Exploring the Pomp and Grandiosity of the Vatican

Although the Vatican is the smallest country, by both area and population, what it lacks in scale it certainly makes up for in unbridled opulence. Indeed, nothing exposes that opulence more than the exquisite works of art on display at the Vatican Museum. The elegant, bright sheen of ancient sculpted marble still gleans, sumptuous frescoes dazzle the senses from all sides, while the post modern works refresh and remind us of a changing world. As you meander the Vatican halls, you are literally walking the hallways of the progression of modern civilization

The Vatican Museum sees six million visitors per year and is the fourth most visited art museum in the world. Its collection is exceptional, housing over 70,000 works of art, of which, 20,000 are on display for the public. Entering the Vatican Museum, you are mesmerized by both its beauty and power. With a range of art and artifacts from ancient Egypt (including an actual mummy) to pieces from modern artists such as Salvadore Dali, I was captivated not simply from the art, but in the mind-blowing scope and history behind these pieces.

I recommend taking your time in the museums. Wonder and wander. There is so much to see, stroll at your leisure and focus on what interests you. Part of the experience is simply being inside and awestruck.

My Top Five “Must-See”

  • Laocoon and His Sons 
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th Century, the Vatican Museums traces its origin to one of its most treasured pieces (and one of my favorites) the Laocoon and His Sons. It depicts the ancient Greek myth of Laocoon and His sons being killed by serpents sent by Athena and Poseidon to ensure the defeat of Troy.
  • Gallery of Tapestries
Yes, this actually the gallery of maps because I didn’t take a photo of the tapestries. They are that magical. Each one took years to create and were based off paintings from pupils of Raphael. This is a must see to appreciate.
  • Bramante Staircase
This is actually the modern Bramante Staircase, designed by Guiseppe Momo in 1932. The original was created in 1506 and is not open to the public. This staircase is beautiful, yet easy to miss. ( I had to sneak back into the Sistine Chapel to find it!) Make sure you turn left after the Sistine Chapel so as not to exit the museum straight away.
  • Raphael’s School of Athens
One exquisite example of the culmination of Renaissance thought, Raphael’s masterpiece depicts the great classic philosophers and thinkers. Featured in the works are Galileo, Aristotle, Plato, and even Raphael’s contemporary, Michaelangelo. Best experienced with a guide of some kind.
  • Egyptian Museum
Although the origins of how the Vatican obtained these artifacts is dubious, the exhibit is nonetheless thrilling. With over nine rooms in the gallery, this exhibit is often glossed-over by the steadfast tourist, but is definitely worth visiting

Visiting the Vatican is a pilgrimage that should not just be reserved for Catholics. It is a journey through civilization itself and is a trip anyone who with a remote interest in history, art or the progression of the modern human should take.

New Adventures, Blossoming Romance in the Cradle of Western Civilization

Hi Folks! I’m biding my time in the Philadelphia airport, anxiously awaiting my flight to the farthest from home I’ve been. This is my first trip to Europe, and I’m about to board a flight to one of the oldest cities, not only in Europe, but modern civilization-Rome.

After spending the last three months voraciously reading travel guides, listening to historical audiobooks and podcasts, and feverishly researching the style and etiquette of  the beautiful Italians, it is finally time for me to board.  After all the agonizing hours of wondering what color scarf to wear and how tall a heel on my boots will allow me to walk for hours on end, I’m ditching the packing anxiety and getting on the damn plane. (I will spare you the travel packing advice, unless requested!)

Italy is the land of passion, art and romance and, to be honest, these truly embody the reasons I’m traveling here. I met my Italian boyfriend working at a National Park (he was a travel guide) and it has slowly blossomed into a wonderfully romantic, surprising and often excruciating long-distance relationship. We are about to spend the next two months working our way up and down the wondrous boot of Italy, Sicily, Malta and exploring the North African country of Tunisia. I’ll even spend the holidays with a real Italian family. Mama Mia!

I will share my trials, tribulations, misadventures, and photos here. I hope my photos and stories will inspire you, as well, to seek “La Dolce Vita!”

