Author: waitingforrain28 (Page 2 of 22)

horseshoe lake az

Horseshoe Lake AZ: Your Guide to Exploring a Remote Phoenix Lake

Of the lakes surrounding Phoenix, Horseshoe is the hardest to get to and probably the least known. That all makes this little corner of the Tonto National Park a nice place to escape the crowds, and enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, this is definitely a day trip that I would suggest as some unique hiking in the Tonto National Forest. Horseshoe Lake AZ has beautiful mountain vistas, a dam with mossy waterfalls cascading down to the river, and an adventurous approach that makes for the perfect day trip from the city.

The Distant Lake of Phoenix

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake AZ is a man-made lake that serves as one of several reservoirs for the Phoenix metro-area. It feeds off of the Verde River and is maintained by its namesake dam. If you are choosing among the seven lakes in the Phoenix area, this one might be of extra interest to you if you enjoy a bit of tame 4-wheel driving. It’s also great if you are looking for some peace and quiet.

Need to Know Information

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake is located within Tonto National Forest, and as such, you need a Tonto pass or should bring your Annual America the Beautiful pass. The Tonto day pass is $8 and can be purchased online. The America the Beautiful Pass is likewise available online for $80; it covers National Parks and National Forests. If you are planning on boating or camping, please access the Tonto National Forest website to identify the permit that you need. In 2020, since so many visitor centers are closed due to COVID-19, you may need to buy online. If this is the case, make sure to give yourself enough lead time in case you need anything mailed.

The only facilities at Horseshoe Lake AZ are a few outhouses at the end of the dirt road. There is also a small, concrete boat ramp in this area.

The lake is drained fairly often due to water demand. Furthermore, it is drained annually to support native birds that nest in the area, and reduce the population of invasive fish. When drained, do not approach the dam or collect any dead fish that might be scattered along the water’s edge.

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Vulture Peak Trail: Exploring the Wild Desert in Phoenix’s Backdoor

Vulture Peak Trail is not far from Phoenix, but it’s one of the best places to experience the beauty of the wild desert.

Many people think that the desert is an empty wilderness, marked here and there by beautiful sandstone canyons and oases. So, what’s the big deal when more houses are built? The desert is just a big, natural parking lot already, right? Come explore Vulture Peak and hiking near Wickenburg AZ to see that this isn’t at all the case. The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world! When you hike here you can enjoy beautiful saguaros, and a landscape that changes dramatically with rain and temperature change when plants blossom at the first chance. As plants shift and color the landscape, animals like coyotes, snakes, sheep, deer, mountain lions, and even burros thrive.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

And rising above it all is the brilliant red Vulture Peak, which you can marvel at as you struggle up its slopes. Then enjoy the breathtaking views of the wide-open landscape at the top. The desert is alive and beautiful! Explore Vulture Peak Trail to get a taste for just how amazing the Sonoran Desert is.

General Must-Know for the Vulture Peak Trail

Trail Length: 2 miles to the peak saddle, making the round trip hike 4 miles

Trail Difficulty: First half- Moderate; Second half- Difficult to extreme

Cost of entry: Currently free (2020), but future entrance fees to support maintenance of the area will be implemented.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

The Vulture Peak trail is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which means that much of the area that you will be exploring is federally owned. The BLM allows for multi-use and the general experience of their lands is that they are very hands-off; they don’t have the manpower and resources to provide lots of facilities, and support for visitors. However, as of 2020, Maricopa County is working with the BLM as a partner to develop and maintain this trailhead. This means that a lot of changes coming to this spot.

At the beginning of 2020, you had to take a pretty rough (for a car) dirt road down to the trail. Eventually there will be a small visitor center here, bathrooms, established campgrounds, and spaces for educational programming. This means that some construction will be happening soon. Once this is complete, the impacts of users will be more contained and there will be more resources for visitors. Along with Hassayampa, this is poised to be one of the most beautiful and accessible trails for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

All that being said, check the Maricopa County website before finalizing your trip, as the trail may be inaccessible during construction.

Getting to the Trailhead

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

No matter where you are coming from, there is only one paved road that you can use to access this trailhead, Vulture Mine Road. The primary access will be from the north. If you are coming from this direction, you will access this road from the 60. Coming from Phoenix, this means that you will need to pass through the little town of Wickenburg. (If you do, be sure to stop by one of the local restaurants or shops after your hike!)

