Now that I am fully vaccinated, I wanted to somewhat escape our current reality even for one week. The thought of no longer becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 made me feel a like celebrating during the second week after taking my second shot (when I am officially considered "fully vaccinated").
I have always been the type of person that values growth and experiences. I would much rather spend money on learning something new or meeting people from different places or cultures rather than buying expensive status symbols and material things.
I wanted to try Native American food or have really good pizza in Arizona, but I saw the Rudy's BBQ sign on the freeway, so I had to stop here instead. I absolutely loooooove their sides. Rudy's was part of my annual trips of Austin, Texas when I would visit for week for 5 consecutive years for SXSW. My colleague that would join me every year thought their brisket was "good enough," but their sides were amazing! None of the top barbecue places in Texas we tried had sides like Rudy's.
Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona was not originally a planned stop on my way to New Mexico. I saw the sign along the freeway and looked at the clock and thought I could fit in an hour or 2 to visit this national park. I create spreadsheets for my trips (such a nerd!), but I always allow spontaneity. This is how I like to roll when I travel.
The following morning, I visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park. You must pre-book before visiting. During these pandemic times, most places won't let people visit without advanced reservations or tickets so you need to be strategic when planning your vacations especially at indoor settings like a cave or museums. If you don't, you will be sadly disappointed that you won't be able to see these places. Research and reserve weeks or months in advance. I met people who could not get tickets into Carlsbad Caverns. This is one of the main attractions in New Mexico and I would be really sad and disappointed if I drove all this way and made the mistake of not making my reservation in advance.
Can you see my thrill, excitement, and happiness in my eyes? I was so happy to finally visit this cave which is one of the largest in the world. I went straight into the Big Room, which is "the best" chamber at Carlsbad Caverns if you're limited on time. Big Room is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at its highest point for some perspective. The Big Room is the largest underground chamber in North America and the thirty-first largest in the world! The immense size of the cave underground was a lot to take in. You can take the hike down taking the nature trail or go straight down to it by taking an elevator. I took the shortcut since I had so many places to see in one week. I wanted to explore all day, but there was still so much to see in New Mexico. I was told that your ticket grants you admission for 3 days inside the Caverns. I timed this visit to be on an early weekday to avoid crowds. There was hardly anyone along my path and it was very quiet inside. They tell people that noise easily travels through the cave so people were speaking really softly along the walking trail.
Two locals who worked at Carlsbad NP recommended hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park if I were to choose a hike in the area. I took the hike to the springs as recommend by the lady at the gift shop. She was a proud New Mexican who have me a lot of advice. I met friendly people along the route who also gave me travel advice. One lady from Albuquerque told me that there was much there. When I told her that I was staying in Santa Fe, her face lit up. There was one guy who was coming back from the hike that looked winded as he told me he was out of shape, but the hike wasn't too strenuous, but it was worth going to the springs.
That pen clipped on my shirt? That's my pepper spray to protect me from possible "Asian hate" during my trip. Luckily I had no use for it. Everyone was so kind -- I met locals and fellow travelers I had conversations with along the way.
Silly me. I thought I could fit in White Sands National Park, but I underestimated drive time between each attraction. I was only able to visit two national parks as by the time I would arrive at White Sands, they would be closed. I decided to drive to Cloudcroft for dinner and retire for the evening. You'll have to check the schedule for White Sands as they close the roads during missile testing.
Stayed at this budget motel. There weren't that many options in this mountain town. The interiors were really dated and not worth taking a photo. It was pretty bad, but it was clean and more comfortable than camping. Gotta turn the negative into a positive. It happened to be really close to Mad Jack's and within walking distance. The owner told me to get there early because a line forms before opening much like places in Texas.
Cloudcroft Brewing Company was a great place to buy canned beer from different local breweries. They were only about $2 each. I enjoyed the beer -- including pickle beer! Which was a novelty item. They recommended it as a must.
I wanted to stay and drink at the brewery. Even if I am vaccinated, I'm not ready to take my mask off and drink indoors. I brought so many cans to bring back home as a gift for someone (and myself).
The reason I stayed the night in Cloudcroft was to have some Central Texas barbecue. Some Texans I met in Cloudcroft told me that Mad Jack's Mountaintop Barbecue is better than any of the places in Lockhart, Texas where the pitmaster is from. Employees at Franklin BBQ told me the best barbecue is found at Smitty's in Lockhart which I've tasted several times before. Pitmaster James Jackson said that he has never tasted Franklin Barbecue, so he doesn't know if it is any good. His employee says Pitmaster James' barbecue is better than Franklin. Even someone I met in line told me Mad Jack's is better than all of the barbecue joints he has tried in Austin and Lockhart -- including Franklin BBQ. Pitmaster James is self taught and spoke to Aaron Franklin for advice via email.
The Texan I met in line recommended Trestle Recreation Area nearby where I could enjoy my barbecue outdoors. They have clean restrooms and you can take walk or hike after your lunch.
After lunch, I drove down to White Sands for about an hour for some photography and fun down the sand dunes. It's not as large as I thought it would be. I drove as far as I could with my car and parked it so I could walk around, take photos, and ride down the sand dunes.
My baby's last road trip before her engine started to fail when I brought her back home. So many memories and adventures over the past 9 years and I was sad to give her up. I am so glad that she made it back home and I didn't get stuck in New Mexico. My mechanic told me it was time to trade her in for a new one. When I bought this car, I swore I would drive her to ground and mission accomplished. It was a sweet feeling not have a car note for almost 5 years. I had a wealthy friend and what he told me stuck with me. This man owned a $20 million home and he told me German cars are a waste money. He had a Porsche and it was too expensive for him maintain. I had another friend who also had a Porsche and just to change a tire or repair the issue was $3,000. He ended up trading it in (for another Porsche). Another friend who had a BMW complained about the $1,000 to $2,000 he had to pay to repair a light issue. That just doesn't seem to make financial sense to me. I'm stuck with Toyota and Lexus as my car was inexpensive to maintain during her lifespan.
interesting !I wanted you to see at least one of the places I usually stay at. I like low budget motels with character (also clean and great reviews). I have found that mid-range chain hotels like a Hyatt can be filty for twice the price. This is the Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe, New Mexico which was away from the tourist zone and close to great restaurants and craft breweries. To me, it only makes sense to stay at a fancy hotel if you're spending most of your time inside the luxury hotel room or using the facilities of the beach resort. What the point of traveling and staying inside your hotel room? That's no fun. I value cleanliness and proximity to restaurants and siteseeing. I enjoy staying at Air BnBs as well during my travels either to meet locals or interesting places to stay in.
The other places I stayed at were budget motels with great reviews, but nothing charming about them. I would rather not share them as they weren't this cute. I really like parking my car near my motel room during road trips. That is why I prefer staying at interesting kitschy motels on road trips. Less walking to my room! Easy in and out.
And yes, I always bring my own bed sheets, a HEPA air filter, disinfection wipes, a hot water kettle, and tea bags for my comfort. Sometimes I bring a Ziploc bag for the TV remote. For this trip, I forget to bring Ziplocs so I used the ice bucket bag to shield me from the germiest item in a hotel room. I was not in a luxurious hotel, but I still had the conveniences of a clean bathroom and television. I recently stayed at a luxurious $800 a night hotel room and thought the experience was such a waste of money. Call me frugal and practical.
The close proximity to my car is key! The Silver Saddle Motel was my home base while I explored Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and northern New Mexico. I figured staying in one place would decrease my exposure to COVID-19 and make it easier by only disinfecting my room once.
I always research "where chefs eat" when I travel and one local chef loves the breakfast burritos at Sunrise Family Restaurant. It seems like a very "locals only" spot. I ordered my breakfast burrito with chorizo "Christmas style" -- half red and half green chili. Apparently the breakfast burrito was invented in New Mexico so it was on my "must try" list. They asked me if I wanted to hold it while I eat it. I told him to do whatever you want to it. He made me a wet burrito as his recommendation.
