We passed uneventfully through the night in the parking lot, and woke in the morning like people on a mission. We preened in the Walmart bathrooms, grabbed coffee and drove through to the west gate of Yellowstone National Park. We were amazed to see how many people were already at Yellowstone, so many of whom were international travelers. It’s strange when you see these famous beautiful places in pictures, because you never see a single person in the photographs. I suppose it’s because the photographer works very hard to make sure that you can look past the tourism and see in to the preserved majesty beyond the boardwalks and fences.
We entered the park and began to make our way to the attraction sites, and noticed that there was an inordinate amount of traffic, and throngs of people walking along the roadways. We pushed on and stopped first at Turquoise Pool, and the Grand Prismatic Spring, which are unbelievable sulfur pools that boast extraordinary colors, created by the harsh environments they occupy. There is a boardwalk that surrounds these unbelievable hot pools and mini geysers, allowing you to get an up close look at the wonders that nature evolved for itself.
I must admit, waiting in the parking lot for half an hour trying desperately to find parking, while pedestrians flood the lot simultaneously is harrowing. Trying to take unblemished photos of Mother Nature’s most oddly made, and intensely dangerous, landscapes is also difficult when the boardwalk around is 4-foot-wide, clogged with your fellow man, and has no fencing preventing you from falling straight in to the scalding and fragile lakes of bacteria and sulfur. The rangers were very helpful and did their best to make sure everyone stayed safe, but given the sheer volume of people who toured this park, I’m confident in saying that their job is not an easy one.
After walking the boardwalks, one begins to sense a theme – people are jerks. Every person was more concerned with their photos, and their tour instead of waiting their turn. There was pushing, line cutting, errant elbows, and a shocking amount of litter. However, I like to believe that Mother Nature sought her own quiet revenge, and stole the hats of some of her visitors. An eye for an eye kind of karmic reward – even if that means that the hats are now litter themselves.
If, however, you’re fortunate enough to snag a high point of view safe from the crowd, or if you can extend your arm and camera past their furthest limits, out past all the other outstretched arms, and selfie sticks, you capture images that are forever painted into the deepest parts of your heart. Murals of magnificence that imprint themselves in your mind’s eye whenever your day is too hard, and you feel like running away. Images like these:
After spending some time admiring the eerie grandeur of the Sulfur Lakes and Pools, we headed down the Park Road to Old Faithful, where we waited 45 minutes to see an eruption. We decided to use that time to eat some food. Foolishly thinking that we could take our time and eat like human beings, we realized that the surrounding viewing decks around Old Faithful had filled up with a considerable horde of people. We took a seat off to the far right of the benches and watched as more people piled in as the minutes to the next eruption counted down. That meant making friends with the random strangers who settled on our piece of boardwalk for a glimpse of the big event. What it also meant, was the crowds were growing restless for the promised eruption that was fabled to inspire. So, what’s a crowd to do? Fixate heavily on a singular raven whom was occupying the base of the notorious geyser, busying himself with picking the bugs from the trembling ground. Many times, the crowd itself erupted in nervous noises, trying to scare off the raven from the impending explosion of water, creating a tenuous nervousness for the fate of our feathered friend. As a group, we were unsuccessful, and when Old Faithful finally unleashed its deluge of blistering water, we mourned as a community the loss of our protagonist to the scalding waters – positive he was broiled alive and suitable as a freshly cooked feast for scavengers. But Hope! From the raging column of water, seen flying away from the plumes of sulfuric clouds was the raven! The crowd erupted itself in triumphant victory and cheered for the raven who had no idea he was the center of our imagined dramatic play. Old Faithful forcefully spewed for several minutes, and then equalized after all of the pressure had been released, settling to again to fill itself for boil in another hour or so.
We left Old Faithful to entertain the next groups of people and moved on down the road, crossing the official Continental Divide, and made our way towards the East Entrance to soak in to the rest of Wyoming. This drive was said to be one of the most beautiful that our far-reaching country has to offer, proffered by Theodore Roosevelt himself. It was there in the outskirts of the land that we battled the most feared and unrelenting modern day struggle – no cell service.
