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Month Twenty Eight of my Digital Nomad Life was a pretty fun one, and included A LOT of road-tripping, plus a big, life-changing event – more on that below.
We explored six States in only thirty days this month, and I somehow also managed to fit in work, sleep and lots of Netflix binge-watching. Not bad.
Month Twenty Eight started in Oregon where we were staying with my Mum’s cousin (whom I call Aunt) and her husband at their lovely cabin in Sun River.
Our three days in Sun River was a great balance of relaxation and activity and I loved being back in one of my favorite states.
As well as biking the trails through the woods around Sun River, and exploring the small town centre, we also ventured a bit further afield to visit a friend in Bend and to find out what all the fuss is about in this small outdoorsy town.
Turns out Bend is totally deserving of the hype and is definitely somewhere I would love to return to in the future. More on this vibrant mountain town in the highlights below.
We left Sun River a different way than we came – by private plane!
My Aunt’s husband has a small four-seater plane and has been piloting for over 20 years now. I was a bit nervous but mostly excited for the two hour flight back to Roseville – until we hit some unexpected turbulence.
Luckily we made it back in one piece and after another night in Roseville, we hit the road again, this time to a place I have been wanting to visit for years: Lake Tahoe!
Lake Tahoe ended up being even more amazing than I could have hoped for. We spent two nights there and hiked lakeside and mountain trails, admired the lake from many different viewpoints, and explored the little towns around the lake. I loved it all.
From Lake Tahoe we headed to gritty Reno for a night where, unfortunately, my fast-paced lifestyle and a couple of cold nights in the van caught up with me and I got sick. Reno wasn’t somewhere I was super excited to visit anyway but getting sick always sucks.
Next up was a long and boring drive down to North Las Vegas where Toby would be working a lantern festival in the desert for ten days.
I was planning to spend a night at the Aliante Resort where Toby was staying then head to Zion National Park for two days on the way to my housesit in Flagstaff, but as I was feeling unwell I ended up staying two nights in Vegas instead, just sleeping, getting caught up on work, and chilling out by the beautiful pool.
We were actually in Vegas during the shootings but as it happened reasonably late, we caught the initial reports on the news but had no idea how bad it was until we woke up the next morning.
So, so horrible. That’s all I am going to say about it. I could go into how I am disgusted and outraged at the gun violence in this country and that still nothing has been done to try and change it. But I try not to get too political on here.
The day after the shooting I left the eerily quiet Vegas to drive Route 66 on the way to my housesit in Flagstaff.
I stopped at the quiet ‘Ghost’ town of Chloride where pretty much everything was closed due to it being a Monday, then continued on to Kingman where I was staying the night.
The next morning I drove the stretch of Route 66 that took me through Hackberry and Peach Springs to my favorite Route 66 town – Seligman – then onto Flagstaff to start my sit.
The fall colors were on full display for my week in Flagstaff, where I was housesitting at the same place we were at last month. It was so nice to have a couple of chill out days and to see the beautiful dogs again. But I also did a lot of exploring in the area and even had a friend come and visit for a couple of days.
I really loved my visit to Flagstaff this time around, I finally clicked with it and it is now one of my favorite cities in the U.S.
Originally after Flagstaff I was going to head down to Phoenix over a couple of days to pick Toby up and then continue onto New Mexico, but flights ended up going up a lot and we decided that I would drive back to Vegas to pick Toby up instead.
I spent one night back at the Aliante where changes were already being put in place after the Vegas shooting – keys and bags were being checked at the elevators before going up to the rooms – then did the long drive east to Espanola, New Mexico.
The first couple of days in New Mexico were spent doing our regular New Mexico must dos – Hanging out with Toby’s Dad and his flatmate Dennis at the house, Meow Wolf and plaza time in Sante Fe, eating New Mexico specialties – my favorite is Chile Rellenos smothered in green chile, and soaking at Ojo Caliente.
And then we did something new to us – we went to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival!
We free-camped the night before in a Brewery carpark to arrive at the site bright and early, and it was such a cool experience watching the balloons rise all around us as the sun rose. Definitely worth getting up early for!
Then after two months we finally headed back to our beloved Colorado.
Unfortunately we were too late for the fall colors in the mountains, something I had been holding out for, but we explored a town that was new to both of us – Salida – and were pleasantly surprised, and I also got to look around Breckenridge for the first time.
