Bisbee, AZ

“The main approach to Bisbee, southeastern Arizona’s mining town turned arts colony, is through a tunnel in a mountain. Once you pop out on the other side, you’ve entered a funky Shangri-la, a free-spirited community marked by a tangle of narrow streets streaming down the canyon and 19th century cottages clinging precariously to the hills, along with a historic Main Street bristling with galleries.

“With Bisbee, you either get it or you don’t,” says sculptor and gallerist Poe Dismuke, 62, who relocated here from the Bay Area in 2000 with his wife, painter Sam Woolcott, 60. “the town has this weird, fatal attraction. If you fall, you fall fast and heavy.”

Dismuke isn’t the first to fall fast and heavy for mile-high Bisbee. Prospectors discovered copper, then gold, in the surrounding Mule Mountains, and by the 1880s a boom town developed, its downtown resplendent with shops, theaters, saloons, and hotels- now part of Bisbee Historic District. When the mines played out in the 1970s, counterculturalists, artists, musicians, poets, and writers moved in, drawn by the scenic canyon setting, cheap rents, and preserved-in-amber historic architecture.

That’s when Bisbee coalesced into a proudly weird (to use a favorite local adjective) and quirky community-an outpost of liberalism in an otherwise conservative state. Local theater and a community radio station approved. Yoga classes, reiki therapy, and vegan eateries took root here years ago. In 2013, it became the first city in the state to legalize same-sex civil unions. More recently, an art installation in Main Street storefront offering an R-rated “dump Trump” political theme drew barely a shrug.

At the same time, Bisbee also evolved into a popular tourist destination. Galleries, pubs, boutiques, inns, and restaurants popped up. A monthly art walk, as well as annual craft beer, and Americana music festivals now fill the calendar.

Newcomers today are largely drawn by not only the boho vibe, but also by affordable housing. The recession hit Bisbee later, and the housing market is still recovering. With a median home price right at six figures, bargains can be had. While Dismuke and Woolcott could afford only to rent in California, they bought a house within six days of arriving in Bisbee. Their digs? “A classic Bisbee miner’s house from 1906,” says Dismuke. “Three buildings cobbled together, 900 square feet. It promises to be a lifelong remodeling project.”

Ceramist Tonya Borgeson, 40, also felt the vibe – and the real estate attraction. A Minnesota native, she began coming to Bisbee to participate in community art events. Last year, she was smitten enough to get a gig as an adjunct art instructor at nearby Cochise College and buy a property that she plans to renovate into a studio and residence. “It’s walking distance to everything,” she says.

Bisbee sense of community is also a big magnet for those considering relocating here. “Bisbee was love at first sight,” Borgeson admits. “Then I started meeting intelligent, creative individuals. I find myself stimulated by conversations I have with people I don’t even know, on a hike or at the Bisbee Food Co-Op.” Borgeson makes a point of participating in yoga classes, art lectures, and events to form connections, as well as meeting pals at pubs to listen to live music.

Dismuke also felt the love. “We were embraced from the day we moved here. We were invited to people’s houses for dinner so often that we were almost worn out. In the Bay Area, we hardly knew the people in our block.” Dismuke and Woolcott have immersed themselves in community events, like fund-raising for the town’s library, organizing an annual artists’ soapbox derby, and trekking to the Saturday farmers’ market.

Still, Bisbee’s not for everyone. Job options are mostly tourism-related, with government, medicine, schools also offering some employment. For families with young children, school choices are limited. Major medical facilities and mainstream shopping are 30 miles away in Sierra Vista.

But on a recent sunny afternoon, as locals kibitzed over ice kombucha and hearts-of-alm salad on the patio of the High Desert Market and cafe, an orange and blue PT Cruiser festooned with plastic owls cruised by slowly. Nobody batted an eye. This is, after all, weird Bisbee.” – N.B.T.

Join FSV for a trip to Weird Bisbee in April 2017

-Article Credit to Sunset Magazine, February 2016



Free Spirit Vacations Loves Gilbert, AZ

Article by Keridwen Cornelius in Sunset Magazine, February 2016

With a thriving farm-to-table culture, new foodie hot spots, and a top-notch brewery, this East Valley city balances bucolic and buzzy. Keridwen Cornelius shows us the best of Gilbert, AZ.


Free-range fun
Gilbert may be one of America’s fastest-growing cities—not to mention one of our favorite places to live—but the 1920s Hay Capital of the World still cultivates its farming roots. Go free-range at the organic Farm at Agritopia, the centerpiece of an agrarian-minded community. Roam the idyllic 18 acres on your own, or prearrange a tour to learn about ecological farming principles. Farm meets fork at Joe’s Farm Grill, a diner that serves classic dishes seasoned with 21st-century touches: an Ari­zona beef burger topped with local pecan pesto, say, or a milkshake made with Agritopia-grown dates. Next door, perk up with a macchiato from the tractor shed turned coffeehouse. Wednesday evenings, families flock to a farmers’ market with Agritopia produce, live music, and food-truck fare.

