Medford and More!

Leaving Crater Lake, we headed south to meet up with the rest of Tyler’s family.  While in Medford we repeated some of our favorite activities from our last visit.  Watching Zach’s nieces at their swim lessons, walking down to Roxyann Winery and staying up late every night playing board games and Super Smash Brothers.

Uncle Zach and June

Unfortunately, we also experienced some unwanted activities.  I came down with a bad cold in the beginning and by the end of the week, all of the Oregon Serafinis had caught a stomach bug.  There were a lot of sick people in the house but still managed to enjoy our time together.

Common Block Brewing Company

The six of us headed down to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. The titular Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the park is home to all four types of volcano (plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato).  I had not heard of Lassen before we started out on our National Park quest so I was surprised to learn it was created in 1916, making it the 11th oldest park.

Selfie with Lassen’s Seismograph Station

We started with the best named trail in the entire park system –  Bumpass Hell.  The hike takes you down into a geothermal area nicknamed ‘Little Yellowstone’.  Having not previously seen anything like it, I was fascinated by the way the ground bubbled, steamed, gurgled, and churned.  The sulfuric acid created fascinating color patterns surrounding the scalding mud pots.

Bumpass Hell from above

Planning on eating out for dinner, we had not gone grocery shopping in preparation for the weekend.  It turned out, our only options less than a ninety-minute drive closed before 5pm. Between a can of clam chowder, some pasta, and a pouch of tuna, we managed to scrounge together a meal for six from our trailer’s limited pantry.  Tyler, Whitney and family slept in the trailer.  After first getting used last week by Tyler, our convertible table bed had its second customer in Sage.  This gave Zach and I an excuse to break out our neglected tent and cuddle under the chilly stars.

Artsy filler picture 

The following morning, after a delicious breakfast at JJ’s Café which would have made Leslie Knope envious, we headed to the north side of the park for another hike.  Cinder Cone Volcano was created by an eruption around 1650 which is recent enough essentially no plants have started growing on it.  The hike to the crater is two miles each way, meandering gently up to the base and ending with a challenging climb (about 700ft in a third of a mile).

Cinder Cone Volcano – they must have used all of their creativity naming Bumpass Hell

The hike out took longer than expected due to a slow moving four-year-old.  Zach and I had more than a five-hour drive ahead of us so we said our goodbyes at the bottom of the volcano and high-tailed it back to our car.  As always, it was great to see Tyler, Whitney, Sage and June.  I’m looking forward to seeing them at Christmas and hoping our next reunion will be healthier and equally as adventurous.

Beautiful sunset driving though California

I forgot that I was planning on including our time in San Fransisco in this blog which is why the previous paragraph sounds like a conclusion.  We were flying out to Hawaii on Wednesday, so in the meantime, we spent three nights at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, about an hour north of the city.  All in all, it wasn’t a great experience – we were worried about catching the stomach bug going around, I always get anxious before big trips and none of the Starbucks in the Bay Area have outlets which makes working from them nearly impossible.  The highlight of the stay was our visit to Point Reyes National Seashore.   One concluding paragraph is difficult enough to write, let alone two, so I’ll just end things here.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Pacific in the coming weeks

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Ohio / Rainier

It’s interesting how our perception of time is always changing. Sometimes the last half mile of a difficult hike can seem to last forever. Yet, the whole weekend seems over as soon as it starts. I have been very fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) in the past nine months. Nearly everything has flown by. To help keep things in perspective and not lose sight of the amazing adventures we’ve had while experiencing new ones, Liz and I often ask each other “What were we doing a month ago today?” and “Where will we be in a month from now?”. Perhaps the most interesting part of the time change phenomenon is that while the days seem to speed by, I’m always shocked at how long ago the things we did just a few weeks before seem.

It’s already been 3 weeks since Rainer!

Perhaps the fastest time yet this trip was the whirlwind week we spent in Ohio. We had planned on spending two weeks in the Seattle area, but CoverMyMeds offered to fly us in for the work week, so we jumped on the opportunity to catch up with friends and family (and work).

