Living Large in Texas: Month #31 of Camper Life in the Lone Star State

There’s been a whole lot of Texas going on over the past month, and I’m happy to report that we finally found the magical warmth that we’ve been seeking in the south. Sorry to rub it in, Midwesterners who recently survived the polar vortex 😉

Month #31 on the road began with our second full week in Marfa, Texas, followed by a couple weeks further south and east in Del Rio near the Mexican border. Now we’ve plopped down in San Antonio for a month as our home base for non-RV travels to Japan and Las Vegas. While Month #30 encompassed the Christmas trip back east with lots of driving and rushing around, the pace of camper life slowed down in Month #31, which was exactly what I needed.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Marfa, Texas: Home on the Road #104 (continued)

Since the government was still shut down during our time around Big Bend National Park, we opted to visit Big Bend State Ranch Park instead, which was an awesome decision. This is a remote and rugged park with disbursed camping, some interesting hiking trails, and plenty of solitude. We left the RV behind to tent-camp here and then rounded things out with stops in the small random towns of Lajitas, Terlingua, and Alpine. There was also a nice desert botanical garden we checked out (I do love my cacti) outside the little town of Fort Davis.

  • Highlights: Camping out in a tent with a beautiful sunset and no one around, seeing a javelina up-close for the first time (surprisingly cute!), scenery at Big Bend Ranch State Park, sipping post-hike margaritas in the random resort town of Lajitas, driving through the bizarre encampments and pseudo-roads of Terlingua, super chill driving range to hit a few golf balls in Marfa, hiking around Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Garden
  • Lowlights: The relentless winds of West Texas, getting sick after the tent-camping adventure and being out-of-commission for a few days (is my body getting too old to tent camp?!), still not getting to visit Big Bend National Park, yet another campground that can’t figure out how to enforce dog leash rules, drinking tequila for the first time in ages and remembering why I don’t drink tequila anymore 

Del Rio, Texas: Home on the Road #105

Like Marfa, Del Rio was a place I’d never been before in Texas. Although there wasn’t a ton to do here, that was actually a really good thing because it helped me minimize distractions and get a ton of work done in advance of our upcoming trip to Japan. Also, the weather here was pretty perfect and got up to 70 degrees on several days. This was such a relief after having our RV pipes continually freeze and struggle through other winter-RV-related drama over the past couple months.

  • Highlights: Perfect boating conditions to take out the kayak and SUP at Amistad National Recreation Area, having access to a campground gym that actually didn’t suck and toning up some muscles by lifting weights, the surprisingly impressive frontier village of the Whitehead Memorial Museum, online ordering and campground delivery success so I don’t have to buy new clothes/shoes in an actual store, being super active with trail running and lifting to the point of actually seeing results, impressive campground Wi-Fi, another round of tent camping and a 15+ mile hike at Devil’s River State Natural Area
  • Lowlights: Taco trucks with no meat-free options, getting sick yet again and having to go to a shady urgent care clinic, popping a tire while mountain biking

San Antonio, Texas: Home on the Road #106

I booked us a campground for an entire month here in San Antonio so we have a stable place for home base during the upcoming non-RV travels. Unlike Marfa and Del Rio, I’ve been to San Antonio a couple times before but have always enjoyed the place. So, far, we haven’t really been able to do anything very fun or touristy here though, due to constant rain, working ahead, and being pretty far away from downtown.

  • Highlights: Warmish weather with no freezing nights, few distractions = more time to work ahead before our Japan trip, finding a local, cage-free home stay for Monkey during our vacation, finally breaking out the sewing machine again, boba tea and fro-yo
  • Lowlights: Crowded campground with lots of barking dogs tied outside, no fitness center or other campground amenities, crappy Wi-Fi, rainy and dreary weather, mud everywhere, surrounded by suburban sprawl, being 30+ minutes from all things to do in the city and from hiking too, a second trip to an urgent care clinic



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

I saw my first javelina at Big Bend Ranch State Park! They’re kind of cute and dopey, but apparently people try to hunt them for some reason.

