I am an adventure girl who loves hiking and the great outdoors! I love the mountains and exploring the wilderness. I like to blog about travel, road trips, photography, vanlife, and hiking. I encourage others to respect nature and Leave No Trace!
So we’ve made it through New Mexico, into Colorado, and back to Arizona since my last post. Phew! Before going into what we’ve done since Arizona (I’ll save that for another blog post) I wanted to give some more of my thoughts from the road. A lot of people have been asking what are the best and worst parts about living on the road, so I thought I’d share some! However, instead of “worst parts” I am going to talk about challenges we face instead, because I’d argue that there are no “worst parts” of what we are doing.
The best parts of living on the road (in no particular order) are:
Wandering, in the true sense of the word
Being able to spend as much or as little time as we want in a place, rather than being bound by time and schedules
Arriving somewhere new in the dark and waking up to a whole new and beautiful place
Brushing my teeth under the sky full of stars
Meeting other van-dwellers and getting new information, tricks, and tips for living on the road
Sleeping in the bug-free comfort of our van
Sunrises, sunsets, and golden hour surrounded by the most beautiful landscapes
Living a minimal life without the clutter of too much stuff
Having ample time to explore some lesser known places such as hot springs or smaller parks
Using our pre-paid annual parks pass to get unlimited entrance to national parks and national monuments
Exploring viewpoints, hikes, and forests
Finding awesome free campsites and often having them to ourselves
Being in wonderful places during off season, off days, and off hours and being able to avoid crowds, which I never was able to do when I could only travel during popular vacation times
A highly recommended slot canyon
Morning view from the van
The challenges of living on the road (in no particular order) are:
Being dirty and smelly between showers
Getting used to our own bad smells until we hardly notice them
Washing dishes without a dishwasher or sink
Always having to figure out where we will sleep for the night
Using gross bathrooms
Not being able to find a bathroom
Trying to stay on budget and not going to every single local restaurant and brewery we see
Keeping the van clean and organized
Going long stretches without doing laundry
Eating a lot of bland meals and too many PB&J sandwiches
Airing out the smelly van!
All in all there are plenty of challenges we face while living in a van, and there certainly are days that I miss the comfort of a steady apartment, having a clean bathroom, relaxing on a couch watching TV, and not having to deal with the ordeal of finding places to stay each night. However, the great parts of this trip immensely outweigh the challenges. I also believe that learning to navigate new challenges and pushing through discomfort is part of what makes this trip such an incredible experience.
If anyone out there has thought about doing something like this but has certain hesitations or worries that are preventing it from happening, please reach out! I’d love to chat.
As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow along the adventures on Instagram @carrieoutdoors (the “stories” in particular have all of the behind the scenes weirdness and fun moments that aren’t always captured in this blog or my edited photos)!
Whether you’re family, a friend, or someone I’ve never met, I’m so happy you’re here!
Steve and I have now been living the van life around America for almost two full months and we have seen so many amazing things and we have met some incredible people! If you’re new here, I will quickly recap our trip so far. We quit our jobs, bought a used converted Ford cargo van, and hit the road on February 1st. We started with Groundhog Day in Punsutawney, PA, made our way down to Washington, DC (Let the Journey Begin), and then continued visiting friends and family all the way down to Florida (Continuing South). Then at the beginning of March we quickly zipped west from the Florida Keys to Arizona (Zipping West!) because of our March 7th permits for Havasupai, where we camped for two nights near the incredible blue waterfall oasis hidden in the Grand Canyon (Havasupai Hike). Our next stop on this adventure was Arizona!
A quick side note: Steve and I have been taking some videos along our travels and I will try to share some of those moments with you all. Here is some footage of manatees swimming by our kayaks in Crystal River, Florida! If you have any recommendations for video editing software, let me know!
We wanted to explore some of Arizona before backtracking to New Mexico, which we had skipped due to our rush across the country. Since we were so close to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see such an amazing and iconic place. Steve and I had visited the Grand Canyon briefly on our Western trip a few years back, but I still felt drawn to its overwhelming beauty. Before driving all the way north, we stopped for the night in Williams, AZ, which is a charming little old western feeling town known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”. It was a bit hokey and touristy but we found a cheap little motel where we could let our muscles recover from our Havasupai hiking experience.
Historic Route 66
A bear friend!
The first of many Smokey the Bears
As part of our one brewery per state pact, we decided to try some tasters at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company. They were quite delicious and I was especially happy because they had a pumpkin porter (in March!) and I can’t get enough of pumpkin beers!
A great selection
We had to try them all!
See the pumpkin?
So rustic and cozy
We had a nice chat with our bartender who recommended a route to the Grand Canyon which included a stop at the lesser known Wupatki National Monument, which I described in my last post!
A building form the 1100s
That afternoon after leaving Wupatki we made it up to the Desert View area of the Grand Canyon and explored the awesome 70-foot tall stone watchtower that opened in 1932. We then found a spot on some rocks on the canyon edge and watched as the sun started to sink, flooding the canyon with warm, golden light. After a little while, as I started to think that all of the fun was over, the sky suddenly lit up in brilliant shades of pink and orange. It was hard to capture the raw beauty of the moment with my camera so you’ll just have to take my word for it! As with all incredible sunsets, it was fleeting, and soon the whole area was covered in a blanket of darkness. It quickly went from a special sunset with the collective joy of tourists filling the air to a vast and looming darkness that spread down into the depths of the canyon. I remember feeling a shiver go down my spine – both from the drop in temperature as well as the eerie darkness that emerged.
Steve by the watchtower
Warm sunset glow in the canyon
Brilliant pink skies over the Grand Canyon
We decided to camp near the south rim so that we could enjoy the impressive views again in the morning. Unfortunately the snow and ice had only recently melted and the dirt forest roads were actually mud. The van did not have a good time navigating to a campsite. We eventually found a spot, but by then it was late and time for sleep. In the morning we carefully escaped the mud and drove to the canyon rim one last time in order to make coffee as the sun slowly rose over the canyon.
Amazing views in the morning
Sipping coffee at the Grand Canyon
We could have stayed for weeks exploring and hiking around the Grand Canyon, but we had so much yet to see and decided to move on. We drove south near Flagstaff, AZ to the Kaibab National Forest to find a place to sleep. We found a really great free campground with a dry dirt road and individual campsites each with an individual stone fire ring. We loved the area so much we decided to make it home for a few days. It felt nice to be able to relax and enjoy some time in the forest rather than running around! We did cooked a couple of delicious tinfoil meals in the campfire, sipped whiskey by the fire while listening to Dave Matthews Band, and gazed up at the stars twinkling above. We also helped another van dweller get his home-on-wheels out from the mud – a feat that took an hour, some campfire logs, and the strength of as many campers as we could find (which wasn’t too many since the campground was nearly empty).
Before leaving Flagstaff, we were convinced by my parents that we must get breakfast at MartAnne’s. We were certainly not disappointed! We had some incredible Mexican style breakfast plates and burritos that tasted better than anything we had eaten for days. Also the place was super cute with a very friendly staff. I would highly recommend breakfast here if you’re ever in Flagstaff!
The “volcano” was amazing
Steve and his breakfast burrito
We then made our way to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona. We drove around for a while taking in the views and stopped to hike to Bell Rock. Apparently Sedona is known for having vortexes (vortices?) in a few places where energy is either entering or leaving the earth. It is supposedly strong enough that you can feel it and have some kind of spiritual awakening. Bell Rock is one of the locations known for having vortex energy, but I’m not going to lie to you , I didn’t feel anything on that hike except hot and sweaty. Sedona was very beautiful but a bit too crowded for our liking (I believe it was spring break in Arizona at that time), so we quickly moved on.
Another bear friend!
Sedona red rocks
The famous Bell Rock
Beautiful landscapes along the trail
I;m trying to feel the vortex energy
We spent the next few days driving east through to New Mexico and enjoyed staying at their rest area a second time! The next day we drove to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the plan was to stay in one of the first-come-first-served cheap campsites or RV spots in the park. Unfortunately the park was much busier than expected and we arrived too late, so the campground and all RV sites were full. Thankfully I had a bit of service (Yeah Verizon!) and the internet helped us find a nice free campsite out in some BLM land. We even had some lovely cow neighbors!
The next morning we made our way back to the Guadalupe Mountains in order to hike to the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet. It was a hot and sunny morning and the beginning of the hike was pretty tough.
Nice trail signs
We kept pushing through and ate some granola bars until we got our first wind. It took us 2 hours and 40 minutes to hike to the top, where there was a nice triangular summit marker and a crowd of people resting. The views were pretty nice, but nothing spectacular. There were flies and no shady spots to provide relief from the sun, so we made our way back down. The descent took two hours and was a pleasant steady downhill hike in the the shade. Overall this hike was 8.5 miles round trip with 3,000 feet of elevation gain and took us 5.5 hours including our rest at the summit. This was our 13th State high point. The next state we will travel through is New Mexico, but I have a feeling their state high point is snowed in and we may need to revisit it another time!
Guestbook for hikers
Steve and me at the summit marker
At the time of this writing, we have already spent many days in New Mexico, but I will save that for a different post. As always, if you have any questions or travel recommendations for us, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email (email@example.com) or a DM on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors). If you have your own travel blog you’d like me to check out, send a link along as well!
Thanks for following along with the van adventures of me and my husband Steve (@walasavagephoto). I have decided that only blogging about the details of what we’ve done and where we’ve been might get tedious, so I want to start sharing some of my thoughts from the road. We are only on our second month of traveling around the US and living in a van and we have learned a lot very quickly. There are so many misconceptions I had about van life and there have been many fun discoveries as well as plenty of challenges.
Texas desert at sunset
We get a lot of questions about life on the road, so I thought I’d give some preliminary answers to the most common questions here in this blog post. I am sure that as Steve and I continue to travel and learn, sometimes the hard way, my answers will change. Maybe I’ll answer the questions again at the end of the trip!
Why are you doing this trip?
This is a tougher question than you might think! There was no ah-ha moment or large event that caused Steve and I to leave our jobs and take some time to travel America and live out of a van. We talked a lot over the past few years about doing something different before we become more tied down. We considered world travel, backpacking around Europe, and even hiking the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. But at the end of the day, we wanted to stay in this country and we wanted to see as much as possible.
Our list of “must see” (also: “must hike” and “must photograph”) spots in the United States had been growing out of control. Whenever we had a week-long vacation to plan, it was overwhelming trying to choose where to go. The Pacific Northwest? The Rocky Mountains? The Southwest? National Parks? Every time we chose one place, there were hundreds of places we were brushing aside. So this trip feels like the perfect opportunity to see/hike/photograph as many of these places as possible all at once, while we are still in great physical shape. The hope is that in our future travels there won’t be as much pressure to see everything, but instead we can return to our favorite locations to see them in more depth.
Where do you sleep?
Most nights we sleep in the van, a Ford E350 cargo van. There is a wooden bed platform in the back of the van where the seats used to be, built by the amazing previous owners. We covered the platform with layers of foam and a nest of blankets and covered the windows with light-blocking curtains. There is also a vent in the back window that can blow air in or out (it blows stinky air out after a long hike or cool air in on a hot night), twinkle lights, and a secondary battery that we can use when the car is off.
Let the journey begin!
Cozy in the van on a rainy day
Laptop work in the van
Snuggled up in my blanket nest
We try as often as possible to park in free or cheap (but also safe) locations. Often we find free dispersed campsites or low-fee campgrounds in National Forests, BLM land, state parks, Wildlife Management Areas, or other public lands that allow camping. We do a lot of research on where to sleep and we often discover great spots on crowd sourced websites for free camping. Even though many of these areas have spots for tents, we find it’s typically more convenient and easy to just sleep in the van.
Camping in a national forest
Campfires and vanlife
Photo by Steve!
We sometimes do traditional camping and sleep in our lightweight Cabela’s tent, but that is usually when we are backpacking in the wilderness and can’t bring our van with us!
Camping in Havasupai
Camping at White Sands
If we want less wilderness and more access to stores and businesses, we stay in Walmart parking lots, as long as we ask the management and they are cool with it. Occasionally we have splurged on a cheap motel or KOA if we are in need of a shower or an actual bed to sleep in.
Florida Keys KOA
Sleeping in a Walmart parking lot
Where do you shower?
So to start out, I will say that we certainly don’t shower as much as we are used to. We take advantage of showers when we stay at a motel or a campground with amenities; however, those stops are few and far between. We have an inexpensive nationwide gym membership which includes a guest pass, and that is where we do most of our showering. In between showers, we freshen up in restrooms and as the weather gets warmer, hopefully we will jump in more lakes and rivers to rinse off!
What do you eat?
Let me start with the morning. Typically we wake up and make coffee. I pretty much need coffee to function. Most often we boil water with a camp stove and drip coffee through our GSI lightweight filter. When we have a campfire and extra time, we use our vintage looking GSI percolator, and when we are pressed for time, we sometimes make instant coffee (not my favorite). Our breakfast is either granola bars or dry cereal and bananas when we are on the move, or oatmeal when we have time. A few times we have indulged in some campfire egg and sausage scrambles and homemade breakfast burritos. I’d love to make pancakes at some point, they seem like the quintessential camping breakfast delight!
Boiling water for coffee
Steve using the drip coffee filter
Lunch is almost always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Blah! We also keep dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, apples, trail mix, and other small snacks in the car when a sandwich isn’t enough. Mint Chocolate Clif Bars (with caffeine!) are our favorite energy boosting snack for the trail.
Our dinners vary day to day. Sometimes we cook pasta on the camp stove, rice and beans, or tacos. When we have a campfire, we enjoy cooking meat and veggies in foil packets. If we are in a rush or in a city where cooking would be awkward, we indulge in fast food. (We have found that Taco Bell had the cheapest value menu!)
Foil dinners on the campfire!
Steve stirring pasta
Eating and drinking cheaply is a challenge for us because as we travel to new cities and states, there are so many amazing restaurants and breweries we would like to check out. We try our best to stay on budget and cook as much as possible, but occasionally we can’t help but try the local cuisine. Like tacos in the Southwest. And Texas BBQ in Austin. And seafood in South Carolina. We have also made a pact to go to only one brewery in each state, so that we won’t be tempted to taste every beer we see.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
The Funkatorium in Asheville
Southern Barrell Brewing Company in Bluffton, SC
Grand Canyon Brewing Company
How do you plan what to do and where to go?
This is a tough question and we are still figuring this out. During the preliminary planning for the trip, I created a custom Google map with pins for each location. Every time something beautiful popped up on my social media feeds (mainly Instagram and Tumblr), I would add a pin to the map and include a link to the photo for reference. It is kind of like a Pinterest board, but arranged on a map. By the time we hit the road in February, the map had accumulated hundreds and hundreds of pins – an impossible number for our trip. The pins include lakes, waterfalls, hikes, state high points, campgrounds, scenic overlooks, hot springs, etc. Since we know we can’t hit every pin, we use the map as a general guide on where to go next. We have a rough plan of where we want to be each month, and a few future camping reservations scattered about in coveted locations, but mostly we figure things out a day or two ahead.
We also do research on each area, check out visitor’s centers, and talk to people we meet on the road to find more ideas of where to go. For example, we might not have visited the Wupatki National Monument had it not been recommended to us by our bartender at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company!
A building form the 1100s
So what is a typical day like on the road?
This is a difficult question to answer, as every day is so different and unique. Some days we are driving. Some days we are hiking and exploring. Some days we are checking out a local quirky town or roadside attraction. Some days we are catching up on laundry, shopping, errands, and van tuneups. Some days, more often than I expected, we are reorganizing and cleaning the van. Some days we are editing photos and blogging. Some days we are relaxing at a campsite, cooking meals and enjoying a campfire.
Hiking the Texas high point
Roswell, New Mexico
Kayaking with manatees
Campfire in Arizona
Driving through Sedona
There is no set pattern or agenda to our days, which is so wonderful and uniquely different from working a 9-5 job. Sometimes it can be stressful to me, as a person who typically lives by structure and deadlines. As a teacher, I have always liked planning and organization and have typically preferred to have an end goal and to take steps to work toward it when I am traveling or just in daily life. Taking things one day at a time without a set plan is not how I am used to doing things, so it has been quite an adjustment. I do believe it is having a positive effect on me overall. This way of living is teaching me to be more flexible and easygoing. My stress levels are lower and I feel healthier and more relaxed.
Well, that is all for now! Just a reminder, these are very preliminary answers and in no way do Steve and I claim to be experts about van life. We are learning a ton every day and constantly adjusting course.
Do you have any other questions about life on the road? How about suggestions for us? Feel free to send them my way (email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram: @carrieoutdoors).
Havasupai is an incredibly beautiful area deep down in an offshoot of the Grand Canyon filled with brilliant blue waterfalls and red canyon walls. It is an amazing spot and truly one of the most unique and beautiful places I have ever been. But the process of getting to these epic waterfalls was not simple or easy. Let me explain…
STEP 1: GETTING THE PERMIT
The story of our Havasupai trip began on February 1st: the day Havasupai permits went on sale. Photos and videos of this area have been going viral on social media in the past few years and it has become an extremely popular destination. Due to the fact that the waterfalls are a 10+ mile hike from the trailhead, no day hiking is allowed and you can only visit if you camp in the official campground or stay in the single lodge down in the canyon, which both require a permit. Knowing this, we were prepared at 10am on February 1st to reserve one of the coveted camping permits. We were lucky that we had complete flexibility on dates due to the nature of our extended road trip, just as long as we could get through the notoriously busy phone lines. We were aiming for mid April for the hike, but knew that other days could also work. We had 3 cell phones and a landline calling constantly for five straight hours, but had no luck getting through. A few times lines got crossed (is that even still a thing?!) and the landline seemed to connect to random strangers’ houses. Awkward! We checked the website to make sure we weren’t doing something wrong, but the website was down and had one of those ‘Page Not Found’ error messages, seeming to indicate that their website had been shut down.
Fast forward two days and we were getting tired of calling and listening to busy signals. I then noticed one of my friends on Instagram had excitedly proclaimed that she got her Havasupai permit. I asked her how she got through or what tricks she had. She kindly pointed out that the website was up and reservations could easily be made there. Apparently the new website had been launched some time after we checked it and since two days had gone by since the permits went on sale, almost everything was booked. We checked every single date from March to November and only found two open dates: March 7th and March 8th and knew that was our only chance. That is why we had to rush across the entire US in less than a week from Key West to northern Arizona. While I was bummed about missing the American south and really hated the excruciating 8-10 hour drives each day, being able to do the Havasupai hike was well worth it.
STEP 2: HIKING DOWN TO SUPAI
In order to start our hike early in the morning, we slept in our van at the Hilltop Trailhead parking lot. There were pit toilets and plenty of other people camping in cars or tents for the same reason.
Cars parked at the trailhead
Morning sunlight on the canyon
The hike down was pretty brutal for me. It wasn’t the length of the hike, the steepness, or the desert heat. It was carrying my heavy backpack. No matter how much I try to pack light for an overnight hike, it never works. We packed food and water, extra clothes, warm layers for night temperatures in the 30s, towels, bathing suits, water shoes, camera equipment, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlights, plus the “ten essentials” and first aid supplies. Every little item added up, and by the time I stuffed my bag and forced the zippers closed, it was very heavy. I felt like Cheryl Strayed from Wild at the beginning of her PCT hike. I also realized, that however in shape my lungs and legs were from jogs and short hikes throughout the winter, nothing I did had strengthened my back or shoulders to carry a heavy pack.
Surrounded by epic views
Trying to hide my pain!
Steve and his Cabela’s backpack
It took us six hours, including stops for water, snacks, and taking photos, to reach the Supai village deep down in the canyon. The hike itself was truly gorgeous. It started with a very steep descent comprised of many switchbacks to get to the bottom of the canyon, which was interrupted every ten minutes or so by a group of horses passing through. Once at the bottom, the hike was mostly flat but no less beautiful. Giant walls of red rocks surrounded us, widening and narrowing at times, with incredible geological formations on all sides. As we hiked deeper and deeper into the canyon, brilliant green trees started to appear and it felt like bits of the tropics were sneaking into the desert.
After 8 miles of hiking we reached the town of Supai. We hiked the path that winds around the village and registered for our campsites. Thinking we were finally there, I breathed a sigh of relief. That is, until I realized there were another two miles of hiking required to reach the campground.
“You’re almost there” (but not really…)
So close, but so far!
The campground was beautiful, with many sites along the bright blue river surrounded by trees. To my delight, there were plenty of pit toilets and a spigot of flowing spring water for drinking. I imagine the campground must be even more lovely in the late spring and summer when all of the plants and trees are in bloom. We set up our tent, stretched our legs, and spent the late afternoon and evening exploring the easily accessible, and stunning, Havasu Falls. We cooked some delicious freeze dried camping meals for dinner (at least they tasted delicious to us after the long hike!) and went to bed around 8pm.
View from the tent
Camping in Havasupai
STEP 3: THE DESCENT TO MOONEY FALLS
The next morning after some camp coffee and granola bars for breakfast, we set out for the hike to Mooney and Beaver Falls. I assumed these would be close to the campground, but I was very wrong. It was a one mile hike from the tent to a spot where you can view Mooney Falls from above, but to get down to ground level was a much more difficult and steep descent than I had had anticipated. With metal chains and spikes to hold onto, it is an almost completely vertical climb down, occasionally through narrow tunnels built into the rocks. It reminded me of the Angels Landing hike in Zion, only much steeper and also wet from the waterfall’s mist. Luckily we descended at the right time and didn’t have any other people to pass as we climbed down.
Crawling out of a tunnel
The descent to Mooney Falls
Thankful for those chains!
The moment my feet hit the ground, I was flooded with relief and then awe as I looked up at the majestic Mooney Falls towering above me. We spent some time exploring the aqua pools and photographing the falls. We had the whole area to ourselves!
Steve at Mooney Falls
Trying to capture the beauty
STEP 4: BEAVER FALLS
We then continued hiking the extra two miles to Beaver Falls. This included several river crossings, between knee and waist deep, with the occasional rickety bridge. There were also several wooden ladders and rock scrambles up and down the canyon walls. The beauty at every turn was breathtaking. There were layers of cascading falls, looming red canyon walls, and brilliant green trees lining the trail. It was a long day of hiking, but I hardly noticed because of the intense beauty around us.
Rapids near Beaver Falls
Once we reached the end and took more photos in the waterfalls, we made our way back to camp. The climb up at Mooney Falls was much better than the descent! We enjoyed another delicious freeze dried dinner and another early bedtime (except for Steve, who took a few extra hours to take some stunning nighttime photos of the falls, seen below!) Find him on Instagram: @walasavagephoto or his website: walasavagephoto.com!
A @walasavagephoto masterpiece!
The Milky Way makes an appearance!
STEP 5: THE END
In the morning, we had an uneventful hike out. We indulged in some breakfast burritos in the cafe located in the town of Supai to fuel our return hike. The flat part of the return hike was fine, but the final hike up the switchbacks to the parking lot in the heat of the desert sun was pretty tough. (Though to be fair, it was only around 78 degrees. I can’t imagine doing this hike in 90+ degree temperatures in July and August!) We had our dorky adventure hats, sunscreen, hiking poles, and plenty of water to get us to the top.
Quick stop for water and snacks
I’m so happy when my pack is off!
Gorgeous canyon views
All in all, the difficulty of obtaining a permit and the challenge of hiking around 30 miles over three days was far surpassed by the beauty we found at this oasis deep in an offshoot of the Grand Canyon. If you can get your hands on a permit (don’t forget to check the website when you do!), I highly recommend you take the time to visit this gem. I would say 2-3 nights at a minimum are required to fully appreciate the beauty of Havasupai, and I highly recommend making sure you are in good hiking shape and that your bag is a reasonable weight when you go!
After our amazing week with family, we set off on the second month of our trip where we will be more on our own in the van and will have significantly fewer friends and family to stay with. Let the “van life” begin! We set off on a long drive south from Lake Worth to the Florida Keys. With less than two days to spend in the Keys, we knew we could only do a select few things and we knew it wouldn’t be nearly enough. Based on recommendations, we made sure to stop at Bahia Honda State Park. The crystal clear blue water was absolutely stunning and we spent some time snorkeling near the shore, seeing colorful fish, shells, and all sorts of sea plants. After an obligatory margarita, we had a lovely warm night of camping (and our first experience with biting bugs – ouch!). The next morning we woke up early to drive to Key West where we (briskly) walked along the charming streets, checked out the southernmost point of the United States, and found the Mile 0 marker sign for a quick photo op.
Sadly, we needed to leave the beautiful Florida Keys to head back north. I will certainly want to come back some day to spend more time in this beautiful area. We didn’t have any key lime pie or meet Jimmy Buffet, so there certainly is reason to return!
Heading north through Florida, we stopped briefly in the Everglades and Big Cypress. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore these incredible parks, but we did see some amazing gators, jumping fish, and unique birds as we drove through.
Is there something behind me?!
