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.

Padre Freaking Island, ya’ll!

Words will not convey the absolute awesomeness of our almost 3 day boondocking adventure on the beach at Padre…but lemme try. Watch me verbally whip and nae nae all over this page about it.

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We have the teeniest bit of solar on our Airstream…just enough for some lights, but that was enough for us (for now…more solar to come). We were goin’ boondocking gulf-front with Airstream friends who are seasoned boondockers and whose son my kids adore. So many wins.

Met up with @big_big_trip and @big_big_trip_anna at Texas’s Padre Island National Seashore visitor center and the dad’s reconnoitered the beach front looking for THE spot while the moms and kids fetched the Junior Ranger supplies. Then is was four wheeling time…towed out onto the beach…swung a couple impressive U-ees and settled in.

Now, cue a Peter Pan’s Lost Boys/Neverland song. The three boys immediately shed all sense of couth and devolved into the wildlings they are at heart. It was brilliant watching imaginations and creativity come alive for them with sand and sticks and freedom just 20 feet from the water. The grownups had wine, beer, conversation and relative peace while the boys kept each other busy. We even got to celebrate O’s birthday beachside with cake and ice cream and candles (that we had to pretend were lit–wind).

 

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Discussing the organization and bylaws of the #over40beardedhunkclub. That’s their flag.

OK, so there were a couple minor downfalls of this spectacular two/three day stay. Washing my hair in a bucket outside was not one of them. The sand was. “Well, duh” you say. But it’s unreal how the sand creeps into every crack and crevice…and not only the cracks and crevices on bodies. Resting your weary head on a pillow covered in sand is less than cozy. Also…the wind. One day was SO windy we had to sit behind the campers to be able to talk and not get sand in our mouths/eyes. And lastly…there was a wee little bit of a tide issue. Fickle Mother Nature had ideas other than what the weather channels and the rangers had. Once the tide came up and started washing our patio mat away, there was a MAD dash to batten the hatches and tow the hell off the beach one night early.

It was sad to say goodbye to friends as we were headed in opposite directions and weren’t sure when we’d meet again. After doing this for almost 7 months, if someone asks me what the hardest part of RV living and full-time travel is, I can honestly say it’s leaving new found friends. Luckily our homes have wheels and we’re already plotting our next path crossing.

Big fat cheers to camping beach-front on Padre Freaking Island. If you get a chance to do it…do it.

 

Getting in to Texas…

February 19-22

Left NOLA and continued west into Texas towards a small state park called Sea Rim. It’s right on the water and I knew it would be beautiful. After getting off highway 10 and heading toward the shore, the area became…erie? Gargantuan oil refineries, one after the other, greeted us with parking lots full of cars (trucks, they were all pickup trucks, we’re in TX) and not one human being in sight. It was as if those colossal beasts with pipes like tentacles reaching miles had just swallowed everyone whole. Once we left the oil refineries behind it was miles and miles (and miles) of what I assume the world will look like after the zombie apocalypse. Nothingness. Part fascinating, part “are all the doors locked?!”

We arrived at the park to very kind rangers and just one (the least appealing, of course) campsite left. That was OK since we’re still thinking this place will be great! And the first night was fine…cold and very windy but the beach was pretty and we knew we’d spend some time on it the following day. The next evening we realized why the wind was wonderful gift from Mother Nature and not a nuisance. Because mosquitoes. Like a biblical plague, they swarmed, everywhere. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. The Florida Everglades had nothing on this master level of mosquitoes. Taking Vader for a potty break at 10pm was a mistake and Shan and I were up until well after midnight killing mosquitoes…they came in on my clothes, on my hair, on his fur and stuck all over my skin like the little vampire devils they are.

The next day, a day early, we left. As fast as we could. We found a lovely and massive park (Texana Park and Campground, part of this hugged recreation complex) to stay the night and there was sun, a beautiful lake, lush grass, herds of deer, great hammock trees and NO MOSQUITOES. Also…I gave the boys haircuts for the first time. I had fun, they hated it. I only drew a teeny bit of blood. But they looked so handsome!

After only one day, we were off like a herd of turtles and on to good times with Airstream friends.

 

 

The Big Easy…NOLA (2/12-19)

We hightailed it through Alabama and Mississippi with promises to come back and soak up the history of those two states in the future. We stayed at Bayou Segnette State Park across the mighty Mississippi from the French Quarter and it was just perfect for our needs. First, let me emphasize…there is FREE LAUNDRY at Bayou Segnette. FREE. LAUNDRY. The sites are well spaced with plenty of green in between and behind sites. The bathhouses are adequate, but can be a bit of a hike depending on your site number. If you’re using the bathhouses (or if you’re doing some FREE LAUNDRY and washing every scrap of fabric in your camper), try to snag a site near the bathhouses. We didn’t get one and hiked a wooden path through the bayou (um, swamp…?) to get there. Also…a full week in this park and this is the only picture we got of the park itself. :/

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Other than the campground, there isn’t much to do AT the state park if you don’t have a boat or aren’t there when the pool and wave pool are open. But really, who goes to NOLA to hang at their state park!? The Algiers ferry terminal is about 20 minutes from Bayou Segnette and has free street parking (or $5 all day lot parking) and it’s only $2 per person to cross the river. The hulking, clanging, squealing, circa 1940s (feeling) battleship ferry drops you at the tip of the French Quarter and you can walk to all the madness that is this fascinating city. If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of a real, live Mississippi river rat. It’s part of the experience guys.

