Monday, May 25, 2020

Dallas, TX - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 6 - Day 1

Dallas/Fort Worth together with Arlington make up an area that residents call DFW or the Metroplex.  I always wondered about these two cities joined together with a slash.  Were they one huge city or two completely different cities.  My conclusion about these two cities are that they are two unique cities and you can't go to one and think you have seen Dallas/Fort Worth.  

We camped at Cedar Hill State Park, a state park midway between Dallas and Fort Worth which made it very convenient for us to get to both areas.  We had a full day to check out Dallas and a full day in Fort Worth.  

Please read our full report on Cedar Hill State Park Campground in our brand new Guide To State And National Park Campgrounds coming very soon!

After parking and getting settled into our campsite, we took a ride to Walmart which was conveniently located only 10 minutes away.  When we got back to the campground we took a look at the suggestions of what to see in Dallas that we got from family and friends and, together with ideas we had, made our itinerary for our first full day here.

It was raining when we got up in the morning but it wasn't too bad.  We had umbrellas so decided that we would go the the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens as we planned.  We have an annual pass from the gardens near us in Florida that would get us in for free here so if we did get rained out we didn't pay anything anyway, so no big deal.

The rain was off and on so we were able to stroll around the beautiful gardens for awhile but decided it might be time to go when it started to thunder.

We usually pack a lunch when we have planned a busy sightseeing or hiking day, unless we have plans for lunch.  It not only saves us a lot of money, but it also saves us a lot of time.   We don't have to spend time trying to decide on a place to eat, getting to the place to eat and waiting for our lunch to be made and served to us.  We just break out the lunchbox, when we get the opportunity, at some point during the day.  This day we ate our lunch in the car while we waited to see if the rain would stop and then we'd go back into the gardens or go to our next destination, which was The Sixth Floor Museum.  We would have loved to continue enjoying the gardens but we decided the rain was not going to stop anytime soon.  We went to the museum partly to get out of the rain.

This museum was a suggestion of a young friend who visited the museum when she was in Dallas for work.  She really enjoyed it and said she learned so much more here than she did in history class.  The museum is located in the former Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald took the life of one of our finest presidents.  We were just 8 years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated but I remember the entire elementary school being called out of our classrooms to attend an assembly where someone, I'm guessing the Principal, told us the news.  

I remember feeling sad when I heard the news.  I felt those same feelings as we toured the museum.  But learning about the life and presidency of JFK and about the conspiracy theory that lingered around for years afterward was very interesting.   We were guided around the museum by audio, with each of us wearing personal headphones, through the museum that was set up with exhibits, pictures and videos that were numbered which made it easy to follow along.

Looking out the window and down on the street where the tragedy occurred was probably the hardest part of the whole tour.  Even though the tour was emotionally draining in spots, it really was a must-see and we were so glad we had a chance to go.

We left the museum and walked a couple of blocks to see the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial.  It was a very simple, square, roofless building that architect Philip Johnson calls "a place of quiet refuge" which was exactly what it felt like.

We walked around the city for awhile and found this gorgeous building, the 1892 Old Red Courthouse turned The Old Red Museum.  By the time we got here, it was almost closing time so we didn't buy a ticket to the museum, but we were able to enjoy the interesting displays on the main floor.

There was actually a lot to see for free like this Pegasus, the emblem for Mobil Oil.  This one was built for the 1939 NYC World's Fair and wound up at a shopping center in Dallas.  The museum rescued it when the shopping center was being demolished.

I loved the gorgeous Grand Staircase, which was originally taken down in 1920 to make room for offices and has since been restored to its 1892 greatness using genuine remnants from the original staircase. 

The most fun fact I learned at this museum was that Barbie (Roberts) and Ken (Carson) had last names!

After our short, but surprisingly fun, museum visit, it was time to get back in the car and out of the city.  Our next stop was Deep Ellum, a very unique Dallas neighborhood, to see an amazing display of murals I read would be there.

We are always looking for ways to be entertained that doesn't cost anything when we are on vacation.  This was Deep Ellum.

The whole town was fun and quirky.  Many, if not all, shops, bars and restaurants had their share of murals and other art decorating their buildings and surroundings.

Deep Ellum was a lot of fun and a place we would recommend checking out to anyone visiting this area.   After our self-guided tour, it was time to hit our last stop of the day.  

My son, Joe and DIL Nicole, insisted we could not leave Texas without eating, at least once, at a family owned chain of fast food restaurants called Whataburger that made it's debut in Corpus Christi in 1950.  They are all over Texas and only in a few other southern states.  The chain was sold to a corporation in June, 2019 so be on the lookout for one possibly landing up in your neighborhood. 

