Hunts Mesa, Monument Valley et al

Hunts Mesa. A destination, an experience, a vista that will live with me the rest of my years. I’ve been coming to Arizona for 40 plus years, and spending time in the National Parks and accessible tribal lands located within a days drive from the Phoenix Valley have been on my bucket list all those years. Recently I finally made the four hour road excursion north to take in the sights of Secret Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Monument Valley where Hunts Mesa rules over the valley below, showcasing many more monuments than what you see at ground level.

Page sits just south of the Arizona/Utah border, near the shores of Lake Powell, and was base camp for the next several days. It is a good central location with so much to see and do within a couple of hours drive in just about every direction. This historic little town sits northeast of the Grand Canyon, with easy access to the Colorado River for some river rafting via Lee’s Ferry.

The view from the hotel in Page looking towards Lee’s Ferry and the Colorado River.

Because of the proximity to Page I was able to experience in 24 hours:

Secret Canyon – one of the areas slot canyons. It has an opening on both ends of the canyon, and you can also climb to the top of the canyon to take in a birds-eye view of the wavy slots from above. Weaving in and out of these wavy sandstone walls gives you an appreciation for the power of water as it swirls in these tight areas and has for centuries, leaving perfectly aligned ribbings along each orange-ish/pink-ish sandstone wall. The flood waters still come fast and hard from far upstream and can catch you unaware as you sit in these canyons with clear blue skies above. This slot canyon may be smaller than the famed Antelope Canyon, but it allows you access to ‘people free’ photos with a secluded 2 /12 tour with 15 people or less. Very intimate experience with a tribal guide who shared stories of his youth growing up in these canyons, and great photo tips.

Secret Canyon slot canyon – a maze of tight wavy curved sandstone walls.

Secret Canyon – no this is not a painting or highly photo-shopped. Handy work courtesy of Mother Nature inside Secret Canyon slot canyon.

Lake Powell, and all of it’s watery arm extensions, is an amazing location to catch the setting sun, lighting up a backdrop of multi-colored rock formations and inky blue pools of water with their rugged shorelines. Photographing the sunset is a popular evening activity with parking lots full of tri-pods and eager shutterbugs trying to capture the perfect natural lighting on the perfect natural setting. One of the countries largest man-made reservoirs, one could spend days discovering the many hidden gems of Lake Powell and is a must return for me.

A high vantage view of Lake Powell as the sun was setting over the marina.

Boat launch into Lake Powell at Wahweap Marina near Page.

Horseshoe Bend trailhead is a 5 mile drive from Page. The 3/4 mile easy hike to the edge of yet another amazing feature created by centuries of water powering it’s way through bedrock to create  this horseshoe shaped bend in the Colorado River. The contrast of multiple blue hues of the water weaving through the multiple shades of orange bedrock is breathtaking. So are the vistas all along this canyon, but with multiple deaths a year in the area from people getting too bold to experience the perfect view of looking over the edge of the rim a railing was recently installed above the bend to give security to the nearly 2 million annual visitors.

Horseshoe Bend photographed with a fish-eye lens showcasing all the amazing colors at sunrise.

The next day, after unfortunately coming across a horrific bus/SUV accident on Highway 89, where 3 people were airlifted to area hospitals, we were forced to change our plans of going to Bryce Canyon and ended up at a very unique little spot about 30 miles west of Page:

The Toad Stools sit at the southern edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Park with an easily accessible trailhead right off the highway. These multi-colored formations – from bright white, to a golden cream, to rustic orange – are mind boggling in how large boulders teeter atop a pointy sandstone spire that look ready to crumble. Even though they’ve been this way for centuries how do they not topple over?? I sure don’t want to be under one whenever that does happen! The 1.8 mile hike is easy, and generally not over crowded – plenty of space to spread out and see all the amazing rock formations and wall art created by Mother Nature herself.

Toad Stool – cream colored massive sandstone walls provide a backdrop to orange toad stools.

