Author: waitingforrain28 (Page 1 of 23)

Tom’s Thumb Trail: One of the Best Hiking Trails in Scottsdale, AZ

From almost anywhere in west Phoenix/Scottsdale, there is a particular rock formation that you can see in the McDowell Mountains- Tom’s Thumb. And if you’ve seen it, you may have asked yourself, how can I get up there to visit? Well, the answer is simple! Just take on one of the most popular hiking trails in Scottsdale, the Tom’s Thumb Trail. While not long, this is a steep hike up into the mountains of the Sonoran Desert, so it’s no proverbial walk in the park. But the views from this trail are out of this world. And of course, Tom’s Thumb itself is an amazing formation that’s well worth the hard hike.

tom's thumb trail

(c) ABR 2019

I’ve been on this trail a few times over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed this trek and been challenged by it. I would only suggest this for intermediate hikers, rather than beginners. The path is steep, has a slippery substrate, and is an unforgiving climate. But give this guide a read to see if it might be for you. This is a very special trek, close to the city, and one of the most unique trails in the area.

What Makes Tom’s Thumb Trail Among the Best?

tom's thumb trail

(c) ABR 2021

There are two things that I absolutely adore about this particular route from among the hiking trails in Scottsdale. (1) Great views. (2) Seeing Tom’s Thumb up close.

The western side of the McDowell Mountains is kind of unique when it comes to the Sonoran Desert of Central Arizona. This is because it has a somewhat more… grassy characteristic to it. In fact, there are parts of the trail named after this arid “prairie.” Grasslands (not patches of grass) can encourage wildfires, which our native, Central Arizona plants are not adapted to. That being said, there are some native grasses, and areas of Arizona that are considered grasslands. So, I think you can safely enjoy this landscape.

Also, the Tom’s Thumb Trail will take you up to the towering rock that can be seen from the city. It is both fascinating and awe-inspiring to see this massive formation. And while the thumb is the most famous of the huge rocks up in this part of the McDowell Mountains, there are plenty of huge, mysterious stones to marvel at from the trail.

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Two Beautiful But Short Hikes In Phoenix, Arizona

Hiking is one of the mainstays of Arizona, and unlike rampant partying, it’s a part of our tourism product that I fully approve of. There is an endless plethora of trails throughout the state, and even after having lived here for more than 30 years, I’ve only scratched the surface. But perhaps, you are in town for a conference. Or visiting a friend in the city. And you don’t have the wiggle room to commit to a full day hike, but you still want to get out and take in the exotic, natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Or maybe you are just getting started hiking. Whatever, the case, if you are searching for some good, short hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the post for you.

short hikes in phoenix

LV Yates Trail (c) ABR 2021

Today, I present to you two hikes, appreciated by both myself and others in the hiking community here. The first is the LV Yates trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, which is a great escape in the city. And the second is Blue Point to the Ovens, which is located just outside of town in the Salt River section of the Tonto National Forest. Both are about 3-5 miles and relatively easy in terms of elevation gain. I hiked both recently thanks to the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge 2021 which is a three month hiking challenge based on stewardship of some of the Sonoran Insiders’ favorite trails.

If you have just a few hours to spend hiking, consider giving one of these short hikes in Phoenix a try.

LV Yates Trail (#8)

short hikes in phoenix

LV Yates (c) ABR 2021

 The LV Yates Trail (#8) stretches from a northern edge of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, south. It’s one of the perfect short hikes in Phoenix for exploring the Sonoran Desert characteristic of the Valley of the Sun. While this specific trail doesn’t cross all the way to the other side of the park, it does interlink with trails that do. So, this is a great area to visit if you’d like to tailor your trek a bit- you could make a lollipop, a loop, or a shuttled one-way hike. However, this guide is going to focus on the out-and-back route that includes the #8 trail only. If you’d like to see what other options there are, check out the City of Phoenix map for the park.

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Spending a Weekend in Fort Davis, Texas

Why Spend a Weekend in Fort Davis?

Spending a weekend in Fort Davis, Texas is the perfect way to explore and experience the central region of West Texas. There is a long and storied past here, and it has something for everyone. Need I say more?

Perhaps, if you aren’t sure why you should be interested in visiting this corner of the world- yes. Well, if nothing else, Fort Davis is home to the aptly named Fort Davis National Historic Site. So, if you are like me and you are trying to visit as many national park units as possible, this little town is a must-stop. If you aren’t on that quest, but you enjoy traveling in ways that allow you enjoy nature and culture/history around the world, then Fort Davis has a great mix of the two.

weekend in fort davis

(c) ABR 2021

If you aren’t interested in either of those… well, why are you here?! But seriously, even if you prefer to just relax when you travel, and perhaps you want to sample some wine and do some people watching- Fort Davis has you. The Veranda Historic Inn was super relaxing with its beautiful building, caring owner, and steady provision of tea/cookies. And you’ve got Chateau Wright just outside of town!