We always try to find self-serve dog washes to give Monkey a bath every month or so, but in some places, that’s easier said than done. This little lady hadn’t had a bath since before Christmas and was starting to stink, well, like a dog. This campground actually had a dog washing sink and enclosed area, but the water was ice cold with no adjustment options. So, this happened: a bucket bath in the middle of a dead grass/gravel pit!

We recently celebrated Monkey’s 5th birthday here in San Antonio! We adopted her three years ago and threw a little camper party and wen on a rainy hike to celebrate.

In an effort to be a little healthier, I’m doing my best to drink more tea instead of booze. To make tea more of a “thing,” I’ve been experimenting with loose leaf tea and a tea infuser. I’m pretty into it, but it’s still a challenge.

Today is my 6-year freelanceaversary! I’m been full-time freelance writing for 6 years now as of today, which is kind of crazy. To kick off year #7, I’m in talks with a publisher about writing a book about gnomes. In other gnome-related news, I’ve also recently taken over the leadership position of the International Gnome Club.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Month #32 is set up to be one of the most exciting months EVER! Literally tomorrow, we jet off to Japan for a week of Asian adventures. It’ll be my first trip to Asia, and I’m pretty much all packed and ready to hit the mean streets of Tokyo, Nagano, Yamanouchi, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and wherever else we happen to land instead because of mishaps in complex train navigation. Sadly, my flashcard and Duolingo app efforts to learn basic Japanese have been in vain, and I’m exhausted with constant travel planning. We’ve figured out a few things, but have left quite a bit unplanned in an attempt at spontaneity.

Within a few days of getting back, I’m back on a plane again but this time to Las Vegas for a girls’ weekend. And in between all of this madness, I’m hoping to see bits and pieces of San Antonio too.

Until next time…sayōnara!


Catch up with the journey:

Picking Up the Pace of Southwest Adventure: Month 29 of Nomadic Life

It’s holiday season, which means chaos and cold, even for your favorite nomad out on the road. Since traveling full-time, the Southwest has carved out a soft spot in my heart. But over the past month, we’ve been moving through it at record speed.

We’ve been in search of warmth and off-the-beaten-path places that we might not make it back to anytime soon. We’ve also been in search of change and something to drive us towards decisiveness to start a post-camper-life phase of life next year. On top of all that, this time of year is always insanely stressful for me with work thanks to everybody and his brother having last-minute projects and year-end deadlines.

But first, it’s a race towards Christmas, which will once again take us “a long way away from home” to Georgia, Illinois, and everywhere in between. I’m exhausted and burnt out at the moment, so hopefully the change of scenery and schedule will help rather than hurt.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road. Oh yeah, the husband recently pointed out that apparently, I don’t know how to count. So, I’ve adjusted the “home on the road” numbers and just reached the big #100 in Gallup!

Lee Vining, California: Home on the Road #95

When I think back upon our extended weekend in Lee Vining, one word comes to mind: freezing. We’d driven through this tiny town of approximately 222 people once before while spending three weeks in nearby June Lake. However, this time, we dry-camped in a forest service campground with no hookups to revisit the area while passing through.

This part of the Eastern Sierras is a favorite place of the husband, who’s a big fan of snow-capped mountains, green forests, and skiing nearby. There’s no denying it’s stunning, but we’ll get to my all-time favorite landscape a little further down.

  • Highlights: Making it through Tioga Pass before it closed for the winter, the most peaceful campground nestled among the trees, walking again among the tufas of Mono Lake, revisiting our favorite June Lake Brewing and its Hawaiian food truck
  • Lowlights: Further realizing how miserable I am when I don’t have a warm place to escape to

Tonopah, Nevada: Home on the Road #96

For Thanksgiving, many people have traditions of traveling to see family, going shopping, and eating turkey. Our Thanksgiving tradition involves none of those things. Instead, we aim to find remote destinations that no one goes to in order to escape crowds, traffic, and consumerism. This year’s Thanksgiving destination was Tonopah, Nevada, a place where we hoped to learn a bit more about this mysterious state outside of the usual trappings of Vegas and Reno.

The town itself is a bit run-down and dusty, but it has a quirky charm to it that really can’t be beat. I mean, seriously, where else can you find a creepy Clown Motel, haunted cemetery, and spray-painted cars upturned in the dirt all within a few miles of each other?

  • Highlights: Exploring mining history areas that were dog-friendly, discovering that casino campgrounds really can be alright, getting spooked by haunted attractions in town, walking through a car graveyard not unlike Amarillo’s famous Cadillac Ranch, delicious pesto tortellini for Thanksgiving dinner and craft time with clay and construction paper in the RV
  • Lowlights: More freezing cold days (a big theme of this month), the only brewery in town had not-so-great service and no vegetarian options (but the beer was pretty good)

Mesquite, Nevada: Home on the Road # 97

In search of a little more warmth and to check out another random Nevada town we’d never been to, we booked a spot at another casino campground in Mesquite. Casino campgrounds seem to be the norm in Nevada, go figure. However, the route for getting here was a big part of the intrigue. You see, we took a drive down the Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada State Route 395) in search of aliens, UFOs, and anything else on the paranormal spectrum.

But upon reaching Mesquite, an entirely different type of invasion actually occurred. Much to my surprise, my best friend conspired with my husband to book a spontaneous flight to Vegas and then drive to Mesquite just to see me. I had literally just taken my last bite of Saturday morning pancakes and was two seconds away from hopping in the shower when I stuttered, “Um…what is Michelle doing outside the camper right now?” It was baffling and amazing at the same time.

  • Highlights: Stocking up on alien souvenirs and a grilled cheese sandwich at the Extraterrestrial Highway pit-stop of Little A’Le’Inn, getting a surprise visit from my best friend and spending the day in the desert and later on the Vegas Strip with her, biking around Mesquite to check out the town, ending our stay at the hot tub at the Casablanca Casino & Resort
  • Lowlights: Only having a weekend to check out this new part of Nevada, having to say goodbye to my favorite lady and send her back to a blizzard in Illinois

Kanab, Utah: Home on the Road #98

If I had to pick a place to live based upon landscape alone, I’d pick Southern Utah. Ever since my previous visits to Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Kodachrome, there’s been something magical that draws me to the impressive red rock formations of this area. We stayed in the nearby town of Cedar City for a couple weeks last year and made Kanab our destination this time. Aside from having our first snow of the season, Kanab welcomed me with views I never got tired of, uncrowded trails, and non-annoying people.

  • Highlights: Best landscape views ever, awesome BLM hiking that’s dog-friendly and uncrowded at this time of year, seeing snow on the red rocks, touring the dog and potbellied pig areas of the Best Friends animal shelter facilities, getting into the Christmas spirit with a local musical production, slot canyons you can walk right into, going to my first-ever real estate open house (maybe SoUT will be in the future plans?)
  • Lowlights: Trying to work while wrapped in a sleeping bag/countless layers/hand warmers/etc. when our propane heater broke once again, almost getting stuck in the sandy backroads

Monument Valley, Arizona: Home on the Road #99

Our stay in Monument Valley was short – just an extended weekend. But we packed a lot into it and saw Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley National Tribal Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Sites, and the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. This circuit encompassed Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and was a bit of a three-day whirlwind.

  • Highlights: Seeing incredible rock formations with hardly anyone else around, epic photos of light snow on the formations, learning about Navajo history, receiving a beautiful turquoise and silver Kokopelli necklace as an early Christmas gift
  • Lowlights: Having the Jeep’s battery die and failing to successfully charge it with our solar system battery or push it to the front of the RV for a jump (had to ask a neighbor for help…ugh), lots of time driving and passengering in the RV, stray dogs everywhere and lots of dead dogs on the sides of roads

Gallup, New Mexico: Home on the Road #100

Our last pre-Christmas journey on this road-trip-called-life was Gallup, New Mexico. We’d been to Gallup before and honestly weren’t all that in love with it. But it was the next logical place to stop before starting to head east. Plus, we wanted to check out the Red Rock Park and see a different side of town.

