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Travel

Travel Diaries: Bachelorette Road Trip!

I’ve always dreaded the day when one of my friends will get engaged and drag me to Vegas for a weekend of insane antics and penis-shaped things. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve been lucky instead to be part of some thoughtfully planned, truly memorable experiences.

The most recent was one I’ll never forget. My longtime friend and former roommate Kayla is getting married in July, and for her bachelorette party she wanted a girls road trip full of adventure. So, that’s exactly what we did.

We started in Denver and made the 3 1/2 hour drive west to Grand Junction, where we checked in to the absolute cutest AirBnB. From there we were picked up by Roxann from Grand Junction Tours for a guided tour of the local wineries in neighboring Palisade.

Beautiful view from one of the wineries in Grand Junction / Palisade.

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in several winery tours in my life, and this was my absolute favorite (aside from South Africa, which is on its own level). Roxann picked us up and dropped us off directly at our AirBnB in her car, so we never had to worry about driving. She only takes one group at a time, so the tour was private and completely tailored to our group. She suggested wineries based on our wine preferences (we loved all of her recommendations) and even loaded boxes of wine into the car for us when we got carried away and bought quite a few bottles. Oops! Roxann herself was super friendly and we had a great time with her.

My favorite of the wineries we visited was Hermosa Vineyards. Hermosa was named the #1 vineyard outside of California by Travel & Leisure! The owner, Kenn, shared a great deal of wine knowledge with us. It was particularly fascinating to learn about why his Cabernet Franc, which is easily my favorite wine the world over, is so special. He actually grows Cabernet Franc grapes from 5 clones taken from different locations around the world. He blends the harvest from all 5 clones together to produce an incredibly complex, layered, delicious Cab Franc. He doesn’t distribute his wine at all, so the only place to buy it is directly from his tasting room. Bottles range from $20-40 but and are absolutely worth both the price and the effort.

After a delightful day of wine tasting, a relaxing evening at the AirBnB and a lovely breakfast/coffee stop, we were on our way to Moab.

Taking in the sight of the La Sal mountain range from our tent at Under Canvas Moab.

Our first stop in town was the famous Moab Diner. It was absolutely packed, and we pretty quickly found out why. The food was fantastic and affordable, and the diner is right in the heart of downtown. Their Sweetwater potatoes are to die for. YUM.

Next was our checkin at Under Canvas Moab, our little home away from home for the rest of our trip. I was really impressed with this place. As a backpacker and wilderness camper I have never experienced “glamping” before, but let me tell you- I didn’t hate it one bit! There’s nothing wrong with sleeping in a comfy bed piled high with blankets and pillows while still having stretches of undisturbed nature just a sheet of canvas away.

Hell’s Revenge ATV Tour with Moab Cowboy

The outing of the day was an ATV tour of Hell’s Revenge with Moab Cowboy. I had never been in at ATV before and it was AWESOME! Our group had our own vehicle, which we drove up and down some of the craziest landforms I’ve ever seen. Honestly there were a few moments when I was thinking “How are we not falling over?” But we kept following right behind our guide and had quite an adventure!

After all the adrenaline from the ATVs we were happy to relax by the fire pit at Under Canvas, enjoy some of our wine and make s’mores!

Canyonlands Ballooning hot air balloon inflating and preparing for flight!

The next day was the best. We rode in a hot air balloon! This has been a bucket list item for me for a long time so I could not have been more thrilled! It was such an immersive experience that I will have to to write a whole separate post about it. Floating above the earth was a feeling almost impossible to describe. Following our ride we were pretty hungry, so we stopped off for a latte and fantastic breakfast at the very cool Moab Garage Co. Their savory quinoa bowl is delicious!

Later we tried to visit Arches National Park, but the line to get in was so long we decided to detour and check out Dead Horse Point State Park instead. We were not disappointed! The pull offs in this park offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the state, and plenty of trails to explore along the canyons and rock formations.

Charcuterie on the “porch” of our tent at Under Canvas Moab.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the scenery back at our tent, listening to a beautiful Native American flute demonstration, relaxing by the fire and soaking up the stars. Moab is a truly magical place, and I can’t wait to return!

Other Notes:
-Cell service and wifi are fairly unreliable if not all around impossible to find in the area. Those of us on this trip had different cell service providers, and we all found that even when our phones said LTE with high bars, nothing aside from the occasional text was actually getting through. Forget anything else. This is perfect if you’re wanting to unplug, but not great if you need to have any kind of connection to the outside world or you’re hoping to extend your trip by working remotely for a few days. The solution we found was Red Rock Bakery & Cafe, a cute little coffee shop downtown that offers free wifi for customers. When we really needed to connect, we were able to do it there. I’m sure there are other places as well, this was just the one we found and where we had a great experience.

