Bandelier National Awesomeness.

4/12-17 to 4/18/17

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At this point in our trip, I can say that Bandelier National Monument completely stole my heart. The campground in the park was stunning and the park itself, with it’s rich and amazing history and beautiful hikes, was spectacular. I’ve found that while I love gorgeous landscapes and places, what really speaks to me is learning about the ancient people who inhabited these places. I should have been an anthropologist.

We stayed in the Coyote Loop at Juniper Campground inside the park in a just-long-enough site with a fantastic backyard…which was good as an excellent Easter Egg hunt happened there. Highly recommend this campground. No hookups but water spigots around and clean restrooms (sinks and potties only).

Bandelier NM is fairly close to Los Alamos, NM which has a fascinating history and is the home of one of three Manhattan Project National Historic Park locations (Washington state and…drumroll…Manhattan, NY are the other locations). It’s a small museum and a fairly quick Junior Ranger lesson/booklet but whoa…crazy atomic bomb stuff happened here! Check it out. A tour through the Los Alamos Historical Museum gave further insight into a secret city that was created and built solely to research and build atomic bombs. As an example, whenever someone living in the town sent mail, it was read and censored so the person reading it didn’t know where you were or what you were working on. Interesting and creepy.

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As an aside: Los Alamos is also the location of the only “Super Smith’s” grocery store. It’s my MOST favorite grocery store in 9+ months of travels. They had a clothes/shoe department with great prices (Under Armor stuff and all!), home improvements, housewares, gorgeous produce and just tons of stuff. It was like a REALLY fancy Walmart with QUALITY stuff. Sigh. I miss that place.

Bandelier provided some stunning hikes and super cool cliff dwellings that we could crawl into. What brilliant architects and engineers those Ancestral Pueblo people were!

 

Albuquerque. Albuquickie.

We did a quick 3 days in ABQ to check it out and stayed at American RV Resort, which did not feel very resort-y. It was OK…right on the highway, sites VERY close together and not much green space. But it was convenient.

We hiked and Junior Rangered Petroglyph National Monument and saw 400 to 700 year old emojis carved onto volcanic rocks by Native American and Spanish settlers. Took a drive down classic Route 66. Ate at the Route 66 Diner and sampled our very first taco pie (and realized we had really been missing out). We rounded out our stay with a drive-by of Heisenberg’s house and carwash. Ha!

We didn’t really get to dig in to Albuquerque very much and I’d like to go back and do that. But we were looking forward to some open spaces…so off we went…

White Sands. Sledding, Missiles and Wine.

While we were disappointed with our lack of alien contact in Roswell, we were NOT disappointed with the alien landscape of White Sands, NM!

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We were lucky to snag a campsite on the White Sands Missile Range for the week with a picnic shelter, an amazing view and a huge, grassy playground. It was a great home base from which to explore both White Sands National Monument and Las Cruces, NM. I knew we’d drive in to White Sands to go sledding, but the boys were SO enamored by it that they went three times during the week. They studied and learned about the Monument and completed their Junior Ranger work to earn a badge. The gypsum dune fields are completely otherworldly. Quinn & Callum sledded down the hills and rolled, dug and laid in it. Even though the sun was warm, the sand (gypsum) stayed cool to touch and felt so good. On our way to our campground we towed the Airstream right in to the park and set up camp or a few hours of sledding and picnicking. And a camel meeting.

During our time here we also went to the White Sands Missile Range Museum which showcases an impressive display of various missiles and drones outside and a fascinating look at military history inside. And Darth Vader’s real helmet.

We dug the vibe in the town of Las Cruces (and Old Mesilla Village). We had a yummo meal at La Posta de Mesilla and I even got a ladies night out at St. Clair Winery & Bistro (their Cab-Zin was soooo good!) with an insta-turned-real-life-friend whose family  traveled in their RV for a few years. Not a bad week in southern New Mexico!

 

Kitschy Roswell.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Roswell, New Mexico. I hadn’t read much about it. But I was sure we were all going to fabricate tin foil hats and make contact with the mother ship (no, not Jackson Center, Ohio, you Airstream sillies).

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We stayed at Bottomless Lakes State Park in a first-some-first-serve site that was tucked in the back and had plenty of elbow room. The coolest thing about our stay here was that the friend the boys made back at Brantley Lake showed up here too so the boys got even more play time! The campground was nice but would be more fun if the weather was warm enough to swim in the lake. Also, there was this interesting theme in the area…”send nudes”. Can you see there…how someone painstakingly put the effort forth to spell out SEND NUDES on that beach? It was big enough for…who, the aliens(?) to see on their way to earth. And the other one was spelled out in the craft section at Target. No wonder alien life forms just pass us by…  -_-

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So…Roswell. As a small town, I’m sure it’s quite lovely. As a bucket list place to visit it was meh. We went to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. There was lots to read and it was fairly interesting. Ish. I guess we’ve gotten really used to wow-factor museums because the cut-out newspaper articles in craft store frames, tacked to the portable walls just seemed shabby? I dunno. I just expected seriously cool alien invasion stuff and it seemed more shabby-kitsch.

The seriously awesome highlight of our stay was dinner at Big D’s Downtown Dive. It was DELICIOUS!!! If you catch yourself in Roswell, go!

While we didn’t make contact with the mother ship, have an alien encounter or get to put our tin foil hats to work, I’m glad we passed through Roswell. Had we not gone, I always would have wondered if it was awesome. Now I know.

Carlsbad…Carlsgood.

3/26 – 3/30/17

New Mexico!! After 5+ weeks in Texas we were finally into a new state! First stop? Brantley Lake State Park near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The campground was great! We snagged a spot with a lake view and a great picnic shelter that was perfect for holding 2 hammocks. Shannon got some work in and after the boys finished school we spent the afternoons making friends at the playground. They met a buddy, Lucas, who was camping with his family in a seriously cool camper-van for spring break and they were all instant friends.

A visit to Carlsbad Caverns was pretty high on our must-see list and we figured it would be pretty cool. It was cooler than cool. It was ice cold. Or something. We took the long way in (the “Natural Entrance”—a 1.25 mile hike winding down, down, down 1000+ feet into an inky underground abyss) and the easy way out (the elevator!). Unfortunately we were a little too early in the season to see the big Bat Flight Program which was a bummer—I love bats (for real). But the caverns themselves were unreal.

Next up…alien invasion.  -_-

Fort Davis, TX and So. Many. Stars.

3/22 – 3/26/17   We were very excited to end our 5-ish weeks in Texas with a stay at Davis Mountains State Park near the McDonald Observatory. We grabbed a plenty-big campsite just 2 sites away from Airstream friends we had met months before at Anastasia State Park in FL and settled in.

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We were pleasantly surprised to find that Fort Davis was a National Historic Site and the boys could earn another Junior Ranger badge there. I love that the Junior Ranger program has been such an excellent science and social studies curriculum this year! This was a pretty cool fort, built to aid and protect American travelers (as well as mail coaches) during the big gold-driven migration westward. Its history is fascinating and worth a read! Can you imagine riding in that covered wagon for thousands of miles (or better yet…walking it?)?

During our stay at the state park we visited/ate/drank with our friends, played in a dry riverbed, painted rocks (and hid them around campsites), attended a naturalist-led program about owls (science!) and the pièce de résistance–attended a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. That’s what we were looking forward to the most…a budding astronomer’s dream. Of course I got exactly two pictures, but let me paint you a little virtual picture…upon arrival you find a seat in an open-air amphitheater-in-the-round. Once the daylight fades, an astronomer/speaker describes and shows you (with a very cool laser pointer that reaches the heavens) the zodiacal constellations and explains their history. We saw the International Space Station move through and disappear into the blackening sky. We can now spot not only Orion’s belt (easy!) but all of him, including his little pin-head (seriously, such a tough guy gets a pathetic little dot for a head?). Once this presentation was over, everyone filed out into the yard to view various celestial objects through a dozen+/- high powered telescopes. My favorite was the Orion Nebula, which is literally where stars are BORN. Like a star obstetrics ward. Baby stars! As we waited in line for the last telescope we witnessed a shooting star so bright, with such a long tail, it looked like a firework…the collective “ooh-aah” from all 100+ visitors was pretty cool. Quinn & Cal talked about this night for weeks and spent hours drawing constellations and the solar system…science for the win! With I had more pictures!!

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Another amazing few days of learning in the books…but it was time to move on to a new state! So long Texas…you were surprisingly awesome!!

West Texas: Big Bend…Yuuuuge Bend

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3/16 to 3/22/17 Wow Big Bend. Just wow.

