The primary destination of our road trip was Big Bend National Park, and we made sure to visit the south rim again.

We returned from a glorious road trip and backpacking vacation in Texas and New Mexico to a fridge that had missed us so much that it died in our absence. Of course, we returned from vacation when the wind chill was -20 degrees and our fridge was mostly empty… so our fridge chose an opportune time to die. We chucked all our frozen items in a cooler and set it outside while we darted off to local home improvement stores on New Year’s Day. Our return home to a dead fridge may not have been auspicious, but our vacation absolutely was.

Managing a Road Trip on Whole30

Big Bend National Park is about a 14-ish hour drive from our house. Usually, this means we load up on my husband’s last day of school and drive until we hit Wichita Falls. Then, we wake up early the next morning and hit Big Bend by late afternoon. En route, we stop at whatever fast food place is handy. Because we rarely indulge in fast food, this is actually a bit of a treat for us. My husband loves a burger and french fries while I have a not-so-secret affinity for Taco Bell.

Fast food on this trip, though, was out. I’m still reintroducing foods on Whole30, so we had to plan our entire trip as if I were still strictly following the plan. To make our road trip successful, we created a giant box of snacks for the road. We threw in apples and clementines. I bought a small jar of almond butter for the road (and single-serving packets for the backcountry). Similarly, I had a few Larabars, Wild Zora, Epic jerky, and coconut flakes handy.  

We prepped food for salads on the road, including hard boiling some eggs and purchasing some grape tomatoes and baby carrots. I also cut up a bunch of celery sticks and green peppers for snacks or salad fixings. These salads were my larger meals for two days, which I supplemented with the available car snacks where needed.  

When we started our return trip home, we ran by another grocery store to stock up on more fresh produce and prepackaged hard-boiled eggs. I can’t say that eating salads in the car was my favorite thing. Usually, this resulted in me eating a meal while my husband drove. Later, we’d stop so my husband could eat his salad. (Although I did more driving than either of us expected, driving is something I have struggled with as a result of my fibromyalgia, so we didn’t always switch driving so the other could eat). I also felt a lot better on the road than we usually do without the regular stops for crunchwrap supremes.

Our Road Trip Adventure Snapshot

We’ve made that 14-hour trek to Big Bend National Park four times now, and each time has been a delight. We did several new hikes, but we also redid some of our favorites, including hiking to the South Rim and Marufo Vega. In addition, we visited the nearby Terlingua Ghost Town to the west of the park.

When we originally planned our trip, we decided to end our trip to Big Bend National Park a few days early. This decision would allow us to return home the long way via New Mexico. We love Big Bend, but we also like exploring new locations. We added Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands National Monument to our itinerary for the return home. Both were gorgeous and otherworldly.

We also swung by Valley of Fires National Recreation Area on on way home. The lava rocks were neat, and it was nice to get out and stretch our legs on the short nature trail. Still, compared to Carlsbad and White Sands, it wasn’t much of a park to discuss.

Sunset in White Sands National Monument, a destination on our road trip.

Road Trip and Vacation Expenses

Because we already have all our backpacking gear, we don’t necessarily spend a lot of money on our vacations. Better yet, a permit to Big Bend National Park is only $12. Even with the admission fee, that’s the best-priced deal we’ve ever had for an unforgettable backcountry experience.

Our biggest costs include pet-sitting, gas, housing, and food. My mom would argue that food is more or less a wash since we have to eat at home too. Because we dehydrated our own meals rather than purchasing premade meals at $12/pop, food was fairly inexpensive. Because we have a fuel-efficient vehicle, our costs there were minimal compared to how much driving we did.

We did mix up staying at a hotel versus camping, depending on the weather and the needs of the day. We really did want that shower at Carlsbad Caverns even though we could’ve easily camped… but sometimes a shower is darn worth the cost. Especially after eight days without one.

We hired a nearby pet sitter to check on the cats and chickens while we were gone. We gave her an extra holiday bonus when we returned. She was fantastic, and we’d hire her again in a heartbeat. Of all our expenses, except perhaps two weeks worth of food, hiring a pet sitter was the most expensive. Still, having someone dependable to take care of your cats and your chickens when it hits -20 degrees outside is nigh well priceless.

Road Trip Magic:  Hobbies on the Road

My husband and I are big believer in audiobooks. Actually, I’m the big believer in audiobooks on road trips, and my zeal has made my husband a believer too. We should’ve picked up a few extra because one of our audiobooks ended up not working and the other my would’ve driven my husband to insanity should we have listened to it in its entirety. Regardless, we read and discussed another four books together while driving in addition to the seven I read on my kindle.

Beyond reading, I picked up some more knitting to start on our road trip. Not every knitting project is particularly conducive to hours on the road, but I think knitting hats is! I finished two hats for Knots of Love and made some decent progress on a third.

I likely didn’t finish that third hat because I did drive a little more than we thought to get us through that 14-hour one-day return drive. Neither of us wanted to spring for a hotel or camp in -20 degree wind chills. We pulled in home just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. We toasted the New Year with our sotol liquor we purchased in Terlingua. Sotol is a kind of liquor made from cactus (yes, I know sotol is a member of the lily family, but it’s still a cactus to me). Sotol was much, much too smooth and entirely delicious.

I knitted two (and some) hats for Knots of Love on our road trip in between driving and navigating duties.

Deep Thoughts During our Road Trip and Hikes

I feel as if I am at a crossroads in that I’m not sure what I want to do professionally anymore. A long vacation can help you gain perspective on all the things that are going so right even as it makes you realize how much can be off too. Even as I tried to enjoy and relish the moment—and I did, believe me—I still reflected on my future.

Where am I going? (Duh, besides to Texas and New Mexico again). I have some ideas to explore, but I’m really uncertain. I don’t think I’ve been this uncertain about my career since I decided my first job out of graduate school wasn’t quite right for my personality. At least I have our suburban homestead, my two cats, and my wonderful, wonderful husband. And a darn good vacation of memories. Oh, and an impressive looking new fridge.

Yes, Marmy still joined us.

A fiery sunset view from the desert floor of Big Bend National Park

Watch for Upcoming Posts Based on the Last Two Weeks

  • Specific Hikes in Big Bend National Park
  • Carlsbad Caverns in Detail
  • White Sands National Monument in Detail
  • Vacation Bookworm
  • Backpacking with Fibromyalgia

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