Wicked Wanderers

Chronicling the full time RV lifestyle of a young family

Page 3 of 5

Chapter 29: Our Belated One Year Celebration

We’ve been on the road for one year. ONE YEAR. Boy does time fly. (Technically it’s one year and about two months now but i’m a little behind the times). We’ve had our share of ups and downs; life on the road can be richly rewarding but also has its own set of challenges.

Here are some quick stats on our year in review: 

  • Number of nights boondocking/dry camping: 118
  • Number of miles traveled: approximately 10,000
  • National Parks visited: 12 
  • Number of side of the road breakdowns/flat tires: 0! (I am setting us up for next year) 
  • Items that we carried across the country and never used: chainsaw, several items of baby gear, excess clothing, books, DVDs
  • Number of repairs needed to the camper: Too high to count
  • Overall average cost per night: $25 (we learned MANY things our first year out and believe we can significantly reduce our cost per night over this next year. Its worth noting that our average cost per night West of the Mississippi was only $13!)
  • Strangest place we visited: Probably Gila Bend, AZ numerous metal dinosaur sculptures all around town but no grocery store
  • Something we never expected: We were camping near our friends who also live in their RV full time. They were approached by a local charity with offers for blankets because it was assumed they were homeless!
  • Coldest camping night: Bryce Canyon, 28 degrees F
  • Favorite places visited: 
    • Kevin: Moab, UT –biking and hiking
    • Emma: Death Valley, CA–hiking, breathtaking scenery, kid friendly
    • Eloise: Disney world in Orlando, Florida –princesses and theme park rides
    • Eliza: every grocery store across the US–loves to ride in the cart and get free cookies from the bakery

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here are photos of our favorite moments from this past year. Enjoy!

(Hover over the photo for the caption or click on it to see full size/slide show)

 

Chapter 28: Just a hop, skip and a jump up to Maine!

Long car ride selfie (found this photo weeks later on my phone!)

We left Albuquerque on a Thursday night and had about 12 days to make it to a work meeting for Kevin in Massachusetts. We were anxious to get to Maine but we vowed to make several stops along the way; to try to take our time and not rush. (If you recall, last fall we drove 24+ hours straight from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas to Arizona and agreed that we would never do that again. Ever.)

First stop: Arkansas. One of our favorite fulltime families is taking a break from travel and is parked on family land in Arkansas. Since we had never really been to rural Arkansas before and Eloise loves to play with their son, it was an easy choice. Arkansas was very lush and green. We parked next to them and enjoyed the pretty pasture and the rain. We had fun chit chatting and taking a break from riding in the truck. We went to their family’s farm and Eloise and Eliza had their first horse ride; we thoroughly enjoyed their Southern hospitality.

Friends dueling and playing Mario cart

Horse rides!

Pigeon Forge, TN

Second stop: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This ‘resort’ city is home to “Dollywood” and is right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Boy was this place built up; a true tourist trap. Parts of it resembled the styling and commercialism of Downtown Disney. There were so many chain restaurants, theme dinners, gift shops, etc. Part of me wanted to immediately go shopping but there are only so many postcards, t-shirts, and magnets one needs. (But its fun to look!) We skipped the shopping and hit the hiking trails instead. Great Smoky Mountain National Park has two unfortunate distinctions: the most visited and the most polluted/poor air quality.

Scenes from the National Park

Some of the fun we had at the KOA in Pigeon Forge

Traffic into the park was thick by 7am. The hiking trails that were easy and nearby (i.e. kid-friendly) were packed and the parking lots were congested. Nevertheless we had a nice time checking out the sites. This was also the first park where we experienced an ‘auto nature trail’. It’s like a hiking trail for your car. It was interesting. After spending so much time in the truck, I can’t say that Eliza particularly enjoyed this trail and the slow pace of following other cars through the forest at 5 mph. We were able to see wildlife and the scenery from the road was beautiful rolling pasture. We stayed at a KOA here in Pigeon Forge and it was fun. It was hot, like 90 degrees hot and they had a pool. They also had a playground and a ‘jumping’ pillow and tons of kids; we enjoyed our stay. When traveling long-ish distances we typically drive at night from 7pm until we get tired and stay at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels for the night and then wake up and keep driving the next morning. Stopping at this KOA  for 4 days was a pricey, but nice change.