The decision was made, we had been dirty hippies long enough, a shower was needed and laundry was on the agenda. So, for a night we would stay in a hotel, but that’s damn near impossible to book when you go from no service to 1x to no service in the span of a few minutes. Ultimately, we managed to find a place called “A Wyoming Inn” that was in the town of Cody an hour or so outside the park, that had a room available. Unbelievably, in this same town they had a restaurant called Adriano’s that was terrifically versed in Celiac, and made incredible pizza (Truthfully, I still dream of it). While we waited for our pies to cook, at the urging of the restaurant staff, we walked around the corner to Juniper to buy a bottle of wine, and apparently have a glass because not only is it a liquor store, it’s a bar. (It’s around this time that we started to understand why all these international people come to Wyoming, it’s fabulous!)
We introduced ourselves to Chet the bartender, and chatted with him and another patron about our adventures that brought us to their home town. After a glass of wine, we walked back to Adriano’s picked up our pizza, and drove back to the hotel for a nice date night, involving pizza, wine, and laundry. Our room offered an unobstructed view of the sun as it set over the horizon, giving off the most incredible hues of orange pink and red as it drifted slowly past the mountains. We hung up our freshly laundered clothes on our make shift drying tow-strap clothesline, and relaxed the night away.
"And then there is the most dangerous risk of all - the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." - Randy Komisar
There are times in life where a person will do something out of the ordinary, really what this whole trip is about, but what we didn’t realize is the method we chose to travel the country is not exactly like most people’s choices. Most people choose to stay in hotels, or travel in an RV of some kind. By transforming our unassuming little element in to a house on wheels, we thought we would blend perfectly with our vagabond minded brethren – not true. RV’s have doors to exit from, the element doesn’t. Honestly, it has to be the oddest thing to watch one of us climb out of the back of this car. I say this because of the increasingly odd looks we have been subject to when doing so.
First off, you can’t see into the car at all because the curtains line the entire inside perimeter. They also serve to deaden noise, so you can’t hear anything coming from the inside. It looks like a super normal empty vehicle. Secondly, coming out of the vehicle is done via the hatch, since it’s been previously stated that the curtains wrap around the entire inside perimeter of the car; making it essentially impossible to use the standard designated exits. I don’t care if you are the most agile human the universe ever beheld, there is no graceful way to climb out of the hatch of this vehicle. None! Mostly because the clearance while exiting the vehicle is half of the normal size due to the bed platform necessary to create our storage space underneath. It’s all elbows and exploratory feet; tip toes searching for the limits of the tailgate so as to not misjudge your footing and accidentally fall off the car with a flurry of swear words, onto the unforgiving ground below.
However, the hatch of the Element normally only opens from the outside. In order to exit out via the hatch, we (read: Joe) had to install a way out. So, utilizing para-cord and the unlocking mechanism underneath the hatch paneling, Joe created a release cord, and a secondary cord that’s mounted to the metal frame of the hatch to pull it closed once you’re inside. The other difficulty is dropping the bottom gate, as it’s damn near impossible to climb inside when it’s closed. So there is a process.
Step 1. Roll up exit flap for curtain.
Step 2. Pull cord to release latch and lift glass hatch.
Step 3. Lower bottom hatch and somehow control its downward momentum so it doesn’t slam down.
Step 4. Exit; however it works for you.
Personally I am a big fan of the “Human Snake” wherein I pull myself out and do a push up on the tail gate until I can get my footing (cons – high risk of face plants). Joe prefers the “feet first” approach (cons- you’re going out blind and might slip and fall on your ass.)
Most common denominator – you look crazy and weird climbing out of a car in a parking lot.
We woke up in Spokane to rain on our roof, waited it out a little bit, and were rewarded with a long enough stretch for us to wiggle out, pack up and continue on our trek to Glacier National Park. We spent the rest of the day playing peek-a-boo with different weather systems but ultimately lost by the time we hit Glacier. We drove around the park a little bit to what we could see, but ultimately gave in to the gray weather and rain, resigning to search for a campsite inside the park before we had nowhere to sleep. After going through a couple loops, we finally found a space. Being the New York Prima Donnas we are, we opted to wait for a lull in the rain to set up to sleep inside the car. We left the sunroof cover off and watched the rain fall and the clouds move across the sky. Around sunset, it stopped for a little while, just long enough for us to stretch our legs, pee, and take pictures. We spent the evening in the car, watching movies and planning our journey for the next few days. Sleep came gently, as we listened to the sounds of the soft rain against our roof.
