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.

Marfa, TX to Albuquerque, NM

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got into Marfa way later than expected.  What can I say?  I was having such a great time in Austin!

This was the romantic scene that welcomed me when I got to the Hotel Paisano.    Marfa itself is a teeny tiny town, so driving through to the hotel I was thinking, what on earth did I get myself into?

When I parked outside of the hotel and looked into the courtyard, I could see all the twinkling lights, hear the splash of the fountain, and saw a whole crew of friends drinking wine and laughing in the courtyard.  It was so endearing!

I wish I was anything less than exhausted to enjoy it!  Luckily, the view was much the same the next morning.

I decided to take the opportunity to walk around the town a little bit and grab some breakfast a block over at squeeze marfa.  I passed some lovely scenery on the way.

  

I loved staying at this hotel!  On my road trip it’s been a challenge finding hotels that are dog friendly. Which means I spend a lot of my time in really boring nondescript rooms.  When I did some research on a place to stay in Marfa (population 1,819) options were super limited, but luckily I found out that Hotel Paisano had a super reasonable pet fee of $20 a night.  A win-win!

The hotel also has some pretty cool history.  Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean stayed at the hotel during the 1955 filming of the movie Giant.

I loved that even their keys were old school actual keys instead of the cards you get in most hotels!

Another thing that I loved about this hotel was that I had my own private little patio!  The patio had a fireplace with a log waiting to be lit (didn’t realize it could get so chilly at night in Texas!).

I had the best time walking around the town.  Originally built as a railroad water stop, Marfa grew in the 1920s.  You can see some of the Art Deco influence in the buildings.

In the 70s, Marfa began attracting artists and it continues to do so to this day.  There’s a wide variety of galleries and museums and the town certainly has an artsy vibe to it.

I enjoyed my leisurely morning in Marfa and headed back to my hotel room to hang on my patio for a little while.  I had such a good time that I literally didn’t check out until 11:59 (Check out was at noon!).  Then I headed further west on my way to New Mexico.

Having had a few days to think about my time spent in Texas, I’m trying to think why it is exactly that I loved it so much.  I had a great time in Austin that’s for sure, but being confronted by the great big wide open beauty of West Texas just connected with something inside me.  Maybe it’s because I’m pretty sure I was a cowgirl in a past life.  There is a romance to the place.  That vastness of sky makes you feel like you can breathe a little deeper, stand a little taller, and walk with a little bit of a longer stride.

Pit stop number one was the Prada Marfa installation which is actually in Valentine, Texas.  This is actually how I found out about Marfa in the first place.  It’s so fun and totally ridiculous.  Absolutely the last thing you would expect to see in the middle of nowhere.

  

I wish I could say that the rest of my drive to Albuquerque was as charming and as full of art.  Sadly, it was not.  I made my way through El Paso, Los Cruces, a town called Truth or Consequences, and a little place called Elephant Butte (I know I’m 25, but I still giggled).

I made it into Albuquerque at about 6 pm.  But because I hated the idea of not seeing anything but the highway in New Mexico, I decided to take my super romantic dinner of Chipotle to the Ellen Gallegos Open Space at the base of the Sandia mountains.

What surprised me the most about New Mexico was how cold it was.  Like took my breath away cold!  I had to scramble and find my jacket that I had packed in one of my plastic bins.  I was so used to the heat of the Deep South–I was completely unprepared for the change in temperature.

We quickly figured out we weren’t quite wearing enough layers to make eating outside comfortable so we packed up and headed back to the hotel.  We’d be better prepared next time!

Distance traveled: 461 miles

High: Visiting the Prada installation

Low: Freezing my butt off trying to eat dinner on a picnic table and failing miserably

1 Week on the Road

Can’t believe that as of today I have been on the road for one whole week.  Thank you for following me on my journey!

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I have had an incredible time so far.  Many more posts to come!

