Favorite Memories From My Road Trip – 3 Months Later

When all is said and done, my road trip totaled somewhere between 2,600 to 3,000 miles.  That is A LOT!  To give you some perspective, the distance between Paris and Moscow is 2,800 miles.  Cairo to Casablanca is just shy of 3,000 miles.  Buenos Aires to Lima is about the same.  That’s the crazy thing about America — It’s just so goddamn big.  On any other continent, I would have been passing through different countries, with their own unique languages and cuisines (Although arguably, I did experience lots of different dialects and food on my trip).

While there are almost 3,000 miles of memories I know I’ll value greatly, probably forever, there are a few moments that stick out as absolutely my favorite.

The Rainbow Tunnels in Birmingham, AL:  Even though these tunnels were not quite what Pinterest built them up to be, seeing them late at night on my first day on the road was kind of magical.  I don’t think it was even the aesthetics of them.  I can just so clearly remember that feeling of anxiety, excitement, nervousness on doing this thing completely on my own.  I think in that tunnel what I was experiencing more than anything else was freedom.


The drive to Dauphin Island, AL:  This was such a “Southern” drive to me.  I remember the feeling of excitement in the car as Remy and I kept seeing snippets of the ocean.  It was an absolute scorcher, and I kept trying to leave the windows rolled down to catch the breeze before giving up and blasting the AC.  Every store, house, building we passed seemed to fit right in even though none of them were the same and I am left with an overwhelming memory of brightness and color.


Driving up to Longwood in Natchez, MS: This was a dream come true to me.  Big plantation homes and the live oaks covered in spanish moss are one of my favorite things about the South.  I loved taking visitors to Charleston while I lived in Columbia, and going on adventures to see all of the amazing historical homes in South Carolina.  I knew this was probably the last plantation home I’d be on for a long while and I soaked up the splendor of it.


Seeing Perri in Houston, TX:  I didn’t realize how much I needed to see a friendly face until I got to her house, but I was tired, hungry, and getting a little lonely.  The joy of fellowship with her revived my soul a little bit.

My day of adventures in Austin, TX:  In case you don’t remember, I freaking loved Austin.  Ready to go back already!


The drive out of Marfa, TX: Leaving Marfa I wanted to stop every 5 minutes for pictures.  The landscape was so overwhelmingly beautiful and immense.  I would have pitched a tent and stayed there watching the grass grow if I would have had the time.


Sky City/Acoma Pueblo:  There are two very distinct memories in my mind when I think back to New Mexico and they both come from my visit to Sky City in the Acoma Pueblo (sorry the entire rest of the state).  At the end of my tour, I walked back from the mesa to the cultural center.  In order to get down to the main road, we had to go down a series of steps/footholds that had been carved into the rock.  It was an incredible experience to use the same foot and handholds that had been used for generations of people on the mesa.  I felt a sense of connection to the people who had walked in literally the same footsteps I was walking in at that very moment.  The second memory is one that I never shared on this blog.  When I left the cultural center and headed back to the main highway I was stopped on this rural road by a herd of horses.  I’m not sure if they belonged to someone on the pueblo or if they were wild because they had no brands, or halters, or anything.  I rolled down the window to watch them cross over the road and into the desert.  As I sat there watching them, one of the fillies turned back around and looked at me.  I’ve loved horses my entire life and have spent a lot of time around them.  But that moment was incredibly special to me.


Seeing the red rocks of Sedona, AZ:  One of the overarching themes of my trip was the inescapable beauty of the landscape of America.  Sedona served to reinforce this theme.  Another place I wish I could have spent more time.


Hitting the California border in a town I don’t know the name of: This felt so surreal to me, but even then I recognized that this was a huge and happy moment.


Staying at the Westin in Mammoth Lakes, CA:  Mammoth Lakes you are so beautiful (and of course, I was so shocked by the SNOW), but my memory from this leg of my trip will ALWAYS be about the sumptuous comfort of my amazing heavenly bed, deep bathtub, and roaring fireplace.  Not even embarrassed about it.


The drive out of Yosemite:  Even though I still had a distance to cover once I got out of the National Park, this drive felt like the last part of my true road trip.  And, it was one of the most stunning stretches with amazing scenery ever inch of the way.


Surprised at what I still remember 3 months later?  Me too!  Here are some highlights I thought for sure would have made this list before my trip:

Hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque (if you recall, this was a big splurge for me!)

Basically everything about New Mexico

The Grand Canyon

Don’t worry–a post about what I wish I would have done differently is sure to come soon!

What inspired me to quit my job and move across the country or why I think you should be happy

For a few months before I decided to quit my job and move across the country, I stared at this quote from where I’d taped it just to the right of my monitor.  Every day I’d look at it and think, am I who I want to be?  Am I where I want to be?  Am I doing what I want to be doing?  And if the answer to those questions are no, what am I going to do about it?

Here’s the thing that we all know, even if we don’t voice it: Starting over is freaking hard.  And it’s scary!  Change is hard, anything new is hard, because the law of inertia applies to each and every one of us.  Even if we don’t love what we are doing, sometimes it’s easier to just stay stuck in our rut and live the life we are already comfortable with.

But do you want your life to be comfortable?  Or do you want your life to be incredible?  Do you want to wake up every day with your brow already furrowed?  Or do you want to open your eyes and say, what are we doing today?  Because, I don’t know about you but I want more than just a series of days that add up to weeks, and then months, and then years.

I’ve never been a super timid person, but like everyone else I had gotten into my groove.  I was comfortable.  I had a job that paid the bills, a long term relationship, an apartment that I loved even if it was always messy, a dog that greeted me like a hero coming home every day at 5:30.  But deep down, I was getting no fulfillment from my work, and I never looked forward to the tasks waiting for me on my desk.  When you are spending 40 hours a week (at least!) on something, it’s important that it brings you not just money but some sense of accomplishment/pride/joy or some combination of all three.  Just because your job is feeding you bank account, doesn’t mean it’s nourishing YOU.

This is something really difficult to talk about, and I found myself saying things like “I can’t complain, I have a job!” whenever people asked me about my work.  I recognize that there are so many people out there that would be beyond grateful to have any job at all, and I was worried to put out into the universe how much I disliked what I was doing in case it made me seem ungrateful or selfish.  But we aren’t put on this planet to settle.  I strongly believe that part of our journey is to strive for that green light across the water, whatever that green light means to you.

It wasn’t that I woke up one morning and decided I wanted a new life.  But over time, I recognized that I wasn’t happy.  So I want to issue a challenge to you––Are YOU happy?  Maybe not all day, every day.  But most days do you come home and say, “it was a good day”?  Or are you coming home sad, frustrated, angry, depressed?  Do you notice the things around you, or are you walking around in a fog, just trying to make it through the day?  Because the only way to change any of that is if you decide to action.

Change is scary.  I had a lot of doubts.  I thought about keeping my job and just moving to California because that would be the safer more secure path.  I was worried that I was too old for a career change and that I’d have to start over from scratch.  I was worried that I would never find someone to be with and that I’d be alone for the rest of my life.  But I decided I couldn’t let fear hold me back.  Like the quote says, “It’s never too late… to be whoever you want to be.”  If you aren’t satisfied with who you are right now, it is never too late to change.  And every moment you spend being unhappy is a moment wasted that you will never get back.

So, I walked into work, gave my 2 week notice, gave half of my things away to Goodwill, sold most of my furniture on Craigslist, packed up my car and drove off into the sunset (just kidding it was like 2 pm when I left).

What I really want to leave you with is this: “I hope you live a life you are proud of, and if you are not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”  There are many ways to measure success––money, cars, house, clothes, status, job title.  But I want to be proud of my life.  I want to have that feeling of contentment in my soul.  I want to be able to meet my eyes in the mirror and smile.  I want to run out into the world with my arms wide open.

If you are aching for change but are too scared to take action, I hope this post inspires you to become the protagonist in your own life story.  Quit the job you hate, get out of the relationship you were stuck in, move to a city you love.  And start living a life you are proud of.

*PS the quote I shared is actually misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It was written by Eric Roth for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Which means, the person who really said this was Brad Pitt… so basically the same thing.

Mammoth Lakes, CA to Orinda, CA

Have you noticed a little time lapse in my last post of my road trip?  I have a tendency to delay the end of things… which is why almost a year after binge watching all the episodes, I’ve never seen the show finale of Numb3rs (a highly underrated crime drama featuring a brother duo of an FBI agent and his genius mathematician brother).

But, I’m back now and want to finish were I left off–the 2nd to last day of my road trip.

After probably the best night’s sleep of my road trip, thanks to Westin’s Heavenly beds, I woke up and thought I would have a lingering last morning in the mountains.  Instead of eating out, I decided to get some takeout and enjoy my beautiful fireplace and comfy sofa before my last drive back home.  I headed over to Old New York Deli & Bakery Co. Omelette and bagel in tow, I leisurely meandered back to my hotel room.  I thought the rest of my morning would follow this relaxed tone, but the weather had other plans!  All of a sudden, I look out my window and it’s snowing.  In a panic, I throw all my stuff together and haul my bags out the door.  I head down to grab my car from the valet, who tells me that I’m probably going to have to drive up to Lake Tahoe to make it back home, since all of the passes through Yosemite are still closed.  How fun.

I settle myself in, and after about 30 minutes of driving I see a sign saying that Tioga Pass is open.  I say a little prayer and make the turn into Yosemite National Park.  The ranger station is tiny, with just one window open.  When I make my way through the line, I tentatively ask the ranger if I’ll be able to make it through.  He responds first by saying “What a cute dog!”  I’m thinking, I KNOW DUDE JUST TELL ME IF THE PASS IS CLEAR! He then goes on to tell me that the pass is open… for now.  Given that it’s snowing, they aren’t sure how long it’ll stay that way.

Did you learn about the Donner party in school?  I feel like we were taught about how they got stuck in a bizarre snow storm in the spring.  Well, I would have been in the Donner party… because who the hell is expecting snow in May?!  Not me.

Even though I knew I had to hustle through the park, I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to appreciate the beauty of Yosemite too. Tioga Pass is a great way to do this, because it takes you through a great variety of features of Yosemite all from the ease and convenience of your car and a few different turnouts.

The first placed we stopped was at Tenaya Lake.


This lake was such an amazing beautiful steel blue!  The fog seemed to be hovering just above it.

I also stopped at Olmsted Point.  From this viewpoint, you can look southwest into Yosemite Valley.

You can also see Half Dome in the distance.

Of course we also took the opportunity to get out of the car and run around a little bit as soon as it stopped snowing!

This was only the second national park I went to on my trip (the other being Grand Canyon National Park which, if you read my blog post you’ll know, was a total flop).  I was glad to be able to come through Yosemite Park, as it was a part of my original route from day 1.  But, in this drive, I also recognized that Yosemite is really not that far from the Bay Area at all!  And this got me super pumped for all future weekend trips I’ll be able to make here now that I’m back living in California.

The one thing I do want to note, is that Yosemite is not particularly dog friendly.  You can really only take your dog in developed areas and paved paths/roads.  This means if you want to go on a more strenuous hike, you’ll have to do it solo.

The rest of our drive home was pretty uneventful.  Remy fell asleep pretty much immediately…guess those windy roads slowly lulled him to sleep.

We stopped for a little snack at a roadside fruit stand, and I drove the last few hours home deep in thought.

I couldn’t believe that this 12 day long adventure was coming to an end.  I’d made it!  Was it what I had expected?  In some ways, yes, and in other ways, I was surprised by some of the experiences that I had along the way.

Going on a cross country road trip had been on my bucket list for a long time.  I never thought it would be something that I would do on my own.  I learned a lot, met people I probably never would have otherwise, seen places far off the beaten path and thought a lot about what makes America, America.  Not to get too deep on you.

I also learned about myself.  In the end, I was proud that I made it!

Getting back to my parents house, I was all smiles!  My sisters were waiting for me, and we feasted on a delicious meal of Thai takeout.

I’m planning on posting some more wrap up posts about my road trip, as well as about some of my other adventures I’ve been on since making it back to CA.

But, before all that, thank you for following along on this journey.  Thank you if you were one of those people who commented, texted me, or called me when I was bored on one of my 7 hour drives through nowhere.  Thank you for all of you who encouraged me when I was feeling low, or told me that they were proud of me for going on this adventure.  Even though I was alone on this journey, it made a huge difference to know I had friends, acquaintances and sometimes even strangers who were rooting for me along the way.

Distance traveled: 269 miles

Low: Freaking out about snows closing the passes in Yosemite

High: Getting home!

Las Vegas, NV to Mammoth Lakes, CA

Waking up in Vegas, I was ready to hit the road.  While I’m sure there is more to do in Vegas than hit Encore, XS or the slot machines (right?! there has to be?!), Vegas for me was really an oasis in the desert.  It was a place to stop and refuel, rest up and catch some shut eye before heading to Mammoth Lakes.  This meant I hit the road super early for me (about 9 am) even though my drive wasn’t as arduous as some of the others I’d done.

Driving out of Vegas, I was surprised by the scenery unfolding in front of me.  Oh my goodness!  Those majestic mountains rising up from the stark desert!  This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but even though I’ve been to Vegas before (hello 25th birthday trip!!), I had no idea this is what the surroundings outside of Sin City looked like.  I loved it.

PS I hope you notice I’m rocking my new turquoise earrings I bought in Sedona.

I was also surprised to see snow so soon outside of the city as well.

There have been so many awesome views I’ve seen through my windshield on this trip. One of the lessons I’ve learned on this trip is there really and truly is beauty everywhere.  In the desert flowers in New Mexico, in the red rock in Sedona, on the gulf coast in Alabama.  So often we are stuck with our eyes cast down, looking at our smartphones, checking Instagram, tweeting about reality TV (guilty of all three!) and I want to make a note to put the damn phone away and just look at the incredible creation that surrounds us.

After a couple hours of driving through desert, I made it to the border with California.

True story, I had no idea that I was going to hit the border when I did.  I actually had to stop on my little country highway and stick my car in reverse to get back to it!

This was a major moment for me.  After traveling through 7 states, I had finally made it to my 8th and last one.    I thought I would feel some huge shift or something when I made it back to my home state.  What I mostly felt was a sense of relief…it can be so tiring to be on the road for so long!  And I was also a little nervous.  Being on this trip means that I always have something going on, and I didn’t have to think too much about the future…what is my next step?  What am I going to do about a job and where will my next home be? I didn’t particularly want to confront all of those questions just yet!

Driving through the Sierra-Nevadas was just beautiful.

The only thing that was worrisome about the drive is that it got very twisty and at certain points I was basically driving through rock cliffs!  And the other concern was that there is basically nothing out there!  Mental note: good place for a vacation home at some point in the future.  But that meant I was also thinking, “Okay, I’ve got 120 miles until empty. Am I going to get to a gas station?”  And, of course, no cell reception, no radio stations coming through!  I had made it this far though, so I had faith.

When I finally made it into Mammoth Lakes I was so excited!!  This was my last night on the road and I wanted to make the most of it.  I decided to splurge on the Westin Monache Resort.

The hotel was beautiful!  I loved the view from my room was awesome, seeing the mountains and the swimming pool and hot tub from my little nook under a window.

The other thing I loved about this hotel was how pet friendly it was!  I didn’t have to pay any extra fees to have Remy stay with me, and they even brought up a little pet bed and bowls for him!  It was so sweet and totally won me over.  In case you are a fellow traveler with pet in tow, I want to mention that there is a Westin in Napa that does a similar deal called the Westin Verasa Napa that I am adding to my to visit list!

After refreshing with some wine and tacos at Happy Hour at Gomez’s, Rems and I headed back out to see some of the beautiful lakes and sights around us.

I liked that Mammoth had a really good balance between development and nature.  It meant that not only did the Village Lodge have tons of cute restaurants, bars, and shops, getting to all the different lakes was easy because they were so accesible.  We could drive around from spot to spot, enjoy the views, park and walk around a bit, and get back in the car.

This was perfect for me and Remy, because my energy was approximately -12, but my personality isn’t one that let’s me just hang out at the hotel and watch TV (not that I don’t love doing that too!).

Another reason why it was great for us was because it was FREEZING cold and we were woefully unprepared.  Not like New Mexico throw on my new long sleeve shirt from Target cold.  Like people had actually been skiing and shit.  I did not expect that!

Another beautiful view!

I snapped this photo because I thought it showed so starkly how the drought has been affecting California.  Look at how little water is in that lake!

We had a lovely, if cold time, exploring Mammoth!  We can’t wait to head back.

I ended the night with some take out sushi and miso soup, turned the fire on, took a relaxing bath (if you know me, you know I love a good bath!) and got into that heavenly bed.

Distance Traveled: 309 miles

Low: Forgetting my jacket in my car and having to ask the valet to go get it for me!

High: Tie between seeing the beautiful lakes and the bath I took at the Westin

Prescott Valley, AZ to Las Vegas, NV

The day of traveling between Prescott and Vegas was my most challenging.  It started out on a great note.  Staying at my family friends’ house, I was treated to an awesome breakfast spread!  It was so great to not eat breakfast in my hotel room while getting my stuff together before hitting the road.  Then I heard the bad news, it was snowing in Flagstaff.

I’d have to go through Flagstaff to get to the Grand Canyon.  It’s funny because when I think of Arizona, I think of very hot, very dry, desert.  Boy, were we not expecting what confronted us on the road!

As I headed from Prescott towards Sedona, weather was alright if a little chilly.

