To the Edge and Back, Whitaker Point

While talking to the Buffalo National River park ranger, she let us know that if we went to hike at Lost Valley (which we did), not too far away was Whitaker Point. Even though this was outside of the Park, it was apparently the “most photographed spot of Arkansas” and worth it to check out. That recommendation was good enough for Jenna and me, so we were headed off down a looping, ascending six miles of dirt road.

We didn’t really know anything about this hike, neither the elevation nor the distance. The sun was due to set in two hours and this seemed like enough time to at least try to attempt the hike. (Also, let me be clear these are all no-nos when going hiking. The main reason we proceeded was because there were a ton of people hiking with us. People in jeans, people who looked like they’d never hiked, people to the front and back of us. My one complaint with Arkansas is how many people there are out on the trails- haha!)

The way to the point was a lot of downhill terrain, so Jenna and I were both preparing for pain coming back up and out. Passing people headed out who were red in the face and stopping for breaks had us both a little weary. But what are we going to not do it? No. We wanted to reach “the most photographed area of Arkansas” even if it meant a serious workout. After enjoying our time in nature, taking a few preliminary pictures along the trail, we reached Whitaker Point.

It was a big cliff edge that opened up to big rolling hills of Arkansas where you could see only trees for forever. It was really impressively beautiful. But also crowded. About forty feet ahead of this point on the trail is a little opening in the treeline where you can get a pretty cool shot of the ledge, so Jenna and I took turns taking each other’s pictures. But also kind of battling back the crowd of people hanging around in the trees.

I want people to go out and hike. I want people to enjoy nature and see what this beautiful world has to offer. But these Arkansasians are out of control. They’re out in hoards. And I’ve learned from my time in the state that I’m not a fan of sharing a trail with more than a few people. If I’m constantly in eyesight of someone (other than a hiking buddy), I’m one unhappy hiker. I don’t know if it was because the sun was out after a cold front, because it was a Saturday, or this was the typical, but I was ready to go back to having the trail all to myself.

On our way back, Jenna and I decided we would try and just plow through it. We’d take breaks if needed, but we didn’t want to drag out our misery. This speed hiking back uphill business has kind of become a strong point. We just focus, grit down, and go. It had taken us about an hour and half to get to the point, and we estimated it would take us just as long to get back out, trading picture time for ascent time. But with our sheer force of will, we made it out in half that time, legs and lungs burning.

We had a nice middle-of-nowhere drive (with gas station snacks) back to civilization. Or as close as Bentonville gets to that moniker. After showers and meeting up with our hosts, my friend Margaret and her husband, Matt, it was time for dinner. We went for Mexican at one of their favorite local spots. Afterward, I was bugging them for ice cream even though the temperature was dropping to the forties, so they took me to Sweet Dream Creamery. This cute little shop was a food truck located in the downtown square area, right across from the newly opened ice skating rink. We enjoyed the lights and then decided it was time for us old ladies (and man) to head home. I can’t wait to head back and focus more attention on Bentonville because it seemed like a neat little town!

Meow Wolf – an Art Experience

Originally, I hadn’t planned on doing a whole blog about just Meow Wolf but here we are. This art installation in Santa Fe had been on my list for a long time after a friend sent me a link telling me to go there almost two years prior. So now with some free time Friday evening in the Santa Fe area, it was time to check it out!

With my main knowledge of this art installation being pictures, I imagined it was very similar to the Sweet Tooth Hotel art installation that had been back in Dallas, which you can read about in this post: Sweet Tooth Hotel. I thought it would be a lot of people taking pictures, with only a handful of things to see, with a time limit so the next specific group of people could enter. No to all accounts.

This place was insane!

What’s great about Meow Wolf, is you’re not just taking pictures of everything, you’re actually going through it to explore. There is so much to see – so many different paths to take it feels like a secret garden. Except instead of a garden, it’s a forest, a house, a spaceship, another world entirely.

I went into this a little buzzed from trying a local cider, but I felt sobered up as soon as I entered the house. There’s truly just so much to look at! There were (supposedly) two actors creepily watching a television, a forgotten seance at the dining room table, a lonely looking dryer machine – except, wait! I opened the dryer and bright colors met me and I saw a path to a new place. So I slide down the tunnel and ended up staring at a big mystical tree.

Seriously, if this place sounds like a fever dream – it’s not. It’s just art.

