States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ferb the Burb

So, while we were leaving Big Bend, we were talking about our Chevrolet Suburban and how well it is doing, pulling us all over the country – especially after it received its replacement battery and had some work done (more needed, it spent Thursday in the garage and will go back next week due to unavailability of a part). We decided it needed a name. On the forums, our truck is generally referred to as a ‘burb’, quite a number of people with larger families tow with one. One of the kids’ favorite shows of the moment, which we are also able to tolerate, is Disney’s ‘Phineas and Ferb’, they’re step-brothers, Ferb is English. It just seemed appropriate that we named our Burb, Ferb, and therefore, the camper became Phineas – so now we travel and live in: Phineas and Ferb!

From Carlsbad to Alamorgordo: Sunday, February 28

It’s always hard to tell from the GPS whether or not we’re taking a good road or not. Dave figured out the night before that three map suggestions were taking us different routes. On closer inspection, I noticed that one road had us going by a ski area (in New Mexico?!) and up to an elevation of 9,000ft. We also spotted a sign that stated 6% grades and highly inadvisable for trailers. Could we have done it? Probably. Did we really want to? Mmmm, not so much! Besides, the alternative route took us up to Roswell and we thought it’d be fun to see the ‘alien’ town! We didn’t see any UFOs….

The alternative didn’t take us quite as high as 9,000ft but we did reach 7,600ft – the highest yet! We followed part of the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway, which pays tribute to the infamous "Wild West" outlaw. In 1881 famous outlaw Billy the Kid escaped from the Lincoln County Courthouse in Lincoln. During his escape The Kid allegedly shot and killed two deputies, but he was never indicted for the murders...

There was a lot of snow on the ground in the tree areas along the side of the road, thankfully the roads were clear. However, as we began our descent, the snow really started coming down. Needless to say, the kids, who never worry about the effect this could have on the drive, were so excited to be in the midst of a snow blizzard! It did remind us that we love to see snow and we’d never really survive as ‘sun-chasers’ year-round. Pennsylvanians: we’ll be back, we miss you!

We made it to Boot Hill Ranch RV Park around lunchtime – another, “We’re here, already?”, drive!

Later in the afternoon, we took a drive through Alamogordo to White Sands National Monument, where we spent some time in the Visitor Center, chatting with the young Ranger and watching the movie.

As we went back through town, we stopped to buy sleds in preparation for our sand sledding at some (warmer) point during the week! We didn’t really fancy trying it while it was so chilly and windy – and we were pretty tired.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Saturday, February 27th

We enjoyed this Junior Ranger program; it had totally age-appropriate activities, more activities for each child, depending on age. This made it very do-able for all of the children, without too much assistance. We had completed a large part of it prior to getting to the Park, for which I was very grateful, it would have been more of a challenge if we’d had to do it all while we were there.

On the drive to the Caverns, a coyote crossed the road in front of us; it was great to really see one up reasonably close in the daylight. As we passed, it just stood on the side of the road, looking at us. Becca spotted a raccoon or ringtail on the way up the mountain too, we love all the wildlife we’re able to see on this journey.

Cute little 'Valentine' prickly pear cactus on the way into the Caverns!

We decided to walk all the way into the caverns from the Natural Entrance, this is a mile of steep switch-backs into the depths of darkness; really took its toll on my, basketball-hammered, knees! In the warmer months from May-October, bats reside in one of the upper caves (which has so much guano – bat poop – that at last measure, it topped out at about 40ft!) and fly out every evening in a massive cloud of blackness. One of the rangers told us that, last year, an owl happened to be by the entrance when they came out and grabbed and ate 9 of them as they flew past! It’s a spectacular sight apparently, shame we weren’t here in the summer – another time…. Dave did manage to get this picture from one of their display photos though, which is quite impressive!

On the way down, a ranger was highlighting an area of dripping water. He explained the water comes down and, as the moisture is evaporated, the calcite left behind is what forms the stalagmites, which grow about an inch every year. There is also another formation here called popcorn, this is formed thanks to the breezes which flow through to and from the entrance, keeping the temperature down below at a pretty constant 56 degrees.

We also learned about soda straws, which hung all over the caverns from the ceiling. These may eventually develop into stalactites but initially are very thin formations, which are hollow in the center. As we made our way further down, we passed through the ‘twilight zone’, an area that is almost completely dark but still has a very slight amount of daylight from the cavern entrance. Of course, the Caverns now cater to tourists so there is enough light for us to admire the various spectacular formations.

The walk around the Big Room was interesting; we continued to learn about how the caverns were formed, how they were discovered and how everything has developed. When people first explored Carlsbad Caverns, there were a great many steps and it would take 5 hours to look around! We were lucky enough to be able to take the elevator back up to the top, in fact, that is the only option now. A huge amount of dynamite was blasted down to create the elevator shaft.

