Travel and Tucson and Changing Holiday Plans

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated you on our travels. I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season if you celebrate. Ross and I celebrate Christmas, and this year was definitely unique as holidays go!

Ross and I knew we wanted to visit Tucson. It’s warm, it has excellent bike trails and public transportation and it’s beautiful. So we planned to spend a week or so and were happy to book a couple of gigs in town. We planned to head to the Phoenix area after Tucson, both to visit and so that I could catch a flight for the holidays. 

Yes, I planned to head back to NH – for a few gigs! My theater company, Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater, is still based in NH, and around the time Ross and I hit the road I was asked if we’d consider returning to the Mount Washington Hotel, a grand historic hotel in Bretton Woods, for a few performances before the holidays. I was hesitant initially – I’d need to cover my airfare (or find an accompanist) and rehearsing prior to the gig with my actors would be a challenge. But they were persistent, and we were eventually able to negotiate a pay rate and terms that worked for everyone. I was able to find a great rate flying Southwest out of Phoenix, so we decided Ross would stay at an RV park in that area in my absence. 

Unfortunately, RV parks in Phoenix seem to fill up for the season many months in advance. We called a variety of parks on our list and couldn’t find anything in our ideal price range and nothing in a good location. We settled on a park a mile away from public transit on the outskirts of Mesa that we would have to leave by January 1st. At least we were able to negotiate to keep our rental car through Christmas so Ross could sightsee – I was less concerned as I knew the area from a past visit. 

But then I realized; if we have a rental car, we could actually stay in Tucson! Much cheaper camping and it would give us more time in an area we didn’t want to leave. 

So on Sunday, December 18th, Ross gave me a ride in our rental car to Phoenix from Tucson, where we’d gotten a few weeks at at the Pima County Fairgrounds, a beautiful and easygoing park. While Ross spent a week recording a new album, working, playing at open mics and enjoying some free time and space, I rehearsed, prepared food and then spent four days at the hotel playing and singing with two of my extremely talented performers and friends. We performed a two hour holiday set daily and a few shorter sets too. We specialize in customizing musical theater set lists for events and in high-quality performances in unusual, interactive settings.

I had a flight booked to leave at about 5 pm on Christmas Day, which meant I could spend time with my family and have a midday meal (which I helped cook) before leaving. Yesterday’s flight was canceled (I had to fly into Chicago and the weather was bad) but it meant spending more time with family, including a Skype session with my husband, which was a really nice bonus. 

So today is a new travel day. If all goes well, I will be home this evening. 

For the record, we really are enjoying Tucson. We will share more about what we’ve been up to later this week. 

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays! 

An Artist’s Paradise in Bisbee, AZ

In the heart of the copper-covered hills in Bisbee, Arizona, you’ll find a unique community. It’s full of artists and musicians, hippies and dreamers, homeless and the well-off alike. This wonderful mix of people live in a quirky place, with homes built into hillsides and businesses up and down stairs so prevalent there is an annual competition to scale them all.

Bisbee is truly a community, and we fell hard for it. We had an amazing week getting to know the locals (at an open mic, at Ross’ concert at the Silver King Hotel’s tiny bar and after the second Saturday artwalk at a party we were invited to) and we relished a week of living at an RV park only a five minute walk from the heart of historic Bisbee.

We visited galleries, shopped antiques and bookstores, and found a few treasures to take with us – mostly food purchases like balsamic vinegar and killer bee honey. Ross found his new mustache wax and beard oil brand. Jamie even visited a local church. We lived like the locals and indulged in a few chocolates and in a fabulous gelato experience. 

Although Bisbee is too small a town for us to consider right now, as opportunities would be somewhat limited, we will happily visit again, and if we come up with a specific business plan for the future, we won’t rule out Bisbee if it’s a good fit. 

Be sure to make Bisbee a part of your travel plans in Arizona. It’s an easy drive from Tucson or Las Cruces, and it’s only four hours or so from Phoenix too. You can even time your visit for the second Saturday or to include one of the many film, music or other fun festivals in town. It’s a truly charming place we were honored to call home for a week. 

Las Cruces Love

It was practically love at first sight…but first, how we got there. 

