19. Mississippi

It was with heavy hearts that we departed Louisiana;  wanting more swamps, music, and Cajun cooking. It felt like we barely scratched the surface of this colorful culture. But, we were also really looking forward to traveling The Blues Highway up through Mississippi and let us tell you: it did not disappoint.

To set the mood as you read further, blues, blues, and more blues from one of the Delta’s favorite sons.


“Son, I hope you are ready to bring it this afternoon; this is some good chicken you are about to eat.”

Maybe we thought the whole fried chicken in the south thing was just hype. However, after tasting Mr. D’s “Heavenly fried chicken” at the The Old Country Store, we realized the South’s reputation is well-deserved.

How to describe it? Well, it was as if we’d never really eaten fried chicken before that first crispy yet juicy, flavorful bite– and don’t even get us started on the side dishes of mac & cheese, collard greens, corn bread, and cobbler, washing it all down with that sweet, sweet tea. What we also found out later is that people drive from far away (Canada, even!) for a taste of Mr. D’s poultry goodness, right off of US 61, in Lorman, Mississippi, in the middle of nowhere.


Jason knew he was in for a treat when Mr. D (pictured, smiling down on us) walked up to him before he entered the buffet line and said, “Son, I hope you are ready to bring it this afternoon; this is some good chicken you are about to eat.”


Drawn to the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, we opted to spend a few nights at  Natchez State Park . Usually, we stay at state and national parks to get in a few hikes. However, that once we read that we needed to don an orange vest while hiking to identify ourselves to hunters in the park, and the sign telling hunters to stay 100 yards from the trail (last time we checked, a bullet can travel more than 100 yards!) we decided to give this activity a miss.


“Call me after deer season”. One of the many signs we found advertising hunting services in Natchez.

Each year thousands of people descend on this town to make the “pilgrimage” to view historic antebellum homes in the surrounding neighborhoods, where owners don traditional dress and give the home’s revisionist history.

As exciting as that sounded to us (yawn…), we opted instead for a different kind of culture in the form of a satirical play depicting this annual event at the Natchez Little Theater, Mississippi’s oldest community theater. Afterwards, while the Windusts gave the play “Southern Exposure” 3 stars, the overall experience brought this night up to a solid rating of 5 out of 5.

Southern Exposure Play at Natchez Little Theatre MS

And a bottomless glass of wine to go with our $10 ticket, that’s what we call southern hospitality

Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg National Historic Park is worth a visit as it is the very site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. You can drive the 16 mile road to see the 1,340 monuments, markers and plaques, the U.S. Cairo, museums, and a national cemetery.


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On our way from Natchez to Clarksdale, we made sure to stop at Dockery Farms, a former cotton plantation established in 1895 and home to  Charley Patton, father of the delta blues.

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While on the road to our next stop in Clarksdale, Wendy and Jason debated whether to stay at the super cool Shack Up Inn or the super cheap county fairgrounds. Those of you who know us even a little already know who was voting for what.


Hey ,it isn’t that bad.

But marriage is all about compromises, so after setting up camp we stopped by the Shack Up Inn for a tour and drink at probably the coolest bar we’ve visited.

The next time we come through Mississippi, we will stay here to fully enjoy the live music on offer every night, just paces from where you sleep. Paradise.

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90 minutes south of Memphis and touted as the birthplace of the blues, we chose Clarksdale as a destination to check out juke joints and to experience this history, firsthand.  We hit up Levon’s Drugstore Diner for dinner and live music from Deak Harp. As we were just sitting down, an altercation broke out between the musician and a spectator, asking said musician if he could please turn down the music. Well, you can imagine how well that went over.

Next stop was a visit to the Delta Blues Museum. We got lucky and visited on Muddy Water’s birthday celebration. This meant we got to scarf down delicious cupcakes as we walked room to room, soaking in the history of the artifacts from the musical lives of the legendary musical artists, who were born and raised in and around this area, such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Ike Turner, and Sam Cooke–to name just a few.

Must return–soon

We didn’t know what to really expect of Mississippi, but ended up spending 3 great days driving up the Delta. Some other observations.

  • We know this is the “Bible Belt” but were still surprised by how many packed churches we drove by on Sunday.
  • They take their music very, very seriously.
  • For what the south lacks in variety with their cuisine, they make up for (in a big way) in quality.
  • Southern hospitality is legit! We encountered too many examples of super friendly locals to list here.

