Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Places I’ve Been: New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns

Jordan and I took this trip without really knowing where we were going to stay for some of our destinations.  We brought along sleeping bags and a tent so we could camp in a few places along the way.  The only place we camped was New Mexico and wouldn’t you know it; it was freezing. Our first stop in New Mexico was in Las Cruses. We camped at a KOA there, which was pretty nice.  They had showers and nice little campgrounds. The ground was cushy with grass so sleeping wasn’t so bad there.  It was cold, but I managed to get a bit of sleep that night.  We were up around 7am and made our way to Roswell.
Roswell is the most overrated place I’ve ever been.  I was sorely disappointed. You’d think that with their reputation they would capitalize on that fame with museums, cafe’s and the like. Not at all.  It’s as if the little town is trying to forget anything ever happened.  Besides a handful of crappy t-shirt shops, the one UFO Museum and a cleverly named coffee shop there was absolutely nothing remarkable or even campy about this place. Jordan was looking forward to having an alien burger or something along those lines, but nary a themed cafe existed in the town of Roswell. The museum was interesting enough, but not child friendly at all.  There was tons of information, but it was all in the form of plaques on the walls. I’m glad I went so I encourage others not to go.  Not because it’s terrible, there’s just nothing really to see.
We wanted to go see the Carlsbad Caverns that same day, however we’d had a bit of a later start than we’d planned and we got lost in Roswell.  How we did that I have no idea.  Once we reached the Carlsbad KOA, got our tent set up (in 40 mile per hour wind I might add) it was past the time they were letting folks down, so we got the oil in the car changed and browsed around a Wal-Mart. I’m not usually a frequenter of Wal-Mart, but it was the only place we could find that had a lube shop open. We were punished for it anyway, by our oil change taking two hours.
We finally left with a happy, well oiled car. The wind wasn’t blowing nearly as hard when we got back to the KOA, but it was getting colder by the second.  I bundled up in everything I could but was still awake by around 5 or 6am.  The biggest difference between this KOA and the first was the ground.  Las Cruses, as I said, had some nice springy grass that was halfway tolerable to sleep on, especially with the blanket I folded under my sleeping bag.  The ground in Carlsbad was hard as a rock.  Even setting up our tent was difficult, not only because of the wind, but because we couldn’t get the stakes in the ground without pounding them in with a rock.  I tried my folded blanket trick again, but it was still uncomfortable. The ground was ridiculously hard and it was much colder with a slight breeze blowing every now and then.  I probably got about 4 hours sleep at the most that night.
The next morning we got up and went off to the Carlsbad Caverns.  These caverns were something that had been added to our itinerary only a few days before.  While we were staying with my friend Danielle in Palm Spings we watched an episode of Planet Earth on Discovery Channel.  It was the one about Lechuguilla Cave. Jordan found out we couldn’t actually visit Lechuguilla Cave, but we could go see the Carlsbad Caverns.  So we added that to our trip.
The Carlsbad Caverns are so beautiful.  We arrived at the park just as the cave entrances were opening to the public. The tour we were interested in taking was full of course, but there were other options.  We rented a couple of audio tours and took the elevator down about 750 feet.  We could have taken the natural entrance hike, but it’s a pretty steep and strenous hike, so I thought being with child and all, I should opt for the elevator.
The caverns were amazing.  They were specially lit, by a broadway lighting designer to highlight certain formations.  It was so interesting and helpful to have the audio tour.  It paced the journey out really well and I didn’t get tired out even though I knew we were down there for quite awhile.  We were some of the first people down there, so it was very quiet and still.  You could hear the water dripping into little pools, other than those tiny pindrops of water it was silent. It was so peaceful and relaxing to be down there virtually alone.  There were a few rangers here and there that would spout off information if you asked and three other people who’d come down in the elevator with us. But other than that, it was just us.  After we’d been down there for at least an hour or so more people began coming down and it got a little less peaceful, but we were on our way towards the end anyway.
The caverns are difficult to describe, it’s really something you have to see.  Here’s a few recommendations if you go. If you can, get on a tour, there were some really neat looking tours that have you crawling around on your belly. Those tours looked really neat, unless you’re claustraphobic. In that case rent an audio tour and take the elevator down.  The caves are really spacious and open so as long as you don’t think about the fact that your 700 feet underground you should be ok! Go early. You miss a lot of the crowd and get the caves and formations to yourself for awhile. Don’t be afraid to take pictures. There are some really amazing things in these caves and you could end up capturing some beautiful things. If you want to show up better in your pictures wear a white or light colored t-shirt or sweatshirt. Also take a jacket or sweater down with you, it’s chilly and damp in the caves.
We spent a ton of time in the caverns. I was sure Jordan wanted to set up camp and just live down there.  This more than made up for our crap trip Roswell the day before. So New Mexico had a saving grace for us and it was 700 feet below ground.

