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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 17

July 12, 2018 (651 miles / 11.5 hours)

So I guess I should start off by saying, once again, that I realize that many miles and that long of a drive is not smart, especially on the seventeenth day of a trip. However, we were left with a dilemma today. Since we stayed in Minnesota last night, and I wanted to get east of Chicago today, we were left with the prospects of stopping somewhere in the area of South Bend, Indiana. If we had done that, and following through on the original plan, that meant we would have stopped tomorrow night somewhere in Pennsylvania about 2-3 hours from home. That just seemed dumb. Why stop so close to home? At this point, in my mind anyway, the trip is over and we’re just covering miles to get back to New Jersey. I just couldn’t come up with a good reason to stop so close to home.

So, since we were no longer going to arrive home Saturday, but instead arrive Friday, we had another decision. Do a long day today or tomorrow. I don’t like the idea of doing an eleven hour day on the last day of a trip. First, no one is in the mood for that! Second, although we will be home, there are still things to do, like unpack the camper. Therefore, things were going well, so we made today a big day and will have about 7.5 hours tomorrow.

With all that being said, we left Albert Lea, Minnesota this morning ready for the day, knowing it was just a driving day. While traversing Minnesota, I encountered a woman in a car towing a trailer. I quickly dubbed her “Miss 60-70”. Miss 60-70 like to pass me in the left lane, change lanes over to the right, and then reduce speed to 60mph. I had my cruise control set at 65mph. The speed limit was 70mph, so I like sitting at five mph under the speed limit in the right lane. I don’t usually have to change lanes and can just motor along. Except with Miss 60-70! We played the dance of her passing me, then getting in front of me, then slowing down forcing me to pass her, and repeat for at least 100 hundred miles! We finished Minnesota and some of Wisconsin playing that game. She finally found the accelerator for good somewhere in Wisconsin and pulled ahead never to be seen again. So long, Miss 60-70! Safe travels you inconsistent driver!!

We finished out Wisconsin, entered Illinois, and began the arduous task of navigating around Chicago. I have to say, I’ve never actually been to the city of Chicago, except the airport and driving around it on these trips. However, these trips have ruined that city for me. I’m sure it’s great and all, but driving around the outskirts on Interstate highways has forever made me not like Chicago! There was the usual tons of construction zones and traffic, but we’re pretty used to that being from New Jersey. I don’t think there is one paved roadway within fifty miles of Chicago that isn’t a toll road! I joked with Donna that it cost us $30 in tolls just to drive AROUND the city! Anyway, we eventually got around and quickly entered Indiana.

We entered Indiana, and another toll road, and left the big traffic behind. Before too long, we had also crossed Indiana and entered Ohio. Once in Ohio, and another toll road, we cruised to our stopping point for the night at a rest area on the Ohio Turnpike just east of Toledo. We usually stop at one of these our first night and our last night on these trips, as they put us 7-8 hours from home.

We settled in after a long day of driving, knowing tomorrow we will be home, and another great cross country trip will be over.

Tomorrow, we finish up strong and make it home!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 16 (Badlands NP)

July 11, 2018 (459 miles / 8 hours)

We began the day, first and foremost, thankful that we left the shady campground in the park and headed to a commercial campground just two minutes down the road. I slept much better knowing there wasn’t a chance of getting woken in the middle of the night and told to move!

We headed back into Badlands National Park to do two quick walks before beginning the driving day. The first was the Window Trail. It’s not really much of a trail, instead a boardwalk out about a quarter of a mile with amazing views of the Badlands. We all really enjoy the Badlands, especially Annabella, so getting to spend a little time in the park is definitely an added bonus to the trip. Along the way out and back on the Windows Trail, we saw a few rabbits munching on grass. The smaller one didn’t seem to really mind us, staying just a foot or two away from us.

After Windows Trail, we went out on the Door Trail from the same trailhead. We had done this walk two years ago when we were in the park and loved the fact that at the end, the boardwalk stops and you are not only allowed, but encouraged to leave the trail and climb around on the different rock formations. We spent quite a while doing just that! I kept thinking, even though I really enjoyed it now as a 42 year old, I would have been in heaven as a small boy here! So much to climb on, in, and around!

After about an hour and a half getting just a sampling of the park, we loaded up and began our driving day. This was our last “real” stop of the trip, meaning the rest of the way would just be overnight stops with more driving. We continued east on Interstate 90, battling heat and very strong winds. Somehow, I always seem to find the wind when driving!

Eventually, we left South Dakota and entered Minnesota, leaving not only South Dakota, but the wind behind us. We stopped of the night at Albert Lea KOA in Albert Lea, MN. We had stayed here before on our way out towards the Badlands two years ago. It is a decent campground in the middle of corn fields and close enough to the highway for easy access on and off.

 

Melbourne at Albert Lea KOA
Melbourne at Albert Lea KOA

 

After dinner and some relaxing, including finally catching up on this blog, we rested up for another driving day tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we continue the push eastward, with our primary goal of getting beyond Chicago.

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 15 (Bighorn NF)

Day 15 July 10, 2018 (548 miles / 11 hours)

Today we left Yellowstone via the East Gate. The drive along this section of the park is beautiful, and admittedly, we haven’t explored it much except to enter or exit the park. Along the way out, we saw a few more bison, as if the park was giving us one last view of what we were going to miss.

Bison

After leaving Yellowstone, we crossed into Shoshone National Forest, which is beautiful in its own right. I said the last time we came through this part of Wyoming that Shoshone could be a national park to itself, if it weren’t smashed up against Yellowstone. I still feel the same way. I commented to Donna that I can’t wait to be able to spend some time just exploring this national forest.

We quickly left the mountains and entered Wyoming’s plains. It was weird to me still that only two hours from the Rocky Mountains that cut through the state and in which Yellowstone is perched, you arrive in vast areas of wide open plains. It’s beautiful country, but I wouldn’t want to be here in winter!

Our original plan was to spend the night dry camping in the Bighorn National Forest along the Cloud Peak Skyway. However, we arrived to the roadway before lunch and decided it better to keep pushing east. We once again crossed the Bighorn Mountains on what is one of my favorite roadways, the Cloud Peak Skyway. This road winds up and up and up, until finally reaching the Powder River Pass at an elevation of 9666 feet. We stopped at the pass to rest the camper, eat some lunch, and re-create some pictures we took here at the pass two years ago.

After winding our way down the very steep eastern side of the Cloud Peak Skyway, we continued across the remainder of Wyoming on Interstate 90. Our plan, or at least Plan B, was to drive to Badlands National Park and stay the night at Cedar Pass Campground. We pushed to the park, and arrived at the campground. Upon speaking with the woman at check-in, she stated I could go see if I could fit in site 33, because the people who rented it were at another campground for the night. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, so we went and found that we could fit in the no hook-up site. I then drove back to registration and paid, cash only, before going to the dump station to fill up with potable water. While there, a woman in a group site was complaining to a Ranger about how she reserved the group site but now had other campers she didn’t know there. I should have caught it earlier but didn’t. It now was bothering me – cash only and no receipt.

I drove back to registration and again spoke with the woman. I asked for a receipt, so that if there was a problem later when she wasn’t there, I could prove I paid for the site. She explained I couldn’t have a receipt because someone else had also paid for the site! I know where that money was going! I asked for a refund, which she gave me without problem, and Donna and I started looking for another place to sleep.

Donna ended up finding Badlands Interior Campground, just two miles south of the park that had open sites with full hook-ups. Sold!!

We even had great views of the Badlands from our spot, and the full hook-ups felt great after a long day of driving.

Tomorrow, we will do at least one hike in Badlands before continuing our journey to the east and home.

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 14 (Yellowstone)

July 9, 2018 (Yellowstone)

For our last full day in Yellowstone, we had a few easy hikes scheduled. The first, was the Fairy Falls Trail to the overlook above Grand Prismatic Spring. After arriving at the trailhead, and luckily finding a place to park the camper at this popular location, we headed out on the hike. The trail is wide, made on an old road bed, until it turns and switchbacks up the side of the mountain. At the top of this loop is a great overlook looking down on Grand Prismatic. It was great to see the entire Grand Prismatic in one view, as opposed to the eye-level view from the boardwalk that surrounds it.

After taking in the sights from the overlook, we rejoined the Fairy Falls Trail and headed towards the falls. It was an oppressively hot day today, and Annabella has been battling some heat rash or prickly heat on her legs lately. I also, was feeling the heat today, so when we saw the sign indicating over 1.6 miles to the falls, we decided to turn back.

We took a few minutes back at the camper to recover and plot out the rest of the day. We headed to Biscuit Basin, where we were going to do another hike to the Morning Glory Pool, however, the trail is exposed to the sun with almost no shade, and we decided Annabella’s rash could use a break from the sun. Instead, we headed back towards Fishing Bridge, where we stopped along Yellowstone Lake to walk out on a very long jetty that divides a portion of it. While there, we saw two elk walking very close to us. They were cautious of the people, but didn’t seem to worry too much about the crowds gathered to watch them. We spent quite awhile there, watching the elk, skipping stones into the lake, and eating lunch.


After lunch, with a storm coming in on the horizon, we decided to head back to the campground to rest and wait out the storm. We then headed to Storm Point Trail, to do our final hike of our time in Yellowstone. We had just missed the start of a Ranger Led hike along the trail, so we walked quickly to try and catch up. Soon enough, we caught up to the group and listened with fascination at the information the Ranger was providing. We learned, among others, that the last full eruption of the volcano that created Yellowstone, was approximately 630,000 years ago and the last major eruption was only 70,000 to 80,000 years ago. Also, because of plate tectonics, Yellowstone is actually moving northeast, and that one day, the volcano under Yellowstone will be under Billings, Montana.

 

Bear scratch on Storm Point Trail
Bear scratching post

 

 

This Ranger Led hike was one of better hikes we took this trip. The information the Ranger provided, and his level of knowledge of the park and its features was impressive. The National Park Service really provides a lot of bang for your buck if you’re willing to take advantage.

We closed out the day back at the campground with another thunderstorm finally cooling off the day. It’s been another great visit to the first National Park. We were able to re-visit some of our favorites from the last time we were here, like Grand Prismatic, but also did a few things we weren’t able to get to last time, like Point Sublime Hike, Grand Prismatic Overlook, and Storm Point. Overall, a great time once again, and I look forward to returning in the future.

 

Camper at Fishing Bridge
A dirty Melbourne at Fishing Bridge 

Tomorrow we leave Yellowstone through the east gate and begin the trek back towards home through South Dakota. We will hit the Bighorn Mountains again, as well as a detour through Badlands National Park along the way.

 

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 13 (Yellowstone)

July 8, 2018 (Yellowstone)

We left Canyon Campground this morning with a plan to tackle the southern loop, as well as hike the Fairy Falls Trail. This trail climbs up the ridgeline above Grand Prismatic Springs, one of our favorite spots in Yellowstone. However, Annabella woke up this morning not feeling herself, so long hikes were not going to happen today. No problem though, we still have a full day tomorrow, so we moved that hike to then.

Instead, we decided to continue to explore the southern loop, but take a more leisurely pace about it. We stopped at a pullout along the road to Fishing Bridge to view a herd of bison that were very close to the road. We took some pictures and talked with a Ranger about the herd, and one male bison that seemed to be looking for a date!

As we continued further along the road, we stopped again at a pullout, this time to view a couple of elk that were hanging around the river.

Elk

We then made the drive to Old Faithful where we parked and walked around the gift shop and visitor’s center. Old Faithful had just erupted, so we decided to take the short walk on the boardwalks in the area looking at the other beautiful geysers, pools, and springs.

 

Blue Star Spring
Blue Star Spring

 

Lunch was had in Old Faithful lodge cafeteria, and despite them not having the chicken fingers Giuliana swore were the best ever from the last visit, lunch was pretty good!

After lunch, we continued on the southern loop and headed for Grand Prismatic Spring. After having a brief discussion with a tour bus driver about parking, we got parked and headed to walk the boardwalk around Grand Prismatic and the other features nearby. Grand Prismatic is one of those places that pictures, while stunning, just don’t really do it any justice.

We began our trek back to our new campground for the next two nights, Fishing Bridge RV park, when we stopped at Bridge Bay Marina to do a hike we had done the last time we were here – Natural Bridge. This easy 2.5 mile hike follows an old road for the majority of the trip and there is little elevation change. Annabella was feeling better, so we figured we’d get at least one hike in for the day. At the end of the hike is a beautiful natural bridge carved out of the rock by water and time.

 

Natural Bridge 2
Natural Bridge

 

After fueling up, we got checked in and settled into our spot for the next two nights at Fishing Bridge. This place is definitely not as beautiful as the other campgrounds in the park, as it has few trees and the sites are on top of each other. However, it does have full hook-ups and puts us in a good position to do the things on the southern loop we are interested in, so it will work. Donna took the opportunity to do one last laundry trip while here, so we will not have to do another one before arriving home.

