Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mojave to Laguna Beach (244 miles)

Day 5 was one of the days I was looking forward to with unfiltered glee! I'm fairly certain I was dancing in my seat long before we pulled in and saw our first glimpse of the Pacific. Two or three years ago I had been to Laguna Beach with co workers on a work conference and had fallen in love. The beach is clean and absolutely gorgeous. To me it seems like the perfect spot for a weekend getaway! There are tons of restaurants and adorable shops lining the street right off the beach that make for the perfect strolls post fun in the sun. 

Other than the beach itself, this was also the first reservation we had booked post Marfa. Knowing we were headed to a clean bed with linens and a private bathroom seemed like absolute heaven. 

WHERE WE STAYED

When we started looking for hotels in the area, my heart sank, everything seemed so expensive! I turned to Hotwire (which if you have not used, I highly recommend), fiddled with the filters so that we would have parking and access to the beach. The app linked us with Laguna Beach Lodge. If you ever happen to be traveling to the area on a budget, I promise you will not be disappointed. 

We arrived around 10am and check in wasn't until 3pm. The lady at the front desk greeted us like long lost friends and said that while our room wasn't ready, we could leave our bags in the front. She also gathered up beach towels, beach chairs and pointed us to the nearest bathroom so that we could get our "booties on the beach"! The only thing that would have made this moment more perfect would have been her handing us fruity drinks with an umbrella on top. 

The hotel was located right across from the beach in a more residential zone. The hotel itself doesn't even have a name on its facade- probably due to zoning restrictions. The only way to spot it is looking for the trifold they have close to the street. Clean, bright, airy and with a heated pool, it was the perfect find. 


Across from the hotel, getting ready to descend the 75 stairs to get to the beach area! Yes. I counted. Also, please note that the chairs the hotel let us borrow have backpack straps (and what you can't see? They have mini coolers attached to them). I have already added them to my Amazon wish list.

WHAT WE DID

Literally nothing. It was glorious! The first day there we parked our borrowed chairs on the sand with our respective books ready to camp out. We had brought our insulated beach bag prepped with sandwich supplies, snacks and drinks so that we wouldn't even need to go back up the stairs onto the street for lunch. The waves on that part of the coast are super strong but make for fun wave riding! We literally stayed until the sun went down and then reluctantly walked back across the street only to dive into the heated pool before dinner. 

We woke up early the next morning, grabbed some breakfast to go from the hotel lobby and booked it to the beach once again. Due to the foggy and super chilly morning we walked down the beach sipping our coffee watching the waves, climbing rocks and on our way back even got to watch little kids taking surf lessons. It was so neat watching them! Some of them couldn't have been older than four years old and were already conquering their boards like a total champ. I was very tempted to grab one of the instructors, hand over my card and demand a lesson for myself! 






WHAT WE ATE 

Laguna Beach has a free trolley that will pick you up and drop you off up and down their strip! However, the day we were there it hadn't started up for the season on a daily basis. Therefore, we took the hotel's advice and walked over to a Mexican restaurant literally next door and had some powerful margaritas.

VERDICT

While at the beach, I met a lady who happened to be staying at our same hotel. She mentioned how she has been bringing her kids with friends to the hotel for an entire week each summer for the past few years, to the point where it has now become tradition. If I could, I would go back to Laguna Beach every year. There is so much to see and do close around it that if one wanted to do more than just lounge, they could. 

If anyone is up for signing up for this, tell me now so I can start saving up my pennies for next summer!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Grand Canyon to Mojave National Reserve (251 miles)

Day 4 of our journey was probably my least favorite jaunt, whereas if you talk to Fran...it was one of his top favorite moments.

I really think he should be the one to document the place but, I also know just how busy he is and the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. So, I will do my best to be as fair as possible.

Where should I begin?

First, let's talk about the lack of cell phone service anywhere near the area. I'm talking, a stretch of about two hours. In this span of time, we passed maybe 4 cars and had only the sparse signs to guide us within the park. I am not exagerrating when I say it was straight out of the scene from Seven where Brad Pitt confronts Kevin Spacey out in the middle of nowhere.

