Back to Nebraska

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So, after a beautiful first day in the Badlands, we were in for a real surprise. Somehow overnight the weather went from this

IMG_3263to this!

IMG_3269I should have known that something was wrong when we saw people leaving early in the morning. Apparently, a tornado storm was rolling through the midwest. The park ranger informed us that the storm would be there in a few hours and that we needed to leave due to the golf ball sized hail and tornadoes that were touching ground. Considering we were camping in a large, open, flat land area, it wasn’t exactly the safest place to be. We tried to think of another park to visit/camp but the storm was passing through several of the surrounding states. Then, we thought of maybe getting a hotel for a night but the storms were predicted to remain for a few days.

This is where you need to be flexible with your travels. We decided to pack up (and rushed to do so since it started to really storm) and drive back to Nebraska to figure out what to do the rest of our time there. Sure, I could be bummed that things didn’t work out as planned, but that wouldn’t change anything. Instead, I’m glad that we got out of there before things got worse and we still had a great time hanging out. So we went back to Omaha, NE and found some fun things to do there!

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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Driving through South Dakota, the land is mostly flat. So, it’s easy to see the Badlands as you pass through. Eric told me great things about his camping experience here which made me excited to finally enter the National Park and set up camp. My cousin reserved a nice spot right in the park. We arrived as the sun started to set so we hurried to set up camp and began heating the grill for dinner.

IMG_3258 IMG_3263 IMG_3265 IMG_20130620_190322_527 IMG_20130620_195950_596We had such a pretty view from our site. This made me even more excited for all of the hiking and camping we had planned for the next few days. It was relaxing admiring the beautiful scenery and we enjoyed playing a few games as we waited for dinner. You are not allowed to have an open fire pit but that didn’t stop us from making smores over our coal grill. It amazes me how clear the night sky can be once you are away from civilization. Sometimes all you need is a break from the city to remind you of how vast and calm the rest of the country still remains. Once the sun was gone, I fell asleep looking out at the stars with a cool breeze coming through our tent. :-)

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming

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When you travel that far (especially by car) you might as well keep going, right? That was my mindset after we finished up at Mt. Rushmore. Since Mt. Rushmore is somewhat close to the Wyoming border line, I used my persuasion skills to convince the group that we should drive a little father out into Wyoming. It would be another new state to add to my list.

So off we went to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming!

IMG_3234 IMG_3242 IMG_3247The weather was absolutely perfect (as you can see by the clear blue sky) for exploring devils tower. First we drove around to see it all and then eventually parked to walk around. Hikers can walk around the tower and climbers and scale the walls. We did not have the time, nor the equipment to do either. Instead, we walked around part of one side and took some pictures.

Because I took us 3 hours away from where we were supposed to be camping/hiking, we decided to pack back in the car and drive to our original destination. It was a lot of fun taking detours to see these monuments and I’m glad we took advantage of driving through the area. The driving out here is just amazing. It’s so flat and open, much different from my usual driving along the east coast. The views are just so calming. I can see why people enjoy driving out in the Midwest. AND there wasn’t any traffic!

Mt. Rushmore

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Wow, summer seems to just be flying by! It is already almost mid-July. I feel like it was recently that I was planning for our trip to the Midwest and now it has been quite some time since we came back. Overall we had a great time but I was reminded of a very important lesson. No matter how much you plan, things can change and you need to be flexible!

Eric and I flew out of Atlanta with plans to arrive in Nebraska and go camping in the Badlands in South Dakota. My cousin and his wife live in Nebraska so we were meeting them to begin our journey. Flying in the summer is very chaotic, especially with the frequent storms we have been having lately. After a few delays, we made it to Nebraska late at night.

The trip started after we loaded our car with all of the gear and left for South Dakota around 4am. Since this was my first trip to South Dakota, I convinced the group to add the extra driving time to go see Mt. Rushmore. Realistically, I wasn’t sure that I would be back in this area any time soon so this was my chance.

Driving through South Dakota is so different compared to our usual holiday drives of Georgia to Maryland. Everything is so flat and open. Once you approach the Mt Rushmore area, you first drive through a little town that was clearly developed for all of the tourists. Then, after winding up the road we entered and I could see the carvings from a distance. I was excited to see the monument (and get out from sitting in the car).

FB_IMG_13717527292339673 IMG_3213 IMG_3225It was amazing to see this in person and really think about how it was created. Most of the carving was done using dynamite. Can you imagine this level of detail and the amount of control needed to use the explosives?! While there, I learned that the carvings were actually made to become more defined over time as erosion took effect. Now that is some serious forward thinking! I could have spent hours just sitting there, staring in awe. I was so happy we made the last-minute decision to come out here and it was a great way to begin our trip!

Eataly and a beer garden

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What is a visit to NYC without great food and drinks?! We decided to venture out to the flatiron district and have lunch at a place that came highly recommended. When you walk into Eataly, it is like a large Italian market with all sorts of neat things to browse through and purchase. There are also food station areas to order pastas, vegetables, and seafood. But, the best part is that they also have a rooftop area with nice views of the city while you enjoy yummy food and beer they brew themselves. I went for their wheat beer and grilled halibut dish. Amazing!IMG_20130609_131104_274 IMG_20130609_131935_747 IMG_20130609_141514_637Those familiar with the flatiron district will recognize this signature building.

After a delicious meal with friends, we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and have a few drinks at a beer garden. Because the city is so packed and condensed, it is hard to find a truly open and spread out beer garden. We did however discover the beekman  beer garden beach club. Once you walk in there is a sand area with lounge chairs and couches. There was also another tent covered area with long benches and tables. I think the best part of this place was the views. Just across the water was a view of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn bridge.

IMG_20130609_152223_153IMG_20130609_152230_489It was a great way to finish our getaway to NYC (and also pretty affordable). We had a blast seeing friends, exploring new sites, and trying new things. Can’t wait to come back!

Manhattan

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We also spent some time in Manhattan. We, along with our friends, decided to visit the 9/11 memorial since it would be the first time for all of us. It is free to enter and you can get tickets there or beforehand online (there is a $2 processing fee but it goes towards the memorial). We registered for tickets online and I highly suggest that anyone visiting should do the same. You pick a time that you will be there and avoid waiting in most of the lines. Yes, there was still a wait, but nowhere near as long as the people getting tickets the day of. The memorial was built at the site of the twin towers. Once you enter, the sound of the water drowns out all of the noise of the city making it a peaceful place in the heart of the city. IMG_20130608_151252_983 IMG_20130608_162136_311 IMG_20130608_162217_779In the  background is one world trade center, also called the “freedom tower” by some of the people we spoke to. It’s hard to really see what the memorial is like so I recommend visiting in person.

Since we were walking around lower Manhattan in the financial district, we walked around wall street and eventually boarded the Staten Island ferry. My friend mentioned that the ferry is free and you would be able to see nice views of the statue of liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline.

IMG_20130608_134047_610 IMG_20130608_134853_949It was really neat and something to definitely take advantage of because it is free.

Later that night, we decided to have drinks and play games at Fat Cat NYC. This place had a relatively affordable cover ($5), live music, and tons of games. By games I mean ping-pong, pool, chess/checkers, shuffleboard, and more! There were so many options. While it was a little crowded, it didn’t take long to get a ping-pong table and we ended up playing until 1-2am! Awesome time and a great way to wrap up a day in the city!

Exploring Brooklyn

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Eric and I have both been to NYC several times. Eric grew up in New Jersey right outside of NYC and I grew up in the DC area only a few hours drive away from NYC. We have seen most of the major attractions and so during our recent trip, we wanted to see a new part of the city, Brooklyn. We arrived late at night and went straight to my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn to rest up for the next day. The next morning, our first stop was to get tasty NY bagels. Really, nothing else can compare to the large, fresh bagels they bake daily. We decided to take our breakfast to go and walked to Prospect Park, finding a bench to just relax and enjoy our surroundings. We passed the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and were pleasantly surprised to see that there was no fee to enter on Saturdays. Very lucky especially considering the cost of things in NYC!IMG_20130608_100444_457 IMG_20130608_100634_894 IMG_20130608_101832_538 IMG_20130608_102539_410It was a  beautiful day and many of the flowers were in bloom. We even saw a small wedding in the rose garden. We eventually ventured into Manhattan to meet our friends (more on that in another post). At the end of the day, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to grab a yummy pizza dinner at Juliana’s (make sure to read the history of this place, very interesting!) followed by ice cream with a wonderful view.IMG_20130608_192051_424 IMG_20130608_192328_791It was nice to hang out with our friends and get the local perspective of living in NYC. It was my first visit to Brooklyn and I’m sure I will come back soon :-)

Hot Springs, Arkansas

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After spending time in St Louis, we hit the road again for an unexpected long drive to Arkansas. Since we were driving along the Oklahoma border, we decided it was worth it to add to our driving time and visit a new state (for me). We entered into a small town and eventually ended up in Cherokee Nation.

