Category Archives: Travel

On the Road With John James Audubon (Review)


A gift from my parents, On the Road With John James Audubon by Mary Durant and Michael Harwood is a travelogue and historical biography—and an enjoyable read. I recommend it if you like geography, history, birds, and travel. Especially if, like me, you aren’t deeply familiar with John James Audubon’s life story.

Tracing a person’s life by following his exact steps is an uncommon way to structure a book—and it works well here. Though the narrative started out a bit heavy on Audubon’s personal details, I felt that by the middle of the book the authors did achieve a balance of historical bits with modern day observations. Mixing snippets from Audubon’s letters and journals and examples of his famous illustrations, the authors wove together their story with his. Engaging with the places and people everywhere they went, adding flavor, detail, and humor as they explored the story with new eyes. (Note: though modern compared to Audubon’s day, this book was written over 30 years ago. Still relevant and interesting, however.)

A unique thing about this book is the trio of voices, where two authors—only one a “serious” birder—intertwine with Audubon’s personal account to create a fascinating description of a changing landscape and culture, of an America awakening to its vast natural treasures. Speaking to how important these treasures are for us to preserve, Durant and Harwood highlight over and over the troublesome relationship we’ve had as a nation with our animals, plants, rivers, coasts, and mountains. The struggle between conservation and exploitation of our resources.

Several times the itinerary followed a path similar to our own RV travels, places we’d stayed or visited. Which made me want to hit the road again! What I liked most about this book is how the authors combined their passions and interests into a compelling travel adventure. There’s something to admire in that; a story is more powerful when told with a purpose.

Busy January

When the weather allows we like to start the New Year off by hitting the trail. The weather in Tucson usually obliges and this year was no different. It was a bit on the cool side but sunny as the five of us set out (Lance’s parents: Tom and Libby, and sister Cammy). Our chosen route through Catalina Regional Park was not the most adventurous but it proved very interesting as we were soon surrounded by wildlife. Desert Cottontails darted through the underbrush, flocks of birds chirped from all sides, and Coyotes shared our trail.

Snow on the Catalinas

We picnicked next to an old pond that a group of volunteers help keep clear and clean. The location proved to be quite popular with our avian friends: a Black Phoebe hunted from the ledge of the bird blind, a Cooper’s Hawk glided in, a Curve-billed Thrasher churned through the leaf litter, a House Wren noisily scolded us, Lesser Goldfinches trilled, Red-tailed Hawks rode thermals, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitted in the branches above.

Our return trip was full of flocks of Lawrence’s Goldfinches and Chipping and Red-winged Sparrows. We also glimpsed a Northern Harrier as it coursed low over the open field. To cap it all off we spotted a Great Horned Owl high up in a tall pine tree. Our outing ended back at Lance’s parent’s house where we relaxed and capped the day off with a yummy dessert, homemade by Lance’s mom. What a lovely way to start the New Year!

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Pinal City Cemetery Preservation

A little over seven years ago Lance and I wrote a short blog post regarding a trip we made out to the historic Pinal City Cemetery. Up until 1916 that small parcel of desert was the burying grounds for the residents of Superior and the now defunct mining camp of Pinal City. The impetus of our visit stemmed from information gleaned from a local that Celia Blaylock (aka Mattie Earp) was buried out there. We found it intriguing that Mattie would’ve ended up in little old Pinal City 170 miles away from Tombstone (where the Earp family earned infamy).

Carefully following our informant’s instructions, which included turning left at a plastic bag tied to a mesquite tree, we arrived. Our wonderment was genuine when we saw a handmade memorial dedicated to Mattie Earp, replete with flowers, a photo, and a poem. We spent a few more minutes wandering around the cemetery though there wasn’t much else to see; a few gravestones, dozens of unmarked sites, broken beer bottles, shotgun shells, and a large overhead power line.

Since we found it interesting we snapped a few photos and later wrote about our outing on our website. Little did we know it would spark such interest or such controversy.

