We took the southern route home from Florida, and had almost one month to make it home for the holidays. First stop was at Manatee State Park, on the north west side of Florida. Here it felt like we were leaving summer and entering fall, even though it was almost December 1st. It was nice to leave the humidity of Key West and start to feel fresh air in this forested park. We didn’t see any manatees here, but we did see a lot of large black birds. We stopped one more time at the St George Island State Park in the Gulf. The beach on this island was a favorite along with Paddy’s, an outdoor restaurant. The peel and eat shrimp here was even better the second time around! The last state park we stopped at in Florida was fabulous, as well, St. Andrews State Park. Bay front camping, a lake to check out the alligators, and a white sand beach. Lots of people take there boats out at this spot. Nice to leave Florida with three great campgrounds to send us off.
From here we did a longer drive to Baton Rouge. We had already been to New Orleans, so we thought this would be a fun city to explore. We found a county park campground rather close to the city, but felt like it was in the country. It was close to the levy to take a nice walk and the college, which apparently the campground is packed when there are football games. We were there with just a few others, so it was quiet and peaceful while we were there. It was on a large equestrian grounds, and was beautiful. The fog was rolling in, making us feel like winter was starting to settle in after our long extended summer in the Keys!
We were pretty excited to get to Texas, and eat some delicious BBQ. We decided to take the back roads through Texas rather than the main interstate, and we found they were beautiful. There were farms and ranches all over, and these highways were called farm to market roads. We first stayed at Lake Livingston State Park, a beautiful campground on a large lake. Entering Texas I realized I had always pictured it more desert like. We were in a forest here, pine trees, aspen trees, and super colorful. Texas’s fall colors were going off. Everyone had started decorating for Christmas. It was festive and beautiful! On the way to this park, we found a killer BBQ spot called Truth BBQ. There was a line out the door, and it was awesome! Just what we were looking for.
Next up Austin for more BBQ. We had a specific spot we were in mind called Franklin BBQ. You wait in line starting at 9 a.m. to get a spot. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. and the line makes its way in from there. We were told we would be eating by 12:30 p.m. by an employee who takes count on the line, and she was spot on. It was the best BBQ of the trip. OMG, incredible! We met some great people in line, they were from upstate New York, two brothers and their dad. They went to 7 BBQ joints in 4 days. We ended up at the same table eating with them as well, and they said it was the best BBQ of the trip for them! We felt good about that. We hit the best spot of 7 on their list!
We liked Austin, one of our favorite cities of the trip. We ate at several great spots. We had ramen one night that was a nice break from BBQ. It was the best ramen we had since San Francisco. We found a coffee shop and frequented it the few days we stayed. It was part of a Tom’s shoe store, which is the shoes where you buy a pair, and they give a pair in a foreign country. It was a cozy spot, and the chai here was yummy! This neighborhood was a fun one to walk around and explore, just up from downtown. It would have been fun to stay here longer, but we were excited to get Big Bend National Park, and it was still a long drive through Texas to there. The drive to Big Bend was beautiful! Crossing Texas reminded me a lot of California’s landscapes, there were pine trees, rolling hills, lakes, oak trees, and desert bushes. It didn’t feel desert like in Texas until the western side. The towns on the back roads we took were quaint. Old looking towns with charm, brick buildings, small western stores, restaurants, and shops. I could feel we were heading back west, the terrain we are used was starting to appear again.
Big Bend was amazing. There had been a cold snap in Texas when we got there, and a snow storm had put snow on the mountains of Big Bend. Another thing I didn’t realize about Texas, it snows! Completely beautiful to see in the mountains and desert landscape. Big Bend was on the border of Mexico. There was a border crossing that we could have gone over to a small town, but it was closed when we looked. We weren’t sure if it was closed permanently or for the day since we went at dark. It was interesting to be on the border of Texas and Mexico. The cliffs were steep and sharp from the Rio Grands many years of shaping the canyon. We did a bunch of off-roading in the park here which was fun. It was quiet either because of the time of year or because of the cold and snow. We felt like the only people out on the roads. Big Bend used to be an ocean floor. In one area we walked around we could see old fossils that looked like sea shells and old sea snails. They must have been millions of years old.
