Christmas, Lead the Way ~ Part 2

Our epic Christmas Road Trip began in Arizona, starting from our cousins’ home in Rimrock, AZ (near Sedona). What is it about the desert? I just love it! Especially during the winter, with the crisp air. One of our first stops was Petrified Forest National Park. This is where it all begins, where we learned about the National Park Passport Program. We bought a book. We stamped the book. History was made. Let the National Park marathon begin!

Petrified Forest NP is really quite incredible. It has a great driving tour, which I love, and lots of easy hiking and interesting stops. There are petrified wood logs 218 million+ years old, crystal forests, painted hills, giant logs and more. And, there was a light dusting of snow on such rich colors that it was absolutely breathtaking. Proud to have this as the first stamp in my book.

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From Arizona, we began our trek to Taos and Santa Fe. Make sure to read Part 1 blog post for all the magical moments we spent in Santa Fe!

Between Santa Fe and Dallas, there really is not a whole lot and it is a 10 hour drive. It’s Christmas and attractions are closed, so today was a driving day. However, one of my most memorable road trip stops was at Cadillac Ranch! I love quirky roadside attractions and I always wanted to see this place.

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It did not disappoint! We got there just before sunset and stayed the night in Amarillo. Got up early for some morning shots and then headed out because… there was a blizzard coming! Had we stayed 8 hours more, we would have been in the thick of it. I was tempted to, as I’ve always wanted to experience a blizzard. Sadly, I decided it wasn’t worth losing 3 days of the trip so we continued on.

Here is where the traveling got interesting. As we’re heading into the Fort Worth area, it started to get real dark and my weather app kept popping up with tornado watch alerts. I am terrified of tornados! Aside from a few gas stations, there is nothing around us so we had to keep going. At one point I asked my mother… are there mountains in Texas? There are no mountians. We were driving into the darkest storm cloud (almost like a ridge) you’ve ever seen. And, it was pouring so hard that I had to pull over a couple times. There were lots of other cars on the road, and like I said there was nothing else around, so we had to keep going and I assumed it was safe. Probably not!

We finally get through the cloud and are approaching Fort Worth. It’s sunny and really really humid, in the 70’s. Very strange weather but I’ve heard that about Texas, so… whatever. We enjoyed the Historic Stock Yards and some Texas BBQ. We watched a cattle drive down Exchange avenue, which they tout to be historically accurate down to the spurs on the boots.

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By the time we’re done, the tornado watches are back! Our phones are blowing up, and the weather channel is predicting high probability of it landing in the Dallas area where I was planning on booking a room. We decided to head out to Grapevine area instead and boy I’m glad we did because this happened later, only a few mintues away from Dallas! This is the dark wall cloud we drove through and didn’t know it. It caught up to us in Dallas/Garland area. There were 9 tornados that night 😦

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Phot Credit: BIRCHMENCOLONIZER / REDDIT

Aside from that nerve-wracking night, the rest of the Dallas stop was uneventful but we lost about a day of sightseeing plans in Houston and decided to finish up in Grapevine and get out of there. Before we left, we checked out the Gaylord Texan Resort which is known for their holiday decor. In fact, Grapevine is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas, featuring 1400 holiday events. Sounds like my cup of tea! We explored the hotel and had the most amazing Sunday brunch buffet.  

We headed South, through Hill Country of Texas (few more stops around there) and down to San Antonio and I was so excited to see the Riverwalk! It was lovely, and amazing at night with the Christmas lights. So many restaurants and hotels.

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It’s also not a trip to San Antonio without seeing the Alamo!

And the San Antonio Missions! More stamps in my book.

But the real treat in San Antonio was our evening at the world famous Majestic Theatre to see The Nutcraker.

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San Antonio was short and sweet, but there was still more Texas to see. Really, the state is ginormous and we’ve only reached the middle by this point. Next stop was Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is steeped in history and well… death. Visitor deaths from heat and getting lost in the desert, and murders apparantly (over 200). Many ghost sightings have been made! But, it is beautiful.

Snapseed (5)

We did the driving tour, saw the Mexico pedestrian crossing, looked over the Colorado River into Mexico and did a few hikes. My favorite hike was to Balanced Rock.

Big Bend is also one of the least visited national parks because of how remote it is, and is considered an International Dark Sky Park. It is great for stargazing. We attended a star party at the McDonald Observatory and I’ve never seen so many stars in all my life. They had lots of telescopes set up, some small and some HUGE. This is not my picture, but this is exactly what it looked like and we were in awe!

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Photo Credt: McDonald Observatory

There is more to see in Texas, but it’s time to get a move on. We headed back up to New Mexico where we visited Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Guadalupe National Park has been my least favorite park so far, but perhaps because it’s hard to experience unless you are camping. We did a very short hike and moved on.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park on the other hand was quite amazing!  I’m really not a fan of caves, but this one is so big and well lit with handrails and even a snack bar that it felt like a Disney attraction.  One of the caves, Lechuguilla Cave, is the deepest limestone cave in the United States and is the fifth longest cave on the planet. The “Big Room” as they call it, is the size of 6.2 football fields!