Tomorrow is our last full day in the park, so we’re going to take advantage!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 12 (Yellowstone)

July 7, 2018 (Yellowstone)

After a late night last night with friends, we awoke this morning to tackle the northern loop of the park. The last time we were here, two years ago, the road from Norris to Mammouth was under heavy construction, making passage all but impossible. Since we didn’t hit that last time, we decided to head there first.

Well, apparently construction moves slowly around here, probably from the extremely small window every year they have to work on things. The road was open, just unpaved for about five miles, making driving slow and the camper filthy!

Eventually, we got through the construction and admired the scenery all the way to Mammouth. Once at Mammouth, we parked at the Lower Terrace lot and walked around the Mammouth Hot Springs. The way the water and mineral deposits formed these “terraces” was pretty cool to wonder at. From there, we finished the drive into Mammouth, parked, and walked around the area. It is awesome to think this was once an Army fort where soldiers were based to patrol the area.

 

Mound Terrace
Mound Terrace

 

After the girls got some ice cream, we headed towards Gardiner and the northern gate. Our plan was to stop at the Boiling River to swim in the waters warmed by hot springs upstream. However, once we got there, a sign indicated the area was temporarily closed due to high, fast moving waters.

From Boiling River, we began our trek towards Tower-Roosevelt, stopping at Phantom Lake for lunch. After lunch and continuing the drive, we saw three different black bears, one with a cub. We then continued, turning towards the Northeast gate and Lamar Valley. Last time we were here, we were able to see wolves in the area of Slough Creek campground. We went there, after stopping to watch a bison herd, but were unable to locate any of the wolves. Perhaps they had moved on or maybe they were just not visible.

 

Phantom Lake
Phantom Lake

 

We then began the journey back toward Canyon area, where our campground was. However, we made a stop first on the South Rim Drive and Artist’s Point parking area. From here, we stopped at the Point Sublime trail for a hike along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This trail, about two miles roundtrip, walks along the rim of the canyon, giving impressive views of Yellowstone River and the yellow rock it exposed that gives the park its name. It was a great hike, and much more rewarding than viewing the canyon from one of the many crowded view points on both sides.

After completing the hike, we stopped at Artist’s Point for a quick photo before making the short drive back to the campground for the night.

 

Girls at Artist's Point
Girls at Artist’s Point

 

Overall, it was great to get out and see the northern stretches of the park again. Tonight is our last night in Canyon campground. Tomorrow, we head to Fishing Bridge RV Campground which will be our home base to further explore the southern loop of the park.

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 11 (Yellowstone NP)

July 6, 2018 (115 miles / 3.5 hours)

We departed Jackson today on our way to Yellowstone, the first national park. We drove through Grand Teton NP and soaked up as much of the view of the mountains as possible. Shortly after leaving the Tetons, we passed through the south gate and into Yellowstone.

We all really liked Yellowstone the last time we were here two years ago, so this return trip was going to be great. It was good knowing that we didn’t have to do all of the touristy things again, like Old Faithful, and could go and enjoy some of the things we missed the last time here.

We made a pit stop at West Thumb to take a break from driving and walk the boardwalk and see the geysers. Just as beautiful as ever!

We stopped along the way to Canyon at a pullout along Yellowstone Lake to eat some lunch. Yellowstone has plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the scenery. After lunch, we continued to Canyon area and North Rim Road. Inspiration Point was closed for construction, but we walked and enjoyed the other vistas of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the north rim.

Lunch on Yellowstone Lake
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake
Lower Falls
Lower Falls

We then stopped at Canyon Area store for some resupply. Friends from home, who happened to be in Yellowstone at the same time, were planning on coming to our campsite for dinner and a fire. While looking in the beer fridge, I heard an “Excuse me” and a gentleman walk in front of me. Wait, I know that voice! Two thousand miles from home and we bump into each other at the beer cooler!

Camper at Canyon Campgroun
Melbourne at Canyon Campground

Bob, Deb, and their kids, Regina and Kelly, came by later. We ate, made a fire, and enjoyed spending time together. It was a good night spent with friends.

Tomorrow, we head out on the northern loop.

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 10 (Grand Teton NP)

Day 10 July 5, 2018 (o miles)

I was super excited for today. Two years ago when we were last in Grand Teton NP, we had planned on doing the Cascade Canyon Trail. I couldn’t wait to get inside that canyon and feel the Tetons looming overhead. Unfortunately, that day, while walking to the boat ramp to take the shuttle boat across Jenny Lake, Giuliana tripped on a curb and crashed knee first into the pavement! Like a true Trooper, she marched on after getting bandaged up, but the damage was done. That day, we only made it as far as Inspiration Point overlooking Jenny Lake. It was a beautiful hike with amazing views, but we were so close!

Today, we were determined to make it into the canyon and experience the mountains up close and personal. We awoke early to get to the Jenny Lake parking area and find a spot, as there is limited parking and it fills early. We arrived at Jenny Lake at 730am, found a spot, and got ready for the hike. We walked to the boat ramp, without falling this time, and bought a round-trip ticket to the other side.

 

Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake

 

After a short ride across the lake, we were ready to begin. The normal trail which passes Inspiration Point, is closed for maintenance, so we had to take a horse trail which dumps you further into the canyon. It didn’t matter to me though, we WERE getting into Cascade Canyon.

The first 1.3 miles of the hike are pretty much up, switch backing up the mountain towards the canyon. Eventually, tired legs and determination got us to the canyon. Simply amazing! This trail follows Cascade Creek as it cuts through the Tetons. Once in the canyon, the trail levels out and meanders through forest, flirting with Cascade Creek, which is at times a raging river from the snowmelt.

While walking, we saw two Picas, two yellow-bellied Marmot, and one bull moose that was lying in the very cool mountain waters of the creek. He must have liked that spot because he was still in it when we returned some time later on our back out of the canyon.

Cascade Canyon Trail joins with another trail approximately 3.5 miles in from the boat dock and heads to Lake Solitude. We ended up stopping and turning around just prior to the trail junction at three miles in. Overall, we walked six miles on the hike today, and I would definitely say the first mile was a good workout. However, when you make it into the canyon, you are rewarded with views of the Tetons that you can’t get from an overlook or scenic pullout. I didn’t feel like I was seeing the Tetons as much as experiencing them. The mountains surround you. I felt like I could reach out and touch them, but they were just out of reach. I felt small and on top of the world all at once! What a hike!!

After returning from the hike, we rested in the camper for a bit before making the drive back to our campground. We earned a rest after a hike like that. Once back at the campground, we waited out a passing thunderstorm resting and relaxing in the camper.

Tomorrow, we leave Jackson, travel through Grand Teton NP on our way to Yellowstone NP, which will be our home for the next few days.

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 9 (Jackson, WY)

July 4, 2018 (22 miles / 34 minutes)

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!! We awoke this chilly morning to find temperatures that had to be in the thirties. Everyone had a great night sleep last night, with the cool air and sound of the Hoback River just outside the open window. We quickly got ready for the day and headed towards Jackson.

We couldn’t check in to the campground until 1230pm, so we figured we’d knock out some errands in town first. We ended up doing laundry and food shopping, resupplying before heading to Yellowstone NP in a few days. Also, while waiting for laundry, I was able to get caught up on blog posts that I couldn’t get out previously because of no cell service.

Next we checked in to our campground for the next two nights, The Virginian RV park. This campground is the closest to the center of Jackson we could get, at only an eight block walk. It’s an adequate place to call home for the next two nights.

 

Camper in Jackson
My girls and camper in Jackson, WY

 

After check-in and set-up, we walked to the center of town to enjoy Jackson. We were here two years ago and really like the downtown area and its unique shops. We spent the afternoon browsing and shopping. We also took some time to sit in the main square and listen to a street performer serenade the crowd.

We went back to a place we found two years ago for dinner, Pinky G’s Pizzeria. This place has really good pizza, especially if you consider it’s in Wyoming! Plus, Giuliana has an affinity for the place, like it was named after her!

After dinner, we made the walk back to the campground to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather. I talked to my parents on the phone who advised that the temperatures back home in New Jersey were in the high 90s and 100s! Ouch!!

We settled in for the rest of the night at the campground, and even got to watch Fourth of July fireworks from the campground.

Tomorrow, we wake early to drive to Grand Teton NP and do the Cascade Canyon hike!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 8

July 3, 2018 (466 miles / 9 hours)

We began our drive to Jackson, Wyoming and the Tetons today. Originally, we had planned at a stopover tonight at Vedauwoo Glen Campground, as we tried staying there last year but it was full. However, if we had followed that plan, we would be doing serious driving on the Fourth of July, which is not the way anybody wants to spend that day! Instead, we decided to drive to Bridger-Teton National Forest just outside of Jackson and find somewhere to spend the night. We had campground reservations beginning the fourth, but couldn’t get in anywhere before then.

The drive started off great as we drove out of Rocky Mountain NP along Route 34. We followed the river down out of the mountains, snaking back and forth. Eventually, we took Route 287 north into Wyoming. Ah, Wyoming! How we missed you!

Soon enough, we were making miles across the state on Interstate 80. As we drove farther west, the wide open plains combined with the storm pushing in from the southwest led to pretty high winds. They were definitely manageable on the interstate, not causing too much difficulty.

After a few hours driving, we exited Interstate 80 and began travelling Route 191 North towards Jackson. This lonely stretch of highway bisects Wyoming and is dotted with tiny towns every hour or so. I use the term “town” loosely, as most don’t seem to meet Webster’s definition! We also began to feel the full strength of the storm we were watching on the horizon all day. The winds became strong, with reported gusts of 50 plus miles per hour. The camper rocked and rolled. I felt bad for the girls bouncing around in the back! I took it slow, reducing speed to allow for the winds. It’s stressful driving, but I felt we were still safe. That is until a combination of a strong gust of wind combined with a passing tractor trailer nearly toppled us over. It was not a good feeling. To top it off, we immediately heard a strange noise coming from the driver’s side, like something was banging loosed on the outside. Luckily, there was a pullout just up the road. I pulled over and discovered the source of the noise was the slide topper. I guess from the force of the wind gust plus the truck it unwound the cover a little causing it to flap loudly. Fortunately, this pullout was wide enough for me to turn around, placing the passenger’s side into the wind. We then extended the slide and got the slide topper fixed without an issue! Phew!!

We decided it would be best to wait a few minutes at that pullout to let the storm pass a little. It wasn’t really raining, sporadically at best, but the wind was terrible. After a 15-20 minute break, things had calmed down and we continued.

We ended up stopping for the night at Kozy Campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest about 30 minutes from Jackson. We were going to dry camp in the National Forest, but passed this campground and could not keep going. We got a site right along the river and the price was right, $15 for the night. We got set-up and I tried my hand with the fishing rod in the river. The river was going too quickly for any real chance at catching dinner, but it was fun anyway! (Thanks Dad for the travel rod!)

 

Bridger-Teton NF
Bridger-Teton National Forest

 

We ate some dinner and relaxed by the river for a while, enjoying the sights and sounds of the river. Nice way to end a stressful day of driving. The drive would have been great had it not been for the wind. Wyoming really is pretty country.

Tomorrow, we drive the final 30 minutes to Jackson and spend the day in town and celebrating the Fourth of July!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 7 (RMNP)

July 2, 2018 (0 miles)

It was cool last night, with temperatures in the forties, making for a good night’s rest. We awoke this morning ready for a full day in Rocky Mountain NP. After breakfast, we packed up and headed to the Park and Ride, where we could grab a shuttle to the Bear Lake Trailhead. The Park and Ride was well organized, and a new shuttle bus arrived to ferry visitors right after the last departed. Soon enough, we were at Bear Lake Trailhead.

This is a very popular trailhead, and the limited parking fills up fast, making the park shuttle an easy and somewhat necessary way of getting there. We then headed out on the Emerald Lake Trail. This trail, which starts at about 9400 feet of elevation, climbs steadily through forest. About one half mile in, we passed Nymph Lake, a small mountain lake filled with flowering lily pads.

 

Lily pads on Nymph Lake
Nymph Lake lily pads

 

Continuing on, and climbing more, we came to Dream Lake. I read in a guidebook that Dream Lake was the most photographed lake in the park. It’s easy to see why. This mountain lake is surrounded by towering mountains, and looks like it belonged in a Bob Ross painting. It was beautiful.

We spent a few minutes at Dream Lake before continuing the final push onwards and upwards to Emerald Lake. This mountain lake, with its green waters, sits above 10,000 feet of elevation. In fact, there was still snow on the ground near the lake.

After resting and enjoying the sights, we began the trek back to the trailhead. The total length of this hike is 3.6 miles. It is not an easy hike, given the climb combined with the elevation. Overall though, all agreed it was a great hike!

After taking the return shuttle back to the camper, we began our drive to Trail Ridge Road. This road, which generally cuts east to west across the park to the Alpine Visitor’s Center, climbs from the valley floor to over 12,000 feet before making it to Alpine which sits at over 11,000 feet. We began the climb, at times hugging the mountain side and other times seemingly dangling from a cliff with no guiderail. The views were amazing, and continued to get better as we got higher. We ended up driving about half way to Alpine before turning back at a pullout. Perhaps my nerves got the best of me, but we were well above 10,000 feet and the exposure was making me nervous driving the camper! So, we did the safe thing and turned around before it got any worse, which I understand from talking to other motorists later, it would! We stopped on our way back down at a pullout and enjoyed some lunch with amazing views!

