Coastal Kayak Tours, Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, NC

An Afternoon Kayaking in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

We arrived at our arranged meeting point promptly before 3 at the Walgreens parking lot in Kill Devil Hills, a sprawling seaside town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A tall young man, barefoot and dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, greeted us with a smile and introduced himself as Brett, our tour guide from Coastal Kayak Tours.

Brett would be taking our family of four to kayak in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, an area of over 152,000 acres of protected and preserved wetland habitat that is home to black bears, red wolves, snakes, birds, and American alligators. He advised our group to use the facilities and buy any water at Walgreens before we headed out in the 12-passenger van to the refuge. It would be around a 35 minute drive over two bridges and an island, to reach the refuge and once there we would only have access to a Porta Potty.

Grinning ear to ear as he told us to climb inside the van, I could tell that Brett was going to be an excellent guide. Originally from Ohio, this was Brett’s first summer spent working as an adventure tour guide in the Outer Banks with Coastal Kayak Tours. The Alligator River Tour was one of his favorites and the weather was perfect for a late fall day. Bright blue sky, no wind and temperatures in the 80s. We couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect day.

As we headed east towards Roanoke Island, Brett told us a bit about the history of the area as well as the wildlife refuge. Unbeknownst to me, the first group of English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island in 1587, three decades before the Pilgrims arrived in Jamestown, VA and Plymouth, MA. The mysterious, unexplained disappearance of these settlers gave the name “The Lost Colony” to this area which later became called Manteo. I was amazed to have never known this important historical fact.

As we continued east along Highway 64 past Manteo and onto the mainland, the windows were rolled down and the music on. I watched the beautiful landscape out the passenger seat of the van, the place I always prefer to sit so I can get the scoop on my surroundings from the driver.

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is located on the eastern shore of North Carolina. It is bordered on the west by the Alligator River and the Intracoastal Waterway, which is crossed by the 2.8 mile Lindsay C. Warren bridge; on the north by Albemarle Sound; on the east by Croatan and Pamlico Sounds; and on the south by Long Shoal River and corporate farmland. Map used with permission from VisitOB.com.

Nestled by the Alligator River in the west and the Intracoastal Waterway in east of North Carolina, lies the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established in 1984 to protect the unique wetland habitat that runs roughly 28 miles from north-south and 15 miles from east-west along North Carolina’s Coastal Plain. There are many diverse types of habitats in the refuge however the most dominant habitat is known as “pocosin”, a name given by the Algonquin Indians meaning “swamp on a hill”.

In addition to pocosin habitats, there are also pine and cypress-gum forests, fresh and brackish water marches, swamps, bogs, rivers and lakes as well as farmland. The refuge is home to the densest population of black bears in the eastern United States and also has the world’s only population of red wolves. If we were lucky, perhaps we would see some wildlife.

We arrived at a long gravel road that brought us to the entrance of the refuge. A few bumpy minutes later, we pulled alongside one of the many creeks in the refuge and unloaded the kayaks. We had both single and double kayaks, and all in all our group of nine were on six. I had my son with me and my husband brought my daughter. I figured I’d sit up front so I could take lots of pictures and let my son do the arm work when I needed a break (silly me, I forgot he is only 12 yet he already towers over me in height).

Slowly, we drifted into the dark murky waters of the creek and paddled out to a larger, open waters of Mill Tail Creek which feeds into the Alligator River. All I could hear was the splashing as our paddles hit the water and the cry of the birds.

Coastal Kayak Tours, Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, NC

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Duck, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Watching the Sunrise on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

“The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway traverses one of the nation’s great wild and scenic coastal landscapes encompassing the unique maritime culture of 21 coastal villages”. – The Outer Banks Travel Guide 

On our first morning in the sleepy beach town of Duck in the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina my alarm went off at 6 am. The entire beach house we rented was fast asleep yet I was wide awake with jittery anticipation. I had planned to wake up and walk to the ocean to watch the sunrise.

The sky was still inky black except for the glow of light from the moon and the brilliance of the stars shining high above. It was too early to go so I laid there in bed, staring out the bedroom window waiting for a tiny sliver of light and a sign that it was time to get dressed and head out. I tossed and turned but couldn’t fall back asleep. Thankfully by 6:30, I saw the first streak of light off in the horizon and knew it wouldn’t be too much longer until the sun began to rise and paint the sky.

