Out of this World: Aliens, Caves, and West Texas

Greetings from rainy Houston! Lucky Houston, they haven’t rain in 9 months! Lucky us as we are from the NW and have rain jackets at the ready.

Roswell, New Mexico was as unusual as we had hoped. The town is largely centered around a long commerical drag appropriately called “Main Street” but without the quainter attributes many other towns have had.

We stopped at the International UFO Museum and browsed the extensive history and continued pursuit of UFOs. Did we see aliens? You betcha.

After our tour of Roswell we rented a movie at the Redbox and headed south of town about an hour and a half to our campground. We spent a quite Wednesday night in our tent with Katherine Heigl and Josh Dumahel’s romcom “Life As We Know It.” Just a good old fashion sleepover!

Thursday we got up early, loaded the car and drove another hour south to the Carlsbad Caverns. I had heard nothing but good things about the caverns and they were indeed very cool.

It took us about forty-five minutes to walk from the cave entrance down into the Big Room of the cavern. While the trail was eerily reminiscent of the some lines at Disneyland it took us through some of the most amazing natural formations I’ve seen yet. Some of it looked pretty gooey though! We spent a little over an hour wandering around the Big Room looking at stalactites, stalagmites, columns, draperies, popcorn, and a whole heap of other out of this world looking things with unique names.

Click above for more photos from the caverns, taking pictures down there was tricky!

We “cheated” and emerged from the caverns elevator before noon. It was time to go to Texas.

"Hey Rachel, I think the tumbleweeds are taller here." Courtesy of Google Maps

From Carlsbad it would take us about seven hours to reach San Antonio. In between there was, well, not much. We listened to music, napped, documented things we noticed were different about Texas. For example: The welcome to Texas state sign is way bigger than the New Mexico one, most gas stations are patriotic colors, there are A TON of TRUCKS, no one has roof boxes on their cars, there are BIG American and Texas flags, the whole “Driving friendly” thing doesn’t really happen, the signs are HUGE. We could go on but we are trying to avoid generalizations, kind of. However, if we notice something enough to comment on it then it must be worth noting. After seven hours on a flat, straight road anyone’s attention would wander.

We arrived in San Antonio a little after dark, checked into the Motel 6 and were pleasantly surprised by the hip decor! Although a little heavy on the orange, Motel 6 did a pretty nice job. Who knew?!

The first priority was to get the Ducks game on, Oregon vs. Cal in Eugene. Just the thought of all the rowdy students and other fans watching across the country brought a smile to my face. It doesn’t matter where I watch the game, it helps ease the shock of not being in Eugene this fall. Luckily the team played well while we munched on pizza and enjoyed the contrast of a hotel room with two beds to the two-person tent we slept in the night before.

The next morning we set out to see San Antonio, boy were we in for an adventure!

With love from the road,


Roaming the Red Rocks

I have been in four states over the past week!

From Sedona I traveled North to Flagstaff where I stayed for the night. There, I sampled a couple of the Flagstaff Brewing Co.’s beers which I really enjoyed. The next morning I enjoyed my free breakfast than hit the road to the Grand Canyon.

When I was younger I visited the Grand Canyon with my family and of course it left an impression. This time I was looking forward to seeing and learning more. Once in the park I stopped in the Visitor Center and then headed to the packed Mather Point, the first breathtaking view of the GC.

After visiting several national parks I have noticed two trends in visitors 1) a lot of retirees and 2) a lot of Europeans. It makes for pretty good people watching.

My favorite group at Mather Point were about a dozen French people, one of which had a stunningly Parisian hat on that completely blocked her peripheral vision. Once they had all gathered they popped open a bottle of celebratory champagne while they chattered away. It seemed a proper celebration.

My campsite lay 26 miles East of the Grand Canyon Village in Desert View. The drive included a ton of great stops including viewpoints, the site of a former hotel and mining claim, as well as Native American ruins and a museum. I took my time traveling this route and taking many pictures of rocks trying to figure out how to use my camera.

courtesy of amazon.com

I also picked up the book “It Happened At the Grand Canyon” which was a thoroughly entertaining light read and gave the Grand Canyon a much more personal context.

After setting up camp I wandered back over to the Desert Rim Viewpoint and the Watchtower to join the other resilient visitors who wanted to see the sunset. It was stunning.

