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 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 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 One – Eureka Springs

We hit the road today… off to join the other MINI’s on the MINI Takes the States Road-Trip.  MTTS officially kicked off in California this morning, but we’re just going to meet up with them in Albuquerque, NM.  We’re doing our own little rallye adventure on our way to Albuquerque.

IMG_7223We stopped for lunch at the Parachute Inn Restaurant in Walnut Ridge, MO.  Since our family runs a little airport we thought it would be fun to visit other little airports within easy flying distance and say hello.  Walnut Ridge Airport is also home to the Parachute Inn which is a restaurant inside an old 737.  IMG_7211

The food was pretty basic; hamburgers, fried catfish, french fries… nothing amazing, but it was good.  It’s not like we were going there for the food…. we wanted to have lunch in the plane.  Inside it’s a regular 737 with about 1/3 of the seats removed and half the remaining seats turned around backward to make benches.  It was something different and quirky to do… I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again, but I could see kids getting a huge kick out of it.  The food was good… a little slow… our french fries arrived after we’d finished our hamburgers, but they were nice and hot and the staff was all very friendly.  If you are looking for something unique to do and passing through this area I would recommend stopping…. I wouldn’t go way out of my way to visit… but if it was on your way it makes a fun little stop.

After lunch we visited with the people at the FBO and talked airports for a while.  They were super nice.  If you’re a pilot I would certainly recommend visiting.  Then you could have lunch at the restaurant!  They also have a museum on-site, but Brian was ready to get back on the road by then, so we didn’t get to check it out.

10514591_10152316096683668_4776309272802332004_nWe planned to spend the evening in Eureka Springs, AR and wander around in the historic district.  By the time we arrived I would have happily spent the evening snoozing at the hotel, but Brian knows (from experience) that if take a nap and skip dinner he’ll have a sick whiny-baby on his hands at 3 am.  Our hotel suggested a couple of restaurants that would probably be good for gluten-free and Brian and I chose FRESH: Farm to Table.  It was a really cute little place at the far end of the Historic Loop.  The food was really great!  Gluten Free Italian Pizza for me (about half way through Brian snatched my pizza and gave me his risotto) and Scallops and risotto for Brian.  For a restaurant that serves locally sourced, hand-made and all that I would have expected them to know more about which meals were gluten-free and which were vegan (I over heard them suggesting a chicken salad to a vegan at another table….).  Oh well, hopefully that is something they’ll work on.  The food was really good!

After dinner we roamed around town for a bit.  Most of the shops were beginning to close, so we just peered into the windows and checked out the natural springs around town.  Comparing Eureka Springs to Hot Springs, AR, I liked Hot Springs better.  Hot Springs had more art galleries and rock and crystal shops.  Eureka Springs seemed to have more of the generic tourist shops… stuff you can find anywhere.  Hot Springs also has more springs right along the main road that are easier to see.

I’d read about the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs…. it’s supposedIMG_7254 to be super haunted.  Brian and I opted to skip the ghost tour and take the self guided tour around the hotel.  I didn’t spot any ghosts…. nothing showed up on my camera either.  😦  The Crescent Hotel is interesting for a walking tour, but I am glad we didn’t stay there.  It is an old hotel and it is really showing it’s age.  The floors have dips and the stairs lean…. that made it creepy…. not the ghosts!

We finished up our tour of Eureka Springs by checking out a couple of the springs around town.  I, of course, started us out with one that was at the top of a million steps….. more or less.  Brian picked a nicer spring that was in a little cave.  We got a bit of time when there was no one in the cave and I got to play IMG_7244around with the camera and the timer for a bit and got some fun photos.

I’ve enjoyed Eureka Springs, but I prefer Hot Springs.  It was fun for the day, but I don’t think it would keep us entertained for a whole weekend.

Now for a good night’s sleep and on to more adventures tomorrow!