An important bird area (really!)
The ponds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch attract more than 200 species, from pelicans to black-necked stilts. On every third Saturday from October to May, experts lead bird-watching walks at this Audubon-designated Important Bird Area. Or you can grab a map at the entrance, turn left, and amble down Cattail Crawl, where green-winged teals flaunt their emerald feathers. Then duck down Desert Willow Way to spy snowy egrets slowly stilt walking.
A Tex-Mex queen
Over the past five years, Gilbert’s pastel-painted Mayberry-esque Heritage District has regained its gravitational pull, as a slew of valley chefs has opened outposts here, attracting diners with sunny patios. Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles slings Sheeda’s Special, a tasty trifecta of breast, wing, and waffle, while Joyride Taco House hawks carne asada street tacos. At Postino Wine-Cafe, diners can pair a tipple with mix-and-match bruschetta. Slated to join the lineup this March is Nico, a casual Italian eatery featuring family recipes from James Beard–nominated chef Gio Osso of Scottsdale’s Virtù. And new last May, Barrio Queen serves slow-roasted cochinita pibil and pomegranate guacamole.
A photo op
In the era of Instagram and selfie sticks, Art Intersection is giving exposure to older photographic traditions. This month, these four Heritage District galleries—which, along with the Arts Lab, share an airy building—celebrate Arizona Photography Month. You can attend a demo on photogravure, make your own lumen print, or stroll the exhibit on Scott Baxter, a photographer whose iconic shots of western ranchers and cowhands exude a quiet strength.
Beer from the bearded
A few years ago, Jonathan Buford and his business partners were crafting ale in Buford’s garage, barely dodging bankruptcy, white-knuckling a Kickstarter campaign to launch Gilbert’s first brewery. Then, in 2014, RateBeer named their brewpub, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., best new brewery in the world. Suddenly, these irreverent brewers—whose tagline is “Handcrafted beers, facecrafted beards”—were gracing the pages of Esquire and collaborating with Jimmy Eat World and 2015 U.K. Brewer of the Year Beavertown Brewery. Buford and company will throw anything into their brew kettles, from watermelon to cactus, and they aren’t afraid to challenge Pabst-weaned palates with a Belgian sour or an oak-aged saison. Choose a pint from their rotating tap list, or sample a flight of five beers, served in a tree trunk.

Top Ten Reasons to Cruise Now

By: Christine Ciarmello in Sunset Magazine

  1. It’s the easiest way to get to Cuba.
    Tourist visas aren’t readily available, but don’t let that stop you from visiting this fascinating country. On February 11, the MS Saint Laurent, with 24-hour room service and free-flowing wine, will be the first vessel to disembark from an American city (Miami) and make port in Old Havana- after which it circumnavigates the Caribbean island, collecting stories from santerias, trovaderos, and cigar rollers. From $4,599/person/10 days;
  2. It’s the only way to explore the so-called “new Alaska” (which isn’t actually in Alaska)
    From 1848 to 1849, nearly 800 East Coast ships rounded Cape Horn to reach Gold Rush territory. Others opted for the calmer Strait of Magellan, lingering in the penguin-populated waters of Chile’s Punta Arenas. You can do both while sailing on Crown Princess from Los Angeles to Miami (combine two cruises to fully re-create the 1849 route). Darwin’s famed archipelago is jutted with glaciers and backed y the snow capped Andes-all visible from your balcony. From $1,399/person/17 days from Los Angeles to Santiago; from $1,699/person/14 days from Santiago to Buenos Aires;
  3. It’s the antidote to sullen-teenager syndrome.
    This cruise line knows the secret to a successful family vacation: getting adults to act like children, rather than the other way around. The latest in its fleet, Carnival Vista, tempts all ages with myraid attractions scattered along the 1,055-foot ship. There’s an Imax (a cruising first), suspended-ed cycling, a raft slide, a brewery, a New-England styled seafood shack, and thalasso-therapy. Witha ll this to occupy your time, mopey attitudes are sure to be a thing of the past. And where does the ship sail? Does it even matter? From $409/person/6 days in the Caribbean;
  4. It takes you to once-inaccessible parts of the Alaskan wilderness (this time, actually in Alaska)
    In a primarily liquid national park, it makes sense to have a boat as mode of transport. Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Explorer features a hydrophone to listen to whale sounds; an underwater camera that broadcasts onto cabins’ TVs; kayaks; and a hot tub. Several of its cruises also spend two nights in Glacier Bay, where you can witness the breathtaking calving of the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. From $6,895/person/7 nights;
  5.  Beer for breakfast, beer for lunch, beer for dinner.
    It’s not officially called the Sudsboat, but if the shoe fits, Maple Leaf Adventures’ MV Swell should wear it. The 1912 tugboat makes its annual autumnal run throughout B.C.’s Gulf Islands with beer historian Greg Evans onboard—talking through every sip of the 50 craft beers, every spoonful of the cheddar and ale soup, and every forkful of the stout brownie. Thanks to a strong dollar, this year’s cruise will also cost Americans less. From $2,060 U.S.; Oct 27–31;

    6. It’s the most atmospheric way to arrive in Polynesia.
    Boarding a plane to the South Pacific is a cop-out. Instead, make like Captain Cook or Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Crystal Cruises’ Symphony leaves from San Diego, crossing a (possibly storm-whipped) sea and then the equator to approach the Marquesas Islands. You’ll be at the peaks of Bora Bora in no time, having endured 13 days of full-service meals and plumped pillows. From $3,325/person; Nov 26–Dec 9;

    7. There’s no need to choose only one Hawaiian island.
    Best mai tais? Most festive luaus? You be the judge. Princess island-hops from the Big Island to Oahu to Maui to Kauai for waterfalls, hula, and leis. From $1,299/person/15 days;

