First of all, allow me to apologize for NOT finished last season’s blogs. We changed our plans several times due to the pandemic, dealt with some reservation cancellations, dodged the wildfires in California, yet still managed to see some family and friends and become Ninja Level Experts at social distancing.

We did not go back to Virginia, so we had our daughter Maggie fly out to Sacramento California and travel with us the last two months of the year. Our stay in Yosemite area was spectacular but hampered by the nearby wildfires. Deb had the opportunity to meet the curator of the Ansel Adams Gallery while at Yosemite and if wasn’t cool enough, the gentleman gave us a brief tour of Ansel Adam’s workshop right behind the gallery. 

Smoke filled skies became the norm all the way to San Diego. It sure made for some interesting events late last summer in and around San Diego County.

It was a busy winter, we got Maggie settled in, she found a job and a place to stay and is happy with her new surroundings. Deb and I had a nice break and have adjusted quite well to “snow-birding” to recharge our batteries and continue to see what the southern Arizona landscape has to offer.

Within a day’s drive of Tucson, we visited the following. Check out the links below.

  1. Organ Pipe National Monument
  2. Chiricahua National Monument
  3. Coronado National Memorial
  4. Tumacacori National Historical Park
  5. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
  6. Saguaro National Park East / West
  7. Mount Lemmon
  8. Fray Marcos de Niza Historical Landmark
  9. Tombstone / Bisbee
  10. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
  11. Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area
  12. San Xavier del Bac Mission
  13. Biosphere 2

The following is Deb’s story on how we became proud owners of a Saguaro skeleton…

I began my fascination with using cactus as art or functional items when we visited a flea market during our first winter in Tucson. One vendor in particular took saguaro skeletons and finished them to use as bases for glass top and wooden top tables. They had also created a lamp by finishing the saguaro skeleton and applying a light fixture to the inside of the cactus and standing it upright. From that day forward, and for three winters I could not stop imagining how I could Debify that concept and improve it. Every time I spotted a downed saguaro in our desert travels on the side of a mountain or way off in the distance I would try and talk Chuck into retrieving it to bring home for my “project”. Inevitably, we had the dogs with us, or the saguaro skeleton was ten + feet long and would not fit into the jeep. Also, Chuck was not a fan of repelling down a cliff, just so I could have some fun playing with a project. 

Anyway, back to our first year in Tucson… Chuck and I are early birds and every morning’s sunrise involved heading to the corner and shooting the Boneyard with this one beautiful saguaro in the foreground. This cactus was stunning.  Towards the end of February, we had a brutal snow/ice storm which is very unusual for Tucson. High winds and a snow/ice mix was too much for the mighty saguaro and it gave out. The top half of the cactus snapped and lay on the ground. We were devastated. Such a gorgeous tree wasted.  

We soon left Tucson for the summer and returned six months later to see the decaying stump still sitting there. It still had some of its skin and flesh, not ready for my project. So, I left it be. By the time we returned to Tucson for our third winter, the saguaro stump was now officially a skeleton and a perfect specimen at that! I could not believe it was still there on the corner after two years.  

I was ready to pounce! I waved down the landscape worker and told him of my plan. I assured him that when we were done digging it up we would fill in the hole. He said sure, go for it! I quickly got Chuck on board, and we spent a couple of hours carefully digging up the skeleton because I had to have the roots intact for the look I was going for. Finally, we were done!  

We spent the next 3 months power washing, sanding and polyurethaning this gorgeous saguaro skeleton. It turned out exactly as I had envisioned! This passion for repurposed dead cactus has parlayed into using other cactus like cholla to use in making lamp/chandeliers. Great way to be creative during the winter. 


On April 1st we hit the road to begin our 2021. Our first stop was Flagstaff, Arizona. We visited this area a couple of years ago, but our primary interest was to see the Grand Canyon, we took the scenic drive through Oak Creek Canyon and scoped out the area. With a week planned here, we now had a full plate of places to go and things to see.

Our first day we re-explored Sycamore Canyon to see if there was any waterflow at Sycamore Falls. No joy, but the drive was beautiful, and it was a shock to our senses to see so much green at 7000 feet after being accustom the Sonoran Desert for six months.

Then after lunch we did some off-roading in search of a volcano and lava field north of Flagstaff. Although off the beaten path, a worthwhile adventure.

There is much to see within a hundred-mile radius of Flagstaff. Grand Canyon National Park is the most obvious place to visit. We went on a weekday during spring break and waited for nearly an hour to get into the park.  The views are breathtaking, everyone should visit at least once to experience the vastness of the canyon.

Deb and I hiked the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument. An interesting trail consisting of 736 steps. We found their sign at the trail head “Going down is optional. Returning is Mandatory” quite amusing. The cliff dweller’s daily struggle to survive in these harsh conditions was astonishing. Hard to see how they navigated on these steep cliff edges, let alone live there.

An afternoon drive to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments gave us the opportunity to see the remains of an extinct volcano and more Pueblo Ruins. It was also a perfect Jeep adventure out to Black Falls on the Little Colorado River. During monsoon season this river is impassable but it was dry as a bone and easily crossable. Upstream is the famous Grand Falls, which is quite a spectacle when there is water but is NOT accessible at the moment because it is located on the Indian reservation and restricted access due to COVID. Still on our bucket list for a return visit.

Easter Sunday seemed appropriate for a Roadtrip. Destination – Petrified Forest National Park on Interstate 40 East. Enroute we were sidetracked by two vestiges of a bygone era, both remnants of “Historic Route 66”. Twin Arrows Trading Post Ruins and Two Guns/Apache Death Caves.

Of course, we stopped in Winslow and did selfies “Standin’ on the Corner”. The town has really captured the moment and has tastefully leveraged off this iconic tune. A short distance down the road at Holbrook, we exited to access the southern entrance to the park. After a brief stop at the Petrified Forest Gift Shop to walk the puppies, the landscape was dotted with the remains of a 200-million-year-old forest.

Scenic stops and overlooks accentuated the drive, Crystal Forest, Jasper Forest, Agate Bridge, Blue Mesa, The Teepees, Newspaper Rock Historic Monument immortalized these majestic legendary logs of stone.

With the Petrified Forest in our rearview mirror, we reached the other side of I-40 which provided yet another gem of Mother Nature – The Painted Desert. The next ten miles provided scenic views at Whipple, Nizhoni, Pintado, Chinde, Kachina and Tawas Points which provided colorful displays of the layered desert floor below.  Quite an amazing scenic drive that we encourage everyone to take if you are in this part of the country.

A visit to the Flagstaff area without a short drive down Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona and the Red Rock area would be a mistake. US Hwy 89A snakes down the canyon walls a short distance outside of town and immerses you in the beauty of the evergreens and red rock canyon. A twenty-mile weavey-windy road that follows the creek past trailheads, picnic areas and campgrounds all the way to Sedona. Years ago (70’s) when Mom & Dad wintered in Prescott Valley, Sedona was a sleepy little town. Today it is a bustling community laced with galleries, motels/hotels, tourist shopping destinations and an epicenter for the mystical and occult.

We hoped to park at one of the many trailheads in the area to have a picnic but even on a late morning mid-weekday, (Spring Break week) parking was impossible. Ever been to a State Park that does not allow pets? Now, we have. Something environmental about Red Rock State Park that prevented pets from entering the park.

Fortunately, nearby we found the Crescent Moon Picnic and day park. A beautiful spot for the puppies to stretch out and a quaint place for a picnic. The red rock landscape was pretty spectacular, too.

That is Flagstaff in a nutshell! Deb and I enjoyed our stay and found other things to do if we were to come back in a different season. Weather was pretty cooperative for early April and neither of us keeled over from the elevation…LOL.  There are significant locations in Northeastern Arizona that we want to visit this year. Specifically, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. Unfortunately, these areas are managed by the Navajo Nation and still closed due to the COVID constraints. We are hopeful that they will be open before we head back to Tucson later this fall. Next stop, Albuquerque.



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