The Places I’ve Been: New Orleans Part 2

After our lunch on Bourbon Street, Jordan and hoofed it over to Royal Street.  This was a street I loved!  It was closed to traffic so there were tons of street performers and the shops were along this street were really cool. This street had a really neat artsy feel to it especially with all the different musicians around.  We found one in particular that we really liked called Sour Mash Hug Band. We bought their CD and listened to it repeatedly on the way home.  The thing with this band is their music is so unique you hear something new in it every time, which is fun for me.

We browsed along Royal Street for awhile before going and checking out Faulkner’s old residence, which is now a very crowded bookstore on Pirate Alley.  We didn’t stay too long since we had no intention of purchasing anything. It was also very narrow and there were at least five people in the place.

After leaving Faulkner’s place we caught the street car to the Garden District. This place was amazingly beautiful.  The Garden District has all the huge mansions and impeccable landscaping.

We stopped by Anne Rice’s favorite bookstore (according to our travel book) Garden District Book Shop. They had a display of Anne Rice novels and her autobiography. Other than that it was a pretty well rounded little shop. We left there and explored the surrounding neighborhood.  We saw Archie Manning’s house, and stopped at a small art show that was taking place on a huge front lawn. We took several pictures of the decorative facades and architecture.

After a long day of walking I needed to recuperate so we went back to the streetcar to return to our hotel for a nap.

By the time we woke up it was getting close to dinner time so we hopped on the River Front streetcar to Esplanade Road and walked fifteen blocks to our dinner choice. Which happened to be closed. So we walked fifteen blocks back through cute and peaceful neighborhoods.  This was probably the most interesting walk for me.  We got to see the places where the regular people lived, like small families.  What was also interesting was the fact that some houses were still in disrepair from Hurricane Katrina and some were fine. Some house still had the spray paint marks from rescue teams. You could see that the neighborhoods were repairing themselves, but there were still signs of damage and neglect. What was also interesting was the fact that on this walk alone we saw about twenty cats.

I don’t know if everyone in New Orleans just lets their cats in and out as they please, the fact that we were in a neighborhood area instead of a city type area, but the cats were seriously everywhere!  That was fun for me because I love cats and was starting to miss my own by this time in the trip. So it was good to see all the felines out and about.

We made it back to the streetcar and waited for a good ten minutes for it to arrive.  We took it back to the French Quarter and had some dinner at the Crescent City Brew Pub.

Dinner was good, but dessert at this restaurant will be forever etched in my mind.  This was the restaurant at which I first tried Bread Pudding. Oh. My. Goodness. This Bread Pudding was amazing! I think it was the most delicious dessert I’ve ever tasted. I could have sat there all night eating their Bread Pudding.

We walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night.  Before leaving the next morning we got up early and went to Cafe Du Monde one last time to enjoy a delicious breakfast of their coffee and Beignets.

The thing I loved most about New Orleans was it’s flexibility. I believe there is something for everyone there. I can’t wait to go back and experience this city all over again!

The Places I’ve Been: New Orleans Part 1

(Note: My hubby just read this and said it sounded like I didn’t like New Orleans. I liked it a lot! It was one of my favorites. That’s all.)

New Orleans was another favorite stop for both Jordan and I. I’ll be honest it took me a day to get used to New Orleans and here’s why I think that is. We’d been to all the familiar places first; Oregon, and California. The places that weren’t very familiar with such as Texas and Arizona we stayed with friends or family.  New Orleans was my very first experience with the deep south and it was the first time we were back in a “big city” with tons of people all there for the sole purpose of partying.  We also arrived in the city around 6:30 or 7pm right when everyone starts coming out. Jordan also drove us through a few busy streets so I was a little intimidated. There were people everywhere and they were all loud. We were also arriving one day early in New Orleans and were hoping our hotel had a room open for the night.So I think that is why I was so anxious that first night in New Orleans.

The hotel did have a room open.  It was a smoking room on a smoking floor. I was less than excited about that, but at least it was a bed.  The room smelled better than the elevator or the hallway. But it was still pretty bad. Jordan did manage to get me out of the hotel and to a restaurant for dinner. After dinner Jordan of course wanted to walk around, perhaps go to Harrah’s casino, which we’d walked by. Alas I was still uber paranoid.  I’d been reading our guide book all day saying how dangerous New Orleans was at night, how even the cemeteries were dangerous in the day unless you were with a tour group. My hubby lovingly gave in and we walked back to the hotel to go to bed.

Luckily the next morning we got to check out of our stinky smoking room and into our non-smoking room. I was also feeling much better, now that the sun was up and it seemed a more subdued group of people were out and about.