So, in short, the only thing you won’t get here is a white sand beach holiday. So… what are you waiting for? Let’s plan your weekend in Fort Davis.

Where to Stay – The Veranda Historic Inn

weekend in fort davis

(c) ABR 2021

I loved the Veranda Historic Inn, and I think you will too. I would 100% suggest that you book a room here when you visit Fort Davis.

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Three Other Things to Do in the Netherlands for Less Crowds

things to do in the netherlands

I was not about the crowding in Amsterdam (c) ABR 2017

Among US citizens, the Netherlands is on many people’s bucketlists for Amsterdam. But as anyone who lives there, has traveled there, or done a bit of research knows, there are TONS of things to do in the Netherlands. For me personally, I get really exhausted by crowds and I hate fighting other people for spots in lines, or for parking spaces. So, I am always on the lookout for less crowded options. I don’t always find them, depending on how long I am somewhere and how intrigued I am by popular destinations, but in the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to visit a few calmer locations that I would like to suggest. Besides escaping some crowds, spreading the tourism love can help address over-visitation when we couple it with other tools and strategies. So, if you are looking to add some calmer locations to your itinerary or just explore some new parts of the Netherlands, give this little list a gander. You might also consider checking out my posts on National Parks in the Netherlands as well. You will be surprised how varied nature is in this under-appreciated landscape.


Vaalserberg: The Netherlands Highpoint and Three-Country Point

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017


Vaalserberg is the highpoint of the Netherlands, and insofar as mountaineering/hiking goes, it is not the kind of high point that will generally get you huffing and puffing. It’s the crown of a generally flat and low-lying country. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t both a unique and enjoyable destination that’s worth your time. For anyone who loves to explore nature and hike, this is a must-have for any things to do in the Netherlands list.

The character of the highpoint itself is that of a gentle, rounded mountain or what some might consider more of a hill. This area is wooded and feels far more wild than the other parts of the Netherlands that I visited. Happily, there are a variety of trails that zig and zag through the forest, and which are well traveled, so it is not hard to navigate them.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

Besides all that, and most interestingly, if you look at a map, you will see that Vaalserberg sits in the narrow little panhandle of the Netherlands. And it is located where three different countries meet! This is where Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands are all conjoined, and there is even a little statue that you can visit at the point.

There is a road up to the top, where you can park, hike around a little bit, and get some food. There is also a lookout tower that you can pay to check out as well (although I didn’t bother). There is also a maze of some sort? I wasn’t able to go, but it looked intriguing. So, if you are in the area and enjoy those sorts of things, definitely consider it.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

How to Get There

Vaalserberg is a bit out of the way, at least in terms of Amsterdam, so I think the easiest way to get out there is going to be with a vehicle. From Amsterdam, you can drive to the town of Vaals, and then follow signs (or Google) to Les Trois Bornes. You will want to park near the Labyrint if you want to get as close to the top as possible in your vehicle, but if you are open to hiking and walking a bit, there are more options.

Noordwijk Beach: Mussels, Frites, and the Seaside

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

In retrospect, it’s a little silly, but I never associated the Netherlands with the beach. (Very silly when I realize that not only do they have coastline but they have islands as well). Really, at least one beach should be on every things to do in the Netherlands list.

Just a short distance from Amsterdam is the seaside town of Noordwijk, where my travel buddy and myself had a perfect evening stroll and delectable dinner of mussels with the sea breeze in our hair. (It’s actually one of my fondest memories of the Netherlands, and that entire trip is extremely fond to me).

When we ventured out here after a long day, we walked a little among the shops. Not really looking to buy anything, but enjoying the vibe and people watching. And it wasn’t long until the ocean called us down into the sand. It felt like a gentle beach. Soft, warm sand and people playing in the water. There were even picturesque grasses growing up on the higher part of the shore.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

After splashing in the sea for a bit and getting sand between our toes, we retreated back up the shore towards the shops and restaurants that line the beachfront. We were lucky enough to get a spot at a restaurant serving mussels and frites- which felt like the perfect Dutch, seaside meal.

While I wouldn’t call the beach quiet by any means, it was nonetheless a retreat from the extremely busy downtown Amsterdam, where we had spent our morning.

