Mother Neff State Park | May 2021

At the beginning of the month, Ben and Rebekah were visiting from California. They spent a night with me in Stonewall and then I drove them up to Gatesville to see her parents the following day. In addition to getting loaded up with tons of plants from her mom, it also gave us an opportunity to spend the afternoon at Mother Neff State Park - the park that inspired the Texas State Parks system!

Mother Neff is named after Isabella Neff, a Virginian who relocated to Texas in 1852. Her youngest child, Pat Neff, was the governor of Texas from 1921 - 1925. When Isabella Neff died, she left six acres of land to the state. It was turned into a local park and officially opened as a state park in 1937. One of many Civilian Conservation Corps parks in Texas, this small park has a lot of history. That history doesn't start with Isabella Neff, though. For thousands of years, this area has been inhabited by Native Americans. It's no surprise that settlers displaced them - that's the foundation of our country, really...

These days, the park is 400 acres. One thing that I liked about the park was that it actually seems better to walk it than drive it. Trails connect pretty much all the open areas and, in my opinion, are superior to the road, which narrows and dead ends at a gate at the south end of the park. This gate blocks off the area of the park that is closed due to flood damage from 2015.

The size of the park makes it really easy to hit some of the most prominent features in the park in just a short 1.5 mile loop! Here's how:

TOWER TRAIL - 0.6 miles

When you enter the park, head to the camping loop and park right by the bathrooms. Pick up the Tower Trail and walk to the CCC Rock Tower, arguably the most iconic structure at the park. Go ahead, walk up it and enjoy the view!

When you're ready to move on, keep following the trail until you come to an old CCC stone picnic table. One of the things the CCC did was try to design structures in a way that allows them to blend in with the environment. This is a common theme among CCC parks - it's known as landscape architecture or organic architecture, a term coined by world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This picnic table kind of looks like it's growing out of the ground.

CAVE TRAIL - 0.2 miles

Take a short detour from the picnic table to head to the Tonkawa Cave. It's not a "cave" per se, more-so a rock shelter. It's really neat to sit underneath it and think about all those that have come before and sat in it's shade, as well. This is a great place to sit and enjoy a snack, some water, and the quiet. When you're ready, head back the way you came.

WASH POND TRAIL - 0.5 miles

When you get back to the picnic table, briefly hop back onto the Tower Trail and then veer to the left to join the Wash Pond Trail. When the trail splits, take the left route to head to the Wash Pond. The pond has CCC history, as well as they expanded a natural dam to make the pond bigger. Back then, it was used for laundry and swimming, but nowadays I don't think I'd want to do either in it. It was really pretty when we were there, though, with the blue skies and trees reflecting off the surface of the pond!

Backtrack a smidge to get back on the main Wash Pond Trail and keep following that until it intersects back with the Tower Trail. From there, it's less than a tenth of mile back to the road!

 

If you've got limited time to visit this park, you can't go wrong with this itinerary! The hiking is easy, the trails are shady, the scenery is beautiful, and the history is abundant!

Mother Neff | May 2021


Huntsville State Park | January 2021

This past January, we ventured out to the piney woods of east Texas, a place we haven't explored much of honestly, and parked the teardrop in Huntsville State Park for two nights. It was extremely rejuvenating, especially because the park was pretty empty while we were there. It was overcast and grey for pretty much the whole time. In fact, we left just before the first snow of winter hit Texas (the second one being the snowpocalypse in February). A really great friend of mine works at the park so we had ulterior motives for going since I also really wanted to see her and meet her kiddo!

Huntsville State Park is a gorgeous 2,000 acre park built in a large part by the Civilian Conservation Corp (aka CCC) in the 1930s. Work on the park took a hiatus during World War II, but began again in the 50s, with the park opening in 1956. Lake Raven is the most prominent feature of the park, and is a 210 acre man-made lake that is popular for fishing, swimming, and canoeing/kayaking. The park was much bigger than I thought, with 160 campsites!