Finally made it to Bryce Canyon the next day – after a 2 1/2 hour drive northwest of Page along a two-lane windy road:

Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation of almost 9000 feet. I visited on April 5th and arrived to an amazing amount of snow. What a contrast of colors with the intense orange coloration of the rock formations dotted with thick layers of snow. It is meditative to fully absorb the aura of these cathedrals and amphitheaters of orange and cream colored spires and natural arches created by the extreme weather conditions that exist in this location. The canyon was named for a mormon homesteader, Ebenezer Bryce, in 1874. In Bryce Canyon you climb to above views of the spires, whereas in Zion National Park you drive through the low lying bases of similar formations. For this reason, Zion does not get as cold and is about 30 minutes closer to Page, which means larger crowds.

Bryce Canyon – this massive amphitheater of sandstone spires dusted with snow spreads out over miles.

A very cool natural arch, bathed in snow, at the farthest open end of Bryce Canyon.

Saturday, April 6th, 2019 – a day that will live in infamy, at least in my little world. A day I wasn’t sure I was going to live to see the end of, but when I did, I was oh so glad. The 2 1/2 hour drive from Page to Monument Valley mid-morning was non-plus. Enjoyed lunch at the The View Hotel while looking out over the world-renown Monument Valley. At 2:30 my travel companion and I met up with our native Indian guide, Toney Begay who works for Monument Valley Safari Tours. A man we would surrender the safety of our well-being to for the next 18 hours. A man who grew up in the area and has been a guide for over 40-years.

Some of the more prominent monuments basking under the crystal blue skies and blanket of white cotton candy clouds above Monument Valley.

For the next four hours we meandered along a 8-mile ‘road’, often going no more than 5-10mph, up the backside of Hunt’s Mesa, in a four-wheel-drive Suburban. I was happy to be enclosed and securely fastened by my seatbelt. The ‘road’ and I use that term loosely, wove through low desert sand dunes; up rock faces where we felt we were going to tip over backwards; along pathways that were no wider than the vehicle where we felt we were going to tip over sideways; and along drop-offs 100’s of feet on both sides of the road in one area. In these tribunal lands there are no guardrails, no barriers of any kind – one slip of the truck on a slick rock or a loose rock gives way – and it would’ve been all over.

Our roadway up the back side of Hunts Mesa to our vista point overlooking Monument Valley.

A higher vantage of the pathway we were about to embark on – with drop-offs of 100’s of feet on either side of the road.

I have always had a fear of heights, especially severe drop-offs. But I knew if I were going to get the best pictures I had to brave the ‘elements’ and sit up front. My travel partner sat in the back, often with her hands covering her eyes. Our highly experienced guide oozed with confidence, and we had no choice but to trust in him and his years of experience. During high season he makes this drive 5-7 times a week and often twice a day. He was so confident of his abilities he acted like we were out for a Sunday drive on the flatlands of Nebraska.

We took many deep breathes, and embraced the adventure that lay before us. When we arrived at our destination, we quickly understood the expression of awe when we told our slot canyon guide a few days earlier we were going to Hunts Mesa. He told us we were in for a treat of a lifetime and he was spot on!  As heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, lump-in-the-throat the trek to the top was – we felt we earned the views that now laid at our feet.

The heart stopping, mind blowing, gut churning, nerve-wracking trek was all worth it!

The whole of Monument Valley spread out before us like divas all battling for center stage to claim the crown for best in show. Each deep red rock monument has been given their own name by tribal ancestors over many centuries. It is hard to fathom this canvas of unique subjects was created by centuries of wind and water, not a pick and chisel at the hands of man. Their lines are majestic, magical, mind-bending – and nearly perfect, in their own right. I took over 600 pictures in the 18 hours we spent in the presence of such greatness.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa we stopped by our evening viewing point to see it had been overtaken by a heard of wild goats.