Travel

Travel Diaries: Hawaii Pt. 2- 72 Hours in Maui

The flight from Oahu to Maui is a quick jump- barely enough time for the flight attendants to make it down the aisle with a tray of little foil-topped plastic cups filled with guava juice or water between takeoff and landing.

When I travel I like to plan for one big activity each day and leave the rest of the day unstructured. I’ve found this leaves plenty of time for exploration, spontaneous activities and reading books on the beach while also making sure I don’t look back on the trip and wish I had seen/done x, y, whatever. Something to keep in mind when visiting the Hawaiian islands in particular is that traffic during rush hour can be a real nightmare, so it’s never a bad idea to wrap up your excursions in time to spend the afternoon in the sand rather than on the roads.

For 3 days in Maui I would recommend:
1. Nakalele Point & Blowhole
2. Maui Tropical Plantation
3. Ocean Kayaking
4*. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

Nakalele Point is a super cool spot. You can walk down an easy trail to see the Blowhole, a natural hole in the rock that spouts water every few moments as the waves crash against the shore. Be sure not to get too close, as this very professional looking sign will remind you…

Don’t stop there, if you continue down the shoreline you’ll find beautiful views, tide pools and you may even see some sea turtles swimming around in the clear blue water!

Along the road to/from the blowhole you will see locals selling fruit and other goods. If you happen to see a lemonade stand, STOP THERE. We met a lovely woman and her husband who were selling mason jars of lemonade flavored with different tropical fruits, and they were incredible. Passionfruit was my particular favorite, and it was even better when I took it back to our hotel and added some vodka! Poolside drink game perfection.

2. Maui Tropical Plantation

This is place is so cool, and it’s home to The Mill House, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Their farm driven menu features a constantly evolving selection of fresh, flavorful dishes and handcrafted cocktails. The decor and ambiance are just as great as the food, with unique decor representing the history of the plantation. They even trimmed the dried orange on my cocktail to look like the mill wheels originally used on the plantation!

You could easily spend a day here. There is a train tour of the plantation, but it’s just as enjoyable to walk. Start the day with a coffee at Mill House Roasting Co. where all the coffee is roasted in house using beans grown either on the plantation property or elsewhere on the island of Maui. Explore the grounds, learn about the history of the plantation and maybe even check out the zipline before lunch! After lunch you can check out the plantation store, farm stand and small boutiques featuring locally made goods. Finish up with some ice cream from The Scoop (macadamia nut was my personal favorite) before you say goodbye to this beautiful property. Or stay for dinner at one of the other restaurants and call it a day!

3. Ocean Kayaking + Snorkeling

We did our kayaking tour with Kayak Olowalu and we had a great time! To be totally honest, our guide was a bit of a nut but we loved it. He totally owned it too, and he was doing all kinds of wacky stuff while we were out on the water.

The coolest part of the tour was that this guy knew exactly where to find the most sea turtles for us to observe while snorkeling, and we also saw a group of whales with some calves! We kept our distance to avoid disturbing them, but watching them was one of the highlights of the entire trip. It was also nice that this company is the only one on the island with a private beach front location, so we were able to launch our kayaks right from the check in point rather than having to be driven somewhere.

Their location is adjacent to a really nice campground that I would definitely consider for our next trip. That particular beach also had the greatest wealth of washed up coral pieces and interesting rocks of all the beaches we walked throughout the islands.

If you’re hungry from kayaking, check out Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie shop right across the road. Their hand held savory mushroom pie really hit the spot for me, and some of the sweet pies were incredibly popular with other members of our group.

4*. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

I am offering this up as an alternative or as a great activity for those who have more than 3 days in Maui. We didn’t make it to the farm on this most recent trip, but I have been there before and it’s absolutely gorgeous! You can book a guided tour or walk around on your own to explore. If you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot, this is a great place to go as we all know fields of lavender are having a real moment as of late!

Other Notes:

For this part of our trip we stayed at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, which were absolutely gorgeous. The beaches immediately accessible from the hotel are fairly small (in terms of distance from shoreline to sidewalk) but they extend quite far along the shoreline and are beautiful for walking. The outdoor space at this hotel was fantastic, they had multiple beautiful pools and plenty of outdoor recreation options including ping pong and an expansive grass lawn with cornhole (aka bags).

The absolute highlight of this particular hotel was the Sunday brunch, which was honestly the best I’ve ever had. The spread of fresh seafood alone would have made me happy (and the dessert table kept my vegetarian sister quite content) but when you combine that with bottomless mimosas in multiple flavors including guava and pineapple, it was pure heaven.

Overall we had a great experience here and I would highly recommend it.

