Thursday, August 29, 2013

Free Flights!

The Louvre
How would you like to fly to Paris to take in the sights, and then go on to Florence, Italy, for several days before exploring Spain's sunny Costa del Sol coast?  How about taking that trip in business class with room to stretch your legs and all the warm almonds and cookies you can eat?  And what if you could do all that flying for free?

You can!

And Rick Ingersoll, the Frugal Travel Guy blogger, wants to show you how.
Street in Malaga, Spain.
A couple weeks ago, the Nightline segment about Rick was re-broadcast on the Wednesday night show, The Lookout, (Click here to see the short film.) and I was reminded again how easy it is to get free flights.

I've written about this before in "Fly to Europe for Free (Almost)," but now, two and a half years later, Rick Ingersoll and I are not the only ones helping people reach their fly-for-free goals.

This post will give you the basics of the flying-free philosophy and supply many resources to help you.   Bear in mind this is simply an overview (Though a darned good one!) to help you get started and give you ideas.   Some people devote their entire lives to this endeavor, so you will want to consult their websites which are noted throughout this post.  Truly, although you may never be a multi-millionaire, you can travel as though you are!

Continue Reading>>

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The World Go 'Round

We don't really talk a lot about money. By "we" I mean people online who don't want to offend other people, make other people feel like they are doing things wrong, or don't have enough money, or don't make enough money, or...

But money is a part of everyone's life. Somehow we learned, or didn't learn, how to make it, save it, or spend it. I was really inspired by this post written by Nilsa. Both her post, and all the comments that followed, really sparked something in me. Her post touched on how money played a part in her life growing up and how she deals with monetary issues now.

For instance, if you take five people and set them loose in a grocery store, they will each have a different way of shopping. Person one has coupons and only buys what's on sale. Person two has a special list of things for a certain meal, and buys them no matter the cost. Person three just grabs stuff willy-nilly without looking at cost or even checking to see if things go together.

You get the gist. Similarly, if you take 5 friends your age and had them honestly tell you how much they have saved and what their savings strategy is, they would be 5 different stories.

So, what Nilsa's post did was make me think: was it my childhood that made me the financial person I am now? Or was it something else? Is the way that you save nature or nurture?

My parent's owned their own business when I was growing up. This meant a couple of things for me. First of all, since I can remember, I worked for the family business. I did get paid. At first it was 25 cents an hour. My dad made me keep track of all of my hours in a little notepad and every couple of weeks, there would be a "payday". I had a bank account where each month or so I would deposit my pay.

I remember asking my Dad how much my parents made. Were we rich? Were we poor? We never were lacking in the creature comforts, but we didn't have anything extravagant. We went on vacation, but we always drove an RV and camped and it was always on the off season, as that was when my parent's business was less busy, plus it was cheaper. He told me that it was hard to figure out how much they really made because most of what they made went back into the business.

I learned more about this when I started doing the bookkeeping for the business. All of the salaries of the people working there, the taxes that we had to pay in addition to that, and all the bills, bills, bills! It seemed like for every dollar we made, 99 cents went back into paying for something.

Because of this, I learned to save. I learned to budget. Don't tell my parents, because when I was a kid, I was so bitter that I always had to work when everyone else my age was at the beach with an inner tube and a smile. When I turned 11, I would go and stay with my Aunt and Uncle in the Bay Area for a week in the summer time and we would buy school clothes. I would use the money I had worked for, the money I had saved. And let me tell you, this meant that I really watched what I spent. I had given up beach time for these clothes. They were precious to me.

Fast forward a few years...and I still do the same thing! Sometimes I splurge, but usually I am saving my money for the future, because that is what I was taught. I have tried to go buckwild from time to time and change my Scrooge-like ways, but saving makes me feel more secure. I don't know if I will ever change because it has been ingrained in me, this saving, and it has been for years.

Are you a spender or a saver? How did your parents / your childhood influence the way you spend (or save) now? When did you get your first checking account / credit card?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Happiness Is Hotwire

Renting cars in France allows us to stop at lovely picnic spots like this one.
I love Hotwire!  For my trip to North Carolina in September (Click here to read about the flights that cost $458 instead of $844.), I'll be renting a car from Alamo for $12.95 a day and staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, a three-star property, for $50.00 a night.

While this is an opaque site (You do not know the company providing your service until you've paid, but you are told the star number or rating before you buy.), I've been using it for years and never been disappointed with the service.  I always check to make sure Hotwire is giving me the cheapest price possible, and I always find it to be half to one-third the price I find on any other site.

Hotwire was started in 2000 by six airline companies anxious to sell their extra seats.  It's expanded to offering hotel and vacation package reservations and car rentals. If you've never heard of them before, give them a try when you're doing your comparison shopping.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Feet First, First Time

I recently got my first black toenail. So I guess now I am REALLY a runner?

(side note: I did slam my finger in a door when I was about 10 and lost the nail, which never really grew back the same. It hurt really bad! This doesn't hurt at all.)

Runners do a lot of gross things and have a lot of strange and disgusting problems; snot rockets, rubbing Vaseline in weird places, spitting, bleeding nipples, blisters, chafing, peeing in public (or worse), dirt, grime and talking about bodily functions are the the norm in a runner's life.

I've been lucky. I seem to have avoided many of the major issues up until now, including the black toenail syndrome. I hear runners talk about them all the time, and according to some articles, if you have ever run a marathon or a hilly race, you have probably had one. However, I never had before. Until now. I noticed it about a month ago and since then, half of it has separated from the nail bed. The problem is, only half of it is black. The other half is perfectly fine.

I have a 50k this weekend and half of my toenail is hanging off. I am not sure whether to cut off the bad half and have half of an exposed toe or to just leave it and hope the bad  half hangs on for the whole race. So I started Googling. Of course.

Did you know there is a way to tie your shoes to prevent black toenails?

Jeff Galloway says that the reason we get them from wearing a too tight pair of shoes, having too fast of a mileage increase, or running in excessive heat or hot weather.

Here is how to prevent them. And if you are really brave, you can watch videos on how to remove them. I am not really brave. I only watched about 2.54 seconds of it.

But the best thing I found while trolling around the web was this article, which talks about people (including Marshall Ulrich) who have had so many issues with the black toenail that they just had all their toenails removed. For good.

However, I am not about to remove all of my toenails. And I am definitely not doing what the guy in the video did (hint, he used a knife). I might try the shoe tying trick. But I need your help; I don't know what to do. Do I leave it and run or cut it and run?

Have you ever had a toenail or a fingernail fall off? How did it happen? Did you remove it or wait for it to fall off?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Currently: August

Current Book - Jackdaws by Ken Follett: I have enjoyed some of his other books, such as Pillars of the Earth, but it's been several years since I have read one. So far, it's an interesting slice of history with a bit of action and romance thrown in between.

Current Running Path - 

Current Drink - Coffee with milk 

Current Excitement - Getting rid of the car; I decided to donate it and it feels good to finally make a decision! 

Current fashion trend

Current Favorite Blog/Website - I've been using Feedly for my blog roll and so far, it's pretty good.

Current Garden Item - Cherry tomatoes, squash, zucchini, basil and ONE tiny cucumber.

Current Love - Iced coffee on the back porch in the sun with my feet up.

Current Food - Burritos. My love for them will never die. With lots of salsa!

Current Indulgence - Brunch this weekend: blackberry coconut pancakes, fried chicken, pickled fried green tomatoes (these were so good!) and a coconut fig scone! 

Currently Pondering - How I am going to fit in yoga each week, as I have a Groupon which expires next week that I need to use! 

Current Mood - Pretty tired.

Current New Find - This Pandora station. It's PERFECT for the gym! 

Current Outfit - I have not been super exciting lately in the outfit department. Jeans and t-shirts with flip flops is pretty much the standard. 

Current Peeve - People who are inconsiderate. Today I was on the bus and it was pretty full and this one girl had her legs halfway in a second seat with her purse on the seat as well. Nobody wants to ask her to move it because she also has this "don't F with me" look on her face. What the...? To top it off, she ate a bag of chips and then threw the empty bag on the floor. 
Current Song - This song really gets me going when I am running, especially when I am on a particularly hard hill and I am pumping my way (slowly) up it.


Current Triumph - Completing 50k number four without dying or injuring myself. 
Current TV Show -  Big Bang Theory. It seems to always be on, so I put it on in the background a lot.

Current Wish-List - More hours in a day. Work has been pretty much taking most of them lately. 

Currently Delaying - Going to Costco. It's always busy; I always buy more than I need; I never get out of there without spending at least $200.

What is you current love? Current new find? What do you use in place of Google Reader?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Free City Guides

View of Montmarte from a window in the Musée D'Orsay.
Want a lightweight, three-page city guide to help you find the cheapest eats, the best attractions, climate information, embassy locations, and transportation suggestions? 

Hostelworld has just the thing.  They list more than ninety free pocket guides for cities around the world. 

Download and print the guides (They're all PDF files.) from your computer before leaving home.  Tucking these into your pack, pocket or purse won't weigh you down.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Squamish 50k

You may remember the Dolly Parton song? "Working nine to five, what a way to make a living..." Spoiler alert: this race took me 8 hours! I started at 9 and finished at 5. I have to admit, I was not really prepared to be on my feet that long.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This is what the race director wanted out of this course:

1) Super Challenging
2) As scenic and beautiful as possible
3) A wild experience that doesn't feel contrived

The race started at Alice Lake, which is a little bit north of the town of Squamish and sits at an elevation of about 600 ft.  There was an early start at 8 a.m. for those who did not think they would make the 10 hour cut off. I have to admit, I wasn't really sure where I would stand for this race. The hard thing about trail races is that you can't necessarily say that if you run one 50k in 5 hours you will run them all in 5 hours. So far, the few that I have been: 5:09 (about 5,000 ft gain), 6:30 (about 8,000 ft gain) and 5:04 (about 4,000 ft gain). So I figured that this race, at about 9,000 ft gain, would take me about 7 hours.

Amber started at the early start, so I hung out and cheered her on and then went to watch the 50 mile runners come through with Amber's mom. While there, I befriended one of the volunteers, and we all had a great time chatting and cheering on the 50 mile runners. Then it was my turn to start. Our race started at 9, which seems pretty late to me. Usually these races start around 7.

The first 6 miles were relatively flat (it was slightly uphill) and mostly consisted of a nice spongy, soft single track which made it way through the trees. So this was nice and shady and at this point it was not too hot. The first aid station was at about 5 miles, and I quickly grabbed an orange and a swig of water and moved on. The next four miles were straight up.

Error #1: The night before, I had put my bladder in the freezer, thinking that it was going to be really hot (temperatures were forecasted in the 90s). However, it was not as hot as I thought it would be, and even the extra hour in the morning did not give it time to melt. I barely had any water for this entire climb. As it would melt, I would get a sip, but it wasn't enough. Luckily the reason that it wasn't melting is because it was cool outside, so I wasn't overly hot.

Error #2: I focused a lot on the uphill in this race when I looked at the course map, but the downhill is where I really had a slow down. The first uphill, although it looks pretty steep, was fairly easy. The trail was not as steep as I thought it would be. The first big downhill was a killer. It was a single track, rocky, technical trail which was difficult to get down without hurting something. So I took it pretty slow and got passed a lot on this section.

There was another aid station in the middle of the downhill, which was pretty sparse; I think it was water and M&Ms. I filled up my water (thankfully) and headed down the trail. I caught up with Amber right around km 20 / mile 13 and ran with her for a little while before breaking off and finishing the rest of the downhill portion. At the bottom of the hill was roughly the halfway point at Quest University, where there were icy buckets for head dipping. Also, the best thing ever, Amber's family was there and they did a great job hosing me down with sunscreen and bolstering my spirits for the next big climb.

The next section was a single-track switchback up the hill. There was a loop and a hill and some beautiful views. Somewhere in the middle of the loop, which was around km 33 / mile 20, I started to feel like I was ready to be done. I started nibbling on a Clif bar and it was my mark of how far I was. I would take a bite and then tell myself I would take one more bite at mile 21. Then it was "one more bite" at mile 22. Bite by bite, mile by mile, I got to the 40 km / 25 mile aid station.

Amber's family was there taking (bad) photos of everyone (me) and her Mom made sure that I didn't need band-aids, bug spray, food, water, socks or any other necessity. I have to say, having spectators (and "crew") at those aid stations is really nice for the runner, although sitting in the sun and waiting for a runner is not the most fun thing for them! From this aid station there were only 10 km / 6 miles left.

It was not an easy 6 miles. There were some pretty big uphills (for tired legs). There was rock scrambling and stairs. There were bike ramps that were really steep. There were bridges. It was hard. I kept thinking, "if I walk the whole way, I can still make it in ___ hours". Running math is not my strong suit.

But then, we were out of the woods (literally) and on the pavement of downtown Squamish. It was flat and paved and "only" 2 km of running from there to the finish line, were I crossed the line, got a photo taken and got a high five from the race director.

It was just what he said it would be. It was challenging; it was scenic; it was WILD.

What's the hardest race you've ever done? Do you ever do all day activities?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

One-Ways Cheaper than Multi-City Flights

In September, I'll be visiting family in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, spending three nights in each state.  When I priced the tickets in June, I used two different approaches.

The multi-city flight, using ITA Software, with one round-trip ticket (Tucson to Raleigh to Philadelphia and back to Tucson) would have cost $821.50.  Since ITA Software gives the prices for many airlines, I also checked the same round-trip ticket with the same multi-city routing and dates on an individual airline site--American Airlines.  American Airlines gave me a figure of $844.40.

Next, I priced each segment as a one-way and found an amazing price difference.  Three separate tickets cost the following: $159.80 on American Airlines for the Tucson to Raleigh flight and another $159.80 for the  Philadelphia to Tucson flight.  I also paid $138.90 for the Raleigh to Philadelphia flight using Delta Airlines.  (The price for the RDU to PHL route was prohibitively expensive on American Airlines, but fairly reasonable on Delta.  Since I was buying one-way tickets, it was easy to shop around for the best price for that segment.)

The total for my three one-way flights is $458.50 which is an astonishing $363.00 cheaper than the cheapest multi-city round-trip flight ITA was able to find.

I don't know if it is consistently cheaper to book one-way flights instead of a multi-city round-trip ticket, but I will always spend a few extra minutes to find out.  

Practicalities -

If you haven't used ITA Software yet, be sure to give it a try the next time you book a flight.  While you can't actually purchase tickets on the site, it gives more information about options than any other site I know.  You almost feel like a travel agent with all this information at your fingertips!

Note, too, that you can use ITA to find the best price on upcoming flights.  For example, I just priced a flight from Raleigh to New York (JFK) in November and found prices ranging from $183 (mid-month) to $277 (beginning of the month and around Thanksgiving).  When your dates are flexible, using this software is an easy way to find the cheapest time to fly.

Squamish 50k: Pros & Cons

Last weekend I took a quick trip up to BC to run the Squamish 50 with Amber (it was her first Ultra and she did such a great job). I flew in on Thursday evening, spent Friday in Vancouver (more on that later) and drove up to Squamish on Friday evening (more on THAT later too!)

Friday was the packet pickup, then the race started at 9 on Saturday and was a point to point from Alice Lake to downtown Squamish. This was the first year they had a 50k and 23k distance. The other years they had only had a 50 miler. This year there were all three, each starting from a different place! There were many ups and many downs in this race, pun intended. So, without further ado, here they are!


