Our trip across the USAby Rich and Kay
This summer we took our much anticipated trip around the country. This is the farthest trip we have ever taken in the camper! We had been talking about this and planning this for years and it's finally happening! This blog is our record of the trip. [Here's a map of our planned route.]
Editor's note: Photos and images referenced in this report will be uploaded to the RV Forum image library.
- Drive 2100 miles to Mesa Verde, CO (4 days)
- Mesa Verde (1 day)
- Zion, Bryce, Norht Rim Grand Canyon (1 day each)
- Phoenix (1 day - vist brother)
- LA (3 days)
- SF (3 days)
- Oregon Coast (2 days)
- Mt St Helens (1 day)
- Glacier NP (3 days)
- Yellowstone (4 days)
- Grand Tetons (2 days)
- Custer SP/Mt Rushmore/Wind Cave NP (4 days)
- Badlands (1 day)
There sure is a lot of preparation for something this long. (Especially when traveling with an 8 year old, a 16 year old and 2 dogs). Among many other things, we have to:
- Fill prescriptions ahead
- Pay bills ahead
- Get our house sitter lined up
- Van / Camper prepped
- Dogs to vet and groomer
- Get lots of games, movies, CDs, etc
- Well, you get the idea.....
Our first planned stop doesn't occur until Mesa Verde, CO 2100 miles away! After that we won't do more than one full day of driving until we start heading for home. Hopefully the things we learn and mistakes we make can help others that are planning similar trips. Bye!
We're on our way!
Day 1 (6/22/05) – We started our trip actually earlier than we had hoped. We left Binghamton at 11:30 am and drove for 570 miles. After getting lost several times in Dayton, OH, we spent the night at a Cracker Barrel.
Day 2 – This was SUPPOSED to be our longest day. It was, but only in time not in mileage! After leaving Dayton at 7 am we drove a couple hours to Indianapolis and stopped for breakfast. As I did my walk-around I discovered we have blown a bearing and the wheel was ready to come off!! Finding a service station only 2 miles away was extremely lucky. It took 6 hours, however, because of several trips to trailer shops to get the parts needed. Kudos to Raymond's Alignment in Plainfield, IN (317) 838-7112. If you're ever in the area, they're good, honest folks. Driving by the St Louis arch was pretty neat for the kids. Our original plan was to stay west of Kansas City but after the bearing fiasco, we were lucky to get in 500 miles and make it to Boonville, MO. We stayed at a Walmart there and were awakened to the gentle sounds of the diesel delivery trucks. We had figured we would have to knock something off our trip because we were so far behind. That was before the hard core driving day of day 3!
Day 3 – We’re back on schedule. 800 miles! Leaving Boonville at 7 am, we got all the way to Pueblo, CO! Of course, to do this schedule, I’ve had the same clothes on for 3 days but, I’m sure, in a week or so, the van will air out enough to be livable again! Although Kansas is flat, the headwinds we had to push against really made for some slow going. We also got a taste of a tornado-alley, severe thunderstorm. It was incredible! (At least for a family from New York!) The hail was so large I thought it was going to come through the roof! We kept looking for the Wicked Witch of the West! Got to the Walmart in Pueblo, just off interstate 25, at 11 pm. Thanks goodness for time zones. We have already picked up two hours that we wouldn’t have had! On to Mesa Verde!
Day 4 - After the 800 miles day, we decided to actually have a breakfast BEFORE hitting road! What a luxury. Even had a chance to strike up a conversation in the Walmart parking lot with a fellow "camper". He's a rancher from Oklahoma. He and his wife come into "town" every couple months, spend a week or so parked in Walmart and stock up on supplies.
It's a long drive across Colorado from Pueblo to Mesa Verde. The Wolf Creek Pass was something to see! Snow on the ground on June 25 is unusual even for us New Yorkers! We actually have hookups now! I got a shower! (The bonfire of clothes is out back! This is a big country! Kansas is a very long state to drive through. Pretty and more interesting than we thought but man it's a long state! Made it to Mesa Verde RV Resort around 5 pm. It was pouring rain. The first rain they’ve had in 2 months, I’m told. Great! Looks just like home! The RV park is very nice and I’d recommend it. The heated pool and hot tubs are a hit with the kids. The sites are well kept and clean and the free wifi allows me to sit by the pool right now as I write this. The road here from I-25 (Route 160) is very scenic but don’t expect to make fast time on it. Very nice rest areas make it a really nice half-day drive. We stopped at the Mesa Verde gate and bought our National Park Pass. It’s $50 and allows free admission to any national park for a year. Since we’re planning on visiting at least 9 on this trip alone, it’s a great deal.
Day 5 - Wow!! Mesa Verde is more spectacular than we had expected! Most of the ruins, (there are 4,000 of them), are off limits to the public. But the ones that are open are really worth the extended drive to get to the park. Most of the sites can be seen on your own, but 3 sites require you to buy tickets. They go on sale at 8 am. Each of the 3 tours leave every half hour, and they are a little over an hour each. At $2.75, they’re the best deal in town. We picked the least strenuous tour, Cliff Palace. It is the site that is most photographed at Mesa Verde because it is the biggest. Even though it is the least challenging, it’s still not a cake-walk. There are many rough steps and 10’ tall wooden ladders to get down to it and back up. It is amazing that people could actually build these things and live on the edge of cliffs with only stone tools. [Here's a picture from our tour of Cliff House……]
We found a place to have our lunch about 6 feet back from the edge on a cliff overlooking a 2000’ drop. It was spectacular! [Here's a picture from the spot right before we sat down there to eat……]
However, near the end of lunch we experienced a parent’s nightmare! Amy was startled by a bug on her drink. She got up and started to run; guess which direction! About 2’ from the edge our frantic screaming had the desired effect….she stopped! (Along with probably everyone else in southern Colorado!) Whew! I’ll be having nightmares about that for weeks! Anyway, lunch was nice!
As we were driving out of the park we noticed in the distance a black bear wandering down the valley. We stopped to watch and soon a crowd developed. If was clear that our binoculars leave something to be desired. They’re OK, but someone that stopped had a good pair and what a difference that makes. If you’re going to do any wildlife watching, I recommend a good set of binoculars with a high power. We could just make out that it was a bear and he could almost see the expression on its face!
The food at the park is marginal so packing a lunch is recommended. They stress lots of water so make sure you bring plenty. Lots of hiking and climbing in dry, very thin air.
We’ll be leaving for Kanab, Utah tomorrow. If the rest of the national parks are half this interesting, it’s going to be great trip! So far it has worked out best for us to have all of our lunches at the camper or picnics and eat dinners out. (Too much time for prep and cleanup for dinner while we travel.) Once we are staying for multiple days somewhere, we’ll start doing dinners at the camper, too.
Day 6 – Today was a driving day: 300 miles from Mesa Verde, CO to Kanab, UT. Of course it was also a new day which means….a couple new problems! (Or as we say at work…an “opportunity”). Our sewer pipe hangar broke. As we pulled out we stopped at a hardware store so I could pick up a new plumber’s strap. We then drove to a Walmart (where else!) and I fixed it in the parking lot while the family was at breakfast. HOWEVER, while I was under the camper I noticed that the right front trailer tire was completely bald on the inside tread. Criminy! What next! I moved the good right rear tire to replace the bad one and put the spare in its place, all in the Walmart parking lot where it was a refreshing 110 degrees in the shade. Of course there was no shade! Now, I’m covered in tire dirt, we have no spare, it’s already noon and we have a 300 mile drive!
