Utah escape/escapades – Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point

Several of my more recent posts have been about moving, because, well, we’re moving. Specifically, we’re moving to Tucson, AZ, in a little over a week. As I write this post, I am surrounded by boxes, and my sinuses are irritated by all the dust I’ve stirred up while packing and cleaning. I’m excited about this move and my new job (which I start on Monday–yikes!), but even though I see this move as a big positive, it’s still stressful. There are a thousand little details to keep track of and so, so much work to do.

This will be our third big move in a little over a decade, and one of the lessons we’ve learned is to plan a break before the last big push to get everything done. We took that break last week–a road trip north to Bryce Canyon in Utah. The trip was short, only two nights, but it was the refresher we needed.

The Grand Staircase Inn in Cannonville, base camp for our adventures:

I spent each morning sitting outside the door of our room, journaling and contemplating a sequel to Vanishing, Inc. And eating Frosted Mini-Wheats straight out of the box with my bare hands (because I’m a classy broad) and washing them down with Diet Coke and befriending an adorable kitty who had perfected the art of scamming food off tourists (I might or might not have given the little dude the remains of my pulled pork lunch. I please the 5th.) And for those who are worried about a pitiful stray, this guy was fixed and looked perfectly healthy–lovely fur, a healthy weight, etc. I suspect he lived at the Air BnB across the street but had learned that motel denizens are suckers good food sources.

After driving all afternoon, evening and staying the night, we spent last Friday exploring Bryce Canyon. My husband is recovering from knee surgery, so we mostly explored by car.

View from Sunset Point:

I think this one may have been taken from Bryce Point. Not sure – should have kept better notes.

Natural Bridge:

Overly friendly raven at Agua Canyon:

And the view from the Agua Canyon viewpoint:

Hoodoos, caves, and a soaring raven at Rainbow Point:

We took one short hike up to Mossy Cave. It provides a great view looking up rather than down at hoodoos.

And here’s Mossy Cave:

It’s hard to find words to describe Bryce Canyon, but “otherworldly” probably comes closest. It’s a landscape that would seem more at home in a sci-fi movie than here in our everyday world. It also reminds me a bit of an outdoor version of cave formations. So, so lovely.

Stay tuned for the next (and probably last) installment of my Utah adventures, in which we will visit Red Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Monument. For now, I have to get back to packing. 9 more days…

Photo safari through a historic Flagstaff neighborhood

2020-04-24 12.10.15.jpgMy first novel, Vanishing, Inc., is set in a fictional mountain town in Arizona called Ponderosa. I live in Flagstaff, a not-so-fictional mountain town in Arizona that makes an appearance in my story, but since I’m writing a paranormal romance (a time travel romance, to be specific), I wanted the freedom of a fictional setting. I don’t want some overly-literal reader leaving me a one-star review because there are, in fact, no time portals in Flagstaff.

Hey, you know it could happen. I’m sure plenty of tourists have walked through standing stones in Scotland and become very grumpy because they did not immediately find themselves in the arms of a lusty Scottish outlaw. BTW, how cheap are airline tickets to Scotland these days? Asking for a friend…

But I digress.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah–Ponderosa, Arizona, which exists only in my manuscript. But you’ll love it, I promise. Especially since it involves a lusty Arizona outlaw.

It also involves the unique landscape of the Northern Arizona mountains, which I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last 6 years. Now that my world has shrunk to the size of my yard (thanks, Microbe that Must not be Named), my explorations have been a bit limited. But last week I got to take a trip! Go on a journey! Where did I go, you ask?

I took my husband to the dentist.

It’s a thrill a minute around here, I tell ya.

