Jeep’n Trip — Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park, Hinton OK
I took the whole week after Memorial Day off (to start using my vaca time before I retire next year) and one of my “resolutions” this year was to go to a bunch of state parks here in OK. We had the Friday before Memorial Day off, so I took advantage of the fact everyone else was likely working and decided to hit up Red Rock.
A bit of a disclaimer – in my resolutions, I was going to Jeep camp. And then I realized how freakin’ close most of these are. Seriously. Red Rock is just under two hours away. So instead of doing allllll the things for camping, I’ve decided to day trip the ones I can (and that way I don’t need a cat sitter, either).
This trip was the debut of my new retractable roof on the Jeep, and OMG, it was sooo much easier than taking off the panels. I’m officially in love 😊
Google Maps took me this totally weird route (found out why on the way back), but I still got to Hinton OK less than two hours after I started. Hinton is tiny and the park is right outside of town. If you didn’t know this totally cool little place as there, you’d drive right past it. And you probably will…I did, because the turn is only kinda sorta marked and I didn’t expect the ranger station to be less than a hundred yards from the highway.
I turned around and made my way to the entry and had a lovely chat with the ranger, who gave me a map and told me where the best hikes for chubby over-fiftysomethings were—LOL. He also advised me to strap on my hiking boots, that most of the trails were still a bit wet from recent rains and the current humidity.
I still didn’t see what the “park” was, and wondered if I’d wasted $10, since everything looked like normal central Oklahoma, but then I started down into the canyon and O.M.G. it was amazing.
Think a teensy version of Sedona. Literally driving along gorgeous red cliffs with a beautiful stream running nearby. But even better than Sedona—minimal people!!! Granted, I was there before all the Memorial Day folks started arriving, but there just aren’t a ton of campsites there.
I can’t overemphasize how much of a surprise and a treat this was. The canyon itself isn’t very long, maybe three miles? And that’s a stretch, but it’s so very pretty and peaceful. About halfway through there’s an actual pool and small store where you can grab incidentals if you don’t want to drive the whole 3 miles into Hinton 😊.
I drove to the very end of the canyon and then picked two trails to hike on… the California Road Nature Trail and the Canyon Rim Trail.
The Nature Trail was… interesting. It’s shorter than the other one, but gains altitude to the rim pretty quickly. The trail itself was nice and there were a ton of flowers I took pics of. I also realized that without my glasses on, I have zero idea of what expression I’m making, so I will have glasses on for all pics now–LOL Look at all of that greenery!!!
Then I started back down, and it was slick as snot. The ranger had been totally right, and the slabs of red rock were super slick as you traversed back down from the ridge. I didn’t fall, but I took it VERY slowly. All in all I think that one was around 1.5 miles, so not super long, but lots of vertical footage.
I did discover that’s one of the advantages to hiking solo…I didn’t have to go fast for anyone and didn’t have to slow down either. It was super peaceful, and the birds were singing and it was just very zen.
I made it back down to the Jeep without breaking my ass, and guzzled some water and trail mix, then headed out for the opposite trailhead, which goes on the other side of the ridgeline.
This trail was MUCH better. Wider, better marked, and branches off into several different trails. I chose to just hug the top of the canyon and got even more pics of flowers, including a cactus and a super colorful butterfly. Obviously flowers were very important to me on this trip–LOL!
I could have gone even further but decided to call it a day. At that point, I’d been out almost two and a half hours and I was HUNGRY—LOL. So I headed back and drank a ton of water then headed to the little store to see what they had to offer.
Since they just opened this weekend, it was limited to sno cones and hot dogs and such, so I treated myself to a sno cone and chatted with the manager.
Turns out she and her family bought Red Rock when the state decided to decommission it as a State Park. I had NO idea it was privately held. But that means they have a different rule set than the state parks, including the fact I can sleep in the Jeep without getting hassled, so I’m definitely going to head back and overnight it, then hit the trails I didn’t hike this time around.
She also recommended Jaques Barbeque in Hinton for a late lunch, but that I had to boogie because they’d sell out by 1400.
It was sooooo good! I don’t usually eat red meat much (last time was on my trip in March when I rolled into Roswell) but I got the brisket and pulled pork sandwich with the white garlic sauce, and oh honey, it was amaaaaazing. I also got half a cob of grilled corn. YUM!!! You totally have to check his food out if you’re ever in that area.
I hunkered down in the Lions Club Memorial Park (seemed fitting on Memorial Day weekend) and polished that bad boy off, right as storms were starting to form. So I popped the convertible top back into place (in about 30 seconds…so glorious) and headed home.
I took I40 back, and I saw why Google Maps had rerouted me… the interstate is a freakin’ goat rope right now. I was fine going east, but they were backed up for miles and miles and miles and down to one lane going west. Glad I followed directions rather than veering off on my own.