Visions of popped tires, rattlesnakes, death just kept rattling through my mind.

Meanwhile, Fran was thrilled to be able to off road with the truck time and again! 

By some miracle we finally passed a sign leading us to the campgrounds. Unfortunately, the sign took us somewhere, but it wasn't the actual camp site. Turned out that a) it was a legit ghost town and b) the visitors center had literally just closed 40 minutes before! Of course.


We wandered around a beautifully reconverted train depot station. Across the street was an abandoned post office along with a trailer, that may (or may not) have had people living inside it. Again, key word: creepy. The whole place gave me the heebie jeebies. Luckily, there was a map of the park on one of the walls and Fran was able to reroute us so that we could head back to the campgrounds.



On the way to the campsite, we drove by Kelso Dunes and quickly u-turned to park and explore.

Disclaimer before I continue about the dunes: if we had not already hit White Sands, these dunes would probably have been pretty cool to explore. Also, if there had been some semblance of humans anywhere around us, I would definitely have been up for further exploration. But, again, I reiterate there was NOT A SOUL in sight!

We started walking towards the dunes and the further we walked, the more scared I grew. What if one of us fell and was hurt? How would we find help? What if we got lost? Who would know where to find us? Debbie Downer was just not feeling it. And the dunes didn't hold enough appeal at that point for me to want to continue.



Poor, sweet Fran. He was so kind and understanding. He didn't argue once. We simply hightailed it back to the truck, got in and he headed off to the freeway. I know he regrets not getting a chance to sleep in the Mojave but, I cannot say I agree with his sentiment.

VERDICT

Fear got the best of me and I don't regret it. Sometimes you just gotta trust your instincts.

Monday, July 24, 2017

White Sands to Grand Canyon (563 miles)

Day 3 of the journey was a long 8 hour drive to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Ever since I was little visiting the Grand Canyon had been on my list of places to see. But, for whatever reason was always shoved aside in order to visit family in Mexico or Mickey Mouse in Orlando. Sorry, Dad. 

WHERE WE STAYED

Fran and I spent a lot of time researching what to do and see at each of the places we went to but, confession: we did not spend much time looking into where to stay. This would come back to bite us in the butt on more than one occasion (which I will spill the details about later). Turns out, that normal people book their stays months in advance when camping at the national parks. Go figure. 

When we pulled into the Grand Canyon, keep in mind, it was our first national park of the trip and by far, one of the most popular ones. There was a 20 minute wait to pay for our entrance fee and then another 10 miles or so until we hit the actual Grand Canyon surrounded by tourist shops and "log" cabin resorts. We knew we would not be looking into staying at one of the resorts (too hokey/expensive) but Fran had looked into off shoot camping. We figured, worst case scenario we could turn into one of those drives or suck it up and stay at the Flinstones campsite about 50 minutes outside of the park. 

We were willing to be flexible but, stayed optimistic in hopes of landing a campsite within the actual park. So, we drove to one of them, parked, got out and waited another 10 minutes to talk to one of the Rangers. When we told her we didn't have a reservation she literally looked at us and laughed. At this point, I remember glancing at Fran and grimacing, thinking that we would have to drive back out to stay with Fred & the gang in that aging park. By some stroke of luck, the park ranger went over to consult with her colleague, came back and gave us the good news: there had been a cancellation and we had scored ourselves a site for the night!

Spoiler alert: this will be the only national park we will have gotten the opportunity to camp within for the rest of the trip. Scoring the campsite this early on continuously fed my well of optimism only for it to be dashed time and again because Americans seriously bag these campgrounds so early on. I will stubbornly not realize their popularity (and the rarity of getting ahold of one) until the very end. 

WHAT WE DID 

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon sometime around 7pm, we immediately walked over to see it. It was absolutely breathtaking. So large. So massive. So beautiful. 



