Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas

More and more, gift giving in my family has turned from things to experiences. Personally, I love this trend, and for my birthday this year, Ryan surprised me with a trip to Big Bend National Park!

Big Bend is a national park along the Texas / Mexico border that spans over 800K acres. While my birthday is in July, we took off on our road trip to Big Bend in September so that the heat wouldn’t be in full force. We left after work on a Thursday evening and., after 7.5 hours of driving, podcasts, and yelling at our two dogs to behave in the back of my Jeep, we arrived at our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas at 1 AM.

Our dogs on our long road trip to Big Bend National Park

Our AirBnb was a traditional adobe looking building and was pet friendly, so it was almost perfect for our dogs. I say “almost’ because the fenced in back yard was missing about 6 feet of fence so we couldn’t let the pups romp around off-leash, but the inside was super cute.

Our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas

We chose to stay in Alpine to reduce the drive from Dallas to the Park and stay in a in a more populated area, but that meant some early mornings to get to Big Bend. Big Bend was about 80 miles, or an hour and ten minutes, from our AirBnb, so we only got about 5 hours of sleep after arriving in Alpine before waking up to head to our kayaking experience. We woke up around 6, walked the dogs, cooked some breakfast, and took off on the hour long drive to Terlingua to meet up with our guide.

We met at the one gas station in Terlingua and gas cost $3.15! To set expectations, gas was $2.11 when we left Dallas, was $2.83 in Alpine, and over $3 in Terlingua! We are so glad we listened to the warnings about filling up before we left to the park. The drive to the park was spectacular and went relatively quickly at 80+ MPH.

We grabbed some extra water and snacks from the gas station upon arrival and then met our guide, Erin, and the dad / daughter duo that were the other guests on our hike. We loaded into Erin’s van with all of the kayaks in the back. The drive from Terlingua into the park was about 20 minutes, and then it was an additional 40 minutes or so to get to the river entrance. Erin was full of fun facts about the park and it’s history, living in the small town of Terlingua, and her background from Tennessee. Her accent made the stories that much better.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We were in awe of the views along the park and couldn’t believe the river close to the road was the boarder between us and Mexico. We finally pulled up to the parking lot and had to unload all of the kayaks and fill up our dry-bags for the trek. We even got these really sexy looking boots to wear through the mud. My boots were about 2 sizes too big so I was slipping and sliding all over the place! This made carrying the kayaks quite difficult but we eventually got to the Santa Elena Canyon entrance. We waded into the water and took off our boots to get into the kayak. The mud felt so good on my feet and was only about 1.5 feed deep, but there were some sections where you feel into quicksand like mud and it went up to your hip! It was so crazy.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Once we were all in, we started our semi-relaxing ride. I say semi because we were able to paddle about 80% of the time and were stuck in mud and had to pull about 20% of the rest of the time. The Rio Grande river is damned up in El Paso and, unless El Paso releases some of the water, the Rio Grande river is very shallow in the Santa Elena Canyon. It was still an amazing experience in between the massive cliffs, especially since there were only 5 of us. It was so relaxing. Ryan couldn’t have done a better job planning this.

Pulling our kayak through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We make it about 2 miles up the river before stopping for lunch. I made some PB&Js and we enjoyed some Sun Chips while taking in the view. I found a nice-looking log and pulled it into the shade as my lunch chair. It was a truly great spot.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Eventually, finished lunch and relaxed in the river for a little bit. The water temperature was absolutely perfect. We really lucked out. While the other duo on our trip power-paddled back to the exit, Ryan and I took our time to really enjoy the view and take it all in.

The most difficult part of the whole day was getting the kayaks back to the van. We were covered in mud, our boots were super slick, and there were rocks all over the place to push you off balance. We had quite the time trying to carry the heavy boats back but, eventually, made it. We got quite a workout in for the day! After loading up the van, we hit the road for the hour long, educational drive back to the gas station. It even rained a little and Erin joked that Big Bend judges rainfall by “drops per square foot” since they get so little.