All in all it was a fantastic way to spend the day, and I highly recommend this as a day trip if you’re in the area, or a camping trip if that’s your jam.
Expenses: $57 total; gas=$25 (because the Jeep is a box on wheels with absolutely zero aerodynamic properties); $10 park entry fee for day use; $5 sno cone; $17 lunch.
Music: 80’s alternative on the way there with the top down, my Happy Music playlist on the way back (just didn’t feel like an audiobook)
Terri’s Jeep’n Adventures (OK to CA)
This was my second long trip in the Jeep, and I had SUCH a good time. I went for two primary reasons – to see fam and celebrate Nicole’s birthday (my sister-in-law) and to look for a place to land next year when I retire.
Because I’m retiring next year, and can’t sell my vacation back, I need to take it all, so I’ll be doing a bunch of short trips and a few longer ones, with this one being the first.
I took my time on most of this trip, and consequently was gone 12 days. Since I didn’t stay with anyone, my lodging expenses were quite a bit higher than when I went to Charleston, and I was gone a few days longer, so the extra expenses make sense.
I left OK and headed for Amarillo (4.5 hours). Which wasn’t so much a destination in itself (since I don’t eat much meat anymore, Big Tex was out) but was a good jumping off point. On the way there I scouted out Boiling Springs State Park in OK, which I’ll definitely be going back to… so very peaceful. I crashed at an inexpensive chain hotel and hit it early the next morning. Just down the road was my first fun vaca place… Cadillac Ranch.
I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this 😊 I added my layer of graffiti while freezing my ass off, but it was super cool. Then I hit the road. Between Amarillo and Roswell is some reallllly flat land with a ton of feed lots. So not the best scenery in the world. I rolled into Roswell more than ready for some chow and scored a counter seat at the Cowboy Café. Sooooo good!! This is the Hatch Chili burger with a fried egg on top, and was the first beef I’ve eaten in forever. It was amazing.
I really wanted to get to my next destination, Cloudcroft, NM (5.5 hours) early in the day, so boogied without spending a ton of time in Roswell, which I was okay with. And I was super glad when I started to hit the mountain roads heading into Cloudcroft. Super gorgeous, but I don’t know that I’d want to be traveling them for the first time after dark. I made it in pretty early and the hotel, The Lodge at Cloudcroft was amazeballs. August would have loved this place so very much. It was built in 1909, the same as our old colonial, and had a ton of the same architecture. What a great birthday present to myself!
I went up to the very top and snapped this amazing sunset.
I would stay here again in a heartbeat, and there was a TON of hiking and fun things to do, so I’ll definitely be back at some point.
I reluctantly left Cloudcroft and headed for Tucson (5.5 hours). The trip itself was uneventful and felt loooong, probably because of the desert driving. My hotel in Tucson totally made up for it tho! The Hotel McCoy was in an interesting neighborhood just off the freeway, so at first I wondered if I’d made a mistake. But then when I figured out how to get in (it’s kinda squirrelly and right off the freeway) the place was sooooo charming.
It’s a super old-school motor lodge. Think smallish rooms with beamed slanted ceilings. But the AC worked great, and this AMAZING mural was my headboard.
They had a food truck on site, a bar (with a free beer or glass of wine), a fun saltwater pool and an oatmeal bar the next morning (also free).
There was the most adorable little table sitting outside my room (I was right by the entry), and it was a gorgeous night, so I sat there and munched on some of my road food and sipped on a bourbon. I had convos with 4 people regarding my Jeep, and “are you Wander Woman?” And even a few “you’re a romance writer?” I ended up handing out bookmarks and from my Amazon #s, know that I made a few sales that night. It was such a fun, friendly, cool vibe. I highly recommend staying there!
Onto day 4, where I hit the road early and headed for Borrego Springs, CA (5.5 hours), which I’m scouting out as a retirement spot. Again, lots of desert driving, but the mountains heading into Yuma were super cool, Yuma itself was actually pretty neat to drive through, and the dunes as you head into Cali definitely broke up the landscape and made it interesting. When I turned north and drove through the Imperial Valley and toward Borrego Springs, I began to have my doubts. It’s the surface of the moon out there, with some bushes. And it just keeps going that way. Until you get to Borrego Springs.
The village itself is set up against the mountains and there are lots of trees in town and a ton more greenery than what you see driving up to it. I was thoroughly charmed and decided to stay overnight on my way back to Oklahoma. I did drive through the mobile home park I’m eyeballing, and it was insta-love. The place is fantastic 😊
As I left, I took the “short” route up and over the mountain, and got this shot from one of the vista points. You can see the outskirts of Borrego Springs to the left.
And then I headed the 2 hours into San Diego. It started pouring buckets the moment I hit the top of the mountains, and didn’t let up for over an hour. But I’m in a Jeep and I think that just makes me more comfy driving in inclement weather.
