Road Report #16 -Last days in South Carolina

I got back from Los Angeles trip on February 28th just in time to start a short pet sitting gig, taking care of Chewy, a rabbit.  Sweet guy.

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Chewy

I settled back into life at the barn. Weather had warmed and spring had sprung.  Romps in the fields with the dogs got prettier and prettier as the grasses greened and the wildflowers started blooming in shades of blues and reds and yellows.

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Roo and the gang romping in the fields.

Pollen season was in full swing and the pine trees were sending out clouds of yellow pollen.   My black boots would be covered in yellow dust after a walk in the field.

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The menagerie at the barn continued to provide daily amusement.

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Freya doing her best centerfold pose.
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Hot Rod about to knock over my coffee.
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Dodger stole me heart.  He’s the ultimate snuggle buddy.
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Roo loved Dodger, too.  Occasionally we’d luck out and Dodger would do a sleep over with us.

My mom’s hunt club wrapped up their season on March 13th and I went out into the woods to see everyone come in at the end of the hunt and to help pass out refreshments. It’s pretty fun to see the hounds at work.

 

Riders and horses alike were dressed up in St. Paddy’s day garb and it wouldn’t be a St. Paddy’s Day hunt without a horse syringe filled with a jello shot.

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Mom and Gresham

On March 14th Roo and I took off to do a bit of road tripping.  It was time to give Greta a little test run before we truly truly hit the road for good again.

First we headed up into the northwestern corner of South Carolina.  It’s beautiful country made up of rolling farmland and forests.  Calhoun Falls State Park was our first stop for a night of camping.  Roo enjoyed a dip in the lake.

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Then we spent a couple of days watching a sheep herding trial held at Red Creek Farm outside of Townville, SC.

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Guard dog hanging out with his herd.

Roo got a sheep herding lesson with Mr. Hubert Bailey and did well considering it had been about 2 years she last had a herding lesson.

 

Watching the trials was a hoot.  It was incredible to watch the dogs do their thing.  I met a lot of nice and neat people, all very passionate about their dogs and their hobby.  This video is of the youngest (by far!) participant who did a very impressive job of working with her dog to move those sheep, although he loses his focus towards the end and she kind of cheats by crawling through the fence.

 

From the sheep herding trials, Roo and I headed south for one night of camping on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia.   Roo and I walked along Driftwood Beach, aptly named.

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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island
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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island

We also walked around the historic district, which has an interesting history, and admired the sailboats in the marina and the old historic buildings.

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Chapel in the historic district of Jekyll Island.

From Jekyll Island I headed to Savannah, GA.  I shacked up at a great little Airbnb in the Bonaventure neighborhood and was within walking distance of the famous Bonaventure Cemetery.  It was just dumb luck that I happen to be in Savannah at the height of the azaleas blooming season and they were quite striking against the gray green of the oaks and Spanish moss.

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Roo and I strolled around downtown Savannah and along the water front, marveling at historic buildings and structures.  I so wish I could time travel.

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Near the waterfront, Savannah.

Savannah is a foodie’s delight and I had the pleasure of eating and drinking at The Atlantic , where I was introduced to my new new favorite cocktail featuring Becherovka and bourbon called the Monarch.  YUM!  On a tip from the bartender, I went to the Alley Cat Lounge after dinner to try a Metamorphosis, another cocktail featuring Becherovka.

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The Alley Cat Lounge has the best cocktail menu ever, published in the form of a newspaper, featuring articles and quotes about booze and drinking and famous drinkers.

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My Savannah plans got a bit hampered when severe weather rolled through town.  The weather report called for high winds, large hail, and tornados so I stayed hunkered down at my rental cottage, monitoring the weather radar. It was pretty gnarly at times with thunder and lighting and wind and the rain coming down in buckets but fortunately the cells of truly extreme weather skirted to the north and south of us and we never got a direct hit.

I headed out of Savannah on March 21st and went to spend a lovely 3 nights with friends on Kiawah Island, just outside of Charleston, SC.    Roo and I spent lots of time out on the beach, despite the chilly and windy weather and of course had to hit the beach each morning to see the sunrise.

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Sunrise on Kiawah Island

During my stay on Kiawah, I met up with my parents and aunt and uncle in Charleston to do a garden tour and walk around town.  Charleston’s such a fun and interesting town for poking around.  There’s little nooks and crannies to discover and cobblestone alleys criss cross through the historic part of town where you might get a glimpse into the courtyards of fabulous old homes.

After Kiawah and Charleston, I headed back to Aiken, SC on Sunday, March 25th.  I had just over a week to make final road trip preparations and to have my last hurrahs in Aiken.

I’m glad I stuck around long enough to watch family and friends ride in the 102nd annual Aiken Horse Show on April 1st.    Set in the middle of Hitchcock Woods, it’s just the cutest dang horse show I’ve ever been to.

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I think my favorite part of the show was the lead line class where little kids got led around the ring on their ponies.  Egads, look at how small this pony is!  Cute as a button or what??

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Before heading out of town I decided I should at least take a walk in Hopeland Gardens while the azaleas and dogwoods were in full bloom.

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Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, SC

When I got back to Greta after walking around the gardens, I discovered that someone had left a rock painted with an image of green van on my driver’s side tire.  On the back it says ‘Aiken Rock’.  Technically I guess I’m supposed to rehide it and pass it along to another person but heck NO!  I’m keeping it as a memento of my time in Aiken.  What could be more apropos??

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Aiken Rock gifted to me anonymously

I started packing up the van and getting ready to hit the road.  I sure was tempted to kidnap Dodger.  He seemed a bit interested in van travel and I think Roo wouldn’t mind a co co-pilot.

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Where we going?

