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Day #12: Santa Fe, NM

After a fast pace the past week or so, we mostly chilled today, staying in downtown Santa Fe. We went out for breakfast burritos and then I took Emerson to the hotel’s pool this morning. 

For lunch we went to Tia Sophia’s and ate a scrumptious meal of Northern New Mexican specialities. I had a flavorful chicken stew with blue corn cheese enchiladas and pinto beans:

We’ve also noticed all of the New Mexican places around here tend to serve a basket of sopapillas with every meal. What are sopapillas? They’re a fried quick bread that are served warm that you eat with honey (and I happen to like sprinkled with cinnamon sugar too). Delicious! 

After lunch, we visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. 

I’ve never been a huge fan of O’Keefe’s work. I realize its art historical importance, but it just doesn’t “speak to me” as they say. That said, I came away with a new appreciation for her as she was deeply thoughtful about her practice (including having custom frames made for her work) and seemed to be compelled (like Matisse) to go on making art despite physical limitations (in her case macular degeneration). I also learned that she was an extensive, worldwide traveler. All of this makes me relate to her more. 

Here’s a painting based on her view from above the clouds in an airplane:

The New Mexico Museum of Art was a bit more uneven and kind of a limited collection. It had one awesome Agnes Martin on display, some interesting contemporary works in alcoves (I especially liked Tom Joyce’s work), and a couple of interesting small exhibitions (one dedicated to the work of artists from the Institute of American Indian Arts and another based on lowrider cars). 

Here’s the Martin that I liked:

Here’s some work by Tom Joyce (note the rings burnt into the wood fiberboard):

Lowrider inspired art:

What was also nice about both of these museums is that they furnished Emerson with art supplies to engage more actively in her visit. This is a really good idea that other museums should adopt. 

Here she is drawing buffalo: 

For dinner, we went to Draft Station for pizza and craft beer — both were excellent. 

Day #11: Santa Fe Trail

Leaving Dodge City, we roughly followed the Cimmaron Cutoff route of the Santa Fe Trail southwest through Kansas, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and into New Mexico. Aside from ranching and farming, it’s mostly “a whole lotta nothin” out there. But, it did take us to our final two states: Oklahoma (49) and New Mexico (50), thereby completing our 157×50 Project (more than 10 years early!).

I should probably pause to reflect on accomplishing the goal. Unlike last summer when we hit country #100, we did enjoy a greater sense of achieving something today. We’ve earned the “well traveled” badge in my book. But, it’s also kind of like reaching the level of black belt in martial arts: there is much more to learn and master. 

Our next challenge is figuring out what comes next. Where to go, what to do, how to get there? Plus (potentially) new goal(s), new bucket list, or something else? Good problem to have. 

Anyway, back to the immediate trip…

Once in New Mexico, we visited Clayton Lake State Park. 

The “lake” is actually a man-made recreational reservoir that’s surrounded by camping facilities. Out in the middle of nowhere grasslands, it feels like quite an oasis and seems like a good camping and fishing spot. During our picnic, we viewed a lot of wildlife including rabbits and roadrunners (we just needed a coyote and a pig to stage a full-on cartoon). We also saw an abundance of dragonflies and butterflies. 

However, none of that is why we drove an hour out of our way to visit this park. 

This is why we came here:

Dinosaur footprints! 

There’s an entire field of them at Clayton Lake:

After our short hike to the dinosaur tracks, we drove to Santa Fe, where we’re staying downtown in the heart of it all at the Drury Inn and Suites (which I picked for its location and good reviews).

We hit the first rain of our trip here in Santa Fe last night, which limited our explorations a bit. But, we did stroll down to the plaza and have an awesome meal of New Mexican cuisine at La Plazuela. 

Here’s an appetizer of creamy goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms: 

Today’s box score: +2 states (Oklahoma & New Mexico)

Day #10: Omaha, NE

As we try to do something meaningful on each leg of the journey, we opted to spend the morning at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha. It’s Nebraska’s top paid attraction and considered to be one of the best zoos in the world. With only a morning to spend there, we merely scratched the surface by seeing–fairly quickly–maybe half of the animals on display. 

