Category: Arizona Travel (Page 4 of 8)

Hiking Near Payson, AZ: The Fossil Springs Trail

Why You Might Love This Trail

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

Fossil Springs Trail is one of the emerging stars among the trails of Arizona. It isn’t all that uncommon to run into pictures of the waterfall and the unflatteringly named “toilet bowl” on Instagram. It will be immediately clear why people from all over the world enjoy this hike. Fossil Springs is truly an oasis in the desert, with its mossy falls and lush riparian trees. The trail into the Fossil Springs canyon will also take you through some of the higher country scrub forests of Arizona. These are absolutely beautiful in conjunction with the wide-open spaces of the drier parts of the state.

Of course, if you love hiking, this is a very good trail to explore. You get to experience the high elevation and riparian forests of the state. If you enjoy swimming, there are also some wonderful spots along the creek for a dip, and there is an endless array of photo spots.

Trail Stats

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

Length: ~8-9 miles (~4.5 miles in either direction, give or take)

Permits: Required from April 1-October 1

Access: Accessible with 2WD when dry; parking is down a dirt road with bumps and potholes, but I made it in my Acura RSX which has very little clearance.

Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult; This is a long trail with elevation gain on the way out. I didn’t find it to be particularly steep (1,500ft over the course of 4 miles), but I hike regularly.

Getting a Permit

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

If you want to hike the Fossil Springs Trail during more mild weather, you will most likely need a permit (April 1 – October 1). But if you have 4WD and are prepared for snow hiking, you can also go hike the trail without a permit from October 2 – March 31.

In any case, if you plan ahead, it really isn’t difficult to get a permit. Just go to the website and see if there are any available for your dates; you can buy permits a month ahead of time. If you want to go more than once in a year, you are allowed to hold one permit per month. Permits only cost $6 per vehicle.


fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

There are multiple trailheads/parking lots, but I would suggest reserving your permit for the Fossil Springs Trailhead near Strawberry, AZ. For those of you looking for hiking near Payson, AZ or coming up from Phoenix, you will need to drive north through Payson on the 87. You will pass through the small village of Pine. Then in Strawberry you will travel west on Fossil Creek Road/FR 708. Five miles down this road, and you will turn right to get to the parking lot.

Before you are able to park, you will need to have your permit checked. So, be sure that you follow all instructions on and have your paperwork ready to go!

Depending on where you are coming from, you might need some slightly different directions, or you might be heading to a different trailhead. Whatever the case, the website will have more information for you.

Our Experience of the Trail

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

In my mind, there are two sections of this trail. The first part takes you down from the parking lot and into the canyon. The incline wasn’t horrendously steep and the trail itself is pretty wide until you get close to the creek towards the bottom. Much of this first section is shaded by the trees and shrubs that characterize the open forests of most hiking near Payson, AZ. You will also get to enjoy the beautiful red soil that you can find throughout this area beneath the Mogollon Rim. This is a lovely place with great views of the landscape and canyon. It is also the harder part of the trail, and that sort of makes it something to be pushed through.

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

You will come to the second section of the trail when you reach the bottom of the canyon. Here the trees transition from the higher elevation forests to the riparian ecosystems that make Arizona water-side places so special and vibrant. The trail gets pretty flat at this point. So, I like to amble along this section, stopping to take pictures, eat snacks, and swim. While most people head straight for the dam and the “toilet bowl” I would highly suggest that you take your time and enjoy it all. There are plenty of spots to take in the spring, snap pictures of the beautiful forest, and rest up before you have to start your journey back up the canyon.

Safety Concerns

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

While I did not find this trail to be particularly dangerous or strenuous, many many people underestimate what it takes to hike something like Fossil Springs Trail. In 2017, first responders were actually overwhelmed by the number of people needing to be rescued from this area. Accidents happen, and even the best hikers can get hurt and need rescuing, but you have to do everything in your power to stay safe and not be a part of this problem. Here are some tips for staying safe, but remember that your safety on the trail is up to you. Be careful and prepared at all times.

Safety Check-list

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

(1) Know your abilities. If you are planning on going on this hike, practice beforehand. Know that you can hike 9 miles round trip with the elevation gain. If you aren’t ready, wait and do it after you have had time to prepare your body.

(2) Always bring food, water, and first aid supplies with you. Plan on bringing enough provisions for an entire day, and if you are unsure, there are outdoor first aid kits specifically sized and designed for the length of trip and number of people that you can get at REI.

(3) Start early in the day, even if you aren’t a morning person. This will give you more time if you need to take it slow on the way out. You don’t want to still be on the trail at night, but bring a small light just in case.