Cymanski Family Reunion 

On Sunday night, Liz and I took a red-eye from Seattle to Columbus and headed straight into work. After work, Liz picked up her sister, Megan, and drove up to Ashland to get dinner with her parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, I took a series of Ubers from work to our AirBnB and back to work again to find a charger for my dying phone before seeing Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at the LC. Tuesday, we caught up with a group of friends from work for volleyball and trivia. Then, on Wednesday, I managed to stay upright on my first Segway tour. And in the evening Liz and I headed our separate way to grab a few drinks with coworkers. Thursday, we drove up to Canton to see my family and hiked the beautiful new Fry Family park with baby Zion in tow. Then, Friday morning we drove back to C-bus, put in a day’s work, and flew back to Seattle. By the end of the week Liz and I were exhausted. Although, we still had a full weekend ahead of us.

Uncle Zach and Baby Zion

Due to our late arrival in Seattle, we opted to sleep in the airport parking lot (which I’m sure is against some sort of rule). Then, the next morning, we met up with Mark and Ben, my friends from college,  and headed to Mount Rainier. While Ben has twice summited the 14er, it was the first time in the park for the rest of us. Even though we didn’t attempt the technical summit, we did make it up to the Muir basecamp – one of my new favorite hikes. To get to the basecamp, we hiked up about 5,000 feet and across the Muir snowfield. Although going up rewarded us with some spectacular views, it was going down that made the hike.

Camp Muir

The heavily packed snowfield not only allowed us to hike to Muir basecamp without sinking in knee-deep every-other step (like we would the next weekend hiking the South Sister near Bend) it also allowed us to glacade down. For those who don’t know, glacading is just a fancy word for sledding without a sled. Enough hikers had gone before us that nice slick chutes ran down the snowfield, adding a new dynamic to hiking I had never considered. Pro tip: bring a heavy-duty trash bag to act as your sled.

Glasading!

The next morning, before driving Ben and Mark back to Seattle, we hiked up to the nearby Eagle Point to get a panoramic view of Mt Rainier. I hope that someday I can head back to make it all the way up to the summit, although going it to the basecamp is a worthwhile hike in of itself.

Drinking our summit beers!

Bend and Beyond

After dropping Ben and Mark off in Seattle, we headed South to Oregon.  There was a bit of a mishap in our accommodations (we thought our campground reservations started on Monday night, but they actually were for Tuesday) which resulted in an extra night spent in a Walmart parking lot.  We’re becoming experts at sleeping in Walmart lots and they’re really not that bad.  There’s usually bright lights shining throughout the night, occasionally loud cars and not all allow overnight parking but it saves money, time and the effort of finding a campground.

Lucy in a Walmart Parking lot

On Tuesday, we made it to LaPine State Park, our home for the week.  The park, just South of Bend, is home to ‘Big Red’ the world girthiest ponderosa pine.  It was also the most voluminous but it recently lost a good chunk of its height to a lightning strike.  There were some great trails for running – not too rooty or rocky and, most importantly, flat.  The Deschutes River runs through the park making for some great scenery.

A bend in the Deschutes River

We visited Smith Rock State Park, home to some of the best rock climbing in the country.  Although we didn’t go climbing, the scenery itself was magnificent.  We had a delicious dinner at Sunriver Brewing company.  I ordered a Rueben Pretzel Calzone, which sounds like a strange combination but was really great.

Smith Rock State Park

On Saturday morning, Zach’s brother Tyler drove up from Medford to spend the weekend with us.  We planned to hike the South Sister, the youngest and tallest of the volcanoes which make up the Three Sisters.  Unbeknownst to us, the higher elevations had received a large amount of snow the previous week.  The trail was completely covered, in some places with well over five feet of snow.

