Sometimes I think the hardest part of any family road trip is not having enough time to see everything you want to see.

You plan a route and mark places you want to visit along the way. Or you think of places you want to visit, and then plan your route. Then while you’re road tripping, you find new places you’d love to poke around in — but your vacation schedule doesn’t give you much wiggle room. For most of us, there are work and school waiting at the end of the vacation, after all.

That’s what happens with our family on the regular. One recent example: New Mexico.

Two Days in New Mexico

Before our first visit, we knew New Mexico was west of Texas, had deserts, and had Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I knew some great people lived there whom I’d met online. But mostly, New Mexico was a place to stop overnight as we made our way west to California, then visit the caverns and meet our online friends in person on the way back home.

A cactus grows in a New Mexico yard

A cactus grows in a New Mexico yard

When our family made it to New Mexico, via the Guadalupe Mountains that started appearing in western Texas — blue and mysterious at a distance, brown and rugged up close — New Mexico became more. The first day, we passed farms and landed for the night in Las Cruces. We had dinner at a small Mexican restaurant with some of the tastiest, most authentic Mexican food we’d ever had. It was in Las Cruces where we stayed in our first Airbnb home, which was a lovingly restored old house across the street from where the owner lived. He told us to help ourselves to fresh eggs for breakfast. (He kept chickens in the backyard.) The owner told us how he had been restoring the home and pointed out the native plants he’d installed in the front yard. Inside, the original wood floors creaked in all the right places and local music festival posters hung on the walls.

Las Cruces, New Mexico, train depot mural

Las Cruces, New Mexico, train depot mural selfie

The next morning, our host encouraged us to visit White Sands National Monument. But we didn’t have time — and it was in the wrong direction. Instead, we stopped in at an old train depot in town for my train-loving son to take pictures. And from Las Cruces on into Arizona, it was bright blue skies and puffy, golden-white clouds all the way.

On the way back through New Mexico on our return home, our family took a different route. From El Paso’s environs, we drove east and back through the Guadalupe Mountains. In the distance, it looked stormy. Did I see a funnel cloud? I wasn’t sure. We were just a solitary van driving past fields and around mountains, hardly seeing another vehicle until we reached the area of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. How I wish I’d known about that park!

Yucca with the Guadalupe Mountains in the background. From: New Mexico and the wonderful problem with road trips

Yucca with the Guadalupe Mountains in the background

I’d already fallen in love with the mountains on our first drive through. I actually looked them up while we were driving so I would know what they are called. Then to find a national park dedicated to the mountains, I wish we’d had the time to stop.

However, we had to get to Carlsbad Caverns before the last elevator ride down into the caves. We made it, and we had just enough time to walk the trails in the main rooms of the caverns before they closed. Our family took pictures, gaped at the massive stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations, and made up stories about the pools of water. We wondered what it would be like to be in the cave without the lights, wrapped in total darkness. We were glad to have brought jackets, because the cave was chilly. After we came back up to ground level, we had a little time to look around the gift shop before visitors gathered in the amphitheater to hear a ranger talk about the bats that live there and see them come out for the evening.

Underground formation in a main room of the caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Underground formation in a main room of the caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Before that happened, though, we got a surprise. My online friends — a husband, wife, and two sons, just like our family — had arrived and were waiting for us outside the visitor center. We had thought we’d meet up afterward, but they said it had been a while since they had seen the bats, too, and thought they would join us. It was great meeting them in person for the first time. We found seats in the amphitheater, but no sooner did we sit down than the Bat Flight Program was canceled because of an approaching monsoon. So we followed them through the wind and rain into town to a restaurant they liked. We ate and talked and got to know one another. A highlight of our road trip! They told us we should drive up the road to Roswell to see the alien- and space-themed sights like the UFO museum and science center, and also to a park. But once again, our family didn’t have time.

When will we come this way again?

At the Four Corners monument, you can be in four states at the same time

At the Four Corners monument, you can be in four states at the same time

After saying goodbye, we continued east and found a place to stay near the Texas border. The next night, we’d be in Waco. And we didn’t know when we would be back to visit White Sands, or the Guadalupe Mountains, or Roswell. We hadn’t even been to the northern part of the state for Albuquerque or Santa Fe. We don’t know when we’ll get to see the forests, artist galleries, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, or Native American places (although we did visit the Four Corners Monument once before). We don’t know when we’ll see our friends again.

That’s the thing about travel, and road trips: You take a trip somewhere, and it can lead to two or three more. You move toward what you know, then something new reveals itself to you. The world opens up, expands, and presents you with new opportunities and a need to see more. If you do it right, travel is hope-inducing, cruel, and exciting all at once. Hope inducing because you hope you’ll go back someday. Cruel because you realize your time and money are limited. Exciting because you have learned something new and made new friends.