Kootenai Falls, Montana

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) has offered many opportunities to explore the wilderness around me. I have seen forests, rivers, lakes, and all sorts of natural wonders throughout all of my life, but one I have thoroughly enjoyed and returned to is Kootenai Falls.

The falls is part of the Kootenai River and is very large and undammed, creating a lot of free flowing water. It is one of the biggest falls in this area, offering breathtaking views of the river and the mountains surrounding it. There are several great view points and you can actually get fairly close to the water, allowing you to take great pictures. It is seven miles away from Libby, Montana and is easily accessible if you take Highway 37 north. It is really easy to see the turnout and the highway and train tracks run alongside the river.

A small portion of the falls

The falls are open at most times of the year, but the best time is definitely during spring, since the river is at its highest due to runoff from the snow. Most of the pictures in this post are from late spring, where the water is still high, but the flow has diminished a little bit, making it easy to see the falls up close. If you are lucky, you may be able to see elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, or mule deer up on the surrounding mountains.

The trails in and around the area are very clear cut and well worn, making them easy to navigate for most physical states. There is little variation in elevation and the trails to the falls are short, making them perfect for all ages. However, they are not wheelchair accessible and I would not recommend the trails for people who have poor balance or depth perception, since there are some roots and uneven surfaces.

The trail to the bridge
Signs towards the hikes

My personal favorite part of this area is the Swinging Bridge, which is a long rope bridge extending over the gorge and the rapids. It was originally built by the forest service to access forest fires, but has been rebuilt since its original construction. It is a half mile hike from the same starting point of the falls hike. For those afraid of heights, I would not recommend it since it is about a hundred feet over the water and does swing (it is completely safe though!).

View of the bridge from the sides
Swinging Bridge

Overall, if you are looking for a day trip from Sandpoint, Clark Fork, Libby, Troy, or any other nearby places or just looking for someplace to stop while passing through, Kootenai Falls is a fabulous place to stop to see the power of nature and the wilderness.

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a very unique place that lives in a constant balance of their historic past and modern day life. Originally founded by Ed Schieffelin, it is easy to find a broad mix of legend and truth and there is plenty of historic sights to spend hours touring. This has always been one of my favorite places to visit in this region of Arizona, since there is so much to do and see, especially if the old west is of interest to you.

Streets of Tombstone

How to get around:

I would suggest driving and parking at the intersection of Sixth Street and Allen Street, behind the old high school. From here you have easy access to all the main sights and shops and there is no fee. Parking can be crowded at times, but luckily almost all parking spots in the area can get you where you need to go. There is Uber if you aren’t driving yourself, but I would strongly recommend driving independently, since the roads are easy to navigate and you can be on your own schedule.

Where to stay:

There are a number of hotels in Tombstone to stay at when visiting. Most of the cheaper ones are behind Allen Street and towards the highway, but most of the cultural and historic options are near some of the sights and tend to be a more traditional boarding house or bed and breakfast. Most lodging is under $100 a night, but options in some of the nearby towns are cheaper if you are looking for opportunities to save.

Draft horses in Tombstone

What to do:

Tombstone is the epicenter of history of the old west, making a trip here both educational and exciting. Even though the time of cowboys was well over a hundred years ago, people still dress and act as though they are in the 1800s, making for a unique dynamic. There are plenty of activities for people of all ages, but some of the history of that time period may not be suited for a younger crowd.

If you are into history and oddities, check out the Bird Cage Theatre. When you walk in, there is so much to look at, from the massive painting on the wall, to the collections that fill the shelves. This place used to be a brothel and gambling hall, as well as a theatre, hence the bullet holes in the ceiling and numerous rooms. You can see the table where Doc Holliday, famous gunfighter and friend of Wyatt Earp, played cards against outlaw Johnny Ringo or another table that hasn’t been moved for over a hundred years or so. This building is one of the most well preserved in the area and certainly holds much information for all to understand the chaos of the time period.

The sign outside of the theater

Another big historical sight is OK Corral, which put Tombstone on the map, since it became one of the most famous shootouts of the Wild West.

