Wirlwind Tour of the West

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JGarrick

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 15, 2006
Posts
90
A few months back I posted a message asking some questions because we were considering renting an RV and hauling our family around the western US for a couple of weeks. I got some great advice here, and we decided to go ahead.

Two weeks, nine states, nine national parks, 3800 miles, and one baseball game later, we're back. As I get time, I'll post my description of the tour here. Until then, here's the itinerary, and the short (at least for me) version of the story.

August 8th - Pick up RV and depart Anoka, MN (just north of Minneapolis), for stops at:
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Cody, Wyoming
Buffalo Bill State Park (near Cody)
Yellowstone National Park
John D Rockefeller Memorial Parkway (OK, so it's just a nice drive between Yellowstone and the Tetons, but it is listed as a distinct unit of the NPS).
Grand Teton National Park
Dinosaur National Monument
Arches National Park
Moab, Utah
Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Monument
Royals vs. Athletics, Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
Des Moines, Iowa (overnight stay at a KOA).

August 21st, return to Anoka

In short, the trip was a great success. We were at times surprised by what we liked - and what we didn't - but overall everyone enjoyed it. Our rental rig performed well for the most part, with just a few minor glitches. Getting around was easier than expected in most places, and costs were generally lower than anticipated (except, sadly, for gas, which took an untimely spike upward in price right when we left).

The Rig: One 32 foot 2001 Winnebago Brave Class A Motorhome.
We picked a Class A MH because we wanted the big view up front, the more open feel inside, and because we didn't need the over-the-cab bunk and didn't consider setting up the table and sofa beds a burden. The latter was only partially true, but more on that later. We picked this particular rig because it hit the right price point, was small enough to fit most campsites we would visit (but not all), and because it was the only one available that placed the sofa and dinette on opposite sides of the rig. With four kids traveling, we thought being able to sit on either side - depending on where the view was - would be a benefit, and we were right. There was a good deal of shuffling back and forth across the aisle as the things to see appeared on one side or the other. Several of the other RVs we looked at had just a chair and the kitchen on the side opposite the sofa (typically the passenger side), and that would have left three of our four kids with no view.

The Hits:
The RV Itself
Traveling with plenty of elbow room and our own kitchen and bathroom was everything we expected and more. If you've been considering the idea and haven't tried it, I couldn't recommend it more highly.
Cody, WY and Buffalo Bill State Park
We camped on the north shore with great views of the reservoir and loved it there. Everyone had fun shopping in Cody. The rodeo was a big hit, but nobody had more fun than my youngest, Myles (age 6), who got to run around the arena in the Calf Scramble.
The Grand Tetons
The Tetons were universally loved. We camped at Colter Bay (the regular campground - not the RV park) and had a nice view of Mt. Moran right out the front window, did some hiking, and attended a few ranger talks. This was the number one pick of everyone for the first place they would visit again.
Dinosaur National Monument
Everyone enjoyed this stop, despite the fact that the main visitor center had been recently closed due to structural instability. We camped at the Green River campground and took the tram ride the next day. We didn't get within sniffing distance of a bona fide fossil in the quarry, but everyone liked it a lot anyway, and we would all return (especially if they re-open the quarry visitor center).
Kaufmann Stadium
After watching games in the Metrodome for years, we REALLY love outdoor baseball, and Kaufmann Stadium is quite a beautiful place. Also, we got to see an inside the park home run.

The Misses:
Yellowstone
We were all underwhelmed by Yellowstone. It was interesting, and none of us would want to have skipped it, but everyone had enough of the place in about two days.

Mixed Reviews:
Little Bighorn Battlefield
We stayed only an hour or so, and I was completely captivated by the idea of being able to stand in the places I've pictured so often in my mind's eye when reading about the Indian Wars. The kids claimed to have liked it, but frankly seemed a little bored, and my wife was a little too tired and stressed from the drive out to really enjoy our first stop.
Arches
Only one of my sons (Logan, age 9) and I had any interest in Arches. We were only there a few short hours, and that was more than enough for my wife and two of my kids, who only got out of the RV for the short walk to the lower Delicate Arch viewpoint. On the other hand, Logan and I could have stayed for days. He declared himself to be "Lizard Boy" after discovering how much fun it was to scramble around on the rocks.
Canyonlands
The kids and I liked it, but my wife doesn't like hot, dry places much. She though it was quite stunning, and joined us on a couple of hides, but had no interest in staying more than the half day or so that we were there.
Mesa Verde
This was a highlight of my trip. The kids thought it was interesting and fun to tour the Cliff Palace. My wife likes heights and small spaces even less than hot, dry places, and declined the Cliff Palace tour, but did enjoy the museum.
Great Sand Dunes
The kids and I had a blast climbing the dunes. Not so much my wife, who was locked out of the RV with no bathroom, no coat, and not even a chair to sit on because I had stupidly put the keys in my pocket before setting off on my hour-and-a-half long climb. Oops.

