November 2008: Reflections on the Latest Trip (6400 Miles)

Time for brain droppings....

We returned the rig today. They found one tiny scratch (needs paint) and another dark spot on the awning arm (fixed by polishing). Ah, the difference between renting a new vehicle that they hope to sell one day and a 10-year-old workhorse (our Rialta last summer) that is intended only for renting. They're persnickety! We think one of the (many) trees we clipped in World Golf Village, in Morgan City, and our own home street may have been the culprit. Frankly, it's amazing there aren't more scratches. We had a time with the height. But it was fun.

Other random thoughts:

Remember that 5th grade math story problem that involved a bridge clearance and a truck that didn't fit underneath? (The solution was for the truck to let air out of its tires.) Well, we saw this problem for real in the real world. Almost literally ran into the stuck truck, whose cherry-picker crane-like rig had smashed into the overpass. Whoops. That would've added insult to injury.

Louisiana roads are now on our "worst roads" list. We realized we've driven through 21 states this year, and Louisiana takes the cake. Where else can the rough road actually make screws fall out of the A/C and cabinets?

Southern New Mexico just blew us away--we had no idea of the beauty around Alamagordo and environs. Must go back that way.

Our next trip won't involve a rental return date. There were a number of times on this trip that we said, "If we had time, we'd do X, Y, or Z." I'm thinking of the time in Eunice, LA, when every single person asked if we were in town for "the concert." Turns out there was a big Cajun music concert at this cool-looking Liberty Theater. Given that there were a number of things in that area that we couldn't do on Sat. or Sun., we could've stayed over Sat. night for the concert, hung out on Sunday, and then got our boudin and cafe sampling done on Monday!

Turn around when you pass something interesting, no matter how hard it seems in a big vehicle. We were so sorry to not get some Louisiana satsumas (we kept seeing the fruit-laden trees, but only a few road-side stands that we blew by) nor any New Mexico chile braids or pinon nuts. Gotta work on the fast stop or the quick turnaround for roadside stands.

People sure are nice. From the many folks on the View/Navion Yahoo! Group who gave us route advice, hot water heater fixes, boondocking strategy, and RV purchasing tips to the nice folks in Needles, CA, who invited us into their Thanksgiving feast. Wish we could've stayed around for Friday's turkey soup. Everyone was asked to bring a favorite vegetable (with broccoli mysteriously banned. Someone was "allergic." Right.) and then the leftover turkey was to be simmered in stock and served up Friday. Bet it was good. At any rate, if you start doubting humanity, hit the road. Nice folks everywhere. Can't forget the Florida Ford dealership who squeezed us in and gave us an oil change and safety check before we headed back, or the nice couple who gave us a tour of their Navion iQ and invited us to stay for cake. On and on....

And finally, we have to say how much we enjoyed seeing so many members of our families. Normally, we think of them as so far away. Living in California--with everyone else in the family in Central or Eastern time zones--makes us feel just millions of miles away. On this trip, we either pulled into their driveways (the Cason parents and the Ishams) or met up (with the Crawley parents) at a lovely location. It was as if no time had passed. We thank the Crawley clan for making time for us as we traveled back from Florida.

Think that's it for this trip's random thoughts.

Friday, 11/28: Home!

Needles to Carmel Valley: 500 miles, 8.5 hours per my iPhone Maps and also in fact. We powered through today, with 2 quick gas/potty stops, and lunch served in the cab (a first). Reached home at 3:45 PM and unloaded everything except the clothes. Boy, howdy, do we have some dog hair to clean out. Next time...we take (and use) a vacuum. (We had tried to manage on this trip with a broom and shaking out rugs. Not enough horsepower in that for a shedding German shepherd.)

Home a day earlier than planned, but since all the CA state parks were full, we decided it was better to be in our own beds than in some generic, highway RV park tonight.

Can't wait till we can leave our traveling and camping tools IN the RV that we own. Planning to do some shopping on Monday when we return this rig.

Good night! I'll do one more summary blog....

Thurs., 11/27: Happy Thanksgiving from Needles (on Route 66)

What a great evening we've just had, after a rather tedious driving day through AZ and desert CA. Some storms (heavy lightning early this morning), some rain, some clouds, some rainbows, but arriving at our campground today was just too much fun. These people know how to throw a party. BYOB and BYOplate, but what an enormous Thanksgiving spread. Turkey, Yukon gold mashed potatoes made from Washington state potatoes hauled down by Washington state campers, homemade whole wheat yeast rolls made by a Canadian lady who hauled down her own wheat (!), and on and on. We had a blast. Everyone knows that we're the overnighters with the German shepherd ;-) AND that we're the gals who made their reservation "online". (Apparently that's rare here.)

We have decided to make the final push to home tomorrow. About 500 miles, 8.5 hours (probably more like 10 given our stops). We tried to find an oceanside campground on the way home, but all the state parks seemed to be booked for the holiday weekend. And, we're ready for a dog-hair free bed. (Note to self for next trip: bring a vacuum cleaner.)

Here's the sunset:

We need to own one of these places....

Wed., 11/26: RV "Resorting"

There's a new game in town when it comes to RV-ing. We had no idea. It's the RV uber-resort. The kind of place that has a concierge. Where the pea gravel (not just any old tacky rock gravel) is raked meticulously at each site. Where there's an outdoor fireplace and lounge area. Where the laundry room is also the library and a place you'd actually want to hang out (with a fitness room next door). Where the shower rooms are personal dressing rooms and are so clean you wonder if you're the first person to use them. Where you get a free USA Today and free breakfast. (You can't imagine how good toast tastes when you haven't been able to make toast for 3 weeks.) Our place last night in Las Cruces is a "destination resort" and a snowbird destination--folks are there for months. But we, as overnighters, were welcomed warmly and given card keys (card keys!) to access the various amenities 24/7.

