November 14, 2023

A Tour of the Southwest - 12,182 Miles of Adventure

A leisurely tour of the southwestern United States had long been on our bucket list.  Although Alan and I had visited the Grand Canyon at least twice, traveled to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for business and to check in on friends, attended an adoption conference in Houston and driven through the southwest on our way to the west coast during our most recent National Parks trip, we had never actually vacationed throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Well, now we have.

Before we left home on September 4th, I had scheduled a bunch of appointments between the date we planned to return home (November 2nd) and Thanksgiving.  I was attempting to get the important stuff out of the way before the start of the holiday season.  Eight appointments – four medical, one dental, three auto-related - and one wedding were on the calendar even before we left home in September.  I thought I was brilliant.  I was not.  I forgot how much time it takes to process two months of mail and dirty laundry and empty the travel trailer for the season.  Plus, we wanted to catch up with the kids, which is always a priority.  We’re home, but we’re dragging.  Thankfully, the trip itself was amazing and we happily crossed off another major item on our bucket list.  Here’s the summary:

Alan and I left home on the Monday of Labor Day weekend, and returned just one day later than planned on Friday, November 3rd.  In between, we covered a total of 12,182 miles that included plenty of new-to-us destinations and several old favorites.  One momentous occasion occurred during the trip.  For the past year, New Jersey has held the distinction of being the only one of the 48 contiguous states in which we hadn’t yet camped.  After spending one night at Spruce Run Recreation Area there (with no hookups and on one of the hottest days of the year in the northeast), we were able to complete that quest.  Our camping map in the right hand column has been updated; now, the only two states in which we haven’t camped are Alaska and Hawaii.

We reached a long-awaited milestone in New Jersey!

Over the course of those 12,000+ miles, we spent time with a high school friend in Texas, a childhood friend in California, a friend and former banking colleague in Arizona and formerly local friends who retired to Tennessee some time back.  It just so happened that a number of my favorite bloggers lived along our route or within spitting distance of it, and we were able to arrange meet ups with a half dozen of them.

I’ve been reading most of the blogs on my blogroll in the column at the right since shortly before I escaped from the workforce in 2016.  Over the course of these past seven years, I’ve connected with each of the authors in a more than casual way.  It was both a privilege and a treat to meet and chat in person with so many of my favorites and their husbands and wives.  We came “this” close to catching John and his wife, Sharon, over at On the Road of Retirement, but that meet up will have to wait for another time and place.  We were able to connect with:


Darrow and his wife, Caroline (Can I Retire Yet?)

Janis and her husband, Paul (Retirementally Challenged)

Bob and his wife, Betty (My Satisfying Retirement)

Ingrid and her husband, Al (Live, Laugh, RV)

Tessa and her husband, Philip (Charming Adventures of the Millers)

Mike and his wife, Sandy (Phannie and Mae)


I’d like to extend my heartfelt words of gratitude to each of you for making and taking the time in your busy schedules to fit us into your very full lives.  You all represent check marks on my personal bucket list, and I do so appreciate your willingness to meet “in real life” and solidify the connection.  Alan and I enjoyed the time we spent with all of you immensely!  I can assure you that every one of our get-togethers was a highlight of our trip.  Thank you, one and all!

Speaking of highlights . . . I still need to finish up posting about our Little States trip in the spring of this year, and then get back to documenting our West Coast National Parks trip.  So, until I can share all of the details about our tour of the Southwest, I’d like to, at least, share with you some of the additional highlights.  Before we get to the good stuff, though, I have to admit that there was one particular “lowlight” that impacted our trip.  On the way from Phoenix (AZ) to Desert Hot Springs (CA) in 102 degree heat, the truck’s A/C compressor quit.  It. Just. Quit.  One minute, we’re tooling along I-10 as comfortable as can be.  We stopped for gas and, when Alan re-started the truck, we got nothing but hot air from the vents.  Long story short, Jessup Auto Plaza, a GM dealer in Palm Springs, got us in, fixed us up and sent us on our merry way.  This is a huge dealership with an incredibly busy service schedule, but they squeezed us in and finished the job by the end of the second day – and that included having to order a replacement compressor.  I can’t say enough good things about our service advisor, Sergio, and the rest of his colleagues.  They saved the day – and our itinerary.  We planned to be in California only two full days.  One day was set aside to visit with Janis and Paul early in the day and then my childhood friend, Janine, later on; on the other day we planned to visit Joshua Tree National Park.  We managed to accomplish everything without any interruption to our schedule.  It just so happened that there was an Enterprise car rental location less than a half mile down the road from Jessup.  All I can say is that St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, must have been riding along with us.

