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

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

Tea Stop

phoenix boba

Pandan waffle and green Thai tea (c) ABR 2019

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

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

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

4015 E Bell Rd #132, Phoenix, AZ 85032

 Dingle Berries

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

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

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

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

3624 E Bell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Boba Day

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

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

4839 E Greenway Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

Travel Via Books: The Zunis: Self Portrayals

by the Zuni People and translated by Alvina Quam

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

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

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

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

pass mountain trail

Pass Mountain Trail: Circling the Usery Mountains

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

 

Need to Know

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

Elevation Gain: 950+ feet

Difficulty: Clockwise- Moderate; Counter clockwise- difficult

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Season: Fall, winter, and spring

Fee: $7.00 to enter the county park

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

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

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

 

Need to Know Information

flatiron via siphon draw trail

(c) ABR 2019

Trail Difficulty: Extreme

Trail Length: 6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 2600+ feet

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

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Vehicular Access: Paved roads provide all access to this trailhead

Water Availability: None after the trailhead

Good for Dogs and Kids? No

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

Fear of Heights Difficulty: High

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

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

The Everyday

Home sweet home (c) ABR 2011

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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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