Our original intent was to take the northern route out of Texas into the Santa Fe area to enjoy some mountain time. Then we checked the weather. In April, the overnight temperatures in Northern New Mexico get down into the 20’s! If you read any of my posts from “Headed South” you’ll remember that there is no way in hell we’re taking our rig into freezing temperatures again. The beauty of our lifestyle is that we are beholden to NO plan. Yet. So I called my bestest, Sonny and said, “We’ll be in Phoenix by next week.”
The route from Central Texas westward is notoriously and painfully long, flat and boring. I had no intentions of subjecting myself or my young toddler to a 9 hour drive as badly as we wanted to exit this part of the desert. We broke it up by staying overnight in a KOA in Abilene, TX and continued on to the Carlsbad KOA just over the Southern New Mexico Border. It was really beautiful here. We only stayed overnight, but the flat roads were punctuated by the red hills and mountains in the distance. The chilly morning heated up into pleasantly warm afternoon, when we began a descent into the Carlsbad Caverns.
This amazingly enormous National Park has a batcave (no joke) and a massive entrance to the caverns. Normally there is an elevator to the deepest portion of the caverns for the less-abled or child-toting. But, nope! Not when we got there! It is a 1.5 mile switch-back, descent and then, of course, the uphill return. You’re also supposed to be quiet in there so to not disturb the formations or wildlife. We packed Cella into the Deuter baby backpack and crossed our fingers that she wouldn’t have a meltdown half way through
The most interesting difficulty of the downward journey was that your eyes take forever to completely adjust to the dark. And you don’t really realize that until they have actually adjusted. You’re sort of feeling around for railings and planting your feet carefully because you can’t see where they’re headed. It smelled a bit of animal urine, but once you got to a spot where you could sort of peer down into the darkness, it was really quite a sight. I couldn’t take any pics, sorry! But here’s a shot from the park website.
True to form, Cella had enough before we got all the way to the bottom so back up we went! I enjoyed the hill challenge and passed several folks on the way who were on break. We were seriously concerned about a few of them, that’s how intense the uphill climb was. Our eyes had also adjusted by this point and I found it amusing to watch those on their way down struggle to see as I had…hands out in front of them trying to avoid collision with those on their way up.
We departed the area with our National Parks Pass in tow and looking forward to spending a few weeks in Arizona. First stop: Tucson.
Fifteen years ago I considered myself an Arizona resident. I attended grad school at Northern Arizona University and felt very in touch with the landscape and energy of the area overall. I didn’t ever want to live in the Phoenix area but I could have stayed in Flagstaff for years beyond what I did if the work was there. As for Tucson, the closest I got was a driveby on the way to Historic Tombstone—which I have been to twice, and Matt had no interest in seeing (surprisingly to me). I wasn’t too sure what to expect of the area other than, striking a strong resemblance to its Northern Sister, Phoenix. Which it did and didn’t. We were wholly surprised by how gorgeous the landscape was and how lively and hip the downtown area was. This is often the case in a University Area, but even Tempe near ASU doesn’t hold a candle to downtown Tucscon, IMHO.
I was even surprised by how pleasant the KOA in Tucson was. It was quite large, but without particularly roomy sites, but what WAS impressive was the number of citrus trees on the property bearing plenty of lemons and grapefruits, free to collect as you wished. The oranges were all picked clean, but the grapefruit! Oh my GOODNESS were they divine. I never even liked grapefruit until I sampled these. Marcella enjoyed walking around collecting them, and we also enjoyed more pool and hot tub time.
One day we tested the hiking waters again with Marcella, and again, learned our lesson the hard way. We attempted a 4 mile hike up to the 7 Falls in the Saguaron National Park. About two hours in Cella started to fall apart in the Deuter. We stopped at a small tide pool by one of the falls and let her roam about a bit and dip our feet in the water. She screamed going back in and for the next 1 and a half down the mountain. Ugh. I pulled every trick out of my sleeve to keep her entertained, which worked a little but exhausted me. The realization was then made that we must cap all hikes to under to hours at MOST. At least steep ones where she has to stay put in the backpack. The child simply does not want to sit still. I don’t blame her!
We spent a sort of solitary Easter Sunday bumbling around the property trying to collect hidden Easter Eggs just a few hours too late (Cella slept through the beginning). We found one! And one was enough for a toddler that knows nothing of this tradition yet.
I was a little sorry to say good bye to the citrus grove, but SUPER stoked to see my friends Sonny and David and their lovely little girl, Sophie, in Scottsdale and have some time away from our rig, as she and her husband Dave were gracious enough to let us stay in their guest house for the week. Sonny and I became instant, and I mean INSTANT, friends when we started grad school at NAU almost 16 years ago now. Even after moving away, our friendship has remained unchanged, and almost closer than ever. So needless to say, stopping to see her was non-negotiable.
We had a fairly easy 2.5 hour trip north while Cella napped, but a slightly more challenging entrance into her gated community. I don’t think they anticipated 34ft trailers would ever circle the entrance area and pass through the gates. With a little maneuvering, and one failed attempt, we got through the gate, and after further deliberation at Sonny’s street side, decided to keep the trailer parked on the street rather than try to get it down her sloped driveway.
The weather was unseasonably chilly and rainy (BIG surprise…do you see the trend yet?), even for the Griebs, so we made the most of some local attractions that our kids would like, such as the Butterfly Museum and the Children’s museum. One night out with friends, one pizza night, and lots of girly chit-chat was just what I needed after two months of semi-seclusion.
Not wanting to overstay our welcome and anxious to head West, we bid adieu to our gracious hosts and set sail for San Diego. Our 6 hour trek would require one truck-stop overnight in the moon-like Dunes of in the Southeastern California desert, but after that, we’d spend an entire month in San Diego–a city I had been to before and had fallen in love with, and one I was sure Matt would love too. Little did we know how much we would learn about what it is we’re really looking for.