The sky dimmed, as the temperature noticeably dropped. Crickets became audible, as bugs began to buzz about. The lake water rippled with feeding fish. Shadows became strangely psychedelic, and the awe of boaters and campers alike filled the air. The sun had been totally eclipsed by our moon over the United States of America for the first time in 40 years.
John and I had set up our lawn chairs on the banks of the Cumberland River at The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. We sat down, looked up at the sky, and had some Jiffy Pop Popcorn as this phenomenon of nature began. We couldn’t believe what was happening. The eclipse glasses made it a lot more difficult to see than we originally thought they would, but that didn’t stop us from focusing in and giving it all of our attention.
It took well over an hour for the eclipse to reach totality, so we took the glasses off here and there to observe the changing environment. We got a little too anxious and started to count down a bit too early, forgetting how slowly the moon moves across the sky. I truly underestimated the precision required to allow for such an incredible natural occurrence. Just as totality began, a boat near us started blasting “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonny Tyler.
We took our glasses off, and our jaws popped wide open in sincere awe of the experience. It was a sight that will never truly be matched in my mind. We looked around and observed the sky, the water, the shadows, and the animals for the brief two minutes and forty seven seconds of total darkness granted by the moon.
Once the moon started to move away from the sun along its progression around the earth, we quickly looked to the ground where we had laid out a white t-shirt on the beach pebbles. We had heard online that immediately after totality ends, the sun creates snake-like shadows on certain surfaces. The white t-shirt let us see these serpantine shadows as clearly as we could've wished.
We had also seen that the shadows of the leaves would be crescent shape and resemble the shape in the sky above. When we got back to our tent, the crescent shadows were dancing all through the woods where we were camped. It was an intriguing effect I have never even considered before.
The experience of a total eclipse is one that must be witnessed in person. No picture, video, or description can do justice to the wonderful event. The next eclipse in the United States is in seven years, so start planning!
Charleston turned out to be much more than the picturesque beach town that I had always imagined it to be. It is a city laden with history and blessed with beauty. Cobblestone streets are sprinkled among churches and homes older, in some cases, than the very state in which they reside.
Before John arrived Friday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to check out Folly Beach with my cousin, Lou, who is a new resident to Charleston. After dipping our toes in the sand and watching the sunset through the clouds, we stopped in at the first bar we came to. Chico Feo looks like a bar in the backyard of someone’s house. We enjoyed some better-than-expected beach food and a great steel drum player while sipping Coronas.
When the clouds got darker and thunder started rumbling, we headed to Snapper Jacks’ covered rooftop bar to watch the distant lightning and have another round of drinks. The one-man band was playing a great range from oldies, like the Beatles, to current music, like The Chainsmokers. From the roof, we scoped out our next bar The Sand Dollar Social Club. The band Moxie was doing a pretty good job covering some 80’s hits, but we decided to head home during their first break to get home before John’s midnight arrival.
Taylor and Lou stayed up to welcome me to Charleston on Friday night. After we had gotten some much needed sleep, our first order of business on Saturday was to find a brunch spot close to the beach. We settled on Page’s Okra Grill near the Mount Pleasant Historic District on Sullivan’s Island. We ate as much of our large meals as we could before we headed for the beach.
Streams of gray sand were blown along the shore by whipping winds and foiled our attempt to lie on the beach. Since we weren't having any luck sunning, we dipped our toes in the water for a little bit and decided to head downtown.
The Charleston Market would be our first attraction in the downtown area. Vendors of crafts, sweetgrass baskets, and countless other novelties fill the historic market. After nearly being enticed to leave with a keepsake, we trod down Church Street to find several historic establishments.
St. Phillip’s Church, the French Huguenot Church, the Pirate House, and the Dock Street Theatre adorn Church Street. These beautiful sites and their history are well worth the stroll down Church. A few blocks later we came to the intersection of Broad Street and Church. We turned onto Broad Street to find Washington Square.
Washington Square is named after the United States of America’s first president. His statue is present in the park, but the central spire commemorates P.G.T Beauregard and his soldiers. These prominent monuments are surrounded by a bust of poet Henry Timrod and markers in honor of Francis Salvador and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson. The beauty of these remembrances and archaic oak trees would be rivaled by the walk to our next park.
East Bay Street is home to the acclaimed colored houses of Rainbow Row. These beautifully painted homes are one of Charleston’s most iconic landmarks and exactly what I picture when I think of the quaint beach town. Another row of splendid homes were constructed along East Battery Street. Some are undergoing renovations, but the grand homes are an impressive sight along the way to White Point Garden.
White Point Garden marks where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers meet and flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Historic cannons are aimed out into the Charleston Harbor as if they are protecting the elder live oak trees and the several monuments that the park hosts. Once we had taken a stroll through the splendor of White Point Garden, we began to search for a place to cool down, have a snack, and quench our thirsts.
We arrived at the The Griffon just in time to avoid a short, summer rainstorm. A few local beers from the tap and a game of darts with a local Charlestonian kept us entertained until the rain subsided. We decided it was a good time to head back to Lou’s home in West Ashley to get ready for dinner and a night on the town.