After the less than stellar start, the drive to Kanab was pretty uneventful. About a third of the way, on Route 160, we stopped at the four corners monument for the obligatory tourist photo op……
It has become a real Native American ripoff. But you have to stop if you’re going by. It’s $3 a piece to drive in and it is surrounded by craft (junk) peddlers.
We are staying in Kanab because it is a fairly central location from which to see Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon North Rim. Kanab is bigger than we expected and a really neat western town with lots of different restaurants and things to do. We were so whipped after the day we just had that we creatively opted for Pizza Hut.
Kanab RV Corral is a beautiful campground and I would highly recommend it. It is clean, the sites are well kept and the bathrooms are spotless. Free WiFi is included. There’s even a grassy, fenced in play yard for your pets. The kids took the dogs over and played ball with them. Neat idea for a campground.
Day 7 – We slept in today until 9am and then cooked a big breakfast like we had all the time in the world! We all needed it. As everyone did some boring household maintenance I found a tire store that carried our size of trailer tire. I replaced one tire at a time taking each old one off and taking it over for mounting the new one on the rim. Lessons Learned #67: Never leave on a 10,000 mile trip with marginal tires.
We headed to Bryce Canyon about 3 pm. It’s a little over an hour drive so we didn’t have a lot of time in the park but we planned on going late and staying late for the astronomy program. We spent time first at the visitor center and museum and Amy got most of her Junior Ranger workbook filled in. We went to Ruby’s inn for the buffet. Not a large selection but excellent quality and reasonably priced for a National Park. Because we are always out in the late afternoon/evening we have yet to fix a dinner at the camper. It has worked out best for us to fix breakfast and lunch and then buy dinner out somewhere.
We drove through Ruby’s campground to check it out. It’s nice but where we’re staying is much nicer. I’m glad we made the decision to stay at Kanab RV Corral. If you’re just going to Bryce, then Ruby’s is the place, but if you’re going to see several national parks like we are, then I’d recommend Kanab RV Corral. After dinner we drove south to the end of the Rim Road and then started working our way back north, stopping at each overlook. Since all the overlooks are on the east side they recommend you do it this way so you are on the correct side. The views are spectacular. Bryce has numerous rock formations called Hoodoos. Legend says they are a race of people that were punished for their evil ways by being turned into stone. If you use your imagination, you can almost see people in the formations. The different density of rocks eroded at different speeds so you get these very bizarre rock formations. The colors weren’t as clear as usual because there are fires out here in Utah and Arizona, making the air a little hazy.
Once it got dark, we headed to the astronomy program for a talk that was interesting but far too long. However, it allowed Amy to get a Junior Ranger badge from a second national park. Once we went outside, you could see why Bryce claims to have one of the clearest skies in the world. The Milky Way was very evident, even with the smoky haze. Telescopes set up in the parking lots allowed us to see several items like Jupiter with four moons and a double star. We got back to the camper around midnight.
Day 8 (6/29/05) – Today was supposed to be a day split evenly between Zion National Park and an animal rescue sanctuary called “Animal Friends” in Kanab. I’m afraid the park lost out to the family’s love of animals. We took an hour and a half tour that stretched into a tour AND a 4 hour stint volunteering!! For anyone that likes animals, this is an amazing place. This is the website... http://18.104.22.168/atthesanctuary/
They have over 1500 animals of all kinds, many are animals that can not be adopted because of physical or other issues. They have old horses, one-eyed cats, three-legged dogs, etc. They do not euthanize any animal and have 3 full time veterinarians and 300 other staff members as well as many volunteers. People come from many hundreds of miles to stay there and volunteer. They get scout, church and troubled youth groups, as well as weddings, receptions and honeymoons. We spent the afternoon helping to feed the dogs in the “Old Friends” section. These are older dogs that have really great personalities, are very gentle and just want some attention. They are all adoptable, but, because of their age, don’t always find a home. Whenever an animal dies at the sanctuary it is buried in a cemetery at the site. Many people bring their pets there for burial also. If you are interested in helping animals I strongly encourage a visit, at least to their website, and a donation, if you are so inclined.
Now, on to the park! Zion is a fabulous place! There is a shuttle bus that you MUST ride to see certain sections of the park. By the time we got to the park, because we spent most of the day shlepping dog food around, the Visitor’s Center was closed. When you enter the park, you can drive through about half of it to the Visitor’s Center and Museum. You then board a shuttle bus that takes you through the rest of the park. I’m not one for shuttles but this is worth it. You can look without having to watch the road and the roof opens up so you can see the cliffs over your head. The difference between Bryce and Zion is that at Bryce, you’re on top looking down into the canyon, at Zion, you drive at the bottom looking up. They are totally different perspectives, temperatures and environments. Because of the wildfires, the rock colors were not as clear or spectacular but Zion was still very impressive, (lots of boulders hanging right over the road waiting to drop onto unsuspecting tour buses). They had a rock slide a few years ago that closed the road, stranding for days everyone that was on the other side of it. We returned to the camper around 11pm.
Day 9 – We were planning a slow morning and then a leisurely drive and visit to the Grand Canyon, staying there overnight. Yeah, right! After taking our time getting things together I asked the campground owner at 10:30am if we could check out a little later than the posted 11am. He said no, he had lots of campers coming in for the holiday weekend. Yikes! So in a half hour, Kay showered, I dumped and flushed tanks, filled fresh water, we packed up, hooked up and got on the road at 11:15. After breakfast at a local eatery, we said goodbye to Kanab (I could retire here!) and headed to the Grand Canyon.
The drive to the North Rim from Kanab is a beautiful drive about an hour and a half through varying forests and desert environments. Several mountain grades make pulling a little slow but nothing extraordinary. Much less crowds and cooler temps make the North Rim a great destination over the more spectacular views of the South Rim. The Lodge is built right on the edge and we attended a Condor presentation that allowed Amy to get her third National Park Junior Ranger badge. California Condors have come back from the edge of extinction, (there were only 17 at one time), and now number around 250! We actually saw one glide over during the talk. Very good timing! Huge wingspans and their once precarious existence really made the sighting awe-inspiring. Walking out to the lookout, I got some pictures of the kids at the edge. They and other guests on the lookout were quite amused at my fear of heights. I took the pictures leaning back against a rock as far away as I could get. (I fail to see the humor). The lodge provides an excellent restaurant with high quality and very good prices. We had a late lunch there, did some shopping at the gift shop, (surprisingly reasonable prices – they don’t gouge you like theme parks) and then hit the road.
The kids really wanted to see their cousins so we bagged staying near the North Rim and drove all the way to Phoenix. This drive is not one for the unprepared. Make sure you gas up before you leave the North Rim. Routes 89A and then 89 go through some spectacular desert scenery but there is nothing out there as far as services, (including cell phone service). Given the mechanical problems we have experienced, I kept worrying about a wheel falling off or engine overheating, etc. No problems. Arriving at Flagstaff returned us to interstate roads. Driving down I-17 from Flagstaff, we could see the huge forest fires they are having here. We had seen the smoke for hundreds of miles but, since it was nighttime, we could actually see the fires on the hillsides. I-17 is closed intermittently as they try and fight these fires. We arrived at my brother’s house in Phoenix at 11:30pm. We will be taking advantage of their hospitality for the next couple of days. We will not bore you with the details as the only one that probably cares is our Mom!
