Drive through Nowhere to Hidden Organic Haven

After the awesomeness of El Malpais, we were fine that El Morro was a little disappointing. The El Morro National Monument is most known for its sandstone cliffside. Deciding our drive up to its massive edge was good enough, we got our stamp and continued on.

Here, something crazy happened and my scheduling was off by almost two hours. I know! And after I’d gotten so good at road trip timing. Driving almost the whole west border of New Mexico was quite a feat for one day, but in making the itinerary I’d cut the time it would take by a third. So after our day of fun, it was time for some driving off the grid.

Lola, Jenna, and I were very much out in the middle of nowhere, not even able to map our Airbnb on our faltering GPS. We knew the roads and the vague area though, so we went after it. The sun was setting and it was drizzling, so when we passed the first sign of civilization we decided to stop to try and connect to satellites and our Airbnb host’s directions.

Not sure we’d find another chance, we stopped at a little mart to look at snacks and then decided we might as well grab a full sit down dinner at the cafe next door. Everyone was so friendly – it was a nice little reenergizing stop. We got the directions we needed and got going even though it was so dark and we were following hand written directions (like the old days ha!) to get to our beds for the night.

We arrived and met our hosts, D & D, a cute couple who owned the bed and breakfast that we’d found through Airbnb. Immediately there was so much about the place I was in love with. The couple had spent the day picking the vegetables from their backyard to can the next day. The whole house was fragrance free and full of organic and vegetarian-friendly foods in the kitchen.

After a day of hiking and driving, we were delighted to find out there was a hot tub out back under the stars. A hot soak was just what we needed! Then I took a shower with all natural bath products and nerded out living my best clean hippie life. I definitely tried every item because it was all sulfate-free, vegan, and unscented. And maybe I took a sample of locally made coconut moisturizer.

A great night’s sleep and then I was up with the sunrise. Mostly it was hidden by the cloudy sky, but as the sun brightened the surrounding landscape beauty emerged. Ah, New Mexico sure is gorgeous. I munched on one of the homemade morning glory muffins and brewed local coffee in the pot, realizing why bed and breakfasts are so popular.

It was time to head home. After a leisurely packing and hitting the road, we began our drive. Only an hour or so later and we hit the “beginning” of our road to the day’s stop (and our last New Mexico National Park site!) the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This road winded through curving roads and a bunch of trees. While I had a great time driving and enjoying the scenery, there was some motion sickness from my travel buddies because of the continuous twists and turns.

Finally, though we passed back and forth between Gila National Forest and Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, we arrived at our visitor center, a secluded spot in the middle of vast nature. We were excited to get out and stretch our legs. However, well to be honest, the park ranger scared us about time. Looking at our itinerary she said we were misjudging our following drive by two whole hours and we wouldn’t have time to see the cliff dwellings.

We didn’t have GPS to check our route and because of the mishap the day before judging driving times we trusted that if we stayed to hike we wouldn’t have time to get to our next destination before it closed. Bummed, we spent a bit of time checking out the surrounding valley and then headed back through the twists and turns of road. It would turn out the ranger was wrong. We would’ve had time for our hour hike and if you can believe it our next stop (to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns) ended up being a total letdown.

Sure, there was still lots of amazing views on our drive home, but missing out on that midday hike made the final leg of our trip feel dreary. So even though I’ve learned to accept surprises when I travel, the lesson here is to appreciate the things you didn’t count on from the original itinerary. Sometimes taking the risk, brings the higher reward. We should’ve stopped to do the hike, risking missing that final stop. As always, I’m learning to take my time on road trips.

When to Judge a Book by its Cover; Hikes Based on Pictures

The three of us (well, four, counting Florence the dog) left our airbnb pretty early so we could get on the road. We stopped at an independent coffee shop in Santa Fe, called Betterday, for a little caffeine kick. Then we were catching the sunrise from the windows of my car. Even better, since we were driving past Albuquerque, we caught a sky full of air balloons from afar.  It was great up close watching them launch the day before, but it was also great seeing them all laid out across the big blue sky.

After an easy drive, we arrived at El Malpais National Monument. Besides seeing that they had caves, and incorrectly assuming their use online of the word “tubes” meant there was tubing – I knew nothing. It would turn out these tubes were more like cavern passageways. The word ‘malpais’ actually comes from a Spanish term for ‘badlands’ because a lot of the park is covered in volcanic rock.

We headed to the visitor center and talked to the ranger there. His help along with the pictures posted on the walls helped us decide on our hikes for the day. Seriously, we looked at the cool pictures and said, “that one!” Side note: I use the National Park website constantly, and if they had all the trails with times, difficulties, and pictures, etc. listed it would be so, so helpful. (Send them an email on my behalf, thanks!)

