19817. That was the odometer reading as we returned to the same Summer Village parking lot in Westford we’d left 10 months earlier. We’d completed 17644 miles over 315 days. (See the first post of our trip: 2173)
Note: The WordPress editor shows an embedded map above, but not the live blog (no matter what we try) It’s a detailed map of every one of our camping locations. You can still see it on roadtrippers.com (if there’s a pop-up, just click on the map to dismiss it)
How it Started
For a least a decade prior to his retirement, Mark had dreamed about one day saying goodbye to cubicle life, and hitting the road in an RV to unwind and see the USA.
Lori was somewhat leery of the idea, not seeing herself as much of a “camper”. She was not refusing however; on the contrary, love and affection and a feeling that Mark had earned this made her more than willing. 35 years of work (at 6 companies) plus a habit of frugality had made it possible. But she wasn’t sure she was ready for month after month of camping. She definitely wanted some reasonable minimum standard of comfort.
It wasn’t until we attended the Boston RV & Camping Expo in early 2019 that Lori really started to warm to the idea. So many options! Trailers, 5th wheels, conversion vans, and 3 classes of motorhome! We started to imagine ourselves traveling the country in one of these modern wonders. Shower? Check! Bathroom? Check! Fridge/Sink/Stove/Oven/Storage/TV/Comfy Bed? Check check check!
So, with Lori’s growing enthusiasm, “Lori and Mark’s Big Adventure”, began to take shape. Eventually we’d settle on a 10 month trip in a Class-C Motorhome, which would take us from Massachusetts to Florida to Arizona, to Washington State, before turning for home.
How it’s going
Now that we’re home it’s time to reflect. How was it? Where did we go and what did we do? What were the highlights? Was it different than we’d imagined? Are we done? What was a normal day like? Here are some of the questions we’ve heard the most. If we get more questions after this we can update our answers here.
Where’s Wanda now? As of October 2020 she’s resting comfortably at a secure storage facility in Ashland, winterized to safeguard against freezing.
Where did you go?
October: Camping in: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee, finally arriving at Montgomery, Alabama on 10/30/2019.
November: Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, arriving in Florida on 11/27.
December and January in Florida (with flights home for the holidays) making it to Key West on 1/17 then Wanda went in for some repairs for the next 2 weeks.
February: North through Florida gulf coast and panhandle, through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to Texas on 2/23.
March: Texas (Bryan, Beaumont, Austin, South Padre Island and back) then Inks Lake and San Angelo parks.
April: Left Texas on 4/9. New Mexico briefly, then Arizona from 4/14 through the end of April.
May: Utah from Monument Valley in the south, to Salt Lake City and the Provo Area, to Bear Lake in the north.
June: Southern Idaho, Washington State, Northern Idaho until 6/14, then Montana (Glacier and Darby)
July: Wyoming (Yellowstone) and South Dakota. Minnesota, from Fairmont in the south on 7/12, to the North Shore, through 7/20, then Michigan and Ohio and finally New York on 7/30.
August: New York state parks, then our last campground in Massachusetts through 7/11.
How many, how far, how much, how long, how hot/cold, …
17644 miles traveled over 315 days start to finish.
272 days in Wandah
43 days elsewhere (Xmas 25, Repairs 14, bday trip home 4)
149 days, our longest stretch of uninterrupted camping – from 3/15 to 8/11
Longest: 429miles in 8 hours from Yellowstone to Devil’s Tower (second to that was, 419 miles from South Padre Isle to College Station)
Shortest: 4 miles between 2 campgrounds in High Springs FL
Average: 163 miles (17644 miles in ~108 trips)
Lows: ~28° overnight, ~45° daytime @ Grayson Highlands VA, October 21.
Highs: ~78° overnight, ~100° daytime @ Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ, April 25
Averages: ~58° overnight, ~73° daytime.
Number visited: 108
Length of Stay (low, high, average)
low: 1 day, high: 11 (San Angelo, TX), average: 2.51
Most Expensive: KOA $61.00 per night
Cheapest w/ hookups $12 (Intercoastal Park, TX)
Average : about $30
Total Cost: roughly $8000
Weekly grocery $100 x 40 = $4000
Takeout / fast food once a week, $600
Restaurants (pre-Covid only) $1800
Total Cost : $6400
Average Mileage 15.61 MPG
Highest price: $3.26/gal in Tennessee
Lowest price: $1.93/gal in Northern Idaho
Average price: $2.59/gal
Farthest on a tank: 405 miles on 24.35 gal.
Total Cost : ~1130 gallons of Diesel @ $2.59 avg = ~$3000
DEF : 5 Fills x 2.5 Gal @ ~$12, ~$60.
Oil changes : 0 (as per recommended 20k change interval)
How was it? Great! Of course in hindsight we remember the joys much more clearly than the struggles, but that’s a good thing, right? And in truth, it really was a wonderful time for us and the good vastly outweighed the “not so good”. We’d recommend it highly to anyone who’s considering it and would love to share what we’ve learned. Drop us a note!
How did you spend your time? Hiking, biking, bird-watching, cooking, eating, shopping, planning, visiting family and friends, creating the blog posts & videos, reading, writing, watching movies, going to the beach or lake. (Pre-Covid we also enjoyed museums, a few movies, restaurants, tours, and shops.)
As it turned out, the pandemic hit just as we were transitioning from the eastern phase, heavy with museums, restaurants, tours, and shops – to the western phase, heavy with scenery, hiking and wildlife, few people, not much Covid around. That meant far less disruption to our plans, than if it had hit a few months earlier (other than us deciding to skip California)
What were some of your favorite places?
Longwood Gardens, PA
Wild horses at Assategue, DE
Luray Caverns, VA
Nashville, Memphis music and BBQ, Graceland TN
Gulf Shores, Memorial for Peace and Justice/Legacy Museum Birmingham, Montgomery AL
Aquarium, Chattanooga TN
Lookout Mountain, Rock City, GA
Skidaway Island, Savannah GA
Magnolia Plantation, Charleston SC
Dunedin, Honeymoon Island, Key West, Cape Coral, Mt. Dora, FL
Myakka River, Chassahowitska River, Ginny Springs, Apalachicola, Seaside FL
Austin, McKinney Falls, Inks Lake, San Angelo, Enchanted Rock TX
Roper Lake, Sedona, Flagstaff, Horseshoe Bend, AZ
Moab, Bear Lake, Wasatch Mountain, UU & BYU Campuses, Jordan River Parkway Trail UT
Shoshone Falls, Boise, Castle Rocks, Coeur d’Alene ID
Fields Spring State Park, Palouse Falls, Spokane WA
Logan, Glacier, Darby MT
Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower WY
Badlands, Sioux Falls SD
Fairmont, Gooseberry Falls, Silver Bay, Duluth, Grand Marais MN
Mackinac Island, MI
Letchworth, Watkins Glen, Robert Tremen Park, Ithaca NY
What was a typical day like?
Wake up, turn on the space heater if it’s cold, and check the news on our phones while the place warms up. (Even 50 degrees inside on cold nights was fine with a few blankets.) Breakfast, shower, then depending on how far the next stop is, we’d either go exploring for a while or start the 15 point “tear down” sequence – each of us with our jobs to do. We never once skipped our verbal checklist, making sure we didn’t forget something important. Stabilizers! Skylight! Awning! Steps! Water! Sewer! Electric!
About every 12 days we’d do our laundry. If the campground didn’t have a laundry room, then we’d plan to do it on a travel day. It was fairly common to find a grocery store and laundromat in the same shopping plaza, or near enough to combine the two errands, while also getting lunch or dinner. Occasionally, we would grab take-out food but, more often, we would make sandwiches in the RV while the clothes were drying.
On arrival at the campsite we’d do the setup sequence (no checklist needed, because there’s no “consequence” for forgetting something) If there was time, we’d explore or get oriented in the campground.
