First Road Trip

Camping From New Mexico to South Carolina

August 30, 2017

Where to Go?

After our first night at Las Cruces KOA, we were feeling pretty confident with this whole RVing thing. We were very aware that we were far from being pros, but we were getting the hang of it! So we started looking for more places to stay on our trek back home to test our new skills :)

We decided to follow a slightly longer route to the Carolinas via 40 so we could avoid some of the bigger cities like Atlanta. Towing an Airstream through big cities is less than ideal and super stressful, so we learned (and were advised by the sellers) to either go around them or avoid them all together. This was pretty cool because we got to drive through different areas and landscapes than we saw on our way to Las Cruces on our drive back.

This being our first test run, we wanted to try different things to see what we liked the most and in order to have different experiences. Our long term plan once we start travelling full time was to do a mix of finding boondocking spots with really cool views on BLM land, National Forests, or in or near National Parks. So after staying at the comfy KOA, we wanted something different. I started looking for green areas on Google Maps, which typically are state, national, or county parks. We also didn’t want to add too much time to our trip, so we tried to find spots off our route. That’s how we stumbled upon Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.

Palo Duro Canyon - Texas Panhandle

I can’t talk about this place with a good conscience without first discussing our ride to it. It was, ummm, interesting to say the least. Instead of taking 40 straight North from Las Cruces to Albuquerque then cutting across towards Amarillo, we took a shortcut via route 60 to get us into the panhandle to head to Palo Duro south of Amarillo. Let me just tell you, 60 has a lot of cattle feedyards right off the highway. Like, so close you can see them clearly (which I might add is not the problem). The SMELL is indescribable when driving through these places. It was so bad at times our dogs, who had been sleeping happily the whole way, woke up and started whining. I had to put a towel over my face to make it through, and once you got a break you were driving through another one!! I didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures of these feedyards with their giant silos of what I guess to be food for the cattle.

The other issue this created while we were driving through at dusk at the end of August was bugs. You could hear them hitting the truck. When we woke up the next day after setting up in the dark, we were shocked at the number of dead bugs covering our truck and the front of the Airstream. More on that later though. I just had to send a fair warning to avoid Highway 60 in the panhandle.

Needless to say, as we got closer to our destination we started getting concerned this state park could get some smelly winds from these feedyards - had we made the right choice? Too late to make a change now! It was getting dark, and we needed to get setup and get some sleep.

When we arrived, we hadn’t fully processed the name of the park Palo Duro CANYON. We had driven through the flat, farmland parts of Texas our entire drive so weren’t expecting much of a canyon at all. Shortly after pulling in however, we saw signs saying 10% grade. It was dark, so we couldn’t see much besides the road in front of us slanting steeply down, but we started thinking how cool it would be to wake up and see where exactly we were! After blindly picking the site we hoped would have the best view at Sagebrush campground, we quickly setup, took the pups for a walk, cooked a quick dinner, and went to bed. In the morning, we woke up to a pretty cool view! We were indeed in a canyon, and a pretty big one at that! We headed to the office to complete our check-in, where we learned the Palo Duro Canyon claims to be the second largest canyon in America second to the Grand Canyon. Prettty cool.

Airstream in Palo Duro Canyon, TX When we woke up, this was what we saw! Pretty cool... Coffee and laptop Palo Duro Canyon, TX This is why we love our panoramic windows by the table.

I wish we had gotten pictures, but the one big drawback to this place was again the bugs. This must be our theme for this stop. Thankfully we smelled NONE of the feedyard smell in the canyon, and there weren’t any near this state park. We were grateful for that! But… it didn’t take us long to notice the amount of dead bugs on our vehicles did not smell good. Who would have thought dead bugs had such a smell?? Anywho, they attracted flies which were already abundant at the campground. So we extended our stay another night, went to walmart, and washed all the bugs off the truck and Airstream.

After that, we were ready to relax and make dinner, so Nick setup Tiki torches to ward off the mosquitoes and we sprayed ourselves with natural bug spray. We felt invincible against any bugs! A few minutes after it got dark we were sitting right next to a Tiki torch doused in half a bottle of this natural bug spray STILL getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I think next on our list of purchases will be one of those pop up screen “rooms.” I still laugh thinking back on this buggy but beautiful place.

Check out the pictures of this place! It was really beautiful. The park ranger told us we lucked out because it’s usually quite dry this time of year, but they had a lot of rain so it was still green.

