A Few of My Favorite Things | August – Saying Goodbye to Summer

Where has August gone? The days are still long but the garden harvest is beginning to dwindle. It won’t be long before my tomato fix must be met with mealy fruits picked from chilled grocery shelves instead of my garden. Summer is beginning its farewells. Soon, monarchs will begin their migrations South. I’m, alas, still not ready to migrate myself South of the border. I miss Mexico. For now, painted ladies and swallowtails eat their fills from backyard peonies, zinnia, and basil blossoms. 

August Eclipse Highland Kansas My Own True North

When I drove back to Kansas two weeks ago, I passed field upon field of cotton crops. Alabama surely was standing high in her cotton. In a couple of months, the pale yellow blooms will burst into the bright white bolls. Yes, Autumn is on her way.

How About That Eclipse?

Were you able to get outside to see the eclipse this month? My stepfather’s sister and husband have a farm in Highland, Kansas. This is noteworthy because their home is – er, was – directly under the path of the Great American Eclipse for totality. It was a gas! Even Edie had solar approved eye wear. About 50 members of the Johnson, and extended, or Johnson by proxy (i.e. me), descended to this tiny farming community in Northeast Kansas. It was awesome in every legitimate dictionary definition of the word.

  August Eclipse Highland Kansas My Own True North

Until clouds moved in the way and blocked visibility of the “diamond ring” effect. I bet that halo was just amazing, though. A phenomenon I had heard of but never witnessed, though, was the effect of the wildlife. As totality neared, birds and insects were humming and busying themselves as if it were dusk. The speed of approaching totality created some sort of frenzy. Birds were diving to their nests.

And then, silence. And darkness.

Sure as scientists promised, day turned into night. And as quickly as totality came upon us, nature’s activities of dawn greeted us with the returning sun.We spent hours idling on two lane country highways to make it back to the capital. Despite missing the halo effect, midday darkness was worth the sacrifice of the day.

After all, what else would I have done? Stayed home to… edit? No thanks. Speaking of edits….

Something I’m Loving….

PhD progress is… happening.

My committee and I are finally starting to come to agreement about what my re-analyzed chapters and conclusions should look like. It’s taken me long enough. I will probably be kicking my own butt later in this year, but I’m hesitant to apply for some of these jobs I find that are appealing because Ph.D. ABD just isn’t the same as PhD. Listing Ph.D. ABD is just a fancy way for saying you quit. Is my opinion… in the academic community, though, ABD isn’t something to broadcast.

If you happen to be struggling with your proposal or draft edits, remember this: the dissertation is a means to an end. The end goal is your Ph.D. The dissertation is a means goal, not your end goal. The dissertation is a way you can prove you are a vetted, successful researcher.

My dissertation, in its approaching final form, is so far from the initial problem statement and hypothesis I created. Choose your battles with your committee. Even though it may not always seem like it, they really do have your success and your best interests in mind. They’ve been down this path, before. You know the subject, best, but they know the process, best.

Patio Jenga

Giant Jenga My Own True North

My summer dabble with woodworking was a narrowly averted disaster. I gave up many freckles and even a slight sunburn, heat exhaustion, and sweated through so many clothes while standing in that blistering August sun cutting, sanding, and staining this giant Jenga game.

The final outcome is something I am so proud of, but I now appreciate the cost people want to charge for a handmade patio Jenga game. I chose three different stains and love the variance in colors.

Giant Jenga My Own True North

Something I’m Listening to…. Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and ft. Justin Bieber – Despacito

Oh my goshhhhh…. Yes. Yes! I am all over this song. I can’t even keep count of how many little zoom videos I made with Edie and this song. It makes a great mid afternoon break away from the desk slump.

I know about 70% of the translation to the song when I sing it. The misses in translation on my end now create some empathy and understanding to judgment I passed on a friend I met in Chiapas. I asked my friend why he had “ugly boy” tattooed on his arm. He wailed as if in pain then proceeded to tell me the saddest tale ever about how he and his buddy misheard the lyrics to a Black Keys song. And they are ugly boys, now, not lonely boys.

