above: mountains in west TX covered in snow from Winter Storm Goliath.
With such a long visit with East Coast family near the end of the year, we originally thought of either spending the winter in FL or meandering across the south and skipping the Quartzsite AZ gathering in January since that would require a lot of driving in a short amount of time.
We didn’t want to spend winter in FL for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a huge snowbird destination which makes it difficult to find reasonably priced RV parks in the winter. Second, there are a lot of things to do (in our opinion) on the west coast and we didn’t want to wait until March/April before heading west. Surprisingly much of the South does get cold during the winter, so meandering through the southern states wouldn’t mesh well with our distaste for colder weather.
After talking about it, we decided to just push hard to get over to AZ in two weeks. Usually we drive no more than 250 miles, then stay in one place for a week or longer. For our drive to AZ, we threw all that completely out the window. We decided to break the trip into two parts: 3 days of driving from southern FL to Dallas TX (1,200 miles), take a week off, then 3 days of driving from Dallas to Tucson AZ (1,000 miles). Since we hadn’t done this kind of extreme driving in Rover before, we did a practice run from GA to FL to make sure we could handle it. At 420 miles and 7.5 hours of driving, we knew if we couldn’t manage it, we would have to go to Plan B (after we made up a plan B) to get to AZ. Our practice drive went quite smoothly and we discovered a few helpful tips. Swapping drivers every two hours is perfect for us. It’s long enough to get pretty far but not overload on driving while the passenger has time to relax (or nap in my case). While driving the interstate is boring, it’s easy and not as stressful or tiring as driving US highways. Lastly, Opie really needs Dramamine to help him relax/sleep through the drives without getting motion sick.
We did have our first ever overnight Walmart camping during the first leg of our journey. We checked-in with the store manager, found the right area to park in, confirmed we could open our bedroom slide, did our grocery shopping, and headed out the next morning. It’s definitely not like staying at a campground, but it’s only one night, close to the interstate, and free. If we needed a place to park for one night, we’d do it again. OvernightRVparking.com is a great resource to help find free overnight parking spots. It is a paid site, but worth it if you need to find free places to park. Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Cabela, and Camping World are some of the places that may let you dry camp for free in their parking lots but not all will allow it so calling in advance or using the site to double-check is always a good idea.
Last year at this time, we were further south in TX (Austin, Big Bend and Fort Davis) and were pleasantly surprised by the TX drivers on the roads… safe and courteous. When we made it to Dallas, we expected the same type of drivers, but we were sadly sadly mistaken. Many will cut you off, randomly break traffic rules: blow through a VERY red light to get in front of the cars, follow ambulances on the emergency lanes/shoulders, and forget they have turn signals. I think we both decided to keep our driving in Dallas to a minimum to keep our sanity (and our car dent-free).
While in Dallas, we hit our last Six Flags for the year. That makes a total of eight different Six Flags parks on one season Pass! A great way to check out roller coasters but I think we’re definitely coaster’d out now. If we happen to be near an awesome coaster during our travels in 2016, we might try it, but otherwise 2016 will be coaster-free.
Most of our Dallas stay was walking through our (mostly) flooded campground, playing with Mike’s new drone, and girding our loins for the next leg of our journey west. Due to heavy rains this fall, much of the county park campground was underwater so the trails and lake beach were inaccessible. We did make it out to see the new Star Wars movie, having remained spoiler-free since it opened the week before.
above: one of our first drone videos, checking out our flooded campground
Thank goodness Mike plans obsessively. Watching the weather, he noticed that Winter Storm Goliath was going to hit Odessa, TX on Sunday, at the same time we were driving there for our next overnight stop. If we instead hunkered down in Dallas for a couple extra days, we would get a LOT of rain (in a flooded campground, that could be bad news) from the storm. If we left Dallas a day early, we could try to drive past Odessa and wait out the storm further west (with less snow) but we might hit a lot of rain and wind during the drive. We chose the latter option, left Dallas a day early and drove 510 miles (our longest drive ever in Rover) to Van Horn, TX.
By the time we arrived the temperature had dropped from 70 to 35 degrees. Freezing rain and snow started, wind increased, and the campground power went out. We pulled in our big slide to conserve heat, turned off all extraneous circuits, turned on the propane heat and hunkered in the covers for the 20-degree night. Since the next day’s forecast called for snow, we stayed at the campground to wait it out. The campground did recover electricity that morning, and since the wind died down we were able to open the living room slide and nest comfortably watching it snow lightly for most of the day. We checked the news and saw that a tornado had touched down in Dallas about 12 miles away from the campground we were at, and another one completely destroyed a campground on the north side of Dallas. Living in an RV, we really really don’t like tornadoes! Odessa had gotten a lot of snow, so given the options, we made the best choice to weather the storm.
The next morning after the storm had passed we headed out of Van Horn TX, and drove an easy 230 miles to Deming NM, through some beautiful snowy mountain scenery. Finally, the next day we drove our final 230 miles and made it to one of our favorite campgrounds, Catalina State Park in Tucson AZ, where I am now sitting outside in a t-shirt soaking up the sun and thankful that the past few days are now simply memories.