A Travellerspoint blog

USA

Road-tripping in the Southwest


View 2021 & 2020 on mrb430's travel map.

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As I mentioned in our last post, we recently spent two weeks or so in the Southwest United States. Our flight into Salt Lake City was amazing. I had no idea the vastness and desolation of the Great Salt Lake or the amazingly varied landscape of it. You can imagine the settlers finding it and their wonderment and, likely, disappointment.
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Violating the Prime Directive

After flying in, we headed up to the small town of Logan, Utah to pick up our new truck. And let me just pause here to say that I know we have an unconventional life. Our legal residence is Florida, our mailing address is Virginia, we live in Baja, and we were titleing the truck in South Dakota but I'm pretty sure we blew the minds of the dealership in this small town. They just couldn't figure us out. I mean add to it that we had flown from Baja to come up and pick up the truck from them after completing the entire purchase online and through email. In the end, we worked it out and I think they got an education but it was kinda hysterical and we kinda felt like the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek Into Darkness when they violated the Prime Directive by letting a primitive civilization see the future. In any case, it was a beautiful drive back down to I-15 and we saw some amazing fall colors and golden grasses.
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Crossing the Divide

When we planned to pick up the truck, we knew we had to fit a visit to my parents into the mix. I mean, when you're less than 500 miles from somewhere out West it's practically a day trip! We took two days to do it, stopping in Vernal, Utah overnight. We traveled on US 40, which is two lane most of the way and virtually devoid of traffic except in the small towns. There were times we'd travel fifteen minutes or more without seeing another vehicle. Through Utah, there are a lot of reservoirs and beautiful grasslands.
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Once into Colorado the highways follows the Yampa River for quite awhile and crosses it numerous times. It was really lovely.
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Climbing into the mountains in Colorado, it became a breathtaking drive that took us up over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado at 9426'. The Aspens were golden yellow and orange, the willows had turned yellow, and the wildflowers were blooming. It ticked a bucket-list item for me of seeing the Aspens in the fall.
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We enjoyed being in Fort Collins with my parents. It was a great surprise for us all that it worked out.
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We did some US-only shopping, ate a lot of US-only food, and generally reacquainted ourselves with our country. Scott has a perpetual bucket list for whenever we return to the US, mostly involving food. Steak sandwiches, wings, buffalo chicken, Jujyfruits, you get the idea. It was also a productive break because we got the truck registered with South Dakota (yes, it's all online and through the mail and it's open to anyone with a US address). We didn't want to cross back into Mexico without proper plates and registration so it all worked out perfectly. And then we were back on the road.

Ticking off the Bucket List

Two places I've always wanted to go are Great Sand Dunes National Park and Monument Valley so I put those on our itinerary on our way back to Baja. The drive across US 160 from I-25 takes you around the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Colorado and past Mount Lindsey and Blanca Peak, the fourth highest in the Rocky Mountains. They are a beautiful range of mountains in the semi-arid southeast of Colorado.
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On the way into the park, we drove up the Zapata Falls Trail for Libby's (if you read the last blog, you will know that's what we named our truck) first off road excursion. The views back to the dunes were awesome.
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The Great Sand Dunes are enormous and really amazing. The entire dune field encompasses 30 square miles and the tallest dune towers 750 feet high. They have all kinds of activities from sliding down the dunes on boards (nope!) to hiking up them (double nope!). We just enjoyed the views.
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I think what attracted me to them was just the strangeness of all that sand at the base of the mountains. Thousands of years of erosion and wind. It lived up to my expectations and we're really glad we stopped. We drove on through more aspen and passed the Wolf Creek Pass Overlook with stunning views down into the valley around Pagosa Springs before we spent the night in Durango, Colorado.
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Here's a short video with some of the highlights of the day's drive.

