Into the West, and through the Lone Star State

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Editor’s note: Herald reporter Jen Cowart is traveling across the country with her family over the next several weeks. This is the third installment in a series documenting the journey.

Our first week of our trip was chock-full of family, friends and sightseeing, intermixed with days of driving. By the start of week two, we were looking forward to our Louisiana stop.

The Lakeside RV Resort in Livingston, La., boasted something we were excited about – a pool. The pictures looked good, and we couldn’t wait to stop there for a couple of days and regroup a bit before our next sightseeing stops.

To get from South Carolina to Louisiana, we had to drive through Georgia and stay overnight one night in Montgomery, Ala. Originally our plan was to actually stay two nights in Montgomery, given that it housed a great deal of civil rights history, but the extended forecast called for more rain, so we opted to shorten our stay there to just overnight, and head on out to Louisiana.

We didn’t even unhook our truck when we got to the Woods RV Park. We shopped for our dinner needs at a local Winn Dixie supermarket first, and ate in that night. The Woods was much more expensive than we’d originally thought it would be because it was the tail end of the holiday weekend, and it was old and run-down, but the WiFi there was stellar, and to me, as someone working from the road, it was well worth the extra money we spent. We weren’t there for the accommodations.

We’d be staying in that night and pulling out the next day. I was able to send in all of my week’s stories several days prior to my deadline, and when we got through Alabama and Mississippi to the Lakeside RV Resort in Louisiana, I was thankful I had done so. The “free WiFi” there was atrocious, complicated to access using a set of only two coupons and codes between the five of us, and it was spotty, to say the least.

Thankfully, we weren’t there for the WiFi, and everything else was fabulous, including the weather. We were right off a main road, so the nights were louder than we were used to so far, but the rest of the resort made up for it. The place was beautifully situated on a gorgeous lake, and you could fish there if you were prepared to do so, which we were not, but we enjoyed waking up to that peaceful scenery each morning and exploring the grounds. There was a large pool that had to run close to 90 degrees, and we spent much of our time in it when we weren’t doing laundry or showering in their phenomenal facilities. The resort was very well maintained and everything was top-notch, outside of the WiFi issues. We even utilized their game room on our second night there, playing the free air hockey and ping-pong for a good hour or so. There was a lounge as well, and if we were staying there an extended amount of time, the comfortable atmosphere in there would’ve been nice and relaxing as well. The more stops we made, the more experienced we were getting, and the higher our standards and expectations were getting as well. We’d moved from state park to RV park to RV resort, and we were liking the amenities at these resorts. We were getting slightly spoiled.

After a rejuvenating couple of days in Louisiana, we pulled out on the morning of July 8 and headed for Texas. Our ultimate goal was San Antonio, but we wouldn’t get there in one day’s time, so we were going to go as far as just past Houston and then stop and continue on the rest of the way the following day. We were fascinated by the scenery as we drove through the rest of Louisiana, over miles of bridges, through the bayou, and beyond. It was completely thrilling to pass over the Mississippi River and officially be in the western part of the country.

We hit Texas mid-afternoon, stopped at a fabulous rest stop there, and spoke to some of the locals working the desk inside. The facility had amazing surroundings and walkways out into the wooded area, but it was complete with a “Watch for Snakes” sign, which was a little unnerving. We took a really quick photo in the grassy area near the “Welcome to Texas,” sign since everyone was now afraid of snakes in the grass, and ate a fast lunch from the camper before heading back out onto the road. By 4:30 p.m., we were in heavy Houston traffic. With five lanes across the highway and towing a camper through, it was tricky, to put it mildly.

As time went by, it became apparent that our planned stop at an RV park an hour beyond Houston was not going to happen, at least not at a decent hour, and we were getting weary. Plan A had been to make it to San Antonio in one day. Plan B was the RV park outside Houston if we didn’t make it in one day, but we were now on to Plan C – finding a place to stay in Houston, if we could get out of the traffic we were in, as we’d now been in the car almost 10 hours. From the road, with one cell phone on GPS to get through traffic, one finding another campground, and one finding the closest Walmart to that campground in order to pick up the supplies we needed both for dinner and to replace a hose that had come loose on the camper, we finally made it to Westlake RV Resort in Houston, and even though it was after hours, we were able to reach someone who could get us registered and into the resort.

We were tired, a little flustered from the stress and uncertainty of navigating our newest surroundings and not knowing if we had a place to stay, but overall, no worse for the wear. The frog was still alive and kicking after 10 hours in the camper. The dog was a bit agitated after 10 hours in the car. The kids were incredibly patient and quiet in the car throughout it all, and soon we were in and settled, starting a quick dinner of tacos and quesadillas. It’s times like that when I’m so thankful we’re in a camper, because other than picking up last minute re-stocking items, we have everything with us and ready to go, and it allows us to be settled in almost instantly.

We took stock of our surroundings as we got situated. This was a gated resort, and although you’d have no idea looking at it from the entrance, it was beautiful once you were inside. Like Lakeside RV Resort in Louisiana, it was situated around a lake, and dozens of palm trees adorned the perimeter. It had a gorgeous pool area, complete with a hot tub. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we toured the pool area just before it closed. It was now close to 9 p.m., but I let the kids jump into the pool with all their clothes on and swim for 10 minutes before closing time. They’d definitely earned that much. The WiFi was excellent, and there was also an exercise room nearby, several grilling areas set up around the lake, a computer room, lounge, and there were excellent laundry and bathroom facilities.

