Utah: Days 11-16

Oh, Utah.  The wonders I did not know you possessed, you desert state you.  Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Just the drive alone would have been enough for me but then you overturned rocks and blew wind through mountains to create some breathtaking scenery.  Our first night in your presence was at Arches National Park where stars lit the sky much prettier than any street lamp I’ve ever seen – and boy, have I seen street lamps.  It was so magical we had to go back to the park the next day.  And so began our Utah adventure with its ubiquitous beauty.

Day 12

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Me climbing an insanely high rock on the way to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

We started off this day by heading back to Arches National Park to try our hand at the Double-O Arch trail.  This trail seemed easy enough: 1.2 miles, people of all ages trekking up and down without breaking a sweat.  So tell me why it took us 3 hours to reach the Double-O Arch?  No, I’ll tell you why.  This trail was very flat and easy to navigate for the first three-quarters of a mile.  We were taking it all in, enjoying our brand new Camelbaks and posing for cute pictures.  Then, the trail went UP.  Just straight up.  No warning, no side trail for beginners/people who don’t do up, no other option.  This being the first trail of the trip, I could NOT stop here and chicken out.  So what did I do?  I went up!  We climbed a strip of rocks on our hands and knees (just like the pros of course) and made it to the top of the rock pictured above.  100% worth it.  Scary.  But worth it.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

Our harrowing climb to top continued as we walked the plank (a narrow strip of rocks) to the rest of the trail.  Most of the time, I was looking down, concentrating on not stepping too far to the right or the left and falling to my graceful demise.  When I felt confident enough to stop and look up, I was blessed with views like the one above.  This is why Utah is great.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

Finally, we made it to the Double-O Arch, the big kahuna.  Once you walk through the lower arch and see the other side, you will understand life and all its glory.  It was a very lovely place to sit and think (or hop on FaceTime if you are like me and need to show someone the magical scenery).  After making it here, part of the group headed down to a different trail that spurs off of Double-O Arch.  It had devil in the name and I wasn’t too keen on walking with the devil during my first hike.  It took us about 2 hours to make it back down the trail with a slight detour since we were going rogue without a map.

We grabbed a delicious lunch at Moab Brewery, complete with tasty gelato.  We got on the road and took the four-hour drive to Duck Creek Village Lodge where we stayed for the remainder of our time in Utah.  The road was riddled with deer.  At least four tried to make our acquaintance; thankfully, we had a skillful driver in the group who got us to the lodge safely.

Day 13

On this day we found the only cave with a waterfall in Utah and went spelunking!  Just kidding. Half of us were so wiped out from the day before that we stayed in and worked all day/watched Game of Thrones. We ran to grocery store – closest one was 45 minutes away in Cedar City.  The other half of the group caught a sweet deal in Escalante Park and went sand boarding for the day.  We reunited over a spaghetti dinner.

Day 14

See that orange dot? That's me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

See that orange dot? That’s me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

Ahh today.  Today started with the world’s most complicated breakfast.  Let two single men loose in a kitchen and see the chaos that ensues.  We entrusted these two men with cooking the most important meal of the day for seven people.  25 eggs, 14 pancakes, and 16 pieces of sausage later and we had the breakfast of…well… we had breakfast.  We took the hour and a half drive to Zion National Park where half the group did Angels Landing (no thank you) and the other half of us took the safe route of Emerald Pools.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

There is a river before getting to the Emerald Pool trails and there are Lower and Upper Pools.  The Lower Pools are a very short hike and feature some beautiful waterfalls and greenery.  We took the hour hike to the Upper Emerald Pool where we climbed rocks and took pictures.  It was beautiful.  You can’t swim in this pool; however, the river at the entrance had plenty of bathers.  We hiked back down the trail to grab food at the Brew Pub located in the park.  Delicious pretzel sticks!  The other half of the group finished Angel’s Landing in about five hours, just in time to meet us and grab dinner for themselves.

Day 15

We ended up really finding that cave for spelunking!  Ok, clearly I like this joke for days where we did nothing.  We were supposed to check out The Narrows at Zion but flash flood warnings prevented us from being great.  We ended up watching more Game of Thrones (had to catch up before the season finale!) and cooked most of what was in the refrigerator, which included every last egg in Utah, burgers, and tacos.  Some of us worked, one of us ran off to see Jurassic World.  All in all a great day.  We even got to meet our AirBnB host Mike – great guy!

Day 16

Sigh, our last day in Utah.  We woke up early for a taco and eggs breakfast but still had to throw out food, unfortunately.  We ended up leaving Duck Creek Village at 8 am to make the two-hour drive to Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.  I have more on it in my next post!

Taos, New Mexico: Days 6-11

After a very early morning leaving Seattle, I landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Four beautiful women joined me in Albuquerque and we started our journey through the Land of Enchantment.  Here are some of the places we checked out!

Day 6

After arriving in Albuquerque, we hopped in our Chrysler Town and Country (aka Bessie) and headed to Taos.  We took the scenic route by stopping in El Sanctuario de Chimayo.  This spot was simply precious.  It is a small church that was built over a hole where a crucifix was found hundreds of years ago.  The crucifix was from Central America and every time the crucifix was taken out of the hole it mysteriously returned there.  The dirt surrounding the crucifix appeared to have healing powers for those who rubbed it on themselves. Very spiritual place but no pics sorry!

We left Chimayo and headed to Taos which is about 3 hours North of Albuquerque.  We stayed in a beautiful home right near Red Willow Farm where we would be volunteering for the week.  We had a quick dinner at Taos Ale House and rested up for the early morning ahead.

Day 7

One of the greenhouses at Red Willow Farm in Taos

One of the greenhouses at Red Willow Farm in Taos

This was the first day volunteering at Red Willow Farm.  We got there at 8 am and met the awesome assistant managers, Mayana and Zion.  We helped replant cucumbers and swiss chard for most of the morning.  Suddenly, I was a gardener and could plant anything!  I am definitely inspired to start an herb garden in my home.

View from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

View from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

After grabbing lunch at a local tamale shop, we went to the bridge that goes across the Rio Grande Gorge.  The Gorge was incredible and the bridge was terrifyingly high.  We grabbed a couple of goodies from the vendors that sell items next to the bridge.

Red River on the Enchanted Loop in Taos

Red River on the Enchanted Loop in Taos

One of the vendors told us about the Enchanted Circle so we decided to take it!  It was about an hour an 15 minute drive around the Carson National Forest and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The scene was breathtaking.  There were so many different colors and sights along the way.  We found a spot to stop at the Red River.  We hopped out of the car and just walked around for a bit to stretch our legs.

After the Enchanted Circle, we made a quick grocery run and made tacos for dinner to wrap up the night.

Day 8

My friend digging irrigation lanes for the corn on the farm

My friend digging irrigation lanes for the corn on the farm

We went back to the farm where we started helping to plant corn at a nearby school.  This was a doozy.  We were clearing irrigation lanes so that water could go through where the corn seeds would be planted.  This was a whole new level of manual labor I hadn’t quite experienced yet.  We were shoveling dirt and rocks and it was hot.  But we made it through because we are strong!  We also got to plant some of the seeds.  I loved that the seeds were prayed over and they taught us to say something kind when we put them in the ground.

Mud bath at Ojo Caliente Spa

Mud bath at Ojo Caliente Spa

After leaving the farm, we grabbed a quick lunch at home and went to Ojo Caliente, a hot springs spa about an hour away from Taos.  Each hot spring at the spa had a different healing property; for example, the Arsenic Pool was purported to be good for arthritis and digestive issues.  We hopped in a few before heading to the mud bath, the real highlight of the spa.  There was a spot to put on mud and let it cake on.  It felt like a full body exfoliant!  Awesome feeling.  The worst part were the stares we got.  A group of five black women walking through a spa is apparently an anomaly in Ojo Caliente.  Everyone looked at us as though we were monkeys at a zoo. Incredibly uncomfortable.  Beautiful place but in no rush to go back.

We left the springs and grabbed delicious pizza from Taos Outback Pizza.  We watched the game and had a chill night in.

Day 9

We went back to the farm to continue digging irrigation lanes for the blue corn.  The parent volunteer opened the ditch that allowed the water to flow through the lanes with corn in them – that was the most rewarding part of the farming!  We got to see our babies get watered and see how our work on the lanes really helped.  It was great.  Nerdy but great.  We took pictures with our coworkers for the week and said our goodbyes.

In front of one of the homes at Taos Pueblo

In front of one of the homes at Taos Pueblo (photo credit: WCM)

We headed out to lunch at Michael’s Kitchen after farming and got some delicious chili burgers.  On the suggestion of just about everyone we met, we headed to Taos Pueblo, the traditional neighborhood where the Taos tribe originally lived and still have homes.  All of Taos was amazing but the tour of the Pueblo was an especially rewarding experience.  Our tour guide Elliot was a college student who shared with us so much about his culture and his people.  Absolutely amazing.  The Pueblo is full of adobe homes that the whole community comes together to build and maintain.  There was also a river through the Pueblo that residents are able to drink from because of how well they care for the it.  We were able to shop a bit and take some photos before heading out.  Then we grabbed some ice cream from Taos Cow which was delish!!

Day 10

On our last day in Taos, we left our beautiful home for the week and visited the Earthship Museum, located in the world’s largest community of earthships with 75 homes.  Earthships are fully sustainable homes that are built using recyclable materials and use rain water/snow for drinking water and plumbing.  The museum was a bit disappointing since there was only one earthship we could see but the concept was interesting.

River at the end of the gorge on the way to Santa Fe

River at the end of the gorge on the way to Santa Fe

After leaving the museum, we tried to get to Santa Fe and somehow ended up driving down a gorge at a petrifying angle.  We had to stop and say a prayer before making it down the gorge.  By the grace of God, we made it and found a beautiful spot with water where some folks were rafting.  We then drove to Santa Fe to meet up with my friend and have lunch downtown.  We ended up with more stares from Santa Feans, which seemed to be normal at this point.  My friend showed us the historic St. Francis Cathedral that was downtown where there were neat relics and artifacts.  The downtown plaza was beautiful but the atmosphere/stares were a bit too much so we dipped out.

We made our way to Albuquerque where it was…less than easy to find something to do.  My brilliant friends used Tinder to discover that Nob Hill was the place to be so we grabbed some dinner there.  We also checked out The Board Game Library, an awesome cafe where you could also play board games.  After playing for a while we went back to the house.

Day 11

Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet

Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet

We got up nice and early and headed to the airport to drop off two of the ladies where sadly we had to say goodbye.  The rest of us headed to Moab, Utah with a stop at the Four Corners.  The drive to Four Corners took about 4 hours and another three hours to Moab.  At the Four Corners, we had to wait in line for at least 45 minutes before actually making it to the monument.  Once we got there we were able to be in four states at once!

Navajo frybread at the Four Corners

Navajo frybread at the Four Corners

We were able to try some Navajo frybread which was absolutely yummy!  It tasted like an elephant ear…but better. After the Four Corners, we were so hungry and of course there was so food for miles and miles.  After about an hour of stomach growls and angry yelling, we found a gas station that had a restaurant with delicious tacos.  Still not sure if they were actually delicious or if we were just insanely hungry. Either way it did the trick!

Milky Way over Delicate Arch at Arches National Park (photo credit: James Brandon)

Milky Way over Delicate Arch at Arches National Park (photo credit: James Brandon)

We drove another hour and a half to Moab, Utah where we checked into our hotel and took naps.  We got up when the next part of the group came in so we could go for a night hike through the Delicate Arch trail in Arches National Park.  We left around 10:30 pm; the trail was only about an hour each way and we could see every star in the sky.  Unfortunately, we could not figure out our cameras well enough to capture any photos but it was absolutely breathtaking.  There happened to be a photographer out there at the same time who snapped some amazing shots – we saw him as he was taking the photo above (Instagram: jamesdbrandon).  It was pretty great seeing the stars out in the desert so clearly.  Amazing.

