Tag Archives: texas

New Addition to the Garage: 2014 Lexus IS 350 RWD

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Either I’m growing up or I’ve completely lost my marbles. Yes, you read that title correct: I’ve added another car to the fleet which will be slowly taking over the daily driving duties. Welcome to my 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport RWD in Obsidian.

When it comes to cars, I tend to get caught up in my own little world and forget to tell friends and family what I’m up to. Showing up with this Lexus certainly caught a lot of people by surprise. More shocking, I’ve surrendered to the two-pedal lifestyle?! As Lexus no longer offers a manual transmission option on their IS, automatic was my only way to go. But why Lexus?

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My search criteria for a replacement daily was simple: V6, premium, Japanese, that wasn’t Infiniti. That left Acura and Lexus. While I adored my Acura TL 6spd I briefly owned, the J37 V6 was a little too troublesome to get into again. It consumed oil almost as badly as my Mazda, and it had an insistent pinging issue which seems to plague many Acuras of this era if you live in a region with dry heat. I would love a TLX A-spec, but that is far from my budget. I then turned to the 2nd generation Lexus IS 250 6spd, the last generation a manual transmission was offered. One I was able to sample felt slower than any of my other cars and the transmission felt sloppy. No bueno. I did like everything else about it though. Long story short, I decided the 3rd generation IS 350 was the one to hunt for. I wanted one in Obsidian black, rear wheel drive, Mark Levinson sound, navigation and in budget. Months of casually searching the web within a 2,000 mile radius returned nothing. Despite being a fairly popular seller, I was surprised that these were quite hard to find compared to the more affordable IS 250.

With some patience though, one popped up in San Antonio, TX which fit the bill nicely. It was at an independent used car dealer which was very accommodating in performing the transaction over the phone.

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To take delivery, I booked a Southwest one-way flight to San Antonio on Friday, August 23rd, 2019. Flying always gives me the heebee-geebees, but this turned out the be the most economical and efficient way of getting there to sign the papers. Here I am arriving at the airport at 4:30am. No lines!

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Up and away!

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Arrived in San Antonio in just over an hour. Driving would have been nearly 9hrs!

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I took an Uber to the dealer where they were expecting me. Mike, the owner, pulled the Lexus out from the back for my inspection and also handed me the keys to take for a solo test drive.

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This car was by no means perfect. Headlights were oxidized, paint was in need of correction and treatment, steering wheel leather torn, but the rest of the car was sound. Worked out for me since I didn’t want a pristine example where I’d be afraid to drive it. All of these little details are easily fixed and gave me haggling power. What I really liked was this was a one-owner example, always serviced by a Lexus dealer and the miles were mostly highway.

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The rest of the exterior was clean.

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Mileage was just under 100,000, but you couldn’t tell from the solidity and smoothness. I decided it was a keeper so I headed back to sign the final papers. Here’s the official key hand off.

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Beginning mileage of my ownership:

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My first order of business was calling up the nearby Lexus Dominion dealer to see if they could get me in for an oil change. I had no idea what kind of oil was in this thing, so I rather have peace of mind on the long drive home. Luckily, I was able to get an appointment. On my way, I had to snap a pic of the San Antonio’s postage stamp mural

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Arriving at North Park Lexus at Dominion. The Dominion is a northwest suburb of San Antonio where this car had been serviced since day one.

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Pulling into the service bay.

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This dealer was pretty snazzy with a free Starbucks bar, special Lexus café and they even had a resident masseuse!

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A loaner Lexus NX was offered to me while they performed their services, so I took the opportunity to grab lunch.

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After getting fresh oil and a clean bill of health, I headed towards home on I-10.

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I always enjoy the adventure of buying a car far from home and driving back while learning about the features and quirks. After spending 4+ years in early 2000-era cars, it was nice to have some modern amenities.

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Bluetooth audio, navigation, smart key access were all missed from my TL. It was sure nice to have those again.

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First fill up!

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Some west Texas landscape. Lots of rain greeted me which in turn, got the Obsidian black paint nice and dirty.

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The Lexus provided a graceful, yet firm ride and very comfortable seats. I’m already envisioning some enjoyable long road trips in this thing.

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Arriving in New Mexico for the first time…at least in my hands.

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I opted to not take the direct route home so I could test some back roads around Carlsbad and Roswell, NM.

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I grabbed a Roswell hotel room for the night.

