On Central Texas and Breakfast Tacos

Central Texas, the region that encompasses Austin, San Antonio, and surrounding towns, did not invent the breakfast taco (well, at least Austin didn’t, more on that later). Breakfast tacos have been popular in the region since the 70s (source), but with the massive influx of hipsters and their penchant for brunch, niche trends, and “authenticity”, to the region in the last two decades, breakfast tacos have become part of our identity as central Texans.

I can’t overstate it enough. They are simply everywhere. And everyone has their opinions, their preferred breakfast taco purveyors, their taco of choice. I bought a Tacodeli Jess Special from the little coffee shop in the lobby of the astronomy building at UT Austin almost daily while a student there. The Royal Blue grocery downtown next to where my church met fed me pre-made tacos quite often on a Sunday morning. Rudy’s BBQ makes a mean brisket breakfast taco. Torchy’s tacos are just about everywhere in Austin, and spreading like wildfire across the nation. My favorite taco joint, Taco Joint, is a stone’s throw from the UT astro building and makes huge breakfast tacos, as does East Austin’s Juan in a Million. Just to name a few.

(Incidentally, I just learned there are 3 Rudy’s locations in Phoenix, so if anyone wants a road trip for legit good Texas bbq and breakfast tacos, hit me up!)

Anyone who has not lived in central Texas is like “What? Do you mean breakfast burritos?” No, dear reader. I do not mean breakfast burritos. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a breakfast burrito on the menu in Austin. Meanwhile anyone who has lived in central Texas for any amount of time immediately knows what I’m talking about and resonates with this post deep within their souls. (I maintain it is not enough to simply have visited. If you’ve visited Austin and enjoyed a breakfast taco, you can probably appreciate them as a novelty, and I’m glad you got to experience them, but probably not enough to really “get it”). It is simply a part of who we are. And while if you didn’t go to high school in Texas, you can never truly be accepted as a true Texan (this is a fundamental truth in our culture), you can don the breakfast taco mantle to embrace central Texas into your identity. (Now, this does not ingratiate you to the rest of Texas, but that’s a story for another time).

What is a breakfast taco?

Well, what do you want it to be? While generally eggs and a tortilla are involved, there aren’t many rules. In fact, the eggs are even optional. Beans, steak, cheese, bacon, avocado, chicken, potatoes, salsa are all common ingredients, and various permutations of those are what you’ll find most frequently. As eggs aren’t always my favorite thing, I would frequently get chicken peppers onions and cheese from Tacodeli (the frontera taco). You don’t even have to eat them for breakfast, many places you can get an eggy delight for lunch as well. Look, there’s no rules. Just eat them and be happy.

A brief history of breakfast tacos

Tex-Mex cuisine is not the same as Mexican food (which of course isn’t really a thing because Mexico is full of diverse regional cooking styles that are unique and wonderful to explore). Tex-Mex actually originates from the Tejano people, Texas settlers of Mexican decent. It’s a uniquely Texas cuisine that is heavily influenced by Mexican roots, and American elements brought in by railroads after the Civil War. (source)

While Tex-Mex has a long rich history, breakfast tacos are a modern invention. The earliest reference is in 1975 in the Arizona Republic describing the reporter’s trip to San Antonio. In 1976 the El Paso Herald-Post held an advertisement for breakfast tacos. In 1983 Texas Monthly blurbed about breakfast tacos in Austin’s Julio’s Cafe. (source) So the exact moment and location of invention of the breakfast taco is unclear, but it’s only been around for 5 decades or so (notably invention was not in Austin, see below).

Austin taco scene tends a little hipster (you’ll find more fusion or out-there taco ideas in addition to more traditional taco fare), while San Antonio tends more authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex in their tacos. (Do they even eat tacos in Houston or Dallas? Who cares.)

