Thanksgiving 2019 arrived not by surprise, yet I did almost zero planning ahead. Here I share my packing and planning, adventures, and the inspiring 'snow wonders' from San Antonio to Santa Fe. The idea of driving west as a family was the intention since April, seven months earlier. It was idealized as the trip for our family to reconnect following my husband's return from deployment and a chance to 'get out' in our campervan. My husband came home at the end of September, before that, time seemed to crawl for months; however, it quickly moved to the usual blur. I was occupied with my own career ambitions, helping my husband transition back home, as well as helping my daughters navigate the first year of middle school, fourth grade, activities, and new friends. After browsing non-committedly at hotels in September, it wasn't until after Halloween that I booked a warm place to stay after camping. By then, the choices were more limited, making the final selection easier. In the end, Hotel Santa Fe was perfect for our family, as we had to bring our dog last minute. Perks included the friendly consignor and breakfast in a bright well windowed restaurant (complete with a traditional adobe fireplace). Know the top three things you're looking for in a hotel to help guide your search; for me it was to be with in walking distance of the city center, have a hot tub, and affordable suite-like room.
Santa Fe Flurry: San Antonio to Santa Fe and back in 6 days
The weekend before Thanksgiving, we spent the entire day Saturday packing the van with food and provisions. Food prep and planning has been something to improve upon because the fast food or dining out options along the westward roads are not abundant nor healthy. I built a few pages in a notebook that mapped the road hours and window of operation for each destination. For driving, the "search in route" feature on google maps is one of my favorites. Last minute, I booked what camping sites I could find. Keep in mind that National Park sites often book a year in advance or in the case of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, they are all first come, first serve. State park sites had availability for our return route. I decided that the small fees would be a donation, if we didn't end up using the sites. I only had to call and give notice if the sites aren't going to be used. Save a day on each end of a trip for packing and unpacking.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is only 7 hours from San Antonio, so we left before sunrise Sunday morning and were greeted by striking relief and windy trails by early afternoon. By the time we were acquainted with the park, picked-up junior ranger packets, the wind was howling and it was time to relax. National Parks do not allow dogs, so we coordinated taking turns hitting the trail for a run. The girls and dog were content to play in the van. The only spot for RVs is a parking lot and the wind had our pop-up swaying through the early evening. Stars were as magnificent as you can imagine and we woke up to a relatively still morning, stunning light, and perfect temperatures. We each took off for another run and spent a leisurely morning completing the Junior Ranger badge. This was not nearly enough time at this park, but we know now we'll be back and have our hearts set on hiking the tallest peak in Texas on the next visit. So, that same day we were off to Carlsbad Caverns (which was less than 1 hour away) and we had yet another exceptional day of adventure. That night we arrived late to a Cibola National Forest campground, where 'boondocking' is permitted. This particular site had pit toilets and fire rings amidst enormous pine trees. We were the only ones there. We camped under a sky full of stars and woke-up to a group of turkeys scurrying past the campground. Take a look at our video clips of turkeys. That afternoon, we went on to enjoy yet another adventure visiting Bandelier National Monument before settling back at Hotel Santa Fe. The next morning we enjoyed an 'a la carte breakfast' from the buffet and had a conversation with the concierge that helped sculpt the day. Thankfully my lack of planning for activities in Santa Fe meant we were flexible and open to suggestions. The suggestion was to take the highway along the Rio Grande to Taos and then return by way of the The High Road, to Taos. The other suggestion was to stop at the Visitor Center in Taos, which is where we were given days of friendly suggestions. The Taos Pueblo was open to the public that day and a young tribal man gave a spectacular and well versed tour. The tribe and village have thrived without running water or electricity for centuries. The Pueblo people have historically been hunter gatherers and today along with crops outside of the village, they sustain themselves. On the drive home, we took the scenic route and first drove through Carson National Forest, where our Nation's Capital Tree was cut and decorated! I'll note here that 2 weeks earlier we saw the truck driving down the interstate carrying the tree. It travels in a clear windowed truck for all to see. It makes stops along the way to DC. I never realized the extent of cost and community involvement in the National Capital Christmas Tree. We found that it was easy to fill the days with adventures and it was best to rely on local suggestions.
Day 5 of our trip was Thanksgiving and our excuse to slow down. We woke up to a snowy wonderland and made the very first tracks through the snow to the historic center. We've seen our share of snow having spent ten years in Maryland, but we all delighted in the first snow of the year. The temperatures were hovering around freezing, so the snow was full of water and perfect for building a snowman. We headed home the very next day, but not before stepping into a few shops, including one of the best books stores we've seen. My husband is still remarking on how a perfect day could be spent at the Collected Works Bookstore. It turns out window shopping during the off hours, with only a short time to actually shop is a great way to travel with kids and save money.
Always ready (if not prepared) to Explore Observe, and Inspire