The Inca Trail Begins

Lunch was amazing and each dish had flavors abound just by incorporating different vegetables. We were fascinated that no spices were used, just the natural palette of a garden variety. As we ate our meal, we were told about the hike to the hostel in the mountains for our overnight stay. This hostel was such a lovely experience. We had our own room and a community shower beneath us. We slept high in the mountain range and woke up staring at the most amazing view of the clouds rolling over the mountain. The people at this Eco Hostel were super friendly and had us help make dinner. I got to peel the potatoes while the guinea pigs ran around my feet collecting scraps. Such pleasant sounds were coming out of these tiny creatures while we were making supper. They are also wonderful little garbage disposals. Luckily, there was no guinea pigs on their menu even though it is a delicacy in Peru.

Chris and I were served llama so I scraped mine on to his plate while no one was looking. I made sure to do this in segments so it looked like I was eating it. Did not want to be rude. These people walked all this food up the mountain to their hostel just to feed us. The garden items were grown on site. They also made us fresh coffee in the morning from beans they roasted and ground themselves. It was delicious. While we had our morning coffee, our tour guide wanted to decorate our faces with pollen from a local flower. He said it also would deter any biting bugs. I would have been the first in the chair if I had heard him first. Bugs bite me all the time and I did not want any mosquito bites in South America while hiking through the rainforest. I put pictures of my and Chris’s “face paint” here in the blog. After we both got these drawn on us, we were shown some lovely handmade jewelry.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

The owners brought out their handmade items on boards and explained they made these to help them be able to afford food for their guests. We bought two friendship bracelets and two necklaces we wore the entire trip. Peru happened in the summer of 2017 and I just wiggled my bracelet off in April of 2023. This bracelet still had not fallen off even when my dog ate one of the connecting strings. I did not bring my wedding ring so this bracelet symbolized my and Chris’s bond for me. I am so glad I let the woman tie the bracelet on because I did not want it to fall off, and it never did! After we purchased these very sentimental items, it was time to depart. We reluctantly left the slice of heaven, high in the sky on the Inca Trail, to walk on to Machu Picchu with the understanding there would be more cities and stops on the way.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

-Karen Hilliard

Biking Down the Andes

After waking up from a glorious warm nap we met up with our guide for the excursion ahead. We booked a trip to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail that was scheduled to start with a mountain biking journey through the Andes Mountain Range. Our guide Papi was amazing and it was his last tour with the company so he went all out spoiling us with adventure and a relaxed pace to all destinations. He was an amazing guide and we went to all local places as he wanted to support his friends’ establishments. When he met up with us he told us to bring our small backpacks instead of our large ones and we were forever grateful. We left the larger rucksacks downstairs in the locked closet the next morning and set out on a wonderful adventure through Peru.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Mountain Biking | Andes |Peru | Cusco

Our first stop was to meet up with Papi again and hop in a van from his friend’s company. We were driven all through the streets of Peru and eventually through farms then up a mountain. At the top of the mountain we saw the beautiful tip of the Andes and the glacial magnificence. Bikes were waiting for us, as well as riding jackets, pads, gloves, and helmets. As I wrote before, an amazing tour guide. He made sure we were all safe and happy the entire time. There were 6 of us total. We had the pleasure of traveling with 3 women from Taiwan and their cousin from San Francisco. This trip was an overall out of this world experience of pure joy. Biking down the Andes was a rush like one I never experienced. Luckily the bikes were comfortable, the gear fit, and we had several stops to take pictures and enjoy ourselves. There were a few scary moments on this magical ride as well.

The mountain pass had tight corners and long windy stretches where buses and cars were traveling on it as well. We would be flying down the mountain and come to a tight curve and a bus would meet us head on coming up the other direction. Safety was in the front of our minds and yet we had the time of our life on that ride. Papi and the San Francisco chap road down first at a very fast pace but our guide made sure to stop and wait for us at several sections. He would leave no man or woman behind. He was like a Papa Bear looking after his wandering cubs. I think this is what we liked the most…the space to explore and enjoy at our own pace, yet the care of someone looking out for us. He was filled with vast information as well. At the end of the ride we stopped at a local store for fruit and drinks and after a long van ride we stopped at his friend’s restaurant for an amazing lunch. The table was filled with food and the people were smiling ear to ear sharing the meal they made.

