Justin and I have somewhat spontaneous personalities, so one evening when he brought up having some vacation time he should take soon, we suddenly discovered ourselves buying an RV and planning a month-long adventure out West. What better way to go on a vacation during a pandemic!? We would have our meals and home with us all along the way in outdoor spaces; this was a 'bucket-list' idea that I never really knew we'd get the chance to have. With no sports or school, Justin working from home, no dog or chickens that needed us... everything aligned for this travel opportunity. With two weeks to plan, I was frantically trying to learn a thing or two about mobile homes, studying google maps, and calling a myriad of campsites... that were full, so studying the map again, crying, re-routing, and in the end, lots of campsite reservations were made.
We hauled golfcart loads and wagons full of kitchen wares, food, and clothes up to the RV (parked at the end of our long, hilly driveway).
Here is the tale of our month-long adventure:
A Rough Start
The day before departure was our 15 year anniversary. When Justin wrapped up his workday he realized we had a problem... The previous owners hadn't gotten us the title to the RV yet, so we couldn't get a tag for our Winterbago (Winnebago), the previous owners had thrown their tag away, so we'd have to drive without the title and tag. It wasn't a very nice anniversary. I was distraught. Did we have to cancel the trip after making all those reservations and having my sights set on adventure? With a lot of uncertainty and anxiety we still left the next morning, power of attorney given to my step-dad for when the title finally came, and bill of sale in hand (which we read is legally appropriate for the first 30 days after the sale). We hoped our license plate could eventually get shipped out to one of our campgrounds!
Land Between the Lakes
Our first stop was Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky at Wrangler's campground, where horse owners camp with their horses. We don't have horses, but we like to look at them, and Vera was thrilled to camp surrounded by her favorite animals.
The first night was my worst. I had such anxiety about the tag and a lot of "Why are we doing this?! For a month?! In this vehicle I'm unfamiliar with? What if it leaks methane? What if it breaks down?..." It was a restless night.
But some dear friends decided to join our crazy adventure for this first stop, and it gave me peace and courage and extra smiles.
The little kids had pride and joy spread across their faces as they did pony rides.
Vera, who normally got her horse-fix each summer at horse camp (but not with Covid), was happy to get a long horse ride through the woods.
The initial stress of starting out was fading away. What fun to stand with a dear friend by a campfire while the kids explored creekbeds. Then it started to rain... then Winterbago started to leak...
Long story short is Justin caulked a lot, our jacks' hydraulic fluid leaked everywhere, a guy with a mohawk saved us, we thought we might have to abandon the trip, but we pressed on.
Wet Vac to the rescue. Our plans were slightly delayed from the RV craziness, so we drove a shorter distance than expected and camped at a Cracker Barrel (Thanks CB!) and had our first meal at a restaurant in 5 months (outside by ourselves).
A long day of driving had us back on course. We used harvest hosts to find a vineyard out in the middle of Kansas, and it was... peace.
Shiloh Vineyard, Kansas
We were definitely on this trip now, with the starting jitters faded away and replaced with a beautiful sunset and barn cats. The stars came out and we lay on a blanket counting shooting stars... I mean, come on.
What a jewel this stop turned out to be. Except, it was down some long dirt roads, so...
We lost our tail light. It sure is wonderful that Justin is handy.
Vail, Colorado! Justin's childhood friend, Timothy, runs the gondola, so he treated us to a ride up the mountain where we went on such a beautiful hike. Also, my step-dad was able to get us a temporary tag that he mailed to Timothy, so that was "yay!"
Wildfires made the view a bit hazy, but thankfully the morning was clearer than the afternoon.
Our alpine hike reminded me of Switzerland. The wildflowers were breathtaking.
This ice-cold creek was one of my favorite play places. I love balancing rocks, so we played for a long time while our feet went numb. The smokey skies set in and ash rained down on us. I feel for all the people affected by the wildfires.
The smokey sunset was eerily beautiful.
Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
My mom remembered going to Dinosaur National Monument as a kid, so when I looked into it, I knew I had to take my dinosaur-loving children there.
The quarry with exposed dinosaur fossils was fun to visit. How bizarre that so many fossils exist in such a small space. We saw the most complete collection of a baby stegosaurus skeleton, which was about 5 bones... how the paleontologists can figure that out, I may never understand!
The quarry was amazing, but better yet was hiking outside of it where the kids could find their own fossils along the trails.
William spotted a squid cone!
And Vera was thrilled when she spied this big dinosaur bone!
I hand washed some laundry and I think every piece was dry within 30 minutes thanks to 100+ degree heat and extraordinarily dry air. My skin wasn't a fan of the dryness and the sun, but I was SUCH a fan of NO MOSQUITOES!!!
Put me in a place to explore and I am going to explore it. The kids were such troopers. I hiked them through countless deserts. This was the only shady spot to rest on our morning hike while Justin worked (every few days he would work remotely). Justin had to hike up a deserted hill to find cell-reception and made a table from a rock under a small shrub that offered a bit of shade. Unique office experience!
The kids did the junior ranger program at every national park we visited and loved earning 6 badges along the way. That was Patrick's favorite part of the trip, earning badges.
The red stone of Arches was beautiful! I felt like a kid at an amusement park wanting to see around the next bend to find more amazing rock formations. It was special to be in an environment so different from what I am used to.
We set out early to avoid the insane heat of midday or possible crowds. How breathtaking it was seeing the sunrise coming up over Balanced Rock
Each arch had its own bit of personality.
The kids loved climbing and exploring these spaces. But... our air conditioner broke... in Moab, where it gets up to 105+... so we exited Arches and hunted down a repairman. He helped us discover that... our air conditioning wasn't broken... we forgot to plug in our generator. Oops. A number of hot hours experienced and lesson learned. Hand to forehead.
Our hydraulic parking brake stopped working for real, though... but adding fluid every few days got us through the rest of the trip.
In the evening we returned to Arches. The setting sun brought cool temperatures and hardly a soul to be found. We hiked to Pine Arch, enjoying it and the evening sounds of the desert all to ourselves.
Lying on the sun-warmed stone as the air cooled around us and the stars started peeping out was one of my favorite moments.
We rode bikes along the Colorado River in Moab. My bike broke. Add it to the list. ;)
Canyonland National Park
We walked up to this arch in Canyonland, and I peeked through realizing we were on a cliff edge. My mama brain (and physical voice) hollered "Sit down! Don't get closer!" There were numerous 'fear of heights' opportunities on this trip, which I didn't experience much before becoming a mama. I'm not afraid I'll fall, but I sure feel scared for my kids.
Canyonland was such a wide expanse of canyons where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet. Smoke clouded the view a bit, but it was still a fascinating place to explore.
The kids were always such troopers hiking and carrying their water and snacks.
On rainy days, or if we were waiting for Justin to finish up working, the kids would do a bit of schoolwork or junior ranger books.
The Grand Canyon
I had always hoped to see the Grand Canyon, and now there I was. We arrived late in the evening after buying me a new bike in Flagstaff, AZ. The sun was setting and elk were walking all over the campground. Justin had been disappointed in the small amount of wildlife we had seen, so I was glad for him especially that we were in an elk-infested campground! But I just wanted to see the canyon, so Vera and I mounted our bikes and rode from the campground to the rim. What a feeling it was when the trees and ground faded away into the enormity of this vast space. It was all colored purples and blues in the fading light, and there it was before me. I whispered it a 'goodnight' that got carried away in the wind. I couldn't wait to come back in the morning and experience it in the full sun.
If you read up on hiking in the Grand Canyon you'll likely get scared. The stories seem to center around the steep drop-offs and accidents resulting in death. So, the kids got an earful on safety before we set out on Blue Angel Trail, and boy did they hug the inner side of the path, whew. The trails were not crowded; I was so thankful.
I carried Daniel 1 1/2 miles down into the canyon. Justin carried him back up with the boys while Vera and I hiked an extra 1/2 mile down to a different viewpoint. Even two miles in felt like we had hardly penetrated the canyon's depths. If I ever go back, I'd love to plan a backpacking camping trip down to the bottom.
My hiking buddy, always willing to go the extra mile with me :).
The plants and animals in the area were fun to learn about. Justin and I were thankful for a guidebook about the plants in the canyon, their edibility, and their use by natives, since we love learning about that!
After the hike, we biked to the post office to pick up our license! Yay! Thanks, Jim (my step-dad) for helping us through that crazy headache.
I loved watching the canyon during sunset. The ever-changing light made for an ever-changing canyon. I love the soft fading colors in the distance contrasted with the sculpted edges highlighted in the foreground.
Being here made me want to keep saying "Thank you" to God for creating such beauty in the world.
Since we had a few days here, we enjoyed hanging out, eating dinner, biking, playing games, and just doing life on the rim of the canyon.
Our last night at the Grand Canyon the crew was tired after a long bike and hike, but I had to go sit with the canyon for one more sunset, and it was so worth it. This is the kind of peace that fills my cup.
Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest is fields of massive fossilized tree trunks... SO many huge petrified trees!
We enjoyed an afternoon devoted to this graveyard of trees.
We were thankful for rainclouds to cool the land. The kids climbed and explored and laughed in the wind.
This one is called Old Faithful.
The trees were so hot to the touch, as they held onto the midday heat.
We were pretty stoked about seeing these cacti since all the others so far had been short. We were too far north, where it freezes in the winter, for big cacti, but someday I'd like to go back to Southern Arizona to see the saguaros with the kids.
Even the RV park had piles of petrified wood!
Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas
After a long dash across the country with a quick night on Route 66 in Texas, we made it back to humidity and lush trees. We enjoyed hiking to a waterfall overlook and appreciating the more subtle, but still beautiful, rock formations of the East.
We found a walking stick buddy.
The kids had so much fun at "bear cave" (think Rock City but in nature without the paths and gnomes).
This sweet centipede was Daniel's playmate for at least 20 minutes, and I thought he was stunning.
Between rainstorms, we walked along the lake... and you know what!? The RV didn't leak in the rain.
Clear Creek Campground, Alabama
It was strange being a few hours away from home but not yet home. Our last stop in Alabama was just to play before heading back to house-cleaning and homeschool schedules.
We biked, swam at the lake "beach," played basketball, skipped rocks... but then it was time to head back to our house.
There were some challenges we faced on this trip for sure, but we worked around them; the challenges made the adventure all that much more exciting (well, I could have done without the tag business, but it too worked out in the end). Looking down at my little dashboard collection of trinkets I collected along the way, I was filled with gratefulness for the opportunity to go on this trip. I loved living in the RV with my family, working together to do life, being always at the doormat of nature and adventure, no pressing daily schedules. I knew our kitty, Eggnog, was waiting for us at home along with homeschool co-ops, family, and friends... so it is good to be home, but I do miss the RV life.
"Is dis my new house?" asked three-year-old Daniel. "Is dat my room!?"
The house seems strangely too large now.