2016: The Breakfast Taco Summit

In February 2016 an article appeared in Eater Austin that would change the course of history. Matthew Sedacca claimed Austin as the birthplace of the phrase “breakfast taco”. While he technically claimed Austin was the birthplace of the *phrase* breakfast taco (which is also not accurate), the widespread interpretation was that Austin was claiming to have invented the breakfast taco. The response was swift and ferocious. San Antonio took it as a personal offense, a slight against their good name. A change.org petition was filed on behalf of the people of San Antonio to expel Matthew Sedacca from Texas for his crime. An excellent quote from the petition: “Without fail, sophomoric claims of taco-superiority have been issued from Austin-based brunch-chair-experts on a nearly annual basis, threatening the harmony between the city of Austin and the cities with populations of Native Texans greater than 10%.” (Note the subtle dig on Austin of being made up of less than 10% “Native Texans”, which I, as a “Native Austinite” agree is probably accurate). In response to the petition, Austin mayor Steve Adler declared war on San Antonio. The region was in turmoil, battles were waged in print and social media. http://whoinventedbreakfasttacos.com/ was registered. Brother turned against brother, our great union threatened to come apart.

On March 10th, 2016, battle lines were crossed. San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor journeyed to Austin to meet with Steve Adler and work out a taco truce, and proclaimed peace with the signing of the “I-35 accords”. They officially declared both city’s tacos as “delicious”, and proclaimed March 10th officially “breakfast taco day”. Adler declared: “As St. Paul admonishes us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with breakfast tacos. We will have guac in our times….  Let us break our fast with the tortilla of hope and the egg of peace.” Taylor brought tacos from her favorite SA taco spot Mittman Fine Foods, while Adler proffered tacos from ATX’s famous Juan in a Million. They were moved to make peace quickly before then-President Obama’s visit later that week, so he wouldn’t be visiting a war zone. Adler again: “Some of you may look upon these breakfast tacos and feel only hunger. I pity those people, for when I look at these breakfast tacos, I feel hope and a renewed friendship between our cities.” (source)

I told you this was serious business.

(PS – for more great Steve Adler quotes, check out his comments on sending the recipe for Kerbey Lane’s queso (another thing Austin people are passionate about) to the moon.)

Breakfast Tacos in Arizona: The Jess Special comes to my kitchen

I do proudly claim Austin as my homeland, and while I really like living in Tucson, I do sorely miss the ubiquity of breakfast tacos since moving here. Seis Kitchen in Tucson is the only place I’ve found so far that has them on the menu (happy to take recommendations if you know another place), and they are delicious. But it’s the abundance, variety, and cultural touchstone that I miss.

So today I decided to make my own facsimile of one of my favorite breakfast tacos, the Jess Special from Tacodeli. I added to it and changed a bit, because, in the words of Aunt Tabitha, that’s my business.

I started with some steak strips, seasoned with chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and oil. I also fried up some onions and poblano strips. Neither of these are part of the original Jess Special, but that’s my business.

The heart of the Jess Special is the migas. Apparently a lot of different things go by the name “migas“, but in Tex-Mex migas consist of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and the essential ingredient, crunched up tortilla chips. Pro tip: add the chips at the very end of cooking the eggs to avoid excessive sogginess. I added them a bit too soon today and they came out too soggy for my tastes.

And now for plating. Don’t forget to heat the corn tortillas over a dry skillet for a few seconds on both sides, or you will have structural integrity issues. Additional life hack, two tortillas per taco, for additional structural integrity, and also because Sprouts only had the very small size of corn tortillas in stock yesterday. That’s how to pros do.

First I laid down the steak peppers and onions, then migas. Topped with more cheese, avocado, and some Doña sauce I made. Doña sauce is a Tacodeli invention and closely kept secret, but I found a recipe online of someone trying to emulate it. It’s basically garlic, oil, salt, and a ton of jalapeños. Mine came out nicely spicy, but too much garlic, use less next time. (recipe for migas and Doña sauce)

The end result!