Have a wonderful Wednesday and thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

Cusco Streets

The excitement was looming as we touched down in Cusco. The altitude and temperature were very different from what we were used to. The weather was a huge change from the humidity in Ohio and Chicago with a cool breeze that awakened our senses. The staff at the airport were very nice and helpful when we needed to call the hostel to get a ride into town. Eco Packer Hostel is amazing!! Could not rave about this place enough. They sent a car to the airport to pick us and our bags up, then drove us around on the streets of Cusco. The history and colors were breathtaking and we were so happy to be in the presence of such a rich culture. Upon arriving at the hostel, we checked in, and went up to our room. We chose the option of bunk beds with other people which was very cost efficient for us. This hostel also stored our larger bags in a closet downstairs to keep them safe when we took longer trips.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Cusco | Peru

After settling in we decided to walk around the city. It was the afternoon and Peru was alive with dancing, parades, and so many interesting masks. This was a wonderful way to experience Cusco. The steps leading to the capitol building in the center of the city were filled with tourists and locals. Each person was either deep in conversation, trying to sell art prints, sketching original art themselves, or taking photographs of all the stimulation surrounding them. The men dancing in Gorilla Masks were the most intriguing to me. I also loved the women walking around with alpacas. The little baby alpacas were my favorite. The colors of the blankets the women wore to carry their children and their goods were vibrant and made the City Center come to life. Chris and I stepped into a new world on that day and were very happy to be there. 

We walked around mapping out shops we wanted to revisit toward the end of our stay to bring home souvenirs for loved ones. We found an amazing gourd for ourselves to drink Matcha out of and decided to come back for it later. This gourd ended up becoming the most challenging thing to find again. I will write more about this in a later blog, it was an interesting experience. After the on level shops were explored, we decided to travel up a long hill to more shops. In a tiny alleyway, hidden away, we found an amazing watercolor artist. This wonderful person had shown his work in a New York gallery many years prior and we all tried to have a conversation about it, which was nice. We ended up coming back to his stand at the end of the week and buying one of his paintings. Later on, after all the uphill stores, we were getting quite sleepy and decided to go back to the hostel where we relaxed in the courtyard. Both of us ended up falling asleep with the sun high in the sky overhead and were wrapped in its blanket of warmth. 

Have a meaningful Monday and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Airport and Flight Logs

As we waited behind the smart girl who wore her rucksack we just kept thinking, why didn’t we think of that. We talked about making sure to remember this next time and possibly never taking Spirit Airlines ever again due to so many added fees we were not expecting. They tack on a lot of these after we purchased our tickets. FYI good information to have. What airline do any of you use? I know they are all having issues currently but it would be awesome to share for a hopeful journey next time. As for this vacation, honeymoon, break, we took Spirit and it left us safe and alive so we have no complaints. Issues with travel come down to one thing, it is really all in how you look at the situation. We always find humor and a story while we wait and enjoy the time together no matter what. Just writing the information for any of you who may need to know it or find it helpful.

The flight to Peru was beautiful. My favorite part of flying is taking off and rising above the clouds. You know, that moment, when the plane is settled on the clouds…I feel like I am on top of the world. It looks like a vast snowy mountain range of soft fluffy wonder. The sunset view from the plane windows is also amazing! Chris loves the take off and the landing, he likes the rush. He had fallen asleep after the take off and I had a nice chat with another gentleman who was traveling to hike the Inca Trail. He bought one of the fancy packages to sleep in tents and have someone carry your pack for you the whole way. Chris and I went with a local company and hiked with our packs and tent, then were pleasantly surprised when our guide told us it was his last tour and treated us to an amazing experience. More on this later…back to the flights.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

After a very long flight in comfortable seats, we had to catch another small plane to Cusco. This plane was freezing…I could stop here…but I will get into it. I thought it was so cold because I was so tired. Then Chris, who can walk barefoot in the snow, told me he was freezing and needed a blanket, I knew it was a different situation. We both wondered about the cabin pressure and if the windows would hold up. They did and we got there totally safe with no problems. The pilot did an amazingly smooth landing too and it was one of the best landings I ever experienced. We were super happy to get off the icebox though. Cusco was waiting for us and you too. I am excited to tell you all about it next week!

