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You’re Doing Fine, Oklahoma

As part of my effort to get to all fifty states, I ended up doing a stopover in Oklahoma City on the way from Denver to Washington DC! It was January, so… not exactly peak tourist season in OKC, if such a thing exists. That said, I loved my time in Oklahoma and found it to be one of the friendliest places I’ve been.

I stayed at the Skirvin Hotel, which is beautiful and historic and, according to the Uber driver who picked me up from the airport, haunted. I loved how central it was. I loved the historic vibes, and it was pretty reasonable for the cost, all things considered.

What I most admired about Oklahoma is the intention behind what they’ve built in their city. I started in Bricktown, which is along a canal and has light San Antonio Riverwalk vibes. I got dinner here and while it was pretty quiet, there were still people out playing mini golf and going to some of the restaurants along the water.

There was also a lot of street art, including the one above referencing the famous musical of the same name!

By far the most famous historical event to happen in Oklahoma was the Oklahoma City Bombing. On April 19, 1995, the Federal Building in downtown OKC was blown up in a domestic terrorism attack. To this day, it remains the deadliest domestic terrorism attack in American history. I wanted to go to the memorial and museum to learn about it and see how they represented those events. First of all, highly recommend if you’re there – it was a really impactful museum, covering the events of that day, the first responders and search and rescue teams and the incredible work they did, and the long term effects, as well as the hunt for Timothy McVeigh. Second, it is even more incredible to see what they’ve done with the city after that. If you asked most people to name 20 cities in America, Oklahoma City probably wouldn’t make that list. Even if you asked them to name 50, it still might not. And for this city to go through what it went through in 1995, rebuild, and come out with smart urban planning and a strong identity, it’s pretty amazing.

The next morning, I headed to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art! They have a Chihuly exhibit, which, if you’re not familiar with his work, he does some spectacular glasswork. There were a lot of pieces across the museum that I enjoyed.

Beyond the specific sites, one other thing that I want to shout out Oklahoma for is the friendliness and warmth that I saw exhibited across every part of my visit. Every Uber driver, bartender, patron in a restaurant – everyone local that I spoke to was so nice, and so happy to talk to me about their city. I think a lot of them were surprised I was there as a tourist in January, which, fair (I got so lucky with the weather). I went to a great breakfast place which was clearly very popular and busy, and when I told them it was my first time in Oklahoma, they comped my coffee and gave me a free pastry for the road. It was a wonderful experience, and I would recommend Oklahoma City to anyone who’s looking for a nice city break!

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Greetings from Great Basin

I went to Great Basin National Park twice last summer, once with friends and once with my parents. It was almost back to back, but I did different activities both times so I felt like I got to see a wide range of what the park and surrounding area of Ely could offer! It’s a great little weekend trip from Salt Lake.

We stopped by the Salt Flats on our way to Nevada, which is one of the most interesting landscapes in Utah. It’s the first place I can remember ever seeing mirages for real, and while they don’t look like how they’re represented in Looney Tunes, it is pretty wild to not be able to trust your eyes.

Ely has a lot of interesting history! We took the scenic railroad, which was a fun activity and made for a good primer on the early years when the town was settled. We also went to go visit the Charcoal Ovens. They were part of the mining process, but the more fun claim to fame is that outlaws used to use the ovens to evade the police. The drive out was quite pretty as the sun set but it was slow going with the dirt roads and a herd of cows that also laid claim to them.

There are two main aspects of the park: the mountains and the caves. My friends and I did a hike in the mountains, which was a little harrowing with the snow on the trail – definitely a few slips as we made our way over, it might have been nice to have spikes or something. But the view once we got to the lake was incredible! I loved the mirrored reflection of the still-snowy mountains, and I think it would be equally nice in the later summer once the snow was more melted as well.

The cave tour was also a great activity. It had cool formations, it was fairly accessible, and the history of the discovery of the caves was well told by our guide. Definitely worth doing if you’re in the park! Overall, I would say Great Basin is a bit smaller than most of the other national parks I’m used to in the west, but I still got two great weekends out of it.

