Sedona

 Gorgeous stormy sky from camp on our first night in Sedona.

Gorgeous stormy sky from camp on our first night in Sedona.

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 Chuckwagon Trail.

Chuckwagon Trail.

 Aerie Trail.

Aerie Trail.

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 Mezcal Trail.

Mezcal Trail.

 Deadman Trail.

Deadman Trail.

Oh Sedona… you are so… ethereal.

People go around town in old Volvos or Subarus with licence plates like

WLDSPRIT or SNCTUARY (I can't make this sh*t up), long time no see acquaintances get into awkwardly long full body hug at Whole Food, people in the fruit aisle look at you in the eyes and smile this compassion smile, and you know they are totally looking at your aura and judging you.

OK, I give the crystal/vortex crowd a hard time, but if I’m being honest, I totally feel the Sedonal vibe and it affects me (and I did feel the vortex when we went to check out the Kachina woman last spring… I wanted to laugh it off, but I felt incredibly jittery… I do feel that stuff, maybe I should just accept my hypersensitive side).

I feel a similar vulnerability here as the one I feel in the Yukon. A rawness. I feel stripped to my essence. I can't sleep. I want to run away as much as I want to stay and dig deeper. Every single time.

Sedona and Whitehorse are healing lands. I've heard it many times. Both places chew me and spit me out a shaken but more aware being.

Maybe at some point I’ll need to admit that I am one of them, but simply hiding in dirty bike clothes while shopping for sprouts and tahini instead of wearing hemp pants and a shaman pouch around my neck.

See my previous posts (and here) on Sedona for more biking info.

Page, Lake Powell and the Wahweap Hoodos

 We camped two nights at  Lone Rock Beach by Lake Powell . It a beautiful camping spot, but it can get pretty windy. There is a beautiful beach, but it was way to cold to swim in March. We saw lots of people kayaking on the lake and exploring a cave inside Lone Rock.

We camped two nights at Lone Rock Beach by Lake Powell. It a beautiful camping spot, but it can get pretty windy. There is a beautiful beach, but it was way to cold to swim in March. We saw lots of people kayaking on the lake and exploring a cave inside Lone Rock.

 The beginning of the Wahweap Hoodoos hike. 

The beginning of the Wahweap Hoodoos hike. 

 The rickety fence I mention in the directions below.

The rickety fence I mention in the directions below.

 The fact that it a longish hike (14 km/8-9 miles) and that most of the hike is in a wash and has nothing exciting to offer (at least by Utah standards) makes it much less trafficked that the rest of the sights in the area. . A great plus: dogs are welcomed and can be off-leash!

The fact that it a longish hike (14 km/8-9 miles) and that most of the hike is in a wash and has nothing exciting to offer (at least by Utah standards) makes it much less trafficked that the rest of the sights in the area. . A great plus: dogs are welcomed and can be off-leash!

 Here we took a wrong animal path that led us close to the hoodoos, but we had to turn around because we could not keep going. Stick to the wash until you see the brush (description below)

Here we took a wrong animal path that led us close to the hoodoos, but we had to turn around because we could not keep going. Stick to the wash until you see the brush (description below)

 Exploring the first set of hoodoos.

Exploring the first set of hoodoos.

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 The Towers of Silence, the most stunning formatio. and truly a wonder of the geological world.

The Towers of Silence, the most stunning formatio. and truly a wonder of the geological world.

 The soft entrada sandstone is pure white in color and forms hoodoos that are often topped either by dark sandstone blocks or unusual boulders of purple conglomerate, composed of small pebbles bonded together. 

The soft entrada sandstone is pure white in color and forms hoodoos that are often topped either by dark sandstone blocks or unusual boulders of purple conglomerate, composed of small pebbles bonded together. 

 Left: eroded slope. Right: fluted bedrock.

Left: eroded slope. Right: fluted bedrock.

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 There are also tons of beautiful rocks in the wash, so that kept us busy!

There are also tons of beautiful rocks in the wash, so that kept us busy!

 Page is not known for its mountain biking, indeed there is only one 16 km loop around town. But we had seen pictures from that trail and wanted to check it out. It's like if Sedona trails and Moab trails had a baby trail along the Colorado River. The views are jaw-dropping and the trail is fun and flowy, with some exposure to keep it exciting. 

Page is not known for its mountain biking, indeed there is only one 16 km loop around town. But we had seen pictures from that trail and wanted to check it out. It's like if Sedona trails and Moab trails had a baby trail along the Colorado River. The views are jaw-dropping and the trail is fun and flowy, with some exposure to keep it exciting. 

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 While the Antelope Canyon parking lot was packed and there was a line of people looking like ants to get to Horseshoe Bend, we only saw one guy jogging the Rimview trail with his dogs and only 5 parties on the hike to the Wahweep hoodoos ON A SATURDAY! Definitely, two of Page area best kept secrets!

While the Antelope Canyon parking lot was packed and there was a line of people looking like ants to get to Horseshoe Bend, we only saw one guy jogging the Rimview trail with his dogs and only 5 parties on the hike to the Wahweep hoodoos ON A SATURDAY! Definitely, two of Page area best kept secrets!

There used to be two ways to reach the Wahweap Hoodoos. Now the only way is to hike 9.2-miles roundtrip from Big Water, Utah, which is located about 20 min from Page, AZ (the trailhead is marked on Google Map as Wahweap Hoodoos trailhead). It used to be possible to access them from the southern end of Cottonwood Canyon Road (located near Churchwells, Utah) for a mere 2-mile roundtrip trek, but the BLM closed it because people abused it. It says it is closed to vehicular traffic, but it might be accessible by bike, which would be a great way to shorten the approach to the hoodoos. Here is the info if you want to check it on bike (but it would be even better to check with the Big Water Visitor Center): The non-vehicular approach to the Wahweap Hoodoos is along an undesignated track, rough in places, that forks northeast 1.5 miles from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, which joins US 89 between mileposts 17 and 18. This bends eastwards after a few miles, past several junctions and ends after 10.5 miles right beside Wahweap Creek, from where the hoodoos are a short walk south.

