Kauai’s East Side, North Shore and a Boat Tour

This is the final of three installments of our 12-day visit to Kauai. If you missed the first two, click here to read about our helicopter ride and here for our explorations in the South Shore and West Side. The yellow marks on the map below indicate places we visited while on the East Side and North Shore while the blue ones when we were in the South Shore and West Side. I couldn’t find an explanation as to why the North and South are described as “shores”, while the East and West are described as “sides”, so I just gave up and went with the flow 🙂

By the time we moved to Kapaʻa on the East Side, Hawaii was in the national news about their surging Covid19 cases, particularly on Oahu and Maui. So much so that the Governor implored tourists not to visit the islands at this time. Lucky for us we were already there and we had gone through hula hoops to be allowed in. So we were extra careful, socially distancing and wearing our facial covering whenever indoors to not let the restrictions dampen our visit. Having a condo with a kitchen helped, as we could cook our meals on the days that we didn’t get take-out. We didn’t eat dinner in a restaurant during our entire trip!

Sunrise in Kapaʻa

With an abundance of coconut trees, the East Side made me feel like I was at home in the Philippines. This region even got the monicker “The Coconut Coast”, and it was obvious why. We were fortunate that the weather was excellent during our stay. Intermittent rain storms interrupted beautiful sunshine, and we were able to occasionally watch rain clouds pass by as we got some raindrops and sunshine at the same time. Amazing!

Watching rain cells passing through

The island is surrounded by miles of shimmering golden sand and unspoiled views. And with so many gorgeous beaches to choose from there was a beach for everyone, with most framed by tropical green all around. Many were packed with people, but we found several that were out of the way and/or challenging to access, and those were the ones we visited when we planted our beach chairs and enjoyed a cool drink as the waves rolled in.

Larsen's Beach

Larsen’s Beach is a secluded stretch of undeveloped beach that requires scrambling down on a path to access. We learned that this beach fronts the massive property owned by the FB CEO. We accidentally drove into his estate thinking it was a beach access, until a security guard stopped us. Sorry, Mark!

Moloa’a Bay (Gilligan’s Island) is another out of the way beach featuring turquoise waters framed by deep greens. Lydgate State Beach Park was close to our airbnb and a popular family-friendly/kid-friendly beach.

Nuukoli Beach
Empty Nuukoli Beach

Kauai has a vast range of outdoor activities, in addition to beautiful beaches for nature lovers like us. There were many hiking opportunities, and we had packed our boots to take advantage of as many as we could. Of the two hikes we planned in the area, the one to Nounou Mountain aka Sleeping Giant was definitely a winner. The trail took us on an ascent of almost 1,000′ over 3.2 miles, and we were rewarded with a view of Wailua Valley on the east side of the island and a good look inland at Mt. Waialeale:

Looking down at Wailua Valley
Watching rain clouds move inland

The other trail we wanted to take on was Kilua Ridge Trail, a trek that would have taken us to a lush jungle setting with a good view into the heart of Kauai. It rained the night before and the trail was dangerously muddy so it was a bust. The volcanic soil here turns super slick when it gets wet, so not an option on many days. But before we turned around I hugged a rainbow eucalyptus tree and was mesmerized by the gigantic trees in the area that shadowed the road:

On our helicopter flight we had spotted countless waterfalls, many of them deep in the forest and requiring an adventurous hike or simply a view from afar. On the east side we viewed the Wailua falls from a lookout and were disappointed since it was obscured by vegetation. They say the falls were made famous in that old TV show that some of us may remember – Fantasy Island. Then we accidentally stumbled on the Opokue Falls on our way to the trailhead of the busted hike. Although the the lookout platform was a long distance away, we still got an impressive look:

Our trip would have been incomplete had we missed the Farmers Market, which showcased many tropical fruits. These are the fruits I grew up with in my home country and so I was in heaven when I saw them on display. Steve is not so much a fruit person, but he enjoyed them with me all the same. They were just bursting with flavor, nutrients and vitamins…yum yum!

I’m also glad I tried the shave ice, an iconic frozen treat that traces its roots to Hawaii’s storied plantation past. In the early 1900’s, japanese immigrants in Hawaii used their tools to shave flakes off large blocks of ice, coating it with sugar or fruit juice to cool themselves off. In Pidgin vernacular, the refreshing treat became known as shave ice – not shaved ice. Today there are dozens of shave ice places across the Islands. Like poke, shave ice is yet another local thing to love about Hawaii.

