New Mexico & The Four Corners Region

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4 corners

We spent a night in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a little RV park right off Route 66. We went into town for dinner, and after being told by several people about the green chili burgers in New Mexico, that’s what we were on the hunt for. We enjoyed burgers and beers and walked around the city. Santa Fe is a small city with lots of character in all their Pueblo style homes and buildings, there’s also many art galleries, beautiful jewelry, and other handmade crafts in the downtown stores. The bar scene that night was hoping and the town was bustling. We enjoyed our night in the big town before setting off for more rural scenery.

After leaving Santa Fe we headed to Aztec, New Mexico, a little over 3 hours Northwest. Aztec is a great spot to bounce around the Four Corners region, we were about 45 minutes from Durango, Colorado, 45 minutes to the Arizona boarder and just over an hour from Utah. While we were in Aztec we bounced around all four states, visiting Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec National Monument, and driving around BLM land in Utah. We also celebrated Paul’s birthday while we were there which was great, we spent the day exploring the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.

After spending a few days in Aztec we stored our camper at a local storage lot and went into the mountains of Colorado to do some backpacking. We did a beautiful 4 day hike up to an alpine lake. I may have cried after having to climb over the 100th downed tree on switchback trails at over 10,000 feet, but we pushed on and it was totally worth it. before picking up the camper we regrouped after the hike with burgers, beers, and hot showers in a cheap hotel room.

 

 

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Cell Service Across The Country

We visited almost 30 states on our cross country road trip, we drove down the East Coast to Georgia and Florida and then headed out west. We covered a lot of ground and got to test our cell service in a ton of places.

 

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Our Route

Before leaving Paul and I decided we would switch our cell phones to be on the same plan. Prior to switching, I had T-Mobile and Paul had Verizon. We knew T-Mobile service wouldn’t cut it, because even in places in New Jersey I would have spotty service, and Verizon was the most expensive carrier, so we met in the middle and signed a contract with Sprint. Sprint claimed to have 99% of the coverage of Verizon and they gave us an unlimited plan for less than what we would have paid with Verizon.

After traveling for over 100 days and over 2,000 miles we switched both our phones to Verizon once we settled down in Idaho. Not only was Sprint’s service terrible once we left Georgia, their customer service was a joke, and no help to us at all as we traveled. As we traveled and met up with family and friends who have Verizon it was obvious that we were duped by Sprint, our friends and family would have full service on the Verizon network while we were constantly roaming. We hardly had full service once we left the East coast, we were always roaming (unless we were in a big town/city), so we would make phone calls to our family and if necessary have them google things for us.

In the end, Sprint didn’t ruin our trip, in fact a lack of service in a lot of places was peaceful. Towards the end of our trip we both broke our phones, and because we were traveling Sprint would not help us replace them, but we found the silver lining in that situation too and basked in the solitude of no social media or apps. If someone were to ask me, I would only recommend Verizon to those looking to travel, not only is their service much better but their customer service has already proven to be superior as well.

Something that we didn’t have and I wish we would have was a WiFi hot spot. Many of the RV parks that we stayed at had their own WiFi but with everyone in the park trying to use it, it was usually too slow to upload pictures or stream videos.

Happy Trails…

 

5 Lessons Learned on the Road

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After traveling 12,000 miles we learned a thing or two on how to make it work. We spent 24/7 together for over 100 days and managed not to kill each other, these are a few things that helped…

