With two weeks of van living left, we were excited to check off the harder to reach destination sites of Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument, both in New Mexico. Unfortunately, traveling life, much like regular life, sometimes doesn’t happen the way we intend.
Prior to our arrival in New Mexico, I was ridiculously unaware that Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas receive snow. I mean, call me silly but with all of those cacti, desert landscapes and retirees, I’d just assumed that sunshine abounded 365 days a year. When a nasty winter storm swept across the southwest, we had to abandon our cavern and dune visiting plans, and stay in a Las Cruces, NM hotel for three days. While Las Crusces is a fine town to pass through, at this point in our trip, we were ready to move on to the next segment. The charming features of life on the road were wearing off, and the idea of sitting inside our van in freezing weather wasn’t appealing to either one of us. We spent our time in the hotel catching up with loved ones, utilizing all of the hotels water features, and viewing enough television to make your head spin.
When the worst of the weather finally moved out, we headed off towards Marfa, Texas. Our final destination before we dropped the van off in Austin, was to be El Cosmico; a camping compound that promised freedom from your everyday world. As we got closer, our expectations rose, and we were so excited to meet like-minded people in the middle of western Texas. As we pulled into town, our diesel tank 1/2 full, we noticed there were no gas pumps; they were either completely removed or had bags over them, and everything looked totally deserted. We knew this was a small, quirky town full of art installations, but surely people here still needed gasoline… right? We continued the final few miles and parked. As we entered the community building to check in, we felt a weird vibe in the air; sure enough, we weren’t arriving on just any day.
It turns out, the bad weather continued to follow us, and an ice storm had snapped the town’s main power line the previous evening. All buildings were either closed, or were running a generator for a few hours at a time. Luckily, we had propane heat in our van, so we were still able to spend a few nights there, but the galleries we were excited to see were closed as a result. After a short mourning period, we pulled out our maps, and decided to fill the next day with a self guided tour of Fort Davis. An incredibly well-preserved example of a frontier military post, we were able to view living and working quarters of the soldiers and families that had called that base home.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the fort took on a vibe that was creepy enough to get us stepping a bit quicker. After we stumbled upon yet another sign warning us of Cougars in the area, and this gigantic grasshopper hopped across our feet, we decided it was time to hit the road. While we didn’t get to enjoy the things we thought we would in Marfa, it was still fascinating to meet residents of the town, and to converse with a few of the guests who decided to remain at El Cosmico during the less than stellar weather.
Following our cold and quiet days in Marfa, we were even more pumped to discover the great music and food that lives in Austin. Our first stop was for some of that famous Texan BBQ at The Salt Lick, labeled a “must taste” by NYTs 36 Hours book. We splurged on an obscene amount of their menu offerings, and after we were full to the brim, it was off to our buddy’s house for our final two night destination: her driveway.
We spent the next few days meeting friends of hers, celebrating Thanksgiving, seeing the sights, and enjoying those marvelous food trucks. One of our favorite moments was making breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. We headed to the Lady Bird Lake hiking path, but before getting out to explore, sipped our final cups of van coffee while reminiscing about all of the places we’d explored over the last two months. Time flies when you’re adventuring, and it was with mixed emotions that we dropped the van off and completed our final walk through. Our sadness that the road trip section was over, was quickly replaced by the heartwarming knowledge that we were on our way towards five weeks with family. As Austin grew smaller in the rearview, the comforts of home grew closer and closer; we were officially Queen City bound!