Off Roading- San Angelo, Texas

Speeding Through West Texas

Texas has one of the fastest interstate systems in the US with a speed limit of 80 mph. It must be for practical reasons; it would take forever to drive across Texas at 60 mph. Surprisingly, it wasn't the most boring state to drive through in my opinion. We made plans to stay at my uncle's ranch, but that fell through. So instead we went to San Angelo.

We were able to set up a couch surfer in this little suburban town. This was an older woman; she had a pioneer-esque air about her. The house itself was full of dog and cat dandruff, which gave us terrible allergies, but we didn’t stay in the house much. Little did I know, my cousin, Conner, actually lived in San Angelo, so we met up with him shortly after dropping off our things.

san angelo texasWe met up with Conner while the sun was still out (probably around 4pm). We met his girlfriend and their newborn baby. It had been over 4 years since I got to hang out with him so it was a good time. The reunion didn’t last long. With the sun still out, Conner, Bennett, and I hopped into Conner’s Jeep. It was time for some off roading!

With the sun starting to set and the wind hollering against our ears, we took a turn onto a dirt road bordered by endless grasslands. Winding through the ups and downs of this beaten up path, we eventually came to an open area bisected by a roaring stream. There were a few other jeeps here, and some people were fishing. Apparently it was like a small community gathering. A recent storm had passed through the state of Texas, causing a lot of flooding in some areas (we drove through the worst of it in Houston).

san angelo texas

 

off roading jeep texas

We drove over the stream and further down it to a flatter area. It was quiet, the sun was setting and the lighting was perfect for taking some pictures. Skeletons of washed up garfish were scattered across the exposed rocky basin and we saw some herons flying around. It was a very picturesque scene with the river and the tall grass--and a very different image of Texas than I thought we would see. As the sun set, we drove back into town in the Jeep. We then went out and splurged to go see X-men: Apocalypse.

 Abandoned Towns and Prada Marfa

We left San Angelo early the next morning to head out to El Paso. But first we were going to make a detour to check out a famous art installation. Heading west on Interstate 10, we took high way 67 south to 90 west. When you hear stories about rural Texas or the deserts of Texas, this drive will show you what that means. There was nothing along the way. Signs for "gas in 80 miles" and constant warnings to "turn off air conditioning" when driving up inclines were sprinkled along the way. By noon it had reached over 100 degrees.

After hours of detour, we had made it to the city of Marfa (for some reason Prada Marfa is actually about 40 miles outside of Marfa itself). Back in the 60's/70's Marfa was known as an art heaven similar to what Asheville was like to North Carolina. But since then it dilapidated into a city falling apart with only a few "brave" hipsters left to take care of the random little record stores and thrift shops.

Goodbye Texas

In the last 40 miles between Marfa and the art installation were a handful of tiny towns that were mostly abandoned at that point with a few horses in the back yards of the 4 (it looked like) families that had stayed in the whole town. We stopped in this particularly empty town to check it out. The city limits sign said it had a population of 253. In reality I'm pretty sure it was close to 78 at most. Literally houses were left empty with doors open, old rusted out cars in driveways, we didn't see a single person except for the drivers coming through on the highway. We parked at a gas station to take a few pictures and to get a feel for what a modern dying/abandoned town. I got out of the car and a huge rattle snake darted off into the gas station service garage. It happened so fast I couldn't get a picture of it.

The town sort of creeped us out so we decided to move on.

After a few more miles we saw a little building on the side of the road, a Prada storefront. no parking lot, no other stores, no sign. Just the small building. this is Prada Marfa. This single room, Prada store front is an installation piece installed in 2005. The building was never meant to go repairs and is supposed to dilapidate into the landscape. The sky was beautiful with a few fluffy clouds in the background which turned out to be great for pictures. Although somewhat underwhelming, it was still worth the detour to see the small town life of west Texas.

After an uneventful night spent in El Paso, that was a wrap for Texas. We’ve officially made it to the south west!

Exploring Downtown- Austin, Texas (Part 2)

Downtown Austin

Surprisingly, we weren't hung over the next day despite the amount of alcohol and lack of sleep. Bennett, the other two couchsurfers and I went to get brunch in downtown Austin. The restaurant was some dog friendly place which kind of grossed me out but the food was good. Since the other two travelers worked remotely, they went to the library in search of wi-fi while Bennett and I went exploring downtown Austin. We walked along the Colorado River on W Cesar Chavez St passing the riverside parks. We kept hearing crazy bird calls like I've never heard before and found out that these huge black, raven looking birds, actually called Grackles, were making the noise. Their call was almost like a rusty hinge opening. It was so strange to me I'll put the link to the calls here.

The Capitol Building

We then turned down Congress St and went to the state capitol building. I've never been to Washington D.C. but I imagine that Austin's capitol building maintains some of the same magic and impressiveness. A combination of the statues, monuments, spacious walk ways and sheer size of the building was most impressive to me. The beautiful red granite building sits on top of a slight hill giving visitors a clear view of the river. And unlike most capitol buildings I've seen, there was a large plot of land surrounding the area which essentially acted as a park. Another great feature, it's for FREE! You can check out the hours, tours and other information can be found here.

On the inside this building is huge. The first thing that struck me was the 5 point star right under the dome. This star had the coat of arms of the different nationalities that played a part in the settlement of Texas: Spain, England, The United States, France, Mexico and the state of Texas itself. Portraits of every state president or governor lined the central rotunda. You could feel the pride and history in the old congressional library, senate chamber and grand staircase.

Graffiti Park

After a few hours exploring downtown we went to explore the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills. The park is "built" from the remains of an old building's foundation. You can bring your own paint (or if you're lucky someone will share theirs with you). It's encouraged to leave your own mark. Just don't be a dick and paint over someone else's detailed art. so I left the GART (Great American Road Trip) seen in the header image at the top of the page. 

austin texasLeaving Austin

The next day we left Austin for San Angelo. But before leaving we went to Pace Bend State park to go hiking. We heard there had been some flooding going on in the area but didn't know to what extent. Pace Bend is located in some foothills so at the beginning of our hike, we couldn't see the water yet. After about 2 miles of hiking and 3 hours spent making little comedy shorts on Snapchat, we drove to the lake. 

The lake was pretty flooded to say the least. The water was frigid cold considering how hot it was (pushing 98 degrees). So, we skipped out on the cliff jumping and decided to push on towards San Angelo.

 

X-Games and 6th St.- Austin, Texas (Part 1)

By far, Texas was the state I was most anticipated to visit. Neither of us had been to the Lone Star state before. And so a week of our trip driving through and exploring several parts of Texas. In total, we spent a week in the Lone Star State. Our first night was in Houston where we only spent the night before heading on to Austin. Austin is one of the cleanest, prettiest and friendliest cities I have ever traveled through in my life. From the streets to the people to the parks and wildlife, Austin is bustling with life and energy. Our first host lived about half an hour from down town. She was also hosting a photographer from Netherlands, (check out her work at http://www.statesidenomad.com/) and a developer from France during our stay as well. 

The X-Games

X Games, Austin, Texas

The X-Games were being held that day, so Bennett and I went to go check it out. Tickets were a  reasonable $30. The scene was awesome. Huge mega ramps, vendors giving out swag, great bar-b-q, the smell of small cylinder single stroke motors, and the excitement that comes along with extreme sports. I didn't know any of the competitors, except for a few super stars such as Bob Burnquist. The worst part of the whole thing was the oppressive heat. Peaking around 97 degrees with direct sun really did a number on us. But the X-Games did a great job keeping water cold and accessible throughout the park. After collecting free swag, a pull up contest (which Bennett killed), and a new free pair of hella comfortable underwear, we headed back to the house.

x games austin im avoiding growing up

Partying on 6th Street

That night we went to another CouchSurfer's birthday party. His studio apartment had a great view and over looked the skyline of Austin. It was our host, me, Bennett, the French, Dutch and about 8 others. After the pre-game at his place, we went out on 6th st. I wish I could remember which bar we went to but it was huge. There was cross-dressing band playing in the front room--their style reminded me of Foxygen. Moving further into the bar was an outdoor patio with corn-hole, another bar and horse shoes. At the end of that was another door entering into a huge inside dance floor... which lead to another. To be perfectly honest I don't remember much of the night while in the bar besides getting lost a few times from the group and finally finding them right before they left to hit up some late night food trucks. 

6th street austin

That's another beautiful thing about Austin: late night food trucks. They really know how to keep the people happy out there. I think it was around 2 am and there were multiple trucks running at full capacity for the crowds leaving the clubs. After loading up on some tacos, we went home and slept a few hours before the next day's adventures. 

 

Free 5 Star Stay- New Orleans, Louisiana

Southern Heat

After Asheville, and two nights in Atlanta and Fort Benning GA, we traveled to New Orleans, the Mecca of southern culture. Heading west on Interstate 10, we drove through beautiful pine forests and other coniferous trees.

New Orleans was one of the few cities we had trouble finding a couch surfer host on. Hosts ranged from a guy asking to help build his shack on a plot of land with no plumbing or electricity, to a woman who had very tight restrictions on when guest could enter and leave her house. 50 miles outside of the city we passed a major man hunt/body recovery from the bayou. I’ve never seen so many police cars in my life. It looked to be about 50 vehicles, a few helicopters, swat team, highway patrol, police, and sheriffs. The traffic slowed to a crawl and we took the time to scour the CouchSurfing app to find a host. An hour later (and only about 5 miles due to traffic) we got a hit for a host. It was an interesting set up. The man was a financial VP at an oil company in Houston and was visiting for a conference. His colleague cancelled so he had an extra room. An extra suit to be exact… in a 5 star hotel!

After driving 8 hours with no air-conditioning in 90 degree weather with 60% humidity, we pulled up to the Windsor Court Hotel in the dirty, cramped ‘00 Honda Civic. We pulled up to the Windsor in a dirt covered ’00 Honda Civic, sweating and grimy. The valet took the car, we checked in, stench and all, picking up the key and vouchers for room service and breakfast.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The next big Hollywood extras?

The room had a gorgeous view. Overlooking the city, it had French doors, a huge bathroom and a giant bed with a ton of those fluffy soft oversized pillows. We stepped out into the hall way to walk around and stretch our legs when a woman asks if we’re going across the street to the casino. We tell her we aren’t because we’re going to Vegas later on in the trip and can’t loose all our money now. She looked at us weird and said that the next Wolverine movie was being shot across the street!

Sure enough when we walked to the casino, we see Patrick Stewart, as Professor X in his wheel chair being pushed by Hugh Jackman, Wolverine himself! Long story short, we ended up migrating in with the extras group, trying to sneak our way into the background shots. After about an hour of that we decided to head back to the hotel and 5 minutes later we see Patrick Stewart coming into the hotel lobby after a day of shooting!

That night we went out onto Bourbon St, exploring the plethora of bars along the strip. Much like our interaction with Mr. Stewart, our time out was short lived. It began to rain and not many people were out on this otherwise very lucky Wednesday.

Next morning we eat an amazing breakfast of French toast, waffles, eggs, smoothies and tatter tots. Best part was.. ALL FO’ FREE! All thanks to our CouchSurfer host. After, we went for a rooftop swim and ordered room service (the crispiest turkey bacon club sandwiches and creme brulee glazed to perfection). We were well rested for the next leg of the trip...Texas.

new orleans