Something I’m Reading…

How these women are taking up space every day in their lives.

My memory fails me as to where I discovered The Happy Reader. That is a moot point, however, because I am having so much fun with this “bookish” magazine. Bibliophiles, consider yourselves put on notice.

The Happy Reader August 2017 My Own True North

Now that August says “goodbye,” how are you winding down your summer?

XO, Jennifer

August Great American Eclipse My Own True North

The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

The Whisper Challenge is all the rage on late night TV (thank you, Universe, for Rebel Wilson) and appears to be the hottest new way to announce pregnancies. Some travel bloggers got together and we are having fun with each other – since there’s a lot of travel involved, headphones are kind of a moot point. Or mute point – whichever pun is less groanable to you…. A host of other travel bloggers and I are bringing you the Travel Whisper Challenge!

Thanks to the initiative and inspiration Stephanie Fox, who created these questions and rounded our motley crew together, we are sharing our travel stories and inspirations with each other. Check out the end of my post for links to some other bloggers (with less bad jokes, I promise), and spark your own 2017 travel plans! You can also find more across Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #TravelWhispers.

White Sands National Monument Dog Friendly

If you had to move to a country that you’ve NEVER been to, and live there for ten years, where would you go?

I’m going to double down on Chile. I never can choose whether I love mountains or the beach more, and this way I will retain access to both. I also love the desert. And wine! From the fashionistas in Santiago to the brightly colored buildings of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, I’ll be able to continue to indulge in many of my loves.

If you had to live in a hotel for the rest of your life, which hotel would you choose and why?

I’m going to make a hard right, here, and deviate from my love of the Americas. I’m going full on SATC fan girl and calling out Hôtel Plaza Athénée. Because… because it’s Paris, and because of all the Carrie Bradshaw moments, and because if I could live in Hôtel Plaza Athénée for the rest of my life, perhaps then I’d also be in the same alternate universe in which I have the wardrobe I still envy, after all this time. Always.

If you could only eat the cuisine of one nationality forever more, which would you choose?

Easy! Mexican food. It is so much more than enchiladas and tacos, although I love both of those, too. Study regional Mexican cuisines and you’ll be gob smacked at the variety and abundance of options. Holy mole!

Who has given you ‘holiday envy’ this year, and how?

One of my friends, who lives in Cusco, went to Salar de Uyuni in March this past year. She planned her visit during the rainy season so the entire salt flat had a gigantic mirror effect. When I saw her pictures, I just – wow, wow, wow!

If you had to look at the same sunrise or the same sunset every day, where in the world would you never get bored of seeing? Please don’t say sitting outside Cafe Mambo in Ibiza.

Ha! I’ll have to Google Café Mambo because I have no idea what that is. A sunrise and sunset I could watch over and again every day is in a corner of the Last Best Place AKA Montana. Specifically… southwestern Montana. Let’s just say, they don’t call Montana Big Sky Country for nothing! I know this is not a sunset, or a sunrise, but tell me you did not just say to yourself “double rainbow all the way around!”

Double Rainbow Big Sky Montana

If you were taking a ‘staycation’ in your home town, where would it be and what would you recommend others to do?

