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30 Before 30 Update

April 10, 2015

On the eve of my 30th birthday, I think I’d better check in on the progress I’ve made toward my 30
Before 30 list.  On my 28th birthday, I decided to put together a list of 30 travel and adventure-related goals to accomplish before I turned 30.  I loved the idea of putting in writing my agenda for the coming years, but never intended to stick religiously to that list.  It’s a good thing, because while I’m proud of the progress I’ve made there are definitely a few that I haven’t gotten to – yet.  That said, I’ve crossed off quite a few in the last few months, including…

1. Visit Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs.

Garden of the Gods

I visited Colorado Springs with my mom in September and had one of those wonderful trips where we crossed off every single thing I wanted to do and see.  High on that list was Garden of the Gods.  It was actually a lot smaller than I’d anticipated, but the striking rock formations jutting out around us were gorgeous.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods Kissing Camels

3.  Get back to my old stomping grounds in Washington, D.C. to visit my sister and her husband and my many wonderful friends who still live there.

Washington, D.C.

I snuck this one in on my Whirlwind East Coast Tour, and unfortunately wasn’t able to meet up with any of my friends due to last-minute planning and crappy timing.  Even so, I had fun wandering through the Memorials and then visiting my sister and her husband in the nearby suburb of Great Falls.  We spent an afternoon exploring the falls themselves, which were way cooler than I had imagined.

Great Falls

Great Falls

4. Get back on my mountain bike for some beautiful rides.

Mountain Biking Vail

I’ve been terrified of mountain biking ever since I had a few scary falls back-to-back about 5 years ago.  I took baby steps last summer, riding some of the area’s less aggressive trails with my very patient friends.  I managed to avoid hurting myself and loved being back on two wheels in the woods!  This spring and summer I have committed to spending more time back in the saddle.

12.  Visit Crested Butte.

Crested Butte Hike

I squeezed this one in as a part of a work trip.  On the way to visit my friends and colleagues in nearby Gunnison, I left a few hours early and stopped in Crested Butte.  I only had time for a quick hike and lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, so it was just enough time to realize that 1. The town seems as awesome as I’d hoped, and 2. I need to go back with more time to spare.

Crested Butte Hike

Crested Butte

15.  Do a brewery tour in Ft. Collins.

Fort Collins Bike and Beer Tour

My brilliant friend Melissa turned to my 30 Before 30 list when looking for a 29th birthday present for me and gave me a gift certificate for a Bike and Beer Tour in Ft. Collins, CO.  (Amazing gift, right?)  Ft. Collins is known for having an obscene number of craft breweries as well as being a generally cool place to hang out.  I’d never been there before and had a blast.  I invited a friend who lives in the area to join me for the tour, and we spent a fantastic afternoon biking to five different breweries and tasting delicious beer.

New Belgium Brewery

I was on a stout kick and enjoyed comparing the offerings at well-known stops like Odell’s and New Belgium, as well as their lesser-known neighbors.  My favorite beer of the day was Sad Panda Stout (love the name!) at Horse & Dragon Brewing Company.

Horse and Dragon Brewing

22.  Visit Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park.

I actually accomplished this one on the drive home from Fort Collins.  It’s not the most direct route, but Rocky Mountain National Park is situated between FoCo and my home of Edwards, CO.  I entered via Estes Park, the picturesque town at the eastern edge of the park.  In Estes, I stopped to grab some breakfast and check out the town.  Totally by accident I ended up at the Stanley Hotel, where The Shining was filmed.  Of course, I ducked in to check it out.

The Stanley Hotel Estes ParkThen, I stopped at a nearby ranger station to ask for a hiking recommendation.  I wanted something invigorating with great views that wouldn’t take me too deep into the wilderness because I was hiking alone.  I opted for Deer Mountain, which ended with summit views across the park toward Longs Peak.  It was exactly what I was looking for, and there’s something about summiting a mountain that makes me feel so accomplished.

Deer Mountain RMNP


Longs Peak from RMNP

Post-hike, I drove all the way through the park on the famous Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, stopping at the scenic overlooks to take in the views.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

I came out near Grand Lake, another site I’d wanted to see.  So I stopped there to wander around and eat a leisurely – and much-needed – lunch.

Grand Lake

It was a great day and I wasn’t upset at all that the 3-hour journey home from Ft. Collins turned into a 10-hour adventure.

