Arches and Canyons

May 3 to May 9, 2017

After getting the 411 from InstaFriends Kelly and Marshall of @camp.addict about a newly opened up boondocking site outside Moab, UT we were all in. We towed our 30′ home over 5-ish bumpy miles of dirt road to find our best boondocking spot yet. We tucked in behind a mountain of rocks with loads of privacy, perfect sunset views and great imagination potential for the boys.

We were really looking forward to Arches National Park and it did not disappoint (truly no National Park has disappointed). It was hot, but we filled our backpacks with water and went for a few pretty grand hikes to see…arches. What a landscape…closest thing to Mars maybe? Of course Quinn & Cal completed their Junior Ranger work and earned their badges.

A good amount of time was spent right at our gorgeous campsite. We thought we might stay a couple days but ended up staying almost a week. We did make it into the town of Moab a couple times and ate at a fantastic restaurant, The Spoke on Center. What a cool town with lots of funky shops and restaurants. We’re not into 4-wheeling, off-roading or dirt bikes, but it’s PARADISE for anyone who is.

Close by were a few spots where we could see dinosaur prints, not in a museum, but still in the ground where that particular dinosaur ACTUALLY stomped. WHOA. We visited the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite where we happened upon a National Park archeologist and got a pretty cool history lesson on the dinosaur tracks we saw. Afterwards, we took the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Bone Trail where you could see so many different bones preserved in the rock. Finally we took a short hike to the Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracksite to see huge sauropod footprints. Seeing ancient prints preserved under perfectly engineered lighting systems in civilized, air conditioned museums is great…but this? Hanging out where the dinosaurs did and SEEING the evidence they left behind? Unreal.

Finally, we took a ride to Canyonlands National Park to see some…canyons. This was a short day trip full of driving and stopping for pictures of canyon vistas that went on forever (and the boys were sure to complete their Junior Ranger work for that badge!).

Not a bad start to our National Park time in Utah…which, all told, would be fairly epic.

 

Life is like a box of chocolates.

April 30 to May 3, 2017

After spending not near enough time in Colorado, we launched into a new state…a state we were psyched to enter for all the off-grid, FREE boondocking in these spectacular locations we’d seen so much of on Instagram. UTAH!

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Our first stop in Utah was at Goosenecks State Park, a tiny little park perched on a 3-sided cliff with insane, otherworldly views all around. Feeling brave, we towed (on what should be a 4-wheel drive road only) out beyond all the sane people and parked our house right on the edge of that cliff. It was a little nerve wracking, but too beautiful not to try. Vader was super interested in the very edge.

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During our stay we drove through the Valley of the Gods to see these incredible rock formations standing so tall. Lots of boondocking there, but some pretty tough roads to navigate with a 30′ Airstream, so I’m glad we landed were we did. There were loads of tenters and truck camper as well as some smaller trailers that had pretty epic free campsites so if you can fit, do it.

We also drove out to Monument Valley which is that amazing road where Forrest Gump ended his running career. “And just like that, mah runnin’ days was ovah.” (<<don’t pretend you didn’t just say that in your best Gump voice.) An excellent introduction to a state we knew we were going to love.

 

Colorado HighER.

April 26 to April 30

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After our introduction to the beautiful state of Colorado in Durango, we were bummed that we hadn’t planned more time in the state. Alas, we only had a few spots to visit on The Master Plan (which doesn’t really exist). For our second and final experience in CO, we picked very, very well.

But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story (any Captain Underpants fans? No?). We made a pitstop at Back Country Solar in Cortez, CO for a wee little solar upgrade. (If you’re in Cortez, go to Beny’s Diner for breakfast!) Our slightly used Airstream came to us with 2 little panels on the roof equalling a mere 100w of power. If all we were doing is running one LED for the evening, cool. But we have devices to charge—and we find we enjoy camping off-grid often! So we opted for 200 more watts of moveable ZAMP panels so we can chase the sun. We also upgraded our batteries from a single group 27 12v to two 6v Trojans (and had to have a welder deepen our battery box to handle the bigger batteries). An excellent investment. As a bonus, the owner gave the boys (T-shirts and) a lesson on how solar power works (hello homeschool science lesson for the day!). Highly recommend Back Country Solar.