With no city lights for many, many miles in any direction the thick blanket of stars we experienced were bright enough to bath Monument Valley in a soft glow. Because we booked this tour on such short notice I did not have the proper equipment and knowledge to properly capture the night sky, but we were lucky enough to come across an amazing professional free-lance photographer who did capture some amazing pics that evening from the same look-out we were stationed at. Check out Ranjan Bhattacharya at rbfotoartcreations on Instagram.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa Toney asked if we were in a hurry. Thankfully we said no and were treated to more amazing sights along these sacred tribal pathways: Anasazi ruins built high up in rock faces; rock formations with a wow-factor to rival the world renown monuments we originally signed up to experience; and a hidden gem, Spider Arch, tucked deep along a dry river bed, through porcupine footprints, massive pincushion cacti – to a natural arch to rival any I have seen in person or in pictures.

There was a bit of a slick sandstone rock face we needed to ascend to take full advantage of the visual before us. Our guide Toney showed us how to navigate the rock face by traversing and to keep our bodies low to the rock. We were slip sliding all over and about to give up when I decided to risk doing a face plant and stood up and ran as fast as I could creating enough momentum to carry me up the rest of the face – only to be rewarded with one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring creations. My travel partner plays the native flute and the site of her playing in this natural amphitheater, with our native American guide lying on his back listening peacefully will be a visual that will stay with me all my days.

A short but challenging rock face we had to climb to fully experience the whole of Spider Arch.

It doesn’t get much better than to be witness to my travel companion playing her native flute for our Native American guide as he relaxes under the Spider Arch.

As we made our way back out on to the main road to head back to our vehicle, all of our anxiety from the drive up Hunts Mesa was erased by the plethora of visuals that now filled our mind, our heart and our soul. Along with a new appreciation for the Native American culture that flourishes in places like Monument Valley. Toney and his tribe are a proud people and I am honored they choose to share these amazing sites – sites I will never take advantage of, and will do all I can do support their culture and their heritage so they will continue to be open to sharing these amazing adventuresome experiences.

Check back soon for more pics in the Global Gallery from Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and all the other sites we visited.

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Happy Trails in the New Year of 2015!

After a relaxing and fun-filled holiday season, I am refreshed and re-energized for another year of blogging! Travel plans are already underway for Canada, Spain, South of France, Alaska, Montana and Cape Cod. And if I know my family, there will be more additions to that already great list of travel destinations.

According to an article in todays New York Times, What a Stronger Dollar Means for the Economy, the Euro is trading at the lowest it has in 9 years – which means a strong US dollar for travel to Europe. So there may be a need to add an extension to the list of European locals.

The start of a new year is a time to think forward, make resolutions, plan. But it is also a time to reflect on the year we recently gave closure. Revel in the highlights, learn from the lowlights, and be grateful and happy for all of the new memories made to savor in the years to come. My nephew and his girlfriend started an in person chat session at our New Year’s Even gathering asking everybody what their personal highlight of 2014 was and what their family highlight of 2014 was: my personal highlight was accomplishing the one year anniversary of my travel blog – and still going strong; my family highlight was flying my kids home to surprise their father for his 50th birthday.

For myself and my travel forays, 2014 was a year that saw me sticking closer to home. Which is something I intend to build on. All corners of the US and points in between behold scenery to rival any place outside of the US and I plan to make a concerted effort to add a few of these amazing locations to my 2015 travel bucket list.

I live within a 6 hour drive of some of the most incredible rock formations showcasing some of the most vibrant colors – swirling red and tan sands, stoic red rock, and azure blue watering holes. Inclusive of the Grand Canyon, The Wave, and the Sedona Red Rocks. So add Arizona, Utah and New Mexico to that growing travel list.

I will also take the opportunity to continue to expound on features I implemented in 2014 – i.e. monthly restaurant reviews and writings by guest bloggers. I plan to expand my ‘Favorite Author/Artist‘ section by adding links and writings of several favorite travel writers, and artists of all genres, I have begun to follow over recent years.

