Happy Thanksgiving!

Our trip ended up taking a pretty unexpected turn. But I have so much to be thankful for – like being able to spend Thanksgiving with family in Fayetteville.

Michael and I got started on the prep work on Tuesday. Michael prepared a nice brine, and then we prepared the bird. Here are the tools we used to prepare the turkey:

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Yep, that’s a hammer and a hatchet. A tactical hatchet, actually. We used them to remove the backbone form the turkey.

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And when I say “we,” it means that yes, I took a turn with the hatchet as well.

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Removing the backbone is the first step in spatchcocking a turkey, a method Michael used when he was a professional chef. From what I’ve read this method cooks the bird more evenly – so that all parts arrive at that magic number of 165 degrees (internal temperature) at the same time. The result is a more juicy bird.

The only downside, I suppose, it that this method does deny you that “Normal Rockwell” moment, you know, where you present the whole bird to the whole table. Whatever. Personally I’d rather have a wonderfully tasting bird than a good looking one.

My mother in law, Beth, has a gigantic slow cooker that our bird fit into nicely. Quite the change for us – the last time Michael and I did Thanksgiving together, we had to brine the bird in a cooler.

Once the bird was in the brine and the whole thing was in the fridge we headed out to Terra Studios. Terra is an artisan community with a gallery featuring the work of about 100 artists. There’s also an outdoor park, studios, and classrooms. At the risk of sounding silly, this place is kinda magical. After checking out the gallery (and being very thankful that we technically live in a tiny tiny house on wheels and therefore have no room to buy any of the wonderful things there), we went outside to the park.

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Gnomes, trolls, and creatures are everywhere at Terra.

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There was even a chicken driving a truck.

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Wait, you don’t see the chicken?

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The best part is that Terra Studios is all of 30-minutes from Fayetteville. I can go back anytime.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

Adjusting to the new routine

I feel kind of lucky that we arrived in Fayetteville during the fall. I mean, I’ve been here during the summer – once. It was so hot and so humid that I thought I might melt.

You can make fun of me for that. I deserve it! I actually grew up outside of Chicago, a place where “90 degrees with 98% humidity, not a cloud in the sky” would go on for weeks every summer. I guess you could say that almost 20 years in Colorado made me more accustomed to lower humidity, but:

I drove to Nebraska in the summer of 1997 (at that point I’d lived in Colorado for maybe 6 months) and met my parents, who’d driven out with a truckload of stuff for me. It was soooo humid. I remember complaining about the humidity to my Aunt Jo. Her reply?

“Don’t be such a pansy. It’s only 60%!”

Anyway. Like I said, it’s been downright pleasant here and I’ve been enjoying exploring Fayetteville. I even drove myself to CrossFit the other day, and managed to not get lost. Wish I could say the same about the time I went to pick my mother-in-law up from her hair appointment. Luckily Beth is a very patient woman and didn’t even say anything about my taking 20 minutes to make a roughly 10-minute drive.

In my defense, Fayetteville is not set up on any kind of a grid system, and many of the streets curve around or don’t connect with major roads. At some point while we were out running errands, I actually asked Michael how it was possible that we’d made 3 right turns, and somehow were still traveling in the same direction. “It’s Fayetteville,” he said.

So it stands to reason that when we headed out to Beaver Lake (it’s east or Rogers, AR) last week, Michael did the driving. We went with Barton and Andrea, old friends, who now own a sailboat. Yay!

We ran the dogs first to wear them out, then put them up in the truck and went for the boat.

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Elvis had a good time destroying the grooming Beth and Steve generously paid for last week.

I wish I cold say I had more pictures of our sail. But it was incredibly windy (20mph winds, with gusts at 35) and we ended up having lunch on the boat. I thought it was a fabulous picnic.

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Barton and Andrea

We made plans to go out some other time… like when the winds were more reasonable. Michael and I both have enough cold weather gear to have fun and I totally want to give sailing another try. I’ll keep you posted.

Now we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving. It will be a small meal, the four of us plus our friends Steve and Amy. I even made a paleo pumpkin pie! Yeah, already. It was a trial run. I haven’t tried a lot of paleo baking so I figured I’d use my family as guinea pigs first. Surprisingly it turned out well, so we’re go for Thanksgiving. I’ll take pictures of my next effort.