Thank you for reading and have a fun and safe weekend!

-Karen Hilliard

The Flights

Something amazing happened the night we were in Ohio watching fireflies! We were sitting on the grassy knoll and looked down to find it glowing. Tiny little glow worms in the grass!! They were the firefly larvae. We had no idea it glowed as well. The whole experience on their farm was an overall interesting and fun time. We were sad to leave but needed to venture onward down south to the land of Machu Picchu. A Journey was awaiting us for sure. The car ride back to Chicago was filled with wonderful conversation and stimulating stories. So much happened on the farm in just such a short week it was nice to recap. My favorite was when the goose decided to take a walk with us all around the acreage and got tired, then he let me carry him the rest of the way. He was a cute little guy. Traveling back to Illinois took a while and we did not turn the radio on once. So nice to have such wonderful friends.

While back in Chicago we stopped for dinner and ice cream near the train tracks and it was quite delicious. We walked around our friend’s hometown along a beautiful path of trees. The weather was perfect even in the summertime. We absolutely loved our time there. After checking our flight and tickets that night, we were ready to hit the road in the morning for our flight to Florida. We took Spirit Airlines and thought we could only carry on a bag and check the packs which was an additional fee. Then, in Florida, when we went to get on the flight to Peru…a girl got on wearing her backpack…the same size as ours. Something to keep in mind while dealing with airlines. A little tip or trick we picked up that day. Our flight to Peru was delayed so we ate some good food in one of the airport restaurants then took a nap.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

Sleeping on the floor in the Florida Airport was comfortable on all our bags but may not have been the best idea. The whole wing of this airport section smelled like mildew and we wondered if it was residual aftermath from the Tropical Storms or Hurricanes they have there. We picked everything up and went to wait somewhere that smelled better and then got nervous because we did not want to miss our flight so we went back to the smell. The wonderful, glorious, smell. We waited in this section for a few hours and it was totally worth it so we stayed up to date on the flights. Have any of you had weird airport experiences? Gotten vouchers to take later flights? Bags lost then found? Any story would be fun to read in the comments below! I will write more about the flight to South America next as we took two to get to Cusco! Stay Tuned for more…

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful Wednesday!

-Karen Hilliard

A Journey

“Where do you want to travel to next?” This was a question I asked my husband on our first hike together, which he thought was a date. I ask everyone I meet if they want to go hiking because I love the outdoors. Years later, we decided it could be our first date because we both liked each other instantly and the trail turned into many trails throughout the years. Traveling and being outside is one of our shared loves. The other is the ability to think the same thing at the same time even all these years later. After asking him the question about where to travel, he said “Machu Picchu” and this was the same place I had in mind. Before we planned this trip, we decided to get married and then it became a Honeymoon excursion. Since the altitude is much higher in Peru than here in the desert we needed to prepare our bodies and train.

We thought Mt. Charleston would be the best place to hike every weekend to get our lungs ready for the altitude difference. Cusco, Peru has an elevation of 11,152 feet and Mt. Charleston, Nevada stands at 11,916 feet at its peak. Chris and I were not able to hike all the way to the top before our trip, so we trained on our original trail, and we climbed to about 8,000 feet. Northloop Trailhead has some spots for cars so it is recommended to arrive as early as possible, especially on the weekends like we did. Going as often as we could, we felt we were ready for the trip at this point. In a future blog I will write about where we traveled, the elevation gains, and the need for Oxygen at certain points of the trail while in Peru. For now, I will share the journey we took to South America. 

After hiking Mt. Charleston on the weekends, the next idea was to visit our friends in Ohio and Chicago, then fly out of O’Hare. The tickets were more affordable and we got to stop off at our friend’s farms along the way. We drove to Chicago, to pick up a friend, and then continued on to Ohio to stay at Benham Farms, where the hosts are an amazing couple with oodles of information on techniques, crop development, and grazing rotation. We were also able to venture into Yellow Springs for a walk along the river and a taste of the awesome brews from Yellow Springs Brewery. It is always nice to have a break in the hard work during the middle of the day. Then we got to go back to the farm for a night of gazing at fireflies. Not a bad way to end the day or this blog post.

