First month in Pennsylvania!

Pittsburgh, Lewistown, State College, Hershey, Greenwood Furnace SP, Black Moshannon SP, Codorus SP

Hello, Summer 2021 in Appalachian territory! Our first month living in central Pennsylvania is officially in the books.

New job? Check. State parks? Check. Fourth Anniversary celebration? Check. Family reunion? Check. Oh, it’s been a gas. 

Thus far, we are really enjoying our time here. To begin with, the scenery is outstanding. Dense and lush mountain forests, rolling grassy hillsides, sweeping valley views, and creeks and streams in every other turn of the trail. The quaint, friendly mountain towns are fun to wander through, and we have found locals to be receptive and quite enthusiastic to share things about their hometown if you show the slightest sliver of interest (sometimes overly enthusiastic, which is endearing). There’s also so much history in this region of Pennsylvania with all of the old coal mines, railroads, and huge iron furnaces from the 1800s around which entire communities were built. Plenty to explore! Just how we like it.

As some of you know, I (Gabrielle) got a job with the Davey Resource Group as a field technician working on a project based in central PA. It was a nice fit because we’ve been looking for a way to still make money while traveling and living in our RV, and the project team was excited for our unusual situation. Basically, we can just move right along with the project area as we cover new territory (usually people have to get hotels during the work week as the project area moves further from their homes). I follow the utility corridors – mainly power – and gather data for a variety of purposes. The project is slowly working its way Northwest towards Lake Erie as our team finishes each area. I’ve been pretty happy with the job and the experience so far. Yes, there are politics and logistical issues that can be frustrating…but who DOESN’T have those kind of issues at one point in their job? You focus on controlling what you can. Plus, the hard, physical exercise is welcome – getting to hike in the mountains, along hillsides, and through towns every workday is a plus by ALL standards. 

A few pics of my work truck, some areas that I’ve worked through, and some cool bug and animal encounters. I like to call them my “just another day at the office” shots. ❤

On our way out to Pennsylvania a month ago, we passed through Pittsburgh for the evening. We arrived at the perfect time of day, coming out of a tunnel onto the bridge over the Monongahela River at the golden hour. The whole downtown glowed in the late afternoon sunlight.

We stopped in for dinner and brews at Fat Head’s Saloon, a local brewery that David had tried at GABF one year. It ended up being a GREAT call: Beers were fresh and delicious, pub room vibe was chill with lots of laughs, bartender was friendly and goofy, onion rings were THE best we’ve have ever had (no joke).

Passed through Altoona, PA and stopped in at Boyer Candy Company, home to the famous Mallo Cup! Chocolate and soft marshmallow filling. It was a childhood favorite of Gabrielle’s, which she used to buy at Cracker Barrels as a kid. Boyer is the originator of the “cup candy,” which is now made famous because of the Reeses peanut butter cup. David found his new favorite candy at Boyer’s – the Clark Cup! It has crispy bits of peanut butter mixed in with the smooth peanut butter cup. Definitely trumped Reeses, in both of our opinions. Also, side note – you cannot beat the prices at Boyer. This chocolate was WAY cheaper than anything anywhere in Hershey…and just as good, if not arguably better.

This was our first campsite – Waterside! It was on the Juniata River, it was peaceful, and we were there for the penultimate 17-year CICADA emergence of Brood X. It was intense. They were everywhere. Not dangerous or biting, more just annoying because they were always underfoot and flying into you or dropping onto you from trees. The noise of the cicadas was so loud it borderline hurt our ears when we walked out of the RV. David said at one point it was like an all-day tornado siren going off.

One of the first weeks of Gabrielle’s training, we stayed in Greenwood Furnace State Park, a little outside of Lewistown, named after the huge furnace built in 1834 that forged iron until 1904. A beautiful remote spot, the only downside of which was that there were no cell phone signal for 10 minutes in any direction. Good hikes around the park, caught some crawdads in the creek, explored inside the furnaces, and came across a huge black water snake! 

It’s right in the middle of a huge Amish community near Belleville – lots of horse and buggies driving down the road. Interesting to see stables in parking lot at the grocery store for where they park their horses. We never did get around to buying fresh Amish food or farm goods. Something to do for next time we’re in Amish country.