If you happen to be traveling to Europe and are looking for some preliminary historical research, I found the following interesting, helpful and well-done:

  1. “Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance”

A gripping documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Italy’s most famous dynasties-The Medici. I was captivated by the reenactments of the artists and colorful characters of the Italian Renaissance.

      2.  Rick Steves Audio Europe

No trip to Italy would be complete without the friendly advice of travel guru Rick Steves. While his style and advice may appeal to an older, more prudent traveler, he frequently hosts guides from all over Italy to give their local advice on this pleasant podcast. You can also download free audio guides to museums in the Vatican, Florence and throughout the country. I plan on using them during  my visit.

    3. “The History of Rome” podcast by Mike Duncan

Another gripping historical podcast, Mike Duncan tediously outlines the dramatic history of the Roman Empire that forever shaped modern Western Civilization. Not only beneficial for those seeking a historical context for their travels, I think all people will find this podcast relevant and fascinating.

    4. “A History of Italy” podcast

Picking up where “History of Rome” leaves off, this podcast tells the story of Italy after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, through Byzantium and onward. I love this podcast for its cheeky sense of humor and engaging story telling.

   5. “Venice” A New History by Thomas Madden

This book will definitely appeal to the more academic traveler, as it chronicles in a fairly dry and matter-of-fact tone the entire history of Venice. However, you will learn so much beyond the Venetian story, as the history of Venice is inherently tied to the blossoming of modern civilization as we know it. It was, afterall, the birthplace of modern Capitalism and global trade.

   6. Coffee Break Italian Podcast

Okay, this is not a historical podcast, yet I found its candid banter with a student, professor and native Italian speaker easy to listen to and completely helpful in learning the basics of the Italian language. It also provides cultural lessons that are interesting and useful if you are planning a trip to Italy.

So, brush up on some fascinating history!

Ci Vediamo Presto,




Purple Hazy Clay Beds

The desert is full of surprises, especially when you know where to find them! These clay beds outside Kanab, Utah made me feel like I was swirling in the midst of a Jimi Hendrix song circa 1967(cue phsychedelic guitar riff of “Purple Haze).

BuckskinGulch copy10Even without mind-altering enhancements, these clay beds are a far-out, surreal landscape of magenta, violet and mustard. Ombre ribbons adorn these strange, dried hills to create an art deco museum in the middle of the desert.

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Claybeds copy

Lucky for us, however, this museum is completely free and created by nature. Called the “chinle” formation, these vibrant clay beds are made of fine sediments left from ancient lakes, river beds and volcanic ash, where they are then deposited into these cracked, speckled mounds.

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Whoever said geology wasn’t a party obviously hasn’t been to this trippy geologic wonder!

Clay Beds


Confession of Love: Townes Van Zandt

When all the world seems mad and upsidedown, truth is obscured and I find my heart turning bitter, I know it’s time to seek out some morsel of art, beauty, or goodness. This week I found my hearth in the rusty rhythms and stories of a folk legend too many have never heard of- the late Townes Van Zandt.


His voice is the dusk of Americana. Singer of bandit lullabies, lonesome trails, and wistful loves, Townes Van Zandt’s mournful melodies could uncover that place in your soul buried deep in the soil.  His voice was raw as chickory and smooth as a river stone. His simple, yet intricate picking style could both chill you to the bone and melt the superficial until left with nothing but pure, dripping truth.  He could bring you to the most tragic, somber of places and pull you back out with a simple tune of the wind.

“And now you wear your skin like iron…”

Born March 7th, 1944 in Fort Worth, Texas he epitomized the journey of the pained, struggling artist.  Many of his songs were made famous by big names, such as Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and even the Rolling Stones. However, Townes himself wasn’t keen on being in the limelight.  He was haunted by heroin and alcoholism, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, yet disavowed money and fame. He lived in a ramshackle cabin with no electricity, plumbing or telephone service for many years in the 1970s.  He made money on the road playing dive bars and staying in seedy motels and cabins in the woods.