I forgot what I ordered in my shave ice, but trust me it was very good!

One of the most enchanting things about Kauai is the abundance of flowers, and I really didn’t have to visit a botanical garden (although I did) for they were blooming everywhere. The tropical flowers were so gorgeous and exotic, from the Red Gingers dotting the landscape to the myriad of different colorful Bougainvilleas, Hibiscus and wild Gingers along the road. They were a feast for the eyes – beautiful and enchanting with scents that filled the air. I wished I could capture the scent of the White Ginger in a bottle to take home with me! You know whose eyes rolled as I repeatedly asked for the car to be pulled over so I could capture these beauties:

And for my bird-loving friends, I took notice of many feathered friends besides the chickens:

The North shore is only a short drive from Kapa’a and is less crowded. It gets more rain than the rest of the island and hence it is the most tropical. Had I not been worried about getting rained on constantly during our visit we probably would have stayed here for our final six days. There’s lush foliage everywhere and massive mountains tower over the stunning beaches between Princeville and Hanalei.

Kuhio Highway 560
Lone highway to the North Shore, Kuhio 560

In my previous post I stated that we were unable to drive all the way to Hanalei and the rest of the most northern part of the island due to road construction. The landslide that occurred on March 21 on the hill above Hanalei had blocked the road and they were repairing it. So this time we entered the convoy line at 7:30am and got through an hour later:

The first of many one-lane bridges on the way to the end of the highway

Was it worth the wait? You bet it was! Hanalei is the prettiest town on Kauai, and the beaches from Hanalei to Ke’e are some of the finest we visited during our stay. We wanted to complete the drive to the end of the highway on the island which was the beginning of the Na Pali Coast:

We found a shady spot at Hanalei Beach and lingered for a couple of hours to enjoy the ocean breeze while listening to the lapping waves. Both of our condo units had supplied us with complete beach paraphernalia like beach chairs, coolers, umbrellas and more. Nice!

Lounging at Hanalei Beach

Next we drove to the end of the highway to Haena State Park, where we had failed to snag a parking reservation and a permit due to huge demand. This is also the access point to the Hanakapiai Trail, which is the first two and a half miles of the Na Pali coast. We really wanted to take this hike but could not get the permit and reservation on time. So, this will be a good reason to revisit one day!

Our rented Airbnb on the East Side allowed us a closer drive to the North Shore. Again we had ocean views and watched the people and critters in the ocean. We liked the proximity to the beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls and more:

Where we stayed on the East Side, Wailua Bay View unit 211

Na Pali Coast by boat

I gushed previously about the stunning and jaw-dropping Na Pali Coast, the pride of Kauai. There are 3 ways to see it; by helicopter which we did (click here for my post); by hiking, which we missed, and lastly by boat. Seeing the coast from the water was another adventure so we booked a boat tour. Unlike the helicopter tour which hovered over the coast for a short time, the boat tour gave us a chance to take in the majesty of those emerald cliffs for several hours.

The boat weaved in and out of the inlets and sea caves, getting right up to the massive jagged cliffs. There was a light narration as they pulled the boat under cascading waterfalls, sailed along secluded coastline and pointed out the towering cathedral spires and emerald valleys. To add more excitement, Spinner Dolphins swam next to our boat and we saw many goats in the valleys along the shore. And as a finale Steve got to do a bit of snorkeling:

We both agreed being in the blue ocean and looking up at the incredible landscape was a unique perspective with a maximum wow factor. We highly recommend a boat tour with a caveat that if you get motion sickness and/or have a bad back you might want to skip this one. The ride back to the port was pretty brutal!

I will let the pictures (even if they don’t do justice) demonstrate just how majestic the Na Pali Coast is!

