Travel Update: Southwest, Here We Come!

You guys — it’s time to hit the road. On Tuesday, we are finally heading west. Somehow we’ll have been here 11 weeks and one day. I’m not entirely sure how that happened. All I know is — the open road is calling our name!

Louisiana, it’s been real.

Southwest Adventure | Our Streamlined Life

Here’s what’s on the map: 6.5 weeks. 9 states. 5,000 miles. And 2 travelers ready to roam.

One big development in our plan is that — like we did on our last big road trip — we’re leaving our turtle house behind. Yes, we’re going to be car camping once again. We started talking about doing this as we slowly watched our planned 10-week trip shrink down to a 7-week trip. The camper comes will all the comforts of home, but it makes set up, break down, and days on the road go more slowly. Car camping keeps us light and quick (and hey, we can get drive-thru again!#winning ). As I type Ryan is busy building a sweet platform that’s going to elevate our car camping experience, and later in the week I’m planning a post on what we learned from our last trip, so stay tuned here and on Instagram.

Now: On to the fun stuff! Here’s a week-by-week overview of our itinerary (subject to change without notice). This is also a call for help! We want to know … where should we go, what should we see, where should we stay?! So please, comment, Instagram us, email us … especially if you know where I can find amazing gluten-free pizza. 😉

Week 1 (February 8-14)

  • Tuesday, February 9: Adios, Baton Rouge!
  • Tuesday – Thursday: The ten-day forecast is promising sunny skies and moderate temperatures at Galveston Island State Park. As long as the weather is pleasant, I’d like to stay here a couple of nights. Has anyone camped here? I also have my eye on Sea Rim State Park as an alternative — they have beach camping, which we’ve always wanted to try!
  • Thursday – Sunday: San Antonio! We’ll be staying a few nights with my brother and his wife who live in San Antonio. I’m super excited to 1) see him, because he’s the coolest, and 2) see the sights with Ryan, who’s never been. Obviously the San Antonio River Walk and the Alamo are on our list. Anyone have restaurant recommendations? I’d also like to check out nearby Austin, and we may even make it an overnight and camp at McKinney Falls State Park. I’ve heard so many things about Austin, I’m super excited to finally get to check it out.

Week 2 (February 15-21)

  • From San Antonio we’re headed towards Big Bend National Park. It wasn’t on our national parks wish list, but we’re still excited to check out Big Bend. I don’t know a lot about the park, but I’m planning on some hiking and star gazing … and maybe we’ll even cross into Mexico? (I’ve never been!)
  • From Big Bend, we’re driving north to check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park, another park that hadn’t made my list! On the way I will probably try to stop in Marathon, Texas, and take 10,000 pictures of me posed in front of signs like “Marathon Coffee” and “Marathon Motel,” at which point he will remind me that I am a weenie who has yet to make the leap from half marathon to full marathon. Sigh.
  • At that point, instead of heading southwest toward El Paso, we’re thinking of cutting north to see Lincoln National Forest and White Sands National Monument. Fellow travelers: What’s our best route? Are we missing out by skipping El Paso?
  • From there our next destination is Tombstone, Arizona, where we will doubtless take ridiculous photos at the O.K. Corral. (I’ve got my eye on Patagonia Lake State Park for camping.)

Week 3 (February 22-28)

  • After a week in southern Arizona, we’re headed north!  Saguaro National Park is one obvious and important stop.
  • I think we’ll just do a drive-by of Phoenix; I’m far more interested in Sedona and Flagstaff. I’ve heard great things about both cities — anyone have recommendations?
  • The highlight of this week will be Grand Canyon National Park. Neither of us have been and I. Can’t. Wait. We’re planning on camping there, which should be amazing.

Week 4 (February 29-March 6)

  • In week 4 we’ll turn east, leaving us about 2.5 weeks to get back to Virginia. At this point, we’re New Mexico-bound!
  • En route from Arizona to New Mexico we’ll stop off at Petrified Forest National Park. This will probably be our longest driving day, but I’ve heard good things (thanks, Briana!) and of course we can’t pass up the chance to check another park off our list. We’ll be spending most of this week visiting friends in northern New Mexico.
  • Once we leave the Albuquerque area, we’ll have another long driving day — this time, headed for Oklahoma City. (Should we stop in Amarillo on the way?) I’ve been eager to visit the city ever since reading an article about it in Spirit magazine, and I can’t wait to check it off my list. (We’re armed with a list of recommendations from Ryan’s aunt and uncle, who used to live there.) For camping, I’ve got my eye on Thunderbird Lake State Park.