Despite being in a circle of famous musicians, Townes never signed onto a record label or developed large commercial following, mostly by choice. He was a legend in his own right, never needing to prove it or get monetary validation of his genius. Although plagued by tumultuous relationships and mental illness, the purity, vulnerability and soul with which he sang is unmatched by any era’s standards.

“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” -Steve Earle

Rather than vanish into obscurity, Townes’ legend is like an aging whiskey, developing in complexity over time. In a world torn apart by greed, machines, and out of control egos, we would all do well to listen to the sweet, dusty lullabies of Americana’s folk antihero-Townes Van Vandt.

Five Song Introduction to Townes Van Zandt

  1. “Poncho & Lefty”
  1. “If I Needed You”
  1. “Tecumseh Valley”
  1. “To Live is to Fly”
  1. “Our Mother the Mountain”


A Grand Weakness

Peering out

Visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget. Peering out into the vast, surreal desert void makes you feel as if the whole thing could swallow you into oblivion.

Yet, despite its breathtaking power and grandeur, the Grand Canyon somehow asserts an introspective and quiet vulnerability.

Truly, what is the Canyon but a massive open wound in the skin of the earth? A wound revealing the tender and humble weakness of rock that once appeared indestructible.  Over millennia, with each silky passing of water and ripple, the mighty rock has given way carving the canyon deeper and even more spectacular. What exquisite weakness, indeed.

As I stand the limestone precipice, fear rises into my chest. Vertigo disorients and confuses.  Stories my ego fabricates comfort me in distress. “Tragedy strikes at The North Rim as woman loses her balance and plummets to her death…”

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Fear is a necessary function of human existence. Without it, our whole species would have been gobbled up by predators long ago. Yet, often our minds run amok and we allow the fear to be in control and to twist the unknown into a wild and ridiculous spiral of speculation.

Yet, rather than be defined by fear, or by our “weakness”, we can get to know it. Address it, say hello to it, then kindly allow it to pass by as a beautiful creation of our experience. Like the flowing water eroding unstable sandstone,  the “weak” aspects of our personality can ultimately become what creates the most dazzling and spectacular version of ourselves. Without fear, there is no such thing as courage. Without struggle, there is no catharsis or depth.

Don’t run from your weakness, embrace it with both strength and vulnerability. Who knows what beautiful canyons and ravines you might create?

Hazy Canyon


Four Ways To Really LOVE Your National Parks


Admittedly, my last post was a bit was of rant. Living and working near a national park, I see firsthand the catastrophic level of use and abuse these wondrous lands receive. And it makes me irate. (For those unfamiliar with the issue, check it out here and here).

Yet, rather than drivel on about the hegemonic industrial-consumer paradigm that is the basis of the problem (it is), I will spare you and offer up a few solutions. Cultivated out of experience and observation, this is my short list of actions individuals can take now to connect on a deeper level to their national parks to ultimately become their fierce protector.

