Colorado National Monument

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Colorado National Monument (locally referred to as The Monument) is a National Park Service unit near the city of Grand Junction, Colorado. Spectacular canyons cut deep into sandstone, and even granite–gneiss–schist, rock formations.

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When John Otto first saw the rugged red rock canyons south of Grand Junction in 1906, it was love at first sight. The following year he wrote . . .

“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

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The area was established as Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911. Otto was hired as the first park ranger, drawing a salary of $1 per month. For the next 16 years, he continued building and maintaining trails while living in a tent in the park.

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Otto spearheaded fundraising campaigns, collected signatures for petitions, and penned newspaper editorials and endless letters to Washington politicians in support of national recognition for the ancient canyons and towering monoliths of his adopted home.

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This is an area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau, with pinion and juniper forests on the plateau.

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There are magnificent views from trails and the Rim Rock Drive, which winds along the plateau.

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Nearby are the Book Cliffs and the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa.

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The park became more well known in the 1980s partly due to its inclusion as a stage of the major international bicycle race, the Coors Classic. The race through the park became known as “The Tour of the Moon”, due to the spectacular landscapes the race passed through on Rim Rock Drive.

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Just another day at the office!

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CALIFORNIA – Santa Cruz

Welcome to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz County is located on California’s Central Coast, 65 miles south of San Francisco and 35 miles north of Monterey. Situated on the northern side of the Monterey Bay and rimmed by redwood forested mountains, Santa Cruz County has 29 miles of beaches and 14 state parks.

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Santa Cruz is one of America’s surfing capitals, complete with its own museum devoted to the sport, and a beach whose waves are known all over the world.

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I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, and the whole lifestyle revolves around the beach. My parents met surfing, and the beach was a major part of our daily lives.

Marisa Miller

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I went to UC Santa Cruz, overlooking the Bay of Monterey and Santa Cruz, in 1969. Back then, the city was part-hippie, part-surfer, but mostly retired chicken farmer.

Clive Sinclair

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I live in Santa Cruz. I moved here in 1974 and couldn’t leave.

Ellen Bass

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Santa Cruz is blessed not only with natural wonders, but also with gifted souls who can fashion nature’s bounty into man-made treasures.

Clive Sinclair

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Just up the coast from Santa Cruz lies Half Moon Bay, a coastal city in San Mateo County, California. It’s an idyllic enclave and truly the perfect place to spend some time away from the big city.

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Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.

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Just off the Half Moon Bay coast of California, winter storms and underwater geography combine to create some the world’s biggest and most dangerous waves. The Mavericks Surf Contest gives the world’s best surfers a chance to pit their skills against the big ones that can rise over 50 feet high, but this contest has an interesting twist.  No one knows when it will be held until just 24 hours before it starts.

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The big waves come in winter, and around the end of each year, the official waiting period for the Mavericks Surf Contest begins. When conditions are right, organizers call a field of 24 surfers (who have been pre-selected) to tell them when the Mavericks Surf Contest will begin.

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“I like to go for a little drive up the California coast.”
Author: Colin Farrell

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“In California in the early Spring, There are pale yellow mornings, when the mist burns slowly into day, The air stings like Autumn, clarifies like pain – Well, I have dreamed this coast myself.”
Author: Robert Hass

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If you are looking to surf in North America then head on out to California – there is great surf all the way down the coast. It is worth the trip to catch the big wave surfers riding the mountains of Maverick’s during the huge winter swells.

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“Soon it got dusk, a grapey dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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“The setting sun burned the sky pink and orange in the same bright hues as surfers’ bathing suits. It was beautiful deception, Bosch thought, as he drove north on the Hollywood Freeway to home. Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story.”
― Michael Connelly, The Black Echo

California – The Pacific Coast Highway

Stretching 650 curve-hugging, jaw-dropping miles along the ruggedly beautiful central coast of California, Highway 1 is one of the most scenic roads in the country.