 

View from Trail Ridge Road
Our lunch view on Trail Ridge Road

 

We then made our way to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. We were able to get the girls pins from Rocky Mountain NP, expanding their growing National Park pin collections, as well as some shirts. After a mishap with a bloody nose from the dry air (picture me bleeding all over myself running through the visitor’s center headed for the bathroom!), the afternoon was more than half over. We headed back to the campground to relax in some hammocks and enjoy the view of the Rockies for a little while longer.

Tomorrow, we depart Rocky Mountain NP. While our visit was short, we did a couple of great hikes and have seen some amazing views from our campsite and our drive along Trail Ridge Road. We did not make it over to the western part of the park and Grand Lake. We will just have to make it back here again in the future when we can spend more time. This park definitely hasn’t disappointed!
Tomorrow, we make our way towards Jackson, Wyoming and the Tetons!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 6 (RMNP)

July 1, 2018 (78 miles / 2 hours)

Since we had a short drive today and such a late night last night, we slept in a little this morning. We quickly broke down the campsite and were on the road before 930am en route to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The drive there was beautiful, as we snaked our way further into the Rocky Mountains. We passed through Boulder, CO, which seemed like an awesome college town. After climbing through mountain passes, we eventually reached Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain NP. Estes Park seemed like another really great mountain town.

 

Donna and girls at RMNP
Donna and girls at RMNP

 

After stopping for the obligatory photo op at the sign to the park, we passed through the gates and headed for our campground during our stay here, Moraine Park. After checking in, which was seamless, we quickly found our site and got set up. What a great campground! We have impressive views from our site of the surrounding Rockies.

 

Camper at Moraine Park CG, RMNP
Camper at Moraine Park Campground

 

We then had a quick lunch, before embarking on our first hike of the park. We chose to do the Cub Lake hike, as the trailhead is less than one mile from the campground. This trail, which is five miles roundtrip, skirts mountain meadows before a short climb at the end to a mountain lake. The views throughout the hike were spectacular! We were all glad we chose this for our introduction to the park. Along the way back from the lake, we encountered a turkey with several younglings in tow on the trail. A little bit further down, we saw a grouse with several of her kids as well.

After our hike, we settled in at the campground for some dinner and relaxation. We set up the kids hammocks and they rocked away reading and listening to music.

Tomorrow, we will do the Emerald Lake hike, as well as drive the Trail Ridge Road as far as the Alpine Visitor’s Center. Truth be told, tomorrow is our final day here and the only full day we have here. I probably should have titled this year’s trip “Yellowstone Trip – Part 2”, since we will be spending the most time there. However, I always wanted to see this park, and I know we are not doing it justice by only staying two nights. Nonetheless, we had to make some choices, and Yellowstone won out!

Tomorrow we experience more of Rocky Mountain NP!

Until next time!!!
Post Script – If you haven’t noticed, I am behind a few days posting. I am writing every day, but the late night at the concert and the lack of cell coverage have caused delays. I will post when I can!

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Rocky Mountain Trip — Day 5 (Red Rocks)

June 30, 2018 (0 miles)

We had most of the day to relax and get some projects done before we had to go to a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The day was spent cleaning the interior of the camper from top to bottom, as well as doing other maintenance items like checking all the tires to ensure our repair was still good (all was well), checking and adding motor oil, and flushing the black tank. Donna also took the opportunity to do a load of laundry, since we had the time. After lunch, Giuliana and I took a dip in the campground pool before getting ready for the concert.

The concert we had tickets to was for The Avett Brothers. We took an Uber to the amphitheater, which worked out well. This has to be the best music venue I’ve ever been to. The seating area is nestled in between to giant red rock formations, giving the venue its name. It’s simply beautiful. After dark, it gets even better, with the lighting on the rocks and tons of stars in the sky.

The concert itself was great. We like this band and they are one of those groups that sound even better live. We also enjoyed the opening act, Mandolin Orange. After the show, we found our way to the Uber pick up lot, and after a long wait, got our ride back to the campground. We got in well after midnight.

Overall, it was a great day. We were able to accomplish some needed tasks around the camper and saw a great show at Red Rocks Amphitheater! We went to bed exhausted.

Tomorrow, we make the short drive to Rocky Mountain National Park and our first true destination of the trip!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain NP Trip — Day 4

June 29, 2018 (245 miles / 4 hours)

We had a 900am scheduled tire change at our campsite this morning courtesy of Coach-net. The company that responded, MCM Truck Repair, arrived on time and quickly got to work. They had the tire off and replaced in no time, and recommended a local tire shop to do the work we were looking for to correct the problem. We departed the campground at 930am en route to Ogallala, Nebraska and T.O. Haas Tire and Auto.

Upon arriving, I spoke with the owner’s son and described the problem and what we were looking for. Specifically, I wanted the flat tire repaired and a new valve stem put in. I also wanted the other inside dually tire checked and a new stem put in, since that one has been having trouble holding air as well. The guys at T.O. Haas said they’d get us fixed up and began working on the camper within five minutes. Luckily, the flat tire wasn’t damaged other than the faulty valve stem. Ultimately, we ended up changing all of the valve stems to better quality ones that are meant to handle the higher pressure our tires hold. Also, we had sturdy, braided valve extensions put on the inside tires to make checking and filling the tires much easier. All in all, great work and even better service! We were pulling out of their parking lot two hours after pulling in.

 

Camper tire repair
Camper tire repair

 

We then made a quick pit stop at Walmart to acquire some forgotten items and resupply on some others. We then began the relatively short trek to our next stop – Colorado.

Shortly after leaving Ogallala, we entered into Colorado and “the West”. It never gets old. I once again found myself thinking about what it was like to push across the Colorado plains on horseback and covered wagon. What a different life. We complain if the internet is too slow, or if we lose cell coverage for five minutes! These people endured hardships modern Americans can’t comprehend all to start a new life. Maybe it was the gold rush, or just to find a quiet piece of land to start their American Dream. Either way, these pioneers were drawn to something they couldn’t find on the east coast. While for drastically different reasons, I find I have the same feeling pulling me towards the mountains, the wide-open spaces, “the West”!

We made it to our campground in Englewood, Colorado shortly after 400pm. We are staying the next two nights at South Park RV more out of necessity than desire. The campground doubles as a mobile home park with permanent residents. We chose this place, simply because it was the only campground in the area of Red Rocks Amphitheater that had availability. When we planned this trip, we weren’t originally headed to this area. We were going to make our first stop at Rocky Mountain NP. After planning and making the required reservations, Donna found that a band we like, The Avett Brothers, was going to be playing a show at Red Rocks on June 30. We like the band and always wanted to see a concert at what is supposed to be an amazing venue. So, we purchased four tickets and adjusted the itinerary.

We settled into the campground, ate dinner and prepared for some relaxation time. While we would have like to stay another day at Lake McConaughy, we thought better of it in case there was a delay on the highway or some other unforeseen event. We didn’t want to miss the show and waste those tickets! Since the show is in the evening and we will have all day, time will be spent relaxing and doing some projects around the camper. We’re going to give the inside a good cleaning, and I have some general maintenance things to take care of, including making sure our tire repair is doing well!

Tomorrow, we spend the day in the campground and then go see a concert!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain NP — Day 3 (Lake McConaughy)

June 28, 2018 (413 miles / 7.5 hours)
We left Lake Anita at about 830am continuing our push west. We drove through the remainder of Iowa and about three quarters of Nebraska today. I once again took notice of Iowa’s pink highway with dozens of windmills scattered across the countryside. Before leaving Iowa, the skies ahead of us turned an ominous black stretching across the whole of the horizon. With the coming storm came very strong winds. At one point, I pulled off the highway to take a break and hopefully let some of the storm pass. Thankfully, I-80 took a turn away from the storm, so we didn’t have to drive through any rain. The winds were still strong at times though, and the sun was blacked out, making it feel more like 900 at night than 900am.

Iowa storm
Iowa Storm

Eventually, we rode passed the storm and into Nebraska. We continued our trip across Nebraska before stopping for the night at Lone Eagle Campground in Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area. We stopped relatively early today, at about 315p, helped by the time change and the fact that we only have a 3.5 hour drive tomorrow. This campground is much farther from the interstate than we normally travel for simply a one night stay, however it was worth it. We found a site that was available and quickly got set up. Our site is right along the water, a short walk down the dune to the water’s edge. The site has full hook-ups and a beautiful view!

After set-up, the girls had already eyed the water and quickly changed into bathing suits. It was hot outside, with temperatures nearing 100F, so the water was warm and refreshing. We spent a long while swimming in the lake and enjoying the day. After swimming, we ate dinner and relaxed for a bit.

Girls at Lake McConoughy
Girls at Lake McConaughy

I then decided to work off a little dinner by checking the air in the tires. Both inside rear tires of the dual wheels were low – really low! My father and I had spent a few hot hours on Father’s Day installing valve extensions on the dually tires to hopefully make this process easier. Unfortunately, I believe it only made it worse by possibly damaging the original valve stems. Nonetheless, with the help of Donna, I filled the inside passenger’s side tire and replaced the hub cap. I then went to the driver’s side. After removing the hub cap, I discovered the reason that tire was low was because the original valve stem had completely broken, and the tire wasn’t low, it was flat! Ugh! Last year the NOX sensor. This year a flat tire.

I have RV roadside service through Coach-net. I’ve had it for three years and never used it. Today, we’re using it! I called and quickly received word that a repair service would be out to the campground first thing in the morning to change the tire. Luckily, we have a spare, which can be rare for Class C motorhomes. After we get the tire changed, we are going to go straight to a tire shop to have the broken valve stem replaced, and while we are at it, we will have the other inside valve stem replaced as well. There just seems to be something going on with those inside valve stems, so I’d rather get them both switched out and not worry about it.

After checking all the other tires (all good), we settled down to watch the sunset and enjoy this campground while we are here. Might as well make the best of it! It could be worse, we could be stranded along the side of the highway!

Tomorrow, we make repairs and then continue our journey to Colorado!

Until next time!!!

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Rocky Mountain NP Trip — Days 1 & 2

June 26, 2018 (442 miles/8 hours)

And we’re off! For the third year in a row, we loaded up the RV and turned west on I-80 in New Jersey headed out to experience America. We did a tune up trip in April to a local campground for the weekend, and then headed to Lake George, NY for Memorial Day weekend. Both trips went well and left us counting the days until we left for the west.

We left today at about 215pm, which was a little later than planned. All the stress of getting ready and the months of planning were over, and I felt relief as we departed. All that was left was to go and enjoy! Our trip this year has us going to Rocky Mountain National Park followed by return visits to Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, and Badlands NP.

We travelled well today, ending for the night at a service area on the Ohio Turnpike just east of Toledo. This has become our go-to spot for the first night as it is convenient and cheap ($20 for electric). We arrived late and were tired from the day knowing we had a long day of driving to come.

June 27, 2018 (692 miles/11.5 hours)

We awoke early toady, much to the dismay of Annabella and Giuliana, to get a head start on what was to be a long driving day. If I haven’t said it before, or if you’re new here, I don’t recommend doing nearly 700 miles in one day. It’s not smart, and I wish we didn’t have to do that, however, we have a limited time to do the trip every year, so there’s going to be long driving for us. Just know that we are aware that 700 miles in a day, in a camper, with two teenagers is an awful idea!

With that said, we were on the road at 730am after fueling and making miles westward. We finished the remainder of Ohio, then did Indiana, Illinois, and most of Iowa. Before I move on, just a note to the Indiana DOT – If you’re going to charge a toll to drive on I-80 in your state, perhaps you could fill in a pothole or two (thousand!) Anyway, the drive went well, despite the rain, which at times was coming in horizontally. Thankfully, my father and I resealed the bulkhead before the trip. No leaks!

We stopped for the night at Lake Anita State Park in Iowa. This gem is about ten miles south of I-80 (exit 75), so it’s a little farther away from the interstate than we like to go for just an overnight. However, it is totally worth it. The campground and it’s park-like grounds sit along the lake and are simply beautiful! There were plenty of available sites with full hook-ups and the cost was only $19 per night.

 

Camper at Lake Anita
Camper at Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

 

After set-up, we took a nice walk along the bank of the lake to stretch our legs and take in the sights. If you are ever passing through this area, it’s well worth the side trip to stay here. I learned of this campground from reading another blog, Lolo’s Extreme Cross Country Trips (just google it!). Their website chronicles years of cross country trips and is filled with helpful information.

