NW Sonora’s treasure: Pinacate National Park

If there are any nice beach places on the northern Sonoran coast, I haven’t found them.  On this driving trip with Megan and Ferda, we went to both Desemboque and Puerto Peñasco, and both were stunningly awful.  With a cold wind blowing, dust in the air so we could barely see, no pedestrians, and more closed buildings and businesses than open ones, Puerto Peñasco felt like the apocalypse.  It was unrecognizable for my first visit 25 years earlier.  I don’t even think we found a part of the city that existed 25 years ago.

The draw to this region is a real gem — Pinacate National Park, a place that has changed for the better in the last 25 years.  Roads and access have improved, but it still feels like a bit of an adventure.  There’s a fantastic visitor’s center with solar power, excellent exhibits and information, and a couple, short interpretive trails adjacent to the visitor’s center where you can learn about desert vegetation and Tohono O’odham culture.  A bit farther north is a 80km sign-posted scenic dirt road to get near some of the craters that the park is famous for.  There you’ll learn about the region’s geology including the difference between tuff and maar craters and the difference between aa and pahahote lava flows.  There’s even a designated campsite at Tecolote with picnic tables and fire pits where we stayed two nights.  If you go, come prepared with food and water as there’s not much out there.  You can, however, buy firewood from El Chicle who lives near the Biological Station.

DSCN9694 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Following the footsteps of Father Kino

On this road trip we usually just camped where we wanted, often looking for places after dark since we were covering big distances and it gets dark so early in the winter.  This isn’t always the most comfortable, and Megan didn’t always like the places that we chose to spend the night.  At some places near the US-Mexico border — the area around Hachita, Animas, and Cotton City comes to mind–, it seems like we saw more border patrol vehicles than people.

In Tuscon, however, we stayed in a private room in a hostel for three nights.  One interesting aspect of this was Ferda being able to experience another slice of US society.  At my parents’ place in Newport Beach and visiting my friends in Boulder, Ferda mostly met people with university education, good jobs, and incredible knowledge of the world.  Staying at the hostel were mostly single men, some finding day jobs in Tuscon, others looking for work in Tuscon, hoping the prospects there were better than where they had come from.  There were a few other travellers like us, but that seemed to be the exception.  Everyone was friendly, of course, and most people were curious to hear from Ferda how life is in Turkey and if the political situation really is as bad as the news says it is.

And, breakfast!  Hahaha.  Anyone who’s been Turkey knows how serious the Turks take their breakfast.  Our hostel was “breakfast included” which meant some employee (probably a volunteer getting lodging in exchange for work) mixed waffle mix with water in a huge bowl and plugged the waffle iron in.  Self serve: pour a large spoonful of batter into the waffle iron and, if there’s any left, pour syrup on the waffle when it’s ready.  Tahdah, breakfast!

On the other end of the spectrum is the beer selection in the US.  Ferda was constantly amazed by the wide choice of beers, and how in every city, the selection was different.  We found great beers and a great selection at bars or restaurants in Newport Beach, Boulder, Tuscon, and San Diego.  Each restaurant had a selection that rivals anything you’d find anywhere in Turkey.  Or even Germany for that matter: during our recent trip to Hannover, it was the same narrow beer selection over and over.  The variety of beers in the US is quite incredible.

These beers are at Ermanos in Tuscon where there are 34 beers on tap and many more available in bottles:

DSCN9536 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Auto-touring: Boulder, a little caving, and west to Arizona

When Ferda and I originally started making plans to come to the US, we weren’t going to visit Colorado.  It was too far from California, and it was going to be the middle of winter, the most uncomfortable time to visit Boulder.  It was important for me that Ferda liked Boulder, and I figured coming at the beginning of January would perhaps give us the lowest chance of that.  Boy, was I wrong!  The only place we visited in the US where Ferda thought she’d like to live was Boulder.  It may not be so pedestrian-friendly by world standards, but for the US, well, Boulder does a decent job.

In Boulder we stayed downtown with Cher and Bill and their new son, Reed.  They graciously hosted a party one night where Ferda was able to meet a lot of my friends.  And even though it snowed a day or two before we arrived in Boulder, it was warm enough to get out on bikes and show Ferda the city.  A livable city, great hospitality, friends, good weather — there’s a lot to like in Boulder.  Visiting the downtown Boulder Public Library cinched the deal for Ferda.  She was blown away and didn’t want to leave.  I think she was about to cry as I was showing her around the library.  Plus there was an exhibit of Maurice Sendak drawings in the gallery!

About the only thing we did besides visit friends downtown was a short hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park.  It was chilly that day, but of course there were climbers out on the sunny cliffs.  Hopefully we’ll be back soon.

DSCN9404 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Eye candy in the desert SW

Megan, Ferda, and I took off in Megan’s little red car and visited three national parks on the way from California to Colorado.  We spent longest at Joshua Tree where we did a little climbing.  The sun might make it look warm, but it was actually quite cold during our three days there.  We were lucky to get the last available spot at the Hidden Valley Campground, an area that is very popular with climbers.  Unlike, say, Geyikbayırı or Potrero Chico, it’d be rather difficult to visit and climb here without a car.  The campground didn’t have water, you can’t make reservations, and the climbs and crags seem to be scattered over a large area.

DSCN9964 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Tourists in southern California

I’m finally getting around to writing some blogs/posting some photos about Ferda’s and my trip to the US and Mexico 16 months ago.  We spent about seven weeks in the US and five in Mexico.  I took Ferda to some of my favourite places, like Palm Springs, Troncones, and Boulder, and we also went to some new places for me like Arches NP, Papantla, and Potrero Chico.  We tied everything together by visiting friends and family along the way.  Happily, Ferda liked it all enough that she wants to go back.

First stop: southern California, via Turkish Airlines’ longest non-stop flight: İstanbul-Los Angeles.  Isn’t that convenient?  Megan and my parents arranged a couple tours in Los Angeles for us.  Ferda was most excited to visit Hollywood and most disappointed that there’s really not much to see there, although we did eat ice cream next to Muhammad Ali’s star.

DSCN0079 by bryandkeith on flickr
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