Another night when we were eating dinner outside. we had a pleasant surprise visit by a momma and baby Eastern Screech-Owl! The baby was just chillin in this hollowed out part of a tree branch next to our campsite waiting for mom to bring back food. If we hadn’t seen the mom swoop in, we would have never known they were there because they were so silent.

We never stayed in State College, home of Penn State, but we did drive through several times and hit up 2 breweries there: VooDoo Brewing & Otto’s!

We celebrated our 4th anniversary on May 28th this year. You know how each anniversary has a corresponding substance or material? The well known ones are 50 (gold) and 25 (silver) but all the other numbers have things, too. 1st anniversary is paper, 2nd is cotton, etc. Well, the 4th is supposed to be fruit & flowers….but hell, we’re scratching that out and rewriting ours! Hamilton anniversary #4 = CHOCOLATE ANNIVERSARY.

Spent the weekend in Hershey, PA! Had an awesome day at Hersheypark riding roller coasters, playing carnival games, eating chocolate dipped pretzels and crab fries, riding more roller coasters, laughing at the ridiculous people watching, doing some drop rides, and then ending the day with the carousel and even more roller coasters. And it wouldn’t be a theme park day with the two of us if we didn’t get drenched by rain at least once! Every time. 

Side story: I don’t know how this started, but we began yelling “CHOCOLATE ANNIVERSARY!” at random points the entire day. Going up the first big drop on roller coasters, sitting eating snacks, in line with people all around us, in the rain getting soaked, having beers on park benches….yeah it definitely was a thing, and we got some laughs, a lot of weird looks, and even a kid that yelled back “YEAH, CHOCOLATE!”

A different day we spent at Chocolate World, which neighbors Hersheypark. It’s the largest Hershey’s chocolate store in the world, and also includes a coffee shop with cookie dough creations, a stand for ice cream shakes, a “big s’mores” shoppe where you can get s’mores the size of sandwiches, a giant faux jungle, and a complete bar with wine and beer and some food options. OH, and if that wasn’t enough they have a full-on indoor ride called Hershey Chocolate Factory that takes you through the whole chocolate making process from bean to bar. It’s reminiscent of Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and we thought it was really cool.

Another really serendipitous thing that happened is that we were there the weekend they opened a brand new restaurant just outside Hersheypark called ‘The Chocolatier’ in honor of Milton Hershey. We got to have lunch there literally the DAY they opened! They’ve designed the whole restaurant menu around having hints of cocoa and chocolate in every dish, even the entrees! David got a cuban with cocoa-rubbed pork, and Gabrielle got a burger with chocolate-dipped potato chips, bacon, and cheddar. We each got a different kind of chocolate martini to go with them, one with fresh cream and one without. Everything was phenomenal. 

Probably spent too much money on chocolate that weekend…? Worth it. #ChocolateAnniversary

Here a couple final pics from our anniversary weekend (seriously, we squeezed a LOT into that weekend) from the famous Hershey brewery Tröegs and a hike we did on our way back overlooking the Susquehanna River. It connected to the Appalachian Trail at one point and it was the first time either of us were officially on the AT! So sweet.

The following week we moved northwest to the Clearfield area, and stayed at state park that was pretty much a bog on a mountaintop! Black Moshannon State Park. Another really beautiful home base for relaxing weeknights, long woodsy walks, and a beach where we spent a whole afternoon playing water frisbee and laying in the sun and sand. 

And FINALLY….the Maxwell Family Reunion!! Gabrielle’s mom’s side of the family is from western PA, and just this past weekend we were lucky to be able to attend the big family reunion. They had it at Codorus State Park down south near the Maryland border. We got to see cousins, aunts, uncles, and family that she hadn’t seen in over a decade, some even since she was a little kid! And of course lots of kiddos and babies to throw in the mix. A fun day in the park with great potluck food, cold beer, pontoon boat rides, reminiscing about good memories back in thr day, and a campfire to end the night with roasted weenies. 

For those of you that couldn’t make it to the Maxwell reunion – you were definitely missed and there in spirit! There were plenty of great stories about reunions of old up at the Li’l Abner cabin. I mean, just the best corn on the cob ever.

The two of us often stop to savor this unique nomadic chapter of our life, as we know it won’t last forever. It’s a more steady and slow pace than how we traveled in the RV before, simply due to the nature of Gabrielle’s job…and that steady, slow pace has seeped into our day-to-day. I think both of us would say that it’s a good thing.  Reminiscent in many ways of that “buena vida” mindset we talked about back in Uruguay……

Our first month here has been soul food, in all honesty. There are things that happened in our lives behind these scenes that have been extremely hard to work through and process, and I know we both really needed this change. Is there anything better than living the life you love, and living it to the fullest? I think kids these days call that #LivingTheDream. We smile at each other a lot recently because, well, we are. 

That’s all for now. Got an evening thunderstorm and a book to look forward to, and maybe a glass of bourbon to accompany it. Peace out.

Galveston Island

Galveston, Jamaica Beach, Gavleston Island State Park, Bolivar Peninsula

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks! Our life has been much of a quantum flux since the New Year, with very little consistency and next to no travel in our Winnebago Sundancer, home base for our cherished #VANLIFE as nomadic adventurers. That will be changing now, as we start a whole new chapter heading to the East and into Appalachian territory.

But more on that later. (Soon, I promise!)

One of the few consistencies during this frustrating start to 2021 has been the support and love of our incredible families, and we are so thankful to have them in our lives. Listening, assisting, and cheering us on as we explore and fully realize the potential of our dreams, it has been a blessing to have that one certainty among the landslide of uncertainties.

Wanted to close the loop on our last adventure before this current hiatus: Galveston Island, TX! Bringing it back to the last few weeks of December and first week of January! We would definitely go back and spend more time there. Being winter on the Gulf Coast, we got our fair share of rainy days, but also had many beautiful warm days for our Christmas and New Year’s week!

Up early on the morning of December 24th, we randomly decided to stop in a nearby cafe to do a Christmas Eve breakfast. Little did we know this place was doing its soft opening that day and we were LITERALLY the first customers in the place. Initially weirded out as to why all the people in the restaurant were smiling and staring at us more intently than normal…!!….it turned out to be fantastic, top-notch breakfast cuisine across the board. I mean…just look at these mouthwatering photos:

And the best part? When we were stuffed and asked for the check, our waitress let us know that Santa was picking up all of the customer tabs that morning. Free delicious Christmas Eve breakfast, CHECK. Love it. It was a fun surprise and adrenaline boost to our morning.

We spent a relaxing Christmas Holiday at Jamaica Beach RV Park on the Southwest end of the island. It had your classic island/rasta decorations, a pirate & shark themed mini golf course, a pool, an indoor hot tub and more. Didn’t realize until the 2nd day that what we thought were tortoise statues in the middle of the mini golf course were actually LIVE Sulcata Tortoises, or African spurred tortoises. Not native to the area – the owners purchased them and they are residents of the RV park. Such a cool addition to the mini golf course! We went out and said hi to them every day.

Spent a day or two at Galveston Island State Park and saw loads more amazing coastal birds. Between South America and Texas, the two of us are newly minted birders and I don’t see that going anywhere anytime soon. We’ll be those old people in the kayaks with binoculars looking up at the tops of trees. Here are some favorites from the state park.

We stayed at the RV site of this state park on New Year’s Eve and it POURED cats and dogs the entire time. We basically parked our Sundancer in a giant puddle. Here’s what it looked like outside the door:

The two parts of the city we explored were The Strand and Seawall Blvd. The Strand is the historic district, home to the original 19th century seaport and where fishermen would gather back in the day. It has a number of lovely main streets to walk with street art, historic old buildings, and tons of shopping and restaurants. Seawall Blvd hugs the beach on the Gulf Coast side, and has a more modern, beach-town feel to it. Its namesake is the Galveston Seawall, an incredible feat of engineering of the early 1900s where the people of the town literally raised the island up and built their Seawall to withstand and protect Galveston from future storm surges.

Different areas, different vibes, and both had a lot to offer.

