"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust
After a mostly restless night of listening to owls imitate truck air brakes, Joe and I gathered ourselves up and headed out of Durango towards the Four Corners Monument, which can be accessed in Arizona. Having barely slept we were up early and to the monument in good time. When coming to these places you never really know what to expect. In the case of the Four Corners, it was a single entrance road that led to a square outdoor pavilion, and a line up on the Arizona side to step on a single medallion that denoted the precise location where all four states (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) end their jurisdictions. What’s more, this place is located on Navajo Land, so technically you are in 5 places at once. Amusingly, people must have overindulged in photo shoots of themselves, because there are signs that state a maximum of 3 photos are allowed while standing on the monument. We selfied appropriately, wandered around the pavilion looking at Navajo made souvenirs, and then made our way toward the Grand Canyon.
We arrived at the entrance for Grand Canyon, utilizing our National Park Pass which has been a blessing for this trip. We stopped at the overlook point and peered over the edge of what felt like forever. It’s humbling to look down at a world that seems to go on forever, seemingly untouched by the invasion of man. We admired the miles of uninterrupted beauty over each of the cliffs and turned to get in to our car. Where we both saw a raven for the first time. Hello, giant bird.
We left the scenic overlooks and dog sized ravens behind in the search for food, and found a Mexican restaurant in town that would feed me, Plaza Bonita. With bellies full, we headed back towards the park in search of a campground to pitch for the night. We were denied by two different campgrounds, so we decided to head back out of the park a few miles south and pitch in a free campsite. It turns out that the particular spot we chose may have been someone’s personal favorite, because there in the trees, looking out over an open field was a built up toilet. No stall, no privacy, no toilet paper, just a toilet and endless scenery. We pitched for the night amidst the trees, and enjoyed the sunset.
We woke up the next morning, broke down and made our way back to the Grand Canyon for the morning view off the rim. We strolled alongside the edge and looked over the vast landscape. For what felt like miles there was nothing but scarred rock, leading down to the river bed that eroded the walls to what they are. We looked down towards the ground and enjoyed the feeling of the sunshine. Recognizing a short while later that we had to keep moving if we wanted to make our next destination, we piled in to the car and made our way toward Flagstaff and the Lowell Observatory.
We walked around the grounds of Lowell Observatory (which is where they discovered Pluto) and had the chance to view the sun through one of their telescopes. They had set up a “scale” model of how far away Pluto was from the rest of the solar system and it was encouraged walk through the galaxy. Lowell then out did themselves and made the model include neighboring galaxies, creating a lovely walk on their grounds. After working up an appetite we decided to stop in Camp Verde for lunch at the Verde Brewing Company, which is a bar styled restaurant that looked like it would have been a great place for a happy hour. However, we got to have the whole restaurant to ourselves, and exemplary wait service. After finishing our lunch, we headed up the mountain toward Jerome.
Jerome is a town with a population of 500 people that was built into the side of a mountain. The streets are shockingly narrow and winding, and the town has a very artsy “Preserve nostalgia!” feel to it. Wine was absolutely our main motivation for heading toward Jerome, since that’s where Caduceus Cellars store front and wine tasting room is located. Owned by Maynard James Keenan, (Joe’s favorite person ever) the singer for Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer; is now expressing himself by making his own wine. So of course we had to go! We opted to buy a different flight each so we could split them, and while drinking our wine briefly enjoyed the company of a very intoxicated man named Tom.
Tom was mimicking how to serve wine under the supremely reluctant tutelage of our sommelier. After a little while, Tom said his goodbyes and meandered out aimlessly to the street, and we continued our unique tasting. Afterwards we window shopped, but because we had gotten their so late, many shops were closed. We took our sommeliers advice and headed up the mountain to camp. Luckily climbing up the mountain also came with the terrific benefit of being able to look out over the valley from the highways and see over Arizona. We found our place in “Potato Patch” (so far my favorite name for a campground) and pitched for the night. It was there that we added another type of potty to our repertoire – Composting toilets. Surprisingly cleaner than Vault toilets, and a whole lot less smelly.
We woke up bright and early to the chirping of birds, and then watched in utter amazement as 2 birds chased one another through the car attachment of the tent. One bird made it in and out in one fell swoop. The bird chasing him however, was not so lucky. He panicked and stopped short, bumping in to the walls of the tent. Thankfully, we had the screen up, which meant that the bird itself could not enter our portion of the tent, but it also meant he was having a tough time trying to navigate his way out. This was a lot more chaotic than it should have been. Probably because as a female, it is my inherent duty to scream when wildlife intrudes upon my home. I’m sure this did not instill confidence in the bird, my husband, or myself, and instead caused significantly more anxiety; particularly on an echoing mountain top camp site, surrounded by camping enthusiasts. The bird continued to hurl itself against random surfaces, testing for their weaknesses, while Joe and I tried to figure out exactly how we were going to get this thing out of the tent safely. After a chaotic few minutes, the bird finally figured out where the breeze was coming from and climbed its way along the side of the car to freedom.