Our aforementioned darts friend recommended 39 Rue De Jean for dinner, and it lived up to the local’s praise. After we enjoyed a delicious seafood platter and a few glasses of wine with Lou, we hit King Street to check out the nightlife.
First, we checked out Midtown Bar and Grill where we enjoyed a few drinks but soon decided to look for a music scene that was more our style. We found just what we were looking for at Smoke BBQ. The narrow bar was packed to the brim, but that didn’t stop Suffering Moses from laying down the blues until Taylor and I noticed a drastic spike in Uber prices. We had been warned that this would happen and decided to wrap up our night.
Reflecting on our visit produced a list of things that we wish we’d had time to do. A few of these wish-list activities are: The Haunted Jail Tour given by Bulldog Tours and ride a ferry boat out to Fort Sumter. I feel as though we could have spent more than a week in Charleston without experiencing a sliver of boredom.
My excitement for Savannah had been building up for a while, and I’m extremely grateful that I was finally able to visit. From historic haunted battlegrounds to famous movie sets, Savannah had a surprise waiting around every corner. I never stopped learning from this magical place during my solo visit.
I made it to Savannah just before sundown, and the first thing I did was head straight to the water for a few pictures of the Savannah River and the Talmadge Bridge. My plans immediately went from, “I’ll call it an early night and get some rest.” to, “This is amazing. I need to explore and find some cool places.” I wandered up and down the historic, cobblestone River Street while enjoying the the late 18th-century style buildings and getting a feel for the city.
The sounds of a live band drew me into The Warehouse for my first beer of the evening and a few games of pool. I met a group of new friends and enjoyed a round of drinks with them before we packed up and headed to our next bar. I carried a Southbound Scattered Sun local brew to our next bar.
Savannah’s Smiles Dueling Pianos Bar was where the night truly began to take off. We stayed here longer than we stayed at any other bar that night. After all of our boogying on the dance floor (and sometimes the stage), we were ready for a more relaxed atmosphere.
We meandered our way to Mata Hari Speak Easy just off of River Street. We didn’t stay too long, because the atmosphere was a little too chill for the group I had tagged along with. I took my mojito to go, and we headed to a more traditional bar to keep the night alive.
Our next, and my final, stop was The Treehouse. The bar is on top of the city market, so I enjoyed most of my time here on the balcony chatting with my new friends. After I finished my last drink, I said my goodnights and parted ways with the awesome group that had allowed me to tag along with them.
I arrived at my Airbnb to a lot of disappointment, but I won’t go on about my first bad Airbnb experience. I woke up early the next morning to start exploring. I was about 5 blocks from Forsyth Park, so I started my morning walking there.
After a lovely stroll of listening to the birds chirp in Forsyth Park, I made my way toward the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. If you’ve seen the opening scene of Forrest Gump, you’ve seen a cameo of the famous “Sistine Chapel of the South.” The church’s nickname is completely understandable. Its beautiful architecture coupled with the vibrant paintings and pristine windows took my breath away. I couldn’t imagine attending a mass in such an extraordinary place
After pulling it together and dragging myself out of the church, I headed over to Clary’s Diner for one of the south's best diner breakfasts. Even though I barely ate half my plate of stuffed french toast, I felt like I gorged myself. Afterwards, I walked back to my car to beat the 100-degree heat and allow my food to settle.
I parked at the Savannah Theatre and walked to the iconic Forrest Gump bench in Chippewa Square. To my disappointment, there’s not actually a bench where Tom Hanks sat and narrated his life. Instead, there were big concrete barrier walls that make it very hard to get a cute picture
One thing you will notice in Savannah is that there is a troop of Girl Scouts everywhere you go. That’s because the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was born here and opened the first headquarters in Savannah. I have no shame in admitting that I was the only person older than 20 years old without a child on the tour of Juliette Gordon Low’s house. Low lived a truly inspiring life, and I admire her tenacity. I learned that she was an extremely creative woman. A majority of the artworks in her house, including the fine china, were creations of Juliette herself or her protege niece Daisy.
After the tour, I walked back to my car to find a pesky parking violation, so I moved my car over to the City Market. The name made me think of fruit picking and snacking, but instead I found window shopping at wonderful art galleries and clothing shops. I walked away from the market while resisting the temptations of the candy shops and pralines to hold out for a slice of pizza at Sweet Melissa’s Pizzeria.
I can understand exactly why a ghost would never leave; Savannah’s haunting beauty is enough to captivate anyone. I can’t wait to come back and learn even more about this intriguing town and do ghost tours like the Boos and Brews tour with John!
The Westward expanse of our United States of America is an attractive destination for travelers who wish to explore deserts, mountains, or forests. Utah is home to five national parks and fascinating landscapes. We explored Utah over the course of a nine day adventure.
We left Birmingham at 2 PM on Friday to drive to Dallas, Texas, and spend the night with Taylor’s parents. We weren’t able to visit for long, as the next morning found us on the road bright and early to Cortez, Colorado. We passed through Cortez after we decided to forego camping in Canyon of the Ancients and drove the entire distance to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.
