Day 11 & 12: 01/06 & 01/07/2016 – Big Bend National Park, Chisos Basin

Destination: Big Bend National Park

Route: I-10W, US-385S

Mileage: 350


Flat and straight road to the horizon

Day 11 is truly a westward ho day! On the way to Big Bend National Park we end up over 250 miles west of our starting location. We have beautiful weather for traveling and lots of long, straight, Texas road. The road is good, except for a few unmarked ‘dips’ on US-385S that are reminiscent of a roller coaster.

On the way, we stop at the Wal-Mart in Fort Stockton for a resupply. Normally, this is not our first choice in shopping, but there are certain brands we know that we can get at a national chain. The Fort Stockton store has to be on of the saddest stores we have seen. A woman tried to sell us a puppy on the way into the store. Selections are limited and the beer is primarily two types, Bud and Bud Lite. We are thrilled to find Shiner Bock tucked away at the end of the refrigerated case. RV restocked, we turn south.

A bend in US-285S gives us a preview of the mountains we are heading towards.

We are camping in the Chisos Basin campground at Big Bend National Park. The basin is in the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the United States entirely within the confines of a national park. The mountains are significantly cooler and receive, on average, over twice the annual rainfall than surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. The flora and fauna found in the mountains were stranded when the great ice age ended and reflect a cooler, moister climate. An example of an animal unique to the Chisos is the Carmen Mountain white-tailed deer, which are not well adapted to deserts. The mountain lion (local name: panther) is also present in the mountains. The Chisos are the only nesting area for the Colima warbler, which winters in Mexico. The Arizona pine, Douglas fir, Arizona cypress, quaking aspen, and big-tooth maple are trees that are ice-age remnants.

Abby squeezed into spot 43.

Abby acquits herself well on the climb from the desert into the Chisos Mountains. As we descend into the basin to camp, we get to experience the switchbacks and the hills we will have to climb in a couple of days. It has been a long trip, and experience has caused us to have some paranoia regarding taxing Abby’s transmission. We arrive to find a full campground and are glad we have reservations. It is winter break for colleges and this is a popular destination for the young whippersnappers. We are a tight fit in site 43, but manage to snug our rig in.

With Alex tucked away into bed, we enjoy the night sky. Big Bend was named an international dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012. The park is also recognized as having the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states. What does this mean? Simply put, we have never seen so many stars. It was difficult to pick out Orion because it was easy to lose the constellation among the thousands of stars. We see the Milky Way, not as a band, but of light and dark blotches. It is truly breath-taking. We do not get any pictures that do the sky justice.

Our rig attracts the attention of a park ranger on our first night, but after hearing we are staying only two nights, he decides to move on. We feel relief that we don’t have to pack up and move at that very instant (10 pm).

Abby in our new site.

The next morning Dave chats with the campground host and finds out that site 35, the old host site is not occupied that night. To avoid attracting the attention of a less tolerant ranger, we pull the slide in and quickly hop campsites. This site much more spacious (we are able to use the our awning), but is first come, first serve site.

View of the 'Window' from the Chisos Basin loop trail.
View of the ‘Window’ from the Chisos Basin loop trail.

Chisos Basin continues to impress and we are very sorry to have only a full day here. There are great hiking trails and the park brochure provides excellent details regarding the difficulty of each trail. Due to time constraints, we only able to hike the Chisos Basin loop, with a slight detour on the Laguna Meadows trail. We will be more careful to read trail signs and consult with our trail map in the future.

Family photo with the 'Window' as our background.
Family photo with the ‘Window’ as our background.
Alex in his Osprey carrier.

This is also our first hike with Alex in the Osprey Poco Plus carrier and he loved it. The carrier positions Alex so he is able to see over his human pack mule’s head and he is more engaged with us and our surroundings. The pack mules found the pack to be comfortable, easy to adjust, and is easy to load and secure Alex.

