Category Archives: Arizona

Sunset Skygazing

This is one of the biggest things I missed while living in Ecuador.

an arizona sunset

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Filed under Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States

Conquering Camelback Mountain in Arizona

View from the top of Camelback Mountain

My twin sister decided to introduce me to Camelback, which is a famous mountain – or hill, depending on the mountains you’ve grown up with wherever you live – in Arizona because it resembles a camel lying down in the desert surroundings. It has also gained a reputation for being a rather difficult hike/trek with many people getting hurt and air-lifted off the mountain. As we drove to the trail, my sister told me a story of how ambulances were taking someone away the very first time she was going to hike it. YiKES!

Camelback is so popular that the parking lot fills up rather quickly, leaving many people to park farther down in the neighborhood streets. When we arrived the parking lot was packed and a line of cars were waiting for people to leave for their chance to get a spot. My sister and I opted for the other parking areas. We started driving and saw groups of people running and walking to the trailhead from the parking area, which also turned out to be filled. We had no choice but to park in the rocky landscape with other cars and make the walk to the trailhead. I jokingly told my sister that this could be our warm-up.

I learned from my sister that the hike can take up to 3-hours, so we took a deep breath and braved the porta-potties before starting the hike. According to my sister, there are two sides to climb to the top of Camelback. One is an easy hike with a flat path that only gets a bit dangerous – picture a high-wire, you walk on the edge of the mountain – before you reach the top. The other, which we took, is steep the entire way up and includes lots of boulder hopping.

Hiking Camelback Mountain!

After you climb up the stairs, you get a break on a flat path that winds along a fence that keeps you from falling off the edge before getting to the first of two real steep ascents. Both of these climbs have a steel handle-bar to assist you up the rock’s surface. It is amazing to see how people get up these areas of the hike. Some opt for no handle-bar and literally crawl up while others cling to the fence or bar, and others who are descending are walking backwards holding onto the bar. After each ascent, most hikers take a break to catch their breath and watch the other hikers before getting to the boulder areas.

This was probably my favorite part. You could either go up the boulder crevice or climb the surface of the red rocks next to it. The surface was so flat and had this texture that you could literally stand up straight and walk up it. It looked like you were walking side-ways up this rock, it was brilliant. I was so nervous though that for the first bit of it I clung with my face smashed up to the surface because I didn’t want to fall. With the assurance of my twin sister, I finally stood up half-way up and walked up, feeling the burning in my calves the entire way.

Helicopter hovering while searching for an injured hiker

We venture onward and saw a helicopter making multiple rounds of the mountain, at points hovering. The pilot used its speaker to call out to hikers to assist them in their rescue attempt. “If you are by the injured hiker, please wave your arms.” All the hikers began pointing in the direction of the hiker that they passed during their descent. My sister and I pointed upward after noticing the people helping. We eventually saw the injured girl being nursed by her hiking partners. It appeared as if it was her ankle, which was no surprise because climbing the boulders – and at times jumping from one to the next – could easily lead to your foot slipping.

Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain

My sister told me we were near the top and our speed grew faster during the last portion. Our legs were burning and our breaths were quick, but we reached the apex where a crowd of hikers were resting and eating while enjoying the view. The Christmas tree was still up there along with a few decorated bushes. One group decided to take their Christmas picture for next year. We only had a few minutes of rest before we started our descent. On the way down we saw a girl who had just sprained her ankle a minute prior. She was in tears and being comforted by her friends. We continued on and made sure our feet were firmly planted before pressing on to the next boulder and the next…and the next. It was much faster on the way down and when we reached the wooden stairs, smiles replaced the open mouths that gasped for air the entire way up and down.

Hikers resting and eating snacks on top of Camelback Mountain

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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Tips, Travel, United States

Arizona: Tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation

Tonight my parents and I walked around the outlets in Anthem. We normally don’t frequent the shopping center but they had something special to offer: the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. I find it odd that a city in Arizona would be able to get the tallest tree, but hey, at least we have the ability to admire and appreciate the tree since we are not stuck in feet of snow or have to bear freezing temperatures and wind chill to enjoy it. Let me tell you, this tree was massive.  I was unable to fit the tree in its entirety into any picture (I can’t wait to get my panoramic camera under the tree – yes, I know that I’m getting one, I had to pick it out). It towers over the tops of the shops and can be seen from miles down the highway that the outlets are located beside. Underneath its limbs are giant presents and toys for kids and families to stand in front of for picture-taking opportunities.

It is good to see it in the daylight, not only for the picture-taking, but because you get the chance to see the huge ornaments that decorate the tree. At night when it is lit up, all you can see are the twinkling Christmas lights, which are still a beautiful sight to behold and definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

According to the details:

  • The 110-foot tall tree came from Northern California.
  • A huge crane was used to hoist the tree into place.
  • In total, 120 strings of lights and 3,000 ornaments decorate the massive tree.

nation's tallest christmas tree

standing under the tree with the presents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

reflection in the giant ornament

nation's tallest christmas tree lit up

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States

Printed By-Line: digital and print

topic of my News21 article

This is completely un-related to travel, however I could not resist the urge to spread the good news. My in-depth article that I wrote for News21 on employer sanctions was published in PRiNT and ONLiNE. This is the biggest accomplishment – to date – in my journalism career.

