Jan. 18 – 20 Luxury retreat in Tucson, Arizona

Leaving the canyon, we passed many amazing vistas and arrived at the home of my life-long friends Valerie and Ralph in time for a saguaro sunset.


The next day, John took a 70 km bike hike toward Oracle, while Deb and Valerie swam, and later we hiked with Ralph up the Sabino Canyon.

John-heading-to-bike-canyon  hiking-in-saguaros

Then with some strong requests from Deborah and encouragement from our hosts, who declared they had never seen such a dirty car, we got the red caravan cleaned – inside and out…and it looks like new…let’s see how long it lasts…!

clean-car-interior  clean-car-exterior

We had a hangout day in our friends’ luxurious home to confront and conquer some computer and camera issues – so we could send our first blog covering our U.S. road trip and the first two weeks of our four-month adventure…!


Jan. 18-20 Luxury retreat in Tucson, Arizona



January 15-18 – Adventures in the Grand Canyon


We finally arrived at a dream destination, and spent two days hiking inside and biking around this amazing natural wonder. After a week of sitting in a car, our bodies were ready for some exercise, but we really challenged them: a 7 hour hike down the Kaibab trail (Deb did 4 miles and John an additional 2) and a 6-hour bike ride around the rim (40 km).


As two passionate photographers, we were constantly trying to catch our awe at the landscape through our lenses…and to fathom the ‘deep time’ that the layers of rock represent about the 1.75 billion year old formation of our planet.


On our way out of the canyon, we passed some bucking deer and visited Elizabeth Coulter’s famous watchtower, whose design was based on native architecture and wall paintings.


January 12-13 – From cousin to cousin, Texas to New Mexico

A 10 hour drive through Arkansas landed us in Malakoff, Texas, where we had a genuine Mexican meal (the owners from Guanajuato where we’re headed) with my cousin, Rick Barndt, the only cousin on my dad’s side.


Then off to Taos, New Mexico to visit two cousins on my mom’s side, Vian and Robin Collier. It was a 13 hour drive ending with a snow storm greeting us to Taos. The next morning, we walked out into a winter wonderland, so wandered with our cameras around the town before connecting with Robin, who had arranged for me to talk about my tomato research to a grade 9 math class taught by his friend Miguel, an Hispanic biologist/activist. Then we went to lunch with his partner Margaret, a curandera, or healer and midwife, who works with medicinal herbs. And had dinner with cousin Vian and his partner Juanita, another amazing Hispanic woman, teacher/weaver/artist. We stayed in her house which was a traditional adobe home filled with art, looms, and books…a real treat..!

Deb-at-Juanita's-house  Juanita's-house-2

Jan. 13-14 New Mexico

January 11 – Serendipitous visit to Savannah

There’s something to be said for changing plans. Highlander friends suggested we pass through Savannah, TN where my dear friend, Sue Thrasher, lives. Sue, who recently moved back to her hometown on retirement, was thrilled to welcome us, with a wonderful meal, and evening of sharing stories of 38 years as our paths have crossed at Highlander, Toronto, Massachusetts, and Nicaragua.


January 10 – Reunion at Highlander Center

At the end of another 11 hours driving through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia into Knoxville, Tennessee, we were honoured with a wonderful dinner at the home of Guy and Candie Carawan on the campus of the Highlander Center (renowned popular education centre which brought together whites and blacks in the 1950s, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King). When I worked in the 1980s, Guy and Candie played a major role in recovering and recording music of Appalachia and the deep south, spreading social justice songs (Guy taught Pete Seeger “We Shall Overcome” which was developed at Highlander, he also wrote the Canadian version of “This Land is Your Land”). Guy is now in his 80s and suffers from dementia.

(Guy passed away on May 2, and was remembered in the NYTimes:


Centre-on-the-hill Dinner-at-Highlander

We spent the night at the Horton House, on top of the hill, and woke up to a gorgeous sunrise coming out of the mist over the Great Smokey Mountains. The ghosts of Highlander’s founder Myles Horton, my dear mentor and friend (and Joshua Myles’ namesake), floated around the house, as I regaled John with tales of the years (1978 – 1995) that I visited Highlander regularly.


Pam gave us a tour of the campus, showing us new property and buildings; it was fun showing John the circle of rocking chairs in the main workshop room, my photos of Highlander women still on the wall, and a soft-sculpture banner we created for Myles for a Toronto popular educators conference in 1981, still hanging in the library.




Second obstacle: Dependency on devices
In our first two days, we’ve had myriad tech battles:

  • Got “error 23” in trying to play a USB key of music on car radio
  • Blew a fuse so lost car radio and clock functions
  • Accidentally deleted the program for a portable blue tooth speaker
  • Bought a new outlet device for car, then found two in the glove compartment
  • Accidentally ran up $100 of roaming charges on Deborah’s i-phone
  • Lost my i-phone outside home where we ate on Sat eve

This last crisis had a happy ending. My phone had been lost between the car and the Carawan’s house on Saturday night. After 2 hours Sunday morning looking everywhere inside and outside, we found only the phone’s charger cable near where we had parked the previous night. We were about to give up (and reframe this as a message that I should liberate myself from the phone during this trip), when Candie called to say she had found it outside the other side of the house, where a ‘very nasty’ dog had taken it…!


Jan 10

January 9 – First Obstacle: Snow Closes Highways

We set off in the red caravan under sunny skies in Toronto. Two hours later we were stuck in Buffalo: all highways (east/west and south) closed for major snow storms! Undeterred, we wound our way through the city and points south, where we faced white-outs and passed by Amish horse-drawn carriages. After clocking only 560 km in 10 hours, we sought refuge at a pub & inn in Grove City, PA, cancelling the visit to my sister in Ohio.

PA-snow 2-carriages

At least we got to see the highest single span steel arch bridge in the world..!