We started our first day in the French Quarter with a walk down Bourbon Street (which smells like warm beer and hot, overflowing dumpsters), street performers and toe-curling beignets at Cafe du Monde…obviously. After strolling the city a bit more and being led by the more pleasant aromas of the many incredible restaurants, we ducked into the Gumbo Shop (highly, highly recommend!) for lunch. I couldn’t decide what local delicacy to order so our fabulous server said she’d surprise me. Shrimp creole, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and jambalaya all on one plate. Yes please. The boys enjoyed a roast beef po boy and Shan devoured his jambalaya. Please go here for a meal if you’re in NOLA.

During the week we also visited Oak Alley Plantation. Always a struggle to see such a gracious home and property but know on whose backs that property was built and operated. The tour was very informative, but there’s so much emphasis on genteel southern plantation life and so little emphasis on the absolute horrors of slavery. The home and the 300 year old oaks were lovely though. The mint julep was knock-you-on-your-tush-strong. Oak Alley has an extensive exhibit of slave quarters with some very honest and awful examples of slave life. Awful. Friends had just toured Oak Alley and the Whitney Plantation. They told me about how the planation truly looks at the entire “plantation experience” from the slaves’ perspective as opposed to the more common plantation owner’s side. The Whitney Plantation was the one we meant to tour.

On our next foray into the French Quarter there were more beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Oh, sorry. We also walked through the open air market and stumbled on the LEGO mini figure booth where the heavens opened and the angels sung (sang?) and the boys’ looked like shaken sodas, ready to explode with joy.  Next we toured the Jean Lafitte National Historic Site/French Quarter Visitor Center, where the boys completed the Junior Ranger program and scored another badge for their collection. Jean Lafitte (1780-1823-ish) was a French pirate and smuggler who paused his illicit adventures to fight on the side of the United States in defense of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Continuing the French Quarter trend, on Thursday we headed right to the Jazz National Historic Park. You guys, there’s a National Park location dedicated to jazz music!! The boys burned through this Junior Ranger program fast and earned yet another badge. This National Park is temporarily being house at the Old US Mint building which also hosts Music At The Mint. We got to enjoy an amazing jazz concert performed by actual National Park Rangers along with special guest Charlie Gabriel (unbelievable musician and historian). What a special treat! There was more Gumbo Shop food on this day. 🙂

We rounded out our week in New Orleans with an afternoon at the Audubon Insectarium (super cool!) where I got to see the things nightmares are made of come to life…creeping, crawling, buzzing life. Wrapped it up with a dinner of po boys and crawfish etouffe at Mother’s Restaurant.

When asked what they thought about New Orleans, the boys were split. Callum says it was his favorite place so far because it was so wild. Quinn says it was interesting but strange. I think Shan and I are a mix of both. I do know that the food will keep me coming back. OK, the weird too. I do so enjoy some weird.

Panama City, FL—beautiful beaches, delicious donuts.

You know, it’s probably smart just to start with the donuts and get this out of the way. They were insane. And the kolaches (first I’d heard of such a thing..I think it’s pronounced “koh-lah-tchee”?) were equally insane. Please, for the love of everything sticky and sweet, if you find yourself in Panama City Beach, do yourself a favor and hit up Thomas’ Donut and Snack Shop and get donuts (all the donuts) and the sausage and cheese kolaches and go across the street to the beach. Park your fanny in the sand and stuff your face while staring at the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. I guarantee happiness with this recipe. It was so good we parked the Airstream across the street for one last indulgence on our way out of town.

Alright, back to business. We lucked out and snagged a spot at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City for a week. Great place. Highly recommend the waterfront sites—some are to-die-for, with private kayak launches. I think I would have felt differently about the campground had we been stuffed into an interior site (though SOME of them were quite nice). You can bike to the gorgeous beaches right from your site. The bathhouses are fantastic (important when we don’t have sewer hook-ups since we take all our showers in the bathhouse—see FAQs if this makes no sense). The park has an interesting history including time spent as a World War II harbor defense installation and the home of a Norwegian sailor who shipwrecked on the shores and decided to stay put and solitary homestead near his boat’s remains for 25 years until he died in 1954.

St. Andrews is a VERY busy campground…I don’t think we saw one empty site any day we were there. There was an excellent entomology Ranger Program the boys and I attended where we learned what bugs are safe to eat and we ATE THEM TOO! Pretty sure I scored mom points by eating bugs. Or just crazy points. Either way, points were scored. It’s also bikeably (?) close to the most gorgeous beaches! Talk about fine, white sand.