OK, now to the good stuff. Mesa Verde National Park. And I thought Bandelier was my favorite. Mesa Verde is a “you have to see it to believe it” park. Pictures, brochures, websites, books…nothing does this place justice. Seeing and experiencing it does. We took a ranger guided tour of the Balcony House (the other tours hadn’t opened for the season as it was STILL SNOWING—see pics!) with Ranger Sean Duffy. We’ve had experiences with loads of National Park Rangers and none has been as passionate, engaging, entertaining, knowledgeable or brilliant as Ranger Duffy. He made the cliff dwellings practically come alive for us and the boys.

During our tour we saw how incredible the Ancestral Pueblo people were…resourceful engineers and architects…creating entire towns out of the rock and in caves many hundreds of years ago. We climbed down a whole lotta steps to get to the Balcony House and the only way out was to crawl through a claustrophobia-inducing slit in the rocks on all fours, climb up a VERY tall ladder perched on the side of a VERY tall cliff and then shimmy up the cliff wall on teeny little toeholds. We did all this in 33 degree weather and SNOW. It was scary and completely invigorating. We celebrated with hot chocolate and chicken tenders. Obviously.

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. The stunning landscape of Southwest Colorado, near Four Corners, is the backdrop.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a cool silver coffee joint and let our Airstream, Malarkey, do a little flirting.

Mesa Verde is one place I KNOW we’ll return. There’s so much more to see!

Colorado High

4/18 to 4/26

I was SO looking forward to Colorado’s landscapes. But I got sick. Just enough to knock me out for a bit so we stopped at Navajo Lake State Park in northwestern New Mexico for a 3 day laundry (by hand—zero laundromats close!), work and convalescence period. Tight, awkward campground, but pretty views.

Then we crossed into one of the prettiest states we’d seen so far. Ahhh. And it was mah BIRFDAY while we were there. We stayed just outside Durango, CO at Alpen Rose RV Park. They had JUST opened for the season and the staff was busy getting everything cleaned up post-winter. Not the cheapest campground, but lovely views, kind staff, crazy-clean laundry, free coffee and popcorn and close to one of my favorite towns so far. Good enough for me!

My birthday wish was to take a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, an 1881 railway/train constructed to carry silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains (but that has mostly been used for passengers to enjoy the view). The coal-fired steam locomotive was stunning and the historic passenger cars were so fun! The full trip to Silverton wasn’t available yet as it was still too early in the season. So, we took the trip to Cascade Canyon and had a picnic riverside before heading back. It was a gorgeous ride on a crisp spring day and made me realize why so many people love this state.

We thought it would be fun to make the drive to Ouray. Have you ever driven on the edge of a cliff in an Army-tank sized truck with zero shoulder or room for error and no guardrails and certain death just to your right? Yeah. It was that. My anxiety was on overload and we ended up turning around before we made it. We DID, however, go in to Silverton, the town that hadn’t opened yet. It was an almost ghost town, eerie and fascinating. Out of 20 or so cafes/restaurants, only 2 were open. We had lunch at the Pickle Barrel and the owner was our server. It was very cool talking to him about this town that’s completely cut off from civilization when the heaviest snows come (the roads have gates that close it off!) and how the town re-populates once the train starts running all the way to Silverton again.

 

We were also lucky enough to get some wonderful neighbors at the RV Park. Paul and Nancy (@oursomedayisnow) and their 2 corgis Jake and Maci (who the boys adore) parked next door and we had a wonderful time hanging out with them. Nancy and I even got a wee little girl’s time in town. Much needed. We’ve met some really wonderful human beings on this trip. Of course, I have no pictures. But it happened, I swear.

Bandelier National Awesomeness.

4/12-17 to 4/18/17

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At this point in our trip, I can say that Bandelier National Monument completely stole my heart. The campground in the park was stunning and the park itself, with it’s rich and amazing history and beautiful hikes, was spectacular. I’ve found that while I love gorgeous landscapes and places, what really speaks to me is learning about the ancient people who inhabited these places. I should have been an anthropologist.

