August 22-24, 2019
A Week of Aloha - Part 2: Big Island, Hawaii
To hear about an adventure consisting of: island time, black sand beaches, unpredictable weather patterns, volcanic trails, malasadas, kona coffee and brews, and a big green sea turtle -- keep on reading!
After spending the last four days on Oahu (to read Part 1 click here!), my family jetted off to the Big Island, HI for three more days. It was our first time on the Big Island!
The Big Island welcomed us with sunshine and VERY hot/humid weather. It wasn’t as breezy during our trip, but we enjoyed the sunny weather regardless. We flew in around noon as the clouds were rolling in but the sun was still peeking through.
After picking up our rental car, we made our way towards Kona Town in search for lunch. We wanted to grab a bite to eat before Joe and Clarice went to their parasailing excursion that afternoon. We decided to eat at a restaurant called, Splashers Grill that was ocean-front and right next to UFO Parasail.
I went with the Ahi Tuna, while the rest of my family went with burgers. We happily ate our food while watching the boats take out the other parasailers. When Clarice asked me prior to our trip if I wanted to go parasailing with her, I debated on whether or not I wanted to go. However, since I’ve gone before and Joe hadn’t yet, I encouraged them to do the two-person reservation together instead.
When it became close to 3pm, we dropped off Joe and Clarice to enjoy their adventure while my parents and I went to go check-in to the hotel (Kona Coast Resort). We discovered quickly that the weather patterns on the Big Island were very unpredictable. It could be sunny and warm in one location, then after driving 10 minutes, it could be pounding down with heavy rain.
We ran into our hotel with all of our bags clutched to escape the rain until Joe and Clarice finished their ride. Luckily, it only sprinkled for them while on the boat and despite being a tad bit sea sick, they enjoyed themselves immensely!
On our way back to the hotel, we made a stop at Kahalu’u Beach Park (the closest black sand beach to our hotel) in search for turtles! This beach is typically known for green sea turtle sightings (we were told that they preferred black sand beaches over white to sunbathe in!); however, we unfortunately weren’t able to find any that evening.
We returned to the hotel to rest and relax. Other than our TV not working at first, we were quite impressed with our living space. I retired early that evening after a take-out dinner of fish tacos and macadamia nut chocolate boxes for dessert.
The second day on the Big Island had the most activities planned. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was pretty much the main event of our Big Island trip. Because Kona was about two hours away from the park, we woke up bright and early to begin our drive to the other side of the island.
We witnessed what we discovered yesterday -- that the weather can really change every 10 miles. We experienced sun, rain, and fog as we ventured over to the National Park, but before we knew it - we arrived in some sunshine. After stopping at the Visitor Center to collect my usual stamp, stickers, and postcards, my family decided to take a short hike through the Sulphur Banks Trail (1.3 miles, 82 ft. elevation gain) to the Kilauea Caldera Overlook. Because it was a shorter, paved, and relatively flat hike, my mom even decided to tag along with us. I was really proud of her because she’s not quite the hiker.
Walking through the sulphur banks and steam vents was such a unique and educational experience. Visiting the volcanoes really puts it into perspective how amazing and resilient our world is! We made it to the Kilauea Caldera Overlook just in time to catch part of the ranger’s presentation. He spoke about the recent volcanic eruption that occurred in 2018 and its effects on the land and the Hawaiian people.
We learned that many areas of the park were closed due to the recent eruption so a lot of the trails we wanted to go on were closed due to damage or restoration. We were recommended to try the Devastation Trail (1.0 miles) right along Crater Rim Drive. The elevation gain was minimal and the entire trail was paved; however, my mom decided to sit this one out.
It was definitely a unique site and a nice, quick hike. Again, walking around this land really forces you to realize how resilient our land/earth can be.
We worked up an appetite walking around, so we decided to head back to Punalu’u for some lunch. We stopped by Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (another common beach to spot turtles) and were able to successfully see a big green sea turtle resting on the beach. Clarice had never seen a wild sea turtle before so we were very excited that we finally found one during our trip!
It started to sprinkle so although we wanted to spend more time at the beach, we seeked shelter from the rain at Punalu’u Bake Shop for their very popular and well-known malasadas. They didn’t disappoint! We ended up buying sandwiches for lunch and malasadas for dessert, with extra malasadas for breakfast the next day.
With stomachs full and the rain picking up more, we made the road trip back to our hotel in Kona where we freshened up and relaxed a bit. We wanted to try to find the Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach), but decided to save that sight for next time. For dinner, we decided to try Kona Brewing Company! My dad and I were the only two out of the five of us that drink beer so we shared a tasting flight - Hanalei IPA, Kanaha Blonde, Mac Nut Vanilla Imperial Lager, and Wailua Wheat. Out of the four, I couldn’t pick a favorite! The rest of my family ordered pizza and we concluded our day with warm vibes and good conversations.
The Kona Coast Resort provided complimentary Kona Coffee during our stay, so it went so perfectly with our malasadas for breakfast. We didn’t have too much planned for our last day on the Big Island so we took our time waking up, having breakfast and getting our bags packed for the airport.
We made a stop at the ABC store for more souvenirs and macadamia nut chocolates, and by the time we checked out, we were hungry so we picked a Filipino-Hawaiian restaurant to try for lunch. A cousin who recently vacationed in Hawaii recommended Broke Da Mouth Grindz to us, so we thought we’d try it too!
I ordered the Hawaiian “Animal Style” Cheeseburger (it had spam, bacon, eggs, teriyaki and aioli sauces!) served with Sweet Potato Salad, and my family all ordered their famous Garlic Furikake Chicken. It was the dish that was featured on Food Network’s “Triple D” with Guy Fiery! All of it was SO good and we were all happily satisfied with lunch.
With a couple of hours to kill before our flight that late afternoon, we made our way to Hapuna Beach Park. We were told it was one of the nicest white sand beaches on the Big Island (at least closest to Kona!). We didn’t have the time to swim and stay awhile, but we chose to drive out there regardless since we had time to kill. It was definitely a beautiful and wide white sand beach!
As our Hawaiian adventure came to a close, we spent our last hour on the Big Island eating shave ice at the Kona International Airport.
Annnd that's a wrap!
That concludes Part 2 of our Hawaiian adventure on the Big Island! I especially appreciated our time at the Big Island because it definitely felt more like a true vacation than Oahu. Although Oahu was filled with fun adventures, we planned for the Big Island to have more down time. So blessed to have had the opportunity to vacation with my family for a week of Aloha!
Cheers to island time!
August 17-21, 2019
A Week of Aloha - Part 1: Oahu, Hawaii
To hear about an adventure consisting of: island time, family bonding, a luau, surfing lessons, beach days, “onolicious” food, a sunset photoshoot, and THREE (very humid.. lol) hikes -- keep on reading!
After visiting the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii last year for my best friend’s wedding, I convinced my family to return with me this summer. In addition to my mom, my dad, and my older brother (Joe), my cousin Clarice and her parents (Uncle Glenn and Aunt Mel) were able to join us too. It was exciting to have the opportunity to travel with so many family members to such an incredible destination!
We spent four full days in Oahu before flying over to the Big Island for three days. This blog post will be Part 1 of our Hawaiian adventure!
Our Hawaiian adventure officially started on Sunday, August 18th, which was our first full-day on island. We technically flew into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) the evening of August 17th, but we didn’t do much that evening besides check-in to our hotel (Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach) and caught up with family.
We woke up bright and early on Day 1 with the time zone change in our favor to start the day off with a hike on the Diamond Head Trail. With water bottles refilled, we also made a stop at Bogart’s Cafe along the way. Although the wait was a bit longer than we anticipated for a quick bite, the Strawberry Guava bagel and pineapple mango smoothie that I ordered was 1000% satisfying.