So, a with one day left in my twenties, I am 17 for 30 on my list.  Not the most impressive record, I’ll admit, BUT the most important thing is that I’ve had a blast chipping away at the list.  Plus, I’ve had adventures and visited places that I hadn’t even envisioned two years ago.  Never content to stop exploring, I’ve already got an ambitious to-do list for this spring and summer and am already starting to think of an epic sequel to complete before I turn 40 (eek!).

My Peaks of 2014 – Year in Review

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!  Wow, what a year – right?  For me, 2014 was a year of exciting highs, challenging lows and most of all big changes.  It was a year that seems to have flown by (wasn’t Christmas 2013 like a month ago?), but when looking back some of the things I experienced this year seem to have happened ages ago.  Can anyone else relate?

Since we talk travel here at Peaks and Passports, come with me as I recap the highlights of my 2014 travel experiences…

It all started in January with a fabulous getaway to Telluride, CO.  I had the pleasure of staying at a true luxury hotel in one of my favorite towns in Colorado, plus finally skiing that amazing mountain.

revelation bowl telluride

Then, I spent most of February and March traveling back and forth between my home in Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona for work.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Phoenix.  In addition to making some new friends on my travels, I snuck in some gorgeous hikes amid even more beautiful sunsets.

Camelback at Sunset

And toward the end of my Arizona stint, I spent a truly fabulous girls weekend with my mom and sister in Scottsdale and Sedona.  In Scottsdale, we stayed in what is now one of my favorite hotels.

Hyatt Gainey Ranch

Then it was on to Sedona, which totally charmed me.  Between the ridiculous red rock views…

Sedona red rocks

Chapel of Holy Cross Sedona

… Delicious food, boutique shopping and friendly locals, we just loved the town.  Then we literally took it to a whole new level with a jaw-dropping hot air balloon ride.

Sedona hot air balloon ride

In between and after all of that Arizona sunshine, I managed to sneak in a truly spectacular ski season.  I soaked up glorious powder days and snowy shenanigans with my friends.

Beaver Creek


After saying goodbye to ski season, I had a packed spring travel schedule.  I kicked it off the way I usually do, with a weekend getaway to visit my parents in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  There’s no better place to go after a long, cold winter!

Ft. Lauderdale

Then I headed off for a weekend in San Antonio, Texas, where I experienced the Riverwalk, saw the Alamo and ate lots of delicious food.

The Alamo

After returning from Texas, I headed north to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a friend’s wedding, where I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the city.  One of the highlights of the quick trip was an afternoon spent cycling around downtown on rented bikes. It was the perfect way to experience the city.

Nice Ride Minneapolis

Minneapolis sculpture garden

Then, the summer flew by in a flurry of trips back to Williamsburg for weddings…

Williamsburg Wedding

Outdoor concerts…

Vail Outdoor Concerts

And of course, plenty of hiking.

Vail Hike

Much to my own surprise, I even got back on my mountain bike for a few glorious rides.  Cheers to conquering fears!

Beaver Creek Mountain Bike Ride

My final big trip of the summer was to a ranch in Montana, where a group of friends and I celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday with a rodeo, hiking, hot springs and a couple of lazy floats down the Yellowstone River.

Montana rodeo

Summer bled into a busy fall, starting off with a mother-daughter weekend in Colorado Springs.  We stayed at the gorgeous Broadmoor hotel and hit all of the Springs highlights – Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center.

The Broadmoor hotel

Of course, I took advantage of my favorite hiking season and spent plenty of time frolicking among the golden aspens.

Vail Fall Colors

One of my best friends came to visit with a great group of girls and I had the best time hanging out with them and doing fun touristy things, like riding the gondola to the top of Vail mountain for views like this.

Vail Fall Colors

While the weather was still warm, I visited a friend in Fort Collins for a fantastic bike and beer tour of the city.  Located less than 3 hours away, Fort Collins and its craft beer scene have been on my must-visit list for a long time.  Neither the location nor the brew disappointed!

Fort Collins Bike and Beer Tour

I took the (very) scenic route home from Fort Collins, meandering through Rocky Mountain National Park by way of the town of Estes Park.  It was a fantastic, photogenic road trip that I should really share more about.  Soon, I promise!