His dentist’s office is in one of Flagstaff’s historic neighborhoods, so I took myself on a mini photo safari while he got his tooth fixed. The primary setting in Vanishing, Inc. is a stone cottage built in 1890, so I paid particular attention to old stone houses. Like this one:

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I’ve been fascinated by stone houses since I was a kid. I suppose they remind me of the fairy tales I read over and over in elementary school. We have a lot of rocks around here, so old stone houses are fairly common,  but I still find them magical. Look at that texture! At the contrast of textures! And can’t you just picture that house with a time portal in the basement? C’mon, use your imagination…

Take away the modern windows and modern roof, and this one would make a great location for a time portal:

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I love how the stone makes the house fit into the landscape like it’s always been there.

Besides writing, I’m obsessed with gardening, so I took lots of pictures of plants and yards, especially where there were contrasting textures. Like this:

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And this:

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And my favorite picture of the day. Look at that wonderful old stone wall! and those red buds popping out of the shade! I can picture my main character stumbling over that wall in 1910, on her way to even more trouble.

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And it’s spring, so I couldn’t resist the flowers. Here’s forsythia:

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And sand cherry blossoms:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trek into my world, both real and fictional. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful, magical place, but beauty and magic can be found anywhere. I hope you’ll take the time to find some of your own.

Winter break road trip episode 5 (the final chapter): Albuquerque and Grants, NM

2019-12-30 11.22.12.jpgWe last left our intrepid blogger in a snowy desert just outside Carrizozo, New Mexico, looking for a post-apocalyptic Denzel Washington. Spoiler alert: we didn’t find him. So we drove on, passing through Albuquerque on our way to Grants. While in Albuquerque, we had to feed the husband’s other cinematic obsession, Breaking Bad, with a stop at Walter White’s house:

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Apparently the owner of the house is not fond of its TV-generated fame. According to various reviews (including on Trip Advisor), she sits on a folding chair in her garage and yells at people who take pictures. The chair in the garage was empty when we visited, and we stayed a respectful distance away while taking pictures, so we managed to avoid any confrontations.

After that brief detour, we decided to drive on to Grants. Grants is a small town on I40 near the Arizona border. There are quite a few things to do in Grants, but even after a good night’s sleep, we were too tired and too ready to go home to do very much. So, we limited ourselves to one attraction: El Malpais National Monument. El Malpais is best known for volcanic features–a lava flow, lava tubes, and a cinder cone–but we spent most of our time on the sandstone bluffs right off the main road through the park. The ranger I chatted with told me it’s usually windy on the bluffs, but the morning we visited was almost perfectly still.

We spent quite a bit of time out on the rocks, taking in the view, the colors, the textures, and the stillness. 2019-12-30 11.30.52.jpg

Pools of ice in the rocks made for an almost eerie effect:

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This is one of my favorites: wind-sculpted rock, ice pools… just so perfect.

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Who let these two weirdos in?

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I have no idea how a tree can grow in nothing more than a crevice in a rock. Junipers are tough!

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And finally: a USGS marker from 1949, hammered into the rock.

US Geological Survey marker, 1949

For me, travel is all about serendipity and surprise: discovering the small town I never knew existed (because a snow storm stranded us there), sitting on a sandstone bluff on a cool, still winter morning, talking with a ranger whose life has taken him all over the Western US, or maybe watching the sun set over a moonscape in a missile range. Whether you travel ten minutes on foot or ten hours on a plane, stop and experience the details and the ambiance. Notice the USGS marker hammered into the rock. Sit on the bluff on a still morning and listen to the sounds of the desert. Smell the smells, touch the textures, taste the food and the air. Let the sense of a place fill you. If you can do those things, even a walk around the block can be magical.

We returned to Flagstaff later that day, December 30, tired but refreshed. 2019 was a hard year for us, and 2020 will have (and has already had) its challenges. Those few days wandering in the desert helped fill the well, helped restore our strength and perspective to face each new challenge and to live each new moment to the fullest.

A very belated Happy New Year! May you find rest and restoration wherever you can.

Winter Break road trip episode 4: Serendipity in Carrizozo

2019-12-29 10.10.13.jpgAt the end of the last episode, Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM, your intrepid blogger had spent the day getting her picture taken with little green men and stuffing her face with Mexican food (note: your intrepid blogger spends lots of time stuffing her face with Mexican food).

