Why You Need to Visit Tonto Natural Bridge

Why Tonto Natural Bridge Is Worth Your Time

tonto natural bridge

Looking down at the bridge (c) ABR 2019

One of my earliest memories of Tonto Natural Bridge is getting there, and then immediately having to turn around and go home, because there actually wasn’t room for any more cars in the park. And the line was far too long to wait in.

Luckily, these days the tourism eye has turned elsewhere in the state, but you might gather from this past fame that this place is very very special. And you’d be right.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is essentially a massive stone bridge that crosses over Pine Creek and connects either side of the steep walls of Pine Canyon. If you aren’t able to hike, you can enjoy amazing views of the canyon and the bridge from several viewpoints along the parking lots. Hikers can explore underneath the bridge and marvel at the travertine formations that line either side. This limestone creates formations that almost look like stone waterfalls in their own right.

tonto natural bridge

Travertine formations (c) ABR 2019

Due to the relatively high elevation of the area (compared to Phoenix), this part of the state is far more lush than the desert lowlands. The snow and snow melt together feed Pine Creek, along with several springs in the area. Several of these you will be able to see from the parking lot and as you hike around. The most important of these (in my humble opinion) is the little spring that runs out onto the bridge. It is a very small little flow, but it pours over the edge of bridge, creating a beautiful and delicate waterfall that you can enjoy above and below.

In short, whether you just want to stop by to take some exceptional pictures, or stretch your legs on the trail, there is plenty of beauty to be enjoyed at this state park. The historic lodge will also give you a special glimpse into Arizona’s past, which is perfect for architectural and history fans alike.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking: Why I Both Love and Hate This Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking- Is It Good?

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

No… in my opinion, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is not good.

That being said, before I dive into the reasons why I don’t like this park, and I will briefly describe why you might actually enjoy hiking here.

Why You Might Like McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(1) There aren’t a ton of desert parks across the region that allows you to enjoy the natural beauty of the valley floor. Most have mountains, and mountains can have very different plant and animal communities.

(2) McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is perfect for beginners. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain in the park, so it’s a great place to build strength and trail experience.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

(3) There are AMAZING views from the park! Even hiking through a wash, you can see some of the most iconic mountains in Maricopa county. This includes Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks.

(4) There is plenty of very nice birding that you can do from Stoneman’s Wash, which isn’t a prohibitively long hike from the Pemberton trailhead.

(5) When the season is right, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking can provide a reprieve from the foot-traffic crowds. For instance, if I try to go to Dreamy Draw at 11am on a Sat in winter, I will struggle to find parking. The trails are absolutely full of people. In McDowell, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot and you can have some true solitude.

What’s So Bad About McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking?

Ok, so if there are all those reasons that someone might really enjoy hiking in this particular park, why do I dislike it? Let me give you some of my thoughts.

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A Little Ode to… Dulwich Village

A little bit of a late blog post, but one I wanted to share anyway about our trip to London in late October last year.

When I booked the trip waaaaaaay earlier in February because the flight was super cheap ($400 round-trip from Phoenix to London – thanks for the heads up, Next Vacay and Hopper!), I had grand plans of maximizing what would really only be five FULL days there. We would go to the city proper and see all the sights, do a hedge maze at one of the palaces, and maybe even squeeze in a day trip to Bath.

But then, the rest of a busy year happened and by the time I got to the end of October, I was feeling pretty exhausted and anxious about our trip across the pond. I wanted to make this trip special for my boyfriend (his first international trip!), but thought of rushing from place to place was starting to fill me with dread. Thankfully, he has a much more lax view on travel and was fine with taking it easy. So off we went, with a very loose itinerary (really just a list of places scribbled onto a sheet of lined paper).

The only real stipulation I did make is that for part of the trip I wanted to stay out a little further into a quieter part of London. I ended up picking a place in Dulwich Village, about 45 minutes south of London by bus.

Dulwich Village Favorites

Dulwich Park

This little park and by little I actually mean 71 acres, was a great place to stroll. It was beautiful, even on a dreary day, and I’m betting in sunshine it would be a wonderful place to have a picnic.

A deep red Japanese maple in the park’s Japanese garden.

