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las cienegas

Section Hiking The Arizona Trail: Passage 07 Las Cienegas

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a big-time hiker and I am an Arizona local. So, it might come as some surprise, that I have never hiked a bit of the Arizona Trail (AZT) until this year! Due to my job, I will likely never be able to thru-hike the AZT, but I am determined to work on section hiking it. In fact, I’ve made it a travel goal of mine to complete the AZT via section hiking! This post represents my first step towards that goal, as Passage 07 Las Cienegas was the first section that I have been able to complete.

This part of the AZT is the perfect place to get started, for both intermediate and expert hikers. That’s because Las Cienegas is a fairly level hike, if long. And it’s length won’t require you to backpack as long as you can arrange for a shuttle and you start early enough. It is also a wonderful introduction to the shrublands of the Sonoran Desert, which need a lot more love than they get.

TL;DR If you want to start section hiking the AZT, consider Las Cienegas as a starting place.

 

Need to Know

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

Trail Length: 13 miles one way (we clocked 13.5 miles)

Difficulty: Moderate- 13 miles is a long distance, but this trail doesn’t have a lot of elevation change making it fairly flat.

Facilities: Yes at the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead, but not at the southern access point. No facilities along the trail.

Season: October-May 

On the Trail

Part One

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

We started to the south of the Las Cienegas Passage, and since the second part of our shuttle was my little car, we decided that the best thing to do would be to hike up the dirt road to the trailhead. This wasn’t a huge addition to our hike (about 0.6 miles), and it wasn’t difficult, so if you don’t have the kind of car that can manage the road, no worries.

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

Once we got started, the first part of Passage 07 curved its way through the hills. This was also where we got our glimpse of the pools of water for which this part of the AZT is named. After the major drought that we had this year, they were unsurprisingly low on water. But these are still essential oases for the plants and animals of the desert.

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Two Challenging Grand Canyon South Rim Day Hikes

I have been to the Grand Canyon many times, but besides a couple trips up/down Bright Angel, I really have not hiked there all that much. Since hiking is my favorite hobby, and the Grand Canyon is my favorite National Park in the US… this was kind of weird. This year I decided to fix this problem.  So, I spent some time doing a few South Rim day hikes. It was a great experience, but also a hard reminder of the fact that Canyon hiking is NO JOKE. If you are up for a challenge though (and you are prepared for safety reasons!), then these two hikes are for you.

TL;DR If you are prepared for some hard (and sometimes scary) hikes, South Rim day hikes are a must; these are mind-blowingly beautiful. Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs is more challenging in terms of getting there and has some dangerously narrow sections. Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa is just straight up 3,500 ft of elevation gain in <3 miles, so prepare to sweat. Of course, always remember to be safe and responsible on the trail!

Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa

I had no idea what I was getting into when I left for this South Rim day hike. This was because I didn’t pay enough attention to the elevation loss/gain on this relatively short trek. Grandview trail to Horseshoe Mesa is about 3 miles down to the mesa, and then 3 miles back up and about 2,500 ft (one of my guidebooks said 3,500 ft). Much of this elevation gain is towards the final fourth of the journey. That basically means that by the time you are at your most tired, you will be doing your hardest climb.

south rim day hikes

(c) ABR 2020

That caveat aside, this is a beautiful expedition (kind of goes without saying in the Canyon, but I will say it anyway). As long as you are prepared and don’t attempt this hike in the winter, I would suggest this challenge any day. That’s because this is a lesser visited trail. So, it gives you the space and time to really enjoy the sweeping views of the Grand Canyon. This is also a great tour of the beautiful layers of the Canyon, and will give you a feel for the ecosystem diversity as you move downwards.