I will stress the importance of advanced reservations before traveling during COVID-19. I was not able to get tickets to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, which is the top attraction in Santa Fe, so I "settled" for the next best thing... the better thing! I decided to visit her home and inspiration for her paintings for about 40 years! She traveled between New York City and her home here in Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. I can see why she fell in love with the New Mexican landscape. You can take a hike in Ghost Ranch, but you cannot visit her home which is operated by the museum for scheduled tours. I took the easy, but scenic hike and walked through the labrynth. You probably might recognize this area from the film City Slickers.
When you are in Santa Fe, do not miss Bandelier National Monument. You will get to hike and climb into ancient Ancestral Puebloan cave dwellings. If you have time, visit Valles Calderas National Park, the volcanic national park next door. I would schedule these back-to-back since they are close by. You'll probably want to try the local hot chocolate after your hike at Bandelier. The cookie and pastry they gave me was stale.
While I was walking the tourist zone at Old Town Santa Fe, I saw the Five and Dime General Store. This is where Anthony Bourdain ate frito pie at the place that claims to have invented it. He bashed it on his show, Parts Unknown, and later backtracked his words. They were closed so I wasn't able to try it. I have feeling he hated the feeling walking into this tourist trap of the store.
The craft breweries are open for indoor drinking, but I decided to again buy and drink in the safety of my motel room. In before times, I would much rather drink at the bar and chat up the bartenders. My motel was located in a great location! I recommend trying the award-winning Alien Burger (if a green chili cheeseburger is on your must-try list) and grabbing some beer to-go at Second Street Brewery. The beertender recommended their brewery at Rowley's Farmhouse Ales both near my motel.
New Mexico is know for its creative spirit and art. I drove past the famous Canyon Road to see the art galleries and decided to spend more time at SITE Santa Fe, the contemporary art museum and neighboring art galleries. I am fan modern design and enjoyed perusing their gift shop.
I recommend getting lost at the Petroglyphs National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit the visitor center for maps and advice on which sites to visit. There are some urban volcanoes and several other sites to see petrogyphs. The ranger recommend Piedras Madreas Canyon. This one has the highest concentration of petroglyphs. If you don't need a map or a stamp in your Natioanl Park Passport, you can go straight to this urban hike.
I met a retired couple from Los Angeles or more specifically North Hollywood along the trail. They moved to Albuquerque about a year ago. They wanted to be closer to hiking and live in a Pueblan-style home. They took the tramway up thelocal mountain and got sold with the view and hiking opportunities up there. They told me to go, but I was afraid of possibly catching COVID-19 on the enclosed tram up and how they told me is usually very crowded. On Trip Advisor, the tram ride up the mountain is the top attraction in Albuquerque.
I was able to go in but was shewed away as they were sanitizing the pews after mass.
Red chile enchiladas at Dulan's Pharmacy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was the recommended dish. I was a bit enchiladad out. By the time they gave me the food, it ended up being room temperature. From the looks of the parking lot, this is where the moneyed set ate with the Range Rovers and Audis I spotted.
The beauty of travel is meeting new people and having conversations with them. I enjoy my solo time, but I am also a people person. I was to talking to some rangers and they told me to visit Petrified National Park. I wasn't complete sold on this park with all the options to see, but they told me I had to and there was more to see than the Grand Canyon. I just envisioned some old logs laying on the ground. The highlight is the striking lanscape of the Painted Desert and the other worldliness of the Blue Mesa. My mind was blown exploring this park. I would spend more time on it and visit in the morning. I visited close to the end of the day so I didn't get to do much walking and exploring other than driving around and taking photographs.
For breakfast (in my car), I ordered the eggs benedict and sticky buns from Brandy's Restaurant and Bakery in Flagstaff.
Located near Flagstaff, Arizona, you can visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Park and Wutpaki National Monument in one morning. You can also fit in Walnut Canyon National Monument and visit three national parks in one day. Since Walnut Canyon also had cave dwellings, I decided to skip it and spend more time in Sedona spiritual "vortex" hiking and buying someone who really likes souvenirs her "black rock."
If you haven't been part of the United States, it's definitely worth exploring. The food is different, the people are friendlier than LA (much like the people I met in Utah)... so to me, an enjoyable travel experience.