Before I knew it, the fog started rolling in through Verde Valley.  

I was a little bit nervous about the weather, but I was astounded when the beautiful red rocks of Sedona rose out to greet us on the road.

Can you imagine living surrounded by this beauty every day?

I’m not exaggerating, I was literally saying, “Damn, Sedona!” this entire drive.  To do: plan a weekend trip back here ASAP.  I absolutely loved the little town and obviously the beautiful scenery.

You’ll have to forgive me for the selfies, but occasionally you get a little tired of asking strangers to take your picture!  I pulled out to a little trail head in Sedona to take a minute and take a breath…look around and marvel at what I saw! That has been an important reminder for me on this trip.  It has been a challenge for me to keep going, going, and going.  Plus, my personality is always “What else can I see?” “What other activity can I do before I call it a day?”  And sometimes I just have to remind myself to calm down a little bit.  There is beauty surrounding me in every moment of this trip!  I don’t want to miss appreciating it just because I’m so focused on getting to my next destination.

I feel like you could spend a week outside exploring all of these different peaks and cliffs.  The entire drive through Sedona my eyes were just scanning back and forth trying to take it all in. 

There was one other thing I was determined to do before I left the Southwest.  I wanted to try and find a Hopi ring that looked like one my mom has.  She’s been wearing this ring since she was in Arizona like 30 years ago.  I tried to explain it to my mom’s friend, Lori, who I was staying with, but finally I just broke down and asked my mom what tribe the ring was from.  That’s how I knew I had to find a place to carried Hopi jewelry.

I headed to my trusty smartphone to try and find a jewelry store that would carry Native American jewelry.  Obviously, that was like every store in a 100 mile radius.  But I turned to Yelp to read the reviews to pick the best option.  I’d mentioned before my hesitation to purchase items from places that might be less than legit.  I’m okay with paying a premium, as long as I’m comfortable with where my stuff comes from.  Does it feel like I’m making too big of a deal out of this?  I know it might feel like small beans, but it’s something that’s important to me.  That’s how I wound up at Garland’s Indian Jewelry.

After wasting about an hour of the lovely saleslady’s time looking at every Hopi ring they had in the store.  I was just so taken by these beautiful turquoise earrings.

So, even though I had meant to purchase a nice silver Hopi ring, I ended up with a new pair of turquoise Navajo earrings.  Another thing I loved about shopping at Garland’s is that they could tell me all about the jewelry.  I learned about the kind of turquoise that the earrings were made from and even got a little bio of the jewelers themselves.

With my new earrings in my pocket (joke – they were in the nice protective velvet pouch in my backpack!), I headed up to Flagstaff.  I was legit 15 minutes into the drive when the lovely snow confronted me.

I had to have a serious conversation with myself.  I didn’t think that I could go through Arizona without seeing the Grand Canyon….but I also didn’t want to a.) get into a terrible accident or b.) get stuck in hours of terrible traffic.

Like many dilemmas in life…I had to weigh the pros and cons.  At the end of the day, I knew that it was possible I wouldn’t be back near the Grand Canyon anytime soon.  So I decided to suck it up and make it through the snow (these flurries were nothing for a girl who lived in Michigan for 2 years!).

This is the scene that greeted me at the Grand Canyon.  Beautiful, yes.  Not very Canyon-y, though.  Unfortunately, while it wasn’t snowing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon…it was still super foggy.

As Remy and I walked along the path, I hoped that the fog would clear.

Instead, the fog just kept getting thicker and thicker.


I tried to stay super positive about it because… I was at the Grand Canyon!  What an amazing testament of creation on our planet!  But, I was also frustrated.  I wanted to go there and be like totally blown away by this huge natural wonder!!  Instead, I just saw little bits and pieces of it.

As you can see, the fog really didn’t let up!


Until finally… you could barely even see anything!

Remy and I walked for a little bit longer.  We headed out to a little pathway to the edge of a cliff to be like the other daredevils taking pictures.  I promise you, if you could see the drop you would have been super impressed!!

I’d basically decided we were going to have to just cut our losses when it started HAILING!! Well… that did it for us and we hustled (read ran while squealing under my breath tucking my chin to my chest and tugging Remy along with me) back to the car.

The drive out of the Grand Canyon was miserable.  First of all, to get to the Grand Canyon you have to travel on this highway that literally just goes to and from the Grand Canyon (which is like, duh, you can’t get to anything through the Grand Canyon).  But it’s frustrating because you are going to the Grand Canyon… not stopping there on the way to someplace else.  Secondly, did you know it’ll cost you $30 to get into the Grand Canyon.  Even if you are super lame like me and literally spent an hour peering down and trying to see the canyon through the crazy ass fog.  I was just super frustrated with the situation.

I was also oddly close to being home.  As I drove west through Arizona I kept trying to do the math and calculations in my head.  Was there some way for me to get home by the next night?  My plan was to spend the night in Vegas and then head to California through the mountains, was that what I should still do?  Could I make it to Bakersfield that night?  Could I crash in Palm Springs and then head north?

I drove for a few hours and then stopped in Kingman, Arizona (literally the only place that had more than a McDonalds on the highway).  I went and sat down in a Chipotle to eat dinner.  I took a deep breath and I thought about what I was going to do.  10 days in and I think I was just plain TIRED.  It is exhausting being a road warrior!  It’s hard to feel like you have to keep going and going and going and you can’t just chill and watch 15 episodes of Real Housewives in your sweatpants with nowhere to go and be.

I also was just so disappointed in my day!  I had loved Sedona, but I absolutely hated what happened at the Grand Canyon.  I’ve also noticed that it can be difficult for me to recover from a letdown like that.  Sometimes, I just let it spill over to other things and other moments that it shouldn’t even effect.  I feel like there’s a life lesson in there somewhere 🙂

I decided that I didn’t want to end my trip this way.  I didn’t want to be sad and frustrated on my way home!  I didn’t want to spend my last night in Bakersfield (no offense, Bakersfield!).  So I decided to make it to Vegas and go from there.

Distance traveled: 438 miles

High: Sedona and my new earrings!

Low: anti-climactic Grand Canyon visit

Albuquerque, NM to Prescott Valley, AZ

There was one thing that I definitely knew I wanted to while I was in Albuquerque: go for a hot air balloon ride!

Since a lot most of this trip has not been really planned out, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to book a flight on such short notice.  The day before I had called World Balloon to see if they could squeeze me in for their Champagne Flight the next morning. Luckily, they told me that the short notice was not a problem.  Not so luckily, I’d have to be there at 6 am!

Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride before?  I didn’t know this, but they lay out the balloon and fill it up with cold air with the basket on it’s side.  They asked if anyone wanted to help set up the hot air balloon and I obviously volunteered!

When the hot air balloon is all fluffed up with the cold air, then they start using the fiery hot air to get it to start floating.

Once it’s filled with hot air, you climb into the basket.  And it seriously is just a basket!

Going up in the balloon, I was kind of nervous.  I mean you are seriously in a basket.  Flying while attached to a balloon.  I knew it was safe, but we’ve evolved to avoid this kind of dangerous activity, so there was something about it that just felt scary on an instinctual level.

It’s really surprising how smooth it feels to take off in the balloon.  It’s nothing like taking off on a plane with all that bumpiness and getting pushed to the back of your seat because of the force of the plane.  It feels like nothing at all, until suddenly, you are floating!

Because Albuquerque is so well known for it’s ballooning, there were tons of other people up in the sky with us.  It was so cool seeing the other balloons take off into the air.

Before I knew it, the sky was full of balloons flying!

It was the perfect last activity to do in Albuquerque before heading west towards Arizona.

About an hour outside of Albuquerque, I saw a sign for the Acoma Pueblo and Sky City.  If you read my previous post, you saw that I had watched a demonstration by a potter from Acoma.  But, my friend Blair in Austin, had also told me I should try and get to the Pueblo if I could.  So on a whim, I decided to head over the Pueblo to see what it was all about.  The mesa you see in the picture above is called the Enchanted Mesa.  Before the Acoma people moved to the mesa they live on now, they lived on the Enchanted Mesa.  According to oral history, one day when they were off the mesa hunting, lightning struck the stairs they used to get up and down.  They took this as a sign that they should no longer live there.

In order to get up onto the mesa where the Acoma people live (and have lived for hundreds of years), you have to visit the cultural center and purchase tickets for a tour.  Visitors are not simply allowed to wander amongst the people and homes.  I was worried about going on the tour because it was supposed to take 90 minutes and I still had a long time to drive before making it to my destination in Arizona.  But what had really made me want to come to New Mexico in the first place was exploring more of Native American culture, and I didn’t really feel like I got an authentic feel of that in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

The first place we visited was the Mission and cemetery.  The story of the building and the cemetery are very sad.  Franciscan friars backed by the Spanish army destroyed all of the kivas (religious buildings) and forced the Acoma people to build this mission.  Part of this included forcing them to go to a mountain about 75 miles away, cutting down trees and then carrying them back to the pueblo without letting them touch the ground.  Apparently, the friars thought that doing this would somehow help them in their conversion to Catholicism.  We couldn’t take pictures inside of the mission, but one thing I wanted to mention is that the floor of the mission was a dirt packed floor.  Our tour guide said they left the floor untouched because they felt a connection to the floor that the biggest kiva was once built on, and on which the mission now stood on.

The people who still live on the mesa live without running water or electricity.

Visiting the pueblo was a spiritual experience.  There is something about a place where people have lived continuously for so long, lived their lives, fought to retain their culture, laughed and cried, grew their families, and survived.

The Acoma people didn’t start using a door as an entry to their homes until the 18th century.  Before then they used these ladders to get into their home.

I also got a chance to try Indian Frybread.  This isn’t actually a food specific to the Acoma people, but originated from Plains tribes during their march on the Trail of Tears.  Since the government didn’t give them very many supplies, they used the flour and lard they were given to create this frybread.

It seems terrible to say this, but oh my god! It was so yummy!!!

The view off the mesa stretches on for miles.

As we walked through the pueblo, we also had a chance to meet some of the people who live there, many of whom were selling their pottery and wares.  I bought a small little catchall and a Christmas ornament from two local women.  I also bought two prints from an artist whose work I had seen displayed.  I had been very cautious about buying anything in the “Indian” shops in Santa Fe because I felt very uncomfortable being unsure about where things had actually come from.  I didn’t want to be a part of anything that was unsavory or taking advantage of any of the Native American tribes.  This way, I felt confident that I was buying items directly from the source, and it was cool to hear from the artisans themselves about what the pieces/symbols/colors/etc all meant.

At the end of the tour we also had the option to walk back down a staircase that was actually used to get up and down off the mesa.  It was insane!  This staircase was actually modified from the foothold and handhold only version, and I couldn’t even think about trying to carry up water or food or anything else walking up or down those!

It was the perfect way to end my visit.  I felt like I was walking in the steps of the Acoma people who had stood exactly where I had before.  In case you can’t tell, I kind of loved being at the pueblo, and it was my favorite thing I did in New Mexico.

After making it down the terrifying steps, I got back in the car and headed to Arizona.

Traffic was horrendous.  But I have been making an effort to be positive and happy on this entire trip, so I turned up the radio, jammed to every song, and cuddled with my copilot as we waited for the bumper to bumper traffic to clear.

When I made it into Prescott Valley, I had a fun surprise.  I was staying with some family friends.  My mom had mentioned that they had some animals on their property, but I couldn’t remember exactly which kind of animals they had.

Surprise! They were llamas!!

I got to help our friends feed all their llama pals!  They were so cute and had such adorable personalities.

I have to tell you that I have felt so incredibly blessed (I know that sounds so cliched!) being welcomed into people’s homes some of whom I literally have not seen for 20 years!  It makes me feel like I have a family that stretches into every corner of this planet.  How amazing is that?

I enjoyed an amazing home cooked meal before crawling into my beautiful guest bedroom and sleeping like a very, very tired baby.

Distance traveled: 427 miles

High: Visiting the Acoma Pueblo

Low: Getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in AZ

Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM (and back) 

I decided to make Albuquerque my home base for not one, but two nights.  Since Santa Fe is about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Albuquerque and I would eventually be heading southwest for Arizona, it made sense to head back to Albuquerque for a second night so I could leave from there the following morning.

The first thing I had to do before I could head up to Santa Fe was go out and buy an extra layer to wear!  I knew that there were some long sleeve tees or a sweatshirt somewhere in my car.  But everything was vacuum sealed and stuffed in the car, I didn’t think I could find any even if I tried!  Once I got that finished and grabbed a chai latte at Starbucks I could head towards Santa Fe.

This picture I think hints at the craziness that is the weather in New Mexico.  I felt like I’d be freezing one minute and overheating the next.  Layers were definitely necessary.

Once we got into Santa Fe I thought it would make the most sense to try and go for a bit of a hike first.  I opened up my trusty iPhone to find a hike that wouldn’t be too far or too hard.  I picked one out and headed for where I thought it was.  Key being, thought!  I exited off the freeway, drove down what I thought was the right road (turned out it was, just going in the wrong direction), ended up in a teeny tiny village that was being taken over by a film crew as some kind of set (??), and drove down a road that literally just stopped.  Oh, and did I mention at this point I had no phone service?  It was not the best.  But I turned around and headed back the way I came until I hit the freeway and eventually re-oriented myself.  And finally, we made it to the Sun Mountain Trail.

I have to admit, I thought I would be doing a lot more hiking on this trip than I have so far.  I knew that I wanted to hit up the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Museum Hill, and I figured this way I could tucker Remy out and enjoy a few guilt free hours in the museum.


You know this was at the beginning of the hike since my hair still down!

One of my favorite things about this hike was all of the beautiful, honestly kind of shocking, cactus flowers that were in bloom!  I had never seen any before and I was so delighted.  Also they gave me a great excuse to stop on the way up the mountain to grab pictures.


Okay, so here is the embarrassing part:  I picked this hike because I thought it was going to be super easy.  About a quarter of the way up the mountain I thought to myself, “Hmmm, this is a little bit harder than I expected.”  About halfway up the mountain, I was like, “Man, am I glad I have this water!”  About three-quarters of the way up there I thought, “I am going to need to take a break.”  This just happened to perfectly coincide with this older lady whizzing by us with, I kid you not, a walkman! Needless to say, this didn’t make me feel good about myself.    It was until I got back to the hotel and googled the trail to read that the summit elevation was almost 8,000 feet!  To give you some perspective, Columbia’s elevation is only 292 feet. I honestly hadn’t thought about how the higher elevation would effect me, which is kind of dumb.  Luckily, I had water with me, swallowed my pride, slowed down, and took more breaks than I would normally.  Also, I’m stubborn as hell, so turning around and just going back down was not an option.

It was a lovely view from the top!  You can tell I was struggling and sweating because my hair got put up in a bun.

Luckily, the way back down from the top of the trail was exponentially easier and we cruised on the path back to where we parked in no time.

Next, I headed to Museum Hill to go to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.  Just a side note here, I noticed that many, many, many people, restaurants, shops, galleries, and other institutions use the term “Indian” in New Mexico.  I had always been taught that the correct term was “Native American”, so that is what I’ll use but I honestly don’t know what the “right” descriptor is… or even if there is one!

I’m sorry to say that they didn’t allow photography in the museum, but there was some beautiful sculptures in the courtyard.

One of the big draws for me in visiting New Mexico was learning more about Native American culture.  New Mexico has the highest percentage of Native Americans in the US.  Arizona has the second highest.

The museum gave a pretty good overview, including history, music, spirituality, geography, etc.  My absolute favorite part though was being able to see some of the handmade jewelry and fashion on display, some dating back over a hundred years.

My visit to the museum also just so happened to coincide with an awesome pottery demonstration by a potter from the Acoma Pueblo.  Traditional pottery in Native American culture is done through the use of “coiling” instead of with a wheel.  So, potters add coils of clay and build upon them to create a pot instead of shaping it with their hands on a moving wheel.  It was awesome to watch this potter in action, hear his stories about his mother teaching him to make pottery, and learn little tidbits of his culture.

A couple more sculpture from outside:


I then headed down to the gallery district to ogle some art I definitely couldn’t afford!


There’s definitely a lot of cohesion when it comes to the architecture of Santa Fe.  I thought that the city just happened to grow up like that, but I found out later that actually any new construction or renovations have to fit within that kind of a “Pueblo” aesthetic.

While I was walking down the district, I popped into this amazing shop, Nathalie.  While there, I got to chatting with the gals working in the shop, they asked me a lot of questions about my trip, why I was doing it, how it was going etc.  One of the ladies said something that really stuck with me.  She said that when I got to the place where I was supposed to be, I would “just know”.  That was an incredibly comforting thought, especially for someone like me that has lived quite a few places!

Next, I headed down to the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe.  There is a lot of history here, including a very old Palace of the Governors and Cathedral.


Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US, and has been a part of Spain, Mexico, and the United States.


The plaza definitely felt very Spanish.  And I have kind of mixed feelings of the glorification of Spanish rule in New Mexico, because it led to a lot of terrible (like really horrible genocide level) treatment of the indigenous people.

One of my favorite moments of the day was happening upon these two guys singing some Native American songs/hymns/chants (sorry I don’t know the correct way to identify them).  It felt so Santa Fe!

I grabbed a quick snack in the early evening sunshine and headed back to Albuquerque.

Distance traveled: 128 miles (RT)

High: Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Low: Getting passed by an old lady while hiking.