Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico
**I’m aware this series contains a lot of frivolous information and photos. It’s a personal blog. It’s all frivolous. But also, my main purpose in writing this down journal-style is so that when the kids are grown and have forgotten most or all of this trip, they can go back and read and maybe be inspired to do it all again. Next time, they can drive and I’ll sit in the back and eat snacks.**
Getting on the Road
Oh, hi. I decided to save the rest of my preachy, long-winded trip prep posts til the end (Part 1 and Part 2 already happened, but they are very boring) and go ahead and get into the good stuff. The road trip started with the idea that I was going to leave Colorado with my pets and kids to do a loop of cool sites in the western United States before I went to Texas to wait out the rest of my husband’s deployment, but a few months before Go Time, I acquired a popup camper and two extra road trip buddies. All of which were in Oklahoma at the time waiting for me to collect them. So, man, this is turning out to be a very, very roundabout way to get to Texas from Colorado via Yellowstone National Park. Daniel actually had not left for the middle east yet at this point so we drove our four kids, dog, and cat down to Oklahoma where our families live to wait out the last ten days together. We pulled all of our belongings in a small Uhaul to put in storage.
Once he left, I spent about two days sulking then I had to do a proxy house sale which probably took five years off my life, and then I was free to spend the days renovating my camper in the sweltering heat of an Oklahoma July. The plan was to be done before the first day of August. If you want to read how the first day of camper renovation went, check out this post. (trust me, it’s more entertaining than the other posts.) Eventually I hope to dedicate a whole post to camper renovation but that’s for another day. Let’s just say that Brooke, my Uncle Don, and my Aunt Pam were a dream team. They have very specific sets of skills, and a shocking willingness to work in the heat. Did I mention THE HEAT? It’s so dang hot in Southern Oklahoma in July. Also, the camper, which we named Bill, was (and is) in pretty bad shape. It’s older than I am and needed more structural repair than we were really able to give him. We more or less held it together with sheer force of will and some paint. A gorgeous deep blue paint that the associate at Sherwin Williams helped me pick out. I said, “bruh. I want this bad boy to be exactly the color of your shirt.” he was all “say no more fam.” and bam. Bill. Rickety and sketchy but oh so pretty and homey and cozy. Yes, I did put a family altar and a super pathetic shrine to my super sexy husband in my camper.
I wasn’t ready to go by our launch date, for a million little reasons. I wanted to have the van detailed. I was waiting on a “non-essential” part for the camper (which came in the day after we left, because of course it did.) but really I was just procrastinating because “holy crap are we taking five kids and three pets camping for a whole month in a rust bucket? Do I even know where the spare tire is in my van? Are we still going to be friends when this is over? Is this too much for the kids? Do bears kill you before they start eating you?” Brooke reminded me that we were on our own schedule and could wait til everything was done but I knew that I was going to keep putting it off so, even though I didn’t get any sleep the night before, we left on our target day, July 31.
We woke up to buckets of rain and some hail that morning, which caused Brooke to have to pop the camper down by herself which is really difficult on a camper that has busted cables in the popup arms. This means the popup doesn’t pop. Zero springyness. You just have to use brute force to deal with the full weight of it. I had to load heavy items in my car top cargo carrier by myself in the hail. Good times. I got to her house late and we proceeded to have all sorts of problems with hanging the door on the camper and another issue with the trailer hitch. I’m pretty sure Brooke figured it all out on her own because I really only remember running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I also made her put on the “not all those who wander are lost” decal because I was in panic meltdown mode. She’s a dang saint for it, too, because with all the intricate lettering it was probably the most tedious task that any human has ever done. Finally we were all hooked up, loaded up, and ready to go. I was going to take the first shift driving. I hopped up in the front seat and my cell phone fell out of my lap just as I was slamming my door shut, crushing it. The phone that I purchased to take great pictures and navigate and communicate with my deployed husband…..crushed.
We were off to a great start.
We were in Southeastern Oklahoma for two or three weeks fixing up the camper. I grew up there, I don’t have much to say about the Great State of Oklahoma at this time, even though it is of course God’s Country, and a wonderful state…it’s just not very relevant to the west coast road trip because, being right on the border of Texas, we were only actually IN Oklahoma for approximately one hot minute once the trip started.
We also didn’t plan to spend any time in Texas because, again, we grew up on the Oklahoma Texas border and having driven through West Texas many, many times I knew that there was mostly a bunch of dirt and cotton and nothingnesss (other than my amazing relatives. Hey guys! Love you!) but we ended up staying one night there because we were so behind schedule. As we were approaching nightfall, clouds started rolling in and it became evident that our first night in the camper would be a stormy one. I called the nearest RV park which turned out to just be some lady’s yard, but she had a swing set and only charged us $20. After dealing with the heat in Oklahoma, we were surprised when the temps dipped into the 50s that night. It ended up being one of the warmest nights of our entire trip. (Newsflash, its cold on the California coast. Who knew?)