  1. Music/Radio/Podcasts
    Before we left New Jersey we knew we were going to need some entertainment for the long hours of driving we had ahead of us. Paul and I both had not downloaded nearly as much music as we had thought, so we needed to keep reminding ourselves to download music whenever we were connected to wifi. Paul also loves podcast so those were always good to have when we weren’t in the mood for music. My favorite thing was local radio stations, especially as we drove through Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, the South played really good old folk and country music that we couldn’t get enough of.
  2. There’s No Rush
    After we did our big push out west from Arkansas we realized we needed to slow down. As we were driving down the highway we’d see things that looked cool or interesting, but with the camper on the back of the truck we weren’t always able to make a quick turn-off and never knew what parking would be like. Once we got into New Mexico we both agreed that long drives weren’t worth it, we decided 4-5 hours to our next destination would always be the most we’d drive. Because we kept the trips shorter, we were able to drop the camper in a place and stay, usually for about 4-5 days, and then we had the ability to go back and check out some things we may have wanted to see along the way. We never drove at night, we never discussed this but who wants to drag a camper around at night and figure out where to set up in the dark? Not us.
  3. Regular Maintenance
    It took some time to get used to doing all our checks before hitting the road each time with the camper, but after doing it for weeks and months it became routine and it was part of the reason why we successfully made it across the country with no major mechanical problems.  We would check the blinkers, brakes, and all the lights each time we hooked up the camper. Paul faithfully changed the oil in the truck, even if we weren’t supposed to in some places, and we checked tire pressure regularly. At the Utah boarder we did have a slightly flat tire, it was a quick fix because we luckily had a air compressor in the truck, (the air compressor came in handy for our bike tires as well).A maintenance tip that may seem silly but is critical for any road trip, window washing, every time you fill up, wash those windows!
  4. Pack Food (but keep your eye out for roadside snacks)
    Once we started exploring the national parks and spending our days hiking we knew we weren’t going to be able to afford buying food in the parks or in the town near the parks everyday. We also didn’t want to take the time, we wanted to see as much as possible and sitting down to eat in a restaurant or cafeteria wasn’t something that appealed to us. So every morning we would make sandwiches and take them with us wherever we went. We also had our bag of “truck snacks” to rummage through if we needed a little something, we always had chips, granola bars, crackers, cookies, and peanut butter packets.
    Extra water in the back of the truck was always good to have too. We have portable water containers that are always full and in the back of the truck, we drank our weight in water while we were in the desert so an extra 10 gallons in the car was always nice to come back to after a hike.
    *While we were well prepared food wise, we did grant ourselves local cuisine when it was calling to us, like the green chili burger in New Mexico or the fried bread in Arizona’s Navajo Nation or the crabs we got on the docks of the Oregon Coast. Treat yo’ self!
  5. Maps, Maps, and more Maps
    Paul and I really lucked out when it came to navigating this trip, for Christmas before we left we were given a Garmin GPS and a National Geographic Road Atlas. Between the GPS, Atlas, and our phones we were able to navigate across the country fairly easily. It’s important to have multiple forms of GPS because you will not always have cell service and the Garmin GPS can sometimes bring you down dirt roads or closed roads. The atlas really saved us, while Paul was looking t the GPS mounted on the dash I was able to use the atlas and/or my phone to look ahead on the route or plan an alternate route.
  6. *Bonus* Take a Day Off
    While traveling and sightseeing are amazing, it can also be exhausting. After over a month of traveling Paul and I were in Moab, Utah when we realized we hadn’t spent a full day in the camper yet. We had been adventuring and exploring all day everyday and hadn’t stopped, we decided we needed a day to just relax and it seemed like Utah’s 117° summer days were just the excuse we needed. It’s important to not wear yourself out when traveling, keep yourself well rested, hydrated, and healthy because no one wants to be sick on the road.

Arkansas to New Mexico

Arkansas —> New Mexico 876 Miles in 2 days (wow!)

There wasn’t much on our list to see in Oklahoma or in northern Texas so we decided to just continue heading west. We left Arkansas and hightailed it through Oklahoma, a state filled with ranches that make more money from the oil wells on their land than they do from the cows. We slept in a Walmart parking lot in Checotah. Checotah, Oklahoma is a small town of about 3,000 with signs all over letting you know that it is the birth place of the one and only Carrie Underwood. Sleeping in a Walmart is a right of passage to any new road traveler, and Paul was itching to check it off our list.