I took pictures when I remembered, but mostly I just explored and tried not to lose track of my friends, Jenna and Lola. With so many different paths to choose, so many different colored rooms calling me, it was hard to figure out the maze-like exhibit. Every inch had something new to see. But also so many different things to do – like playing the magic mushrooms like a xylophone.

I’d definitely make another visit, because even after spending more than an hour here (till the ten o’clock closing time just as a concert started in another wing), there’s no way I saw everything. And they’re adding to it all the time!

Another Country in Your Backyard; a Few Hours in Mexico

With only a few more National Park sites left to visit in Texas, it was time for a weekend road trip. All three sites were along the southern east edge of my home state, two being very close to my friend Jenna’s hometown. So it was a perfect time to visit the house where Jenna grew up (in the plains with big homes next to goats!)- and just over her town’s bridge you could walk to Mexico!

We left Thursday right after work and began our drive straight down the lone star state. Even though by this point I’ve driven every direction out from Dallas, it’s still crazy to me how many hours you can spend driving and still be in Texas. We made it to Weslaco after about eight hours, marking my first time in the deep south of Texas!

After what was a pretty leisurely morning sleeping in on our first day of the trip, we got up and got ready to head to another country. Jenna’s mom came with us, so we were ready to have a carefree girl’s day, but excitingly in Mexico (Nuevo Progresso to be specific)! We crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande, paid a fifty cent toll, walked by one security guard and then we were officially traveling internationally.

Immediately we were engulfed in the crowd with sidewalk shops on either side. There were a ton of booths with souvenirs, brightly colored embroidered tops, and freshly roasted nuts and candies. Even though I had just been in Mexico a couple weeks before, the vendors were different in their eagerness. Luckily, we moved fast to our first destination: getting a good, cheap piña colada.

After that, it was time to head across the packed street for pedicures. We were doing this girls day perfectly! And of course after fruity alcohol, freshly painted toenails, the last thing missing was a bit of shopping! I found some really cute and colorful woven shoes and then while Jenna’s mom was looking at festive embroidered shirts, Jenna and I bought some fun flower crowns, because why not?

We all grabbed lunch on the side of the street, next to a big outdoor grill; I had a papa asada, which is a baked potato filled with cheese – did they read my childhood diary on what I’ve always been searching for?? By this time, I was pretty hot and sweaty, so we decided it was the perfect time to head back over the border and to the nearby coast to cool off!

Crossing back into America was a bit nerve racking because, believe it or not, I hadn’t taken my passport and the guard gave me a bit of a (teasingly?) rough time. Jenna had assured me she’d never had a passport doing this bridge walk, but I had meant to bring mine just in case. It all turned out alright, and soon I was on my way to the beach in South Padre!

Surfing in the Middle of Texas

As I’m sure is true of most kids from Texas, I have never surfed. I grew up with the fake ocean at the water park, Hurricane Harbor. My first beach was going to Port Aransas on a high school trip. The water was murky and full of lifeless jelly fish. (It was still incredible.) But believe it or not, I recently learned to surf in the middle of Texas, at a “surf resort” in Waco.

My dad is big into surfing on wave riders, like the one he originally  learned on at Hurricane Harbor. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn to surf on a real surfboard, he was interested in joining me. Just when I thought there’d be no time in my schedule for an impromptu trip to a real beach, my dad mentioned the BSR cable park that had only recently opened their surf section.

After a lazy Sunday morning, I met up with my dad to head down to Waco. I’d been bummed that I couldn’t make it to Colorado again this summer (to retry our kayaking adventure), so planning on spending the day together was nice.

We got there early to check out the place. It was cool checking out the wake boarders using the cable pull system to ride the lake. They also had a little lazy river where people floated and big slides that sent people launching into the air. We headed over to the “beach” area to check out some surfing. The current session was a beginners’ crowd, but a lot of people looked like they were pretty good.

Eventually it was time to grab our own boards because our hour time slot had approached. A helpful guy told us to grab the longest boards possible because it would be easier. (I would find out later this was bad advice.)

No one really monitored to us after we got our boards, so my dad and I kind of just swam out to where ten or so other surfers headed. The wave was produced every five minutes or so evenly across the water, and immediately people started going for it. My dad and I had definitely expected an instructor, but we started by just watching everyone around us and mimicking what they did.