The commute from our hotel to the trailhead parking lot was only a 10-minute drive so we were able to make it to the trailhead before the bigger crowds showed up. However, we would highly recommend arriving at the parking lot before 8am if you hope to find a parking spot right at the trailhead. We showed up at 8:20am and the parking lot was already full (but we should’ve expected this given that it was a Sunday).
We came prepared to hike so we didn’t mind parking a little further and hiking up the hill to the trailhead, where we met our cousin, Lalaine, who lives on Oahu and wanted to join us. We were all moderate hikers and compared to our mountains in Washington, the elevation gain for the Diamond Head Trail (1.8 miles roundtrip with 452 ft. in elevation gain) wasn’t too intimidating. However, despite our experience hiking in tall mountains, we were definitely not used to the humidity!
After about 30 minutes or so, we weaved our way along the side of Diamond Head (which has been dormant for at least 150,000 years now), climbed the first set of steep stairs, then walked through a tunnel before climbing the second set of steep stairs. The third and final staircase was a winding one, but once we finished climbing those, we were able to see the panoramic views we were promised.
We were told that this hike was heavily-trafficked and that is 100% true. Even when hiking before 10am, we had to stop hiking due to congestion of crowds (made for some good breaks though!). It took us about 30 minutes to hike to the top.
For those of you thinking about hiking Diamond Head, it is still absolutely worth the trek. I would just recommend to head out as early as you can to beat the crowds and for cooler weather, pack lots of water (especially for those not used to hiking in humidity), and make sure to wear sunscreen (the top is completely exposed).
We returned to our hotel ready for some food, so we regrouped with our parents to walk over to Duke’s Waikiki (a beachfront restaurant) for lunch. Lucas and I enjoyed eating the Mahi Mahi Fish when we were in Oahu last year, so I recommended the restaurant to my family too. I ordered the Mahi Mahi Fish Sandwich, while my family ordered the lunch buffet special and Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos.
We were so full from lunch that we decided to go back to the hotel to take naps and charge our phones before going to Ala Moana Beach Park for sunset. I had a photoshoot scheduled with Aubry and Harrison (check out their YouTube channel here). On our way back to the hotel, we got sidetracked and bought the entire stock of a Honolulu Cookie Company store (being dramatic, but we did buy QUITE a bit!).
Once sunset arrived and my photoshoot was finished, my family and I concluded our evening by snacking on some ice cream along the beach. We had plans to swim in the infinity pool that evening but found to our dismay that the pool was closed for a private event. We would have to wait a day or so more before we got our pool time at the hotel.
Luckily for us Kai Coffee was located right below our hotel, so we were happily caffeinated during our stay in Waikiki. The iced Kai Latte with coconut milk was my go-to! We had a long drive ahead of us for Day 2, so after purchasing our coffees, we started our adventure over to the North Shore.
Our first stop was Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach, in search of… you guessed it - turtles! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any that morning, but we did find plenty of crab. When we dipped our toes into the water, it made Clarice and I excited to jump in so we made our way to our second stop, Waimea Bay Beach Park to go for a swim.
The waves were much bigger at Waimea Beach so we decided to enjoy the waves for about an hour or so before leaving for lunch. Last year, Lucas and I LOVED Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck over at the North Shore. I led my family towards it but found that the line had 50+ people waiting and the parking lot was crazy full. Given that swimming worked up an appetite, we decided to pass on Giovanni’s and found a nearby shrimp truck called, Big Wave Shrimp instead of waiting in such a huge line.
After feasting on their delicious shrimp and rice (lemon peppered and garlic butter shrimp for me!), we later found out that their shrimp truck was featured in an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” with Guy Fieri!
We had about a little over an hour drive back to the hotel once we finished lunch, so we decided to pick up a treat for the road. The Dole Plantation was on the way back to Waikiki, so we stopped by the shop outside to try some of their famous Dole Whip, and the hype didn’t disappoint!
Once we arrived back to the hotel, we changed into our luau attire. There was traffic on the way to the west side of the island where the luau was, so we left early enough to arrive right when the doors opened. If you’re thinking about enjoying the Paradise Cove Luau and you’re staying in Waikiki make sure to leave at least 1.5 hours before the doors open!
We didn't want to miss the fun events they had planned before dinner, such as spear-throwing, shower of flowers, and the imu ceremony. They also had Hawaiian arts and crafts, photo stations (including one with birds!), live Hawaiian music, and various shops.
My dad, Joe and I decided to give spear-throwing a shot! I’ve gone axe-throwing before so I assumed it couldn’t be that much different, right? Lol! Although both Joe and my dad used too much force and missed, I ended up getting my spear to stick into the target! It was definitely off to the left quite a bit, but hey - it stuck and I was stoked! My dad found it hilarious that I was able to make it when he couldn’t, so he insisted that I give him tips so he can try again. Round 2 - and he was able to get his spear to strike the target both times! We had some good laughs.
We ended up spending most of our time waiting in line for spear-throwing, but we were still able to watch the shower of flowers (in which I found one to put behind my left ear - the left ear means you're taken by a significant other, and the right ear means you're available!) and the imu ceremony. On our way back to the table, we helped ourselves to more Mai Tais and shortly made our way to the buffet line to have dinner.
Dinner consisted of macaroni salad, poi, lomi lomi salmon, baked chicken, kalua pig, island fish, taro rolls, and MORE! It was a great feast over warm company and incredible dance performances!
TIP: If you plan to attend Paradise Cove Luau, make sure to pick up your photos in between performances or right after you finish your dinner. You don’t want to be caught in the lonnnng line at the photo stand after the performances conclude for the evening!
Although we arrived back to our hotel late the night before, Joe, Clarice, and I dragged ourselves out of bed to make it in time for our surfing lesson with Albert! Albert is a local who’s been surfing since he was about 6 years old. He met us at Queens Surf Beach Park with all of our gear at 7am.
We were a little groggy from waking up so early but thankfully the meet-up spot was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Albert started our surf lesson by showing us the technique we needed to follow on land. Once he felt like we had the pattern down, we made our way into the ocean.
Learning how to surf was HANDS DOWN my favorite part of our entire trip to Hawaii! Knowing how to wakeboard and snowboard most likely worked in my favor because I was able to catch my first wave pretty smoothly! Once I caught that first one, I understood why people claimed surfing was addicting because it definitely was! I was able to catch the next 10 waves afterwards and I felt like my adrenaline could’ve kept me going all day.
Surfing can definitely tire you out though. Joe and Clarice ended up tapping out after an hour or so, so after a few just one more wave’s later, I decided to call it day too. We ended up going back to the hotel with our muscles gassed so we all decided to take a nap before walking along Waikiki Beach.
We found pineapple drinks and spent a couple hours swimming at the beach right in front of our hotel. Our parents brought us back Zippy’s for a late lunch, but by then I started to feel sick from being out in the sun for too long (and let’s be honest, I was most likely dehydrated too so learn from from mistakes and stay hydrated!). I took another nap to let the ill-feeling pass and by the evening I was feeling much better. We spent the last hours of the day at the infinity pool, sipping on pina coladas and crunching on some coconut shrimp.
Day 4 was our last full-day on Oahu and since Day 3 was spent relaxing and taking it easy, we wanted to jam pack as much as we could into Day 4! We woke up early with Kai Lattes in hand to make our way towards Kailua (the east side of the island).
TIP: Try not to drive on Pali Highway. Legend claims that it’s haunted by ghosts and/or that you cannot take pork over the Pali Highway. We were told that Pele and the demigod Kamapua’a (half man, half pig) refuse to see each other again so bringing pork in your car is like bringing Kamapua’a from one side of the island to the other. Legend claims that your car will stop at some point along the journey and a woman and a dog will appear.
Fortunately, the other route to the east side of the island holds SPECTACULAR coastal views despite the added time! I highly recommend traveling to Kailua from Waikiki by taking Highway 1/Highway 72 (Kalaniana’ole Highway) going south east. You’ll have picturesque views from your car and will have scenic stops like - Hanauma Bay (great place to spot some turtles, or honu!), Halona Blowhole Lookout, Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail (we visit this later!), or Waimanalo Beach.