Seattle, Washington: Days 1-6

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

I started off my journey through the Great American West in Seattle, Washington.  Because I am super cool and live on the edge when I travel, I went with my Mom.  It is one of her favorite cities after all so she was the perfect companion to tour this cool corner of America.  Here is a breakdown of the spots we hit!

Day 1

We arrived in Seattle pretty late and headed to Green Lake, a neighborhood in Northeast Seattle.  We had some nice pizza at a restaurant right by the park.  The area was gorgeous and had plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance.  We checked out a market in the area as well to grab breakfast food.

Day 2

Some of the fish offered at Pike's Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Some of the fish at Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Well this day started out very non blog worthy – Mom and I worked most of the day because well… that’s just how we operate.  We finally took a break late that afternoon to check out Pike’s Place, the iconic market in downtown Seattle.  First we checked out The Soundview Cafe, a fabulous restaurant overlooking the Puget Sound.  I had a delicious BBQ salmon sandwich and my mom had some fabulous prawns.  We headed to the farmer’s market at Pike’s Place where we had some AMAZING smoked salmon that we were able to buy to take back home.  If you go to Pike’s Place, please get that salmon!!  We ended up walking through the market which was full of huge, fresh fruit and interesting dried fruits.  Due to my severe obsession with chocolate-fruit combinations, Mom and I picked up some chocolate covered cherries which were divine!

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

After Pike Place, we headed to Kerry Park, an awesome spot for viewing the Seattle skyline.  It is a small overlook but has some great views.  Kerry Park is located in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood which has some gorgeous houses where Mom and I pretended we lived for the day.  The neighborhood had a nice garden in it that mesmerized us.  Fish, chocolate, cherries, skylines, and gardens – a great day!

Day 3

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Mom and I got up and tried to take a drive out to Olympic Park until we realized that it was FOUR hour drive away.  After that slight deterrence, we decided to head to Mount Rainier, which took us oh…four and a half hours to get to our trail.  But that was our fault.  We decided to take the scenic route and jump out for pictures every five minutes since it was so beautiful!  The drive really should have been only two hours.  Along the way we stopped by the lake above.

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Thanks to some the world of internet reviews, we decided to take the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in the Ohanapecosh area of the park.  The trail was only about a mile and a half and had some of the largest red cedar trees in the state.  It also had a creek running through the trail that a cable bridge where only one person could pass at a time.  Adventure!  Definitely a great trail that was easy to walk with plenty of sights along the way.  Some trees had to be more than 30 feet tall and just as wide.  We tried to act cool – failed miserably.

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

After our indulgence in nature we headed to a burger joint in downtown Seattle and grabbed some ice cream.  Delicious of course because, well… all food in Seattle is delicious.

Day 4

Underground city tour of Seattle.

Underground city tour of Seattle.

We started off the day by going down under!  Well down under Seattle.  There’s an entire tour of underground Seattle.  I won’t spoil the tour since I don’t work for the company who runs it but basically the whole city was built up to make the streets more level and reduce the hill grade.  There are still viable walkways under the current streets where we walked through and heard about the extremely amusing history of Seattle.  Great tour!

After checking out the underground city, we headed to Bainbridge Island.  We took the ferry which was a beautiful 40-minute ride across the Puget Sound.  We ate at Harbour on the Marina – great restaurant.  We had mussels and the Salmon Asian Bowl, all of it absolutely delicious.  We tried to take the Water View Trail that follows the island to get back to the ferry but we got tragically lost.  After much trial and error, we made it back to the ferry and headed to Green Lake for some Chinese food.

Day 5

My visit to the Space Needle

My visit to the Space Needle

On our final full day in Seattle, we had to visit the most important site in the city: the Space Needle!  Of course this was the only day where it rained and was under 70 degrees.  Go up a few hundred feet in the air and it feels like small pieces of ice are trying to make you less than great.  But we were not defeated!  We made it to the top and got some fantastic views of the city.  Definitely worth the harrowing weather we battled to make it up there.

Space Needle

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View from the top of the Space Needle

Day 6

We had an unnaturally early morning (got up at 3 am) to make it to the airport and leave this gem of a city.  I got on a 6 am flight for Albuquerque and Mom got on one for home.  On to Part 2 of the Great Western Adventure!