Cross-Country Trip: Cleveland to Los Angeles and Back: Part 3

(This is the final installment of a three-part series. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2)

Leg #3 of Cross-Country Trip, March 26 – April 8, 2019

Tuesday, March 26 – Monday, April 1, 2019:  Family time for big birthdays

We enjoy Santa Monica, with walks to the beach, and the Third Street Pier with the two grandkids: ages 4 and almost 2. We meet the rest of the family in Ojai, about one hour northwest of LA, for a few days to celebrate Mike and my 70th birthdays.  At dinner one night, at a table near ours, we spot Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, with their supermodel girlfriends.  Later that night, at the bar in our hotel, our sons see Jon Batiste, the bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  We love the town of Ojai and the hills around it. One morning we hike, and another we bike, almost to Ventura.  On Sunday, after stocking up at the Farmers Market and the organic grocery store, Rainbow Bridge, we drive back to Santa Monica for a night, where we park in front of the Viceroy Hotel, where we stay for one night. Walking to the beach, we are amazed at the athletic performances at Muscle Beach – tight rope walking, human pyramids, and bar and ring gymnastics, all seemingly executed by local amateurs.  On Monday, April 1, we walk Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and at lunch, our daughter-in-laws spot Andrew Lincoln, the star of The Walking Dead.  After everyone departs, we drive east to  Saguaro National Park, leaving the glitz of Los Angeles behind to return to our national park exploration and our journey home.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019:  Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Mid morning, west of Tucson, we arrive at the Western section of Saguaro National Park just in time for a ranger talk on the flora and fauna of the park.  We learn about the leggy ocotillo (small torch) cactus, which are in bloom with their red flame blossoms on the ends of their long, thin stalks; fish hook barrel cactus; creosote trees; palo verde trees sheltering young saguaros; and, of course, the amazing saguaro cactus, in all phases of its sometimes two hundred year life.  We hike Sendero Esperanzo, four miles out and back, up to the ridge, where the wildflowers are in bloom, including the small barrel cactus with neon pink blooms.  On the way out of the park, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake crosses the road in front of us. We decide not to stop at the eastern section of Saguaro, which the ranger had told us is a beautiful drive through.  At Whole Foods in Tucson, we restock our refrigerator with deli soups, salad fixings, good bread, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, tuna salad and kombucha. Part of being able to travel like we do, is eating simply and healthily. We drive to within 60 miles of the New Mexico border.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019: Big Bend or Guadalupe Mountain National Park?

When we cross into New Mexico, we stop at the Visitor Information Center, where we pick up maps and talk to the helpful agent. As we enter each state and stop at the Visitor Information Centers, we feel like we’ve met at least one local person, who shares his or her love of what is unique about his or her state. For lunch, we stop at Mesilla, the old town south of Las Cruces and enjoy authentic Mexican food at Challa’s, recommended at a local art store.  At the Texas border, we again stop at the Visitor Information Center.  With the two agents there, we discuss driving down south to Big Bend National Park, versus heading up north to Guadalupe Mountain National Park.  At El Paso, we decide we don’t have time to go to Big Bend and enjoy it at the same time, so we keep heading west and north. Just before sunset, we get to the remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park at the Texas/New Mexico border.  We pull into the Pine Springs Campground, park, and pay the registration fee at the off-hour booth. We take a short walk up the steep switchbacks that form the start of the Guadalupe Peak trail, leading to Texas’s highest peak, at 8,749 feet.  The mountains at dusk are lovely. After a late dinner in the camper, we hear a knock on the door. A ranger tells us we couldn’t stay there for the night, since we are not in a spot designated for camping. We had not noticed the difference between parking and camping sites.  Camping spots, he says, are now all filled, so we must go up the road and search for another site. Instead, Mike asks other campers if we can share their spot and a couple from Clemson invites us to share theirs.

 

Thursday, April 4, 2019:  Guadalupe Mountain National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park

At 8:15AM, we are at the Visitor Center, but learn that, since it is on Mountain Time, it is only 7:15AM. Another guy, who had the same time mix up, told Mike that he had come from Big Bend and it was too hot and he could not find a camping spot.  Back in the camper, we have pour-over coffee and yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits. I wonder how anyone without a camper visits these remote parks, since there are no hotels, campgrounds or restaurants near by. An hour later, after talking to a ranger, we drive about seven miles to McKittrick Canyon, a green, wooded oasis, with the only stream in this high desert mountain area.  We hike the McKittrick Canyon Trail to Pratt Cabin about five miles in and out. The cabin, built with local stone in the 1930’s, seems in good shape and we enjoy the rocking chairs on the front porch overlooking the creek.  

 

In the afternoon, we drive north about 30 miles just over the New Mexico border to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We walk down about 800 feet and around the Big Room (the seventh largest cave chamber in the world) and are awed at the size, the amazing structures (e.g., Totem Pole, Witch’s Finger, Giant Dome) and the mystery of it all.  

Back in west Texas, we are amazed by the miles of flat, scrubby oil fields, with many natural gas flares and “man camps” every 50 miles or so.  We stay at a rest area between Sheffield and Ozona.

Friday, April 5, 2019:  Across west Texas and Hill Country

We continue through west Texas, until we finally reach the green “Hill Country.” We stop for a break in Fredericksburg, but find it too touristy. In Houston, we spend the night with our son and daughter-in-law a few blocks from the Rice University campus.

 

Saturday, April 6, 2019:  Houston, Texas

After breakfast in Rice Village, we walk the Rice Campus and are thrilled to see a yellow crested night heron, our first, on our city walk.  In the afternoon, we go to a great yoga class at The Atrium Studio, a new studio near the Galleria. At about 3PM, we head north toward home, up Rt. 59 and stay the night near Texarkana in the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn.  

 

Sunday, April 7: Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Here is the chance to round up our National Parks visits this trip to 10:  Hot Springs National Park, is right on our way. We drive into this pretty little town, which is vibrant with spring green and red bud trees in bloom, but today is cold and rainy. We walk the Bathhouse Row and stop in the old Fordyce Bathhouse, which is now the park visitor center and museum.  On the recommendation of the clerk at the bookstore, we cross the street for hamburgers at BubbaLu’s Bodacious Burgers and Classy Dogs.  They are delicious.  The Peak Trail looks interesting for a hike, but it is still drizzling, so we decide to head out. We stop for the night at a rest stop near Nashville.  

Monday, April 8:  Arrive home

We take a break from driving to hike one of our favorite rails to trails paths, just off I-71, south of Mansfield, Ohio.  After leaving the snow and cold five weeks ago, we arrivee home to green grass and daffodils blooming.

 

This ends our report of our five-week cross-country drive in Escape.  We’ve had a great time: Two RV shows, 10 National Parks and two special family visits, in Ojai with everyone for our birthdays and in Houston with our oldest son and daughter-in-law.  We feel healthy and fit from lots of hiking and simple camper meals and more connected to this vast, diverse and fascinating country of ours. We are grateful for this opportunity to travel like this.  

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