Our site was 143 in Prairie Branch and was right on the water. It was set away from most of the other sites, except for one site right next door. I was really hoping to not have a neighbor since the park was so empty, but alas, someone pulled in shortly after we arrived. They were a nice, quiet, older couple, though, and had a friendly dog that Lily enjoyed petting. While this site wasn't as close to the bathrooms and we usually prefer, it was RIGHT next to the Prairie Branch trailhead. After setting up camp, we did a short hike, connecting the Prairie Branch trail to the Dogwood trail and then looping back around to the site.

The next morning before breakfast (but after caffeine), we hiked the full Prairie Branch loop trail. It's a really easy, short hike, half of which is along the water. It was a nice way to start the day. Afterwards, we cooked breakfast and sat and enjoyed the morning bird songs. In fact, as I sat in my camp chair with my feet propped up on my cooler, a warbler landed on my damn foot! I felt like Snow White, y'all.

Our last day there, we awoke to temperatures hovering just above freezing and a gorgeous layer of steam coming off of the lake. It was absolutely gorgeous. We met up with my pal and did lap after lap on the short Loblolly Trail right behind the Nature Center. It was perfect to let the kiddos run some energy off and we could meander with them and chat. Lily played so well with her daughter, despite the 5 year age difference.The two of them were cracking us up. We also stopped inside the Nature Center so Lily could touch the baby alligators! They have a partnership with Brazos Bend State Park where the young gators are raised at the park then released back at Brazos Bend when they are older.

Overall, we really enjoyed the park. It was lovely, well maintained, and quiet (though it does get very busy on weekends so don't expect quiet if you camp on a Saturday night). We are looking forward to returning soon!

Huntsville | January 2021


Tips & Tricks | How to Start Planning

As I am in the midst of planning my second big road trip of the year (more on that soon), I've found myself taking stock of my methods and processes of planning a successful, streamlined road trip. I know a lot of people who can fly by the seat of their pants on trips. I am NOT that kind of person. I definitely have room for spontaneity and flexibility, but setting out on a big, expensive trip without a tentative plan would stress me the fuck out. I like structure and I like to be prepared! Here are the top five things I do when planning a big trip.

Pick Your Destination

Duh, right? It's easy to plan when you have one destination in mind. It minimizes the number of things you need to research. But on a big road trip like the ones that we like to do, our "destination" could cover a huge portion of a state. What I usually do is pick a general location to focus on - west Texas, southern/central California, New England, etc. Once I have the general location pinned down, I then pick my top locations that we can't miss while we are there. For California, I knew that no matter what, Yosemite would be on our list. For west Texas, I knew Big Bend would be a stopping point. Simple enough, right? This will help to frame the rest of your road trip as you build around your 'must sees'.

Create a Budget

Where you go and what you do all depends on how much money you're willing to spend. Personally, I like to feel guilt free and within budget when I spend $80 in gift shops. I also prefer to not spend my money eating out at restaurants all the time while traveling. All of your preferences will be very personal and you have to decide what is important to you in a trip and what you are willing to shell out money for! You want to be able to enjoy the things that you enjoy, so budget appropriately!

For me, my big trip budget is generally about $1,200. That varies depending on if we are flying to a location, renting a car, how long we are traveling for, etc. Also, I should clarify that $1,000 generally covers from the actual start of the trip to the end of the trip. Since I am a planner, all of my lodging/camping costs are spread out in the months prior to the trip as I make my reservations and pay ahead of time. As I do that, I just ensure that those fit in with my standard monthly budget allotted for travel. Total for a trip with airfare and car rental, I'm generally looking at at least $2,000, but about half of that is budgeted into each month prior to the trip as I make my reservations ahead of time and the other half I save up for and have on hand for the trip for food, gas, souvenirs, etc.