The next morning, we were up and moving by 5am in order to hike down into the canyon before it got too hot or crowded. We had decided to take the "Ooh Aah" trail (yes, I promise that's it's actual name). It was by far one of my favorite moments of the trip. The weather was absolutely perfect: a brisk breeze with sunshine guiding our way. The hike down to the point was rather quick (maybe a mile or two). I wanted to stay on the rocks all day taking in the scene before us. 



The hike back up, was a whole different story...

As easy as it was to go down, coming up took forever! I hadn't realized just how steep the inclines were until my legs protested the climb up to the top. Luckily, my bladder, hunger pangs and Fran's encouragement helped propel me back. If not, I would still be somewhere on that trail hoping a burro would pick me up on the way back. 

And, for the record, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. 



Tip: the bathrooms at the beginning of the trails are "no flush" toilets. Never have I been more scared of creatures coming up from within non existing plumbing to grab me by the unmentionables. If at all possible hold it until you get back to the visitor's center!


WHAT WE ATE

For the Grand Canyon, we had stopped beforehand at a grocery store to load up on sandwich staples 
and snacks. Everything I had read on the inside of the park constantly harped on how overpriced and unsavory items were at the restaurants. And, honestly, they weren't too far off. We stopped for coffee and a muffin after the hike at one of the cafes, paid around $15. Only to have me dump my latte in the trash the moment I took my first sip. 

VERDICT 

The Grand Canyon is a MUST. But, there are a few things to consider. 

First, lodging. Everything will fill up fast. Second, it is beyond crowded. Think Disney level. Which means that no matter what you decide to do when it comes to seeing the canyon, waking up as early as possible is key. We saw very little people on the hike down. But the moment we got to the top, one of the tourist buses must have just dropped off a group because the masses were starting to descend and it was barely 9am. There is obviously nothing wrong with sharing land with other people (hello, who else will take group pictures?) but there was something so special about experiencing the silence of the canyon by ourselves. The peace and tranquility found in that moment made waking up before the sun and any physical challenges entirely worth it.

In the future, I would love to go back further into the canyon. When looking up things to do , I found a package where for $450 a person a guide will take you down into the canyon's river to go water rafting! Upon docking, they will then lead you on a hike up one of the trails before taking you back up into the rim ON A HELICOPTER. Cannot even begin to imagine just how amazing an aerial view of the canyon would be! Of course, I was dying to book it when planning but...we couldn't blow so much of our savings on one stop. As Fran kept reminding me, "this was our dabbling excursion." Therefore, until sometime soon to one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Friday, July 21, 2017

Marfa to White Sands National Monument (290 miles)

Day 2 consisted of a 4 hour drive from Marfa to Alamogordo, NM.

The city is about 20 minutes away from White Sands National Monument. There are no designated campsites set up within the park but, if you were up for hiking and setting up camp, they do have special permits you could apply for.

WHERE WE STAYED

Let's be real here, this was day 2 of our trip. Glamping in a safari tent the night before was not indicative for what was to come. Which means that this was the first night inside our tent. To say I was nervous goes without saying. We made a reservation at a KOA Campground. We paid $23 for a tent site that according to Yelp included clean showers, bathrooms and a pool (which came in handy post sand)! Yelp, has yet to steer me wrong and nailed it on the head here. We didn't know it at the time but, KOA was going to be our BFF for the entire journey.

We arrived at Alamogordo around noon, checked into KOA, set up camp, walked around the grounds and then quickly headed back out towards White Sands.

WHAT WE DID

A Houston blogger I follow eloped to White Sands late last year. I was blown away by the beauty of the pictures. But, figured that thanks to strategic cropping, editing, etc. the place could not possibly be that beautiful. Nope. It actually was even more than the pictures showed. No single picture or video will ever do justice to this place. It truly is one of those, "you have to see it to believe it".


Everything I had read about the park, cautioned two things: come early (or late) to beat the heat and bring at least 2 gallons of water per person. We followed one tip: brought 4 gallons of water but...arrived in the middle of the day.