Thoroughly awakened by the morning’s events, we broke down and made our way off the mountain towards Hoover Dam. Joe had been to the Hoover Dam before, and I had not. Joe originally explained that when we arrived at the dam that they would make a big deal about crossing over the border from Arizona into Nevada; and that’s true. But what Joe didn’t know was they had since built a Memorial Bridge in order to divert traffic away from the dam. Essentially meaning that the dam road became a loop turnaround, due to its high profile possibility of being a target for terrorism. The reason for this becomes more apparent as you begin to tour the facility and realize the Hoover Dam is the primary source of water supplying Nevada, Southern California, Arizona, and other remote areas. It is solely responsible for their farming, and providing the most basic needs of civilization. If the Hoover Dam was damaged it would change the entire climate of the South Western portion of the United States. In order to better understand how the dam functions, Joe and I took the power plant tour, wherein the staff guides you along the creation of the dam, as well as functioning turbines; all the while certain not to miss a Dam joke!
We toured the inside, and then explored outside. What I really mean by ‘explore’ is scurry from shady haven to shady haven since the Hoover Dam’s temperatures were well over 110 degrees while we were there. We scurried back to the car so that we could drive over the dam and turn back, just to make the trip complete. After taking our photo opportunities, we turned our car back towards Nevada and drove to Las Vegas to visit with Sean for a few days.
Staying with Sean was great; we spent the 115 plus degree days in air conditioning watching the chronological Alien and Predator movies (Starting with Prometheus) or going to one of his 2 pools. Our first pool venture ended abruptly when we were forced to evacuate due to hygienic concerns (read: someone pooped in the pool) our secondary venture on a different day in the other pool went much better. It’s hard to beat the experience of driving around in a Pontiac Firebird with t-tops off in Vegas weather. We tried a bunch of different restaurants and enjoyed the feeling of not being on the road, and conveniently having access to a shower every day. One night we were able to meet up with our friends Johnny D and Kaori for dinner at Lucilles BBQ. On our last night in Vegas Sean took us to the strip where we were able to walk around for a while and see the Bellagio Fountain which is secretly the only reason I wanted to go to Vegas. We even saw someone propose on a gondola. Thankfully, she said yes and didn't throw him in the water. After we were done walking around, we hopped in the car and drove down the strip to head home.
Our first stop in Colorado was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We opted to try for the campground that was located on the inside of the park, and were met with disappointment when it was full. So we headed down the road to Oasis Campground and Restaurant it’s at the foot of the park, and rents equipment for sand sledding / boarding as well as be the only restaurant within a 30+ mile radius. Thankfully they had room for us, so we headed up the mountain and picked a place to pitch that was close-ish to the grave stones of the men who died during the gold rush, and also offered an incredible view of the park. After such a full day, we opted to batten down the hatches for the night and relaxed to the soothing sounds of Transformers.
We woke up in the Oasis Campground at four in the morning to the sounds of excited Coloradoans preparing for their morning hike. We opted to roll over and enjoy a couple more hours of lying in bed, listening to the mountain echoes. We realized a little while later that we needed to get going or we would miss out on all the sand sled rentals. So, we broke down, brushed our teeth and headed down off the mountain to the single restaurant in 30 miles for breakfast. Luckily, they spoke gluten free and gave me a decent breakfast. We rented a single sandsled, received a quick lesson from the staff, and we set out for the dunes.
The most interesting part of this experience is that none of the dunes are technically off limits. The staff renting you the equipment informs you to be practical about your capabilities. Which really means understanding that the arid climate will absolutely torch you, while the elevation in tandem will dehydrate you, a lot faster than you are accustomed to (particularly people who were raised at Sea Level). We opted to follow the trail of the people trekking ahead of us and headed toward the entranceway of the dunes. Thinking that nothing could stop our fully sunscreened selves, we immediately realized that we had not been fully prepared for there to be a creek separating us from the dunes (Medano Creek to be more accurate). We headed back to the car, changed our shoes to flip flops (Possible mistake?) and crossed the creek to get to the dunes. It was a solid distance from the creek to the top of the dunes where we saw a handful of people throwing themselves down on their boards. Already feeling winded (Read: Out of shape), we took a moment to ask a group of people how to successfully sled down sand. They took pity on our pale faces, realized we were not locals, and taught us how to sled. After already telling Joe I would go first, I skirted myself to the edge of the dune, held on to the provided handles, tipped myself over the precipice, and…. promptly careened off the sled and somersaulted down the rest of the dune, soundtracked by the hysterical laughter of everyone up on the ridge. Carrying what felt like a pound of sand in my pants, I shook off the best I could and trudged back up the dune to send Joe on his run. Who of course, completed the run perfectly, made it all the way down with not even a single extra grain of sand in his pants.
