Catch Our RV Journey on YouTube!

The journey itself might be over, and our “A Year On The Road” RV adventure is officially in the books, but you can still catch up with all the excitement and intrigue on our YouTube channel, which now has almost 100 snapshot videos of different aspects of the trip in the bag.

Javelinas! Jevelinas! Finally, we get to see Javelinas!

From Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, plus dozens of fascinating places and experiences in between, this is our chance to wow you with the visuals of this epic RV journey across 23 states.

Our latest contribution is all about those elusive Javelinas in Texas, but you’ll also find recent videos that highlight the vibrant Historic Market Square in San Antonio, Big Bend National Park and a stunning tequila sunset in New Mexico.

Check it all out on this link:

The stunning Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio featured in a recent snapshot video

A Year On The Road in The Independent, Pt 7

Regular blog readers will know our grand year-long RV adventure is being serialized in the UK’s Independent newspaper, and the latest instalment is now online.

It covers the northern part of our Arizona travels, and you can find it on this link:

The majestic Grand Canyon

What We Learned During Our Seventh Month On The Road

Today marks seven months since we locked the door to our house in Florida and set off for a year-long adventure in an RV. Here’s what we learned during the past month:

Time spent in the bathroom is sacred time, at home or in an RV. But if you’re really just sitting there playing Wordscape on the phone for forty minutes, you deserve the scorn you get when you’re found out.

Simon now knows the bathroom isn’t the right place to play Wordscape.

Get an electric skillet with a cover, and get it before you even set off on your trip. What strange and wonderful wizardry that allows you make an entire meal in one appliance! Gone are your days of flipping one burger or one pancake in the Instant Pot set to Saute. Life has meaning again!

You’ll never run out of conversation when you travel. The only time we’re quiet when we’re touring is when we’re burned out from so much talking. Some of the most compelling conversations we’ve had have come from seeing places – usually very small towns or areas where housing is spread far apart – that make us feel our privilege in ways we never did before. Not financial privilege, specifically, but the privilege of opportunity. And we wonder, are the people happy and content? Do they love their freedom and their solitude? Is this their desired life? Or has opportunity been denied to them? We come at it with our life-experience bias, and talk our way around to wider possibilities.

Visiting the desert during dry season is disorienting, and it’s hard to get used to seeing rivers and creeks with no water in them. As Mark Twain said, “Until I came to New Mexico I never realized how much beauty water adds to a river.”

Remember back in the early months, when you struggled to keep the fridge cold? Yeah, well, it’s winter now, and your fridge has become a freezer.

Literally (and we do mean literally) every restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico closes at 3 p.m. Plan accordingly or you’ll be eating “Mexican food” from the Village Market grocery store deli.

The Green Chili Stew from Village Market’s deli is pretty good!

Arizona and New Mexico have more mountains than we expected, and some of them are whoppers. Check your preconceptions at the border when you enter a new state. Surprises await!

We knew the desert gets cold at night, but really? 21F? That’s not cold, that’s Arctic! Unplug the water hose from spigot; drain water lines; wear a shirt, pants, and socks to bed; and add your robe to the five layers of blankets you already have on the bed. Oh, and your coffee or tea the next morning will be cold within three minutes. Welcome to winter.

Walmarts in New Mexico have loads of Mexican candy right before Christmas. Taste-testing results? Mixed.

With so much mountain driving behind us, Simon now has a quiet confidence while driving Fati, without relaxing his guard or taking safety for granted. Susan can sit in the passenger seat without gripping the arm rests for dear life. As of right now, this single minute, assuming nothing, travel is an absolute pleasure.

Posole (Mexican pork and hominy stew) is a gift from God. Eat it and know you are loved!

Air, Space, And The Silver Screen

Most of our touring focuses on natural areas, National Parks, small towns, history, and getting a flavor of how people really live in this country’s diverse landscapes. We do occasionally visit “attractions,” and Tucson had two Simon was eager to see.

Pima Air and Space Museum features about 400 historical aircraft, and we spent about two hours wandering through the indoor and outdoor exhibits. We’ll just show you a few, though if you’re a fan of aircraft this is certainly a must-visit place.