Quite tasty. Not exactly the same, of course. But 10/10 would eat again.

The song of the day comes from one of my very favorite Austin artists Shinyribs (a.k.a. Kevin Russel). He made a song called “Donut Taco Palace” about a chain of hole-in-the-wall donut and taco places in Austin called “Donut Taco Palace”. If you want to sing along, the chorus goes “Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace….” You get the idea.

I’m not any good at whole bean coffee.

The year is 2001, I am a fresh faced young junior at Purdue University. I did the traditional college path, straight out of high school. I distinctly remember having the thought that I didn’t want to acquire the taste for either beer or coffee, because both seemed problematic. Then I joined the Navy.

So I now absolutely blame the Navy for my love of both coffee and beer. 100% their fault. The first beer I tried and liked was literally the same week I moved to Jacksonville Florida to start my first tour on a ship. They are to blame for all my bad habits don’t at me.

Coffee onboard ship is the elixir of life. We had a coffee maker on the bridge of my first ship, and the giant tub of coffee grounds next to it was labeled “The Precious” (it was 2003, Lord of the Rings was still fresh and new). When you’re on the 0200-0700 watch, absolutely nothing is happening, your watch team is full of boring people, or they won’t shut up about World of Warcraft (true story), coffee tastes like salvation. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about Red Bull. Is it gross? Yes. Does it taste like salvation? Also yes. The aircraft carrier I was on had a Red Bull vending machine).

Thing is, coffee on ships is universally pretty bad. USS First Ship had this machine in the wardroom that didn’t even take beans, it took this brown sludge of like pre-made coffee stuff? I don’t know. But it was there and it delivered caffeine, so I drank it. (One day the supply officer was on leave, so we mutinied and threw the machine away. When he came back and noticed it was gone, he just ordered another one. A failed mutiny.). USS Second Ship tried to make things better by getting Starbucks beans for the wardroom machine (this time it did take actual ground coffee beans). But the coffee was still being made by Petty Officer Timmy who knew nothing about making coffee and didn’t care to learn. In summary, I didn’t like coffee at all until I was forced to learn, and I learned on terrible coffee.

It’s been 12 years since I left the Navy (whoa, really? dang). I still have a daily coffee habit that is very insistent (my 16 oz travel mug is my security blankee). Without my morning 16oz I can’t function, and my brain gets foggy (caffeine is a hell of a drug). But sorry to report my palette wrt coffee hasn’t improved much. I can’t quite choke down the sludge from ships anymore (although desperate times and all that…), but honestly I don’t really notice the different flavors or quality. I’m happily surprised when coffee I make tastes especially good, but also like as long as it tastes fine it gets the job done. When I stand in the coffee aisle at Safeway I shrug and grab something. But I always have to grab already ground beans, because I don’t have a coffee grinder. Because that’s one extra step in the morning and I really don’t care all that much.

The Precious

Well, dear readers, imagine my dismay when I opened a bag I bought the other day to see whole beans staring back at me. I did not pay sufficient attention at the store it seems. What am I to do? I can’t return an open bag of beans, nor can I throw it away, that’s ~$12 and perfectly good coffee. So to Amazon I go, and my new coffee grinder arrived two days later.


But therein lies a problem. I know my daily number of scoops of my designated coffee spoon (a regular spoon sitting next to my Mr Coffee) for grounds to compliment the amount of water I need, thanks to 12 years of doing this every day. But how many scoops of whole beans? What is the whole beans to ground beans conversion factor? Unknown. And since I don’t care nearly enough to do any sort of research, I just shrugged and went for the faithful try-it-and-see method.

Readers, 5 scoops of whole beans is not enough. The first go round yielded undrinkable light brown water. Also did you know there are different ways to grind beans?? “Medium” was insufficient. Next try was 7 scoops ground on “Fine”. This yielded slightly darker brown water. After that I gave up for the day and drank a yerba matte I had in the fridge to get my brain to work.