Honopu Arch
The largest natural arch in Hawaii, with a span of 145 feet, a height of 60 feet, and a thickness of approximately 250 feet. Johnny Depp walked through here in Pirates of the Caribbean
Emerald Valley
Emerald valleys
The Cathedral, Na Pali Coast
Soaring 4000 ft jagged cliffs
NaPali Cliffs
Dramatic cliffs, known as “pali” in Hawaiian, towering above crystal clear waters.
Goats in the valleys
Kalalau Beach
Kalalau Beach the end of the 11 mile hike along Na Pali Coast
Numerous sea caves and isolated beaches
It got a little rough as we headed back to port

Despite pandemic restrictions and missing some reservations, we loved Kauai’s low-key vibe. Not having big shopping malls gave the island its allure. We were in awe of it’s beauty and the genuine hospitality of the people we met, especially that of my friend Leah. Our 12-day visit left us longing for more.

Aloha!

 

Exploring Kauai’s West Side and South Shore

Once we’d seen the lay of the island from the air, we were ready to rock and roll via land and water. Click here if you missed our epic helicopter flight, to get a glimpse of the greenest of the Hawaiian Islands. In the planning phase of our trip we learned that Kauai has four major geographic areas from which to select where to stay; the sunny south shore, the drier west side, the verdant north shore and the Coconut Coast on the east side. I didn’t think we could go wrong whatever we chose, so we rented a VRBO unit in the south shore area to explore the south and west areas of the island for our first six days. To explore the east and north areas we moved to an Airbnb unit on the east side for our final six days (more on that later).

The tunnel of trees was a welcoming sight that immediately caught our attention when we arrived. We later learned there are 500 Eucalyptus trees planted along a one-mile stretch of the highway. The original trees were planted in 1911, but many were blown away in 1982 by Hurricane Iwa. They were replaced, and here they were now as the natural gateway leading us to the south shore.

There are no roads in the incredible Na Pali cliffs area, it’s far too steep and treacherous for a roadway. However, one can drive from the northern end of the island to the southwestern end in a couple of hours – depending on traffic, of course. Below is the island’s map, showing the places we visited during our stay at the south shore:

Having a friend who’s lived in this tropical paradise and whom I had not seen for decades added a new dimension to our visit. Leah moved here from California almost 20 years ago, fell in love with the island, and never left – who can blame her? She was so gracious, carving out two days of her time to drive us all around the island on a grand tour. She made our trip so much more awesome, thank you, Leah! The Covid restrictions on the island were very strict, and being a nurse she was able to tell us that her small clinic had received no Covid patients during the past few months.

At the Waimea Canyon lookout with Leah, our gracious hostess

Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park are practically in Leah’s back yard, so they were our first outing. The drive on the scenic route took us above 3,000′ and it was nice and cool there. It was exciting to get up close to what we had seen from the helicopter and actually touch the red dirt:

Do you see Waipoo Falls on the upper left? We hiked out 2 miles to it a while later

The horizontal layers and colors on the walls reflect a series of lava flows that occurred over the past 4-5 million years. The reddish hues show the varying levels of iron oxide and the chemical make-up of the lava that is present. The red soil is what’s used to dye the T-shirts sold at the Red Dirt stores here.

Unlike the Grand Canyon we couldn’t hike down, but there are several trails around the rim which begin at nearby Koke’e State Park. Leah led us to one that went to the top of 800′ Waipoo Falls, the signature feature of Waimea Canyon. We went to the top of the waterfall but couldn’t see it cascading all the way to the bottom. But what a view! It was a popular trail, and tough enough that some people gave up before making it to the falls. It took us a couple of hours to finish the beautiful 4-mile round trip journey:

After the hike we drove further, up to the highest point of the canyon at over 4,000′. We took a quick hike at Pihea Trail, which offered expansive views from a ridge looking down into the lush oasis of Kalalau Valley. We stopped at the Pihea Overlook, which is the highest rim point of Kalalau Valley.

Did I mention it’s green everywhere?
In Kalalau Valley the distinctive fluted basalt ridges have been sculpted by waterfalls

The next morning Leah drove us from the end of the road on the west side to almost the end of the road on the north shore (see the map). We were a bit disappointed that we missed the coffee tour at the Kauai Coffee Company because we didn’t have a reservation. But coffee tasting was available and we grabbed a pound of coffee grown and produced in America!

At the northern end of the island, access to Hanalei Bay at the most northern point was restricted due to a landslide across the road and ongoing repairs. We didn’t want to sit there and wait so we headed back to the south shore. Leah pointed out several points of interest along the way that we could check out later.

And that’s exactly what we did during the next few days!

