After months of planning, Katherine and I left Cartersville, GA in late June on a RV trip west. We rented a 30’ RV from Cruise America, picking it up in Duluth, GA and dropping it off 31 days later in San Diego.
Our itinerary took us across eleven states, to Kansas City and along I-40 west to California with side trips to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Katherine had not been west before and I had never been to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Our choice
to take our time and use a RV was a good one. That was a great way to see the country without the normal tourist stress of flying and hotels. Our plan allowed for reasonable runs of no more than 280 miles a day, with layovers and some hotel stops.
We also included side trips along the famous Rt. 66, which parallels I-40.
The RV Life
Making the trip with the RV was the way to go. Cruise America offers new vehicles with locations around the US.
We chose the 30’ model for the extra space with a nice queen bead and separate bathroom and shower. We had all the conveniences, including a full kitchen. We never used the generator for AC power as we always stopped at RV campgrounds with
full hookups. Cruise America includes roadside assistance but we never needed it, as we had no problems with the vehicle. With the exception of compensating for high winds, driving the RV was relatively easy their models are on a Ford 450 truck
body with adequate power, braking and comfort.
We got into the daily RV routine very quickly. Sleep late, breakfast and a walk and unhook to get back on the road again to the next site, unusually by 4 or 5 pm. Dinner inside or on a campfire
and a relaxing evening. Every day we had time for a long lunch and a side trip or two along the planned route. All the RV campgrounds were well managed, with friendly staff and stores if needed. Some of the sites were in beautiful locations
surrounded by trees or on water, some were just a functional place to stop for the night. Travelling by RV reminded me of my sailing days. In both you are making planned stops along a charted path, needing a place to tie up and get power and water.
Square It Up In Kansas City
Our first major destination was Kansas City; we had a hard date to make it to the national square dance convention. Katherine is an old pro square dance while I just learned this year.
We left Duluth, GA, headed out to Alabama for our first camp night. While close to the campsite we may have set a world record; we survived driving the 6.5-ton RV across a “3-ton limit” very narrow bridge!
The next day we began
to think that that Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee had an affinity for18 wheelers – moving fast and sometimes 2 or 3 abreast. Our next two stops were in Arkansas and Osceola, MO. The trip presented us with a scenic view of mid-America
on poorly maintained roads with winding and steep grades. We shared equally in the white knuckle driving experience. Again, our 18-wheeler friends accompanied us. In Osceola Katherine went for a walk into town and snapped a picture of a jail where
they house federal prisoners which resulted in a encounter with two federal marshals informing her that photos were not allowed and detained her until the could check her out!
In Kansas City, we parked the RV and checked into the Marriott (with
bath tub) for a three-day stint of non-stop square dancing. There were approximately 3,500 square dancers, which is a low number for a national convention, but that didn’t put a damper on our fun.
Kansas City got us in to Oklahoma on I-40 and the first part of our Rt. 66 side trips. As we drove through Kansas, there were miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the RV. That’s virtually all we saw in Kansas – lots of corn,
farms and moderately maintained roadways. Once we entered Oklahoma, the sights changed dramatically. The corn fields were replaced with grazing cows, longhorns with a 5’ span from tip to tip, rolling hills and oil wells. We crossed
the actual center of America. The roadway was a dream to travel on – nicely paved, straight, level and very few 18-wheelers. We drove around Tulsa and Oklahoma City and headed west. This is a beautiful country. We drove through
several Indian reservations, dotted by casinos. We didn’t stop since we were headed for Vegas eventually.
When we entered Texas mid-afternoon one day we noted an immediate change in
the topography. Miles and miles of wind turbines and a vast expanse of truly wide-open spaces. There was much less farmland and more mesquite shrubbery and cattle and horses. Here we encountered our first test of driving in high winds; the
wind shifted the RV uncomfortably for at least 100 miles. Of note were signs that advertised a steakhouse boasting a 72 oz. free steak for anyone who could eat the entire thing. We didn’t stop and figured that was a feat not attainable by
any human on earth.
The drive across eastern New Mexico became flat and barren, void of buildings, signs and other evidence of human habitation. About 10 miles in we finally noted
some sparse off-the-road buildings and evidence of farmland. We arrived at our campground outside of Logan, New Mexico for a two-day stop. One evening we decided to drive into town to check out Annex Bar and Grill. This turned out to be a classic; it
was a typical ranch town restaurant / bar. The customers were all ranchers, the TV was tuned to bull riding competition and the food was outstanding.