BigBendAlexRockAlex had fun in the campground climbing on rocks and following a road runner as it made its way through the campground. The roadrunner wasn’t sure what to think of his human shadow. Alex also made friends with a group of young men. Friends from a Houston high school, they had all gone to different colleges and were spending the weekend camping together. They let Alex join them in there game of Frisbee and Alex proved adept at taking a the football hand-off and running with the ball.

We plan on coming back. Our future trip will be scheduled with a date range of late January to early March in mind. This time frame will bring warmer weather and the spring wildflowers. We are also planning to come back in Abby sans the cargo trailer. Shortened to 24 feet,we will have our pick of spots.

The sun sets on our second day at Big Bend
The sun sets on our second day at Big Bend


Day 9 & 10: 01/04 & 01/05/2016 – Kerrville, TX

Destination: Kerrville, TX

Route: I-30W, US-67S, TX-220, US-281S, US-84W, US-183S, TX-16S

Mileage: 296


What happened to Day 8? It was a rest day where we spent more time catching up with family.

The past few days have not detailed any huge amount of westward progress. We are further west than when were on Day 7, we have been putting on some extra miles ping ponging north and south of the ideal route.

What takes us to Kerrville? Family! Dave’s family is not just limited to the Dallas area, they are spread through the southwest.

The drive to Kerrville was uneventful. Upon arriving Dave’s cousins Jim and Donna graciously put us up in their casita. The dogs are thrilled to have a yard to run around in. We tuck the RV next to Jim and Donna’s garage and enjoy a delicious steak dinner and Alex eats his weight in asparagus.

The next day (Day 8) we tour the area with Jim and Donna. Texas hill country is beautiful and would be wonderful to visit in the February/March time frame in order to avoid the heat of summer. More laundry is done – sheets, towels and other bulkier items that is was too much of a hassle to take care of in Addison.

Alex got to see his very first horse and pony up close and personal. Jim and Donna’s granddaughter was kind enough to let Alex visit her equine friends. Alex seems to enjoy the horses, despite consistently mooing at them. We need to work on the many types of animal other than cow. Alex also delighted in seeing blackbuck antelope. There was a herd near the horse barn and as they bounded away, Alex laughed and laughed. If he hadn’t been strapped into his wagon, he would have tried to run after them.

Dinner is at Rails Cafe in Kerrville; and their Italian style food is done very well. We enjoy creamy penne with chicken and artichoke chicken alfredo. Alex works the room, charming the next table over with waves and blown kisses. Dinner has to end sooner than anyone would like because of a certain toddler’s bedtime, combined with a long day at the wheel of the RV.


Day 7: 01/02/2016 -Addison, TX

Destination: Addison, TX

Route: US-190E, FM-356N, TX-19N, US-287N, US-175W, I-635N

Mileage: 213


We are off to see more family! Dave has many cousins in the area of Addison, TX so this trip is the perfect opportunity to stop by and say hi. We haven’t seen them since Alex was 6 months old, and he is almost 19 months now.

We opt to take the scenic route on this leg on the advice of Dave’s cousin Jodi. She warned us the drivers on I-35 can be very aggressive and since we cannot travel near the speed limit, it is best to take the roads less traveled. During this leg, the rigidity of our schedule is exposed. We passed an interesting looking petting zoo and thought about stopping for Alex. Since we have make time and have a fixed deadline for arriving in California, we can’t take the fun diversions.

AbbyCourtyardMarriottWe stop at the Courtyard Marriott on Proton Drive. We have stayed here before as hotel guests due to the great location – a few blocks away from family, next to a green space park, and a large, empty parking lot (this was less important when we flew into Dallas). We debate on just parking the RV and waiting for someone to say something, or asking. We opt to ask. Dave goes in and a few minutes later comes out – we are okay to stay! Perhaps it really isn’t guerrilla camping if you ask, but better than a knock on the door after Alex is asleep.

We fill up our water tank, do some laundry, and enjoy some pizza with family before settling in for the night. Even the dogs had some fun at the fenced, off-leash dog park that is part of the green space next to the hotel. All creatures are happy!