Our last stop in Florida was Crystal River, an area known for manatees! The river has several areas with warm springs where the manatees like to gather to keep warm during the cold winter months. We rented kayaks and took a nice paddle down the tropical palm-lined waterways. The manatees were absolutely adorable. They mostly gathered in the springs, which are roped off so people can’t bother them, but every once in awhile a manatee would swim right by or under the kayak. They were so cute when they would poke their noses above water to breathe!
We then had to rush across the United States in quite a hurry in order to make it to Arizona by March 7th. I will explain the reason behind this in the next post. So we zipped through the southern states (passing through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) stopping only to sleep for a few hours before waking up to drive again.
We had a lovely, but far too short, stop in Austin, Texas. It was raining the whole time we were there, which apparently never happens, so we didn’t get the full Austin experience. Our Austin stopover started with the devouring of delicious tacos with Steve’s friend from childhood and his wonderful family. Next we met up with one of my dearest friends from teaching in NYC and her boyfriend at Live Oak Brewery to have samples of wonderful beer and then indulged in some excellent authentic Texas BBQ. Yum!! We also got to meet their wonderful kitties Jim and Bob. The visit was too short and I really hope we can get back there soon. Austin looks like a great city and I have a feeling Steve and I would really enjoy spending more time there! This was yet another reminder of the amazing and generous friends we have sprinkled across this vast country.
Rainy state capitol
Sampler of tasty beers
Petting the kitty
We then continued driving west, putting miles and miles behind us. We made a brief stop in Marfa, Texas to see the famous art instillation of a Prada store in the middle of nowhere. It was certainly an odd sight to see a designer store in the middle of the desert. We walked around, took some photos, and continued on our way.
Finally after spending a night at a rest stop in New Mexico (they have free overnight parking/camping at their rest areas – amazing and quite rare!) we made it to Arizona to begin our hike of Havasupai. To do it justice, Havasupai needs its own blog post, so more on this later!
For now I will say that rushing across the country was not very fun and I really do not enjoy long stretches of driving. I feel like we are missing so many awesome things and I get very bored! We tried listening to our own music, the radio, and podcasts. Nothing really worked at holding my attention for longer than an hour. Next, I think we will try an audiobook, but I will need something light and funny. (A friend of mine mentioned that Cracker Barrel does an audiobook borrowing program – I might have to check that out!) Does anyone have any recommendations for things that might help keep me awake and alert for long stretches of driving? Leave suggestions in the comments!
Our road trip has continued with our drive south down the east coast from Washington, DC to Lake Worth, FL. This has been a fantastic journey so far as we continue to see more wonderful friends and family members and have seen some beautiful scenery and wildlife.
We stayed with some incredible friends on the North Carolina coast. Their apartment was steps from the beautiful seashore and we immensely enjoyed our few days there. As I have said before, visiting these spots in the off season has added an extra layer of relaxation and serenity. We often had the beach to ourselves and enjoyed the peace and solitude (and also got our choice of the best shells!). We saw some incredible sunsets, did some much needed van organizing, visited the lovely town of Beaufort, and explored historic Fort Macon and the surrounding state park. Thanks to our amazing tour guides for the amazing experience!
We then spent some time in the lovely city of Asheville, NC where we stayed in an amazing geodesic dome at the charming Asheville Glamping, owned by one of Steve’s awesome friends.
In North Carolina, we enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as the stunning flowing water of Looking Glass Falls and the 360 degree views from one of the Appalachian Trail’s famous spots called Max Patch.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Looking Glass Falls
We also spent some time enjoying the city of Asheville with delicious breakfast at Biscuit Head, yummy sour beers at Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, and a lovely 3 mile roundtrip walk up to the Omni Grove Park Inn where we saw sweeping mountain views and relaxed by a giant stone fireplace.
We continued south to spend some wonderful time with a dear friend in Atlanta. We got to peek in on her charming life and apartment and enjoyed quality time catching up and sharing stories from our journey so far. This trip has really reminded me about many of the amazing people in my life that I don’t see nearly enough.
From there we continued on to South Carolina and Florida to spend a week with our amazing family. We relaxed, walked nature trails, ate amazing food, and drank great beer. We saw some incredible wildlife including alligators, birds, and turtles. Here are some photos taken by the talented Stephen Walasavage at Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands.
It has been a whirlwind month packed with amazing people and we have already made so many incredible memories. We cannot wait to continue our journey and we are still very open to suggestions and recommendations from all of you on where to go and what to see!