Archive for March, 2012

14 hours on a train can be worth it when you have views like this.

The twigster,


PS: Happy Spring!

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The PAC Tour crew pulled up to Kartchner Caverns in Arizona and navigated the sea of asphalt in order to find the perfect shaded spot for our cruise boat of a vehicle. Once the awning was down, and bike racks were set out, Susan dismissed Parker and I from lunch duty and handed us two tickets for a tour of Kartchner Caverns. We ambled on over to meet the tour guide, an employee of the Arizona State Parks, and the rest of our group. The tour guide greeted us briefly and started to etch out the rules. No cell phones. No photography. No touching the formations. No backpacks. Great, I thought, all in the protection of the cave.

With that out of the way, our tour guide told us to load onto an extended golf cart. Considering the distance was equivalent to about three city blocks, I was puzzled, that we were driven to the cavern’s mouth. The entrance proceeded with a misty shower that glazed over us in an effort to prevent any lint or dead skin from escaping us and entering the caverns’ ecosystem. I was impressed. They really went through extra effort to preserve this cave. Finally, we were ready to enter.

The first thing I noticed was that walkways, wide concrete walkways, wound throughout the cave. As a group, we followed the tour guide down these twisting paths as she explained cavern formations by likening them to the types of food they resemble. Once we hit all major food groups, we took a seat for a show of a lifetime. Seated in an abyss of darkness, with the hit of a button, the tour guide transformed the cavern into a Vegas light show. Red, yellow, blue, and purple lights danced across a giant stalagmite as world music reverberated throughout the cave. I sat dumbfounded.  Nothing beats the finale, of an educational experience, I suppose.

The light of day made me question, was I just at Disney World or in a natural ecosystem?


With PAC Tour over, we got moving. An overnight train from Tucson brought us to Los Angeles, where another train then took us to Ventura, California. The ferry to Santa Cruz Island wasn’t until the following day so we took some time to load up a shopping cart of instant cous -cous, Uncle Ben’s rice, avocados, and French bread in preparation for our week of backcountry camping. Laden with our purchases, we headed over to the RV Park where we set up camp to carry out night with the whir of nearby freeway serenading us to sleep.

Bright and early the next morning, I indulged myself with a warm shower, knowing there wouldn’t be any showering for the next few days. Clean and ready to be dirtied, we made our way to the harbor to begin the final leg of our journey to the Channel Islands. Upon setting foot on the boat, I was reminded of my seasickness. Luckily, I wasn’t able to focus on that long since I was staring at a pod of orcas swimming and dancing in the water nearby. With a big dive down to the sea floor, and the distraction gone, I began reviewing all the important things in my pack. Toilet paper. Gas. Leatherwoman. Sleeping bag. Hot sauce. I was ready.

As prepared as we were with our gear, we hadn’t had much time to learn about the geography of the island, its history, or the campsite. We knew the basics. We knew we were hiking in our supply of water and well, hiking in. At the dock, we both strapped on our packs, grabbed a map, and began a steep ascent. Per usual, my pack was PACKED. I was hiking with probably 50 pounds on my bike, and mostly climbing. I allowed myself breaks, but it was an arduous hike to the campsite. Uphill.

Arrival to the campsite revealed that the hike was worth the panting. There wasn’t a soul in sight, except for the island foxes that visited daily. Once the morning fog rolled out, the sun burnt away the clouds, and my cup of tea was finished, we spent the days hiking around the island. Grabbing invasive fennel, we entertained ourselves with sporadic sword fights, as the blue scrub jay chirped around us.  At night, we fell asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing and seals barking. The canopy of stars served as the perfect nightlight.


I offer these recent encounters with the natural world, to point out the difference between the two. The tour of the Caverns was pre-packaged. The tour was an hour, the speech was rehearsed, the path had to be followed. We didn’t need take off our sweaters to confront the issue of the temperature change upon entrance, because we had already been informed to shed layers before entering. My point here is that we were, simply put, led. I did not experience anything that the tour didn’t intend for me to experience and I wasn’t prompted to formulate any thoughts of my own about the cave, because I was told them.

Instead of a pre-packaged experience, my time in the Channel Islands was completely organic. I figured out for myself just how steep the climbs were up the sandstone rocks and how much the temperature drops at night without a cloud cover. I hiked my own trails and formulated my opinions about the beauty and destruction surrounding me while lying on a hill with the sun’s warmth on my face. This backpacking week was full of feelings, both sensory and mental, feelings which allow us to establish a connection to our experience.

Environmental education, like the tour of the caverns, has the ability to evoke these feelings I speak of.  The inducement of these feelings is a building block towards understanding and appreciating the natural world. Remember that time you played on the beach and spent the whole day digging in the sand to build that epic sandcastle? Feeling those grains of sand between your fingers is enough to make you want to protect that beach, to preserve that memory. So here is my call for people to experience the natural world, naturally. Don’t let the forests, the beach, the caves become Disney World – pre-packaged and devoid of real bonds. We are a part of the natural world too, experience what its like to be a part of it. For yourself.

The twigster,


PS: Made it to San Francisco!

PPS: I will put up pictures of the island foxes ASAP!

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Arizona is the place to be if you want some sun. Here are some highlights from a few places I visited.

