Day 19 New Orleans To Point Clear, THE END!

We woke early in New Orleans, before the people with hangovers could stumble out for aspirin. Shopkeepers were hosing down their sidewalks. I don’t want to know why. We walked a few blocks from our hotel to here:

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Cafe Du Monde has been serving up beignets and cafe au lait for just about forever, so long that they have it down to a science.

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A delicious, delicious science.

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We passed by Jackson Square. I have no idea what it is, but ain’t it purdy?

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You can’t leave New Orleans without a few pralines. (Or maybe you can, but I can’t.)

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I chose this place because it looked like a mom-and-pop store in the middle of huge praline chains. Plus they said they had the best pralines, and you know how I feel about places that say they’re the best.

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But in this case, they weren’t exaggerating because OH, MY GOODNESS!! Seriously the best, best pralines I’ve ever had. (And I’ve had a few. Heh.)

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Since it’s our last night, I chose a sort of special occasion place on the coast of Alabama, in Fairhope, to be exact. I’d always heard the gulf shores are lovely. Turns out they are. For supper, I had fried seafood at an Italian place named Gambinos. (Somehow that made sense at the time. Also, it was delicious!)

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We spent the rest of the night swimming and enjoying the ocean at our wonderful, fabulous hotel.

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Tomorrow we head north again to Tennessee. (We’re planning to stop for supper and ice cream in Chattanooga, woo-hoo!) It’s been a wonderful, fabulous road trip. Thanks for tagging along!

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Day Eighteen: Houston to New Orleans

The day started off well. We went to the Breakfast Klub, a super-friendly eatery that specializes in made-from-scratch breakfast dishes bigger than your head. They also have awesome, bottomless cups of coffee, and not the thimble-sized ones. These are for serious coffee drinkers. Then we got to the parking lot and someone sideswiped the rental car, leaving a small but distinguishable scratch. We spent the next two and a half hours being shuttled between three police stations to try and make a report for insurance. Nothing says vacation like soul-crushing bureaucracy.

On the way to New Orleans at last, the scenery began to flatten out into marshes, sugar cane, and bridges. The massive bridges stretched for miles and miles. (One was eighteen miles, to be precise.) To take a break, we stopped at one of the visitor centers in Louisiana. What a delight!

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This is what rest areas dream of being when they grow up–clean, spacious, staffed with friendly people, and good smelling. Plus they have alligators!

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The wasted time made a massive dent in my near lifelong desire to see New Orleans. But we still had time for a po’ boy.

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The Parkway Bakery & Tavern is the place to go for these sandwiches. I got the oysters, which they only have on Mondays and Wednesdays. I can also heartily recommend the bread pudding. (Take note that they’re closed on Tuesdays.)

I was game for ice cream, but no one else was. That might have been a good thing since the baby had one of those diapers that’s so bad it takes a pit crew to change it.

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On the way to the hotel, we saw a bit of the French Quarter.

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Tomorrow we finish New Orleans and head for our last day. Sadness.

Day Seventeen: San Antonio to Houston

We were warned to get out of San Antonio early. (Not in a malicious shoot-out-at-noon way, but in a you’ll-be-stuck-in-traffic way. Apparently I-10 on this route becomes a parking lot on most days.) But we couldn’t scoot out of San Antonio without visiting my mom’s favorite TV preacher, Pastor Hagee.

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Cornerstone church was ultra-huge, but the music was good and so was the sermon. And the people were friendly. And the baby got to play with toys instead of hotel ice buckets and toiletries. It was a win for everyone.

Due to our early departure, the three-hour trip was fairly uneventful. In fact, we arrived too early to check into our hotel. So we went here to feed the police horses some carrots. They know when you’re coming and flock toward the treats. It’s adorable.

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Did I mention it was 99 degrees? It was 99 degrees. We drove by the water wall, but didn’t get out. Because it was 99 degrees.

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Then we found a bakery, Uncommon Bond. The chocolate chip cookies, oh, the chocolate chip cookies. They’re 3.50 per cookie, but they’re worth it. Seriously. (Take it from a connoisseur.)

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The bakery was in Montrose, a strip full of quirky stores and antique shops.

Next we went to our hotel, a Sheraton Suites near the Galleria. For the uninformed, the Galleria is the country’s fourth largest mall. To beat the heat, we swam for a bit and then grabbed supper here.

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Good Dog Houston makes upscale hotdogs. They’re good, so good that I forgot to get a picture.

For dessert, we headed here. They make ribbon ice, sort of a creamy shaved ice milk. They also have sno-cones with all-natural syrups. My daughter, who is allergic to all food dyes, was able to have a sno-cone for the first time ever. It was a grand day.

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After, we drove around Memorial park, a giant green space in the middle of the city. There were people out walking. They must not have gotten the memo that it was too hot for that sort of thing. Houston seems like a lovely city, especially when viewed from the safety of our air-conditioned van.

Days Fifteen and Sixteen: San Antonio

Before heading to San Antonio, we needed to finish Carlsbad Caverns. We arrived bright and early to head into the darkness seven stories below ground.

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We explored one mile of the cave, called The Big Room.

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That left 30 miles of cave we didn’t explore.

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It was a cool and moist 56 degrees below ground, something we would remember fondly as we headed into the heart of Texas hill country, San Antonio. As we made our way southeast, we spent a long time on a highway in the heart of oil-boom country. All we saw were oil trucks, pipelines, and crews and crews of men, trucks, and equipment working on them. It was oddly fascinating. Then we hopped on I-10 and the fascination came to a halt. Let me just say that there is very little for a very long way and then all of a sudden you’re in San Antonio, which is huge.

