Different in the Day, View from the Top

Having grown up around Dallas, I’ve done almost all of the “touristy” things when I was little, but now that I’m older I want to make sure I fully experience the city I call home. The main goal of the day was to be at the Reunion Tower (the “big ball”) around sunset.

Before that though, I was excited to check out a place I’d never really been to in the day: Deep Ellum (Elm). I’ve spent a lot of nights on Elm, bar hopping and checking out concerts, but there was a whole other side to the District I’d never explored.

After a coffee jumpstart (of course) at Murray Street Coffee, we just started walking. Deep Ellum is mainly two streets – Elm and Main – that house bars, venues, restaurants, and a collection of the most random shops you’ve never been to. There’s a few places (such as Murray) that close by six, which was the main draw of our Deep Ellum day walking.

I love this District because it’s close to my home, but also because of all the artistic folks that seem to flock to it. There’s graffiti all over, always new, always interesting. And the second highlight of this adventure: Deep Vellum Books.

I love independent bookshops. This shop also houses their small publishing company, responsible for publishing fresh voices and cavalier ideas. The shop is small, but full of treasures, and I spent a long time reading the backs of covers and even starting a handful of stories. They were all great, so I was ready to buy one of each. (I controlled myself and bought only one.)

They also had this incredible coin machine, where for fifty cents and a twist of the rest wrist, out popped a short story complete with matching cover art. It was pretty cool! I used all the quarters in my purse and took home original stories from local writers. We checked out a few more shops, had a good time in the sun enjoying ice cream at Wild About Harry’s.

Finally it was time to head to Reunion Tower! I have a vague memory of going there with my dad when I was a little girl. I just remember it being really dark and not too many people. At that time (unless my memory is worse than I think), there was just a chainlink fence from floor to ceiling around the outdoor viewing. My dad picked me up and put my feet standing on the single waist-high bar and I leaned against the thin, cold fence to look out at the city. I remember being excited and scared and dazzled.

There was no chainlink fence on this reunion visit (sorry, couldn’t resist). There were much sturdier iron bars and while I wasn’t afraid for me, I was comically terrified I would drop my phone. Every picture where I got even close to the edge, I had two hands tightly gripped to my phone. It was so weird! I just imagined it would slip any moment and be lost to the sky.

The weather was only a little chilly and the 360* view was amazing. I spent a long time looking at every edge of my city and watching its’ inhabitants movements. As the sky deck cleared out and the sun started to descend, I felt happy. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling, making it a point to discover new places, but it’s always a delight when I can find new things to love about my own hometown.

Deep in the Heart, Close to Home

Waking up well rested in San Antonio, I was ready for a day of exploration. Seeing old friends the night before had been nice, but I was ready to get to some new places and see a side of Texas I hadn’t before.

It was rainy when we headed to the San Antonio Missions. I was surprised to find out that four of the five Spanish missions had been moved all into the San Antonio area for better conservation. I was even more surprised to find the National Park site so busy! The visitor center was packed. The site seemed to be busy not only because of the National Park denotation, but also as a local Texan highlight. The shop was full of fun Texan gifts!

We got our stamps and listened to a bit of the history in the visitor center and then decided it was time to visit the biggest one (that was also the closest), the San Jose Mission. It was crazy how good the building was keeping up, and how beautiful the architecture was. There were people lighting candles and praying in the attached chapel, which was kind of great considering people had been doing just that in this very spot for hundreds of years.

It started to really pour and knowing we’d already seen the “best” mission, we decided it was time to move on. On our way out, we took the scenic drive to see what we could of all the rain-obscured missions. It seemed like a great route to bike, so I hope I’ll be back one day to explore more!

For now though, it was time to head to our last National Park site for our weekend, Lyndon B. Johnson National State Park, where the former president’s boyhood home still stood. At the visitor center, we read a bit about the history of the president and “Ladybird” Johnson. (I’ll always love her for her wildflower initiative, which to this day spurs communities to plant thousands of wildflowers all over Texas.)

The home was familiar in the way all old Southern homes are to me, so not too interesting in my opinion. There was an old double swing that was still in use though. The whole area was somewhat humbling, imagining a small boy growing up in a somewhat farm lifestyle, going on to become the president of our country.

Our final pit stop was Austin to see some friends before heading home. Funnily enough, this was another Dallas friend who happened to be in Austin the same weekend. It was weird how many familiar faces we were seeing during our travels this weekend. It made it feel like we didn’t really escape into the culture. I’ll never regret time spent with good friends, but I have to admit I might like the more remote trips than ones like these that feel more like home.

Familiar Friends in New Places

Looking at my National Park map, I realized there were still a few sites scattered through central Texas that would require a drive through San Antonio and Austin. The weekend trip would give me an opportunity to finally explore the landscape I’d heard of called “Hill Country.”