Longs Peak from RMNP

Autumn in my world was dominated by the longest stretch I’ve spent outside Colorado since moving here 7 years ago – my whirlwind East Coast tour.  I spent time in my hometown of Williamsburg, visited my sister in Great Falls and roamed around Washington, D.C.

Great Falls, Virginia

Great Falls, Virginia

Then, I visited one of my best friends and her adorable family in central Virginia, where we spent a gorgeous day tasting wine in the mountains.

Virginia Wine Tasting

Next it was up to New York City for a fun and fast-paced girls weekend.

New York Rooftop Bar

Followed by a weekend in Boston with my dad, where we celebrated my grandmother’s birthday and toured Fenway Park, among other things.

Fenway Park

From Boston, I headed to Saint Augustine, where I stayed with one of my best friends and fell in love with the gorgeous Florida city.

Saint Augustine, Florida

Leaving St. Augustine, I drove straight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where I spent a few weeks studying and lounging on the beach.  It wasn’t a horrible way to spend early November.  Not horrible at all.

Ft. Lauderdale Sunset

Then, I finally headed back to Colorado, where I enjoyed some truly fantastic early-season skiing.  It was some of the most fun and the best conditions I’ve experienced in ages.


Now, I’m wrapping up a relaxing holiday spent with family and friends in Virginia.

Williamsburg Christmas

If I’m allowed to measure the past year based on the quality, quantity and variety of travel I accomplished, then I’ll call 2014 a total success.  But as always, I’m looking forward to making the year to come even better than the one I’m leaving behind.  Here’s to a happy, healthy new year filled with joy, beauty and adventure!

In Pictures: Washington, D.C. Monument Walk

December 9, 2014

While passing through Washington, D.C. in October as part of my Whirlwind East Coast Tour, my mom and I stopped to spend the afternoon strolling around a few of the city’s beautiful monuments.  I used to call D.C. home, and never tired of the city’s fabulous cultural and touristy offerings.  Having been away for the last 5 years, I couldn’t resist stopping in to reminisce.

We parked a little ways off the National Mall and started with the FDR Memorial.  The FDR is one of the newer memorials and is different in appearance from most of the others.  Instead of a large white marble structure, it consists of a series of “rooms” that walk you through FDR’s very eventful presidency.  It doesn’t photograph well, but is totally worth a visit.

FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial

Then we made our way around the Tidal Basin, with views of the Washington Monument and Thomas Jefferson Memorial along the way.

Washintgon MonumentWe arrived at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which I’d never seen before.  It was built after I left D.C. in 2007 and is quite impressive.  The scale of that sculpture is pretty unbelievable.

MLK Memorial

MLK Memorial

From there, we wandered past the Reflecting Pool (does anyone else think of Forest Gump every time they see it? “Jenny!”)

Reflecting Pool Washington DCPast Lincoln…

Lincoln Memorial

And through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (unpictured), which is in my opinion one of the most powerful and sobering sights in Washington, D.C.  Our last stop was the Korean War Memorial, which has always been one of my favorites artistically speaking.

Korean War MemorialThe fall foliage put it over the top, but if you’re in D.C. and able to tour the monuments at night, this one is particularly amazing.  It takes on an almost eerie appearance.  Plus, all of the memorials are lit beautifully at night and you’ll avoid the crowds.  Just do it.

Korean War Memorial

From the District, we headed out to my sister’s beautiful home in Great Falls, Virginia.  More to come soon!

Whirlwind East Coast Tour

November 22, 2014

I’m baaaaack!  And boy do I have a lot to catch you up on.  It’s been a busy travel month for me – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so many different places in the span of 30 days.  Now that I’m safely back home, I’m reflecting on the fun, busy, crazy month I’ve had.  I’ll be back with more in-depth posts on most of these destinations, but to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to…

Just as the snow started to fly in Colorado, I packed my bags and said goodbye to the phenomenal fall foliage that was sure to be off the trees within days.

Colorado fall foliage

colorado fall foliage

I jetted off to my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, where I spent a few days relaxing at my parents’ house.  It was a pretty mellow few days, and the highlight was running around their beautiful neighborhood on a 4-mile route that’s become one of my favorites over the last few years.

the loop Kingsmill

From there, it was up to Washington, D.C. and the nearby suburb of Great Falls, Virginia to spend some time with my sister and her husband.  On our drive up, my mom and I stopped in D.C. and played tourist for an afternoon, strolling around a few of the memorials.

