Discover Dallas: Volunteering at the Cedar Ridge Preserve

One of the great things I found out about recently is the REI upcoming events page. Not only do they have the dates for upcoming classes and the quartet Garage sale (which is hands down so great), they also list local outdoorsy community service projects. When I saw they would be working on clearing some trails at the Cedar Ridge Preserve, I immediately signed up.

My friend Lola and I were pretty excited not only to help out REI but also to check out a new set of trails. Originally we were in the prairie clearing group, but after losing track of them, we ending up with the branch clearing group on one of the inner trails. It wasn’t too hard and everyone was really friendly. We carried branches and vines about fifty yards off the trail to be composted, and ended up making some great progress.

Afterwards as a treat, REI had cold watermelon and free swag for us. It was such a great experience and such a good way to connect with other local hikers, I’m definitely on the lookout for more of these trail cleanup opportunities.

One of the Preserve’s manager told me he clears an entire two trash bags worth of plastic water bottles and wrappers a day and it’s still not enough. This made me immediately start bringing plastic bags on every hike to start cleaning up a trail as I go. It’s so easy to spot a gross crumpled up bottle, it’s an easy way to keep a trail clean by grabbing it on my way.

About a month after this event, I went back to the Cedar Ridge Preserve to explore more of the trails. I love how large it is and how well kept the trails are. It’s also basically zero pavement, which I really enjoy. I went on a Friday morning, my favorite time for trail exploring, and only ran into a couple of people.

The hills were fortified with wooden steps and there were several benches placed in scenic stops. It was really beautiful and varied. I have definitely made it one of my favorite hiking spots.

Burn Away the Negative Vibes

As someone always on the lookout for new experiences, when my friend Lola texted me about a local sage-making class I was immediately in. We’ve been using local Instagram accounts to find more and more exciting stuff to do. I also have a passing interest in any kind of “new age” or “mystical” stuff, so learning how to make sage bundles sounded really exciting!

We got to a cute little boutique in downtown Dallas at Ten Over Six. We were greeted with smiles and mimosa, so it was already off to a great start. We explored the little shop while we waited a turn at the sage class table. Everything was really cute! Shamsy was really cool. She was in charge of leading the class and also showed us some of her handmade crystal jewelry.

We started with a handful of sage and tried to make it as neat as possible so we could began wrapping it. Shamsy had multicolored thread for us which I then tied into a loop knot. We wrapped three times in honor of the “power of three” rule, which basically just represents cosmic karma. We then grabbed three rose petals and wrapped our sage at a slanted line until we wrapped the whole thing, petals included. We once again wrapped three times around the bottom, making sure to release any negativity we may have been feeling. Then we wrapped back up to the top, using the opposite angle to create little X’s out of the wrapping. We tied, trimmed a bit, and voila – we had our sage bundle!

It was simple and gave us a really cute end result! We were told the sage was still really fresh so we needed to hang it upside down and wait a couple of days for it to dry. We downed the last of our second mimosa, grabbed our perfect little sage bundles, and decided our good vibes would be perfect for a bit of downtown adventure.

Right across the way we noticed a coffee shop that had been on both our coffee lists for a while, The Weekend. I got just a shot of espresso because they had a special floral-infused espresso bean which usually are my favorite. It was good and came with a glass of sparkling water which was so European.

The infamous Giant Eyeball was not too far so we went to get a picture with it since, we’ll, when in Rome, right? They had blocked the little garden off, which was a bit of a bummer. It was weird and we saw it, not much else to say (haha).

Following our weird art trend, we decided to head to the Dallas Museum of Art and check out the special Kusama “Pumpkins” exhibit. To be honest, it is pretty cool, but also a bit lame to pay fifteen dollars and only get forty-five seconds to stand in the pumpkin room with a security guard who keeps talking. The art was cool, the setup not so much.

Overall a great day though! When I burned the sage, I started at one end of the house and slowly made my way through each room. I thought about the good times and how much I love my home. I felt a little ridiculous of course, but it was still kind of fun too! Should I start growing my own sage?

Old Bones in a Familiar City

The city of Waco, known as the home of the couple of Fixer Upper, favorite spot of mine as the midpoint between home and Austin, also apparently has a National Park site. Twenty-four mammoth bone structures were found after a flash flood, an impressive amount, and only a couple years ago this was made into a National Park.