Travel

Travel Diaries: Hawaii Pt. 1- 72 Hours in Oahu

One of the great things about traveling in Hawaii is the ability to island hop. Each island has its own personality, and once you’ve bothered to fly all the way to one you’d might as well take the opportunity to check out a few different spots!

We stayed at the Marriot Ko Olina Beach Club, which was easily one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever experienced. Aside from having amazing pools and beautiful views, the hotel is also right on the edge of a series of lagoons that are great for snorkeling! Along the lagoons are little outcroppings of lava rock that have really cool little tide pools on top. We walked out one night and had a lot of fun checking out all the little fish and crabs living there.

If you only have 72 hours in Oahu, there are 3 key things around which I would recommend you plan your days.
1. Pearl Harbor
2. Waimea Valley
3. Diamond Head State Monument

1: Pearl Harbor

If you have any interest in history at all, I strongly recommend spending a day at Pearl Harbor. Get there early and plan to stay for the whole day, because there is a lot to see! If you’re a hard core history buff, you may want to plan for two days here. Spring for the all access Passport to Pearl Harbor pass, which includes a comprehensive audio tour and admission to everything at Pearl Harbor, including the Battleship Missouri and Bowfin Submarine (plus you can bring your ticket back and receive a second day of access for only $10). At most of the sites you visit, there are docents offering free guided tours. These people really know what they are talking about and the tours are excellent.

Wear comfortable shoes, layers and sunscreen as you’ll be doing a lot of walking and it can get pretty toasty in the middle of the day.

2. Waimea Valley

There is no better place to experience the incredible natural beauty of Oahu than the Waimea Valley. This is another place where it is completely worthwhile to take the free tour with the local docents, who have a wealth of knowledge about the indigenous plants and the history of the region.

The valley is accessible via paved pathways that are handicap accessible, so I wouldn’t call this so much of a hike as it is a stroll. However, there are some dirt paths that go off to the sides for those who want to explore a bit more. In the valley you can find an example of a traditional Hawaiian village and, if you’re lucky, even spot a rare endangered bird species called the ’alae ’ula.

The vegetation in this area is absolutely astounding. Plants that I have in my home look completely different when thriving in their natural habitat. Golden Pothos, philodendrons, fiery colored crotons and Monstera Deliciosa with leaves the size of car doors flourished everywhere around us. This is a truly magical place.

3. Diamond Head State Monument

Don’t let the length of this trail fool you- this is not an easy stroll. Much of the trek at Diamond Head consists of stairs inside old military bunkers, and they are quite steep. I would recommend hitting this trail early in the morning, but not early enough for sunrise. This is a pretty popular trail and those who venture out for sunrise or who come later in the morning and likely to find themselves waiting in line to get to the top.

The views from the top are absolutely beautiful, and the hike is short enough that you will easily be finished with it in a couple of hours, even if you spend time wandering around at the top. Reward yourself with a pineapple smoothie or some Dole Whip from the fruit stand in the parking lot, and then leave yourself a leisurely afternoon for some snorkeling or lounging on the beach.

Other notes:

If you are looking for great dining on Oahu, it’s hard to find something better than MonkeyPod Kitchen at Ko Olina. They have a ridiculously great wine list, creative cocktails and incredible food. I had a pizza with rock lobster and mushrooms so delicious I could have cried. Everyone in our group ordered something different, and the response was universally ecstatic.

When you visit Hawaii, be sure to invest in learning about the history and indigenous culture. These beautiful islands are rich in traditions that have been endangered by colonialism and the destruction of Hawaiian sovereignty by the United States. Take the time to look beyond the natural beauty, tropical drinks and enticing beaches. Experience the true roots of Hawaii and respect the sacredness of these islands.

Travel

Travel Diaries: Tokyo

Japan has been on my bucket list for years. It has long been one of those places that has held a special fascination for me. I can’t explain it- but it’s like that Carly Rae Jepsen song, “before you came into my life I missed you so bad…”. I missed Japan before I ever set foot there.

This visit was attached to a business trip for my dad, and we were also escorting my aunt & uncle (who have never traveled outside the US) to see their son, who is currently stationed at Yokota. Because of this our visit was strictly confined to 8 days and we divided our time between Tokyo & Kyoto.