White Sands was next on our list, a place I had always wanted to photograph. We did a full day’s drive to get to New Mexico. First we went to Rosewell, just had to see the funky alien town for myself after watching the TV show in college about teenagers who lived there. We went to the UFO museum here. This is the town where the famous landing occurred back in the 50’s. It was interesting to read all the stories and accounts of the townspeople. Some of it was hokey, but totally funky and fun! We also had some killer burgers while stopped in the town.
White sands was beautiful! We went early to get sunrise photos, and it was cold! Real cold, like 12 degrees. The park didn’t open until 7 a.m., and the sunrise was before this. We found a spot where we could take a sunrise photo and set out up the dunes. Bianca loves sand dunes. Beaches, snow and sand dunes are her favorites for running and playing. She is fast, runs and runs and runs! It was nice that we could have the dog with us out on the sands, lots of national parks don’t allow them on hiking trails, but here she was allowed. We couldn’t camp here with the Airstream, only tent camping, so we camped near by at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It overlooked the valley with stunning views.
We headed up to Santa Fe from here. The mountains around Santa Fe reminded me of Santa Barbara some. The town and buildings are definitely uniquely Santa Fe in style. The downtown was charming to walk around, and we did some Christmas shopping here for our families. In the downtown square, they hung large decorative chilies from the lanterns. I could see how this town could be a nice place for an artist retreat. On one side of the square there are a bunch of native artists who sell there crafts. We found some unique gifts here, and it always feels good to support the artist directly!
We decided to go the long way to Arizona and drive north into Colorado first. We have really loved Colorado on this trip! Such a great state! We wanted to see Mesa Verde, but didn’t realize it was closed for the season. We ended up staying near a town called Pagosa Springs, and found that they had a hot spring that was in amazing. There were 20 or more pools that had been built to harness the waters. It was cold in Colorado in the 30’s during the day and the teen’s at night. We stayed in couple days here, took some down time and completed a Christmas puzzle at our campsite. The campsite grounds were lit up nicely for Christmas, different colored strings layering the trees. Got us excited for the holidays!
I’d never been to the Grand Canyon, so naturally that was next up. We camped a night on the south rim, the north rim was closed this time of year. There was some smoke from the LA fires that had blown this way and made the skies a bit hazy, but it was still spectacular. It was nice and quiet since it was getting close to the holidays. On our way there, we drove through one of the largest reservations in the United States, took us more than 3 hours to cross through it. Near the grand canyon there were also reservations along the rim, and lots of places to buy arts and crafts. Some truly beautiful pottery and jewelry. Reservation life looks hard, and there is a lot of messy history with the Native American tribes in the US. We’ve noticed this all across the country and in Canada.
One of our last stops was in Flagstaff, Arizona to visit an old friend Nick, his wife Becky and their kids. Flagstaff is a great mountain town, reminded me of Truckee in the Sierra’s, but much larger with a college and on Route 66. We went to an awesome brewery here and had a nice southwest style local dinner downtown. We also got to see Nick’s brother, Matt, who worked at an awesome little breakfast joint called the “Spotted Owl” with fun paintings of owls, wild chandeliers, and a grub breakfast sandwich.
We were running shy on time, so instead of going to Joshua Tree we decided to go to Vegas! Why not! We found a hotel that allowed dogs called the Delano. The room was a good deal because it was the slow season, and it was the fanciest suite I’d ever had in Vegas. A perfect way to end the trip! On the way to Vegas we stopped to see the Hoover Dam, and met a nice couple from Canada that had just started there adventures, and were heading to Mexico. So tempting……Mexico……maybe next year!
Home for the holidays, home to California. We visited Brian’s family first in Bakersfield for a few days, and went to the favorite spots to eat, Noriega’s and Luigi’s. A little rain set in, some fog, and cold weather bringing in the holiday feeling. It was nice to see the family after such a long time. We went to Malibu to camp and visit my sister and family for the holidays after Bakersfield. Malibu is one of the camp spots that we started our adventures at. Felt nice to be back in California. Beautiful coastline, the ocean was where we left it on the west side, and landscape as we knew it was all there just as before. Even though we love California and it will always be in our hearts we are making the move in the New Year to the Seattle Area to settle down. Our Airstream Adventures will continue in the PNW with so much to keep exploring. Even though we have been across the whole country, there is still so much more to see!