– 1,850KM –
After leaving Tusayan in the Grand Canyon National Park our American Road Trip continued as we headed towards Highway I-40, the road that would take us into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Getting back on the old Route 66 felt good. The road with such history and iconography as we passed through towns such as Winslow, Arizona, bought back into mainstream culture again by The Eagles in their 1972 song ‘Take It Easy’. The road takes you through huge areas of Navajo Reservation land and when entering New Mexico there are tipis situated on the side of the road. The landscape is barren with pockets of huge rock formations that impose on the highway. Driving through a landscape like this is an amazing experience. Back in the UK there is nowhere like it. Miles and miles of road with no turnoffs. At one point my sat nav tells me to drive straight for over 350miles. That would never happen in England. We also don’t have the huge skies and 360 degree views that stretch for miles and miles in to the distance. There’s always something in the way on our tiny island. It’s worth noting the scale of this place too. As we’re on the neighbouring state of Texas, the UK can fit inside Texas 4 times – and that’s just one state. America is massive.
It’s a welcome sight driving in to Albuquerque, for its been a long ride through the open terrain. We headed straight to our hotel, Los Poblanos that is also a working organic lavender farm and checked in. It’s time for some serious relaxation after a long drive and our hosts certainly knew how to provide it as we were greeted in the lobby with a simply amazing lavender champagne cocktail and a cheese board before dinner. Dinner is spent on the patio under the shadow of the beautiful New Mexico mountains that are undergoing a paint job courtesy of the sunset and we have some surprise guests too. Two peacocks, one a stunning blue and the other a bright white. It is a serene setting and after dinner we simply sit to enjoy over some glasses of wine or a bottle or two. Dinner is cooked using much of the produce that is grown in the farm and the menu is changed seasonally according to those months which the ingredients are at the peak of their flavours. In fact we can see the fields directly in front of us where this meal originated from. It doesn’t get fresher than this – the ultimate farm to table experience. We watch as the peacocks climb a tree to roost for the night and I have to pinch myself about this picture postcard setting. Plus who knew that they sleep in trees – apparently it’s to avoid the foxes. We retire to our rooms, to find a pair of earbuds for us each. The note says, ‘should the peacocks wake you early in the morning….‘ They did not however and the ear buds went unused, with us slowly waking only to the smell of lavender.
After an early swim in the hotel’s salt water swimming pool that we had to ourselves under the big blue sky without a cloud, the hotel’s farm shop was calling. What a treat. The shop is packed full of lavender products for both men and women, all made for Los Poblanos with the lavender grown on site. There are soaps, beauty products, interior decorations, books, food and more. The characteristics of this idyllic resort really are something special. The architecture is exquisite and chic, characterised by courtyards and symmetry with touches of New Mexico. Dried red chillis hang from doorways and roofs and the manicured gardens stand proud against the fields of vegetation.
It is time to do some exploring of Albuquerque and we decide to head to Nob Hill. It is the section of Albuquerque that the old Route 66 runs through and road side diners with neon lights and Cadillacs are a plenty in these parts as well as eclectic memorabilia shopping from independent brands. It’s a tourist trap in a city that isn’t particularly on the tourists map and is frequented by locals and the local university too with the road marked at each end with a neon arch, as if welcoming you to a American monument. We spend a few hours here shopping, eating and soaking up the atmosphere, spotting the classic cars cruising the strip. Next on our itinerary is a visit to Old Town Albuquerque. This city has way more going for it than just the setting of Breaking Bad – although you can do a TV show tour where you can visit Walt’s house and the car-wash. Old Town is full of terracotta adobes and streets lined with cactus and desert adapted foliage. Within these adobes sit galleries, tourist memorabilia shops, restaurants, artisan studios, native American jewellers- the list really could go on. Unlike a lot of the USA, Old Town Albuquerque is only spread across a few blocks and is completely walkable. As if we hadn’t already stocked up on enough gifts from the Los Poblanos gift shop, Old Town Albuquerque sucked us in with unusual treasures that we “might not ever see again”.