You can access the trail from the south. That will require taking Aguila Road from 355th Ave up from the I-10. This will have you following a small road for a pretty long distance through the desert. So, it’s not a route that I would suggest to most people coming from out-of-state, because you will miss some very beautiful views of Lake Pleasant and cute, little Wickenburg. The northern route has more on it by way of established things to enjoy. That being said, if you want to enjoy more of the open desert, without development, the longer southern route might be a nice adventure for you. Don’t expect bathrooms or services if you come from the south.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Once you see the sign for the trailhead, you will turn east onto a small dirt road (for the moment). You will follow the dirt road for 1-2 miles. This won’t be any problem for a high-clearance vehicle, but there are some challenging sections for cars. The trailhead will be apparent due to some outhouses and a ramada as well as a wide, circular parking area.

As I mentioned previously, the Vulture Peak Trail will be seeing some pretty considerable changes soon, so please consider this a guide to early 2020. Please refer to the Maricopa County website before planning and finalizing your trip to insure that the trail is still accessible when you plan on visiting.

Experience on the Trail

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

As I mention above, there is an outhouse at the trailhead (as of early 2020), but a friend of mine mentioned that she found it to be very dirty. You might opt for going to the bathroom before you leave Wickenburg.

From the trailhead, you will find yourself perched up above a wide wash, with the mountain clear in the distance with its southern edge of stony teeth, and it’s northern plateau. Between you and the mountain is something like a maze of washes and hills rising up to Vulture Peak’s base.

For the Vulture Peak trail itself, you will currently find the beginning of the track to be a little confusing, due to the many spider trails and ATV tracks. Vulture Peak is fairly apparent from far away, however, so you can use that as a point of reference as you navigate the trails.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Head down into the wash, following signs for the trail, and stick with the track as it crosses a fence. This is where you are most likely to get lost, so pause when you get to the bottom and locate the trail sign. Try to avoid following the larger ATV roads, as these sometimes have people riding fairly fast on them. However, if you can’t find the trail otherwise, you can opt for one of these dirt roads.

If you get going in the right direction on the actual Vulture Peak Trail, you will find yourself steadily gaining elevation as you pass through washes and climb up and down hills. Even though you might be tempted to hurry because the peak is off in the distance, please don’t. This part of the trail is a great warm up for the ascent, but it’s also a great place to enjoy spring blooms, or to just experience the vibrant Sonoran Desert life no matter the time of year. In any case, this part of the trail is wide open to the elements, so don’t expect shade here (or up on the mountain if you aren’t climbing in the morning).

Up the Mountain

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Eventually, the trail will pass through a jeep/4 wheel parking area with some informational signs, and this is where you will start to gain elevation at a much faster rate. If you aren’t an experienced hiker or it is starting to get hot, this is where you should turn around.

If the weather is good and you are feeling strong, start making your way up the mountain. Initially, as you work your way up the base, you will be on a steeper version of the trails that you have already traversed. As you get higher, you will move up into the stony landscape that makes Vulture Peak Trail so special and beautiful. Here, if you aren’t familiar with Arizona trails, you may find things to be a bit rough. You will need to scramble up rocks and in some places it will get so steep that you will find yourself walking up portions of trail that feel more like a staircase than anything else.

After quite the tiring climb, you will find yourself at the saddle where you can look down into the sweeping landscape on the other side of the mountain. If you stop here and turned around, you would have visited of the most beautiful places for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

Considering the Summit

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Bagging to the summit of the Vulture Peak Trail is something that I actually would not recommend. That is because getting to the summit is not a hike after the saddle, it is a climb.

While this is a doable climb without equipment, it will require hand-over-hand scaling of a rock face. That means that it is much more dangerous than the trail that you take to the saddle. If you were to slip and fall here, your odds of getting very hurt are high. Furthermore, the times of the year when it is most comfortable for humans to hike about is also the best time for snakes to sun on the rocks. That means that there is a chance you will stick your hand right into a rattlesnake’s personal bubble on your way up… That’s not a situation that you want to have happen to you, especially not in a wilderness situation.

All that being said, if you are tempted to try for the summit, you should be a comfortable climber, you should not be alone, you should have very good shoes and gloves, and you should move slowly so that you can check for wildlife before you place your hands and feet.

All this in mind, it would be best to spend some time enjoying the view from the saddle, and then head down.

Safety Concerns

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Remember that you are responsible for your own safety and well-being in nature. Always travel with a hiking companion and let others know where you are going and when you expect to be home.