Have a great week, everyone!

 

Fall in Fayetteville, AR

I have to say, we picked a great time to arrive in Fayetteville. Temperatures are in the 60s – 70s every day, and overnight lows are in the upper 30s. (Although I think it’s pretty funny how the weather forecasters are insisting that it’s cold out there!)

We’re settling in to a new routine here. It took all of three days to find a new CrossFit gym and join up. It’s been nice to get back into lifting, which I miss, and being sore the next day (which I actually miss, too).

My parents surprised us with a gift of some fabulous coffee:

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We’ve made the Sumatra already and it was delicious. We’ve been buying cheap coffee for months now and this was a welcome change.

We also took the opportunity to get together with old friends and go play some disc golf. Fayetteville has several courses, and on Sunday afternoon – an absolutely beautiful day – I played my first ever 18 holes of disc golf.

We met up with Steve and Amy at Waxhaus disc golf course, just across the street from Walker Park.

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The course wasn’t as long as I thought – I think the average distance was less than 250 feet, although the longest was 357 feet – but there were lots of trees. I’m pretty sure I hit most of them. I didn’t even bother to keep score I was so terrible. But I had a ton of fun and totally want to play again.

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Steve, showing us how it’s done

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Along the way I kept seeing these odd things on the ground. Bumpy, green, and round, they were about the size of a softball. Steve called them horse apples.

I found one along the course, out in the open, so I stepped up and took a soccer-ball kick to it.

 

Dumb idea. It was like kicking a bowling ball. For a second there I thought I’d pulled an Aragon and broken a couple of toes, it hurt so bad. Thankfully the pain passed pretty quick. I am waiting to see if my toenail turns black, though.

So, word to the wise. If you see horse apples on the ground, do not kick them. Alrighty then? Carry on.

Arizona to Arkansas: the new Kessel Run

After reluctantly leaving the Grand Canyon on October 31st, we headed south towards Flagstaff. After all the isolation of southern Utah this actually came as a bit of a shock. I mean, it was great to be able to choose between PetCo or PetSmart for dog food, instead of struggling to find anyone who even carried dog food (let alone our Limited Ingredient Diet food), and it was also nice to find a Whole Foods right next to an REI. Flagstaff had everything we needed!

But it didn’t take long for me to miss the quiet and that isolation of southern Utah. The dark skies. The red rocks and sunset hues of the desert. The slot canyons. The lack of people.

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For old time’s sake.

Still, Flagstaff seemed like a cool place, and under different circumstances I would have wanted to spend more time there. But after getting our Arizona Gazetteer and the aforementioned dog food we got back on the road to Sedona.

Unfortunately most of the campgrounds north of Sedona were closed for the season, and the one that was open was completely full. We were able to pull up a website called FreeCampsites.net and found a place southwest of town, off Forest Service road 525.

November 1st we went back through Sedona and stopped at the Visitor’s Center. Unfortunately they did not have a spigot for water, so we had to buy it from a grocery store, something we haven’t had to do since Moscow, ID. Well, it was only $.35/gallon.

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Sedona sure does look nice.

Driving across Arizona on I-40, and stopping only at the last Rest Station before the New Mexico border for a CrossFit style workout (believe me, few things will garner more points and stares than 10 burpees followed by a lap around the parking lot, then repeating that set 5 more times), we managed to make it all the way to Wingate, New Mexico. There we went south through the town (and past their gigantic high school, which we both initially thought was a prison), and up into Cibola National Forest for a campsite. It was a really clear night. Great for stargazing – but cold! We both were so glad to have those down sleeping bags.

On November 2nd we managed to make it all the way to Amarillo, Texas, although by then my sense of time and direction were both completely jacked up. Arizona doesn’t participate in Daylight Saving Time, so it felt like we were crossing time zones like mad. I had no idea what time it was anymore. I would get up with the sun and go to bed some time after dark, is all.