Midnight in Arches National Park doesn’t allow for much sight-seeing, so we picked a parking spot at the Park Avenue Trailhead just inside the park’s entrance. After a quick sleep in our borrowed Nissan Rogue, a sunrise hot air balloon ride with pilot Lou Bartell of Canyonlands Ballooning awaited us. As the sun rose, we ascended into the morning skies and found a spectacular view of Arches National Park. The wind carried us across highway 191 to a beautiful view of Canyonlands National Park.
After our post-flight champagne toast, we drove 15 miles down Highway 313 to Canyonlands National Park. We arrived at The Island in the Sky entrance where we took pictures and hiked around some rock formations a little bit. We kept driving through the park, stopping at every picturesque place we saw. After we got our fill of the park and realized what time it was, we headed to Arches National Park.
We saw all the major highlights like Balancing Rock, Double Arch, the North and South Window Arches, and Delicate Arch. We spent the entire day climbing all over the awesome orange clay formations and getting a true feel for the land. After our last hike up to the Delicate Arch, we were exhausted and found a campsite back near our balloon take off spot.
Capitol Reef National Park was a pit stop on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park. We examined petroglyphs, took a few pictures, and stopped at the visitor’s center to buy a few souvenirs before heading out of the park.
A meal from Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby’s Inn prepared us for hiking around Bryce Canyon National Park. Before we got into the actual canyon we stopped at the major sights around the park including Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points. Seeing the hoodoos from above made us giddy for our hike on The Under the Rim trail to our reserved campsite. After a night under the stars and the hoodoos, we hiked back to the canyon’s rim and made plans visit the park again to hike all 22 miles of Under the Rim.
Arguably the most spectacular experiences of our trip awaited us at Zion National Park. A mesmerizing drive into the park included tunnels, bighorn sheep, and child-like wonderment. The drive was soon followed by a swim in the Virgin River and a meal from Zion Brewing Company.
The Two Cranes Inn is where we laid our heads before braving the length of the splendid Narrows. The main hike of our trip was the 18 mile trek through The Narrows. Our hike was an incredible journey with surprises around every turn of the thousand-foot high walls. After this exhausting hike we spent our second night at the Zion River Resort.
We had one last adventure planned in this magnificent park. We made the dangerous climb up Angel’s Landing via the West Rim Trail. One breathtaking view and one hot hike down later, we tearily said goodbye to Zion and started the last leg of our nine-day adventure.
Page, Arizona, is where we would eat our last local meal of the trip and make our final two scenic pitstops. Canyon Crepes may have provided the most hearty breakfast of the trip as we made the phone call to book a tour through Antelope Canyon.
Julie with Dixie Ellis Canyon Tours guided us through this incredible work of erosion as we attempted to keep our jaws out of the sand. After taking hundreds of pictures we headed to our last stop, Horseshoe Bend. We took in the views and gawked in its greatness while reflecting on how spectacular our trip had been.
A delicious meal from El Bruno’s in Cuba, Arizona, and a nights rest in Albuquerque later, we arrived in Dallas at Taylor’s family home once more. We were treated with a fantastic meal from the grill as we discussed just how satisfying our second visit to the American West had been. What will be life long memories were still fresh in our minds as we drove the final distance from Dallas to Birmingham the next day.
I cannot say that I have explored many places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it is difficult to imagine a better suited city than Chicago, Illinois. The Windy City provided a wealth of delicious food and captivating sights to go along with the company of a few of our good-timing friends.
We arrived in the great city with a light snow that, against the quiet early morning streets, commanded the attention of my delirious mind and left me with a mystical first impression. If it were not for the Hotel Tonight app, Taylor and I may have enjoyed the views of the city from the backseat of the car, but we were able to book a room just minutes before we arrived at 3 am.
The next morning revealed a labyrinth of cold city streets tucked into a blanket of fog that hid the tops of the concrete towers. I marveled at the disappearing steel monuments as we made our way to Millennium Park to see The Bean. The Bean was much larger than I imagined and provided a great surface to make silly faces into.
Our day continued on public transit as we made our way north to meet our friends for breakfast at the Chicago Bagel Authority. Once we had filled our bellies with monstrous green bagels, we retired to a friend's apartment in Wrigleyville to catch up and let our food settle.
We soon were on the L train again heading to The Bottled Blonde; it was a great place to start our evening of shenanigans, but green beers and great friends make it difficult to dislike any establishment. Several bars and stories of glory days later, we were on our way back to Wrigleyville to patronize the batting cages at Sluggers. Unfortunately, we had stayed out too late to be trusted with baseball bats, so we settled for a few games of air hockey before it was time to find a nearby grub offering. We found a local late-night burrito place called El Burrito Mexicano conveniently located between the bars and our friend's house.