We left Roswell about an hour before dark, a fact which shall become important momentarily, headed in the general direction of Albuquerque. Let’s drive awhile, we said. We aren’t tired, we don’t have reservations, let’s see how far we get. Note: if someone says this to you when you’re in the middle of the desert at dusk, kill them, take the wheel, and spend the night at the nearest motel. If you don’t, you might just find yourself sliding down a two-lane highway, in the dark, in a freak snowstorm, in a car without snow tires or chains, in a remote section of New Mexico populated by little more than oryx and buzzards. Note: ask not for whom the buzzard circles; it circles for thee.

But I digress.

We slid into Carrizozo–literally–and got the last room in what appeared to be the only motel in town. It was dark and cold and snowy, so we huddled up for warmth and contemplated being stranded in a tiny New Mexican town for who-knew-how-long until the snow melted. I’m pretty sure the phrase, “zombie apocalypse,” entered the conversation at least twice. But–spoiler alert–we were not eaten by zombies. We weren’t even snowed in. Instead, my husband got to experience the wonderful serendipity that sometimes happens when you end up somewhere unexpected.

The aforementioned husband is a big Denzel Washington fan, and one of his favorite Denzel movies is The Book of Eli. In fact, he’d just watched it the night before our impromptu stop in Carrizozo. I, good librarian that I am, decided to read the Wikipedia entry for Carrizozo while we were stuck there. Wanna guess what movie was filmed in Carrizozo? If you said, The Book of Eli… ding ding ding! We have a winner.

So the next morning, we drove just about every street in town, while the husband took pictures and exclaimed over each place that appears in the movie. Not having seen The Book of Eli, I just took pictures:

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Looks like a good setting for a zombie apocalypse, no?

Just outside of town, we got to enjoy the contrast inherent in a snow-covered desert:

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I hope you’ll join me once more for the last leg of our journey, in which the husband gets to visit another entertainment landmark–Walter White’s house–and I sit on a cliffside on a cold winter morning.

Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM

2019-12-28 14.58.32_cropped.jpgAt the end of the second episode, Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns, your intrepid blogger had survived a trip 800 feet beneath the surface of the earth. Your intrepid blogger emerged like Persephone in the spring to continue her desert odyssey with a search for alien life forms. Translated from pompous-ese (the native tongue of academics like me), hubs and I drove from Carlsbad to Roswell.

For those of you who don’t watch cheesy shows about UFOs, Roswell is the site of a rather famous crash. What crashed, you ask? According to the US Air Force, a weather balloon. But spoiler alert: you don’t see little statues of weather balloons in Roswell. Instead, you see these:


Bonus points if you can pick out which one of those beings is the alien.

Whether or not they actually crash landed outside Roswell back in 1947, those little green men have been mighty good for the Roswellian economy. You can’t walk ten feet in downtown Roswell without tripping over at least one of ‘em.

Hard to get in your daily word count when the tourists won’t stop staring at you.

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If Baby Yoda were made from old tires…

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Payday! Time to get some parts to fix the hyperdrive…

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And… I got nuthin’. Someone wanna caption this?

Even the city itself has embraced the town’s extraterrestrial legacy. Behold the lamp posts, complete with Santa hats for Christmas:

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So did aliens really crash land outside Roswell back in the 1940s? No clue. But if they did, they could make a fortune taking selfies with tourists.

Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns

2019-12-27 17.06.52.jpgAt the end of the first episode, Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands, your intrepid blogger had survived a minor dust storm, depressing country music (is there any other kind?), and a drive across a missile range. Yeah, your intrepid blogger knows how to take a vacation.

After spending an uneventful night in Alamogordo (is there such a thing as an eventful night in Alamogordo? Well, maybe – depending on what’s being tested at the missile range), we drove over the mountains and through the desert to grandma’s house Carlsbad Caverns.