The last week of month twenty eight was spent housesitting in a suburb of Morrison, just south of Denver.
It has been great to catch up with friends and family that we haven’t seen for a couple of months, and as well as returning to my fav spots (Golden, I’m looking at you), and even discovering a few new ones – Colorado pizza at Beau Jo’s, attending a sushi and joint rolling class with 420 Tours (review coming), hiking at Red Rocks and eating at Denver Central Market in Five Points.
And then I got engaged!
This wasn’t a surprise to me as Toby actually asked me back in May but we kept it under wraps – just telling family and a couple of close friends. After money troubles for a couple of months Toby got my ring online and we only received it when we arrived back in Denver – I absolutely love it!
We have submitted the first stage of the Fiancé visa and are hoping to hear back sometime early next year. I would then need to gather all the information and go for the interview in New Zealand.
It was a great end to the month.
Now onto the Stats!
Countries visited: USA
- Oregon: Sun River, Bend
- California: Roseville, Lake Tahoe, Truckee
- Nevada: Reno, Las Vegas
- Arizona: Chloride, Kingman, Seligman, Flagstaff
- New Mexico: Espanola, Santa Fe, Ojo Caliente, Alburquerque
- Colorado: Alamosa, Salida, Breckenridge, Georgetown, Denver
Islands visited: No islands this month
National Parks and Monuments visited: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument
Best meal: I loved the sushi at a place my Aunt took us to in Roseville – simply awesome combinations in the rolls and super fresh ingredients. I also really enjoyed the make-my-own pizza from MOD Pizza in Bend, the salmon and tuna poke from Denver Central Market, the perfect pancakes from the Grand Canyon Cafe in Flagstaff, the homemade beignets I had at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and the green chile and parmesan bagel with cream cheese I had at Iconik Coffee Roasters in Santa Fe.
Worst meal: The blueberry pie I had at a cafe in Reno – seriously undercooked and soggy.
Best craft beer: I quite enjoyed the fermented alcoholic Ginger Beer from Truckee Brewing Company and the New Belgium Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale was also pretty good.
- Lava Cast Forest Loop trail near Sun River, Oregon 1 mile/1.6km return
- Lake Tahoe Coastal trail from Vikingsholm to Lester Beach 5 miles/8km return
- D. L. Bliss State Park Lighthouse trail – Lake Tahoe 1 mile/1.6km return
- Shirley Canyon trail at Squaw Valley Resort – Lake Tahoe 4.5 miles/7.25km return
- Continental Loop trail on Campbell Mesa, Flagstaff 2 miles/3.2km
- Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop trail near Flagstaff 3.5 miles/5.5km
- Island trail and Rim trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument 1.6 mile/2.5km
- Sinagua Loop trail on Campbell Mesa, Flagstaff 1.2 miles/2km
- Trading Post trail at Red Rocks, Colorado 1.5 miles/2.5km loop
- Clear Creek Trail in Golden, Colorado 2 miles/3.2km
Reading: Nothing this month – I have been super slack with my reading lately.
Watching: American Horror Story: Roanoke. I finally watched the sixth season and I really enjoyed it, although it did give me nightmares when I binge watched it one night. I loved their reality TV take on this season and thought it was very cleverly done, and terrifying, as usual. Can’t wait to watch Cult next.
Discovering the Joys of Life in Bend
Despite traveling through beautiful Oregon twice, I still hadn’t seen much of the interior – and the town of Bend in particular really interested me. We finally got the chance to go there when we were staying in Sun River as Bend is only a half hour away, and I have a friend living there. I instantly loved it.
It’s a pretty little town surrounded by mountains and is full of great places to eat, numerous breweries, and a vibrant population of outdoor enthusiasts.
The picturesque Deshutes river runs through Bend and we enjoyed walking along the river and through town, sampling beer at Deshutes Brewery (for free!), exploring the Old Mill District and eating at two great spots – MOD Pizza and Wild Rose Thai. Bend reminded me a lot of Colorado’s mountain towns and I will definitely return.
Biking Around Sun River
Sun River is a relaxing little resort town ensconced in pine forest and we enjoyed our time chilling out there. But we also got out and enjoyed the outdoor pursuits the town offers, and my favorite Sun River experience was biking the eight mile loop trail through the forest, past town and along the river.