These varied a lot from occasionally “just hanging out” to enjoying hikes, biking, or even driving the RV to some place or activity. All things food (shopping, cooking, eating, dishes) would use up part of every day. Other than that we’d read, write, learn, art/crafts or write code, edit videos, listen to music or watch shows or news.
Campfires can be nice, but we rarely made one because there are multiple inhibitors. You have to find/buy wood. It’s best on a cool but not *cold* night without bugs which wasn’t super common. It lasts for hours even if you don’t want to be out that long. It makes clothes smell of smoke, and we had limited clothing and laundry opportunities. Since Mark wanted s’mores more often than a fire, he’d just light a small pile of charcoal briquettes and that would work OK (though slowly).
What did you like the best (and least) about it?
Most days were full of meaningful activity. We never felt “stuck in a rut” or felt like the days and weeks were “slipping by” without anything new or notable happening.
Feeling refreshed by the constant presence of natural beauty. Land and sky, water, plant life, birds, animals, in every-changing variety.
Sunsets. So many pretty or even spectacular sunsets, and such variety.
Learning about new places as we planned the next stops
Enjoying visits with friends and family along the way
Regular physical activity with walking, hiking and biking.
Listening together on the road: Podcasts and Audiobooks.
A consistent practice of mindfulness meditation increased our appreciation of every day.
We ate well, healthier than usual. Lots of instant pot soups, salads, veggies, sandwiches. Not as much heavy stuff like casseroles, pasta, meat.
Frequent need to find lodging in a competitive market meant time online and on the phone. This improved as we became more experienced RV travelers.
Vulnerability to bad weather – tornado warnings are not fun in an RV! We were very close to the path of a tornado in FL, and during the trip we experienced severe thunderstorms, wind/rainstorms, hail, and even a snowstorm! (Idaho, early June).
Temperature control in very hot or very cold places
Some hairy driving situations, tight turns, parking, low bridges!
Getting RV damage repaired was a huge disruption
Minor concerns about getting into trouble far from civilization – tires or mechanical breakdowns, storm damage, wild animals, crime, getting lost, getting stuck, etc. None of these happened, but you feel more exposed than usual to these risks, (partly due to inexperience).
What surprised you? Was it different than you thought it would be?
Mark imagined long hours relaxing in his lawn chair, feet up, reading many books. As it turned out, this was relatively rare. For the first several months, we generally spent our days exploring. We were often hiking and biking all around the new areas – or, pre-Covid – we visited many art museums, historic sites, downtown areas with shops and food, etc. Once Covid restrictions took hold (which was later for us in the south and northwest) then we started spending more time hanging out in the hammock and lawn chairs with our books. This was also when we got into bird watching!
We thought using laundromats might be a hassle, but it wasn’t. It was quicker to do several loads at once. We were amused by the variety of laundromats (some rather fancy, some not-so-much) and (pre-Covid) we had some interesting conversations with other patrons. The toughest part was making sure we had enough quarters since they don’t all have change machines.
We thought setup and teardown at each site would be a big pain. It wasn’t. We thought fuel would be a major expense, but it turned out that food was twice the cost of fuel.
Was it difficult having so much “togetherness” in such a tiny space?
There was some adjustment the first month due to the stresses of not knowing what we were doing, and our different priorities for campgrounds. Mark prioritized low cost while Lori prioritized quality (which meant nicer facilities, a level pad, water and electricity), so it took a while to find that balance. It was also an unusually cold and rainy October so we were ‘trapped’ inside more than we expected.
Surprisingly, we never felt like we were cramped or needed more space. The camper’s layout felt plenty roomy for us. It was very comfortable, and it cemented Lori’s dream of living in a tiny house some day. Plus, you can have your own virtual space whenever you want with books, podcasts, audiobooks, videos, the web etc.
Are you done?
No, we don’t think so. We are watching the Covid situation and hope to venture out again when it makes sense, maybe after we get vaccinated.
Thank you so much for taking this journey with us! Your interest made writing the blog more than just a personal journal. We hope it occasionally provided a little escape from the day’s responsibilities as you joined us in spirit.
Wow, here we are. The last “big adventure” blog post. We think we’ll do a summary/post-trip post eventually, but given how long it has taken us to finish this one don’t expect it anytime soon. It’s hard to keep up the blog momentum now that we’re home!
After a brief stop at Sioux Falls, SD we continued due east to Fairmont, Minnesota, just a few miles north of the Iowa border. It’s a nostalgic place for Mark after dozens of family visits with both sets of grandparents during his childhood in the 60’s and 70’s. Our own kids had their first visit to Fairmont in the 90’s when they met their great-grandma Champine. The original Champine home, where Mark’s dad grew up, is still in the family and has continued to be an occasional family meeting place. The home sits just on the edge of downtown, yet has an excellent view overlooking Lake Sisseton, (one of a chain of 5 lakes in town).
In honor of Mark’s dad, George, our plan was to revisit many of his favorite spots. We walked around downtown Fairmont, and to the Dairy Queen, and to the cemetery where several family members rest. We rode the excellent bike paths around several of the lakes. We ordered takeout pizza from Jake’s – the family favorite pizza shop. Each night we watched the sun set over the lake from the back yard. Mostly, we just reminisced and relaxed.
Finally, it was time to head north for a family reunion with Mark’s aunts, uncle, cousins/spouses, and their children. We masked/distanced kinda sorta. It was great to see everyone, but it was still a bit unnerving to be around so many people suddenly after being mostly an island unto ourselves for so long. We appreciated everyone’s contribution to an enjoyable day. Great seeing you all!
Next, more lake: Minnetonka! We spent a couple days parked at Mark’s aunt’s house on the lake, which we toured by boat (lunch at Lord Fletcher’s :)) and rode our bikes around the town. Mark even got to Jet ski. Thanks Jo, Beth, and Matt!
Finally we headed north to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior for Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche, and Grand Marais – all beautiful. Mark hadn’t been to Duluth since running Grandma’s Marathon there during college. Grandma’s Saloon is still there, though we didn’t go for beers. Too crowded for comfort! There’s a great lakeside bike trail going north from Duluth, and we enjoyed several hours of the afternoon riding it. Lori dipped her toes into Lake Superior. For the rest of the trip she did that in every Great Lake we visited (Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie). The only one we missed was Lake Ontario.
We hope you enjoy our Minnesota Video!
Since we’d decided on the northern route through Michigan’s upper peninsula, spending time in Wisconsin’s prime scenic area north of Sturgeon Bay would have been a significant backtrack. We decided not to add the extra days and hundreds of miles that would have required.
Still, we did stop for a while in the lovely Wisconsin town of Ashland, on Lake Superior’s south shore. As you’ll see in the video, Ashland is crazy for murals! We walked Main street’s “Mural Walk” and marveled at the size and sheer number of them.
In retrospect, going through Wisconsin might have been the better choice. We tried to hug Superior’s southern shore through the upper peninsula but unlike Minnesota’s coastline there was almost nothing to see. No rocky cliffs, grand vistas, etc. We camped in a few campgrounds along the way, and they weren’t great either. A letdown!
We did have one great experience in the Yoop (Upper Peninsula) though – Mackinac Island! A quick 20 minute ferry ride under the Majestic 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge brings to you a quaint island village – with no cars! Horses and bikes rule. We rented a tandem bike and proceeded to make a complete loop of the island on the flat, wide and paved coastal trail. Beautiful views were around every turn. Fabulous!
Our big treat in Ohio was a visit to Don Drumm Studios and Gallery in Akron. Don is the father of our friend, Elisa, so we were familiar with Don’s work, but we had no idea how amazing the Gallery would be – it’s quite a place. We were surrounded by beautiful creations on every side. https://www.dondrummstudios.com/ Elisa’s brother-in-law, Tim, greeted us and we had a great chat. He also told us about nearby Brandywine Falls, which was another nice side trip that day. We had a picnic lunch and short hike to the falls.