As I mentioned in my last post, our visit to El Paso, TX was super-short due to weather and the lack of a car. It was the first time I have been in a Walmart and didn’t see any other white people! We were impressed by how art is everywhere in El Paso – even on the highways! Here are a few photos to give you a taste. 

We originally had plans to visit White Sands National Monument for some sand-sledding, but Ross was nervous about getting enough music prep time in, so at the last minute we decided to settle into Las Cruces, NM for a couple of nights. We’re so glad we did!

Their library was surprisingly easy to fit a smaller RV into – at least on a Saturday – and I was overjoyed to see that we were within an easy walk of downtown! So after a few hours researching campgrounds and settling on an expensive KOA with amazing views of the mountains, we took a walk downtown. 

After showing Ross the music store (one of three, it turns out) and the phenomenal used bookstore (they also carry sheet music, albums, comics, theater books etc.; It’s a mess but it’s a fabulous treasure hunt you could spend weeks exploring) I went off to visit some of the FREE museums downtown. 

I started with the Nature & Science Museum. Although these aren’t usually my favorite museums (I prefer history and art typically), I hadn’t gotten a science lesson in recently and I thought I was overdue to learn about the region. Not only did I get to see amazing reptiles and amphibians with the fossils – I was also invited to enjoy a private behind the scenes tour of the museum! Here I saw LOTS of additional animals, learned how they are fed and cared for, including a Gila Monster, and I got to get up close and personal with the creatures I had previously seen behind glass. It was such a unique experience! 

There are three other free museums. I skipped the Railroad Museum, which is a bit of a walk from where I was, but I loved the Art Museum (it’s small but had a phenomenal contemporary exhibit), and the Cultural Center offered exhibits on the region, including the use of quilting by Native Americans and one on military costumes, in a historic and beautiful building that I was glad I made time to visit. 

When we weren’t enjoying downtown, we were learning about this awesome university town, barely 90 minutes from El Paso. It has farmer’s/crafter’s markets twice a week that are one of the best in the state. It has great programming for its residents. Dance classes were dirt cheap – $2-$4 – at many local studios. And it has two downtown theater companies, one more mainstream and one Black Box (A New Brain was on the docket there). And of course anything you couldn’t find in town would be found in El Paso. 

We drove to the KOA, where we were greeted with the best views yet. 

We spent two nights surrounded by mountain ranges and beauty everywhere we looked. The gorgeous showers didn’t hurt either! 

Monday morning, we packed up and headed to Mountain View Market Co-op, where I struggled to stick to my budget (but did) and was impressed by their offerings, especially the wide variety of local honey products. Ross meanwhile visited a comics shop with fun collector’s items. On our way here, I had been brainstorming where to get Ross a taco – he’d been craving one and we hadn’t had one in Texas or New Mexico – when we passed Bosa Donuts & Burritos. So after I ate my own lunch, we walked to get Ross a donut and a taco plate. The donuts are moist on the inside but crispy on the outside, and after a bite of a taco, Ross said, “Yup. I wanna live here.” This institution has been around for twenty years or so and I really hope I will be healthy enough to eat it when we return!

Everyone was incredibly friendly in Las Cruces. Everyone! We felt incredibly safe walking around and driving was easy to navigate, even for me. Hubbard’s, another music store, was so friendly that they invited Ross to their regular Monday night jam. And we read about an LGBTQ choir, a ukelele group, theaters and a film society in town, so it seemed like we’d fit right in. 

Like Missoula, MT, Las Cruces is surrounded by mountains and completely gorgeous. We would prefer to learn Spanish, but unlike El Paso, we didn’t always feel like the minority here, so we felt we’d be fine without the second language. 

Suffice to say, we will be looking up their university offerings. Arts seem to be pretty cheap here, which may mean it’s hard to make a living in them, but the cost of living also seems low based on what we were seeing. Lots of mixed use communities we would be happy in. The bus system is pretty extensive and cheap ($1/ride, with other discounts available for frequent users) and buses to other parts of the region and El Paso are also available – particularly good for airport options I imagine.  