It was a beautiful day and we had marvellous views of Mount Batchelor, the sparkling Deshutes River and the green forest surrounding us. And we finished off the bike ride with a beer and a cheese platter at Sun River Brewing Company which was the cherry on top.
Finally Getting to Lake Tahoe
As I said in the month recap above, I have been wanting to get to Lake Tahoe for years but it continued to elude me, and it would have this time around too – it was a little out of the way between Roseville and Las Vegas but I really wanted to make the effort to go there as we were so close. I am so, so happy that we did, because Lake Tahoe is freaken amazing!
The varying shades of blue of the super clear water is spellbinding, and the setting of the lake in a thick forest of pine trees surrounded by mountains is incredibly beautiful. It is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen, anywhere, and I also loved the small towns surrounding the lake too.
We did some hiking around the lake, we dropped into the cute Farmers Market at Tahoe City, drunk beer, ate pizza and free-camped in Truckee, and wandered the wooded streets of Kings Beach.
We also visited the infamous Donner Lake – I found the Visitor Centre there very interesting, and did some hiking at one of the nearby Ski Resorts, Squaw Valley. Lake Tahoe didn’t disappoint.
Soaking up the Kitsch on Route 66
I first drove the Arizona section of Route 66 with my Dad and brother back in 2010, and I loved the All-American kitschiness of the small towns that have fully embraced their only claim to fame. So even though I was disappointed that I would be missing out on seeing the spectacular Zion National Park again, I was excited to re-visit a slice of the Mother Road.
Starting from Vegas, I stopped at the small ‘Ghost Town’ of Chloride, where there are a handful of falling down old buildings and a fake Western Main Street attraction, before hitting Route 66 at Kingman.
In Kingman, I wandered Beale Street with its restored 1950s buildings that are now home to vintage stores and eateries, I re-visited the interesting Route 66 Museum, where the lovely lady on the desk let me enter for free as I had no cash on me, and I ate at the famous Mr D’z Route 66 Diner which is oh so kitschy and has really great onion rings (the Teriyaki Chicken burger was also delicious).
After a night in Kingman I drove part of the longest unbroken stretch of Route 66 that is left, between Kingman and Seligman. I stopped at the Hackberry General Store which is full of Route 66 memorabilia (and a super cute kitty).
My last stop on Route 66 was the small town of Seligman which is a true shrine to Route 66 with 1950s cars, old gas pumps, crazy signs and so many souvenir shops selling Route 66 merchandise. I definitely got my kicks on Route 66.
Falling in Love With Flagstaff
I liked Flagstaff when Toby and I were housesitting there last month, but on my return to housesit at the same place again this month, I completely fell in love with it. Maybe it was the fact that I did some really fun activities around Flagstaff including visiting three National Monuments – Walnut Canyon, Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano – and the gorgeous Arts and Crafts style home at Riordan State Historic Park.
Maybe it was because I attended a few community focused events that gave me a better feel for the community including the re-opening of an iconic cafe, the weekly Farmers Market and the fun First Friday events in town.
Or maybe it was because it was cool enough to do some hiking this time, and I did some great ones around Campbell Mesa and on the San Francisco Peaks.
I think all of those things factored into why I fell in love with Flagstaff but I think the biggest reason had to do with re-visiting in fall, because Flagstaff wears fall SO WELL.
We have been asked back for 2.5 weeks next June and I really hope everything works out so that we can do it.
Fall Colors Hike on the San Francisco Peaks
While Flagstaff itself had lots of stunning fall color, I really wanted to see some of the best fall color in all of Arizona and after doing a bit of research, we decided to do a hike to take in Lockett Meadow and the inner Basin on the nearby San Francisco Peaks.
The drive up to the meadow was on a narrow dirt road that rose higher into the mountains with great views over the desert below. As soon as we pulled up into the parking lot, we could already see loads of golden aspens. Within a half mile of hiking, we were completely surrounded by gold – hundreds of aspens at their glorious golden peak. It was absolutely some of the best fall colors I have ever seen.
Who knew I would see so much fall beauty in Arizona of all places?!
Discovering Walnut Canyon National Monument
I hadn’t even heard of Walnut Canyon National Monument before housesitting in Flagstaff last month. This National Monument is home to pueblo ruins, tucked into the cliffs of the forested canyon. I love visiting cliff dwellings and pueblos and Walnut Canyon is only eight miles from Flagstaff so I made sure to visit.