We woke up later than expected, which unfortunately shortened our exploratory drive of the majestic Glacier National Park before making a 500mile journey to Craters of the Moon in Idaho. It was an incredibly long day of driving and not much else, but we were fortunate enough to have the company of gorgeous scenery along the way.
We pulled in to Craters of the Moon KOA after the office hours only to discover all the tent pads were taken. We opted to find an RV space without hookups. We found an open pull thru at the back of the grounds, and waited for night fall; this was going to be our first real chance at seeing some stars. The majority of our trip was spent in areas where it was raining, or clouds obscured the night sky, or the moon was so bright that it erased them completely. After the sun fell behind the mountains, we climbed out of the car and into the windy night. Our GoPro was not cooperating and our fingers were starting to numb in the chilly night air. We surrendered only to decide to climb out again hours later to ensure we got the best shots possible to commemorate the occasion.
When I woke up in the morning it was my 30th birthday, (Yes, thank you, thank you; happy birthday to me) and I thought that waking up in Idaho was going to be the best thing, since we got to spend the whole day in the potatoiest state in the US. - Wrong. The potatoiest state does not sell its wares in the same way that other states sell their prize crops; I was secretly hoping for a french fry hut on every corner. So disappointed. It was wonderful anyway because we were going to be spending our morning in Craters of the Moon National Park which is a crazy lava field that cooled down and created a very alien feeling landscape. Absolutely beautiful and the park itself was extremely well tended. So for my 30th birthday, I got to play the “Floor is Lava” but for professionals so I guess it would be “World is Lava”? Anyway, we drove through the scenic loop and stopped at a few of the exploratory places like Devil’s Orchard. After a lovely morning wandering through lavafields, we hopped back in the car and made our way towards the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Instead of potatoes in Idaho for my big birthday dinner we had… Mexican... in Utah. Gas Station Mexican, of course. Somehow, in the state of Utah, the people who make tacos in gas stations understand the concept of gluten free and do well when explaining what they can and cannot do; all while speaking Spanglish. Uncontested winner of best Carne Asada Tacos on earth goes The Salt Flats Cafe. Mexican food made fresh to order, in a gas station in the desert. I love America. However, after crossing in to Utah, we had to then go back to Nevada to make camp at the Wendover KOA, a sweet little spot nestled inside a town filled with casinos, salt flats, and not much else. The woman behind the desk let us use her largest tent spot with no up-charge so we could set up the infamous car-tent and without obstructing campsite traffic. Decidedly warmer after setting up the tent under the Nevada sun, we elected to go for a swim in the pool. My brilliant husband loves me, and set up the ratchet tow straps again as a makeshift clothesline to dry our towels and suits. We let everything dry, drank a birthday bottle of wine, and watched The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. What more could a girl ask for?
Sleeping in the tent always means an earlier wake-up call since it is so much brighter than sleeping in the Element. Nothing quite says good morning like the bright desert sun in your face. So, we packed up the tent, and headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats a mere hop skip and a jump away from the Nevada Border. Driving through our Nations great parks, I have discovered there are multiple entrances to almost all of them. Bonneville was unique in the fact that there is one road in, and it simply ends in the flats. Just straight up ends. There’s a sign that explains where fore-bearers have outlined race tracks and their approximate locations. Each track is outlined with cones, however this did not make it any easier to find them. The salt has the texture of snow, but feels warm. The spots where it has been consistently driven on are compressed down and have a similar friction to ice. This odd surface combined with the exceedingly flat long extinct lake bed make it one of the best places to set land speed records. We drove around for a bit on the flats, testing the limits of our heavy home before heading back out toward Salt Lake City, where we decided to stop for lunch.
Upon arriving in Salt Lake City, we realized Joe’s Aunt Linda would be in town for a work conference. We met her at her hotel as she was checking in, got her settled, and then walked down town to Zest Kitchen a vegetarian restaurant where everything on the menu is Gluten free. Fabulous! I even got a chance to drink a delicious beer (Green’s Quest Triple Blonde Ale 8.5%). While the food was good, catching up with Aunt Linda had to be the best part about our quick jaunt to SLC. We walked back to Linda’s hotel, said our goodbyes and continued on our way towards Yellowstone.