There is a 2 WD parking lot and a 4 WD parking lot 0.8 mile further after the sometimes muddy creekbed. When you arrive at the wash, look for a sign along a rickety fence that reads Wilderness Study Area. After 3 miles of hiking in Wahweap wash (a normally dry, hot and shadeless trek: be prepared with adequate water, sunscreen, and protective clothing), you see the first sets of hoodoos. Make sure to stay in the wash the whole time (sticking to hard mud patches to make your hike less strenuous) and not take the side animal trails or you will have to retrace your steps (even if they seem to lead closer to the hoodoos).

You will come to a big patch of high brush and see the hoodoos behind that. Just make your way through the brush. You have arrived to the first set of hoodoos. Make sure you keep going just around the corner to see the Towers of Silence, rising like white ghosts, which are the most stunning (look for the White Ghost on Google Map, make sure you have your phone with you to locate the formations, it was really helpful). GPS Coordinates for the Towers of Silence 37°09’45” 111°42’45”

We believe that big sections of the wash could be done on a fat bike or even on a mountain bike with wide tires, which would shorten that less interesting part. Of course, the wash structure will change according to the rain, so check before going! There are several very short slot canyon tributaries, on the east side (check topo map).

 

 

 

The 24 Hours of Old Pueblo

 The storm before the storm.

The storm before the storm.

 Friday sunset cocktail party at the Whiskey Tree.

Friday sunset cocktail party at the Whiskey Tree.

 Tying a bottle to the Whiskey Tree.

Tying a bottle to the Whiskey Tree.

 Got Lobster?

Got Lobster?

 Let’s go ride bikes in AZ they said, it’ll be warm and sunny, they said...

Let’s go ride bikes in AZ they said, it’ll be warm and sunny, they said...

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 Jason in the stampede at the beginning of the race.

Jason in the stampede at the beginning of the race.

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 I love how these guys kept themselves entertained with that "piñata" while waiting for the dad to ride by.

I love how these guys kept themselves entertained with that "piñata" while waiting for the dad to ride by.

 Antonio on his first lap.

Antonio on his first lap.

 That's the spirit.

That's the spirit.

 The water bottles of the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo from the last 13 years.

The water bottles of the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo from the last 13 years.

 Lance Armstrong!

Lance Armstrong!

 The Saturday night Happy Hour crew at the Whisky Tree.

The Saturday night Happy Hour crew at the Whisky Tree.

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 Diedra rocking it.

Diedra rocking it.

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 The CycloKeg going down the rock drop!

The CycloKeg going down the rock drop!

 Antonio and Jason on their 6th lap!

Antonio and Jason on their 6th lap!

 Our friends 4-men single speed team, the Fearless Foursome, finished in 3rd place with 21 laps!!

Our friends 4-men single speed team, the Fearless Foursome, finished in 3rd place with 21 laps!!

 This is E.T. It’s his 14th year of doing the 24HOP in solo. He is a fascinating man. He bought that truck brand new in 1973 (he calls it the coyote den). He is a fire fighter and was sent to help during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the big fires of California over Christmas. He’s worked in Tok, Alaska and lives in a remote rural area near the Mexican border. He speaks Portughese and Spanish and asks the most interesting questions.

This is E.T. It’s his 14th year of doing the 24HOP in solo. He is a fascinating man. He bought that truck brand new in 1973 (he calls it the coyote den). He is a fire fighter and was sent to help during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the big fires of California over Christmas. He’s worked in Tok, Alaska and lives in a remote rural area near the Mexican border. He speaks Portughese and Spanish and asks the most interesting questions.

 It’s like someone had a deal with the weather gods... The weather was perfect for about 30 hours just for the race, and then it rained again!

It’s like someone had a deal with the weather gods... The weather was perfect for about 30 hours just for the race, and then it rained again!

 Rain in the desert is pretty special.

Rain in the desert is pretty special.

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This weekend marked 19 years of enjoying Sonoran Desert singletrack at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. One of the largest 24 Hour events in the world, this race has the reputation of being biking’s Burning man and can be anything to anybody... pro racers, party riders, soloists, corporate riders, single speeders... but it sure feels like there are two different races going on as my friend Antonio likes to say: the Spandex vs the Monkey suits.

Away from everything, this trail is only busy one week out of the year. The cows look at us in confusion as we ride by, the jack rabbits scamper off and they all probably wonder what they did to offend the gods for such mayhem to take over their otherwise quiet home...

There’s a new record for single speed solo male this year with 19 laps!! Imagine that! 19 laps 17 miles lap in 24 hours!!

Founded in 1999, Epic Rides has become world famous for producing events that celebrate the many positive aspects of mountain biking. Events such as the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Whiskey Off-Road, Grand Junction Off-Road and the Tour of the White Mountains are popular with participants because they offer challenging, fun riding and emphasize the joy and camaraderie inherent in the sport. 

Havasu Havoc 2018

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I sit on the pointy rocks on the side of the trails, carefully avoiding the cacti, camera ready, waiting for someone I know to ride by. Every time, I am surprised when JF tells me that one of the girls is first or second. I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m proud. Or is it the right feeling? I struggle with the idea of pride... JF and I don’t have much to do with their successses. I always tell the girls that I am proud FOR them, not OF them.

The world of competition is new to me. I’ve never been an athlete and never will be. I’ve never competed or stood on a podium. In my world, swimming lessons were synonymous of shame and anxiety. So I am a rookie here. Cheering from the sidelines, taking pictures, following JF’s lead. Like many, I used to assume that a lot of these kids were pushed by their parents to compete. What I see now is that this is more the exception than the rule. I see happy excited kids that raise to the challenge. I see our girls count the days before the race. Sure, I also occasionally see meanness and jealousy, over zealous parents and crushed egos, but I what I mostly see is excitement, self-confidence, satisfaction and pride. And it’s a pretty humbling experience. 

 

Prescott, AZ

 Exploring the Granite Dells.

Exploring the Granite Dells.

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 Willow Lake seen from the Granite Dells.

Willow Lake seen from the Granite Dells.

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 Riding the Sundog Trail. Photo by Jason Liske.

Riding the Sundog Trail. Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Photo by Jason Liske.

Photo by Jason Liske.

 Watson Lake. Photo by Jason Liske.

Watson Lake. Photo by Jason Liske.