If you're able to bring a high clearance vehicle, it would allow you explore places I couldn't with my car. I wanted to visit the UNESCO Chaco Culture National Historic Park or the New Mexico badlands, but that would require a vehicle that can handle unpaved roads really well.
I recommend planning a "must see" list and find out if you need advanced reservations months in advance and definitely buying a National Parks annual pass for free admission and parking at our national parks and in places like Sedona.
Enjoy New Mexico. Much like New Orleans, I left my heart in Santa Fe.
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This LA Park in West Hills, California is the former vacation home and retirement residence of William Warren Orcutt, who discovered the prehistoric fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits. It's a nice escape as it's not too busy during the week. I spent about an hour walking around mostly alone on the nature trail. There are park benches and picnic table throughout the property. I saw a woman practicing tai-chi near the empty creek.
If you're looking for alternate park during Covid, this would be a good option as it seems a bit hidden and unpopular -- and the restrooms are clean. It's a a peaceful place to walk, run, meditate, and learn about Los Angeles history.
The only way to visit Zion National Park is through scoring a shuttle seat. I was told tickets are released at 9 am for the following day and sold out in 10 minutes. Zion has become the new Coachella. I didn't want to go (ever) because I heard it's the busiest park and I definitely didn't want to sit in a shuttle with other people. For me, crowds and lines ruin the National Park experience. The alternative Zion National Park experience is Kolob Canyons. I spoke to locals who would much rather visit Kolob Canyons over the main park. It's less crowded and there are beautiful hiking trails and scenic views in this area as well.
I originally planned this trip last year for my birthday. It didn't work out because I have family who like to join me on my road trips. I ended up focusing my big birthday last year on Northern California which I don't regret. I loved everything about Northern California -- the redwoods, the coast, and the hikes through the redwoods and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
I've long held the tradition of leaving town for my birthday or not working on my birthday. With an expiring national park pass in hand, I decided to head to Utah for my birthday. It was going to be a solo trip where I have come to really appreciate, but my mom and stepdad have had Covid cabin fever so they asked if they can come along for the ride.
We ended up renting this SUV because my mom's car broke down in Brian Head due to an oil leak despite them reassuring me that their older car was in good condition to take mountain driving. They insisted on taking their older car instead of my car or their newer car. I learned that making sure your car is checked by a reliable mechanic before traveling is essential or renting a newer car for this trip. You might face the stress of calling 15 rental companies just to find a rental. I finally found 1 car in the entire 60 mile radius that was available. It killed an entire afternoon of our trip trying to find a solution to a broke down vehicle. Potentially breaking down in an area without cell service or possibly not finding a rental car can ruin your entire vacation.
I've learned over the years that it's quite challenging traveling with other people. Things don't go as planned or things that you maybe could have done solo doesn't work out because other people you're traveling with don't want to do what you want to do. Especially with Covid, when you have two other people to care for, it's very stressful. I was constantly telling my mom and stepdad to be safe throughout our journey.
There's the mask issue that seems to have become a political statement. From my experience, Republicans don't like to wear masks -- of course, probably not everyone, but the ones I've spoken to and rolls their eyes at the mention of a Dr. Fauci. For whatever reason, they don't feel the need to protect themselves or others or maybe the government doesn't have the right to mandate wearing a mask and impinging on their freedom. Maybe it's more of machismo for other and a sign of weakness. For whatever reason it is, it worries me to be around maskless people these days.
My stepdad is a staunch Republican and I had to constantly remind him to wear the mask, santize his hands, wear gloves when pumping gas, and to keep his distance from people. In Southern Utah, there are plenty of locals who don't wear masks. You'll find restaurants packed with people indoors and outdoors, and some servers not wearing masks. You might feel locals stare at you inside gas stations for wearing a mask.
I learned that traveling to this area, it would be better to stay in one motel room to use as your home base to explore. It's too tiring to constant pack, unpack, and disinfect each motel room surface... and set up your beddings (I brought my own towel, pillow, sheet and blanket). We moved around 4 times during our visit because I wanted to stay in different areas for one reason or another. I find that staying in motels were better where I could park our car in front of the motel room instead of traveling long hallways in a hotel exposing ourselves to other people.