Actually, this isn't really our cup of tea, but it was fun to try. Tonight, we're in a 55+ community (!) with 700+ sites (40 of which are reserved for us overnighters, who don't have to be 55+. Actually, no one asked me my age. Now, I'm wondering if I need to buy more expensive face cream and get my hair colored more regularly....)

It really is neat to learn about all of these alternative communities. The lady who checked us in said that she's a "Camp Host." We've seen these folks at state parks (they get free parking in exchange for helping check in folks), but never at a commercial park. Turns out that she and her husband started full-time RVing right when Katrina hit and drove up the price of diesel, making their dream unaffordable. So, they started hosting. The gig works like this: Work 1 week (mostly checking in late folks like us) and then 2 weeks off. Park gives you free hookups (water, electric, sewer, DSL) and free propane--everything you need to live. What a deal. Something to file away for future years. (I keep telling Lisa that if she meets an untimely end, I'll be a camp host in one hot minute--my favorite thing is hosting ;-)

At any rate, we're in Casa Grande, AZ tonight. We figured out last night that we should rejoin I-40 up in Needles, CA and head home, avoiding LA traffic AND the mudslides and bad weather down there. All we knew that we wanted to do today was to bag another National Park, which we did. Saguaro NP. These plants are amazing--so huge, so old, each one distinct from the next. Here's our favorite "girl" Saguaro:

The desert is beautiful. We toured the eastern part of the park, and it felt like driving through a botanical garden. I wish I had had a macro lens (yes, Jim, I will get one eventually) for the beautiful colors:

And here is a photo that I've sent our rental folks (who asked for photos of where we've been):

So, the BEST part of the day came tonight when we got settled and on email. We had no idea what we'd be doing tomorrow on Thanksgiving--thought we might eat turkey sandwiches in some state park, or maybe a pathetic turkey meal at a Denny's or Cracker Barrel. Here's the wonderful email we received tonight. Another reason we love RVing--the people are just great:

Hi Julie,
Thank you for choosing our resort for your overnight stay. Since you are arriving on Thanksgiving Day, I would like to invite you to our Thanksgiving Dinner that we will be having. We have social hour at 4:00 pm and Dinner is at 5:00pm. If you do not want to join us that is fine but I wanted to invite you anyway. Have a safe trip out here. Mary Bek, owner

Isn't life great?

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. We are grateful to be out in this amazing world of ours, meeting amazing people, and appreciating all the people (that's you) and things that life has to offer.

Julie & Lisa

Tues., 11/25: Dude on the Dunes

Feels great to have wifi and connectivity after being in the Roswell vortex yesterday where Internet connections faded in and out (probably depending on alien spacecraft arrivals and departures.)

This morning, I walked Nick at 5:30 in what must've been 20 degree weather. Gorgeous waning crescent moon hovering over the barely lightening horizon. But screw the beauty, it was COLD, so it was a quick walk.

After napping and waiting for the sun to rise, we had a wonderful, leisurely morning (our first on this trip). Had coffee and planned our way home. Went for an hour walk on a nature trail to get some exercise (and it was rapidly warming by 9AM). Then had the opportunity to make our first hot breakfast--sausage, eggs, and some of that killer beer bread from West, Texas. Camping does not mean roughing it.

Broke camp after everything thawed out at 10:30. Lisa tried her first on-board shower because the shower rooms at the state park aren't heated, and after discovering that our water hose was frozen, heat in the shower seemed necessary.

Wound our way through rural (and mountainous) NM: US 70 to Las Cruces. Stopped at such roadside attractions as the Billy the Kidd museum (we missed the Smokey the Bear one, but it was referenced in this place) and the state's first and largest pistachio farm. Check it out. We'll hold a contest for what you initially thought this was before you read that it was a pistachio.

Then we tooled toward new favorite sign of all time:

Road Closed for One Hour When Flashing
(picture of a missile)

Thank you, White Sands Missile Range.

Nick--our faithful shepherd--found his puppyhood again today when we visited our second favorite national monument (#1 still is Scottsbluff, NE)--White Sands National Monument. (His other name is "Dude", so this explains the title of today's post.)

Ranger says that we're welcome to take the dog anywhere, to run and play on all the sand dunes, and that RVs can handle all the paved and unpaved roads. By gummy, he was right. This is a GREAT park. The squeals of children "sledding" down the gypsum sand dunes was fun. Running around on the surprisingly hard surface was fun for us, too. Interpretive nature trails added some education to the whole play thing. What a surreal place (30 miles long x 10 miles wide, and yes, the park closes when missiles are tested).

Parking lot at the end of the 8-mile scenic drive. Love the picnic table shelters:

Can't believe how hard it was to remember that this was gypsum (which is pretty heavy and hard), not sugar soft sand as we had in Destin, FL, and not cold snow drifts like we grew up with (they plow the sand on the road like snow).

Tonight we're staying in Las Cruces, NM. Not as far as we'd planned to get, but worth the delay since we got to play in the dunes today. We'll write tomorrow about the kind of place we're staying. A 5-star RV resort ;-)

Monday, 11/24/08: On and On, Through Texas to NM

[Posted 24 hours late as we couldn’t get an Internet connection in the remote—but beautiful—parts of NM we’ve been in]

We’ve landed in strange territory. Drove through eerily beautiful wind farm/cotton fields today. Struck me that our politicians are always talking about energy—wind, solar, etc.—but actual people are out DOING it. West Texas, as I’ve read and now seen, is just alive with the beautiful windmills. Huge, gleaming, white, and slowly turning. Gorgeous. This past summer and again on this trip we’ve seen the huge semi-trailers hauling one windmill blade each. They’re so big up close you can’t imagine that the wind can turn it. Now we’ve seen them turning from right next to the highway. Poetic, really.

Today was all about country road driving until we reached our destination. This is a photo from downtown. Guess where we were?!

