There is about 5 hours of nothing between Albuquerque and Amarillo. Our mission was to make it to the RV park outside of Amarillo we reserved by 1 pm for early check-in to allow us the most time possible to de-winterize. This consists of pumping fresh water through your whole water system to flush out all the anti-freeze. Gabrielle found this hilarious tourist attraction 1 mile down the road from the RV park!
Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo – 10 Cadillacs stuck in the Earth that have become spray paint art:
We spent a couple days in Amarillo as a kind of break to take some relax/catchup time. There were a couple of breweries we checked out like Pondaseta Brewing where the waiter taught us about how Texas law mandates customers to buy a food or merchandise item along with every beer purchase…weird. He said this was part of their reopening procedures because of Covid. So we bought a pint glass, a sticker pack, and a couple food items to try 4 beers… they were fairly decent and the waiter was very nice and patient but as I write this now having been to 10 breweries in Texas, it occurs to me we have not seen any of these rules since…? Go figure.
Amarillo has a small but pretty botanical gardens we visited as the workers were bustling around putting up all their Christmas lights. The gardens are in a city park and the girl at the front desk told us to take any cats or kittens we find wandering through the gardens because stray litters had been born in a nearby park. We saw one that ran off and then never saw any more… damn! The main attraction at the botanical garden is the indoor tropical conservatory with cool birds and a waterfall!
Also in Amarillo is The World Famous Big Texas Steak Ranch & Brewery (we could not pass this place up)! Set up like an old ranch, it has a huge bar and arcade, dinning room and a gift shop. It was busy as all heck and not too many mask wearers so we picked two beers, sat in the corner and polished them off quickly. Beers were ok and I am sure their food is probably dynamite. If you love steak, they have a 72 oz steak challenge with salad and “fixin’s” that is free if you finish it. Losers pay $75. The top time for completion of the steak meal was 4 minutes and 58 seconds! Insane. Getting nauseous just thinking about it…
Just a little southeast of Amarillo is Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The park surrounds a huge canyon dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of Texas’. It’s basically the only big natural area in the panhandle and is quite popular. We stayed at the zipline adventure park next door that just happened to have an RV park situated on the canyon rim’s edge! We had an awesome hike that day to see the park’s signature sight: The Lighthouse. It’s about 6.5 mile round trip with fantastic views and magnificent rock formations.
Lubbock is famous for being the home of Buddy Holly. There is a museum and adjacent park dedicated to him and his band the Crickets along with other prominent West Texas musicians. On our last day we went to the Science Spectrum and Omni Theater Museum. It was a pretty awesome science museum, with tons of interactive, high tech exhibits that entertained us for hours! They also had a whole a whole floor called “Texas Alive! The Brazos River Journey” that was essentially an aquarium. All sorts of live fish, snakes, frogs, lizards, amphibians, turtles and other river animals we enjoyed experiencing.
We stuck around to see the Omni show that night, “Into America’s Wild” narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was filled with beautiful, high resolution shots of our country’s wilderness and diverse wildlife, and was totally immersive because of the rounded Omni theater. Loved it. The film even gave David and I a few more ideas of destinations for our future adventures.
Taos & Earthships, Rio Grande Gorge, Santa Fe, Albuquerque
With our newly winterized RV fresh out of the shop, we headed south to New Mexico to find some warmer weather. Our friends Ben & Kittra had just moved to Taos so we stayed with them again for a night! They sent us east to check out the Rio Grande Gorge and to see the Earthship colony. It’s crazy how Rio Grand Gorge State Park totally comes out of nowhere – you’re just driving along in flat desert shrub habitat and then BAM! Enormous canyon underneath you that had blended into the horizon in front of you until you were literally IN IT. There were flurries coming down as we walked over the gorge, and it was cool to see them far below us in the canyon as well as all around and above – like being suspended in a snowglobe!
Also in Taos is the original EARTHSHIP community! Started back in the seventies, Earthships are biotecture homes that are completely self-sustaining so they don’t have to be connected to the grid for utilities. They generate electricity through solar and wind energy, capture water from the rain and air (plant transpiration), contain and treat all of the sewage, maintain comfortable temperatures in any climate, and have a whole greenhouse you can fill with all kinds of plants and small trees. Their water system stores rain water in a cistern for use in the faucets and showers that then gets purified through the plants in the greenhouses. They use things like recycled tires and glass bottles for the walls, combined with adobe mud. Earthship Biotecture is a non-profit that plans out and build these structures across the world. There are lots of them in many different countries now, with some being community buildings, schools, or multi-functional structures.
There is at least one Earthship in all 50 states! We loved learning all about the logistics of it and walking through the visitor’s center model (below) – this is definitely a consideration for our future home. Such a pioneering concept and truly admirable what they have accomplished. The more sustainable forward-thinking like this in the world, the better the world will become.
Be sure to check them out if you’re in Taos area – it is something very unique.
Downtown Taos is pretty cool! Very artsy with plenty of local shops, lots of Pueblo buildings and patios. They have this beautiful outdoor mall area landscaped with lots of trees, flowers, and cafe tables. We walked around for a while, but as was pretty cold and windy and now dark, we headed over for a warm up at the sole brewery in town, Taos Mesa Brewing.
We also enjoyed Santa Fe, the 2nd or 3rd oldest city in the United States (depending on who you ask)! It’s a very similar feel to Taos, only larger and more populated. The only place where we could fit to park was at the cathedral parking lot – downtown Santa Fe reminds us of Italy with all the tight curvy streets. Also coincidently, the cathedral was St. Francis of Assisi and David has sang in the actual cathedral of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy. This town is known for being an artist’s hotspot. Everywhere you go, you can find jewelry, handcrafted clothing, pottery, paintings, drawings, carvings made of wood or mineral, and more. It was also cool to see a range in the price points in the downtown area, from an outdoor vendor’s shop where you could find a treasure for a few bucks to a high-end clothing store down the street offering elaborate, gorgeous and one-of-a-kind pieces for hundreds of dollars. A little something for everyone! Gabrielle bought a cool Dia de los Muertos mask.
While in Colorado last month, one of the gals at Primitive Beer (a Longmont favorite of ours) passed along a tip: If we make it to Santa Fe, we HAVE to check out Rowley Farmhouse Ales. Aaaand she was right! Fantastic, crisp, and flavorful Belgian beers – one of the best breweries we’ve found in our North America trek thus far.
Next stop: Albuquerque! We checked out Petroglyph National Monument, an area with thousands of petroglyphs carved on volcanic rock by ancient civilizations. Most of the true meanings are unknown, so it’s just left up to your own interpretations. There are a huge variety of images, and we found it really intriguing – just imagine what ancient peoples were trying to communicate or preserve! Some are obvious, some not so much. Here are a few favorites:
We also checked out 2 Albuquerque breweries: Marble and La Cumbre. Really cool neon wall art at Marble! They have a nice setup outdoors for concerts, as well as tasty brews. La Cumbre was good, too! Beer flights are the best after hikes.
Bonus photos: Walter White’s house from the show Breaking Bad, which was set in Albuquerque! It’s the actual house that they filmed the show in – anybody remember the pizza on the roof? Anyway, clearly you can see the owners have not embraced the Breaking Bad fans. The house looks quite different from when it was filmed with the addition of this huge fence, cameras, and lots of warning signs.
One of the crown jewels of Southwest Colorado is seeing the Pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. We had no idea that the park was so mountainous! Definitely the most challenging driving David has done yet in the RV. Well worth it, though, even with the downside that we could not actually tour the dwellings because of Covid. Guess it’s something to come back for and do with our kids someday! We drove the whole park over a couple of days and got to see all the dwellings from afar. It’s really amazing how the Anasazi people built these cities here and survived for a long time. There were a few short hikes we took to look out points viewing the canyon and some of the dwellings.
We stayed in Durango for just one night on our way back to Denver to catch a flight. We hope to stay longer next time as we didn’t get too much time to explore. Steamworks Brewing was a fun stop for dinner and beers.
Fort Collins, Longmont, Blanca, Alamosa, Great Sand Dunes NP, South Fork, Pagosa Springs
‘Welcome home!’ we thought as we crossed the border into Colorado from Cheyenne, Wyoming. As we got closer though, it didn’t look like home. Smoke from the two huge wildfires that were burning in the mountains to the west had turned Fort Collins into something out of a nightmare. We couldn’t see the mountains, the sun was dark red in the sky, and ash fell everywhere.
It was a deeply depressing arrival. But we were excited to see our friends and visit some of our favorite places – it seems this year, you just accept the depressing things, cuz there’s a lot of them, and find happiness where you can. We parked in the alley behind our friend Paul’s house. He famously created Apolonio’s Barshed in his backyard, which became a favorite hang out spot and ‘home away from home’ for our Colorado crew. Apolonio’s is complete with a kegerator, projector, Marvel arcade machine, all the collected artworks and knick-knacks and of course an ever growing amount of knomes that you’ll find tucked away on every shelf, nook, and cranny. Hi Natalie & Luke! We we also lucky to spend some time with our friends Drew & Sarah at Odell and Matt & Kimi at Equinox – just being able to talk, laugh, reminisce, vent about the year, and share craft beer with great friends….oh, man, that’s where it’s at 🙂 Hoppy purpose in its essence.
After Fort Collins we headed south to hang out with our friends Jason & Cheryle in Longmont. They have a spare room and were awesome hosts! Thank you both so much for being amazing people and awesome friends. We all like to play board games except Jason who is forced to play anyway. There were lots of tasty beers and whiskies had together and we even got out with John & Ann before they headed home.
Having spent a good time with friends, we had about a week and a half before we flew back home for my cousin Rachel’s wedding. So we went to southwest Colorado to explore some places we hadn’t gotten to yet!
Our first stop was Blanca where we reserved a campsite just south of Great Sand Dunes National Park. We met our friends who lived in the area the next day for a hike to the top of the dunes! It was awesome, but we definitely didn’t make it to the top of the highest dune. It was SUPER windy and the higher we climbed, the more we all just ate sand. Also: Hiking sand dunes is way harder than normal hiking because your feet don’t stop on the firm ground. They sink. You take two steps, you sink back one. The next day, our calves, shins, and hip flexors were all sore as hell.
Anyway, we had fun climbing as far as we could, and then the best part…running down like a fool as fast as you can! A total blast.
Our friends Ben & Kittra had just gotten ENGAGED and were renting a dope 5 bedroom condo in South Fork so we stayed with them for a night to celebrate. Congrats again, you two fools! They took us to a dope wood-fired pizza place which was great ‘post-dunes-hike-fail’ grub. The next day we headed over Wolf Creek Pass where the fall color of the largest living species on earth was in full effect: The Trembling Aspen tree! It was awesome to drive through.
On the other end of Wolf Creek Pass is Pagosa Springs. Pagosa Springs has a hot spring aquifer called the “Mother Spring”, which is the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s deepest hot spring. 1,002 feet!
This Mother Spring is too hot for soaking, but a resort right next to it called The Springs @ Pagosa Springs lays claim to it and has built up soaking pools all around. They have over 30 different pools of varying temperatures and sizes, most of which filter in hot water from the Mother Spring. Each of the soaking pools has a different name, amusing things like Lobster Pot, Sunset Social Club or Coffee in the Clouds. The resort is right next to the San Juan River, so every pool has scenic riverside views.
The mineral formations that have been created over time from the calcification of the hard water are really beautiful and totally unique! You can see some of them in the background of our pictures below. We relaxed and enjoyed all day and all evening until they kicked us out at closing time, 9:30 pm. These would be clutch after skiing all day.
Onward to the West! We headed up I-90 and drove through Deadwood just to see it on our way to Devil’s Tower. We spent the night at the KOA just outside the park where they had filmed the movie Close Encounter of the Third Kind! The next morning we hiked the big loop around the tower. It was pretty amazing and we both said we wanted to come back and climb it one day. There were a lot of climbers spread across the tower making their ascents on the 867-foot geologic wonder.
Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Hill City, Custer, Keystone, Wall Drug, Badlands NP
Leaving Lake Itasca State Park, we struck out Southwest to South Dakota. There are plenty more places we’d like to visit in Minnesota, but because of its proximity to IL, we plan to come back sometime in the future on a week or weekend trip. First stop in the Dakotas was Sioux Falls, SD. Had to check out the town’s main attraction and namesake – Sioux Falls! It’s an iconic and sizable waterfall around which the city has created a park, and is doubly cool because it’s surrounded by rock formations that are fun for climbing! We enjoyed doing some rock scrambling and jumping around to get various perspectives of the falls. Also: The visitor center has a five-story viewing tower we climbed to get a wider, bird’s eye perspective!
I spent the afternoon at a picnic bench near the falls doing some work on my laptop and just enjoying the sight and sounds of the pounding water. It is wonderful to be able to make your workspace wherever in the world you want it to be. In the shade of the conifers next to Sioux Falls in South Dakota was my “office for the day.” I feel very thankful to be able to do this, and know it may not last forever so I plan to take in each moment of that career freedom whenever I can. The very earliest thing I can remember wanting in life is just to be outside – come sun, come rain, come snow.
Had a great experience and connection point at our brewery choice for the evening in downtown Sioux Falls. The name was WoodGrain Brewing, and if you’re in the area – HIGHLY recommend. It was a slow night, so the head brewer Steve came out and joined us to talk craft beer and offer some samples. He was awesome! And their Peanut Butter Werewolf is THE BEST peanut butter beer David and I have ever had…which is saying something cuz we’ve had a lot. We asked how he got it to be so much more thick and flavorful, and he told us that he actually brewed it with real peanut butter instead of peanut butter powder like every other brewery uses. Because of the natural oils that exist in peanut butter, he said the cleaning process after making the beer is 3x times as long and a pain in the butt. Buuuuut clearly WORTH IT for the superior product with a hilarious name aka PB Werewolf. Anyways, good conversation with brewer and bartender, an awesome couple of flights, and Steve going in the back to surprise us with 2 free bombers made for a solid end to our first evening in South Dakota.
Stopped in Mitchell, SD on our way west to see “The World’s Only Corn Palace,” a giant building covered in Western-themed images made entirely out of ears of corn. It’s only on the outside though, as I don’t think corn ears would hold up well structurally. A pretty cool idea to represent for midwestern corn country! I loved how they creatively incorporated the natural darker and lighter kinds of maize/corns into the images for shading and depth.
Since we knew John & Ann (David’s parents) were in Custer, we decided to drive across the state and surprise them for John’s birthday! David talked to them on the phone and got the name of the KOA they were staying at so we booked a few nights at the campsite next door. We asked where they were at the office and snuck right up on them while they were grilling hamburgers! They were very surprised. Mission accomplished.
The next morning we were up before dawn for the annual Buffalo Roundup that happens inside of Custer State Park. 20,000 people were expected to attend to see the 1,500 buffalo that would be stampeding on by into the corrals. We were in a long line to get to the huge “parking lot” and walk down with our chairs to find a spot in the crowd. They even had a huge pancake breakfast for everyone and we made it just in time before they stopped serving.
The roundup itself was really cool! Don’t often get to see that amount of buffalo altogether, nor as close up as we got to be, and there were a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls at the back end herding them along while on horseback. It did seem to be less bison than we had been told to expect, but I think that was because of too much hype/unrealistic expectations, or maybe covid had something to do with it…I’m not sure how, but I’m throwing it out there because it seems to affect everything else. Still – very glad we got to be there and watch the running buffalo and their calves!
Enjoyed an afternoon birthday lunch at Mt. Rushmore Brewing and then took a scenic drive up the Needles Highway. Beautiful! Those Cathedral Spires are a sight to behold. Tall, narrow, and reaching high in the sky so you sometimes have to crane your neck to see the tops! Passed through the Needle’s Eye Tunnel at the top, a thrilling and long granite tunnel barely wide enough for a single car to pass through at a time…so you just hope someone isn’t coming through the opposite direction.
On the other side, climbed around on some more granite spires and saw the “Needle’s Eye” namesake formation. It really does look like a giant eye of a sewing needle!
The next day, the four of us spent the day walking the town and shopping in Keystone and Hill City, two more small, historic towns in the Black Hills. Lunched at the Ruby House, an old saloon decked out in Western garb and decor – felt like a step back in time. Also played a sunset game of mini-golf in Keystone, which ended up just being more hilarity because the course was NOT well maintained, very steep since it was on the side of a mountain, and sometimes almost impossible to actually get the ball in the hole when you were a foot away! Had us laughing at our ridiculously high scores later. After golf, we hunted down this brewery/winery that we had wanted to visit called Firehouse.
Always nice to spend a few days mid-traveling with family! Glad we got make some fun memories together for my father-in-law’s birthday weekend.
We left them and headed back east to check out the famous Wall Drug store and Badlands National Park! Wall Drug started out as just a tiny drug store in 1931 and has grown into a ~76,000 square foot tourist attraction with everything you can think of: Souvenir shops, Western shops, bookstores, full restaurant, an indoor “Cowboy Alley” that is essentially a mall, a museum with local historical photos, backyard for kids to play in, a giant animatronic T-Rex, and more. It is a must-stop with 5 cent coffee and one of the best breakfasts we have ever had – the flapjacks are out of this world! Ice cream and free ice water are among a lot of things they advertise on their TONS of billboards you will see driving down I-90.
And just South of Wall, SD…the BADLANDS! We’ve wanted to visit Badlands National Park for quite a few years now, and finally had the opportunity to spend a few days there. It was magical.
****NOTE: Most of the Badlands pictures will be at the end of this post – it was easier to upload them all at once!******
Upon entrance, I stepped outside the RV onto the park grounds for the first time with Badlands by Bruce Springsteen playing on my phone. Clearly the best way to enter the park. We had to have listened to it at least 10 times throughout those 3 days, whenever the fancy struck us to jam out 😀
We started with the main Badlands loop, route 240, and just took our time. Did a small hike out into the craggy, rocky desert on the East side and on the way out passed a ton of signs in a row reminding us to turn back and “get more water!” before proceeding. It was eerie, dry, jagged, sharp, looked almost identical in every direction once we got away from the road, and often just felt like we were walking on the MOON. Would be totally outside of the average human’s comfort zone…which is exactly how David and I like to live our life. Love it.