This fight is often considered the climax of a series of events that led up to the death of several people, from both sides of the conflict. After moving to Tombstone, the Earp family, including Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan held positions of power as the local lawmen. Their time in service was not easy going, as it was often tainted by the difficulties presented by the Cowboys, a local outlaw gang. Part of the Cowboys included Tom and Frank McLaury, as well as Ike and Billy Clanton, who would rival the Earps and Doc Holliday, during the gunfight in 1881. Despite the name, the shootout actually took place behind C.S. Fly’s Photographic Studio, which is settled near the OK Corral and is now marked at the true location. As a result, Billy Clanton and the McLaurys were killed (Ike had fled from the fight) and Virgil, Morgan, and Doc were all harmed. Only Wyatt remained unscathed.

The sign outside the shootout

Afterwards, the tensions still remained and Virgil was shot by a Cowboy and maimed. Nearly four months later, Morgan was killed while playing billiards, which ultimately pushed Wyatt into leading a personal vendetta to extinguish the Cowboys. The posse created by Wyatt included some of his closest friends, such as Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, John “Texas Jack” Vermillion, Jack “Turkey Creek” Johnson, and others. The new lawman in Tombstone, Johnny Behan, immediately led a search to arrest the Earp Vendetta, but soon faded after they crossed into New Mexico Territory.

With this history in mind, you can visit the OK Corral and the Photographic Studio. You enter through a gift shop that is full of interesting artifacts and gifts (flavored crickets, anyone?) Leaving the building, you can see information and buildings on brothels in the city, as well as the life of corral and stable workers. Keep going and you will see the photography studio, and the building where Doc’s significant other, Kate, watched the entire shootout. Next to Fly’s is the area itself where the Clantons and McLaurys turned their guns against Doc Holliday and the Earps. If you are really lucky, you may be able to witness one of the gunfight reenactments, which in my opinion, are a little exaggerated but entertaining.

The reenactment

For more history outside of the legendary gunfight, the Tombstone Courthouse Historic State Park is also nearby. For a small admission cost, you can chronologically view the history of Tombstone, starting with Schieffelin and his hunt for mining wealth, which resulted in his friends saying “the only stone you will find out there is your own tombstone,” and the early history of the boomtown. There is plenty of history about some of the other happenings besides the shootout, including lynchings and the trying of outlaws. You can actually see the gallows where those proven guilty were hung, as well as other artifacts of the court.

The gallows

Another small place to check out (even if you don’t go inside) is the Rose museum, which is home to the world’s largest rosebush. However, it is more like a tree and if you are lucky enough to catch it blooming, you can smell it blocks away. There are more artifacts about the history of the family and Tombstone inside if you still haven’t cured your history fix.

A very small fraction of the roses

For a more interactive tour experience, check out the Good Enough Mine. These tour guides are the greatest. They tell the best jokes and are super helpful in guiding you around the massive mine that lugged out large amounts of silver. Learn what a honey pot is, as well as how they mined well beneath the town and the history of Tombstone’s mining industry. Dogs are allowed and its pretty cheap compared to many mine tours.

Instruction on how dynamite was used
Our guide at Good Enough

If you are on a budget, check out Boothill Graveyard, where many of the people in this area were buried. Here you will find the graves of Billy Clanton and the McLaurys, John Heath (a prominent rancher), China Mary, and Lester Moore. Some of the gravestones are rather uninteresting but other are punny or clever in their weird sadistic way. If you want to get a full experience, you can pay for a pamphlet that lists each grave, who is in it, and their cause of death, which can be exceptionally peculiar.

One of the punny graves

Last, but not least, I would certainly recommend eating or at least stopping by Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Here, you will find great food, but will have to stop and gawk at all the memorabilia lining the walls. If you are lucky, there will be a live singer to entertain you and the staff is super friendly and often dressed to match the time period Tombstone was booming. After you eat, check out the Shaft, which is a little underground gift shop with a few tunnels nearby, where a man nicknamed “The Swamper,” lived and dug his own shafts in attempt to find fortune. According to legend, he now haunts the area to make sure no one finds what he hid.

Big Nose Kate’s bar
Sign for the Shaft

Overall, Tombstone is a fantastic place to discover the Wild West and the history surrounding it. I have come back not just once but somewhere around four times to delve into its engaging history and to learn more about the time period! I hope you enjoy your time there!