Airstream in Palo Duro Canyon, TX Gotta love pictures of an Airstream butt ;) Palo Duro Canyon, TX The view from the lookout on the drive back out of the park.

Lake Fort Smith State Park - Arkansas

We weren’t sure how our next stop would go, but based on Google reviews decided it didn’t sound like it would be bad. Again, we would be getting in after hours so we made reservations ahead of time. Things weren’t looking good when we got there close to 9pm and our name wasn’t on the door with the rest of the after-hours check ins. We seriously considered parking in the parking lot to the visitor’s center and heading out early before they opened, but decided to drive past the RV sites and see if we could pull into one and check in the next morning.

Turns out they had fancy little signs that tell whether or not a spot is reserved with the name of the party. So we actually found our name and pulled right into our spot! This place was a true gem! For $22 per night, we had electric and water hookups and a huge site with a picnic table, fire pit, and additional platform for whatever you may need it for.

Lake Fort Smith State Park (Arkansas) RV Site These sites were well maintained and setup very nicely. Lake Fort Smith State Park (Arkansas) Airstream and truck Our setup at Lake Fort Smith State Park - we didn't unhook since it was an overnight stay.

The sites were well spaced out and we went for a walk as soon as we got setup to enjoy the cool night air (and the returning humidity to our sinuses - we oddly missed this while in the West). The sites further down with full hookups were also very nice, and were even more spaced out than ours. Best of all, in early September there were little to no bugs here! After our experience in the buggy canyon, we were thrilled we could walk around and sit outside without a fly swatter and bug spray haha.

Although you can’t see the lake, you can tell it’s close by the air! If we had longer to stay, we would have gone down to explore it. We certainly will be back to do this! One random plus to us was that they had recycling here. All the other places we had been so far only had trash so we appreciated being able to unload our recyclables with a clear conscience here :). They also had very nice bathhouses for Nick to shower in (he doesn’t fit awesomely in our Airstream shower being so tall lol). Another amenity we didn’t get to explore was an impressive pool area (not your typical “campground” pool). Overall, very impressed by this state park!

Lake Fort Smith State Park (Arkansas) road This park was beautifully maintained!

Cracker Barrel Jackson, TN (lol yep, we did it)

This stop doesn’t merit much of a post, but we did end up making a pit stop to sleep here. We called ahead and the manager said they do allow RVs to stay overnight, so we took him up on that! We couldn’t find any cool stops near Jackson, TN and we needed to stop for the night, so we grabbed dinner at Cracker Barrell and parked it! The main downside to our first parking lot camping was that at 4am the trash guys came and it was really loud for a pretty long time. This disturbed the dogs and us so it was tough to go back to sleep. Other than this, it was about how you would imagine sleeping in a camper in a parking lot would be! We woke up early and headed on our way quickly :)

Cracker Barrel in Tennessee Overnight Parking Cracker Barrel Overnight parking spot

Anchor Down RV Resort - TN

By this point, it’s Labor Day weekend and we decided we hadn’t stayed at any RV resorts…. So why not give this a try? Our goal for this trip was to try new things on our way home to see what experiences we liked and which we didn’t. This place was really awesome in a lot of ways and was just not our thing in other ways.

We loved the awesome facilities. Since Nick's tall self doesn’t fit great in our AS shower, it’s always a plus to have nice, clean bathrooms for him to use. Y’all, these were entire shower rooms you had to yourself to get ready! And they were super nice and clean.

Anchor Down RV Resort Bathroom These bathrooms were the nicest/cleanest we've seen so far. Anchor Down RV Resort Shower Can I get tilework like this in my house someday? haha

The view was also pretty awesome. On a day when the campground was less busy, I think we would have loved this place. But the sites were very close together and you had to pay quite the premium for the sites with a view. And on Labor Day weekend, it was completely packed so most of what you could see was RVs all the time. You could smell everything your neighbors were cooking at their outdoor grills, and combined with the fire pits it was quite a smoky area. We didn’t want that smell getting in our brand new rig so we tried not to keep our windows and doors open much (which we love to do!).

This was our last stop before we arrived home. So the fact that our vent fan started smelling like burning plastic (we stopped using it - don’t think it had ever been used before) and our CO monitor went off one night (we immediately turned off all propane) wasn’t the end of the world because we would be able to slow down and learn our rig in order to get these things taken care of soon.