Exploring the Southwest: New Mexico, Arizona & Utah Part 1

After wintering in Florida, we returned to Dallas a bit for the birth of our grandson, then hit to road again to explore the beautiful Southwest. Here’s some of what we got to see for last month, in two installments:

Santa Fe

We originally intended to head straight from Dallas to the Grand Canyon, but couldn’t help a detour to Santa Fe. It was an easy drive from Dallas, a straight shot through on I-40 until a turn off right before Santa Fe. After driving 10 hours we were both pretty tired, so we just pulled into our campsite in the Santa Fe National Forest, where we had reserved a space for two nights. The next day, we unhooked the truck from the Airstream and ventured into town. We strolled the plaza and wandered into the Georgia O’Keefe museum not too far away. There were about 9 or 10 rooms full of her artwork, and even I, who don’t pretend to be an art buff, appreciated the beauty of her displayed paintings. Deciding to eat our big meal midday, we stopped in for lunch at Palacio Cafe. I had the Palacio club piled high with three meats, Swiss Cheese, tomato, lettuce, and of course, topped with chopped green chile. The chile really kicked the sandwich into a whole different category. Utterly amazing. Denise had the chicken enchiladas which she enjoyed equally as much.

Another highlight of Santa Fe was touring the stunning Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Another highlight of Santa Fe was touring the stunning Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Grand Canyon Village

After our two nights in Santa Fe, we packed up and hit the road for a 7 hour drive to the Grand Canyon. We stayed for a week at Trailer Village, which remarkably, is the only RV campsite in the park that has full hookups. This privately-owned RV park (separate from the National Park service) was certainly nothing to write home about, but it was nice being connected to water and electric after long days hiking and exploring. Trailer Village is situated on the South Rim of the Canyon close to all the activity of the Grand Canyon Village.

sunset hiking the grand canyon
A view of the Canyon on one of our many day hikes. Every evening, the sun paints a different spray of colors over the Canyon.

I was glad we came this time of year. We brought the girls one year in July when the weather was just unbearably hot, and we all walked around sweating and grumbling the whole time. The cooler temperatures made long day hikes more enjoyable and there were noticeably fewer people around since school wasn’t yet out for the summer. We particularly liked the South Kaibab trail, which though short, had stunning views of the Canyon below. After our week at Trailer Village, we splurged on an overnight mule ride excursion to Phantom Lodge at the bottom of the Canyon. I have always hated heights, so there were moments I didn’t particularly care for as we made our descent down into the Canyon. The mules walk much closer to the edge of the trail than I was expecting. I don’t know if the the nerves just left me ravenous or if the steak was really just that good, but the dinner we were served upon our arrival at the lodge was phenomenal.

mules at the grand canyon
Harnessed up and ready to go the morning of our ascent out of the Canyon after a peaceful slumber at Phantom Ranch.

It was funny after just a night away, how relieved we were to see the Airstream again when we came out of the Canyon. Home sweet home.


Gourmet Cooking in an Airstream

When we decided to set off on our retirement adventure, we knew we wanted an RV that would be spacious enough for full-time living, with a roomy galley for cooking. I’ve always loved the classic look of the Airstream and their recent resurgence has made them easier to find. We located a dealer in Fort Worth, Vogt RV – AirstreamDFW,  who has a large inventory of new and used Airstreams. I’ve stayed in a friend’s pint-sized Airstream Bambi before, and knew we didn’t want anything that small. We toured an Airstream 30′ Classic, Flying Cloud, both International models and the Land Yacht. Denise immediately loved the Land Yacht because it reminded her of her childhood summers spent sailing around the Gulf on her family’s boat. I like this model because of the spacious dining area and galley way. We were sold and drove away the same day with our Land Yacht in Polar.

Stocking the Airstream Kitchen

From years in the restaurant industry, we had amassed a huge collection of cookware and devices that simply couldn’t all come with us. After whittling it down, we arrived on the final items for the kitchen:

  • 2 cutting boards, one a large wooden block perfect for chopping up large quantities of veggies and the other a plastic cutting board with a built-in colander that sits perfectly over the sink
  • My best collection of knives: no good chef leaves home without his own knives. Denise found a magnetized board to stick them to when we they aren’t in use
  • 2 cast iron skillets, one griddle, and one Dutch oven: The Dutch oven is bulky, but necessary for all of the sauces and pasta I like to make. Denise got the idea for the cast iron griddle doubling as a lid from this genius Airstream blog. We store items like measuring cups and and smaller utensils in it to save on space and reduce clutter. We went with so much cast iron so we can use it for both indoor and outdoor campfire cooking.
  • One non-stick: One deep-sided non-stick Calphalon pan.
  • A small herb garden: I love using fresh Italian herbs in my cooking, so we found a small planter to accommodate fresh oregano, parsley, thyme, and basil.

    This mobile herb garden inspired by experthometips.com and has been the best addition to our Airstream culinary experience
  • Tiered bowls: To store fresh fruit and veggies we found a tiered bowl set that fits on the counter.
  • Hand mixer: Denise sadly couldn’t bring her professional grade KitchenAid stand mixer, so she brought a smaller hand mixer for her baking that seems to do the trick just fine.
  • Nesting bowls: These glass bowls stack up for convenient storage.
  • Assorted knickknacks like measuring cups, measuring spoons, whisks, spatulas, etc.

I thought it would be hard to leave so many of my kitchen supplies behind, but I think it has made me get back to the roots of my cooking. A good chef learns to work with whatever resources and food he has, and I think that’s exactly what this experience has taught me.

The Best Meals so Far

In our travels, we stop every three or four days to restock on food, since our small fridge doesn’t accommodate much more. This gives us an opportunity to get food from farmers, ranchers, and fishermen along the way, so our cuisine always has local flavor and unparalleled freshness.

  • Islamorada Swordfish: I mentioned this in my blog post about wintering in Florida, but I must mention it again because it was one of my favorite dishes. We caught our own swordfish and I grilled it up and served it up on a bed of roasted potatoes and a tomato reduction sauce.
  • Campfire Meatballs: The Italian in me will always have a hankering for my family’s meatball recipe. On our way to a friend’s land near Lake Brownwood one weekend, we stopped at the farmer’s market in Waco. I couldn’t resist the ground beef from Richardson Farms, a local farm with grass-fed Angus. That evening, we indulged in delicious Texas beef meatballs cooked over an open fire.

    Meatballs made from grass-fed Texas beef
    Meatballs made from grass-fed Texas beef
  • Skillet Brownies: If I’m the family chef, Denise is the baking queen. Since we couldn’t bring all the specialty pans along, she’s adapted all of her recipes to fit in a skillet. The current winner are her moist and sumptuous skillet brownies.

We’ll keep you posted on more of our Airstream culinary experiences as we learn to master cooking in a small space!

Highlights of Our Winter in Florida

After a few weeks in Dallas welcoming our newest grandson into the world, we are on the road again. We spent most of the winter in Florida, soaking in the sun and sand while other parts of the country shoveled snow and defrosted their windshields. Here are the highlights from our winter months:

Rosemary Beach, FL

We first stopped to see friends of ours in Rosemary Beach, which is close to the better known towns Destin and Seaside. They had room for us to park the Airstream and stay in their guest house, which was a nice break from RV life. We had a wonderful week catching up with these old friends who retired to Rosemary after tiring of the hustle and bustle of Houston. Highlights of this part of the trip included long bike rides to Seaside down 30-A, lots of happy hours on the beach, and a fantastic meal at Christiano’s in Santa Rosa Beach. Tucked in a strip mall, from the outside this place doesn’t look like much, but the food was phenomenal. Since we were at the beach, I tried the grouper Elizabeth, with of course a side of meatballs.

outdoor seating alys beach
One of our favorite finds during our stay at Rosemary was this outdoor sitting area in nearby Alys Beach

St. Augustine, FL

We then traveled on to St. Augustine, spending a week at Pellicer Creek Campground. Pellicer Creek is a designated canoe trail that winds along the Faver-Dykes state park. We rented kayaks one day and paddled our way up the creek, spotting abundant flora and fauna along the way, including gators and heron. In St. Augustine, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in the United States, constructed by the Spanish in the 1670s. Then, we hopped over to see stunning St. Augustine lighthouse wrapped in its signature black & white stripes. This still functioning lighthouse towers 165 feet above sea level, offering panoramic views of the ocean below. For our Italian fix, we stopped in at Casa Benedetto‘s which lived up to it’s online reputation. Don’t be off put by the 60’s diner exterior, the inside is inviting and the food is authentic Italian. We had the fortune of meeting the owners, who both came from large Sicilian families. If you go, don’t miss out on the homemade cannolis, which are still made from a generations old family recipe.

The Keys

After St. Augustine, we drove the coast, passing through Miami before spending a month in the Keys. All of the RV parks we stayed in on the keys were exceptionally nice. The highlight of our keys adventure was a fishing excursion we took out of Islamorada. If you have the chance, book a charter out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina – it’s worth every penny. We spent a day on the water and caught a massive swordfish that we cooked up for dinner the same night. Key West was a fun town to explore, with lots of great restaurants and things to do.

swordfish dinner
It’s amazing what you can cook up in an Airstream kitchen. Our fresh swordfish made for a delightful dinner.

Next, we are headed out west to explore the Grand Canyon. Stay tuned for more details on our Airstream adventures.