If I were staycationing in Phoenix, I’m waking up in a supremely sublime bead in the Montelucia and start my day with a hike up Camelback Mountain’s Cholla trailhead. But, I would not recommend that for someone who is not already very fit because the hike is strenuous so I’ll recommend the 32nd St and Lincoln trailhead (8A) for out of towners. It’s a great out and back trail that provides fantastic views of the city skyline. For lunch, I’ll head into the center of the city and grab a market fresh, locally sourced salad and mozzarella sandwich at Pane Bianco with a coffee from Lux Central next door. Lux Central is more or less my dissertation writing mother ship (or was before I moved away last month). Sticking with the Central vibe, I’d take advantage of my museum memberships and go to the Heard Museum for their latest exhibits and permanent collection of indigenous art. It never disappoints, even if you are paying your entrance fee; this museum is world class and I consider a Phoenix Must Do! Then, since it’s right next door, I’ll also flex my museum membership pass and go say “hi” to Phoenix Art Museum’s latest fashion exhibit, pause and give my respects to the Frida, and stand among Yayoi Kusama’s electric fireflies. Back at Montelucia the rest of the afternoon is lounging at the spa pool after a facial so good it took at least three years off my face. I’ll end the afternoon with a sunset happy hour at R Bar at Camelback Inn for live music, a great patio, an even better margarita, and a choice setting for a sunset. But not dinner. For dinner, we are obliterating all of those calories burned hiking by indulging in a Sonoran Hot Dog – yup – a hot dog stand. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it! And a late night cap poolside at Prado before heading upstairs for another Montelucia dream. Hmm… I might be feeling a wee bit homesick, now!

Hiking Camelback Mountain

Describe your perfect travel day of the year?

In July I packed Edie and an overnight bag in the Volvo and drove out to Salvation Mountain and Joshua Tree National Park. I knew my days were numbered in Phoenix and hadn’t yet visited either of those two sites. They were close enough they were always considered but just barely far enough away to be slightly inconvenient for a day trip. When I arrived at Salvation Mountain, it was 11:00 am and the sun was already blisteringly brutal. A monsoon flood created a two hour detour and delay so my 4:30 am departure plan to avoid the height of summer sun was foiled. Nonetheless, although my visit at Salvation Mountain was shorter than I wanted – it was so hot – I felt nothing but gratitude and happy overwhelm to finally be standing at the side of Leonard Knight’s testament to his love of God – and love of love. You do not need to be religious – in any way – to recognize that there is something incredibly beautiful and significant about Salvation Mountain. Edie and I went to Salton Sea where the little mongrel delighted in rolling in the mummified tilapia on the shoreline (dogs can be so gross, at times). The mercury kept rising and we kept rolling. I was delighted to come across a fresh fruit stand on the side of the road in Mecca, CA, and even more delighted my re-immersion into Spanish lessons enabled me to navigate the entire transaction en Español! After we drove through Joshua Tree (too hot for hiking plus it’s not very dog friendly – delicate eco system), I stopped at The End, a vintage shop in Yucca Valley I have been Instagram stalking for over a year – my only disappointment is I swore to myself no budget for buying – I could have spent hours and DOLLARS shopping there. Kime Buzzelli’s collection was that good! Not even the slightest nonplussed with my blathering fangirling, Kime let me know about and invited me to head up the road to Pioneertown for a large community chili cook off. Helloooooo, yes, ma’am, and thank you! Although I did feel terrible about dribbling the habanero chili on little Edie’s head…. Huge dog mama fail! The day ended with a late night patio and hotel in Palm Springs. Just my smelly mutt and me, and I wouldn’t have had that day. Any. Other. Way. Ok, I totally could have gone for the day to be about 30 degrees (F) cooler!

Salvation Mountain

What have you ticked off your bucket list in 2016?

Oh my gosh, where do I begin? There were so many! I didn’t get to defend it but I finally finished writing my dissertation (early 2017 is when I’ll get to my defense – finally). Big yay! I backpacked and camped in Havasupai. It was as incredible as I hoped it would be. I hiked to the top of Half Dome. Solo. I even packed a mini bottle of champagne to celebrate that summit. I finally left my job. I broke out of the golden handcuffs, sold or gave away most of my belongings, and am taking a year, perhaps a little bit more, off of work. I finally made it to the Big Easy and sat across from Jackson Square while drinking chicory coffee and munching on steaming hot beignets from Café du Monde. Also solo. It was a big year for changes!

Havasu Falls, Havasupai Grand Canyon

What is top of your travel bucket list for 2017?

I’m currently scoping out which apartments in Ciudad de Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido I want to rent for my long term stay in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I finally intend to follow through on my goal to achieve fluency and full literacy in Spanish. No more bad grammar for me – and oh, btw, did I mention improving my surfing? Because I love it – well, both – and I am horribly unskilled at it – well, at both.