We drove for hours and settled at the closest Walmart to Yellowstone, in Rexburg WY. Except for, the place where we were told Walmart would be, was not where Walmart is. So we drove past the first Walmart we saw, and followed the GPS to an empty building. Apparently, Walmart got fancy on itself, and decided it needed its own store front complete with its own gas station. So we drove back to the Walmart we passed and looked around for our fellow parking-lot-camper enthusiasts. There were no RV’s, campers, tow trailers, nothing to indicate that the random network of vagabonds we had grown accustomed to. They were always our proverbial canary in the coalmine; their presence deemed the place a safe haven. Normally in a Walmart parking lot there are several canaries in the coalmine, if it’s a 24-hour facility that allows overnight parking, there will be campers. Their absence and the clearly new locale prompted a new first – asking Walmart for permission to sleep in their parking lot. Something I genuinely thought I would live my whole life without doing.
Rexburg was very receptive and simply requested we park as far out of the way of main store traffic as possible. We thanked them, headed to Costa Vida down the road for a quick dinner, and parked for the night, promising ourselves a very early morning start to get up to Yellowstone.
We woke in the morning and packed our luggage (clothing bins) into the Element. We dragged our feet but kept our hopes high that today would hold wonders and lift our spirits. Waze guided us to the redwoods and we made sure to choose every scenic drive the roadways offered to see the most we could. The first tree with a name was the Grandfather Tree, an incredibly massive tree that touts being over 1800 years old. What that really meant was that we had to go to the other side of the parking lot in order to get it all in one photo. Standing at the base makes one feel minuscule in comparison.
Taking our time, we meandered along the coast line soaking in the sheer size of the redwoods, basking in the scenery. We stopped and grabbed lunch at the Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe, the ladies there were kind enough to feed us even though they were closing early for the holiday weekend. We ate in the car, parked on the main road, and watched as the bustling town slowed to a crawl. With bellies full, we continued to meander up the coast poking in and out of the redwoods. It’s incredible how high these massive giants reach towards the sky.
We became so engaged in the scenery, we completely forgot about a place to stay at the end of the drive. This normally is not a problem except we also failed to realize that everyone would be out for the holiday weekend, resulting in no available campgrounds anywhere. Why? Because 4th of July means camping! So we did the next best thing – we spent our first night in a Walmart parking lot. Truthfully it was better than we had expected. We had many neighbors in the form of RV’s. Thankfully it was a 24-hour supercenter and we found a space wedged between 2 parking islands and began to set up the car for the night. After putting up our curtains and laying out the bed, we went into Walmart to stretch our legs, wander through the aisles and pick up the little bits of things we may need along our journey (also to go to the bathroom one final time before we bunkered down for the night). Our new Walmart neighbors decided that since it was after all a holiday weekend, they would entertain us before bed by putting on a firework show and shouting drunkenly at the explosions and one another.
After a surprisingly good night sleep we woke up the next morning, packed up our miniature home, and headed North toward Eugene, Oregon where we would be spending our 4th of July. While traveling along we finally found a restaurant that was opened named Cornucopia, and sat down to enjoy lunch. Concerned about where we would park for the night, we began searching for a campground early in the day. This proved to be the right decision as we were fortunate enough to find one campground that had only a handful of spaces left, Eugene Kamping World. After scouting the available sites, we made our way to the space that would work best for us and pitched. We were lucky enough to be able to see portions of multiple fireworks shows while relaxing in our lawn chairs and drinking some Oregon Pinot Noir.
As the sun hit our tent we arose and broke down camp to make our way towards Portland where we would be exploring for a few days with our friends Dez and Jason. Before getting to their house we decided we needed some caffeine to pry open our eyes and some wine to share for the evening. We stopped on the waterfront at a coffee shop, and walked along the river to see what was around, stopping into the Bottle Bodega where they want to find the right bottle for the job. After some great conversation we thanked the shop owner and made it to the Pittman house. We had just enough time for a quick shower before heading out to Portobello for an incredibly delicious dinner. For dessert we opted to head to a gluten free bakery nearby that also offered vegan options for Jason. We spent the rest of the night at the Pittman’s for a glorious TV binge of Rick and Morty.