Fun times with friends in Massachusetts

Third stop: Southborough, Massachusetts. Our friends Katie and Brady live there. We dry camped at the Cabela’s parking lot (as we had in the past–its quiet there) and enjoyed visiting with them and their little boy. Kevin was able to get in a mountain bike ride too. After having towed our camper through numerous states where driving has been a nightmare Kevin can definitively say that driving in Massachusetts is still the most frustrating state for road rage. Some things will never change haha! We finally crossed the border into Maine on a Wednesday afternoon and immediately got to work: we had two weeks of camper repairs and upgrades planned and we were ready to get them over with so we could begin to enjoy our summer.

Chapter 27: Last stop for us in the wild west

This kid was all smiles in Petrified Forest National Park!

We weren’t able to hit any of the ‘cool’ spots in New Mexico like Roswell or Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a big state and we plan to go back next year.  We were on a timeline and our mission was clear: get to Albuquerque in time for Kevin’s work conference.  When you have two ‘littles’ in tow you really can’t deviate from the plan. Eliza was getting increasingly anxious and fidgety during day-time car rides too…

Scenes of beautiful petrified logs

We left Moab, UT with time to explore Petrified Forest National Park and  some of the city of Albuquerque before the conference started.  We did drive a portion of Route 66 which was cool.

Petrified Forest National Park was a small-ish park. We camped right on the edge of the park at a gift shop that was also a campground. We explored the park for an afternoon and then drove towards New Mexico that evening. We went on several short hikes and it was neat to see the beauty of the petrified wood.

We stayed at “Enchanted Trails RV Park” right on Route 66 in Albuquerque. They had several vintage campers that you could rent out to say in for the night!

Some of the fun things we did while in Albuquerque that we have photos of: played Nintendo switch, swam at the pool (note Eliza’s size 12 month swim suit that’s just too tight to be pulled up), coloring, and playing house together.

We were much less inspired by Albuquerque. We went on a family bike ride, went out to eat, and took in the view of the Sandia Mountains but never really ‘connected’ with this city. We met up with Kevin’s friend Brandon who was also in town for the same work conference and went out to a yummy restaurant. Once the conference was over we hitched up and hightailed it outta there on the long long road to Maine…

This photo perfectly sums up dining out with children: Child missing from her seat. Water glass full of toys. Bread basket nearly empty (her dinner).

Eloise admiring the petrified wood or having a foot-stomping temper tantrum? You decide… 🙂

Chapter 26: A girl walks into a cactus…

Eloise pointing to the patch of cactus she tripped into

A girl walks into a cactus…is not the start of a funny joke. It was a really bad night that Eloise has thankfully fully recovered from. She was walking next door in the dark to say goodnight to her little friend and tripped. Kevin and I spent an hour and a half picking cactus spikes out  of her. Poor baby! My fault for not giving her a flashlight. 🙁

Anyway, cactus aside, we loved our time in Moab, Utah. We stayed about 3 weeks in total. We loved the food. We loved the local vibe. We loved the hiking and biking and if you ever go there you have to try the Quesadilla Mobilla food truck! Yum!

View of Moab from the Sunset Grill Restaurant

It wasn’t all amazing tho: first there was the snow and then there was the wind. We encountered a winter storm on a mountain pass towing our 5th wheel from Bryce to Moab. We saw several tractor trailer trucks off the road and Kevin was ‘white-knuckling it’ driving down the steep, icy mountain pass. Yikes. We were all glad when we had finally arrived in one piece. Secondly, THE WIND is unrelenting in Moab. Of all the nights we stayed in Moab we could only have a fire/be outside in the evening about 5 or 6 nights. (That’s a lot of windy nights!) The wind blew over our hammock/hammock stand, ripped the hinge off our front door, blew away a few toys, and untold amounts of sand blew into our camper during several wind storms. Oye!

