Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 5)

The Classic Attractions of San Diego for Nature Lovers and Culture Buffs

San Diego is one of my favorite cities in California, and I have loved just about every city that I have visited in Cali. For SoCal, I think it is something about that warm, ocean air. In the case of San Diego, however, I love its unique character and history. It has a lot to offer any visitor, from major attractions like San Diego Zoo, to cultural landmarks like Balboa Park, and natural parks like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Park, and huge cultural events like San Diego Comicon. While I couldn’t fit all of the San Diego Attractions into a single guide, here is a great place to start; these belong on your bucketlist for sure.

San Diego Zoo

san diego attractions

(c) ABR

The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, and I make it a point to visit this zoo almost every time that I am in San Diego. It is one of the most famous zoos in the world, and it is home to over 4,000 animals. While it isn’t the largest zoo on Earth, the sheer size of this place can be daunting for any animal lover. It feels like there is just no way that you can visit every part of the park in one day, especially if you have little kids with you. Besides being large, half the time that you are in San Diego Zoo you feel like you are either hiking down a steep hill or hiking back up.

On the bright side, you get a good work out while you’re there, but it can make seeing everything even more difficult. This sounds like a bit of a struggle, but it is something that I love about San Diego Zoo. You could literally spend all day here and still have new things to see, and there are so many animals there that I almost always end up seeing something new. Also, as a conservation scientist, I really enjoy seeing all of the interactive, educational materials at this zoo. Not only that, but the San Diego Zoo has done a wonderful job with immersive enclosures, and they have recreated a bunch of different environments that can be explored throughout the park. Really, I can’t sing the praises of this place enough. It is definite must for anyone that enjoys zoos and will be in the area.

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Experience the Living History of San Diego

The cities of the United States’ west coast aren’t known for their long histories- not like those of the East coast or Europe, Asia, and Africa. Despite that, each and every place has a long history of human habitation, culture, art, and exploration. For San Diego, that story stretches back to the first human explorers to trek across the pacific coast, and then the era of stewardship by the Kumeyaay people. The city we know today, surprisingly, began to take shape as soon as the Spaniards arrived, and then American colonists.

Coast of La Jolla (c) ABR 2013

The living stories of all these people remain on the land, and can be experienced in various ways by interested travelers. If you want to have a unique experience of San Diego, see if you can plan a trip that includes spots from throughout the city’s history. We will take you through some of our favorites, from pre-colonial times, to the emergence of tiki pop in the 1950s.

 

Pre-Colonial Times

Indigenous peoples of the San Diego Area (c) Wikicommons.

San Diego is currently a bustling metropolis known for its beautiful beaches, theme parks, and exceptional cultural attractions. But none of this would be possible without the stewardship of the indigenous people who call this land home. In particular, I will focus on the Kumeyaay people here. Although the pre-colonial history of California is full of many cultures and peoples who shaped and cared for its lands for thousands of years and who continue to do so today.

So, while my focus in this post is on history, please note that the Kumeyaay people still live in California. You can learn more about them on their website Kumeyaay.com, which includes an event calendar. One of the cool things that I learned while visiting, was that they had a historic surf zone event in August 2020 for the InterTribal Youth. I always love learning about shared loves among people, and riding the waves has long been one!

Kumeyaay basket (c) Wikicommons.

Now, for learning more about the history of the Kumeyaay people, there are a couple very good options.

First, the Barona Cultural Center and Museum focuses on the people of San Diego County, and it is located on the reservation. So, visiting is not only a great opportunity to learn. It also supports the reservation’s work to preserve and protect the history of its people. It is free to visit as well.

Second, if you are planning to visit Balboa Park (which you should), the Museum of Us has a permanent exhibit on the Kumeyaay people. It is $20 for an adult ticket to this museum, and this includes their other exhibits. They are all fascinating and well-done. Museum of Us is one of my favorite museums, and I am quite picky when it comes to this kind of attraction.