Week 5 (March 7-March 13)

  • Week 5 is the week of Arkansas! You may remember we were trying to make a trip up here just after Christmas, but we couldn’t make it work because we both got sick. Well, this is our chance. The short list of destinations includes Eureka Springs (and Thorncrown Chapel), Mount Magazine State Park, and Hot Springs National Park (another pick from our 2016 National Parks Wish List).
  • After exploring Arkansas, we’ll swing back to Louisiana to pick up the camper. That will take a couple of days — and once we have the camper, our driving time will slow down again. I’m hopeful that at this point in time it will be late enough that we won’t encounter any snow with the turtle house in tow. Hopefully this isn’t just wishful thinking …

Week 6 (March 14-20)

  • I’d like to hit three cities in Tennessee: Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville. I’ve heard good things about all three, but don’t have much much planned for these spots yet. Any suggestions for things to do or places to camp?
  • After spending some time in the cities, I’m sure we’ll be ready for the great outdoors again. It’s probably the wrong time of year to visit, but I can’t wait to stay in Smoky Mountain National Park.

Week 7 (March 21-27)

  • Week 7, we’re almost home! I have one last stop planned: Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore estate is one spot on my radar, but I’d love food and sightseeing suggestions. Also — anyone know where to camp here? Right now we have the Asheville East KOA in in mind, but if anyone knows any other spots, I’d love to hear them.
  • By Thursday we’ll be back in Virginia! I need to make a reservation at the Prince William Forest Campground, which is just a few miles from Quantico. On Saturday, March 26 we’ll be seeing Ryan’s brother graduate from Officer Candidate School! And, bonus: we’ll get to celebrate Easter with his family who’ll be in town.

And that’s all, folks! I’m exhausted and excited just typing that all out!

2016-01-23 15.01.39

Good thing we’ve got our road trip game faces on!

So: Where should we go? What can’t we miss? And if you live on our route … can we camp in your yard? 😉

Author
I'm the oldest of 12 crazy kids and two pretty awesome parents. My love of travel developed during my early years traveling the globe as an Air Force brat. I'm a runner, a writer, and a reader, and I love cooking up good food and cozying up our camper.

15 comments

  1. What a great adventure ahead! Big Bend is absolutely beautiful. I will suggest hiking the Emory Peak Trail in the Chisos Mountains. The view is absolutely gorgeous. Also, heading to White Sands, you can skip El Paso. You’re not missing much. Except for a ton of traffic.

    When you’re in Austin, let us know!! We’d love to meet up and share travel stories 🙂

    1. Thanks for the hiking suggestion (and confirmation that El Paso was skippable — we definitely wanted to see White Sands but I didn’t want to pass up El Paso if it was secretly awesome!).

      We may only be in Austin a day or two but we’d love to connect if possible! It will be sometime at the end of next week — I’ll touch base with you I know when. We love meeting new travel friends! 🙂

  2. Sounds like an awesome road trip. My sister just took a similar one last year. She loved it! I’ve never been to Austin either and I have friends that are totally in love with the place. I do recommend squeezing in Tombstone if you have the time in AZ. It was the highlight of my sister’s trip. We’re going back this summer.

    1. We’re so excited to check out this part of the country 🙂 Tombstone is definitely on the list — it looks kind of cheesy, but in a fun way!

  3. Ahh!! Love this all!! The only place I have ever been is Asheville, so that’s the only place I can help. The Biltmore is totally my love language! Definitely do the wine tour, we didn’t the first time, but made sure to leave enough time when we went back and it was wonderful! We also ate at this great tapas place in Asheville; I tried to look it up to see if I could remember the name and I am pretty sure it was this place called Zambra. Super funky and eclectic and the menu changes nightly. One of our plates was Kangaroo! Either way, have a fabulous time!!

    1. I had no idea Biltmore even had a winery! That’s awesome — we’ll definitely have to check it out. I’m a vegetarian so no kangaroo, but Ryan pretty much lives for trying strange new meats so I’m sure he would love that. I’ve heard so many good things about Asheville, I can’t believe we haven’t checked it out because it’s not really that far from where we lived in Virginia, but I’m excited to do it on this trip. Thanks for the suggestions!

  4. Hello Rebecca! This looks so exciting – looking forward to following your progress – we might even be in Texas around the same time.