The best viewpoint is "Sunrise Point" in Bryce Canyon. We visited at dusk and left the park soon after. Unfortunately, we could not find "Sunrise Point" again when we returned on a weekday to experience the park less crowded. We only found the "Sunset Point" viewpoint. You probably can skip the other viewpoints and spend more time (maybe 2 to 3 hours) at "Sunrise Point" hiking. My favorites were Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Natural Bridge viewpoints. The most popular trail is the Navajo Loop to the Queen's Garden trail. The least crowded easy trail according to the park ranger is the Bristlecone Loop trail at the end of the scenic drive. You'll have to drive all the way and stop at the viewpoints on the way down.
I usually don't do berry pies, but this was satisfying. It wasn't as sweet as the Bryce Canyon Pines, but tasted freshly made with the crust being still crisp. There's a grocery store in Kanab called Glazier's Market that sells an awesome unsweetened whole apple pie. It reminded me about the unsweetened apple pie in Julian.
Panguitch Lake was recommended for fall foliage peeping by someone staying at our motel. It was towards the end of their peak, but still impressive. The Cedar City visitor center can point you to the active fall foliage areas. As well as must stop places to visit and eat. I am sad because we didn't get to try the highly recommended cinnamon rolls at Parowan Cafe in Parowan and to see the fall foliage around Yankee Meadow Reservoir because our car broke down.
A must see is Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Kanab. If you're up for it, you can go sledding or sandboarding down the hill for $25. I couldn't justify the cost if I was not spending the whole day sandboarding and didn't want to make my mom wait around for me while I sandboard. It was too hot that day that I would probably last 2 climbs up the sandy hill. People also bring their ATVs to the park.
Grand Canyon North Rim originally was not part of our agenda but my mom and stepdad wanted to go. When seeking advice from the BLM visitor center, they told me it was worth checking out. At this time during the year, it's usually snowing. It was worth the drive to see a different perspective. There are other viewpoints you can enjoy, but it was getting late and the road I heard was twisty and curvy. My mom didn't want to go. There's a water shortage so expect to go in a port-o-potty which my mom hated. There's a gas station on the way back out of the park that has a cleaner port-o-potty.
The Grand Canyon ended up being a nice surprise. I spotted a bison on the side of the road and this time of the year is beautiful with plenty of fall foliage along the road to gawk over. I definitely recommend visiting this quieter side of the Grand Canyon for a different experience.
One visitor I spoke to at our motel in Kanab said she got teary eyed watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon in Cape Royal. She also told me that winning the lottery for "the Wave" is tough online and even showing up in the morning at the Kanab visitor center hoping to score a spot. I also heard from her that you would be hiking on sand. If you want to try to score a spot for "the Wave" you hopefully are in good shape.
The road trip to Utah was fun and enjoyable despite the car breaking down and Covid. The people of Utah are different from LA and unusally nice. They are the type of people that go out of their way to help. The kind of people you would want to be your friend. When we broke down on the road, there were several people, maybe 3 cars, that stopped to ask if they can help us. I'm not sure how many people would do that in LA. That is something I was remember about Utah and its locals.
We spent about 5 days in Utah, but there's still so much more to expereince and maybe one day I will return to experience. Utah will always hold a special place in my heart and I can't wait to return again one day. The thought of moving to Utah did cross my mind. Perhaps, I'll return again for that cinnamon roll, a longer hike, or sandboarding on my way up to Yellowstone one day.
Ever since my visit to the original site of McDonald's now a museum owned by the Japanese owner of the Juan Pollo chain, I've wanted to try his rotissertie chicken. The chicken exceeded my expectations -- especially his potato salad. If you see one when you're in San Bernardino County, you'll have to try it.
Living Zoo and Gardens. I struggle with my zoo visits and seeing animals in captivity, but you're pretty limited in things to do. There's hiking, but it's hot right now in the desert. There's a hiking trail you can attempt when the weather is cooler. For $25 for my visit, I wouldn't go back. I still remember my visit with my friends taking a picture with sign back when I was 18. Glad to finally make it inside to check it out.
Hello, I'm Anne.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling in another country. I live to eat (good food) and travel!