San Diego was super fun, and well-spent family time. Our shared birthday party was a hoot, and I got to spend some time with the kids as well. Leslie, Lauren (my other sisters-in-law) and I headed over the mountain again to Borrego Springs, and had a ton of fun scouting out my soon-to-be retirement area, including taking a tour of the public art.
I waved goodbye to Borrego Springs and headed 6 hours up the road to Cottonwood, AZ, which is nestled between Jerome and Sedona, and a perfect spot to spend a few nights and play. I noshed on some fantastic food at Crema in Cottonwood before taking the short drive up the mountain to Jerome.
I actually found parking in Jerome (which is a minor miracle) because it was so early and checked out the State Park (they got a smidge of snow that night and it was very cold) and had a most excellent tasting experience at Caduceus Winery, which just happens to be owned by the frontman for Tool, one of my fave bands. Kim Miceli was my tasting pro, and she was just lovely to hang and talk with. I bought WAY too much wine, but that’s the joy of driving and not worrying about weight, right? Then I headed into Sedona for lunch. Because why not?
This was the ridiculous view from the parking lot. What???? Honestly, there are so many amazing views in Sedona and Jerome, but this one was a “take a deep breath” moment after braving the gazillion people jaywalking and just being dumb on the road.
Had a lovely lunch and picked up a bunch of goodies for everyone back home before heading over to Montezuma’s Castle, which was a fantastic whim that hit me when I saw the sign. It was a gorgeous day and a lovely walk around the loop, just enjoying nature.
The next day I was up early and heading for Meteor Crater.
So there’s a story behind this one… August and I drove past Meteor Crater approximately 800 times (just kidding, but it was a lot) on our trips to San Diego and Mariposa over the last 25 years, and every single time he’d say “We’ll go there next time, I promise.” So this time, I took him along for the ride 😊
I’m not going to say it wasn’t traumatic. It totally was. I cried in the parking lot afterwards for at least half an hour, mostly over opportunities lost. On a lighter note, his ashes are freakin’ heavy as hell, and there are a LOT of stairs (I refused to take the elevator).
After my cry, I got on the road for a looooong day all the way into Tucumcari, NM (10-ish hours). I think this one seemed longer because Interstate 40 is really desolate along this stretch. Gorgeous, but desolate. And I got stuck in a traffic jam that was over 10 miles long due to a tractor-trailer fire. Which is legit, but still a PITA. It looked like the driver made it out, but there were Cuties scattered along the freeway for miles.
I grabbed a hotel in Tucumcari and got up early and began my 6-hour speed run for Oklahoma.
It was glorious to be back home with the kitties. I’d taken a few extra days of leave, so had some time to decompress before heading back to work.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and I loved about 99% of it. Yeah, Meteor Crater was tough, but it was a piece of closure I didn’t realize I needed to move forward.
Expenses Total: $2660; Gas: $554.86, Food: $501.74, Lodging: $1604.03
Audiobooks: Midnight Crossing by Charlaine Harris; Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child; Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan and several others I started but chose not to finish.
Things I learned: More dry foods. WalMart has some turkey sticks that were fantastic and I made up a trail mix that I definitely could have eaten more of.
Notes for next time: Less refrigerated/cooler stuff: I ate almost everything, but at the end it was kinda sketchy. I could easily have packed ½ of what I did and hit a grocery store to restock.
20 Things to do in 2023
Somewhere on Facebook I saw a post where the author talked about setting 20 goals and then trying to meet 12 of them (so one a month).
This is likely going to be my last full year in Oklahoma, so I decided to make my list OK-centric.
Since I already read a ton, and write regularly, those aren’t new, growth things to try, but these are. Some of them (like watching a movie a week) are things I’m going to have to make myself do, but so many of the others sound like grand adventures to me and I really want to try to cross most of them off my list!!
• Watch a movie a week: I don’t watch TV—at all—and we don’t have a movie theater in town (yet). So for now, streaming will be my friend.
• Eat at a new restaurant once a month: I tend to go with the tried and true. Need to inject “newness,” even tho that means I’ll have to leave town most of the time
• Eat a new dish at a local restaurant once a month: Again, tried and true here…
• Monthly self-care (facial/mani-pedi…whatever)
• Attend romance writer meetings at least 4 times in person: I want to reconnect with an in-person writing tribe again
• Skydive: indoor or outdoor will depend on how fearless I’m feeling 😮
• Visit Stafford Air & Space (Weatherford), likely with my Airmen on a field trip
• Visit Martin Park Nature Center OKC for a fun springtime day trip
• Visit Wheeler District OKC: One of my Airmen said this was super fun, so gonna try it!
• Visit The Gathering Place: This is going to be a two-three dayer where I take my bike and stay at my enchanted cottage and write my ass off in the evenings
• Visit Eureka Springs (again—Loved this place with August, want to try it solo)
• Hang out at OKC Blues Fest (June): August and I went to Reggae Fest 3 times, but never made it to this.