Layer of sand and dust on our printer after one windstorm the night before

We boondocked (dry camped) on public BLM land about 12 minutes from downtown Moab and had an amazing view of the La Sal Mountains. Moab is perfect for dry camping as there is free water and dump stations in town. We had long planned to come to Moab and there were several things we wanted to be sure to do. Our first order of business: a new mountain bike for Kevin. After lots of careful research and planning, his dream bike was finally found on pinkbike.com and he had an amazing time breaking it in. He rode over 100 miles of trails including the whole enchilada, mag 7, and slick rock.  I inherited Kevin’s old mountain bike and redecorated it appropriately. We have been able to enjoy several family bike rides since.

View from our camper of the La Sal Mountains

Kevin and his many biking adventures in Moab

Kevin’s old bike covered with stickers and a few other necessary accessories 😉

We had the good fortune of meeting up with numerous other fulltime families  and friends while in Moab which was a great blessing. We love meeting and getting to know other families on the road. First we met with a family traveling the US from Switzerland who happened to park right near us. Then we met up with the Logdson’s from Tennessee. We went out to dinner with them a few times, enjoyed a the Moab Jeep convention, went on a beautiful hike, and had fun playing and hanging out around the fire. We hope they will be able to meet up with us for a tour of Acadia in Maine later this summer!

So much fun with our little friends

Fun times at the giant sand dune right across from the entrance to Arches National Park

Then we met up with a couple from Escapees Chapter 8 who we had met during our two week trip to Mexico this past February. Donna has her hair dyed rainbow colors  and just loves playing with Eloise! Eloise couldn’t wait to try some temporary hair dye with her.

Purple, blue, and red hair!

Playing with our little friend Maya

Next we met with a fulltime family originally from Lithuania who we had met at several rallies in the past. Eloise got to know their daughter quite well over the course a a week while Kevin and Giedrius were able to enjoy numerous mountain bike rides. Together we all enjoyed the town aquatics center and playgrounds, several hikes in Arches National Park, and we also rented a Jeep with them one day. We rode our Jeeps on the 100-mile “White Rim Road” in Caynonlands National Park. It was such an amazingly fun and adventurous way to experience that national park.

The White Rim Road with our Jeep (we rented the blue one)

We have so many beautiful photos of Canyonlands National Park its hard to choose just a few to share!

Finally, we met with our Maine friends Cassie and Ryan who passed through Moab for one night on their month long tour of the US. (Eloise vividly remembers attending their wedding last fall and thus refers to Cassie as a ‘real life princess.’ Cute.)

The princess and her prince went on a few hikes in Arches with us, went to the local brewery, and were the first guests to stay overnight in our home in a long time! We all enjoyed hanging out with them before they headed on down the road to Las Vegas the next morning.

All in all we had a magnificent time in Moab and can’t wait until next time…

Happy baby outside Arches National Park

Chapter 25: Bryce Bryce Baby…

We pulled into Bryce Canyon, Utah in the early afternoon. We wanted to stay right near the national park and we had a few options lined up but Eloise met a family in Zion who was also headed to Bryce. They were staying at Ruby’s Inn and Campground so we changed our plans to stay with them. The campground had plenty of room because it sits at 8500 ft of elevation (compared to 3000 ft at Zion). Who cares? Well that major change in elevation meant one thing: it’s cold. While it was warm in Zion it was ice cold in Bryce. It was disconnect-your-water-hoses-at-night-because-it-will-freeze-solid cold. Fun. (Truthfully tho it was a welcome change from the brutal heat of Southern Arizona…)

It was nice to need a light jacket for once! haha

We stayed 3 nights and enjoyed the indoor pool there. We played with our friends we met at Zion and enjoyed several hikes around the hoodoos at Bryce.

We took a day trip to the local ski mountain (Brian’s Head Ski Mountain) where Eloise got to try out skiing with Daddy.

They had a nice time skiing and someone enjoyed making snow angels just as much as skiing

We had originally planned to stop at Capitol Reef National Park and Goblin Valley State park later that week but further research informed us of two important details: 1) it was too cold and snowy at Capitol Reef (the Park was largely closed; the roads were still snow covered) and 2) there was no internet/cell service at Capitol Reef or Goblin Valley. So we headed on down the road to sunny Moab instead.

