Pictures of Rocks--the Meander Continues

May 01, 2017

Third and final installment of road trip adventures (see part one here, and part two here).

In addition to the striking scenery, good food, and precious hours spent with a friend, one of the best things about my recent trip was the complete break in routine. Routines can become ruts, where life sort of runs on automatic pilot and I don’t think about what I’m doing. After coming home, I have the choice of picking up my previous routines… or not. That’s one of the things I’m still figuring out, two weeks into my return. I feel like I need to change up how I operate.

But I digress.

Before I continue with the travelogue, I have to share with you the Best. Breakfast. Ever.  We ate at Crema in Cottonwood, Arizona both mornings we were in town. If you’re in the area, do not miss it. (No affiliation.)

Crepes with fresh berries and marscapone cheese

Egg sandwich with arugula and sriracha aioli

After fueling up at Crema, we waddled to our car where we took off for further exploration, including: 

The cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle were home to the Southern Sinagua, and were occupied until the 1400s. Montezuma Castle is one of the best-preserved historic structures of the Southwest. It rises 100 feet above the valley, and consists of five stories and 20 rooms. Early American settlers assumed it was Aztec in origin, so they named it after Montezuma. We walked an easy paved loop trail past the cliff dwellings, down to the river, and back to the visitor’s center.

After the Castle, we stopped by Montezuma Well right at the end of the day, and what a lovely spot it turned out to be! The Well is fed by springs, and more than 1.5 million gallons of water flow into it every day.  The water eventually flows into an irrigation ditch, which has sections that date back over 1,000 years. The Southern Sinagua used water from this well to irrigate crops, and the residents of Rimrock, Arizona currently use it for gardens and livestock. There’s a pretty stiff climb up a hill that leads you to this:

We also climbed down to the water level of the well, and followed a trail along where the water flows out of it. 

In a previous post, I promised striking rock formations, and here they are:

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, near Sedona, Arizona. We stopped here briefly before sunset, dinner, and heading back to our hotel for the night.

The last place I’ll take you on this road trip is also one of my favorites: Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend is near the Grand Canyon, but not technically part of it. You can take an aerial or land tour, but you can also park and walk to the rim for free. Once there, look down 1,000 feet to the Colorado River as it winds around a 270-degree, horseshoe-shaped bend. This is known as an entrenched meander. Isn’t that a wonderful name?

We visited Horseshoe Bend twice, hoping for some good sunset photos, but it was too hazy each time. That didn’t matter—with or without sunset, Horseshoe Bend is photogenic, and the people watching was also entertaining. Stressed-out parents trying to keep their kids safe but still allow them to see and photograph the scene, couples cautiously creeping to the edge of the canyon to take selfies (or foolhardily marching up to the edge), Kerri trying for the perfect shot without losing her camera and tripod into the abyss. Once I snapped my photos, I sat and soaked up the scene while she experimented with settings and tripod placement, letting my eyes wander over the landscape, feeling the slight breeze on my face.

Scenery around Horseshoe Bend

Yes, we were this close to the edge
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little jaunt into Arizona and New Mexico. It’s not always a pleasure to hear about someone else’s adventures when what you really want is to have your own! (Fair warning: there will probably be at least one future Field Trip Friday post based in the Southwest!)

What is your next adventure?


What to Pack For Adventure

April 07, 2017

I’m getting ready for an adventure! Tomorrow I take off to New Mexico and Arizona for another road trip with my friend Kerri. (Read about 2016’s Florida road trip adventures starting here.) 

Along with my clothes, books, camera, sketchbook, and journal, I’m preparing for this adventure by “packing”:
  • Anticipation—looking forward to my trip boosts my happiness starting weeks in advance.
  • Openness—to new experiences, foods, etc.
  • Curiosity—my chance to learn about a different area of the US.
  • Patience—because you know there will be challenges.
  • Sense of humor—see above!
  • Communication skills—even though Kerri and I travel well together, it’s always good to remember to listen, as well as to speak up when there’s something I want to do (or not do).

It’s likely that I can buy any physical item left behind, but if I leave behind any of these attitudes, my trip will surely be the worse for it.

