Road Trip: The final push

After our visit to Carlsbad Caverns we hit the road, heading East toward Texas.  We were done with the National Parks and our goal was to push across the Southern Tier of the country at a reasonable pace. There was less of interest over this last week so I summarized in a single post.

Carlsbad to Midland

On the map, there is little to distinguish the roads out of Carlsbad toward Texas.  We took the route that looked to be on the “biggest” of the secondary highways, and it was pretty good… for a while.  Eventually, the guidance was to turn onto a two lane road that seemed to exist only to service the numerous oil derrick out here in the wastelands.  It was neither a smooth nor scenic ride.

After what seemed like an eternity we wound up on somewhat larger and smoother roads entering Midland, which I can say with some confidence that you would not visit on purpose.  Our chosen RV park (“Good Sam” recommended) was conveniently located off the highway, with full hookups, but was, like the previous one, a patch of gravel sweltering under the Texas sun.  Somewhat cooler than Carlsbad, the thermometer read 102 on arrival, so we hunkered down, turned the air conditioning on Max Cool and hoped for the best.  Eventually things cooled a bit, and after dinner and a Netflix show on Miranda’s iPad, we went to bed.  I was awakened in the middle of the night thinking I was in the Wizard of OZ…. the wind was absolutely howling, the RV was shaking, and I felt sure that we were about to be sucked up in a Tornado.  That lasted for most of the night, but abated by morning. Fueling up the next morning, we took on the cheapest gas of the trip at $1.74/gal, which compensated a bit for the atrocious gas mileage (8.4 MPG) over those crappy roads.

Midland to Dallas (Cedar Hill State Park)

From Midland we took off heading East on I-20 towards Dallas, working our way through a number of construction zones. It seems that every highway in Texas is under construction, getting widened. By late afternoon we were working our way through the “Metroplex” traffic towards Cedar Hill State Park, on the South side not too far from DFW airport.  We rolled in and were pleased to find a nice, tree-shaded campsite overlooking a reservoir (as were most of the State Park sites we visited on this trip).  We were delighted to find that the temperatures were in the mid 70s, with sunny blue skies.  Good bye, West Texas. We covered about 330 miles today.

Sunset over Joe Pool Lake (reservoir) from our site at Cedar Hill State Park

After a trip into the town of Cedar Hill for some ice cream, we returned and had a pleasant evening cooking over the campfire.

Dallas to Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

Our next day’s goal was Lake Ouachita State Park in Arkansas.  We were big fans of the TV show “Ozark” and were looking for a sample of lake country.  Of course, this is not really in the Ozarks, but it is a lake in Arkansas and we were on a timeline.  Our original goal was Hot Springs National Park until we realized that the “National Park” consisted of a bathhouse, and there were really no Hot Springs to be found.   After our visits to “real” National Parks we decided to skip this one.  Lake Ouachita was another reservoir, and our campsite overlooked the lake at this very nice State Park Campground.   A beautiful spot to spend the night, if a beat off the beaten path. This was about 320 miles, mostly along I-30. Gas prices were around $1.85, and the RV’s “economy” has been about 9.5 MPG as I flogged it to hold 65 MPH in the slow lane.

Our campsite overlooking Lake Ouachita in Arkansas

Lake Ouachita to Nashville (Seven Points Campground)

This was our longest single day run of the trip, covering 430 miles along I-30 to Memphis and then I-40 across Tennessee to the East side of Nashville. Lots of traffic on the highway, and, as it has been for the past couple of days, a lot of trucks. We found ourselves going to the “car” side of rest stops, as the Truck/RV side was always filled to overflowing with big rigs. I had over 8 hours of scanning license plates as the traffic streamed by us in the left lane. I spotted a Vermont pate, but still no sign of the couch potatoes from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island. Maybe we’ll see them on I-75 towards Atlanta on Friday.

Seven Points Campground is located on J. Percy Priest Lake East of Nashville and is run by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is another reservoir, and it is also a beautiful spot. We had a little bug emergency after arrival. I had opened the back window to get some air, and had mistakenly opened the screen just a bit. As it got dark, we noticed lots of little gnats/flies/mosquitos gathering around the lights inside. I finally found the source and closed the screen, and Miranda opened the screen door for just a second to close the main door, and even more flooded in. This just after putting dinner on the table. We went through a frantic 30 minutes or so of smashing them with one of my cherished National Parks t-shirts and finally reduced their numbers enough to eat and sleep. Miranda, who is not a fan of insects of any type, was not particularly pleased with me….

On Thursday we planned to go into Nashville and do a little bit of touring around. We had to work around Miranda’s school schedule, which had two hour classes at 12:30 and 6 PM. We parked in Nissan stadium, home of the now COVID crippled Tennessee Titans. After Miranda’s class we were chased away from the lot we were in, but found parking nearby. I’ve never seen a city with so many parking spaces that were blocked off and made unavailable.

Miranda on her e-bike

We rented e-bikes from the nearby Pedego dealer to do a couple of hours of sightseeing. There was a pedestrian bridge across the Cumberland River into downtown, and good bike lanes to use getting around. We toured the Vanderbilt campus, including the medical center.

