It is August of 2020. Chris is getting restless. We are literally in the middle of a pandemic, which means, among other things, wearing masks, social distancing, and no international (or domestic) air travel. This is a problem. Enter…..The Lexington – our 25 foot 13 year old home on wheels. Late summer and early fall, we spend a bit of time lovingly making it ours. Chris outfits us with new batteries, solar panels, a cute little propane grill, plenty of charging cords, and of course a plethora of essential tools. I add the cat pillow, garlic press, wine glasses, a French press, Instant pot, thick towels, bamboo sheets, and the requisite Beth afghan. He seals up leaks and clears out old (and I’m praying inactive) mouse nests. I stock the pantry and light up the essential oils diffuser. After a couple of trial runs in the Adirondacks, in early December we load our ancient and trusty pets Izzy and Hazel into The Lexington and take off on (no, not a three hour tour), a six month journey across the country and back.
After getting our “RV legs” traveling down the east coast (via Virginia for a visit with my brother Eric and the Josie Smith family), and spending Christmas and New Year’s with Baba in Jupiter, Florida, we head out.
We take our time getting through Florida. We head west toward the first of several Harvest Host experiences – The Bee Barn. Harvest Host is a “club” of small businesses that have a place (or places) for RVers to land for a night, usually dry camping.
As a guest, you patronize their business. It really is a win- win since we had experiences we would not have encountered otherwise – and often found a place to “park it” on a Saturday or Sunday when the state campgrounds were not always readily available. One such stop was Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tour near Lafayette, Louisiana. After backing The Lexington onto a grassy area alongside the water’s edge, we settled Izzy in, donned our masks and beat it over to the tour dock. We climbed into the long low boat socially distanced from a few other people and saw the first alligator (he was sunning himself on the grassy green fringe of vegetation just a few yards away). Our knowledgeable guide maneuvered amongst the knobby-kneed cypress trees and gave us a fascinating tour inside the Cajun swamp. He talked about the growth of the trees, migration of birds, and explained the difference between a swamp and bayou, but did not answer the question of whether he was Born on the Bayou or not.
We have another Saturday night with no available campsites to be found around Oklahoma City. We decide to call Michael, the Harvest Host of “Awesome Acres Pacas and Pyrs”. Yes, we can come park at his place and learn about his expressive fluffy alpacas and gigantic protective Great Pyrenees dogs (they are leaners!). The weather has been rainy, and his unpaved driveway is proof of that. We don our sturdy shoes for a tour of the farm. Immediately we are greeted by Lola (and yes, Michael did sing a verse or two of the Kinks) the great white Pyrenees dog and she WANTS to be scratched so I oblige. Somehow, she understands that Izzy is not even a little bit of a threat to her charges, so all is good. Michael explains a bit about the personable alpacas, their fleece and how it is processed, and how he came to fall in love with these genial creatures with their buck teeth and their humming noises. We are rounding the corner into the pasture, and lo and behold, the gates separating the boys and girls are open. And you guessed it, we have an “unscheduled” mating going on. I start laughing and ask Michael if they are supposed to be doing that…..long pause…..”no.” (I suggested that if a baby alpaca resulted, maybe he could name it Lexington. I think he might consider it.). We observe the entertaining feeding frenzy of dinner, have our own dinner of the surprisingly delicious gas station pizzeria (ingredients made from scratch!) down the road. Price of admission here was an expensive pair of soft alpaca socks for me and a colorful soft beanie hat for Chris – well worth the visit!
I never understood the expression “big sky” as fully as when we were visiting Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. Every day, out west, the cloudless sky was a phenomenal shade of brilliant blue, a backdrop for the Texan Guadalupe Mountains, the saguaro cacti silhouettes of Tucson, the red rocks ranging from the Mojave Desert to Sedona. At night the vastness of the open unpolluted pitch black sky was filled with a myriad of stars (Joshua Tree at night is a sight to see, for sure!). The lack of puffy white clouds, however, makes for super dry air. On the plus side, the single digit humidity levels and minimal water make for well preserved historic sites. Our skin and noses weren’t so happy. One unusual day, the sky got quite grey. The wind picked up and Chris “argued” with the steering wheel of The Lexington. We were surrounded by the usual desert landscape and mountains in the distance. The impending rain was palpable. Eventually, the downpour came and with it, the most incredible fragrance. I was inhaling as deeply as I ever have trying to absorb the unique and extraordinary – and short-lived – musky aroma of this medicinal desert herb creosote (or gobernadora in Spanish meaning governess of the desert). The desert after a rain is an intense sensory experience for the eyes, ears, and especially the nose!
Coast of Southern California, from San Diego to Pismo Beach . There’s nothing like it. I could try to describe having a “front row seat” on the Pacific Ocean at South Carlsbad State Beach Campground for two nights where we absorbed the sunset, rocky cliffs, pounding waves, and a school of dolphins. I could explain the perfectly dotted anemones and pearly shells demonstrating a pure Fibonacci pattern – both found along the beach of Malibu. I could express the breezy freedom of riding our bikes on the hard packed sand of Pismo Beach, and the beautiful drive up the coast where we spotted an Osprey (vertical take-off military plane) flying over the Pacific These are the waypoints along the alluring coast of Southern California, where we moored The Lexington – please see photos for what words cannot describe these spots, and also the places in between.
Now for the Q and A section of the blog!
Q: Did you eat out a lot?