After a few runs, we began to regret wearing flip flops. Sand Dunes get hot, really hot - over a hundred and ten degrees hot. Bare feet on baking sand equals toasted tootsies. It’s not the walking on that’s a problem, it’s the walking up. When you’re climbing a fairly steep face of the dune, most of the sand piles on top of your feet, engulfing it in hot sand, cooking your toes. That, mixed with the thin air and beating sun, (as well as our time table) caused us to head back towards the car. Grateful for the relief of the running creek through the dunes to cool off our toes, we washed off as much of the sand as we could and then hit the road for Pueblo.
The drive was a pretty decent one, and my loving husband took pity on my sand covered body and found us a room atSanta Fe Inn Pueblo to put up for the evening. Fortune looked upon us and found us a gluten free pizza place that offered delivery to our hotel. Thrilled, we decided not to waste the opportunity to stay in and have a pizza / laundry date. We broke out the wine and the washer and got to work. We bought this little Panda washing machine with spin basket for about $70 and it is awesome. Truthfully, I wish I had known about these portable washers and dryers before we moved out of our house, but to have one on the road is crazy helpful. Our pizza arrived half way through our laundry night and was pretty good, but way more expensive than it should have been. We did a few loads and managed to wash all of our laundry, and then we hung all the pieces to dry on every piece of available surface we had in the hotel room, save the bed. There was underwear on shower bars, and luggage racks, tank tops and shorts on hangers and tables (the socks had a special place on the ironing board.) We fell asleep hopeful that by morning everything was dry and ready to be packed up for the next day’s Journey toward the mountains.
We woke up to completely dry laundry and happily packed up all our freshly cleaned possessions and hit the road to see Garden of the Gods , rumored to be one of the most beautiful parks our country has to offer. They did not disappoint - it was created by a collision of rocks in a volcanic shift that forced all of the rocks to stand almost entirely vertical, allowing for this unique mountain arrangement to happen. We signed up for a trolley ride for a tour of the park and enjoyed the personal stories of our tour guide “D”. He had previously been a park ranger for the Garden of the Gods and had worked the park his whole life. He was also a Paramedic who was frequently called upon to save the errant lost or injured high altitude hiker. So, most of the stories were about who got stuck where, and how he had to go get them. After listening to oddball war stories and theories on Santa Claus’ Summer vacationing spots (as well as NORAD answering his fan mail).
After leaving Garden of the Gods we headed to Colorado Springs for lunch. In the middle of the town is a place called Coquettes an entirely dedicated gluten free restaurant and bakery. Perfection. The staff was friendly, the restaurant was clean, and the food was spectacular. We made sure to take Flat bread, muffins, and pastries with us for the next few meals, and then hit the road for Denver. Of course, by hit the road for Denver, I mean sit in traffic as soon as you arrive at the city limits, because of Comic Con. At first we thought Denver was just funky, but then we started realizing that there were a lot more people dressed up in costume then there should be. That’s when we noticed the lanyard passes, and that foot traffic was headed in mostly one direction. Our timing is always so impressive. We finally trudged through the traffic, and explored little bits of the city in the car. It was then that we noticed that most of the residents were outside… packing their cars. We thought it was odd to see so many people all at once packing. It wasn’t a holiday weekend, it was just an entire city, packing up for the weekend. We brushed it off and continued on our journey.
We figured that we would camp a night in higher altitude on our way towards Dillon. As we drove higher up in the mountain, we began to realize why everyone was packing their cars. Colorado LOVES Camping. Loves, loves, loves camping. In a way that is both admirable and questionable. I know this because we visited 6 campsites in order to try and find 1 spot for the night and were turned away every time and these were large campgrounds. It was starting to get late, and we were at our wits end. So we started looking for affordable hotels that we could crash in for the night. Turns out that where we chose to park it for the night was some kind of tourist mecca. Understandably so, there was a mountain lake in the middle of some serious mountains. Being a ski town and lake town means all the tourists, all year long will pay whatever the businesses set as their prices. We stayed in Silver Inn a little way out of town and one of the only hotels in the area that still had an available room. We relaxed and set down to a dinner of peanut butter on flatbreads with a bottle of wine.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of pastries and Starbucks, so we started the day off right. We drove around the town a little bit, and then found our way to my brother Matt’s apartment complex. This immediately made both Joe and I very jealous because his view was spectacular.
We decided that later in the day would have a BBQ at our family friends' house, Greg, where we had an incredible view of the mountains, and a lot thinner blood for alcohol to swim in. We ended the day with a Target run to pick up food for a picnic the next day (and snacks for later) and watching Contact. Turns out this would be the *First Night* we would be spending inside our Element. So at 2 am, intoxicated and exhausted, we went out to the parking lot and made up our bed. We rearranged the cargo, folded out the platform bed, and hung our curtains. Believe it or not, we slept like babies. The curtain material dampens a lot of the ambient noise from outside, and our ceiling fan doubles as a “tower” fan and circulated air around the car. We woke up the next morning and took our time getting ready, we eventually met up with everyone and made our way up some of the mountains to see some of the views overlooking Twin Lakes. Then we headed down to hang out by the Reservoir to have lunch. However, we forgot that being an entire mile closer to the sun meant that there was less protection from said sun. So we took the wind tarp from our tent and built a shelter for everyone to eat lunch.