Get Your Kix on Rt. 66
Part of our plan for
the entire trip was to see some of the remaining sections of Rt. 66. The National Highway, it was the first entirely paved transcontinental highway in the US. Began in the 1920’s, it originated in Chicago and ended in Los Angeles. It
faded away slowly after the building of the interstate highway system in the 1960’s. However, many old sections with their bypassed towns can still be driven. We picked it up in Oklahoma and followed it until Flagstaff, Arizona. In
Elk City Oklahoma we drove along Rt. and visited the visited the National Route 66 Museum, a rodeo museum and the town museum. We stopped in McLean, Texas (the last Rt. 66 town to be bypassed by I-40) and visited the barbed wire museum. Who would
have thought that there’s a museum dedicated to the history of barbed wire? We toured the Tucumcari, New Mexico History Museum and had lunch at Kix 66, both of which are on the original (pre-1937) Route 66 roadway. We also diverted
off of I-40 to go the long way to Santa Fe in order to follow the old Rt. 66 road. This route was established late in Rt. 66 history because of the popularity of Santa Fe and its railroad cross roads. Our last Rt. 66 diversion was in Kingman, Arizona
for lunch at one of the most historic Rt. 66 diners – Mr. D’z. While there we visited their excellent Rt. 66 museum before leaving for Flagstaff Arizona.
We visited Santa Fe New Mexico
for two nights in a hotel. Camping is great, but it is also great to take a break from time to time! The temperature dropped to 60 degrees due to the elevation. We left the RV at the hotel and got a rental car so that we could move more easily
from place to place within the city. We spent some serious touristy time in Santa Fe, visiting the New Mexico National Museum and the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. There were numerous street vendors set up to sell authentic Indian jewelry
and pottery. We happened upon a small shop with various sundry items, including copies of old prostitution licenses, and new and used cowboy hats. We even got to go to another square dance; visiting the Eldorado Depot Dancers. We had a great
2.5 hours of square dance. This helped to round out the step count to approximately 10,000.
We left Santa Fe for the Red Rock Park, New Mexico campground, observing land going from flat to inclines requiring low gear, surrounded by with mesas.
The Acoma and Sky City
While in Santa Fe, a man we met recommended that we divert off of I-40 past Albuquerque to see the Acoma Tribe’s Sky City.
The Acoma Tribe occupies several pueblos near Albuquerque,
which include a famous one - Sky City. A museum is located at the base of the mesa where Sky City occupies. This pueblo only has about 400 families, living without electricity or running water. What makes this pueblo so historic is that is
has been continuously occupied for 2,000 years, the oldest in North America. The guided tour by a local native who lives in the Pueblo was great, with terrific views. Of course, we contributed to the local Acoma economy by buying a few things.
Their story of survival, especially with the Spanish occupation, is very touching.
As it turned out the Red Rock Park campground was also a rodeo site. They built a rodeo ring into the face of a giant portion of rock. The rock face served
as about 1/3 of the ring. On our way back to the RV, we happened upon a group of Indian men with bows and arrows (seriously), practicing their archery technique.
On the road to Flagstaff we stopped at Indian City, Arizona, a major native
arts and crafts venue. We left with lots of souvenirs and a tasting of Indian fry-bread. I’m sure we spent too much money, but we rationalized it by noting that it was a Navaho owned and operated business endeavor.
We made a three-day stop at the Grand Canyon National Park. We stayed at a good RV campground a few miles form the entrance, with a bus service to bring us to the Park. As we had never been there before, this was a planned
highlight of our trip. It did not disappoint.
Our first afternoon we walked about 1.5 miles along the rim of the Canyon and took the first of many great pictures. While Katherine liked to venture right to the rim, I found the railings much
more reassuring. We saw several examples of people who would walk right on the edge or on outcrops for pictures. Seeing that gave an understanding to the fact that there are on average 12 fatalities a year along the Grand Canyon.
next day we did an unguided bike tour of a 5-mile stretch of the rim. After lunch we headed out on a hike. We hiked about an hour before a gradual rain started. As we finished (hurriedly), we were in a near downpour. We were on the rim of the Canyon
when we saw a lightning strike to the bottom of the Canyon. It was incredible considering that the Canyon is about a mile deep. Our last day we rented bikes again. The rain stayed away, and the weather was beautiful. After we finished the
last of the bike rides (totaling 12 miles), we toured the Canyon one last time on a Park bus.
From the Grand Canyon our next three-day stop was in Las Vegas. The Mirage Hotel was a nice break as
was the gambling and the nightlife. After a nice dinner we went out to explore. As advertised, the city is nothing but lights and glitz. Fortunately, we came home from the casinos with a little more money than we took with us.
next day we took a very nice tour bus to the Hoover Dam, about 40 minutes away. The dam is an amazing structure, constructed under tough conditions during the great depression. We toured the massive underground workings of the dam and listened
to entirely too many “dam(n)” jokes!
After a little rest and then time at the pool, we decided to give the Mirage casino a little try. Again, we came back to the room just a little richer. I can see how one might get involved
with gambling and begin to think that you could make money on a regular basis – very risky.
We caught Jay Leno’s show at the Mirage. He was outstanding, as was the lead act, an impersonator, Finis Henderson. After the show,
we stayed at the Mirage and enjoyed the activities until early morning, again headed to the room a little richer.
There is a reason they call Vegas sin city! We slept late and took Uber our last day to the old downtown Las Vegas (Freemont
Street). One of the best things we saw on Freemont Street was the Tony Marquez Band. On the totally weird side, some of the things we saw included an 8 months pregnant woman dressed in only a G-string and a very overweight retired stripper.