Day 10 – What is this, Friday? This is the first vacation I have ever taken that I actually lose track of the days. I guess that’s probably a good indication of how far from our previous life we have strayed. The rhythm of our lives is now strictly driven by our itinerary, the sites we want to see and the miles between destinations. This is a veg day. Just sit back and do things like laundry, swim and visit with my brother Jim, his wife Alisa and their kids Emily and John.
Days 11 – Very serious veg day. Showers, laundry, Xbox, swimming. Anyone that has seen the Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation movies, [how’s this to get the neighbors talking.....]
Jim and Alisa live in a very nice residential area of Phoenix. “Oh, no! The Griswolds are here!”
Day 12 – After a wonderful breakfast, (thanks Alisa!), we left the hospitality of Jim and Alisa’s house and headed into the Arizona desert for Los Angeles. By the time we arrived at Orangeland RV Park in Anaheim, the temperature had gone from 112 to 82. The Phoenix area and surrounding desert is a really unique and interesting environment and I’m sure it is absolutely perfect during our miserable winter months. But, for these New Yorkers, the cooler temps of California were refreshing. Coming into LA was a little white knuckle at times. Not knowing where I was going until the GPS told me required frequent lane changes which were not always met with pleasant looks from the natives. Orangeland RV Park is an award winning park about a mile from Disneyland. There isn’t a lot of grass but there is an orange tree on every site (you can pick and eat any you want). The pool and the rest of the park is beautiful and, unless you’re looking for a rustic setting with large sites and lots of privacy, this is as nice a park as you’ll find in an urban setting. It’s not cheap, but what do you expect for the middle of Anaheim? WiFi is available but the one downside is it’s $2.50 a day. Chump change but it still bugs me when campgrounds charge for something that is essentially free for them after the purchase of the inexpensive wireless routers.
We walked to Chili’s for dinner and then came back to make plans for tomorrow. Amy went for a swim, (I’m writing this at poolside - gotta like that WiFi!)
We have gone 4000 miles since we left Endicott, NY. Gas prices have been much higher than we expected. You have to be careful in some of the western states like Colorado and Utah. Sometimes regular unleaded is only an Octane of 85 or 86, while back east it's 87. Several times I had to fill up with the middle grade of gas, (at higher cost), to get the grade of gas I needed for the van. Since the tire problems, we have had no other significant mechanical issues so hopefully those are all behind us now.
Day 13 – We decided to take a tour of LA for our first day. We found a bus tour company that provided several different tours and opted for the Legendary Los Angeles tour. Here is the web site of the tour company… http://www.AnaheimSightseeing.com
It was excellent! They picked us up at our campground at 8:15 am, we left the tour terminal on the tour at 9:15 am and got back to the campground around 6:30 pm. They can’t go through neighborhoods anymore with big buses pointing out stars’ homes but those that can be seen from major roads they will point out, like Madonna and the house from the Beverly Hillbillies. We went through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard. We were able to get out for 45 min. at Graumman’s Chinese Theatre to see the handprints of stars in the cement and buy souvenirs. Lunch was at Hard Rock Café in Beverly Hills. The driver also allowed us to decide between 2 beaches. Some opted for Santa Monica but, since my musical tastes are still stuck in the 60’s, I had to see Venice Beach, (home of the Doors, etc).
Interesting but also disappointing. Great place for people watching and the next time I need a hand blown glass bong I know where to go. But mostly a bunch of people still trying to relive their hippie lifestyle. After 2 hours there, we got back on the bus for the ride home. This tour gave us a taste of a lot of LA without having to find it all ourselves. We would never have known where to look to find the Whiskey a Go Go, several of the stars’ restaurants or the places where many films were shot. It also helped us eliminate several extended stops we were planning to make, (we were planning on spending a day at Venice Beach, the two hours was plenty). I would highly recommend this if it’s your first time in LA and you want to get a taste of it. It wasn’t cheap, (about $50 a piece) but it sure saved a lot of aggravation.
Dinner at the camper then on to Downtown Disney for fireworks. Considering it was the 4th of July AND Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration, we were very disappointed. After a little shopping there we came home.
Day 14 – While everyone else caught up on sleep, I left to go grocery shopping and get some gas. I stopped at a Mobil station for gas and decided to get the car washed there since the gas was $0.10 a gallon cheaper with the wash. I thought charging $13 for a car wash was a little high but….WOW! For that $13 they completely vacuumed the interior, hand washed it, waxed it, thoroughly dried it, (even opening each door to get the edges), cleaned the dashboard and interior and washed all the windows inside and out! In New York we call that detailing and we pay $75 for it! It’s my observation that there are so many immigrants out here that labor is cheap and, even among the glitz of LA, some services harken back to a previous age.
We bought a map of stars’ home but decided to forgo snooping around their neighborhoods to go to a water park instead. So while Kay stayed back and did laundry, the kids and I suffered by going to Knott’s Berry Farm water park. A good time was had by all (except maybe Kay!) Amy went on the highest slide so I was proud of her. Went to Downtown Disney again and had dinner at the Rainforest Café. Very interesting place if you’ve never been but extremely expensive and not great service. More shopping then home. Tomorrow we have a date with the mouse.
We have really enjoyed Anaheim. The weather has been perfect and this RV park is very close to many attractions like Disneyland and you can walk to the California Angels stadium.
Day 15 (7/6/05) – Breakfast at Denny’s, then off to Disneyland! Did California Adventure until about 4, then went over to Disneyland until closing. We were planning on only doing Disneyland but for $20 more per person, you can upgrade your single park ticket to a 2 park hopper pass.
Disneyland and California Adventure share parking lots and have a common park entrance so it’s very convenient to move between parks. California Adventure was really great. There was a very big roller coaster for Andy, and enough smaller thrills to keep Amy excited. Kay did some shows while the kids and I did the rides. As you would expect from a Disney property, the landscaping and grounds were immaculate.
We have been to Disney World several time. We thought the grounds and some of the common rides at Disneyland were a bit better. Like California Adventure, the park was immaculate. We did all the usual rides – Space and Splash Mountains, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear.
Got lots of character autographs and had a wonderful dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. (See the family portrait at left.) Lots of characters and fun. We stayed there almost 2 hours!
The park closes at midnight. We left the park at 11:45pm. See our energetic family below. Well, at least we got our money’s worth! We will probably be getting a late start tomorrow.
Day 16 – After packing up and having breakfast, we finally got on the road around 1 pm. Yikes! Today showed us how lucky we have been the past few days as far as LA traffic goes. It took us at least 2.5 hours to get through LA on I-5 on the way to San Francisco. I-5 north is a very boring drive (after getting out of white-knuckle LA!) passing through huge farming and desert areas. I-5 takes you through The Grapevine, which is a long pull up and down Tejon Pass. On the way up signs warn you to turn off air conditioning and where radiator water is available. Our outside air van thermometer got to 125 degrees on the way up! The ride down northbound to the town of Grapevine is a required 35 MPH for trucks. Second gear kept us at a comfortable 50 MPH.