We stayed in the Coyote Loop at Juniper Campground inside the park in a just-long-enough site with a fantastic backyard…which was good as an excellent Easter Egg hunt happened there. Highly recommend this campground. No hookups but water spigots around and clean restrooms (sinks and potties only).

Bandelier NM is fairly close to Los Alamos, NM which has a fascinating history and is the home of one of three Manhattan Project National Historic Park locations (Washington state and…drumroll…Manhattan, NY are the other locations). It’s a small museum and a fairly quick Junior Ranger lesson/booklet but whoa…crazy atomic bomb stuff happened here! Check it out. A tour through the Los Alamos Historical Museum gave further insight into a secret city that was created and built solely to research and build atomic bombs. As an example, whenever someone living in the town sent mail, it was read and censored so the person reading it didn’t know where you were or what you were working on. Interesting and creepy.

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As an aside: Los Alamos is also the location of the only “Super Smith’s” grocery store. It’s my MOST favorite grocery store in 9+ months of travels. They had a clothes/shoe department with great prices (Under Armor stuff and all!), home improvements, housewares, gorgeous produce and just tons of stuff. It was like a REALLY fancy Walmart with QUALITY stuff. Sigh. I miss that place.

Bandelier provided some stunning hikes and super cool cliff dwellings that we could crawl into. What brilliant architects and engineers those Ancestral Pueblo people were!

 

Albuquerque. Albuquickie.

We did a quick 3 days in ABQ to check it out and stayed at American RV Resort, which did not feel very resort-y. It was OK…right on the highway, sites VERY close together and not much green space. But it was convenient.

We hiked and Junior Rangered Petroglyph National Monument and saw 400 to 700 year old emojis carved onto volcanic rocks by Native American and Spanish settlers. Took a drive down classic Route 66. Ate at the Route 66 Diner and sampled our very first frito pie (and realized we had really been missing out). We rounded out our stay with a drive-by of Heisenberg’s house and carwash. Ha!

We didn’t really get to dig in to Albuquerque very much and I’d like to go back and do that. But we were looking forward to some open spaces…so off we went…

White Sands. Sledding, Missiles and Wine.

While we were disappointed with our lack of alien contact in Roswell, we were NOT disappointed with the alien landscape of White Sands, NM!

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We were lucky to snag a campsite on the White Sands Missile Range for the week with a picnic shelter, an amazing view and a huge, grassy playground. It was a great home base from which to explore both White Sands National Monument and Las Cruces, NM. I knew we’d drive in to White Sands to go sledding, but the boys were SO enamored by it that they went three times during the week. They studied and learned about the Monument and completed their Junior Ranger work to earn a badge. The gypsum dune fields are completely otherworldly. Quinn & Callum sledded down the hills and rolled, dug and laid in it. Even though the sun was warm, the sand (gypsum) stayed cool to touch and felt so good. On our way to our campground we towed the Airstream right in to the park and set up camp or a few hours of sledding and picnicking. And a camel meeting.

During our time here we also went to the White Sands Missile Range Museum which showcases an impressive display of various missiles and drones outside and a fascinating look at military history inside. And Darth Vader’s real helmet.

We dug the vibe in the town of Las Cruces (and Old Mesilla Village). We had a yummo meal at La Posta de Mesilla and I even got a ladies night out at St. Clair Winery & Bistro (their Cab-Zin was soooo good!) with an insta-turned-real-life-friend whose family  traveled in their RV for a few years. Not a bad week in southern New Mexico!

 

Kitschy Roswell.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Roswell, New Mexico. I hadn’t read much about it. But I was sure we were all going to fabricate tin foil hats and make contact with the mother ship (no, not Jackson Center, Ohio, you Airstream sillies).

