Sunday, March 12, 2017

National Park Road Trip 2017 COMMENCE! (and the Monahans Sand Hills)

Yes! Precisely one year from the date we embarked on our last Great American National Park Spring Break Road Trip Adventure ("GANPSBRTA" because it just rolls of the tongue that way), we have embarked on another! This one much shorter in distance and days, but once the National Park Rangers led the resistance and I realized we were going to go a whole year without a trip where we drive somewhere to climb on stuff, James and I decided we needed to squeeze in one more trip. Old school style. Because all-inclusive swim-up bars in Mexico and ski resort villages in Colorado are lovely, but our vacationing roots are buried in rocks and soil, a dozen PBJs stuffed in a gallon ziploc bag, and really fast Texas highways. The kids need to remember what it is the Lag Liv family does with a few days off work. (Coincidentally, on the anniversary of my first day at the SEC; now 5 years. Crazy.)

Can we all sleep in one bed?? (NO.)

And so, I planned a short jaunt over to New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and then an even shorter (25 minutes!) jaunt back over the Texas border to hike Guadalupe Mountains National Park, with a stop at the Monahans Sand Hills State Park along the way. Two National Parks, one state park, two nights, only 14 hours of driving. A National Park Tour Lite. And those two parks are in a little cluster that isn't naturally along the way to any other trips we're planning, which was important because we really needed to keep this cheap and quick. No temptations to drive just a liiiiiittle bit further to see one more awesome thing. I've curtailed us. For now. On the drive today I used my National Park book to plan us an epic Utah 2.0 trip for March 2019. 8 National Parks, 11 days. It's going to be amazing. James still doesn't have a voice, so I took his silence to equal speechless delight.

But today we were just heading to Carlsbad to stay the night before heading to the Caverns tomorrow, with a stop at the Monahans Sand Hills along the way because we'd decided not to add White Sands National Monument to our itinerary in New Mexico (short and sweet! staying focused) and I love state parks just as much as their majestic big siblings. So after a leisurely 5-hour drive in which Cora held her microphone the whole time she watched princess movies on her kindle so she could be ready to burst into song at any moment, we had just passed Midland when Google Maps told me to exit! turn off! Giant sand dunes to the right! This seemed unlikely since we were on our millionth mile of flat, desert landscapes filled with pumpjacks, but I like to follow directions, so we turned off and saw the visitor's center, though still no sign of the promised dunes.

We paid our $4/adult entry fee, declined to rent sleds because we'd brought ours with us (purchased in Steamboat 2014!) and got a surprisingly comprehensible state park map. Drive to the picnic area, park by the last table, biggest dune is three over from there. And bam. 1.5 miles of windy road later and there they were.

Our shoes went off and we were out the door.

The big kids, immediately taking the lead, and Cora scurrying as fast as her little legs could take her.

She worked SO hard.

There was sledding.

And running.

I did a lot of life guarding.

Then there was stomping away indignantly because of gravity only to then spend 20 minutes climbing up a steep hill like a little spider monkey WITHOUT HELP and then roaring in joyful pride when she made it to the top.

It was a very cool place and very worth the $8 and 2 hours of our time. And running through acres of soft sand was an excellent workout for our generally indefatigable children. We loved their shouts of joy when we said we were going on a national park hiking trip, and we love how much pride they get from being able to tackle the world around them. Sometimes literally.

Ever since we got back from our ski trip, Cora has kept her "pack pack" packed with her most precious items, quickly slinging it on her back anytime she saw me grab my purse and head for the door-- "We goin' on a trip now?!" she'd exclaim. No, honey, just running to the grocery store. "Oh, okay," she'd respond dejectedly. And while we can't actually vacation all the time (sad face), I'm so glad we were able to make this trip happen. Three days, a $500 budget, 4/5 of the family off school/daycare/work for a full week, and a refusal to let a year go by without a trip to one (or two!) of the wonderful legacies of land that our past presidents have left us.

Vintage Lag Liv family vacation time. I can't wait for tomorrow.

~ ~ ~

Details: Monahans Sand Hills State Park
Monahans, Texas

- Stop at the Visitor's Center to pay the fee ($4/adult, kids free), rent sleds (~$2/each), and get a map. They have a few things for sale and a little educational area in the back to learn about the dunes, the sand, and the animals that live in them.
- We found 2 hours to be the perfect amount of time. There are picnic tables, but it's very windy, so I'm not sure how great it would be for cooking out, particularly with giant sand dunes blowing all over the place a few short feet away. We just played on the dunes and left, totally satisfied with our investment of time and money.
- The sand is VERY fine and smooth, it's almost like silt and it's very sticky. We chose to go barefoot (this is controversial because there are rattlesnakes and scorpions around, but I did not want very fine sand in my hiking boots and socks 5 hours into a hiking road trip and most people we saw on the dunes had decided the same thing) and after an hour having my feet buried in sand, I'm very glad we did.
- It is very windy and sand will generally get everywhere and in everything. We were really lucky with this, it had rained lightly all day until 15 minutes before we pulled up, so the sand was held down by the thin layer of wet sand on top. That's the only reason I brought my real camera and backpack. On a normal day, I wouldn't have brought anything out of the car except my barefoot self. And sunglasses. You must have sunglasses to cover your eyes.
- There are showers at the picnic area, so you can bring towels, soap, and a change of clothes. I did this, but once we got to the car, we were able to brush off all the sand and just climb back in. I thank the morning rain for us being able to skip this step.
- We brought snow sleds, but you can also just rent them for a few dollars at the Visitor's Center. You'll want sleds, it makes it super fun. The visitor's center also has wax you can rub on the bottom, but since our sand was semi-wet, we didn't need it.
- It was in the upper 40's when we were there today and it still felt hot under the sun; in the summer, it would be REALLY hot. You'd probably have to wear shoes whether you want to or not and you will need a hat and a ton of sunscreen. There is no shade.
- It is a super fun, totally random state park that you should definitely visit if you're at all nearby.


  1. As a sand dune climber in Africa, where it's always bloody hot, we go for just socks. works like a charm.

  2. You give THE best National Park recaps and advice! Is there any way I could convince you to share your Utah 2.0 2019 plans ahead of time? We are hoping to hit up the Utah Parks as a family this summer or next. I am always so inspire by your expeditions!

    1. Absolutely! I haven't precisely worked out where we'll spend the nights along the way, but the order will be:

      - Great Sand Dunes National Park
      - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
      - Arches National Park (loved it so much we want to do it again, and we're waiting until Cora is 5 so we can do the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike that looked *amazing*)
      - Capitol Reef National Park
      - (the drive between these two is a National Monument in and of itself, with a stop at Grand Staircase Escalante on the way)
      - Bryce Canyon National Park
      - Zion National Park
      - Grand Canyon National Park
      - Petrified Forest National Park

      More details and probably more small stops to add along the way!

    2. Thank you! I got so inspired by you I'm even thinking of a quick (!?) drive from WA to Utah over our Spring break… Can't wait to learn more about your plans. I hope you feel better soon! (Writing this after you posted about strep this evening. So sorry!)