Monument Valley & Gooseneck State Park

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Over our 2,000+ mile journey this was probably my favorite 24 hours. People always ask, “where was your favorite place?” That’s a really hard question to answer and it may change day to day, but this little corner of the country is often the answer to that question and will always have a very special space in my heart.

After leaving Aztec, New Mexico we headed to Monument Valley, a beautiful 17 million acre park in the middle of nowhere on the Arizona/Utah boarder. As we drove past reservation land and beautiful land formations we really felt the freedom of the road on this drive, we left the crowds and strip malls and busy roads all behind. There’s a nice cafe, overlook, and visitor center that goes through the history of the land, from the Natives who still call it home to the John Wayne westerns shot on location in the valley. Monument Valley has some pretty rough roads and you can opt to take a guided tour, but we drove it ourselves. There’s a stop along the way where you can take a picture on horseback on a spot called John Wayne point. At this point there is also a small fried bread stand and 2 small gift shops.

 

After our adventures in Monument Valley we realized the sun was setting quickly and we needed to find a place to spend the night. We were in the middle of nowhere and had no data service to google anything or pull up our maps on our cell phones. So, we called my brother and told him we saw a campground on our paper map and asked him to check it out and see if we could get the trailer into a spot down there. After being on the phone for awhile and burning more sunlight we all agreed we’d make it down the road to Gooseneck State Park.

Gooseneck State Park. was probably my favorite camp spot. After driving down a dirt road we passed the entrance of the park passing a sign that read, “Tent Camping not recommended (high winds on the canyon’s edge).” Along with us there were only 2 other people camping, both in tents (thrill seekers). There were no hookups, just picnic tables and a few vault toilets at the park. We pulled right up to the edge of a canyon and spent the entire night watching the most beautiful meteor showers. It was exciting to wake up and get a good look into the canyon the next morning and a look at where we were.

 

 

 

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Holidays in a Small Space

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Stockings I found at the local thrift store for $1 each

I enjoyed the challenge of decorating a tiny space for Christmas this year. In years past it’s always been unloading box after box out of my Mom’s attic and deciding what we had room for and what would need to go back into the attic.

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Wreath made with materials found along the river

 

 

Currently, we don’t have room to store much in the camper so minimalist and low cost decorations that can be tossed or reused were this years theme. Thrift store, dollar store and nature are where all of the decorations came from.

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.

 

 

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.

Space Saving RV Gifts

  1. Instant Pot

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    7-in-1 programmable cooker
  2. Collapsible Silicone Pot

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    Save room with this collapsible pot

     

  3. Outdoor Mat

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    Helps keep dirt and rocks outside, while giving you a homey feeling where ever you are

     

  4. Table Top Patio Heater
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    Great for chilly nights when you don’t/can’t have the campfire

     

     

  5. 4-in-1 Hand Blender
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Great Multi-functional Kitchen Tool