We got married. And didn’t have more than $500 for a honeymoon. So, what did we do? We packed my Miata (40 miles/gallon), a tent, some cozy clothes, sun hats, and headed east from San Diego. In all, we drove about 2600 miles in 2 weeks, visiting Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and knocking 3 national parks off the list.
The late start (are you surprised?).
So, leaving San Diego in late-October around 5pm when you are trying to make it to the Arizona mountains for camping is bold, but not outrageous. We arrived at our chosen destination around midnight – the Tonto National Forest, near Payson, AZ. Well, turns out, some early season snow had closed all montane campgrounds early. Nice of the website to tell us that before we started driving. So now what? Sleep there anyway we said. We didn’t have 4-wheel and were highly exposed as our Miata actually doesn’t have a top to it, but no big deal. Until we realized just how freakin creepy this place was. At 1am, we did not feel as if we were alone, even though by all means we should have been. Deep on a forest road well away from the highway, we decided to turn around and keep going.
After passing probably 100 elk that were bigger than our car on the way out, we drove until 4am, when we finally made it back to the main highway (whoo hoo I-40!!) and found a safe RV campgrounds in the desert as opposed to the creepy forest.
The good news is that the next day, we were practically in New Mexico already, and onward to Santa Fe and Taos, NM.
We found a great little lodge to sleep in for only $70 a night (this was our big splurge). It was super cozy as the winter was already descending on the mountains. The rest of the time we slept in our lovely tent.
Originally we were not planning on making it this far. After the Enchanted Circle near Taos, NM, we were going to head home. But since we had covered such ground the first night, we had more time than we’d thought. And what better than to head south? Spontaneity is our strong suit when it comes to travel – some of our best ideas have not been planned until the day before. See more of the caverns here.
A quick hike in southern TX to break up the hours of driving:
Big Bend, TX
We have both been to Texas before, but not like this. Texas is a large state but mostly flat, and sandy, or so we thought. Turns out this area of TX is hilly and green. Like a tropical oasis. To make things better, a hurricane was on its way, coming across Mexico. This we really were not ready for because, again, our Miata did not have top. See more Big Bend here.
A few wildflowers
Some random things you see along the way:
Last stop, Saguaro National Monument in Arizona
One last night of camping on our way back proved to be a bit more challenging than we thought – all the sites were taken! As it goes, winter camping is very unpopular in the mountains, but down in the deserts? Its the best thing going. After we left the monument and drove just outside the park we found a lovely site with no one there (probably because it had no facilities).