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November News

Our November started with a visit from Flat Stanley. For those of you who haven’t made his acquaintance yet I’ll explain. Stanley Lambchop is the main character of a series of books that first debuted in 1964. Unfortunately, Stanley was flattened by a falling bulletin board. While that may sound uncomfortable being flat has its advantages: he can slip under a closed door and save money by traveling the world in an envelope. Stanley came to Tucson from Ohio courtesy of our 9-year-old cousin, Frankie. My job was to photograph Flat Stanley in Tucson before returning him with his vacation photos. I introduced him to our emblematic saguaro cactus, a prickly pear cactus, and for a spot of color I nestled him among bougainvillea flowers. In each case I promise I was careful to help Flat Stanley avoid the spines.

Flat Stanley

The second week Lance was in three different places (if only we could’ve mailed him, think of all the money we’d save!). First trip took him to PressNomics in Chandler. He loves the energy of the event (although I think the proximity to SanTan Brewery is another strong draw). Lance was home in Tucson for an entire 24 hours before catching a flight to San Francisco. That trip was a triple whammy: An Event Apart, the awesome atmosphere of the Automattic mothership, and face time with coworkers.

Certainly the looming threat of digging a trench (150 feet long, 18 inches deep, through rock and clay) didn’t have anything to do with his desire to get out of town.

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Final Week in Oregon

Time to finally wrap up our time in Portland. The weather was perfect for a road trip during our last weekend, so we headed toward Mt. Hood. We drove east on I-84 and at the town of Hood River we turned onto the highly recommended “Fruit Loop.”

A 35-mile loop drive through apple, cherry, and pear orchards, vineyards, and farms—all dominated by Mt. Hood. After touring the loop we drove up to the aptly named Panorama Point for lunch. Mt. Hood was still hiding behind a few high clouds but the view was wonderful. The area truly lives up to its scenic designation!

Later as we reached the flanks of Mt. Hood we were finally treated to our first close-up view of the peak without clouds. It was stunning! Arriving at Timberline Lodge we learned that the sprinkles we had received earlier had fallen as snowflakes there. I guess it isn’t that unusual, after all the Lodge is at 5,960 feet.

I’d love to tell you the height of Mt. Hood but that measurement is somewhat in question—the summit is either 11,249 or 11,239 or 11,240 depending on who you believe. Regardless, Mt. Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon and the fourth tallest in the Cascade range. Most importantly for people into snow sports, it is high enough to offer year-round skiing and snowboarding.

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Third Week in Oregon

Things were warming up. Though the mornings still started off cloudy, cool, and grey—by mid-day the sun was in charge and the temperatures allowed for less clothing. The weather in Portland must’ve looked at the calendar and realized that the first day of summer was early this year. The difference was palpable.

On Saturday Lance went hiking with Michael, who still works at Digital Fusion the company Lance once contracted with. Their chosen trail led up to Indian Point which provided them with a stellar view of the Gorge. But as one might imagine, it was a bit of a climb to gain the necessary elevation. Needless to say, they earned their pint o’ brew that day.

Along with descriptions of the view and the various critters they encountered Lance recounted an exchange he and Michael had with a group of Boy Scouts. As they came off the trail Lance and Michael paused to chat with tail end of the group. When they asked the stragglers where they were headed with their backpacks, the first boy answered with a sigh, “To Hell.” The other scout chimed in, “And damnation.” Can’t you just picture those two red-faced, sweaty teenagers trudging up the hill? Hysterical!

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Second Week in Oregon

Those of you who traveled through our blog with us during our full-time RVing years will know that we’ve spent a bit of time in Oregon. A good deal of it was spent exploring in and around Portland. So understandably our selected activities for this visit were quite different from the usual tourist itinerary. Of course, our timetable is different from that of a tourist since in the daytime hours Monday through Friday we have work to do.