After dinner and showers, we settled in for a relaxing movie night. Tomorrow, we finish up Iowa and tackle Nebraska before making it to Colorado and “the West”.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip Recap and Trip Planning

March 11, 2018

So another trip has come and gone and yet again I have failed to provide a timely trip recap!  I once again promised one shortly after we returned home in July, but didn’t deliver!  So, since it’s been eight months, here you go…

The Yosemite Trip was amazing to put it mildly!  I have found myself looking back at pictures from the trip in amazement that we went to all of those beautiful places.  Some highlights for the trip include:  Every minute spent inside Yosemite, the giant sequoias of King’s Canyon, feeling epically small in Grand Canyon, a lazy day spent out on the water of Lake Powell, the beauty water and time can create in Arches and Canyonlands, and the awesome mountain town of Breckenridge.  We really saw it all on this trip.  We crossed the United States, watching the landscape change as we went.  We saw snow-capped mountains, mountain lakes and rivers, blistering hot desert, and more natural wonder than I can express in words.  There are plenty of other amazing places and landscapes in America than we visited on this trip, but if you want a nice sampling of everything, visit these places!  Every place we went is a place I look forward to returning to sometime in the future.

Now for the trip lowlights.  Admittedly, there really weren’t that many.  The one that sticks out the most is the NOX sensor going bad on us on the first day of the trip!  That really was a kick in the pants!  However, out of this seemingly terrible event, we realized a few things.  First, it turned out not to be that big of a deal.  Thanks to the awesome people at the Mercedes Benz dealer, we were fixed and back on the road in a few hours.  Second, we realized that we can figure out a solution to most problems and still have a great trip.  Finally, we also were reminded that there are a lot of really great people out there still.  Other than that one event, the only other lowlights I can think of would be temporary afflictions of short temperedness due usually to oppressive heat and/or close proximity to one another!  These bouts were quickly remedied and harmony was thankfully restored!

So that’s it for the Yosemite Trip!  Now where to next?  Last years trip was 24 days in length.  Due to other factors, we are not going to be able to take a trip of that length again this year.  Instead, we will be taking an 18 day trip, which is about the length of our Yellowstone Trip the first year.

Because of where we live and where we want to go, 18 days doesn’t leave a lot of options unless we want ridiculous driving days with very little time spent where we want to be.  So after much discussion and planning, we decided to visit Rocky Mountain NP, Grand Tetons NP, and Yellowstone NP.  This will be a second visit to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, but we figured we enjoyed them so much the first time, and there was still plenty we wanted to see there, that we’d have a great time going back.  To be honest, I could go to Yellowstone every summer and be perfectly content.

We will have a few surprises thrown in for good measure along the way, but for the most part, that’s it.  We already pretty much know what we want to do in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone this time, however, we’ve never been to Rocky Mountain.  If you have any suggestions for must-see day hikes while we are there, or any other suggestions, please leave a comment below!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 24

July 15, 2017 (375 miles/6.5 hours)

We made it! Back home safe and sound in Northern New Jersey. It’s been a great trip, to say the least. We’ve seen some pretty amazing things on our three and a half week trip.

Some highlights include all of Yosemite, the giant Sequoia trees of King’s Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Arches and Canyonlands, and Breckenridge.

This trip has been a blast, even though there have been a few ups and downs.

I’ll write one more post about this trip in a few days with a summation. I’m too tired and there’s too much to clean up to do a more in-depth summary tonight! I’m pretty sure that’s a sign it was a good vacation!

One more post about the Yosemite Trip to follow, but tonight we rest!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 23

July 14, 2017 (433 miles/7.5 hours)

Our second to last day on the road brought us through the remainder of Illinois, all of Indiana, and most of Ohio.

We ended up stopping for the night at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike at milepost 197. We had stayed at this rest stop for our last night on our Yellowstone Trip last year. For $20, you get a safe spot to park with only other RV’s, electrical hookups, and usually a dump station and potable water. I say usually because they had a water main break at the dump station, so it was out of service on this stop. Nonetheless, it’s the perfect last stop.

We ate some dinner and settled in to watch a movie before the final drive home tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we will be back home in northern New Jersey, visiting with family, cleaning up ourselves and the camper, and spending some time with our dog, Scout! Scout stayed home and has been once again cared for by my Mother. Thanks Mom!!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 22

July 13, 2017 (550 miles/9.5 hours)

Today we finished crossing through Kansas. We crossed into Missouri without really noticing, as we were navigating the spaghetti bowl of roadways through Kansas City!

We crossed all of Missouri today as well. Missouri is the last new state for us on this trip. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the scenery while crossing Missouri. At this point in the trip, I just want to get the miles done and get home. It’s not that I’m ready for this to be over, because I’m not. Donna and I, in fact, had a discussion today about how we would love to be able to stay out on the road longer. However, since we can’t and we are simply putting in miles to get home, I’d rather just get them over with.

We circumnavigated St. Louis, taking Interstate 270 around to the north and linking back up with I-70 in Illinois. We were able to get about 130 miles of Illinois completed before stopping for the night.

We ended up stopping in Casey, IL at the Casey KOA. Casey is apparently known for having the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair, World’s Largest Windchimes, and World’s Largest Golf Tee” to name a few. I know this because Donna was quick to research and let me know. Also, the many signs along the highway proclaimed these so-called facts. Luckily for me, all of these must-see attractions were the opposite direction as the campground from the highway. Although Donna really wanted to see these sights, we hung a left and went to the campground.

golf tee
“World’s Largest Golf Tee”
world-s-largest-rocking
“World’s Largest Rocking Chair”

Those are stock photos courtesy of Google, by the way.  I’m not falling for that trap again!

Donna doesn’t have the best track record on these trips picking out roadside attractions! For those of you who were following along on last year’s Yellowstone trip, you’ll remember the “Corn Palace fiasco of 2016”! Feel free to go back to that post and refresh your memory!

At any rate, tomorrow we continue the push east, making our last stop for the trip.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 21

July 12, 2017 (503 miles/8 hours)

Our journey back eastward began in earnest today. We left Breckenridge and continued our drive through Colorado on Interstate 70. The drive from Breckenridge to Denver was just as beautiful as yesterday’s drive. We drove up, over, down, around, and even through the remainder of the Rocky Mountains today, dropping out of the mountains just before Denver. I think Colorado is going to become a state like Wyoming to me. Someplace I can see myself returning to year after year and never tiring of it.

Colorado ski area
One of many Colorado ski areas
Dillon Reservoir
Dillon Reservoir

After making our way through Denver, we drove through the eastern portion of Colorado plains. What a stark difference to the mountains we had just left.

We crossed into Kansas soon enough, another new state for us, and began the long trek across it. Kansas, so far, seems very similar to driving through Nebraska. Rolling hills of wide open plains filled with farms and cattle.

We have old Army friends who absolutely loved living in Kansas. I’m sure it’s a beautiful state and a great place to live. Maybe someday we will spend some more time here finding out, but for now, there isn’t a real draw here for us. It’s just another state we have to cross to either get east or west.

We ended up stopping for the night at Salina KOA in Salina, KS. It’s a nice enough campground having the most important things to us at this point – full hookups (its 104 degrees here!) and close proximity to the interstate. One cool thing about this campground is it has a “Wizard of Oz” theme. This was Giuliana’s favorite movie as a small child. She used to ask to watch the “Vizard of Oz”!

Giuliana and the tin man
Giuliana and the Tin Man
Melbourne in Salina KS
Melbourne in Salina, KS

Tomorrow, we continue our push homeward. I can’t believe it’s almost over!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 20 (Breckenridge, CO)

July 11, 2017 (300 miles/4.5 hours)

We began our journey back east today, leaving Utah on Interstate 70. While I really love the desert, it was nice to leave it and get back to forests and mountains!

We quickly entered Colorado, another new state for us, and our destination for the day’s travels. The drive along I-70 through Colorado has been some of the prettiest driving we’ve seen. The sections of I-70 that run through White River National Forest were particularly beautiful. The road follows along the river in the canyon it carved with steep mountains rising above you. Simply beautiful!

After not too long, we arrived at our campground for the night, Tiger Run RV Resort in Breckenridge, CO. Holy cow! This is THE nicest campground I’ve ever seen! Donna and I walked around looking at the million dollar plus motorhomes surrounding us feeling like we were the poorest people in the place!

Melbourne at Tiger Run RV Resort
Melbourne at Tiger Run RV Resort – the picture doesn’t do it justice!

This campground allows rental spaces, as well as owned sites. There was a board with a listing of sites for sale. The cheapest we saw was over $100,000! Yikes! I’ll settle for just staying for the night for now, although we plan on returning here next year for a few nights. It’s that nice!

After setup, we walked to the nearby bus stop to take the free bus to the main part of Breckenridge. What a cool mountain town! We walked around checking out all the little shops, bars, and restaurants.

Main St Breckenridge
Main Street Breckenridge, CO

This is definitely an area we want to come back to, and luckily, we already are planning our trip for next year. It includes spending at least a week in Colorado, so it looks like we will be able to easily come back again!

Today brought us to our last real destination of the trip, Breckenridge. Tomorrow, we begin the drive back to Northern New Jersey and home. I’m sure the states in between here and there are great in their own way, it’s simply a matter of time. We don’t have enough of it! Although we’ve been on the road for just under three weeks, I think I could do another three and still not see what I want to. The good thing we’re taking away from it is that not getting to see everything on this trip is a perfect excuse for us to return to these areas at another time! Can’t wait already!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 19 (Canyonlands NP)

July 10, 2017 (Canyonlands National Park)

We made the forty-five minute drive from our campsite in Moab to Canyonlands National Park this morning. Because of where we are, we decided to go to the Island in the Sky section of the park, and forgo The Needles and The Maze sections because it would take too much time to reach them. There are no roads that travel into The Maze section (for non-4×4 vehicles) and the roads don’t connect The Island in the Sky and Needles sections because of, well, the canyons!

Girls at Canyonlands
Girls at Canyonlands National Park

After entering the park, we headed directly to do the short and easy Mesa Arch trail to view this arch up close. This arch is one of the standard desktop pictures that probably came with your computer. They say for the best shots, arrive at the arch an hour before sunrise to catch the sunrise through the arch. Well there was no way that was going to happen, certainly not nineteen days into the trip! So we decided to view the arch in all its glory under mid-morning light. It was still awesome!

Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch

We checked out the arch and took some pictures before finishing up the loop trail back to the trailhead.

Family at Mesa Arch
Family at Mesa Arch
Girls at Mesa Arch
Girls overlooking the canyons at Mesa Arch

After Mesa Arch, we headed to Grand View Point Overlook. We ate some lunch and talked with a Park Ranger about how canyons were formed and how erosion is continuing to form them.

Grand View Point
Grand View Point Overlook

We then hiked a bit of the Rim Trail from the Overlook.

Matt and girls at Grand View Point
Matt and girls on Rim Trail at Grand View Point

After Grand View Point, we headed towards Upheaval Dome, stopping to look at Whale Rock, which surprisingly does look like a whale!

We then headed to Shafer Canyon Overlook and walked out to the point to get the best views. We even saw some off-road vehicles traveling down into the canyon on the dirt roads that hugged the canyon wall.

Shafer Canyon
Shafer Canyon
Matt on Shafer Point
Matt on Shafer Point

We finished up with the obligatory stop at the Visitor’s Center, where Canyonlands pins were purchased to further the girls’ collections!

After Canyonlands, we headed back to Moab, where we found a car wash with big enough bays to fit the camper. So we stopped and gave her a quick bath. It wasn’t the best wash ever, but we managed to get a lot of the bugs off, so I feel better about things!

We then stopped and did some laundry and hit the supermarket for what will hopefully be our last times doing those tasks on this trip.

We ended the day back at the campground, excited at the prospect of spending the night tomorrow in Colorado. From Colorado, it’s back towards New Jersey and home.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 18 (Arches National Park)

July 9, 2017 (Arches National Park)

We began our exploration of Arches National Park early this morning, in an effort to get some hiking done before the heat of the day sets in.

We set out to hike the Delicate Arch trail. The trail, which the NPS says is a little over 1.5 miles one way, is a serious hike as it is almost entirely uphill going out and there is very little shade.

After about three quarters of a mile, Giuliana, who has been battling a cough the last couple of days, had enough. She informed Donna and I that she was having trouble breathing from the heat, her cough, and the strenuousness of the hike. Annabella and I really wanted to complete the hike, so Donna was a true team player and stayed behind with Giuliana as Annabella and I continued on. Donna and Giuliana ended up returning to the camper to wait for us while we continued on.

It was a good decision for them to turn back when they did. The trail didn’t get any easier from that point. Annabella and I continued to climb the slickrock until finally Delicate Arch came into view.

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

What a sight! I can see why Delicate Arch is used by Utah as a symbol of the state – it’s even on their license plates.

We spent a few minutes taking in Delicate Arch before heading back down the trail (literally!) to the trailhead to link back up with Donna and Giuliana.

After resting for a few minutes, we got back on the main road and began heading back towards the Visitor’s Center. We stopped for a bit at Panorama Point to take in Salt Valley.

Panorama Point
Panorama Point

After Panorama Point, we headed to the Windows Section to view some more arches.

We took the short hike, half mile roundtrip, to view and get under Double Arch. It truly was amazing to look up at the arches from underneath. We wondered how much water, wind, and time it took to make such beautiful scenery. We also took in a view of North and South Windows arches while we were there.