IMG_3180 IMG_3182I can’t say that we did much exploring. It was a small town and we needed to keep driving if we were going to make it into Arkansas at a reasonable hour. After being in the car for several hours and rain starting, we became anxious to reach our destination. Finally, we made it to Hot Springs National Park just in time for dinner. We drove through the national park and ended up in the small historic area. I quickly started reading reviews for restaurants and found an Ecuadorian place that many people seemed to rave about. The rain finally subsided and it ended up being a lovely, cool night. IMG_20130526_191317_373The food was delicious and there was even a live band playing. Very cool and unexpected given that the town is really small. We finished our meal and rested up for the next morning. Because I was excited to start the morning and see more of Hot Springs, Arkansas and since we lost some time the day before driving, we woke up before dawn and began our day. We decided to multi-task and put on our running shoes to see the area while squeezing in some exercise. I’m glad I brought my phone so I could take some pictures.

IMG_20130527_065140_433 IMG_20130527_065103_065 IMG_20130527_065540_144There were old bath houses located all along the park where people would come to experience the springs. Maybe used the springs as therapeutic methods for physical ailments. The hot springs were really neat and it felt good to relax after a run feeling the steaming hot water. After checking out the springs, we found a little place to get breakfast before making our way back home. I feel like we accomplished a lot given our limited time and I was to visit new places in the country. While it went by really quick, I think this ended up being a fun getaway trip exploring new things! That is really the beauty of a road trip, being able to just drive anywhere you want at your own pace and discovering new places! At times it was tiring and it involved a lot of driving, but I hope we get to do another trip soon!

St Louis, Missouri

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After exploring Mammoth Cave National Park, we started our drive to St Louis the next morning. It was a pretty uneventful drive. I could tell we were getting closer to the city as we started to see more cars on the road. I began to see the arch at a distance and was excited to have finally arrived. Luckily it was a pretty cool out and the rain turned to a light drizzle. We parked the car and made our way to lunch, of course searching for St Louis BBQ.

IMG_20130525_123954_726A friend of mine lives in St Louis and she recommended Bogarts. We arrived to a line out the door and down the block. The line moved fast and soon we were enjoying tasty BBQ. I had the pulled pork sandwich and Eric tried the ribs. While I wouldn’t  consider BBQ my favorite food, it was pretty darn good! To relieve our full stomach’s we walked around a local farmers market checking out the produce and other goods being sold.

Soon it started to rain again, so we decided a nice indoor activity would be exploring the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Wow, it was huge! Bigger than the Guinness brewery in Dublin!

IMG_20130525_142132_643 IMG_20130525_144755_690We started on the tour, saw the stables with a few Clydesdale horses, but eventually decided to wander on our own and go to the beer tasting room where you could try any of their beers.

IMG_20130525_150538_894I never knew how many beers are actually part of Anheuser Busch! Finally the rain subsided so we took advantage of the dry weather to see the St Louis Arch before meeting my friend for dinner. We were able to park nearby and walked right up to it.

IMG_3162 IMG_3164 IMG_3166There were also nice views of the river and part of the St Louis skyline. It was not as crowded as I anticipated since it was a holiday weekend so we were able to enjoy it without pushing through crowds. Eventually we ended the day with dinner and beers at a local brewery in the city. I still can’t believe how much we accomplished in our short day visit. But, I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as we got to the hotel. The next day to Hot Springs, Arkansas would be a long day of driving (not planned) so I was glad to get the extra rest!

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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So back to where I left off. Our first stop on the road trip was to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. It is less than 5 hrs from Atlanta and the time change gave us an extra hour to spend there. We left late morning and arrived just in time to buy tickets to explore parts of the cave. I can see how it is called Mammoth cave since it is HUGE!

IMG_3137 IMG_3153My favorite part was when the guide shut off all of the electricity inside and asked everyone to stay still and be quiet. It really illustrated just how dark it is inside the cave. I imagine the original people who discovered the cave walking around in pure darkness. Crazy!

Afterwards, we decided to take Sura for a walk around the park. The national park is large and had several hiking trails. We rented out a primitive cabin in the park (it was dog friendly) and kept Sura there while we explored the cave. The cabin had the basics: bed, bathroom, lighting. I’m glad we went in May and didn’t really need heat or air conditioning. It ended up getting a little cold at night but otherwise it was enjoyable. As you can see in the picture below, it was not anything fancy.

IMG_20130524_192726_089 IMG_20130524_190652_461I think Sura was happy to explore a new area and enjoyed here early evening walk as the temperatures began to cool. The park is beautiful and quiet. We saw wild turkeys, deer, and all sorts of birds. After the walk, I think we were tired from driving and went back to the cabin to rest up. It’s easy to just relax and sleep without any tv or radio…just the sounds of nature. We planned to wake up early in the morning to start our drive to St. Louis.

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