YeeHaw, Howdy, & Y'all: A Ramble Through Texas
Texas, you win! Nowhere else beats springtime like YOU. I'll admit that spring is my least favorite season (I know, I can picture you dropping your jaw to the floor in dismay). It's just that...the wind. The gloom. The cold breezes. The mud. I don't love those things. Or maybe I just don't like the transition from winter to spring. Anyone feel me out there?! I'm a fair weather kind of girl, what can I say? I was surprised however to have met the lovely springtime state of Texas. Here, we welcomed the change with warm and sometimes hot days, especially after escaping the breezy and below-freezing nights that were still lingering in New Mexico. Plus, after coming off our time in Big Bend National Park (where we spent a lot of time half naked), we were eager to continue exploring this delightful state. Unfortunately it's so huge that I feel like we barely scratched the surface.
With just over two weeks to explore the rest of Texas, we managed to visit some of the most beloved places in the state. After Big Bend, we headed east where we discovered the most fascinating bat cave. Next, we made a bee line straight for San Antonio for a fun-filled Easter week with friends, then finished up splashing along the Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi and falling in love with colorful Austin and its people. Join us as we highlight these 5 incredible places we experienced in Texas!!
Kickapoo Caverns State Park (Come for the Bats, Leave With a Friend)
On this day we were flying by the seat of our pants. We've gotten really good at that. Rewind to the start of the trip at the height of summertime when we had to book campsites or cross our fingers there'd be a walk-in site. Now we drive until we find a cool place to sleep for the night and almost always know there will be availability. Sometimes we find it on the ioverlander app, sometimes freecampsites.net, and sometimes we stumble upon it.
Today fit in the "stumble upon it" category. I read one person's review on google that had me at 'bat cave!' Now let me preface with this: There are two things in life I strongly dislike (I'd say hate but it's a "mean word" and I'll be sent in a time out by the boys): 1. cockroaches (I call them cocks) and 2. bats. I do not like bats...never have. They are like little flying mice with beady eyes and ears that are too big for their heads. If they get stuck in your house, they circle around the room they're stuck in like a giant ceiling fan. Creeeepy. We were taught that they bite, have rabies and get stuck in your hair. No (freaking) thank you. Nope. BUT something turned me on to this bat cave idea.
We drove 40 minutes out of the way to see Kickapoo Caverns in hopes to see the elusive bats at dusk. Upon arriving to the campground, we were greeted by a jovial toddler with bouncy blond curls that was running around in his birthday suit. His name was Liam and the three boys became instant friends trading off dump trucks and using the campground as their newest construction site. A lot of people ask if we make friends on the road, and I too was skeptical before we left. But the short answer is yes, every single day. Many of them are not just people in passing but we exchange websites, phone numbers, emails, and sometimes entire life stories. We share tips, memories, and have even slept driveways later on (wait for it). We have become such good friends with some that we have planned future gatherings together. We feel so fortunate to have met the people we have - it has transformed the year for us for sure.
On to the bats, already! There are 20 known caves of different interest at Kickapoo. The Stuart Bat Cave is home to about one million Mexican Free-Tail bats every spring. Their route to dinner is quite a spectacle. We sat watching the cave opening in silence. Hints of bat guano flooded the air. Then faster than you can say “that guano stinks,” they began exiting the cave. Each one of them working up the momentum to successfully make it out and up into the air (it’s apparently very difficult for bats to take flight and many would plunk on the ground first). There was a steady stream of bats departing the entire time we were there (around 40 minutes). Once in the air, they murmurated in beautiful patterns and curves. We had always wanted to see that and it was mesmerizing to watch. The Mexican Free-Tail bats travel as high as 10,000 feet in the air where they spend the entire night feasting on moths and insects. I think the boys enjoyed it as much as we did. And in case you’re curious, the bats did fly inches from us but none, I repeat, none played around in our hair. Myth debunked! But in all seriousness, try to see this once in your lifetime. It is exhilarating!!
Celebrating Easter In San Antonio With New Friends & Old
Easter was approaching and we were fortunate to be invited to our friends Errin and Colton's family's house in San Antonio. We met Erinn and Colton at a campout event in Washington in September. After that, we continued traveling together off and on throughout that month. All told I think we counted 14 nights together so I guess you can surmise that we sort of liked them. After their ‘honeyvanmoon’ ended, they settled back in San Antonio to prepare for the birth of their first baby (yay!!). Since then, we had been itching to have them show us around their home town.
Always feeling a little apprehensive when someone invites us to a big family gathering, we showed up at the door of a beautifully large house a little nervous. We stood there straightening our clothes, sniffing under our arms, and running fingers through the boys hair. Was our deodorant wearing off? It was a little ripe under there. Had we done laundry in awhile? Nope. So we just stared at the door begging one another to knock. “No, you do it.” “No, you.” Just then the door swung open wide and a friendly man (Colton’s stepdad) flashed us a smile and invited us in. From the moment we stepped foot inside we felt the warmest of welcomes. We ate a feast, had a visit from the Easter bunny, participated in an egg hunt, and swam our hearts out in the pool along with his whole family filled with grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles, and a lot of little cousins.
After the party, Errin and Colton took us to see the Texas’ state flower, the bluebonnets, which are only in bloom a short time in the springtime. Then we nestled Spud in to their driveway and set up the van to live in for the week. It may come as a surprise but even if offered to sleep in a guestroom or house, we prefer Spud. We have our routines, comforts, and everything within an arm's reach. Spud is perfect like that.
While in San Antonio we played tourist by exploring the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and the Pearl District. But the real highlight was spending time with Errin and Colton. Thank you to these friends for their generous hospitality. And in case you were curious, their little girl was born a couple weeks after we left! Welcome to the world, Scout. We can’t wait to meet you!!
Salty Air in Our Hair - Corpus Christi, Texas
It was really difficult leaving San Antonio but work asked that I help cover a vacation so we found a studio to rent along the coast of Texas in Corpus Christi. We were feeling so content in Spud that we almost hated to spoil it by moving indoors for a few days. But on the plus side it did have a pool and hot tub! Given the marginal weather, that is essentially the only things we did for three days too. Work, swim, hot tub, eat, and repeat. It was a fun change.
After checking out of our studio, we headed to the beach for a day in the sun, salt, and sea. Our neighbor back home, Adam, had mentioned that his extended family would also be in the area so he hooked us up with them for the day. We ended up spending the entire afternoon with them gathered on the beach playing games, kayaking, enjoying cold beverages, and walking the beach. This happened to fall on a morning when our moods were a little low but by the end of the day we were grateful for time spent with this rowdy and friendly bunch.
We all thought we would be sleeping right there on the beach that evening. Here, you can pull up anywhere along the Texas coastline and camp (with a permit). But the sand and wind wore on us. We’ve done beach camping plenty of times but this beach had grains of sand the same texture as flour. It was impossible not to track it everywhere. Plus, Chip could practically see rust forming on Spud as he watched windblown water dripping off the van so we scratched the idea of sleeping there.
Wally World To The Rescue
This might have been one of the only times on our entire trip when we didn’t know where we were going to sleep. Fortunately, Chip and I have had a lot of practice this year remaining calm and acting fast. And that’s especially important when it’s nightfall or if a mealtime is approaching. On this day we caved-in and found the closest fast-food restaurant which happened to be Whataburger (I know) to make sure the boys' stomachs were full. When in Texas, I guess. Then we stopped at the car wash and shot out of there like a speeding bullet.
We tried pull-offs, campgrounds, and even called a few hotels. We couldn’t fathom paying for even a cheap hotel room so I called our friend Wally. “Do you allow overnight parking?” I asked. “We do,” they said. Thus began our first ever camping experience in a Walmart parking lot. Now some of you might scratch your head and shoot me a funky look. I promise, mom, everyone does it. But if you know, then you know, you can sleep in almost any Walmart parking lot in the US. It’s a thing actually. And it's FREE99! Next time you’re at a Walmart, scan your eyes to the back of the lot. See those campers back there? Yep, they’re going to "camp" overnight. And then grab a McDonald's coffee and egg mcmuffin inside the next morning. All without having to drive anywhere. Anyway, Chip and I didn’t sleep so well. Does anyone? The cars milling around the lot at 2 and 3 am is too mysterious for me but the boys didn’t move a muscle until after 7 am so I was a happy camper.
Dear Austin, You're My Butter Half
I want to start by saying we LOVED Austin! We had met a father and son duo in Big Bend that were traveling in a Westy a few weeks back. We happened to mention that we’d be coming through Austin and he invited us to camp in his driveway. Man, I love the Westfalia community. This could not have been a warmer welcome (well, except for the fact that they were having a cold spell). The family (Tina, Nathan, and Liam) insisted that we come inside to cook, warm up, and most importantly play with toys. Their son was also four years old and the boys quickly became pals.
From this moment on we kept pushing back our departure date because it’s such a vibrant city filled with friendly people. I was also able to help my co-workers out again this week so Austin made a great base for internet. In just under a week we saw a lot and ate even MORE...
Austin Street Art
I told you Austin was colorful but did you know it's known for its street art peppered all over the city?! These are just a few that we either came across or were on the hunt for. This link is a great resource if you're looking for addresses to these and other Austin art favorites.
Barton Springs & Zilker Park
Gettin' Jiggy in Gruene, Texas
Gruene (which we embarrassingly found out was pronounced like the color) is home to Texas' oldest continually operating and most famous dance hall. Gruene Hall was built in the 19th century and is complete with the original 6,000 square foot dance hall with a high pitched tin roof, a bar in the front, a small lighted stage in the back and a huge outdoor garden. With it being quite famous for musicians and tourists alike, we had to check it out. We were fortunate to stumble in on a day when the place was bursting with lively music and dancers! Check out the video below for the cutest lady dancing EVER! #grandmagoals
Miles Driven in Texas: 1,563 miles
Number of days in Texas: 22
Best score from a Goodwill EVER: An upgraded 'Specialized' bike for the boys! For only $30 (retail price over $200!) Then we gave our smaller Specialized to a sweet grandma with a bunch of grandchildren!
How many days I worked: 9
Our favorite Random Act of Kindness in Texas: Chip overheard a man in line at Home Depot say he forgot his wallet so he offered to pay for his things. Of course, the guy was extremely stoked.
Favorite places to eat in Austin: the Food Trucks!
That's a Wrap
Has anyone else been to any of these places?! What did you love? And most importantly, what did we MISS? Because we will surely be back to this state for more exploring!!
Lindsay, Chip, Reid & Bennett
Lindsay, Chip, Reid, & Bennett