The next day Taylor, our good friend Mitch, and I woke up to a fog-less view of the city in its entirety. It didn’t take us long to decide that Giordano's Pizzeria was the place that we needed to be for lunch. After a quick walk, we were greeted by groups of people waiting outside of the door. We were in no hurry, so we found a place to wait, lounge, and watch the monstrously deep dish pizzas being prepared in the kitchen. One tall, cold beverage later, we were seated and ordering what would be the best pizza that I’ve had to date. The two monstrous creations stopped all conversation when they landed on our table approximately two hours after our arrival. It was worth every second of the wait.
Full from a delightful pizza pie, we took to the streets again to meet our party from the night before. We found them at The Boss Bar, where we recapped the night before and fell right back into our typically absurd conversations and friendly banter with the wait staff. Lou Malanati’s would be the next establishment graced with our rambunctious presence. More laughter was shared here than at any other place during our visit. We celebrated one another’s company as if we had been forcefully separated for decades. Delicious wines flowed as the appetizers, then entrees, were devoured by all in attendance. It was a picture perfect ending to a joyful weekend reunion.
The morning of our departure found Taylor, Mitch, and I with adequate time to enjoy breakfast before our respective journeys home. We hadn’t been to the Navy Pier, and Taylor insisted that it was a must. Even though it was slow on a Sunday, she was correct. The view of the city from the pier was stunning, although we were unable to experience the view from atop the pier’s Ferris wheel. Luckily, we didn’t have to top the Ferris wheel to see our choice for breakfast. The Kanela Breakfast Club provided us a breakfast that would stick with us nearly through Kentucky on our drive home.
As 2016 drew to a close, Taylor and I were invited to begin the new year in our nation’s capital. Washington D.C. was no new experience for Taylor, but this was my first visit. Our journey began in Birmingham, Alabama, and after a full day of driving, our first night's stop was in Roanoke, Virginia at The Snuggle Inn. We arrived in Roanoke as the first snowflakes of the year began to cover the Virginian capital city.
Once we'd arrived in Washington D.C., our first destination was The National Mall. We walked to the Library of Congress, and among the expertly crafted institutional buildings that we saw, the Library of Congress may have been the most impressive. Its seemingly flawless design, captivating murals, and patterned ceilings and floors is a spectacular home for the personal library of Thomas Jefferson. The library holds some of the American republic’s most direct influences. Fittingly, we would move from a building whose walls hold the ideas that formed our nation to a building whose walls have heard the debates those ideals have encouraged.
We did not spend much time at the Supreme Court, but the highest federal court in the land is housed in an impressive structure that is just as imposing as the decisions that echo from its halls. We sat in on the beginning of a scheduled lecture but did not stay for long.
We moved on to The Capitol Building, but we were only allowed into the visitor’s lobby without purchasing an official tour. Instead of signing up for a tour, we decided to explore on our own.
We took a tunnel from the capital building back to the Library of Congress on our way to the Madison Memorial Building. Once we were inside the Madison Memorial Building, we followed a tip from a friendly staffer that led us to a view of the city from the Madison cafeteria. After finding our way out of the Madison Building, it was time for us to rendezvous with our friend and host for the weekend.
We met Taylor’s sorority sister Laine and her brother Jay at the Christmas tree display on the white house lawn. The Funkhouser family was kind enough to allow us to be guests in their Arlington home for the remainder of our trip. Once our luggage had been unloaded and introductions were a thing of the past, we ended our night catching up at Pizza Paradiso with a delicious meal and much needed relaxation.
Our Saturday began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by Mrs. Funkhouser. The breakfast was followed by my first ride on the metro. Laine, Taylor, and I met a friend of mine and his significant other at Arlington National Cemetery. Looking out over the sea of uniform, white tombstones made me realize the reality of war. We were told that the cemetery buries, on average, 30 per day. That sounded absurd at first, but when we considered the qualifications to be buried there and the number of American veterans in our country, the absurdity vanished.
I must highly recommend visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, if at all possible, watching the ritual changing of the guard. The amount of physical and mental discipline on display at any moment at the Tomb is difficult to fathom. If more time is available, the Internal Flame at the tomb of John F. Kennedy is another sight that gripped my attention and demanded my respect.
A short distance from the Internal Flame, the manor of Robert E. Lee is standing but seems to be deteriorating at its extremities. No matter the sentiment toward the previous owner of such an estate, I found sadness in the allowed degradation of such a piece of history. Once we had toured a large portion of the grounds, it was time for lunch.
We moved over to Georgetown to head to The Tombs for a delicious meal of hamburgers and bloody Mary's. Our only other stop in Georgetown was to see the iconic set of stairs featured in the classic horror film, The Exorcist. Although we did not explore much of Georgetown, what I experienced of it was spectacular. With our stomachs full, we decided that the evening would be complete after a drive to The National Mall to visit one of the Smithsonian museums.
We decided on the Air and Space Museum. I can’t speak for the rest of our party, but I know that Taylor and I were excited that this museum was the group’s choice. The museum is massive, and we did not have time to see an IMAX film or see every exhibit, but we did see several airplanes, rockets, and landers. After going through the exhibits on space exploration, my local friend and I decided the only suitable dessert would be flash-frozen, astronaut ice cream.