  • Highlights: Scenic hike up the Pyramid Trail and hike to Church rock, quiet campground and no neighbors for few work distractions, surprisingly decent Wi-Fi, the best public laundromat experience I’ve had in a long time
  • Lowlights: More stray dogs everywhere, work stress galore, immune system shutting down, all the prickly thorns that get in Monkey’s feet from the desert shrubs (she got carried for almost a whole minute before squirming her way down), no time or inspiration to do anything in town



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • You always have to pay attention to tunnels when you’re driving a home on wheels. Our RV is about 12 feet tall. This tunnel was 13 feet and three inches. The one after this was only 10+ feet on the sides but taller in the middle. Spoiler alert: we made it through.

  • Maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but my body is having serious trouble adjusting to the cold. However, I’m sure it would be more manageable if I had a comfortable place to wake up and come home to instead of an un-insulated tin box with a chronically broken propane heater. The circuit board gets flooded, no matter what, every time it rains, which kills it and only a $100 replacement gets the back heat on again. This is a shot I took on a morning when I woke up to 31 degrees inside the RV. Warming measures we’ve taken include 1 space heater (2 blow a fuse), covers for the roof vents, carpeted floor mats, and complaining a lot.

  • Then there are days like this…pretty, but no thanks.

  • I’m not a fan of snow, but if I have to see it, I prefer it to be lightly coating some glorious red rocks in Utah.

  • These are Thanksgiving crafts we made to celebrate the holiday out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada over copious amounts of wine. Because we’re like five.

  • Picking up non-space-consuming souvenirs from super-random places is a favorite pastime of mine. This license plate now lives on the front of the Jeep (that’s legal, right?), I can never have enough fun tank-tops, who wouldn’t want to drink out of an alien shot glass, and my insanely large souvenir patch collection continues to grow.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

From here, we embark upon our big Christmas journey back east and sans RV. It never makes sense to schlep this gas-guzzler across the country for just a short amount of time, so we’re sticking it in storage and heading eastbound in just the Jeep.

We shifted over to Albuquerque to make the transition because we found a campground with onsite monthly storage, which makes everything easier. The RV sofa is already piled with crap to pack, yet my packing list has a confusing number items yet to be checked off. Well, you know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the day. Until next month, signing off and happy holidays to all!


Catch up with the journey:

A Nomadic Sweep Through Familiar Lands: Month #28 in NorCal

While last month was all about getting off the grid and exploring new places, we’ve spent this month getting back onto the grid in familiar lands. The shift wasn’t because we couldn’t bare life outside of developed campgrounds no hookups. Quite the opposite! However, it was just that time of year to put in a trip to the Bay Area to visit family and friends for Halloween and Diwali.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Grass Valley, California: Home on the Road #90

Figures. Just when we start trying to narrow down our list of potential plop-down places, we end up adding one more. This was our second stay in Grass Valley, but it resonated with us more this time than last. It’s halfway between the mountains/ski resorts of Tahoe and big city offerings of Sacramento, yet chill and un-trafficy. There’s ample and affordable land here and mutually agreeable weather for much of the year too.

  • Highlights: Alpaca show to welcome us to our fairground campground, getting to know the downtown areas of both Grass Valley and Nevada City better, meeting up with my gnome friend Liz at a brewery/pumpkin patch, perfect fall weather with colorful leaves, biking around Tahoe and the ski resorts
  • Lowlights: Not much coming to mind, which is why this place became post-it-note-worthy

Napa, California: Home on the Road #91

While most people go to Napa for the wine, we go for the closest reasonable campground to visit my husband’s family. This is actually the third time we’ve stayed in Napa during full-time camper life, but we stayed at a different park this time that was almost half the price of our previous spot. This home on the road involved a lot of annoying driving and some crazy smoke due to the latest NorCal wildfire, Camp Fire, in Butte County. We were fortunately at a safe distance from the closest fires, but I still had nightmares of flames coming toward the RV in the middle of the night and trying to decide what to grab before running out the door.

