Tag Archives: hike

Hike in the Desert

Talk about fifty shades of gray. For much of the year, the entirety of the Sonoran Desert is more or less some variant on gray or brown. In spring, however, the desert landscape bursts into color with the awakening of the flowers.

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Brittlebush
My parents and I decided to take advantage of the spring weather and hike one of Phoenix’s big mountains. Phoenix is unique in many ways, but one of the things I love most about this city is the mountain ranges that rise from the center of the metropolis. In fact, Phoenix has the best urban hiking in the entire United States.

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We decided to hike Piestewa Peak, the second tallest mountain in the Phoenix Mountain Range. Piestewa used to be called Squaw Peak, but many people felt that this name was not respectful. It was renamed to honor a Native woman who died in combat in Iraq.

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Piestewa Peak stands at 2,612 feet in elevation. Its prominence is 1,175 feet. We made it up in 36 minutes. At the top we enjoyed the sweeping views of the Phoenix area. No ocean anywhere… just miles and miles of dust and hills. What a difference from the view from Pic Paradis back home! I do have to say that I love both the watery disk of Caribbean mountain top views and the endless layers of mountains in the Southwest.

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We could even see Arizona Christian University (my alma mater), Ben’s and my first apartment, and the Cardinals stadium from the peak.

We met a small, furry resident at the top of the mountain. I don’t see many squirrels in the Valley of the Sun! He’s so cute.

 

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Later, at the bottom, we saw the squirrel’s smaller cousin: a chipmunk.IMG_0305

The top of the mountains are a butterfly’s paradise. Each spring, they flit and flutter at the peaks, away from the oppression of dust and pollution.

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Black Swallowtail
At this time of year, the cactus begin to bloom. My mom says that cactus blossoms are God’s grace on an ugly plant.

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Engelmann Hedgehog
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Ocotillo
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Cholla
They certainly do add beauty to something you’d rather not hug. Still, cactus are interesting and have their own kind of charm, whether they’re blooming or not.

Desert wildflowers are gorgeous. Some years, they barely show up. Others, they carpet the hillsides in vibrant pinks and yellows. They are at the mercy of the droughts.

The quiet stillness of the hills are a refreshing break from the hurry and busyness of city life. I think that’s how we all keep our sanity. A hike to the top of the mountain puts everything in perspective.

 

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Christmas in the Caribbean

We had a white Christmas this year… A white sand beach Christmas, that is.


While most of our med school compadres went back to the States or Canada for Christmas, Ben and I opted to stay on the island. My parents and my sister flew in to spend a week on the island with us, and we had a blast! Going home to see family is awesome, but it was even better to have them come see us this time.


Being in a new place calls for new traditions, but it also shows you how important the old ones are. Sometimes you just need the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls for it to really feel like Christmas.

We ditched some of the traditional Christmassy things– no lights outside, a small paper tree rather than a real evergreen, no Christmas cookies.


We kept some of our traditions– my great grandma’s Christmas cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, reading Luke 2 from the Bible before opening presents, observing advent, Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, putting our gifts in hilariously ridiculous prank gift boxes.


We did some things we’ve never done before– “wine” (sparkling cider) and cheese for lunch, a trip to the beach.


On Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of a restless puppy wanting to go outside. Ben took her on a short walk, and I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. My parents and sister, Kaylee, came over after their morning run and we read the Christmas story in the Bible and opened gifts. When the cinnamon rolls were ready, we had breakfast.

 After this, we drove across the island to Wilderness for a hike. Before long, we could see a storm rising from the sea near St. Barth’s, so we ran back down the hill and jumped in the car just in time! We drove home and had sparkling cider, cheese, and crackers for lunch  (we’re practically on a French diet).

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My mom and I finished making the rest of the cinnamon rolls and we all headed down to Mullet Bay Beach. I grew up in Arizona and Ben grew up in subsaharan Africa, so neither of us have had many white Christmases. The lack of snow here on our tropical island was nothing new for us, but going to the beach was. It’s a welcome change!

  
At the end of the day, tired but happy, we had dinner of smoked chicken, mashed potatoes and rolls. We took a stroll to the casino to see the Christmas village in the parking lot. Then we set up the laptop and enjoyed our family favorite Christmas movie– Christmas Do-Over– while our worn-out little puppy snoozed at our feet.

The best Christmas traditions, to me, are not the ones that have to do with red and green garland, music, or food. The best tradition to have at Christmas is simply to be with family. Whether the family around you is your parents and siblings, spouse and children or your closest friends, let’s be thankful for the loved ones that God has given us.

Into the Wild

 Out into the wild we go, past the sea, and up the hill, and into the long, tall grass.

   

 We go where the breezes blow the butterflies as delicate as glass. 

Up and up, up we go. We go where the breezes blow and ripple the sea of grass.

  

Up the trail the burros know, up and up and up we go to reach the top at last.

  
Wilderness is the northernmost tip of the island of Saint Martin. The treacherous reef hiding beneath the breakers tempts only the most daring surfers, and the grassy hills call to those disenchanted by the crowded streets of the cities. Wilderness is a poetic place– it inspires the pens of writers and the brushes of painters. For a day free of the bustle of life, come to the northern hills and listen to the song of the sea.

Exploring the Rainforest

Technically, it’s not a rainforest. Technically, it is considered highlands. This is what I remember from my natural geography class in college. Whatever the botanists call it, it still looks and feels a lot like a rainforest! There are even rumors of monkeys high in hills. We didn’t see any on our hike, but we did see a lot of butterflies and many points of interest! Come join us on our hike to Pic Paradise at Loterie Farm on the isle of Saint-Martin.

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You can see three countries from here: Netherlands (Sint Maarten) on the left, France (Saint-Martin) in the middle, and England (Anguilla), the long island on the right.

Loterie Farm is east of Marigot on the French side of Saint Marten. It is definitely a place you should go when visiting the island. It has a pool, a crazy zipline, dining, and (of course) hiking trails. The cost of hiking is five dollars or five euros. The money is more than worth it, I promise.

The entrance to Loterie Farm
The entrance to Loterie Farm
harnasses for ziplineing loterie farm saint martin
Harnesses for the zip-lines

I and my friends decided to take the long hike with the scenic view at the top. It took a couple hours to complete, but we were glad we did it! This hike is now on my list of favorite hikes, up there with the glacial lake in Red River Valley, Badlands, and Kenya’s Great African Rift.

We grabbed hiking sticks, consulted our map, and hit the trail.

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The first thing that we noticed were the obstacle courses and zip-lines in the trees above us. I felt like I was walking in Tarzan’s tree house!

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There are several points of interest on the map. The first one we came to was the natural spring.

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Once we arrived at the spring, the trail began to climb steeply uphill. It was a little slippery on the mossy rocks, but the climb was worth it once we made it to Chewbacca View Point.

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We could see for miles from the viewpoint! Of course, most of that was just ocean water. The view gave us perspective to see how small Saint Martin really is. But what a beautiful watery wilderness the Caribbean Sea is! We could see three different territories from our lookout point. We could also see the ruins of an old fort.

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The next stop on our trek was the old well.

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By this time, we were all getting a little nervous about the ant armies that covered the trails. Stacey kept us safe by spraying our shoes with OFF.

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Fortunately, the bugs are our biggest problem. There are no snakes on Saint Martin. European colonists imported mongooses to catch and kill the snake population.

Now we just have a mongoose problem.

Beyond the well are ruins of the old sucrerie. Ruins are my favorite hiking gems, so I was pretty thrilled to see them.

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We pressed on as the trail continued uphill. We discovered such things as curious creepy crawlies,

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What Aquila called the Sexy Tree (I guess it is just that gorgeous),

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Interesting plants,

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And this odd statue of a double-jointed man in distress. Naturally, Kayla decided to empathize with him. Social workers are very good at that.

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We finally reached the lookout point at the top of the mountain!

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You can even see some ghostly islands in the distance. I believe they belong to Saint Bart’s. I expected to see a pirate ship sail out of the mist at any second, but all we saw was a cheerful little sailboat.

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To get to the lookout, we had to walk down a narrow path through tall grass. It made some of us itchy, but it was nice to have a break from the tree cover and feel the ocean breeze. It was also a great place for taking photos.