Was it hot as balls? Yes.
Was it a blast? YES.
Would we do it again? YES!

The KOA let us check out snow sand discs for free along with a small block of wax for playing on the dunes. Honestly, I didn't think the sand "surfing" would hold our interest for very long. Again, WRONG. We spent hours climbing, sliding and exploring the dunes. And we drank all four gallons of water because, it was so damn hot. The crazy part, though? The sand was cool to the touch. We spent our time there entirely barefoot.



Sadly, at some point during the climbs we lost our wax cube. We both shrugged its loss off but, it turns out that if you want to slide down the dunes: wax is crucial.



Originally we had planned to spend the day at the park from sun up to sundown but, it turned out that the day we were there a missile test was scheduled. Therefore, all visitors had to evacuate the park by 7pm. If there was one place that you could picture yourself easily getting lost in, it's here. Everything looks the same. The markers don't really do much to help orient one's self. There were times where we would go down one dune, up another, turn around and realize, "oh crap! We lost sight of the truck! Was it this way or was it that way?". The threat of being stranded in the desert while war weapons were being discharged had us constantly reining back the urge to venturing further out.

I would love to come back in the winter and relive our day. Except that this time, we would keep better track of our wax and we would stay late so as to experience a sunset from atop one of the dunes.

WHAT WE ATE

After the park, we were sweaty and extremely sandy. Fran actually packed a dust buster and I teased him mercilessly when it was added to the camp stack. However, boy did that thing come in handy! If not for its sucking capabilities, we would have been sitting on sand the rest of the trip. As it was, certain nooks and crannies in the truck still have evidence of our time there.

Across the street from the KOA campground was a custard shop, Caliche's. It was the perfect post sand surfing treat. The 50s vibe and soundtrack only furthered its sweetness.




The morning we left Alamogordo, we stopped by a diner on our way out called, Waffle and Pancake Shoppe. Our waitress was super witty and delivered mouthwatering waffles. They had this subtle nutty quality to them that was to die for!

VERDICT

Fran and I have already talked about coming back to White Sands in the future. We would love to camp out in Big Bend National Park for a day or two then head over to the monument before hitting up Marfa on the way back to Houston. It would definitely be at least a week long trip but, this year we have a week off for Thanksgiving so...who is coming with us?!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Houston to Marfa (599 miles*)

Day one of the trip began on a drizzly Sunday the morning of our seventh wedding anniversary heading westward to the hipster art town of Marfa, TX. I will readily admit that there were three places I did not thoroughly research: Yellowstone, Denver and Marfa. I'll go more in depth with the first two later but, for now, Marfa. 

Fran and I had spent a Valentine's Day weekend in Marfa right before our wedding. It has always been one of my favorite trips full of amazing sculpture and phenomenal food. However, I failed to remember that sleepy Marfa shuts down very early on Sunday and does not reawaken until Wednesday. Which means, that when we arrived not much was open and available to explore. 

My bad. 

WHERE WE STAYED

Now, with that gloomy set up, let me reassure you that we still had an amazing time! One of the few reservations we had set up for the trip was at El Cosmico. It is a large plot of land set up into four different parts. You can either bring your own tent and camp the night or you can rent one of their safari tents, tipis or trailers.


The extreme bright side to us arriving on a Sunday evening was that the camp was basically empty. There were a few guests here and there but, for the most part, we had the entire campground to ourselves! 


All the tents and trailers are set up along a graveled pathway where happy little bunnies hop through every now and then. Along the pathway are different little lazy areas where hammocks have been strung up for you to sit back and enjoy the day. We were very lucky to arrive to an overcast sky with a cool breeze. It made lounging on a Texas summer day entirely sweat free. Considering that our safari tent came equipped with a tiny fan...not sure what it would be like to stay during an actual hot and sunny day! 


Aside from the hammocks (and the bunnies) my favorite part of the hotel were their outdoor showers. They are all enclosed with rustic wooden boards but once inside you have a bench and small cubby to set your stuff down. The rainfall shower in the outdoors was awesome. I left asking Fran if there was any way to incorporate one in our future home. 