Overall, we were relieved and quite pleased with our last minute stay at Westlake, giving it our first five-star rating on the trip so far. We were disappointed that we were only there overnight, and we vowed to wake up early enough to swim in daylight, in bathing suits, before heading on to San Antonio Thursday for a trip to the Alamo and the famous San Antonio River Walk.

The ride from Westlake RV Resort through to San Antonio was distinctly different than the one through Houston. The ride was peaceful, with wide-open farmland and greenery as far as the eye could see. There were windmills spinning and there were plenty of cows and horses to be seen as we passed by. We left after rush hour, versus the previous night when we’d arrived in the height of it, so there was no traffic and the ride was an easy, enjoyable one.

We arrived at our RV resort, Braunig Lake RV Resort, 15 minutes outside of San Antonio in Corpus Christi, and although we hardly spent any time at the site itself, it seemed sufficient enough. It was large and had a pool, among other amenities. We were given a WiFi code, but it didn’t seem to work for any of us the brief time we tried to use it. Our main focus, though, was not at the resort, but in San Antonio, and we couldn’t wait to get there. We had come to see The Alamo and to walk and eat at the famed River Walk. When we first started planning our route, we asked the kids where they’d most like us to try to stop on our trip if we could, and The Alamo was top on Alex’s list. She’d had a passion for all things Texas for a few years, and couldn’t wait to see it in person. The River Walk had been a favorite stop on Don’s post-college cross-country trip 24 years before, and he couldn’t wait to go back.

We arrived in the center of San Antonio at about 4 p.m. and began with The Alamo, since we knew it would be closing at 7 p.m. and that the River Walk would be open indefinitely. We’d planned to have our dinner out that night, eating at one of the many restaurant options along the River Walk. Although we often ate our meals in on this trip, there were several times we specifically wanted to eat out, experiencing the cuisine and ambiance of the surrounding area, and this was definitely one of them.

The Alamo was just as everyone had said – a tiny building compared to all the surrounding buildings on the block that had been put up around it – but it was beautiful and historic, and we were very excited to have finally gotten to this destination. We could not take pictures inside, but we did take a ton outside. We toured the building itself, the museum and the garden and grounds. All were so beautiful and it was amazing to see a part of history in person that we’d learned about in school.

The River Walk was also a fabulous experience, and a beautiful one at that. We had such a fun evening walking from one end to another, looking at all the people, restaurants, musicians, the flowers and plants, and deciding where to eat. We spent a good hour walking first and then another hour eating. We opted to eat at the Rainforest Café because it had good options for us on the menu and it was a place the kids had heard a lot about, yet only one was old enough to remember eating there in Disney years and years ago. It too was a fun experience, and we were glad we had eaten there. We headed out around 9 p.m. and back to the RV resort for a quick swim before the pool closed at 11 p.m.

By the next morning we were on our way out of town again. This time we were heading toward El Paso, our third day in a row traveling through the state of Texas. For months, we’d been telling our kids how big some of these states would prove to be, namely Texas, and how different it would be from driving through Rhode Island in an hour; how lucky they are to live in a small state and have easy access every part of it whenever they chose to. Our time in Texas illustrated these facts to them, and the ride from Corpus Christi toward El Paso was a quiet one. Everyone read almost the entire time, pouring through the dozens of books they’d picked up at the library the day we left Cranston. The scenery was wide open again, but this time it was dry and mountainous. There was not much to see, but the awe of the openness and the unique terrain did not escape us. It was fascinating to just see miles and miles of wide-open land. It made me wonder where all the people were, as we went for miles not seeing a soul or a place to stop, rest stops being 80 and 90 miles apart at times. We drove that day from 11 in the morning until 7 at night, alternating from fascination to boredom as we watched the windmills spin and oil rigs go up and down while we drove along.

We made the decision to stop overnight in a tiny town called Van Horn, still more than an hour away from El Paso. It was very close to the time zone border, and as we ate dinner at the restaurant next door at 9:30 that night, it was only just getting dark outside. We had a fabulous dinner, got to bed at a decent hour, and at 9 a.m. we were again pulling out of Texas, hopefully for good this time. We hoped to finish our journey through Texas, cover all of New Mexico and stay overnight that night, July 11, in Benson, Ariz.

The ride through New Mexico was gorgeous. It was sunny and clear, and the mountainous scenery was just beautiful. It too, was wide open and expansive, but yet very different-looking than the mountainous parts of Texas had been. The ride was easy and enjoyable, and everyone was in great spirits, especially considering how much driving we’d been doing recently.

That night would mark two weeks of our trip down, and we were excited for the days ahead, but after having driven so far in such a short time, we were also looking forward to a couple of days’ break from driving. We’d stay in Benson for two days, swimming, catching up on laundry and exploring the local attractions, before moving on to the Scottsdale area to visit with friends, and then on to Williams for the Grand Canyon, as we headed into Week Three of our cross country adventure.

For more information about our #crosscountryadventure2015, head over to my blog: www.thewholebagofchips.com.

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