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Hiking the Hassayampa River Preserve: Walking Along the Upside Down River

The Emerald of Central Arizona

hassayampa river preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Central Arizona is a dry place. Stay here long enough and you will start to see water as the precious resource that it is. Due to this, green places are very special. The Hassayampa River Preserve is one of these green gems, and its right in Phoenix’s backyard. Furthermore, thanks to the hard work of the Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, a stretch of the habitat offered by this unique river is protected for all to enjoy.

What is the Hassayampa

The Hassayampa River was given its name due the unique way in which it tends to flow underground along most of its length. While the river bed is apparent in the desert, it often appears to be dry. This is because the water is below the surface until there is sufficient rain and runoff. In the Hassayampa River Preserve, the river surfaces due to changes in the depth of the stone layers that the water flows over. This makes the area of the preserve into an oasis in the desert, which has drawn people and wildlife for hundreds of years.

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orlando theme parks

Why You Need to Visit the Orlando Theme Parks in the New Year

It’s a common thread on this blog that I am an outdoor enthusiast, but what you might be a little less aware of is that I am a massive nerd (and I always have been). So, while I have been posting about exploring the wilder side of Florida lately, I have been dreaming about spending a week at the Orlando theme parks with my family for as long as I can remember.

I know that there are millions of posts on Orlando, Disney, and Universal, so I am going to post a short list of my 10 favorite things from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. I hope to inspire all you theme park nerds out there to take the plunge and go see these parks for yourself in the new year!

#1: You Can Fly on a Dragon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

orlando theme parks

(c) ABR 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to fly. Better yet, I’ve dreamed about flying on a dragon since I was old enough to start reading the Dragoniders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I never really imagined that I would get the chance to experience what that would be like! But at one Orlando theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, anyone else that has had this daydream can finally make it into a reality!

How exactly do you do this? Hop right on the Flight of Passage Ride and take a mountain Banshee from the Avatar universe for a spin. While it has been a bit hard to get on this ride, because of the insanely long lines that form up just a few minutes after the park opens, you can make it on. The most preferable way to do so is to plan ahead, find out the earliest that you can schedule a fast pass and then get one squared away for yourself. If that fails (for me it did), get to Animal Kingdom early in the morning and get in line for the ride at the first opportunity. You will avoid most of the line this way.

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Florida Travel Itinerary: Part Two of a 10 Day Roadtrip to the Sunshine State

Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One

If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.

Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park

(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.

In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

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Florida Roadtrip Itinerary Part One: Seeing the Sights with Limited Time

This Florida roadtrip itinerary is designed for high energy travelers who want to pack alot of sight-seeing into a relatively short period of time. I also like to prioritize checking out national park units and exploring novel environments as I move around. This itinerary can be easily adjusted if you have more time, but will generally excite roadtrippers who love getting a dose of nature and history when they travel.

Day One: Get a Taste of History in Jacksonville

(1) Arrival

Plan on arriving into Jacksonville as early on this day as you can manage. This will give you more time to explore if you are strapped for time. If you can afford to make your itinerary a day longer, you might also consider giving yourself two days here. One to arrive and one to explore the city a little. Jacksonville is surprisingly vibrant and large for those unfamiliar with the area.

(2) Visit Fort Caroline National Monument/Timucuan Preserve

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

The Fort Caroline National Monument and Timucuan Preserve in combination will give you the opportunity to learn more about the history and ecology of the northern, coastal area of Florida. You should start at the visitor center, which can be found at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. They are open seven days a week from 9:00A-5:00P and entrance to both parks is FREE.

The star of the Fort Caroline show is, of course, the fort itself. This is a particularly unique place in respect to the other forts of the Caribbean region (and there are many), because Fort Caroline is a simple, wooden fort. It harkens back to an earlier colonial time than most of its cousins. Fort Caroline will give you insight into some of the deeper past of the region than you can get elsewhere. This National Monument also has some information on the local indigenous people that inhabited this area at the time that European immigrants first started arriving. The long human use for the Jacksonville area was a poignant indicator for me of just how important this area has been for people over time. It’s rivers, shores, and forests have long served as sources of wealth, places of transportation and trade, and shelter from the oft-stormy waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic.

