Photo Post: A Warm Welcome to Santa Fe, New Mexico

My breath condensed into a steamy vapor in front of my face, a rare sight in Phoenix. I wasn’t ready for 40 degrees in early October, and the lone Patagonia puff jacket I had packed was barely enough to keep me warm as I walked on sidewalks strewn with glossy, wet leaves. Thankfully, the heater was on full blast at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

I’ve been a huge fan of this New Mexican artist ever since my high school art teacher first exposed me to her work. When I moved to Phoenix three years ago and finally saw some of her paintings hanging in the Phoenix Art Museum, I decided I had to go on a pilgrimage to Santa Fe to her eponymous museum.

The collection isn’t that large (I spent only 45 minutes exploring it), but the works it comprises make the trek to Santa Fe totally worth it. I even saw some paintings of O’Keefe’s I wasn’t familiar with that featured The Black Place, some badlands in the New Mexican wilderness made up of dark black soil. I guess I’ll just have to plan another pi…

Reliving My Childhood at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Because I spent my childhood in Plano, Texas, going to my hometown’s balloon festival year after year, Albuquerque’s own festival that rivals Plano’s has long been on my bucket list. Even after moving to the Southwest, though, I wasn’t sure how I would plan a trip to experience this celebration of ballooning—after all, Phoenix is still six hours away from Albuquerque, New Mexico, by car.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest, with well over 500 registered balloonists. On any day of the weeklong fiesta, you can expect to bump into crowds of 100,000 people as you explore the balloon take-off fields.

With numbers like that, it might seem nigh on impossible to ever visit the fiesta. Enter one late September weeknight of grabbing drinks with friends. While sipping on some Phoenix brews, I got to talking with my friend Dolores, who’s originally from New Mexico. She happened to mention in passing that the following weekend she’d be visiting her brother in Albuqu…

Is St. James Really Buried in Santiago de Compostela, Spain?

As you head down a curve of the busy San Pedro street, you catch your first view of the twin bell towers of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela—and you catch your breath. Petite hatchbacks rattle across the cobblestone as your feet seem drawn farther down the path, although that might just be gravity pulling you downhill toward the old zone. You cinch up your backpack’s sternum strap for the final approach of this multiple-night pilgrimage.

For not the first time on your Camino, you lose your sense of direction as you enter Santiago’s old town: granite flagstones at your feet, stone-and-graying-plaster houses on either side, and overcast skies above disorient you—yet your eyes eventually lock on to a spray-painted yellow arrow on the side of a building. Once you’re back on autopilot, you start to reflect on why you started this crazy, 70-mile-plus hike in the first place.

Maybe you hiked from Sarria farther inland as a cheap and healthy way of experiencing the beauty of the Galici…

76 Useful (Castilian) Spanish Conversation Words They Don’t Teach You in School

One of the hardest parts on your journey to fluency in a language is just that—having the language literally “flow” off your tongue in conversation. You’re always going to sound like you’re a foreigner as long as you use disjointed, robotic speech and hesitate from one phrase to the next, even if you manage to communicate whatever message you’re trying to get across with the correct vocab or grammar.

If you want to take the next the step toward having natural, fluid speech in Spanish, you’ve got to have a firm grasp on the kind of words that help you have a back-and-forth conversation with someone—words that you rarely get taught when taking formal classes in school.

I’ve put together a list of 76 extremely useful words, phrases, expressions, and interjections that Spaniards commonly sprinkle into things to show they’re interested in whatever you’re talking about. These words are crucial to have a conversation with someone, but they’re sadly not often touched on in Spanish classes in …

Mass Tourism Is Destroying Spain, So Where Should You Travel?

One of the best decisions I’ve made on Twitter recently was following Humans of Late Tourism, who shares images and stories that show how absurd and destructive modern mass tourism has become in Europe and beyond.

Browse their feed for a few minutes and you’ll see a photo of the hordes that make appreciating the Mona Lisa all but impossible at the Louvre, a news article from Mallorca about the latest death due to balconing, or a lamppost flyer in Porto accusing Airbnb apartments with causing massive increases in rent.

This (presumably) Catalan user’s account has reminded me of the phenomenon I was slowly growing aware of while I lived in Spain—and even participated in on my weekend jaunts from Úbeda and Santiago de Compostela. In short, mass tourism is destroying what we love most about Spain and turning the country’s biggest cities like Barcelona, Madrid, or Granada into theme parks for tourists.

I first learned about the negative effects of tourism in 2014 when I watched the documen…

Here’s 3,000 Years of Spanish History in 3,000 Words

You’ll be shocked at how much history is all around you the first time you visit Spain. Major roads follow the same routes the Romans first trailblazed; your hotel might operate out of a renovated luxury apartment block from the 1800s; and soaring cathedrals still stand today based on 800-year-old technology.

It can be overwhelming if, like me, you grew up in suburban America, where the oldest building dated back to the 1950s and Native American heritage was either scant or ignored. Coming to terms with the sweep of your country’s history is a lot easier when it’s only been around for a few centuries…versus a few millennia.

True to my history major roots, I’ve extensively studied the history of Spain, reading several books and visiting as many cathedrals, castles, and museums as I could in the three years I lived in Spain.

In this post, I’ve distilled 3,000 years of history down to around 3,000 words, saving you from having to read a 500-page textbook before you travel or move to Spai…

Hiking to Utah’s Toadstool Hoodoos in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

An impromptu weekend roadtrip last fall took me from Phoenix north to the Arizona-Utah border, where I split my time between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona. U.S. Highway 89 runs between Kanab and Page—two of the most isolated towns in the country—passing through some of the most desolate, stunning scenery on the way.

U.S. 89 also skirts the southern edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a national park that basically acts as a preserve of all the federally-owned land between Bryce Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. A roadside pull-off led me right inside the park boundaries to the Toadstool Hoodoos, otherworldly formations eroded from the rock by wind, rain, and snow.

Because the park spans so much of far-southern Utah, it’s difficult to grasp what exactly it contains. Most folks typically split it up into wedge-shaped thirds. The western section encompasses the Grand Staircase, a vast domain of successive plateaus that abruptly end in white,…