  • Don’t go to them. I don’t mean this in a cynical, misanthropic sense-people should go out and experience the wild and rugged public lands of America. The problem is, national parks are neither wild nor rugged. You’re more likely to hear to the screeching of a car alarm over a screeching owl, or the depraved howling of drunks over the howling of a coyote.  Be creative and go somewhere off the beaten path. Take the Crooked Trail! While the Grand Canyon is epic, there are 6,223,221,336 people posting and posing at the South Rim. Meanwhile, hundreds of beautiful monuments, wildlife refuges BLM, Forest Service lands are awaiting the creative, intrepid and saavy traveler like yourself to explore. Try something new and give the parks a break.
  • Do your research. Visitor centers are wonderful resources, staffed with knowledgeable Park Rangers who are there to help. Yet, they are inundated with visitor questions that could have been answered with a 10 second google search or quick glance at a map. While most rangers will answer “where is the bathroom” or “how do I get to (insert most popular hiking trail here),” with a smile, they shouldn’t have to. Consider a visit to the parks an exercise in rugged self reliance. They are a place we can learn to be without, or get to know our higher, capable selves. Rangers have a litany of knowledge, allow them to astonish us. Ask them to identify a cool species of spider or the age of a rock formation.  If you’re already an expert park visitor, go deeper. Grab a topo map and hit the trail-less wilderness! A little preparation also prevents impulsive decision making that can be destructive to public lands.
  • Go alone.   Cities are for socializing, wilderness is for internalizing, so goes the motto I just made up. I know many will squirm at the idea of camping in the woods alone, with only the dubious grunts and howls of mysterious creatures lurking in the darkness to keep you company. Others may revel in the sense of of freedom and self-discovery solo travel can cultivate. I place myself in the 2nd camp. Something about being in the open air, with no external distractions is both terrifying and unbelievably magical. Your senses awaken-you notice every splash of flowing water, every hoot and whistle, every crunch of grass. The land comes of alive more fully when alone and in silence to hear it.  Yes, it fun to go on trips with your friends and family, but the level of connection you receive from the land alone is unsurpassed. If you can’t camp or backpack alone yet, just try out a day hike! Challenge yourself and push through your fears.  Of course, if you go solo always make sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back.
  • Be an advocate.  They need you. Despite overwhelming support and record number of visitors, budgets for public lands are stagnant and/or dwindling. Public lands once thought forever protected are in danger, just look at Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears. Fossil fuel industry executives are salivating at the thought of mining, drilling and privatizing public land to fulfill their insatiable greed. As users of public lands, we have a responsibility to protect them. If every visitor contributed through time or money to a conservation agency, we would have unstoppable environmental progress.  I recommend finding a local organization in your area that also works in the political arena.  It’s also a great way to connect with other like-minded individuals and your community. In the Southwest, we have the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who does amazing work. The Access Fund, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity are wonderful organizations working diligently on a national level to protect our natural heritage.

Don’t just let public lands be a pretty  background for your Instagram feed. Take the time to connect to the land itself, find peace and solace from the burdens and incessant noise of all that ails you. Hear nothing but the sound of your breath colliding with wind. Address your fears. Then, with your new found vitality, become the lands’ fierce protector. The parks’ (and our) existence may depend on it.

I would love to hear your thoughts! What do you think we can do to protect our National Parks?

Stop saying our National Parks are”being loved to death…”


It’s a common trope I hear these days that our National Parks are “being loved to death.” (Looking at you New York Times). While much of the conversation is accurate and valid-that our parks are seeing record, unsustainable number of visitors, budget strains, and unmanageable waste calling it “love” misses the mark and the larger, systemic problem at hand.

If what is happening in our National Parks is “love,” it’s the love akin to swiping right. Love would imply stewardship, responsibility and deep, mutual connected-ness. Yet, we collect parks like Tinder matches, as we stamp our passports and vie for fleeting likes and followers, with our parks playing the pretty background.   Moreover, this “love” for our National Parks is not translating into higher budgets, larger and more robust protections, nor a collective environmental consciousness.  It is, however, allowing for the continued commodification and commercialization of our public lands.

America’s “Greatest Idea,” to instill within an industrial culture so disconnected sense of re-connection and wonder has fallen victim to the inevitable effects of industrialism itself. The very nature of capitalism leaves nothing sacred, nothing holy enough to prevent its parceling and selling, including our sacred National Parks. Concessionaires like Xanterra and Aramark make billions off of our parks in a  Walmart-esque race to the bottom. They hire young students and college graduates, provide squalid living conditions, and barely enough salary for employees to afford the bare necessities.  According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a server at Xanterra is a measley $8.70/hour. In Yosemite, concessionaire Delaware North is in litigation over the names of famous landmarks, including the Ahwahnee Lodge and the iconic logo of Half Dome.  (Ahwahnee is actually the name of an Indian Village, so I’m very confused as to how a U.S. Corporation has the rights to it…) Furthermore, private online booking agent Reserve America runs the majority of camping reservations on Public Lands, obtaining sweeping user data and cashing in on what should be a public resource.