Our couple of friends that had joined us for the day had different plans for the night of New Year’s Eve, but the evening would find Laine, Taylor, and I preparing to ring in 2017 at Don Julio’s in Arlington. We had been joined by Paige—a friend of Laine’s—by the time we left for Don Julio’s. The admission privilege for Don Julio’s was a bit expensive for my tastes, but the night was nothing short of what a NYE spent out on the town should be. We danced and celebrated as if it would be our last NYE to enjoy.
The first day of 2017 would be much more active than I had ever imagined it would. Laine, Taylor, Jay, and I began our morning with a brunch burger at Whitlow's on Wilson. The meal was exactly what Laine, Taylor, and I needed to kick start our day of walking and viewing the many monuments of Washington D.C.
Our first monument was Einstein, seated in thought with his theories of general relativity, the photoelectric effect, and the conservation of energy inscribed on his papers. I stood in the statue's presence as my thoughts were warped by the magnitude of this man’s propositions.
We kept walking until we reached the Lincoln Memorial. I did not read the inscribed speeches in Lincoln’s temple, only because I am well aware of the contents. I consider this monument one of the most fittingly portrayed. As we descended the steps of the temple, a crystal clear sky, adorned with the Washington Monument, shone in the reflecting pool and was the most captivating sight, of a man-made object, I’ve seen.
Rival views were plenty as we walked through the Korean War memorial on our way to the memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The likeness of a man who revolutionized American society--and its controversial inscription--will never do his deeds justice, but his words of wisdom engraved on the surrounding walls provide a sample of his mission and morality. Dr. King’s statue looks out over the Tidal Basin toward my favorite monument of the day.
Thomas Jefferson’s memorial left me speechless. I felt in the presence of the very ideas that I find most intellectually satisfying. The summation of his most noble thought is inscribed around the base of his monument's dome: “...for I have sworn, upon the altar of god eternal, hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Still basking in the light of Jefferson’s words, I joined Taylor and Laine for an Uber ride back to Arlington for a much needed evening nap. With batteries recharged, we hit the streets to meet Taylor’s cousin and her family for wings at the Bracket Room. Once our appetites for food and conversation were satisfied, we made our last trip back to the Funkhouser residence.
The next morning, Taylor and I packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and fixed our bearing south. We fueled up the car and fueled up ourselves with bagels from Brooklyn Bagel Bakery. Our drive to Birmingham was an easy one with so many new and sweet memories to cherish.
Breckenridge is one of the most amazing spring break destinations I've been to. John and I chose to go to the Rocky mountains instead of the typical beach destinations. Keep in mind that we had a free place to stay, so this opportunity was also almost impossible to pass up. Luckily, we knew almost twenty friends who also had planned to go to Breckenridge or Keystone for spring break.
After countless hours driving past windmills and farmland our very first Breckenridge stop was Crepes A La Cart, and this place did not disappoint. We ended up going there multiple times over the course of the week. Our crepe cravings have grown exponentially, and we have been on a hunt for more crepes since leaving Breckenridge.
We have to give major thanks to our wonderful hosts Fruit, Krissy, and Clapp for all of the cool things they were able to hook us up and help us out with. We were provided a free place to stay by Fruit and Krissy, free skiing passes and ski rentals by Clapp, and delicious food recommendations by all three that only locals could give. Our trip would have been nothing close to what it was without their hospitality. Thank you!
One of the aforementioned reasons that our trip was enhanced by their hospitality is that we would not have gone skiing if it wasn't for them. If you do plan to go skiing and have never been, you should definitely take a lesson. We did not take lessons, and I regretted it as many times as John fell. Even if you don't take a lesson and spend as much time learning to recover from a flop as you do actually skiing, it is truly one experience that would have been worth the cost.
Since we were only able to ski one day, we spent most of our time enjoying the quaint ski town. We wandered up and down main street dozens of times, stopping in and out of shops and bars. One of those spots included a pancake-filled breakfast at The Blue Moose. Everything in Breck is extremely easy to access from the free-ride bus system. Plus, it's much easier than driving in the snow.
One day, we decided to take a trip to Keystone to see the friends who were also in the area for spring break. After a couple of quick bus rides, we arrived at our friend's rental house. We sat around and watched the snow fall through the windows while playing games and enjoying each other's company.
John and I had had worked up a bit of an appetite, so we decided to wander outside to find some grub. Through the snow, we saw the bright sign for Adriano's Bistro. It turned out to be a completely homemade, five course meal that will forever be as one of the best I have enjoyed. This place is the real deal, and I could never write enough about it to do it justice.
Our last day of the trip was Saint Patrick's day. We spent the day with our friends bar crawling through the town, stopping at any place that served beer. One place was The Breckenridge Brewery, where we had been for dinner earlier in the week.
Spring Breck was truly one for the books, and it was the best spring break trip that I have ever been on. Along the long road home, we stopped at a few notable places. I cannot wait to make it back to Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado for a show. John cannot wait to make it back to the Osceola Cheese Company in Osceola, Missouri to stock up on delicious varieties of cheese.