We were pretty exhausted and didn’t dawdle in Terlingua once we arrived. It was back in the Jeep and off to the Airbnb. Our pups couldn’t be happier to see (and smell) us when we got back. We showered off all of the mud, took the pups for a walk, and relaxed a bit before finding a spot for dinner.

There is a pretty popular place in Fort Worth that we have both been to called Reata, and apparently, the original location is in Alpine! We went around 6:30, were starving, and ended up ordering waaaay too much food. We started with some delicious corn bread and biscuits, had crab stuffed, bacon-wrapped peppers, split a goat cheese salad, and then got two massive entrees. Ryan’s chicken fried steak should looked like two entire chickens, and my steak with enchiladas had two bread-plate sized pieces of steak, corn, beans, and enchiladas.

We were soooo stuffed and had to take the majority of the food back home. Since it was my birthday celebration, they even boxed up some apple pie and ice-cream for us, which we enjoyed cuddled up on the couch at the Airbnb before hitting the sheets for bed.

Day 2 – Big Bend Hike & Marfa, Texas

Our 1 year old dog, Dixie, was not a happy camper at night. She was barking in her kennel all night and we had a rough time sleeping. I had to get up at 3 AM to take her potty, which actually turned out OK because I looked up into the night sky and saw millions of stars. It was beautiful!

Combined with the 6 AM wake up to head to Big Bend for our hike, we were so tired. Thankfully, we grabbed a bunch of caffeine at the gas station which perked us up for the 2 hour drive to our hiking spot within the park. The drive was beautiful and we got to watch the sun rise over the mountain range in all of these amazing pastel colors. It made the drive much less boring. We even passed a Target along the way!

Target by Marfa, Texas

We arrived at our hike and were excited to start on the 4.8 mile journey up to the top. Originally, we were going to hike the Emory Peak Trail, a 12 mile rigorous hike that reminded us of the Tongariro Pass that we hiked in New Zealand. However, we opted to hike the Lost Mine Trail instead so that we could check out Marfa in the second half of the day.  We were not disappointed by Lost Mine in the slightest. The views were amazing there was some cloud coverage so we didn’t get too much sun. The temperature was perfect for hiking and there was even a cool breeze to cool us down. We got so lucky.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Even though Big Bend is technically a desert, the plant life is so diverse and beautiful. There are cacti of various types all over the place, flowers in different colors, grasses, and other weird looking plants that, when combined, made for a gorgeous looking landscape.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the ridge top. Again, you couldn’t beat the views. We spent some time at the top taking it all in. We even took a snack break and attempted rock climbing on a big boulder just to enjoy it further.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

The dad and daughter from our kayaking journey the day before were also supposed to hike Emory Trail, but we ended up running into them on our hike down from the top! They said that they got to the Emory trailhead too late and the park rangers were cautioning people not to go since it was going to get too hot! I am glad we didn’t waste time driving over to that trail only to get rerouted to Lost Mine.

The hike was the perfect length and we were sore but feeling good once we got back to the Jeep. We ate our PB&Js on the 2.5 hour drive to Marfa. Marfa is a town of 1.8K or so in the middle of nowhere. Marfa has become well know among the art community for Chinati Foundation which is on 340 acres and is a permanent house of certain artists work. There is also a random Prada store (similar to the target) about 30 miles north of Marfa which is now an iconic image for Marfa. With all of the driving we did to and from Big Bend, we decided to skip the Prada installation and check out the gallaries in Mafa instead.

We started by going to the Chitani. When we got there, the two people at reception did not even look up to greet us. It was pretty strange and they told us that the only thing we could check out there was the outside cement block installation. We walked through what sounded like rattle snake infested grasses down to the art- which really just looked like a dumping ground for giant concrete blocks. We didn’t get it, but that’s OK. Every type of art is not always for everyone.

We then went to the Ballroom – another gallery. This one had this creepy exhibit of motion triggered things – like ladders with dog heads that had long wigs and the ladders moved closer to you when you walked towards them. It was very strange and, again, not my cup of tea. We went to Inde / Jacobs Gallery and had a great conversation with the owner. We actually liked the style of art at this Gallery. We kept walking, got some coffee, and checked out the Marfa Store. It was run buy this young guy from Minnesota who moved to Marfa with his boyfriend. We talked to him about transitioning to such a small town and he had some interesting perspectives.