Today I decided to go overboard, I tried to fail on the other end and make it too strong. I did 10 scoops of beans on “Fine”. This completely filled up the basket in my little 5 cup Mr Coffee. The result was… pretty good. I drank all of it, it didn’t taste too strong. 10 scoops seems like a lot though.

The scene of the crime. Please notice: the designated coffee spoon in it’s natural habitat; the new coffee grinder next to the well worn veteran Mr Coffee; the offending bag of Safeway brand Kona coffee whole beans; the tub of truvia sweetener because I don’t care about that either; the terribly cute hedgehog mug; the mess of coffee grounds strewn about that I can’t be bothered to clean right now.

I understand a lot of people have really strong opinions about coffee (dare I say… snobbery?). I bet a lot of you reading this are sputtering and have many things you’d like to say in reply. I understand that freshly ground coffee is supposed to taste so much better than grounds because oxidation or oils or something something something. Listen, I get it. I hear you. I believe you believe that. I believe it’s very important to you. But honestly, it just doesn’t matter to me. My coffee today was good, but was it so much better than just buying grounds and skipping the extra step in the morning? No, friends, it was not.

Maybe my coffee taste buds are broken, seared off in their youth by a thousand terrible ship-coffees. I will continue to experiment with the bag of whole beans, and maybe I’ll update you as my experiment continues. Will I buy another bag of whole beans? Maybe? Probably? I mean I have this grinder now, might as well use it. Will I also buy already-ground beans. Yes, yes I will. Nothing you can say will change that simple fact of habit and broken coffee taste buds.

The song of the day is Volcano Man from the Eurovision Netflix movie that just premiered. You’re welcome, Lauren.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 43: Spicy danger noodle

According to wikipedia, there are 22 species of venomous snakes in Arizona. One of these snakes that is shared between AZ and my hometown in Texas is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. If you’ve never seen one in the wild, it looks like this:

Image credit: me

If you’ve never seen one in the wild, you are like me 2 hours ago. I went for a little hike this afternoon and stumbled upon this guy in my path right before I got back to my car. Fortunately, I saw him before I was upon him, even though he was off the trail when I first saw him and was a bit hidden. So we managed to stay a respectful distance from each other. Here he is blending in well to the desert flora:

So it’s rattler season in AZ folks, watch where you step on the trail.

Update: I have acquired a hedgie-cam and can now spy on my animal while I’m asleep, which is when they’re most active. Last night I caught her pushing the toilet paper roll on her head, which is a classic hedgehog move. Enjoy:

The song of the day, for no particular reason, is Ok Go’s The One Moment.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 40: Hedgeblog

There has been a request for baby hedgehog update photos. The people want MOAR HEDGE. Here’s the glamor shots:

This one is tough to photograph! She is very jittery when out in the open, and immediately begins to look for a place to hide. I hope she mellows a bit as she ages! But when she’s snug in her sack I can poke her and pet her and pull on her legs and she’s cool with all of it.

Here is an outtake:


(Note – the red on her rear end is dog nail polish, left over from being in a litter with lots of babies, which the breeder marked to tell them apart)

And here’s some iPhone pics from a day in the life:

Another update is that I made that fleece lining for the kiddie pool, because the paper bedding was terrible. The fleece is nice and washable, but she keeps it clean and uses the litter. It is of course star themed.

Om nom nom

She takes dust baths in the litter all the time, and it is beyond adorable. Apologies for the darkness and poor quality of this video, but if I turn on the light she spooks and stops, and I had to try to record it.

Hedgie dust bath

I have a night vision camera on it’s way to me, so stay tuned for some night time spying videos on what hedgies do all night.

The song of the day is an earworm that has been flying around a subset of this group for weeks now (ever since we did a Eurovision night…). I’ll forget about it for days then someone will say “I have SKIBIDI in my head” and then it takes over my head. There is some debate amongst us as to which video is the superior version, but I can’t get enough of the ridiculous walk/dance in this one. If you stay tuned the other version just may show up as song of the day in the near future.