    8. Escape to the Canadian version of Winterfell.
    The watchmen of Haida Gwaii guard their islands not from the underworld, but from the world out there. The B.C. archipelago north of Vancouver claims a wilderness so pure, a culture so ancient, and a biodiversity so expansive that most people compare it to the Galápagos, only better. Since much of the south island is roadless, a boat is your best friend. Outer Shores Expeditions visits the bogs, rain forests, and fjords on a 70-foot schooner. From $4,040 U.S./8 days;

    9. It’s like hiking, but on the ocean.
    Searcher Natural History Tours’ 24-passenger MV Searcher plies Baja’s Sea of Cortez, an area famously called the “world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau. Whales (humpback, blue, minke, and others) are certainly in abundance during the winter, as are seals and sea turtles. Between sightings are hiking adventures to lighthouses on Islas San Benito and to deserts and canyons on uninhabited Isla Santa Catalina. A highlight: taking a fiberglass panga from the mother ship to Laguna San Ignacio for an up-close with a female gray. From $4,650/person/12 days;

    10. Unparalleled access (not to mention killer wines).
    Let’s face it: Sometimes it pays to be a VIP. Such is the case on Oceania Cruises’ Riviera July 2016 cruise of the Mediterranean Sea and Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea, where Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider has secured exclusive invites to taste ethereal Old World wines and prized Mediterranean olive oils. In the evenings, as the 16-deck Oceania ship glides past ancient Roman ruins, Schneider will uncork bottles from around the globe. Other ports of call include Kotor, Montenegro; Zadar, Croatia; and Venice. $5,099/person/8 nights; 

Palm Springs and So Much More

Palm Springs is the jewel among the Southwestern desert cities. Rich in history, blessed with glorious weather, and loaded with attractions, the greater Palm Springs oasis (nine cities including Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert,Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella) once served as a vacation getaway for the Hollywood elite. Today, the area continues to lure celebrities along with domestic and international tour groups by providing a wide variety of attractions, fabulous restaurants, spectacular special events, and unique and authentic experiences.

Because there are so many sightseeing and adventure possibilities along the 45 mile length of the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs works well as a hub-and-spoke destination. Groups can easily spend up to seven nights in Palm Springs, alternating between a day of local activities and day trips. Within the Valley, consider the following inclusions:
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Experience a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The World’s Largest Rotating Tramcar begins the 10 minute ride at the Valley Station – elevation 2,643 ft. and end at the Mountain Station – elevation 8,516 ft.
Walk of Stars
Similar to Hollywood, Palm Springs honors its celebrities with the Walk of Stars throughout the downtown area.
Big Morongo Canyon Wildlife Preserve
Walk the trails, go bird watching, or learn about indigenous plant life while surveying the
expanse of land at the Big Morongo Canyon Wildlife Preserve.
Sunnylands Center and Gardens
Experience what political figures, dignitaries (including Presiden Obama’s meeting with
Chinese President in June, 2013) and other VIPs have known about the Annenberg’s historic estate and grounds. There is no charge for groups to tour the grounds. The estate offers limited group tour opportunities.
Windmill Tours
Renewable energy is the wave of the future. Groups can explore the inner workings of Coachella Valley’s windmills on a guided tour.
Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
Discover native cultures through lively exhibitions, educational programs and collections of art and artifacts at the Aqua Caliente Cultural Museum.
Several day tour options, all within a short driving distance, are as follows:
Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Located 45 miles from Palm Springs and encompassing 130 miles of shoreline, the Salton Sea is one of the region’s natural wonders. More than 400 different bird species have been identifiedin the area.


Anza Borrego Desert State Park
A 90 minute drive from Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park, with 600,000 acres of some of the most diverse landscape in the world. With 12 wilderness areas and 110 miles of hiking and biking trails, Anza-Borrego offers abundant outdoor recreational opportunities.
Joshua Tree National Park
Just one-hour drive from Palm Springs, this world-renowned 800,000 high desert preserve offer sone of North America’s most beautiful and distinct natural settings. Stop for lunch or dinner in the quaint city of Joshua Tree, known for its flourishing music and arts scene. The Red Arrow Gallery sponsors a gallery crawl the second Saturday of each month.
Idyllwild, California
Travel the “Pines to Palms Highway,” to the mile-high mountain destination of Idyllwild, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains. Along with outdoor adventure activities, Idyllwild offers a variety of shopping and dining opportunities at locally owned establishments in a quaint “downtown” village area.
Temecula Valley Wine Country & Agricultural Tours
The rolling hills in Temecula Valley Wine Country includes more than 35 wineries ranging from leading producers to family-owned boutique wineries. Plan a picnic or savor stellar wine country cuisine amid magnificent views of the vineyards. Groups of food and wine enthusiasts can explore the region’s olive ranches, farms and wineries via outstanding agricultural tours.
Big Bear Lake
Surrounded by the scenic San Bernardino National Forest, this mountain resort community offers recreational activities from pleasure boating, parasailing and water skiing to downhill and cross country skiing and swimming.
Oak Glen
At Oak Glen, located less than an hour from Palm Springs, groups can pick apples, enjoy fresh apple pie, take a hayride, visit the petting zoo, shop in the charming boutiques and tour the historical Oak Glen School House Museum . Riley’s Apple Farm offers specialized tours for larger groups with hands-on activities.
To add value to itineraries, operators may want to include one of Palm Springs’ well-known special events, several of which have made ABA’s Top 100 List. The Indian Wells Art Festival, to be held on April 4-6, 2014 has been designated as one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2014.
The Indian Wells Arts Festival is a festive event experience and community celebration. Watchthe on-site demonstrations including sand sculpture, glass blowing, painting, weaving, large scale stone sculpturing, larger-than-life mural painting, wood carving and pottery throwing. Meet and buy directly from more than 200 award winning artists. Hundreds of pieces of one-of-a-kind artwork are available for purchase. In addition to ABA’s recognition, the Festival has been ranked one of the “100 Best Fine Art Shows in the country” by Sunshine Artist magazine; “Best of the Best” by Palm Springs Life magazine; and ranked in the top 100 in both fine art fairs and fine craft shows by Greg Lawler’s Art Source Book.
From hip hop to rock to funk to jazz, nearly every music genre is represented at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Since 1999, the Festival has drawn massive crowds to the Empire Polo Field in Indio, and has grown to become one of the country’s most renowned music events. For two three-day weekends in April (April 11-13 and April 18-20, 2014) over 130 entertainers perform, accompanied by light shows and public art displays.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival is one of the largest film festivals in North
America, attracting 135,000 attendees each year. The Festival is also known for its annual Black Tie Awards Gala, honoring the best achievements of the filmic year by celebrities who, in recent years, have included Ben Affleck, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet. January 3-13, 2014, will be the 25th Anniversary of the Festival.
small_744_palm springs.jpg