We’re staying in a beautiful state park tonight: Bottomless Lakes State Park, the first state park in New Mexico. They’re not really lakes—they’re up to 90-foot deep, crystal clear sinkholes. Popular in the warmer months for scuba diving. Pretty in the winter months for gazing upon.

Had a nice dinner of the handmade tamales we bought at the Czech bakery yesterday (along with green chile sauce, some vegetables, and in honor of the Crawley clan, some Rotel cheese dip. Can’t wait to make scrambled eggs with that in the morning.)

Our latest daily plan has us avoiding (sob) US Route 60 and Pie Town, NM. Mountains, this time of year, rented vehicle. Too many strikes. Instead, we’re going to head south to I-10 and head west. Hope to see Saguaro National Park in Tucson on Wed. but that’s as far as we’ve planned. Can’t check the Internet tonight to see if we can beach camp in CA on the way home, but that’s the goal. That and figuring out how to avoid LA traffic….

And a note to my family—we were sorely tempted to swing through Yuma, AZ and drop in unexpectedly on Uncle Joe (turnabout is fair play, isn’t it?) but it’s just too far out of our way, given our time frame. But it was fun to think about.

Sunday, 11/23: A Buffet of Texas

Two comments right off the bat:

1. Nick wants us to move to Texas. He thinks Texas BBQ brisket is pretty darn good.

2. We can't move to Texas. Wore my "thin" jeans today as a reminder that we just spent 2 days in Louisiana eating very yummy but high calorie food. Didn't exactly work. Can't resist "the best BBQ in Brazos County" (C&J College Station. With 48 hours notice, you can pick up BBQ for 1000 people. With no notice, you can buy enough meat and sides to feed 50 people for only $347.00. Says so right on the menu.)

Start of the day:

These Westlake people really like their Texas-sized sign.

Took I-10 to Houston, which was a breeze given it was Sunday, and then we've wound our way north and west all day on state and U.S. routes (with a few county roads thrown in). Now, I've been to Texas many, many times on business and it only struck me today that you don't ever see a big U.S. flag flying. You pretty much only see a BIG Texas flag flying. Now, I know Texans love their state shape (it's on EVERYTHING), but they also love their red-white-and-blue flag with the lone star. Just struck me today that entire buildings are painted like that flag (we were on country and farm roads). The Republic of Texas still lives.

Lunch was said "best BBQ in Brazos County." And it was. We didn't get our Louisiana sausage--our boudin-- yesterday since the best place--Lejeune--was closed on weekends, so we had to get sausage and brisket today in TX. But it was awesome. I resisted the urge to buy smoked turkey for T-giving later in the week. Our fridge keeps running too cold and freezing everything, so I didn't want to ruin good meat.

This is pretty much more white bread than I've had all year....

Afternoon spent tooling through very scenic and historic towns like Hico and others I can't recall at the moments. (Shoulda stopped at one of them and purchased a big iron sculpture of a cactus for our back yard, where nothing will grow. Oh well. Next time. We missed all the roadside satsuma stands yesterday in LA, too. Darn. This vehicle doesn't exactly stop on a dime.)

Midafternoon had us find our way to West, Texas. Of course, the Village Bakery--the reason we went to West--was closed on Sunday, but we did try a kolache (a sort of Danish-yeast roll treat) at the Czech Inn (say it out loud). West is the Czech capital--very cute town.

We also picked up handmade tamales for the freezer and a loaf of freshmade beer bread. Glad I brought the larger-sized jeans, too. I hear the gym calling....

Got to a very weird (but perfectly great) campground. Read reviews of it from 2007--it was new then, bathhouse being built, plans for exotic animals to entertain kids, etc., etc. Well, I think someone's dream is a bit deferred. Bathhouse, a year later, is still in framing stage (two windows are in). There are only a handful of us here. We met the owner and paid him our $23 in cash (which seems like a lot when there's not a bathhouse, but we're in the middle of nowhere and are tired, so...). We wish Wild Country RV Park here in Cisco, TX well. It is serving us quite nicely--no neighbors, lots of room for Nick, and only .5 mi. off the highway. Easy to get an early start tomorrow and we know we can shower in here ;-)

Tomorrow--well, watch for wild hairs. We're thinking of resuming the adventure and NOT going the same way home. We avoided that today and were richly rewarded. Think we'll push our luck tomorrow.

Here's the TX sunset to send you to bed:

Sat. 11/22: Being in the Bayou

Today was a blessedly low-mileage day. The day dawned warmer than recent days, but we were presented with a challenge. Lisa, who is always the first showerer, returned from the facility and said, "If it's not an emergency, I wouldn't recommend the showers." So, I bravely tried the shower on board the RV. It worked great! Skylight above, plenty of hot water, and I generated lots of gray water with which to flush our hose later ;-) Really nice not having to wear shower shoes and do yoga poses to get barely dried off feet through legs of pants without rewetting foot or dragging pants leg on wet (and suspect) bathroom floors.

An aside: I have decided that when we get back we need to film a "Yoga for RVers" video clip to post on YouTube. I will write the script, direct, and film, and Miss Lisa (who is much more advanced in yoga than I) will star. Here is a preview of some of the poses, for those of you familiar with the ancient art:

Stretching Poses:

Cat and Sphinx poses for making the bed from on top of the covers and scootching out backwards. (You can't walk around the bed)

Standing toe balances to reach things in high shelves

Twists when getting underneath the vehicle to hook up sewer hose

Balance Poses:

Tree pose (at least balancing on one leg) for getting dressed in public shower areas

Warrior Three for reaching the odd item in hard-to-reach places

Strengthening Poses:

Half-Moon for turning off lights over the bed without getting into the bed

Downward dog for reaching items in cab of truck from higher-level RV platform

Lunges to try to reach things in cabover area

Warrior One for handing things back in the cab whilst avoiding stepping on dog

OK, you get the drift. We're trying to maintain our yoga practice on the road....