Washington Monument

Korean War Memorial

Later that weekend, we went on a family outing to see the waterfall that gives Great Falls its name.  I’d heard it was pretty spectacular, but I was still blown away by the size and beauty of these falls so close to D.C.

Great Falls Virginia

At the end of that weekend, I jumped in the car and headed to Waynesboro, a town in mountainous central Virginia, to visit one of my closest friends and spend time with her adorable baby boy.  My only priority was spending some quality time with those two, but I also managed to hit peak fall colors in the area and we got to spend a day wine tasting.  Great friends, cute babies, gorgeous scenery and wine… does it get any better than that?  (Hint: no, it really just doesn’t.)

Fall Wine Tasting Virginia

After that, I headed back to Williamsburg by way of Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia’s picture-perfect campus.  I enjoyed a couple days of downtime in Williamsburg before heading off to New York City for a girls weekend with my mom and my sister.

Manhattan from the air

We spent a jam-packed three days in Manhattan sightseeing, eating, going to the theater and shopping our way around the city.  It was as fun as it was exhausting.

Chrysler Building NYC

From New York, I flew straight to my favorite city in the Northeast, Boston, to celebrate my Nana’s birthday.  My dad met me there, and we spent a great few days in the city, including a tour of Fenway Park.

Fenway Park

After Boston, I relished a couple more days of downtime in Williamsburg before heading south.  I visited another one of my best friends and her family in St. Augustine, Florida.  I’d never been to St. Augustine before, and it quickly became one of my new favorite destinations.  I’ll definitely be back with more photos and details on my stay there.  For now, it looked a little bit like this:

St. Augustine Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

After a great stay in St. Augustine, I rented a car and drove to my final destination, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  My parents spend half the year down there and have always raved about how gorgeous November in South Florida can be.  I finally got to experience it, and it was truly spectacular.

Ft. Lauderdale beach

Now I’m back in the mountains where I belong, trying to wrap my head around the idea of winter and all of the fun that ski season and the holidays bring.  I’m happy to be back, but it’s always a rude awakening to go straight from the beach to a snowy winter wonderland.  I know, you must feel really sorry for me.  I’ll be back soon with details on some of these adventures!

Scenes from a Vail Summer

August 7, 2014

Well friends, I did it again.  I let the day job get in the way and it’s been entirely too long since we’ve chatted.  And I feel even worse about failing to post because we are in the throes of the most photogenic time of year: summer in Vail.  I’ve had some fabulous adventures this summer that I intend to fill you in on in full detail, but for now I’ll catch you up on some of my favorite images of the summer so far.  Prepare yourselves – this post may be a little all over the place!

After a winter of plenty of delicious snow, the summer welcomed us with raging rivers.

East Lake Creek

And between the snow melt and above-average rainfall, our wildflowers have been out of control.


I managed to sneak in one of my favorite hikes while the flowers were at their peak, and it did NOT disappoint.

Vail wildflowers

No matter how many times I’ve hiked the Stag Gulch Trail, coming around the corner to find that meadow in full bloom will never get old.

Vail Wildflowers

In addition to lots of fantastic hiking, I’ve also rediscovered the beauty of a simple walk – particularly the walk to a dog park near my house, where the small lake acts as a magnificent mirror for our summer skies.

Freedom Park Edwards

Even though I took it, I can barely believe that picture is real.  Speaking of life’s simple pleasures, I discovered a new favorite farmer’s market snack courtesy of Batter Cupcakes:

Batter Cupcakes rice crispy treat

And the most adorable dessert of all time at one of my favorite local restaurants, Vin 48.

Vin 48 carrot cake

I couldn’t even eat this cute little guy (stupid gluten!), but my friends assured me that he was as delicious as he was precious.  In contrast to my raging sweet tooth, my go-to dinner of the summer has been a charcuterie plate, whether enjoyed at home…

charcuterie on the patio

Or on the lawn of the Ford Amphitheater during a Bravo orchestra performance or the Vail International Dance Festival.

Vail Dance Festival

This venue is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen a show, and the fact that you’re allowed – no, encouraged – to bring your own picnic to enjoy makes it even better.

