Tag Archives: Texas

Sabbatical – Texas 2024

We flew into Houston and flew out of El Paso so we drove across all of Texas and saw a bit of New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and, White Sands National Park. We learned an important lesson: Texas is not very close to Texas, and, a lot of Texans driving lifted trucks seemed to want to drive over us. During our travels through Texas we had four-ish surprises:

– Caves in Texas can be warm and very humid which makes being in the caves quite hot and sweaty.
– During a long day of driving toward Big Bend National Park we needed to eat and picked a highly rated restaurant in the tiny town of Ozona only to find out the “restaurant” was in a house in a neighborhood. Food was 10/10, it was 100% worth the stop.
– Buc-ee’s is amazing. The merchandise, the foods, the size, and, everything else made it absolutely awesome. We visited as many Buc-ee’s as possible. The best pulled pork we had on the trip was from Buc-ee’s hands down.
– The biggest surprise by far was when we visited Big Bend National Park and I quickly realized there were no other signs of humanity other than the trail / road we used to get to where we were – no buildings, no signs, no power poles, no fences, and the big one that is everywhere, no planes or contrails overhead. I don’t know if we have ever experienced anything similar.

It was awesome to see NASA and visit the Gulf of Mexico near Houston. Seeing the Saturn V in person was AMAZING, so cool to see the loudest thing humans have ever created. The Houston area is also the first time everyone was able to visit a Buc-ee’s – an absolutely amazing place to visit with wonderful products. I think we settled on describing Buc-ee’s as the Costco of gas stations, absolutely a 10/10 experience. In the Houston area is where we came across a Tex-Mex place that also made all their own ice cream and horchata which was another wonderful surprise. Even though we have a large latin diaspora in Minnesota it is impossible to get Tex-Mex or anything similar to what we had in Texas.

After Houston we visited San Antonio. I was surprised the shortness of the riverwalk. A person can walk the entire riverwalk in like 30-40 minutes! The riverwalk was pretty. I appreciated the buildings, the water, and lighting. I walked the riverwalk in the evenings and in the early morning. Walking in the early morning was really neat because the lights were still on yet no one was around. The caves outside of San Antonio were beautiful, probably the most beautiful we had visited other than Carlsbad Caverns.

I’ve wanted to visit Big Bend National Park for some time but it’s in the middle of nowhere and takes forever to get to. Only because of something like the sabbatical did it make sense to take the time to visit the park. The park was pretty OK. It was hotter than blazes and the mountains were fairly pretty. Missing signs of humanity was pretty wild. Even in desolate places in the lower 48 and Alaska there were always planes or contrails overhead – pretty much everywhere in the lower 48 and Alaska is a flight path. I think the little part of Texas that is surrounded by Mexico on three sides makes it a bit more to be a flight path since nearby airspace is in a different country. All that said, if I were ever to go back it would probably be in the middle of winter when it was a bit less than 110F out.

After Big Bend National Park we headed toward Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We drove through West Texas oil country and it was surprising. Pop up cities, restaurants / groceries in the middle of nowhere, and oil fields as far as we could see in every direction.

Carlsbad National Caverns is probably one of the more incredible places I’ve ever been in my entire life. Just like Mammoth, we were able to have a self guided tour so we could take our time going through the incredible formations and massive rooms. I don’t think there is anything similar I’ve ever visited in my entire life, it was well worth the visit. Nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park was interesting. Miriam picked up a random rock that had a fossil and shell imprint – she thought it was sooooo cool.

Before leaving Texas, we decided to add in White Sands National Park since we had enough time the morning before we flew out of El Paso. What a super neat area! It was crazy bright, I couldn’t actually see my screen on my phone because it was so bright out. It was hot. Oddly, we could dig an inch or two down into the sand and the sand was cold. After about 30min playing around in the dunes I noticed Miriam was laid out and Jac said she needed to rest. We decided to leave and it was clear both Miriam and Jac were affected by the heat. We later learned the sand reflects 90% of the heat energy, which explained why the underside of my widebrimmed hat felt so hot, and that the dunes are so dry it is easy to forget that it was like 115F on the dunes.

Overall, we’re glad we went to Texas. The sites were good, the Tex-Mex was amazing, the best BBQ ribs on the trip were found in El Paso, and, Buc-ee’s never disappoints. But, we’re happy we left and we’re happy we significantly shortened our time in Texas. I’m not sure we’d go back since there are other places we can visit that require less driving.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Summer around the USA 2023

Quite the traipsing around the USA this summer – in a handful of weeks I visited rural Alabama, New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, and, Houston.

I was shocked with how absolutely beautiful north east Alabama was – the waterfalls, hiking, and, other geographical features were so much fun to enjoy. I was in Alabama for work but there was some down time so we went hiking, I feel so fortunate because I don’t think I’ve ever heard ANYONE say “Alabama is mountainous and beautiful.” Once again, I enjoyed being the rural parts of the USA where things are made. It was fun to chit-chat with the locals, learn about the area, and enjoy their hometowns. I had no idea the Talladega Forest was so beautiful and mountainous. It was very special to have the chance to go through. The food was great, the hospitality was great, and, the scenery was great too! I actually want to go through north east Alabama again some day.

New York City, Dallas / Fort Worth, and Houston all happened in a whirlwind and was all work related. I’ve been to all these places in the past but this time was a bit different. The forest fire smoke plaguing the twin cities was in New York City too. It made for some rather beautiful sunsets and was a neat juxtaposition for the skyline. I spent quite a bit of time walking in NYC – I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, walked around Chinatown, and, even managed to walk into LaGuardia international airport. I think LaGuardia might be the only international airport I’ve ever visited where a person can walk into the airport. I thought my google maps directions were wrong but then I saw others walking into the airport and figured, “why not?”.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was a surreal experience. Last time I walked the bridge it was 2013 or so, and, my trip to NYC wasn’t work related so I had more time to goof around. Individuals taking selfies and generating other social media content on the bridge is extremely common now; so common it’s impossible to NOT be in someone’s photo / video / post. It was surprisingly difficult to walk across the bridge and get around everyone taking pictures and videos of themselves. Oh well. Chinatown was neat. I really wanted to get some real Chinese food and thought I picked an a good restaurant. Whatever I ordered ended up being unpalatable. Kind of surprising considering the ratings. Eating the delicious NYC pizza multiple times was absolutely fabulous – it was sooooo wonderful to eat actual, delicious, yummy, NYC pizza.

Texas was Texas and boy was Texas hot. Every time I walked outside it felt like I was getting hit in the face with hot oven air when checking cookies. It was uncomfortable. The BBQ was so fabulous and I finally visited a Bucee’s. I had no idea Bucee’s was more than a gas station, it’s like a destination. It’s possible to get just about anything in a Bucee’s, and, I found the holy grail in Bucee’s – they make their own banana pudding. HOLY SHITBALLS it was wonderful.

I ended up making a spontaneous trip to Houston because Delta Airlines is a terrible airline and cancelled my flight. It turns out the only real way for me to get back around the time I was supposed to get back to Minnesota from my work trip was by driving five hours from DFW to Houston. It sucks being locked in a Delta hub because this is about the 1,000th issue I’ve had with Delta, and, while I fly a lot with Delta, I don’t fly enough with Delta for Delta to care about me.

So that’s about it. The work trips were pretty great! It’s wonderful to shoehorn in some sightseeing when traveling for work, it makes it all worth it.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Texas Spring 2018

My work sent me to Texas at the right time of year – the spring wildflowers were in bloom! It was amazing to see fields and fields of flowers. I had no idea spring bloom was a thing in rural Texas and it was serendipitous I was in the region at the right time. In many ways it felt like all the different places we’ve been in the world at the right time to see once-in-a-year or rare events – like cherry blossoms in Japan and Washington DC, fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, Canada Day in Jasper, being in Alaska for the once nice week of beautiful sunny weather, visiting Romania when elderberries are in bloom so we could drink elderberry lemonade, International Fireworks Competition in Quebec City, the banks being shut down in Greece, being in Hawaii for the Jacarandas in bloom and the lava in flow, and so on. It was really special to see the bloom!

Rural Texas is a strange place. It’s flat, generally not interesting, kinda run down, but there are surprises. From amazing food located in the middle of nowhere to interesting archeological sites, Texas seems to have something for everyone. There’s a new-ish national monument in Waco dedicated to the Columbian Mammoths. We had a bit of downtime so a colleague and I went to the site – it was pretty interesting!

All in all, it was a good trip.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.