Two brothers and someone else’s sister

We progressed very slowly up the mountain.  As the day warmed up, the snow became softer, and soon, every third step led to being knee deep, or sometimes even hip deep, in snow.  We didn’t make it to the top, instead drinking our summit beers at a pass about a mile before the end.  The guys were disappointed about turning around but there were some very menacing clouds heading our way and Zach had frozen feet.

Our summit

The way down was much faster (thanks gravity!) and Zach snapped this awesome picture of Tyler jumping down the hill.  Once again very happy with our camera purchase.  I greatly struggled deciding which pictures to use for this post.

Flying down the mountain

Sunday morning we left La Pine and headed to Crater Lake National Park.  We visited the park in May, the last time we were in Oregon, but there had been a ton of snow which was really fun but I wanted to visit the park without the snow to see what it was like.  It was too late in the year to wish for no snow but there was significantly less than last time.

Crater Lake National Park

The rim is an average of 1,000 feet above the lake but there is one place you can hike to the water, traveling 800ft down in less than a mile of trail.  I stuck my feet in the water but Zach was the only one brave enough to fully get in.  And by that, I mean he jumped off a cliff into the lake.  On the hike up, we tried to calculate the volume of water in the lake.   We knew that at widest points, it is about 4 miles wide  and 6 miles long and the deepest point is 1,932 ft.  Given those three data points, we estimated the volume to be 12.5 cubic km, only 6 cu km off from the actual volume of 18 cubic km.  That may seem like a decent ways off but I was happy to be in the right order of magnitude.  Our main source of error was underestimating the average depth by 100 meters (we guessed 250m, it’s actually 350m).

The equivalent of 5 million Olympic swimming pools

 

Canada Part 2 (Banff)

We spent nearly a year planning our trip prior to hitting the road – marking points of interest on a map, researching car and lodging options, and reading about the national parks. In all that time, I don’t remember ever discussing taking our trip beyond the US. Yet, for the second week this summer, we found ourselves in Canada. This time, instead of a remote island on the French River, we stayed in a campground within the city limits of Calgary.

Oh Canada!

While visiting a brewery in Calgary, Liz and I met a few locals who made a point to remind us that Canadians tend to know a lot more about the US than we know about their affairs. So, for those unaware, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city with about 1.3 million residents. The city lies about an hour east of Banff, Canada’s first national park. And it played host to the 1986 Olympics, a fact the city continues to heavily lean on more than 30 years later.

Looking back, nothing in particular stands out about our time in Calgary. We drove past several old ski facilities used during the Olympic games, spent a limited amount of time downtown, and got the cars oil changed. In short – I don’t feel a strong desire to head back any time soon.

The one picture we took in Calgary

On Friday, after work, we made the short drive west to Banff National Park. After setting up the camper at Tunnel Mountain campground (an enormous campground with over 500 sites!) we headed into the town of Banff. The town sits within the national park and has the vibe of a large ski community, even in the heat summer. While in town, we decided to swing into the park visitor center to plan our weekend. There, we were ‘greeted’ by a warden (what they call their park rangers in Canada) who informed us that “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” in the park and that there’s “nothing that you need to see”. Thanks for the guidance Sophia.

Beautiful Banff!

Like most weekends, our time was primarily spent hiking. Saturday, we climbed the Cory Pass Loop – a strenuous hike that follows a seemingly endless set of switchbacks before leading up a picturesque mountain ridgeline. The trail then crosses through a mile of rocks and boulders before entering a densely-forested ravine that follows a creek down the mountain. The trek was tiring but a great way to start our weekend!

One of many breaks on the way up

On Sunday, we got up early and drove to Lake Louise. Perhaps the most popular destination in the park, the lake was already crawling with tourists early in the morning. We were able to escape most of the crowd by hiking around the lake and up to a remote tea house. The tea house is staffed by seasonal workers who hike in on several day rotations and cook all the food on site with supplies air dropped in by helicopter. After munching down a heavy piece of chocolate cake, we continued up the trail to check out the glaciers.

Great cake and great views!

