Westward: A Mixed Bag + A Buc-Ees

As always, heading home in an RV, from a long distance away, is a mixed bag of excitement and dread. Long days of driving, mixed with a lack of upcoming adventures. Teeth-shattering bad roads (don’t get me started on I-20 through Louisiana) mixed with coma-inducing flat/straight/boring highways through West Texas. Surprisingly nice campgrounds like this one (Lincoln Parish Park in Ruston, LA) ….

and horrifyingly bad campgrounds like this one (the ironically-named Comfort Station RV Park in Loraine, TX). Who says RV’ing is always glamorous?

Despite driving every day for 8 days, we did have an on-the-road adventure in the form of a Buc-ees, a quirky convenience store (with an annoying spelling: Buc-ees? Why not Buck-ees?) that has turned into a Texas (and surrounding states) empire, having turned “detour” into “destination.” You might think, a gas station convenience store, whoop-dee-dooo. But it’s more than that, it’s an exciting roadside adventure with a huge fan following!

They are known for a ridiculous amount of fueling stations, but do not allow semi-trucks, so no having to maneuver around the big boys (RV’s are fine). The largest Buc-ees, in New Braunfels, Texas, has 120 gas pumps. This one outside Dallas was smaller, maybe “only” 80 or so.

They are known for meat, and being in Texas, that makes sense. Their brisket is fantastic, and everytime a batch comes up (about every 5 minutes) the whole brisket team lets out a cheer: “BRISKET ON THE BOARD,” which adds to a carnival-like atmosphere. You can also choose from a billion different types at the beef jerky bar — we got the ghost pepper version, which should be fun at the next family gathering.

They have a gazillion types of food, and are known for their “beaver nuggets” (super-coated caramel popcorn in flavors like cinnamon and jalapeno) and kolaches, which are a Texas thang, having formerly been a Czech thang, arriving with thousands of immgrants from Czechoslavakia in the 1800s. A kolache is a yeast pastry stuffed with meat stuff (like a sausage) or sweet stuff (like fruit and cheese) and comes from the Czech word “kola” meaning wheels or rounds. People in Texas are crazy for these things.

Since everything’s bigger in Texas, they can claim at least one of their 40 locations as the biggest convenience store in the world. Their New Braunfels location is 74,000 square feet (the size of five Trader Joe’s) with 80 fountain drink dispenses, 27 cash registers, and (more importantly) 33 urinals and 50 toilet stalls in their revered super-clean restrooms.

Buc-ees has a ridiculous amount of merchandise for sale. Fully half the store is “stuff” … Magnolia-style kitschy home decor, clothing with the cute Buc-ees beaver plastered over it, livestock feeders and deer corn and crawfish boilers, oh my!! Reminder, this is a gas station convenience store. Are you supposed to throw the full-sized smoker you just picked up into the back of your Kia?

We left $131 poorer and physically exhausted, but it was a ton of fun to visit Buc-ees. As my friend Sandy told us before this trip, and as we share this sage wisdom with you, “if you see a Buc-ees on the road, ya gotta stop and check it out at least once!”

We stayed an extra night during our Dallas stopover to visit the George W. Bush, Jr. Presidential Library and Museum, our seventh Presidential museum. We visited George Sr.’s museum during the first week of this trip, so it was only right to visit George Jr. during the last week of the trip, but I have to say, it was kind of lame, in a hard-to-describe way. When the highlight of the entire visit was an artful flag with double shadow letters, well, that says it all. Meh.

We didn’t stay long at the Bush Museum, and headed to the much more enjoyable Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The Museum on the 6th floor is in the Texas Schoolbook Depository, an industrial warehouse, and much the same as it was back then: November 22, 1963.

Of course, this is the much-discussed location where Lee Harvey Oswald may-or-may-not have fired the fatal shot that killed President JFK Jr. during his presidential motorcade through the city.

If you believe it, and I’m not theorizing either way, Oswald fired his rifle out the corner window that remains open, from behind his perch of textbook boxes.

The X painted on the street was the location of the deadly shot, and of course the infamous “grassy knoll” is right there too, as are a bunch of crazies still protesting the Warren Commission’s findings and selling their books of alternate theories. A concurrent viewing of Oliver Stone’s “JFK” movie, plus the museum, makes for a interesting afternoon.

The Kennedy Assassination remains one of the great mysteries of American politics, and like the location of the Memphis assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. this destination was fascinating, eerie and worthy of a visit.

Before heading west, our last “big” stop of this 9-week trip was in Lexington, South Carolina, where the majority of Philip’s family lives. As with every visit, we were tickled to have a bunch of small-group get-togethers and see everyone.

But we were most excited to see the two youngest family members, Millie and Evie, our great-nieces!

These are Philip’s brothers and their wives. He is the baby of the group, which explains why he is so spoiled.

We snuck in a visit to Congaree National Park, the only NP in South Carolina. We had tried to go in early 2020, but … you know. 2020. The year of no-go, for everyone. This year was much improved.

The park was C.O.V.E.R.E.D. in (harmless) caterpillars. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of leaf caterpillars coated pathways, handrails, park signs, trees, and people. Every 15 minutes we’d have to stop and flick 5 or 10 caterpillars off our jackets, hats, shoes. Apparently it takes 5,000 caterpillars to fledge a nest of Carolina chickadees. From what we saw at this visit to the Congaree, a lot of nests got fledged.

The most visited path is a 2.5 mile boardwalk loop, raised to traverse the many water crossings and swamp areas. Congaree NP also has a synchronous firefly event (like that in Great Smoky Mountains NP), held later in April, for which a ticket lottery is required for this popular event.

Congaree is also a popular place for kayaking. With all that water, it’s also a popular place for mosquitoes, though we were lucky to be low on the mosquito-meter on that day. “Ruthless” and “War Zone” … yikes.

While in Lexington, we parked the RV at the family’s lake house, where Philip’s momma Georgia had lived since 1971, prior to her death. Brother Dennis still lives in the house, and thoughtfully installed full RV hookups, so we were able to stay right there during our visit.

We’re back home in Phoenix for a couple months now, welcoming another grandchild, a little brother to 2-year-old Connor. Exciting times! But our summer travels to escape the heat of the desert Southwest will resume in late June, when we will explore the charming destinations to be found in Northern California!

Thanks for rolling along with us! Leave a comment or tell a friend!

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