Trip Report: Texas to Maryland
Updated: Jan 2
November 22 – December ?
Well, this is it. We leave Pigeon Forge tomorrow en route to Staunton, Virginia—our last stop before rolling up to my parents’ house. We’ve spent more than seven months on the road and in many ways we’re ready for it to be over. We’re ready to sleep in a comfortable bed; to shower without either wearing flip flops or turning the water off to lather, on to rinse; to cook in a real kitchen; and to move without coordinating each step. (It’s literally three steps from one end of our trailer to the other, with a width of about two-and-a-half feet.) We’re also ready to visit with family and give the kids a chance to enjoy Christmas with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
But we’ll miss this once-in-a-lifetime version of our lives: the adventure, the beauty, the rare opportunity to focus wholly on each other.
For the past several years we’d spent Thanksgiving with friends in Los Angeles and we missed that tradition this year. Yes, it was unique and entertaining to experience a just-add-water, ready-in-30-minutes meal of thick-sliced turkey lunchmeat, Oceanspray cranberry sauce, instant mashed potatoes, Stovetop stuffing, and a store-bought lemon merengue pie while residing at a state park in Lake Colorado City, Texas. But at the same time, we missed the tradition of cooking all day on Wednesday in preparation (including the Myers Family must-have of pumpkin pecan pie) then celebrating on Thursday with friends. I certainly wouldn’t erase the memory of dining in a burr-ridden campsite adjacent to a toxic lake surrounded by cacti. I’m glad we did that, and I’m glad we won’t be doing it next year.
Since we didn’t care for our Texas State Parks campground, we decided to cancel our remaining reservations at two additional parks. We had planned to spend six more days crossing Texas but instead opted to do it in one 12-hour day, leaving early in the morning and arriving after dark at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Reservations aren’t permitted at the park’s only campground, so we were pleasantly surprised to find an empty slot that revealed itself the next morning as one of the best sites!
Gulpha Gorge Campground, as its called, was beautiful. We realized spending a month in the desert was bringing us down, and we were really happy to be back in the beauty of the forest in fall, next to a river. The park itself was kind of weird—more town than nature—but we had a good time exploring it anyway.
It was here, reinvigorated by camping on a carpet of fallen leaves, that we decided to up the ante for our adventure by driving through the night. So we left Gulpha Gorge at 1:30pm en route to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We estimated it would take us about 12 hours to get there, but we couldn’t check in until 8am. So we decided a leisurely drive was in order.
That’s how we found ourselves walking around the huge, pyramid-shaped Bass Pro Shop in Memphis. “I wonder what it’s like in there,” I said to Wendy as we passed the neon-lit pyramid on the highway. She asked me if I wanted to stop and I said no. But then she Googled it and relayed the fact that it had a huge fish tank and alligators. This newfound knowledge necessitated navigating rush-hour traffic in the dark to re-route ourselves back to the shop, where we spent about half an hour taking the kids from one exhibit to the next.
Yes, there were alligators and a river of sorts running through the store with catfish and some monstrosity bigger than the kids. But the highlight was the aquarium, which elicited jumps and squeals of “So much fun! So much fun!” from Darwin.
We fed the kids PBJ pitas in the Bass Pro parking lot then continued on our way. At 4:30am we rolled up to our campground for the night: a Walmart parking lot. This is also something we’d wanted to try but were hesitant due to safety concerns. But Wendy had researched this one on the RV Parky app, where it had gotten great reviews. And it went great! We fell asleep around 5am, rolled out again at 9am, and pulled into the Pigeon Forge KOA at 10am.
We’ve had a really good time here. We drove through Great Smoky Mountains National Park yesterday, stopping to walk some of the Appalachian trail and to visit various log cabins. We also took the kids to Dollywood. This was their first time riding any sort of ride and they had a blast! I rode the first couple with them—squished into the back seat of a pig and bee respectively—but they conquered a duck on their own.
We also rode the Ferris wheel as a family and the kids are still talking about it. Our big kid—Wendy— got to ride a bunch of roller coasters and the theme park had a kennel so we didn’t have to worry about CeCe. I can’t ride most rides and don’t like to anyway, so for me the highlight was the racetrack—a ride I used to love as a kid where you get to “drive” a car along a single track, so your steering matters. Each of the kids had a chance to drive and did so quite differently. Emerson jerked the steering wheel from side to side, laughing all the way. Darwin steered a little, honked the horn, and batted at the dice on the dash, also laughing heartily. It was awesome.
Although the kids have proven themselves to be quite capable motorists, tomorrow I’ll drive us about 300 miles, mostly highway, to camp near Polyface—the iconic farm of Joel Salatin, who’s considered an expert in sustainable agriculture. Then we’ll drive a few hours to my parents’ house in Maryland, where our trip will end but our adventure will continue.