Austin, TX to Marfa, TX

The night I got into Austin, I had met up with an old friend from high school and her boyfriend on Rainey Street (a super cool area of Austin with lots of restaurants, bars, food trucks and people walking around).  However, by the time I got back to my hotel room it was super late and no chance to see anything else in Austin.  So when I woke up the next morning, I knew I’d have to book it around town.

My first stop was the Texas State Capitol.  The building itself is huge!  It definitely felt like the biggest state capitol building I had seen (although that might just be some sort of Everything’s Bigger in Texas mentality creeping into my perception).  Apparently, to pay for the building, the government gave the builders something like 3 million acres of land.  If there is anything Texas has it’s a lot of land.

There were lots of people walking around the grounds, from tourists to legislators, but again, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it’d be.  It was a Monday, so that probably had something to do with it.

Remy and I stopped for a few pictures, and he loved running around on all the grass!

Right after taking this picture though, we were caught in a sudden and very powerful thunderstorm!  I had known that there was a chance of rain (hence the hat), but we had to book it back to the car and still got pretty drenched.

I often wonder what is going through Remy’s mind as we go on these little excursions, but I’m pretty sure he just thinks I’m crazy.  This time around, he was certainly not pleased with what I had put him through.

Since the downpour meant we needed to find something inside to do, I opened up my trusty TripAdvisor app and looked for options.  The LBJ Presidential Museum and Library was one of the top attractions and so we decided to go for it.

Whenever I’ve been asked who my favorite president is, after you know the obvious ones like Washington and Lincoln, I usually say LBJ.  He was a freaking character y’all!  Have you ever heard the stories about him talking to a legislator and he would go into the bathroom, leave the door open and just keep the conversation going?  (Side note, I wonder if that’s where Clair Underwood got the idea from).  He was at the very least memorable, which is more than I can say for, like, Rutherford B. Hayes.

The museum had several different sections.  There were timelines, audio recordings of LBJ’s phone conversations with people like MLK, lots of trinkets and memorabilia (campaign posters and pins, old school reports, etc).  But one of my favorite parts of the museum was the recreation of LBJ’s and Lady Bird’s offices.  How sweet and colorful is Lady Bird’s decor?

I also liked walking through the recreation of the Oval Office, with a lot of original furnishings from LBJ’s time there.

I’ve always gotten the sense that people from LBJ’s generation perhaps don’t like him very much, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with his involvement and his escalation of the US’s involvement in Vietnam.  But I also think we have to respect the many things that he did accomplish: legislation furthering Civil Rights, Medicaid/Medicare, immigration reform, space exploration, and a focus on the rural and poor.

After leaving the LBJ museum, a got a chance to quickly catch up with two friends at the Facebook offices in Austin.  Which I loved!  It has been so amazing the people I’ve been able to connect/reconnect with while on this trip!

I met up with a friend and local Austin-ite for lunch.  When he asked me what I was in the mood for, I immediately replied, “Mexican!! Not barbecue sorry!”  I feel like I may have had my share of barbecue living in the South and I’m okay not having anymore for a while.  We had an amazing lunch at Guero’s, which I highly recommend.  It’s on South Congress, which is a fun little neighborhood with restaurants, cafes, and quirky vintage stores.  We also stopped in Allen Boots which I take to be kind of an Austin institution to browse their huge selection of boots.  I could have bought probably 15 pairs.

South Congress is also home to Jo’s Coffee, probably best known for their “I love you so much” wall.  It was adorable and felt undeniably authentic.  The story goes that when the owner of Jo’s Coffee was having a bad day, her girlfriend took a can of spray paint to the wall on the corner to leave a her a little love note.  How can you not love that?

I had originally wanted to go to Barton Springs Pool (it’s one of those quintessentially Austin things to do).  Unfortunately because of all the rain, it was closed.  Still beautiful nonetheless.

The last thing I did in Austin was head to the Barton Creek Greenbelt.  This was touted by my tour guide/friend as his favorite thing to do in Austin.  I’m so sorry to say that I didn’t take any pictures, but I think that’s how you know I was having a really good time.  The Greenbelt does not feel like it’s anywhere near a very metropolitan city.  If anything, it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere.  There are lots of trails to hike on.