For now I am off to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I will share the beauty of one of the most remarkable large cities in the world – where the waters of the Pacific Ocean flow into the Salish Sea on the west end of the city and the mountains of Whistler provide a dramatic backdrop to the North.

Happy New Year and all the best to my readers for a great 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great year ahead in 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great travel year ahead in 2015!

“Top Golf” – not just for “top notch” golfers

It’s yet another sweltering day in Arizona. But even though the daily threat of monsoons brings in some humidity, this low humidity combined with temps in the low 100’s is still more bearable – to me – than 85 and high humidity in some of the mid-western states like Kansas or Minnesota.

The heat certainly has not stopped me from enjoying one of the many golf courses in the Phoenix valley: Blackstone Country Club, Peoria; Outlaw Golf Course at Desert Mountain, Cave Creek; and my home course of Firerock Country Club, Fountain Hills. My friends and I enjoy golfing this time of year probably more than any other as you have the course to yourself. We were the only tee time on the tee sheet in two of those three rounds. With no waiting for the group in front of you, fast playing partners, finding shade where we can, ample supply of cold water and cold towels – we cruise right through our rounds in comfortable fashion.

But…if you’re looking for a golf option that doesn’t throw you directly out into the elements, Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale might be for you. It’s a new triple-level outdoor target practice range. I know – outdoors, in 100+ degree weather??? With east facing hitting platforms, fans with misters, and good selection of cold drinks to quench your thirst, it is beyond bearable – it’s a blast! A girlfriend and I went at 4 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I would estimate that 2/3rd’s of the hitting bays were booked. We started out with an hour session, and figured you would need to add another hour for each two-some added to the group of players.

Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale, Arizona.

My friend showcasing her "red neck cooler!" at Top Golf. (Happy 50th!)

My friend showcasing her “red neck cooler!” at Top Golf. (Happy 50th!)

Some bays are set-up with cushy patio seating, others with table and chairs. A server comes around to take your drink and food orders. There are event rooms – that line up with two hitting bays – and would be a great way to enjoy a special celebration, or just to get a bunch of friends together. There is also a (air-conditioned) full service bar with glass windows to look out on the hitting bays. You can bring your own clubs or they have clubs you can use.

Cushy seating under the fans and misters at Top Golf.

Cushy seating under the fans and misters at Top Golf.

The concept for Top Golf came from two British brothers – hardcore golfers who wanted more out of their golf experience. To know how far they were hitting their shots and to be challenged when at a driving range to perfect their skills. Top Golf was born, and at present there are 20 Top Golf centers in the U.S. and several more in the works – three in the UK. The centers draw not only other hardcore golfers, but since 2000 when the first Top Golf Opened, nearly half of the golfers who visit Top Golf or self proclaimed non-golfers. And from what I saw during my visit to Top Golf – that number sounds about right! 🙂

With a multitude of different games to play – there is a game for everyone of all levels of golf. The games are set up on a touchscreen in each bay challenging all aspects of your golf game from chipping to eventually driving. Unfortunately no drivers on fairway woods are allowed at Top Golf at Riverwalk. The closest target is 50 yds. The furthest target is only 185 yards away, and even though the back of the net is listed at 240 yards, apparently several of the first patrons were able to hit drivers and other clubs up and over the netting and shattering car windows in vehicles parked in the neighboring parking lot of Talking Stick Casino. Apparently they are working on this issue.

The color coded targets dot the range at Top Golf. Distances are 50 yds., 90 yds., 125 yds., 150 yds. and 185 yds.

The color coded targets dot the range at Top Golf. Distances are 50 yds., 100 yds., 125 yds., 150 yds. and 185 yds.

Concave design of three levels of hitting bays at Top Golf.

Concave design of three levels of hitting bays at Top Golf.