• Hike Keystone Ancient Forest’s trails: This is a new discovery for me (thanks Kyle Osborn!!) and I can’t WAIT now that my hiking boots are worn in from my trip to Belize last September.
• Jeep camp in these state parks: Black Mesa (will do that for stargazing in August), Red Rock Canyon, Osage Hills, Keystone (when I do my hiking), Boiling Springs (because I need a picture there for my readers), Foss, and Greenleaf
• Ziplining in Belize or Costa Rica (not sure which I’m visiting this year). If it’s Belize, snorkeling as well
• Get a complete makeover and then get author shots: Been a loooong time and I think I’d like to do this. Plus, I might know a few photographers 😊
• Meteor shower (August 13, camp @ Black Mesa)
• Hot Air Balloon ride (and/or attend Albuquerque Balloon Fest Oct 7-15)
• Visit hot springs and do leaf changing tour (mid-late Oct)
• And perhaps the most challenging for me… learn to actually meditate and just be comfortable with silence
Belize, Beautiful Belize
Not a Jeep’n adventure but an adventure all the same.
I took my first solo vacation in late September. August and I had always talked about going to Belize, so I decided that was the spot. I booked my plane and hotel reservations in June, I was so excited—LOL.
I flew out of OKC, through Houston and landed in Belize City pretty early (noonish). Customs in Belize only took about half an hour, and I met my taxi driver Dean right outside. He was awesome, so much so that I asked for him to be my tour guide the next day.
The Harbor View Hotel & Spa was fantastic. The only bummer was that the restaurant was closed for renos, but I made the best of it 😊 My cottage, the Scarlet Macaw, was simple and comfy, and had life-saving AC, which became very important later. (on the website you can see my cottage on the far left, it’s blue now)
Since I’d arrived so early, I decided to explore a bit and grab some lunch. There was a Radisson with a great restaurant literally around the corner, so I ordered some amazing ceviche and a few drinks while I looked out over the ocean. It was like my body took a great big breath and let it out.
I’d been debating whether I wanted to dive right into adventure the next day, and after chilling at the restaurant for a good little bit, I decided to go for it. I booked my travel adventure for 8 am the next day and grabbed some vital bug spray from the Radisson curio shop.
When I returned to my cottage, I met three amazing women, Susan, Jessica and Rachel, who were in 3 other cottages, and there for a business trip. There were only 5 cottages total, and the 5th wasn’t occupied for my stay, so it felt like our own little village—with a small pool in the middle. We hung out and chatted and had a fantastic time, then dinner later.
One interesting thing I didn’t know… Belizean days start really early (it starts to get light at 0530) and end just as early. It’s dark by 7 p.m. Since I tend to wake up as soon as it gets light and get sleepy when it’s dark, I was in bed pretty early most nights.
The next day (after buying sunscreen at the Radisson curio shop), I embarked on my adventure with Dean. The girls snapped the pic above as I left to meet him. It was just Dean and I (I paid a bit extra by going solo, but SO worth it), so we got to know each other quite a bit as we traveled. We drove about 2 hours southwest to the Xunantunich (Su Nan Tu Niche) Mayan Ruins, which were super cool. The main temple of El Castillio is very tall, and mildly dangerous to climb (if you go to the website, you can see a tourist on the 2d level plateau).
As you can see, the initial steps are SUPER tall. Close to 2.5 feet, so not an easy step. They were made for supplication (the Mayans were on the short side), so being tall was a challenge. But I hauled my chubby (and old) ass up them, and then up to the plateau on the left, which led to another set of stairs that were holy-cow dangerous. Like, you’d never, ever see these in the States. No railings on the “holy shit, gonna fall and die” side, with some here and there to hold onto on your left. But once I got up there the view was amazing.
This is looking out into Belize, but behind me was Guatemala, less than a mile away. My guide Francisco and I took a breather (and I drank a ton of water), then headed back down. The trip down was better, but you can bet your ass I took it slow. Klutzy is my middle name, especially when I’m tired. I was exhausted and sweaty as hell. Also super stinky, tho I didn’t realize that until later. The temp was only in the 80s, but with 90% humidity, it felt over 100. But I made it and didn’t stroke out—LOL.
We grabbed a traditional Belizean lunch of rice, chicken and plantains a bit down the road in San Ignacio (which was a lovely little town) and then headed for cave tubing.
I changed of my hiking boots and stinky clothes and into biking shorts and a dry-wick workout shirt and then Victor (my guide and I) headed for the river. After fording it 3 times (which felt ridiculously good after sweating so much), we reached our destination.
I was all geared up, to include having my phone in a waterproof bag. I was so paranoid about taking it out, I didn’t get any inside pics, but trust me when I say it was stunning. If I could do it again, I’d take a GoPro, but I did find a video that really captured the experience. I was incredibly lucky in that Victor and I were completely alone as we experienced this… there were NO other people on the river or in the caves, and it was, dare I say it, a spiritual experience.