(4) WEAR GOOD SHOES. You should wear hiking shoes for the Fossil Springs Trail, and you need to have broken them in before you go. Do several hikes in a new pair of shoes before taking them out somewhere as remote as this.

More Safety Tips

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

(5) Unless you are a very practiced hiker, do not do this hike alone, and insure that all of your hiking partners are prepared.

(6) Pay close attention to the weather. Arizona is a place of extremes and this can be dangerous. When it is hot and dry, you need to make sure that you stay hydrated and have healthy levels of sodium (bring salty snacks). And when it storms, it STORMS. Fossil Springs is in a canyon and thus there is a risk of flash flooding. Before you leave, make sure that you pay attention to the conditions and plan accordingly. You may need to cancel your trip if the weather is looking really bad, but better to cancel than end up getting hurt or worse.

(7) If you are going swimming, remember that you are out in the wild in moving water. Make sure that you are a strong swimmer, are going with other people, and pay attention to your level of exhaustion.

Lessons from the Trail

Before It Was Cool

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

Yeah, I went to Fossil Springs Trail before it was cool. Hahaha, but it wasn’t like that. I was a kid at the time (5 or 6 maybe? It’s one of those fuzzy memories that I have, probably from right when I started remembering things), and my dad and I hiked down to the creek to camp. I can’t remember exactly where this was in the canyon, but I believe it was on the opposite side of the canyon than the trail I’ve described above.

It was a lovely day, but unfortunately, this was before the internet, and we ended up getting stuck in a storm. Consider this a lesson in things not to do… and a reality check about how dangerous weather in these canyons can be.

I loved the creek as a child, because I’ve always been enchanted by flowing water, having grown up in the desert. I remember playing among the trees and along the water, and at the time, there were no other people camping or hiking in the area. We had this beautiful place all to ourselves and the day stayed bright and clear until sunset, when the clouds started to creep in.

Rising Waters

fossil springs trail

(c) ABR 2017

We managed to finish eating dinner before things started getting dark and stormy. The rain didn’t start out particularly hard, so we hunkered down in our tent and hoped for the best. Luckily, my dad decided that we needed to abandon our campsite as soon as it was clear that the creek was rising. By this point, it was pitch dark, and I remember clutching to a little stuffed animal that I had brought with me, protecting it from the rain as best I could.

My dad packed up everything he could, and then led me straight up the canyon, towards the road. Now that water was pouring down, we had to claw our way up through the mud, to avoid the rising water. We managed to make up onto the road, and we were out of danger from the rising water at that point, but we were turned around in the dark storm and we weren’t sure what direction our vehicle was. I don’t remember well enough to say what the temperature was at this time, but being soaked and lost in the dark is never a pleasant experience.

Again, luckily for us, my dad’s sense of direction was spot on, and after a bit of walking down the road we made it to our vehicle. Now, we get to look back at this memory and laugh, but imagine if things had gone differently. If we had fallen asleep in the rain, we might have been caught in the flood. If we hadn’t turned the right way, we would have had to spend the night in the storm, and potentially face hypothermia. Back then, we couldn’t go look up the weather in Payson-area online, and we didn’t have a cell phone; but now we don’t have those excuses.

Just Be Smart

That’s a lot of information on safety! Is this trail really that dangerous?!

If you are interested in hiking Fossil Spring Trail, just make sure that you are prepared. This is a great, beautiful hike. It is also one that has been plagued by people getting themselves into situations that they couldn’t get themselves out of.

fossil springs trail

fossil springs trail

Why You Need an Arizona Christmas Vacation in Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part Two

If you live somewhere cold, and you’re feeling like you need some fresh air and sunshine, Phoenix, Arizona might be the destination for you. The capital of Arizona is no longer a characterless surburbia. There are museums the likes of which you will find no where else. It has a unique climate perfect for getting some winter vitamin D. There are tons of desert trails to explore. And Phoenix has a growing foodie scene. However, that is not what I want to talk to you about today, because Phoenix is also the annual home to some beautiful Christmas light events that make it the perfect spot for an Arizona Christmas vacation. For families, this is a great time to visit, and experience the wonder of the holiday season without the freezing temperatures and threat of blizzards.


Zoolights has basically become a yearly holiday tradition with family and friends. Who doesn’t love strolling around the Phoenix Zoo when it’s decked out in thousands of holiday plant and animal-shaped lights while sipping a cup of hot chocolate?

Zoolights lights up the night typically from the third week of November through the second week of January. If you can swing it, we recommend going on a weekday instead of weekend because the zoo can get PACKED (plus, parking can get kinda hairy on busier days). Plus, if you go on their value nights, admission is about five bucks less! Check their website for the value night dates and full admission info.

