Photo Post: Rainbow Bridge, One of the World’s Tallest Natural Arches

Natural arches are one of those things that make sense to you on an intellectual level. Of course they can stand up without any external support; an arch is one of the most stable forms known to physics. But on a human level, they float in the air almost as if they’re alive, as if either end of the arch is a massive, giant leg.

Rainbow Bridge is one such natural arch that makes your whole face light up the first time you see it. In fact, it’s one of the world’s tallest arches (and far more impressive than Arches National Park’s Delicate Arch, made famous by Utah’s state license plate). But tucked away as it is deep in Utah’s backcountry, Rainbow Bridge is one of the most isolated national monuments in the country.

Before the Colorado River was plugged up by Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s, Rainbow Bridge required a 6-mile hike uphill from the canyon floor—not to mention running the river south from middle-of-nowhere, Utah.

Utah’s Wahweap Hoodoos: A Fantasyland in the Wilderness

Wild open spaces have been important to me ever since I was a little kid. During recess or Field Day in middle school, my classmates and I would often hang out in the creek behind the school building on former farmland in the exurbs north of Dallas.

We built little shelters out of dried brush plants, blazed trails, and even explored the riparian ecosystem on a greenbelt north of the property. All this unstructured time was a formative experience for me because it gave me freedom to play, imagine, and breathe.

Experiences like this are why I keep going back to the wilderness as an adult and why I did a day-hike in the fantastic landscapes northwest of Lake Powell over last Veterans Day weekend.

Five reasons why wilderness is importantIt’s untouched and pristine land. In contrast to National Parks, state parks, or even city parks, federal wilderness areas by their very nature lack developed facilities and remain off-limits to extractive industries (e.g., mining, logging, ranching, etc.)…

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…