Along the way we passed through a town in New Mexico called Tucumcari. Route 66 used to run straight through Tucumcari, and we stopped there to pick up olive oil from the town’s only grocery store, Lowe’s. We followed Google Maps to get to Lowe’s. Google Maps, being what it is, sent us along the Business I-40.

Oh boy. I think the town of Tucumcari gambled on the whole nostalgia factor of Route 66. And they lost. The first two miles of Business I-40 consisted of nothing but boarded up gas stations and – I swear I am not making this up – the remains of hotels that had burned to the ground. If you’re sitting on a script for a movie set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and are in need of a cheap location, Tucumcari’s your place.

Pressing on, we arrived in Amarillo sometime after dark and in the rain, so we went to the first place we saw: Denny’s. Our waitress was a fabulous lady named Big Momma. With full bellies we then headed further east along I-40 and camped at the Amarillo Visitor’s Center, along with a handful of RVs and vans. Missing the quiet of Utah? Hell, at this place we were missing the quiet of Flagstaff. The Amarillo Visitor’s Center is right next to I-40 and 2 miles from the Amarillo International Airport. Apparently it’s also a train hub, as the ear-splitting train blast at 3am attested. But it was safe and the bathrooms were clean.

When it finally got light enough to see, we found that there was another Denny’s in Amarillo, and pretty much across the street from the Visitor’s Center. Denny’s two days in a row it was!

You know how some towns have two Denny’s, and the only reason seems to be that when somebody suggests going to one, you can say, “Nah, let’s go to the good Denny’s”?

No? Maybe that’s just on “Family Guy.” Anyway, the west side Denny’s is apparently the good Denny’s. Because when we told the hostess at the east side Denny’s “table for two,” the hostess replied with “smoking or non?”

They still allow smoking in Denny’s. Welcome to Texas.

The sky was completely overcast as we left Amarillo, and the world there is pretty flat. I had to rely on the highway signs to make sure we were, in fact, headed east.

November 3rd brought us to Keystone Lake in Oklahoma (just west of Tulsa), thanks again to freecampsites.net. This was a quiet little spot, very pretty. Tons of waterfowl, like great blue herons and pelicans. I’m not sure if it rained overnight or not. It felt like it, though. When I got up everything was dry but it felt… sticky. So I checked the weather on the phone. I said to Michael, “the humidity is 94%.”

He tried to look outside. “Is it raining?”

94% humidity. Welcome to Oklahoma.

I’m happy to report that by the time we arrived in Fayetteville on the afternoon of November 4th, the humidity had dropped to a pleasant 45%.

We’ll be here in Fayetteville for the foreseeable future, as we’re helping Michael’s parents move in to an assisted living facility. I feel kind of lucky that we’re in such a great position to be there for them. We don’t have jobs to quit or vacation to max out. We’re free to go wherever we want. And right now Fayetteville is where we want to be.

 

A big change. Plus, a big hole in the ground!

We started this adventure not knowing what would really happen along the way. So in some ways, our next step shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Well, maybe it is.

Whatever. We decided to head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to help out Michael’s parents. More details to come on that – or not, I would like to respect their privacy, you know – but on Sunday the 30th we made our decision to head east.

Of course, we were in the middle of nowhere, Utah, at the time (although we had a 4G internet connection there along Hell’s Backbone). So we went south, back into Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, for one more night. Then we popped back up on the grid outside of Big Water, Utah. And this was the view from the Big Water Visitor’s Center:

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This is such a beautiful part of the country. It was a little hard to leave, especially with so much of it unexplored. After stopping to see Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon dam (although I thought the bridge was more interesting than anything else)…

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our next stop was Page, Arizona. Mostly that so that we could restock at the Page Wal-Mart, a place where you could definitely tell the tourists from the locals.

As we continued south we realized that we were simply too close to the Grand Canyon to just pass it by without major regrets. Besides, we were able to camp in Kaibab National Forest, which was just outside the park boundary. We were treated to a fabulous sunset – and even though we heard the wind howling all night, our tent was nicely protected by the trees.

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The toughest part of our visit to the Grand Canyon is that we only spent about 4 hours there. It was so hard to leave! And I can’t wait to go back. I found that it’s hard to take a bad picture along the south rim…

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I love that Photoshop can make these panoramas. But really, the close-up views were fantastic too.