(1) NEVER hike in Arizona when the temperatures are above 100 degrees. It may be dry, but it is brutally hot and the dry air will sap you of your internal water content. Furthermore, when the air is hot, the ground will be even hotter. This means that if you become exhausted in the heat and need to sit down, you will get even hotter. Just be careful and smart. In the spring and fall, head out early in the morning, and avoid hiking in the summer altogether if you don’t have experience with our heat.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

(2) You will need more water than you think, and snacks as well. Never hit the trail in Arizona without plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is that you should turn around when your water is half gone. Believe me, you don’t want to hike in the desert without water on hand; it is extremely uncomfortable on a good day and can be deadly. A salty snack is also a helpful way to get a dash of electrolytes, and a little bit of sugar can give you a boost of energy when you need it.

(3) Bring the right gear. Wear hiking shoes. This is no place for running shoes, since the trail is very steep, and it’s definitely not a place for sandals. Furthermore, you should bring a small first aid kit. And a comb in case you end up with some cholla in your leg.

Responsible Use

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Stay on the trail to save plants and animals that you can’t see. The desert is very good at hiding its biodiversity. So stepping off the trail can crush seeds waiting to sprout, essential soil bacteria mats, or the homes of little animals escaping the sun and heat.

Take your trash with you to keep the desert beautiful and healthy. Plastic and wrappers can last for a very long time before breaking down. Over that time they may kill animals that consume them. You’ve come to experience the beauty of the desert, so please leave it just as lovely as you found it.

Other Hiking Near Wickenburg AZ

hassayampa river preserve

The Palm Lake (c) ABR 2019

My favorite alternative hike in the Wickenburg area is Hassayampa. It is not remotely similar to Vulture Peak Trail. It’s only got short hikes, and it is in a lush, green riparian area. However, it’s a great place to experience what happens in the desert when you have water. And you are sure to see birds and small mammals if you visit.

If this was helpful to you, please share!

vulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trail

Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter.

If we truly are allies, we have to do better now and forever to speak out against and crush anti-black racism in our communities.

Below are just a few resources to get you involved, to help you start conversations, to help you learn. Feel free to share.  A couple of them are targeted toward the Asian community (Asian-American, here), but I think these practices can apply broadly.

Ways You Can Help

Anti-Racist Resource Guide by Victoria Alexander

20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now by Michelle Kim

6 Ways Asian Americans Can Tackle Anti-Black Racism in Their Families by Kim Tran

Let’s work to make anti-blackness unacceptable in every space we inhabit. Let’s show up for black lives.


Dear readers,

I wanted to take the time to express my support for the BlackLivesMatter movement.

I try not to ignore the dark history of our country, even as it saddens me to reflect on the tragedies of the past. One of the darkest parts of our history is the ongoing, systematic oppression of African Americans, which started with slavery and has continued through the misuse of laws and power structures. We should not continue to turn a blind eye to this, and change is possible, necessary, and moral.

African Americans have always and continue to contribute in every way to what makes the United States beautiful and vibrant. It’s past time for our communities to come together with them to elevate their voices and call for the changes necessary to make our shared home a place where we can all be safe, free, and supported in the pursuit of our dreams.

Here are some more resources, which were shared with me by my friend, Lisa:

How Do You Stay Resilient? – By Dr. Lisa-Marie Pierre

Anti-Racism Resources for White People which was compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020

And we also wanted to link out to some of our favorite Black, female bloggers/travel professionals for everyone to check out (in no particular order).

Learn.Grow.Pass is a complex blog- part self-care, part philosophical and ethical musings, this is a great place to go for thoughtful explorations of life and living it well. (This is also Lisa’s blog!)

interNATionalcaty has a travel blog, and she also helps people live out their travel dreams with itineraries, group travel, and more!

A Daily Dose covers a variety of topics, including societal issues, self-care, and living in the Caribbean.

The Thought Card is here to teach you how to afford travel no matter your financial situation.

Caribbean and Co. is building a comprehensive guide to travel in the Caribbean by someone from the Caribbean. I used her resources to plan my most recent trip to Montserrat before the pandemic!


montserrat itinerary

A Montserrat Itinerary – My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

If you haven’t read the first part of My Favorite Things to Do in Montserrat, you may wish to check that out, because this second part will not discuss the Soufrière Hills volcano and Plymouth except for an inclusion in the Montserrat itinerary at the end of this post. This little Caribbean country is now known for this active volcano and the swath of destruction that it has left behind on the larger south section of this tropical paradise. However, before anyone knew that the Soufrière Hills hid a living volcano capable of turning life on the island upside down for more than a decade, Montserrat was a treasure trove of natural wonders. It was and remains home to sweeping mountains, crystal clear springs of water, and wondrous black-sand beaches. It’s the perfect place for any intrepid explorer, especially nature lovers.