The midnight before we set out, I decided that I'd like to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After checking out the map and reviewing other bloggers' reviews of trails on the nps.gov website, I settled on hiking the Angel Falls trail to a backcountry campsite and hiking out on Deep Creek Trail the next day. It did not take much to convince John to join.
The two trails are connected by several shorter 'loop' trails. Unfortunately, John and I were illiterate to clearly marked trail signs and took a different connector trail than I had planned for us to. This connector trail was a steep one mile uphill and one mile downhill hike that took us prematurely to Deep Creek Trail. We continued on Deep Creek Trail to our site, set up camp, and got some rest.
Navigational mistakes aside, the trail was beautiful. The stunning water falls were all at the beginning of Angel Falls Trail. This was nice, because it allowed us to take pictures and marvel at the falls before setting a pace for our hike. Both trails followed right along their respective creeks and provided wonderful glimpses of the mountains through the trees.
All in all, the roughly 12 mile journey took us exactly 24 hours to complete. This was the best 24 hour trip I've been on and serves as proof that you don't need to spend a lot of time, money, or effort planning to have a great trip to a National Park.
The drive to and from the National Park is beautiful. We drove through Nantahala National Forrest and Cherokee National Forrest. Both were homes to events in the 1996 Olympics.
[Other stops along the way included the Chattanooga Brewery and Urban Stack in Chattanooga, TN.]
Here's where our 10-day road trip from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado began: The journey that changed my (and I hope John's) life started with an 8 1/2 hour drive from Dallas to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Due to the park's observation of 'winter hours' and the length of the dog boarding process, we missed the world famous Chandelier Room. Regardless of that bummer, the caverns are incredible and well worth the one and one half mile elevator ride down. The structures are truly awe-inspiring, and thinking about how long their creation took is baffling.
After walking around underground as long as we were allowed, we walked around the surface trails that surround the cave. We had a great time looking at the cacti (which neither of us had ever seen), birds, and bats. The bats were starting to stir around the natural opening as we finished our walk. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed to watch the daily sundown bat show, so we headed out to find a campsite.
After a night under the stars at a last-minute camp site outside of the park, we hopped back on the road early the next morning. On the way to Tonto National Forrest, we stopped in El Paso, Texas, for a meal at the famous Rosa's Cantina. Rosa's was definitely worth going out of our way. We finished the seven-hour drive to Tonto National Forest after gorging ourselves with burritos.
This forest was absolutely beautiful to drive through. The diversity of the land ranged from cacti to lakes to a wooded forest. The camp site we chose was perfect. We chose a wonderful spot near Flowing Springs. We were able to let the dog run and play in the water and were also close enough to the car that we didn't have to pack everything to our campsite. We woke up early the next morning and took a nice dip in the creek before heading to the primary destination of our trip: The Grand Canyon.
When we got to the Grand Canyon National Park we walked the Rim Trail for a couple of miles and had a great time exploring around with our dog. We started by Mather Point and walked down to the Hermit's Rest. The trail itself was quite crowded and was hard to walk with the dog, but we were able to walk off the trails and really hang over the edge of the canyon. This was so much better than walking along the trail, but it was a little dangerous.
After walking the rim, we went to The Mather campsite that we had secured with a last minute reservation. The next morning we went to the visitor’s center to look for a trail we could camp on, but discovered they were all reserved. The park ranger then told us we could not take the dog on any other trail than the rim trail, so we spent well over an hour trying to find the kennel and having the required paperwork faxed. This episode of poor planning disrupted our plans but not our trip.
Once we were done, we drove over to Bright Angel Trailhead and began our descent into the canyon. We walked four and half miles down to Indian Gardens and decided it was best that we turn around and head back up. We were still a few miles away from the Colorado River, and we knew we wouldn't make it back to the top by sundown if we continued any further. After that long and exhausting hike back up, we decided that we needed to stay in a hotel.
We found a room at the Bright Angel Lodge and woke up the next morning to the most incredible view of the Grand Canyon and the trail we had walked the day before. The hotel was quite impressive for a fair price. On our way out, we stopped at the Desert View Watchtower and explored around that area of the canyon. We also made a few more pit-stops along Highway 64 to look at areas of the canyon that are not a part of the national park.
Our next stop at Four Corners National Monument was nothing more than a cool picture and the ability to say that we've been there. The monument was a small plaque on the ground surrounded by Native American vendors selling jewelry and trinkets. It was nice to stretch our legs in four states at once.
Once we'd arrived at Mesa Verde National Park, we found the visitor's center and purchased one of the last tent spaces available. Thank goodness we did. The closest camping area is nearly 20 miles away from the mesa.
The next day was by far the best day of our trip. We went on the "Balcony House Tour" with our amazing tour guide who had been with the park services for over 20 years! Learning about how these people lived was truly inspiring. The preservation of the buildings and the original stonework was incredible to witness even though there have been modern reinforcements and other additions to the structures for preservation's sake.
After our guided tour, we got back into the car and drove through an area of the park that had been scorched by natural wildfires. We continued the drive to the "Step House" where we took a self-guided tour and were able to get up close and personal with a few kivas (ceremony rooms) and a recreated pit-house. The pit-houses were where the native people would store meat and take shelter from extreme weather. There was even an ancient corn cob from hundreds of years ago!
