Week 17: Tumbling In To Marfa

After a brief stay at the spectacular Caverns of Sonora, and carefully avoiding some crazy flooding, we headed west to our second-to-last Texas destination:  Marfa, Texas.  Marfa is a tiny town of approximately 2,000 people, located in the west Texas desert, one of the most middle-of-nowhere places you can find in the United States.

The stars on that map represent places we have stayed on our trip, so you can see the Caverns of Sonora to the east and El Paso to the west.  We’ll get to the star near Amarillo much later…

You might imagine this to be the most boring drive imaginable, and you wouldn’t be wrong about that.  The distances are long, the roads are painfully straight, and the cactus-to-person ratio is unmeasurably high.  It’s certainly more relaxing than driving the RV through, say, New Orleans rush hour (protip: never do that), but you quickly run out of things to do.  Jake spent his non-driving time holding his phone steady to make sped-up, “hyperlapse” videos of how intensely boring the drive was:

A 16x hyperlapse, so 5 minutes in about 18 seconds.

Another 16x hyperlapse (as best we can remember), driving into the big city of Alpine, Texas (population 6,000).  

That said, the drive was still a lot different than we imagined.  When we thought of the Texas desert before this trip, we pictured flat, sandy plains.  However, one realization we have made from exploring the deserts of the Southwest is that “desert” almost always goes hand-in-hand with “mountains.”  Desert scenery is spectacularly mountainous; if you look carefully in the hyperlapses, you can see ridges in the background.  In person, the landscape is arrestingly beautiful.

And there is almost never sand.  Sometimes we saw grass and trees, like back home.  Mostly, Southwestern deserts are scrublands, endless fields of small green bushes atop brown, rocky soil.  This makes the mountains stand out even further, and gives new, important meaning to TLC’s 1990s classic, “No Scrubs.”

The other thing worth knowing about the desert is that it is, as a nature documentary would say, a land of “contrasts” and “extremes.”  What they mean by that is “it gets really freaking hot during the day, and really cold at night.”  With so little humidity, temperature is overwhelmingly driven by the sun.  Stand full in its glare, and you’ll be sweating; step three feet away into the shade, and the perceived temperature drops about thirty degrees, just like that.  It doesn’t help that Marfa and much of the southwest is at a surprisingly high altitude (see, e.g.Santa Fe), so the temperature swings at night were, umm, rather extreme.

Wear layers.

So, back to Marfa.  As we said, it is tiny, consisting of just a few streets and a single stoplight.  Marfa historically existed for ranchers and as a stop-over for travelers, and during World War II, there was an Army base there.  However, the future of the town took a very unique turn in the 1970s, when minimalist NYC artist Donald Judd began staying and working in Marfa part-time.  He ultimately ended up buying huge amounts of property in the area, including the abandoned Army base, and created some stunning works of art in the middle of the desert.  Over time, other members of the NYC art scene visited and worked in Marfa.

Today, Marfa still services ranchers and travelers, but it also has numerous museums and galleries.  It’s a fun and funky place, with food trucks, an organic grocery store, and a campground named El Cosmico where you can stay in a teepee or a yurt.  To the sometimes-consternation of the residents, these things have lead to Marfa becoming increasingly hip:  BEYONCE stayed at El Cosmico.  It’s really all pretty amazing, although the incongruities can be a bit jarring:  for example, seeing a farmer’s dirty, hard-working pickup truck driving behind a gleaming new Escalade was surreal.

We stayed at an adorable RV park called the “Tumble In,” and it was tough to beat the sunsets or the price.  If you’re ever just passing through the Chihuahan desert – as we all do, from time to time – it’s well worth a visit.

Since we were in Marfa, we stopped to see some of Judd’s work.  Judd converted the Army base into a showcase for his and his friends’ work, installing large sculptures into the existing buildings.  For example, three warehouse-sized structures contained a series of beautiful, polished, waist-high aluminum rectangles, each one with different sides and interiors.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures of them, but you can see some here.  Outside, 15 huge concrete forms – mostly hollow, open-ended cubes – made for silent, geometric guardians in the desert.  It was all extremely cool.  There was more, including a series of colored light installations set up in former barracks halls, and a downtown warehouse full of sculptures made from crushed cars, but you’ll have to visit Marfa to see them.

We took a day trip outside of Marfa to go hiking in the Davis Mountains, about a half-hour to the north.  (Do you like straight, flat roads with no humans?  If so, that is the drive for you.)  We stopped in to the visitor center to make sure the hiking trails hadn’t been washed away in the recent flooding, and the friendly female worker there assured us they hadn’t.  Then, she excitedly told us that the hike was “great” because there was a “huge black rattlesnake” at the top of the mountain we’d be climbing.

“You and I have very different definitions of ‘great,'” Jake said.  But we never encountered the rattlesnake, and the hike was a good tune-up for our next adventure:  Big Bend National Park (blog post sold separately).

We’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves, but we wanted to show you one more thing near Marfa, since it’s semi-famous for it.  (Marfa is also famous for the Marfa Lights, but the night we tried to see them was cloudy, and nothing appeared.)  About 20 miles northwest of Marfa, on the way to El Paso, artists created the Prada Marfa store.  It’s a fake boutique with some real (but unusable) Prada products inside, all alone in the middle of the desert.  It’s a symbol, a prank, and a fantastic photo opportunity, all rolled into one.


