MTTS: Day 10 – St. Louis, MO

IMG_8318Home again, home again…

MINI Takes the States was an awesome experience.  It wasn’t entirely what I had expected, but for the most part it was awesome.  Monday was our last day with MTTS.  MINI stopped for the night in St. Louis and after the evening event Brian and I waved good-bye to our new friends and returned home.  It was a bittersweet goodbye.  We’d had a great time… but we were worn out…. we were both happy to be going home.

We’re already discussing MTTS 2016…. if we’d do it again and how we’d do it differently.  Yes, I think we definitely do it again… MTTS was a great experience.  MINI people are just a happy, friendly group of people and MINI USA throws an amazing event…. that’s a recipe for AWESOME.

Things We’d Do Different

Start near St. Louis and follow MTTS east. – You notice we’re not even mentioning ‘going all the way’?  Coast to coast sounds awesome at first, but Brian and I were so tired after 6 legs of MTTS.  Getting in late every night and getting up early to leave with the pack in the morning… it wears on you.  It’s just too little sleep to be fun.

Skipping some Rise & Shines.  – It is really fun to line up with all the MINIs in the great locations that MINI arranges and take off with a pack of 500 MINIs and a police escort….. but it’s really early.  Most mornings we were getting up around 5:30 to get to the location on time and get lined up.  It isn’t as much fun to be in the back of the pack and you get better photos if you get there early.  I’m not sure how we’d choose which ones to skip…. I wouldn’t have thought the Texas Capitol Plaza would have been cool…. but the photo of Posh right in front of the Capitol is pretty cool.  I’d have skipped the Cotton Bowl…. but I didn’t know that until we’d been there.  This one will be harder to do.

Wander off on our own.  – This is another that will be hard to know which days to wander and which to stick with the crowd.  MINI does have some pretty great “surprise & dazzle” midday events…. and part of the thrill of doing MTTS is being with the crowd.  There is nothing like zooming into a little town with 300 MINIs…. the look on people’s faces is priceless…. but there were some times and places that I wished we’d had more time to visit and explore.  These weren’t places that we’d drive/fly back for an entire vacation…. but another few hours would have been really nice.

Things We Wish MINI Would Do Differently

Don’t get us wrong… MINI did an amazing job.  I was blown away by their coordination and planning.  MINI took amazing care of us while we were with them. There are just a few things that we think would be nice in the future.

Rallye Notes – Don’t bother.  Just tell me where we’re headed and let us decide how to get there.  Some of the roads that MINI chose to send us on were not the route that I would have chosen.  It took us a few legs to catch on to that.  I wish they would have just given us an address for the next events and let us make our own way.

Apps – Either make em work or don’t bother.  I know… I know… its a computer program…. they have bugs.  It just makes me insane when they don’t work.  The Trivia Game and the Photo Challenges/Boards were buggy.  Push notifications for the app would have been nice.   There were a couple of times when MINI sent us a notice, (traffic or accident) and we didn’t get it until late that evening because we hadn’t known that we needed to check the notices in the app.

MINI Tour Guides – Have someone at the Rise & Shine’s with suggested points of interest/restaurants/events for each leg of the trip.  (Maybe people from the local MINI Clubs?) They could help with driving directions if necessary (Google Map). I’m sure we drove right by interesting places because we didn’t know they were there.  You can’t always count on signs and billboards to let you know that something cool is right down the road.

Food – MINI, it’s great that you fed me as much as you did…….but you really didn’t have to.  There were a couple of times that I wish MINI wouldn’t have bothered providing dinner.  In Austin, for instance.  MINI said they would be providing food trucks… apparently food trucks are a huge thing in Austin… they were everywhere around town as we were driving to the evening event.  I was SO excited…… and then there were only 3 trucks…. only one with anything gluten free…. and it was cold pizza.  In St. Louis they did the food truck thing again and this time there were five trucks and MINI gave us each a ticket for one item from a truck… if you wanted more, you had to buy it.  That allowed for so much more variety and the food was HOT.  One of the things I enjoy about travel is getting a ‘taste’ of the culture.  I realize that it is massively expensive to feed 500 people.  I wouldn’t mind having more variety and options and having to pay for it.  The “ticket” system would be a perfect compromise for the people who are trying to keep to a really low budget…. Just eat what you can get for your one ticket… And those who don’t paying a bit more…. we could buy other items.

Clubs & Dealerships – MINI did an amazing job coordinating the whole thing and many of the MINI dealerships and MINI clubs were awesome.  Some of the dealerships and clubs need to think about stepping up their game for 2016…. It’s not like there is a MINI dealership on every corner… I wound’t mind driving back to MINI Sandia in New Mexico for our next MINI.  (We’ve also gotten AMAZING service from Dreyer & Reinbold MINI…. I’d be willing to drive to Indianapolis for our next MINI).  With a MINI, it’s not just buying a car…. it’s like adding a kid to the family.  Some dealerships get that… other don’t.  MTTS really gave the dealerships a chance to shine.  Some used it…. others….. 😦

Media – MINI’s photographers and media people were wonderful!  They were all so nice and fun…. they really made us feel like rockstars.  I wish MINI would have had two teams of photographers…. or a separate crew that was uploading all the photos… there was a huge lag between when the photos were taken and when they hit the site.  I know those poor photographers weren’t getting any sleep!  They were up late at events and then up later working on the photos and then later trying to get them on the sites….. Then they were up early to beat us all to the Rise & Shines.  (There was a definite lack of sleep all around.) They were all always so nice…. I don’t know how they managed.  (MINI!  Hire more next time and let some of them sleep!…… You guys should sleep some too, come to think of it….)

All in all, we had a great time on MTTS.  MINI did an amazing job.  Can’t wait until MTTS 2016!

MTTS: Day 9 – Memphis, TN

10580188_10152330338893668_5972410947265355868_nDay NINE? Really?

We started out this morning in Dallas…. I’m starting to get confused…. We’ve stayed in four different Texas cities and everything is starting to run together.  I’m not the only MTTS-er who can’t remember where they’ve been.  When you meet new people you ask where they started and how far they are going… The long distance people are starting to look a bit dazed.  Too many early Rise & Shines following too many late Evening Owner’s Events.  I don’t know how else MINI could do it… there is just so much road to cover in a day and only so many hours… We need a Nap Day thrown in here and there maybe.

Today was probably our longest drive…. 488 miles.  I slept A LOT… thank goodness.  My mom wishes that I had slept that good in the car when I was little… maybe I would have, but she just didn’t drive long enough…. 100-150 miles… bam… I’m asleep.

We didn’t get to see many interesting things along the way today.  There was a lot of construction on the highway and we ended up taking a couple of creepy back roads (and we’ve been in the no-man-lands of New Mexico, and I say these were creepy….)

We finally made it out of Texas and into Arkansas around lunch time.  I’d swear that the moment we crossed the state line the humidity quadrupled.  That is something that I’ve discovered on this trip… I’d always thought that state lines were an imaginary kind of line… something drawn on a map and marked with a sign…. nothing tangible….. Nope!  Crossing state lines begin/end all different kinds of landscapes, languages and heat indexes.  Who knew!?photo 1

Since we got into Memphis in the late afternoon on a Sunday… and all the sights were closed… Our big thrill of the day was dinner.  My Father-In-Law loves… absolutely loves…. plans trips around… Corky’s Ribs & BBQ.  Now, unlike my SIL, I totally get my FIL’s food style.  If it’s food… it’s probably good…. if it’s different… we should try it.  Yep… I get that.  We tend to like a lot of the same foods too (not drinks, tho.. we totally disagree on coffees and wine).  So as Brian and I are scrolling through Google’s recommended places I came across Corky’s Ribs & BBQ…. Well… ribs are a very Memphis thing….. what the hell?

10577004_10152331244628668_4666225502343366721_nWe got a parking space right up front… apparently we just beat the rush… and Posh got a cute picture out front.  We sent that to Brian’s dad to make him jealous.

I’d googled to see if the BBQ sauce was gluten-free and most of the things I’d read said it was.  I checked with the waitress and she said that yes, the regular sauce was GF.  I’ve never had a problem with any of the BBQ sauces that I’ve had before, but I’m trying to be extra careful to not get sick while we’re on our trip.  I ordered the Rack of Ribs (1/2 Wet & 1/2 Dry)….. I think I like the ‘Wet’ better, but the ‘Dry’ was good too.  I also got the Twice Baked Potatoes as my side… yum!  You’d have thought I’d have had them before, but I can’t remember every eating them….. I found the recipe and those potatoes will be showing up at a Family Dinner Night soon.  (So will Fried Pies, as soon as I figure out a good GF recipe for them…. I keep seeing signs all over the south for Fried Pies… and I want one SO bad!) Brian ordered the Loaded Potato and had plans to share my ribs…. he just let me order the giant meal so the waitress thought I was the cow!

After dinner we decided to skip the Owner’s Event and just get to the hotel earlier.  We’re having a great time, but we could use more sleep (napping in the car just doesn’t count.)  Tomorrow is our last day on MTTS… It’s be a wonderful adventure, but I’m ready to get home.  I miss my home and my family…. and I’m pretty sure my dog won’t speak to me and my cats have probably convinced my aunt to let them order pizza and pay-per-view every night…. it’s time to go home.

10516781_10152330311048668_4737285592104762121_n

MTTS: Day Eight – Dallas, TX

IMG_9266It was another very early morning when we rolled into the Texas State Capitol (Austin, TX).  Posh got a great spot right in front of the Capitol Building….. she’s gonna have the best scrapbook!

MINI once again provided excellent coordination and got everyone lined up nice and neat with a minimum amount of fussing.  MINIs like to snuggle together anyway… While the MINIs took in their surroundings, us humans roamed around the center taking photos and checking out all the other MINIs and shopping the “Boot Sales”  (If you didn’t already know… MINIs have ‘boots’ and ‘bonnets’ not ‘trunks’ or ‘hoods’).  I acquired a new shopping bag from MINI of…. Dallas? And some MINI gum…. I have no idea why MINI had it’s own gum…. they just do.  MINI USA and the MINI Clubs have been awesome about giving out fun MINI swag.  The sponsors are pretty fun too!  Peeps is a sponsor and they have a Peeps MINI… it’s so cute!  They keep handing us mini Peeps at the different events. I’m starting to get a collection of them!  We got a mini Lego MINI in our Welcome Bag… I’ll let Brian put them together…. I have no patience for following the directions with LEGOS.  I build castles… that’s about it…  And Banfield Pet Hospital has presents for the furry co-pilots too.