Kevin got a chance to go mountain biking on the Thunder Mountain trail in Bryce

 

Chapter 24: Zion: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Zion canyon

We didn’t realize it was Spring Break. For everybody. And that there was a marathon going on…

We pulled into Zion at around 5am. We didn’t have any reservations. The campground, South Campground, was first come-first-served and we had read that to get a spot you needed to line up early. When we got in line there were easily 10 other campers ahead of us. (None of them had a 39 foot camper tho) Our back up plan was to find some public land to camp on but thought it might be fun to try to stay inside the National Park for a change. We got lucky and there was room for us and we stayed there a week.

View from our window

The good: We were a short walk to the shuttle bus and the Visitor’s Center. We met several other families and kids who were on Spring Break and Eloise had fun getting to meet all of them. The campground was paved and she enjoyed riding her bike all around. The weather while we were there was mostly pleasant with one rainy day and there was a nice restaurant we could walk to right from our camper. Our favorite hike was the Wildcat Canyon trail which was located off of the Kolob Terrace Road which is a less popular area of the park. Amazing views and no people!

Eloise and her many friends

The bad: Because it was only early April, not all of the roads/hiking trails were open. Most notably the famous ‘Narrows’ hike was closed due to high water along with several other trails which were closed for maintenance. Roads in the northern park of the park were closed due to snow.  The park seemed under staffed for the number of visitors. The line of cars at the entrance gate to get from the nearby village into Zion was a mile long on some days.

Hiking views

The ugly: Over crowding. One day Eloise and Eliza and I hiked up to the emerald pools in Zion Canyon while Kevin was working. It was a short 3 mile hike. It was packed. We walked (trudged) right behind other hikers the whole way there and back. To access the many hiking trails in Zion Canyon you must ride the shuttle bus which was super packed and standing room only. We waited for 2 buses before I said the heck with it and pushed my way on the bus wearing Eliza and holding Eloise’s hand. In another example of the over crowding: there were several trail heads that you take your own car to that were so packed with cars that even in the early morning we couldn’t hike them as there was no place to park. Fun.

All in all Zion was gorgeous. Beautiful scenery. Unfortunately its proximity to major cities means this park has record breaking crowds early in the year. I can’t even imagine it at its peak. We had a nice time but did not achieve that quiet ‘back to nature’ vibe we were hoping for at a National Park.

The cool kids who finished the hike first and waited for us back at the truck

 

Chapter 23: The Rock (Lone Rock, not Dwayne Johnson)

I have a theory: this place is named Lone Rock because all the other smaller rocks blew away in the wind…We’ve hit some high winds on our travels however this place takes the cake. Eloise asked “Will our camper blow over Daddy?” No. At least we hoped not.

Our home parked on Lone Rock Beach

We pulled on to Lone Rock Beach in Big Water, UT early on a Sunday morning. Because we had left Arizona we were now in a new time zone: Mountain Time. (Note: Lone Rock is right on the border of AZ and UT and all week long we crossed back and forth between Arizona time–they don’t partake in daylight savings time– and Mountain time. Boy was that annoying. We kept asking what time is it? oye)

Lone Rock Beach was amazing boondocking. So beautiful. We parked right on the beach and dropped the back deck. We pulled out the inflatable kayak and paddled over to lone rock and in the cove. Eliza was in no way a fan of her life jacket and wanted out of the boat immediately (thus we have no photos from that boat ride). Eloise enjoyed the paddle on the calm waters.

Lone Rock Beach

We enjoyed playing in the sand on Lone Rock Beach and met a few other kids enjoying the beach that week too. It wasn’t super warm but it was in the 60-70 which was warm enough for a kid haha. (The water was cold! But some kids did go swimming. Brr!)

Our neighbor on the beach (who we had just met) warned us of two things: 1.that if there is any wind in the forecast then to make sure everything is tied down, 2. people get their car/truck/camper stuck in the sand here all the time and to be careful.