So, for your viewing pleasure, I now give you, SKIBIDI. You’re welcome.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 32: America’s Best Idea

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

About a decade ago, I decided I was tired of not doing things I wanted to do because I had no one to go with me. So I jumped in my car in the summer of 2013 and drove by myself to Arches National Park, a place I had dreamt of going to for a long time. I also hit Canyonlands and Mesa Verde NPs, and did a 5-day rafting trip on the Colorado River on that trip. Although I had visited National Parks before, that trip sparked my drive to really dive deep into the incredible American landscape preserved by the National Park Service. Almost every summer since then, I have driven around the country collecting national parks. As of today I have visited 29 of the now 62 parks.

Here is a map of 59 parks (several new ones have been added in the last year or so!). Red circles mark those I have visited, green trees I have not:

Map of 59 National Parks (a few have been added only recently, bringing the total to 62), with the one’s I’ve made it in red. (I tried to embed an interactive map but Google shenanigans forbade it. Here is a link: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1BRFgU7dsUwdRbX_O44cUmTrMAJCRN-4Z&ll=33.343995899761126%2C-104.72153263530629&z=5)

I was living in Texas at the time, so I focused on the southwest and places that were reachable by a 1-2 day drive from central Texas (this is why I knew I would like living in Tucson!). I’ve visited every park in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. (caveat, White Sands National Monument just got converted into a National Park this year, so while I have visited it, now I have to go back so I can add it to my collection!). I lived near Seattle for a few years, so Washington is complete, and I have family in South Carolina area, which made Florida parks more accessible when I traveled to visit them. I’m almost finished with Colorado, I still need to hit Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I’m way behind in California, but that was a much further drive from Texas, so now that I live closer to Cali it’s time to step up my game there. While I’ve managed to hit several out of the way ones (like Hawaii Volcanoes and Dry Tortugas), you’ll notice that Alaska is sadly completely absent.

I have very specific things I collect at each park, and they must be purchased at the Visitor’s Center (no online before or after the fact!).

First and most important are the reproductions of old WPA posters by Ranger Doug: https://www.rangerdoug.com/wpa-national-park-serigraphed-posters. I buy the post cards, because that many posters would be just too much. Not every park has a Ranger Doug, because the original designs are from the WPA era when there were much fewer parks. If a park doesn’t have one, I try to buy a different postcard I like, usually with that old-timey feel if possible. But the Ranger Dougs are a must if they exist. Here’s my postcard display:

Travel postcards. Ranger Doug NP postcards are at the top, non-Ranger Doug park postcards and other non-NP postcards are clustered near the bottom.

I like to get fridge magnets anywhere I travel. No prescription for what magnet to buy at a NP, just one that I like. Here’s my fridge, you’ll notice the parks are clustered apart from all the other travel magnets.

My fridge. National Parks have a privileged position clustered in the upper left. The right side is other travel magnets, bottom left if just general silliness.

I also like stickers, and I love to hold onto those maps they give you when you pay the entry fee:

But some of those maps got converted into light switch plates all over my house:

A light switch plate by my front door decoupaged with a map of Big Bend NP.

Lastly, a relatively new hobby of mine is exploring breweries and buying a pint glass, so I recently started trying to find a brewery near NPs I visit:

Kona Brewing is near Hawaii Volcanoes NP; Big Bend Brewing is in Alpine TX (and just shut down much to my exceeding dismay!! They had awesome beers); Zion Canyon Brewing is literally right outside the park entrance; Dead Horse Ale is from Moab Brewery, right outside Arches and Canyonlands NPs; Estes Park Brewing is in the town just outside Rocky Mountain NP. I have many other travel pint glasses, but these are the NP specific ones. Not very many in this collection, clearly I have work to do.