I love botanical gardens, and Kauai has seven of them – two of which were located near our rented unit. The Allerton and McBryde Gardens are part of the network of five botanical gardens under the National Tropical Botanicals with locations in Hawaii and Florida. I wanted to check out the home of the famous tree in which the dinosaur’s egg was found in “Jurassic Park” at Allerton Garden. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, visits to the garden were by timed access appointment only and it was fully booked. Lucky for me there was one spot available at Mcbryde Botanical Garden, so off I went!

So lush, and all shades of green throughout the property

With a limited number of visitors every two hours, the sprawling garden was a huge relief from the required face covering. I could breathe fresh air and smell the fragrance of the tropical flowers. Being here also reminded me of my mom’s garden in the Philippines which was full of Hibiscus:

Neither of us is into surfing or ocean swimming, but the south shore is a hotspot for those activities with several beaches to choose from. All beaches are public in Kauai, so public access must be included even if the beach fronts a resort or private home.

Poipu Beach, where Green Sea Turtles nap. These guys are big!
Shipwreck Beach by the Hyatt Hotel

We walked the coastal Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail that began at Shipwreck Beach near the Grand Hyatt in Keoneloa Bay. It led us to what looked like an alien landscape. The rock formations were created over thousands of years from sand dunes weathered by crashing wave action, and carved sharp ridges with deep pockets were the result. The scientific explanation is fascinating, in that lithification occurred when sediments compacted, filling pores with ground water containing high levels of minerals. It all translates to spectacular and unusual formations like none we’ve seen before.

An archeological site could be found along the trail

Just 5 minutes from our condo was another natural phenomenon, the Spouting Horn. The explanation was that it formed because of the repeated waves crashing onto the lava rocks and forming narrow openings in them. Every time a wave hits the rocks the water is forced into this narrow opening and shoots up into the air:

Spouting Horn

We couldn’t help but notice there were chickens everywhere we went! Unlike in Key West where we occasionally saw roosters roaming around, Kauai seems to be overrun by them. They don’t just cross the road – they walk through parking lots, bring their chicks to the beach, and flock in the forests and on the golf courses – all the while crowing day and night. Steve kept shaking his head when I told him to pull over so I could take pictures of them.

The locals say the Kauai chickens are descendants of birds that escaped their coops when Hurricane Iwa struck in 1982 and again when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992. At the rate they’re multiplying they could become a real problem in a few years.

The south shore area and the entire island has no shortage of bright vibrant flowering trees lining the streets, towering majestic trees everywhere and beautiful green mountains. Driving in and around the west and south areas we could really feel we were in a tropical paradise. These are my drive-by photos as we cruised along:

We enjoyed our stay and loved our rented condo at Koloa in the south shore area. We think it was a perfect home base for six days, with close proximity to the activities we did. Not to mention the ocean and rainbow views, surfer action and wonderful sunsets. It was a winner!

Kuhio Shores Condominium, red arrow is unit 219
The manic surfers were fun to watch
Sometimes we went down to the lawn for an even better sunset view
One of the many rainbows we saw from our lanai

Next up: Moving to the east side

An outdoor paradise – Kauai, HI

I had promised myself that after we sold Betsy and the CR-V I’d take a break from blogging. Our three recent road trips to San Diego, CA, Greer, AZ, and Palisade, CO to escape from the desert heat were all worthy of a blog post, but I held to my promise.

That is, until we visited Kauai! While enjoying and experiencing the island’s beauty, Steve hinted that the tons of pictures I took were definitely worthy of a blog post, and after posting pictures on FB some of my friends nudged me to do the same. I gave in and dusted off the blog rust to start reminiscing and typing again.

Aloha!

Garden Island
Kauai, The Garden Island

We made arrangements for our trip back when Covid19 infections were dropping and restrictions easing. But then the Delta variant came along and created some high anxiety. As our scheduled flights drew closer and the infection numbers surged we looked at our trip with trepidation. Hawaii imposed strict travel restrictions once the state reopened in June. Initially, a 10-day quarantine upon arrival or a negative pre-travel test to bypass quarantine was mandatory. We kept an eye on it, and on July 8th the restrictions were eased to allow fully vaccinated U.S. travelers to skip quarantine without getting a COVID test prior to traveling to the Islands. But we still had to submit health forms and create an account on their SafeTravels program, where we uploaded a copy of our vaccination cards.