Our first stop in Kailua was the Kailua Beach Park for a quick picture and rest stop, but the main event was Lanikai Beach (which is just a few minutes down the road!). Parking was tricky (this is typical) for Lanikai Beach since it’s mostly residential parking and a short walk to the public entrances. Make sure to follow the signs closely to avoid getting parking tickets and parking incorrectly!
Trust me when I say that the inconvenient parking situation is well worth the white sand views of Lanikai Beach! Seeing my family’s reactions to the beautiful white sand was so much fun, and reminded me of when I first saw the same beach last year. It’s incredible!
We decided to have lunch at the well-known restaurant, Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen found in Kailua. Lucas and I didn’t have the chance to eat here last year and I was really bummed we didn’t have enough time, so I made sure we made time for it on this trip! And MAN am I glad we did!
Boots and Kimo’s easily became my new favorite restaurant, like ever. Although busy and popular, we only had to wait 25 minutes for a table during lunch time, which wasn’t too bad. Our server was hilarious and friendly and our food came out quickly too! I ordered the banana pancakes with Kimo’s famous Macademia Nut Sauce, and a side of the Hawaiian Smoked Sausage. I almost made the mistake of ordering a side of bacon (I like bacon, okay? lol), but thankfully the server politely asked if I’d like to try the Hawaiian Smoked Sausage or Maui Original Portuguese Sausage which are specialties to Boots and Kimo’s.
The only thing I can say about their food is that my mouth is watering just writing about how good the food was, and my family loved the food enough to order take-out for dinner later (because they close at 3pm or else we would’ve eaten there again lol)! It was THAT good!
With stomachs fully satisfied, Joe, Clarice, and I separated from the parents to go on a couple hikes. The first hike was in Kailua and right by Lanikai Beach - Lanikai Pillbox Hike/Trail, also known as Kaiwa Ridge (1.8 miles round trip, with 565 feet elevation gain). It actually sprinkled on and off during this hike for us but we surprisingly found it refreshing from the heat and humidity.
The first part of the hike was steep and dusty, so you definitely had to watch your step and use the ropes to assist you at certain areas of the trail. Once you clear the first part, the rest of the trail was pretty straightforward. Although not as maintained as Diamond Head or Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, the trail up to the Lanikai Pillbox was a steady one. There were areas that were gravel, rock, or dust but for the most part it wasn’t too difficult to navigate up the trail. It also helped that it was pretty popular so for the most part we were just following the crowd up the path.
We were rewarded with a fantastic view of Lanikai Beach from the top of the first pillbox! I wouldn’t recommend climbing on top of the pillbox if you’re afraid of heights or are hiking with children, but the views are just as rewarding even if you don’t climb on top. We didn’t have time to hike to the second pillbox, but it’s supposedly another 10-minutes up the trail for a slightly taller and less crowded viewpoint.
Climbing down the steep part of the hike definitely required intense focus to avoid falling, but we hiked our way down safely. Our next hike that we wanted to conquer was about a 30-minute drive over to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail (2.5 miles round trip with about a 500 ft elevation gain). This hike was a much more developed and maintained trail. It’s actually wheelchair accessible for the most part and paved the entire way. This hike was definitely unique compared to Washington hikes because you’re right on the coastline the majority of the hike. There’s just something about endless blue ocean!
If it were the right season (which it wasn’t for us in August), we could’ve seen Humpback Whales breaching as they migrated north. We settled for the awesome white foam from the crashing waves that were just mesmerizing instead. The view of the waves kept us company as we trekked up to the top of the trail where we could spot the lighthouse.
We caught the sunset as we made the coastal drive down Highway 1/Highway 72 back to Waikiki. Our amazing parents had Boots and Kimo’s in take-out boxes waiting for us at the hotel for dinner and we spent the evening catching up with our cousin Lalaine and her boyfriend, Eric in the hotel room. We wanted to have a restful night to prepare for our flight to the Big Island the next morning!
Annnd that's a wrap!
That concludes Part 1 of our Hawaiian adventure on Oahu! This trip was so refreshing and I had a lot of fun touring my family around this beautiful island. I loved that I got to show them things that I enjoyed experiencing when I visited last year, but was also able to see and experience new places as well. Next up: The Big Island of Hawaii for three days! I’ll be writing up that blog post and creating that travel vlog next!
Cheers to island time!
You can find the Travel Vlog of my Hiking Day Trip on YouTube!
July 23, 2019
PNW Hiking: Mount Rainier National Park: Skyline Trail, WA
To hear about a day consisting of: my usual hiking buddy (aka one of my best friends, Lauren), avalanche lilies, meeting fitness goals, an active volcano standing at 14,411 feet tall, and FRESH air - keep on reading!
Lauren and I decided that it was time for our second hike of the summer. Trust me when I tell you we have plenty of PNW hikes on our Bucketlist this year, but we decided to explore Mount Rainier National Park next. I’ve been to Mount Rainier National Park countless times, but I’ve always stayed near the Longmire area of the park. The Skyline Trail was a hike that intrigued me after hearing how beautiful the view was along the trail. We checked the weather for a clear day, and decided to give it a shot.
This trip wasn’t my first time visiting Mount Rainier National Park, but it was my first time going with my new National Park book. So after stopping by the Visitor Center at Paradise to obtain my stamp, sticker, and postcard, Lauren and I began the trek to the trailhead.
Skyline Trail begins near Paradise Inn within Mount Rainier National Park. The trail itself is a loop adding up to 5.3 miles total and is typically rated as moderate to difficult depending on which hiking website you look at (lol). The elevation gain is recorded to be 1,758 feet and the highest point in elevation is at 6800 feet above sea level.
I’ll be completely honest -- the first few minutes of the Skyline Trail hike were no joke. The hike starts off as steep, and Lauren and I found ourselves a bit out of breath as we started the hike (lol!). However, eventually the trail does level out about 0.5 miles in and by then, you can start catching the first glimpses of the beauty Mount Rainier has to offer! You could stop every 10 minutes and still be able to catch a beautiful view!
In addition to the majestic mountain, there was also beauty found along the trail as well. Avalanche lilies were sprinkled all along the hike as well as other types of summer wildflowers gently swaying in the breeze. We also found a couple of chipmunks that trailed along behind us as we continued to trek up closer to the mountain.
We came across the turn for Glacier Vista, a popular photo spot for many hikers. Given our limited time to hike, we decided to save Glacier Vista for another time and trekked forward. After crossing an ice-cold stream (in which we dipped our hands into to cool off) and climbing stairs made of rock, we made it about 2.6 miles later at around 6400 feet in elevation to the clearest view point of Mount Rainier. We decided to take the opportunity to snap a quick picture and debated on whether or not we should continue the rest of the hike to Panorama Point and eventually close out the loop, or turn back.
Panorama Point is known to display an incredible view at 7000 feet in elevation. On a clear day, you are able to see Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams. Given the clouds rolling in, we decided to take a raincheck on Panorama Point and the second half of the loop. If we had more time, we would’ve loved to finish it out, but decided that since this National Park was practically in our backyards, we would return another day to explore further.
Despite living so close to Mount Rainier National Park, this was both of our first experiences seeing Mount Rainier that close! The only way I can figure out how to describe it, is that it felt like I was staring at a painting the entire hike. Truly an amazing view! Although we didn’t have the time to hike the entire loop through Panorama Point, we’re definitely excited to check it out next time!
I would highly recommend this hike for those wanting to catch an uninterrupted view of Mount Rainier from the Paradise side. We were told that in the spring, the wildflowers that sprinkle the trail are unreal, and I would recommend biting the bullet and trekking up to Panorama Point on a clear day. Lauren and I aren’t novice hikers, but we aren’t expert hikers either. The trail was bearable for us, but we would recommend to bring extra water and snacks to maintain your energy levels, as well as bug repellent to scare off the mosquitoes! All in all, the view was 1000% worth it, so if you ever have the opportunity, go for it! :)
Annnd that's a wrap!