We the checked out the town square and the shops / galleries within. There was one gallery with 3 massive Andy Warhol paintings! It was so crazy seeing such high caliber art in Marfa, Texas! We walked past a few places for sale and decided to check out the real-estate prices on Zillow. Holy cow it was expensive. The homes were comparable price-wise to Dallas, but some of the homes didn’t have city water or even AC! We were so shocked!

We took off back to the AirBnb to spend some time with the dogs. Ryan and I hung out in the hammock in the backyard for a bit before we decided to go find some food. We went into the town and settled on an Italian place called Guzzy’s. It was strangely decorated insides and reminded us of a night club. I got some ravioli with Alfredo and Ryan got some pizzas. The food was average but did the trick and we spent the remainder of the evening with the dogs before passing out around 9 PM.

Guzzy's in Alpine, Texas

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

Thinking about going to Fredericksburg, Texas? For a romantic weekend, girls trip, or quick getaway, Fredericksburg is the perfect place to spend a long weekend or do a two-day trip! You may have heard that there are wineries and some good hiking there, but if you want help planning the specifics and some things to day dream about until your trip arrives, I’ve got some tips for you!

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

  1. Stay at an Airbnb close to Main Street. There are tons of cute, reasonably priced, updated Airbnbs in Fredericksburg that are walking distances from wine shuttle pickups, the Pacific War Museum, and the main shopping / restaurant area on Main Street. Why have to worry about driving and parking when you can walk? Especially since there are no ride sharing services in Fredericksburg. Also, there is an HEB about 2 minutes off Main Street to grab stuff for breakfast if you want to make it at your Airbnb before heading out for your day. Ours even had a fire pit which was awesome for enjoying the perfect weather at night with a glass of wine.
  2. Sign up for a wine shuttle service to get to and from the wineries. Most of the shuttle services are about $20-$25 for the day and will take you to a bunch of wineries so you do not have to drive. You can check their websites before you book to see how many and which wineries each service goes to. Also, if you buy wine or anything else at a winery but do not want to lug the bottles around, the shuttles will bring your purchases back to the pickup area so you can continue on your way bag-free. We took the 290 Shuttle service and it was worth every penny. (Read about our experience here).
  3. Have water and salty snacks ready at your hotel or Airbnb after your wine tour. You will need to hydrate and all of the sugar from the wine will have you craving something savory. Also, try to do your wine tour early enough to have time for a nap before dinner. I am not a nap person typically, but having a nap break really helped us enjoy the rest of our evening without feeling groggy.
  4. Explore Main Street (aka downtown). There are about 4 blocks of cute boutiques, restaurants, bars with live music, candy stores, and wine tasting rooms that are unique to Fredericksburg!
  5. Research the best restaurants on TripAdvisor and make reservations before you go. Weekends can be busy and wait times long, so a little planning ahead will help you maximize your stay. I recommend checking out the Vaudeville Supper Club for a fancy night out or their Bistro for a more casual affair.
  6. Check out the  Pacific War Museum for a little history if you have an extra hour.
  7. Don’t forget to bring your active wear and hiking boots (or sneakers) to wear to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The hike is only half a mile to the top of the rock and is not super strenuous. As long as you have sun screen, sun glasses, and a water bottle, you can do it! The view is well worth it, but just make sure you arrive earlier rather than later because the park will close the parking lot once full (around 10AM).Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Read about our adventure at the wineries or Main street and Enchanted Rock to learn more!

At Enchanted Rock outside of Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg Part 2

After a long day of wine tasting and a solid power nap, it was time to resume the Fredericksburg fun! We had an 8:30PM reservation at the Supper Club at the Vaudeville restaurant on Main street so we decided to walk through the shops on Main before dinner. There are quite a few boutiques, wine tasting rooms, candy stores, and knickknack stores to walk past and Ryan bought a big bag of white cheddar popcorn for our road trip home. After about 2 hours, we needed water and some energy so the plan was to grab a coffee and water at a bar before dinner. We went into a bar and ended up getting beer and a Michelada (basically a bloody Mary with Dos Equis instead of vodka). After being introduced to Micheladas during my trip to Guatemala, I can’t say no to them! It was so refreshing to have something salty and savory after the sugary wine earlier that day.