My favorite thing about the Greenbelt though, was that you could wade/swim in the creek.  Did I have my bathing suit on?  No.  Did I contemplate jumping in with just my undies on?  Absolutely.  (Don’t worry I didn’t.)  The water was insanely refreshing.  We crossed the very high (because of the rain) creek over to to a rock plateau on the other side.  Not going to lie, I was not sure I was going to make it.  And, I definitely wasn’t in the right clothes for such an excursion but I sucked it up.  Once on the other side, we just sat, chatted, enjoyed the view, weather and beautiful scenery.

I was so sad to have to leave Austin.  There are some towns that I wake up in and say, “Well, that was lovely, and I’m glad to have met you but I’m ready to go now.”  I think I have a little crush on Austin and I can’t wait to go back!

Unfortunately, my drive to Marfa was going to take me over 6 hours to complete and I had to hit the road.  The drive was miserable.  After I passed Fredericksburg, I basically left civilization behind for the next several hours.  Which is how I ended up eating McDonald’s for dinner, because that was literally my only option.

I did treat myself to a McFlurry because, hello! I deserved it.   The drive to Marfa took me so long, I actually got a call from the reception desk at Hotel Paisano asking me if I’d make it before 10 because the desk closed then.  Sadly, I didn’t make it in until about 11:30.  The receptionist actually taped an envelope with my key to the lobby doors so I could get in.  In any other city, there’s no way this could happen but Marfa is a teeny tiny town.  I hauled my stuff out of the car and was never happier to see a bed in my whole life.  Exploring Marfa would have to wait.

Distance Traveled: 491 miles

High: The Greenbelt in Austin

Low: Driving to Marfa and only being able to pick up 2 radio stations

Houston, TX to Austin, TX

Okay, so apologies in advance for the fact that this post will probably be the worst one along the road trip (setting the bar high!)  I took no pictures in Houston!  Also, I did nothing in Houston with any cultural, historical, or economic relevance.  Here is what I can share with you about Houston: Beyonce is from there.  And I’m pretty sure that is all you need to know.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had headed down to Houston from Natchez, Mississippi (guys, I am still freaking beaming from that charming little town).  Here was the most exciting part about being in Houston… I wasn’t going to be in a hotel!  One of my sister’s best friends, Perri was putting me up and I have never been more excited.  I was looking forward to it for so many reasons.  Firstly, I haven’t exactly been staying Motel 6’s or anything like that, but I always find that I’m never really and truly comfortable in a hotel room.  I couldn’t wait to be in a home.  Secondly, it’s so awesome to have someone to hang out with!  I haven’t really been that lonely on this trip since it seems like I’m always meeting strangers, chatting with randos, whatever, but I was going to actually sit down and have dinner with someone, hang out on a couch where I could take my shoes off and chill, catch up on the latest celeb gossip etc.  Thirdly, since Perri is one of my sister’s best friends… it’s basically like she is my sister.  And I miss that b!

When I got into Houston, Perri and I took Remy for a walk around the neighborhood.  Apparently, this was Houston’s “gay neighborhood” and it is an eclectic mix of homes, smaller condos, restaurants and random places like the Texas Junk Company.

We had the best time at dinner!  We chatted, caught up, and were just generally jovial.

The next morning, I was so sweetly included in her boyfriend’s Mother’s Day Brunch.  Having lived far away from my family for such a long time, it’s not that unusual for me to be apart from them on these kinds of holidays and celebrations, but I was especially missing my mom this time around.  I had just seen her, and she was honestly such an incredible help to me in making this move possible.  I seriously could not have done it without her and I wish I could have spent the day celebrating all she does with her!  So if you are reading this Mom, I love you!