[Until the COVID-19 outbreak settles down and international travel is safe again, please consider this an inspirational post. This is not encouragement to travel at this time, especially not to a small country like Montserrat.]

(4) Go for a Hike

montserrat itinerary

Cassava Ghaut trail (c) ABR 2020

A lot of people don’t seem to realize how amazing the Caribbean is for hiking. And hiking in Montserrat is no exception. Hands down, the trails on this island are one of my favorite things to do in Montserrat. That being said, I MUST remind you that hiking is dangerous. Never go out alone unless you are very experienced. In any case, always let a third party know where you are going and when you plan on getting back. Bring good shoes, water, and food with you, and always start early in the day so that you don’t get caught at night. You always hike at your own risk, but if you get in trouble you get put other people at risk as well. So BE CAREFUL!

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My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

There are things to do in Montserrat for hikers, beach-goers, and history buffs. The island of Montserrat in the Caribbean is a territory of the UK, and not particularly well known outside of the region. Currently, what makes it particularly unique is that it is home to an active stratovolcano, which has made more than half of the island unliveable and dangerous with its rapidly moving pyroclastic flows. This activity began in 1995 and has continued sporadically to this day (although the last explosion as of 2020 was in 2010).

While this is, in fact, very interesting, Montserrat is also home to beautiful volcanic beaches, great hiking paths, and a very friendly community. Much like the other islands that I have visited throughout the Caribbean, this is a very special place, which should be more than a stop on a cruise ship itinerary. No matter your travel style, the island has something for you, and you should plan on spending at least 2-3 days here in order to get a good taste of the country. It might just steal your heart in that time!

2020 COVID-19 Disclaimer: Please do not consider this post encouragement to travel before it is safe.

Like the rest of the world, Montserrat is protecting it’s people by limiting travel and quarantining people that fly in. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s no time to travel overseas at the moment. But I do hope this will serve as inspiration to visit the island when it is safe to do so for yourself and when it is safe for everyone living in Montserrat as well. I visited Montserrat in February before the outbreak stopped the world.

(1) Tour the Island and Plymouth with Montserrat Island Tours

things to do in Montserrat

Sunny teaching us about the history of Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

Plymouth is the former capital of Montserrat, and the only place that visitors can get a sense for the impact that the Soufriere Hills Volcano has had on this little island nation. If you are silly like me, and think that you can just wander your way on over there by yourself in a rental vehicle, think again.

Zone V, where Plymouth and the volcano both live, are the heart of Montserrat’s exclusion zone, and due to the years and years of pyroclastic flows and floods of ash, it is off-limits. That being said, a visit to Plymouth is definitely #1 among the things to do in Montserrat, because it is a totally unique experience. And you can go… with a local guide who has permission from the government and follows very specific safety rules. While there are many good guides on Montserrat, I went with Montserrat Island Tours, and I absolutely loved them.

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Tea & Travel Chapter 2: Oregon Chai and Two Books on Montserrat

Welcome Back to Tea & Travel (in Books!)

Tea & Travel (in Books!) is Nightborn Travel’s series on chai tea and historic/cultural books pertaining to the locations where we’ve traveled.

This time around I will be looking at some homebrewed chai tea due to the Covid-19 social distancing, and Yvonne Weekes’ Volcano and David Lea’s Through My Lens. These cover what life on Montserrat was like when the volcano there started to erupt.

Introducing Chai Tea At Home… Oregon Chai


Atti the lovebird diligently makes notes on the tea as I taste it.

Oregon Chai (Original) probably has one of the most accessible chai flavors for Americans. Since you are making it yourself, you can determine how sweet you want your drink to be. I like to go for a more milky drink with a nice, subtle flavor.

The Location

Home. I write this to all of you during the Coronavirus quarantine. So, if you need something to try from your couch, this might be it.

The Chai Tea

Oregon Chai has several different options to try out. This time, I am reviewing their powder mix in the original flavor. I like to make mine by frothing some milk with a whisk in a pot. Usually it gets to be the perfect froth right around the time it wants to start boiling. Then I mix that with maybe a tablespoon, or a tablespoon and a half of the Oregon chai powder.

