Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

While I was moving to college, my family and I stopped for the night in Caliente, Nevada and spent time in Cathedral Gorge State Park. After a long day of driving, it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs in such a beautiful area. We were lucky to get there around sunset, so we had some amazing views.

Part of Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge is on the eastern side of Nevada and is home to many unique clay formations made from years of continuous erosion, creating very photo worthy orange and yellow hues. There are many open areas, as well as sever slot canyon areas. Make sure to keep track of where you are as it can easy to get lost in them!

Inside some of the trails

There are numerous hikes to take, including Miller Point Trail, Eagle Point Trail, and Juniper Draw Loop, the longest being three miles. Most of the trails are fairly easy for most people and great to take kids on. If you are low on time, simply parking by and exploring the Cathedral, Canyon, and Moon caves will give you plenty of opportunity to see the slot canyons and formations. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the Cathedral caves. If you do explore the caves, note that there are certainly possibilities of seeing bats and make sure to wear study shoes as the terrain may be uneven.

Looking back on some of the caves

There are also some historical structures nearby, including some built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The water tower and outhouse are no longer in use (don’t fret though, there are functional bathrooms nearby), but stand to serve as a thank you to those who helped develop the park during its creation in 1935.

The CCC’s water tower

If you are looking to stay the night, there are 22 $15 camping spots with an additional $10 fee for electric hookups. Each spot has a grill, table, shaded area, and access to a bathroom with showers. There are quiet hours from 22:00 to 07:00 and the visitors center is open from 09:00 to 16:30.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for very long, but what we saw was gorgeous and I would love to return, if only to take a few more photos.

Peeking out into the valley

Have you been to Cathedral Gorge, or passed by while driving to Caliente? Would you like to? Leave your thoughts the comments!

Hassan II Mosque: Casablanca’s Most Gorgeous Sight

On the Atlantic coast, one of Moroccan’s most stunning buildings is nestled in amongst the resorts and office buildings. Finished in 1993, this mosque was the combined work of 10,000 men and boasts both incredible architecture and carefully detailed artwork. It holds over 100,000 people, of which 25,000 fit in the main building and another 80,000 can participate on the gorgeous grounds.

Hassan II Mosque

After the death of Mohammed V, King Hassan ordered the construction of the mosque in order to give the people a beautiful center of worship, as well as help Casablanca prosper as a city of beauty. The King funded the mosque himself, as well as through public donations. It was designed by Michel Pinseau, a French architect and built by highly skilled artists over the course of seven years. Most of the materials were sourced from Morocco itself, except for the chandeliers, which are made of Venetian glass.

Moroccan stone arches

The Hassan II Mosque also happens to be the third largest mosque in the world and the largest in Africa. It also has the tallest minaret at a whopping 210 meters. The total grounds include the mosque itself, as well as a library, madrasa (school), and the visitor center/museum. The mosque is partially built over the ocean, whereas the other buildings remain slightly more inland. When visiting, make sure to stop by all of the buildings, as each are intricately built. The exteriors alone have so much to take in with all the detailed carvings and tile work.

The detail in some of the arches

If you want a more in-depth experience, the mosque offers tours in between prayers that are available in an array of languages. Times vary depending on the time of year and day of the week (make sure to check the website for more information). We took out tour early in the morning, which was a great option as the lighting was phenomenal and it wasn’t overly busy. Keep in mind, if you visit the interior, one’s knees and shoulders should be covered, although a headscarf is not necessary. Upon entry, everyone is asked to remove their shoes (bags are provided for safekeeping) and then everyone is divided into their language for the tour.

Details of the interior

The first stop in is the prayer hall which is a large space with the front facing towards Mecca. Here is where people will gather to worship, led by the imam. The area is incredibly spacious with heavily detailed pillars and ceilings. The stone is all handout and featuring Moorish design. The same goes for the cedar, which was chosen due to its natural insect repellent and resistance to the salty ocean air.

Ceiling artwork

In the center of the room are glass floors that provide a glimpse of the absolution rooms. Towards northwestern side, there are picturesque views of the Atlantic. However, one of the most fascinating parts of the mosque is the retractable roof, which opens to allow in fresh ocean air. It is especially helpful during Ramadan when the mosque reaches its highest capacity. This feature is incredibly unique and with any luck, visitors may be able to see it opened.