Thank you for reading and have a happy Monday!

-Karen Hilliard


The month of September is filled with such joy, warmth, and love. The seasons are officially starting to change from Summer to Autumn. Certain parts of the country may notice a change in temperature, colors on the trees may be transitioning, and the excitement of holiday vacations are in the air. Here in the desert we are lucky if the weather starts to cool. Chris often says the temperature does not change until November, but this year, we have felt a slight shift in the heat. We are getting very excited to hike the dog in this new season. After so many rainstorms, the desert will be alive with colors. I cannot wait to go out, take photographs, and share with you all. For now, we are staying safe and indoors. Everytime I wish to travel I remember the dog has a fur coat and it would just be miserable for him.

Recently I have been sharing past experiences and trips with you all. The fall series I created was from a hike taken a few years ago during the Autumn season. Looking through old photographs is quite joyous for me. I often say that I have taken so many reference photos and may not have enough time in my lifetime to paint everything I wish to. However, I am sure going to try and share all my visions with the world. A huge feat this is for sure! The recent sketchbook painting “Autumn is Here” has been one of the more fun projects for me. A lot of energy and time was placed into every centimeter of this painting. I am very happy to have been able to create a print for everyone. I hope people will enjoy having this painting hanging on their wall for years to come. 

Fall in Red Rock Canyon | Karen Hilliard Art | Prints

The tiny painting series was wonderful to paint as well since I love small surface areas. Each of these paintings has brought back so many memories of Fall. So many traditions happen this time of year and I am excited to create some new traditions as well. This season holds my favorite color palette as well. What are some of your traditions or favorite memories this time of year? Is there any food you enjoy or recipes you would want to share? I have been drinking hot chocolates regularly just dreaming of cooler weather. Maybe this is why I feel a drop in the temperature and my husband does not…because I am imagining the chill on my face as I drink hot beverages. I love how certain smells can transcend me to different places! 

I hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Flash Floods

In regards to my blog “All Weather is Good Weather,” I stated we did not live near hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, etc. Natural disasters seem to skip us here in the desert. Well…recently we had a tropical storm come through from a hurricane off the California Coast. Then, a few days later we had our monsoon season but this time the streets were rivers. Luckily, everything was okay for the people where we live and yet the debris the following week has been interesting. Mud has been piling up everywhere and streets are still tan with dirt from what was left behind. I stand by all weather is good weather because I know how much this rain has helped the desert. Our sunflower patch in the backyard got hammered by hail but the desert, where people do not live, needed this rain.

The ecosystem thrives on the rainy season for all the creatures and plants that live outdoors. They do not have McDonnalds and Starbucks for fancy outings with friends. Their very existence depends on water and food sources that are scarce. So everytime I hear frustrations towards rain, I understand, but I also think about the animals that depend on it. The trees and plants crave their water sources as well. Water is so important for everything and everyone’s existence and we need to keep our fresh waters safe. This is a whole different topic for another time. On to weather again. Forest fires where so many homes are destroyed are unfortunate and terribly sad. These fires do however help the forest floor to rejuvenate, and create new habitats. Luckily humans help the situation by not letting these fires burn too long because that can lead to devastating losses a forest has a hard time coming back from. 

Flash floods come swiftly and then leave behind essential nutrients and sediments animals and ecosystems need. This helps the desert rejuvenate. Yes, there is massive destruction with these natural disasters but it is the Earth’s way of healing itself. If you are ever in a flash flood situation, try to get to the highest point as quickly as possible. Do not mess around and think you will have time to get out. The rains come fast, dump feet of water, flow vigorously, and are intensely scary. Flash floods are beautiful to watch from somewhere safe but please stay clear and don’t try to get a closer look. Respect nature. Have you or anyone you know been affected by a natural disaster? From my personal experience, I have dealt with flash floods and earthquakes. From a secondary perspective I have witnessed forest fires and the devastation of wildfires. Be safe out there and smart.

Have a happy start to your week.