Pulled into San Francisco RV Resort at 9:30pm. It looks pretty much like a parking lot. Backing into the small slot was a good time considering the long drive today. Great location, though. As I write this I can hear the ocean down below the campground.
Day 17 – Checked with the campground office and they had our first mail from home. Since the post office won’t hold mail for more than 30 days, we had to have it forwarded. We bought 2 flat rate express mail envelopes, addressed them to campgrounds and then our home post office stuffs them as full as they can and sends them on the prescribed dates. The second one should be at Custer, SD when we get there.
Drove into the city around noon. Spent the afternoon being tourists around Fisherman’s Wharf. We were able to find the most expensive place to park in the whole city. We will be smarter next time. I was wondering what I was going to do with that 28 dollars!! Amy had her portrait made by a street vendor done in charcoal and it is really nice. Hopefully we can get it back home without damage.
There were no tickets left for the Alcatraz tour, which we really wanted to see. Luckily, a time share salesman came to our rescue and convinced us to take a tour of a vacation club next to The Cannery in exchange for 4 tickets to Alcatraz and 4 tickets to a San Francisco bay boat tour, 3 of each tour is free. In addition, they provide free parking for the day and a free breakfast. Needless to say we are most skeptical but, what the heck, we can always leave. Stay tuned.
We waited in line for over an hour to ride a cable car to Chinatown. Had a great dinner there and then waited for a cable car to take us back. After 20 minutes we decided on a cab ride, which actually cost us $4 less than the cable car would have! Back to the camper around 9 pm for showers and bed.
Day 18 – Got up early today for an 8:30 am appointment with the time share goons. It actually turned out to be not all that bad even though our bull**** meters were on high alert. We had to show up for a free breakfast at 8:30, (which, by the way, was quite good), and had to sit through a talk, movie, tour and medium-pressure sales pitch. Although it lasted almost 2.5 hours, we didn’t have to say “NO” too many times or get belligerent. After our last polite “no” we got our free gifts, (which was – after all – the reason we were there). Besides the free breakfast we got a validation for free parking all day ($28 value), the Red&While boat tour of the bay ($84 value) and Alcatraz tour tickets ($60 value). By the way, the sales were for points in the Shell Vacation Club. It seemed like a decent deal if you go to exotic vacations every year or two. You might save money after a few years. With our camper and all, it just isn’t our type of vacations.
The Alcatraz tour was a big hit. The whole place is pretty run down and Indians protesting there in the 70’s really vandalized the buildings. The National Park Service has taken it over and is protecting and starting to renovate it.
We gathered produce at an Organic Farmer’s Market at the Cannery in Fisherman’s Wharf and Sourdough bread for future meals. This will be our last WiFi connection for a while. We don’t get to a campground again with internet access until Hungry Horse, MT.
Day 19 – Went to church, packed up and headed out exactly at checkout time – noon. Stopped at Denny’s for breakfast. (We seem to be on a Denny’s kick!) If you are coming to San Francisco, (hmmm – sounds like a song), I recommend this RV Park. It is not cheap and the sites are essentially a parking lot, but it has the best access into the city. There is a BART station just north in Daly City but we had no trouble driving in. Make sure you spring for the extra $5 a night and get an ocean front site. You can’t walk right out to the beach, as it’s a 200 foot drop straight down to the ocean. But it’s great to sit at your picnic table and listen to the ocean and watch the sun set.
After breakfast we headed into the city with the camper and went over the Golden Gate Bridge. Really neat! It was about 1 pm on Sunday when we went over and traffic was no problem. Got off highway 1 and detoured over to Napa valley. Pretty amazing place. I expected hundreds of miles of farmland but all the wineries (250 of them) are crammed into a surprisingly narrow valley. We covered the length of the whole valley in a couple hours. (With refreshment stops – of course). Our last winery stop had a picnic area where we bought and ate much food! We almost got stuck on train tracks going into the winery because I turned onto the wrong road and had trouble getting enough traction to get over the tracks.
We left Napa valley around 6 pm quite happy and relaxed. Imagine that! What we didn’t know was the drive yet to come! Route 101 northbound from Napa is a beautiful drive with spectacular scenery and BIG trees. It’s called the Avenue of the Giants. However, this is NOT a road to be tackled at night when you’re tired. There are many switchbacks, climbs and descents. Although we have covered much longer distances, even at night, I grossly underestimated what a road like this would do to our overall speed. But, the greatest miscalculation was the gas! After our low fuel light came on, we had to drive almost 60 more miles over this road before we found ANYTHING. When we finally saw a gas station, it was almost $3 a gallon, (I would have paid $10 a gallon). I was sure glad we had gone to church today! After filling up, I calculated we had 0.2 gallons left! Spectacular as that road must be in the day, it is ominous and the large trees right by the road, under those conditions, are more than a little unsettling. There are few places to even pull over if you run out of gas.
Got to Eugene around midnight and could find few places to stay. Finally settled on a K-Mart because there was a nice motor home there. However, there were several VERY old campers at the edges with some local good ol’ boys doing who knows what! I guess if you’re tired enough you can sleep through anything.
Day 20 – Another driving day. Left Camp Kmart and headed to Denny’s for breakfast. (We’ve got to get a new routine!) Spent the day on Rt 101 first on the California and then the Oregon coast. We have been from Maine to Florida on the East coast but words cannot describe the Oregon coast! It’s a postcard at every turn. Again, it was a much longer drive than we expected but at least it was in the daylight. We stopped at the Redwood National Park information center and took a walk on the beach. Wow! We then stopped at a rest area for a picnic. No New York Rest Stops look like this! We ate while watching the surf crash into the rocks below. Arrived at Beverly Breach State Park around 8 pm. Set up, had dinner and called it a night.
Some miscellaneous notes. We have driven over 5000 miles already. The remainder of the trip is a bit more relaxed, with fewer huge driving days and longer stops. The kids have done very well with just a few minor skirmishes. The car has performed wonderfully. All the pulls and descents have been uneventful. I would not want to do this trip without a fairly new vehicle that has more than sufficient towing capability. Kay’s been a trouper. Although I do all the driving, she handles the infrastructure stuff like groceries, menus, recreation, when and where to eat, etc. The only disappointment so far has been the issues with the camper, some of which I’ve already documented. We have also developed a water leak in the grey water tank and I’ve been having ongoing trouble with the awning support bar coming loose. This website is getting so long already that I may break it up into multiple URLs if I can figure out how to do that without taking up a lot of time.
Day 21 – Infrastucture day: laundry, sweeper, organize, clean. We walked over to the beach with the dogs. I think almost everyone here has a dog or two. This is a beautiful park. The campground is among large pines on the east side of Rt 101 a few miles north of Newport. The beach is on the west side, (obviously!), but it is easily accessible by a short walk under the Rt 101 bridge. The stream that run through the campground, (right behind our site), empties into the ocean there. Our site is a preferred site that has all hookups including sewer and 59-channel cable. All for $22 a night!
Day 22 – Breakfast at the camper then off to the ocean for a ranger led program on “tide pools”. We had a great time. Tide pools form when the tide goes out and strands many sea life until the tide comes back in. We were there for two hours seeing sponges, jellyfish, sea urchins, anemone, crabs, fish and even a large group of seals.