Hard to see but this is a photo of blowing sand and the rental boat on the beach

We checked the forecast before we went to Lone Rock and there was no wind mentioned. We re-checked it after we arrived and found some light/moderate winds on Tuesday. We didn’t think much of it and went on with our business. Tuesday afternoon the light wind started. Around 5pm the winds intensified and we were sure our awnings were pulled in and all the lightweight items outside were stowed away. At 5:30pm we saw our heavy vinyl kayak and paddles flying in the wind down the beach. We ran after them and secured all of it. At 6pm I noticed our other neighbors running down the beach. I peered out the window and saw a medium sized speed boat up on the beach and people running towards it. Kevin went out to investigate. After 2 hours, Kevin returned. He (and our neighbors who had rented the boat) went out into the wind storm to Lone Rock to save 2 kayakers (a father and son) who had become stranded there when the winds picked up. Oye. Glad no one was hurt. (They had called 9-1-1 but were informed it would be hours before help arrived so this rental boat was their only immediate rescue.)

It should also be noted that while we did not get anything stuck in the sand here (thankfully) we did witness several people who did. Kevin even helped tow one person out of the deep sand.

Glenn Canyon Dam

We were glad when the winds were gone. We were able to enjoy the beach again and also visited nearby Glenn Canyon Dam (took the dam tour which was interesting), hiked out to Horseshoe Bend, and toured Lower Antelope Canyon. At Glenn Canyon Dam we were able to tour all the way down to the generators. Lower Antelope Canyon was beautiful, but a little pricey, crowded, and felt like a mile long cattle march through a canyon.

Pretending to cry as we were stuck with wall to wall people in Lower Antelope Canyon

The whole family at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

We had planned to stay at Lone Rock for a whole week however we re-checked the forecast and saw moderate/high winds in the forecast for Thursday and left. We knew that another day of sand-blasting was not going to be any fun so we hit the dusty trail towards Zion National Park.

Gorgeous Lower Antelope Canyon

Chapter 22: Birds of a feather

We pulled in to Tuscon, AZ a few days ahead of schedule to relax at a campground with a pool and escape the snakes of the Sonoran desert.  Eloise practiced riding her new bike here and found she really enjoyed bike riding.

Enough pictures of Eloise. Here is Eliza liking her walker.

Our flock: Fulltime families (other families who live and travel in their RV full time) all flew into Tucson for a week long rally and we had a blast.  The Fulltime Family rally was held in conjunction with the “57th Escapade” hosted by Escapees RV Club. The family rally was just a small cohort of the large event. The Escapade included seminars, an RV market place, food vendors, club socials, RV sales, and nightly entertainment including a talent show. Of course we really didn’t partake in any (or many) of those events as we were busy meeting and socializing with other families.

Eloise loved meeting all the kids and (mostly) enjoyed “Kidscapade” the kids day camp which was held on two days of the event. (Did she come home half way through both days? Yes. But she did go back to play after a snack at home.) The kids painted, played with water squirt guns, ran in sprinklers, flew kites, played dolls, rode bikes, and genuinely enjoyed running around in the soft green grass. (Grass! In the desert!) Eloise really loved playing with her two new friends: Willow and Eliza (a new Eliza!). They all ran ragged late into the night and unfortunately we were busy chasing them and didn’t take as many photos as we would have liked! As part of the talent show the kids all went on stage to sing a song while they held their art work that they created at kids camp. (Everyone was supposed to paint a picture of their camper. Eloise had other ideas for her art)

Painting #2: Glitter and paint on paper titled: “Tornado camper” – Eloise age 4 and 3/4

One day several of the dads got together to go mountain biking and had a very enjoyable kid-free workout.

Parents socialized by the fire every night and it was nice to relax and discuss topics with those who are living in their RV too.  We got many a tip on new places to visit and recommendations on campgrounds and boondocking and dry camping spots. We even fell in love with the propane fire pit while we were there and knew we had to get one! Of course many good laughs were had and we can’t wait to meet everyone again down the road.

Come on Mom, haven’t you ever seen a baby eat a Popsicle on a 95 degree day before?

 

Chapter 21: Snakes on a trail (a little different from snakes on a plane)

Gila Bend was interesting to say the least. On the one hand it seemed to be a quiet little town with nothing going on. On the other hand there were some interesting kitsch metal sculptures sprinkled around the town and there was this place: Space Age Lodge. Weird.