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The next day, I took my time getting home by thoroughly enjoying central New Mexico landscape.

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Arriving home!

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I promptly took care of a few cosmetic details that were bugging me.

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Some nasty swirls I’ll take care of in the future months with a good detail.

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The biggest eyesore to me were these oxidized headlights. I went ahead and did a few passes of compound to get them more presentable.

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I’m also not a fan of pin striping, so that had to go as well. This stuff was a challenge to get off as it was painted on rather than your typical vinyl application. A little wet sanding was needed in some areas, but eventually I got it all off.

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Much cleaner.

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While I had the Lexus in the garage, I took some time to sit and learn the features and infotainment interface that I couldn’t do while driving. I was surprised to find that this can play DVDs as long as you’re parked.

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The next detail was to replace the worn steering wheel. Rather than attempting to repair it, I figured it was best to swap in a factory wheel in better condition.

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I was able to purchase a clean one from a really cool YouTuber, Jason Nguyen.

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Here’s the complete video of him upgrading to his carbon fiber wheel.

 

Following his process of removing the wheel was actually much easier than I thought…though still nerve-racking.

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His original wheel installed and fully functional. Made a huge improvement to the interior!

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Now, cleaning up those nasty exhaust tips which probably weren’t touched since the car was new. I had to bring out the sandpaper again to get the grime off.

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Before

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After

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That completes the updates for now. Here’s to many new adventures in the Lexus!

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A New Year and Drive to Marfa, TX

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Happy New Year!

While we all get back in the swing of things after the holidays, I needed to sit down and reflect a little on 2017. It’s been a good year.

Here’s a quick little review:

  • Total Miles Covered: 32,490 or 23,300 (6 “S”), 9,190 (6 “i”)
  • Number of Journeys: Only Seven 😦
  • Most Memorable Drive: Pikes Peak and Mt. Evans, CO
  • Best Observed Fuel Economy: 36mpg in the “i” from Las Cruces to Albuquerque
  • Worst Observed Fuel Economy: 23mpg in the “s” in hard driving to Utah with a headwind
  • Blog stats: I’m not posting any here as my lack of attention to the blog last year gave laughable stats. Let’s just leave that up to your imagination.

To finish off 2017, I wanted to get out on the road for day’s adventure. When looking at the map and general radius around Las Cruces, I didn’t see anything that appealed to me. Lots of, “been there, done that.” So, I looked a little further and my eye kept going to west Texas. There isn’t much to west Texas aside from El Paso and a few odd attractions such as Prada Marfa along Highway 90 (about 40 miles north of Marfa, TX). If I went there, that would be about a 500 mile journey all together just to take a few photos and the only car I had available to me was the grey “S” which has a broken clutch pedal assembly and misbehaving radiator fan (the “i” was currently getting some general maintenance items addressed). There would be long stretches of road where cell reception would be spotty at best. It would be stupid to go that far in a day. So, I went.

Prada Marfa:

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I’m generally not one to make a big deal out of art nor am I interested in fashion. I’m sure that’s evident from photos you’ve seen of me on here. I do like sculptures and any sort of installations that make you tilt your head in curiosity. Therefore, Prada Marfa fit the bill for me. It is considered a sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset and it’s been around since 2005. Designed to resemble a miniature Prada store, there are actual Prada merchandise displayed through the large glass windows. Prada allowed Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada trademark for this work.

There were a few struggles. I couldn’t find any information on land usage, but TxDOT first assumed this to be like a bill board and deemed it illegal as it didn’t fit permit regulations. After much coordination and bickering, it is now reclassified as a museum/exhibit and this exempts the structure from any signage laws.

Let’s get going! Here leaving from Las Cruces at exactly 9:42am.

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I set out for the 10 hour drive where I knew I was getting myself into some long, dull freeway driving on I-10. Here’s the Texas state line.

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To cope with the endless freeway, I streamed some Podcasts on my phone, turned on the seat heaters, set the cruise and settled in for the long haul.

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Texas 80mph speed limits did help speed things up a bit.

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5th Gear, 86 mph, and my little V6 was happily buzzing away at 3,600 rpm.

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Getting to Van Horn, TX. This is where you turn off on Highway 90 south to Marfa. I was surprised that even on a narrow two-lane road, the speed limit was 75mph. Thank you, Texas!

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I had no idea where Prada Marfa would be along this route. I just let the miles go by until I stumbled upon it. 36 steady miles later, I found it. It wasn’t hard to miss a big box sticking up in the middle of the flat, grassy plains.

