Traveling the US southern tier, Arizona to Louisiana, with frugal budget and teardrop trailer! (Part 2 of 4 installments)

Author's spouse takes a break to read up on travel writing inside our teardrop trailer!

San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a beehive of activity as Texans and visitors celebrate the night scene!
Our teardrop trailer in front of the stately old Marfa, TX, courthouse, on way to Big Bend National Park.
Towering peaks surround Big Bend National Park, in southwest Texas.
This old plantation, framed by mossy oaks, is about 35 miles southwest of New Orleans.
St. Louis Cemetary, New Orlean’s oldest, features this five-coffin mausaleum, for the Young Ladies Association members!
Bourbon Street is very active at night, with young to old celebrating the city’s history and nightspots!

[Installment Two of Five] New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana/New Orleans

Can two retirees travel from California across the US southern tier, explore Florida and the old South towing a teardrop travel trailer and come home on a $2,000 budget?  My spouse and I think so; this is the second in a series about our adventures!  Our rig is a four-year old teardrop trailer, 4’ wide, 4’ tall and 8’ long, offering comfortable sleeping accommodations, drawing gawkers in campgrounds (“can you sleep in that little thing?”) and, towed by our small Ford, allowing 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

For us, it’s a voyage of discovery. We’ve never spent any time in New Mexico, not much in Texas, only a very brief visit for a convention in New Orleans and had never been to Alabama or Arkansas. We hadn’t been to Florida except for the two weeks prior to my entering the Army in 1970. We figured things probably have changed since then!

Hence, on day five, we head east out of Yuma on I-8, passing south of the Phoenix area (we visited last year, home to 15 major league baseball teams, where we saw the Cleveland Indians beat the San Francisco Giants; Cactus League games continue to end of March). We merge into I-10, continuing across an arid Arizona (we make a mental note to stop and explore the Tucson area on a future trip) and into new territory of New Mexico. 

Just off I-10 is New Mexico’s Rockhound State Park, named for the huge rocky landscape and rock hounds who explore nearby formations for noteworthy stones.  Soon we hit Las Cruces and turn south east into Texas, where we will soon leave the Interstate and head southeast on Texas Hwy. 90.

Texas: big skies, arid plains, lots of yucca and cactus and a long way between small towns – and, surprisingly, the mountains of western and southern Texas. I hadn’t planned on those peaks, including Guadalupe Mountains National Park just north of El Paso, the highest place in the state at 8,753 feet, and, traveling to the far southern portion of Texas, Big Bend National Park, on the Rio Grande, surrounded by peaks in the 6,000 foot range – stunning scenery.

Heading to the park we pass through Marfa; despite the town’s strained existence, it has a handsome old Courthouse and the historic Marfa Opera House, now the lightly used Palace Theater. And, quite the art scene, inspired by noted artist Donald Judd.  Though Judd died in 1994, two foundations continue his artistic legacy. 

Nearby is Prada Marfa, a permanent art installation by two Danish artists, located just off Highway 90 about 20 miles northwest of the town. It’s designed to look like a small, upscale Prada store, and was initially designed never to be repaired, so it might slowly molder away, back into the landscape. However, the plan was changed when, shortly after its completion in 2005, vandals stole handbags and shoes and graffitied the exterior.

We stop at the town’s only open restaurant, Dairy Queen, and chat with two young Border Patrol officers. They note that much of the town’s visitor attraction “comes from Big Bend National Park, further south, and the Prada installation”. They also note their jobs are some of the “best in the region”, and, “most border violators are merely dirt-poor Mexicans looking for a better life”.

Big Bend National Park offers stunning beauty amidst its mountains, gulches and dry arroyos. We camped at Cottonwood Campground, on the edge of the Rio Grande River. Road runners (fleet birds) scurry across the roads; leaving the park, we see one Javalina (like a wild pig).

Coming out of Big Bend, a string of dry, dusty and mostly abandoned towns dot eastbound Highway 90 –Marathon, Sanderson, Dryden, Del Rio, Hondo.  Blue sky in abundance, abandoned buildings from better days past, South and west Texas vast, rolling – and, bone dry. Just west of San Antonio, the land gets a bit more rain and we finally see trees!

San Antonio’s calling cards are The Alamo and the Riverwalk – two blocks apart and wonderful reasons to stop in this dynamic city. The fortress called the Alamo was originally the Mission San Antonio de Valero, founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1724 and closed in 1793. The siege and battle of 1836 saw the death of stalwart Texas fighters, contending against a much superior force led by Mexican General Santa Anna.  Today it’s known as the shrine of Texas freedom and a hallowed ground.  Six weeks after the Alamo defeat, Texans led by Sam Houston would defeat Santa Anna and his army at the Battle of San Jacinto, ending the revolution.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is a several mile stretch of the San Antonio River, about 20 steps below downtown, lined with shops, restaurants, taverns and night spots. It’s a hive of activity for young and old San Antonians and thousands of visitors; it was booming with revelers until we departed after a late dinner on the Riverwalk.

We pass through Houston – tall buildings, a bit more vegetation but no time to stop.  Surprisingly, despite about 800 miles on Texas back roads, we see little evidence of the oil industry. For us, we are now bound for Louisiana and New Orleans!

Rainfall and vegetation increase on the way to Louisiana, the state with endless swamps, bogs, bayous and tall trees. The cost of bridges and roads, all of them elevated over water, must be astronomical.

New Orleans appears out of the bayous: gritty, gray, levies holding back sea water. The huge Mercedes-Benz Astrodome seems incongruous, though a modern city rises around it.  Surrounding one side is the old French Quarter, preserving the town’s history and now a hot spot for 20-somethings; the Hurricane Katrina-flooded and derelict Ninth Ward adjoins it, seemingly unrepaired and uninspired.

Armed with a $59 coupon – we stop at a Super Eight, and the clerk notes “$99”, matter-of-factly; it’s late so we settle in for two nights. It’s a three story, interior courtyard hotel that could use a good cleaning and makeover. Floors in the bathroom sag – making one wonder about structural integrity. Figuring it won’t collapse while we’re there, we travel four miles back down the interstate to tour the French Quarter and the Ninth Ward (which had been flooded just years earlier by the devastating Hurricane Katrina).

We toured the oldest cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, dating back to 1789, including the “five coffin hi-rise” crypt for the Young Ladies Association, and the French Quarter. For lively entertainers and an active street scene, Bourbon Street cannot be topped. Later, we tour the Ninth Ward – it looks really beat up and abandoned – though locals tell us it wasn’t much to look at even before the hurricane!

The next day we head 35 miles southwest, touring the old plantations, finding friendly people staffing the grand old farms like Desthrehan Manor House, constructed between 1787-90, the Ormand Plantation, founded 1797, now a bed and breakfast and  the stately Towering Oaks, once a sugar cane and tobacco producer.

How to get there: We crossed New Mexico on Interstate 10, diverted down Hwy. 90 to get to Big Bend Park, and followed 90 to San Antonio, then back to I-10 to get to New Orleans. 

What’s nearby: All of these states have too much good stuff to list; take good maps or a GPS and you’ll find many diversions, depending upon your interests!

What to take: Good walking shoes, a good road atlans, binoculars and your camera!

For more info:  For New Mexico travel, www.newmexico.org; for Texas, wwwtraveltex.com; for Louisiana, www.louisianatravel.com; for Big Bend National Park, www.nps/gov/bibe/.  I also like scanning the New York Times web site, for travel features like “36 Hours in San Antonio”.

Next week, we continue into Florida for a week’s exploration of the Everglades, Key West, St. Augustine and points in-between.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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