Day 19 was another long driving day. Before we got too far down the road we stopped at Saguaro National Park just outside the city. We had prepared for this park as well previously, studying cactus of all types in the southwest U.S., hoping that we would be able to see all of them.
Let me tell you, as soon as the kids started seeing the different kinds of cholla and such, they got excited! And you know that warm, fuzzy feeling when your children/students get excited about something you’ve helped them learn?! It.was.awesome.
We hopped out of the car and walked around the entrance, snapping pictures and going on a scavenger hunt for pencil cactus and cardon cactus and all. Philip was so sweet, acknowledging me and reminding the kids that mom helped them learn these things so they could have more fun, otherwise it would just be…cactus… we were looking at. He’s so good at that. He notices.
We drove through the park which took about 45 mins, had a quick picnic lunch (thankfully I had stopped at natural food store that morning and stocked up a bit- I had stuff for a Greek salad <my favorite> again!), and were on our way.
The landscape was again, so different! So many saguaros! I had never seen anything like that! Such creativity in the creation of our earth.
We saw glimpses of Mexico on our way to El Paso, which was neat for the boys, found a place for Mexican food, booked our hotel at dinner (which was customary), and settled in for the night.
I knew this day was going to be a long one, and tried as I might, I couldn’t get us up and at ’em by 8am like I had planned. The time change had gotten us.
However, we weren’t too much later. By the time we were up, had had breakfast and were back on the road, it was around 9:30am. Not too shabby.
… But we were in El Paso, border-town to Mexico and more specifically Juarez, arguably the inventor of the Mexican burrito (as a former El Pasoan told us). And my husband has a penchant for carne guisada burritos. My mocha predilection is as strong as his is for carne guisada burritos. So with a recommendation from a friend, we drove 15 mins to try one, and then of course, drove another 15 mins to find my coffeehouse for the morning. 😉 That might’ve been why we were even later in leaving town….
We had to drive about 2.5 hours into the Guadalupe Mountains (which is another National Park, I didn’t realize!) and on to Carlsbad Caverns.
We arrived, walked in and they told us the elevators to the bottom were under maintenance. “Flexibility!”, I thought. The rangers warned us over and over that the hike to the bottom was “strenuous”, “VERY steep!”, and used all kinds of language that honestly made me pretty nervous. Not for me, but for the relatively nonathletic boys we call our sons. They just do not like hikes. 1.5 miles a 20% grade. Ok. Let’s do this.
And this is when I realized I forgot to change my shoes. I was just in my TOMS. Oh well. Time’s a wasting.
I had been in caves before. They are fascinating. That is, after I acclimate to the coolness, darkness, and get over the acute claustrophobia that I can feel when I can’t see the entrance anymore and I know that we are far, far underground.
Just keep walking.
Down 755 ft to the Big Room, which is the largest collection of cave formations in one room. I think that’s right at least. The formations are amazing! The fact that there is that much underground is awe-inspiring.
The boys thought it was pretty cool, but Deron was quite nervous how the trek UP was going to go. We decided not to hike the mile or so AROUND the Big Room, but saw some of it and started back up. It took an hour, but surprisingly, it wasn’t as terrible as we thought it might be. It went relatively quick. We were quite tired, but I was SO proud! We all did it! What an accomplishment!
We grabbed some ice cream as a reward in the visitors center and kept on.
Our next stop for the day was in the little town of Monahans, Texas- in the middle of nowhere. There is a state park there called the Monahans Sandhills. I had stopped here once on a youth group trip in junior high, and I remember getting little round sleds and sledding down the large and very randomly placed sand dunes that transport you to some far away desert.
We got there late in the afternoon, almost to sunset. We slipped off our shoes and felt the dry sand between our toes. It’s so amazing! We found animal tracks of differing kinds which was neat. The kids immediately scurried off, trying to gain as much ground as they could, finding the highest point they could and racing each other down. Deron tried to dig the deepest hole and found some wet sand.
As the sun started to set, Jude and Sollie both got buried up to their necks (because why not!?) and we watched the sun disappear behind the hills. For me, it was the perfect closing to an adventure we would never forget. Maybe someday the boys will be able to stop and really notice the silent beauty in a sunset, but they’re just not there yet. And that’s ok (Philip keeps reminding me :). So I sat atop the dune enjoying this blissful moment of God’s smile while these silly boys romped and tossed sand around thoroughly enjoying the natural playground that I had organized for them to experience.
And that made it all the better.
We ate a picnic dinner once the daylight had departed, and rested in the car completely spent from a pretty physically demanding couple of excursions. We got to our friends’ house in Big Spring around 10pm and had zero trouble falling to sleep.
Big Spring is a little oil town east of Midland/Odessa, west of Sweetwater, Texas and where some of our best friends call home. Lacey and Ben Blaine used to live just down the street from us when we lived in Abilene, where Deron would ride his scooter down to transport eggs or oil or baking powder or milk. We had dinner with them and our other friends who had bought a house on the same street every Monday (or Sunday, or whatever day would work) for 2 years. Sometimes I would cook, sometimes we would all pitch in and bring something, it was always on the calendar, but sprung at the last minute. We all have such fond memories of those dinners. New pregnancies, babies, jobs, struggles, everything. We knew. We did life together.
Then life takes you in different directions, and that’s ok too.
They ended up in Big Spring, our stop for the night. Philip and I had been watching the weather and had noticed that Tuesday (this day) was supposed to be severe weather, capable of producing some pretty gnarly storms including grapefruit sized hail and long-track EF5 tornadoes. Of course you can’t predict perfectly what the weather will be, but it seemed like all of the ingredients were there for a crazy night of storms. Maybe something we wouldn’t want to be around for.
So we decided why not just stay an extra day and spend time with our friends? What’s an extra day anyway?! It’s been 3 weeks!
So stay we did! Jude got to have lunch at his best friend’s school, Philip got a full work day in, I got to take my best friend out for a birthday pedicure (and stop at their brand new coffeehouse, Cornerhouse Coffee– good job, BS!), and we got to have dinner together like old times. I think it was a great decision. Luckily the storms weren’t as bad as predicted.
Ok, now we were ready to get home.
Philip decided to try a local burrito place per Ben’s recommendation (1 out of 3 for the day) to begin his Tour de Burrito. We grabbed some more coffee and started on to Abilene.
Philip has a client in Abilene which he decided to see in person for a little while, so while he did that, I took the boys to Chick-fil-a. I was planning on running them around the park, but they played so long inside we ran out of time! C’est la vie! They had fun regardless!
3 hours later we were home.
We had such great conversation on our way home. We talked of all of the people and places we saw, our favorites and the things we nearly forgot already. To my surprise, we even started talking of future trips we could take and it wasn’t me bringing it up! We talked about how many road trips it would take to show the kids all 50 states and what modifications we would make.
We talked about our lifestyle, business, and goals.
We talked about how impressed we are for our little travelers. How they were still playing together (mostly) happily even though they’d been in close proximity for many, many days on end. Oh, and how we were still happy as parents, after being in close proximity with only brief breaks for many, many days on end. And yes, Philip and I were still not tired of each other after just as many days on end. (But we love being together and hardly ever tire of one another’s company- thankfully.)
A Final Note
I know not all families can take trips like this, nor do all want to. And that’s ok! I know that there are jobs out there that just can’t warrant this kind of travel, or families aren’t or maybe don’t care to homeschool their children. That’s ok too!
But if there is any inkling in your heart to do life or do parts of life similar to ours, I want to encourage you to do it! Make a plan, research it out, and put it on the calendar! It will hopefully pay dividends in memories with the quality time with your loved ones.