A family on the road living fulltime in an RV.

Category: National Parks

St. Augustine Florida – Rich in History

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. It’s actually the oldest continuously occupied city of European and African descent in the United States if you want to get specific….

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. It’s actually the oldest continuously occupied city of European and African descent in the United States if you want to get specific.

St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is a must see for any family touring the US in an RV studying American history.

Being the planner I am, I didn’t make reservations for Anastasia State Park located near St. Augustine. In all fairness, I didn’t hear about Anastastia State Park until we got to Florida and since reservations typically need to be made up to 11 months in advance, it was too late. However what I lack in planning, I make up for in persistence.

For three weeks, I checked the Florida State Park multiple times a day for site for cancellations at Anastastia. I didn’t get as lucky as I did with Bahai Honda but I did get us a spot for one night. Two nights would have been nice but one worked out due the free RV parking behind the St Augustine visitor center. The one problem with pulling a 5th wheel is that it’s not easy to find a place to park. The free parking allowed us to have two full days to explore St. Augustine.

We are parents a family who loves to explore on foot. Not too big and not too small St. Augustine is the perfect size town for walking. We wandered down the streets lined with old houses and cemeteries following a route suggested to us at the St. Augustine Vistor Center.

While Ponce de Leon might have been the first European to discover St. Augustine, oil tychoon, Henry Flagler (remember him from the railroad in Bahai Honda?) played a large role in making St. Augustine the destination it is today. In 1888, Henry Flagler built the Ponce de Leon, a grand hotel desinged in the Spanish Renaissance style. The hotel is now part of Flagler College but you can still walk through and get a glimse of what it would have been like to be part of the elite during the turn of the 20th century.

Not far from the old Ponce de Leon hotel, is another building built by Henry Flagler, the Memorial Presbyterian church which houses the Flagler family’s mausoleum. The Memorial Presbyterian church was Florida’s first Presbyterian congregation established in 1824. We enjoyed the Venetian Renaissance style, especially Thing One who has developed quite an interest in old churches.

The star (literally since it’s foundation is star shaped) of St Augustine is Castillo de San Marcos. While Thing One was in his element as the Memorial Presbyterian church, Thing Two was no less in his element looking at cannons at the fort. What we thought would be a quick visit to the fort ended up being a three hour exploration complete with a cannon firing. Both boys earned  their Jr. Rangers badge. They are racking up quite the collection.

Of course there is more to see in St. Augustine besides old buildings and cannons. There are museums, a lighthouse, restaurants, and shops. A favorite shop of the boys was the St. Augustine Textiles Colonial Goods Merchant, a local shop with a large assortment of handmade period clothing and goods. While St. Augustine is clearly a tourist destination it still boasts a lot of charm as the lady at the visitor center proudly pointed out “there isn’t one chain restaurant downtown”.

Anastasia State Park was as beautiful as I hoped it would be. The sites were private and lush. We really wished we could have spent more time there despite getting yelled at for “harassing a tortoise”. Thing Two was only trying to feed it a blade of grass not poke it. In the evening, the boys sat under the canopy of green at out picnic table and practiced writing with their new quill pens. (Ahem. Homeschoolers) Quill pens have become their new obsession. Thankfully they take up less space than wooden rifles.

Our Visit to St. Augustine in a Glance

Where We Stayed

  • Anastasia State Park. It was beautiful and we had a good internet connect. If you want to stay at Anastasia it would be a good idea to make reservations as soon as you are able.
The Highlights
Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Escaping Reality at Fort Pickens, Florida

Our visit to the Gulf Islands National Seashore was brief. So brief it must have been a dream. It is only in dreams you can convince a grumpy-die-by-the-rules ranger to let…

Our visit to the Gulf Islands National Seashore was brief. So brief it must have been a dream. It is only in dreams you can convince a grumpy-die-by-the-rules ranger to let you in the campground without reservations after the gate has closed at dusk.

It is only in dreams you see turbulent clouds dancing with shadows on white sand beaches. It is only in dreams you hear driftwood silently whistling to the tune of time.

We explored Fort Pickens early morning discovering history in her shadows and mystery in her corridors. Thing Two was on the lookout for approaching enemies. Thing One considered the structural elements and their uses. By the time the sun had made her full ascent, we were piling into the truck and heading east.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Day 90: Great Smokey Mountain National Park

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the first national park I can remember visiting. Although I think my first national park visit was really to the Grand Canyon when…

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the first national park I can remember visiting. Although I think my first national park visit was really to the Grand Canyon when my parents looked like hipsters and drove a van. A real van with a moon shaped window and an airbrushed mural. I probably rode on my mom’s lap while she warmed my baby food in the dashboard window.

We aren’t as cool as my parents were. We drive a big white diesel Chevy  that hasn’t been washed since October.  But at least we use seat belts.

The Great Smokey Mountains is the first park I can remember visiting. I remember the river churning with rapids as white as doves but as unpredictable as cats. I remember the mountains poking out of the clouds like giant tombstones in a foggy cemetery. I remember my teenage self getting ticked about something and pouting on the Appalachian trail. I probably didn’t get to curl my bangs that morning.

I didn’t remember  John Ownby’s cabin. Or the history. I didn’t remember the land was originally home to the Cherokee Indians who were driven out. I didn’t remember settlers were evicted from their homes and lives to make create the park we now visit.

So many old and new memories being pulled or created and stashed in this already challenged brain of mine.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Mammoth Cave National Park

We had our first overnight guests! Jeff, my brother, and his son drove down with us from Indiana. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have them with us…

We had our first overnight guests!

Jeff, my brother, and his son drove down with us from Indiana. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have them with us for the night and to share with them the mystery of Mammoth Cave. My brother is a very special person to me. Although we are not twins we share the same birthday and have matching tattoos. He has one of the biggest hearts you will ever meet. My nephew, Jensen, is a living testament to the grace of God. Jensen was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at only a few weeks old. Almost three years later, Jensen is one of the sweetest happiest little fellows you will ever meet and you would never know that this little guy came into the world a warrior fighting for his life! We love them so much!

Years ago, my parents had taken us to Mammoth Cave National Park and while I don’t remember much of it I do remember the rooms being…well..mammoth. We opted to take the Historic Tour. It was a 2 mile and 2 hour long journey that focuses on what it was like for prehistoric people up to present day tours. We also learned how the the cave provided saltpeter, used to make gunpowder, during the war of 1812. You can still see the wooden pipes used today. One of the more interesting facts we learned was during the 1840’s a doctor by the name of Dr. Croghan, believed there would be medical benefits from the cave air for tuberculosis sufferers. He invited several tuberculosis patients to live into the cave (can you imagine!) and unfortunately several of them died in the cave.

In November, we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Based on the tours we chose I would describe Carlsbad as a “visual” experience with it’s unusual and beautiful formations while Mammoth Cave is more a “physical” experience with it’s large rooms, deep pits, and tight passageways. Of course, each tour I’m sure offers a different experience. Later that evening, we looked at the weather forecast and saw a snow storm was on it’s way the next day. Should we wait it out or leave early in the morning?

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Day 56: Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

We didn’t know what to expect when we decided to go to Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs Arkansas. All I knew was I getting the cancellation stamp in…

We didn’t know what to expect when we decided to go to Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs Arkansas. All I knew was I getting the cancellation stamp in my National Park Passport.

Hot Springs National Park is the smallest national park and was the first federal reserve in the United States. For hundreds of years people have come to Hot Springs seeking health in the warm waters. Over time an industry of bath houses grew up around the hot springs. The heyday of bathing has passed and today most bathhouse are no longer in operation. However you can still tour the Fordyce bathhouse, now the park visitor center, for a peek back into history and take baths at one of two operating bathhouses, the Buckstaff or Quapaw.

You can also do the Jr. Ranger program. Hopefully with more enthusiasm than Thing 1 or 2. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince them that the “Ladies Cooling Room” was a spectacular place to fill out their Jr. Ranger activity books. Although the movie about traditional bathing held their attention with it’s 1980’s aesthetic.  Apparently, it was so cheesy it was funny.

After touring the Fordyce Bathhouse, we ventured out back to put our hands in the last remaining open hot spring and stroll the paths above the bathhouses. Then we drove up through the park to watch the sunset over Hot Springs before returning to our campground, Gulpha Gorge.

Gulpha Gorge may be one of our favorite campgrounds yet. As the name suggests, the sites run through a gorge along a creek. It was lovely in December and I can only imagine its beauty during warmer months. The sites are large with many of them along the creek with full hookups.  I loved hearing the sound of the creek when we stepped outside in the morning. Full hookup sites are $24 or $12 if you have the  National Parks Membership Card, a fantastic deal considering the beauty, spaciousness, and condition of the sites.

Two months ago we had not even heard of Hot Springs National Park and today not only it is a treasured place in our National Park system but a treasured family memory.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Uh-Oh.

Today, we left Carlsbad, New Mexico, bound for Marfa, Texas.  We weren’t too far down the road when we came upon a pleasant surprise- Guadalupe Mountains National Park. How one…

Today, we left Carlsbad, New Mexico, bound for Marfa, Texas.  We weren’t too far down the road when we came upon a pleasant surprise- Guadalupe Mountains National Park. How one just stumbles upon a national park, I don’t know. If we were better planners we would have noticed that we would be passing another national park.  It’s not exactly rest-stop-sized. If we were better planners we would have made sure we made time for it.  However, we are only sort-of-kind-of following a plan so what’s a few hours to stop and drink up God’s beauty and get my “passport stamp”. I gotta have my stamps.

There are only 2 National Parks in Texas, Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Guadalupe Mountains is actually an ancient coral reef and now home to many animals like rattlesnakes- I don’t think there is a place out west they don’t exist- elk, mountain lions, black bears, mule deer, turkey, and golden eagels.  (I learn stuff from the Jr. Ranger programs too.)  However my favorite part was the The Pinery, ruins of a mid-1800s stagecoach station. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable in the RV, I can’t imagine a stagecoach.

Remember what I said about planning? Well my map app and I don’t get along too well.  We had been on the road about an hour after leaving the park and I was talking to my dad when Brent says, “I need to talk to you.”

Uh oh.

Brent  – Were we supposed to turn back by the park?

Me – I don’t think so. This is our road. I think…

(Please God, let it be so.)

I look at my phone which has horrible reception and the map page won’t load.  Of course.  Finally, it loads and…we missed the road.

We. missed. the. road.

Again.

What is the navigator supposed to do??

Cry.

Sob.

Sob big giant tears and choke out, “Maps are just so hard for me. I’m a girl. My brain doesn’t work like yours.”

Yes, I admit I actually said, “I’m a girl.”

I know. (Boo. Hiss.) For the record, I don’t really believe that but I’m not above using it when it could get me out of potential trouble.

Brent, the sweet loving husband that he is, told me a few minutes later that it was okay because I was just “lost in the moment enjoying myself”. Enjoying myself I was. The vast barren landscape of west Texas is almost too beautiful for me to bear. I could stare at the horizon for hours. It’s a good thing because we had hours to go.

We pulled into Marfa, an eerily quiet town, hungry. It was already dark so we stopped at the first and only place we saw with a light on, Pizza Foundation. Unfortunately, they were out of pizza which was our first indication that nothing about Marfa is normal.  The folks at the pizza shop without pizza, sent us down the empty street to Cochineal. One minute it felt like we were in a nearly deserted ghost town and then next minute it felt like we were in a trendy LA restaurant. Chochineal was full of hip folk and couldn’t seat us for 45 minutes. We headed back out into the empty streets to find Jett’s Grill at the Hotel Paisano.

The hotel is best known for housing the cast and crew from the classic movie, Giant starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Which got me thinking if I was going to see ghosts those two wouldn’t be so bad.

After driving up and down the quiet streets, we finally found it and stumbled in tired and hungry and cranky from the long day of driving. Like Chochineal the patronage of the restaurant didn’t match the town. I suspected I’d see cowboys or rugged oil men but instead there was a Woodey Allen lookalike in one corner, a hippie with skin tight purple capri pants and pilgrim shoes in another, a family whose young child disappeared halfway through dinner a few tables over, and us.

After finishing dinner we headed to our campground and we pulled into Tumble In campground to this…

An empty “office” in an empty campground. At least they didn’t forget the holiday cheer.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

 

 

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Thrifty Threads Thursday: West Texas Edition

So I finally got the courage for another Thrifty Threads Thursday post. Truth be told, I feel a little silly doing these but I’m having so much fun scouring thrift…

So I finally got the courage for another Thrifty Threads Thursday post. Truth be told, I feel a little silly doing these but I’m having so much fun scouring thrift and vintage stores along the way and I want to share my finds with you.

I’m really pleased with these photos Brent took at Guadalupe National Park. There was no one around so I felt comfortable getting silly.

I got this dress from Resources during our visit to Madrid, New Mexico. I couldn’t wait to wear it and as soon as we got to warmer weather I put it on.

I wore the dress again in Marfa, Texas with a cardigan and tied the bow outside the cardigan.

Dress: Vintage – Madrid, NM
Shoes: Thrifted – Santa Fe, NM
Belt: Thrifted – Oxnard, CA

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Day 27: The Magic and Mystery of Carlsbad Caverns

Today, we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We opted for the self-guided tour with an audio guide.  We were all happy we got the audio tour because not only could…

Today, we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We opted for the self-guided tour with an audio guide.  We were all happy we got the audio tour because not only could we move at our own pace ,we learned a lot.

The descent into the cave is something I’ll never forget.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  We wound down the path until we came to this massive black mouth. It was sublime. The cave was first discovered by a 16 old boy, Jim White, when he saw what he thought was a volcano or twister in the distance.  He set out to investigate and discovered bats coming out the cave. Can you imagine?!?! Over the next several years, Jim White continued to explore the cave using homemade torches, lanterns, and ladders. Talk about brave!  While I’m adventurous,  I think I prefer the paved paths and lights that are present today.

The cave was magnificent. Crazy. Grand. Beautiful.

A whole other world existing below the surface of the earth.

The only thing that would have made this visit better is the BATS who had already migrated to Mexico for the winter.  I love bats.  They are so cute.  (I’m also the girl who had pet rats as a teenager.)  Thing 2 and I play this game in the mornings called “baby bat”.  We pretend we are bats. I wrap my wings around him and we snuggle.  My bat voice a really bad Asian/British/Southern/what-the-heck accent.  Baby Bat tells me he is hungry for “fish”.  I have no idea where we got the idea “bats eat fish” but that is what Baby Bat always wants.  I had never really considered a bat’s real diet which turns out to be insects.  Recently, Baby Bat has been wanting “cat” and Mama Bat reminds him “bats don’t eat cat” but it doesn’t seem to help.  Any excuse to chase Meow Cow.

Ummm anyway…

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Day 24: Neurotic Nomads – Montezuma Castle and The Petrified Forest National Park

At Montezuma Castle, it is easy to imagine being Sinagua people making our way through the sycamore and cottonwood trees to gather water at Beaver Creak before climbing up the…

At Montezuma Castle, it is easy to imagine being Sinagua people making our way through the sycamore and cottonwood trees to gather water at Beaver Creak before climbing up the ladders to our home way up on the cliffs.  Except that I’m afraid of heights.

Montezuma Castle was mistakingly named after the Aztec king by settlers in the mid 1800s.  As it turned out, it didn’t belong to the Aztecs, in fact, it’s not even a castle.  It is an adobe community clinging tight to the cliffs.  Like Tuzigoot, it was built by the Sinagua nearly 2000 years ago.  Until 1951, visitors could go inside Montezuma Castle but due to vandals it was closed.  Now visitors can stroll the path among the white barked sycamores and imagine, if you are like me, life as a Sinagua, your life depending on the whims of Beaver Creek.

Back to the reality of being a newschool nomad, after both boys were forced to earn earned their Jr. Ranger badge, we hit the road and headed hurriedly east on I-40.  There would be no long bathroom breaks or food stops.  We were on a mission to get to the Petrified Forest National Park to see the highest concentration of petrified wood in the world and the painted desert by 5:00 pm.  As long are you are at the gate by 5:00 pm the park lets you in and you can at least take the 28 mile drive through the park to soak up the beauty.

A National Monument and Park in one day.  Maybe we should be the neurotic nomads.

At 4:15 we pulled into the gate with just enough time to visit the visitor’s center (sometimes it pays to be bossy) and stroll among the ancient stubborn trees who refused to fall prey to decay.

The boys climbed on trees that were as hard…as well…rock.

I had doubted our decision take the time for a detour but the first glimpse of the hills covered in Saturn-like rings of color (my photos do not even to begin to capture their beauty), my doubts were put to rest.

It was otherworldly lovely.

The boys kept exclaiming we were on Tatooine (a planet in Star Wars).

As magical as the sunset was I was sad to see her disappear and leave us in darkness as we drove the last 5 miles back to I-40.

If you ever get the chance, drive through the painted desert at sunset.  You will never be the same.

I couldn’t imagine a day filled with more beauty despite going to bed in an Alburquerque Walmart parking lot.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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Day 23: Jerome and Tuzigoot

Please bear with me as I catch up on our blog by posting a few posts a day.  I want to share our journey with you and I want to…

Please bear with me as I catch up on our blog by posting a few posts a day.  I want to share our journey with you and I want to have a day by day account to give to the boys so they can remember this adventure. We just spent 10 days in Austin with my best friend.  I typically write at night or in the morning but since I rarely get to be with her I spent every free moment I could hanging out and creating memories.

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Jerome, an old mining town, is nestled high atop Cleopatra Hill in Arizona’s Verde Valley. In 1900s,  Jerome was a boom town. Copper had been discovered and thousands flooded to Jerome their hearts filled with ambition.  Some even referred to Jerome as the “wickedest town in the west”. If only those crumbling walls could talk. Jerome’s population reached it’s peak of 15,000 during the 1920’s but every good party comes to an end and in 1953 the mines closed. Not long after, Jerome was declared a ghost town with a population of around 50 people. Leave it to the artists to rediscover the beauty of Jerome during the 1960s and 1970s.  Today Jerome is a communtiy of about 500 people.  Artists, artisans, writers, and families seek out Jerome for another kind of wealth.  The streets are no longer filled with miners in search of an improved life but tourists walk up and down the hilly streets reflecting on a different era.

We wandered around the worn streets and down a slope to the front face of an old building that sat precariously on the mountain. The walls had long ago crumbled but the facade arched proudly  to the sky.  We noticed a sign for glass blowing demonstrations. “Glass blowing demonstrations from 12-ish to 5-ish” We headed in and much to the boy’s delight a man with long grey hair tucked under a red bandana was giving a glass blowing demonstrtation.  He spun, shaped, and colored the molten mass until he had a tear drop shaped stem that shimmered in the light that poured through the large windows.

The Jerome Historical Society’s Mine Museum was well worth the $2 admission (children are free).  The museum boasts many relics and exhibits that help bring the town’s history to life.  Just down the hill is the Jerome State Historic Park.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  Thing 1 was really ticked because he wanted to see the Douglas Mansion. However, the Audrey Headframe Park was open right next door and the boys got to stand on glass above a 1,900′ shaft.

After Jerome we took a short drive to the Tuzigoot National Monument.

Tuzigoot is the remnant of an ancient pueblo built by the Singua around 1000 AD. The views are amazing and I imagine haven’t changed much since the Singua gazed across the valley. There is also a museum where you can look at artifacts and learn about the site’s excavation.

On our way home we passed a Goodwill. Brent stayed in the car while the boys and I puttered around the store. As I was going through a rack of jackets (I’m on a mission to find a myself a vintage peacoat.) a strange man approached me. After asking if I had found any treasures, he asked if I had dinner plans. Yes, with my husband but thank you. I guess. As I was telling Brent about the brief exchange (that he had watched through the window) Thing 1 piped up, “Why didn’t you say yes?  You could have brought us back something.” That’s one way to look at it.

Love and Laughter,
Jenn

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