- The volunteers. They were awesome. I actually got to the start about an hour and a half early and sat and talked to one volunteer for a long time. Her daughter was running and we had a great time chatting and I even looked out for her daughter on the course, and then saw her and her daughter again at both the halfway point and the end! It's things like that which really make a great race!

- The scenery. What a great place to run! The race director did a great job making the route. It was a great mix of forest and fields, rocks and road, single track and fire road, with views to die for at every turn!

squamish 50
View from (almost) the top.
 - The challenge. If you want a challenge, this is a good race to try. Not only was there a lot of uphill, but there was an equally challenging amount of downhill (actually, there was a net downhill in this race).

- The race director. He was shaking hands, high-fiving and hugging everyone as they came across the finish line. That's why I love smaller races; everyone is just one big happy family.

- The fresh fruit. There was a lot of watermelon at this race and I loved it!

- The other runners. As always, it was great to run and chat with the other runners on the course and I made a lot of friends out there! It was great to see them at the finish and to celebrate our success together! 


- The aid stations. This was Amber's first Ultra and before the race I was giggling about the amount of food she was going to carry with her. However, she had the right idea! Aside from the aforementioned watermelon, the aid stations were lacking. Some of them had potatoes, but no salt, and others only had candy. One even was rationing water! I know it's hard to get supplies to some of the more remote areas, but I really needed some real food! And salt! I don't really love the candy/chips options though, so this is a biased review. The other thing was that the drinks were not cold, and it got pretty hot at some points. I would have paid an extra $1 (or $5) to have ice in my drinking water!

- The packet pickup. Most people were really nice but it was a little disjointed. For instance, when I asked where I could park my car (there was a lot near the finish where you park and take the bus to the start but I was going to get a ride) they weren't sure and then they finally decided that I could park it at the same place as the people who were taking the bus. However, when I asked where it was, they told me to "Google it". When I said that I didn't have service in Canada, they told me to go find a place with WiFi. Um...thanks? A map would be nice.

- There also were no maps of the course at the expo. You could get one online but the 8 x 11 was pretty small. It would have been nice to have a double sized one for friends and family to have for spectating. However, on the flip side, when the map was blown up to a readable size, it was a mighty nice map!

- The post race food. This was probably hard to control, but with your race bib you got a post race meal. What this consisted of was a choice of meals from a bunch of local food trucks. However, the first place I went to was out of food. The next place I went to was a crepe place and it was out of most savory food. Then when I ordered one, he said that it was a $7 crepe, and our bib only got us $5 worth of food. What? My runner addled mind could not comprehend. Plus I didn't have any cash with me! Was I supposed to run with it so I could pay the difference for my post race food cost?

- Speaking of post race, there was a beer garden where you could get a beer with the drink ticket that you received at the packet pickup. Well, nobody ever told me about a drink ticket at the expo, nor did they give me one. I really could have used a cold beer! 

Have you ever been to BC? Have you ever run a race in a different country? What were your pros and cons? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Alcatraz and Other Goodies

Approaching Alcatraz
Click here for lots of free stuff on the Open Culture website.  You can get e-books, movies, textbooks, college courses, foreign language tutoring for that next European vacation, as well as historical tidbits. 
"...break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz."
Right now, on the first page of the site, there's a 1946 Alcatraz Prison menu for a week's meals.  Experts said this was an impossible prison from which to escape because the frigid waters surrounding the island would kill any escapee within an hour.  
When the prison was occupied, a mattress would have been squeezed into the wooden planks on the right of the cell.
Still, if you had to be stuck there in one of the tiny cells, you would eat well. Meat croquettes with bechamel sauce for dinner, anyone?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Unique Budget Lodging