I quietly got dressed, grabbed my camera, hat and house key and was out the door descending into the darkness. The humid ocean air gently blanketed my face and the smell of salt and sand awakened me. The sound of birds, wind and waves reminded me of where I was. On a thin sandy stretch of land that would give me sunrise and sunset all within a five-minute walk.

To the west laid the shoreline of the Currituck Sound, an impressive habitat for waterfowl who migrate here every winter and return north in the spring. To the east awaited the sandy shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean with its powerful waves evolving and changing the landscape of the Outer Banks every single day. All in all, the 130 miles of barrier islands that form the Outer Banks is covered in endless sand, water and beach as far as the eye can see. It is quite a unique place.

I walked the short distance to the beach under the moonlight sky. When I looked up, I could see thousands of stars sparkling making me smile. My heart fluttered with excitement and anticipation. I was finally going to watch the sunrise!  Unfortunately it is not very often I wake up to see the sunrise and it is even less often that I see it over the ocean. The memory of the last sunrise I saw months ago at the top of a mountain in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica brings me joy and gratitude. I knew that I was in for a special gift.

When I reached the steep sandy incline to the beach, I could hear the thunder of waves crashing against the shore and the cry of the sea gulls. I climbed up the slippery slope of sand and arrived on top with an extraordinary view of the shore. The beach was endless and I could see for miles upon miles. There was not a soul on it except for me.

Sunrise on Duck, Outer Banks

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Mitchell Lake, Ely MN

The Glow of Autumn in Northern Minnesota

The magical glow of autumn colors in Northern Minnesota is one of the most beautiful displays of color I have ever seen. Given the fact that we have over 12,000 lakes to choose from in the state, there are plenty of beautiful places to see Minnesota’s fall colors. One of my favorite places to go is about a five-hour drive north of Minneapolis to Ely, one of the launching off points to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe Area (BWWCA) that borders Canada.

The BWWCA is one of the largest federally protected wilderness areas in the United States with an area of 1.1 million acres of untouched lakes, streams and forests, and is also one of the most pristine wilderness areas I have ever visited. If you are lucky, you may see a bear, wolf or even a moose in the wild and you will always hear the melodic song of the loon, Minnesota’s state bird.

Fall is one of the best times to visit Ely as the light graces the changing colors of the leaves and the deep blue sky is vibrant and pure. The fresh scent of the air or even the smoke of a campfire fills me with warmth and happiness. There is no place I’d rather be than outside hiking in the wilderness taking in the beauty of the changing leaves.

Unfortunately this fall we did not make it up north and instead opted for a visit out east to North Carolina and Virginia. Although we had a fantastic trip with gorgeous weather, we missed the peak colors this year (the leaves peaked about two weeks later than normal given our warm September). It is still beautiful here in Minneapolis yet I am sad to have missed our annual trip up north this fall. To ensure we make it back next fall, we have already reserved our accommodations. In the meantime, I will settle with remembering these lovely photos from our trip last October to Ely.

Ely, Minnesota

Ely, Minnesota

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The Peace Foundation, New York City

A Slice of New York at 110th and Amsterdam

“A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role”.  – Yehuda Berg

I got off at 110th and Amsterdam to the of sea of humanity and life that defines New York. As I walked down Amsterdam through the neighborhood of Morningside Heights in the Upper West Side, I was flooded with curiosity at what I’d find. It only took a few blocks for a potpourri of senses to settle in. Flower stalls, coffee shops, a Hungarian bakery, and any ethnic eatery under the sun caught my attention. The smell of greasy hotdogs, freshly baked bread and chicken curry infiltrated my nose while the sound of car horns, trucks braking and the distant hum of Mexican music rang in my ears. And I had only walked a block.

At 111th, I see a homeless couple sleeping on a plastic mattress on the dirty sidewalk, he shirtless with his arm stretching across his bare chest and resting upon her smooth sweaty shoulder. Shoes off, dirty sheets, and all their life’s possessions in a couple of see-through plastic bags. A few blocks later comes the grand entrance to the elite grounds of Columbia University where students of every color are abound, wearing ear buds, texting on cellphones and toting backpacks in route to class. Millennials eating lunch inside the fenced off green grass at the university or atop the grand stone stairway to their future success. Meanwhile a bum wearing rags and pushing a shopping cart collects trash from a full garbage can about a block away.

As I continue on, I hear a melodic harmony of sounds floating out an open window of a piano hall. I stop for a moment and close my eyes to listen but am interrupted by the piercing sirens screaming towards the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital up at 113th. I then realize that within these four short blocks is a slice of New York and I am dumbstruck of how every spectrum of humanity seems to live within this small radius of space.