Our final evening in Albuquerque arrives and we’re off to see Brad Paisley at the amphitheatre just outside of town. He’s one of country music’s biggest stars and the crowd is getting really hyped about this evening. As we walked through the parking lot to the huge outdoor amphitheatre, the sun was setting and tailgaters sat on the back of their enormous pick-up trucks blaring music from the speakers. As Brits in the crowd we’re certainly alone, amongst the rabble of cowboy hat wearing Americans. However this is the ‘real American’ experience that we had been hoping for. We both donned our cowboy boots that made us blend into the crowd-until we opened our mouths. Not that it matters, we’re big fans and this evening we look the part and have front section seats for the show. The show was a spectacle and Brad Paisley, a guitar genius. The crowd hang on his every word and unlike many big stars, he seemed to be humbled by the crowd relaying his lyrics back to him in (almost) perfect harmony-this was an experience that we will never forget.
– 2,200KM –
So here we are, driving through the western plains of Texas. There’s miles and miles of open space, dotted with pump jacks and the smell of oil permeates the air. It’s too far to drive to Austin in one go, so we make sure that we stop off in Lubbock for a night – a city in the middle of nowhere and other than the university, we’re not sure why the town is here at all! Getting comfy in our hotel room we’re met with an almighty Texas storm rolling in. The skies turn a deep black and the rain pours. Those who haven’t been to Texas before probably haven’t seen a storm such as this, with almost constant fork lightning. Finally the rumbles subside and we get our head down, it’s a long drive to Austin from here so we’re up early and chewing up the miles. There’s no major highways from Lubbock to Austin and its primarily cross country routes, where another vehicle is seen few and far between. We pass through tiny towns that seem as though they are deserted and another monumental storm passes over us. We were warned coming in to Texas to watch the speed as the cops are pretty tight on their fines, but nobody warned us about rain so heavy that it reduces visilbity to almost zero. We reduce our speed to practically nothing until it passes over us. Everything clearly is bigger in Texas!
– 2,800KM –
#KeepAustinWeird. The (almost) official hashtag that the Texas city has adopted celebrates the alternative and unique characteristics to this great city. Hotel Ella is our base for the next few days and what a base it is. An imposing façade makes way for a modern, cool boutique hotel. The Texas Longhorns are playing a game at home the evening we arrive and there’s a BBQ party on the front lawn being set up. A buzz is in the air throughout the entire town – game day of the burnt orange is always a special day in these parts of Texas. We unfortunately just miss out on game tickets at The University of Texas’ 110,000 seater stadium, so we watch in the bar with the hotel staff and some beers. Austin has a young, liberal and exciting feel to the city, far more than anywhere else we had been so far. The city is big on food. They love it here, there’s so many restaurants it makes picking what to eat actually a difficult task. That’s not even to mention the hundreds of food trucks that take root in the parking lots. These aren’t ordinary trucks either, the typical type you’d think twice about visiting. These are trucks, often chrome Airstreams serving fantastic, delicious food. There’s every type too, pizza, chicken, noodles, donughts. Whatever you want. Seriously, you could do a food tour of Austin and it would take a ridiculously long time – which is a great thing! Franklin BBQ in Austin is so famed for its ‘best tasting BBQ’ that 4 hour queues under the Texas sun are not uncommon. That’s not a typo either! We tried, but realised that we were woefully under prepared. For our line companions had fold out chairs, shade umbrellas and snacks! Next time Franklin…next time. People may say that waiting for such a long time is crazy, however it no doubt makes the food taste that little bit more special.
