I Left My <3 In Sunny Seattle

A think it’s a kind of curse that every time I go for a visit in Puyallup (near Seattle) the weather cooperates and I’m presented with gorgeous scenery, beautiful blue skies, and happy smiling people working in their gardens or taking their children to the park. I am usually prepared for grey, cold, rainy, misty, and that pervasive damp that chills you to the bone. And usually I do experience some of those days, but they have been mixed in with sunny days which makes them much more bearable. The problem with this is that I always expect to want to leave Seattle and get back to whatever warm weather locale I currently call home. This year my Christmas trip to Seattle included several amazing days spent outdoors in the sun and snow, and it was incredibly difficult to get on the plane back to Tucson. Of course this time it was even more difficult than usual, since I was once again bidding adieu to the love of my life with no definite plans for when we will next be reunited.

This trip to Puyallup was a whirlwind of food, people, noise, fun, love, and exhaustion. Andrew and I made a little nest on the floor of his mom Nancy’s office, and at first I found it a little difficult to make the transition from “me and my cat” to “me and five other adults, a toddler, three dogs, and the large swath of extended family” that was in town to visit. Our delicious Christmas diner, which was held at another relative’s house, included over 20 family members! Ultimately it was well worth it to feel the love and warm familial energy that engulfed the family households during this special time of year.

When Andrew and I decided we needed some time to ourselves, we spent a day in Seattle proper exploring the Pike Place Market where I spent $10 on a tiny (yet delicious!) cup of crab cocktail. Next we checked out the underground tour of the old city after having a few fancy drinks. Apparently the original Seattle was so close to sea level that the streets would flood and raw sewage would pour backwards out of the newfangled toilets and sewer systems, so they eventually raised the city up to avoid this problem. Fortunately the underground streets were pretty well preserved and it was a really interesting tour seeing the old sidewalks and building facades.

We were also lucky enough to spend a dry, sunny day up in the mountains snowshoeing with our friend Vindy and the snow-loving Zephyr. After a few fun, strenuous hours, Andrew and I continued up the mountain to ring in the New Year with his brother Bryan who works at the ski lift on Crystal Mountain. We had a grand time around a bonfire, meeting the various “mountain folk” and tourists who came for the big annual NYE party the mountain throws. Just before the fireworks started we walked back to the truck to check on Zephyr, and… wouldn’t you know it…he was gone. We hopped in and drove up and down the mountain roads calling his name, until we finally had the sense to check Andrew’s cell phone. Lo and behold, we had received a text from someone who had picked Zephyr up along the road halfway down the mountain. The $10 we spent on having our phone numbers engraved on his dog tag has paid for itself a thousand times over! We met up with his rescuer and did our dog exchange (we are pros at this by now), and made it just in time to watch the fireworks explode overhead.

After a cold, fun, slightly intoxicated night spent in the back of the pickup truck, Andrew and I returned back to the house. The clear skies afforded gorgeous views of the Olympic Mountains, and along the waterfront I spotted my second bald eagle of the trip! A few days later we headed back up to Crystal Mountain to get in some snowboarding, and the views from the top of Mt. Rainier were spectacular. I am still only okay at snowboarding, but I have fun trying and took a much-needed break in the lodge while the more advanced Ides hit the steep slopes without me

Unfortunately not everything during the trip was so rosy. My mother-in-law and my grandmother have each had a roller-coaster ride in regards to their health, and this winter is no exception. When I first arrived in Seattle Andrew took me straight to the emergency room where Nancy was being seen for some complications related to her cancer. She went to the hospital several different times while I was there, for various scans, treatments, and a blood transfusion. While I was away my grandmother was checked into the hospital for a blood infection that just won’t quit. She was only in the hospital for a few days, but on my second day back in Tucson she was readmitted for a high fever and other infection-related symptoms. I am getting quite used to visiting people in the hospital. It’s not a fun way to spend your day, but I am ever grateful to be the visitor and not the patient.

I still do not know what the future has in store for my little family. Andrew is working on getting rehired at REI in a store near his parents’ house, and I am still looking for opportunities to work outdoors on a farm. There is a farm a few hours drive from his parents’ house that I am interested in, and will submit an application to this week. Wish me luck! Of course the hard part is knowing that taking a job in Washington means leaving my grandmother alone in Tucson. It’s a really hard thing, feeling like you have to choose between your husband and your grandmother. I also don’t want my husband to feel like he has to choose between his wife and his mother! As you can see, I am sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I have acquired the ability to accept things as they come and know that life will fall into place. After all, I’m only 28 and from what I hear, (and feel!), that is the new 18!

