The Spooky Ooky Side of Jefferson

Since I’ve been sharing my trip in Jefferson on the blog, and today is Friday the 13th (Oooh), I thought it’d be a great opportunity to share with y’all the spookier side of Jefferson, TX! And um, my very own ghost experience while staying in this “sweet” little town. Boo!

One of the ways my mom first pitched this trip to me was by saying it was one of Texas’s most haunted towns – but then she wanted nothing to do with them of course! She made sure to book us the room that “wasn’t” haunted, even though we stayed in between the “most” haunted rooms in the Excelsior. Haha!

While shopping around town in one of the boutiques, we started talking to the store owner, Madame Claire and she asked if we were interested in having her doing a tarot reading. She explained she’d been doing it since she was sixteen, and she’d always been real good at being an “empath” and reading people. It was out of my budget, but I really urged my mom to do it so we could see a psychic in action.

After some hesitation and more shop browsing, my mom caved as long as I could go in with her. Madame Claire said that was fine, just cautioned me to try and calm any emotions I’d bring into the session. She took us into this (cute, honestly) side room where she brought down her cards and tried to relax my mom. While this new age stuff was totally my vibe, my mom was much more cautious about “messing where you don’t need to be messing.”

Let’s just say by the end, both me and my mom were super impressed. Not only did Madame Claire describe my mom and her major life stressors completely, she also sensed my dad’s personality and talked about a possible new growth to strengthen the tight bond they already had. We were so impressed, I almost thought about blowing my budget and seeing what she had to say for my cards. Spooky!

Later that night it was time for the Ghost Walk. This involved a walking tour, where the guide led us around for four whole hours and told us all the death and murder stories of the town’s history, including which sites had the most “activity” – haha!

Since it’s such an old (and well-preserved) town, there’s a lot of good stories on the record. Plus some parts of it just look scary. It was on this tour that we were asked about the Jefferson Hotel lobby, and well…

Our first night in town, we grabbed dinner in this little Italian restaurant, which was connected to the lobby of another old hotel, the Jefferson Hotel. After dinner, we were walking through the lobby and spotted an antique phone booth, with actual separate mouth and ear pieces. It was cute so I told my mom I’d grab a picture of her posing with it.

She picked it up, me instructing her to pretend she was using it, and I even asked her if we could make a call. But there was no dial tone. So she puts the receivers back and we’re about to head out on our merry way, when it rings. RINGS! The phone that didn’t have a dial tone, was then ringing! I told my mom to answer it (I’m too curious), but of course my mom did not want to do that. Just as I convinced her to pick it up – after three rings – she reached for it and the ringing stopped. Listening to it again, this time she heard just static white noise. And by that point was very much ready to leave!

So, no, no actual ghost sightings in the small old town of Jefferson. But maybe we were getting a call from…beyond? Oooh! I just love scary stories – I wish I’d been the one close to the ghost phone. Ha!

How I Plan a Travel Itinerary

Trip planning can be complicated depending on how much time you have and how many people there are to please. But, while I do like a bit of spontaneity, having an itinerary when I travel is always a big help! It makes sure I get done the big things on my list and can also save time and money. Below is the easiest way to lay out a trip!

  1. Figure out arrival and departure time
    This will help you frame your travel (obviously)! You’ll need to know exactly how much time you’ll have, which includes airport nonsense. Don’t plan anything for an hour after “flight arrival” and plan to be at the airport 2-3 hours before “flight departure.”

2. Do your research; create a list
This is my favorite part. I can spend hours on Tripadvisor and other blogs reading reviews of what there is to do in a city. I will definitely look into museums and nature areas (gardens and National Parks), but I also like to try to find the unique stuff. I want to fill my time with stuff I can only do at the place I’m visiting. Make a list – and try and rank it, that way you know what you won’t want to miss.

3. Plot everything on a map
This is how you figure out your locations. You’ll find you can sometimes learn the “burroughs” this way in a big city. Grouping things by location will help you plan how you’re getting to places. If you know they’re close to each other you can save time knocking them both of your list. You can also save money by walking if two things are close enough together. Sometimes something will even drop off my schedule if it’s too far and/or by itself.  Don’t forget you’ll also want to plot the airport and where you’re staying every night!

4. Planning for time
Once you have a vague idea of the location you’ll be in on a certain day, you can start trying to plan for how much time you’ll need at a certain attraction. If I have three things in one area, I will check out opening times. Whatever opens first will start my day and from there I decide how much time I think I’ll be at one thing. Don’t forget to also check out closing times! You don’t want to have something that closes the earliest as the last thing on your schedule.
Important: Leave wiggle room in your schedule! You want to plan more time than you think you’ll need at every place. Plus you don’t want to forget “travel” time between destinations. 

5. Leave space as a catchall
You took more time than you thought at place 2, so you missed place 3? No worries! Create time in your schedule for things you missed or things you only discovered once you got into town. Creating “blanks” in your schedule can be very comforting. While I do like to accomplish a lot on trips, I still like to have a good stress-free time! This time can also be used to be lazy, if everything else is going according to plan. (I tend to plan more “blanks” the more people there are.)

So that’s the basics of trip planning (specifically city travels)! You’ll notice I’m not very good at planning eating – I usually just don’t care that much where we eat since I get a Caesar salad petty much everywhere. Sometimes though, there’s local spots that have something rare- like in DC one breakfast spot had homemade poptarts. And if you know me at all, you know I love finding local homemade ice cream. It’s always a must-have on my list!

There’s one last thing I’ll say about trip planning: Things will go wrong. I’ve not had one flawless itinerary to date. No matter how much research I do, how flexible my schedule is – there’s some things you can’t plan for no matter what you do. So you have to be flexible! Be willing to move things around or drop items off your list. It’ll make a much more enjoyable trip, trust me.

Feeling like a Pointless Tourist

Some things have become kind of infamous just for being something that “needs to be seen.” Marfa, Texas is kind of like that. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t exactly have a lot to do there, but people still flock to it. I won’t lie, I’ll tell you right away that Marfa felt pointless.

After a day of National Park sites, it felt like the perfect opportunity to check out this tourist must-see destination. Most people know Marfa for the Prada store right outside its city limits. This art installation was created years ago and in this new age of social media, its image has become well-known.

I guess sometimes it is fun to just take the picture.

In general, the town of Marfa was very aesthetically pleasing. There were so many places in the city that looked “instagrammable.” It makes sense when you realize that Marfa is an artists’ community originally. But because it’s still a small Texan town, there’s also a lot of empty buildings and places that have fallen into disrepair.

It’s such a tourist town, most people plan just a day stop while passing through, so a lot of food places closed before 4 pm – on a Friday! After driving through town for ten minutes, I’d seen pretty much every shop left open.

I saw that there was a bookstore so decided to stop in. Unfortunately for me, this was actually an art book store. There were a few books local to Marfa and West Texas, but the majority were those massive coffee table art books.

There wasn’t much else to do but have dinner, so we headed to Hotel Paisano, where they had Jett’s Grill, one of only three places open. After that, it was time to meet up with my friend Austin, who would be joking us on the rest of our weekend journey.

We went to a beer garden called Planet Marfa that was one of the coolest (and only) places to drink. Something about this place felt more relaxing. All afternoon everything in this small touristy town had felt expensive and unnecessary – but finally here was a place that looked fun and didn’t charge an arm and a leg for a drink.

Sitting there, finally relaxing, we all waited for it to get darker and darker so we could check out the “Marfa Lights,” an interesting unexplained phenomenon. We actually saw lights! They were very distant and faint, but there were definitely one or two lights moving in weird patterns. And it was so dark we couldn’t even get a picture!

The one thing actually exciting in Marfa that has a purpose to share – and your picture looks like a black screen! Isn’t life funny?

Why I Hike (Anywhere I Can)

This Saturday is National Trails Day! I’ll be busy with a friend’s wedding, so I’m hoping to get in my hiking before the weekend arrives. Hiking has become very important to me, so I wanted to share my most personal hiking thoughts.

1. My body got me here.

As most of us probably have at some point, I’ve struggled a lot with what my body can and can’t do. Regardless of whatever insecurities I may feel, I always have a moment of being so proud of what my body can do. The elevation I can climb, the miles I can push through, and the weather I can survive. All thanks to my body!

2. Does (blank) really matter?

Hiking is extremely meditative for me. It’s where I tend to start working through a lot of the problems I deal with. I’ve never been able to sit and work toward a solution. It’s only when my body takes over that I can get to a place where my mind is free to work on all that deep stuff going on subconsciously.

3. I can work on that connection.

Similarly to personal problems I work on, I also find me thinking a lot about the relationships in my life. Hiking always makes me optimistic so I begin to think of what I can do to better a friendship, a connection, etc. The solitude of nature has a way of making you appreciate the connections I’ve made and all the wonderful people who surround me in life. I’m thankful for the opportunities to work on showing my loved ones what they mean to me.

4. A perfect check mark for my list.

I find myself almost constantly needing to be productive. A lot of times I can stretch myself too thin or take too many stressors on my plate. Hiking is one of the only things in my life that feels completely for me and yet doesn’t give me the guilt of not “getting stuff done.” It’s good for me mentally and physically so it’s almost like having a few check marks rolled into one (especially when the thinking time helps me solve a problem).

5. Life has beauty to it.

The main thing about getting outdoors – anywhere that may be – is there’s always something visually beautiful to offer. Even in the winter, even in a small park, even on populated paved trails, there’s always something interesting to discover. I’ve always been a naturally curious sort, but being in nature reminds me how wonderful life can be. Things completely unrelated to you are growing, are struggling, and existing.

Long Night into a Magic Morning

Things don’t always work according to plan. I guess I should’ve known from the name we were in for some trouble. Devil’s Campground (in Arches National Park) isn’t exactly a welcoming omen.

We were headed from Hovenweep, taking our time exploring the beauty of Utah, and ended up having to take out one of planned stops so we wouldn’t have to feel any kind of time crunch. Unfortunately, it seems I’ll never plan perfectly because we finally got to Arches ten minutes after the visitor center closed. I was worried this meant we couldn’t check into our campground, but we decided there was nothing to do but try for it.

An hour of driving through the park, passing massive cliffs and seeing a couple of arches, we finally made it to the end where the campground was…and it was closed. There was a small wooden blockade, which we assumed the rangers had just put up minutes before. Our access to Devil’s Campground was closed and now we were out of luck for the night.

We drove a bit further to one of the trails to park and figure out what to do. The sun had already set and after a quick Airbnb search there was nothing available for at least seventy miles. We sat in the car at a loss – there was no way three of us (and a dog) could sleep in the car for the night. In a split decision, we got moving toward the entrance of the closed campground and moved the small wooden blockade to gain access. We figured we could just pay at the visitor center in the morning and it wouldn’t be too big of a deal. So we quickly moved the wooden barrier, hearts racing, and made our way into the campground, hoping no fellow hikers would rat us out.

But there was literally not a single person in the entire campground.

When I’d been doing research, I’d found out the only campground in the park had been under construction for several months and was scheduled to be done only two days before our visit. From the website, everything looked like it was going to be good to go for our night’s camp. But based on the fact no one was inside and realizing the blockade had come from a construction crew, we decided we needed to get out before we were caught in a closed zone.

Unfortunately, right as we were only twenty yards from the exit, a big construction crew pulled up to the campground entrance. We shut our engine off in a parking spot and tried to be silent and figure out what to do. Would the Park kick us out on our first night before we’d even done any hiking? It was getting dark fast; where would we even go?

After almost an hour fretting in the near dark, trying to decide between just approaching the construction crew (who were apparently working on the entrance) and just setting up camp, we heard the crew noisily drive off. We were saved! We could now just hurriedly leave and no one would be the wiser. We started the car and crept toward the front with our headlights off. I jumped out of the car to dash toward the wooden blockade, and then a flash of headlights hit me. I was caught!

The construction crew had come back. (I was just glad there were no angry Park rangers.) After explaining everything, the guys were pretty easygoing and said they knew we were in the campground where we shouldn’t be but they now needed us to wait before escaping because they’d just freshly painted logos and lines on the campground asphalt. Of course.

So we finally made it out and were back to square one. Well, with increased heart rates and gratitude that I wasn’t in trouble with my beloved National Park Services. We parked at the trailhead and decided the only thing to do was set up camp. In the parking lot. In the dark. We were kind of out of options.

We turned on the car’s headlights and set up our tent in the beam. We tried to throw all the car’s blankets in to give us a bit more comfort. And then instead of the campfire dinner we’d planned, we dumped out all our best snacks. We hauled out a massive bottle of rosé and got to work. We knew we were in for a long cold, uncomfortable night so we poured our wine heavy-handed.

Spoiler alert, we made it through. My new (REI garage sale, literal lifesaver) sleeping bag was fully zippable and I had on leggings, a shirt, and a fluffy sweater. It was bearable with the little buzz I’d worked up. But better than the wine and the secret-sharing, had to be the next morning, waking up to the greatness of an Arches sunrise. All I’d had to do was turn over and unzip the door.

After a moment of lying (on the admittedly hard ground) I realized we would have the best choices for sunrise pictures in the Park. I woke up my friends and packed hurriedly, basically just throwing everything every which way into the car. We were dressed and decamped in ten minutes flat, driving like mad through Arches to get back to a spot we knew would be great to catch the full sunrise.

All in all, definitely worth it, even with all the bumps along the way. We drove the winding main road at the highlight of the day twice – both sunset and sunrise, enjoying the views basically all to ourselves. I’m definitely having a lot of fun traveling and ending with no regrets.

Lead to Hot Water Hills by a Reiki

It was time to venture into Arkansas! Even though the temperatures were easing up only slightly in Dallas, I’d been dreaming of taking a bath in some natural springs. I thought the Hot Springs National Park was the obvious venture, but I’d soon find out all you’d find there were some cool bath houses with fancy spa packages – not exactly the hidden adventure I’d expected. Fortunately, there was still plenty of adventure to be made!

After an early start to get on the road, we headed to the Arkansas Post National Memorial. While mostly another battle site, it also offered some great views of the Arkansas River, which had once been a famous trading post. I’d not explored much nature in Arkansas, but this was a great introduction.

Next stop was one of America’s most iconic stops, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. While the high school is pretty much an average high school, the history behind it was amazing to revisit. As the building most known for our country’s desegregation, it was really touching to get a closer look at the Little Rock Nine – the students who went through the hardship of this necessary education equal rights.

This National Park site was honestly the one we scoured the most. I wanted every detail and enjoyed the personal stories so much. Even if you’ve heard of the (in)famous nine in passing, following their journeys in detail through the years was much more eye-opening. In class you think of this education desegregation as one day, when in reality just this event took years.

It was time to head to the Hot Springs and we were pretty excited. Even though we wouldn’t get to bathe in healing waters in the wild, after arriving we found ourselves in a run-in with a karmic Reiki healer who lead us to a “pure natural source that hadn’t been tarnished by the rusting underground pipes” where I quickly filled up my whole water bottle. He kept talking about the energy he felt and how he swore his body felt stronger, and I couldn’t help but think we were just as enchanted as they’d been years ago when the Springs had claimed to heal all sorts of terminal diseases.

We took a quick tour of the old bath houses, but after our authentic healer-taught experience by an actual spring, the commercialized spas and large bath houses just weren’t as impressive. Luckily for us, that night was the annual Hot Water Hills Festival, which was sure to offer us more of the strange and mystic.

They’d set up the festival in the middle of the town square, putting up lots of local craft and artisans, delightful food trucks, and a score of live bands. It was a lot of fun to look at everything and y’all with the locals. I certainly looked at close to a thousand crystals and enjoyed sipping my blueberry-infused draft beer. The music was pretty great too, and you could tell people were enjoying letting their “weird” out more than usual.

After an eventful night with a hard rest, we got on the road and headed to our last stop before home – President Clinton’s birth home. It was kind of weird to us that this little house was a National Park site, but we checked out Clinton’s family photos and headed on our way.

No matter what I go in expecting, I’m never let down by these adventures! I may not always get what I picture, but I always find something new and unique to experience. At this point I’ve hit a lot of National Parks site and I can’t wait to see where I’m going next!

Darker Side of the City

We had about fourteen hours left in Los Angeles and we were ready to make the most of it. We left the Airbnb early and with our backpacks strapped on, we embarked on our touristy finale. First stop: the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Wanting to beat the crowds, I’d planned this for the morning. But without all the people, it just looked really dirty. There were also so many souvenir shops, it began to feel really cheap and comical. I was glad no mob mentality would force me into a spending frenzy.

Then we headed over to the Original Farmer’s Market in the Grove. There was so much food and everything smelled so good it took us at least half an hour just to decide what to have (I did breakfast crepe with fresh squeezed strawberry juice – yum!). We walked around a bit, had some waffle cup espresso shots, bought cool sunglasses, and window shopped one of the trendiest areas in the city.

Deciding it was time for some culture to escape the materialism pit, we started on our museum journey. We explored the outdoor exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I especially loved the light posts area because of the perfectly placed columns in perfect rows. Not only did it please my orderly mindset, it was fun to have so much Singing-in-the-Rain dancing.

As a fan of true crime podcasts, I’d heard of the special Museum of Death that had just opened up and thought it’d be interesting. Did I think it would be fun? Unsure. But spoiler alert, it wasn’t. As much into horror and true crime I am, looking up close at so much death was just disturbing. I sped though the more graphic exhibits and honestly spent a lot of it just trying to make it to the end.

It was a relief to make it back outside. I was glad our next few hours would be exploring a fun area in the sun. Olvera Street was our next destination, and being familiar with Mexico, it really was like a little town in the middle of downtown LA. A short walk away we headed to Little Tokyo! The city really is a little hodgepodge of every culture – no where else can you walk from Mexico to Japan and get a very authentic experience.

Little Tokyo really brightened us up, everything was so cute and colorful! We were still trying to shake some of the darker city honesty of the morning off us after having spent a lot of the previous day convening with nature. Our backs were starting to hurt a bit because of our backpacks so with some extra time from speeding through the previous museum, we even went to the famous Pink’s. The line was long but we had to! I got fries and Jenna said the hot dogs were worth it. Plus, all the different food was a big mood booster!

It was time to head to another country – I mean LA area – the Venice Canals! Walking through the streets was so crazy! It really was so beautiful and surprising in the middle of such a populated city. The sun was setting fast, but we had a nice evening stroll through the waterways and over the cute bridges.

We rented bikes again and made our way back to Santa Monica Pier as our final event. We’d loved our nature day so much, we wanted to get back near the beach. Seeing the packed pier at night was also a new experience! Everything really felt like a fair. We got ice cream and hit on by some skater teenagers so it was like stepping into the past in a way.

It was a perfect way to end what had turned out to be a bit of a darker day than I’d originally intended. It was kind of great too in a way, because it felt like we had the full Los Angeles treatment – the nature and the urban, the good and the ugly!