Double Arch
Double Arch

We then continued our drive back towards the Visitor’s Center, stopping at Courthouse Towers to take in the giants.

We rounded our experience out in Arches with a stop at the Visitor’s Center, which was closed when we entered the park.

After Arches, we headed back into Moab to find some food and experience this unique town. We ended up eating at Eddie McStiff’s and had a great meal! I’d recommend the wings and fish tacos!

We hit a few stores in town to do some shopping and made a stop at MOYO, a frozen yogurt shop, for some well deserved dessert!

We eventually made our way back to the campground to round out the day. Overall, Arches was a pretty awesome National Park. I’m sure you could spend a lot more time there than we did, but we felt like we experienced everything we had wanted to. Next time, I’d like to hike the Park Avenue trail and check out Double O Arch. I like leaving something for next time. It gives a reason to make sure to come back! I’ll definitely spend more time in and around Arches in the future.

Tomorrow, we check out Canyonlands! After Canyonlands, we begin the journey eastward.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 17 (Monument Valley)

July 8, 2017 (265 miles/4.5 hours)

We departed Page, AZ on our way to Moab, Utah. There were discussions about whether to go through Monument Valley, which is the more direct route, or take the longer way and stop at Four Corners. Ultimately, we decided to go through Monument Valley and save Four Corners for next year’s trip.

The drive went well, with the desert scenery keeping me entertained, and movies keeping the kids entertained! Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the desert?

Our drive took us through Monument Valley, the scene of so many iconic Western movies. I recall seeing this scenery often as a child, as my father is a huge John Wayne fan, and many of his western movies were set there. Monument Valley was certainly beautiful, and worth a drive through. I’m not sure we needed to spend any more time there than driving through, though. We stopped at a few pullouts to take some pictures and soak up the sights.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley 2
Monument Valley
Monument Valley 3
Monument Valley

Our drive also took us through such places as Mexican Hat, UT and Mexican Water, UT. Seeing these signs brought the Dad jokes out of me. I was almost forced to say: “Why not just call it Sombrero, UT?” and “Do you think it’s safe to drink the water in Mexican Water, UT?” Okay, sorry! There will be no more of that!

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat

Anyway, we concluded our nice, easy drive today when we pulled into Moab KOA in Moab, UT. This campground has put us twenty minutes from Arches National Park and forty-five minutes from Canyonlands National Park.

Melbourne in Moab
Melbourne in Moab

It’s still well over hundred degrees, however, there is a nice breeze here that we did not have in Page, so it feels much nicer out.

Tomorrow, we explore Arches!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 16 (Lake Powell)

July 7, 2017 (Lake Powell)

Today was one of the many days everyone had been looking forward to on this trip. I had made a reservation to rent a boat from Wahweap Marina to go and explore Lake Powell. The pictures I had seen of this lake with its turquoise waters up against the sandstone cliffs made it a must on this adventure.

Upon arriving at the marina, and finally figuring out where I was supposed to go, the check-in process was quick and easy. We received a brief, and I mean brief, tutorial on how to operate the boat, and then we were off.

Captain Matt on Lake Powell
Captain Matt on Lake Powell

We spent the day touring around the lake, finding little coves and inlets to stop at, and did a lot of swimming. It was the perfect day and the perfect way to spend a 108 degree day!

Lake Powell
Lake Powell

The water mixed with the sandstone was a striking contrast. Although I had seen pictures of it, I wasn’t truly prepared for how beautiful it was!

We spent the day on the water, enjoying every second of it. This was the kind of day we needed this far into the trip. Pure relaxation day and it was great!

Girls in a cove on Lake Powell
My girls at Lake Powell

As for tomorrow, we adjusted our schedule again! Originally, we had planned on making stops at Zion, Bryce, and Capital Reef. We opted instead to head to Moab, UT, and spend three nights exploring Arches and Canyonlands. We just kind of thought that at this point, we wanted a commercial campground in the same spot instead of three different campgrounds where we were moving often. Those three National Parks will have to wait until next year, but at least we already have three places on the itinerary!

Tomorrow, we head to Moab.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 15

July 6, 2017 (2.5 hours/134 miles)

Today we departed Grand Canyon for our next adventure. We were headed to Page, AZ for a two night stop.

The drive east through Grand Canyon was amazing! Plenty of scenic views of the canyon to hold us over until we make it back next time.

After departing the park, we drove through an equally beautiful desert landscape. The multicolored rock formations and the desert floor surrounding them made this day’s drive an awesome one!

Just before arriving in Page, we stopped off at the parking area for the Horseshoe Bend overlook. After finding parking, we began the three quarters of a mile walk to the viewpoint. On any other day, this walk would have been an easy one that wouldn’t have been a cause for much concern. Today however, was an extremely hot day, with a temperature of 105 degrees when we started. Other than one pavilion, there is no shade on the trail. The heat was oppressive, and quickly turned our cool water in our bottles hot.

The payoff, of course, is the view of Horseshoe Bend at the end of the trail. Despite the heat, there were at least one hundred people there enjoying the view. The view was great, and made the effort of the day worthwhile. We spent a little time there before making the walk back to the parking lot.

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend
Girls at Horseshoe Bend
Girls at Horseshoe Bend

Once back, we spent a few minutes cooling off and drinking water before leaving to drive the final ten miles to our campground for the next two nights, Page Lake Powell Campground.

After getting checked in and set up in the stifling heat, we relaxed for a while before heading to the indoor pool for a cool down swim. We spent the remainder of the day relaxing – it is a vacation after all!

Tomorrow, we have a boat rental to spend the day on Lake Powell! Everyone is super excited about this, especially since it will be 109 degrees!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 14 (Grand Canyon)

July 5, 2017 (Grand Canyon)

Today we set out to hike the Bright Angel Trail. This trail switchbacks down into the canyon.   We awoke early to get to the trailhead before the heat set in. We ended up starting the hike at about 8am.

The trail winds it way down into the canyon from a trailhead near the Bright Angel Lodge. Despite the often times steep drop off, the trail was wide enough that there was no fear of falling. There are two tunnels carved through the side of the canyon to allow passage. There are also rest houses at one and a half miles and three miles. We ended up walking about a mile down the trail into the canyon. We didn’t feel the need to continue to the first rest house. First, despite it still being early morning, it was already scorching hot out. For every thousand feet of elevation loss into the canyon, the ambient temperature rises at least five degrees. Second, there was nothing at the rest house that we hadn’t already seen or experienced. It was great to walk down into the canyon, even if only a little bit. The changing perspective of even a few hundred feet elevation change was hard to miss.

Tunnel on Bright Angel Trail
Tunnel on Bright Angel Trail
Canyon and BAT
Bright Angel Trail and Canyon

 

Canyon from BAT
Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Trail

Some people choose to go on a guided mule ride down the trail into the canyon. This was evidenced by the many mounds of mule dung all over the place. We couldn’t help but think of my grandmother, Mama, and her reaction to seeing horse dung in the roadway after a town parade! I wish there was a way to describe in printed word her reaction! The best I can do is to say she gagged at the sight!

After hiking, it was late morning already. We stopped at Market Plaza and picked up two more hammocks, as the one we already had was a big hit.

We then hit the dump station and returned to our campsite. We decided to relax the rest of the day away swinging and napping in the hammocks. I should say, I wear a Garmin running watch. Among the many features, this watch tells you how many steps you’ve taken in a day. I checked it out and found we have been walking between eight and ten miles per day for the last week or so! That fact, coupled with this being our fourteenth day on the road, we decided we needed a well deserved rest day!

While relaxing, an elk decided to meander through our campsite. We also had a tiny bird come to visit. He bravely approached Giuliana and Annabella and even drank water from an overturned bottle cap a few inches away from them.

Elk in our campsite
Elk in campsite
Bird drinking water from a bottle cap
Bird drinking from a bottle cap

At night, after dinner, I made one more fire in Grand Canyon for the girls to make s’mores. This last day and the rest we took was a perfect way to end our time in Grand Canyon.

Tomorrow, we head to Page, AZ where we will try and hike Antelope Canyon. The following day we explore Lake Powell by boat!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 13 (Grand Canyon)

July 4, 2017 (Grand Canyon)

Today we continued our exploration of Grand Canyon. Since we had walked a good portion of the Rim Trail yesterday, today we decided to take advantage of the park shuttle system and check out some spots on the Hermits Rest route.

After getting to the transfer station and seeing how long the line was for the Hermits Rest bus, we decided to walk the half mile to the next stop, Trailhead Overlook, which provides great views of the Bright Angel Trail headed down into the canyon. We took note of the trail, as we plan on going to the mile and a half rest house tomorrow.

From Trailhead Overlook, we rode the bus west towards Hermits Rest, getting on and off at different points to take in multiple perspectives of the canyon. We finally were able to get a glimpse of the Colorado River thousands of feet below us continuing to do its job of carving the canyon.

Donna and girls at GC
Donna and girls
Girls
My girls

Upon reaching Hermits Rest, we enjoyed the views and then stopped at the snack shop for some lunch. Although pre-made sandwiches, they really were pretty good and were just what we needed.

We then got back on the shuttle system and went to the Visitor’s Center. The National Park Service does an amazing job with educating guests as to the ecosystems at play in the particular park. And every park service employee is more than ready to answer questions or talk about the park they work in.

After spending some time at the Visitor’s Center, we made the journey back to the campground to relax the afternoon away. The heat of the day and this being nearly two weeks on the road for us meant the respite was well enjoyed.

We had stopped at the Market Plaza on our way back and picked up some steak to cook for dinner, this being Independence Day and all!

After dinner, we headed back to the Rim Trail to take in Grand Canyon at sunset. What a sight! The differing colors from the sky down to the lower canyon were indescribable. We set on the edge of the canyon for quite some time taking in all the sights. I’m not sure what everyone else was thinking at that particular moment, but my thoughts were bouncing from the beauty of this place, all the beauty in this great country, and how small I really am compared to the world around me. Mainly though, I was thinking how fortunate I am to be able to see these places like Grand Canyon with the three most important people in the world! Every once in a while I guess I need a reminder that I’m a pretty lucky guy. That reminder today came from a Grand Canyon sunset!

GC dusk

Tree

Family at GC sunset
Family at a Grand Canyon sunset

Tomorrow, we continue in the Grand Canyon.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 12 (Grand Canyon)

July 3, 2017 (55 miles/1 hour)

We took the opportunity to sleep in a little bit this morning after so many early starts the last twelve days. The campground we stayed at, Railside RV Resort in Williams, AZ had a complimentary continental breakfast waiting for us in the morning. We enjoyed some really good Belgian waffles, juice, and coffee. Another reason to spend a night at this campground if you’re in the area! We also topped off the propane tank before leaving.

After departing the campground, we made our way to a Safeway supermarket for some resupply. It took some time shopping in an unfamiliar store, and the price tag was high, but we need to eat and would have spent that money at home on groceries anyway!

We then began the short journey to Grand Canyon National Park. If you read a few days back, you’ll remember we altered our travel plans and departed King’s Canyon without going to Sequoia and began the drive towards Arizona. I initially feared that we may regret this decision, however, after arriving at Grand Canyon at lunch time instead of in the dark, I think we made the right choice!

Girls at Grand Canyon sign
Girls at Grand Canyon National Park

We quickly found our way to the campground for the next three nights, Mather Campground, got checked in and settled into our site. We ate a quick lunch and then left the camper and walked to the Rim Trail to get our first glimpse of the “seventh wonder of the world”.

Melbourne at GC
Melbourne at Grand Canyon

The walk to the rim went easily enough and we were soon rewarded with unbelievable views of the canyon. I struggle to find the right words to describe how massive it is. It was simply breathtaking.

We took some time to walk a few miles of the Rim Trail, although we didn’t initially plan on it. We planned on just checking out the rim, and doing the Rim Trail another day. However, we soon found ourselves walking a good section of it. We took the time to leave the trail and get a little closer to the edge of the canyon in a few spots. The kids were curious, I was loving the views, and Donna was panicked!

We ended up having to catch a shuttle bus back to Market Plaza as we ended up walking to Yavapai Point. At Market Plaza, we stopped in the store for some souvenirs and then made our way back to the campground.

While cooking dinner, we got more than a few compliments on our little grill and the camper. We even gave a couple of tours! We made a small fire after dinner for the girls to make s’mores and then settled in for the night after checking out the night sky. What a beautiful place!!

Tomorrow, we continue our exploration.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 11

July 2, 2017 (450 miles/8 hours)

We continued our push towards Grand Canyon National Park today. After leaving Bakersfield, we quickly entered into the Mojave Desert. I had been to the Mojave two times while I was in the Army and always was in awe of the desert. Of course, it wasn’t a vacation at the time, and I wasn’t exactly having a good time! The mountains of the Mojave are what do it for me, though. I think I could sit for hours looking at the brown mountains of the Mojave Desert.

Mountains in Mojave 2
Mojave Desert

The last time I was here was almost exactly fifteen years ago. I remember the timing so well because Annabella was just two months old when my unit came to the National Training Center for four weeks of training. When I returned home, Annabella didn’t recognize me and wouldn’t come to me without crying for quite a bit of time. It was heartbreaking.

Cactus in Mojave
Mojave Desert

I always told Donna and the girls how beautiful the Mojave was and how much I wanted to see it again. Today, we got to drive across it, and they had the opportunity to see what I have been talking about all these years. It was just as amazing as I remembered it.  I must admit I was feeling a bit nostalgic and Donna was forced to sit for a long time listening to stories about my time in the Army and specifically in the Mojave!

Mountains in Monjave
Mojave Desert
Mojave
Mojave Desert

We continued the drive into Arizona, another new state for us with the camper! We continued the drive and stopped for the night at Railside RV Ranch in Williams, Arizona. This puts us within about an hour or so drive from Grand Canyon Village tomorrow! The staff at this RV park could not be any nicer, by the way. Upon checking in, I asked about food shopping as we need a resupply, and also inquired if the supermarket they advised me of had RV supplies. I specifically needed RV toilet paper and black tank chemicals. I was told that the store won’t have any, but that I could have some of the owner’s personal supply! They gave me about half a big bottle of tank chemical to hold us over until we could find more. I offered to pay, but they refused. Extremely nice people and great hosts!! If you’re ever in the Williams, AZ with a camper, I highly recommend Railside RV Resort. The amenities are pretty good, too!

Melbourne in Willams
Melbourne at Railside RV Ranch, Williams, AZ

Tomorrow we head to Grand Canyon National Park!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 10 (King’s Canyon NP)

July 1, 2017 (305 miles/8 hours)

Isn’t it funny how plans that have been set for months can change so quickly! Today we left Yosemite en route to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. The plan was to see King’s Canyon today, dry camp in Sequoia National Forest tonight, and then spend tomorrow in Sequoia National Park. As I’m writing this, we are at a commercial campground in Bakersfield, CA sweating!

The drive from Yosemite to King’s Canyon went smoothly, until about half way through when Giuliana, our youngest daughter, advised she was going to be sick. I found the first pull-off I could find and brought her outside, where sure enough, she wasn’t joking! Poor kid! She didn’t feel like eating breakfast before we left and that coupled with the winding road and her incessantly reading a book she can’t put down caused a perfect storm! Luckily, once she was done being sick she was able to eat and felt almost immediately better.

The remainder of the drive went well right up until we were five miles from the gate to King’s Canyon. Then, we hit stop dead traffic. I mean five miles of go nowhere, put your car in park traffic. It took the better part of an hour to finally make it to the gate.

Once in the park, we headed immediately to the Grant Grove of giant Sequoia trees. We were all really excited to see these largest living creatures on Earth. We easily found parking and began the short and easy loop trail through the grove. Some of the highlights were taking turns standing in the hollowed out center of one of the trees, and of course, the General Grant Sequoia tree itself. This is the second largest tree by volume in the world! The first is the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park. To say these trees are massive is the biggest understatement ever! It hurts the neck to try and look at the top, and the huge trunks are bigger than cars. We read estimates that put the age of General Grant tree at anywhere between 1700 and 3000 years old! Simply unbelievable!

Girls in sequoia tree
Girls in a giant Sequoia
Sequoia from inside sequoia
Looking up at a Sequoia through a fallen Sequoia
General Grant tree
General Grant Sequoia tree
Family in between two sequoia trees
Family in between two Sequoia trees

I must admit, the traffic going into the park took a toll on me. I was done. Done with the whole King’s Canyon and Sequoia parks. We decided (blame me!) to skip our planned stay here tonight and our day exploring Sequoia tomorrow to get a jump on our drive to our next destination, Grand Canyon. I know some will say we are crazy for not spending the time in Sequoia – I get it. However, the rationale is that by driving to Bakersfield today, we will comfortably make it to Williams, AZ tomorrow and be set up for an easy, early arrival at Grand Canyon Village. I may end up regretting the decision, however, as mesmerizing as the sequoia trees were, how many do you need to look at to appreciate them? Only time will tell if this ends up being the right decision, but this is the great thing about a road trip. You can stay flexible and go where you want, even if it is different than your scheduled itinerary.

The drive from King’s Canyon to Bakersfield went smoothly and we arrived and set up in the baking heat. But we have full hook-ups and are enjoying the air conditioner while we have it!

Tomorrow we continue our next leg towards Grand Canyon.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 9 (Yosemite)

June 30, 2017 – Yosemite

First thing this morning we headed to a parking area at Sentinel Bridge to make as home base for the day. This was the way to go and I wish we had done it earlier.

First on the agenda was to hike the Lower Yosemite Fall trail. This easy, handicapped-accessible trail meanders briefly to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Fall. There are impressive views of both the Lower and Upper falls, and the mist from the falls provided cooling relief.

Girls at Lower Yosemite Fall
Girls at Lower Yosemite Fall
Matt and Donna at Lower Yosemite Fall
Matt and Donna at Lower Yosemite Fall
Better Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

After Lower Yosemite Fall, we headed back to the camper to retrieve our bikes and go for a bike ride along the many bike paths throughout the valley. After retrieving the bikes from the rack and filling up the tires, we headed out. We ultimately went to Mirror Lake. There was some drama along with this ride, namely who is riding which bike – we all have our own bikes, by the way! Once that was sorted out, the bike ride was great! Riding a bicycle really is a great way to see and experience Yosemite Valley.

We arrived at Mirror Lake, which seemed more like a calm section of the river, and stood in wonder as the granite walls of Half Dome and its neighbors hovered over us. It was fun to try and imagine what kind of nerve and skill it would take to rock climb the face of Half Dome. We took our shoes and socks off and waded in the cold water for quite awhile while some brave souls swam. I’m not sure how they did it, other than youth, because after about 30 seconds in the frigid waters, our feet were hurting from being numb.

Donna and girls at Mirror Lake
Donna and girls at Mirror Lake
Half Dome from Mirror Lake
Face of Half Dome from Mirror Lake

After Mirror Lake, we made the return bike ride to Sentinel Bridge and our camper. I spent some time trying to once again figure out the jigsaw puzzle that is mounting the bikes on the bike rack and then we decided to go to the Yosemite Village Grill for a late lunch.

After lunch, which ended at nearly 330pm, we went to Upper Pines to refill our fresh water tank and dump the holding tanks. There were other campers there who were having difficulty with their low point drain. I tried to give them a hand for a few minutes. Hopefully they got it resolved.

We then returned to Hodgdon Meadow Campground for our last night in Yosemite. I can’t believe we are leaving this amazing place already. I take comfort in the knowledge that we will return one day, and that we have many adventures ahead of us still on this trip.

Tomorrow, we head to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I can’t wait to see some giant trees!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 8 (Yosemite)

June 29, 2017 – Yosemite

We once again arose early to head to our first destination of the day, Glacier Point. It took us about an hour and a half to go from our campground to the Glacier Point parking area. The road was windy and steep, but we had no issues making the trip, and leaving early once again paid off as the parking lot was mainly empty when we reached the top.

Glacier Point was unbelievable! The views of Yosemite Valley and all her splendor were too perfect to describe. There were clear, nearly eye level views of all of the major points of interest in the park. These included Half Dome, El Capitan, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls to name a few. We spent quite a bit of time at Glacier Point, feeling small and soaking in the wonder of such a hard to imagine place.

Valley and Half Dome from Glacier Point
Valley and Half Dome from Glacier Point
Half Dome from Glacier Point
Half Dome from Glacier Point

After Glacier Point, we headed back down Glacier Road, but only as far as the trailhead to Sentinel Dome. This relatively short 1.1 mile (one way) hike was next on the agenda. This hike rambles through forest with a gentle up and down. Shortly after starting the hike, we had our first glimpse of Sentinel Dome ahead of us. When I explained to everyone that we would soon be standing on top of the giant piece of granite, there was some level of disbelief and apprehension in the group! However, the girls soldiered on and we quickly approached the final switchback to the top.

As we approached this final, steep section, some hikers coming down alerted us to a black bear further up the trail. Sure enough, as we approached we could see the bear a few hundred feet further up the trail, directly in the path we were taking. There were dozens of people around, some entirely too close to the bear, but it didn’t seem to mind any of us very much. It just meandered around until it had enough and then made its way off into the wilderness. This was by far the closest the girls have been to a bear and they did well not to panic.

Bear on Sentinel Dome
Black Bear on Sentinel Dome

After the bear left the area, we continued the hike and made the final push up the side of the dome. I’m not going to try and say this was as difficult or as breathtaking as getting to the top of Half Dome, however, for our party, it was just enough! The views of the valley and surrounding monoliths were amazing! We stayed on top for a while checking everything out and enjoying the fruits of our labor. Donna and Annabella began to feel a little uncomfortable with the height, and possibly the side effects of falling from thousands of feet, and we decided to make our way back down. On the way, we stopped for a snack and gathered in one last view from Sentinel Dome.

El Cap from Sentinel Dome
El Capitan from Sentinel Dome
Donna and El Cap from Sentinel Dome
Donna and El Capitan from Sentinel Dome
Girls on Sentinel Dome
Girls and Upper Yosemite Fall from Sentinel Dome

After Sentinel Dome, we made the long drive back into the valley. We made our way to Upper Pines campground to once again dump and refill with fresh water.

We then went and stopped at the first parking area we could find to eat some lunch. The plan was to return to the El Capitan area to possibly swim in the Merced River, however a shuttle bus accident made terrible Yosemite traffic even worse. We sat in traffic so long that we decided to just make our way back towards our campground and relax the rest of the day away. We built another fire, hung the hammock, and just enjoyed the beauty of this place.

Tomorrow, we head back to the valley for our last day in Yosemite. We plan on getting in early and riding our bikes around the many bike paths.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 7 (Yosemite)

June 28, 2017 (Yosemite)

We had a great sleep last night in this quiet campground. In the morning, we left early to make our way into the valley before the traffic. We headed directly to Upper Pines Campground to dump the waste tanks, and more importantly refill the fresh water. We then parked in the Happy Isles parking area and began our first hike in the park. We took the hike to the Vernal Falls footbridge. The hike went well, and we enjoyed the views of Vernal Falls, as well as the granite peaks that surround it.

 

Family at Vernal Fall
Family at Vernal Fall

After returning from this hike, we headed towards Yosemite Village. We made a stop at the store for some souvenirs, and then headed to the Ansel Adams Gallery. We all truly love Ansel Adams’ photographs and the beautiful way he seemed to capture Mother Nature. We purchased a few post cards with prints of his photographs, since I didn’t have a few thousand dollars for anything else!

After the gallery, we spent some time in the Visitor’s Center learning about the park. We then went back to the camper where we made some lunch and enjoyed it in the Church Bowl picnic area. What a great place to enjoy a meal!

After lunch, we headed to try and do the Lower Yosemite Falls hike, but we were denied due to a lack of available parking. I should mention, right after lunch we first headed to check out The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and nearly lost our air conditioner on the hotel overhang! I stupidly saw another RV drive through with plenty of room and thought we’d make it as well. However, thankfully a park employee was paying more attention than me, and stopped us before we hit anything! I was forced to do the “reverse of shame” out of the situation!! Lesson learned though, and I didn’t hit anything to learn it.

Since we couldn’t do the Yosemite Falls hike, we headed to Bridalveil Fall to do that hike. This is a very popular hike, as it’s very easy and accessible, plus it’s pretty awesome! We stood at the bottom getting wet from the mist of the waterfall. On our way back, we stopped to take our hiking shoes off and dip our feet in one of the streams leading from the fall. The water was cold and refreshing. As we were preparing to leave and putting our shoes back on, one of Annabella’s shoes found its way into the water. There’s been a heated debate over who the responsible party was for this incident, with Annabella blaming Donna, and Donna denying any culpability. I guess it’s just one of those life mysteries that will never be solved! It did end with Donna switching shoes with Annabella and making the remaining short hike with one very waterlogged shoe!

After Bridalveil Fall, we headed to El Capitan Bridge where we stopped and talk with some Rangers about rock climbers. We were able to watch on NPS scopes as three climbers made their way up the face of El Capitan.

El Cap and Melbourne
El Capitan and Melbourne

After watching the climbers, we began heading back to our campsite. We planned on stopping at the Merced Grove to look at some giant Sequoia trees, but the parking was full. Instead, we continued on and returned to the campground to relax and enjoy the remainder of the day.

So far, Yosemite is a pretty amazing place. Tomorrow, we head for Glacier Point and do some more hiking.

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 6 (Yosemite)

June 27, 2017 (256 miles/7.5 hours)

The anticipation of what today was to bring was easy to feel. We headed out from South Lake Tahoe to make the final push to Yosemite National Park. This is what the last week of travel, and months of planning have been all about. The drive started off amazing! The El Dorado National Forest around Lake Tahoe was some of the best views we’ve seen yet in our travels. We stopped at an overlook to take in the view of Red Lake, and in the process realized we were above the snow line.

Red Lake
Red Lake

The drive quickly turned painful, however. The steep grades and tight turns soon began to be a bit much, and I must admit that I wished for a straight interstate after not too long. It just became very stressful driving like that for hours on end.

Also, we had originally planned on entering the park from the east and driving Tioga Road across the park to our campground. However, the National Park Service website showed the road still closed due to snow. So we had to plan an alternate route, which made the trip significantly longer. It also didn’t help that the route we took brought us onto some “roads” that most places wouldn’t call paths! We ended up entering the park on highway 140 through El Portal.

We entered the park after stopping at the sign for the obligatory picture, and wound our way towards Yosemite Valley. We decided since it was already mid-afternoon that we would skip the valley today and head to Tunnel View for our first true glimpse of the wonder of this place. I think we all stood rather dumbfounded and at a loss for words for a little bit at the beauty and majesty of this place. With stunning views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls among the landscape, it’s no wonder why this place is visited so frequently, or why John Muir and conservationists like him fought so hard to preserve it.

Girls at Yosemite
Girls at Yosemite National Park

After spending quite a bit of time at Tunnel View, we began the trek to our campground for our time in Yosemite, Hodgdon Meadows Campground.

I tried in vein on March 15th to get a spot in the valley, even having everything ready to go on my computer right at 10am EST. So, having not been able to get in the valley, we booked the site in Hodgdon. The campground is nice, it’s just a hike from the valley. Oh well, we will make the best of it like we always seem to do. The plan is to wake early and head into the valley so that we hopefully beat the rush in and get a parking spot. Then we can go and explore from one central location. That’s the plan anyway! We’ll see how it goes.

Melbourne at Hogdon Meadows
Melbourne at Hodgdon Meadows Campground, Yosemite NP

Tomorrow, we explore Yosemite!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 5

June 26, 2017 (550 miles/8.5 hours)

Today we drove through the northern portion of Nevada. There wasn’t a whole lot of things going on outside the window for a very long time! I do think the Ruby Mountains were beautiful, but other than that, it was a whole lot of desert!

As we arrived in Reno, we finally exited Interstate 80! We had been travelling on this highway for almost its entire length! We turned southbound and made our way towards Lake Tahoe. As we drove through Carson City, we turned and began our climb up and over the mountains towards South Lake Tahoe. It was a steep climb, but the Melbourne handled it with ease. Shortly after reaching the top, we gained our first good views of Lake Tahoe. Amazing seemed to be the universal adjective used by all! The deep blue water surrounded by the snow-capped mountains was definitely a sight to see. We stopped at a pull off to take a short hike and gain some impressive views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Family at Lake Tahoe
Family at Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe

After that, we continued on down the mountain and into South Lake Tahoe, eventually crossing into California! We did it! We crossed the United States!! We did feel a little robbed when we didn’t see a “Welcome to California” sign!

We made a brief pit stop at a Safeway grocery store to restock our food supply before heading to Yosemite tomorrow.

After food shopping, we headed to our campground for the night, Tahoe Valley Campground. We quickly got checked in and found our site in this pretty large campground. The site was perfect, nestled in among large pine trees.

Melbourne at South Lake Tahoe
Melbourne at South Lake Tahoe

After setup, we hung the hammock (thanks girls for the Father’s Day gift!), and Giuliana and I played catch with the lacrosse sticks while Annabella lounged in the hammock reading a book. Donna was busy, unfortunately, organizing and preparing dinner.

The rest of the night will be spent getting ready for the final push to Yosemite tomorrow. I can’t believe we will be there tomorrow! Months and months of planning and the purchase of a new camper have us in striking distance of John Muir’s playground! The mountains are definitely calling, Mr. Muir!

Until next time!!!

Post Script – I’m anticipating a severe lack of cell phone coverage in Yosemite, so I may end up not posting for a few days. However, I’ll write every day and post when I can.

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Yosemite Trip — Day 4

June 25, 2017 (550 miles/8.5 hours)

After catching a well deserved night’s rest in Laramie, WY, we headed out this morning at 8am feeling refreshed after the long day yesterday. Although we needed to make up some time, my fear was that we over did it, and trip fatigue was a real possibility. Not good news considering we were only four days into a 24 day trip!

The trip across Wyoming went extremely smoothly. We cruised along, and the girls took turns sitting up front with me to keep me company. I had great discussions with both of them, and it was definitely a time well spent.

The mountains rose all around us as we travelled west. I never get tired of looking at them and never get tired of Wyoming! Donna and I had a discussion about whether we could/would live in Wyoming if circumstances were different. I think we both agreed it would be a great place to live – a lot of room to live your life.

We crossed into Utah, the first “new” state for us on this trip without any incident. The descent from the mountains into Salt Lake City were unbelievable! It was hard to pay attention to driving when I was constantly turning my head to get another look at something beautiful! It was amazing to see how quickly the landscape changes from mountain to complete and utter flatness. Utah was as amazing as I thought it would be. The mountains reminded me of the mountains in the Mojave desert.

We passed the great Salt Lake and entered into the Great Salt Lake Desert. We took the time to stop at a rest area near the Bonneville Salt Flats to walk around. Since we were in the location of so many attempts at the land speed record, we gave it a try with a foot race! I don’t think the record holder has anything to worry about!

Family at Salt Flats
Family at Salt Flats
Girls at Salt Flats
Girls at Salt Flats
Matt at Salt Flats
Matt about to set a world record

After leaving the salt flats, we quickly crossed into Nevada, our second “new” state and arrived at our campground, West Wendover KOA in West Wendover, Nevada. We got set up in the blazing heat, and headed for the pool for a break from the temperature. It was a great swim, and afterwards we ate some dinner and relaxed.

Melbourne in West Wendover
Melbourne in West Wendover, Nevada

Tomorrow we head to South Lake Tahoe to set up camp in striking distance to Yosemite! Can’t wait!!

Until next time!!!

Post Script – If you’d like to see a brief video of our attempt at the speed record in the salt flats, check out our Facebook page – Our Family Wanderlust!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 3

June 24, 2017 (755 miles/14 hours)

We departed our truck stop campsite at 7am in an effort to catch up on the four lost hours of travel time from our NOX sensor fiasco. As you can see above, we banged out a lot of miles today. I don’t recommend traveling like this, and before anyone says we’re crazy, we know this was a huge day. We didn’t want to drive that far or that long, but we have places to be – namely Yosemite!

We quickly enough left Iowa and began the long haul through Nebraska. Iowa and Nebraska really are beautiful states. Perhaps on a future trip we will spend more time in middle America.

Iowa pink road
Pink road in Iowa

We found a Fying J to refill our fresh water tank, which we managed to completely empty due to poor planning! Unfortunately, everyone got a quick camp shower last night except for Donna. She graciously fell on the sword for the rest of us and was forced to wait to shower up until today.

Speaking of Donna, we had a milestone today! I was feeling weary somewhere in Nebraska and figured it was time Donna take the wheel before something bad happened.   I found a rest area and stopped. After a quick briefing, we were off with Donna behind the wheel. There was another rest area forty miles up the road, so I asked Donna to get us to that one and I’d take over again after a quick break. I woke over an hour later with Donna comfortably cruising down the interstate! She did great for her first time driving the motorhome, and it was the perfect respite for me – just enough to rest.

We got through the rest of Nebraska without much incident, and headed to our camping spot for the night, Vedauwoo Campground in Medicine Bow National Forrest. This campground is only one mile off of Interstate 80, and is nestled among large boulders. It’s an unbelievable site, and the cost is only $5. Unfortunately, by the time we made it there, around 700pm, every spot was taken! Ugh! This would have been a great place to spend the night. There are dispersed camping spots in the area, however, after such a long drive, we didn’t have the energy to go looking! Instead, we decided to go the easier route and head a few more miles west and stay the night in Laramie KOA, in Laramie, Wyoming. We were able to check in and set up in record time. We ate some dinner, got cleaned up, and spent the rest of the short evening relaxing.

Wyoming sky
Wyoming sky

 

The good news from the frenetic driving we did today is that we are now back on schedule! All lost time has been made up and we should have a relatively brief eight hour drive tomorrow to Nevada!

Until next time!!!

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Yosemite Trip — Day 2

June 23, 2017 (581 miles/12 hours)

Today begin with an early start and a short drive to the Mercedes Benz of North Olmstead dealer. We arrived at about 715am, just prior to the service department opening. When they opened, I spoke with Brenda, a service advisor. After explaining what was wrong and the fact that we were four hundred miles from home, she agreed to take us right in and have a service technician take a look. She did mention that it may take a day to get any parts needed to fix it! Ouch!!

About an hour or so later, Brenda came back and let us know that the check engine light was for the NOX sensor. Apparently it reads the emissions to make sure it is burning clean. As luck would have it she further explained, they had ordered one for another MB Sprinter and had the part in stock – the only one! That Sprinter needed a bunch of other parts that were still on order, so they re-allocated that one for us (it sounds better than hijacked!) She also advised that the knocking we heard coming from under the floor was most likely coming from the power step or something else, but it was definitely not a mechanical issue with the chassis. All of this understandably made my day!

We were all fixed up and back on the road at 1008am! I’d like to give a huge shout out to Mercedes Benz of North Olmstead, OH and Brenda the service advisor. They jumped right into it and got the problem fixed in a hurry. The service was top notch, I’d highly recommend them to anyone with a Sprinter chassis who is in Ohio and needs work done!

After leaving, the rest of the day went well, other than tons of traffic. Most importantly, the camper ran like a champ! And we finally figured out that knocking noise. It was a bolt on the bike rack that kept vibrating loose.

We stopped for the night after a long days drive about an hour east of Des Moines, Iowa in a Pilot Truck Stop. Two nights in a row of parking lot camping is about enough! However, we had about four hours of lost travel time to make up, so we had to get some of it done today. After arriving here, I did purchase some Locktite to hopefully secure that loosening bolt on the bike rack.

Pilot camping
Melbourne Pilot Camping

Until next time!!!

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YOSEMITE TRIP — Day 1

June 22, 2017 (366 miles/7 hours)

We once again left our driveway and turned west, headed out on a new adventure. This year, there are many parks we are going to visit, including Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. But the main place we are headed towards is Yosemite National Park! We can’t wait to stand in the valley looking up at the granite walls around us! But first, we have to get there!

We left later than we wanted to, finally departing at 125pm. Our goal for the day was to make it to a Rest Area at milepost 77 on I-80 (Ohio Turnpike). It’s where we stayed the first night last year, and it was a great find.

The first half of the trip went great, we cruised along and were making great time through Pennsylvania. About 60 miles before reaching Ohio, we pulled into a Flying J for some fuel. We fueled up, saving 8 cents a gallon with the Good Sam Card, and headed back towards the highway.

And then it happened. As we were entering the interstate, the check engine light came on! UGH!! Our brand new RV with only 2600 miles on it had a check engine light. We pulled over and tried to clear it. I did everything I could think of, but couldn’t get it to go away. We even did some roadside google searching to no avail.

Check engine
Check Engine Light — UGH!

Eventually, we decided to stop short for the night and go to a Mercedes dealer first thing in the morning. We called ahead and were told that if we get there when they open, they should be able to help us since we are traveling.

We stopped for the night at a Walmart, about 80 miles short of where we had initially planned on stopping. We also started to hear and feel a knocking coming from under our feet, especially when we hit any bump in the road.

Walmart camping
Walmart Camping

So our 2017 Cross Country Trip didn’t start out the way we had hoped! Perhaps that’s an understatement!! However, we will hit the dealer first thing and hopefully get these issues resolved, and resolved quickly. Here’s hoping!

Until next time, which will hopefully be much farther west!!!

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Colonial Williamsburg

Friday May 26, 2017

Our first trip with the new rig took us to Williamsburg, VA where we were meeting Donna’s family for the weekend.  The trip to Williamsburg took longer than expected, as we got crushed in traffic on I-95 south of Washington, DC.  On a side note though, Route 15 from Harrisburg, PA south was a great road to travel on.  Other than the long drive, the drive down was a great first trip!  The camper did great and handled perfectly.  I’m going to like driving this rig — so much easier than towing!  We stayed for the weekend at Anvil Campground which was conveniently located near Colonial Williamsburg.

Colonial Williamsburg rig
Melbourne at Williamsburg, VA

The following day we made our way to Colonial Williamsburg.  This was my first visit, but I’ve always wanted to go.  It was a great day checking out the historic town.  Colonial Williamsburg even offered free admission to veterans and their families on Memorial Day weekend, so we were able to enjoy the history for free!  It was a hot day, and after so much walking, we decided to make our way back on the shuttle bus to the campground.  Although we took the scenic route (read took the wrong bus!), we eventually made it back to relax the rest of the day away.

On Sunday, we had originally planned on heading to Busch Gardens.  However, the forecasted weather easily changed our minds.  It rained off and on for a while, but we were able to relax at the campground and just spend some good quality time together.  It turned out to be a better way to spend the day!

Girls with Grandad and Eric
Girls with Grandad and Uncle E

On Monday, we awoke and said our goodbyes.  We then all left headed in our own directions back towards home — New Jersey for us, South Carolina for Dad and Kathy, and Tennessee for Donna’s brother, Eric.  The trip home went great, and we surprisingly didn’t hit much traffic at all considering it was Memorial Day.