Warm hospitality and VIP service awaits tour groups. Palm Springs continues to roll out the red carpet and offer new and exciting performances, attractions, and events. Plan now to join the celebrations in Palm Springs in 2014.

Join Free Spirit Vacations for a trip to Palm Springs!

St. Michael Indian School

Free Spirit Vacations and Events is pleased to sponsor and be endorsed by St. Michael Indian School in Window Rock, AZ.  We offer quality cultural programs on the Navajo Nation to help raise funds for the school mission trip each year.   small_727_discover navajo

As you may know, St. Michael Indian School has provided for more than a century, students from local Native American communities with a quality education that is rooted in Catholic values, is sensitive to Native heritage, teaches leadership skills, and enables students to contribute in a culturally diverse world. The school was founded in 1902 by Saint Katharine Drexel, who believed that an excellent, values-based Catholic education was the key to spiritual growth, empowerment, self-determination, and a better quality of life for Native Americans.  

Travel with Free Spirit and learn the history of Saint Katharine Drexel who founded the school and brought to Arizona the  Franciscan Friars who  established their outpost with land purchased from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which she also founded.  In addition, discover the natural treasures of the United States’ largest reservation, including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Antelope Canyon. 

Free Spirit Vacations and Events Announces Multi-Generational Travel Product.


Free Spirit Vacations and Events is pleased to announce the creation of a Multi-Generational Travel Department.  Select tours are now being offered where grandparents are encouraged to bring their grandkids.

Multi Gen Logo


Offerings for 2016-2017 include:
An Evening With The Stars In Flagstaff-  July 2-3, 2016
Price:     $240 pp/double     $325 pp/single
Beat the heat and travel to Flagstaff for an “Evening with the Stars” at Lowell Observatory. Lowell astronomers have discovered Pluto, collected the first evidence of the expanding universe, and measured the motions and properties of stars. Then experience
the 83rd Annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

2016 Camp Free Spirit- August 1-3, 3016
Price: $495 pp/double      $675 pp/single      $450 pp/triple        $375 pp/quad
ongoing camp activities such as canoeing, hiking, fishing, evenings around the camp fires, live entertainment, social hours, dance lessons, photography classes, arts and crafts, and MORE. You can do it all or do nothing but relax in the great outdoors. Cabins are rustic, but comfortable and all have their own bathrooms. They are all different configurations, so it is important to get your reservations in early to secure the best ones.

128th Annual Rose Bowl Parade – December 31, 2016 – January 2, 2017
Price:   $695 pp/double     $775 pp/single     $650 pp/tripple      $625 pp/quad
Children under 10 subtract $25
This is for grandparents and  their kids and grandkids.  It includes
reserved seats for the parade along with a full day and New Years Eve Celebration at the Happiest Place on Earth – Disneyland!  (Please note:  Price includes Disneyland admission.  Upgrade to a Park-Hopper for an additional $65pp)

Cancun Spring Break –    March 2017
Call for pricing.
Cancun is a vacation haven of the 21st century. Today, Cancun consists of a
medium-sized coastal city and a long, thin island connected to the mainland through bridges at its north and south ends. You will enjoy world-class resorts, clubs, and malls. There is something for everyone, from an all-day fun party beach to an isolated, tranquil island. The gorgeous beaches of white sand caressed by warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea stand out as the hottest spots in town, both literally and figuratively.Enjoy the popular tourist attractions and discover the hidden corners of Mexico through tour searches in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Washington DC- June 28 – July 3, 2017
Price:    $1795 pp/double     $2150 pp/single     $1725 pp/triple     $1695 pp/quad
Price includes roundtrip airfare from Phoenix.
ravel to Washington DC for the trip of a lifetime.  There is so much included in this vacation and some of the highlights include the White House Visitors Center, Arlington National Cemetery, The Smithsonian and Folklife Festival, American History Museum, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Park, Air Force Memorial, the Marine Corps Memorial, New Capitol Visitor Center on Capitol Hill, Library of Congress, Marine Corp Sunset Parade, National Zoological Park, Embassy Row and Washington National Cathedral, Madame Tussaud’s, Martin Luther King Jr National Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial, Mount Vernon, breakfast daily, 1 lunch, 3 dinners and MUCH MORE!