Last night, exhausted from our long day, we grabbed a bite at The Big Bib, a BBQ joint. (If you don’t eat BBQ while you’re in Texas, they don’t let you leave, I think.) The Big Bib is one of those Mom and Pop-type places that makes you smile when you walk in, probably because it smells so good and you know you’re going to get good food, which we did. In fact, the food was pretty spectacular.

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See that sweet potato casserole? Nom, nom, nom. Delicious! PS. All this food isn’t for me. I shared it with both my kids. Just felt I needed to put that out there before people start mailing me anonymous memberships to Overeaters Anonymous.

The next morning we went to the Riverwalk. We parked at the far end of the walk. (At The Pearl, an outdoor marketplace. It was also free to park.) We then hailed a river taxi, the best way to see everything. (You pay $15 and can hop on or off anywhere all day.)

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And my husband got to add some new birds (a yellow crowned night heron) to his bird list.

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(We also saw some neo-tropic cormorants and black bellied whistling ducks.)

If you’ve never been to San Antonio, let me explain that the Riverwalk is fifteen miles of scenic downtown, comprised of shops, restaurants, and this place.

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Despite the fact that the Alamo battle took place in 1836, you still get a sort of sad, reverential feeling when you step inside. Or maybe it’s because you’re waiting in nearly hundred degree weather in a line that looks like this.

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It’s worth the trip, if only to see this flag which riled my fighting spirit.

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You want this cookie?? You’d better come and try to take it!! But I digress…

The river walk is beautiful, even if you never leave the boat. (Considering the high temperatures and crowds of people, you might be better off never leaving the boat. Bring water. And don’t go on the weekend that 85,000 Seventh Day Adventists are there for their annual conference like we did. Oops. At least we had the pork products all to ourselves.)

We left the river walk and headed back toward our hotel for supper. We stopped off at a ginormous shopping mall called La Cantera and ate at a place called Whiskey Cake.

Normally I don’t condone eating at chain restaurants on vacation, preferring instead to eat locally. But this is a regional chain that cooks from scratch using locally sourced ingredients. I would give it a mixed review.

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My BBQ pork Bahn Mi was meh. But their eponymous whisky cake was fabulous.

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After such a long, hot day, nothing sounded better than a dip in the pool. Nothing except fresh, warm cookies hand delivered to my door, that is. Thankfully Tiff’s Treats offers such a service.

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They come packaged like an engagement ring. Coincidence? I think not.

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Our biggest surprise about San Antonio was the size. It’s huge, and tonight we learned that Houston–tomorrow’s destination–is four times bigger. Fingers crossed that means four times the cookie bakeries.

Day Fourteen: White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

The best kinds of surprises are the ones that sneak up on you. That’s what New Mexico did for me. I didn’t expect much from it—mostly desert, maybe a few cacti. But it’s been so much more. First there was the stunning beauty around Albuquerque, followed by the artistic majesty of Santa Fe. Then we swung in from the west and got to enjoy the stunning vistas around Los Lunas.

Our hotel, a wonderful Holiday Inn Express, was located in Belen. (Pronounced B’lynn.) The people we encountered there were so friendly and almost seemed to find it fascinating that we were from Ohio. (Fascinating and Ohio aren’t words that often go together. Ohio is more like the flour and baking soda of baked goods. Can’t make a cake without them, but on their own they don’t taste so good.)

Today we saw a different side of New Mexico when we headed south to here:

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White Sands National Monument is one of those places you’ve vaguely heard of before but don’t really know what it is. Well, let me tell you—it’s a whole lot of fun!

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We went based on the recommendation of friends who are from the area. (Hi, Kriss and Felicia. Thanks!) I’m so glad we did. Not only is the sand like nothing you’ve ever experienced before—it’s cool to the touch and packs like snow—but it’s uncrowded and you can sled to your heart’s content. (The gift shop on site sells kids’ sleds for 14.99, along with sled wax for 1.99. You can sell them back before you leave for 5.00 for the sled and 1.00 for the wax.) Expensive, but worth it. Or bring your own sled. Either way, this is a site that is not to be missed, especially if you have kids.

Unfortunately the nature of a road trip is that we always have to get on the road. After way less time than we would have liked, we re-sold our sled and headed east, stopping first for lunch in Alamogordo.

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Caliche’s is a local frozen custard chain that also makes a mean chili dog. (The chili dog began to feel especially mean when we headed east through the mountains.) But we stumbled upon a picturesque little ski town in the middle of a lush national forest. So beautiful!

After we made our way through the mountains, the land flattened out and became scrubby again and then we arrived here, our sixth and final national park of the vacation.

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*A note about the weather—Be prepared for anything when you travel in the southwest. Here is my husband borrowing my mother’s sunglasses. (This will henceforth be referred to as his Elton John phase.)

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It’s easy to think that, since it’s the desert, you will only need shorts and lightweight t-shirts. Those have comprised the majority of our wardrobe, but we’ve also experienced temperature variations from 107 to 59 degrees. And it has rained almost daily for the last week. An umbrella would have been a marvelous idea.

Back to the park. In all of our vacation research, we somehow missed the fact that the caves close at five. We arrived at a little after six. The bat flight program starts at a quarter ‘til eight. The gift shop closes at seven. As you can see, the math doesn’t add up. We waited for the bats a long time in the amphitheater. When they finally arrived, we had to keep an active, tired baby completely still and silent. He did better than expected, lasting a good forty-five minutes before we had to flee the arena.

Here is a glimpse of the cave. Unfortunately you have to turn off all devices in time for the bat flight, but it was fairly spectacular.

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Tomorrow we return to the cave before heading into the heart of Texas. Yee-haw!