The desert is a wonderland


My first view of Melissa’s amazing desert location. Note the trestle bridge in the background–I had to see this landmark Melissa frequently writes about!

There are certain things I’ll miss for a long, long time about my roadtrip across the country. For one thing, the week in the car with my daughter. For another, the endless hours and miles to think.

But something else, too. I’ve spent a lot of my life in the plains and in the desert—I grew up in California and lived in Colorado, too, and I’ve even lived on the savanna of Kenya. When I moved to Maine I thought I wouldn’t miss anything about the relative dryness, and I never thought about it again, in fact I embraced and loved the green of Maine, the trees and the forests.


The view from Rojo Diablo on our first outing in the desert. Gorgeous.

As I drove across the country, though, farther and farther west, I started remembering the beauty of the plains. The golden fields of grass blowing in the breeze, the wide-open feeling, the big skies.

“Aren’t the skies big?” I asked my daughter in South Dakota. I marveled at the stretch of blue from horizon to horizon, with no mountains or trees in sight. In Maine you could never see that far—all those trees get in the way.


A trip to Melissa’s neck of the desert would not be complete without seeing the mighty Saguaro…it was the first thing I read about on her blog…and they are an amazing sight to see!

But it wasn’t until I left Shary and Lola and headed into the desert, to blogging/Twitter friend Melissa Crytzer Fry’s, that I really realized how much I missed the southwest. When I was a kid, we’d visit my Aunt May on her date (the fruit) ranch in the Arizona desert, and I hadn’t been there except to drive through since then. I had been looking forward to the visit—in fact, from the day I first talked to my daughter about driving west, I knew I’d be visiting Melissa. We’d been talking about it, how fun it would be to meet in person after being friends online for almost three years. We’ve talked about how our two locations couldn’t be much different: the lush green coast of Maine and the hot dry desert.



Melissa and I share a love of nature, though, and I couldn’t wait to see the desert sights she’d been writing about on her blog, on Twitter, and in her emails: the hummingbird nest, the Saguaros, the trestle bridge, the desert birds and reptiles and mammals, the mountains, the rocks, the old ranches and fences, her desert vehicles—Betty and Rojo Diablo. There was so much to see, and I only had one day to squeeze it all in. And of course, there was also the talking. I knew we’d need about 24 hours for that alone.

I wasn’t wrong. About the chatting or about squeezing it all in. We met at a restaurant about 40 minutes from Melissa’s house, and from the moment I stepped out of my car, Melissa out of her truck, we talked nonstop: about the waitress (see Melissa’s blog about our first meeting, our first conversation, the “mystery” we found in short order—like only writers can), about books, about writing, about the desert, about everything. I even had a chance to meet and get to know her wonderful husband (he made an amazing dinner from the crockpot flank steak Melissa cooked).


I love this shot–really captures the feel of the morning when we saw the owls–if you look very closely (click to enlarge), you can see one of the owls on the hillside, next to the third bush from the left (counting from the base of the hillside).

But the highlight of the visit—as I knew it would be—were our outings in first Rojo Diablo (her red Polaris Ranger) and then Betty (yes, we talked—and laughed) the whole time during these outings, too. I have to admit, I was a bit timid in Rojo at first, worried about both speed and incline, so I put on my seatbelt (we laughed about that…), but I quickly got more comfortable and only occasionally held onto the handle above my head…right, Melissa? Riding around her beautiful property, Melissa showed me the plants and birds of the desert. We saw an amazing variety of vegetation: the mighty Saguaros, the hard-to-pick-out Night Cereus, the frightening Cholla with its dangerous burrs, the delicate paloverde. But it was the animal life that really stood out… at one point I heard Melissa scream then felt Rojo surge forward as she stepped on the gas, yelling something about “Rattlesnake!” That’s all I needed to grip her arm. Hey, I thought it had leapt into Rojo!

I told Melissa I felt like I was on a desert safari and she was my guide…

The next morning we continued the safari, out early, first in Rojo, and Melissa showed me her running route (let me tell you, she is one brave woman—I might never leave my house if I lived in such a wild area!). We went further and saw five Great Horned Owls, one after another. I have only seen one owl in my life, and that was a long time ago—it was amazing and magical to watch the large birds take flight. I took a lot of photos, then I stopped. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. I wanted to remember, not with photos, but with how I felt—surrounded by the intense beauty of the desert.

Later in Betty, as the heat rose (it would reach 109 degrees that afternoon), we went first on the main roads to see Melissa’s daily haunts, then onto the back roads where we saw natural springs, more gorgeous scenery, the places Melissa hikes and camps, and the amazing geography of the area.

Then back to Melissa’s for more chatting and lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant, before I hit the road again… but not before Melissa invited me (and I promised) to return to her desert wonderland. It will stay in my heart for a long, long time.

Have you ever visited someplace after a long absence, to see it through new eyes, and come to realize how much you missed it without even realizing it? And/or have you visited a blogging friend to see the places she writes about?

Also, if you leave a comment on Melissa’s blog before midnight on Friday, you could win a copy of Desired to Death, my mystery novel!