One of the interesting parts of the cavern base is the Bottomless Pit. When it was initially discovered, flashlights weren’t strong enough to reach the bottom so they truly believed they could never reach the base of the pit. However, more recently the bottom has been located at about 750ft down, of course, we couldn’t actually see it.

After the children received their patches and were sworn in as Rangers for the second time in a week, we drove to the scenic loop. This was a 9 mile dirt track around the mountains with some fantastic views. We stopped at Rattlesnake Overlook and wondered over to the edge of the ridge, it was beautiful. We were being careful where we put our feet; evidently it’s not referred to Rattlesnake Trail for no reason! Thankfully, we didn’t see any snakes, Caitlin was quite nervous.

Once again, Nate fell right to sleep; he seems to enjoy these incredibly bumpy roads. We’re also continuing to struggle with the time change. We’re not managing early enough bedtimes, yet the children are all waking up as soon as Dave is up to start working, so by mid-afternoon, everyone’s ready to crash.

Carlsbad RV Park

It was a fairly relaxing week (other than school and work of course – according to the kids, that is far from relaxing!), the children spent a lot of time on the tire swings and went in the pool – unsurprisingly, they were the only ones in there!

This campground is another fairly transient park, our neighbors typically stayed a couple of nights at most. I guess people really come here for a quick stop at the Caverns and move on to their next location; we met people going both east and west. Towards the end of the week, a motorhome arrived, 3 metal runs were put outside and the driver started bringing out westie terriers…..and they kept on coming. The kids ran inside to inform me, “The lady next door has FIVE dogs!” By the time I looked out the window, there were six, then another came out. I went out with my camera to chat with her, by that point, all NINE were outside! I just could not ever imagine traveling with nine dogs! They all travel in their own crate while on the road apparently. They were on their way to a dog show in Arizona and evidently compete in at least one show per month.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Wednesday, February 23rd

We managed a reasonably early start and made our way towards the Guadalupe Mountains. The Park is about an hour away from Carlsbad. Its formation was fascinating. About 250 million years ago, the area was a reef growing beneath the waters of an ancient sea. That same vanished sea spawned the Carlsbad Caverns. There are still ocean-like fossils in the rocks of the Guadalupe. A NP Volunteer told us that a cavern, recently discovered in Carlsbad, likely connects all the way along to the Guadalupe Mountains NP – very cool.

We spent some time in the Visitor Center, watching the slide show and completing the Junior Ranger scavenger hunt. A large area of this NP is designated ‘wilderness area’, which means the only way to access the backcountry areas and mountain peaks is to hike or ride (many allow horses) the trails. We had found a great looking hike, unfortunately it was quite chilly and extremely windy and so after completing the nature trail out to The Pinery, we decided to call it quits.

We learned about the Butterfield Stage out at The Pinery. This was a major mail route from the east to west and, although it was short-lived due to the outbreak of the civil war, it is still hailed as one of the most innovative routes of its time. The Stage traveled about 120 miles a day with a team of 6 mules. The Pinery was used as a quick overnight stop for food, water, rest and mule team switch. Anyone traveling with the Stage would sleep in the coach. It was a risk to get off as there was no guarantee there would be any space on the next one coming through.

We took a drive up to the Carlsbad Caverns NP Visitor Center to collect Junior Ranger books and take a look around. Unfortunately the scenic loop trail was closed otherwise we would have taken a tour. The difference between temperature and wind chill was very noticeable, although we were still reasonably high.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fort Davis – Carlsbad: Sunday, February 21st

We had tried to unpack very little for our one night stopover so packing up the camper didn’t take too long. By 10am, we were at Fort Davis National Historic Site. This was set up as a protective outpost in 1849 for those travelling the San Antonio – El Paso road, and then onwards to California in search of gold. As part of the Junior Ranger program, we learned that the travelers would walk an average of 8 miles a day next to their wagons filled with furniture and belongings. It would have taken them 50 days to reach Fort Davis from San Antonio and from there, they still had 125 days to walk until they made it to California!

The main enemies of those billeted at the Fort were the Indians, particularly the Apaches. They did not appreciate the taking of the land or the onslaught of the New American population. It was interesting to learn that although the Fort had no walls surrounding it, the Apaches never attacked: too few of them compared to the number of soldiers to confront in a full out battle. The Apaches did occasionally come into the Fort to steal cattle but otherwise were only confrontational when the soldiers waited to ambush them at their waterholes.

After receiving their Junior Ranger patches and eating lunch, the kids begged to have ice cream. Fort Davis has an old caboose on railway tracks that is a cool ice cream store, selling Blue Bell ice cream. We had our choice of 24 flavors, different cones and toppings; it was delicious! The Moon’s own this, along with a couple of other stores in town, and, as I had to go ‘next door’ to pay by credit card, I met Mr Moon (and bought fudge….), who gave us a prettier alternative route up to Carlsbad.