The KOA in Desert Hot Springs, California, was picture perfect.

As for the highlights, Alan and I were happy to check off a number of items that had been on our travel bucket list for a long, long time.  We camped for several nights at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio and found the recessed caves there to be absolutely fascinating.  We spent nearly a full day at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.  We also visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial which honors the victims, survivors and rescuers of the tragic Oklahoma City bombing in April of 1995.  The Museum exhibits were exceptionally well-done, and the Memorial was extremely moving.  Both the Museum and the Memorial reflect the city’s determination to both embrace its past and look to the future.

Hocking Hills State Park - Do you see the family of four in the center of this photo?

While in Texas, we returned to the Stockyards at Fort Worth (a favorite hangout) and toured the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.  We crossed San Antonio (remember the Alamo?), Austin and the lovely hill country around Fredericksburg off our bucket list as we enjoyed being first time tourists in all three areas.   Although Alan and I had celebrated our wedding anniversary on September 15th when we were in Palo Duro Canyon State Park (also in Texas), we waited until we were in San Antonio in October to really celebrate with a delightful dinner out at Saltgrass Steakhouse on the city’s Riverwalk.  We rounded out our adventures in Texas with a four-night stay in Big Bend National Park (finally!) and a three-night stay directly on the Gulf Coast in Galveston.

Celebrating a very happy #44 in San Antonio

If you’re wondering why we were in Texas in September and October, our planned route first headed west through the northern sections of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and on into California.  After our brief layover in California, we headed back east through the southern sections of those states.

The highlights in New Mexico included exploring Santa Fe and the surrounding area and checking off White Sands National Park (formerly a National Monument) on our bucket list.  Much of our time in Arizona was spent in the Phoenix area visiting friends and fellow bloggers, but we also enjoyed a brief stay in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, and a couple of days in the Tucson area.  Saguaro National Park was another bucket list item we were happy to tackle, and we had a fun-filled day exploring the old western and mining towns of Tombstone and Bisbee.  In addition to the quick rundown of the highlights mentioned, we really did manage to pack the trip with quite a bit of exploring, putting over 4,000 miles on the truck while the travel trailer remained unhitched in a campground.

White Sands National Park - the "golden hour" just before sunset was magical!

Technically, our stay in Galveston marked the end of the “southwest” portion of the trip.  It was at that point that we figuratively turned for home.  Strategic planning allowed for layovers in several favorite places with special benefits.  A quick overnight in New Orleans set us up for a breakfast of Café Beignet’s extraordinarily delicious beignets and café au lait at their location in the Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street.  (We like Bourbon Street so much more at 9:00 A.M. than 9:00 P.M.!)  Our next stop was a five-night layover at Gulf State Park in Alabama.  This was the park we had stayed at last fall where we fell in love with the miles and miles of excellent biking trails and the gorgeous white sand beach.  This year, we extended our stay to eight nights, when we found out that there was a lakefront site available on our original date of departure.  We both like Gulf State Park so much that canceling our scheduled reservations in Georgia didn’t hurt a bit.  Alan suspected that I was going to whine and complain on the morning of our departure.  He was right; I did.  Nashville was the last of our favorite stops.  A brief stay there allowed us to catch another show at the Grand Ole Opry with our friends, Kathy and Albert, who retired to the area to be near family.  Attending the show and spending a couple of days with these two wonderful people proved to be a perfect way to wind down our trip.  After one more stop – the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington – we did some serious buckling down and headed for home.

It isn't easy to walk away from this gorgeous beach at Gulf State Park.

Traveling has been a huge part of our lives since Alan and I started dating and dreaming more than 45 years ago.  The thrill and excitement of discovering new places, the sheer delight of enjoying destinations and activities that have earned a revered place on our “Return To” list over the years, and the knowledge that I’m traveling with my best friend and partner in all of life’s adventures (good and bad!) make me realize how truly blessed I am.  Alan and I agree that there isn’t really anyone else with whom we could share life on the road in the cab of a pickup and a 256 square foot box.  At least we made each other’s short list – and nobody had to hitchhike home!

“Love is the food of life, travel is dessert.”  (Anonymous)

Beginning with my next post, I’ll circle back around to the “Little States” trip we took in the spring.  Our last stop was Winter Island Maritime Park in Massachusetts.  The next stop will be Rhode Island and Fishermen’s Memorial State Park.  Since that post won’t make its appearance until after Thanksgiving, I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you a joy-filled Thanksgiving with your family and friends.  May gratitude for the blessings in your life fill your hearts, as well as your homes. 



  1. Too bad we wern't able to meetup in Texas. We are now in southwest Texas heading westward. Big Bend National Park is my favorite Texas park and we are so glad got a taste of it. Many won't make it there as it is not on the way to anywhere!

    1. That was always our problem with Big Bend - it was never on the way to anywhere. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much based on our drive in from Fort Stockton, but we REALLY enjoyed the Park. I can understand why it's your favorite.

  2. Great meeting you and Alan in person, Mary. Thanks for a delightful evening. Also enjoyed reading the highlights of your trip and making some notes for our future adventures!

    1. Ah, Darrow, the pleasure was ours! It was a delightful evening, indeed - even if I did forget to eat my tortillas.

  3. What a marathon (and I don't mean the town in Texas)! I would love to have had the energy to make such a jaunt without long stops, but I never did. I think it had something to do with the heat. In Texas, hot days are when you do, well, nothing; once you have that experience, it is addicting. We don't have to move around a lot like y'all do to stay alive. But seriously...really? More than 12,000 miles? Forget my faux jealousy; it is really admiration and so much more for finally meeting in San Antonio, the beating heart of Texas history. We enjoyed it greatly, and it only verified what I already knew. Adding slightly to Rex Harrison's line in My Fair Lady, "The way a person speaks (and writes) absolutely classifies him (her)." It was such a treat; thank you for making the time.

    1. Mike, aside from the Ridiculous Restaurant Foul-Up, the evening we spent with you and Sandy was absolutely delightful. I'm thrilled we all made it happen. Finally! Alan and I quickly figured out we could never live in the southwest. Y'all have too much heat and not enough trees. Of course, you'd probably tell us we have too much cold and not enough wide open space. Fair enough. As for the mileage, it may sound funny but we were almost as surprised as you were. Because Alan tracks the mileage on the trailer separately, we were using "Trip B" on the truck and only seeing accumulating miles for a few days at a time. "Trip A" mileage at the end of the trip was rather astonishing!

  4. Glad we finally got to meet after all these years of following each other's adventures via our blogs. Sounds like you covered a lot of ground and were able to check off a bunch of bucket list items.

    1. Ingrid, spending time with you and Al was TONS of fun! I had no doubt that you and I would hit it off in person, but it was great to see "the boys" getting along so well, too. Indeed, many bucket list items were crossed off this trip, but the best were six of my blogging colleagues!

  5. Hi, Mary,
    You included a few of our favorite stops on this journey. We have visited White Sands twice, spent a lovely afternoon in Saguaro National Park , and can never get enough of Cafe du Monde. Of course, Ingrid and Al is a "must do," and we were fortunate to meet up with as well. You both bit off a big hunk of the country this time, and we love reading about it. Have a great Thanksgiving--we'll be here when you get back. Joe

    1. Joe, I know some people are not very impressed by White Sands, but Alan and I really enjoyed the time we spent exploring there. We both felt that the dunes were more easily accessible than those at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Their color, especially in the setting sun was just gorgeous! Best wishes for a happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you and Helen!

  6. It was very special to spend time with you and Alan. Our lunch at the Horny Toad in Cave Creek was our first visit back to that restaurant in probably 30 years, and nothing had changed: a perfect place to meet new friends.

    There is a chance we will be in your neck of the woods next fall. It would be so great to connect again, this time on your home turf!

    A very happy holiday season to you two serious travelers from Betty and me.

    1. Wasn't it great to actually have a conversation together in real life?! We enjoyed your company and Betty's immensely, Bob. It would be delightful to meet up again if you head over this way next year. Please do keep us posted! I hope you and Betty enjoy every minute of the holiday season - especially the time you spend with your family!


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