When adventure comes calling, will you be ready? How do you prepare for adventure?

I’ll be packing these essential items for an even bigger adventure this summer: ITMR Trip to England! There are still a few spots available if you’d like to come, too!

Field Trip Friday

Field Trip Friday: Spice, Spice, Baby

September 09, 2016

I’m a practical cook by necessity. I don’t love cooking, but I do love fresh, homemade, relatively healthy food. Naturally, now and then I get utterly sick of cooking and need either a break or a new source of inspiration.  So when my friend Marianne suggested a trip to Penzeys Spices in Sarasota, FL, I jumped at the chance. Our excuse, if one was needed, was the need to buy a wedding gift for the daughter of a mutual friend.

Marianne was familiar with Penzeys through her in-laws, but she hadn’t been to the store herself. We took our time strolling through the displays of everything from adobo seasoning to zatar (“a Middle-Eastern tabletop blend”). Penzeys had vanilla beans, and freeze dried shallots, and special herb blends for every possible cuisine you could name. Each one had a jar for sniffing and we sniffed. We made two passes through the store, first to choose spices for a gift box for Amanda, then to choose spices for ourselves. I saw many that I wanted to try, but I limited myself to five, including Sicilian Salad Seasoning, Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave. Chicken and Fish Seasoning, and minced ginger. With my purchase, they gave me a slim book filled with product information and recipes. I’m already making a list of more items I want to try. 

Penzeys (no affiliation) might have a store near you. According to the list in their book, they have 66 stores in 28 states, as well as mail/online ordering.

Sometimes a field trip is all about exploring, sometimes it’s a treat, and sometimes I look for inspiration to send me on toward my goals. It’s a lot to ask of a few spices, but I hope they’ll help change cooking from drudgery back into a simple pleasure.

Do you need inspiration? Where could you find some?

Dorianne Laux

What We Don't Say

May 18, 2016

Photo courtesy Randy Storey

Introduction by Ted Kooser: After my mother died, her best friend told me that they were so close that they could sit together in a room for an hour and neither felt she had to say a word. Here's a fine poem by Dorianne Laux, about that kind of silence. Her most recent book is The Book of Men (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012) and she lives in North Carolina.

Enough Music

Sometimes, when we're on a long drive,
and we've talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it's what we don't say
that saves us.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©1994 by Dorianne Laux, “Enough Music,” (What We Carry, BOA Editions, 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Dorianne Laux and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Ernest Hemingway

The Road Trip Continues...

April 18, 2016

When last we left our heroines, they were meandering through the Everglades

We rejoin them as make their way to their final destination, Key West. 

We hoped to see some Key deer on our trip, but when we arrived in Big Pine Key, the National Key Deer Refuge was closed for the day. Luckily for us, the Blue Hole (an abandoned rock quarry filled with water—the only fresh water lake in the Keys), which is part of the refuge, was accessible from the roadside. Jackpot! As soon as we got out of the car, we saw a Key deer foraging along the path. Eventually, she was joined by two others. Obligingly, they kept close to the paths and we were able to quietly follow them around snapping photos.

The Key deer, which is endangered, is the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer. It measures between 24 and 32 inches at the shoulder, and weighs between 45 and 80 pounds.  Seventy-five percent of Key deer live on No Name Key and Big Pine Key, according to the National Key Deer Refuge website. The refuge was established on Big Pine Key in 1957.  (To learn more about Key deer, click here or here.) 

What lovely little creatures they are:

After leaving the deer behind, we arrived in Key West just in time to park and watch the sunset…right next door to Mallory Square:

The next morning, we packed our one full day in Key West with walking, eating, and taking pictures. We’re wild like that.

