Northern California Trip Report (Series Introduction)

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Northern California 2016


Back in July (yeesh, I can’t believe it was that long ago already), Ken and I traveled to Northern California for a week. One of Ken’s friends from college was getting married to his long-time girlfriend in Oakland, and we were invited! We figured, if we’re going to spend 5 hours on a plane traveling from the east coast to the Bay Area, we may as well make a vacation out of it!  

Northern California Trip Itinerary | Travel | Santa Cruz | Big Sur | Carmel | San Francisco | Muir Woods

It was interesting because Ken and I are not summer travelers. Fall and spring all the way!** I despise heat, crowds, and the more expensive travel rates that come with summer travel. But luckily one of those elements would be avoided – the heat! Northern California weather is gorgeous all year round, so that was a big plus!  

We considered lots of itinerary options, and ultimately decided on two nights in Santa Cruz, two nights in Big Sur (Carmel), and four nights in San Francisco.  

We used a mix of points and paid travel for this trip.

The Flights

Knowing that San Francisco is serviced by JetBlue, I pretty quickly decided that I wanted to try out JetBlue’s Mint class. We booked our flights from DCA to SFO (which included a short connection at JFK).  We opted for one points ticket and one paid ticket. For the points ticket, I transferred points from American Express Membership Rewards. It doesn’t have a great transfer value (250 MR to 200 JetBlue points), but I didn’t have any big plans for Membership Rewards points coming up, so just transferred some anyway.  For the paid ticket, we spent $617 (which included both segments, DCA-JFK-SFO), which I thought was an excellent price for lay flat seats on a five hour flight.  

The return flights were a little trickier. I try my hardest to avoid connections when returning from a vacation. But decent seats (read: lay flat) on a nonstop from SFO to any DC area airport was a tough find. Ultimately, I found one daily United flight that was a nonstop from SFO to Washington Dulles on a 777 with lay flat seats! And lo and behold, it had points options available.  It was a three-cabin aircraft, but we just opted for business class seats.  Boom.  100,000 miles (there was no saver availability) and $11.20 for two tickets.

 

The Hotels

I tried multiple VRBO and AirBnB options for this trip, but didn’t have any luck, as I lamented in this post.  So, we would have to stick to hotels.

Points redemption / chain hotel options in Santa Cruz close to the beach were extremely limited, so we stayed at a B&B called the West Cliff Inn in Santa Cruz. It was actually the first B&B we’ve ever stayed at, and it was fantastic.  So, we paid out of pocket for this hotel, but were able to use some Barclay Arrival Card points to recoup some of the costs in the form of a credit card statement credit.

In Big Sur, i was able to score two free nights in an Ocean View King with Balcony at the Hyatt Highlands Inn Carmel. The nights were 25,000 Hyatt points each. That same room was going for more than $600 / night, so that was a great redemption value!  Plus, they didn’t charge a resort fee.  

After exploring multiple points options hotels in San Francisco (like the Hyatt Regency, and even considering a Fairmont credit card application to get two free nights at the Fairmont in SF), the hotel photos and locations just kind of left me like, meh.  So, we opted for another non-chain hotel for the San Francisco portion of our trip: The Scarlet Huntington. This was also another really fantastic hotel.

 

The Rental Car

The rental car was definitely a splurge. After enjoying our convertible we had rented a few years earlier in the Florida Keys, we decided to rent one for our Northern California trip too!  We’d pick it up at the airport, use it for our drive along the Pacific Coast highway in Santa Cruz and Big Sur, and then return it at a San Francisco city location since we wouldn’t need a car once we got to the San Francisco portion of our trip. That worked out beautifully, and in fact, the in-city rental car return location was very close to the Scarlet Huntington Hotel.  

 

What this trip report series will include

I’ll review all the hotels, as well as Jet Blue’s Mint Class and United’s 777 nonstop business class service from SFO-IAD. I’ll also post LOTS of pictures of our pacific coast highway drive, and our sightsee-till-we-dropped activities in San Francisco.

 

**Interestingly, this was the second year in a row though that we had summer travel plans. The previous year was our Alaska cruise!  Although summer is pretty much the only time to travel to Alaska on a cruise!

Key Largo and Everglades (Florida Keys Trip 2014)

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Florida Keys Trip Report

 

Our drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key Largo was fantastic. In fact, here’s a timelapse Ken captured using a GoPro setup. (We use a handheld GPS to sync the photo datestamp with the GPS coordinates, and then Ken wrote a script to overlay the Google Map on the video below. My husband wins at life.)

