Weekend Trip to Providence, RI

Even with the extensive number of activities to see and do in NYC, sometimes you’ve got to just get away. It could be the beach, the mountains, or a restful town. But for this weekend away, we were looking for a little more of a city experience. Having visited Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, we were trying to think of a place we could explore that was walkable and diverse. After a little research, we settled in on Providence, capital of Rhode Island, central location for much of the state’s industries, and home to multiple college campuses.

We planned on driving up Friday after work and returning Sunday evening, so location of hotel was one of the more important decisions. We also were bringing along our two dogs, Oakleigh and Skipper, so dog friendly was the first filter we applied. Finally, as with any get-away, an indoor pool and/or hot tub were highly preferred. Based on these factors, the Marriott Downtown seemed like the best match. The dog fee was only $50 for the entire stay and with AAA card the rate was $112 a night. Our dogs were well received, the pool and hot tub were fantastic, and there was a bar in the hotel for a nightcap.

We arrived pretty late on Friday night, after a good deal of traffic in Connecticut on the way up. After checking in and getting the dogs settled, we decided to stroll down to Union Station Brewery in downtown. Walking past the expansive statehouse and the newly revived Waterplace Park reassured us that we had made a great choice on our destination for the weekend. Union Station brews their own beer, and while not exceptional, they had nice even selection. We ordered the chicken pot pie (amazing) and the cuban quesadilla. We probably wouldn’t give it any restaurant awards, but for a late Friday night meal after a long drive, it definitely hit the spot.

We awoke Saturday to drizzle and temperatures just above freezing, meaning that a long walk with the dogs to the Gano Dog Park wasn’t the prudent choice. We instead drove with the dogs down to the park to let them run around. The “dog park” was really just a large fenced in mud-pit and didn’t really fulfill our hope for letting them get some energy out. Instead, we walked over to the soccer field next door and let them run and play in the light rain for half an hour. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at Coffee Exchange. We got a quality cappuccino and latte, but the cavacas (a Portuguese-style popover) was spectacular.

The rain had subsided and the temperature was closer to the low 40 so we decided to stroll over to the College Hill neighborhood. We definitely underestimated the “hill” part of the neighborhood name as we climbed our way past colonial and victorian homes, many from the late 1700s. A nice walk around the campus of Brown University and a little shopping later, light snow picked up and we decided it was time for lunch. East Side Pockets had great reviews and a Middle Eastern flare that we had experienced on a past trip to Turkey and Greece. The falafel may have very well been the best we’ve ever had. And at $5.55 for a gyro, the price couldn’t be beat. We made sure to get some baklava to go, just for good measure.

With a solid lunch and some sharp winds, we decided a nice indoor venue would be appropriate. The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has a fairly comprehensive museum and was within walking distance of Brown. We were quite surprised and impressed with the variety and quality of the art and would recommend this to people of differing levels of art appreciation. Modern design mixed with classic art and the attached Pendelton house offered a view into 19th century living.

After a nice swim in the very heated pool, we prepared for dinner out. We had hoped to make our way to Olives (a martini bar) or Local121 for pre-dinner cocktails, but the biting cold made us think otherwise. The temperatures had dropped into the 20s and so we decided to head on for the restaurant. Temple Downtown was listed as an eclectic New American restaurant inside of an abandoned Free Mason temple. However, when we arrived, we realized the decor was forced and it was actually just a restaurant inside of the Renaissance Hotel. But while we were unimpressed with the ambiance, the food was an inspired treat. We ordered the Block Island swordfish (a local catch from Long Island Sound) and the yellowfin tuna dish. The side of spigarello (a leafy green vegetable) definitely opened us up to a new flavor. Finishing off dinner with a pumpkin crème brûlée, we decided to head back past the state house and call it a night.

Arising fairly early (for a weekend away) on Sunday, we headed back to the east side of Providence for brunch. Rue de L’espoir offered local foods with French style. Over two brunch special and some coffee, we recounted our eight miles walking the previous day and plans for the afternoon. However, we we got to Westminster Street downtown after brunch, we realized most of the shops did not open until much later on Sunday. In addition, the historic Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill didn’t really appeal to us this early in the day, as we were still full from our brunch. Dessert from Federal Hill is definitely touted on Providence travel sites, and it’s probably the one area we wished we’d hit.

With our original plans unsuccessful, we decided to pack up and make a detour on the ride home. The town of Newport, RI was a short drive away and home to historic resort homes and a history dating back to 1639. Seeing the mansions on Bellevue Avenue and driving along Ocean Avenue allowed us the ability to peek back into the Gilded era of America.

Despite cold temperatures, much of which is hard to predict more than few days before in the northeast winter, we highly recommend Providence as a destination for a weekend away. Though we drove, the Amtrak station is directly downtown, and the walkability of the central districts makes it an ideal choice for someone in the northeast without a vehicle. Many times, Providence gets lost in the talk of its close neighbor of Boston, but the history and vibe differentiates itself and offers that city experience coupled with variety you hope to get on a weekend away.