Susan was delighted to see the exhibits began with suckers, squeezers, bangers, and blowers.

Blue Angels for Susan…

…Red Arrows for Simon.

There was even one just the right size for Ruthie.

The museum extends outdoors, where a massive yard displays more than 100 aircraft.

Everyone wants to see the 377-SG “Super Guppy.” This freaky style of plane has been used to transport big, light cargo, including Saturn rocket parts during the Apollo Program.

There were several versions of Air Force One, the airplane used by U.S. Presidents. This one was used by both President John F. Kennedy and his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

But our sentimental favorite was the Wright Flyer. We were fortunate enough to have been given a ride in the Wright B Flyer when we were in Dayton, Ohio, and during that visit we also spent time with the Wright brothers’ great grandniece Amanda, and their great grandnephew Stephen, who gave us a tour of Wilber and Orville’s home, Hawthorne Hill. With wine.

That thing above the sign that looks like a paper and balsa wood airplane is the Wright Flyer. Would you fly in it?

Simon back from his thrilling flight!

Susan just getting ready for take-off!

From the high-tech to the wild west, our next adventure was Old Tucson film set and “themed park.” Here, actors including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, and even Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan acted in movie and television scenes that spanned hundreds of productions.

Old Tucson’s new management no longer allows dogs, so Susan and Ruthie headed back up the road for more time in Saguaro National Park. Simon will take over this part of the blog:

Old Tucson had been on my (Simon’s) radar since we first put Arizona on our 12-month map. If you were to put together the Top 5 of all-time Western settings, Tucson would be very close to the top, hence anywhere that celebrated that heritage was going to be high on my list of places to visit. And so it proved.

Old Tucson is both an attraction and a movie set; an amalgam of 84 years of acting as a time capsule of the 1860s. Since the first movie was filmed here in 1939, it has played host to dozens of other big-screen productions, as well as numerous TV shows, including Little House on the Prairie and The High Chaparral. It was a setting beloved by John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, as well as countless movie crews who adored its authentic period style. In the 1980s, it was second only to the Grand Canyon as Arizona’s main attraction.

It has been open to the public since 1960 as a themed attraction, and today it’s possible to take guided tours of the whole site, in addition to just visiting for their special events at different times of the year (notably for Halloween and the Holidays). And what a trip down Memory Lane it proved to be.

Having grown up on “cowboy films,” including all four Wayne movies that were shot here in the 1960s (McClintock, Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo, and El Dorado), it was like revisiting my childhood, seeing the iconic settings for that quartet, as well as many other visual references to the Western genre. Our tour guide was a non-stop source of info and anecdotes, including a series of continuity blunders and other errors made by the film-makers themselves!

Used in both Rio Lobo and Rio Bravo

The iconic mountains in the background showed up in two completely different geographic locations in the same movie.

The city of Tucson still has echoes of its 19th century roots in the Barrio Viejo section of the city, but it doesn’t come close to the three-dimensional reality and nostalgia of Old Tucson. The tour lasted almost 90 minutes from start to finish (it was listed as 45-60 minutes, but the tour guide growled, “I’ve never finished a tour in 45 minutes in my life!”), and it was a brilliant insight into the living history of the Western.

It is still being used as a movie and TV venue today, for Westerns and non-Westerns alike, hence you may see it in films such as Revenge of the Nerds, Terminal Velocity, and Nemesis, in addition to appearances on TV for programs like Good Morning America, various quiz shows, and others.

Exterior used in High Chaparral TV series

But it’s the Western back-drops that make Old Tucson special and, if you’re coming here for nostalgia and insight, you’re definitely on the right stagecoach!

Main plaza.

(Susan here again) On the way back to Tucson Simon wanted to recreate a photo he remembered from our first trip over the mountain pass on our way to Saguaro National Park. Simon remembered it well, describing the two of us smiling in front of a big saguaro cactus, and the railing near where we were standing. I didn’t remember it at all. I think you’ll agree we nailed it.