While I don’t know if Banff is a good representation of all of Canada’s national parks, I felt like their park system is managed very differently. While the US national parks often contain guest lodges, a small handful of gift shops, and restaurants to service visitors, Banff plays host to a far larger commercial enterprise. From the town of Banff, located in the park, to the railroad track, the ski slopes, and the trans-Canadian highway, Banff seems to specialize in accessibility, not conservation. That’s not a slight to the park though – I think both Liz and I really enjoyed our weekend and I’d love to make it back again someday to see the park from its ski slopes.

Better glaciers than Glacier

Montana

We began our time in Montana by visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  Minutes off Interstate 90, the park is famous for being Custer’s Last Stand, where Colonel Custer and over 250 soldiers died attacking a group of Lakota and other Plains Indians.  The battle was a huge victory for the Indians but their good fortune was short lived as the US government continued to break treaties in the following years and force the natives into reservations.  We watched a very informative video and listened to a graphic telling of the battle by a ranger.

Photo courtesy of the NPS

After spending a night in Billings, we continued to Bozeman, the fourth largest city in Montana.  We stayed at an amazing campground in Gallatin National Forest, about 30 minutes from downtown.  Nestled in the mountains with a beautiful creek rushing right by our campsite, it’s my new favorite campground.  Although it had no electricity, showers, or cell service, it made up for it in beauty and tranquility.

Reading creekside

We spent one afternoon exploring Hyalite Canyon.  On the drive home, after hiking around the reservoir and exploring Palisade Waterfall, we saw a moose! It was standing right next to the road!  After overcoming my surprise, I snapped a picture before it ambled back into the forest.

Palisade Waterfall

A MOOSE!

From Bozeman, we headed west to Missoula.  We planned a majority of our summer/fall travels around attending Traveler’s Rest – a musical festival put on by the Decembrists.  In addition to the Decembrists headlining both nights, some of our other favorite bands were performing – Sylvan Esso, Belle & Sebastian, the Head and the Heart and Shakey Graves.   Everyone put on a great show and 2017 continues to be a great year of concerts for us.

Hanging out in the VIP section!

Due to Zach’s plantar fasciitis, my sprained ankle, and our lack of showers at both our Bozeman and Missoula campgrounds, we headed to the pool! This past year has been the first time since middle school that I haven’t regularly swam.  It was great to get back in the water and avoid not showering for two straight weeks.  Apparently, I’ve never swam laps with Zach – he was much better than I was expecting!

Zach considering going for a swim in the creek?

Now that we’re further north and at higher elevations, the nights get much colder.  I already struggle to get moving in the morning and near freezing temperatures don’t make it any easier.  Our camper does have a heater but in my mind, it wastes too much propane and I think that sleeping in the cold is helping me lose weight.  But Montana sure had some great sunrises, which made getting out of bed a little better.

This is actually a sunset

 

Medford

There are a few things I miss about Columbus – the free lunches at work, the ability to drive home for the weekend, and Hounddog’s Pizza. But my favorite thing to do in Columbus, hanging out with Tyler and Whitney, wouldn’t have been possible even if we had stayed in C-Bus.  Zach’s brother Tyler and his family moved out to Medford, Oregon in December and we went from seeing them almost weekly, to not seeing them for months.  Since our springtime travels in the southwest weren’t taking us near Oregon, we left Lucy in the Las Vegas airport oversized parking lot and flew up to Oregon.

Oregon has so many waterfalls!

It was great to see Tyler, Whitney, Sage and June again.  Our first weekend, we explored the town of Medford, stopping by the local Comic-Con and eating at a local brewery.  After lunch, Zach, Tyler, and I biked up the local mountain, Roxyann Butte.  As a cautious rider, I enjoyed the way up, on a wide gradual road, much more than the way down, on a narrow, steep, rocky trail.  I rode my brakes the entire time and the guys spent most of their time waiting for me.

