Backyard Discoveries: The Shrine on Chihuahua Hill

If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.

Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.

Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.

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A couple important notes before you ascend:

  • Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
  • The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.

If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.

Pay your respects and please move around with care.

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Five Reasons to Love National Monuments

A MONUMENTAL STORY
Reasons to Love National Monuments

Many national monuments across the west are currently under fire from the federal government, but I think there are plenty of good reasons to support the continued protection of these areas, no matter what side you’re on. Here are some of mine:

  1. Monuments keep the American culture alive. National monuments (and the US’s many other protective parks) are a great way to maintain a beautiful country for ourselves and future Americans. Ours was a country built on the frontier and exploration, and national monuments play a key role in keeping that culture alive through the ages.

    Natural Arches NM, Utah (c) ABR 2017
  2. Monuments provide a long-term source of economic growth. Many of the alternative uses of monument land only provide short-term gains. Let’s take uranium mining as an example. This is a finite resource, and once it is removed, there is no way to renew its value to the communities involved. Furthermore, the land left behind is permanently (in the scope of a human lifespan) degraded (an example from Navajo lands). Alternatively, an industry like tourism does not consume a finite resource, and while it can degrade the environment in a variety of ways, these effects can be mitigated by policy and repairs are possible.

    Agua Fria NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017
  3. Monuments are a source of American pride. Did you know that the concept of national parks were developed in the United States? The system of land protection that we have has been one of our most successful legacies around the world. National monuments are a part of that, and it is something to be proud of. People travel from ALL OVER THE WORLD to see our beautiful country.

    Sunset Crater NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017
  4. Monuments protect American history. The Antiquities Act was designed to protect relics of the past, and landscapes are a part of that. Some of the best stories from our history, especially in the West, comes from the harrowing tales of women and men trying to make their way in an unforgiving and wild environment. Having the opportunity to see those landscapes as our ancestors did keeps our history alive and helps us appreciate what it took to build our country.

    Cabrillo NM, CA (c) ABR 2017
  5. Monuments provide many different services and resources to local people and visitors alike. I’m going to go back to the uranium example here (just because it is relevant to several of the western monuments). Mining provides jobs to miners, can support a community while the resource holds out, and it provides taxes as well. It is unlikely that many other services (e.g. clean water, recreation, etc.) will come from land used for this activity, and the companies selling this resource will take the lion’s share of benefits from uranium’s extraction. Monuments, on the other hand, provide jobs through tourism and management, revenue from fees, recreational opportunities, and a variety of services that support human health and happiness.
    Wupatki NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017

    If you’d like to let the government know what you think about national monuments, public comments are open until July 10th, 2017. You can comment here or through Monuments For All.

A Weekend in Bisbee: A Three-Day Itinerary for Nature and Culture in Southern AZ

Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

Day One: Travel to Bisbee

The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.

Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.

If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.

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If you have time, the Mission San Xavier Del Bac or “White Dove of the Desert” is peaceful and great cultural stop in Tucson.

Day Two: Exploring Bisbee

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Can we tell you a little secret? 7 a.m. is prime strolling time around downtown Bisbee – not much is open, but the weather is wonderful and you get to walk around before the crowds.

 

If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.

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You can a nice view of the town from either hill.

For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.

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There’s a shrine up on Chihuahua Hill that is definitely worth seeing. However, these are tributes to people’s loved ones so we cannot stress enough that the site needs to be treated with the utmost respect.

After going for a walk in the cool morning, head over to Lowell’s Bisbee Breakfast Club (http://bisbeebreakfastclub.com/locations/bisbee) for a diner experience, complete with massive portions.

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These pancakes are delicious and as big as your head – we’re not joking.

Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.

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These are our excited faces. But seriously, the mine tour is a must-see (especially if you’re a REALLY big fan of mining, or a history buff or just want to cool off.)

Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.

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ALIENS.

After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.

Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home

Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.

Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.

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In the Visitor’s Center, you can take silly photos in the replicas of cave openings that the Kartchner explorers had to squeeze through and be thankful they did all the work for you.

 

 

Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.

Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ

Prep:

  1. Reserve a place to stay.
  2. Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
  3. Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
  4. Know the weather! Stay safe.

Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:

  1. Tucson
  2. Benson
  3. Tombstone

Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.

Parking

  1. Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
  2. There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
  3. Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.

Places to Stay:

  1. Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
  2. Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
  3. Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.

Expedition South Island: Day 6 and Beyond: Driving, driving, driving… and resting in Christchurch

One last view of Oban (c) ABR 2017

The morning after my day sliding down stairs and worrying about a broken hand, I was up before the sun and out on the dock for my boat ride back to the mainland. After an hour on the cold boat, and a quick walk through some very frigid wind, I was ready to climb back into my little car.

However, after about three hours in my little car, that feeling had died off a bit. See, I had about 8 hours of driving to do to get from Bluff to Christchurch, and those hours feel so much longer here than in the US. Simply put (and the signs here will remind you of this fact) the roads in New Zealand are different. They are curvy and they are narrow, with only one lane on either side. That means that when you are tired from driving for 3+ hours, you might become more tired when a giant semi-truck turns out in front of you and you are suddenly trapped going half as fast as you’d like.

Christchirch Botanical Gardens (c) ABR 2017

Needless to say, I was exhausted when I finally pulled into my Christchurch hotel, and ready for some rest after a surprisingly stressful week (wonderful as well).

The day after I arrived in town, I moved a little closer to the city central, and took a walk down to the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, I chose a cold, windy day to walk down there, so I ended up retreating into the Conservatory. I fell in love with the rows and rows of potted plants, and the beauty of the greenhouse’s antique architecture. I even managed to find a saguaro in there, which was a nice little reminder of home.

Found me a bit of home! Saguaro! (c) ABR 2017

Getting out of the wind for a bit made me decide that walking around downtown wasn’t an option at the moment, so once I peeled out of the conservatory, I walked right over to the Canterbury museum. This particular Christchurch attraction is free, so even though I am not a huge fan of museums, I knew I didn’t have anything to lose. Turns out, the Canterbury museum is just my kind of institution, i.e. they are very good at immersive exhibits. I especially loved the exhibit on the Paua Shell House (which I had no idea what that was when I walked up), where they showed a movie about the history and story of the house that became an attraction in the southern town of Bluff when the residents started pinning polished Paua shells to their walls. It was quite an enchanting little story, and after watching the movie, it was really delightful to go into the next room and get to experience a recreation of that Kiwi landmark.

Paua Shell House recreation at the Canterbury Museum (c) ABR 2017

When the weather was better, I did get the chance to look around the Botanical gardens more. This is a great place to walk and explore; there are beautiful ponds, different groupings of plants, and even some species from my home desert.

Cool art in downtown Christchurch (c) ABR 2017

As for seeing downtown Christchurch, I did walk around a bit, but there wasn’t much to see on your own. I would definitely suggest the gardens and the museum for anyone looking for some cheap things to see, but if you want to get the most out of visiting the city itself, definitely grab a tour.

What did I see before Christchurch? The beautiful (if slippery) Steward Is!

Attempting the Summit of Pico Duarte: Part 3

PART 3: KNOWING MY LIMITS ON PICO DUARTE

Map to the top (c) ABR 2016

After a night of inventing new ways to sleep in a bunk with zero support in the middle, and a breakfast of bread and cheese cubes, the events of the prior day’s harrowing driving adventure faded fast. I wasn’t enthused about the food we had been able to bring, but I did my best to fill up. The hike up the tallest mountain the Caribbean wasn’t going to be easy, not with the accelerated itinerary we had been forced to make.

We had one day to try for the top, and I wanted to shore up as much energy as I could.

(c) ABR 2016

Martin, my hiking partner, and I finished breakfast around 5, but we ended up waiting for our guide for nearly an hour before we could leave, because our illustrious mule had escaped in the night. Perhaps he sensed the coming hike and wasn’t all that excited about it. Luckily, we didn’t have much for the lovely animal to carry, just a jug of water and our two small day packs.

(c) ABR 2016

The first part of the Cienaga route, the main trail up Pico Duarte, is fairly flat. So, we had a nice warm-up as we followed the stream up the slope, pausing only to take pictures at the little wooden walkways that served as bridges. We moved as fast as we could, anticipating the long haul that was the come. The question about whether or not I could make it to the top hung over my head.