The rooftop

Underneath the main hall are the absolution rooms, where people wash before prayer. The area is filled with gorgeous tiles and engravings, including some Arabic calligraphy. The marble fountains are especially gorgeous and beautifully designed.

The tour was ended after the visit to the lower level. Overall, I found visiting this mosque an exceptional experience and a great opportunity to understand the religion of Islam and Moroccan design. Our guide was phenomenal and the sights were stunning, creating a definite must-see in the area of Casablanca to the point where I have to add some more pictures:

Have you ever visited the Hassan II Mosque? Is it on your bucket list? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Day in Casablanca

Casablanca was the introduction into my time in Morocco and Northern Africa! Many people fly in and out of the white city on their way to explore the other pieces of the country, such as Fez, Marrakech, Ourrzazate, or Meknes as the flights are usually cheaper. This being said, Casablanca is easily worth the one day trip if you can squeeze it in and here’s how I would spend it:

Casablanca from my hotel view

I would start by first visiting the Hassan II Mosque early in the morning. This Mosque ended construction in 1993 and is the third largest in the world and the largest in Africa. It is also one of the few mosques that non-Muslims may visit during times between prayer. Almost all of its materials have been sourced from Morocco itself, which gives valuable insight to the beauty of the country, as well as its natural diversity. Its construction was completed by modern day specialists in each craft, from the tiling to the carving to the painting and collects aspects from Moorish and Islamic design, along with more local Moroccan aspects.

Hasan II Mosque

The mosque leads insightful tours conducted in a number of languages, including English. Our guide was incredibly kind and offered plenty of information on the construction of the building and the religion itself. For instance, she told us that much of the woodwork is cedar, due to its natural insect repellent and its resistance to the salt and harsh conditions from the Atlantic. She also told us that the roof opens (not unlike a car sunroof) to let in natural air and help with crowding during busier prayer days, especially during Ramadan. This was something I had never seen or heard about in any sort of mosque, church, synagogue, or other place of worship and frankly I thought it was pretty incredible.

Details in the ceiling

The prayer room is at ground level and is a large space that may hold up to 25,000 people. The walls and ceiling around the area is heavily detailed with impressive mosaics, carvings, and paintings. There is some view of the Atlantic Ocean as well, which also brings in soft natural light.

Gorgeous mosaics on the outside of the building

Underneath the prayer hall are the absolution rooms where people may wash before going to prayer. The rooms are separated by gender, but both look identical. Like most of the building, much of the room is made with local marble and Arabic calligraphy is be found on the walls.

Calligraphy in the absolution rooms

After visiting the absolution rooms, the tour is over. However, being there early in the morning gives one the ability to take more pictures outside and explore some of the nearby areas, including the fountains and the shore. The place where one buys entrance tickets is worth a second stop to revisit the samples of the designs and overall history of the building.

Beautiful artwork

After visiting the mosque, I would then take the time to stop for lunch somewhere along the coast. Casablanca, while still having common moroccan food just as tagine and cous cous, also has a large amount of seafood. We stopped at a small, quiet restaurant called Restaurant Essaâd (مطعم السعد ير حب بكم) where we enjoyed much of the local twists on tajine and sandwiches. Typically, olives and bread are served as appetizers and mint tea is incredibly common as well.

Restaurant Essaâd

After grabbing a bite to eat, one could stop at the Casablanca Cathedral. Unfortunately some event or construction was occurring when we visited, so we were unable to enter. However, it is labeled a must for visiting Casablanca, even though it stopped being a center of worship around 1956. Be sure to check times and entry prices because they apparently change.

Instead of the cathedral, we went to pigeon park, or Mohammed V Square. There are by far, many more pigeons that I have ever seen in my entire life. They crowd around the fountain and bathe in the waters. Nearby, there are lots of families hanging around and small rides for the children.