If you’re hoping to see animals during your Zoolights experience, it’s going to be pretty limited.  The animal enclosures are dark and most of them have turned in for the night. However, you CAN visit their Stingray Bay for a chance to pet some stingrays – basically my favorite thing (which was included in admission this year, although we didn’t go 🙁 ). Alternatively, maybe you can make a zoo day out of the trip and see the animals during the day and the lights in the evening.

The Phoenix Zoo is located in the heart of Papago Park, and also conveniently located next to our other holiday lights attraction, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens.

Electric Desert and the Luminaries at the Desert Botanical Gardens

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens is a must-see for any first time visitors. It is set in the beautiful Papago Park, and features desert plants from Arizona and around the world. Many have adapted so well to the desert that they have taken on exotic and beautiful forms. Even people with little interest in plants will enjoy seeing these unique little lifeforms. Strolling through the Botanical Gardens is enjoyable either way, particularly in the cool weather of the winter.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Cacti in the night (c) ABR 2018

During the holiday season, the Phoenix Botanical Gardens plays host to a variety of events that cater to both local and visitor interests. During October, they celebrate the Day of the Dead with ofrenda installations designed by local artists (October 26, 2018 – November 7, 2018). And every Christmas they do a beautiful luminary display (Dec. 1 – 23 & 26 – 31, 2018). However, the Desert Botanical Gardens has also supported a variety of unique lights-in-the-night art events. A few years ago, they had a park-wide Chihuly installation that they lit up at night. This year they are hosting Electric Desert. This event melds music and light to create immersive experiences that accentuate and highlight the organic shapes of the garden plants.

Desert Botanical Gardens Logistics

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

While Electric Desert is only here until May 2019 (October 12, 2018 – May 12, 2019), if you plan your Arizona Christmas Vacation for 2019, the Desert Botanical Gardens is worth a visit. I find that the Desert Botanical Gardens is great for adults spending the night out. It is has some class and tranquility that really sets it apart.

You can visit the Desert Botanical Gardens during the day (8a-4p) for $24.95, and the Electric Desert/Luminaries costs $34.95 – $39.95 for the night. I believe that you can also purchase a joint ticket, but I didn’t see this on the website. If you go for a joint ticket plan on spending at least 3 hours in the park. You might also want to enjoy the surprisingly amazing food at Gertrude’s, the park restaurant.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

CURRENT Hours For Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.  (Daytime admission)
The Garden is open for Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert ticket holders from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. nightly.

Christmas Lights: Christmas at the Princess

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018.

We would be remiss if we discussed any Arizona Christmas vacation (or staycation) without mentioning that Phoenix has many opportunities to enjoy traditional Christmas lights in the less than frigged air. My old family tradition was to drive through the neighborhoods with cultures of spectacular lights. For the sake of responsible travel, let’s leave those places for local families. Not to worry though! There are events throughout the city to enjoy so you will not be for want of Christmas lights.

Arizona Christmas vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018

One such event is Christmas at the Princess, where you can enjoy a mix of light draped trees and whimsical light animals, boats, Christmas characters and more. The Princess also does a variety of Christmas-themed activities that you can pay extra to enjoy, such as a skating rink, train rides, Build-a-Bear workshops and more. Probably not our cheapest option with all the add-ons. But you can keep your eyes open for Groupons to this event. (If you love these pictures of Christmas at the Princess, be sure to check out the rest of Stephanie’s photography on Instagram!)

If you have rented a car, another great option is to skip town and drive two hours north of Phoenix to Prescott. Some call this small town the Christmas capital of Arizona, and I think that the name is fitting. The downtown square of Prescott is decked with lights and Christmas decorations every year. There are a variety of great restaurants to enjoy along with the night of celebration and small-town charm. This event is free, but it has been getting more press. So I would suggest arriving earlier in the day so you can find a place to park. It is likely that you will need to pay to park as well, unless you decide to go the extra mile and reserve a hotel there for the night.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Holiday Lights Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part One

I’ve never really thought of Phoenix as a good place for holiday experiences, but this year I have become very aware of the fact that this city comes alive with lights in the winter. Whether you are here right after the summer heat ebbs in October, or through the Christmas and New Years, there are fantastical events featuring art, sharing culture, and giving us moments to celebrate those who have left us and hopes for the future. If any of that sounds interesting, stay tuned for our guide to Holiday Lights Phoenix. 

The Lights Fest

The Lights Fest is a paper lantern lighting festival out in Florence, AZ (a town southeast of Phoenix). The festival usually takes place in the beginning of November, but be sure to double check their website because the date can move around due to availability of the festival grounds, weather, etc.

