Day 11: Sante Fe, NM

Since we had such a long day of driving the previous day, we decided to stay in Santa Fe for another night. It was nice not having to worry about packing up and driving to another state.  We would get to enjoy the city for a full day.  We were most excited to sample some southwestern cuisine.  Several friends recommended we eat sopapillas.  After I read my dear friend’s blog post about sopapillas at The Culinary Chronicles, I knew we would definitely put sopapillas on our must-eat list.

We started our morning with a walk to Tia Sophia’s Restaurant, which was about 10 minutes away from our hotel.  This restaurant came as a recommendation of a friend’s friend who was from NM, and also received high marks on Yelp.  When we got there, we saw groups of people scattered near the restaurant, which we took as a good sign.  We waited about 20 minutes for a table and took in the sights nearby.Burro AlleyIMG_4885.JPG

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IMG_4890.JPGOur food was delicious. I had the Huevos Rancheros (with green chile) and M had the Breakfast Burrito (with red chile).

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After breakfast, we walked to Santa Fe Plaza and made our way to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis.  I was most impressed with the interior architecture of the church and the beauty of the light shining through the stained glass windows.  Kid C enjoyed climbing in and out of the pews and did a great job keeping her toddler-voice down.  On the other hand, Kid A’s loud voice forced us to finish our time in the church and head out.

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Thankful that we had such great weather, we took in some other sights on our walk back to the hotel.

Checking out sculptures at an art gallery

Wind sculptures outside of Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel

Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Colorful stones at an outdoor craft market

San Miguel Church

We wanted to get the kids back to the hotel for a nap – the first stationary nap they would have in over a week.  That afternoon, they napped for three hours.  M & I seized this rare opportunity and got massages at the hotel spa.  It was a much-needed treat that left us relaxed and rejuvenated.

That feeling lasted about an hour.  Shortly after we we sat down to have dinner, our toddler (Kid C) had a meltdown that reached a carry-out-of-the restaurant-screaming level.  Here are some nice family shots before the meltdown.

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We had dinner at Tomasita’s that night.  I found my dish to be a bit too spicy for my liking, but I think M enjoyed his meal.  The sopapillas were good, but I imagined them to be crispier.  (Little did I know, that I would have a better sopapilla experience the next day.)

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel and went through our nighttime ritual with the kids – bath, brushing teeth, story time and bed.  M & I were happy with our decision to stay in Santa Fe an extra day.  We would definitely come back for another visit.

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Day 10: Denver, CO and (driving to) Santa Fe, NM

“Ah, Denver…the sunshine state!”

Thankfully, the Sheraton in Denver was great and our room was huge. We were upgraded to a corner room, which was bigger than the last apartment we lived in.  The girls literally got to run around the place.  We also had nice views from our room.

View from hotel (Denver, CO)

We took some time to re-organize our suitcases, then headed out for lunch.  From our hotel, we walked about 10 minutes to Steuben’s Food Service.  Steuben’s was a recommendation from a friend of a friend.  It was also featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.

There was a bit of a wait for our table (it was Sunday), so we decided to indulge in an adult beverage.  I had their specialty drink, a Bloody Mary with bacon-infused vodka and M had a regular Bloody Mary.  Both were delicious.

Steuben's: Bloody Marys

We were happy with the customer service and impressed with the food.  I had the lobster roll and fries – which was delicious and, might I proclaim, better than Luke’s Lobster roll in NYC.  Their Kids Meal came served in an old-school lunch tray with cut-up fruit (strawberries & grapes), fried corn and edamame (one of Kid C’s favorite veggies)! M had the cast-iron french toast which he described as “delicious, but be prepared to have your insulin shot ready.”

Steuben's: Lobster roll & fries

Steuben's: French Toast (with caramel overflowing from the cast-iron skillet)

Steuben's: Mac & Cheese Kids Meal

Kid A with mac-n-cheese-face

The restaurant itself was a great example of adaptive reuse – it used to be an auto repair shop and the owners converted it to a restaurant.  The space had a mod industrial-vintage vibe.

Steuben's Food Service

Steuben's: A kind stranger offered to take a family photo of us

Our impressions of Denver was that its downtown was clean and easy to get around.  Here was a random parking garage with a funky façade:

Driving through Colorado, we had spectacular views of mountains, clouds, and an amazing sunset.  These photos don’t do it justice.

We made stops at Pueblo, CO (Starbucks) and Raton, NM (Denny’s) before we arrived in Santa Fe later that evening.  The bright sign near the CO/NM state line was a welcomed sight.

Welcome to New Mexico

Day 9: Omaha, NE to Denver, CO

After Omaha, we planned on driving to Sterling, CO, sleep there for the night and head out to Denver the following day.  However, this is how things played out:

I drove the first leg and got us to Kearney, NE, which is almost 3 hours west of Omaha. We ate at a fast food joint called Runza, as recommended by a friend of a friend who was from Nebraska. (I’ll save my commentary about the food for another post.)  We initially planned to make a stop at North Platte, but since we already took our break in Kearney, we decided to just keep going. M drove the rest of the way.  As we approached Sterling, CO, we decided to try to drive another hour before we stopped for dinner and then re-evaluate where we would sleep that night. We made it Fort Morgan, CO.

What was that smell, Fort Morgan?  Was it really the sugar refinery?  Really, did I favor the smell of my kids’ poop over the smell at Fort Morgan?  Whatever the case, that smell motivated us to leave Fort Morgan and get to Denver that night.

Here are some photos from that day:

Kid C working on a drawing before we check out of our hotel in Omaha, NE

Windmill and fields of corn

We saw a lot of corn fields

York, NE: the most colorful water tower

We bought a contraption for the iPad that attaches to the head rest.  Up until this point on our road trip, we kept it out of sight.  We wanted to save any movie-watching or Word World episodes for when it was absolutely necessary.  Driving through Nebraska’s very. flat. road. made it necessary.

After seeing their fair share of cows and corn fields, the kids were getting anxious.  We still had a few hours of driving ahead of us, so out came the iPad! M & I felt pretty good that we made it an entire week without needing to use the iPad in the car.

Very. Flat. Road.

Kid C watching "Curious George" on the iPad

Kid A checking things out

There’s always excitement whenever we approach a state’s border and the challenge of capturing a good photo of its welcome sign.

Welcome to Colorful Colorado

We made it to Denver late that evening.  GoogleMaps calculates the drive from Omaha, NE to Denver, CO at 536 miles.  I still can’t believe we drove that distance in one day!

Day 8: Iowa to Nebraska

After our visit in Fairfield, we knew that we had long stretches of driving ahead of us — long stretches of driving very. flat. road. through Iowa and especially Nebraska.

We came across interesting things and beautiful scenery:


We made it to Omaha after about 4 hours of driving, with one stop for lunch in between.  I missed getting a photo of the Welcome to Nebraska sign, but got a shot of the city’s welcome sign.

Welcome to Omaha

After we checked in to our hotel, we followed the advice of Yelp and ate at Hartland BBQ.  It was a no-frills place, with pretty good food that left us satisfied and smelling like smoked meat.  Extra bonus was that the kids ate for free! (Kids meal free with purchase of a dinner.)

Hartland BBQ: Half rack of ribs with baked beans, potato salad and cornbread

We made tentative plans to make it to Sterling, CO the next day, which was a little over 6 hours from Omaha.  Two hours beyond Sterling is Denver.  As always, we would see how the day went.

Day 7: Fairfield, IA

Our next stop was to Fairfield, IA to visit some of M’s family.  We had some nice views along the way:

There was another sign (that I missed getting a photo of), that had a graphic of a horse & buggy.  Sure enough, we saw a few on the road:

Amish people riding in horse & buggy

When we arrived to Aunt R & Uncle J’s house, we were transported to a different way of life.  On one side of the road was their beautiful house and the other side of the road was their farm, which they currently raise cattle and grow corn & soybeans.

One of the first things that we got to do was watch Aunt R feed milk to a baby calf, Leroy. Kid C was hesitant and didn’t want to get too close.  Taylor, one of their dogs, was not shy in trying to steal some milk out of the bottle.

Feeding milk to baby calf

Leroy, the baby calf

The girls had a blast exploring the yard.

Kids collecting acorn, rocks & leaves

Later, Kid C even got to ride a John Deere tractor!

We were treated to our first home-cooked meal of our road trip, which was a welcomed break from eating out.  The girls had fun playing with Hunter, the other family dog.  They even took over his bed at one point.

After this stop, we decided head straight for Omaha, NE, skipping Iowa City as we initially planned.  It would’ve added another hour to our total driving time.  At that point, we erred on the side of less driving and were eager to get through Iowa and Nebraska quickly.  We had longer stretches of driving planned for the next few days and were crossing our fingers for good weather and agreeable children.

Day 6: St. Louis and Columbia, MO

St. Louis was another unexpected pleasant stop.  We had great accommodations, ate good food, and had nice outdoor time at Forest Park.

Water Fountain Fun in Central West End

C trying to go in to the fountain

C + pine cone

A + sticks

Picnic lunch at Forest Park - C feeding A

Chasing butterflies

After eating Pappy’s for lunch at Forest Park, we drove about 2 hours west to Columbia, MO.

For this road trip, one of the things I was most looking forward to was visiting my sister and her fiancé in their new home.  It had been several months since we last saw each other.  To get a taste of their life in Columbia was a treat. My sister is an elementary school teacher with a kindergarten & 1st grade mixed class.  I had a chance to visit her classroom, meet her students, and watch her teach.  I was such a proud big sister!

My sister in her classroom

Another benefit of staying with family in a new city is having a local suggest food recommendations.  We had our best breakfasts, so far, at crepes: etc and Cafe Berlin:

crepes, etc: French Toast

Cafe Berlin: The Starving Artist

Cafe Berlin: Chilaquiles

It was so nice to stay with family, in a comfortable home, for more than one night.  Our visit was much too short, but luckily we’ll be seeing them in California soon.

L + A + Cali

Bowl of rocks - kids' favorite thing to play with at Auntie's L & Uncle D's house

Auntie L + the girls

We were also able to re-pack up the van during this stop, so that we could have a view through the rear window.

Re-packed van

Ready to go, we headed for our next stop: Fairfield, IA.

Day 5: (Driving to) St. Louis, MO

Here are some on-the-road shots:

…and some state Welcome signs we saw during this leg of the trip:

Welcome to Indiana

Welcome to Illinois

Welcome to Missouri

We were so excited to see the Gateway Arch come into view!

Gateway Arch

When we arrived to our hotel, the kids did their usual run around the room ritual and proceeded to their favorite activities.  After looking out the window, Kid C finds the hotel paper and pen and starts drawing. (I have yet to get a photo of this, but eventually will.)  Her latest favorite doodles to make are balloons.

Kid A also looks out the window, then wraps herself in the curtains to play peekaboo:

One of A's favorite activities in the hotel rooms - playing peekaboo in the curtains!

Another one of Kid C’s methods of entertainment (thanks to our friend, C. Jamm.), is to put stickers on her face.  This kept her occupied for over 20 minutes during dinner. If you’re a parent of a toddler, you know that 20 minutes of concentrated occupied toddler time (COTT) means that you can eat half or all of your meal, while its still relatively warm, and finish half of an adult beverage!  Sweet.

C entertained herself during dinner by putting stickers on her face

The next day we planned to eat breakfast at crepes: etc. which was right around the corner from our hotel, then walk around Forest Park.