It is a unique site, quite different to other pueblo ruins and cliff dwellings I have visited in Arizona. I hiked the short Island Trail which took me half-way down into the canyon, then around the cliffs past ruins of pueblos that were built under cliff overhangs.
It is a beautiful spot and really cool to look out over the canyon and see all the ruins at varying heights of the canyon. And it isn’t that well-known so I didn’t have to share the site with many people – I only saw a handful of people when I was walking the Island trail. A must-visit in Northern Arizona.
Attending the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque
When we realised that we would be heading back to Colorado from Arizona when the Balloon Festival was on in Alburquerque, we decided to detour through New Mexico for a few days to attend, and to visit Toby’s Dad.
After exploring Old Town Albuquerque and heading to a brewery for a couple of local beers, we parked up in the brewery car park, only a mile from the festival site, and crashed out for the night.
The next morning we awoke early to get into the festival grounds for the mass balloon ascension at dawn. Once at the site, I grabbed some super delicious beignets and coffee for breakfast and we walked around the different balloons as they were prepping to go up.
Just after the sun rose, there were around 100 balloons of different colors and shapes in the brilliant blue sky above us, and it was a wondrous sight.
It was a really fun morning, walking the grounds, chatting to balloon teams and witnessing so many beautiful balloons in one place. We loved it.
Returning to one of my Favorite Cities: Santa Fe
Every time I go to Santa Fe, I come away loving it more – and this visit was no different. This time around we hung out in a couple of cool cafes, wandered around the shops and the beautiful Plaza which was ablaze in gold, met friends for pizza at the great, and very affordable, Il Vicino, and visited our favorite interactive Art Installation, Meow Wolf. Another successful visit to Santa Fe, and I can’t wait to get back there again.
Pleasantly Surprised by Salida
I had heard that Salida was a nice town, and as we were passing right by it I thought it would be worth a quick stop for a look around. The rumours were correct – Salida is a really nice little town with a great vibe, historic buildings, a few cool restaurants and breweries and a beautiful setting on the river.
We ended up staying longer than expected – wandering the town centre, drinking local beers, eating awesome pizza and going to the small movie theatre before free-camping on a quiet suburban street in our little stealth camper. Salida is now on the list for possible places to live one day.
I Got Engaged!
As I said above, I got engaged this month and Toby and I are both so excited! Even though it wasn’t a surprise to me, it is nice to be able to let everyone know now that I have my ring. We can finally start really planning our future together without worrying so much about visa restrictions, which is a big relief.
Sick in Reno
Man, I hate being sick, especially when I am traveling. During my time in Lake Tahoe I wasn’t feeling quite myself, not sick but my energy levels were low. Then as we were coming down out of the mountains and into Reno, my ears weren’t popping, causing immense pain. Once we got to the hotel, I was full on sick with a cold and felt so weak and crappy that I could barely leave the bed.
Then having to drive for six hours the next day was less than fun. I finally started feeling better a couple of days after that – thankfully I wasn’t sick for too long – but it did ruin my plans to re-visit one of my favorite National Parks, Zion.
Small Plane Turbulence
As I mentioned in last month’s recap, I was nervous about flying in a four seater plane between Oregon and Central California as I am not the best flyer.
The first half of the flight was pretty smooth and I loved seeing Mount Shasta with its coating of fresh snow up close and personal, but then as we were passing the mountain, some unexpected heavy wind hit us, and the turbulence was some of the worst I have experienced.
Luckily it didn’t last too long, only a couple of minutes, although it felt much longer as we jerked wildly and bounced through the air.
After the turbulence, I was definitely on edge the rest of the flight and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we landed. Jim, the Pilot, said that we were never in danger, and I believe him, but it was still pretty scary for me.
Forgetting to get out Cash for the Alburquerque Balloon Festival
We were patting ourselves on the back for being so clever and free-camping so close to the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival – we woke up and cut right into the already long line.
Then we got to the front and realised that they only took cash for parking – and we didn’t have any. So we had to get out of line, go find an ATM at a gas station a couple of miles away, then re-join the line – way back from where we started from. Such a bummer. Luckily we still got in before the sun rose for the mass ascension.
Missing out on the Valley View Hot Springs
I was looking forward to visiting the remote and beautiful Valley View Hot Springs between New Mexico and our housesit in Morrison. I had seen on the website that you were recommended to book as they are a Land Trust and only admit a certain amount of people per day, but it was off-season and a Sunday afternoon so I didn’t think we would need to. Wrong.
