Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh oh sed-oh-na

Since we loved Cave Springs so much, we decided to stay an extra night and go into Sedona to explore. The town itself is the place to get your palms/crystals/auras read, and aside from one bar that we graced to watch USA loooooose, it seems like a hot spot for 60-somethings girls' trips.

However. Those red red rocks. This place is amazingly beautiful!!!! There are a bajillion hiking trails to choose from, so we picked two and spent a few hours up amongst the rock formations, found a few geocaches, and just generally walked around with our jaws open. In-credible views! If I were older and had a penchant for turquoise jewelry, I’d live here.

A long day of hiking called for one of our best meals yet – green chile chicken baked potatoes with grilled onions and bacon. At Café DesGranges, these things just happen. I don’t know where they come from, and I have nothing to do with it, save putting out forks or chopping onions. Divinity!

Actually I take that back, that’s the day I learned how to saw wood. You know, just another day on the road.

Basically every night is a personal challenge to Brian to make the BEST FIRE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF FIRES. I believe he succeeded here. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cave Springs

What to say about Cave Springs campground...

In short, we love it. Love love love it. We chose it on a whim (as is becoming standard for this trip), and slid in the last available spot after an incredibly beautiful drive from Flagstaff toward Sedona. Staying two nights was the best decision we've made in the last few days, because you have no idea how long it takes to get this van packed up (logistics post coming soon). The double-night-stay left us with a full day of nothingness, which we fully took advantage of. 

Nothingness #1
A creek runs through the campgrounds, which means Brian had plenty of time to catch a rainbow trout while I tangled my line, caught a rock, slipped and knocked all the bait in the water, caught a stick, tangled my line again, and caught some bark. Cheers!

Just a little guy, threw him back.

Nothingness #2
Who's laughing now about me registering for National Parks UNO? No one.

Nothingness #3
-Delicious cooking!!!!!-
Grilled hotdogs, eggs and bacon and percolated coffee, & the highlight, the DesGranges family special tacos.

Nothingness #4
You don't know whether to read in it or make love to it. 

Nothingness #5
-Hiking / Geocaching-
I'm going to assume most people haven't heard of geocaching, so here goes.

Basically, it makes hiking about 1,000 times more interesting. The jist of it is that people all around the world hide little containers all around the world and then record the GPS coordinates of those spots. They load those onto a website, and then other people go download the coordinates and try to find the "caches." They're sorted by difficulty and terrain, and sometimes contain hints, directions, or photos. They exist all around cities but out in the boondocks too - basically anywhere someone decides to stick one. You'd never even know either - we've found them in Austin in the creek behind Seton, outside of Joe's on West, on Rio Grande in West Campus, and in the park behind Trudy's. Surprise! Thanks to an amazing iPhone app (redundant?), we're able to search for geocaches anywhere near us and then use the phone's GPS system to navigate our way there. 

The best thing about geocaching is that it usually takes you to some little spot you've never seen before. And it's sort of like a modern day treasure hunt! Except at the end, there's a little canister that contains a log of names/dates and some cheap arcade-type prizes. You can take something if you leave something (honor system). 
We left a die in each cache.

Today one of the ones we went searching for took us up 800 feet and to great views of the canyon. 

Finally found it under some rocks. Brian's logging us in.

Close-up of the goodies. Nothing really worth taking but you never know. 
The log said someone left $5 at one point. I'd take that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Flagstaff fires

We drove through Flagstaff and then headed south to a campground in between there and Sedona. The fires still seem to be running rampant, although the highway and parks are mostly open. Wondering how much of this smoke is going to affect the Grand Canyon (if at all?), which is about 80 miles north?

Driving into Flagstaff

Flagstaff by night, from the RV park we stayed. FYI, RV parks are lame.

That's a lot of wood

We were going to hit the Petrified Forest as a sidenote on our way to Sedona, but it turned into an all-afternoon affair. There is SO much to see, although it's strange because you drive your car from sight to sight (since it's 28 miles long), so it ends up feeling a little touristy. Anywho, there's a lot of wood there folks.

Somewhere, a park ranger is loading his gun.

I guess a volcano destroyed this forest a reallyyyyyyyy long time ago and as the ground has eroded, it's revealed these random logs in the middle of the desert. Brian and I contemplated how much more geologic information to put on here, and for the sake of keeping you awake, I'll leave it at that.

A bunch of mountains called the Teepees. 
Basically look like neopolitan ice cream sandwiches (+99 degrees).

We left with some questions, like ... why are there only 4 logs over here and then one complete tree all the way over there? If it was a forest, wouldn't these logs be everywhere? Why is the wood crystalized? Do geodes come from this wood? Why are the ravens the size of small cattle around here? Etc etc. Strange little place. Probably the most interesting part was the petroglyphs on the side of a rock, left by some sort of native culture (again, vague with the details here). Definitely worth a drive through, though!

Roughly the size of a donkey. What are they feeding them up here??

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Man make fire

A strange thing happened our first night of camp. We turned into camping people. At one point I was reading the Boy Scouts Handbook while Brian was chopping wood for our fire...which we (really just he) had collected from around the parkgrounds...with headlamps on...
(Any of our friends who are remotely outdoorsy won't find that interesting, but the rest of you should.)

I even busted out a bird identification book. You know, to identify a bird.

We stumbled upon Bluewater Lake State Park (in NM) right at closing time, hooked up to water and electric, and got to cooking our first dinner! Check it:

Check out the new addition to the Pleasure Way windows!

Steak, asparagus, pasta, and Kim's wine!

The next morning we even percolated some coffee and took it down to the lake. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ruidoso: Downs & Dunes

We landed in Ruidoso on Friday, late, exhausted, but so happy to have arrived! We chose this for our first stop because our realtor and friend, Don, and his wife Susan offered up their vacation home for a few nights for us. And do we pass up free vacation homes? No, no we do not.