When we woke up the next morning both Dez and Jason had to go to work, leaving Joe and I to our own devices. We started the day by headed to New Cascadia for brunch. New Cascadia is a 100% dedicated gluten free bakery that is nestled in some back streets…and it’s incredible! Everything is scratch made in house; you can taste the love. After filling ourselves up we decided to walk off the added carb weight by walking aimlessly in the Rose Gardens, followed by a hearty hike up the hill to the Japanese Gardens. Breathtaking views of the city of Portland laid down in a valley below our feet and invited us to take a moment to enjoy its peacefulness.
After completing our tour of the Japanese Garden, we headed back towards the Rose Garden and treated ourselves to some shaved ice as a welcome treat from the persistent Oregon sun. After spending the majority of the day amidst nature and flowers, we decided to give our sinuses a break and head back to Dez and Jason. They wanted to bring us to one of their favorite overlook sites, a place they call “The Castle”, that is atop a hill and looks out over the city of Portland and the southerly border of Washington. After looking out over the horizon for a while, we decided it was time for more of what Portland does best – food! We settled down for dinner at Vita Café, where I enjoyed a heaping plate of chili cheese fries, nachos and a chicken fried steak made of tempeh. Ridiculous! After dinner it was back to the homestead for more binge watching of Rick and Morty- my new favorite television show.
The next morning Dez was able to get off from work, so she took us to brunch at the Tin Shed Garden Cafe, and then brought us around the city to all of her favorite shops including an oddity shop called Paxton Gate and an old school arcade called Ground Kontrol (where the currency was quarters and not tokens). We played Pac-Man, X-Men, and even had a Dance, Dance, Revolution battle. Dez was kind enough to bring us all over so that we could get a real feel of what Portland was like. Around late afternoon we went back to the house and met up with Jason to go to New Seasons Market a grocery store that was very similar to Sprouts. We picked up stuff to make dinner (Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan Pasta Deliciousness) and laughed about just how much we had in common with our food selections and shopping habits.
True to Portland form (and the theme of our trip) It rained a bit, so we were happy to spend the night finishing Rick and Morty and watching “Samurai Cop”; a delightfully terrible movie about a man who takes down a Japanese crime gang (sometimes it’s his real hair and sometimes it’s a wig). Since it was our last night, we ended up staying up a little bit later than we should have, but it was well worth it for good company. We had fallen in love with Portland, and were very sad to leave it behind.
Bright and early the next morning we hit the road to Seattle for our trip to the top of the Space Needle. After purchasing our tickets to the observation deck we overheard someone discussing brunch at a revolving restaurant at the top called “Skycity”. The brunch includes your ticket to the observation deck and they offered a limited number of gluten free items. We were told they had a last minute cancellation this morning and if we decided to take the table for two they would refund our original tickets. Needless to say we decided to eat a three course brunch in the rotating restaurant at the top of the Space Needle (47 minutes for a 360-degree rotation). Fancy food eaten, we strolled over to the observation deck and proceeded to weave our way around the throngs of tourists now ascending on the needle as the rain begrudgingly gave way too sunshine. After spending a good amount of time looking over Seattle, we decided it was time to start driving again and tick down as many miles as we could for our next destination. Today would be our first day traveling East, both an exciting accomplishment and a somber moment of realization there was as much behind us as there was in front of us.
We watched as Seattle and the Pacific Northwest began to disappear in our mirrors. We drove through beautiful mountain passes and a valley made of gold with a sky so vast and blue it seemed endless. Spokane Valley Washington drew near and we decided on dinner at Twigs Bistro and afterwards stayed in a tiny corner of a Walmart parking lot. In the midst of a sea of RV’s was our little unassuming orange Element, happy to take a refuge for the night.