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is easily one of my favorite places in Arizona for many reasons. There is so much to do and see even though it is relatively small and the people are exceptionally friendly. It is packed with history and beauty (street art is huge here!), yet for some reason doesn’t get overwhelmed with tourism, which makes it nice for exploring. 

View from up above

How to get around:

You will most likely be driving, taking an Uber, or something similar to get there, but once you do, I would recommend parking your car at the bottom of the historic district and walking from place to place. There is a small fee but personally I feel like the exercise and ease of not having to navigate narrow and confusing streets (not to mention tricky parking!) just isn’t worth it. However, it is possible to drive if there is need. 

Street sides

Where to stay: 

If you aren’t only taking a day trip from Douglas, Tucson, or other locations, there are several hotels to stay at, most of them being locally owned. There are plenty right near the historical district in buildings that are old and perhaps historic themselves. Examples of this is the Inn at Castle Rock or Bisbee Grand Hotel.

Flowers neat the Inn at Castle Rock

What to do:

There are quite a few options for things to do and see in Bisbee, of which wandering around town is one of my favorites. Bisbee is a strange place with many strange stores that one can find by walking the historic streets and window shopping. There are tons of businesses with massive collections of junk and antiques, but they are exceptionally fun to dig through. In most of them you can find lots of old outfits and hats or old photos or forgotten plates and dishes. Now and then you will stumble across some treasures to bring home. Some other stores have handmade works, be it candles, sewn goods, metal works, or more. One of my favorites stores !!!!!!! Is super cool for finding metal works to bring home and give. Along with seeing the stores, walking around will introduce you to tons of street art (legal and not), as well as lots of beautiful plants, which may be blooming if you plan to visit in the summer. I loved seeing all the pretty flowers!

Street art

There are two main museums in Bisbee, of which both are super informative and well organized. The more formal of the two is the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, which has tons of information and artifacts of the history of the city. There is a lot of information on the fires Bisbee has faced, as well as their involvement in the mining industry. The museum arrangement is beautiful and helpful in avoiding crowding, which make it a very pleasant visit. The other museum, the Bisbee Restoration Museum, is smaller and less formal, but is interesting nonetheless. It houses a fine collection of donated items from the times of the old west, when Bisbee was prospering. There are tons of old typewriters and sewing machines, amongst many other things. The admission to this one is free, making so there is no reason for you not to go!

The sights of Bisbee

The Copper Queen Mine is also an interesting place to visit and is one of the few mines still safe enough to visit. When you arrive to the old building just above the historic center, you will be given a headlamp and a bright yellow coat. From here, you board an old tram that takes you through the tunnels (would not recommend if you are claustrophobic), and into some of the wider areas. Your tour guide will explain how the mine used to function, stories about the people who worked here, and eventually the end of the mining industry in many of these old towns. The guide was super friendly and informative. There are tons of photo opportunities and cool things to see. I have had the opportunity to take many mine tours in Arizona, but this was honestly one of my favorites. 

Signs in the mine

Old Bisbee Ghost Tours also hosts a handful of tours to give Bisbee’s tourists a paranormal experience. I personally have never been, but they are super popular and allow a mixture of urban legend and history. The company offers five tours, such as the Bisbeen Inn Ghost Hunt or the Haunted Pub Crawl. As an urban legend fanatic, I would love to go and suggest going yourself!

There are so many places to see in Bisbee and if you are in the area, I would not miss out on this little town. There is so much culture and character here that mixes with its old history and interesting people to create a warm, friendly, and fun environment. Definitely bring a camera with you because there are too many photo opportunities to miss!

More art

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona is a fantastic place to get a glimpse of Arizona and the desert without the overwhelming rush (and heat!) of Phoenix. Personally, I prefer it over Phoenix and all the nearby cities. It is clean, urban, and accessible. On nearly any trip to Arizona, I have always landed in Tucson and explored in and around the city. Not to mention, there is room to visit many other places nearby, including the historic Tombstone, hip Bisbee, or Phoenix. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac

How to get around:

I would certainly recommend driving in Tucson. The roads are clear and well maintained, making it easy for commuting from one place to another. The traffic isn’t bad either, even at places that are busy, such as the airport. Another option would be to Uber or take the bus system, all depending on the amount of luggage you have or what you are doing.