Note: I realize I am really fucking privileged to be able to spend money on traveling like this. But also please know that I am a single parent on one income and I work hard to save and budget so that I can do these things because travel is important to me. 100% of the time I will pick spending money on travel over spending money on stuff. And the beauty of outdoor focused travel is that it will just about always be cheaper than a trip to Disneyland.

Do Some Research on Surrounding Areas

Okay, so once I know where I am going and how much money I want to spend, I start to look at areas around my primary, must see destinations. A lot of this involves me looking at maps of National Parks to see what is close by. If I know I want to visit Yosemite, what else is 'nearby' (I use that term somewhat loosely) to visit? For us, it was Sequoia/King's Canyon, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. We wanted to pack Channel Islands in, as well, but it didn't work out in our planning for that trip. New Mexico - I knew we wanted to go to White Sands, so we looked at other sites in the general area and added two BLM sites to our route. Utah - we knew we'd be heading south to Zion to see an old friend, so we hopped on down to Grand Canyon and then to Page, AZ as we headed over to Moab. You get the point. If you need any help or advice on how to find things, don't hesitate to holler at me!

Build Your Route

Alright, we're making good progress. Now we have a list of places that we would like to visit. It's time to put them all together into a route. I think this is my favorite part of the process. Finding the best route and order of destinations is like a puzzle to me. Here are the main things that I look at as I am trying to piece together my destinations:

  • Where am I starting from?
  • How far am I willing to drive in one day? (For us, our general rule is no more than six hours per day. Kids + sitting in a car for extended periods of time = no bueno.)
  • Where am I ending? Same place as I started?
  • How flexible am I with my destinations? If one that was on my list just isn't working with the flow of the route, am I willing to drop it or swap it out for something else?

Create Tentative Itineraries

Woohoo! You now have your road trip set and you know where you're going and when. The biggest hurdle is over. Now, it's time to do a little more research on those places. I like to look up different hikes and make a list of ones that fit with our distance capabilities. Are there any iconic scenic drives that you can take? Guided tours you'd like to do? Restaurants you'd like to eat at? These lists are not set in stone, merely just some notes of things that you may want to do. You can solidify them further as the trip gets closer if you'd like. I like to leave them tentative, though, to give room for other things that may pop up, delays in travel, etc. Additionally, I like to have Plan B's set up in the event that a first come, first served campground is full or something happens to be closed while we are there.

So, those are the basics of how I approach planning a trip! I usually keep a word document that lists my destinations for each day and the tentative itineraries. That makes it easy to copy and paste if I need to rearrange some things. And seriously, if you need help planning your road trip, get with me. I love this kind of shit. It combines my love of travel and the outdoors with my love of spreadsheets, lists, and my Type A personality.


White Sands National Park | April 2019

Today kicks off National Park Week and we are celebrating by revisiting our trip to White Sands National Park! When we visited in 2019, it had yet to earn the title of National Park and was still a National Monument. Though the name has changed, the beauty hasn't. This was one of Lily's favorite spots of the whole trip. She loved rolling around on the dunes, making shapes out of the pockets of sand somehow sticky enough to stay together. We had planned on spending a full afternoon here and then heading out of the Alamogordo area early the next morning, but she demanded we return for a second visit and so we did the following morning.

The namesake white sand is made of rare gypsum sand and the park is part of the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Nestled in the Tularosa Basin between the Sacramento and San Andres mountain ranges, this landscape is really beautiful. Seemingly endless white dunes stretch all the way to the base of the mountains in the distance.

The park doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles (and it doesn't need it). You'll find a visitor's center and store, an eight mile road called Dunes Drive, which is half paved half not, some trails, and a boardwalk. They also offer backcountry camping, but we stayed in a hotel in Alamogordo because we were ready for a shower and some clean laundry.

The first thing we did in the park was walk along the Interdune Boardwalk. This is a half mile boardwalk that goes into the dunes and gives a nice view at the end. It's an ADA accessible trail, too, so that's nice! There are interpretive signs along the way that explain the fragility of the interdunes ecosystem and point out some of the plants and animals that reside in it. This was a really nice introduction to the park.