Ernest Hemingway’s house:

Side view

Writing room
One of the Hemingway house cats holding court:

The Key West lighthouse:

One of the best things I’ve ever eaten—a goat cheese and walnut crepe, at Banana Cafe:

And then, oh then, the best destination of all: The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. We both lost our minds a little bit in this tiny gem of a place, between the butterflies flitting everywhere, the button quail at our feet, the flamingos flapping and calling (mating season), and the bright birds high in the trees. We stayed for at least two and a half hours, until they threw us out at closing time, in fact. If you go to Key West, this place is well worth a visit. (Two-dollar off discount coupons are readily available, and the gift shop here is something special, too.) Here are only a few of the photos I took:

After we staggered out of the Butterfly Conservancy, we wandered to the Southernmost Point marker:

and then all the way back to Mallory Square for dinner and one last sunset:

Shot with my phone after my camera battery died!
The next morning, we packed up and drove home. And that, my friends, brings our road trip saga to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of some of the simple pleasures and everyday adventures you can find while road tripping in Florida. Thanks for letting me relive our adventures as I shared them with you!

Do you have any road trip adventures planned this spring or summer?

Everyday adventures

Meandering Through the Everglades

April 15, 2016

Anhinga in Shark Valley
Without being able to put into words why—other than “I want to see this before it’s gone”—I’ve wanted to visit the Florida Everglades for years. I’m ashamed to admit that before I went I knew virtually nothing about it. I imagined a kind of giant swamp, filled with mosquitoes, alligators and pythons.  Happily, what I found instead was a place with its own quiet beauty—a beauty that is more than skin deep. What I was most struck by was the intricate, often invisible, interconnection of life in the Everglades: plants, birds, animals, insects—and ultimately humans—so dependent on each other. And because it’s so interconnected, it’s also exceptionally sensitive and fragile. Threats to the health and survival of the Everglades include runoff of fertilizers as well as other types of pollution from encroaching urban areas, and the invasion of exotic/non-native plants and animals.

Just one of the many gators we saw
A little history: The Everglades once covered nearly three million acres, stretching from just below Orlando, through Lake Okeechobee, all the way to the very tip of the peninsula, as well as east and west towards both coasts. However, it was not always valued, or even understood. In the early 1900s, even conservationists felt that the dredging of the Everglades was the “smart, progressive thing to do.” The wetlands and marshes were seen as worthless, and many areas were dredged, drained, and diked to make way for agriculture and development. (One governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, was elected after running on a platform that included promising to drain the Everglades.)

Baby gators--surprisingly cute!
The Everglades became a national park in December of 1947. According the National Park Service website, “For the first time in American history, a large tract of wilderness was permanently protected not for its scenic value, but for the benefit of the unique diversity of life it sustained. The mosaic of habitats found within the Greater Everglades Ecosystem supports an assemblage of plant and animal species not found elsewhere on the planet.” The park is approximately 1.5 million acres, but the Greater Everglades Ecosystem is much larger than the national park itself.

A view from the 65-foot Shark Valley observation tower
Kerri and I took parts of two days to explore, and could easily have spent much more time there. The park is huge, and there are many ways to see it: scenic drives, hiking, biking, canoeing, boat tours, and naturalist-led guided tram tours. I highly recommend the tram tour at the Shark Valley Visitor’s Center. I took most of the photos in this post while on this tour. You can bike or hike the 15-mile loop the tram takes if you prefer, but I learned a lot from the guide. (We also took an airboat tour, but it wasn’t nearly as informative as the tram tour.) Some things I learned:

Seven million people (one out of every three Floridians) rely on the Everglades for water.

The Everglades is not a swamp, but a very slow-moving river. It flows at the speed of about 100 feet per day (contrast that with the Mississippi, which at its headwaters, flows at an average speed of 1.2 miles per hour). Talk about meandering.

View from the airboat
Alligator approaching the airboat
The Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.


Purple gallinule
Everglades National Park is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest designated wilderness in the southeast, and the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America.

Cormorant on the Anhinga Trail
It’s the only place in the world where the American Alligator and American Crocodile coexist.

Kerri at Eco Pond--the only place we battled mosquitoes
We agreed that the more we learn about natural places like the Everglades, the more questions we have, and the more we want to learn. For me, that’s one of the happiest, most important benefits of travel: discovery and the urge to know more. 

A new friend--photo courtesy Kerri Dowd
Thank you for reading installment two of Kerri and Kathy’s road trip. I hope you’ll return next week for our further adventures—we’re bound for the Florida Keys!

For more information on the Everglades:

The Everglades: River of Grass, Marjory Stoneman Douglas