  1. Julia – I had SO much fun while you were here (and as for me being brave about where I run … perhaps one could more aptly call it stupidity?). To answer your question: yes, I feel that way when I go back home to PA. I realize how much I DO miss the tall trees and green grass, the natural rain. Even so, my heart is here in the desert and always will be. So to read about your draw/connection to the arid southwest/west once again really spoke to me. Next time you must stay LONGER. So much more to show you!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Don’t worry, next time you won’t be able to get rid of me… us (MEH is onboard) 😉 Seriously, thanks a million for the lovely invitation and visit, Melissa. What an amazing place you live. And yes, you ARE brave. You protected me from the rattler, remember???

  2. Dean says:

    Lovely post! You really give a good sense of the landscape, and the variety of things in it. That owl looks bloomin’ huge! What a fantastic trip! You sure have covered some miles lately!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you so much, Dean! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the owl IS bloomin’ huge! Incredible in life, no question. I have covered many, many miles, and although I’m glad to be home, I have a tremendous sense of wanderlust!

  3. Shary says:

    How fun to see Arizona desert photos on your blog where we normally see snow, trees and coastline. It sounds like you had a marvelous adventure… I’m so jealous!

    In answer to your question about special places… there’s a spot in the Ozarks where my family went on vacation every year when I was a little girl. I’ve only been back a few times as an adult, but every time, my heart swells to the point of aching to be in that beautiful place with all of those memories once again.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I thought about that too, Shary… seeing the desert photos where there were usually snowy/green/water ones. It was a marvelous adventure and Melissa was an excellent guide. Next time we’ll go together!! 🙂 I have never been to the Ozarks, but your description makes me want to go — and you describe my feelings perfectly when you say “my heart swells to the point of aching…” exactly!

  4. Great post. I had never been much for the desert until a trip a few years back to Arizona. Beautiful!

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I’m glad to hear you know what I mean, Karen–the desert really has a very unique and special beauty. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. Nina says:

    LOVED LOVED LOVED reading about you and Melissa meeting! And you got to meet Betty too! I two-fer. 😉

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      So happy you enjoyed reading about it, Nina! It was great fun, and I have to admit, I felt pretty star-struck seeing Betty in person!! 🙂

  6. I loved seeing this. Reading the words of your visit with Melissa and seeing the pictures. Growing up in Florida and living in the green southeast — I have always been drawn to the deserts of the southwest. I saw them the first time driving to California with a college roomate. When John and I were in Las Vegas earlier this year, I thought how I would love to live part of the year in the desert. It is so very beautiful. What a fantasic journey you had Julia.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      It really was a fantastic journey, Jamie! I’m glad you enjoyed the trip with me. I know what you mean about being drawn to the southwest when we live surrounded by so much green… the desert feels so exotic with its different landscape and animals and plants. Beautiful and inspiring!

  7. Cynthia Robertson says:

    I only live a couple of hours away from Melissa, and haven’t ever made it down to her place, but I so want to now! On second though, maybe we’ll do my place – do hers after the temps drop here in AZ. Can hardly believe she got a Maine girl to brave 109 in the desert, but that’s Melissa, for ya!

    • Then you need to get down here. NOW. Always welcome, my friend.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      The temps were the only damper, so to speak, on my real ability to enjoy the desert… it was pretty tough (I don’t do well in the heat) but Melissa was very understanding, of course, and we tempered our outdoor activities accordingly. At one point, though, I actually asked if we could turn down the heat…

  8. How terrific that you and Melissa got to meet. The cherry on top of the sundae that was your road trip.

    Loved the photo of the Saguaro. I went hiking in the Saguaro National Park in Arizona a few years ago. I think they’re so majestic looking.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Yes, the meetings with Shary and Melissa were definite bonuses to the trip, Jackie! In fact, between them and my friends I visited in Colorado, it was a shock to my system to come home to such a quiet house… what? No built in friends to chat with everyday between long drives? 🙂 And I agree, the Saguaros are incredibly majestic! Absolutely amazing.

  9. A safari with Melissa as a guide sounds like a dream! So glad you two got to meet and that you had an amazing adventure on your trip!

    As for visiting a place after a long absence—every time I go home to Miami I notice things about it that make it unique and that I previously took for granted. And this last trip I took to Peru felt like I was seeing it through new eyes. I was tempted to go back and rewrite parts of Chasing the Sun! Not sure my editor would be very happy about that, but I may be able to get away with changing a line or two 😉

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I honestly felt like I was in a dream, Natalia. Driving around, seeing all the sites I’d read about on her blog, was quite surreal. It was so fun, such an adventure! That’s so interesting how different things jumped out at you on your last visit to Peru! I can understand that. Also on this trip, I went to see my dad in my hometown in Southern California. And I definitely saw things in a different light… so I understand. I can honestly not wait to read Chasing the Sun! So exciting!

  10. Julie Luek says:

    Not sure I could survive (without whining) the intense heat of the desert, but I agree, there is beauty in its austere landscape. We live in a high mountain desert and I’m always amazed by the flora that exists, delicate and fragile, in its dryness. Lovely pictures– thank you for sharing.

  11. Lisa Ahn says:

    It sounds like an amazing visit. I know I’d love to meet you both! (And I’m pretty sure I’d freak out a bit about the “Rattlesnake!” too) 🙂


  1. […] to Death by J. M. Maison, aka my blogging buddy, Julia Monroe Martin. This is a delightful summer read (actually any time you feel like a little mystery). Miss Marple […]