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Kalie was kind enough to pose for me.

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The trail seemed to go out into the middle of nowhere, so we eventually turned around and headed back to the mapped trail.

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On our way back, we found something attention-grabbing that was not on the map–graves! Or at least gravestones. Some of them were broken, so we weren’t sure if they were even in the right place. They were about 150 years old.

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The entire hike, we were surrounded by clouds of butterflies. They’re hard to catch on camera, but I did my best! There were hundreds of white butterflies and the occasional yellow one or orange monarch.

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We arrived back at the base camp tired, sweaty, and dirty, but happy and refreshed! What a wonderful way to spend a sunny morning in the Caribbean. We will be back.

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Photo credit: Breana Johnson, Stacey C, and Kalie L

What to Do for a Week in Sint Maarten

We have now been living in Sint Maarten for a week! We have a week yet to explore and enjoy before classes begin for Ben at American University of the Caribbean. We’re going on as many adventures as we can on our beautiful island home. Here are some of the fun things we have done. If you ever come to Sint Maarten, take some time to try a few of these!

1. Mullet Bay Beach

We love Mullet Bay Beach! I can’t believe we live just a short walk away. Mullet Bay has gorgeous fine white sand, warm clear water, and best of all, not too many people. There is even a little beach snack shack with umbrellas and chairs for rent.

Mullet bay Beach
Mullet bay Beach

2. Fort Louis

We took an excursion to the French side of the island last week. On the north side of the town of Marigot, there is a short hike to the ruins of an old French fort. I’m not sure if the best part is the view or the awesome vintage cannons.

Ft. St. Louis
Ft. Louis

3. Fishing

I’m not sure about the French side of the island, but on the Dutch side, one does not need a license to fish. And the fishing is good! We’ve done just about every type of fishing you can imagine. It’s fun, but the downside is that most fish aren’t edible. The majority potentially carry Ciguatera, an incredibly toxic virus that affects people quite badly. Fortunately, the little ones and the herbivores are generally clean. We made fish tacos last night. They were delicious.

Ben catches a barracuda. Can’t eat these, unfortunately.

4. Shopping

Both the French side and the Dutch side have great shopping. Most of it is pretty expensive, but what do you expect on an island? Our shopping has been limited to fishing equipment and groceries for the most part.

I'm not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I've always wanted to be a mermaid!
I’m not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid!

5. Snorkeling

The fish here are beautiful. There are few things more fascinating than watching tropical fish go about their little fish lives. The variety and color is amazing! So far, the coral we’ve seen is a bit drab, but the fish make up for it. The other day, I saw a scary huge barracuda and the biggest granddaddy spinefish I’ve ever seen!

One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot
One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot

6. Casinos

I wouldn’t recommend the gambling, and a definitely wouldn’t recommend the bars. I’ve heard of the sketchy and dangerous things that happen in some of these bars. However, the casinos sometimes have pretty great food for a reasonable price at their restaurants! We ate at Thai Savanh’ in Stars Casino for Ben’s birthday. They have a nice patio for dining away from the smoke of the casino.

Thai Savanh'
Thai Savanh’

7. Hiking and Running

We went on Guana Bay hike with friends yesterday. We loved the views! There are so many little islands that you can see from this trail. This is just one of many hikes on the island. There are good opportunities for running, too, whether on the beach or the golf course.

Guana Bay hike
Guana Bay hike

8. Surfing

Surfing in the storm
Surfing in the storm

Ben and his friend Matt bought a couple of surf boards today and took advantage of tropical storm Erika’s big waves. There aren’t too many days with good surfing, so today was lucky. Unfortunately, Ben ended up getting thrown onto a sea urchin, so right now he’s experiencing the bad side of the:

9. Wildlife

The flora and fauna here is awesome! Ben climbs coconut palms so we can have fresh coconut milk. There are a few fruit trees here, too. I’ve already mentioned the fish, and in addition to sea creatures, there are interesting land creatures, too, like the giant iguanas that sun themselves on the golf course.

Caribbean iguana
Caribbean iguana

Until next time!