Leaving to head home is always a little bittersweet. The laundry pile was out of control, our kids were tired, and Jeff and I knew we had to get back to work. But then our tired, tearful son admitted that he was going to miss the family time once we got home, because he knew that a return to Houston meant a return to regular life when our focused family time was once again going to be limited.

I guess that was a sign of a good vacation.

We pulled out of Terlingua just in time before our deadline and headed back north and east, pulling into South Llano River State Park with plenty of time to spare before the sun went down. Jeff and I walked the dogs, the kids set up the bigger of our two tents, and then we went to our neighbor, the camp host, to buy some firewood for the only campfire of our trip.

As Jeff and I prepared the fajitas, the temperatures steadily dropped. We watched both kids fill up the tent with sleeping bags and blankets and joked that we didn’t know how long they were going to last. We enjoyed a roaring fire that finally got hot enough to keep my legs and hands warm and then we watched as both kids headed off to the tent, determined to make it through the night.

The problem is, Mom and Dad weren’t willing to let them sleep through the night in the tent.

We had spread out the fire and headed inside, Jeff reading, me writing, when at 11:00 we checked the air temperature and decided that we were going to be the wimps. Our kids were inexperienced at tent sleeping and we didn’t have warm enough sleeping bags to guarantee that our already sniffly kids would make it through the night. We woke them up and brought them inside, much to their chagrin (both at being awakened and forced to come inside). But when I woke up the next morning and discovered that the temperature was 25 degrees, I knew we had made the right decision.

The next morning was a struggle. We had a lot to pack up and clean up and I really wanted to hike up to the Overlook, which had been calling to me for the last two visits. Jeff could see my mounting frustration and promised that we could park in the trail parking lot and do the hike as a family after we were all packed up. This was a sacrifice, because that meant getting home after dark, but he knew it was important to me so we were going to do it.

The hike to the overlook was admittedly boring, but it was still one last family hike to wrap up 2019. The dogs pulled the kids to the top, we took pictures, and we headed back down the hill.

We pulled in after dark, to New Year’s Eve fireworks going off all over the city. By the time we were unloaded, parked, and showered, we all crashed in front of the TV, allowing the kids to stay up a little later to ring in New Year’s on the East Coast.

It was a really good and much-needed family trip. In 2019 we fulfilled our 2018 Christmas vacation dreams. We rode burros in Mexico and took the truck on unimproved roads. We hiked into a canyon and we pushed our hiking limits. And then we truly toured a ghost town.

And I mourned the knowledge that between sports and my upcoming trip to Costa Rica, it may be a while before our next camping weekend.

We could return to Big Bend again, but for now, I’m going to dream about other parks and other camping trips to come, because somewhere along the way, this became what our family does, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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