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Hybrid Sundance

Back in COVID, Sam and I had split a virtual pass to the Sundance Film Festival. This year, like so many other events, it went hybrid! We still got our virtual pass, with new rules this time, and supplemented those movies with four more that I wanted to see but that were only offered in theaters. By the time I was done with the week, I’d watched 14 full length movies and over 50 short films. My goal during Sundance is basically to melt my brain with indie films, and in that, I definitely succeeded.

Some highlights:

Scrapper: This movie was SO good. I watched it by myself and sobbed. It ended up winning the international film dramatic prize. Basically, it’s a tough-as-nails little girl who is living alone after her mom dies, stealing bicycles and pretending to be her own guardian to the social worker. Her dad comes to the house and tries to take care of her, even though he wasn’t around and she doesn’t want adult supervision. I’m not sure how wide a release it’s going to get, but if you have a chance to see it, do.

Fair Play: This one got acquired by Netflix so I know it’s going to be available at some point. Two hedge fund managers are secretly dating, despite it being against company rules, and one of them gets a promotion to be the other one’s boss. The effects ripple across their power dynamics and their relationship. It was so well done, and was one of the best movies I saw over the week.

Onyx the Fortuitous and Talisman of Souls: Honestly, the dark horse of this festival week. This was one of the last movies I watched, and my whole household was movied out, but I was determined to finish out the challenge. I put it on while we made coffee and by the time everyone was halfway through their first cup, they were sold. Really fun, and takes itself exactly as seriously as it should (read: not very). 

You Hurt My Feelings: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of my all time favorite actors, and I thought she was a delight in this. It’s all about the little white lies we tell each other, and the unintended consequences of that.

Infinity Pool: So the real reason to see this at Sundance was to see the official “director’s cut,” which was officially NC-17. This is the only NC-17 movie I’ve ever seen in the theater. It was wild to get carded going to a movie. Honestly, not the most violent or grossest horror movie I’ve ever seen – there were a few very specific scenes that I imagine can’t be shown when things are rated R, but I had honestly expected it to be more upsetting. That said, I think it’s an interesting concept and it was done well. It went in a different direction than I expected but I liked it.

Theater Camp: It’s truly a love letter to being a theater kid (which I wasn’t, but as a dance kid, I was adjacent and I love musicals enough that I almost qualify). I went to dance camp for three summers in a row and they captured the energy of those arts camps. The kids they cast were crazy talented and it was a fun watch.

Magazine Dreams: I’m not sure if I would recommend this movie, if we’re being honest. It’s Black Swan meets bodybuilding, and it is a very intense watch. But Jonathan Majors was INCREDIBLE in it. Yes, I’ve read recent headlines, and it’s a real bummer to see the domestic violence allegations. It still stands as one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen.

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Mid-Atlantic Adventures

I’ve been to almost all the states in the US, but I have a few glaring omissions that I haven’t gotten to yet. The one that seemed to surprise the most people was that going into this trip, I hadn’t been to Pennsylvania! Sam and I had been talking about it for ages, because he went to school at Penn and absolutely loves Philadelphia. After my visit to the mid-Atlantic, I could see why!

Yes, my picture for Maryland is literally the moment I left Maryland 😐

I actually visited four new states on this trip – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. Both New Jersey and Maryland were day trips. As it turns out, I don’t have any pictures of Maryland, which means that I was having too good a time exploring small towns like Havre De Grace and eating macarons and wandering through thrift shops! Embarrassingly, the only picture I have from this portion is the sign when I re-entered Pennsylvania….

Looking back toward Philadelphia on the journey to Camden

New Jersey was the day trip that everyone thought I was crazy for taking. Yes, I understand that Camden is not the nicest part of New Jersey, and also that New Jersey is one of our country’s favorite states to joke about, and I probably should’ve gone one of the times I was in New York, but this was convenient. And it was on a train line that Sam hadn’t been on, which is really all it takes for him to be excited to go anywhere. The views from the train were pretty cool, actually.