A Homeless Homecoming

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, outside my favorite taco shop in San Diego. “San Diego!?” you say. “You’re still in Arizona!” Okay, I admit I have fallen hopelessly behind on blogging about my adventures, and for this I apologize. I know many of you (okay, maybe just you Jane!) are sitting glued to your monitors wondering where in the world the Ides are now.

After departing the Grand Canyon we headed down south towards my native city of Tucson to visit my grandmother, who at 88 years old is just starting to experience some health issues. Once we were on our way to Tucson we started to get the sad feeling that our trip was coming to an end. We saw more and more California license plates on the road and realized our teardrop traveling days were dwindling. We tried to keep our spirits up with diversions. We stopped in Sedona for lunch, and we went into every single jewelry store in town so Andrew could find the perfect silver wedding band before he finally settled on a very cool Hopi design. We braved the snow flurries on the crazy mountain pass outside Jerome, and then hunkered down for a freezing night spent in a campground near Prescott. Despite the bitter cold we were not alone, and made a point of camping as far from possible from the group of young men rocking out heavy metal while huddling around a large bonfire.

Sadly, this was to be our last night in the teardrop. We spent our first night in Tucson with Jane, an old family friend who lives out in the desert in an area so remote that she came out to meet us on her four-wheeler as we were driving up. We had a lovely time visiting Jane and her husband Don, while also mooching free laundry and dinner. We have become quite adept at taking advantage of people’s generosity, and fortunately so far people seem to actually enjoy helping us. I am grateful for all of the help and hospitality we have received along our journey. I wonder how long we can keep up this charade…I really think I could have a future in hobodom!

The next few nights were spent at my grandmother’s house, and we visited her every day in the rehab facility where she is being treated for a mysterious infection. While in Tucson we distracted ourselves by having a drink with Chaz, an old high school buddy of mine who happened to be in town. He showed up in his Navy khakis (he is an officer), and talked about his plans for nursing school. Yet another example of one of my peers having achieved so much already and having responsible plans for the future. Who are these people?!?

Most of our time in Tucson was low-key, so we had plenty of time to think about our options and fret about our own future. We figured we were all set to move in with Andrew’s parents for the winter, but we were beat to the punch by his sister, her husband, toddler, and their two dogs. Andrew’s family is very generous and accommodating and still welcomed us to come, but having six adults, a toddler, and three dogs in one house was starting to sound like “crazytown” to this girl, who is used to being alone in the woods with her little family. Additionally, as I spent more time with my grandmother I realized that, while she has a wonderful network of friends in Tucson, there is no family nearby to take care of the day-to-day tasks that she needs assistance with. She had been in the rehab facility for five days before we got there, and still only had the clothes she was wearing when she arrived. I started thinking maybe I could be of use to her this winter, so Andrew and I began grappling with the idea of parting ways for a few months.

After lolling around Tucson for a few days we said goodbye to Grandma and headed back into San Diego for a few days before the exciting Mexican leg of our adventure; the grand finale if you will. Returning to your hometown without actually having a home there is tough. You feel like you’re home, and you start spending money on all of your favorite restaurants and such, but you don’t have a routine, and you don’t have a place to settle. You also don’t have a job, so the whole spending money bit is treacherous! After floating around San Diego for a few days we dropped Zephyr off at Sunnybrook Farms, an awesome dog-boarding farm that lets the dogs run around in a pack and play all day. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. Zephyr has grown on me, despite (or maybe thanks to) his crazy antics, but it was nice knowing he was going to have a grand time with some canine pals.

Our Thanksgiving trip to Baja, Mexico was planned months and months ago, much to the dismay of my father who usually hosts Thanksgiving. Fortunately Dad was generous enough to give me his blessing. I love family and I love Dad’s turkey…but when life asks you “Sacramento…or Mexico?” you’d better say Mexico! Our friends Danny and Katie travel to Baja frequently, and Danny’s family owns a house near the town of Mulege which is about 12 hours south on the Sea of Cortez. After a few days in San Diego the four of us crammed into Katie’s (mostly) reliable sedan, along with oodles of fishing gear, spear guns, snorkeling equipment, coolers, and a wakeboard, and left San Diego at 0’ dark-thirty in the morning.

Ain’t Life Grand?

We entered Arizona on a blustery day, which led to several entertaining complications. Just as we crossed the border, Andrew yelled some profanities and I looked behind us to see that the hatchback to the trailer had managed to pop open. The latch for the hatchback had broken many miles and states before, but there was enough weight in the door to keep it down. I’m not sure if the wind is completely to blame, but for some reason the door had swung up and open, and so we pulled over to assess the damage. My first concern was for the coffee, especially since it had been so cold and wet these last few days and coffee has become my morning lifeblood. I ran back and saw that the coffee was still safe and sound, and assumed that meant everything else was in order. We secured the door with a bungee cord and continued on our way, unaware until later that we had actually lost four plastic cups and my vanilla sweetener somewhere down the highway.

The second funny thing happened when we pulled over at a scenic overlook so Andrew could make a sandwich. It was incredibly windy so I decided to stay in the truck while Andrew fought the wind. Apparently the wind won out, as I once again heard Andrew swearing. I opened my door in time to see bread, ham, and cheese go flying past. Andrew had set his sandwich down for a second on the tailgate and the wind had lifted it up and sent it sailing. Not one to let a good sandwich go to waste, Andrew put it back together after attempting to brush out the gravel. It turned out to be a rather crunchy sandwich, and he ate begrudgingly with a hearty side of grumbling.

We continued on into Northern Arizona, driving through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation on our way to the Grand Canyon. Heavy, dark clouds loomed ahead, warning us of the cold, wet weather to come. I zoned out in the warm truck, delirious from lack of sleep and the physical exertion of our morning hike in Zion. On the radio we picked up a local Navajo station, and I was lulled into a spiritual stupor by the steady drumbeat and harmonic chanting as we passed increasingly impressive chasms and colorful canyons.

Our first order of duty upon entering the National Park was to take showers. We arrived at 5 PM, and only had one hour before the showers closed so we high-tailed it over to the laundry/shower facility.  I was still cold and damp from our rain-soaked hike, so I was prepared to spend $4 for 16 minutes of shower time. As I put in my first two dollars, the machine got jammed, and when I pushed with force one of my quarters popped back out. I don’t know what happened, but the shower started running, and not only was the water hot and wonderful, somehow the timer was disabled and so I was able to shower as long as I liked for $1.75. I was so stoked for this little bit of luck, I felt like I could go out and buy a lottery ticket and win the jackpot.

After our showers we were wonderfully warm and dry, just in time for the hail/sleet/snow to start falling. At this point we couldn’t imagine sitting outside in the cold trying to cook and enjoy our dinner, so we took advantage of how developed the Grand Canyon is and headed to a restaurant. We had a mediocre and overpriced meal, but I would have paid double just to sit inside and drink my spiked coffee. After dinner we went back to our campsite to let Zephyr run a bit, since he had been cooped up in the truck all day. As we shivered in the snow, Zephyr ran, romped, rolled, and shook about, in love with the weather. Being half husky he is naturally prepared for the cold, and his joy was palpable. That night I made a promise to Zephyr that I would never take him to Florida, or any tropical locale, ever again!

The next morning I awoke early to the eerie silence that accompanies bitterly cold weather. I bundled up and went outside to let Zephyr out, but was thwarted by the frozen truck doors. After a lot of yanking, pulling, and cursing I pried open the back door and let him out. I fed him and then grabbed his water bowl, only to find a thick layer of ice instead! We had some fun sliding on frozen puddles, and then packed up and headed to an overlook parking lot that was in the sun to cook our breakfast.

Sun aside it was a frigid morning, with a temperature of 27° F and a wind-chill of 18° F! We ate our breakfast quickly, and had a brisk walk along the Grand Canyon’s rim. We would have preferred to take a hike down into the canyon, but dogs are strictly forbidden and so we satisfied ourselves with the occasional rock scramble to get some good photos. After our stroll we loaded up and drove out into the chilly Northern Arizona day with our cold noses pointed south towards my native city of Tucson.

You Ought to See Utah

Utah is a land of many wonders, and so although we were sad to leave Moab and our friends, we were excited to check out more National Parks in the state. We headed west and arrived at Canyonlands National Park after dark, so we quickly set up camp and headed to bed. The next morning we drove through some of the scenic areas and parked at a trailhead where we made breakfast and enjoyed the sunshine. As we were sitting there quietly drinking our coffee I heard the unmistakable revving of engines in duress, and I looked up to see some awesome Jeep off-roaders heading up the cliff side. Canyonlands is one of the few National Parks that allows this kind of activity, and it was fun to watch these little vehicles with giant tires navigate rocky paths and boulders while driving at 70-degree angles. After breakfast we took a little stroll with Zephyr to check out some “pothole communities,” which are little holes in the rock that fill up with water in the rainy season and allow strange creatures to thrive. Unfortunately all of the potholes were dry, but we enjoyed the surrounding red rock “needles” and the fresh air.

After leaving Canyonlands we continued to head southwest through Utah. The geology of this mostly uninhabited region of the United States is phenomenal. We wished multiple times that we had a magic lamp we could rub to summon my geologist stepfather Dale, so we could learn about these amazing formations. The next National Park we hit was Capitol Reef, a park I had never even heard of before we arrived. It is a small park with similar geology to Canyonlands, but through the center of the canyon is a small river that provides enough water for an orchard and homestead that pioneer Mormons established back in the day. We camped near the orchards, but were disappointed that the fruit trees were done producing for the season. Apparently if you arrive at the right time you are free to go collect as much fruit as you want!

Up next in Utah was Bryce Canyon, which now sits at the top of my list of most beautiful places visited on this trip. We arrived thinking we would just do the usual drive through, but Ranger Kevin in the visitor center advised us that Bryce Canyon has the “best three-mile hike in the world.” It is even printed on their map as such, and so we felt compelled to check it out. We left Zephyr in the truck (with a silent prayer that he stays put), and gave ourselves a goal of finishing the hike in one hour and 15 minutes. We managed to meet this goal, despite stopping a million times to take photographs of the wondrous rock formations. At one point on the trail we discovered a Cairn forest, and of course we built our own Cairns to leave our temporary mark on this wonderful hike. (If you don’t know what a Cairn is, see the photo below.) We hurried back to the visitor center to thank Ranger Kevin and we had to concur: so far that was definitely the best three-mile hike we have ever been on!

I was sad to leave Bryce, but the call of Zion was strong, and so we headed even further west to this famous site. Several times as we drove through Utah and visited its marvels I thought to myself, I can see why the Mormons settled here! Coming across the plains in a covered wagon and stumbling into this wild land with its enormous, balancing red rocks, spires, and arches, it’s no wonder they thought this was sacred land! Of course this land was sacred to the native peoples well before the Mormons arrived, and I am happy to add myself to the long list of people who find wonder, awe, and inspiration in this amazing place.

When we arrived at Zion I immediately compared it to Bryce Canyon. Zion is huge, incredibly developed, and immensely popular, while Bryce allows more of a feeling of new discovery to the visitor. Initially I was dubious about Zion’s merits, especially since the campground we pulled into was crowded, unimpressive, and expensive. The night was cold and wet, and I had a hard time sleeping with the howling wind and fat raindrops beating on the teardrop. The next morning we awoke early and drove to a trailhead for a hike Andrew was determined to accomplish. Initially I was worried about leaving Zephyr in the truck for so long, since the hike was a steep and difficult 5.4 miles. Fortunately the weather was miserable, and so we were confident Zephyr would be more than happy in his warm truck house for several hours.

We headed up the trail to Angel’s Landing in the cold drizzle, which involved many switchbacks and steep hills. After a few hours of climbing, we arrived at a point where you basically scramble up boulders while clinging to chains that have been installed “for safety.” The chains were wet, cold, and slippery, and I had to wear my mittens to keep the blood flowing to my fingers. We finally arrived at the top, and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the immense valley that was carved eons ago by the beautiful Virgin River. As we sat amazed and stupefied by the scenery, the skies opened and hail began to fall. We made a hasty retreat back down the rocks, mumbling curses as large hailstones made contact with our heads. The hike back down was hard on the knees, but we were smart enough to bring our hiking poles, which definitely helped. Despite being good planners and having our raincoats on, I had stubbornly worn my jeans and suffered for it. By the time we arrived back at the truck we were soaked and cold to the bone.

We did a quick clothing change in the parking lot as one lone thunderclap exploded overhead. I was grateful we had safely descended before the weather became dangerous. As we hiked down we saw many people just starting their ascent, including a group of teenagers hiking in cotton sweatshirts and tennis shoes. I crossed my fingers that they were smart enough to know when to turn back. As we piled into the truck we said hello to Zephyr, who (as predicted), had enjoyed a nice warm nap. We blasted the heater in an attempt to warm our bodies to a temperature that matched our exhilarated spirits, and then headed out of Utah and towards the Grand Canyon.