2023: The memory.

2008: The reality. Why is there a lake behind Simon? Because in reality, the photo he remembered was taken on the way to Tortilla Flat, not Saguaro National Park.

As our days in Tucson drew to a close, we also fulfilled another experience on Simon’s wish list (and mine) with a night-time visit to Spencer’s Observatory, where we had the small observatory and its resident astronomer to ourselves.

The observatory’s outdoor waiting area. Red lights help your eyes adjust to the darkness ahead of your viewing.

We so wish we had photos of the absolute magnificence we saw through the telescope. Saturn first, then the Moon, then Jupiter, each so clear we could hardly believe the images were real. Saturn’s rings were perfectly distinct. Three of Jupiter’s moons and its iconic red bands were easily visible. And the moon? You know it so well, from earliest childhood, but seeing each of its craters and mountains in sharp relief is next-level mind-blowing.

We’d been through 19 states, into Canada, along the border with Mexico, and now, 921.03 million miles into space. It was truly one of those experiences that burns into your brain and never leaves you.

Javelina: Arizona’s Big Lie

We’ve been in Tucson for exactly one week. We’ve gone out every day – morning, evening, all day long – and every time we’re out we scan the desert’s scrub, the washes, and the roadsides for javelina. Today, we’ve finally accepted the fact that these fat, smelly animals are a lie, and do not exist. At all.

“They’re everywhere!” people assured us. “They get into my trash bins,” one man said. Signs at Pima Air and Space Museum warned us we might encounter some. But we didn’t. Why? Because they don’t exist.

You “may,” but you won’t.

Like the illusive jackalope, they’re a myth perpetrated on gullible tourists. You, like us, probably saw jackalope in backwoods diners, their antlered bunny heads hanging on the wall like some rare and desirable trophy. And you, like us, probably believed –oh, innocent you! – they could, maybe, be real.

There was a time when sailors making years-long voyages believed they were seeing mermaids, and told their loved ones back home about these sirens of the sea. What embarrassment they must have felt when those who took to the water for short excursions only found manatees.

We share that shame, having rejoiced at seeing herds of javelina that simply fell under the category of wishful thinking. Each time, they’ve turned out to be brown, barrel-shaped cactuses.

Not javelina.

And, like manatees and mermaids, that’s probably exactly how the not-trueness of javelinas got started. They’re both brown and prickly, and you don’t want to get too close to them when you’re out hiking in the desert.

We didn’t want to draw the only logical conclusion (javelina = lie) so Simon suggested we make double use of a visit to Seguaro National Park West, which we hadn’t seen yet, and enjoy the park as evening drew close, then stay on until dusk; prime javelina hours.

We made a point of asking for expert advice when we reached the park’s Visitor Center, four minutes before it closed. Where, for the love of gawd, should we go to see the illusive herbivore that looks like a pig but isn’t?

Perfect javelina territory. No javelinas.

“Just go right out to the overlook here,” our good man told us, pointing at a second-story platform connected to the center. “They travel up and down the wash just beyond it in the evening.”

Plenty of room for a stampede.

Yay! Finally – FINALLY! – our dream of achieving this precious sighting would come true!

Binoculars and cameras at the ready, we marveled at the sunset that lit up the sky like fire in the direction of California and Mexico, while scanning the wash for activity.

An hour later it was so dark we couldn’t have seen a javelina even if it really did exist. The lie was revealed.

Sure, we saw a “dead” one along the highway on our way to San Xavier del Bac Mission, but it was probably just a stuffed toy thrown out the car window by some careless child. We no longer believed.

We have one more week in Tucson, but frankly, our hearts are hardened. There is only so much pain and disappointment we can take.

Missions And Moral Dilemmas

Tucson is only 70 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico, and the history in this area is rich with native peoples, changing land ownership with “New Spain,” and the missionaries who came to Arizona with “saving souls” for God in mind.

And therein lies a moral dilemma.

We had soaked up Tucson’s natural side with a visit to Saguaro National Park East and a trip up Mount Lemmon the day before, where the views and an unexpected wildlife sighting were thrilling starts to our touring.