-Karen Hilliard 

Falls of Michigan

Circle Tour Part 12

After the phenomenon that is Tahquamenon, we decided to mosey on over to another park in Michigan. On the way to the falls we found an awesome bread shop on the side of the road. The owners Paul and Joanne Behm run this eclectic shop with a bakery, located in Newberry, MI 13 miles North of Newberry. These people are extremely nice and bake the bread right there in front of you using a brick oven they built. We bought some delicious bread and garlic spread which sustained us for quite some time. North Star Brick Oven Bakery in Michigan is the place to be! I just tried to link this for all of you and with 4.8 stars and amazing reviews, I am sad to find that this place is permanently closed. Do any of you have a favorite small little place that shut down after 2020? Let us know in the comments. Luckily, the waterfall is still flowing, so on to happier notes.

This waterfall was, and is, at the end of a very short hike through luscious trees. We went to Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park. Hiking among the trees was breathtaking. Plan for a half hour total if you decide to go. Since we had more time, we chose to venture to Munising Falls, Michigan. These falls were subtle and yet gorgeous. The striations in the cliffs were beautiful and the colors of the rock piqued my artistic curiosity. This was also a short hike and well worth it. The color contrast of the cliffs with the green of the trees was picturesque. Just the smell of the waterfall and the midst on our faces chilled the humid summer of Michigan. We got to break out our rain jackets, which is always nice! The dog loved the light walk to the falls as well.

We drove through Michigan and kept stopping at places along the way. We found amazing cliffs overlooking Lake Superior and got to watch the water crash against the sandstone below. We read a lot of information about how important sea kayaks are for the lake as it can get really treacherous with high currents. We did not know we would need a sea kayak for the lake so that was very good information to find. This place had kayaks hanging from the roof right outside the bathroom with a great amount of signage on the importance of water safety. The trail through the trees was very nice as well. This spot was called Minors Castle and I put the link in here. We saw many waterfalls through Michigan on our way back to Wisconsin.

Circle Tour Series 1 Number 4 | Karen Hilliard Art | Tiny Paintings | Watercolor | Original Art | Small works

I hope you enjoyed our journey and thank you for reading about the Circle Tour of Lake Superior. There is so much to see and we are definitely doing it again!! All new spots next time. Here is the finished painting! Have a safe and happy weekend, and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Circle Tour Part 11

Great food, great ice cream, great service, and a dip in Lake Huron! We were able to scratch this one off of our bucket list. The dog was not allowed down by the water so I watched him when Chris went in and swam and then we switched. After we both took our time in the lake, we went to a parking lot near the marina. We wanted to skip rocks and make sure we did not hit anyone. The place we swam at had a beach with a lot of people. So we drove to the marina area and our dog sat and watched us as we skipped rocks. Chris had the best distance and the most skips. I was just happy we caught these moments on video. I love the picture of us with Lake Huron in the background.

We decided to drive to Tahquamenon Falls (sounds like phenomenon), and stay the night at the Rivermouth Campground. We played cards all night and enjoyed our spot by the river very much. There were no mosquitos at the campground and we lit a nice fire. We decided to go for a walk, as there was forest all around us and an awesome walking path. Little did we know that we would be chased by a horde of mosquitoes back to camp. This is why we lit the fire, but realized the bugs did not follow us all the way back. We enjoyed some beer we bought called Blueberry Maple Stout from Saugatuck Brewing Co. We found it at the store before the campground. This place is right off of highway 123 North, Michigan Byway. It was a great campground and we highly recommend it. Super chill and we did our morning runs underneath a canopy of trees along the Tahquamenon River. 

We stopped in the town of Paradise, MI on our way to the falls the next day. This was a really nice small town with friendly people. We had a quick bite to eat and some coffee, then bought a blanket and towel with the name Paradise on them. When we got to the falls we decided to go to the lower and upper falls. Chris carried the dog down the staircase to the viewing area. When we were finished with this lovely walk around the state park, we wanted to find the visitors center. There was a brewery and a visitors center. This place was amazing! People can kayak and canoe here too. Here is the link for Tahquamenon Falls State Park. I hope some of you, or all of you, get the opportunity to see this place someday. Gorgeous! Also, try and check out the town of Paradise. Thank you for reading and Happy Wednesday!

-Karen Hilliard