How on earth in 2014 did I manage to take five trips, exploring countless big cities & small towns in eight U.S. states? It just happened that way, and I am very grateful to have had so many amazing experiences during the past 12 months. With only one backpack as my luggage, I helped my sister drive 1,800 miles from Missouri to California. I zip lined near the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent Easter searching for the mysterious Marfa Lights, and on Christmas Eve, I watched the sunset on Hollywood Blvd. I spent so much time "on the road" in 2014 that I did not get a chance to write about a few memorable places and experiences that I meant to document in this blog. Therefore, please enjoy the following list of previously "unseen" moments from my epic travel year in 2014!
1) Christmas on the Beach - Malibu, California
My sister Rebecca and I have taken dozens of road trips together, but nothing felt so sweetly surreal as driving up the (empty) 101 Freeway towards the coast on December 25th. Winding through the Santa Monica Mountains, it almost took my breath away when I got the first peek of the insanely gorgeous, blue ocean near the Pacific Coast Highway. At the sparsely populated Zuma Beach, Rebecca and I drank our coffee, opened our Christmas presents and enjoyed the quiet, beautiful scenery around us.
2) Champagne Bookstore - Asheville, North Carolina
The Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar is as great as the name of the establishment sounds - literature meets fine wining. A used book store and a very classy place to have a drink, here you can take advantage of comfortable lounge areas to hang out with your friends and browse hundreds of titles. After looking around for a couple hours, I settled in a cozy chair with a Paul Theroux book that I purchased and a hearty cup of hot apple cider. (Side note: The Champagne Bar also serves some non-alcoholic beverages, and since it was a cold day in November, I opted for a hot drink instead of bubbly.)
3) Ghosts on Church Street - Asheville, North Carolina
Is it just me, or is this a really cool imprint on that brick wall? While taking a private ghost tour, I learned that the building in the vacant space had been torn down six months prior, and that paranormal activity spiked after the demolition.
4) Listening to My Life Calling - Somewhere in Arizona
Do you ever catch yourself in a moment of unexpected, blissful happiness? While my sister and I were driving along an open stretch of road somewhere in Arizona, I had a small, random epiphany. While listening to the song "Ends of the Earth" by Lord Huron, I realized all over again how much I love to travel, not as vacation, but a way of life that I continually work toward in spite of the challenges. Look up the lyrics and listen to the song because it really captures a lot of what I think and feel.
5) Moving a house - near Santa Fe, New Mexico
Driving out of Santa Fe along I-25, my sister and I unexpectedly got stuck in traffic...because an oversized house on wheels was taking up both lanes of traffic! Luckily, after realizing that a long procession of frustrated regular sized cars was following close behind, the house pulled to the side of the road so that other vehicles could pass.
6) My first time in Oklahoma
I know, I know. I am a 29-year-old native North Texan, and I only just visited my home state's northerly neighbor this past summer while driving with my sister from Missouri to California. For the most part, I only saw the state at 70 miles per hour along I-44 and I-40, though we stayed overnight for one evening in a small town somewhere between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. So what did I think about Oklahoma? Parts of the state (especially the northeastern area) looked very pretty with lots of trees, but we also passed through several toll road check points. Nonetheless, I would love to explore more of Oklahoma sometime in the future.
7) Something Completely Unique & Different - St. Louis, Missouri
Enchanted caves, a giant hamster wheel, exquisitely detailed mosaics, and eccentric long slides and tunnels. You have to see it for yourself. With less than 24 hours to spend in St. Louis, I made a point to visit City Museum before anything else, and it was worth it. Tilting my head towards the upper floors of the building, I marveled at all of the secret passage ways and quirky attractions. It was a little bit overwhelming, but in the best way possible.
8) Gorgeous Drive and Chicken Salad Stuffed Avocados - Palestine, Texas
One of our favorite "Adventure Day" road trip excursions of 2014, Rebecca and I went (twice) to the small town of Palestine, which is approximately two hours southeast of Dallas. Driving in the spring and summer time, the scenery along the stretch of Texas State Highway 19 from Athens to Palestine is spectacular, and there are other beautiful scenic paths in the surrounding area as well. The Palestine Visitor's Center, which is a very friendly, helpful resource, gives great recommendations, including where to go for pretty drives and delicious places to eat. When it turned out the BBQ restaurant in Palestine was closed, Rebecca and I instead had lunch at the Old Magnolia, which we ended up really enjoying. Who knew that two things I love - chicken salad and avocado - could go so well together (particularly the second time)! The iced lattes are delicious, and you also can browse knick-knacks and home items in vendor booths in the same building.
9) Easter Sunset in the West - Marfa, Texas
While having dinner at a bar in Marfa, I looked up at a neat metal design on top of the building. As daylight faded into a brilliant mixture of warm and cool colors in the early evening, I quietly reflected on the past few days, remembering all of the neat, quirky sites in Roswell, New Mexico and in (and around) Marfa that my friend Donna and I saw. I also felt ridiculously excited - hoping the sun would set a little bit faster - because we were going to see the famed Marfa Lights later that evening.
10) Hit by a Tumbleweed - Pecos, Texas
While driving through a quiet stretch of road in West Texas towards Marfa, it literally came out of nowhere. Then, Donna and I had to laugh in surprised disbelief when we realized that a kamikaze, giant piece of shrubbery whipped across the front of her Jeep. Hey, it makes for a great funny story - we literally were hit by a tumbleweed in the wild West.
11) Aliens, where? - Roswell, New Mexico
Alien merchandise. Alien murals. Aliens playing poker in a window display. An alien on a wagon. You get the idea. Especially in the area close to Roswell's famed International UFO Museum and Research Center, but also found in other areas of the city, little green men made clever appearances in various forms. Hey, if it is a claim to fame, why not run with it!
12) Reading Room in Edgar Allan Poe's House - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Visiting the eccentric writer's home on 7th Street was my favorite part of visiting Philadelphia. In stark contrast to the original part of the house (which is very raw with hardly any furnishings), the main visitor's area of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site contains a lovely reading room, which is filled with an extensive collection of Poe's writings and other related resources. The room is styled according to descriptions in his essay "The Philosophy of Furniture".
13) Giant Board Game Pieces - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Special thanks to my friend Donna who told me about giant board game pieces in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. I saw them (frozen in place from the snow?) on my last day in the city.
14) Good Country Eats - Edom, Texas
Is it worth it to drive to a tiny town an hour-and-a-half southeast of Dallas in order to eat superb chicken fried steak, fried okra, mac & cheese and cobbler? Unquestionably, yes. The first time we visited Edom in February, my sister and I explored the nearby shops after lunch at The Shed Cafe. I particularly enjoyed exploring Arborcastle Birdhouses, and there are neat galleries & studios, as well. Just check the shop hours ahead of time - Rebecca and I got there when several places just happened to be closed for the day. Oops. The food alone in Edom was still totally worth the excursion...and I am getting hungry thinking about it!