Monday: We left after lunch and drove the WanderVan about 7 hours to Slaton, Texas. This leg was about 350 miles to a free camping area in the city park. The RV slots were near the tennis court and the city pool.
Tuesday: We drove about 280 miles today through Carlsbad, New Mexico on our way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. After a stop at the park visitor center, we walked around the ruins of a Butterfield Stage route station. We also visited the Frijole Ranch and hiked to a nearby spring. The weather has been wonderful the last two days with highs in the upper to mid 70s. Our only issue was when the fuel filter on the diesel line for our parking heater started leaking. I had to remove the filter and connect the lines directly to stop the leak and patch the problem enough that we can use the heater if needed on colder nights. Tuesday night was spent at the Pine Springs rest area in Texas. This rest area allows free overnight parking. The rest area was very clean and highway traffic was very light after dark. It is only about two miles north of the McKittrick Canyon access road, which is an excellent location for tomorrow. We did check on camping in the park, but the few campsites are fully booked well in advance. There are no hookups in the park campgrounds, so we could not fill water or dump any of our tanks there anyway. We are enjoying the challenge of finding free camping on this trip.
Wednesday: We were up and finished with coffee and breakfast before 8 am this morning. This part of Texas is in the Mountain Time zone, and it became dark quite early last night. We drove a short distance south and turned onto the park road toward the McKittrick Canyon trailhead. We were there just after the gates opened at 8 am. We loaded our pack with water and snacks, put on our hats and sunglasses, and headed out on the trail on this cool and sunny morning. We hiked a 7 mile round trip route on the trail, visiting the Pratt home or cabin and the Grotto area. The fall color along the creek bed between the Pratt cabin and the Grotto was quite good for this part of the country . We saw a plenty of other hikers on the return trip, but it would not be considered busy on this weekday morning. After eating a picnic lunch near the trailhead parking lot, we drove north to look for some camping sites on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands. We ended up detouring to Rattlesnake Spring Day Use Area first. This area contains Rattlesnake Spring, which provides water for the Carlsbad Cavern National Park. The picnic area there was full of large cottonwood trees providing abundant shade over the tables. We parked the WanderVan and did a little walking and sitting outside to enjoy the nice breeze. We decided to head back toward the main road to look at camping options before it got too close to dinner time. We ended up parking at the Sunset Reef Campground. The area has a few picnic tables and spaces for RVs and tents. There is no water or electricity, but there was a single pit toilet. The view to the west was very nice as the sun set behind the mountains. We showered in the van and heated soup for dinner as the evening grew dark.
Thursday: Today was a fee free day at the national parks, and we spent this day in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After getting our ticket from the visitor center (we had reserved it online, but because it is not an extremely busy time of year, that wasn’t necessary), we headed to the cavern. We walked the 2.5 mile self-guided cave tour, taking the elevator back up to ground level. The formations, and the sheer size of the cave, were amazing! Back at the WanderVan, we ate a little lunch, then walked the nature trail and looked around more at the visitor center where we also watched the park video. We arrived at the Bat Amphitheater in the late afternoon and waited an hour and a half for the bats to fly out, but it seems we were just a day too late, and the last of the bats have migrated to Mexico for the winter. We overnighted in Chosa Campground, another BLM site, which was much more crowed than we had expected for a week night.
Friday: We began our day by watching the sunrise from our bed out the back windows of the WanderVan. We drove into Carlsbad for the morning. First we visited the Living Desert State Park, a zoo and botanical garden, specializing in desert animals and vegetation. Then we walked along the Carlsbad Riverwalk on the Pecos River. We drove on to Hobbs, NM, before stopping for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious, authentic Mexican meal at Maria Bonita Mexican Grill. The meal began with a soup, instead of the usual chips and dip, and there were several different side dish options including fried cactus (which we both ordered) and white corn-on-the-cob. We drove on to Hamlin, TX, to stay the night in their city park. We had a bit of confusion at first on where the free camping was, but we decided that we were in the right spot (or at least one of the right spots).
Saturday: We had read about a free RV dump station in Breckenridge, TX, so we stopped there to empty our tanks before heading home.