In going to New Mexico, I wanted to experience two things: National Parks and really good food. So, upon my arrival in New Mexico, I went straight for the tacos, at Kelly’s Brew Pub, where I met a bartender who shared my name. I took meeting her as a good omen since she was only the second Terra I’d ever met and then I scampered to Petroglyph National Monument, to get my first taste of New Mexico’s national park scene.

Petroglyph National Monument || TERRAGOES.COM

Petroglyph National Monument is an urban park, with four units spread around the outskirts of Albuquerque. Of the four, three offer petroglyph viewing. There’s also the visitor center, where I stopped first. I asked the ranger on duty for a suggestion on where to go and she gave me a brief lesson on petroglyphs before giving me directions to Piedras Marcadas Canyon, one of the four sites. She said I’d be able to see between 300 and 500 petroglyphs along the 1.5 mile trail loop, told me to fill up my water bottle before I left and then sent me on my way.

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Put simply, petroglyphs are rock carvings. They’re found all over the world and Petroglyph National Monument contains an estimated 24,000 petroglyphs spread along 17 miles. Most were made by the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area between AD 1300 and 1680, but some were made by the Spanish in the 1700s and a few are estimated to pre-date the Pueblos by as much as 3,000 years.

Volcanic eruptions left basalt in the area and, turns out, basalt is pretty great rock for making petroglyphs. It’s light gray in color but develops a “desert varnish” over thousands of years of sitting in the sun that’s sort of glossy and almost-black. To make the petroglyphs, the Pueblos chipped away at the top surface of the rock, the desert varnish part, to uncover the light gray of the rock.

Petroglyph National Monument || TERRAGOES.COM

There’s no for sure reason why the petroglyphs were made, not exactly. They’re more than simple rock art and they aren’t like hieroglyphics, but they are culturally important symbols. Some of the petroglyphs show tribal or clan markers, others seem to show who came into the are and many are still a complete mystery, which is a good thing, according to the Pueblo people of today, who say sometimes it’s not even appropriate for us to interpret the meaning of these images. Regardless of their perceived or actual meaning, the petroglyphs site is still considered sacred by today’s Pueblo people.

Petroglyph National Monument || TERRAGOES.COM

At the visitor center, the ranger told me the Pueblos believe the petroglyphs only show themselves to those who are deserving or who have good intentions. Shadows also play a part in how many you can see at any given moment, as does the movement of the clouds. The glare of the sun will hide or highlight a few too.

I don’t know how many petroglyphs I saw while I was there. I wasn’t counting. Mostly I was in awe of how big and close the sky felt and how each and every petroglyph siting felt like finding hidden treasure.

NICE TO KNOWS FOR VISTING PETROGLYPH NATIONAL MONUMENT
  • There are no petroglyphs at the visitor center. Still, I recommend stopping by to get directions to the other sites, use the bathroom and top off your water.
  • Admission to the park is free, but the city charges a small parking fee at some of the sites.
  • Piedras Marcadas Canyon is open daily from sunrise to sunset. All the other sites, to include the visitor center, are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Binoculars are helpful in spotting off-trail petroglyphs.
  • Trails at the various sites vary in length and you can spend anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours at the park. Most visitors spend around 1.5 hours exploring the petroglyphs.

Petroglyph National Monument || TERRAGOES.COM

On April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the small village of Appomattox Court House. While the official end of the American Civil War would come later, Lee’s surrender marked the effective end to a war that had raged for four years and claimed more than 620,000 lives.

The decision to surrender came after the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Lee’s men were outnumbered and starving, so, when Lee’s generals advised him that surrender was their best and only option, he agreed. He wrote to Grant, indicating his desire to surrender. Grant responded immediately and offered Lee the chance to pick the surrender site. Lee’s aide scouted locations and settled on the home of Wilmer McLean, in the village of Appomattox Court House.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM

In the parlor of the McLean house, Lee waited for Grant’s arrival. Grant, when he arrived, found it hard to talk about the surrender. The two made small talk instead, talking about the last time they had seen each other, decades before, during the Mexican-American War. It was Lee who directed their attention back to the surrender.

The terms were generous. Lee’s men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason, but all Confederate military equipment was to be handed over. Confederate officers could keep their horses and personal belongings. The Soldiers, too, could keep their horses and mules, on Lee’s request. He told Grant that, in the Confederate Army, Soldiers owned their horses and they would need them once they made their way back home, for farming. Lee also mentioned his men had been without food for days, so Grant sent 25,000 food rations to the starving and defeated men.