We were glad that Joe and Nicole mentioned this place.  It was a really good burger for a fast food joint.  I had the Whataburger and Soko had the double Whataburger and we shared fries.   Soko saw this ad at the counter when we were placing our order.

And, yes, we started our second day in Dallas/Fort Worth, back at Whataburger for breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed off to spend the day in Fort Worth.  Look for this post coming soon!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Carlsbad, New Mexico - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 5

Once we bought our trailer a year and a half ago, we could finally start to plan road trips that would help us accomplish our retirement goal of visiting every national park in the US.  Well, it took us awhile, we have been retired 5 years already and had the RV a little over a year, but we finally planned a trip that would take us all the way to New Mexico and back to our starting point in Florida.   On that trip, we would visit three states we had never been to before and be able to cross four national parks off our bucket list!

We started to plan this trip because we really wanted to see Texas.  With our retirement goal in mind, I googled to find a national park in Texas and found Big Bend National Park.  Then Soko noticed that Carlsbad Caverns National Park was only a few hours away from Big Bend so this is how our trip came to be and how we got all the way to New Mexico.

As for picking campgrounds to stay in, we looked for state parks close to the main roads we were traveling on and close to where we wanted to do our sightseeing.  The closest state park to Carlsbad Caverns, although it was in Carlsbad, was almost an hour from the park but was our only other choice besides for the private campground that was minutes away from the park.  We decided we would rather stay in the state park and that is how we wound up staying at Brantley Lake State Park.

Please read our full report on Brantley Lake State Park in our brand new Guide To State And National Park Campgrounds coming very soon!

It was Valentine's Day the day we arrived in Carlsbad so to celebrate we decided to go to Red Chimney Bar-B-Q, after researching restaurants in the area. 

We were not too hungry after 7 hours of snacking in the car and decided that we would just have apps and desert.  We ordered their half serving of stuffed avocado and the full-sized serving of nachos with brisket for our apps and homemade pecan pie and their homemade apple crisp for desert.  Everything was delicious.  We would definitely eat here again if we ever pass this way in the future.

It wasn't until we got to the restaurant, after seeing other patrons dressed in red for the occasion, that Soko noticed he was festively dressed for Valentine's Day!


The plan for our first full day in New Mexico, was a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  My plan, for the day, was to find a spot outside the caverns to wait for Soko and meet up with him after he explored the earth underneath us.  I was not going to be able to go 750 feet under the ground without having a panic attack due to my claustrophobia.  (I can still vividly remember the day I almost jumped out of the car in the middle of riding through a car wash because I suddenly felt closed in!)  But as the day got closer to our visiting the caverns, the more I really wanted to see them.  I read something about the Natural Entrance as a way to enter the caverns and thought that maybe I could go in that way and if I didn't feel comfortable, I could walk back out.  The thought of going down in the elevator, which was the alternate way to get down to the caverns, made me very nervous.  

We found a picnic table with a great view and had lunch, while I tried to convince myself that I would be fine in the caverns, before we went into the Visitor's Center.

Upon entering the Visitor's Center, the first thing we did was go to the information desk to talk to the park ranger.  He was ready with all the right answers and he was very reassuring.   I had the feeling that I was not the first person to approach him with concerns about entering the caverns due to claustrophobia! 

He told us about the Natural Entrance which sounded ok until he got to the part about one section that was very dark and very narrow.  Then he told us about the other option of getting to the caverns, which was the one minute elevator ride.  I don't know why I thought the ride would take 10 minutes, which would give my imagination plenty of time to put me into a panic.  I was beginning to feel confident that I could go into the caverns, via the elevator ride, especially if the cavern was as open and lit as the ranger told us it would be.

When we got out of the elevator it was a little darker than I thought it would be but we found ourselves in an open space that had a gift shop and restrooms.   It made me feel like I was at a Disney World attraction.  So that's what I told myself the entire time I was in the caverns and it worked!  After I made sure I knew where the elevators were, in case I did need to make a quick getaway, we were ready to explore the caverns.

We learned so much about stalagmites and everything else you could find in a cavern.  It was so interesting.  In the picture below, if I am right, I can see stalactites and soda straws on the ceiling and stalagmites and popcorn on the floor.

There was plenty of information posted throughout the cavern letting you know what you were looking at.