A: No, for lots of reasons. There was a pandemic, so we were limiting our time in public. Also, I had a perfectly good (although VERY small) kitchen available right in The Lexington. We ate homemade pizza, tacos, grilled chicken salad, Instant Pot lasagna, IP goulash, Morgan’s IP soy/ginger chicken recipe, chicken French (once using gigantic juicy fresh lemons bought from beautiful Hispanic Mary at a roadside stand in California), even occasionally popcorn for dinner. BUT if there is any interest in where the best BBQ EV-VER is located, it would be Black’s Barbeque in Austin Texas – drool, drool.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
A: Impossible to answer….So many highlights. I would first answer: the coast of southern California, then I’d remember Sedona Red Rock State Park and the Petrified Forest where we spent many hours with our friends Chuck and Barb – laughing until we cried – who we intersected by chance in Sedona. The vibrant colors and textures of the southwest. But how can we leave out the many faces of Joshua Tree, or the medjool date shakes outside of Coachella? Then there were the Gila Cliff Dwellings in Gila National Forest. Who could forget the mighty Grand Canyon? Finding the “hidden” cave we schooched into to see the ancient petroglyphs- and on and on and on!!!
Q: What is the most unusual campground name?
A: It’s a tie.
Hungry Mother State Park is a beautiful wooded area in Virginia where we had a creekside campsite. Apparently, some 200 or more years ago, a woman named Molly Marley and her small child were taken captive by Native Americans who had raided their settlement. Molly and her child escaped into the woods, eating berries to sustain themselves until Mary collapsed and died. The child eventually found the settlement, cried out, “Hungry mother!” and led the settlers to Molly’s body.
Tate’s Hell State Forest is a sprawling, desolate and lonely area south of Tallahassee, Florida. Think deliverance and banjo players. After stopping in Tallahassee for a very quick outside, masks-on, socially distanced visit with Chris’ cousin Susan and her husband Jim, we set the navigation for Womack Creek Campground in Tate’s Hell State Forest. We drove along the gulf coast and laughed about the Ho Hum RV Park – “thank God we aren’t staying there!” Eventually we ended up in someone’s sideyard, where the homeowners came out amused at The Lexington being where it was. “Your campground is about half a mile across the creek. Please tell SOMEONE to correct Google maps. Back past the Ho Hum, past the correctional facility and down a narrow dirt road with plenty of potholes. Chris said “I see tire tracks, this must be it!” I called the ranger who called another ranger who, as we were passing the shot out stop sign and a bee aviary told us we were almost there. An hour and a half trip turned into a three and a half hour trip. We found our site, the only campers in the place (guess we didn’t need those reservations) except for the camp host. As I said, the place was DESOLATE! I was able to get one bar of cell coverage, so I texted my sister-in-law, Sandra to give her our location – you know, just in case…The legend of the name goes like this. Years ago, a farmer named Cebe Tate went into the woods with his hunting dogs and a shotgun in search of a predatory panther that was killing his livestock. He got lost in the swampy forest, was bitten by a snake, and drank from the mucky swamp water. After about a week, the dehydrated disoriented farmer stumbled out of the forest and exclaimed “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!”, collapsed and died.
Q: Did you stay in Walmart parking lots?
A: Yes! But only once. We found Alex through HipCamp and we were his first visitors. There were two enormous dogs who were determined to keep us company which was fine until the door was blocked by the behemoth dogs. This massive 60 room adobe compound dates from 1810, is one of the oldest houses in the southwest and was a million acre ranch back in its heyday from 1880 to 1920. Alex suggested that we keep our eye on the weather since there was a cold, snowy, blowing forecast scheduled to arrive the last night we were there. We decided to cut the stay short by a night to avoid dangerous travel through the mountains. We arrived safely in the Arizona town of Safford but with no reservation on a Saturday night – Saturday, February 13. Walmart to the rescue! We pulled into the outskirts of the parking lots after doing a little shopping and settled into a night of Breaking Bad and something simple for dinner. The next morning, Chris crossed the parking lot at 6 am to get his honey the best bouquet of red Valentine’s Dayroses Walmart had to offer….so romantic ❤
Q: Did you exercise?
A; Well, we bought bikes from Walmart a couple weeks into our trip. I was not a fan of uphill bike riding after riding through the saguaro desert of Tucson to visit an outdoor museum that “someone” took a wrong turn for. I will admit, this was one of “those moments”. I was not happy with the bad navigator and threatened to ride myself into one of the stately and scarred saguaro after screaming “F$&K!!!!”(on a positive note, here is where we encountered a wary coyote who looked at us and then retreated back into the early morning desert). So there was that. Otherwise, a bit of walking. I practiced yoga in the woods, on the sand dunes, on a patio in Florida, in a canyon in Texas, basically whenever timing permitted and there was a breathe online class available. Admittedly, our lifestyle was fairly sedentary, so there are pounds to shed….
Q; It’s such a small space to live in. Did you get sick of each other?
A: NO! We did have a very few “moments”, but overall, we travel well together and respect each other’s space when needed.
Q: Are you happy to be home?
Q; Will you do it again?
A: Do not ask me that right now. (but most likely, yes)
What lovely prose, Beth. I feel myself itching to travel after reading your post; the smell of the desert after rain—ahh—wish I could sniff that with you. Pleased to have you home and pretty sure you’ll be traveling again soon. 😉
Great descriptions and pics, sis! Gotta love that cute little grill!