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March 30, 2009

A Full Year Of Traveling

Today, the 30th of March, marks our first-year anniversary of traveling. Coincidently, it is also our wedding anniversary, interestly enough. But this post is about our year of traveling.

At any rate, it has been a packed year. I tallied up the states that I have visited since March 30th. Last year at this time, I took a flight to Memphis, TN, to visit my sister. That was the first trip of the year, as by that point I had resigned from my position at the Big D. Since that trip, which also took me into Mississippi, Jess and I have visited 30 states. She has a couple more than that, actually, because she took trips to Florida and Nevada, trips that I wasn't invited on.

So, thirty states in twelve months. That seems pretty impressive to me. And, we managed to slip in a backpacking trip to China during that year period as well.

It's hard to estimate the miles that we traveled, but we did purchase a new car in May, 2008, and we already have over 21,000 miles on it. Those miles don't include the 2000+ mile Southwestern US trip we made in a rented car, or other instances where we drove other vehicles.

We managed to live in three different states this last year, not including our time here in Arizona. We survived the scary first assignment, and now, watching the approach of the end of our third assignment by the May, the idea of traveling seems much less intimidating. There is still that unsettled feeling walking into a unit you've never visited before to start working, as well as that bittersweet sensation of leaving an assignment and a location that you've grown to appreciate, and friends you've had lots of good times with over that remarkably short period of three months. But our confidence in ourselves has grown greatly in the last year.

And then there's that great traveler idea, the idea of Three Months. Anything can be tolerated for three months, that is the mantra you understand when you take a position. By the end of that period of time, you find yourself thinking, "Wow, that went by quickly," and even regretting the short span of time that you have to spend in a place. But that is the essence of traveling, that if you don't continue to move on, if you become comfortable and settle in to a place, then you've ceased to work for the sense of adventure, of newness, of challenge that brought you into this odd choice of a career in the first place.

We've seen now that traveling isn't for everyone. We've met travelers who couldn't handle the loneliness, who couldn't keep their issues at bay enough to hang onto jobs, or who just didn't like it. We have seen travelers start and travelers stop. For us, so far at least, staff positions are for the birds. If you can handle the lifestyle, then there is nothing better than the money you make doing this, or the freedom from the politics and the anchors that come with most or all of staff jobs. There's nothing like the idea that you can live anywhere in the States, and be paid to do so. It'd be hard to give up this lifestyle.

So, happy anniversary to Jess and I as travelers! Here's to hoping to continue this lifestyle until we find something better, something that makes us happier.

Until next time, be safe.

March 27, 2009

Our Arizona Anniversary Trip

Jess and I have a hard time being around each other for our wedding anniversary. Last year, I was visiting my sister in Tennessee and wasn't with Jess. This year, we are each flying back to see our respective parents and won't see each other for the three days on either side of our anniversary.

With that in mind, last weekend we headed up to the north part of Arizona for an anniversary trip. We stopped first in Phoenix to visit a friend for all of Thursday and that night. Then on Friday, we headed out before sunrise towards the border of Arizona and Utah, to the little town of Page. Normally I wouldn't have even considered visiting the town, although having been there, it is a pretty interesting place. Most obvious as far as attractions go is that it sits on the shore of Lake Powell, which is a huge reservoir behind the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. If you had a boat, this is a paradise; otherwise it is pretty much a big lake that has little shoreline that you could actually do much on.

More interesting to me was the nearby Antelope Canyon. This is a little slot canyon that lies on the Navajo Nation land, where you can walk right into the canyon and enjoy the light as it penetrates down along the walls from above in a wide gradient of beautiful colors. It is especially nice for photographers, for although Jess seemed content to just look, she kept wanting to grab my camera and take shots. It was a beautiful place, well worth the four hour trip north from Phoenix. Here is the photo gallery from that shoot, and below is a small slideshow of those photos.

Of course, being on Indian land, one cannot just waltz into Antelope Canyon and hope to climb around on the walls. You have to join a guided tour, which for us meant our guide and a couple from France. Also, apparently back in 1997, 12 French tourists were swept away in a flash flood that no one had suspected, having come from a storm miles away. Hence, the tour groups. It wasn't bad, though. Our guide drove us in a 4W drive vehicle up the sandy gully three miles to the canyon, which I'm pretty sure would have been inaccessible to our Rav4. We also received a fairly dodgy history of the canyon. Really, I think that Googling the canyon pre-trip gave me more knowledge than our guide had, leading me to think that she didn't have Internet access. It was fun, though.