Though there are established trails in the park, we opted to just romp around on the dunes after the boardwalk. We drove all the way to the end of Dunes Drive, stopping in various spots along the way to frolic. The sand was cool under our feet and in our hands. We climbed to the top of the dunes and sat admiring the mountains in the distance. It wasn't very busy when we were there and it was rather overcast so it was really peaceful.

One interesting thing about the park is that it is adjacent to an active missile range. There are warnings on the website to not mess with any debris you may see in the dunes as it may detonate. Yeah, that's relaxing, huh?

White Sands National Monument got designated as a National Park about eight months after our visit. All of our souvenirs say "National Monument" so I guess they're vintage now, right?

White Sands | April 2019


Pedernales Falls State Park | April 2021

Since we don't have another camping trip scheduled for about two months, we are getting our outdoor fill by day trips and hikes instead. This past Friday after school, we packed up our gear and headed to Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City. We had our sights set on the best overlook in the park and hoped to catch it at the end of the day when the sun was low in the sky.

The trail starts on Trammell's Crossing, which - as the name suggests - crosses the Pedernales River. From the river, stick to the northern portion of the 5.5 Mile Loop trail. In just under 2 miles, you'll be rewarded with some beautiful views of the Texas Hill Country and the Pedernales River.

The trail is listed as moderate. You definitely want good shoes that can get wet (or be prepared to take them off to cross the river). I wore my Chacos and they were just fine for me. Immediately after the river crossing, there's a bit of a climb to get up, but once you've hit the top it's pretty flat the rest of the way. Coming back is easy because it's downhill, except the very end getting back to the parking area.

This was our first hike of the year where it was above 90 degrees. I regretted not bringing my hat - I would have dipped it in the river and plopped it on my head before heading up the trail. That is definitely one of my favorite forms of trail air conditioning. Getting your feet wet in the river post-hike is really satisfying, too! Take some time to wade around and cool off.

 I highly recommend this hike. The distance is doable if you're short on time and the views are well worth the effort on those steep areas!

Pedernales Falls | April 2021


Three Rivers Petroglyph Site | April 2019

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site was recommended to me by a colleague prior to our West Texas/New Mexico road trip. We already had our route planned, but this site, located between Tularosa and Carrizozo, wasn't too far off and we figured it was worth the extra miles and hours to check it out.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is a 50 acre site managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and as far as we could tell, it was operated entirely by volunteers. This site is really neat because it is one of the largest petroglyph sites (about 21,000 petroglyphs) in the southwest and gives visitors quite a bit of access to see them.

Okay, let's back up and clarify something that I definitely had to Google. Petroglyphs and pictographs - what's the difference? Petroglyphs are images that have been carved into rock, pictographs are images that have been painted. If you're interested in seeing pictographs, I recommend Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site outside of El Paso or Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site near Del Rio.

Back to New Mexico, though. The site has a couple of trails, of which we only took one - the half mile rugged trail to see a huge amount of rock art. Like...this trail is FILLED with petroglyphs. It's really amazing. Grab a guide when you stop in the Visitors Center and it will help you navigate and better understand the art. It's crazy to think how old the carvings are - approximately 1,000 years - and yet they're still here, in pretty damn good condition. Many of the petroglyphs are of nature, with some geometric designs and images of humans, as well. For as long as humans have been around, we've been connected with the world around us and displayed that in our art. Whether it's prehistoric humans carving images into rocks, Ansel Adams taking photographs of dramatic landscapes, Albert Bierstadt painting Hetch Hetchy Valley, or Georgia O'Keeffe painting flowers, nature inspires us in many bountiful ways. How does nature inspire YOU?