The Parthenon. I thought this was in Greece.

We then rode over to Centennial Park, which contains a replica of the Parthenon. We headed back through downtown and across the bridge so we could return the bikes in time to get back to the campground before Miranda’s 6 PM class. The Pedego bikes were interesting, with more power (500W) than the Trek bike I rode before, but less than the RadPower bike that Miranda rode. I didn’t care for the cruiser style that I rode, primarily because of the superfat, super padded seat and the very swept back handlebars. The power was plentiful, and was a bit too on-off… it was difficult to find a “throttle” setting that would allow assisted pedaling, even on the lowest setting.

We stopped for Hot Chicken, a Nashville specialty recommended to me last time I was in town (fried chicken with hot sauce mixed into the breading) and then headed back to the campsite for our last night on the road. The hot chicken was excellent.

Evening at Seven Points campground

Nashville to Atlanta

Our final leg was to Atlanta, a run of about 240 miles. Miranda surprised me by agreeing to an earlier than usual departure time – we promised the family a 1 PM arrival without accounting for the shift to the Eastern time zone. Miranda too, is “done” with living in the RV and was therefore willing to get up for an 8 AM departure. The trip was uneventful save for a semi truck swerving out in front of us while we were passing the trucks slowly making their way up a mountain pass near the Tennessee/Georgia border.

Rolling into the driveway at Dan and Cinda’s place

By the time we arrived in the Atlanta suburbs, we put 4,699 miles on the RV in 21 days, covering 11 states, 7 National Parks, countless s’mores and 47 state license plates observed.

License Plate Map

As I mentioned, we got 47 out of 50 license plates. I think the ones we missed were for states that require two week quarantine upon return (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware). As a postscript, we actually saw a Connecticut license plate walking around Heather’s neighborhood in Georgia, but Miranda refused to update the map, saying that it wasn’t in the official count.

Concluding thoughts

I’m glad to have gone on this great cross-country adventure with Miranda, though I think I confirmed my suspicion that RV travel is not for me. Visiting the national parks was a big part of the trip, and they did not disappoint. Yellowstone was incredibly impressive – sheer size and scale, variety of landscape from the canyon to the geyser basins, bison on the side of the road. It was very cool to ride bicycles up Zion Canyon and absorb the landscape at a relaxed pace. We both agreed that it was awesome to ride mountain bikes at Moab (and maybe a little scary/crazy to drive a UTV there). I could see doing a national park loop in the Southwest… you could visit Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches, Canyonlands (and perhaps Mesa Verde and Petrified Forest) with pretty reasonable drives between stops.

Along the way, we saw lots of places that would make great bicycling vacations. I was surprised to learn about the extensive system of rail trails in Idaho, many of them very nicely paved, centered in Cour d’Alene. Driving through Teton National Park, the bike path ran alongside the park road, leading to an extensive system in and around Jackson Hole. The west entrance to Bryce Canyon goes along Hwy 12, where the Red Canyon trail leads into the Bryce Canyon trail system for cycling into the national park. Finally, Moab is known for mountain biking, but the city has built a fantastic bike path that winds past Arches National Park for another 6 or so miles out of town. I could definitely see a combined mountain/road biking vacation in one (or more) of these spots.

As we head back to Washington it will be mid-October and time to start thinking about our return to Mexico and Miss Miranda at the beginning of December.

Road Trip Day 17: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

After a warm night (the temperature got down to 81 degrees) in a gravel RV site off the Carlsbad Caverns access road, we got an early start up to the visitor center to queue up for tickets to get into the caverns. We got there around 7:15 for an 8 AM opening, in time to get in on the second entry slot at 8:45 AM via the natural entrance.

The natural entrance, a 1.2 mile and 750 ft descent

As you can see in the photo, there is a paved path that switchbacks 750 feet down into the cavern over 1.2 miles. It is a fantastic way to go in, but I don’t think it was used all that much pre-COVID. I was here some 50+ years ago as a kid… I don’t think we came in this way back then. By the way, this is the bat exit and entrance, and you can see the entrance to the bat cave about 1/4 of the way down. It is not part of the tour, and a good think at that with 40 feet of guano at the bottom of the cave.

Masked up with the N95s going in…

Eventually we entered the Big Room, or the main part of the caverns. This is where the elevator descends from the visitor center. We did the big room tour, which was another 1.2 mile walk around the “largest known limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere”.

Map of the cavern in the Big Room.

The temperature in the caverns was in the mid 50s, with humidity at 90%. Surprisingly, it wasn’t necessary to wear the extra layers we brought. The cave is apparently some 30 miles in length, and is not the largest in the park. Another cave called Lechuguilla was discovered in 1986 and is over 140 miles in length and 1,600 ft deep.

With the low light levels in the cavern it’s difficult to get decent pictures. The gallery above has some samples from our walk around the big room.

At the end of our walk around the big room we took the elevator back up to the surface. It ascended the 750 feet in about 1 minute. After a stop in the gift shop to add to Miranda’s collection of postcards and stickers we were off to head across Texas and the final stretch of our trip.