A Wild Place: Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

While recently attending a Women Writing the West conference at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort near Tucson, AZ, a friend and I took a little side trip to Sabino Canyon for a narrated 3.7-mile tram ride. As we rode in the open-air tram, our driver pointed out the various sites of interest including views of rocky outcroppings, craggy trees, and tough, hardy plants including a variety of cacti: cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo and the great saguaro. We learned that the saguaro can grow to be more than 40 feet tall and that many of the specimens we saw could possibly be 200 years old.

Nine stops along the way allow riders to get out and hike a variety of trails, or have a picnic, then catch a later tram, or riders may stay aboard for the entire trip. We happen to take the last tram of the day, so we stayed aboard for the entire journey. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitors Center.

On our tour, I was surprised to see pools of water as late in the year as October. In spring and summer visitors can even see waterfalls. The Sabino Canyon is a natural desert oasis located in the Coronado National Forest. Sabino Creek gives life to the riparian and desert flora within the canyon. We saw a variety of trees including the Arizona state tree, the palo verde, plus willow, sycamore and ash.

Although I scoured the landscape as we slowly drove by, I didn’t see any wildlife, but the area supports abundant birds, mammals and reptiles. Our driver said that he has seen mountain lion on numerous occasions. Bobcat and coyote have been spotted, along with quails, roadrunners, lizards, and rattlesnakes.

In 1905, the Forest Service began overseeing Sabino Canyon. During the Great Depression, the bridges over Sabino Creek and the Sabino Dam were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corporation (CCC).

The Sabino Canyon Tour was a highlight of my stay in Tucson. Tours are available seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call (520) 749-2327, or visit sabinocanyon.org

Saguaro Cactus

Zihuatanejo: A Mexican Delight

View from our condo deck

We recently spent a memorable vacation in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Zihuatanejo (pronounced see-whah-tah-NEH-ho), the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero, is located on the Pacific Coast, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco.

Perched on a lush hillside above La Ropa Beach, Ensueño 10, the six-unit condo where we stayed, is beautifully furnished with a great view of the bay. Playa la Ropa (“clothes beach”) was named for a Spanish galleon’s cargo of silks and fabrics brought from the Orient and scattered here from a shipwreck. The condo’s private deck, with an assortment of comfortable outdoor furniture and loungers, served as our headquarters as we planned our activities, read, and ate meals we prepared for ourselves. From our condo we relished in magnificent views of surrounding green hills, and watched the many water sports on the bay: skiing, parachute gliding, boogie boards, and jet skiing. Water taxis sailed between the town pier and idyllic Playa las Gatas.

Although the hills are steep, from our condo we could walk to the beach and stroll along sparkling white sand, passing luxurious hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. Sometimes we choose to hike back up the hill to our condo; sometimes we took a taxi, which proved to be an inexpensive mode of transportation.

On such a vacation, we usually prefer to have some of our meals “in” and we found groceries in Zihautanejo readily available and inexpensive. The kitchen in our condo had all the necessary equipment needed to manage meals with a minimum of hassle.

Fishermen display their day’s catch

Taking a taxi, we rode into town to check out the fishing village. We watched as fishermen brought in and displayed their day’s catch. From there we strolled along a walkway with condos and hotels on one side and the sea on the other. In the sea, a young fisherman, waist-deep in water, threw his circular fishing net. Along the way, we stopped for a delightful lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants.

Another day we strolled among Zihautanejo’s cobblestone streets and visited shops nestled in nooks and crannies. We admired the vibrant colors of Mexican art, and enjoyed observing the culture, listening to conversations in rapid Spanish with traditional Mexican music in the background. Another day we took a water taxi from the town pier and sailed to Playa las Gatas beach. On the small strip of land between the densely forested hill and white-sand beach, restaurants and bars serve meals and drinks; little gift stands feature swimwear and water toys.

Late September and October aren’t usually considered ideal tourist season in this part of Mexico, and we did find it hot and humid, but the upside was that the place wasn’t crowded with tourists and, in fact, we had the condo pool to ourselves. We spent many a happy hour luxuriating in the salt-water infinity pool and reading at the pool-area’s shaded cabana. Although at times it did rain during the night, weather wasn’t a deterrent to our enjoyment.