I found a perch just west of the Watchtower. For half an hour I witnessed parts of the canyon gradually fall into darkness and the shadows deepen where the plains began. As the horizon grew deeper and more colorful the distinctive shapes of the canyon became silhouettes. It was so clear that I saw two planes making tracks far far above. Finally, it changed from a warm, rosy skyline to a deep blue twilight. Time to head back to camp.

Sunset from Desert View

That evening before bed I took my road atlas and traced all the roads I had driven since leaving home. What a wiggly path has brought me this far!

Saturday I packed up once again and got an early start to Utah. Along the way I passed through Monument Valley and bordered the Navajo nation. It was a stunning section of country that I hadn’t expected to enjoy so much. Along the way there were tons of Navajo craft booths/tourist stands. They didn’t tempt me at all and seemed to cheapen the landscape.

The most exciting part of the drive was along Arizona highway 163 when the winding two-lane road all of a sudden headed straight towards a very tall cliff. The only way to go is up! The road changed from a flat empty road across a plain to a slow and windy gravel drive with turns that intermittently had pavement. Velma and I handled it like pro, way better than the rental RV. It was like taking an elevator straight up and the view from the top was awesome. We came from that squiggle?!

The road that zigzags on the bottom right is where we had come from

From the top of the cliff it was just a bit farther to the Natural Bridges National Monument where I learned it was National Public Lands Day so park entry was free! Hurray! Save six bucks.

The Natural Bridges monument was very cool. It included three separate natural bridges (different from arches, as they are formed by a windy river wearing through the banks to take a more direct route) and several trails. I took the time to hike down to the first bridge which towered overhead. The river that had formed the graceful, colorful bridge was not even a trickle! Below the bridge it was much greener and lovely. The hike included a couple of interesting wooden ladders and hand rails bolted into solid rock!

I drove to the other two bridges and check them out from the view points, then it was time to get on the road again. My stop for the night: Moab, UT

I have to admit, I only dashed through Utah, I didn’t even take a shower there (I was camping after all). I did enjoy Moab and would LOVE to go back, perhaps as a badass mountain biker.

While I was in Moab I checked out the Moab Brewery, camped in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, and had a delicious breakfast and snack from The Love Muffin. There may be more gearheads here than many places in the NW. Wow, right?

Sunday I made the short trip to Arches National Park from Moab. I spent most of the day in the park doing about 6 miles worth of hiking and seeing all sorts of scenery. The coolest hike I did was the last one, an all terrain scramble to the Double O Arch. It was incredible, the trail led up solid rock fins, gave you glimpses into canyons and the more remote parts of the park, and most of all it was challenging!

At the top of a "fin" in Arches

After all this exertion I returned to the car pretty grimy, basically coated in a nice film of red rock dust. Luckily, I was heading to a homey stop next!

Sunday evening I arrived at my cousins’ in Fruita, Colorado beginning my time in state #4!

With love from the road,


East East East!

Greetings from Phoenix! While I have a comfy place to sit and internet I’ll give a full update of my travels.

I spent a wonderful Sunday in LA! Nikki, Jared and I hit up the flea market nearby at Fairfax High School and then wandered through The Market and The Grove (if Disneyland made a mall). After sitting for maybe 15 minutes I headed down to Venice to meet my “Oregon” friends Ryan, Nicole and Justin. Fun fact: Ryan was the first person I ever met at UO, at Introducktion. Now we get to kick it in LA 🙂 While I didn’t stay in Venice long it was definitely its own scene and the Chinese food we had was great AND you got to bring your own booze. Love it when you can do that. To complete my day I grabbed a beer with another friend, James who sailed with us at Oregon when I was a freshman! So long ago. So many embarrassing stories. The kitty, Garcon, and I spent one more evening snuggling on the couch (I had to clarify again that it was not o.k. to sleep on my face).

Monday, I had planned to leave early-ish in the day for Joshua Tree but…plans change! Instead I ventured through Beverly Hills to Rodeo Drive. Whew. For my thoughts at the time read more here. Then I meandered to Santa Monica for lunch and a stroll along the pier. All of this adventuring helped me pass the time until I went to UCLA to meet with a professor in the Geography department. I only cited him like six million times in my thesis so the little nerd inside of me was jumping with joy to meet him and seek guidance from his wise Phd-self on the path to graduate school (dundunDUNNNN). You Bruins have a pretty sweet campus, reminds me of UO but warmer.