First stop was the Ventana Arch, which was a little bit out of the way driving wise, but the three of us had such great memories of Arches National Park, that we decided where there’s an arch, there we’ll be. The hike was a super easy flat one, maybe twenty minutes. The arch was awesome. It’s always so incredible to see what nature can do.

From there, we headed in the car down a long stretch of bumpy dirt road to head to our next destination: the Big Skylight Cave. This was one of the most popular images found at the visitor center so we definitely wanted to check this one out. We’d gotten a permit to access these “tubes” (a set of 4, including the Big Skylight). Because of an epidemic of white nose syndrome among the bats of the US, we had to be very careful to clean our shoes on the way in (and out) of our hiking trail.

Our hike was fun, though I’ll be honest the lava rocks were not my favorite to hike on. The whole path was marked with cairns, basically small rock towers, to show us our path, which was fun because it was basically a wide open space of varying sizes of lava rocks and no real path to follow. Then we reached the the top of the cave and we were already impressed. It was like looking into a big, beautiful crater, with an arch to the left and a big tunnel with a skylight to the right.

Warning: we did not have the appropriate gear to attempt this “tubing” adventure. They recommended helmets, gloves, and headlamps. I hadn’t even put on my good hiking boots. But when greeted with this amazing sight, I knew I had to get down in there. Just, very very carefully.

It was a bit of work getting down the cliff, finding the path with little red metal divets, and trying to scale the thing without slipping. Then we were down there, making our way across big boulders to get further into the cave. Every step was cautious, but mostly we were slow going just looking around in the hunt. The skylight was a big hole at the top of the cave, allowing a beautiful stream of light, but also hitting the rocks below enough to create a lush moss growth.

The day had been perfect above, a little crisp but perfect for a lightweight long sleeve shirt, but the deeper into the cavern we went, the colder it got. Without headlamps, we didn’t venture too much further (plus you know, we had a schedule to keep). It was absolutely breathtaking though.

We eventually made our way back up, which actually seemed easier, and hiked back to the car. I was feeling pretty great because of the whole experience, so as we headed to our next destination I was in high spirits. We were out in the middle of nowhere with little reception, but we passed one kitschy little town and the art sculptures made us slow down. Then, lo and behold, a coffee shop was right off the little highway calling our name.

On the side of the colorful building was Inscription Rock Trading coffee, and inside was a miriade of New Mexican delights. Handmade jewelry and bags, a whole herb wall, and in the back a little bar area with all sorts of coffee drinks. The intriguing art outside had stopped us, and it was the cherry on top of our recent adventure!

Dallas Ghost Tour

Since Halloween’s tomorrow, this is a special spooky blogpost! My mom and I loved the ghost tour we took on our trip to Jefferson, TX, so we decided to try out one in the Dallas area!

Her volunteer organization Altrusa had put together a bus tour with a guide to show us some of Dallas’s most famous haunted spots. However our guide, Janine, said we’d have to take everything with a grain of salt, I knew after she told us to download some free “ghost detector” apps that this would be a different kind of tour.

After one lady passed around “eyeball” Jell-O shots we were headed to our first destination, Flag Pole Hill at White Rock Lake. This area of the lake had reportings of rocks thrown at passing cars. We got off the bus and walked around the dark field with women saying, “I’ve found one!” on their apps.

It was pretty awful, to be honest. My mom and I loved our other ghost tour because of the history not because we were looking for actual ghosts (I say “actual” loosely with these free ghost detection apps). So from then on we knew we’d have to research our own history. Instead of using the app, we used the internet.

Even though I’m a frequent visitor and have never experienced anything, White Rock Lake has a lot of ghosts apparently. Besides the Flag Hill Pole, there’s also a classic Lady of the Lake and a Goat-Man. The lady is supposed to be wandering around in the rain, asking for a ride home, and then disappears from the back of your car once you take her there.

From there we headed to a notorious house in the Lake Highlands area on Blackbird Lane, that had a bunch of murders and suicides inside. We all trooped down to the end of the cul de sac and stared at the house down on the left, which wasn’t very exciting until one of the old neighbors came out to see what we were up to. They told us the house was definitely haunted, he’d lived there for years and the horses in the nearby stables never came near that side of the property.

The most exciting part for me was our next stop, the Aldophus Hotel in downtown. We weren’t exactly allowed to look inside, so our bus parked a bit away and then we went in pairs to go explore on our own. The nineteenth floor of this hotel is supposed to have all the activity. So my mom and I went on our own, admiring the gorgeous lobby and nearby hotel bar, and went into the mirrored elevator.

We got to the correct floor and researched that heavy footsteps and loud big band music was often reported by guests on this floor – which makes sense because this floor that now holds rooms used to hold a big ballroom. Two different people we asked to take our pictures said the camera was going dark while trying to take it (but I blame that on the dim lighting and amateur photographers). Weirdly, all the mirrors on this floor were super tarnished, so I don’t know if that was a stylistic choice or something more spooky.

We all got back to the bus safety and then it was time for a quick stop at a graveyard. We got to Pioneer Cemetery and me and mom decided to just stay in the bus. There was no history on this one except it holding some very old graves, and it was dark, making it look like an accident waiting to happen.

Overall, it wasn’t a great tour (based on planning and knowledge), but it was a great time. The ladies were really into it so it was fun hearing them say, “Did you see one – did you see one?” and even though I had to look up the stories and sightings, getting a look at the places was interesting. So I’m still on the hunt for a real ghost sighting; maybe one Halloween I’ll get my wish!

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!

Taking Our Time Where We Normally Wouldn’t

I’ll be honest, a lot of the National Park sites are very similar. I’ve been all over the Southwest region and seen an assortment of battlefields, ruins, forts, and pictographs left by lots of different Peoples. In most cases, it feels like you seen one, you’ve seen them all. But every now and then, there’s room for surprise.

Still on the first day of our road trip, the three of us headed south from Albuquerque, saying goodbye to hundreds of hot air balloons in the sky. Now that the sun was up, our first National Park site was open: the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. Having visited missions in San Antonio earlier this year, I was excited because those religious buildings always have beautiful architecture. However, since we were headed to the Abo Ruins portion of the missions, I was concerned they’d be just more pile of rubble. (Yep, not a fan of ruins, sorry.)

Getting to these Abo ruins was nice; we drove through vast fields on our way to Mountainair, New Mexico, and then right in the middle of nothing – we arrived. They were definitely ruins but so much was left in tact. The adobe structure was fun to explore. Anytime you have ruins with actual doorways and clearly sectioned rooms, I’m a bit more happier to see them. These ruins were right near the visitor center, so after checking them out thoroughly and grabbing our passport stamps, we headed back the way we’d come to the south side of Albuquerque.

I don’t know why because I’d seen petroglyphs before when visiting Mesa Verde, but I was also kind of excited to hike at Petroglyph National Monument. Something about having the name in the title made me think we were going to be seeing a ton of cool pictures on rock formations. We picked the Rinconada Canyon trail because it was a little over two miles and offered more than 300 petroglyphs. Spoiler alert: I think I saw twenty.

The images were kind of hard to spot, and when I thought I saw something I couldn’t always be entirely sure what it even was. Besides the trail being about ten to twenty feet from the rocks, making the petroglyphs hard to spot, there was also some more recent markings – i.e. vandalism. There was even a sign posted saying they weren’t entirely sure if some of the images were originally there or had been added in the early times of the Park opening. Still, some of the birdlike creatures and sun petroglyphs were fascinating to look at.

Overall, this hike was very easy, but the surrounding nature was beautiful. Even though we were so close to the city of Albuquerque, it felt like we were all on our own in a big field, with interesting rocks to one side and lots of different plants and flowers to inspect along the way. After driving through the night and starting our day at sunrise, this walk felt great. Looking for petroglyphs made it fun too, of course!

I left us plenty of time in the schedule this go around because I didn’t want to be stressed for time at the actual Park locations. I’ve learned how to plan time for drives (more importantly, for stops on drives), but it’s taken me awhile to realize you can be flexible on a trip but it’s hard to create more time. Taking our time exploring the sites was so, so nice! It made the day so much more enjoyable that we got to fully experience it – even if ruins and petroglyphs aren’t exactly “exciting” we still had a great time learning that for ourselves!

Third Time’s a Charm, Falling in Love with Albuquerque

I’ll be honest all I really knew about the city of Albuquerque was a Weird Al Yankovich song. What’s funny about falling in love with Albuquerque, New Mexico is that originally the first time we were just passing through. Being a major city, it makes for a great pit stop on a road trip.

The first time, on a northern New Mexico road trip (Timing is Everything), my friend Jenna and I had stopped for dinner and then I looked up an ice cream shop. That ice cream shop led us to Green Jeans Farmery – an outdoor eating area perfect for when we had the dog with us and fine in any weather with its big outdoor fire pit. It helped that the ice cream was amazing!

There’s also an amazingly zesty Caesar salad! So of course, now that we had the perfect food pit stop, the next road trip (on our way to Utah) brought us not only back to Albuquerque for Green Jeans, but also to explore around town a bit more. While buying the infamous Breaking Bad “meth” candy from the little shop The Candy Lady, we stumbled upon Old Town.

Old Town is a small outdoor area with lots of cute shops and a big pavilion area where special events are held. They sell lots of local arts and crafts as well as Mexican-inspired goods, like sugar skulls and Mexican blankets. There were even tea lights along the street and a mariachi band outside of one store. Everything was so charming!

Now that we had our meth candy, it was time to see the Breaking Bad house. The actual house used as the front (and the notorious pizza scene) was located in Albuquerque, so we drove to see it. I’d seen a few seasons and still mean to finish it eventually, but the overall experience was fun even though I’m not a super fan.

Now on my third time to Albuquerque, I was finally here for the National Park site, but I had one more big bucket list item for this awesome city. The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta! I’d seen the billboard almost ten months before on my second trip, and wrote down the dates to make sure I saw it.

This Fiesta was our first stop for our remaining New Mexico National Park sites. We drove through the night to get to Fiesta Park at sunrise, just in time to see them take off. We got inside as there were about twenty in the skies and more and more taking off. It was so cool! It was definitely amazing to see so many in the sky, but seeing them up close as they inflated and lifted off was also incredible!

The area is set up kind of like a festival, with food and drink booths and stands for merchandise and local crafts. So after grabbing a local coffee and some tiny Tom Thumb donuts (yum), we walked around to enjoy the balloons taking off. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience to see hundreds of hot air balloons, especially with the wide open space and mountains in the distance.

Until next time, Albuquerque!

Seeing More than Doing, Driving Up the Coast of Texas

After a girls day in Mexico, we were ready to cool off along the South Padre coast. Perfectly along this drive between my friend Jenna’s home and the beach, was a National Park site (almost like we planned it, huh). The Palo Alto Battlefield was about to close, but we made it just in time.

As you probably know by now, I’m not super into the battlefields on my National Park stamp collection journey. But it was interesting to see the big light up map of the different borders of Texas being fought for. This Palo Alto battle was a vital event during the Mexican-American War and helped determine what would be Texas (and America) by the end. The battlefield itself was just a big field.

After this quick little stop we finally headed to the beach! It was getting late in the evening, but the sun was still out and the water felt great. Jenna and I swam for a bit, played in the sand, and had a great time people-watching. We stayed out enjoying the beach (my first to play in since a year ago in Belize!) until the sun started to set.

When it was time to head home, we made one quick stop for my favorite – ice cream! In Port Isabel, just over the bridge, there was a little square full of shops and an ice cream shop called Davy Jones’ Ice Cream Locker. I got the cookies and cream and it was the perfect cold treat after a day in the sun.

We picked up Mexican dinner on the way back to Jenna’s home and tried to find the effort to explore some nightlife. But after a full order of delicious nachos and the busy day in Mexico and the beach, we threw on a dumb Netflix movie and crashed early.

Having a lot of driving ahead of us, we got up early the next morning to get a good start. We drove along the eastern Texas border to the Padre Island National Seashore. After all the sun the day before, the rain surprised us by starting right around when we arrived.

It was a gloomy, cloudy midday at the National Park site, but there was so much natural landscape it was beautiful. The rain kept the crowds away and we got to check out the visitor center with a really cool turtle hatching exhibit. We got some shots of the vast coast around us and then decided we were done being rained on. We got back in the car for even more driving.

Rain is not fun for road trips, but we were driving through the wooded area of Texas. The two-lane roads were mostly empty so even though the weather wasn’t great, it was still a nice drive from the coast to the bayous along the Louisiana border. As usual on some of these trips to National Parks we lost GPS signal a bit, not even realizing we were in the middle of Big Thicket while looking for the entrance.

The Big Thicket National Preserve hosts nine different ecosystems that you can explore by foot and by water. Unfortunately, the rain had been steady all day and kept it up all through our time there. We’d planned for a fun hike on this trip, but the weather denied us some time to stretch our legs. As we’d become accustomed to on this final Texas National Park trip, we headed to the visitor center to learn what we could.

The coolest display was all about the pitcher plant, one of the four carnivorous plants found in Big Thicket. I’d never thought much of these kinds of plants besides the infamous Venus fly trap, but learning how they trapped ants and insects was morbidly cool.

We checked out all the displays on all the differing types of nature in this site, and then headed outside to check out the rocking chairs. To be honest, driving all that way and learning so much interesting stuff had us kind of bummed to be heading home without getting a chance to explore for ourselves. This will definitely be one of the trips I’ll have to make again, next time with clearer skies hopefully!