Afterwards, as Lee rode away, Union troops started cheering, but Grant ordered them to stop immediately. He said, “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM
Today, Appomattox Court House Historical Park preserves part of the battlefield and the village of Appomattox Court House. The park includes original and reconstructed buildings that made up the town more than 150 years ago. In 1935, the National Park Service took control of the site from the War Department. Five years later, Congress designated the site a national historical monument. In 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, work on the project stalled until 1947. Finally, in 1949 the National Park Service opened the site to the public for the first time and, in a ceremony held on April 16, 1950, descendants of Lee and Grant cut the ceremonial ribbon at a dedication ceremony attended by approximately 20,000.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM

6 THINGS I LEARNED AT APPOMATTOX 

1. Appomattox Courthouse is in the town of Appomattox Court House.

See the distinction? There’s a common misconception that the surrender happened in the courthouse of Appomattox, but it didn’t. The courthouse was locked, which is why they ended up in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. Turns out, it was common practice for the county seat to be named for the county – in this case Appomattox – with “Court House” added to the end. Previously, the town had been called Clover Hill but, once the courthouse and jail were built, it was changed to Appomattox Court House.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM

2. The Civil War started in Wilmer McLean’s front yard and ended in his parlor. 

The First Battle of Bull Run, in Manassas, took place on McLean’s farm, the Yorkshire Plantation. The Union Army fired at his house, which Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was using as a headquarters. McLean was too old to fight and did not enjoy the whole war in his front yard thing, so he moved his family to Appomattox Court House.

Two years later, the Civil War ended in his parlor with Lee’s surrender. After the surrender, Union Soldiers started taking things from the house – tables, chairs, furnishings, even a doll that belonged to one of McLean’s daughters. They gave him some money, but not much. McLean smuggled and sold sugar during the war, but all his money was Confederate which was useless after the war. He defaulted on the loan repayment for the house and it was sold at public auction in 1869. It changed hands a few times and was eventually dismantled with the intention of moving it to Washington, D.C., where it could be reconstructed and opened to paying visitors. That never happened and the house sat dismantled for fifty years before the National Park Service rebuilt it.

3. A Native American recorded the terms of surrender. 

His name was Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian from New York who had earned Grant’s friendship after the Mexican-American War. According to legend, after learning Parker’s background, Lee said, “it is good to have one real American here.” Parker eventually became a brigadier general.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM

4. Confederate Soldiers received parole passes to help them get home.

Surrender terms declared Confederate troops would not be imprisoned or prosecuted following their surrender. Still, Lee worried his men would face harassment as they made their way home from Appomattox. The solution was the parole pass and 30,000 blank copies were printed in the town’s tavern. The name of each Soldier was written on the pass, which identified them as a “Paroled Prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia,” and said the bearer had “permission to go to his home and remain there undisturbed.”

5. Lee’s surrender didn’t end the war, not officially. 

Other armies were still in the field when Lee surrendered and while the Battle of Appomattox Court House was the last major battle of the Civil War, the final battle was fought at Palmetto Ranch May 11-12, in Texas and the surrender of forces continued for the next few month or so. Gen. Stand Watie surrendered the last large organized Confederate force at the end of June, in Choctaw County, Oklahoma, and the CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate commerce raider, didn’t surrender until November. 

6. The surrender was negotiated in letters, not through a treaty. 

As the ranger in this video explains, “American wars tend to end in treaties, but its largest war can’t; that would be diplomatic recognition.” Grant instead sat down to draft a letter of surrender terms for Lee to review. He accepted the terms with his own letter, then wrote “General Order #9,” which served as a farewell to his men.

“After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources,” Lee wrote. “With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous considerations for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.”

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park || TERRAGOES.COM


Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. Living history interpreters and NPS rangers provide presentations on various aspects of Appomattox and the Civil War throughout the day, and the website recommends visitors allocate at least two hours for their visit. 

SOURCES: National Park Service, Wikipedia, Civil War Trust

My trip to New Mexico was my first-ever solo trip and I launched into planning mode before I even booked the tickets. I ordered a travel guide, started a Pinterest board, perused the National Park Service website and flipped through some of my favorite travel blogs to see if they had any suggestions on what I should be doing with my time in New Mexico.

The result of all that planning was a six-day adventure, with an early flight in and a late flight out, that took me across 800 miles of northern New Mexico, though five National Park units and one bonus park managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

SIX DAYS OF NATIONAL PARKING IN NEW MEXICO

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 1. ALBUQUERQUE TO SANTA FE

My early flight out of Richmond got me to Albuquerque a little after 11 a.m., and I was in my rental car and on the road by noon. I grabbed tacos and a beer at the Standard Diner, then headed to Petroglyph National Monument, for National Park #1. At the visitor center, the ranger gave me directions to Piedras Marcadas Canyon, where there’s 1.5 mile loop showcasing around 400 petroglyphs.