The next day we headed out on Highway 160 again, detoured to the Four Corners monument and let Scott step into New Mexico to add another state to his list. Then we headed into southeast Utah toward bucket list item number two.
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Monument Valley was first made famous in early Westerns, including those by John Ford and a few starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda, and later in movies by Sergio Leone. It was also used in a few space movies like 2001, A Space Odyssey. BUT Monument Valley is located on Navajo Nation land and visitors exploring the area usually travel with a Navajo guide. Due to Covid-19 and it's terrible impact on the Tribes, Monument Valley was closed! Thankfully, Valley of the Gods offers similar scenery without the tribal restrictions; it is located on BLM land and was OPEN! Valley of the Gods is filled with isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections, and was totally amazing!
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The western end of the Valley of the Gods road connects with Hwy 261 just below what is known as the Moki Dugway. The Moki Dugway is a section of very tight switchbacks on Muley Point Road that allow it to climb the cliff face to the top of Cedar Mesa and, after turning into a dirt road across the mesa, out to Muley Point. The Point looks out over the massive canyon carved by the San Juan River. The drive up and the views were definitely worth the detour.
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Check out this video of our drive through Valley of the Gods and up the Dugway to Cedar Mesa (apologies to the bug on the windshield!).

Our last stop wasn't on my bucket list but it easily could have been. Goosenecks State Park is a small park up on another mesa that overlooks a place where the San Juan River makes a few hair pin turns that result in a meander of six miles to cover barely a mile westward toward Lake Powell. The water was a strange color of green that reminded us of the weirdly blue glacial rivers we've seen.
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We went on to Flagstaff for the night and to watch the Chiefs game - yes, I brought my jersey!
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And maybe just a word or two is in order about how we stayed safe in these times. We cleaned every touchable surface of every hotel room with Clorox wipes the minute we entered. We ordered food in and ate in our room almost exclusively. We bought our own alcohol and made our own drinks, which can be challenging in places like Utah! We wore our masks and stayed away from people that weren't. And we used a lot of hand sanitizer. In all honesty, we were pleasantly surprised that in most places we went into people were wearing masks and even small hotels were taking appropriate precautions. It was a really different experience and we missed being able to socialize and meet new people but those times will return someday. For now, we made safety our priority. The great thing about touring these types of places is the whole point is to be outdoors!

Baja Bound

Before bee-lining back to La Paz, we did a short detour down Hwy 89A from Flagstaff down to Sedona. We thought the canyon a bit underwhelming but the red rocks of Sedona are pretty cool.
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The town itself is just another tourist outpost for adventure activities. Scott had been in Sedona in the late 90's and couldn't believe how much it had changed and begun to look like a million other small tourist towns. After Sedona, we hit I-17 and took it down, with a jog a Phoenix, to I-8 and crossed the bottom of Arizona before crossing into California. The only thing of interest on this part of the trip was seeing the "border wall", which was a fence where we were, and these giant sand dunes that came up out of nowhere.
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We spent the night in El Centro, California and crossed at Mexicali without incident the next morning. After a beautiful trip down MX-5, which is a beautiful, new, lightly-traveled road and much superior to MX-1, we spent the night in one of our favorite towns, San Ignacio. Of course we enjoyed a few margaritas on the square, too.
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The next day we arrived back in La Paz. If you're interested in seeing the Baja, check out these posts. Driving the Baja Peninsula, Part 1, Driving the Baja Peninsula, Part 2, and Adventures on Our Way Out of Baja. I didn't document it again.

We really enjoyed being on the road again in a ZR2 and seeing some new parts of the US. It was like welcoming an old friend back into our lives. We're thinking of another extended road trip next year if things improve with the Covid situation. Stay safe!

Posted by mrb430 10:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Family Fun in Miami Beach


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

I'm writing this from the Costa Coffee at Gatwick Airport, London. We arrived at midnight EST, 5 AM UK time, and 7 AM Cyprus time. Take your pick we're tired already and have another 15+ hours of travel until we reach our "home" in Cyprus. The glamour of international travel!
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But it gives me time to reflect on our last week in Miami Beach and our visit with Morgan and her boyfriend, Steven.

THE VENETIAN POOL

Morgan came down a few days before Steven and she and Scott were kind enough to indulge me in a trip to The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. This place has been on my list since I was in Miami Beach during college and I finally made it! Originally a quarry where stone for many of the first buildings of Coral Gables came from, including the original house of Solomon Merrick, it later became, and remains, a public swimming pool.
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It's a lovely example of 1920's Coral Gables, along with Vizcaya (see my previous post) and you can just see the bathing ladies of the time and imagine what it must have been like back when Coral Gables was the place to be in Miami.
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It has grottoes...
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...waterfalls with pools to climb and soak in...
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...and one big one you can swim underneath.
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It was a great day and really a unique place to visit.