It really was easy to imagine we were in Disney World.  How could this be real?  It had to be something Walt dreamed up.  The cavern was truly amazing and so beautiful.  I was so happy that I got to see it all.  


It was Sunday, our second full day in Carlsbad, so the first thing we had to do was find a mass to go to.   We found a church that would work perfectly for us as it was in-between our campsite and on the way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 

St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Carlsbad was a small church with two sides of pews so that you were looking at half of the parishioners opposite you with the altar and priest in the middle.  Father Pasala was very good at turning around and around and acknowledging both sides during the mass and we enjoyed his homily.  

After mass, we were off to the park.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was not on our itinerary at all until our son and daughter-in-law gave us a very awesome map of National Parks Of America for Christmas and we noticed that the park was very close to Carlsbad Caverns.  We are so thankful for Mike and Chrissy for this perfect gift.  It will come in handy for planning our future national park road trips.

The first thing we did, when we got to the Guadalupe Mountains, is what we always do, head to the Visitor's Center to get trail information.  After looking at the map, we decided that we would do the Manzanita Spring Trail that leads into Smith Spring Trail.

Manzanita Spring Trail was rated an easy trail until you got to the Smith Spring Trail and then it was rated moderate.  Besides for a couple of slightly tricky spots, we thought the trail was pretty easy.  There was a small spring (can you see it?) at the end of the trail and then it looped back to where we started from.  

On our way back to where we parked our car, we stopped at the Frijole Ranch History Museum which was in the house that the Smith family lived in in the early 1900's.  We learned about the history of the area, the park and the family of 10 kids who produced a wide variety of crops in their fifteen acre orchard and garden.

There was a small schoolhouse just outside of the house that 8 of the Smith children attended along with children that lived in nearby ranches.  The Smith's paid the teacher a $30 a month salary and also provided her with a room, board and horse.

Before we left the Guadalupe Mountains to head back to the campground, we returned to the Visitors Center to walk on the trail that was just behind it.  The very easy 3/4 mile Pinery Trail led us to the ruins of the Pinery stagecoach station.

This ended our very enjoyable journey to New Mexico.   In the morning, we were headed to Texas and starting the "and back" part of our trip.

Next stop, Dallas/Fort Worth. 

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Monday, April 27, 2020

Big Bend National Park - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 4

One retirement goal we have for ourselves is to see all 47 parks that are in the 48 contiguous states in the US.  Big Bend National Park was the first national park we were able to check off our list.

It took us 7 1/2 hours to get from San Antonio, Texas to Big Bend National Park with stops.  More than half, maybe even 2/3 of the ride was through the dessert.  We had never been in the desert so it was really interesting to us, for a little while anyway.   Then it got so boring that I fell asleep for a couple of hours.  By the time I woke up, Soko was starting to panic because we were running low on gas and there were no gas stations to be found.  There were no exit signs, billboards, nothing.  Only dry, dusty dirt and cactus.  But just as we were thinking we were going to have to push the car, with the trailer attached to it, to the nearest gas station, we saw a town up ahead!  We were saved!  ...Not!  It was a ghost town!!  A ghost town?  We thought ghost towns were towns you saw in old cowboy movies, not in real life.  Where were we?  Is this real or a mirage?  We were so confused that I didn't even think about taking a picture until we were a few minutes away.  I was not going to ask Soko to turn around to go back for some pics, though, because he was back to panicking again!

We finally did make it to a town not too long after passing the ghost town.  It consisted of one gas station "Uncles", a hardware store and a couple of small shops.  After we paid a premium price for gas, we made our way down the road that would bring us to the park.  It looked like the desert road we were just on so after awhile I fell asleep again.

It took another 1 1/2 hours, after we stopped for gas, but we finally made it to the Rio Grande Village RV Park which is located in Big Bend National Park.  This is one of four campgrounds in the park but the only one that has full hook ups.  The other three have no hook ups at all.

Please read our full report on Rio Grande Village RV Park in our brand new Guide To State And National Park Campgrounds coming very soon!

Before we got to the campground, we stopped by one of the park's Visitor Centers to get the information we needed to plan an itinerary for our time in Big Bend.  You can find a brochure and newsletter at all national park visitor centers that will give you info on the trails, wildlife, etc. in the
park.  You can also buy additional literature which we did here.  

So after checking in, setting up and having a bite to eat, we got out all our info and mapped out a plan.

We planned an entire day of hiking for our first full day in Big Bend.  The first trail we would come to, on the route we mapped out, was the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail.  