Finally, it was time of dinner. We walked to Vaudeville and went in the side alleyway entrance to this amazing, fire-lit, patio area. Wow, was it surprisingly nice! I told Ryan he needed to plan things more, since he did such a good job on this trip, and he told me he was taking a sabbatical from planning! (Insert eye-roll here) Anyways, we were greeted by name and escorted to this intimate table on the side of the restaurant. We had a pre-fixed 3-course meal in store for us and our names were even on the menu! Talk about amazing service.

We started with cocktails and three types of delicious bread; parmesan puff, multi-grain, and olive. The bread was light, fluffy, and made that day right in town! As we were enjoying our bread, we saw a black tail slink by our table and Ryan freaked out. There was a cat in the restaurant and Ryan loves cats. Apparently one of the girls at a table by us was allergic, so the host picked the cat up and put it on a table right outside the window from us. Ryan kept going on and on about he wanted a “café cat” and that they should have put him at our table. Literally, the rest of dinner, Ryan was on the lookout for that dang cat! I must admit, it was cute.

Our first course came and drew our attention from the cat and back to our dinner. The sweet smell of the curry immediately made our tastes buds perk up and the prawn and squid ink noodles were the perfect complement. I was a little skeptical that I would not be a huge fan of the dish, but I would have that every day for weeks if I could!

Our second course was perfectly cooked pork loin with grilled Brussel sprouts, a Brussel sprout empanada, and a to-die-for parsnip puree! I couldn’t believe how far this meal was outside of my expectations!

For desert, we had a dense, moist lemon cake with raspberry sorbet and vanilla panna cotta. Again, it was done perfectly and the three courses were just the right amount of food.

Ecstatic about all of the delicious parts of our dinner, we walked off our meal on the way home and quickly found our way to sleep.

Day 2: Enchanted Rock

After doing the wineries and shopping in the previous day, we decided to drive to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for a hike. The Park is know for its massive pink granite dome that sticks way above all of the other features in the area. In peak season, the park gets packed early, and they close the gates as early as 10AM to control the crowds. Knowing that, we got up before the crack of dawn (like 7:30 AM) to make sure we could get a spot. It took about 30 minutes to drive to the park site and there was a line of cars already waiting to get in at 9AM!

We were able to get a spot, lathered up with sun-screen, and took off on the Summit trail. It was about a half mile, straight up-hill hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. There were quite a few people but it did not feel too crowded and there was a nice breeze to keep us cool on the way up.

The cactus, flowers, and giant boulders that had broken off Enchanted Rock and been shaped into all sorts of configurations over the years made for a very scenic hike, not to mention the breathtaking view from the top! Strangely enough at the top of the rock, there were little bodies of water called vernal pools that have mini-ecosystems of small creatures, making the moon-like rock alive with wildlife.

We enjoyed the view from the top for a while and took a more round-about way down. I thought the trail went one way and Ryan warned that it didn’t. I went anyway, almost stepped on a pretty big snake, and was scared right back to the right path to Ryan. He then proceeded to make hissing sounds the rest of the way down, partially making fun of me, partially trying to scare me again! While we didn’t see another snake (thank gosh!), we did encounter a few lizards and cool looking birds.

Our hike took about 1.5 hours total and was worth every step. The drive back seemed like it took no time at all. We walked in to the Airbnb and saw a strangely shaped piece of plastic on the ground that Dakota had chewed. We quickly realized that she had somehow pulled down the large bag of popcorn Ryan had bought the day before and she ate the entire, previously unopened bag! There was only one small kernel left of evidence that that popcorn had ever existed! Of course, Dakota pretended like nothing had happened and we couldn’t help but laugh. Oh, that dog.

Before we knew it, we were freshened up, packed, and ready to head home. We were starving so we parked in town and stopped at Burger Bar for burgers and sweet potato fries before embarking on the long drive through the middle of no-where Texas to get back home.