There are so many more stories from our time here, but for the sake of catching up I’ll just pick two that stand out in my mind.
Our second day we decided to brave Sage Creek Rim Road, the dirt road that goes out into the prairie on the West side of the park. Usually, trailers and RVs are not recommended to drive on these….and for good reason, as we discovered. We were both laughing along the drive, everything shaking and rattling and rolling around and falling off walls and counters – felt like we were going through a consistent earthquake! And we had to yell to hear each other because it was so damn loud. But it was crazy fun, and WORTH IT. After an hour and change of bouncy driving we got to a place where all the buffalo hang out. We got to eat lunch right next to a whole small herd of them right outside our vehicle, could see the facial expressions and observe their mannerisms so clearly! And the bright, cinnamon colored small calves are precious. One of the more intimate experiences with a buffalo herd – just them and us.
The last story I’ll tell is from when we dry camped on BLM property neighboring the national park. You basically just drive around on grassy roads and find a level-ish spot to park. We lucked out and got a wild spot right next to the cliffside, and David lined it up nicely so that we had the most magnificent view out of our living room window! Watched the moon rise over a herd of bighorn sheep walking around right under us on the cliff’s edge. It’s something else being in your PJs and being able to observe from inside our little home. That we can be in places like that makes me love our home on wheels all the more for making it possible.
Woke up the next morning for the sunrise over the cliffs – and all I had to do was sit up in bed.
Oh, this wandering life. If so blessed, I would choose to do it for always.
****Here’s a selection of our favorite shots from the Badlands:
Heading west from Apostle Islands we stopped in Duluth, MN for a day. They have a lakeshore walk and a stunning rose garden situated high up on the cliff overlooking lake Superior. SO many different colors and shapes of roses! Since we were there on a Saturday, a wedding was taking place in the garden and we just happened to be there at the opportune moment and witnessed the ‘first look’ of the bride & groom!
We knew of larger brewery in Duluth called Bent Paddle that makes some quality brews and *of course* had to check it out. Due to covid, people were only allowed to stay for 90 minutes. We hung out their for our full time allotment and then headed down the street to Fitger’s Brewhouse for dinner. This place was in an old downtown building right on the lake where they share a hallway with a sort of indoor mall with shops. Like a lot of brewpubs, the food was fantastic and most of the beer was decent with a few beers having some prominent off-flavors. And our server was really nice and wanted to hear all about our travels and where we still planned to go! People seem very excited to listen to our story, and many express sentiment that they wish their situation would allow them do the same.
The next day we drove over to Lake Itasca State Park, which happens to be the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi! They have a lot of backpacking campsites in the park so we booked a site online. When we got there, none of the workers could understand why someone with an RV would want to backpack and tent camp instead of staying at the RV campsites. It was hilarious to us but we think we got in free because none of them knew where to direct us? Not sure but the park was beautiful and in full display of Midwestern fall colors!
After about a 4.5 mile hike to our site for the night, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our campsite was a private site on a lake and we even had our own toilet! Complete with a log bench and a fire pit.
The last place we visited was the famous headwaters spot where the river actually begins flowing off of Lake Itasca. It was fun to walk across the rocks that had been placed there a long time ago for people to experience walking across the origin point…and to imagine how much bigger it grows as it flows state to state!
The Apostle Islands National Shoreline is a group of 21 islands of the coast of Wisconsin in Lake Superior. They are known for their beautiful, forested shorelines and especially for the sea caves! We stayed 3 nights here and explored the area. This hike south of Bayfield is called Houghton Falls Trail.
The only brewery in the area was South Shore Brewing so we checked it out – apparently the building used to be a bowling alley! The owner was our bartender and told us all about the history of the brewery. His beers were not too bad and there were a few we really liked.
The highlight was definitely our sea kayaking tour around Sand Island where we got to kayak all over and throughout the sea caves on the islands coast! There were some points where we were so far under the island that it was pitch black and we almost hit our heads a few times. So cool!
The next day we hiked along the northern shoreline of Wisconsin on the Bayfield peninsula – the peninsula sits just South of the Apostle Islands. Due to the nature of the weathering here, the caves are even BIGGER than the ones we’d kayaked through the day before! It was too late in the season for kayak rentals in this area so we will just have to go back later to explore those bad boys from the water (anybody care to join?). The hike along the cliff’s edge above the caves was awesome in itself, though. We think these pictures speak for themselves.