It was so tough to leave Aiken, SC.  I have to admit that it was tempting to stay close to family and friends.  I’m sure if you asked Roo she’d say let’s never leave.  She sure is going to miss her time at the barn.

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But the road calls and I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about seeing Nova Scotia and on Friday, April 6th,  Roo and I pushed off for the next big road trip phase.  More on that soon.  Stay tuned.

Road Report #15 – Los Angeles

Originally I had planned to leave South Carolina in early February to drive back across country in time to meet up with friend in Los Angeles by late February.  But that plan got derailed when I hurt my back while on barn duty.   I was upset that my back had derailed my plans and I really didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to experience LA with my friend, Robin, so I flew out to LA on February 22nd for a week.

LA wasn’t exactly what I expected.  I expected a lot of glitz and glam.  Yes, you can find that.  But the natural beauty of the place is just gorgeous.  Beaches and beaches and beaches with beautiful foothills plunging into the Pacific as the backdrop.  It’s also gritty and industrial. Oil refineries, tankers, cargo ships line the coast.  I stayed in the El Segundo neighborhood with a cute main street, a weekly farmers market, and small businesses that had been there for decades.  It was easy to forget that we were in Los Angeles.

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Beach off the El Segundo neighborhood.

We stumbled upon people hang gliding and riding the wind along the dunes at the beach near El Segundo.

I had nice relaxing visit with Robin and her folks.  We ate and drank well and poked around town and saw some of the typical LA sights.

 

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Hermosa Beach
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Outside the Comedy Club.
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Santa Monica Pier
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Roller boogie at Venice Beach.
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Muscle Beach
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Cocktails at lunch along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
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View from Point Fermin
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Popping into Walker’s Cafe for mid day beer with Robin and Mary.

A visit to the Getty Museum was a highlight.  The buildings and gardens and setting is just amazing.  The incredible art inside – BONUS!

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The Getty

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Cactus Garden at the Getty.  Downtown LA in the distance.
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The Pacific in the distance.

Another highlight of my time in LA was getting a ride in Robin’s dad’s 1952 MG TD! What a fun car!

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I left Los Angeles on February 28th and headed back to Aiken, SC, back to the farm.  More on that soon.

Road Report #14 – Life at the barn

After my Florida road trip, I landed back in Aiken, SC on January 11th and settled into a studio apartment at my aunt and uncle’s barn.

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The studio apartment at the barn – my “home” from mid January to early April.

From January 17th to the 21st I was on barn and dog sitting duty while Kevin, barn manager, got whisked away to the Florida Keys for a “surprise” birthday trip.  I had great time with the animals.  It was quite the cast of characters.

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Roo and Dodger
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Freya
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Bonnie
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Puckey
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Gigi. We just removed braids from her forelock and she’s looking a little like Rick James here.
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Clark and Roo breakfasting together.
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Cecil – silly boy!
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Lucy – let me out of here!
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Bo – grain, please!
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Hot Rod getting a bath on his 28th b’day.

Scat Cat, aka Scatters.  Coolest barn cat ever.

During the month of January, I was introduced to some folks that work in Hitchcock Woods.  Hitchcock Woods is the gem of Aiken. It’s one of the largest urban forests in the US, 2100 forested acres, criss crossed with miles and miles of trails.  It’s one of the reasons Aiken is such a popular destination for horse lovers because it doesn’t get much better than a ride in Hitchcock Woods.

I was lucky enough to get invited up to see a prescribed burn in the woods, a process I had been dying to see up close.

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Bennet setting the burn.

It was a little unnerving being up so close to the burn at times.  The fire flares up for a bit and the sound and smell and heat took me a bit by surprise.  But it was all under control and it was impressive watching the team work the burn.

Back at the barn, I was really enjoying being around horses again. Each day brought something funny or humbling to giggle at.  I found out what it’s like to have a horse burp, sneeze, and fart in your face.  (I don’t recommend any.)

Gigi in particular had a talent for doing silly things when I had my camera out.  Not sure what she ate here.  Must not have tasted too good.

Here Gigi illustrates the art of getting comfortable.  She’s got it mastered. (Make sure you have the volume up for this video so you can catch the ‘punch’ line.)

I had planned to get back on the road in early February to drive across country and meet up with a friend in Los Angeles in late February.   However, on the day that Kevin got back from this birthday vacation, my back went out.   5 days of barn chores had done me in.  By the time my back pain issues were under control I had missed my window to get back on the road and drive across country in time to meet up with my friend in LA.    So I settled in at the barn and focused on getting my back better.  My days took on a regular routine of helping with barn chores and taking daily walks around the farm with the dogs and noodling around on my ukulele.  Farm life suited Roo and I just fine.

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Walking the fields in the morning with the gang.
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The gang relaxing after our morning romp in the field.
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Serenading Dodger.

 

 

 

Road Report #13 – Florida

Late December the weather had turned bitterly cold in Aiken, SC so on January 2 I lit out towards Florida to see if I could find warmth and sun.  I didn’t get south fast enough.  My first night out, camping at General Coffee State Park in Georgia, the snow hit and I woke up on January 3rd to huge flakes dropping out of the sky at a good clip.

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General Coffee State Park in Georgia

Roo and I hiked up to the ranger station to ask about road conditions and as I suspected, it was pretty treacherous.   State patrol was asking to people to avoid driving.   So Roo and I settled in for a snow day.

General Coffee State Park turned out to be a great place to get snowed in.  There were a few other campers but Roo and I had all the trails to ourselves and the swamp and forest were absolutely beautiful in the snow.

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The park had an old farmstead, complete with farm animals and they were all hunkered together in the log barn, trying to stay warm.

