breathtakebyways


About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.


Hi Jolly Who?

A sign pointing the way to Hi Jolly Monument caught my eye in Quartzsite, Arizona, so I checked Google and found that yes, I wanted to see Hi Jolly Monument.  Hi Jolly, AKA Hadji Ali, was a camel driver recruited from Syria to help run Jefferson Davis’ experimental transportation project.  Who knew that the US imported 74 camels to haul freight across the “Great American Desert in the 1850s?” If only the Civil War hadn’t trampled the effort, the Southwest might be crawling with camels today, and camels are cool! At least some of the Corps’ camels were freed to […]


How Do These Holes Happen?

I hadn’t expected anything like this when we hiked to one of the highlights recommended in Big Bend National Park.  Tinaja is Spanish for pond, so I’d assumed oasis which would naturally be a big draw in arid Big Bend.  The formations were even cooler though, especially when a fox trotted into the canyon and left a deposit in my path.  (Apparently he was delivering a message: get outta my yard!) On seeing the tinajas, the holes’ symmetry made me wonder if people had somehow bored them.  But who would have taken so much trouble, and why? A month later […]


Javelina Tough

A prickly pear with scalloped notches made me wonder if desert critters manage to eat around the thorns.  I know cactus is nourishing because my great-grandfather sometimes resorted to feeding his cattle by burning thorns off.  Rabbits, I hear, do eat around the thorns, but Javelina munch thorns and all–without wincing. Javelinas are peccaries, not pigs.  They’re named for javelins because their canines are that sharp.  They also smell like skunks.  Fortunately they don’t generally mess with people unless a mother thinks she needs to defend her young.  They feel differently about dogs. All in all, I was happy to […]


Midnight Raid

Camped along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park, we were pretty much alone in the campground and miles from most everybody.  The night was dark and chilly, so when I heard a clank very near the camper, I stayed in bed and listened rather than leave my warm covers to peer into darkness.  After a bit there was ticking on roof followed by a trill that made me think of a cricket though it was clearly not a cricket. Then there were sprinkles on roof.  Had the ticking only been raindrops?  What could the trill have been?  […]


Ocotillo Tricks

Ocotillo always reminds me of the Penitentes (a Catholic sect in the Southwest) who beat their own backs with thorny ocotillo branches with every step as they journeyed to a shrine. It’s not ocotillo’s fault that men come up with crazy ideas. Like cactus most other desert bushes, ocotillo needs thorns to survive. Ocotillo also grows showy flowers and small green leaves when water is available. During droughts the bush sacrifices its leaves and stands there looking deader than a crispy roadkill pancake until the rains come and life is good. I don’t know if ocotillo has some meaning in […]


Biplane Ride!

While camping on Carlsbad Beach in California, I noticed an ad for a ride in a biplane.  Barnstormers! Wilbur and Orville!  Snoopy and Red Baron!  Two for the price of one! Janene revved high spirits as we opened our pickup doors, “You look like you came from Colorado!” Enthusiasm flowed as she briefed us, checking for hazards: “Are you wearing earrings, Ann? Tuck your hood in, so it won’t pull. I have a vest if you’re cold.” I especially appreciated these efforts because I was so nervous about getting airsick, I’d taken two pills, and they were making me slow […]


Enough Already?

A fellow traveler to China’s Himalayan foothills explained his disinterest: “I’ve seen mountains.” That was ten years ago, and I’m still horrified. Why did the man, who’d surely seen most everything there is to see, bother to wake each morning? As a native Coloradan and avid camper/traveler/hiker, I’ve seen some mountains. Many of them over and over, again and again. They still wow me with their wiles. The mere rumor of a waterfall sucks me in like a riptide. Before I toured China’s Jiuzhaigou National Park, I may have seen a thousand falls, but I’d never seen one that moved […]


Chinese Road Trip

In 2009 the only way to get from Chengdu to Hounglong National Park was to fly because the road had been wiped out by an earthquake two years earlier. While driving the final leg of the journey, our van stopped for a construction blockage, so I got out to look around. A young man pushed his girlfriend up to me, and she said: “Hello.” “Nin how.” (My rendition of “hello” in Chinese.) “You speak Chinese.” She was no doubt pretending to believe I had a handle on the language. “That’s all.” Not true, I could also say  “Jiuzhaigou” and “waiguoren,” […]


Pine Cones 101

A few years ago a pinecone dropped out of the top of a ridiculously tall tree and wacked me upside the head.  It didn’t need to do that.  I learned a long time ago that paying attention to pinecones pays off. I figured out how pine cones come into being when I noticed a few clumps of needles that had turned red.  Apparently cones don’t start from a special bud, just some co-opted needles. In biology lab I learned that tiny cones like these above are males.  If you spot one in spring, shake it and watch for yellow powder–pollen.  […]