Upon entering the center you are directed to a counter to purchase a $5 membership card – a one time sign-up, and then you are directed to a different counter to be set up in a hitting bay. A Top Golf employee, in their bright colored golf shirt, then takes you personally to your bay and runs you through the whole experience. In an hour, my friend and I hit approximately 80 shots each, playing two different styles of games, feeling competitively challenged. We will definitely return!

To find out more about Top Golf – go to:  http://topgolf.com/us/

 

 

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture

Golf: Oh the places it will take you!

The front image of my blog is of a golf ball lying inches from the hole – the closest I have come to having a hole-in-one in 42 years of trying. The image is an inspiration to keep trying. It’s the journey – not just the destination. This goes for everything in life – not just golf. As my smart-alack friends keep telling me – “…aim at the hole.” And one day that little white ball will go in.

The closest I've come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

The closest I’ve come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

Golf has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. In my family you learned to golf and ski or be very lonely while the rest of the family was hitting the long ball or shooshing down the slopes. Growing up in Minnesota was always a challenge to be an avid golfer. During the first signs of spring my three older brothers and I searched the large open fields in our small town for a patch of grass to show through in the piles of snow. We dropped our shag bag full of balls and hit balls into the snowy fields, preparing for the upcoming golf season.

My summers were spent, sun-up to sun-down at the golf course. If I couldn’t play, I was chipping and putting. While all my friends hung out at the public pool a block away perfecting their golden swimsuit tan lines, I was working on my ‘farmer’s’ tan. You could always tell a golfer at the pool. The weekends were sacred family golf time. Our family of six had two standing tee times – one on Saturday morning and the other after church on Sunday. A family bond was created that still binds my family together to this day.

As the years wore on, golf became my main sport. I played tournaments ranging from the local club championships to the USGA National Junior Girls Championship. In my junior year of high school I moved to Arizona so I could have the opportunity to play golf year round to see if that was what I wanted my life to be full-time. Instead I felt burn-out, and at age 18 I hung up my golf clubs – for about 5 years.

After that much-needed break from the game I returned with a refreshed outlook and desire to play golf – for fun. Golf had taken me to some amazing locations in my youth. But because of the tension tied up in trying to play well in the tournament that took me to these places, I never got to fully enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, golf is as much about getting to experience new places as it is in trying to play a great round of golf. Because of the years I spent as a youth working on my swing and my knowledge of the game, I have a strong foundation from which to tee it up with every time I step to the first tee. I’ve been able to hold on to hitting a long ball and keeping my handicap around a 5, but I’ve let go of getting upset with a bad shot. My frustration lasts only until the next shot instead of ruining my whole round, because I figure there are a lot worse places I could be at that given moment.

Over the years, my love for the game of golf has taken me to places that even the most ardent of non-golfers could appreciate. During the winter months in Minnesota, my brothers and I would take large sheets of tag board and design our own golf courses. If I had to do it all over again, I would have followed through on those dreams and become a golf course architect.

Instead, now I get to witness the creativity of some of the world’s top golf course developers and architects by playing golf courses like: Pebble Beach (California) with the rugged beach property that lines so many of the holes; Gleneagles (Scotland) with its deep gorse and wild grasses and naturalized setting; Interlachen (Minnesota) with its lush thick grass and towering trees that line every hole; Calusa Pines (Florida) with untouched swamplands and grasslands; Firerock (Arizona) a true desert golf experience with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Phoenix valley.

Mark Twain may have said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But he either needed an attitude adjustment on how to enjoy the game or was playing the wrong courses.

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The thick long wild grasses and gorse at Gleneagles, Scotland

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

The naturalized swampland and grasslands of Calusa Pines Golf Club, Florida

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

First and second holes of Firerock Country Club nestled into the desert landscape with the Phoenix valley and mountains off in the distance

Even though most traveling I do these days does not revolve around playing golf, most golf vacations I take do revolve around the location being appealing to the senses. If I am going to spend the better part of five hours in a specific area, it better offer me more than a just long strip of greenish grass with a tee box on one end and a 4 1/4″ hole on the other end.

Phoenix Arizona: from the rims of the surrounding mountains to the valley below

I grew up in the midwest, but spent enough time in Arizona to call it my second home. Like millions of other snowbirds that swoop down from the northern states or the frozen tundra and mountains of Canada during the winter months, my husband and I will eventually make our Arizona vacation home our permanent home upon retirement.

Why Arizona? I am often asked – mainly by people who have never been there. Understandably a good question when Arizona finds itself in the news because: of haboobs (dust storms) that can be 50 miles wide and 5,000+ feet high; high temperatures that reach 110+ for weeks on end in the summer; critters that include rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions; and cactus that have thorns sharp enough to pierce car tires.

Showing the size of the fast moving haboobs.

Showing the size of the fast-moving haboobs.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Over the years I traveled to other warm weather destinations across the country, but I always found myself being drawn back to Arizona. Coming from the hot humid summers of Minnesota, the dry arid weather of Arizona is a welcome relief. August has become my favorite time of year to be in Arizona. When temperatures rise into the triple digits, the pool becomes perfectly heated by the warm air and works as a natural cooling element for the body, allowing you to spend hours outside in those kind of temps.

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

And then there’s the golf. There are a multitude of golf meccas across the country – but generally isolated to a resort or small concentrated area of golf courses. Not many states can call themselves a golf mecca – Arizona can. I have been going to Arizona for almost 40 years, and am an avid golfer, but I have only played a small percentage of all the amazing courses available. The public courses rival some of the better private clubs in other states. The topography varies from a dry naturalized desert course to pine tree-lined mountain courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

The views from some of these courses are un-matchable. Looking back across the flat valley of Phoenix and Scottsdale, you can see for miles to the mountains across the valley. And the views on these courses are like walking through your own private zoo. On any given day I have been up close and personal with: bobcats, deer, coyotes, javelina (looks like a wild boar but is actually a large rodent) and rattlesnakes. If you respect their space, they will respect you. The only time you hear of a run in with any one of these critters is when someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like reaching into a blind area.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

And then there’s the food and the shopping and the dine-in movie theaters – which by the way all have great air conditioning to escape to during those hot summer days. Mastro’s Steakhouse has become a family favorite and a tradition. Fashion Square Mall can compete with some of the best shopping in the country being anchored by Barney’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Macys. And who could resist being served wine and dinner while kicking back in a reclining leather chair, blanket and pillow provided, to watch their favorite new release at iPic Theaters.

But it is the sunrise and the sunset that really showcase the beauty of Phoenix. The hiking in the Valley of the Sun is plentiful, giving you ample options to climb peaks allowing you vistas rarely replicated anywhere in the country or the world. Enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over Four Peaks east of Fountain Hills is tough to beat. But sipping an Arizona wine while watching the sun set over Camelback Mountain, a mountain in the shape of a sleeping camel with a praying monk perched on the camel’s nose, is matched only by the brilliant red earth tones lit up by the setting sun on the appropriately named Red Mountain at the east end of the valley.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

 

What to do: Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s western abode, Taliesan West. Check out the Desert Botantical Garden, especially when the Chihuly Exhibit is there. Sports lovers are covered: besides golf, check out any one of the professional teams or high level ASU sporting events. Hiking: Camelback Mountain for a good workout and a test of climbing skills or Pinnacle Peak for a well trodden path for an easy to moderate hike.

Where to eat: For the steak lover, a perfectly seasoned steak served on a 400 degree plate at of three Mastro’s Steakhouses ($$$$) is a solid choice. For great appetizers Wild Fish and Sapporo have a tantalizing selection ($$$). For an outdoor fine dining experience Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn is a unique and flavorful experience ($$$$).

Check out extra pictures in the Global Gallery: Arizona