No, this is not what I have in mind!
I wrote this article in 2009, but David's and my trip through northern Arizona made me realize it's still just as relevant today.  Especially along the Mother Road, Route 66, unique and inexpensive motels abound, but these lodgings are also waiting to welcome you along America's other byways.
The Desert Sun looks inviting.
If you're looking for something special at a price that's usually half that of chain motels, be sure to look for these mom and pop places.  Here's the 2009 article.              
About five years ago, I traveled across country staying at some of the cheapest and most interesting motels in the United States. These are the small-town, forgotten motels with names like the Dew Drop Inn or the Wigwam; the ones that were on a major highway before the Interstate system bypassed them. Here you will find unique floor plans and, sometimes, astonishing color schemes. I'll never forget the place in Kansas with a grass-green bedroom and a Pepto Bismol-pink tiled bathroom! But, regardless of the décor, one consistent feature of all these motels is price. They are 50 to 75% cheaper than their counterparts on the Interstate.
Or how about spending a night at Earl's?

Continue Reading>>

Randoms and Fixed

Remember the broken items of July? We are well on our way to getting those fixed! However, there have been some snags (and lags). I sent the Garmin back and I received a new one in the mail and guess what? It was the wrong model!! The one I sent them is a new one (the 410) and they sent me back an 8 year old 305! So now I have to send IT back and wait for another new one!

Speaking of that, I was really hoping to get it back before the Squamish 50k! I can't run an entire 50k in a new, cool place, with lots of ups and downs without my Garmin! What will I do!?

I also figured out the car situation. I decided to donate it to the American Cancer society. However, the process has taken longer than I thought. You have to fill out the online form, then they send you a confirmation, then you send in your pink slip and once they receive it, they come and get the car, which they then sell for cash. I lagged on sending in the pink slip, as for some reason I was worried I would do it wrong. Well I finally sent it on Thursday and will hopefully hear from them soon about coming to get the car!

The bike is fixed as well! I took it out for a test ride after I picked it up from the shop and it shifts perfectly. Plus they only charged me $30 instead of the $60 they quoted! In fact, I liked them so much that I told my friend about the shop and he asked if I could take his bike in, so on Saturday I rode his bike over there and left it with them! We are getting things fixed over here! I would like to incorporate a once a week or every two weeks bike ride into my schedule but am not sure I will be able to until after the 50 mile race in October. Luckily in the Bay Area, we can run and ride year round!

Manifesto -- Bike Shop

It feels really good to check things off the list, especially ones that have been on there for a while, or ones that are kind of a big deal. It's often easier to do the "fun" things on the list and to pass over the more tedious ones. I am glad to get these done!

What fun things have you checked off your list this summer? What tedious ones have you checked off?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Strike Two

If you are planning on visiting the Bay Area this week, don't. You have probably heard about the BART strike, but in case you haven't, here's the low down. About a month ago, the workers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system went on strike because they thought they deserved higher pay.

The BART workers are unionized, and according to sources, are requesting a 23% pay increase. According to the same source, the average BART worker makes $83,157, up from $80,588 in 2010. Supposedly they also get pensions without contributing anything, and only pay around $90 a month for health insurance, regardless of family size.

A month ago, the strike lasted for four days. Luckily, it was the week of the 4th of July and so there were not as many people going to work that week. However, the average daily ridership of the BART is about 400,000 people.

They went back to work and were going to try to work things out in a month. Well, the month is up and they still have not worked things out. So today, they are going back on strike (as far as we know).

I do not use the BART. As you know, I take the casual carpool. So I should have no problem, right?

Wrong. Everyone and their mother who normally takes BART is going to have to get to work somehow. Unfortunately, there are bridges and you have to get over them. So there are going to be a lot more people driving. So there is going to be a traffic back up a lot earlier than normal.

The question is...when?

As you are reading this, I may be waiting in line for a carpool. I may be on a bus. I may be sitting on the Bay Bridge with a million other cars, at an ungodly hour of the morning. All I know is that it's not going to be easy, or fun. It's going to be a huge cluster.

I am not sure how or if they will come to an agreement. If they do raise the wages, likely it will mean a huge cost increase for riders. If they don't, well, I don't know what will happen. But I hope it doesn't take too long.

