I contemplated rewriting Bon Jovi’s song “Livin’ on a Prayer” with my own version: “Livin’ in a Trailer” but gave in to the pleas of my family to abandon the idea. We have been on the road for three weeks now. Because of Dirk’s injury, I have been on driving duty. The tow vehicle is my Nissan Armada and our trailer is about 7,500 pounds and 31’ long. My car is angry but she’ll get over it. The trailer has afforded us about 240 square feet of living space. The space has been sufficient and we are very happy with our decision to (a) purchase a tow-behind rather than a drivable, b) buy rather than rent, and c) get the size we did. The drives have been long but the beauty of the drives make most of them enjoyable and the anticipation of the next stop makes our departures less difficult. I have received texts from several of you asking if we have killed each other yet. I am happy to report that we are still a family of four humans (and 2 fur babies that had to stay in Atlanta L). The girls have had a few spats but have also, by choice of default, been playing together charmingly. The trailer parks are nice and better than I expected. I have never felt unsafe staying in the trailer. There are two types of trailer parks-privately owned & state/national parks. The privately owned trailer parks tend to be more expensive and the spots are much smaller. However, they offer many amenities such as Wifi (which even works sometimes), laundry facilities, showers (usually nice & clean), and sometimes even swimming pools. The state and national parks offer amazing views and a chill atmosphere. You usually have space to spread out and are right there at your destination. Also, they tend to be much less expensive. We stay at a combo of the two.
The trailer itself is comfortable and we have all the basic appliances and kitchen tools. We have been using the grill and the induction cooktop for most of our meal prep. We tend to eat 2 meals in the trailer and one out each day. Now, even though I love our trailer, it hasn’t been problem-free. Prior to launching, we discovered that the hot water heater wasn’t working. Dirk, with the help of Youtube, was able to replace the faulty part. As you may have read in an earlier post, we had quite an ordeal when the emergency brake detached early into the trip. At Grand Canyon, Lindsey and I came home from our early morning hike to find Dirk and Camryn trapped in the trailer. Instead of panicking, they played cards. The culprit of the temporary imprisonment was a deadbolt-gone-bad. We ordered the part from Amazon and had it shipped to our friend Michele. We will see her tomorrow and will once again have an uber-secure trailer. The worst of our problems was when the “black” tank got clogged. OMG! It was as bad as it sounds. Have you ever seen the movie RV? If you haven’t, you should. Luckily, our problem wasn’t as bad as what Robin Williams’s character endured, but it was close. John Hilgert, an Atlanta friend that joined our journey for a few days, was present for that one and can attest to the fact that I was just running around screaming and dry-heaving rather than being much help.
We have decided that we much prefer to stay in a location for a few days. On the way out West, we had many one-nighters. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and forget where you are! Setting up the trailer takes about 30 minutes and getting ready to roll in the morning takes about an hour. We have met a lot of nice folks during our travels. The people at the trailer parks always seem willing to lend a hand. I have found that people are generally good and kind. The sojourners we have met are each seeking a different adventure. Housekeeping in our tiny home is pretty quick and simple. However, the laundry must be dealt with every few days. We implemented a lot of Pinterest organizing ideas before launching from Atlanta and most have been super helpful in keeping us neat and organized.
So, am I happy with our decision to take this epic journey? Absolutely.
Although not on the original agenda, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument was one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve yet to see on this trip. It started out with our parents’ visit to the volcano six years ago, also on their way to the Grand Canyon. When my mom brought it up just before our long drive to the national park, we decided that it would be a great idea to stop along the way to see the volcano that had erupted 900 years before (don’t worry- it’s dormant now!). Of course, Lindsey and I were also looking forward to working on our Junior Ranger booklets, which I had finally given in to doing after I saw how much fun Lindsey was having with it.
When we arrived at the monument, the first thing I noticed was the extremely powerful wind that kept whipping my hair into my face and blowing things out of my hand. But after I got used to it, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the extraordinary mountain that was almost completely bare of trees and underbrush. You could definitely tell that a volcano had left its mark on this part of the amazing national monument. There were cooled off formations of ‘aa’ and ‘pahoehoe’ lava that created xenoliths and squeeze-ups, which fascinated us greatly. Although we couldn’t stay the whole day, for we still had a long trip to the Grand Canyon, I was so happy that I got the opportunity to see an actual (though dormant) volcano during our trip.
I was expecting an easy four-hour drive from Tuscon to Holbrook, AZ today. Instead, I got a heart-pounding, nerve-wracking, tunnel-visioned roller coaster ride through Salt River Canyon. The Nissan gauges were pushing their way into the danger zone as I was being chased down the switchbacks by our 7,500 pound trailer. The only thing worse was pulling that trailer back up the steep roads out of the canyon. I refused to look over the edge at the car (and possible trailer) that had failed to stay on the narrow road. The reward was the awe-inspiring beauty of the canyon itself.
We arrived to the campground in Holbrook and quickly departed for the Painted Desert
and Petrified Forest. There, we got our first look at some real Native American petroglyphs. We thought we saw a menorah but there was only room for 5 candles. The layers of colors in the Painted Desert were magnificent. Our favorite part of the Petrified Forest
was the .75 mile paved “hike” that took us up close to the many petrified trees. Here, we watched the sun set behind the distant mountains finishing another most excellent day.
Today’s drive took us to Tuscon, AZ with our first stop at the Titan Missile Museum. We got to see the control room and the actual missile sitting in the solo. It was somewhat disappointing that we did not get to see more but was still pretty cool…and scary. Because of my bum leg, I got to ride the express elevator down which took just under two minutes to go all of 34 feet.
We then headed to the Saguaro National Park to see the giant Saguaro cactuses (Yes Grammar Police, ‘cactuses’ is correct. I looked it up.) We toured the park and were amazed by the size and sheer numbers of them. We even drove the Bajada loop (kudos to Laura for navigating it) which is a narrow, steep, dusty, six-mile long, dirt road that is so bumpy that our coffee maker stopped working afterwards.
The Starbucks bill the next day, however, was incentive enough for us to get the Keurig back on line that evening.
Tombstone, Arizona: once home to legendary outlaws and the gamblin’, drinkin’, shootin’, and other unmentionables that came with a booming silver town in the old wild west. Our visit had no gamblin’ and just a little drinkin’ & shootin’. We started our day with an O.K. Corral reenactment of the famed shoot-out between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the gang known as “The Cowboys”. After the show, we had some unsuccessful attempts at using a lasso before strolling down the famed Allen Street for a bit of shopping. In Tombstone, both tourists and residents alike get into character in period clothing. Most of the buildings date back to Tombstone’s 1880’s roots. One really gets the feeling of stepping back in time when visiting this small western town. We had an excellent lunch, some refreshing beverages, and listened to live music at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Big Nose Kate was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday and the first lady of ill repute in Tombstone, Arizona territory. I was curious about her nickname and a local shopkeeper said that it was a reference to her desire to stick her nose in everyone’s business. On the way back to the RV park, we stopped at the Boothill Cemetery where we found the graves of the three Cowboys that died in the O.K. Corral shootout. After reading many of the tombstones and the history pamphlet about the “residents” of the graveyard, I was happy to be visiting Tombstone in 2016 and not 1880! We finished this fun and educational day with a swim in the pool and a breathtaking sunset.
Still in NM. The car thermometer read 104 today. The low humidity helps but I still felt like a french fry under a heat lamp.
Stopped in Roswell to see some aliens. No such luck. I think I believe less in them now after going to the UFO Museum and Research Center. The place looks like it hasn’t been updated since the crash in ’47 (but Laura tells me that it wasn’t built until the ‘90s). We did get a good Mexican meal at Pepper’s nearby. I had probably the best chile rellano I have ever had. Laura got a Southwest Chicken Salad that had a tasty chipotle-ranch dressing that almost melted through the plate it was so spicy.