At SFO airport, United Airlines pre-cleared Hawaii-bound passengers at a special departure area prior to boarding, where they examined our original vaccination cards. The lines were normally very long, but we got right through since our flight from Phoenix arrived early in the morning. By doing so we bypassed screening in Kauai upon arrival. Whew! What a hassle, but once in Kauai the fun began!

We opted for an open door helicopter tour right after we arrived

Kauai had been on our wish list after visiting Oahu and Maui many years ago. Our 12-day visit finally happened on August 18th. For our initial activity, Steve booked us on a “doors off” helicopter tour of Kauai for just the two of us. I was glad he did, for not only did we see the lay of the island, it was a heck of a ride over an unforgettable view of scenic areas inaccessible by land or water, and a tour of the incredible Na Pali Coast. It was our first glimpse of why Kauai is known as the Garden Island!

We HIGHLY recommend Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours if you want to do this. They fly small helicopters holding only 2-3 people plus the pilot, so folks aren’t crammed in like the larger choppers used by other companies. We were able to take photos out of both sides of the aircraft with nobody blocking us, and since we selected the “doors off” option there wasn’t even a window in the way. What a great adventure, the best helicopter tour we’ve ever taken!

Lihue

Lihue, the commercial and government center of the island

Jungle forests and waterfalls

It was a bit unnerving when we took off, having nothing between me and the earth below except open air (and my seatbelt). But I quickly got used to it and forgot my fear as our lady pilot Stephanie started narrating and Steve and I got busy snapping the island’s natural incredible beauty:

We soon left the more developed parts of the island and soared over vibrant mountains covered in jungle forest trees that looked like tiny pieces of broccoli. We flew over many waterfalls, with one of the most impressive being Manawaiopuna Falls – featured in the Jurassic Park movie (it’s where they landed the helicopter). The falls is on private land and inaccessible except by landing with a permit from the Robinson family, which owns about 101,000 acres of the island.

At this point we saw green everywhere, and we learned that the island is 97% covered by forests and mountain ranges. It was difficult to keep track of the hundreds of waterfalls, so many that most don’t have names!

One of the mountain islands from the movie, Avatar

Waimea Canyon

As we cruised higher and farther, the scenery changed from pure green to hues of red, yellow and orange:

Waimea Canyon has been compared to the Grand Canyon – not in size but in features. It’s gorgeous with green grandeur, younger than the Grand Canyon and only 10 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and 2,800′ deep. Colorfully decorated in red, brown and green hues formed by volcanic activity, it has been carved out over millions of years by the Waimea River:

Orange and red earth contrast with the clusters of bright green trees growing along the canyon walls
Buckets of dirt from the canyon are used to dye the red dirt T-shirts sold here

Mt. Wai’ale’ale 

We flew to Mt. Waialeale, located almost exactly in the middle of the island. This towering green mountain range is usually tucked behind a shroud of wispy rain clouds, but during our flight we were lucky to get a peek into its crater:

Wai’ale’ale means “rippling water” or “overflowing water” in Hawaiian, and is the second wettest spot on earth – receiving about 450″ of rain each year. There were only a few waterfalls streaming that morning because it didn’t rain the previous night. When it does rain (almost always), the waterfalls flowing to the ocean 5000′ below look like tears from the sky, hence their nickname “weeping walls.” It was a thrilling experience flying next to the weeping walls and we were very happy it wasn’t raining during our tour.

Wall of Tears
The numerous and thin waterfalls running down towards the base of the mountain gave it the term “Weeping Walls”

Stephanie informed us that the summit itself is relatively barren, despite all the water it receives. The reason is that in addition to the lack of sunshine, few plants and trees can handle that much rain!

 

Shoreline and farmlands

From the air we could see that the island is ringed by many stretches of sandy beaches and breathtaking cliff coastlines. The interior explodes in a number of steep mountain ridges, most of which are covered with the green of jungle foliage and farmland. We could ascertain Kauai’s four regions, the lush north shore, the dry west area, the busy south shore and the east shore where most of the locals live:

Na Pali Coast – the highlight!