Day 6: 01/01/2016 – Lake Livingston, TX

Destination: Lake Livingston, TX

Route: I-10W, US-287N/US69-N, FM-1293W, TX-146N, US-190W

Mileage: 219

New state: Texas



We are back on I-10W in Louisiana! The road improves slightly west of Lafayette as the ground it is built on turns from swamp to real land. We are initially concerned after crossing into Texas because the first 5 or so miles are rough due to construction. The construction ends and the road is concrete and as smooth as glass. A true joy to travel on. Thank you Texas, thank you.

The speed limits in Texas, even on the county/farm roads, are 70 mph as a minimum. We can only dream of obtaining these speeds in Abby without the trailer; with the trailer the speed limit is truly out of reach. We push on and pull on to the shoulder to let cars pass as needed. We are quickly learning that on beautifully straight roads, good sight lines, passing zone, and no one coming, Texans are highly reluctant to pass. Perhaps they would prefer and element of danger, but it becomes annoying very quickly moving over every time a car is on our tail when we are in a perfectly viable passing zone.

We arrive at Dave’s cousin’s family’s lake house (how is that for a string of possessives?), park the RV at the top of the hill, and settle in for an evening of drinks and laughs with family. The drinks are strong and everyone is having a great time, even the dogs who get to participate in some off leash frolicking. Someone happens to mention the model train set and that is okay to try and run it. Thanks to the liquid confidence, Jess decides to try. There is some success! Two trains get moving and Alex provides supplemental sound effects with ‘too too’.

Dave with his vodka cranberry by the lake.
Jess and Alex running the train set.








Just before Alex’s bedtime, we realize his portable crib is still at the RV, and the hill is awful steep. Lake house gator to the rescue! We drive to the RV, collect Alex’s bedtime gear, manage to misplace his pajamas along the way, and return to the house to tuck a little boy in. A few more hours of relaxing, then we get to carry Alex (Jess) and his crib (Dave) back up the hill.

Day 5: 12/31/2015 – New Orleans and Lafayette, LA

Destination: Lafayette KOA, Scott, LA via New Orleans

Route: US 98W, FL 281N, I-10W,

Mileage: 379

New states: Mississippi, Louisiana


We finally made the right turn to head west! And thanks to that stationary front, we enjoyed more rain. With Google Maps providing the directions, our route includes FL 281N and we pay a $7.50 toll to travel 1.5 miles. We knew we would be on a toll road, but weren’t expecting to be subject to highway robbery.

We join I-10W, which takes us out of Florida and right back to Alabama, then into Mississippi. It is amazing how smooth a road can be without frost heaves. Our romance with I-10W quickly hit rough spots in Louisiana, but nothing we couldn’t tough out. We are looking forward to our lunch stop with our friend Serene, who moved to New Orleans 9 months ago. We chose to meet at City Park because of the large parking lot available and the relative safety during day light hours.

Driving to City Park is eye opening. It is shocking how parts of the city clearly haven’t recovered from Hurricane Katrina (2005). The dichotomy of adjacent neighborhoods is striking. The roads especially reflect the hardships of New Orleans. We struggle to find a direct route to our meeting location in City Park due to road closures; those that we did travel on were in such disrepair the concrete had turned to gravel.

Abby parked at City Park in New Orleans.

Serene is kind enough to drive us to Brown Butter Southern Kitchen and Bar a restaurant serving southern style food. There is no way we can find parking for Abby and trailer in the city streets. Dave is thrilled to try the poutine sandwich. (If you are unfamiliar with poutine, a trip to Canada, specifically Quebec, is highly recommended to get this delicious frite dish smothered with cheese kurds and gravy. Just devine.), Serene orders a pimento cheese sandwich, and Jess has the buttermilk chicken and waffle sandwich. Alex decides to apply his culinary license to create an open faced sandwich by stealing one of Jess’ waffles.