 The program is being spear-headed by Gordon Grassi. 


Gordon has a Bachelors degree in History and Education from Eastern Washington University,and a masters degree in Administration and Curriculum from Gonzaga University. He was a classroom teacher for 22 years, and a school administrator for 18. Gordon organized and escorted fourteen student trips to places like Washington DC, Williamsburg, and the surround area. Gordon has also participated in ten, one week long travel workshops where he visited and studied Civil War Sites, American Revolution sites, and Presidential residents and libraries. In June of 2015 Gordon retired and moved to Arizona with his wife, Phyllis, and has four adult children, and two wonderful grandchildren.

For more information call 480-926-5547 or email

Passport Expiring Soon? Renew It Now, State Dept. Says

By JULIA PRESTON JAN. 26, 2016  (The New York Times)

If you have a United States passport expiring any time in 2016, the State Department has a message for you: Renew it now.

The department anticipates a surge in passport demand throughout this year, and officials hope to avoid a crush that could leave some Americans fuming in frustration with no passport in hand on the day they planned to travel outside the country.

Officials are expecting a flood of renewals of 10-year passports issued in 2006 and 2007. The latter was the year when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, for the first time requiring passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. As millions of citizens scrambled to apply for their first passports, backlogs swelled and many were stranded.

“We were overwhelmed then, and we are not going to be overwhelmed again,” said Michele Bond, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who oversees passports. She has been on a campaign to cajole Americans into renewing early.


There has also been an uptick, officials said, in first-time applications from Americans in states that have not yet complied with the Real ID Act, which sets stricter standards for driver’s licenses and other identity cards. Many people seem to have a mistaken belief that a deadline is imminent after which they will not be able to present licenses from those states for flights within the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security recently clarified the deadline: Jan. 22, 2018. As of that date, residents of states that still have not complied with Real ID will have to show an alternative, approved form of identification, such as a passport.

For now there is no hurry for travelers in the five states and a territory that have not complied so far – Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and American Samoa – if they are not planning to go abroad. But some are rushing to get passports anyway (, adding to congestion in the system.

State Department officials say another reason to renew soon is that many countries are now enforcing a requirement for at least six months’ validity on a United States passport. The department has experienced an increase in frantic calls from Americans who were denied entry at foreign airports and borders because their passports had less than six months to go.

Officials said they expected to issue more than 17 million new passports and renewals this year, about 1.5 million more than in 2015. Those seeking a passport for the first time must submit the application in person at a designated post office, court or other agency, and the fee is $135. Renewals will take about six weeks in 2016, up from four weeks last year. Most Americans can renew passports by mail, for a fee of $110.

A New Leaf for Yuma Lettuce Days

by Arizona Office of Tourism Staff

“Holding Lettuce Days in the middle of a real farm will make it even more authentic and unique,” explains Yuma Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Morgan. “We’re excited about the interactive experiences we can offer and delighted to forge a stronger partnership with our friends at the University of Arizona.”

Farm-Fresh Experiences

The move is about offering more for everyone. “We’ll have all the things people love about Lettuce Days, like celebrity chefs and cooking demonstrations, great entertainment, a giant salad bar and a farmers market,” she says. “But we’ll have more room, more parking and more hands-on ‘ag stuff’ to see and do, because we’re bringing folks to the farm instead of trying to re-create a farm experience in the middle of town.”

New features planned for 2015 include demonstrations of high-tech farming equipment, such as GPS-guided tractors, laser leveling and aerial drones; a “show-and-tell” tour of a UA trial planting of nearly 100 varieties of spinach; live demonstrations of lettuce thinning and harvesting; and a petting zoo featuring adorable baby farm animals.

Chefs and Cooking Demonstrations

Hosea_framed.jpgThe headlining chef at this year’s Lettuce Days is Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder, Colorado. Rosenberg won Bravo’s Top Chef competition during the show’s fifth season. Chef Rosenberg recently opened Blackbelly Market in Boulder, a venture that combines a farm-focused restaurant with his thriving catering business, and adds a butcher shop, salumeria, deli and market featuring house-made goodies.

That makes him a “natural” for Yuma, which, from November through March, supplies more than 90 percent of North America’s leafy vegetables. Yuma County ranks third in the nation for vegetable production, and its annual agricultural output of more than $3.2 billion accounts for more than a third of the total for Arizona.

“I am thrilled to be cooking at Yuma Lettuce Days,” Rosenberg says. “It is extremely important to me as a chef to know where my food comes from. It is a way to connect not only to my customers, but to my suppliers as well.”

“It will be a treat to be surrounded by such a vital agricultural area and a place that feeds so many of our citizens,” he adds.

At Lettuce Days, Rosenberg will do two live cooking demonstrations each day – with some lucky audience members getting a chance to taste his creations.

Taste the Excitement

YLD 2013 sampling kale chips_framed.jpgAdditional activities planned for Yuma’s homegrown celebration include other live cooking demonstrations and contests, a ginormous salad bar and a tasting event that showcases specialties from local restaurants, plus beer and wine samples. There will also be plenty of ag-related vendors, live entertainment, a beer garden and a special Kids Ag-tivities area for the little ones.