After such a wonderful ride, it was truly icky to put my gross clothes back on. But our ride back into Belize City was reasonably short, and soon I was back in my cottage and enjoying a long shower. And a LOT of air conditioning. I enjoyed dinner right down the road (a truly exceptional grilled red snapper with veggies) and then crashed hard.
My second day was all about pampering, and man, did I need it. My quads were dying!! I scheduled a full body massage and a Reiki session. The massage (by the incomparable Shana) was amazing, and I felt loose as a goose. Then came Michelle and the Reiki session. I don’t know what I expected, but after an hour of deep breathing and concentrating on a mantra that I had to think pretty hard about before I decided on it, I was completely wrung out. As much as the caves had been spiritual the day before, this was epic on an entirely different scale. I was deeply comforting and uncomfortable at the same time, if that makes sense. It made me confront my grief in a way I hadn’t so far while at the same time soothing that grief. I was wiped out, but had such a deep well of goodness. I’ll definitely do it again, and I plan to continue using the deep breathing exercises Michelle taught me. If nothing else, it taught me the beauty of stillness, which is a very difficult thing for me to achieve.
The girls and I grabbed dinner right around the corner that night, at a great little shack where I got tostadas…the tortilla was from locally-ground corn with a more Guatemalan flare than Mexican. They were delicious.
The next day, it was off to Caye (pronounced Key—don’t ask me why) Caulker. It was a 45-minute water taxi ride there. Really it’s the city bus on the water, tho 😊 Caye Caulker is super chill. There are no cars on the island, only golf carts and there are plenty of golf-cart taxis waiting to take you wherever you want to go. I walked the entirety of the Caye, just to get my bearings. Got offered “the best green” once, which I politely declined (dammit) and settled for a beer at one end of the island before hailing a taxi and heading to the Pelican Sunset Bar for the best ceviche I’ve ever had.
Then I asked for a shot of rum, and toasted August before dumping it in the ocean.
To say I was hot and stinky (again) is an understatement, so I was happy to board the water taxi again and head back to my cottage for my last night. The girls and I went to dinner at a fantastic place right on the water, and truly made a night of it.
Dean rejoined me to take me back to the airport on Thursday, and while I was sad to leave, I was also ready to be home to snuggle with my kitties.
When I landed in Atlanta, I ended up behind a pilot at Customs. We chatted as we waited, and it turns out he was a Vance AFB pilot training grad!! It was before we got to Vance, but still super cool. Then it turned out he was my pilot back from Belize. What a way to end it!
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and I’d recommend everyone try it.
- English is the primary language and the Belizean dollar is the currency, but you can use US dollars everywhere. The current exchange rate is two-to-one, so you definitely get more for your US dollar.
- Belizeans are the friendliest folks I’ve ever met. Seriously. They love showing off their country and are extremely proud of it.
- The weather is high humidity, but it’s fantastic for your skin and body. I felt totally rejuvenated there, even when I was exhausted.
- The food, OMG, the food. Fresh fish on the coast, beef and pork dishes in the western parts of the country.
- The diverse ecosystem. I only saw the beaches and the rainforest, but there’s tons of other places to go here.
Not a con, but a caution – Belize reminded me of Mexico and Portugal – there are folks living in abject poverty right next door to a 5-star resort. They’re out hustling for a living, which means trying to sell trinkets to tourists. Having said that, a smile and “no thank you” usually suffices. If you want a Sandals type experience, then definitely head to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which caters more to American tastes.
Expenses: $2500 total; Hotel=1065; Airfare=$475; Cash=$350 (most of that went to tips); Mayan Temple/Cave Tubing=$300; Massage/Reiki=$250
Audiobooks: Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham for the flights.
Mood music: When I was in my room, played my Happy Music Playlist or jazz.
Things I learned:
- If you’re female, MAKE SURE you bring 2 bras. I thought I did. I did not. So I had to wash mine every night because I got so gross during the day. Also, bring Febreeze. You’ll need it.
- For the Mayan Temple, I was told tennis shoes would be fine. NO. Just no. Bring hiking boots, they’re totally worth the space. Remember, NO railings. You need solid, sure footing and ankle support. Definitely a hat and sunscreen, + bug spray, tho not as much as you’ll need in cave tubing. If you have a fear of heights, I wouldn’t tackle the big one, like I did, but there are smaller pyramids that are an easier climb and not so high.
- For Cave Tubing, swim shorts/bike shorts and a dry-wick shirt is just fine if you don’t want to wear a swim suit. Your boobs are covered up by the life vest 99% of the time. 100% on the bug spray here, so-so on the sunscreen. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip this one.
- Most of the people you will hire are day jobbers, meaning they get paid for the whole day. I paid $300 for my adventure, but my driver was only paid $25 American. So you bet your boopie I tipped, and tipped well.