After a leisurely lunch, we return to the RV so we can push on to our destination for the night; Serene has a long night at work to report to. On the road again, I-10W, even in its poor condition, is a relief from the streets of New Orleans. This relief is short lived because I-10W quickly becomes a teeth-rattling, bone-jarring road where the concrete joints are emphasized every nine feet. We drop our speed to 45 mph from to ensure that we arrive to the KOA mostly intact. Genuine relief is felt when we arrive at the KOA. The unexpected speed reduction has added significant time to our travel day.

The Lafayette KOA is technically in Scott, LA and is only 0.1 miles from I-10; a more careful inspection of the map would have revealed this and we may have selected a different campground. The sites are very cozy, typical of what one would expect from a commercial campground and small enough that large rigs may have trouble getting in or out of their assigned spot.

Our spot is near the laundry and restrooms. Even though we have been on the road less than a week, Jess decides seize the opportunity and wash our accumulated dirty clothing. Bathroom facilities were clean and there was hot water and plenty of water pressure. With New Year’s Eve came the fireworks set off by the other campers. Rain, now welcomed with open arms, arrives to puts a stop to the fun. Well done rain, well done.


Day 4: 12/30/2015 – Ye Olde Brother’s Brewery

Destination: Day of rest

Route: None

Mileage: 0

Calling today a day of rest is incorrect. It is a day of rest for Abby’s engine and transmission and we are not looking to make time on the road. We did learn that the reason we haven’t been able to escape the rain is a stationary front that is hovering right over our route. Thank you competing pressure systems. So the question is, how do we entertain a toddler in a RV without watching the movies Cars and The Incredibles ad naseum? Take Alex shopping of course!

The area map provided by the campground shows a Camper’s World just down the main drag. We figure a few gifts for Abby would help our girl feel appreciated. The scale on the map is a wee bit off and Alex falls asleep on our way over. We manage to get him out of his seat but as soon as we cross the store threshold, he wakes and wants to run around. He just happens to be barefoot, but ah well. Off he goes.

We find a nifty little collapsable broom to help keep the dog hair from taking over Abby, a new outdoor rug, a water filter, a dishwashing scrub brush, a Good Sam membership, and a Good Sam towing package. The towing package would have come in handy during our Acadia trip, and purchasing it feels a bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has already run away.

For lunch we went to Ye Olde Brother’s Brewery. Talk about a pleasant surprise! Despite the slightly unappetizing name, their seasonal ‘Turd Furgeson Lives Weizenbock’ was fantastic. Even more surprising was the pizza. Looking at the price per topping it seems a bit steep. But when they serve the pizza the topping layer is almost an inch thick. The crust and sauce were fabulous. Absolutely delicious. We leave with a growler of their porter because the seasonals are not available for growler fills.

Tasting flights at Ye Olde Brother's Brewery. One flight per beer drinker. Great pizza!
Tasting flights at Ye Olde Brother’s Brewery. One flight per beer drinker. Great pizza!

We head back to camp and begin planning our right turn.

Day 3: 12/29/2015 – Navarre Beach, FL

Destination: Navarre Beach Campground, Navarre, FL

Route: County roads, I-85S, I65-S, state roads

Mileage: 433

New States Visited: Alabama, Florida

2016-01-21 01.21.17

This is our second longest mileage day of the trip; it falls short of Day 2’s mileage by 25 miles or so. After a night of rain, we awoke to the sun! Such a glorious thing. Dave did some rough addition and determined in the 2 weeks or so we had seen the sun a grand total of 10 hours. Jess took morning shift and with that had the pleasure of driving through Atlanta! Jess acquitted herself well through the city, helped by the light traffic.

Dave snaps a view of Atlanta as we head down the road.
Dave snaps a view of Atlanta as we head down the road.

To add to pleasant surprises, we discover the state roads in Alabama, or at the very least the ones we drove on were well maintained. We stopped to fill Abby up, with Jess on the look out for poisonous snakes. Some former co-workers, who were from the part of Alabama we were traveling through, gleefully warned of poisonous snakes. The fact that Jess left the vehicle was impressive. Good roads paired with good weather made for a relatively easy day of driving. We arrive at Navarre Beach Campground just before dusk and just in time for the rain to begin.

Navaree Beach Campground is actually on Santa Rosa Sound, so it is not diretly on the gulf. The campground is clean and well maintained with cozy sites. The restroom facilities were yet another positive with good water pressure and hot water.  The showers were even set up in such a way that Dave was able to take Alex to the shower rather than bathe him in the RV. The laundry room had plenty of washers and dryers.
We stayed a few sites away from the beach/pier area. This beach is not well suited for young children, mainly because there is not much beach to speak of. One has to go down steps to reach the sound and there is a sandy area that appears to be under water during high tide. Not a big deal for us, but if you want a campground that is easy access to the beach, this is not it. The campground has a nice dog walk area, but on leash only.

Day 2: 12/28/2015 – Tugaloo State Park, GA

Monday (12/28/2015)

Destination: Tugaloo State Park, GA

Route: County Roads to 81S, to 77S, to 85S, to more county roads

Mileage: 458

New States Visited: South Carolina, Georgia

2016-01-20 23.46.34

Day 2 is one of the longest travel days of the trip. It is about 20 miles longer than Day 3. Our day started out foggy as Jess took the wheel out of the KOA for the morning shift. As we pushed further south, rain joined the fog to make travel conditions rather miserable. To add to the fun, an accident just north of the 81S/77S intersection, an accident forced us to reroute onto county roads. The county roads also happened to be under construction at several points.

Just as we crossed into North Carolina, we took our midday break at a Love’s truck stop. We headed towards the truck fill up side of the operation and soon determined this choice to be an error. The truck stop is primarily for operators with accounts; we don’t have an account and have to jump through hoops to pay for our diesel. Dave took over the wheel and had cloudy, rain free conditions.

We stop at a gas station a few miles away from our camp for the night to fill up. We just happen to notice the Powerball jackpot is over $300 million, so Dave bought three tickets. (Spoiler alert: We do not win.)

Tugaloo State Park in GA is on a shared reservoir with South Carolina (Saddler’s Creek Sate Park is on the South Carolina side). The park is quite nice; we found spacious and level sites that have generous spacing. The bathroom and showers are clean, with plenty of water pressure and hot water. We arrive after hours and the campground host is very pleasant and showed us to the area where we would chose our site. The host gave some great tips that helped us chose an easy pull through site from the many available. We did not select a premium water site, which is ideal for us. Being close to the water means we have to keep a much closer eye on Alex to ensure he doesn’t fall in.

This would be a fantastic park to visit again, we are sorry it was only an overnight stop for us.

Sunrise in Tugaloo State Park (GA)
Sunrise in Tugaloo State Park (GA)

Day 1: 12/27/2015 – Harrisonburg, VA KOA

Destination: Harrisonburg KOA, Virginia

Route: County Roads to 15S, to 81S, to more county roads

Mileage: 330

2016-01-20 02.20.05


Prior to departure, we spent 3 frantic (Why? Check out this post) days repacking our 6′ x 10′ trailer that contained our brewing equipment, Alex’s crib, clothing, bicycles, and Alex’s little red wagon. Unfortunately, Dave’s motorcycle did not make the cut for the trailer based on weight and the space it occupied.

We wake up to a gray and rainy (no surprise here) departure day. We had also been cautioned by snow bird friend of Jess’ parents that Sunday was a bad travel day because everyone started their journey south on Sunday. Throw in a very emotional good-bye with Jess’ parents, this day is going to be tough.


With tears in our eyes and a catch in our throats, we hit the road around 10 am. We are hoping we made the right decision for our family. We try and comfort ourselves with the idea that while Alex will see his Mimi and Grandpa less frequently, we hope the longer duration of the visits results in a net positive in regards to time he spends with Jess’ parents. Fortunately, we have problem to solve and therefore can’t dwell on the sadness that comes with moving away from family and friends. Simply, how are we going to get our cargo trailer to New York?

As we slog through the rain, we decide to stop in Liberty, PA for our halfway mileage break. Dave pulls us up to the diesel pump and notes that we are sitting next to a truck and goose neck trailer combination. After initially laughing off Jess’ suggestion to ask him if he is for hire, Dave does just that. The gentleman, Gary, just happens to be for hire. We leave with his card hopeful that we will finally get the trailer moved out of Delaware. Time is especially critical because closing is being moved up from February 1st to an unknown date in the middle of January. What can really go wrong with hiring a stranger to move your household goods?

We continue on south in the drizzle thinking that our luck is turning around. The drizzle continues until the Virginia border where it stops and we enjoy gray clouds. And we see the sun! For approximately 15 minutes before it was overpowered by clouds. At our exit for the KOA, we fill Abby up. The next day is going to be long and we will need an early start.

The Harrisonburg KOA is very nice. Dave has stayed here years ago on a motorcycle trip. Clean rest rooms, spacious shower stalls and sites that are roomier than what you tend to see at commercial campgrounds. The campground is wooded and had a nice atmosphere. The hot water is plentiful with excellent water pressure. The playground is great for Alex to burn off some energy and there is even an area for dogs to be off leash.Not a bad first stop. Dave de-winterizes the water system, fixes the bathroom faucet, and we settle in for the night.


The corporate dustbowl

So why would I quit a job that paid well, offered good benefits, and leave behind family and friends to move across the country and return to school? And why would Dave support, even encourage these actions?

Simply, to escape the developing corporate dustbowl. I worked for DuPont, headquartered in Wilmington, DE for over 7 years. My time there was eye-opening and I got an eyeful of corporate culture. (One of the funniest moments – HR telling me to give them the exact date my maternity leave would start. Sure. Easy.) My frustrations grew, but when the opportunity to enroll in the UC Davis Master Brewers Program arrived a year early, I hemmed and hawed over accepting.

Dave asked a poignant question: ‘You are miserable there. How are you going to feel spending the next year working there, knowing you passed on a chance to leave?’ So I accepted and we started to make preparations to leave. Right after we went to Firefly and took 3 weeks to travel the country in 2015.

So, where is the corporate dustbowl? Beginning slowly with sizeable layoffs in 2008 (contractors, support staff), 2010 (exempt employees), the dustbowl hit hard in 2015. Ellen Kullman (DuPont CEO) won a proxy batte against activist investor, Nelson Peltz, but layoff rumors were rampant after the win. Dismal 2Q and 3Q numbers all but guarentee layoffs. Ellen’s unexpected ‘retirement’ and appointment of Ed Breen, fat cutter extrodinare, had the rumor mill estimating 25% of departments would be let go.

And then in early December, the Dow-DuPont merger was announced. In early December the layoffs began. 50% of one department, 90% of another, an entire department shut down. The company is dying. To make matters worse, despite company claims of environmental stewardship and highest ethical behavior as core values, investigative articles report about the willful illegal disposal of toxic chemicals.

Finally, Central Research and Development (CR&D) is gutted. 60 to 70% of groups are gone. All to save $2 billion to distribute to the shareholders. From a group that returns $9 billion in revenue. This is the new quarterly capitialism, squeezing every penny of short term value out of company regardless of the long-term effects, which are outlined in this article. In short, the company’s future is being destroyed (no CR&D, no new products) to provide investors short-term returns.

Now, this is not a claim that there wasn’t waste; waste was rampant. However, gutting the scientists and support staff while leaving in place the business personnel making the poor choices of products to pursue will not decrease waste.

And so the corporate dustbowl has begun and is not limited to DuPont. The question is, how long before the effects are felt and can we ever recover from it?