Mohammed V Square

Right across the street from the square is a store called Exposition Nationale d’Artisanat (العرض الوطني الصناعة التقليلدية). It has a few different floors full of souvenirs, from poufs to camels to shoes. Not all of it is artisan, nor would I recommend this place for more expensive purchases, such as leather goods or carpets, but it gives an idea of what can be purchased in the markets and what a reason price would be for that product. Also, there are a lot of smaller trinkets that you can find cheaper here than in the markets, such as mini tajines, post cards, and magnets. Either way, exploring here is a wonderful experience.

After that, we went to some more specialized shops. Our first stop was a carpet shop. When we walked in, we were warmly greeted and asked to sit in a large area. There were carpets stacked everywhere I could see. After getting the customary mint tea, the owners started rolling out carpets made of camel hair, agave, and sheep wool of all sorts of shapes and patterns. The man explained how each type is made and different features of them. Once each carpet was explained, we were asked to give a “no” or “maybe,” to each. Both parties in my group narrowed down to a carpet we wanted and then the bargaining began. As is typical, we were given a collective starting price. Unfortunately, I was the only one that ended up reaching a deal and I left with a multicolored camel hair carpet.

Make sure that you aren’t in a rush when visiting carpet shops, as it can take a few hours, especially if you find some you like. Also, from my experience, Marrakech had cheaper options, but Casablanca had more agave carpets if that is what is of interest. My last piece of advice is to certainly not take a starting price. It’s typically considered rude not to bargain and prices are set high to begin with. Even if don’t make a purchase, the experience is very unique to Morocco and worth having.

Carpets galore!

After that I would take the remaining hours to explore the older part of town. This part is the best glimpse of what Casablanca looked like before French colonization. Our hotel, Hôtel Central, was in the middle of the medina, the old, walled part of the city and provided easy access to the port and markets nearby. This area is easily reached by foot and offers excellent views of the ocean and is a great place to visit!

The stairwell at our hotel

Some of the markets have great options for gifts and food. We got so many wonderful items, from a camel leather pouf to a “magic” box that there was a trick to unlocking. There were plenty of clothes, leather products, and souvenirs available. Most of the vendors were friendly and willing to help us find the products were looking for. There are a number of places offering Moroccan street food, including several types of meat and vegetables in the forms of wraps, sandwiches, kebabs, and more. The best part is the fresh squeezed orange juice. There are so many people selling fresh squeezed fruit juices from watermelon to avocado to oranges and more, definitely a must buy.

Overall, Casablanca is a great place to spend a day exploring and taking in the sights. Between Mohammed V Square and the Hassan II Mosque, it is worth the day trip or more if you can make it!

Have you ever been to Casablanca? Or tried tagine? Or explored Moroccan markets?

Working With Education First (EF) Tours

Two of my trips abroad have been spent with Education First (EF) Tours: Peru and Tanzania. EF became a leading tour company in my school starting my freshman year when my friends and I planned our trip to Tanzania, which happened to be the first international student trip out of our town since 9/11. Each experience with them was incredibly special to me and here’s a full review of each main travel aspect:

Peru Trip crew


EF has a knack for creating itineraries that are action packed and seamless- when you’re not on a service trip. My trip to Peru was heavily loaded with stuff to do every day and we were easily transported from one place to another, with little wasted time. We stayed in several cities and villages, including Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, and Puno and never had issues with our lodging and always had something exciting planned for the day. However, during Tanzania, which was a more service oriented trip, we killed a lot of time waiting around in our tent playing cards. While I still cherish these memories, I felt like it was wasted potential to see and do many more new things, especially when we were so far from home. However, some of this may be attributed to the fact that we were one of the first groups in this area; therefore it was necessary to have established relationships with the locals beforehand. Who knows, but I wish we had done more with our time and money. One aspect I particularly felt scarce on was learning the history of the area I was in.

Exploring Machu Picchu


All of the places I stayed were clean and hospitable. The only inconvenience we ever had was we had a bedsheet with a bunch of dirt on it in Ollantaytambo, but both trips had very nice places to stay with great service. Some of the Peru hotels had the best breakfasts I have ever had. In Tanzania, we did spend time in a hotel for one night, but the rest were big mess tent style areas. While the area was pretty rural the spaces were still clean and well taken care of. We fit four people in each tent, which gave us plenty of room for belongings and moving around.

Inside one of the tents in Tanzania
Our hotel in Ollantaytambo (note the ruins above!!)


EF has done a spectacular job of keeping meals available to people of all needs, from peanut allergies to vegan to food dye (my only allergy). Meals often had a wide range of options, from buffet styles to just a vegetarian or meat option. Everywhere we went it was friendly and well kept, which helps the fear of catching a foreign bug. We got to try lots of local cuisine and cooking styles. I even got to try guinea pig near Cusco, Peru.

Food in Arusha, Tanzania
Guinea pig in Peru


At all points in both trips I felt safe. We were never even in any uncomfortable situations or times when health may be compromised. We passed through areas in Peru that were known to be more risky to certain groups, such as Juliaca, but we never stayed or spent time in them. We were completely supervised and had interpreters at all times as well.

Our Peruvian tour leader
Two of our four guides in Tanzania


Both trips I attended were relatively pricy (mostly due to flights), but I have mostly felt that the experience was worth the cost. I had a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have experienced traveling solo or even with small groups.

Our Tanzania group

Overall, EF tours is a reliable, trustworthy tour company that offers awesome opportunities. I would and do recommend them to fellow classmates, friends, and peers, as they make sure the trip is seamless and leaves the student feeling fulfilled and maybe a bit unexcited to go home.

Ziplining in Koloa, Kaua’i

Kōloa is an awesome small town on the south side of the island that hosts many fun things to do. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to go zip lining with Koloa Zipline (the same company also does ATV tours, bass fishing, snorkeling, and other things), which was super fun!

Our whole group

Koloa Zipline was an absolutely phenomenal group to go with because they kept the spirit light-hearted (even when some in the group were nervous or scared) and offered immense insight to history and life on the island. Our guides were Val, Spencer, and a newer trainee that Spencer was working with. All of them were hilarious and talented, making for a great experience.

Us with Spencer

Our tour started with us attending “ground school,” which is basically the rules and how-to’s of zip lining. Each person was fitted to a harness and given their handles so that we could clip into the lines. We also were provided helmets, which conveniently have GoPro mounts already attached, so I didn’t have to worry about losing mine.

From there, our guides told us the numerous positions of how one can zip line, including upside down, tandem, spread eagle, super man, or more. If you are smaller or have kids, make sure you or they are comfortable going head first or tandem because you’ll need to reduce drag in order to make it through the longer lines.

Going upside down

The tour starts with a brief drive up to the first line. The guides talk about some of the history of the island, including the sugar plantations, which shut down in the last century. One of the last mills is even visible from the road. Additionally, there is a large history of movie making in Kaua’i , from “Jurassic World,” to “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” to “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which many of the sights you can see on tour. The guides showed us some of the explosive scenes of the Jurassic movies and the tunnel where Harrison Ford ran from the boulder in the “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which was super cool.


The truck brought us up to the first line which is short and most people do in a sitting position. The guides catch you at the end, so there is no need to brake or slow yourself down. The other lines vary in length, with the longest being line eight at a half mile long. Some offer great views, including that of a reservoir.

Some of the views

Overall, this was a great experience that got many of us out of our comfort zones and into something new. This entire tour was fantastic and the people involved couldn’t have been better. I loved the incorporation of history, nature, adventure, and humor. I would love to take one of their tours again and would recommend their services to anyone and everyone.

Adventures in Kaua’i, Hawai’i

Here is my first ever Youtube video for Walks of Namayani! It features the adventures we had during our trip throughout April 2019. More articles will come shortly detailing each in depth!

DAY ONE/TWO: checked into Koloa Landing Resort and explored Koloa’s shops and beaches

DAY THREE: hiked through Waimea Canyon

DAY FOUR: rented kayaks from Wailua Kayak and Canoe and hiked to Secret Falls

DAY FIVE: ziplined with Koloa Ziplines

DAY SIX: took a tour to the Napali Coast with Kauai Sea Tours

Thank you to my grandma and aunt for making this trip happen!

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!

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:


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. 


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!