- Pleasant surprise – the Mayan pieces of lore were exceptionally well done (I kind of knew about 75% of it anyway, and what I knew was on target) and consistent across 3 guides.
- Gas is VERY expensive there. Like $8 a gallon. Get a driver. It’s cheaper and if you’re in a city, you will get lost fast.
Terri’s Jeep’n Adventures (OK to SC)
Terri’s Jeep’n Adventures–Oklahoma to Charleston
This is my first travel blog post about my maiden Jeep journey. A bit of backstory first, tho.
It’s been almost a year and a half since my husband passed away, and in that time I’ve done alllll the things to keep myself busy, to try to start to build a life without him.
We’d always talked about traveling when he retired, and I decided that I’d continue with that plan. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it, whether I’d Jeep it to hotels (and maybe sleep in the back of the Jeep when the weather was nice) or get a pull-behind. For context, I have a 2015 4-door Wrangler that can easily tow a small pull-behind, and I also have a blow-up bed for the back that I’ve slept in before.
Visiting our oldest friends in Charleston seemed like a good test of the drive/hotel option because it’s still damned hot in late August/early September. My main concern was to see if I could drive that far and not lose my mind, to either overthinking, or just being on the road that long by myself.
Let me start out with this… the drive/hotel option was an unqualified success.
I left northwestern Oklahoma at noon on a Friday after a half-day at work and made it down to Little Rock in about six hours. I stayed on the river and ate at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro, which was fantastic. If you ever go there, the White Truffle Mac and Cheese cannot be beat. I’d thought I’d commemorate my trip by taking selfies when it seemed right, and while I was sitting there, I shamed myself a little bit. I wondered what people would think about this sorta-overweight, mid-fiftysomething woman taking a selfie in a restaurant. So I didn’t. And the next morning, I kicked myself. Because who is actually going to care about me taking a selfie? Am I ever going to see these people again? And do I care what they think?
The answer to that was a resounding “no,” so I vowed to get over myself as the trip commenced.
The next morning, I left Little Rock behind, knowing I’ll be revisiting it in the future. It has a great vibe that I can’t wait to explore, and since it’s so close, I can see doing it on a long weekend before I retire.
Side note: I discovered I have a 120-150 minute bladder 😊, so caveat that with the time I’m spending on the road.
I put in a solid eight+ hours the second day and arrived in Atlanta. Now, I’ve been to Atlanta before for a conference and loved the downtown area. Where I booked my hotel this time around? Not so much. The area was a complete goat rope on a Saturday night. I’m not talking about it being busy. I’m talking people parking on the sidewalks, ignoring lights and just a general feeling of impending mayhem. The hotel wasn’t much better. It was just weird, almost looking like it’d once been an efficiency apartment or a shared dorm room. I was hoping the “soul food” restaurant next door would salvage the experience, but it was a wannabe Chilis with bad service. But the drinks were good when they finally arrived.
So needless to say, I was pretty happy to put Atlanta in my rearview mirror as I headed to Charleston. The drive there was short and sweet, just under five hours, and most of it was lovely.
Our friends George and Jodi and their kids treated me like royalty, showing me super fun stuff in Charleston to include treating me to a culinary tour that we ended up getting soaked doing, but it was a blast. This pic is from the CU restaurant (Church + Union), a former Naval chapel. Food was fantastic at all of our stops, but here especially.
The next day we toured a winery (this is Jodi) and a tea plantation (this is me, George and Jodi) before indulging in a fantastic selection of bourbons at Paddock Bourbon & Whisky Bar.
I loved having a chance to reconnect with one of my Airmen (waving at Taylor, if he sees this) who’s stationed in Charleston and then we had an AMAZEBALLS family dinner at Halls Chophouse. This was truly a bucket list dinner, and I’m so grateful for the chance to go with some of our bestest friends. I threw a toast to August in the sky, because Halls was exactly the kind of foodie/drinkie experience we loved to have together.
I hated leaving Charleston but wanted to get back home with a few days to re-center myself before I head back to work. Return day one was just under 8 hours, and I rolled into Tupelo, Mississippi around 4 pm. And you KNOW I had to get a pic with the statue of Elvis!
Stayed at the Hotel Tupelo, which just a smidge more pricey than the other hotels, and was worth every penny. The room was fantastic, and the food downstairs at Jobos was ridiculously good. For dinner I had squid with bacon lardons and bacon dashi and then a blackened shrimp Caesar salad. It as amazing.
Then before I hit the road, I had a fantastic, healthy breakfast bowl that seriously set me up for the rest of the driving day.
I rolled out pretty early after a great breakfast and was 2 hours down the road when the hotel called me to tell me I’d left my tablet in the room. I was so very pleasantly surprised they’d called (I mean, the housekeeper could have kept it and feigned innocence) and we worked out a plan to get it back to me. So A+++ to Hotel Tupelo.