I was on my way to Austin when I decided a little morning stop here for a tour would be a good idea. The tours are all scheduled with no entry without a guide, which was a bit unusual in my experience. I browsed the gift shop while waiting for the tour to start, and was honestly impressed with all the Mammoth-themed items.

There was also a small little digging site supposed to teach you how fossils and bones are uncovered by the professionals but it was “under construction” so that crushed my archeological hopes and dreams. When the tour started, it was a beautiful walk through the woods to the ravine where they had originally excavated the first mammoth. Then we entered the big building which had been built to better preserve the largest complete skeleton they’d found.

It was very impressive! It was weird to think about a mammoth pack moving through Texan plains. But these weren’t wooly mammoths, they actually were a hairless species. Ah, looking at old bones always makes me believe I could still be Indian Jones (ha).

Till next time Waco!

Vastness of Cliffs, Depth of the Valley

One day was left of our jam-packed National Park New Mexico road trip, so I woke up right at opening for the Aztec Ruins. Turns out they were not actual Aztecs, they were just Native Americans called that by the white settlers who found their settlement ruins. Not having too much time, we powered through a a few buildings and then hit the vantage point which showcased the whole layout of buildings.

Down the path, I heard commotion and actually caught a picture of the fleeing rabbit! When heading back through the visitor center, the rangers there told us they’d seen a bobcat chasing after something – the rabbit we’d seen! Day two and already off to a wild start.

New Mexico is such a scenic drive, I had a nice time heading to Chaco Culture National Historic Park. We spent more than hour on a big dirt road with no signs, and free-range sheep and cattle right in the middle of the road! The cliffs were so impressive and big; there wasn’t a bad sight in any direction.

Most of the Chaco Park was about taking the long winding drive, so funnily enough by the time we made it, we’d already been experiencing what it had to offer.

As always, we spent more time than we’d thought so we knew we’d need to hurry to Pecos National Park if we were also going to make it to our last stop. Pecos was an adorable little town, but the Park reminded me a lot of the Aztec Ruins. There was a lot of pottery left behind that was very beautiful and allowed them to recreate what it would look like when it was new.

Our final stop was back towards Los Alamos with the security checkpoint. Instead of turning left toward Bandelier, we turned right and made our way to Valles Caldera. It was massive. I was expecting a small valley, but the vastness of everything was truly impressive on this trip. It was fall so the valley wasn’t really in bloom, but it’s golden expanse was still breathtaking.

Finally not in a rush for the first time that day, we took our time exploring the nature in the valley and the surrounding Jemez Mountains. I searched for a small hiking trail that allowed the dog with us to be on it, and we climbed a bit and stretched our legs. It was truly a day of seeing new parts of the world. I was the pictures I took could do it justice, but I’ll always have my memory!

The Good of Roadtrips, the Bad of Car Camping

I’ve been on lots of road trips growing up.

My family and I traveled a lot to take my brother to hockey tournaments in lots of different states. Because of this, I have nostalgic memories of being woken up before the sun rose, wrapping myself in my comforter, and bringing a bag of books to the backseat. And when the sun was up, I loved watching the sky, inspecting little pass-through towns, and having long quiet talks with whoever was awake. (Of course, there was lots of fighting with my brother too.)

There are a couple of “rules” I like to follow on a road trip. One of them is to never head back. If you miss something or a specific food involves a U-turn to get back to, it’s out. You have a destination to get to, you should never go back. Another rule is to check out anything crazy. I leave time specifically in my travels just for random billboard advertising or weird American landmarks. I want any exotic zoo, haunted graveyard, 100 foot ball of yarn.

With my goal being to frequently do weekend road trips I knew I wanted to make my car a perfect long-distance vehicle. Originally, I had saved the mattress pads from my futon to make pillows (slight hoarder alert) but after a bit of trimming they ended up being the perfect addition to my backseats. My car is a mini-SUV (Kia Sportage) so the seats lie flat. I now had a bed! Better yet, because of the two pieces and the way the seats go down separately, I had an option between a twin-sized or a full-sized bed.

This mostly came in handy for long drives where me and the passenger could trade off turns driving and not have to stop and waste time at a hotel. On the trip to CO with my dad, he had also tried to use the air mattress but that ended up being a major fail in a car – way too bouncy. The other great part about cheap weekend road trips – even if we were at our destination we had no need for an Airbnb! I basically had a small RV.