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We stayed at Bottomless Lakes State Park in a first-some-first-serve site that was tucked in the back and had plenty of elbow room. The coolest thing about our stay here was that the friend the boys made back at Brantley Lake showed up here too so the boys got even more play time! The campground was nice but would be more fun if the weather was warm enough to swim in the lake. Also, there was this interesting theme in the area…”send nudes”. Can you see there…how someone painstakingly put the effort forth to spell out SEND NUDES on that beach? It was big enough for…who, the aliens(?) to see on their way to earth. And the other one was spelled out in the craft section at Target. No wonder alien life forms just pass us by…  -_-

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So…Roswell. As a small town, I’m sure it’s quite lovely. As a bucket list place to visit it was meh. We went to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. There was lots to read and it was fairly interesting. Ish. I guess we’ve gotten really used to wow-factor museums because the cut-out newspaper articles in craft store frames, tacked to the portable walls just seemed shabby? I dunno. I just expected seriously cool alien invasion stuff and it seemed more shabby-kitsch.

The seriously awesome highlight of our stay was dinner at Big D’s Downtown Dive. It was DELICIOUS!!! If you catch yourself in Roswell, go!

While we didn’t make contact with the mother ship, have an alien encounter or get to put our tin foil hats to work, I’m glad we passed through Roswell. Had we not gone, I always would have wondered if it was awesome. Now I know.

Carlsbad…Carlsgood.

3/26 – 3/30/17

New Mexico!! After 5+ weeks in Texas we were finally into a new state! First stop? Brantley Lake State Park near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The campground was great! We snagged a spot with a lake view and a great picnic shelter that was perfect for holding 2 hammocks. Shannon got some work in and after the boys finished school we spent the afternoons making friends at the playground. They met a buddy, Lucas, who was camping with his family in a seriously cool camper-van for spring break and they were all instant friends.

A visit to Carlsbad Caverns was pretty high on our must-see list and we figured it would be pretty cool. It was cooler than cool. It was ice cold. Or something. We took the long way in (the “Natural Entrance”—a 1.25 mile hike winding down, down, down 1000+ feet into an inky underground abyss) and the easy way out (the elevator!). Unfortunately we were a little too early in the season to see the big Bat Flight Program which was a bummer—I love bats (for real). But the caverns themselves were unreal.

Next up…alien invasion.  -_-

Fort Davis, TX and So. Many. Stars.

3/22 – 3/26/17   We were very excited to end our 5-ish weeks in Texas with a stay at Davis Mountains State Park near the McDonald Observatory. We grabbed a plenty-big campsite just 2 sites away from Airstream friends we had met months before at Anastasia State Park in FL and settled in.

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We were pleasantly surprised to find that Fort Davis was a National Historic Site and the boys could earn another Junior Ranger badge there. I love that the Junior Ranger program has been such an excellent science and social studies curriculum this year! This was a pretty cool fort, built to aid and protect American travelers (as well as mail coaches) during the big gold-driven migration westward. Its history is fascinating and worth a read! Can you imagine riding in that covered wagon for thousands of miles (or better yet…walking it?)?

During our stay at the state park we visited/ate/drank with our friends, played in a dry riverbed, painted rocks (and hid them around campsites), attended a naturalist-led program about owls (science!) and the pièce de résistance–attended a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. That’s what we were looking forward to the most…a budding astronomer’s dream. Of course I got exactly two pictures, but let me paint you a little virtual picture…upon arrival you find a seat in an open-air amphitheater-in-the-round. Once the daylight fades, an astronomer/speaker describes and shows you (with a very cool laser pointer that reaches the heavens) the zodiacal constellations and explains their history. We saw the International Space Station move through and disappear into the blackening sky. We can now spot not only Orion’s belt (easy!) but all of him, including his little pin-head (seriously, such a tough guy gets a pathetic little dot for a head?). Once this presentation was over, everyone filed out into the yard to view various celestial objects through a dozen+/- high powered telescopes. My favorite was the Orion Nebula, which is literally where stars are BORN. Like a star obstetrics ward. Baby stars! As we waited in line for the last telescope we witnessed a shooting star so bright, with such a long tail, it looked like a firework…the collective “ooh-aah” from all 100+ visitors was pretty cool. Quinn & Cal talked about this night for weeks and spent hours drawing constellations and the solar system…science for the win! With I had more pictures!!

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Another amazing few days of learning in the books…but it was time to move on to a new state! So long Texas…you were surprisingly awesome!!