Tuesday morning was go time! Unlike the first few nights where I was fortunate enough to stay with my friends in LA (thank you guys!) in Joshua Tree it was time to camp. Camping is not my forte but apparently all that time around gearheads in the NW paid off and some stuff sunk in. I arrived in Joshua Tree early afternoon, swung by the Visitor’s Center and then decided to grab food across the street at the Joshua Tree Saloon. It was pretty rad! The bartenderess was very friendly and helpful as were the locals that were hanging out in there. My chili cheese dog filled me right up.

Driving through the park you can see a lot of the scenery and there are plenty of places to pull over for an impromptu photo shoot. That afternoon I did two loop hikes. One called Hidden Valley, which indeed led to a valley that had much more greenery than the surrounding area. The second, lead to Barker Dam where I got a great view of some Big Horn Sheep grazing near the puddle of water that was behind the dam. The king of the heard had some pretty freaking BIG HORNS. I would not want to mess with that. I also spotted some quails and a few sneaky lizards. With about an hour of daylight left I staked out a campsite in the Jumbo Rocks campground and climbed some big ol’ boulders to watch the sunset. It was a quite evening with lots of stars and distant planes overhead, quite a contrast to the greater metropolitan region of Los Angeles. But still California.

Wednesday it was time to head East. First, a 20 minute detour up to the Keys View where you can literally see the San Andreas Fault. The fearful, fitful point where the North American Plate and Pacific Plate choose to tango. The smog was also very obvious from up there and although yesterday morning you could see Palm Springs apparently some days you can’t even see that far. It’s just truly mind boggling.

I love all the little info signs and self-guided tours they have in national parks, its like Wikipedia in real life!

From Keys I drove through the rest of the park, refueled in 29 Palms and headed East on route 62. As a result of flooding in Cottonwood, the South entrance to the park, I had to meander on some smaller state routes before joining back up with I-10. It was quite the drive, way out there in the desert, seeing a car every once in a while. I’ve come to decide that I like the desert a lot more than I would expect but it is a place that’s good to visit, with air conditioning.

To be honest I thought for a while that I was already in Arizona and had simply missed the signage because of my detour. It was only mildly disconcerning not knowing which state I was in, I had been very excited about leaving my home state, but when I finally did cross into Arizona I knew it. The welcome sign was colorful, although I had no camera at the ready, the signage changed, I think the font might even be different here. Arizona plates and ASU stickers were everywhere. Hurray! State #2

Phoenix is a sprawling as it description suggests. To figure out where I was and where I was going I stopped at a Starbucks. My barista asked me how I was doing, what I was up to for the day and I told him.

Oh, yes on the sweetener, I just arrived. I’m on a road trip around the U.S. for three months. What should I see in Phoenix?

His jaw dropped a little unnecessarily but he did give me a good tip, it was the free night at the art museum and the new exhibit was Modern Mexican Art, supposedly very good. To the museum I went! I explored the Modern Mexican Art which is from a single individuals collection tracing Mexican art since the revolution. Walked through (and got yelled at for taking pictures- there were no signs saying I couldn’t!) the fashion gallery. The Phoenix Art Museum also has the largest collection of miniature rooms made by this one lady, all historically accurate and itsy bitsy.

Phoenix Art Museum

By the end of my exploration into art I had gotten in touch with my future PiC (Partner in Crime) Rachel’s aunt and uncle who were kind enough to host me in Scottsdale. Once I found their home we grabbed some delicious green chile bacon burgers (say that five times real fast and see if you’re not hungry) at a very cool burger/bar/ranch/former bunkhouse/cool music venue place. There is no better compliment to an Arizona meal thank donkeys braying in the background. Well, except great company and conversation! Luckily I had all of the above.

Now today, after a much needed shower= CLEAN), I am heading North, to Sedona/Flagstaff and then tomorrow to the Grand Canyon. I am still a day behind my posted route but I think I am going to make that up in Colorado, there is just too much to see here!

I will upload my photos soon as well, hopefully before the Grand Canyon.

With love from the road,