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Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in Travel | 10 comments

BTA nest

I love it when I’m walking and spot a nest in a tree.


It feels like a small discovery, like finding an Easter egg (no pun intended) or a secret door.


From the time I was a little kid, my dad taught me how to look for signs of what’s going on in the natural world, pointing out the high waterline above a dry riverbed, animal tracks in the dirt, cottonwood trees where there’s water, and all kinds of habitats – burrows and holes and nests.

Arboretum nest

At the Arboretum recently, we saw a man was pointing out a nest in a tree for his grandson.

“You guys should check this one out, too.” I showed them a large nest right in the middle of a cholla cactus that would’ve been hidden from their viewpoint.

I can’t think of a safer place for a home – or a trickier place to build it.

Cholla nest BTA




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Make a Mt. Lemmon Day Trip

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Mount Lemmon wildlowers

You start in the Tucson heat surrounded by saguaros. An hour (or so) and a few thousand feet in elevation later, you can be sitting among spruce trees in air cool enough to not melt the chocolate chips of the oversized cookie in front of you.

Summerhaven tables

Welcome to Mount Lemmon, a 9000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

Mount Lemmon view

Drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway (also called the Mt. Lemmon Highway, the Catalina Highway, and – officially – the General Hitchcock Highway) through beautiful landscape and six (6!) different climate zones.

Mt. Lemmon

Mt Lemmon

Then you can hike or picnic or ride the year-round ski lift. (Yes, it gets cold and snowy enough in the winter for skiing up there!)

Mt Lemmon trail

When Phillip and I and my parents went, we stopped at a picnic area (Box Elder, I think-?) before driving to the parking lot at end of the road and taking a little hike from there.

Mt. Lemmon

Along the way is the town of Summerhaven, a one-and-a half mile high city that caters to visitors seeking shelter from sweltering Tucson summers.

Cookie Cabin

It’s also home to the giant cookies of Cookie Cabin. Four of us split one sampler cookie. There was literally a line out the door but plenty of nice outdoor seating.

Mount Lemmon cookie

I taught my dad how to use the Hyperlapse app, so we could take timelapse videos of the drive up. You can see the dramatic changes of scenery compressed into two minutes.

Mount lemmon

– More Mt. Lemmon info –

  • Be prepared to pack out your own trash.
  • Ski lift – The “sky ride” to the summit lasts about half an hour. Off-season (summer) adult tickets are $12/ride. Winter lift tickets are $45/day. Details at
  • Keep the high altitude in mind when you’re planning hiking or other activities.
  • We were there in mid-August, right at the end of the summer wildflower season.


Scenic Drive:

Mt. Lemmon - Ski Valley


  • Many places you can park on Mount Lemmon require a pass, including the visitor center, picnic areas, etc.
  • You can purchase a Coronado Recreation Pass on the mountain at the Palisades Visitor Center or buy one before you go.
  • Passes are available at several locations, including the Coronado National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 300 W. Congress near Downtown Tucson.
  • Day passes are $5 per vehicle. ($10 for a weekly pass.)
  • Instead of worrying about which specific places require it, consider just getting a day pass in town before you make the drive. It’s only 5 bucks and helps to support the forest.

Mount Lemmon

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Mounds State Park

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments


Sharing some green with you today from Indiana last summer, specifically from Mounds State Park in Anderson.


The Mounds

Mounds State Park is named for mounds of earth built around 160 BCE by a culture known as the Adena-Hopewell, famous for pottery and mad mound-building skills.


Actually, they could’ve been two separate cultures, the Adena building the Mounds and the Hopewell leaving their more advanced stuff around later. Or the Adena could’ve just gotten Hopewell-levels of advanced over time.

If there’s a new car outside your friend’s house, is someone visiting or did your friend just get a new car? Way harder to clear that up when your friend is 2000 years in the past. So I guess hyphenating the two names is a way to hedge archaeological bets.


Why were they built? Maybe the Adena built them for ceremonies and then they were used for burials by the Hopewell (who may or may not just be the Adena 200 years later). The truth is we’re not sure what all people back then were into.

What we do know is that someone (ok, a lot of someones) purposefully dug out and built up earth a couple millennia ago into mounds you can still see today.


There are 10 of these earthworks in Mounds State Park, and they tend to be crater-like, with the mounded outsides surrounding a depression with a platform in the center.

The largest one has dents in it that align with the equinox, solstices, and rising of certain stars. Known as “the Great Mound,” it is 9 feet tall and has a quarter-mile circumference. So, yeah, whatever the Adena-Hopewell were up to, they were not messing around.


The Park

The visitors’ center has displays about the park’s ecosystem and a floor map of how the Mounds align with various astronomical phenomena.

Mounds state park visitors center

Its observation room has chairs facing oversized windows, giving you a front row view of a pond, birdhouse, and a thick stand of trees, so you can watch for birds or frogs or maybe even deer.

Mounds park observation room


Outside is a cute little children’s garden.


Also at the park is the historic brick Bronnenberg House, which dates from 1840. Compared to the Mounds, though, that seems like new construction.


The White River cuts through the park, and you can fish, as well as camp, hike or picnic. There are trails of varying difficulty levels winding around the Mounds.

Mounds State Park

Our Visit

Since we were in town for a family reunion, Phillip and I got to visit the park with my uncle, who’s been going there since he was a kid, and my cousin Allison, who made sure to photobomb the butterfly video I was shooting in the pollinator garden.


We started down trail #1 towards the Great Mound and met a harrowed-looking hiker coming from that direction, who asked if we had insect repellent – not to borrow it for himself but to make sure we were protected.


As we approached the boardwalk, we found out why. The mosquitoes were out in force that day. Despite our deet, they didn’t seem to be deterred. I could barely stop long enough to snap a photo without those tiny vampires swarming towards my neck and head.


I wrapped my scarf over my head and tucked my arms inside. Allison laughed at me, but I’m pretty sure it was just that she was jealous of my scarf/mosquito net and not that I looked ridiculous.

Mounds State Park

We cut our hike short after seeing the Great Mound.

Mounds State Park

We drove to a spot near the river, where the guys wanted to explore some more. Allison and I decided to take in the scenery from the safety of the car.


I wonder how the Adena kept the mosquitoes away.


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Last-Minute Traveler Gift Guide

Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments


If you’re still looking for gift inspiration, here are some ideas.

All of these items are things I actually own, use, and love:

1. Designhype Metro San Francisco Cuff – Yes, there’s an actual metro map on the bracelet! Mine is for San Francisco, but Designhype also makes these for Paris, NYC, and other cities.

2. Moleskine Journal – For travel journaling, lately I’ve been starting with a blank Moleskine, writing about the day, and using washi tape to attach ticket stubs (like the transit pass from our Re:Make trip) or folded programs or whatever I happen to collect. The cahiers 3.5″ x 5.5″ size comes in a 3-pack and is really convenient for carrying with you. I throw one in a quart-size ziploc with my ultra fine tip Sharpies and washi tape and take it along, in case I want to journal on the plane or while we sit at a cafe. Some brick-and-mortar options: I’ve seen these at Changing Hands Bookstore and Target, but you can find various sizes of Moleskine journals lots of places.


3. Sakura 18-Piece Koi Assorted Water Colors Field Sketch Set with Brush – Super portable watercolor set with a brush that holds water inside of it (so you don’t have to fiddle with a separate cup) and folds up. Since Jennifer Mack introduced this to me at Craft Camp, the link above is her Amazon affiliate link.


4. Bodum Travel Press Coffee Maker – Basically, it’s a shatterproof French press you can drink out of. This is especially great for camping, but you could also use it to upgrade from the hotel coffeemaker. I’ve had mine for awhile, so I didn’t see this exact design – I linked to one that’s similar. I just saw these at Cost Plus World Market.

5. GoToob Travel Bottle – Humangear travel bottles are made to keep from leaking, and mine has been fine when altitude changes have made a mess out of cheaper bottles. They have this neat little ring you can twist to designate the contents (sunscreen, soap, etc.), but they’re also food safe, in case you want to fill a small one with sri racha or a bigger one with pancake batter. I’ve spotted these at my local REI and Target. I think they may have been a little cheaper at Target, but REI had a much bigger selection.

6. REI Flash 18 Pack – Very comfortable day pack with a streamlined silhouette. It’s great to throw stuff in for a day at a convention or on a hike. In the photo, Phillip is wearing it while admiring the view from Mt. Lemmon. Since this is REI brand, they’re most likely only available in REI’s stores and site.


What travel gifts do you love to use or have on your wishlist?

P.S. This DIY spice mix is also easy to make, and there are more ideas in our last-minute Christmas guide.

Not a sponsored post.

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Morning Hikes and Breakfast Bites

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Travel | 0 comments

As midday temperatures rise, outdoor activities tend to get pushed out to the cooler edges of the day, when the sun is lower in the sky and less punishing.


So it was great to come across a list of shaded and/or shorter summer morning Phoenix hikes paired with local breakfast spots! The list came from a 2011 article* on the no-longer-existent Phoenix Metromix site. However, you can still read it on the Internet Archive.

The first few recommendations from Metromix (MM) are below, along with my notes.


MM reco #1: Echo Canyon (Camelback Mountain) Ramada Loop Trail + La Grande Orange

  • The Ramada Loop Trail is not on the Park map. Maybe it’s closed. Maybe they just forgot about it. Other sites also mention it, so I assume it actually exists.
  • Echo Canyon Bobbie’s Rock Trail is another short hike, which begins at the Summit/Echo Canyon Trailhead.
  • Dogs aren’t allowed in the Echo Canyon area.
  • I’m totally in favor of breakfast at La Grande Orange. Keep in mind, though, like the trailhead, it can get really busy on the weekends and parking gets tricky. (There is a valet in front of the restaurant.)


MM reco #2South Mountain Park Kiwanis Trail + Local Breeze (closed)**


MM reco #3White Tanks Mountain Regional Park Mesquite Canyon and Willow Canyon Trails (loop) + Bobbie’s Café


Bonus reco (from me): Lo Piano Bosque Habitat Canal Trail + Ncounter

  • The Canal Path is partially shaded, about .7 miles long, and is in this little stretch of nature that’s oddly close to the freeway.
  • From Curry, head south on Lake View Drive. You can either turn right immediately to park or keep going south and park in the shade under the freeway.
  • Ncounter has omelets – as well as other hearty breakfast options – and good coffee.


Finally, be safe out there and take lots of water with you! In fact, if you’re not used to very hot, dry climates, you might want to skip the Phoenix-area trails until about October. In the meantime, just head straight to breakfast.

Do you have a favorite hike/breakfast combo?

Lo piano habitat

*I wish the 2011 article had been called “7 Hikes for 7 Breakfasts.” But it was an article, not a 1950s musical.

**The former Local Breeze location is now The Vig, which serves brunch and opens daily at 10 or 11am.

Photos by me. Map via Google Maps.

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