The Southwest Regon of the National Parks System (Finished!)

Wow.

I did it!

As you know from the previous blog, I have officially been to every National Parks site in the Southwest Region, which is Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In only a little more than a year! What’s exciting about this is that I’ve been blogging and picture-taking from the beginning, so I remember so much about these 41 sites! Today I’m talking about my favorites – and even a couple that I need to go back to check out! So even if you’re not on a journey to see all the National Parks, these are places that should be on your travel bucket list no matter what.

White Sands National Monument
I kind of can’t talk about the National Parks without talking about White Sands. It was my first site and where my passport stamp collecting journey began! This place is so beautiful; it looked like being in another land. I hadn’t really known what to expect but what little expectations I had were exceeded.  The hike was too hot but the sand sledding was so fun! This was a terrific first start and introduction to my love for New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I had only been to baby caves in the Austin area, so I was blown away by the enormity of these caverns! I even made it out a second time to check out these bats, but will admittedly say their “sunset flight” is not super exciting. Luckily, my first time was spent exploring the Main Room with no crowd. This was another site that felt like another world – and the surprise of every turn is what makes it one of my favorites!

Big Bend National Park
Well, hello, Texas! I can’t wait to go back because even with a three day weekend and a highlighted map and plan, I only made it to half of this massive area. Being from Dallas, I’ll always have a soft spot for Texas, but the nature is known to be mostly plains. With Big Bend, I was introduced to a whole new side of the great Lone Star state. The canyons and cliffs are so pretty – and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River is an added bonus site to this one.

El Malpais National Monument
I had looked up very little for this guy, leaving time in the schedule for whatever we could get up to – and I’m glad I did! Allowing myself the time here meant we got to go on an incredible hike to the Big Skylight, which first led us across ancient volcanic rock. Besides being one of the harder hikes I’ve yet to go on (because of terrain and then ascending into the cavern), it was a surprise wonder. Hiking down the big boulders into the cave we spotted the skylight early, but it just got more and more other-worldly as we went. This place was magical.

Buffalo National River
Arkansas turned out to be a nature-lover’s travel getaway! Fall was beautiful driving in through the Ozark Mountains and discovering every color of tree, but the hikes were a blast! Easy but long – offering stops for incredible views. It’s definitely on my list to head back to in the warmer months and explore more of the actual river.

Bandelier National Monument
The trees here taught me the true beauty of New Mexico and how it’s not just dry and empty land. I arrived here pretty late in the evening, and I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of what all this site has to offer. But just driving in and walking around was enough to feel like I had entered into a magical forest. This might just be number one on my list of parks to revisit.

Big Thicket National Preserve
The rain had ruined our day of hiking adventures here, so I’d definitely like to head back and explore more of this massive land area. This is also another area where I’ll have to head back in the warmer months because they have an awesome spot for kayaking. I also have it on my list to try and find some of their carnivorous plants in person!

So, all that to say, it’s been such a blast collecting all the Southwest region passport stamps – but I’m not done yet! I want to keep exploring and finding every opportunity for new experiences. Not only do I want to check out all these ones again, I have many more regions to complete in my National Park journey!

Losing Your Keys in the Desert

Besides the randomized screensaver at work I had never seen or heard of a place called White Sands. But when a friend said it was on their bucket list and asked if I wanted to go – I said hell yeah!

We got there a little before sunset just to check it out and it’s incredible. Pure white sand stretched out at all sides, gorgeous unmarked dunes, and small spindly plants in every valley. We enjoyed the sunset and then figured it was time to head the mile back to the car.

White Sands (I wanna live in this serenity)

Only. The keys weren’t wedged in my shorts anymore. They weren’t on the top of the dune we’d been sitting on. They weren’t anywhere in sight.

Now, I am pretty cool headed. I’m a problem solver that loves logically and methodically fixing any new issue. But for the first time in my life, I was one gasping breath away from a panic attack. My keys were missing in an empty desert.

We split up and retraced our steps and luckily – so lucky – we found them near a spiky plant that had surprised me earlier. Crisis averted and I was back to appreciating the evening desert beauty. Whew.

My first National Park!

The next day we knew we’d have to buy a sled to fly down the side of the dunes. While in the National Monument visiting center that’s where I stumbled upon the National Parks Passport. There’s nothing I love more than books and lists. And this was a book and a list! I was sold. Thus started the journey of me getting every National Park “cancellation” or stamp. 

So I bought the passport and we bought the sled and hit the dunes. We didn’t buy the wax so it was pretty slow going but still a lot of fun. We started climbing the highest dunes to make the way down worth it.

Sand sledding makes ya tired!

We went out to grab lunch – future note: bring lunch! They have grills and tables – and when we came back we were ready to hike. They have a couple of marked trails and since it was afternoon and pretty hot we choose the 2 mile one. 

Disclaimer: we did not make the full trail. We got a less than halfway and decided to turn back. We were beat, but more importantly we were worried about the dog with us who wasn’t used to these desert treks. Go figure.

A cool desert.

All in all, a great weekend. And the start of my personal goal to visit every national point of interest. Can’t wait!