The GPS certainly did not want us to take the roads he had suggested but, it was worth it. They were extremely windy and fairly steep initially (good practice for UT and CA Dave said, while I gripped the door handle and tried to remain calm….) but did take us through some pretty areas. Once off the I10, we again pained the GPS by taking the TX-54 in a straight line up to the Guadalupe Mountains, driving through some spectacular scenery and past a few remote ranches. We were laughing that we were certainly on ‘the road less travelled’ as we saw 4 other cars in a 30mile stretch!

We passed Guadalupe Mountains NP and ran in to collect the Junior Ranger books, before heading to Carlsbad RV Park. We absolutely felt like we were in desert area at this park, lots of dusty ground, very few trees and pretty barren. Certainly there were plenty of positives though: there were two Shetland ponies, turtles, sheep and goats, also a heated indoor pool, playground, an awesome 5-piece tire swing and bonus: $1 movie rentals!

Big Bend – Fort Davis, TX: Saturday, February 19th

Texas is the 2nd largest state (Alaska easily takes the #1 spot) and we are feeling it! Despite long drives the last couple of weekends, we’re still in this diverse state. Apparently last week, Dallas got 6” of snow while we were enjoying temperatures in the low 70’s – crazy.

We managed to get a good start out of the park, however it took us quite a while to get out as the views at every turn were too amazing not to take photos, I should say MORE photos! We have been constantly downloading pics from the camera all week; taken quite a few in the last seven days and they’re all amazing!

Once out of the park, along the road towards Marathon, we were required to stop at Border Patrol and were questioned with 3 guards present – didn’t have to get out the truck, just had to roll all the windows down. They were really only interested in whether or not we’d seen any Mexicans crossing over the river or if we’d seen any people on the road as we’d driven along. I guess they have quite a lot of problems with illegal immigrants in this area.

We arrived in Fort Davis (Overland Campground: not a great campground but good enough for our one night stay, fairly cheap and full hook-ups) by lunchtime; the kid’s response: “We’re here, already?” Jake and I went grocery shopping, no big supermarkets here, just a general store, which was well-stocked, and bizarrely, an organic market, which had quorn and other veggie products that I’d been hard-pushed to find recently. Unfortunately nothing was especially cheap but we needed food, the cupboards were bare!

After lunch, we drove to a little town about an hour away called VALENTINE. We knew the town looked small on the map but in person, we realized it really was! The sign stated population: 229, we felt that may have been generous. We drove around, there was a library, school and church, we saw one family outside, playing. Railway tracks cut straight through the middle of the town and we imagined that it had once been bigger. There was an old abandoned saloon by the tracks: something straight out of the Wild West movies, it was strange.

On our return to Fort Davis – highest town in Texas – we spotted a couple of Texan longhorns. Dave managed to get a couple of great photos, he went a lot closer than I would’ve liked….

After dinner, we headed up the winding roads to McDonald Observatory, part of the University of Texas. Rachel, the astronomer leading the first part of the program, lead an interesting talk about the constellations we know as horoscopes – who knew, there are actually 13, not 12! She had volunteers acting out the movement of various planets, naturally plenty of Valentine kiddy volunteers….. Jake was the earth and had to orbit the sun once, Caitlin was mars, so had to orbit the sun in the same amount of time, about half the distance. Becca was mercury and orbited 4 times in the time it took Jake to go around once. They had to act all of that out, Jake went a little too fast on his one orbit, not allowing Becca to make it 4 times around the sun – anyone surprised?!

After a computerized presentation of the night sky in the present day, going back 1,000’s of years and forward a few hundred (so fascinating how much things move around), we headed outside to the telescopes. Unfortunately having enjoyed a cloudless, beautiful day, as the night sky rolled in, so did the clouds. The Observatory had 5 enormous telescopes set up and we were able to see Mars, Orion, star clusters and Sirius fairly clearly until cloud cover took away all possible viewing options.

We left after some time in the education center, following directions out of the parking lot which ensured headlights would never face the direction of the telescope viewing area. All around were only red lights to aid with the eyes adjustment to the night sky. They really thought things out well when they designed this Observatory.

Photography program: Thursday, February 18th

After work, Dave joined a Park Ranger for a photography ranger program overlooking the Sierra Del Carmen range. The downside of doing a photography program meant that he had every excuse to take another 200 pictures of mountain ranges and sunsets! Of course, there were some good ones and he enjoyed learning some new tricks.

Before he left, he gave us the old, small camera, with the comment that no doubt we’d see some wildlife while he was gone, we always do! Sure enough, as I was outside gathering up toys, a coyote appeared at the end of the field and wandered around for a while. I was able to run in, tell the kids and grab the camera. They couldn’t wait to tell Dave what he’d missed when he got back!

He had actually seen a coyote one evening earlier in the week but at close to midnight and it was pitch black outside so he’d heard it and shined the flashlight, which encouraged it to run away! The next day, one actually ran through the campground late afternoon, so he got his good look then. Despite keeping our eyes peeled all week, we did not see any javalinas (little black pig look-alikes that are not pigs). The kids thought they saw one on the drive out of the park but the camera wasn’t handy unfortunately.