I felt like Camden had a lot of potential. There were some cute areas, but it didn’t seem like anyone was out and about. It honestly felt to me a little like that period of COVID when no one was really out and the cities were emptier than they ever had been. We saw very few cars and very few people. And yeah, the area by the train station was not great, but otherwise, it felt like that shouldn’t be the case? It was the middle of the day on a weekend. I don’t know. I think Camden could be a lot more lively than it currently is and I think that would go a long way to making it a more fun place to be.

I spent most of my time in Delaware working. I mostly had Emmy’s house to myself, with just her cats around during the day. It was an unusually busy week so I was pulling longer hours and by day three, her husband was like “??? Erin hasn’t seen anything, she hasn’t even been outside when it’s light out? She needs to see something of Delaware.” We did find a good night to head to one of their favorite breweries to visit, Mispillion River, which is quirky (as you can probably tell from the lime green beer on the right). Plus, we went to a beach and I saw the ocean, so that counts, right? Yes, next time I’ll come visit in not-January, and we can actually go to the beaches that Delaware is known for. (that’s right, it’s not just a tax haven for LLCs!)

For my actual daylight outing in Delaware, we headed to the Air Mobility Command Museum, which is adjacent to the Dover Air Force base. That’s what had brought Emmy and her husband out to Delaware, and it was fun to visit with Wade! One delightful thing I’ve discovered since knowing him is that every pilot I’ve met is obsessed with planes. Truly, deeply, in a way that you don’t often see with people and their jobs. So he knows tons of facts about planes, and made the tour much more interesting that it would have been if I was wandering around by myself.

Anyway, the part of the trip where I got to be more of a tourist was Philadelphia. I loved Philly! A lot more than I expected, given that my knowledge of it before this trip was primarily from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which…. isn’t the best representation. Most of the tourism is focused on Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, so we started there. My parents have always done the US National Park Service passport books, getting stamps at each site, so Sam and I tracked down as many as we could while we were visiting. We also toured Independence Hall, which was cool and free after we waited in a medium long line and went through security. I also went out to Valley Forge, which is nearby but a little outside of the city.

We wandered around the old town, we went to Penn’s campus, and I visited my first Wawa, which was apparently the most important thing I did all weekend. We tried to go to Betsy Ross’s house/museum, but we were slightly too late to actually go through the exhibits. We also met up with some of Sam’s friends. When Emmy joined me, she and I went through the Magic Gardens, which is a mosaic art exhibit that reminded me a lot of Fusterlandia in Cuba – it was one of those overwhelming but really cool areas to wander through!

One other note – Emmy and her husband and I had gone to a bar, and I know that Philly is intense about their sports. Like, I listened to a podcast about Eagles fans once. I know the stories. But what I was not expecting was the music to pause and then an entire song about the 76ers to play at top volume in the bar, and then to be immediately followed by the Eagles-related song. I guess they’ve got a lot of city pride?

I’m down to my last eight states! I want to hit all fifty, because I think it’s important to travel in the country that you live in. Going to university in the Midwest made it abundantly clear that some of my classmates had not spent time outside of the coasts before moving to Chicago, and while there are some amazing places on both coasts, that ignores so much of the United States. Most of what I have left is in the southeast, since that’s the farthest from where I’ve lived up to this point. Stay tuned!

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New York (State, Not City)

Our first weekend in New York was an absolute whirlwind of trying to see a bunch of friends, which meant by the end of the weekend, we needed to recover from the unrelenting social activity. Luckily, we had just the thing planned – Colin and I were headed upstate to spend a few days with our friend Jess and her family!

A rare moment where we weren’t at drunk brunch

This was my first time seeing any of New York outside of NYC. Jess lives in Canandaigua, which is not far from Rochester. We took the train up, which was very pleasant. I got a lot of reading done, and the views were pretty. A good portion of the trip goes along the Hudson. We were lucky enough to have fall colors for our trip, which certainly helped the views!

