Once we got our fill of hanging out in the Tahoe area, it was on to our first national park in quite a while: Lassen Volcanic National Park. This northern California beauty had been on Andy’s list for a long time, and we were both excited for a night in a campground. It’s funny, but sometimes going to a campground feels more like camping that being out in the middle of the woods...
In mid July we decided to fly home to Buffalo to enjoy some family time. As great as living wild in the west is, there is still nothing like cracking a beer on a boat in the finger lakes surrounded by loved ones. After a great week home it was time to get out of the desert, we turned our sights on the Sierra Nevadas of California and never looked back.
After our first visit to Zion, we weren’t convinced that anything could change our minds about this most popular park. Don’t get me wrong, it was stunningly beautiful, but the sheer amount of people in the canyon made it feel a bit overwhelming. That being said, everything flipped upside down when we got there at the crack of dawn to hike Angel’s Landing. And again when we went back the following weekend to hike Observation Point. You see, Zion may be insanely busy in the summer, but if you can time it just right, you start to understand the jaw-dropping allure of this place.
As the dust settled from a long week off of work, we began to realize a harsh reality… That it was mid June and we were in southern Utah. With temperatures soaring, we needed to find some refuge at higher elevation. We had to look no further than just across the border in Arizona, where sat the Kaibab Plateau. Once the land of the plateau breaks about 7,000 feet, juniper deserts transform into stoic stands of Ponderosa Pine. Atop the plateau in the mid 8,000 foot range the forest is mixed conifer perfection broken up by huge groves of Quaking Aspen. We had found our home for the next two weeks.
Our second weekend at Bryce was the kickoff to our spring vacation, so the week that followed was packed to the brim with new places to see. To top it off, my mom and cousin were coming to visit, so we were ready to show family a good time as well. On the To-Do List? Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Oh, and Zion National Park… and Bryce again. Busy is an understatement…
After our unforgettable weekend at Capitol Reef, we settled down for some free camping in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a monument in the sense that it is nearly 2 million acres of pure, rugged, Utah landscape. We stayed near the town of Escalante and the river for which the town gets its name, so that part made sense to us, but we were still a bit unsure about the meaning of this ‘grand staircase’. Regardless of our confusion, the week came to a close and it was time to pack up and head to a highly anticipated National Park - Bryce Canyon. Little did we know that this park was actually situated on a high plateau that sits at the top of the ‘staircase’.
Our two weeks in the Moab area had us both absolutely floored by Utah’s beauty. Having such an expectation shattering introduction to Southern Utah had me feeling a mixture of anticipation for what’s to come and hesitation that days this good couldn’t last forever. Never-the-less, when our second week at Klondike Bluffs came to a close we hit the open road, heading into terrain that would redefine our interest in geology. Capitol Reef National Park was our destination, a place we knew little about but would immediately become one of our all time favorite National Parks.
Since we weren’t in love with our week at Yellow Circle Road, we knew we wanted to find another boondocking spot. We had just tackled Arches, but there was another national park on the other side of town that demanded our attention: Canyonlands. Thanks to a recent review from some new RV friends, we learned about the lesser-known Klondike Bluffs just north of the parks. With the weekend at Canyonlands ahead of us, we made our way along the winding dirt road to one of the best boondocking spots in Moab.
When we first visited Utah back in November, we only had time to scoot across the top of the state. This time around, we were about to embark on a month-long stay filled with national parks and boondocking for days. Little did we know, the first boondocking spot would be one for the ages.
Sometimes it’s hard to leave a place that you’ve loved like Bluewater State Park, but other times the signs are clear that it is time to move on. The Easter weekend crowds were a great sign that we had had our fun at Bluewater and now it was someone else’s turn to enjoy our site with a view. So we fired up the RV at 5am and hit the road; our destination was the surprisingly bustling city of Farmington, NM where we would ditch the RV at a park, grab a rental car, and start our Easter road trip through the mountains of Colorado.
As we’ve come to learn, certain national parks are all about the views, while others are all about the features. And when talking about Petrified Forest National Park, it definitely falls into the latter. I hadn’t heard much about this place before we left home, but once we started looking into the national parks of Arizona, it was obvious PFNP wasn’t one to miss. On top of the beauty of Petrified Forest, we got to experience another type of natural beauty later that week: wild horses.
Back towards the beginning of spring, we realized we would need to *slightly* plan our route for the coming seasons. In July and August, monsoon season takes hold in the southwest, allowing the skies to pour down on a daily basis. Instead of our normal go-with-the-flow directions, we decided to map out an S-curve around Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. This meant that after our visit from Sarah and Anthony, we were set to head northeast- directly towards the cluster of monuments and must-see’s of the Flagstaff area. Over the weekend, we managed to visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Meteor Crater, and the famous Route 66 in Winslow, AZ.
After a hectic weekend celebrating Cori’s birthday and watching some NASCAR, we needed to say our final goodbyes to the Sonoran Desert and start the climb into the mountains to the north. Being from the east we aren’t as accustomed to the effects of elevation on the ecology of an area, so you can imagine our excitement while driving north out of Phoenix. As the highway climbs higher and higher into the mountains you get to watch the slow progression of things changing - it starts with more shrubs and greenery, then the Saguaros disappear, then the junipers start to pop up, and before you know it… BAM! The Verde Valley and all of its lush beauty lay before you at an elevation many thousands of feet higher than where you started.
Before my birthday and our NASCAR adventure, we had a weekend to enjoy exploring the city of Phoenix. Admittedly, we had no idea (ignorant East-coasters, apparently) that a lot of the cities you hear about in Arizona are actually considered part of Phoenix. Tempe, Scottsdale, and Mesa all fall within the greater Phoenix metro area, so while it’s the 6th biggest city in the country, each area has a completely different feel… a la the boroughs of NYC, if you will. This time in the city was just the beginning of our week in the Valley of the Sun, culminating in one unique birthday experience!
Along the southern border of Arizona sits a national monument unlike anything else. This can be attributed to one thing, it's namesake, the organ pipe cactus. While I had wanted to go to Mexico, our timeline didn't allow it, so we decided to get about as close as we could. The following week would be filled with exploring some of the most beautiful desert, more green than I had ever imagined, and sunshine that warmed us to our core.
There are some cities that I know I’ve heard a lot about, and yet I don’t feel like I really know anything about them. Tucson is one of those cities for me, so you can imagine my surprise when the terrain opened up into a vast and beautiful desert city. Having not yet seen a Giant Saguaro in the flesh before, the site of them lining city streets was pretty unforgettable. Little did I know how intimately we would come to know these giant cacti over the next 5 weeks in the Sonoran Desert.
After realizing that northern NM is actually quite cold in February, we decided to change course and head towards Arizona. We knew of some great boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks, and wanted to check out the rarely-talked about Chiricahua National Monument. We quickly learned why RVer's don't talk about Chiricahua, but in exchange got a show we won't soon forget.
When it was time to head out of Dark Canyon Road, we had a decision to make: head south to the Guadalupe Mountains along the border of Texas, or west towards Arizona and White Sands National Monument. We absolutely love to hike, so a day in the mountains sounded beautiful, but there was something about those iconic dunes that was calling our names. Since there is so much to see and do in the Southwest, we decided to tip our hats to Texas one last time and point Tig towards the Pacific. The beautifully sunny, 80 degree day that ensued in WSNM proved that we made the right choice.
It's tricky to explain the feeling of exploring the Carlsbad Caverns. It's this odd mix: a sense of wonder, intrigue, fascination, and slight child-like hesitation. The landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Sci-Fi movies may come close, but I don't know if they've ever captured the real essence of it. Regardless, this was one of those places you had to see to believe.
Texas has always been a place that I was interested in visiting. It wasn't for the same reasons that I wanted to see Montana or Wyoming; honestly, I don't really know why I wanted to go to Texas, but I just did. It always just seemed to have a certain je ne sais quoi about it. So, once we had our fill of Memphis BBQ (who am I kidding, I'm never full on BBQ) we headed down to Texas and spent our first night just across the border in the Texarkana welcome center.
As we made our way across the top of Utah, there were two places that we wanted to see: the Bonneville Salt Flats and Salt Lake City. Sense a theme here? With the supermoon on it's way, we headed to the most wide open space we could find. And with the free weekend that lied ahead, we were ready to explore as much as we could of the capital of the beehive state.
After turning east to start the long journey home for the holidays, we began looking for good campsites and pit stops along the way to make the most out of the journey. When looking in Northern Nevada, we came upon a little talked about free campground in Virgin Valley of the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge.
With the sand debacle behind us and my heart full from a trip down family memory lane, it was time to head out of Tillamook. The entire Fall season was filled with family and friends, and now was not the time to make this stop. We scooted up to Portland again for a quick weekend with my family, and while it was tough to only see them for such a short time, something really important to me was right around the corner... my mom was coming to visit!
We were super excited to make our way down to the Oregon coast after spending about a month in Washington. Both of us had heard how incredibly beautiful it was and were looking forward to a week in a campground right near the dunes in Pacific City. When PCH 101 finally gave us a view of the ocean, we pulled over for a quick, unenthusiastic look at the water and to snap a few photos (the Bills had just lost so spirits were pretty low). We assumed that we would have plenty of time to explore the coast and the dunes once we got to our site... we were wrong.
Before Cori and I moved into our tiny house on wheels together, I had spent five of the last six years living with the same person: my good friend Max. In fact, Max introduced Cori and I to each other years ago. Needless to say, when I told him that we’d be going on this adventure he instantly came back with “I’ll be coming to visit”.
So after making the turn north to leave the Portland area we didn’t know what our next month in the Pacific Northwest would hold, but we did know one thing - that we’d be making a stop at Mt. Rainier. We knew the massive volcano that holds the title for highest point in the Cascades was surely not one to disappoint, but we had no idea just how wonderful of a place it would be.
Our original plan was to go to small park on the banks of the Columbia River, near Kennewick on the Washington side. Apparently the state of Washington had other plans for us, though, since there was a barbed wire fence blocking our path into the park. There was no real way to tell before we got there, but the park closed on September 12. Bummer, right?
After following the Oregon Trail through much of Southern Idaho, we decided to break off the trail and keep following the Snake River north where they diverge around Boise. We knew that we wanted to get up into the panhandle region of Idaho, but hadn’t quite figured out where to go. That was until we read about the underappreciated Hells Canyon region of the Snake River, where it forms the boundary between Oregon and Idaho. Hells Canyon is the deepest river canyon in North America (take that Grand Canyon!) topping out at nearly eight thousand feet, not to mention that it’s up to ten miles wide.
We started our somewhat limited exploration of Idaho in Idaho Falls. Admittedly, I didn't really know much about Idaho in general, let alone Idaho Falls. But we were happily surprised to find an awesome little city, complete with the best river walk I've seen yet.
I don't think I could dream a more picture-perfect place than the Grand Tetons. Really, I don't. Waking up there is like waking up in the middle of a postcard, complete with breathtaking views, gorgeous sunsets, and perfectly crisp morning air. Which explains why, when we got there, we instantly decided to extend our stay and push our limited water supply as long as possible.