In Conclusion…

And just like that…the trip is over.
6,631 miles driven, 67 hours in the car, and 604 gallons of gas.
The kids earned 20 Junior Ranger badges and gained a fine collection of pressed pennies.
We covered 16 states in 32 days on the road.
We still like each other.

We learned new things about astrology, paleontology, archaeology, geography, science and a lot of history!  We saw so much of God’s beauty in nature from waterfalls to deserts and mountains to caverns.  Traveling in July, the heat was a lot at times but boy, the blooms that were in season were intoxicating!

We took a tram up a mountain and had a snowball fight in a glacier, went swimming in a waterfall, toured a nuclear reactor, explored volcanic fields, caves and pueblos, and even went whitewater rafting.  It’s difficult to summarize the trip, as I’m still reeling from all our adventures.

The wonder, adventure and incredible stories too quickly take their place in our memories as daily life resumes.  As much as I relish in the telling, the trip was a whirlwind and it’s difficult to put any part of our adventure into a succinct story.  There were so many levels and aspects of the trip that I don’t know if I’ll ever truly relay them all.

I can say with certainty that it was a trip of a lifetime…nothing will ever touch the memories made.  The kids were a wonderful age and the stars aligned, and a blood moon, and so many other factors.  We were blessed to avoid any major troubles, and safely explore the beauty, the history, and the untouched glory of God’s creation in ways I’d never dreamed of.

I hope to have many more adventures in our (yet unnamed) camper and that we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit many more places in the years to come!


Eastward Bound

We all slept hard, and it was time to pack up the camper and start covering ground towards home.  We stayed at Arkansas River Rim Campground, and we had to take a moment to walk down to the river to take in the beauty of the area one last time before we spent the day in the car.

We departed beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado and began our trek back east.  It is bittersweet to pass by many places that we might have stopped at if we had more time, but alas our time is spent.  The scenery went from beautiful mountain peaks and streams to flat and sometimes stinky Kansas and Nebraska, cutting up from I-70 to I-80.  I knit a bonnet, and took a snooze as Andy powered through hours of driving while we listened to Lord of the Rings on audio book.

When the kids finally stopped fighting and fell asleep, Andy and I got to share some thoughts on the trip.  It’s still a bit surreal.  We’ve spent a month on the road in a camper that had hardly left the driveway with no real plans or reservations, only a desire to make memories as a family.  We still haven’t given the trailer a name!

I’d like to return to Utah and hike more of the Red Rocks, visit Staircase Escalante, spend more time in Moab at Arches, Zion as well as a few other surrounding parks that we didn’t make it to.  Andy feels like there is much more to Yellowstone we didn’t experience, including driving Beartooth highway and many hiking trails.  I’d love to do an overnight hike at Grand Canyon.  We talked about a trip down Route 66, a trip to Glacier, and other future camping adventures that I look forward to planning.  What a blessing this house on wheels is to us!

I’m so proud of the kids.  They have been brave when even I was uncomfortable on some of our hikes, they walked hundreds of miles with us (most times in unrelenting heat and sun), and they completed numerous Junior Ranger programs which helped them practice writing, researching and learned about our national treasures.  All this with little to no screen time, save a few movies we watched as a family in the camper.

We are all looking forward to cuddling our kitties and seeing familiar faces.  It’s been a long day of driving and we are all anxious to be home!

River Runners

It was really nice to have a slow pace for the morning.  Today, we are going rafting on the Arkansas River with the kids’ Physical Education teacher, Mr. Dinkle who is a guide at River Runners at Browns Canyon in Buena Vista, CO.  We had a chance meeting when we were out shopping for our trip and when we mentioned our trip he invited us to come see him, so we worked it into our plans to have an adventure with him!

After all the heat and sun we’ve had while hiking and adventuring lately, the one day we plan to be on the water is predicted to be much cooler with scattered thunderstorms!  Just as we were preparing to leave for our river adventure, it started to pour.  And…we must have left the sunroof open.  Thankfully, we noticed right away and no harm was done.

I had called Momba to let her know that we put her down as our emergency contact and to keep her phone charged up today!  We chatted for a while, caught up and will look forward to seeing her & Dadoo soon upon our return.  The weather looked ominous, but we headed over to River Runners and hoped for the best – and it was!

