Tucson Arizona Sunset Cactus

The Power of Being Positive

The last two weeks have been extremely difficult. I found myself last Monday on an unexpected trip to address some very personal family matters. Throughout it all- the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs – I remembered one eternal thing: The power of being positive and how being positive impacts your life. How you view what comes your way can make or break you.

No matter how hard life slams you down against the ground, you’ve got to fight back. Life is all a matter of how you deal with the cards you’ve been dealt. Of course it is excruciatingly hard to remain positive when everything turns dark but I’ve learned throughout my forty plus years on this earth that you must. The power of being positive is the only power you’ve got against uncertainty and things you cannot change.

The most important thing I’ve tried to hold onto with all my might is the realization that no matter what —-you must never ever give up. The power of being positive will get you through anything and everything. No matter how hard life beats you up and knocks you numb to the ground. You’ve got to believe.

Arizona Sunset

“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” – Susan Taylor

Arizona -Sonoran Desert Museum

An afternoon at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The mission of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.

One of my favorite places to spend an afternoon in Tucson is at the fantastic Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Located in the heart of Saguaro National Park in the outskirts of Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part living museum, part botanical gardens and part zoo all combined in one great outdoor venue.

You can spend an entire day at the Desert Museum, however, an afternoon works out just fine as well. The Desert Museum is a wonderful way to explore and see all of the Sonoran deserts’ diverse flora and fauna.  There are several exhibits featuring Arizona wildlife in its prime, spreading across over 21 acres of beautiful desert and two miles of walking paths.  You can see Javalinas, coatis, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, ocelots, wildcats and brown bears, all native species to the Southwest.

You can also go inside and peek into the dimly lit caverns of the bats, many different species of snakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, tarantulas, black widows and more. It actually kind of creeps you out a bit to know that all these creatures live in the desert right beside human beings (especially the ones that are poisonous such as the black widows, scorpions and rattlesnakes).  Best be ignored, though, otherwise you’d never leave your house!  (Fact: I have almost stepped on a hairy tarantula the size of a small plate. My parents have to spray their home for scorpions as they both have accidentally stepped on one before which causes your entire leg to go numb).

What amazes me is how the wildlife in Tucson lives right next door to civilization.  There are a series of washes (dry riverbeds) that run throughout Tucson and act as a reservoir to handle the rainfall and snow melt in case of floods or monsoons. This is also the home of many of the animals mentioned above so it is best to be careful!

The Desert Museum is a lovely place for all ages and kids love it as well.At the entrance, for one dollar you can buy a Desert Museum Stamping book in which kids can run around the museum collecting different paw prints or “stamps” of the animals and learn some fun facts along the way. It is a great way to keep them engaged in the museum!


Max and Sophia at the entrance of the Desert Museum, sitting on a Javalina, Arizona’s notorious troublemaker.  


As you can see, the Desert Museum is truly in the heart of the desert! 

Getting there is half the fun.  Once you pass through Tucson, you will climb upward towards Gates Pass, a dramatic view of the flat desert landscape below. Some have said that you can actually see the curvature of the earth from the vantage point but honestly it all just looks flat to me.   As you drive up towards the pass, there is a great place to stop and take a short hike up and see for yourself.  I have done this before however since I was with young kids, we decided to “pass on the pass” and get right to the museum.


Max and his cousin Hanna listening to a volunteer docent tell them about snake skeletons and skins.  


Rattlesnake skin.  



Some of the beautiful cacti along the outdoor paths of the museum.  


The museum boasts over 300 different animal species and 1200 kinds of plants on display, all alive in their natural desert setting.  


In back is a mountain lion.  It is very rare to see them (thank God!) however sometimes they do end up in contact with humans which isn’t a good thing as they can be quite dangerous.  


My son Max getting his first stamp in his animal booklet.  


My niece Hanna and nephew Brody watching the prairie dogs in action.


The infamous jumping cactus.  They do jump and they do hurt if you happen to run into one! 






Here is a coati out to play.  


My daughter Sophia found the special viewing window! 



The birds adore hanging out on the Saguaro cactus.  


A saguaro cactus skeleton. 




The cousins having fun and filling up their stamp books.  



A pipe organ cactus…aren’t they cool?

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL BY REGION United States
Phoneline Trail, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Discovering the raw beauty of Sabino Canyon

As I always say, there is no better way to experience the raw beauty of nature than to do it by a good hike.  Sabino Canyon is just one of those places. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

Nestled in the southeastern foothills of Tucson, Arizona in the Santa Catalina  mountains, Sabino Canyon is a true gem. The formation of these mountains began over 12 million years ago, long before the first sign of man.  Over time, a significant canyon formed that would eventually turn into a lush, verdant desert oasis deep inside the canyon.