Walmart’s aren’t terrible to stay at, if you can find a quiet one…good luck. When you pull into a Walmart you go inside, ask if you can spend the night in the parking lot and if you can, the manager will tell you where to park. We parked on the side of the building and lucky for us it was the night of landscaping and street sweeping until 2 AM. So while Paul slept soundly, I stared at the ceiling and listened to what sounded like a street sweeper doing doughnuts in the parking lot at 40 mile per hour. There was also a lovely train that went by a few times, and did i mention the mass of stay cats chasing summer bugs all around the parking lot lights. Ahhh…Walmart parking lots, what dreams are made of. In all seriousness though, for a quick overnight when you’re tired, you can’t beat a free spot at Walmart, it’s also a good time to stock up on anything you might need.

After a sleepless night in Oklahoma I was determined to find somewhere to sleep other than a Walmart. Before leaving New Jersey I bought a membership to Harvest Host. $40 for the year and they give you a list of farms, museums, wineries, breweries and other (usually agricultural based) businesses that allow you to camp on their property for free. I looked up what we had around us and found a winery just outside of Amarillo, Texas to stay at for the night. Our night at the winery was much more peaceful than our night at Walmart.

After a night in Texas we headed out to New Mexico, following the old route 66 until we hit Santa Fe. Route 66 is unfortunately dead and gone through this stretch of highway, businesses and entire towns have been abandoned because of the interstate that replaced the famous highway back in the 80’s. No one is taking the time to stop and check out any of those old route 66 roadside attractions, the interstate has you zipping right past without even realizing it. Of course we had to stop at some of the iconic places along the way like the giant cross as you enter Texas, Cadillac Ranch, and The Big Texan Steak Ranch.

So, what did we learned after this big push to make it out west? Well, we came up with a new and very important rule that we lived by for the rest of the summer. Our new rule, no driving for more than 4 or 5 hours a day, after that we start to annoy each other and get cranky. Driving anymore than 4 or 5 hours didn’t let us see as much as we wanted to either, we felt like we were passing by too much and with the added weight of the camper we were going no where slow anyway.

Norfork, Arkansas

Almost a month was spent on the East Coast, we were ready to start the long haul out West, and our first stop was Arkansas.

After my Aunt’s husband recommending the Buffalo River area we decided it would be a nice stop on our way. It was never an intended stop on our trip, but then neither were any other places from here on. The green rolling hills and steep cliffs along the rivers were beautiful. Our campground was on the White River, recently bought by an awesome brother and sister team, who are working hard at fixing up the joint. The campground property backs right up to the river, which only a few weeks before had flooded out the land between their main house and the river.

We seemed to consistently be reminded this summer of the unapologetic forces of nature.

In our few days spent in Arkansas we visited the Blanchard Springs Caverns in the Ozark National Forest (Paul loves cave tours) and they were the biggest and most beautiful cave systems we visited. With large rooms and over a mile walk from one end of the system to the other, they were beyond impressive. After exploring the insides of the caves we took a drive to the top of them and explored the forest and natural springs surrounding them. Paul’s father and his wife were making a drive back to New Jersey when they decided to stop by and spend a few days with us, we fished, ate catfish and almost left with a dog, I’d call it a good stop on the journey.

My favorite part of Arkansas were the fireflies at night. At the time we were in Arkansas the fireflies were mating, and during their mating periods they do these crazy in sync light shows to attract mates.  The thick trees of the Ozarks were the perfect backdrop for this amazing light show each night. Growing up in New Jersey we always had fireflies around in the summer time, but I had never seen this many moving and blinking at such a pace. Paul and I spent each night in Arkansas sitting in the middle of the road and just watching as the fireflies seamlessly blended with the landscape of the night sky.

The thick green Ozarks, like many other east coast forests, were something I was about to unexpectedly miss as we moved westward…