to do stuff in her makeshift garden. Nowadays she gardens less and less, however, this year the focus has been on tomatoes.

She gave us her tomatoes (!) because she was going out of town and knew that if she left them on the vine much longer they’d be gross by the time she got home. We get to benefit from her hard work! It was tasty, tasty hard work too. I’ve always wanted to grow something. At our new house I’m still struggling to keep all the plants alive that came with the house (I forget to water). The succulents from my bouquet are the only thing I’ve planted and successfully kept alive since we’ve moved in. I’ve been told that tomatoes are a good starting place for gardening newbies. I think I can give it a go.

So, I did some research to see if this could be my thing. Apparently, the optimal growing temperature for tomatoes is above 60 degrees F, but somewhere between 70 and 80. Anything lower than 60 degrees that and you’ll expect to have to protect them or lose them. Tomatoes like warm, moist soil and sun. Arizona has tons of sun. Arizona isn’t completely unpredictable when it comes to summer/fall weather. Winters do get cold, cold, and it snowed last year, so there’s that fun challenge. I have a Peruvian Apple Cactus that I almost lost last year due to low temps.

Busted open and still strangely tasty.

Busted open and still strangely tasty.

As you can see we get so much sun that it split one of the tomatoes in the photo above. Or it grew too fast. Or it got inconsistent water. The interwebs are confusing and distracting. I started out looking for info on split tomatoes and after about 16 clicks got lost in articles about Monsanto. I won’t even go there. This wasn’t designed to be a political article! I did ask around to my green-thumb friends and the consensus was that it got inconsistent watering. I can’t guarantee I’ll remember to water ever time, but I’d still like to taste the fruit of my labors.

Now I’m inspired. I’ll be on the hunt for a tomato plant to transplant and grow around August/September.

Sometimes we get the most amazing sunsets

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There’s some fire all around us. From the fires burning intensely in Colorado, to the fire that rocked our country for a brief moment at Yarnell Hill, Arizona, we are seeing a haze in our sky. Last week it was the “Prison Fire” (note: not actually in a prison, but a camp) in Tucson on Mt. Lemmon that sparked even more haze across the old pueblo. The only good thing about all the smoke is the amazing sunsets we get in the evenings.

A strange pink and red that illuminates the sky above the mountain range.

A strange pink and red that illuminates the sky above the mountain range.

Pinks! And blues!

Pinks! And blues! As the sun fades into another midnight.

The Rillito River Path – Or how I learned to love riding my bike again

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Until about 4 years ago I had all but forgotten about riding my bike. It wasn’t until Jason, my husband, suggested we ride our bikes to the UofA, that I even remembered I still owned a bike. I was so unfit. I huffed and puffed the whole time. From there we continued occasionally riding in the bike lanes next to roads, though avoiding the major intersections and arteries as much as possible. It could be a little nerve wracking at times and I did get a good scare once as a truck whizzed by a little too close, shaking me and my bike. That was always in the back of my mind, that close encounter.

It should be noted that Tucson is renowned for being bike friendly. Lots of our roads have a solid bike lane. In May, 2013 bicycling.com voted Tucson the 12th state in their America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities article (#1 being Portland) citing our claims to fame: “The city with the most bike-lane miles (620!) in the nation has a bike-boulevard plan totaling 170 miles, and the Cyclovia, which helped increase bike commuting by 58 percent.” Tucson also has El Tour de Tucson which is a spectacular bike oriented event that brings in upwards of 10k riders to our city every November. Plus, there’s all this beautiful sunshine. So, there are lots of reasons I should love riding my bike on the roads around town. I don’t love it. People in cars can be scary!

A few years ago Jason began going to Brandi Fenton Park to play pickup basketball under covered courts. He told me about the paved path near the park. I figured I’d give it a try. I started out by walking and running the path. I didn’t have a way to transport my bike from home to the park (13 miles). After a while the heat started getting to me. It was the middle of summer and 102° (+/-) can be overwhelming sometimes. So, I caved in and bought a cheap $80 bike rack that straps to the trunk of my car. I busted out the bike, dusted it off, oiled up the rusty chain and gave it try. That’s when I fell in love with cycling, for reals.

It’s called the Rillito River Path here in Tucson, AZ. It begins at Craycroft and River Road and ends 12 miles later near the Interstate 10. I have only ever successfully gotten to the end of the 12 miles one time. I only carve out 2 hours time to do my route and I’ve only ever completed 20 of the entire 24 miles (there-and-back). I usually start my ride at Dodge a little further West from Craycroft.

