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  • Writer's pictureNgoc X Doan

The First National Park Visit During Our Cross-Country Trip

Updated: May 21, 2020

One of my goals for this trip is to visit National Parks. We spent the first 3 weeks living on the road as a practice round. We are still trying to get used to our new lifestyle with limited resources. We may never get used to it. And that's okay.

This week our blog features Big Bend National Park!

Map of Week 4

Week 4 - First National Park Visit

Big Bend National Park was so beautiful. Our friends recommended Big Bend because we're taking the southern route to the West Coast. Big Bend is located in the Chihuahuan Desert. It is also on the border of Mexico. Big Bend is known for its dark night skies. We stayed two nights. Both nights were mostly cloudy, but we still saw a lot of stars!

We went on an ovo-vegetarian (no meat) diet at Big Bend.

We prepared Porcini Mushroom Pasta on our first day. If you read our previous blog, we brought pasta and mushrooms from Italy! Here is a pro tip: remember to hydrate your dried mushrooms hours before you want to eat. Don't be like us. We hydrated our mushrooms when we got hungry. Our dried mushrooms had a bad smell while soaking in water. Ironically, other hikers kept asking what we were making because it smelled so good. They probably smelled our garlic pasta sauce. Luckily, our pasta actually tasted good. Cooking with one burner requires extra thinking and planning. Our butane ran out half way, but we had a spare one. We ended up eating our first meal at 3:30 PM. It took us 2 hours to cook and clean. Was it worth it? Oh, yes!

Pro Tip: Cooking in the dessert, one needs to find a shaded spot. Lucky us, we stopped at the only picnic location in the park that has 2 pergolas. Shade equals happiness in the desert. The location is Santa Elena Canyon River Access Picnic Area, for those who want to visit Big Bend. By the time we were done eating, other hikers already left. They brought sandwiches and granola bars. We're just glad we can now say we cooked pasta at a National Park!

Also, I've never spent so little water washing dishes. When you have limited water supply in your tiny home, you get creative and become good at conserving it!

A little puppy came to visit after we finished lunch.

Other times, we had yogurt and fruits to make it quick and easy.

Pro tip: using less water and spend less time cooking = more sleeping time!

Random food discovery: green apples and raw honey taste so good together.

On our last day at Big Bend, we reheated our leftover pasta. We also finished our mixed greens with nuts! It was a nice change from all the BBQ we had lately.

Pro tip: small squat folding chair is a lifesaver!

No access to showers at Big Bend

Mark used our tiny sink to wash his hair after a long day bathing in the sun.

Hot Springs at Big Bend is a must do

The last activity we did was spending time at the Langford Hot Springs. We arrived around 10:30AM - just before it got crowded. It was a great way to end our visit at Big Bend.

Fun Fact: Mexico is on the other side of the river.

Photography - Behind the scenes

We practice squatting (unintentionally) and take photos at the same time. Mark used water in the Rio Grande river to clean our tripod.

Hiking in the Desert

We only had time to do one short hike. We chose to hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. We made it to the end to see the iconic/money shot view of Big Bend!

Vegetation at Big Bend

What can I say...? I love plants.

Photography - Dark Sky with Stars

We weren't lucky with clear night sky at Big Bend, but we still saw a lot of stars.

It was pitch black at the park. I tried so hard to open my eyes to see the ground, but I only saw blackness. We needed to move our tiny home around a few times in order to find a good spot to look at stars. While taking photos, I heard animal rustling sounds around me. Some photo sessions were cut short, because I was scared of snakes. I didn't see any. After reading about snakes at Big Bend, I was paranoid. It was cold and windy, but it didn't stop me from getting these night shots.

Big Bend, I'm coming back to visit you again!

Life at Big Bend in our Tiny Home

Glamorous shots of tiny home life minus the struggles of living on the road and in remote areas

Week 4 Tiny Home Adventures

Common Questions: Where do you shower? Do you have a shower in your tiny home?

We thought about installing a shower. We did our research. In the end, we decided to go with showering at Planet Fitness. Planet Fitness Black Card membership allows the cardholder to bring a guest, unlimited, at any locations in the U.S. The monthly fee is $22.99. There is an annual fee of $39 end of April. It is a great deal to be able to workout and shower at the same time!

We were surprised that Planet Fitness is everywhere - just not at Big Bend. One of the biggest perks is that they have free Wi-Fi. Whenever we have extra time, we squeeze in a workout session. We probably should try to burn off those excess calories from BBQ and fried chickens meals... On top of showering and working out, we also charge our devices, refill our water bottles, upload/download images and sometimes write our blog!

Week 4 - Tiny Home Lifestyle

1. We are still struggling to get used to showering at the gym. We have been visiting a decent number of Planet Fitness locations and none have the same layout. My brain has to work extra hard to figure out where everything is located at each gym. We have not been to the same Planet Fitness more than 3 times and rarely twice. I still feel shy walking into the gym to shower/workout even though no one cares. However, I have become good at pretending that I know where I'm going. It is a strange feeling when you go to shower, but your bathroom/shower layout changes everyday!

Showering at a gym can be unpredictable. Some days, showers at Planet Fitness only run hot water. I didn't think this was possible. Sometimes, the water pressure is weak. Sometimes, the shower curtains are not clean. Fancy locations have double curtains or plexiglass door, but I still prefer double curtains! Sometimes, the water is icy cold. I like to blame Mark on using all the hot water as if we were living in our condo. Maybe cold showers are not too bad after all. It's better for your skin, some people told me. The good thing is gym showers are usually empty. Plus, I get to choose which shower I like better. Happiest shower days are days where I get good water temperature, water pressure, two shower curtains, paper towels to wipe down my wet bottles and sandals, and have access to a hairdryer!

2. A trip to the gym to shower takes time and prep work. I have a list of things I need to bring: towel, shower sandals, toiletries, change of clothes, skin care products (this is a must!), lock, and the list goes on. Somehow, I always manage to forget multiple items! Going back to the trailer isn't an option for me since I get swiped in as a guest. If we ever do this again in the future, I'm going to be the account holder.

Chances of losing/forgetting things in the gym is very high. I have been trying to make sure I double check every time I leave. We can be miles away from gym within an hour or so! Mark already forgot his lock at one of the gyms - luckily it wasn't something important enough to back track. First time, I showered at Planet Fitness, I forgot to bring body wash . The location did not have soap in the shower. I had to use hand soap from the sink. I stored foamed soap in a paper towel. You can go ahead and judge me. It had to be done...It was either hand soap or no soap! I didn't think going to shower requires this much effort and planning. Planet Fitness, thanks for keeping my brain from going on "cruise control" mode.

3. Re-filling water bottle has become a habit. We refill our water bottles at Whole Foods, Planet Fitness, coffee shops, Walmart, Target, Costco, restaurants, and the list goes on. Sometimes, the water tastes great. Sometimes, the water tastes terrible. But free water is still water! The fanciest water that we re-filled was at Whole Foods in Austin, TX. They provide Poland Spring jugs. Mark was happy. Thanks Whole Foods for keeping him happy with fancy water.

4. Sometimes, we just have to settle for a sleeping location even though it's not the most ideal location. We found a quiet and safe neighborhood. We parked in a legal parking spot. There was enough space for our car and trailer. As we were about to get ready to sleep, we heard a loud train noise approaching from a distance! This was the second time we chose to sleep right next to a train track. Sometimes, it's too late to relocate. It usually takes us about an hour, on average, to find a spot. Tiny home, you push to us get better at planning ahead, even though sometimes it can be a little time consuming...

Week 4 - Tiny Home Adventure Highlights

1. We had our first home cooked meal with friends since we left Boston. Marci, my friend from BC, made us our first home cooked meal! It was delicious. We also got to do our laundry! Marci, you are a lifesaver. It was raining the entire week. Hang dry our clothes was not an option. We also got to meet Ryan, Marci's fiance, and Hazel, her cute cat. Reconnecting with friends and families over meals is really the best part about this trip!

2. We waited 3 hours at the famous Franklin BBQ. This set a record - longest wait to eat a restaurant. Mark worked while waiting in line. They provided chairs for customers. Luckily, the line was not too long since it was a rainy day. Bonus, they also have outlets. And look at the brisket! Do you think it's worth waiting for? We say yes. However, we are really done with eating BBQ for now.

3. We biked around Austin's riverfront on a nice and only sunny day of the week! The Barton Springs Pool provided free access on the day we went, but unfortunately we weren't prepared to go for a swim. Next time it is. Austin, we'll be back!

4. We cooked our leftover BBQ at a park in Austin, TX. We accidentally further burned our already burnt meat. Mark's dad won't be too happy to find out that we keep eating BBQ. Luckily, when you drive for hours on an empty stomach, everything taste delicious.

Week 4 - Memorable Restaurants

1. Franklin BBQ in Austin, TX

We had the best briskets and ribs at the famous Franklin BBQ! It was the first reason we made Austin a destination for our trip. It didn't disappoint. Pecan pie was also good.

2. Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ in Austin, TX

You must get the real deal holyfield when you visit Valentina. They only serve it for breakfast which ends at 11:00 AM (sharp, according to their sign). So make sure you plan ahead. Thanks to my cousin, Viet, for the recommendation.

Week 4 - Random Tidbits

1. Bathroom door at a rest stop is my height, roughly 5' tall! What's the point of having a big gap on the bottom when you can see over the top...?

2. Mark saw a dog on the road and wanted to keep it. Sorry, no picture was taken to show as proof. I spent over 10 minutes trying to convince Mark that the poor puppy probably belonged to one of the nearby farm houses.

3. We filled up at Buc 'ee. Surprisingly gas was also the cheapest around the area. Gasbuddy app misinformed and it did not list Buc 'ee as one of the gas stations. We also had our first kolache. Mark said it tasted like Chinatown hot dog bun...

4. This week's tiny home hiding spot is in Bellaire, Houston's asian shopping plaza. We've never seen so many Vietnamese restaurants outside of Vietnam. Glad, I could still read Vietnamese. Houston, thanks for reminding me I need to practice my native language!

5. Can you spot our tiny Home among these trailer trucks? I don't know why but this reminds me of a small puppy's snout vs big dogs' snouts lying on the ground...Do you see it?

6. Our home vs a decked out RV home. It must be nice to have all that space inside!

7. Airstream Trailer $100k+ vs Our Trailer ~$5k. "They have money" Mark said.

8. We were so close to Mexico. Mark is happy to say he threw a rock over to Mexico. The border is the Rio Grande river.

9. Look, it's our truck on the dash! Ignore our reflections...

10. Austin Public Library is beautiful. They have a roof deck with a nice view of the city and river. Thanks Marci for recommending us to visit it!

11. While driving in Texas, we saw people who were traveling on their bicycles with huge bags! Now, that is a real eco-friendly way to travel. How do they deal with rainy days?! Sleeping in a tent in the rain doesn't sound pleasant. We are definitely lucky to be traveling in our tiny home with a metal roof that plays music when it rains!

Week 4 - Lost Items

1. Locker combo lock - Mark forgot it at a Planet Fitness somewhere in Texas.

2. Face scrub - I lost my Origins face scrub at Planet Austin probably.

3. Eye glasses - I lost my eyeglasses - probably at Planet Fitness again. It's a good thing I brought two pairs. I just cannot lose my only pair now...

Week four marks our 1-month living in our Tiny Home! It feels a lot faster than our 2 months traveling in Europe. Time flies y'all.

We are headed to El Paso and Phoenix next!

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