Boquillas Canyon: Wednesday, February 17th

We’d heard that this was the area to get great photos of the Rio Grande disappearing between the mountains in the canyon. We wanted to get pictures in the area of the sun setting so waited to go until Dave finished work and took our dinner with us.

The trail was moderate but short and wound beautifully down to the river, over a lot of sand and rocks. Apparently, we’d just missed seeing the Mexicans on the other side, ride their horses across the river to sell their homemade wares to tourists. We saw a lot of people on the Mexican side but no-one came over. As we walked along, there were little ‘stalls’ of goods set up on the trailside, willing us to buy walking sticks and wire/beaded animals and leave money for Mexican school children. They risk quite a lot coming across the river to sell their wares, if caught, they have to go through the deportation process and are taken quite a way north, making for a tough return journey.

We took some fantastic photos, the landscape was gorgeous. It was incredible that the river had forced its way through the seemingly impenetrable Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and in fact continues to do so. There were certainly no complaints from any of us about sitting next to the river and admiring the scenery as we ate our dinner.

We’d read that you could slide down the sand but there was no obvious point at which to do this. Naturally, that was no deterrent for our four, they found a couple of small dune areas and created their own slides. I didn’t realize until later just how much sand they’d managed to accumulate in their clothes. I was dumping out pockets and socks for days afterwards!

Junior Rangers: Tuesday, February 16th

After lunch, we drove back to the Visitor’s Center for the kids to get their Junior Ranger badges. They had worked hard and learned quite a lot. Ranger Fozzy asked them a number of questions and they gave great answers, remembering things that I’d already forgotten! Caitlin told him the back story behind the Lost Mine Trail, I could tell he was impressed: GO CAITLIN!

Rocks: Monday, February 15th

It’s President’s Day so Dave had the day off work, a blessing for the kids too as they were able to enjoy a 3-day weekend – not the 6-day weekend their friends were reaching the end of – but still better than nothing!

I had discovered a neat off-road track to a cool-sounding trail at the Visitor Center the day before, so we headed to the Grapevine Hills Road, bumping along at a speedy 20mph for about half an hour. Dave loved it; I was somewhat relieved to arrive at the trailhead! We really felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere, hiking along the sandy part of the trail for ¾ of a mile. The last ¼ mile took us up, climbing across and up the rocks – the absolute best part of the trail according to the children; it was a lot of fun. The trail officially ended at the balanced rock – another rock which was precariously balanced across two others, looking as though it could be easily pushed off but of course, was immovable!

We sat overlooking the mountains, eating lunch and chatting with a couple who’d also just hiked up: Ellie & John. They travel down south for the winter with their horses, staying at different ranches. It was so interesting hearing about their travels. After a while, the kids wanted to climb further up on the rocks, it looked somewhat daunting but of course, they were not deterred in any way! John went up with them and over the rim, they all swore they saw a mountain lion in the distance.

Dave climbed up to assist the little ones with the descent. Everyone was quite surprised that there was any material left on Nathan’s trousers when he reached the balanced rock point as he pretty much slid the whole way down on his bott!

On the hike back, Jake spent a long time chatting with John and Caitlin with Ellie. It really is wonderful to see how well the kids interact and can chat with adults. We enjoyed their company and followed their ‘freight liner’ (semi) back along the road.

On the way back to the campground, we drove down to the Hot Springs. If we thought the other track was bumpy, the Hot Springs trail was bumpy and extremely narrow with a drop-off, that felt a lot worse than it was – thankfully it was also short! It was a beautiful day and the trail to the hot springs area was easy. It took us past steep mountain sides with pictographs and petroglyphs on the walls, along with multitudes of swallow nests tucked under the overhangs.

The actual hot springs are within the foundations of the bathhouse built in the early 1900’s. People would come from all over to experience the healing properties of the springs, there was a whole community living in this area, complete with a small store, hard to believe given how desolate it is. Huge floods of the Rio Grande in 1932 washed the bathhouse down river, leaving only the foundations, which remain in place today.

It was very cool to sit in the hot springs, watching the Rio Grande River flow along right beside us. 10ft across the river was Mexico, so, although we won’t make it across the border into Mexico this year, we can at least say that we’ve seen it very clearly!

Valentine’s Day @ Big Bend: Sunday, February 14th

It’s Happy OUR Day! Of course, for us, it’s Valentine’s Day every day of the year: ahhhh! This morning, I made a cool treasure hunt for the kids, sticking clues on different campers along the campground, corresponding with site numbers. I gave Becca a bag of chocolate hearts to pass out to anyone who was outside; it was so cute, seeing them wishing everyone a ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’. Unfortunately, no kids were around, only adults, kind of a long way out for families to come for a weekend. Naturally, there was dissention in the ranks as to who should get to discover the next clue (nothing ever runs quite as idyllically as you picture it in your mind!) but the end result was a happy one: chocolate!

We started out our day at the Panther Junction Visitor Center and completed the little cactus trail alongside the building, learning about some of plants we’d see in the rest of the Park. I had the National Geographic book of National Parks and it detailed a great drive into the Chisos Basin, highlighting stories along the route.

We were laughing as we wound up and then down, via Panther Pass, the switchbacks would not have been fun with the camper, no wonder it mentioned: not suitable for campers beyond 20ft, even that would’ve been pushing it. We walked the short trail out to the Window overlook. This is a cool opening in the mountain range, which opens up to the vista below, it was beautiful.

After lunch, we drove back up to the Pass and parked up at the Lost Mine Trail head. We read the copious warnings about bears and mountain lions, telling us to keep small children close to us and not let them wander ahead of the group. I don’t think we’ve ever all hiked so close together before!

The hike up to the #10 overlook was 1 mile and afforded us incredible views of the mountain ranges and the valley below. We sat for some time, enjoying the views; it was incredibly peaceful. Dave, Jake and Caitlin continued up to the top of the trail, taking them to 7,000ft, a 5-mile round trip. I went back down with Nate and Becca and we explored the mountain lion exhibit in the Chisos Basin Visitor Center before heading back to collect the rest of the family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Junction – Big Bend: February 13th

Not a great morning, pipes froze overnight so it took a while for water to come through. Also, we have realized that over the last couple of weeks, we have adjusted to central time, unintentionally. We have kept our clocks on eastern time, trying to make it easier for Dave to get up for work, our plan is now to keep one hour ahead of everyone, we’ll change one hour when we get to mountain time. Anyway, point being, we haven’t been getting up until after 8am, so when the alarm clock woke us up earlier – and it being still pitch black outside - so we could get on the road, it was a shock, followed by the ‘no water’ and rather chilly outside temps – not a fantastic beginning to the day.

Regardless, we got going and as we drove out through the town of Junction (past the sign out of the campground: ‘Y’all Come Back’ – yep, we’re in Texas!), we had to turn around and get a photo of the ‘Deer Horn Tree’! We drove by and I thought it was a Christmas tree, but no, a tree made solely of deer horns – in front of the deer processing shop – awesome!

It is so pretty in this area, lots of mountains and still very green. The I10 goes through the middle of cut-through mountains, can’t imagine the work involved in doing that. We saw a lot of horse and cattle ranches (gorgeous houses with beautiful gateways), as well as fields of animals, the most interesting of note: a huge group of white sheep with black heads along with their lambs – also white with tiny black heads, adorable!). As we had left the campground, we thought we saw a dark gazelle in the field with deer; we are very much enjoying all the different wildlife.

We stopped for gas and food at Fort Stockton and I managed to get a photo of a typical Texan cowboy, complete with chewing tobacco, moustache, cowboy hat, wrangler shirt and jeans. I know, we’re such tourists but he seemed OK that I asked to take a photo, really laid on the English accent!

As we turned onto highway 385, all we could see in the distance was a long straight road, ending with a line of mountains: awesome! The sign stated: Big Bend – 126 miles! As we drove down, we passed field upon field of low to the ground shrubs and random border patrol guards. As I was chatting on the phone with Karen, cell phone service disappeared, gasp, horror, no texting for a week!

All we could do for the next couple of hours was gaze out of the car window at the incredible views in front of us. Big Bend National Park is certainly a sight to behold, it's beautiful.

The full hook-up campground only has space for about 25 RVs and is really a glorified car park but surrounded by fields filled with wildlife and of course, awe-inspiring views and mountains. We were watched by roadrunner birds as we set up - they prefer to run than fly and can reach speeds of up to 20mph. They get much of the fluid they need to survive from the animals they kill by pecking them to death. The kids learned this from the Junior Ranger books among other fascinating facts about wildlife in this desert landscape.

South Llano River State Park: February 12th

Dave found a dealership in town and discovered the library had wi-fi, so he headed out early for them to check out the truck and spend the day in the library. Thankfully, they discovered the problem and were able to fix everything, meaning Dave was back around 4pm and we could stay on track with our planned schedule.

The kids and I took a walk after lunch to the edge of the turkey roosting area, which is closed to the public between October and April to allow them to roam freely. We were lucky enough to see some, so the kids were happy. We also stopped in at a ‘bird blind’, kind of like a bird observation area. Although it was quite the challenge trying to persuade quietness, we were rewarded and saw quite a few finches and tits – the older ones enjoyed figuring out what we were seeing, using the given chart.

It was a beautiful day, blue skies and amazing scenery. I’m sure we would never have discovered this campground had it not been recommended. Although research takes such a long time, I do feel as though we are benefitting from the time I spend on the camping forums, asking questions!

After watching some of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Dave and I went outside to admire the stars: WOW! This is, without doubt, the darkest campground we’ve stayed at, consequently, the view of the sky was incredible, perhaps I would have lingered longer had it not been so cold!