I drove this first leg of the trip early on a Friday morning and I have to say, I already wanted to drive it again as I was literally driving it. There were so many cute towns with chic antique shops and interesting coffee shops; there were so many colorful murals and friendly town slogan signs. These fun towns were separated by beautiful plains where the sunrise was easy to catch and the road seemed infinite (in a great way).

Our first stop was Amistad National Recreation Area. By the time we arrived, it had become a bit cloudy. It wasn’t too cold, but still too early in the season to really enjoy the water. Instead we explored the rocky shore and took a little hike along the ridge of the reservoir. When we got tired, we looked across to the Rio Grande River, which separated Texas from Mexico. After about a four hour drive, we were only yards away from a different country.

After a bit of nature exploration, it was time to head to San Antonio. I wasn’t sure we’d have time, but I was really hoping to get into town in time to check out The Alamo. I’d only been once before with my parents when I was pretty small. Side note: The Alamo giftshop is where I got my first rock pouch and is responsible for my low grade obsession with rocks and crystals.

Growing up in Texas my whole life, I of course knew the history of the Alamo (how could I ever forget) and had even drawn the mission quite a few times for work projects. But it’s been years since my Texas history. It was great “reconnecting” to my Texan roots and walking around such a well preserved part of our history. As typical with most Texans, I have a lot of pride in my state.

It was time for dinner and a bit of San Antonio nightlife exploration! My friend Gian was in town the same night for Army training, so even though we’d seen him the day before back home, we met up for a familiar face in a new town. I’d already spent a lot of time exploring the infamous Riverwalk on a bachelorette party a year or so before, so we wanted to check out what other scenes San Antonio had to offer. We headed for Pearl District and some of the new downtown bars.

My oldest friend Molly had recently moved to San Antonio, so I also invited her out for a drink to catchup. It was great, but also so weird to see faces from home out on my travels. Something about meeting these friends made it feel like we were just in a different part of Dallas. Even though the cities felt very different to me, it also didn’t feel quite like my usual escapism.

We took a long walk back to our car, checking out the tourists stumbling from bar to bar, and watching hordes of people making their way along the riverwalk. After a long day of rediscovering and celebrating my Texan roots, I was already ready to get back home. I love basically all of Texas, but the other cities just don’t compare to Dallas. I was born there and I think it’ll always feel like home. I think seeing old friends just made me long for my hometown.

Honestly, when I travel I don’t want the familiar. I want new experiences, I want to meet new people, and I want to become a part of the local culture. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great seeing old friends! But I think in the future, I’ll have to invite them to join my travels instead of pausing them to catchup.

Long Glance at the Edge of the World

Canyonlands National Park is very big. We put ourselves on a time crunch through Arches because we weren’t sure we’d make it to The Canyonlands visitor center before it closed. From tip to tip, it would take about three hours to cross. And we’d never even heard of it before this!

The best place to start seemed to head for the section called “Island in the Sky” because it was the north edge we were closest to and a few other sections were closed for the winter season. Plus, Island in the Sky is a pretty cool name, so we figured we’d be in for a treat.

Surprisingly, it turned out every section of Canyonlands had its own visitor center, so after about an hour’s drive, we had our stamp and could stop stressing about making it through the whole drive in time. Now, we could relax and enjoy the Park at our leisure. Directly across from the Island center there was a lookout where we decided to sit for a bit. It was the biggest canyon I’ve ever seen.

On a ridiculous side note, this was also the Park where I made my first friend. Well, maybe just got my first obsession. In the parking lot I’d spotted the biggest crow I’d ever seen in my life! He was large and very vocal. I wanted to take him home with me. (Ha!) Instead, I filled my phone with at least a hundred pictures of him. I guess I sort of have him forever now?

Driving a bit further into the Park, we decided to check out the Mesa Arch trail because it was average difficultly and we’d already spent the whole morning hiking. Plus, we were really into all the natural arches Utah was showing us. It was a very easy hike, not strenuous or long at all. The path was lined the traditional way with stones stacked upon each other. We only ran into one family on their way out from the trail and then had the place to ourselves!

Even after starting with a great big canyon view, I was still awestruck by the sight of another massive canyon, but this time at its edge was a nature-made arch. There was something about these views which made me and my friends pretty quiet. Normally a pretty chatty person, I kept to myself at this Park and just stared out at the lands and colors for awhile without saying anything. It was extremely peaceful and humbling.

Tired from our day of hiking and fast approaching sunset, we decided to head back to Moab to grab dinner and explore the little adventure town. It’s so funny to me how every new town I go to, I can imagine the life I’d make there. I don’t know if it’s my wandering heart, but I often feel like I could be happy anywhere. The highlights of Moab were great beer, cute boutiques full of handmade goods, an adorable independent bookshop, and great coffee. What’s not to be happy about?

