The Big Trip- Month Ten Round Up

After a month of no travel, I definitely jumped right back into it in month ten.

I began my month in Tauranga, one of my home towns, chilling out with my Mum and Step Dad and catching up with friends. On Easter Sunday my friends Steve and Sarah were married at a beautiful garden venue on the outskirts of town and what a party that turned out to be. The Wedding itself was during the afternoon but a lot of the guests continued on late into the evening at a house party afterwards.

Needless to say I drank far too much and the drive back up to Matakana the next day was pretty damn painful. Fun night though.

After a night briefly catching up with my transient brother (it runs in the family) and my Dad in Auckland, I caught an early morning flight to Denver via Sydney and LA.

The first few days in the US were spent in a jet lagged haze, picking up camping supplies, meeting up with my friend Venessa and her fiancé for dinner, drinking craft beer with my boyfriend Toby’s (more on that new development in a minute) brother and his wife and cuddling their cat Lucy, aka the cutest kitty ever.

It was cold and snowy during my time there so coupled with my extreme jet lag,  I didn’t get a chance to check out any of the sights other than walking around the historic downtown. I will be back for a longer period in summer so I am looking forward to discovering more of what the city has to offer then.

Denver winter

From Denver, we hit the road for a South West road trip.

The first stop was northern New Mexico where we stayed with Toby’s Dad Rodolfo and his flatmate Dennis. These guys are a lot of fun and I really enjoyed my time staying with them. They even gave me some cooking lessons.

I finally got to sample the green chile that the State is famous for as well as relaxing in the thermal waters of the Ojos Calientes Hot Springs complex. It was a brief but fun introduction to New Mexico and I can’t wait to visit again this summer to explore more.

New Mexico

From New Mexico we headed to Page, Arizona where we based ourselves to visit the incredible Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, then it was National Parks time!

I finally got back into hiking after not doing much of it during the past few months and it felt so good to be working my body again. We hiked and camped in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, both of which were spellbindingly beautiful. I can’t wait to share more about the hikes we did there although it will probably be the end of the year before I finish writing about my time in Asia. You could say I am a bit behind with my blogging.

Bryce Canyon

From the parks we drove south west, crossing through four states in one epic afternoon/evening of driving to reach Indio, California, where I dropped Toby off to work at the Coachella music festival for three weeks.

From Indio I took the car and drove back into Arizona to Phoenix, where I spent three wonderful nights with my friend Sarah who I met in Alaska last year. We hiked, wandered the streets of Phoenix and Tempe, had a private tour of the excellent Heard Museum and ate lots of delicious food.

Mill Avenue in Tempe

From Phoenix I drove south, stopping at the Casa Grande ruins on the way to Tucson. I finally got to meet an online friend and fellow blogger, Dani from Globetrotter Girls, who kindly put me up at the house she was housesitting at in a gated community in the hills. Esther, the dog Dani was looking after, took a while to warm up to me but other than that I loved my time in Tucson – what a cool city!

Tucson house

We hiked amongst the saguaro cactuses, explored breweries and restaurants in the Student and Arts districts downtown, visited the beautiful whitewashed Mission of San Xavier Del Bac, attended our first State Fair (and was that an eye-opener in people watching!), and took a day trip further south to Tombstone and the charming small town of Bisbee. After four wonderful days I was sad to leave but I was excited to see Toby again.

Saguaro National Park at sunset

After a long day of driving in searing desert temps, I was back in Indio to spend a couple of days with Toby during his days off. I got to meet some of his workmates at a party at one of the staff houses. It was in a fancy gated community with PGA golf courses and a jacuzzi with a waterfall – not the usual kind of party I attend! We also camped a night in the starkly beautiful Joshua Tree National Park and did a short hike the next day before the day got too hot. I saw my first ever rattlesnake on the trail!

And that brings us to where I am now. From the scorching heat of the desert I drove two hours into the San Bernardino Mountains to the small lakeside city of Big Bear. I have been here for a couple of days and it is a pretty cool place. I am volunteering in a hostel with another six volunteers from around the world. We have been hiking and I have walked around the neighbourhood which is full of cute cabins and lots of towering conifers. It is so nice to be back in the mountains.