Where to stay:

We have never attempted to stay at a luxury hotel there, but many of the cheaper, chain hotels are actually pretty nice. Many of them have pools as well, which is nice for hot summer days. The rates are more expensive near the central areas, but if you have a car, finding a cheap hotel should be no problem.

What to do in Tucson:

Tucson is home to plenty of things to do both near and far. Some of my favorite days there has been just driving around and shopping since they have tons of options for thrifting, along with their mall. My personal favorite is Plato’s Closet, where you can find name brand clothes for a much cheaper rate, while selling stuff you have outgrown or no longer want. 

One of the most popular attractions is the Pima Air and Space Museum. Here you will find TONS  of planes, both new and old. The museum itself holds a boatload of information on flight and planes, especially in regards to the military. There is also a boneyard, filled with tons of no longer used planes, neatly arranged into lines. The space part the museum is also super interesting and full of beautiful exhibits. Honestly, it is a pretty overwhelming experience since there is so much to look at and see. The total space is quite large and there are actually shuttles to take you from one place to another if you so desire. Make sure to bring water, those summer days can be really toasty outside!

Pima Air and Space

My personal favorite place to visit in Tucson is San Xavier del Bac. This old cathedral has been in progress since the 1700s and is still being built. Here, one can find marvelous artwork in the ceilings, beautiful gardens and shrines, and lots of history. I did not take a tour, but I wish I did because there is so much detail in the architecture. For example, the door handles are snakes, which is interesting given Christianity usually depicts snakes as evil due to the one in the Garden of Eden. However, when the church was being built, they were depicted in a good light since snakes are typically by water, which is necessary for survival. Unique things like this are easy to miss, which is why I would recommend a tour. Also, take the hike up the nearby hill because it offers fantastic views of the cathedral and the area. 

San Xavier
Inside the mission
One of the altars

There is also a handful of other old sights and art museums to check out depending on your interests!

What to do near Tucson:

Tucson is a great city to use as a base for other adventures and offers plenty of opportunity to digress into other areas of Arizona. I would definitely make some day trips south or even just to Vail! Here are some suggestions:

Vail:

Here you can experience two great natural ares. This city is home to Saguaro National Park, as well as Colossal Caves. Both are great to tour if you have a chance. Saguaro National Park is home to some of the biggest cacti you will ever see. The saguaro cactus is the cliché cactus we all see in depictions of the desert, usually accompanied by a cow skull and perhaps a roadrunner or lizard, but there are not the only cacti in the park. Here, you can find chollas, prickly pear, teddy bears, agave, mesquite, and many more desert plants. There is an awesome gift shop where you can find lots of souvenirs, including the sticker that is attached to my laptop as I write. There is a drive that one can take in their car up through the park that is the best way to experience it. I would definitely stop by the visitor center to get more information and routes and double check that your car is good to go.

Saguaro National Park

The other spot, Colossal Caves, is a super cool dry cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites that are much bigger than me. Originally discovered by Native Americans and then by thieves looking for a hideout, the caves were developed by the Civil Conservation Corps, which is what makes it accessible today. There are some awesome options for tours, some of which are more intense and physical than others, but all of them are informative and great! Make sure to bring light jacket, some of the caves are rather chilly.

Inside the caves

If you are really adventurous, there is a ranch nearby where you can pet animals and even take a ride through the desert. This was a huge highlight for me since I haven’t rode a horse in much longer than I would prefer. The service was great and the ride was beautiful, something I would recommend if you are into that kind of thing. 

Horseback riding in the desert

Tombstone and Bisbee: 

These historic cities aren’t far from Tucson and are great places to spend a day or two. Tombstone is home to many historical legends involving the wild west, between the OK Corral gunfight with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the others, the famous Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the strange Bird Cage Theater, numerous mines, Boothill Cemetary, and more. For a full immersion into the old west, this is definitely the place because many people dress in that time period, there’s tons of historic sites, and even reenactments of the gunfight daily. 