Austin has a number of great sights outside the city and we were sure to check them out. Hamilton Pool Nature Reserve is a stunning example of a natural rock formation where the water has carved out a pool surrounded by overhanging rocks. You have to descend from the parking lot along a rocky path watching out for snakes but the sight is worth it. If you really want to get au natural then jump in and have a swim. After our ascent to the top of the pool we drove to The Oasis on Lake Travis and had lunch accompanied with an incredible view way above Lake Travis. Up here, whilst eating your mighty burger you could see a heck of a long way. Definitely worth the drive here.
We drove back to the city to check out the thrift shops and look for some Cowboy boots to add to our ever growing collection. Did we mention that we were cowboy boots obsessed? Austin has a great collection of vintage and eclectic shops that make you end up parting with your cash. Mind you after a month of travelling we’re going to have to watch our luggage allowance on the return flight to the UK! Shops such as Allens Boots are a shrine to the Cowboy boot and we spend ages in this store trying what seems like every pair on, to choose our next pair. Emily was insistent that she needed a new pair before we arrived in Nashville- the search continues.
That evening we had to pay the Austin bats a visit and what a sight this in. Austin is home to the largest urban colony of bats in the world. Over 1 million and they all live in one bridge over the river. You can catch a boat tour that sets off just before sunset and you sit under the bridge listening to all the bats chirp. Then as if someone sets off an alarm, the bats swarm out all at once. It probably last for approximately 30 minutes – 1 million bats is a lot of bats… but what an impressive sight. I’d never seen anything like it. They leave the bridge to hunt insects throughout the night in the countryside around the city.
Hotel Ella, a fun hotel to stay in with rooms that are super comfortable with a laid back feel. The main original building is home to a few rooms and public areas and a modern addition to the rear, forms a courtyard surrounding the hotel’s pool. A great little service they offer is a concierge driver in their BMW who will take you wherever you want in the city and pick you up too. Between returning to our room with our shopping and our dinner reservation I manage to catch some of the Dallas game- my team of choice. Tony Romo has just broken his back though so things aren’t looking great.
That morning it’s a lazy rise for us with a huge cooked breakfast setting us up for a relatively short drive to our next destination. It’s goodbye for now Austin. You’re a great city and we’ll definitely be back to party. With Austin in our rear-view, we’re on the freeway hugely looking forward to Dallas, Texas. Although first we’ve got to get through these road works…
– 3,300km –
Dallas is our last stop in Texas. Home to the Dallas Cowboys and some of the country’s greatest steaks, this is the city that proves that bigger is better in Texas. We were staying with some friends that live here so we were able to get the true Dallas experience, which is worthwhile as you wouldn’t call the place a particularly touristy stop. As a visitor it’s far better having someone show you around the neighbourhood. First stop, a steak and some calf fries at The Rustic. The true experience and as our host says, if you have to ask what calf fries are, you shouldn’t eat them…. The next day we embark on a whistle stop tour, seeing as much of Dallas as we can, plus we need to buy some more Cowboy boots. We visit AT&T Stadium home of the Cowboys although unfortunately it’s a weekday so no game. Instead we peruse the insanely large merchandise store- stocking up on gifts as we go. Going back through downtown, we see the incredibly impressive Pioneer Plaza and the most impressive public artwork that we have ever seen- 49 Longhorn steers on a cattle drive. It is the largest bronze artwork in the world with each steer standing 6 feet high. After our host so graciously completed her Dallas tour with us, we explained our ‘need’ for cowboy boots. She told us that she knew just the place- she was right. Emily managed to find an unusual pair in shades of pastel blue and navy that she couldn’t resist buying- Nashville here we come!
We’re sad to be leaving Texas. It’s right up there on our list of favourite States so far, but we know that we’ll be back when we can.
Part III to be continued soon….
City’s ticked off the list so far;
- Los Angeles, CA
- Las Vegas, NV
- Phoenix, AZ
- Sedona, AZ
- Tusayan, AZ
- Albuquerque, NM
- Lubbock, TX
- Austin, TX
- Dallas, TX
Los Poblanos, Albuquerque.
Hotel Ella, Austin.