Today Value Service gave us safari hats after our trip through the Franklin Drive Thru Safari.  IMG_9359They’re actually pretty perfect hats for the Roadster.  I’ve got two other hats and a couple of scarves that I’ve been trying to make stay on my head for the last 3000 miles…. these have a nice floppy brim to cover the back of my neck and a strap to hold them on!

The trip through the Franklin Drive Thru Safari was more fun than I thought it would be.  If it wasn’t for MINI, I would have never (a) found the place, or (b) bothered to go… Brian and I are pretty spoiled with our St Louis Zoo memberships… it takes a lot to compete.  Probably what made it so much fun was sharing the experience with 400 other MINIs…. The Safari knew we were coming, but I don’t think the quite grasped how many of us there actually were…. Until you see 400-500 MINIs swarming down the highway, you just don’t get it.  We shut down the main road into town… we blocked up everything for two miles…. the police finally came to direct traffic…. We weren’t being bad…. there were just a lot of us!  The city police were very nice and they started directing people around us and soon everything got uncontested.  We almost skipped the Safari because of all the traffic, but I’m really glad we decided to stay.  (Not just for the cool hat..)  We’re in the Roadster… with the top down…. so we had an excellent view of the animals… and they had an excellent view of us!  

After the Safari we continued on to Dallas.  It was a much prettier drive today.  This part of Texas has more hills and trees… I was starting to go a bit crazy with the endless fields of nothing.  We actually reached Dallas fairly early in the day, so we had some time to look around a do some sightseeing.  I hadn’t planned anything in Dallas since I figured MINI would have an event and we’d go to that.  MINI did have an event… but it just wasn’t our cup of tea so we decided to wander around town for a bit.  Neither one of us is a big history buff, but we watched enough of the History Chanel to know the Dealey Plaza in Dallas is where Kennedy was assassinated.  We were too late to visit the Sixth Floor Museum, which used to be the Texas School Book Depository from where Jack Ruby allegedly shot JFK.  IMG_8186We were going to cross the street to see the Grassy Knoll, but one of the homeless guys was trying to be our “tour guide” and was starting to freak me out.  I grabbed Brian and drug him away.  The homeless guy started yelling, but I couldn’t tell if it was at us or at another homeless guy.  There were a lot of homeless guys yelling in the area… I’m glad it was a sunny afternoon and there were a bunch of other people around.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be down there later in the evening.

Brian and I also checked out the Old Red Museum.  It used to be the courthouse, but now IMG_8176it is a museum.  I didn’t want to pay $8/person for tickets.  The architecture is amazing, but we just  looked around the first floor for a bit.

On our way back to the car (I was starting to worry about Posh all alone with all the yelling homeless people!) we stopped to look at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza… it’s kinda ugly.  I just don’t get it… it’s kinda like a LEGO…. but boring.  IMG_8197
We also stopped and visited the Dallas Farmer’s Market… I am SO jealous of their Farmer’s Market!! Why is our’s not this cool?  Ugh!  Brian and I picked up a gluten-free brownie (mine, all mine!), some yummy red grapes for our lunches and a jar of apple cobbler jelly to take home and share at our next Family Dinner Night.  I think it will be killer served warm over home-made vanilla ice cream!  (I’m gonna have to serve something pretty awesome to get the family to sit still through all 2000 MTTS photos…..) IMG_8171

For dinner we decided to try In-n-Out Burger.  We don’t have them in Missouri and I’ve heard my Sister-In-Law rave about them.  Now, my SIL doesn’t really like anything… I can count on one hand the things that I know she likes….. so I was thinking that these must be some freaking awesome burgers.  I checked online first to make sure I could eat them and was super excited to discover that they were very gluten friendly.  They even have a button to press when you order to tell the cooks that you have an allergy.  It took em a bit to find the right button, but they got our order in and were super nice.  I even heard one of them call back to the cooks that they had a customer with a wheat allergy and to change their gloves and utensils.  WOW!  IMG_9370

Brian and I both got a Double Double ‘Protein’ Burger (the “protein” part means that they wrapped it in lettuce instead of putting it on a bun).  I got cheese fries too…. The fries were safe from cross contamination because the fries are the only thing they fry.  Yay!  The burger comes wrapped in lettuce and then wrapped in paper and then in a little paper sleeve… all of which is necessary to keep the juice and sauces from getting everywhere.

So…. it was good.  Not amazing… but it was good.  I still don’t understand my SIL.  *sigh*  I was ecstatic about the care they took to make sure it was safe for me to eat, and it was a good hamburger…. It tasted a lot like a Steak-n-Shake hamburger.  I wish Steak-n-Shake would take that much care in ensuring gluten-friendliness!