As we headed West, we passed the Continental Divide, enjoyed 180 degree mountain views in Arizona and New Mexico (it was like a sea of mountains) and passed a Geronimo Surrenders monument. 

We will be back, New Mexico. As soon as we can! 

Catching Up and Passing Through

After our visit to the Dallas area, including Denton and Lewisville, it was time to head west. Unfortunately we didn’t feel comfortable bringing a rental car across the state, so we had to return it – leaving us without a car. We are still hoping to get another rental next week if I can get through to my insurance company (don’t ask) but in the meantime, this has made our sight-seeing much more challenging. So I’m sharing initial impressions to get you caught up on our travels. 

The Dallas highway signage – and traffic – is atrocious. I was so glad Ross was driving because I just couldn’t have handled it. And I was really thankful we could return the rental in Lewisville and avoid that insanity in an RV. The GPS was really confused too – it felt worse than Boston to navigate. At least they had bike lanes five miles from downtown!

We drove through Boyd, Texas, which Ross’ family should get a kick out of. (We didn’t stop though, Ross said he was Boyd enough.) 

Runaway Bay into Bridgeport Lake was one of the most gorgeous sites we’ve seen, with water on both sides of the divided highway. Hubbard Creek Lake was also gorgeous and immediately followed by the Plaza Motel, which I found amusing. Albany had a very cute old west feel downtown; and the next notable site was Abilene, TX. If we had had a car, we would have walked downtown (they have statues of storybook characters throughout) and I would have visited Abilene Christian University for a walk (it’s a great campus), but the campus wasn’t RV-friendly so instead we spent the day at the library and visited a What-A-Burger so Ross could experience it! (I had a tiny bite, a few sips of chocolate shake and one fry. I didn’t die!)

I chose a branch library that was in a strip mall. Tons of parking and the fastest upload speeds I had seen since my mom’s house! We picked another spot in town for the evening and headed out the next day. Abilene seems to have everything you need. But it could use way more sidewalks. 

We’ve noticed that Texas has lots of interstates parallel to state highways. Maybe these towns have been built up along these corridors? You can drive parallel to the interstate a lot – not something we have seen elsewhere. 

Our next stop was Midland, TX. The area is full of Spanish architecture (and Spanish-speaking people of course) and had lots of empty storefronts in this childhood home of G. W. Bush. We noticed buses and lots of sidewalks, multiple theatres and what looked like a cute natural foods market. But this area is bizarre. It’s surrounded by oil fields – not pretty – and it’s an odd, industrial place. I also noticed self-serve water stations, $1/5 gallons, which I had never seen before.

Before and after the oil fields we did see a lot of natural beauty in Texas. This was the first area we saw vandalism on highways. We passed the International Memorial Wall and a bridge to Mexico, and we were near the Rio Grande. After some last-minute repositioning in awkward traffic in El Paso, we settled in for a night. El Paso is clearly an awesome city but with pouring rain and Saturday crowds the next day, we decided to keep moving. 

That almost catches you up. I will save our drive from El Paso for the next post. Thanks for reading! 

A Day in Denton!

After our Forth Worth adventure, we returned to the City of Lewisville campground, which is absolutely gorgeous, affordable and worth a stay. The wifi was even usable in off hours. They also don’t take payment until you arrive! 

We had one more outing in mind. The traffic to and from Fort Worth through Dallas had really been brutal and turned us off, but we had heard good things about Denton, a college town north of Dallas. As we were staying in Lewisville and had a rental car, we decided to avoid highways as we drove, which took us on a lovely drive through fields, forests and lots of horse farms. Besides the campground, it was the prettiest place we had seen in Texas. 

If we hadn’t had a rental car, we would have had train and bus options to get us to Denton. Public transit also connects to Dallas, which would be helpful if you were flying and needed to connect to the airport. 

As we drove to Denton, we realized even the strip malls were much nicer and less crazy than we had seen closer to Dallas. It was pretty great! I even felt comfortable driving into Denton and I am the opposite of a city driver, so that impressed us. Ross described the city as “the right amount of dingy” and that seemed apt for the charming place. 

We had chosen three destinations for our trip – the post office (nothing exciting), the natural food store and a music store.