For about $25 per person (sign up for their mailing list to get early ticket access), you can take part in the unique experience of lighting your own paper lantern. Watching it float amidst hundreds of other lanterns against the dark night sky more than makes up for the longer trek out to the field.

The lanterns aren’t launched until the sun has set and the fire department give them the okay to let lanterns go, so be prepared to keep yourselves entertained (though they usually have live performances and music playing). It’s a good idea to bring chairs to sit on, and if the event is in the fall, blankets and warm clothing, too.  If you want to make a picnic out of it, you can bring your own food and drinks – just no alcohol. They also typically have food trucks on-site, but the lines are usually pretty long.

It’s a pretty laid-back event, so if you want to enjoy a relaxing afternoon/evening and enjoy a beautiful display of floating lanterns, this is a great little festival to attend.

Moonviewing Festival in the Japanese Friendship Garden

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The beautiful Japanese Friendship garden of Phoenix celebrates the coming of the Fall (and the break of the hellish summer heat) by holding a Moonviewing Festival (Otsukimi in Japanese). By nature, this is a Phoenix holiday lights experience, because the moon is involved, but the friendship garden also decorates the grounds with luminaries, paper lanterns, and soothingly illuminated Japanese art pieces. They also bring in food vendors, and open up their tea garden to visitors.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

You can enjoy delicious Japanese foods while listening to traditional, live music. Then head over to the teahouse to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and traditional instruments. When you need some solitude, you can wander the grounds of the gardens. Be soothed by the rushing waterfall and lapping pond, while the sounds of the festival ebb and flow in the background. Of course, you have to also marvel at the majesty of the moon. You can attend this event for $25-$30 dollars beforehand or at the door respectively; this price does not include food. (Late October)

Scottsdale Canal Convergence  

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The Scottsdale Canal Convergence is a yearly event that brings together interactive art, educational and hand-on activities, and the beauty of Old Town Scottsdale. The best time to visit, particularly if you want to enjoy the art in its element, is after dark. Although the event opens in the late afternoon. Most of the installations are meant to dazzle your senses by melding light and sound into a totally unique experience that you can often also touch and feel.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

This year, I got to watch metal lotuses floating in the canal fire multi-colored flames into the air. I got to watch children laughing as they spun a massive, shifting rainbow of empty water bottles. I climbed into a glowing hamster wheel and rowed with my husband until the pictures lining the inside spun into an animated blur. There were giant pieces of lace floating over the water, glowing chalk paintings, and a crystal of endless fractal depths. There were also student art pieces to explore and marvel at. Every year has different art, so I can’t guarantee what you will find here. But I suspect this will continue to be a great place to visit as long as it continues. The best part about this Phoenix holiday lights event? It’s completely free! (Early-mid November).

Holiday Lights Phoenix

If you are in Phoenix for the winter and missed any of these events, there is no lack of other great winter attractions to visit. And come back in a couple weeks to learn about more opportunities to see beautiful lights in the city.

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

Phoenix Area Hiking: Boulder Canyon Trail #103

Phoenix is a great city for hiking, if you have some common sense about heat exposure and keeping water on hand. There are many amazing mountain preserves throughout the city, one of the most famous of which is Camelback Mountain. What is less known to visitors is that the city is also ringed by several man-made lakes. Every one is unique, and they all offer a variety of outdoor activities. Canyon Lake is my favorite. And Boulder Canyon Trail is the best trail to get views of the lake, and surrounding mountains. Hike far enough, and you will also be able to see the Superstitions and Weaver’s Needle.

Boulder Canyon Trail

Level of Difficulty: Moderate; rocky trail, with consistent inclines. Easy to navigate within 3 miles of the trailhead.

Cost: $0

Where to Park: Canyon Lake Marina, dirt parking lot

Accessible to…: All vehicle types; the road leading up to the trailhead is paved, although windy and narrow at some points.

Necessities: Water, snacks, small first aid kit, map and compass, camera

Boulder Canyon Trail

Suggested Route: Unless you are very experienced with desert hiking and navigation, I would suggest just doing 3 miles in and then another 3 miles out (or less; out and back). This is straightforward and will afford you some amazing views. This is not a loop trail, but it does connect to the network of Superstition trails.

Trail Description: Boulder Canyon Trail starts across the 88 from the marina parking lot. You will be faced with an immediate junction, one trail to the left and one to the right. Follow the sign for Boulder Canyon to the left (if you go to the right, the trail is short and just follows the edge of the lake).

Boulder Canyon Trail

Once you get started, you will have to deal with a steady climb up Frog Peak. This mountain is quite rounded,  and more like a hill than anything else, but the trail is rocky and the climb is consistent. The plant and bird diversity is wonderful in this area, and even the rocks are little rainbows of lichen forests. When and if you find yourself puffing on the way up, be sure to pause and enjoy both the scenery and the unique ecosystem around you.