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Grand Portage State Park, Minnesota

Exploring the Beauty of Minnesota’s Grand Portage State Park 

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. John Muir

Growing up, I was surrounded by nature. Our home in the suburbs of Minneapolis was on a wooded one acre lot, and we lived only a block away from one of the largest lakes in the Twin Cities. I spent my childhood playing in the woods, riding my bike around the lake or chasing my siblings in the large grassy marshland across the street. In the fall, the biggest chore was raking the thousands of red, orange, and sunflower yellow fallen leaves off our yard and never-ending driveway. In the winter we played in the snow, building giant snow forts at the top of our driveway where all the snow piled up from the plow. I was always outside no matter what the weather, and I strongly believe that my childhood instilled my great love today for nature and being outdoors.

My husband and I have also tried to instill a passion and curiosity of nature in our children. We love to spend time as a family outdoors exploring. Lucky for us, Minnesota is home to well over 15,000 lakes and has over 70 State Parks, 25 State Trails, The Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Area, and tons of regional and urban parks. Those seeking nature are not far from it, even in the city. Just outside my door is the Chain of Lakes, a collection of four urban lakes that are all connected by running, walking and bike paths. They are accessible year-round and even plowed in the winter so I can run through the coldest days of January. I’ve seen bald eagles, wild turkey, deer, egrets, great blue herons, owls, loons, migratory birds and ducks, fox, possums and muskrats all within the confines of the city. It is a pretty remarkable place however it is still a city.

When we want to escape for a weekend, we head north. There are tons of options however we prefer to go to the North Shore of Lake Superior. I have been going “up north”  (as we Minnesotans call it) with my family before I could walk and I’ve continued this tradition with my own family as well.

Over the years we have visited tons of parks along the North Shore however we had never made it as far as Grand Portage State Park on the northeast border of Minnesota. I had heard that the park is quite spectacular and is home to Minnesota’s highest waterfall. During a recent visit to the North Shore, we decided to check out the park and see for ourselves what we were missing. We were not the least bit disappointed. It was stunning.

Grand Portage State Park is located roughly 36 miles north of Grand Marais next to the U.S./Canadian border. It is a stunning drive along Highway 61 affording sweeping views of Lake Superior and the rugged coastline. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. The sky was baby blue and filled with powder-puff clouds. The sun was radiant and the wind coming over Lake Superior was gentle and calm.

After we passed Grand Marais, we made a brief stop at the Susie Islands Overlook. The overlook is perched 400 feet above Lake Superior where you can see the Susie Islands, an archipelago of thirteen islands off the North Shore in Lake Superior. The closest island, Susie Island, is located about a half mile off shore.

The Susie Islands Overlook

The Susie Islands Overlook, Minnesota

The Susie Islands Overlook, Minnesota

A view of the Susie Islands

The Susie Islands Overlook, MinnesotaSusie Island was named after the daughter of the Falconer family who had lived on the island and mined copper ore in the early 1900’s. Today, Susie Island is protected under The Nature Conservancy and is home to the Francis Lee Jaques Memorial Preserve. I bet it is a beautiful place given its rugged remoteness.

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My Favorite Corner of Minnesota: The Gorgeous North Shore

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”.- John Muir

Extending for 150 miles along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada, lies the North Shore, a place of unspoiled beauty and pristine nature. Home to a multitude of scenic waterfalls, rivers, state parks and the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, the North Shore is a hikers paradise and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to explore wild, relatively untouched nature.

It is here that the water looks like a vast ocean, and at many points you can not see to the other side to the shores of Wisconsin. The waves can be just as large and loud as the sea, crashing fiercely against the shore at night lulling you to sleep. The fresh scent of pine and morning dew is always present as is the crisp unpolluted air kissing my lungs with unequivocal joy.

The rugged shoreline is the perfect place to build a bonfire at night and listen to the roar of the waves smashing against the shore or to search for agates along its pools of rocks. Sea gulls and occasionally even a pair of loons can be seen swimming along its shore or a distant iron-ore freighter off in the horizon heading out to sea. It is a place of awe and wonder that such raw beauty exists only four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is my special corner of Minnesota where I go to unplug, unwind and embrace the simplest pleasures of all: Solitude and Nature.

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A Scenic Road Trip From New York City to Dutchess Country

I love big cities yet I also see the immense need to take a break from city life and escape. New York City is one place that has an enormous amount of cool day and weekend trips. My friend Jessie Festa, who lives in NYC and writes two awesome blogs, Epicure & Culture and Jessie on a Journey, shares a fun day trip to Duchess County in this guest post below. I hope you enjoy! 