What’s now:  We are in Morro Bay, California, celebrating Jake’s birthday!

What’s next:  We are heading to Pinnacles National Park, followed by some more of coastal California.

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Week 16.5: Down Under at the Caverns of Sonora

After playing around in Austin and visiting friends in San Antonio (twice!), it was time to head west, away from the population centers and into the vast Texas desert. Of course, Texas is huge, and since our next stop was about 500 miles away, we decided to stay overnight  at a spot we read about online – the Caverns of Sonora.  We mostly just needed a place to sleep, and the Caverns have RV parking, so we figured we’d do a little sightseeing and kill two birds with one stone.  However, the Caverns turned out to be more spectacular than we ever imagined.

Now, we have visited quite a few caves, so it takes a fair amount to impress us.  The Longhorn Caverns we visited near Austin were nifty, and their history is cool, but the cavers were mostly bare rock.  There were a handful of cool cave formations – pieces of oddly-shaped rock that look like a fish tail, or a really pretty stalactite, or some cave “popcorn” – but the density wasn’t very high.

At the Caverns of Sonora, on the other hand, all of those cave formations (and many others) were present in extraordinary density.  In places, nearly every square inch was covered with something beautiful.  It was really incredible, a preposterously dense accumulation of wondrous natural decorations in every imaginable shape, size, and color.  There were even thousands of helictites, extremely rare structures in which the rocks grow at crazy and seemingly-impossible angles.

The photo above is from a section dubbed the “Snake Pit,” and there are more helictites in that picture alone than in all but a handful of caves in the entire world.  But as we said, that’s not all you can find in the Caverns of Sonora.  Here’s one of our favorite cave decorations:  cave bacon!

By the way, we had planned to shoehorn this visit into our previous post, but once we started looking through our pictures again, we just couldn’t do it.  The Caverns are a magical place, and it deserves a little extra love.  So, we’re going to eschew our usual format, and just take you along as we show off some of what we saw there.  Unfortunately, the pictures don’t really do it justice, since caves are dark (and we’re amateur photographers at best), but hopefully you’ll enjoy!

Magical Mystery Tour

We stayed overnight at the Caverns, so we were in the first tour group the next morning.  That group turned out to consist of… us, and a tour guide.  We therefore ended up getting our own personal tour of the Caverns, a rare pleasure which we certainly appreciated.  We got to go at our own pace, and as introverts, it was satisfying to walk through the underground beauty mostly in silence.

The Caverns grow grander as you descend.  Near the beginning of our tour, the walls were still visible, with some cave decorations visible.

The most noticeable decoration is cave popcorn, which looks like exactly what it sounds like.  It’s rock, but it’s bright white in comparison to the other decorations, and amazingly fluffy looking.

We continued to descend.  In some places, the walls were lined with cave popcorn.  The air inside the caves was warm – it’s a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit inside – but moist.

The cave decorations became denser as we descended.  Stalagmites and stalactites, covered with what looked from a distance like carpet.  Up close, the bumps revealed themselves to be millions upon millions of tiny formations.

Soon, every step was past a wall bursting with beautiful formations.  Everything in the Caverns is just a different shade of the same off-white, porcelain color, but no less arresting for it.  Candles, pine trees, snowflakes – your brain cannot help but see patterns in the chaotic depths.

This is Nature’s sculpture garden, an infinite gallery of mineralogical wonder, and we were a guest on her tour.

Our tour guide shows us an underground pond, so crystal-clear it is nearly invisible.  In places, this pond is one hundred feet deep.  It takes decades for water to reach it from the surface.

Soda Straws:  long, delicate tendrils, like skinny icicles, hanging down from the ceiling.  It feels like the slightest breeze would destroy them all; but of course, there is no wind this deep underground.

Soda straws soon surrounded us, like a rainstorm frozen in flight.  Mounds of flowstone covered the ground, lumpy like mashed potatoes, or dripping candle wax.  (There’s more in the gallery slideshow.)

Near the bottom of the caverns, we entered the “Hall of the White Giants,” so named for its huge white rock formations.  (We aren’t 100% certain, but believe it was the area below.)  Our tour guide told us that because of the delicacy of the formations in this area, groups are only taken into to see the white giants about once every 4 months.

In fact, because the area is so active and the decorations continue to grow, the opening to the Hall of the White Giants is slowly being closed by nature.  We are lucky and humbled to have seen it before it is gone for good.

Towards the end of our nearly two-hour tour, we became almost numb to the crazy beauty on display all around us.  For the same reason, we will not try to show you all of our favorites, but we put together a slideshow below with a few more you may enjoy.

As we ascended, we passed again through layers of different types of formations.  Near the top, the walls changed to a smooth, white limestone. Like everything else in the Caverns, it was beautiful.

After such a magical journey, returning to the regular world was jarring.  We finally re-emerged into the Texas morning sunlight, blinking, and struggling to capture what we had just seen.  We have been lucky enough to see many wondrous things on our trip, but few can compete with the Caverns of Sonora.

We thought that was it for our tour, but as we headed back to the gift shop, there was one final surprise in store for us:  peacocks!

It was an unforgettable experience.  If you’re ever in the area, we strongly suggest you visit!


What’s now:  We are recovering from our hike up to the awesome Potato Chip Rock!

What’s next:  We are leaving San Diego shortly to try to catch the most incongruous of events:  wildflowers blooming in Death Valley.  Then, we’re doubling down in Vegas, baby!

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Week 16: Adult Distractions in Austin

After much fun in San Antonio, we departed to spend a few days checking out Austin – a city high on our pre-trip list of “places we might live.”  We certainly found a lot to like there, and in some ways, the city was really cool.  Unfortunately, it was less cool in other, more literal ways.  Austin was brutally hot while we were there, with record temperatures for mid-October in the mid-90’s (and humid).

Weather aside, we had a great time exploring Austin, and it’s definitely on our list of places to visit again.

Straight and Narrow Sprawl

Since we’ve been driving everywhere, we’ve come to notice and appreciate (usually) the little quirks in the roadways in different areas. Vermont had endless rolling hills, while Louisiana’s highways were built on incredibly long, flat, straight bridges through the bayou. The West Texas desert had beautiful, perfectly-maintained roads, while the roads in Southern California are in such bad shape they sometimes seem closer to gravel. In New Mexico, you can sometimes go 20 miles at a time without a curve in the road. You get the idea.

Well, one Texas quirk is that the highways leading in and out of the cities tend to be lined with businesses for miles and miles, long past where people actually live. They are typically clustered right by the highway on frontage roads (another Texas quirk – they love frontage roads), with giant billboards every few feet, but there’s nothing at all behind them.  A mile wide and an inch deep, you might say, and nowhere was it more apparent than on the drive between Austin and San Antonio.

The drive between the cities is relatively short, about an hour and a half in our RV, but it’s pretty empty, population-wise, by the time you get to the midpoint. Except… the businesses never really stopped. There were no towns, not even really houses, but still, we drove past an endless row of billboards and fast food joints and mechanics and car dealerships and gas stations and everything else you can think of. It was definitely a unique experience for us, since we grew up where trees cover everything and the towns have gaps between them. But hey – seeing new things is why we’re on this trip!

We Missed You, Nature

We met up with friends in Houston and San Antonio, and although we were excited to show our RV off to them, the RV parks we were staying in at the time weren’t ideal.  They were cramped, with neighbors parked as close as possible to each other, and very little in the way of trees or shade.  Unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence, especially close to big cities, where space is at a premium.  Houston was particularly bad, since there was almost nothing by way of nature around to see.

That’s why we’re happy to say that our campground near Austin was awesome.  Like all of our favorite spots, it was located in a park, not a commercial RV campground, and it was gorgeous.  We had a spacious, shady spot underneath the trees, completely surrounded by vegetation so it was utterly private.  (First picture in the slideshow below.)  Plus, we were still quite close to Austin!  We have stayed in all sorts of places on our trip so far, but McKinney Falls State Park remains one of our favorites, even if the falls were non-existent when we were there.

Going Downtown With Burt Reynolds

Austin is known as a very fun city, and it definitely lived up to its reputation.  On our first day in town, our friend Brian was visiting as well, so we wandered around downtown and stopped in at a random local bar, called HandleBar.  It turned out to be a wise choice, as we got to enjoy a friendly bartender, great beers, many mustache-related decorations, and a rooftop full of “adult distractions,” like a see-saw and giant Jenga blocks.  Drinking and toys?  Sign us up.

After a while, we headed downstairs and checked out the back room.  There were pinball machines, a vending machine selling fake mustaches, and best and weirdest of all, a giant picture of Burt Reynolds lying naked on a bearskin rug.  Crazily enough, that was the second time we had seen that picture in a bar in about three days.  At our friend’s wedding afterparty in a swanky nightclub just a few days before, the ladies’ room also featured a giant picture of Burt Reynolds lying naked on a bearskin rug, except that one was backlit!

Burt Reynolds – still going strong in central Texas.

There are a lot of other cool things to do in the city as well, but we didn’t have time for much.  The live music scene is famous, and we are happy to report that it was going strong when we visited.  Nearly every bar featured a band of some kind, even on a Thursday night.

We stopped for some tacos at the original Torchy’s Tacos, which started as a food truck before becoming a successful (and insanely delicious) local chain.  Note the jugs of water in the photo below – they were giving it out to people standing in line so nobody died from the heat!

Mmmm, Red Planet

We also caught a film at the Alamo Drafthouse, another local Austin business that has hit it big.  The Drafthouse is a pretty awesome place to see a movie, with unique promos they create and show in place of previews; we saw The Martian, and they showed very entertaining parts of so-bad-its-good Mars-themed B-movies.  This was followed by an amazing montage of people chowing down in competitive eating contests, with the audio track replaced by soaring speeches about going to space and achieving human greatness.  5 stars for the juxtaposition alone!