The Mission Era

san diego hikes

(c) ABR 2020

Cabrillo National Monument has a statue commemorating the landing of the Spanish on the California coast. But as with much of the Southwest, Spanish explorers were only a small part of the historic influence that Spain had on the Americas. In the case of San Diego, the area was also home to many missions which were built in the 1700s to the early 1800s.

Many can still be visited today, but some are still used as places of worship. Be sure to do a bit of research before you go so that you know the visiting hours. If you do join a mass, please note that pictures should never be taken during services.

Once you’ve visited a few of these historic buildings, you will begin to take note of how the Spanish mission-style of architecture still influences Californian buildings to this day.

Colonial Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego (c) ABR 2021

Of course, Spanish colonists didn’t just build missions when they settled on Kumeyaay lands in what we now know as San Diego. They built places to live, stores to serve the needs of their growing community, and everything in between. Old Town San Diego preserves both Spanish and American colonial structures in a state park.

Old Town San Diego (c) ABR 2021

Nowadays, when you visit, you can do a variety of things. First, be sure to explore the whole site on foot to take pictures of the historic buildings. Then, you might consider eating at one of the many restaurants within and surrounding the park. There is also shopping and museums to be explored. And finally, the Whaley House is also on site, and is considered one of the most haunted houses in the United States. So, ghosts tours are also something that you might consider if you enjoy those kinds of stories, and the sometimes goofy experiences that come with group tours about them.

1888 – The Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado (c) ABR 2013.

The Hotel Del Coronado is a San Diego icon, and its unique architecture stems from the late 1800s. At that time, the beachside town of Coronado was already popular with travelers from across the country, and beyond. The picturesque beaches, and beauty of the island have not waned, and it remains a playground for the rich in many ways. (Check the cost of housing on Coronado Island).

(c) ABR 2013

Nonetheless, I have always enjoyed visiting Coronado, to see the hotel, relax on the beach, and walk the town. Luckily, if you aren’t staying at the Hotel del Coronado, you can still explore its beautiful and historic interior. There are restaurants to be sampled, shops to be peeked in, and the lobby is a very cool space that is welcoming to all. Be sure to take in the majesty of this historic space. When I checked in late 2021, the prices for rooms at the hotel were up there at $600+ a night. So, if you are lucky enough to have the scratch to stay there, consider it. However, I’ve never been able to spend the night here, and nonetheless, I never regret visiting.

(c) ABR 2013

Luckily, there is more to do on Coronado Island than just check out the historic hotel. There is a beach that you can access past the Del Coronado. It’s pretty popular, but maintains its quality as a place to hang with family and friends.

You can also take a stroll down the town’s main street. There is a lot of good food places to try and plenty of window (and actual) shopping to do. Be sure to enjoy the other historic buildings as you go.

You can also make a loop drive out of your day and visit some other beachside areas as you go.

1902 – La Jolla Sea Cave

La Jolla Cave (c) ABR 2013

I was being a goofball the first time that I went into the La Jolla Sea Cave. And while I would still say that this particular location has the quality of a roadside attraction, if you are in La Jolla and can afford the visit ($10 for adults), it is pretty unique.

The cave is really a tunnel that has been built in the earth, connecting a sea cave to the lively street above. It was constructed in 1902 to facilitate a smuggling business, and survives today as a tourist attraction.

Tunnel to the sea cave (c) ABR 2013

If you visit, you will walk down many steps in a narrow tunnel, down from the Cave Shop to the sea cave. Knowing that it was constructed for smuggling purposes, the structure of the tunnel makes a lot of sense, and I would bet you can imagine the sneaky activities that went on there when you visit (I sure did!). If you want a little more adventure, there are also kayaking tours of La Jolla’s sea caves.

La Jolla is also a shopping and restaurant district near the ocean. So, it is a nice place for some higher-end gifts and apparel, dining, and window shopping. Parking can be a bit of a struggle on busy weekends, though, so if you want to avoid some stress, come a little earlier in the day.

