“Solo” in Tucson

Roosevelt Lake in Tonto

Roosevelt Lake in Tonto National Forest © 2011 Bo Mackison

I came to Arizona in early February with a place to stay, two art festivals where I had been accepted to exhibit my photography, and ten weeks to discover the desert–and discover how well I could live “solo” in the Southwest.

I had bookmarked reference sites on my computer and I had a half-dozen books about Arizona with me. There were hundreds of notations in the margins on places to travel, photographs to consider, adventures to take, galleries to visit.

And I had a page in one of my raggedy journals with a list of goals– some large, some small; some that would take the whole time. (Or a whole lifetime, I was to find out.)

I had planned on taking one last “explore” today, this being the last full day I’ll be in Arizona “solo”, but the weather isn’t cooperating. Dust storms are not the best conditions for taking photographs, but more important, not the best conditions for me to drive on the Interstate.

Plus, now that I have some unexpected quiet time–gusty winds rustling outside not withstanding– I can take a few hours to assess just how well I have spent the last ten weeks, and to draw some conclusions. [If this is too detailed and long for your preferred blog post reading, skim or just enjoy the photographs.]

Tonto National Forest and Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake © 2011 Bo Mackison

I’m writing the details out for me. But I’m also writing this for everyone out there who carries a big dream in their heart and soul — a dream that they’ve had for a long time, but a dream that keeps getting returned to the “Maybe Later” shelf or the “I Can’t Do It” closet or the “It’s Too Hard” drawer.

I pushed away my dream of going to the Southwest and exploring the area “solo” for a long time. I had so many reasons I couldn’t go, it was an exhausting event for me to just examine all of them. Then I gradually discovered I would never live my dream until I stopped dreaming and began planning. And so  I–admittedly, very haphazardly–began writing to-do lists everywhere. By writing down the tiny steps I had to take, I began to get a clearer grasp on how to achieve my dream and I got a bit closer to its realization.

On weary days, I wrote lists with only a few words: JUST DO IT! The words were motivational, but they didn’t produce much action.

On my better days, I wrote lists with dozens and dozens of steps spread over pages of my notebook, each step building on the last one. Most of these lists I shredded in frustration. (The “I can’t do it” gremlins were screaming in my head, and I was in total agreement that I just wasn’t up to the challenge.) But I hid a couple of the lists in the back of an Arizona Photography book for safe-keeping. Just in case my bravery returned.

Finally, I admitted I couldn’t do all of the planning alone IF I wanted to be successful, that I had a lot to learn before I could embark on my dream, that I couldn’t manage each and every step totally on my own, and that I didn’t have to, either. I realized that I could ask for help and that was a turning point for me.

View from Tonto National Monument

View from Tonto National Monument © 2011 Bo Mackison

And so, at various time during the year long planning process, I enlisted the help of my husband–Sherpa has stood by me for 35 years–through some very good years and some very hard years–and he encouraged me to go for my dream, as did other important people in my life.

This was the first IMPORTANT thing I learned–one doesn’t have to embark on their dream alone. Even if the dream is about “going solo”. One can ask for advice, for help, for encouragement, for a listening ear, for whatever makes the attainment of the goal possible. Perhaps you won’t get what you ask for, perhaps you’ll have to think of an alternative resource or a work-around, but you won’t know until you’ve asked. I asked, and received, plenty of help, and it didn’t lessen the achievement of my dream.

Also, all those tiny lessons one learns during the preparation? It’s all good stuff to stockpile in your dream chest and good stuff to use and re-use when the going gets tough while you are living your dream. Hey, just because you are finally living your dream, it doesn’t mean there won’t be a misstep here and there.

Coming next is Part II: So many goals! Now what do I do?


Photos are from my trip to Tonto National Forest. Roosevelt Lake is a popular recreational area. The lake was formed when a masonry dam–the oldest such structure in Arizona–was built across the Salt River in 1911. Tonto National Monument is within the National Forest and preserves two ancient cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, when I arrived late on a Tuesday afternoon, the guided tour was booked full for the next days and I was a minute too late to go on the shorter hike. (Last unguided tour must leave by 4:00 pm.)


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She will soon be returning to Wisconsin after living in Tucson for two months. She’s been exploring Arizona, taking photographs, and blogging about photography, art, and living life “solo.” Now it’s time for her to assess what was accomplished in the last ten weeks.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Thanks for the beautiful article, Bo. Fair is fair, I DID kick butt. What I acknowledge you for, is that I held a space for you to dream and you filled it and then lived it. There will be many more dreams to come.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thank you, Quinn. Yes, you set high standards, but they were good targets to meet. And yes, you did hold that space for me, and what a joy it was to fill it, to step into my dream and live it these months. I feel I have learned so much, and accepted change, while I’ve been in Arizona.

      More dreams to follow? Oh, yes!

  2. Gandalf says:

    This is Arizona right? Where’d they get the water? Beautiful scenes.

  3. What a wonderful story…love how you have truly lived this dream, Bo! Getting help and support from others can seem so difficult…we were surely raised to “do it ourselves”, but I am so thankful that you have taken the time to acknowledge that you received (and accepted!) help. 🙂

    Brave and wonderful!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thanks, Susan. We were raised to “do it ourselves”, but working in community can be so much more effective.

  4. This is so very inspiring..and hopeful. Dreams can and do become real. It’s all a matter of intention. Setting it..and following thru. Good for you!!! You’re leading the way for us all to follow…

    • Bo Mackison says:

      You are so right, Marcie. Dreams remain dreams until you set a plan and follow through. Thanks for the kind words and for your support while I “soloed” Tucson!

  5. Joanne Keevers says:

    Bo, I’m sure my heart beat just a little bit faster as I read your words here, so full of enthusiasm and achievement! Congratulations on a goal well reached!

    I’m looking forward to reading Part II. 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thanks, Joanne. I have so appreciated your visits and support while I’ve been on my journey. On those occasional nights when I wondered if I could follow through another day, one of your positive comments would pop up and help me re-focus. (Never know when a small gesture will make a big impact on another person’s life, hmmm?)

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