We definitely saved the best park for last and saved one great food stop for last too: The Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, Colorado. The traditionally styled saloon was awesome to walk around and look at, especially with a good, local craft beer in hand and a world famous Diamond Burger on the way. This stop was worth the money and the time spent there.
And that was it. What a crazy, wonderful trip it was!
John and I have been to New Orleans several times for several different occasions. Regardless of the reason, we always have a fantastic time. If I could put together a perfect weekend, out of all of my favorite places, here is what it would be like:
First, we love the AirBnB's in New Orleans. Some of our favorites aren't listed anymore, but the Garden District is our favorite area to look. It's uptown and really close to Magazine street. (If you've never used AirBnB, use this link for a discout!)
We usually get to town on Friday evening and head straight to dinner. Trying new places is our favorite thing, but one of the best in Nola for an afternoon delight is The Original Gumbo Pot. It is just off of Decatur street with plenty of shopping and bars nearby, and it's only a few blocks from Bourbon Street.
As much as we love Bourbon Street, we always recommend going to Frenchmen’s Street and visiting the cluster of bars there. If bar hopping isn't your thing, go to my favorite “run of the mill pirate bar”, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar and enjoy a casual evening of piano music in candlelight.
We like to get up early the next morning and head to Tchoupitoulas Street to grab a great “cali-mex” beachy brunch at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant. After breakfast, you might have a hard time deciding what to do in Nola, but here are a few of our favorite options:
To start, if you aren't hurting too badly after your first night out, grab a drink from any bar and take it with you while you explore. We like the famous Huge Ass Beer.
You can always take a ghost tour. We chose the Haunted History Tour and loved walking around the exclusive St. Louis Cemetery #1 while being lectured about its history and the history of the city. If guided tours don't appeal to you, hop on a trolley car and stop off when you see something that catches your eye.
Jackson Square is the most iconic place in New Orleans for good reason. This beautiful, centrally located park is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and artists. We've found the fence that surrounds Jackson Square to be, more often than not, covered in impressive works of art, and the Decatur Street side of the square is often host to an eccentric performing artist or two.
Head over to Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street for a great seafood dinner, but make sure to have a reservation ahead of time. You might not get to try this New Orleans classic if you don't! After dinner, keep heading down Bourbon Street and enjoy the New Orleans nightlife. Maybe even go sing some karaoke at The Cat's Meow like we did on one trip with John's fraternity.
If you have the late night munchies and none of the pizza bars on Bourbon Street look good, go brave the crowd at Café Du Monde and get some fluffy, sugary beignets with a cup of rich coffee to end the night.
Surrey’s Uptown is a fantastic spot for a relaxing Sunday brunch after a long night out in New Orleans. If the wait at Surrey's is too long, any of the restaurants on Magazine Street will do the trick before you have to leave the Big Easy.
My parents have moved quite a few times in my life, but their most recent move landed them in Dallas, Texas. John and I spent nearly 11 hours driving to spend Easter with my family in their new city. We arrived late Thursday night and tried to get some sleep before exploring Dallas.
Despite the bags under our eyes, we woke up Friday morning determined to explore the city before we picked my mom and sister up from the airport. We started the morning driving around downtown until we found a good parking spot. We then wandered around to look at sculptures, buildings, and bridges until we found ourselves at the Dallas Museum of Art.
After enjoying some marvelous art (and the cool air conditioning), we strolled into Klyde Warren Park where we sat and enjoyed the warm sunshine. The laughter of kids on the playground entertained us until we got hungry.
We knew we wanted Tex-Mex, so we walked down to El Fenix where we stuffed our bellies with all of the burritos and queso we could handle. Half-priced margaritas were especially delicious to wash everything down.
We had a bit more time to kill, so we hopped back in the car and drove to an area called Deep Elum. We stumbled upon The Deep Elum Arts Festival. It was hard to miss, as streets were blocked and filled with art vendors, food trucks, and three stages of bands.
After the festival, we went to the airport to pick up the rest of the family and headed to dinner at Pappadeaux Seafood. We caught up with one other and enjoyed a great family night.
We woke up early Saturday morning to check out the new Dallas Cowboys football stadium before claiming our spots in line at Six Flags over Texas! We spent the whole day riding roller coasters and acting like little kids with my parents and sister. It was the perfect way for us to spend a day after being apart for so long.
Sunday was Easter and little did my mom know that she was starting an Easter tradition that has been practiced for three years running! The massive buffet at Second Floor Dallas keeps us going back year after year.
After brunch, John and I loaded the car and said goodbye to my family. This would be the first of many great trips to Dallas!
I grew up going to Atlanta for all sorts of things: lacrosse tournaments, Braves baseball games, Six Flags over Georgia, and the Coca-Cola Museum. Sadly, my most recent trip didn't allow for too many touristy activities, but I did make sure to check out some awesome graffiti spots before my work conference started!
