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  • Writer's pictureMiranda

From the shores of Alabama to the desert sands of New Mexico

We arrived at Luxury RV Park in Gulf Shores, AL, just in time for my afternoon meetings to begin. Sounds like a fancy place, I know. In fact, we were required to submit photos of Harvey our RV before being allowed to book a spot since Harvey is more than 10 years old. He is actually 25 years old but you’d never know it. By the time my afternoon had wrapped up, I returned to our campsite from the campground clubhouse to find us fully settled in. Chuck and the kids even had time to explore the shops on the main drag of Gulf Shore.

We were all hungry, but agreed to make the most of the daylight we had left with a 7-mile bike ride in the adjoining state park. Paved paths, wooden bridges and multiple lakes were waiting to be explored. We ate well that night with steak, chicken, potatoes and veggies all grilled to perfection! Then we all walked the four blocks to the Gulf Shores Beach to get a taste of what the next few days would hold. The sand was velvety soft. Even though it was dark, we could see the outline of the expansive beach that stretched for miles in either direction.

The next morning Chuck and I were up early for a 10-mile bike ride in the state park before my work day started and the kids woke up. The high for the day was 61 degrees but full sun. Beach day for Chuck and the kids was the plan, but first Ben wanted to buy a skim board. Kate was content to ride the waves on the boogie board. Mallory stayed dry and soaked up the sun. I joined them in the afternoon at a spot further down the beach where fishing was supposed to be good and the sunset view was great!

The following day started with another 8-mile bike ride, this time it was me and Ben. Chuck joined the “old guys” for the weekly morning coffee at the campground clubhouse. Then back to the same beach spot for tanning, skim boarding, spike ball, and beautiful sunset. But unfortunately, not a single bite on the line.

The overcast sky made it easier to leave the beautiful Gulf Shores for Biloxi, MS, for a one night stay at a Harvest Host historical site. We found ourselves staying right on the Gulf again, so took a walk down the beach to the end of a pier to watch the sunset.

Somehow one of Ben’s shoes dropped off the end of the pier down to the water out of reach, slowly drifting away. The breeze was in our favor and we tracked the black slide from shore walking nearly a mile down the beach. The shoes weren’t anything special, cost less than $10, but it was the challenge of getting the shoe back and having an evening to kill that made it entertaining. Success! With both shoes back on Ben’s feet, we stopped at a Waffle House for dinner on our walk back to the RV.

The next day brought us to another Harvest Host in Louisiana. A wrong turn on the GPS just a mile from our destination had us unloading the bikes from the Explorer, then the Explorer from the trailer, as their wasn’t a good spot to turn our whole rig around. So instead within about 15 minutes and Chuck backing up ¾ of a mile, we had a parade of me driving the RV, kids on our bikes and Chuck pulling the trailer with the Explorer back down a dirt road, past a boat landing to our final destination…a Cajun Swamp Tour.

After a quick cracker and cheese lunch, we boarded a shallow swamp boat for a tour that included alligators, migrating birds and Cyprus trees draped in Spanish moss. The afternoon included a walk eating ice cream bars back to the boat landing we had paraded through just hours before and watching the weigh-in of a local bass tournament with a 7.45lb fish topping the leader board. A good meal, conversation with another Harvest Host family and sleeping under the shade of a Spanish moss covered tree rounded out our Saturday night.

Super Bowl Sunday would be celebrated in Texas! A college friend had reached out when he heard of our adventure and invited us to stay with his family near Houston as we made our way west. We hadn’t seen Chris since our wedding 20 years ago, but there was no hesitation to take him up on his offer. The heart of who we all were then was still the same. Our families quickly connected as we helped them prepare to host family and friends for the big game.

Our stay at the Laveau’s had Chuck rising and shining early (4:45am) each morning to join fellow BSU Beavers (Chris, his brother, and good friend) at the gym to walk a few miles on the treadmill followed by breakfast at a local diner. Each day held extraordinary adventures:

  • a fishing charter for the guys on the Gulf with Ben reeling in the biggest fish of the day, an 18-pound Black Drum and

  • pampering for us girls that included purple hair for Kate

as well as, sharing in the normalcy of life:

  • observing Chris and Amy’s businesses in action,

  • the kids playing together for hours each day,

  • Harvey the RV getting a thorough cleaning, and

  • dinner together each evening, including a grown-up night out.

We are grateful for the Texas-size welcome from the Laveau family and look forward to seeing them again in Minnesota this summer!

Our next stop was an Olive Farm Harvest Host in the small town of Elgin, TX. We were able to stay here for two days and had electric hook-up. It was only about a two-hour drive but the wind was gusting against us the entire time. Our miles per gallon dropped to about 5 and Chuck was exhausted by the time we arrived. So we took some shots…olive oil shots that is as part of the tour of the olive farm. I wouldn’t recommend doing shots of olive oil. But we did enjoy the bottle we bought as a dipping oil for the rosemary focaccia bread we bought at a small farmers market we stumbled upon later that day.

I just LOVE buying locally grown foods from local people. Even though it was a windy and cool afternoon we made our way to each table sampling and buying sunflower pesto, blackberry ketchup for dipping sweet potatoes, hot salsa, and a bottle of Michelada mix for making bloody marys. I was even offered a baby goat. I really wanted to say “YES”! But, I didn’t. We stopped at a small, Spanish-only market to get good chips for our salsa and a few other items. Then drove the back roads of rural Texas going no where specific and listening to country music and watching the sunset on rolling hills and farms we passed. It wasn’t anything special but at the same time incredibly special! That night we ate chips, salsa and guacamole for dinner and Facetime each set of grandparents to catch up on life.

The next day we headed for Waco, TX, our day-trip destination as we drove two hours north. I worked from the Explorer while Chuck drove and then dropped me at the Waco library for a few hours of meetings while he and kids checked out Magnolia and the Silos. He felt a little bad exploring without me, but I assured him they would just scope out the best places for me to go when I joined them in a few hours. We’ll they didn’t get very far. A beautifully manicured wiffle ball field in the heart of the Magnolia blocks is as far as they got! From 10am-4pm Chuck and the kids rotated positions in the pick-up game that most families drifted in and out of after about 30 minutes. They had such fun! And I got to shop all the shops, review all the food truck menus, relax in the sun, and soak in the afternoon. On our drive back to the RV we also made a stop at the iconic Buc-ees convenience store. It is a gas station on steroids and holds the world record to prove it.

The next morning we headed to a large, very full KOA in San Antonio. It was rodeo time and when I booked our stay the week before the only spot available was no hook-up in their overflow area. We plan our exact route and stays only a few weeks out so we can be flexible based on things we learn from other RVers, the weather and work schedule.

Thankfully, when I called the KOA that morning they had a cancellation and we were able to get a full hook-up. After setting up, we drove into the city to tour the Alamo and River Walk. We walked the 2.2-mile loop taking in all the sights followed by a boat cruise on the river as well for a different perspective and to learn about the architectural history. Back at the campground we grilled and the kids made friends with all the jean and hat wearing rodeo kids who were staying at the campground and showing their animals at the stock show. Basketball and night tag ended at quiet hours, then it was showers and bedtime for Mallory, Kate and Pablo (Ben’s new name at the campground).

The San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show is a month long event and was our destination for Sunday. After studying our campground map, local bike trail maps and the driving route we decided to take a 1.5 mile bike ride on a paved trail and save money on parking and time sitting in traffic. We locked our bikes to a tree near the parking lot and spent the day exploring the grounds: stopped into the stock barns (think MN county fair animal barns on steroids), caught the end of Cowboy Church, shopped the western vendors for a fringe jacket Kate wanted for her birthday, cheered on the pig races, spent too much money trying to win a carnival basketball game, and attended round 5 leading to the semi-finals at the San Antonio Rodeo followed by a concert from Mickey Guyton (she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl). Our full day ended with Chuck and I relaxing by a campfire while the kids played with their friends again into the evening.

We slept in the next morning before meeting a former co-worker and friend at the Historic Market in downtown San Antonio to browse the shops and enjoy an authentic Mexican meal. Kate was serenaded by a mariachi group who ended their set with “Happy Birthday”. The afternoon was warm and relaxing with a stop at a grocery store to restock, Chuck napped, I got caught up on work, and the kids played basketball for hours (literally 6-7 hours), before showers and packing up.