Ford Amphitheater

Thankfully, I’ve been balancing out at least some of that cheese and sugar with some good old-fashioned mountain fun.  There have been a few gorgeous bike rides…

Vail Pass bike ride

Vail Pass bike ride

Some glorious outdoor yoga…

Vail Yoga

The Vail Vitality Center offers free yoga in the Vail Village every Saturday morning throughout the summer, and it’s definitely one of my favorite freebies in the valley.

And of course, plenty more hiking.

Lionshead rock trail

Lionshead rock trail

So that’s my summer so far, in a nutshell.  How is your summer going?

Hike Phoenix

June 9, 2014

Hi guys!  I’ve missed you!  You may or may not have noticed that I’ve taken more than a month off from blogging.  Oops.  I recently started a new job (Does anyone want to buy some insurance?  Anyone?), and while I’m enjoying it I definitely underestimated how draining my new gig would be.  Between stepping outside of my comfort zone into a sales role and talking to customers all day long, I’ve been coming home from work totally beat.  For a while, wine and the show Scandal were the extent of my evening activities, but now I feel my energy and writing mojo flowing again.  I don’t think I’ll be back up to my previous posting frequency anytime soon, but I’d love to chat with you guys at least once a week!

I’ve had an eventful spring and early summer and look forward to filling you guys in on Florida, San Antonio and Minnesota, among other adventures.  But first let’s rewind.  Remember how I spent most of February and March in the Phoenix area?  I ended up liking the area a lot more than I’d anticipated.  One of the things that surprised me the most was what a great city it is for hiking!

Camelback Mtn

The Phoenix area is interspersed with small mountains that rise out of the desert floor around the city.  The most iconic of these is Camelback Mountain.  Camelback has two primary hiking trails: the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail.  I hiked both trails on two different evenings, starting with the much easier Cholla trail.

Cholla trail

All of my Phoenix hikes took place in the evening after completing full days of training.  On this particular night, my friends and I got started WAY too late and it was already sunset when we started up the trail.

Cholla Trail

We didn’t make it very far before turning around and heading cautiously down the trail.  By the time we reached the bottom, we were using iPhone flashlights so that we wouldn’t run into a cactus or break an ankle – it was like a lesson in what not to do on the trails.  The day I hiked the Echo Canyon trail, I set out much earlier.  That turned out to be a good thing, because the highly technical trail would have been a nightmare after sunset.  Sections of the trail were so steep that metal handrails became absolutely necessary to navigate up the rocky incline.

Echo Canyon Trail

Seriously, when I read reviews on this trail before hiking it I totally didn’t take them seriously and underestimated the level of difficulty I’d be facing.  The adventure had me using my hands almost as much as my feet and treading carefully though areas in which it was hard to balance.

Echo Canyon Trail

I couldn’t figure out how to take a picture that would show just how steep this trail was, but the one above comes pretty close.  Luckily the tricky climb wasn’t too long, and I found myself at the summit in under an hour.

Echo Canyon Trail

The 360 degree views over Phoenix made the hard work worth it.

Echo Canyon trail

I shared the summit with quite a few people – this is a very popular trail – and was surprised that so many hikers of varying fitness levels conquered the trail.  It was pretty awesome to see.

Echo canyon trail

I didn’t linger too long at the top because the sun was setting and there was no way I wanted to navigate the descent in the darkness.  I started down carefully and was actually proud to only slip and fall on my butt once.  I recommend shoes with some serious tread if you’re going to try it!  The sunset kept getting more and more beautiful as I made my way down.

Echo Canyon Sunset

By the time I was almost down (and done with the technical portion of the trail – whew!), it was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever seen.

Echo canyon trail sunset

Seriously, are any sunsets more gorgeous than Arizona sunsets?

Phoenix Sunset

The other area I found to hike close to Phoenix, but without Camelback’s crowds was the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  I hiked the Sunrise Trail, which provided great desert scenery.


Seriously – how cool are cacti?


This hike was pretty, uncrowded and totally exposed.  I was so happy to have brought a hat!  I was warm hiking it in March, so I’d imagine that this time of year you’d only want to go early in the morning or in the evening.

Sunrise Trail Phoenix

Sunrise Trail Phoenix

The views from the summit – which I had all to myself – were so lovely that I spent a while relaxing on my little rock perch.