I would love to visit in the summer, when I imagine you can actually go boating on the lake, but we still had a great time even with the colder weather! We did lots of wine tasting, both at the Lake House and at actual wineries like Ventosa and Three Brothers. Most of the places were pretty quiet, although maybe that’s because we were going on a weekday afternoon – nonetheless, we had great service as well.

The whole region also has a lot more civil rights history than I expected. In particular, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony lived in and around Rochester. As we explored the area, Jess would point out some of the famous sites. We were even able to go tour the Susan B. Anthony house! I learned a lot about her life, and it was so cool to see a landmark where so much important US history happened.

It was amazing to visit Jess, and we were so thankful that the weather was beautiful during our trip. Buffalo, just an hour and a half away, got a brutal amount of snow, and if Jess and her family had chosen to live there, I doubt that Colin and I would have made it to our next stop – Portugal!

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Adventures in Atlanta

For this year’s long weekend, Emmy and I chose Atlanta! She’s wanted to go for ages to see the whale sharks. Atlanta, fun fact, has the largest aquarium in the world.

I’ve also seen whale sharks in at the aquarium in Osaka and know that they are awe-inspiring and amazing. It’s on my bucket list to swim with them in the wild some day. Obviously, when we got to Atlanta, that was the first stop on the itinerary! A few other highlights included penguins getting the zoomies and alligators holding dog chew toys so that they can exercise their jaw muscles, which, incidentally, is the first time I’ve ever thought an alligator was cute.

We also went to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, run by the National Park Service, which was very cool. They had a great museum on his life and legacy, and then we could see his birthplace, his tomb, and the church where he made a number of important speeches. My parents have done the National Park passport stamp program for decades and they’re very jealous that I got my first stamp in the Southeast region before they did.

The next day, we rented a car and went out to Stone Mountain. This was an interesting experience – it’s a massive Confederate monument, and they do have the Confederate flag flying in multiple places around there. Like any true Northerner, I feel a little uncomfortable to see that flown so proudly. Emmy and I hiked up to the top of Stone Mountain, which had beautiful views from the top. The hike itself wasn’t too bad but it had a couple VERY steep parts which were nerve wracking to come back down. Then we found a place to park and wander around next to the lake.

On our way back to the city, we stopped in the town of Stone Mountain for lunch and a visit to the Miniature Chair Museum. This is a museum run by a cute old lady who really loves collecting miniature chairs, and holds the world record for the largest collection of miniature chairs, which…. yeah, fair, she has a lot. Not sure how competitive that one is.

The next day we headed to the Botanical Garden, another one of Emmy’s favorite things to do! She’s the plant expert and I’m the one who’s killed multiple succulents (or, to quote a meme I saw recently, did the plants just not have what it takes to thrive in a fast-paced environment….). The gardens were incredible, very extensive with these cool plant sculptures (pictured above). They also have a fun children’s section that we accidentally wandered into that seems like it would be great if you were traveling with kids.

All in all, we had a great time in Atlanta. I love these weekends because we pick places that I wouldn’t necessarily prioritize to explore on my own. Also, Georgia was a new state for me! I can’t wait to see what we pick for 2023.

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Trying to Avoid Wildfire Season in California

My parents and I were originally planning on Yosemite this year, but with the wildfires, it seemed like that wasn’t an advisable destination. Instead, we went to Lake Tahoe and Redwoods, which was an area of California I hadn’t been to before and it was absolutely gorgeous!

One of the things I was most excited for in this region was the Donner Party Memorial. The Donner Party is one of those things I learned about as a child and have always been irrationally fascinated by. There’s a state park outside of Truckee, California with a few hiking trails, a monument, and a small museum about the incident. There wasn’t a lot to see, but it was a fun excursion. I thought it was a particularly bold choice to include cookbooks in the gift shop.

Our next stop was Redwood National Park, which was incredible! They are the tallest trees on Earth, and there’s something so magical about being dwarfed by nature. We did a few of the short hikes and then did a scenic drive through the park. I would highly recommend a visit. The time of year we went was perfect, too, since it was the fall and the leaves of many of the other trees had changed to a stunning golden color.

The drive between Redwoods and Tahoe was beautiful. We went on some of the smaller highways and through the mountains. We tried to go to Lassen Volcanic National Park as well, but it was pretty snowy and most of the park was closed down from both the weather and the wildfires. It was crazy to go from the beach to a snowy mountain road within a day of driving.

One of the more sobering parts of the trip was coming across areas that had just recently gone through wildfires. Wildfires are a harsh reality of living in the Western US, but I’ve been so fortunate to be relatively unaffected by them myself. We went through communities that were still dealing with the fallout and trying to clean up, like the one pictured above.

Our final destination was Lake Tahoe! My mom had always wanted to stay in the Ritz Carleton there, so we had a ~fancy~ end to the trip as we headed up into the ski resort where it’s located and treated ourselves to a spa day. The whole area around the lake is beautiful, and I understand why it’s such a popular vacation destination. Overall, a great family vacation to a region I’ve wanted to explore for a while!

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A Week in the Windy City

Chicago is one of my favorite places in the world. When Sam and I were looking at options to take advantage of the work-from-anywhere situation, that was on the top of the list. I’ve wanted to show him the city for a while, and so we booked a week here to work from our company’s Chicago office and spend some time exploring!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am weird about food, but Chicago is one of the few places where I actually plan out the bulk of the meals in advance instead of just wandering and finding restaurants. Obviously anyone visiting has to try Chicago-style pizza, so that’s Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s. Personally, deep dish isn’t my favorite style of pizza, but I also happen to think that all of those places do incredible regular crust pizza as well. Then there’s Portillo’s, for hot dogs and Italian beef and, most importantly, their chocolate cake milkshake. Eataly does great food and is also fun to shop for groceries in. There are so many good restaurants and cafés and brunch places. This time, I met up with a friend at a place that had to-die-for gnocchi and a gelato flight, which was probably my top meal of the trip!

Chicago has stellar museums. I would always recommend the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, but the one that I made sure Sam saw was the Art Institute. Fun fact, it has the largest collection of impressionist art outside of the Louvre! It also has American Gothic, and Nighthawks, and a collection of miniatures, and beautiful stained glass. We got lucky this time and the Obama portraits were on tour there, so we got to see those up close.

Sam was shocked to find that The Bean is in fact, a large metal bean shaped sculpture! Millennium Park is always fun to wander through. I have two other recommendations I always make for first time visitors. The first is an architectural river tour. It’s a great way to see the city, and Chicago is a city known for the architecture! I’ve done the boat tours twice and learned a lot. Never call it the Willis Tower, though. It’s the Sears Tower. Always. The second recommendation I have is to go see Second City. They’re a great improv group, and a lot of SNL alumni started there. When I go, I always hope one of them will make it really famous and I’ll have gotten to see them early in their career. When Sam and I went, it was the first live show I’d been to since the beginning of COVID, and it was magical.

Depending on the season, try to go see a game at Wrigley! The tickets are a little more expensive now that they’ve broken the curse, but the stadium is super cool and historic. I’ve sat everywhere from the upper nosebleeds to right behind home plate, and it’s always been a fun afternoon experience.

We were there over the 4th of July, and got to walk along Lake Michigan as the fireworks went off. It was such a good week, and I’m already trying to figure out when I can go back!

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Yes, Tumbleweeds Are Real

After having to cancel our planned New York trip in 2020, Emmy and I were finally able to meet up in Denver for a long weekend! She grew up on the East Coast and hasn’t spent much time in the West, so it was a fun opportunity to show her the mountains. Up until very recently, she didn’t think tumbleweeds existed in real life, and was convinced they were just a prop in western movies.

We started at Garden of the Gods, which I had never visited either! It was a hot day but we brought water and wandered around. It was pretty busy while we were there. Personally, I’d recommend finding the higher trails that aren’t paved, as those had some cool views and felt a little bit less “on the beaten path.” There are some fun breweries near by in Colorado Springs too, so if you go in the morning, you can make a day of it.

The next day, we headed up to the top of Mount Evans! I told Emmy we were going to go to the top of a 14er and she asked me what that meant, because she lives at 14 feet of elevation. One big note here, the drive to Mount Evans requires reservations now. It didn’t use to, and 2021 was in fact the first year they started doing it. It took me a little longer than expected to get reservations because the system had a few technical difficulties at first, but once they got it sorted out, it was really easy – we just showed the ticket at the base of the mountain.

That view on the drive up is incredible! It’s a pretty limited window in the year when the weather is nice enough, and definitely watch the forecast when you go. We lucked out and had absolutely beautiful weather. Once you get up to the parking lot at the top, there’s a short walk to the actual summit, just so you get to feel as though you’ve accomplished something. One of my cousins reported that you can hike up to the top as well, and we saw lots of people mountain biking their way up to the summit, but our route was significantly easier.

We did accomplish Emmy’s two goals for the weekend, which were (1) seeing the blue demon horse at the Denver airport and (2) seeing a tumbleweed. The second one was only a tiny one on the side of the road as we went back to the airport, but it still counts!

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Explore Elko

When Sam and I went to Wendover, Nevada back in March 2020, we kept seeing signs that implored us to “Explore Elko.” As with many things, we started saying it ironically and then one day, it wasn’t ironic.

As fairly avid travelers pre-pandemic, we have often joked about being “somewhere, anywhere” even as we work at home and socialize at home and spend…. almost all our waking hours without even leaving this building. And so we planned a long weekend away to Elko.

Elko was charming! There are so many small towns in America that are struggling economically, and Elko felt like an exception to that rule. As it turns out, they’ve still got active gold mining, and as such, they’re doing pretty well. Every restaurant we ordered food from was locally owned and not a chain. We stopped by art galleries, too, and there were quite a few in the downtown area.

It is still Nevada, and it wouldn’t be a town in Nevada without several giant casinos! All of the ones we saw had a more old-school vibe, as opposed to Wendover that has more modern looking places. Or, of course, Vegas. Obviously. But the biggest shock was when we accidentally wandered into the “red light district” (really just a street with a couple legal brothels). I was sort of zoning out and looked up to see…. this.

I mean, I guess they really went for the alliteration.

If we’d been there in the summer, I would have loved to do some hiking on the Ruby Crest Trail! It looks stunning and seems, from all my research, to be a fairly undiscovered gem. But alas, it was rather cold and snowy, and we had a fairly chill weekend. We did wander along the trail next to the Humboldt River. We also saw a snow squall, which was a new experience for me. The phone alert system texted us both to tell us to stay inside, and sure enough, within 15-20 minutes it went from sunny to blizzard conditions.

Our Airbnb was absolutely amazing. We stayed up in this neighborhood with streets named after trees, and all of the houses were historic but well-kept. It was an easy walk into the city from there and our host was so great, giving us plenty of suggestions of places to go and giving us a quick tour of the new property she was working on.

Also, the drive out to Nevada is beautiful! The Bonneville Salt Flats are a great and easy day trip out from Salt Lake, and of course, we always love this view of the mountains over the lake.

It’s not exactly a hot take to say that the pandemic has changed travel. And I have desperately missed taking flights, and exploring new countries, and even the basic things like sitting in a restaurant or seeing the bottom half of a stranger’s face without worrying about whether they’re going to get me sick. But it has been a good push to spend time in places a little closer to home, places that I might not have considered as a travel destination when the whole world was open to me. Now that Sam and I are vaccinated, we’re exploring options for safe travel that are farther afield, but it’s nice to take the time to explore places like Elko every so often.