While we were in Panama City we met two awesome families we had connected with on Instagram. The first was a full-time-couple-to-be from the northeast who we met at The Wicked Wheel restaurant. They run a sweet hauling company (Hotshot Hauling) and are planning on a Capri truck camper for their full-time RV home. The second was another full-time Airstream family and their two unbelievably cute little girls. I have to say, I was very impressed with how well my big guys played with a toddler—doing anything silly to get a giggle out of her. 🙂 Again…more social on the road than in a suburban ‘hood. Weird.

Rainbow Springs – as pretty as it sounds.

After leaving Koreshan State Park, we were hightailing it up and out of Florida. We needed a quick stopover before heading into the panhandle in order to not have a VERY long drive-day. So, we stopped the weekend of February 3rd at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL. This is one of the few state parks we’ve ever seen with full hook-ups, a nice touch! The sites are well spaced and many are fairly private.

Since we only had ONE full day here, a paddle up the river in tandem kayaks was the way to go. But first, we hit the headsprings area for a tour of what used to be (from the 1920s to the 1970s) an early amusement park. There were (are) intricately planned gardens, waterfalls, streams and ponds. There are the remains of what was a zoo and there was a rodeo and even a monorail. I could just envision families and friends meeting there with picnic lunches, dressed to the nines, maybe donning their bathing costumes for a dip in the warm springs. Careful ladies, don’t show those shoulders! Since spring in this area of Florida starts just as the north is getting feet of snow, the hills were alive with the sound of music blooms of azaleas. Gorgeous.

After a quick lunch back at the camper, we walked to the river and hauled our ridiculously heavy, likely made of concrete, double kayaks into the water with only minimal grunting. The winds and the current were pushing against us, making the paddle upriver…excellent cardio. Once we were on the water, we realized how shockingly clear and turquoise it was. Like, jaw-dropping(ly), eye-popping(ly) clear. No tropical island’s water, no east coast beach water, no mountain stream that I’ve ever seen has had water so clear, so turquoise. It was all I could do not to dunk my face over the side of the kayak and start gulping it down. Ahhhh. Refreshing! I assume. I didn’t do it. Anyway, there were dozens of turtles (some massive!), interesting birds, plenty of fish and this deep emerald-green river grass that swayed in the current like a mermaid’s hair. Lovely. We finally made it to the headspring (at the park we’d toured earlier) and spent some time just gazing into the water before heading back to haul our kayaks (this time with a little more grunting) back to the racks. It was a VERY full day and we slept well before waking and heading off to Panama City the following day!

If you have a chance to spend time here, I HIGHLY recommend. If you own kayaks, I double recommend.

Camping with a Religious Cult.

In an effort to really experience it all, we decided to stay at a religious cult campground. Well, sort of. Koreshan State Park is north of Naples, south of Fort Myers, in Estero, Florida. Cyrus (in Hebrew: Koresh) Teed brought his followers from New York to Florida in 1894 to start this self-sustaining “New Jerusalem” community and expand his religion…which believed that the earth was hollow and contained the entire universe with the sun at the center (as well as other interesting beliefs). After Teed’s death in 1908, membership steadily declined until the last 4 Koreshans deeded the village and acreage to the state of Florida and the State Park was born. The property still has many of the original buildings to tour including an impressive machine shop, the bakery, the stunning art hall and more.

The campground has two sandy loops loops with water and electric. It was closed for many months while they upgraded both and had only just recently reopened (we were so persistent—called once a week during the closure—that we snagged 2 weeks here in high season!). The sites still needed some regrading as the fill used to cover the upgrades sunk a bit in the middle. But they were working on it. The bathhouses were old and not pretty, but very clean (and even conducive to a hair dying session). There’s some Estero River frontage with kayak and canoe rentals, a playground in the woods, a wooded walking path and of course the very interesting Koreshan Village that hosts reenactments, guided tours, a farmers market and many other activities. This is a VERY active Florida State Park!

While we were at Koreshan we spent lots of time with Grammy and Pop since they winter at the gorgeous resort: Cypress Trails in Fort Meyers right up the road. We spent a glorious afternoon on Sanibel Island and even got a close up with a dolphin who swam into shallow waters to check us out. Shannon and I got not one, but TWO date nights when the boys had sleepovers at Gram and Pop’s RV! It was so nice for the boys (and for us) to have that time with them before we head West for more adventures. There was blogging, screen time and a trip to Bass Pro where my little “campers” were fascinated by…tents. We also were lucky enough to cross paths with more full timing, Airstream Instafriends (I swear, Instagram has made us SO social!). Very thankful we had two weeks at Koreshan. I definitely recommend. It’s so important to teach your children about bizarre religious cults. (-_-)  Or, you know, to spend quality time with family close by.