    We’re going to Nashville and Memphis in the next couple of weeks. If I get any top tips there, I’ll let you know 🙂

    I see that Melanie above has given you some tips for Asheville but I’m gonna pile on in there too as we loved the area. If you’re wanting to be really close then I expect KOA is your best bet, but we stayed in Pisgah National Forest (it’s on reserveamerica I think) and it was really beautiful, quiet and cheap! It was a drive into Asheville, so depends if you want to be out late drinking – in the day you can park for free in the visitor’s centre right in town. Speaking of drinking, I had to defend myself against all the microbreweries John wanted to visit in Asheville and he found this gorgeous place called Battery Park Book Exchange, where they have a Champagne bar. It was the first real Champagne I’d had since leaving Europe and it tasted soon good! We also went for food and some afternoon live music at Jack of the Wood bar.

    And – if you do venture outside of Asheville, Transylvania Country is called the Land of Waterfalls – it’s full of them! Really beautiful. See my post on a place called Brevard http://thisyearofourlives.com/an-ode-to-brevard/ (hopefully that will work) as we really did love the place, I guess it just depends if you have time to do both.

    Enjoy every minute of your trip – very interested to see your car camping rig, what a clever hubby you have 🙂

    Best, Anna xx

  5. Hi Rebecca,

    I just wrote this and then deleted it by accident – doh! Your trip sounds brilliant, especially interested in the car camping, what a clever hubby you have 🙂

    We enjoyed Asheville – there were lots of microbreweries for John and I even sneaked in my first glass of proper Champagne since leaving Europe at the Battery Park Book Exchange (books and champagne, how can you go wrong?!).

    I see you’re thinking of staying at the KOA and I think if you want to be close to town and have a boozy night or two then that’s probably a good plan. We actually stayed a bit outside, in the Pisgah National Forest, which was very peaceful, beautiful and good value. It’s a drive into Asheville, so you may prefer to stay closer, but we did find you can park at the Visitor’s Centre in town for free during the day.

    In the wider area, we loved Brevard and Transylvania County – over 250 waterfalls and Brevard is such a friendly, lovely place. See my post http://thisyearofourlives.com/an-ode-to-brevard/ (not sure if links work here?!)

    Anyway, have a wonderful time and I look forward to reading about your adventures. We may even cross over in Texas and we’re off to Memphis and Nashville in the next week or so – will let you know of any tips there 🙂

    Best, Anna xx

  6. Looks like a great trip. We should be somewhere around southern Arizona when you are there. Give us a shout. A note about Sedona and Grand Canyon. It will be COLD up there so early. So be prepared! We had snow at GC last year in May and this year temps seem to be even colder. Have Fun!

    1. Thanks for the tip Shannon! We haven’t been to that area so it’s good to know. As a New England girl I always sort of picture the southwest as a perpetually hot desert so I keep having to remind myself that it IS still winter!

      We’d love to run into you in Arizona! I’ll let you know when we’re in the area.

  7. Hi there! Just found you guys on IG and what a great trip you are on. Agree to skip El Paso, White Sands is amazing as so is the Carlsbad Caverns. Just be aware that the elevator is out of service, so allow extra time to hike back up on foot. If you have time in AZ check out Lost Dutchman State Park, beautiful place to camp and free hot showers 🙂

    ELEVATORS OUT-OF-SERVICE
    While the elevators are out-of-service (for an undetermined duration) you may visit the cavern by hiking in/out the Natural Entrance, a 750 ft. descent/ascent. Please begin your hike-in by noon to allow time to see the Big Room. Admission fees apply.

    Take care,

    Tina

    1. Hi Tina! Thanks so much for reading and for the warning about the elevators at Carlsbad Cavern … hiking sounds like a good way to explore anyway! And any campground with free hot showers gets an A+ in my book 😀 We’ll have to check it out — we love state parks! Thanks for all the suggestions.

  8. McKinney Falls State Park is beautiful. We have been here a week and staying one more because there is so much to do around Austin. Zilker Park is right in the city. You can rent canoes, kayaks, or paddle boards on Barton creek and paddle out to Colorado River. And the weather has been perfect for outdoor activities. Part of the trials are closed here at the park but the lower falls are open. Highly recommend visiting. If we are still here we’d love to say hello!

    1. That sounds wonderful Christy! I hope we get the chance to check it out. We may have to skip Austin this trip after leaving Louisiana a few days later than planned but if we do, I’m sure we’ll be back. I’ll let you know if we end up going so we can meet up — we’d love that! 🙂

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