 Our campsite at White Spar Campground and the trails nearby.

Our campsite at White Spar Campground and the trails nearby.

 Cold Brew Negroni. Recipe on my  Instagram account . So good!

Cold Brew Negroni. Recipe on my Instagram account. So good!

The weather was unusually warm in Prescott for this time of year, so that meant we could comfortably camp (0 degrees nights and nice warm days) and most of the bike trails were rideable. Our original plan was to go on a BLM camping spot on Thumb Butte Mountain, but there was snow and mud on the steep climb to get there, so we turned around and went to White Spar Campground. For $10/night, you get a big asphalted lot with a picnic table and fire rink and access to a bathroom. There is no water on site at this time of year, but it’s easy to go dump and fill at Affinity RV for free. AND there are lots of bike trails that start right from the campground (Twist and Shout, Apple Blossom, Goldwater Lake). We rode a lot during our stay here and checked out many different areas. The number of bike trails here is just incredible! I think the favorite was Badger Mountain and Sundog and we also liked the new trails at Spence Basin (Tunnel Vision), but there were many more that we liked. Prescott has over 250 miles of beautiful trails. The Trailfork app is the best app to use for this area, as well as the PMBA website for trail conditions.

On the other side of town, there are two reservoir lakes (Watson Lake and Willow Lake) surrounded by the Granite Dells, a landscape reminescent of the Alabama Hills (where you can ride some pretty technical trails), and completely different from the area where we were camped.

 

Estrella Hedgehog 2018

 Amazing food to feed an army prepared by our friend Diedra.

Amazing food to feed an army prepared by our friend Diedra.

 Our little set-up at Estrella Mountain Regional Park competitive loop.

Our little set-up at Estrella Mountain Regional Park competitive loop.

 Leg marking to identify the categories

Leg marking to identify the categories

 Antonio.

Antonio.

 JF coming in hot!

JF coming in hot!

 Energy chew have to be accessible when you ride. They also might get extra crunchy...

Energy chew have to be accessible when you ride. They also might get extra crunchy...

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 She had that big beautiful smile the whole time!

She had that big beautiful smile the whole time!

 Mathilde at the finish!

Mathilde at the finish!

 Mara on the podium, 1st place! Sisters supporting sisters!

Mara on the podium, 1st place! Sisters supporting sisters!

 So proud of herself!

So proud of herself!

Just a week ago, Mathilde and Aisha were not interested in racing the next bike race - The Estrella Hedgehog, but at the last minute, Mathilde decided to register (she is in the same category as Mara, 13-14 yo – the age the child will have at the end of the year – so on the young side of her category) and Aisha decided to race up a category (in the 15-16 yo) because the course was more interesting in her opinion (the 15-16 are on the adult long loop -10 mile with some pretty technical and loose sections - instead of doing 5 junior loops like the 13-14). The other reason is because she finds it too emotionally hard to race against her twin sister. So this was perfect. There were 9 girls registered in her category and her only wish was to no finish last. She came in second and surprised us all (and herself!!). She so needed that confidence!
Mara had a great race and finished first on 15 girls in the 13-14 and Mathilde rode very well with a big smile on her face the whole time and finished 9th!
JF also had a great race and finished 12th on thirty-something racers. Our friends all had great races and podiums too!! What a day!

McDowell Meltdown 2018

 Our set-up for the race near the Competitive Loop (4 Peaks).

Our set-up for the race near the Competitive Loop (4 Peaks).

 Jason leading the pack of Intermediate Single Speeders.

Jason leading the pack of Intermediate Single Speeders.

 Antonio after his first lap.

Antonio after his first lap.

 Diedra at the start (women intermediate 40-49)

Diedra at the start (women intermediate 40-49)

 Mara on her first lap.

Mara on her first lap.

 Ben closing the gap!

Ben closing the gap!

 Mara at the finish!

Mara at the finish!

 Mara came in third (over 14 girls) in her category (13-14 yo girls)!!

Mara came in third (over 14 girls) in her category (13-14 yo girls)!!

Last year, the McDowell Meltdown was JF and Mara's first ever bike race. You might remember that they had registered just for fun. This year, they came in a little more prepared (but not super well-trained since they both got a nasty bug over the holidays). They still did great and had a good time. 

Some of you have asked why Aisha and Mathilde did not do the race. The answer is that they simply didn't feel like it. They might or might not ride the other races in a few weeks. Our girls are free to choose, of course! As for me, I'm not interested in racing (nor am I in racing shape!).

We had never stayed at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park campground (we rarely pay for campsites), but this was well-worth it since they could pre-ride the course during the week and because there are also tons of trails that you can ride right from your campsite. We explored some trails, but there are still lots we haven't had a chance to ride. There are all types of trails, from wide sandy washes to steep rocky trails.

The sites are huge and well-spaced, they all have power and water ($30), but make sure you reserve in advance online because they fill-up pretty quickly at this time of year. If the campground is full, there is an overflow where you can stay for $20/night with no services, but access to showers and dump station.

Ending the year in the Strongholds

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Don't you just love it when you are with people with whom everything is so easy and simple and fun? I've said it before and I'll say it again: these guys feel like family! We spent a wonderful laid back weekend with them in the Dragoon Mountains, also called Cochise Strongholds. I've written on the blog about this place a few times already, so if you want more practical info about the camping or rock climbing, just search the blog with the hashtag cochise. 

We just love this place. There is an incredible sense of peace in these mountains. I love watching every sunrise and sunsets from the top and see how the orange light plays with the dry grass. Some people have compared it to some areas in Australia and even the African Savannah. I cannot help but think about Cochise and his troops who hid in those mountains for 2 years...

P.S. There is a pretty cool story about that van… We bought it from a gut that had imported it from California in 2000, used it, crossed Canada in it with our big St. Bernard to move to the Yukon, and sold it in 2005 to our friends Antonio and Pascale when I was expecting Mathilde (we camped in it with the twins in the Yukon, BC and Alaska – the first time they were only 2 months old!). Antonio and Pascale were moving to San Diego for Pascale’s postgraduate study, so the van was going back to its original home. Many years later, while he was working on the van, Antonio came across the manufactured date… which happened to be on his exact birthday. Not only the same year and the same month, but the same day too! How cool is that! So Tony the van, turned 40 on the same day as Antonio! And they are both off to many more adventures!

Sedona

 Riding Adobe Jack and Ant Hill.

Riding Adobe Jack and Ant Hill.

 Exploring the new bike park.

Exploring the new bike park.

 Hiking up Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

Hiking up Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

 Coming down Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

Coming down Cathedral Mountain with our friends.

 We celebrated Halloween in Sedona. I was a tree (and JF a tree hugger) and the girls were a bat, a pirate and a jail escapee who had just robbed a bank.

We celebrated Halloween in Sedona. I was a tree (and JF a tree hugger) and the girls were a bat, a pirate and a jail escapee who had just robbed a bank.

 Hike up and around Doe Mountain.

Hike up and around Doe Mountain.

 Doe Mountain hike.

Doe Mountain hike.

 Father-daughter ride on Highline.

Father-daughter ride on Highline.

 Riding Slimshady with the demo Scott Bikes.

Riding Slimshady with the demo Scott Bikes.

 Sitting at the Kachina Woman Vortex, near Boyton Canyon.

Sitting at the Kachina Woman Vortex, near Boyton Canyon.

We were in Sedona in the Spring and I wrote a post containing lots of information about biking and hiking trails already, so I won't rewrite that part here, but will add more about the new trails we discovered (and loved) this time. We explored the Adobe Jack sector with a family we had just met and really liked the trails there. The view from Teacup is amazing, but a good chunk of it is pretty technical. We were quite surprised by Jordan, a trail we hadn't heard much about, and it's beautiful slickrock sections. We really liked Javellina and Ant Hill also. 

I redid Aerie with the girls and it's just such a beautiful flowy trail, so is Adobe Jack (a great family trail!). JF and Mara went to ride Highline, Slimshady, Made in the Shade and Templeton. JF went to explore the Hogs by himself and report on how technical they were.

It was super fun to celebrate Halloween there too. We had no idea how it would be or which neighborhood we would visit to go trick or treating since the houses are all pretty far apart. We found out at the last minute that the big celebration was happening on Main Street where all the stores gave out candies and there were shows in the streets. There was a great zombie Thriller performance and the atmosphere was amazing. Tons of dressed up adults and kids alike. Definitely an Halloween that we will remember for a long time!

We hiked up Cathedral Mountain with our new friends (actually, the daddy and kids did, while the moms stayed down with the big dogs - it's not a place to bring your dog, way to sketchy).
We also hiked up and around Doe Mountain which was beautiful. That's also where we heard our first rattlesnake! It was surprisingly loud. Still very glad for the warning he gave us!

On our last day, we went to explore one of the vortexes too (the Kachina Woman) since it is one of the main Sedona attraction. I was kind of lukewarm about it. You know me, I don't like to go where the crowd goes... And well, many years ago, I got kicked out of an energy healing class because my skeptical energy was disruptive to the group (nobody told me to drink the cool-aid before registering). Anyways, I didn't think I would feel anything special at the Kachina Woman Vortex and went up there chuckling like a teenager among the serious vortex seekers, but I did feel something. That shut me up. Go life, keep surprising me, I love it!
 

 

The Grand Canyon or hiking across one of the Seven Wonders of the World for his 40th birthday

 Hike to Ooh Aah Point with friends.

Hike to Ooh Aah Point with friends.

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 JF showing Antonio where the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim will take him the next day.

JF showing Antonio where the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim will take him the next day.

 Looking down into the Canyon from Ooh Aah Point.

Looking down into the Canyon from Ooh Aah Point.

 One of the many morbidly obese squirrel...

One of the many morbidly obese squirrel...

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 It was pretty smoky in the canyon, which made it a bit more challenging to breathe.

It was pretty smoky in the canyon, which made it a bit more challenging to breathe.

 Waiting for JF and Martin to emerge from the big hole after their incredible Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim feat.

Waiting for JF and Martin to emerge from the big hole after their incredible Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim feat.

 Just a tiny part of the many switchbacks Martin and JF hiked on their 74 km long day.

Just a tiny part of the many switchbacks Martin and JF hiked on their 74 km long day.

 The champions!

The champions!

 More and more, Aisha and Mara sleep in the tent or the Westy so they have their little corner.

More and more, Aisha and Mara sleep in the tent or the Westy so they have their little corner.

 Our beautiful campsite in the National Forest near the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon.

Our beautiful campsite in the National Forest near the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon.

 Life at camp with the boys.

Life at camp with the boys.

We had visited the Grand Canyon 5 years ago with the girls and it was still one of the highlights of our first year on the road, mostly because of our memorable hike into the canyon in the dark to watch the sunrise from Ooh Aah Point

Last year, JF had decided that he wanted to run/hike the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim for his 40th birthday, that is from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, a 74 km feat with a crazy elevation change of 3,368 m. It was quite a challenge! I was glad his cousin Martin was joining him. Our friends Antonio and Pascale (and the boys!) came all the way from Tucson to spend the weekend with us. It was really cool to see the boys reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. We had a beautiful day of hiking with them to Ooh Aah Point and many beautiful discussions as usual.

On the Sunday, Martin and JF left camp at 4:30 am and had only told us that they estimated it would take them between 12 to 16 hours to complete their adventure. So, the girls and I arrived at the Canyon Rim as the sun was disappearing. Lots of people were still coming up from the Bright Angel Trail before darkness fell. A worried friend was calling a name down into the canyon, the shuttle buses were packed with day trippers going back to their cars and hotels. Quickly, night fell and we could barely see down into the canyon, the bright half-moon illuminating only a few sections of the trail. Two rangers walked down with flashlights and came back 25 minutes later with an exhausted man. The girls and I got our hopes up every time we saw two headlamps down below on the trail, we tried to listen for familiar voices, knowing quite well that after 73 km, it was very likely that the boys didn’t have the energy to talk anymore. We were almost alone at the trailhead now, an eerie feeling in a place so busy during the day. A woman waiting for her friends sat nearby and started playing the flute. We sat in silence with the warm wind on our faces, listening to her melodious complaint.