Big Bear

Now onto the Stats:

Countries visited: New Zealand, United States

Places visited:

  • New Zealand: Auckland, Tauranga
  • United States: Denver, Espanola, Page, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mt Carmel Junction, Zion National Park, Twenty Nine Palms, Indio, Phoenix, Tucson, Tombstone, Bisbee, Joshua Tree National Park, Big Bear

Islands visited: Like last month, no islands this month either 🙁

National Parks and Monuments visited: This is a new section as I am planning to visit a lot of National Parks over the next few months.

  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  • Saguaro National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree

Best meal: Once again I have a tie. It is between the best pasty I have ever had from Cornish Pasty Co. in Phoenix (Turkey with stuffing, red wine gravy and Cranberry) and the Fish tacos with rice and beans from El Charro in Tucson. Shout out to all the pie too – so much amazing pie since I have been in the US. Also special mention to the scone with honey butter we had at a small town restaurant in Utah. It wasn’t a scone as I know it, more like a fry bread roll, and the honey butter was a local topping. Wow, so delicious.

Worst meal: Honestly, I have not had a bad meal this month, everything has been awesome and I could have easily added another ten meals to my best meals list. If Toby has his way, I will be trying chicken chow mein in a can soon, and if that happens then I am pretty sure that will be the worst thing I have eaten in next month’s roundup.

Best craft beer: Along with all the amazing pie in the US, I also tend to go a bit crazy about the craft beer. Seriously, best beer in the world (sorry Germans). My favourite this month is one I am in fact drinking as I write this, Cinnamon Horchata Ale from Blue Moon Brewing Company. Holy Shit this beer is amazing! I also tried their Summer Peach Ale when I was in Utah. Blue Moon rocks!

Hikes:

  • Summit of Mount Maunganui return 2.5km
  • Mount Maunganui base loop 3.5km
  • Horseshoe Bend viewpoint near Page, Arizona 2.5km return
  • Bryce Point to Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon National Park return 4km
  • Fairyland Trail loop hike in Bryce Canyon National Park loop 13km
  • Riverside Walk in Zion National Park 3km return
  • Hidden Valley trail in Zion National Park 3km return
  • Angels Landing Hike in Zion National Park 8.5km return
  • Echo Canyon hike up Camelback Mountain in Phoenix 4km return
  • Phoneline trail in Sabino Canyon, Tucson 5km
  • Saguaro National Park, Tucson short hikes 3km
  • Hidden Valley trail in Joshua Tree National Park return 3km
  • Castle Rock trail in Big Bear return 3km

I’m FINALLY back on my hiking game!

Horseshoe Bend

Reading: Yep, it has been another slack reading month but I did finish re-reading ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer and it was just as gripping and sad as the first time I read it. It documents the 1996 Everest disaster where eight people died in a blizzard while near the summit. Jon Krakauer is my favourite author and as this book is deeply personal to him (he was also on the mountain and survived), I think it is his best. I just bought a couple of secondhand books and am looking forward to reading more this month.

Listening to: I am loving Cold War Kids right now, especially their song ‘First’.

Highlights

A new boyfriend

Yep, I have a new boyfriend. I wasn’t going to write about this yet but it is something I am excited about and it is a massive highlight of the past month for me. I don’t want to share too much but his name is Toby (as I have already mentioned), he is from Colorado and I met him in the Philippines. We started off as friends and it evolved into more from there. We have a lot in common – he is a traveller too! – and it’s going great. I’m happy.

Joshua Tree National Park

Attending my friend’s Steve and Sarah’s Wedding

I have missed so many friends weddings due to living and travelling overseas over the past 12 years so when I found out that my friends Steve and Sarah were getting married during a time I was planning to be in New Zealand anyway, I was pretty excited. It turned out to be such a fun day catching up with a group of old friends that I don’t get to see a lot. I hope that I will get to attend more friends weddings in the future.

Wedding guests

Getting back into my hiking groove

I have barely hiked since leaving New Zealand in early November as being in mostly humid South East Asia just wasn’t conducive to hiking – I was sweating enough already. I simply don’t feel completely myself if I am not hiking on a regular basis so it has been so nice hiking loads the past couple of weeks. I am looking forward to a lot more of it as we make our way through the National Parks in the West. I will be spending a chunk of the summer in Denver too so there will be lots of day trips and weekends away camping and hiking in the Rockies as well. Yay!

Top of Angels Landing

A private photography tour in Antelope Canyon

I missed Antelope Canyon the first time I visited Page so I was determined not to miss it again this time around. On my super low budget, paying for the tour was definitely a splurge but one I was so happy I made. We ended up showing up at the tour office and jumping straight on a tour – just me, Toby and our Guide. I’m not sure why there weren’t other people on our tour as it was during the peak time of day to visit the canyon but I am certainly not complaining. Our Guide was so lovely and I learnt a lot more about my camera’s manual settings during the 90 minute tour, something I have been meaning to do for a while. And the canyon was just as beautiful as the photos I had seen.

Antelope Canyon

Catching up with friends

This pretty much always makes the highlight list for me and this month is no exception. I caught up with a couple of American friends that I met in Alaska last year in Denver and Phoenix as well as finally meeting my online friend and fellow blogger Dani. I love when you can visit friends in their home cities and I hope that one day, when I have a home again, I can host these lovely ladies too. Having friends all over the world is one of the things I love most about my unconventional lifestyle.

Top of Camelback

Eating all the pie

I have said it before and I will say it again, one of the best things about the US is the pie. There are so many different types and I love sampling as many as I can get my hands on. I have been here for nearly a month and I couldn’t tell you how many pieces of pie I have eaten already, lets just say it has been a lot. My favourite was the coconut cream pie I had from a small town cafe on the long drive from Denver to New Mexico. I’m looking forward to eating a lot more pie in the months to come!

Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park

There is a reason this hike is the best known in the park – it’s because it is awesome! The valley views are incredible, and the views alone would have been enough to make this hike one of my favourites, but what makes it even better is the last half mile of the hike which involves clambering up and along a precarious rock spine with the aid of fixed chains. The path is narrow and challenging, definitely not for the faint hearted or for anyone scared of heights. We loved it! There were also chipmunks and any hike with chipmunks get extra points.

Angels Landing hike

One night in a cheap motel

I know, this sounds like a weird highlight but after a freezing night in Bryce Canyon National Park (see lowlights below) and with a cold rain settling in, we decided to find a cheap motel to spend the night. We ended up paying $47 for a room with a massive king bed, cable TV and a much needed heater. It felt like pure luxury. We lounged around in our room watching ‘Mysteries at the Museum’ in our warm bed, leaving briefly to grab a surprisingly good dinner at the basic restaurant next door. Sometimes simple pleasures are the best.

Discovering the charms of Arizona’s big cities

I can’t say that Phoenix or Tucson were ever really on my must visit list but when the opportunity arose to visit friends in both, I took it. I’m so glad I did because I had such a great time! Phoenix was exploding with fragrant flowers and was so much more beautiful than I had anticipated. I loved hiking Camelback mountain, learning more about Native American culture at the excellent Heard Museum, and wandering the very walkable Mill Avenue district of Tempe. Tucson also surprised me with the vibrant Student and Arts districts downtown, as well as the easily accessible hiking trails at Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Parks where we got to witness the iconic saguaro cactuses in bloom. Both cities had fantastic dining and I enjoyed trying as many restaurants as I had time for. What a fun week.

Hiking Sabino Canyon Flowering saguaro cactus

Driving in the US

I have been driving Toby’s car around the past two weeks while he has been working at Coachella and it has been fantastic to be driving again, not something I get to do much of as I haven’t owned a car for 12 years. I was nervous at first, driving on the right hand side and all, but I quickly gained my confidence and now I am loving the freedom that having a car brings.

Falling for cute lil Bisbee

What a truly awesome little town Bisbee turned out to be! Dani and I ventured out on a day trip from Tucson, taking in the famous Wild West town of Tombstone as well as Bisbee, which was founded as a mining town but is now an eclectic and free-spirited enclave that has a big focus on the arts. It may be small but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in vibrancy. There are so many galleries, boutiques and cafes housed in the beautiful historic buildings along the main street. We also visited the ghost town of Lowell which is part of greater Bisbee. Most the town was dug up as part of the Lavender Pit mine in the 1950s with just a section of the main street remaining. It is like a 1950s time capsule and it was fun to explore. Bisbee is definitely somewhere I would like to return to to stay a while.

Downtown Bisbee Historic Lowell

Lowlights

Driving long distance with the hangover from hell

Attending my friend’s Steve and Sarah’s wedding was definitely a highlight, but the resulting hangover the next morning was definitely not. I don’t drink to excess all that often anymore – I am in my mid 30’s now after all – but occasionally I get carried away and relive my early 20’s and the wedding was definitely one of those occasions. My God was I sick the next day. I even spewed and that hasn’t happened for a looong time. Just experiencing that nasty hangover would have been bad enough but I had to experience it while driving five hours up to Matakana in Easter Monday traffic. It was the longest five hours of my life. Pure hell.

BAD jetlag

Wow did I suffer from jet lag the first few days after my arrival in the US, a lot worse than I expected to. I didn’t sleep properly my last couple of nights in NZ, and I can’t sleep on planes so by the time I arrived in Denver I was already a wreck. Then I just wasn’t sleeping properly for the first week or so there ether. No matter how tired I was I would just lie awake for ages – damn jetlag. I didn’t really start feeling like myself again until we got to New Mexico and my body finally started accepting the new time. Thank God.

Broken Hard drive

I’m not sure what happened but my expensive 1TB external hard drive with ALL my travel photos from the past few years decided to shit itself. Part of the inside has come loose. I need to take it into a professional to try getting it fixed or to at least recover what is on it, probably should do that someday soon…

Camping in the freezing cold

I am one of those people that really feels the cold and so, although I love camping, I don’t love it so much when it is cold outside. We camped for one night in Bryce Canyon National Park which was probably not the best idea ever as there was still some snow on the ground. As it got dark, the temperature plummeted. Despite having decent sleeping bags, a quilt and lots of warm clothing, I barely slept that night because I was so cold. The next afternoon it started raining so we wisely decided to spend the night in a motel instead.

Spending:

Total: USD$1284

Not too bad at all considering I have been travelling in the US on the pathetic Australian dollar for the past month!

Accommodation $75

Super low thanks to staying with family and friends in New Zealand and the US. Most of the places we have paid for accommodation has been camping so it has definitely helped in keeping costs down.

Food and Drink $538

As per usual, my food and drink costs are the highest for the month. What can I say, I love to eat.

Clothing $16

  • Maxi dress $16

Transport $196.50

  • Taxi home after wedding $7
  • Flight from LA to Denver $73
  • Petrol $111.50
  • Parking $5

Activities $96

  • Fair entry for two people $16
  • Four Corner National Monument Entry $10
  • Antelope Canyon Photography Tour and tip $70

The Antelope Canyon tour was a splurge but it is something I have wanted to do for a while and we lucked out getting a private tour when we only paid for the group tour.

Other $362.50

  • Tragus piercing jewellery $10
  • Travel Insurance $200.50
  • Bag fee for Spirit Air $35
  • Website domain name one year renewal $15.50
  • US Sim and one month plan $50
  • Camping lamp $15
  • Pillow $25
  • Toiletries $11.50

Ouch. The travel insurance was by far my most expensive ‘other’ purchase this month with the US SIM coming in second. They were both necessities.

San Xavier Del Bac Mission

What’s in store for next month:

I will be working at the ITH Adventure Lodge in Big Bear for the next one and half weeks. There are a few hikes I want to do while I’m here as well as getting out on the lake on a boat and trying the brewery and some of the restaurants in Big Bear Village.

From Big Bear I will be picking Toby up from Indio then we will be hitting the road again. We are planning to head north through Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks then up the coast through Northern California, Oregon and Washington during my eleventh month of travel. There will be lots of hiking, craft beer and of course, pie.

The plan is to finish off the month with a week exploring and hiking in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, two parks I haven’t been to before but have wanted to visit for a long time.

I can’t wait!

To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here

4 comments on “The Big Trip: Month Ten Round Up”

  1. I tried commenting on this post a couple of times, and I don’t think they went through! I just wanted to say that I’m so happy for you to have met a new special someone, and I’m looking forward to hearing about him more in the future!

    And yessss.. American pies are the best! I miss them so much. I really crave just a classic American apple pie sometimes!

  2. Cinnamon Horchata Ale?? That sounds amazing!! I am now on a quest to find that one! I love all your photos from Zion – Angels Landing looks fantastic.. I can’t wait to do that trek myself (but who knows when I’ll finally make it to Utah!)…

    Thanks for coming down to Tucson, I had a blast 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you again, who knows where our paths cross next! 🙂

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