Day 1: We arrived into Narita Airport around 3pm. Passed through customs quickly & easily, then went to the Japan Rail Office to exchange our rail vouchers for our passes. I strongly recommend purchasing this pass if you will be in Japan for more than a few days. We easily got double the value out of our passes, especially considering that they cover reserved seats in the premium car on the Narita Express (to/from the airport) and select Shinkansen (bullet trains connecting major cities) lines. In Tokyo we also found that we could get almost anywhere we wanted to go using the JR Yamanote Line combined with a short walk. It certainly helps that all the signs are translated into English and the JR attendants are extremely helpful when you are looking for a line to your desired destination. After receiving our passes we boarded the Narita Express to Shinagawa, where we checked in to the Tokyo Marriott there. I certainly would not recommend this hotel for budget travelers, but for anyone who uses Marriott rewards or is traveling for business, this is an excellent option. They have a wonderful breakfast that includes western and Japanese items, and the location (an easy walk from Shinagawa Station) can’t be beat. Quick dinner at the hotel with aunt/uncle/cousin (hotels are generally a safe bet to please less adventurous palates), then they departed for the base and we met a strict bed time to fend off any jet lag.

Day 2: Here I made a critical error. I have this rule about not taking organized tours, but I saw online that there was a half day bus tour that had great reviews and it went to 4 of the sites that were on my Tokyo list! Having never been to Tokyo before, I had no idea that the two of us could have easily traveled between these 3 sites by rail much more quickly and efficiently… so I signed us up for the tour. Honestly it was a bust. We spent more than half the morning on the bus and less than 30 minutes at each of the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace Gardens. It felt like we were racing around just to try to see everything- there was certainly no time to explore or really soak up the experience. When we reached the 3rd stop, Asakusa, we bailed on the tour and spent the rest of the day exploring on our own. No hate for this tour, it would have been great for people who are not comfortable using public transport in a foreign country or who have trouble getting around for health reasons. It just wasn’t a good fit for more independent travelers who can get around via rail/foot quite easily.

For lunch we stopped into a tiny ramen shop in Asakusa, a long narrow room with a counter for 7 people and 4 options on the menu. For 2 huge bowls of fantastic ramen we paid a total of 700 yen- less than $7.

After finishing in Asakusa we were super sweaty (Japan in July is HOT) so we decided to head back to the hotel to shower and find a place to eat dinner. We opted for tempura and I found a local place, but we failed to make a reservation and so ended up having ramen again at Kimi Ramen in Shinagawa. This place was so cool- you order and pay through a machine, which prints you a ticket. You then put the ticket on the counter and the chef takes it as he is ready to prepare your bowl. Since the whole machine was in Japanese we required a little assistance, but the guys who worked there were very kind and helped us with just one small error in translation- we didn’t realize at one point when he asked us “small, medium or large” that he was asking my dad about how many bean sprouts he wanted on his bowl. It ended up being a mountain of bean sprouts! Hilarious.

Finished the day with a cold sake, feeling very satisfied.

Day 3: We woke up early to start our day at the Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t wake up as early as some, who arrive at the market around 4am for the daily tuna auction. They only allow visitors (non-industry folk) in for the auction on certain days and even then they only allow a few. I’ve heard it’s quite the spectacle but we didn’t feel like waking up that early to maybe or maybe not get in. We spent the morning wandering through the rows of stalls, purchasing beautiful Japanese ceramics (I fulfilled my mission of buying some ramen bowls), teas and street food. My favorite find were these shrink wrapped dried octopuses, which had faces drawn on their wrappers! So funny! The fish market was easily one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip. It definitely tops my recommendation list for Tokyo, and is a great place to buy authentic gifts to take home.

For dinner we ate at Inakaya in Roppongi, and it was one of the coolest things ever. I imagine that restaurants like this one were the inspiration for Benihana and some other westernized Japanese restaurants. We sat at a long table that faced two chefs, who were separated from us by several feet of fresh foods resting on ice. There were all kinds of fish, squid, crabs, mushrooms, vegetables, etc. We would tell the chefs which of the foods we wanted and they would cook them, then pass the food to us on long wooden paddles.

It ended up being a bunch of small plates extended throughout the evening, and we got to try quite a variety of things! One of the coolest details of the dinner was drinking sake from a wooden box. The waiter set the little box onto a ceramic dish and poured sake into the box until it overflowed into the dish, representing abundance. The belief is that the spirit from the tree infuses the sake. To drink it you first have to lean down and slurp out the first bit so the sake won’t spill when you lift the box. Once you have made enough room in the box, you pour the overflow of sake from the dish back into the box, and keep drinking!

Day 4: I had read online that the Samurai Museum in Tokyo us supposed to be wonderful, and it did not disappoint. It is a small museum but I found it to be quite spectacular. They have dozens of suits of original samurai armor (one even had bloodstains on it) and our English-speaking tour guide was incredibly knowledgable about the history of the samurai and the way the changing shoguns (samurai leaders) affected the culture of Japan throughout history. It was fascinating to learn about how the armor was made differently from European armor in order to be more light and flexible. I also enjoyed the guide’s stories about the personalities of the different samurai and the significance of their crests.