We waited some more, danced and did jumping jacks in the moon shadow to stay warm, talked about fear and the ball that settled in our stomachs as time went by. After 3 hours of waiting, we finally heard from them (they had a pocket of connexion in the canyon). They were exhausted, but OK, and only 3.5 km away. We jumped in relief and joy and craziness took over as the building anxiety dissolved. It was hard to keep quiet but we wanted to surprise them! Finally, we saw one headlamp and a familiar shape. The girls were sure it was JF, but I couldn’t recognize his gait… and well, there was only one headlamp… it couldn’t be them… But as he neared the last switchback, we could see clearly that it was an exhausted JF, leaning on his poles as he painfully climbed the last stretch. The girls ran down the trail, screaming their joy and congratulations. We had never seen JF that exhausted! Martin was right behind (he had lost his headlamp). They had spent 15 and a half hours in the Canyon going from the South Rim to the North Rim and back (74 km). What an accomplishment! They both agreed that the last 20 km were too much before falling into bed, without dinner or celebratory beer.

Sedona, Sedona!

Hike to Devil's Bridge.

One of the views on Devil's Bridge Trail.

Red rock scrambling on the Devil's Bridge hike.

Look carefully, the girls are standing on the bridge! A bit nerve wracking for a mom!

We spent a lot of time by the river near the Mezcal trailhead, building structures, cooling off and washing ourselves a bit.

Reading by the river during the hottest time of day.

Exploring ruins on the West Fork Trail.

The first of many river crossings on West Fork Trail.

Many beautiful evening by the fire with our friends.

Meeting people on the road and traveling with others is one of the most amazing parts of this lifestyle. Needless to say, it’s also one of the most challenging. Setting boundaries when sharing the same public space is not easy. Making plans as a group can be an exhausting task.

But karma is an interesting beast (bonus points if you use the word Karma while in Sedona, extra bonus points if you can combine it with the word Vortex in the same sentence). So it is that I get plenty of opportunities to practice... a vortex of opportunity ;)

I love meeting new people. I am also pretty active on social media, so I am in touch with great people living on the road. After 4 years of this life, we’ve had lots of amazing encounters... and a few harder ones. This week, we had a miscommunication with a family we were eager to meet and the whole thing turned sour. People got their feelings hurt and I felt like shit. So long for trying to be more assertive and honest in setting boundaries...

So back to Sedona. It’s a gorgeous place, but man it’s touristy... We had to go on bike rides and hikes early in the morning to beat the crowd (lots of retired people hiking the trails and young spring breakers, which makes for not-so-flowy bike rides)... It feels like Sedona’s infrastructure has not adapted to the amount of visitors (or maybe it’s all part of the business plan). The trailhead parking lots are almost always overflowing along the roads, the roundabouts in town are always jammed... We were lucky to find a great boondocking spot away from the craziness of the town in West Sedona, near Nolan Tank/Loy Canyon. We were a 12 minutes drive from one of the best trail networks in town and midway between Sedona and Cottonwood (doing laundry and grocery shopping is much cheaper there).

The Crystal crowd is real in Sedona. You can have an aura reading followed by a vortex tour or a UFO tour??... People make eye contact in that I-sense-your-beautiful-spirit kind of way at Safeway... and when I bought chicken necks for the dog at Whole Food, the cashier assumed I was making bone broth, the old lady at the coffee shop who laid hands on our friends’ dog hips saying she was sensing pain without first acknowledging them (because, you know, connexion with the animal kingdom)... The convergence of these different crowds (the old hippies, the mountain bikers, the retired RV community, the people that come here to do Pink Jeep or Hummer tours and on top of it this week, the Spring Break kids...) makes for quite the combo. But that’s what makes Sedona, Sedona and it’s all part of the experience.

We have explored only a fraction of the trails Sedona has to offer and saved many for next time. Sedona is known for its pretty advanced mountain bike trails and I had heard many times there was nothing except the Bell Rock Path (a wide green trail) that was not hard. We were happy to discover a loop that we really liked near our camp spot that was fun without being too technical (Park at Mezcal trailhead, do Long Canyon + Deadman Pass + Aerie, turn left on Cockscomb, turn left of Dawa, return on the road to trailhead). The Mezcal trail is beautiful (blue-black) if you are comfortable with some exposure (and maybe walking a few pretty rocky sections). For more intermediate/advanced riders, Slim Shady, Templeton and Llama are great. Hiline was JF’s and Antonio’s favorite (solid black). We didn’t get to ride Canyon of Fools, Chuckwagon and many more (JF and Antonio wanted to do the Hogs but ran out of time).

As for hiking, it’s the same network, plus some. We only did two hikes during our week: Devil’s Bridge (the hike itself is only 1 mile to the Bridge, but you have to walk down a rugged Jeep trail for a mile prior, so this part was not so great, but the Bridge hike is nice, but so very crowded). Same thing for the other hike we did on the other side of town (towards Flagstaff), another one of the most popular hikes in the area called West Fork, during which you have to cross the river 13 times. A super fun family hike on a warm day, but get there early since the parking lot is small and gets full before noon. You then have to wait in line for someone to leave to be allowed to enter. Also, even if it is a National Forest (Coconino) and you have a National Park Pass, this is a special fee zone ($10 per vehicle). Bring hiking poles and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, walk straight through the creek to avoid the crossing line-ups (yeah, it’s that busy). Both hikes were dog-friendly.

Hiking to Miller Peak and exploring the Coronado Cave, Sierra Vista, AZ

Beautiful boondocking spot at Miller Canyon

There was a beautiful creek running 300 yards from camp.

We loved that huge oak tree and sat under it during the warm hours of the day.

The snowy peak is Miller Peak. We hiked all the way to the top (9 700 feet). It was quite the hike (photos below).

We went to explore the Coronado Cave, one of the biggest unimproved cave in AZ. It's a half mile uphill hike to the cave. I highly recommend you check it out!

It was amazing! 

Then, we drove up to Montezuma Pass trailhead at 6,300 feet of elevation.

Can you see us on the mountain side?

Some parts of the trail were quite windy!

We made it to the top! Mexico on one side, USA on the other.

Cloud volcano

Right from Dr. Seuss!

Miller Peak is a landmark mountain located in far-south Arizona near the town of Sierra Vista and the Fort Huachuca Military Base. The summit reaches to 9,700 feet and is one of just five mountains in Arizona with over 5,000 feet of prominence (a so-called "ultra" peak). The summit is accessible via the Crest Trail, which runs along the main range crest (5,3 miles). It is also the first leg of the Arizona Trail, so it was fun to see thru-hikers on their first day heading towards Utah! 

It was a beautiful hike, but it was challenging given the length of it (and the fact that we had hiked to the Coronado Cave in the morning on top of it!). The trail is well-designed and is mostly of moderate grade thanks to the many switchbacks. The vegetation changed as we meandered along the ridge from the North Side to the South side. The kids and the dog were delighted to see snow.

Given the peak's proximity to Mexico, there are often border crossers who are entering into the United States via the Crest Trail. There is a border patrol on duty in the Montezuma Pass parking lot and the guy asked our friend Jason if he was carrying a weapon to hike the trail since we could possibly see some smugglers on the trail.

We don’t carry weapons... but it was still interesting to hear that AZ Trail thru-hikers have to pay close attention since the crossers trail are so used that they can be confused with the official trail! Here’s something I found on a hiking site: Attacks on hikers just do not happen. They (the smugglers) want nothing to do with you and will hide given the chance. If you should come across a group, use your best judgement.

This area is defined as a Sky Island since it is high enough to rise above the valley floors of desert scrub or desert grassland without being connected to woodlands. It ranks as the second most biologically diverse ecosystem on the planet because of the overlap and blending of several major biogeographic zones: it is the meeting place of two great deserts, the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran, and two large mountain chains, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental. The nearby San Pedro River serves as a migratory super highway for birds and other wildlife, while the Huachuca Mountains host another world of flora and fauna as they rise above 9,000 feet.

If you are planning to visit the Coronado Cave, make sure to bring a headlamp and gloves (as to not alter the rock formations) and I would have liked to have a buff or scarf because of the dust in some areas. The cave is one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. It is 600 feet long and in most places about 70 feet wide. It was super fun to explore!

 

Exploring the East Side of the Strongholds, Cochise, AZ

Our base camp.

Climbing at Vineyard Cove, a minute walk from camp.

Charlie coming down Jacob's Ladder.

Mara trying Di-vine Inspiration, 5.11, while we keep warm.

Trailhead to Zappa Dome. Once again, very happy to have a Westy Syncro to bring us there.

Down into a canyon we go. It doesn't feel like the desert at all anymore.

A stream! Water! It's been so long since we saw water on a trail.

And the stair-master from hell climb starts.

But the view is very rewarding.

Mountain goats.

Not a bad spot for sunset. We just had to make sure to be back to the Westy before it got dark. None of us wanted to do that trail back down by headlamp.

Here's a video I made with our friend's Jason's drone shots. It is such a beautiful place! I hope you'll enjoy the images and music (The Pursuit of Happiness by Beyries).

It was our first time on the East side of the Strongholds Mountains. You might remember that we camped and climbed on the West side twice in the last year. We found a great free campspot on this side too. The big plus of the West side is that the routes are right by the campsites and the approach are minimal (if any). We also found the routes more fun on the West Side. However, the view from Zappa Dome (the main sport climbing sector on the East side) is beautiful (you earn it though!). The is now a guidebook that has been published for the West side and on is supposedly underway for the East side... it is about time! The only sort-of-useful topo is handdrawn (in Mountain Project) and we ended up on the wrong route more than once... The first time we got there, we sent Mara to lead a 5.7... that turned out to be a 5.10a... Ahem.  As you can see from the video I posted, the routes are long and exposed. We found a little crag with 3 routes just by the campsites and had fun there too.

We love the Strongholds! What a rugged place it is! You can still feel the presence of the Apache and can easily imagine Cochise and his troop hiding in the heart of those mountains. It's a real maze.

Goodbye Tucson!

Oh Snyder Hill! I’m so ready to leave... I’ve been ready to leave for a while now, but great people kept coming and great events kept taking place... and well, we love our friends Antonio and Pascale and their boys who live here... but it’s more than time to get our wheels rolling towards new adventures now. I have itchy feet (I always do...), but I’m more ready than ever to discover new places, ride new trails, photograph new landscapes... and climb OUTSIDE!

As we sat down with a glass of wine one night JF and I, I told him (for the tenth time...) how ready I was to get back on the road. He told me what most of you would tell me, I’m sure : Cat, we’ve only been in the same place for two months! What would you do if we stopped traveling?

You see, that’s the assumption a lot of people have and that’s also why travelers hesitate to publicly say they are going through a tough time... 

I spoke to people that have experienced the same thing I did when we arrived in Costa Rica: boredom, a sense of disconnexion, a lack of purpose... It’s a strange feeling... to which you add the fact that you don’t want to speak about it because well, you’re traveling and most people are envious of the life you have and would trade your boredom for their busyness.

The truth is, boredom is not the opposite of busyness. I can be bored even if I have a line up of contracts. For me, it’s a lack of drive, of spark...
a sense of disconnexion with the people and the world around me. I guess that’s what boredome can feel like to an extraverted person... or maybe it's just me... but the feeling is real.

"I am convinced that boredom is one of the greatest tortures. If I were to imagine Hell, it would be the place where you were continually bored."
– Erich Fromm

 

The 24 hour of Old Pueblo

Borat style!

Kids hiked up on samples of energy bars and hydration drinks, enjoying the free race swag they got "in town".

Tire toss contest!

Lance Armstrong coming down the rock drop on his first lap.

More swag. Pickle juice for muscle cramps. Yes, it's a thing. Not the real stuff, but natural enough, and pretty tasty too.

Jump Pikachu!

Finish or die!

Antonio on the rock drop.

Single-speed rigid bike with a 12 pack of beer. To each their race.

Antonio leaving camp for his second of five 17-mile laps.

The 24 hour town at night.

The town becomes even more alive at night with colorful lights and bonfire everywhere. It was so cool to see the course illuminated by all these headlamps and bike lamps, like a thousand crazy fireflies in the dark night.

