Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Category: Road Trip (Page 1 of 7)

Badlands National Park

Badlands Rock Formation

After our day exploring the I-80 corridor through Illinois and Iowa, we continued to head west across South Dakota to Custer. Since we were so close, we decided to take a detour into Nebraska to cross another state off our list and headed to Ponca State Park.

Three State Overlook

Ponca State Park is located on the Missouri River and is a big destination to explore the National Scenic River. Fishing, paddling, boating, horseback riding, golf, and hiking are popular activities at the park. One thing we were really impressed with was the modern cabins around the park. They looked like a fun place to stay and explore the area without having to “rough it” too much. We also enjoyed the Three State Overlook over the river where you could see Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. To learn more about Ponca State Park, visit OutdoorNebraska.com.

After leaving Ponca, it was a little over five hours drive through rural Nebraska to get to Badlands National Park. The Badlands of South Dakota is one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. The unique formations were formed by deposition, the rock building up over time, and erosion, the rock wearing away. The colorful layers in the rock formations show moments in geologic time with different layers forming at different times. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/badl-geologic-formations.htm)

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands National Park got its name from the local Lakota people. They called the area mako sica, meaning “bad lands”. Before modern roads, this area was not easy to traverse and is probably how it got its name. It has been said that the name doesn’t do the park justice and that it scares some people away.  I can tell you that wasn’t the case when we visited. While it wasn’t as busy or as hard to find parking as Yellowstone, there were plenty of people exploring these bad lands.

We had planned to do some hiking in the park but arriving in the middle of the day during a heatwave put a damper on that. While we were driving through the park, it got up to 96 degrees. Because of that, we stuck to exploring the park by car and stopping at the scenic turnouts. We did hike the quarter mile Window Trail (above) but that was all I could manage in the heat.  I would love to return to the park when it’s cooler and get off the road a bit.

Of course, near Badlands National Park is the famous Wall Drug. This is really the only tourist trap we stopped at on this trip (our detour through Nebraska caused us to miss the corn palace). In case you’ve never heard of it, Wall Drug is a giant cowboy-themed store adjacent to Badlands National Park. It’s hard to miss the many billboards along I-90 advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and their giant dinosaur. We decided to get dinner in their cafe and I was surprised by the quality of the food. Yes, it is a giant, crowded gift shop but it was a good stop to get a bite to eat and cool down after exploring the park. To plan your visit to Wall Drug, visit their website.

We used the GyPSy Guide to the Badlands and the Black Hills while exploring the area. The app gives suggested routes while also teaching you about the region. If you are planning a trip to this area, I highly recommend it!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Epic National Park Road Trip

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people

We are back from our biggest trip yet. We were gone for 23 days, visiting 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We had incredible luck on the trip securing a reasonably priced rental car and managing to score last-minute reservations at two incredibly popular national park lodges. To top off our luck, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park opened for the season on the day we needed to use it to get from one end of the park to the other.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip during the busiest summers for our National Parks ever! Throughout this trip report, I will share our experiences with the crowds and ways to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Here’s a little breakdown of the trip and a sneak peek of what is to come throughout this trip report:

  1. Ottowa, IL
  2. Dakota Dunes, SD
    • Ponca State Park
    • Badlands National Park
  3. Custer, SD
    • Custer State Park
    • Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
    • Wind Cave National Park
    • Jewel Cave National Monument
    • Devils Tower National Monument
  4. Old Faithful Inn
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Grand Teton National Park
  5. Rising Sun Motor Inn
    • GlacierNational Park
  6. Watford City, ND
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Moorhead, MN
    • Mall of America
    • Wisconsin Dells
  8. Madison WI
    • Indiana Dunes National Park

We did SO much on this trip, this will probably take me months to recap, but I am looking forward to it! Thanks for stopping by!  To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Road Trip Pin

Texas Hill Country Road Trip Recap

Mission Concepcion Sign

This trip took us to two national historic parks from very different times in American history. We had some of the best German food I have had in my life and I went to Germany in high school. We toured a bunch of wineries and had some of the best wine of my life. We experienced Texas’ first cold snap of the year. Locals were very excited to tell us Northerners about the “snow” they got. I feel like I got a taste of the real Texas on this trip.

If you are planning to explore the Hill Country, the most convenient airports to fly in or out of are Austin and San Antonio. We had flight credits from our canceled 2020 spring break trip on Spirit so we went with Austin. It is less than an hour and a half drive from Austin to San Antonio so no matter which airport you fly into, you would be able to see both cities.

The Alamo from the front

Between the two cities is the historic German town of New Braunfels which is home to Naeglins, the oldest bakery in Texas. Nearby, Greune is a fun place to step back in time and explore in the area. In San Antonio, exploring the Riverwalk and taking a boat tour are a must as well as touring the Alamo (but be sure to get your tickets in advance). If you have time, head a little outside the city to San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

From San Antonio head north to Fredericksburg. Along the way, stop at Cascade Caverns in Boerne and have lunch at Little Gretel which is where we had the best German food of the trip! A litter farther north in Comfort, I recommend a stop at Newsom vineyards tasting room.

Fredericksburg Pioneer Memorial

Once you get to Fredericksburg, there is so much to do and The Museum of the Pacific War is one of the highlights of the city. We had great meals at Austlander and Pasta Bella as well as AMAZING pastries at the Old German Bakery. There are many wineries right downtown, but if you have time, I recommend you head out of town and check out William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines, and Kuhlman Cellars.

On the way back to Austin, stop in Johnson City and visit the LBJ National Historic Site where you can experience LBJ’s ranch and see and the Texas White House as well as the original 19th century Johnson Settlement. If you need to get out and stretch your legs some more, I recommend a hike at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

In Austin, I recommend you take a tour of the city and enjoy Ladybird Lake. It might seem silly, but check out the Austin Public Library. In Austin, I had more restaurants on my TripAdvisor list than things to do and every single one we went to was amazing. If you are in Austin, I recommend Chuy’s for Mexican food, Torchy’s Tacos, Terry Black’s Barbeque, and Ramen Tatsu-ya. If you want to get away from the city for a bit, I love getting coffee at Mozart’s and enjoying it by the water.

Some of the most popular attractions in the Hill Country are state parks. Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg is one of the most well-known. One thing I did not anticipate before this trip is that Texas State Parks require reservations to get through the gate. I don’t know of any other state that does this and being that we visited during the week between Christmas and New Years, all of the parks near where we were staying were booked up. If you are planning a trip to the Hill Country and want to see some of the natural features, be sure to book them in advance so you’re able to get in. I guess this just means I have a reason to return to the Hill Country!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Hiking Balcones Canyonlands

The view of the Colorado River from Warbler VistaThe drive from Fredericksburg back to Austin was the longest driving day of our Hill Country Road Trip. In terms of some of the road trips we’ve taken, an hour and forty-five minutes drive are not that bad, but it doesn’t hurt to get out of the car and stretch your legs and take in some natural beauty.

To stretch our legs on this day, we decided to stop at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located near Marble Falls, Balcones is about an hour drive from Austin and would be a good place to get away from the city and get into nature. As a National Wildlife Refuge, this area is popular with birders. We stopped at the Warbler Vista section of the park which offers three fairly short trails to explore. If it’s not obvious by the name, this area is prime warbler habitat.

Trail through trees

We started our visit at the end of the road at the sunset viewing platform (above). This overlook gives a view of the Hill Country as well as Lake Travis. After taking in the view and enjoying the (once again) warm Texas sunshine, we embarked on the 1.25 mile Cactus Rocks loop trail. We began on the northern branch of the trail which was significantly flatter and easier than the southern portion which had more elevation change. Overall, the trail was a pretty easy hike in the Texas wilderness. If you are looking to escape the city and get back into nature on a trip to Austin or just a place to stop between Fredericksburg and Austin, this park is quiet and off the beaten path.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Cow in Field

Cow grazing at LBJ Ranch

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park is located in Johnson City (Lyndon’s family founded the town) about half an hour from Fredericksburg. The park “tells the story of our 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.” (NPS).

Log Cabin built by LBJ's grandparents

Log cabin built by LBJ’s grandparents in the Johnson Settlement section of the park

LBJ National Historic Park is made up of Johnson’s Boyhood Home, LBJ’s grandparents’ settlement, and LBJ’s Texas White House. The areas of the park are about 14 miles apart and a car is recommended for touring the park. Adjacent to the LBJ Ranch district of the park, LBJ State Park is home to the Saur-Beckmann Living History Farm, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hiking trails, a bison herd, and a herd of Texas Longhorns.

Texas White House

LBJ’s ranch is probably the highlight of this park. Driving through the ranch and being able to see descendants of the president’s cattle (top) was a pretty unique experience. The Texas White House is one of the biggest attractions of the park. The Johnsons donated their Texas home to the Park Service while they were still alive but tours of the home were not offered until Mrs. Johnson’s death in 2007. In 2008, the President’s Texas office was opened to tours. Unfortunately, it is currently closed to visitors because of structural issues in the home. Visitors are still able to view it from behind a fence and get photos of it from an awkward angle (above).

LBJ's Presidential Plane in its Hangar

Parking at the hangar to get an up-close view of Air Force 1/2 (above) was pretty special too. Air force 1 was too large to land at the runway on the ranch so the president frequently flew a smaller JetStar to his Texas home, allowing him to continue his work away from D.C. The plane returned home to the park in 2016.

Overall, if you are in the hill country, I highly recommend a stop at LBJ National Historic Park. It will allow you to get a better picture of the 36th president (while skimming over issues regarding Vietnam) and his family history. The park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day and is free to visit. For more information visit NPS.gov and Texas State Parks.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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LBJ Ranch Pinterest Graphic

LBJ Ranch Pinterest Graphic

Wineries of the Hill Country

Wine Glass

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

One of the things the Texas Hill Country is known for is wineries. There are over 50 tasting rooms to visit all around the Hill Country but Fredericksburg is kind of the epicenter of the action. If you don’t have a car or aren’t planning on heading out of town, there are more than ten winery tasting rooms right on Main Street. That being said, I highly recommend taking the drive out of town to see the vineyards if you have the time.

Winery on the Gruene

While I frequently tout TripAdvisor for trip planning, it’s not my go-to when planning a wine trip. I find that people’s differing opinions on wine have left me disappointed by their recommendations. Instead, I turn to the professionals at Wine Traveler. They have pointed me in the direction of some spectacular wine I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Another source I used to plan this trip is a Lonely Planet guidebook, Wine Trails of the United States and Canada. All of the wineries they recommended were wonderful as well.

One thing we learned on this trip is that there is a little bit of political drama involved in Texas wine right now. Currently, a wine can be labeled a Texas Wine if at least 75% of grapes were grown in Texas. I’ve been told this is not uncommon in a new wine region. A few of the wineries are trying to change this now that Texas is growing more and more grapes. The wineries that use 100% Texas grapes are very proud of that fact and will point you to other wineries that do the same.

Because of COVID, most of the wineries were requiring reservations if you want to do a tasting. Some of them allowed you to just sit outside with a glass or bottle without a reservation, but it is important to do some research before you arrive. It would be a bummer to drive all the way out to a winery and be turned away because there’s not space for you!

Portrait in front of Wine Barrels

In the barrel room at Kuhlman Cellars

One of the most unique experiences we had was doing what they call the “Estate Experience” at Kuhlman Cellars.  We got a private tour where we got to go into the barrel room and taste wine right out of the barrel. At Lewis Wines, we had a private tasting with the winemaker. At Newsom Vineyards, we got to talk to the owner and winemaker who everyone in the Texas wine industry seems to know. We had some wonderful wines at Becker Vineyards served by some of the most attentive and friendly staff.  William Chris had some of the best wines we tasted on this trip and they had a beautiful lawn with live music that I would’ve loved to hang out in if we had a little more time. If you’re planning a wine trip the Hill Country, these are my top picks!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back next week to read about our time exploring LBJ’s ranch. To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Exterior of the Mission San Juan

Located just south of San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park is made up of four Spanish missions built beginning in the mid 18th century to spread Christianity to the Native people of Texas. These missions are walled compounds featuring a beautiful, old, Catholic church and buildings where the priests and Native Americans lived. Altogether, the missions are the largest collection of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States and are the only UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Texas.

The missions only stretch eight miles from the city and can be accessed by River Walk’s Mission Reach, a hiking and biking trail that allows you to visit the missions without needing a vehicle. If you’re not that athletic, there are bus tours of the missions as well as a self-guided driving tour. The missions are open daily and are free to visit.

We began exploring the missions at Mission San Jose (below) which is home to the park visitor center. When we visited at the end of December, the visitor center was closed but there were rangers stations at the door with maps and to answer questions about the park. They were also stamping the National Park passport for you.

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Mission San José was founded in 1720 because Mission San Antonio de Valero (AKA The Alamo) had quickly become overcrowded with refugees when the East Texas Missions were closed. The building was built in 1768 from local limestone and still stands today. Of the four missions located within the park, this one is the biggest and most ornate. If you only have time to visit one of the missions, this is the one to see. It has the biggest grounds and you can see where the priests and the native people lived.

The second Mission on our mission tour was Mission San Juan (top). Mission San Juan Capistrano was originally built in 1716 in East Texas and was moved to San Antonio in 1731. Not to be confused with Mission San Juan Capistrano in California, the white exterior makes this mission different from the others on this tour. In 2012, a $2 million renovation project stabilized the foundation of the 300-year-old church.

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Our third mission of the day was Mission Espada. Espada was originally built in 1690 near present-day Augusta and named San Francisco de los Tejas. Just like Mission San Juan, Espada was moved to its current location on Espada road and was given its current name in 1731. Many modern churches in the area based their architecture around Espada including St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wimberley, Texas. Nearby, the Espada acequia and aqueduct are also managed by the Park Service and continue to bring water to the missions as well as nearby residents.

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Located closest to the city, Mission Concepción was our fourth stop on our Mission tour. Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña was founded in 1716 in East Texas and was moved to its current location in 1731. In 1835, the Battle of Concepción was fought on the grounds and is believed to be the first battle in the Texas Revolution. In 2009-2010 the mission underwent extensive restoration projects and is now the best-preserved of the missions.

If you are planning to visit the missions, bear in mind that these churches are still in operation and hold masses on Sunday mornings. When we visited, we were not able to go inside Mission San Jose because there was a funeral. Luckily, it was on the way back to San Antonio and by the time we were on our way back to the city, the building was open again and we were able to see the beautiful interior of the sanctuary. For more information about the missions, visit VisitSanAntonio.com or the National Park Service.

Of course, there is one more mission in San Antonio, Mission San Antonio de Valero, more commonly known as The Alamo, I will share about final stop on our Mission Tour next week. To read more about this trip, visit the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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San Antonio Riverwalk

Riverwalk Bridge

After our drive through Gruene, we headed to an even more historic Texas city, San Antonio. San Antonio has been on my list for a while now, and if our short trip to Austin had been one day longer, we probably would’ve taken a drive to check it out.

When planning to explore San Antonio, one of the first things to come up is, of course, the Riverwalk. The San Antonio Riverwalk was designed to aid with flood control after a disastrous flood in 1921. Nowadays, the riverwalk is kind of the heart of entertainment in the tourist area of the city, with miles of shops, restaurants, musicians, and attractions all along the river. Being the most touristy part of the city, it’s hard to know which of the restaurants on the Riverwalk are good or if they’re just banking on tourists wandering in without a plan. We had lunch at Casa Rio which we learned on the boat tour is the oldest restaurant on the riverwalk and we were not disappointed!

Christmas Tree Lit Up

Taking the boat around the Rivercenter Mall Christmas Tree.

Tour boats drive up and down the river all day telling the history and pointing out the sights. Since we were in the city around Christmas time, I really wanted to see take the boat tour at night with all the Christmas lights around us. We got in line a little before six and had great light by the time we got on our boat. If you are planning on taking the boat tour when in San Antonio, I have a tip for you: buy your tickets in advance and then you can get on at any of the three stations. When we were walking around, we noticed that for whatever reason, the middle station had a ridiculously long time. The stations closest to the mall and in the Aztec theater had much shorter lines and were both covered (which makes a big difference in the Texas sun). Tickets can be purchased up to 30 days in advance at GoRioCruises.com.

We got a great deal on a hotel in San Antonio. We stayed at the TownPlace Suites, just a few blocks from the Riverwalk and the Alamo. Our room had a kitchenette so we were able to save some money and cook a little in our room. The only parking the hotel offers is valet and given the location, it is expensive. But, given how cheap the room was, paying for parking wasn’t that big of a deal. There are some beautiful hotels overlooking the riverwalk that I would love to stay at on a return trip to San Antonio!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, visit my Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

One Day in New Braunfels

Ducks in pond in Landa Park
Landa Park

After landing in Austin, we drove halfway to San Antonio and stopped for the night in New Braunfels. New Braunfels featured heavily in the inspiration for this trip, Samantha Brown’s Places to Love. One of the spots she highlighted was Naeglin’s Bakery, the oldest bakery in Texas, known for giant streudel. For a weekday, the bakery was busy and it was warm so we took our baked goods and sat outside to enjoy them.

  • Jelly Donut
  • Cheese Danish

After enjoying our pastries, we headed to Landa park (top) to enjoy the warm Texas air. Landa Park offers a lot to do with a family including a golf course, mini-golf, paddle boats, aquatic park, and even a mini train, many of which were closed either due to COVID or because of the time of the year. There is also an arboretum and nature trails to explore any time of year. It was overcast but much warmer than the frosty Michigan weather we left behind.

After burning off some calories from our pastries, we took a drive through Gruene (pronounced green). With our experience with Texas limited to Austin and New Braunfels, Gruene felt like what I always imagined Texas to be like. Greune is a small town full of businesses with green pun names such as a boutique named Gruene with Envy and the Christmas store Red and Gruene. It is also home to Texas’s oldest dance hall, Gruene Hall which was also featured in the above Samantha Brown special.

After our lunch in Gruene, we continued on the road to San Antonio. Be sure to stop back next week as I continue recapping our winter escape to the Texas Hill Country! Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Texas Hill Country Road Trip

Cow at LBJ State Park

A little over a year ago we took our last getaway before everything shut down and the world changed. February 2020, we scored cheap flights for a long weekend in Austin, Texas and even though it was unseasonably cold (although not as unseasonably cold as Texas this February) we fell in love with Austin.

While we were stuck at home social distancing, we found a new love, travel shows, and one of our favorites is Samantha Brown: Places to Love. Since we had recently took a tour of Austin and the Texas Hill Country, one of the first episodes we watched was about the Texas Hill Country and we realized that the tour we took didn’t even scratch the surface of the Hill Country. When we were looking to use up our flight credit from our canceled spring break trip, we found a deal to fly back to Austin to fully explore the area.

After what may possibly have been too much research, I came up with with following itinerary:

This ended being a great trip and we have been looking back on it a lot since it has been so cold here. You might notice in my above itinerary that our connecting flight home from Orlando got canceled and the earliest flight they were able to get us on was two days later. This cancellation resulted from flight delays due to the closure of Jacksonville air traffic control due to a COVID outbreak. Needless to say, it has made us nervous to take any other flights right now.

Be sure to check back here every week as I tell the stories of our road trip around the Hill Country! Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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