Von Ormy – Junction: February 11th

It had rained pretty much all afternoon on the Wednesday, Polly and I went to the H-E-B grocery store and were incredibly overwhelmed, it was huge! We woke up, on Thursday, to absolutely pouring rain. By the time we were ready to leave, mid-afternoon, the ground was sodden, muddy puddles everywhere, certainly not the most pleasant of ‘leaves’ that we’ve had! Thankfully, we had a reasonably short drive to the State Park, by our standards anyway: 3 hours. We arrived in time to check in with the office, which maybe took 5 minutes, when we came out and tried to start the truck, it wouldn’t! Dave tried jumping it to no avail, it barely fired up and would only stay on if my foot was pressed to the floor.

After turning it off and deciding that we’d have to spend the night in the parking lot, he tried it again and it fired right up (but still with the ‘check engine’ light on)! Whew! We were grateful to be able to quickly park in our space but knew that our plans may have to change for the weekend.

San Antonio Missions Historical Park: February 9th

After spending Monday around the campground, we were ready to get out again and see some more of the area. Hidden Valley is a little campground, space enough for about 25 RV’s, many of which were permanent. There was no toilet block (full hook-ups of course!), no playground, not too much of anything really! However, as the Godwin’s were camping next to us, the kids were happily entertained, hours of ‘tag’ were played in the grassy area behind the campers and of course, the wii was in use! The added bonus was that, thanks to our Passport America membership, we only paid $14/night - an absolute bargain!

There were five Missions built in and around the San Antonio area in the 1700’s, four of them are under National Park protection, the fifth is now known as The Alamo. The most famous and well-visited of the four is San Jose Mission, where the large visitor center is also located. I took the kids over after lunch on Tuesday. Dave had been to Mission Espada the previous day to have a quick look around and collect Junior Ranger booklets for the children, which we had spent some time partially completing earlier in the day.

We watched a dvd, giving an overview of life at the Mission. Spanish friars had come over to ‘New Spain’ (now Mexico, of which Texas was an area at that time) with the intention of converting American Indians to Catholicism and introducing them to European farming. Initially, there was resistance; however as many of them were overcome by European diseases, brought in by the immigrants, and their land was pillaged by enemies, they drifted into the Missions as a means of protection.

Unfortunately, life in the Missions was far from pleasant for the natives. They left their life as hunter/gatherers, moving with the seasons and came to a life ‘ruled by bells’ and hard labor. They were awoken each morning by the bells for prayer and worship time, continued their days with assigned tasks: laboring on the farms, building, cooking, teaching etc and rounded out their evening with games and newly-learned religious songs. Sadly, in the course of about 100 years, 70% of the natives died, of course, not as protected as they’d hoped from the immigrant diseases. The rate of births did not keep up with the rate of deaths and the Missions just died out due to a lack in population, this, despite ‘recruitment’ missions into the forests, searching for more natives to ‘convert’.

The Missions were well protected with thick stone walls, the kids thought the small holes in the windows on the outer walls were cool and we could imagine defenders in the room, ready to shoot their arrows. We were able to wander through the accommodations and across the huge courtyard to the shrine area. The Rosa Window is famous, thanks to its beautiful ornate stone carving.

We met up with the Godwin’s and the children enjoyed learning about the different functions of the rooms around the Mission. The old grist mill at the rear of the area was interesting; we were able to clearly see how it would have operated with the huge, heavy round stones to grind the corn and wheat.

I was impressed, the children wrote a great little journal entry for the last part of the Junior Ranger program and received another badge for their collection. I’m hoping that they’ll have a great recollection of these events in history, as we’ve seen everything first-hand. It’s a good learning opportunity for Dave and I as well – not too much American history knowledge between us!

San Antonio: February 7th

We were excited to visit this city; we’d heard some wonderful things about it. It is nowhere near as sprawling as others we’ve been to. Thankfully, parking was really easy. The campground owner was so nice, she explained how to get into the city, where to park, the best things to see, good places to eat etc; it made the day run very smoothly.

We walked to The Alamo and spent a couple of hours there, learning about its place in history and the incredible significance it had for the changing geography of the area. It began life as one of the five Spanish Missions but, as with the other Missions, life there ended as the population numbers dwindled.

By the 1830’s, it was an influential fort for those who considered themselves Texans and did not want to come under the rule of those from New Spain/Mexico. Clearly, this was unacceptable to the Mexican troops and the Alamo was violently attacked in a 3 week battle, ending with horrendous bloodshed and only a handful of people spared. Among those were the Captain’s servant, from whom, accounts of the events were shared; also a small number of women and children who were given the instruction to share the message that the Mexican army should not be messed with!

However, a few weeks later, a rise of insurgents, outnumbered by the Mexicans: three to one, won a speedy 18 minute battle against their enemies, buoyed no doubt by the huge numbers of dead at the Alamo. In fact, it was in this battle that the rallying cry of ‘Remember the Alamo’ was heard as the fighting began.