Biking up the mountain

On Sunday, we travelled south to hike Pilot Rock.  Our driver missed the turn and we ended up in California for a few minutes before turning around (our 13th state of the trip!).  The hike started out easily enough but soon became difficult due to steep, icy sections of trail.  Considering we had a baby and a four-year-old with us, things went relatively well.  The trail ended at the actual Pilot Rock, a very steep volcano plug.  Whitney and I headed down with the kids while Zach and Tyler made the treacherous climb to the top.

Zach and Tyler made it to the top of Pilot Rock

Unfortunately, we all had to work during the week but still managed to find time for fun.  Their house had the perfect backyard for croquet.  We got a little creative with the course setup which made an antiquated English game relevant again.  We also went to multiple wineries, including one within walking distance from their house.

Great wine, food, and company!

Nearly every night we played a game after the kids went to bed.  I love board games but there’s not a ton of great options for two players.  Luckily, Tyler likes games almost as much as me and we could usually convince Zach and Whitney to play with us. Euchre, Super Smash Brothers, Mario Party, Pirate’s Cove and my favorite, Agricola were all played multiple times throughout the week.

No picture of us playing games, so one of me and the Rogue River instead

My imagination and creativity were stretched playing Superhero Princesses with Sage. We both fought girl-eating giants and made macaroni-and-cheese soup for the prince.  I liked to think I was one of June’s favorites back in Ohio but she always seemed to cry when I was around.  Even though she may not like me, she’s still one of my favorites.

June liked Zach a lot more than me

The second weekend in Medford, we headed north.  Unfortunately, all the hikes we had planned were still closed due to snow so we headed to Crater Lake National Park. There was so much snow there – I was surprised it was open!

SO MUCH SNOW

The lake was breathtakingly beautiful and we didn’t let the piles of snow keep us from hiking.  There were obviously no trails visible so we followed the general rim of the lake, throwing snow balls, climbing up snow mounds and trying to jump as deep as possible into the snow.  Since we spent the past few months in the south, we hadn’t seen any snow.  I love winter so I was very happy to finally be surrounded by snow.

Crater Lake National Park

Before we knew it, Monday had arrived and it was time to fly back.  We had a great time visiting in Medford and are already trying to fit another visit in this fall. Thanks for hosting us Tyler and Whitney!

Phoenix

After wrapping up our two-week stint in Tucson, it was off to Phoenix. And, to be honest, I was looking forward to this stop least of our first months on the road. “What is there to do in Phoenix?” I prodded Liz. “Tons” she replied. And, as it turned out, we found enough to keep entertained. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised, having grown up on Ohio entertainment for years.

A Phoenix sunset

It helped that our stay was broken into two pieces – a sandwich – with Phoenix serving as the sourdough bread around a hearty helping of Las Vegas roast beef and old commune mustard. The bottom slice was thin – a Tuesday thru Thursday in which we played bar trivia and recouped from our past weekend in the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns.

Eating an actual sandwich

On Thursday, my 26th birthday, Liz and I headed up to Las Vegas to catch Bon Iver at the Hard Rock Café and Casino. It was Liz’s first time in Nevada, and, by extension, Las Vegas. In a city known for its entertainment – I didn’t expect we would be part of the show. However, leaving the casino hotel the next morning, we gave a man, self-proclaimed to have “traveled millions of miles” a good laugh. I guess I didn’t think anything of lugging our milk crate clothes cartons through the casino floor – but he claimed it was a first and insisted on a picture.

Cartons of clothes and this is what he wears

Friday night, we moved up The Strip to the iconic Mirage. After indulging in the unlimited beer and wine buffet, we took part in the cities most well know tradition – throwing our money at the casino fat cats. The next morning, not feeling I had done my part, I laid down two hundred clams on the Toronto Raptors to win the finals.