Finishing up the Trip

We’re sitting in our hotel next to ABQ Airport, looking back on our fourth 10 Day Loop. All told, we drove 2248 miles, visiting four national parks and other natural and historic places across four states. We’ll add pictures soon, but here is the wrap-up since the last post.

Though we decided to stay a second night in Mesa Verde, we still stopped in Durango for breakfast and visited the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge train museum. They had historic artifacts and steam engines from the 120+ years they have been in service. We then drove the San Juan Skyway drive, making a short stop in Silverton.

We arrived at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park later in the day, but were able to see the deep canyon and sheer walls reflecting the setting sun. The history of the canyon, and movement to a national park was quite interesting. We stayed the night in nearby Gunnison, CO.

The highlight of day 8 was driving the Piles Peak Highway. After passing many 14,000+ foot peaks on the way to Colorado Springs, we made our way to the 14,110 foot summit of Piles Peak. On the top of the peak, we were treated to snow flurries in early September.

The final stop of our trip was Santa Fe on day 9. There was a nice festival downtown, but the main attraction we were hoping to see, the Miraculous Staircase at Loretta Chapel, was not open due to an ongoing wedding.

Looking back, we had a great time, saw many fantastic sites, and will have thousands of photos and memories. We hope you found these updates on our trip useful when browsing our site to find trip ideas of your own.

Cliff Dwellings

After a restocking of our ice chest in Gallup, we began the drive through the grasslands and monuments of northern New Mexico. While not as dramatic Monument Valley just west, the formations are similarly sheer and steep. Shiprock peak was the pinnacle of these, rising 1700 feet from the flatlands. A small detour and we arrived at Four Corners monument, the location were the borders of four states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) meet. More touristy than anything, with it our current loop bearing its name, we thought it was worth the detour.

After getting back on the main highway, we made our way to Cortez, CO. Here, we stopped at the town’s visitor center where we bought tour tickets for the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. With the visitor center in the park as the only other place where tickets can be purchased, we thought the Cortez stop would let us pick our times before they sold out. We got tours for Balcony House and Cliff Palace for te next day.

After driving the windy road into the park, we stopped at 8000 feet elevation to check in at Far View Lodge. We then decided to check out the museum and short walk to the Spruce Tree House dwelling near the museum. A drive back near sunset, we saw deer, many with their antlers coming in.

We got an early start on day 2 in Mesa Verde with a guided tour of Balcony House. The ascent of a 30 foot ladder led into the 2 kiva dwelling. Much of the site was original, and we could see where the water spring came in and how remodeling 800 years ago showed the expansion of the complex. Before the next guided tour, we did the easy Soda Canyon Overlook trail to see Balcony House from a distance. A light rainstorm started to move in. We we arrived to Cliff Palace, we saw why it was not only the largest, but most popular site. Unlike Balcony House, we were not able to see much of Cliff Palace other than the front facade. A larger thunder storm moved in and we had to cut the tour short.

After a few hours of strong rain and lightning, the sky cleared and we decided to try the strenuous 2.8 mile Petroglyphs hike. Twisting along the mesa ledge and through sandstone boulders, we saw smaller buildings and amazing petroglyphs. The hike was well worth the adventure and views.

Though we recommend the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad our the loop page, we decided to do the alternative of two days in Mesa Verde. As such, we are going to do the drive from Durango to Silverton through the San Juan mountains to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park tomorrow.

Gila and Petrified Forest

We stayed closer to our Four Corners route on day 4 than we had in day 3. We skipped Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, knowing we would see better sites at Mesa Verde, and drove from historic Silver City towards Gila National Forest. The drive offered rolling arid grassland hills and dramatic mountain peaks. About halfway through the forest, we stopped off at the Catwalk hike. A 1.1 mile trip, the trail consists of suspension walkways built by the CCC in the 20s and 30s. The first half of the trail is very accessible. The second half-mile is a little more strenuous, but offers some fun waterfall views. While not the most dramatic scenes of the trip, the hike breaks up a rather long driving day.

From Gila, we drove into Arizona and to the southern entrance of Petrified Forest National Park. The first stop was the Rainbow Forest where we saw petrified logs from 225 million years ago, predating the dinosaurs. We did the short trail for Crystal Forest and the spectacular Blue Mesa trail. The reds, yellows, and blacks of the wood stood out dramatically against the blues and purples of the mesa badlands.

With sunset approaching and park closing, we made a couple of quick pull-offs to overlook the Painted Desert on the north side of the park. The historic Desert Inn was already closed for the night, so we made our way to our hotel in Holbrook. Knowing that the park closed at 7pm, we probably should have stayed in Gallup, 45 miles down the next day’s route, instead of having to back-track from Holbrook. The next stop was our two nights in Mesa Verde National Park.

White Sands and Missile Range

While looking at the drive time for today and tomorrow, we decided we needed to trim some of the sights from our itinerary. As such, we skipped Guadalupe National Park and El Paso. Many of the spectacular vistas in Guadalupe Mountains required a three hour hike, time that we didn’t have today. Instead, we drove northwest towards Almagorda through Lincoln National Forest.