From the Alamo, we walked to the Riverwalk area. This is lower than the main part of the city, partly man-made as they’ve diverted the river around with locks and dams to deal with flooding, so in most areas it’s very shallow. As we were walking along the side, Nate spotted a dead rat floating in the water – ah, just lovely, cheers Nate!

I’d found information about the MadDogs British Pub along the Riverwalk and we headed there for lunch. Yep, sorry, you can forget all about your Tex-Mex cuisine when a pint of Boddingtons calls! We had to admit, it tasted so good, along with fish and chips and an English fry-up – a great way to spend a couple of hours. The sports channel was on, so Jake was happy, it would’ve been easy to spend more time there, very relaxing!

However, we did manage to pull ourselves away and took the boat tour around the river, which was interesting but somewhat overpriced we felt.

Our next stop was Hemisphere Park, originally built to hold the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair Park has been one of the state’s most popular attractions since its inception. It houses the 750ft tall ‘Tower of the Americas’. I’d spotted on the map that there was a big Children’s Playground in the Park, which of course entertained the kids for quite some time, they had to be dragged away.

We wandered back via the Riverwalk, checking out ‘Jake’s Place’ and then went back past the Alamo.

It was an enjoyable day, we had fun in the city and thankfully it was very do-able in a day without feeling rushed and hassled. I’m quite sure it would be mobbed in the summer, the walkways around the river are pretty narrow and would feel crowded quickly.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

still in Texas: Saturday, February 6th

....and so onwards we go. Today’s journey took us south, further into Texas and a little way west, to San Antonio.

We hit traffic around the Austin area so were able to get some good photos of the city while we were sitting at a standstill - there's always a silver lining somewhere! Dave was on a mission to spot a cowboy-hat-wearing-pick-up-truck-driver; he saw two, didn't manage to get a photo...such tourists!

We were staying at Hidden Ranch cg in Von Ormy, just south of the city, and finally arrived close to 6pm: another long day, but it was warm when we arrived so the kids were more than happy to jump out of the car and run around. The Godwins had also planned a few days here so all the kids were doubly thrilled.

library: Friday, February 5th

One of the great things about living in a camper is limiting what we have in here. Paige, the lovely friend we met in Destin, FL, shared some wise words: whatever comes into your home, ensure an equal amount goes out – words to live by indeed! Since Christmas and the increase in toys, we haven’t really sorted though what we have. There is a small shelf between the two sets of bunks that was looking dangerously overloaded, so we spent some time after school sorting through it. I’m pleased to say that things did leave, some met with demise, others transferred to under-storage boxes for use at a later date (much to Dave’s chagrin)!

We then headed off to the library. Jake and Caitlin ended up staying while I took the other two with me to buy groceries. In total, the older two spent 3 hours there and still didn’t want to leave, they do like to bury themselves in books – not a bad thing of course, I wish we get to libraries more often. There was an awesome playground next to the library, which we apparently did not spend enough time playing on – it was an enormous castle-type of fort: fun, fun!

Discovery Place: Thursday, February 4th

We had noticed a Children's Museum on our previous visit to Texarkana, so after school, ran through the rain from the truck to the Discovery Place Children’s Museum, dubbed to be the area’s best hands-on history and science museum with a one-of-a-kind 12ft. sound wall. There was a living science lab, as well as exhibits on health, sound, motion and electricity. Most excitingly for the girls, there was also a dress-up theater and a replica 1920’s kitchen. They were in heaven! The kitchen was especially neat because it had the same kind of 'ice-box fridge' that we'd seen at the Ace of Club's House - and now we knew how it worked.

My favorite was definitely the music wall, it was amazing. Every time the kids were happily occupied in another area, I headed back to the wall to play! Another cool new exhibit was the virtual shower which adjusted the water flow over your body when you moved in front of it, very entertaining.

Jake liked adding magnetic sand to the globe – to create a mohawk! Nathan enjoyed launching the shuttle and testing out the wheels in the race pit. It really was a great little museum, lots of hands-on learning, appealing to all ages, would highly recommend.

Crater of Diamonds State Park: Wednesday, February 3rd

It had been our original intention to go the Crater of Diamonds State Park on Sunday but we couldn’t face another long day, so we took a field trip day in the middle of the week instead.

Crater of Diamonds was further north in Arkansas. To get there, we drove through Hope – the birthplace of President Bill Clinton. We also drove past a FEMA center, as we rounded the bend, all we could see were fields upon fields filled with trailers, it was bizarre! We stopped on the return journey to ask the security guard if he knew how many there were (this is where the English accent helps, what other weirdos would stop to ask these kinds of things?!). We figured there had to be 40 or 50 thousand. He said he wasn’t too sure but 15,000 had just been sold and were awaiting collection – FEMA realized that perhaps they had too many! He told us that this site was the holding point for trailers distributed immediately after Hurricane Katrina, once they were no longer needed, it changed to the storage point! We were in awe, it was quite a sight.