Here’s our video covering Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.
The smidge of Pennsylvania along lake Erie is even smaller (by half) than the smidge of Wisconsin on Superior! But that tiny bit of PA is home to the beautiful peninsula known as Presque Isle State Park. It has a bike path (and road) that follow the entire 4+ mile perimeter. If you’re ever near Erie, PA you should check it out. We made one major mistake there. The sun began to set and we still needed to eat and fill the RV with fuel before heading to our campground so we loaded up the bikes and drove off. While we were at the gas station the sky was suddenly blazing red and orange, perhaps the brightest, most vivid colors in the sky we’d seen all trip. Had we waited 15 minutes longer on the western shore of Presque Isle, we’re sure we’d have seen a truly spectacular sunset.
We Stayed in 3 great New York State Parks. Lake Erie State Park is right on the lake, with beautiful shore views. Letchworth State Park is home to some of the most beautiful falls we’ve seen anywhere. And Robert H. Tremen State Park near Ithaca was amazing as well. Ithaca is a treasure trove of beautiful river hikes with gorgeous falls. Unforgettable.
Between Letchworth and Ithaca We also stopped to hike the gorge at Watkins Glen. Wow, wow, wow! Highly recommended. It’s an easy hike and it’s spectacular.
Here’s the video. We hope you like falls, because you’re going to see a lot of them!
Home again, home again, jiggity jig! We capped our trip with a stay in western MA, near lake Pontoosuc. Our good friends, Sue and Jon, joined us with their tent and kayak for the perfect socially distant visit. We hiked, we kayaked, and we ate, ate, ate, like kings and queens. What a lovely welcome home!
We spent the afternoon visiting with Kelly in Northampton before returning to Westford. It took us a few days to fully unpack Wandah. After that, we found secure storage for her in Ashland. RV storage is hard to come by these days. Camping is more popular than ever. We hear it’s a good time to sell, but we’re not ready to let her go just yet.
As we’ve told a few people, we don’t think we’re done Wandah-ing, especially since we had to bypass the entire pacific coast because of some dumb pandemic thing you may have heard about. So the hope is to get a “redo” as soon as the coast is clear! (hee hee) We still need to figure out the right way to get back there. Do we bring it there this fall and fly back in January? (hoping of course that things are better..) Or do we winterize it and then make a mad dash for a place warm enough to camp? We’re not sure yet.
We plan one more post to summarize the trip and what we learned. Maybe we’ll do a FAQ. Feel free to send any questions and we’ll answer them as best we can!
Mid June is a good time to visit the northwest. The mountain passes are open, and it’s warm enough to enjoy camping at higher elevations. With only 2 months to go, we had to find a balance between enjoying this beautiful region with making progress east.
We hadn’t been to Montana before, but we’d heard how beautiful it is. We barely scratched the surface, but what we saw was great. Just don’t expect cell coverage!
From Farragut State Park, Idaho, we headed north around Lake Pend O’Reille which brought us to within a few miles of Canada before swinging south and east. Our goal was to see at least a little of Glacier National Park. We also found many other beautiful places. A video follows the descriptions.
Logan State Park
On the way to Glacier we stopped at Logan state park where we had a campsite right on beautiful Thompson lake. There was also a level and well-maintained lakeside trail through the nearby woods and we had an excellent day hike. One problem with Logan though, there is no cell coverage. You’d think we could get by for a few days, but we needed to do some online stuff, and set out in Wanda to find a signal. The park ranger said we’d find something just 5 minutes west. So we tried that. Then 10 minutes, then 20. NOPE. So we turned around, and headed back past the park in the other direction. Finally 1/2 hour later we got barely enough signal to pay a couple bills and do a few texts. That was not worth it. Had we known, we would have stayed put!
Glacier National Park
Being able to visit Glacier at all was in doubt (due to Covid) until pretty late in our planning. There was no camping at Glacier itself. We decided to book stays on either side of Glacier’s West entrance, and then spend a day in the park if it opened.
Luckily, they did open Glacier to tourism with plenty of time to spare, and we headed toward “Going to the Sun” road to follow the river up into the mountains. We almost got shut out however. Shortly after heading up the road, we hit a ranger roadblock. The park rangers told us they weren’t letting any more vehicles go in because it was too crowded. Argh!
We headed back to Apgar, and considered our options as we looked for a non-existing RV sized parking spot. Apgar was mobbed and we couldn’t even stop. After circling a few times, we were ready to give up in defeat.
As we took one more pass by the checkpoint, Mark noticed the rangers getting in their cars and driving away. So we took a quick turn and (with nobody to stop us) and headed in!
It’s an excellent drive, with dozens of scenic pull-over spots to take photos. We drove in about 15 miles – as far as they let “oversize” vehicles like ours go, and came back down the same way. Stopping at places we’d missed on the way up. We almost went on a mile long hike, but Lori saw ominous signs warning us to carry bear spray, which we didn’t have, and she wasn’t feeling comfortable meeting bears in the deep woods of Glacier empty-handed. So we turned back. Good thing, because 10 minutes later it started to pour. Timing! Sometimes you get lucky!
After Glacier, we stayed overnight at Flathead lake. Nothing too interesting really. It’s a pretty lake, with a treasure trove of various colored rocks to gather on the shore. Nice, woodsy campsites, but no water or electric hook-ups.
Mark’s cousin Eric and his wife Janette have a vacation home south of Missoula, and we’d been invited to use it when in the area. The timing worked out great! Mark’s aunt and uncle were there the weekend we arrived, and his cousin was coming on the following weekend. So we decided to take a break and hang out for the whole week so we could overlap our stays if just briefly.
Our only real concern was that because the road to the house is steep and unpaved, Wanda might be challenged to make it there. But we decided to go for it. It started out fine. Just one lane wide, but mostly flat and solid. Eventually though, the road was more suited for off-road vehicles than a hulking motorhome! A couple steep, narrow, switchbacks at the end had us in first gear barely making the turns and barely climbing the hills. But we survived it somehow. Whew! We knew we were there for the duration though. No way was Wanda doing that again!
Once we got there, it was so relaxing! Surrounded by 60 acres, it’s incredibly private. The view includes beautiful snow-capped mountains, lush meadows, lots of cows and mule deer. We enjoyed a hike around the property with Aunt Bev and Uncle Chuck, and another day they took us for a hike around beautiful nearby Lake Como. Downtown Darby was even reachable to us by bike, and so we did a few day trips for fun and to gather a few supplies. Those roads were no problem for our eBikes!
Thanks Eric & Janette, for inviting us to your lovely country home – we enjoyed every minute of our time there!
Here’s our Montana video:
We feel like there’s a lot more to see in Montana, and we’ve just scratched the surface. We especially want to see more of Glacier’s East side. Next time!
Our most notable “miss” in Wyoming was skipping Grand Teton National Park. Mark had been there just a few years earlier, and it would have taken us quite a ways off course, so no Tetons this time. :( Fortunately there’s no shortage of other cool places in Wyoming. Here are a few:
From Montana, we drove to Yellowstone’s north entrance and spent half a day driving through the northwest section of Yellowstone before staying overnight just west of the park.
We planned to spend the next day driving a loop throughout the park – about 50 miles. On the way up to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, we encountered driving rain and hail. Had it continued, the day would have been a bust, but after 10 minutes or so, it stopped as quickly as it began. Whew! After stopping to view the scenic falls and beautiful yellow-colored canyon, we continued to the north rim road of the canyon, stopping many times for pictures. Beautiful. The day continued a strange alternating pattern of dark skies and rain, followed by sunshine. Our luck held out, and the rain occurred mostly while driving, and sun mostly when visiting the park’s features. We hit the standard highlights including Old Faithful, Paint Pots, Grand Prismatic Spring, and much more. What a place! It’s one of America’s greatest natural treasures. We also saw buffalo up close (they were sparring a bit), and several elk. There were no fences separating us from these wild animals, so we kept to what seemed a safe-enough distance. It’s still pretty unnerving to think that if they charged for some reason, you’d be pretty exposed, with nowhere in particular to take refuge.