**Edited to add: Last night at the very last minute, the governor of California stepped in and a 7 day investigation is going to be done, so the BART is running today! However, if no resolution is made by Sunday, there is still a possibility of a strike next Monday.**

What do you think? Should they get a raise? Have you been following the story at all?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Travel Bottles for Tightwads

Brincatti travel bottles were recently advertised on Johnny Jet's newsletter.  And Johnny says that 2,300 kits sold in five minutes on QVC.

The Brincatti site emphasizes the ease of filling the wide-mouth containers but doesn't say anything about whether they are leak-proof.

I suppose if you have a burning desire to spend $9.99 plus shipping, you, too, could have a trio of those three-ounce bottles that may or may not be leakproof, or you could get your bottles the Tightwad Way.  The bottles I use are absolutely leak-proof (I've road-tested them all over the world.) and, best of all, they are free!

Next time you visit the drugstore where you have your prescriptions filled, ask the clerk for some of their smallest (three ounce) liquid medicine bottles.  I always offer to pay but have always been given the bottles free of charge.  These are evidently TSA approved because I have consistently carried them in my 3-1-1 quart-size carry-on and never been questioned.

I also pack the much larger liquid medicine bottles in my checked luggage for longer trips.  These have also been graciously given to me by the pharmacy.  I label the bottles with a black magic marker.

For spray bottles, I buy the little trial size/travel size hairspray bottles available in any big box store for 99 cents, dump out the contents, and fill with my own chosen hairspray.

Awesome Arizona - Honest!

I finished high school and graduated from college in Indiana, and that experience convinced me that some states have less to offer than others.  While there are wonderful people living in Indiana and other salt of the earth folks who would not live anywhere else, Indiana doesn't have much to offer topographically speaking.

It's mostly as flat as the computer screen in front of you with a few rolling hills in the southern part of the state and a few rolling sand dunes bordering Lake Michigan to the north.  That's it.  The vast middle of the state is a flat computer screen of farmland with a tree every twenty miles or so to break the monotony.  (It doesn't.)

Arizona, on the other hand, has something to intrigue everywhere you look.  In the northern part of the state are a natural wonder of the world, ancient Native American civilizations, canyons, mountains, lakes, slot canyons, and London Bridge (Really.  London Bridge was moved to Lake Havasu City.)
This is a charming mountain town with bouquets of flowers decorating the town's lampposts.
The middle of the state has the most biodiverse desert in the world with whole forests of the rare saguaro cactus while just a couple hours away are pine forests and soaring mountains.

In southern Arizona you'll find a ski lift (Mt Lemmon boasts the southernmost skiing in the USA.); Wyatt Earp's Tombstone, the town too tough to die; the old mining town of Bisbee which recently became the only city in Arizona to sanction gay marriage, and Kartchner Caverns, one of the few "living" caves in the world.

 And that's just a partial list.

So, come on over.  Do yourself a favor and visit Arizona.  How can you resist a state with towns named Show Low, Snowflake, and Strawberry?  And that's just the S's!

Awesome Arizona - Hopi Reservation

Hopi are surrounded by Navajo.
On National Public Radio (NPR) the other day, the announcer said that the Hopi Reservation was suing the Navajo Nation because the Hopi were being prevented from crossing Navajo property to reach their sacred lands.  It's no wonder the Hopi are frustrated.  Their entire reservation in Arizona is completely surrounded by the Navajo Nation.

Relations between these two tribes have never been particularly friendly, but you won't see signs of that discord when visiting the Reservation.  The proud Hopi have maintained their traditions and culture for hundreds of years, and they happily share it with visitors.

Their one request is that no one take photographs.  They want people to appreciate their culture first-hand, not through a camera lens.  David and I chafed at that restriction at first, but we discovered that not having to worry about taking the perfect shot allowed us to experience fully the places we were seeing without any distractions.  

The road leading from Winslow to the Reservation is, once again in this northeastern corner of Arizona, just a sliver of tarmac crossing a barren land.

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