Day 4 is here! We got up at 5:30 a.m. because we knew we had a 4 hour journey to our next stop. My travel hint – I tried to plan the trip so that we have at least one fun stop on long travel days. This would be one of those long travel days. I tried to alternate these days with staying-put-in-one-place days. That way, we get a little rest here and there and don’t feel like we’re driving all the time.
The hotel had no breakfast (did I mention it was $41 for the night) so we ate the Trader Joe’s version of Pop Tarts out of the food bin. We got on the road by 6:30 a.m. As we crossed over the Mississippi River in Memphis, we saw the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign right on the bridge.
Then we entered flat but beautiful farmland. As the kids slept, we watched the yellow crop dusting planes loop around us as they sprayed the lush green fields. Silver silos and farm implements littered the countryside. There’s nothing like seeing the country by its roadways. You really get a feel for the land and the people. Arkansas is a pretty state.
Our destination for the morning and early afternoon was the Crater of Diamonds State Park. My son and I learned about this state park when I was homeschooling him through the 3rd grade.
I only survived through the necessary one year of homeschooling but I digress…
As we studied the states, we read about this volcanic crater in Arkansas where you can mine for diamonds and keep whatever you find. We talked about how fun it would be to visit. During my trip planning, I realized that our route took us right by the diamond park! Before our trip, a friend told me that a local boy they know found a $12,000 diamond there several years back. Maybe we could get lucky. All the internet reviews told us how hot it would be. Boy were they right! There is little to no shade in this huge field of dirt. You can rent a basic panning kit for $12, plus a huge deposit (like $40) in case you lose the equipment. I had the intention of making my own sifters at home and bringing them along to save money. Yeah right! Anyway, we just rented 2 kits. It was $52 for our family of 6 to get into the park along with the equipment rental. Seemed steep, but aren’t all these types of attractions?
My husband grilled (nicely) the lady who was renting out the equipment about the best places to start digging. She said that most of the large diamonds were found simply by “surface searching” – walking along looking for something shiny. We saw the sign that told us that 3 diamonds were found the day before and none had been found that day. Oooohhhh! This might be our day! I liked the idea of surface searching rather than getting down in the dirt and digging. The expression “finding a diamond in the rough” couldn’t have been more fitting. Honestly, it was overwhelming and HOT! Wear hats and plenty of sunscreen…
Surprisingly, my husband was jacked up. It was our daughter, Emma Grace’s, 17th birthday and he was on a mission to find some diamonds for his ladies. Nate, our 12 year old, who struggles to focus was super-focused as well. At one point, we couldn’t find him (in a large field no less) because he decided to search the outskirts of the field near the trees. Our 10 year old son had me on high alert because he told me that he saw “an orange-faced” mountain lion on the edge of the field. I was already picturing how I would escape from the mountain lion in a field like that. I’d be dead meat. That bear incident (read our 1st day) has me spooked. Come to find out, the “mountain lion” was another diamond hunter’s dog that he tied up near the edge. Phew! No mountain lions to chase me today!
“Tiff, come here,” my husband yelled! He said he found a beautiful green stone – an emerald! After close inspection, we decided that it was either an expensive emerald or…
a piece of a green beer bottle! We chose to believe the former.
My super-focused son, Nate, came back with a bag of rocks that he was really excited about. He kept asking me what type of precious stones I thought they were. I hated to burst his bubble but I had to reluctantly tell him he just had some nice looking rocks. At the end of diamond hunting, you take your treasures back to the “gemologists”(or college kids hired for the summer) to see what they think of your finds. They confirmed that my son’s rocks were just volcanic ash. That’s cool though. The mountain lion spotter, Seth, found a good-sized piece of quartz. It was a beautiful white stone. He put it right in his pocket with a smirk on his face. He was satisfied.