Joshua Tree National Park with Dogs

Share your favourite Instagram photo of 2016?

Instagram and I disagree on my favorite photo of 2016. This photo was the basis for my holiday card this year. I get it, my round rump and Edie in a cat sweater is unlikely to compete with yoga, a horse, and Costa Rica…. But this one – it is my favorite! It took me three passes through Tunnel View and Glacier Point and requests of strangers to make this photo for me. The third person was really game to help me capture the image I wanted. Because this year was full of so much change and because Edie is my littlest and best ride or die companion, I wanted to visually create how I felt about my excitement looking forward to 2017 and creating closure of 2016. If you must look back, may it be to remember love and friendship….



Rhiannon of Wales to Wherever is frigging hilarious! Check her out, particularly if you are an Anglophile like me and can’t get enough of that fabulous Brit Wit (they do it better).

Natalia of Go with Talia also has some amazing photographs and a really neat accomplishment from 2016 with her own 12 Trip Challenge. Talk about #TravelGoals….

Katie at Creative Travel Guide also shared with us some great nuggets and photographs so sharp and beautifully composed I may need to throw away my camera for good!

And if you’re looking for little bite sized nuggets to read at a time, Pete of A Thousand Flights will give you a rather fun and novel approach to his Whisper Challenge.

Check back soon for an updated list on other Travel Bloggers who have taken part! If you want to get involved join the Facebook group.

New Orleans dog friendly


Tips for Traveling with Pets

A few days from now Edie and I are hitting the road to spend Christmas with my folks. Whether by plane or car, this little moppet mutt is my ultimate ride or die copilot and carry-on companion. I love being able to travel with her. I estimate we’ve logged around 5000 miles in the car together and she has been on 15 or 16 planes, so I came to develop a routine for her to make the points between our destinations easier for her. And for me! Wherever you and your pet are heading this holiday, there are ways to make holiday travel plans with pets go smoothly. My advice is for when you are road tripping or bring your pup in the cabin of an airplane as I have not checked Edie into the cargo hold. She’s carryon size… 7 pounds. 7.6 on a heavy day. Usually 8 ½ pounds at the end of a trip to see Gigi and Gramps on the farm…. Oh, Edie!

tips for traveling with pets

Make a list and check it twice! Santa’s not the only one who ought to be list making and checking. Plan out how much food you need for your travel. Include enough for an extra couple of days in case you have any flight delays or cancellations. Last year, my flight was delayed three days because of bad weather! Along with food, bring collapsible bowls for easy carrying and packing.

To add to Edie’s comfort I bring her favorite toy. If we are flying, I freeze peanut butter inside her kong in a plastic bag and tape a note to my phone to remember to grab it from the freezer before heading to the airport. This gives her a good, comforting distraction when I put her in her carrier. I also put in a small towel for her to snuggle with during the flight. This is going to sound weird but I will sleep with the towel the night before so she has a familiar smell among all the added airplane smells. Edie literally is my carryon when we fly! When we drive, I bring her bed and favorite blanket. No matter the transportation mode, an absorbent potty pad and extra bags are always on hand.

tips for traveling with pets

Safety and furbaby well being! If you are flying, make sure you know what your airline requires for pets as carry-ons. Among the various airlines I’ve flown there have been differences in their requirements. Most will require you to bring a veterinary healthy pet certificate verifying your pet has been examined and determined to be healthy within 10 days of the departing flight. It’s an added expense and one I find annoying but if you don’t have that certificate and flight crew asks you to show that certificate, well, you may have another delayed flight to reschedule. Edie has flown on 15 or 16 flights. I’ve been asked to show the certificate at check in once and at boarding one other time. So for all the times I was annoyed to have spent the money, the two times I was required to show them that piece of paper I was really glad I covered that base! When meeting with your vet, discuss your pet’s anxiety levels. Edie is high anxiety and very fear based. Her first couple of flights I had the tiniest Valiums in my pocket and I did use the

m on one flight. She has since become a seasoned traveler and is an easy traveler. There is no doubt in my mind that is in part to me having a plan and preparing her for the journey.

Make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date, your pup wears her collar and tags, and all of your contact information is current. If you have not microchipped your dog yet, please consider doing so.

Carry-on carriers need to fix specific dimensions. I’ve used the same carrier for each flight and multiple airlines, and mine is a no frills bought at Petsmart variety. If you’re driving, there are various seat belt harnesses you can use to help keep your pup secure.

tips for traveling with pets

When in doubt, snacks!!!!! If you fly, unless your pet is a service animal, your pet will be your carryon and will need to remain under the seat the entire flight and you are not supposed to open the carrier or allow any scenario in which escape is possible. That isn’t to say I haven’t unzipped a tiny bit to tuck a couple of treats to Edie throughout the flight. And that isn’t to say I haven’t also had to wrestle her little snout back into the bag to zip up. I give her the kong and a couple of treats as soon as I place her in the carrier and she gets treats when we get off the plane. Snacks also help to give a little bit of positive reinforcement.

Wear them out! A tired pup is a less anxious pup. Traveling can be very stressful for your pet so giving them a good exercise session before hitting the road or arriving at the airport will help them relax. When we road trip, I’ll take Edie for at least a 30 minute walk before we begin the day’s travel. When we are driving, I’ll make stops every 3-4 hours to let her stretch her legs. Even when I schedule ridiculously early flights, I’ll take Edie on a long walk before my Uber ride takes us to the airport. We have gone on walks as early as 3:00 am to let her burn off energy. Terrier mixes for the kinetic energy win! Depending on the airport and how busy the airport is, you might be able to get away with letting your dog walk between connections. I’ve found airports to be of varying levels of enforcement. Some have been really staunch on making sure she’s in her carrier as soon as we get through TSA and some have been too busy for me to risk letting her walk on leash because of the crowds. Some airports have pet depots which make travel really nice!

Dress rehearsal. If you are flying and the first time your pet meets the carrier is at the airport when she is already feeling high stress, woooooo are you setting both of y’all up for a rough flight! Introduce the carrier ahead of time to give your pup a chance to get to know the carrier in a positive and secure environment.

tips for traveling with pets

Do you travel with your furry family members?

How to travel with pets holiday season How to travel with pets holiday season


White Sands National Monument | A Dog Friendly Road Trip

Tucked within an active U.S. military missile range in a remote area of the southwestern corner of New Mexico, White Sands National Monument is a paradoxically beautiful reverse oasis. Quite small yet feelingly vast, the monument occupies only about 275 square miles of space within the same missile range where the first nuclear weapons tests (atomic bombs that were later dropped on Japan) were carried out in what is now Trinity Site.  The sand dunes are made of gypsum, the last remnants of an ancient ocean that once occupied the area some 250 million years ago, and some change. 

White Sands National Monument Dog FriendlyWhite Sands National Monument was my first stop on a 2,400 mile relocation road trip. My original plans were to take Edie and back country camp in one of only five camp sites in the park. Yep! White Sands is INCREDIBLY dog friendly! My timeline and planning didn’t exactly match my grand plan and I quickly came to acceptance that I would not be spending the night inside the monument, instead having to settle for my ride or die motel of choice, Motel 6 (most dog friendly budget accommodation I have found to date), about 20 minutes from the monument, in Alamogordo. I only visited the park for a couple hours and I could have stayed there all day long. Edie and I had so much fun playing in the back country dunes!White Sands National Monument

Note to self: in theory, driving across the desert in the middle of the night is a good idea. Visibility is clear (usually), there are not likely to be any elk or deer darting in front of the car, and there’s minimal traffic. But, the temptation of road hypnosis is real!

Imagination can have you almost convinced you might have seen chupacabra or moth man in the almost super moon full moon night sky. The dunes are kind of that creepy when the moon is that large and bright – they practically glow in the dark! You know how a completely snow covered landscape reflects that moonlight? Well, try that and add in aliens (Area 51 and Roswell are only about three hours away – road trip consideration), any sorts of bad juju that must be bound to creating frigging atom bombs, and a highly caffeinated, physically exhausted, sleep deprived, over active monkey brain thoughts. Anything to stay awake! Combine all that with the fact the only time Edie has ever been subdued at a border patrol check point was at the missile range pass, and I had to really wonder if there was something supernatural happening….

Despite checking in to the motel at 2:30 am, by 7:30 we were back in the car and heading to the monument. I wanted to be at the dunes as soon after sunrise as possible. Desert sunrises are nothing short of inspirational.

White Sands National Monument

The visitor center is immediately upon entrance. I got to the monument before the center opened so couldn’t go inside to rent a waxed sled to ride the dunes… which is sort of a moot point because the park is adamant that no dogs are to be left unattended in vehicles at any time. This is because the temperatures in the dunes get fatally hot most of the year. At 8:00 am on a particular November morning it was 40 degrees F outside (about 4 degrees C), but like I mentioned, the center wasn’t open yet, and I had a jam packed day ahead of me so I headed straight for the dunes to go for a brief hike.

I have been wanting to visit White Sands for a rather long time. It was close enough I could have done so much sooner in the span of a weekend out from Phoenix. But it was far enough away – about a 6 hour drive – that I put it in the “not as convenient” bucket. I am SO glad I finally went and I am rather sad I waited so long and had such little time to spend in the monument.

White Sands National Monument

While White Sands is probably not on everyone’s bucket list, having finally been for myself, I cannot exclaim enough how much you should really make the effort to go if you are in the region. I don’t see how anyone could be disappointed with the rugged beauty of these dunes! Plus, I even have a super solid fantastic Mexican food recommendation for you (read on) that is only about half an hour away from the entrance. How do you like them manzanas? See what I did there? :o)

White Sands National Monument

What to know:

  • The monument is located within an active missile range and military base. It is subject to periodic closures during missile tests. Verify access availability prior to your venture out to make sure you don’t show up during a closure. NPS does an excellent job of providing updates, which you can check here. If you want to backcountry camp, you must arrive at the Visitor’s Center before 2 pm. Otherwise you have no chance of getting a permit. When I was initially planning I called the backcountry office to verify details. The ranger advised me it’s even best to call them a couple of days prior to your intended camping stay because if there are any tests, you will not be able to obtain any permits. I’m still ultra bummed it didn’t work out for me but my timeline went from flexible to not at all in a hurry. If you’re a camper, I say DO IT!
  • Admission is a very low fee: $5.00. But – if you have the annual inter-agency pass your entrance fee is already covered (an investment I make each year because I tend to visit numerous parks making the all park pass a best value for me).
  • DOG FRIENDLY ALERT! The NPS isn’t exactly known for being offering most dog accessible places (wilderness… yada yada yada…). Well, White Sands is SUPER dog accessible. You can even take your pup/s backcountry camping with you! Edie and I romped throughout the dunes. I swear my angsty little creaton discovered a reason to live running around those dunes. She had so much fun! Editorial disclaimer: dogs are to be kept on leashes as all times.
  • Exposure risk is real! Temperatures range from freezing in late fall and winter to “my eyes are boiling” hot in summer. Even in most of fall and spring it can get quite “warm.” Fun fact: unlike beach sand, the gypsum won’t get hot, though, so although your skin might feel like it’s sizzling, you can walk on the sand dunes without getting burned. Don’t underestimate the intensity of the sun and temperatures. Bring, and wear, sunscreen, even in the winter. The sun reflects right off that gypsum and onto you. Shade only exists in concept and imagination in the dunes. You are in the desert.
  • Sunglasses are a great idea… for a couple of reasons: 1) the sun, and 2) the wind! No one wants sand in their eyes. I have it on good record that the wind can be downright offensive. Food for thought: if you’re bringing your pup, consider eye gear for them. I had Edie’s doggles on hand just in case. But, lucky for that mutt, there was no wind so she didn’t have to wear them.
  • Food and water. Water is essential… even in winter! Exposure and dehydration are definite ways to dampen your perception of fun. What I was saying about the temperature? You will get dehydrated before realizing it. You are in the desert. There are no cafes or restaurants inside the monument but there are some great picnic stations you can enjoy.
  • You can sled the dunes! You may bring your own or rent at the Visitor’s Center. I even have some friends who brought their snow boards and used those on the dunes. The gypsum isn’t slippery like snow is, so you need to wax the sleds. You can rent them for a nominal fee at the Visitor Center and return them for a partial refund. I watched some people sledding on the dunes and they looked like they were having a blast.
  • Activities range from aforementioned hiking and sledding to horseback riding (your own), cycling, backcountry camping, ranger programs, and salivation worthy photography (my skills should not be an ambassador for the staggering beauty of the dunes).
  • Lodging is available in Alamogordo or Las Cruces. Las Cruces is a larger and more vibrant community than Alamogordo. If you’re going through or staying in Las Cruces, do your taste buds and bellies a solid by stopping at Si Senor Express. It was recommended to me by a local from Hatch, NM, and she knows good Mexican food.White Sands National Monument