 

 

 

 

MTTS: Day Seven – Austin, TX

IMG_8016

So far as I can tell, Texas roads are either “OMG, we’re gonna die,” or “OMG, kill me now.”  When we are in the city the roads loop around in undecipherable patterns and when we are out of the city…. the roads go on forever.  I’m kinda over driving in Texas…. and I’m not even the driver… Brian does all the driving. Mostly I nap and take photos out the window… sometimes I ask him odd, random questions…. he tries to ignore me, but it’s a pretty small car.

We left Lubbock, TX this morning and headed to Austin, TX.  We wandered off from the pack pretty early.  MINI’s directions were a little convoluted and we gave up and let Google Maps lead the way.  We weren’t the only ones with that idea… we had a nice little collection of MINI’s that we motored with for most of the way.

It’s pretty fortunate that we’ve packed our own lunches… today we might have starved to death.  We stopped at a picnic area and had a quick lunch.  There were GIANT grasshoppers in the picnic area and I don’t like hopping things…. we got back in the car pretty quickly.  Around two o’clock we saw a bunch of other MINI’s stop for BBQ… Glad we didn’t have to wait that long!

IMG_8032We met up with the MINIs again in Brady, Texas…. which is apparently the Heart of Texas.  Metroplex MINI was waiting with a big sign and MINI USA took photos of us all.  The photographers have been nice about snapping a photo for us using our own camera too.

Brian and I wandered around town for a bit and checked out a couple of the shops.  It was nice just to be out of the car and stretch our legs.  People would come up to us and ask what was going on… MINI has invaded Texas…. It was the cutest takeover ever.  I love watching people realize that a hundred or so MINIs have just swarmed their town…. Surprise, confusion, curiosity….. glee!

Brian finally lured me back into the car with the promise of ice cream.  I’ve been craving ice cream in the worst way….. but when we find a shop the ice cream looks all crystal-y….. I dunno, just not smooth and creamy…. I know, I know… I am super picky.  We found a cute little shop and since we nearly died getting across traffic I figured I’d better not be difficult about a few ice crystals.

We finally arrived in Austin and made it to our hotel… early in fact…. so now we’re waiting until time to go to this evening’s event.  MINI has arranged for food trucks and live music.  I’m a little nervous about the food trucks…. I’m hoping I can find something safe for me to eat.

At any rate, it should be an early night… We were up really late with the Drive-In Movie last night and we had to get up really early to leave this morning….. I did NOT want to give up my nice Holiday Inn pillow.  We’re at a Candlewood Suite tonight…. which is part of the Holiday Inn/IHG family…. they’re pretty nice and considerably less expensive…. but their pillows don’t stack up to the Holiday Inn or Hampton Inn pillows.  I may have to ask for another couple of pillows before we settle for the night…. Brian steals them from me!

 

MTTS: Day Six – Lubbock, TX

20140731-193643.jpg

Today was our first actual day with MINI Takes the States. We woke up really bright and early to meet up with the other MINIs at the dealership. There were a lot of bleary eyed MINIs in the parking lot this morning…. I don’t think MINIs are naturally morning-types. Their human counterparts roamed around and foraged for coffee and breakfast. MINI provided breakfast burritos, but Brian and I passed, choosing to stick with our Cliff bars. We had a very long drive ahead of us today and we didn’t want to risk tummy upset. (They appeared to be McDonalds burritos and I’m not positive they would have been gluten-friendly even without to flour tortilla.)

Everyone roamed around and talked… Lots of photos were taken and introductions made. Many of us have been following/planning with this group on Facebook for months… It has been exciting to finally meet (in the real world) some of the people that we’ve been talking to for so long. Brian and I met another couple that started their trip almost a month ago. We’ve been following their adventure online. They are going all the way across the county with MINI and throwing in a bunch of extra stops before and after MTTS for a total of TWO months travel! IN A MINI!! Maybe that’ll be me and Brian some day! (I have a photo of the four of us, but my computer won’t connect right now, so I’m blogging on my phone… Love my iPhone!)

20140731-205342.jpg
We’ve been interviewed twice about our MINI… It’s so cool! I hope I can find the video!

As we left MINI Sandia (ABQ) this morning we drove through a crowd of people and out onto the highway where the police had blocked the roads. Superstar treatment!

20140731-195313.jpg

MINIs streamed out onto the highway and zoomed into the hills of Albuquerque.

20140731-195354.jpg

It was all very exciting at first… The sight of hundreds of MINIs caused a stir among the other cars… First looks of confusion then smiles as we passed. But as Albuquerque disappeared behind us the open roads of the plains stretched out before us boredom set in. The speed limit is 75… So that makes things more fun for the drivers… for a while…. I napped for a while… Played on my phone… When I had signal (which wasn’t very often) and quizzed Brian on his thoughts on alien life. Then Brian suggested I take another nap. Hmmm …

We finally arrived in Roswell, New Mexico shortly after noon. MINI had made arrangement for us to visit the International UFO Museum & Research Center. Brian and I breezed through fairly quickly. Most of the displays are news articles and documents relating to the Roswell UFO crash. I’ve been there before with Dad and I enjoyed reading the papers and looking at all the photos… Brian had been in the car too long and was in no mood for reading.

