Road Trip!

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, we did not have the means to take exotic vacations, but even still I have fond memories of taking road trips. In our early years of marriage we carried on that trend, but as time marched on careers got in the way and the idea of road trips fell by the wayside.

Our need to get away this year grew exponentially as the “dog days of summer” wore on us, and as the end of August approached, space opened for us to take to the road. Since we both have family living in the Heartland, we decided a road trip might be in order, so we threw our bikes on the back of our vehicle, packed our camping gear (just in case), and headed out.

Our first stop was Boulder City, NV, where two of our buddies who we met on the road as RVers have thrown down a few more roots, buying a lovely home in this delightful town outside Las Vegas.

One of many beautiful lakes in the west – Lake Mohave

It’s a perfect location for these hard-core hikers and Jeepers, and although it was still quite warm outside to do much sightseeing, we had ample time to play catch-up, enjoying time in their lovely home and pool, thanks to their generosity.

The impressive Hoover Dam
Of course we had a bighorn sighting, thanks to our ‘bighorn whisperer’ friend Pam.
Bowl of Fire
Our gracious hosts and friends – Pam and John

Their’s is a relationship that can comfortably be “picked up just where we left off” last visit, the very best kind of friendship. We were thankful for some quality time together and left already looking forward to another winter visit.

Next stop was Corrales, NM, where another couple of RVing friends have settled. Located just outside Albuquerque, it has the perfect blending of Native American and Spanish traditions, stubbornly trying to hold onto its rural personality amid the expanding city of Albuquerque.

Their home was so cozy and charming.

Welcoming blue door
Labyrinth and relaxed seating area to enjoy bird life and the setting sun.
Wonderful mountain views from a side yard.
Our wonderful host and hostess – Hector & Brenda. I was having too much fun to take a photo while in Corrales.

And a river runs through it, the Rio Grande.

Two days flowed into four as we chatted away the days laughing, biking, sightseeing, and sitting out in their lovely gardens listening to the birds and catching the alpenglow on the mountains. We cannot thank Hector and Brenda enough for their generosity and look forward to seeing them again later this year.

Although not the travel year we had anticipated, having the time to reconnect with friendships developed across this country and beyond during our travels has been as rich an experience as the sights that have taken our breath away.

Join us as we visit the Heartland of this country, a region I am embarrassed to admit I wanted to escape as quickly as I could once I graduated high school. Hopefully time, and a bit more wisdom, have allowed my eyes to see beyond what I did as a teenager.

Hot Summer Daze

The long summer is drawing to a close and for me, hot summer daze seems to best describe this season spent in Southern California. I realize that as I grow older I tolerate hot weather less and less and find myself dreaming of crisp fall days, days when I step outside and become intoxicated on autumn air. Knowing I was grounded for the summer due to a minor medical issue, I vowed to explore the beauty right outside my door, but as temps creeped into the triple digits I fell short of that goal many days as spending time outdoors could result in an irascible, sweaty meltdown. So when this outdoor kinda gal found herself trapped inside, gym fitness and reading became my go-to activities. Nothing wrong with that, I might add, especially when I have a wise, beautiful friend who recommended a special book to me, knowing I might find myself in an introspective mood from time to time. She couldn’t have suggested a book more conducive to the kind of year it has been and is one we would all do well to read, “The Five Invitations”. I can’t thank you enough Erin.

This year has created an interesting array of emotions for me, bringing to life a trip I have longed to take for decades, that being our Patagonian adventure. Coming home with what I thought was a minor finger dislocation became that plus a ruptured volar plate, detached collateral ligament and fractured knuckle. This week I graduated from hand therapy with parting gifts of various torture devices…yay!

Even with 12 weeks of therapy my injury does not even make the list of the tragic turn of events so many of my friends and acquaintances have experienced this year. The list of those we know who have passed this year has now grown to double-digits, not to mention all the public figures whose journey in this life has ended – Aretha Franklin, John McCain, Barbara Bush, Winnie Mandela, Stephen Hawking, just to name a few. Beyond this, we have friends who have had significant medical events and are still struggling with major illnesses, some where hospice has stepped in to provide comforting care. My thoughts are with all of them as they traverse the next phase of their life journey.