Phoenix from Sunrise Trail

Getting up in the hills among the cacti helped me decompress and truly appreciate Phoenix while it was my temporary home.  While I’m loving early summer in Colorado right now, looking back through these pictures actually makes me miss the desert a little bit!

Tell me, what has surprised you the most about a city you’ve recently visited?

Thank you, Ski Season

April 25, 2014

Last Sunday, we closed down Vail Mountain in style.  A friend reprised last year’s brunch party that was such a big hit, we all donned costumes and toasted the end of the 2013-2014 season.  A few other Colorado resorts will stay open a while longer, but once Vail and Beaver Creek are done for the season, I’m generally done as well.  And so I close the book on another ski season – and it was a good one!  Such a good one, in fact, that I deemed it worthy of an open thank-you letter.

Thank you, ski season…

For convincing me to spend so much time in the great outdoors this winter.

Beaver Creek Mountain

Vail Scenery

For giving me an excuse to count a Bloody Mary or a beer as part of an athletic activity.

Ski Season Bloody Mary

And an excuse to dress up in silly outfits.

Pink Vail

Thank you for humbling me in the bumps.

Bump Skiing

For making me feel like a hero on the groomers…

Telluride Groomers

And the luckiest girl alive on powder days.

Powder day collage

Powder day

For giving me time to catch up with friends and bond with interesting strangers on the chairlift rides.

Chairlift Rides

Thank you for the adrenaline rushes.

Extreme Vail

For reinvigorating days of solitude…

Vail Ski Day

And fantastic days spent with friends.

Pink Vail

Thank you for a truly excellent season!  Now that I’ve paid my respects, I’m 100% ready to recharge with a quiet (ish) mud season and jump into summer as soon as the weather allows.  Tell me about your fun summer plans!

Hot Air Balloon Adventure – Sedona

April 21, 2014

Out of all the experiences I had during my 6 weeks in Arizona, one soared above the rest, literally and figuratively.  On the last morning of our mother-daughter weekend in Scottsdale and Sedona, we did something that I hadn’t even realized should be on my bucket list – a hot air balloon ride!

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

At 6 a.m., the three of us jumped in a Red Rock Balloon Adventures van and headed out to the launch site.  As a bonus, this early wake-up call meant that we got to see a spectacular sunrise.

Sedona Sunrise

It was a chilly morning, but the anticipation of our ride kept me distracted from the nippy air.  Plus, it was really interesting to watch the crew set up the balloons.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The balloons themselves were even bigger than I’d expected.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the flames used to inflate the balloons? Yikes.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Once the balloons were ready to go, our group split among the two balloons and 16 of us piled into each basket.  I was worried that we’d be cramped with that many people squeezed in, but the basket was deceptively spacious.  It was divided into 4 sections of 4 people each with the balloon pilot and equipment in the middle.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

I had a few last-minute butterflies before we lifted off, but once we started our ascent the whole thing just felt peaceful and surreal.  Before this experience, I would have thought it’d be windy in the balloons, but because you are actually floating with the wind, it is perfectly calm and peaceful up in the air.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the early morning light on Sedona’s red rocks was just spectacular.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The wind conditions were ideal that morning, and we were able to fly all over, checking out every site that our pilots wanted to show us.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

In all, we were able to stay in the air for more than an hour.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon


Even in the tight confines of the basket, we were able to score some mother-daughter pics in between gawking at our surroundings.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona is a popular ballooning spot, and I thought it was really cool to see a handful of other balloons floating through the air at the same time as us.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

And the views!

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

At one point we floated by a butte and could see our shadow silhouetted against the rocks.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Then, we lifted up and soared over the top of the rock formation.  The highest we flew was about 2,000 feet, and even though looking straight down was a tiny bit unsettling, the height didn’t freak me out the way I’d thought it might.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

The other balloon that we launched with flew nearby throughout our ride and the two pilots communicated with each other by radio, as well as the crew on the ground that would meet us at landing time.  It was easy to tell that these guys enjoyed working together and they had a pretty hilarious schtick going back and forth.  The little comedy routine added an extra dimension of fun to the spectacular views.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

After almost an hour and a half, it was time to land.  A ground crew had driven over to a clearing to meet us, and our pilot started to set us down expertly, exactly where we needed to be.  When we were about two feet off the ground, the basket hit a large rock on the ground and startled us all.  I had to laugh that the tiny jolt was the biggest scare of our entire journey.  The pilots at Red Rocks really know their stuff and we felt very safe in their hands.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