After marveling at the petroglyphs, I headed north on the Turquoise Trail stopping in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) for a beer at the Mine Shaft Tavern before heading on to my Airbnb in Santa Fe. I’d plotted the parks I wanted to visit on a map during my planning process and Santa Fe was pretty much right in the middle, so for me, it made the most sense to base myself there. Once I got checked in at the llama farm, I went to Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery for dinner, where I got a beer and a giant plate of nachos before heading home, curling up and passing the fuck out.

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 2. KASHA-KATUWE TENT ROCKS NATIONAL MONUMENT & MEOW WOLF

I had breakfast at the Tune-Up Cafe, where I order the Veggie Breakfast Hash from the specials board. It was delicious, with poached eggs, cheesy hash browns and a whole pile of vegetables.

After breakfast, I headed to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so it’s not technically a National Park unit, but holy hell is it amazing. I hiked the Slot Canyon Trail, all the way to the top, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The trail takes you over rocks, under trees and through canyons and when you get to the top the view is made of magic. If you only hike once in the Santa Fe area, hike at Tent Rocks. It’s magnificent.

After the hike, I headed back into Santa Fe, to Second Street Brewery, for a beer and some tacos. Then, I went to Meow Wolf, for a non-National Park adventure. Meow Wolf is an interactive art experience, with more than 70 rooms, each designed by a different artist. It is strange and mesmerizing and magical.

I stopped by the local natural food chain – Sprouts – for some road snacks and then had dinner at Fire & Hops – pork belly tacos and a kale salad – before heading back to the llama farm.

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 3. PECOS NATIONAL MONUMENT & FORT UNION NATIONAL MONUMENT

I inevitably woke up at dawn, still stuck on East Coast time, grabbed some road snacks and set out for park #2,  Pecos National Historical Park. Next, I headed to Las Vegas – the New Mexico one – where Theodore Roosevelt recruited 40% of his roughriders. I lunched at the Plaza Hotel, where those very same roughriders had their first reunion, and then I scampered further east to Fort Union National Monument, my third National Park of the trip. Fort Union is a little eerie and sort of weird, but I liked it. I spotted some pronghorn antelope on the way out, stopped my car in the middle of the empty road and talked to myself about the insanity of life, New Mexico and seeing a herd of pronghorn antelope in real life.

For dinner, I went to The Ranch House where I devoured a whole pile of BBQ and then spent 45 minutes talking to the bartender and another couple about what to see, do and eat in the area. The couple came from Virginia and their enthusiasm for New Mexico was infectious.

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 4. VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE & BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT

I woke up early again, and set out for Valles Caldera National Preserve, determined to get one of the park’s 35 backcountry vehicle passes. If I did this trip again, I’d spend the whole day here, hiking and exploring more of the park. Instead, I spent the morning at Valles Caldera, lunched in Los Alamos, had at beer at Bathtub Row Brewing, then headed to Bandelier National Monument.

These parks were probably my favorites – along with Tent Rocks – and there’s a lot to see and do at both. They’re close to one another and both deserve a full day of National Park adventure time.

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 5. BACK TO BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT & SANTA FE

I went back to Bandelier for an early morning hike on the Tsankawi Trail, which I had entirely to myself. If I did this trip again, I’d spend the whole day at Bandelier, exploring the Main Loop Trail, the Tsankawi Trail and one or two of the other park’s trails. Instead, I went to explore Santa Fe, where I mostly just ate food, marveled at the miraculous staircase at Loretto Chapel and shopped. After four days in the wilderness, being in a town, with people, was a bit much. Santa Fe was great, for sure, and filled with more delicious food than I could eat, but I’m a forest creature and being in the city made me miss the forest.

I spent the rest of the day at the travel trailer, skipping the nice dinner I’d planned for myself and eating in instead, watching the sunset at the llama farm.

Six Days of National Parking in New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

DAY 6: LLAMA FEEDING, SNACKS & ALBUQUERQUE BREWERIES

I spent my last morning being lazy then took the Turquoise Trail back to Albuquerque, stopping at San Marcos Cafe & Feed Store for breakfast.

In Albuquerque, I lunched at Bosque Brewing Company, where I had one of my favorite beers of the trip (and some more tacos), and then, on a recommendation from both the dude sitting next to me at the bar and the bartender, I went to La Cumbre Brewing Company for a beer flight and then that was it. I headed to the airport, turned in my rental car, and scampered my way home.