Perhaps the only neat thing in this town

Being silly with the sculptures

We pulled in to a brand new KOA in Gila Bend to take a quick break from boondocking. We did laundry and cleaning. We decided to join in on a group campfire at that KOA and their fire pit was so new that the hot logs from the fire exploded a pocket of cement into the crowd! Luckily no one was hurt and it certainly woke everyone up that night! We did enjoy some yummy fire roasted s’mores too.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at sunset

After a brief stay at the KOA (which was pricey) we moved on to Holt’s Shell RV Park which was $11 per night for full hook up! Woot. While Kevin worked we explored the town and indulged in long showers, deep baths, and unlimited laundry. It was here that we saw our first black widow spider on a rock wall. (Not sure why we didn’t take a picture…maybe because I was busy running away…) We decided to stay here for a week to explore the Sonoran Desert National Monument. It turns out that there are no hikes in that national monument that don’t require an off road vehicle to access. Bummer since we had pre-paid to stay at that RV park.  Live and learn.

Desert flowers we saw on our hikes from this area

When the week was over we moved south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where there was known to be better hiking opportunities. We tried boondocking on BLM land there however the internet was too slow for Kevin to work (another bummer) so we moved to the campground within the monument which was amazing with internet and fantastic desert views.

The weather had started to get hot a week or two before and daily the temperatures here near Why, AZ, were reaching 85-90F. Hot temperatures bring out the rattle snakes. We knew that. We had been running all over the Arizona desert for the better part of 4 months now and had yet to see any real wildlife beyond a few roadrunners, rabbits, and one snake in the fall (Kevin saw it at dusk in Quartzsite, AZ). We decided to go on a short hike that left from our campground to an old mine.

Mommy and Eloise checking out the old abandoned miners house

It was a well traveled trail and we saw at least 15 people hiking it as well. It was hot but we left early in the morning. On the way back home Eloise was hot and tired so I lagged behind with her while Daddy and Eliza hiked ahead. Well, just a quarter mile ahead on the side of the trail was large adult rattlesnake that was rattling and posing to strike! Kevin sprinted back down the trail to warn me. (I asked if he snapped a pic but he said that wasn’t on his mind at the time haha).

We hiked off trail way around where the snake was last spotted and hightailed it out of there. Kevin went to alert the ranger since there were so many other hikers on that same trail but by the time they made it back to the spot the snake had slithered away. Amazingly, the ranger told Kevin that there had been no snake bites in the history of that National Monument! We had paid to stay at the campground for 2 more nights but packed up and left that same day. Kids and rattlesnakes don’t mix and if the snakes are coming out of their dens then we are going to move out of their way!

 

 

Chapter 20: Saddle Mountain and the Phoenix area

We had such an amazing time in Mexico that we really regretted scheduling RV repair work for the day after we returned. We would have loved to extend our stay!

1. You know you’re a bored kid at a repair shop when you start making a chair out of magazines. 2. Hiding in the laundry bag at the laundromat. 3. Swimming at the hotel pool

 

We dropped our camper off at La Mesa RV in Phoenix and went to an inexpensive nearby hotel for the night. Once the repair work was finished we headed over to Cummins Onan to have our generator checked out because it had started acting wonky before we left for Mexico.  (Just the latest thing to break for us!) After a few hours we were told it was a bad spark plug and hightailed it out of Phoenix to the quiet BLM area near Saddle Mountain about an hour outside of Phoenix.

The scenery was beautiful at Saddle Mountain in Tonopah AZ. We hiked up a small near by hill to take in the view of the amazing wildflower bloom. The next day we hiked up Saddle Mountain which was a tough hike with few trail markers, 3 miles round trip, and 1700 ft elevation gain. The view of the valley was rewarding and Eloise hiked almost all the way up on her own!

Hiking up Saddle Mountain

The next morning we decided to start the generator during breakfast (to make a giant pot of coffee..yawn!) and of course it wouldn’t start (Kevin knew the cause of its issues couldn’t be simply a bad spark plug) so back to Cummins we went. We boondocked in their parking lot for the whole next week while Kevin worked. We were able to get some much needed supplies in Phoenix and visited the Children’s museum which was a neat place to learn and play for both girls. Our generator was finally repaired (it was a bad coil) on a Friday at 4:30pm. We were glad to hopefully have that repaired for good and headed south to Gila Bend.

Phoenix Children’s Museum. She loved pretending to serve ice cream to other kids at the ice cream stand. We played with that for quite some time while Eliza napped.

 

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