It was so nice spending time in a family setting, and I was so very happy to be included!  It also really made me excited to realize that since I’m moving back to California I will have ample opportunity to do tons of these sorts of activities with my very own family.  To do: don’t forget that spending time with family is a blessing not everyone has!

After brunch, Perri and I headed back to her place and hung out, watched some Bravo (yes!), and I tried to quickly blog.  I really really really did not want to leave.  Perri had been so sweet my whole stay, always asking me if there was anything she could do to make me more comfortable/feel more at home/accommodate me.  It felt like I was living in the lap of luxury, having someone wanting to look after me and planning things for me.  Huge shut out to Perri for being such an awesome host.

But sadly, the time was here for me to go.  While I could have stayed longer, I kept reminding myself that I still have a long, long way to go before I make it back to California.  So I hit the road heading for Austin.

As I was driving on the highway.  I past a sign for a store called Hruska’s.  I immediately recognized it as the word for pear in both Czech and Slovene.  Thinking, “Hmmm… I wonder what that is all about.”  I pulled over to check it out.

Turns out, Hruska’s started as a little Czech bakery, and now has morphed into a bigger stop on the road between Houston and Austin in Ellinger, TX.  I obviously had to stop and get a kolach.

It was delicious.  As I drove and ate I thought about the fact that I was in Texas.  Arriving in Texas had felt very momentous to me the day before.  I know Texas is still technically in the South (maybe some people disagree, I’m no expert), but to me Texas felt very much in the “west”.  There was a very noticeable change between being in Louisiana/Mississippi and arriving to Texas.  Going from seeing tons of trees and more lush greenery, to more hills and sparse vegetation.  It made me feel like I was so much closer to being home.

The biggest shock to me was that as I was driving to my hotel for the night, I past an In n Out!  Too soon, Texas!  Too soon!  I’m going to hold out until I’m a little further west.

Distance Traveled: 165 miles

High: Mother’s Day Brunch

Low: leaving Perri and having to head to another hotel in Austin

Jackson, MS to Houston, TX 

As soon as I headed up north from from the Gulf Coast, I started noticing the Magnolia trees in bloom everywhere.  Magnolias to me are the quintessential southern plant, and I loved that my trip through the South coincided when they were in bloom.  Jackson was no exception to this, and I loved walking around Jackson in the morning seeing and smelling all of them!

Because the infectious enthusiasm of my new friend, Chris, that I met the night before, I knew that I needed to spend a little time exploring Jackson before I rolled out of town.  I decided to go see the Old Capitol.

One of the funniest things to me about the Old Capitol was that while the front of the building was so imposing, the back of the building was never stuccoed over, it was still left in uncovered brick.  Apparently what is now a parking a lot and highway, used to be a swamp.  Since they didn’t care what the side facing the swamp looked like, they never covered up the plain brick.

There were two other sites that I visited on the grounds of the Old Capitol were the War Memorial and the Confederate Memorial.

There are two things I want to mention about the Confederate memorial.  Firstly, there is a statue of Jefferson Davis inside of there (you can kind of see his legs in there).  Apparently, they had to enclose the statue within the memorial because it kept getting vandalized.  Secondly, there is no confederate flag flying on this memorial.  Given the controversy of the fact that the confederate flag still flies above the memorial right in front of the South Carolina state house, I thought that was super interesting.

The last thing I did before I headed west for Natchez, was head to Lemuria bookstore.  I wanted to get that book, Mississippi Sissy, that my friend Chris told me to pick up.  It really was a very cute, very charming book store.  There’s also a lovely cafe that was full of people eating brunch.  If I had more time, it would have been a great place to enjoy a leisurely meal with a book.

After picking up my new book, I headed out of town to Natchez.  Natchez, Mississippi had been on my bucket list since I decided that I was driving across country.  When I mentioned this to people, a lot of them had never even heard of Natchez before.  As a lover of all things historical, Natchez is right up my alley.  It’s full of antebellum mansions of planters who lived here.  Natchez is right on the Mississippi River, and cotton planters used the river to transport their cotton down to New Orleans.