My husband’s emerald…just a piece of glass? I’m not sure I trust them. They wanted us to drop the “glass” into a bucket labeled the same. Hmmmmm… There was another diamond hunter we met today who told me that his friend found a diamond and the experts told him that it wasn’t a diamond. Who can you trust these days? I put the glass, (cough, cough), emerald back in my bag to take home.
With our treasures in hand, we exited the park for our picnic lunch before we hit the road again. The cooler/bin system is working quite well. We keep lunchmeat, drinks, and a few dinner options in the cooler. The bin holds non-perishable items and other supplies – like paper goods, Ziploc bags, foil, etc. We have to buy a bag of ice or get it from the hotel we’re staying in each day to refill the cooler. Just watch out for the bungee cords that hold the bin and cooler on the hitch rack. One snapped back right into my forehead and left a mark. Whoops!
We got on the road for our 5 hour trip to Waco, Texas. Since it was our daughter’s birthday, I searched online the night before to find a “Diner, Drive-In, or Dive” to visit for dinner. Dallas was only 2 hours to Waco so it would be a good place to stop for dinner.
Nothing like the Big D on your B Day!
Did I mention that on the trip to Dallas, I sat in the back seat and watched the movie, “Glory Days,” with my boys (it was about Texas Western’s men’s basketball team in the 60s and their fight against racism) while my husband and daughter streamed (and laughed wildly) about some Weird Al Yankovic songs? Remember that WEIRD dude? Well apparently, he has a newer song named “Craigslist.” Pretty funny!
Waze led us toward the restaurant and when we took a route through a fancy part of downtown Dallas, I got concerned that maybe I picked too fancy (too expensive) of a restaurant. Pretty quickly, the area changed to a little more run-down and then I got concerned – what part of town did I take my family to? We nearly passed it. It looked like someone’s small house – not a restaurant.
We pulled into the parking lot that the house shared with a used tired place and we saw a normal looking couple head into the house. This must be it – Avila’s Restaurant – Homestyle Tex-Mex Cooking
Do you like my best teenager impression in this pic with my daughter? Can you see how we’d mistake the restaurant for just a house?
Avila’s at sunset…
One blogger said to find a spot to take pictures on your trip everyday at sunset. What could be better than eating Tex-Mex at sunset?
We’d heard that Guy’s favorite dish was the brisket tacos…so we ordered 3 orders of 3. At restaurants along the way, we’re ordering 3 entrees for the 6 of us to share. With the chips, the light-your-mouth-on-fire salsa, and the queso dip to cool your mouth down, we’d have enough. The tacos literally came out in about 3 minutes. The combination of the brisket, homemade guacamole, pico, rice, and beans was unbelievable. “The best I ever had,” said my 15 year old son, Luke.
At the end of the meal, we had birthday sopapillas (fried tortillas with honey and cinnamon) and their famous bread pudding. My daughter and husband say they’d drive all the way back to Dallas just to have the bread pudding. See that spoon hovering about the bread pudding? We had to take a quick pic before the wolves descended.
Driving out of Dallas at night with full bellies was sweet. Downtown was lit up like Vegas. We blared the music as we hit I-35 for Waco.
We pulled into the hotel in Waco around 11 p.m. My husband ran in to check it out and do the “bed bug” inspection. He gave the quick thumbs up, we gathered a few essentials, and headed into the hotel. When we entered our room, a wave of heat hit us. We knew Waco was going to be around 99 degrees during the day but no AC at night? Nooooo! We messed with the AC unit for a few minutes before we went down to the front desk to ask for a new room.
My husband came back with rooms keys for a suite – 2 Queen beds and a pull-out double couch! Yay! Thank you Lord! No need to blow up the air mattress this late at night. We like it when things go wrong and we get an upgrade. That’s how my husband and I survived as newlyweds on a $14,000 salary with Young Life.
We had to rough up the pull-out couch a little bit to actually get the bed out but eventually it worked and we all fell into bed around midnight. Another successful and eventful day on the road!