Nov 16th – 30th 2018: IN, MO, OK, & Canyon, TX
We left Shipshewana in the afternoon of yet another grey wintery day. The cats had done great all morning, hanging out in their crates in the back seat of the truck while we were waiting for the trailer to be fixed. After a quick lunch break in a local parking lot – meanwhile letting them roam about the rig to stretch their legs a bit – we headed out. Unfortunately, the late start made them stress out more than usual. As we drove towards Indianapolis, it didn’t take long to decide that we’d all be happier if we stopped earlier than originally planned.
We located our next Harvest Host on the fly – a small farm about an hour north of the city. Heritage Farm Suri Alpacas was off the beaten path, but well worth the diversion. Although the owners weren’t available that evening, the next morning before we left, we met them briefly and were able to take a short walk around the grounds.
Then it was onward towards St Louis! A full day’s drive, which for us, meant about 4 or 5 hours. Somehow it always took longer than the GPS told us… often due to the occasional “crate incident”- which meant stopping at all kinds of inopportune places for roadside clean-ups. As adult cats, both around 8-10 years old, neither of them was keen on the idea of using the litterbox on command before leaving. I’d done some research in advance, and found that travel trailers & 5th wheels are not safe for pets to ride in. There is a danger of falling and shifting objects, as it’s a very bouncy ride – which would be unsettling for them to say the least. Also, when in motion all power is shut off, which translates to no temperature controls. It can get super-hot or super-cold in there – neither being acceptable for traveling pets.
In the beginning we tried stopping in response to their insistent complaints, but once they were back inside the trailer, they were always too distracted. Instead of using the litterbox, they would ramble about exploring, or sit at my feet expectantly. It was rapidly becoming the wrong sort of game…. “If we meow incessantly – maybe they’ll stop and take us out!” We quickly realized that crate liners made of diaper material would have to be the solution for days on the road. Thankfully, Nugget’s car-sickness medicine was working, providing he took it with ample time before we got on the road each day.
Just before sunset we got to a Harvest Host on the southwest side of St Louis. This time it was a brewery – which David was very excited about. Point Labaddie Brewery is nestled in the hill country, surrounded by a beautiful forest made up of Burr Oak. It was a quiet night, in a very peaceful spot. David stayed up late and had a wonderful time talking with the staff over a small bonfire. It sounds like it’s really a happening place in the summertime! Great music and excellent beer!
One of things we learned early on was that Murphy’s Law applied to RV living too. If the propane was going to run out, it would always be in the middle of the night. We’d wake up freezing, teeth chattering, and noses cold, with the cats snuggling up for warmth – to find that the furnace wasn’t working at 2am. It was relatively easy to remedy, just uncomfortable, because it meant going outside to switch propane tanks. Not exactly fun on a frigid night! Just one of many things to get used to in this new way of living.
We spent the next couple nights outside of Joplin, MO, in a regular RV campground “The Big Red Barn” so we could catch up on laundry and have hook-ups /full service for a bit before moving on. One thing we were learning was that recycling laws were vastly different from state to state. In VT, we were used to recycling nearly everything – and it being a mandatory thing. It was shocking to find that other states didn’t seem to be set up for that at all. We felt dismayed to learn that vast portions of the country seem to be paying little to no attention to this simple aspect of preserving our environment. It seemed sacrilegious to be forced to throw everything in the trash simply because most places provided no alternatives.
On our way once more, we decided to invest in a small generator which we picked up in Tulsa, OK. Then we made it to Arcadia Lake Park, outside of Oklahoma City for a lovely evening camping near some small man-made lakes. We had our first campfire of the trip here – which cheered us, as it felt more like old times for us. Maybe we could find a new normal…
The following day, we made it through the rest of Oklahoma, and their crazy toll roads – wow what a mess! It’s like they were all done as an afterthought, because the highway continued straight through, but the booths were built off to the side. So, if you didn’t have a pass, you had to detour into a side nook, pay the toll, and then get back on. Most of the toll booths had no attendants, and took coins only – but they were for significant amounts – so, after only two or three booths we were out of change. Getting off the tollway was also complicated. Since you’d already been forced to pay for multiple miles’ worth in advance, you were supposed to save your receipt and present it an official exit tollbooth for a refund. I can’t imagine living there and having to do that rigamarole all of the time!
Finally, we landed in the TX panhandle the day before Thanksgiving just in time to hunker down for the holiday. We went directly out to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, in hopes of finding a spot in one of their campgrounds. When we got to the gate the rangers turned us away – despite their websites saying first come serve, we discovered that now you MUST make reservations everywhere in the TX State Park system. Supposedly it was all full up. Turns out spending Thanksgiving at the Canyon is a popular thing to do in Texas!
We wound up staying right outside the park, on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon at a zip line establishment that had a very plain, and tad-bit run-down campground out back. There were a few other campers there off and on, but we mostly had the place to ourselves – sharing it with a herd of deer that frequented the grounds daily. After dropping off the rig and settling the cats, we drove back into town to gather up ingredients for a proper Thanksgiving feast. It only seemed right to treat ourselves, and enjoy our nice new kitchen. Surprisingly, there were small piles of snow in the parking lots from a recent winter storm – it seemed weird to us, this far south and so early in the season. We had figured it might be shorts weather in this region, compared to where we’d come from.
“Town” was Canyon, TX – which is about a half hour south of Amarillo. It had been on my bucket list to go there, as Georgia O’Keeffe had lived and taught in the area in her 20’s. Apparently, it was a very formative place in her love for canyon country. Now I can see why! It turns out Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the US. Not nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, but it is wide and long. Spectacular colors, glorious skies, and amazing views!! Oh – and there are crazy-assed winds here too. Gusting to 50 mph on occasion, which is certainly unsettling in a trailer perched at the top, on the wide-open plains! There were quite a few nights we lay awake listening to it howl and feeling the trailer shake mercilessly.
This was our first full week staying in one place – actually 9 days in total. After the Thanksgiving break, David was officially back on the clock working full time again. It was a bit of a challenge navigating the wireless plans – with David on Verizon and my phone still with AT&T – hedging our bets on service areas between the two companies. The biggest problem turned out to be the throttling of speeds – something that took multiple visits to Verizon stores in several states to sort out. Other than that, things seemed to be going well.
It felt good to not be moving around every day, and to have some time to explore the area a little. However, one unanticipated effect, for me at least, was that it gave me time to think, and begin processing things. Suddenly I was having “out of the blue” moments of feeling unsettled and a bit anxious. What on earth were we doing? How did we get here?! How long would our lives look like this?! Were we doing the right thing?! Staying busy would keep these transitional feelings at bay.
It was also stressful to constantly be on the lookout for where we might land next. Fun mostly, but challenging too. Even when we lived in the trailer on our property all summer, there was a sense of solidity and a local framework that was known and stable. This “life on the move” had me realizing how much we all take for granted living in a house…
We did the obligatory trip into Amarillo several times for errands and such, as well as grabbing dinner one night at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. It was pretty good, but in all honesty – there was a lot of quirky hoopla, along with some freaky exhibits to gander at on your way to the restrooms. (Such as: a coin-operated electric chair diorama, skeletons at the bar, and a wall of creepy old photos that morphed from normal to ghastly.) It really was more about the fun experience than the food. We were disappointed to find that although the steaks were good, they were nothing special after all. Naturally, we’d had certain fantasies they’d be like the awesome grass-fed steaks you could find in VT!
An absolute MUST SEE in this area was the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum at West Texas A&M in Canyon. It’s probably one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. We went one afternoon after David got out of work, and only had time for a couple hours there. It was so fascinating and covered so many subjects – mining, geology, paleontology, Native American history, early pioneer history, antique cars, and even a large art gallery upstairs — that although we were thoroughly exhausted, we were sincerely disappointed when they kicked us out at closing time. It’s definitely on our list of places to go back to!
We tried to do a little hiking in Palo Duro Canyon over the Thanksgiving weekend, but even on the flats along the river we got spanked right out of the gate. It was our first attempt at hiking, and I couldn’t get very far without a high heart rate, and ensuing exhaustion. BUT – I was soooooo happy to even be there!! We both felt better than we did in VT, so that was progress. And realistically? Who wouldn’t be exhausted after all we’d done and been through in the past few months, not to mention, the last two years?! It’s going to take time to regain our health, despite the knee-jerk reaction to hope for instant miracles!