Earlier this month Stephen and I loaded up the boys and all our camping gear and started driving west. The boys were out of school on Friday, and the following Monday we set off. No sense in dilly-dallying to take our summer vacation when the Texas temperatures have started to soar. June would work just fine for our boys’ first adventure in the West Texas mountains that Stephen and I both love.
Over the last year and a half since our marriage, we’ve taken the boys camping several times in parks within an hour’s driving distance of our house, and once at my grandparents’ place. We spent our honeymoon (without the boys, of course) in West Texas, driving and hiking in the mountains around Fort Davis and in the Big Bend area, and many times on that trip we gazed upon the desert landscape from the heights of the mountains and said to each other, “Let’s bring the boys here to camp in a few years.”
Thankfully, we decided not to wait a few years for that trip. Why wait when you’ve got four boys who adore sleeping outside and running around in the trees and rocks for hours and reading by flashlight snuggled up in their tents at night? All four boys love to hike, love to wind through trails looking for sticks and cactus and lizards and birds, and all four would just as soon eat outside at a picnic table with crumbs flying as they would sit at my dining table where the rule is whoever makes the biggest mess has to sweep up at the end of the meal. I love a good picnic myself and am happy to oblige their need for outdoor time.
Every time we take an overnight camping trip, the boys complain that we’re going home too early. When we’ve gone for two nights…same complaint. So we decided to give a longer trip a try. And if you’re going to camp for longer, might as well go all out and trek to a further distant location where the longer stay will be worth the drive. It didn’t take us long to decide. West Texas. Davis Mountains. Balmorhea. Monahans.
Our first two nights were at Balmorhea State Park, where the boys spent three days swimming in the spring-fed pool. I wrote about this park on my first stay in Balmorhea in March 2012 while still single, a month before Stephen and I started our long distance correspondence — it completely blows my mind that a little over two years later Stephen and I are married and his sons are now my step-children. It is my true delight to have watched these boys play as hard as they could in this watering hole for three magnificent, sun-soaked days, the Davis Mountains keeping watch over us in the background.
From there we moved on to Fort Davis and Davis Mountains State Park. After just three days of camping, the boys acted like castaways who hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks when we took them to dinner at the restaurant in the Indian Lodge inside the state park. If you ever want your kids to gush with gratitude for taking them out to eat, try camping for a few days. They drooled over the menus, took photos with their iPods of everything around them, and ate their dinner with great gusto, like we’d never taken them to a restaurant in their lives. The next day when we took them hiking at the top of Skyline Drive and looked down on the Indian Lodge from above, they reminisced fondly of our meal there the day before, such an impression it made on them.
The boys took hundreds of photos of the landscapes, our campsites, and the hiking trails. I remember carrying around film cameras on our family vacations when I was a kid, maybe using two or three 24-photo rolls of film in the course of a week. I love that the boys shared that same delight to capture all their memories from the trip.
I also love that when we told them we were going on our family vacation in West Texas, they didn’t grumble or give us the same response we get from so many people who’ve never been there — “West Texas? There’s nothing out there. Won’t it be really hot? And boring?” You’re thinking of Lubbock. Or Midland. Try the Davis Mountains or Balmorhea. I was wearing long pants and a sweatshirt in the mornings while making breakfast on our camp stove, and it was too chilly for sane people (i.e. me and Stephen, but not the kids) to get in the water to swim until after noon. And we were far from bored, not by a long shot. We came home with a long list of things we didn’t get to do and see on this trip that we’re having to save for the future.
I love that the boys are growing up with this week of camping as their first impression of West Texas. I love that they aren’t suffering under the same false conclusion of the majority of Texans, that you have to go to New Mexico, Colorado, or Wyoming to enjoy the mountains. These boys know the truth. West Texas is the best Texas.
Don’t feel sorry for us for spending our family vacation out here. Be jealous.