Saguaro National Park is split into two locations; East and West. East isn’t overly blessed with saguaro cactuses due to a killing freeze in 1962.

Simon: “I don’t think I can get the mountains in.”
Susan: “How about if I do this?”

It’s a wild and rugged land, with more than just saguaro cactuses. O’odham tribes used the gangly ocotillo cactus on the right for building.

This shows the road going up Mount Lemmon. There were probably more saguaro cactuses on the mountain than there are in Saguaro N.P. East.

We saw two baby mule deer hiding in the underbrush as we were driving back down Mount Lemmon. Only one can be seen in this photo.

After a quiet day “at home,” the next day, we then headed south toward what was once New Spain territory (along with Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida, what is now the southern U.S., the Philipinnes, and Central America as far south as Costa Rica), then Mexico, but now part of southern Arizona.

Spain was big on evangelizing, and many missionaries were sent to its dependency, with San Xavier del Bac Mission (completed in 1797) being one of the churches that sprang up to bring the natives to Jesus. I’m not going to go all preachy, though I surely could. Instead, let the Mission’s plaques do the talking:

Jesuit Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino “served two majesties – the Church and the Crown. For the Church, the Mission saved souls and spread the Christian faith. For the Crown, they served as training grounds for native people to learn their assigned role as subjects of the King and citizens of a growing New Spain.”

“A mission was much more than a church; it was an entire community designed to teach European ways of life to people living on lands claimed by Spain.”

So much to unpack about that, isn’t there, when compared to the history of those “people living on lands claimed by Spain,” who had successfully thrived in the area for thousands of years. When I asked the docent at San Xavier what the Tohono O’odham tribe’s spiritual culture was like before the arrival of the missionaries, he said, “They were used to converting.”

We set all of that aside and entered each of two churches with the idea that we were experiencing historical places. Let’s take a stroll through San Xavier del Bac first.

The Mission’s property ends at the wall in front of it. The surrounding 71,095 acres are the San Xavier Indian Reservation, home to approximately 1,200 Tohono O’odham people.

The tower on the right doesn’t have a dome because (say it with me) they ran out of money.

The rainbow is an important image to the O’odham, signifying unity, among other things, so it was used in the entry’s archway.

It’s impossible not to notice the two animals flanking the altar. They look like weird cousins of those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, but they’re really lions. Why so wonky-looking? Because the artists who created them had never seen lions, and only had a verbal description of a lion to work from.

According to the docent, the original lions were stolen. These were funded by a woman who sits on the board of directors. She hired Mexican craftsmen to carve the wooden statues, then she let the wood cure for a year, applied gold leaf, and, six years later, these beasts took their place on the altar. That woman? Former U.S. Representative Gabby Gifford’s mother.

The church honors Mary, mother of Jesus. Here, her dress includes an important O’odham concept through two embroidered “Man in the Maze” images, one on her gold vestment and one on her skirt.

Those round, gold images represent the Man in the Maze.

Made of wood and without embellishment, this statue honors Kateri Tekakwitha, the only Native American to have been recognized as a Catholic Saint.

It’s a beautiful church filled with contrasts, arguably rife with cultural appropriation, and it has the devotion of those who worship here. It reminded us of a mission church we visited in Arizona many years ago, on a Reservation that was home to the poorest of the poor. When we commented on the immense wealth that could have fed the community and its children for decades, one of the parishioners said, “Yes, there is a great deal of wealth here, but we find solace and relief from our difficult lives in this place of such beauty.”

Who are we to say that’s wrong? Perspective matters.

Tubac – a little “village” of shops, restaurants, galleries, and a museum – was next along I-10, and we had a little wander and some lunch there. We try not to bring any more weight onboard Fati, so we admired the artists’ creativity, then headed south again.

Simon had the breakfast burrito crammed full of…well…everything.

Susan had the pulled pork, and Ruthie ate the bun.