A massive earthquake in 1887 centered in Northern Mexico caused even more change to the canyon.  Massive boulders dislodged and crashed down thousands of miles below creating an even more dramatic landscape.  In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was created and took over the administration of Sabino Canyon.  Nothing much happened to the area until the 1930s.  The onset of the Great Depression prompted the US Government to put people to work by building infrastructure and one of the places that benefited was Sabino Canyon.  The Sabino Dam as well as over nine bridges were built during this time, creating a 4.5 mile paved road up through the canyon.  Plans had been made to continue the road all the way up the canyon up to Mount Lemmon but fortunately they ran out of money and the project was dropped.  Had the road been built, the entire beauty of Sabino Canyon would have been destroyed and lost.

Sabino Canyon officially opened as a State Park and recreational area in 1978.  Today, it ranks one of the top tourist destinations in all of Tucson and is a haven for hikers, walkers, bikers and anyone else who wants to enjoy its raw beauty.

A tram service runs daily every half an hour up the canyon and back.  For only a few dollars, you can ride along and listen to an informative narration on the history, geology and flora and fauna of Sabino Canyon.   This is a great thing to do as a family and of course we have done it many times.  However, the best thing to do in Sabino Canyon is to get out there and experience it firsthand with a hike.

There are several hikes in Sabino Canyon and over the years I’ve done many of them.  However, my most favorite hike of all is called The Phoneline Trail, which is about an eight mile round trip hike, located about two-thirds of the way up the canyon, giving you a bird’s eye view of this spectacular place.

The start of the trail is flat but not for long. 

 There are many types of cacti found throughout Sabino Canyon.  The Saguaro Cactus is perhaps the most well-known.  It takes on average 65-70 years for this cactus to grow an arm.  They also can live for over 200 years!  What also is amazing about the Saguaro cactus is its root system.  Saguaro’s roots only go down about twenty inches deep, however, the roots spread out as wide as they are high.  Pretty unbelievable!

After a mile or so of flat walking, it is time to climb up!  It is best to be prepared with tons of water, hiking polls, lots of sunscreen and of course extra stamina.  It is not uncommon to see college aged kids running up the trail!  I even saw some people running barefoot.  Crazy given all the rocks and obstacles. 

Soon the hike leads you gradually and then steeply up the side of the canyon walls. 

My favorite barrel cactus which bloosom beautifully in the springtime.

Finally after a couple of hours hiking we are nearing the top of the hike where the Phoneline Trail flattens out and you basicaly walk along the edge of the canyon.

Down below is the paved trail which is another option for seeing the canyon.  But I prefer to view from up top!

At the end of the canyon in back is Mount Lemmon, a beautiful area that hosts many pine trees as well as a ski resort. 

Sabino Canyon is home to a wide variety of wild life including the elusive mountain lion, bobcats, ocelots, skunks, foxes, deer, javalinas, raccoons and coyotes.  They also have lots of different kind of venomous and non-venomous snakes (I’ve seen a rattlesnack but not on the trail) as well as scorpions and tarantulas (yes, unfortunately I’ve seen these two things yet at my parents house!  Not on the trail!).


I only wished this photo could have turned out better but we were hiking right into the sun.  I have never seen the canyon as verdant as this in December.  It was simply spectacular.  Who would have ever imagined a desert could be so green?  It is even better in March and April when the brilliant desert flowers are in bloom and the green is a vibrant lime-color that almost hurts your eyes.

There has been a ton of rainfall and snow in the upper mountains causing the streams to flow with force. 

The Canyon also has an ample and diverse supply of beautiful trees such as the Cottomwood (in this picture, which still has its golden leaves on from the fall), the white-barked sycamore trees, and the dark-wooded mesquite trees.  Another favorite is the Palo Verde tree which means “Green Stick” and has green bark and green leaves. 

The white-barked tree in back is an Arizona Sycamore.  The bark is lovely. 

This is a mesquite tree which proves great firewood as well as a food source for many animals within the canyon.  The tree produces bean pods which are enjoyed by many small canyon critters. 

After an eight mile strenous hike through record-high heat (who would have believed it was December?), I was exhilared and fatigued.  It was a great hike and I can’t wait to do it again!  

Stay tuned…I am headed back to a wintery Minnesota tomorrow.  I’ve heard that we finally have a few inches of snow and am looking forward to it!  I am not looking forward to the cold January weather, though. 

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States

A walk in the desert

I love to hike.  For me, hiking combines some of my greatest passions in life:  Being outside and being active.  Tucson is surrounded by mountains and offers ample opportunity to hike until your hearts desire.  There are some peaks such as Mount Wrightson, that reach almost 10,000 feet and there are many national and state parks loaded with trails.  

Every time I come to Tucson, I try to fit in some hikes.  My parents live in the foothills and are close to several of my favorite trails and hiking spots such as the lovely Sabino Canyon (which has countless trails) and Ventana Canyon.   Some of my favorite trails include the hike to Seven Falls which guides you along diverse desert landscape bringing you to a large canyon with seven waterfalls (this hike is exceptionally beautiful in March or April when the water has melted off Mount Lemmon above and creates huge, rushing falls and beautiful, fragrant desert flowers).  I also love to hike the Phoneline trail that wraps around Sabino Canyon affording a spectacular view below.   Finally, the Ventana Trailhead is another great hike which combines some steep, zigzag trails giving you a fabulous workout and a rewarding view at the top of Tucson valley.  All three of these hikes can take anywhere from 3-4 hours depending on how fast you move and how few breaks you take.  It is a perfect way to let off steam, burn some calories and enjoy the stunning fresh air and views of the Arizona desert.

Yesterday we opted to take a new trail and ventured over to Pima Canyon, about ten minutes away from my parents home.  We chose a trail leading up along the Catalina Mountains which was uniquely beautiful and very peaceful.  It was the first time for years that I hiked with my siblings as well as my father, so it was a great time with good company.  

Here are some shots along the way.  

My dad and sister setting off.

Going up…this hike had a lot of climb involved and was rocky so you had to keep your eyes in front of you! I was relieved that my dad went first. I always get paranoid of encountering a rattlesnake. I’ve seen them before in the distance but never (knock on wood) had one jump out in front of me before.

The trail system goes on forever, way up high into the mountains in the background. You can hike for days back in the wilderness as long as you bring a pack. There is also plenty of wildlife such as mountain lions, bighorn sheep, deer, ocelots and wildcats. Sadly a lot of their habitat has disappeared and these animals have come down to the foothills and valley in search of food and water only to be a nuisance to the human population below. I’ve seen an ocelot, javelina pigs, coyote and wildcat outside of my parents home. Not a good thing to see, though.

A skeleton of a saguaro cactus, Tucson’s most dominant variety of cacti.

The trail map…we took the Pontatoc Canyon Trail.

Photos of the many different varieties of cacti.

These are the notorious and deadly jumping cacti.

And the stunning view behind us…

Then we reached the top and took a sibling photo—-our first in years of the three of us.

And fabulous views of Finger Rock and the surrounding Pima Canyon.

Mount Wrightson beckons in the background….one of my most favorite hikes of all! It is a whole day affair that I’ll have to save for another day.

Adventure Travel TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Who would have thought that trees could be so amazing?

Yesterday was my last hike in the White Mountains of Arizona. It wasn’t the hike that I had imagined or wanted to do. Not the 16-miler haul to Mount Baldy. Instead, it was a much shorter hike to a different part of the White Mountains where perhaps we would be able to see some wildlife and scenic views.

We left early in the morning and unfortunately the monsoon clouds were already forming and turning black. It was not a good sign yet we were already in the car and on our way. Plus I’d been offered a free babysitting morning from my mother so I couldn’t pass that up.

My dad and I pulled into the trailhead for the Blue Ridge Trail around 9:30 am hoping it wouldn’t rain. We were mainly going on this hike to view wildlife as I still had not seen a thing since I’ve been here except for a giant bullfrog and a jackrabbit hare the size of a small dog.

The mountains of Arizona is known for a huge variety of both big and small mammals as well as a very diverse assortment of birds. I was hoping to avoid the big mammals such as the Black and Cinnamon (very rare) beers that range for 300 mile territories. I also had no desire to see a Mountain Lion, Coyote or Wolf lurking around. Yet I did want to see a Rocky Mountain Elk or a Mule Deer. That was the main reason why we selected this trail.

We set off walking against lingering clouds and stillness in the air. I also tend to talk a lot and walk with a nervous gait when I know there are bears around. I know they generally are more afraid of you yet I wouldn’t want to find out the hard way, especially if we surprised a mama bear with cubs.

We walked for an hour or so through the trail and saw absolutely no wildlife or views. We were quite disappointed. However, I did see something that was spectacular: The trees. The trail hosted the craziest, spookiest, and most beautiful trees I’d ever seen beside from the firs. Some looked like ghosts or monsters while others just looked plain old weird. I also thought that the alligator junipers with their scaly grey trunks were wild.