We drove the dirt road off the main highway and got all the way there before having to turn around and drive back as they had already reached their quota for the day. We didn’t get to see the pools but it was a pretty spectacular setting, in the foot hills of the mountains overlooking the vast and desolate San Luis Valley. Oh well, guess I will book next time.
Missing the Fall Colors in Colorado’s Mountains
Even though I saw some spectacular fall colors in and around Flagstaff, and some in Santa Fe and Lake Tahoe too, I was still bummed that I missed the fall colors in Colorado this year.
I was clinging to the hope that when we were driving back up from New Mexico in mid October, there would still be some color in the mountains, but it had already snowed so it was all done. At least Denver still has a lot of fall foliage. Next year I am definitely going to plan to be in Colorado for fall.
Whoops. Somehow I spent over $1000 this month which is about $200 more than I was hoping to spend. We did have a couple of unforeseen expenses like the camp stove – Toby insisted we get a top of the line one that was on sale – and I had to get my halloween costume this month too. Still not bad though as I was on the road for over half the month.
My paid accommodation this month consisted of one night in a cheap motel in Kingman, Arizona when I was driving Route 66. The rest of the month we housesat in Flagstaff and Morrison for a total of 14 nights, we stayed with family for seven nights, free camped in the van for four nights, stayed in a hotel covered by Toby’s work for three nights, and had a night in a hotel using Toby’s points for one night.
Food and Drink $592
A pretty expensive month for me for food and drink costs. I had a week housesitting in Flagstaff by myself and found that grocery shopping for one person is exponentially more expensive than sharing the cost with someone else. I think I also ate out more this month.
- Underwear $15
- Gas $112
- Parking for Balloon Festival $15
- Entry fee to Riordan Mansion State Historic Park $10
- Entry to Balloon Festival $10
I purchased a one year National Parks pass last month which covered entrance into the National Monuments I visited this month
- Toiletries $31.50
- Monthly Phone Plan $45
- Cooking Pot and Cooler $7
- New Camp Cooker $70
- Halloween Costume $40
- Presents $27
What’s in Store for Next Month
Month Twenty Nine will start in Morrison, where we will be housesitting for another three days, before relocating to Toby’s brother’s place in Wheat Ridge for my last five days in the U.S. this year.
I still have a few things I would like to do in Denver during our time there including some more hiking while the weather is nice, more friends and family visits, and hitting up a couple more of my restaurant and brewery oversights.
We will also be going to see my favorite band in the world, Arcade Fire. To say I am excited about finally seeing them live would be an understatement.
It will also be Halloween and we will be celebrating it at a big house party at Toby’s brothers like we did last year – it is going to be a blast!
On the last day of October I will flying out to Sydney, via LA and San Francisco. Not looking forward to the jetlag and long flights but I am looking forward to seeing my friend Beck and exploring my old home for four days.
I’m planning on spending most of my time on the Northern Beaches, where I will be staying, but I also want to make it to the Botanical Gardens to see the gorgeous purple jacarandas which are in bloom now, and maybe to Coogie or Balmoral to do some coastal walking.
Then it will be back home to Auckland, where I will be spending three days hanging out with my Dad and likely catching up on work before my next adventure: Hiking the Routeburn Track!
I was originally meant to hike the three-day Routeburn Track in November two years ago but we had to change our plans at the last minute due to an avalanche and ended up hiking the Kepler Track instead – hopefully we will have better luck this year.
I will also be spending three nights in one of my favorite cities in New Zealand – Queenstown – and will actually be celebrating my 35th birthday there with one of my best friends, Kurt, and maybe my brother too if he is in town and not off on a tour.
It is going to be a great time!
The last week and a half of month twenty nine I will finally start to slow down a bit. I am hoping to get some temping work in Auckland, but will also pop across to Papamoa to visit my Mum for her birthday for a few days.
I can’t wait for all my favorite Kiwi foods, catching up with my friends and family, and just being back in my beautiful home country.
New Zealand: I am coming home!
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here
Those pictures are gorgeous! Looks like the time of your life.
Thanks Mark – the last three years of being nomadic have definitely been some of the best years of my life 🙂
How incredible would be if I got engaged in a beautiful place like that!! Congratulations!
Thanks Darby! That was a great month 🙂