The Cupboard is phenomenal. They have an awesome cafe with wifi and have sections for health, cosmetics, gifts, a salad bar and for gluten free baked goods. The music store next door also seemed very cool with honest folks – Ross was able to trade in a pedal for a pedal bag here. 

We were prepared to head back, but we were both charmed by the downtown and decided to stop and explore. We were so glad we did! The downtown has a beautiful historic courthouse at its center, and they lit it up for the holidays. Downtown is pretty big with tons of options for shopping and dining and it’s fun to walk and easy to navigate and park. There are also multiple theaters, presumably one for film and one for performing. We enjoyed the great record store with a used t-shirt section and loved seeing their visitor center with a radio station inside. Other businesses included a great comics and game store (they have another location too), a candy store, and Recycled, a fabulous store selling used books, CDs, records and more at affordable prices with an absolutely amazing selection. Sheet music? Plays? Scores! Theater history? Comics? All of the above and so much more. I haven’t seen a selection this good outside of New York! The local ice cream parlor is also a gem. 

We can definitely see ourselves in this college town, at least for a few years. We’d want to research it more – I am ideally looking for a place with professional music, theater and dance and I think here it’s just community theater and the college – but nearby Lewisville is a pleasant drive and seems to offer these things. Also, the drive to Fort Worth is close enough that this might not be an issue, and at least one of the universities, Texas Woman’s University, offers graduate music and theater programs, which could be very appealing. 

We loved Denton. We even loved visiting Target on the way back – they had 15% off almost everything the day we were there so we saved big on groceries!

Denton gets added to the list. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Forward to Fort Worth

Ross and I had heard great things about Forth Worth, so we made plans to take advantage of our rental car and visit. I found lots of fun things we could do, some on the advice of friends. The Stockyards give you a chance to see a cattle run, but the area also has lots of shopping, arts and nightlife. There are other touristy areas as well, and some of them seemed intriguing. But we knew we wanted to walk a bit, so when I found there were free museums and a botanical garden in the cultural district, our decision was made.

As with so many of the places we have visited this far, we didn’t have much time  (or money) to see the city, and we know we’d probably like it a lot more if we stuck around! That’s why we are looking forward to taking our time in southern Arizona in the upcoming weeks. All caveats in place, here’s what we actually did with our afternoon in Fort Worth. 

The Cultural District is nice. It’s really spread out, which is great if you like long walks, but there is plenty of parking for cars and there was tons of space for an RV when we were there too, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We parked in a public lot (max rate is $10) across from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

There are a lot of other free museums in town, which is fabulous, but I was attracted to this for its contemporary art and its western art and it didn’t disappoint with either. One of their temporary exhibits is called Border Cantos and it is a collaboration between a visual artist and a composer who created musical instruments made from material the visual artist found along the Texas/Mexico border. Both Ross and I were stunned by the powerful exhibit, which also includes music written with the instruments on display, and we made sure to watch the short films of the composer’s pieces too.

After that, we began walking to the Botanical Garden. Unfortunately that was kind of silly – Google Maps didn’t know about the Will Rogers complex – at least enough to tell us we couldn’t walk through it – and we saw upon arrival we would have had tons of room to park. But we got a great workout at this huge garden (we did the free one, not the Japanese one, which costs $7), Ross caught lots of Pokémon, and we enjoyed our visit.

Once the trek back to our car was complete, there was some debate on whether we should visit a game/comics store or find Ross a taco. Ultimately Ross wanted to make me happy, so we headed toward Sundance Square to see some Christmas lights.

Parking around the square is free nights and weekends, so we found a parking garage and explored the area, full of restaurants, high end shopping and many theater companies, on foot. I love seeing urban areas lit up for the holidays and this charming area didn’t disappoint. We even found a gelato place I’d heard a lot about, so I sampled some wild berries and milk chocolate flavors while Ross had coffee. (Keep up with my ice cream adventures here.)

We had a great afternoon and evening in Fort Worth. Although the traffic outside it is atrocious, the city itself has lots to offer. We hear it has some nice public transit options too – had we parked the RV at the Will Rogers complex campgrounds, a trolley could have gotten us to the lights. Next up – a trip to Denton gets us more excited about Texas!