Thankfully we usually have evenings free and since the days are so long (it stays light until at least 9pm) there is plenty of time for adventure. Which means we could grab dinner with Lisa and Gino, go for a walk, check out a park, or some other form of exploration. One evening we wound our way up the curvy roads to Council Crest Park. It was exceptionally sunny and even the major peaks of the Cascade Range were out from under their cloud hats. From our tall perch we could see snow-capped Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier (104 miles away). Quite an impressive view!

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First Week in Oregon

Cool weather. Green trees. Water everywhere. Coffee on every corner. Brewery every few blocks. Welcome to Portland!

Lucky me, I was here for a short time last August to hang with my good friend Lisa, while Lance’s last visit was in 2008. Portland can be addicting—we love exploring this weird, watery town. So, when Lance suggested that we find a suitable place to escape from the intense heat of June in Tucson, the Rose City was at the top of our list.

Besides the cooler weather another major draw is that several of Lance’s fellow Automatticians reside there. So, we found a little pad online, rented it for the month of June, and drove up at the end of May. Our temporary home is quite conveniently located on Belmont in the SE district. It is easy to hop on I-5 or I-84, frequent buses rumble by, there are dozens of shops, bars, restaurants and grocery stores within walking distance. Even downtown is walkable (weather permitting).

Since we are desert rats we headed straight for the water. Saturday we drove out to the coast. It was foggy. It drizzled. It was actually cold. And we didn’t care. It was invigorating to hear the surf and feel the cold, wet sand between our toes. Later the sun broke through and everything sparkled. It didn’t warm up much but it was enough sunshine to turn our faces red; we hadn’t thought to put on sunscreen. Yikes!

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Verde Valley Visit

The first weekend of November found us driving north to chillier climes. We were heading to the old mining town of Jerome to meet up with our good friends Rich and Karen. Our rendezvous wasn’t until late afternoon so Lance and I took a short detour out to Tuzigoot National Monument in the nearby Verde River Valley.

This monument protects a reconstructed hilltop ruin originally built by the Sinagua people between CE 1000 and 1400. As with most of these Ancestral Puebloan sites the pueblo grew over time with rooms built upon rooms. At its largest the pueblo had 110 rooms housing an estimated 225 people, then—for reasons still largely unknown—they left.

The ruin was excavated and partially rebuilt during the 1930s by workers under the auspices of the Civilian Works Administration and the Works Project Administration. All their work paid off since President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the ruin as a national monument in 1939. Currently the monument encompasses 42 acres and includes the Tavasci Marsh, a restored wetland.

After viewing the exhibits (some impressive pottery and woven materials) we tackled the two short trails. First we toured the ruins, where we appreciated the excellent view afforded by access to the roof. The tops of the Mogollon Rim to the north and Mingus Mountain to the south were both covered in snow, the result of our first winter storm. The other trail led to the marsh overlook. We didn’t linger long since there was a bit of a nip in the air.

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Phenomenal Friend

Finally, the moment I’d been looking for—my trip to Portland to see my friend, Lisa. We met while working at Glacier National Park the summer of ’98. I had just graduated from the University of Arizona and Lisa was midway through her degree at Drake University1. It was my fourth summer at a national park, it was her first. I was (am) boisterous, outgoing (mostly), and talkative. She was (is) mellow, shy, and quiet (mostly). Oh, and we were six years apart in age (yes, I am the elder one, thanks for asking). In spite of our differences, or perhaps because of them, by the end of the summer we were good friends.

It was a fairly intense summer as our crew at Rising Sun Motor Lodge dealt first with the death of a young co-worker (he was killed and eaten by a grizzly bear and her two cubs) and then with the death of a guest (who died of a heart attack in the parking lot while on vacation with his wife).

Since I didn’t have to rush back for school I took a road trip after my summer gig. I wandered east, stopping at places that piqued my interest: Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Site, International Wolf Center, Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves, Heavener Runestone, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—you get the idea.

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