Staying at El Cosmico had been on my bucket list for quite some time thanks to the wedding of a blogger I followed in the past. I will say that the novelty of staying in a safari tent was super cool and I would love to return for one of the trailers or tipis. However, it's a shame that the staff at the place are not the friendliest. A smile or friendly greeting would go a long way.


I hope to return to Marfa again in the future (because it's the Texas gateway to White Sands National Monument) but, in all likelihood I'll be looking to stay elsewhere. 

WHAT WE DID 

Other than exploring the campgrounds of El Cosmico, we walked the main street area of Marfa that Sunday. It's not a very big town and from the pictures, it totally seems like a ghost town (because again, no one was out and about). I would love to learn more about how the town has cultivated such a uniform aesthetic. Because, seriously, everything in the town is picture perfect. The buildings are all lovingly preserved, even the cars parked along the streets are picturesque. 

Who doesn't love a PINK fire station?

The next morning, we ventured out super early because 40 miles west of Marfa is the infamous Prada Marfa! It is literally a blink and you'll miss it landmark. In fact, it just happened to be that a giant trailer passed by us right as we drove by. If it hadn't been for the angry blinking cursor on my GPS, I wouldn't have realized we had passed it! Luckily, we quickly u-turned and spent a few minutes happily walking around it once more. 


Giant tip? Be sure to fill up your tank before heading out to see the art piece! There is literally NOTHING along the way and by nothing, I mean gas OR cell reception. We very quickly learned our lesson the last time we were there

WHAT WE ATE

Due to limited options for food, we felt fortunate enough to find a happy hour at Hotel Saint George. We ordered a few appetizers and drinks, none of which were memorable as far as taste. But, the vibe of the hotel was super chill. Everything was in sleek grays and whites. With lots of stone and marble. The staff was kind and attentive. Not to mention that the hotel gift shop was superbly curated. Lots of local prints, books, pottery...and rather reasonably priced, too. I wanted to come home with a good chunk of their inventory! 



The next morning, again with limited options, we stopped at Mando's on our way out. Talk about the perfect place. No, it was not picture perfect (think dingy vinyl chairs and cheesy western decor) but it was so good! And, apparently where all the elderly locals hang out at 7am. Fran and I could not get enough of the people watching (or their breakfast burritos)! I wish I had thought to either tape or photograph the group of gentlemen gossiping over steaming cups of coffee and heaping Mexican breakfast in their cowboy hats and boots. Alas, I highly recommend you go witness it for yourself. 


VERDICT 

Marfa is hard to get to. It's a nine hour long drive from Houston. Even if you chose to fly into El Paso, you would still need to rent a car and drive another 3 hours to get there. However, it's worth a stop. Especially considering it's en route to Alamogordo, NM which was one of my favorite stops along the trip.



*anyone else start humming this right away? 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

FD Go West (Dahnya)

After driving 5,886 miles in 20 days, we are back home in Houston. I would add an exclamation mark at the end but, why lie? I am grateful to be back safe and sound however, I was ready to keep exploring!

For the past year, Fran and I had been squirreling money away for a trip. We weren't sure where we were going to go but, we knew we wanted it to be big. Then in February, his brother came into town sharing about his experiences in Washington and how cool it would be to explore the area together. There was talk of Mt. Rainier, waterfalls, natural hot springs, Vancouver...to say we were excited is barely skimming the surface. 

From there we soon realized that flying in wasn't going to be an easy way to transport all the supplies we would need if we wanted to camp. Fran and Dominic had driven to Tacoma from Houston in three days the year before and Fran was convinced driving would be infinitely cooler than flying. It did not take long to have me jump onboard, immediately visions of the Grand Canyon and driving up the California coast came to mind. 