We also spent some time in Harajuku, walking around and just witnessing the general spectacle. It was quite a lot to take in- this is the area where, from what I gathered, Japan’s teenagers go to dress up, wear colored contacts and wigs, eat tons of sweets (there were literally 6 crepe stands) and bask in anime culture. This is also where we found a Daiso, which is a 100 yen store (equivalent of a dollar store in the states). A great place to buy cheap souvenirs if you have kids in your life back home.

In the afternoon we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto, which turned out to be one of my favorite cities in the world. More to come…

Happy Exploring!
KD

Travel

Elevation and Acclimatization

While living in Colorado I have become accustomed to hearing one phrase from visitors- “It’s so hard to breathe here!”

Denver is famous for being the Mile High City thanks to its elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level (a nickname that now has multiple meanings due to the legalization of recreational cannabis). Much of Colorado, however, is actually higher in elevation than Denver! Colorado is home to 53 fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet high) and the average elevation is 6,800 feet. To someone coming from sea level, the air feels pretty thin up here!

When we have visitors from lower locations, I always impress upon them the importance of acknowledging the change in altitude. Some people come here and think they can get by acting exactly like they do at sea level, and that’s just not the case. Here are my best tips for having a great time without getting altitude sickness!

  1. HYDRATE! I don’t mean to yell, but this is the most important tip I can give. You need water to help get oxygen to all the tissues in your body. When operating at a higher altitude, you need to drink more water than you normally would. When I first moved up here, my doctor actually recommended that I drink twice as much water as I was accustomed to while my body adjusted to the altitude. This is especially important if you are drinking coffee, alcohol or other beverages that will dehydrate you.
  2. Be mindful that alcohol will hit you harder up here. Yep, at higher elevations you will get drunk more quickly! Alternate your drinks with water or plan to drink less than normal.
  3. Consume nutrient dense foods. You want to support your body as it is working harder in this environment. When we have visitors, I start them off first thing in the morning with some sort of greens boost- either a morning pack of Onnit Total Primate Care or the Alkalising Greens mix from WelleCo mixed into coconut water.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. Move more consciously, pay attention to how your body is feeling. Altitude sickness is a real thing, and trying to push through it only makes it worse. If you start to feel poorly, it is better to back off and rest. Hike more slowly, look up and enjoy the views rather than racing to your destination.
  5. Consider a mushroom-based oxygenation supplement for any truly strenuous activity. ShroomTech Sport from Onnit is the one my husband and I use, it helps your body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. I’ve also heard great things about the Four Sigmatic Organic Mushroom Elixir Mix with Cordyceps.

If you have any more tips for handling an elevation change, share them in the comments below!

Happy Hiking (or whatever you’re doing),
KD

Lifestyle

Community Finds: Pablo’s on 6th

Denver has an amazing coffee scene. From pretty much anywhere in the city you can walk a block and find an independent coffee shop ready to fill you up with fresh ground, fair trade, locally roasted goodness. Who needs Starbucks in a city like this?

As the tech and digital nomad crowd has grown in Denver, many coffee shops have become hubs for remote workers. While I love these places as much as the next girl (who can say no to free wifi?), it’s not always easy to sit with a friend and have a meaningful conversation when you’re elbow to elbow with fast-typing coders and stressed out virtual assistants.

Enter Pablo’s, a wifi-free zone in the heart of the city. There are two locations, but my personal favorite is the one on 6th. The windows are filled with plants that block out the noise from the road and make the cozy interior feel like a rainforest retreat. At the register you will see stickers with the phrase, “Free Hi-Fives, No Wi-Fi”.

If you are a non-dairy person, ask for your drink to be made with the house-made nut milk. It’s a combo of almonds and macadamia nuts, sweetened with figs instead of sugar. Holy guacamole, it’s delicious.

Do you have a favorite coffee shop in your city? Let us know about it in the comments!

Happy Sipping!
KD

Travel

Travel Diaries: Taos

The last stop of  my epic New Mexico road trip was Taos, a town I have wanted to visit for years as it was a favorite haven of my late professor and mentor, Harald Becker.

When I am visiting a walkable town, accommodations in the heart of things are my top priority. In Taos this meant staying at the Historic Taos Inn, right on the main drag and easy walking distance to all of the shopping and restaurants in the area. The building is full of southwestern character and is home to both a restaurant and a bar featuring live music on a nightly basis. I totally scored on a great rate at this place because I went in April, which is not a busy time. If you can make it around that time I highly recommend it- the weather is beautiful and the area is not flooded with tourists.

I opted to stay in the main building, which had its advantages and drawbacks. On the positive side, I felt extremely secure and had easy access to the hotel amenities. The staff was friendly and they gave me great recommendations for things to do in the area. The walkway outside my door looked down over the bar area and there was a small table there, so I was able to come out in my sweats with a glass of wine and watch the musicians perform, which was a great way to wind down at the end of each day. The downside was that my door and windows might as well have been made of tissue paper for how well they blocked out noise. The music from the bar and the noise from the road outside were pretty loud. Even still, I had a great experience and will definitely stay there again- I’ll just opt for a different building next time.

