Sunday, June 21, 2015

Family Road Trip! - A Driving tour of the Southwest

We hadn't visited family and friends in a little while, so we decided to do one of our annual road trips, seeing as many people as possible while enjoying what the southwest has to offer. Below is our 2,300 mile driving tour mapped out.

Our first stop was Flagstaff, Arizona.  The place where Neva was born, and where I called home for 8 years. We were able to make it to our friend's house warming party, and Neva was reunited with her longest-known friend, Logan (they've known each other their whole lives). And they picked up just where they left off!

Here is Logan and Neva playing with the chickens.

And jumping on the trampoline... Rinse and repeat!

Logan is very trusting during the game of "popcorn".
 And no trip of ours would be complete without a little bit of biking around!

We made a trip out to visit the Ft. Tuthill mountain biking recreational area. Flagstaff won the Bell Built Program for the west coast, bringing in $33,000 toward trail development. Bell is a bicycle helmet company, and the Built Program goes towards bicycle trails to be built in communities who vote on prospective bike trail expansions. Flagstaff beat out communities in California, Oregon, Washington, etc. and won the grand prize for the western states. 

Neva attacking the kiddie slopes. 
There was so much stuff to do here, from the kiddie roller circle to the advanced mountain course to catch serious air.  For a fee, there are also activities like zip lining and rock climbing around the area too.

The bigger slopes
Neva got to meet up with her friend Izzy at the bike park, another cycling kiddo who loves the outdoors. 

Post riding snacks with Matt, Kori, and Izzy.

Biking was followed by not one, but two wonderful potlucks!  Flagstaff is a very community-based town, and you can always count on a vegan or vegetarian potluck within walking distance whenever you arrive.

Neva and Izzy after an afternoon of biking.
We also were lucky enough to have the grandparents and uncle come up and visit from southern California and Phoenix, Arizona. We enjoyed the beautiful Flagstaff weather, attending the farmer's market, having a nice lunch, and of course, a horse-drawn carriage ride.

We escaped the torrents of rain in Dallas just in time to enjoy the 70 degrees C clear weather of Flagstaff. 

Kisses forGrammy!
Neva loves her grandma!  They were twinsies that day, and grandma made her a french braid. 

To end our stay in Flagstaff, we got all dressed up to see the comedian Eddie Izzard, a self-proclaimed "action transvestite" from England who incorporates historical events into his comedy. He also was part of the brilliant pilot called "1515 Mockingbird Lane", playing Grandpa in the modernized version of the Munsters.

"Please tick one : cake or death" referencing one of
his most famous skits on the  Church of England

Neva intently watching the show

Eddie Izzard killed it with a full standing ovation in Flagstaff, which was part of his world tour called Force Majeure. It was the best work of his I have seen,  already being a huge fan.   Here he is giving a hilarious play-by-play of his take on the sport of dressage.

Moving on from Flagstaff, we journeyed to the idyllic scenery of Sedona.  We got a good rate at a hotel using a Groupon, and awoke to the view below, outside of our window. 

Not bad for a $66 hotel room. Groupon is a great way to save money on long trips!

 We had to take Neva to one of the great creek "spots" we used to go to in our college days. We ended up taking her to Wet Beaver Creek.  The one passed the high school.  You can get a pick up a trail guide from Cosmic Ray (he lives in Flagstaff), but have a regular map too if you're not a local because his directions are written for locals.

 Neva and Christian enjoying the rope swing.  The water was cold, but refreshing!

My little Mowgli!

After swimming, we decided to hike around and explore the scenery.

Leaving Sedona, we had a long stretch to Benson, stopping along the way to visit friends. We were heading towards Neva's favorite natural formation, a cave. Kartchner Caverns in Benson, Arizona was her first tour of a living cave, which means that the cave is still able to make formations. We camped out in the Kartchner Caverns State park ($25).  There are other more primitive camping options nearby, but those require a 4WD vehicle, and we have a tiny Scion. Prior to our tour, which needs to be scheduled at least a day in advance, we visited our friend Joe's organic farm SouthWinds Farm.

That's Joe (left), and that's his farm (bottom). Joe is a humble man who has worked as a geologist and mineral economist for over 15 years. After a struggle with some life-changing circumstances, Joe decided he wanted to start offering people good quality, locally farmed food, and that's just what he did. He has got 1/3 of an acre of delicious food that feeds many of the farmers markets around the Tucson area.  He never fails to sell his lot of food, as his succulent vegetables, somehow filled with water in the desert setting, are irresistible.

Joe put us in charge of the beet crop, something easy for us newbies to decipher what is ready to be harvested. He had a long row of golden and red beets that we probed the ground for to see if they were large enough to pull. We then clipped off the tops, as they were too wilted to sell, and washed them off to prep for the market.  We harvested over 20-30 pounds total. Organic farming is not easy! Since Joe doesn't use any sort of pesticides, there are regular casualties.  We came across evidence of rats (below), but luckily no fungi or insect damage. 

In addition to Joe's expert knowledge in the land and how it works, he found a creative and cost effective way to make an industrial sized cooler that he built himself using off-the-shelf parts and some ingenuity. It's where you might find the workers during the warm summer months.

As a thanks for our help, he sent us off with tons of fresh veggies. Joe had managed to grow delicious spring greens in 100 degree Fahrenheit southern Arizona weather, filled with arugula, baby mustard greens, and others. He also included the coveted Tokyo turnips (right) which are filled with water, slightly spicy, and can be popped like cherry tomatoes. We of course got some beets, and large carrots, of which he estimated to have another (literal) ton left in the ground.  Though large, they weren't woody, and were so sweet they could almost double for candy for Neva.  Into our cooler they went, and off we went to continue our adventure. 
We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the cave, but the tour was great.  Led by a knowledgeable guide with a dry sense of humor.  We did the Throne Tour, as Kartchner takes great pains to keep the cave pristine. The Big Room Tour is closed during the summer months because bats still use the cave for breeding and raising their young from May to October. They also have an impressive museum which talks about different formations, the importance of the whole ecosystem (including the role of microorganisms) using interactive devices, as well as exhibits made to give perspective like the bat ears mimicking what echolocation is like (above) and the wall with small cavities in them showing you how a caver would have to navigate through a cave (below). 

Where else could I get a book called "Who pooped in the Sonoran Desert"?

From Benson, we went to visit our friend Ben in Silver City, New Mexico.  Ben is my long-time biking buddy from Flagstaff. He makes delicious bread, is a guy who draws together wonderful community, and has known Neva since she was born. You guys might remember him from Neva's and my first RAGBRAI tour or his guest appearance on our GDT tour in 2013. 

Yup, that's Neva and Ben, they've always been best buds!
Though Ben doesn't live at the famous Bike Haus anymore (a great pit stop for anyone biking the GDT or hiking the CDT), we stopped by to say hello to Jamie, Neva's other best bud. So, the excitement went like this. Neva noticed this duck guarding a bunch of eggs ...

Jamie had harvested eggs 2 days prior, and had guessed the (7) chickens had laid most of the eggs, and the duck was doing all of the work.  She was very intent on protecting all of those eggs in there, so Neva and Jamie went in ...

...Don Quixote style, Jamie donned a colander on his head, wielding a shovel (for intimidation purposes really), with Neva holding a bucket. 

They made it out alive, harvesting 24 eggs!  There was one casualty duck egg that went to the dog. And the duck had lain at least 8 eggs all on her own, so it's no wonder she was feeling very motherly (even with no males around). 

And it wouldn't be a Bike Haus visit without large puppets or bikes/GDT bikers. 

Jamie entertained Neva with masks, and I was sidetracked by the bikers from Albuquerque who were sporting some handmade frame bags that they sewed themselves out of boat sails (above). We said our goodbyes and headed towards Balmorhea State Park for another night of camping. On the way, we stopped in El Paso for food at Pho Tre Bien.  Everything was unique and tasty, and we got to sit outside next to a coy pond.  It was quite convenient being right off the the freeway, and the food set up was so authentic, it was easy to imagine you were in a foreign land. I can't tell you exactly what we got, but Christian got some sort of crispy noodle (third down), Neva got a veggie stuffed omelette (second down, left), and I got a glass noodle dish (second down, right), and everything was delicious. 

We chose Balmorhea because we wanted a place between Silver and Kerrville that had water sources, and Balmorhea has swimming streams nearby. I was much more impressed once I was there as it was a lot more beautiful and remote than I had expected, considering it did offer a pool and cabins.

Neva chased around some roadrunners while I enjoyed the view of the mountains in the background. We also observed a large colony of harvester ants.  Upon further inspection, I noticed that some of them had white stuff coming out of their heads, and those ants were the ones holding still for the camera while the others sped around at tiny highways speeds, being nothing more than a fuzzy line. I suspect that some of the colony was infected with some sort of parasitic fungus. 

Harvester ants are very strong, and have large mandibles because they feed on large hard seeds usually, and are a very important part of seed dispersal in the southwest. They usually aren't aggressive, but in Silver City, one accidentally found its way into Neva's pants and, probably out of fear, gave her a good bite. It left a large red spot on her leg for a few days.  Being a little wiser for the wear, she enjoyed watching them from a safe distance, respecting their space, and being cognizant of where she stepped. 

We spent the rest of the morning near the creek just a short walk from our tent, and catching butterflies. When it was time to pack up, we made sure to make some delicious sandwiches for the road, made only from the fresh vegetables acquired from the Flagstaff farmer's market and Joe's farm. 

Our last stop was to see Papa Fitch in Kerrville, Texas, and boy did Papa have a weekend planned out for us! It started off with picnic dinner at a community wine event and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in the park. Malvolio stole the show, especially the part where he is wearing the yellow stockings, cross-gartered. 

We then got to enjoy the first annual chalk festival. She wanted to go in style, but Papa's fancy El Camino, but it doesn't have a back seat. 

The artists at the festival ranged from children to famous artists, all delighting the crowd of onlookers. Neva even got to color a square of her own.  Can  you tell which one is hers? 

Signing the masterpiece

Afterwards, we had a culinary feast at the local Taqueria Jalisco's, where you can sit outside and watch the Guadalupe River go by from the outside dining patio. I highly recommend the fish tacos. I would rank them among the top in the world that I've experienced, competing with San Diego fish tacos, and fresh mahi mahi tacos near la Playa Gigante in Nicaragua. 

We ended our afternoon with kayaking on Papa's lake, where Christian and I got married about one year beforehand. Neva wanted to swim all day, catching pollywogs, and absorbing the sun's rays in a healthy ecosystem. 

And so, we headed towards home, back towards the daily hustle and bustle.  Me teaching summer school, Christian to work, and Neva to school. Here's Neva's take on returning home...

How cute, she fell asleep reading her poop book!

As we prepare for our summer bike tour, I want to say happy father's day to all of the dads out there.  To my father and step father who support my biking lifestyle, to my husband who is not only supportive of my biking, but is willing to go along for the ride, and for all of those who have had their dads pass away, hold those memories close of the father figure that made you who you are today. We love you dads, and thank you for everything you do!

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