Welcome to the first post in the category of Exploring! First, this category is not “Travel” because that wouldn’t quite capture what we’re after here. Traveling is the physical part of the journey, whereas exploring is a state of mind on that journey…an art of presence and surrender. We’re focused less on the destination and more on who we are on the journey to / in / from that destination (which, of course, is always changing as we continue to evolve!). Second, I chose Yuma, Arizona, which I visited just last month, as the first destination for the very reason that going and being there gave me the opportunity to really practice this art of exploring.
Now most of you are probably healthy, adventurous individuals open to visiting any new place. Unfortunately, I get rather set in my ways and stubborn. There are so many places I want to explore, and often re-explore, that I can be resistant to anywhere that isn’t already on my list. So when my mother and stepfather moved to Yuma, Arizona, literally the sunniest place on Earth (according to the World Meteorological Society), it took me a while to get down there and visit. As much as I love the sunshine, Yuma just wasn’t on my list.
A big reason I was initially so resistant to visiting was that the nearest major airport is a three-hour drive away…either San Diego or Phoenix. Given that I was trying to make the most of a long weekend to visit, I was frustrated that driving to and from the airport would take up so much of that weekend, even though Mom had graciously offered to pick me up and drop me off. It was only when I began to shift my way of thinking into that of an explorer, rather than just someone trying to get from one place to another, was I able to stop worrying about my time constraints and refocus on my actual love of traveling…airports, road trips, the adventure of getting from one place to another. I’ve always tried to maintain that the journey is as important as the destination. And so that’s exactly what I did! Suddenly I was flying in and out of four airports and was thrilled about it. I wanted to see as much as I could…from the rock pile hills along I-8 from San Diego to Yuma, to the saguaro cactus at sunrise on I-8 from Yuma to Phoenix. And then there was the six hours of quality, uninterrupted time with my parents…catching up on life, laughing, even just sitting quietly together while I got to watch a whole new world pass by outside the windows.
And that shift was just the start. Once I decided to go to Yuma, I really made up my mind that I would have no expectations, no preconceived notions, no demands, even. I’d never been to the desert, so I was excited to see this very extreme natural landscape. And, given that this was my parent’s new city, I was eager for them to show me what they had discovered and loved about their new home. In return for my openness, from beginning to end I was gifted with an amazing trip full of surprises. For example, the first evening my brother and his girlfriend were also visiting and we all four-wheeled into the desert, communicating by walkie-talkies, racing to find a skull-shaped rock before the sun set. I’ll always treasure that completely unexpected trek out…skipping and hopping over the desert rocks in my brother’s Jeep, being absolutely present while the warm air whipped at my face and hair, watching the sun set over a magical landscape.
Then, in the days that followed, my surrender and sense of presence (which I even fostered with quick meditation sessions before I left my bedroom in the morning!) were rewarded with…an adorable farmhouse teahouse filled to bursting with antiques; the smallest, sweetest chapel ever; stuffed dates and date shakes and date trees; the history and stories of the Yuma State Territorial Prison; even a taco-tasting afternoon that took us throughout town meeting the nicest people on our quest for Mom’s new favorite taqueria; and of course more than I have space to fully share. (I have to give a shout-out here to Mom who was an amazing host and guide, driving me all over the area, searching out not just what she loved but what she thought I would love in her new home.)
So sure, upon arrival to Yuma, even with my eyes and heart open, my first impressions were a lack-of-green, military planes from the nearby base filling the sky, semis moving produce all around us, a diminished Colorado river, and a dark wall not five miles away that stretched between the U.S. and Mexico. But after a weekend of exploring…being fully present and surrendering to the experience…I had a complete appreciation for Yuma’s people, charms, even it’s truths.
By the end of my trip, my head and heart were full…not just of all the precious time spent with family…but of beautiful memories and experiences of Yuma…the hummingbird on the ocotillo plant in my parent’s backyard; the textures of Mexican pastries from the panadería; the delights of a potato taco; the delicious warmth of desert dry heat after air conditioning; the suddenness of a sandstorm in the afternoon; the changing colors of the desert throughout the day. Better than making the list, Yuma had reminded me that a real explorer’s list includes all places!