Road Trip Day 15 – Austin, TX to Harlingen, TX

George Washington monument at UT Austin

Retracing mom's footsteps at UT Austin

Dog park near Barton Springs in Austin, TX

Texas high school football billboards


Friday Night Lights!


Road Trip Day 14 – Dallas, TX to Austin, TX

Started and spent most of the day around Dallas/Carrollton/Arlington in Texas. Met up with Aunt Silvia and family, including four dogs and a pack of hens. After breakfast, I got a driving tour of downtown Dallas (it was so nice to be in the passenger seat for once!) and then Tia Silvia and I visited the Dallas Arboretum.  We only had time to walk through half of the park, but that half was beautifully ornamented with pumpkins and other autumn decorations. (The pictures are on my iPad and will have to be uploaded later.)

After the arboretum, we headed into Arlington for lunch with my cousin Fidel who is doing really great work counseling gifted underprivileged and first generation students. I hadn’t realized how much of the family was doing work in education, but was even more surprised to hear about much the state of Texas supports it education system. For example, public education is provided (free) for pre-kindergarten kids; and any Texas student who finishes in the top 10% of his/her class is guaranteed acceptance to a UT school ( with a few exceptions for Austin of course).

One thing that did not surprise me was to hear that all public school students are required to say not only the pledge of allegiance to the USA, but also a pledge of allegiance to Texas.  When I asked my mom if she remembered it, she recited the pledge right there and then with no hesitation.  These Texans are nuts.

Rojo, my favorite of Tia Silvia's four dogs (after her dip in the pool)

Zoe escapes the heat in Tia Silvia's pool

After incredible tamales from the Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory, run by a woman with the cutest Dallas accent that I just wanted to bottle up, I got on the road headed south to try to make some ground toward Harlingen.  Ended up in North Austin at a super seedy Red Roof Inn.   We got in the room quickly and I stationed Zoe at the door to keep an ear out for creeps.  Needless to say, we were out the door the next morning quicker than any other morning so far.

Road Trip Day 13 – El Paso TX to Dallas, TX

Started the morning with a walk around my cousin’s neighborhood in El Paso, still marveling about how much it looks like a neighborhood near my high school back in Southern California. Until you look up and see the mountains, that is, or feel that it’s almost 90 degrees at 8 in the morning!  After the walk with Zoe, Java came out to play. They would run about and jump on each other and roll around for about 5 mins, then both sit and rest for 1, then start all over again.  At only 4 months old, Java is almost Zoe’s size… that dog is going to be huge one day!

Zoe and Java

Carlo made me breakfast (thanks Carlo!) and then Zoe and I were off.  This was going to be a long long day on the road. I had a bit of a scare early on, and thought the trip might be cut short, when the road led to a Border Patrol inspection station. Since I had not planned to leave the country, and didn’t leave the country, I didn’t have my passport with me. What happens when you have no passport at a border inspection station? Turns out, they didn’t even ask me for ID; just a few questions about what the heck I was doing there. The officer seemed surprised, but not suspicious!, that I was travelling alone, and then a bit envious that I was doing this on vacation time. He said he wanted to move to New England and would do so the minute a Border Patrol station was opened up there… somehow, I think it’ll be awhile.

Maybe an hour into the trip, we came upon the Union Pacific railroad; all the containers were closed so I couldn’t see what they were shipping… As I passed, I imagined the same train 80 years ago with with a bunch of stow-aways inside and on top of the train.. and one in particular strumming away on his guitar.

Union Pacific train

There’s a whole lotta nothing along US-10 from El Paso to Dallas/FTW, though the landscape does change quite a bit. There was a lot of desert for a long time, similar to the last miles of New Mexico. The area has been having a serious drought, enough so that there were road signs asking people to conserve water to help the wildlife. I expected to see oil rigs, but was surprised to first see growing clusters of wind farms. First there was a cluster of maybe a couple dozen turbines, none of which were moving; but then we got into Sweetwater, which called itself “the wind energy capitol of the world” and must have had hundreds of turbines. I should have taken a hint that all the turbines were moving.. this area also had serious gusts of wind that forced me to keep both hands firmly on the steering wheel just to keep going straight!

Just east of Pecos, the first oil rigs started popping up and then the numbers only grew. As we drove into this old oil region, I was excited to see the highway signs for towns like Odessa, Midland, Howard, Abilene, all familiar to me through “Friday Night Lights” (very interesting book, and great TV show). I decided to drive through the town of Odessa, hoping to see some signs of the incredible high school football culture described in “Friday Night Lights”.  I was disappointed not to see anything related to the football described in the book, but did find the town exactly as described otherwise: bleek, empty, and long past its glory days.  After about 10 minutes of driving through dusted, weathered, monochrome city blocks, we turned around and headed back to the freeway.