The University of Arizona’s Yuma Agricultural Center is located at 6425 W. 8th St., about seven miles from downtown Yuma. Lettuce Days was first held on Main Street in 1999. The festival moved to Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park in 2011, earning a Governor’s Tourism Award as Arizona’s best special event for cities of 75,000 or more the same year.

Put Arizona’s freshest destination food event on your calendar. Sure as Yuma sunshine, there’ll be a full menu of fun! Details are still germinating; check for added ingredients at

More Foodie Events

There are lots of ways to enjoy Yuma’s fresh flavors – check out our “menus” below and online at

YVB’s Field to Feast tours offer a hands-on lesson in desert agriculture, beginning with a chance to harvest your own veggies at the University of Arizona farm. Post-pickin’, you’ll enjoy a motorcoach “field trip” with a Yuma grower as your guide, while Arizona Western College culinary students turn your field-fresh picks into a delicious lunch.  Half-day 2015 tours are scheduled for February 18, 19 and 21 and March 4 and 5.

For those more interested in what’s on the fork than in the field, YVB offers Savor Yuma progressive dinner tours. Showcasing homegrown restaurants, these “mystery culinary quests” include appetizers at the first stop, fresh soup or salad at the second and a main course at the third – plus adult beverages and a sweet treat.  You can get a taste of local favorites in 2015 February 18 and March 3 and 11.

Dine like a sultan under the stars at Date Night dinners on March 13, 2015. These multi-course gourmet dinners, prepared by Cordon Bleu-trained chef Alex Trujillo and served outdoors in a date grove, show off Yuma’s delightful desert weather and the culinary versatility of Medjool dates. “There’s a lot more to dates than just milkshakes,” says Morgan. “Yuma is the world’s largest producer of Medjools – even people in the Middle East import their dates from here.”

Join FSV for a trip to the Lettuce Days February 26!


Pictures and article retrieved from:

Behind the Scenes in Monument Valley

Smithsonian Magazine
February 2010


As Lorenz Holiday and I raised a cloud of red dust driving across the valley floor, we passed a wooden sign, “Warning: Trespassing Is Not Allowed.” Holiday, a lean, soft-spoken Navajo, nudged me and said, “Don’t worry, buddy, you’re with the right people now.” Only a Navajo can take an outsider off the 17-mile scenic loop road that runs through Monument Valley Tribal Park, 92,000 acres of majestic buttes, spires and rock arches straddling the Utah-Arizona border.

Holiday, 40, wore cowboy boots, a black Stetson and a handcrafted silver belt buckle; he grew up herding sheep on the Navajo reservation and still owns a ranch there. In recent years, he has been guiding adventure travelers around the rez. We had already visited his relatives, who still farm on the valley floor, and some little-known Anasazi ruins. Now, joined by his brother Emmanuel, 29, we were going to camp overnight at Hunt’s Mesa, which, at 1,200 feet, is the tallest monolith on the valley’s southern rim.

We had set off late in the day. Leaving Lorenz’ pickup at the trail head, we slipped through a hole in a wire stock fence and followed a bone-dry riverbed framed by junipers to the mesa’s base. Our campsite for the night loomed above us, a three-hour climb away. We began picking our way up the rippling sandstone escarpment, now turning red in the afternoon sun. Lizards gazed at us, then skittered into shadowy cracks. Finally, after about an hour, the ascent eased. I asked Lorenz how often he came here. “Oh, pretty regular. Once every five years or so,” he said with a laugh. Out of breath, he added: “This has got to be my last time.”

It was dark by the time we reached the summit, and we were too tired to care about the lack of a view. We started a campfire, ate a dinner of steak and potatoes and turned in for the night. When I crawled out of my tent the next morning the whole of Monument Valley was spread out before me, silent in the purple half-light. Soon the first shafts of golden sunlight began creeping down the buttes’ red flanks and I could see why the director John Ford filmed such now-classic westerns as Stagecoach and The Searchers here.

Thanks to Ford, Monument Valley is one of the most familiar landscapes in the United States, yet it remains largely unknown. “White people recognize the valley from the movies, but that’s the extent of it,” says Martin Begaye, program manager for the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. “They don’t know about its geology, or its history, or about the Navajo people. Their knowledge is very superficial.”

Almost nothing about the valley fits easy categories, starting with its location within the 26,000-square-mile Navajo reservation. The park entrance is in Utah, but the most familiar rock formations are in Arizona. The site is not a national park, like nearby Canyonlands, in Utah, and the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, but one of six Navajo-owned tribal parks. What’s more, the valley floor is still inhabited by Navajo—30 to 100 people, depending on the season, who live in houses without running water or electricity. “They have their farms and livestock,” says Lee Cly, acting superintendent of the park. “If there’s too much traffic, it will destroy their lifestyle.” Despite 350,000 annual visitors, the park has the feel of a mom and pop operation. There is one hiking trail in the valley, accessible with a permit: a four-mile loop around a butte called the Left Mitten, yet few people know about it, let alone hike it. At the park entrance, a Navajo woman takes $5 and tears off an admission ticket from a roll, like a raffle ticket. Cars crawl into a dusty parking lot to find vendors selling tours, horseback rides, silver work and woven rugs.