20140731-200504.jpg

We found a quiet spot for our picnic lunch and had just begun to eat when another lady sat down at a table near us…. And started ranting and yelling…. Not at us…. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t on a phone either…. One too many alien encounters, maybe? I dunno. We stuffed our lunch in our mouths and got out of there pretty quick.

After a quick stop at Target to restock our picnic supplies (and get me a bit of chocolate) we were on our way to Lubbock, TX.

20140731-200900.jpg

At the Texas-New Mexico State Line Metroplex MINI of Dallas was there to welcome us to Texas.

20140731-210839.jpg
MINI didn’t have anything planned for our evening in Lubbock, but a group of MINI enthusiasts had organized a meet up at a drive in theater. I’ve been wanting to go to a drive in forever…. Especially since we got the Roadster,so I pretty much whined and begged until Brian gave in and said we could go. The movie doesn’t start until nearly his bedtime… I promised to only stay through the first movie…Rise of the Planet of the Apes!!!

20140731-205248.jpg

MTTS: Day Five – Albuquerque, NM

Today was AH-may-zing!

Brian woke me up bright and early.  He claims it was the time change, but I think he was just excited to get going… and worried about fitting it all in today!  I’ve been to New Mexico before and had a bunch of places that I wanted Brian to see.  We already had to pare down the list a bit to make it all fit.

First stop was the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Park – I figured Brian would enjoy looking at the ancient architecture.  There are actually three different sets of ruins.  I’d only been to one site, so we decide to see that one first.

IMG_7758The Quarai Ruins are probably my favorite. I like that these ruins are more “complete.”  It just gives you a better feeling of what they were like when people lived there.  The roof is gone, but there is more definition to the rooms.  I also like the park area around it a bit more than the other two sites.  The walking trails are nice and there was a pretty little picnic area under some big trees.  There aren’t a whole heck of a lot of big trees in New Mexico.  Mostly there are short cedar trees and scroungy little scrub brush.

Gran Quivira Ruins wereIMG_7792 interesting to see, but probably my least favorite site to visit.  The ruins are the least intact of the three and they sit high up on a hill.  It was interesting to see the differences between the two sites and the different styles of building.  The other two sites were built near water, but this site depended on rainfall so they had big wells dug to catch and store the water.  

IMG_7834The Abo Ruin was more like the Quarai site.  Both were constructed from the red rocks and red clay and the site was fairly well intact (for being centuries old!).  It was interesting to wander through the remains of the rooms and imagine what life must have been like.  The picnic area here was really nice, it too was built under some big trees.  The first two sites had nicer (real) bathrooms while the Abo Ruin had more port-a-potty style bathrooms.  (This is important in New Mexico, because you can drive for over an hour and not see a town… or if you do see a town they don’t have a gas station… or anywhere else to stop…. nice clean restrooms are important!)

Brian and I ate our lunch at the Abo Ruin picnic area before heading off to the VLA in Magdalena, NM.  We’re really enjoying picnicking instead of trying to find a restaurant.  For one thing, it would be really difficult to find anywhere to eat in New Mexico…. you can drive for a really long way and not see anyone… and for another, we’re saving a ton of money and calories and getting to spend more time in some really beautiful places.

The Very Large Array in Magdalena/Socorro (It’s really just in the middle of nowhere):

“The Very Large Array is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, consists of 27 radio antennas inIMG_7859 a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter.”

IMG_7871These things are just amazing. They are listening to outer-space!  Of course, that is totally oversimplifying, but I just look at them and realize that they can see/hear stars being born and dying… looking beyond what our human eyes could ever see…. I look at them and I see such exciting possibilities…. who knows what they will help us discover?  I know it seems weird… it’s just a bunch of big dishes out in the middle of nowhere…. I just think they are beautiful.  The sky was a beautiful blue with big fluffy clouds today…. I took a ton of photos of the VLA.  Every time they would move I have to take a dozen more photos…. They are SO quiet… and they move faster than you’d expect for such a huge thing.

Brian and I watched the movie at the Visitor’s Center… it’s narrated by Jodi Foster… she was in the movie Contact that was based on/at the VLA.  The video isn’tIMG_7928 very long, but it explains the VLA and what it does.  The best part of the video is when it explains how they move these dishes on train tracks around the site.  They weighTONS… the whole process is pretty interesting.

It’s a long drive to get to any of these sites if you are staying in Albuquerque (and I’m not sure where else you would be staying… maybe Roswell?  Not a lot of big towns to choose from.) but if you are in New Mexico I would say these are all really interesting things to see.  (And they’re all free!)

After the VLA we headed back to Albuquerque to finally meet up with MINI USA.  The MINI’s started arriving at the MINI dealership around 6:00pm.  We had a great time… MINI really knows how to throw a party! 10552630_10152323693423668_5713593808735944385_nBrian and I got checked in and got our MINI ID’s and our first goody bag.  The dealership served dinner and had a live band.  It was great!  There were hundreds of different MINIs and no two alike.  We ate dinner and made a new friend (MINI people are just friendly… especially when we are talking about our kids… er… cars.)  We hung out for a while, sitting on the grass and listening to the band.  The weather was just perfect… mid 70’s (I thought New Mexico was supposed to be hot?!).  We finally decided to call it a night.  We’ve got to get up very bright and early to meet the other MINI’s and start driving to Lubbock, TX.  More adventure awaits!

 

MTTS: Day Four – Albuquerque, NM

IMG_9052

Day four!  We’ve spent so long planning this trip, it hardly seems like we could already be up to day four!  Brian are I are having a wonderful time seeing parts of the country that we’ve never seen before.  We continue to be amazed by how different the geography is in each state.  Texas was prettier than I would have ever expected.

IMG_7658This morning we had planned to go to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park (see, STATE park… makes all the difference!)  The forecast was calling for rain all day, but I really had my heart set on seeing the canyon.  The day before had been so bright/overcast that photos had been difficult.  I figured the storm clouds would atIMG_7568 least give me a break in that department.  As it turned out, we managed to beat the storm almost the entire day.  It caught up with us for a bit in New Mexico, but by then we were in the car and didn’t really care.

I’m so glad we decided to visit the canyon.  It was beautiful!  I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and I would have to say that I enjoyed this much more.  I was on an airplane/bus tour from Las Vegas, so I didn’t get to see much beyond the rim, and it was pretty and all….. but I dunno…. I’ve also visited the Waimea Canyon in Kauai and it was cool too….. but I just really enjoyed the Palo Duro Canyon more.  Maybe it was because Brian and I got to go down into the Palo Duro Canyon IMG_7541and explore more.  There are all these walking trails and picnic areas.  We really had a wonderful time.  If you are ever in the area, this is a “must-see.”

I wish we would have had more time to walk the trails, but the clouds were pressing in and the temperature kept dropping (76° in Texas!).  The park ranger had warned us on our way in to head back if it started to rain because where we were headed was beyond two roads that often flooded.  We also had a 6 hour drive to reach Albuquerque, NM.

We had a couple of Route 66 stops semi-planned along the way to Albuquerque to break up the long drive.IMG_7703 Our first stop was at the Cadillac Ranch.  I guess I never really read up on it too much…. I’d seen photos and heard about it, but never bothered to research it.  I just had it in my head that it was some kind of weird “art” along Route 66.  Which is mostly true…. but less “art” and more graffiti/trash heap.  I hadn’t realized that people were encouraged to vandalize/deface the Cadillacs even more than they already were….. I have to say, I was totally disappointed.  It was just a bunch
IMG_7708of old cars with their noses buried in a mud pit that had been spray painted over so many times that the paint had bubbled and peeled.  Piles of discarded spray paint cans littered the ground and the stink of dirt and paint filled the air.  It was sad.  Just really, really sad.

I napped for a while in the car and I think we missed a couple of the other Route 66 stops, but honestly, after the Cadillac Ranch I think we were both feeling less interested in Route 66 attractions.  By staying on the main highway we could do 75mph and Albuquerque was calling.

We found the Historic District of Albuquerque and had dinner at the Church Street Cafe.  It had gotten really good reviews on Google for authentic mexican cuisine.  Maybe I don’t like authentic Mexican food?  I don’t know, I was a bit disappointed.  The place was really cute, but the staff was very disinterested and inattentive.  The food was much spicier than I enjoyed and very thin on the protein.  Brian enjoyed his tacos though.

After dinner we roamed around Old Town and checked out the art galleries and other little shops.  The store owners/artists were vary chatty and friendly.  Brian IMG_9083and I got caught up by one artist in particular and spent nearly 45 minutes “hostage”…. I finally bought a little greeting card reprint and we made our escape.  I liked a number of his other paintings, but I’m not much of an art buyer….. The card I bought was a print of the painting that had been on display outside and had drawn me to the store to begin with.  I just liked the bright colors and happy expression on the bird.  Not sure what I will do with the card…. maybe frame it?  Or just give it it’s very own page in the scrapbook perhaps.

After that, Brian didn’t want me to talk to anyone else for fear we’d get caught up for another 45 minutes.  We headed back to the hotel since we needed to do laundry anyway.  I caught up on my post card and blogging while the laundry ran…. and now it is once again time for bed…. Where do the days go!?

 

MTTS: Day Three – Amarillo, TX

Does Oklahoma never end?  Seriously…. that was the longest state!

I totally overslept this morning.  Not that we really had an actual schedule, but we had imagined that we’d be up and moving by eight.  I’m going to blame it on those wonderful Holiday Inn pillows.  (I used to have a couple of those…. Not stolen!  You can order them online.  I need a couple more… they are just the nicest pillows ever.)

I finally drug myself out of bed around nine and took my sweet time getting ready.  By the time we checked out, the free continental breakfast was pretty much gone.  I grabbed a banana and a hot coffee to go with my Cliff Bar and we headed out.

IMG_7434Our first planned stop of the day was Turner Falls Park.  Brian and I had visited Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia last November and had a wonderful time hiking up (the four million stairs) to see the falls.  So that was more what I was expecting….. Okay, so Turner Falls is a Park… not a State Park… so not the same IMG_7428thing.  Think more “natural water park” than “nature park with water”.  Also think water park prices not state park prices.  State parks are usually $5 a person…. this was $12…. not outrageous, but I’m trying to stick to a budget here people!  Ugh.  So instead of being what I expected, Turner Falls was something completely different.  The Falls still turned out to be enjoyable.  I’m not sure I would recommend it as a “must see” if you are just passing through. Now, if you planned to stay the whole day and play in the water or if you had kids with you…. yeah, this would be a great place to visit and spend the whole day.  The falls are at the far end of the park, but there is a paved walkway up to it and a pool at the base of the falls to play in.  A stream flows down from the falls and there were people playing there and further IMG_7431down where there appeared to be slides and other water-parky stuff.  There are also lifeguards and restrooms with showers and snack bars.