Just before Abeline, we took a detour to Buffalo Gap, an old frontier village restored into a historic landmark . Unfortunately we got there after closing, so we weren’t able to explore much.  It seemed pretty similar to the 1880s town we passed a week ago in South Dakota.  Had I been hungrier and not in a rush to get to Dallas, I would have stayed to eat at Perini Ranch Steak House, which is supposed to be well known and very very good.  I’m kicking myself a bit for not hanging around for a bite!

Zoe showing her profile at Buffalo Gap

Sunset (sorta) in Texas ranch land near Buffalo Gap.

After Buffalo Gap, it was one final 3 hour leg into Dallas. I was a little nervous because my iPad batteries were running low, and I really didn’t want to have to resort to the paper maps so late at night. Despite a necessary detour due to construction on the tangle of freeways in Dallas, we got to the hotel with a whopping 1% battery life left! Needless to say, the iPad is charging as I type.

Dallas freeways designed by a "doodler"

Road Trip Day 12 – Santa Fe, NM to El Paso, TX

Had some chores to do today, Zoe finally got her stitches out, and I finally have cash again! After those necessaries, we took some time to play at a local dog park. I think Zoe was a bit confused about where the grass was, and it seems that the dogs in New Mexico aren’t as friendly as those back home. Social Zoe, who makes friends on every block back home, couldn’t get any dogs to play with her and finally decided to head back to the car.

Zoe at a dog park in Santa Fe, NM

We stopped for lunch in Truth or Consequences, basically because the town name  sounded cool, and ate at the Happy Belly Deli.

Road sign

Got into El Paso early evening and got to catch up with my cousin and his wife.  We went for dinner at “The Little Diner”, made famous apparently by George and Laura Bush, who also ate here the last (only?) time they were in El Paso.

After dinner, we went over to Bob-Os, a family fun center, and played in the go-karts and arcades.  At the end of the night we had earned enough tickets to get matching bracelets!

Road Trip Day 11 – Walsenburg, CO to Santa Fe, NM

I am so happy to be back in an area with great Mexican food again! We landed tonight in Santa Fe, New Mexico after stops at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls, and Taos.  I decided to check in early tonight since we have some chores to do in Santa Fe tomorrow, and had a relaxing evening in the hotel room.  I got some hot tub time while Zoe took a(nother) nap.

For dinner I went to The Pantry Restaurant (looked up on Trip Advisor) and immediately loved the place.  It had a very local and neighborly feel, kind of like Side Street Cafe back in Costa Mesa.. oh, and the food was amazing. I had beef brisket tacos and and they were delicious.  If I was staying another night, I would go to this restaurant again.

Earlier in the day…

Zoe seemed to wake up this morning feeling the spirits of the area.  In particular, she found a feather outside that must have been possessed.  The housekeeping staff must have thought I was nuts as they watched me take 15 minutes of video of “Zoe and the Feather”.  Zoe later proved to them that she is a normal dog when she ran into the room they were cleaning and started jumping on the bed :-/

Zoe trying to get a feather to play with her?

After a decent breakfast at the hotel, we headed over to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  The drive there was beautiful once again and I continue to be amazed about how much open land there still is.  When we got to the park I was a little but underwhelmed by the size of the dunes, but it must only look small because it has a huge mountain range (Sangre de Cristo) as a back drop.  It didn’t take long to realize that I had seriously underestimated the size of these diunes, as Zoe and I huffed and puffed our way to the “top”.  I have to admit we never made it to the real peak because well honestly, we probably couldn’t have.  We had our sights set on what we thought was the peak and used all of our water and energy to get there, only to realize the there was another peak in the distance which would have required another 1.5 miles of uphill hiking in the sand.  I took one look at Zoe and and she took a long look at me and we agreed to dig holes in the sand to keep cool instead of continuing the climb.

Zoe and I at the pretender peak of the park.

Zoe digging holes to keep cool.

On the way down from the “peak” Zoe made a bunch of friends including a few kids with a sled.  They tried to get her to sit in the sled and slide down the dune with them, but she didn’t think it was much fun.  She preferred to curl up in people’s shadows.  Once she realized we were headed back to the parking lot, she ran all the way back to the car leaving me in the dust and to walk alone.

Out of the Sand Dunes National Park, we took a short hike up to the Zapata Falls.  It was a pretty easy climb and very rewarding.  The falls weren’t huge, but it was neat to have to climb upstream and into a small cave to see them.  Unfortunately it was here that I realized my camera wasn’t working anymore.  It must have been drowned in grains of sand while I was rolling down one of the dunes.

Continuing the trek onto Santa Fe, we stopped in San Luis (an adorable and tiny town) for lunch, and then drove through Taos.  Sadly, the Taos Pueblo was closed.  I learned later that there is a huge festival at the end of the week and the pueblo is closing early everyday in order to prepare.  Driving through the rest of Taos was very scenic but I didn’t feel like stopping to walk around.  It seems like a ritzy kind of place with beautiful, but expensive art.  I did make one stop at the end of town to buy a new camera.  I am probably the only tourist to come to Taos and then shop at WalMart.