Luckily for me, the beach manager started coming around and saw me struggling so took me under his wing. He told me where to lay on the board, where to put my arms and legs, and taught me the timing of the wave and when to swim hard. Finally things were happening! Every time I paddled back I’d shout the information over to my dad.

After four waves the manager told me since I’d gotten good at timing and form, to just get on my knees to ride the wave. And then he left to help another girl nearby. The hardest part was definitely timing. Looking back and learning when to start swimming hard and cresting the pull of the curl started to feel rhythmic.

For my last couple of waves I rode it on my knees all the way to the shore. Just as I was getting ready to try getting up (or at least on one knee) our hour was up. It had gone by so fast! The sport mentality had taken over and I really got submersed in learning new things, but overall it had been so fun! It was surprising how little I was able to talk to my dad though – it really felt like a singular sport.

The manager met up with us again to take our boards and said we had done great for our first time so that was nice. He said it took a lot more hours to be ready for the advanced group, but that we could definitely do it if we practiced. Watching the advanced group, who had now taken the waves, was awesome. They made it look so effortless!

I will for sure be surfing again some day! But I might stick to the man-made waves for now. Much less swimming means much less getting tired out means much more practice! Now don’t get me wrong, I was still sore as heck the next day.

Find the Biggest Swimming Area (at Joe Pool Lake)

As soon as it started hitting the 100s in Dallas, I knew it was time to find a pool of water. I have access to a small apartment pool, but that is just not the same as finding a big lake to swim in! After a bit of research for close swimmable lakes – I found out about Joe Pool Lake in Grapevine!

It was going to be my last Friday off before I switched to a Monday-Friday work schedule, so I was excited to make the most of a day at the lake. My friends Jenna and Lola would be coming with me, and we were all thrilled to have a new nature area to explore.

The original plan had been to find the one (supposed) hiking trail, but we got there around midday and it was already sweltering. Once we saw the big body of water at our beck and call, we put the hike on hold. The only thing we wanted to do at that moment was swim!

There is a nice “beach” area with a playground, but with all the kids and the “no dog” rule, we opted for a bit further down the shoreline for a quiet spot in the trees. When we got there no one else was there, so it was a really nice little getaway between the trees with very easy access to the lake.

I swam as far and long as I could – I love swimming! And it’s not often I’m able to do it with such open space. Joe Pool Lake was pretty great too – definitely not even close to the dirtiest lake I’ve been in. As a side note, I will say it started to get a little scary as the day went on and the lake got more crowded, because boats and jet skis were whipping by.

I went exploring for our hiking trail and think I found it, but wasn’t sure it was worth the effort when I was already pretty tired and getting hot again. I’d also heard there were kayaks and paddle boards for rent, but after scouring the area, I assumed they set up their booth on the weekend only.

Back with my friends lakeside, we set up our blanket for relaxation and a little snack. It was time to bring out the watermelon! Not many things are better than sharing a watermelon with friends on a hot summer day, post-swim. Our “slices” were big, but so so good! I ate like a monster.

After a bit more relaxation and our last swim, it was time to head home from our little day trip to the lake. It took only minutes to dry up in the car – that’s Texan summer heat for you – so we decided a quick pit stop for snow cones was in order. We piled out and checked out the many flavors – I got the watermelon (haha)! Such a fun summer day.

Why We Need Sharks

Yep, still hosting shark week! It’s been so fun getting ready and researching sharks! Our activities are just little ways that we can contribute to sharing conservation knowledge. I may never get to be a real host on Shark Week, but I hope I’ve helped open a few minds to the greatness of sharks!

If you’re a recreational diver, a lot of conservation societies offer you a chance to help out and count sharks for their research efforts. Unfortunately, living in Dallas, I am not a recreational diver… but I am a recreational shopper. So Giselle and I took to the mall to “count sharks” – for research of course! And guess what? We only found one shark item. We can’t let the sharks disappear!

More and more shark species are becoming endangered. As the apex predator of the ocean, sharks are super important for preserving the natural food chain. Sharks also love feeding on floating dead animals, which while gross, is super helpful for cleaning up the ocean. Losing sharks means losing lots of other things in our oceans, including the coral reefs and other beautiful ecosystems.

My cohost Giselle’s birthday is today, so we’d thought it’d be the perfect time to talk about how old sharks are! Giselle isn’t super into birthdays so I let shark week takeover her birthday too- which means a shark cake!