After picking up Kay at the camper we headed south about an hour to Florence. That town is the northern tip of the Oregon Dunes. The main thing Andy has wanted to do since we started planning this trip is to ride ATVs on the dunes, (Amy’s was to see LA). We rented an ATV for Andy and a dune buggy for Amy and me. (Very cool!) After the fairly extensive safety orientation we were off. It is much more intense than I thought it would be. The dunes are ever-changing and what was OK a couple days ago, may not be passable now. You have to go pretty fast up the side of a dune but the problem comes if you are going too fast you may have to go down the other side even though it is too steep to navigate. We both got stuck at different times going up hills.
After a great late lunch at a seafood restaurant, we found a library so we could use the internet terminals to check emails and pay bills then got gas and went grocery shopping. (Pretty boring stuff, huh?). After the beautiful drive up the coast back to the campground, we cut up the watermelon we bought at the organic farmer’s market in San Francisco and ate over half of it! Yum! Showers then a relatively early bedtime.
Day 23 (7/14/05) – Another driving day today. After some short errands this morning we had lunch in town and took a tour of the lighthouse in Newport. It was only operational for 3 years but is supposed to be haunted by a girl that was murdered there. The keeper’s house has been restored and the tour is very interesting.
There are 9 lighthouses on the Oregon coast, many of which are still operational. This coast reminds us of the Maine coast except this one is much more accessible. You can see much of the coast just by driving up Rt 101. You can’t get the same amount of scenery in Maine without a lot of detours off of Rt 1 and toward the coast. As easterners we have heard about and seen many of the lighthouses around Maine and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but Oregon has some real gems. Of all the coast drives we have been on, this one is unquestionably our favorite and the most scenic, in our opinion.
We said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and started east. We got stuck for almost an hour, surprisingly, in Portland traffic. After setting up at Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia River Gorge on Oregon’s historic Route 30, (it’s a Lewis and Clark trail), we made cookies, watched a movie and went to bed. We talked with a mother and 14 year old son who are in the middle of a similar trip to ours except in reverse and in a tent! Nice people but that’s a lot of work, especially in bear country. They had to put everything away every night, even their table cloths!
Day 24 – After breakfast, we left for the 2.5 hour drive to Mount St Helens. It was well worth it. The last 50 miles travel through the park and by three different information/observation buildings. They get closer to the mountain and during volcanic activity they can close one or more. They were all open so we only stopped at the first and last ones. The last one is the Johnston Ridge lookout, which is a heavily fortified concrete building that has unimaginable views of the north face of the mountain.
On May 18, 1980, the mountain blew its top. It did so in phases that caused many deaths (54) and incredible loss of forest habitats. The steam that had been escaping from vents in the mountain abruptly stopped about 2 weeks before the event, along with all the seismic activity. This resulted in a relaxed vigilance since it was believed that the volcano was quieting down. In reality, what was happening was that the steam had crystallized the rock and sealed off all the vent openings. Pressure built inside until May 18, when a 5.1 Magnitude earthquake was measured. At the same time, a third of the mountain slid down the mountain and through the valleys creating the largest landslide in recorded history. Then, the explosion occurred. For the first time, a volcano blew laterally instead of up. The shock wave leveled all trees in a 250 square mile area! (This all happened in the first 10 minutes!) Then, ash began to billow out, reaching a height of 12 miles and eventually circled the earth. Finally, lava and mudflows enveloped the surrounding countryside, some areas to a depth of 600 feet.
Until we actually visited the site, I could not begin to imagine the amount of material that was thrown off the mountain that day. The entire side and top of the mountain are gone. A ranger explained to hold your arms out straight in from of you and make a triangle with your thumbs as the base and index fingers as the sides. If you then line your thumbs up to the current top of the mountain, your index fingers give you an indication of the original height of the mountain. (And this is from an observation area that is 8 miles away)!. In all, at least 1500 feet of mountain vanished, along with most of the north side.
Got back to the camper around 9 pm. Showers, then bed.
Day 25 – Looong drive to Glacier National Park today (600 miles). The drive through Oregon and Washington was mostly desert and quite dull. The kids were pretty good, except … near the beginning there was an argument over the electronics that required a family meeting. Most of the drive through Montana is through very beautiful pine forests and rolling ranchlands. We made it all the way to Kalispell, MT. We called the campground in Hungry Horse to see if there was room tonight, (we didn’t expect to get here until tomorrow). They had sites available but not ours, so if we went there tonight we would have had to move tomorrow. We decided to stay at Camp Walmart in Kalispell, (along with about 10 other campers).
Day 26 – Left Camp Walmart around 10 am, had breakfast at Perkins and then off to Hungry Horse, MT. We couldn’t check in until noon and arrived there at 12:01. This campground is very nice and clean. There isn’t much for kids here, (there is a stocked pond), but Glacier National Park is right next door so what do you need a pool for?! After visiting with our friends Joel and Camille Myers, who are next door and are in the middle of their own cross-country experience, we headed for a trip through Glacier.
The “Going to the Sun” road is the only road that traverses the park. And what a road it is!! It takes you up over the continental divide at Logan’s Pass and the views on the entire route are indescribable. I was at this park 31 years ago and it hasn’t lost any of its awe and wonder. On the way up the road becomes very narrow. (I mean very narrow!) We had to fold our mirrors in against the van or we would have clipped the overhanging rocks. Several places are single lane while they work on the road. It is crumbling off the side of the cliffs so, “No problem! Take all the time you need to fix it!”
We only went as far as Logan’s Pass overlook, (Without stopping, it still took 2 hours to just get that far!) We looked around the visitor’s center and, as we were starting the drive back down, we saw three mountain goats lying by the side of the road watching all the tourists watch them. Cool.
Dinner back at the campground with Joel and Camille decimated the Fassold Wine Cellar, recently stocked at Napa Valley. Oh, well, I guess we’ll just have to go back! Sat around the campfire with more wine, then bed.
Day 27 – Joel, the kids and I got up early and went on a hike behind Lake McDonald. Saw no animals until we got back to the trailhead. There was a deer standing on a rock pile right next to our car, and was in no hurry to move on. Go figure! Spent the afternoon doing boring stuff like laundry and getting the van oil change. I had to fix an annoying leak that had developed at the back of the water heater under our bed. I’m not built for those small spaces! In the evening we went to the Glacier Park Lodge for dinner and then an excellent talk by a park ranger on the Glacier National Park wilderness experience. The Lodge is in the National Registry of Historic Places. It’s really something to see. It’s fashioned after a large old hunting lodge with rough-hewn beams and plenty of trophy heads displayed. Back home to bed.
Day 28 – Last day at Glacier so we made the most of it. Had breakfast at the Lodge, then off to a hike. We went about 3 miles on the Avalanche Lake trail. Kay did very well, even with her screwed up knee. We saw a deer which we followed most of the way back down the trail. Drove to Logan’s Pass and did a short hike in the alpine meadow behind the visitor’s center. There is snow all around and you think you’re on top of the world. Drove the rest of Going To The Sun road to the east side of Glacier, (St. Mary’s), had dinner and got gas there, then started heading back west over the pass.
