In order to see the Everglades while Rangers programs are still going on, we had to postpone seeing Alabama and Mississippi till later. Instead we just drove right on through to Florida and stopped north of Pensacola for a short stay. We found a campsite that was so great I will be doing a post just about them, so stay tuned. Pensacola was very pretty and everyone enjoyed our time in the area.
Things often work out in unexpected ways, like being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. This was never in our plans when we decided to tour the country, it just kind of worked out that way. The Carnival celebration of Mardi Gras is often portrayed as being more of an adult type of celebration. People getting crazy, drinking, and other un-family friendly activities are what many people associate with Mardi Gras. These things probably do happen, but the Mardi Gras we experienced was not like that at all. It focused on parades, families, crowds, and good times being had by all. It is really about the floats and their themes. These floats are so cool and so well designed, it’s hard to believe they put so much work into them just for this one celebration. The parades were awesome and the throws were crazy, it’s like no other parade we have ever experienced.. They throw out so much stuff (not just beads)! We left after only seeing one of the parade krewes because we had bags full of stuff, it was so incredible. The kids were having so much fun trying to get the good loot that we couldn’t help but let them. All the people on the floats (krewes) wear costumes and masks or paint their faces. It was an amazing experience to be there and I am so glad that we somehow ended up being a part of it.
If you are ever near New Orleans, then I would recommend taking a few hours to enjoy a cruise on the Mississippi River. The Steamboat Natchez is the last authentic steamboat left plying it’s trade on the river (their competitor has diesel engines). When we first went to get our tickets, the ship was playing music with it’s steam. It’s called the Calliope concerts and they hold them twice a day. You can hear the music from the French Quarter and it’s free to check out the boat and listen to the concert. Plus there is a great walking path that takes you along the Mississippi River and the edge of the French Quarter.
Sometimes we come across hidden gems on our adventure. Baton Rouge has an amazing capitol and I will get to that soon, but the old capitol building has been turned into a free museum and it looks like a castle! The spiral staircase with a stained glass dome could be the most spectacular stairway we have seen yet. The museum had tons of Baton Rouge and Louisiana history, plus a display about modern times in Baton Rouge. Across the street is a walking path next to the Mississippi river with a destroyer, museums, fountains and artwork scattered around making it a pleasant place to walk. The kids found plenty of Mardi Gras beads from the parade the previous weekend and we are looking forward to actually seeing a parade soon.
Some of the main concerns when visiting a large city are traffic and parking. Houston definitely has it’s share of both. We decided to stay in an RV park on the east side of the city in a small town called Anahuac. It was a decent place, but most of the sites were rented on a monthly basis and we typically only stay in a place three or four days on average. It was a little farther from the city than we had anticipated, but things usually tend to work out as they should and we were comfortable there for a few days.
Many things have changed in our lives since we have been on the road full time. My children have always been home-schooled so the transition to road-schooling has been easy enough, but there are some big differences in our daily routine. I want to share with you some of our biggest changes, some of these we expected and others we did not, but so far it has been a great experience.
1. Daddy Time- The fact that we now get to share all of our learning experiences together as a family has been awesome. We don’t have to say good-bye to Daddy every morning and then bombard him with all the days activities the minute he walks in the door at night. He is there to share the day with us. He gets to participate in all the fun (and not so fun) things we do each day. There is no more “Daddy we wish you could have been there,” because he is there.
McKinney Falls State Park was busy, but that is probably because it feels secluded, yet is actually close to Austin. Located on the Onion Creek, McKinney Falls State Park has an upper and lower falls both of which have great swimming holes. It was too cold for us to swim when we visited though due to a ‘Norther’ (chilly air blowing down from Canada). We did get to do some fishing, but the only thing caught was a turtle that wasn’t even hauled out of the water. The fish we could see were large though and I would recommend bringing your fishing pole if you visit the state park. The campground was in the forest and quiet with a small amount of city noise in the distance, but when we went to visit the capital it only took twenty minutes to get downtown!
Padre Island National Seashore is 60 miles of beach on one side and bay on the other. It is located in the Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Brownsville in south Texas. There are many amazing things about this beautiful place, and I am grateful that we got to experience some of them. We originally intended to stay at the Malaquite campground inside the park, however, things do not always go as planned, and we have learned to be flexible with our plans as they often change on the spur of the moment. The campground was complete,y full when we arrived, so we studied the map for a few minutes, drove to the other campground on the bay side, and hen decided we would take the trailer right down to the beach. There are no amenities when camping on the beach, but the view is amazing and the price is reasonable (free!). It is possible to drive the entire length of the beach, but 4 wheel drive is recommended after the 5 mile marker, so we only took the trailer down about a mile or two. We found a great spot, backed in, and set up camp. I can’t think of anything better than camping on the beach in a national park in January. It was awesome.
No trip to San Antonio would be complete without seeing the River Walk and the Alamo. Although we had already visited both when we lived here before, we still wanted to take the kids to see them. Since it was December, the River Walk was decked out for Christmas and the kids loved seeing the festival of lights. We decided to spend more than we normally do since our vacation came in way under budget, so we paid to take a ferry on the river. Though the pictures didn’t come out too good because of the poor lighting we really enjoyed the half an hour tour on the river. It was neat to get little tid-bits of information about all the buildings surrounding the River Walk. Across the street at the Alamo the kids loved learning about the history of the state. We went into the church and had a look around, but they don’t allow pictures to be taken of the interior. In the gift shop at the Alamo there is a huge diorama of the battle that took place showing all the soldiers that is quite impressive. It is tricky to find cheap parking to get to the Alamo and River Walk, but it is worth it and I recommend if you visit San Antonio taking the time to check it out.
Texas is big. I mean really big. So it is only fitting that it’s national park has big right in the name. We headed south to Big Ben after spending a few days in the Guadalupe Mountains. We took our time getting down to the park. We spent a couple of nights in Van Horn, and a night in Alpine before finally reaching our destination. It had been pretty cold in the northern part of the state and didn’t warm up much until we got down to the border. We stayed in a campground that was literally on the border, it was a really nice campground. It was so big! There were about 100 sites, but no RV hookups. It did have a place to get water and a dump station though so we were happy. The weather was great when we arrived and we could finally take off the coats and hats.