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly Halloween winery party at Trefethen Family Vineyards where we did a trio costume of “s’mores,” our familiar bike routes along vineyard roads, celebrating Diwali with the in-laws, stuffing face with good friends, being a tourist on a fun day in San Francisco, being a safe 2.5 hours from the latest NorCal wildfire, letting Monkey play on a San Francisco beach
  • Lowlights: The usual traffic/crowds/costs that you expect from Napa/Bay Area, crowded campground with annoying neighbors, more devastating California wildfires and the smoke and haze they sent our way

Yosemite National Park, California: Home on the Road #92

This was our second trip together to Yosemite, but our first visit to this oh-so-popular national park was over six years ago. As you’ve likely gathered from following my camper life journey, we detest crowds…especially while spending time in nature. So, we planned our Yosemite trip for (1) the week before Thanksgiving to beat the holiday rush and (2) only on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds.

  • Highlights: Impressive mountain views from the campground, 12 miles of dog-friendly paved paths for exploring the park with Monkey, biking around the park, low crowds due to the time of year, seeing a mama bear and two cubs cross the road in front of us hiking at a safe distance
  • Lowlights: Being cold 24/7 due to no electric hookups and limited propane for occasional heat, public showers, sub-par photo ops due to cloudy days and wildfire haze

With our remaining time in Yosemite, the husband and I are going our separate ways to do some epic solo hikes. I’ll pick up with that in next month’s report.



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • ‘Tis the season for everything pumpkin! My favorite, although the West is notoriously awful for having pumpkin beer. Of all the breweries I go to, not once did I find pumpkin craft beer on draft this fall. Sad times we’re living in.

  • For Diwali this year, I experimented with henna for the first time. I’ve always been curious to try it but too intimidated to go to a salon. My sister-in-law showed me the basics and created a design on my left palm. So, I picked up where she left off and did some feet designs.

  • We finally went “all out for Halloween this year with costumes and festive plans. It’s my favorite holiday, but we’ve skimped on it the past two Halloweens due to being over-consumed with everything camper life entails. It felt awesome to put some gore on my face again.

  • Thanks to living in civilization for a while, we’ve been able to get in some good indoor climbing. In fact, we were able to hit up gyms in Grass Valley, Berkeley, and Napa. Feeling pretty strong, despite the fact that I didn’t actually complete this upside-down bouldering route (womp womp).

It’s articles like this that make me want to move on from camper life. Over a million “modern nomads” are now living out of their RVs? I’m glad I got into it back when I did because clearly this lifestyle has become too common and this niche too saturated! I’m half kidding and half not kidding 🙂

However, the decision of what to do post-camper-life has been hanging over my head in a big way. I’m so comfortable in my current routines with working from the road and moving every couple weeks that anything else scares the crap out of me. I know that sounds silly and that if anything, this lifestyle should make me more adaptable for whatever comes next. But I’m still feeling resistant, non-committal, and dragging my feet.

Shopping for our next home…where does Monkey want to live?

Yet change is healthy, and we never intended for this little lifestyle experiment to last forever. So, I mustered up some courage to narrow down (and share) my personal “maybe” list to these seven regions (in no particular order):

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • San Luis Obispo, California
  • Boise, Idaho
  • Cedar City, Utah
  • Wenatchee, Washington
  • Bend, Oregon
  • Grass Valley, California

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We actually didn’t have a plan for this upcoming month until just about a day or two ago. We were waiting to see if Tioga Pass would be closed by this time of the year, but with no snow in the forecast, it seems good to go. I always enjoy getting to be more spontaneous with trip planning at this time of year (versus the summer) because campgrounds are now so rarely booked up in advance.

The current plan is to cross over into Nevada because it’s a state that we honestly haven’t explored much beyond Reno and Vegas. There’s something called the Extraterrestrial Highway in remote Nevada that’s been calling our names for a while now. Also, I’m looking forward to spending Thanksgiving in the middle-of-nowhere and hopefully staying warm with some electric hookups because well, these fingers and toes aren’t gonna warm themselves.

My new Diwali outfits put my usual hiking clothes to damn shame.


Catch up with the journey: