It’s been three and a half months since we turned east from California to return home to New Jersey amidst the threat of the coronavirus. Instead of sitting cross-legged on the bed in the camper to type, I’m sitting at a desk in the loft room of a cozy little house that we bought. After all of the freedom of the road, we are setting down roots.
But I never finished writing about all of the places we visited, and it’s finally time that I do. The western states contained some of the most amazing sights and memorable experiences of our trip. How can I leave out the best parts of the journey?
When I left off, we were just about to enter Texas, the 11th state of the trip. I was using a combination of camping apps and a paper atlas to determine camping spots, and I pointed us in a direction that gave us a few different options for campgrounds depending on how much we wanted to travel that day. We ended up rolling into Mission Tejas State Park after dark on a foggy night. We had a bit of trouble finding a level site, but we eventually found one that worked and got ourselves set up. I walked the dogs while George hooked up the water and electric, and I found a reconstruction of the first mission church in Texas right in the campground.
When George finished setting up the camper, we walked the dogs some more on hiking trails that were accessible from the campground. I was a little apprehensive taking trails in the dark without knowing where they went, and after hearing an animal rustling in the undergrowth not far from the trail, I was attuned to every sound. We wore headlamps in the dark, and George wondered aloud if the reflective glints we saw on the ground were water droplets from rain or dew. I had a suspicion that they were spider eyes, and close inspection proved that they were!
We found our way back to the camper without incident and spent the night listening to rain drumming on the aluminum roof as thunderstorms rolled through. All of the rain passed by morning though, and before leaving we took the dogs for a hike to get their energy out. In the daylight, we could appreciate the beauty of the huge trees and rolling hills in the pine forests. We explored the reconstructed mission building and walked along a portion of El Camino Real, a road that the Spanish built from Mexico to Louisiana.
The replica mission building was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 20th century, but the original mission was built by the Spanish in 1690. The Spanish were competing with the French to colonize the area, and they built a mission in this location to convert the native Caddo people. (The name Texas is actually derived from the Caddo word for friend, “tejas”.) After a smallpox epidemic, however, the Caddo plotted to overthrow the Spanish, so the Spanish burned and abandoned the mission.
This park was mainly a place for us to stop for the night, but if we had time to truly delve into the history, we should have also visited the nearby Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, which features burial mounds of the Caddo people and a museum about their culture and the impact of European colonization. The Caddo are still around today, but they live in western Oklahoma, where they were moved by the US government in the 1800s. If I’m ever in the area again, I’ll be sure to look more closely at that element of the region’s history and culture.
As it was, though, we had a long day of travel before us. As soon as we finished walking the dogs, we hit the road toward our next destination, which would turn out to be George’s favorite part of the entire trip: Dinosaur footprints!