Goth Panda

June 29, 2015

Plans for 2015-2016

When we got back from Australia two weeks ago, for the first time in years, I did not have the next trip planned. In the beginning of April, we moved from the Philadelphia area to Central Pennsylvania, where I’d gotten a new job. Although just about everything having to do with this move, including the new location and my new job, have been terrific, I had to give up my stored-up vacation days and start over. So for a few months, we are going to be homebound. This is not as bad as it sounds; we have several weekend trips planned, and several weekends hosting houseguests. But my next chance for a long trip is over the holiday break.

In keeping with my new theme of wanting to go somewhere warm, we decided to knock out a state that Mike hasn’t been to yet and visit New Orleans. This is also fulfilling another goal of mine to take an overnight train trip, since we will arrive via Amtrak. We will drive up to visit Mike’s sister in Arkansas for Christmas, then return to NOLA for a few days before flying home. I have been to New Orleans, but it was more than 10 years ago, and not for very long. I’m going to have to come up with something interesting for us to do, since my favorite things (beignets and French Quarter houses) are not going to interest Mike very much.

We decided almost spur of the moment to make our May/June trip next year to see some more Utah National Parks. The real impetus was when I checked the National Park hotels at Zion and Bryce Canyon and found out they had (very few) rooms available. I’d already had the basic plan for the trip mapped out, so I snapped up the reservations, and also added an overnight stop at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which I didn’t get to see last fall. My obsession with National Parks and National Park hotels continues. I thought about making our next goal (after achieving the 50 States) visiting all of the National Parks, but I’m not sure because there are a few I am just not interested in. But we might get almost there without making it an explicit goal.

In late summer, we have two possibilities: Nova Scotia or back to Bar Harbor. We’ve never been to Nova Scotia, and usually a new place would win out over a repeat, but I loved Bar Harbor so much that I view these as almost even.

For next year’s holiday break, I am thinking of going back to the Southwest: specifically Big Bend National Park, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. I will not pretend that the regional cuisine is not a major reason for this plan.

January 31, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 4: Roswell and Carlsbad Caverns

We woke up early on Day 4, tired, cranky, and hungry. I forgot to mention that due to the icy driving the night before, we never stopped for dinner. And in order to make it to Carlsbad Caverns before it closed, we had to leave pretty early. I had signed us up for a tour at 1:00 p.m., but I knew we were not going to make that.


Luckily the roads weren’t bad. By the time we crossed into New Mexico, the day was sunny, the speed limit was 75 mph, and there were very few other cars on the road. We had left the icy interstate behind, and the driving was excellent. We were also lucky that New Mexico gave us another hour.

New Mexico

New Mexico

We pulled off the road to take a photo of this sign, and minivan pulled off behind us to do the same thing. It was clearly a family on a road trip, just like us.

We made it to Roswell, NM in time for lunch, and we stopped at a local Mexican restaurant, Los Cerritos. Mike and I both ordered chilaquiles, which neither of us had ever had before. I learned that however I thought they were pronounced was definitely wrong, because our Latina waitress said it back to me and for a brief moment I thought she had gotten it wrong. And then I realized that no, I was the one who had gotten it wrong, of course. We spent the rest of lunch trying to remember how she had said it, to avoid future embarrassment, but I don’t think it stuck.

Then, of course, we went to the UFO Museum, which is both cheesy and awesome. If you are a big fan of diaramas, this is the place for you.

Ufo Museum

Alien Crash Diarama

Artist’s recreation of the crash

Alien Crash Diarama

Another interpretation


They come in peace. Shoot to kill.



Alien Cover-up

Tell me more, Mulder.

Alien Autopsy

Alien autopsy!

After raiding the gift shop, we headed out for Carlsbad. The landscape for the first part of our trip through New Mexico was flat and pretty similar to Texas. As we got closer to Carlsbad, we started to see more desert features, like these hills.

Carlsbad Caverns NP Entrance

Carlsbad Caverns NP

We got to the caverns in time to go through all of the Big Room, which is the largest cave chamber in North America at 8.2 acres. The trail through it is a mile long, and we were down there for about 2 hours. We made it back to the elevators pretty close to the last rides up for the day.

