Category: U.S. Travel (Page 1 of 8)

What to Do in Amarillo, Texas for a Weekend

I feel like I start almost every blog in the same way. But I guess I am a “explore the less road less travelled” blogger these days. So… while most people would not think of Amarillo, Texas as a destination, there is actually a lot to do there. In particular, I think nature and history-lovers would enjoy visiting this town over a weekend. There is a theme park as well, so it could be a food family destination as well. Whether you are passing through town on a business trip, a cross-country roadtrip, or planning out a little weekend adventure, here is my list of what to do in Amarillo, TX.

 

Botanical Gardens and Museums

what to do in amarillo

Amarillo Botanical Garden (c) ABR 2021

As little as I know about plants, and as much as my house plants struggle to stay alive, I love botanical gardens. For someone searching for peaceful place to enjoy nature in an urban setting, botanical gardens are perfect. In my case, as a shy person, I find these to be one of the best places to enjoy your own company without feeling too awkward for being solo. I know that not everyone deals with that particular challenge while traveling alone, but I definitely do, even though I travel solo every year.

I feel similarly about museums and I especially love historic, place-based museums. Amarillo, Texas has both a lovely botanical garden and a great historic museum. Both of which should be included on any list of what to do in Amarillo.

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best trails in big bend

Five of the Best Trails in Big Bend, Texas

Before I started planning my West Texas roadtrip, I really didn’t know much about Big Bend National Park. But even the tiniest bit of research immediately made it clear that this was a park deserving of two or more days of exploration. There are so many trails to explore here. The ecosystems are varied and beautiful. And Big Bend is home to its namesake, the big bend of the Rio Grande. One of the life-blood rivers of the American Southwest. In short, this national park should be on every nature-lover’s bucketlist, and in particular, I would suggest checking out some of the best trails in Big Bend. Whether you want to take photos from the car, go on a family walk, or challenge yourself, there are options here for everyone.

How I Picked My List of Best Trails in Big Bend 

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Generally speaking, I’m the kind of person who can enjoy just about any kind of trail. I love short jaunts out into nature. And I also enjoy the challenge of long, strenuous treks into the wilderness. And I know people who like only one or the other, or trails somewhere in between. Due to that, I think it bares some explanation as to how I came up with the following list of the best trails in Big Bend.

That all being said, NONE of these trails are the most strenuous trails in the park. These aren’t wild trails with rare views and long treks to see them. Rather, I’ve selected this short list for the following reasons:

(1) Accessibility

Many of these trails, but not all, are short and relatively flat. Thus, they can be walked by hikers of almost all skill levels. And while they are not accessible or even rated for accessibility, all of them have amazing views which can be enjoyed from the trailheads. And all trailheads are accessible by regular vehicles.

(2) Variety

Every single one of these trails will give you a different taste of the wide range of ecosystems and landscapes in Big Bend National Park. While there are three different canyon trails, every one is highly unique. One trail explores the desert on the way to a desert oasis, and one reaches the heights of the sky island of the Chisos Mountains. If you are an avid hiker, it would not be hard to get all of this variety in two days visiting the park. (Check out our itinerary for suggestions on how to do this.)

Boquillas Canyon Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Boquillas Canyon Trail is a very short 1.5 mile round trip walk from the trailhead to the interior of the canyon. I was particularly smitten with this route because of the spectacular colors that the Rio Grande takes on in this side of the park. These were the most vibrant of blues and greens. I only wish that I were a skilled enough photographer to have captured the majesty of the river here properly. The canyon itself is also lovely. The walls here are a warm, sandy color, and when contrasted with the water, it is a really breathtaking place. Thus, it’s placement on my Best Trails in Big Bend (non-exhaustive) list.

While the trail is short, there is a little bit of elevation gain. Not much, but if you aren’t feeling a walk up rocky steps due to the heat, physical limitations, or anything else, you can get some nice pictures from the river overlook up the road from the trailhead. There is also a tiny bit of trail finding that you will need to do on this little walk because it isn’t all that clear once you get down to the sandy beach area. Just continue walking up river. Turn around when you reach the wide beach. You should not need to wade in the water or push through plants.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

DO NOT SWIM in the water. Rivers are notoriously dangerous. They may look calm and inviting, but they are extremely powerful. Please also mind your children closely.