On our 3rd day, we visited a couple spots we’d skipped for lack of time, and then headed toward the west entrance to leave the park. We were somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t seen a single bear. We still didn’t have any bear spray, but Lori was less concerned since there were a lot of visitors and park rangers around. Yellowstone seemed like the best chance we might have to see a bear in the wild. On the way out, we pulled into one last way-point for a picture of more beautiful scenery. We noticed a group of people gathering around, cameras out. Yep, it was a grizzly bear sighting – finally! We couldn’t get too close (the ranger was keeping people the recommended 100′ away) but it was still pretty exciting, and a little scary, seeing those massive teeth and claws without fence or cage to contain them.
Immediately west of Yellowstone as you exit the park, is Shoshone National Forest. Its stunning canyon views as you descend the steep hills, are a wonderful finale to a Yellowstone visit.
In all, we entered Yellowstone 3 times. Our national parks pass paid for itself at Yellowstone alone!
Buffalo Bill State Park
Nice canyon campground. It was notable for us because Mark wanted us to take our bikes on a dirt/gravel road into the hills for an overlook of a nearby reservoir. We went many miles of mostly rough and hilly roads. Each time we rounded a corner, the goal seemed further away. Finally, Lori had had enough, and we turned back, partially satisfied with a few lesser views.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Kinda sorta on the way to Devil’s Tower, this scenic drive was a 12 mile detour. It turned out to have some great overlooks, so it was arguably “worth it” but in the bargain, it put us on a more northern crossing of the Bighorns. We wouldn’t do it again in Wanda. Maybe in a car.
Crossing the Bighorns (9430 feet elevation) turned out to be by-far the biggest test of Wanda’s engine. It was really pretty horrific. The further we got in, the narrower and steeper it got. And then steeper. Then narrow and steeper. You get the idea. We were crawling in first gear at 25 mph at points, pedal to the metal, and praying that it didn’t overheat or explode, or just run out of steam. And when we were sure we must be nearing the top, we turned the corner to find… we were only halfway there! We stopped at a rare turnout to let Wanda’s engine cool off. After a rest, we continued upward, having invested far too much in the climb to give up now. Finally we were rewarded with truly amazing top-of-the-world views, and our faith in Wanda restored.
Of course we had to stop at iconic Devil’s Tower! You may have seen it sculpted in mashed potatoes by Richard Dreyfus in the sci-fi movie “Close Encounters”. Mark likes to hike around Devil’s Tower every time he passes through the region, as he did most recently with our boys a few years ago. Now, Lori knows what all the fuss is about.
Our Wyoming video is our longest yet, but believe it or not, this is after taking out as much as Lori could bear!
Bye Wyoming. Nice seeing you!
Between Devil’s Tower and Mount Rushmore, lies the western-themed tourist town of Deadwood, SD. Due to Covid, there wasn’t much for us to do there (it’s mostly shops, bars, galleries and restaurants) but the place was positively mobbed. Apparently it’s a big draw for family vacationers. It seemed cute enough for a day’s amusement, but we’re not sure why it’s popular enough to have several giant new resort hotels on both ends of town.
What can you say? It’s classic Americana, and pretty neat to see in person what you’ve seen so many times in pictures. It’s difficult to get an idea of its true size from pictures however. Whether or not you’ll be impressed depends on how big it is in your imagination!
The whole site has been dramatically developed since Mark’s last visit. You used be able to drive right up to the visitor center. Now there are oceans of parking lots (including a 2 story ramp), walkways, grand approach avenue flanked by flags, and a huge amphitheater. It’s good that they can now handle crowds better, but Mark preferred the way it was.
Lori wasn’t super keen on Rushmore: 1) Native Americans were swindled out of the land there 2) Two of the 4 were slaveholders 3) ‘You know who’ had just been there, and we passed giant MAGA concessions. 4) The Covidiots were dense
All legitimate demerits, but Mark was not deterred and wanted Lori to see it anyway. You can just drive by, c’mon!
Just a gigantic complex of stores with a bunch of weird kitsch to keep it amusing. We couldn’t really experience it fully since it would involve unsafe indoor time, but as long as we got the critical jackalope riding picture we were good to go.
Amazing! Such a huge and alien place. Strangely compelling in places. Totally worth checking out if you’re driving through. It was Lori’s first time there and she considers it a highlight of this area.
Really the most interesting part is the building exterior which is a giant mosaic, annually reconstructed, entirely of different colors of corn, husks, stalks, leaves, etc.. Pretty impressive, that they redo it every year (at a cost of $150k). Inside is an auditorium containing the corn palace gift shop, and not much else. Ho hum.
Lori’s Mom told us about a unique statue in Chamberlain, SD, of a Native American woman. The sculpture stands 50 feet tall and is called Dignity. It happened to be right on our path so we stopped to see it, and we were glad we did. In 2014, a couple from Rapid City gifted Dignity to the state in honor of the 125th anniversary of South Dakota’s statehood.
We stopped in Sioux Falls for an afternoon. We found a good spot for Wanda at Falls Park so we could ride the excellent bike paths on either side of the river, and get a good view of the falls, which would be truly beautiful but for one flaw: the water going over them is.. brownish. The water isn’t polluted, just full of sediment. If they could solve that somehow (though we can’t imagine how) they’d have a really stunning spot. We enjoyed a long bike ride, a picnic lunch, and as you’ll see in the video – we had some fun under the bridge!
After Utah, we headed north and west, into southern Idaho, then Washington State, then back through northern Idaho.
Idaho was a pleasant surprise. It was a place neither of us had been, and we had few preconceptions (potatoes? militias?) about what we’d find. What we found was well-run state parks that showcased different kinds of dramatic natural beauty, and some hip towns.
June is a good time to visit. Temperatures were generally in the high 60’s though once we got into elevation we actually encountered snow – on the road and at our campsite at Lake Cascade.
Here are some of the highlights. A video summary of them is at the end of this section.
Idaho started off with a bang. Or maybe more of a blast. We’d read about an odd little local attraction called [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soda_Springs_Geyser][Soda Springs]] on our way to our first night of camping at Massacre Rocks. Just next to the parking lot behind a few local stores is a geyser called Soda Springs. The naturally carbonated water is supposedly drinkable, but I tasted some and wasn’t impressed. The geyser on the other hand was pretty impressive. Its eruptions come at nearly exact one-hour intervals on the hour. I was mystified by this surprising coincidence until I read on Wikipedia that the geyser is “activated” hourly. That takes away some of the mystique. Anyway, the huge eruption we saw lasted over 5 minutes. Visually it rivals Old Faithful, especially since you can get quite close to it.
Massacre Rocks State Park
Massacre Rocks is on the Snake River and was a popular stop on the Oregon Trail. There are high cliffs over the river that look like a good spot for a massacre, but apparently no massacre actually happened at Massacre Rocks. We spent a couple days biking (including on the old Oregon Trail itself) and hiking the hills and cliffs along the river. We found excellent views, and took many dozens of pictures trying to capture what we saw. Of course, that rarely works very well, but we did get a couple of good shots. Our campground site even included beautiful views of the river and cliffs. We only landed at Massacre Rocks because Castle Rocks was too much driving in one day, so it was an unexpected pleasure!
Castle Rocks State Park
Castle Rocks started with a lot of confusion. We followed the GPS to a place that didn’t look like a park and we didn’t see any camping. So we backtracked to the place called “City of Rocks” and didn’t find camping there either! Lack of any cell signal made it even trickier, since we couldn’t look stuff up. Going back to the original spot, we found a road seeming to lead off to nowhere, but after a few miles a nice campground appeared. Turns out the state park has two separate locations, and the campground is called “Smoky Mountain Campground, Castle Rocks” and is a long way from what’s labeled “Castle Rocks State Park”. Ugh!
We had quite a biking adventure at Castle Rocks. We took the trail, not knowing quite what to expect. After enduring some rather rough terrain, we encountered hikers whom we questioned about whether the rest was passable by bike. They were quite bullish on the idea, so off we went. We ran into even worse trail conditions. Very rocky spots, hills, gullies, sand, and even a stream! We emerged feeling victorious but tired, only to find we were only halfway up. We soldiered on, and fortunately it got a bit easier. That is until the surprise rain had us finding cover beneath some large bushes. After 10 minutes, it let up enough to continue. We eventually reached the top and found some spectacular views. But the black and ominous clouds overhead told us we would soon be drenched if we didn’t head back soon. We opted to take a dirt road instead of trails back downhill. A smoother ride, though more than double the distance.
We sped down the steep roads as fast as we felt was safe (up to about 25 mph) trying to outrun the downpour. Nope. It started, slowly at first, but at times it was rather heavy, and the stinging rain made it hard to see. The last few miles were paved fortunately, and the rain eventually became a sprinkle. Oh, well. We had a good laugh about it, and we made s’mores that evening to celebrate our victorious ride in the rain!
The next day, a final challenge awaited us. We drove Wanda through a section of amazing rock formations and views known as “City of Rocks National Reserve”. Mark saw on the map that we could get back to civilization by continuing forward 10 miles rather than a 30 mile backtrack. Bad choice. It turned out to be the most bone-jarring teeth rattling washboard nightmare ever. It was impossible to find a speed above about 5 mph that didn’t threaten to shake the RV apart. WE HATE WASHBOARD ROADS! So that wasn’t great, but we did see some amazing sights.
Bruneau Dunes State Park
Next stop was another “on the way” choice that turned out to be a good surprise. Bruneau Dunes has giant sand dunes to play on. We saw families with sleds going up and down. We were content just to hike the ridge and take in the sights. Oh, and run/slide down the steepest part. Good fun – as long as you don’t mind emptying your shoes afterward.
Boise seems like a cool town. There’s a long bike path that extends miles out of town. There are several large city parks. We parked at the Human Rights Memorial Park which was excellent. We walked from there to the capital building and the downtown area. It’s neat and modern, with a no-cars mall area. There are tons of fun looking shops, galleries and restaurants, which would be great to explore in non-Covid times. We hope to return.
Our original route had us going through Idaho to Oregon where we had a bunch of “points of interest” and great state parks to visit. However, Oregon parks remained almost entirely closed. Without those places to see, it no longer seemed worthwhile to visit on this trip – and besides, we’d already decided the whole western coast would have to wait until a future trip. So we turned north.
Lake Cascade State Park
We enjoyed lake views and a long hike in the meadows adjoining the park. We also experienced our one and only snowfall during the trip, even though at 35 degrees it wasn’t our coldest night.
Another cool city, smaller than Boise but just as hip, and a really beautiful setting right on Coeur d’Alene Lake. Wow, we’d love to return and spend more time here! For now, we settled for a stroll around the lakeside park, and a brief trip into town for ice cream. Another place for a future vacation stay!
Farragut State Park
After that we were headed up to a state park on huge Lake Pend Oreille. We both know a little French and guessed that the name referred to the lake’s vaguely ear shape. “Pend” is “hanging” – so hanging ear. Anyway, we ventured out onto the trails twice. First for a great hike along the western bank of the lake, and then the next day by bike, which let us cover more ground and get to a small nearby town. A big sign announced huckleberry shakes, a PNW favorite. Alas, they’d closed just 30 minutes before our arrival! We did eventually get huckleberry ice cream, so not to worry. :) Also, we rode the bikes to a lovely overlook area where Lori noticed a large engraved stone. Turns out, it was a poem that her 4th grade class was charged with memorizing. She still remembered the first two lines, and a few other phrases, but not too bad since, admittedly, 4th grade was a LONG time ago!
Here’s a video of our adventures in Idaho
And now, our brief detour into western Washington State…
We saw 3 interesting places in Washington. Great hiking and views at Fields Spring State Park, and unusual waterfall called Palouse Falls, and an afternoon in Spokane. A video follows at the end.
Fields Spring State Park
One of our favorite hikes of the trip was at Fields Spring State Park, WA. The hike was on a well-maintained path through lush forest, up and up and up until emerging above the tree line to an amazing grassy hilltop with views of mountains and river on 3 sides. Super pleasant. Too bad the park itself was not great. It wasn’t cheap, yet had no electric or water hookups, and the showers were coin-op. Lame! The park personnel also screwed up, telling us to “pick any spot” only to find out on our return from hiking that our spot had been reserved by someone else, and they were waiting for us to clear out. Fortunately our replacement site was fine. We had frequent visits from birds, that didn’t flinch at our presence. When Mark put a little bread crumb on our picnic table, the bird would boldly fly down and grab it. (we realized belatedly that you’re probably not supposed to feed them, oops!, but it was just a couple of crumbs)
The main attraction for our short visit to WA was a place called Palouse Falls. It’s a cool looking falls and the head of a deep canyon. There’s hiking all around the rocky cliffs surrounding the falls. Despite all the effort to get there, we almost didn’t get to see it. Just as we entered the rocky/washboard access road we saw a mobile sign flashing messages one after another. One said “No RVs”. But Mark said “screw it, we’ve come this far – if they stop us we’ll just say we didn’t see it!” And the road did get steep and windy and narrow! But when we finally got to the parking area near the falls, a park ranger simply waved us to a big overflow lot. Score! After a quick lunch, we spent the next several hours hiking the rim, finding one amazing view after the next. Cool spot!
From the falls, we headed north, and then experienced a significant milestone: turning East onto Interstate 90. How was that significant? After over 7 months on the road – south then west then north on our grand clockwise circuit – we had finally turned towards home. What an odd feeling!
In an hour or so we were in the city of Spokane on Washington’s western border.
In an odd coincidence, a former coworker of Mark’s saw his Facebook check-in from Spokane and we discovered we’d just crossed paths. He had left from a stay on Lake Pend Oreille and were passing through Spokane headed west. We’d spent a few hours in Spokane at that very same time that he did, and we were headed east to Pend Oreille. Small world!
After our last night in Flagstaff, AZ, we headed north. As mentioned, we stopped for lunch and sightseeing in Sedona. Our last stop in AZ before UT was at a hugely popular photo spot known as Horseshoe Bend. It has become a tourist attraction complete with $10 paid entry, concession stand, and a nicely maintained concrete walkway to the cliffs overlooking the bend. Due to Covid the site was nearly empty and the ticket booth was closed – but the parking lot gate was open! Perfect.
Our plans for Utah were dramatically altered by national park closings. We had at least 6 of them on our original itinerary (list here) and hoped that our extended stay in AZ would allow enough time for them to reopen. As it turned out, several did open just a week after we passed through!
Fortunately we’ve already been to Bryce, Zion, and Arches, so those were not critical stops. We still enjoyed Utah’s unique and amazing landscape of mountains, canyons, and striking rock formations.
Here’s a video with highlights of the landscape from the RV windows:
20 years ago, we drove into Monument Valley National Park with the kids, where the most iconic views can be found – the ones you’ve probably seen in classic westerns. This time the entrance was closed, so we had to make due with somewhat more distant views of the same rock formations from our campground. The campground was essentially a dirt parking lot with utility hookups, but the views were great.