We arrived at White Sands National Monument with full intention of sliding down the gypsum sand dunes. But inside the visitor center, we found that they rent sleds for that exact purpose. With sleds in tow, we found a steep slope and began our runs. As exciting as it was, the 100+ degree heat and bright sun reflection off the bright white sand kept the stay short.

On the way out of the surrounding White Sands Missile Range, we stopped by the museum, where missiles from the 50s and 60s were on display. We continued on to Silver City and had dinner in historic downtown. Gila National Forest and Petrified Forest National Park tomorrow.

Four Corners Loop Underway

We are wrapping up day 2 of the Four Corners loop, staying the night in Carlsbad, NM.

Day 1 didn’t start off great with a long delay and eventual change to a new airplane while connecting in Dallas. But, we finally arrived in Albuquerque and made our way down to the Old Town district for dinner. In the square, a live band played music while onlookers danced and enjoyed the cool desert evening. We ate at a small Mexican restaurant called La Hacienda. The food was above average, but the sopaipillas were phenomenal.

After dinner, we started driving to Roswell, as we were hoping to make Day 2 a little less driving. We received a dramatic lightning show in the distance along the way. A quiet night in Roswell, a we awoke refreshed after a tough flying day and ready to start the New Mexico part of our tour. To keep the morning light, we stopped by the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

We continued on to the Guadalupe Mountains and into Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Much of the yuca and plants along the route were scorched, but we didn’t have time to investigate, as we had 2pm reservations for the Kings Palace guided tour. General admission to the caverns is $6 per person, but the National Park Annual Pass covers that fee. As we have many parks along the route, we bought the Annual Pass since it will be less than the total fees for all of the parks along the loop. The Kings Palace guided tour is an additional $8 per person and is not covered by the Annual Pass.  The guided tours sell out quickly, so we had made our reservation online 6 weeks before our trip.

We met our ranger for the guided tour and he gave us the background about the unique way the caves were formed. Unlike most caves that are formed by flowing water, Carlsbad Caverns was formed by sulfuric acid rising from the petroleum buried deep below the mountainous landscape. We saw stalagtites, draperies, and soda straw formations along three main rooms on the one mile-1.5 hour tour. The rarely seen formations and expert insight truly make this guided tour worth the money and time.

Once we were sent along our way for our self-guided portion of our subterranean hike, we made our way to the Big Room, a 1.4 mile loop which is covered by general admission. This is the largest area of the cave and is seen by more than 500,000 tourists annually. The large formations and strategically placed lighting make for a breath-taking, yet accessible scene. The Chandelier was one of the most dramatic sights, along with other aptly named fixtures, like Lion’s Tail. We were quite impressed and sad to leave the caverns after nearly 3 hours underground. We were able to get some fantastic low-light photographs, which hopefully we can upload tomorrow.

Near dusk, we headed down to the natural cave entrance, where we heard a brief program from the ranger. At around 7:30pm, the Mexican freetail bats began to make their nightly flight from deep within the cave. In all, nearly 350,000 bats leave the cave in around 1 hour, some flying less than 10 feet above our heads. Though they didn’t come out as the giant swarm described in the guide books, it was still quite a sight.

I am finishing up my Roswell Alien Amber Ale from Sierra Blanca Brewing Company in Moriarty, NM and preparing for our drive to White Sands National Monument tomorrow.

Four Corners Loop

In less than two weeks, we embark on our fourth 10 day loop trip. This year finds us going on the Four Corners loop. The highlights for our upcoming trip include:

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Pikes Peak
  • and Sante Fe

We leave for our first stop, Albuquerque, on Friday August 26. Check back to the blog for posts from the different stops and feel free to suggest places to eat or visit along the way.

Fall Foliage

Though most of our 10 day loops can be done during any season, we tend to travel ours in the summer months. However, there is always that urge to travel during the other seasons. We have seen many autumns in NYC with the rich leaf colors in Central Park and Prospect Park. But one of the things I always wanted to see was the New England foliage.

We did some research and decided that a trip to the White Mountain region of New Hampshire would offer a broad range of hikes and drives to experience the autumn glory. We tracked the changes on this NH gov site and determined that the weekend of Oct 10 would yield peak color.

The drive up routed us through suburb Boston and through lower New Hampshire. In retrospect, this was not the optimal path, many residents of that area where heading up to see the leaves also. We also decided to bring our dogs and camp in near freezing temperatures, again a bit of naivety on our part.  Despite the setbacks, we were able to immerse ourselves into the robust reds, yellows, and oranges of the season.

We stayed outside of Twin Mountain, NH in the Sugarloaf campground, since they allowed pets. It rained most of the weekend, so we were relegated to the car for most of the trip. We followed the Hwy 302 route to Conway and stopped at many covered bridges along the way. A detour onto West Side Rd is a recommended choice.  From Conway, we followed the Kancamagus Hwy (Hwy 112) on the 50 year anniversary of its opening. This highway is known for its moose sightings, though we unfortunately were unable to see one during the whole trip. We were; however, able to stop and visit many little towns and enjoy seasonal treats such as pumpkin lattes and fresh muffins.

On our last day, we tried to take the Mt. Washington auto road, but it was closed due to fresh snow along the route. The route home took us down I-91 in Vermont and included a brief lunch break at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.