The next day we went to White Sands National Monument to hit the slopes. It is 250 square miles of pure white powder sand dunes in southern New Mexico where we were able to buy some flying saucers in order to carve up the piste. Unfortunately, despite planning our day around not doing so, we arrived at the slopes during the hottest part of the day and bailed after only a few runs. Our apres ski activities led Lindsey to getting her second Junior Ranger badge.
With all of the wonder and beauty in Carlsbad Caverns, we never wanted to leave. The cave is 75 stories below the ground and mystifies anyone who sets their eyes on it. Once we explored the cave, we had worked up an appetite. Luckily, Carlsbad Caverns is home to the world’s deepest café. (the only things that need to be deeper than the café are your pockets!)
The night before we went deep into the cave, we went to Carlsbad Caverns for another reason—to see the bats. We arrived at dusk and went to the amphitheater outside the mouth of the cave. The park ranger talked to us about how the bats aren’t scary but are generous, helpful, and amazing. We waited and waited until finally the bats came out of the cave in a spiral pattern. Sometimes the bats crashed into one another and made a slapping noise. Seeing the bats and going into the cave was a truly awesome experience.
Leaving San Antonio, we just knew that the I-10 drive to Davis Mountains State Park would be a long one. Before we even got out of the city, we took a wrong turn. We quickly decided to remain on this road less traveled as our destination was west and I-90 seemed to be going that way. It didn’t take long for us to rejoice in this decision. What we saw was quintessential Texas. There were wide open spaces with mountains in the distance. The vastness was separated into large ranches by what appeared to be fences made with thin wire and uneven bits of timber gathered from the land. Every few miles we saw another metal arch proudly displaying the name of the ranch that claimed ownership of that parcel of land. The skies were so blue on this day and the clouds so perfect. Camryn even commented that the clouds looked like cartoon clouds. I was keenly aware of the curvature of the Earth and of how small I actually am. As we drove, the mountains rose up from the land and a quick decision to visit one of the many “picnic stops” along the way yielded some of the most incredible views of my life. We had reached the Pecos River; the gateway to the West. We crossed the tallest bridge in Texas, and several hours later, arrived to our kitschy campground at Davis Mountains State Park. That night, we ventured up one of the Davis
Mountains to the McDonald Observatory for a star party. The astronomer leading the “party” commended us and the other party-goers for our excellent timing. It was the first night of the new moon, Mars was as close as it gets every three years, and both Jupiter and Saturn were clearly visible in the night sky. There were clouds when we arrived, but at the end of our “eye adjustment period”, the clouds parted revealing a clear star-filled night sky. After ascending several stairs at each of the large telescopes, we observed the Heavens. We saw the rings of Saturn, the red spot on Jupiter, and the glowing red orb that is Mars. We saw a star that had died millions of years ago…..the real death star. It looked like an extra puffy cheerio. We were all most impressed with the star cluster that was trillions of light years wide. After we had our fill, we cautiously headed back down the mountain heeding the warning of the astronomer, “The javelinas are suicidal. Watch for them. Remember, go down the mountain, not off the mountain.”
The next morning, we packed up and were eager to head to our next destination; a destination that would take us some 75 stories under the Earth. There was some debate between the ranger and an older full-time rv’ing couple as to what the best route would be to get to Carlsbad. In the end, the young ranger conceded and our route was mapped out with fair warning from all of our “guides” to avoid one particularly treacherous stretch of road. The drive started out lovely but we are Lamprons after all and a wrong turn was taken. It took us a while to realize that we had worked our way onto the highway through hell. The roads were rough, no doubt, but what made it really feel like Hades was the pink flames amongst the now mostly-still-oil-pumping grasshoppers that trickled the otherwise desolate landscape. With the assistance of Google, we learned that, in the oil fields of west Texas, natural gas is viewed as a pesky by-product from the extraction of that black gold. It is burned. The occasional dust devil offered some visual interest. On this drive, we saw the ugly side of Texas and the reality of the type of work that was needed to allow us to keep rolling on this adventure.
San Antonio, Texas, is a city that is well known for the Alamo, River Walk, and delicious Tex-Mex food, a blend of traditional Mexican and southern American cuisine. We had a first-hand experience of all three of these things when we visited this bustling town in the southern part of the Lone Star state. When we arrived, it was already pretty late due to our “adventure” the day before (see previous post), so we didn’t head into town for dinner until about eight o’clock. Since we knew San Antonio was famous for its Tex-Mex meals, the Mexican eatery Rosario’s sounded pretty good. This isn’t a restaurant review post, so I won’t spend too much time talking about the food, but I will say my meal was much spicier than I had expected.
After we had eaten our fill at Rosario’s, Lindsey and I were ready to hit the hay, but our parents thought it would be a good idea to visit the River Walk. This major tourist attraction is made up of a series of walkways lining the San Antonio River, just underneath Downtown San Antonio. Lining the sides of River Walk are dozens of shops and restaurants filled with happy customers and an enjoyable ambiance, and boat rides along the San Antonio River are available for visitors who become tired of walking or simply want to relax and let the River Walk’s beauty engulf them. I wish that we’d had more time to explore this amazing chain of diners and stores, or at least that we had gone earlier so I could appreciate it instead of wanting to go to sleep the whole time. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed our little walk along the river, and I’d love to go back.
The next morning, we decided to visit the Alamo, a building built as a Spanish mission that was later used as a fort in the Battle of the Alamo. It was a lot smaller than I expected but I still marveled at the beauty and history of this structure. As we learned from a historian, the Alamo previously had no roof and a dirt floor, but they changed it when it became a museum. Fortunately for us, we decided to go on a day when they had people in costumes that exhibited the things people wore when the Alamo was still in use. We learned about people like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and many others that you should learn about for yourself when you visit this historical site. Overall, I had tons of fun in San Antonio and definitely wouldn’t complain about going back.
We managed to pull ourselves away from Destin but if we had known what was to come we may really have just stayed. A few hours in to the drive, somewhere in Louisiana, we hit bad weather and the Nissan lost power and we had to coast to the side of the interstate. The car refused to budge. The motor seemed to run fine but the car would only half heartedly attempt to go forward so we called roadside assistance. Right about that time a full sized pickup truck came spinning by 30 yards in front of us and smashed in to the end of the guard rail and went flying down the embankment. Luckily, and surprisingly, nobody was hurt. Being reminded of how dangerous a spot we were sitting in we got out, went to the bottom of the embankment, and called for more assistance.
At this point I would like to back up about 18 hours to dinner that we were having with our good friends Gregg and Serra in Destin. They were telling us about how some other of our good friends, Jeff and Rae-Lynn, had visited them in Destin 15 or so years ago on their way out west on an RV trip much like ours. They ended up breaking down after leaving Destin. Serra said, “But that’s not going to happen to you guys.” Realizing the extreme bad mojo a statement like that carries, she went on to say “Everybody knock on wood.” I will admit that I did not, in fact, knock on wood…
Fast forward back to 2016 in the four hours that we waited for the wrecker in the rain and lightening amongst thoughts of new transmissions, heavy duty pickup trucks, and prayers for being rescued, Laura finds a heads up penny on the ground (Camryn tells me that if it is heads up you can pick it up and get good luck and if it is tails up you flip it over and leave it for the next person to have good luck). Shortly after that, the wrecker showed up and, we figured out that the emergency braking cable had come unplugged from the trailer and locked the brakes (going in the books as a real life field test of the EBS). Unfortunately we had already loaded everything on the wrecker so we rolled in to the campground in true Griswald style.