Fredericksburg Part 1

What do you do when you have limited vacation time, three international and two domestic trips already planned for the year, and still want to get away to celebrate an anniversary? Take a weekend trip to somewhere drivable and dog friendly of course! In this case, for our three-year anniversary, Ryan and I decided to take the 5-hour drive to Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is in this hill country and is know for its wineries and Enchanted Rock State Park, so a quick weekend away filled with wine tasting and hiking sounded perfect!

Since I was in the midst of wedding / honeymoon planning, Ryan took on the planning of this trip, and boy, did he do a great job! We left after work on Friday evening and, after a drive full of podcasts and scenic views, we arrived at this adorable Airbnb only a block away from main street and, more importantly, two blocks away from the wine tour shuttle pick up! The place had a little dog run for our puppy, was recently updated, and had everything we needed to make breakfast both days of our stay.

Once we settled in and dropped off our stuff, we set off up the street to find some grub! After some Googling, we found the Woerner Warehouse – an awesome, modern, barn style furniture shop by day, that moonlights as a pizza place. We split a Caesar salad and delicious ham and basil pizza and walked around the store after our fill. It had some very cute furniture but also some questionably weird pieces. Interesting to say the least!

Knowing we wanted to cook breakfast in the AM, we went to the HEB down the street for cinnamon rolls, bagels, a bottle of Texas wine, and a case of water. I highly recommend having a bunch of water handy when you plan on visiting wineries all day.

Once we were stocked up, we went back to the Airbnb and relaxed with a glass of wine next to the fire pit and gazed at all the starts. Talk about a relaxing start to the trip!

Wine by the fire at our Airbnb in Fredericksburg, Texas

Our alarm went off at 8:30 AM and we were ready to start the day! We made quick work of cooking breakfast and taking Dakota on a walk. I must say, all the houses in Fredericksburg as so well kept and cute! There was even a historical looking “settlement” of buildings down the street from our place that was awesome to explore on our walk.

We dropped Dakota back off at the Airbnb, gave her a big rawhide to keep her busy, and took off to the shuttle. We didn’t want to worry about driving to the wineries, so we signed up for the 290 Shuttle service which, for $25 per person, would take us to and from any of 14 wineries throughout the day. There are tons of similar services throughout Fredericksburg, but the 290’s pick up location was at the Pacific War Museum right off Main street and only two blocks from our Airbnb. Talk about convenience!

The weather was slightly cloudy and a little cold, but perfect for a day outside. Our bus driver was a retired, spunky lady, who gave us all the details about the various wineries along the 290 Highway and our first stop, Grape Creek Winery. It was on a 100-acer lot bought in the 1980s. New owners came in a little over 10 years ago and renovated the winery to a Tuscan style villa that went from 7K bottles a season to 55K! We decided to spend a little extra and take the tour of the winery with our tasting. We hopped into a large golf cart and were driven through the vineyard to the grape press and sorting area, through to the fermentation room, and then ended in the barrel room where were got to taste 4 wines right out of the barrels!

After that, we were taken to a tasting room for 6 additional tastes of the various whites, roses, and reds, which were all delicious and set our expectations for the rest of the day at a very high bar.

To cleanse your pallet between wines, the tasting room had these little round bread balls to munch on. Ryan and I, as the light-weights we are, were joking about taking some to-go and Ryan stuck some in his pockets. I told him that having “pocket bread” was so not appropriate so he threw some pieces at me, sending me into laughing fits while apologizing for his behavior and picking them up.

"Pocket bread" and wine at Grape Creek Winery

Apparently, Grape Creek sells 96% or so if its wine through its wine club. They do not sell at retail locations, so the only way to get it is at the winery’s or through the mail club. Our host passed out the info and did a little sales pitch to get people to sign up. We somehow resisted and opted to try the other wineries out before committing to their club. If you are visiting wineries, be wary of the wine club pitches (that happen after you’ve had a few glasses) and decide before you go into the tasting if a wine club is something you want to invest in if your tasting is tasty.