How to Get There/Where to Park

If you are traveling by public transit, the closest train station is in Leiden. You can then take the bus north to the beach. And if you are driving, you can have Google take you to the parking lot at: Kon. Astrid Boulevard 51, 2202 BE Noordwijk, Netherlands.

Roosegaarde Cycle Path: Van Gogh Bike Path

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

Just like the beach, the Netherlands’ iconic artists should be a part of any things to do in the Netherlands list. In particular, whether you are interested in art or not, you will likely run into one or two things related to Van Gogh. We saw a few of his paintings on display in De Hoge Veluwe, and we also went WAAAAY out of our way in search of the Van Gogh bike path.

That’s because we had heard that this bike bath actually glows at night with a re-creation of what might be one of the most famous European paintings- Starry Night. As you may know if you follow this blog, I LOVE immersive art installations and while some might argue that this bike path doesn’t fit, I think it does. Haha. In any case, it sounded immensely interesting and we went on a bit of a quest to find it, as it really isn’t advertised much in the area.

things to do in the netherlands

Landscape surrounding the trail (c) ABR 2017

Unfortunately, when we arrived it was sunset, and not quite dark enough to enjoy the full effect. It’s also a bit smaller of an area than I might have thought. That being said, it was nice to get out into the country and go for a nice little walk among the fields. I’d suggest visiting Roosegaarde and the surrounding area for dinner and then taking a short walk or bike ride after dark.

How to Get There/Where to Park

If you are taking public transportation, take the train to Eindhoven and then take the bus out to Nuenen-Eindhoven a270. Likewise, if you are driving, you will need to get to the Nuenen-Eindhoven a270 parking lot. You can find that lot using: Wolvendijk 80, 5641 AS Eindhoven, Netherlands. When driving through Eindhoven, be extra careful and be doubly sure to go the speed limit. I got a $50 (end US$ price once I paid) for going 3km over the speed limit in the city.

Planning Your Trip to the Netherlands

While these three locations alone would certainly make for a unique experience of Holland, this is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do in the Netherlands. If you are a hiker, check out my guide to Nature in the Netherlands. I’ve also done a short piece on Giethoorn or the “Venice of the Netherlands); if you are crowd-averse like I am, it will be good information to help you figure out if you’d like to visit or not. We also have a guest post from several bloggers covering their favorite spots in the Netherlands, which I wasn’t able to visit- but you might like to! Finally, to explore all of this and more, check out our short guide to the Netherlands.

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Visiting Giethoorn, Netherlands: What Is It Really Like?

Visiting Giethoorn has recently been added to everyone’s Netherlands bucketlist thanks to other bloggers and Instagram. Likewise, I was attracted to this beautiful town by all the pictures that made it look like a fairytale come true. As many of us are aware, however, tourism fame changes a place, so if you have Giethoorn on your bucketlist, you’ll want to give this article a read to avoid being disappointed in the experience that you might have here.

Summary: Visiting Giethoorn is a wonderful experience, however, there can be a lot of crowding both on land and in the canals. Go during the down season, respect local people, and plan around tourism group schedules to have the best experience and support the town.

What I Loved About Visiting Giethoorn 

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

The pictures of Giethoorn don’t lie… they just leave a few things out. The town is absolutely magical, and I honestly can’t think of any place like it that I’ve been elsewhere. The architecture of the homes, restaurants, shops, and hotels in Giethoorn looks like it is straight out of a Disney fairytale. Many buildings come complete with thatched roofs and everything.

The canals are likewise magical. From a boat, you can glide along the calm waters, past all the cute buildings. You can swoop under the bridges that serve as walkways for pedestrians. Here and there, when the water isn’t crowded with boats, ducks coast along with you. They fit in perfectly with the atmosphere of the town.

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

Besides the overall vibe you get from visiting Giethoorn, there is plenty to do in the town. I would say that you can find some of the best souvenirs here (more authentic than anything I found in Amsterdam, at least). We also enjoyed some very good food (but a bit expensive). And you can’t beat the atmosphere if you stay on past the tours. Eating next to the canals when they are calm and the town quiets down is lovely beyond words.

Finally, Giethoorn is the perfect gateway for De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which can be best explored by boat.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail

The McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail: An Intro to the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is pretty undervalued by lots of people, so when I have the opportunity to show someone around, I really think hard about where I want to take them. For guests who doesn’t have a whole lot of time and/or who aren’t comfortable with longer hikes, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail is my go-to. It’s a moderate 4 mile hike, that is just long enough to immerse someone in the desert, and introduce them to our iconic biodiversity (like the saguaro). And there isn’t a ton of elevation gain, but the trail does go to the top of a hill for sweeping views of the McDowell Mountains and the sky-scraping heights of Four Peaks. On top of all that, it’s close to Phoenix-metro area, so it’s not hard to get to!


(c) ABR 2020

TL:DR – If you don’t have a lot of time and/or the desire for a long hike, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail is the perfect introduction to wild Sonoran Desert.

Need to Know

Trail Length: 4.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 357 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle

Managed by: Maricopa County Parks and Recreation

Facilities? Yes, at the trailhead

Vehicle Access: Accessible with any vehicle

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Tea and Travel (By Books!): Best Boba in Northern Phoenix and a Window into Indigenous Southwestern Culture via The Zunis: Self Portrayals

Every so often here at Nightborn, we pause for some tea and travel the world through books. This week come celebrate some of our favorite boba spots in Northern Phoenix and read a quick review of The Zunis: Self Portrayals by the Zuni People.

Tea Stop

phoenix boba

Pandan waffle and green Thai tea (c) ABR 2019

Tea Stop is my favorite boba spot in Northern Phoenix. They have perfected sweet, milk tea flavors and their boba is the freshest and the most flavorful. Personally, I almost always get their green Thai tea, which I can’t suggest enough. If I try to describe the flavor though… I don’t have the words! It’s kind of like a toned-down version of the more common, orange Thai tea that is found in most boba shops. I do get that flavor of green tea as well, but I am not sure if that’s my imagination or not, due to the color and name. What I can say though… is that if you like Thai tea, and matcha, you are gonna like this! The boba is very flavorful as well- subtle, but you can pick up a hint of honey in every bite. Also, they are fresh and soft, definitely a little chewy like all boba, but they never have the hard center of the less fresh boba.

The rest of Tea Stop’s teas and drinks are also amazingly good. And if you aren’t huge on intense sugar, they can certainly handle orders adjusting the sweetness. I usually go “half-sweet” and I love how the flavor of the milk and tea comes forward more when there is a little less sugar. They also have lots of drinks with fresh fruit, and in the summer there is a selection American iced teas/lemonades that are super refreshing. Honestly, if you like tea, you aren’t going to make a wrong choice here. Everything they do with love and the quality is super high. Tea Stop has a few snacks as well. In particular, being the dessert fiend that I am, I like their Pandan Waffle; it’s green and it is delish.

I can’t talk this place up enough. If you like boba, be sure to give Tea Stop a try.

4015 E Bell Rd #132, Phoenix, AZ 85032

 Dingle Berries

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Dingle Berries is, in my opinion, a creative and lovingly crafted tea shop. If you are looking for fusion flavors, this is your spot, and particularly because they have brought horchata (a sweet, milky Mexican drink, if you aren’t familiar) onto the scene along with some sweet American flavors, like cheesecake. In particular, I think bringing milk tea and horchata together is an ingenious mix, and a great way to experience the wonder that different cultures coming together can provide. Also, if you are into activated charcoal, they do have that as an addition option.

That being said, the Whoa-chata, which is what I got when I went there (horcata+milk tea) is very very sweet, so you might consider asking for half sweetness. Also, I think that the boba at Dingle Berries is pretty nice- and it felt fresh. It was soft and chewy, but not with that harder center that you get when the boba is revived. But while I believe it was a honey boba, it didn’t have quite as much flavor as I might have hoped. Perhaps with a less sweet drink, the boba would have shined more readily.

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

In terms of décor and character, Dingle Berries has a very fun Instagrammable vibe. And I mean that in the best way. They have a really cute corner of the store with a little plush seat, a Good Vibes neon sign, and printed pictures of celebrity mug shots. It’s just the right kind of odd to delight visitors, and I’ve seen many a picture of people posing in that spot. It might seem silly, but I love the way that Dingle Berries has created multiple levels of enjoyment for visitors.

If you enjoy unique flavors and like a good flavor, Dingle Berries is for you!

3624 E Bell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Boba Day

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Boba Day has traditional milk tea flavors as well as juices, smoothies, and ice cream. The milk tea in particular, is pretty good, and well worth the visit, but of my three favorite spots, this is the one that I would rank the lowest. Their tea has the wonderful, smooth flavor of black tea, and I really like the intensity of the flavor at the back of your mouth- similar to the delicious smell of coffee. The boba here felt the least fresh to me of these three lovely little shops; they were flavorful but the texture of the boba reminded me of the less fresh versions that you might find at a shop that microwaves pre-made stuff. It’s that harder center to the boba that makes me think it’s just a little less fresh.

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Besides tea, Boba Day also has smoothies and ice cream, so if you are looking for a boba treat but traveling with someone who prefers more American treats, this is a great place to compromise on.

4839 E Greenway Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

Travel Via Books: The Zunis: Self Portrayals

by the Zuni People and translated by Alvina Quam

The Zunis: Self Portrayals came from a project that the Zuni people led with the purpose of preserving their stories for the long-term and which involved their storytellers. Due to this, this is one of the most unique books that I have had the opportunity to read because it’s a book about the Zuni People by the Zuni people and for the Zuni people. Reading this reminds me of delving into other cultural, folklore texts like the Illiad and Beowolf. In other words, this is a book that you can tell means a lot more to people who are familiar with the folklore, the culture, and context of the stories, and it offers a window into stories that are being recorded in a genuine way.

That can make reading this book a little difficult at times (as a non-native), but as with other cultural texts that include elements of folklore, I think it is more than worth the bit of confusion to learn more about the stories, lore, and spirituality of the Zuni people. (If you aren’t familiar, the Zuni people are indigenous to the southwestern United States, in particular, modern day New Mexico. I’d highly encourage you to check out the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center website to learn more about them).

If anything, I would love a version of this text with some footnotes giving more context to the stories included in the book, but as I said, I get the feeling that The Zunis: Self Portrayals is more for Zunis than otherwise. So, I’m not sure if footnotes would be helpful in that regard, nor am I saying they should be a priority or a necessity. Just that I would have loved, as an outsider, to read them and learn even more.

If you enjoy learning about the culture of the places where you live and/or visit, I would suggest this book for anyone planning on immersing themselves in the landscape of New Mexico. The Zuni people have called the southwest home for thousands of years, and gaining a little insight into their perspective is both interesting and essential to exploring their ancestral home. Whether you are looking for a book to read while staying home, or you are planning on visiting New Mexico in the future, I’d highly suggest The Zunis: Self Portrayals. Just come with an open and curious mind, and enjoy the stories that the Zuni people have graciously shared with the rest of the world.

pass mountain trail

Pass Mountain Trail: Circling the Usery Mountains

The Pass Mountain Trail is a great challenge for anyone looking for a longer day hike near Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. It’s a loop trail that’s about 7.5 miles from start to finish, and it has just enough elevation gain to get you sweating a little bit without killing you. The views from this trail also include some of the most spectacular vistas in the Phoenix-metro area, so it’s not to be missed if the length isn’t too much for you.


Need to Know

 Trail Length: 7 miles (although we clocked closer to 8 miles)

Elevation Gain: 950+ feet

Difficulty: Clockwise- Moderate; Counter clockwise- difficult

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Season: Fall, winter, and spring

Fee: $7.00 to enter the county park

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Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail: So Steep I Had to Take It Step By Step

When it comes to hiking in Phoenix there are a few different muscle-building trails in and around the metro area. Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are two of the most popular, but neither is going to kick your ass like the Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail. For that reason, I would only suggest this trail to hikers who have trained for it. You need physical and mental stamina something fierce to make it up and down this trail in one piece. It’s steep, it’s busy, and it can be dangerous. But for those who are up to the challenge, it is also a supremely beautiful climb up one of the most iconic mountains in Arizona, and there is nothing more satisfying than making a difficult push to the finish line on a very hard trail.

TL;DR The Flatiron via Siphon Draw trail is the perfect challenge for hikers who are comfortable with the likes of Camelback and Piestewa, and it will reward those who scale it’s heights with unbelievable views and a unique trail experience not found elsewhere. If you aren’t prepared, however, this is a trail better used as a training goal than a risk.


Need to Know Information

flatiron via siphon draw trail

(c) ABR 2019

Trail Difficulty: Extreme

Trail Length: 6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 2600+ feet

Fees: $10.00 per vehicle on holidays and the weekend (Fri-Sun), and $7.00 per vehicle on weekdays

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Vehicular Access: Paved roads provide all access to this trailhead

Water Availability: None after the trailhead

Good for Dogs and Kids? No

Season: Late spring and early fall; avoid high temperatures and ice on the trail.

Fear of Heights Difficulty: High

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Soft Memories and Blurry Pictures from a Summer on Mt. Graham

In 2011 (a decade ago!!), after I graduated from my undergraduate program, I got to work as an assistant wildlife biologist in Southern Arizona on Mt. Graham. I wanted to go back, take a walk down memory lane, and share a little with everyone what life on the mountain was like via a photo essay.

The Everyday

Home sweet home (c) ABR 2011

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