The was an easy 1/2 mile trail that we leisurely strolled along while looking for "remnants of human settlement in the area" that we read we would find.  Soko spotted these cans that were left behind for future visitors to discover.  

Our next exciting find was this javelina who was only a couple of feet away from us when we saw him.   After our initial panic of how to get past him without his noticing us, we realized he was too busy eating some delicious cactus to even know, or care, that we were there.   We slowly backed away and then felt comfortable enough to take a couple of pictures before we quietly walked away.

The next trail on our list was the Grapevine Hills 2.2 mile round trip trail.  We were very excited to hike this trail after we saw a picture of the sight we could see here.  The "Balanced Rock" looked unbelievable and we wanted to see it for ourselves.  The difficulty level of this trail was easy and we really did think that until...

we got just past this sign.

From this point on, I am giving this trail a rating of moderate and in some spots, strenuous!  I was very grateful that my sister bought me a hiking stick for Christmas or I would have never made it up the very steep and very rocky boulder.

But at the top, we were treated to this amazing sight!

And the most amazing views.

The next trail was the Lost Mine which was rated moderate and was almost 8 miles long but the park ranger, who went over the trails with us, said that the first mile would give us a great view of the southeast and would be as far as we would have to venture in if we didn't want to do the whole trail.  Ironically, we got lost trying to find the Lost Mine and wound up out of the park and heading towards Terlingua Ghostown.  We had heard about the town but hadn't planned to leave the park to go there but since we made the wrong turn, and were almost there anyway, we decided to take a quick peek.

It wasn't completely abandoned like the first ghost town we saw on the way to Big Bend.  The 2010 census counted 58 residents!

We found this old cemetery down the block from the town.  It was pretty cool.  We had never seen graves like these before.  Lots of the people who are resting in this cemetery were victims of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.  Little did we know at the time that this would have more meaning to us in only a few short weeks.

We got back into the park with time to hike one more trail before it got too dark.  We decided to skip the Lost Mine and check out the trail the park ranger told us was one of his favorites.  The Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off turned out to be one of our favorites also!  It was an easy, relaxing and beautiful trail.

This is where the pour-off would have been.  I have to say we were not disappointed that it was too dry for a water show.  It was gorgeous and dramatic, anyway, but we can only imagine how amazing it must be when there is a pour-off happening here.  

It was time to get back to the campsite.  It was getting dark.  By the time we got to the park road that would bring us to the campground, it was so dark that we never saw the deer before he was inches from the front of our car.  Soko swerved, I screamed and the deer got away, thank goodness.  It was a reminder that we were sharing the park with the wildlife that live here and we needed to drive slowly and be very aware of our surroundings.

Our plan for our last full day in the park was to take advantage of the camp store building having a washer and dryer.  Even though the second washer was broken, we didn't have a problem getting a turn at doing our laundry.  I really didn't mind keeping my eye on our laundry as this was the only place in the park that we could get internet.  There were two benches inside and a few outside of the laundromat/camp store/shower building.  There were always campers sitting on them while they borrowed the free internet to use their phones and computers, especially in the evening.

After doing laundry and straightening up the car and trailer, we hiked the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail that we were able to walk to.  It was just past the camp store.

It was an easy trail with a side trail, the River Spur Trail, that went down to the Rio Grande, the river that separates the US and Mexico.

Next we headed to the overlook where we heard we could see a beautiful sunset.  Our plan was to come back in the evening to see it.  On our way to up, we saw handmade knick knacks and hiking sticks for sale.  I bought one of the cute roadrunner.

After reaching the top of the hill, we could see why it would be amazing place to watch the sunset.  There is a great view of the Rio Grande up here.

We did go back in the evening and sat with a group of other campers who also wanted to view the gorgeous sunset.

It was a good thing that there were other people with us because as we sat watching the sunset, which was beautiful...

I noticed that people had their backs to the sunset and were taking pictures of the mountains behind us.  The colors that illuminated off the mountain as the sunset bounced off it were stunning.  These pictures do not do it justice.

We got down the hillside before it got dark but not quick enough to get all the way back to the campground.  Luckily the ground was level and our phones have flashlights because we forgot one.  We enjoyed the starlit sky as we walked back.

Before we left the park in the morning, we got to see this little critter, the roadrunner, one last time.  I can't tell you how excited I was to see Wile E. Coyote's nemesis in real life!

We had an amazing time at the first national park on our retirement bucket list.  After we minus the 3 parks we visited pre-retirement, we only had 43 more to go.  

Next stop, Carlsbad, New Mexico!

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