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Romero Pools Trail: A Hiking Guide from an Arizona Local

Back when I was in undergrad, I thoroughly messed up, and didn’t enjoy the AMAZING hiking opportunities that abound in the Tucson area. But one of the trails that I did explore (and have since revisited) is Romero Pools Trail. This is a challenging day hiking up into the Catalina Mountains to a beautiful oasis. Every view is amazing on this trail, and for any hiker, local or visiting, this should be on your bucketlist. However, Romero Pools has recently been impacted by a massive wildfire that happened in 2020- so besides being an attraction for its beauty and work out status, this trail is also a showcase of what fire can and does do in Arizona. Everyone needs to be aware of this huge impact, how to help mitigation the impacts of these natural disasters, and what it means for us here on the West Coast.

Join me now for this guide of the Romero Pools Trail- if you are visiting Tucson post-2020, this is a must-add for any hiker’s bucketlist.

romero pools trail

Invasive fountain grass in the Catalinas (c) ABR 2019

General Information for the Romero Pools Trail

Trail Length: 5.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 1,300+ ft

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Entrance Fee: $7.00 per vehicle (4 people) via Catalina State Park

*Note: Always check for trail closures and weather information when planning your trip, beforehand or the day of.

On the Trail

The Foothills

romero pools trail

(c) ABR 2019

When you start out from the parking lot at the trailhead for the Romero Pools Trail, you will cross a creek bed and get a nice little warm up on your first hill. This part of the trail is not as steep as what you will need to tackle further on, and it also features two different ecosystems. First, as you traverse the hills on your way towards the mountains, you will notice some of the charismatic plants that everyone envisions of when they think about the Sonoran Desert- like the saguaro. Lively mesquites, and flourishing prickly pear will also be found in these lower sections of the trail, along with something a little different than the true desert- grasslands.

romero pools trail

(c) ABR 2019

The lower reaches of the Catalina Mountains, as well as many other places throughout Arizona, were once used as ranching land and during these times, people encouraged the growth of grasses. Some of these were native and others, like buffelgrass, were introduced from other parts of the world. In fact, at the time that buffelgrass was brought to Arizona in those days, it was considered a wonder plant. It was highly resilient and cattle seemed to prefer it as forage.

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Two Classic Short Hikes in Tucson, AZ: Tanque Verde and Tumamoc Hill

Tucson, in terms of size, is the little sister of Phoenix, however, it has a completely distinct character. Furthermore, Tucson has a deep and diverse history which really makes it a special place to visit and explore. So, if you are visiting Arizona, don’t miss it. Of course, it goes without saying that where-ever I visit must include some hikes and Tucson has no lack of them.

In particular, this guide is meant to showcase two of my most favorite short hikes in Tucson. These are great nature walks for when you are short on time, or if you are dragging along someone who isn’t super jazzed about hiking. Tanque Verde is the more technical of the two, and Tumamoc Hill is very family friendly. Both are absolutely beautiful and if you do them together you will see two very distinct sides of the Sonoran Desert.


TL;DR : If you are in Arizona, you must do at least one hike, possibly one of these short hikes in Tucson. Tanque Verde is a beautiful oasis in the desert, but requires some bouldering. Tumamoc Hill is the perfect microcosm of the Sonoran Desert and is both beginner and family friendly.

The Wild Beauty of Tanque Verde Falls Wins the Short Hikes in Tucson

short hikes in Tucson

(c) ABR 2019

Of all the of long and short hikes of Tucson, Tanque Verde Falls is one of my favorites. You will get some mind-boggling beauty out here, without the need for a long trek. There is a particular character in the Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson, especially in the foothills of the Sky Islands. These towering mountains reach so high into the sky that forests thrive on their crowns, despite the heat and drought of the lower elevations. In the foothills, where Tanque Verde can be found, the waters of the mountain storms flow down through the rocky foundations of the peaks. These conditions make for magical places, where water and desert meet to create splashes of greens and yellows not found elsewhere in among the stretches of creosote scrublands.

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A Nine Day Kansas Itinerary for Adventurers

I’ve said it so many times while working on these posts about Kansas- this is a surprising state! Many people who aren’t from the region definitely think I’m crazy for traveling to Kansas for a raodtrip. What’s there to see? they ask, Kansas is just a bunch of corn and grass! That’s not true, however, as I hope this Kansas itinerary will illustrate. There is so much to see and do if you are interested in a roadtrip across this Midwestern state, especially if you are a hiker and/or you enjoy experiencing history and culture in new places.