Background: I was chosen as one of 10 fellows for the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative, which includes 12 universities across the nation and is headquartered at my Alma Mater: Arizona State University. I was one of two undergrads accepted into the program and was the FiRST to get my story published out of the ASU group. The summer fellowship focuses on innovative story-telling. This year there was much more emphasis on impact and newsworthiness.

The nation’s leading journalism schools come together in this unique program to experiment with new forms of in-depth and investigative reporting.

Students travel the country to report on critical issues facing our changing nation and then find innovative ways to tell those stories.

my story leading the AzCentral home-page

Each school spent all their time and attention investigating and reporting on a specific subject area they felt they could write about accurately.

In Arizona, our group focused on immigration issues. Being so close to the border we felt this was appropriate.

My project:  It dealt with employer sanctions, which are laws that states pass in order to combat the hiring of undocumented immigrants in the workplace.

To narrow the focus and make a better comparison, I looked at two states: Arizona and South Carolina.

Both had incredibly similar employer sanctions laws. However, only one has been able to successfully educate their state businesses, enforce their immigration law, and prosecute or violate those that do not comply. Which state, you may be wondering? I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Here is the introduction to my article, which can be read online at AzCentral:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — When it comes to cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, Arizona may be getting the headlines, but South Carolina seems to be getting results. Only three businesses – all in the Phoenix area – have been prosecuted in the nearly three years since Arizona’s highly publicized employer-sanctions law took effect.
During that time, not a single business outside of Maricopa County has been punished for hiring illegal immigrants. By contrast, South Carolina has cited more than 200 businesses for being out of compliance since that state’s employer-sanctions law went into effect in 2009. South Carolina officials say that their efforts have paid off with far fewer illegal hires.
The two states have radically different approaches on how to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants.
South Carolina’s system gives authorities the power to scrutinize businesses’ hiring records and the state has a comprehensive program to educate employers about the legal consequences of hiring illegal immigrants. If auditors find illegal immigrants on the payroll, employers are cited, fined and forced to fire the workers.
In Arizona, county prosecutors must build an individual court case against each employer suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. And they must do it without easy access to the employer’s records, because the Arizona law does not provide subpoena power for those types of investigations.

Visit AzCentral to read the full story. Take a look at other immigrations stories covered in the 2010 News21 program at Arizona State University.

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Filed under Arizona, Facts, Internship, South Carolina, United States

Ready & packed, but the weather may disagree

Today was a successful day. It had to be. Otherwise, I would be, well, to be blatant, I would be screwed. I finished packing! Hooray! During my afternoon devoted to packing, I was reminded of two things.

1. I am definitely not a girly girl. I would gladly sacrifice a pair of shoes to fit my camelback into a suitcase.

2. I fit the stereotype of a typical North American that I think I need to bring all my “things” with me when I travel. However, after a few weeks I’ll realize I had brought too much.

I’ve also come to the realization that I may have had the disadvantage of being born and raised in Arizona, a state that gets less rain in a year than others receive in a day, to paint you somewhat of a portrait of my origins.

This is what I’ll be experiencing in my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

forecast for my first week in Ecuador

Rain, rain and more rain. I’m shocked I was able to buy an umbrella today at the store. I didn’t think they existed in Arizona. Okay, maybe I’m being overly dramatic but I’m being serious when I say that this is going to be a big change. Talk to any native Arizonan and they will tell you that anything below 70 degrees fahrenheit is absolutely freezing! I’m shuddering right now just seeing these digits. I don’t think I have more than two pairs of long pants and four, thin sweaters.  Oh well, it will be an adventure to say the least!

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Filed under Arizona, Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Stamp of Approval

So yesterday I flew to California for the day. Yup, just the day. My mission was to get my Ecuadorian visa. I took a super early flight out of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona where the baby blue skies were speckled with some stray, wispy clouds.

The desert landscape spread out below us the entire flight.

During descent, one flight attendant came over the speakers to insist that everyone turn off and put away their portable electronics because Burbank was consumed in fog and clouds. I suppose the devices were interfering with the pilot’s navigational system. I looked out the window and sure enough, an entire blanket of puffy clouds had made the celebrity haven completely invisible.

The plane slipped through the clouds and I kept glancing as hard as I could to see any sign of land below us. After about a minute of falling through whiteness I saw it just as we landed. It was if the sky and earth had left no distinction between each other.

Side note: I highly recommend the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank because it is much smaller & less busy than the LAX International Airport. Plus, it has great historical & educational displays throughout on the people and events that held significance. Such as, Amelia Earhart & Charles Lindbergh!

