Monday, January 28, 2013

Rainy-day run on Murphy's Bridle Path

From gray and gloomy to rainy and muddy to sunny. Simultaneously, I went from tired and unmotivated to exhilarated and inspired. The weather in Phoenix on Sunday made running on Murphy’s Bridle Path a rewarding experience.

It has been difficult to get motivated to run in recent uncharacteristically stormy weather. Whatever pushed me out the door that day ­­— mostly guilt from gorging on nachos, a pretzel with cheese and chocolate-covered pretzels the day before — I’m glad I ran.

The skies were mostly cloudy at first, but the sun’s rays managed to peek through. 

I hit the 2.5-mile mark just north of Northern Avenue and felt the number of droplets start to increase. I decided to turn back, and soon I found myself running through a short-lived deluge.

I spied Graham riding his bicycle down the trail in my direction. He had come to check up on me and found I was having a swell time getting drenched. Runners going in the opposite direction would laugh and give me a look of understanding as if to ask, “Isn’t this fun?”

I entrusted him with my cellphone, which I carry in an armband as my music player, to protect it from the rain. But the instant he rode off, I noticed a vivid rainbow to the east, over Piestewa Peak. Then came the pangs of remorse.

I wish I could have captured the view. But I’d like to think of the rainbow as my reward for running.

On a related note, I wrote an article about how easy it is to keep a fitness resolution in Phoenix. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Going underground at Kartchner Caverns State Park

In November 1974, two University of Arizona students discovered an enormous cave in the Whetstone Mountains of southern Arizona. In order to protect it, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts embarked on a 13-year mission to turn it into a park. This involved keeping its existence a secret. They also needed the cooperation of the Kartchners, owners of the land that is home to their monumental discovery. An incredible journey ensued, culminating in the signing of legislation in 1988 to create the park that Graham and I recently had the privilege of exploring.

The story of Kartchner Caverns State Park's origin is discussed in detail in a short film at the visitor center and by the park's volunteer tour guides. In the Discovery Center, you can crawl through a replica of the cave entrance the brave Tenen and Tufts initially crawled through. The theme of the story is that the cave must be preserved for future generations. To that end, entrance into the cave's rooms is granted only in guided tours. No photography is allowed in the cave, nor are cellphones, dogs, food and drinks (including bottled water), purses and other bags. No touching of the cave walls is allowed, either. When we walked in, we were escorted through a chamber in which light mist was spray on us and our clothing to keep the lint from our clothes in check. At least two doors were shut behind us. Good thing we aren't claustrophobic.

It's a living cave, meaning that it is still growing and changing. Bats nurse their young here every summer, and signs of their presence are visible in the enormous piles of guano and blacks marks where their roosts had been.

Inside, it's at a constant 72 degrees with a whopping 99 percent humidity. The day that we visited, the low in the nearby Sierra Vista area was 20 degrees, so we were appropriately bundled up in coats, scarves, hats and gloves. This meant that we had to tightly roll up our belongings (before entering the misty room) and carry them with us throughout the tour.

Our tour guide was a walking encyclopedia when it came to cave and bat knowledge. As we examined stalagmites and stalactites (I'm still not sure I can recite the difference without consulting a dictionary.), she passed on her knowledge in a way that wasn't overwhelming. I was impressed at some of the facts she related to us about bats. They eat 2/3 their body weight in insects each night, for example. Also, only the female bats come into the cave, while it's unclear where the males go.

I only wish I could have taken some photos, though the size and shapes of the formations are impossible to forget. Our 1 hour and 45 minute tour meandered through the Big Room and was about a half mile long. The Big Room was dimly lit with a system that allowed the tour guide to spotlight important or interesting mineral deposits. This helped us to notice things that may have been missed with so much going on visually. The view in some spots was so vast that you could spend hours in there admiring the various forms. Graham and I even got what the tour guide called a cave kiss, a drop of water falling on you. This may seem trivial, but water is what continues to carve the cave.

On our next road trip to southern Arizona I'd like to go on the other tour, which scans the Rotunda/Throne Room. (Tip: Each of the tours is about $22.95 per adult, but if you use the code "livingcave" you can get $1 off per person.) The highlight is the "Kubla Khan," the largest column formation in Arizona, at 58 feet tall. I only wish our tour could have gone to that formation too, and that we could have kept exploring.