We stayed at Big Bend RV Resort in Terlingua, TX and it was…a dust parking lot. But it had electric and we needed the a/c as it was about 100 degrees all week. I don’t care if it’s a “dry heat”…that’s still too hot. And since we only had a 30amp hookup, we could only run one air conditioner, making it pretty stuffy in the “house” for the week.

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Big Bend is named after the big bend in the Rio Grande River, but it’s also just a BIG park.  A yuuuuuge park. I wish our time here was slightly cooler for exploring, but we did quite a bit of poking around and hiking. The first hike (and probably my favorite so far in this adventure of ours) was the Santa Elena Canyon trail along the Rio Grande. Unbelievable. And at the end of the hike we got to wade into (and cross—Hi Mexico!!) the river to cool off.

Big Bend is so huge that we put 300 miles on the truck just driving around the park. There were so many scenic (and bumpy) dirt roads to explore. So many different and spectacular views. We did a short hike into the natural hot springs to take a dip…but it was 100 degrees outside and the springs were WAY too hot. So, back into the Rio Grande we went for a good swim.

The last hike we did was to balanced rock. It was a HOT, HOT hike but we made it up a good rock scramble to get some pics under the famed rock.

We got a chance to explore the Terlingua area…interesting (strange) place. We walked through a ghost town and old cemetery, ate at The Starlight Theatre (most delicious) and La Kiva (shockingly expensive and awful service but interesting venue). Big Bend also had a really nice dinosaur exhibit to tour.

While it was oppressively hot during our week at Big Bend, it still sunk right in to our souls. What a place. We will definitely go back and explore more…during a cooler time of year!

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West Texas: Seminole Canyon

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It was finally time to leave civilization behind and head west…real west. This is the part of our adventure we were looking forward to most. We were going somewhere with a landscape completely foreign to us…AND we were going to camp without hookups and give our little bitty solar another workout. Fist bump.

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First up was Seminole Canyon State Park right on the Mexican border. It’s a gorgeous, and apparently not very well known, campground with unbelievable views. There’s an upper loop with partial hookups and a lower loop with no hookups. We chose lower and had a huge spot. After settling in, we took a hike down to a canyon overlook. Never having traveled away from the east coast, it was hard to imagine landscapes like this…spectacular.

On the second day we took the Ranger led Fate Bell Shelter hike down into the canyon to see 7000 (!!!!) year old Native American pictographs. Really put our existence in this world in perspective.

We rounded out our short stay at Seminole with meeting some other fabulous Airstreamers.

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So happy to have made the stop in Seminole for a few days.

Fredericksburg (& Austin)

3/3-3/12

We didn’t plan on going to Fredericksburg, but some Airstream friends raved about it. So, since we can, we changed course and headed to wine country. We’re SO glad we did. It’s the PERFECT town for a girls weekend (keep that in mind ladies!!). We stayed at the Ladybird Johnson Municipal Park Campground, which gets 2 thumbs up. It’s right next to a tiny (surprisingly quiet) airport and we got to see small jets take off and land. Apparently there’s a hangar-turned-restauraunt there that’s supposed to be excellent. The park was simple and you back in to extra long sites and are butt to butt with a camper behind you. A little weird having our back window 4 feet from someone else’s but that puts your curbsides opposite each other…so a little privacy. Ish. Lots of green space here as well. We had a decent front yard.

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The historic town of Fredericksburg was our first western town that had that extra wide main drag where cars (oh, who am I kidding…pickup trucks) park at angles all the way up and down the street. That just strikes me as so western. Lovely old buildings and homes, quaint shops and restaurants and wineries as far as the eye can see. Swoon. We spent a day in the gorgeous old library doing school and reading while Shannon worked.

There’s an unbelievable museum in F’sburg…maybe Shannon’s and my favorite so far (a bit boring for the boys—tons of reading and not much interactive). It’s the National Museum of the Pacific War and it’s absolutely, positively not to be missed. We’ve learned SO much about the wars our country has been part of along this journey. So much we didn’t know.

During our stay we hit up the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the LBJ Ranch. I had no idea that LBJ was such a huge proponent of eradicating racial inequality and poverty…fighting for education, healthcare, consumer protections, environmental issues and funding for the arts. Oh boy could we use LBJ back at our country’s helm again.  -_-  The ranch is still in operation and is run by Park Rangers and volunteers. What a cool workamping gig that would be! There were hundreds of heads of cattle and lots of adorable new babies! The tour of LBJ’s Texas White House was fantastic. We had an amazing Park Ranger as our guide who knew EVERYTHING about this man. The boys loved the airplane and the historic cars in the garage. They completed their Junior Ranger workbooks, got sworn in and received yet another badge.