The author of “The Five Invitations”, Frank Ostaseski, a contemporary scholar of ancient Buddhist teachings, had me reflecting upon what death can teach us about living, how embracing our impending death, whenever that may be, can allow us to be more fully present, more alive, living each day to its fullest.

“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.”  ~  Frank Ostaseski

Although my thirst for wandering wasn’t quenched this summer, I am grateful for the insights gained as I practiced being more present each day. We head out for some autumn adventures soon and I hope to carry my lessons learned with me. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the blogosphere once again.

Rediscovering the Virtue of Patience

We have settled back into our part-time home at Jojoba Hills, where memories of our Patagonia trip may have faded a bit but revisiting photos can put that smile right back on my face. One of my more vivid memories of Patagonia was our hike to the Three Towers in Torres del Paine National Park, as this is where I experienced firsthand the “knock-you-down” winds for which Patagonia is noted. This is where I learned to fly during a rainstorm, albeit it briefly, as I made the steep ascent to the towers. This is where a rogue gust threw me off a boulder and, although I didn’t get the iconic shot of the towers that day, I remain grateful that I didn’t suffer a serious injury.

The iconic shot I was hoping for, courtesy of cascada.travel.

An x-ray, a consult with an Argentine doctor, and a splint in place and the next day I was on my way to our next adventure. Although I was told to keep the splint on for three weeks and I should be good as new, I suspected, once ‘sans splint’, that something was amiss. My knuckle looked weird and the more I exercised my finger, the stiffer and more painful it became.

By the time we arrived in the Atacama, weeks later, my finger was red, warm, and not at all happy with me. I worried about an infection, but there was no one to consult in the small village of San Pedro, so I buddy-taped it again and tried not to think about it the last few days of our trip. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We couldn’t return home anyway as our airline went on strike; our flight was canceled; and we couldn’t get out any earlier. The best I could do was schedule an appointment with my doctor back home, so I tried not to let it interfere with the last few days of our trip.

Navigating the healthcare system back home was frustrating as I waited several weeks to see a hand surgeon and get an MRI after my initial x-ray, which revealed a fractured knuckle. The first hand surgeon I visited confirmed the avulsion fracture and a ruptured volar plate (the thick ligament that secures the knuckle and holds the two bones in place in the finger)and when asked what treatment he would recommend, he replied that it was bad and he couldn’t help me. No physical therapy, no surgery…what the heck? Needless to say, he is not my current hand surgeon.

Should you ever have the joy of dislocating a finger, here is some of what I have learned:

  • Splinting should be done for no more than one week and gentle manipulation should begin immediately after the splint is removed, even with an avulsion fracture. This probably won’t be much fun as the finger will still be swollen and painful to the touch. My accident was three months old when I saw my current hand surgeon and was splinted far too long so my situation was a bit more challenging.
  • Aggressive range-of-motion therapy can be an option, and was for me. I see my therapist twice weekly for 12 weeks. She is an angel, even though she often hurts me. 😢
  • If hand therapy doesn’t work, surgery would be a next option. I have found a great hand therapy specialist and she doesn’t see surgery in my future. Yay!! Finding a good therapist who will customize a program for you is a must.
  • Be prepared for slow progress. I wake each morning feeling like I am starting all over again, which I am told will probably be the case for the next six months. Patience definitely is a virtue at times like this.
  • Finger dislocations take a minimum of 8 months to heal. It is no wonder my finger is still swollen and stiff, along with other fingers as well.

I’m sad to say that our summer plans for Yellowstone National Park have been disrupted as I focus on getting my hand back in shape. I will be living vicariously through all of you and spending more time discovering the beauty right outside my door. Sometimes we just need to slow down a bit to find that beauty.

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The Village that Stole our Hearts ~ San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

We knew the Atacama Desert offered more than enough to entertain us for the five days we were to be in the region. We just didn’t expect to fall so hard for San Pedro.