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Fortunately I had finally figured out and resolved Greta’s furnace issues that plagued my camping efforts during the eastbound leg.  The furnace was humming along and keeping Roo and I toasty and between hikes I had time for plenty of ukelele practice while Roo napped.

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Living large in the van.

The morning of January 4th the temperature started creeping up above freezing and the snow and ice started melting.  By late morning the roads had cleared enough that I felt safe getting out on the roads and continuing south into Florida.

While fueling up at a gas station at some podunk town in Georgia, I noticed an older gent in a pick up truck slowly sliding up, clearly interested in the van, and soon I found myself chatting with Mr. Bo (Beau?) Fender.  In a lovely thick southern drawl he explained that he had owned a VW van back in the 60’s and had nothing but fond memories of his adventures in the van.   He asked me about my travel plans and when I indicated that I was kind of winging it and preferred country to city touring, he jumped out of his pickup and started laying out a route for me along the northwestern coast of Florida.  I figured what the heck and took his suggestions and decided to see where Mr. Fender’s travel tips took me.

I headed south, following a route on country roads through small towns, avoiding any main highways.  I drove past recently harvested cotton fields.  The white billowy remnants of the cotton harvest lined the country roads like snow banks.   Peach, apricot, olive and blueberry farms popped up at regular intervals.  Cattle ranches, tree farms and logging outfits took over as I ventured further into Florida.

I ended up rolling into the small town of Keaton Beach, FL, on the afternoon of January 4th and parked in the driveway of Mr. Fender’s vacation house, at his invitation of course.  The house was locked and I couldn’t get in the house but Mr. Fender had encouraged me to enjoy the view from the decks and Roo and I did.   It was freezing out, in the 30’s, and I was bundled up head to toe, but up on the Mr. Fender’s sunny decks I could lean up against the house in the sun and soak in the warmth from the wood siding and deck and enjoy the view.

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Roo enjoying the views of the marsh and Gulf of Mexico from the deck.

After a beer and burger at Walter B’s at the local service station and quick drive thru town, I set up camp in Mr. Fender’s driveway and Roo and I enjoyed a quiet evening.

January 5th, I pushed off early.  The northwestern coast of Florida is one of the least developed parts of the Florida coast, probably because there’s more marsh and tidal flats to be found than beach.  Lack of beaches makes it less popular with the tourists. It was a little desolate, a little wild, a little run down.  It didn’t feel overly developed or commercialized.  Natural and wildlife management areas lined the coast and the variety and abundance of birds was astounding.

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I found a quiet spot to run Roo just outside of Keaton Beach and then a little further on, a good little cafe for breakfast in the historic river town of Steinhatchee, FL.  The waitress at the cafe wanted to know how the heck someone from Seattle, WA had found their way to their little cafe in Steinhatchee.  Word of mouth, baby.

Popped into Manatee State Park along the drive.  I did not know that Florida is speckled with springs.  At this particular park, fresh water bubbles up out of the ground at the astounding rate of 100 millions of gallons daily.   The water is a generally a nice temperate temperature, like 72 degrees, making these spring areas very attractive to wildlife, particularly manatees.  Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities at many of the spring sights.  (Which seems a little insane to me considering this is gator territory as well.)

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Manatee Springs State Park

I did see a manatee… sort of.  It was a grey blobby thing floating below the surface and I could see flippers moving.  I also saw my first green heron.

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Green heron at Manatee State Park.

The Suwannee River lets out into the Gulf of Mexico in the area that I was travelling through and Roo and I stopped to do a short hike in the Suwanee Wildlife Refuge.

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Suwannee River

We encountered an armadillo during a hike.  The little guy didn’t give a hoot about us and just went about his business, rooting around in the forest duff.

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From the Suwannee River, I headed south to Cedar Key, a cluster of small islands off the west coast of Florida.   Here I found a quaint and artsy community, with a good number of historic buildings and houses still in intact, not overly commercialized yet.  I overheard someone say that they could still feel the ‘old’ Florida on the northwestern coast and I picked up on that vibe.

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Old store fronts along Main Street in Cedar Key

 

Cedar Key turns out to be a pretty dang good spot for sunsets.

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After 2 days in Cedar Key of putzing around and recovering from a bout of food poisoning I decided to loop back up north along the coast and explore more of the gulf coast.  It was a nice, mellow drive along the coast weaving in and out of small towns.    No real big fancy resorts and hotels that I could see.   Apalachicola, FL in particular took me by surprise as being just cute as a button.  That’s a place I’d like to go back to and spend more time exploring.

I ended up at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park the afternoon of January 7th.   The park is just this sliver of land that juts north into the Gulf of Mexico with miles and miles of pristine beach and it’s just mind numbingly beautiful.

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As soon as we got settled into a campsite, I bundled up and headed out with Roo to walk and explore.

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Roo wasn’t allowed on the beach but a few of trails in the park were dog friendly and offered incredible views.   The birding was incredible.  Pelicans flew in formation along the beach, skimming along the tops of waves and occasionally peeling off to dive for fish.   Ospreys and eagles perched in the pines, scanning for prey.   Long-legged shorebirds bobbed along the edge of the shore.  A pair of great horned owls perched right in the middle campground and just hung out sleeping for a good portion of the afternoon.

Although the campgrounds were nearly full, the trails and beaches at the park were practically deserted.  I think the cold weather had people hunkering down somewhere inside which worked well for me and Roo.  It felt at times like we had the place to ourselves.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been on beaches so clean and unspoiled.  Shell collecting is popular here because of how many unbroken shells you can find washed up on the beach.

A fellow camper at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park recommended I check out St. George Island State Park, also along the gulf coast, not farm where I was.   I thought, no way, can it be as nice as St. Joseph Peninsula State Park but I decided to go check it out anyway.

Man, was I wrong.  St. George Island State Park was amazing.   This beautiful park has an extensive dog friendly trail system and allows dogs on the bay side beaches.   Roo and I hiked and hiked and hiked for 2 days and had epic games of kick and chase the pine cones.  During those 2 days on the trails, we encountered people on the trail only twice.

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St. George Island State Park.  Beautiful, open pine forests with grasslands and marsh.
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St. George Island State Park
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St. George Island State Park
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St. George Island State Park

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On January 10, I packed up camp and started making my way north via back country highways, towards Aiken, SC.

Stumbled upon Santa Claus, GA on the way home.  Wasn’t looking too prosperous I’m afraid. IMG_3405

On my last day of driving, I experienced the first serious rain storm of my entire road trip so far and found that Greta’s windshield wipers were coming loose.  Not a good thing when driving 55 mph in the pouring rain on a back country highway with no breakdown lane and and a soft, sandy shoulder.

I returned back to Aiken, SC on January 11th.   The weather was still chilly.  I had never found the warmth but I got sun, beach, snow, and amazing nature.  Other than the windshield incident, Greta performed like a champ.  Roo and I settled in to a studio apartment at my aunt and uncle’s horse barn and got ready to take on a dog and horse sitting gig.   Roo was super psyched to be back at the farm.  She was completely tuckered out from our jaunt to Florida and back as you can see.

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More to come soon about our fun times on the farm.  Stay tuned.

Road Report #12 – Holidays in South Carolina

Well, I’m way behind on keeping up on blog posts.  Turning out to be not so good at this blogging thing.  Anyway…

My goal had been to at least make it to my parents’ house in Aiken, SC in time for Thanksgiving and I managed to do that, rolling into town on 11/20.  December was spent hanging out with family, taking little side trips and taking a nice break from the road.

Aiken is a neat little town.  Quaint, historic and with a rich tradition in horses.

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My mom on Gresham, far left at the Thanksgiving Day hunt.

Both Roo and I were VERY happy to be taking a break from van life and it was good to stay put and get into a regular daily routine again.

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Roo on one of our daily walks thru the fields.  Best part of out day!

Early December, I went off to visit friends on Kiawah Island  for a few days.  Mornings started with a sunrise romp on the beach with Roo.  Evenings ended with a sunset romp on the beach with Roo.    During the days we tooled around the island or explored Charleston.  Kicking it with friends was fantastic and Kiawah Island during off season was amazing.  Felt like we had the place to ourselves at times.

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Sunrise on Kiawah Island
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Masterful pillow chopping technique at the Sanctuary Hotel.  Yea…pillow chopping is a real thing.
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Gators on the golf course – look out!
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Drinks overlooking the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island.
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Looking for sleeping cleaning people in the restroom closet at the Ryder Cup Bar. (Long story…)
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Dolphin off  Wadmalaw Island – woo HOO!
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Mossy oak trees towering over Fellowship Hall in Rockville, SC on Wadmalaw Island.
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Dreaming of becoming a shrimp boat captain on Wadmalaw Island.

After Kiawah Island I returned to Aiken for the remainder of the holidays.   This was the first Christmas I’d spent with my parents since they’d retired to South Carolina.

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The Christmas Hunt.  My mom on Gresham, left, and Julie and Munchie, right.

It was great fun to see the vast Christmas decorations collection my parents have accumulated on display. It takes weeks to get them all up and then take them all down.

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The rents with a fraction of the Christmas decorations.

Poor Roo got caught up in holiday shenanigans.

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ROOdolph
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Roo as Max in our rendition of the Grinch.
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Roo is pretty sure I just received the best Christmas present ever.

As the holidays and year came to a close I was feeling a little antsy and on New Year’s Day I opened a card from my aunt and got a good reminder of what this whole road trip is about.

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Word up, Helen.

I packed up the van and set out on January 2nd, heading south towards Florida, hoping to find some warm, sunny weather.  More on that soon.

 

 

Road Report #11 – Texas to South Carolina

Wednesday, November 8th I crossed the New Mexico/Texas border around lunch time and popped into El Paso, TX to try a burger chain I was unfamiliar with, ‘Whataburger’.  Seemed very stereotypical Texas to order a small coke and get a 32 oz cup.  WTF Whataburger??

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My “small” coke – a mere 32 oz.

Shortly outside of El Paso I hit a border patrol check along the highway that all eastbound traffic had to pass through.  Answering “yes” to “Are you a US citizen?” was all it took to be waved through.

I was bound for Guadalupe National Park which contains the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, at 8,748 feet and the drive east out of El Paso was beautiful.  I drove across the plains with mountains of all shapes and sizes rimming the horizon.  As I approached the park the road started to climb in elevation and soon the road plunged into a cloud bank and driving got scary.  Visibility was poor and as the road twisted and turned up into the mountains I had that feeling of losing sense of what’s up and what’s down.   I crept along with my hazards blinking, hoping not to go off the road, praying I wouldn’t get smashed into by some idiot driving way too fast.  I was SO relieved when I arrived at the park and found my way the campground.

I chatted with a fellow camper and apparently the thick fog had rolled in the night before and had blanketed the park all day.  Well, this wasn’t what I had expected.  It was kind of cool to be inside of the clouds and to stroll through the roiling mist.   It was quite moist, everything wet to the touch.  The thick cloud cover gave the place a mysterious, otherworldly feel but I did hope that the morning would bring better weather so I could at least get a glimpse of the mountains before I pushed off.  And I really didn’t want to drive in the thick stuff again.

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BEFORE – Fog at the campground in Guadalupe National Park when I arrived. 

Thursday, November 9th I woke to a beautifully clear day and to find the mountains right there outside of the van. WOW!

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AFTER – No more fog!

Roo and I did some hiking and I geeked out over the unfamiliar plant palette and scenery and checked out the ruins of an old stage coach stop that predated the Pony Express.  Much of the mountain range is formed from an ancient coral reef that used to lie under a shallow sea that covered the area approximately 250 million years ago.   How freaking cool is that!

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From Guadalupe National Park I headed southeast bound for Marfa, TX.  Along the way I stopped off at Davis Mountains State Park and Roo and I hiked around for a bit, enjoying the beautiful day and views.

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Hiking the Skyline Trail at Davis Mountains State Park.

After Davis Mountains State Park, I continued the drive south towards Marfa, but made a stop to poke around the Fort Davis National Historic Site, a frontier military post that operated from 1854 to 1891.   They have many well preserved barracks and a collection of old artifacts like cavalry, military, hospital and kitchen equipment that provide a good glimpse back into life during that time.

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From Fort Davis, I made my way to Marfa, TX and rolled into El Cosmico, a funky campground/RV park with refurbished vintage trailers, teepees, and safari tents to rent as well as sites to set up your tent and park your RV/camper.  Unfortunately their RV/camper sites were essentially in the parking lot on the outside of the fence and it made me a feel bit isolated.  But once I realized that El Cosmico is a magnet for wanna be hipsters I didn’t mind being slightly removed.  It was like being at a zoo featuring free roaming, beard bearing, skinny jean wearing hipsters.

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Refurbished vintage trailers available as overnight accommodations at El Cosmico in Marfa, TX
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The bathhouse at El Cosmico.
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Sleep in teepee.

Friday, November 10th I spent poking around Marfa, sniffing around, trying to get a bead on the place.  It’s a funky, sleepy little town, now known as an art hub.   If you don’t know where to look or to go you could easily pass through the town without blinking an eye.   A little patient poking around leads to fun discoveries and encounters.

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The Chinati Foundation is the anchor of the Marfa arts scene.  Unfortunately I hadn’t planned ahead and was unable to get a reservation for a guided tour of the full collection.  But I did tour the concrete and milled aluminum pieces of Donald Judd’s and Robert Irwin’s untitled dawn to dusk installation.

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Donald Judd’s concrete pieces

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I popped into Building 98 to see the wall murals that had been painted by German POW’s held in Marfa during World II.

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The day ended at the beer garden at Planet Marfa, where I enjoyed good beer and nachos and a chat with one of the owners about the town.  Like many places that start out as havens for artists (which generally means inexpensive cost of living) the town was becoming more popular and well known and as a result more expensive and less affordable for artists and locals.

Saturday, November 11th, I was making my way out of town in the morning, bound for a night of camping in Big Bend State Park, and  I remembered I needed to buy more propane if I wanted a warm meal for dinner and, most importantly,  coffee in the morning.  I pulled over to check google maps for the closest hardware store.   As I was about to pull away from the curb I looked over to see a man trotting towards the van waving his arms with a huge grin on his face.   He was a VW collector and enthusiast and super excited about Greta.  We chatted and I learned that he practices the craft of building with adobe, a dying trade and something that had greatly piqued my interest since encountering the beautiful adobe buildings of Santa Fe.  He generously offered to show me an adobe structure project out in the desert later that afternoon.   I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.  It meant I’d arrive at Big Bend State Park much later than I had originally planned but these kind of fortuitous meetings with people are the gems of road trips and I had to see where this would lead.

While I waited to meet up with my new VW friend later that day, he suggested I check out Fort Leaton State Historic Site, an excellent example of traditional adobe building.

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Fort Leaton, TX
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Fort Leaton, TX

While touring the fort, Roo and I stumbled upon a gigantic wagon and I had to ask a park ranger if it was true to size and how one of these devices had been used.   He indicated in fact that they were often even larger, with 12′ foot tall sides and pulled by teams of oxen.  Holy hell, that must have been quite a feat to navigate thru the scrubby desert plains.

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Later that afternoon I met up with my VW friend and headed out to check out the adobe structure.  The views across the plains to the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico were spectacular!

Seeing an adobe structure up close with someone who practices the craft to explain the process was fantastic.  The buildings are not in great shape as they have not been maintained properly over time but it did provide an opportunity to see the various layers of building materials used in the process.

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I was reluctant to leave this magical setting but the sun was starting to sink in the sky and I had to push on if I was going to make it to my campsite in Big Bend State Park before I lost daylight.

The road into the park winds along the Rio Grande river and it was just kind of shocking to me that this narrow ribbon of swift moving water was all that separated me from the country of Mexico.

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A view of the Rio Grande River in Big Bend State Park.  The state of Chihuahua, Mexico stands on the other side of the river.

The road along the river was a roller coaster ride, up and down and around curves, and my stomach was doing somersaults as I cautiously glanced away from the road to try to take in views now and again.  I made it to the campground just as the sun was setting and chatted up my neighbors to find they were from Woodinville, WA.  Small world! They were just lovely people.  We swapped travel tales over cocktails and they pointed out constellations as the stars came out.

Sunday, November 12th, I was up early and watched the shades of pinks and purples work their magic over the surrounding landscape as the sun rose.

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I pushed on from the state park heading for Big Bend National Park.  I stopped along the drive so that Roo and I could dip our feet in the Rio Grande.

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The Rio Grande.

I hit the National Park entrance and decided to check out the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive before hunting up a campsite for the eve.  WOW! WOW! WOW!  The views were amazing.

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After the Ross Maxwell scenic drive I headed up another scenic drive into Chisos Basin, elevation 5400 feet, and secured a campsite.

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Campsite #43 at Chisos Campground.

I spent the evening sipping cocktails while watching the light and shadows play over the surrounding hills.  Best TV ever!

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Monday, November 13th I was up and on the road early.  There was hardly any traffic as I sped across the high desert,  glancing off at the cloud shrouded mountains in the distance.

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I SO wanted to divert to go see what goodies these distant mountains contained but  Thanksgiving was approaching and South Carolina was still quite far away.  I had to get serious about covering distance and I left the side roads and hit the Texas interstate.

The interstate was not fun.   I figured I’d be traveling long flat stretches of road but instead encountered rolling hills.   It was drizzling rain and windy.  The speed limit was 80 mph and truck traffic on the two lane highway was heavy.    I couldn’t maintain a consistent speed on the highway with the headwind and hills.  Tractor trailers sped by me on the uphill stretches, practically blowing me off the road and temporarily blinding me with the water they kicked up off the road.   I was STRESSED and wanted this stretch of driving to come to and end as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately I pushed Greta too hard by trying to keep her at 80 mph while fighting the headwind and I caused a major mechanical failure.  So dumb!

I found myself stranded in Junction, TX in the late afternoon, trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do.  Things looked pretty bleak but the road trip gods were on my side and the right people at the right time materialized to help me through this rough patch.  Customer service at AAA,  a kind mechanic and tow truck operator helped me work through the best options and I landed on a plan to overnight it at the Best Western Hotel in Junction, TX and then tow Greta to a VW dealer in San Antonio the following day.   SO glad I signed up for the AAA Premier RV membership before hitting the road!  It was coming in handy.

Tuesday, November 14th started off with breakfast at the hotel in Junction, TX  with Texas shaped waffles.  AWESOME!

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Greta was towed 2.5 hours to San Antonio, TX for repairs.  I chatted with the tow truck driver who had grown up in the Junction, TX area.  His family had lived in the area for several generations and his grandfather had been a mohair goat rancher, an industry that had anchored the area at one time but died out suddenly.  He had witnessed the slow decline of his home town.  Drugs and poverty were now a big problem.  On a positive note, the recent addition of a major truck stop hub just off the highway was providing a bit of a boost to the town and is probably why a Best Western hotel existed there at all.

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While Greta was in the shop, I spent 3 days exploring San Antonio.  San Antonio had not been on my planned route but in terms of places to get stuck for a few days, San Antonio is a great place to be stranded.   I walked all over town the historic part of downtown checking out the colorful Market Square, the historic architecture and reacquainting myself with the history of the Alamo.

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Remember the Alamo!
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San Fernando Cathedral
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Market Square

The historic riverwalk, a Texas version of Venice (sort of),  in historic downtown San Antonio, was a pleasant surprise.

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There was no shortage of public art to enjoy while wandering around downtown.

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I geeked out on weird and wonderful plants at the San Antonio Botanical Garden and enjoyed seeing how they approach holiday decorations.

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The flowers of a papaya plant.
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Don’t know what this is but I like it.
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Pond cypress.
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Holiday decorating, San Antonio style.

The number of butterflies in San Antonio was amazing.  I’d never seen so many butterflies flitting around before and witnessed a feeding frenzy while touring the botanical garden.

San Antonio boasts a high number of restaurants per capita and I ate very very well while poking around town.  I drank pretty well, too.  An evening sampling bourbon concoctions at The Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the riverwalk and home of the longest bar in Texas, was a treat.   The Friendly Spot, boasting 70+ taps and a dog friendly outdoor setting, was another favorite.

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The Friendly Spot

The best thing about San Antonio were the people.  I found folks to be friendly, helpful and eager to strike up a conversation which I so appreciate as a solo traveler.

The only negative to San Antonio was mosquitoes.  I had been relatively unbothered by bugs on the road trip so far but as I made my way farther east into Texas, the weather had become hotter and more humid.  I learned the hard way that going outside without dousing yourself in bug spray first is a bad idea.  By the time I was leaving town I was covered in mosquito bites, mostly on my ankles and feet.  Torture!

Friday, November 17th, Greta was road ready once again and driving better than ever.  The folks at North Park Volkswagen in San Antonio had been wonderful and their lead technician did a fantastic job repairing the van.  I was so relieved and felt very fortunate to have connected with the right people at the right time once again and shouted thanks to the road trip gods as I drove out of town.

Because of the delay due to the breakdown I now had about 4 days to cover 1200 miles.  Yikes!  I tried to plot out the most direct route possible but a route that avoided major cities like Atlanta and New Orleans and that would be gentle on Greta.

I had hoped to spend Friday night on the Texas Gulf Coast at Sea Rim State Park but unfortunately I ran out of daylight and ended up spending the night in a smelly and dank hotel just off the highway in Winnie, TX.  My ‘souvenir’ from Winnie was more mosquito bites.

Saturday, November 18th and I was on the road early.  Buh bye, Winnie! I crossed into the state of Lousianna and popped into Lafayette, LA, which claimed to have the most restaurants per capita.  (Hmmm…several cities along the way had made this claim.)

I found the cute, historic part of downtown and I enjoyed an AWESOME fried shrimp po’ boy at Pop’s, a damn good find!  After lunch, I covered some ground on back roads, avoiding a nasty traffic backup on the highway around Baton Rouge, and I saw sugar cane fields for the first time on the trip.

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Sugar cane fields.

I made a brief stop near Baton Rouge to snap a picture of the Mississippi River.  Its nickname, the Big Muddy, is well earned.

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The Mississippi River and Baton Rouge.

From the Baton Route area, I skirted north of New Orleans along highway 10, crossed over the Louisiana/Mississippi state line and made my way to the Gulf Coast to overnight in Bay Saint Louis, MS.

My airbnb was a dump but the location was great, just one block from a beautiful, clean white sand beach in a quiet neighborhood of seaside cottages and old estates.  Roo and I caught the sunset and I dipped my feet in the Gulf of Mexico, a first for me, before I headed into the adorable seaside business district part of town and treated myself to a fancy, expensive dinner to make up for the dumpy airbnb rental.

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Sunset at Bay Saint Louis, MS.
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The Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, November 19th, Roo and I were up early for a sunrise romp on the beach before hitting the road.

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Sunrise run on the beach in Bay Saint Louis, MS.
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Roo catching her breath on the beach at Bay Saint Louis, MS.

From Bay Saint Louis, MS I made my way northeast and crossed over into Alabama.  It was a boring day of highway driving and when I finally couldn’t take the monotony of the highway,  I decided to take a chance trying minor side roads.  It was a relief to leave the highway and I found the side roads to be well maintained yet practically deserted with speed limits of 60.  I could move out AND the scenery vastly improved as I drove rolling hills through small towns and past farms and fields.

Roo and I stopped at Chewacla State Park, not too far outside Auburn, AL and enjoyed a nice long hike.

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Hiking at Chewacla State Park

I had hoped to camp at the park for the night but the campground didn’t look all that appealing and I was worried about mosquitoes.  I decided to push on and crossed over into Georgia towards the end of the day and stopped in Columbus, GA for the evening.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a cute little historic downtown area with good dining options and Too and I wandered around and I enjoyed a couple of beers before finding a hotel for the evening.

Monday, November 20th, I pushed off early for my last day of driving.   Woo hoo!  I stopped in Macon, GA for what I thought would just be a quick little stop.  But I found the history and architecture of the town so intriguing and it was such a pleasant fall day that Roo and I ended up poking around town for close to two hours.

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As I was driving out of Macon a sign for the Ocmulgee National Monument caught my eye and I went to check it out.  It’s a park dedicated to the preservation of a prehistoric Indian site.  They estimate people inhabited this site 17,000 years ago!  It was a gorgeous fall day and Roo and I enjoyed walking the trails while checking out restored earth mounds, dating back 1,000 years.

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Hiking the trails around Ocmulgee National Monument
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Reconstructed Earth Lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument
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Earth Lodge floor dates back 1000 years.

From Ocmulgee National Monument I headed towards Aiken, SC, taking backroads.  It was beautiful, easy driving and I passed cotton fields and, to my surprise, fields and fields full of solar panels.  I did not expect to find solar farms in Georgia.

I arrived at my parents house in Aiken, SC that afternoon and felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment.  The first major leg of the road trip was complete and Roo and Greta and I had arrived in one piece without any major mishaps.

I looked forward to a break from the road as did Roo.  Poor Roo… she still doesn’t like driving in the van although she’s ready for adventure as soon as we come to a stop.  I was glad to know I wasn’t going to have to look at the sorry site of Roo looking up at me with her sad face from the passenger side floor, at least for a several weeks.

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I intended to spend the holidays with my folks in South Carolina, plotting out a plan for 2018.  Roo and Greta and I will hit the road again January 1st, 2018, weather permitting.  Stay tuned!

Road Report #10 – New Mexico: Santa Fe to Las Cruces

Thursday, November 2nd,  Roo and I took one last stroll around Santa Fe, NM, checking out Canyon Road in further detail.  Dang it! Why hadn’t I spent more time perusing the galleries on Canyon Road?? The galleries looked really interesting but it was early morning and nothing was open so Roo and I just had to peak in windows and over walls to see what we were missing.

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Canyon Road, Santa Fe

From Santa Fe, I headed northwest to Abiquiu where I had booked a tour of Georgia O’Keefe’s home and studio.  What a fantastic experience!   The house is still decorated as it was when she passed away in 1986.   The simple austerity of her home was beautiful.  There is little clutter and what is out on display are generally things found in nature.  Apparently if coming to Ms. O’Keefe’s for a dinner party your best best was to bring an antler or bone or rock as a hostess gift rather than a bottle of wine.

After the O’Keefe tour, I went to check out the Plaza Blanca, the White Place, a unique geological formation that became a subject of Ms. O’Keefe’s paintings.  Scenes in the Star War movies were also supposedly shot here.  Other worldly!

I returned to the Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort to spend the night, one of the few repeat visits so far on the trip and well worth it.  I enjoyed another night of floating on my back in the pool, stargazing, and another wonderful meal at the restaurant.  I started off the camping night with the furnace nicely humming and keeping the van warm.

Friday, November 3rd, I awoke to a chilly van and the furnace flashing a fault warning again.  DAMN IT!  Looked like I was in for chilly camping for awhile.

Roo and I packed up and headed from Ojo Caliente to Taos.   We hit Taos, drove through town and found some excellent coffee and grub at The Coffee Apothecary.  I swung back and headed back into Taos to park and poke around.

I visited the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House.  I wasn’t there to see the art really… that was a bonus.  I was there to see the house that had been bought and remodeled, blending Russian design motifs with the traditional adobe structure, by the artist Nicolai Fechin in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Fechin carved much of the exposed wood surfaces and furniture himself.

After checking out the museum, I started meandering north to check out some of the smaller towns around Taos.  I sign for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument caught my eye and I drove over to check it out.  Whoa!  Incredible views of where the Red River and Rio Grande River meet.  Unfortunately this is one of many national monuments under threat of losing national monument status under the current administration.  Disheartening for sure.

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The Rio Grande at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

I drove around to the various viewpoints in the park, walked Roo around a bit and then we started making our way back to Taos to find our airbnb for the evening.  It was a nice little casita tucked down a side street, with a fenced in backyard where Roo could sniff around.  It was a very quiet and chill spot, the only disruption coming from the magpies flying through at sunset.  What a ruckus!

Saturday, November 4th,  I headed out early and found great coffee and breakfast at The Coffee Spot.  Then I headed to the Taos Pueblo, an ancient Taos Indian pueblo that has been inhabited for over a 1000 years and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Currently about 150 people live there today in similar conditions as their ancestors.  Access into the pueblo is restricted.  You can’t just go walk around where ever the hell you feel like.  This is where people live. It was really cool seeing the architecture and historic buildings and imaging life in a village like that but I didn’t linger long.  I felt sort of like an intruder.

From the Pueblo I headed back into Taos to walk Roo while poking around the downtown plaza area.  I found super cute winding, narrow alleys with cobble stone streets with art and crafts everywhere.

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This statue/sculpture in Taos freaked me out the longer I looked at it.

From Taos I started making my way back south via scenic backroads to Santa Fe to catch the full exhibit at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.   I stopped again in Chimayo but this time for lunch at the Rancho De Chimayo Restaurant.  It’s in a historic building and they serve up some excellent food.  SO GOOD! Very much worth a stop.

Late afternoon I arrived in Santa Fe and went straight to the Georgia O’Keefe museum.  It was SO worth it to have hung around northern New Mexico for a few extra days so that I could catch the full exhibit before moving on.

After the museum, I spent a quiet evening at a sweet little casita north of Santa Fe, out in the farm land on the edge of town.

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My airbnb casita on the edge of Santa Fe.

Sunday, November 5th, I started heading south out of Santa Fe, choosing a scenic route along route 14.  We drove through the adorably cute and artsy town of Madrid… must return to check that out further on the return trip.   I stopped for a quick hike with Roo in the Cibola National Forest near Sandia Park, NM.  And then back on the road and I took another quick diversion to check out Manzano State Park.  The park was a waste of time and I didn’t linger but the drive was quite scenic.

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Along the road to Manzano State Park.

Then on to Quarai Mission Ruins, one of three missions that are part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.   WOW! Freaking spectacular!

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Then to the Abo Mission Ruins… equally amazing.

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Roo and I hiked all around the ruins at both locations, enjoying the gorgeous fall day.

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I had kind of dilly dallied a bit at the ruins and the sun was starting to get low as I headed towards San Antonio, NM, my intended overnight stop.

I ended up rolling into San Antonio, NM after the sun had gone down for the day, hunting for our airbnb.  We found the funky little trailer rental and settled in for the evening.

Monday, November 6th, I was up at the crack of dawn, awoken by a honking that seemed to be getting slowly closer and closer to the trailer.  It turned out to be a peacock making it’s way down the street towards the trailer that was disrupting the morning peace.

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Our funky airbnb in San Antonio, NM.

I got the van packed up and headed out to check out the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge.   First, I geeked out over plants in the Desert Arboretum near the visitor center.

Then I headed over to the wildlife viewing area and I saw migrating snow geese and sandhill cranes (amongst other birds).  Seeing the snow geese on their southern migration was a special treat as I had seen snow geese earlier in the year in the Skagit Farmland in northwest Washington as they migrated north.

The sandhill cranes were surprisingly large and made quite a racket with their chatter but they were shy and hard to get close enough to to get decent photos but the below video at least gives you a taste of the sound they make.

After bird watching, Roo and I did a great loop trail hike up through a slot canyon and to a ridge with a 360 degree of the refuge and surrounding mountains and plains.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge ended up being a great stop.  I didn’t realize that a wildlife refuge might actually incorporate in agriculture activities in an attempt to provide habitat and food and it was a fascinating blend of farmland and wilderness.

From the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge I continued making my south, headed for the town of Truth and Consequence, NM to grab a late lunch.  The town has hot springs and on a whim I decided to see if I could get in a soak.  I secured a private hot spring pool at Riverbend Hot Springs and it was pretty dang sweet! Well worth the stop.

From Truth or Consequences, NM I continued my drive down the highway as the sun was setting.   I tried not to drive off the highway as I watched the sky and mountains turns shades of pinks and purples.

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I rolled into Las Cruces, NM in the dark where I had secured an airbnb rental  for two days.  Time to get a load of laundry down and take a breather.  The airbnb was awesome.  It was a converted shipping container, something I had been wanting to see up close.

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Tuesday, November 7th, I awoke to a lovely view of the sunrise over the distant mountains.

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The airbnb rental was out on the edge of town and I could do morning hikes with Roo out into the desert straight from the rental.  It was awesome!  We poked around that day, I caught up on chores and did my best to stay in one place as much as possible.

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Hiking out in the desert from our airbnb in Las Cruces, NM.

Tuesday, November 7th, we started off the day with a visit from a cute little kitty checking out Greta.  Turns out the damn cat actually broke that windshield wiper, which I wouldn’t realize until I hit rain a few days later.   Doh!

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I headed to Dripping Springs Natural Area just outside of Las Cruces for a hike, based on recommendations from the airbnb hosts and I was completely caught off by guard by the amazing scenery. Roo and I hiked up to check out the waterfall which was just a trickle at this time of year.

 

Wednesday, November 8th,  we woke to find it rainy.  What?! I hadn’t seen rain in days.  It was kinda of neat to experience the desert after a rain.  It’s so fragrant with the scent of juniper and sage.

I enjoyed a last hike in the desert, packed up the van and started to head south.  I crossed over the New Mexico/Texas border and a roadside sign read “Thank you visiting New Mexico – the land of enchantment.”   I hadn’t known that was the state motto but it was fitting.  I had indeed found New Mexico enchanting and I’ll definitely be coming back for further exploration of New Mexico in 2018.