The Drive | First Week of December

Dec 30

Safety Third! A picture taken of the landscape outside my window during my drive.

One week, almost 20 hours of driving through three states, two overnight stops and one “road” that was really just a slab of cement with a creek running over it defines my first week of December. 

I had been dreading this long driving stretch since I began planning the December portion of my trip this past January. I knew I would be driving through empty desert where rest stops and gas stations would be scarce and admittedly I was a little scared of this portion of the trip. I’ve never been in a place so isolated and I didn’t know what to expect. 

What I got was an absolutely stunning drive through vast desert landscapes. 

A Christmas Tree decorated in a park in Fredricksburg, TX

I normally plan a few stops along the way, especially on longer drives such as the trips I was about to take. The stops are usually about an hour or so apart so I don’t have to scramble to find a gross bathroom at a gas station (I refuse) or have to walk Nova along the side of the highway (if I’m strict about my potty locations Its only fair to be strict about hers too). These little road trip itineraries have worked out fairly well since Nova and I have found ourselves having lunch at a small local park or an empty Love’s Travel Stop Dog Park (which are my new favorite places on the road.) 

I’ve also been trying to visit small, local coffee shops along the way, though after a particularly jittery drive during this trip I’ve decided to limit myself to ONE caffeinated coffee on long drives. Especially since I regularly drink decaf.

My first stop was an hour and a half outside of Austin in the cute little town of Fredericksburg, TX where I grabbed a pour over coffee at Caliche Coffee Bar & Ranch Road Roasters. Nova and I took a quick walk around a park down the road to check out the Christmas decorations the town had already put up.

We made a few more stops at a couple of Love’s Travel Stops on the road so Nova could stretch her legs at the dog park and we even got in a few minutes of play time with another traveller who was headed to El Paso, Tx. 

Austin had been a weird mix of desert landscapes. There was evidence of small cactus on the ground and it had the typical desert sand in several of the hikes there were also lots of green grass and flourishing tree lined trails that didn’t quite feel like you were in a desert but as I drove deeper into Western Texas I was really getting a feel for what a true desert looked like. 

The Watertower in Marfa, TX

I arrived in Marfa, TX in the late afternoon. A few coworkers had recommended this quirky artistic town to me. I unfortunately made the mistake of visiting the tourist town in the beginning of the week when most shops were closed but my stay was short anyway, I doubt I would have had time to visit much of anything had I been there for very long.

My Airbnb is Marfa was absolutely delightful. The small apartment complex like building was playing oldies on a small classic radio when I walked in and it made me feel like I stepped back in time. Across the street was the Presidio County Courthouse, a gorgeous rose pedal pink building with a great little yard for walking dogs. 

After a short walk and unpacking the necessities, sunset was a less than an hour away so I decided to take Nova to the Marfa Lights Viewing Platform I had seen on the side of the road on our ride into town. The Marfa Lights are a mysterious set of lights that occur at random intervals throughout the night. There are a number of theories as to what causes the lights; anything from aliens to car headlights but it still attracts enough tourist attention that they have a whole platform dedicated to it. 

Nova anxiously awaiting the mysterious Marfa Lights

Since it was early in the week, Nova and I hung out with just a few others who came by to see the lights. In the small talk we made while waiting for the sunset I learned that most of the visitors were nomads, most were living out of their RVs and stopping in Marfa on their way to somewhere else, some of them seemed to not know where that “somewhere else” was and we spent more time discussing options for travelers next destinations. About twenty minutes after sunset we saw a pair of lights in the distance, a local pointed out the ones that were “real” Marfa lights and the ones that were not (such as a red blinking light at the top of a radio tower). I watched the lights for a while before turning back to the parking lot and stumbling to my car in true and utter darkness.

Speaking of darkness, another incredible sight in the small town was the night’s sky. I found myself just starring up and gawking at how many stars I could see and all the constellations I could finally make out. It’s one of those experiences I knew I could never capture with a photograph so I didn’t even bother trying but the visual will stay with me forever. I regret not putting Big Bend National Park in my itinerary for that visit since the park was just an hour and half away from Marfa but I will be visiting that area again in the near future when I can leave my pup Nova at home. 

We left Marfa bright and early the next morning, driving by Prada Marfa on my way out of town and pulling off at a scenic stop to catch a glimpse of the sunrise poking its head over the mountains along my route. 

The Sunrise from a scenic overlook along the highway just outside of Marfa, TX
Nova on the trail in El Paso, TX

Nova and I stopped in El Paso, TX for a quick hike to stretch our legs after a long couple days of driving. In a breathtaking preview of what was to come in my December Desert hikes, Nova and I hiked a few miles with a wave of mountains in the background before turning back to the car to continue on our drive to Alamogordo, NM. 

Alamogordo is a small city just outside of White Sands National Park, which is why Nova and I were stopping there for a few days. White Sands National Park is dog friendly and I had plans to work a couple days and hike White Sands before moving on to our stop for the Month of December.

In the short time I was in Alamogordo Nova and I had couple of run-ins with loose or abandoned dogs near our stay, fortunately they were all friendly but it left me a little uneasy. One morning at the dog park we came across a cute unfixed male pit mix who seemed to have been dumped at the dog park and quickly fell in love with Nova. He was very friendly but a little timid with people. I had hoped he had just escaped his home and ran to the dog park because it was  a familiar place where he remembered he had a lot of fun but when I dropped him off at the local shelter they mentioned that they had had a number of dogs abandoned there since it was less than a block away.

Here’s hoping that this cute little guy gets rescued or adopted soon (if he hasn’t already!) 

After all of the dog adventures, Nova and I finally found some time to swing by White Sands National Park. 

Attempting to pose for a photo as Nova happily digs in the sand of White Sands National Park

We hiked 5 miles in the rolling hills of the sand dunes and it was a surprisingly incredible workout. Sometimes I found myself climbing on my hands and knees trying to scale a hillside and other times I floated down a steep incline, ankle deep in flowing white sand. 

Nova was in love. 

Sunset at White Sands National Park

She would get so excited she would jump a few feet ahead of me and just start digging for no reason and just stop and continue walking again. She’d attack my feet whenever they got buried in a climb down a sand dune.

The sun was just setting as we were wrapping up our hike so we climbed to the top of a dune and watched the sky change to light pink as the sun fell below the mountains before we headed back to the car to get the sand out of my boots and Nova’s paws.

Nova leads the way as we hit the trail at White Sands National Park. The Orange Post in the distance is the Trail Marker.
Nova Resting Up before our Next Adventure

Five miles isn’t a very long hike for either of us but the dry heat of the desert mixed with hiking in the loose sand knocked both Nova and I out for a couple of days. I hadn’t been that sore in a long time and Nova seemed to sleep for days.

Next we headed for our final destination, Phoenix, Az but we still had a long 7+ Hour drive ahead of us so I planned a long pit stop in Tuscon, AZ. There I stopped for a Coffee at Big Heart Coffee and went to a local dog park. I came across quite a few travellers at the park. One couple was traveling in the opposite direction and heading back the way I had just come while another woman was about to start her #vanlife in February. 

Then we finally landed in Phoenix after an exhausting week of travelling.