Going back to work and chores at home received universally bad reviews. :)

I'll post more details as time permits, including more in-depth looks at the places we visited and reviews of the campgrounds where we stayed.

Until then, happy trails.

Joe
 

Wendy

Site Team
Joined
May 14, 2005
Posts
12,535
Location
Colorado
Sounds like you all had a great time and a trip to remember. Looking forward to hearing more.

Maybe your next RV trip could be in the fall when it's not quite so hot and crowded around these parts...tough to do with kids but worth the extra effort involved.

 

Ned

Moderator Emeritus
Joined
Feb 1, 2005
Posts
25,107
Location
USA
That was quite a tour de force.  You have proved again as so many of us have before that not all attractions in this great country are equally enjoyed by everyone.  It does sound like everyone had a good time and enjoyed most of the places you visited.
 

JGarrick

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 15, 2006
Posts
90
wendycoke said:
Maybe your next RV trip could be in the fall when it's not quite so hot and crowded around these parts...tough to do with kids but worth the extra effort involved.

We've done long weekend trips in the fall to places like Orlando where crowds are a real problem, but felt two weeks would be too long to keep the kids out of school even if it was allowable to keep them out that long (I'm not sure of the exact rules, but attendance is of course required by law). That left only the summer, and the first two months were unavailable due to all the sports and things happening. Thus, we had August.

We actually had pretty good luck with the weather. It was moderately hot in Cody and at some of the desert stops, but we mostly had clear skies and mild temps (although we were grateful for the roof A/C unit and generator on a couple of those days). We had a short rain shower one afternoon in the Tetons, and took advantage of the time by touring the very interesting Indian museum at the Colter Bay visitor center, but otherwise only saw rain when we were on the road.

Crowds weren't really a significant problem anywhere. We couldn't get into the Fishing Bridge RV park at Yellowstone (we had no reservation, and they had only one site available, limited to 30 feet), but were easily able to get a site at Bridge Bay just a couple of miles away (no hookups, but there was a dump station). All the campgrounds within Arches were full when we arrived there in the evening, but we easily found space at an RV park a few miles away in Moab. In the Tetons, there was limited space at the Colter Bay RV park, but we decided we didn't want to stay there anyway because they didn't allow campfires. Everywhere else we went were able to have a nice pick of available campsites.

We did get stuck in a couple of small traffic tie-ups when wildlife wandered over the roads in Yellowstone, but that could happen at any time of year, and the traffic quickly cleared once the animals departed. Other than the occasional short check-out line at a gift shop or whatever, we didn't really experience any crowds. We had no significant parking issues anywhere, no trouble getting into guided ranger hikes or programs, and no trouble getting seated anywhere we wanted to eat.

Having said all that, I'd highly recommend the fall for places like Disney or other amusement parks where very long lines are commonplace. On our last trip to Orlando, we went in September and, unlike the summer, had almost no lines for any rides. At one point we rode the Thunder Mountain Railroad five or six times without even getting off the ride. The park had shorter hours, but we were able to do a lot more in spite of that because no time was spent waiting in lines.
 

Betty Brewer

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Joined
Mar 10, 2005
Posts
4,753
JGarrick said:
felt two weeks would be too long to keep the kids out of school even if it was allowable to keep them out that long (I'm not sure of the exact rules, but attendance is of course required by law).

Hi Joe,
I am a retired school principal out of California.  You are right that school attendance is required for all kids under age 18.  Schools are funded solely on daily attendance. In my district it was  $184 dollars per day per child.  This had to pay teachers and all staff, insurance benefits, supplies,  keep busses running, keep up heat and electricity and mow the yards and pay the cafeteria cooks.  If  a kid was home sick, no money. If a kid was out visiting grandma  or on an unannounced vacation, no money!  HOWEVER. each district may adopt rules that favor some kinds of travel. IF and I strongly repeat IF you approach your school principal  with at least 1 month's notice  you may request an "Independent Study."  Some districts find value in travel and have adopted a Board Policy that allows some travel.  If,  as a parent you agree to complete the "work" assigned by the teacher during your travels , the district may be reimbursed for the absence.  Let's say you are going to visit China for 2 weeks.  Tell the school  in advance and maybe you can have kids do a journal and a report on the economics of the area and a show and tell when they return.  You may have to supervise some math pages along the way. Upon your return, the "work " is evaluated and kids  are deemed to have learned.  So school is compensated for the absence and  your kids earn the reward of travel . Please do not just write a note and say "John is  going on vacation starting tomorrow and will be gone for 2 weeks, send homework"  Teachers need time to prepare and  an administrative policy needs time to march  through the channels. If at all possible, keep kids in school.  If it can't be helped  note the policy I have outlined.

Happy Travels,
Betty
 
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