When I was a kid, my uncle started using the phrase, “We can’t be late, we’re on vacation.”

I’m sure that he was far from the first person to make that excuse for not getting to family gatherings at the expected time, but it was something that I eventually believed was a good life philosophy which I would have a difficult time adhering to.

So when Jeff said that he needed to make some more adjustments to the hitch that we had spent nearly four hours installing on Christmas Eve, I had to put away thoughts of leaving home by mid-morning and getting to our Christmas Day destination before dark, something Jeff is usually very concerned about. This time he didn’t worried about it at all; he wanted to make sure that the hitch was working correctly and that his family would be safe.

It paid off. While we pulled into South Llano River State Park, the same park we stayed at as we started out on our 2019 summer vacation, as the last rays of sunlight disappeared on the horizon, our drive had been relatively smooth and Jeff was the most relaxed that I had seen him in months, at least related to driving for several hours at a time while pulling a camper. We easily backed into our spot, parked, and I got started on dinner while Jeff helped the kids set up a tent for a single night of tent sleeping.

The kids played games and we walked the dogs under a starry sky. South Llano is a designated dark sky park, which means that by 10:00 PM, all lights in the park are to be kept at a minimum so the stars can shine at their brightest. Texas skies really know how to show off the heavens. Even in suburban Houston we can see plenty of stars on any given night. But once you are out of the city, they are all there, God showing off some of the best parts of creation for anyone who is willing to take the time to look up.

The kids piled their blankets and pillows into the tent, our son commandeering my mummy sleeping bag for the adventure. (I bought the sleeping bag when I spent a weekend doing a poverty simulation with my students. When the kids found out why I had the sleeping bag in the first place, it unexpectedly led to a healthy discussion with our ten and eight year old about homelessness.) Jeff and I kept asking each other how much longer they were going to last outside. The temperatures were steadily dropping and neither kid is used to sleeping in the cold, outdoor air. Our son, all cozy in my mummy bag, eventually fell asleep after staring at the stars. Our daughter, who had covered her brothers face with a stuffed animal to keep his head warm, was still awake at 11, telling us that she couldn’t fall asleep. She finally caved and decided she wanted to sleep inside and we had to wake up our very sleepy son so that he wouldn’t wake up in the tent alone.

Apparently, the Christmas festivities had finally caught up with the family and everyone slept in later than normal, but by the time I returned from getting the truck gassed up, most of the dishes were dried and put away and the rest of the family had started the packing process. The biggest hiccup? Discovering that our battery charger for the drills that we use to raise and lower our stab jacks is no longer working, a situation that needed to be remedied sooner than later.

We got on the road later than expected and started on 360 miles of endless desert with few places to stop in-between. With the help of our new hitch, Jeff got us to Terlingua before dark. Apparently, we had been followed for at least 60 miles by another family who pulled into the RV park right behind us.

Big Bend National Park is the most remote national park we have ever been to. Even Arches has a fairly large town right outside of it. Terlingua is a blink and you’ll miss it type of town, but the RV park we reserved had everything we needed. The kids discovered a pool table in the game room and wanted us to teach them how to play. The dogs got their walks around the campground, and Jeff turned on the hotspot so we could find out what was happening in the park over the next three days. I was thankful that I had talked Jeff out of going into the park. He was concerned that everyone was happy. I put my hands on his chest, looked him in the eye, and told him to just stop. He had just driven 360 miles. We could spend the night chilling at “home.” We had three full days to explore.

The only question was, how early was the rest of the family going to get up so we could get started?

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!