 

Oh, don’t mind that long-ish stop at some random office building. We were trying to find my cell phone charger and my GPS charger (which, funny enough, we didn’t need because the car had GPS!) Oh, and the bathroom break at the random, non-official visitor center!

Me driving in the convertible from Fort Lauderdale to Key Largo

We arrived in Key Largo, got checked into the hotel, and were starving. How do we always let that happen? Kind of randomly, on check-in, the receptionist asked us if we needed any restaurant recommendations, and we were like, “Sure, why not.” I’m typically a Yelp/UrbanSpoon reviewing-type girl, but I was open to other suggestions. One of her recommendations was Bayside Grille, and she provided us with a coupon (I think it was 15% off maybe?) for it.

We got to the restaurant just as the sun was setting, and there was a beautiful view!

Sunset view from Bayside Grille in Key Largo Sunset view from Bayside Grille in Key Largo

Everglades National Park

We set out the next day by heading back north of the Keys to Everglades National Park. The forecast was calling for rain most of the day, but we figured we’d take our chances.

Driving along the Overseas highway Sign to Everglades National Park

We rode the entire drive with the convertible roof down, nervously watching as the dark clouds rolled in, and then rolled back out. We arrived at the park’s visitor’s center just in time to put up the roof and watch is start to pour down rain.  Here’s the timelapse of our drive from Key Largo to Everglades:

Pelting rain at Everglades National Park

We walked around the Visitor’s Center until the rain subsided. We also purchased two cheap ponchos from the gift shop!

Visitor Center exhibits at Everglades National Park Visitor Center exhibits at Everglades National Park Visitor Center exhibits at Everglades National Park

We drove from the visitor’s center to the trailhead for one of the more popular trails at Everglades.

As we drove, we saw this sign. Panther warning? Cougar?

Panther warning at Everglades National Park

Oh, and then this sign at the parking lot for the Anhinga Trail Head. I’m such a sucker for funny signs! I was envisioning a vulture pecking holes in the roof of our convertible rental. Oy.

Sign at Everglades National Park - Vultures May Cause Damage to Vehicles

Right as we arrived, it started to pour again. Luckily there was a covered picnic spot at the trailhead (and we had purchased those ponchos!)

Waiting at covered picnic table spot at Anhinga trailhead

Like the always say in Florida, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Within a few minutes, the pouring rain had stopped, and we started our walk along the Anhinga Trail.

Sign for Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail at Everglades National Park Sign explaining Hurricane Andrew’s impact

Okay, so if I can be sappy for just a moment. 1) Sometimes I forget just how beautiful nature can be. When I’m not traveling, I tend to be a complete homebody. (Please, don’t even ask me the last time I interacted with nature on any sort of outing in my own town). So, I forget that there are such completely amazing and stunning sites in nature. 2) It boggles my mind how diverse America’s landscapes are. From our 2012 Southwest USA road trip, to our 2009 trip to Niagara Falls (even just taking into account the American side!), it is amazing the different things you can see without even needing a passport!

Along the Anhinga Trail Birds along the Anhinga Trail at Everglades Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail Along the Anhinga Trail

And we spotted a gator!

Gator hiding along the Anhinga Trail

The walk at Anhinga was lovely. Next, we decided to drive about 30 miles to the southern tip of Everglades National Park called Flamingo. There were trails in between Anhinga and Flamingo, but we had read that boat tours leave from Flamingo, and we wanted to see what our options were.

Sign for Flamingo Visitor Center at Everglades National Park Outside of Flamingo Visitor Center

We walked around inside the Visitor Center, which, to be honest, was not much to look at. That’s fine though, the main Visitor Center at the park entrance was quite good! Although I did chuckle at the Mosquito Meter sign! We were there on a “hysterical” mosquito activity day. I do regret wearing shorts and short sleeves to Everglades. I was COVERED with mosquito bites within moments of getting to the park. And the irritation lasted the entire rest of our trip!

Mosquito Meter: Hysterical, at Everglades National Park

The rangers at the Visitor Center were helpful in directing us to where we could book a boat tour, which was just a short walk away. We bought the tour tickets, purchased some snacks at a convenience store-type place, and waited about 20 minutes for our tour to begin.

Boat tour of the Everglades

The boat tour was great, and lasted about two hours. The guides were fantastic about pointing out gators, birds, and other wildlife.

Gators as seen from our boat tour of the Everglades Gators as seen from our boat tour of the Everglades Bird sitting on a no wake sign at Everglades

The Everglades is filled with these types of trees, called Mangroves. They protect coastal areas especially during hurricanes.

Mangrove Trees in Everglades National Park | Seen from boat tour Mangrove Trees in Everglades National Park

Apparently some portions of the water was covered in canopies of mangrove trees, but the canopies were destroyed in a large hurricane (I can’t remember which one, but it wasn’t Andrew. I believe it was a hurricane in the 1950s)

I’ll just post a few other photos from the boat tour:

Sites along the water at Everglades National Park Sites along the water at Everglades National Park Sites along the water at Everglades National Park Sites along the water at Everglades National Park Sites along the water at Everglades National Park Sites along the water at Everglades National Park

By the end of our boat tour, it was raining hard again, and we were all huddled in the middle of the boat. I was shivering the last 20 minutes or so. (Tip – bring a sweatshirt!) We got off the boat, drove the 35-ish miles to the exit for Everglades, and drove back to Key Largo for the night!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The next morning, we had a big breakfast, and set out for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was just a very quick drive from our hotel. The park is reported to have one of the best, and largest beaches in Key Largo. Beaches aren’t huge in the Keys, so this was enormous compared to, for instance, the beach at our hotel!

Sign at entrance to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

It was a beautiful day, especially compared to the previous day’s overcast weather and intermittent downpours

Beaches at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Beaches at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Beaches at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

There were a few trails at the park, and we decided to give them a whirl.

Trail at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Trail at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

But, after covering just a small distance, we discovered that the trail was sopping wet and muddy thanks to the previous day’s rains. Plus, I was wearing flip flops, which definitely wasn’t conducive to a muddy walk! So we gave up on our trail walk idea fairly quickly.

After the park, we stopped by a few Key Largo shops (Ken wanted a Panama hat), and then we went back to the hotel. After lounging around for a bit and exploring the small beach area at the Hampton Inn, it was time for our drive to Key West, which was fantastically beautiful!

Albuquerque, New Mexico – Southwest USA Road Trip 2012 – Blast from the Past

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico > Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our first stop, Albuquerque!

 

Two years ago this week, Ken and flew from Baltimore to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start a two week road trip of the Southwest USA. The impetus for the entire trip was the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, held every October (and is actually going on right now!). The Fiesta was a big item on my bucket list, and when I was researching the trip, I was trying to figure out what else to visit nearby. Well, “just a few days at the Fiesta” eventually morphed into a two-week long mega road trip hitting several stunning sites in the Southwestern USA.

 

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension

Let me preface this post by saying that the Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is literally one of the most stunning sites I have ever seen in my entire life. I don’t want to sound like too much of a douchewaffle, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing sites during my travels in my life. So when I talk about the Mass Ascension being beautiful and amazing, you should trust me on that and go see it at least once in your life.

Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Looking upward at balloons at the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque

But! The first day of our trip was kind of a fail. The “Mass Ascension” of the Balloon Fiesta begins at sunrise. It is probably considered the key event during the Fiesta, and it involves the ascension of about 500 hot air balloons into the sky over the course of just a few hours.

Every tip we read online said something to the effect of “Arrive early, dress warmly, and come hungry. Oh, and things can be a bit disorganized.” Our hotel was near one of the park-and-ride locations for the Fiesta. After our 4:15AM wakeup call, we drove to the park-and-ride, showed our prepaid tickets (you can also buy them onsite), and boarded the school buses being used to transport folks to the Balloon Fiesta Park. Everything was well organized. So far so good.

Well, we arrived early, found some seats at a picnic table, and bought some amazing breakfast foods at like one of the hundreds of food vendors.

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | View from our picnic table seats at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | Food Vendors including Breakfast Burritos and Hot Chocolate

And we waited for the hot air balloon festivities to start. And we waited. And we waited. Events were supposed to start at dawn, and there was nothing going on. I checked Facebook since I “liked” the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, and read an update that said the Mass Ascension had been cancelled for that morning due to high winds. Booo!

There was another one scheduled for the next day, but weather reports were predicting even higher winds the next day! And the next day would be our last day in Albuquerque. It took announcers FOREVER to announce that the morning’s events had actually been cancelled. I don’t want to sound like too much of a conspiracy theorist, but I assume they still wanted people to stick around and buy food and souvenirs.

Once it was finally announced, there was a huge exodus to the parking lots and other lots where we’d pick up the park-and-ride bus. It was a mess. Apparently there had been a major accident on the highway, which delayed every bus. It took a really long time for us to get out of that damn park.

Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension

The bus took us back to the park-and-ride, we went to the hotel for a little bit to unwind, and then we headed to Old Town Albuquerque for a bit. (More on that below).

The next morning, despite weather forecasts that called for even higher winds than the prior morning, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta went off without a hitch.

When we were looking for a place to sit that morning, I found a picnic table and was like, “Oh, this looks like a good spot.” And Ken asked why. I just said, “I’m not sure, but there are a half dozen news reporters standing around here, so I’m guessing something goes on at this spot!”

Well, my intuitions were correct! We happened to be sitting right at the spot where the “Dawn Patrol” begins. We didn’t know it at the time, but dawn Patrol consists of a few balloons that take off before all the other balloons. Presumably, they report flying conditions for the rest of the balloon pilots. It’s a big, ceremonious starting event (which never took place the day before).

We saw a balloon start to inflate and glow, which we thought was the Dawn Patrol Balloon.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then we noticed there was another balloon inflating right beside that! (I cannot emphasize how dark it was at that park and impossible to see anything in the distance!”

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And then, before we knew it, there was an entire line of balloons inflating and glowing right before our eyes. I can’t quite explain the excitement at the park at that moment. Everyone was on their feet. It was an amazing site.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then the Dawn Patrol Balloons started taking off one by one.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And with that, the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta’s Mass Ascension officially commenced! Balloons started inflating and taking off all around us!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

We did not realize just how close we would be allowed to get to the balloons. You’re able to walk all around them as they take off. (Before the trip, I thought you watched everything from bleachers or something).

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Although it wasn’t precisely defined, it appeared that balloons would set up in waves so that the entire field wasn’t filled with inflated balloons all at once!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

I had just purchased a wide angle lens prior to this trip, and it had a fully manual focus, which I was still learning to use. So forgive the blurriness of some of the wide angle shots!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

It was such an amazing experience!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Considering the Fiesta activities started so early, I think we were heading back to the hotel by around 10AM. All the balloons had taken off, and we had to get back to the hotel to check out by the afternoon. We were all smiles for the rest of the day! I’m so glad we got to see it!

Old Town Albuquerque

So, let’s back up the timeline a little bit. The previous day, after the Mass Ascension had been cancelled, we went to Old Town Albuquerque. It was probably more crowded than it usually would be, thanks to the crowds in town for the Balloon Fiesta, but it wasn’t so crowded that it was unenjoyable or anything.

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Ken joked that I carved grafitti into this cactus. I didn’t, but I still had to take a picture of Mel!

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Balloon Glow

Another event that takes place at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is the Evening Balloon Glow. We attended that the evening of the failed morning Mass Ascension (so, not that long after our stop in Old Town).

During Balloon Glow, the hot air balloons do not actually take off. Instead, they stay on the ground and use the fuel / fire that would typically be used to make the balloons float to just “glow” instead in the evening dusk hours. (Sorry, I know there is probably a ton of information I’m not conveying correctly here, but that’s just a general understanding from my perspective! I don’t even know that that “flame” is called inside a hot air balloon, and I’m too lazy to google it!).

As dusk approached, the balloons started to inflate!

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

As it got darker, the “glows” from the balloons started to become more apparent.

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

And then, all of a sudden, the balloons all around us started to deflate. We asked around to find out what happened. Apparently the balloon pilots had all received some sort of emergency radio code that strong winds were approaching, and they all quickly deflated to avoid any fires or accidents.

And with that, the balloon glow ended fairly abruptly. Following the balloon evening glow, fireworks took place. They were decent, but nothing special.

Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?


Memphis, Tennessee – 2008 Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series 2008 Road Trip

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2008, Ken and I took our first big road trip together. We drove from DC > Atlanta > New Orleans > San Antonio > Memphis > DC.

Graceland

Memphis was our shortest stop on the road trip. We were only staying there for two nights, so we only had time to see a few of the biggest highlights. I’d definitely love to go back!

So, one of those big highlights, of course, is the home of Elvis Presley, Graceland.

 

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I had some definite sticker shock on the tour option pricing. I think we opted for the “Platinum” option. It was suddenly quite clear why Elvis is the highest paid dead celebrity (at the time!  He has since been bumped by Michael Jackson).

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The first floor of the home is open for touring. The audio tour, which was included in the admission price, was really helpful.

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You could also tour the basement

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After the mansion, there were several other buildings to tour, including a few buildings serving as museums. This building was the old office, where employees would do things like sort Elvis’ fan mail.