"So let the light guide your way, hold every memory as you go, and every road you take, will always lead you home." - Wiz Khalifa
We woke up the next morning and started our drive to Death Valley National Park which would be our campground for the night. We arrived at the visitor center a little bit before they were going to close, and asked them if there was space for camping. Bare in mind that we were officially at negative 200ft sea level, only 82ft short (tall?) of the lowest point in North America; which was a short drive down the road to Badwater Basin. The ranger asked if we were in tent or RV, when we answered tent she started laughing heartily and explained that under no circumstances would we actually want to camp with anything less than 2 air conditioners. The ranger explained that temperatures in the area of Death Valley in which we were considering camping were essentially unrelenting. When we arrived it was 120 Degrees, she expected that number to go down slightly but only to about 107; meaning that if we woke up at 6AM it would already be over 110. The ranger suggested 2 options - 1. If we were still dead set on camping where we were, to make sure that we had ice water in a cooler, and to sleep on top of the tables on the campground, covered with an ice water soaked sheet (and to wake up every 30 minutes when it was dry to re-soak them) or, 2. Go to a free campground with a higher elevation to ensure our survival. Considering the fact that the ranger encouraged us not to pay for a campsite, we opted to go to the higher elevation and seek refuge from the oppressive heat. This entailed driving about 40-ish miles deeper into the park, and up the mountains. In doing so, we passed a total of 3 campgrounds – with not one single space occupied. We were also privy to a very rare occurrence for the desert, but an incredibly common phenomenon for us – It rained.
We found a campground named Wildrose Canyon, which had the highest elevation we felt like getting to, and realized that we were the only fools who would camp in Death Valley at the end of June. Regardless of our insanity, it was an unbelievable view, and the fact that it was utterly unobstructed by anything was sublime, however it came with a price - since we witnessed it rain in the desert, it meant that there would be no stars for us at night. Disheartened by the realization that we would not be able to see the stars, and convinced we would be eaten by coyotes, we slept in the car so we wouldn’t have to waste time breaking down the tent in the heat of the morning. We sat in our campsite and watched the sun sink behind the mountains, painting the desert sky. Sleeping in the car however, was a touch hotter than I would have liked, but I was grateful to have my little fan circulating air.
We woke up incredibly early due to the rising heat baking our Element, and put the car back together. Thankfully it goes quicker every time we use it. With the temperatures already creeping closer to above 100, we began our journey towards Glendale to see Devin and Melissa. However, since we were in Death Valley, and there is no such thing as a cell phone signal, we had no GPS to guide us. Fortunately, we had picked up a park map at the visitor center, and we were able to decipher a path out of the park in the general direction in which we wanted to travel. So proud of my ability to read a map, we charged on-wards, and pretty much immediately upon exiting the park, we encountered a road block.
What appeared to be miles of clear and empty road, was actually a lie. There was road repaving happening for miles, and in order to combat the possibility of injured road crew, California had devised a pilot car system, where in one workman had to drive back and forth ferrying lines of cars safely from one side to the other. We didn’t know this. So instead, all we see is this one man, hanging out, doing his best to not make direct eye contact, since it is literally only our car for what feels like miles. Awkward. So we wait, and we wait, and we offer said work man some water, he says ‘thank you, but no’, and we wait some more. Joe gets out of the car, rearranges some things… and we wait. After 25 minutes of said waiting, we see a dump truck approach, and he has a line of cars behind him who are chomping at the bit to go faster than the pace truck approved 25 miles an hour. He stops, turns around, and unleashes the line of cars to the other side of the highway. At this point Joe and I had 3 cars behind us now, and the gentleman in the truck got out, chatted with our stop sign man and took his sweet-ass time getting back into his truck. And so we began our journey across the 7-mile stretch of highway at a painful 25 mph. So guess what you get to see?
After finally being freed from the singular view of the dump truck, we escaped back on to desert highway where the speed limit was 70Mph. However, we arrived a little earlier than expected and treated ourselves to “Finding Dory” in the nearby mall. After watching a movie in air conditioning, we changed in a parking garage into normal human clothes and got ready to meet up with Devin and Melissa for dinner at Messhall Kitchen (fabulous cocktails and great food). We headed back to their apartment for the Game of Thrones season finale, more wine and catching up.
We woke up the next morning and took our time enjoying the hot shower. Devin had some work to do, so we waited for him and then we drove to the coast and over to Malibu to see the ocean. We got ourselves a drink at Neptune’s Net and walked along the rocky shoreline, breathing in the salty pacific air. We even got to see a seal peeking his nose over the waves, watching a kite surfer at work.
We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway for a little while, and ogled the massive houses that were near the shore. Hungry for dinner, we stopped at Hugo’s Tacos where I had ridiculous Mexican food from a shack… AND CHURROS. Suck it Celiac! We headed back to the house to drink wine and watch "Spy Hard".
In the morning we woke up to heart breaking news, our family puggle Guinness was losing his battle with cancer, and was in tremendous pain. He had stopped eating, his one true joy and passion in life – so with a heavy heart my mother called us to let us know that she was going to have to put him down the following day. Devastated and thoroughly deflated, we stayed inside the house and mourned. We opted to not show our sniffling faces to the world, and instead watched the new season of “South Park”, drank wine and noshed on nibbles all day, then ended the day with garlic bread and kebobs.
We woke up early and got ready to drive through San Francisco to wine country. We mostly cried all day, and the weather seemed to match our sorrowful moods.
The drive was long, our eyes hurt and the day was terrible. At the end of the drive we decided to be kind to ourselves and book a hotel room, promising ourselves that the next day’s journey through the Redwoods would be a better one.
In Loving Memory of Guinness
"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.
The sun peeked over the trees (and our blockade) and woke us up around 6:45AM. We decided to get a jump start on the day since we had 2 stops to accomplish. We broke down, packed up, and managed to be out of the KOA by 7:30AM. We headed straight out to the USS Alabama to spend some time on Memorial Day weekend, remembering the sacrifices of those before us.
The USS Alabama is a preserved/restored BB60 Battleship that served in the Pacific during World War II. It rests within Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama alongside numerous restored/preserved relics of American Military Prowess. (Multiple tanks, a submarine, planes, jets, bombers, and rockets just to name a few) The USS Alabama was originally going to be scrapped but was ultimately saved by statewide fundraising efforts. Interestingly enough, this park is not maintained by tax money which gives one a true sense of the love and appreciation Alabama has for their namesake battleship.
The park offers a few options for self-guided tours of the ship, and after purchasing tickets they provide a piece of paper that outlines the attractions along on the tour lines. We opted for the “Yellow Tour” which enabled us to climb the upper levels of the ship as well as the outer-decks for better vantages out over the sea. As wells as admire all the weaponry that was used during warfare. The self-guided tour took around an hour to complete, but gives one a solid understanding of what it means to move around in such tight quarters.
We left the ship and headed into the airplane hangar where they display the jets and planes they have acquired as part of the memorial. We even got a look at a “field-style” ambulance - which offered 2 bunks for the wounded in the back (one at a time for me please, thank you). We wandered around for a while and then continued outside to see a WWII Submarine, the USS Drum which is the oldest American submarine on display in the world. It was only around this time that we realized we had been terrible fools and forgotten sunscreen. Partially cooked, we headed back to the car to make our way toward our next destination – New Orleans, Louisiana.
We drove towards Mississippi and felt our bellies grumble. So we searched and searched for food that would be close to us, however there was none. There were no grocery stores, no markets, nothing except for Waffle House, Sonic, Chick-fil-A, and the increasingly popular Arby’s. All of them death traps. Hangry, stressed and out of options, we exited the roadway to the Mississippi Welcome Center, hoping they might be able to provide some direction for relief in this food desert. We walked into one of the nicest welcome centers to date. It had an Antebellum Plantation style appeal which is so popular in the South. The woman behind the counter was named Leann, and she offered us ice cold sweet tea and some much needed guidance. She showed us an area where we would have better luck finding food for me, as well as a more scenic route through Mississippi along the Coastal Roads. Rejuvenated and determined, we hit the road again for the coast. We found a Mellow Mushroom and stuffed our faces with gluten free pizza. Satisfied after splitting 2 pizzas, we headed down the coastline. It looked exactly like Pensacola, but was significantly less crowded, lighter traffic, and nicer looking hotels. But I suppose no one ever says that they want to go to Mississippi Beaches for vacation?
We made our way in to the French Quarter of New Orleans and were immediately introduced to one of her less fine traits. The smell of these streets is vaguely reminiscent of the Sunday morning after a weekend bender at a frat house. That familiar nostalgia mixed with humidity, and sun-baked horse manure, creates a potent perfume that singes the nose hairs and lodges itself in your sinuses and memories. Despite this pungent odor, we were somehow hungry. We walked out of Le Richielieu and headed toward the French market. We stopped at El Gato Negro and gorged ourselves on a pitcher of sangria and enchiladas. Primed and ready to take on The French Quarter and Bourbon Street, we stepped out into the heat and explored. We headed back up toward the French Market and walked along the mighty Mississippi for a bit. Then wandered down the streets along some of the parks and admired some of the local artistry.
We encountered a wedding processional strutting down Bourbon Street; the bride and groom looking elated. Following behind them was their closest friends and family, all dancing to the jazzy beats of one of a New Orleans Original “Iko Iko” - complete with a motorcycle police escort. We enjoyed their processional, and wandered into voodoo shops, to-go cocktail bars, and along the streets themselves. After a few hours of drinking and inhaling the hefty aroma of the streets, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
We woke up at a lazy 8:30AM in our hotel and began to try and figure our breakfast options. We set out to walking and found an extremely tiny hole in the wall coffee joint called Spitfire. With barely enough room to turn around you begin to wonder if its worth it. We ordered drinks, and then realized that what we had ordered came in the teeniest tiniest baby cups. We began to really question if it was worth it. And, it was. Thank god! Absolutely delicious coffee and plenty of zing to get us going to walk around all day. We sipped our tiny coffee and walked around in search of breakfast. The first restaurant we went to had purported themselves as gluten free and found their way on to my app. Turns out when you ask them for a menu, they look like they’ve seen a ghost, and it becomes “Oh, ah, welllllllll……” let me tell you, this instills A LOT of confidence. After watching 3 servers hem and haw about if they can feed me, Joe and I politely told them we were no longer interested, and ran out.
We managed to find another hotel called the Bourbon House who was able to accommodate my needs, but by that I mean there was exactly one thing that I could eat safely. However, I very much enjoyed my Cajun potatoes and eggs.
Truthfully, traveling down the east coast was fairly easy as far as it came to food. There was always *SOMEWHERE* (It may have been only one place but it was somewhere) for me to find safe food. Normally, we have to travel an average of 50 miles between safe locations. We figured that being in New Orleans, inside the French Quarter, would allow us a little bit of flexibility as far as food goes. Incorrect. There were in fact a myriad of restaurants who stated that they offer gluten free menus, however when you call them because you can’t find their menu, they ask you what you mean. They take a moment, and then, as if the connection has finally been made, they brightly inform me that I cannot have the dairy items included on their menus and that they cannot guarantee my safety. This is agonizing. It is awful getting hopes up to be able to eat culturally relevant foods, and then have them dashed by the fact that no one is willing to take the time to feed you.
Placated by mimosa and breakfast, we paid our check and headed out the door. However a surprise waited for me on the streets! Turns out New Orleans wanted to greet us properly, so a local man - heavily enveloped in the city’s pungent perfume (and adorned with oddities including a black fine toothed comb half in his shaggy beard and half inside his nose), curtsied, and opened his palm. Inside was a small, green…. banana. Plantain? I’m not entirely sure. I said thank you but no, and turned to walk away in the opposite direction and was greeted by another pan handle curtsy. Caught in the panhandle curtsy triangle, we wriggled our way past their offerings while giving our thanks and skirted down bourbon street. We wandered down the streets trying to find something to pique our interests. Lost wandering in the same way that so many had been wandering before, we meandered into Boutique du Vampyre and admired their wares. The woman behind the register could see the appreciation in our eyes and offered us a map to the cities unique secrets. She showed us where to find séance rooms (Muriel’s) and utterly fabulous cocktails, as well as where to get the best absinthe (hint: Pirate Alley) which offered up to 140 proof absinthe. Holy licorice, Batman!
After chasing my absinthe with a random concoction created by our bartender, we wobbled the streets between more to-go bars. And headed back to the hotel in order to figure out our plans for dinner. We called restaurant, after restaurant, after restaurant…… after restaurant. (How can there be a food desert in one of the most gluttonous cities that America has to offer?!) We took this as a small blessing in disguise because as we searched for dinner, New Orleans took this time to cleanse herself, and it rained. Frustrated with the continuous barrage of “No” we decided on a dinner at the El Gato Negro again, as well as enjoying dessert - which was by far and away the best flan that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. So thank you to El Gato Negro for multiple safe meals.
We headed back to the hotel exhausted after a day of wandering and collapsed in our bed.