All that being said, welcome to our nine day Kansas Itinerary! Use this to plan your own trip and learn about what to do in Kansas.

kansas itinerary

Day 0: Arrival

I would suggest starting your trip out in Kansas City, particularly if you are flying in. That being said, if you are driving in from other parts of the state or flying into another airport, you can adjust this itinerary to suit your needs.

Day 1: Elk City State Park and the Table Mound Trail

hiking trails in kansas

Elk City Lake (c) ABR 2019

It’s about a 3 hour drive from Kansas City down to Elk City State Park.

For nature lovers and hikers, this will be a great start to your Kansas itinerary. As we discuss in detail in our Kansas Hiking post, Elk City State park is home to the beautiful Table Mound Trail, as well as loads of other outdoor activities. These include picnicking, fishing, paddling, and camping.

hiking trails in kansas

Elk City State Park (c) ABR 2019

If you’d like to do a longer hike, the Elk River Hiking Trail is also nearby and it will offer you about 14 miles of hiking if you go from one end of the trail to the other.

Stay the night in Independence, KS.

kansas itinerary

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Culture and Roadside Attractions in Kansas

Roadtripping through Kansas might not sound like the most exciting thing, but you’d be surprised. There are roadside attractions in Kansas all over, and some of these attractions have considerable cultural value. (Also, there is great hiking! Don’t believe us? Read up on some of your options in our post on Hiking Trails in Kansas).

TL;DR If you are trekking across Kansas, be sure to give some of these places a look. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you enjoy the unique and sometimes strange nature of roadside attractions.

Culture in Kansas

(Note that we won’t be covering Kansas City here, because we will have an entire post on that soon!)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

These days our history of fighting racism is just as important as ever. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is a museum within the Monroe school, which became the epicenter of the fight to desegregate schools in the United States. Visitors to this place will have the opportunity to explore the school, learn more about the history surrounding this struggle. In many ways, it’s like stepping back in time and it’s one of the highest quality “roadside attractions in Kansas” – in this case, I’m only including it in this list because it belongs on everyone’s Kansas roadtrip.

That all being said, this national historic site isn’t just about the past, there are rooms in the museum that cover racism in the US now as well. And these exhibits are highly immersive and emotional. As a white person who was born and raised in the United States, I think this is a great place to feel a little of the emotions that racism forces BIPOC to experience. We need this understanding in order to be better allies. It’s not an easy experience, but the exhibit isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be educational.

roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The staff at Brown v. Board of Education are also amazing, lovely people that are happy to talk with you and help you navigate the museum. In terms of history and culture, I think this is a MUST see if you are visiting Kansas.

Need to know information:

Entrance fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Address: 1515 SE Monroe St, Topeka, KS 66612

St. Fidelis Basilica
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The St. Fidelis Basilica, also known as the Cathedral of the Plains, is a church on par with the historic, marvels of architecture and art that you might see in New York City or even Europe. It’s a complete surprise to find this stunning Catholic place of worship amide the rolling plains of western Kansas. That being said, its interior fits with the environment of Kansas in a very subtle and artful way such that it feels like it belongs. The surrounding town of Victoria is also very lovely as well.

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Backyard (Re)Discoveries: Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

Unsurprisingly, having spent all this time at home, I’ve been getting a little stir-crazy. With Labor Day holiday rolling around, I wanted to get outside – something that wasn’t the usual walk around the neighborhood – but I was worried about heading anywhere that would be too crowded. After taking a look at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden’s website and feeling pretty confident about their social distancing measures, I decided to treat myself to a stroll in the Garden.

Since they’re limiting capacity, my partner and I reserved our time and paid for admission online. We chose the opening time slot because we figured it would be the coolest weather-wise (opting for the least sweaty mask experience since face coverings are REQUIRED for guests 6 and older) and better chance of fewer visitors.