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It was mostly cloudy the morning we were there, and hella windy:

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But we had a wonderful time. I had to remind myself that the Grand Canyon will still be there when we return.

So the blog will be changing, just a bit, and just for a while. Wait till you hear about our 5-states-in-4 days drive to Fayetteville! (Hint: it’s not as exciting as I just made it sound.) We’re still on our adventure, and I’ll still write about it. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Isolated, beautiful southern Utah

Moving on from Capitol Reef was hard, but we had a shipment to pick up in Boulder, UT. See, a while back Michael had sent his beloved Blundstone boots in for a warranty evaluation. They sent him a brand new pair of boots. Of course, they sent the boots to our mailing address, which is in California (Michael has family there).

Drop ships are tricky since we rarely know exactly where we’ll be a week from now, and so basically we guessed that a good spot would be Boulder, UT. Then we checked on the tracking number for the package and tried to arrive in Boulder at roughly the same time as the package. We’ve done this before and sometimes it worked well and sometimes it didn’t, as you might imagine. Anyway. We passed through Torrey for a resupply – they have a halfway decent, small grocery there. Pulling into the parking lot, we discovered that the grocery also had a laundromat. And showers!

So we got all cleaned up and then headed out towards Boulder. It was a pretty drive, I guess. Up over a small pass, through the trees. But to me it was pretty meh. Maybe it was that the leaves were already fallen up there? Or maybe I’m just attached to those red rocks and slot canyons.

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See, it really was pretty.

Either way, we arrived at the Boulder, Utah post office at 3:30pm. Only to discover that the “window hours” were literally a window, and a narrow one at that: 9am-1pm weekdays.

Well, shit.

We headed out of town and pulled off on the Hell’s Backbone road. This is a dirt road that will take you to Escalante the long way, 44 miles total. It was actually built in the 1930’s by the CCC, and was the first vehicle road that connected the towns of Boulder and Escalante. Before that the only way between the two was a wagon train.

We didn’t get very far down Hell’s Backbone – within a couple of miles we saw a 2-track turnoff and found a wealth of empty campsites. We picked the one with the biggest fire ring and had a roaring bonfire.

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Oddly, very close to these campsites sits a dirt airstrip. At least, the BLM says it’s an airstrip.

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Check out what’s next to it:

 

 

Yeah, it’s a wind sock. But what’s that below the wind sock? A sculpture?

 

 

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Oh.

Moving on… we decided to take a little drive into Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. This place is not like other National Monuments we’ve been to (like Craters of the Moon). There is no entrance, and all the little 2-track roads we saw had BLM signs.

Turns out that Escalante-Grand Staircase was created in 1996 to protect the area from development, mining, etc., and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. At 1.9 million acres, it’s almost as big as Yellowstone. With a fraction of the visitors. Cool!

So we drove out the Burr Trail, which is actually paved for the first 30 miles.

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Once it hooked up with Notom Road we turned north, and ended up back in Capitol Reef. There is a primitive campsite on Notom Road, called Cedar Mesa, and despite it’s being part of Capitol Reef, it’s free. I’m also not so sure what was so primitive about it. Each site was level, and had a picnic table and a fire ring. There was even a pit toilet!

We spent the night at Cedar Mesa and it was quiet as a grave, even though the other sites were all occupied. It would have been great stargazing except for the completely overcast sky. With no firewood, we headed up into the tent after dark and watched Hot Tub Time Machine. Hopefully our laughter didn’t disturb the other campers…that’s a damn funny movie.

Completing the loop, I was finally able to get some pictures of these rock formations on Capitol Reef’s northwest side:

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This light wasn’t the best but I think these turned out ok. Moving on we found ourselves back in Boulder, since we knew where to camp – and we still had a pile of firewood to burn. Along the way we decided to try out Boulder’s “natural grocery,” Hills & Hollows. This was a tiny store. And Boulder, UT really does feel like the middle of nowhere. But this little grocery stocked Justin’s Nut Butter, cans of coconut milk, and Perrier. They also had a refrigerator full of local organic greens (we picked up a bag of baby spinach).

Utah, I will never figure you out.