As I sat down to write this post, I struggled, as I did while we were there, to describe why I was so drawn to this dusty little village. Dirt roads, countless stray dogs, more tour companies than we could count, and streets lined with endless shops wouldn’t normally be our ideal place to wander, but it was obvious we were smitten. Behind the doors of these adobe-caked façades lie upscale boutique shops, amazing cafes, great artisanal ice cream, and pisco sours infused with local desert herbs.

San Pedro is an oasis sitting at roughly 8,000 feet, a swath of fertile desert surrounded by a strikingly conflicted landscape. Sprawling, barren desert of salt flats, hot springs, and contorted rock formations swiftly ascend to the Altiplano, butting up against the soaring Andes and a dozen volcanos. San Pedro is at the center of immeasurable interest for scientists across several branches.

The uniqueness of this village is not lost on Volcan Licancábur, who, at 5,916 meters (19,410 feet), looms over San Pedro like a protector. This volcano is sacred to the Inca Empire, and given its perfect conical shape, it seems to be the model volcano for all others.

Volcan Licancabur standing guard over San Pedro.

There are 360-degree awe-inspiring views here but if you never looked up at night you would be missing a spectacular light show. Given its lack of light pollution, aridity, and altitude, the Atacama has drawn its fair share of astronomers and is known as the place to be if you are an astronomy geek. I wouldn’t call us geeks but we were drawn to the idea of looking at the night sky through powerful telescopes so chose this as our last venture into the Atacama.

With an astronomer as our guide, we soon were educated on terminology, got an impressive laser light show of planets, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and zodiac sign constellations, and did some telescope viewing, along with iPhone shots of the moon. It was another great tour experience.

Another adventure that we had read was a must-do is the El Tatio Geyser Tour. Since we had lived in Yellowstone National Park for a couple of years and visited several times since, we didn’t feel the need to drag ourselves out of a warm bed at 4:00 am and climb to over 14,00 feet to witness sunrise over the steaming geyser basins. Had we had the time, the 4-day trek to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia would have been on our agenda.

Beyond the myriad of tours available to hold your interest, just walking the streets of San Pedro is a source of entertainment all its own. This is a people-watching village, as characters from across the globe gather here. And for a town of little more than 2,500 (although it is growing), the number of highly recommended restaurants is impressive. The one we will forever remember is Roots, the place we went for breakfast, every single day. The coffee prepared by a real barista, every menu item we tried, the waitstaff, and the music (watched the cook singing and dancing to Adele vocals) were all wonderful. It was like saying goodbye to family when we departed from San Pedro.

The Atacama Desert and San Pedro seem to have developed a symbiotic relationship of sorts, both needing one another for their vitality. The remoteness of the Atacama draws the curious and San Pedro holds their interest, booking tours into the desert.

Until recently, discoveries made in the Atacama could be seen in the Gustavo Le Paige Museum in San Pedro, which is no longer open to the public. The world’s oldest mummies, the Chinchorro, a culture found in the Atacama from 7,000 to 1,500 BC, are buried in this unforgiving environment. They, along with other artifacts, are well-preserved, due to the arid climate, and are found to predate even Egypt’s oldest mummies. The indigenous community here finally won the right to have their ancestors removed from the Le Paige Museum, which seems the proper decision.

As we packed to leave this magical place, we agreed that with all the breathtaking scenery surrounding us throughout our time in Patagonia – soaring mountains, jagged, crevasse-filled blue glaciers, grassy steppe, misty forests, the barren Atacama desert, remote, stripped naked of virtually all moisture, may be Chile at her best.

What we initially saw as a passable event on our trip planning calendar was one of the great joys of our South American adventure. This land of such breathtaking natural beauty, born from the basic elements of gravel, clay, salt, and minerals, provided us some of our richest experiences and heightened all our emotions. Even the “animas” we saw on our drive to the airport, those little houses built along the side of the highway to memorialize those who had died on the roads, seemed to flow with the drama and mystique of the Atacama.

Upon our arrival back to Santiago, Chile, where we started this journey, we drank our final pisco sour in honor of our time in the Atacama Desert.