Have you explore Kartchner Caverns? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 free-admission days at national parks

The first entrance-fee-free day at national parks this year is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Jan. 21. Admission and day-use fees are waived that day. I visited Grand Canyon National Park on a fee-free day in September and saved $25.

Looking for a national park in Arizona? Any of these would make a good weekend trip.

Note: The Hohokam Pima National Monument is not open to the public.

Of course, there are also national parks and monuments that never charge an entrance fee.

Other fee-free days are planned in 2013. They are:
  • April 22-26 for National Park Week, which celebrates "84 million acres of the world's most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures."
  • Aug. 25 for the National Park Service's birthday.
  • Sept. 28 for National Public Lands Day, which I took advantage of in 2012.
  • Nov. 9-11 for Veterans Day weekend.
There is a disclaimer on the website that not all fees may be waived. It's best to call the park ahead of time to ask.

It says:

*Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

If you visit national parks often, consider purchasing an annual pass ($80), which gets to in to more than 2,000 national recreation areas. There are also senior, military, volunteer and access passes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


When many Phoenicians consider a weekend getaway, I suspect many of them choose to venture north, where snow and scenic views await. However, the scenery is just as awe-inspiring down south as it is in the high country.

The drive is about the same length to go to Tombstone, the Wild West boomtown that was the site of the legendary O.K. Corral.

Today, it gives off the impression of being tourist-trappy, though its historical significance is evident as you walk among its many landmarks. The must-do diversion here is to see a gunfight, either the O.K. Corral re-enactments or a show.

You have many options, and you’ll hear the pitches from actors while you walk around. The O.K. Corral show didn’t work with our schedule, so we opted for a show ($10 a person, including a trolley tour) at the Helldorado town on Fourth Street.  (The theater and restaurant are located next to the library and near the mine, both engaging historical sites to check out.)

The acting wasn’t anywhere near Oscar-worthy, but the cast members seemed to enjoy themselves, and the audience was treated to many laughs. There is audience participation written into the show, as we cheered for the good guys and booed the outlaws. An audience member is also chosen to be part of the gun-toting show at one point. I would have enjoyed the show more had the actors not referred to the “script” as much, but others seemed to think it was funny and honest. On a 30-degree January day, a hot chocolate ($1.50) from the cafe was a treat to enjoy during the show. The audience was also offered blankets to sit on or cover up with.

After the show, we embarked on a (heated) trolley tour, a welcome respite from the freezing temperatures. From the comfort of the trolley we learned about the history of the wild mining town and saw its many landmarks. Among those are the Bird Cage Theater, where many people lost their lives, the Courthouse, where we could see the gallows, and the Tombstone Epitaph building.

Tombstone Courthouse.

As we drove around, the trolley driver pointed out the former homes of such iconic characters as Wyatt Earp. The trolley also took us to Boot Hill cemetery, where tourgoers could get off and explore, if they wanted. (They would then have to wait for the next trolley.) And, as you’ll learn on the tour, Tombstone wasn’t all gunfights and “ladies of the night.” Historical churches, restaurants, the fire house and government buildings are pointed out as well.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Iao Valley State Park

My final hours on Maui were slightly depressing though blissful, if that makes sense. I didn’t want to leave paradise. But we decided to make the most of our time there.

After checking out of our hotel, we made our toward Iao Valley State Park. It was easy to find from Kaanapali, we just took Highway 30 and turned left on Main Street and onto Iao Valley Road. We paid the $5 to park in the lot, though we could see locals parking on the side of the road just outside the lot.

The trail was paved and easy, not one I would consider a workout by any means, and the botanical garden surroundings were calming. We were surrounded by majestic emerald mountains. This part of the island was mostly cloudy and breezy that day; the clouds looked like a mist or fog.

The park’s main landmark was the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, which was a towering plant-covered rock. According to the Maui tourism website, “It was here in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai that King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui's army in his quest to unite the islands. Even with Iao Needle serving as a lookout point, Kamehameha defeated Maui's forces in a ferocious battle that ultimately changed the course of Hawaiian history.”


As it began to sprinkle, we could see what appeared to be waterfalls forming in the distance. Whether this is the case or whether we didn’t notice the water until it started to rain, I don’t know, but the view was breathtaking. Every sight was post-card (or Instagram) worthy.

We also spotted helicopters up above, getting an up-close look at the mountains and waterfalls. I hope to be able to get a birds-eye view as well the next time I am on Maui, it might be worth the $159+. (Yes?)

I stared out at the landscape wishing I could stay on Maui just a little while longer. The beauty didn’t cease to impress. I am thankful to have created my final cherished memories in Maui among the historic, scenic landscape.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snorkeling at Honolua Bay, Maui

My final day in Maui started in Kaanapali. The first thing on the agenda was to get one last snorkeling session in.

Based on online research, Honolua Bay is one of the best snorkeling locations on Maui. We had to check it out. 

We drove north to the remote Honolua Bay, which from what I had read would be a challenge to find. We weren’t sure if we would see where to stop until we noticed some cars parked in dirt on the side of the road. This had to be it, we said.

We walked along the short trail -- spotting chickens along the way -- to the rocky beach.

A sign along the way offers good advice.

It was a quite cove with calm water, barely a ripple could be seen. There were maybe eight other people in the water with us.  I was thankful for my water shoes, as they helped avoid walking on the sharp rocks.

The early morning sun was partially blocked by the trees, which made for a chilly morning, but I felt better once fully immersed in the water. I brought my trusty inflatable tube so that I wouldn’t get too tired from swimming.

The water was clear that day, and we immediately spotted various fish. I wished I had brought a snorkeling guide book to identify our sightings. People aren’t lying about it being an ideal spot for snorkeling.

When it was time to depart, I stayed in the water until it was extremely shallow, mostly to avoid being cold. It was then that suddenly a turtle that had been just a couple of feet below us bolted away, kicking up dirt and clouding our view. I barely missed it, though my companion did not. This was the only turtle sighting I can report from that day, though at this point I was all snorkeled out from the rest of the week. We didn’t explore too far, especially the rocks on the right, where I suspect one would have better luck spotting fish and turtles.

I’d add this Maui snorkeling location to the list next time. I would suggest bringing to Maui or buying your own set of snorkeling gear to avoid paying for guided trips (with the exception of Molokini), unless you’d prefer the professional advice and transportation.

Have you snorkeled at Honolua Bay? Isn't it just so peaceful?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Free yoga at Biltmore Fashion Park

If your new year’s resolution is to get or stay in shape, free yoga classes at Biltmore Fashion Park can help you with that goal. The classes are at 10:30 a.m. Sundays and run by Lululemon.

Each Sunday, a different yoga instructor teaches either at the main lawn or in a vacant indoor space on the east side of the property. It’s large enough to accommodate quite a bit of people.

Each instructor has his or her own style, but I felt like I got a sufficient workout in each time. The teachers I have encountered have been welcoming and, at moments, funny. And you can’t beat the price!

Afterward, you can get a healthy meal at True Food Kitchen, or try out one of the many eateries at the shopping center.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Faux New Year's Eve at Postino WineCafe

My friends and I held a faux New Year's Eve celebration -- complete with party poppers -- at Postino WineCafe to make up for the fact that we wouldn't be together on the actual holiday. I had been craving bruschetta since I tried it at Hanny's and found that it had too many olives for my taste.

I relished every bite of the four types we ordered: apple and Brie on fig spread, warm artichoke spread, smoked salmon with pesto and salami with pesto. (I have a weakness for pesto.) My companion complained that the bread was so hard it cut his gums, but I disagreed completely. (I thought it was perfect.) As I found on previous visits, Postino's bruschetta can be enough to satisfy two appetites. This time, I sampled the salted-caramel sundae as my second and last course.

I took advantage of the $5 Bellini special to accompany my meal.

As usual, the service was spot on. I'd recommend Postino for any occasion, but especially meeting with friends postwork for drinks, good food and laughs. Get the $20 deal: Bruschetta and a bottle of wine to share.

Side note: Why do people call it Postinos? As far as I can tell the name is Postino WineCafe.