I’m a pretty fearless traveler, but not stupid. So when a random guy approached me at a gas station in Arkansas, asking me for a jump because he’d left his lights on, I told him no. He pressed. I told him no again and looked at the dude at the pump next to me, who was watching what was going on very intently. Rando moved on to approach another woman who told him no, then another who said yes. And granted, his car was in plain sight, it was just so weird that he went to ONLY women and not the other dudes at the station. I made sure to stick around until the woman who’d agreed to help him was well on her way before I saddled up myself. It might have been totally innocent, but gave me a creepy vibe, y’know?
Then I entered the monsoon. Seriously. It rained so hard on 3 separate occasions in Arkansas and Oklahoma that I was doing 30 on the freeway, flashers on, the whole nine yards. And I was in WAY better shape than a lot of folks because I’m so high up in the Jeep and the roads were totally flooded. It was reasonably dicey for a good bit. I was just happy to see blue sky as I pulled into Tulsa for my last night on the road. I could have probably jammed on to home, but I promised the cat-sitter that I wouldn’t be back until Saturday morning, and it gave me a chance to go to Sprouts the next morning to stock up. Had a lovely dinner at Charleston’s, which is next-level road food where I can go Paleo or not with ease.
My drive from Tulsa almost seemed longer than half the trip, probably because I’ve done it a million times and because I was coming home 😊
It was a great trip, and I’ll definitely be doing more long trips in the future, but for the rest of this year, I think I’ll be sticking a bit closer to home.
More adventures to come, they’ll simply be of the Oklahoma/Kansas/Arkansas variety.
Expenses: Gas =$495; Hotels=$600; Food=$400. The food cost is only for the road, and most of that was me splurging on a nice dinner at each of my stops. (I tried to treat my hosts as much as possible once I was in Charleston, but we fought over bills 😊) I only ate breakfast or lunch, and nibbled from the small cooler I brought, then bought fast food to bridge the gap. I wouldn’t do the fast-food thing again. All told, this was about an even-steven cost if I’d flown and rented a car and I definitely would have spent more on food if I was at my final destination.
Audiobooks: Death Echo & Blue Smoke and Murder by Elizabeth Lowell. I started 4 others but ditched them when the narrator didn’t do it for me.
Mood music: My feel-good playlist has lots of fun stuff on it, but for this trip, it was ALL Lizzo (especially About Damn Time), after I kicked my own ass in Little Rock for not being brave.
Things I learned:
• I can drive 10 hours if need be, as long as I get out to stretch when I pee and gas up.
• The map on my laptop overestimated travel time. Maybe they’re factoring in traffic. I dunno, but this wasn’t as long as I anticipated it being, so I got to my destinations way earlier than I thought I would.
Notes for next time:
• Research standing road-yoga for when I stop at gas stations or rest stops
• Better road food. I just kind of winged it this time, and I need to be better prepared next time with less carby/fast food stuff. I bought a mini-fridge that plugs into the 12V outlet for my next trip. I threw away a bit of food because my cheesy $12 cooler from Wal-Mart didn’t cut the mustard. This way I can definitely pack some perishables for the driving portions that are actually healthy and tasty.
• Have a full set of silverware and paper napkins packed, just in case.
Duck and Run Pre-order .99c through 1 March
So very excited to share a bit more of Duck and Run with you, to include a .99c pre-order! For anyone who purchased it even earlier, no fear, you’ll get the 99c price. D&R releases on 26 February, so just a few weeks away!!
Cris and Nick are two characters who were a long time coming… around a decade. When I first wrote this story, I had Harlequin Intrigue in mind, so wrote the first half, and then a big tornado hit Oklahoma City and a book that opens with a tornado seemed super tone deaf. So I put it away for a few years. And then started writing again and fell in love with Cris and Nick again… And then another massive tornado hit in our region and I figured, that’s it, done with this one.
But something happened to me last year. Maybe it was because of the pandemic, maybe it’s my day-job retirement looming on the horizon, but I decided to get off my butt and finish things. So I finished the CASI series and I finished the Mariposa series. And then I finished this book and dove into the next one (Broken Wings, coming in August).
I still adore Cris and Nick and the whole Red River Repossessions crew, and I hope you will as well!
Repossession agent Cristine O’Connor escaped the horrible memories of her past in Austin and buried herself deep in a new, safe, quiet life.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Nick McClain sucks at undercover work, but that doesn’t stop the powers that be from sending him into the field, and into danger.
When Cris repossesses a car and discovers Nick locked in the trunk, it’s just a matter of time until their secrets—and their pasts—collide. They’ll need to risk everything, including their hearts, to survive.
Passing of an icon…
The book world lost an icon this month when Rachel Caine passed after a long battle with cancer.
I first “met” Rachel about a million years ago after I read the first book in her Weather Warden series, Ill Wind (https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Wind-Weather-Warden-Book-ebook/dp/B000O76OQ8) and adored it.