1915-1916 – Balboa Park 

what to do in Balboa Park

The Lily Pond (c) ABR

I have an entire post on Balboa Park, so needless to say, I think this place is well worth a visit. The area was technically turned into a city park in 1868, but it took a form similar to what we know now in 1915-1916 for the Panama-California Exposition. The intricate, Spanish-inspired buildings, nestled among gardens and massive eucalyptus trees, definitely speak of another time.

However, in our modern day, you can also experience cultures from all over the world, and learn about fascinating history and science. Like all of the locations in this list, Balboa is a gift from the past, a place that we continue to thoroughly enjoy today.

1930 – Crystal Pier and Pacific Beach

Crystal Pier (c) ABR 2021

Crystal Pier is a uniquely built hotel that includes several sizeable cottages that were constructed over the water in 1930. Unsurprisingly, with upkeep and renovations, Crystal Pier remains an extremely popular place to stay. And luckily, the pier can be enjoyed by anyone (although the gates gave me pause when I visited). In conjunction with enjoying a long-lived dream from the 30s by walking the pier, there is plenty to do in the Pacific Beach neighborhood that surrounds Crystal Pier.

(c) ABR 2021

First, there is a beautiful beach (with bathrooms). And second, there is TONS of good food in Pacific Beach. In particular, I fell in love with the tiki speakeasy, Grass Skirt, and Afters Ice Cream. Although, admittedly, neither are from the 1930s.

1954 – Bali Hai 

For dinner, drinks, and a nice, evening walk, Bali Hai is the place to go. I included this restaurant in my guide to tiki in San Diego. It is part of the living history of San Diego, as this restaurant opened its doors in 1954, and is a famed tiki destination. While I would personally say that it isn’t the picture of modern tiki experiences due to the lack of themeing, this is still a very cool destination in the city.

The Bali Hai is a classic place for date night or a classy dinner, and its round shape, second floor dining area, and sweeping wall of windows, makes it a beautiful place to dine as well. They are famed for their mai tais, and I very much enjoyed their dinner, although it was a bit expensive.

Although the restaurant has been kept up and remains a classy hang out, there are elements of the 50s that remain with it. If you visit, particularly as a tiki fan, you will enjoy the moment in history that this place represents.

I would suggest getting a reservation before you visit, and potentially request a table near the windows.

Practical Tips

(c) ABR 2021

  • Please note that San Diego does get hot in the summer, and that electricity and wildfires can be an issue. If you are visiting, please help the community conserve resources and protect the land.
  • The best way to get around San Diego is via car. Although they have a more robust public transportation system than Phoenix, it will be very time consuming to take the bus everywhere and the train has limited reach.
  • While American culture is pervasive due to movies and tv shows, if you are from out of the country and haven’t been before, please help us by remembering that the Hollywood portrayal of American life isn’t a reflection of our actual experience. Life is difficult, particularly for communities entrenched in the tourism industry. One way you can help is by giving local manners a try– being polite to local people while traveling is always important.

Next Steps

For more San Diego, be sure to look through our guide to the city. We live a short drive away, so while we aren’t local, we have visited many times.

If you are planning a more comprehensive California trip, you will also like our posts on natural, history, and culture across Southern California and the Channel Islands.

And if you’d like to save this particular post for later, consider pinning it! It is a huge help to our little, grassroots business.

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

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

Tea Stop

phoenix boba

Pandan waffle and green Thai tea (c) ABR 2019

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

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

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

4015 E Bell Rd #132, Phoenix, AZ 85032

 Dingle Berries

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

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

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

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

3624 E Bell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Boba Day

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

4839 E Greenway Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

Travel Via Books: The Zunis: Self Portrayals

by the Zuni People and translated by Alvina Quam

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

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

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

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

Daydreaming Pt. II: A Japan Photo Essay

I realized that two years ago today, I took my inaugural trip to Japan with a couple buds – a whirlwind journey across several cities in seven days (Flight connections don’t count, ESPECIALLY not the time that I got stuck in the Narita airport.)