PS- The National Parks Service has really stepped up their merch game in the last few years. Every park I’ve been to in the past year has blown me away with their poster, sticker, etc designs. They are really getting creative and selling really cool stuff.

Top 5 favorite parks

5. Saguaro NP. Ok, I’m biased because I now live sandwiched between the two districts of this park. But I first visited Saguaro in 2014 and it made it’s impression then. The two halves of the park are actually surprisingly different (I think I like East better than West). The saguaros are truly remarkable, especially if you’ve never seen them before, and they are neat to learn about from ranger programs and the like. They say the Sonoran Desert is the most ecologically diverse desert in the world, teeming with many varieties of flora and fauna. The park has many great trails and some tough climbs. And sunset is amazing every night.

The view from partway up the Hugh Norris trail in the west district, looking north, in 2014.

4. Dry Tortugas NP. This park is so so neat. It is hard to get to. You gotta drive all the way to Key West, then get on a boat and keep going west for about 70 nautical miles. It’s located right at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean, so ships had to skirt right next to it to get by, so of course the US built a fort there, Fort Jefferson. The fort is the main attraction, but there are also crystal green water, snorkling, lots of marine life. If you’re brave you can let the boat leave you behind and camp the night on the island, totally cut off from the rest of humanity by hundreds of miles of ocean. (I did not do this because it was stupidly hot when I went, and being Florida and 1000% humidity it was basically the same temp at night! I’d like to go back one day though and do it). It’s called Dry because there is no fresh water source, and Tortugas because of the large population of sea turtles. Sailing days ships used to grab sea turtles because you can put them on their backs on the deck and they will live forever, so they’re a source of fresh meat that’s easy to store (yep, sailing days were cruel in many many ways). The fort also served as a prison for a time. Conditions at the fort were unimaginable. How did people survive back then??

3. Arches NP. It 100% lives up to any hype you have ever heard. This place is truly magical. The red rocks, dramatic landscapes, many arches everywhere. It is a popular park, so it can be hard to find camping. But pro tip: there is tons of camping just outside the park along the Colorado river. When I went the park was jam packed but those sites were all empty, and they were wonderful. If you ever go, do not skip the hike up to Delicate Arch, and time it to be there for sunset.

I have nothing else to say but let the photos speak for themselves.

This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Aug 2013.

2. Death Valley NP. This is a surprise entry. I debated back and forth between Death Valley and Arches for the #2 slot, but I surprisingly have to say that I think Death Valley edged it out in the end. I was shocked at how much I loved this park. The park is huge and desolate, but fascinating because of that. Yes, it is hot; I visited in June and it was absurdly hot in the valley. But elevations in the park range from -300ft to 11,000 ft, so my campground at 2000ft was perfectly comfortable for camping. Badwater basin is a stretch of evaporated salt flats that are fun to walk around on. There’s an interesting history with borax mining, and this bizzaro investor dude who built this palace there. But the vistas are the big win here. The land is striking and breathtaking. I loved it. But I have to go back with a more off-road friendly car, to see the Racetrack, where rocks in the valley mysteriously make tracks in the sand.

My second favorite photo I’ve ever taken. June 2016.

1. Big Bend NP. Without a doubt, my favorite place on the planet. Being in this place is just magical. I’ve been twice. The first time I went with a group from my old scooter club in Austin and San Antonio. We drove our Vespas from Austin and had a group meetup in the park for a week. It’s about an 8 hour drive, and the park itself is ~2 hours from any gas stations, which made our small gas tanks nervous, but we all made it fine. I strapped my camping gear to the back of my Vespa GT200 (top speed = 65 mph) and camped in the park. We spent the week riding our bikes around the park, hiking, and enjoying the adventure. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had in my life. Second time I went by myself and backpacked to the top of the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. It’s ~6 miles of climbing thousands of feet. When I got the top and saw the view across the desert floor into Mexico, I cried. Much better than the Grand Canyon, because only the people who make the very hard climb are rewarded with that view. I camped at the rim on the night of my 35th birthday.