Amy finished her Junior Ranger booklet and got the badge for Glacier. Although she sometime gripes about having to do work like this even when she’s not in school, we have all learned things about the parks that we wouldn’t have if she didn’t do the Junior Ranger program at each park.
We got as far as Logan’s Pass when we saw a Bighorn Sheep dining at the roadside. Stopped for pictures and to watch from a very close distance. These animals know that they own the place and have no fear! Drove the rest of the way, spotting a mother deer and fawn before exiting the park.
Since we are driving the whole way to Yellowstone tomorrow, we got everything hooked up and packed away tonight. We should be able to get on the road a half hour after getting up. We are really tired tonight. Because this park really is “God’s Country”, we have almost felt obligated to see and do as much as possible. I would have really preferred a week here to really take our time and get into the park, maybe even an overnighter in the backcountry. Glacier National Park is pretty out of the way for most population centers but it is a crown jewel of the National Park System and should never be missed by anyone even remotely close to it. The remaining parks will have a tough time matching Glacier’s magnificent views and habitats.
This will probably be the last place we have WiFi until next week at Custer, SD.
Day 29 (7/20/05) – Drove all the way to Yellowstone National Park. It’s a pretty easy drive until we hit the park. Most of the roads were either interstate or level 2 lanes. It was very hot for most of the drive until we got near Yellowstone. The temps went from 105 degrees down to 65 in a matter of a couple hours. There is a town, Gardiner, that is right outside the north entrance of the park It is a neat looking little western town that we will probably hit one day for shopping and laundry. It isn’t as built up or commercialized as I’ve heard West Yellowstone is.
The drive through Yellowstone was wonderful, but, since we were all tired, it seemed to take forever. (Especially, stopping every 5 miles to see animals!) We passed many deer, elk and bison (boy, are they big when they’re right beside the car!). Got to the Fishing Bridge campground in the center of the park around 9 pm. It is not much of a campground and the sites are small but it is the only campground in the park that has full hookups. It’s also very well located, but, you have to have a hard sided camper. This is very much bear country. There are very detailed rules for pets. Just last week a dog was taken by a coyote right outside its camper. It was on a leash but the owners were inside the camper. We all slept well after this long day. Today we have passed the 7000 mile mark and exactly 4 weeks.
Day 30 – After breakfast at the camper, we drove over to Fishing Bridge. It’s a bridge from which people used to fish elbow to elbow until the trout population was eradicated. In 1973, fishing was banned and the trout population, along with other associated animals, returned. The water is so clear you can watch the trout swimming and feeding at the surface.
We had lunch at the camper and then drove over to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The falls and the Yellowstone River in that area is most impressive. On the way back we saw a crowd at the side of a road. Upon investigation, it was our first bear sighting! It was a brown colored black bear. The trip is now a success! Back to the camper for spiedies we brought frozen from home. We ended the day at a Ranger Program on Bisons. It was more interesting than we thought it would be. We were actually looking for the Bald Eagle presentation but I went to the wrong amphitheatre! Sheesh! How many amphitheatres does one park need?!
Since my life isn’t complete without some mechanical problem nagging me, I am concerned that our refrigerator is not as cold as it should be. We have been gone a month and have not defrosted the freezer yet. I don’t know if that’s it or not. We have never been gone this long before. I guess if the milk is bad tomorrow morning, then we have a problem.
Day 31 – After breakfast at the camper, (the milk was OK), we left at 9:30 am for an all day bus tour of the park. Even though it cost us $110, it was well worth it. There were places we went to that we wouldn’t have even known about and the tour guide gave us much more information than we could have discovered on our own. It also allowed us to determine the places we wanted to see in more detail for the remainder of our days here. I’d recommend the tour for anyone that has not been to the park before. And what’s a visit to Yellowstone without the obligatory picture of Old Faithful.
By the time we got back to the camper, it was 6:30 pm, and we were very tired. We rested for a while and then fixed hot dogs for dinner. Because this campground has the most bears around it, we had to make sure everything, (including the grill), was packed up and not left out. I took the kids to a Ranger Program on Grizzlies at 9:30 pm and then back for bed.
Day 32 – Kay woke up this morning with one of her killer sinus infections. She felt miserable so I took the kids for a couple hours to let her sleep. (We have been keeping a grueling schedule on this trip). The kids and I toured the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Yellowstone Park is home to 2/3 of the world’s thermal features. You hear about the animals and Old Faithful but some of the most interesting things to see are all the thermal features. Besides the geysers, like Old Faithful, there are mud pots, steam vents and hot springs. Each has their own distinct features and none are the same. The two hot springs in the picture are 191 degrees. Walkways, like elevated boardwalks, take you through some of the more treacherous walking areas. People have died by geting off the walkway. The springs do not look as hot as they really are and can kill you in seconds. You can walk through the steam coming out and smell the sulfur. Amy finished her Junior Ranger booklet by answering questions from this area.
After coming back to the camper and having lunch, we all went to Roosevelt Lodge Corrals for our horse back ride and cookout. The drive through the park took so long we missed the time we had to be there. Amy was devastated. It’s one of the things she has been talking about doing for the whole trip. As luck would have it, however, they had three no-shows (evidently, very unusual) for the second ride. It’s a little bit shorter ride but it goes to the same cookout. We were thrilled! The original plan was for Kay and the kids to ride the horses and I would go in a wagon ride they also offer. That’s because there is a weight restriction for the horse riders. And being a full figured guy, I was over the limit. We talked to them, however, about Kay’s condition and they were able to find a Clydesdale that I could ride. How sorry do you feel for that horse at left. He must have drawn the short straw.
After giving us instructions on how to stop, go and turn, off we went. None of us have ever been on a horse before. It was interesting. The ride was about 40 minutes and was relatively uneventful. I was using every muscle I have to try and stay on, but it was realy fun. When we got to the cookout, it was set up like a cowboy camp, complete with cowboy coffee over the campfire. (Lots of grounds). Kay arrived, along with lots of other people in the wagons and we ate steak and other great food. Amy leaned over to us and told us it was the best day of her life. That makes it all worthwhile. How happy does that kid look!? The 30-minute ride back was uneventful. I have a much better appreciation for what competitive horse riders have to do. Since it was dusk, the drive back was filled with animal sightings. We saw 2 large bull elk, a mom deer with fawn, a moose and a coyote.
Day 33 – Went to church in the Lake Lodge. It is very nice and informal. After stopping back to the camper for lunch, we headed up to Gardiner, MT, (the town just outside the north entrance to the park). We did laundry and shopping. The prices were extremely high, (just a little better than what can be found in the park). It’s kind of a junky town. It turned out to be not as neat as we thought when we first drove through.
Heading back through the park near dusk allowed us to see our first Grizzly bear. We stopped to watch, (along a about a million others), until the rangers came and moved us all along. The best time to see the animals here is just before dusk. We see more animals the couple hours before dark than the rest of the day combined. We packed away the laundry and groceries and started getting ready for our trip to the Grand Tetons tomorrow.
Day 34 – Andy and I got up early and took the Kodak photography class. A professional photographer tried to make landscape photographers out of us. It was very interesting and we learned a lot about lighting, composition, etc. Got back to the camper just in time to pack up and check out by 10 am. Spent the next couple hours doing some final shopping and sightseeing in Yellowstone. For our final Yellowstone event we had great, if not cheap, lunch in the Lake Lodge hotel restaurant. It’s an old hotel where the restaurant overlooks the lake.