There are shark teeth from over 400 million years ago – that’s crazy! That’s twice as old as the freaking dinosaurs! Sharks also generally live a much longer lifespan than other marine life. They grow just as old as humans do, about 75 years. But some shark species have even longer lifespans – there’s a Greenland shark that is at least 272 years old!

Well, we had to mention tagging if we’re talking about conservation, right? I got us our own cool “tags” but do you know why sharks are tagged in the first place? Researchers tag sharks to see where they spend their time and to follow their swim paths.

Not only are they counting and watching eating and breeding habits, they’re learning more about the entire ecosystem. Tagging helps us understand better how to conserve sharks, by protected these discovered feeding and mating grounds. With technology today, tags can report minute by minute where the shark is out of the entire ocean!
It’s easy to join a shark conservation mailing list, but what can you personally do if you want to get involved in helping sharks? If you happen to live near an ocean and are recreational diving a lot, you can help researchers become a “shark counter.”
The option if you live somewhere like us in Dallas? Adopt a shark! Sure, you can definitely donate any sum, but a lot of shark conservation societies offer Adoption programs! This is the coolest thing I learned while getting into Shark Week this year. Giselle & I have named our Great White pup Gillbert! We adopted from a fantastic society as old as we are, Shark Angels.
If you’ve been following along with me this Shark Week, I hope you’ve learned some new things. I hope you love sharks even more (or at least like them a little more). And maybe if you don’t like them, you can respect them a bit more. They’re magnificent animals! There are a hundred more shark facts I could lay down, but maybe let’s just spend some time admiring the beauty of these beasts.

Hosting Shark Week

Welcome to Shark Week!

Let me start by saying, obviously, I love sharks. Like most kids, I was terrified of them when I was little – I even used to be scared a shark would somehow make it through the facet into my bathtub (haha). But somewhere along the way, I started learning about them and now I’m pretty much just awestruck by them.

One of the items on my bucket list is to host Shark Week with one of my best friends Giselle, so I figured why wait for Discovery Channel to ask me, I’ll just do it on my own. (Side note: this year Shark Week is celebrating the Dirty 30!) My Instagram has been taken over this week to help me host, so make sure you don’t miss all the hosting details!

To start things off right, we decided to join sharks in their natural habitat – water! Living in Dallas means we are not near an ocean, but we couldn’t let that stop us. While swimming in the pool, I thought about the way a shark swims. Most propel themselves through the water with their tail, using their fins for balance only. This method does not work as well for humans.

Next, we wanted to discover a shark’s eating habits, so we went fishing! For the most part, sharks are “opportunistic” hunters, meaning they take what they can get. Some sharks (tiger sharks) are known to eat anything, but for the most part sharks are looking for marine life to munch on. We used a fishing pole instead of our jaws, obviously!

Sharks also take what is known as an exploratory bite. This bite means sharks take a quick test bite to check on what they’re trying to eat. Sometimes surfers can look like seals to a shark, so they’ll take a bite to see if they’ve found the prey they want. Listen, sharks do not want humans; it’s just that sometimes their solitary bite is big enough to do serious damage.

Does anyone remember taking a “keyboard” class in school? It was required when I was a kid so we could learn typing. Basically it was playing a whole lot of a game called Typershark. (You type the words on the sharks’ bodies so they don’t attack your diver.) It was so fun! Also made me realize my current computer isn’t that great. I need a new processor and my U key sticks – that’s what I’m blaming for my low WPM anyway (ha)!

In the ocean, sharks are typically ten times faster than humans. When hunting, they can show bursts of speed of up to 40 mph! This speed isn’t necessary for trying to attack divers; it enables them to travel the entire ocean. They may have their favorite spots, but sharks can swim from the Atlantic to the Pacific and still be “home.”

Luckily, host Giselle works in the medical profession so our next activity was easy to accomplish – donating blood! Sharks and blood are synonymous – we may all have heard at some point that sharks can smell one drop of blood in an olympic swimming pool.

But even better than blood – sharks can smell and interpret chemicals. They can literally smell fear because of the chemical process that releases glucose into your bloodstream when you’re afraid. That’s freaking awesome!

I hope we all learned new great things about sharks! And go ahead and try some of these shark “activities” and let me know how it goes. Shark week has only just begun, so until next time!