Here are some pictures of what I saw. Hope you enjoy!

Also, at the end are some photos taken to another short hike we did that day to a scenic view of the Mongollon Rim. The Mongollon Rim is the dividing line between the Colorado Plateau and the Gila-Salt River watersheds, and contains the largest grove of freestanding Ponderosa Pines in the world. It is quite a spectacular place.

















Adventure Travel Arizona Minnesota TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

In Search of 300-year-old Firs

Note to readers: I am here on vacation in the White Mountains of northeast Arizona, home to the largest freestanding Ponderosa Pine Trees in the world, thinking that I would be writing my next few posts on a past trip to Australia. Before leaving, I uploaded all my pictures from Australia and prepared some of the posts. Yet, when I arrived here in the small, hilltop town of Show Low, Arizona, I realized that I was missing the “third eye”. There is plenty of incredible awe-inspiring nature, beauty and culture here to write about. I just had to use that “third-eye” approach and get out there and find it.  So instead of Australia, I’m going to write my next few posts on this relatively unknown area of the world: The White Mountains. I will write about the firs, the pines and the most beautiful monsoon clouds I’ve ever seen. Here is my first post in this series. Hope you enjoy! thirdeyemom

We rose early to the morning sun lighting up the pine tree tops lining the White Mountains. The morning sky was azure blue with not a single cloud in the sky. That would surely come later. For we are in the tail end of monsoon season in Arizona where the magical clouds slowly appear, form and become bigger, whiter, brighter and then darker before they release their angry water.

Three generations were going on a hike today. My father, myself and my six-and-a-half-year-old son. We were off to see the tallest mountain in this part of the state, the sacred Mount Baldy. At 11,4000 feet, Mount Baldy is home to some of the oldest, most beautiful Douglas Firs in the world. Some of them dated from 300-350 years old! We were going to find them.

We took the White Mountain Scenic Byway for a little over an hour, driving through some of the other small towns along the way. We passed through meadows, fields of wildflowers and lots and lots of Ponderosa Pines (some dating over 700 years old!). It was a beautiful ride that took us through some unbelievable scenery. I had to pinch myself to remember that we were in Arizona as we had left the desert and cactus long ago.

The last stop before entering Mount Baldy is the huge White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. There is the usual casino followed by a stark poverty which is very sad. Even the casinos have not been enough to help them here, in this remote part of the country.

As we drive up to the start of the hike to Mount Baldy, we admire the gorgeous, fragrant pines that dot the landscape. These pines could have all been swallowed up in the most recent and largest wild fire in the state of Arizona. The May 2011 Wallow Fire which was started by some careless campers, engulfed 525,000 acres of ancient pines and took over six weeks to put out. It was stopped before reaching Mount Baldy. It would have been even more of a tragedy if these incredible trees were all destroyed.

Here we are at one of the entrances to the trail. Roundtrip the hike is 16 miles, way too much to do with my young son. So we would just hike an hour to the wall and back. We would be certain to find lots of nature and firs.

I had to take a picture of Dad’s notorious backpack with his Nepal patch that we got sewn in when we were there.

Picture of my son and I on our first hike together.

Grandpa and Max setting off..

Entering one of the trail heads to Mount Baldy.

The once cloudless sky is no longer as the monsoon glistening white clouds begin to form above the pines.

Entering the first part of the forest which is mostly pines. You can hear the distant woodpecker searching for food and the bees buzzing.

There are three meadows to pass through before we hit the deep woods. We don’t see any elk just lots of wildflowers.

More clouds are forming. We have until eleven to get off the mountain before the monsoon starts and lightning flashes.

Finally we are inside the fragrant, deep forest searching for 300-year-old Douglas Firs. We found one!

The size of these trees is unbelievable.

When you look at the bark, you can see years and years of fire damage. Yet, somehow these trees have managed to survive and even thrive.

Looking up to the Gods.

Our destination: The wall. Here is where you start heading up but for us it was the perfect lunch spot.

Grandpa and Max sharing a picnic.

After lunch, it was time to head back. The monsoon clouds were forming and getting darker and darker. Along the way, we saw lots of beautiful, special things in the forest. It was fun teaching Max about how things grow.

Here is how the Douglas Firs start….

And lots and lots of colorful mushrooms!

Me saying goodbye to this lovely tree.

The beautiful things I found in the forest…

Showing Max how to count the rings and age the tree:

As we leave, just on time, the clouds continue to form and develop into magical, white, marshmallows…

We are out just in the nick of time….for the clouds begin to darken and the unavoidable afternoon storm began…

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States