Emerson seemed to especially like the aquarium:

Here’s a striking example of a sea nettle:

From the zoo, we drove a little over six hours to Dodge City, KS following a route southwest that was mostly off interstates through farmland and the occasional small town. While this didn’t provide the sort of majestic and sublime vistas that we enjoyed in the Rockies, we’ve enjoyed seeing the heartland of the prairie. 

The people who live I these rural communities live such a different life than we’re accustomed to leading. Even in modern America, this part of the country feels pretty isolated and in some important ways declining due to “rural flight” (as big agribusiness pushes out smaller farmers). Yet, there are interesting little museums, historical markers, and curiosities to be found nearly everywhere, if you bother to observe. 

For example, we passed through tiny Garfield, KS (pop. 190 or so) today. It’s named for the 20th President of the United States, James A. Garfield. Passing through the town–assuming you don’t blink–you’ll see a minuscule wayside memorial chapel that contains a church bell donated by the former President to the town. Garfield donated the bell for their first church (which no longer stands) in order to thank the town for making itself after him. 

These are the kinds of stories you can find all over America and the world. You just have to get out and look!

Today’s box score: +1 state (Kansas)

Day #9: Badlands, NP

We woke up to a cooler and breezier morning having had a front pass through the prior night. This is what makes summer elsewhere so much more pleasant than it in Florida: variation (and lower humidity).

We departed fairly early for Badlands NP. Of all of the NPs we’ve visited on this trip thus far, this one is by far the most deceptive.  Approaching it from the north, you hardly even realize it’s there as you just drive through the grasslands of the upper prairie.  Then you reach “The Wall” where the prairie just kind of gives way to this vastly different landscape caused by erosion:

While it’s interesting to view from above, you get a much better sense once you’re down driving within it:

But, to really understand what gives the Badlands its name, you need to go out and walk within it. Here’s a view back to the “Door” notch (center in the distance) that we walked through to get to this spot along an easy, well-marked trail:

Without the markers, it would be far more challenging to navigate across this terrain. While some describe it as bizarre and “like the moon,” it didn’t feel as otherworldly as say Haleakala on Maui to me. But, it’s certainly an unusual and interesting feature and worth the visit. 

From the Badlands, we drove across South Dakota. At Libby’s urging, we stopped in Mitchell to see its corn palace:

From there we drove to Souix Falls, SD, then south to Souix City, IA, and finally stopped in Omaha, NE for the night. By doing tomorrow’s drive today, we’re now a day ahead of schedule and will have more time in the morning to explore Omaha! Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll start heading southwest toward Dodge City and ultimately Santa Fe. 

Today’s box score: +2 states (Iowa and Nebraska)  

Day #8: Black Hills, SD

We spent the day exploring three sights in the Black Hills of South Dakota: Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. 

I found driving through the Black Hills enjoyable and surprisingly picturesque (not really knowing what to expect). This is a fairly typical view:

Our first stop was Mt. Rushmore. It had far too many Trump supporters. And, overall: meh… like most major yet familiar sights, I’m left somewhere south of whelmed. I’m glad to have seen it, but I don’t have to go back. 

Our next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. I hadn’t even planned to come here until it was suggested by Libby before we left. But, I’m glad that we visited the site. To me, it’s far more appropriate in the Black Hills (a land sacred to the native people) than Mt. Rushmore as an icon to our (white) chiefs of the “commander-in” variety. I also found the personal story of the sculptor and his family far more inspiring. Plus, it’s a work-in-progress. Thus, I’d like to return here and (hopefully) see it done one day. 

After grabbing lunch at Crazy Horse, we drove down to Wind Cave NP, which is famous for its windy caves (surprise! –caused by the air pressure variation between inside the cave and the outside atmosphere) and boxwork (think uneven “brickwork” in which the brick has melted away leaving paper-thin mortar patterns). Here’s a view of the boxwork:

After Wind Cave NP, we drove go Wall, SD. We’re staying in a Best Western (again, a surprisingly good motel). We ate dinner at one of the few restaurants in town (Badlands Saloon & Grill — also exceeded expectations) and then visted the famous yet enjoyable tourist-trap (what else can you really call it?) Wall Drugs. 

Tomorrow, we’re visiting Badlands NP before we make the extended drive across South Dakota to reach Iowa (really the only significant driving we’re doing just to “get a state” for no other meaningful purpose). 

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