For 24 hours per year, a little corner of the desert turns into a small village. Willow Spring Ranch is a remote state trust land that barely sees a soul for the rest of the year, but during the 24 hour of Old Pueblo, one of the biggest 24 hour race in North America (and part of the Epic Rides serie), it is aptly named the 24 hour town and even has its own street signs. The jack rabbits and other critters probably wonder what they did to offend the gods for such mayhem to take over their otherwise quiet home.

There are about 500 riders on the 17-mile course at all times. Teammates have to exchange the baton in the in-and-out tent, register their lap with the officials and the next rider can go. The event gets fully booked a few hours after the registration opens, with riders coming as far as Europe to participate in the event.

The race begins at noon on Saturday with a LeMans-style start (or stampede) in which the racers have to run 1/2 mile to where their bikes are parked (in their bike shoes... ouch!). It makes for a fun spectacular start and it spaces out the the 500 + riders hitting the singletrack course. 

The 24 HOP is the Burning man of bike races and can be anything to anybody... pro racers, party riders, soloists, corporate riders, single speeders... but it sure feels like there are two different races going on: the Spandex vs the Monkey suits.

Estrella Hedgehog - Her first podium

Antonio and Jason's start (Men Single Speed Experts).

JF's start (Rock crushers), in blue in the middle.

The Estrella course is the gnarliest of the MBAA race series. It's chunky, loose and steep.

Jason crushing it.

Antonio not far behind.

JF at the end of his first loop... just before he got a flat tire.

Riding among cacti.

That Finish face says it all. Pffeeww!

And she's started smiling and fast. She even took the lead on the third lap, and never looked back.

Only one of her 5 laps left! Papa is offering her some water, but she is still going strong... and still smiling.

Proud sisters cheering!

Ben at the end of his course. Both Liske brothers crashed, but Ben was able to continue. Charlie had a harder one (and further out on the course), so he did not finish.

Waiting for the medal ceremony.

Cat on a leash with gold medal.

The face of pride! Her first time on a podium and she got the gold! The lesson in racing is the same as in life... sometimes you win...

... and sometimes you lose.

The Estrella Hedgehog is known to be the toughest course of the MBAA race series. It was quite different from McDowell's mostly groomed and bermed course. This one was loose rocks with lots of climbing. Mara knew that this was at her advantage since she is technically strong and climbs like a mountain goat. When she realized she was second after the second lap (she still had 3 laps to go), she got even more pumped and kept riding with her big signature smile and legendary stamina. She pushed and passed a bunch of kids (mostly on the uphills!). Passing is something you don't really learn other than in a race situation and can be stressful and intimidating... There were faster boys and younger kids on the course at the same time as her, so the challenge was real. For instance, when she called "On your left" (which in race lingo means I'm passing you on your left) to a younger kid in front of her, the child moved left instead of right, thinking it meant the opposite... 

JF got a flat tire just at the beginning of his second loop, so he ran back to the Westy with his bike, quickly changed his tube and got back on the trail. Diedra wasn't as lucky... she sliced her tire open further out on the course and had to scratch. 

I didn't grow up doing competitive sports and this is a new experience for me to be part of this world through Mara and JF... I still struggle when I see kids in tears on the course, but I'm also seeing how competition can exist in a very positive environment and how, when a child is old enough for that, it can be invaluable in teaching him many life skills, like perseverance, planning, stress management, focus... and how to lose with grace. Diedra and JF were great examples for our kids today, they took the challenges that were presented to them in stride and both had great attitudes about it. As was the guy who walked through the Finish line with his chain in his hand! 

 

McDowell Meltdown - Their first Mountain Bike race

Bike prep.

JF's start (in blue in the middle at the back) in the Rock Crushers category.

Antonio was racing in the Single Speed Expert category. Smile through pain!

Jason was also racing in the Single Speed Expert category. One more sports' loop to go!

JF with his it's-finally-over-face!

There was a little jump park and pump track where the kids played all weekend.

Antonio at the finish line. 

Diedra had a great race too!

Yeah, Diedra!

Getting ready for her race.

Game face on.

And it's a start!

The Liske boys' start.

Brothers side by side.

Someone was happy to finish right behind his big brother (and to get a third position!).

This girl was all smiles for the 3 loops of her course!

Keep smiling!

Race to the finish line with a boy in the same age category!

JF and Mara decided to register for the McDowell Meltdown a week before the race, just for the fun of it. They hadn't trained for a race, but had heard it was a fun course and wanted to give it a try. JF has done many trail running races, orienteering and adventure races, but never did an XC mountain bike race. 

When we saw all the teams set-up with matching race gear and the general seriousness of the event, we realized it was more than *just a friendly race*. There were over 850 participants and it ended up being the busiest event the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA) had seen in a long time. 

Mara finished 5th in the 13-14 yo girls (over 14 girls), which was very good for a girl that was doing it just for fun! She actually was faster than almost half the boys in the same age category!

JF finished 10th in his category, which was also pretty remarkable given he didn't train for a race.

The MBAA organizes a series of 6 races every year and we might attend another one in a few weeks.

It was great to reconnect with friends we hadn't seen since last summer, share a few meals (and the race jitters!) and ride with them. The mountain bike trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park are simply amazing and there are over 200 miles of trails that are accessible from there. Too bad the camping is so expensive ($30/night). There is no boondocking in the whole Phoenix area (except for Casino Parking Lots) that we know of (drop me a line in the comments if you do!), so it's a major bummer because we would have loved to spend more time there.

Our little Tucson routine

Our friends from Wisconsin came for a week during their Holidays! Of course, we went biking together!

Stout's first bike ride!

A very sweet gift from our little Ubach friends!

Mathilde New Year's cupcakes!

Eddy serenading us around the bonfire.

Life at the BLM.

Climbing on Mount Lemmon, Crags Against Humanity Sector.

Aïsha leading her first route.