Upon landing, we all carefully piled out of the baskets and made our way to an area where the guys set up a small picnic of muffins, fruit and mimosas to toast to a successful morning.  After a snack and a little more comedy from the guides, they loaded us back into the vans and our balloon adventure was over.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

If it’s not already, I highly recommend that you add a hot air balloon ride to your bucket list.  And if you choose to try it in Sedona, I have only good things to say about Red Rocks Balloon Adventures.  At about $200 per person, it’s not cheap, but it felt 100% worth it in my opinion.   I absolutely loved everything about our morning in the balloons.  Don’t believe me? Check out my goofy expression of joy when we touched down at the end of our flight.

Sedona Hot Air Balloon

 So, what’s the next adventure that I should add to my bucket list?!

Shopping, Sunset, Sedona.

April 10, 2014

After exploring the sights on our way into Sedona and checking in to our hotel, it was time for a little lunch and shopping.  It was a girls weekend, after all!  We headed over to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, a shopping area a friend had recommended we check out.  Between the architecture, sycamore trees and lovely galleries, shops and restaurants, it was a simply lovely area to spend an afternoon.  Our first stop had to be lunch, and we quickly chose The Secret Garden Cafe.

Secret Garden Cafe Sedona

It was a great place to grab a light lunch.  We sat on a semi-enclosed patio that kept out the wind while allowing us a view of the market around us.  I enjoyed my salad, while my mom and sister also gave their lunches high marks.  There was also a bakery in the entrance that enticed us throughout our meal.  We each left with a house-made dark chocolate salted caramel cup that was divine.  And the waiters were cute.  What more do you need?

After lunch, we wandered in and out of galleries selling mostly southwestern-style art, interspersed with a variety of boutiques.


The shopping area itself could not have been any prettier.


I don’t remember the names of my favorite shops, but the area is small enough that you’d hit them all just by wandering around.  I found a gorgeous earring/necklace set at one boutique full of wonderful accessories and knickknacks, a handmade coffee mug to bring home to the boyfriend from a pottery shop, a lovely maxi dress at a clothing boutique and more.


One of the best things about Tlaquepaque is how warm, friendly and talkative many of the shopkeepers were.  Everyone seemed excited to see us, find out where we came from and ask us how we were liking Sedona.  One thing came through loud and clear: these people loved their hometown.  Are our smiles any indication of the fact that we totally understood how Sedona would be a great place to live?


Seriously, prettiest shopping area ever.




When leaving Tlaquepaque, we saw this sign across the street:


I’ve mentioned that new age spirituality is big in Sedona, right?  We couldn’t resist checking it out.  It was actually a lot of fun walking around this shop enlightenment center, where there was table after table of different types of crystals, each labeled with the properties that they promote (stress relief, empowerment, love, etc.).  We even picked up a few to bring home to friends as souvenirs.  I figured a little crystal power couldn’t hurt anyone!

By then it was almost sunset, and time to head off to an overlook to take in the end of this beautiful day.

Sedona Sunset

The best place in town to catch the sunset – which is a big to-do in Sedona – is the Airport Mesa overlook.  By the time we got there about 30 minutes before sunset, the overlook was already crowded.  Undeterred, we claimed a couple of rocks as our own and settled in.  The light against the red rocks across the valley was already getting pretty beautiful.

Sedona Airport Mesa

And then a little more amazing.

Sedona Airport Mesa

It was definitely a prime place for sunset views because we could see across almost the entire Sedona area.

Sedona Airport Mesa

It got a little chilly while we waited for the sun to drop, so we amused ourselves by – what else? – taking photos.

Sedona Airport Mesa

Sedona Airport Mesa

When the sun went down, it was actually a little anti-climactic.  Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but I preferred the dusk views.  What do you think?

Sedona Airport Mesa

Once the sun went down, it was time to eat again.  On the recommendation of one of the awesome people we’d chatted with earlier at the market, we headed to Dahl and DiLuca for Italian food.  I decided to abandon blogger-mode and simply enjoy dinner with my mom and sister, but it was a truly wonderful restaurant that I’d recommend to anyone visiting Sedona.  Make a reservation if you plan to go – we walked in and had a choice of an hour wait or sitting at the bar.  We opted for the bar and had a delicious, cozy meal with wonderful service.  Yum.  Just go.

After dinner it was back to The Orchards Inn for an early night.  We had an early wake-up call the next day for the highlight of our time in Sedona: a hot air balloon ride!

A Stunning Arrival in Sedona

April 8, 2014

As much as I loved our home base in Scottsdale, Arizona during girls weekend with my mom and sister, I was super excited to get on the road up to Sedona to check out an area I’ve been wanting to visit for years.  Sedona is about two hours’ drive north of Phoenix and is known for its gorgeous red rock scenery, new age spirituality and wonderful galleries and shopping.

Sedona Red Rock Views

Speaking of Sedona’s spiritual side, our first stop on the way into town was one of Sedona’s vortexes: Bell Rock.  What is a vortex?  Well, that link probably provides a better explanation than I can, but basically Sedona is home to a handful of spots where many people believe that a strong energy emanates from the earth.  Some report feeling a sensation of some sort when visiting a vortex – anything from a general sense of energy, to calm, to prickles on the back of your neck, to stronger reactions and visions.  I wasn’t sure that I bought into the notion of the vortexes, but I figured it was worth checking out, especially once I realized that they were gorgeous viewpoints on their own.  I bring you Bell Rock:

Bell Rock Sedona

We circled for a few minutes before finding parking at the trailhead, and then walked the easy path out toward the rock.

Bell Rock

Bell Rock Sedona

There’s a more ambitious hike that takes you up onto the rock, but we didn’t have time for that.  Our agenda was just to check it out and see if we got goosebumps.

Bell Rock

Bell Rock Sedona

No goosebumps, but that could have had something to do with hiking in a long-sleeved black dress and flip flops.  Either way, it was pretty!

Bell Rock Sedona

From Bell Rock, our next stop on our way into town was the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  This gorgeous little chapel wows with its stunning architecture site and scenic views.  On top of all that, it’s a vortex spot too.  That trifecta makes it quite popular, and we had to wait in a line of cars to snake up the rocks to park at the chapel and check it out.  Because of the unusual parking situation, I totally neglected to take any photos of the gorgeous exterior of this chapel from below.  Luckily, the lovely Lucy of On The Luce gave me permission to post a photo from her Sedona post – check it out for more beauties like this:

Photo by On the Luce.

Photo by On the Luce.

I absolutely adore the look of this chapel from below.  The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Marguerite Brunswig Staude.  It took a couple of decades to obtain approval to build the chapel in Sedona’s National Forest land, and it was eventually completed in the 1950s.  It is an operating church, but at the time of our visit it felt much more like a tourist attraction.  It was easy to see why – check out these views!

View from Chapel of the Holy Cross Sedona

Chapel of Holy Cross Sedona

We definitely took advantage of the great photo ops!

Holy Cross Sedona

In addition to the far-off vistas, we were impressed by the rock climbers above the chapel.  You can juuuust barely make them out here.  They’re the dots on the rocks toward the top center of the frame:

Rock Climbers Sedona

Inside, the chapel’s design is spare, clean and modern (especially for a chapel built in the 60s).  You can tell it’s been designed to take advantage of Sedona’s stunning natural scenery and impart those peaceful views on its visitors.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Chapel of the Holy Cross

I don’t know whether it was the vortex effect or just the atmosphere inside such a small, beautiful chapel, but I did feel very serene and calm inside.  Or maybe I just really wanted to feel the vortex.  I guess we’ll never know.  Don’t judge me.

Another aspect of the Chapel of the Holy Cross that I got a real kick out of were the little signs posted around the exterior to remind visitors of the rules in the cutest way possible.

Holy Cross Sedona

Once we were done admiring the views here, it was time to make our way into the town of Sedona.  Our first stop was check-in at our hotel for the evening, the Orchards Inn.  We barely spent any time at the hotel, and I wish we could have.  It was located right in Uptown Sedona, walking distance to a variety of shops and restaurants.  And the highlight was definitely the thing that most people come to Sedona for: the gorgeous red rock views.

Orchards Inn Sedona

I really regret that we didn’t have time for evening cocktails or morning coffee on that balcony.  Cocktails while soaking in the hot tub below us would have been even better!  But alas, I was determined that we’d pack as much as possible into our 24 hours in Sedona – stay tuned for more of our adventures in this gorgeous town!

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