Have you been to White Sands? Do you have anything to add I might have missed? Or are you now Google Maps checking coordinates and route to plan your next road trip? Comments and recommendations or questions, comment below and let us know! I’d love to hear from you.

White Sands National Monument


Border Crossing: A Road Trip To Nogales, Mexico From Nogales, Arizona

Border towns on the U.S.-Mexico border don’t get much love. I “understand” the reasons people provide for why, but, frankly, I love Mexico. And I haven’t even spent as much time there as other destinations. But each time I go, I love it. My Pinterest boards are bursting with pins of my Mexico daydreams. Growing up in Phoenix, I, for one, always enjoyed day trips down to the sister cities Nogales, AZ and Nogales, SN. I looked forward to Coca Cola with real sugar – not corn syrup, purchasing new paper mache parrots, tin garden sculptures, and lunch at La Roca. I love road trips, and had not taken a road trip to Nogales in years, so….

Nogales, Mexico

When another 100-plus day taunted me, I knew I was NOT spending another sweltering monsoon Saturday in Phoenix. I *really* want to go up north. BUT — I also need to practice my Spanish before my move to Oaxaca. What better time and place than a morning border run to a long-missed trip to Nogales? I grabbed all the small bills I could gather, to make for easier bartering. Packed Edie’s vaccination and registration records, in case I was asked (I was asked but not required to verify — but why take the chance), and my passport & GOES cards. We left Phoenix and would be in Mexico by lunch time.

Once we hit I-19 from Tucson and started to pass the missions, San Xavier del Bac, Tubac, and Tumacacari. Further along, I spotted the warehouses where produce coming through the Nogales port waits for shipment to the rest of the U.S. Fun fact: an estimated 80% of U.S. purchased produce enters the country through Nogales. Another fun fact: the produce rests in those warehouses for up to a week before being placed on a transport truck in country.

A hillside view of Nogales, Mexico

Speaking of lunch… My favorite place is La Roca. I’ve been going there for over 20 years, and they do it right, every time. This is old school dining. Most of the staff have been there for decades and the service is perfect. The maitre d’ directed me to the patio where Edie and I sat on a balcony lined with potted geraniums. A perfect tamarindo margarita started to sweat on the glass… while the temperature was a sweet 83 degrees, the humidity was darn near tropical. La Roca has a near cult following and once you’ve been there, it’s easy to understand why. From the decor inside the cave to that service I mentioned, and the food…. the food! Seafood from the Sea of Cortez… and everything is fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh! The pico is so fresh, it’s practically sassy.