I was told that all the best spots were in Little Five Points, so I made the quick drive from downtown and checked out all of the coolest Instagram spots!
I parked my car near the awesome Vortex Bar and Grill, and even the parking lot had great murals that got me excited for what the rest of the area had in store!
Once exploring the graffiti and local record stores had worked up an appetite, I stopped for lunch at a great spot called The Corner Tavern. I finished my salad and kept walking until I hit the wall art jackpot at Euclid Avenue.
I met a few cool photographers snapping pics, and they told me there were even cooler places just down the street. I hopped in my car and kept looking. Sure enough, there were a few more spots on Euclid Avenue that I hopped out to take pictures of!
The Greg Mike Garage was right near the Krog Street Market on Edgewood Avenue. The entire garage was painted in bright colors and silly faces. Sadly, the biggest mural had construction vehicles in front of it, so I couldn't get a full picture.
The next spot was my absolute favorite. The Magnificent Popsicle wall on the side of A&R Ironworks on Decatur Street is inspired by the King Of Pops, popsicle brand. Everything on the wall is related to those sweet, fruity popsicles!
After all of my smiles and giggles at the popsicle artwork, I headed back to my car and was ready to check into my hotel in Marietta. On my way, I found one last piece of artwork before I got on the interstate.
Going to school an hour and a half away from Memphis kept John and I visiting for various reasons. I've heard people express hatred for Memphis, but I tend to love it. I love the music scene, being on the river, and the barbecue.
If you want to have a great and safe time, here’s what we recommend for the weekend:
The first thing we like to do in Memphis is get some barbecue. Whether it's from Rendezvous, Corky’s, or Central BBQ, you're bound to get some of the best the city has to offer. After that, you might head to Silky’s for a “bucket” to wash it down.
If Silky's piano doesn't have you on the floor, step outside and follow the blues music to any of the Beale Street bars for a taste of Memphis nightlife. When Beale Street starts to slow and you feel like dancing until the dawn, head down 2nd Street South to Raiford’s Disco for all of the boogie you can handle.
The next day you'll probably want to take it a little bit easier. We like to have a few cocktails at The Peabody Hotel and watch the ducks or go to Loflin Yard when it is patio weather. If you’re lucky, the Grizzlies will be in town and you'll be able to score affordable tickets to the game!
If you have time to spare, Graceland, The Pink Palace, and The Pyramid are well-known tourist attractions that are all worth a visit. Graceland is the beautiful home of Elvis Presley. The Pink Palace is an inspirational collection of museums complete with a planetarium. The Pyramid is an engineering marvel with a view and houses a massive Bass Pro Shop.
There are a multitude of things to do in Memphis that we didn't mention like taking a Mississippi Riverboat ride, but you'll have a blast no matter what you find yourself getting into at the Home of the Blues.
Taylor, Maria, and I spent two nights and three days camping at The Land between the Lakes, outside of Paducah, Kentucky. We found a campsite on the shore of Lake Barkley suitable for viewing the coming total eclipse.
We arrived at the Land between the Lakes just after noon on Saturday and began looking for our site. Once we had established our site for the weekend, we drove roughly thirty minutes to the nearest market in the Grand Rivers community to stock up on supplies.
The next morning, after a poor attempt to make campsite pancakes, Taylor and I took Maria to hike a portion of the Canal Loop. The Canal loop turned out to be a very enjoyable time. The towering Kentucky pine trees gave way to occasional access to Lake Barkley and eventually to Kentucky Lake. Maria romped through the wilderness and into the water as Taylor and I worked to keep up.
We finished our hike and decided that we’d go check out the Elk and Bison preserve before making the trek back to our campsite for the night. The weather was far too hot for Elk or Bison to be grazing, so we missed out on that sight and headed back to our campsite for the night. A delicious meal of beef tips, corn, and broccoli ended our day and left us with full bellies as we gazed into the clear night sky.
I’d never been so excited to see a clear morning sky when I thought about the celestial anomaly that we’d be experiencing in a few short hours. I headed into Grand Rivers to gain an internet signal and complete a bit of work. I found a perfect place to sit, eat, and work at Pokey’s Cafe. After a nice breakfast, I sped back to the campsite.
We sat with our toes in the water of Lake Berkley and our eyes on the sky. I couldn’t help but to swoon over the mechanics and precise proportions necessary to allow for such a magnificent event. My excitement swelled as I looked through my glasses and saw the first black spheroid encroach upon the sun.
Roughly one and a half hours later, our surroundings changed. The sky dimmed as the temperature noticeably dropped. Crickets became audible as bugs began to buzz about. The lake water rippled with feeding fish. Shadows became strangely psychedelic, and the awe of boaters and campers alike filled the air. The sun had been totally eclipsed by our moon over the United States of America for the first time in 40 years.
Freshly dumbstruck after our 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality, Taylor and I began to gather our things as the moon proceeded across the sky to once again reveal the brilliance of our sun. Land between the Lakes is a wonderful place to camp, hike, and get away from it all, but Taylor and I will always have the memory of our first total solar eclipse burned into our minds in conjunction with our memories of the Land between the Lakes.