Girl on Fire: A trip to sunny Phoenix in the dead of winter

Russ and me after hiking in Phoenix[As seen in Creston News Advertiser, February 6, 2014]

Over the weekend I took a short vacation in Phoenix, Ariz., a nice break from the snow and bitter Iowa cold. While I was there, I saw Russel Finehout, my boyfriend, and my aunt and uncle, who winter there.

My flight from Des Moines to Chicago was delayed more than an hour, and in Chicago, they delayed my flight half an hour.

Airport workers sprayed rainbow sherbet-colored de-icer on the plane before we took off from O’Hare International Airport. In the air, the sea of clouds floated as far as I could see, but the sun shone and I was excited as ever to reach the sunny city of Phoenix.

As soon as I got to Phoenix, I was busy. The first night we got Mexican food and horchata at a little taco stand, and drove around the busy streets.

The sun was out and so were the people the first full day in Phoenix. Russ and I hiked Camelback, a mountain in the heart of the city. Then, for some crazy reason, we drove to Canyon Lake, east of Phoenix, and went canyoneering, which is exploring a canyon. We sat on a rock eating minneolas, cheese and sweet wheat bread for lunch, and the sun didn’t pop out until we were about ready to leave.

We also made a stop at a pizza place in Mesa called Gus’s New York Pizza and Bar. There, you can order a 32-inch pizza, about the size of a manhole. It was delicious, even if I had to fold my slice over three times.

However, one of my favorite parts of the trip was walking Mill Avenue in Tempe. Russ and I parked in a ramp, then found a bar that served food. We ate pretzels with cheese fondue and sweet pickles, had drinks and then walked to Slickables, a cute little ice cream sandwich shop down the street. Eating our ice cream sandwiches made with homemade cookies, Russ and I walked up and down Mill Avenue and people-watched. The weather was a little chill, with a cool breeze blowing the whole time we were out, but the walking warmed us up and seeing so many different shops, restaurants and what the weekend life is like was amazing.

I spent my last night with my aunt and uncle, snowbirds from Austin, Minn. We went to this amazing thing known as the swap meet, similar to a giant farmers’ market, where I bought a Native American-inspired necklace. I met my aunt’s brother and sister and their spouses, and we watched the Super Bowl and played Rummikub. I woke up the morning of my flight to a view of the Superstitions, a mountain range named after a lost Dutch miner.

On my way home to Creston, I flew through snowy Denver and on into Des Moines. The weather in Phoenix made me wish it was summer, or at least spring, in southwest Iowa. It also made me want to pack up my things and just move on down south, to a place of Native American history, canyoneering and 32-inch pizza. Maybe in the future, I will have that opportunity.

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