After that was all finished, we were taken back up to the main building to hop back onto the 290 shuttle to go to the next place. The Torre Di Pietra Winery was quite a bit smaller than the last and we quickly realized the caliber of wine for the rest of the day might not meet the high standard Grape Creek set. Then again, we were 8 tastes in and the vineyard was very pretty so we were in high spirits. The people watching was also entertaining with more than 10 bachelorette party sightings and other shenanigans.

After that, we went to Four Point Cellars which has wines from 3 different Texas wineries. There was a very large rectangular bar in the center of the building which had at least 20 different workers serving wines to everyone around the bar. While we tasted a flight of both white and red wines, our server told us some interesting stories about being raised in Fredericksburg, how the wine industry has exploded there over the past 10 years, and how that has impacted the economy and housing prices. Apparently, Fredericksburg is now a big retirement community since the town is so quaint and they can work at the vineyards. Not a bad plan if I do say so myself!

Four Point Cellars

After our tasty wines, we had samples of Texas-made cheese, balsamic vinegars, and jams that were placed around the wine bar. We were still hungry so we grabbed some BBQ from the food truck out front and enjoyed some live music on the patio before heading to our last winery for the day.

We stopped at the Wedding Oak Winery specifically to buy a few bottles of wine for our good friends who recently go engaged there! Of course, we had to try some of the wine while we were there, so we did another round of tasting and were very happy with what we sampled. We bought a few bottles, wandered around the gift shop, took some silly photos by the bluebonnets, and then decided to call it a day for our winery adventure.

We arrived back in town around 2:30 and happily strolled back to our Airbnb. We took the puppy for a quick walk and, as we were settling back in, Ryan found the last remnants of his newly blue-jean colored “pocket bread” in his pants. They promptly fell to the ground and our ravenous dog gobbled them down before we realized what was happening. I was doubled over in hysterics, laughing way too hard, and Dakota was smiling at us from ear to ear. No food is safe with her around!

After we calmed down, we took a 2.5-hour power nap to energize for our evening plans. I don’t even remember trying to fall asleep – just that the alarm clock for the next part of our adventure seemed to go off right as my head hit the pillow!

Taco Heads, Fort Worth

Flour tortillas. Yes, you read that right, flour tortillas, are by far, one of my favorite components to any “south of the border” style dish. A few years back, I stumbled upon a taco truck that toasted their flour tortillas before filling them with taco-goodness and topping them with spicy sauce. This little truck of Taco Heads, open late across the street from my apartment, stole my taste bud’s heart, lots of my money, and my taco buying business forever (when possible).

Unfortunately, my love story with this taco truck became one of long distance as I uprooted my life to a new city a good 45 minutes away. While away, the Taco Heads truck opened a permanent location in Fort Worth with an expanded menu. Once I head about it, I vowed to visit and enjoy every morsel of what the new menu had to offer!

The new location has an almost beachy, modern feel with a clean lined inside area to eat and a large outdoor picnic area which will be great for patio season.

Taco Heads, Fort Worth, Texas

I absolutely love their breakfast tacos, especially the chorizo Mexicano & egg taco, but those are only served until 11 AM or after hours, so for this visit I was out of luck. Instead, I started my menu journey off with their take on Mexican street corn called Elotes: roasted corn, chile aioli, garlic-butter, cotija.

Elotes at Taco Heads, Fort Worth, Texas

I know, that photo made your mouth water and it was just as delicious! Trying to eat it delicately without making a mess is difficult, but who doesn’t love a bit of a challenge?

Next up: the Nuevo Leon al Pastor taco with grilled pineapple, onion, cilantro, red cabbage, adobo, queso fresco. At first, I thought the chunks of grilled pineapple were the pieces of pork, but boy was I wrong. The pineapple melted in my mouth and was the perfect flavor addition to this toasted taco (featured on the right).

Taco Heads, Fort Worth Texas

Last but not least in the flavor department, the Carnitas (seriously, legit) tacos with green cabbage, onion, cilantro, queso fresco. This taco has a mild flavor but, with the addition of some of the Taco Heads spicy green verde sauce, it stands out.

Overall, if you are looking for a great meal that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, Taco Heads is your place. Just be aware, it is very addictive.