The “Texas Forever” Vacation: Part One

We’re recapping our 2014 “Texas Forever” Vacation. You can read about our adventure: parts one, two, three, four and five.

We hemmed and hawed about taking a vacation this summer for so long that it almost didn’t happen. There was a brief moment we toyed with heading back to Ruidoso, NM, but the housing was just too expensive for our budget. About a week into summer, we decided to block off that first week in July as vacation but it wasn’t until five days before that we decided where.

That sort of limits your options. Y’all know what a planner I am, so this was a huge departure for me.

I said to Scott, “Hey, let’s take a tour of Texas.” And then he did the rest – mapping out our vacation, booking hotels and coming up with things to do. He even checked out some great books from the library for our adventure. I snapped the pictures, served as navigator (sometimes not a very good one) and nursed Gianna, a lot. Over the next several days I’ll share our adventure, what we loved/didn’t love and why Texas is the greatest state on Earth.

Here’s a snapshot at our week, all 2,400 miles of it. Everywhere you see a new letter was a stop for us on our travels.

Texas Forever Route

fort worth, texas

Our original plan of leaving at 8:30am turned into a 10:30am departure. Oh well. Life. During the trip, we dubbed it “Gianna time.” We had a late breakfast and then made our way to stop number one: the Fort Worth Stockyards. The troops were ravenous, so we enjoyed lunch at Joe T. Garcia’s.

texas forever, ft worth_01

Texas trip lesson #1: You know you’re a big party when they seat your family in the banquet room. #truestory

After parading us through the entire restaurant, including the poor suckers waiting in line for two- and four-person tables, we were seated immediately in the banquet room and enjoyed lunch. If you do eat here, just bring cash. They don’t take credit cards. The air-conditioning felt great, I narrowly escaped getting peed on and the wait staff in the kitchen could be heard cheering on the World Cup match. Our loud bunch fit right in. Then, we headed to the stockyards.

The kids enjoyed touring the barn and looking at the animals. I put my agriculture degree to good use by pointing out the difference between bulls and steers. {one has parts, the other doesn’t}. When John Paul “pet” the camel I thought we all might lose it. He touched the neck and then sprinted backward so quick, narrowly missing the camel’s welcome. Hilarious.

You can tell the tourists from locals one simple way. If you’re sitting on the longhorn steer to get your picture taken? TOURIST. When the gal next to me said, “I can’t believe how tame the bulls are” I just couldn’t help myself. “Ma’am, those aren’t bulls, those are steers.” But, she insisted, “They’re so docile.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that’s what happens when you’re castrated and pumped full of tranquilizers. City folk.

As fate would have it, we were there for the 4pm cattle drive. Or, the city version of it, anyway! The kids loved watching the cowboys walk the steers down the city block. I thought Luke was going to come out of his skin he was so excited. Clare, Gianna and I were just hot. By now, it was nearing 5pm and we knew the troops were fading. We loaded the van and headed an hour north to Bowie, Scott’s hometown.

In another stroke of sheer luck, Bowie was celebrating Jim Bowie days which meant RODEO! But first, we went to Mass and were super happy with the 37-minute celebration. This is what happens when the congregation only has 40 families. I did laugh when Will was recruited as an altar server and the other four brought up the gifts for communion. Small towns, I do so love you.

After Mass, we drove the half block (no really) to Granny’s house for a quick dinner and enjoyed birthday cake for Clare. While I bathed Gianna and nursed her to sleep, the other five, Scott and Granny enjoyed a pretty raucous  rodeo. Anna-Laura even jumped the gate and participated in the calf scramble. She didn’t come out a winner, but at least we escaped an ER visit by benching John Paul.


We headed out super early the next morning for our four-ish hour drive to my part of the world, the Panhandle.

Texas trip lesson #2: Don’t speed through tiny little Estelline. You are sure to get a ticket if you do. You can separate the ‘locals’ from those ‘traveling through’ by the brake lights.


We arrived in Amarillo right around lunchtime and headed straight to Great Papa and Great Betty’s house, my mom’s dad and stepmom. They don’t call them the greatest generation for nothing. My 88-year-old grandfather is a WWII veteran and former tailgunner. He flew 36 missions and lived to tell the tale. That’s remarkable.

He broke his leg a few months ago and he says his biggest challenge isn’t getting around, but forgetting where he leaves his cane! He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s funny and I just adore him. The best part of the afternoon was watching him love on, and hold, his eighth great-grandbaby. Oh, and did I mention he’s a boss with the yo-yo? He schooled my kids. To make our lunch even sweeter, Great Betty baked Clare a homemade chocolate birthday cake, filled with marshmallows and chocolate chips. I’ll take seconds, please. The kids spent the afternoon playing black jack, bouncing the yo-yo and keeping the great grands on their toes. Lunch zoomed by way too quickly. But, man, it sure was spectacular to hug their necks.



After a great visit, it was off to Palo Duro Canyon. Or, to the surface of the sun. Basically the same. I believe the canyon is the Panhandle’s best kept secret. While we didn’t attend the outdoor musical “TEXAS” because of Gianna (the show lasts well until midnight), the next time we head north we’re taking the kids. It is an amazing show and if you go to the Panhandle, this is a must-do in the summertime. The kids did go exploring on some trails with Scott for a short bit, but Gianna and I enjoyed the A/C. It was just too hot to get her out of the car for long – 102 in the canyon!

texas forever, canyon_01

texas forever, canyon_02


After a long, but awesome afternoon of sightseeing, we headed back into town for a quick stop at Cadillac Ranch, situated on old Route 66, before dinner. At one time this was a cool place to go, now it’s just littered with spray paint cans. The mom in me was all, “trash cans, anyone?”


