East Texas and The Gulf

Blue Bell Ice Cream, Huntsville, Cagle Recreation Area & Lake Conroe, Big Thicket, Sea Rim, McFadden Wildlife Refuge, Houston Space Center

After a great couple weeks in Hill Country and the Austin area, we struck out to East Texas and the area known as the Piney Woods. Our route east took us through Brenham, TX, which rang a bell in my head but I couldn’t figure out why for a little while. Then I saw an advertisement on the side of the road and realized it – home of Blue Bell Creamery! We had Blue Bell distributed along the Front Range back in CO, and it is really delicious ice cream with a distinctive container that stands out anytime you see it. They’re mostly distributed in the South, so we hadn’t had their stuff growing up in Illinois. Anyways, stopped in for a weekday afternoon scoop or two and there was barely anyone there. Also, we didn’t realize how huge their scoops were…and ended up with more than we could eat (you can see our 4 gigantic cups in the picture below). HA! But no worries – just popped it in the Sundancer’s freezer and it still tasted fresh after dinner.

Our first stay in East Texas was at Huntsville State Park on Lake Raven. We got there a bit late and were pretty tired. Had a bit of bad luck that night, too – our heater went out! Luckily, we were able to schedule a service appointment nearby in Huntsville the next morning, but it did get pretty chilly that night and we ended up breaking out the backpacking sleeping bags! Felt like backpacking and was fun to sleep in our sleeping bags on the bed. We slept nice and toasty that night all bundled up. And the next morning, I went for an early walk down by the lake and watched all the morning mist disappear off the water as the sun slowly angled upward.

We also camped at Cagle Recreation Area. Both Cagle and Hunstville State Park are within Sam Houston National Forest. The forest is around 160,000 acres, dominated by longleaf pines like much of the Piney Woods of East Texas. Plus we saw a lot of lichen hanging from pines, which I believe is Spanish moss. So pretty to hike these trails! Reminded me of Savannah, Georgia – Spanish moss makes everything seem mystical and dreamy.

We also were lucky to be there for an absolutely epic sunset over the lake, and walked over to a little beach spot for good viewing. David even set up his camera tripod to get really good sunset photographs, and below are a couple of the best ones.

Another day, we had a warm and clear day to kayak Big Thicket Natural Preserve! This was a blast. We called around to a couple different kayak rentals, and arranged to have the guy meet us at the put-in location. We got to spend the afternoon out on the Neches River a little bit north of Beaumont, and went through these incredible thickets of bald cypress and water tupelo trees. Their root systems actually can grow upwards out of the swamp water and create “knees,” which then can start to grow as another tree! You can see some of the cypress knees in the pictures below – they look like little tree stubs.

Our night at Sea Rim State Park was cloudy and drizzly, so we didn’t get a whole lot of exploration in. Plus a lot of things seemed like they were flooded, and the beach boardwalk hadn’t yet been repaired from hurricane damage the year before. However, what IS really cool about Sea Rim SP is that it’s smack dab on the Gulf, right next to the Louisiana state border. Would be a fun beach walk on a clearer, less soggy beach day!

The Texas Gulf Coast between Galveston and Louisiana is famous for being a BIRDER’S HEAVEN. Many different kinds of coastal birds can be found here at various times of year, so there are a number of wildlife refuges that have been established in the area. We spent an afternoon exploring one of them, McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, and BOY, did we get to see some BIRDS. By the time we left, David and I were volleying back and forth “Oh, remember that one!” “Yeah, and that one!” “Oh, don’t forget the hidden one!” – neither of us had ever seen so many different species of birds in one day, even at a zoo. It was amazing! We parked the RV next to a stream in McFaddin, turned off the engine, and had lunch while we watched egrets, herons, ospreys, pelicans, cormorants, terns, kites, and MORE just fly around us, land, and go fishing.

Here are some of David’s favorite shots from our day on “The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.”

Our awesome birding-afternoon carried its momentum into a fun evening – that same night we had tickets to the Houston Space Center’s seasonal Galaxy Lights exhibit! They decorate everything during the holiday season with all sorts of high-tech lights and fun space-Christmas-advanced-technology themed, and it’s both indoors and outdoors. Aaaaand our evening turned out to be a classic Gulf Coast DOWNPOUR outside, so we just got soaked, laughed, and enjoyed the fun of the exhibits in the warm rain. Rain may make everyone else run inside for cover – but not us ❤


Okay, I’m looking at a lot of these Houston Space Center photos for the first time since the night we took them and I’m just gonna come right out and say it….these pictures almost turned out cooler BECAUSE of the rain! The sheen on the sidewalks, the gleam of the light displays, the glows reflecting against the raindrops – LIVING for it.

Texas Hill Country

Colorado Bend State Park, Marble Falls, Kingsland, Balcones Canyonlands, Lake Travis, Inks Lake SP, Enchanted Rock SP, LBJ Ranch, Pedernales Falls, Hamilton Pool

We can now say that we’ve been to the Texas Hill Country and lemme tell you…it is AMAZING. So much more than we expected. Both of us relished having the opportunity to slow down, take our time, and not rush on to the next big event or thing. We did an evening of research on the must-sees in the Hill Country and then mapped out our own preferred route, trails, and camping. It’s the same kind of travel methodology we’d incorporate when backpacking through South America aka the elusive balance between “planned travel” and “unplanned/spontaneous travel.” We got into the habit of taking an evening every week or two to plan loosely, make a few key reservations as anchor points, and then just GO and make the rest up as you move along (or as the locals you meet recommend <3). Many of our best travel memories are made this way….outlandish discoveries, midnight treks, hole-in-the-walls with bomb cuisine, secret tappings, outdoor dance parties, hidden hot springs…but I digress.

Our first stop was recommended to us by some friends who live in the area – Colorado Bend State Park, named for it being on a large bend of the Colorado River. Even though we were there in December and it was a tad chilly, we made it out on a sunny afternoon to swim in the crystal clear waters of Spicewood Springs. David slid down a small waterfall a few times, while I chose to hold off and not get my butt cut up by rocks. Male swim trunks are much better “suited” for rock sliding. 😀

OH and there are wild armadillos all over this park! Adorable little things, but they scuttle away from you as soon as you try to get close. And they are surprisingly FAST. We got only one good picture, but saw quite a few of them. Love those pointy kangaroo ears.

Also at Colorado Bend State Park, we hiked down to Gorman Falls, a very unique looking waterfall due to the “dripping” look of the travertine rock formations. I couldn’t help but think it looked like something out of Fern Gully – some hidden, mythical place.

And in the spring and summer, the water level is higher and water seeming flows out from every angle of the outcropping like this:

Pretty damn cool.

Next stop was Marble Falls, where we stayed for quite a few days. It actually became a running gag between us because we just we kept coming BACK to Marble Falls intermittently – partially because it’s the only place in the area that offers free overnight parking, partially because it’s right smack dab in the middle of our Hill Country route plan. I’d say we left and returned to Marble Falls like 5 or 6 times over the course of those weeks. Started memorizing the key turns in the downtown area and even the names of streets and best parks to walk through.

Walked around and Christmas shopped on a rainy day, but it was nice because everything was practically empty. And plus I love getting rained on.

“Some folks feel the rain…others just get wet.”

After another return trip to Marble Falls (I think after a day of hiking) we discovered Save the World Brewing Co, definitely a new favorite. The beer quality is superb and this is the kind of place for Belgian beer-o-philes like us. And on top of high quality beers and styles, Save the World is America’s first 100% philanthropic production brewery! All of their net profits go to causes like Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, and other local charities in need. After finding that out, buying swag was a must.

Getting into the holiday spirit mid-December, we did the annual Marble Falls Walkway of Lights along the Colorado River. Ohhhh, Texas….lasso throwing Santas, jet-skiing and water skiing Santas: Merry Texmas, y’all!

And speaking of recent holidays, we can’t forget Thanksgiving! We also spent a quiet and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend in Hill Country. Found an RV campsite on the North end of Lake LBJ. Watched the sunsets and sunrises from the pier, soaked in the hot tub a few times, cooked classic Thanksgiving fare, Zoomed with our families and laughed while everyone inevitably tries to talk at the same time because of the lag time. It isn’t the holiday without a sprinkling of chaos and a full serving of family, usually altogether for the perfect side dish. 🙂

For the rest of this post, we’ll just do groupings of photos with a top caption of where they were. We went to a LOT of parks in Hill Country, so we’ll try to keep it short…or at least shorter HA

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

The Oasis On Lake Travis – a HUGE restaurant and event center on the cliffs overlooking Lake Travis. It has shops, a microbrewery, tons of multi-level balconies and seating, and claims to be “The Sunset Capital of Texas” due to their perfect elevated location for gorgeous lake views.

Hiking “Wookie Way” on Pace Bend Park on Lake Travis

Inks Lake State Park and Devil’s Waterhole – David’s fraternity brother Toast drove out and stayed with us for the night!

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area – it’s an enormous rock in the shape of a dome and you just walk straight up the dome. Harder than it sounds! And well worth the effort. We started with the outer Loop trail on the Southwest side, passed through Echo canyon, went up the summit trail and lunched on top of the rock, and then ended with the Base trail and Turkey Pass. The trails aren’t too long, so around 6 or 7 miles. We wore our packs just for strengthening!

Fredricksburg, Pedernales Cellars Winery, and the LBJ Ranch! For those of you that don’t know, LBJ grew up near Fredericksburg and made his family ranch kind of a “second White House” when he was president. He even had a runway put in so he could fly into it from his private jet! They jokingly called it the “Air Force One-half” because the actual Air Force One was too big to land on that small airstrip. Today, they’ve preserved the ranch as a large, beautiful property with all sorts of wildlife, livestock, trees, rolling hills, and history. Our day there was a rainy one and you couldn’t go into any of the buildings because of COVID, but we still enjoyed driving through.

Pedernales Falls State Park – This park has a lot of great places to explore. We hiked the Wolf Mountain Trail one day, which wound through the forests and hills off the beaten path and took us past some old 1800s era stone house ruins, and another day explored the main attraction down at the Falls. The water was low so the falls weren’t very large, but it made for great climbing around on the rocks and along crystal clear streamsides. We saw a bunch of underground springs rising to the surface as we walked – there seem to be a number of them in Hill Country.

Hamilton Pool – it’s a huge and absolutely magnificent grotto. We just couldn’t get enough of the sights or the layerings of rock filled with ancient marine fossils. There’s also a waterfall flowing over into the pool, amazing stalactites formed from Travertine, and mosses and lichens growing everywhere. Hamilton Pool is like something out of an enchanted fairy land. Definitely took a few hours of R&R here just wandering, snacking, and listening to the sound of the falls hitting the pool. By chance, we were there when there weren’t many people, so we got to enjoy this special place in its full, intrinsic glory sans loud tourists and screaming children. It was so peaceful.

Austin, Texas

Our next stop was the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ – AUSTIN! We really enjoyed Austin in the bits that we were able to experience. As has been a common theme for our cross-country North American RV trip, there were many things in the city that were closed or not operating currently due to COVID concerns. Most notably, the biggest disappointment would definitely be not being able to see any live music in the live music capital itself. It is what it is and we understand that it’s not safe. We did, however, get to make a lot of great memories doing what we COULD do safely, and it’s just all the more reason for us to come back someday to see musicians play at venues, breweries, and at events like they used to! I look forward to that day.

We got to visit with some friends in the Austin area while there, and did a couple fun and socially distanced hangouts. We met up for hikes, went to breweries, had a few backyard campfires, and even set up the RV’s projector in our friends’ backyard so we could all watch a movie against the back of the house! That was a cool one – all David’s idea. 🙂

Also got to spend a sunny morning on rented bikes and rode the bike path along the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake. So many towering trees and beautiful cedars along the riverwalk! It really is a beautiful area with tons to see, and many little nooks where you can stop for a water break and take in the sights.