For my first day I stuck to the town. I walked around the shopping areas and dropped into the tasting rooms for the El Chipara and Black Mesa wineries. Both were excellent and I ended up taking home a few bottles- particularly special was the Chocolate Caliente from Black Mesa, a spicy, chocolatey red dessert wine that is supposedly even better when warm. An absolute must-visit was Chokola, a small bean-to-bar chocolatier offering sipping chocolate, truffles and mousse. The place is really cute and I was seriously in chocolate heaven watching the amazing artisans make everything and getting to taste the fruits of their labor.

The next day I took to the roads to explore. My stops included the Taos Pueblo, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and Earthship Biotecture.

The Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Archaeologists believe that the current buildings were constructed between 1000 ad 1450AD, making them approximately 1,000 years old! Many of the native people who live there continue in their ancestors’ traditions of intricate beadwork, pottery and other crafts. Some of them operate shops out of their homes, and when you visit the community they will welcome you in to see their products and view the inside of these remarkable structures. Be sure to only enter into homes to which you are invited. While the community is open to visitors, the homes of individual residents are, of course, private. Make sure you get cash, as most of the shops and refreshments don’t accept cards.

One lovely woman I met was selling fry bread, which I’m pretty sure is still clinging to my hips but was super delicious and worth every bite.

On my way to Earthship Biotecture I passed over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and I couldn’t resist stopping to take some pictures. The gorge is massive and so deep that I couldn’t actually see the water running at the bottom. The pedestrian walkway allowed me to stand right over the center, which was simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying.

After managing to not fall into the gorge, I was on my way again. Earthship Biotecture was only a few miles down the road and it was the place in Taos I was most excited to visit. H and I have long dreamed of building our own net-zero home, and earthships have been a major source of inspiration for us as we have considered our future plans. We even have a friend who interned there for a few months and has always raved about the wonderful community there.

The experience of actually touring a functioning earthship and learning about how the different components work was absolutely fascinating. The builders of these homes have found ways to regulate temperature without using electricity, ways to grow and dehydrate food in the windows using the sunlight, and ways to re-use water for 3 different purposes before finally surrendering it.

The homes themselves are built mostly from recycled material and adobe, which are both easily attainable and extremely affordable. The colorful circles you see on the tan and green buildings above are all glass bottles, and many buildings incorporated dirt-packed aluminum cans that functioned as bricks when building walls. Rainwater collection provides water, and is ingeniously built into the roofs of different structures.

When I was driving back into town I saw Taos Mesa Brewing and pulled off to grab lunch and a pint. The beer there was great and I was really excited to see that a new vintage trailer hotel, El Mystico, was being built right next door! It looks a lot like El Cosmico in Marfa, which is HIGH on my desired trips list. Hopefully El Mystico will be finished the next time I come to Taos so I can give it a try!

I wrapped up my visit to Taos by spending some time in the nearby community of Arroyo Seco, which is home to some lovely art galleries, pottery studios and restaurants. Some friends of ours from college live near there, and I was able to enjoy dinner with one of them at the absolutely amazing Aceq restaurant.

Overall Taos was a delight. I wish I could have spent a few more days there, but with only a 5 hour drive separating us I know I will have many opportunities to return. Hopefully next time I can get in some snowboarding!

I would love to hear about your favorite road trip destinations! What makes them so special?

Happy Trails,
KD

Travel

Travel Diaries: My First Hermitage

My second stop on my road trip through New Mexico was The Lama Foundation in Questa. Situated far up a dirt road on the side of Lama Mountain, the foundation’s collection of eclectic buildings is isolated in the best way. It is a quiet, pristine environment. This is not a post of travel tips, nor will it be full of beautiful pictures. This is a glimpse into my heart and one of the most powerful experiences I have had in my life thus far.

The Lama Foundation community has some permanent residents who live there year round and renew their commitment annually, but in the summer it grows to include both interns and guests of all spiritual walks. Anyone looking to pursue their spiritual practice in peace and love is welcomed at Lama.

One of the foundation’s most unique offerings are their personal retreats. These retreats, referred to as hermitages, provide an opportunity for one to spend anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks in complete solitude, housed in one of the foundations’ designated retreat spaces and separated from the rest of the community by both space and designated paths.

I first heard of LF completely randomly, through an Instagram post I came across. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and a few weeks later I found myself applying for a hermitage. The Hermit Guardian, Bobby, responded to me almost immediately and within 24 hours I had mailed my check. I was READY for this. I knew it was right.

