After a fun night in Nashville, Stephen and I got up early and drove to Arkansas. The Holiday Inn Express in downtown Nashville offered an awesome continental and hot breakfast, so luckily we were able to get a nice bite to eat before heading out for the long drive!
The drive to Arkansas really wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, but we made the best of it by doing the USA Today crossword puzzle and playing ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’. We threw in a few rounds of ‘Would You Rather..?’, too!
Once we got to Hot Springs, AR we were a little disappointed. The National Park is more like a National Landmark, maybe even a National Historical Park, but definitely not what we thought… In the 1800s they discovered the Hot Springs and built bathhouses over top of them to really construct America’s first spa resort. ‘Bathhouse Row’ is gorgeous, but the other side of the street is sort of boring. You would think that there would be an awesome bar/restaurant/boutique scene, but it was the exact opposite. T-Shirt stores, run-down candy stores, vacant buildings and souvenir shops line the other side of the street. It was kind of sad, especially since the bathhouses are still in use (of course they are all closed on Tuesday, the day we were there!) The highlight was that we were able to fill up all of our water bottles and jugs with water from the Hot Springs.
After our disappointment with Hot Springs, Stephen did a little more research and found Ouachita National Forest & Charlton Campground. The entire day definitely turned around when we found this spot; mostly RVers (again!) the people were SO friendly and the volunteer campground hosts came over and made sure that we were comfortable and gave us the history on the forest and campground. We had delicious tacos for dinner and played rummy in the dark. 🙂
Another long drive to Austin ensued the next day. The good news is that Austin was AMAZING and it was so much fun to see and hang out with Bethany again (Bethany and I were roommates in the summer of 2009, which was when I first met Stephen. The 3 of us + our friend James were inseparable!) Austin’s Tex-Mex lived up to it’s hype!
Being that we’re traveling cross-country, it’s sort of become part of the routine to just go with the flow and accept that plans will always need to change. When we found out that Carlsbad closed the backcountry camping due to a fire ban, this was a perfect example. Stephen did more research (he’s the best) and found that Guadalupe Mountains & National Park were only about an hour or so away from the Caverns, so we went. Um, talk about secluded! It might as well have been backcountry, so I got the experience that I needed. We were the only campers there, but knowing that a ranger and his dog were on duty made me feel better. The campground is literally at the base of a canyon, so it provided awesome pictures, a great atmosphere, and a picturesque star gazing scene late at night. It actually ended up being the best night’s sleep while camping I had gotten yet!
Yesterday we went to the Carlsbad Caverns. We did the self-guided route since we didn’t have enough time for a ranger-guided tour, and honestly I think it was just as great. I’m not even sure if words could ever do them justice, so I’ll just leave you with a few pictures…
After the Caverns we made the 5-hour drive to Santa Fe. HELLO, SANTA FE! I love it here! This little town has so much character; I love that there aren’t many tall buildings (most places have stuck with the adobe-style structures) and everything has the Mexican, Native American, and Western vibe to it. It actually reminds us a lot of Jackson Hole with more Mexican influence. We had dinner at The Shed last night and it was exactly what I was looking for. I had the freshest fish tacos ever (even though Stephen reminded me that the fish was probably coming from South Jersey… oh well) with this amazing pineapple-mango salsa, avocado, and shredded red cabbage. Mmm! Stephen got enough New Mexican food for the both of us – the Christmas (red/green chili) Taco Plate, SMOTHERED. His mouth was on fire after the first bite but he continued to eat it. (See his blog for more updates!)
Today we have the luxury of being able to explore more of Santa Fe and camp at a local campground tonight. Last night we stayed in an adorable Santa Fe motel that had the touch of B&B personality. I can’t wait to see more of this adorable town!