The views from this hike had me thirsty for more! Now that I’ve stamped 1 out of the 3 National Parks in Washington into my book, I’m eager to obtain the stamps for the other 2 this summer as well. Next up - Lauren and I have Olympic National Park for mid-August planned, as well as the North Cascades National Park by the end of August! Make sure to tune in to my future blog posts and YouTube channel to see how THOSE adventures go! :)
Cheers to living life OUTDOORS!
You can find the Travel Vlog of my Road Trip on YouTube!
July 3-July 8, 2019
4 Days + 3 National Parks + 3 States + 1 ENGAGEMENT PHOTOSHOOT = The Last Few Days with My Fiance Before He Deployed Overseas
To hear about an adventure consisting of: an engaged military couple, collecting stamps at 3 national parks, a last-minute engagement photoshoot on the 4th of July, driving across state lines, and orangutans -- keep on reading!
My fiance Lucas received a 4-day pass while he was down in El Paso, Texas before his deployment overseas. Because his deployment was sudden (feel free to read more about this story in my previous blog post here!), we decided that time was more valuable than money at this point so I booked my ticket to fly down to El Paso, Texas to spend his days off with him.
This was both of our first times near the El Paso, Texas area so we decided to maximize the experience by visiting all the nearby national parks. Who knows when we’ll be in the area next, right? We also wanted to use the extra days given back to us by organizing the engagement photoshoot we weren’t able to have before he left Washington. Due to an AMAZING photography community, I was able to find a photographer and a hair stylist available for our engagement shoot on the 4th of July!
All in all, we were excited to be able to go on another adventure, but more excited that we were able to get time back to spend with one another.
Lucas’ first day off was on July 3rd, so I flew that morning from Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to arrive in El Paso International Airport (ELP) by noon. Luck was on my side that morning! My baggage ticket wouldn’t print in the kiosk, but instead of waiting the long line to check-in my bag, the attendant directed me to wait in the first class line. Security was a breeze and when I arrived to my seat on the plane -- not only did I have my preferred window seat, but also had the whole row to myself!
About 3 hours of editing pictures later, I left the Seattle morning sprinkle and arrived in the afternoon dry heat of Texas. It was 90 degrees!
Lucas met me at baggage claim and we happily made our way over to pick up our rental car. We had a long drive ahead of us to Tucson, Arizona (the location of our photoshoot), so after a lunch stop at Chic-Fil-A, we made the trek through New Mexico to Arizona!
We arrived at our hotel in Tucson, Arizona after 4.5 hours filled with road trip singing and wedding planning. We were both exhausted from traveling, so instead of exploring Tucson that evening, we decided to grab dinner at the Red Lobster down the road. Lucas was craving seafood so we bought a crab dinner for him and some shrimp for myself. We also toasted over a sangria and rum/coke - you can guess who had which ;)
Day 2 consisted of our first full day in Tucson, Arizona. We decided to travel over to Tucson because the Saguaro National Park was nearby, and Mount Lemmon was the scenic location that our photographer, Kim, recommended to us for our engagement photoshoot. Our shoot wasn’t scheduled until sunset, so we decided to brace the Arizona heat and explore.
Saguaro National Park was located about 30 minutes from our hotel. So after grabbing a quick breakfast, we decided to make our way to Saguaro National Park to cross another national park off my list (If you didn’t know - I made it my goal earlier this year to visit every National Park in the United States!). The drive over was a very windy, up and down drive through a FOREST of cacti. Being from Washington, we're used to evergreen trees so it was definitely a different sight to see for us! Hills would go on for MILES and there would be so many saguaro cacti sprinkled all over the area.
It was a little over 100 degrees that day, so we didn’t have it in us to go on any hikes. We really just wanted to go to the visitor center and see the forests of cacti. But really, the cacti were present almost the entire drive to the visitor center so we got our cacti fix that day for sure. While we were in the gift shop hunting down a postcard for my collection, Lucas found a National Park book that was big enough to hold postcards. He reasoned with me that we might not find ourselves in Saguaro National Park again and thought we might as well invest in a book to keep my collection of postcards as well as start collecting the National Park stamps in the book too.
With my new National Park book in hand, freshly stamped and with postcard purchased, we ended our visit to Saguaro National Park and decided to make a detour over to Old Tucson. The heat had us both feeling tired, so we didn’t end up staying at Old Tucson for very long. We were thirsty so we purchased drinks for the road, and we saw a shawl on sale - couldn’t pass that up (lol!). On our way back to the hotel, we found an In N Out Burger and couldn’t pass that up either (we don’t have In N Out Burger in Washington!). We went through the drive-thru to enjoy our lunch back at the hotel, while we both got ready for our photoshoot that evening.
Truly thankful for the creatives who made themselves available (ON A HOLIDAY!) to accommodate Lucas’ and my engagement shoot before he deployed overseas. Makayla (@get_it_twisted_withmakayla) drove 1.5 hours from Phoenix, AZ to our hotel in order to curl/braid my hair, and Kim (@kimhartnettphoto) also drove with her husband about 1.5 hours to Mount Lemmon to take our pictures! The drive to Mount Lemmon had a beautiful view and I’m obsessed over our engagement pictures! We’ll happily use some of them for our Save the Date cards, so thank you to both creatives for making this day so special for us!
Walking around Saguaro National Park, Old Tucson, and Mount Lemmon wiped us out, so instead of watching the fireworks by the Convention Center, we decided to avoid all the crowds and traffic and spend our evening at BJ’s having some snacks and drinks. We didn’t regret that decision one bit!
We woke up bright and early for the drive back to Texas on Day 3. With Starbucks in hand, we made the 6-hour drive to National Park #2 of this adventure - Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, TX. We were thankful that our rental car had cruise control because we had loooooong stretches of flat highways ahead of us. As we drove through New Mexico to get to Texas, we stopped for gas and Subway, but wanted to limit our stops so we could make it to two National Parks that day.
The long stretch of driving paid off because not only were we able to collect the postcards, stickers, and stamps from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but we also made it before the Visitor Center of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (in Carlsbad, New Mexico) closed for the day. If we had more time, we would’ve walked the trails of Guadalupe Mountains. However, we were limited on time before Carlsbad closed for the evening.
We were SO glad we made it too, because Carlsbad Caverns was SOMETHING ELSE entirely. It was INCREDIBLE seeing all the stalagmites, soda straws, and columns throughout the Big Room (all made of limestone!). We didn’t make it in time to do the hike to the Big Room, but luckily they were still allowing visitors to enter through the elevators. Lucas and I didn’t know what to expect when we got there, but once we went 75 stories underground, our jaws literally dropped!
If you ever get the chance to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, I highly recommend! Pictures and reading about it just doesn't cut it.
Day 3 was filled with the most adventures, so by the time we left Carlsbad Caverns we were ready for some food and sleep. We looked for restaurants that were highly recommended near our hotel and found, Mariscos El Buchón. We had seafood, ceviche, and oysters that evening, followed by watching movies and falling asleep by 8pm.
Day 4 was the last day Lucas had before he left to fly overseas for his deployment. He had to report back to base by 6pm that evening. We slept in a little more that morning and made the 3-hour drive back to El Paso, Texas. I wasn’t able to check-in to my hotel in El Paso until the afternoon, so we weren’t sure where to wander until then. Lucas discovered that there were orangutans at the El Paso Zoo, especially a baby one! So he knew that I’d be ALL about going to see the orangutans (They’re my FAVORITE animal!).
I think we stopped by the orangutan exhibit 5 different times while we were at the zoo (lol!). They were just so much fun to watch! We also saw elephants, a galapagos tortoise, lions (which was Lucas’ favorite exhibit), and much more.