While I started out my drive on the interstate, I eventually hopped on to a little two lane country highway.  While it takes a little longer to get where you are going, I love traveling on these highways in the right places.  On my way through Mississippi it was sweet farm after country fields.  Horses and little groups of cattle grazed.  Every once in a while a little historical marker would pop up and I would pull over to check it out.  Like the town of Union Church, and their 19th Century Presbyterian church.

When I made it to Natchez, I was so excited!  I stopped by the Visitors Center to ask them what the absolute must see’s were since I was on a limited time frame.  The very helpful gal there told me if I could only see two homes that I needed to go see Longwood and Rosalie.    I headed to Longwood first.

How incredible is this home!?  PS In case this house looks kind of familiar to you, it was featured as the home of the King of Mississippi in True Blood.

Longwood is a physical manifestation of the way that the Civil War impacted the lives of wealthy southerners.  Construction of the house began right before the Civil War erupted.  When fighting began, only the basement was completed.  Workers who had come down from Philadelphia to help the slaves with construction left their tools and everything in Mississippi thinking that the war would be short and they could come back to complete it.  That never happened and the rest of the house is literally just a shell of what it should have looked like.

The view from the back porch of Longwood: 

Aside from the tools left by the original workmen, there were also original boxes from purchases sent to the plantation all the way from Park Avenue.

The tour guide explained to us, “This family lived through the Civil War and the Great Depression–they never threw anything away!”

Then I headed on to the mansion, Rosalie:


Natchez was a totally magical stop on my trip.  In fact, I was so mad  that I spent the night before in Jackson and didn’t have more time there.  If you ever find it possible to make your way there, I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s incredibly romantic to walk among the magnolia and oak trees, underneath the Spanish moss, and think about all the people who lived in these beautiful big homes – many of whom lost everything after the war.

Leaving Natchez, I had two things on my mind: finding the next Chick-fil-a and getting to Texas!

I was so excited to get into Houston, as I’d be staying with one of my sister’s best friends.  I was so ready to not stay in a hotel.  When Remy and I crossed the border from Louisiana into Texas, you know we had to stop and take a picture!

Distance traveled: 417 miles

High: Visiting Natchez

Low: Not having enough time in Natchez!

Mobile, AL to Jackson, MS

Waking up on Friday morning in Mobile I was so excited to head to the beach!  I thought there was easier true beach access in Mobile proper, but while I could get to the water it seemed easiest to head a little outside the city to take my shoes off and walk on the sand.  Oh, also, have I mentioned that the dog love of my life, Remy makes things way more complicated?  There are tons of beaches on the Gulf Coast that I’m sure would be lovely, but sadly, no dogs allowed.

So after a little bit of Googling, Remy and I headed towards Dauphin Island.  The road from Mobile is exactly what you would expect a coastal southern highway to look like.  I loved all the colorful buildings, shops, and homes!

I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this adorable town before.  What a perfect beach getaway!

After driving around the island for a little while, we made it to the a beach on the south side of the island.

I’m afraid these pictures really don’t do the island justice.  My favorite part about this little town are the incredible beaches that seem to jut out beyond the island.  There are people who have walked out half a mile on these sand bars, or will take their little boats out and set up their rainbow umbrellas, towels, coolers, etc and spend the day there.

I loved that Dauphin Island seemed everything that a beach town should be, no crazy bars, flashing neon lights, or vendors aggressively hawking trinkets.

Remy and I spent some time walking down the beach.  I took my shoes off and waded ankle deep in the water.  It was just the right temperature.  The sun shone brightly and as I walked down the shore, I caught snippets of the country music playing on sunbathers’ radios.  It was perfect.

After doing my best to get the sand off myself and my pup.  We headed back to the car.  I decided to drive back along the coast before heading up north to Jackson.  I headed for Biloxi.  This is what my route looked like:

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 11.16.31 AM

Since it was getting to the afternoon, I decided to stop for lunch somewhere off the small highway I was driving.  Thanks to trusty Yelp, I found myself at this lovely establishment.