When I arrived I was greeted by a tall, red-bearded fellow who turned out to be my email buddy, Bobby. He might be the nicest person I have ever met. After helping me gather some food from their larders (fresh vegetables, peanut butter, rice cakes, etc.) he gave me a tour of the property. I was amazed at the diversity of the different buildings and responsibilities of the residents. They have everything from a huge dome for yoga and meditation to a cottage industries building where they design, print and sell their own interfaith prayer flags.

Soon I was alone in the Maqbara, my home for the next two days. The shelter was minimal and lovely, all exposed wood, expansive windows and simple furnishings. There isn’t much to be distracted by- it sits up on the mountainside, high above the road and the rest of the buildings. The elevated position lends a sort of pure, isolated energy and the wind blowing around the walls is cleansing. I opened the windows to allow it to come through and move around me.

I came in not knowing exactly what my goals for this hermitage were. “Solitude, peace a communion with nature” I wrote on my information form, when asked about the purpose of my visit. Could I be more vague?

My immediate instinct was to make myself busy preparing my bed, putting away the food, and organizing my things. This urge made me realize that I had come for this hermitage in order to address and break the cycle of my habitual actions. I was looking for the pause- the feeling of what happens between the demands of everyday life. City life is so overstimulating, there is never a pause. There is the gym, then work, then the commute, errands, cooking dinner, etc. Then bed. And heaven forbid that every moment in between not be filled with Netflix or checking my phone. Sometimes I reach the end of my day and realize that I haven’t even looked at my wonderful husband, my partner, directly in the eyes. I’ve not given him my full attention for even a second.

That is tragic. That is not how I want to treat my beloved.

So, instead, I declined the urge and I sat down on the steps outside, looked up at the beautiful mountain and let my mind flow. I released my thoughts to wander as they may, and to quiet themselves.

My focus for the time began to hone in on recognizing my urges, acknowledging them, and processing them rather than immediately acting on them. When I began to feel hungry or thirsty, I let it linger a while and spent time really thinking about the delay of gratification. After allowing some time to pass I would prepare a simple meal, taking the time to enjoy the process of cooking and truly tasting the results of my efforts.

In my journal I scrawled, “Remember this feeling- standing at the tiny counter of the Maqbara, watching the sun set and cooking just fine on a 2 burner propane stove. So content.”

As the sun began to dip below the mountain ridge in the distance and the temperature dropped, I got up to start a fire in the wood stove and prepared candles on the windowsill, ready to light them when the sun vanished. There was something deeply satisfying about these simple acts.

My two days in the Maqbara passed in this way, full of intentional action, conscious pauses and a unique impression of time. I walked away a different woman, one who was both eager to return to the world with my newfound realizations but who also could have stayed in that tiny cabin forever.

If you are seeking solitude, a hermitage may be for you. My experience could not have been better (except to maybe have been a little longer) and I am so grateful for it.

Have you had a specific experience that was formative in your spiritual practice or personal development? I would love to hear about it!

Namaste,
KD

My hermitage read: Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

Travel

Travel Diaries: Santa Fe

Last week I packed up Ruby the Rubicon and took a solo road trip to New Mexico.

It was, in a word, awesome.

I love traveling with H and my family, but there’s something special about solo adventures that I cherish. Traveling alone sharpens my senses, strengthens my independence and gives me time to reconnect with my truest self. Plus it’s pretty great to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want without having to meet the desires of a whole group or even just one other person.

My first destination was Santa Fe, which is one of the most unique cities I have visited so far. The buildings are a beautiful red adobe with incredible, colorful doors and strings of chile ristra hanging everywhere.

During my first day in Santa Fe I hit up all the touristy spots. I went to see the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which was absolutely stunning inside and out. I walked through the shops in the center of town and visited both the Plaza and the Palace of Governors.

The number one thing I learned about buying souvenirs in Santa Fe is that, if you want something authentic, you are better off buying from the artisans in the Plaza or the native people who sell jewelry at the Palace. Many, many of the items available in the stores are imported from Mexico, and I even found a few things with “Made in Pakistan” stickers that had been partially scraped off. At the plaza I bought some beautiful tassels made by native women, and I loved the look of the ristra so much that I bought a string from a man who was making them on the side of the road. He gave me a better deal than I had seen at any of the stores in town, and I felt better about supporting a local artisan directly.

 

The second day was Easter, and many of the local businesses were closed. So, I started my morning with a beautiful hike at Chamisa, which was just a short 15 minute drive from the center of town. Then I walked down Palace St. to look at the beautiful homes. If you walk down Palace St. from the center of town, it eventually meets up with the renowned Canyon Rd, which is home to world famous art galleries and is truly a place worth visiting.