Bisbee, AZ: 90 miles southeast of Tucson, this little city is full of charm. An old mining town, Bisbee has developed into a vibrant artist community. I enjoyed walking the winding streets of the town, popping into antique stores and jewelry shops. If you ever find yourself in Bisbee, I recommend staying at the Copper Queen Hotel, grabbing some drinks at the Grand Hotel Saloon and enjoying a delicious vegan dinner at POCO Restaurant.




Tucson, AZ: We were always traveling through Tucson on the weekends so I was able to see a fair bit of the city’s nightlife. 4th Avenue, which is in close proximity to the University of Arizona, was always teeming with action. We saw some great live music at Hotel Congress, a smaller venue with an outdoor seating area that gives you a chance to interact with locals. Before catching a show, be sure to stop into the restaurant, Pasco. You won’t be disappointed with a Father Kino cocktail. Yummy.


Sonoita, AZ: Rolling grasslands make Sonoita a peaceful place to rest after touring the nearby vineyards of Elgin, AZ. I had the pleasure of staying at La Hacienda de Sonoita. Usually I am not too keen on staying at bed and breakfasts, but this experience may have changed my mind. Guests’ rooms are detached from the main space, giving you lots of privacy. The B&B maintains its homey feel, however, with the delicious home-cooked breakfast served by the owners. Imagine the tastiness of French toast croissants accompanied by fresh fruit, granola, and Greek yogurt. Add the two dogs running around in the yard, and you have yourself a home away from home.



Tubac, AZ: I passed through Tubac quickly, with only an hour to take in all that the town has to offer. That surely wasn’t enough time. Another artist community, Tubac has lots of galleries and shops with handcrafted items. Only about a 40 minute drive from Tucson, Tubac is worth the trip. Check out some of the public art in Tubac.



The twigster,

PS: I apologize if this post isn’t formatted too nicely. I am writing and loading photos from an iPhone. Gets a little tricky.

PPS: Here is one of my favorite sights to see in Arizona. Look at those donkeys!


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Parker and I took a break from our lunch prep duties and went for a lovely walk in the foothills of the Coronado National Monument mountains of Arizona. Along the way we collected the dried flora we saw along the roadside and created this collaborative bouquet.

The twigster,

PS: How cute is that desert doggie! Not as cute as my Milano posing with a postcard at home, duh.




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Another medical clearance road bump led to an afternoon of cycling on a very bumpy road. The other day, I received an email from the Peace Corps stating that I was missing blood work. Seeing as how I had checked, double-checked, and triple-checked my medical forms, there was no way I thought this could be a possibility. A follow up call with the Screening Nurse for the Peace Corps did indeed confirm that my doctor had ordered a wrong test. Well huh, I am in Arizona, work pretty much everyday, and have no wheels of my own for transport.

What’s a girl to do? She does everything possible to get ‘er done in the timeliest manner possible. I didn’t want to delay this application process anymore, especially considering this whole shebang began in September. So I spoke to my boss, and we figured out a game plan. She would drop me off in Green Valley, Arizona, a retirement town that, due to its silver-haired audience, has plenty of medical facilities available. After my blood work was complete I would then bike back to Tucson, PAC Tour’s final destination for the day. Great plan, except for the whole biking 25 miles thing.

Once my blood work was done, Parker and I stopped at a Mexican restaurant to fuel up for our bike ride. I made sure to eat very slowly as I was attempting to delay the inevitable bike ride back. I knew this was a sink or swim ride. I was getting on Old Nogales highway – the whole way back. After I purchased a fake tattoo for 50 cents from a vending machine meant to entertain 10 year olds, and sucked at the last driblet of my soda, I could delay no more. I put on my helmet and off we went. I kept my focus ahead of me and attempted to ignore the semi-trucks zipping by me at over 50 mph.

The intense headwind did not help much with getting the deed done quickly. I could average a 15 mph pace, not very fast at all, but this headwind slowed me down to a slothful pace of about 10 mph. Add the crossing of the interstate and the sight of two dead and bloated cows on the side of the road, and you can probably imagine the state of my nerves. My solution, count down the miles. Every mile marker we hit, one of us would scream out the number of remaining miles, en español. Imagine my contentment when we were down to cinco, and then the glorious uno. Pulling into the hotel, I really hoped this was the last attempt to gain medical clearance.

The twigster,


PS: I found out today that I am medically cleared for the Peace Corps! This has been quite a long stage in the process, now all I can do is wait…

PPS: Read more about my medical clearance process here.



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The twigster,


PS: Don’t you just want to lie in a field of these flowers?

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At every rest stop, while arranging the smorgasbord of cookies, potato chips and granola bars, a cyclist would ask, “When are you going to start riding?” A fan of cruising at a nice leisurely pace and terrified of biking on highways, I kept promising that I would start the following day. Apparently, the cycling world is inhabited by very committed and passionate people, who want to share their infatuation with the sport. Needless to say, the pestering never ceased. Finally, one day at lunch, I decided to hop on that most uncomfortable saddle. I strapped on my helmet and rode on slowly but surely as 60 year olds zoomed by me, always with an encouraging smile of course. I had to stop about every 7 miles for a butt stretch, but I did indeed ride the 25 miles in from the lunch stop to the hotel. The nudging stopped, but the burning began. I picked a section with a massive mountain climb for my inaugural cycle. My poor bum.

The twigster,


PS: Cycling really is a beautiful way to see the world. Interested? Check out PAC Tour.



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