Heading south through the Yellowstone south entrance brings you, after about 20 miles, right into Grand Teton National Park. There is no entrance admission if you come from Yellowstone. Drove through the park to Colter Bay Village, where we will stay for a couple nights. The campground is really nice. It’s a nice change from the sardine can of Fishing Bridge. After burgers at the camper, we just spent the evening driving around, getting our bearings. We saw a mother moose with her calf and several elk and deer. We drove to the top of Signal Mountain, which is one of the famous overlooks, but the sun had already gone down far enough that it wasn’t worth wasting film. Still great views, though.
Day 35 – Took the kids in the morning for a drive to the park overlooks so we could get pictures of the mountains in the morning light. We never did find the place where all the classic Grand Teton pictures are taken. (We did find the spot later but it was too dark to take any pictures).
After picking Kay up we headed through the park. We basically drove to each visitor center and lodge and looked around. The mountains are always there and you can see them from almost any spot in the park. Our first stop was Signal Mountain Lodge. Signal Mountain is where the first pictures of the Tetons were taken in the late 1800’s. After lunch at Signal Mountain Lodge, which was our favorite park restaurant, we spent a few hours at Jenny Lake. The kids and I rented kayaks while Kay sat on a rock on shore taking in the bright sun and cloudless sky. Jenny Lake is right at the foot of the Tetons and is surrounded by pine forests. Pretty tough place to kayak and hang out!
We left Jenny Lake and drove south through the remainder of the park and into Jackson, WY. This is sometimes called Jackson Hole but that is not correct. The term Jackson Hole refers to this entire valley that is completely ringed by mountains, (the Tetons being on the west side of the ring). Jackson is at the southern end of the Jackson Hole valley.
Jackson is a really neat town that is clearly the stomping ground of many well-healed Americans, including Harrison Ford. There are lots of western themed restaurants and shops. We bought Amy a pair of cowgirl boots. There was one boot shop that had a nice pair for $800 but we opted for the $40 pair from a shop closer to the peasants’ side of town. For dinner we considered dining at Harrison’s favorite restaurant, but instead of the $40 entrees, we opted for a rib place called Bubba’s. (Every town should have a rib place called Bubba’s) It was very busy and was excellent. After gassing up and hitting a grocery store, we took the trek back through the park to the campground. Since we have a long drive tomorrow, we did a lot our packing tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow.
Day 36 (7/27/05) – Another day, another 500 miles. Drove from Colter Bay Campground in the Grand Tetons to Big Pine Campground in Custer, SD. Very easy drive eve though it was mostly 2-lane roads. It was relatively flat after we passed the Continental Divide, (for the last time).
Checked in to Big Pine Campground in Custer, SD and got our second package of mail. Mostly bills! Reality keeps trying to encroach on our lives! Sheesh! Caught up with our friends Joel and Camille again at the campground to go over our plan of attack for the next few days. Big Pine is a great campground with almost all sites shaded by large pine trees and the bathrooms are immaculate. The owners Glenn and Marcy Mushaney are a young couple that lived in Washington, DC for 7 years and had had enough of the traffic, stress, etc. They took over the campground 4 months ago and are planning to make it even more appealing. We highly recommend this place.
Day 37 – Made a big breakfast at the camper and got to Custer State Park around 1 pm. We drove through the park on the Wildlife Loop, stopping at each of the visitors’ centers and museums to get information. We also stopped at the Custer State Park Corral and made reservations for the kids to ride horses tomorrow.
Custer is a really nice park, but, after Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, I guess we’ve become a bit jaded. After the spectacular scenery and animals in those parks, I’m afraid Custer just isn’t holding our interest as it would have, had we not been to those other ones so recently. I am glad we are seeing it. We were able to visit with the “wild” burros of the park. They are mooches that will stick their heads in car windows looking for a handout. They seem to have a fondness for Goldfish crackers.
It actually helps us a little not to be so enthralled that we need to spend 12 hours a day touring the park like we felt obligated at the other parks. This will allow us a little down time before the big push east. After dinner at a great steak place, we came back to the camper and split a bottle of wine with Joel and Camille over a campfire.
This has been a phenomenal trip. We have been extraordinarily blessed to be able to take this trip in the first place. In addition, we have had a safe and “reasonably” trouble free trip. The weather has been exceptional the whole time. It hasn’t rained much since we left Kansas a month ago and the temps have not been over 85 since we left Phoenix.
Day 38 – We took the kids horseback riding at Custer State Park. While they did the hour ride, Kay and I had a nice breakfast at the Lodge restaurant. After we picked up the kids, we came back to the camper and all took a nap. That’s something we have rarely had time for on this trip and it was a real luxury! I left to update the web site and get a propane tank filled.
Once everyone got up we headed to Keystone, SD for dinner and shopping. Dinner at Ruby’s Restaurant was a little expensive but pretty good. The décor is old west and that was the best part. Keystone is a town that looks neat when you first get there, but it’s got a lot of old west shtick that is a little tacky after a while. It’s a nice place to visit for a couple hours but I wouldn’t want to stay overnight.
We drove around the Rafter J Ranch campground to check it out. It appears to be the most elaborate resort campground in this area. It has all the amenities that resort campgrounds have and we would have no problem staying there. They have different camping areas, some are wooded and some are more open.
We arrived at Mt Rushmore around 7:30 pm for the lighting ceremony at 9 pm where we caught up with Joel and Camille who spent the day at Devil’s Tower. The lighting ceremony is very classy and really gets your patriotic blood going. The entire program takes about 40 minutes and includes everyone from the audience that has been in the military to come up on stage to be recognized. Amy finished the Junior Ranger program and probably got her last badge of the trip, (we probably won’t have time at our last National Park stop, which will be Badlands). Both Amy and Kay liked Mt Rushmore so much they want to go back tomorrow. Back to the camper at 11:30pm for bed.
Day 39 – This being our last day here, we had a very full day planned for today. After breakfast at the camper, Joel and I took the kids for a 1.5 hour tour of Jewel Cave. It’s a National Park that holds a cave that is 132 miles long, (third longest in the world after Mammoth caves and a cave in the Ukraine). Needless to say we did not quite get through all of it. It is relatively newly discovered so there is very little damage from human contact and it is very well protected. A National Park ranger takes a small group through to make sure no one gets into any mischief. The tour was pretty neat, (none of us had been in a cave before), but Amy was a little bored. She was expecting more “Jewels”.
After lunch at the camper we did all the laundry then we were off to Mt. Rushmore again. We wanted to get some pictures in the daytime and do some shopping. We just made it back to the car before the sky opened up. (So much for our great weather!)
We met Joel and Camille for dinner at a great German restaurant called the Bavarian Inn. The food was excellent, but the service was not quite so stellar. After bidding farewell to the Myers’, we headed to Custer State Park one more time. We wanted to see if we could find Prairie Dogs. No luck, but we found lots of Bison (they sure look bigger at night) and, once again, a pack of freeloading burros. This time we were prepared with Sponge Bob Cheez-its and bread from the German restaurant. These are some well-fed Burros! Back to the camper for showers and packing. We are hooked up and ready to go!
This will be the last internet access we have for three days as we travel from western South Dakota to Columbus, OH.