Prairie Dog Salvation, All Hallow’s Eve, and a Bucket Shower

The scenery during our several-hour drive through the Texas panhandle was fairly monotonous, with lots of heavy machinery emblazoned with the Halliburton logo, dirt, scrub brush, more dirt, and jack pumps sprinkled throughout. Our favorite Texas memory was witnessing the world’s fattest prairie dog run for his life across a freeway on ramp. He barely escaped death by rubber, and as soon as he crossed safely he collapsed flat on his big belly and tried to catch his breath. It was adorable, and much better than witnessing a fresh road kill!

We passed through Texas without stopping, and entered New Mexico where we stopped for lunch along a random dirt road in an open ranch area. We drove over several large bumps, and though we were careful to make sure Gertie was secure, we managed to knock off the license plate on our trailer. Of course we didn’t notice this until we were long gone, and I imagine some cattleman on his horse finding a California license plate out in the middle of nowhere and thinking how crazy Californians must truly be.

In Santa Fe we hit up our two favorite stores: REI and Trader Joe’s. We tried to get some ideas for Halloween fun, but most of the young people we talked to said that Santa Fe is more of a quiet, retiree town so we decided to head up the mountain to Los Alamos for some camping and sightseeing. We drove up the mountain pass at night and twice we had to hit our brakes hard as large bull elk bounded across the road in front of the truck. We have seen plenty of elk on this trip, but when they are that close to you their size and antlers are nothing short of breathtaking.

At this point I hadn’t had a hot shower since leaving Hot Springs several days ago, but we opted to camp out in the National Forest without any amenities.  It was a very cold night with a brilliant full moon, and the next morning we were a little grumpy when we discovered that the regulator on our stove was shot, and we would have to go without our coffee. We drove through the area admiring the geological sights, including a giant caldera that looked like a huge dry grassland, complete with a massive elk party. We thanked New Mexico for her hospitality and beauty, and then headed into southern Colorado to check out Great Sand Dunes National Park.

By the time we arrived at Great Sand Dunes it was late in the day, and since it was Halloween we put on the masks we bought in New Orleans and set up camp. There were several other campers in the campground, although we were the only ones silly enough to dress up. I was tempted to go trick or treating, but Andrew convinced me that it was very unlikely the elderly couple in the trailer next door had a surplus of candy and/or alcohol, so I was contented to sit by the fire with my husband and dog (who was decidedly perplexed by my newly acquired cat face).

I was still desperate for a shower, so before the sun set completely Andrew set up one of his famous “bucket showers.” We have two galvanized buckets, one of which has holes poked into the bottom. We stack them together, and heat up water on the fire. Then Andrew places them up high on a tree branch and when I’m ready he pulls the outer bucket off and I have a shower! We try to place the extra bucket down below in a way to catch some runoff, and this way he can refill my shower for me a couple of times before the water runs out. It wasn’t as nice as a real shower, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m grateful that my husband is so clever and handy!

The next day we hiked up the sand dunes with Zephyr, who is a pro at sand dune hiking since we took him on a similar hike in the Mojave Preserve last year. Hiking to the top is excruciatingly slow and difficult, and requires lots of resting. As you climb up it’s basically two steps forward, one step back, but the views at the top and the satisfaction of completing your goal are well worth it. Even better is the fun of sliding, running, rolling, and skating down the sand dunes once you’re done! This is also Zephyr’s favorite part, and the three of us yelping, running, and streaming down the dunes must have been a sight to behold!

That night we headed west to Durango, a small fun Colorado town I had previously visited as a child. We found a replacement regulator (hallelujah!), did some laundry, and hit up Durango Joe’s coffee shop for some chai tea lattes and free Wi-Fi. Andrew took Zephyr on a walk and made friends with some locals, who advised us to take the drive up to Telluride, which would add about five hours to our trip but is supposedly well-worth it, with a crazy mountain pass and beautiful vistas.

That night we found a campground next to a lake, and picked a spot that costs $34 in the summer season. Fortunately for us it was off-season, and with our inter-agency annual pass we only needed to pay $4.75. Thank goodness too, because even the bathrooms were locked and we were required to dig our own holes, hoping all along that the resident black bears were already dormant for the winter.  We went to bed early shivering in the cold, ready for our next Colorado adventure.