At the top of Frog Peak you will get some very beautiful views of Canyon Lake. The dam, marina, and canyon that gives the lake its name will all make an appearance. The colorful mountains that encircle this area are breathtaking as well. Honestly, I just can’t say enough how much I love this area. It is the epitome of desert beauty.

Boulder Canyon Trail

If you keep going past the cairn on the peak, the trail will wind you to the south along the mountains for a way. There are a few ups and downs here, but overall, nothing as strenuous as the trek up the first mountain. If you are feeling up to it, I highly suggest continuing on for a while. This is the part of Boulder Canyon Trail where you will get the best views of Weaver’s Needle, and you will have the opportunity to experience some of the lesser known mountain vistas in the area.

After this stretch, the trail will dip down towards a creek bed. This is where I typically turn around, either at the top of the descent or at the bottom if I want more of a work out coming back up. You can keep going, but Boulder Canyon Trail is quite long and connects with other trails, so for casual hikers or visitors, I wouldn’t suggest it. Plus, if you turn around, you will have more time to stop by Tortilla Flats for Prickly Pear ice cream!

Boulder Canyon Trail

For more info on the trail, read through Hike Arizona’s guide.

And if you are looking for more ideas for things to do in Arizona, our guide to the state will help you find unique events, hikes, and restaurants to visit.


Backyard Discoveries: The Tucson Rodeo

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (or Celebration of the Cowboys) is a time-honored Tucson tradition. What started at just three days of events and competition all the way back in 1925, has grown to a nine-day celebration every February, with its main draw being the Tucson Rodeo.

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta is such a large part of Tucson culture that the schools close for two days just so Tucsonans can go to the rodeo! After hearing that, Nightborn Travel had to check it out.

tucson rodeo

Tips to Know Before You Go:

  • You’ll want to visit the Tucson Rodeo website – there you’ll find a detailed schedule of events and a way to purchase your tickets online.
  • We went on Saturday of the opening weekend and were able to get cheaper general admission tickets (meaning you could sit anywhere in the stands) – we think it was because these were only qualifying rodeo events. You could always call their box office to be sure.
  • Seats are basically open bleachers, meaning that it might get a little toasty if the weather is nice and sunny. Bring hats/sunglasses and sunscreen. We also saw some very smart and prepared people who brought blankets/cushions to sit on.
  • Basically any bag larger than a wallet or clutch isn’t allowed in, UNLESS it’s a clear bag. If you think they’re joking about bag size, they’re not, so you can find a full list of DOs and DON’Ts here.
  • In our humble opinion, you don’t need to know anything about rodeo sports to enjoy it, but it sure helps.
  • In addition to the rodeo, there’s the Tucson Rodeo Parade, which apparently the world’s longest non-motorized parade.

tucson rodeo

Gates at the rodeo don’t open until 11 a.m., so if you make it down to Tucson next year for La Fiesta and the rodeo, we humbly suggest that you give this hike at Tanque Verde Falls a try in the morning and then reward yourself with some tasty lunch at Guilin.

tucson rodeo

Keep Tucson weird!



Our Favorite Spot for Tucson Chinese Food: Guilin

Whenever my friends and I travel to or through Tucson we all insist on going to Guilin Chinese Restaurant. Considering that most of us spent at least 4 years living in Tucson, this is pretty telling. We all have different tastes, and between the group of us, we’ve tried many of the restaurants in the area. Guilin is just one of those special, unassuming places that never disappoints. So, if you are looking for Tucson Chinese food (or are just in the area) consider giving this little place a chance.

Tucson Chinese Food

Aireona’s Thoughts on Guilin:

I had not had really good Chinese food until I had Guilin. While my husband would argue that there is nothing special about it, I just find that their food is delicious while not being heavy like some of the other places that I have eaten. Their ingredients are consistently good, and I have never had a disappointing meal here. Service here is also fast, and while there are usually people in the restaurant, it’s rare that you have to wait at the door. Not only is this my favorite place for Tucson Chinese food, Guilin beats any where else that I have been.

Pro Tip:

Go during lunch for some amazing deals! Lunch at Guilin includes soup and either an eggroll or ragoon, plus your entree and rice.

Favorite Dish:

Mongolian Beef

Tucson Chinese Food

Katie’s Thoughts on Guilin:

There are so many amazing restaurants in Tucson – El Guero Canelo, Zemams Brooklyn Pizza and Bobo’s – to name a few. But Guilin is the one I visit every time I go back to Tucson, without fail.