I bounced around Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo and had a roaring good time. I will admit that when I went back to review my photos, I was disappointed to find that I did a pretty terrible job of taking photos this trip. And for the photos I did take, I was absolutely awful at documenting where they were taken (except for vague notions of the city and general area). I’d like to make the excuse of being happily overwhelmed by each place we visited to take too many photos, but ultimately I left my DSLR behind for most outings because it was so INCREDIBLY humid and toasty at the end of August there that one sweaty afternoon of lugging around a heavy camera and backpack was ENOUGH.

I hope this smattering of photos will still bring you joy, as it does for me.

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vi.

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viii.

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x.

xi.

xii.

xii.

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Looking forward to the next time I can set foot in Japan – I’ll take better notes this time around, I promise.

Keep dreaming,
Katie

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!

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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.

Katie


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!

Aireona

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

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

Sights:

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

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

Downtown

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

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

The Embarcadero – Along the City’s Eastern Shoreline

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

Sausalito – Across the Golden Gate Strait

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

Golden Gate Park

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

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

Dutch Windmill/Land’s End

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

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

Travel Tips:

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

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

A Pin-ny for Your Thoughts

 

The Un-Planner’s Guide to Surviving San Diego Comic-Con (When You Don’t Have a Ticket)

Q: What do you do when you accidentally take a trip to San Diego during one its busiest events of the year (i.e. San Diego Comic-Con)?

A: You use all your Un-Planner skills to find out ways to have fun, even without a ticket.

Free SDCC Shenanigans

Even if you don’t have tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, there’s still a ton of fun stuff to get into downtown. Plenty of the entertainment networks and companies that are hosting events inside of the convention center also are hosting activities outside for free!

Me, gazing adoringly upon one of my favorite no-nonsense TV characters, Captain Holt.

They had plazas with giveaways and games to play, a karaoke bus, an axe-throwing club, stand-up comedy shows and more! It all just depended on what you wanted to to and how long you were willing to stand in a line.

Tips for More Fun and Less Frustration:

  1. If you hate crowds or waiting in line, this is uh… probably not for you. Organizers seem to have this down to a science though, because the lines move pretty quickly.
  2. If you want to do an event or activity that has limited hours, they’re not joking when they tell you to show up early. We showed up to something at noon that was already booked until it was closing THREE hours later.
  3. If you want to avoid steep parking fees and traffic, rideshare/cab your way downtown. Or, if you are driving, use a parking app to pre-pay for parking downtown. If you don’t mind walking an extra ten minutes toward the convention center, the parking garages and lots are basically half the price of those closer.
  4. Maybe this tip is obvious, but if you’re meeting people downtown, don’t make them try to find you in the crowds. I thought the Coin-Op Game Room bar and arcade was a pretty good meeting place for those 21+. It was easy to find and being farther away from Comic-Con made it way less crowded.
  5. This is less of a tip and more of a helpful suggestion for food, especially in the packed Gaslamp Quarter. Cafe 21 has plenty of seating and killer happy hour (just look at this precious fondue board).

If you find need a break from all the fanfare, may I suggest these activities/places:

The Balboa Theatre

If you enjoy the theater (or even funky architecture – the building was built in 1924!), check out what’s going on at the Balboa Theatre. We saw a live podcast show here and it was both an entertaining and relaxing end to our day.

Convoy Street

About 15 minutes from downtown (without traffic), in the Kearny Mesa area, there is an amazing cluster of Asian restaurants and shops along Convoy Street. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese food – you name it, it seems to be there.

Tip: Once again, parking can get kind of dicey here. So either rideshare/cab it to the area or if you’re driving, you might have some luck parking in the complex that Mitsuwa Marketplace is in and then walking from there.

Here are a couple popular places that I visited that I really enjoyed:

Mitsuwa Marketplace

I wish we had a Japanese grocery store like this in Arizona! In addition to Asian grocery and beauty items it would be hard to find in most stores in the U.S., they also have five little restaurant/food stands inside.

We grabbed some tasty ramen bowls at Santouka Ramen – there were a ton of different options and combos to choose from. I got my usual Shoyu.

Tip: This stand is cash only.

Somi Somi/Sul & Beans

Somi Somi and Sul & Beans are two excellent Korean dessert establishments in one building. We ate Somi Somi, which has soft serve and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake with filling). Or you can go nuts and get the soft serve IN the fish-shaped cone with a filling.

Matcha and black sesame soft serve in a goldfish waffle cone with Nutella filling. Honestly, can you believe this thing?

Hillcrest Farmers Market

If you really want to wind down your weekend, it’s worth taking a trip out the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Normal Street. Here you can take in some live music, check out the craft stalls and of course, enjoy a wide variety of food from their many vendors.

Veggie dumplings and BBQ pork bun from House of Bao.

See? Even if you don’t make it into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do! (But maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead. Maybe.)

Until We Meet Again,
Katie

In My Humble O-PIN-nion

Struggling with Rejection and Facing Imposter Syndrome

Resolutions

I promised myself in January that I would publish more personal posts this year, but despite going through some very difficult stuff since 2019 started, I haven’t written a peep about myself. It’s most because sharing failures online is extremely difficult, and partially because I don’t want to feel like I’ve overtaxed my “complaints” quota for the year. However, I’ve come back around to this idea because I think sharing our struggles and failures might encourage other people in the same boat. And while it might not be relevant to travel, it’s part of my story, for better or worse.

So, here goes.

Surprise- Your Dream Job Isn’t Happening

In January, I was working as a contract research analyst, and my contract was ending in February. However, I was assured that my position would turn into a full-time position, as my boss was leaving, and they needed someone to man the helm of my project. I was extremely excited. This was everything I had wanted. It let me keep doing research, while also developing skill sets that are valued outside of academia.

Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t to be. Less than a week before my contract was up I was informed that no money had been set aside to hire me. I felt like I was dealing with a bad breakup… the sense of hope and excitement that I felt at the very beginning of the New Year still haunts me when I consider where I am now. I needed to mourn, and honestly, still am. But at the same time, I put myself through some emotional hell in order to put in a last ditch efforts to defend my post. I was hopeful out of desperation, but the headaches and restrained tears amounted to nothing.

It was over.

And I had gone from nearly having a dream job to having… nothing.

Rejections

Ever since then, I have been submitting application after application. I’ve taken classes on how to apply better, reached out to my network, and I’ve poured my soul into cover letters. In two months, all it has amounted to is one interview, for which I was rejected.

My previous supervisors and professional network do their best to remind me that this is normal, and that all this is not a reflection of my quality as a researcher and professional. I know all the stats about finding a job by applying, and how key it is that you know someone where you are applying. But as much as I have worked on developing a professional network, no one I know has any leads. So, I can’t help but internalize all these rejections as failures.

At the same time, I must admit that I have committed the cardinal sin of comparing myself to other people. I feel lucky to even get a straight up rejection instead of being silently tossed in the trash, and interviews seem out of the question. Meanwhile, I see other grad students graduating and heading straight into great post-docs and academic positions. I’ve even seen people on a PhD job search support group say that finding a post-doc would be “so easy” for them. If everyone else can seemingly do it, what’s wrong with me?

An Imposter In Our Midst

Inevitably, this had led me to a place where I realize that I have developed imposter syndrome in many aspects of my life.

I earned my PhD in conservation biology, but I don’t feel like a scientist. Five years ago, I thought getting my PhD was impossible, and then I did it, but now I feel like this isn’t enough. I haven’t found a post-doc. I was never funded by NSF. I don’t have as many publications as other scholars. I don’t write and talk in stilted, science-speak.

I love hiking, but can I call myself a hiker? I don’t have the best gear. I can’t always force myself to go longer trips. I am slow. I get tired. Sometimes hiking even gives me a migraine.

I’ve been blogging for almost two decades, but can I apply the label, blogger? I don’t have tons of followers and readers. My social media accounts have stagnated in terms of growth. I don’t have the time to master SEO. I’m not charismatic enough to pull people in with my smile alone.

This undermines my confidence, and makes me feel like an outsider even in communities and spaces where I have spent a decade or more. When will I ever feel like I have earned these titles?

New Resolutions

Probably never, unless I decide that I can claim them. I know it is easier said than done, and I don’t know where I will be in a few months or the end of this year. Will I feel like I am back on track towards the life I want to make for myself. Or will I feel more lost than ever? I can’t say. Rejection and imposter syndrome go hand-in-hand, and I don’t think I will escape the first any time soon.

So, I guess it’s just high time I start making the claims I know I deserve, whether or not I can believe it about myself yet. I am a scientist. I am a blogger and writer. I am an outdoors woman. I am an explorer.

I will let you all know how this leg of my journey goes.

Dos and Don’ts for la Republica Dominicana

Dos and Don’ts in the Dominican Republic (Republica Dominicana)

(1) DO explore beyond the resort limits. There is alot of talk about how dangerous the Dominican Republic is, but I lived and road tripped there for a summer as a solo female and found it to be safe. Of course, you need to be careful (see my safety tips on my post about Santo Domingo), but don’t let caution keep you from experiencing all this country has to offer.

la republica dominicana

Hiking near Bayahibe (c) ABR 2016

(2) DON’T go with a bad attitude. There are many struggles that the Dominican people face, and entitled tourists shouldn’t be one of them. Know that this is a developing country, and that sometimes you will need to be patient. While people may speak English, Italian, and other languages in the very touristy areas, most people speak only Spanish comfortably. It is polite to know at least enough to ask for directions, help, order food, etc. Don’t expect people to speak your language unless this was specifically promised by a tour company.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(3) DO join in with the Dominican philosophy of enjoying yourself, and let the Caribbean air lift your spirits. I have never lived anywhere that naturally made me as happy and energized la Republica Dominicana. The environment is beautiful and inspiring, and the people have genuine love for life that I think is infectious. Dance, eat good food, and relax.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(4) DON’T let “what happens in the DR stays in the DR” be your moto. There are serious concerns for sexual exploitation in the Dominican Republic, and drunk driving is extremely common. Please stay safe and avoid both of these things. If you would like to go the extra mile and help people who are interested in getting out of prostitution in the Dominican Republic, please read more about these nonprofits (http://www.dominicandream.org/; http://www.mariposadrfoundation.org/index.html).

(5) DO enjoy the full suite of things that the Dominican Republic has to offer. You can’t really know the DR well from a resort or cruise ship. There are beautiful beaches, of course, but there are also sweeping mountains, world-class caves, waterfalls, delicious foods, a complex history, and so so much more to experience and learn more about in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

A whip spider- a peaceful resident of Caribbean cave systems (c) ABR 2016

Five Cultural and Historical Facts About the Dominican Republic That You May Not Know

(1) Before Europeans came to the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic was home to the Taino people, who left behind beautiful cave paintings, and once thrived in relatively large cities and settlements across the northern Caribbean. The spirit, culture, and DNA of these people lives on in Dominicans to this day, as it does in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the other islands where the Taino once lived.

(2) Historic Santo Domingo was once home to Christopher Columbus’ son, and even claims to house some of Columbus’ remains (hotly debated and potentially debunked). This country has some of the deepest historic roots for the colonial “new world.”

la republica dominicana

Tres Ojos! (c) ABR 2016

(3) The Dominican people celebrate their independence from Haiti, rather than Spain. In 1822, shortly after Haiti fought for and won its independence from France, they took over their neighbor. The invasion was unwelcomed, and to this day there is an ongoing conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

la republica dominicana

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016

(4) There is a national meal that is often eaten at lunch, called la bandera (learn more about it at Dominican Cooking). This is a great meal for budget travelers, foodies, and anyone interested in Dominican culture. Traditionally, fish, yuca, and plantains are also staples in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

Historic artifact from old Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

(5) While Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic, there is a specific way that Dominican’s speak which can be hard even for fluent Spanish speakers to understand, let alone people learning. Dominican Spanish tends to shorten many words, and of course, there are plenty of colloquial terms found nowhere else in the world. This is just another indication of how vibrant Dominican culture is.

Thanks for reading! If you want to know more about the Dominican Republic, our guide will fill you in!

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