Tumacácori National Historic Park features one of the areas other missions, the oldest in Arizona. Nearly 200 people lived here at one time, and the grounds included orchards, fields, gardens, homes, a “convento” (shared workspace and governmental center, not a nunnery), and a cemetery, as well as the church.

The mission church is on the left, and a later adobe ruin is on the right.

The bell tower on the upper right-hand side of the building isn’t a ruin. It was never finished, as the parish ran out of money before they could complete it.

The church façade originally boasted bright colors – blue, red, yellow, and orange – in the Spanish style, but you can’t really see the colors today.

Tumacácori makes no bones about what Spain’s mission was: “All aspects of daily life were subject to transformation – food, language, clothing, agriculture, and religion.” There is a term for that sort of “transformation” of entire groups of people, and as much as we enjoyed immersing in the history as we walked around, it was hard not to think about the O’odham’s lives before and after “transformation.”

The interior is in pretty rough shape, but it does show the layers involved in creating the building.

The Sanctuary was also painted and stenciled in bright designs, some of which can still be seen, albeit in faded form.

The squares were “frames” for religious imagery.

After Tumacácori was abandoned in 1848, the Sacristy became a refuge for cowboys, soldiers, Mexicans, and gold-rush era fortune hunters during inclement weather. Soot from their fires can still be seen on the ceiling, and their names are still on the walls around the door.

Lousy photo, but the black is soot from cooking fires.

Lousy photo, but these are some of the signatures.

The cemetery bears silent witness to the devastation Apache raids and several epidemics wrought on the community. Most of the human beings originally buried here were children under the age of five.

The ki – the O’odham word for house – provided shelter, while the outdoor wa:ato (brush enclosure) was the place for gathering together and for cooking. The O’odham still sometimes build homes from mesquite branches, ocotillo sticks, the ribs of saguaro cactus, and mud.

The convento was originally much, much larger. Built of adobe, most of the long, low expanse of it has slowly “melted” away.  Now, only a small section (once a storeroom) is still standing.

The mission was abandoned for a year after an O’odham uprising against the Spanish and an intrusive neighboring tribe. Jesuit priests returned in 1753, were expelled in 1767, and were replaced by Franciscans who continued evangelizing until 1822.

The places we visit become a part of us, and, as small pieces of historical information are assembled into a greater picture, we find ourselves contemplating the story that greater picture tells.

A Year On The Road – The Half-Way Map

May 14, 2023 seems like a long time ago. In fact, it is just 7,053 miles ago. That’s the 6-month distance we have covered in our “A Year On The Road” RV adventure since leaving home in Florida.

From that original departure point to November 14, we have traveled through 18 states and totaled a mind-boggling 22,319 miles when you add in the mileage we have covered in our little Ford Fiesta, Nippy, as well as that 7,053 in RV Indefatigable (or Fati for short).

This isn’t quite 6 months, as Google won’t allow additional destinations after Lake Havasu in Arizona, but it should show the most recent part of the trip, to current spot Tucson (see below)

The last month has added 545 miles to Fati’s total but also 1,927 to Nippy’s. That means Nippy has now piled up a whopping 15,266 miles to date, so she is proving a real workhorse.

Of course, we should have gone even further afield, as we scrapped plans to head out to Washington and Oregon after reaching Glacier National Park in Montana, but we think that is still a pretty respectable total.

Below are two maps showing just the last month of our travels, from Kingman in Arizona to Tucson, via sparkling Lake Havasu City, Hope, Goodyear and Mesa (with 3 weeks in the greater Phoenix area in all):

From Kingman in northern Arizona, we traveled down the extreme west part of the state before reaching Interstate 10 and heading east to Mesa and then Tucson, with a week in between in Goodyear
And this shows the more detailed version, highlighting an overnight stop in tiny Hope and the (rather confusing) route through and around Phoenix before reaching the chic Voyager RV resort in east Tucson

The Town Too Tough To Die

Monte Vista RV resort in Mesa had been so fantastic we could hardly wait for our visit to another resort within the Thousand Trails membership program once we arrived in Tucson. We’d spend two weeks venturing out to Tombstone, Saguaro National Park, Mount Lemmon, and Old Tucson, and devote an evening (finally!) to Arizona’s spectacular Dark Sky stargazing.