Also, please note that if there are people selling things along the trail, it is technically illegal to purchase them. If the little river border crossing is open, you might consider purchasing the art and keep-sakes legally and support the village on the Mexican side. You can inquire with the rangers about this at the visitor centers.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

The big sister to Boquillas Canyon is Santa Elena.

I was impressed by this canyon from the car, miles away. You really won’t believe how otherworldly this place is until you see it. Even now, just remembering the feeling of approaching this place leaves me awestruck. The sheer, impressive nature of this place made me slap this trail onto my Best Trails in Big Bend list. Particularly if you visit during the Golden Hour… even without hiking the trail, this place will really take your breath away.

From the road and the trailhead, Santa Elena Canyon looks like a deep, straight cut through a massive ridge of gray stone. And when I say massive I mean… mountain sized ridge.

If you aren’t planning on doing the trail (or even if you are) you might consider stopping (SAFELY) to take pictures on your way in. This will be especially effective if you have a nice zoom on your camera.

The trailhead for the Santa Elena Canyon Trail is fairly well developed, with a toilet onhand. Parking spots, if I recall correctly, are in the sand, however, and this particular area is popular. Once you snag a spot, you will follow the trailhead map out across a sand bridge towards the river. This is a great access point to the pebbly beach. So, if you are looking for a nice spot to enjoy the Rio Grande, this is a great option.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Do remember, however, that is not safe to swim in the river. No matter what you see other people doing.

In order to continue along the 1.5 mile round trip trail, you will cross a small tributary on your way to the pretty obvious canyon. And then you will find yourself climbing a fairly steep cliff with switchbacks and stairs. Although steep, this part of the trail is well developed, so if you have stamina, it should be doable, although challenging.

Once you have it to the top of the rise, you will follow a more wild trail along the cliffside above the river. Along the trail, you will see some beautiful but pokey plant-life. And then, you will head back down towards the water on a less developed incline. This will involve stepping down well-worn rocks. So, take your time if you aren’t used to hiking.

Then, much like the Boquillas Canyon Trail, you will have to do a bit of navigating. The bank of the river is a bit more lush, so there are think plants growing all over and the trail splits in some places. However, just continue walking down river until the trail ends were the water meets the stone walls of the canyon. At that point, there is no where to go but back the way you came.

Chisos Basin Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

There are many trails in the Chisos Mountains, which range from relatively easy to long backpacking treks. The Chisos Basin Trail, unlike the other trails on this best trails in Big Bend list, is long and difficult. However, it offers an amazing on-trail experience and beautiful views of the valley. On this trail, you will hike up from the visitor center, across a wide, forested shelf nested between the sharp stone peaks of the mountains, and then up into the reaches of the Sky Island.

While difficult, most people can do parts of this trail. E.g. just take a stroll through the forest for 0.5 miles and then turn around. I went about 2.5 miles in and then came back, because I was a bit too exhausted from my trip to keep going.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

For skilled hikers wanting a more challenging day trip, Emory Peak is a great option. And of course, this is the place to be if you want to backpack in Big Bend. Of course, you will need to reference the National Park materials to plan out a trip like that.

And if you can’t or don’t want to hike, the drive up to the visitor center in the Chisos Mountains is spectacular. And there are some great look outs from the parking lot. It’s the perfect place for photography, contemplation, and just generally enjoying nature.

Ward Spring Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

This 2.8 mile, out and back hike was my time to revel in the desert that is particular to Big Bend and West Texas. In some ways, it felt very much like my home in Arizona, but in other ways, completely unfamiliar. I think the key to really enjoying this trail is stopping to admire the little plants tucked here and there, surviving in the roughest conditions. For my list of the best trails in Big Bend, this is the only one that crosses the desert. And as it’s name would suggest, it does take you to a small, wild spring at the base of the mountains.

This trail is not accessible for all, and due to its length and ruggedness in parts, it isn’t for the novice either. That being said, for anyone who hikes regularly, it is an easy trail. The path leads from the road, through the desert up a gentle slop towards the Chisos. As you get closer, you will begin traversing the sides of rocky hills and dipping down into washes.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

The end of the trail is a wild patch of trees crowding around a small puddle of water in the desert. It won’t be the most spectacular thing you see… unless you appreciate how special and precious water is in desert landscapes. For me, all springs are sacred places. So, I think Ward Spring is well worth the detour from grander trails.

Closed Canyon Trail in Big Bend State Park

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Although not in the National Park, Closed Canyon Trail still makes my best trails in Big Bend bucketlist because it is in the Big Bend State Park.

This short, relatively flat slot canyon trail is located along the 170, and has a nice parking lot at the trailhead. However, there are no restrooms available there.

From the parking lot, you will take a few switchbacks down into a shallow wash and then follow the streambed towards the slot in the stony wall of mountains to your left.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Once you pass through the opening of the canyon, you will walk along the stone and sandy bottom. Take your time and marvel at the twists and turns in the stone. Check out the plants surviving in these harsh desert conditions. And take tons of photographs.

This trail isn’t long, so you can really take your time enjoying it. You will turn around when you see a steep drop off and a sign informing you that the trail has ended. Turn right on back around and take it all in from the other direction on your way out.

Please note that slot canyons are dangerous in rainy or wet conditions. Do not attempt this trail when there is running water or storms at the trail or nearby.

 Safety on the Trail

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Summiting Guadalupe Peak, The Texas Highpoint

One of the things that I love to do while traveling is check out the highpoints. Sometimes they are a challenge (or impossible for me) to summit, and other times they might be a cute hill in an out-of-the-way spot. In the case of the Texas highpoint, Guadalupe Peak is an attainable, but strenuous trek. For prepared hikers, this summit is well worth the upward hike. Trekkers will climb up from the desert landscape, into the forests of the higher elevations. And finally up to the top of Texas, where exceptional views await. Learn more about this hike here, along with need-to-know information about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

guadalupe peak

On the Guadalupe Peak Trail

Desert Climb

The first section of the trail up towards the Texas highpoint takes you up from the desert. This part of the trail, unsurprisingly, is thus characterized by the open spaces and hardy bushes of the Chihuahuan desert. It’s a bit of a steep climb here, but there are some nice switch backs to help mitigate the upwards trek.

guadalupe peak

(c) ABR 2021

You will notice that there are two routes here. One is for horses, and the other is for hikers. Definitely stick to the one for whatever kind of adventuring you are doing. This will make you more safe and give much-needed space to other recreationists.

guadalupe peak

(c) ABR 2021

As I climbed upwards, I really enjoyed the stony cliffs and passages that popped up here and there on the trail. I found these little places to be challenging, beautiful, and a great break from the dusty character of the trail. That being said, you will want to be careful in some of these spots, particularly if you are riding a horse. Follow all signage and keep your eyes open for warnings.

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A West Texas Itinerary for Hikers and Adventurers

Texas is not known by many to be an ideal roadtrip destination, due to its vastness and the flat natural of its large, central plains. However, West Texas will surprise anyone with that stereotype about the state. Here there are rolling hills, vast mountains, glittering rivers, and one of the world’s most biodiverse deserts. There are plenty of things to do in West Texas, but we’ve tailored this West Texas itinerary for hikers and nature lovers in particular… with a dash of history and culture on the side as well.

 

Day 0: Travel to El Paso, TX

Since El Paso, TX is the big city of West Texas and a unique destination in its own right, I would suggest planning your West Texas itinerary from here unless you are driving in from some other area of Texas and would like to jump onto the loop from your hometown. El Paso has its own international airport, the El Paso International Airport (ELP), so you may consider flying into there. For me, coming from Phoenix, I opted to drive over, which is about a 6 hour drive.

Day 1: Hiking in Guadalupe Mountain National Park

west texas itinerary

(c) ABR 2021

If you want to attempt the summit of Guadalupe Peak (8750 ft), I would suggest being flexible with Day 1 and Day 2. This will allow you to see which day will have better weather for your summit attempt. Even for a smaller summit like this one, you should always avoid bad weather days for safety’s sake.

It’s about a two-hour drive from El Paso, TX to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So, take the morning to rest a bit before setting off your West Texas itinerary. Make your first stop the visitor center, where you can learn more about the park, chat with the rangers, and get the low down on any safety concerns that you need to keep in mind.

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Spending a Weekend in Fort Davis, Texas

Why Spend a Weekend in Fort Davis?

Spending a weekend in Fort Davis, Texas is the perfect way to explore and experience the central region of West Texas. There is a long and storied past here, and it has something for everyone. Need I say more?