Draft horses in Tombstone

Bisbee is personally one of my favorite places in all of Arizona. It is a small town located in a valley near Douglas and the Mexican border. Here you can find plenty to do and eat, from visiting the historical Copper Queen Mine, the Bisbee Historical Museum (which is actually one of my favorite museums I have seen), and so many odds and ends you will find throughout the street. Bisbee is home to a vibrant and odd culture that is very unique and not really found elsewhere. There are tons of yummy snacks, coffee, sandwiches, and more all across town, but my favorite is Cafe Roka Also, if you are staying close to evening, consider taking a ghost tour to get a more spooky perspective. 

Bisbee

Overall, Tucson is a great place to explore and use as a gate into other Arizona cities. You can find plenty of things to do, good food, and vibrant beauty. Whether you are wanting to explore it or the nearby area, I would completely recommend checking it out during your time in Arizona!

Reflections on Italy

At last! Here is my final article on Italy, or it will be until I return again! It has been two years since my departure and a lot has happened since then, but I still continue to hold this experience near and dear to my heart. 

Us girls in Venice

So how did Italy compare? While Italy was not a dramatic culture shock or full of the most beautiful natural world, this trip held a lot of value for me personally. How I ended up meeting my host family alone was something out of a feel good movie, since finding your late mother’s penpal of over twenty years is not something that occurs every day. I was so grateful for all the support and aide they gave me during my stay and its easy to say I will never forget the connection I made with them. They are a second family to me and I love them dearly. As for the country itself, here are my biggest takeaways:

Taking in the view

Italy is the home of plenty phenomenal examples of architecture and showcases so many of the works of Palladio, who inspired much of the typical western architecture we see today. I felt that ever corner I turned down, there was yet another ornately detailed building. This is especially true for many of their cathedrals where art and architecture combine seamlessly. I felt the frescoes of Treviso or San Marco’s Basilica were some prime examples of this. 

San Marco’s Basilica

The food was also incredible and rich. I loved trying their numerous types of pasta and candy. I felt that there was such a strong connection between food and culture in Italy, which made it so much more enjoyable. I wish I had had the opportunity to try more of it (or at least bring home more than I did). 

I also loved the history in Italy. Here in the States we are often devoid of buildings from the medieval times, but in the Veneto region, they are so common. I loved looking at them and wondering if someone hundreds of years ago did the same exact things and what kind of life they lived. I also appreciated how well the new and old buildings mesh into a beautiful combination of modern and archaic. 

Old Palladio buildings

The culture is also so vibrant and fantastic. I was lucky enough to be there during some of the festivities and it was so great to experience the holidays. La Befana was a great experience that allowed me to take part in Christmas traditions without being flooded by other tourists like some celebrations, such as Carnevale in Venice. I also loved taking part in the dinner culture that plays such a huge role in many people’s day to day life. It was great to spend our mealtime together and conversing, even if it took several hours to do. There also weren’t nearly as many phones out at the dinner table as we see in the States or other places in the world. 

My host family

Was Italy better than any of my other trips? 

I can’t ever effectively compare all of my trips because they are all so different in nature. Italy held a personal reconnection with my mom and her friend that was very unique to that particular voyage and that alone is hard to beat. I wasn’t looking at the natural beauty of Peru or doing service in rural plains in Tanzania, but that didn’t mean the trip was any less important to me.

Canals in Venice

Did I like Italy? Would I recommend it?

I did love Italy, except for Venice. Venice receives a lot of hype from the travel world, but that is exactly its flaw. It is a gorgeous city, but there is a definite red flag when the amount of tourists outweighs the local population. In fact, tourism has driven out many of the locals, which hurts my heart because the people who created that beauty for us to enjoy are no longer there. Not to mention, the heavy cruise traffic and pollution has damaged the lagoon that used to provide so much life. To me, I feel like it is a lot of lost beauty that has been traded for economic benefit, and that is the reason I didn’t enjoy Venice as much. The rest of Italy that I saw was phenomenal and I would suggest visiting. I think Venice is great in the area, but I would hope it is not the sole focus of one’s trip.

The night before my departure

Overall Italy was a fantastic experience for me to reconnect with part of my old life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would hope that everyone has an opportunity to experience their vibrant culture and lifestyle!