 

Homemade ice cream on a tree-lined dock. A sky slowly transitioning from bright blue to a dreamy swathe of pinks and purples, streaks of bright yellow and holiday fireworks illuminating the skyline across the Hudson River. Beautiful church steeples soaring toward the sky, as a family of ducks swims by without hurry.

We certainly weren’t in NYC anymore.

In fact, my boyfriend Andy and I were exploring the many things to do in Dutchess County and its lovely Hudson Valley, known for its gorgeous scenery, outdoor adventure and hyper-local culinary culture.

My guide for this weekend road trip from NYC wasn’t a human, but Navdy.

Nav-who?!

Let me explain.

Navdy In Action

So you know how Chromecast pairs to your TV to put your phone on the big screen in front of you? Navdy does that for driving, hands-free. I loved being able to simply enter the name of a place into my phone or say it out loud to have it beamed right in front of me.

Beyond just navigation, Navdy will even project phone calls, messages, app notifications, music, and even emails (if I want it to) right in front of me, so I can stay connected while driving, keep my eyes on the road, and never have to touch my phone.

things to do in dutchess county on a Navdy road trip

Using Navdy as our guide around Dutchess County

If you’ve never used a Head-Up Display (HUD) for a road trip before, I suggest you try it. As someone who is not exactly tech-savvy — I still don’t know how to back-up my phone — I was intimidated by the big box full of accessories at first. The cool thing though is the Navdy app breaks down installation into short videos, so we were ready to go in about 20 minutes.

Instead of staring at your phone while driving (dangerous!) the HUD sits in front of you; rather than blocking your line of vision, the device blends with it so you’re actually seeing the map on the road.

At your fingertips is a button you attach to your steering wheel. Press once, tell Navdy where you want to go and what you’re craving (ice cream, please!), and the directions appear. I also loved being able to respond to texts and notifications with glances and hand gestures, without taking my eyes off the road. Like when it started raining and we needed to alter our kayaking reservation.

It’s like Tinder for driving (only you swipe right to ignore a call and left to answer).

And of course, no road trip would be complete without music; which I was able to control through Navdy.

We made a pretty sweet Spotify road trip playlist, too. Click here to swipe it.

Stay

The Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill. For this trip we planned to spend most of our time outdoors, so wanted something simple, clean and comfortable. A budget-friendly hotel with a heated indoor pool and hot tub? Yes please! The staff was super friendly too. If you enjoy working out they have an on-site gym, and also offer complimentary access to the local Allsport gym.

Starting rate: $139/night, including parking and Wi-Fi.

things to do in Dutchess County, stay at the Hilton Garden Inn

My room at the Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill

There are also a number of bed & breakfasts and a ton of Airbnbs, including some fun-looking airstream trailer and RV rentals! Click here to get up to $35 off your first Airbnb!

Road Tripping Around The Hudson Valley

There’s so much to do and see in this beautiful region! And while inclement weather killed a few of our plans, mainly a hot air balloon ride with Blue Sky Balloons and a kayaking trip with Mountain Tops Outfitters, we still had a blast.

In fact, in just two days we covered a lot of ground.

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Northernair Lodge, Ely Minnesota

The Sunset Skies of Ely, Minnesota

“Go not abroad for happiness. For see! It is a flower that blossoms by thy door”. – Minot J. Savage

We just returned from a week’s summer vacation “up north” in Minnesota near the Canadian border. We began our trip in Ely, a small town that is known as one of the jumping off points for one of the largest federally protected wilderness areas in the United States, the 1.1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA). The BWCWA is one of the most pristine wilderness areas I have ever visited and its extraordinary beauty and tranquility is unequal to any place I’ve been except the far reaches of Patagonia. Its 1,000 untouched lakes and streams, and 1,500 miles of canoe routes are like no other place on earth.

It was our third visit to Ely at the tiny Northernair Lodge that sits upon Mitchell Lake. As always, our stay was a peaceful, beautiful break away from the stress of everyday life. After a day of hiking around the different wilderness trails, we would grill dinner and then watch the sunset. Every night was magical. Here are a few of my favorites.