Fati in her natural habitat.

The resort is loaded with activities and conveniences, from pickleball and Amazon delivery and every type of class imaginable, plus the disquietingly-named Fat Willy’s grill. First night’s dinner, sorted!

After settling in at our site, we strolled across the street to Willy’s and stood in the restaurant for nearly 20 minutes while no one took the slightest bit of notice. There appeared to be two servers, no host or hostess, and a whole lot of chaos, so we returned to Fati and made spaghetti and meatballs instead. Easy at home with a full-sized stove, it becomes an hour-long process when you have to cook the meatballs in the Instant Pot, then take them out, boil water in the Instant Pot, cook the spaghetti, drain it, and throw it all back into the Instant Pot to heat it up again with the sauce. Moving day is complicated, and all that fuss adds up.

The command center that turns out unbelievable meals!

The next day was Susan’s birthday, so with next to nothing in the cupboards or fridge, Simon assembled two BelVita cookies into a “cake,” and topped them with a gummy shark. Happy birthday!

BelVita cake with gummy shark frosting.

 With the promise of a super yummy dinner from a nice restaurant later that evening, we set off for Tombstone. We’d been there once before (twice, for Simon), but today would be different. Because today was Vigilante Day!

Some of that dust we mentioned in our What We Learned During Our Sixth Month On The Road blog.

A little show happens each day recreating the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, near that small red sign. The real gunfight happened at the back of the building.

A little vigilante-inspired street skit was just about to commence when we arrived, and we scored a front-row view with Ruthie tucked between us. We’re not sure what the story was supposed to be, but as soon as the gunshots began Ruthie became seriously unnerved, and we knew it was time to move on.

The skit started with the National Anthem

Stuff is happening, but we’re not sure what.

We strolled down the boardwalk, looked in a few shops, stopped every ten steps or so for people to pet Ruthie, and marveled at how much Tombstoners seem to love dogs. She was definitely the star of the walkways, and we heard quite a few stories from locals who own or owned Labs, the “sweetest dogs on the planet.”

Our sweet dog is slowing down. A lot. But the Good Enough Mine Trolley welcomed her on a pet-friendly 40-minute tour, which would give her a rest and us a great overview of the town and its history.

On the way to the boarding location she sniffed out a mouse and took an interest in the horses, then we embarked on what turned out to be a private tour with just us and our driver, George.

“Them’s big dogs.”

“That’s the tiniest puppy I’ve ever seen.”

Last time we were in Tombstone we didn’t make it beyond the main street, but this time we learned about the settlement’s two fires (which earned it the title “the town too tough to die”), its mining culture, its law and lawlessness, the uneasy relationship with the nearby Apache, and “two hundred ladies of negotiable affection” (in reality, mainly poor girls with no other options) who plied their trade in brothels on the opposite end of Allen Street to where the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral went down.

The main tourist street.

The back side of the O.K. Corral. This is where the gunfight took place.

The Bird Cage Theater is where many of Tombstone’s working women worked, at least some of the time. At other times, they worked in tiny “cribs” earning cowboys’ and miners’ cash in a manner deemed less moral than dancers’ revenue stream.

Today’s Tombstone as seen from up on a hill, with the Good Enough Mine (yes, it’s real name) under the ground between the town and the hill.

The tour was far more insightful and far more comprehensive than the mock gunfights in the main tourist district, and we appreciated discovering Tombstone’s history beyond shoot-‘em-ups. George has a website, Tombstone Silver, which has lots of great stories you may enjoy reading.

We’re not really sure what the deal is with this, but we admire the creativity.

It was an hour’s drive back to Fati after a long day, and we were ready for that special birthday dinner. I’ll condense the hour spent searching online to find a decent restaurant that was A) closer than 30 minutes away and 2) open, and simply say there wasn’t one. But Simon saved the day. We’d go to the grocery store and grab some soup and bread, then celebrate some other evening, when we were out touring near real restaurants.

While I was heating up the soup in the (say it with me…) Instant Pot, he slipped away into the night and returned with a birthday card, a Moon Pie, and some chocolate ice cream, all purchased at the resort’s tiny convenience store. And honestly? It made my day. He’s a keeper, this one!

“Cleo” is Simon’s name for me. Long, lovely story, perhaps for another time.

What We Learned During Our Sixth Month On The Road

Today marks six months since we locked the door to our house in Florida and set off for a year-long adventure in an RV. Here’s what we learned during the past month:

Know your limitations. No matter how much you want to camp overnight in the middle of the desert at Quartzsite, when the ground temperature is 107 and you don’t have the ability to run at least one air conditioner (never mind your fridge) it’s time to re-think things. The fact there’s no one else out there and the locals are complaining about the heat are hints, too. Find a way to get the “flavor” of the experience and book that night in a campground with hookups.

Know the difference between a true limitation and fear.

When you can’t change the situation, change the inner dialogue. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that, but the worst that can happen if you give it a try is that you’ll be right where you were before you tried. Start with “You can do this! You’re awesome, and you’re going to feel fantastic about yourself when you get through it! Go you!” and add to it as needed. Be your own giddy cheerleader.

Have a dear friend who texts you and says, “YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS!” That reminder is priceless. (Thank you, Katie!)

You’re going to see a lot of signs in the Southwest that read, “Watch For Rattlesnakes.” It will occur to you at some point that you don’t actually know how to watch for rattlesnakes.

Sedona, Arizona will get straight to the heart of whatever you’re struggling with. Don’t believe in spiritualism or an afterlife or any of that crap? Too bad. Sedona, Arizona has news for you, and even though it might take months or years of sitting with what it’s telling you, Sedona is going to tell you. Do believe in all that crap? You’ll get there quicker.

There is so much more history in the American West than we ever imagined, especially in Arizona.  It’s astonishing to discover places like Tuzigoot and Casa Grande, which had vibrant, thriving communities more than a thousand years ago. It’s so much more than just “cowboys and Indians.”

If you clean up the dust in the morning, you won’t have to dust again until noon, and again before dinner, and once more before bedtime, and when you get up to pee at night, and it’s like that every single day, because there is so much more dust out West than we ever thought possible.

Your understanding of “be flexible” will change. At first, it meant you might drive further on any given day than you thought you would, or you’d have dinner out rather than cooking in, or you’d have to figure out how to stop that annoying whistling sound through the window when you move from one campground to the next. Now, it’s a philosophy for life. Combined with “forget about blame and focus only on a solution,” it’s pretty powerful.

Wave at everyone when you’re taking a stroll around the campground, and when one of them comes knocking on your door and asks you over for drinks, go. Oh, the happy evenings sharing travel stories! It’ll make leaving the campground very, very hard when it’s time to move on, and there will be tears, but those memories from the trip will be among your best.

When you hit that half-way mark in your Year on the Road, it’ll feel like you’ve been away from home forever, and also that it’s all gone so fast. On to the next six months!

Sedona will SORT. YOU. OUT!

Everyone told us it was beautiful. Everyone mentioned it was magical. But the person who told us “Whatever you’re dealing with, Sedona will sort you out” hit that nail smack on the head. Sedona, Arizona took all the best elements of the places we’ve visited so far, and cranked them up to eleven.

And then the emotional upheaval kicked in.

Our two days away from Fati started with lunch at Flower Child with our friends Meredith and Nathan. We knew Meredith from her time at Universal Orlando, and when she invited us to meet up while we were in the Phoenix area, we enthusiastically said, “Yes!”

Susan’s brussels sprout and butternut squash salad, and Simon’s Forbidden Rice with salmon

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them while scarfing down a delicious healthy lunch, and Nathan did us a huge favor by recommending we take Highway 87 instead of Interstate 17 for our journey, not only because it went directly to our first night’s stop in Winslow, AZ, but also because it’s incredibly scenic.

We had been considering 87, and we were so glad he confirmed it was the right choice. It took us from flat desert to mountainous vistas and a surprising forested descent toward Winslow, perfect for driving in Nippy.