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And the museums were well organized and had (obviously) a lot of great exhibits.

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At the end of the Graceland tour, you see the Presley family cemetery. Did you know that Elvis was a twin? His twin died at birth though, but there is a plaque memorializing him at the cemetery. There were signs posted that said flowers arrive daily from around the world to be put on Elvis’ grave.

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Elvis Presley Automobile Museum

A short shuttle bus ride from the Graceland Mansion was the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum. Elvis had a huge collection of vehicles.

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And, we even got to tour his old airplane.

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After our tour, we were so hungry! We found an amazing Memphis-style BBQ joint!

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Sun Studio

Our next stop was a guided tour at Sun Studio, which touts itself as the birthplace of Rock N’ Roll. Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded at Sun Studio.

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It was in this room that one evening, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all started performing together unexpectedly.

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The session was photographed, and the newspaper published the photo with the headline “Million Dollar Quartet.” It became an iconic phrase of the time period describing the musicians.

 

 

The guide explained that very little in the room has changed. In fact, you can tell that the wall in the photo of the Million Dollar Quartet is still the same wall that the photograph now hangs from!

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Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for our time in Memphis. It was the end of our two-week road trip, and as with many of our trips, we’re always the most tired at the end, and we usually end up getting lazier at the end.

We got started on our drive back home to DC the next morning, and the sky was so gorgeous as we left Memphis!

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I was ready to plan our next road trip!


San Antonio, Texas – 2008 Road Trip (Blast From the Past)

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series 2008 Road Trip

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!

In October 2008, Ken and I took our first big road trip together. We drove from DC > Atlanta > New Orleans > San Antonio > Memphis > DC.

The next stop on our big road trip in 2008 was San Antonio. San Antonio had been on my bucket list for a while, especially since I had seen photographs of the beautiful Riverwalk area. I was really excited for our visit.

Mission San Jose

I was truly blown away by how beautiful Mission San Jose was. Mission San Jose is the largest Spanish Mission in the area, and still serves as an active church.

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I am always fascinated by old grafitti. I remember back in 2003, seeing grafitti carved into the side of Abu Simbel with dates from the 1700s. It’s upsetting to see historical sites marred, but it does make me feel a little better that grafitti is not just a “new” concept and that we can’t just blame “kids these days.” Because it’s kids (and probably adults too!) of all days!

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This was a sign near the entrance to the church. Ironic, because isn’t the Peacemaker the name of a firearm?

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In addition to the church, the grounds of Mission San Jose were beautiful.

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San Antonio Riverwalk

One of the main attractions in San Antonio is the Riverwalk. There are restaurants and shops set up all along the river, which is almost like “below” street level. In other words, you walk down steps or take elevators from the main streets to walk along the Riverwalk.

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There are flood gates that can drop if the water starts to rise too high, which prevents excessive flooding along the Riverwalk. Here, the gates are wide open.

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I should point out that my sister and her family took a trip to San Antonio last month, and in terms of ease of walking around using a stroller, she did not think that the Riverwalk was a very “family friendly” area. She mentioned that it was pretty difficult to walk across the bridges to go to a restaurant or store because she and her husband would have to struggle with the stroller. But, for just me and Ken, during our visit, it was fine.

We went on a boat tour, which we both thought was fantastic.

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The boat tour took us all around, and we got to see staff setting up a Christmas Tree in front of a Riverwalk shopping mall (it was early November during our visit).

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And, the Riverwalk at night was twinkling and beautiful!

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Mission Concepcion

We visited a second, smaller Mission called Mission Concepcion.

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As we walked around, we were reminded how much taller folks are these days!

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The Alamo

The Alamo was located very close to the Riverwalk area. As we were planning our itinerary for the day at the hotel the night before, Ken says, “Oh, don’t forget to remember the Alamo.” I laughed so, so hard.

The Alamo was originally a church, and subsequently became the site of a battle between Mexico and the (then) Republic of Texas. All 189 Texans inside the Alamo died in the battle after fighting 1800 Mexican troops for 13 days.

Photography was prohibited inside the Alamo, so our photos are limited to the outside.

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Dr Pepper Museum (Waco, TX)

Although it’s in Waco, not San Antonio, we stopped at the Dr Pepper Museum on our drive from San Antonio to Memphis, TN. Ken is a huge Dr Pepper fan (he has one every morning at breakfast. It’s like coffee for him), so we couldn’t drive through Waco without a quick stop there!

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And that was it! We were on our way to our final Road Trip stop, Memphis, Tennessee!