Parking: I-10 Rest stop near Fort Stockton
Parking: Red Roof Inn in El Paso
I saw a print version of this “map” of Texas a few months ago, and I can now 100% confirm the AFN region (between Fredericksburg and El Paso). There is an interstate, sometimes another road paralleling the interstate, a fence, and rare glimpses of livestock (mostly goats).
Between Fredericksburg and Austin, it was slightly more interesting. There is an average of one winery per mile, but there are surprisingly few actual vineyards, so I don’t know how that works.
After driving through about 600 total miles of this vast nothingness, reaching the Socorro/El Paso area is like suddenly finding Los Angeles in the middle of the desert. There is almost a hard line between the big empty and MILES of continuous strip malls. It’s bizarre.
Once again, it was easier and cheaper to stay in an extended-stay hotel than in an RV park.
Austin is like a shiny, brand new city just unwrapped from its cellophane packaging (in the “desert sandstone” designer color).
I had heard that Austin was the “Seattle of the South.” It does share a lot of similarities – very tech oriented, young-adult demographic, influential music scene, marches against Trump, etc., but in other ways it could not be more different. For one thing, it is very clean. Seriously, no garbage, or needles anywhere – even in the “sketchier” parts of town (which were about as sketchy as Tukwila). The parks are fantastic – there are parks/trails along both sides of the river the entire way through the city with places to rent boats/bikes everywhere. There are a lot of dogs – really big dogs, but I saw no unpicked poop, and despite many unfenced off-leash area, the dogs were well-behaved (didn’t have a single dog rush me on foot or on bike).
We went to the original location of Chuy’s – a TexMex restaurant that is now a franchise. The food is pretty good, but the atmosphere at this location is weird, fun and eclectic which is totally lost in their franchised locations. Also nearby were a couple of food truck malls which were doing a stellar business, so we hit those a different day.
We haven’t been to a movie theater in a couple of years, but since there were several Alamo Draft Houses in Austin, we had to try one. I had a pecan stout milkshake that I still don’t quite know if I liked or not.
We went to watch roller derby one night (high bank style) as an early birthday excursion. That was my first time at a match, and it was full of colorful characters (both on the rink and in the stands). I still don’t understand the penalty system (pillow fights as a penalty?), but it was fun to watch, and I think it may have revived my interest in skating.
The only thing that really annoyed me was Voodoo Donuts. Somehow, I had never made it to the original location in Portland, so I was quite happy to find them in Austin. We went to order, and the cashier matter-of-factly said, “we’re out of coffee.” Whut? How does a donut shop that hails from the #2 coffee consuming city in the country NOT HAVE COFFEE? No bueno.
Voodoo Donuts, river parks, food truck malls. Now that I think about it, Austin is probably more appropriately the “Portland of the South.” They even have a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign similar to the “Keep Portland Weird” one.
Louisiana State Parks are fantastic. They don’t have a lot of ridiculous extra fees, the rates are cheap, but the parks are well-maintained and lovely. This is our third one, and I will miss them. Not only did the sites here have wooden decks and separate tent sites, but they also had boat docks at the RV sites.
On the day we arrived, there was only one other guest at the park, and it was heaven for a few days, but since Monday was a holiday, the weekend turned into a circus.
This was one of the cleanest places we’ve been – on the weekend, they must have cleaned the bathrooms four times per day – of course, the downside was that they needed to be cleaned four times per day because some folk are filthy pigs.
Toledo Bend is an interesting lake. It’s the fifth largest man-made lake in the US, and it’s the largest to not take any federal funds. It was a joint venture between TX and LA. The area regularly experienced severe flooding, so it was a good site for a dam. The charts still show the old farm houses, schools, and ponds that used to be in the valley.
When I first looked at a chart of the lake, I saw a bunch of “roads” that went N/S along the TX and LA shores and that E/W across the lake. I’m very familiar with shipping lanes and channels, but those didn’t seem necessary on this lake – it’s a dammed lake with no locks, so there is no commercial traffic, and the lake is about 40′ deep and several miles wide so channels across the lake seemed particularly odd.
Once you are out of the inlet with the boat launch, the reason for the roads becomes apparent – none of the trees were cut down before the valley was flooded, and the lake is essentially one giant navigation hazard. The only places where there are no trees are where there were rivers and actual roads.
The roads are well-marked once outside the inlet, but it’s still disconcerting to see the tops of trees sticking out as much as 6′ above the water line just a few feet outside the road. If I ever have to build a pier, I want to use wood from whatever these trees are – nearly 50 years underwater and still standing strong.