My shuttle took me directly to the consulate, which is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California on the fifth floor of a building that is also home to the Brazilian consulate (seventh floor). I walked into a completely empty room decorated with orange chairs and colorful artwork.

No one was even at the desk behind the glass windows. After standing for about 5 minutes I located the service bell and pushed it. Unanswered.

I contemplated pushing it again but then the consulate door swung open and a lady, and a couple behind the lady extravagantly entered the room.

The first lady pushed her way in front of me thinking someone was helping me and then she realized there was no one. In broken English she asked me if I had been helped and I said, “No, I suggest you push the button.” She pushed. Miraculously, someone appeared.

The lady didn’t even allow me to go, instead, she spread all her paperwork on the table and started talking in rapid Spanish. Apparently she needed to fill out more of her paperwork because the lady behind the glass acknowledged me and asked what I needed.

“I need to get a student visa.”

“Do you have your paperwork.”

I handed her my manila folder with all the paperwork complete, or so I thought.

“What will you be doing in Ecuador?” she asked.

“Student.”

“Student?”

“Yes, I’m going to be a student.”

“Oh, okay.”

She glanced at each piece of the required papers and forms for not more than 10 seconds. There was about a total of a minute of flipping papers and then an unexpected speed-bump.

“This isn’t notarized,” she said, pointing to my financial paper from the bank. “This needs to be notarized.”

My heart skipped a beat and my breath caught.

“I can’t give you a visa if this isn’t notarized.”

“Well, is there some way I can do it here or around here because I flew in just for the day to get this visa.”

The lady beside me decided she had finished completing her paperwork and that she could continue where she left off.

::rambling Spanish between the two::

The lady behind the glass put her hands up in universal language, which I took as meaning “too much, too much, let me finish with her and then I’ll come back to you.”

“There is a notary in the Brazilian consulate who can help you. Go get this notarized and then I can help you.”

On the way up to the seventh floor I call my mom and update her. I soon find myself sitting on a small love-seat in the smallest reception area ever waiting for a notary. My phone rings.

“I faxed a copy of your financial paper to the guy at the bank. He’s signing it right now and having the notary sign it too. It will be faxed right afterward.”

My head felt immediately lighter. THANK YOU MOM!! I go back down to the Ecuador consulate and tell the lady. After a few more bell pushes, she said she had received the fax, asked for the $130 cash ($30 for the paperwork, $100 for the visa) and said it would take 45 minutes to complete the visa. Fast-forward.

“Allison.”

I walked up to the glass window.

“Here you go.”

I got it! I will now be able to stay in Ecuador for up to one year.

The mission was completed.

After a whirl-wind day trip to California, I can finally breathe and start preparing for my move to the equator. I don’t think it has really set in yet. In 32 days I’ll be in Quito, Ecuador.

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Filed under Arizona, Ecuador, Latin America // South America, Travel

An Arizona Monsoon

Arizona is unique. Why? Because we receive rain from two places: the California area & the Mexico area. The Grand Canyon state is host to practically every type of topography. We have the desert in the lower region and the pine forests in the northern. Our climate can suit almost any person, whether you like the dry heat, or the moderate, cool temperature in the upper region.

What makes this state even more interesting is that every summer in Arizona we have a monsoon season, which can be described as hurricane and tornado-like winds, down-pouring rain and magnificent lightening shows. This part of the summer also witnesses the mighty force known as the haboob, which can only be seen in Egypt & Iraq. It is a wall of dust that carries itself over cities and neighborhoods, forcing drivers to pull off to the side of the road because they can no longer see in front of them.

During the monsoon season, the clouds build up all day long and sheets of rain let loose in the late afternoon and evenings. Frequently two storms build up from the southern region and the northern region, bursting inside the Valley. At other times, the monsoon combines with the dust storms to create a massive storm of epic proportions. The aftermath of a monsoon reveals knocked down power lines, metal street signs twisted in ways not thought elementally possible and trees bending into the streets after being uprooted. Roads are overwhelmingly flooded, making sidewalks invisible and cars shooting up walls of water. The canals, which are usually empty all year, are finally flowing like a river. Kids are swimming in lakes of water that once were grass areas. Some even bring out kayaks and paddle across the grassy lakes.

No matter the inconveniences that also arise after a monsoon has passed, such as blackouts and humidity, it brings with it excitement and relief for many Arizonans. We get to see the preview of it all day outside our windows as the clouds become larger and the sky grows darker. Cooler air offers a welcome comfort after experiencing scorching days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Monsoons become memorable events because it reminds us that life is still supported in a state that continually faces droughts and gives us something to look forward to in the Spring: blooming cactus blossoms & fields of flowers.

The first of a wave of monsoons this season.

The brewing storm in Downtown Phoenix.

Trees have been blown over by the monsoon winds.

This family is loading up their kayaks after taking a cruise in the grassy lake.

A kid takes a break from riding his bicycle through the grassy lake.

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A video of a grassy area transformed into a lake after a heavy monsoon rain.

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Filed under Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, United States