After checking the Bcycle bikes back into a station on the East side, we had a nice couple afternoon hours afternoon walking around the East 6th St. area, which seems really cool. Lots of street art with all sorts of social and cultural statements, many inviting, brightly painted breweries and cafes, and a definite bohemian feel to it and the people with whom we spoke.

Nothing wrong with a bit of bohemian ideas and values in all of our lives – HERE for it ❤

We walked all the way to the Congress Ave and tried to take some Lime scooters up to the state capitol, but the capitol grounds were closed off to the public so we could only sightsee from the street. Ah, well…found a rockin’ music store and gift shop on Congress and spent some time shopping around and playing with the shop’s resident tuxedo cat, Louis.

A different day, we hiked through Cedar Breaks Park on Lake Georgetown. Some local Austin friends of ours, Michael and Jonathon, suggested it and met us there as they are fellow hiking enthusiasts! Oh, and of course Apollo, their pup – can’t forget him. Also loves a good trek through the wilderness.

Jonathon found this incredible conglomerate stone from the Cretaceous Period just packed FULL of fossils (see below). So of course we then commenced in hurling rocks at the ground for a good while in the hopes of cracking stones open to reveal hidden fossils or treasures within. It was actually a lot of fun! Brought out the inner geology nerd in all of us.

Ended our 8 mile hike day epically….Salt Lick BBQ!! The first of 2 legendary Texas BBQ joints we dined at while in Austin, both of which were so delicious, so perfectly cooked, and uniquely different from any BBQ we’d ever had. People reading this who like BBQ – if you haven’t had Texas BBQ, you’ve been MISSING OUT! Famous Daves and Dickey’s don’t even hold a candle. Period.

We spent a couple weeks exploring the Hill Country before looping back to Austin for a last couple of days (TX Hill Country photos and stories in a separate blog post – stay tuned). Here a few pics from our last few days brewery hopping in Austin where we were able to sit out on patios. Played some disc golf at Live Oak Brewing – great Hefeweizen, fantastic American Barleywine called Old Treehugger. **Note for any Star Wars fans reading this: Be sure to check out the disc golf sign in the picture below showing where the mandatory disc throw zone is. Mandatory is often abbreviated in disc golf as a ‘mando.’

Had another fun backyard campfire one night with David’s college fraternity brother and his crew – although none of us took any pictures apparently. Regardless, had a blast and it was great seeing people we know again. These days, we take stock and really value any actual person-to-person interaction we are lucky enough to have. It seems anything outside of your immediate family is just fewer and further between in these COVID times. *To Toast, Tiffany, Bianca, and Tucker, too of course – thanks for the delicious grub, being great hosts, and for ramping up our holiday spirit with Christmas movies.

And of course, for out last day in Austin, we had to do BBQ one more time. This time, we went to a place called la Barbecue, another Austin classic, and it was glorious. Divine brisket, smoked sausage, ribs, potato salad, pickled onions, mac and cheese………Laid in bed for a good 30 minutes after our lunch just to digest.

We never did get to see the famous bats underneath the Congress Ave bridge, but our friends told us it wasn’t the right time of year to see them in full splendor. Just another reason to come back in late summer or early fall someday!

David also got to try footgolf for the first time with Toast (also known as Jeff). It’s a game set up like a golf course except you kick a soccer ball for each stroke and it has to go in these huge “cups.” It was very windy that day, so sometimes the balls would just blow back at us or even pass us. Best part of it was that David beat Toast first time out! Ha although he did beat David at regular golf…

Austin was amazing and we spent a lot of time in this area because of friends but also because there is just so much to explore. We bought a state parks pass and roamed the Hill Country to the North and West of Austin. More on that coming SOON!

Texas Panhandle

Amarillo, Palo Duro State Park, Lubbock

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.

New Mexico

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.

If you’re interested >>>> https://earthshipbiotecture.com/

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.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde & Durango

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.


Devil’s Tower National Monument

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.

South Dakota

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.