For some odd reason, the road markers do not continue into the inlet, so if you have found this page because you were searching for information on boating Toledo Bend Lake, here’s what you do. After launching and heading out toward the main body of the lake, stay in the middle of the inlet until you can make a very wide right turn around the point and go between the island and the mainland. At the level the lake was when we were there (about 2′ down), there is a section at the narrowest area of the pass where we only had about 6″ of water under the keel (had to keep the rudder kicked up), so go slowly. The really shallow part only lasts a few dozen yards. Once it’s a few feet deep, the road markers start up, and it quickly gets to more than 40′ deep.
Despite the road being as narrow as 50′, the sailing was pretty good. The winds were from the south which meant our return trips were directly into the wind. Since the channels aren’t wide enough to tack, we did have to motor back. We did one trip up north along the LA coast and back, and we did another where we did a loop across E/W 2 into TX, up the S TX road, and back into LA over E/W 4. Everyone else was in small fishing boats, so we were an usual site.
Another great Louisiana State Park. Plenty of privacy, lots of wildlife, nice and peaceful.
We didn’t do anything particularly interesting – just did a lot of walking around. The river has a strong current, and we were worried that it would take forever to go back upstream if we sailed down to the Bay, so we just stayed on land. After the chaos of New Orleans, it was nice to have some to quiet time.
It got down to 22 degrees one night (I think that may be our coldest night so far), and we were in heaven to finally have some really cool weather – we even had to put on warm hats to hike!
This is surprisingly large park so close to New Orleans. The sites are really big, and some of them even have a wooden deck. It was $20 / night which was a bargain considering the one in town wanted $250 / night for the holidays for zero room.
An interesting facet of this park was the lack of locals. In every park that we’ve stayed, locals (i.e., same state tag) have made up at least 80% of the campers, but here they were fewer than than 10%. There was even an RV from Washington and one from Germany.
The annoying thing was that every single person with small, yappy dogs had them tied right next to the street. Each site had 50-100 feet behind the paved pad where they could have tied them up to let people walk to the bathroom in peace. Aggressive dogs are not cute just because they are small.
We had our first Uber rides. We first did a trial run on Boxing Day and then rode again on NYE. It was a nice experience except Uber’s New Orleans maps are terrible and don’t seem to have information on streets that have been permanently closed. Every time our Uber driver got lost trying to find us, but they were all persistent and very pleasant, and everything worked out.
The French Quarter is crazy.
During the day, it’s like going to Disney – tons of folk with strollers, long lines for food, and people standing in the middle of the street to take pictures.
At night, it’s like a giant fraternity party with lights, booze, music, dancing – and strollers.
New Year’s Eve was extra crazy because of the upcoming Sugar Bowl and the fact that it was New Orleans’s first time counting down New Year’s on Dick Clark. Added to that were heavy thunderstorms and minor flooding.
We had all kinds of food in town – excellent raw oysters, po boys, crawfish etouffee, dirty rice, frog legs, crab, and (of course) beignets and coffee.
We did some gambling at Harrah’s, and we went over to the big Sugar Bowl party. Now, I’m not saying that SEC fans are more dedicated than Big 12 fans, but I probably saw 100 Tigers for every Sooner. Unfortunately, due to the lightning, they kicked everyone out of the party for a while. Later on after we had left, they let folk back in for the broadcast.
We walked through most of the French Quarter and the river walk a few times. We got to see all kinds of people – from those dressed in full formal evening wear with a domino to dressed in nothing but underwear.
Every police officer in the state must have been there, and they seemed to be doing a good job of letting people be wild without letting them get out of hand, but it did feel weird opening drinking on the street in front of the cops even though I’m fairly certain there was more rain water than rum in my cup.
Because we got absolutely soaked, we ended up calling the night off a little early and took the ferry across the Mississippi to catch our Uber. We had been warned by our first driver that NO on holidays with all the streets shut down is near impossible for the drivers to reach their customers. Being used to significant ferry rides in Seattle (and one 17 hour ride from Ireland), the three minute crossing wasn’t enough time on the water, but it did give the chance to read the boat’s emergency procedures in case of nuclear fallout while crossing.
The park locks its gates at night and requires an entrance fee during the day, so we still had to do some significant walking to take our Uber rides. I had never been so relieved to get back to the RV to kick my shoes off, and it was fun to turn on the TV for the countdown and see all the places we were just visiting.
Don’t scroll down any further if you are squeamish.