Once we saw all the animals we wanted to see, we stopped by Dairy Queen for a quick bite and some ice cream before Lucas dropped me off at my hotel. Lucas wasn’t sure how many days he would get free, and it turned out that he only had 4 days before he had to fly overseas. My flight didn’t leave until two days after his, so I spent my Sunday and Monday morning at the hotel (which consisted of a LOT of wedding planning, editing pictures/videos, and binge-watching Harry Potter).
Annnd that's a wrap!
Super excited over the opportunity to cross off THREE more National Parks on my list AND that we were able to get our engagement pictures taken before Lucas left for his deployment! :)
It’s never easy saying “See you later,” especially since this time it will be for 9-10 months and he’ll be in hostile territory… but we were extremely grateful to have spent those 4 days together even if it was just for 4 days. It was better than none at all, and we know he’ll be home sooner than we think. I am SO proud of him, and can’t wait to marry him when he comes home! :)
Cheers to another adventure, and prayers for a safe deployment!
You can find the Travel Vlog of my Hiking Day Trip on YouTube!
June 24, 2019
PNW Hiking: Franklin Falls, WA
To hear about a day consisting of: PNW hiking, coniferous trees, easy conversations, a 70-foot waterfall, and FRESH air - keep on reading!
To celebrate my first Monday out of the office (indefinitely! If you haven’t read my previous blog post, I left my full-time day job in downtown Seattle!), I wanted to get some fresh air and be outdoors. Therefore, my best friend, Lauren (you’ll remember her from our road trip hiking adventure from AZ to UT!) and I decided to kick off the summer with a short and easy hike to Franklin Falls.
Franklin Falls is located in the Snoqualmie Region of Washington, so just about 1.5 hours from our homes. The hike totals at 2.0 miles round-trip with a 400 ft elevation gain. You’ll find the falls after a mile of hiking, nestled between the two viaducts of I-90. I would highly recommend this hike if you’re just starting out with hiking, want an easy/short hike with a spectacular view, or are hiking with kids!
The weather was fair when we decided to go on our hiking adventure to Franklin Falls. It had just recently rained a day or two before the day we hiked, so the forest floor was left a little damp. It made some of the trail and rocks a little slick here and there, but overall, it made for a cool and even-temperature hike. However, even if it was hot and sunny, the trees would’ve covered the trail for a large majority of the hike.
This was my first time hiking the trail in the summer. The last time I had hiked to the falls was in February 2017 with Lucas. Snow covered the entire trail, and the anticipated 2-mile hike turned into an 8-mile hike for us because the road to the parking lot was so covered in snow that they blocked off the roads. Hikers were parking along the street to access Franklin Falls, but we didn’t realize that until we were about 2-3 miles in (lol!) and were left wondering where the falls were. We decided to make the long trek to the falls anyways! We thought that since we made it that far already, we might as well keep on going!
If you ever get the opportunity to hike Franklin Falls in the summer OR the winter, I highly recommend this hike either way! The view is rewardingly STUNNING and because hikers frequent the trail regularly it’s pretty easy to navigate your way to the falls. You'll weave your way amongst the trees and before you know it, you'll find the rushing river and will feel the mist coming off of the beautiful Franklin Falls!
Annnd that's a wrap!
After our first hike of the season, Lauren and I went back to her place to create a list of hikes we wanted to try to do before the summer ends! Next up is Mt. Rainier National Park - so make sure to tune in to my future blog posts or YouTube channel to hear how the next adventures will go!
Cheers to living life OUTDOORS!
May 25-27, 2019
Memorial Day Weekend: Exploring In and Around San Francisco, California
To hear about a weekend consisting of: golden gate bridge views, things not quite going to plan (lol!), quality time with family, oysters and wine, a rainy day in Yosemite National Park, home-cooked meals, and painted ladies - keep on reading!
For Memorial Day Weekend, Lucas and I decided to fly over to San Francisco, California to visit his cousin and my very good friend, Meghan! She lives a few hours away from San Francisco so we decided to make the trip an adventure for not only us but for her as well. Lucas has quite a bit of family in that part of California, so we decided to visit as many family members as we could, especially because this would be Lucas’ last opportunity to see them before he gets deployed overseas this year.
Lucas and I started our adventure off with the usual iced caramel macchiatos at the SeaTac Airport for our early morning flight to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). I tried my best to take a nap during the short flight over to SFO, but found myself looking out the window watching the aerial view of the west coast instead.
Once we arrived at SFO, we refueled our energy levels with another Starbucks drink while we waited for Meghan and her mom/Lucas’ aunt, Claudia to pick us up. Lucas then drove us to the Golden Gate Bridge for a sneak peek before heading over to Lucas’ uncle and aunt’s house (Uncle David and Aunt Jen) located near Napa, CA. The many construction cones mislead us, so we were unable to stop for pictures; however, we were able to drive onto the bridge, which I’ve never been able to do before!
While en route to Napa, we decided to grab some lunch. Because Lucas was craving Chinese food, we stopped at a Mandarin/Japanese restaurant for some fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and sushi.
Once our stomachs were satisfied, we fought through California traffic to get to Napa. The endless vineyards along the sides of the road were so epic! Vineyards just kept covering the massive hills - definitely how I pictured Napa in my head prior.
We caught up with Lucas’ Uncle David, Aunt Jen, and their three kids at their house. When we were all ready to go, we made our way over to the Napa wineries for some wine tasting. Because of the traffic, we were a bit crunched for time so we agreed to only visit one winery and just enjoy our time there rather than hopping around. Unfortunately, it was to our disappointment that once we arrived to Castello di Amorosa, cars were being turned away because there was a sign indicating “Reservations Only for Today.” Being that it was Memorial Day weekend, we knew it was going to be a bit busier, but didn’t anticipate being turned away entirely.
At this point, it was about 5pm and most wineries have either already closed or were going to close at 6pm. We hurried over to the nearest winery that was still open, but were met with a menu a tad over our budget (by a lot... lol). Although things weren’t quite going as planned, we didn’t let the obstacles stop us from getting wine in Napa. ;) So after regrouping over at Uncle David’s, we decided to snack on some oysters and sip on some wine at Hog Island Oyster Co. Uncle David knew his wines, so we had him select a red and white for us to try over some oysters. Growing up, I avoided oysters at all costs (probably because as a kid they can be intimidatingly slimy), but I was feeling adventurous during this trip and discovered that I actually LOVE oysters now!
An evening that didn’t go according to plan ended up being a fun evening filled with wine and laughter regardless of the location! We were able to catch up, share jokes, and most importantly - create memories.
Can you guess how we started our morning off on Day 2? Yep, you guessed it! Starbucks ;) Once we were all happily caffeinated at around 5am, we made the 3.5 hour drive to Yosemite National Park. In addition to wanting to check off Yosemite off my National Park Bucketlist, it was also along the way to Lucas’ grandparents’ house where we were going to have dinner. We originally planned to meet up with a childhood friend of mine and her boyfriend, but due to the rainy weather we had to postpone our photo meet-up for another time.
Despite the rainy clouds interfering with the view of the beautiful mountains and rock formations, we made the trek over to Yosemite anyways to at least drive around since we had the time to spare. We were barely able to see El Capitan, some roads were closed, and it even snowed in certain areas of the park, but we were still able to admire some of the mountains and waterfalls that the park was known to showcase to its visitors. A little rain never hurt any Washingtonians, and I hope to travel back to Yosemite later this year anyways, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to see more soon!
After spending the morning exploring a rainy Yosemite, we made a quick stop for hot chocolate/coffee and drove over to the house of Lucas’ Oma and Opa (grandma and grandpa in German) for dinner. Lucas’ Uncle Gary also planned to join us, and rumor had it that German meatballs and mashed potatoes were on the menu!