La Roca Mole

Following a delicious meal of mole and more margaritas, Edie and I crossed back over the tracks and pedestrian bridge to start some shopping. The general absence of U.S. tourists made for easy bartering. Alleys filled with steer skulls, punched tin, pottery, and woven textiles in an array of colors were reminiscent of trips before the border frenzy and fear of drug cartel violence when walking across the border required my driver’s license, at most.

Friendly shop keepers invited me in and were eager to sell their wares. Whereas I usually start a barter at about 30% and haggle up to an agreed-upon price, I found myself walking out with a serape and dress for my niece for about a third of the starting price. The bartering was easy and of everything purchased, I paid around 30-40% for everything. I had the advantage of being one of very few shoppers that day.

Nogales day trip shopping

I was on a mission for a statue of St Joseph to aid in a current real estate struggle (living in an on-the-market house can be a daily struggle of constant tidiness). Repeated pop ins to curios looking for San Jose resulted in empty hands or only giant plaster statues. Finally, the smallest one I could find I bartered down to $7 USD from the asking $22 USD. He, too, was bigger than I wanted, at nearly 10″ tall.

U.S. Mexico Border Wall

Crossing back into the U.S. was easy. I had my large tote of purchases and Edie in her sling. The customs agent asked me my purpose of my visit. “Lunch and shopping,” was my response. There was no further inquiry or inspection. He asked me if I had current vaccinations for Edie, and when I offered to show them, he politely declined. Like that, I was back in the U.S. A quick walk to the paid parking lot ($4 right across the street from Burger King on the border side of the road) and Edie and I headed toward Phoenix.

Nogales Mexico street art

Crossing through the more northerly border patrol checkpoint was a breeze. Somehow, my 7.6 lb rat of a dog manages to get the highly trained border patrol canines to lose their minds. I’ve seen one do a back flip on his handler’s leash – granted, Edie tends to start the aggression with her (fierce and imposing — in her mind, only) growls and barks as we start to pull to the check point. At this stage, usually they just wave me through so their dogs will calm down. If Edie weren’t so annoying, I’d probably find the scenario amusing. But, alas, we’ve been through the scene too many times.

We stopped at Tumacacori, but alas, no dogs allowed at the mission! Sorry, Edie!

Tumacacori National Park

I made it back to Phoenix in about 2 1/2 hours. Pete balked at the size of St. Joseph and I assured him I endeavored to find a smaller statue. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of St. Joseph before he went into the ground… We had an accident. When Pete put him in the hole he dug, head first (always), he was decapitated. It remains to be seen if that is going to motivate him to help the house sell quicker or if we are in for a longer sell. This is very much a sort of groundhog day conundrum!

But what about safety, right? 

Visit Nogales

With all the talk about the “great, great wall” a particularly provocative presidential candidate continues to tout, the border – and existing wall – remains a controversial topic. I hadn’t been to Nogales since the Sinaloa cartel and smugglers (human and drugs) descended upon the area with increased violence. A couple of friends and I recklessly camped on a beach along the Sea of Cortez during the height of the violence, but we were not disturbed, threatened, or observant to any activity.

There are varying reports of safety. The biggest risk to U.S. tourists is probably wrong place, wrong time. My thoughts on that are there are plenty of places in Phoenix and any other large U.S. city where wrong place/time can play out. Granted, I’m a bit more adventurous than a majority of my friends, but I’m by no means an adrenaline seeker!

I felt safe my entire time, even when venturing outside of the Obregon corridor (which is generally not recommended). To be fair, though, I only saw one other U.S. couple during my entire day. I sharply observed changes and noted that this was not the Nogales I knew from shopping marathons with my mom and day jaunts with ASU sorority sisters and friends. While the squares and sidewalks were bustling and lively, I found curio shops primarily empty. Vendors were eager and flexible with negotiations.

Overall, from what I saw on my solo shopping excursion, general safety concerns apply. Don’t be a fool, and you’ll be ok. As for my day trip with Edie, I am content with my purchases and think we had a day well spent.

Shopping in Nogales