Sunday, December 15, 2013

RAK Day 12: New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana OH MY!

Post-Vegas we continued east over to a part of the country that neither of us had experienced before. Our first detour was to see the Hoover Dam.  
We were super excited about the Hoover Dam.
We then headed to Flagstaff, AZ, where we spent the night before heading over very early the next morning to take in all that is the Grand Canyon! We had big plans of experiencing the Grand Canyon to the fullest and taking a bunch of photos and such...but then a giant cold front engulfed the entire country (except Florida), so the Grand Canyon was a bitter twenty degrees...and we were not in a "stand around and gaze" sort of  mood at that temperature point. Regardless, we took a beautiful scenic drive around the south ridge of the park and enjoyed the few views we did get out of the car for.
Grand Canyon! It looks just like everyone else's Grand Canyon Photo, right?
After the Grand Canyon scenic tour drive, we drove back down to Flagstaff, AZ to gift an unsuspecting place our next RAK!

RAK #32:
I had found our next RAK recipient via Google while searching for a place to help out near the Grand Canyon. After checking out their website and reading about their mission, I felt that this was a great RAK to cover a bit of the "Environmental" ground that we had been lacking in our previous RAKs. Therefore, we chose to provide an in-kind donation of a two-person, three-season tent, a day-backpack, three plastic water bottles and two lanterns to the Grand Canyon Trust.
Dan modeling the items we donated. Check that Magnum look (he's turning left, it is totally Magnum and not Blue Steel)!
The Grand Canyon Trust is a non-profit organization that relies on groups of volunteers (who must go through an intense application phase) to go on excursions to help conserve the environment. As quoted in their About Me page: "We take ordinary people to extraordinary places and get an unbelievable amount of work done in the process." The Grand Canyon Trust believes in commonsense solutions to problems that are causing trouble in the region's natural resources.  By putting together groups of volunteers, they collaborate  and partner with those groups to maintain, restore and create solutions for problems arising in public lands administered by the National Park service and other programs.

We met with a few of the employees at the main office in Flagstaff who eagerly told us about some of their favorite programs, which included field research to find the best and most sustainable ways to rid of invasive species and refurbishing areas so that they are habitable for beavers and other animals that assist in naturally restoring lands.

After we said goodbye to our new friends at the Grand Canyon Trust, we drove on over to Albuquerque, New Mexico with one purpose in mind: to eat dinner at Garcia's Kitchen (and T-shirt emporium). Dan's good friend Lauren's family is from Albuquerque and they are big fans of Garcia's Kitchen, so much that she gifted Dan with an awesome Garcia's Kitchen T-shirt in his senior year of high school. Sadly, due to over-use and unfriendly driers, that shirt now sports a variety of holes, so Dan needed a new one... and I needed my first ever Garcia's Kitchen T-shirt. We enjoyed a delicious and extremely well-priced meal of New Mexican delicacies, purchased our shirts and started out on the twelve hour trek to Austin, Texas.
New shirt!
Why Austin, you ask? Well, honestly... I had heard it was pretty cool. Neither of us knew much about it except that I had heard that it was a "hippie meets modern" sort of place, which is definitely my cup of tea. After a night spent sleeping amongst large semi trucks in the Honda CRV, we drove the remaining 2 hours in the morning and got to Austin mid-afternoon. From there, we decided to brave the rainy weather -- raining in Texas, weird, right? -- and to look up thrift stores and went observing at what I can best describe as a strip of vintagey shops...most of them out of our monetary range. We found a few gems at a costume shop, but by the time we had finished it was already 5:30pm and we had a three hour drive to Houston, Texas, where we were staying with my parent's good friends, Rick and Mary Kay.

Rick and Mary Kay were excellent hosts and it was nice to have some good conversation and have a ridiculously comfortable bed to sleep in after spending the previous evening in the car. We enjoyed some breakfast with Mary Kay and headed off to Louisiana.

Before I leave the Texas section, I should mention that we committed another RAK there, even if it was not the RAK we had originally planned.

RAK #33:
Our original plans had us arriving in Austin on Saturday...but we got a little anxious and got there on Friday instead. Because of that, we were unable to help out with the adoption day for Forgotten FriendsMixed Breed Rescue. I contacted the organization, which is an Austin based group that was founded in 1999 to help reduce the number of dogs that die in area shelters for lack of a suitable home. They are completely volunteer run and 100% of funds are used for the care and maintenance of their rescue dogs.

Since we were unable to help in person, we reached out for other options. We settled on a donation of $100, which pays for a simple vet exam, basic vaccines, Rabies shot, deworming, Heartworm test and microchipping for one dog. We believe that all of these things are extremely important, so we wanted to make sure that these dogs are able to receive the treatments they deserve.

As I was saying, we left Houston and headed to Baton Rouge, where we met up with my friend Neal for lunch. Neal is originally from New Orleans, moved to Gainesville to attend the university of Florida, moved to California for an internship around the same time that I headed to Traverse City, and is now currently located in Baton Rouge for Law School at LSU, where he is his class president. Pretty impressive.

Neal had us meet him at a place called The Chimes, where we were able to indulge in some Louisiana Cajun style cooking. It was perfect and it was great to see him as well!

We said goodbye to Neal and continued on to that evening's destination: New Orleans. More specifically, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We had a great time walking the streets while people watching and enjoying even more Cajun style food. Bourbon street is definitely an experience -- voodoo dolls, beads, street performers, the list goes on and on. After our meal, we picked up some beignets' to-go and headed to that evening's lodging: the home of a wonderful stranger named Michelle.

I say stranger in the kindest way possible-- Michelle stumbled upon the RAK Roadtrip randomly while searching the web one day. She sent us a message a few weeks ago letting us know that she loved the idea, especially being a traveler herself -- she has visited all 50 states with her family -- and because she has a soft spot for charitable work. She let us know that if we needed a place to stay, she had us covered. So, we reached out right before we got to Louisiana and she told us that we could absolutely stay with her!

We arrived at Michelle's around 10pm on Saturday, which worked for her since she has worked the night shift as a nurse for a number of years and is a self-proclaimed night owl. Michelle told us all about her adventures across the country and gave us wonderful tips for some of the places we are visiting soon. After a few hours of conversation, we went to sleep in her wonderfully decorated New Orleans style home.

We woke up a bit later than usual today and had a chat with Michelle about a RAK we could commit in the area. Michelle told us about a family whose one year old son, Jacob, suffers from an undiagnosed auto inflammatory disease. According to their facebook page called Jacob's Journey, which provides updates on their son's progress for interested parties, the disease started when he was just four weeks old. His symptoms consist of skin rashes, fevers, vomiting, swollen spleen, swelling of his hands and feet, cerebral atrophy, developmental delay, body aches and pains, and constant inflammation. There is currently no diagnosis on what Jacob is facing and the family spends most of their free time caring for Jacob, and definitely do not enjoy many nights to relax.

RAK #34: 
So, Michelle suggested a local restaurant, Zea, as a wonderful choice for a gift card for the parents. We purchased a $100 gift card, which came with an additional $20 free of charge, and dropped the card off at their apartment, which we had the address to thanks to a friend of Michelle's. We would have liked to meet the family, but since no one was home when we stopped by, we left the gift card at their door as a surprise when they return home. Everyone deserves to have a little downtime, especially those facing hardships like the one just described.

We are now gearing up for a day and a half in Pensacola, where we are RAKing in a way we haven't yet!

You can donate to our RAK journey right here.

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