The Top of Texas – Guadalupe Mountains

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After Big Bend we had a short stop in Alpine, Texas, home of Sul Ross University and the fighting Lobos. We arrived in Alpine after dark and looked for a quite place to boondock. We thought we found one next to the university’s track and soccer field, but unfortunately, we did not see the train tracks that were located about 40 feet from our camper. No less than 8 trains passed in the night. After a sleepless night, we woke up and made the most of our stay with a morning track work out and mooching off the university library’s free wifi to catch up on some emails.

After leaving Alpine we traveled north towards New Mexico. Prior to this trip, I’d never heard of Guadalupe National Park which is located on the TX/NM border and we almost decided to skip it. That would have been a big mistake as it ended up being one of our favorite stops thus far. Similar to Big Bend, we arrived late in the afternoon only to find the park’s only campground was full. We decided to boondock nearby and hope that a spot would open the next day. Our boondocking spot turned out to be a wonderful place to watch the sun set behind the 8,000+ foot Guadalupe Mountains. There was also a nearby trailhead and one of the park’s few water sources (the park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert). We took an evening hike and spotted several cottontails, mule deer, and a pack of javelinas.

The next day we woke up early and were able to snag a spot at the park’s campground. Initially, we didn’t think much of the campground as it was really just a small parking lot, but it was located at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains which provided a beautiful backdrop and access to several trails. The small campground and tight spaces were very conducive to meeting your neighbors. We had dinner with John and Ashli from Utah, who were also full-timing with their two kids; strawberry margaritas with John and Michelle who were from Long Island, NY; and we met Analeise who was traveling alone from St. Augustine with a bike and a kayak in the back of her pickup truck. If I have half of her spirit and adventurousness when I am her age, I’ll be ecstatic.

We did several hikes as a family and Liam was able to walk every step of the way, including a moderately difficult 5-mile hike through McKitttrick Canyon. If Liam gets accepted to Harvard later in life, I’m not sure I’ll be prouder. On the way out of the park, Maggie and Ceej got me a hat from the visitor’s center that only a middle-aged dad would wear: it’s army green with an embroidered javelina on it. I’ve worn it every day since.

Nearby Carlsbad Caverns gets all the hype, but if you ever find yourself in the area, I strongly encourage you to visit Guadalupe Mountains NP. It has a lot of history, plenty of beauty, and 80 miles of trails to keep you spry.

*(Boondocking – dry camping somewhere that’s not a regular campsite.)

Desert Life: Big Bend

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The “Window” at Chisos Basin in Big Bend

 

From Austin, we began making the daunting drive west across Texas to Big Bend National Park. I’ve never spent time in the desert and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from what, at first glance, seems like a lifeless and desolate landscape. I quickly fell in love with this unique environment which is actually teaming with life and beauty despite its harsh exterior. I have become absolutely smitten with desert plants, particularly the ocotillo, which each of the kids easily identifies now as, “that’s Mommy’s plant!”

IMG_4774Our trip wasn’t without a few hiccups. The morning we were planning on heading into Big Bend, we woke to a flat tire. Despite Rick’s skill at changing the trailer’s tire, we were significantly delayed and arrived at the park only to find all the sites booked up.

Not to be deterred, we found luck finally on our side, a last-minute cancellation in the full hook-up campsite meant we had a place to sleep for the night. The next morning, we were able to slip over to the main campground bright and early and snag a primo spot with privacy and easy access to the nearby trail – where we spent each morning and evening watching herons, snakes, nutria, and the most gorgeous star-studded sky we have ever seen.

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We spent the week in the park exploring trails, meeting new friends, paddling the Rio Grande, and visiting our neighbor to the south. Liam earned not only his ranger badge, but two patches for hiking a rugged 3-mile trail and testing out his own botany skills identifying the various desert plants.

Despite the low water levels, we managed to paddle the Rio Grande twice, on an easy run from the Hot Springs to our campsite about a 3 mile trip with some sharp turns and a few shoals to make it interesting. We got to see swallows darting in and out of their nests on the cliffs and watched goats and burros graze on the Mexican bank.

Our last day we forged the river to visit the nearby Mexican town of Boquillas, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of enchiladas, goat tacos, tamales and of course margaritas (literally everything on the menu).

Continue reading “Desert Life: Big Bend”

Family Ties

IMG_4605My Aunt Cindy and Uncle John left Atlanta for League City, Texas a quarter century ago and, shamefully, my mom and I had never made the trip to see them. To make up for our indefensible absence, we decided to descend upon their home like a swarm of locusts. My mom’s sister-in-law, Aunt Pat, was kind enough to accompany my mom and brother on the 12+ hour drive from Atlanta. While we didn’t plan it, my crew pulled up to Cindy and John’s at the same time as my mom, Pat, and Russ, ensuring that the seven of us did our best to overwhelm our hosts right from the start.

My Aunt Cindy raised four children and runs a tight ship, so if our crew did overwhelm her during our five day invasion, she didn’t show it. She warmly opened her home and provided us with several delicious meals. Similarly, my Uncle John was nice enough to let us raid his liquor cabinet. Everything from his top shelf scotch to his homemade wine was on offer.

During our visit, we were also able to spend time with my cousin Tommy, his wife Lara, and their two boys, Jake and Gabe. Liam really took a shine to Jake and Gabe and is now ready to relocate to Texas to be closer to them.

The League City area had plenty to keep the kids occupied and we enjoyed visiting various parks (including Rocket Park which houses one of the Saturn V rockets that NASA used to send America’s astronauts to the moon in the 1960’s), nature trials, and the Galveston Children’s museum. Most importantly though, we spent plenty of quality time with family, catching up and reliving fond memories.

Many thanks to my Aunt Cindy and Uncle John for hosting us, my cousin Tommy and his wife for being our tour guides, and a special thanks to my Aunt Pat for ensuring that Liam and CJ got to spend time with Grammy Sue and Big Russ.

 

The Lone Star State

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We’re in Texas! From Hot Springs we headed south to Tyler, TX – the Rose Capital of the U.S. Although we didn’t see any roses in bloom, we did enjoy seeing some big cats, an awesome children’s museum, and a laid back local brewery.

We stayed at Tyler State Park, where we had the campground completely to ourselves. Although it wasn’t a huge park, there were numerous trails that were just the right distance for the kids to enjoy. This had the added benefit of allowing Rick to satisfy his compulsion to complete every mile of trail the park had to offer ::insert eye roll::.

Since we spent almost a full week there, we were able to explore the town of Tyler, which included Tiger Creek, a sanctuary for Big Cats whose owners finally clued into the fact that it wasn’t a great idea to keep a tiger as a pet. Liam and Cora Jean enjoyed getting up close to so many beautiful animals. The cats were all very well cared for in their new home, but hearing their stories was sad and a good reminder to everyone to consider the pets they are thinking about getting and the care they will need (this applies to everything from tigers to tabby cats).

We also checked out the local Children’s Museum, which was a big hit with the kids, particularly the life-size grocery store and café that they were able to play in. The museum also had a model court room that the kids were less interested in, though I caught Rick in it with a nostalgic look in his eye…

After Tyler we headed for a quick stop over in Davy Crockett National Forest, before heading south to the Houston area. The campground was beautiful and spacious and the weather perfect. We passed the weekend away biking around the park, canoeing on the lake, and letting the kids swim at the beach.

Liam continues to meet playmates at the different parks we stop at and has really come out of his shell, feeling comfortable introducing himself and leaving us to go play on his own with his new friends. We’ve really enjoyed watching his confidence grow with each new interaction.