Back to our regularly scheduled day:

We met Lisa's sister and neice for breakfast before departing Morgan City. Witness genetics at work:

Then we traveled north, up the Acadian Trail through real Cajun country. I'm afraid the roads were so bumpy (mostly yesterday) that we had to call our rental company to ask how to repair the roof A/C unit, which was starting to dangle (and rattle) ominously overhead. Lisa affected the necessary repair, of course!

We were attempting to follow a 2004 article from Hemispheres magazine (Three Perfect Days in Acadiana), but found that alot can change in 4 years (and lots of places are closed on the weekend). So, we relied on our tried and true strategy. I went into the Cajun Hall of Fame (I had to buy a CD, of course) and asked the lovely "seasoned citizen" lady who worked there where we should eat.

We took her advice and ended up at the Krazy Cajun. (Our Roadfood gurus would have us believe that one should never eat at restaurants where the "C" has been changed to "K", but this is an exception.) What a hoot. Got there after 2PM (no more lunch plates), but the ladies just chatted our ears off and brought us the most delicious food. I had a Grilled Shrimp Po-Boy on THE best bakery roll ever. Lisa had a 1/2 and 1/2 (catfish and shrimp) and we had the freshest, least greasy, most crunchy onion rings ever. Followed by banana pudding--"it's included with your dinner!"

But you really couldn't beat the ambience of the place, which was created in large part by our hostesses (such Cajun accents!) AND the actual physical decor. What fun! Did Santa bring the present under the tree OR is this fella one of Santa's bayou helpers?

Tonight we're in Westlake (near Lake Charles), LA, preparing for our big drive home. Westlake is apparently a very proud town. Have never seen a sign so big.

Did some loads of laundry and soaked more local color from the camp host. As I was walking back from the laundry house in the dark, which happened to be across his back yard, he called out, "Don't fall in the poo-poo pit" (pronounced "pee-it" since we're close to TX border). I was walking on top of the septic tank.... Hah hah.

But I didn't fall in. Whew. Such adventures we have ;-) Off to a vegetarian, non-fried dinner. It is much needed after a few delicious days of Southern food!

Friday, 11/21: From the Beach to the Bayou

The day dawned very nippy and windy, but we still took Nick for a walk on the neat nature walk over the sand dunes. As we stopped to read one of the nature plaques--this one featured prickly pear cactus--Nick didn't pause to read it with us. He just walked right on top of said cactus. After we shrieked and got him extricated, we found only one big ole needle sticking out of one paw. Ouch! He seems fine, though. The scenery was lovely and we sure know why they call this the "Emerald Coast":

Then we toodled over to Louisiana, via as many US routes (not interstates) as possible. Up through Gulf Shores and Pensacola (and the world's longest fishing pier). A bit white-knuckly going over the long bridges with the serious cross winds today. Then back through Mobile, avoiding both the tunnel AND the serious detour we took the last time. We navigated it well this time. Helped to have both experience and daylight on our side. Through Mississippi (after a delicious country lunch with the waitress calling me "baby" constantly) and into Louisiana for dinner with Lisa's sister and niece. No pictures--doggone it--but I meant to take a picture of my $4 glass of red wine. This was in a restaurant where the soda pop glasses were ginormous, so the wine was poured in like manner. ;-) A great deal! And the shrimp was good, too. Great to catch up with the Isham ladies.

Today--and the rest of the week as we head home--is just going to happen the way it happens. We poured over maps and routes last night and decided to just see what happens as we go. Weather, short days, the holiday in the middle of the week, and our Saturday return date may make this more challenging than we'd like, but we'll do 'er. At the moment, contemplating Eunice and Opelousas this afternoon (staying somewhere), over to West, Texas tomorrow for kolaches (I'll post the link if we make it there), then back up to I-40 for possible stopover in Winslow, Arizona (yes, cue song), another Arizona stop, a California coast stop, and home. We'll see. We THINK we've decided against the US-60 route because of time of year....

Thurs. 11/20: A Day in Destin

A lovely 68-degree, sunny day on the Emerald Coast of Florida with Lisa's parents, who drove all the way down from Indy to see us. We did a little shopping in the morning (it's a very good thing that we don't have such a nice Ralph Lauren Polo outlet shop near us--we'd go broke on all those preppy clothes that are near and dear to our heart). Then we had a yummy lunch of seafood outside in Sandestin at the Baytowne Wharf--a very pretty condo/shoppe area that was, on the day we were visiting, hosting a very large gathering of U.S. Army retention folks attending a seminar (and, apparently, having some bonding and fun in the process). So, we had a mix of loud music, testosterone (there were a few females in the group, but the overall vibe was Army guys), yummy lunch and pretty surroundings. Definitely an unusual mixture, especially since there was also a zip line facility spanning the whole shebang. And here is the Crawley clan at the village:

We did some touring in the afternoon and reconvened for a very delicious dinner (probably our finest this month of road tripping!) at the Cuvee Beach. Grouper Picatta, anyone?

So, it's off to bed on this gorgeous, star-lit night. We walked the dog around the park by starlight and are fixin' to (we're in the South) drive 6 hours tomorrow to Morgan City, LA to see Lisa's sister and her family and get us another taste of the bayou, cher.

Wed. 11/19: On the Road Again

After unpacking dozens of boxes, hanging pictures, and generally having fun with my folks, we hit the road Wednesday afternoon. Spent the day driving into the sunset, which is sort of like when you're flying east to west--the sunset lasts much longer. Just spectacular oranges and reds for what felt like hours.

We reached our DESTINation in mid-evening and met up with Lisa's parents just to say hello and plan our next day. Our rendez-vous point was at a Super Wal-mart, near the Lube and Oil place. How very lovely ;-)

We are staying at a top-rated (best in the U.S. two years running) state park campground. It is just lovely--right by the beach, huge and private sites, and very nice bath facilities. Can't beat that. The weird thing is that it's right off the highway and near the world's largest Air Force base. Can't distinguish ocean sound from traffic sound, so we say it's all ocean (except when a truck goes by!) (We're clear that the fighter jets aren't ocean noises!)

Friday, 11/14: Destination Reached!

Every time we checked how far we had to go today it seemed like the same amount--too many miles or hours! But we made it and successfully navigated city traffic (Jax is a wild ride) and found my parents' new house without any help! Yay. The rig fits (barely) into the driveway but we checked with the neighbors and they don't mind.

We've got many boxes to unpack and put away, so no posts till we get back on the road sometime next week (Wed. = target date, but we'll stay as long as we are needed).

Thurs. 11/13: TX to Alabama

600+ miles today, but with 3 hours of ground fog this morning through Louisiana and LOTS more traffic now that we're in the East. No pictures today; this was a power-drive.

Enjoyed hours of Cajun music on the iPod and planned sites to see on the way home, since Louisiana clearly was Julie's home in a past life--zydeco, sausage, and good beer. Ah. Planning to hit Opelousas on the way back. World HQ of Zydeco music. Home to the Blue Dog Cafe (that guy who paints his blue dog and is in galleries all over the place), and the Catahoula Cafe (our dog Ruby was 1/2 Catahoula hound). We had a little taste of home cooking when refilling our gas tank in LA today. Julie got a homemade meat pie (filled with spicy beef) and Lisa got some fried chicken--drumsticks. Yum.

Got lost for the first time in 10s of thousands of miles today. Heading into Mobile on I-10. Sign said "Tunnel ahead. No hazardous materials." Well, an RV is a rolling hazardous material (esp. the propane). So, we exited, thinking (as we have successfully done in many, many cities) that we'd follow the signs and our gut to get around the problem. Hoo boy, was that not possible. Lost for over an hour, but had quite an adventure, especially when Julie hopped out of the RV in probably not the best neighborhood (lots of bars on shop windows) and enlisted the entire staff and customers of the Dollar General store in helping her figure out where we WERE on the map (had no idea) so that we could get to where we WANTED to be. Suffice to say...these folks are very, very nice, but they refer to landmarks in their town by names you don't see on the road signs. And they have THICK accents. We made it by simply taking the long way (and seeing a gorgeous historical district, which we wouldn't have seen otherwise), which we could see on our often less than helpful National Geographic map, not their way, which we couldn't see.

Whew. Didn't make it into Florida, as we had hoped, but we are happily ensconced at the Hilltop RV Park outside Mobile, but a few miles from the Florida border. A fine supper of microwaved burrito (with a lovely Paso Robles chardonnay, which we happened to have on board) made our repast. Could not cook and do dishes tonight. Too long of a day.

But, in case any of you are wondering, we still love Rving. Nick does too. No $*&% motels for us! Onward to St. Augustine by mid-afternoon tomorrow....

Wed. 11/12: NM thru TX

Quickie post.

Arose to loudspeaker, "Shower 287 is ready" blaring from the Flying J where we dry docked last night. Very noisy, but actually OK. Easy in, easy out. Best part: We were buying water, breakfast, etc. at 6AM. Lady behind us said "Two coffees and a pack of gum." The checker said, "That'll be 42 cents." Turns out coffee is free at Flying J truck stops if you bring your own cup. When was the last time YOU heard a total price spoken back to you from a checker for 3 things that was "42 cents"? Cool.

Drove all day from gorgeous sunrise through lovely fall day in Texas (here Nick and Julie are at a picnic stop along 287)

till gorgeous sunset and full moon over Tyler, TX (east Texas). Crappy iPhone photo from cab of moving vehicle, but you get the gist of the pretty evening:

Cooked buffalo burgers, baked beans, and sweet potatoes tonight for dinner. Life is good.

We'll be in Louisiana early tomorrow and hope to make 5 states, settling in Pensacola campground tomorrow night and then the 5-6 hour cruise into St. Augustine on Friday.

Tuesday, 11/11: AZ to NM

Lovely weather. Snow on the side of the road through Flagstaff (brrr on the rest stop at 6000 feet), but then a lovely partly sunny day through the painted desert. Lots of road construction and getting down to one lane, but we made it to Tucumcari, NM and our first experience staying overnight in a Flying J parking lot (no Walmart in these parts). Time to break out the headphones and iPods tonight, but we got as far as we could today (12 hours of driving) and are just crashing now. We won't waste time getting going in the morning, unlike today, where we had a GREAT camping spot. Lovely shower rooms and huge, fenced dog runs with toys already inside--all of us had a nice night/morning.'s RV boot camp. Always up for new experiences.

Not doing much photography on this trek across the U.S., but this is our boy guarding the RV while we made a stop, as interpreted by my iPhone.

Tomorrow, it's on through Texas to, we hope, east of Dallas. We are so excited about coming back through Texas. Just heard a recent Splendid Table podcast with Jane and Michael Stern, our Roadfood gurus, about their find in West, Texas (yes, West comma Texas, between Dallas and Austin) that we simply must visit on the way home.

Check it out (and I'm too tired to do the HTML coding tonight):

Off to be lulled to sleep by 18-wheelers....

Monday, 11/10: And...We're Off!

Day is done. 550+ miles. All is good. Honkin' big RV drives well. Nice cruise control. Had to break out the bungies to keep the cabinet doors closed, though. Poor dog almost got beaned by a can beans on the rough roads in CA, which is, after all, going broke right now. After trying 6 different sleeping spots, our boy has found his favorite--on the upholstered dinette bench seat, with head propped above the driver.

Staying tonight in a campground, so that we have hookups and can figure out how our coach works. Tomorrow night we will do what we have so far never done--Wallydocking. That's staying in a Wal-Mart parking lot (no hookups, no amenities whatsoever). Big day--almost 700 miles tomorrow--so after cooking our lovely pasta dinner, replete with veggies and everything and after playing ball with Nick in this great campground's dog run, it's early to bed.

Having a bigger coach is great when one is making dinner inside (it's too cold to be outside tonight). But it's hell when one is at the gas pump--yikes! Our little V-6 VW-powered Rialta in July got almost 20 mpg. This Ford F450 gets less than 10. So, blame us for the increase in global temperatures. We are having a guilty pleasure kind of a time. But just wait till we figure out a way to get our solar-powered bio-diesel RV. Soon....

In the meantime, we ARE using biodegradable (corn-based) poop bags for the dog. This assuages the guilt a little bit.

On the Road Again...Just Can't Wait

OK, gang. This time, we're in a honkin' Class C with cabover. Not elegant, but larger than the pathetic 10-year-old Rialta (which we actually are quite fond of) we took through the Mountain West this past summer. This time we have an oven (!), a real bathroom, a real booth/dinette dealy bob, a queen size bed (actually 2), and lots of storage. The downside is that this bad boy is 11.5' tall and really wide, too. Our little Rialta was skinny and only 7.5' tall.

This time we're hotfooting it 2800 miles from CA to FL to help my parents settle into a new place. A completely different experience.

This time, NO MOTELS. None. Nada.

This time, NO HEAT PROBLEMS. (And no COLD PROBLEMS either)

This time, SAVVY about where to stay and which route to take. (Thanks, View-Navion Yahoo Group.) We're going CA - Kingman, AZ- Tucumcari, NM - Dallas area - NOLA/Mobile area - St. Augustine. We'll go home I-10 through the desert so we can see Big Bend National Park and a few other NPs we have yet to "bag." Hope to spend Thanksgiving in a National Park, as a matter of fact. We'll see.

This trip ought to answer the question: is we is or is we ain't gonna buy one of these things?

Stay tuned.

Campground Reviews

Just in case any of our new RV friends would like to know, here are our reviews of 9 RV parks across the western U.S. We found, on the whole, that we really loved the state parks for their larger sites and more scenic locations away from busy roads.

RV Park Reviews

We found this web site to be invaluable in choosing a site that would work for us, so we felt compelled to add our reviews and participate. This site worked better than AAA Campground Books, National Geographic's RV Edition Atlas (worthless), and other web sites we tried.

There's No Place Like Home

We. Have. Arrived.
Home safe and sound.

Actual mileage: 7341 in the rig.
Plus 224 miles to the RV rental place and 224 miles from the RV rental place

Grand total: 7789 miles, from start to finish.
And that's just the northern, western part of the U.S.
Wow. What a great country we live in!

Good night and farewell for this blog. No more posts shall be posted (at least until the next trip!).

And here's what we'll drive NEXT:

Trip in Review: Acknowledgments and More Lessons Learned


Thank you to all of the people who expressed support and enthusiasm for our trip. When our enthusiasm flagged, yours brought us through. Estimated mileage for the trip: 7400 miles. Wow.

Thank you to all the people who hosted us along the way. What an honor and privilege that you (a) wanted us to stop by and (b) let us know that you enjoyed the visit, too. We are very sensitive to the admonition of Julie's personal hero, Ben Franklin, that fish and visitors stink after 3 days. Hosting visitors can be stressful; you all didn't let us see that part and made us feel so welcome. Specifically:

To Lee and Mary: Thank you for the welcoming us (and Nick) with such open arms and amazing hospitality. We cannot thank you enough for the best Fourth of July and breakfast at Dornan's AND the backroads tour of Jackson Hole. It's been years and years since we've seen each other, but it felt as if no time had passed. Thank you.

To Marianne and family: Thank you for the most amazing weekend of the trip. Who knew what a 690-acre ranch in NW North Dakota would be like? And who knew Lisa would get baptized by a sorority sister? Now we know--it's amazing! Thank you John and the rest of the family for making us feel so welcome, and thank you to the parishioners for welcoming Lisa into the fold.

To Aelred: Thank you for sharing your new life with us and for the yummiest parting gift, the raisin bread you made for us. Lisa says that she will always treat the towel you wrapped it in to cool as a holy towel ;-) It won't mop up spills, that's for sure.

To Renee: Thank you for the best drop-in visit experience. We had originally thought we'd meet in the big city for lunch, but when the temp was so high, we asked you about shade. Turned out you had the best shade (and doggie TV experience) ever on the farm with the goats. And then--even better--you shared your life and your family with us. How very great. Thank you.

And then there's Virginia. We are so very pleased to have a new auntie friend. (You said that you became everyone's aunt, so we're taking you up on that.) Please rest assured that a handwritten note is on its way to you, properly, but everyone else should know what an amazing person you are. You have led the life that you've wanted to lead. Made changes when necessary and not looked back. Developed principles and values that you live by and share. You are an awesome person. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

And finally, Jim and Gaela. You all are the newest friends we visited on this trip, but the oldest. Ah yes. A Zen koan. You'll figure it out. Thank you for the opportunity to deepen our friendship and for the oh-so-necessary respite and rejuvenation period. And of course Jim WOULD help us repair the broken van light.... The man spent over a year fixing our house....

And thank you to the strangers who left us comments. We particularly are grateful to Elizabeth of JCLC (Jefferson County Library Cooperative) who identified herself and let us know that she got some travel fun from our journal.

Oh, and one more acknowledgment. To all the pioneers: the mountain men, Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery, the Mormons, the OR and CA trail emigrants. How on God's green earth did they manage to do this? We have traced so much of their journeys (in a gas-powered vehicle no less) and still remain in awe of what they accomplished.

Best/Worst List
Best Roads: Oregon with sleep strips on each side and in the middle, plus shoulders (worst: North Dakota--no shoulders!)

