The Vatican Museums house something like 70,000 pieces of art, only 20,000 of which are on display. It’s one of the largest museums in the world and includes 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel. The museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century and today it is the 4th most-visited museum in the world, with around 6 million visitors shuffling their way through the galleries each year.
After the success of last year’s solo trip to New Mexico, I wanted more. I debated a few options, consulting this map and looking for clusters of national parks that would allow me to spend 5-7 days in one or two places while hitting a handful of parks. Mostly, I wanted to go west again and Arizona’s national parks kept popping up in the books I was reading, the shows I was watching and it all started to seem like a sign.
Shenandoah is, in a way, my home park. I was born in the mountains that it protects and I grew up driving up and down the Skyline Drive, but I think I took it for granted and, as a kid, I was restricted to whatever the adults wanted to do, which mostly wasn’t hiking. Plus, I’m a very different sort of explorer than I was growing up, and so, I’ve promised myself I’ll be better about visiting Shenandoah this year, that I’ll hike more and explore and just do more.
The first time I was introduced to death, I was 16.
I was working the concession stand at my high school’s production of Cinderella. Normally, I was on stage, but it was a musical and no one wanted to hear me sing. It was opening night.
I was called into a side room by my principal and my English teacher, Mr. Harris. I was scared. I called on my acting skills, begging them to provide for me. I thought I was caught, that my teacher and principal knew where I’d been that morning, that they’d smelled pot on me and I was scared they wouldn’t believe me when I told them I didn’t smoke it, that it was David’s, that he smoked it that morning, not me, that he was mad that I didn’t, that truly it wasn’t my thing. I preferred a pilfered Mike’s Hard Lemonade or a grape juice-infused shot of everclear.
1. THE GLACIER NATIONAL PARK BEAR.
Y’all, I’m obsessed. At Glacier National Park there is a bear. A black bear who lives in a cottonwood tree. This bear was first observed on March 23rd as it slowly woke up from the deep slumber of hibernation. Knowing that sometimes a bear hibernates in this tree, the incredible folks at Glacier set up a webcam in advance of bear-waking-up season and so now you can watch this bear participate in bear shenanigans 24/7.
There’s something special about volcanoes. Each once I’ve visited has left me reeling and feeling. Maybe it’s the power that’s left there, the imprint of destruction left on the earth, the memory of chaos. Whatever it is, I always feel it and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument was no exception.
Last year I didn’t read a lot, or at least not as much as I wanted to. I finished 32 books, out of my original goal of 50. But then, this year, I joined the local library and have been on a rampage ever since. With the first quarter of 2018 past us, I’ve already read 20 books, some great, many good and some almost awful.
1. THE LIBRARY.
I had a library card as a kid and, being mega, super poor, that was how I got my read on. This year I decided I needed to be a better adult and manage my money in a more responsible way and, as part of that effort, I got myself a library card.
I’m sure this is old news to many of you, BUT THEY LET YOU BORROW WHOLE PILES OF BOOKS FOR ZERO DOLLARS AND IT IS WONDERFUL AND DELIGHTFUL AND I AM ADDICTED. I’ve been putting books on hold like a fiend and every time I get the email notifying me my book is ready for pick-up I’m like a giddy kid on Christmas morning.
I had really good intentions. In my planner for that day I wrote, in all caps, “GO OUTSIDE, DUMMY,” and I woke up early with every intention of doing just that. I fed the dogs, put on my hiking boots and headed west, aiming myself toward Shenandoah National Park.
The park is only about an hour and half west of Richmond and the drive there was foggy, but easy. I filled it with my favorite songs and an occasional podcast. I was excited, vibrating with that familiar National Park-related joy I’ve come to know so well.
When three coyotes ran across the road in front of me I knew I was in the right place. I knew I was supposed to be there, that waking up early after a long day of travel was the right answer, that starting my Arizona national park adventure in Tucson, at Saguaro National Park was exactly, perfectly correct.
On my 30th birthday I went alone to a nearby state park and wandered into the woods.
It was a strange time. I’d been back from an eye-opening and heart-filling cross country road trip with one of my best friends for a few weeks and, almost as soon I’d returned from that adventure, my husband confessed his infidelity and told me of his plans to marry his mistress.