Traveling West: Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona

Matt said that he was going to pull over to stretch his legs at the rest area…so as I sometimes do, I grabbed my yoga mat and went out for a little stretch while he and Bella played for a bit. I did a few sun salutations next to the RV…and just as I was going into downward dog, I hear a voice behind me…

“Live Lightly, huh? It better not run on gas if you’re going to do that!”

A young man had walked over to the RV…and apparently hadn’t taken the time to read the entire tag line about running on veggie oil :) We started talking and I found out that he was a traveler as well, and very interested in all things “eco”. When he found out we were headed west, he implored us to stop at San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park. He said that we’d be making a big mistake if we didn’t at least stop to see it. He lived just south of Balmorhea…so I figured he knew what he was talking about! We took his advice and decided to spend the morning checking it out…and we’re so glad we did! So what exactly is San Solomon Springs?

San Solomon Springs has provided water for travelers for thousands of years. Artifacts indicate Indians used the spring extensively before white men came to the area. In 1849, the springs were called Mescalero Springs for the Mescalero Apache Indians who watered their horses along its banks. The present name was given by the first settlers, Mexican farmers who used the water for their crops and hand-dug the first irrigation canals.

Situated about four miles west of Balmorhea, Texas, the 45.9-acre Balmorhea State Park was constructed by Company 1856 of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, between 1936 and 1941. The CCC was established as a New Deal program by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression as a way to employ people that would have otherwise been out of work. Many of the state parks in Texas were developed during this time.

The 77,053 square ft San Solomon Spring is the focal point of Balmorhea State Park. From 22 to 28 million gallons of water flow through the spring-fed swimming pool each day. Other CCC structures in the park include a limestone concession building, two wooden bathhouses, an adobe superintendent residence, and San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, constructed of adobe bricks. All of the CCC buildings are constructed in a Spanish Colonial style with stucco exteriors and tile roofs.

It was a sunny day like no other…one that you just HAVE to spend near water! We pulled into the park, paid the day use fee…and parked the RV. We were the only vehicle in the entire parking lot, and as we walked over to the springs, we realized that we had the pool to ourselves as well! We laid out our towels and snacks and checked out the water…it was CHILLY! But the greatest thing…is that it was FRESH. NO chemicals…chlorine, nothing. Just good ‘ol water! The sheer number of gallons that flow through it each day is incredible (see description above). We had a great time splashing, swimming, and jumping off the diving board. We met another family there who came in a bit later…they were on vacation and the dad was originally from Bozeman. Small world! :) They let us borrow their little floaty boat, and Bella was pleased.

We packed up and made a little lunch in the RV and then traveled onward. We drove to a little campground in western Texas and settled in for the night. There was a swimming pool there, so Bella was super excited to check it out. The next day, Matt went to talk with the owners about their grease, because they had a little cafe on site. Turns out, they did have grease. A LOT of grease. There was a 1000 gallon container of perfect oil … and it was filled nearly to the brim! We were giddy with excitement, of course, and we topped off the tank and all of our extra containers.

We headed out across the beautiful landscape of the southwest…through New Mexico and Arizona…stopping at the Camping World in Tucson to replace our broken motorized step. It was fun to see Tucson…even in passing, because it’s my birthplace! I was born at Davis Monthan Air Force Base while my mom and dad were stationed there. My dad was in pilot training for the Air Force back then (and just to brag on my dad a bit…he’s a 2-time Top Gun winning fighter pilot! Dad, you rock!).

While Matt replaced the step, Bella and I went for a walk around the parking lot and we stumbled upon the CUTEST little trailer and we just had to check it out. The owners of the trailer, Justin and Julie were from a little town outside Telluride, CO and had just trekked back to the US after many weeks in Mexico. They were making repairs on their trailer as well, so we had a little camp out right there in the parking lot and got to know them a bit better. Bella really, really wanted to move right into their cute little camper…it was just her size!

Back on the road, we realized that we were getting dangerously low on fresh water in our tank. We knew we’d be boondocking (camping without hookups) that night in the Phoenix area, so we needed to find some. After striking out numerous times, we came across a nice 55+ RV park just off the interstate and they were kind enough to let us fill up with nice cold water for free! :) What a blessing!

We rolled into Mesa, AZ and found a brand new Wal-mart in a nice neighborhood to park in for the night. We had one entire side of the building to ourselves…and the landscaping was so nicely done, I felt like I had my own little garden :) We slept hard, and awoke the next morning…ready to go pick up my parents from the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport!

Photo album here.

San Antonio, TX: Tommy and Kari

Unlike many of our destinations throughout the tour, San Antonio was a city that I had already visited! I spent nearly 7 weeks there while in Air Force basic training in 1998, and came down again to see my brother, Dan, graduate from basic a few years later. And AGAIN…I went down for a Pampered Chef conference in 2003. I was excited to bring Matt and Bella back there and show them the sights!

Kari, Tommy, and Paisley opened their home to us while we stayed there and acted as wonderful tour guides to their city. Paisley and Bella had a great time together…they played dress up, chased each other in high heels, painted, and watched movies. They especially loved the tree swing that Matt hung up for them in the huge front tree. Such fun!

San Antonio College was our first demo while in town. We were the focal point during their “Go Green” festival on campus. It was especially encouraging to see so many young people interested in taking steps to make our world a better place. I’m always excited when YOUNG people are being educated about the environment…we need to teach this new generation now so that they can start changing their future.

The next day, we were at the “Earth Day San Antonio” event and had a great time talking with blog readers who came out and also with random people who wandered unknowingly into the RV. :) It was a hot, sunny day…and we loved sitting out in the Texas sun, taking it all in. The event was part of the big Fiesta Celebration…so it was a bit crazy in town!

We also enjoyed touring the downtown area. We took the kids to a production of “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus“, checked out The Alamo, and walked the Riverwalk (I LOVE that!). We also did a small demo at their church…and Kari even had a raw restaurant do some of the catering!! Woo hoo! We had fun meeting their friends and family at that event.

One of the fun highlights of our stay was dreading Kari’s hair! A lot of people say they love dreads and that they would love to have them….but they always have an excuse of why they can’t. Well, Kari was different. She made the decision and went for it! Kari and I stayed up LATE into the night while I coaxed her hair into knots :) She has beautiful hair and it looks amazing…see photos of her dready progress here.

We thoroughly enjoyed our days in WARM San Antonio…there was lots of talk about raw food, numerous green smoothies were consumed, many yummy shared dinners, and of course, sadness when we had to leave. Before we left, Kari surprised me with one of the coolest gifts ever…a necklace with a sterling silver little RV on it. It’s magnificent…check it out here. If you’ve ever seen a James Avery design, you know about the attention to detail. I just couldn’t stop looking at it! It even has a little ladder to the roof. So cute. Every time I wear it I am not only reminded of our time there with Kari, Tommy, and Paisley, but also of this journey that we’ve been on this past year and how we’ve changed so much because of it.

Photo album here.

Plano | Dallas | Ft. Worth, Texas

At the last minute, we were booked to be a part of “Live Green Expo” in Plano, TX…so we headed up and parked overnight in the parking lot before the event the next day. They had a great turn out…with green companies from all over Texas being represented there. We were out in the “transportation section” in the back and had a lot of people in and out of the RV, including many blog readers who came by to introduce themselves.

After the expo, we were hosted by Jeff and Kim and their little boy, Parks. We immediately hit it off with this cute little family…we share many common interests…including a love for Jesus and his creation. We enjoyed meals together…including a particularly delicious one at a local Thai restaurant. Well, let me back up a bit. We were running precariously low on grease and had been talking to Jeff and Kim about it. So, during the expo, they just swung by a couple restaurants to check for us. Jeff called Matt and told him that he had found some…but of course, we had no idea of the quality, how much, etc. After heading over there and inspecting it, we crowned Jeff the “King of Grease Hunting”. He had hit the jackpot. We filled up completely and then some (120+ gallons!) with perfect, clean grease from the Thai restaurant he found. Yay Jeff! So, of course, to celebrate we ordered some curry, pad thai, and spring rolls and other such deliciousness and had a meal in the RV as we pumped.

The next day, we went to their church, Life in Deep Ellum, in Dallas. Kim had been working on getting us set up there for a demo for quite some time…and we were able to give a short talk during the service about our vision for stewardship and also talked about our journey so far. We had a fun open house and meal with the entire congregation and connected with so many cool folks. It’s a very young, hip church and their desire to care for God’s creation is strong! One of the ladies there who I had been in contact with before we came and she brought a big bucket that I could dump our compost “stuff” in . Thanks Kelly! We said our goodbyes to everyone and headed to Ft. Worth for another demo that afternoon.

City on a Hill is a house church organization in Ft. Worth and they invited us to come down and talk to their group about our tour. We enjoyed an afternoon of sharing, food and fun. Thank you to Beth and the crew for bringing us in!

Photo album here.

Wheatsville Coop and A Little More Austin

The crew at Wheatsville Coop welcomed us with open arms…we had a great time at the demo and met a lot of really fun people. While we were still in Austin, we were able to have lunch with an old family friend of Matt’s. Jamey and Matt grew up together in Minnesota, and we still hang out with his twin brother, Jeremy, whenever we go back. Before we left town, we had a “tune up” done on the RV and took care of several things that needed fixing. We parked in the shop’s lot overnight for a few nights…and awoke each morning to the sound of roosters just outside our window. We were also able to hang out a little more with Evan and Pilar. The hill country of Texas is so beautiful and we were sad to leave! But we were off to three events in Dallas/Ft. Worth…

Photo album here.

Dripping Springs, TX: Andre and Evan

We left for Austin, TX at 7:45 a.m…full of energy and smiles :) We were expecting a part for the RV motorized step to arrive that morning at the auto parts store and we were going to pick it up. However, we ended up waiting at store for quite awhile for their delivery truck. The truck finally arrived, but after Matt worked at it for an hour or so, we found that it was not going to work and had to drive back to the other side of town and return it. By this time, it was noon…and we needed to get on the road. It had already been a long morning, and we hadn’t even left town yet! It was a great reminder, though, how blessed we are to always have our home with us wherever we go. Bella and I were able to have play time and snacks during all of it!

All was well until we got to Taylor, TX, when we ran out of veggie oil. The fuel gauge was being a little feisty, and it appeared that we had much more than we did. Luckily, Matt was able to roll safely to a parking lot, and got the issue resolved. We had to switch over to run diesel for a bit…and for the first time in 14,000 miles on veggie oil, we had to run solely on diesel. It’s not a fun thing on the budget! 20 gallons for $90.00. Ouch!

We finally arrived in Austin at sunset (so pretty!), heading to Dripping Springs (just outside of Austin) to park at Andre and Evan’s eco-homestead in the hills! We arrived, got parked and headed inside. The first thing we noticed was the wonderful simplicity and beauty of their home. It was clear they took pride in creating a haven for their family. In talking with them further, we got a better picture of their home and what their goals were. I asked Evan to give me the run down in her own words:

We have a 2000 square foot metal roof to collect our water from. We had to honor our HOA restrictions, but decided on a roof that size based on André’s calculations for the amount of water that we needed. We have (2) 10,000 gallon holding tanks for the house and (1) 3000 gallon tank for the garden and (1) 200 gallon prewash tank. The first 200 gallons go into this tank so that any debris from the roof stays in this tank and doesn’t go into the household tanks. We also have a 1000 gallon tank as the garden back up. Our hope is to install a shop building this year and collect water from that roof as well. It will probably be about 1200 square feet of roof. Another project this year involves a covered porch for the front and a cover over the back patio. The coverings will provide more water collection and also help keep the house cooler in summer.

The actual structure is a metal building that we finished out. It came with an insulated liner. We added traditional studs for the walls, drywall and formaldehyde free insulation in the walls and the ceilings. We then wrapped the entire structure with limestone. Again, we had to comply with HOA restrictions, but this greatly increased our R factor (how well something is insulated). I estimate that we’re at R45, but that might just be my enthusiasm. We’re basically a house within a house and the air pocket in between the framing and the metal structure adds to the insulation.

We have only rainwater collection, so we’re very water-conscious. We had to change some of our water habits when we moved here, but now they are just habits and we don’t even notice that it’s a sacrifice. For the three of us we probably use 30 gallons of water a day. Some more or less depending on whether or not it’s a laundry day or if the dishwasher is run. We use the dishwasher about once every three days. Most days we’re under 30 gallons. We take military showers so that helps.

We’ve used low or no VOC paints, reclaimed materials when we can find them, and bamboo flooring from sustainable sources. Some of our furniture is new, but most of it is inherited or Craig’s listed.

Now that’s an eco-friendly house! And let me just tell you…their house is wonderful and inviting to be in! They are set back up in the hills and they have enough land to feel very secluded and free. It’s lovely. Every time I walked from the house to our RV, the crisp cool air would fill my lungs…and it was almost as if it had some kind of magical “happy” potion in it. :) Ahhhhhhh…

Evan and Andre are involved with various eco-minded projects in their city. They are in the process of starting a food coop and are working closely with CSA’s and local growers. They are also in the very beginning processes of planning and developing a holistic health and wellness center. They are part of a team of healers that are interested in non-Western practices. Evan in in school right now for naturopathy and André is a 5th degree black belt in a variety of martial arts. He teaches Tai Chi, Qi Gong and is a Reiki master. It was so refreshing and fun to see a family that walks their talk. They are passionate about the environment, each other, and living simply. The best part is that they are actively teaching their daughter to follow that same path.

Our days in Dripping Springs were filled with little girls laughter, raw food making, and good conversations. We ate at the cutest little restaurant, The Leaning Pear (located in Wimberley, TX). I could have stayed on their patio for the rest of my life! :) We also loved the Thai Noodle House, near the University of Texas campus. Big portions of yummy food for little prices!

A big thanks to Andre, Evan, and Pilar for their generous hospitality!

Photo album here.