We arrived at the Garden at 7 a.m. sharp (if you’re tardy to your time slot, you may be stuck waiting to see what capacity allows) and were rewarded with just barely a handful of other folks waiting to get in. It was a couple minutes to simply scan the tickets on our phones and then we basically had the run of the place!

We were able to leisurely walk about the Garden trails. I had the luxury of stopping whenever I wanted to take photos or when I was very patiently waiting for a butterfly nearby to flutter over and land on me (which never happened). Very rarely did we cross paths with other wandering guests, and each time we all politely gave each other room to pass.

Kudos to the Garden team who must have worked very hard (and continue to work very hard) to make this not only a safe experience for guests and staff, but also one where you have the time and space to enjoy the beautiful place that they have cultivated.

You can find full details about the new Desert Botanical Garden visitor guidelines here.

Stay safe and find joy where you can!

<3 Katie

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.

i.

ii.

iii.

iv.

v.

vi.

vii.

viii.

ix.

x.

xi.

xii.

xii.

xiv.

xv.

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

Hiking Trails In Kansas: Ranking My Favorite Treks in this Underappreciated State

I’ve always gotten lukewarm or even cool reactions from people in the Southwest when I tell them that I am off to Kansas. In particular, most of my hiking friends here (unless they are from the Midwest or lived there at some point) think that Kansas seems like a pretty boring place to visit. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth (unless you only enjoy hiking mountains- you won’t find those in Kansas). There are a ton of different hiking trails in Kansas, and through them you can experience the variety of environments that could once be found across the state.

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass (c) ABR 2019


TL;DR: Kansas is beautiful, hiking here is very accessible to new hikers, and you should not miss it when you are in the state. If you only have enough time to visit one of these parks, definitely go to Tallgrass National Prairie- you will see the wild Midwest here, have tons of options for hiking in Kansas, and there are bison… bison!


Now, I am going to rank my favorite spots for hiking in Kansas, let you know what I love about each, and how to get there.

My Favorite Hiking Trails in Kansas

#1 Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

As you might guess based on the name, Tallgrass Prairie is a part of the US National Park Service, and unsurprisingly, this land is exceptionally beautiful and wild. If you visit Tallgrass, you will be transported back in time to a pre-colonization Kansas dominated by prairies instead of agriculture. If you are a history buff, you can explore historic buildings on the grounds. For hikers, the options are nearly endless with this set of hiking trails in Kansas.

For me, I wanted to see what a pre-US, Kansas looked like, so we hiked up the Scenic Overlook Trail. Of course, as the name would suggest, this track offers some amazing views of the surrounding lands. It also passes through Windmill Pasture, which is where bison can be found. We didn’t see any, sadly. I would have loved to see bison! That being said, I just want to remind anyone who might visit to respect the space of these animals. They are extremely strong and can seriously injure people that approach too closely.

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

If you are looking for a longer trek, there are plenty of loops to check out, both on the west and east side of the park. For those wanting to enjoy nature but are not able to take a long walk, there are some beautiful nature trails in the park as well. Tallgrass is a really great place for anyone looking for some hiking in Kansas.

Need to Know Information

Entrance Fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Trail length: Varies; Scenic Overlook Trail is 3.6 miles in ONE direction (7.2 miles RT)

Getting There

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass Prairie is just north of Strong City on the 177; you can take the 177 south or come up from the 50 and take the 177 north.

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Daydreaming: A New Zealand Photo Essay

This year really has been the pits, huh?

Join me as I revisit my past travels through photos and whisk yourself away to blue skies, sandy beaches, colorful blooms – anywhere but your own couch.

This one I call Daydreaming: New Zealand.

i.queenstown.

ii.eden garden.

iii.
domain wintergarden.

iv.hobbiton.

v.rotorua natural hot springs.

vi.

queenstown shore.

vii.
lake wakatipu.

vii.
tauranga off mt. mauao.

ix.mt. maunganui beach

x.
beach i can’t remember the name of, auckland.

xi.
see above. (whoops.)

xii.

whakarewarewa forest.

fin.

New Zealand is so intensely pretty, sometimes I feel like it WAS a dream.

All the best,
Katie

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