Camping is for the Girls
One of the most common questions I get is about how to feel comfortable camping as a single female so I want to break down some of the barriers here and help you find ways to feel both secure in your surroundings and confident in your campsite selection.
Before I got married, solo adventuring or trips with my girlfriends was really all I did. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I absolutely love solo adventures and have done some crazy hikes all by myself. But it is critical that whether you are alone, with just gals, or even with your entire family that you do take some safety precautions when camping. Also, knowing some basic info and easing into your outdoor experiences should leave you feeling stress free… just like you should when you are in nature!
I do want to let you know that I did not ever camp until I was 28 years old and I started with a serious backpacking trip into Havasupai to see the gorgeous waterfalls. I carried a 40 pound pack (oops), hiked 10 miles in, hiked about 20 miles to various spots within the destination, then hiked 10 miles back out. Every camping trip that does NOT include backpacking, has felt easy ever since. But if I can start at 28 with no prior experience and fall in love with sleeping outside, you can too! If you’re new to outdoor adventures, especially camping and backpacking, it can be really overwhelming and even scary to start. I feel pretty dang vulnerable when sleeping outside, but that’s what part of what makes it so special. I’m hoping by the time you read through this post, you feel empowered and ready to try something new! So, here are my recommendations. Enjoy!
- A little research on the campsite will put you at ease:
- I recommend doing some research and picking places that are well regulated early on. When I book a campsite, it is usually via Recreation.gov. This is where I book forest and national park spots but the state parks I’ve stayed at have their own system directly from their own site. When I say “well regulated” I mean this site will have a host who keeps an eye on the property and guests, keeps the campground clean and sleeps on site. This brings me a sense of comfort knowing someone is paying attention to what’s going on around camp and can typically radio for help if needed. I’ve never been to a state or national park that lacked this but when camping in the forest, it’s something I check for. When booking on Recreation.gov you can see if there is a host and check out the other amenities you can expect.
- While you’re looking for a host, look for other amenities you aren’t ready to forgo yet. If a shower is an absolute must for you, pick a campsite that you know has one. If you don’t have a campstove, make sure your site has a grill, if you don’t have a portable table, make sure there’s a picnic table at your site.
- With the above info in mind, you won’t want to try dispersed camping early on. It’s going to be remote and lack the amenities you will need before you build up a stash of proper camping gear. I also don’t feel safe dispersed camping without a whole crew of people because I just feel too vulnerable. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is some info on developed vs. dispersed camping.
- I recommend picking a camping spot to start that is close to home. I live in the Phoenix area so whenever someone who is new to camping wants to try it out, I recommend Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s well regulated, and it’s only about 45 minutes from the heart of Phoenix. If you are having a bad time or feel uncomfortable it’s easy to go home. You can try again another time!
- If you feel uneasy without being to call 911 or friends/family, pick a spot with cell service. You can always check your carrier’s coverage map. Personally, I just Google the phone number for the campsite, park, forest, etc., tell them who my carrier is and ask if there’s service. The folks who answer the phone are generally very helpful. Use this info before heading out on a hike too!
- It’s also very important do some research on the types of animals you may encounter in the region you’re heading to. Google and park rangers are great for this! Remember, pack up your food safely and never bring it in the tent. It’s a great idea to see if your campsite has a bear box. I also recommend buying these food storage bags, especially when backpacking. Keep in mind, animals don’t want to have an encounter with you just as much as you don’t want to have one with them!
- Don’t go if nobody knows
- When camping, or even hiking or road tripping, you need to tell a friend or family member where you will be.
- If going out on a hike as part of your camping adventure, send a selfie at the trailhead or before you lose service (if you have it at any point) so they know exactly what you were wearing that day, your hairstyle, etc. If something goes very wrong this information will help rescuers find you.
- Share your location with someone from your phone. This will help them know where you are and if it loses tracking capabilities while off the grid, at least it gives a good idea of where you last were. Again, think in terms of helpful hints for rescuers in the worst case scenario.
- If you are going on a long drive to your camping destination, share your driving instructions so your friends and family can be aware of your route.
- This is very important- if the plan changes at any point and you pick a different site or take a detour, make sure you keep your contact updated!
- Invest in a GPS satellite messenger if you won’t have service
- Search and Rescue crews have told me success survival stories that started with the SPOT GPS device Basically this little device about the size of a pager tracks your location and if you need help you can push a button and alert the proper authorities that you need help. Here’s the manufacturer’s description of the products:
- “SPOT determines your GPS location and sends your location and pre-programmed message to communication satellites. Communication satellites relay your message to specific satellite antennas around the world. Satellite antennas and a global network route your location and message to the appropriate network.”
- There are models starting at about $50 at the basic end and up to about $200 for a device that even has messaging capabilities.
- Additional payment is required to turn on the tracking abilities.
- Search and Rescue crews have told me success survival stories that started with the SPOT GPS device Basically this little device about the size of a pager tracks your location and if you need help you can push a button and alert the proper authorities that you need help. Here’s the manufacturer’s description of the products:
- Pack Protection
- When camping, I carry a knife my dad gave and I won’t go on a trip without it.
- At night, I actually keep my keys close by so that if I hear something outside my tent and I fear it may try to make its way inside the tent, I sound the alarm and scare it off. If something did make it inside, I have a headlamp within reach to disorient (whether a person or animal) and my knife as a last resort. (Oh and bring a headlamp for camping, always!)
- Don’t camp in a tent if you aren’t feelin’ it
- If you don’t feel safe in a tent, try something with a hard shell and locking doors… a vehicle.
- There are numerous van rental and RV rental companies you can check out. I have used Boho Vans based in Tempe, AZ and had a great experience camping with a girlfriend and our dogs!
- Here are some rental companies, you can try:
- Escape Campervans
- Outdoorsy (like Airbnb but for vans & RVs)
- Cruise America
- Glamping is an option too and it’s a great way to ease in to camping without sacrificing so many comforts. Here are a couple of sites to check out:
- Trust Your Intuition
- This is my #1 rule! If anything EVER feels “off” about your campsite whether it’s the animal tracks you saw, the guy staring at you while setting up your tent, or anything else… if you get that feeling that you got to go, get out of there. I have left campsites before and booked a hotel because my intuition was screaming at me to leave. It’s ok to depart and try again another time. Your safety is more important than anything! Just make sure you let someone know your plan has changed if/when you have service.