Into a sea of Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, by way of asphalt.

Into a sea of Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, by way of asphalt. There is a park to the left there.

In the beginning my bike was a poorly kept dirt bike with a rusted chain (from leaving it on the back porch in the rain); with gears that hiccuped and slipped between 1 and 2 and 3 and 4—that was always alarming, let me tell you. It wasn’t the greatest bike, but I’ve had it for a while and it’s endeared itself to me. Plus, why buy a new bike when you can use your old shitty bike?! Luckily for me I got a new hand-me-down street bike about month ago, from my father-in-law with brand new tires, a well oiled chain, soft handle bars. What a difference! The bike is lighter, the ride is smoother and the gears only act weird between 1 and 2.

Why I love the Rillito River Bike Path:

The Rillito River Path is a smooth and beautiful path that every so often gets some upgrade that is an apparent benefit. Like the one time they built the path up a little, brought it out of the floodplain and paved it. Oh man, it was like heaven-not having to ride through mud during monsoon season. Or the newest upgrade are standing air pumps with different fittings for your bike valves.

It is Arizona, so a note on the heat: this weekend it hit 100° by 9:00am when I hit the asphalt. 2 hours later when I finished my ride it was already 104.5°. The path rides alongside the riverbed and the plants that live there sometimes cut the heat down a little and the wind will occasionally whip through the curves below the path and dry up the sweat you’ve worked up. It’s not as gross as it sounds. The hardest part about the ride is that I can literally feel pockets of heat as I ride through them. It’s a little shock as it’s already hot, but flying through the air on a bike and hitting a wall of heat is kind of a slap to the face. Mother nature saying “Keep riding or I’ll send more your way!” I usually hear mother nature saying that in an evil super villain voice followed by a “Muhwahaha.” Because in Tucson mother nature is a cruel ethereal spirit woman who sends cicadas flying at your face while cackling evilly. And then as you’re waving them off in grossed out terror, you’re also wobbling into the railing which happens to be like 300° and burns your hands a little (read: a lot) as you try not to fall into the mud and scrape up your shins…

That’s why I bought gloves for biking with. It’s also why I loved the new upgrades.  I mean, no that scenario totally didn’t happen to me.

Distance and accomplishment! When it’s this hot I’m just happy to get to the Children’s Memorial Park slightly beyond Oracle Road. For my ride that means I’ll be doing a total of 14 miles today. It could be way more, because I should be doing way more, but when my Camelbak runs out I know that sign and hydration is super important, so I head back to the park. Anyway, that distance in summer feels like accomplishment to me. It also feels kind of sweaty!

Children's Memorial Park just west of Oracle Rd.

Children’s Memorial Park just west of Oracle Rd.

However, like I mentioned previously, the entire path there and back is about 24 total miles (+/-). I’ve only ever done 20. An interesting thing is that when you’re going West you are going downstream, and downhill. You can can go pretty fast! It’s a freedom you don’t get even in the front seat of a roller coaster. Of course you could start in the other direction and go uphill first and then downhill last, which would probably be way better. As it stands I don’t go that way. Winter is fun because I can go further, or double back.

The path is always safe, but kind of tricky with the narrowing of the road for bridges and then at the top of one of the dips there’s a huge saguaro that I always question the reasoning behind planting that specific saguaro there, while simultaneously hoping I don’t hit it. The entire trip is also encouraging and beautiful. I never see one car or truck, because they’re not allowed up there. Then when I flip around to do the 12 miles back, I’m going upstream and uphill and it’s harder, but very rewarding. When I get back to to Brandi Fenton park it feels spectacular. Especially if I’ve seen any interesting…

Narrowing of the path into what resembles a single lane. It's also kind of fun playing chicken with people walking through there.

Narrowing of the path into what resembles a single lane. It’s also kind of fun playing chicken with people walking through there.

Wildlife! That’s another reason why I’m head over heels for this path. Ground squirrels, while extremely annoying, because they dig holes like everywhere, are also incredibly adorable. Standing backlit against the morning sun, these rodents are like teeny tiny sentinels for some underground city. The humans are coming, the humans are coming! Then there’s zebra-tailed lizards that inevitably run across the path as I wheel my way toward them and then they taunt me with the whipping of their striped tails. Rabbits with little cotton tails! Oh and horses. People ride horses down in the dried up river basin below the path. That’s always a treat to see. Occasionally, they’ll bring the horses up on the path (to get to their stables nearby) and sometimes the horses leave little gifts on the path for you to dodge like a pro. I’ve also seen various hawks, under-the-bridge bats and tiny adorable finches.

Coyote a symbol of a trickster, shape-shifter, and transformer.

The coyote: a symbol of a trickster, shape-shifter, and transformer.

One time there was a coyote. It was so awesome. I backtracked last weekend, and paused on the crest of one of the bridges, which isn’t exactly the safest place to stop for many reasons, but namely: incoming traffic. But I did it anyway, and then I looked down, and he looked up. His eyes lit up and I fumbled for the camera on my phone. He just stood there looking up at me all the while. Then two other cyclists rode over the crest and the sound of their bikes rattling through the concrete and echoing down below spooked him. Hence, the far away shot of him trotting off into some nearby brush. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a coyote and he was gracious enough to pause and let me get a good look at him for a few seconds. He looked tired and hot. I can only imagine what he thought of me and my red face.

Visuals. This path is beautiful. My photos do not do it justice. It’s far more attractive during spring and winter, especially in the riverbed. That’s when the good stuff is growing due to monsoon rains. One time I saw a large uprooted tree laying dead in the dried up bed.

There's a power plant behind all the trees, but you can't see it.

There’s a power plant behind all the trees, but you can’t see it from here. It’s mostly obscured by the trees further up too. Hooray, for being able to ignore the hints of civilization for a few hours.

And in closing—if you need something bike related to give you a giggle—here’s a story about how a state lawmaker earlier this year defended a bike tax, saying bicycling is not good for the environment. Why? Because he thinks that, “You would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car.” /wink

Up, up and away…

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Wouldn’t you like to glide in my beautiful balloon?
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly
Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon
-DIONNE WARWICK

One of the things I have always wanted to share with friends and family, who haven’t been to it, is the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. My favorite part has, and will always be, the Balloon Glow. I have a lot of really fun memories of being a kid at the balloon festival and watching those balloons light up the night. It’s magical and I think even my parents and my aunt felt the magic as we walked down aisles of burning hot air balloons in the surrounding twilight.

It all starts in October, which also happens to be the month of my birthday! Maybe that’s why I have good memories: birthday month, Halloween, balloon glows and magic. What more could a girl ask for? Sometimes there are fireworks—as if fireworks could borrow some of the magic already held by the hot air balloons—but to each their own.

The Mass Ascension is one of those things you’ll never forget, and I haven’t. All participating balloon riders launch their hot air balloons in two coordinated waves. Spectators watch hundreds upon hundreds of hot air balloons all rising into the air at the same time, like some sort of hot air balloon army readying themselves and rising to war. Or some such childhood fantasy. It feels like a big deal, especially for a daydreamer who is standing on solid ground. Being ten was fun.

Just a small sampling of balloons ascending into the New Mexico sky.

Just a small sampling of balloons ascending into the New Mexico sky.

There is also the Dawn Patrol (as they call it) when the balloons will go up in the dark, which is a completely different experience than watching them light up at night or mass ascend. Instead the dawn take-offs happen before the sun comes up and then the hot air balloons will ascend into the sky as the pinks and reds from the sun begin to highlight the mountains. These balloon riders also check wind speeds and direction at different altitudes for the other flyers. By the time the balloons are all up there and the sun has finally peeked out from behind the mountains and slipped behind some clouds, you could find yourself in the midst of one of the most spectacular sunrises you’ve ever seen. Thanks New Mexico.

Pilot lights and propane! Fire!

Pilot lights and propane! Fire! Fire!

I’ve always been fascinated with the physics of hot air balloons. The fact that modern balloons use propane, which isn’t stored as a gas, but rather as a liquid in canisters, and how that all works and comes together without crash landings every time and burning one’s own balloon down, is pretty awesome. Add all that to configuring buoyancy and you have one really cool act of aerostats. Once the propane hits the pilot light inside the balloon it’s changed into a gas and the process makes a much more powerful flame. And up, up, you go. The one thing I’ve always been concerned about is the landing. The wicker baskets are designed to flex upon impact, but if you’re riding in one of those 24 person capacity balloon baskets, would the impact be harder? Do we all tuck and roll? Eep?

I’ve zip-lined over a rain forest in Hawaii and that was a pretty amazing experience; the kind of experience I had to build up a little courage for. Especially, with all the heckling from the zipline leaders as we prepped. I think perhaps it’s time to ride in the gondola of a hot air balloon. Not that it’s a bucket list thing, but it sure sounds like an exhilarating and fantastic adventure. Maybe next year I’ll be lucky enough to visit Albuquerque during the Balloon Fiesta and I will get the chance to take lots of photos.