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site | April 2019


Colorado Bend State Park | April 2021

After stalking the reservation system for a couple of days, I was able to snag a campsite for one night of Easter weekend in Colorado Bend State Park. It was the only campsite that was available so I wasn't expecting much, but hey - a campsite is really just a place to eat and sleep.

As it turns out, we had the best campsite in park (not just my opinion - my pal Debbie that works at the park told me when we checked in!). Site 25 - book it for a couple of days and thank me later. The site was pretty secluded - you're down a bank from the road and the drive-in campsites. On one end is a small trail to the river (only one person came through while we were in the site) and the next site over was a good distance away. The river is a really short walk so it's easy to go back and forth without any hassle. The only downside of the site is that hauling our gear up and down the bank was kind of a pain in the ass, but I would do it again (and I plan to soon). It was probably just sucky for me because I'm out of shape, though, so take that with a grain of salt!

Since we were only camping for one night, we obviously had a lot to pack in. Here's what we did during our 24 hours at Colorado Bend!

Skipped rocks in the Colorado River

It sounds simple and boring, but damn, we really enjoyed this. After setting up camp, we brought our camp chairs down to the river and placed them right on the bank with the legs in the water. We had soaked our feet in the cold water and hunted for flat rocks that we sent flying across the surface (and also straight in - we're not very good at skipping rocks). We watched black vultures soaring around above us and the fishermen dotting the river. Sometimes the simple things are the best things.

Hiked the Spicewood Springs trail

Before dinner, we wanted to hike to see Spicewood Springs. The trail starts in the Spicewood Day Use Area and is 1.3 miles long. That's a little misleading, though, because the trail is one way and can be connected with the Spicewood Canyon trail to make a loop. The area where people swim in the springs is right at the beginning so if you just want to swim, the walk is easy and short. We stupidly didn't bring bathing suits because I was convinced that the water would be too cold to swim it. It was cold (as was the river), but it was totally swimmable.

If you hike this trail, be aware that there are numerous creek crossings. The first one we came across, I fell on my ass in front of numerous people and got my pants soaking wet. For the rest of the hike, I looked like I had pissed myself. Oh well! Wear good shoes, though, because some crossings are deeper/more slippery than others and you can/will get wet. I had my Chacos on which were perfect for walking through the water, but not great for the rock scrambling. They did fine, though.

We hit the overlooks as the sun was lowering in the sky and the views looking down at the springs were really phenomenal.

Hiked to Gorman Falls

After a good night's sleep, we woke up around 7AM and got moving for the day. We put our hiking clothes on, packed up our backpack, and by 8AM we were hitting the Gorman Falls trail to see the iconic 70 foot waterfall. The trail is 1.5 miles one way and I'd classify it as fairly easy until the very end. There are cables strung between posts that you hang on to as you slide your way down slick rocks on a steep slope to get to the falls. Equally fun going up (no, that's not sarcasm, it really was fun!).

Gorman Falls looks like a cave on the outside of the Earth. The process that formed it is the same one that forms caves, so the comparison is appropriate. The water comes from an underground spring and through time has created the travertine formations that the site is known for. The area is home to Guadalupe bass and is a very sensitive and fragile environment. Please don't be a jerk and cross the barriers. Also, don't fucking leave your trash everywhere. Lily and I picked up a lot of trash from the area. It's not hard to bring a trash bag, y'all. Don't suck!

We were the first ones to the fall that day and didn't see another soul on the trail until the very end when we were almost back to the car.

 

So that's pretty much it. I know it doesn't sound like a whole lot of hiking, but damn my legs are sore. It was about six miles total. Both hikes were labeled as challenging and contained areas of scrambling/climbing up rocks. I worked muscles I haven't used too often lately. It was definitely a good enough amount for us considering we had very little time in the park. In the morning after the hike, we asked if there was availability for a second night and got an answer we didn't want but did expect - a big ol' NOPE. We begrudgingly packed up camp and headed out. We are definitely going to be back sooner rather than later! And next time, we WILL bring our bathing suits.

 

Colorado Bend | April 2021


Big Bend National Park | April 2019

Oh, Big Bend, my heart belongs to thee. Big Bend National Park, and the whole Big Bend area in general, is one of the most amazing places in the world. In the remotest corner of Texas, far from shopping malls, McDonald's, light pollution, traffic, and all the mundane bullshit in our lives that we allot too much space for, there is a place where the desert stretches across the vast land, the mountains jut out from the dry ground, an island amongst the sea of dirt and scrub, and the river powerfully carves it's way through the rock, engraving it's legacy slowly but surely. Even just thinking about it makes me feel dreamy.

Big Bend National Park | April 2019

Okay, back to reality. I brought Lily to the park for her first visit (of many) in 2019. We spent two nights in the Chisos Basin campground, the best of the three developed campgrounds in the park. Being up in the mountains offers more comfortable temperatures than down on the desert floor, there are amazing views, and some of the best hiking trails are up in the Chisos.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a thread about Big Bend on some website and was surprised to see many people saying that it wasn't ideal to bring kids to the park. It's dangerous, it's wild, it's scary. It is indeed all those things, though only scary in its vastness in my opinion. Not a place you'd want to get lost. That being said, though, it is actually a great place for kids. It's dangerous, but then again so is driving. The possible hazards that may be encountered in Big Bend offer a great opportunity to teach kids about trail safety, awareness of your surroundings, wildlife, and leaving no trace. It's wild, a rugged landscape with boulders for climbing up and around and over, a place that cannot be tamed. It is a place where kids can experience dark skies and solitude, where they can test their boundaries and get dirty. Some things in the park are better suited to older kids/adults, but Lily was only five years old when we went and there was more than enough to keep us busy and she absolutely fucking loved it. Here are some of the child friendly activities that we did.

 

Hike to Balanced Rock

This hike is high reward for low effort. The most difficult part of hiking to Balanced Rock is getting to the trailhead. To get there, you have to drive down Grapevine Hills road, a dirt road that has potholes and big rocks and is slow going. It's certainly not 4WD level - we did it in my old Honda CRV - but it's a bumpy ride. It took us an hour to drive the six miles to the Grapevine Hills trailhead. Once on the trail, though, it's easy going. It's pretty flat up until about the last quarter of a mile, where you do a nice scramble up some boulders to get to Balanced Rock. Lily loved this part - anything that has to do with climbing she's on board with. You can get some fun photos at Balanced Rock before heading back to the parking lot.

There isn't much shade on this hike so plan ahead by wearing a hat and sunscreen. The hike is a little over 2 miles round trip so it's a great warm up for a day of hiking in the desert!

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Once you're back on the pavement from the Grapevine Hill road, it's easy to hop onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive route by taking a right onto the main road. This is a thirty mile scenic route that highlights some of the history of the area. Turn off the main road at Castolon (see more below). Keep going until you reach Santa Elena Canyon. There are a number of stopping points along the way to enjoy, including the Sam Nail Ranch, Mule Ears Viewpoint, and a number of overlooks. Be forewarned: the kid(s) may sleep through the drive, but that's okay because the nap will help energize them and prevent crankiness for the rest of the day! They'll need the energy for the next hike.

Visit Santa Elena Canyon

At the end of the scenic drive, try to find a parking spot and take the Santa Elena Canyon trail, a 1.7 mile round trip hike that takes you into the canyon until there is nothing but rock and water. There's a bit of a climb at the beginning of the trail, but it's very doable (and paved just about all the way if I remember correctly). Once you've entered the mouth of the canyon, there is some shade with the river cane and some trees, plus some rock overhangs that you can sit under. When we finally reached the water, there were groups of people wading around so we decided to join them. We rolled up our pant legs, took off our shoes, and in we went. Lily then proceeded to 'accidentally' fall in... yeah right. I am 99.9% sure that she just wanted to swim, but it's okay. It was a great way to cool off after the hike and the water felt amazing. You can't leave Big Bend without doing this hike and standing in the water of the Rio Grande River between two massive rock faces, one the United States, the other Mexico. Being sandwiched between two countries is pretty cool.