The Mirage

On the way out of town, we swung by the best dam site of our trip yet – the Hoover Dam. We didn’t have time to dilly-dally though as we had strict reservations that night at a run-down commune, Arcosanti. The ‘village’ didn’t disappoint. I booked the night because, after all, the goal of the trip was to not only see as much of the good ol’ US of A as possible, but to also experience its cultural breadth. The experimental town has about 60 permanent residents who live in and around a small complex of buildings designed by architect Paolo Soleri. The night we stayed, a surprisingly enjoyable drum show – a combination of both Japanese and Native American performers – pounded through the towns amphitheater.

Arcosanti

The next morning, Easter Sunday, we headed back to Phoenix, driving directly to the Musical Instrument Museum. I think both Liz and I were thoroughly impressed with the museum’s collection – over 16,000 different instruments from around the world. Accompanying the instruments was a unique audio tour which played clips of music, native to the country’s exhibit you were standing near, into your headset.

An Octobass

Later that week we saw the XX, one of Liz’s favorite bands, perform is Mesa. The next day we met up with Matt and Will – who had just flown into town to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim that weekend. And, after grabbing dinner with the two, met up with Liz’s parents who had just arrived in town.

~musical interlude~

 

The Sunday we got back to Phoenix, our laundry had been piling up and it was time to finally break down and run a few loads through the wash. While this had never been an issue in past accommodations – and the listing indicated a washer/dryer were available – we were in for a rude surprise when later that evening our ‘host’ lectured us for several minutes, repeating that we were to ‘not touch his stuff.’ It’s kind of hard not to touch someone’s stuff when you’re living in their house.

After that incident, we circled back on a conversation we had discussed for weeks prior to setting off on our journey, and ultimately decided it was time to buy a travel trailer. The past few spare bedroom’s we stayed in were off-putting. And, while we enjoyed the full-units we had occupied, we couldn’t afford to stay in one all the time.

So, most of our second week in Phoenix was spent discussing, planning and eventually purchasing a camper trailer. Up to this point we had been living in Airbnb’s. For those unfamiliar with the concept – Airbnb is a platform that allows folks with spare rooms, or even houses, to rent them out on a nightly basis to others. While the cost of renting an entire house or even hotel room can be very high – we had been able to afford the much lower rate usually charged by renting a spare bedroom (often around $50 a night.)

Once we made up our mind to buy a trailer, we hit the gas, checking out a few used trailers the first night, and buying a new one the next day. This sudden change of plans flipped the table on our months of planning. We had Airbnb’s reserved through the better part of the next three months. Luckily, most Airbnb’s have a pretty lax cancelation policy and we received almost all our deposits back.

Our new home!

Time will tell, but up to this point I haven’t regretted the purchase yet. That is, barring a few fleeting moments after I managed to shave its side on a gas station pump barrier the day we got it.

Austin

We drove into the Austin city limits Friday morning with a mixed sense of excitement and tension. For months now, Liz and I had poured over the schedule, searching and researching for the best bands, the most captivating talks, and the markedly interesting films. In the months leading up to SXSW (South By Southwest) new events were added nearly daily – making combing through a single day’s schedule take well over an hour. With so many events going on, spread across dozens of venues downtown, I knew I would have a constant fear of missing out on the best event at any one time.

SXSW

The fear of missing out probably peaked Friday morning, as we waited, first in the badge pickup line, and then in the Express pass line to get guaranteed seats for an upcoming film starring Sam Eliot and Nick Offerman. It was in this time I also planned on attending my first session – a talk on machine learning and how artificial intelligence would change the world. Luckily –  as I would learn over the next week – discussions on artificial intelligence were not in short supply.

Ron Swanson!

Both Liz and I were afforded the opportunity to attend SXSW thanks to the generosity of our employer, CoverMyMeds, who footed the bill for our registration. And, thanks to their contribution and the fact that the rest of our co-workers were carrying on with their daily tasks, we felt obligated to attend industry-relevant talks during work hours. However, as I quickly learned, not a whole lot can be gained from an hour long talk. If you’re able to give a several sentence descriptions on the matter beforehand – it’s likely you won’t be getting much out of the talk. Instead, I found, by attending sessions only very loosely related to my daily work routine I was able to expand my horizons and get surface exposure to new topics like legal discourse when growing a technology company.