SUNSET SAILING

Next up, after Steven joined us, was a redo of the sunset sail Scott and I did three years ago. After hanging out at the bars at Bayside, we boarded the Caribbean Spirit catamaran for our sail. We had a great sail and a great sunset.
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We never tire of the view of the Miami from the water.

WYNWOOD WALLS

We always enjoy visiting the neighborhood of Wynwood with it's amazing collection of murals. It has changed A LOT since three years ago. There is building everywhere, mainly new apartments and condos, and it makes me fear for their ability to sustain the murals long term as most are on dilapidated or abandoned low rise industrial buildings. Hopefully they have the foresight to protect some of these spaces. The new buildings are adding huge murals to them but they're "professional" and don't give the same feel as the originals. If you can, visit it before it's gone!
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We really had fun hosting "the kids"! Lots of beach time, pool time, and of course a Sunday Funday to top it all off.
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It was really good to be back in the States for a month. Much as I might hate to admit it, it did feel like being home. But it's a new month and that means on to new adventures including our first house sit. Cyprus, Marrakesh, and the Canaries up next so stay tuned.

Posted by mrb430 04:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Back "Home" in Miami Beach


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

We overheard an American tourist here in Miami Beach the other day say "I'm going back to the US tomorrow". I suppose for many the idea that there are places here where English is not the primary language spoken, say Little Havana, or where the diversity rivals any other international city is a downside but for us it means we feel at home here. Of all the places we've traveled in the US, Miami is the place we fit right in.
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Unusual for us, we are staying in a hotel suite (yes we still have a kitchen, although we still had to buy a tea kettle and a sharp knife!)
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Miami Beach has passed some of the strictest short-term rental laws in the US. No lease can be less than 6 months and a day. As a result, Air BnB is almost non-existent, except illegally. And let me just say, staying in a hotel for three weeks is a hoot. The staff has gotten used to me walking around in my bare feet and beach dresses like I would in a house and they've stopped trying to get us on the Hop-on Hop-off bus. Maybe this is especially true at 5th and Ocean where most tourists this time of year only rent for one or two nights over the weekend. During the week, we have the hotel largely to ourselves. It's as amusing to us as I'm sure it is to the staff to watch all the party kids come in for the weekend. So, thank you hurricane season. And thanks to the powers that be that all the current hurricanes are turning north! We've had some very windy, blustery days and lots of afternoon storms but that's par for the course. Sometimes I can't tell if we're in Miami or Bocas del Toro!

But the "tourists" make the weekends fun for us while we're out indulging Scott's football passion. Last weekend we spent Saturday at a dive bar whiling away the hours of college football with the locals and cheap buckets of beer and then changed it up for Sunday at the Clevelander, our favorite Sunday Sh!t sh0w. You can simultaneously watch football, the incredible scene unfolding on Ocean Drive, and the extravagance of the pool party - for a price of course!
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A few words about being back in the US. If you don't count our overnight in Orlando in April, it's been seven months since we spent a week or so in L.A and over a year since we were in the US full-time. Coming from Croatia, a country of great homogeneity, the diversity of Chicago and then Miami has been particularly striking and welcome. So too is the amazing wealth of the US. We saw an amazing example of historic American wealth on our visit to Vizcaya, James Deering's mansion in Coral Gables. The house and gardens are worth a visit if you're ever in Miami. As an aside, we feel like Americans may not appreciate the "palaces" that are here in America as much as we do those in Europe. You know, we go to Europe and tour Versailles and the Scottish castles but we forget about the Hearst Castle, the Antebellum Mansions in the south, and places like Vizcaya. Maybe it's the discomfort we have with the "robber-barons" and before that our shared disgrace of slavery but the result of our history is places of equal worth for a tour as the palaces of Europe. We suggest you search them out as you travel.
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Built right on Biscayne Bay, it has taken some hits from hurricanes over the years but remains an outstanding place.
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Of course, for me, the gardens are the best part. The use of local limestone and coral is really fantastic. And the lushness of the tropics combined into the landscape were a real change from the dry, desert-like places we saw in Spain and Croatia.
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But perhaps the most striking thing about the US is the result of two things: efficient tax collection and a "trust society". You may hate taxes but the infrastructure and public investment in the US that flows from them is awesome and results in such cleanliness, beauty, and comfort. I think we take this for granted but it really is a gift of public works. And we may rail against the "over regulation" of the US but this too is a very different and much appreciated aspect of the US that I think goes unnoticed until you don't have it anymore. Crosswalk lights, crosswalks for that matter, public parks, paved walking and biking paths, all of this is very rare in other countries if it exists at all. Of course, it all comes at a cost and makes the US overly expensive for basic things like phone service and health care. So it's nice to be back and enjoying our tax dollars at work (yes we still pay taxes too!) but we still are of a mind that it's not yet time to come back for good.