Enjoying dinner at a beach restaurant

All in all, our time in Zihautanejo was a memorable vacation. We found plenty to do at the pace we wanted to do it. But there’s plenty of other activities, too, whether you have “champagne taste and a beer budget” or seek luxury, glamour and pampering. Your stay can be a tranquil rustic retreat, or more lively with sport activities such as golf, tennis, sport fishing, scuba diving or horseback riding. You’ll find it all in here. Viva Zihautanejo!

Book Review: Hannah’s Journey

Carmen Peone’s expert horsemanship and knowledge of northeast Washington territory shines through in the second of her Gardner Sibling Trilogy, Hannah’s Journey.

At sixteen, Hannah is the oldest child of a mid-1800’s pioneering ranch family. Hannah’s burning desire to race horses with her adopted Indian Aunt Spupaleena is a constant worry to her parents. They fear not only that she’ll be injured, but that their daughter is not preparing herself for the expected future role of wife, homemaker, and mother.

Hannah’s parents aren’t the only ones against her racing. The Indian boys resent her barging into their sport. Not only is she a girl, but a white girl. The only encouragement she gets is from Aunt Spupaleena and Spupaleena’s brother Pekam.

Heedless of others’ opinion, Hannah participants in a difficult, dangerous race. Not only is there danger in the race itself–riding horseback fast on uneven terrain–but also enduring vengeful rough treatment from other racers. It’s a bold, bloody event.

Hannah’s parents, frustrated and worried about their daughter’s rebellious behavior, threaten to send her to live with an aunt in Montana, a fate totally unacceptable to Hannah. She runs away to the Sinyekst village along the Columbia River, the village of her Aunt Spupaleena.

Hannah’s Journey delves into many of life’s challenges, especially of a young girl with non-traditional dreams. Along the way she must learn to exercise patience, to have faith, to slow down and pray for guidance. She learns that life comes with compromise, and sacrifice. Life isn’t easy and for someone with extraordinary desires, it’s even more difficult.

I found Hannah’s Journey an absorbing, well-written book, a story intriguing to a wide audience. The author speaks with authority about Indian history, and the Sinyekst people. Peone is knowledgeable about the northeast Washington area, the Columbia River and the diverse area surrounding it. Many of this novel’s characters have appeared in the author’s previous books (The Heart Trilogy), but the transition into this second book of the Gardner Sibling Trilogy is smooth and stands alone.

To learn more about Carmen Peone, visit http://carmenpeone.com


Why I Blog

Why blog? When I first heard about blogging, I figured I didn’t need another reason to write. But once I got the hang of it and realized the value of writing concise pieces about a variety of subjects, I found I really enjoyed blogging. Over the years, I’ve had 400+ magazine and newspaper articles published. In many cases, I had a steady, reliable publisher to whom I submitted destination articles, but for other topics I often spent much time finding the right magazine, the right “fit” for my work. Once I became heavily involved in writing books, I found blogging made better use of my time than writing for magazines.

I’m am an enthusiastic reader and read many genres. Book reviews became a natural for me and proved to be worthwhile fodder for my blog. I have had many people tell me they read a book because of one of my reviews. I find I read a book differently when I know I’m going to review it. For one thing, I really have to pay attention so that I can accurately describe the essence of the book’s message.

For many years I wrote for RV LIFE, a magazine devoted to RVers featuring places and products of interest to them. My husband Bruce is an avid photographer and furnished the graphics for my articles. We look at destinations in a different light than we might have if we were just been passing through. I use these same observation skills in writing destination blogs.

After writing my two memoirs, TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps and Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific, I found I could take excerpts from them to post on my blog. These pieces not only provide what I hope will be interesting reading of specific incidents, but also help make my readers more familiar with my writing, maybe even entice them to read the books.

I thrive on routine so naturally have a specific day to blog. Almost without fail, I send out a weekly blog Monday mornings. But I don’t just blissfully post a piece in haste. Each blog I post has been written sometimes weeks before. After I write a piece, I let it “sit” overnight, then go over it again. It’s amazing what I find to tweak. Then I ask my husband to read it–he’s a very good “first reader” and offers good suggestions. After making those changes, I read the piece to my Wednesday critique group and use their input to further enhance the piece. Finally, I feel it’s ready for my blog readers. I don’t take blogging lightly. My readers’ time is valuable to them and I don’t want to make frivolous use of their trust that they’ll read something of interest.

