Camping

Zion and Grand Canyon National Park

I went to a work conference in Las Vegas and decided to get a one way ticket to take advantage of some time out west. After the conference, a friend and I planned to drive to the Grand Canyon, then visit my family in Phoenix and fly home.

Last minute we decided to stop at Zion National Park in Utah. We thought it was somewhat on the way and would be a great spot for a picnic lunch. Boy were we wrong.

I didn’t know how magnificent Zion was and we ended up spending all day exploring until the moon was up.

The park offers a hop on/hop off tram which is such a nice way to see the park! We got off at almost every stop and walked around a bit. I loved seeing the Weeping Rock. We also walked as far as we could into the Narrows before we had to turn around before dark. Trekking through ankle-deep water, the Narrows had me in awe at every turn. I absolutely want to make it back to Zion for more hiking and camping.

The three patriarchs at Zion

Weeping rock at Zion

View of water sprinkling down from Weeping Rock

The Narrows

The Narrows

Super moon above Zion on our way out of the park

We grabbed dinner at a restaurant in the small town where we parked the rental and headed toward the Grand Canyon.

We drove through the dark seeing countless deer which was both amazing and stressful.  We made it to our reserved campsite on the North Rim after midnight and set our hammocks up as quietly as possible.

So, we greeted the Canyon in the dark but woke up to its gorgeous sunrise. Knowing we only had the day and would be heading to Phoenix, we drove our car along the trials, stopping a viewpoints or trials as we wanted.


Again, we couldn’t stay away from the beauty of Mother Nature. We stayed later than planned for the sunset and a couple beers at the lodge.


So that was my beautiful, crazy 48 hours at Zion and Grand Canyon. It was worth it but I wish I could spend more time there.

Have you ever been to either park? What other National Parks are must-sees? Tell me in the comments below.

Road Trip to Mustang Island

“No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

The greatness of the world is never more obvious to me than when the ocean is in sight. I took a three-day weekend to see the beach for the first time in a few years. I wanted to camp on the beach and I wanted to go alone – both first-times for me. While I didn’t mind the solo trip, I don’t think I would go camping by myself without at least a furry four-legged friend to tag along.

So I left Dallas around 8 a.m. with a car full of camping gear and a hungry stomach because every Texan knows to swing by the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery on any travels through West. After chowing down on both a savory and a sweet kolache, it was just me, the open road and my iTunes library.

I was ready to stretch my legs again in San Antonio and stopped at the Japanese Tea Garden. It was nice, but much of the park was under construction and the waterfall was not running. You shouldn’t go out of your way to visit here until the construction is complete.

Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio

Path through the Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio

Then, about two and half hours later, I was driving on a freeway over the ocean on my way to Mustang Island State Park to set up camp! I paid for primitive camping right on the beach and drove my little sedan down to pick out a spot. I saw a soft sand sign and knew I had to turn around and settle on a spot among the crowd. In my efforts, I was stuck in the sand. Fortunately, after a frantic call to the office just before it closed, a park ranger helped tow my car back to more compacted sand. I was so embarrassed, but he was not at all disapproving like I expected. In fact, he was very kind and came back to check on me a couple times after finding out I was camping alone.

DSC_0004Finally back to business, I pitched my tent and headed straight for the water. It was then, playing in the waves and watching the pelicans, that I knew this was all worth it. Getting stuck in the sand, driving more than six hours, getting sand all inside my car and tent – none of it mattered. The ocean was a refreshing temperature in contrast to the hot Texas sun and despite the crowd of campers, there weren’t many people in the water. I definitely prefer Mustang Island over some other coastal areas I’ve visited.

After sunset, I cooked myself a DELICIOUS Ahi Tuna steak and some fresh shrimp I picked up from Port A Seafood Co. They have a great variety of fresh seafood at decent prices and it’s only a 15 minute drive from the state park.

Then I went to sleep to the sound of waves and scent of salty sea air. The next day, I didn’t have much food left in the cooler and I wasn’t sure if I could spend another night alone with the sand and the wind so I packed up camp a day early.

Before heading back to Dallas, I booked a tour with Kohootz Dolphin Encounters and it was very much worth the $25. The small two-deck boat cruised around for a couple hours, providing wonderful views of jumping dolphins and the Lydia Ann Lighthouse. My favorite was watching the dolphins surf and play on the waves a large ship made. If you’re ever in the Port Aransas area, you have to do this! It was my favorite part of the trip.