Neither of us had been there before and didn’t know what to expect, but it’s very reminiscent of Colorado...the smell of pine needles, dry air, and perfect summer weather – 85 and sunny during the day, 65 at night. The house is on the side of the mountain, which makes for awkward driving in the Pleasure Way but fantastic views!

Things to love about Ruidoso:

1. A fabulous cup of piñon coffee (Katie, thought you’d appreciate this)

2. Going to the Ruidoso Downs and discovering I (LB) have a gift for betting on racehorses, and Brian has a gift for…being there when I win.

3. Porch-breakfast companions

4. The World’s Largest Pistachio 

Accidental side road sighting. 
Behold: pistachio wine, acquiring green chili & garlic pistachios, and pistachio ICE CREAM

5. White Sand Dunes Nat’l Monument

Okay. So we go to these amazing dunes. We slide on silly discs down the dunes. Then we decide to poke around on a 5-mile trail around 6:45 p.m. We’ve been told by the Park “Obviously Everything I Say Is Correct” Ranger that the trail is 1 ½ hours long, and we’ve checked to see that sunset is at 8:30 p.m., so we’re good to go. Basically you traverse these dunes and just keep heading for the next marker. They weren’t marked with distances, so we just kept track of time to estimate how far through the trail we were. It was incredibly beautiful – no one else in sight. Really nothing in sight at all, except dunes dunes and more dunes.

Look in the horizon to see the next marker. Ouch.

It was all fun and games until we reached a clearing at sunset and realized, heyyyyyyy those aren’t the mountains that we were facing when we started! Ergo, we’re on the opposite side of the dunes. Ergo, we’re only halfway through. Then began the portion of the night where we literally RAN up and down dunes for 45 minutes, only to find ourselves back at the trailhead approximately five minutes before total pitched-blackness. I called this our "race for survival"...Brian said it awesome, of course...potato, po-ta-to.

Happiness and soreness ensues.

Next up: Sedona! Tips welcomed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tips needed: ABQ to Flagstaff

Post coming soon on Ruidoso, but in the meantime, we're heading out tomorrow (Mon) to Sedona by way of Albuquerque & Flagstaff. We won't make it all the way on Monday, but that's generally where we'll be playing for the next few days. If anyone knows of anyplace interesting along the way, let us know!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Wild West

After staying up past 4 a.m. for four days straight, we managed to get the casa packed and head out ON TIME. Did anyone hear that???? Our first day in the van included a little troubleshooting, establishing some rules about cleanliness, and lots of whoa-what-is-that out the window.

Let’s talk about west Texas for a second. Oil, cows, flat.

Okay, all done.

Some things we saw along the way:

(Shout out to the wolfpack!)

Highlight: stumbling upon the Mescalero sand dunes at sunset 
(this is why we don’t have an itinerary). 

And yes, our first honeymoon meals were breakfast tacos, Long John Silver’s, and bar & grill food in Roswell, NM. 1 pound gained, 0 aliens sighted.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pleasure Way

We didn’t name it that, but we’re definitely going with it.

Meet our humble abode on wheels for the next six weeks: the Dodge-Ascent-turned-camper-van-and-retitled-Pleasure-Way!

Picking up the PW, complete with our first and last magnum of Cook’s!
A little honeymoon gift from the owners.

Once we settled on the plan, we then realized said plan was going to majorly hinge on how we would get there and, you know, where we would sleep. The essentials.

After thinking about car-camping for the whole trip (this idea persisted all too long), then exploring the wonderful world of teardrop trailers, and finally started to look at VW buses, we miraculously encountered a family close to Austin that was leasing out this camper van. After some negotiation, they agreed to work with our budget and here we are!!!

Would you like a tour?

More details:
The van can run off propane, car battery, or a generator; gets decent mileage for its size; has an air conditioner; can be used at an RV Park or for dry camping; and oh yeah is awesome. The awning is an added bonus.

Hosting LB's weekly girls happy hour in/around the van

In short, we love it. And we don’t even have to come up with a new name, because honestly, could you even think of anything better??

First stop this weekend: Ruidoso, NM!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Plan

Or rather, the history of the plan.

We started exploring honeymoon options a few months after we got engaged and had a ferocious list going within days. Greece, Costa Rica, Africa, South America (that's right, the whole continent). SO MANY PLACES TO GO. And the best part was, we knew we'd have that precious little thing called time, so we wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. And then began the budgeting. Even using Brian's parents' timeshare partnership, we were still looking at spending several thousand dollars for 7-10 days. Something about that was just ... scary sad sickening frustrating not okay. No way were we going to have the lengthy vacation we wanted on our not-so-lengthy budget.

You can see where this is going. The good old U.S. of A. started looking a whole lot more appealing to our wallets, calendars, and general wild west sensibilities. So we set the wedding for May, set the move to Chicago for August, and left a big chunk of time in the middle for a great American road trip.

The trip has taken many forms over the past six months or so, but we've finally settled on a loose route covering the West side of the states. Obviously we'd love to do the whole country but we're pretty sure that all six weeks are going to get whittled away by the southwest and pacific northwest, so why fight it?

Our plan is to hit a few major spots and allow ourselves time to dawdle and explore the places in between. We'll target National Parks and sleep in our sweet camper van (which we'll post about separately). Musts include the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite, Oregon, and Yellowstone. Possibilities include anything else that we discover along the way, and we're hoping you guys will help us by leaving some suggestions on the blog as we make our way near something you know about! We've got books, games, a Garmin GPS, an iPod, a DVD player, and hiking gear out the wazoo (putting all those wedding gifts to use!). We'll keep you posted every couple of days as possible and can't wait to hear feedback!