On arrival at the Crater of Diamonds, we watched a short dvd letting us know how best to search for diamonds. It was quite cold and the mud in the fields was damp and very sticky. It had just been plowed and we were told the best way to hunt, for a novice, was simply to walk up and down the furrows to see if we could spot anything – a daunting task indeed. Sadly we were unsuccessful in our first attempt as diamond prospectors, however we had a fun day and found a lot of jasper and a couple of pieces of quartz.

We read about a number of people who spent day after day there, particularly after retirement. They are serious and know the best ways to search and find, many dig 3-5 feet down and sift through the mud to find their gems. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the dedication to spend hours knee-deep in mud in hopes of finding something. The kids probably would have liked digging in the mud though, their clothes were coated, Caitlin lost her shoe at one point, like I said: it was sticky!

Texarkana: Tuesday, February 2nd

After a weekend of spending a lot of time in the car, it was pleasant to spend the day on Monday doing nothing but hang out at the campground. There was a playground and a short nature trail but the campground is not in a wonderful location generally. Without question, it’s convenient, when it says it’s right off the I30, it’s not kidding, the traffic noise was really bad. It does have 'the Nation’s only RV Art Gallery', which we looked around – more art ideas for the kids!

After school on Tuesday, the kids and I drove to downtown Texarkana. Now, I’m never really sure what to expect when heading into a new area but Texarkana is pretty quiet, no problem at all to find on-street parking – thank goodness. The city straddles both Texas and Arkansas and is the only place in the US that has a building built on the state line. The Post Office and Court House building is quite impressive. In front of the building is the ‘line’, good for photo ops!

Our next stop was the Draughon-Moore Ace of Clubs House. The online blurb states:

Built in 1885, this Italianate Victorian home is uniquely designed in the shape of a club because money to build the house was from the winnings of a poker game – a lucky draw of the ace of clubs! Filled with fine furnishings of the late 1800’s – 1940’s, the house is regarded as one of the best attractions in the country and has been featured nationally on Bob Villa’s ‘Guide to Historic Homes’. Beautiful grounds complete this picture perfect stop.

We took the guided tour which began with a video from the point of view of the 5 ‘mistresses’ of the house. We were taken around the house which has one rectangular and three octagonal wings that are arranged around a central octagon, which serves as the rotunda of the house – it’s very cool and the set up of the rooms was wonderful.

We learned about the old-style ice boxes. She asked what was missing from the kitchen and it took us a while to figure out that it was a fridge! The ice box was set in a different room, next to the main kitchen area with an opening to the outside, in order that huge ice blocks could be delivered directly into the ‘fridge’ without having to be brought through the house, I guess this would’ve been quite modern at the time. It’s always neat for us all to see what people did before the convenience of our appliances nowadays.

The most fascinating thing for Caitlin and I were the extraordinary number of pairs of shoes on display in Miss Olivia’s room. She was the final resident who willed the house to the museum system on her death in 1985. The shoes were purchased primarily at Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas. All had their original boxes; it would’ve been impossible to have them all out on display, there were so many; mostly beautiful and ornate. Apparently, she would’ve given many pairs to her maid in the past and to others when she was done with them, so this wasn’t even the complete collection – amazing! Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside the house so we will have to recall the wonder of the shoes from memory!

We wandered down to the Perot Theater but none of the kids were particularly inclined to take the tour around it; I think they were ‘museum'ed-out’ for the day; glad we saw it though.

Oklahoma: Sunday, January 31st

Texarkana added states number 27 and 28 of our trip so far, however this location was chosen too because of its proximity to Oklahoma.

We found a couple of geocaches that took us into OK, one was on the border, under the bridge between TX and OK. Unfortunately due to the large amounts of rain we’d had in the last few weeks, the river was really wide and flowing extremely fast. While we watched, we saw a couple of trees float past! Despite looking all around and up on the bridge, we came to the conclusion that it was beyond our reach, thanks to the high water level.

So, onwards into Oklahoma to the next location. Thankfully this one was an easier find, we love deciphering the clues and taking it in turns to be the ‘finder’, holding the unit. Caitlin was excited as today was her turn. This one was another box filled with ‘goodies’. The kids chose a light-up yo-yo, we left a Georgia Junior Ranger badge – these things make their way across the country, it’s so neat.

This location was right next to the Museum of the Red River (the river flowing so quickly was indeed red), which we had planned to visit. It was a great little local museum detailing the history of the area, back to the various Indian tribes who would’ve lived here hundreds of years ago, we loved their artwork, clothes and colors – I see an art project based on these ideas in the future!

The most exciting thing there is a life-size replica of a dinosaur skeleton: Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. This complete fossil skeleton was found a few miles away in 1983 by local paleontologists – what an amazing find. We got a few good pics, unfortunately we were unable to use the flash. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours and now we have something specific to remind us of our visit to Oklahoma – state #29!