Lots of free food if you knew where to look

SXSW had more to offer than countless talks on artificial intelligence and healthcare meetups though. Over 1200 bands flocked to the city in the course of the festival – meaning every bar on 6th street had a full lineup. In the months leading up to SXSW, both Liz and I listened to countless new bands – trying to figure out what shows to attend. Unfortunately, many of the acts we already knew like Langhorn Slim, Spoon, and Sylvan Esso seemed to play at midnight or later. However, we were able to find plenty of new favorites that played at reasonable times – my favorite being Temples. We did make it to one big name – Garth Brooks. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a boot scootin’ cowboy, Garth playing nothing but his hits for nearly two hours was undoubtedly my favorite part of SXSW. Who knew I had the words to so many of his songs memorized?

Front row for Lewis Del Mar

After the conclusion of SXSW, we still had nearly a week to check out the area beyond the few square miles the conference covered. While we spent some of the time recouping, we still kept busy. Sunday, for example, we took a tour of Lyndon B Johnson’s family ranch, hiked Pedernales State Park, and met up with my cousin, Michael, who treated us to mucho Mexican food at Chuys.

River crossing in Pedernales State Park

To anyone thinking about visiting Austin, I’d highly recommend it! Be sure to hit up Zilker, a picturesque park next to downtown that boasts hiking trails, running paths, and a unique swimming pool built into the nearby creek. After you’ve built up an appetite, fill up with the bar-b-que Austin is known for or Chilatro – a mouth water Korean bar-b-que option.

Barton Springs

My only regret is not being in town for Austin City Limits. I guess we’ll just have to make our way back to Austin again sometime (on our way back to Big Bend).

Tucson

Although sad to leave Big Bend, we had a lot to look forward to in Tucson! Both my mom and Zach’s parents would be there for our first week in the city.  My mom was in town for a triathlon camp put on by Dimond (the company my brother works for) and the Serafini’s came out to Arizona to check out the desert (and see us).

The Cymanski-Serafini gang

We got a very nice house for all of us to stay in.  It had a large yard and a swimming pool which was a bit too cold to swim in.  We each did our own things during the day and then spent the evenings together.  Zach and I spent our days working.  Don and Lori spent their days sightseeing.  My mom spent her days swimming, biking and running.  I was lucky enough to take an extra-long lunch break and swim with her one day.  My mom will forever be my favorite swimming partner.

My first time swimming in 7+ months

Although Arizona is in the mountain time zone, it doesn’t observe daylight’s saving so we were three hours behind the east coast.  That meant waking up before 6 am and as anyone who knows me knows, I’m not a morning person.  The upside to getting an early start is that we were done working around 2 pm, leaving us plenty of daylight for exploring.

Hiking in Saguaro National Park after work

Our first week in Tucson went by way too quickly and before I knew it, my mom was heading back to Ohio.  Luckily I knew I would be seeing her in a month so goodbye wasn’t too bad.  Don and Lori stuck around for the weekend and we all went backpacking in Saguaro National Park.

A big (and old) saguaro!

It was nice to backpack with people.  As much as I like Zach, it was fun to have others to talk to and play Euchre with.  Excluding a minor mishap where the water filter wasn’t working (we luckily had brought enough water with us that we didn’t need to filter any) it was a very successful trip.  The saguaro’s really are magnificent.

It got chilly up on the mountain

We took advantage of the next week in Tucson to relax.  We had backpacked the past two weekends and were planning on backing the next weekend as well, so we needed some down time.  We still managed to explore Tucson – visiting the Sonora Desert Museum, driving up Mt. Lemmon and going on a few trail runs.  We got dinner with Vasanth, a CoverMyMeds co-worker who recently moved to Tucson, and his fiancé.

It was tough driving up Mt. Lemmon – I can’t believe my mom rode her bike up it!