Here’s a summary video of Utah
Individual Parks in Utah
Green River State Park
Green River campground was a bit of a shock. After months of desert, suddenly our campsite was surrounded by lush, green, grass. The campground is actually surrounded by a golf course, and apparently they just included the state park campground in the landscaping and irrigation plan.
In order to keep the grass so nice however, they had to run the sprinklers regularly. On entry, we got a notice/warning that they’d be going off the next morning, and that the campsites get pretty wet. No worries! We opted to stay put since Wandah needed a bath anyway. :) We simply moved our folding chairs across the road and watched the show.
Green River is also a nice little town, with gorgeous mountain views bordering it on two sides. We enjoyed a long bike ride to town and around the quiet local streets.
Our previous Utah trip had also included Arches National Park and a stay in a Moab hotel that the kids loved for its pool with a big corkscrew slide. That hotel is still there, but it seems Moab has been “discovered” since our last visit 20 years ago. It has grown dramatically. Moab is surrounded by beautiful cliffs, has Arches nearby, a great bike path, tons of nice restaurants, shopping, parks and much more. We can see why it has become so popular.
Utah Lake State Park
Utah Lake is south of Salt Lake City near Provo. The lake is surrounded by scenic mountain views. For us, the best feature by far is the 6 mile long tree-lined bike trail along the Jordan river into town, almost to the beautiful BYU campus. We rode the path every day we were there, but just once all the way to BYU. That day, we spent hours leisurely cruising the campus paths and sidewalks, taking in the surrounding mountain views and beautiful buildings and landscaping, including many colorful flower beds.
Utah Lake itself, while striking to look at from a distance, seemed to have rather unappealing water when seen close up. Although fishing was hugely popular there, we both agreed that we would not want to eat anything that came out of that water!
One other downside there was the mosquitoes. They were really out of control. In the evening they seemed to cover Wandah to the extent that we struggled to enter or exit without being invaded.
Salt Lake City
We visited Bev and Chuck, Mark’s Aunt and Uncle, who have lived in Salt Lake City for decades. They treated us to a home cooked meal, got us caught up on family news, and gave us some ideas and advice for seeing Utah (as they have been frequent campers and adventurers throughout the state for as long as they’ve lived there).
Lori had not seen “Gilgal” (which Tyler, Luke and I discovered on our last time passing through SLC) so we also stopped there on the way out of town.
East Canyon State Park
Our trip to East Canyon started with an unwanted adventure. As we got closer to our destination, the blacktop ended and became a gravel road. Then a dirt road marked “unmaintained”. Then increasingly windy and narrow. Multiple signs warning “private property” etc. made it seem like something was really wrong. But Google maps showed it as the only road to the campground! Yikes! What to do? Turn back or push on despite the warning signs?
We decided to push on, and it was 10 miles of rough and sometimes white-knuckle driving in our big lumbering ox of a vehicle. Finally we made it. Whew! We found out later that Google Maps had mis-routed us, wrongly showing the actual route as still “closed for winter”. Argh! Damn you, Google maps!
One final obstacle to reaching the park, was a huge sheep drive. It held up traffic while they crossed the road, but it was very entertaining to watch.
East Canyon was nice, even if there was no cell service. The main thing to do there was to hike the hills surrounding the reservoir. Fortunately, it was a good place for that, with dramatic views of the lake and surrounding hills. We quite enjoyed it.
Willard Bay State Park
Willard Bay is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, on a reservoir on the northeast border of Salt Lake. Highlights were lots of birds, and nice beaches. We rode our bikes many miles along the eastern shore of the reservoir.
Like a majority of parks we’ve visited, Willard Bay has a Frisbee golf course. We’ve never seen one used. Why were so many were built? Maybe they were once popular. Or maybe they’re just very cheap to create (just put some up Frisbee golf stations far apart). Or maybe some entrepreneur was really good at selling the concept. Who knows?
On the day after our bike ride, Mark found that the rear tire of his bike had gone flat. Oh no! He found the culprit: a thorn! (see picture). We found a bike shop in Logan, UT, and luckily they had a tube matching our somewhat rare tire size, and it cost just $4.50. The shop owner installed it free! Super nice guy. Mark showed his appreciation with big tip.
After getting the bike fixed, we parked to eat lunch near Utah State University. Wow! What a beautiful campus – with stately buildings around a giant quad, park benches overlooking valley and mountain scenes, botanic trails and gardens. Gorgeous.
Hyrum Lake State Park
Hyrum was very windy at times! Mark had a challenge using the grill during the gale. There are no hiking or biking trails at Hyrum Lake, so we didn’t do much at the park, but we were able to walk from our campsite into the town of Hyrum in under 15 minutes. Our mission was to find a mail box – which we do often for Lori to mail her current batch of cards and letters. We eventually found the mailbox while enjoying our walk around the little town.
Wasatch Mountain State Park
We reversed our northward trek temporarily, to meet up with Lori’s friend Debbie, who used to live in Westford and relocated to Utah several years ago. Wasatch Mountain is about 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Our campsite had great views of mountains, valley, and deer creek reservoir.
Debbie drove to our site to spend the day with us. It was great fun catching up with her, and we all enjoyed a nice hike in the park. Not too strenuous, very scenic with flowers, lush vegetation, stream crossings, and occasional views of the valley and mountains.
At the far point of the hike there is an odd sight: a large field of boulders, described as a “glacial outwash”. It went on for hundreds of yards up the hill. We spent a long while hopping from boulder to boulder and enjoying the excellent views from there. Before leaving, we noticed a little jar (seen below) for visitors to “share your thoughts” – so we did!
The next day, we visited Heber City, which is a cool town near the state park. After getting a takeout pizza for dinner, we walked to the local ice cream shop “Dairy Keen” for a thick chocolate shake.
Bear Lake State Park
Our final stop in Utah was at Bear Lake which straddles the Utah/Idaho line. We extended our stay at Bear Lake because Idaho state parks re-opened on May 31. We were happy to have the extra time at Bear Lake.
The lake has been called “The Caribbean of the Rockies” for it’s striking turquoise-blue color, which is due to an abundance of lime in the water.
Mark celebrated a big birthday while here. To celebrate we went into nearby Garden City for lunch at Zipz (burgers, fries, and a famous raspberry shake) then rode the bike path for many miles south, stopping at a few places to enjoy lake views. The paved bike path is still being built. Looks like it will go most of the way to the park eventually. Nice.
In Garden City there were off-road 4-wheelers everywhere. We assume they must be riding up into the local hills. Clearly a popular activity based on how many we saw in town.
At our campground we had two major attractions. One was simply the sandy lakeshore where we could relax and watch the jumping fish, or take in the amazing sunsets. The other was a Bald Eagle’s Nest! There was a family of 4 in it, and we spent lots of time just checking to see if they were active. We’d occasionally see one fly off or return with food. Quite a sight!
Well, that was Utah. Beautiful state! We’ll be back!
With the Texas State Parks closed we decided it was time to continue west. We had multiple goals: stay in nice weather, avoid humans, see interesting sights, and stall a bit to see if we could wait out some of the national park closures. (as of mid-May, that’s still a ‘maybe’. Some national parks have partially reopened, so we are hopeful!)
We stopped briefly in Carlsbad, New Mexico (the National Park and caverns were closed unfortunately), then on to Las Cruces – where Mark’s mom had told us she’d had her first authentic Mexican food, back in the early 60’s. Amazingly, she remembered the name of the restaurant and it was still there! Out of vicarious nostalgia (is that a thing?) we decided to get dinner there. No dine-in of course, but we got take-out fajitas. Yum!
We’d hoped to spend more time in New Mexico, but with all the state and national parks closed there, we decided to move on. Luckily, Arizona State Parks were open, so we booked stays at several: Roper Lake, Lost Dutchman, and Dead Horse.
Roper Lake State Park, Arizona
Roper Lake was a bird bonanza, both in variety and sheer numbers. We hiked around the lake and up into the surrounding hills. A very pleasant 3-day stopover on the way to Apache Junction and Lost Dutchman State Park.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Dead Horse State Park, Sedona, & Flagstaff
Lost Dutchman State Park is classic Arizona. Huge iconic saguaro are everywhere, along with a dozen other varieties – fleshy, spiny, flowering, you name it. We hiked and biked every day, enjoying the beautiful rock formation near the campground. In the evenings we saw amazing sunsets.
While at Lost Dutchman we were also able to visit a few times with Mark’s aunt and uncle who winter in nearby Mesa, AZ. They also arranged a get-together with a cousin of Mark’s whom he hadn’t seen in ages. Good conversation and several delicious meals were both very much appreciated. So nice to have a touch of home after all this time on the road!
With temperatures at Lost Dutchman heading toward 100 degrees, we started north to escape the heat. Dead Horse State Park was slightly cooler with temps in the low to mid 90’s. We handled the heat pretty well by staying in the shade and avoiding midday sun. We’d often walk before noon, then bike in late afternoon. We only resorted to A/C twice! After Dead Horse it was on towards Flagstaff which is much cooler, due to its elevation.
On the way to Flagstaff we stopped in beautiful Sedona for lunch, took a stroll through the Tlaquepaque arts enclave (mostly closed for Covid, but very pleasant fountains, flowers and sculptures) and then drove up a steep and windy path to an overlook with views of the area.
At the Flagstaff KOA, we were lucky to find that extensive hiking trails were reachable from our site. We selected a trail known as “fat man’s loop”, assuming that the name implied “not to strenuous”. The fat man must have been in pretty good shape! We were tired when we finally finished the loop after 3 hours of hiking a sometimes steep and rocky trail along the mountainside.
Flagstaff was our last overnight in Arizona, but we weren’t done with the state just yet. Our last stop was a famous picture spot known as Horseshoe Bend, and then it was on to Utah. Sorry, those pictures and videos will have to wait ’til next time!
Mark & Lori
P.S. Yay, no more ads! We upgraded the blog to a paid plan. We didn’t realize for quite a while that other people were seeing ads in this blog. Yuck! We use the AdBlockPlus browser extension, so don’t see many ads. It’s quite startling to see how much garbage shows up when that’s turned off!
Our previous post featured the last of our pre-COVID-19 adventures. This post addresses RV life in the new reality. We’ve had several inquiries asking how it’s going for us. Do we feel safe? Is the trip over? Are we coming home? etc. We don’t want to dwell on the virus, but wanted to share how it applies to life on the road, answer some of your concerns.
From mid-March through early April, we were mainly hunkered down in two nice Texas State Parks. We had reservations at two other Texas parks (McKinney Falls and Pedernales Falls) but our reservations were cancelled the day before heading to McKinney. Yikes. It turned out that they happened to be in the small handful of parks closing at that time, but it certainly seemed ominous. We assumed the rest would close quickly, but it turned out to be 17 more days before the whole state park system shut down.
In the end, it worked in our favor. While scrambling to secure new campsites, we found two amazing Texas parks that weren’t even on our list. Inks Lake and San Angelo State Parks were both awesome! Lemonade from lemons!
Pandemic awareness was becoming more evident, with various policy changes starting in the parks. Some parks were limiting or prohibiting day-use visitors. Many stopped renting kayaks/canoes. Most camp stores were closed and camp programs cancelled. Playgrounds and swimming areas were roped off. Some parks even closed their campground restrooms, not wanting people to use any communal spaces. But not much changed for us. We are self-contained and do not rely on park restrooms or camp stores – though we do miss the kayaking.
We’re quite ‘sheltered’ from other people. Living in state parks allows an unusual amount of freedom, due to our naturally isolated surroundings. The campsites tend to be 30′-50′ apart. We can hike, bike, and enjoy nature with very little restriction, and almost zero contact with others. We are not out in large groups; it’s just the two of us. That’s #rvlife! What we do miss are the opportunities to visit local attractions in the nearby towns – such as museums, art galleries, breweries, historical sites, and of course, the National Parks. But, with all this time in the state park campgrounds, we’re appreciating the pleasures of slowing down and enjoying nature on a smaller and more intimate scale. We have taken an interest in bird watching, and we’re enjoying the challenges of photographing the more unusual ones. We also like identifying local plant life and the many beautiful wildflowers we see on the trails. A few apps we find useful for our new interests are: iNaturalist, Seek, Merlin Bird ID and Song Sleuth.
Our two basic needs that require us to venture out into public spaces are groceries and laundry. We limit these chores to once every 2 or 3 weeks now. The main grocery store chain in Texas, H.E.B., was very quick to adopt precautions that protect their employees and their customers. By early March, they had already installed acrylic shields between the cashier and customers, set up one-way aisles, and started limiting the number of customers coming into the store. They greet you with hand sanitizer, though we always bring our own, and our Lysol wipes, and we wear our masks. We’re in the distinct minority (maybe 10%) of shoppers wearing masks, though people do seem to keep to a 6′ distance when possible.
Same wipe-down procedures for the laundromat, though so far no more than a few people have been in there with us. When at the fuel pump, Mark wears disposable gloves or wipes down the pump handle and keypad. It’s still hard to never make a mistake.
Currently, the only state we know of with open state parks is Arizona. Many states are still allowing private campgrounds to remain open – though some have restrictions (capacity limits, minimum stay, full-timers only, residents only, etc.) We REALLY prefer state parks. They generally have more opportunities for hiking and biking, they’re often centered around a lake, and just provide a more pleasant environment overall. Most private parks are far less interesting.
So Arizona, here we come! We are spending a few days at Roper Lake State Park and then moving on to Lost Dutchman State Park, which looks beautiful. We will likely stick around Arizona for several weeks, especially if we can keep getting into state parks.
As many of you know, this trip has been a dream of Mark’s for over a decade. There is certainly some disappointment in not being able to visit America’s iconic national parks because of the closures. We even discussed ending the journey early. Our current thinking is that as long as we can continue to secure campsites, get groceries, and feel safe and stay healthy – Wandah rolls on. We’ll remain flexible, adjusting our plans according to the changing situation. Perhaps some of the places on our list will re-open before we’ve passed them all by.
Most importantly, we are currently healthy and living in a fairly low-risk environment. We recognize our good fortune to even be on this journey. We are grateful for the choices we have, especially when so many others are going through hard times.
We wish you all a safe and healthy spring, and we’ll end this post with three short videos, one from Inks Lake, one from San Angelo, and a bonus video of our visit to Enchanted Rock.
Inks Lake State Park
Excellent hiking on both sides of the river, with excellent views. Some days we stayed on the trail, other days we worked along the rocky hills and cliffs along the river. Lots of fun. Pretty falls, interesting plants (flowers, cactus). The paved roads in the park also gave us many pleasant hours of exploration, and a quick way to the trailhead.
San Angelo State Park
An unexpected pleasure. It didn’t look like much on paper and frankly looked somewhat desolate at first but we had a great time here, especially because we *finally* got to see a Texas Longhorn up close. We’d been on the lookout for them, literally for weeks, and this close encounter was miles beyond what we’d ever expected. Great sunsets, miles and miles of biking, the bird sanctuary, bison, and a long stay that let us really relax for a bit.
Literally the morning we left Inks Lake, we got a tip from Mark’s mom, that if we were going to be anywhere near Enchanted Rock, it would be a nice place to hike. And it so happened that it was right on our path. We got a free entrance courtesy of our Texas State Parks pass (you can’t just show up without a timed entrance reservation) and we had a great visit. It was hot, and a pretty steep climb, but so worth it!
Mardi Gras seems like a lifetime ago. Large crowds and carefree public revelry have taken on an ominous cast in hindsight. We were so innocent then.
After our two Mardi Gras parade viewings we continued west to College Station, where our son Tyler lives and works and studies at Texas A&M. One of our “anchor dates” on our otherwise loose schedule was Tyler’s birthday. We got into town in time for a dinner celebration with him and a few of his friends in the quaint historic downtown of neighboring Bryan, TX.
We hung out around College Station for a few more days, taking long walks, riding the bike paths in the local parks, visiting the local natural history museum, and relaxing. This time of year there are bluebonnets everywhere! They must seed them on the roadsides. In some places we’d drive mile after mile, bluebonnets on both sides in thick blankets.
The 3 of us then drove southwest to the north Austin suburb of Pflugerville, to meet up with extended family for their daughter’s soccer game. It brought back memories of our own children’s early soccer games, complete with struggles to keep the ball in bounds, swarming, shouted encouragements, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
McKinney Falls State Park
We all then headed to McKinney Falls State Park, just south of Austin, for play (walking and climbing on the rocks, skipping stones, and general enjoyment of the falls) and a picnic of burgers and dogs, beer and soda, birthday cake and ice cream, chips and salsa – all in copious amounts.
Happily, Tyler was able to stay and camp with us though the weekend before returning to work/school.
If you ever camp in Texas, consider getting a Texas State Parks Pass. They suggested it at McKinney when we checked in, and were even happy to apply it to our prepaid reservation, exactly offsetting the $70 annual cost of the pass. Since then it has saved us a ton. We typically pay no more than $20/night vs $40-$50 a night minimum at most private campgrounds (or, yoiks, as much as $100/night at the fancy RV parks)
Mark had long wanted to complete our semi-circle route, from one US southernmost point on the Gulf of Mexico (Key West, FL) to the other (South Padre Island, TX). So we headed for the coast, starting with Corpus Christi, and Mustang Island. The State Park at Mustang Island (now closed for COVID) wasn’t great, being more-or-less a parking lot with RV hookups. But we enjoyed long walks on the sandy beach anyway, and more long walks in the nearby Port Aransas bird sanctuary and nature preserve.
A highlight for us in the Corpus Christi area was their excellent aquarium. Check out Lori’s first foray into iMovie editing!
No doubt Corpus Christi has a lot more to offer, but we’d allocated only a 2 day stopover on the way to South Padre.
South Padre Island
South Padre Island has somewhat of a “spring break party town” reputation. We saw occasional glimpses of that, mostly in the form of cars full of kids riding down the main strip making some noise and merriment, but it was really pretty low-key overall.
We stayed at Isla Blanca Park (also now closed for COVID) where the first evening brought us a spectacular sunset. Then next day was spent primarily at South Padre’s Turtle Rescue Center, and then at a wildlife sanctuary. Both were very much worthwhile.
Despite the availability of a shuttle that runs from mid-island all the way to Isla Blanca park at the far south end, we decided we needed more exercise than the several miles of walking at the wildlife sanctuary. So we began the 4 mile trek, knowing we could jump on the shuttle at any time. It passed us at 20 minute intervals, but were too stubborn to sit and wait at a stop. By accident we stumbled on to the sand sculptures you saw above, so that was nice. We also treated ourselves to our Dairy Queen favorites: A Buster Bar for Mark, and a dip cone for Lori. That made the final mile much more tolerable. :)
A final note
This will be our last pre-COVID blog post. We’ll talk subsequently about how changing events have altered our journey (the path, the timing, and day to day living) perhaps in a special post, but we hope not to dwell on that theme too much going forward. For those of you getting a little vicarious pleasure from our story, we hope we can keep offering that, by continuing to focus on the original themes of the trip – natural beauty, discovery, serendipity, adventure.
Heading west, via the Florida panhandle and the gulf coast states, to Texas.
After Wakulla Springs we headed west, hugging the coastline as much as practical. This was nice from a scenic perspective, but meant that we didn’t see much of “ordinary” life in the deep south. Still, we got a feeling for the variety of coastal towns, rich and poor, urban and rural, gaudy casino towns and quaint villages. We saw huge stretches of shoreline that were wild and untouched, and a few awful industrial zones where the air was full of foul smelling chemical haze.
One of our first stops was at Indian Pass Campground. It was nearly full, but this meant “having” to take an overflow site – which turned out to be steps from the long sandy shoreline. As soon as we settled in we headed for the beach, and walked at least a mile down it and back, enjoying the birds and waves and seashells and sand.
Next was the fun little town of Apalachicola. We browsed the shops, sampled the offerings at a microbrewery and had lunch at a rooftop cafe. The birds in town were not shy. They stole food from tables, fought over a chicken wing and generally ruled the town. Hitchcock fans might have a flashback here.
Topsail Hill State Park was excellent for biking. We rode trails both within the park (to the ocean and to a lake in the park) and outside it, where bikeable sidewalks stretched for miles. We even rode bikes to our Valentine’s Day dinner at Stinky’s Fish Camp – a nice restaurant with water views, despite the silly name.
Just a few miles from Topsail is the unusual town of Seaside, a planned community so impossibly perfect in its old-timey Americana vibe (neat cottages on quiet tree lined streets, white picket fences) that it was used as the artificial community in “The Truman Show”. It really is quite pleasant, with large public spaces for town events, musical performances, movies, public art, a permanent food truck row, ocean-side restaurants and ocean access points. But even if you don’t mind the artificiality of it all, you might blanch at the prices: those quaint little cottages tend to cost over $1M. Oh well!
Also nearby (in the opposite direction) is the resort town of Destin. We met up again with friends Jeff and Monica to enjoy an afternoon along the harbor boardwalk. Later, we all returned to Topsail and biked the trails which led to the beautiful, pure white, sandy beach. We ended the evening with a cookout of grilled chicken, veggie skewers, and salad, and finished with ice cream and berries for dessert. Entertaining in the RV is a little challenging – we have exactly 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 forks, 4 knives, etc. – but we make it work! And, it’s always fun to catch up with old friends.
Alabama and Mississippi
We’d already spent a decent amount of time in Alabama (Birmingham and Montgomery) last fall, and the ‘bama coastline is pretty short, so it was just a blip on this part of the trip.
The next neat place we found was Ocean Springs, particularly a funky art museum dedicated to the lifetime work of native son Walter Anderson. It has a pretty tree-lined town center, with interesting galleries, shops and restaurants. We could have spent more time here, actually. It’s where we first noticed the Mardi Gras decorations appearing. That gave us the idea of catching some small town celebrations along our way.
We continued to hug the cost, through Biloxi (so many casinos!), Gulfport, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and finally crossing in to Louisiana.
Fontainbleu State Park was another bike friendly spot. A rail trail runs through the park to downtown Mandeville, where we found Das Schulerhaus, a german gift shop, along with a brew pub, and a variety of other shops and restaurants. We rode down to the waterfront park and just cruised the coastline for quite a while, enjoying the view and the weather.
Having just spent a week in New Orleans last year, we decided to bypass the Mardi Gras craziness there for a more local Mardi Gras in Eunice, hearing that it features a traditional chicken run and dog parade. We missed the chicken run, but walked among the street food vendors, selecting beignets to eat while the dogs paraded past. Very folksy.
For our last stop in Louisiana, we stumbled onto little Intercoastal Park, . Only $10 a night, full hookups. It’s a bit out of the way, but we enjoyed watching the boat and barge activity on the canal. The barge that blasted its horn at 1:30 AM wasn’t so great though. Maybe that accounts for the low price.
Our story this time ends in Beaumont TX, where we watched another Mardi Gras parade. We arrived just as the parade was about to start. Beaumont has a substantial downtown with at least a half-dozen interesting museums, (some of them “offbeat” like the Babe Zaharius museum). Also just outside of town is the “Boomtown” museum, a recreation of a turn-of-the-century oil gusher boom town, where we spent a few pleasant hours.