When I tell people I went to New Mexico and I loved it, people have the tendency to say things like, “I couldn’t live without trees,” or, “I don’t know if I could live in the desert.” But, you guys, New Mexico is next to Colorado. At one point, standing at a beautiful and perfect lookout near Bandelier, I could see Colorado. It was more than 100 miles away, but still. I could see it, and also, a whole bunch of trees.

So, really, there are trees in New Mexico, and while there are definitely deserts, there are also forests and mountains and rivers and insane beauty pretty much everywhere. So go to New Mexico, you guys. They call it the Land of Enchantment because it’s fucking enchanting.

In my line of work, summers tend to be pretty much off limits for personal travel. It’s our busy season, so while everyone else goes to the beach or jets off to faraway lands, I’m in Virginia, working more weekends than not and dreaming of fall-time travel adventures.

By the end of August I was tired but itchy for a new adventure. I hadn’t traveled anywhere since Italy, back in the spring, and my wanderlusting bones were aching. Bored and alone on a Sunday night, I poked around on Buzzfeed and found this quiz. After more than 20 years of using the internet I still can’t pass up a good internet quiz. Especially when it promises to tell me where to go for fall travel if I only plan my perfect day.

I took the bait. I clicked the link and took the quiz, all the while assuming it would come back with some batshit impossible travel option, like the Galapagos Islands or fucking New Zealand.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

After ten questions, the quiz told me to go to Taos, New Mexico, a place I hadn’t ever heard of. I asked the internet about it, like I do. I learned that Taos sounds like house, that it’s about an hour and a half north of Santa Fe and that it’s a basically an artsy little town nestled at the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which looked like majestic beauties the likes of which this little Virginia girl ain’t ever seen before.

Ok, internet, I’ll play your cute little game, is what I thought as I looked up flights to New Mexico. Because, you know, it never hurts to look. Again, I assumed the worst. I figured tickets would be crazy expensive on the one and only weekend I could travel, but no. The flights were cheap. Plus, I had miles. A lot of miles. The flight would cost me just $12.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

Shit, is what I started thinking at this point. Because the more I looked into going to New Mexico, the more going to New Mexico seemed like a good idea. There were National Parks – six within an hour or two of Santa Fe, which seemed like the best place for me to base myself – and there was a very reasonably-priced travel trailer listed on Airbnb that included llamas, a few roaming doggies and that was situated just on the outskirts of the city.

But, I’d never traveled alone. Yes, I’d flown to far away places all by myself and I’ve left the state for work before, but I’d never gone on vacation alone. I’d spent five and a half years living alone, gone on countless solo day trips to parks in the area, taken myself to dinner and to the movies, but I’d never taken myself on vacation.

But I wanted to, is the thing. I really, really wanted to.

I wanted to go someplace by myself where I could set the pace, set the destinations. Someplace where I could sleep late or wake early. A place where I could sit at the top of a mountain for as long as I wanted or drop the day’s plan and chart a new course.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

I went to sleep late that night, having looked at flights, places to stay and things to do in northern New Mexico. I figured I should think on it before getting carried away, figured I should give myself at least 24 hours to make sure this wasn’t a passing crazy that I’d regret acting on in the morning.

But I woke up still really wanting to go to New Mexico. So, that night, I booked the flight and the llama trailer and that was it. I was going to New Mexico.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

I got a lot of looks when I told people I was going to New Mexico, and then even more when I told them I was going to New Mexico all by myself. Close friends seemed to get it – I think they’ve come to expect this sort of shenanigan from me, but others were perplexed by the choice.

But I didn’t go to New Mexico for anyone but me, and maybe that’s the point.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

I want to be able to face myself at the end and know that I lived for me, because that’s the person I think I’ll have to answer to on my deathbed and maybe after, too. I want to be able to face myself and know that I said yes to the adventure, that I took care of myself, that I treated myself with kindness and that I didn’t waste any of the moments between the cradle and the grave.

So that’s why I went to New Mexico. Because it’s gorgeous, because the weather is perfect in the fall, because there are mountains and an elevation I’ve never slept at. I went because there’s incredible food, delicious craft beers and thousands of years of history and culture. I went for the stunning landscapes and the devastatingly beautiful National Parks and mostly, I went to New Mexico because I wanted to and because I needed to.

Solo Adventuring to New Mexico || TERRAGOES.COM

We thought it was time to go home. We’d spent almost three weeks scampering around Italy, starting in Rome and meandering our way north to Venice. Everything was packed, we had comfy travel clothes on and we were ready to go home, ready to be in one place for more than a few days.

We took a boat to the airport, checked our bags, had one last glass of wine and got in the line to board the plane. It was a bittersweet moment. The trip we’d spent our lives dreaming about was coming to an end. We had some feelings.

But then, about five minutes after our flight should have departed, the gate agent yelled an announcement. The flight was cancelled. Not delayed. Cancelled. She told us one of the pilots had fainted that morning, in his hotel room, and was still at the hospital so he was not going to be flying our plane back to America that day.

Four hours later we landed at a Marriott five minutes from the airport, courtesy Delta Airlines. It was Thursday and our flight home wasn’t until Saturday so we made the best out of an absolute cluster fuck of a situation and, after throughly napping through the rest of Thursday, set out for the nearby islands of Burano and Murano on Friday.

Bonus Adventuring to Murano & Burano || TERRAGOES.COMMURANO

Murano, like Venice, is a group of islands connected by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon. It’s a relatively short boat ride away from either the airport or from Venice. It’s where Venetian glass has been made since 1291, when all the glassmakers in Venice were forced to relocate to Murano. Glassmaking involves fire and sometimes fire is a mean motherfucker, so authorities reasoned moving all the fire-happy glassmakers to another island would make Venice a safer, less fire-centric sort of town. Bonus Adventuring to Murano & Burano || TERRAGOES.COM

Today, glass is still made on Murano and the streets are lined with galleries containing some truly incredible pieces. We walked through a few of them, marveling at what you can create from glass. There’s so many different styles on display, so many different colors and techniques.

We also visited the Venice Glass Museum, which covers the history of glassmaking in general, and in Venice specifically. They’ve got a solid collection of pieces from various time periods that show how glassmaking styles have changed and evolved over the centuries.

Bonus Adventuring to Murano & Burano || TERRAGOES.COM

I’m always awestruck when I wander through places that are older than the country I call home. The first time I left the U.S. was when I deployed to Kosovo. We stopped in Germany for a few weeks of training and got a day in Nuremberg and a day in Munich. It was incredible. I remember wandering through castles that had stood long before a European foot had touched what would become American soil and just being overwhelmed with the history of the world.

I guess I’m equal parts awed by the antiquity of these beautiful places life has led me and by the youthfulness of the United States. It doesn’t matter how many times I wander through a 1,000-year-old town, it’s still magnificently impressive.

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After wandering through galleries, drinking a few glasses of prosecco and eating a few snacks, we got back on a boat and headed to Burano.

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BURANO

About a 40-minute ride from Venice, Burano is known for two things: lace-making and the island’s brightly colored houses. Legend has it the houses were painted so splendidly so returning fisherman could find their homes in the foggy darkness. Apparently there are only certain colors approved for each lot, so the painting of one of these houses requires government approval.

Bonus Adventuring to Murano & Burano || TERRAGOES.COM

We spent an hour or so sitting at an outdoor cafe, eating a late lunch and people watching. Tourists get very serious about taking their pictures in front of these highly instagram-able houses. At some of the prettiest homes, lines would form with primping girls waiting for their turn to stage a photoshoot. It was sort of hilarious.

First, you see a girl applying make-up after finishing lunch. Then she head’s over to the house, handing a camera or phone to her friend, husband or parent. Then she gets ready, pulling out accessories – hats, bags, scarves – and then the photo shoot starts, with her directing whoever she’s passed the camera to, stopping every fifth photo or so to make sure her art direction is heard.

We watched this happen at least five times in front of a beautiful bright red house. Eventually, the homeowner came out and started yelling at people. They were leaning on his house, moving the curtain that blocked his doorway and he was having none of it. He was ok with people taking pictures, so long as they didn’t mess up his shit, which is totally understandable. As colorful and beautiful and magical as the place is, it’s still a place were people live. I think the photo girls forgot that part, that’s it’s a real place, inhabited by real people who live in the picture-perfect homes.

Bonus Adventuring to Murano & Burano || TERRAGOES.COM

Both islands are pretty tourist-filled today, but it seemed like Burano was a little more chill.

We spent maybe five hours exploring the islands, which makes visiting Burano & Murano a fantastic day or half-day trip from Venice. Both islands are similar to Venice, but they also have a distinct feel to them that was nice to experience. They’ve also got their own history – Murano’s is rooted in glassmaking, while Burano is where you can still find little old ladies sitting on stoops hand-weaving beautiful and intricate lacework.

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