But it's a great place to celebrate my birthday! This will be my third birthday if Florida, second in Miami Beach, and it never stops being fun. We spent it this year touring Vizcaya and then in Little Havana. Calle Ocho, at it's heart, it a fun-filled wonderland of cigar stores, Cuban restaurants and bars, and amazing food.
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After walking the Calle, we ended up in the Ball and Chain, in existence since 1935 it's hosted the likes of Chet Baker, for some awesome Cuban cocktails and music.
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Finally, we had dinner at the iconic Versailles Restaurant, serving Miami since 1971.
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More football fun today hanging at Monty's at the marina on the bay - avoiding the wind off the ocean. Feels a lot like our old DC favorite Cantina Marina. When I asked Scott's feeling about what's different being back here, his response was "the bars are better". Which basically translates to "there are outdoor bars with multiple screens playing football", yes American football not soccer, on each one! And then there are the Dominican (alas Cubans aren't legal) cigars...Romeo and Julietta men say yes!
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And free WiFi means I can finish up the blog with a Bloody Mary! So we're both happy.
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We leave for Cyprus, Marrakesh, and the Canary Islands at the end of the month but not before Morgan and Steven come to visit so stay tuned for more fun from Miami Beach.

Posted by mrb430 09:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Chillin' with Family in Illinois


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Well we made it back to the USA uneventfully and landed at O'Hare. It's always fun to fly back to Chicago as I grew up just north in Evanston and it's the airport I took my first international trips from back in college. We grabbed a taxi up to the North Shore and settled in for a week of family. It was a really relaxing stay with my brother and it was great to be with my mom on her birthday.

As planned, we ate a lot! So much good food in Chicago. A favorite is Char Polish from Mustard's Last Stand - a place that has been there since I was a kid!
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And, of course, we did our normal pilgrimage to Greek Town for a family dinner and to celebrate Mom's birthday.
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It was really nice to meet Claire, my brother's new friend.
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We really enjoyed her company as we hung out watching football and on a trip downtown.
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We even got treated to fireworks.
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The Chicago Riverwalk is such a cool place! Chicago would be on our list except for the weather! It was already pretty cold and I always forget how little the sun shines. So we are very grateful to Marcello for hosting us all and for my Mom and Dad for making the trip out to see us. It was a really wonderful visit.

But we are also grateful that as I write this we are back in Miami Beach in the sun!
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Posted by mrb430 08:53 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Back In The US of A

Briefly!

Just a quick update from the Orlando Airport as we wait for our flight to London and then on to Barcelona.

GOODBYE NEW WORLD

After eight months in Baja, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras, we ended up feeling like "locals".

We could navigate the roads, airports, and sidewalk-less streets. We figured out the money, the indiosyncracies of shopping and transportation, and how to work around the quirkiness of housing. Nothing felt weird anymore - it all felt very familiar. We will miss the palm trees, the beaches, the blue waters, and the warmth of the places and people. We will miss shorts, tank tops, bathing suits, and flip flops. We will not miss the ridiculous rules of the telecom systems, the power outages, or the the diarrhea!

It's been weird to be back in the US for 24 hours. I had a salad that I didn't have to worry would kill me, Scott had an awesome French Dip (his favorite sandwich), and we both had proper Manhattans and Egg McMuffins! But wow! This 24 hours cost us about as much as three weeks in Roatán! Won't miss that!

HELLO OLD WORLD

So now we're off for our European adventure.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

I'm envisioning these two very tan gringos landing in London/Barcelona and looking like refugees from some Caribbean island thrown back into "civilization"! We are gonna stick out for sure and probably be freezing! Hope Europe is as welcoming to us as all of our Latin American friends have been. Wish us luck!

Remember to follow us @Arrradventures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 12:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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