Northernair Lodge, Ely Minnesota

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour”. – Walt Whitman

Northernair Lodge, Ely Minnesota

Northernair Lodge, Ely Minnesota

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Roses in Bloom at the Lyndale Park Rose Garden

 “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it”. – Mary Oliver

Two weeks ago I went to the beautiful Lyndale Park Rose Garden next to Lake Harriet in Minneapolis to marvel at the beautiful spring flowers. Our summer so far has been temperamental. Wet, cool, thunderous and bursts of sunshine. Coincidently, the weather seems to have matched my mood.  To tame the stirring inside my soul, I have began practicing mindfulness and the art of living in the now. To paying attention to the moment and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It has immensely helped slow down my type-A personality who prefers to be moving all the time, whether at home or on the road.

Like the Rose Garden, I am amazed at the subtle transformation that just a few weeks can bring. Two weeks ago there were no roses in bloom and today it is a brilliant burst of life and color. Similar to my soul, the change of daily meditation and mindfulness has been immense.  For that I am truly grateful.

Take a walk with me through the Rose Garden. Close your eyes for a moment and hear the song of the birds and breathe in the delicate fragrance of the roses.

“You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre – but who shall command the skylark not to sing?” – Kahil Gibran

“The real happiness of life is to enjoy the present, without any anxious dependence upon the future.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca  

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Rose Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota

A Visit to the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in Late Spring

“In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous”. – Aristotle

I adore the Lyndale Park Rose Garden not far from my home in Southwest Minneapolis, and try to stop there a few times throughout the spring, summer and fall to see what flowers are in bloom. I am never disappointed as it is always so beautiful and peaceful. I run, walk and bike regularly around Lake Harriet which is right next to the Rose Garden yet I rarely take the time to wander inside its lovely gardens. The Peace and Perennial Gardens are my favorites and if I am feeling like I truly need an escape from urban life, I wander behind the gardens into the Roberts Bird Sanctuary where I have seen owls, woodpeckers and even bald eagles.

Early Spring is always a wonderful time to visit as I am craving color and life after a long, cold winter in Minnesota. Unfortunately this spring was wet, cold and difficult meaning I did not venture to the Rose Garden until just this past week. I am so glad I did because the peonies were all in their final stages of color and brilliance. A select few of the roses had bloomed as well.

Rose Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rose Garden, Minneapolis, MinnesotaThe Rose Garden is the second oldest public garden in the United States and was designed in 1908 with row after row of rectangular plots that can fit over 3,000 plants in 100 different varieties. It is run and managed by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board which also maintains Minneapolis’ vast park system that traverses the city and its lakes.

“So come, and slowly we will walk through green gardens and marvel at this strange and sweet world”. – Sylvia Plath

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Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon: A Hike Along the Phoneline Trail 

Tucked within the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona lies Sabino Canyon, one of Tucson’s most popular parks for exploring the spectacular desert landscape and wildlife of Southern Arizona. Ever since my parents moved to Tucson in the mid-90s, it has been like a second home to me and Sabino Canyon has been my playground. Less than a five minute drive from my parents’ home, Sabino Canyon affords an endless supply of hikes and walks within some of Arizona’s finest scenery.

Over the past twenty years, I have done almost every hike within the canyon countless times with my favorite being the hike to Seven Falls and the Phoneline Trail. However, one thing I have never ever done is a hike in the rain. Rain in the desert? This may sound a bit confusing and surreal for a place that receives on average less than 12 inches of rain a year.  However, I just happened to be in Tucson when a storm rolled in from California bringing heavy wet snow to the mountains and pouring cold rain to the desert below.

Deeply dismayed by the unusual poor weather I decided to turn lemons into lemonade. I put on my rain coat, packed a sandwich and took off on one of my most favorite hikes in Sabino Canyon, The Phone Line Trail. My kids didn’t want to come and I didn’t blame them. They had no rain gear. However, my favorite all time hiking partner, my dad, of course was up for the challenge. So together we set off into the unknown.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The Phoneline trail climbs up high above the canyon giving you a unique perspective and panoramic view of this amazing place. There are several ways to do the Phone Line hike. You can do the entire 7.6 mile roundtrip hike on the trail or you can take the tram all the way to the end at Stop #9 get off and hike the trail back cutting the hike in half. What I prefer is to hike the Phoneline trail to Tram Stop 9 (which is where the pavement ends) and walk back on the pavement below. This way I get the bird’s eye view walking into the canyon and the lower level cactus and creek view from down below. It all depends on what you want to see and if you prefer to have solitude or company. (Important update: Since this was last written, the tram service is no suspended while the park service decides on its environmental impact.).