We began our day at Cafe Du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee. This cafe is open 24 hours a day, is open air and very popular. We arrived around 8:30am and it was packed already.  We had a tour to catch so instead of sticking around we got our order to go and ate in Jackson Square; a gorgeous park of sorts that sits in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. It’s a peaceful little place full of green and makes a stunning place to take photos; especially with the Cathedral spires as a backdrop. When we were thoroughly covered with powered sugar we explored the French Quarter a bit on our way to the meeting place for our tour.

We were going on the Cemetary & Voodoo Tour. It got very high ratings in our guide book and was supposed to be creepy.  Even though our tour was during the day I was excited for some creepy stories. Alas that is not what we got.  We got a history buff tour guide. So even going through the cemetery we got no stories of scary sightings or any Anne Rice references at all. We got all history, which was interesting to be sure, but not what I was looking for.
Our guide left us at an authentic active voodoo temple. And that my friends was the lamest part. The temple was tucked next to this new agey voodoo shop and priestess, I’m pretty sure, was just a bit senile. She went on and on about what? I have not a clue. I think she just strung words together and hoped they came out sounding alright, because she really made no sense. And I’m not talking about ‘Wow that’s so deep’ it doesn’t make sense. It was more along the lines of ‘Sorry was that just a sentence?’

So after her “introductions” out in the courtyard we went to her temple which was really a small room crammed with stuff. This stuff had lots of other stuff tucked into it. By stuff I mean cigarettes, rolled up dollar bills, Mardi Gras Beads, seriously just crap. There must have been $400 in ones tucked all around the room.  There were statues everywhere, and tapestries on the wall, but none of it made sense because she wouldn’t describe what it meant. She asked for questions but when she was asked one she wouldn’t answer it, but go into another long spiel that was utterly incoherent. Perhaps all the herbs and things have gone to her head or maybe she was high, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there, because I was so damn bored.

After leaving the “temple” we went off to have some lunch on Bourbon Street. Yes, the legendary Bourbon Street! Where the people are all drunk and girls take their tops off for cheap beads you could get at any costume store! I wasn’t that excited really.  I’d always wanted to go to New Orleans but never around Mardi Gras time. I think that would be too insane for me. After seeing Bourbon Street in the daylight I don’t think I ever want to see it at night.  First I think it was trash day because everyone had their garbage cans and bags lining the street. It was a pretty warm day so they were sitting there waiting and reeking to high heaven. Not only that, but this street just has a glaze of disgusting that I think permeates it all the time. Every shop we saw was a club, a tiny souvenir shop or selling sex.  It was really an awful little street that I hope to not patronize too often in the future. However the cafe we found there was alright and the weather was warm so it was difficult to complain.

Since I seem to have a lot to say about New Orleans perhaps I’ll stop here and continue our adventure next week.

The Places I’ve Been: Savannah, GA

Savannah, Georgia was the one place on our trip where Jordan and I browsed through homes for sale.  We loved it.  I think I loved it a bit more than Jordan and the area we’d want to live in was a bit pricey. A lot of people ask me why I loved it so much.  I really can’t explain why. We drove into town and the feel of the place was different from the other places we’d been.  I’d had a lot of fun at many of our other destinations but Savannah is the one I think back to most and go to first when telling folks about our trip.

We arrived in Savannah at about 11am. We had no real plan for the place so we stopped at the visitor’s center where we picked up a map and hopped on a tour. The tour was the best way to see Savannah if you’re unfamiliar with the town and didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, which we didn’t.  The tour gave a great overview of the historic district and the riverfront. After the tour we had a better idea of where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to see.

We had some lunch and toured around Savannah on foot, stopping at a couple bookstores, Flannery O’Conner’s house and the oldest tree in Savannah.

That evening around 6:45pm we went on a ghost tour.  I chose this tour because the one in New Orleans really wasn’t what I was hoping for.  The Savannah tour was perfect. The tour mainly focused on the Sorrel-Weed house in the Historic District of Savannah.  This house has a very sordid past. (For the story on the Sorrel-Weed house go here.)  The show Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi channel came out and inspected the house and said it was one of the most haunted houses they’d ever been too. The tour also took us to a few other places nearby including the graveyard, but my favorite part of the tour was the house. I wished we could have gone upstairs to the bedrooms, but alas the house is  lived in part time by someone, so I suppose they need some amount of privacy.

We were feeling particularly creepy so to top of our evening of haunts we had dinner at the Moon River Brew Pub, which is reputedly haunted as well. We asked our waiter about it and he confirmed it with a couple personal stories. By this time it was pouring down rain so we basically ran back to our hotel after dinner.

Like I said I can’t explain why I loved Savannah so much.  We were only there for a day, but from the moment we arrived it had that heavy historic feel of an old town.  I loved the feeling of spirits floating about as if nothing has changed; just as eager to stay in Savannah as I was.