It’s always a long drive from out west to Florida, where we spend the holidays with family. Some years we just grind it out, driving all day and arriving worn out. This year we had been chased south to I-10 by the weather well before Thanksgiving, so we had a chance to slow it down a bit and arrive in better shape.

We had spent five days at Rockhound State Park in New Mexico, but the weather caught up with us again – Monday, November 17 had a steady 30 mph wind with gusts to 50, and plenty of flying dust, so we battened down the hatches and satellite dishes and stayed put, heading out the next morning to avoid the freezing temperatures coming in behind the front. A check of the forecast showed us that we had to get into the Rio Grand Valley east of El Paso to avoid frost Tuesday night.

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The Organ Mountains as you approach the Rio Grande Valley near Las Cruces, NM.

When traveling at a leisurely pace, we like to go through big cities around the middle of the day, avoiding the morning and evening rush hours, and El Paso certainly qualifies as a big city to us.  There’s also a neat bypass around El Paso – Loop 375 – that avoids the hectic downtown sections along the river, so we got off I-10 six miles into Texas and headed east over the Franklin Mountains, coming south to catch I-10 again on the east side of town. We pressed onward as it got dark because there is absolutely nothing in west Texas on I-10 until you get to Fort Stockton, and deer aren’t a problem out in the desert the way they are once you get into the hill country further east.  Actually, we saw no live deer at all on the entire trip – deer are smart, and tend to make themselves invisible during hunting season.

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My not so friendly neighbor at the Ft. Stockton Walmart.

After a noisy night at Fort Stockton Walmart, during which I riled up the Facebook group by telling everyone what I really thought about huge Class As that pull up next to you and run their generator all night, we headed east toward the hill country and the tree line. We sat around most of the morning and only got a couple of hundred miles to Junction, TX that afternoon – it’s nice not to be rushed. We took a small loop near Sheffield, where Highway 290 parallels I-10, and were in howdy country as soon as we got off the interstate- oncoming drivers wave to you.  I guess they were wondering what this Sprinter chassis was doing out amongst the farm equipment.

Junction, TX is a frequent stopover spot for us because they allow RVers to overnight for free in the city park along the Llano River. It’s a beautiful setting with the river coming over a spillway there making soothing noises.

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The spillway on the Llano River at Junction, TX city park.

Fiona loves this spot because of the large riprap boulders placed along the riverbank that she can climb out on, forcing me to follow at great peril to my ankles. Dawn was misty as the 39 degree air floated over the warm river water and ducks looked for whatever they could find that was edible along the banks, and the town stirred to life.  We snagged a supply of doughnuts and some fuel and headed east again, trying to get through San Antonio around midday and back out into the farm country between there and Houston so we could pick another small town to spend the night in.

Back amongst the live oaks in East TX.

Back amongst the live oaks in East TX.

The small town in question turned out to be Columbus, TX, with a smallish Walmart and HEB grocery store. Nice town, and wonderful hill country sausages in the store, thanks to the German immigrants who settled this area in the 1800s,  but too much truck noise as they unloaded and restocked the store in the wee hours. Fiona and I went out at dawn and tried to dig a hole in the east Texas soil sufficient for her to perform her constitutional – I had to go back for a shovel. They call this soil “gumbo” for a reason. It is very tenacious once it gets wet.

houstonWe were primed to hit Houston at a decent mid-morning hour, and slid past the skyscrapers downtown with only a little traffic congestion.  I got a nice chip in my windshield from a rock kicked up by some homemade trailer without fenders or mudflaps going 80 mph – it’s Texas, after all – but otherwise we were east of town out by San Jacinto without too much trouble. Soon we passed the last mile marker (881 miles, but who’s counting?) and were over the Sabine River and into Louisiana, headed for our sentimental favorite overnight spot, the Atchafalaya Welcome Area, where the mosquitoes were waiting for us.  We had been out west so long we had practically forgotten about them.