All in all, though our time was short, we found Mississippi a pleasant surprise, especially in the shadow of lovely Louisiana.

Next up: Tennessee!


17. Texas

Let me sum up the first 7 hours of driving through west Texas…



Yup, that’s about it… I can see why the speed limit is 80 MPH–I think it’s so you don’t spend more time here than necessary.

At one point driving east through El Paso on the I-10, Wendy looked out her window commenting, “The city looks a lot Mexico”. Consulting our map, we realized the city outside of the passenger window actually was Mexico.

After hours and hours of driving through dust storms and flat lands, we reached our first “destination”, the Caves of Sonora. Upon arrival, and seeing the cost to enter this privately owned cave, we almost turned around and left. After all, wasn’t it just last week we were in the Carlsbad Caverns; what could be more magnificent than that? But we were there, so we decided to book the couple hour tour… a very good choice as it turns out.


Our first treat was our tour guide, a middle-aged Texan woman whose strong accent and dry wit were worth the price of admission. The cave was totally different from the Carlsbad Caverns, gone were the vast rooms and underground expanses. Instead, we were treated to a huge variety of rock formations in a much more intimate setting. Dare we say this might have even been a better experience?

Our next stop was Garner State Park on the Frio river a couple of hours outside of San Antonio. If you are camping here during the summer there is a popular “jukebox dance” every evening. Here we had access to some nice hiking trails, paddle boarding on the (not so cold) Frio River, and a nearby authentic Texan watering hole, with shuffleboard.


Night at the campground, $20… two Budweisers, $4… one order of deep friend cheese wrapped in bacon, $3.50… introducing your daughter to a new bar game, PRICELESS!


What trip to Texas wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Alamo?


The highlight of Texas was definitely reuniting with Jason’s cousin Brent and his family, Guiselle & Alessa. To count we have now imposed on 14 different sets of family and friends’ hospitality.

While camping is great fun, we are continuously appreciative of people opening up their homes, washing machines, and showers to us on our journey. Jason was able to catch up on some of his basketball watching with Brent in the evenings, exploring San Antonio was a treat, and the Easter bunny was even able to track Indi down all the way here in Texas (thanks to Brent).



Easter in San Antonio



Running into lifelong friend Trina Vockert

The 3rd chance encounter of our trip happened on a busy downtown street. While sitting on the sidewalk, enjoying our first ever Michelada, watching children ride a pint sized mechanical bull, we heard from the crowd, “Jason… Wendy… ?” Looking up we saw an old Corbett friend, Trina Vockert, sister of the famous German twins, Hans and Fritz. More evidence of what a small world we live in.



Our last stop in Texas before the long drive to Louisiana was in Austin, but just for a day. We definitely didn’t have enough time to explore this “Portland of the South”. Our first impressions were of amazing food, a fantastic waterfront with a well-used river, great walking streets, good music, and hipsters in drunken armadillo-embroidered cowboy shirts. What we saw, we loved. We’ll be back.


Bring on the Tex Mex–thanks to the recommendation from Jason Raggio and Saamanta Serna!

Texas started with a whimper but ended with a bang. And, like all good things, it was all over much too soon.

Next up, Cajun country! Bring on the crawfish and jazz.

16. New Mexico

New Mexico’s nickname is the “Land of Enchantment” and you’ll get no arguments from the Windusts.

We started our travels as we shot through southern New Mexico to the city of Las Cruces. Our original plans were to drive straight to the nearby national parks, but life on the road and dental emergencies require one to be flexible, so we had an extra day or two to explore this city.

Before too long, it was on to Carlsbad Caverns, the 17th national park on our journey.

17th! Wow.

Upon arrival, we learned the elevator that typically brings people 750′ out of the cavern was broken. Indi was dismayed, but Wendy and Jason were thrilled (feeling like the exercise would justify a cold one later) and decided the extra hiking was well worth seeing such an amazing site.

The caverns here are immense, amazing, otherworldly… it’s really difficult to capture in words or even photos. We signed up for a ranger-led hike to go along with our own exploring.

Anytime you can take part in a ranger-led anything in a national park, do it.



