Katie Jackson Park trail review

As most of you know by now, I love finding hidden nature trails in the city!

Living in Dallas, it’s not exactly easy finding nature escapes where I can’t actually hear the traffic. To be honest, most hiking trails in my area you can always see at least a building. But we have our big nature centers luckily – and we have some hidden gems in our suburbs!

I found out after the fact that the Katie Jackson Trail is prime for “off road” bicycling but this made for a pretty great hiking trail as well! This trail was great for its zero foot-traffic. I hiked on a Friday morning with my friend Lola and we spotted no one else our entire time on the trail.

This trail is split into North and South sections, but other than that uninformative guidance, I cannot tell you how it’s laid out. Lola and I even got lost for a good twenty minutes! We really could’ve used a bit more maps or even less left-or-right options. But I will say the trails were well-marked and there was no chance of wandering off the path.

Because this trail is mostly a biking trail, there are a lot of great dips and inclines scattered throughout which I enjoyed. It’s easy to find a flat walking surface and so much harder to find a trail with some variety!

We were nestled in the middle of a North Dallas suburb so there was definitely evidence of people. Quite a bit of trash and even in one area a very clear teenage hangout. Someone had built a wooden loft and brought out a couple of lawn chairs to have a little break mid-trail. Lola and I thought this was hilarious – but also probably very cool for the local kids to have their own secret hangout.

Of course, the last upside I’ll leave you with was the beautiful views! This trail meets a creek a couple of times, offering a nice view every now and then. Plus, there’s one section with a big field which offers lost of different wildlife and nature to explore.

I will definitely be checking this trail out again – it’s probably great in Spring!

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.

They Don’t Call it “Big” Bend for Nothing

I woke up to my last day at Big Bend National Park very optimistically. The day felt endless and so I had no doubt I would be able to accomplish every single thing on my Big Bend list. In retrospect, this is hilarious because I had five hours to try and cross off sixty miles of driving and twelve miles of hiking. Plus, you know, enjoy the views. Good luck!

First item on the list was catch sunrise. I hadn’t slept all that well in the night, mainly because it was a bit too hot to ever really get comfortable. I was ready to get moving and all packed up. While doing this, a javelina wandered into our campsite! This certainly wasn’t on my checklist, but you can’t say no to meeting new friends. This little hog-like mammal was also my most exotic wild animal sighting to date!

Based on the incredible span of views, we had decided the day before that the Rio Grande Overlook would be our best (easy to reach) spot to watch sunrise. It required only a two minute walk and then you were at a hill that had unobscured three-sixty views. We could see the sun just starting to peak over the mountains, so all the plains were changing beautiful colors. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I love catching a sunrise in National Parks. You’re never disappointed.

Before the sun could rise too much, I knew we should get moving to start on our big hike of the day. It wouldn’t be as hot as the day before, but this was still Texas after all. It definitely wouldn’t be cold. We moved from the east side of the park to the middle, finally entering the Chisos Basin mountain area. We would be checking off one of the trails to a peak of about 7500 feet. The Lost Mine Trail.

This was a moderate level hike, not to steep all at once, but lots of switchbacks to reach the top. As always, elevation can get you if you rush too much or don’t remember to focus on your breathing. For me, this trip was right after a long two-week illness, so I was very much feeling the strain on my body. Luckily, this trail had lots of benches and amazing scenic stops. Anytime I needed a minute to pant, I also snapped a shot of the trail of the surrounding mountains.

As always on a trail like this, as soon as you reach the top, it’s all worth it. This peak had quite a few boulders to climb and get a little risky with. You can climb steep rock formations and slip between cracks if you were feeling like a daredevil. To be honest, I played it pretty safe, but both Austin and Jenna got great (slightly scary) shots at the top. I preferred relaxing and enjoying the insanely beautiful sights.

Making our way down, I realized it was noon already. Our end at Big Bend had come swiftly, leaving me with a list of only about seven other things I’d wanted to do. Even after spending a weekend there, I’d still only seen about half of the Park. But I’d also done so much!

On our scenic drive out of Big Bend, I started talking about coming back later in the fall or early spring of next year. There’s been a couple of trips previously where I knew I’d need to go back, but this was the first time I felt like I hadn’t done a majority of my list. Sure, I’d hiked three major trails, got into two different bodies of water, and seen exciting wildlife – but that just goes to explain how big Big Bend really is!

I can’t wait to see what else I can cross off next time!

Big Bend Brings the Heat

It’s finally time for me to share my trip to Big Bend! Being a Texan, this National Park has been on my list from the beginning! When planning my visit to Big Bend National Park, I knew I wanted as much time as possible to try and get as much done there as I could. I gave myself a three day weekend and researched as much as I could. I even highlighted a printout map for the first time!

We stayed in Alpine, TX for the night after a day of National Park sites and Marfa tourism, so we were ready to start bright and early. We grabbed our stamp at the nearby Fort Davis, checking out the replica of the general store and walking a bit of the grounds. Then it was straight on to Big Bend!

I knew the temperatures would be reaching a hundred by midday, so I planned one short hike in the morning and the rest of the day would be water activities. After checking out the Panther Junction Visitor Center and getting some more detailed trail information, it was time to rough it to the Balanced Rock trail.

To get to this trail was a six mile drive on a dirt road, with plenty of dips and bumps. My friend Austin drove a small rented car, so we definitely felt every jag and jostle. The drive was scenic, with lots of cacti and a big beautiful blue sky. This road was long enough that I even had time to crawl into the backseat to braid Jenna’s hair!

We arrived a bit behind schedule, and it seemed we wouldn’t be escaping the heat as much as I’d hoped. We were in high-ninety zone, but luckily this was only a short hike with very slight elevation. The whole thing would take us about an hour.

Reaching the top, after many encounters with cute green lizards, I was already impressed by the views. I couldn’t believe we were still in Texas! And the massive balanced boulder was cool too, obviously. It had been a hot hike, but up at the top the breeze was really nice.

Our next stop was the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River! We drove to an overlook, snapped a few pictures, but then were ready to get in the water. There were a couple of small trails into the river, so we pulled away to have more privacy for our swim. After stepping through a bit of mud and over river pebbles, we made it in the water. It was perfectly cool even though it wasn’t as deep as I would’ve liked. It was more sitting than swimming, but still really fun!

Now that we were all a bit more refreshed, we headed to set up camp. Austin had bragged a bit too much, so we made him set up the tent blindfolded (ha). Unfortunately, he did it easily and now forever has bragging rights to setting up a tent while blind. We set out a blanket in our little meadow, made an easy no-fire dinner of sandwiches (PB&J!) and cracked open our Big Bend Brewery beers. Ah, what a life.

We relaxed in the shade, drinking and playing card games while we waited for night. Our next water activity involved a hot spring. Since the spring is naturally 105 year-round, we knew a night hike would be the only way to chance getting in and not burning alive instantly.

Of course, there’s no pictures from the springs seeing as it was almost midnight, but let me just tell you the stars were amazing. The spring was a crudely built brick structure around a natural bed, right on the edge of the Rio Grande. The water was super hot, but so relaxing with the surroundings after a day of working my muscles.

My time at Big Bend was running out fast, but sitting there surrounded by the galaxy, I couldn’t be all that mad about it. I’d already seen and done some incredible things. I knew no matter what else I could accomplish the next day – I would be planning another trip to Big Bend!

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?

Start Your Summer, Find Your Peace

I had a heavy wedding season this spring, so I had to halt all traveling for too long. I was so excited to finally get back outdoors and start checking off more National Park sites! Not only that, but resume driving the beautiful countryside from sun up to sun down.

After a bit of a nap after work, Jenna and I were headed off around midnight. Making great, time we arrived at our first stop, Carlsbad Caverns right as it opened! I had done a bit of cave exploration in Georgetown, TX, but I had no idea how big Carlsbad would prove to be! We didn’t think we had time to do the entire Big Room Trail and the whole descent walk, so we took the first elevator down.

It shot us quickly almost 700 feet down, which seemed great. Later I found out the descent walk is completely worth it. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff we missed, but a part of me is glad I got to do the entirety of the Big Room. Besides I need to go back anyway to see the bats, which missed us this time!

We were the first to step off the elevator and we headed straight for the start of the trail. Everything was so massive! It was like having the whole cavern all to ourselves. In the entire loop, which took more than an hour, we only ran into one person. We explored the cave, checking out the stalagmites and stalactites and other natural formations. There were also lots of pools and even one “bottomless pit.”

It was finally time to head to our next stop, the Guadalupe Mountains. I’ve spent the least amount of time in this west part of Texas, so the drive was incredible. It’s all plains until you spot the Guadalupe Mountains. It makes for a terrific scenic drive.

The highest peak in Texas is a part of this range of mountains, the Guadalupe Peak. There was no time this day and I wouldn’t prefer the insanely hot weather, but I have definitely put this on my bucket list. One day I will hike to the top of Texas’ highest point.

Continuing down the National Parks Highway, we were headed to the very tip of Texas – El Paso. El Paso is one of the only well-known cities in Texas I had never been to. We spent some time driving through the town, which of course shared similarities to Mexico, seeing as it is a border city.

Our final National Park site of the day was the Chamizal National Memorial. This site commemorates the peaceful settlement of the Chamizal dispute. Because of its purpose, the whole visitor center was focused on the idea of peace and diversity. Besides learning about this dispute and the cultures involved, it celebrates all cultures and the ideal of the “melting pot” that is America.

On the main building is a massive mural depicting all different cultures and peoples. It’s big and colorful and super interesting. It’s got JFK and Obama, Native Americans and Spaniards, and lots of different ages and races of every people that has made up part of American history.

Even though all three of these stops were very different, they represent the sort of things I’m discovering on my National Park journey. There’s natural wonders, and scenic views, but also the concepts brought to the world by man. We strive to seek out not only the physical attributes of this land but the meaning we make of it too!

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.