Yeah, so there’s no bathroom or shower. The shower thing I’ve previously mentioned about how you can pay for cheap clean showers at truck stops (always get a locking door!) but we’re camping here! It’s not all going to be fresh as a daisy. And usually I will park the car for the night near a gas station so they have 24/7 bathrooms.

It’s not all glamorous. On the New Mexico National Park road trip, we stopped near the Aztec Ruins, in front of a handmade Native American storefront and decided to use nature as our bathroom for the night. It had gotten very cold for the night and I woke up just before sunrise about ready to pee my pants.

I had kept my sandals in the front seat, but between shuffling the dog and all our stuff in the tight space, I decided to just go barefoot. I usually would’ve crawled through to get out the front seat, but I couldn’t hold it any longer and decided getting out through the backseat would be fine. I stepped out onto the cold rocks and took quick steps forward into the field to find a more secluded place to do my business.

And then those two feet were standing on several grass burrs. It hurt like hell, so I was thinking if I fell back enough to get back to the rocks, I could pull the sticker burrs from my feet. Well, landing on my butt was easy, but I didn’t exactly miss the burrs. Once more got in my butt, I slammed my hand down automatically to get off the ground and got even more stuck in me. So then my feet hurt, my hand hurt, and my butt hurt.

I was half lying in pain in just panties and a t-shirt in the middle of nowhere as the sun was rising. And then a car drove by on the nearby deserted road (of course it did). An ok man drove by, made eye contact with me, a crazed half naked woman lying in the cold, and he kept on his merry way luckily.

Even though everything hurt, I began the process of hurriedly picking out stickers from my feet and butt so I could at least get back to the car. After clearing out most of it (my hand that I slammed was in the worst shape) I got into the front seat to warm up and clean off the bit of blood. Then I grabbed my sandals and headed back out.

This was my lesson to never venture into the wild without any kind of shoes. There’s good and bad to car camping, hell even some ugly, but for he most part it’s been such a fun experience! And the more I save here and there – the more weekend trips I can make happen!

Timing is Everything

There are a ton of National Park spots in New Mexico (basically double the amount in Texas). Not having a lot of vacation to burn, I decided to try my hand at a jam-packed weekend trip that included eight Parks. We left at midnight after our last work day and raced the sun for 48 hours, making it back home only hours before it was time for work again. Spoiler alert: we got all 8 spots!

Our first sunrise found us at Capulin Volcano National Monument. Though it’s been inactive for quite a long time, it was still pretty majestic as we made our approach. The trail was easygoing and led us straight into the middle of my first volcano!

It was amazing to stretch my legs after driving for so long, and I was glad to be treated to such a beautiful sight first thing. At the rim of the volcano, it was super windy and cold, but also offered another great view of the landscape. I almost didn’t want to leave, but I’m a stickler for a schedule (and I didn’t want to miss anything else planned for the day).

Next up was Fort Union, and while not the biggest fan of forts and battle sites, the fact that the Santa Fe Trail crosses right through it was cool to me. The buildings still standing after so many years were impressive too, especially since they were made with adobe. Also I ran into a snake right on the trail! Very cool any time I run into the wild.

Back to the car it was, and then on our way to Los Alamos, which is home to one of the major Manhattan Project sites. This park is also run by the Department of Energy. I went in thinking this wasn’t of much interest to me since massive destructive weapons aren’t really my thing, but the old Park ranger was delightful. He told us the town was built to house the scientists and their families who were apart of the Manhattan Project.

He pointed at a little empty field outside the window of the visitor center and told us that’s where the original site was. We would pass the new scientific building on our way to the next Park, Bandelier National Monument. We passed the National Laboratory responsible for working on the next rover being sent to Mars and cancer cures.

Immediately past security checkpoint gates, I was driving into the woods. The road was secluded, empty, and gorgeous. It was such a nice scenic woods drive, with just a little bit of drizzle to give the end of our day a dreamy feel. We didn’t have much time at Bandelier, but the trails couldn’t allow dogs anyway. The drive alone – funny considering we’d spent hours driving this far – felt completely worth it.

On our way out of the Monument, we spotted several deer in the trees too! There were the most is ever seen out in the wild, and were weirdly close to the road. The sun was setting and we idled on the side to watch a family of deer lazily pick their way through the woods. Then Jenna’s dog, Florence, started barking like crazy after spotting them and they fled. It was great!

