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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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