If you want to read more about our time in the Atacama, here are links to my earlier posts:

Like Nowhere Else on Earth, Part I

Like Nowhere Else on Earth, Part II

We are now home in southern California, back a bit earlier than we had planned, due to the wild Patagonia weather and a dislocated finger that has plagued me since early March. More on that later, as I wade through the U.S. healthcare system, which is always a joy.

Like Nowhere Else on Earth ~ Atacama Desert, Chile (Part II)

There are countless ways to see the Atacama. Because it is so vast, a local guide is key to experiencing its intense beauty. Since there are tour companies on almost every block in San Pedro, it pays to do your homework first, as there is always someone ready to grab you off the street and entice you with their colorful photos.

Given how much I loved my first tour with CosmoAndino Expediciones, who seems to steadfastly adhere to their motto “quality time in the Atacama”, I booked a second tour, and this time I would have my hubby by my side and Pablo as our guide once again. 🙂 Valle de la Luna, also part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, was our tour of choice.

The tour began at the CosmoAndino office where our little group of roughly a dozen hopped onto an awaiting van. A short drive outside of San Pedro we stopped at the Mirador Piedra Del Coyote for some photos of this windswept landscape, warming us up for what was to come.

From here we jumped back on the van for the short drive to Mars Valley, where the real adventure began. The soil here has been compared to that of Mars, hence the name. NASA has used this region to test instruments for future Mars’ missions.

Hiking along the rim of a vast red rock canyon rimmed with towering mountains and volcanos, sand dunes rose at dizzying angles before us, the steepest the perfect setting for sandboarding.

Trying their “feet” at sand boarding. Not as easy as it looks.

Pablo took us back in geologic time as we hiked to the point, then proceeded to share our next adventure, running down a 230-meter (755 feet) sand dune to join up with our van parked far below us. That sounded intriguing, except none of us could see how we were going to get down from the top of the canyon to the top of the sand dune. As we continued our trek, Pablo joked about making sure we all had our travel insurance cards handy.

Our escape route was finally made known and we were helped down from the rim. Pablo assured us there was no danger, then proceeded to begin running down the steep dune, encouraging us to join him, running in a zigzag fashion. We all giggled as we sank to our shins in loose sand. Halfway down we stopped on a ridgeline for photos and removed our shoes. There was nothing better than pulling off hiking boots we had lived in for the past two months and playing in the warm sand.

With huge smiles on our faces, we piled into the van and headed to Moon Valley, a striking lunar landscape formed by eroding salts and minerals. Several mountain ranges surround this region, as well as a chain of volcanos, not surprising, as this stretch of Chile falls within the Pacific Ring of Fire. The most active in northern Chile is 5592-meter tall (18,346 ft.) Lascar, which looms over Lake Miñiques.

Gnarled fingers of rock reaching skyward came into view as we walked through red-rock sand rimmed with salt. One of the more famous formations in this area is “Tres Maries”, created by gravel, clay, salt, and quartz, worked by the whims of wind and erosion for over one million years.

We found one of the more interesting structures in Moon Valley to be the “Amphitheatre”, part of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Chain), formed by horizontal accumulations of sand, clay, salt, and movements in the earth’s crust.

The action of wind, with a little water thrown in for good measure, created a sequence of peaks that are similar to the bellows of an accordion. Some see a resemblance to the Colosseum in ancient Rome. I have to agree.

Our final hike was up to a vantage point overlooking a ridge skirted in dunes, with the Amphitheatre as a backdrop. This is where one hopes to get the iconic shot of the moon rising over the Atacama, as well as a sunset shot bursting with color. We were not confident of either as clouds had chased us all day, with rain a possibility, a most unusual occurrence in this land devoid of moisture. We saw neither the moon nor an enchanting sunset, but still labeled this a magical day.

Moon Valley iconic shot. Photo credit – kimkim.com.

As I perched on the ridgeline overlooking this ethereal void, I mused how an area so remote, so empty of life, could make me feel so alive, so full. I was reminded of the quote:

“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.” 

Next Up: Night Sky, a Stroll through San Pedro, and Final Thoughts

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