As a grand finale to our time in F’sburg, we visited Luckenbach (a nearby…town? Village?) to check out the picking circle. Interesting place. A bunch of local musicians gather around picking on their banjoes, guitars and fiddles. There’s a full bar and a snack stand where you can get some dinner, picnic tables, a fire pit and places for kids to roam. There’s also a shop selling cowboy hats. Of course. We didn’t stay long but it was worth the visit.

Then there’s Austin. Austin is in parentheses because while we WENT to Austin, we didn’t actually “do” Austin. The short story is…10 years ago I blew a disc and had a partial discectomy. Fast forward to a few months ago and I tweaked by back out vacuuming the camper and it got pretty bad. My old surgeon suggested someone in Austin for an evaluation. Xray showed the remainder of the disc is gone, bone on bone, and he says I need spinal fusion surgery. I say “no thanks, bye!!!” Stubborn. We were in Austin during SXSW so there was no going in to the city. Instead we met some fabulous fellow Airstreamers: @oursomedayisnow (who we met up with again and are parked next to us as I type!). We spent our days trying out the stuff in REI, enjoying our first Whataburger and In-and-Out experiences, swimming in a near-freezing pool, getting expert side-eye from the almost 10 year old and spending our retirement in The Container Store. Back’s feeling better.

San. An. Ton.

2/25 to 3/3

San Antonio, Texas was the first real Texas metropolis we were visiting and we weren’t sure what to expect. Never having been to Texas, I expected women with HUGE hair and men with HUGE cowboy hats, lots of dust and everyone on horseback. I was almost right. The hair wasn’t huge and the horses were pickup trucks. Our campground, Hidden Valley RV Park was workable but not somewhere we were inclined to put out the awning lights and all our chairs etc…the view out our windows wasn’t great. We just used it as a base for work and school and then we got out and saw the sights. If you happen to stay there, ask for site 14 on the lower level.

San Antonio’s downtown was fantastic. Historic buildings, walkable streets and of course, the Riverwalk. It felt like a great small city or large town. I was SHOCKED to learn that, by population, San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the USA. Wiki says so. Baltimore (my hometown area) is number 29 and feels WAY bigger than San Antonio. Amazing.  Our first day was spent on the Riverwalk boat tour learning about the history of the city. It was shockingly inexpensive and worth every penny for a nice overview of San Antonio (homeschool social studies). Then we grabbed dinner, riverside of course, at Casa Rio (highly recommend) and called it a night.

The rest of the week was spent touring the 5 San Antonio Missions which are all part of one National Historic Park (another NPS Junior Ranger badge!). All were fascinating. Pre-missions, natives in this area were hunting and gathering and moving through the land to do so. The influx of the Spanish brought deadly European diseases which decimated the native populations. The Spanish purpose was to convert these wild people with their wild rituals and rites to Catholicism and squash out their wild ways. The natives weren’t in a good place between the diseases and the encroaching tribes from the north. They ended up being willing recipients of the food and refuge the Spanish missions provided in exchange for their labor and conversion to Catholicism. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures and survival depended on the Spanish Missions, unfortunately. It all sounded really sad to me…so much native culture gone. It was definitely riveting and brought to life the little I learned about the Spanish explorers and settlers when I was young. Hopefully it brought it to life for our boys. I will add that…while the Alamo story is really amazing and the museum there is interesting, it was sort of anticlimactic in aesthetic. It’s right downtown surrounded by one tourist trap after another. The other 4 missions (San Jose, San Juan, Espada and Concepcion) were far more awe inspiring.

Later in the week we found the Doseum museum for kids and the boys fell in love with their Spy School. Many kids museums are getting to be too babyish for our 8 and almost 10 year old, but this one was not. It’s a beautiful and very well done museum with plenty for all ages. Even 40+ year olds. It’s also part of the ASTC museum reciprocal program we belong to, so it was FREE.

We also lucked out that The Briscoe Museum was having a free entry day and we hopped on that. It was an incredible museum filled with native and local art and history. And since it’s right on the Riverwalk, we continued the “eating our way across the country” theme and stopped for dinner.

San Antonio was an excellent history lesson for me…our country has lost so much to gain so much. All these beautiful native tribes have long since faded into distant memories and with them, their customs and culture. I’m thankful some of their stories still exist to be heard today.

San Antonio…we’ll be back.