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This is the road driving was invented for-the road where car commercials are filmed. On the Pacific Coast Highway, you don’t crack your window for a bit of air, you roll it down all the way to feel the wind blast through your hair like a lighthearted tornado.

You can get a taste of what makes the road so famous on a short trip from San Francisco.

From the City by the Bay, it’s a 30-mile drive through redwood groves and past sandy beaches to your first stop, Half Moon Bay. The small town is home to some of the best surfing in the world and the international Mavericks competition, held when winter waves get big enough.

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An exhilarating driving experience, this twisting, cliff-hugging route along the central California coast takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace. Designated an All-American Road—among the nation’s most scenic—the drive encompasses both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway.

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Also known as California State Route 1, the PCH was built in 1934 and took 15 years to complete. 

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For the most dramatic scenery packed into less than half the mileage, set your sights on the Central Coast and a journey of about 240 miles from Monterey south to Santa Barbara.

Driving the route from north to south is ideal, as you’ll be on the ocean side of the road the entire way, allowing unobstructed views of the jagged coastline below.

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The road winds high on the cliffs, with the crashing surf below. Many of the beaches you’ll see are inaccessible or require serious hikes in, making them all the more enchanting.

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South of Carmel is where the route really reels you into its splendor. And while you never know when that ubiquitous coastal fog is going to lower a curtain over the views, when it lifts it’s as if Oz is being revealed.

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One of the most famous photo-ops along the way is the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest and longest single-span concrete bridges in the world.

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If I’m in Malibu driving up and down Pacific Coast Highway, my ‘2000 Heritage Softail Harley Davidson is what I usually like to ride.

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“Sixty three sunsets I saw revolve on that perpendicular hill – mad raging sunsets pouring in sea foams of cloud through unimaginable crags like the crags you grayly drew in pencil as a child, with every rose-tint of hope beyond, making you feel just like them, brilliant and bleak beyond words.”
― Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler

California – Death Valley

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The very name evokes all that is harsh, hot and hellish – a punishing, barren and lifeless place of Old Testament severity. Yet closer inspection reveals that in Death Valley nature is putting on a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases and plenty of endemic wildlife. This is a land of superlatives, holding the US records for hottest temperature (134°F/57°C), lowest point (Badwater, 282ft below sea level) and largest national park outside Alaska (over 5000 sq miles).

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Death Valley is a contradiction of the natural world. Its deadly heat is contrasted by snow capped mountains. It’s dry and below sea level, yet the occasional rain causes wildflowers to bloom. Even its name is a contradiction as plenty of life and beauty exist here.

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Death Valley National Park comprises more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery, rare desert wildlife, complex geology, undisturbed wilderness and sites of historical interest. Death Valley is unique because it contains the lowest, hottest, driest location in North America. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level. Ecologically, its plants and animals are representative of the Mojave Desert.

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The moniker belies the beauty in this vast graben, the geological term for a sunken fragment of the Earth’s crust. Here are rocks sculptured by erosion, richly tinted mudstone hills and canyons, luminous sand dunes, lush oases, and a 200-square-mile salt pan surrounded by mountains, one of America’s greatest vertical rises. In some years spring rains trigger wildflower blooms amid more than a thousand varieties of plants.

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The park protects part of the Mojave Desert and many other formations such as mountains, canyons, valleys, sand dunes, and salt flats. There is roughly three-million acres to explore in the park and due to its desolate nature, it’s important for travellers to plan and pack thoughtfully.

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At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States. Humans made their mark in Death Valley at least 9,000 years ago, with rock art and other artifacts left behind as evidence.

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Dozens of scenes from Star Wars have been filmed in Death Valley, including Artist’s Palette (the Sandcrawler scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Golden Canyon (Jawa scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (Droid scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

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“Death Valley is really wide-open – it’s bigger than Rhode Island – and it’s less a part of California than an ungoverned territory, so there’s lots of weird cops-and-robbers stuff going on.”

– Gus Van Sant

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Despite it’s foreboding name, Death Valley is home to bighorn sheep, reptiles, lizards, snakes, amphibians plus more than 300 species of birds, not to mention the explosion of fauna that erupt after a rainfall.

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“Probably the one Bible passage that is read by Jews and Roman Catholics, Protestants, Islam, more than any other chapter is Psalm 23. And in Psalm 23 there is a verse that says, ‘Surely, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ “

-Robert Schuller

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Only 15 miles separate the highest elevation in Death Valley National Park (Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet) and Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level).

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In 1849 emigrants bound for California’s gold fields strayed into the 120-mile long basin, enduring a two-month ordeal of “hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” One of the last to leave looked down from a mountain at the narrow valley and said, “Good-bye, Death Valley.”

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Almost like being on another planet, a trip to Death Valley should be on your bucket list because it’s truly like no other place on Earth.

California – Yosemite National Park

“This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look.”

– Henry Miller  Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

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Yosemite became the first wildland in the nation protected for all-time 150 years ago when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, protecting the Valley and Mariposa grove. Later, in 1890, it became a national park. Over the last 150 years the park has played host to a number of dignitaries and celebrities – as well as about 4 million regular visitors a year.

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“Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark. None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.“

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 350. Find more of his quotes, from The Sierra Club.

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Over eons, rivers and glaciers somehow carved 3,000 feet into solid granite to create Yosemite Valley. The nuances of the Valley form spectacular rock formations, for which Yosemite Valley is famous.

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“The making of gardens and parks goes on with civilization all over the world, and they increase both in size and number as their value is recognized. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little windowsill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National Parks—the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc.—Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world. Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gain-seekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, sham-piously crying, ‘Conservation, conservation,’ that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great. Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much of its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.”

― John Muir, The Yosemite

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“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods…and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred. It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

~ John Muir

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The Gates of Yosemite scene where this fall stands opposite the mouth of Yosemite Valley to El Capitan is often what comes to mind when I think about Yosemite National Park. Ever since the landscape photographer Ansel Adams captured and immortalized the “Gates of Yosemite,” it was probably instrumental in making Bridalveil Fall one of the most photographed waterfalls in the park.

Prominent as you enter Yosemite Valley, it’s hard not to notice the beauty of Bridalveil Fall.  The native people of Yosemite Valley, the Ahwahneechee Indians, called the fall “Pohono” meaning “spirit of the puffing wind.”  Early Yosemite pioneers named it Bridalveil Fall because of the flow’s resemblance to a bride’s veil swaying in the wind.

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“When I think of the overwhelming majesty of Yosemite National Park, I cannot help but agree with Carl Sharsmith, a longtime Yosemite ranger.  When a park visitor asked what Carl would do if he only had one day in Yosemite, Carl replied, “I’d go sit by the Merced River and cry!”  And he was right:  There may never be enough time to see all the grandeur of the Yosemite, in all its wonder.  But however much time you have to spend, Yosemite National Park is worth the trip.  It does not matter what season.  Every experience—taking a sunrise walk with a ranger, strolling through the rain on a chilly fall afternoon, picnicking along the Merced in the summer, being surprised by the mist coming off Bridalveil Fall, noticing deer or coyote across a field, or marvelling at wildflowers as they come to life after a spring shower—adds to the tapestry that is Yosemite.  Each experience is its own unique treasure.”

-From the Blog: “Learn More Everyday”

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This is my personal favourite photograph of Bridalveil Fall. Inspired by the great Ansel Adams, I attempted to capture – within the limited time that I had to spend in Yosemite – a decent image of this spectacle. With a bit of luck, I found an angle that illuminated the rock face thereby exposing its raw texture and reflectivity. Notice the formation near the centre that appears like a human skull, or a mummified head.

“I went to Yosemite as an homage to Ansel Adams. I could never be Ansel Adams, but to know that’s there for us – there’s so much for us in this country.”

– Annie Leibovitz

“A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy.”

Galen Rowell

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Along with Half Dome, Yosemite Falls is the iconic symbol of the grandeur and beauty of Yosemite National Park. I think the falls are practically synonymous with the incomparable Yosemite Valley.Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, with a total drop of 2,425 feet.

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El Capitan is a favourite for experienced rock climbers. Rising more than 3,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is the largest monolith of granite in the world. El Capitan is opposite Bridalveil Fall.

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Half Dome is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Yosemite. It is one of the most sought-after landmarks in Yosemite. Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

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“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

-John Muir

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“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”

-Ansel Adams – Photographer

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“Every time I come, I’m still amazed at the breadth California has. Big Sur, Yosemite, the desert… I love it.”

Theo James

Arizona-Mount Lemmon

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The drive up Catalina Highway offers impressive views of the valley of Tucson, the surrounding mountains and the rock formations known as hoodoos. There are many vista points along the way that offer good stops to take photos.

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I have travelled all over the USA and visited most of the major National Parks, and I believe that there is no more dramatic drive than the 30 mile trip to the top of Mr Lemmon. There are pull-offs, trailheads and scenic overlooks all the way along the highway. I took an amazing number of beautiful photos – one breathtaking view after another. Because you climb nearly 7,000 feet in elevation, you go through several different and unique ecosystems.

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Going through this drive is like going from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada in one hour. You start going through the residential areas of Tucson, then go through the desert passing large saguaros. Slowly, as the elevation increases you’ll notice some trees. By the end of the drive you’ll be surrounded by dark green trees more reminicent of the Rockies and if it’s winter you’ll see snow. The road up Mt. Lemmon is long (about 25 miles) but well worth the drive. Along the way there are dozens of stops, each giving you a unique view at various elevations. The mountain itself is over 9000 ft. Near the top is the town of Summerhaven, which doesn’t really have too much, but is a nice break. If you want to hike to the top of the mountain (or ski – yes you could ski near Tuscon), turn right off the road near Summerhaven. Unless you’re visiting Summerhaven, you’ll need to pay a $5 entrance fee.

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The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvellous and accessible.

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“The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it.”

~Robert Edison Fulton, Jr.

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“A desert is a place without expectation.”

– Nadine Gordimer

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“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.”

~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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“Arizona looks like a battle on Mars.”

~Author Unknown

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“In the empire of desert, water is the king and shadow is the queen.” ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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“Once, it was so damned dry, the bushes followed the dogs around.”

~Nancy Dedera

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Arizona-Sabino Canyon

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In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

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During the winter and summer rainy seasons, pools of water form in rocky outcroppings that wind up among hillsides resplendent with palo verde trees, cholla and prickly pear cactus and graceful groves of ocotillo.

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The oasis of Catalina Canyon is one of the most scenic spectacles in Arizona. A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing 9 stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end, a popular drop-off in summer because of the swimming holes at Hutch’s Pool and The Crack.

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“So I came down here, to breathe dust and walk with the dogs– to look at a rock or a cactus and know that I am the first person to see that cactus and that rock.”

Author: Douglas Coupland

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Arizona Waterfalls are about as contradictory as they get. Given the hot and arid climate that epitomizes the deserts of the American Southwest, it’s easy to dismiss this state as lacking waterfalls. Yet we manage to find them, proving that even waterfalls can be resilient in such unforgivingly dry climates.

“Desert springtime, with flowers popping up all over the place, trees leafing out, streams gushing down from the mountains. Great time of year for hiking, camping, exploring, sleeping under the new moon and the old stars. At dawn and at evening we hear the coyotes howling with excitement—mating season.”

~Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast

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“I have never been in a natural place and felt that it was a waste of time. I never have. And it’s a relief. If I’m walking around a desert or whatever, every second is worthwhile.”

– Viggo Mortensen