The last time Lucas visited his grandparents’ house was 2 years ago when Lucas and I had our first trip (as a couple) to San Francisco back in 2017. So, it was really special that we were able to catch up and see his family while we were in the area again.
As promised, we had German meatballs, cucumber salad, mashed potatoes, and asparagus for dinner and we happily soaked up every bite. There’s just something about home-cooked meals! Lucas’ Oma also never lets us forget about dessert, so she made sure we each had a bag of lemon chocolate almonds to take home too!
After dinner we had another three-hour drive back to San Francisco where we had a hotel reserved for Lucas, Meghan, Aunt Claudia, and myself to stay in for the night. Meghan dropped us off at the hotel so we could reorganize our luggage, shower, and rest, while she went to go pick up her mom. We were so worn out from the day that we decided on ordering dumplings via UberEats while watching Harry Potter on TV, instead of going out and exploring the area. And I would say, we made the right decision haha!
Day 3 was sadly our last day in California so we wanted to start early to get the most out of our day. Once we were energized by our complimentary hotel breakfast, we made our way to Japan Town - San Francisco, CA so I could meet up with a friend for a photoshoot. Lucas, Meghan, and Aunt Claudia explored nearby coffee shops and food stands while I spent an hour or so taking some photos with my client. I will happily take any opportunity to capture some photos while traveling! (So if I’m ever going to be near your neck of the woods - let me know!!)
Since we weren’t able to stop and take photos at the Golden Gate Bridge on Day 1, we chose to drive back over and snap a few pictures. I remember hearing about the Painted Ladies, which are Victorian/Edwardian-style homes that were known to appear during the opening credits of the TV Show, Full House. Couldn’t miss another photo op, so we spent a few minutes at the park across the street as well.
We spent our last hours in San Francisco wandering around taking pictures, and finding a Yelp-approved Boba place (lol!) before making our way to the SFO airport. Lucas and I snacked on some burrito bowls until our afternoon flight back home to Seattle - where our fur child was waiting for us to return.
Annnd that's a wrap!
Although things may not go according to plan, it is so important to learn how to roll with the punches! As cliche as it is, life is truly what you make of it so I’m proud of our rigor in seeing the silver lining to every obstacle that tried to prevent us from having a good time. All in all, it was a fulfilling trip, and I cannot wait to come back later this year!
Cheers to resilience!
May 11-12, 2019
& At Last I See the Light…
To hear about a weekend consisting of: Mother’s Day, my cat’s first road trip, quality time with family, a rest stop birthday party, camping chairs, food trucks, and thousands of floating lanterns - keep on reading!
In May 2018, my brother, Joe went to the Night Lights floating lantern event in Post Falls, Idaho with his girlfriend, Stacy. He had a feeling that the rest of my family (my mom, dad, and myself) would enjoy it as well, so this year we made the 5-hour trek to see it for ourselves! Because the event happened to land on Mother’s Day weekend – we decided that at the event we would celebrate my mom! Additionally, it was also my dad’s birthday on May 7th, so we also celebrated my dad that weekend too. We had a lot to celebrate!
After seeing the pictures and videos Joe showed me last year, I found myself getting excited to experience the event first-hand. Night Lights took place at Stateline Speedway Stadium in Post Falls, ID. The name can help you assume that the venue was barely outside of Washington - right on the state line between WA and ID.
Initially, I thought it was going to be my parents, Lucas, Joe, Stacy, and Stacy’s family attending together. And then I later discovered that my aunt, uncle, two cousins, as well as a bunch of Joe’s and Stacy’s family and friends decided to attend too! It was a weekend filled with many family and friends all caravanning to Idaho and staying at the same hotel haha!
Because everyone was going, that left no one to take care of Sherbert (my cat, but aka my child). All his cat sitters were going to be there! So my dad and I decided, “Why not take him with us?” and made jokes about how it was my first Mother’s Day anyways ;). With a dad savvy at finding the best deals online, he found a TSA-approved and well-reviewed cat carrier for the trip. It even had expandable sides and a zipper at the top so he can peak his head out. Talk about cat-moming SO hard. It’s okay, I accept it.
With Sherbert safely secured in his carrier in the backseat with me, my parents, Joe, Lucas and I led the way to Post Falls with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins following in another car behind us. Believe it or not, Sherbert was only fussy for the first 30 minutes or so of the drive. It probably helped that we brought treats for when he behaved and that he was pretty used to riding in a car after going to and from Seattle a few times. He wanted to peak his head out the top of the carrier for some of the trip, but spent most of it napping. Our road trip songs consisted of Disney, country, and some 2000s Hip Hop and R&B, as Joe and Lucas took turns driving and I, of course, was the DJ.
About a little over an hour away from Post Falls, we decided to stop at a rest stop for lunch. Although comical, this next part will give you an accurate description of my mom’s personality… lol! She wanted to celebrate my dad’s birthday that day since we were all together and his birthday was a few days ago, so she bought a HUGE chocolate cake. My family happily had our lunch on one of the picnic tables at the rest stop. Spaghetti, lumpia, and chocolate cake was on the menu that afternoon. Sherbert wasn’t excluded either. We brought his carrier out to the picnic table, and he munched on his lunch in the shade.
After lunch, we were back on the road again. Lucas drove this time to give Joe a break, and we made our way through Spokane, WA to Post Falls, ID. We dropped off our things, as well as Sherbert, at the hotel, and then we left for the Night Lights event to get a good spot. We met up with the whole group – and trust me, there was a ton of us – and laid out our picnic blankets and camping chairs. Once settled, we made our way to the food trucks to grab some dinner. There was a taco truck, a shave ice truck, a turkey leg stand, an ice cream truck, and a bbq stand! We chose some tater tot/nachos, some turkey legs, and a few beers.
While we were waiting for the sun to go down, we decorated our lanterns and Joe bought us all an instant campfire to share. It was a lot of fun to roast marshmallows over some wholesome conversations.
At around 9pm, we were instructed to “fluff” our paper lanterns to get them ready for take-off. Lucas was helping everyone light their lanterns and it was so exciting to see the early lanterns trickle into the sky. Once the lanterns’ fires were burning enough, we were all instructed to start letting them go at the same time. Words CANNOT express how incredible it was to see the paper lanterns float into the night sky altogether!
Not only was it a beautiful moment, but it was also meaningful. It was amazing that my entire family and extended family got to experience this moment together – a lot of us had dedicated our paper lanterns in the loving memory of my grandmother who passed away 3 years ago. We wanted to wish her a very Happy Mother’s Day in heaven! Rest in Peace, Nanay.
The Night Lights Sky Lantern Festival ended up exceeding my expectations. As much as I was able to record videos and take pictures – it was truly a moment that one needs to experience first-hand. I highly recommend this event to those in the nearby area.
Day 2 consisted of iced caramel macchiatos for the drive back home. We wished my mom a very happy mother’s day, and Sherbert did so great on the car ride home – he slept the whole way! I wonder what road trip he’ll be tagging along on next! ;)
Annnd that's a wrap!
I feel extremely blessed to be able to experience this event with my family and friends.
Cheers to creating new family traditions!
May 3-6, 2019
One of my Best Friends Moved to Texas!
To hear about a weekend consisting of: high school best friends reuniting, thunderstorms, country line dancing, cat roommates, questionable bike riding, Galveston views, and Texas-living persuasion - keep on reading!
I received the honor of being a part of one of my best friend’s weddings last year! Rachel and Landon were married in early September 2018, and moved to Houston shortly after. I haven’t seen them since they made their big move last fall, so I decided to book a flight over to Houston to see them!
The week leading up to my flight out of Seattle consisted of beautiful sunny skies, which contrasted with the consistent Pacific North West rain stereotype. Most would think you’d like to escape the Seattle rain for the warm weather of Texas, but that weekend’s weather predictions were thunderstorms, and even a tornado warning. Washington can have its moments with thunder and lightning but flying in a storm was a whole new experience for me. Luckily, a combination of editing photos on my laptop supplemented by in-flight movies, made the bumpier ride a little more bearable.
It wasn’t enough to save my patience when we arrived at the airport, however. We landed 20 minutes earlier than scheduled but had to wait 1 hour on the air strip before we could arrive at our gate to deplane. I can only imagine the schedule delays and conflicts that were occurring that evening due to the scattered thunderstorms. Despite the trouble, Rachel was able to swoop me from the airport and we made our way to Sonic for a quick bite to eat. We then decided to “rest” that evening with Bo and Blaze (their cats) but ended up staying awake until 3am catching up as the lightning flashed outside the windows.
Truthfully, we had no real agenda for Day 1 in Houston. Since we stayed up so late talking, we decided to sleep in and catch up some more over a lunch which Rachel cooked for us. It wasn’t until later that afternoon when we decided to explore and drive around the area. For some reason, she was showing me some of the nearby neighborhoods and homes… not sending any kind of message at all about trying to persuade me to move next door haha! ;) It ended up being really fun just driving around the area and seeing how the architecture differed from common Washington neighborhoods. We made a quick Chic-Fil-A stop to get milkshakes and fries for the drive over to Market Square.
We didn’t do much actual shopping there, but we walked around and did some window-shopping.
Once we were tired out from walking, we decided to head back to the apartment early to get ready for dinner (which ended up being pancakes at IHop) and to go out country line dancing in the evening once Landon got off work. We have a handful of country bars sprinkled throughout Washington, but none had a dance floor as big as the one we went to in Houston. It. Was. So. Much. Fun!! Highly recommended.
Being a former competitive dancer, who also grew up listening to country music, it was a dream. The dancers on the dance floor ranged from 21 year olds to the late 60s, and after a drink or two, Rachel and I went out there and participated in pretty much all of the line dances. Everyone was so nice, and they were more than happy to teach the steps to us when we had no idea what to do. In addition to dancing, there was also a mechanical bull, pool tables, dart boards, and corn hole outside. If I have the chance to return to Houston, I plan to for sure spend an evening there again.
Day 2 started off earlier than Day 1. We decided on Smoothie King to get smoothies for the road, because the agenda for Day 2 was to spend most of the day in Galveston, TX. With mango and pineapple smoothies in hand, Landon drove us to Galveston, which made for a 1-1.5 hour drive. We drove through downtown Houston with country music blasting through the speakers complemented by lots of laughter.
It didn’t feel like long until I was able to see the coastline again! I realized during this trip that I’m definitely a West Coast girl, because being unable to see the ocean or lakes nearby stressed me out a little! It was nice spending the day amongst the crashing waves and palm trees. By the time we arrived, we were all hungry, so Landon recommended that we try Joe’s Crab Shack. And if you know me, I’m ALL about seafood. I chose the Mahi fish with rice as my entrée, but Landon’s claims were accurate when he told us that they had REALLY good popcorn shrimp. We devoured that basket within seconds.
With stomachs full, we decided to walk along the beachfront. We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed each others’ company. While we were driving to Galveston, we saw tandem bikes that you could rent from different rental shops. None of us have ever tried tandem biking before, so we decided to all give it a shot. And what an experience that was!
The teamwork required was comical, and although there were questionable moments with pedestrians (and dogs!!) testing our brakes at the last minute, it ended up being a great way to explore Galveston. We rode our bike over to Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and then looped around to get Italian ice from Rita’s. Once we returned our bike rental, we made our way back to Houston. Landon and Trey introduced me to Buc-ee’s along the way in Texas City, and we ended my last evening in Texas playing Jenga with questions/prompts, a midnight run to Whataburger, and my favorite - Pillsbury sugar cookies!
We were EXHAUSTED after our long day biking around Galveston and staying up playing games, so we had a slow start the morning of Day 3. Because I was flying out that day, we didn’t have time for much. We ate lunch at Gringo’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant – I ordered the chicken enchiladas, and there was magical “green sauce” with chips for an appetizer... Life-changing. After lunch, we walked outside of the Woodlands Mall to find some turtles and stopped for a Starbucks run at the nearby Barnes & Noble (Is anyone surprised that I found my way to a bookstore while traveling? Nope, didn’t think so.).
Once the afternoon was upon us, Rachel, Landon, and Trey dropped me off at the IAH airport for not a farewell, but a “see you later!”
Annnd that's a wrap!
It was such a pleasure to catch up with Rachel and Landon and tour their new home! Although Seattle is my home, I will admit that they did a pretty darn good job trying to persuade me to move to Texas one day. Who knows if I’ll find my way over to Texas for a longer term, but I do know for sure that I’ll be coming back to visit again soon!
Cheers to familiar faces in new places!
You can find the Travel Montage of my Road Trip on YouTube!
April 11-April 16, 2019
6 Days + 4 National Parks + 2 States = 1 Rejuvenating Road Trip
To hear about an adventure consisting of: girl power, national parks, climbing mountains, eating meals out of the trunk of a rental car, turquoise rings, and driving on backroads blasting Rascal Flatts - keep on reading! But buckle up: it's a long trip!
My best friend, Lauren, and I share a passion for traveling, so we decided to go on a girls trip. We entertained the idea of visiting San Francisco or Banff (both are places I still see myself visiting in the near future!), but when Lauren pitched the idea of a road trip hitting 4 National Parks in 2 different states on a reasonable budget - we had a winner!
I haven't had the opportunity to adventure over to Arizona or Utah before, so as a photographer, I was ECSTATIC for the beautiful views. I wanted to explore and see as much as we possibly could, and luckily for me, Lauren created an itinerary jam-packed with adventure in the limited 6 days that our PTO policies allotted for. (Trust me, we could have spent WEEKS adventuring!)
After getting very little sleep (we talk a lot lol), we checked out of our hotel room to secure our rental car. We picked up our snazzy Toyota Corolla, loaded it up with road trip essentials and snacks, and we began our 2-hour drive to Sedona, Arizona.
A few granola bars, a million cacti, and various road trip songs later - we arrived in Sedona. The photos I've seen of how red the rock formations were - were no joke! I've never seen anything like it, and this was when I first started asking Lauren, "Where are we?!" and saying, "We out here!!" (which I continued to do during the entirety of the trip).
We only had enough time to do one hike in Sedona before we had to continue on with our road trip, so the hike we chose was Doe Mountain Trail (1.6 miles with a 538 feet elevation gain). It was a starter hike to ease us into our ambitious hiking plans. While we weren't able to find cacti as tall as the ones we saw along the highway, the hike was filled with beautiful red rock formations and desert vegetation that I was not used to seeing. With multiple photo and water breaks, we climbed to the top and the view was breathtaking. The hike was moderately crowded so we shared the sights at the top with other hikers, including a kind elderly couple who enjoyed having their photos taken by us. I was already satisfied from our trip then and there! But with our limited time and a brewing storm on the horizon, we hiked down, made a victory sandwich in the car, and began our drive to the Grand Canyon.
3 hours later with a tank full of gas, and matching turquoise rings (newly purchased at a Native American stand in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ), we arrived at a National Park that I was finally able to witness first-hand! And let me tell you, it lived up to the hype with its colorful peaks and geological history. Given that we arrived in the early afternoon, we weren't able to do any of the longer hikes, but we walked along an easy trail along the rim to soak in all the scenery. After a half hour filled with coffee, obligatory postcard souvenirs, and a wildlife viewing of an elk family, we drove for another 3 hours to Page, Arizona for Hotel #2. On our way to Page, we saw Mountain Lion warning signs, stopped at a sandwich shop for dinner, and encountered much darkness. However, the drive made for some good conversations!
I thought I was already satisfied with the trip on Day 2, but Day 3 was ready to prove me entirely wrong. After another night of getting minimal sleep (we didn't learn our lesson the first time and spent hours talking despite our plans of sleeping early... who's surprised?), we woke up before the sun had time to make its morning coffee to attend a tour at Antelope Canyon.
Am I a morning person? Occasionally, but the views at Lower Antelope Canyon made my sleep-deprived self very content that Saturday morning. We rode on a bus of about 10 or so people to find the stunning canyon located on Navajo land. Witnessing the sand formations creating different pictures and light beams was an unreal experience. With the direction of our awesome tour guide, our morning was spent taking beautiful photos and learning about the land. At this point of the trip, I remember declaring to Lauren that that was my highlight. This statement would soon be countered within the next few hours of that Saturday. Literally EVERYWHERE was beautiful.
We had originally planned to stop by Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ on Day 2 but ran out of time that day. So instead, we decided to make a quick stop before heading to Utah. The Horseshoe Bend trail was a short one, only about 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot. Once we took our pictures, we drove for 2 hours to discover that the East Entrance to Zion National Park was closed. With spirits lowered, our 30 minute commute from the East Entrance to the Visitor Center became another 2 hours. Our spirits didn't stay low when a tumbleweed comically attached itself to our front bumper and when candy kept our sugar levels high.
We finally arrived at Zion National Park in the early evening, and it was BEAUTIFUL. The mountains were layered with color that towered over us and everything in me was screaming to never go back home. It was THAT beautiful. We met up with two of my "clients turned good friends," Melissa and her husband, Ed. They flew down to Utah the same weekend as Lauren and I so we could all cross off an item on our bucket lists together. We took pictures at the very beginning of Pa'rus Trail, and after an hour, we parted ways while Lauren and I completed the rest of the hike along the Virgin River (3.3 miles with 147 feet elevation gain). As the sun started to set, we made our way to Hurricane, UT, where Hotel #3 was located. We stopped at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. for AMAZING pizza and at Dairy Queen for some well-earned dessert.
We attempted to be on the first shuttle bus out on Sunday morning at Zion National Park. However, some early-morning hiccups occurred (e.g. lost the car keys behind the tv stand, couldn't find the ice machine that the employee incorrectly directed us to, and we were just tired okay? lol). Despite the bumpy start to the day, we made our way back to Zion to conquer the hike we were most hyped about - Angels Landing (4.1 miles with 1,617 feet elevation gain). Hands down, my FAVORITE hike to date! Despite the 80 degree weather and noticeable elevation gain (you really feel it in your lungs when you're used to being closer to sea level!), there was a slight breeze to make the trek practically perfect.
With MANY stops along the way to capture some photos and video footage, Lauren and I spent a majority of Day 4 enjoying every step of the Angels Landing trail. The trail was paved for the most part, and very loved (a.k.a. crowded) since it was a Sunday morning. The hike began at the Grotto shuttle stop along the West Rim Trail. After some time, it reached the canyon where we were able to catch a bit of shade before approaching Walter's Wiggles - a series of switchbacks that definitely got your blood going after a few minutes. The last half mile or so consisted of chain links to help guide you around the steep drop-offs to the very top. I highly recommend this hike for adventurous souls, but wouldn't suggest the last half mile to those with a fear of heights. Being an adventurous soul myself, I was smiling ear to ear at this point of the hike and undoubtedly understood why it was on so many hikers' bucket lists. If given the opportunity, I would ABSOLUTELY hike it again... and again... and again.
Many hours later, we decided to make more turkey and cheese sandwiches for a quick lunch while we hit the road again. We brought trail mix and granola bars for the hike, but we definitely worked up an appetite by the time we arrived back to the parking lot. Our next destination for the afternoon was about 2.5 hours away - Bryce Canyon National Park. This drive consisted of Antelope sightings, more backroads, and snow!
We arrived in Bryce Canyon in the very early evening, with just enough time for one last hike for the day. We decided on Queen's Garden Trail and Navajo Loop (2.6 miles with 623 feet elevation gain), which started at Sunrise Point and weaved amongst the hoodoos (tall and thin spires of rock). At the end of the hike, there is a hoodoo known to resemble Queen Victoria. We discovered while we were walking this trail that Navajo Loop was closed, so instead of walking the loop we had to turn around half-way and hike back up to Sunrise Point. This hike was where I learned to NEVER hike on a empty stomach (or around dinner time), but luckily for me, Lauren stocked up on granola bars to keep me going.
The sun was setting by the time we reached the car that evening, so we decided on something quick for a late dinner. We stopped by the General Store, connected to Hotel #4 to purchase chapstick (so necessary), snacks, and the dinner of red barons - frozen, microwavable pizzas. Cheese for Lauren, and pepperoni for me. Trust me, after Day 4, that pizza tasted as good as wood-fired gourmet pizza.
Day 5 was our last full-day before heading home. It also included our longest drive - 4.25 hours to Arches National Park. To prepare for the long drive, we took advantage of our complimentary breakfast buffet and filled up our energy levels through unlimited pancakes, eggs, bacon and coffee.
With our stomachs full and content, we drove past free-range cattle, farmhouses, and land as far as the eye could see. We drove through towns so small that it took us maybe 5 minutes to drive through the entire town. Fortunately, Lauren had service for most of this drive so we took advantage of her Apple Music by playing Bruno Mars, classic Jonas Brothers, and Maroon 5.
As we approached Arches National Park, the rock formations started to turn into a deep reddish brown, rather than layers of lighter colors like we were used to from Zion or bright orange like from Bryce Canyon. This park was definitely another beautiful sight to cross off of the bucket list! With limited time, we chose the Delicate Arch trail (3.1 miles with 613 feet elevation gain) because of its popularity. Delicate Arch is the most recognizable arch due to its presence on Utah license plates.
Even on a Monday, this hike was still well-loved by hikers. Completely exposed with no shade, this hike started out on a defined and somewhat paved trail; however, it then turned into a wide rock face and the trail became a bit more tricky to follow. Once the rock flattened out at the top, we completed the most difficult portion of the hike, and the rest was a breathtaking and steady walk to the Delicate Arch. We were prepared for the beautiful view that we've seen pictures of previously, but we were not prepared for the intense wind at the top. With kids crying about sand getting in their eyes, and hikers trying to secure their hats, we were only able to briefly take in the view of Delicate Arch before we decided to take cover from the gusts of wind.
After completing that hike quicker than we anticipated, we decided to hike the short trails to the Double Arch (0.5 miles with 32 feet elevation gain) and the North and South Window Arch and Turret Arch Loop (1 mile with 150 feet elevation gain). At this point in our trip, we were ready for a sit-down dinner versus our usual turkey and cheese sandwiches. Therefore, instead of completing an additional hike at Arches, we agreed to drive into Moab to find Pasta Jay's. I chose Jay's Famous Jumbo Shells and Lauren chose Spaghetti, and we finished off our Moab stop with a quick dessert at Crystal's Cakes and Cones.
Once we fueled ourselves as well as the rental car, we made way towards our last 3.5-hour stretch before heading home on Day 6. The drive from Moab, UT to Salt Lake City, UT consisted of heart-to-heart conversations over Rascal Flatts' Top Hits as we made our way to "Hotel #5", a.k.a. an Air BnB that was a short drive to the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).
Alas, our trip came to a very sad end. The last few hours of our trip was spent in Salt Lake City, Utah. We ate cinnamon roll pancakes at Eggs in the City, explored the City Creek Center, and even picked up some Dunkin' Donuts for my mom (she's a big fan lol) before returning our rental car and making our way to SLC. The sky was crying with us as our adventure was ending.
Annnd that's a wrap!
If you made it this far into my blog post, THANK YOU! :) Before this trip, I had spent 7 consecutive months in the office without using any PTO. To say this trip was much-needed for some soul-searching, would be a VAST understatement. I am extremely blessed for the opportunity to have gone on a refreshing adventure with such incredible views with my high school best friend! 6 days was just enough time to get a taste of all these beautiful places, but I cannot wait to return and explore some more!
Cheers to road trip adventures!