Speaking of eating, the Alamo Drafthouse serves food and drinks, including beer, delivered at any time during the movie.  You simply place a note in a little stand in front of your own personal table, and black-clad ushers quickly quietly bring whatever you ordered without disturbing the other patrons.  So while Matt Damon was almost starving to death on Mars, we were sipping some frosty, freshly-made peanut butter-chocolate milkshakes.  How’s THAT for a juxtaposition?

Texas Cave Country

Our final destination in Texas was the Longhorn Caverns, a series of gorgeous caves in Texas Hill Country with an interesting backstory. This area is beautiful, by the way, with endless rolling hills, more greenery than you’d expect, and interesting scenery around every turn. The Longhorn Caverns themselves have seen many uses, serving variously as a Native American meeting place, a hideout for bandits, and a tourism destination – sometimes at the same time.

Later, during Prohibition, a stage was built in the largest cavern, and it housed a popular speakeasy and restaurant. That ended with Prohibition, but, in the 1930s, the caverns were renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps into their present form. As we understand it, this “renovation” was primarily about “removing a million boulders by hand,” so we’re grateful as always to the formerly-young men of the CCC. (If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s worth reading about. Probably half of the parks we’ve visited were improved by the CCC!)

Nowadays, you can tour the caves, have dinner and get married on the stage, and maybe even hide out from law enforcement. We opted for the first one (with a little bit of the third), and the Longhorn Caverns were quite a spectacle, although they paled in comparison to our next stop. It didn’t hurt that we had a fantastic tour guide, a former drill sergeant whose love of showing off the features of the cave was second only to his love of intensely bad puns.

He really rocked.

One of the buildings constructed by the CCC, made out of rock quarried from the park.

Modern entrance to the caverns. During the prohibition, smaller entrances through the "ceiling" were used.


The walls are covered with quartz crystals.

A non-blurry photo of the quartz crystals.


"Waterfall" rock formation.

This is not a sculpture of a dog. This is supposedly a naturally formed rock formation!

The main room, where they got their party on during the prohibition. Today, concerts and weddings are held here. There are great acoustics in this room.

These smooth limestone walls were carved millions of years ago by underground streams.



What’s now:  We immediately extended our stay in San Diego because weather.

What’s next:  Heather is still trying to make us leave San Diego to try to catch the wildflowers blooming in Death Valley.

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Week 15.5: Texas Tourism in San Antonio

Heading west from Houston, we made it to San Antonio in just a few hours.  If you’re like us, you might picture this part of Texas as a desert, but it’s actually still quite green, in a scrublands sort of way.  And humid!  And very, very hot.  In fact, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are all surprisingly, unpleasantly humid and hot, which is why air conditioners are mankind’s greatest invention.

But the people are friendly, and your dollar goes far.  Despite the proliferation of cowboy boots and some unfortunate dining experiences, we certainly had a good time.  Enough chit-chat; on to the post!

Heading: Wedding

The first item on our agenda in San Antonio was the wedding of our friends, Danny and Rose.  This was the only event on our calendar for quite a while, and it drove a lot of our planning to this point, so we’re happy to say we made it on time. The ceremony and reception were lovely, held in a beautiful Japanese tea garden on a hot-fading-to-pleasant October evening. We had a blast, especially since lots of our friends came into town for the wedding.

You can see a few pictures below.  Apologies for the qualities of the photos in this post – because we were out and about with friends, they were mostly taken on a phone.

Remembering The Alamo

If you know one thing about San Antonio, you probably know that it is the location of the Alamo. But if you haven’t visited, you may not know that the Alamo is actually in the city, not far from the Riverwalk (discussed below). It’s really quite small, the size of an old Mission church surrounded by walls, which is basically what it was.

As you can see in the picture, there was quite a line, so we decided to skip going inside at first, and instead went to check out the surrounding grounds.  There was a museum playing a (b-roll) History Channel documentary on loop, and it also contained some unnervingly strange Alamo-related paraphernalia – including a lock of Davy Crockett’s hair. Why does that exist, and more importantly, who decided it needed to be displayed at the Alamo museum?

Semi-Factual Sidebar

The Battle of the Alamo was fought in 1836 after Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Mexico sent an army into Texas to return the wayward state to the fold, and about 250 “Texian” soldiers were overrun by the Mexican army at the Alamo. The Texians were all killed, even the famous ones like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, because Twitter follower accounts could not easily be verified back then. The non-Alamo Texians then banded together, defeated the Mexican army, and captured the President of Mexico (who was personally leading the army – rookie mistake). A new country was created and absorbed by the U.S., yadda yadda yadda, oversized belt buckles and cowboy boots.

The line we showed you before eventually disappeared, and we entered the main attraction: the “Shrine to Texas Liberty.”  The Shrine was under construction when we were there, so instead of entering via an historic door, we ducked under a tarp.  There wasn’t a lot going on inside; the most impressive part of the Alamo may be the gift shop, which was probably larger than either the museum or the Shrine.

That feels right, somehow, because the Alamo is really just a huge tourist trap. Right outside the doors (or tarp), we spotted a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a wax museum, and several funnel cake stands – a holy trinity of  touristry. Not really our cup of tea. (Not to say funnel cakes aren’t delicious. But we don’t put them in our tea.) (Although… maybe we should try that.)

Eating In A Restaurant Down By The River

We said that if you know one thing about San Antonio, you probably know that about the Alamo. Well, if you know TWO things about San Antonio, you probably know about the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is actually a pretty cool idea – a walkway along the banks of the river, featuring hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops, live music, and even police boats (!!!). It’s very well-trafficked, but we question the implementation; for one, some of the restaurants are horrible (keep reading), and second, the river is kind of gross.

It doesn’t smell, really, but the water is noticeably green. Like “the Chicago river on St. Patrick’s Day” green, or “pond you would never want to go swimming in” green. It’s not very photogenic, and frankly a little concerning, sanitation-wise. So although some of the shops and restaurants were quite nice, the overall experience doesn’t reach its full potential, even though we had fun there.

We will admit that the river does look very pretty at night (photo from Wikimedia, because we were too busy drinking to take our own). Speaking of drinking, we have to wonder: how many drunk people have fallen into that water?  And how many times would you have to shower afterwards to feel clean again?

Along The Riverwalk

The morning after the wedding, a hung-over group of ourselves and our friends walked along the Riverwalk to get some brunch. There were a ton of options, and we tried to pick one using Yelp, but we got lost on the way there. We ended up just picking the Mexican restaurant we were standing in front of when we realized we were lost, and this turned out to be a mistake. Friends, we think this may have been the worst restaurant we’ve ever been to in our lives. The location was nice, but the food and service were… unique.

Our waiter was very friendly, possibly a recovering or current drug addict, and strangely honest about his poor service. Our friend Kate ordered water with lime. “I think you mean with lemon,” our waiter said, and when she again stated her preference for a lime, he proceeded to argue with her about it. Limes were all the way upstairs at the bar, the waiter explained, and so it wasn’t really worth the hassle for him. Kate finally agreed to lemons instead, which he then forget to bring for about 45 minutes. The waiter then brought a handful of cut limes – literally in his hands – and politely dropped them on her plate.

After we got our food, Kate then made the mistake of requesting some green salsa (the same green salsa that was on about half of the plates at our table).  Our waiter, never one to miss a haggling opportunity, counter-offered with red salsa instead.  Kate stuck to her guns, though, and although it seemed like this was going to turn into a Texas “pistols at dawn”-style duel, the waiter eventually stood down and acceded to her minor request.

It was certainly one-of-a-kind service. A Yelp review we read later said that while the reviewer was waiting forever for their food (happened to us also), they had this entertaining scene unfold:

“We ordered drinks and never saw our server again. While we were waiting we saw another server drop an entire tray of food on the floor. This isn’t really a big deal, except that the server then just walked away without picking anything up. The spilled food sat on the floor going on 20 minutes without being cleaned up. While drafting this review, another server was walking to a table and slipped and fell on the food and broken dishes which still had not been picked up. After another 5 minutes it was finally cleaned up.”

Speaking of the food, real Mexican food is delicious and flavorful. This was like Mexican food as made by your middle-school cafeteria, except without the chocolate chip cookie alternatives. The taste actually wasn’t even the worst (or best?) part: check out the menu, which features some pretty amazing “Spanish” phrases:

Look at the names of those menu options!  Our favorite is a tossup between “Burrito de Certified Angus Beef Fajita,” which doesn’t even really make sense, and “Burrito de Bean and Cheese,” which is some truly lazy translating.

We will say this:  it was certainly a memorable dining experience.


It may not seem like it based on our descriptions of the Riverwalk and the Alamo, but we had a really good time in San Antonio – twice, in fact. After everyone left, we headed to Austin for a week, which we will get to next. We then came back for a few days and hung out with the newlyweds, Danny and Rose, since they weren’t leaving on honeymoon for a while. Their house has dogs, a big screen TV, and amazing barbecue, which is always a winning combination, but we also got to do some things with a more “local” flavor. One highlight was dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves incredible – and incredibly huge – hamburgers. We were full after splitting the medium size burger (see below) – they go up to at least three pounds!  (No word on whether they were made with Certified Angus Beef.)

Besides cramming meat down your gullet as fast as possible, what do you do in Texas? Shoot off some guns, that’s what! Since Danny owns a small arsenal – as required by law of all Texas residents – we headed to the range and blasted some targets. It was Heather’s first time shooting a gun, but she did pretty well, even with Danny’s “I can’t believe you get to own this” AR-15.

Jake also had some fun (sporting one of his shirts from the Jake Fischer collection).


What’s now:  We’re in San Diego, and the weather is amazing.  Jake doesn’t want to leave.

What’s next:  Heather is going to make us leave San Diego to try to catch the wildflowers blooming in Death Valley.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  All updates are certified organic!

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Week 15: Rocketing Through Houston

In early October, we left the small town of Sulphur, Louisiana and headed west. It didn’t take long until we made it to Texas – exit 878 on I-10, to be exact (numbered by mile). Jake texted his mom, who lives in El Paso, to let her know we had finally made it to the State That Shall Not Be Messed With. “Cool!” She replied.  “See you at exit 13.”

Yes, Texas is a big state, and it would take us the entire month of October to travel those remaining 865 miles to El Paso.  Our first stop was a quick 3 days in Houston, a hot, humid, concrete jungle with a surprisingly good (and nerdy) vibe.


While Houston’s downtown seems to be mostly corporate headquarters, it does have quite a few interesting museums. With only a short amount of time to work with, we decided to visit the most iconic (and the one not actually downtown) the Johnson Space Center. It’s the home of rockets, astronauts, and NASA mission control, and it’s fun for the whole family!

A little too fun, if we’re being honest.  The day we visited turned out to be Homeschooled Kids Day, and everywhere we went was overrun with swarms of young children. Sometimes it was kind of cute, watching them fill out their field trip homework forms under their mother’s watchful eye, but mostly it was just clogged up.


Replica Space Shuttle at the NASA Houston Space Center.

A photo posted by Jake and Heather (@nothingmundane) on


Ahhh, the peaceful few minutes of walking in the parking lot before we discovered it was Homeschooler Day. By the way, you can actually tour the inside of this space shuttle today! Unfortunately, it was still under construction during our visit.

Because of all the youngsters, we had to ride the line ride for about an hour to take a tour of the grounds, but it was worth it. One of the stops is the mission control room as it existed in 1969, complete with old-school computers and a red phone that connects straight to the Pentagon (although probably not anymore). NASA monitored nine Gemini and all Apollo missions, including the moon landing, right in that room.

Check out the slideshow below for some pictures.  We’re testing this out as a replacement for the galleries, which had some big problems on mobile devices – let us know what you think!

We sat in the front row of the observation room, a room where several heads of state have sat in the past. It’s pretty cool to think that we may have placed our butts into the same seat that Queen Elizabeth, JFK, Nixon, Lassie, etc. once sat on.

The current mission control room is actually directly underneath the old one.  Doesn’t seem like the safest place to put it to us, but hey, we’re not the scientists.

The rest of the tour was pretty interesting, too. The Space Center is a sprawling campus of weird NASA-related stuff, the kind of place where very large vats of liquid nitrogen just “chill” on the corner of the block.  We made a stop at a gigantic hangar, which turned out to contain an unused Saturn V rocket – the booster rockets that propelled mankind to the moon. It was scheduled to be used for Apollo 18, but that flight was cancelled, and so now it is on display at the Johnson Space Center.

The scale of the rocket is frankly incredible. It’s hard to do it justice in a single photo, but it sits in a room the size of an indoor arena or field house and fills it completely. The sections are broken apart so you can peer inside various components, and although every inch of the casing is covered with wiring and tubing, it’s basically hollow inside.

Except for the rocket fuel, of course.

Can you imagine strapping yourself to one of these and blasting off to the moon?

We also got to take a peek at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, an even-more-massive room filled with a replica of everything astronauts might interact with in space, including a mockup of the International Space Station. We also spotted replica space capsules, such as the Russian Soyuz, and even a SpaceX Dragon.  So cool!  (Luckily, the Nerd Alert is flashing continuously there, so nobody noticed us geeking out.)

There was also a pretty cool museum which was, for some reason, partially sponsored by Angry Birds.  Animals in space – what a perfectly thin excuse for one of our favorite gifs!
If you’re interested further, you can take a look at the slideshow below for some snaps from the museum.  We got to touch moon rocks!  And view a life-size astronaut mannequin in the space shower (that circular tube thing), which probably wasn’t necessary.

Old Friends, Nerd Places

Despite the fact that neither of us had ever really been there before, Houston was a great place to go to meet up with old friends. Our friend Brian works in New York, but has been getting sent to Houston every week by his work for months, so we got to hang out. We were happy to get the chance to play some board games (there’s that Nerd Alert again), enjoy the first of what would turn out to be roughly 92 straight Tex-Mex meals, and hitch a ride in his Ubers.

We also met up with our friends Sean and Maggie. Maggie moved to Houston last summer to work for the Houston Chronicle, presumably so she could write hard-hitting pieces like “Moody Gardens turtles predict Super Bowl 50 winner.” (Sorry Maggie! In fairness, she also wrote this beautiful essay.) As it happened, Sean was visiting her one of the nights we were in town.

We all met up at the most gloriously nerdy bar we have ever been to in our lives (noticing a theme?), Neil’s Bahr.  There were board games for the bar patrons to play, which isn’t that unusual, as well as video games, including a “vintage N64,” which is a bit more unusual. There were comic books available for people to read, and one TV played nothing but the Simpsons 24/7, which is always a good idea. Mostly, though, it was the people inside who brought it down (or up?), such as the guy who visited while dressed up as a Ninja Turtle (it’s his “thing,” he said), or the two geeky-looking guys at the table next to ours.  Their geeky looks weren’t just for show: they were, in fact, building a model Millenium Falcon on the table.  At a bar.  While arguing about the Star Wars extended universe.

Sorry, ladies, we did not get their phone numbers.


What’s now:  Doing some Los Angeles sightseeing.  The weather is great, the traffic is less so.

What’s next:  Heading to San Diego for a week, then hopefully up to Las Vegas and Death Valley.  This would all feel more satisfying if winter had not decided to skip the Northeast this year.

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Week 14.5: New Orleans

After a fantastic time at the beach in Destin, Florida, we headed further west on I-10 towards New Orleans.  We generally try to stay in every state we pass through, but unfortunately we didn’t really have time to visit Alabama and Mississippi, since we had to be at a wedding in about a week.  Sorry, deep South!  We’ll have to take a rain check until our next yearlong RV road trip.

The drive to New Orleans was entertaining for these Yankees, traveling over and past long, flat bridges through marshy terrain.  We saw the longest docks there we have ever seen.  The drive into New Orleans was a lot less fun, since we arrived on a Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m., and needed to get across the entire city in an RV pulling a car.  Luckily, having a giant vehicle usually driven by the elderly, with out of state plates, tends to earn a certain… caution from the locals.

Plus, as we discovered, if you really need to go across five lanes of bumper traffic in about 1/4 of a mile, it helps to be driving something huge.  Who’s going to stop you?

We stayed in an RV park just on the other side of the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans and took a ferry across to the French Quarter.  We did your classic New Orleans tourist things:  ate beignets and drank chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, then headed down the street for a muffuletta.  Heather says that muffulettas are “gross,” but objectively, she is wrong.  They are delicious.

(Ed. note: Heather would like to clarify that the “olive salad” on the muffuletta is what makes it gross, the rest of the sandwich is fine)

Black dress + powdered sugar = beignet badge of honor

A photo posted by Jake and Heather (@nothingmundane) on

We had fun walking around downtown New Orleans and observing the revelry on a Friday night.  Since Louisiana has an enlightened policy towards open container laws, we were able to engage in a little revelry of our own as we walked.  As the night went on, we paused near a large group of teenagers in prom clothing, a group you might describe as “literally falling down drunk,” and just people-watched for a while.  Sure, the French Quarter is dirty, expensive, and crazy, but not many places party so well (or serve such wildly alcoholic drinks).


We promised our friend that we would be try to be cultured and not just visit the French Quarter in New Orleans, but of course that is exactly what we did.  We did salvage things somewhat, by doing an activity Jake had been dreaming of since his previous visit to New Orleans (six weeks earlier):  RIDING IN AN AIRBOAT!

Yes, we took an airboat ride through the bayou, and it was pretty great! The airboat we took was a little bit lower to the water than the one pictured below (read on for why that matters). And the swamp we toured actually bordered the state park that we were staying in, which was somewhat alarming.  So, we figured that the airboat tour, aside from being an exciting ride, was a good way to scope out any potential visitors to our RV.

Unfortunately, there weren’t actually many alligators out because the weather was unusually cool (70F), but it was fun just to ride around in the airboat.  There’s no motor sticking out below the water, so there’s nothing to get caught underneath as you drive around.  As we quickly learned, that means the drivers can and will drive them over and through anything:  lily pads, tall grass, logs, the shoreline, even giant piles of sleeping alligators (probably).

Our tour guide was a crazy redneck from the Louisiana bayou with a complete disregard for his own personal safety, in a good way.  He drove us to, and then parked directly on top of, the spot he claimed he saw a mama alligator with her babies earlier that day.  He then told us how that mama alligator had almost grabbed him unawares after he took one of her babies and posed with it for a picture, all the while just repeatedly poking the tall grass and the water with a stick he found.

Everyone onboard scrunched as far away from the menacingly opaque swamp water as possible.  Our guide then told us how a large alligator had actually jumped onto one of the boats earlier that year.  “Don’t worry, it didn’t get that close to the people, so nothing to worry about,” he said.  “Although… this boat is actually much, much lower to the swamp.”


It went on like this for a solid hour, blasting through creepy swamps at unnecessarily high speeds.  It was certainly a memorable tour.  We did get to see a few gators – they draw them close to the boat by tossing marshmallows into the water.  Apparently, gators like to eat marshmallows because they look like turtle eggs.

Unfortunately, that was it for our visit.  Just like most of the places we visited during this stretch, we wish we could have had more time in New Orleans.  We liked the taste we got, but there is a whole lot more we didn’t get to see.

However, we did have one final bit of excitement on our way out of the city, when the clips holding up our exhaust pipe broke after a long stretch of bouncing on Louisiana’s crummy roads.  We thought we heard people honking us at, and figured it was because we were driving too slow.  Turns out they were honking because we were dragging our exhaust pipe on the highway!  We eventually figured out what that scraping sound was, and pulled off at a Flying J, where we bought bungee cords and automotive tape.  We proceeded to MacGyver the shit out of that pipe.

After successfully strapping our exhaust pipe back into place with the bungee cords and a roll of tape, we headed out towards Texas.  With all the tape-related excitement, we didn’t make it as far as we had planned, so we stopped for the night about halfway there.  The town we stayed in?  Cannot make this up:  Sulphur, Louisiana.  Oh, and you know how we mentioned Louisiana’s “enlightened” attitude towards open container laws in New Orleans?  Well, in Sulphur (and elsewhere in the state), you can actually get drive-through cocktails.  Margarita for the road, anyone?