Now that you know some steps you can take to feel safe, it’s time to relax and enjoy all your new hobby has to offer.
If you have any questions at all, shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a DM on Instagram @KristenKeogh.
- A little research on the campsite will put you at ease:
Headed for Heaven
Oahu’s Stairway to Heaven is one of the most coveted hikes on the planet.
There’s just one little problem; it’s illegal. We’re talking police helicopters, thousand dollar fines and even the potential of getting arrested if you get caught on the stairs.
That being said, I am not going to tell you about hiking the Stairway to Heaven. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to hike to the top of the Stairway to Heaven where you can still get a fantastic view without getting in trouble. There is a back way to reach the top of the steps via the Moanalua Valley Trail.
The Moanalua Valley Trail is a 9.3 mile out & back hike with a 3,050 foot elevation gain.
I hired a guide for this hike because it is pretty treacherous at times and nothing is marked. His name is Mike and he would love to be your guide too. He charges $165 but also provides gloves and spikes for your shoes. Plus, he’s a professional photographer who will take pics and edit them for you! His info is at the bottom of this post.
I left for this hike as the sun was coming up (around 7:00 a.m. in January).
The first hour of the trail is very easy to hike. There are beautiful sights including bamboo and passion fruit trees. It is pretty muddy and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the hike.
Once you get to a river bed with a flash flood sign (pictured above) you are going to cross the river bed. This is where we put on our spikes and gloves to prepare for the ascent to get more difficult. The trail is rated at the hard level and you will immediately get those legs working at this point in the hike. For a mile or so you are surrounded by trees so there is both protection from the sun and wind. That wind can get intense.
As you get higher, you are more exposed to the elements and on the day I went, it was incredibly windy. I often crouched along the ridge because I really felt like I might get blown over! Definitely be sure to check the forecast before your hike. I certainly would not want to get caught up here during an actual storm!
This quick video will give you an idea of how windy it was!
There are four areas where you have to use ropes to get up the steepest spots on the trail. This is where you will definitely want some gloves. For me, the parts where I needed the rope were the most fun but understandably this will make many people uncomfortable.
The drop offs on each side are no joke and you need to be paying attention every step of the way.
It was incredibly muddy when we hiked and my guide Mike said it’s usually worse! If you don’t use a guide, you would benefit from bringing your own set up spikes.
It takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach the top. You’ll see an old bunker at the top. It’s actually really spacious inside so step on in and explore. It’s covered in graffiti and signatures from adventurers. It’s also nice to be sheltered from the wind.
Opposite of the bunker are the actual Haiku stairs. Again, it’s illegal to use the steps but you’ll still see dozens of people coming and going on them.
Without ever stepping onto the stairs, you will stail get a great way at the top of the Moanalua Valley Trail. It’s truly the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. Seeing the bright blue sky blend into the ocean below is a vision that will stick with me forever.
I truly hope you get the chance to try this trail on your own trip to Oahu. You’ll never forget it.
Guide contact: Mike Karas (808) 224-0144
Address to trailhead: 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, HI 96819
What to bring: backpack (you will need both hands!), rain jacket, sunglasses, sunblock, bug spray, water, snacks/lunch, camera[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
When the Journey Hurts
Let’s plan an adventure. Backpack… check. Sunscreen… check. Tent… check. Sleeping bag… check. Six medications… check.
My packing list includes pills. A lot of them.
I get a handful of direct messages every day from women suffering with the same disorder I have. They want to know how I could possibly have Interstitial Cystitis and still lead this adventurous life. I don’t always have the time to give the loving response I wish I could always offer. I am writing this post to tell my story of diagnosis, share what helps me manage my health and talk about how I accomodate my health needs when I’m planning an adventure.
*Disclaimer: Please discuss treatments, procedures, and medications with a medical professional. This post does not contain medical advice. This is MY health story.*
I was in an Oklahoma City apartment with my boyfriend at the time in May of 2013. I went to the bathroom in the morning and it felt like chards of glass in my urethra. The pain didn’t end when I was done peeing. It actually didn’t dull without the help of opioids for two years.
I returned home to Phoenix where I was reporter/anchor at Fox 10 News. I had a history of urinary tract infections since the time I was a little girl so I made an appointment with my gynecologist to get the typical dose of antibiotics knowing it would be a simple serving of Cipro or Bactrim… the usual.
Before I could get to an appointment, the pain became so severe I left a reporting shift to go to the emergency room. I went to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale confident they would know just what I needed to make the suffering stop. At just 25 years old, that was the first of many times I would feel the violating discomfort of a catheter entering my bladder. After removing that demonic device and testing my urine, the doctor told me words I simply couldn’t believe “There’s no infection present. We don’t know what’s causing your pain.” As desperation set in, he offered me something else that would also be the first of many- a percocet for the pain.
I left the ER of a world-renowned hospital with nothing but incomprehensible suffering and a prescription for painkillers in my purse.
I went back to work the next day struggling to think straight…struggling to stay sane. Then, I got a call from a staff member at Mayo Clinic. The team determined maybe my test was a false negative. They decided to give me antibiotics just in case there was an infection. For five days I went to the hospital where they gave me a shot. I’m still not sure exactly why I had to take an injectable antibiotic but I wasn’t asking too many questions about anything that could take me out of my misery. I was elated. I remember thinking “Thank God! This nightmare is ending! I’m going to be better as soon as the antibiotics kick in.”
Then the worst day of my life rolled around. Memorial Day of 2013. I got my last round of antibiotics. The nurse asked me how I was feeling before she injected me. I was still in hellacious pain. Our conversation following my honest response dulled my glimmer of hope in an instant. No one knew what was wrong with me. They referred me to a urologist and sent me on my way. I sat in the waiting room crying alone for about an hour before I had the strength to drive home. “I was a medical mystery at the Mayo Clinic? This pain is forever.”