I would rate this chai latte pretty highly, but primarily because I can adjust it to my tastes easily (3.5/5). Again, I like the flavor of sugary, Americanized chai; this would likely not be enjoyed by someone looking for a spicy flavor.

Oregon Chai is primarily a sweet chai. And one which I think you can make a bit too powerful if you add a lot of the powder into your milk. To gauge how much flavor you want, you might consider starting with less and adding more bit by bit until you get the flavor intensity that you like. I prefer to keep this one pretty subtle so that I get a nice balance between the sweetness and the milky goodness.

Through My Lens and Volcano Book Reviews

A Window into History and Human Experience

I’m one of many people who have been fascinated by what happened in Montserrat. While I was there, I picked up David Gea’s Through My Lens, a memoir by the man who owns and runs Hilltop Coffee. (I am even lucky enough to say that I have a signed copy from him.) But as I was reading through this account of the volcano on Montserrat, I found myself wanting to get more than one perspective on the experience. So I also picked up Yvonne Weekes’ Volcano. Reading these two accounts of life on Montserrat pre- and post-volcano has been a wonderful lesson in the history of the island, but also the ways in which people experience momentous events in different ways. If you are interested in this (or any other historical event), I would definitely suggest trying to find more than one memoir to learn from.

Volcano by Yvonne Weekes


Yvonne’s book is a very poetic, and emotional retelling of her experience with the ongoing volcanic eruption of Montserrrat. It’s less of a story about the volcano, and more of a peek into the experience of loss, betrayal, and the search for self in the wake of an immense natural disaster that few can understand. Yvonne is an amazing author. Her short memoir is worth the read even if you aren’t interested in Montserrat particularly.

Quick Summary

Volcano is a deeply personal account of the author. So, to be honest, I am struggling to summarize it in a way that gives it justice. Consider this my best attempt, but not the most eloquent recap of the story. In the first section of the book, Yvonne brings the reader along as she returns to Montserrat as a young girl with her family, and recounts the racism that she experienced during her time in England. This puts the warm world of Montserrat in stark contrast to the harsh world of the UK. It is clear why Yvonne loves Montserrat so much. Why the island means the world to her.

All of this helps the reader to understand what it means when the volcano awakens. And why Yvonne and so many others tried to stay on the island for so long. She recounts the heavy ashfalls, the constant fear, and toll that all the destruction took on the people of Montserrat as more and more were relocated from their homes to shelters in tents, schools, and churches. The volcano makes life difficult and dangerous, but the lack of care from Britain also makes people suffer as well.

Eventually, Yvonne finds that she must leave Montserrat for the safety of herself and her son. She moves to Barbados, and from the reading, her heart and soul ache for home… for Montserrat. But the volcano makes going home impossible. She struggles with poverty as she restarts her life, as well as heartbreak (which she beautifully communicates through her poetry in the text). Eventually she finds that the memories of Montserrat give her the strength to face whatever the future has to offer.

Brief Review

Like I said above, while Yvonne’s book is not long, it is impossible to properly summarize it. She weaves her story so artfully, moving between memories so fluidly that it’s easy to follow, but hard to explain. Yvonne is a real artist, and the poems towards the end of the book communicate some of the most intense emotions that I have experienced reading a book in recent memory.

In terms of history, she doesn’t cover the timeline of the volcano in a thorough manner. But she does explain the loss better than I could imagine that almost anyone else could. Seeing the volcano now as a visitor, you can only guess at the pain felt by the people who used to live in beautiful Plymouth. But Yvonne will get you close to understanding, and you will feel something when you read her writing.

She also goes beyond the tragedy of the volcanic eruptions… by explaining the experience of the complicated relationship that Montserrat has with Britain.

In short, this is the perfect book to learn more about the volcanic eruptions on Montserrat because it is beautiful, emotional, and shares the human story of a tragedy. I’d highly suggest this book to anyone.

Through My Lens by David Lea


David’s story is a fascinating one. His passion for recent Montserratian history is lovingly apparent in the little details that he includes in his telling. His writing style is casual, and while charming, lacks some of the finesse that you would expect in a novel. If you don’t mind the self-published feel, you won’t be disappointed in the story.

Quick Summary

David Lea is an American who moved to Montserrat for his ministry, and due to the kind and welcoming character of the island. Him and his wife started their family there, and they were able to raise their children amidst the friendly hustle and bustle of Plymouth. They have fond memories of the many beautiful places that have since been rewritten by the volcano. He also takes some time to remember some of the people that touched their lives in special ways during that time. These memories, while unfamiliar to most readers, paint a picture of the community that called Montserrat home at the time.

While David remains a dedicated minister to this day, and throughout his story, the volcano gives him a second purpose when it awakens- capturing its activities and all of the changes that it brings on film. From the initial activity on the slopes of the mountain in 1995 until the area was deemed to dangerous for exploration, David could be found driving, and hiking the mountain with his camera on hand. He helped documentary and scientific crews from around the world. And his films have provided some of the only footage of rare and previously unknown volcanic events.

This book is a retelling of his time on Montserrat and the adventure that he embarked on through film as life on the island changed forever.

Brief Review

David Gea shares the historic jewels of Hilltop Coffee.

This book is a passion project… or that’s what it felt like to me when I was reading it. And there is something really special about getting to share in something built from so much love and excitement; it’s almost contagious. Now, I’m not saying that David speaks of the tragic events surrounding the volcanic destruction on Montserrat lightly. He has experienced the impact that it had on people’s lives and the island first hand. David has lost friends during the course of the many years that the island has been reshaped by its volcano.

But with his faith in hand, he presents an inspirational look at how disaster can bring new flavors to our lives. He takes up film-making, and he learns as much as he can about volcanos. He becomes a part of a small community of people who study and photograph these powerful forces of nature. It changes his life. There’s something really special and heartening about silver linings like these, and I really felt like his passion for all things Montserratian and all things volcanic comes through in the book.

The primary weak point is that this has a decidedly “self-published” feel, from the formatting to the narrative itself. At times, the love for history devolves into descriptions of people and places that most readers have no context for. And sometimes the timeline becomes unclear due to the way that the story is told. Important elements of the story aren’t always clear, while seemingly superfluous elements are told with loving care.

Final Thoughts

All that being said, if a less polished style of writing doesn’t bother you, I think that David’s writing comes across as charmingly genuine and it feels like a story that a friend might tell you. In that way, I think that this book is a really personal look into someone’s experience of life on Montserrat. The details that don’t make sense to an outsider, might bring back fond memories for someone who knew the people that David recalls. Furthermore, I think that this book does an amazing job painting a picture of what life on Montserrat before the volcano was like. I found myself really mourning the loss of Plymouth and the community there, as well as the seemingly endless beauty of the southern part of the island.

In short, I think that this book is well worth your money if you are looking for a unique and personal account of life during the Montserrat volcanic eruptions.

Like it? Pin it!

things to do in Montserrat

My Thoughts on Montsserrat: Inspiration for a Troubled Time

A place that captured my heart

(c) ABR 2020

There are many places that have captured my heart, including New Zealand, Scotland, Japan, Iceland, the Channel Islands, and the Faroe Islands. I am sure that there will be more places in the future, God willing. However, I’ve never been anywhere that impacted me the way that Montserrat did. I wasn’t expecting it. The first time that I had ever heard of the island was during my PhD studies, when I just stumbled across the name in one of the long lists of countries in the Caribbean. I wasn’t familiar, so as I am want to do, I looked it up. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that most of the island was an “exclusion zone” due to a volcano.

In my mind’s eye, this was a place like Washington state, where Mt. Saint Helens had ravaged the land and caused tragedy, but could now be observed and climbed like a relic of the past (not to say that it is). I imagined travelling through the lush rainforests of Montserrat to view and yes, even climb the volcano. Sadly, I was so naive that even leading up to my trip there, I was looking up how to hike the volcano. I didn’t realize that Montserrat didn’t just suffer from one explosion but nearly two decades worth of destructive, pyroclastic activity that has literally left about 2/3 of the island off-limits.

Touring Plymouth

Ruins in Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can at least say that I learned enough leading up to my expedition that I purchased a tour of Plymouth, the former capital of the island. I had read that you couldn’t go alone. My guide, a man by the name of Sunny, grew up in stretches of Montserrat that are abandoned and lost for now. And he, like many other Montserratians, had explored a beautiful world that has ceased to exist as it once did. Plymouth was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean. The mountains surrounding what’s now an active volcano were living and lush. There were only little hints of what was beneath it all in the form of hot springs, not unlike those that I’ve hiked to see in Dominica.

In 1995, when the mountain came alive again, no one thought that the Montserrat that they knew was about to be lost. Activity on the mountain grew, and scientists became more apprehensive, until they alerted the government to the fact that they could not provide 6 hours notice that the volcano might explode. At this point, people were forced to flee the city, many leaving their belongings behind, perhaps believing that they would be able to return soon permanently… and that life would go back to normal. It was not to be, however. The explosion that came in 1996 was so violent and persistent that by 1997 Plymouth was engulfed and destroyed. Nearly 2/3 of the island’s population left Montserrat permanently. Making the damage both physical and cultural.

Unlike Mt Saint Helens, the volcano didn’t explode once. It’s dome expanded and blasted out the island again and again. Destroying Plymouth, destroying the small villages in the countryside to the south, blasting away the roads and the countrysides that once allowed people to play in and explore, and eventually destroying the island’s airport. The last powerful explosion was in 2010, and the years leading up to that were filled with destructive activity. More than a decade of loss.

Strong people surviving loss

Sunny teaching us about the history of Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can’t know what those people went through and still feel to this day, but the stories I was told and reading about the event afterwards can give a one a sense. I feel loss even, for the people who lost their homes and their way of life, and for an island that I will never get to see. I’ve been to Montserrat now, but it’s a new Montserrat- something different from what it was before, unique yes, but a reminder of how brutal nature can be. Creation is violent, because volcanoes create. But what it takes to get there is tragic, painful, and oftentimes beyond human comprehension.

It isn’t just the tragedy of Montserrat that makes this island special, and it shouldn’t be. While I wanted to ask the people that I spoke with there if they ever got tired of talking about the volcano, it’s something that has shaped many things on the island. Despite everything, however, people are still there. Not folks who are trapped, but people that want to be there.

Some are Montserratians, although many community members left the island when the eruptions made life too difficult. With no space for people to live in, no jobs, no school, and no rest, it makes sense. They went to the UK, other Caribbean countries, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, since the volcano has comparably simmered down and settlements have established to the north of the island where it is safe, new folks have come to live there. Many are people from around the Caribbean, with some European and US expats as well.

Montserrat now and then, but still alive

(c) ABR 2020

They are rebuilding and keeping the island alive, and while most of them might not remember the Montserrat of “before,” they have taken the special spirit of that place to heart. Montserrat is a remainder of a Caribbean of yester-years. Safe, helpful, and friendly when you offer a smile or kind word. People wave at eachother as they drive down the road, and honk at friends as they pass. It’s not the only island left like this, but that doesn’t make it any less special to experience it- especially when you come from a big city.

Even though I never knew what Montserrat was like before the volcano, even though I didn’t live through the eruptions, or even get to thoroughly explore it, there is something haunting about this place. In some ways, it is that fascination that all people have for other’s tragedy (dark tourism is a thing for a reason!). It’s also the beauty of a place where the nature we love and the nature we fear exist together, and the kindness of a community that has survived that calls you back.

They say that if you drink from the Runaway Ghaut spring you will come back to the island. I couldn’t drink because of my chronic illness, but nonetheless, I hope the spirit of that promise will live in me. I want to come back, and I hope that when I do, I will get to see the dawning of a new day there. I hope that nature sees fit to let this little island heal.

Inspiration for times of trouble

Hilltop Coffee Shop Museum (c) ABR 2020

It’s been less than a month since I drafted this post… but it feels like a lifetime ago. The day that I plan on publishing this post will mark the beginning of our third week working from home due to coronavirus. With uncertainty being the name of the game everyday, and health/financial ruin weighing heavy on everyone’s minds… I often think back to Montserrat.

This is because I believe that the little nation of Montserrat faced disaster more bravely than I have in the past couple weeks. While the situation there and the situation now are not the same, the people of this island have survived years of uncertainty, destruction, and disruption of their lives. Yet, they found ways to adapt and survive, both on their home island and elsewhere. In this difficult days ahead, I will keep thinking about the strength of the Montserrat people. I will look for kindness in my community and try to provide kindness to those around me, and I will keep picking up the pieces until better times come again.

Thank you to Montserrat for hosting me for a few days before the whole world changed. That experience will live in my heart forever, and strengthen me in this insane reality that we are all living in now.


Tea & Travel Chapter 1: Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge and The Kansa Indians

Welcome to Tea and Travel (in Books!)

I’m about to dive into building Nightborn’s visitor guide to Kansas. As a preface to that temporary shift in gear here, I’d like to introduce a new series that I’ve been thinking about for a while now called the Tea and Travel Series.