I was a very young writer at the time with only one book under my belt and a tiny newsletter following. But I’ve never been accused of being shy, so I reached out to Rachel for writing advice and to ask her for an interview for my 50 whole followers. I was so pleasantly surprised when she not only replied, but actually began a conversation with me about writing and reading and how her writing process worked. She graciously granted an interview, and we chatted off an on for about a year before I plunged into the business side of the publishing world as an editorial director for a small e-house.
But even when I wasn’t writing, I was reading, and I was reading her books. And as I did, I realized how much of a gift Rachel had given me in those early days…her most precious resource…time.
Her Stillhouse Lake books will always be one of my favorite suspense series, and I have a shelf full of Weather Warden books that I’ll always cherish.
I began writing again after a break, and that early advice from Rachel has been my constant companion since. To put your butt in the chair and write. To read, not only to see what’s trending in the market, but for the joy of it. And to understand the business of writing. What she didn’t tell me, but has impacted every book I’ve written, was how to write a kick-ass, sympathetic heroine, who stands her ground for what she knows is right. She gave us all Joanne Baldwin, and for that I’ll always be eternally grateful.
Rachel, you impacted a generation of writers and readers, and you’ll be missed so very much.
Lunatic Fringe, coming 25 August 2020
Sooo geeked that Lunatic Fringe, the third book in the CASI series, will be published on 25 August 2020. You can pre-order it now, if your heart desires 🙂 It’s only 99c through the end of August.
- Kick-ass heroine losing her identity 1 day at a time
- Cold as ice hero who’ll scorch the Earth for her
- Frenemies to lovers
- Saving the world (again)
- AMZ: https://tinyurl.com/y5rk3dby
- Kobo: https://tinyurl.com/y4o6r6tg
- B&N: https://tinyurl.com/y6a7ard7
- Apple: https://tinyurl.com/yxkjqm8h
This series has been a long time in the making, and I’m so happy to finish it up with Monica and Heath’s story, as well as closing the loop on the big bad that has been haunting the CASI crew for the last 3 books (and 1 novella).
And hey, if you’re new to the series, Behind Blue Eyes is FREE for the month of August, and Shoot to Thrill is just 99c. So what are you waiting for?
June Book Reviews
Greetings y’all! In this month’s reads, I wasn’t quite as vociferous, as I was finishing up the first round of edits for Lunatic Fringe. BUT, I did read and adore these…
Dirty Like Me, Jaine Diamond — FANTASTIC rock star romance. I loved this book so much. Katie and Jesse are my new fave couple, and I can’t wait to gobble up the second book, which will be Jessa and Brody’s story. SOOO happy this is a completed series and on KU.
Wrapped up in You, Jill Shalvis — I’ve been a Shalvis fangirl since the early days, and her books never fail to be a comfort read when I need it the most. It’s guaranteed I’ll cry at the end, but they’re always happy tears 🙂 In the latest (and hopefully not last) book in the Heartbreaker Bay series, Ivy and Kel are a perfect match for each other, even though it seems like their happily ever after is impossible to reach, given their pasts. Because this is a romance, I always know they’ll get there, but SO much fun along the way 🙂 You can totally read this one as a stand alone, but why would you when there are 7 more books in the series? All as fun and sexy and happily-ever-after as the last.
Merry Christmas, Baby, Katie Reus — Super sweet, fun holiday romance (it’s only 105 here today, I needed some snow-LOL). If you’re looking for a short, heartwarming book w/o too much angst, then Nora and Jackson will do the trick. I read this in one sitting and had a huge smile on my face at the end of it…so much so that I bought the next book in the series.
May 2020 Reads
So I’m horrible about blogging, which is obvious from how many posts I have 🙂 But I AM an avid reader, so I thought I’d drop in once a month and let you know what I’ve enjoyed over the last month.
Fair warning, I tend to read VERY broadly — LOL.
- Protect the Prince, Jennifer Estep — LOVED this second installment of the Crown of Shards trilogy. I can’t wait to read the third. Highly recommended. Fantasy romance.
- Sinister Shadows, Colleen Gleason — Super fun, with a zany supporting cast and a fun romance. All the books in the Wicks Hollow series are fantastic. Mystery romance.
- Aurora Blazing, Jesse Mihalik — Amazing second book in the Consortium Rebellion series (huh, reading a lot of second books this month) with a solid stand-alone romance. Sci-Fi romance.
- The Transporter, Liz Maverick — High-stakes, fast moving with interesting characters… this is the first book in the Hudson Kings series (on KU) and I’m super interested to see where the series goes. Romantic suspense.
- Brazen and the Beast — Love, love, love this book and series (Barenuckle Bastards). Feisty heroine, yummy hero. An all over just-wow series, with the 3d installment coming at the end of June. Historical romance.