It stormed hard on us that night but the rain mostly stayed outside the camper, and we woke up feeling a little proud of ourselves for figuring things out and going with the flow. We decided to stop and explore Palo Duro Canyon before we headed to New Mexico, and it was lovely. I didn’t have my phone so I took no pictures but my girls had their Polaroid and managed to take a couple.
I found a wizard in Amarillo that was able to use voodoo witch magic to repair my incredibly busted phone for a super reasonable price and yes I left them great reviews on Yelp, so we left Texas for New Mexico on an extremely cheerful note.
SANTA FE, New Mexico
Finally! The good stuff. Listen, I love Santa Fe. I love the churches and the art and the food and the people and I am a sucker for the turquoise jewelry in the town square. I hate to use words like vibe and energy, maybe it’s a little cliche, but there’s just something about this place. Part of it is nostaliga. If you’ve been with me since Part 1 you may remember that I mentioned how I wanted to do a road trip after I graduated high school and it fell apart, but I didn’t mention that my dad couldn’t bear my disappointment and one morning he was all, “get in the car! I can’t take you alll the way to Cali, but we’re going to the Grand Canyon!” so literally hours later we were on the road. Mom, Dad, my brother, and me. It was an amazing trip. At a rest stop in New Mexico I picked up a brochure for Santa Fe and I was captivated by the pictures of the Loretto Chapel staircase. It was not on the way, and nobody else really wanted to go much, but Dad said, “sure! Why not? Detour!” (if you know my dad….that is very unlike him. He’s a schedule man.) We ended up having the best time there just walking through town, chatting up locals, visiting the old churches and shopping. We had New Mexican food for the first time which is not like Tex Mex. When we got to the San Miguel chapel and I saw that it’s the oldest church in the Unites States. I went into the gift shop where I bought a rosary for a friend. We’d had many late night conversations about how he was considering converting to Catholicism, and while I thought he was a nut for it, I wanted to buy him a gift. One of the first signs I was in major denial about us being “just friends.” A few months later he was passing through Santa Fe on a road trip with his friends and he went into the same gift shop where he purchased a postcard with the prayer of St. Francis on it. He wrote me a beautiful note right then and there and sent it, presumably while all his macho buddies made fun of him for it. (spoiler alert: we got married, converted to Catholicism in college, and haven’t stopped having babies since.)
Daniel and I have sadly never been to Santa Fe together (yet!) but I was eager to take our girls. Funny thing, the geography of the United States hasn’t changed a whole lot in the 11 years since I was last in Santa Fe so you might have noticed that it’s still not directly on the route between my hometown and the Grand Canyon. I wanted to take a pretty significant detour north through Colorado and into Utah before we made it to Arizona, because have you seen Colorado and Utah? Anyway, I had plenty of reason to be there. I think we were there three days? Maybe? Ask Brooke.
I’ll try to let the pictures do most of the talking, though I am a terrible photographer, but some highlights of Santa Fe were 1. The campsite! It was beautiful and it felt woodsy and secluded even though it really wasn’t. They also had a playground and a pool which the kids loved. Brooke helped the kids build a fire so we could make hotdogs and s’mores. We played cards and relaxed at camp quite a bit. The animals were happy there. The van needed a jump so we borrowed cables from the camp host and Brooke stopped him from blowing us all up not once, but three times. She eventually just gently removed the cables from his hands. It was hilarious. When it was time to go explore the city, we dropped the pets off at doggie (and kitty) daycare. This brought us to highlight 2. the food. Oh my goodness. Tacos and green chile stew and posole and prickly pear margaritas. Yas. Later we had spicy mocha lattes and gelato at a cute little cafe 3. We went into a couple of museums but I apparently only photographed the Native American Modern Art Museum. Brooke, being native herself and a bit of a history expert on Native Americans was geeking out pretty hard there. 4. The shops and market. The girls loved looking at all the handmade items. Clothes, purses, decor, jewelry. I bought our first souvenirs from a lovely Navajo woman named Bernice. Months in advance I planned to buy matching necklaces for me and my girls, and we found the perfect ones. I was all prepared to haggle, but she gave me a steep discount for buying five before I said a word. Deal! I’m pretty sure Brooke’s daughter was able to hone her haggling skills, at least. 5. The churches. There are no words for the beauty and history of the cathedral, the Loretto Chapel, San Miguel. It was fun going back now that I am actually Catholic. I actually had to (politely) correct the guide at the cathedral on some history and some saint names he got all wrong. He then made a super awkward joke about his vasectomy and the sacred silence in the church became just uncomfortable silence. Anyway. Santa Fe was, as always, enchanting.