Cloudcroft, NM: Cloudcroft is a cute mountain village at over 8000′ elevation. It was also a convenient bathroom stop after we’d overcaffeinated in Alamogordo. We stopped at the Dusty Boots Cafe, where we were “welcomed” by the following:

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I have a snarky sense of humor, and I’m not easily deterred when my bladder is full, so in we went. Inside we found clean bathrooms, friendly staff–and the owner’s collection of mammy jars. My husband and I are as white as the snow currently piled up on my driveway, and we were cringing. Pro tip for restaurant owners: décor is for making *all* of your customers feel welcome, not for advertising your racism.

Carlsbad Caverns: If you haven’t been to Carlsbad Caverns, go. Go now. Seriously, go. It is the most spectacular cave I’ve ever visited, and I’ve visited quite a few. I’ve included a few pictures below, but as a rule, pictures taken inside caves really don’t do justice to the formations or to the overall experience of being 800 feet underground.

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Underground pool

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Formation reflected in another underground pool

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Your intrepid (and blurry) blogger on a trail 800 feet underground

We got to the cavern later than planned and managed to snag tickets on the last tour of the day. We emerged from the magical underworld at sunset.

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Join me later this week for episode 3, in which your intrepid blogger goes alien hunting in Roswell. Spoiler alert: the only thing that got probed was my wallet.

Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands

White Sands, New Mexico, at sunset

It’s Winter Break for most of us academics in the US. Work is quiet, lots of holidays, so it’s the perfect time to:

  1. Get caught up on work.
  2. Get lots of writing done.
  3. Catch up on house chores, maybe clean some closets.
  4. Cook and freeze some meals for next semester.
  5. Say to hell with responsibilities and take a road trip!

Guess which option the hubs and I chose?

I’m writing this on Sunday morning from an old motel in the booming metropolis of Carrizozo, New Mexico (population 996 according to this Wikipedia article). I don’t have any pictures of Carrizozo yet, because we skidded into town (almost literally) in the middle of a snowstorm after dark last night.

What I do have are pictures from the previous days of our adventures, which I’ll break up into multiple posts.

Day 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix

Our first order of business was to drop our son in Phoenix to catch a flight for his Winter Break trip. I don’t have pictures from this leg, because this is a trip we make about 6 times per year for various reasons, so it’s not very interesting to us anymore. What made it interesting this time was 1) some dicey driving leaving Flagstaff on a slick, snowy freeway, and 2) some dude who decided it would be a good idea to drive north on the southbound side of I17. I’d lay you very good odds alcohol was involved in that decision.

Day 2: Phoenix to White Sands

Thursday we drove—and drove, and drove, and drove–across what felt like an endless expanse of desert. Rocks! Cactus! Dust storms! It was a thrill, I tell ya.

Lordsburg, NM: We drove through a mild dust storm just over the New Mexico border and decided to stop in Lordsburg for a late breakfast. All was well except for the incredibly depressing old school country music playing on the speakers… in the women’s restroom. Like, I’m sorry your wife left you with hungry children and crops to harvest, but I’m just trying to pee. I don’t have any pictures of Lordsburg, because the musical tales of woe sapped my will to live.

Rockhound State Park, NM: We were lured here with the promise of finding jasper and thundereggs. No such luck, but we had a nice hike on a rocky, cactus-studded hillside.

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Our primary destination was White Sands National Monument, a collection of gypsum dunes inside the White Sands Missile Range. Yes, children, we went on vacation in a missile range, because we know how to party.

We arrived just before sunset, which made for some lovely conditions for picture-taking.

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We spent the night in Alamogordo before heading south through more endless desert to Carlsbad Caverns. But that’s a topic for my next post.

Is anyone else celebrating the holidays by wandering around in the desert like the Old Testament Israelites? Just hubs and me then? OK.

Feel free to share your own wanderings (or holiday dramas or whatever else is on your mind this time of year) in the comments.