Since before we started the trip, the background on my phone has been a picture very similar to the header photo for this post.   I was super excited for the Southwest and Tucson delivered.  It’s a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and countless varieties of cacti.  We had a relaxing, nature-filled two weeks and were able to spend quality time with family.  What more could you ask for?

San Antonio

Friday afternoon we headed west from New Orleans.  The original plan for the weekend was to go backpacking at Big Thicket National Preserve but there were some problems logistically and I read some disturbing stats on venomous snakes in the area.  I grew up a very nervous child, afraid of snakes, spiders, house fires, burglars, the dark, etc.  I’ve mostly outgrown those fears, mainly by forcing myself into uncomfortable situations, but the Houston Space Center provided a good excuse for skipping the snake infested thicket of Eastern Texas.

Space Center Houston

Being an astronaut had been a pipe dream of mine until I watched Gravity and swore off space travel.  After visiting the Space Center, I had a change of heart; if NASA came to me and said they needed me to go to Mars, I would.  From Saturn V, the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever to operate to the Boeing 747 that flew  space shuttles across the country on its back, there were some pretty awe-inspiring artifacts at the center.

Saturn V – 363 feet tall, 3.5 million pounds

In addition to visiting all 59 National Parks, we’re trying to stop by other areas owned by the National Park Service. So, on Sunday, we headed to the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (NPS manages 417 pieces of land so we won’t be getting to all of them any time soon).  The Spanish built 5 missions in the San Antonio area in the early 1700’s to keep the French, English, and hostile Native Americans out of their territory.   We went on an informative, ranger-led tour of Mission San Jose but I felt a little deceived because only one small building is an original.  The rest are reconstructed based on what archeologists think it looked like.  I don’t understand how Europe has so many ancient buildings but we can’t even preserve buildings from the 1700’s.

The reconstructed San Jose Mission

We spent less than 5 days in San Antonio and a majority of the hours were spent working or sleeping so I didn’t get a great feel for the city.  We hit up the obvious attractions – the Alamo, the River Walk, Tower of the Americas but didn’t have time for much else.

San Antonio at night

The Alamo was okay but having already visited a mission, which I thought more interesting, it didn’t seem like something to nickname the city after.  I understand that it’s the spirit of the Alamo that is celebrated more so than the physical location.  But between the giant gift shop, the decrepit, empty church and the museum that was way too wordy, it was kind of a letdown.  It feels wrong to say less than positive things about a ‘Shrine to Texas Liberty’ but the Alamo wasn’t anything to write home about.

Unimpressed by the Alamo

The River Walk is a cool concept but there’s not much to it other than lots of restaurants and lots of tourists.  We got dinner at a TexMex restaurant which was nice enough. I was told I needed to take a boat tour to really get a feel for it, but I didn’t, so maybe that’s what I was missing.

The River Walk packed with tourists 

Tower of the Americas is San Antonio’s less iconic version of the Space Needle.  You can pay $12 for a ride to the observation deck or visit the restaurant at the top which has great views and allows you to go to the observation deck for free.  The Chart House Restaurant is a bit pricy for our budget but has some great happy hour deals that we took advantage of.   It’s no Sears Willis Tower (it’s the 27th tallest building in Texas; I saw it advertised as the tallest building in Texas outside of Dallas and Houston (only if you include its antenna)) but the views were good enough for me.

Not a bad view

If you’ve gotten to this point in the blog, it probably sounds like I have a pretty negative view of San Antonio.  And while I didn’t love the Alamo or the River Walk, I overall had a good time in the city, mostly thanks to our lodging.  All of our previous Airbnb’s had been a room in someone’s house, but here we had our own carriage house in the owner’s backyard.  The hardest part of the trip has been not having our own space, other than a bedroom, so it was really nice to have some room to spread out.

Homemade chicken and asparagus

Like I said earlier, we didn’t spend much time in San Antonio and I think that was a big contributor to my indifference to the city.  Luckily in our next three cities, Austin, Tucson, and Phoenix, we’ll be staying for two weeks each.