Aside from the nostalgia of it being one of my frequent broke college kid haunts, I’ve never been able to find a comparable tofu dish anywhere else. I think about this dish from time to time. I have dreams about it. Any attempt I have made to make this tofu doesn’t even come close. And honestly, it’s probably for the best, because if I knew how to make it, I would eat it ALL the time. Bye, bye balanced(ish) diet. Besides, this way, I have an excuse to visit my old stomping grounds and support a local business.

Pro Tip:

Try the veggie dumplings – they’re the perfect light appetizer. Crispy outside with a soft cabbage filling, served with a tasty dipping sauce.

Favorite Dish:

Tofu with Black Bean Sauce


4445 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85711

Tucson Chinese Food

A Hike Worth Hollering About: Tanque Verde Falls

It’s rare for us Nightborn Travel gals to pass up a chance to hike. On our recent trip down to the Ol’ Pueblo (or Tucson, as normal people would call it) we decided to venture out to Tanque Verde Canyon for our first time hiking Tanque Verde Falls.

View from the top of the trail – close to the trailhead.

This trail is located east of Tucson, just barely outside of the city – maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Take note that the paved road leading to the trailhead becomes a dirt road, so take that into consideration if your vehicle isn’t suited for dusty and slightly bumpy (but still driveable) terrain.

A comically angry-looking cactus near the creek bed. You’re welcome.

The hike itself is only about 2 miles long, but if you want to actually make it to the falls, there’s one BIG thing to take into consideration, and that’s water. Should you bring it? Yes. But also, has it rained lately? Because if it has, the creek along the trail will be running and while it will be beautiful, it will make your hike to the falls less of a hike and more of an… attempt.

Mmmm, sweet brown rainwater. (We did not drink this water, nor do we endorse drinking this water.)

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s exactly what happened to us. We made it about halfway up the trail before a mini-waterfall blocked us from going forward. We talked to a couple locals who told us that if the creek is dry or at least more of a trickle, you can scramble your way up the falls.

The mini-waterfall that hike-blocked us.

And here’s another thing to consider, the trail going down to the creek bed is relatively easy going, but from there on you’ll be encountering rock pile after rock pile and some times it will feel less like hiking and more like bouldering.

Rocks on rocks on rocks.

That being said, the area the trail is in is wonderful and the falls are said to be worth seeing, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be back. And, keeping what you’ve read in mind, we’ll hope you visit, too (if you’re not a big hiker, it’s a great little spot to find a rock along the creek and relax).

Happy hiking!


Tea and Travel Prologue 1: Reading Volcano in Paradise and Sipping Chai at Copper Star

The Tea!

downtown phoenix coffee shop

Food and chai tea out on the patio (c) ABR 2017

Reviewer(s): Aireona (the sugar-lover)

Brand: Copper Star has a house chai!

Flavor: You can’t get this chai anywhere else, because the lovely people at Copper Star have a house chai! Even as much as I love Maya, there is something wonderful and unbeatable about a chai that you can’t get anywhere else. Luckily for me, since I love the sweet, fakey chai that’s all over the US, this is a nice sugary latte. But Copper Star’s tea has a very nice balance of spice to help counteract the sweetness. While not quite as spicy as Maya, I really enjoy the smooth flavor of this chai, and on top of it, I think it has a complex of spices that really make it interesting and enjoyable.

original chai tea in phoenix

The Locale

original chai tea in phoenix

Location: 4220 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013

WIFI: Free wifi provided!

Atmosphere: Copper Star Coffee is situated in a repurposed gas station. I think this is pretty awesome, because there are few mundane things more sad than an abandoned building. The inside of their shop has a rustic warehouse feel, with original art work, and a few long tables for work. There is also a nice patio to enjoy the awesome Arizona weather in the spring and fall. Parking is a bit scarce, but there is a little dirt lot behind the psychic that the coffee shop shares with them. There is also street parking that you might be able to snake into. No worries if there aren’t any spots though, they have a sweet drive through so that you can enjoy their rendition of chai at home or on the road.

The Best of Copper Star

original chai tea in phoenix

Staff: The people at Copper Star are wonderful. They can get pretty busy there. This is quite the popular spot, but they work as fast as they can crafting your delicious drinks. Busy or not, they are friendly, and seem very genuine to me. This isn’t an equation for friendly baristas that we see at Dutch Bros and Starbucks. These are cool people at a legitimately unique spot in our little suburban expanse.

Pros: Copper Star is one of the few places with original chai tea in Phoenix. I love visiting for the taste I can’t get anywhere else. On top of that, they also have a great assortment of pastries (cupcakes, pie, lemon squares and the like) and lunch food. I have yet to try their lunch food due to my schedule, but I love their desserts.

Cons: There is a lack of parking that I think could be a problem at times. The coffee shop is also a little cramped and a bit loud when it is busy. I find it a little distracting as a place to work, but I like hanging out with friends there.

original chai tea in phoenix

The Travel! (In a Book)


Volcano in Paradise by Phil Davison is more of a journalistic take on the recent history of the years of eruptions from the Soufrière Hills volcano. For people who haven’t yet visited Montserrat, this is a comprehensive (if removed) look at what happened, and how various leaders in the community tried to deal with an incomprehensible tragedy of nature’s hand.

Quick Summary

Volcano in Paradise tells the historic story of the Soufrière Hills eruptions and the waves of loss that the volcano’s continued activities have had on the community of Montserrat. It begins by describing the island as it once was, before the volcano awoke, and it gives readers a glimpse at the place and the lives connected to Montserrat before. Then, following the stories of community and governmental leaders, it very adeptly melds personal narratives with the analytic storytelling of a journalist. Readers follow along as first one pyroclastic flow and then another belch out from the mountain- in places no one but volcanic experts would have expected. Initially, there is hope that the Earth will quiet down, and people who evacuated from the island’s capital in 1995 and the many villages of the south could return home. But as time drags on, the mountain wears on everything. It doesn’t quiet down. It just slowly consumes more and more- taking beautiful Plymouth, the little gems of St. Patricks and Harris, the airport, the forests, the plants and animals… and even friends and family that everyone on the island loved and knew. It’s a heartbreaking story, but one which connects the plight of Montserrat with the vast network of volcanoes around the world which both threaten as amaze us, and create even as they destroy.

Brief Review

With many points of views and details from various experts, decision-makers, scientists, and local residents, I found this book to be the most elucidating of the three books that I have read on Montserrat so far, but not in the personal way that Volcano and Through My Lens both do. While there was a focus on a few key players, none of them were telling the story, and so, while there were very emotional moments in the book, overall it had a more clinical feel. That being said, it was never boring. And if I didn’t know anything at all about Montserrat, this would be the best of the three books to introduce me to the history, because it starts from the beginning and walks through the chaos- tracking what seemed to be the most major events along the way. I also had to appreciate the tidbits of science and discussion about volcanoes elsewhere in the world; it puts Montserrat’s struggle into perspective, at times making you wonder about the conical mountains closer to home. For anyone with a love of history and/or natural disasters, I would highly suggest this read, it’s well written, fascinating, and just generally informative.

Cave Creek Hiking: Go John Trail

There is alot of variety to Cave Creek hiking, and Go John Trail is one of the most well known trails in this area. In fact, it was previously showcased by Sweat Magazine as reader’s choice best hike. And all for good reason. The Go John Trail is just the right amount of challenge mixed in with all the beauty you could possibly want. Sweeping views of the Sonoran Desert, and rolling, mountainous hills, covered with saguaro. This trail will take you through lush washes, and arid landscapes. And now, after the fires of 2020, it is also home to a burn scar which will shape the landscape for years and years to come.

Whether you are a local or just visiting, if you have the time (and weather) for this trail, it is a must.

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

Need to Know

Location: Cave Creek Regional Park
Run By: Maricopa County
Fee: $7 per car
General Difficulty: Moderate
Round Trip Length: 5.4-6 miles (8.7 km)
Accumulated Gain: 1,260 feet (384 meters)
Crowd Levels: Light
Other activities: Camping, picnicking, visiting the nature center (where there is a desert tortoise!)

Why Do the Go John Trail?

The first time that I did this trail, I was a little underwhelmed, particularly because the person who took me kept telling me that it was the most beautiful trail in all the metro area. I’m sure that some people would agree with her, but I am partial to Spur Cross myself, if I were to point you towards my favorite trail. In any case, in the past few years, I have returned to the Go John Trail again and again, and I’ve really gained an appreciation for this trek. I think it’s a great way to experience the Sonoran Desert, whether it is your first time or your 100th.

There is really wonderful plant biodiversity on this trail, because you get some different microbiomes. You have the arid desert, and then some slightly lusher areas when you cross some washes. On wildflower years, I have seen all kinds of beautiful blooms here. And there are some extremely impressive saguaro along the trail as well. Likewise, there are tons of animals that you can view from the trail, although this takes much more practice, as many are experts at hiding.

Since 2020, there is also another reason why this trail is special to me- it is home to a large burn scar from the 2020 fire season. From this, you should be able to tell that “special” has an unorthodox connotation here. This isn’t something that makes me happy; in fact, the last time I walked through the scar, I cried. There are hundreds of saguaro that will likely die from the fire, invasive plants are already coming in, and its just a devastating landscape. But, I think it serves as an important look into what we risk by not addressing wildfire concerns here in Arizona and elsewhere.


Which means we can prevent many of them, but we need for people to care.


First Half

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

The Go John Trail starts at the parking lot at the very end of the road in the recreation area. It is a loop hike that you can start heading north or east. The first section of the trail (if you head north on the Maricopa Trail) rises up over a saddle in the mountains. It’s not a particularly steep incline, but it was sustained enough to get my heart rate up. This is the hardest part of the trail, in my opinion, and after you make the top of this rise, Go John will take you down into a valley where you will first enter the burn scar.

The burn scar (c) ABR 2021

Before you descend onto the main length of the trail, however, I would suggest pausing to enjoy the view. The saddle is a great place to snap some pictures of the valleys to either side, one with the heart of Phoenix and one still wild (for now). The rest of the trail is fairly low elevation, so there aren’t tons of other spots for pictures until  the end. That being said, the mountains in Spur Cross will  be at eye line for most of your trek, so the horizon-to-horizon beauty is there.

It’s also the perfect place to compare the healthy desert with the burnt desert. The difference is striking.

Second Half

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

Once you hike down into the washes, you will have some wonderful opportunities to see Sonoran desert biodiversity, with a multitude of plants growing in this relatively lush part of the Phoenix valley. But the trail will continue in and out of the burn scar for miles after the saddle. Birds abound despite the damage, however, and if you know where to look (and how to be both safe and respectful of the animals) there is also some good herping here.

The way back towards the trailhead goes require you to gain some elevation again, but it is much more gradual than the first half of the trail. And once you round the mountains to the east, you will finally exit the burn area and start exploring the thriving desert again. The difference should be immensely apparent.

Beautiful Sonoran Desert (c) ABR 2021

Despite what some uninformed people might proclaim, the desert is not empty. My home is full of life, it just so happens to look less lush than what most people are used to. In fact, Arizona is the third most biodiverse state in the United States.

Safety First

The Go John Trail is 6 miles long, and believe it or not, people have died here before. Never take hiking lightly; be safe! You are your own responsibility and this guide is not a guarantee of your safety.

Do not hike when it is hot (be wary of 85 degrees and higher).

Bring 2-3 liters of water on your hike, as well as salty and sugary snacks.

Wear good hiking boots that will protect your feet and help prevent you from slipping on sandy rocks.

For more safety tips, please reference our other hiking guides.

Does Fire Belong in the Sonoran Desert?

Invasive Stinknet (c) ABR 2021

Not in the way that we are seeing them now. Fires in the Sonoran Desert have not been as large, as hot, and as common as they are now. This change towards more fires that burn larger areas and are more destructive while burning is primarily due to various things that we are doing to the landscape. (1) We are lighting more fires. (2) Climate change is causing drought and higher temperatures which support fires. (3) Human-introduced, exotic grasses and competitive, fast-growing annuals are creating heavy fuel loads where there didn’t used to be any.

These more intense, more common wildfires are changing our landscape and the charismatic saguaro serves as a good example of why. These giant, loveable cacti are not adapted to fire and they are slow growing. So, when wildfires cross the landscape, they may initially survive but with more than 30% burns, even the oldest plants will die within 5 years. Young saguaro are even more vulnerable. Then, it is invasive grasses that emerge from the newly burnt soils. They compete for resources with the tiny, saguaro seedlings and if there are young saguaro that manage to grow after the fire, they are at risk for the next fire, which the invasive grasses will provide fuel loads for.

It IS Up to You To Prevent Wildfires

(c) ABR 2021

As Smokey Bear always says- it is up to us to prevent wildfires and that is true! There are several key things that you can do.

(1) Target shoot responsibly.

Many of our fires are started by target shooters, but this can be prevented. Pick places to shoot where there isn’t a heavy load of dry grasses and plants that can catch on fire easily from a spark. Choose areas with berms. Don’t shoot at metal targets which will spark, and don’t shoot at explosives of any kind.

(2) Check your tow chains.

If towing while on the road, insure that all of your safety chains are either outfiitted with anti-spark covers or adjusted so that they can’t drag on the group.

(c) ABR 2021

(3) Watch where you park.

Do not park your vehicle over dried grasses. Sparks from vehicles can and do cause fires.

(4) Do not throw cigarettes or leave camp fires unattended.

Tossing cigarettes on the ground and leaving campfires unattended and insufficiently doused can put entire landscapes at risk as well as the people in them. Put out your fires with water and stirred until they are completely out (no steam, no heat), and stamp out your cigarettes and pack them out with you.

go john trail

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