Basically, I am going to do a short review of a book and a spot for chai tea in a single post. The books that I will be reviewing will be focused on culture and history. Both as they relate to places that we have or will be traveling to. The chai, on the other hand, will be from various places in the Metro-Phoenix area. Thus, the series will serve as a solid bridge between our Arizona posts and our short guides.

Introducing Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge


If you love tea, you really must check this place out! It will be immediately apparent to you that the people who own, and run this little shop really take tea seriously. The quality is high and the flavors are unique and genuine.

The Location

Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge is in downtown Phoenix, in a very cool part of Grand that has become home to some amazing food and artists in recent years.

I absolutely love the atmosphere of this cute little tea shop. There is a lot of warm wood. They have a corner of the shop with a couple comfy armchairs to relax in, and with a few themed books on hand to peruse. While relaxing with your drink, you will have the time to observe all of the little details about this place. There are little crystals in the window, things hanging from the rafters, and a very interesting clock on the wall. Cha Cha’s also has some adorable stuff on sale throughout the shop- mostly tea themed. As a major tea fan, I loved all elements of this little shop!

They also happen to be located right next to a fairly large parking area. So while parking elsewhere on Grand can be a bit difficult, that is no problem here. And if you want to walk around with your drink, they are also near some very bohemia shops and some beautiful street art.

The Chai Tea

The chai tea at Cha Cha’s is a home brew, which I love! I will 100% continue to review shops with mass produced chai tea, but it’s always way more fun to find places with their own chai.

I would also rate Cha Cha’s spiced chai latte highly (4/5). Please note that I lean towards enjoying sweet chais over more traditional flavors.

Cha Cha’s chai has a hearty, spicy flavor with very strong ginger undertones. While primarily spicy, this chai had just enough sweetness to it that I didn’t feel the need to add any sugar. Cha Cha’s will also make you some mean milk foam. Mine survived my whole drink, and I really enjoy milk foam, so I found this delightful.

Book Review: The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People

Looking for Books on the Indigenous History of Kansas

The book that I will be reviewing today is William E. Unrau’s 1971 The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People, 1673-1873. I wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of Kansas. Truth be told, I was unable to find many options that covered a little bit of culture and history in one. To top that all off, there isn’t a lot out there about the Kansa- the people for whom the state was eventually named. This book was the only one I found that fit the bill. So, is it worth reading?


This is a very dry book, but it tells an extremely tragic story that deserves to be told… and known. If you enjoy learning more about history and culture, and you can deal with academic writing, I think this is a fascinating read. It is very sober, however.

Quick Summary

The first part of this book focuses on the culture of the Kansa people, or shares as much about their traditions as we currently know. I always love reading about how other people did or do see the world and their ways of surviving in it. That being said, most of the book is devoted to a very in-depth look at what is essentially decline of the Kansa people post-contact with Europeans.

This was a relatively small group of people that were essentially subject to waves of epidemics. And they struggled to hold their place in a world that was in flux. The historic tellings that we have now made the final generations of Kansa peoples seem like they were in a constant state of war with other tribes living in Kansas. They also struggled with poverty. This was caused by the fact that the Kansa lifestyle was heavily focused on big game hunts, rather than agricultural production. As their reservation was continually downgraded, the Western life style was eventually forced on them.

There is a constant march of new Europeans throughout the book. They include the Spanish explorers and traders, and French fur traders. Finally, the Americans who eventually caused problems via squatting on Kansa lands arrived. Interestingly, however, there are a few key Kansa historical figures (such as White Plume) who can be followed through much of the story. This really illustrates the pure chaos that the Kansa had to deal with as their lands and way of life was slowly stripped from them.

From beginning to end, you will be walked through all of the small and large disasters. These eventually led to the extinction of a culture that once called Kansas home. It is an extremely heartbreaking historical account.

Brief Review

I honestly think that this book will be far too dry for most readers. It is really an academic text (complete with references throughout), and it reads like one. That being said, I don’t think that this is a story that’s often told. So, if you enjoy learning about new cultures, are interested in learning more about the history of Kansas, and/or want to educate yourself about what indigenous Americans had to survive as the US was being colonized, this book is really fascinating.

I enjoyed reading it, in so far as I thought that learning more about the Kansa experience was important.

That being said, besides being dry, this book is written from the European perspective beginning to end. I think that the author did their best at the time to take the Kansa perspective. There is no real Kansa input on this text, however, due to the loss of this culture. Anyone who reads The Kansa Indians should take this into account. And take things presented as fact (particularly in regards to their culture and perspective) with a grain of salt.

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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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