Originally, we were only going to take one overnight in Sedona, but we also wanted to see Meteor Crater National Landmark, so we added an overnight at the fabulous La Posada in Winslow. What luxury, what great music, and what good food!

The next morning we took all the necessary photos “standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona,” including with the flat-bed truck, before heading west to the crater.

The now-famous corner.

Ruthie wanted her photo taken with the wings. We told her she might be too short, but she’s delighted with the outcome.

Meteor Crater is big. Very big indeed. The crater is 4,000 feet wide, 700 feet deep, and was created when a meteor hit at 26,000 miles per hour, 50,000 years ago. We stood on the edge and felt the pull of the wind that whips around inside and threatens to suck you in.

The people standing on the overlook give you an idea of how big this thing is.

Obligatory Selfie

Part of the meteor that caused this whole mishigas in the first place.


Now, don’t tell anyone – this is strictly between us. Simon and I found an elevator that took us down to the crater floor, and we popped out for a couple of quick photos. No one can know. So don’t tell.*

Then, it was on to the main event. The reason for our trip to Sedona was to bring Susan’s beloved mother back to a place she loved, as one final trip to Arizona. We’d leave it to her to guide us to a spot she wanted to “see,” and we’d do a little ceremony for her there.

Kathy looking out the front window. I could feel her smiling.

We knew nothing about the area, but first Sedona and then a place called Oak Creek Canyon kept coming up as I (Susan) browsed Google’s Arizona map. We weren’t sure where the canyon was, but we’d find it once we got to the city.

Heading south on I-17, we quickly began to descend out of the mountain along a road with a series of switchbacks, and we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Glorious hillsides covered in trees showing off their fall colors, towering rock formations that seemed to reach to the sky, and, further down, a river that actually flowed in a state where most rivers are bone-dry most of the time. Could there really be a place on Earth this enchanting? It felt so right.

I was afraid we wouldn’t know where to go. I worried that I wouldn’t “hear” Mom telling me what she wanted. But Sedona sorts these things out, and as we drove through the lower end of the canyon, Mom left no doubt whatsoever where we should pull over, where we should walk, and where we should do our little ceremony.

Holding Kathy up so she has a good view of the mountain.

As we returned to the car, I noticed a sign with a map behind glass. We were in the heart of Oak Creek Canyon.

The canyon was intensely emotional, and sometimes you have to sit with these things for a while, which is what Simon is processing now. Along with grief, Susan felt tremendous joy. Sitting in one of the area’s many vortexes the next day, talking to her mom and dad, her turn for processing started.

This was my view from the vortex when Mom told me what she wants me to heal in my life.

But there was more to discover in Sedona, including the food, and the magnificent boutique hotel, El Portal Sedona, which will absolutely be our choice for a return visit, next time for much longer. We’ve stayed in excellent hotels over the years, but this…this just fit us like the finest of gloves.

Ample room for us and a dog.

We had dinner that first night at dog-friendly Creekside American Bistro, where we each had a cocktail, and we split Lamb Chop Lollipops and Fig and Blue Cheese Crostini. Superb!

The next morning we ambled over to The Secret Garden Cafe, where Simon chose the Breakfast Burrito and Susan had the quiche. Simple elegance blended with delicious flavors, and we felt truly spoiled.

Finally, before we started back to Fati, we took a trip up the hillside to the Airport Overlook.

Can you guess which Magic Kingdom attraction is said to be based on Thunder Mountain, in the background here?

We detoured off of I-17 for a visit to mountainside Jerome, once a mining town full of bars and brothels, now a “ghost town”…

…toured the Tuzigoot National Monument Native American ruins…

…and had a picnic lunch in a park.

But there is one thing we did not do.

We chose not to drive through Oak Creek Canyon again before leaving Sedona, because there is only one “first time,” and no return trip will ever have that same impact. We want to remember this first visit exactly as it was. Perfection.

*Okay, you guessed it anyway. It’s a photo op in the museum. But our version is way more fun.