All this may change. The park’s first hotel, the View, built and staffed mostly by Navajo, opened in December 2008. The 96-room complex is being leased by a Navajo-owned company from the Navajo Nation. In December 2009, a renovated visitors center opened, featuring exhibits on local geology and Navajo culture.

Throughout the 19th century, white settlers considered the Monument Valley region—like the desert terrain of the Southwest in general—to be hostile and ugly. The first U.S. soldiers to explore the area called it “as desolate and repulsive looking a country as can be imagined,” as Capt. John G. Walker put it in 1849, the year after the area was annexed from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. “As far as the eye can reach…is a mass of sand stone hills without any covering or vegetation except a scanty growth of cedar.”

But the valley’s isolation, in one of the driest and most sparsely populated corners of the Southwest, helped protect it from the outside world. There is no evidence that 17th- or 18th-century Spanish explorers ever found it, although they roamed the area and came in frequent conflict with the Navajo, who called themselves Diné, or “The People.” The Navajo lived in an area today known as the Four Corners, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet. They called Monument Valley Tsé Bii Ndzisgaii, or “Clearing Among the Rock,” and regarded it as an enormous hogan, or dwelling, with the two isolated stone pinnacles to the north—now known as Gray Whiskers and Sentinel—as its door posts. They considered the two soaring buttes known as the Mittens to be the hands of a deity.

The first non-Indians to stumble upon the valley were probably Mexican soldiers under Col. José Antonio Vizcarra, who captured 12 Paiutes there on a raid in 1822. In 1863, after U.S. troops and Anglo settlers had skirmished with the Navajo, the federal government moved to pacify the area by relocating every Navajo man, woman and child to a reservation 350 miles to the southeast, in Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. But when U.S. soldiers under Col. Kit Carson began rounding up Navajo people for the notorious “Long Walk,” many fled the valley to hide out near Navajo Mountain in southern Utah, joining other Native American refugees under the leadership of Chief Hashkéneinii. The Navajo returned in 1868 when the U.S. government reversed its policy and, through a treaty, gave them a modest reservation along the Arizona-New Mexico border. But Monument Valley was not initially included. It lay on the reservation’s northwestern fringe, in an area used by the Navajo, Utes and Paiutes, and was left as public land.

Travelers from the East were almost nonexistent. In the Gilded Age, American tourists preferred the more “European” Rockies and the forests of California. This began to change in the early 1900s, as Anglo artists depicted Southwestern landscapes in their works, and interest in Native American culture took hold. Indian traders spread reports of Monument Valley’s scenic beauty. Even so, the valley’s remoteness—180 miles northeast of the railway line in Flagstaff, Arizona, a week-long pack trip—discouraged all but the most adventurous travelers. In 1913, the popular western author Zane Grey came to the valley after battling “a treacherous red-mired quicksand” and described a “strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.” After camping there overnight, Grey rode on horseback around the “sweet-scented sage-slopes under the shadow of the lofty Mittens,” an experience that inspired him to set a novel, Wildfire, in the valley. Later that same year, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Monument Valley en route to nearby Rainbow Bridge in Utah, where he hiked and camped, and in 1916, a group of tourists managed to drive a Model T Ford into the valley. The second director of the National Park Service, Horace Albright, who thought the area was a possible candidate for federal protection after a 1931 inspection, was among a handful of anthropologists, archaeologists and conservationists who visited it between the world wars. But in Washington interest was minimal. Monument Valley still lacked paved roads, and the unpaved ones were so treacherous they were called “Billygoat Highways.”

Throughout this period, the proprietary rights to Monument Valley kept changing hands. “The land bounced between Anglo and Native American control for decades because of the prospect of finding gold or oil there,” says Robert McPherson, the author of several books about Navajo history. “Only when white people thought it was useless for mining did they finally give it back to the Navajo.” At a meeting in Blanding, Utah, in 1933, a compromise agreement granted the Paiute Strip, part of which is in Monument Valley, to the Navajo Reservation. At last, all of the valley was Navajo land. But the deal that would clinch the valley’s peculiar fate occurred in Hollywood.

In 1938, a “tall, lanky cowboy in the style of Gary Cooper,” as one studio acquaintance described him, walked into United Artists Studios in Los Angeles and asked a receptionist if he could talk to someone, anyone, about a location for a western movie. Harry Goulding ran a small trading post at the northwest rim of Monument Valley. A Colorado native, Goulding had moved to the valley in 1925, when the land was public, and had become popular with the Navajo for his cooperative spirit and generosity, often extending credit during difficult times. The Depression, a drought and problems created by overgrazing had hit the Navajo and the trading post hard. So when Goulding heard on the radio that Hollywood was looking for a location to shoot a western, he and his wife, Leone, nicknamed Mike, saw a chance to improve their lot as well as the Indians’.

“Mike and I figured, ‘By golly, we’re going to head for Hollywood and see if we can’t do something about that picture,’” he later recalled. They gathered photographs, bedrolls and camping gear and drove to Los Angeles.

According to Goulding, the United Artist receptionist all but ignored him until he threatened to get out his bedding and spend the night in the office. When an executive arrived to throw Goulding out, he glimpsed one of the photographs—a Navajo on horseback in front of the Mittens—and stopped short. Before long, Goulding was showing the images to 43-year-old John Ford and a producer, Walter Wanger. Goulding left Los Angeles with a check for $5,000 and orders to accommodate a crew while it filmed in Monument Valley. Navajos were hired as extras (playing Apaches), and Ford even signed up—for $15 a week—a local medicine man named Hastiin Tso, or “Big Man,” to control the weather. (Ford evidently ordered “pretty, fluffy clouds.”) The movie, released in 1939, was Stagecoach and starred a former stuntman named John Wayne. It won two Academy Awards and made Wayne a star; it also made the western a respected film genre.