The rugged terrain and emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges towering above the Pacific Ocean make the Na Pali Coast iconic and extraordinary. Our pictures don’t do justice, you just have to take our word for it. We were left in awe and babbled about if for hours after the flight:

The Cathedral
A section of the Kalalau Trail hugs the coastline. It’s known as a beautiful but dangerous hike

In just an hour our front row viewing and learning about the island came to an end, leaving us wanting more. Although a helicopter tour is not for everyone, we both agreed it was the best way to grasp the magnitude and incredible beauty of the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. Making it our first activity gave us a great impression of what to expect during our land-based adventures. The stunning scenery and diversity of landscape made Kauai our favorite Hawaiian island yet!

No roads cut through the spectacular wilderness in Na Pali
Happy passengers

We stayed at Poipu Beach on the south shore during our first six days. Our VRBO rental was a corner unit that let us experience perfect views of sunsets, surfers, turtles, rainbows and the sound of crashing waves that lulled us to sleep each night:

The impact of reopening Hawaii with loosened restrictions resulted in a surge of tourists, which caused difficulty getting rental cars and restaurant reservations. Tables at restaurants were booked several weeks out, but the good news is that we preferred cooking in our well-equipped kitchen or taking out from food trucks and fish markets. Besides, both of us were in Poke (diced raw fish) heaven, and we were on a rice and seafood diet during our entire stay:

Our evening view from the Lanai

Next up: Many reasons to visit Kauai!

A year later – settled into our new life

Well, yes… since our big move to Wickenburg and becoming permanent desert dwellers. In case you missed my previous post, many things have transpired in our home, our family and our “normal” world. I promised myself that I would resurface in the blog world again when Betsy sold, and at long last she has found a new family and we think she’s in good hands. Betsy was a huge part of our wonderful travel life for eight years, and now it’s their turn to enjoy her. Yeah!

Our remembrance of where Betsy has taken us

Goodbye, Betsy!

Thank you for all the great times on the road.

On a sad note, I lost two brothers last year, one due to COVID19 and the other succumbed to heart failure. We mourned remotely, one of the sad consequences of the pandemic. COVID hit home again this year, sending my brother in law to the hospital for over two months. Thankfully he survived, but lost a leg as a result of complications. The good news is that we are now among the 30% of Arizonians that are fully COVID jabbed.

Fair warning: Since I have not posted for several months this will be a long one with many pictures.

Closing the final chapter in California

We emptied our storage room in Tracy, CA last October, the final goodbye to our former hometown. Opening our storage after eight years was like Christmas day! To cut our driving segments from Wickenburg, AZ to Tracy in half we stayed for two nights at one of our favorite coastal getaways in Cambria, CA. Our trip was during the height of the many fires, and COVID cases were soaring. It was very unusual for me not to see family while there, but those were very unusual times.

Who knew there are wild zebras along the California coast?
Smoke from inland fires blew all the way to the coast

Home Improvements

Back at our homestead, the long list of upgrade projects began. We managed to tick off many items from our list to transform the house into our own home. Except for hiring a contractor for major work requiring professional tools, Steve kept himself busy as a painter, roofer, plumber, electrician, cable guy, carpenter and everything in between. He loved every minute of it, getting back to his old handyman self once he had all of his tools from California. Fortunately he also had his lovely assistant to help when she wasn’t working on her own projects 🙂

The work we did spanned several months. We experienced delays, backlogs, lack of or low supply of materials and availability of contractors and landscapers. COVID really took its toll, but as new homeowners with nowhere to be, we patiently waited.

Fortunately the redesigned WordPress has an “image compare” function which is perfect for showcasing our “before and after” home improvements. Drag the arrows left to right to see the changes on the following pictures:

The kitchen got new appliances, counters, sink, backsplashes and paint
Guest Bathroom (also Steve’s bathroom)
Cutting a hole in the wall for our french doors
Great room facing the front door
Great room facing the new office
If you visit us you’ll be sleeping here

The “Hideout

Steve decided to convert the separate garage structure that came with the house into a gym/music room. He had missed his gym while we were living on the road for eight years, and saw an opportunity to convert it into his “hideout”. He worked on it for several weeks before installing a full-on HoistFitness gym. Now he starts his “torture routine” every morning at 5AM while I’m still snoring. The downside is that I walk mostly by myself now for my exercise, as the gym is his primary workout.