It’s about 1.5 hours from Taos to Santa Fe, where I had decided to check in for this night, and it is a very beautiful drive along the Rio Grande.  It was too dangerous to enjoy the view while driving on this narrow and winding road, so I had to pull over a lot to take it all in.

Driving along the Rio Grande

Road Trip Day 10 – Sundance Trails Ranch to Walsenburg, CO

The last morning at the ranch started with another great breakfast.  This time pancakes (choice of plain and oatmeal-raisin), scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and fruit.  I ate up two shares of all of it since I knew it would be my last meal 😦  Zoe and I said our good-byes and packed up the car.  Jack, the dog who lives at the lodge, stayed by our side through every trip to the car.  I think he has a sweetspot for Zoe (or at least for all her goodies) and will really miss her.

Other than the meals, I think I will really miss being called “ma’am”!

Leaving Sundance Trails Ranch

From the ranch, we headed over to Boulder — apparently referred to by the rest of the Coloradans as “the People’s Republic of Boulder” or “20 square miles surrounded by reality”.  It really is a beautiful place and I can see why so many Californians move here.  As I start to daydream about what it might be like to live in Colorado I keep reminding myself how many miles it is to the nearest ocean.

In Boulder, I spent some time time catching up with an former colleague and friend while Zoe dug a hole to nap in in their yard.  Then we headed further south to catch the Garden of the Gods just as the sun was setting.

The sun went down way to quickly so we weren’t able to explore the whole park, but it’s didn’t take much to appreciate once again the majesty of these natural rock formations.

We drove a couple hours after the sun went down and landed ourselves in Walsenburg, southern Colorado.  As far as I could tell there ain’t much here.  Tomorrow’s plan is to head across to the Great Sand Dunes National Park before cutting south again and driving into New  Mexico.

Road Trip Day 9 – Sundance Trails Ranch

Karen and her horse Monty in the Roosevelt National Forest

Today we did an all-day ride that was absolutely incredible; a peaceful, harrowing and extremely rewarding trip all in one.  It was a 2.5-ride ride out including a trek down a very steep rocky hill which we later learned used to be called “suicide slide”.  On foot, this is the type of climb I’d probably do by scooting downhill on my butt.  It’s a very different experience doing it 5 feet above ground on a thousand-pound horse!  The scariest part was that while going down the horses had to also cut tight corners in order to avoid crashing into huge boulders… and we had to keep watch on our own legs and hope the horses didn’t slip and smash us into the rocks!

Getting up and down those climbs safely (minus one small incident with a tree) made me really appreciate the power and coordination of those horses.  The wranglers must really trust in those horses to put such inexperienced riders on those hills!

Once through the rocks we got to trot and lope through beautiful grassy valleys while looking back at the hills we has just conquered.  We passed a group of hikers and I felt very grateful to be on a horse instead of my own feet.  Lunch was served when we reached  Elk Horn Falls.  More than the horses, our own legs were due for a break.  Our wrangler, Victor, had packed us sandwiches, cookies and apples, all of which went down very easy.  After an hour we convinced Victor to let us stay out and extra half hour so we could continue to lay on the rocks and stare into the sky.

At Elk Horn Falls

My riding group today: Diane, myself, Karen and David

The ride back to the lodge was supposed to be easier than the ride out, but we had quite an experience on the way back in.  My horse, who had been great on the way out, remembered that he was the grumpy horse and starting picking fights again.  I had to be on high alert for those ears pointing back.  At one point, while we were loping, another horse apparently came to close and grumpy Gauge and hope horse gave it a jumping side kick while in full stride.  Luckily, Karen is an experienced rider and jumped to the side just in time.  Our wrangler was surprised at it all and especially that Karen and I both stayed on our horses.  It was the best compliment that I got all week; he said “we might just have some real cowgirls here!” (I think he was mostly relieved that no one was hurt..)

After the ride, all four of us headed (more like “hobbled”) straight for the hot tub.  Boy, did we need it.  We stayed in there until dinner time and even then we were all a little sore.  Lucky us, dinner was a nice reward: grilled steak, summer squash, mashed potatoes, ceasar salad and dinner rolls, with carrot cake for dessert.

Zoe update

Zoe had come down to the corrals today and followed us all the way out to the outer gate before deciding to turn back to the lodge.  I kept at the back of the group so she could see me, and it looked like she was very conflicted standing at the gate looking us us, then at the lodge, then back at us again.  Eventually she made the right decision to head back to the lodge.  We missed her but all agreed she might have gotten herself trampled on this ride.

Instead, Zoe found another way to get comfortable.  When I got back to my room I saw that she had found and emptied her bag of treats and decided that the second bed in my room would now be hers.

Zoe claims her bed for an afternoon nap