Towns So Nice We Saw Them Twice: Returning to Our Favorite Spots
When we began traveling, we thought our trip would focus only on exploring new places. We expected to be so involved with discovering areas we’d never seen that there wouldn’t be room on our itinerary to go to anywhere a second time. But there was a new travel experience in store for us that we hadn’t expected – the joy of returning to a well-liked spot without waiting years or decades to do it as part of a two-week vacation. We soon found that returning to a favorite place had its own kind of excitement and we were able to recapture things we’d begun to miss. Savoring these “lost” experiences was a pleasure that rivaled any of the feelings we’d had in our explorations to date.
The first of the places we’d decided to return to was Riverbend Hot Springs Hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We fondly remembered the soaking mineral tubs on the bend of the Rio Grande and the instant friendships formed while sitting with beers and guitars in the springs or around the bonfire. As we drove back into town and recognized the required interstate exit, the landmarks and the correct turns, we almost felt like we could have driven there on automatic pilot. It was a refreshingly different feeling than that of being in a strange place almost every day.
At the hostel nothing had changed from what we expected. The weather was a little warmer and bonfires were banned due to fire restrictions, but the atmosphere was as warm, generous and friendly as ever. We took two days to visit Riverbend and were assigned the same room as on our previous trip. We didn’t have any activities planned and did a lot of nothing for most of the time. The daytime was particularly restful as we took naps and read on an outdoor deck next to the river. It was the perfect way to enjoy a summer afternoon as the water moved past, the wind rustled the trees and a family from town splashed and played in the pools next to us.
Also on our list of places to revisit was Luther’s Barbeque in Beaumont, Texas. We missed the restaurant but more importantly we wanted to see our friend Joe who lived nearby. We drove to Beaumont on an overnight ride that was one of the best all-night drives we’d had yet. The trip took us through Roswell, New Mexico at 2am in time for a Native American phenomenon we were told about in Truth or Consequences. As the full moon turned orange each of the stars disappeared, reappearing one at a time over the course of the next few hours. We had been told that the Native Americans use this phenomenon as part of a ritual where they account for wrongdoings and deal with worries. As we understand it, each star that disappears carries their worries and each that returns signifies a fresh start.
We were in Texas by sunrise and rather than drive directly to the interstate, we spent the day traveling back roads. We were amazed at how beautiful the Texas prairie was as we saw wildflowers, expanses of land and well-maintained farms. As part of our trip we stopped in Archer City, hometown of Larry McMurtry and inspiration for his book The Last Picture Show. True to form it was an old fashioned and idyllic-looking town with a high school, a town center and rows of small stores. Outside of the high school were signs praising their football team and other banners that touted football and basketball championships from over thirty years ago. We had heard that Texans were fiercely proud of their sports teams and imagined fall Friday nights at the brightly lit field. We pictured it full of padded players, cheerleaders and exuberant fans crowding the bleachers.
We were particularly eager to visit McMurtry’s four used bookstores that were peppered throughout the small stores in town. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to our expectations as selection was questionable, books were expensive, and large, dead bugs littered the floor. McMurtry even sold galley copies of books he’d been sent to review, and we were shocked to see signs that told fans that the author was not interested in signing their books. Expensive, pre-autographed copies were available at one of his bookstores.
Fortunately, our trip to Beaumont did not disappoint us the way our trip to the bookstores had. Luther’s food was as tasty as we remembered and it was good to be seated with knives and forks in front of the chicken, pork and ribs we’d thought of so often. We also enjoyed visiting our friend, who informed us he’d gotten a new job that brought him back to his home in New Jersey. It was something he’d wanted for a while and we were glad for him.
After leaving Beaumont we went back to Louisiana Cajun country. We took this drive more slowly than usual, stopping at a rest stop where we saw our first wild alligator and enjoying catfish at a Cajun road stand during a Louisiana downpour. We also went to the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, where we were amazed at the smell of spice and surprised to learn that the grounds were completely composed of salt. The McIlhenney’s, who owned Avery Island, mined the salt for the Confederate Army and became a military target during the Civil War. Fortunately, the property survived and the family developed their Tabasco hot sauce empire throughout the 20th century. We took the Tabasco factory tour and were given tiny bottles of red and green pepper sauce on the way through.
Of all the places we’d wished to revisit, New Orleans was the place we’d missed most. We were eager to see rows of beautiful houses, sweet smelling coffee shops and tiny bars tucked into the alleys. We also wanted to see Jackson Square and check on a white cat that lived in the garden behind St. Charles Cathedral. Once we arrived we felt as if we had come home and we sentimentally went back to see the apartment we had rented for just a month and a half at Mardi Gras. The dirty, narrow streets felt familiar and we smiled uncontrollably as we walked past stores and restaurants we’d come to take for granted as we lived there. We didn’t do anything particularly special in New Orleans this time, but we stayed a week, glad to be back. We wouldn’t have realized how strongly we felt for New Orleans if we hadn’t decided to revisit it and while we may not live here permanently, the city will certainly play a part in our lives.
Overall, we were glad we’d taken time to go back to places we’d particularly liked. There was a pleasure in seeing things we’d missed and a relief to be somewhere familiar after exploring so many new places so quickly. Revisiting favorite places on our trip also taught us about our first impressions and about the importance of some of the things we’d seen. Rather than becoming a waste of time it turned out to be one of the more important things we’d done in our travels so far.