Destination Dude Ranch only about an hour north in Bandera, Cowboy Capital of the US, was where we were headed to celebrate Kate’s 10th birthday. Cactus, a herd of horses, and a wrangler named Andrew greeted us. After a dip in the pool on the hot 86 degree day we all enjoyed dinner together (Andrew joined us too) before a hayride on the 165-acre ranch followed by roping lessons, branding wood and s’mores.

February 23, Kate’s birthday, brought a stark change in the weather overnight with the temperature down to 37 degrees when we got up at 6:30am to help Andrew with chores. We wore winter hats, gloves and jackets and kept busy feeding the horses, miniatures (donkey, horse and bull), pigs, and goats. Then it was back to the RV to warm up and get Dad for the long-awaited horseback ride. It was beautiful countryside, but the temperature continued to drop and the wind stung as we crossed the grazing pastures.

It was the first time my legs weren’t sore after riding because they were frozen! Our birthday girl was so cold! We spent the next hour snuggling in the RV with heat packs and sipping hot cocoa Dad had made us. After thawing out, Kate wore a “Birthday Girl” sash as Chuck and the kids explored Bandera shopping, eating lunch at the Cowgirl Café, and getting brownies and ice cream for dessert that night back at the RV. The celebration continued with Ramen Noodle Soup for dinner, Kate’s favorite, followed by a family movie night of her choice with numerous pauses for calls from family and friends.

The next two days were spent traveling west and north through Texas to New Mexico. Frosty fields, patches of snow and closed down towns were not what we were thinking Texas would be like. But we experienced safe travels on quiet roads through the expansive state and even stayed at a Harvest Host airport hangar museum. The kids thought they were pretty funny to “run away on a runway”.

We packed a lot into a few days we had planned for New Mexico. We kept to the south exploring two National Parks: Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. We’d give both a 10!

Nestled in the Guadalupe Mountains the Carlsbad Cavern is an amazing experience with a 75-story descent into the Great Room loop. The entire 2.6 mile loop was filled with unique formations. We took the elevator up to ground level and drove back to the Harvest Host winery we were staying at for the night to enjoy pizza, charcuterie and wine tasting flights. They even had a hobby farm on property with baby pigs (8 days old), a sneak attack rooster, alpaca, rabbits, goats, ducks, chickens, turkey, horse, pony, cat, and dog named Bailey.

As we left for the White Sands National Park in Alamogordo, NM, numerous signs lined the way advising trucks to check brakes, elevation changes of 4,000 feet ahead, and 8% steep grade through the Lincoln National Forest. So we decided to unload the Explorer from the trailer and drive caravan style through the pass. The drive went from plateaus and hills to snow-capped peaks and forest before descending to the Tularosa Basin.

We parked the RV at our spot in the quiet KOA and headed to the White Sands to sled and watch the sunset. The white gypsum grains of sand sparkled on the rolling dunes. The waxed boogie board went the furthest as our family raced against new found friends Pam (from Florida) and Constance (from Germany). We drove the 8 mile loop through the dunes and climbed to the top of a dune to watch the sunset and bury each other in the sand.

We loved the White Sands so much we returned the next day to do it all over again. This time with a picnic lunch, chairs and frisbees to pass the day. We had an unexpected visitor, Sampson the camel, stop by. We learned that he visits the dunes on Sunday’s with his owner and dog as a therapy animal. He felt very comfortable with us lying down by our picnic blanket and even nibbling on Kate’s sweatshirt.

A visit to a pistachio farm and car wash with everyone teaming up to detail the inside of the Explorer rounded out our time in Alamogordo. Our final night in New Mexico was spent at Truth or Consequences, known for its hot springs. I was excited about the Glamping Camping campsite I booked until we arrived. As Mallory wrote in our journal, it was a bit of a “hippy, sketchy, rando place” not exactly family friendly with clothing optional after dark. But, we decided to make the most of it…exploring Elephant Butte State Park for the afternoon, a quick soak in the hot springs tub, and then out to dinner at an amazing authentic Mexican restaurant that came recommended from friends. Then back to the RV before dark to play Phase 10. Chuck and I got one more soak in the mineral rich waters the next morning as the sun rose above the hills before we left for Arizona.

We will be spending the next month with family and friends in the Phoenix area. Staying put for a while and creating more memories.


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I love all the memories you are making together! So fun that you got to hang out with Chris & family. -Shannon

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