If the National Park Service expects visitors to cherish and “love” our parks, we must treat public lands with the sanctity and reverence they deserve.  A real ethic of stewardship and respect for ALL life must be the ideal in mission and in action. This leaves no room for cheap contracts, no matter how good the deal seems. As most people know, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.  Of course, the NPS needs a higher budget, yet more than anything we, as a culture, need a new land ethic.  We need connection. We need solace from capitalism, not more of its insidious tentacles woven into wild spaces.

We go to our Parks to find our higher selves, to quiet our minds, to connect to something bigger. With every new cheap contract signed, with every new monstrous RV digesting peace and silence, with every plastic selfie stick and egoist Instagram post, we’re losing the magic of our National Parks. I believe we can find it again, but it will take a shift to which we are all responsible for creating. Like Terry Tempest Williams lost in the silence and terror in Timpanogos Cave, or Edward Abbey wild and free on the Colorado River, creating a new land ethic will require listening. It will require slowing down and paying attention to the howl of the coyote, to the whispers of desert rain. It will require paying attention to the dance of the june beetle and monarch butterfly. It will require keeping the damned capitalists the hell away.

“Never for money, always for love…”





The Wonders and Mysteries of Pisac


After playing tourist in Peru’s most famous-and suffocated-  sites including Machu Pichu and Cuzco, the quaint town of Pisac was like a cool breeze on a hot day. I left the crowds and chaos behind as I stepped into the tranquility of this Peruvian gem.

Pisac Market HDR

Known for its touristy Sunday market, Pisac is much more than its vendors and crafts (although they are quite lovely.) It’s bewitching and mysterious ruins and chill, chakra-aligning energy, left an indelible imprint on my journey.

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The Lively Sunday Market

Referring to both the town and the ruins, Pisac is perhaps derived from the word “Pisaca,”  the Qechua word for Partridge.  While nobody know exactly why the ruins were built, I was told by a local that if Cuzco was the “Puma” and heart of Inca Civilization, Pisac was the underworld.  This makes sense considering one of the biggest collection of Incan tombs rest just opposite the valley from the ruins. You can see the honeycomb holes that adorn that hillside, yet are no longer accessible to visitors as they were raided by grave robbers long ago.

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Pisac remains a mystery to visitors and historians alike. In no Spanish conquest texts is this mighty fortress even mentioned. Yet, its perfect stone architecture is captivating.  The precision to which each block was placed cannot be replicated even with modern technology.  The canals and irrigation systems built by Ancient Inca still flow with Andean spring water while its impressive agricultural terraces contour the hillside and feed the village.


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The precise stonework indicates these ruins were used ceremoniously

Part of Pisac’s beauty is in its mystery. Perhaps we will never uncover the secrets and wisdom of the Inca, but perhaps we may catch of a glimpse of that elusive cosmic thread they were tapped into.


Laughing with the Wildflowers

Aster and Sunflower

They say the Earth laughs in flowers, and, with names like Orange Sneezeweed, Sulphur Buckwheat, Mountain Coyote, it’s no wonder why.  At Cedar Breaks National Monument, July is quite the jolly jubilee, indeed, as it erupts in plumes of wildflowers of every color.

Cedar Breaks Indian Paintbrush

Cedar Breaks is a hidden gem of a monument. Only one hour away from the scorching heat of the red rock desert, it sits over 10,000 ft. in elevation and gives visitors a brisk alpine breath of fresh air. This was the monument’s thirteenth annual Wildflower Festival, and photographing the event enlivened my heart and soul.

Purple Plant


Penstemon up close & personal


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The intense, regal color of scarlet paintbrush, to the perfect symmetry of the sunflower, made it easy to capture their beauty. I love the refreshing splatter of fresh rain on the lupine leaves, giving the flowers an ethereal twinkling effect.

Sunflower Symmetry
Sunflower Fractal Symmetry


Upclose Parsnip
Sparkly Southern Ligusticum




Aster Up close
Huddled on an Aster




Lupin Leaf Water
A lively lupine leaf


water Droplets


Lupin Field Vibrant
Happy Lupine Flowers


Indian Painbrush


Cedar Breaks

Just try not be joyful at the Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival!