Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Remembering San Antonio

We are now in San Antonio, Texas, staying with Linda, my first cousin once removed, (my Mom's cousin). I haven't seen her since I was nine years old, when my family came here for Linda's daughter's (my second cousin) wedding. That was the only other time I've been to San Antonio and it's been really fun catching up with Linda (and Linda's sister Mary who stopped by yesterday for lunch).

Jaimee and I had a nice, quick tour of San Antonio. We went on the famed San Antonio river walk. We didn't take a river taxi, although we did walk alongside one for a little while to hear some of the history.
We also went through the Alamo, which is definitely worth a visit. You can tour the grounds and they have lots of artifacts and other items to look at. I learned that Texas has been it's own country, part of the United States (obviously) and also part of the Confederate States during the Civil War. And that Texas used to include half of New Mexico and stretched all the way up into Colorado before the Civil War, but they sold all that land in order to be a "slave state". As the man we met in Guadalupe told us - that was a "bad bargain."

Now we're on our way to New Orleans. We're getting a late start (as usual), so we're not sure if we'll make it all the way there today...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Seattle of Texas

Although I've loved many of the places that we've visited so far, Austin, Texas is probably the first where I could easily see myself living. It's awesome here, but it could be because it reminds me of Seattle in so many ways.

We're visiting Jaimee's friends Karisa and Norman, who run a Muffin Trolley called Taste No Evil Muffins. It's definitely worth a stop if you're ever in Austin.

One of the many similarities between Seattle and Austin is their love of festivals. It was a weekend so there was a big festival, which is exactly how Seattle is in the summer; every weekend there is something going on. We happened to catch the Pecan Street Festival, Pecan Street being the other name for 6th Street downtown. It was a big street festival with crafts, food and music. Despite the 90+ degree heat with high humidity, it was fun to walk the festival and see all the people enjoying the fair.

Another similarily between Seattle and Austin is all the people enjoying the outdoors. We took a walk around "Town Lake" and again, despite it being in the 90s with humidity (it rained hard later in the day) the trail was packed with walkers, runners and bikers.

Austin also has great food. We ate at the Bouldin Creek Coffee house for dinner one night, and another afternoon had Texas Martinis - essentially a margarita in a martini glass with an olive. Super yummy!

Overall Austin is a great town, and if for some reason our move to Boston doesn't work out, I could see moving here instead! Although the humidity is kind of a bummer. But, like the rain and clouds in Seattle, if the heat and humidity keeps "Austin weird" then bring on the humidity!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


We actually got two e-mails making sure we're doing okay since we haven't posted in almost a week. We're glad to see people are following our travels and everyone can rest easy as we're doing fine and having a wonderful time! (It's good to know we have at least two fans!)

We were sad to leave Santa Fe, as we had such a good time with Asa's Aunt Debbie. We went south through New Mexico, making a quick stop in Roswell. Roswell is an interesting place, worth a drive-through, but not much else. We went to a museum there where we saw information about Robert Goddard, an early rocket engineer from the 1930s who was from Worcester, MA - interesting mainly because that's where Jaimee's family lives! It's a small world!

After camping at Brantley State Park in the Southeast corner of New Mexico we stopped at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This is definitely worth a stop! We did the full self-guided tour through the caverns - it took us over two hours to walk the whole thing. It's a pretty neat place. It also seems to employ a lot of Park Rangers - they rove around the cavern on "Cave Watch" duty - looking for misconduct or for those who didn't "assess their hiking fitness" and need assistance.

We continued on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas which is now one of our favorite parks. It's a "wilderness park" meaning that if you don't want to hike or backpack there isn't a whole lot to do. It also contains Guadalupe Peak, the "top of Texas" at 8,749 feet. West Texas has some tall mountains! While climbing the peak we met the first, but definitely not the last Texan who was proud of his/her state. Texans love Texas, and they let you know that. I think that's great - you should love where you live.

After two peaceful nights, where our campsite hosted both skunks and deer, we traveled southeast to Big Bend National Park. Despite being about "10 hours from anywhere" it's also a great park. We camped up in the Chiso Mountains basin, the only mountain range in America to be entirely contained inside a National Park. We did a few hikes in the mountains before heading down to the Rio Grande side of the park.

I wish I had visited Big Bend prior to 2002 as that was when they began policing the border aggressively. Prior to 2002 the Rio Grande in this area was considered a "soft border crossing" meaning for a small fee a Mexican would row you across the river to one of several Mexican villages for beer and tacos. Now, the rangers follow the tourists making sure that no "Mexican Nationals" are illegally crossing over. It's pretty ridiculous - we essentially had our own escort of two law enforcement Rangers who tailed us as we went from section to section of the park. Then, when dusk came the mosquitoes were horrible! They were so bad that we didn't even cook dinner that night and just hunkered down inside the tent. We would have put our bug spray on but we'd actually just taken showers so didn't want to soil ourselves so soon!

The next morning we got up and made the long drive toward Austin. We took the "scenic route" by stopping in Del Rio, Texas and making a quick stop across the border into Mexico. This is one of the "approved" border crossings. Ciudad Acuna isn't that great, but I was able to get a $2 haircut. And we had fries and a drink for $2.50. The border patrol searched our car pretty thoroughly when we came back into America - I would have taken a picture if pictures were allowed as they let the K-9 German Shephard right into our car to sniff around. He didn't find anything although the border people did find a lot of broken glass which made them suspicious.

We broke up the pictures into two albums:
Now we're in hot and humid Austin. We just toured through the Pecan Street festival and are having a fun time here so far. But more on that later...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Santa Fe

Despite one bad incident involving the car, we had a wonderful time in Santa Fe. Overall it was very relaxing. We spent a lot of time visiting with Asa's Aunt Debbie and cousin Jessi, as well as seeing a few sights of Santa Fe. We went out for a really nice dinner with Debbie and her boyfriend Paul and the next day when we went to the Farmer's Market we saw the owner of the restaurant buying produce. We also went to the Flying Star bakery/coffee shop for outstanding desserts.

The Santa Fe farmer's market runs from 7AM to Noon, a time that would never work in Seattle (Seattlites don't get up that early on the weekend, unless it's to go hiking :-), but seemed to work really well here. Of course, selling wonderful pastries and coffee helps. The market was packed with vendors selling all sorts of food and produce.

We also visited Canyon Road, a street that contains lots of art galleries and sculpture gardens. Most of the items were out of our price range but it was fun to look. People watching along this road was good too. We got to see our first sample of "texas hair" as many of the people along this road seemed to be visiting from Texas (based on the car license plates).
Although we enjoyed seeing these sights, mostly we enjoyed hanging out with Debbie, Jessi and Paul. We shared some meals, played some Scrabble and watched some movies.

Now we're waiting for our car window to get fixed and then we're heading Southeast to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Depending on when we get there today we will spend one or two nights before heading to Texas.

Click below to see the rest of our photos from Santa Fe, including pictures of my cousin's hand-built house!
Santa Fe

Friday, September 18, 2009

5,000 miles and a break-in

We have now traveled just over 5,000 miles and are staying with my Aunt Debbie in Santa Fe. This morning we went on a hike of Atalaya Mountain (peak #26) and when we came back our car had been broken into! They smashed the drivers side window and stole Jaimee's purse which had her wallet, checkbook, phone, etc.

We canceled the credit cards and suspended the phone so it appears that no lasting damage is done. Unfortunately, no one in Santa Fe can repair the window until Monday morning and since it's raining off and on here we put a garbage bag in the window.

I think it looks pretty classy (the blue painting tape adds a nice touch):

Apart from the break-in, the first 5,000 miles have been great. We'll be hanging around Santa Fe this weekend, visiting with my Aunt and cousin.

Here's the summit picture of our hike up Atalaya Mountain:

It's a great hike, just remember to not leave anything valuable in your car if you go...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Road to Santa Fe

We encountered our first rain of the trip last night. Leaving Arizona yesterday we drove east into really dark clouds and an impressive amount of lightning. We stopped for dinner in Gallup, New Mexico where the Navajo Indians would come by the table trying to sell their jewelry.

We ended up driving out to the National Forest and found a primitive campsite and pitched our tent in the rain. The rain eventually let up during the night and we were able to pack up our tent this morning without any rain.

We crossed the Continental Divide, went through some caves at El Malpais National Monument (the Mexican Badlands) and continued on to Albuquerque. We'll tour around here a little bit before heading on to Santa Fe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


After a wonderful visit in Tucson, we left and headed north, making our way to Flagstaff, Arizona. We decided to take the scenic route through Prescott and Sedona. It made for a beautiful drive, much prettier than we thought it would be. Prescott is a charming, historic town. We walked around and admired the old courthouse on the tree-lined square.

Then we continued on to Sedona, driving this wild road that had, according to T-shirts we saw for sale in Jerome (a town along the way), 158 curves in 12 miles. We didn't count the curves, but it was a crazy road. Jerome is a cute town, built right on the bluffs of the red rocks. We tried getting a picture of the houses right on the edge but couldn't get one that captured the steepness of the town. Definitely worth a visit if you're ever in the Sedona/Prescott area.

Sedona was a nice town as well. Although the town itself is very touristy and has a real resort feel (something like Whistler, BC in the summer) the area is amazingly beautiful. We only stopped briefly as our couchsurfers in Flagstaff were expecting us.

We got to our couchsurfer host's house right in time for margaritas and guacamole made with freshly picked prickly pear cactus fruit! Our host Scott boiled the fruit and blended it to make a syrup. The fruit itself has the texture of dates and the taste is a combination of sweet and sour. It's very good, especially with tequila!

The next day we hiked up Mt. Humphreys, which at 12,633 ft. is the highest peak in Arizona. The trail starts from Arizona Snowbowl, a ski area which is above 9,000 ft. so the hike wasn't too bad of a climb.
While on the top of the peak we met a man who said this was his 73rd time climbing Humphreys! He'd lived in the Flagstaff area all his life and said he started "seriously keeping track after his 10th time." He'd been climbing it since 1974.

Our couchsurfing hosts, Scott and Amanda were great. They had a really cute dog named "Moondog" which apparently was her breed as well. We certainly don't know what kind of dog she is. Scott also liked to ride his custom fixed gear bike with Moondog on his side. His bike was a $5 Huffy that he converted to be a fixed gear bike. He called it a "fixed-gear truck" which we thought seemed appropriate in Flagstaff. Scott was also a really good Scrabble player and schooled me and Jaimee twice!

We left Flagstaff and cruised up to the "Meteor Crater". They wanted $15 per person to view this crater but we got a perfectly good picture right from the information sign!

Then we went through Petrified Forest National Park. The park was pretty much what you'd expect - a bunch of petrified wood, although there were also some beautiful overlooks and a "painted desert." We saw some Indian artifacts and petroglyphs and an old Indian pueblo.

Here are all the photos for Flagstaff:

Originally, we'd intended to go to Taos, New Mexico from Flagstaff, but we got a late start leaving Flagstaff so we're now in Gallup, New Mexico looking for somewhere to camp. Hopefully it won't rain on us as it's very stormy outside. Tomorrow we head to Santa Fe to visit my Aunt Debbie. Maybe we'll fit Taos in during our Santa Fe visit.

Monday, September 14, 2009


From Los Angeles we drove about 500 miles southeast to Tucson. We stayed with Lou and his wife Nancy, old friends of mine I used to know when I lived in Vermont. It's really beautiful here. Although it's very hot during the day (above 100 every day) there are frequent storms, and it even rained for a couple hours one night. We saw many lighting storms in the distance.

We spent two relaxing days touring around Tucson. We went to Saguaro National Park, which although beautiful was a little underwhelming when compared to the other National Parks we've been to. But we did see huge fields of Saguaro cacti, as pictured on the right. They grow extremely slowly, taking maybe 60 years to grow to a height of six feet.

Our hosts were kind enough to give us guest passes to the Desert Museum which was actually more like a zoo. We saw bobcats, wolves, prairie dogs, all sorts of birds (there were two different aviaries, including one just for hummingbirds) and other animals that I didn't know lived in the desert, like beavers!

We also explored downtown Tucson, which was a very strange place. Apart from the University of Arizona area, which seemed busy (we went by right before a football game), the rest of the town was pretty low-key. We wandered around on a Saturday afternoon and most stores were closed or out of business. I don't know if it's that there are so many half-time residents (who aren't quite back yet for the winter) or that so many older retirees don't visit downtown (even though there is free parking on the weekends), but it had a very ghost-town-like appearance. The only thriving businesses seemed to be Mexican barbershops and taco stands (that's two different stores).

Here's the full slideshow of our Tucson visit:

We had a great visit, catching up with Lou and Nancy, whom I hadn't seen in over 10 years. Tucson is a very interesting place, both culturally and geographically. Now we're heading north to Flagstaff. We've arranged to stay with the couchsurfing "ambassador" of Flagstaff and apparently there are guests from England staying there as well, so it should be a full house. Our plan is to climb Mt. Humphreys tomorrow. Stay tuned for the full report.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Los Angeles

We spent the past few days in Los Angeles, doing a lot of walking around Jed and Mona's neighborhood and driving around to see parts of the city. We also went to a Mariner's game in Anaheim.

There is a park just outside the apartment where "everyone" in LA goes to hike. We went up there and from one of the little peaks up the canyon we had a pretty good, if somewhat smokey, view of the Hollywood sign. We went up there a second time during our stay and saw a horse and a goat named Chucky. Chucky seemed a bit upset about having to hike with all of the people and dogs of LA. The views at sunset were also very nice from this hill.

We drove to Santa Monica and Venice. The beaches were empty, but it was a weekday. There were a lot of shoppers along the "Boardwalk" and we did get to see a cute little canal that ran through the city.

We also ate at a couple of delicious restaurants and enjoyed spending time with Jed and Mona. We drove to Tucson yesterday, spending the day driving east. Our ride went pretty smoothly and we saw a nice sunset in the rear view mirror. We also got to watch a lightning storm off in the distance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mariner's Game and LA first impressions

We went to a Mariner's versus Angels game tonight in Anaheim. It was an exciting game; Felix Hernandez pitched for the Mariner's and did quite well; gave up two runs (only one earned) in seven innings and the Mariner's tied it in the 9th only to lose it in the 10th 3-2.

Angels stadium is pretty nice, although it's very commercialized. I know sponsorship is rampant in sports but there were actual TV commercials on the big screen between innings. And when an Angels player did something good, instead of saying something like "Ichirific" on the big screen, the play would be sponsored by some electronics store. I'm sure it's the future direction of sports, but I think Seattle is a little behind the curve on this so far. Also, I would say about 95% of the people at the game were wearing Angles clothing; the crowd was a sea of red. Of course partly this was due to the fact that it was "hat night" - Jaimee and I are now proud owners of Angel's caps - but mostly the red was from the jerseys people were wearing. This compares to probably less than 50% of people at a Mariner's game who wear Mariner's gear. Could partly be that the Angels are doing well this year, but I think it's more than just how well the teams are doing.

As for LA, my first impressions are that I like it. It has too many highways, traffic is as bad as people say it is, but the weather is good (hot and sunny, but not too humid), and from what I've seen so far, the architecture is pretty nice. Today we walked around Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards (saw people leaving flowers on Michael Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), ate lunch at a vegan thai restaurant and went swimming in the rooftop pool of the apartment building where we're staying. I think what I like about LA is the possibilities and vastness of the city. There's a lot going on, even if it is all spread out. It's a place that I'd like to get to know better, even if it means a lot of driving, and at fast speeds; LA drivers are crazy.

Tomorrow, we plan on hiking up to see the Hollywood sign, then a visit out to the boardwalk of Venice beach.

San Diego

We left Joshua Tree and continued to San Diego. We stayed with our friend Jennifer who was gracious enough to host us even though we only gave her a few days notice! Jennifer had a really cute bird, Nugget. It reminded me of when Jaimee and I first met; her roommate had two birds. Nugget was a little quieter than the birds Jaimee used to live with, but Nugget still craved attention.

We were only in San Diego for two nights but we managed to see a lot of the major sites. We went to the Del Coronado Hotel, saw La Jolla and the beaches north of there, and went to Ocean Beach closer to the city. San Diego is a beautiful city, and you certainly can't beat the weather.

Then, on our drive to Los Angeles we stopped at Lego Land!

This was not a planned stop, but when we saw the sign for it on the side of the highway I thought it would be fun to stop. Unfortunately, it cost $65 per person to get in, plus $12 to park! What a rip-off. However, they have a "shopper's pass" where you can enter the park for one hour. They take an imprint of your credit card, and if you're not back within an hour they charge your card the price of admission. In this case, if we weren't back in an hour they were going to charge $130 for the two of us. Also as part of the "shopper's pass" if you buy $20 worth of Legos they reimburse your $12 parking fee. Sooooo...we ran around the park for an hour taking pictures like mad and I'm now the proud owner of a Boba Fett Lego keychain. (I also got some Lego refrigerator magnets for when we have a fridge again.) Since I'd decided to pay the $12 for parking this was like getting $20 worth of stuff for $8; what a bargain! Although the hour time limit made for a nerve-wracking tour because the park is huge and we tried to see everything in one hour. And, my purchases were actually $19.98 before tax so then I worried that they wouldn't reimburse me the $12 because of the two cents, but it turned out not to matter. Legoland is cool, although I'm not sure it's worth $65. The price didn't seem to deter too many people, as it was quite packed.

Here's the slideshow of all the San Diego pictures:

Now we're in Los Angeles until Friday morning. We're actually cat sitting for an old friend of mine who used to live in Seattle. We have an apartment to ourselves in Hollywood. Pictures and blog posts to follow.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Death Valley and Joshua Tree

Did we really go to Death Valley in the summer? Yes, and although I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, I'm glad we went. After climbing Mt. Whitney and recouperating a little at the hotel in Lone Pine, we decided to drive the 100 miles into Death Valley National Park. I knew it would be hot (average day-time highs of around 110). What we didn't know is that there was actually a mountain pass of about 5000 feet we had to climb over. And that it was more like 120 the day we vistited. We turned off the air conditioning and even though the breeze made us hotter, the car did fine. It started to inch up on the temperature gauge but it never gave us any problems.

After seeing the sights of Death Valley (like Badwater as seen in the picture on the right) and cooling off a little in the air conditioned museum, we weren't sure what to do for the night. I had actually thought that it might cool off enough in the evening and night to camp in Death Valley (aren't deserts supposed to cool down fast?) but it was averaging close to 100 all night. So, we pressed on toward Joshua Tree National Park, another 275 miles Southwest. We got to see the worlds tallest thermometer in Baker, CA (on left - it was still over 100) and somewhere near Lucerne Valley, CA we saw a pretty large fireworks display while driving. We still don't know what they were for.

We camped on the North side of Joshua Tree the first night and pitched the tent under the full moon. Although it was still warm it was nothing like Death Valley. In the morning we got up early and toured the park, including a hike of Ryan Mountain (peak #22). Then we pitched our Kelty Carport shelter and created our own shade while waiting out the heat of the day. Jaimee and I hadn't used the Carport on this trip yet, and it worked great. In fact, we were able to rig it to cover the picnic table and even slept under it instead of pitching the tent.

The next morning we got up and headed further south, going to San Diego where we are now. We're staying with our friend Jennifer, whose family lives in Seattle. She was kind enough to host us even though we gave her very little notice. We're having a great time here, and will post about it with some pictures soon.

Here are the rest of the photos from Death Valley and Joshua Tree:

Death Valley and Joshua Tree

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Climbing Mt. Whitney

We left Devils Postpile and turned south on 395 and were amazed by the beauty all around us. On the west of us were the Sierras and on the east of us were the "Alabama Hills" (filming location of the Transformer movies). The drive was through this valley and it's very hot and dry through here; the clouds get caught by each mountain range and don't dump rain in the middle. We went up to the Mt. Whitney portal. It was swarming with hikers. Even though the hike is 22 miles round-trip with 6,000 feet of elevation gain, topping out on Whitney at 14,497, it seems that most people opt to do it in one day! We, however, took two days to do it (I'll leave the one-day hike for another time).

Even with two days, one of the days has to be a long day as there isn't camping along the entire route. Here's what we did: we hiked from Whitney Portal (8,300 ft.) to Trail Camp (12,000 ft.) covering 6 miles and set up camp (picture of our little tent with our built out campsite). We actually hiked this in only four hours! This is when I started to feel beginning symptoms of altitude sickness. Jaimee felt fine, but I had the classic symptoms: headache, nausea and lack of appetite. It feels like a caffeine-withdrawal headache combined with a dose too many of NyQuil. And, since we'd hiked the first part so quickly, I had nothing to do but lie in the tent and rest and all Jaimee did was worry! Eventually, we cooked dinner, I ate some and went to bed hoping I'd feel better in the morning.

We set the alarm for 5:30AM so that we could get an early start. I was feeling a lot better. I didn't sleep super well, but my headache was mostly gone, although I still wasn't feeling very hungry. We were treated to the most incredible colors as the sun came up:

We drank some Coca tea that someone who'd visited Peru gave us (it's supposed to help with altitude sickness). We left camp with our packs only loaded with water, some food and extra layers. We started hiking around 6:15am and actually summited at 9:15am! So, for those keeping track, that's only 7 hours of hiking so far. Although tired, we both felt pretty good.

We snapped a few photos at the top, signed the trail register and headed down around 10am. Lucky that we left when we did; the clouds were ominously building up around the summit and lightning can be a real danger up there. We got back to our camp and made a quick hot meal as on the way up neither of us had been that hungry so we didn't eat much on the way up. Then we packed up our camp and proceeded back down to the portal area. Never have 6 miles seemed so long, but eventually we made it. We ended up hiking 16 miles that day, and as Jaimee likes to say, she thinks her shoes have a "12, maybe 13 mile limit" for comfort.

The thought of camping again, and especially eating camp food made both our stomachs churn so we went back to the town of Lone Pine, CA (elevation 3,700 ft.) and found a hotel and ate in a restaurant, neither of which we'd done much on this trip so far. We capped the adventure off with two frosty beers and a game of Scrabble.

Now, we're contemplating where to go next. We're going to LA next week, but we have the weekend without any firm plans. We're going to head over to Death Valley for one night at least since it's only 100 miles away, but after that we don't know. So, the adventure continues...

Here's the full slideshow of our climb:

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