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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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.

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…

12,000 Miles, 102 Days, 1 Amazing Country

We traveled over 12,000 miles in just over 100 days and the most important thing we took from all those miles is the endless beauty and goodness that this country has to offer; so much that it easily over powers the hatred and negativity that our society is all too consumed with.

Over the past 3 months we’ve made it our goal to stay away from reading or watching too much news or social media, it was just too distracting and sometimes too depressing. With no cable, and in most places no cell service, it really wasn’t very hard to disconnect. Now, some people might think that our “ignorance is bliss” attitude was indeed ignorant, but when you travel across this country and see so many beautiful things and meet so many good people, its hard to watch and read one negative story after another. What we saw in the news seemed to be contradicting the country we were experiencing, and we didn’t need it fogging up our view of things. Our disconnection from everything but the world around us forced us to reconnect with new places and new people. We’ve seen places that brought us to tears and met people who, without even knowing, made lasting impressions on us.

In the end, it’s all about getting out there and focusing on the beauty in everyone and everything around us.

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We settled down in Idaho this week after poping in and out over the last month or so. We’ll be resting our heads in Sun Valley for the winter while we work to save up for whatever adventure comes next.

*After leaving Georgia our travels were a whirlwind and we had little to no internet connection in most places. Now that we are settled I’ll be sharing some stories about all of the amazing places we’ve been since we left.

 

Happy Trails

Sebastian, Florida

A long weekend in “sunny” Florida.

It rained on the drive down to Florida, it rain every day we were in Florida, and then it followed us home and rained some more.

After spending about a week in Georgia we headed down to Florida. We left the camper at Paul’s brother’s house because we had a place to stay in Florida and we also thought we might try to do some car camping. We headed down just in time to celebrate my cousin Micheal’s birthday for the weekend. My Uncle Bronco and Aunt Sue were kind enough to let us stay a few days, and it was nice to be able to take hot showers, do laundry and just relax in the pool in between the rain. My cousins Micheal and Bronco were both in a fishing tournament so we spent some time Saturday at the weigh-in having drinks and eating dinner. We were hoping to celebrate Micheal’s birthday that night too but he did enough celebrating out on the boat that day.

With everyone being off on Sunday we took the boat out, getting some fishing in and spending the day on an island in the river. We spent our lazy Florida Sunday, BBQing until the rain came back in again. It was a lot of fun paddle boarding, listening to music, hanging in the hammocks, and watching the dolphins swim by. Our weekend went by fast but we were happy to have been able to see everyone, aunts, uncles, cousins; and Paul was finally able to meet most of them for the first time. We even got some suggestions from Jeff on places to stop on our way out West, here we come Arkansas (thanks Jeff).

We were hoping to spend more time in Florida and explore the Everglades and Keys but with all the rain we decided to get away from it and get back to Georgia and our Camper.