Blogging is a way of getting my name out there, of getting people to visit my website, but more than that, it gives me a sense of communicating with a wide range of people, imparting to them what I hope will be fresh perspectives.

Textile Recycling: It Just Makes Sense

We all know the benefits of donating “gently used” articles to Goodwill or other thrift-type stores. Almost all communities have a way to make donating easy and convenient.

There’s a new type of recycling that I’m excited about: textile recycling, which is the processes by which old clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse in different forms than originally intended. For instance, old jeans can be recycled into insulation.

The importance of recycling textiles is increasingly being recognized. Once in landfills, natural fibers can take hundreds of years to decompose. During the decomposing process, they may release methane and CO2 gas into the atmosphere, plus may release toxic substances into groundwater and surrounding soil. Additionally, synthetic materials may never decompose.

Which textiles are accepted for recycling? Torn, badly worn or even stained items such as:
back packs
table cloths
area rugs
stuffed animals

How textile recycling works:
● When you donate clothing or any fabric item to a center for recycling, it is sorted into immediately usable items or recyclable items. You don’t have to worry about which is which–the sorters will determine the items’ destination.
● Wearable or usable material is sorted and made available for immediate use.
● Unwearable material is sorted by type of material and color. Color sorting results in fabric that does not need to be re-died, saving energy and pollutants.
● Textiles are then pulled into fibers or shredded, sometimes converting the fabric into yarn.
● Polyester-based textiles are shredded, then granulated and processed into chips. These are subsequently melted and used to create new fibers.

Giving second life to textiles results in many useful products, such as:
wiping rags
athletic equipment
pet bedding
area rugs
Insulation for home, automobile, appliance
We all know it makes sense to recycle. Now we can recycle old clothes or fabrics that may be beyond reusing in their original form. Any item is acceptable for reuse or recycling as long as it is not wet, mildewed, or soiled with hazardous material.

To find the closest textile recycling center near you, visit http://www.weardonaterecycle.org/locator/index.php If a Goodwill Industries center is near you, they are usually a good destination for textile recycling.

What’s in your closet?

Book Review: The Portable Veblen


I can say, unequivocally, that The Portable Veblen is the strangest book I’ve ever read. But fun. Oh, so much fun! Author Elizabeth McKenzie’s mind is something to behold; her pen magical. Yet, there is substance to this romantic comedy and messages on many levels.

Veblen Amundsen-Howda is a strange, but lovable young woman who tries to do the right thing. She goes out of her way to please her mother, an over-the-top hypochondriac whose husband is the glue that holds their family together. Her biological father is institutionalized with a mental disorder and, true to Veblen’s nature, she makes every effort to bring joy to his life.

Veblen, who was named after Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), a Norwegian-American economist, draws many of her attitudes and passions from the writer and has a framed picture of him displayed prominently in her home.

Veblen’s financé Paul Vreeland, a brilliant neurologist, has been awarded an important military contract to test brain-damaged patients. When Paul takes Veblen to meet his aging hippie parents, the visit is as bad as he dreads. Trying to keep all these elements—her family, his family and his research project—on an even keel while putting together their wedding is a challenge.

In the meantime, one of the main characters of the book, a squirrel who resides in Veblen’s attic, is her joy, but Paul’s nemesis. It’s hard to imagine, but the squirrel has a surprisingly important role is this story.

For a refreshing change, read this book. As Jeff VanderMeer of the Los Angeles Times says, “It’s wise, deep, and complicated.”

A Special Getaway: Sol Duc Hot Springs

Twenty-one of us—extended family and friends—gathered together for a glorious mid-May three-day weekend at Sol Duc Hot Springs in the Olympic National Park and Forest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. We’ve experienced an unusually wet spring here in the Northwest, but we lucked out on the weather with bright, sunny days, allowing us to spend treasured time outdoors.

Most of the group occupied accommodations at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, either at the large “River Cabin” or in smaller cabins. Bruce and I opted to camp with our truck and camper at the lush campground, about a quarter-mile down the road. We felt we had the best of two worlds—visiting with family and friends during the day and spending the night in a quiet unique Hoh Rain Forest campground.

The Hoh is one of the finest remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the United States and is one of the park’s most popular destinations. The Hoh Rain Forest is aptly named. During the winter, rain falls frequently in the Hoh, contributing to the yearly total of 140 to 170 inches (that’s 12 to 14 feet!) of precipitation each year. The result is a lush, green canopy of conifer and deciduous trees. Mosses and ferns blanket the surfaces, adding another dimension to the enchantment of the rainforest. We had the best of both worlds—camping in a rain forest, but with no rain.

The resort itself offers a multitude of activities including hot mineral-spring pools, massage therapists, poolside deli, restaurant, gift shop, and convenience store.
A pleasant walk through old-growth forest to the Sol Duc Falls overlook is just a mile from the resort.

There are no modern distractions like cell or wifi coverage, telephones, televisions, or radios at Sol Duc, allowing a refreshing change of pace and a feeling of getting back to nature.

The Olympic National Park is a great destination, and Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Campgrounds make a perfect place to call base camp.

Book Review: The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

Sidney Poitier is a long-time favorite of mine. I’ve seen all his well-known movies and have admired his achievements. His book, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography is an engrossing read.

Born on Cat Island, a primitive island in the Bahamas, Poitier had a childhood of freedom and love, blissfully unaware of how poor in material things his parents were. When the family’s livelihood of growing tomatoes was no longer an option, they moved to Nassau and he was suddenly plunked down in a world of cars, movies, running water, electricity, white people and the resulting race distinction. He got into trouble and was sent to his older brother’s home in Miami, Florida. It was in those years he realized how ignorant he was, how slim were his chances of succeeding. He could barely read; was lucky to get dish washing jobs.

Poitier moved to Harlem, New York when he was 16. His acting career in live theater happened almost accidently, but he realized this was where he belonged. The old adage “when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” is an apt description of his break-through. But in the 1950’s, acting opportunities for blacks were stereotyped. He moved to Hollywood and managed to get roles, supplementing his income with restaurant work. After several minor roles, he and Tony Curtis starred in The Defiant Ones, a box-office hit. In 1964 he was awarded an Oscar for Lilies of the Field, Hollywood’s first Best Actor award to a black man, followed by To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. Although these movies were met with success, they were thought to be atypical of black people. The three movies were made in the height of race riots and bigotry. Blacks resented that the movies didn’t portray the average black man, that the roles he played were non-threatening to white audiences, and even smacked of “Uncle Tom.”

After fifty years in Hollywood trying to portray life, Poitier learned about life. Seventy-two years old when he wrote this book, his reflections encompass a part of our country’s greatly changing history.

Poitier concludes his autobiography with an awareness of his perception of self, of others and of the world. Although the book’s title suggests spirituality, I found it
engrossing and thought provoking, but not necessarily spiritual. I enjoyed the book, even more so since I have seen most of the movies he discusses.

For an in-depth look at Sidney Poitier, read The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan (really?) it’s an interesting study of the times.

View at the Top: Bora Bora

A ways to go: hiking Mount Otemanu in Bora Bora

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Bora Bora was one of the highlights of our South Pacific cruise aboard Impunity, our Bristol-40. Bora Bora is as beautiful as postcards describe. The ocean couldn’t be bluer, the hills lush and green. Besides the main island of Bora Bora, there are several small uninhabited islands within the reef.

After we cleared customs, we headed out to the secluded little island of Toopua and Bruce dropped anchor in 35 feet of water. The clear turquoise water allowed us to easily see the bottom. We rowed ashore in our dingy to a white sandy beach lined with coconut palms. Although no one lived on the island, there was a small copra harvesting operation. Coconuts were collected, split open, the meat pried out and placed on a raised platform shaded by a tarp. Later, it would be bagged and shipped off to be squeezed into coconut oil, mostly for cooking and cosmetics.

In addition to coconut palms, there were orange trees and what we learned were vanilla plants.

Although we loved “our” little island of Toopua, there were no roads and it was quite heavily forested. Occasionally, we would sail back to Vaitape, on the Island of Bora Bora to shop. We longed to get out and really walk, but found the hiking in Viatape frustrating. The village had streets, but they seemed to service only commercial buildings or private housing. We couldn’t find a way out of town without going through people’s private yards.

When we first arrived in French Polynesia at the Marquesas Islands, we were required to post bonds totaling $1,700. We would soon leave Bora Bora, and since that was our last French Polynesian landfall, we would redeem our bonds. While having our bonds refunded with the bank official, we asked how we could hike without going through private property. That next weekend, he and a group of kids and a few teachers were going to hike Mount Otemanu and he invited us to join them. “Tell your friends,” the banker said. “All are welcome. Bring your lunch and lots of water to drink.”

We spread the word among the yachties and several joined us. Our instructions were to meet him in front of the bank at eight the next morning, a Saturday. When we arrived, about thirty 12- to 14-year old kids, all with palm tree saplings in backpacks, four teachers carrying shovels, and our banker had gathered. As we headed out, we crossed in back of what looked like private property. We were impressed that many of the hikers, including the banker, were barefoot.

Almost immediately, the hike went nearly straight up. We followed a path, but much of the time we used vines and small trees to pull ourselves up. At times, our French banker positioned himself at strategic places to help people over particularly rough spots. I admired the stamina of those kids carrying trees.

As the trail wound up the mountain, it often gave us a view of the harbor. Our 40-foot boat appeared to be a dot in the water from this vantage. The different depths of water as it covered coral reefs dazzled us in shades of blues and greens.

When we stopped to rest, we perched on the steep hill. I didn’t find it restful hanging on to something so I didn’t slide back down the mountain, or pitch off its steep sides.

The hike up took about three grueling hours. Near the 2,379-foot top, the kids and teachers planted the coconut palm trees. The theory was that a palm tree planted at the top of the mountain would shed coconuts that would roll down the hill to start new trees. Their purpose was to avoid erosion and to replace trees that had died.

We ate our lunches and then the group more or less disbursed. The teachers and banker took the kids back down and we left as we felt like it. I found the trip down far more daunting than going up. To look down those steep hills and descend into a void was far more challenging than clawing my way up.

Hiking Mount Otemanu with these local people, though a tough challenge, was a memorable, broadening experience. And I could feel it in my muscles in the sailing days to come!

Book Review: Barren, Wild and Worthless: Living in the Chihauhuan Desert

No one can bring a barren desert alive like Susan J. Tweit. But what appears to be a barren wasteland isn’t. In Barren, Wild and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert, Tweit explains in fascinating detail what appears to be a worthless expanse, really is vibrant with all manner of life. But you have to know what to look for and when you’re apt to see it.

North America’s largest desert, the Chihuahuan spreads 175,000 square miles in northern Mexico and southwest United States. Most of the Chihuanhuan Desert is in Mexico with fingers reaching into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Although the desert is not known for its beauty, when observed close up, magic is revealed. A variety of birds flit from creosote bush to bush, jackrabbits seek succulent plants, wildflowers and cactus bloom into magnificence with the slightest bit of rain. In the cool of the night, many desert inhabitants come to life. Bats, owls, scorpions, termites, snakes, rats and mice, to name only a few, scurry around prowling for food. Plants, too, adjust to desert harshness with blazing hot days and freezing cold nights, but will eventually show their splendor.

The author describes an intriguing little amphibian, the spadefoot toad, that remains underground for long periods of time, surfacing when it rains, and collecting moisture through its skin.

Educated as a botanist, Susan J. Tweit views the desert scientifically. Tweit, her husband, who taught at New Mexico State University, and daughter lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico while writing this book. Her first impression was disappointment in their bleak surroundings, but she soon began looking closer and learning about her new home.

The Chihuahuan Desert wasn’t always like it is today. Humans have changed the landscape with their large ranches and overgrazing cattle, beaver trapping, diverting water for farm crops, and grizzlies hunted to extinction. Tweit emphasis the importance of cooperating with nature, respecting the land, and taking only what is needed. Cooperation instead of competition benefits both man and nature.

Barren, Wild and Worthless gave me a lot to think about. I’ll view so-called wasteland differently and treat it with more respect. The book also gave me some chuckles, with the author’s view on the desert’s inhabitants and their means of survival.

To learn more about the author, visit http://susanjtweit.com/