It was really hard to take photos in the caverns. You take the elevators down 750 feet to reach them. The park service has installed flood lights so you can see the formations, but the lighting overall is very dim. If there were no lights at all, it would be absolute pitch black. I switched off between using my Canon and my iPhone for photos, because sometimes the iPhone actually worked better. But although some of the photos came out okay, I don’t think any photos, even ones shot professionally, give you a real sense of what it is like.

Carlsbad Caverns NP

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

The space is huge, and the air is humid and dank. At some points water dripped on my head. Mike and I didn’t get freaked out by being in the caverns, but I could certainly see how a person could really get freaked out by it. And apparently people do, if the warning signs are any indication. We didn’t see any of the famous bats, since they had migrated for the winter.

Carlsbad Caverns NP

We were staying in Carlsbad for the night, so when we resurfaced, we headed into the town for dinner. Carlsbad doesn’t have a lot in the way of culinary choices, but we found a really nice restaurant, Yellow Brix (which doesn’t seem to have its own website). We got to the hotel pretty early and for the first time since we started the trip, we had some time to relax.

January 29, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 3: Oklahoma

On Day 3, we faced a dilemma. We were supposed to spend almost the whole day driving across Oklahoma and through the Texas panhandle. It had been rainy in Oklahoma the previous day, and the temperature suddenly dropped. There were many warnings to stay off the roads if at all possible. But we were supposed to meet up with Mike’s friend from grad school, Danielle. She lives in Oklahoma and because of that, we don’t often get to see her. She was coming up to meet us in Oklahoma City, and we didn’t want to cancel. In the end, we decided to stick with our plan and see what happened.

The morning didn’t start out too badly. There was some frozen rain, but not much. All of the trees were iced over but the roads weren’t in bad shape.


I almost forgot but at the last minute remembered that we were going to pull off into a corner of Kansas to add it to our list for the 50 States Project. We made a very slight detour and gained another state.


Then we got back on the road through Oklahoma. We drove through both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and found them to be strange. They were both huge, flat cities, with very little in the way of tall buildings. Both of them just seemed like a series of strip malls and highway exits. We just drove through them both, so maybe there is a more “city-like” part to them that we missed.

In most of the country, it seemed like hot tea was not a known beverage.

In most of the country, it seemed like hot tea was not a known beverage.

We met Danielle for lunch at a great Mexican restaurant (Ted’s Cafe Escondido), and this was definitely the highlight of the day. The trouble started after we left. I quickly realized that the roads had iced over.

I was driving over one of those small bridge/overpass things the first time I felt the car skid. You always see signs indicating that these bridges freeze before the rest of the road, but before this I had never really noticed it. Mike asked, “What was that?” “The road pushed me!” I said, indignant. I realized it was because the bridge was frozen, and I started slowing down for the bridges. Of course, we were already going well below the speed limit but I started slowing to maybe 25 mph on the bridges to avoid another skid. And I was surprised at how many there were. Oklahoma is as flat as a pancake, but apparently they need quite a few drainage overpasses.

Then we started getting stuck in traffic due to accidents. We were stuck for more than an hour before getting detoured because of a tractor-trailer truck accident on one bridge. After that we continued our slow way into Texas, passing several car accident sites. Once again, outside Amarillo, we came to a dead stop for more than an hour. We opened the car doors and saw ice covering the ground, at least as thick as my finger.

Eventually we crawled into Amarillo and decided to stop there for the night, which was not the original plan. Unfortunately, everyone else had already had the same idea. Every hotel we tried in Amarillo was booked. I called around to at least 10 hotels and we stopped at a few as well, with no luck. Eventually we decided to keep going until we could find a room.

The only good thing was that almost everyone was off the road by this time, and we didn’t see any more accidents. Mike drove while I searched for upcoming hotels on my phone. At last, after about 20 or 30 minutes, I found one. We finally got off the road in Hereford, TX, very relieved.