You know how they say, don’t judge a book by it’s cover?  I’m pretty sure places like this are the reason why they say that.

I ordered a Shrimp Po Boy.  In case you’ve never had a po boy before, it’s basically a sub sandwich, and you can get it with lots of different things, but in my opinion if you are going to get it, you should definitely get it with shrimp. Oh, and did I mention the shrimp is fried?  The diet starts after the road trip!

After finishing half of my po boy, I tucked it away for later and continued down the coast.  I drove through Biloxi parallel to the coast.  There are historical markers all along the road of homes and buildings that used to stand there but have been lost over time.  I saw Jefferson Davis’ house once again. I soaked up the last bit of sunshine and salt air before heading north.

My drive to Jackson was kind of annoying, but bearable.  You might be wondering how I pass the time, spending so much of it in the car.  I have not gotten to the point where I’m listening to the audiobooks on my phone just yet.  I try and catch NPR or local talk shows where I can because I feel like that helps me stay entertained.  True story, I absolutely love to listen to conservative talk radio in the car.  Driving up Highway 49 though, I basically couldn’t find anything aside from Christian gospel and Christian stations of preachers preaching.  Tough.

When I got to Jackson, I was kind of exhausted.  I’ve been making it a goal to try and go out to dinner when I can.  So began my search for a place that I could sit outside with Remy and enjoy a meal.  BringFido.com has been a great resource for me as I’ve struggled to accommodate having my dog with me.  In Jackson, MS there were exactly two results for restaurants.  Sonic Drive In…. two locations.  So, I turned to Yelp and looked for outdoor patio.  I called a few restaurants to see if they’d let me bring Remy.  I feel like I really got my pitch down quickly, “Hi! I’m calling to see if you allow dogs on your patio?  I have a small terrier mix who can sit on my lap/stay under the table/basically be invisible.”  After several strikeouts, I called The Manship, and the hostess was so sweet and told me to go ahead and bring Remy with me.

Do you know what it’s like when you move to a new town, or a new neighborhood and you feel like you have no idea where you are or where anything else is?  And it’s super disorienting?  Going on this road trip is like that all.  the.  time.  It can be incredibly challenging and I actually don’t think I would have made it out of South Carolina if it wasn’t for the magical powers of my iPhone.  So after driving in circles trying to find the restaurant, finally locating it, not being able to find parking, circling some more and parking the car.  We had finally made it.

I’ve mentioned before how eating dinner alone is kind of a sad endeavor.  Luckily, when my waiter at the Manship heard I was traveling cross country solo came by really frequently to chat, and ask me questions about my trip, and tell me about living in Jackson.

As I was leaving the restaurant, I was stopped by this man sitting on a bench with a friend, who asked if he could pet Remy.  I always feel terrible when people (especially kids) ask me to pet Remy.  Remy really doesn’t like strangers, and basically just tries to run and hide from them when they try and give him some loving.  Anyway, this guy Chris and I struck up a conversation.  The greatest thing about it was, he LOVED Jackson.  He loved it so much that it was actually palpable in everything he said about it.  I asked him what I should do tomorrow morning before I left, and he told me I should go to Lemuria Books and go buy a book called Mississippi Sissy.  He told me how great Jackson, he told me about this old music club where you would have to go into the basement of the building to listen to the music, and when you wanted a drink you’d have to walk up and out of a rickety stair case, go across the street and order from a lady who was serving them out of her window.  He told me that as an openly gay man, he’d never faced any kind of discrimination or bigotry and that he loved it here.  Dear Mayor of Jackson, if you are reading this, you should probably hire Chris as some sort of city ambassador.

This was one of my favorite moments of my road trip so far, and I hope there are many, many more of them.

Distance traveled: 266 miles

High: Meeting Chris outside of The Manship

Low: Leaving Remy alone in the car with half of my shrimp po boy and coming back to find it completely demolished.  He left me the lettuce though!