We got ourselves geared up in wetsuits, jackets and helmets.  The kids squealed when they caught sight of Mr. Dinkle and went running for hugs.  It was certainly nice to see a familiar face!  We loaded up on the bus and that in itself was exciting because our kids don’t ride a school bus.  We got our safety talk and climbed into our raft with much chatter and storytelling.

We started off in the rain.  The water in the river was low due to little snowfall over winter, so the run was more low key than it normally would be.  We had fun ramming another raft, surfing on a rock, and the sun decided to come out.  Andy and Ethan jumped in a couple times, and at one point Ethan pushed Andy in from a rock instead of jumping in with him!

The river run was over all too soon, and the kids were begging for more.  Ethan declared that he will someday be a river guide so he can raft every day like Mr. Dinkle.  We all piled back in the bus and we asked Stan to join us for dinner back at camp.  It was the last night of our big adventure and we prepared a rare camping feast of steak, ribs, stuffed jalepenos, salad and a Mexican rice type thing in the Instapot …which I forgot about as it was depressurizing.

After dinner we made “s’more cones” and sat around our little rocket stove as our campfire.  It was one of the few times on the trip that we actually sat around in our camp chairs and it was such a treat to have company and conversation.  I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of the trip for the kids.  They were so tickled to see their teacher and Ethan even got a hat to match his.  I’m so thankful to have shared the day together, and know it is something they will not soon forget!

Off to Colorado

We set out early this morning to make it out to Wetherill Mesa for our tour of the Longhouse.  The drive made me a bit squeamish at certain points, but it was Andy’s day to drive!  Our guide was David Nighteagle, and he was amazing!  He fully engaged with the kids (he said they are his future), and I was both surprised and proud when they eagerly volunteered answers when he asked questions of the group.

Nature didn’t disappoint today.  We saw wild horses along the path to the Longhouse.  At the end of our tour, David produced a handmade (by his own hands) wood flute and proceeded to play for the group.  As he was playing, a hummingbird zoomed in and hovered in front of him and it was such a thing to witness!

After the Longhouse tour, we showered up, packed up and hit the road.  We continued our hunt for Navajo Tacos today, but weren’t really successful.  We found some at a Mexican Restaurant on our drive to Buena Vista, CO but I’m not sure that they were quite what we had in mind.  That, and we both would have liked to try mutton stew even though the lady said it was yucky.

The point system failed today…with the long drive, nothing was stopping the kids from bickering.  Added to that was the intermittent cellular signal to check on reservations for a campground the next couple nights.  It was getting dark when we got to Buena Vista, and we struck out at several campgrounds before we found one that had space for us and someone was actually there to speak with and he even guided us into our spot by flashlight!

We happily set up at Arkansas River Rim Campground and settled in for the night, excited for a relaxing morning and a day on the river tomorrow.

Mesa Verde

We left our Walmart campsite and set out for Mesa Verde, Colorado today.  From what we gathered, the campground rarely fills so we were counting on that!  We stopped into the Visitor Center to get maps and info and grabbed Junior Ranger packets.  We made reservations for Balcony House tour today and the Longhouse tomorrow.  In chatting with the rangers, he mentioned the smoky weather conditions and confirmed that the smoke was indeed from the California Wildfires.  L

We headed into the park, and checked in at Morefield Campground.  After setting up, we headed out to Chapin Mesa for the Balcony House tour.  We stopped at a few lookouts, and were pumped up to check it out!  The tour did not disappoint, and we climbed a 32 foot ladder to get up to the pueblo area and crawled out through a 12 foot long tunnel and steep ladders on the way out.  It was hard to imagine that the people who built the dwelling climbed up and down using handholds only, and Lily was told that at her age she would be doing so with a crock of water on her head!

We drove the Top Loop Road and stopped off at nearly all the sites, including Square Tower House, the pit houses, saw Cliff Palace from the lookouts and Sun Temple as sunset was beginning. We checked out museum and the kids played games in the Junior Ranger area.  The artifacts were such a testament to using the resources you are given!  There were fantastic displays of pottery, woven items, tools, and foodstuffs that tell the history of the people who lived there.

As we were leaving the Chapin Mesa, we noted that the café by the museum served Navajo Tacos but was closing in 10 minutes.  Andy said he needed to find some, and the brochure said that they serve them at Farview Lodge, but that was incorrect and now we will be hunting Navajo Tacos until we satisfy that curiosity!

We took in the Ranger Talk at the amphitheater at the campground, and it was a great one!  The ranger spoke on the history of national parks, and it was informative and entertaining.  The stars were coming out, but the moon was nowhere in sight, so I sat my butt in a culvert and propped my camera up on my bag to try and capture some of the night sky.  Next trip, I will remember to bring a tripod.  I really enjoyed today and am looking forward to the Longhouse Tour tomorrow!

Sunset Crater and Wupatki

This morning, we said goodbye to Canyon Motel & RV Park and almost had a little (big) hitchhiker join us for the ride!  Andy indulged me and the kids and we went into Williams one last time so we could get a milkshake at Twisters Soda Fountain.  Ethan got a blue monster, Lily got pecan pralines ‘n cream and mine was cherry amaretto.

We drove to Flagstaff to check out Sunset Crater.  It was easily doable with the camper in tow, and there was a really great ranger that chatted up and quizzed the kids as they earned their badges.  We walked around at the base, and decided to head over to Wupatki National Monument, too.

The visitor center there had a sign about how dehydration causes crankiness, so I’m gonna say that’s what happened to us yesterday!  We walked around the ruins there and learned about Pueblo life.  Again, we spent a good part of the day earning Junior Ranger badges (two today!) and it was time to roll out to our next stop.

We drove late into the night, and saw a gorgeous sunset.  For a while I stared up into the clear sky at the stars through the sunroof.  I took a turn at the wheel for the last leg and gazed at the blood moon as we crossed the Hopi reservation land.  I know the trip is drawing to a close, and I’m relishing these moments and giving thanks for the many blessings we’ve been provided.

Grand Canyon

Today was the day we saw the Grand Canyon.  We wanted to get up & out early, but we were dragging and crabbiness was abound.  We did not plan this day well, and were winging it as to how we’d spend the day and started at the Visitor Center.  The trips to the welcome centers have become a bit much, with the amount of encouragement necessary to complete the required activities to earn Junior Ranger badges.  There wasn’t much enthusiasm about it today!

The Grand Canyon mostly uses bus transportation, so while we were figuring that out we went out to the nearest overlook.  We saw smoke from a fire across the canyon, and wondered if that was causing so much smoke in the park or because of the Yosemite fires in California.  We walked the trail a bit, and before we went into the park any further ended up back at the car for lunch.  I made the call to take the bus all the way out to the furthest stop, Hermit’s Rest and make our way back from there.

We got off the bus and did a little hiking, but the heat was miserable.  We walked around the Village area a bit and had another spider encounter at the Kolb Studio.  Eek!  There were many old cameras on display there and it was hard to imagine the conditions they worked in when the park was being discovered and documented!  The Hopi house was another cool stop to learn about the architecture and visit the shop.  We hopped back on the bus, grabbed lunch at the Lodge and headed to Yaki Point to catch the sunset.

We found our own little area on a rock cliff and watched the colors change until the clouds rolled in and it was time to call it a day.  On our way out of the park, there were signs warning of smoke ahead so I’m still curious about that.  We were all sleepy on the drive back, and the kids were quickly dreaming away!

Route 66

The intention was to sleep in today, and we were all up by 8:30 and getting ready for the day’s adventures.  We sadly discovered chip that cracked the front window on our camper, and hope that it doesn’t shatter on our trek home!   Hopefully, it is the worst thing that happens…

It’s cool to share that we rode our bikes on Route 66!  We visited a street market and many of the little shops, then had milkshakes & a meal at Goldie’s cute little diner.  Ethan’s onion rings were as big as his face!  After some more peddling, we cooled off in the pool and it was so refreshing!

We cleaned up and headed back into town for the gunfight!  Andy and the kids rode their bikes, and I followed in the Suburban in case the weather decided to turn on us.  Ethan was quite the little heckler and the actors gave the kids the gun shells as keepsakes.  Driving back, it was neat to see all the neon lights along the way back so I had to stop to grab a few pictures to remember this cute little town!

Travel and Rest

We awoke today in Cameron, and soon decided that we would pull out of our tight gravel site and head to Williams to find a campground there.  There was no cell signal on the reservation so I couldn’t call ahead until we got on the road.  We did check out the Cameron Trading Post which was a huge shop with Navajo jewelry, handwoven rugs, pottery, and of course a ton of t-shirts, candy and other sundries.  Hanging from the ceiling was a gorgeous rainbow of yarn, so I had to indulge.

After getting no response from one campground, we were happy to find ourselves at Canyon Motel & RV Park in Williams, Arizona.  It was another gem and the kids were thrilled to spend some time in the pool.  They rode around on their bikes and made friends with a fellow camper with a pet cat.  We cleaned out the Suburban and freshened up the camper.  We drove into town to grab groceries, and it started to rain so it was a good night to veg out and watch a movie.  I think we all needed a day of rest and a little Hoodoo!

Bryce Canyon

I really wanted to get up at the crack of dawn and get to Bryce Canyon for sunrise, and I was just too pooped to be mad at myself that I didn’t get out of bed.  I’m placing self care over getting the shot…and I can buy a postcard with the perfect shot if I really want to!  We did get up at a decent hour, and our campground host was gracious enough to grant us a late checkout so we could go explore the park without worry of time constraints.

You drive through Dixie National Forest on your way into Bryce Canyon, but we didn’t stop to hit them up for a Junior Ranger badge due to time constraints.  We weren’t planning to do much hiking at Bryce Canyon.  I thought we’d hit the visitor center, do the scenic drive and was excited to check out the hoodoos!

I didn’t know that they’d be having a Geology Festival, which was a happy circumstance!  They had a blast learning about tectonic plates with cookies, making their own button, archeology plastering with play-doh, Lily had her face painted, and they excavated fossils and got replicas to keep!  Even Andy and I got in on the fun, getting tattoos and learning about the different parks in Utah.

They also went “caving”, complete with a helmet with a lamp and earned their Junior Ranger badge from Grand Canyon Parashant Monument.  We aren’t able to visit there (it’s more rustic than we can manage with the camper), so it was super to learn about it!  And, they had a really funny Sasquatch message about National Parks…”Leave No Trace: Bigfoot’s Been Doing It For Years!”

All day, I had the Labyrinth in my head…David Bowie singing, “The power of voodoo – Who do? You do! Remind me of the babe”!  Mountain driving (cliffs and major elevation changes) is not my favorite, especially in a storm but it was more of a show than a downpour so we made it through most of the park.  The rock formations were truly magnificent, and I’m glad we took the time to see them.

We did, however spend more time than planned.  After stopping off at one of the shops on our way out in hunt for pressed pennies, it was nearly dinner time!  We got back to camp, heated up leftovers and packed up.  We didn’t have much of a plan for campgrounds, as we thought we’d do the North Rim (and the campgrounds are booked) so we are winging it as to where we will stay tonight!

Andy wasn’t feeling well, so I was doing the driving today.  We headed out toward the Grand Canyon to see how much ground we could cover, knowing it was already evening and about a 5 hour drive.  Our path took us past the Vermillion Cliffs.  It was truly breathtaking…such an open expanse, and nearing the end of the day, the sun made the color in the cliffs so intense!  After getting through the white knuckle mountain area, it flattened out to a straight road along the plain that seemed to go on forever.  The cliffs were off to the side, and the sun was peeking out behind the camper behind me.  The scene is frozen in my mind, and at that moment I didn’t have much of another thought in my mind!

Soon, however…it started getting dark.  We were heading to Horseshoe Bend and sunset was happening whether we made it there or not.  We arrived in time to hike down at dusk.  I was a bit bummed to miss the photo op, but glad we were able to see it.  It was also a full moon, but it had risen into the sky before we could climb the hill back to see it crest the horizon!  Andy was still a bit peaked, and we had to continue on to find a place to park for the night.

We drove toward Cameron, Arizona and figured that might be a good base camp for a few days.  I’m not a fan of driving through the mountains pulling a camper at night, but we survived.  The road leveled out a bit and seemed to go on forever with no signs of civilization.  We had no signal to look ahead for campsites.  We stopped off at a gas station along the way to top off, and it was a bit sketchy.  The stop rattled both Andy and I and had me praying to get us to our destination safely!

We finally pulled into Cameron Trading Post and checked in with the night security.  The RV grounds was a gravel area with concrete islands for hookup, and it took us a bit of finagling to get leveled and hooked up where we could put the slide out and park the Suburban next to us.  There were no amenities, we had no cell signal or WiFi, so we agreed that we’d sleep in, rest up and find another place in Flagstaff in the morning.  I was grateful to be done driving and have a place to call it a night!