You can find the Travel Vlog of my Road Trip on YouTube!
July 3-July 8, 2019
4 Days + 3 National Parks + 3 States + 1 ENGAGEMENT PHOTOSHOOT = The Last Few Days with My Fiance Before He Deployed Overseas
To hear about an adventure consisting of: an engaged military couple, collecting stamps at 3 national parks, a last-minute engagement photoshoot on the 4th of July, driving across state lines, and orangutans -- keep on reading!
My fiance Lucas received a 4-day pass while he was down in El Paso, Texas before his deployment overseas. Because his deployment was sudden (feel free to read more about this story in my previous blog post here!), we decided that time was more valuable than money at this point so I booked my ticket to fly down to El Paso, Texas to spend his days off with him.
This was both of our first times near the El Paso, Texas area so we decided to maximize the experience by visiting all the nearby national parks. Who knows when we’ll be in the area next, right? We also wanted to use the extra days given back to us by organizing the engagement photoshoot we weren’t able to have before he left Washington. Due to an AMAZING photography community, I was able to find a photographer and a hair stylist available for our engagement shoot on the 4th of July!
All in all, we were excited to be able to go on another adventure, but more excited that we were able to get time back to spend with one another.
Lucas’ first day off was on July 3rd, so I flew that morning from Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to arrive in El Paso International Airport (ELP) by noon. Luck was on my side that morning! My baggage ticket wouldn’t print in the kiosk, but instead of waiting the long line to check-in my bag, the attendant directed me to wait in the first class line. Security was a breeze and when I arrived to my seat on the plane -- not only did I have my preferred window seat, but also had the whole row to myself!
About 3 hours of editing pictures later, I left the Seattle morning sprinkle and arrived in the afternoon dry heat of Texas. It was 90 degrees!
Lucas met me at baggage claim and we happily made our way over to pick up our rental car. We had a long drive ahead of us to Tucson, Arizona (the location of our photoshoot), so after a lunch stop at Chic-Fil-A, we made the trek through New Mexico to Arizona!
We arrived at our hotel in Tucson, Arizona after 4.5 hours filled with road trip singing and wedding planning. We were both exhausted from traveling, so instead of exploring Tucson that evening, we decided to grab dinner at the Red Lobster down the road. Lucas was craving seafood so we bought a crab dinner for him and some shrimp for myself. We also toasted over a sangria and rum/coke - you can guess who had which ;)
Day 2 consisted of our first full day in Tucson, Arizona. We decided to travel over to Tucson because the Saguaro National Park was nearby, and Mount Lemmon was the scenic location that our photographer, Kim, recommended to us for our engagement photoshoot. Our shoot wasn’t scheduled until sunset, so we decided to brace the Arizona heat and explore.
Saguaro National Park was located about 30 minutes from our hotel. So after grabbing a quick breakfast, we decided to make our way to Saguaro National Park to cross another national park off my list (If you didn’t know - I made it my goal earlier this year to visit every National Park in the United States!). The drive over was a very windy, up and down drive through a FOREST of cacti. Being from Washington, we're used to evergreen trees so it was definitely a different sight to see for us! Hills would go on for MILES and there would be so many saguaro cacti sprinkled all over the area.
It was a little over 100 degrees that day, so we didn’t have it in us to go on any hikes. We really just wanted to go to the visitor center and see the forests of cacti. But really, the cacti were present almost the entire drive to the visitor center so we got our cacti fix that day for sure. While we were in the gift shop hunting down a postcard for my collection, Lucas found a National Park book that was big enough to hold postcards. He reasoned with me that we might not find ourselves in Saguaro National Park again and thought we might as well invest in a book to keep my collection of postcards as well as start collecting the National Park stamps in the book too.
With my new National Park book in hand, freshly stamped and with postcard purchased, we ended our visit to Saguaro National Park and decided to make a detour over to Old Tucson. The heat had us both feeling tired, so we didn’t end up staying at Old Tucson for very long. We were thirsty so we purchased drinks for the road, and we saw a shawl on sale - couldn’t pass that up (lol!). On our way back to the hotel, we found an In N Out Burger and couldn’t pass that up either (we don’t have In N Out Burger in Washington!). We went through the drive-thru to enjoy our lunch back at the hotel, while we both got ready for our photoshoot that evening.
Truly thankful for the creatives who made themselves available (ON A HOLIDAY!) to accommodate Lucas’ and my engagement shoot before he deployed overseas. Makayla (@get_it_twisted_withmakayla) drove 1.5 hours from Phoenix, AZ to our hotel in order to curl/braid my hair, and Kim (@kimhartnettphoto) also drove with her husband about 1.5 hours to Mount Lemmon to take our pictures! The drive to Mount Lemmon had a beautiful view and I’m obsessed over our engagement pictures! We’ll happily use some of them for our Save the Date cards, so thank you to both creatives for making this day so special for us!
Walking around Saguaro National Park, Old Tucson, and Mount Lemmon wiped us out, so instead of watching the fireworks by the Convention Center, we decided to avoid all the crowds and traffic and spend our evening at BJ’s having some snacks and drinks. We didn’t regret that decision one bit!
We woke up bright and early for the drive back to Texas on Day 3. With Starbucks in hand, we made the 6-hour drive to National Park #2 of this adventure - Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, TX. We were thankful that our rental car had cruise control because we had loooooong stretches of flat highways ahead of us. As we drove through New Mexico to get to Texas, we stopped for gas and Subway, but wanted to limit our stops so we could make it to two National Parks that day.
The long stretch of driving paid off because not only were we able to collect the postcards, stickers, and stamps from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but we also made it before the Visitor Center of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (in Carlsbad, New Mexico) closed for the day. If we had more time, we would’ve walked the trails of Guadalupe Mountains. However, we were limited on time before Carlsbad closed for the evening.
We were SO glad we made it too, because Carlsbad Caverns was SOMETHING ELSE entirely. It was INCREDIBLE seeing all the stalagmites, soda straws, and columns throughout the Big Room (all made of limestone!). We didn’t make it in time to do the hike to the Big Room, but luckily they were still allowing visitors to enter through the elevators. Lucas and I didn’t know what to expect when we got there, but once we went 75 stories underground, our jaws literally dropped!
If you ever get the chance to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, I highly recommend! Pictures and reading about it just doesn't cut it.
Day 3 was filled with the most adventures, so by the time we left Carlsbad Caverns we were ready for some food and sleep. We looked for restaurants that were highly recommended near our hotel and found, Mariscos El Buchón. We had seafood, ceviche, and oysters that evening, followed by watching movies and falling asleep by 8pm.
Day 4 was the last day Lucas had before he left to fly overseas for his deployment. He had to report back to base by 6pm that evening. We slept in a little more that morning and made the 3-hour drive back to El Paso, Texas. I wasn’t able to check-in to my hotel in El Paso until the afternoon, so we weren’t sure where to wander until then. Lucas discovered that there were orangutans at the El Paso Zoo, especially a baby one! So he knew that I’d be ALL about going to see the orangutans (They’re my FAVORITE animal!).
I think we stopped by the orangutan exhibit 5 different times while we were at the zoo (lol!). They were just so much fun to watch! We also saw elephants, a galapagos tortoise, lions (which was Lucas’ favorite exhibit), and much more.
Once we saw all the animals we wanted to see, we stopped by Dairy Queen for a quick bite and some ice cream before Lucas dropped me off at my hotel. Lucas wasn’t sure how many days he would get free, and it turned out that he only had 4 days before he had to fly overseas. My flight didn’t leave until two days after his, so I spent my Sunday and Monday morning at the hotel (which consisted of a LOT of wedding planning, editing pictures/videos, and binge-watching Harry Potter).
Annnd that's a wrap!
Super excited over the opportunity to cross off THREE more National Parks on my list AND that we were able to get our engagement pictures taken before Lucas left for his deployment! :)
It’s never easy saying “See you later,” especially since this time it will be for 9-10 months and he’ll be in hostile territory… but we were extremely grateful to have spent those 4 days together even if it was just for 4 days. It was better than none at all, and we know he’ll be home sooner than we think. I am SO proud of him, and can’t wait to marry him when he comes home! :)
Cheers to another adventure, and prayers for a safe deployment!
Storytelling by Gen
Travel diaries from explorations and adventures.