After spending time in the sun light (and some in shade) we headed back to Matt’s friend Mikes House to watch Game 7 of the NBA playoffs This would be the first basketball game that I watched from start to finish that I was not physically present for. It was a great game, and I’m glad we got to watch it with Matt. After the game, Matt drove us back up the mountain and brought us to a free camping site and helped us pitch. He spent some more time with us and then had to go home so he could get some sleep before work the next morning. We said our goodbyes, and went to sleep for the night.
The next morning, we woke up early, broke down quickly and went straight to River Runners. We headed to the drop in point and got suited up in our wet-suits for the day’s adventure. We signed up for a half day tour (which ended up being a little bit longer then we had expected) and met “Sweet T” who was going to be our guide for the trip. “Sweet T” was a transplant from South Carolina, and was very effective at telling us what to do. We also met our fellow crew members, a family from Chicago that was on vacation. To break the ice, I cracked a joke about our pizza being superior and we became friends (city-folk tend to understand each other). As a boat we were very committed to not being “Baptized in the Arkansas”, and did our best to have a solid team approach to the rapids. Joe and I elected to sit in the front of the raft so that we could have the “best seats in the house” – AKA; get soaked the most. For those of you who have never been rafting, these boats have no seat-belts or ways to restrain you if you flip, for good reason. But what that really means is you are responsible for keeping your own ass in that boat. The way this is accomplished is by anchoring your feet in a cross legged position with the built in pockets of the raft. So every time “Sweet Tea” would inform us that we are coming up to a rapid, every member of the boat would squeak their feet further in to their assigned pockets and prepare to be tossed. As a group, we were very successful in staying in the boat, and even assisted in the rescue of a baptized rafter (ironically named Noah). Out of the 9 boats that went out that day 1 full boat flipped, and another boat lost 2 rafters; this is an exorbitantly high number of people to get thrown in the river on one of their trips. The gathering of these lost rafters is what made us extend our half day trip by about an hour. After making our way through the rapids, we ended our trip in a “soft spot”, pulled out of the river and hopped on the bus that would drive us 20 minutes back to the launch spot.
Exhausted and mildly sun-burnt, we got changed for the rest of the days ride towards Durango. This momentary sheltering happened at just the right time for us to be covered for a “Sun shower”, or rather the more aptly named “sun-hail”. After the roof was done being pelted by small ice chunks we drove down out of the mountains as far as we could towards our next tourist stop, the 4 Corners. After several hours of driving and an exhausting day, we found a campsite and pitched. After we pitched and we were lying in bed, we heard a familiar sound off in the distance. It was that sound in the movies that everyone hears before they are eaten alive… Coyotes. Of course. So now Joe and I are acutely aware of every single tiny rustle that happens outside of our tent. Turns out, we are just as afraid of gophers poking around in bushes as we are of coyotes. Needless to say, we were too scared to eat dinner, and sleep did not come easy.
We got an early start to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Whites City, New Mexico. The caverns are just South of Carlsbad, New Mexico, with a town that is an honest to god 0.25-mile long. On one side of the road was a volunteer fire fighting station, a gas station, and a strip-style convenience store with interconnected rooms consisting of a grocery, a fast food style grab and go counter, restrooms, a souvenir shop, and a post office. Across the street was a Rodeway Inn, and a restaurant simply labeled “Restaurant.” Then down the road was a small campground. Inside the convenience store is where you register for a campsite so we introduced ourselves to the gentleman running all of the shops, his name was Barry. He showed us on the map where in the campground would be our best bet for the car-tent set up and provided some additional information about the park. With the campsite paid for we headed across the street to “Restaurant” and sat down to eat a late lunch. We made it just in time for the beginning of the dinner rush!
Welcome to New Mexico, where even the most far away lonely places have incredible Mexican food. (And due to the gluten-free nature of Mexican food, has been the most consistently eaten cuisine on this trip.) After stuffing ourselves with food, we crossed the street to the campground and pitched. We then promptly locked our tent (yea, we locked it) and headed up the winding road to Carlsbad Caverns so that we would be able to watch one of the greatest natural attractions at their park – The Bat Flight.
Every night, an estimated group of 400,000 Mexican Free Tail Bats come out in a swirling vortex of softly flapping wings. During the bat flight you must remain quiet and still, and no photography of any kind is allowed during the flight near the entrance of the cavern, as you walk back towards your car you are allowed to take pictures and video, but there is nothing like seeing 400,000 little creatures move in perfect harmony. They were almost completely silent in their synchronicity, if 400,000 humans had to accomplish this, every night, there would be disastrous outcomes (Just think about rush hours!) After the bat flight we drove back down the mountain enjoying the sun set and peace of the valley.