After 5 hours and 4 miles of trekking up and down and across and through the caves, we were happy and exhausted– but not too exhausted to take Indi to her first drive-in movie.

“It’s just like Grease!” Indi exclaimed as we pulled into our spot. Seriously, who doesn’t love going to a drive-in movie? After loading up on popcorn and sweets, Indi self-nominated herself as chaperone, sitting between her parents so we couldn’t make out.

This Tina Fey movie wasn’t our favorite, but who doesn’t love a drive in? We just read that drive-in movies are making a resurgence. Portland needs to jump on the retro bandwagon and reopen some theaters near us. Stat. By this summer, thank you.

Our last stop in New Mexico was  White Sands National Monument. We stayed in-between the Missile Range and the national monument and were well rewarded with a gorgeous colors after a long, winding drive up, up, up to the BLM campground Aguirre Springs.


Sunrise at probably the best U.S. camp spot we’ve had on our trip.

We were trying to figure out why our campground only charged $7 per night…


Mystery solved

The nearby White Sands National Monument did not disappoint. We spent a fun afternoon exploring the cool to the touch sand dunes and getting in a little sledding sans snow.


And what trip to New Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a Missile Museum –and of course Roswell to checkout the Alien controversy first hand.


The truth is out there


Don’t panic… it’s just a re-enactment


Aliens in Oregon, we’re not surprised. Now, if they’ll just open up a drive-in.


Missile museum 10 minutes from our camp


Aptly named



Still not sure what in the hell this thing is.


Next up: the Lone Star State!


14. Driving the Baja Peninsula, Part II

Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

The very picture of a Mexican paradise, it’s true that Cabo San Lucas has it all: gentle waves, sloping white sand beaches, “Coco Locos”, and warm water.

It’s just that after a few weeks of almost solitary beauty, we knew that Cabo San Lucas would be a bit more, um, busy than we were used to. And, yes, we expected sun burnt tourists, beach hawkers, and banana boats. However, the juxtaposition of the natural beauty of Lands End in Cabo San Lucas, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, and the raucous pre-Spring Break scene unfolding in front of us made our foray into the Cabo beach scene short and sweet.

It also made us so very grateful for our next destination as we headed north to the artsy town of Todos Santos where we stayed close to the beauty of the desert and the ocean while also feeling far, far away from the all-inclusive vacationers.


When you think of Todos Santos, Hotel California, hippies, and surf breaks come to mind. Our journey led us to this pinpoint on the Baja California Sur map because of friends and turtles.


We should have also expected grandparents, surfing and boogie boarding, and continuing the search for the best taco stand on the peninsula.

Highlights of the trip:

**Volunteering for 10 days at Tortugueros Las Playitas

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We learned about Olive Ridley, Leatherback, and Black sea turtles, answered questions about why the nests were in the greenhouse (to maintain a constant temperature to ensure hatching) and other queries, drove the ATV up and down the coast, searching the beach for nesting turtles at night, watched the nests during the day for emerging turtles, and helped with the tiny turtles’ nightly release into the mighty Pacific.

All of this while also hanging out with our friends and family.

**Searching for the perfect wave

Our favorite beach for surfing, swimming, and boogie boarding was Los Cerritos

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Each day after volunteering at Tortugueros Las Playitas, we packed up with cooler and the car and set out for the beach.


Kiran, Kavi, and Indi are ready to go!


One of the few pictures out of the water


Grandpa and Grandma Snell


Grandma didn’t stay dry for long (in pink)


Relaxing after a tough day at the beach

**Daily brunch at our favorite restaurant, La Esquina

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La Esquina is one of those gems you just happen to discover and don’t want to give up. Other than amazing breakfasts/lunches, every Wednesday, they host a market for local artisans to sell everything from jewelry to organic fruits and veggies.

La Paz, upwards and onwards!

After spending 10 glorious days with our friends in Todos Santos, and with too many belly laughs to count, we said au revoir and drove northeast to La Paz.

We booked the top floor at Las Gaviotas Bed & Breakfast and enjoyed homemade breakfast in the morning, had the pool to ourselves, caught up on laundry, and couldn’t beat the proximity to the beach and malecon, just a block away.