It was a tough goal, but this trip taught me a lot on how to plan an efficient road trip (for the first time I put gas and food stops into the schedule). I also learned that no matter how much beforehand research I do, it’s hard to really know what will catch my interest when I’m there. Some of the places I’d planned to spend little time at, I’d wished I had longer and vice versa.

As always in life, it seems there’s never enough time to see and do it all! I’m glad to be using my own time wisely!

A New Home for the Night

Last year was my first year using AirBnB for my travels. I was originally interested because of the the variety of unique homes you can stay in (treehouses, tiny homes, etc). Besides being very cheap, it really makes it so you can experience the area like a local. It’s like getting to live in every city as you would if you were a true resident. That all being said, I’ve had really great stays and also really bad ones.

Little Rock, AR

In my previous post about my Arkansas road trip, I mention my “eventful night”. After checking in, making some small talk with the host, we were on our way back out to enjoy the festival and local night life. To get back into our place, there was a keypad on the back side of the house, but after mentioning to our house we planned to be back late around 11, she said she’d still be up and would leave it unlocked until we got in. Being city girls, this made us a little weary, but after assurances of a safe neighborhood, we agreed on the plan.

It seemed to all work out, we got in okay on our return. The house was quiet so we went into the bedroom to take out the dog. My friend didn’t want to be out in a strange area at midnight, so I went with her outside. I stood a couple feet from the front door as she let the dog do her business – all in all no more than a fifteen minute event.

But when we were ready to go back in, the door had been locked. It was crazy because I’d never heard anything from behind me! Now we were out at midnight with nothing but one dog and one phone between us. We of course started ringing the doorbell, knocking loudly, and trying to circle the house in case there was a non-suspicious way to enter. No luck.

I used my phone to send multiple messages to our host, called the number provided, but it seemed hopeless. We were sure we were getting robbed or murdered or something. I called the Airbnb help line, which honestly wasn’t much help because they first needed my credit card information (even after I explained my purse was inside the locked house) and then they started trying to book me another home in the area (but I didn’t even have my keys).

Finally, after banging nonstop on the door for the twenty minute hold I’d been put on the phone, our host sleepily answered the door. She acted a bit weird, which I think just might’ve been embarrassment for lock-in us out, but we definitely slept with our bedroom door locked. It was a frustrating, slightly scary, cold hour – but now my worst AirBnB story!

New York City

When I visited New York City, I spent two nights in the coolest Brooklyn loft and then hopped the bridge to Chelsea and slept on a bed that folded down so I had to curl up like a kitten on my pillow. In the first place, we never saw a soul except for when we picked up our key from a nearby gallery (and then we spent half an hour going up and down flights of stairs because we’d lost the dang key since it’s gotten wedged into the handle of our suitcase). In the second NYC place, we always arrived to a party no matter what time it was.

Los Angeles, CA

My LA AirBnB was a super cool apartment located in West Hollywood. There were tons of plants every where and a funny antique Buddha desk lamp. When coming back from the beach we had a taste of that infamous LA traffic, and we’re running an hour late to check in. Luckily, the LA vibe is pretty chill so the host was easygoing about our tardiness. My clothes brought in a lot of sand but I did my best to keep the shower clean. I definitely try to leave my AirBnB cleaner than it was when I first entered.

Mancos, CO

As mentioned in a previous post, I loved my stay in the refurbished 60s Volkswagen work bus. It was such a unique place to stay; definitely not another average hotel stay. Besides having a nearby fire pit, being up in the mountains with the stars in view, and having a whole compost situation, it was also so cute!

Monument Valley, AZ

This home was absolutely magical. Not only because it was right in the middle of the iconic Monument Valley, but also because the home was gorgeous. They were conserving energy by using only solar power (my first time using it to power a whole house) and every room had a lot of big windows to utilize natural light. The home provided coffee, nature provided a sunrise, and we woke up to the start of a perfect day. They also had a tire swing out back that was a blast!

Cortez, CO

We arrived late and left early (which is pretty typical of the places we stay) so this pick was based on comfy beds, a fully stocked shower, and an allowance of the dog. It was very cabin style, with two bunk beds in one room and a separate cabin for the shower/bathroom area. It reminded me of my days in Girl Scouts (which I loved), but it was also pretty cold so the run from one cabin to the next wasn’t entirely ideal.

All in all, I’ve had a great time staying at all these different places. You meet new people most of the time, you get recommendations for the best local haunts, and it tends to save us a lot of money when traveling! What are your best and worst AirBnB stories?