This year, Clay signed up to attend SXSW (an annual conference held in Austin for film, music, design, and interactive media) for work during mid-March. Since neither of us had been to Texas before, I decided to fly out to Austin a few days later to join him! We both knew that Clay needed to attend back-to-back conference sessions all day, so spending time together was going to be a little tricky. I was pretty prepared to explore Austin on my own during the daytime. Luckily though, we were still able to coordinate so that we could spend time together before, after, and sometimes in between his sessions. One morning, we were able to get breakfast tacos together at Torchy's Tacos on South Congress (SoCo). He took a Fasten ride downtown and I ended up walking up SoCo (lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants!) to meet him downtown for a quick lunch at Gordough's Donuts. Another day, we were able to rent bikes so that we could make it to Micklethwait Craft Meats (for some brisket and jalapeno cheese grits!) during the one hour we had in between his morning and afternoon session. Afterwards, I took a nice long walk from downtown to Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool, where Clay was easily able to bike to when he finished his afternoon session. The rest of that day, we made very good use of our bike rentals. We were able to bike from Barton Springs/Zilker Park to the HOPE Outdoor Gallery (a community paint park), swing by the Texas state capitol building, stop by South Congress Bridge for the bat viewing around sunset, and down SoCo to reach our dinner destination at South Congress Cafe. Overall, I was really glad that during our time in Austin, (a) Clay could enjoy his work conference, (b) I could get some much-needed time for myself, and (c) we could both get a good taste of the city of Austin together.
Some notes about Austin: For food, definitely go for breakfast tacos, BBQ, Tex-Mex, and food trucks/stands. They also have a bunch of hip/modern restaurants that bloggers rave about. For outdoors, people often visit Barton Springs (outdoor swimming pool) and Zilker Park. Some other outdoor spots we wanted to visit but did not get to see were: Hamilton Pools, Mount Bonnell, Barton Creek Green Belt (a less-monitored swimming hole), and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. On this note, I'd recommend going during late spring or summer for more swimming-friendly weather! Of course, plan to spend time on South Congress Avenue and downtown. If you are seeking some nightlife or spots to chill/drink downtown, you can go to 6th St. or Rainey St (where historic bungalow-style homes have been turned into restaurants and bars). Austin also has a couple of quirky spots like HOPE Outdoor Gallery and the Cathedral of Junk that may be interesting to visitors. It has a ton of well-known murals scattered around the city (i.e., i love you so much @ Jo's Coffee) . And one last random fact: Austin is home to the first original Whole Foods.
Last November, Clay managed to book the very last campsite at the Furnace Creek campgrounds in Death Valley National Park. And a couple of weeks ago at the end of February, the elementary school I work at had a week of break, so we were finally able to go on our camping road trip! After Clay got off work on a Wednesday evening, we drove 4 hours to Bakersfield (where we stayed overnight) and woke up the next morning to drive another 4 hours to our campsite. Unfortunately, I caught a cold and got an ear infection at the beginning of that week, so it was a real bummer having to battle both of those while trying to enjoy our time outdoors. Despite all of that, I was very thankful for a much-needed time of rest and rejuvenation in nature. Death Valley was also a great change of scene from all of the Bay Area rain we had been experiencing.
Clay and I had some really good conversations during our road trip just talking about where we were currently at, as well as our hopes for the near and distant future. When we got to the campground, we were able to pitch up our tent and head straight to Badwater Basin, a giant salt flat that stood 282 feet below sea level (the lowest point in North America)! We spent some time walking around on the dry areas of the salt flat and then walked further until we were stepping over a thin layer of rain water that had collected on the surface of the basin. One of the first trips we had ever went on together back in August 2013 was to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Ever since then, Clay has always wanted to visit a salt flat post-rainstorm, so this was really exciting for us to experience! The reflection of the surrounding landscape on the water was beautiful. Of course, we took a ton of pictures thanks to our trusty tripod and ended up staying long enough to enjoy the sunset.
On our second day there, we started the day off hiking Mosaic Canyon, a 4-mile long out and back hike in a canyon with these really neat mosaic-style rock formations called breccia. Afterwards, we drove to nearby Stovepipe Wells Village and had lunch at their Toll Road Restaurant. Our next stop (after a one hour nap in the car) was the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It was a lot of fun getting to switch into our sandals and walk to the highest dune, especially since we were the only ones further out in the dunes. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to wander around this kind of wilderness landscape for forty years...pretty insane. After getting back from the dunes, we rushed over to Zabriskie Point just in time for the sunset and then drove to Dante's View to get a glance of the view overlooking Death Valley just before it went completely dark. If we had more time, I would have definitely wanted to go back to explore and photograph the area around Zabriskie Point more - there are some really amazing formations and magnicient views of the badlands there. For dinner, we went to Forty Niner Cafe at Furnace Creek Ranch.
On the morning of our third day, we hiked one short mile to see Natural Bridge, which is exactly what it sounds like (I have lots of pictures of this one above). Then we hiked at Golden Canyon until we we reached a view of the Red Cathedral. The very last stop of our trip was Harmony Borax Works, a historic site near Furnace Creek.
If you don't mind dry terrain, I would highly recommend visiting Death Valley to see its salt flats, sand dunes, and canyons. If we ever get to go back, here are some other places we'd love to explore:
-Racetrack Playa with Sailing Stones (need 4WD)
-Panamint Sand Dunes (8 miles)
-Desolation Canyon (3.5 miles)
-Fall Canyon (6 miles)
-Ubehebe Crater Loop (1.5 miles)
-Twenty Mule Team Canyon (2.7 mile one-way loop drive)
-Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
A couple months ago in January, on a rainy day morning, my dear friends Kirstie (my birthday twin!) and Jeff got engaged! These two have a truly special relationship story that started over ten years ago during their high school days. Jeff had actually asked Kirstie to his prom by taking her to a local park in Cupertino and giving her a booklet that he had illustrated and put together. Even though they went their separate ways after graduating high school and college, God eventually brought them back to each other when Jeff moved back to the Silicon Valley for work. When the two finally began dating last year, I could not have seen this girl happier. Any moment, I could always expect a very excited text update about something fun and encouraging that was taking place in their quickly-growing relationship. And I was certainly not surprised at all when Jeff decided to create a new and updated volume of his illustrated booklet to ask her to marry him at the same local park from back in high school!
Here's a little bit about my friendship with Kirstie. She has been a close friend of mine since we started sharing the same home church and college. In fact, when I transferred to Cal and hardly knew anybody, she immediately welcomed me to InterVarsity, our Christian fellowship. My first semester there, she also picked me up after class on our 20th birthday so we could buy each other lunch from Gregoire's and cupcakes from Love at First Bite. And since then, every year we have managed to get together on our/around our birthdays to share a special dessert and celebrate each other. Of course, I was more than happy to help when she asked me if I would be interested in photographing her and Jeff. These two smiley love birds made my job super easy. Even though it was a cold and rainy Sunday morning early before church (and everyone was getting sick), we were able to semi-spontaneously find a nice spot along the coast at Marine Fitzgerald Reserve. Fun fact: The three of us decided to step over a fence and stand right at the edge of a cliff for 85% of these photos! Another fun fact: You may have noticed that I was very intentional about incorporating negative space in my photos this time. That was done per the request of Kirstie, who I have officially deemed the queen of negative space.
Just capturing as I go.