Some photos from The Strand below. Murals and 3D street art, shops with kitties, an offshore drilling rig museum, old preserved ships, a giant trumpet, street turtles, and more.

Rather than really being a neighborhood to explore, Seawall Blvd is a long strip that became a catchall area we’d find ourselves back at when looking for a bite, brews, new finds, or just beach hang time. We never did make it to the Pleasure Pier, the famous Galveston amusement park right smack in the middle of the Seawall. You can see it in the background of some of the photos.

And we had to do at least one nice dinner out for some local seafood. Went to Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant which, as we came to find out, is a Galveston classic, has been around forever, and has a reputation as “the freshest fish house on the Gulf coast.” It did not disappoint! Everything was delicious, but what we both especially remember was the baked oysters on a half shell – December is oyster season in Texas! Each of the 6 different kinds of baked oysters we got was exceptional and left you wanting another.

Our favorite overnight spot was East Beach, which is a hidden gem we discovered quite by chance. It’s on the Northern tip of the island, away from the downtown area, where the road just ends and you’re on the beach. We went there just to explore in the daytime and discovered we could just park there overnight for free for as many nights as we wanted….score! Woke up and stepped outside the Sundancer on to the sand every morning. We came back here a handful of nights intermittently while on Galveston island, whenever we wanted a break from the traffic or people. Many sublime sunrise walks and chill afternoons just “beaching. ”

East Beach

One of our last days in Texas, we took the Sundancer on his first FERRY RIDE to the Bolivar Peninsula, a stretch of beach to the North of the island. Interesting side note: It was totally unnerving to both of us to be in our home and moving while not driving! For some reason all the more so than when you’re just in a car on a ferry…it felt really weird. I mean, can you imagine sitting in your living room and the scenery moving by outside?? Still really cool, though, and quite easy loading on and off the ferry.

The peninsula was filled with more serene beaches and bird watching. We don’t think these beaches are as frequented as the Galvestonian ones. Gabrielle enjoyed taking some time driving the RV all over the beach – she likes driving it when there aren’t any other vehicles around.

The last thing we did in Galveston was particularly poignant – a guided self-tour of the islands tree sculptures. In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike covered most of the island in a tidal surge, and ultimately led to the demise of thousands of the city’s oldest and majestic trees. I think this quote out of the self-guided tour brochure says it best:

“Ike forced Galveston to say a sad goodbye to so many of its beautiful tree canopies, but where many saw dead trees and waste after the storm, a group of homeowners saw a chance to morph symbols of destruction into signs of rejuvenation.”

Today, you can find them all over the island as the trend and symbol have grown in popularity. The majority of the originals are in the East End Historic District, which is what we walked. Most of the artists/sculptors are local, and it was intriguing how creative they were with the trunks and branches – often the trees had been growing into and around a fence or building, so they came up with an artistic vision to go with that! For example, in this one that was carved into a Great Dane, the tree had actually grown around the fence where the dog’s paws perch upon it. How cool is that?!

And the old homes are simply gorgeous. The French Romanesque architecture of the area was an added bonus on our walk – we were feeling definite NOLA vibes. A lot of the houses looked like something straight out of a storybook or movie set.

It was so uplifting and innovative to see what the people of Galveston did with the hurricane-damaged trees. Lemonade out of lemons.

That’s a wrap for our time in Texas. LOVED the Lone Star State. So many amazing places, such history, hilarious and meaningful adventures, and great memories. We are so thankful to have had the time we did there, and look forward to the day the trail leads back to that Southern state where everything (really, they aren’t kidding) is bigger.

Next adventure is currently LIVE as we have just “moved” to central Pennsylvania! Got here about 2 weeks ago. Gabrielle got a new job with the Davey Resource Group and will be on a project doing field tech work – she is very excited. Best part is that the project moves as they complete an area, so we’ll be able to move right along with it. Flexibility of picking up and living wherever we want, working outdoors in new places every day, exploring the forests and Appalachian countryside and towns of Pennsylvania, maybe a craft brewery here and there…THIS is our life. Our hoppy purpose and our happy purpose.

Next month, next Fall, next year……I mean, who knows?

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!