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?

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!

Seeking Nature in a City

With vague ideas of moving to California sometime in the foreseeable future, I knew it was time to visit LA. When my friend Jenna found a round trip flight for under $100 perfectly aligned to our work weekend – we jumped at a two day Los Angeles trip. We would arrive early morning Friday and head out on a redeye late Saturday night. Knowing we didn’t have a lot of time and would only be taking a carry-on backpack, I planned a packed schedule to try and hit every major tourist area of LA.

The first day was devoted to all the nature we could explore in one of the biggest cities in America. Since the airport isn’t far from the beach, we got off the plane and headed straight to Venice Beach. It was pretty early on a weekday morning so not too many people were out. We walked along the pier looking for coffee and breakfast and accidentally picked up an overly friendly stray who’d just woken up on a park bench. After losing him and recharging we rented bikes to stroll along Venice Beach, checking out Muscle Beach and several iconic skatepark areas.

More and more people were popping up as our ride progressed. A fun and easy thirty minutes later we were at the Santa Monica pier, enjoying the souvenir booths, the Ferris wheel, and dipping our feet into the freezing waters. Originally we had wanted to swim, but it was much colder than we’d expected so we rolled up our pants and walked along the shoreline, watching the tourists who’d come from all over the world.

We were so close it didn’t feel right not to check out Malibu, so we continued our beach exploration after a quick Uber ride north up the coast. The sand was so clean and the nearby shops so much fancier, we felt like we could see a celebrity at any moment. (My hope was Miley Cyrus since her song Malibu had just hit the airwaves.) We sprawled along the beach, enjoying the weather warming up and the overall relaxed atmosphere away from the crowds.

Next we were on our way to our Airbnb in West Hollywood, but of course we had to get a taste of the infamous LA traffic. We got in the car and literally didn’t move for forty-five minutes. Our Uber driver had to stop our ride because he ran out of time on his lunch break. We got out to walk past a majority of the traffic and then we’re finally on our way. It was insane!

After cleaning off the beach on us, we headed to Runyon Canyon. I’d tried to figure out a way to get close to the Hollywood sign off a trail, but it was harder than I thought with no guide. Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely hike through the hills, superzoomed to get our snap of the sign, and ran into our own meditation coach right as the sunset across the valley.

Once it was dark (and our minds had been cleared and calmed) we headed for dinner at a trendy spot nearby. Then it was on to the Griffith Observatory because what else is there to do at night? Look at the stars, of course!

When we got there they had several of their massive telescopes out on the grounds, knowing their usual two wouldn’t satisfy the masses. We peeked at a great magnification of Saturn, clearly seeing the rings and nearby stars. It was incredible looking through the telescope at the real thing, because as we get older I tend to think we forget how impressive “every day” things are around us. They say stop and smell the roses, but I say stop and relearn things you forgot from Elementary school.

The museum inside the observatory is pretty cool too. Besides the usual how-stars-are-made infographics, there were interesting star charting facts and an original Tesla coil – which they turned on and everything! And when you’re at Griffith, you can’t only look up but have to look out because a lot of the best cityscape views are there.

Overall, there was a lot of nature to discover in this city. It had also been such a great experience to connect with the people of the city, who seem very open and oddly spiritual. So the next time you’re at the top of the world, the sun is making its descent, and you’ve had a full day converging with nature, go ahead and follow along on the loud stranger’s meditation.