Things to know about Santa Fe:

  • It is an extremely walkable city, so wear comfortable shoes and prepare to explore on foot!
  • The food is expensive.  The cheapest options at even the more affordable restaurants I looked at hovered around $13, and nice restaurants can be much more. However, the food is excellent. So when you are looking at your budget for your visit, be prepared to devote more $$$ to food than you might in a different city.
  • Many local businesses observe Sunday as a day of rest, and are therefore closed.

My additional recommendations:

  • Sazón on Shelby St. was easily the most exquisite meal of my entire trip. I had a cocktail called the “Latin Lover,” which was topped with an edible orchid. The queso fundido was out of this world, and there was a special soup of the day with crab so good that I could have happily died swimming in a vat of it. It is one of the more expensive restaurants around, but the experience was worth every penny. Definitely make a reservation, or plan to eat in the intimate, well-decorated bar.
  • Kakawa Chocolate House on Paseo de Peralta had a wide variety of chocolate elixirs, truffles and bars. I tried their Rose Almond elixir, Chili elixir and Champagne Berry truffle. All 3 were incredible. Their hand-painted cup sets were so beautiful that I bought some to bring home, along with the Chili elixir mix. Kakawa has decent traffic in and out but it’s not loud, and it’s a place where you can linger over your treats without feeling like you need to rush out.
  • The Teahouse on Canyon Rd. is one of the more affordable restaurants in town. They have food available for breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to excellent coffee/tea beverages and wine. Their Matcha Chai is incredible. I tried the roasted pears with pecorino toscana and truffle honey, which were an excellent complement to a glass of Fontanafredda Briccontondo Piemonte Barbera (the wine is as delicious as the name is long).
  • Cafe des Artistes on Canyon Rd. is the perfect place to stop for a snack while perusing the art galleries and sculpture gardens. Their Amaretto Cake is incredible, and they have a New Mexico Brut on the wine list that was crisp and refreshing.

Have you ever been to Santa Fe? Are there any other spots the rest of us should check out the next time we’re around? Share in the comments!

Happy Traveling!
KD

Travel

Travel Diaries: Iceland

Iceland snuck up on me in a lot of ways, and boy am I glad it did!

A couple of years ago I was in a weird place. There was some funky stuff happening at my job and the dissatisfaction was seeping out from my “career box” to slowly infect other parts of my life. I was questioning my career path, itching for adventure and desperately needing to reconnect with my truest self. One night in the midst of all of this, I saw a post on Facebook that immediately peaked my interest. The poster’s name was Kym and she specializes in curating/leading small group trips around the world. I had been connected with her by a mutual friend who had traveled with her through the Balkans and had an amazing experience.

Kym’s post explained that she was organizing a group trip to Iceland in less than a month, and she was accepting applications for people who would like to join. As soon as I read it, I knew that I just had to go with her. There was no doubt, no fear about traveling to a new country with total strangers. I just had this bone-deep certainty that I needed to make this happen.

I applied and she accepted, we had a joyful and inspiring exchange of emails and a few short weeks later I found her in the Reykjavik airport. The week that followed was one of the best of my life thus far. We frolicked with Icelandic ponies, stood laughing in the freezing spray of waterfalls and marveled over the black sand beach at Vik. We swam in blue hot springs, screamed in unfettered joy at the Northern Lights and talked late into the evenings, all huddled together in the back of our camper van.

Part of the the beauty of Iceland is that you don’t need to go in with much of a plan. There is so much natural beauty to explore, you can easily just pull off the road when you spot something interesting and go check it out! The top 3 spots that I recommend are Vik, Stokksnes and Jokulsarlon.

Traveling by camper van is definitely the way to go if you ask me, it was great to spend the entire day exploring and just stop to sleep wherever we were when the sun went down instead of spending a ton of time driving back and forth to a hotel.

We spent a couple of nights in Reykjavik, where we had spicy noodle soup at Noodle Station (major yum!) and were thoroughly entertained by a row of bars and restaurants that all had American pop culture themes. My favorites were the Chuck Norris Grill and the Lebowski Bar (complete with bowling themed decor and of course the house drink… a White Russian). The Laundromat Cafe was also a great Reykjavik find, where you can do your laundry and drink at the same time!

Iceland changed me. It was the first time in many years that I have truly acknowledged and followed my instincts, and it was the beginning of finding my way back to myself. The string of decisions I made as a result of the strength and intuition I rediscovered on that trip have changed my life, our life, for the better.

You can get a glimpse of our experience below, and you can find Kym and her partner Eskil on Instagram at @kympham and @digernes.

Iceland by Camper Van from Kym and Eskil on Vimeo.

Have you ever taken a trip that left you completely changed? Share your experience in the comments!

Get out there and explore!
KD