With a broken heart and an exhausted brain, I went to a urology appointment (not at Mayo Clinic) where I was poked with a catheter yet again. The doctor informed 25-year-old me that I would never have sexual intimacy again, I should go on disability and I needed to be on OxyContin, Percocet and muscle relaxers to manage my pain (yeah, at the same time). On top of my physical pain, I was slipping into a deep, deep hole of depression. Oh and top of that again, the antibiotics were started to wreak havoc on my body and I had no idea. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
For the next two years, my life became a cycle of surgeries (I think I had 13 in two years), second (then like 17th) opinions, experimental drugs, pills, medical debt, struggling to hold onto my job, endless tears, and suicidal thoughts. I was broken in every way possible.
Doctors would throw out the words Interstitial Cystitis as a possible option only to determine that wasn’t my problem because that’s a bladder disease and my pain was in my urethra.
Oh and let’s not forget, when I did finally see the urologist at Mayo Clinic. He gave me a prescription for Xanax and offered me absolutely no medical advice other than to “see a psychologist”. I’m still not sure how I managed not to slap that SOB across the face.
I also had a boss who said “well, you look fine” and by this time a fiance who told me “it’s all in your head”.
I knew my problem was real and urological, however, I did still take the Xanax….
What no one tells you about chronic illness is what it does to you emotionally. Pain made me completely irrational. I was already on edge all the time because my urethra felt like it was being stabbed with a hot metal skewer doused in acid. Any little thing whether is was a rude comment from my boyfriend, a nasty phone call from a newscast viewer sent me over the edge into a fit of anger or sadness. Mix in the fact that I had opioids constantly flowing into my body at inconsistent intervals and there is really no understanding exactly what the hell was going on in my mind. I was in a fog of percocet highs and just drifting through life trying to hang on for one more day in hopes that someone could figure out what the hell was wrong with me and the pain would end.
Did the pain ever end? No.
Did it get better? Yes. Here’s how.
I got sick of being sick.
It become quite apparent I was going to feel like shit whether I stayed on the couch watching The Walking Dead or whether I actually got outside and did the thing I missed the most- going on a hike.
Pain pushes the things that make you happy to the last of the priority list. I was just trying to make it from sunrise to sunset every day with a fake smile on my face.
I forced myself to return to normalcy, but it took time.
Before the pain started, my boyfriend had bought me a new pair of hiking boots. I never even got to wear them. I finally sat them out in the living room where I could see them. It was a reminder of what was waiting for me if I pulled myself away from the pain. Pain became my identity, leaving it felt as uncomfortable as my urethra did at this point.
Finally, I put the boots on and I went for a little hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserves. My body didn’t feel better, but my mind did. Feeling the sun on my skin, hearing the birds chirp, fresh air… it literally gave me my will to live. Again, I’m not saying this made my body feel better but it sure didn’t make it feel worse.
The Mohave trail became my medicine.
Making the choice to return to my hobby was the first of many good choices. I left the Debbie Downer Interstitial Cystitis boards where everyone dwelled on their IC online. Those people lost hope a long time ago but I didn’t have to.
Instead of reading other sufferers’ research, I did my own. I spent most of my free time learning about IC, how autoimmune disorders work, how one part of the body affected another and how homeopathy could help me put together the puzzle pieces.
I went to a doctor named Dr. Sara Penton in Scottsdale, AZ who specializes in biofeedback. She started reducing my pain by reducing inflammation. My pain meant something to Dr. Sara and she worked diligently to help me find solutions. Through her treatments I was able to stop taking a steady dose of Percocet. She was also the first to tell me that part of my problem was actually brought on by the dozens of antibiotic treatments that had been thrown at me through the journey.
Then there was Dr. Robert Stuart Fowler, also in Scottsdale, AZ. Dr. Fowler discovered the antibiotics caused a horrible cause of Vulvodynia in additional to my urethral problems. He also determined I had a hormonal imbalance. To this day I still see Dr. Fowler. This man is a brilliant genius. He saved my very existence with his groundbreaking ability to help women with pelvic pain.
I saw Dr. Mario Castellanos at St. Joe’s in Phoenix to manage overall pelvic pain. He administered nerve blocks to help reduce pain. I also still see Dr. Castellanos. His gentle demeanor helped me through this horrible time in my life. I cried in his office more times then I count and he never discounted the severity of my suffering.
My pain never went away but it was manageable. By 2015, I left my TV career and canceled my wedding. As I started to dig myself out of the trauma of having an undiagnosed disease, I decided to return to television. I moved to San Diego for a dream job forecasting weather and living by the beach.
The pain was managable for the first few months. I would take a painkiller about once a week for severe pain but beyond that things seemed to have really turned around. Until December when IC came back with a vengeance. Here I was, back to missing work and barely surviving. Not being able to get back to Arizona to get the painkillers I needed right away, I called the first San Diego urologist who came up in my insurance search. The doctors were booked out for months. After pleading with the receptionist at UCSD Medical Center to understand the urgency of my situation, she transferred me to a saint-Rudy. Rudy recognized my name. “My favorite weather girl,” he exclaimed. I had never been one to accept perks of my job but in this moment, I did not care what it took to get me an appointment. Rudy got me in later that week.
If Rudy was a saint, then that must make Dr. Lowell Parsons, an actual angel sent from God. I filled out a questionnaire in the waiting room asking me all these questions about my peeing habits. I’d taken the test a million times… I definitely rolled my eyes upon its presentation this go round. Dr. Parsons reviewed my test form in front of me, looked up and said “has anyone ever told you you have Interstitial Cystitis?”
I explained to him I’ve always been told I didn’t have that because my pain is urethral and not just in my bladder. He asked me how long I had been in pain and when I told him since 2013 I could sense he truly felt sorry for me that help hadn’t come sooner. He explained to me that I probably had IC my whole life and that’s why I had urinary problems as a little girl. He explained changing hormones as I got older led me to have horrible IC now. He explained to me most women get diagnosed in their early to mid-20s. He explained to me everything that made no sense for the past two years. He explained to me why I was in pain. Dr. Parsons put the puzzle together. Dr. Parsons put me back together.
He gave me a prescription for Elmiron. “I’ve taken that before. It didn’t work and I wasted thousands of dollars because insurance didn’t cover it,” I said.
“They told you to take it with a whole glass of water right,” he asked.
I told him that was correct.
“The medicine needs to coat the bladder. Take it with as little water as possible. It will start working in four to six months,” he said. He also put me on a higher dose than the other doctors had because I needed the medicine to be highly concentrated when it passed through my urethra. I took that full dose for about two years until dropping down to a “maintenance” dosage.
The medicine costs $1,200 a month. Did I come up with the money? Well, I’m still paying off some of the debt but I feel lucky I GET to pay for a solution.
For what it’s worth here are a couple other little fun facts. I had an unrelated skin procedure that caused some nerve pain. The doctor prescribed Neurontin to make it stop. It also helped control my IC pain before the Elmiron kicked in. Additionally, I started taking Singulair for asthma in 2016. Singulair is now seen as a way to reduce inflammation for IC sufferers.
I also saw an incredible acupuncturist in San Diego named Sara Sanger. Get this- she had IC too and healed herself! She gave me an herbal remedy to keep my hormones from fluctuating during my cycle. She also used acupuncture to help reduce inflammation and stagnation.
Despite everything that worked so well to control my pain, I still would get horrible IC flares leading up to and during my cycle. I now have an IUD to eliminate it altogether until/if I decide to have a child.
Let’s review the pieces of my puzzle:
- Interstitial Cystitis- AKA a depleted bladder lining caused by autoimmune problems
- Hormones- now commonly associated with IC
- Nerve pain- I learned nerves go haywire in the region of chronic pain
- Antibiotic damage- I will never take Cipro again
- Inflammation- reduce it, reduce the pain
Before we discuss my medications, please realize every body is different and you must have conversations with your doctors about any of part of my strategy that you want to try.
Here’s what I take now:
- Elmiron- 300mg 3 times a week for maintenance (Used to be 600mg every day)
- Singulair- 10mg each night
- Neurontin- 100mg each night
- Pyridium- 200mg as needed to “numb” urination (This is ALWAYS on me)
- Estradiol – estrogen supplement to regulate hormones
- Baclofen/Diazepem (muscle relaxer for when I have to be on a flight or long drive… obviously, not as driver)
(Notice no more painkillers… yay!)
These are the most important items I pack every time I embark on a journey and sadly, my pain is at its absolute worst when traveling.
Let’s talk about my preparations:
I use a daily pill organizer, yeah the one like grandma and grandpa have. It’s honestly the best way to stay organized and not have to take all of your pill bottles. I keep it in my purse so that I always know where it is and it never gets separated from me on a flight or long drive.
The only pill bottle I take is for my Pyridium. This isn’t a daily need on a normal day but if my flare gets really bad on vacation, I could end up taking the whole bottle on my trip. In fact, I have one bottle in my purse and one bottle in my hiking backpack at ALL times. I typically take 1-2 Pyridium every day of vacation.
Dr. Parsons says most of his IC patients go into a flare when flying. I am no exception. Flying is absolutely brutal. From the time I flew to Iceland years ago to the time I flew to Salt Lake City this summer, it is not fun to endure a post-flight flare. I don’t have the answers for preventing this pain but here are my recommendations to at least help reduce it:
- Take extra Elmiron leading up to your flight (please consult your doc about what “extra” means to you. I had this convo with Dr. Parsons)
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Pack a muscle relaxer so you can use it at bedtime to help relax the pelvic floor and calm everything down (Also, these must be kept cold so plan to pack with an ice pack in your checked baggage)
- Plan activities that aren’t strenuous for the first day of your trip
- Plan a day to recover before returning to work/school after a trip
My plan is not foolproof… IC sucks and there is no cure but this is what has helped me. Inevitably, the pain leads sneaks up on vacation. Am I gonna stop going on vacation? Hell no. I’m in charge, not IC. I pack up my pills and I take them diligently even when I’m sleeping outside.
If you have made it this far in my story, you have got to be as desperate as I was. I am begging you to not give up. This pain is not forever. You must fight for your future. Ask questions. See new doctors. Demand new treatments. Try. Try. Try.
Do the things you love. Whether it’s hiking like me or dancing or painting or ice skating. Go do it. Prove to your mind it is stronger than the pain.
You must learn to manage IC, or it will manage you.
On the Road with Toyota to Northern Arizona
Is there anything better than getting behind the wheel of an awesome ride and knowing you can steer it wherever you want? I think that’s one of the best feelings in the world. A road trip is a journey to self discovery and adventure. I got to go on an road epic trip through Northern Arizona with one of my favorite brands! Toyota!
Toyota has always been in my heart since my very first vehicle at 16 was a Toyota Tacoma. I used to take it off roading after high school (I hope my parents don’t read this). I made epic memories in that truck and it was an absolute joy to drive.
My love for Toyota only deepened when I got the keys to my Rav 4 Adventure, the chosen ride for my road trip. It’s like Toyota crept into my mind and designed the perfect vehicle for me. We’re talking a sporty SUV with four wheel drive and all the additions you need to get you to any destination. However, this rugged ride was sleek and luxurious (yes luxurious) on the inside. There was leather on the dash, sleek touches of carbon fiber and my personal favorite part of any vehicle ever, a cup holder big enough to hold my 32 oz. Hydro Flask (I’m kidding but seriously have YOU ever seen a cup holder that can hold one???). By the way the Adventure was a candy apple red with all black wheels… take a look at this beauty. I felt good about being in this car.
Our journey started with a visit to one of the coolest places on the planet, Sedona. My sister and I hiked Broken Arrow Trail and leading up to it we got a taste of taking the Rav 4 Adventure off road. Now that was fun! I want to make sure you know that for some parts of Sedona you need to have a Red Rocks Pass hanging on your rear view mirror to make sure you don’t get a parking violation. We got ours at Circle K but there are a handful of places that sell them.
We had the pleasure of dining at Cress on Oak Creek where you absolutely must try the lemon meringue dessert! This restaurant is along Oak Creek so the views and sounds of the creek are divine.
We stayed at Sedona Rouge Hotel and wow, I would recommend it to anyone! The design was elegant, the bathroom was gigantic (with double sinks) and we had beautiful views of the red rocks. The patios were such a great size, you could really relax and take in the scenery. We also had a fabulous breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Red’s. There was an acai bowl on the menu so it was a huge win for me! This is a hotel I had never heard of before our trip but I absolutely plan to stay here again.
The next destination on our road trip was Page, Arizona to see Horshoe Bend, hike into a slot canyon and experience Navajo dancing.
It took us about three hours to drive from Sedona to Page and it was really fun in the Rav 4 Adventure. The drive exiting Sedona on 89A winds through the red rocks and becomes enveloped by lush greenery along the way. It’s the kind of beauty that makes me feel especially stunned by our state.
We made it to Page and got to head out on an adventure with Horsehoe Bend Tours. This tour company owns land in Page with exclusive access to Horsehoe Bend. We got to completely avoid the crowds and get a very personal experience. I have been to the regular entrance and I would recommend avoiding that and paying for this private access. You won’t regret it! We were able to get right to the edge and take photos without any tourists in the background. We also didn’t have to hike through the heat because we drove right up to the overlook. Trust me on this!
We got to offroad in our Toyotas to both Horseshoe Bend and the slot canyon. I rode in a Tacoma with my new friend Jeremy behind the wheel. You can see pictures and check out his version of these events here. Off-roading in the Tacoma reminded me of being a teenager in my own Tacoma. We had such a blast making it to the canyon. Thanks for being a badass driver, Jeremy!
Getting from our vehicles to the slot canyon required a bit of a hike through sand but it was worth every grain of sand that ended up in my shoes.
Walking through this slot canyon lets you see the beauty of our planet’s processes as a work of art. Every flood for thousands of years worked to erode and carve this canyon. Touching the walls allows you to touch a piece of sacred history. Nature is an artist. As a weather forecaster, I get obsessed with this type of natural process. So often we talk about storms and only notice their destruction. This is a chance to take note of their creations.
My favorite part of our tour was when our wonderful tour guide allowed us time to explore the canyon on our own then called us back to our meeting spot by softly playing the flute. This was an experience I will never forget.
Later that night we got to eat dinner and entertainment at Into the Grand. They serve Navajo dishes while you get to enjoy traditional Navajo dancing. First of all, the fry bread was fluffy and wonderful. I got a fry bread taco with beef and I am still dreaming of it. Of course, I had dessert fry bread with honey and powdered sugar too!
We got to learn a ton of interesting facts about The Grand Canyon, Navajo history and of course the meaning of dancing to the Navajo people. Tomas, the emcee for the dancing portion of the evening, explained the meaning behind every dance before it was performed. His explanation made the music and moves incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears more than once and I was blown away by the intricacies of each outfit. I appreciated this opportunity to learn about and experience the Navajo culture.
One our final day, we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. Did you know it’s $30 to enter the park but $80 for an annual pass to all national parks? The annual pass can be shared between two primary card holders plus you can take up to four guests with you in a single vehicle!
Jackie and I had a beautiful drive into the park and got out at multiple viewpoints to soak in the sights. It’s incredible to me how many Arizonans have never been to The Grand Canyon. Are you one of them? If so, let’s change that! You don’t even have to be an expert adventurer to appreciate what the parks offers. The viewpoints are accessible for anyone! There are many beautiful camping areas in the park and I already can’t wait to head back to the park for a longer trip.
I can’t thank Toyota enough for giving me this chance to see my state in a whole new way. Taking a road trip is always a good idea but it’s even better when you are in a reliable vehicle with plush amenities. I got to see new sights, eat amazing food, and most importantly connect with Arizonans.
Let me know if you have any questions about my Rav 4 Adventure! Let’s go places!
6 Things to Try in Pine-Strawberry
The heat is on in the Valley and Pine-Strawberry is the perfect escape!
Did you know Pine-Strawberry is about TWENTY degrees cooler than Phoenix on a typical summer day? Instead of enduring triple-digit heat, you could be enjoying highs in the 80s and all it takes is about a two-hour drive! My favorite part: unlike in the Valley, it actually gets cool at night! Here are the six things you’ve gotta do when you head to Strawberry-Pine!
#1 Stay at The Strawberry Inn
Not only is The Strawberry Inn unique and comfy, but it’s also in the center of all the action. This boutique beauty is right off Highway 87. The Strawberry Inn has the charm of a historic building with all of the modern luxuries you can dream of from WiFi and a Keurig to a flat screen TV and the softest sheets you’ve ever slept in. In fact, it’s non-hosted, meaning you’ll get an access code in your email so you can grab your key from a lockbox without even talking to a single person. There are eight rooms and each one has completely unique decor. Rooms 5-8 sleep two and are perfect for a romantic getaway. Rooms 1-4 sleep four and they are pupper friendly! We brought Ace on our last trip and he felt right at home.
You can pick the room you want and make your reservations now.
#2 Hike to Tonto Natural Bridge
Tonto Natural Bridge is an incredible natural display of beauty in Payson, AZ (short drive from Strawberry-Pine). It is believed to be the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. It’s beautifully formed by erosion and you can even walk beneath the bridge to explore the stunning scenery within. The bridge is 400 feet long, 183 feet high and 150 feet wide. Underneath the bridge, you’ll experience the erosion in action as water drips down the sides and ceiling of the bridge. It actually seems like it’s raining. There are green plants breaking through the rock and thriving. It is truly magical. I recommend taking the Pine Creek Trail which is a ½ mile scenic route to get under the bridge. If you like an adventurous trek this is for you! You’ll be climbing big boulders, stepping through river rock, and hearing the sound of a waterfall as you get closer and closer to the bridge. You do not have to hike to the bridge. What I love is that a whole family could enjoy this scenery whether they are a little one in a stroller or an adult with limited mobility. This state park provides viewing areas that are just a short distance from the parking lot and have ramps. You can go to one of those areas and look down at the bridge!
To research more on this part of your adventure head here.
#3 Visit Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm
(Owners Terry and Rick)
Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm is an absolute must. This property is historic and was initially established in the 1800s. The original log cabin on the property was built in 1890 and today you’ll find it storing all of the lavender that is currently drying at the farm. Terry Gorton and Rick Vesci restored the property in 2015 and decided to plant lavender. Turns out lavender is one of the few things the neighborhood Elk won’t eat and now there are 5,000 lavender plants for guests to enjoy! In addition to getting to take in the beauty and amazing aroma, you can shop, take cooking classes and even have a portrait session.
Check out everything the farm offers
#4 Grab a Beer at THAT Brewery
(Kristen with Michael Willis of THAT Brewery)
One of my favorite parts of any trip is drinking local. On this trip, you’re going to need to swing by THAT Brewery for a beer and you’ll surely want to stay for dinner. I had the pleasure of getting a one-on-one tasting. My favorite is the Strawberry Blonde. If you can’t make it up to THAT Brewery, you’ll find it in the Valley at Fry’s and Basha’s in cans.
#5 Cool off at Fossil Creek
This just might be your favorite part of the trip!
The hike to Fossil Creek is short and sweet but the drive to the trailhead is about 14 miles long. Plus, don’t forget you need a permit from April to October. For all of the details, read this.
#6 Indulge at Pine Creek Fudge, Ice Cream & Espresso
Whether you’re in the mood for decadent fudge, a scoop of ice cream, pastries or an incredible cup of coffee, you’re going to find a delicious treat at Pine Creek Fudge. An absolute must for me is the Pine Creek Elk Tracks Frappe. It’s a blended combo of espresso, chocolate, caramel, peanut butter and more. It’s pictured in my hands below! Pine Creek Fudge also has an online shop.
Have a great trip to Strawberry-Pine!
For more travel fun, follow Kristen on Instagram.
Cool Down with a Kayak
You guys know my forever fav outdoor activity is hiking but when you live in Arizona, hiking can be a brutal hobby.
Before summer arrived I invested in a kayak to both keep me cool and keep me sane. When I get cooped up inside during the summer I start to get totally bummed!
Before I got my kayak, there were two factors preventing me from making the purchase:
- Where would I store a kayak?
- Am I going to put it on my car incorrectly and lose it on the freeway?
I eliminated both of those concerns by getting an inflatable kayak!
The kayak I bought was $80 on Amazon. I waited to test it out a few times before writing a post on my experience and now I can happily report, I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS THING! It folds up to to be the size of carry-on luggage and it’s super easy to set up!
I was afraid it would be flimsy or easily pop but it is durable and sturdy! I have had so much fun taking this to spots all over Arizona!
The kayak comes with a foot pump but I highly recommend investing in an electric handheld pump and plugging it into a power convertor connected to your vehicle. It will save you time and frustration.
Keep in mind, in most places, you are required by law to wear a life jacket. I got mine for $20 bucks at Walmart. I bring my dog Ace kayaking so he has a lifejacket too. I found his on Amazon.
Also, summer comes with danger from Monsoon storms in Arizona. Make sure you check the forecast and if there is any risk for thunderstorms in your region you need to reconsider your plans. If you were planning to kayak on a river or tributary you should absolutely not go kayaking if there is inclement weather forecast in the region.
Okay now back to the fun stuff! Here’s where I went kayaking and you can too! Even if you don’t want to buy a kayak, you will find rental information below.
- Lake Pleasant: We dropped the boat in at Pleasant Harbor and even took a lunch break at Dillion’s BBQ. It really was quite pleasant but I highly recommend going early and getting off the water by 1pm before the big boats take over and sadly some of their operators are intoxicated.
- Address: 40202 87th Ave, Peoria, AZ 85383
- Rentals: https://www.gopaddleaz.com/
- Show Low Lake: This is a small lake but it’s just right for a calm afternoon on the kayak. It is ambient and the scenery is beautiful with pine trees surrounding the water. Only boats with 10 horsepower or less are allowed.
- Address: 5800 E. Show Low Rd,Show Low, AZ
- Rentals: http://www.campshowlowlake.com/SHOWLOWLAKECAMPGROUNDFEESANDDUES.asp
- Watson Lake: I love this lake so much I almost felt I shouldn’t share, but I trust my readers treat every spot they visit with respect. Please prove me right. Watson Lake is magnificent. It is small and full of kayaks and paddleboards. It has unique formations called Granite Dells where you can even “island hop” and go for little hikes. See pic below!
- Address: 3101 Watson Lake Rd, Prescott, AZ 86301
- Rentals: https://www.prescottoutdoors.com/
Last thing… bring cash for parking/fees!
Now you’re ready to have a kayaking adventure of your own!
Escape the Heat with a Night HikeI recently got the opportunity to collaborate with Chirag Patel for a photoshoot. Chirag takes the kind of photos that prompt you to stop scrolling through Instagram, pause and truly appreciate the talent it took to capture nature so beautifully. Chirag’s specialty is taking mesmerizing night portraits.Check out some of the photos he took of me at Piestewa Peak.Night hiking is truly an experience unlike any other. At night everything is different…sparkly…magical! With it being dangerously hot during the day, it’s the right time to take up night hiking at trails that permit it. I’ll have details on which trails are open plus gear at the end of the post.Chirag is so comfortable night hiking, I wanted to share his story and advice with you in this interview.Kristen: When did you start night hiking?
Chirag: I started night hiking accidentally a few years ago, when I used to hike up Thunderbird Mountain and Deem Hills at sunset to capture the Full Moon rising. After I would capture the Full Moon rise, I quickly realized that it was dark and I had to hike back down the mountain in darkness. It was a pleasant, surreal, and eerie experience at first, now it is an exhilarating experience.Kristen: What makes night hiking special to you?
Chirag: Night hikes gives one a different perspective than the known daytime views. First thing to notice is the sunset and the changes in sky colors as the sun goes below the horizon. You will notice the beautiful Earth’s Shadow in the sky. If you are really lucky, you may even see the Earth’s Shadow along with Anti-Crepuscular Rays as shown below.
Chirag: As the sun goes down, one will also see the city lights come up tracing the popular streets of the city making them come alive with street lights and car trails. See below.
Chirag: The views become really stunning and spectacular!
Kristen: Where is your favorite place to night hike regularly?
Chirag: My favorite night hike is Piestewa Peak using the Summit Trail to the top. Biggest reason is because it has the best 360° views anywhere in town and it is also the only place within the city where you can hike until 11 pm, legally!
Kristen: What gear do you recommend for night hikers?
Being in the desert, one must carefully select gear that is appropriate for the hike. In the summer, water and snacks are an absolute necessity! Not having enough water has caused many emergencies and could become very dangerous. I would also highly recommend headlamps, smartphone with maps, and even a light jacket in case it gets really cool after sunset.
Kristen You’re an incredible nighttime photographer. Where are your favorite nighttime locations?
My favorite night time locations are below:Piestewa Peak, for its incredible 360° city views.Fremont Saddle on the Peralta Trail:
Watson Lake in Prescott:Kristen: What does it require to take great photos at night? Gear? Patience? Education?Taking photographs at night is a bit more challenging due to the lack of light. But, images can still be captured using long exposures to gather and capture the limited available light. To capture an image using long exposures requires a tripod and the use of high ISO and longer shutter speeds in the camera. There are lots of resources on YouTube teaching you the basics of long exposure photography.
Kristen: You’re incredibly committed to your photography hobby. You even sacrifice sleep on Fridays! Talk about a memorable journey you took to get photos.Chirag: Because time is extremely valuable and has to be allocated appropriately between work, family, and leisure, time must be used wisely. Sometimes regularly sacrificing sleep one day a week to do some night photography and being with the family the by the time they wake up the next day. Thus, it has become normal for me to be up awake for about 36 hours in a row once a week. My typical Friday/Saturday consists of working all day, coming home for dinner with the family, hiking and photographing all night, and spending the rest of the day Saturday with the family. I finally sleep Saturday night after being up awake for 36 hours.Kristen: What would you say to someone who is nervous to try night hiking?
Chirag: Your headlamps will make it seem like daytime on the trails! It is very comforting when you can see everything. Here is one available on Amazon that is rechargeable and extremely bright.
I can’t thank Chirag enough for his photos and insight. Please give him a follow on Instagram.
As of April, night hiking is now a regular hobby for me! I had a bad experience with buying a headlamp online so I highly recommend heading to see my friends at Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company in Scottsdale. They’ll also give you a ton of advice and answer your questions. Just Roughin’ It is a shop and a tour service so you’re talking to the experts!
If you aren’t afraid of buying online and don’t want anymore advice, then check out my head lamp online. It is Black Diamond, a great price point and is very bright!
Keep in mind, it’s cooler than daytime but if you’re night hiking from June- September it’s still going to be toasty so you need to bring just as much water as you would for a day hike.
I also always bring a spare flashlight, snacks and a first aid kit.
Watch out for snakes. As I embarked around sunset for my last night hike, a park ranger stopped to tell me a lot of rattlers were out and warned me to be careful.
If you’re hiking with a pet, remember the temp has to be below 100 degrees to legally take them hiking in many areas so make sure the temp has dropped. 90s are still toasty for dogs. I only hike with Ace when it’s 85 or cooler. If your dog handles 90s, well definitely clip a light to them. Here’s one I like.
Let’s talk about where to go night hiking. You can’t just go anywhere. Try hiking at night at the wrong spot and your car will get towed!
Here are some places where you can night hike but keep in mind the gate into the parking lots typically close at either 7:00 pm or 9:00pm and the gates to get out close at 10 or 11pm. It’s night hiking, not OVERNIGHT hiking.
Click on each area listed for more details on trail times:
Trails until 11:00pm
Trails open until 11:00pm
Trails open until 10:00pm
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Open until 10:00pm on Friday & Saturday
Note: Camelback Mountain closes at Sunset.
Have fun, be safe and let me know how your night hike goes!
Make sure you’re following me on Instagram.
Checking In: The Tavern Hotel
You can get quite cozy in Cottonwood at The Tavern Hotel. I enjoyed this stay so much I am already looking forward to our next visit! Every detail made me feel comfortable from the patio furniture to the luxury shower.
This darling boutique hotel is just a 90-minute drive north of Phoenix. The building, just like the city itself, is historic and charming. The historic building was a grocery store in 1925. It was preserved and transformed into a hotel packed with luxury accommodations in 2011.
Now the hotel offers 41 gorgeous guestrooms, two plush penthouses and even an entire cottage!
Our stay landed us at the cottage and we couldn’t get enough of our accommodations. We had our own huge seating area with comfortable adirondack chairs all to us. When we stepped inside, we couldn’t believe the amount of space we could have all to ourselves.
The cottage includes:
-A full living room with a leather sectional couch
-A full dining area that could seat seven to ten people
-A full kitchen and bar counter that seats four (stove, microwave, huge fridge, pots + pans, too!)
-Two bedrooms that sleep two people (with the comfiest pillows ever!). Each bedroom has a TV and a large closet
-A bathroom with a large counter, double sinks and a gorgeous shower (seriously, the tiles are insanely pretty)
The cottage would be perfect for a family adventure, a girls’ trip or a bachelor/bachelorette weekend. The two bedrooms have very unique pieces of furniture and accent pieces. Some of the items were so cute, I was checking for tags to see if I could figure out where to buy them! (Does anyone else do this?!) I especially loved the metal yellow chair pictured below.
The kitchen is spacious and bright with a white backsplash, hardwood floors like the rest of the cottage, and stainless steel appliances. There’s even a cute tea kettle!
Beyond the cottage, we enjoyed the beautiful lobby and outdoor areas. From wall art, to the landscape and seating areas near fireplaces, we couldn’t get enough of the property. By the way, all of the cute decor makes this property INCREDIBLY instagrammable. 🙂
When we did pull ourselves away from the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do in Cottonwood! The first thing I recommend you do is head to The Tavern Grille because upon check in, the hotel hooks you up with complimentary cocktails at the Grille!
We enjoyed going in the shops right outside our hotel. There was art, apparel, southwestern decor and unique southwestern souvenirs to be found in Old Town.
If you want to do some more exploring, just hop in the car for a short drive to Jerome. Jerome is known for paranormal activity to most, but for me I know it for the incredible shopping and extremely unusual sights including creepy old buildings and fascinating artwork.
The shops here are just different. I always find something I have to buy but wouldn’t have known it even existed without a trip to Jerome. This trip that something was a book on colorstrology. I also fell in love with kaleidoscopes at one particular shop called Nelly Bly. I did not buy one but I sure wish I did. As they say, “nothing haunts us like the things we didn’t buy.”
There are also some incredible views so take advantage of the elevation!
We finished our night with pizza and beer at Pizzeria Bocce. This spot has a great selection of local beer (the key to my heart). I tried the Grand Canyon Brewery pilsner and it did not disappoint. I think a crisp, golden beer is always perfect with pizza. You have to get the Pesto Chicken pizza. The combo of pesto and ricotta cheese with chicken and mozzarella was perfection!
Before heading out of town, we redeemed our breakfast vouchers from the hotel at Crema Craft Kitchen+Bar. Our breakfast was divine but the real treat here is their insane bloody mary served with a hard boiled egg and bacon on top. What a way to start the day!
We mostly stuffed our faces with food but I do also want to let you know there are wonderful wineries in Cottonwood plus access to hiking and historic site like Tuzigoot National Monument.
For videos from my trip, head to my Instagram page and watch the “Cottonwood” highlight.
I hope you can experience Cottonwood and this lovely hotel soon!
To make a reservation at The Tavern Hotel: https://bookings.frontdeskanywhere.net/bookings/#account/1ZN170511C
To shop my wardrobe: shoppriceless.com
Hiking up Holbert
If you haven’t seen Phoenix from South Mountain, you’re missing out!
Hiking the Holbert Trail on South Mountain will take you to an Arizona treasure known as Dobbins Lookout. The structure on top was built in the 1930’s and it offers an incredible place to relax and enjoy the highest point you can access on South Mountain.
Holbert is a 4 mile out and back hike with an elevation gain of approximately 1,000 feet. This hike is rated hard but I would encourage you to give it a try even if you typically stick with the easy and moderate levels. I saw numerous families and puppies who were owning this trail! The elevation gain feels very gradual as you make your way to the top.
The terrain is rocky but you never have to use all fours to get through the rocks. There is a lot of loose gravel so proper hiking shoes are a must. I am obsessed with my new Merrell kicks. You can shop them here. They’re on MAJOR SALE!
I have not spent a whole lot of time on South Mountain and I enjoyed seeing the city of Phoenix from this point of view! When you get to the top and arrive at Dobbins lookout, be sure to check out the structure and snap some pics. My friend Hailey and I sat on a bench to take in the view, eat some snacks and bond with the local squirrel friends.
What I love most about Dobbins lookout is even people with limited mobility can access it. You can skip the hike and simply drive up! I live with a bladder disease called Interstitial Cystitis and for years a hike like this was physically impossible for me. I love when I get to post about a fantastic viewpoint that is accessible to everyone! No one should have to miss out on this scenery.
Address to lookout: North Summit Road, South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ 85042
Address to Holbert Trail: 10919 South Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85042
Permits: None required
Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Find Serenity at Saguaro National Park
Just south of Phoenix is a pristine national park covered in a sea of saguaros.
It’s a hiker’s paradise with a wide range of trail options. Instead of seeking a strenuous hike like usual, I opted to hike at a slower pace and soak in the serenity.
The drive from Phoenix took us two hours. After paying the $15.00 park fee, we went on a scenic 3.5 mile drive through Saguaro West. Acura of Peoria hooked me up with their gorgeous MDX SUV so we had a smooth ride on the otherwise bumpy road. While an SUV is highly recommended, there were a number of people finding their way through the park with small cars.
We stopped at the Valley View Outlook Trail. This trail is super easy but comes with a heck of a view. It’s only .08 miles out and back. This is friendly for the whole family regardless of their skill level….. or the length of their attention span. It’s only a 36 foot elevation gain!
My sister and I brought our niece and her best friend. They’re 11 years old and enjoyed the hike. They even stopped at the top to take in the sights while commenting on the beauty and the quietness of the spot. At one point they even pulled out one of our blankets and laid down to take a nap. Talk about relaxation!!
While the Valley View Outlook Trail is short and sweet, near the start/end point it does connect to another short hike called the Wild Dog Trail. If you do both you’ll get two different views, with a total of hiking 1.7 miles and spending about an hour to 90 minutes walking with minimal elevation gains. The Wild Dog Trail has an elevation gain of 177 feet. Ironically, dogs are not allowed on these trails.
Our favorite part of this trip was setting up camp in the back of the MDX and just staring at the saguaros blanketing the desert. I grew up in Arizona and I’ve seen a lot of cacti but there’s something extra special about the views at Saguaro National Park.
While I only had time to explore the west side of the park, I plan to go back and check out the eastern region as soon as I can!
TIP: If you go between April and June you can catch the saguaro flowers in bloom!
BE AWARE: Temperatures can reach 100+ degrees in the summer. The monsoon brings the threat of dangerous thunderstorms, blowing dust and flash flooding from June 15th to September 30th.
Address to Visitor’s Center (West side of park): 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743
Permit Price: $15 per vehicle (credit cards accepted)
Bring: sunblock, water, snacks, hat, sunglasses, a jacket because temps drop quickly in the desert.
For those of you wanting more info on my ride, the MDX is a 3-row luxury SUV that drives like a dream! While it is a full-size SUV, it’s easy to handle and doesn’t feel bulky like some other big SUVs. The car has beautiful leather seats, a sleek interior, tons of space for friends plus all the gear I needed for our journey. The MDX makes me feel safe and comfortable! Here are my absolute favorite features on the Acura MDX and why I believe it’s the perfect vehicle for a road trip:
- Adaptive Cruise Control. This feature is incredible. I couldn’t believe how smart this car is! All I had to do was set the cruise control and the car did the rest. If traffic slows, the brakes automatically apply to keep you a safe distance from the cars around you. In stop-and-go traffic it even braked when cars in front of me stopped then accelerated on its own when traffic starting flowing again! This is a dream feature for a road trip!
- Lane keep assist: If for any reason you start to drift from your lane, you will be automatically guided back to safety. You don’t lose your ability to steer, but if you don’t signal and move out of your lane it will gently steer you on course without jerking the car. It’s amazing! When you do signal, it checks for other cars in your blind spot. A light will come on inside the car near your side mirror if there is another vehicle and you’ll also hear a beep so you know not to move into the other lane yet.
- Collision Mitigation Braking System: The MDX has technology that uses a radar system and cameras to figure out the speed and distance of cars or objects in the vicinity. If it detects that you got cut off, traffic is slowing or there is anything you could hit it will apply the brakes for you. At this point it also starts alerting you that there is threat of a crash so that you are paying attention and take the steps necessary to avoid an accident!
To take it for a test drive, call my friends at Acura of Peoria: (623) 385-1478 or visit at 9190 W Bell Rd, Peoria, AZ 85382.
For more incredible pics from my photographer Zach, check him out on Instagram @Stackary