Stop by Castolon

On your way back from Santa Elena Canyon, you can stop at Castolon Historic District. Err... well... at least you used to be able to. Unfortunately, a wildfire severely damaged the area in 2019. The area housed historic buildings dating from the early 1900s. The Visitor Center and La Harmonia store were burned extensively, but they have a temporary visitor center set up now in a different building across the way. Stop by and learn about the history of the area, mourn the fire damage, and envision what lies ahead in the future for this part of Big Bend.

Visit the Hot Springs

Hot Springs Historic District houses a number of historic buildings, including a post office and the remnants of a bathhouse built by J.O. Langford. The drive to get to the parking area is narrow and unpaved, so drive cautiously! The sign in the parking lot warned to not leave valuables in your vehicle - I assume they have some issues with theft there but we had no problems. All of our important belongings went in our backpack anyways.

The hike to the hot springs is only about half a mile and is really easy. Explore the remnants of the stone buildings along the way and look for pictographs on the rock faces. When you reach the springs, you can soak in the water where you're in the foundation of the old bathhouse that was constructed. The area is usually fairly crowded so don't expect quiet or privacy. We dipped our feet in for a bit but didn't actually soak since we didn't bring appropriate attire. The river flows adjacent to the springs, with Mexico just across the way. You will likely see small trinkets, walking sticks, and other items for sale, set on the ground of the United States by Mexican artists/craftsmen. Anyone that purchases an item leaves their money and the person comes to collect it. Be aware that this is illegal. You can purchase legal crafts made by Mexican merchants in some of the camp stores in the park or if you cross into Boquillas. Note: as of the time of writing this, this area is currently closed due to COVID-19.

Visit any of the visitor centers

There are multiple visitor centers scattered through the park. They're all worth a visit. They provide information about the park, environment, and wildlife, are staffed by rangers so you can ask questions and get suggestions or recommendations, and they've got stores that sell souvenirs, books, and some of them sell grocery/camping items, as well. The Chisos Basin visitor center has a taxidermied mountain lion that Lily enjoyed.

 

There is no way to see all of Big Bend in two days, but we pretty much tracked to all the edges of the park. Be prepared to drive a lot - the park covers more than 800,000 acres. You can definitely get through a visit without leaving the pavement, but where's the fun in that? We can't wait to get back. Now that Lily is older, she is able to hike longer distances. The trails we've got on our list for next time are Lost Mine, Window, Mule Ears, Chimneys..... ugh, so much to explore, so little time.

Have you visited Big Bend with kiddos? What are your favorite things to do?


Two Week Travels | West Texas + New Mexico

As we enter another April, I find myself reminiscing about our Texas/New Mexico road trip that we took in April of 2019. We had such a great time and explored mountains, caves, canyons, and dunes. We did a 10 day trip and, while there were a couple of places that we wish we had more time at (cough BIG BEND cough), we felt like we still got to do and see plenty without feeling rushed.

I'm sharing our itinerary as the first of our Two Week Travels series. These are going to be either itineraries that we have done or possibilities for the future  (I am seriously obsessed with planning trips) and all will be two weeks or less. Customize this route for yourself depending on where your beginning location is!

West Texas New Mexico itinerary
*these are the primary destinations; side trips not included

 

In honor of the two year anniversary of this trip, through the month I'll be revisiting some of the parks and places that we visited along the way, starting with one of my absolute favorite places on Earth: Big Bend National Park.


Tips & Tricks | Camping Must Haves

Since we are beginning to prepare for our upcoming camping trip to Colorado Bend State Park, I thought I would share five items that I never leave behind when we adventure into the great outdoors. These items are essentials for us regardless of whether we are camping in the teardrop or roughin' it in a tent. *Note: this post contains affiliate links & I make a small commission off qualifying purchases.

5 Camping Essentials

Cast iron skillet

This is an essential for me both at home and while camping. There is nothing like a good, well seasoned cast iron skillet. Lodge is a trustworthy brand. I have three of them, the smallest of which is my dedicated camping skillet. It lives in my teardrop camper, but it'll get pulled out and put into our kitchen tub for the upcoming trip since we're tentin' it (first time in our brand new tent, too! More on that later). Cast iron is the ideal cooking tool while camping because the clean-up is so god damned easy. You don't need water or soap or a sponge to clean it. So long as it is seasoned well enough to be fully non-stick, I just wipe mine down with a paper towel after I have fried up my eggs and it's good to go! If you've got some gunk that won't come off with a paper towel, have some coarse ground salt and steel wool on hand to scrub it off.

Fire starters

So, here's a confession: I suck at starting campfires. I know, I know. I'm the worst park ranger ever. It's just really hit or miss for me whether or not my fire dies out sadly, leaving nothing but thick, eye burning smoke, or it successfully catches and turns into the beautiful inferno that is intended. So to better my odds, I always carry around a pack of fire starters. They're easy to use, don't take up a lot of space, and (almost) never fail to get a great campfire going. We won't talk about our camping trip to Huntsville where we struggled with wet wood and went through a whole pack to no avail. Don't chance it - bring some of these bad boys because camping just isn't camping without a campfire! *Note: please always check with the park or area that you're in to ensure that ground fires are allowed and the area is not under a burn ban!

Wool socks

My dudes, if you have not yet experienced the joy of a good pair of wool socks, you have not lived. Having grown up in Texas, I was late to the game in discovering how wonderful and cozy these things are. My time spent in New England opened my eyes and I am a changed woman for it. Wool socks are perfect for sitting around the campsite on chilly evenings to keep your feet warm. Pair them with a good set of moccasins and you're golden. If it's really cold when we're camping, I will even sleep with them on (sometimes doubled up). I also wear wool socks while hiking because they help to wick moisture away from your feet, which is helpful when you're on a long hike with gross, sweaty feet. They're just so versatile and comfortable... get yourself a pair or five!!!

Backpack

When you go camping, you don't just sit at the campsite all day - you get out there and get hiking! You're going to need a backpack if you want to do any hiking with young kiddos. Snacks are an essential for them (and water, too, obviously), so load up your backpack with water bottles (1L per hour per person on a hot day), some granola bars or mandarin oranges, fruit snacks - whatever floats your boat. I also will throw my cell phone in so I have it for those perfect photo ops or in case of emergency. Bonus - your backpack can act as a trash can, too. Pro-tip: please don't throw fruit peels or rinds on the ground. You may think they're 'natural' so it's okay to toss 'em, but it's littering, plain and simple. And when food related items are left close to a trail, it attracts animals and can lead to increased animal/human interactions. Just put it in your backpack, please! If it's messy trash, bring a plastic grocery bag to pop it in. Pack it in, pack it out!

Quality Cooler

Fuck, there is nothing more annoying than a shitty cooler. I hate when I put a package of sliced cheese in my ice chest as we are departing for a trip, and then less than 24 hours later, melted ice (also known as water) has infiltrated the packaging and turned my cheddar into a wet, slimy mess. It's annoying to have to strategically place items in the cooler - drinks and airtight containers on the bottom, fruit and permeable containers precariously balanced above, just hoping that nothing falls into the ocean of ice melt and gets ruined. Have you ever tried to eat soggy carrots or moist cheese? It's not fun. After years of tolerating a crappy cooler, I recently invested in a Yeti. It hurt to spend that much money on a cooler, but we will certainly get a lot of use out of it and the peace of mind (and food) is worth it.

 

So that's our list of things we never leave on a camping trip without! What are your essentials when you go exploring?