We figured we probably shouldn’t do much driving in a place where you don’t even have to leave your car to get you drink refreshed, and we ended up parking for the night at the Wal-Mart.  (Interestingly, the money-transferring station inside the store was preposterously busy – a lot of oil workers, we guessed.)  We rented Mad Max: Fury Road from the Redbox outside the store, made popcorn, watched the movie inside our RV (5 stars!), and then returned it, all without leaving the parking lot.

Night out without actually going out?  Check and check.


What’s now:  We’re staying for two weeks in Riverside, California, where instead of blizzards it’s 70 degrees and sunny.  Your move, Northeast.

What’s next:  We don’t know.  Umm… stuff?

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Week 14: Flo-Ride-Ah

We left beautiful Savannah behind and turned the corner on the United States, officially transitioning from I-95 South to I-10 West near Jacksonville, Florida.  Exciting!  At least if you’ve basically been driving on just two highways for the last six months.  In fact, we’re still on I-10 today, very close to Los Angeles, after (slowly) taking it across the entire country.

Tallahassee Rain

The first stop on our westward journey was Tallahassee, Florida, basically just as a quick stop before heading somewhere more interesting.  We stayed for two nights, which is about the minimum we try to stay anywhere, since packing up and moving the RV can be kind of a pain.  Two nights turned out to be more than enough:  it rained continuously the entire time we were there.

At least we had a pretty campsite.

The RV’s bug shield is constantly tilted, making it look even more like a moustache.

Incidentally, there was a private walkway down to the lake we were parked above, but we never headed down there.  You see, Florida has a certain reputation for… crazy.  And not even just crazy, but ultra-, bath salts-level crazy, the kind of crazy that earns Buzzfeed lists and an entire section of the Huffington Post.  (Our favorite headline at writing time?  A toss-up between “Florida Man Breaks Into Jail To See His Friends, Police Say,” “Escaped Monkey Goes Bananas On Police Car; Eats Neighbor’s Mail,” and “Florida Man Bitten By Shark Kills It And Eats It As Revenge.”)  It’s the land of sunshine, alligators, and bad judgment.

All of which is to say that we are pretty sure we know what was down by the lake, and we weren’t going near it.

Speaking of bad judgment, we visited a grocery store in Tallahassee that happened to be right next door to Florida State.  The shopping carts inside were amusing:  female college students with little but vegetables and diet soda, males with chicken breasts and protein powder, and an unwholesome amount of Easy Mac and boxed wine all around.

The parking lot was a zoo of a different kind, with the drivers displaying a combustible mixture of inexperience, obliviousness, and entitlement that made it one of the most harrowing drives of our entire trip.  Seriously – we narrowly avoided three accidents in a single row of the parking lot.  We might have driven across a mountain in the dark, but college kids with cars are a whole other level of danger.

Destin Sun

After narrowly escaping from Tallahassee, we headed farther west along the Florida panhandle to Destin, Florida.  Destin is a bit off the highway, and getting there required navigating past some giant, muddy puddles spread across the state highway.  Since we drive the equivalent of a war rig, we of course blasted straight through.  The RV was fine with this, but our poor tow car ended up covered with mud by the time we got to Destin.

“No problem,” we thought.  It had just been raining continuously for two straight days; we were still on the Gulf coast, and we figured another storm would wipe it clean soon.  Just kidding!  It didn’t rain again for 2 months, shortly after we gave up and got the car washed.

Muddy car aside, Destin was great.  It’s a beach town, with pristine white sand and gorgeous, warm, blue-green water.  We sunbathed on our awesome pirate towel (see picture in gallery), played frisbee, and considered never leaving.

I was trying to take a hot dog legs beach pic, but then Jake happened… #devotionstothefrisbeegod

A photo posted by Jake and Heather (@nothingmundane) on

We stayed at a state park that was built right on the beach, in a space previously occupied by a freeway.  It was beautiful, quiet, and surprisingly private, and we wholeheartedly endorse the road-to-beach conversion.  However, we got hilariously lost on the way back from the beach to our camp site.  A long boardwalk connects the two halves of the park campground to the water, and we accidentally missed our turn.  We ended up on the wrong side of the park, and since it looks virtually identical (the park is symmetrical), it took us a while to realize it.

Fine, it happens.  Well, the campground on each side is built in roughly a figure 8 loop, and we walked the loop about 3 times before realizing what was wrong.  As it happens, the center-point of the 8 is a laundry station, and the people doing their laundry there expressed quickly-increasing bafflement as we proceeded to pass by six times while trying to find our RV.

Yeah… let’s just say we’re grateful to have GPS when we drive.

A happier highlight for us was having dinner and drinks right on the water, at a bar made from an Airstream trailer.  We sat outside where a local musician was playing the guitar and singing to, well, nobody else, and he was so grateful for our polite applause that he ended up playing some of our favorite tunes.

Listening to Sublime and drinking delicious craft beers by the ocean – does it get any better?

(That’s not rhetorical.  The answer is no.)

We can’t lie – this trip has been pretty awesome.


What’s now:  Currently, we are staying on the Salton Sea in Southern California, a saltwater inland lake that looks pretty but has become extremely toxic.  A beautiful sunset over a shoreline covered with dead, rotting fish; it’s an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least.

What’s next:  We are staying for two weeks just east of Los Angeles.  San Diego and Death Valley await.

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