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Voila!

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“Store front” looks pretty legit!

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Peering inside while fighting persistent reflections to see the displayed handbags and shoes.

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Around back, it looks like folks are starting a trend of adding padlocks to the fence. Much like the “love-locks” that are found on bridges in Europe.

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Prada Marfa isn’t the only oddity to pop up in this area. Further down the road is an installation called, Target Marathon just outside of Marathon, TX. As this was close to 100 miles south, I chose to save this for another time.

(Image Credit to http://texashighways.com)

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Another oddity, there used to be a 40-foot-tall neon playboy bunny at or near the Prada location. It had to be taken down due to TxDOT regulations and legal issues, but that would have been quite a treat to see back then!

(Images credit: http://austin.culturemap.com)

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Marfa, TX:

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Mission was accomplished with Prada, but since I was this close to Marfa, I had to go the extra 40 miles to see it. Marfa is the county seat of Presidio County and has a population of just 1,981 (2010 Census). It’s a fun and wacky town and is observed as a center of minimalist art. The biggest attractions are Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, and every conspiracy theorist’s favorite, the Marfa lights.

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The Presidio County Court House

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Stopping by the Chinati Foundation to view some contemporary art.

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To finish off my visit, I made one last stop for lunch at Mando’s Restaurant and Bar.

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I ordered the “Combo #3” which had a fried chile renello, beef taco and three enchiladas. This was the first plate I received, and I was too distracted on my phone to realize this wasn’t the entire meal.

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After I scarfed down this plate, I was about ready to leave when they presented the second portion. I didn’t realize they served in different plates. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

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Heading home, I stopped to take a few evening shots of the 6.

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While fueling at the end of the trip, I spotted something you don’t see very often in the States…A Peugeot! I had to look it up and this was called a “Partner Tepee”. One of the perks of living so close to the Mexican border is you see quite a few cool cars not sold here.

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I made it home safe and sound despite pushing my luck with the 6. I have an oem clutch pedal assembly and radiator fan module ordered, but I was told it would be several weeks to get as they are a special order. Ah, the joys of owning a lower production, well worn 14 year old car. Someday soon though, the “s” will be fixed up good as new. Stay safe out there, friends and enjoy 2018!

 

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East Coast – Wrap Up – Beaches and Swamps

Let’s get our East Coast trip wrapped up. First though, I wanted to recap a bit on the TL. She has been a noble companion throughout the entire trip. This has been by far the most comfortable vehicle I’ve traveled in and the climate control system easily kept the high humidity and scorching temps at bay. The 6-speed manual and clutch were very easy to operate even in the midst of New York City traffic, and the ebony black leather seats offered the necessary support for long stretches. However, all cars have their faults. The gas mileage is nothing to shout about. I averaged about 24-26MPG on the trip on 91/93 octane. That’s about 4MPG less than the V6 Accord I had and 11MPG less than my old RSX. The trunk isn’t quite as capacious as the Accord either, and the TL mysteriously needed 2 quarts of oil during the span of the trip. Road noise is definitely on the louder side too. However, I am overall very pleased with the TL and would definitely recommend one. I will plan to do a full “unofficial” review of it later on.

The miles keep piling on. From the start of the trip, here’s where it stood.

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And this was the ending mileage (and the nice toasty temps of Las Cruces):

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Now, on with the last bit of the East Coast trip: I find it amazing how diverse our country is in climate and landscape. On the west coast, we have instances of beaches with rain forests. On the east coast, we have beaches and swamps. Sometimes those are within a few short miles of each other. Let’s see what that’s like.

From Washington D.C., we stopped in Virginia Beach. The biggest attraction there were the multi-story hotels towering over the beach. With a population of over 437,000, this is the most populous city in Virginia and the 39th most populous in the county. The city sits on the edge of the longest “pleasure beach” in the world. Here’s an aerial from Google.

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The vicious weaves of the Atlantic crashing against the shores was a real treat to experience. The Atlantic seems to be a little more aggressive than the Pacific.

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A storm was trying to roll in at this time, so many tourists were scrambling to get to the comfort of their hotel rooms. Therefore the beach was quite empty.

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Here was a massive statue of the mythological Greek god, Triton— the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, messenger of the sea.

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I found this amusing: as we walked the streets into the night, there were many signs like this. Is this a strict “no-cussing” policy?

