November 23 – December 1
Well, we did it. After spending much of last winter, some of the spring, all of the summer, and most of the fall in the northeast, we finally made it back west. It feels great to once again be enjoying the dry air, clear skies, and wide-open spaces!
But before we totally immerse ourselves in an overload of cactus love (it’s a real thing), let’s back up a few states to Louisiana where we spent the week of Thanksgiving at a nearly empty state park just south of Shreveport.
In anticipation of arriving on a Saturday, and after our experience with a nearly full campground the weekend prior, I made a reservation at Lake Bistineau State Park just to be on the safe side. It was totally unnecessary. The campground was practically deserted during our four-day stay.
With it being a holiday weekend I expected the park to be overrun with families spending their school vacation enjoying nature. But no, aside from the leaf-blower obsessed camp host (those things should be banned forever) there were only a few other campers that trickled in and out throughout the week. One possible reason for the lack of visitors at Lake Bistineau could be because the “lake” is not very lake-like at this time of year.
The short story is that this man-made lake was once a river. Many years ago the river was dammed and the surrounding area flooded to make a recreation area (much to the dismay of the people who farmed and lived along the river bank). At some point, an invasive weed began thriving in the lake and in an effort to kill the intruder, it was decided to draw down the lake water starting in the late summer. The drawdown starts in August and basically takes the lake back to its pre-dammed state. So for part of the year, it’s a lake, and for the other half, it’s a river.
I have no idea if this plan is working, but they’ve been doing it for 10 years which means either it’s a slow process, or those weeds are really tough and this will be the way of the lake for the foreseeable future. Either way, if you visit in the late summer or fall, don’t expect to find any lakefront campsites.
After a few days of relative peace (excluding the daily dose of leaf-blowing racket) we moved north to Shreveport to our pre-Thanksgiving day feast location.
This is the second year in a row that we have been on our own for the holiday. While I wasn’t craving a family celebration this year (sorry family, but we did see a LOT of you all this year), I also didn’t want to totally miss out on the best eating day of the year. After weighing our options and realizing that we would not be in an area known for fine dining, we decided to embrace the local scene and go all out with a buffet feast at one of the Shreveport casinos.
My first inclination is to be diplomatic about the experience because I know everyone has different standards for what makes food good, but there is no nice way to say this. It was bad. It was cafeteria food, slop on a plate, straight from the can, re-heated in the microwave bad. I could go on about the mushy stuffing, wilted salad, stale rolls, and sickly sweet pie, but instead, I’ll just say that next year, we are making our own Thanksgiving day feast.
After the thoroughly disappointing meal, we jumped in the truck and drove west. Traveling on Thanksgiving in the middle of the day is actually really great because most people are at home eating instead of out driving. We drove through Dallas around 4 pm and there was zero traffic!
Our two goals for the day were to make it past Dallas and to find a non-store parking lot to stay in for the night. With the craziness of Black Friday and the day before Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), there was no way we were going to stay at a Walmart. Both goals were easily met, and around 5 pm just as the fog and drizzle started rolling in, we stopped at a rest area near Ranger, TX.
The on and off drizzle during the night turned to steady rain in the morning so we slept in and then lazed around until 11 when it stopped. The late start meant we would not make it out of Texas that day, so instead of pushing it, we drove only as far as the Monahans Sandhills SP. This is the same park we stayed in last year on our way east. This means that it took us seven months to complete a large circular loop from Texas to Vermont and back to Texas.
Another day of driving and we made it out of Texas. Again, we knew we couldn’t make it all the way to Arizona in one day, so instead of killing ourselves with constant driving, we stopped in El Paso for an extended lunch break at Grimaldi’s. This is another place we have stopped before and while I was a bit nervous about finding parking on this busy shopping weekend, it was early enough in the day that we didn’t have any issues. We generally try not to eat out while in travel mode because it tends to become an excuse to eat unhealthy food, but after the disastrous Thanksgiving meal, we felt that we deserved some tasty food. Grimaldi’s pizza never disappoints.
After killing some time wandering around the stores and finding nothing we needed or couldn’t live without, we jumped back on I-10 and drove into New Mexico. A few hours later we got off in Deming with the intention of doing a drive-by of the Walmart parking lot. We’ve stayed here before and it’s always busy so we figured if it was too crazy we would continue another 30 minutes or so to the rest area. The Walmart parking lot was indeed a zoo, but right next door is a large parking lot and empty storefront with the remnants of a faded Big K sign. There was another RV parked already so we figured it was worth a shot.
An hour later, three more RVs and semi-truck had joined us. We also had a drive-by from a local cop who didn’t bother any of us. By morning, the count was up to 10 semis and five RVs. I think they need a truck stop around here. We pulled out of Deming bright and early after defrosting our windshield (why so cold New Mexico?) and drove into Arizona. Let the winter desert season begin!