Day 40 – Packed up and got out of the campground as quickly as possible, (around 8:30am). Headed east on I-90. We got as far as Wall, SD and decided to play the tourist family and visit Wall Drug. Now, for those that haven’t been there, Wall Drug is one of those places that you visit once to say you have been there and that’s it. Well, we’ve now been there. It really was a fairly pleasant experience, as tourist traps go. We had a nice lunch (they advertise free ice water and 5 cent coffee – which we took advantage of), took a couple pictures and bought some post cards. We were behind a woman in line that needs to get a life. She purchased $130 worth of Wall Drug trinkets like little statues, snow globes, etc. Amy picked up a free Wall Drug bumper sticker that she thought we might want to put on the car. Ah, no. Left Wall Drug and headed for Badlands National Park which was about 10 miles away.
The Badlands is a little hard to describe. It’s kind of like a mini Grand Canyon with much erosion, etc. We drove 5 miles on a washboard dirt road to see a prairie dog village. Very cool, but the road was so rough I had to check my teeth to make sure they were still all there. We got our passport stamped, visited the Visitor Center, drove the scenic loop and left. Total time in park…1.5 hours. I would have liked another couple hours to read a little bit about the geology but one day is plenty for this park unless you are really into rocks.
Next tourist stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. This is the municipal building that is covered with corn parts like, cobs, leaves, etc. After Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc, I guess we were a tad under impressed. We drove by quickly so no one that we might know would see us, took a quick picture from the car window to prove we had been there and then back on the road.
During the next leg of the trip we were treated to one of our dogs throwing up all over the binoculars. Fortunately there was a rest area coming up where we could make an emergency stop and everyone piled out of the car. Poor ol’ Dad got to clean it all up!
Yet another mechanical issue has turned up. Nothing major, just a propane leak! I had to shut one tank off because you could not only smell but hear the gas hissing out the valve. Hopefully the one tank will get us the rest of the way home.
We got to Camp Walmart in Blue Earth, MN. (That’s really the name of the town). It’s so hot in the camper we are having a hard time falling asleep….and it’s midnight!
Day 41 – After I did some shopping and Kay got her shower in the camper, we left Camp Walmart around 9:30 am. We knew it would be a long day so we tried to keep on the road as much as possible…fast meals and few stops. We got close to Indianapolis around 9 pm. We decided to treat everyone and stay at a Comfort Inn. You would think we just checked into the Ritz-Carlton. These kids have been all over the country but staying at a Comfort Inn, now that’s really living!! I guess we have been away from real beds too long.
Day 42 – Slept in, had breakfast at the hotel and everyone got showers. Left around noon to start the last push to Columbus. Got into the campground around 5 pm. Cross Creek Camping Resort is a really nice campground with a lot to do. The bathrooms are very clean and there is a large reservoir nearby with lots of boating, etc. The only problem for us is that it is north of Columbus and Kay’s Longaberger convention is right downtown. So there will be a bit of commute each day. That's Amy at left making a basket at the factory with one of the basket weavers. We drove into town tonight so Kay could register and then back to the camper for some down time.
For the uninformed, like I was, Longaberger is a company based here that makes handmade baskets, dinnerware, etc and sells through home parties. Once a year they have this big shin-dig called the Longaberger Bee (get it? B for Baskets) for all consultants, like Kay, to attend. That's Amy at left posing with two of the "Bees". (They are actually Ohio State cheerleaders that are hired for this convention). We scheduled our trip so we would end up here for the start of it. It goes through Friday and then we will attend a family reunion here before heading home to our own beds.
Day 43 (8/3/05) – First day of the Longaberger Bee.
Day 44-45 – Longaberger Bee. (Didn’t win the PT Cruizer).
Day 46 – Family get together in Columbus at Doug and Leslie’s house. Good times and food were had by all.
Day 47 – Drove the final leg from Columbus, OH to home. It was 540 miles and we stopped only once, (for 5 minutes), for gas and bathroom. We were really anxious to get home. After pulling into the driveway at 7:30 pm, we called Domino’s for pizza and began the task of moving back into the house. In the next week or so I’ll post final comments and summarize the numbers, (mileage, costs, etc).
Summary – Since there is really no way to put into a few words a description of this trip, I won’t even try. What I will do is to answer some of the questions I have received from many that have dreamed of or are planning something like this.
Time - I feel blessed that were able to take a trip like this I am not a teacher so I don’t have my summers free. I am a software engineer and work for a company (Lockheed Martin) that was very supportive of my trip. I had worked with managers for at least a year to position my work to allow this long break. I get 4 weeks of vacation a year and Lockheed Martin allows you to carry over from one year to the next, which I did. Thank you Lockheed Martin!
Long trip for kids – Yep, it sure is! However, ours are 8 and 16 and they are used to traveling, (obviously not for this long). Unlike my early years of car bingo and counting license plates, they had drop down TVs, Xbox, Playstation, movies, PSP, Gameboys, etc. Considering everything, they were very good. We had a few, “Don’t make me stop this car!”, moments but it really went more smoothly than I had hoped.
Bills – We paid ahead as much as we could and paid some online. My paycheck goes directly into my checking account so that made it easy to get money from ATMs when available. We only missed one bill. $35 late fee – ouch!
House back home – Turned off the water and gas and had a neighbor cut the grass. Called back to our answering machine occasionally to get our messages. Stopped the mail and they sent us a package of mail every couple weeks.
GPS – We have a Garmin 2620 we bought for this trip. Obviously it’s not required but, boy, did it make it easier. Not just for routing each day’s drive, but more importantly, it let’s you find Walmarts, campgrounds, gas stations, etc on your current route or near your current position.
General trip logistics – Besides kids that are able to be reasonably cooperative, this trip required two other things from us, a driving machine (me) and the organizer/trip manager (Kay). Some days we were well over 600 miles driving and even I was surprised at how well I held up putting in those miles, (Kay doesn’t drive with the trailer attached). Kay was exceptional at keeping everything straight. She’s much more organized than I am so we complemented each other well.
Money – See cost breakdown below. We spent more than we had anticipated which I will try and explain here. But, we figured we won’t be this way again with the kids so we didn’t sweat it. We spent far more on entertainment than we planned but I wouldn’t change anything there. I planned on the horseback ride and the ATV rentals. I didn’t plan on bus tours of Yellowstone and LA, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm water park, San Francisco boat/Alcatraz tours, cable cars and cab rides, wine, kayak rentals, etc. I also didn’t plan on spending for 2 new tires or the bearing fiasco, but my local mechanic reimbursed me for the full cost of the bearing/hub so I appreciate that. Finally, our food bill was much higher than anticipated. Typically, we eat many meals at the camper when we vacation. But, because we had such long days away from the camper, a high percentage of our meals were restaurants. Again, would I do it differently? Heck no!
Gas: $2,398 (960 gallons at an average $2.37 per gallon)
Lodging: $1,383 (includes 9 free nights and one hotel night)
Major Entertainment: $903 (things like bus tours, amusement parks, etc)
Everything else: $6018 (All food and restaurants, groceries, laundry, tolls, passes, basically anything we paid in cash).
Grand total: $10,703
This report was originally posted almost in real time by Rich as a BLOG (short for Web Log). It was uploaded here with the express permission of the author.