It’s New Years Eve by this point, and we’re headed off to a fun little quirky town called Roswell! Anyone a fan of the show? I had way more fun in this town than I thought. There isn’t a whole lot to it, but we did an alien photo hunt and visited an alien-themed gift shop and a museum and really had a great time! Oh and remember that blizzard? Roswell got hit hard too!

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We even made a friend to share New Year’s Eve with!

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He even joined us on our next stop to White Sands National Monument! White Sands is absolutely incredible. It almost looks like snow! You can buy sleds there or bring your own. It’s a great time!

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The trip is coming to an end and we’re nearing Arizona again. One of our last stops was Tombstone, AZ. It is as kitschy as you think it would be, but it was really a lot of fun. The history is real and the town certainly takes advantage of it. It was the stomping ground of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and other infamous outlaws.  We watched a gun fight at the O.K. Corral, shopped in their adorable shops, made friends with the moustashery guy, took a trolly ride and had lunch at the famous Crystal Palace Saloon.

Heading home, we made a stop at our final national park site of the trip – Saguaro National Park. This is a really great driving park. They have a nice driving tour + short hikes throughout. The cactus are HUGE and I mean big. And beautiful. We arrived just before sunset and it was spectacular.

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My life was changed after this trip. I discovered my passion for national parks, and that passport book led me down this wonderful path of visiting every single one, all across the United States. Because of it, I have explored and experienced areas of our country I would never have gotten the chance to see. Can’t wait for more!

For a complete list of all stops on this trip, keep reading.

Until next time…

— The Time Traveler


ARIZONA

Petrified Forest National Park – Amazing in the winter! Colorful rocks, petrified logs that are millions of years old, lots of short easy hikes.

Elephant’s Feet – Fun little rock formation as you head out of Arizona. Looks just like elephant feet!

Tombstone Trolley Tour (Tombstone) – Such a good tour! It’s about 25 minutes and they tell you the history of the town and the famous inhabitants.

Boothill Graveyard (Tombstone) – The town’s first cemetary and where they used to bury all the outlaws!

Allen Street (Tombstone) – The main tourist street where all the shops and restaurants are. It is very themed and very festive!

O.K. Corral (Tombstone) – See Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp fight the McLaurys and Clantons in daily reenactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Crystal Palace Saloon (Tombstone) – Great for lunch in a historical saloon.

TEXAS

Cadillac Ranch – Free and quick photo opp of classic cars sticking out of the earth!

Historic Fort Worth Stockyards – Go for the cattle drive and lunch at Risky’s BBQ mmm. They also do tours of the cattle exchange, walking tours and more. And if you like to Honky Tonk, well… this is your place.

Gaylord Texan Resort – An AMAZING atrium style hotel that goes allll out for Christmas.

Driskill Hotel – An elegant historic hotel in Austin, perfect for a meal or coffee break.

Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park – The home of our 36th president and considered the “Texas Whitehouse”. It was really neat to see his mini Airforce One!

The Alamo –  In 1836, a small band of soldiers sacrificed their lives in hopeless combat against a massive army in order to prevent a tyrant from smashing the new Republic of Texas.

Riverwalk – Famous water canal through the streets and shopping/hotel district of San Antonio.

Majestic Theater – One of the most beautiful theaters in the U.S.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park –  Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site preserving four of the five Spanish frontier missions in San Antonio.

Star Party at McDonald Observatory – A special event they host throughout the year where you get to use all their expensive telescopes and learn about the stars!

Rio Grande Border Crossing (Big Bend NP) – Fun to peek across the border into Mexico!

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (Big Bend NP) – A must-do scenic drive in Big Bend.

Balanced Rock (Big Bend NP) – Short, fairly easy hike to a huge rock teetering between two other rocks. A lot of parks have a balancing rock, but this one is really cool!

Rio Grande Nature Trail (Big Bend NP) – Hike past their natural hot springs, see a 2015-12-29 20.21.23couple historic buildings, peer into Mexico.

Chisos Mountain Lodge (Big Bend NP) – Kind of classy for being in the middle of no where. Delicious too! I’m always surprised at how good the restaurants are in national parks.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park – Did the short hike to Frijole Ranch. Best to leave this park for when you have time and experience to camp.

NEW MEXICO

Read all about my Christmas in New Mexico excursions here!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park – Famous caves in the U.S., really well lit and nice walking path so it does not feel creepy! Too bad the elevator was not working when we were there. Ugh, that was one long walk straight up. They are also known for their bat flights!

Roswell New Mexico Alien Hunt! – There are aliens all over the city! Do a fun photo hunt and make sure to stop at the UFO museum.

White Sands National Park – Spectacular! Pure white sand looks like snow! Bring a sled and your adolescent spirit.

Saguaro National Park – BIG cactus, gorgeous scenic drive with lots of vistas.

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