That super short trip was followed by a fantastic dinner with my Aunt Mary Lou and Martha. We just love those two. No trip to Amarillo is complete without hearing my aunt laugh or talking sports with Martha. They took us to dinner at Sakura, a long-time family favorite that goes back to mine and Scott’s dating days. There was fire, there was fancy chef tricks and lots of good eats. It was a great way to end our day. And, I can’t stop laughing at Luke’s expression in this photo.

texas, blog_149

We jetted off to the hotel for the craziest 30 minutes of the day. Shower time with the kids. I’m telling you, there should be video footage of that hot mess. After the assembly line, I nursed Gianna while Scott and the kids snuck in a little “Cheaper by the Dozen” with Steve Martin. It seemed appropriate for the trip. I can still hear the kids laughter. Amazingly, everyone slept beautifully and we called it a winner of a day.

Disclaimer: Before I get too far into our shenanigans on the Texas Forever Vacation, it’s important to note that we had many moments of “can’t we just all get along?” There were siblings fights, elbows and punches thrown, a little yelling, some timeouts, lots of DVD in the van watching and tears. I mean, you can’t cram eight people in a minivan for 2,400 miles in seven days and expect rainbows and kittens. Those moments were far outweighed, however, by the people we hugged, the sights we saw, the inside family jokes we now share and the appreciation we gained for our great state.

Texas trip lesson #3: Lower your expectations and roll with the day. You’ll have more fun.

Sights Visited:
Fort Worth Stockyards
Jim Bowie Days
Palo Duro Canyon
Cadillac Ranch


  1. Verdina on July 10, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Again, I say, “You guys are so brave!” I can’t imagine traveling with six kids… my two were bad enough. I don’t know if you knew Don was a “traveling salesman” and, when we first moved to Denver, the Panhandle was part of his territory. I used to travel with him once in a while and I have been to Palo Duro Canyon.
    Can’t wait for the rest of the trip!
    God bless!

  2. Nadine on July 10, 2014 at 10:37 am

    This is awesome! My family lives in Houston, and this is giving me the courage to do a Texas tour one day. What a fantastic trip! I can’t wait for part 2!

  3. Michelle F. on July 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    What I always find amazing is that you covered 2,400 miles and didn’t even see all of Texas. I’ve visited Texas at least twice and can say it is one of my favorite states. I’d love for our own kids to have an experience similar to yours, seeing the stockyards, etc….maybe someday.

  4. Nicole on July 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    My husband has such fond memories of the road trips he took with his 5 siblings all cooped up in the family station wagon. You are creating some fun memories for your kids! And how wonderful to see all that family along the way.

    I am a firm believer in being a “tourist” where you live. I think so many people forget that the state that they live in is a destination for people – all states have a tourism bureau! We did a mini stay-cation (we did sleep at home), but did the things in the area that we haven’t ever done. Such fun! I can’t wait to see more of your adventures!

  5. Lindsay on July 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Amazing! I can’t wait to see the rest!

  6. Gillian on July 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Sounds like a great trip Kathryn – love this post! We are currently doing a five week camping trip with our three children and my parents through parts of outback Australia (over 10,000km). We are having a great time and some friends have asked for tips about doing a similar trip. I had to laugh at lesson number three – as that was going to be my first tip for them!! As you say the good times and the memories far outweigh the other bits – but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t expect some fights and carry on from the troops!! I’m still working on lowering mine but lower expectations will make for a much more satisfying trip!! Can’t wait to read the next installment. 🙂

    • Kathryn on July 10, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      That sounds like an amazing trip, Gillian. One of these days I really hope God leads us to Australia.

      • Gillian on July 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

        I hope He has that in His plan for you too Kathryn and if he does give us a shout- we’d love to show you around our part of the world. 🙂

        • Kathryn on July 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm

          Count on it!

  7. Connie on July 10, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    God Bless Texas and God Bless my Whitaker Family!

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  9. Joanne on July 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I am totally impressed you can squeeze 6 kids in a minivan. Our mini is overflowing with carseats and there are only 3 in the back!

  10. Connie on July 11, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Wish I knew you were coming thru WF……….would have met you @ Love’s on 287 for a 5 minute potty break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kathryn on July 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

      We had to keep the baby asleep so we didn’t stop until Childress! Next time 🙂

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  12. Lisa Jones on July 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

    What a great idea for a trip!! We’ve done parts of this, but never as one big trip. I can’t believe I’ve never taken my kids to the Ft. Worth Stockyards. Crazy. I think that needs to be on my to see list for them. I second the musical Texas in Palo Duro Canyon. The kids and I were there a couple summers ago and saw it. What a delight to find! It was miserable hot but worth seeing the show. Too hot to hike, but we stopped by last year on Spring Break and had a wonderful hike through the canyon on March. Perfect time to visit, but no musical.
    You are such a brave soul to travel spur of the minute as a family, but it sounds like a great family trip. I can’t wait to read about you visiting my favorite place in West TX – Big Bend. 🙂 Not enough Texans make the trek out there to experience it.

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