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The next day was a real treat. On the way to South Carolina, I wanted to stop and see my first ever swamp. That would be the Great Dismal Swamps near Norfolk. This marshy land takes about 1,000,000 acres stretching from Norfolk, VA to Edenton, NC. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the largest of its kind and was created in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation of Franklin, Virginia, donated 49,100 acres of land after centuries of logging and other human activities devastated the swamp’s ecosystems. The name comes from the days when people often referred to swamps or morass as “dismal.” “Dismal” because of the inhospitable snake-infested, mosquito-swarming place it was (and still is).

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The long, skinny, dirt road took us deeper and deeper into a heavily wooded area.

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It was desolate and a little spooky at this time. So many creaks, groans, chirps and buzzes were coming from all the wildlife that were observing our encroachment on their land.

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This area looks like where water logging had once taken place years ago.

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At the end of the road, we reached the lake.

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I dare you to take a swim in this nice black, marshy water!

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On we go!

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The TL got a generous helping of dust to accompany the thousands of miles of tarmac grime. This photo looked quite fitting to showcase the SH-AWD

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One of the hiking trails had this amusing sign posted. “Those Darn Mosquitoes!”

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The boardwalk leading back further into the deep woods.

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We saw this bench off to the side with what looked like chew marks. Was this a victim of a bear or deer?

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Throughout this entire drive, only one other car was seen. Otherwise, the swamp lands was all ours!

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From there, our trail towards New Mexico was basically hitting the road hard on I-85 and I-20. Here’s some state lines…South Carolina.

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Georgia.

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Alabama.

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Mississippi.

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Another amusing town name to go on my list: welcome to the town of, “Chunky!”

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Louisiana.

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Throughout our entire trip, the weather was very cooperative. Louisiana was the only state where we actually got some rain!

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Still marveling at the green landscape.

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Last stop before New Mexico…Texas!

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Our last way point for the trip was Caddo Lake in eastern Texas. This lake/wetland covers about 25,400 acres and is located on the border between Marion County in Texas and western Caddo Parish in Louisiana.  The lake is named after the Southeastern culture of Native Americans called Caddoans or Caddo.  This wetland features the largest Cypress forest in the world! Let’s see what it’s like. 

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Here’s the entrance to the park.

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Even though it was about 5:00 in the afternoon, the heavy vegetation blocked out most of the sunlight. Time to flick on the lights.

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Road leading up to the lake was smooth and still wet from a recent rain shower.

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And here’s what we got to feast our eyes on. Wow! Now when you talk about swamps, this looks like the real deal.

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Jouhl was impressed too.

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A very friendly park ranger I spoke with told me there were many resident alligators here. Unfortunately, none were spotted as they were very shy and were masters of hiding.

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How’d you like to take a swim in this?

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This was the only good spot in the park to show proof that the TL had driven through swamp lands.

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Guess what folks? That concludes my East Coast trip. I hope you enjoyed coming along. I look forward to sharing my next big grand adventure with you all. Until then, have fun fellow #roadtrippers!

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Scenic Drive. — El Paso, TX

This Saturday, I decided to head south for a little morning trip around El Paso, TX. Like many large cities, El Paso has its share of cool things to check out. Even though it’s nestled right next to the Mexican border by Juarez, El Paso remains one of the safest cities in the county (per capita). Also, a population of well over 670,000 residents makes it the 19th largest city in the county. El Paso is quite nice to have nearby. Shops, restaurants and recreational activities are abound. If one gets bored in Las Cruces, it’s very common for them to migrate here for day and/or night fun.

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The purpose of this post is to share one of my favorite areas, Scenic Drive. El Paso wraps itself around the Franklin Mountains and Scenic Drive slithers its way up the mountain where gorgeous city views await. Here we go!

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The road isn’t a very long stretch. Luckily, there are some nice twisties to break loose on.

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Here I am at the south entrance.

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More curves!

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I few curves are banked in such a way where there is an illusion you’re higher than you really are. (elevation here is probably in the neighborhood of 4,000ft)

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Now, for a glimpse of the city…

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At the very top, you can park and walk to the edge to take in the views. Juarez, MX sits in the distance here.

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Here’s the walk to the edge.

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The east view

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And the south view where a few coin-operated binoculars are available for use.

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On the way back down the mountain, there are several other pullouts.

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It was a short drive, but well worth it. Hope you enjoyed!

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