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October 15, 2017 6 minute READ

Bagpipes & Roadrunners in Arizona with Fox

tags Travel | Inspiration | Adventure
locations All

Throughout the month of May, the traditional beginning of travel season, we're sharing travel stories from our employees along with travel tips and tricks learned along the way. This week, we’re exploring the Great American Desert with Fox.


Fox, studio photographer at the home office in Valle Crucis, begins his story with a bit of a ruckus at the airport. The culprit? The unusual contents of his luggage:

Fox in a kiltAsk any bagpiper and they'll tell you adventure follows them like the rats of Hamelin.  One of my fondest travel memories was a trip out west to play my best friend's wedding in Arizona.  I was proud of myself for figuring out that instead of checking a garment bag, I would just wear my entire uniform and fit everything else for the trip into my pipe case as a carry-on bag.  This proved effective for saving money and worked generally well avoiding worry and time spent at baggage claim.
I arrived at the airport and purchased a nice (expensive) cup of regular coffee at the kiosk right near the security entrance.  Almost immediately, I was yelled at by a guard for having liquid in the line. She demanded I throw it in the trash and I wasn’t allowed to finish it. 

My luggage also created a stir at the x-ray scanner.  Having disassembled my bagpipes completely in order to fit all of my gear into one bag, they apparently looked suspicious. The widely-accepted, stereotypical image of bagpipes as a blob with sticks poking out of it was not fitting the image before them - rows of large tubes with metal rings nestled carefully, nay, hidden within my packed clothes. 

The body scanner guard was extremely rude and insisted a dagger was setting his detector off, not my metal kilt buckles.  He called special security officers and made me stand in a tiny Lexan booth until they arrived.  They were not very pleasant individuals either, although I was saved from having to do a cavity search.  After I was made to put a few of my bagpipe drone tubes together and showed them, basically, how the reeds worked, they reluctantly let me go.  I collected my belongings and rounded the corner to find a "conveniently" located coffee kiosk where I begrudgingly purchased another (expensive) cup of regular coffee.
Flying into ArizonaThe flight was amazing. Sitting in the window seat, I tried to guess which cities were passing slowly by.  Texas and New Mexico stretched into the horizon, scarred with hundred-mile straight desert roads and dotted with trailer parks and irrigation circles.  After landing, the doors of the terminal at Phoenix International Airport opened, and I was introduced to that "dry heat" my buddy had convinced me was tolerable.
We jumped on the highway and headed out of the city. The resort seemed to be located on the edge of civilization.  I met up with some old friends from high school when we arrived. 

Early in the evening, the hotel staff was gathered out front around a hole in the ground.  They introduced us to Frank, the resort tarantula, as he emerged to hunt grasshoppers.  After dark, we were trying to walk some paths outside of the complex without light, and we discovered just how painful that can be.  Almost every single plant and animal in the desert is sharp and pointy.  Growing tired of discovering cacti by touch, someone struck a lighter to help navigate, and we were surprised to find that we were not alone; at least a half dozen pairs of large, yellow eyes glowed less than 20 feet away - and probably belonged to coyotes.  We made a hasty retreat to go enjoy the pool instead.
CactusJet lag can be a real issue while traveling.  I could not keep my eyes open much past 8 p.m. nor keep them closed past 4 a.m.  In the morning, I wandered around the resort for a bit and bumped into my old high school friend having the same trouble.  We decided to walk the roads in the area and then go exploring desert paths as the sky grew light.  We avoided a fresh rabbit carcass in a rocky runoff, figuring there was probably a carnivore of some sort very close by.  The sun eventually broke over the distant buttes composing a magnificent panorama.
On the way to the wedding venue, my friend pulled off the road at a random, remote intersection, so I could tune my pipes up a bit. Bagpipes like "good Scottish weather.” Moisture and a temperate climate are best. When you blow into them, the moisture from your breath helps the tone buzz properly by collecting in the fibers of the reed much like a saxophone.  The problem in the desert is there is not much moisture, so I had to compensate by pouring a little water from my canteen into the bag.  The heat also drives the pitch up, so it can be difficult to control bag pressure.  As I played, armies of large, ominous ants marched their way in many hurried lines, and I was careful not to stand in their path.
Big hairy spiderAs it was meant to be, my best friend's wedding went without a hitch, and the pipes sang beautifully.  They were married on a patio with a stunning canyon vista stretching beyond.  After all the toasting and dancing, we were back at the resort, my eyelids drooping.  I took another early walk with my buddy the next morning where we lamented not having seen any scorpions.  While we were packing up our luggage, we were treated to a desert storm with very close, powerful bolts of lightning and sizable hail, the previously dry runoffs overflowing.

This served as another reminder to respect this beautiful, yet fierce landscape and come prepared.  It was apparently a little too late in the year to see a desert bloom where the colors explode after a rain.  On the bus ride to the airport, I looked over and there among the brush and Saguaros jogged a roadrunner, immediately recognizable and not unlike the cartoon character I'd grown up with.
I hope to make my way back soon to visit my best friend.  I'll come better prepared for the travel portion of the trip and the landscape.  I am also looking forward to finally seeing a scorpion and hope to witness the fabled desert bloom.

For more helpful travel tips, click HERE.


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