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

With these things in mind, the Timucuan Preserve serves as a great partner to Fort Caroline on your Florida roadtrip as visiting here will give you the opportunity to explore and experience some of Florida’s beautiful natural landscapes. This is something that people often overlook in this state, north of the Everglades, but the forests are a strange and unique mix of tropical, coastal and dryland plants. They should not be missed by any hikers, birders, or nature-lovers among you. There is also a nice selection of trails in this area, allowing for a range of trips from short walks to easy day hikes.

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Disneylands galaxys edge

All You Need To Know About Exploring Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Why You Should Be Excited About Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge open in 2019, and it seemed like the jury was out on the new addition to the park for the first few months. Was it worth the cost of admission? Was the food good? The blue milk weird? And were the new characters enough to bring the world to life? The answer to all of these things is YES, and you need to visit to see just how amazing this place is.

For Lucas Star Wars Fans

I’m what I refer to as a “Lucas” Star Wars fan, because I love the universe of Star Wars that was developed while George Lucas still owned his own franchise. I am honestly not a huge fan of what Disney has been creating for this science fiction staple. But nonetheless, I loved Galaxy’s Edge.

Even if you don’t like Disney’s new movies, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will make you feel like you’ve finally entered the world of Star Wars. It really was like a dream come true and I couldn’t get enough of it. In typical Disney fashion, they hit this place out of the park from the smallest detail to the largest. The buildings were amazing, and the food was fascinating. The lightsaber building experience was surprisingly emotional. I thought all of the cast members in Galaxy’s Edge were really great as well.

For Disney Star Wars Fans

I think it goes without saying, but I will say it. If you are a Disney Star Wars fan, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will have everything that you love! You’ve got the universe, you’ve got all the great characters from the movies, and more! You are really in for a treat if you love the newest movies.

Disneylands galaxys edge

(c) ABR 2019

For People Who Aren’t Star Wars Fans At All

You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan in order to enjoy Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge. If you love all of the environments that Disney creates, you will appreciate this corner of the park. Disney is in true form when it comes to this new addition. If you listen to the ambient sounds you will be hearing an alien world. If you are a plant connoisseur, you will notice that each piece of flora was selected for its beautiful and yet otherworldly forms. The buildings have a science fiction quality that is carried over into the gift shops and restaurants. It is truly a unique experience that any Disneyland fan will enjoy exploring over the years.

Getting into Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland's Galaxy's Edge

(c) ABR 2019

When Galaxy’s Edge first opened, there were a few hoops that you had to jump through in order to get in. Now, however, I can tell you that Disneyland’s version is fully open. So you don’t need to worry about reserving a time to enter or any time limits to how long you can stay in the area.

Just walk right in!

You will, however, need reservations to get a lightsaber or go to Oga’s Cantina. More details on that below.

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The Un-Planner’s Guide to Seeing the Sights in San Francisco

Un-planner reporting for duty! I’ve been to San Francisco a couple times when I was younger, but this last trip was the first time I really had a chance to check out the city for myself. As I always say, travel tastes vary, but here’s a handful of things I enjoyed during my visit and hopefully you will, too!

Sights:

Dolores Park – Dolores St &, 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

I only took a stroll through Dolores Park, but if you can find a spot on a sunny day, it would be a great place to lounge and picnic. Pet-friendly, but also has a part of the park separated for those who want some peace from pets. Plus, at the top of the  park’s hill, you can get a great view of the city.

Downtown

I didn’t spend a ton of time in downtown San Francisco, mostly just walking through to get to other destinations. However, if you’re a fan of old buildings/architecture, they have some beautiful ones to look at.

Plus, you’re not too far from the Orpheum Theatre if you want to see a show. Or, The Embarcadero if you’re itching to see the bay.

The Embarcadero – Along the City’s Eastern Shoreline

The Embarcadero has plenty of things to see along its numerous piers, including the famous (or infamous) Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll recognize the Ferry Building when you see its iconic clock tower – a building that’s both a marketplace and an outlet that leads to actual bay ferries.

Sausalito – Across the Golden Gate Strait

Out behind the Ferry Building, you can take a 15-ish minute ferry ride to Sausalito – a sleepy little city on the bay. (Remember that Clipper card? Only $8 to take the ferry!). On this particular ferry ride, we rode through a bit of chilly fog only to be rewarded with a picturesque view of it rolling down the Sausalito hillside in late afternoon sun. I only spent a short time there, but it seems a good place to relax and eat a quiet meal before you either take the ferry back (if it’s early enough in the day) or drive across the Golden Gate bridge.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is absolutely enormous park – over 1,000 sprawling acres. Entrance to the park itself is free, but it’s chock full of attractions like the Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences and more that have paid admission. I only had time to visit the Botanical Garden, which was still a good couple of hours of strolling.

I honestly think I could have spent most of my vacation here, visiting a new part of the park each day. I look forward to being able to explore more of Golden Gate on my next trip.

Dutch Windmill/Land’s End

At the north end of  Golden Gate Park, you’ll find the old Dutch Windmill. No longer functional, but still worth a look for its impressive size and the various colorful flora surrounding it. It’s about 6-minute drive or a 45-minute to an hour walk from the Botanical Garden to the Dutch Windmill (we opted to ride share). When you’ve had your fill of the windmill, you basically walk right across the street to the beach.

If you keep walking north up the hill, you’ll find the Camera Obscura. Which is exactly what it sounds like – a large camera obscura. I didn’t enter the Camera Obscura (just a small fee or $2 or $3 admission, I think) or keep walking further still to the Land’s End recreation trail, because I was getting hungry and a search for food prevailed. (If you are looking for a bit of hiking, Land’s End has trails and pretty views.)

Travel Tips:

  • Pack your bag for weather that really can’t decide whether it wants to be warm or cold. If you’re visiting in late summer, like I did, you could see some warm, sunny days that turn quickly to grey fog (thanks to the actual fog rolling in, lovingly named Karl – no really, Karl the Fog even has its own Twitter).
  • Try not to drive, if you can help it. Not only are some streets terrifyingly hilly if you’re not used to parking/driving on steep hills, but the traffic seems to move pretty slowly (especially downtown or during rush hour).
  • Use public transportation, instead! The BART, bus system and streetcars are pretty reliable and if you get a Clipper card, you can use it to pay for basically all major public transport and not have to try to get cash/change together to pay for each ride. (The Clipper is reloadable and you can get one at a BART station.)
  • Speaking of BART stations, there is one right outside the SFO airport, if you want a convenient and inexpensive (only a $9 ride!) option of getting to and from the airport.

Well, that’s a little slice of San Francisco for ya. Looking forward to the next adventure!

A Pin-ny for Your Thoughts

 

Things to Do in Phoenix in the Summer: 12-Hour Travel Challenge

About the 12-Hour Travel Challenge

The goal of the 12-Hour Challenge is to explore new places throughout the Phoenix-Metro area. Specifically, our first challenge forced us to discover new things to do in Phoenix in the Summer. For each one, we define a distinct area within which we have to limit our explorations, based on the different boundaries between cities. We also avoid hiking during the challenge, in Phoenix at least, because we are working on in-depth guides to the trails in the area.

For our debut challenge, we limited ourselves to activities in Central Phoenix. Mapped below with the help of Google.

things to do in phoenix in the summer

The Search for Breakfast

The day began with a search for some of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. We planned to have our morning start with a hearty breakfast at the Original Breakfast House, but unfortunately, our 9 a.m. start time ruled that option out. Despite its unassuming location, the OBH is VERY popular in the area, and waiting visitors were filling the patio by the time we arrived. With no time to spare, we decided to try an alternative option. (Tip: If you do visit OBH, they are a cash-only establishment.)

Oink Cafe

4326 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Oink Cafe is one of R. and my favorite places to get breakfast in Central Phoenix. This little place is located in a strip mall next to a Target and REI. They specialize in bacon (surprise, surprise), and giving one of their bacon flights a try is real fun. The flavors aren’t crazy, just really savory and delicious. Any of them are available for pairing with a regular breakfast meal as well, and you can even enjoy a bacon donut from the bar. I usually enjoy one of their waffles.

With its slight cinnamon/vanilla flavor, these sweet breakfast treats are some of the best in the city. This time, however, I opted for the Oink French Toast, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected.

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