The next morning, we woke up early and headed up to the caverns so we would be first in line down the elevator in to the vast cavern; which laid 750ft below our feet. The only problem with that is that we were a little bit too early. We opted to enjoy some breakfast before our self-guided tour. The only problem with this is feeding a Claire is difficult. Luckily the convenience eatery did have one food item that was gluten free!
Fudge bars and Pinon coffee – breakfast of champions. The tour takes approximately 2 hours to complete, so we strolled around the expanse of the big room in the pristine silence of the caverns. It was a place of great reverence, and a reminder of just how small a person is. We admired the cave pools, as well as the actively growing formations. After the end of our mile plus walk, we treated ourselves to better food at the Cavern eatery… which was located inside the cavern. A place to eat and buy gifts is an incredibly odd thing to see 750ft underground. More odd was the postal service box that was down there.
We left the caverns and headed out to Roswell New Mexico. Our first stop was at Peppers for lunch (Stuffed Potatoes for the win!) and then we went to the official UFO Museum. The museum was an incredibly informative presentation, as well as amusing displays and dioramas. They had the movie “Fire in the Sky” playing in a small video room in the center of the building and the tour wrapped around it. After spending our time scanning declassified documents, we walked around the town strip for a little while, then got back in the car and headed out to Bottomless Lake State Park to Lake Lea for a swim, and spend the night. We arrived at the campground on the foot of the lake and pitched. After being cranky about flies and pitching a tent in hot weather, we changed our clothes and went for a swim in a sinkhole. Well, that sounds a lot simpler than what actually happened. Joe, my fearless husband, required some coaxing into the chilly water. I say chilly, he calls it Arctic. After what felt like hours of hostage negotiations and honest threats of drowning, I managed to convince Joe to dunk his head. We floated for a while looking at the little fish swimming, and after getting prune fingers decided that we had officially cooled off enough to be able to relax in the tent. We headed back to our site, and promptly realized we had a minor problem - we had no way to dry our swim suits. Being the industrious creatures we are, we ratcheted 2 straps together and created a clothesline. When we got in to the tent to change, we realized that the air was heavy with heat, there was no breeze, and we began to slow roast. Putting our industrious nature to work again we snaked the cords for the fan and the battery, and created a shelf for it to rest in – Voila! A ceiling fan! Pleased with our creative solutions, we relaxed for the rest of the evening.
We left Bottomless Lake the next morning with the intent of heading up North towards Taos. This drive fortuitously took us through Santa Fe, which is a cute little town from what we got to see of it. We were most excited to sit down and eat some food at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, a chain of restaurants that offer Ayurvedic vegan fresh food. They offer gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options including, most importantly to me, a dedicated fryer which means FRENCH FRIES!
Filled with natural food goodness, we hit the road again and made our way towards Carson National Forest and the Santa Barbara Campgrounds. A recommendation was provided to us by the National Forest Service that covered that area. I explained to the nice Ranger on the phone that we were on our honeymoon, and needed a place to camp for the night, and most specifically, one that was on our way towards Taos. The ranger insisted that we go to Santa Barbara Campgrounds. He said it was the nicest camp in the forest, and since there was a river that ran through it, you would be able to fall asleep to the comforting sounds of the river. Excited for what sounded like a hidden jewel, we set our sights toward Santa Barbara.
Again, this sounds much easier than it was. Most of the roads we were traveling on were one lane in each direction, which is fine, but as we traveled further along those nice paved roads turned into nice dirt roads, which turned into less-nice dirt roads, and ended at a fork in the road. But Hope! There’s a sign! Aforementioned hopes were thwarted when we discovered the sign had been ripped in half, and the pole was bent making it impossible to tell which direction the campground was located (we were originally told in the directions that the road simply ends at the campground.) The only indication that camping was allowed, was one little sign that requested you dowse your campfire, so there would not be a forest fire. Determined to find a site (and a bathroom) we opted for the high road first, while traversing it looked down the cliff and saw that other cars had pitched camp on the low road. Thinking we had made a mistake, we doubled back and headed for the low road; which was probably a mistake. The low road was much less car friendly than we had initially presumed. After running over a few small boulders, we realized that this was more of a “Backpacking, High clearance Vehicles only” site. While Joe and I are fairly adventurous folk, this was out of our league. Dismayed, we headed back for the high road again, resolved to see what was at the end of it. After what felt like forever, there was something off in the distance, signs of life! We drove onward spurred by the possibility of victory, we came up closer to discover….. Cows! – grazing outside a campground. Hallelujah! This particular campground also brought us a new experience of Vault Toilets. For those of you playing the home game, a vault toilet is in essence a giant hole in the ground, with a built up seat that semi resembles a toilet, but has a breeze that comes up to surprise you when you sit down. We found a site to pitch and began to settle in for the evening.
It was around dusk that we were formally introduced to our neighbors. The Cows pasture path, unbeknownst to us, outlined either side of the campground, and they were very impressed by our car tent. There was a small gathering outside the tent that started chatting each other up. Who knows, maybe they just like Blue and Orange?
We fell asleep to the blissful sounds of the river coursing mere feet away from us, and woke to the sounds of birds chirping, and cows mooing. We made coffee, broke down, and began our day but only after Joe was assaulted by a hummingbird. Taking this as an omen for good luck, we made our way down the high mountain road and headed out of the campground. This gave us another first, we encountered our first ever traffic jam / stand-off with cows. After a few minutes they shooed off to the side, but it seemed like they had wanted to keep us there for at least another night.
We made it to Taos in good time, and set about wandering the Pueblo one of the oldest towns within Taos which is still being lived in today. After Pueblo we went wandering around town in search of some food - Heaven. La Cueva is a Mexican Restaurant that is smaller than most, and in its tiny little corner lot, most people would drive right by. Tucked away to one side is the outdoor seating area that is covered by umbrellas, very clean with several tables packed with people. We were excited to find out why - they made the freshest guacamole, homemade corn tortillas, and food that I have had the pleasure of eating on this entire trip. We stuffed ourselves silly, and finished it off with homemade flan.
We opted to walk off the hefty meal by heading to Taos Mountain Candlers a customer of Paramold, and Cindy the owner introduced us to Theresa and Corinne who gave us a mini-tour of their candle operation. They were also kind enough to inform us what Pinon is, since it was everywhere and we had no idea what this was. (Home game side note - Pinon is a small pine tree that produces pine-cones, and the pine-cones bloom and a tasty tree nut comes out.)
We thanked them for their time and set out on the road again to check out what really made us want to come to Taos in the first place – Earthships. We headed to a place where they have a neighborhood of Earthships, including one that you can walk through to get a feeling of how a standard Earthship works and feels. It introduces you to the systems, as well as the reasons why these systems were put in place. We wandered around for a bit and introduced ourselves to Shanti, the woman who was running the desk for the Earthship walk through. We told her about what we were doing, and she asked to see our set up. We showed her around the Element, and let her know about the little things that we were doing in order to make this trip easier. She told us her story about how it went for her when she was living out of a Geo Metro for 6 months. We thanked Shanti for her time, and then drove off towards Colorado.
Morning greeted us with cloudy skies and enough of a dry patch for us to pack up the car, and get out of dodge. We began our drive from Oklahoma to Texas and celebrated when we crossed in to our 19th State. As it would happen, Texas wanted to greet us too! So right after crossing the state line our windshield was pelted by an errant rock and gave us a nice welcome crack. Laughing at the timing as well as the misfortune, we settled for the comfort that we would have time to mend it while visiting The Lachcik Family in Fort Worth. With the force that this particular rock hit our car, I was just happy that it didn’t break the windshield... because then it rained.
We took a minor detour from our destination to stop in Sulphur Springs, Texas. This little town isn’t known for really anything aside from one peculiar oddity – See through toilets, in the middle of their town square. Well I suppose see through is a bit of a misnomer, what they really are is public restrooms comprised of 2-way mirrored glass walls, allowing the occupant to relieve themselves in front of everyone in the square, yet the people of the square are none the wiser. There are 2 of these set on adjacent sides of the square, each a single occupancy, and very clean. We relieved ourselves and went across the street to eat a simple breakfast. The coffee was terrible, so we attempted a secondary coffee shop just off the square which was also terrible. Disgruntled, rained on, and itching to get to our destination, we left the weird potties behind and moved on to Fort Worth.
When we arrived in Fort Worth it felt a bit more like home. Mostly due to terrible drivers, a colossal amount of construction, and terrible road signage. I do have to admit though the rumors are true – everything really is bigger in Texas. The highways they were constructing looped and swerved intricately between each other attempting to establish every possible route in and out of the city. After a slightly harrowing journey we found our way to a Sprouts Market, picked up some food for lunch and landed safely in to the welcome home of the Lachcik’s.
We spent a week playing with the boys and trying to get Harry to say our names and trying to get Natey to crawl. Ultimately unsuccessful on both fronts, we did receive a decent compromise of names. This took a few days but I am GaGa, and Joe is GoJo. We spent days debating the veracity of Bubble Guppies, and attempting to fight off the utterly intrusive catchy theme song. (For torture purposes Joe will occasionally look at me lovingly and then serenade me with their tune.) We cleaned our tent and set it up to dry in the hot Texas sun, allowing Harry and friends to run around, in-and-out of “GoJo and Gaga’s House” Geico provided a place to fix the cracked windshield, Verizon replaced my phone, and we went to a few restaurants.
We decided on Friday to go to Fossil Rim on a safari around their park and feed some of the animals. Fossil Rim is normally a self-guided tour of an incredibly large (1,700 acres) preserve dedicated to the preservation of animals. Since there were a number of us (Lachcik family friends and babies) we rented a bus so that we could all tour the park together. Fossil rim is known for looking after over 1,000 animals from 50 different species. We saw, giraffe, zebras, deer, antelope, emu’s, goat, ram, gazelles, white rhino’s and cheetah’s. After a solid few hours of animal stalking we hoped back in to the car and headed down to San Antonio, where we would go to see the Riverwalk and the Alamo which would allow us to have another night with the Lachciks before headed out to New Mexico.
We met up after we checked into our respective hotels (We stayed at theDays Inn) and wandered along the bustling Riverwalk in search of dinner. We stopped at a place called Rita’s which offered Mexican food and Mariachi bands. (Turns out that Natey is not a huge fan of refried beans, but a very big fan of enchiladas and lemons.) Brigid and Tommy took the boys upstairs since they had experienced an extremely exhausting day of animals, travel, and food. Joe and I opted to grab a To-Go Margarita (disguised in coffee cups because we are stone cold rebels) and walk around a little more. We glanced over the walls of the Alamo plaza (essentially a block from our hotel) and admired the gardens from the outside. The sun had successfully baked the San Antonio Streets to well above 90 degrees and that constant heat mixed with the tequila sloshing in our bellies, steered our wayward feet back to the hotel for refuge. (We set our AC to 60 degrees before we left, it was like walking into a freezer.)
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the Q Kitchen and enjoyed some delicious honey butter pancakes and hash browns. After breakfast we met up with the Lachcik’s and made our way to the Alamo. A common misconception is that everyone at this famous battle died. Which is not entirely true- the battle had been lost after the army breeched the walls. Women, children, and slaves were released unharmed as a part of the surrender. There was no photography allowed on the inside of the Alamo which is a shrine and hallowed ground. As a free attraction you also get to wander the grounds and gardens of the Alamo and go into the Original Barracks, which now serves as a museum to the Alamo it’s historical purposes over the last 3 centuries. We also wandered in to the amphitheater and had ourselves a minor photo shoot.
The Lachcik family was then on their way to Austin, while GoJo and I decided to wander around town. We strolled the upper streets and peaked in to the stores and mall, and ultimately settled on going in to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and spent a few hours wandering amidst the collection of oddities Of course being sure to take obligatory pictures of the weirdest exhibits.
After Ripley’s we opted to work up an appetite by walking all over the Riverwalk from end to end, popping into some of the places and looking over the menus of each restaurant. After a while we settled on a late lunch at Casa-Rio and both ate for the first time fresh Chicharron (For those of you playing the home game, that would be fried pig skin) We enjoyed a pitcher of Margaritas and headed back to the hotel to cool off from the humid San Antonio Sun.
Instead of walking in the icebox we created, we discovered our key cards were not working. Frustrated, hot and a touch drunk, we stormed over to the front desk to rectify our wrong. When it was our turn at the front desk, we explained nicely that our key card wasn’t working. The woman behind the counter asked us our room number, and upon hearing it brightened up considerably and exclaimed “Oh Hooray! I was hoping I wouldn’t have to walk up there! Here, this is for you!” and thrust at us a gift basket with a big blue bow. No note - inside the gift basket was a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine, a bottle of champagne, 2 fancy plastic glasses and a bag of Lindt chocolate truffles. Taken aback by the surprise, the counter woman took this opportunity to quickly fix our cards, and then ask if there would be anything else for her to help us with. We asked who it was from, she shrugged and said “Enjoy!” and walked away. So, we took our random bounty and sought refuge in the icebox room.
We woke up in Louisiana and had ourselves packed up and ready to hit the road by 8:30AM. We found our way out of the French Quarter and into some of the outlying neighborhoods. Tentatively, we weaved our way down crowded narrow streets and found the all but hidden exit to the highways. We drove out through mostly bridges that called themselves highways and admired all of the bayous and swamp land. It was an unbelievable feat of engineering that managed to connect the outlying swamp-lands to the mainland.
The next stop was at Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This Civil War Memorial Park took us on a beautiful 16-mile self-guided driving tour of the battlefield, its trenches, relic cannons and monuments dedicated to the lives lost during the Civil War. What was unique about Vicksburg was that it identified the trenches used by each side as well as specific places throughout the park where important moments happened during the battle. The roads were beautifully manicured and very well maintained, it was a pleasure to drive along and discover the bits of history nestled in the grounds. We also got out and explored the USS Cairo and the museum exhibits there within. And you guessed it! Another field trip. Thankfully they had just finished walking through the ship remnants and museum, and they screamed their way across the street to the cemetery as we arrived. This allowed us to explore the Ironclad ship in peace and quiet. Both the ship and its excavation were revolutions in engineering. Each of these Ironclad ships took $89,600 (roughly $2.4 million today) to build and were specifically designed to travel in shallow river water and do battle along the great Mississippi River. We continued our trek through the rolling hills and admired the vast number of monuments. When we finished the tour, we searched for a campground to pitch for the night.
We stayed at River Town Campground where we were greeted by a miniature dust devil and set up just in time to watch several thunder heads roll by our “front door.” That was not all that rolled by – again we were an exhibit for the camping folk. Instead of our standard onlookers of curious children, it was a group of women walking their dogs who were discussing the oddity and questionable sanity of the car tent and its occupants. Grateful for the temperature drop that the approaching thunderstorm created, we relaxed comfortably in the breezy weather and watched as the dark clouds rolled in.
In the morning we woke up, packed up, and settled in for the drive to Little Rock, Arkansas. We were excited to get a glimpse into the past and stand in the shadow of the infamous Little Rock High School, where the desegregation of the nation finally reached its boiling point. “The Little Rock 9” were a group of black students who elected to transfer to Little Rock High School, as separate-but-equal was finally deemed unconstitutional. The one “shield” they had was the sheer volume of media coverage. This however, did not stop the bigotry and violence until the National Guard was mobilized and ordered to escort the students through the protestors and into the school. This small victory certainly wasn’t the end of the story and it’s easy to see there is still quite a bit of healing that lies ahead.
After wandering around and taking pictures of the monumental high school (which is still an active high school), we headed to Dempsey Bakery where I felt like a human again. EVERYTHING is gluten free and it was the best bakery bread I have had to date. They spoiled me with chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate and filled with icing, cheese cakes, breads, muffins, loaves, they even have pizza! (This I didn’t get to try but if the rest of the food is any indication it’s gotta be incredible.) They even offer baking services for wedding cakes and other special occasions. And! They don’t charge an arm and/or a leg for the convenience! The owner and employees were fabulous, the food was incredible, and I didn’t have to order from a different menu than everyone else. In the middle of the worst food desert I have been in on this trip Dempsey Bakery was a welcome oasis – as well as a welcome shelter from the torrential down pour that we yet again found ourselves caught within. Buying dessert for later, we ran out into the rain and treated ourselves to a Red Roof Inn for the night.
The counter people were lovely, and upon seeing our driver’s license questioned why we were so far from home. We explained that we were on our honeymoon, and we were traveling all 48 states. They excitedly tried to figure out how many states they had visited. They told us about local restaurants where we could go for dinner, as well as other interesting towns with fun attractions. We said our thank yous, unloaded the car and made our plans for the evening. We headed to Big Orange for burgers (veggie patty for Joe, gluten free bun from Dempsey for me) and Arnold Palmers.
After it rained all night we were happy we had opted for a hotel. We got on the road fairly early and at the urging of the hotel manager set our course for Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were truly not expecting to see much, but were greatly surprised by the thriving little town. We prepared for our wanderings by stopping at Kollective Coffee +Tea. With coffee in hand we traveled the length of the town. Several Museums (including a gangster museum), as well as bathhouses lines the streets and filled us in on the rich history that this little town contained. (Apparently it was the going to be Las Vegas before Las Vegas came into being.) We stopped in a store called “All Things Arkansas” and chatted with a woman who insisted that not all of Arkansas looked like the landscape we had driven through, which frankly was NOTHING but farms… for acres, and acres. There were streets without names and only numbers, County Roads and Farm-to-Market roads dotted the expansive landscape for what felt like an eternity. She promised us that Arkansas, when given the chance, could surprise you. We thanked her for her time, and headed back towards the car. We found out that a Mexican restaurant on this strip called Ronaldo’s offering safe gluten free options and treated ourselves to some lunch. Stuffed with good food, we hit the road toward Beavers Bend, Oklahoma where we would be spending the night.
When we arrived at Beavers Bend we were greeted in the standard fashion of rain and fog, but traversed the park in our car and enjoyed the sights from there. Known for their sightings of Bigfoot we peered through the brush with hopes of catching a glimpse, but were disheartened by the rain and fog limiting our gaze. With the Sasquatch nowhere to be seen, we opted for the next best thing – Pizza. The only pizza place around for literal miles that had any interest in feeding my folk was the best pizza I ever had the pleasure of ingesting…and it was in Oklahoma! The Grateful Head was a funky restaurant, with no shortage of seating or hospitality. Our server Josh, an incredibly gracious culinary student, had just completed his semester on Cross Contamination. Josh painstakingly went through the menu with me, explained what portions of each pizza I could eat and what would need to be done differently. He then personally supervised the assembly, cooking, and cutting of my pie to ensure I would not get sick. He apologized for how long the food had taken because of the scrutiny of the kitchen staff. I assured him that I didn’t mind, as quality takes time. Shortly thereafter, I informed Josh that he and his fellow coworkers had prepared the BEST pizza I have ever eaten (which partially scarred me, being from New York).
Waddling out of the restaurant after two pizzas, we crossed the street to Girls Gone Wine another funky place that offered multiple rooms of wine related gifts and tchotchke’s. At the end of the “treasure trail” was a wine bar that offered free tastings. C’mon, who’s gonna say no to free wine?? We enjoyed a flight and purchased a bottle aptly named “Roadtrip” and headed out to try and find lodging for the night since, you guessed it, it kept raining.
We made our way away from Beavers Bend and toward our next day’s destination of Fort Worth Texas and settled on a cheap hotel (Read – Mildly Scary) that was off the highway. However, it was fairly nice accommodations, offered free Wi-Fi, and the locks worked fabulously. We hunkered down for the night and excitedly awaited the next day’s journey.