Little by little we began expanding our research. I cast out a net on social media to see where people had been. The places that were suggested were unbelievable! Never would I have found some of these on my own. And the sheer quantity of stops had me starting to panic knowing there was no way we would be able to see everything. Because, believe me, the original list was massive. Somehow, we were able to whittle the list down and began to set dates. Here was our first draft: 


Without realizing it, the trip took on a national park theme. In all likelihood, due to the intense camping we were heading into but if you know me- you know that camping is not my forte. Before this trip, I had probably been camping twice in my life. It was not something that really appealed to me. While we were planning, Fran and I would constantly butt heads because I wanted to spend multiple days in the cities, on the beach, in Disneyland, etc. He would stubbornly refuse even as I tried to barter locations for Mickey Mouse photo ops. I hate to admit it but, he was right. Never would have thought that being outdoors would be everything we would need and all else would just be filler. 

In fact, as the trip unfolded, plans we had made to spend time in cities slowly evaporated. By mutual agreement. We found that there just wasn't the same fulfillment found within the city explorations as there was within the parks. 


"In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks." -John Muir, conservationist 

If there was one quote that could encompass the entire experience it's the one from above. I do not recall at which park I happened to read it but, it clicked. There is something about stepping into our national parks that strikes a chord within you. The majestic beauty is completely unparallel from one place to another. Not one single place we visited was in any way "better" than the other because each one demanded equal amounts of awe and reverence due to its striking beauty. 

Coming home I'm already formulating future trips because 20 days just wasn't enough! I will be chronicling our experiences through the most imperfectly perfect journey we took and hope that it sparks a curiosity for you to venture out to explore them as well.


Side note: unfortunately, Dom wasn't able to be in town when we actually did arrive in the WA area due to training. But, this only means that we can plan for another visit in the near future!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

royheid & the metroplex (dahnya)

You know how last week I talked about the never ending birthday celebrations? Well, this weekend: they continued because Heidi & Roy drove out to visit!


As per usual when Heidi is around, things that would not normally happen, happen. What was to have been a leisurely exploration through the park turned into...

us registering for my very first 5k! 

While Roy ran 12 miles and Fran assembled art (or machinery?), us girls ran for diabetes & then celebrated in the shade while bopping to a 90s cover band*. 


At the end of our morning adventure, we all treated ourselves to the Ol' Pancake House pancakes. Which I could live off of. 

You would think that all I just shared would have been the end of day 1. Normally, this would have encompassed one entire weekend but, there was more to explore. 

The FW stockyards! A place that could not possibly be any more Texan than it is. You shall soon see this for yourself:

it's like the trail of independence in Boston but full of Texans. 

Hogwarts Express? I wish!

Having Roy along for company made Fran a happy tourist.

FW rebel explorers

Happy cows live in California.

NOT Texas, apparently. 

At this point, you would think I'm about to wrap up & lapse into a syrupy sweet explanation as to why I Heidi & Roy so much but, nope. Not yet. There's more!

Because we drove into Dallas for the Texas State fair. Where we gorged ourselves in fried food and people watching.

margarita with a side of fried red velvet cupcake

a fried mac & cheese slider

fried chicken & waffle

fried pbj 

One would have hoped that after all the fried undertakings, we would have restrained ourselves from eating other offerings but we still had a little more room for...

The poorly named "yeast roll" which took the #2 spot on our favorites list. 

However, the umbrella topped pina colada was (in our opinion) the fair's best buy. 

Not only was it delicious, it garnered up to 20 strangers asking where to get their own fruity drink. 

It also made for multiple photo ops. 

Thanks for the memories, TSF! 

Sometimes it hits me that thanks to Fran, Heidi & Roy came into my life. That thanks to Facebook, Heidi and I grew close (the boys & celebrity gossip have a lot to do with it, too). That through thick and thin, these two amazing people have been with us at our highest high & lowest low. We may not see them too often. We may live hundreds of miles away but, it blows me away just how awesome (and rare) it is to have a friendship that picks up right where it left off every single time. 

Please come back, soon! 

*the Dick Belding's were so fun, I am considering looking them up to see them live once again. Also, the name? HILARIOUS.