While I have no desire to go camping alone again, this trip was very worthwhile. I had both some much needed relaxation and fun adventures along the way.

Two Guns, Arizona - Route 66 Ghost Town

Kicks on Route 66: Eastern Arizona

I’ve always appreciated a vacation where I come home feeling smarter and I had some great history and science lessons on my trip to Arizona last weekend. My dad, brother and I took a two day road trip along Historic Route 66 in eastern Arizona.

I let my dad plan the trip and was just happy to tag along, but experienced so much more than expected from hiking along 13th century homes of Native Americans to admiring 225 million year-old fossilized trees. There’s so much I want to share about this trip that this post would be all over the place, so let me present this to you as a road trip guide for amazing sights you won’t see anywhere else.

1. Walnut Canyon National Monument

We left Phoenix early in the morning and headed north for Walnut Canyon where we hiked the Island Trail and Rim Trail. Be sure to take the Island Trail, you’ll trek up and down hundreds of stairs, but the views are worth it. You’ll walk along several canyon homes of the Sinagua people from more than 700 years ago. Plenty are in great shape and let you imagine what life in the canyon was like. It was a hot, sunny day while we were hiking, but you’ll feel how cool the canyon shelters are and see the thick, black carbon stains of many fires that kept the Sinagua warm in the winters hundreds of years ago.

2. Two Guns, Arizona

Two Guns was as tourist stop that flourished and died with Route 66. It’s now a ghost town off I-40 where you can find ruins of a roadside zoo, campsite and gas station. This was an impromptu stop along the road between the canyon and crater, but fun to explore and photograph.

3. Barringer’s Crater

About a mile wide, 570 feet deep and 50,000 years young, this meteorite crater is known to be the best preserved in the world. Explore the museum onsite to learn about the science of meteorites, but be sure to take the 30 minute ranger tour. The ranger will tell you the story behind the discovery of the crater and its namesake which is just as interesting, if not more, than the science that created it in the first place. The largest known fragment of the meteorite is on exhibit for looking AND touching so…  that’s cool!

Barringer's Crater in Meteor City, Arizona

4. Standin’ On the Corner in Winslow, Arizona

This one is self explanatory if you know of a little band called The Eagles. It took some convincing from my dad, but I’m glad we stopped to strike a pose before we hit the road again.

DSC_0117

5. Homolovi State Park

We set up camp at Homolovi State Park in Winslow, Arizona and while the campsites are nothing spectacular, the pueblo ruins are worth the stay and give you first-hand look at the history of this land. Homol’ovi is a Hopi word for “place of the little hills,” and there are two excavated sites you can hike around. It gives you a view at how large these communities were, housing around 700 people, and there are shards of pottery dating back to the 13th century everywhere you look. It was amazing to find pieces of pottery scattered about with different textures, colors and designs (please don’t take any home with you, though!). If you take the rocky hike past Homol’ovi site II you can find some great petroglyphs as well.

We also ran into several critters on our hike near dusk. We saw jackrabbits everywhere, a couple bats, a young rattlesnake and a busy beehive.

6. Petrified Forest National Park

The next morning, we made the drive to the long awaited Petrified Forest, giving us a peek into the environment of the Triassic period. There are several different hikes where you can view the magnificent colors, and sometimes crystals, of petrified wood from 225 million years ago when Arizona was a swampy jungle home to giant reptiles and early dinosaurs.

After the Giant Logs trail just outside of the museum, we took the Blue Mesa Trail, a one mile loop which had absolutely breath taking sites – or maybe the loss of breath was just from the steep climb. I left my camera in the car for this hike, but the trail takes you through beautiful, colorful badlands scattered with petrified wood – be sure to take this trail if you visit the park.

After two full days hiking in the sun, we were exhausted and ready to head back to Phoenix. We didn’t make it to the Painted Desert, another site at the national park. Though, this is a park I would visit again and be sure to explore some other trails next time.

This was a short road trip that I’ll remember forever and has given me an itch to travel more of the Historic Route 66 and nearby sites. I definitely recommend the route above, but feel free to change it up or extend the trip if you can – I’d love to hear about it too. Have you been to any of these places or taken a road trip down Route 66? Comment below!