From Los Tablones, things started to get real. The trail became increasingly steep, with the steepest incline hitting us about halfway up between La Laguna and El Cruce. I kept repeating to myself “There is no way that this is only 0.5 kms!” as I struggled up the incline. The trails on this part of the mountain had carved deep canyons into the soft soil of Pico Duarte, some taller than me. The wear of people’s feet and the tropical weather seemed to be a hard force on this place. The trees here also took on an oddly swampy quality, with moss hanging down from the tall branches as the forest shifted from tropical to temperate and the air grew colder.

(c) ABR 2016

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. We reached El Cruce, and judging by the map that’s at the top of its post, I was expecting to settle back into the same plod that carried us up from Los Tablones to La Laguna. It was tiring, but nothing that we couldn’t maintain.

(c) ABR 2016

This part of the trail was far more difficult than that ever-present map suggested, however. I don’t know if it was just that we were tired after our ascent, but those 3 km felt endless. I have to believe, even now, that whoever measured that segment was simply wrong. Maybe it was the same someone that measured the La Laguna-El Cruce segment. But it was here that the tropical forest finally fell away, leaving us in the fog, amid the temperate pines that seem so at-home on tall mountains.

(c) ABR 2016

As you may read if you look up Pico Duarte, there was a fire on the mountain in 2005 which wiped out vast swaths of the forest. For some, this made for a disappointing trip, but I found this part of the mountain (now partially regrown) to be really beautiful, despite the fact that I was exhausted. The little trees dotting fields of grasses among the tall survivors of the fire opened up a wide view of the mountainous inland. The views of the sunrise from there the next day were unbelievable.

(c) ABR 2016

Once we finally hit Aguita Fria, I cursed the sign. This was the high point before the camp where we would spend the night, and I knew right then that I wasn’t going to make the top. My feet were blistering in my boots, my legs were starting to feel weak, and my head just wasn’t in it. I knew how much further I had to go, and it just didn’t feel feasible, not with the entire hike back down the mountain waiting for me in the morning.

Bad Aguita Fria! (c) ABR 2016

So, I complained my way down to Comparticion camp, annoyed that we had to hike down after hiking up for so long. But the camp was a welcome sight. Several small, wooden cabins huddled around a fire pit. A little garden peeked out from behind a long building with a kitchen that housed wood-fed stoves. Mules relaxed in the fields that surrounded that little spot of human habitation, and when I finally dropped down to rest, a camp cat came to relax in the sun with me.

Our trusty mule (c) ABR 2016

Martin went on to the summit, although he didn’t return until the sun had nearly set. I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, but when he finally got back to camp, the look of exhaustion on his face let me know that I made the right decision. Pushing for the top would have been irresponsible of me, and I hike enough to know my limits.

Even without the summit under my belt, the whole experience was adventure enough, and that is still one of the hardest trails that I have ever hiked in a day.

(c) ABR 2016

Expedition South Island: Day 5: Mishaps and Accomplishments on Stewart Island

Oban (c) ABR 2017

Got an early start this morning so that I could make the two hour drive from Te Anau to Bluff, where I caught the ferry over to Stewart Island. It was nice to drive without traffic for a few hours, but when it is dark on the roads in New Zealand, it is DARK. Just you and 20ft of road, twisting off into the blackness. It was pretty mesmerizing at times, especially when the fog started rolling in.

My little fantail friend (c) ABR 2017

The ferry over to the island was less eventful, because the weather was good and the ride was short. But walking into the small town of Oban (population 400 according to the ferry captain) was interesting. The town is so small, and most of the restaurants are closed for the winter right now, but as with other small islands I have been to, the town hotel kept things lively. It was the only place to stop in for food at this point. I had my first real meal in several days there- sea food chowder and a fruit crumble, because sadly, there were none of the famous oysters available.