Brian and I were still thinking “state park” so we followed the map to the “castles” and “caves”….. The “castle” was built by a professor back in the ’30’s as (it sounds like) a guy’s hang out.  The steps are insane.  Super tall, super steep and super narrow.  In some places there is a rickety handrail and in others you’re just supposed to hope your balance is good.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but teenagers.

IMG_7457  We hiked back a little ways though one of the trails, following a small stream.  During a wetter season I would bet it is really pretty.  As it was today, it was pretty, but not that pretty….  We met another couple who had been to one of the caves and we asked if it was worth the hike.  The guy seemed to have enjoyed it, but warned that there were places where you had to climb ropes and that there was a wasp nest near the mouth of the cave.  The lady gave me the big eyed look that I took to mean we should skip it if we wanted to live.  So we skipped it.

All in all, the Falls were pretty and would be fun if you wanted to spend the whole day and play in the water, but we were thinking we were just going to look at a pretty waterfall…. not what we expected.

After the Falls we didn’t have anything big planned.  We stopped briefly at a Route 66 landmark and got a couple of photos of Posh out front, but she was pretty done with Oklahoma and it’s boring roads.  (Arkansas was so much more fun with all the hills and twisties!) IMG_7477

Mostly today’s goal was just to escape Oklahoma. Sorry Oklahoma, but my impression was just of a long ,boring, flat state with little interesting scenery.  Once we crossed into Texas the geography completely changed.  I wouldn’t have expected that the landscape would change so much just from one side of the state line to the other, but once we hit Texas there were things to look at.  Woo hoo!  Instead of the rolling hills of Arkansas there were deep valleys and slices through the earth.  And now I know why Texas is called “Big IMG_7494Sky Country, ”  the horizon seems to go on forever.

When we finally made it into Texas I was getting pretty hungry and had been searching for someplace to eat for far too long on my iPhone…. Hungry + Reading in a Car = Sick Stephanie.  Fortunately we had finally reached the welcome center and I got to get out an wander around for a while. Posh was far more impressed with the view, but didn’t want to wander off the road after she saw the “beware of IMG_7499rattlesnakes” signs.

Brian picked the restaurant since I wasn’t up to looking at little words on my phone anymore.  I’d narrowed it down to a hand-full once we’d decided on BBQ.  When we pulled up to the restaurant I became a bit concerned…. It was a BBQ place attached to a gas station….. Umm…. I’d been thinking of a nicer dinner?

When we walked in they asked if we’d ever been there before…. Was it that obvious?…. The guy directed us to the front counter and told us to tell them it was our first visit and promised there’d be samples.  Woo hoo!  Samples!

The brisket was delicious and Brian decided to get a 1/2lb of brisket (no “combos” or pre designed “meals”… just order what you want and pay by the pound.)  I had my heart (and tummy) set on ribs, so I got a 10405544_10152319747293668_8690263656606736249_n1/2lb of ribs.  When it came to the sides I asked if the cream corn had any flour in it and mentioned that I was allergic to wheat (It’s easier to say “allergic” than to explain “gluten-sensitive”…. people get “allergic” and the outcome is the same for me… no wheat.) He got it right away and warned me about all the other side options with wheat.  So I ended up with new potatoes…. yum and Brian got the corn on the cob.  Even the signature BBQ sauces were labeled Gluten-Free.  Brian and I loved our dinners and really appreciated how friendly and knowledgeable the staff were.  If you ever are in the neighborhood, visit Rudy’s….. don’t let the gas station freak you out.

Now for a good night’s sleep so we’ll be rested up for tomorrow’s adventures!

MTTS: Day Two – Pauls Valley, OK

After a Cliff Bar and a cup of coffee, we packed up and headed out of Eureka Springs fairly early this morning. Brian had come across an Arkansas road map forIMG_7272 bikers yesterday and  found a couple of interesting looking places that he wanted to try.  (Who knew that bikers and MINI’s would like the same driving routes… guess it makes sense… twisty, back roads with scenic places to stop…. maybe MINIs and bikers should hang out together more often!)  The roads that he wanted to try eventually intersected with the Scenic Byway that I’d read about…. so it sounded like a good plan.

Our first stop was at the War Eagle Bridge & Mill.  The mill actually still works… which is pretty impressive… Brian and I have been to a few other mills and most are no longer working.  They had corn and a couple different kinds of flour for sale. IMG_7261Brian loves checking out the machinery and figuring out how it all works.  He keeps trying to explain it all to me, but I just keep thinking how I would get my hair caught in something and kill myself.  I leave all that to him and I wander around and check out the different kinds of jams they have for sale.  My father-in-law likes weird kinds of jam, so we’re always looking for something new for him.

Up on the third floor was a restaurant and outside is a huge steel bridge, cleverly named, War Eagle Bridge.  The bridge looked pretty cool with the mill in the background, so Brian and I waited until there was a lull in the traffic (it’s a one lane bridge!) and then took Posh over the bridge to pose for a few pictures.

IMG_7285We opted to skip the restaurant (beans seemed to be a big thing on the menu… ick) and headed off for the rest of our biker approved dive.  Arkansas is just really pretty to drive through… all the rolling hills and pretty farms.  It is really pretty to visit in the fall when all the leaves are changing.  There weren’t a lot of places to stop or much to do other than enjoy the scenery.  (That was okay with us, that had been the plan, really.) Finally, we came to the Talimena Scenic Byway.

According to the website, “The Talimena Scenic drive winds 54 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita NationalIMG_7370 Forest (pronounced Wash-i-tah). If you can resist stopping to enjoy the many vistas and attractions along the way, the route takes 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive. A leisurely drive can take all day.”

It took us about two and a half hours to get through.  Along the way we stopped and climbed the Fire Tower on Rich Mountain… I would recommend climbing the tower if you are ever on your way through.  There are some really great views from the top.  Brian wasn’t thrilled with the construction of the tower (he’s always looking at how things are put together!), but I’ve actually climbed much creepier towers (with Mom!), and I thought this one was pretty good.  Admittedly, I’m not really afraid of heights…

The first 6 or 7 scenic overlooks were great and exciting… we stopped at each and jumped out to peer over the edge.  The hills and mountains had a blue color that didn’t seem quite believable.  I’ve heard the Ozark/Arkansas mountains described as “blue” before, but didn’t really grasp that, yes, they really look blue.  Even standing there, looking out over the valley my brain kept trying to convince me that they’d been photoshopped.

IMG_7405As the day got hotter and muggier we started just pulling up to the scenic overlooks and kinda leaning out of the car… yup, pretty… keep rolling.  As long as the car was moving there was a nice breeze.  The Scenic Byway finally came to an end and we were in Oklahoma by then.  The Byway was absolutely beautiful and I would suggest you visit if you are ever in Arkansas…. especially in the fall… I’ll bet it is AMAZING in the fall!

Once we left the Byway and headed into Oklahoma….. things got dull…. super dull…. mind numbingly dull…… How long is Oklahoma?!  And what happened to the cell signal?  I couldn’t even message Mom!  Ugh.

The sun began to set and I decided that we needed a photo of Posh with the sunset.  Of course, as soon as I decide that, we hit work zones and then a residential area.  Just as we were about to lose the light, I spotted a field and a wide shoulder.  Brian pulled over and I bailed out to take a few photos.  (Thank goodness he watches the road for me and keeps me from getting run over!  “Car!  Car, Stephanie!  Get out of the ROAD!”)  I finally got my shot of Posh and the sunset and we headed off to our hotel.  Another exciting day full of daring photo shoots…. Survived!

IMG_7412

 

Momma Drama

IMG_5471It’s been one of those absolutely insane weeks where time stands still and then suddenly rushes forward without warning.  Sunday night my mom ended up in the ER and Tuesday morning she had to have surgery.  She had a hernia and it needed to be repaired ASAP.  The doctors promised that they did this surgery all the time and that she’d be fine…. but quite frankly this is MY MOMMA and I understand a bit too much of the medical terminology to be completely reassured.

My Aunt sat with me in the waiting room to distract me and keep me from wandering into the OR to “supervise.”  Like I said… this is MY MOMMA… I don’t really trust anyone with her, but me…. Of course, I’m not a surgeon, so it was probably for the best that Aunt Sheila kept an eye on me.  (I know that I am damn lucky to have family that knows me and loves me anyway!)

Mom’s surgery went well, but as with any surgery there are risks.  We all watched her like a hawk…. or a pack of hawks… (flock?)… and finally on Friday I got to take her home.  I might be just a bit more freaked out now because now she is up and wanting to go DO things.  *sigh*

IMG_6562

Aunt Sheila, Mom & me at Kimmswick Witches Night Out

Since this whole week has been filled with starts and stops and sudden jolts in time, imagine my surprise when I woke to discover that the week was nearly at an end and Brian and I were supposed to be leaving on our MINI Takes the States Road-Trip on Saturday.  With a ton of trepidation… not so much because Mom looks bad…(because she doesn’t,  she looks good…. and who know’s what she’ll get into while I’m gone?!)  but because she’s MY MOMMA and MY BEST FRIEND… I mean, we grew up together… she was just a kid (25…. and from my vantage point now, that’s just a baby) when I met her…. Nobody knows her as well as I do…. and no one knows me like she does… OBVIOUSLY no one can look after her as well as I can….. But Mom said to go and promised to be safe and just sit around quietly.  I don’t entirely believe her….. but Sheila has promised to do more of that Hawk-Watching thing (She has a daughter like me, so she gets it…)  and Mom does hate it when I sit and stare at her…..  So Brian and I packed up the car this morning and headed out on our MINI Adventure.

The best mommas are the ones that can give you wings to fly and yet manage to keep you grounded at the same time.