We drove that evening back to Flagstaff, two hours south. It was evening by the time we arrived at our B&B, our big splurge for the weekend. We ended up staying in the Abineau Lodge, previously known as the Sled Dog B&B. The latter name was more fitting, as they had about 10 Siberian huskies in kennels outside the building, which was really interesting. The place was great. We had planned on spending a night there, for our anniversary gift to ourselves, then heading to downtown Flagstaff to stay in a hostel there, but we enjoyed the place so much we were very tempted to stay another night. Only when we considered how much food and beer we'd be able to consume on what we'd save at the hostel did we decide against staying another night. Suffice to say, this B&B was above our normal standards.

At any rate, we drove down Saturday morning from Flagstaff to Sedona, which is an easy 45-minute drive through the backcountry. Our plan was to meet up with out friend Amna at some point in the day for lunch, and to hike and enjoy the area in the meantime. Upon arrival, we found that Sedona didn't really live up to our expectations, being very crowded, even at this time of year, with loads of tourists. Even worse, the town itself was like an Estes Park or Gatlinburg of Arizona, for those familiar with the infamous tourists towns respectively in Colorado and Tennessee. It had its proper mix of taffy shops, T-shirt joints, "art" galleries, and the like, all of which in combination with the atrocious traffic put us in terrible moods and made us want to get out of town, which we did. We headed out to a nearby hike, which conveniently took us out away from the touristy part of town into the beautiful red hills that surround the town. There are great spires of red rock, big mesas, and lots of other formations in a distinctive red stone that surround Sedona, which surely is the main attraction. We made a six-mile hike, which was really pleasant and beautiful. Being in a desert that features such differences from that around Tucson as pine forests is really interesting and refreshing. We finished the hike in time to meet our friend for a mid-afternoon lunch before heading back to Flagstaff.

Here is the photo gallery for Sedona.

Upon arriving back in Flagstaff, we checked into our hostel, the DuBeau Hostel, which is very conveniently located in the downtown area. Of course, after staying a night in a B&B, a hostel seems a little less, um, nice, but we weren't there to sit in the room and enjoy its ambience. We made our way around the Flagstaff, checking out the local breweries and even picking up a little sushi. The room didn't matter much once we came back, late that night.

We had breakfast in a ridiculously liberal vegetarian/vegan place called Macy's the next morning, which jointly served to provide very strong coffee and to reinforce the stereotype of the type of liberal that looks down upon the rest of the world as severely inferior. They did have pretty decent meatless biscuits and gravy, though. We then headed out towards Tucson, although we really took the scenic route.

Actually, we headed straight east along I-40 until we reached Holbrook, about an hour or so away. That is the town just outside the Petrified Forest National Park, which is a really fascinating place. It is the last park that we needed to visit to have gone to all of the national parks in Arizona, and while it didn't contain that majestic immensity of the Grand Canyon, it was still quite interesting. Essentially, it contains the petrified remains of logs that were covered up perhaps millions of years ago with a volcanic ash high in silica. Sealed up in that layer, over time those logs had their organic cells replaced by minerals and today are perfectly preserved in a stone form. You really have to get out and walk around in the park to get its effect. You have to see the logs where the bark is immediately evident from the wood fibers, or the logs that are surrounded by chips that in all appearances seem to be organic, and can only be noted as stone by picking them up. It was a great park to see. Here is the photo gallery from that park. We also visited the Painted Desert, which is the northern portion of the park.

Finally, we headed south through the mountains to get back to Tucson. This route takes you through some very interesting landscapes just north of Tucson. It is a long way to come to return from Flagstaff, but we managed to avoid Phoenix altogether, and the route was really interesting and different. Needless to say, we were pretty tired as we pulled into our apartment complex as darkness fell, but it was quite a trip. All of it seemed to encourage further exploration of Arizona, which is turning out to be quite the interesting state.

Until next time, be safe.

March 14, 2009

Photography In The Desert

I'm finding that photography and the desert go hand in hand. I've had ample opportunity to check out the scenery around me, and more importantly, capture it on film. My photo gallery of Tucson is rapidly filling up.

During our previous assignments, I found that I had to put in some serious driving time to get around to different locales for photo shoots. I put a lot of miles on the Rav4 finding a good place to take pictures. Here in Tucson, it's been much different. First of all, we haven't really gotten out and explored the surrounding areas. Basically, we've made a trip to San Diego and another to Phoenix. This hasn't been entirely by choice, and hopefully will change, as we both love exploring the land around us. I'm hoping that I can even make a trip down to Tombstone and a couple of ghost towns near it this weekend, if possible. Also, Jess and I are heading up north of Phoenix to the Sedona / Grand Canyon / Flagstaff area this next week for four days, which will give us some excellent exploration opportunities.