Desert to Mountains to the Pacific
Our trip included nine days in California. From Las Vegas we stopped in Mojave, CA on our way to Yosemite National Park. From Yosemite to San Francisco and finally down the Pacific Coast Highway to Sand
We headed out of Las Vegas and began our journey through the Mojave Desert in route to Yosemite National Forest. The trip was long and included 17-mile slight, but continuous incline as we approached
Along the way we found out that the area of Yosemite that we made reservations for had been significantly impacted by an ongoing forest fire; the road that we needed to travel in on was closed due to the fire. We changed to stay
at a RV Park near another entrance.
We stayed one night at the Spaceport RV Park in Mojave, California. We opted for dinner out at a local Denny’s restaurant and noted that Spaceport history decorated the walls. Spaceport
was an airport facility originally set up to serve in the transport of gold and silver in the 1930s but has served the military in a variety of capacities since 1941.
We left Spaceport in Mojave and headed
for the Yosemite Ridge RV Resort – full 6 hours away. It was pleasant driving, but long and up and down steep grades. Most of the trip was through the agricultural portions of the San Joaquin Valley.
We arrived at the campground
and were pleasantly surprised. It was a very nice place with a pool, laundry facilities, nearby restaurant, little country store, and few kids!! Also, to our surprise, they allowed us to build a charcoal fire – hamburgers and smores!
We headed to Yosemite the next day via an hour shuttle bus ride. It was beautiful, but obvious immediately that there was a 12,000-acre forest fire nearby. The fire was on the other side of the park, but nonetheless significant. The smoke made
picture taking not ideal, but we enjoyed beautiful sights. Since biking was prohibited due to air quality, we hiked various trails and toured the visitor’s center and other attractions. We ate lunch in the beautiful Majestic Hotel, which opened
As we entered the park the next day the smoky and foggy conditions didn’t seem much different. The scenery was beautiful, and at that time in the morning, there was a cool breeze. Much to our delight we discovered that
bike rentals were on for the day. We stopped at a large mountain stream and took the plunge. It was very cold. I can’t imagine what that water feels like in April or May. After the swim, we headed to Mirror Lake. The level
of the water in the lake was at a very low, but the scenery made it worth the 1.5-mile trip.
As we left for San Francisco the first song on Pandora was Jimmy Buffet’s hit song, Come
Monday. Remember, the first line of the song is “Heading out to San Francisco…”. The first half of the drive from Yosemite was a tight and downhill curving experience. After that, the topography changed to flat farming
and ranching lands. We stayed at the Candlestick RV Park, next to the demolished Candlestick Stadium. It’s not much to look at, but the amenities were nice for an RV park.
We used Uber to make our trips into the City. Our first night
was dinner at the Chart House on Fisherman’s Wharf, with a direct view of Alcatraz. After dinner we strode around Pier 39. The next day we did the Big Bus tour around San Francisco. We rode up top for a while, but it was a little chilly,
so we went downstairs. The highlight of the trip was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and learning all the trivia related to the bridge. We hopped off the Big Bus at Pier 39 for a while, taking in some street performers, a WW II submarine and the
Jeremiah O’Brien, the last WW II liberty ship. Next was a walk around China town
Our last day was highlighted by a ferry trip to Sausalito. It was a windy day, and at times, chilly. However, it was beautiful. We toured
the shops and the waterfront for a short time and after lunch we climbed and climbed and climbed to reach one of the residential neighborhoods. The houses and the views were outstanding. We took more pictures and dawdled along for quite some time.
The next stop was a local tavern for chips and a drink. The ferry dropped us off at the Wharf and we decided to do one last walk through the city, testing our hill climbing ability one more time.
Pacific Coast Highway
It was a beautiful crisp morning as we headed down the Pacific Coast Hwy. We figured we’d experience more taking a little time to travel off the interstate, and we were right. It was gorgeous. Coastline, mountains, farmland and small towns
dotted the route. We stopped at an observation point to take in the view and to buy some fresh fruit. As lunchtime approached, we decided that we’d upgraded from hotdogs and stop for lunch at the Pacific Grill in Moss Landing.
Aside from the tremendous view and a nice rest from driving, we enjoyed shrimp, fresh fish and a salmon dish. It was then on to the Carmel by the River RV Park. It was very scenic tucked into a valley along a river.
The next day we travelled
along another beautiful stretch of the highway to the Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park. We enjoyed the ride, taking pictures and taking in the sights. Again, it was amazing to see the diversity in land – farms, vast expanses of green, grapevines,
row crops, mountains and the ocean. This is the part of California that we like the best. We arrived at our final campsite a little later than normal but set up camp and took off for steps and dinner. Dinner on our final night was at a small Thai
Our RV trip ended in San Diego on July 25 after logging just under 4,000 miles. We offloaded our personal items and turned in the RV just outside the city. We had a few days
visiting with my daughter Caroline and then flew to Chicago to visit with my sister and brother, getting back to Atlanta on July 31.