Best National Park: Yellowstone. There's a reason it's the most popular national park. It's spectacular. So many things to see, so much diversity of geology and flora and fauna, and there's nothing like it anywhere. (worst: Mount Rushmore)

Best State Park for Camping: Steamboat Lakes, Colorado. GORGEOUS and lots of dog-friendly trails. Big sites with views. (No worst. We liked them all.)

Best State Park for a Day Visit: Donner Memorial State Park, CA. Swim beach, hiking, museum, interpretive trails.

Best Camping Experience: Custer, SD, for shade, grass, good bathrooms, wifi, and big ole thunderstorm. Runner up: Crater Lake because it was our first experience. (Worst: Yellowstone: Fishing Bridge. Yucky potties, lots of mosquitoes, big Class A buses breathing down our necks on all 3 sides, screaming children)

Best Hotel: Ramada Inn in Caspar (worst: Fargo)

Best Meal: Restaurant next to Days Inn in Bismarck, ND, because it was within walking distance and had killer rainbow trout after days of camping (worst: Fargo. See Day 21.)

Best Blog Comment: Fargo (If you haven't sung along to "When Taco Boats Are Sailin'" in Day 21, you have missed a great chuckle.)

Best Interpretive Centers: North Dakota

Best Rest Stops: Iowa with free wifi and usually inside an historic site (Worst: Nevada--shadeless, grassless, hell holes)

Best Doggie Hike: Scottsbluff, Nebraska (worst: Lake Tahoe on a summer Sunday. No parking, no dogs allowed)

Best Cities: St. Paul, MN. Made us want to go back and spend time and have another Jucy Lucy. (worst: Deadwood, SD--so touristy that it makes one's skin crawl)

Weirdest Visit: Julie's phone call with a "Susan Andrews" who wasn't THE Susan Andrews that Julie knew.

Best Treat: Bumbleberry Pie. Runner up: Huckleberry ice cream in Estes Park, CO. We had seen huckleberry ice cream signs all through Glacier, Yellowstone, and then the signs stopped. And we hadn't tried it. But showed up again on the way home through Colorado. And boy is it good.

Lessons Learned

Camping has a hierarchy just like everything else in life. We enjoyed the egalitarian campgrounds (where there were tents on up) more than the RV-only "Coachland" kinds of places. Variety is truly the spice of life.

It's good to admit that one does not know what one is doing--that is, strangers are useful sources of information. (And they're happy to do it.)

Plan loose days. 200-300 miles driving, something fun in the morning and in the evening. Makes a long driving trip work. We made this happen for most of the trip (UT and NV deserts excepted, of course).

A little dirt doesn't hurt.

Day 35: The Last Day (and Reflections on the Donner Party)

Spent a lovely Monday at Donner Memorial State Park. What a difference a day makes--no crowds, had the place to ourselves. Contemplated the pioneers once again. First, at the museum during the cheesy 1970s era film and secondly back in a canyon (where dogs were allowed) that was an actual part of the Emigrant Trail. We didn't see any iron marks on the granite, which apparently are still around some 160 years later, but we did see and walk in some swales in the hardpan. Then we dipped our toes in Donner Lake--gorgeous (but brrrr!).

Lots of lessons from the ole Donner Party:
1. Don't believe everything (and everyone) you hear. The Donner Party believed that the Great Salt Desert was 40 miles across.... We can attest that it is not.
2. Sometimes, a shortcut is not a shortcut. (Or there is no such thing as a free lunch.) They went over 100 miles out of their way in the brutal Nevada desert.
3. When it matters, hire an expert. The other wagon trains had professional mountain men guides. Guess who didn't.
4. Don't dawdle or you'll spend the winter ill-prepared in the mountains.
5. Get along with people, or at least have a competent leader who can ensure that people get along. George Donner was in his 60s (back then, an advanced age. Of course, quite young now ;-) and had zero, zilch, nada experience leading such a party. When the families started feuding (as would be natural when so many things went awry), ole George couldn't get things resolved.
6. Good luck is important. Apparently, the winter of 1846 when they were all trapped up in the Sierra eating each other was the earliest and worst winter in 100 years. This base of this statue shows how high the snow was that year--22 feet.

Pretty good lessons to apply to just about everything in life, I'm thinking. Didn't feel too inspired to take photos today, as we are really eager to just get home now. Spent a good chunk of the day cleaning what we can clean until we unload, filling the propane, dumping, um, other things. Getting ready to prepare the last night camping feast--plan to poach some fish on the grill!

Here's our white-trash-with-master's-degrees still life photo. Nice champagne (the upscale part). All-Bran Crackers (the good for you part). Squirty cheese (the white trash part).

Stay tuned for one final post--a review and what our next trip will be.

Why We Like Camping

'Nuff said.

Day 34: The End Is Nigh

Let's just say that finding somewhere to go with (a) a dog and (b) a 22' rig on a summer Sunday at Lake Tahoe isn't easy. Actually, it isn't even possible. Lovely weather (if a bit smoky from the fires) and the entire northern half of California is in the Tahoe region. No photos today, but we do have a revised plan:

Monday: Donner Memorial State Park (to complete our tour of the western pioneers) and our last night of camping

Tuesday: Depart early, clean and return rig, be home before sunset.

Our Nicky boy hasn't had his appetite or regular energy level for a few days now, so he's telling us he's had it, too.

So, we'll finish up at an even 5 weeks. Pretty good for our first adventure. We've even got ideas for future adventures....

No comments? Are You People Out There???

Please post a comment to let us know you're out there, as we wrap this trip up.....

Day 33: Thank Goodness! We're on Home Turf in California

A quick post. Glad to have traversed 550+ miles across Utah and Nevada deserts to be back in soft, cool, California air again in Truckee, CA tonight. Ah. Afternoon temp = 80s. Evening temps = 40s. We plan to stay here through Monday and then head down the hill toward the rental return place....

The day began sleepily, as Nick was on guard at every noise last night (at the murderous Motel 6). No one got more than a nap all night long. We had to trade drivers rather frequently today! Here's the photo opp at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where all the land speed records were made:

Once we got to Elko, NV, though, we had a great road trip moment. Found a shady park (a doggie plus), adjacent to a historical visitor center (the largest log cabin in Nevada--really, a mansion. These people had 10 children. And each of the children had a ton of kids--the most was 13--and now there are 800 descendants from the mid 1800s!). As we went in search of a recommended restaurant, we saw a site that had us both gasp. A place that said "Cornish Pasties--the Original Miners Food." We turned around and had the surprise of the trip--a most wondrous lunch. 5 kinds of pasties (huge ones!). We each had one, and then bought 2 breakfast pasties for our camping weekend, along with a strawberry rhubarb pie, because this fellow knew his crusts. Wow. Plus the sauce--so tangy and peppery. We'll find more uses for this than just pasties. But boy howdy, will it be time for the gym when we get home!

That was the highlight of today. The rest was just ugly--hot Utah salt flats and Nevada desert. Although, we learned of a beautiful canyon we must come back to visit (no time today): Lamoille Canyon, 20 minutes south of Elko. And given how much we like Elko (the last time we drove through it a few years ago, we loved its old timey charm, too), we may just be back. We have to manage to go on the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, as well.

Signing off now, in the lovely cool of Truckee....

Day 32: The Great Basin

We continue to be in awe of the majesty and just plain ole horror of the west in the summer. So very hot, so very mountainous. How did the Oregon/Calif/Mormon Trail pioneers DO this? We find ourselves tonight in Salt Lake City--the destination of the Mormon Trail pioneers.

Today was a huge driving day for us--and a very hot day, to boot. Poor Nick got car sick today for the first time. Not sure if it was the heat, the new food we bought, the water from the campground, etc., etc. But he's on the mend tonight, thank goodness. Fun with carpet cleaners, though.

This morning brought beauty at the northern Colorado campground:

Then a hoot of a 2-hour detour to Dinosaur National Monument, where more intact skulls and skeletons have been found in the U.S. than anywhere else. SOOO hot, though. We just dashed out for the occasional photo of scenery AND petroglyphs (carved approximately 1000 years ago):

Here's the formation they call Elephant's Toes:

And here, of course, are the eponymous critters of the park:

And then there was the monsoon (remnant of Dolly?) we drove through today that almost pushed us off the road unexpectedly with its gale force winds:

We are now in a motel-of-last-resort tonight--a Motel 6 by the Salt Lake City airport. We learned that the police in the parking lot for the last few hours are guarding a room (blocked off by police tape) where they arrested 2 wanted murderers from California earlier in the day. Neat. We know how to pick the motels! (All the other motels that took dogs were booked, FYI.) Here's the article.

I decided against taking a photo of the police or the ABC News truck across the street...

Tomorrow brings a most welcome return to the Pacific time zone and CaliforNYyay. It's going to be a long drive for us--some 550 miles to Truckee--but worth it. I expect to listen to a lot of podcasts because the Great Salt Desert puts Lisa into a sleep coma. She'll get the reins after Wells or Elko, NV. I may have to play a few hands of $2 blackjack as a reward for driving across that nasty stretch of desert! We'll see.

Good night! Sleep tight, now that the murderers are caught.

Day 31: A High Altitude Day

After our wonderfully rejuvenating 3 days off the road and with hosts who made us feel so pampered (and with the dog off having his own break), we all reassembled Thursday morning and headed out onto the open road again, taking US 40 through the mountains (11,000+ feet passes). Gorgeous day.

This was also our first attempt at having Lady Luck ride along with us. We had no reservation anywhere as we headed into major camping/tourist land in Steamboat Springs. Well, we got to the state park early enough to find just a few spots that were not reserved for Thursday PM (but all were reserved for Friday through the weekend). Lucked out. Found a spot right on the lake, at the end (no neighbors nearby), with lots of hiking trails that are hospitable to dogs. (State parks tend to be, while national parks are most definitely not). Slept soundly at our 8200+ elevation. Lovely cool breeze and so, so quiet.

Figured out our plan for our remaining days. Looks as if we will make the full 37 days ;-) Stay tuned. We hope to have wifi for the rest of the trip and not let the unblogged days pile up!

Days 28-30 in Bullet Points

Now, I am no Joyce McGreevy, but...

We must be terse
As the day's drive is long
Let's use some verse
Even though it will be sing-song

(oh heck, who am I kidding? I'll just use captions....)

A trek through our 10th national park, Rocky Mountain

A visit to a potential 49th wedding anniversary gathering place for the Crawley clan (sorry--we don't think it's the right vibe for the whole family, but a neat place!)

Then off to doggie spa for Nick. What a great place. If you're a dog head,
check this out.

Lunch in Boulder, the Napa of Beer. Got new hairdos at a cool salon and walked around groovy Boulder.

Leisurely breakfast and laundry at the home of our most hospitable hosts, then off to Denver (in a real car!) for a grown-up, dog-free afternoon

Denver Art Museum

Denver Library

Then dinner with our friends at a most amazing only-in-Boulder place--an authentic Tajikistan teahouse (i.e., shipped in pieces and reassembled in Boulder). Fabulous food and atmosphere, sitting alongside the Boulder River....

Amazing brunch at Lucile's. I will be writing a review for Roadfood on THIS one. Utterly delicious.

This is a biscuit. They had homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam for it....

Then off to Nederland and Lyons, up in the mountains.

The requisite afternoon thunderstorm clouds, which makes the air cool

A scenic home

My new favorite sign of the trip. Would that all of the scolding signs we've seen had a bit of this humor. Goes a long way!

Our wondrous hosts and best dog ever (well, after our dear departed Sara), Kini, in a Colorado creek

Then back to Boulder and its scrumptious farmer's market to pick up fixins for dinner.

I stand in awe of Jim's sauteed mushrooms.