At any rate, we have been a little slow about getting out to find new sights, but I've still managed to find plenty of interesting areas to explore. Most importantly, hiking is an essential Tucson experience, and one of the most interesting observations that I have made about Tucson is that each hike is essentially unique. Of course, it is all the Sonoran Desert, there are saguero cactus and rocks everywhere. Still, each hike we've take has its own surprises, its own unique differences. In particular, when you drive to different locations along the range that faces Tucson, you see larger differences in the environment. Of course, the higher that you climb into the mountains (they start out at 2500 feet and climb to 9100 in less than 20 miles), the more you see in environment changes. I've read that the difference between the Tucson environment and that of the the tops of the mountains is like going from Mexico to Canada, and I fully believe it.

We have also visited some of the more interesting attractions here in Tucson, which have yielded some interesting photos. We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Musuem when my parents drove down from Colorado last week to visit us. Jess and I spent a day with some friends checking out that Pima Air and Space Museum, as well as going to the Tucson Rodeo one afternoon. Even taking a different perspective on this area has been good, as my friend Scott and I recently went out during a full moon into the desert and took some cool pictures.

Tucson and its surrounding desert environment can seem diminished at first, until you spend some time getting to know the area. It's not the most exciting city I've ever visited, but then again, it's kept my interest as well as my photography up since I arrived in the first week of January. That alone says a lot.

Until next time, be safe.

The Travel Nurse's World These Days

Jess and I are a little worried about our circumstances in the upcoming months. That is because our contracts will end by the first week of May. After that, our future is currently undecided.

Last year at this point in a contract, we were already making a decision about where to go for our next assignment. We had already gone through our choices and come up with a likely choice. The next step would be to have an interview, which we would have done within the next two or three weeks (we only have a month and a half left on our contracts here in Tucson). That is not the case today.

Granted, our economy is in a tailspin, and we count ourselves lucky that we even have jobs at this point and are even able to save up money. The word on the street is that travel nursing positions are few and far between, that a lot of travel nurses are hanging up their travel scrubs to take staff jobs to ride out this recession/depression (let's be honest, how crappy must it be to call it a depression?). We know of a few nurses here in Tucson that apparently are heading back to North Carolina to take staff positions.

I never thought that I would see a situation where there were so few travel positions. Indeed, a lot of hospitals (including my current employer) have installed a hiring freeze, and aren't even taking on new staff nurses. It's turned into a game of seeing who can last the longest. Hospitals can hold off on hiring new nurses for as long as they dare, but the fact is that nursing drives patient care, and when the ranks of the nursing staff reaches a point where patient care is compromised, then there is no choice but to hire new nurses. Some places, like the floors here at my hospital, are increasing the patient load from 4:1 to 5:1, but that is about as far as they can go. At some point, managers have to break down and hire more nurses, budgets be damned.

On the other hand, the real question for travelers is who can afford to wait it out. There's always the potential for a month or two or more in between assignments. Competition for positions is fierce, as entire states post only a few jobs here and there, or none at all. Hospitals suddenly are finding that they can be ridiculously picky. I've heard of hospitals having requirements like two years of traveling experience, or to have the state license in hand even before bothering to apply. This latter requirement is annoying. For example, Jess and I applied for our Washington licenses recently, as we've heard it takes 8-10 weeks to get it. It cost us $325 for the two of us, and ICU jobs are extremely rare in Washington right now, not to mention PICU jobs. But we can't even apply for positions that come up without the license. So, we take the risk of not even getting a job in Washington, but we had to pay over $300 for that chance.

Also stewing in our minds is the fact that we can't really apply for any Washington positions in the near future. First, we haven't gotten our licenses yet, and also, the jobs are only posting three weeks from their start dates. That makes this game of chicken all the more daunting. We've tried to compensate by having a backup plan, but that's no guaranetee. We are trying to secure assurances for extensions here at our current positions. I've been told that I would be able to get an new 13-week contract, but Jess's PICU essentially cranks down to a skeleton crew during the summer months, and there's considerable doubt that she would be able to renew.

Our second backup plan is to drive to Sacremento and pick up some California licenses, which can be obtained in a day. California, despite being the state in the most trouble these days, is the only state that appears to be reliably hiring. There seem to be plenty of jobs in the San Diego and LA areas. It's another possibility.

In the meantime, we just have to wait. It's still too early to know what will be avaible by mid-April. Perhaps this recession will start to lift a little, hospitals will unfreeze their hiring, and positions will begin to reappear. Perhaps we have nothing to worry about. Still, it's uncomfortable waiting around to see what might happen.

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