When I finally gave in to my alarm, which went off at its normal Sunday morning time, I prepared to meet the cold. I didn’t just meet cold: Fine flakes of snow were falling out of the sky. I gave each dog their turn around our small camping loop, ate breakfast, made sure both kids knew they needed to get themselves breakfast and get dressed, and then headed into Fort Davis to gas up the truck and get a couple last items at the small town grocery store. By the time I returned, Jeff was in the process of clearing out the tanks so we could get on the road. Apparently, the dogs were concerned that we were going to just leave them behind (perhaps a little anxiety from being left for thirteen hours while we were in Big Bend), so they took their first opportunity to escape the camper and run straight for the open truck door. We made them move back to the camper because we weren’t ready yet, but they made it clear they were ready to head wherever we were going.
By the time we left the mountains, it was 32 degrees and the temperatures slowly climbed from there, even with the clouds of snow and ice hanging over the mountains for the first 100 miles of our trek back east. With few places to stop in the borderlands, we were thankful that we had both a kitchen and bathroom for use at one of the many picnic pull off spots along US-90, all of us piling into the camper to pick out lunch food and get back on the road.
Despite the rapidly depleting gas tank with few places that were easy to get into and the single Border Control Checkpoint stop, our drive back to Garner State Park was fairly uneventful and significantly less windy and rainy than the drive west had been. We got to Garner just after the office closed, so we were once again on our own to find a campsite, but this time I found a map and we knew where we were headed. We pulled into the Rio Frio camping area to discover a much fuller campground than we had left four days before. We finally found a better campsite than we had the last time and we were parked and set up in less than 30 minutes. It was a good thing, too, because that gave us 15 minutes to race to the camp store to find a state park magnet and possibly firewood for the night.
The camp store had three bundles left and two of us wanted them. We let the tent campers have two of the three bundles and we took the final bundle back to our campsite. Our kids threw our son’s football back and forth in the dark while I heated up leftovers from the past week. Then Jeff helped the kids start the fire while I gave each dog their own short walk around our loop.
Five nights earlier we had struggled with wind. This time we struggled with pieces of wood that were too big and a growing misty drizzle that threatened to make the wood too wet to light. Four fire starters later, we finally had a shortly roaring fire, but by that time both kids were ready for bed. I tucked them in and went back outside to stare into the warm flames, moving the wood into glowing embers to keep the warmth going before I gave up standing in the drizzle.
I woke up to clouds breaking up to blue skies and the sunshine beginning to poke through. By the time I got back from walking each dog around the loop, both kids were awake and ready for breakfast.
Since we got in after close, I drove down to the front office to check in so I could check out. Our spot was paid for; I just wanted to make sure that we were all clear before we left the campground. I walked up to the counter, told the ranger on duty that I had a reservation and I wanted to check in to check out, and prepared to hand her our state park pass.
“I don’t have anyone on site 483.”
I know, I thought. That’s because we’re on it. “I know, we came in late last night so that is the spot that we found open. We have a reservation.”
Thinking that it was all cleared up, I handed over our park pass and my drivers license.
“This card is under Jeffrey’s name. I need his driver’s license.”
“I’ve never had this problem before and he was still asleep when I left so I could get here before 9:00.”
“Those are the rules and we follow the rules here. I’ll keep this spot reserved for now and bring it back.” Ok, I thought. But we’ve stayed at a lot of state parks and this has never been an issue.
At this point I was tempted to just hurry our pack up to leave. We had paid for our spot and the whole “reserve your spot” conversation was a bit much. After all, it didn’t matter if she had reserved it, we were already parked there.
I then decided to stop at the visitor’s center to see if there was anything worth looking at before we headed home. It should have been open, but when I went to open the door, it was locked. Puzzled, I just headed back to the truck, but then the woman who worked inside opened the door and greeted me with a sweet, southern drawl.
“Can I help you?”
“I was just going to check out the visitors center before we headed back home. We’re leaving today.”
“Oh, well, you’re welcome to come in. I just decided to not open today because of low population in the park and we’re getting ready for the opening of hunting season anyway.”
I struggled for a reply. After all, there were plenty of people in the park and was closing because she felt like it really a thing?
Needless to say, we were not terribly impressed with Garner State Park. Our spot was lovely but the rangers and staff were far from helpful for either of our stays. We are pretty sure we can cross that one off of our list.
The drive home included listening to football, How To Eat Fried Worms, and plenty of 90s hits on Sirius. And of course, a Buc-cee’s stop.
By the time we returned home, I had a hard time believing that I had ever considered cancelling our trip. There were still disappointments for the things that we didn’t get to do during our days on the road, but instead we found other things to do. And as concerned as I am about the potential for damage in the national parks, I’m so glad that we were able to go to Big Bend. But more important than the things we did was the time we spent together. I wasn’t constantly looking at my phone because I didn’t have service so there wasn’t much of a point (except those few moments when I did have service and I decided on a quick check). Most nights Jeff and I were in bed around or before 11, which I’m ashamed to admit is way better than we do when we are home and not on vacation. And we had good, quality family time together.
That’s not to say that our trip was trouble free. In addition to our listed misadventures, our daughter experienced few waves of car sickness thanks to the hills and mountains, but thankfully it never turned to vomiting. Our son’s tender ear from a recovering ear infection may have bothered him with the change in elevation, but some ibuprofen kept him going. There were tense moments in the truck with kids getting yelled at and Jeff and I squabbling while we were parking the camper.
But today as we stood in the grocery story and cell phones were going off and kids were asking about buying things on Amazon and I was thinking about all the things that needed to be done at home, all I wanted to do was go back to the simple life we had been living for the past week. And I guess that’s the sign of a good vacation: you don’t want it to end.
Overall trip stats: Approximately 1600 miles
Cost for six nights of state parks stays: $139.50
Cost for fuel at average 10.4 MPG: $539.00