To reach the Historic Sabino Trail and the Phoneline Trailhead, we followed the trail towards Bear Canyon and picked it up about ten minutes later. (If you continue on into Bear Canyon, you can take another fantastic four hour roundtrip hike to 7 Falls).

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

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Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Hiking Saguaro National Park

Desperately seeking a break from a cold, dreary Minnesota winter my kids and I decided to come out to visit my parents in Tucson, Arizona for the long holiday weekend. The first few days have been absolutely spectacular however against the odds the past two days have been rainy and cold. Even stranger is the fact that we are having record warmth back in Minnesota with highs in the low 60s and sunny which is unheard of for February. Nevertheless, I’m one to look on the positive aspects of life. There is nothing we can do about the weather.

Friday was spectacular and we decided to take a three generational hike in a new part of Tucson. I have been visiting Tucson for over 23 years and have done many hikes in this gorgeous mountainous place however I had never been to the Saguaro National Park. I had passed by it several times en route to the famous Desert Museum in the western reaches of Tucson but had never stopped. Little did I know there are actually two parts of the Saguaro National Park: The Tucson Mountain District in the west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District in the east. We decided to check out the Saguaro National Park East as my dad had read a recent article about a beautiful hike to a waterfall.

We packed a lunch and headed out to the park a little after eleven. We were shocked to see the parking lot was full as we were really in the middle of nowhere. I am assuming the other hikers had read about the falls too.

There are several hikes inside Saguaro National Park however we chose to follow the Douglas Spring Trailhead to the waterfall, a six-mile hike roundtrip.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

There was a steady wind sweeping over the desert most likely from the oncoming storm that would bring us two days of rain. Other than the wind, it was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot and not too cold.

I had happily convinced my ten-year-old daughter Sophia to join us on the hike. She had already completed two longer hikes in the past, one to the top of Eagle Mountain in northern Minnesota and another to Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota. I knew she could handle a six-mile hike, I just needed to get her confidence up that she could do it. My twelve-year old son Max has already done a ton of hiking in Arizona, and then of course my dad is an avid hiker. My dad and I have hiked all around the world together. It would be the first time that Sophia got to join us so I was pretty thrilled.

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The trail begins very flat until you reach the base of the Rincon Mountains and climb upwards for over an hour. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking and the topography changes quite drastically from rough rocky canyon to desert scrub and grassland. What is the most astounding of all, however, are the multitude of enormous saguaro cactus dotting the landscape, many which are hundreds of years old. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and can live upwards of 150-200 years. They are amazing plants.

I found out this fun fact from the Desert Museum:Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet”.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

There were even some desert flowers starting to bloom

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

This guy is amazing. Probably a couple of hundred years old.

The Saguaro National Park was created in 1994 and encompasses two distinct areas – east and west- of over 91,445 acres.  The Eastern district reaches up to 8,000 feet in elevation covering over 128 miles of trails for your pleasure. The hotter, drier Western district is much lower in elevation and the saguaros are much more densely populated across its landscape.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“The Sonoran Desert’s extreme temperatures, perennial drought, frequent lightning, banshee winds, and voracious predators keep the saguaro forever at the limit of its endurance. Odds against survival rival a lottery: Though the cactus annually produces tens of thousands of pinhead-size seeds—some 40 million over a life that may last two centuries—few ever even sprout. Even fewer seedlings achieve the grandeur of towering 50 feet and weighing up to 16,000 pounds”.National Geographic

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We followed the trail and continued to the turnoff to Bridal Wreath Falls. We had heard a week ago that the falls were pouring down after the recent snow in the mountains. We were curious to see if it was true.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I was amazed how much the landscape had changed. Now we were in the high desert grassland. There were barren trees yet still the greenery of the cactus. There were also some pretty desert flowers that I couldn’t resist photographing.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Finally, we reached a split in the trail and headed a short distance to the right where we would reach the falls. It was just a trickle now but still quite spectacular to find an oasis in the desert.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Bridal Wreath Falls

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We enjoyed our lunch and the trickling falls all to ourselves. No one else was there however we had seen a lot of people hiking on the trail. What amazed me is that the water didn’t pool at the end of the falls. Instead, it ventured into the rocks and sunk somewhere down below. A mystery as to where it ended up.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Heading back down the trail.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I laughed at the fact that despite the longevity and steepness of the hike, Sophia remained strong and steady at the lead. I beamed with pride thinking that I have a future fellow hiker on my hands. How wonderful is that?

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

It looks like I not only found a hiking mate but a new hike in Tucson. I can hardly wait to do it again on my next visit.

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