Overall, it was a great weekend spent with family.  We are going to plan another camping get-together and try to make this a habit.  One side note, as this occurred over Memorial Day, a quick Thank You to the brave men and women who gave their lives in the service of our great nation so that we could enjoy this weekend!  You are always remembered!!

Stay tuned for our Yosemite Trip which begins soon!

Until next time!!!

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Big Changes for OFW!

May 19, 2017

So there have been a few changes for “our family wanderlust”.  First and foremost, we traded in our trailer and bought a class c motorhome!  We ended up going with a 2017 Jayco Melbourne 24L.  We decided to get rid of the trailer and go with a small motorhome primarily because of the type of traveling we do/want to do.  We’re not really the “sit in the campground” type.  Instead, we like to go out and explore.  And by “go out” I mean out west!  While we had a great trip last year pulling the trailer to the Badlands, Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons, we really want to make a true cross-country trip and visit Yosemite.  After much discussion, we just realized that the type of traveling we wanted to do would be better done driving our house, rather than pulling it!

So, with that in mind, we set out to purchase a new ride.  I won’t go into all of the details about where we purchased and for how much, but suffice it to say this was a large investment.  An investment, we believe, in years of memories and good times with our children while we still have control of them!  The deal was struck at the end of April, and on May 6, 2017 my father and I drove the trailer to the dealership, dropped it off, had our demonstration of the new unit, and were off!  It was a whirlwind day, filled with excitement.  We have had the usual shake out things that needed attention, but I won’t bring those up for fear of sounding like I’m complaining!  These are definitely up-town problems!!  Overall, I think we made a great purchase!

New Melbourne
Our 2017 Jayco Melbourne 24L
Matt and Dad with Melbourne
Matt and Dad after getting the new ride home!

The second change is a complete re-write of this summer’s itinerary!  Now that we have the motorhome, our trip out west to Yosemite is back on!  We couldn’t be more excited.  We have planned the trip to last about 23 days and will include stops at Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef!  That’s a whole lot of awesomeness jam-packed into three and a half weeks!  But like I said earlier, we are not the leisurely travelers!  We like to get to where we are going and explore.

We have another shake-out trip planned for Memorial Day weekend.  We will be headed to Williamsburg, VA for a long weekend, where we will meet up with Donna’s side of the family for some good  family time.  It should be a great weekend!  A few short weeks later, we will be once again turning west!

Until next time!!!

Post Script – I’ll post some more pictures of the motorhome in the “Our Set-up” page in the near future.

 

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Bahamas Cruise

By Matt 3/15/17

March 15, 2017

We went on our first cruise from March 4th through March 8th.  We went on this cruise because my cousin was getting married on the cruise, so it was a great opportunity to see family as well as get some much needed break from the New Jersey winter!

We flew to Orlando on March 3rd, Annabella’s 15th birthday, and spent the night in a hotel in Port Canaveral visiting with family.  The next day, we awoke early to get to the ship and board early for my cousin’s wedding.

This was our first time being on or even near a cruise ship, and it was huge!  We were on the Norwegian Epic, and I know it’s not the biggest ship, but it seemed massive!  After boarding, we walked around for a little bit before enjoying Christina and Jerry’s wedding!  It was a perfect ceremony and a great way to start a life together!

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Matt and Donna leaving port
IMG_1437
Family selfie leaving port

 

Continue reading “Bahamas Cruise”

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Trip Planning — Ugh!!

By Matt 1/27/17

January 27, 2017 

So I realized that it’s been since July, and the conclusion of our first big, cross-country trip, that I have posted in here.  I know — I can’t believe everyone’s life somehow continued!  In the last post, returning from our Yellowstone Trip, I had promised an additional post summing up the whole thing.  Obviously, I didn’t get around to that!  So I’ll give you a brief synopsis now before moving on.

The trip was awesome!  Our expectations were far exceeded.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a vacation that so overwhelmed what I thought it would be.  We had no major malfunctions of the truck or the camper, which is a huge blessing.  And while I wouldn’t say every place was a hit (think Corn Palace – thanks Donna!), getting to see such natural beauty and wonders that the National Parks have to offer was eye-opening.  We learned that the best way to travel for us is to have a general itinerary, but just go with it after that.  Sometimes we made it further than initially planned, and other times we lingered in places we wanted to spend more time exploring.  We also learned that you have to account for sufficient relaxation time.  It can’t be all driving and sightseeing.  You need to mix in the occasional few hours swimming in the campground pool!  Finally, we learned to enjoy this time we have with our children.  We were able to have them all to ourselves again, if only for a short time, and it was great!

Continue reading “Trip Planning — Ugh!!”

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Yellowstone Roadtrip — Day 17

By Matt 7/9/16

Saturday July 9, 2016 (356 miles / 6 hours)

We made it! Back home in Northern New Jersey after our first epic cross-country trip! We have a lot of unpacking and cleaning to do, which as you can guess, we are not happy about! However, it is great to get home! The kids were excited to see our dog, Scout, who my mother has been taking great care of for us (Thank you Mom!!!). We arrived home to find my brother, nephew, and niece at our house taking care of the lawn for us (Thank you Jason, Anthony, and Olivia!!!).

After quickly settling in, we went to my parent’s house for dinner and shared stories and pictures from our trip. It was especially fun to hear the kids excitedly describe certain things or events from the trip.

So that’s it! I will post one more blog capping off our little 17-day adventure with some of the highlights, lowlights, lessons learned, and just a general summary. Expect that in the next few days after some needed recovery time! I’m pretty sure that’s how you know you had a great vacation – when you come home exhausted!!

Until next time!!!

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Yellowstone Roadtrip — Day 16

By Matt 7/8/16

Friday July 8, 2016  (438 miles/8 hours)

Today we left Illinois, travelled again through Indiana and most of Ohio.  We stopped at a Service Area on the Ohio Turnpike (I-80 at MP 197), where we once again enjoyed the hospitality of the State of Ohio for just $20!

The only excitement of the day was totally unrelated to the trip.  We had a banking issue which ultimately forced us to divert off of I-80 into the town of Grainger, IN to find the nearest Wells Fargo branch.  The issue wasn’t with Wells Fargo, but rather with a Credit Union that we have an auto loan with.  UGH!!  I thought the digital age was supposed to make all of this easier!

Anyway, we arrived earlier enough at the service area to grab a bite to eat and settle in for an evening movie.  It’s about 90 degrees outside at 740pm, so the $20 for a safe parking space and electric hook-up is money well spent!

Ohio Service Area
Ohio Service Area

Tomorrow, we make the final push home.  We have about 383 miles left to travel before we make it to our little slice of the American Dream in Northern New Jersey!

Until next time!!!

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Yellowstone Roadtrip — Day 15

By Matt 7/7/16

Thursday July 7, 2016  (412 miles/7 hours)

Today started off a little crazy.  During the night, while camped in West Omaha, an unbelievable storm blew in.  Thunder, lightning, and a lot of rain came through, and stormed for hours.  Donna said she woke at 1am to the storm, and again later after 4am and she said it sounded like a freight train and thought we were about to experience a tornado!  I briefly woke up, enough to think “oh it’s raining” and fell fast asleep!  The kids were unaware, which is a good thing.  Donna, however, was kept awake by the storm, checking the weather channel for constant updates.  While driving today, we learned that 8 tornados touched down in Nebraska!  I’m not sure where they were or if they were close, Donna was convinced we were near one!

We continued our drive east today, crossing into Iowa shortly after leaving.  Iowa was just as imagined – rolling hills of corn.  Lots and lots of corn!  We were held up a little bit for a multiple tractor-trailer accident where there had to be at least one fatality, if not two.  Sad.

The rest of Iowa went smoothly and we crossed back into Illinois, the first state that wasn’t a “new” state on the trip, as we had passed through it on the way out.

We camped for the night in Utica, IL at Hickory Hollow Campground right off Interstate 80.  What a great campground!  We have a pull-through full hook-up site with a paved pad!  What a luxury not having to level the camper out!!  After set-up, Giuliana and I swam and then we all played Frisbee, ate, and played a few epic games of Uno!

Utica Illinois
Our campsite at Hickory Hollow Campground – Utica, IL

We have two more days and about 800 miles left until we are home.  We will split the miles up because at this point, 400 miles and 7 hours is about all we are willing to do!  It was a real treat to pull into the campground at 4pm and have the rest of the day to do with as we pleased!

Tomorrow, we make our last stop of the trip in Ohio.

Until next time!!!

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Yellowstone Roadtrip — Day 14

By Matt 7/6/16

Wednesday July 6, 2016 (476 miles/7.5 hours)

After leaving Cheyenne, WY this morning, it was only a short drive until we entered Nebraska.  We drove across most of the state of Nebraska today, stopping just west of Omaha (“somewhere in middle America” according to Counting Crows).

West Omaha
Our home for the night in West Omaha

I found Nebraska to be wide open.  It felt like if only you could see well enough, you could see both coasts from there!  Rolling fields of farmland in all directions, with an occasional exit leading to who knows where!  Thankfully, the winds we experienced yesterday had cleared, and we had smooth sailing.

I did notice something that caught my attention.  We were constantly driving through construction zones where traffic in one direction was diverted into the oncoming traffic, each taking one lane.  What was amazing to me was that the speed limit in the construction zone was reduced to 65 mph.  There was only traffic cones separating the vehicles.  This could never, ever happen in New Jersey!  There would be head on collision after head on collision in NJ if they routed traffic this way.  I guess you could argue that’s because we have so much more traffic, and I’m sure that’s part of it.  The big reason though is people just drive with reckless abandon in NJ where out here, people are actually – wait for it – courteous!!  Nebraska is not the first state we’ve travelled through that has routed traffic this way in construction zones.  We started see this method well before on our journey out west.  Maybe I just noticed it today because there wasn’t a whole lot else to notice!

Tomorrow, we continue our trek back east, travelling through more farmland in Iowa!

Until next time!!!

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Yellowstone Roadtrip — Day 13

By Matt 7/5/16

Tuesday July 5, 2016  (473 miles/8 .5 hours)

Today we departed Grand Teton National Park to make our way east towards home.  The original plan was to head south and stay the night in Ashley National Forest in Utah.  We decided to forego that stop and head to the next day’s destination, Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado, instead.  We made this decision so that we wouldn’t have to pound out multiple 600 plus mile days on the way home, where trip fatigue was a real possibility.  As it was, even though we spent seven days between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, we did a total of almost 500 miles within that week!  Anyone who has been to Yellowstone knows why – it’s huge!

After travelling through Jackson one more time, which is a great little town by the way, we continued on Route 191 which cuts diagonally through Wyoming before linking up with Interstate 80.  We drove through Bridger-Teton National Forest, which was a pleasant surprise and stunning like the rest of this part of the world.  After what seemed like forever, we made it onto the highway that will take us all the way home, I-80.

We were cruising right along making great time, which is easy with a speed limit of 80 and no traffic!  Then, in the distance, an ominous black wall stretched out across the horizon.  It took us well over an hour to reach that thunderstorm.  We didn’t really experience much rain, but we did experience the wind!  Helped by the flat terrain, the storm began pushing us around a little.  It wasn’t bad at first, and then we saw the highway sign that said “Light trailers exit now.  50+ mph wind gusts next 45 miles”.  Wait, what?  Was that 50+ mph wind gusts?  Was that for the next 45 miles?  As a point of reference, you could drive two thirds of I-80 in New Jersey in 45 miles!  Ugh!

Wyoming Storm
Wyoming Storm Brewing

With that warning, we did the prudent thing and exited the highway.  We sat for a while at a rest stop and watched the storm.  The bad thing was the storm was following along I-80 in generally the same direction as us.  For about the next 45 minutes, we would hopscotch along 80 going exit to exit staying right behind the storm and its powerful winds.  Better to be safe than sorry!

That storm delay did have another impact on our journey, it meant that heading to Pawnee National Grasslands to dry camp near the Pawnee Buttes was now out of the question.  We wouldn’t be able to reach them with enough daylight, and we had been in the truck way too long already.  Oh well, the Pawnee Buttes will have to wait until next time.  Such is life on a roadtrip anyway, right?  Have to be flexible.

So instead of dry camping in the wild, we instead needed a commercial campground.  We found AB Campground in Cheyenne, WY.  Donna made a reservation over the phone and we arrived about 20 minutes later.  We originally planned on grilling chicken tonight for dinner, but the stress of driving through the storm took the will out of me.  Luckily enough for us, AB Campground has a BBQ restaurant right on the property.  We checked in, found our spot, set-up in record time, and made our way to the restaurant for some home cooked BBQ!  It was a great meal, and very affordable too.  What a great find!  The campground itself is perfectly adequate, but nothing outrageously special.  But I’d recommend stopping here if you’re in the mood for some BBQ.  The spare ribs were delicious!

That was enough excitement for one day!  We nestled down for a good nights’ rest and prepared for the next day’s drive.

Tomorrow, we continue our push east.

Until next time!!!