If you go, you gotta do the border crossing into the town of Boquillas, Mexico. There is a port of entry in the park, so you can legally cross. You’ll take a pole boat across as an old man serenades you from the opposite bank (no kidding, they call him the “Singing Mexican”, look him up). Then you rent a donkey and ride the ~3/4 mile into the town, where you can get tacos and tequilla. The town is hundreds of miles from anywhere in Mexico, so tourism is about their only business. And it’s a lot of fun.

In the park there is a hot springs pool, a narrow canyon on the Rio Grande (Santa Elena Canyon), the Chisos Mountains and Chisos Mountain Lodge, tons of hiking in the mountains and desert floor, and a huge diversity of landscapes and vistas, everywhere looks different from everywhere else. I can’t say enough about this place. It is magical

My favorite pic from this park. Aug 2014.

Honorable mentions:

Great Smokey Mountains NP: So much to do and see here, and I’ve always been interested in the Appalachian Trail

Congaree NP: So, I really don’t love South Carolina, most of my family is there so I’ve visited a lot, and it’s not my favorite place. So imagine my surprise when I visited Congaree NP, right outside Columbia SC, and had a great time. It’s very small, it’s a new park, but it is ecologically interesting, and I spent a lovely night in the backcountry campgrounds. So it wins for biggest pleasant surprise.

Top 5 on the to-do list

5. Joshua Tree NP. Ok so I’ve technically been to J-Tree, but it was a long long time ago, before I was super into parks, and we only drove through the park. I need to go there and really DO it. Just driving through was amazing.

4. Yosemite NP. It’s criminal I haven’t been there yet. I spent a whole summer at Berkeley a few years ago and couldn’t make it happen. It’s lower on the list though because it’s *so* popular and crowded. It can be tough to find accommodations and trails are busy. It’s one I can’t miss if I call myself a NP enthusiast.

3. Acadia NP. “Crown jewel of the Northeast coast”. I’ve never been to Maine. My bestie, a MS science teacher, got to do a teacher immersion experience where she assisted ecologists in tracking birds in Acadia NP a few years ago. Lots of people cite it as one of their favorites.

Lighthouse by rocky coastline
Image credit: NPS https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

2. Any park in Alaska. Alaska has 8 parks, all of them huge. They are more preserves than public attractions, which I’m wholeheartedly behind. Gates of the Arctic NP doesn’t even have any roads! It’s only accessible by plane! Some are more practical and near cities, like Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords. But getting to Alaska is a challenge I haven’t embarked on yet, and a major hinderance to getting my park count up. Also, you know, it’s amazing.

Hikers ascending a rocky slope in the mountains
Wut. Image credit: NPS https://www.nps.gov/gaar/index.htm

1. Glacier NP. I have wanted to go there for so long. But it’s so remote it’s tough to tack on to other travel. I need to just commit to going some time. I’ve heard the glaciers are starting to vanish from the park too. Time to go is now! Get outta here rona.

Valley view from above waterfall
This road is called “Going-to-the-sun road”. Awesome. Image credit: NPS https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm

Honorable mentions:

Crater Lake NP: I can’t believe I lived in the Pac NW for 2 years and never made it here.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP: Gotta catch ’em all (in Colorado)

Shenandoah NP: More Appalachian trail goodness.

That’s it for my whirlwind tour of national parks. But we’re just scratching the surface.

Song of the day is Highways, by Austin TX artist Alpha Rev. I was super into the album this is on, Bloom, in 2013, and played it on repeat during that trip to Arches NP that started it all. This song’s lyrics are all about “getting out of California”, heading to the mountains and rivers, seeing New York, the Blue Ridge and Virginia forests. Also on that album is the song Crystal Colorado, which was the river I was heading to. This album is still very special to me, and puts me right back into the feeling of freedom I had by just saying “screw it” and heading off to adventure.