My “She-shack”

Not to be outdone, I have my own digs to do my gardening chores and a place to store our outdoor stuff. This turned into an involved project, as we had to order a lot of gravel to build up a foundation for the building. It was great to have a neighbor with a backhoe and loader to help set up the site, then we had the pre-built dorm style building installed. Steve decided to insulate, sheetrock, texture and paint it as a pet construction project. I think he went a bit overboard, but I’m very happy with the results!

Our Health

We were so engrossed with our indoor/outdoor projects that we didn’t realize we were inhaling undesirable fungus from the soil. Both of us have been diagnosed with Valley Fever, a fairly common issue for those living in Arizona. Valley Fever is an infectious lung disease caused by the inhalation of airborne particles of the fungus Coccidioides, which is found in the southwestern United States. The spores are carried in dust particles from the soil by the wind when the desert soil is disturbed. Being a Filipino I’m at a higher risk of contracting it. If you live in the southwest and have unexplained symptoms (cough, headache, weight loss, fever) you should mention it to your doctor, because many doctors are not very aware of it. They don’t normally test for it, but a simple blood test will tell and you can request it.

At first I thought I had COVID because my initial symptoms were a severe cough and fever, but thankfully the COVID test came back negative. Ordinarily I would have been happy losing weight, but when I shed 8 lbs in a month without even trying and had consistent headaches my anxiety level rose. During this time I was still able to function and continued to work on my projects. It wasn’t until Steve had his routine CT scan that we were prompted to see our primary doctors.

Steve’s Valley Fever diagnosis was detected by chance when his routine neck CT scan showed a nodule on his lung. So in February his oncologist ordered another round of CT and PET scans and a needle-aspiration lung biopsy to see what that shadow on his lung was. You can imagine what went through our heads while waiting for the result! Thankfully it was determined to be a small residual patch that turned out to be Valley Fever, and not a malignancy. Whew, not cancer!

Also, after Steve’s cancer doctor in Tucson scoped, poked and felt around his neck he was given a clean bill of health. Alleluia!

After taking the anti-fungal meds for six weeks we’ve been cleared of Valley Fever and are in the best of health.

Weather

It’s a given that we’ll be roasting during the summers in Wickenburg. In fact, 2020 broke a record with 145 straight days of over 100 degrees. But what surprised us was that we got snow in January, an unusual event here. While it only lasted for a couple of hours, I enjoyed it and will remember it when we hit 100º degrees again soon:

Yup, 145 straight days of triple digits

I savored the snow as Steve just rolled his eyes
The birdies didn’t mind!
This is what I imagine now during our hot morning walks, and it cools me off!

Hikes

During the busy weeks and months when we were focused on our home, we limited ourselves to our daily walks around the neighborhood at dawn. Once we were mostly done with our projects and the weather was decent, we re-hiked the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial Trail in Yarnell, AZ. This was our first serious hike in over a year, and with an elevation gain of 1699′ over 7 miles we were huffing and puffing, and I was sore the next day. I wrote a detailed post about the Hotshot Trail here.

While in Tucson we made a day out of Steve’s Dr. appointment by doing another hike, the Finger Rock Short Route trail. It was a beautiful spring morning and the saguaros gave us a standing welcome while the Ocotillos were in full bloom.

On other occasions we shared two area trails with our friends Hans and Lisa. One was on the state land just across the street from our house, and the other a more serious venture up to Vulture Peak:

Our resident and visiting feathered friends would be unhappy if I didn’t insert some of them on this post. These were all taken from behind our glass window, my private bird blind.

Friends and family

We weren’t totally isolated during this time, even though our socializations were far and few between:

In springtime the first color to burst in the desert is yellow – the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees. Even in dry years they give us a great display:

Just recently we were excited to have new neighbors move into town. Dave and Sue, who really gave us a push to check out Wickenburg, recently found their own home here! That exciting event called for a celebration, along with Steve’s clean bill of health, Dave’s improving back issue and Betsy’s sale:

What’s next?

The era of RV travel is now closed for us, and forever fondly etched in our memories. With most COVID restrictions lifting we are going to do some mini road trips this summer, and if 2022-2023 are good “new normal” years then our plans call for a bit of international travel.

We are hopeful!