Perhaps, if you aren’t sure why you should be interested in visiting this corner of the world- yes. Well, if nothing else, Fort Davis is home to the aptly named Fort Davis National Historic Site. So, if you are like me and you are trying to visit as many national park units as possible, this little town is a must-stop. If you aren’t on that quest, but you enjoy traveling in ways that allow you enjoy nature and culture/history around the world, then Fort Davis has a great mix of the two.

weekend in fort davis

(c) ABR 2021

If you aren’t interested in either of those… well, why are you here?! But seriously, even if you prefer to just relax when you travel, and perhaps you want to sample some wine and do some people watching- Fort Davis has you. The Veranda Historic Inn was super relaxing with its beautiful building, caring owner, and steady provision of tea/cookies. And you’ve got Chateau Wright just outside of town!

So, in short, the only thing you won’t get here is a white sand beach holiday. So… what are you waiting for? Let’s plan your weekend in Fort Davis.

Where to Stay – The Veranda Historic Inn

weekend in fort davis

(c) ABR 2021

I loved the Veranda Historic Inn, and I think you will too. I would 100% suggest that you book a room here when you visit Fort Davis.

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A Nine Day Kansas Itinerary for Adventurers

I’ve said it so many times while working on these posts about Kansas- this is a surprising state! Many people who aren’t from the region definitely think I’m crazy for traveling to Kansas for a raodtrip. What’s there to see? they ask, Kansas is just a bunch of corn and grass! That’s not true, however, as I hope this Kansas itinerary will illustrate. There is so much to see and do if you are interested in a roadtrip across this Midwestern state, especially if you are a hiker and/or you enjoy experiencing history and culture in new places.

All that being said, welcome to our nine day Kansas Itinerary! Use this to plan your own trip and learn about what to do in Kansas.

kansas itinerary

Day 0: Arrival

I would suggest starting your trip out in Kansas City, particularly if you are flying in. That being said, if you are driving in from other parts of the state or flying into another airport, you can adjust this itinerary to suit your needs.

Day 1: Elk City State Park and the Table Mound Trail

hiking trails in kansas

Elk City Lake (c) ABR 2019

It’s about a 3 hour drive from Kansas City down to Elk City State Park.

For nature lovers and hikers, this will be a great start to your Kansas itinerary. As we discuss in detail in our Kansas Hiking post, Elk City State park is home to the beautiful Table Mound Trail, as well as loads of other outdoor activities. These include picnicking, fishing, paddling, and camping.

hiking trails in kansas

Elk City State Park (c) ABR 2019

If you’d like to do a longer hike, the Elk River Hiking Trail is also nearby and it will offer you about 14 miles of hiking if you go from one end of the trail to the other.

Stay the night in Independence, KS.

kansas itinerary

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Culture and Roadside Attractions in Kansas

Roadtripping through Kansas might not sound like the most exciting thing, but you’d be surprised. There are roadside attractions in Kansas all over, and some of these attractions have considerable cultural value. (Also, there is great hiking! Don’t believe us? Read up on some of your options in our post on Hiking Trails in Kansas).

TL;DR If you are trekking across Kansas, be sure to give some of these places a look. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you enjoy the unique and sometimes strange nature of roadside attractions.

Culture in Kansas

(Note that we won’t be covering Kansas City here, because we will have an entire post on that soon!)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

These days our history of fighting racism is just as important as ever. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is a museum within the Monroe school, which became the epicenter of the fight to desegregate schools in the United States. Visitors to this place will have the opportunity to explore the school, learn more about the history surrounding this struggle. In many ways, it’s like stepping back in time and it’s one of the highest quality “roadside attractions in Kansas” – in this case, I’m only including it in this list because it belongs on everyone’s Kansas roadtrip.

That all being said, this national historic site isn’t just about the past, there are rooms in the museum that cover racism in the US now as well. And these exhibits are highly immersive and emotional. As a white person who was born and raised in the United States, I think this is a great place to feel a little of the emotions that racism forces BIPOC to experience. We need this understanding in order to be better allies. It’s not an easy experience, but the exhibit isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be educational.

roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The staff at Brown v. Board of Education are also amazing, lovely people that are happy to talk with you and help you navigate the museum. In terms of history and culture, I think this is a MUST see if you are visiting Kansas.

Need to know information:

Entrance fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Address: 1515 SE Monroe St, Topeka, KS 66612

St. Fidelis Basilica
roadside attractions in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

The St. Fidelis Basilica, also known as the Cathedral of the Plains, is a church on par with the historic, marvels of architecture and art that you might see in New York City or even Europe. It’s a complete surprise to find this stunning Catholic place of worship amide the rolling plains of western Kansas. That being said, its interior fits with the environment of Kansas in a very subtle and artful way such that it feels like it belongs. The surrounding town of Victoria is also very lovely as well.

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Hiking Trails In Kansas: Ranking My Favorite Treks in this Underappreciated State

I’ve always gotten lukewarm or even cool reactions from people in the Southwest when I tell them that I am off to Kansas. In particular, most of my hiking friends here (unless they are from the Midwest or lived there at some point) think that Kansas seems like a pretty boring place to visit. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth (unless you only enjoy hiking mountains- you won’t find those in Kansas). There are a ton of different hiking trails in Kansas, and through them you can experience the variety of environments that could once be found across the state.

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass (c) ABR 2019


TL;DR: Kansas is beautiful, hiking here is very accessible to new hikers, and you should not miss it when you are in the state. If you only have enough time to visit one of these parks, definitely go to Tallgrass National Prairie- you will see the wild Midwest here, have tons of options for hiking in Kansas, and there are bison… bison!


Now, I am going to rank my favorite spots for hiking in Kansas, let you know what I love about each, and how to get there.

My Favorite Hiking Trails in Kansas

#1 Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

As you might guess based on the name, Tallgrass Prairie is a part of the US National Park Service, and unsurprisingly, this land is exceptionally beautiful and wild. If you visit Tallgrass, you will be transported back in time to a pre-colonization Kansas dominated by prairies instead of agriculture. If you are a history buff, you can explore historic buildings on the grounds. For hikers, the options are nearly endless with this set of hiking trails in Kansas.

For me, I wanted to see what a pre-US, Kansas looked like, so we hiked up the Scenic Overlook Trail. Of course, as the name would suggest, this track offers some amazing views of the surrounding lands. It also passes through Windmill Pasture, which is where bison can be found. We didn’t see any, sadly. I would have loved to see bison! That being said, I just want to remind anyone who might visit to respect the space of these animals. They are extremely strong and can seriously injure people that approach too closely.

hiking trails in kansas

(c) ABR 2019

If you are looking for a longer trek, there are plenty of loops to check out, both on the west and east side of the park. For those wanting to enjoy nature but are not able to take a long walk, there are some beautiful nature trails in the park as well. Tallgrass is a really great place for anyone looking for some hiking in Kansas.

Need to Know Information

Entrance Fee: Free

Facilities: Yes

Trail length: Varies; Scenic Overlook Trail is 3.6 miles in ONE direction (7.2 miles RT)

Getting There

hiking trails in kansas

Tallgrass Prairie is just north of Strong City on the 177; you can take the 177 south or come up from the 50 and take the 177 north.

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orlando theme parks

Why You Need to Visit the Orlando Theme Parks in the New Year

It’s a common thread on this blog that I am an outdoor enthusiast, but what you might be a little less aware of is that I am a massive nerd (and I always have been). So, while I have been posting about exploring the wilder side of Florida lately, I have been dreaming about spending a week at the Orlando theme parks with my family for as long as I can remember.

I know that there are millions of posts on Orlando, Disney, and Universal, so I am going to post a short list of my 10 favorite things from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. I hope to inspire all you theme park nerds out there to take the plunge and go see these parks for yourself in the new year!

#1: You Can Fly on a Dragon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

orlando theme parks

(c) ABR 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to fly. Better yet, I’ve dreamed about flying on a dragon since I was old enough to start reading the Dragoniders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I never really imagined that I would get the chance to experience what that would be like! But at one Orlando theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, anyone else that has had this daydream can finally make it into a reality!

How exactly do you do this? Hop right on the Flight of Passage Ride and take a mountain Banshee from the Avatar universe for a spin. While it has been a bit hard to get on this ride, because of the insanely long lines that form up just a few minutes after the park opens, you can make it on. The most preferable way to do so is to plan ahead, find out the earliest that you can schedule a fast pass and then get one squared away for yourself. If that fails (for me it did), get to Animal Kingdom early in the morning and get in line for the ride at the first opportunity. You will avoid most of the line this way.

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Florida Travel Itinerary: Part Two of a 10 Day Roadtrip to the Sunshine State

Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One

If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.

Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park

(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.

In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

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