John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In addition to introducing the valley’s spectacular scenery to an international audience, each movie pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy. The shoots were usually festive, with hundreds of Navajo gathering in tents near Goulding’s trading post, singing, watching stuntmen perform tricks and playing cards late into the night. Ford, often called “One Eye” because of his patch, was accepted by the Navajo, and he returned the favor: after heavy snows cut off many families in the valley in 1949, he arranged for food and supplies to be parachuted to them.

It’s said that when John Wayne first saw the site, he declared: “So this is where God put the West.” Millions of Americans might agree. The valley soon became fixed in the popular imagination as the archetypal Western landscape, and tourists by the carloads began arriving. In 1953, the Gouldings expanded their two stone cabins into a full-fledged motel with a restaurant manned by Navajo. To cope with the influx (and discourage, among other things, pothunters in search of Anasazi relics), conservation groups proposed making the valley a national park. But the Navajo Nation’s governing body, the Tribal Council, objected; it wanted to protect the valley’s Indian residents and preserve scarce grazing land. In 1958, the council voted to set aside 29,817 acres of Monument Valley as the first-ever tribal park, to be run by Navajo on the national park model, and allocated $275,000 to upgrade roads and build a visitors center. The park is now the most visited corner of the Navajo reservation. “The Navajo Nation were really the trailblazers for other Native American groups to set up parks,” says Martin Link, former director of the Navajo Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, who helped train the first Navajo park rangers in the early 1960s.

Goulding’s Trading Post is now a sprawling complex of 73 motel rooms, a campground and an enormous souvenir shop. (Harry Goulding died in 1981, Mike in 1992.) The original 1925 store has been turned into a museum, displaying film stills and posters from the dozens of movies shot in the valley. Even the Gouldings’ old mud-brick potato cellar, which appeared as the home of Capt. Nathan Brittles (Wayne) in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, remains. A small cinema shows John Wayne movies at night.

For the end of my trip, following my overnight atop Hunt’s Mesa, I decided to camp on Monument Valley’s floor among the most famous monoliths. To arrange this, Lorenz Holiday took me to meet his aunt and uncle, Rose and Jimmy Yazzie, whose farm lies at the end of a spidery network of soft sand roads. The elderly couple spoke little English, so Lorenz translated the purpose of our visit. Soon they agreed to let me camp on a remote corner of their property for a modest fee.

I built a small fire at dusk, then sat alone watching as the colors of the buttes shifted from orange to red to crimson. In the distance, two of the Yazzies’ sons led a dozen mustangs across the valley, the horses kicking up clouds of dust. John Ford, I imagined, couldn’t have chosen a better spot.

(Join Free Spirit Vacations on a trip to Monument Valley and Discover Navajo!

2016 National Parks Bucket List


By: Rocío Lower

All this talk about #FindYourPark, #EncuentraTuParque, and the National Park Service Centennial is causing a lot of folks to have parks on the brain! Let’s face it: it’s a great problem to have.

With over 400 national parks across the system to choose from, there are countless experiences to be had, treks to make, and lessons to learn.

So how do you begin to tackle such a massive wish list of places to see and explore? For starters, you keep the list realistic. Add some things you can actually do, and some things you really want to do.

You ready to start brainstorming some new bucket list items? Let’s get started.

Prepare yourself

  • First things first: take a look at our free Owner’s Guide Series free Owner’s Guide series that you can use as inspiration or to research your trip itineraries. These guides share everything from national parks near metropolitan areas, to places to stay, to lesser-known parks, to must-do hikes. They’re a great resource to have, so start there.
  • Next: make note of the fee-free days in 2016. In honor of the centennial year, the National Park Service is waiving admission on sixteen days of the year. So if you’re considering possible timelines, some of those days may be great times to hit the places on your bucket list.
  • Are you considering camping during your excursions? You’ll want to think through the logistics of having a functional culinary set up for overnight stays. We’ve got a list of cooking equipment and tips you’ll need for exercising your chef de cuisine skills at the campsite. And if you need some sweet treat ideas, we’ve got those too.
  • If you’re planning to travel with your pup, be sure to do your research ahead of time and ensure you’re taking Fido to a dog-friendly national park.
  • And depending on the type of excursion you’re planning, you may need to make reservations or request permits. These vary from park to park, especially if you’re planning on doing some backcountry hiking. The National Park Service website will be another great resource for you as well.

Feed the wanderlust

Now comes the fun part – the part where you get to start letting your imagination run away with itself. Bookmark what moves you, investigate the options further, and start building out the list from there. Explore the se

lection and create a national parks bucket list worthy of doing in the centennial year!

You could…

Share your adventures

The national park bug is a contagiou

s one – it’s one that’s never truly satiated because as soon as you get home from the last adventure, you’ll be itching to get back out there and explore some more! Help your friends and family catch the bug by sharing your favorite moments and memories online by using #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque.

It’s going to be an epic year as we kick off the second century of the National Park Service. How will you celebrate? What items are you adding to your bucket list?

Article and Picture Credit: National Parks Foundation