Walking lazily around the main strip, I could tell there was a certain sadness in the group that this was our last night, but also I could tell we were so tired from our adventures that we were all a bit ready to be back in our own beds. We stayed in an (Airbnb) cabin at the edge of Colorado for the night, knowing we had a full day of driving left to get back home.

I was glad though, thinking over all the new sights I’d seen. Honestly, I’d never given Utah much thought before. Now, I couldn’t wait to plan another trip out there. There was so much variance to the landscape from Monument Valley to Arches to Canyonlands, I knew I’d only scratched the surface of what Utah had to offer. All in all, this was a great last trip for the year of 2017, the first year I embarked on this National Park journey.

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.

A Desert Wonder to Explore

Usually I’m into a lot of greenery, but my visit to Arches changed something in me and somehow Arches National Park became my favorite Park yet. There was something magical about waking up in the Park and being able to race time to catch the perfect spot for the sunrise.

We had to fit the visitor center into our plan seeing as we hadn’t made it before close the day before. We also needed to do a bit of cleaning up in the public bathroom since we were going on about forty-eight hours with no showers. As soon as the visitor center opened, we were inside to collect our stamps and get our trail maps.

After talking to a ranger, we knew right away we wouldn’t have enough time (probably not even enough for half the Park) but we had to decide what we could do. The most iconic arch is the Delicate Arch, but requires a mild two-to-three hour hike. Even though this would eat up most of our time, we knew we had to do it. My goal was to manage it under two hours. If we were able to succeed, we would get to add another short hike to our day and get to see other arches.

So we got our gear together and started our hike. It was basically off season and pretty early in the day, but we still passed quite a few people. The hike started nicely with only a slight incline, and then suddenly jutted steeply. It was basically hiking on a massive steep rock. The trail was marked every now and then with wooden posts and it was hard to know exactly what we’d see by the time we reached the top.

The elevation had slightly winded us, but everything was so beautiful with such a massive open sky it was hard to be upset about the effort. Finally after reaching the top, the trail wound its way through a couple of cliffs, the crater between being very rocky. After a bit more ascent, and a wide ark around the side of the cliff, we popped out on what was the top. And then we came upon the Delicate Arch.

Everything was so alien. Truly beautiful, but so different from the type of landscapes I was used to seeing. Everything was shades of oranges and reds, intersplicing a brilliant pale matte grey.

Even with about a half hour of picture taking at the top, we still made it back to the car in less than two hours. We had hustled the trail, knew we’d really be feeling it later, but now had time for another arch! There was a very quick trail, so we decided to make our way to the Double Arches.

This trail was very, very short. Honestly, took us about the same amount of time to park as to hike. That allowed us more time to explore these massive arches. Even though the Delicate Arch is more iconic, there’s something about the double arches that I really enjoy. I like that you can hike up under the archway, that there’s lots of big rock formations to climb, and that the arch phenomenon has coincidentally happened twice right next to each other.

I talk a lot about wanting to make the most of my time and scheduling in a way that packs my day full of new experiences. This trip to Arches was supposed to be very easy-going and allow us lots of time to just enjoy the Park. But even with all that extra time, I still felt like as we were leaving, I wished we had one more day. I guess I’ll definitely have to make it back to Arches at some point!

All Grown Up Girl Scout

As you probably know by now, I’m all into local events and new experiences! What you may not know was that I was a Girl Scout for years when I was a kid! I had such a great time with friends, learning new things, attuning to the outdoors. So when I found out a local Dallas restaurant was doing a Girl Scout cookie and beer pairing, I figured why not!

One of my best friends is still one of my fellow Girl Scouts, even after all these years, so I called her up to join in my adult Girl Scout adventure. And Giselle, always have the best ideas, said we should dig out our old vests and take a little trip down memory lane while we were at it! Of course that seemed like a perfect idea to me.

The restaurant Luck was hosting this event, located in the fairly new Trinity Groves area of Dallas. It’s all mostly upscale eateries in this Burroughs across the now-iconic Margaret Hunt Bridge so I haven’t done too much exploring here. I was glad to have the chance to learn more about one of the fast-growing areas of my hometown Dallas.

When we got to Luck, they had a Girl Scouts cookie booth set up by a local troop so of course we had to show our solidarity to our Girls and buy a box! Then it was time to head inside and have some beer and cookies.

I got to be honest, I’m not sure the cookies really complimented the beer in three out of four of the pairings. This might be because it’s hard to have an old favorite treat suddenly with beer. Pretty quickly, I ditched the “pairing” idea and just ate, drank, and socialized without following their system.

As it always goes, the socializing part of it made it the most memorable. Giselle and I talked about how hardcore our Girl Scout troop had been (in a great way with actual camping and badge-earning achievements) and and trudged up fond old memories like a bunch of old ladies. As they say, once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.