The stairs I fell down (not all of them) (c) ABR 2017

Feeling utterly full, I set right out onto the trail. It’s a different kind of hiking here, all through the dense rainforest, and depending on the trail, down one of Oban’s few roads, which are narrow and thus, somewhat uncomfortable to walk on. At one point, a little fan tail started following me down the trail, and he even let me crouch down to get a good look at him. Apparently, however, he draws the line at picture taking, because as soon as my camera was out he flitted off. Only to start following me again when I was walking.

(c) ABR 2017

Unfortunately, besides the birds and forests, another mainstay of the trails near town are stairs, with slippery, wooden frames. I ended up sliding down quite a few of them at one point, and I landed right on my palm. I’m pretty sure I lost my trusty sunglasses at that point too… but it took me hours to notice because the pain in my hand was enough to leave me wondering if I had broken it. There was not much else on my mind when I got back to my feet. Luckily, after about 5 hours, my hand is looking better and has more mobility, so I think I just managed to bruise it badly.

(c) ABR 2017

I took about a 45 minute break at the hostel to cradle my hand and look up things about bruised palms and broken wrists on the internet, and then I decided I couldn’t miss this opportunity to explore Stewart Island anymore. So, with my hand held up for circulation, I set back out, just planning on meandering for a couple of hours until it was a respectable time for dinner. Instead, I ended up hiking ~10km in a race against the trail signage. One part of the trail said 8km, 3hrs, I did it in half the time. My legs weren’t even tired.

In the end, I guess today wasn’t half bad. Sure, I lost my favorite sunglasses, but I am pretty sure my hand isn’t broken, and I’m consistently breaking times on the longer walks here, which feels good.

Wanna know a great place to see before Stewart Is. on an epic NZ roadtip? Day 4!
How about exploring Christchurch before leaving for home? Day 6!

Expedition South Island: Day 4: Fiordlands Blew My Mind

Miles Hiked: ~3
Time Hiking: 1.5hr

I think it’s clear from the little map above, I did a ton of driving today! I had no idea how far Milford Sound was from Te Anau (little planning oversight there), but my goodness, was it worth it.

Mountains above Queenstown (c) ABR 2017

First of all, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was a stunning continuation of the mountains that I was exploring in Mt. Aspiring (same colors and character). It was so beautiful with the sunrise, it was honestly a little disappointing to have to be driving. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but it just wasn’t much of a possibility (although I did pull over to snap the one above). My hitch hiker pals told me that Queenstown is a great place to visit, but sadly, I didn’t have time to stop. It did look like a town with a lot to offer though… how could it not with a mountainous backdrop like that!?

(c) ABR 2017

Anyway, Milford Sound is one of those NZ designations that everyone raves about, which, oddly, made me doubt that it could really be that great, ESPECIALLY after what I had already seen in Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring. But by all that is good… Fiordlands (the NP that is home to Milford Sound) is one of the most amazing places that I have ever seen. The mountains on the drive in, especially those surrounding the tunnel, are just unlike anything I’ve experienced before. You have forests and grasslands at their base, and then these mountains are just masses of rock. They are so steep that barely anything grows on them, but for mossy-looking plants that just make the whole place seem other-worldly. I honestly can’t rave about that place enough.

The famous Milford Sound (c) ABR 2017

As for Milford Sound itself, I really wanted to hike, so I missed out on the boat ride. It was really crowded down there anyway, and I just wasn’t feeling it with all the buses swarming everywhere. I am sure that those of you who have done it before would say that that was a mistake, but I wouldn’t have wanted to unwittingly miss out out on the hike I ended up doing.

Gertrude Valley. Doesn’t sound like much. Actually, I have no idea why I decided to turn down the short little dirt road that opened in to the parking lot for the trail, but it was an unbelievable experience. First off, note that this is a dangerous trail during avalanche season (which it is not currently), and that I didn’t do the steep part of the trail due to lack of preparation in terms of gear and time constraints. But the trail there took me through some fairy tale forests, and through vast grasslands between the mountains that I loved so much, right to the base of a peak that looked like the mountain above Fairy Pools in Scotland… but if it was on steroids.

If nothing else, this one day made this trip for me. I didn’t know that something this cool existed. I could spend weeks here hiking around.

The day before this I was in Mt. Aspiring, loving the red hills of the Southern Alps.
After hiking in Fiordlands, I was off to Stewart Island in the South.