Tucson is our winter trip half-way point and we tend to stop here longer and slow down. We just love how easy it is to be active here. Once again this year, we took a rock climbing gym membership at Rocks and Ropes (which includes the Bloc too, a bouldering gym), where we go about 3 times a week to climb and shower. We alternate a climbing day with a biking day since there are so many bike trails nearby. It's a pretty good routine. We try to go climb outside at Mount Lemmon on the weekends when possible (it's about an hour drive from the BLM where we camp). What's a BLM you might wonder? It's a public land where we can camp for free. In Tucson, the Snyder Hill BLM is located only 20 minutes from downtown Tucson (unlike most other BLMs in the US that are far from big cities and where the 14 day limit stay in enforced). The Snyder Hill BLM has a bit of a Slab City vibe. There are some semi-permanent residents, some big rigs that stay only a few days and pretty much everything in between. Let's just say it seems to attract what we call in the Yukon, the colorful 5 %...  You can often hear someone playing drum or strumming his guitar in the distance. If you're lucky like us, a circus couple sets up nearby with an aerial silk contraption and you can watch them practice this beautiful skill... Then, there's John, who's been our neighbor for a few weeks that pretend he worked on a set with Al Pacino and went to a party with Johnny Depp... There's Sid with his 16 years old dog who comes by when JF is working on a bike to chat... and chat some more (and his wife that keeps bringing us odd things for the girls). There's the man who sleeps in a tent and leaves every morning with a dress suit for work. And there was the crazy lady on the hill, who spent her days sitting cross-legged on top of Snyder Hill, watching over us and yelling ugly things to passerby's... until she lost it and started knocking on all the rigs' doors asking people to give her her dog back... too many Rainbows will do that to you...

Tucson feels like a second home (or maybe more like a fifth home...) and here are a few of our favorite digs and some practical info if you end up in this neck of the desert...

EAT : The best taco place in town is a little hole in the wall called Pico De Gallo; 3 incredible fish tacos (with homemade corn tortilla) for under $6. Yes, please. Only 8 minute from the rock gym!

Another place that should not be missed is Tucson Tamales (2 locations); 2 Santa Fe tamales (or Chipotle beef, our favorites!) with 2 sides of your choice (don't miss their mexican slaw) for under $8! You can also buy their tamales frozen to warm up at home!

For a unique experience (and a very cheap meal), go to Govinda Natural Food at the local Ashram. All you can eat vegetarian buffet (Tuesday is Indian Night, Wednesday and Thursday are vegan nights) with homemade papadum, delicious salad with sprouts and homecooked food ($11 for adults, $5 for kids (10-12 yo), $4 for 7-9 yo and $3 for 4-6 yo). And you can eat outside in their beautiful enclosed yard.

GROCERY : McGary's Discount Grocery (a few blocks from the Ashram) has awesome deals on expired/dented food items. Think 8 Luna Bars for $1, Kettle Chips bags for $1, Natural Krave Jerky bags for $1, cereal boxes at 3 for $5, Back to Nature nut mixes, cookies, crackers, etc for a fraction of the price, natural lotions and shampoos... even natural dog treats and recycled toilet paper at ridiculous prices. As long as you don't mind the loud Christian music blasting through the store and the near-paranoiac attitude of the store owner about having things stolen and children running down the aisles you'll love this place as much as we do.

Another great way to save money on food in Tucson is through The Club 3000 (Market on the Move). Every week you can get 60 lbs of fruits for $10 on Wednesday from 9 am to 1 pm (sometimes it's every day of the week). The content varies every week (citrus, peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggs, etc.). The best place to be kept informed is their Facebook page.

For a dirt cheap grocery store, we love Food City (a few locations in Tucson). Good ripe fruits for cheap directly from Mexico, dairies and eggs for very cheap, and great homemade nachos, taco shells and tortillas.

For good quality natural food at a decent price, we love Sprouts (a few locations in town). Great coffee and home brand products.

LAUNDRY : For the full hole-in-the-wall laudromat experience, go to Superior Cleaner (10 min from the BLM, just by Food City!). The cheapest in town (bonus soap operas in Spanish blasting on the TVs). They even provide free Wifi. 

If you rather pay more and have a clean brick-wall and lime green wall laudromat with the UofA hipsters, go to Wildcat Laudry

DUMP AND FILL : Free at the Giant gas station on the corner of Valencia and Kolb, but it's pretty far from the BLM. We go to Western Way RV Resort (10 min from BLM) for $10.

RECYCLING : There is a big recycling station at the entrance of John F. Kennedy Park, right behind the Mission Public Library (free wifi) at the corner of Ajo Way and Mission.
 


 

Rock climbing on Mt Lemmon, Tucson, AZ

Heading down to the crag from Windy Point.

These little Arizona boys haven't seen snow many times in their lives. It was a real treat to see their enthousiasm! 

Snow ball fights with the girls!

What an incredible view we had from our climbing spot!

Look at the scales on that rock! So fun to climb!

That view!!!

Antonio, Mara and JF cleaning the route from the top.

I love seeing my girls develop a relationship with these sweet boys!

Mount Lemmon towers over Tucson at an elevation of 9,150 feet. That means that when it rains in town, it snows on top of the mountain. That also means that many Mexicans pack their family in the car, cross the border and drive all the way up to Mount Lemmon to go play in snow. It is quite the sight to see all these cars driving down with snowmen built on their hoods (it seems like that's what you do...). Mount Lemmon is a prized destination for road bikers (think climbing all the way to the top and riding down!) and rock climbers alike (there are over a thousand routes on the mountain!). 

When we arrived at Windy Point (a little over 6,000 feet), the parking lot was packed with people, but Antonio knew of the perfect crag, just inches away from selfie sticks and the rowdy crowd. We spent a memorable afternoon there and left just in time to witness another amazing Tucson sunset on our drive down the mountain.

Another Christmas in Tucson

The boys made tourtières and meat pies for Christmas!

I made blueberry and cherry pies!

The girls offered us a gastronomic 3-course meal for Christmas. We were completely blown away!

Aïsha prepared us a mango-avocado-shrimp tartare that could not have been better at an high end restaurant.

Mara made a Garlic Basil Chicken with Tomato Butter Sauce. It was delicious.

 Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

And on Christmas day, we went for a geocache hike on Brown Mountain. 

We love spending Christmas with this sweet family year after year!

It's the fourth Christmas that we spend in Tucson and it has become a tradition that we all look forward to. Pascale and Antonio always welcome us with open arms. It is such a treat to see their boys grow every year and to be enjoying the outdoors with them a bit more every year.