By Margaret McGovern
Our first winter traveling in our RV was 2015. We traveled through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and New Mexico.
Along the way, we learned which kinds of parks we like the best (Corps of Engineers and national parks) and which iPhone apps are the most helpful: Allstays and The Ultimate Campgrounds Project (for finding places to stay); Gas Buddy (for the cheapest diesel); Storm Shield (for local weather); Overdrive (for borrowing books from the Greenwood Public Library); Amazon e-books (for buying books) and FaceTime (for keeping in touch with family.) Our GPS kept us from getting lost.
We are now in our second season on the road. Since we didn’t leave Indiana until Dec. 8 this year, we hurried south through Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama searching for warm weather. We deliberately took a different route than last season, staying in new parks and campgrounds and learning more about these same states that we visited a year ago.
It was still cold in Alabama, so we veered south to the Gulf in Mississippi, encountering storms, but at least it was a bit warmer. We hugged the Gulf Coast into Louisiana and found a great campground just a few miles from New Orleans, where we stayed for several days. It was a short trip from the campground to a ferry across the Mississippi to downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter.
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We could park the truck for $5 and the ferry ride was $1 each (with the senior discount). On one of those trips, as we walked past Harrah’s Casino, we stopped in and I walked out with $160 from a friendly slot machine.
We spent two full days wandering the French Quarter. The weather was perfect and music was everywhere. Musicians, artists, mimes and other street performers set up shop each day on the sidewalks. Tourists stopped to watch and listen and everyone was friendly. On one of the trips to the French Quarter I wore a “Hoosiers” T-shirt and four people stopped to tell me they were from Indiana.
Besides music, New Orleans is also famous for wonderful food, including pralines. One day we went from one candy shop to another searching for the perfect praline. Each shop offered free samples, and when we finally found what we thought were the very best pralines, we ordered a box for ourselves and one each for our two sons and their families.
Our next stop after New Orleans was 276 miles away in Jasper, Texas. That was a long day of travel for us, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Our reward was a beautiful Corps of Engineers campground with large campsites looking out onto a huge lake.
Jasper is not a big city, but one of its claims to fame is Billy’s Famous Barbeque. Billy opened his small restaurant 56 years ago. It doesn’t look like much and it can only seat eight customers, but most of his business is carryout. We agreed it was the best barbecue we had ever tasted. We signed their guest book and Billy’s wife brought Billy out from the kitchen to meet us.
Jasper is also the home of “Junk-tique,” a store that had more antiques and junk on display than we had ever seen. On the outside, the building doesn’t look very big. But inside, you could get lost going from room to room. Our contribution to the local economy was a couple of wall hangings for the RV.
Texas is so huge, we stayed at four more campgrounds while traveling through. Our favorite part was the Texas Hill Country with its beautiful scenery. Rolling hills with small streams and big ranches with fields of horses and cows dotted the landscape.
West of the Hill Country is the Permian Basin, 250 miles wide and 300 miles long. During the Paleozoic Era, it was an ocean filled with aquatic life. Now it is oil country, with thousands of pump jacks nodding in nearly every field. You may have seen pump jacks in southern Indiana. Technically, they are the overground drives for reciprocating piston pumps in an oil well.
Working the oil fields in West Texas is a dirty, dusty way of life. At one little town when we visited a Laundromat, we noticed large signs on some of the washers and dryers that said “Oil Fields Only” to keep the oil workers’ clothes separate.
The Permian Basin is home to the city of Midland, where former President George W. and Laura Bush live on their ranch. Not far from Midland is Monahans Sandhills State Park, with sand dunes that were once the sea bed of that great ocean. Park roads wind through the dunes and sometimes get covered with sand. We were glad to have a truck with four-wheel drive when the RV was stuck in the sand. At Monahans you can rent plastic saucers and surf the dunes. We were tempted to try it, but the weather was cold and windy. That didn’t stop some of the children in the campground from sand-sledding down the dunes.
Our first stop across the border in New Mexico was Brantley Lake State Park, just north of Carlsbad and east of the Guadalupe Mountains. Dear friends (and relatives) Joe and Beth Stasey, parents of our daughter-in-law Michelle, were mountain climbing in the area and met up with us at Brantley Lake. They had been tent camping, but high winds convinced them to accept our invitation to sleep on our sofa bed for the night.
After a beautiful drive through the Sacramento Mountains, we camped at Oliver Lee State Park near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Phil made a four-hour climb up the mountain adjacent to our campground. The trail was rocky and narrow, the temperature was in the low 40s, and the wind was a brisk 20-25 mph. He made it back safe and sound but tired.
Moving west into Arizona and Tucson, the change in the landscape was breathtaking! Mountains surrounded us, some were snow-capped and some of the smaller ones were covered with Saguaro cacti. Some have huge boulders delicately balanced, looking like they are about to fall. This was true desert country, with warm days and cool nights.
We are now parked at White Tank Mountain County Park near Phoenix. The Saguaros are all around us. Quail and road runners scoot back and forth across the roads and through the bushes, woodpeckers make holes in the Saguaros, and hawks make lazy circles in the sky.
Quartzsite, Arizona, near the California border, is on our agenda. Thousands of RV’ers gather there in the desert every winter. They park wherever they want and boondock (meaning no hook-ups). We have heard stories about Quartzsite and decided to see for ourselves. I’ll send a report, with pictures.
We only plan a day ahead of time and we have no real itinerary on this adventure. I am reading a Lee Child mystery and find myself identifying with Jack Reacher, the main character. He travels the country with a toothbrush and passport and no itinerary, looking for adventure.
Margaret McGovern of Greenwood, a commercial real estate broker and former mayor of Greenwood, writes about her and her husband’s journeys. Send comments to email@example.com.