View from the Las Gaviotas balcony


**Swimming with the mighty whale sharks.

This was crazy fun. After spotting the tiny dorsal fin of these ginormous sharks, we jumped off a boat in our snorkeling gear and swam to meet up with for a swim alongside these amazing creatures. The first time was scary. We met the sharks head on and then started hyperventilating. By the time we got it together, the whales were gone. The next jumps were better and we were able to swim in-between two of the three sharks as they were leisurely basking for plankton. We would fly to La Paz in a heartbeat, just to have this experience again.


Photo Eco Tours Cabo

**Beach hopping


We browsed all of the beaches before settling on Puerto Balandra for one day and Playa Pichilinque for another. We snorkeled, paddleboarded and kayaked to sea lion colonies and to secret beaches, and floated like jellyfish in the clear waters of the Sea of Cortez.


Post Paddle @ Puerto Balandra

**Eating our way up and down the malecon


Street food at its best: Chocolate Clams

Your mother may have warned you to never try seafood from a street vendor. That’s why we had to take mom to try the chocolate clams. Although wary at the time, when the next day came around and she was intestinally healthy, she wanted more!


Tasting the IPA from Baja Brewery and a few pizzas from Harkerboard

After a month and a half of tacos, we had a hankering for pizza. Harkerboard, a SUP rental place by day and rooftop restaurant by night, hit the spot. A big bonus was trying the local microbrewery’s IPA.

We also taste-tested the local ice cream with two winners (after too many cups and cones to count) La Fuente (homemade, strange and delicious flavors) and Paletería Y neveria La Tropical (fresh fruit popsicles)



**Walking the city to discover statues and sculptures, amazing graffiti artwork, “interesting” store displays, and the natural side of La Paz on the waterfront malecon


After four glorious days, the grandparents flew back to Oregon and we started our trek up to the United States. All in all, our time in Baja was magical and inspirational and we would wholeheartedly recommend driving the peninsula or flying into a major city and renting a car to get a better idea of how much this peninsula has to offer.

We all agree that Baja has now joined our top five favorite places in the world–no easy feat!

Next up: Spring Training in Arizona, white sands, missiles and a root canal in New Mexico, and caving in Texas.

11. Viva Las Vegas!


In Rick Riordan’s book, The Lightning Thief, Percy and his friends are enticed by the glitz and glamour, food and frivolity in the Lotus Hotel and Casino, emerging from trance-like states five calendar days later, much to their dazed surprise. If you’ve ever experienced Las Vegas, you know that once you fight through the haze of smoke and reverberating cacophony of ringadings, Lionel Ritchie slow jams, and siren call of the almighty slot machine, you feel like you, too, have lost track of time and days that you can never recover.

When we told them we were taking our young, impressionable daughter to Vegas, our family and friends shook their heads in quiet disapproval. We pressed on.

To further Indi’s “American curriculum”, we booked into Circus Circus for three nights too long, taking advantage of the free big top shows and the amusement park inside the hotel, riding roller coasters and eating junk food.


“Iron Gut” Wendy and Indi “can’t stop, won’t stop Windust” rode the “Disko” at least a half dozen times while Jason queasily watched from afar

Since no stay in Vegas is complete without a show, we decided to check out the Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah’s because 1. it was highly recommended and 2. it was cheap. Most of the laughs originated from the ‘ol hidden pocket inside the crotch zipper and, discernment aside, Mac King gets a Windust seal of approval because it was not only cheap—compared to the other options— but also entertaining to all three of us (mostly Indi).


Mac King Comedy Magic Show

Another night, we rode the bus to the downtown area to go where the Rat Pack spent their dough and to check out the Mob Museum, which ended up being ridiculously expensive (so we visited the museum gift shop for free!).


Downtown Vegas: The Fremont Experience

Our favorite trip was to China Town to Viet Noodle Bar; the best phở we’ve had in a long time, outside of Vietnam. If we ever return to Sin City, you’ll find us here.



We also ventured off the strip to get Jason cleaned up for an interview and headed to Joe’s Barbershop next door to where Indi and Wendy waited patiently at Abuela’s Tacos, chowing down on horchata and breakfast burritos.


The biggest takeaway? We are far too cheap and not nearly fond enough of boozie slushies to truly enjoy all that Vegas has to offer–and Indi has no desire to ever return. Let’s call it a successful early intervention.

Next stop: Kanab, Utah for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks!