The Best of the US: Two Cross Country Road Trip Itineraries!

The Best of the US: Two Cross Country Road Trip Itineraries!

Perhaps the title gave it away, but this recent trip wasn’t my first excursion across the US in a camper with my dad. Five years ago, basically to the date, Mr. Gilson drove from Halifax, MA to Beverly Hills, CA, scooped me up, and we headed off on our greatest adventure.  Me, him, and Clara (a stray dog he picked up in the Mojave Desert) barreled across the US of A taking the 80/90 E to the 40E on a course that basically mirrored this map:

I’ll just briefly recount the highlights before getting into every detail of my recent trip.

From Los Angeles, we headed off towards Vegas, spending our first night at a campsite near the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.   Each day we’d cover a few hundred miles, but always retired early to find a quiet campsite where we’d play rummy by candlelight, our new puppy curled up at our feet.  To sleep, I’d crawl onto the bed space over the truck roof and Papa would convert the kitchen table into another bed. It was close quarters, but after two decades of tent camping, we were grateful for a solid roof and a mini fridge.

In Utah, we hiked the rock formations of Zion National Park with my jaw dropped, absolutely in awe of nature’s magnificent glory.

We had a plan of sorts, but were easily swayed off course by a tourist sign advertising something we just couldn’t miss. A hike here, a farm there, the world’s tallest this, the state’s best that.

In Colorado, we got our fix of granola and craft beers and visited the town where my dad had lived a lifetime ago. The stretches between campgrounds gave way to ever changing landscapes and for the first time in my life, I began to truly grasp just how expansive and geographically diverse our country really is.

Through Nebraska, we stopped at Big Ole’s Steakhouse to eat among the largest private collection of game in the world, which my dad thoroughly enjoyed.  Me not so much, but I appreciated that the restaurant illuminated just how far from either home (LA or Boston) I really was.

In Omaha, I went out for a night of bar-hopping with my pen pal (another story for another time), before heading to Des Moines and its endless stretch of cornfields.  Near Chicago, we snuck Clara in for a dip in Lake Michigan and marveled at the sheer vastness.  We stopped at every fruit stand through Indiana for peaches that were so incredibly juicy that we were crying laughing at the mess we made every-time we took a new bite.  In New York, we grew quiet at the wonder of Niagra Falls.

Before leaving Buffalo, we tested our spicy threshold at the restaurant where buffalo wings were invented.  And through that last stretch of drive we slowed down a bit and reflected on a truly once in a lifetime trip.

Little did we know then that the three of us had another cross-country road trip in our future.

 

 <<August 2016 Trip : Boston to Los Angeles>>

Flash-forward 5 years and Papa had invested in a serious camper upgrade.  We went from a truck bed crawl space and paying for community showers in quarters to a luxury RV with running water, a full bathroom, 2 beds, and a pretty impressive kitchen set up.  Our road dog Clara was onboard for another adventure, but this time with the addition of my little mutt Shelly.

And so we set out again, just a month shy of my wedding date in Santa Barbara, to see what else this big crazy country had in store for us.  There were a few stops I was keen on seeing, and a few my dad wanted to cross off the ol’ bucketlist, but we were just as highly susceptible to tourist traps this time around as we were half a decade before. Which is basically exactly how I love to travel.  Leisurely, and open to wherever the adventure takes me.

 

 

We left Halifax, MA right before dusk to miss the rush hour traffic getting through the Big Apple.  We made it through to Jersey before I persuaded Papa to pull off into a truck stop to get some rest around 1AM.  I was absolutely exhausted from holding my breath as he tested out navigating the big rig for the first time… I could only imagine how spent he must have been.

NIGHT ONE: TRUCK STOP JERSEY TURNPIKE {Approx Miles Driven: 250}

A bit of restless sleep and we were up with the truckers for coffee before taking off for Washington DC.   To put it ridiculously, I can be quite the eager beaver on a vacation. So as my excitement to see our nation’s capital escalated, I made the executive decision we’d drive right to the city center and just find parking.  Should mention, I’m also horrifically optimistic.. which often translates to unrealistic.  So here we are driving an RV right by the white house and circling the Capitol Building.  And go figure, you can’t park an RV anywhere in DC proper.  We pulled over by swoon-worthy Georgetown and I researched the closest campground.  …Only to learn there are no campsites in Washington DC.  Not one. So we backtracked quite a bit back into Maryland to post up at Cherry Hill Park.

NIGHT 2: CHERRY HILL ROAD PARK, MARYLAND {Approx Miles Driven: 250}

9800 Cherry Hill Rd, College Park, MD 20740.  

As Papa did a 1000 point turn to get into our spot, I picked the concierge’s brain on the best way to get into DC without a car.  She sold me on the public transportation and I purchased two roundtrip $5 pass cards right there and then.  Unbeknownst to me, the ride would be anything but efficient and incur multiple transfers and lengthy waits.  A few buses and a train later and we were in DC.  Lesson Learned: Save the time, take the Uber

The August heat was absolutely sweltering, so we spent quite a bit of time leisurely strolling through the Smithsonian museums… my favorite being the iconic Natural History Museum.

After an overpriced salad from the museum cafe, we braved the heat and meandered the mile or so to visit Abe.  And while we were melting and exasperated by the time we got there, this view made it all worth it.

As we neared the Vietnam Veterans Memorial our playful banter faded as my dad’s shoulders softened and his footsteps slowed.  It has been 42 years since my dad was not yet even 21, holding a rifle in Vietnam… but I know there’s not a single day since that he hasn’t thought of the names written on this wall.

As we sat in traffic in our Uber home, I remember staring out at the perfectly manicured brownstones thinking how lucky I am to be American in an America that is free because of people like my father. An hour and $25 later, and we were back with the dogs, crunching on fresh veggies my dad had brought along from his garden.

We had a quiet and peaceful sleep and woke early for a bowl of cereal and a long walk with the pups before hitting the open road once again.  By now, our lack of planning was pretty evident.  I spent at least an hour every day searching for things to do, places to stay, and best stops for food along our way, and another hour or two on my computer answering wedding related emails and catching up on work.  We also quickly fell into a habit of continual munching of nuts and fruits throughout the drive… that and averaging 5 cups of black coffee a day.

 

NIGHT 3, ANCHOR DOWN RV RESORT, TENNESSEE {Approx Miles Traveled: 500}

1703 Hwy 139, Dandridge, TN 37725.  

Anchor Down had popped up online with good reviews so we took a chance and pulled our camper right into a lakeview spot.   I would go so far as to say it was the most well maintained RV campground I have ever visited.  The place was so pristine, I felt like we were their first visitors.

Some of the RV spots have these stunning stone fireplaces and there was a dock to park personal boats and jet skis, a pool with a great slide, and lake floating jungle courses and trampolines  ….but no restaurant!  Nothing at all to eat walking distance and no shuttles, ubers or taxis anywhere.  And here is where we really began to regret not having the motorcycle hooked up to the back.  Having a drive-in camper is amazing on the freeways, but once it’s parked? Well the thought of taking it into a town to grab some sandwiches is less than appealing. It was only a few days in and we were already feeling the sting of being ‘stuck’ without an easier means of transportation.  Even bicycles would have been better than nothing.   So we did what any American would do and ordered delivery from a nearby pizza place. By the time we finished eating outdoors, the campground was pitch black and I had been eaten alive by mosquitos, so we called it a night.  Me and Shelly retiring to the king size bed in the back, my dad curled up on the couch with Clara by his feet.  Over cereal and fruit the next morning, we plotted the day’s route while the sun rose high above the still lake.  

Tennesse was in our future, and we appropriately jammed along to country music as the countryside rolled by the windows. We decided on Memphis and I navigated us to what looked like a magical stay right on the Mississippi River.

NIGHT 4: TOM SAWYER’S RV PARK, MEMPHIS  {Approx Miles Traveled: 450}

1286 S 8th St, West Memphis, AR.  

As we drove quite a ways past Memphis and pulled through the swampy and lackluster campground, I couldn’t help but think of “The Hills Have Eyes”… a movie I have never seen but reference every time I feel spooked in the woods.  The enormous Mississippi river was dark and murky with little activity other than a few industrial boats here and there.  Thankfully, we were able to get a $30 round trip uber into the city without too much difficulty.

And what a city it was!! I had traveled to Nashville a few times and even made my way to Memphis once before, but I had never experienced Beale Street in its true essence before this trip.  The live music in every corner of every bar, the fruity libations served in the streets, the kitsch shops and local flavor.. I loved it all, every last bit.

We spent our time in Memphis, grabbing dinner and enjoying the bands before heading back home to the campsite.  It felt really wonderful to have a night of civilized socialization after a few days of getting the delirious giggles from being in the RV for the long hauls.  The next morning, we walked the dogs along the vast Mississippi river while Papa gave me a history lesson or two about this important stretch of water.


And then we were packed up and off again on another day of adventure. The road ahead stretched on forever as we drove, and drove, through the open acres of farmland.
best US roadtrip
As our own fruit, vegetables, organic cereal and almond milk ran low, I started to get rather obsessive about finding a Whole Foods or something comparative.  The daily binging on healthy snacks like trail mix was okay, but I knew that I wouldn’t fit in my wedding dress if we switched that to chips and cookies.   We stopped in Little Rock at a grocer and I purchased one of everything in their limited ‘health foods aisle’.  This is also a good time to mention that the drive was never, not once, just from site A to site B.  It was always me looking at google maps and seeing an alternative route that added however many miles but went through a national forest, which I argued would be more beautiful.  Or it was Papa pointing at a gift shop selling something or other unique on the side of the road and us pulling off.  Or the always enticing ‘Vista Point’ sign, because who doesn’t want a good view? Or the 5 times we stopped for coffee, which always led to a dog walk, which led to us poking around some little town or backroads.  Papa and I are the same in that sense.. insatiably curious.

 

NIGHT 5: SALISAW KOA, OKLAHOMA {Approx Miles: 300}

1900 KOA Power Dr, Sallisaw, OK.

 This little campsite off the I-40 has a pool, little pond for fishing, enclosed dog area, little general store, free pizza delivery and quite a few trail options through a pretty beautiful wooded area. But most importantly,  it was a short (but dangerous) mile walk to a casino with a full bar and restaurant and every slot machine imaginable. And you better believe we went to the casino the second after the dogs were fed and walked. We basically had to dodge cars along a freeway to get there, but it was worth it just for the experience.  I’m not being pretentious, just stating some facts: we were the only two people in the entire establishment with full sets of teeth.  I would even go so far as to say, only two people with both of our front teeth.  This place was something else.  And while there was the thickest cloud of cigarette smoke blanketing the entire casino, we actually had a hell of a time.  Once we lost as much as we could stomach, we meandered back along the freeway… this time in the dark.  We were so exhausted and defeated, but my God did we laugh on that walk home.

The next morning we took the pups for a big walk through the trails of the property before taking off for good ol’ Texas… stopping in Oklahoma City on the way, as you could guess, just for the hell of it.

 

NIGHT 6: OASIS RV PARK, AMARILLO, TEXAS {Approx Miles: 450}2715 Arnot Rd, Amarillo, TX.  Brand new RV park with lovely pool located feet from the I-40.  But I should mention, the camper spots were so close together without any hills or trees… so you’re basically just ‘camping’ in a bumper to bumper parking lot. 

The laughter from the casino definitely carried over to our experience in Amarillo.  Once we had extended out the sides of the camper (it was definitely a one-upper type of campground), we called Big Texan Steak Ranch to schedule a driver to come pick us up for dinner. How did we ever come up with that idea?  Well, the complimentary service is advertised on every single billboard in Amarillo (and the 10 miles leading there) and was mentioned to us at least twice by the check in lady.

So we called.  And this is what showed up:

The driver was the friendliest cowboy I ever met and finished each sentence with sir or ma’am.  The restaurant was only a short 5 minute ride, but he gave us a grand tour of his hometown, making sure to linger on Big Texan Steak Ranch’s highlights… like their motel with a Texas shaped pool, and the neighboring horse motel. Yes.  A motel for horses.

How can I possibly describe the theatrics of Big Texan Steak Ranch to someone who’s never been?  Easy. It’s a redneck Disney… in all the best ways possible. Except for the taxidermy, I suppose.  You’ve definitely got to check your animal rights activism at the door to stomach the astounding amount of stuffed game on every inch of wall space.
There was a 45 min wait on Sat night so we headed to the souvenir shop, then tried some fudge, and then some ice cream, played some arcade games, had a beer flight, listened to live music… Just trying to paint the appropriate picture of how much there is to see and do at this honky tonk gem.
Sure was a tourist trap, but it’s also a locals trap… I imagine because the steak is actually out of this world delicious. We savored every buttery bite as we took in the lively atmosphere around us.  Completely satisfied and stuffed to the brim, we headed back to the beer garden after dinner.  The place had filled up with a rowdy crowd enjoying the live country band and free-flowing draft beer. 

I’d go crazy living in Amarillo, Texas within the first week… but as I watched everyone let loose, I completely understood why some call this little dot in the middle of this vast country home.  Despite the theatrics of the restaurant, there’s something authentic about Texas.. just as there was in Memphis and where there would be in New Mexico.  A contentment that you just can’t find along the coasts, no matter how hard you try.

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The next morning I woke to the sound of my alarm for the first time on our trip.  I jumped out of bed, threw my contacts in, and shook Papa awake.  While he mosied about, I impatiently tapped my foot outside of the camper with the dogs.  It wasn’t quite bright out yet, but you could feel the daylight warmth starting to swallow the cool night air. We took off on a brisk mile walk up the road to catch sunrise over Cadillac ranch; something I deemed I couldn’t live without seeing… even though I had just learned of its existence the evening before. So off we raced.. or rather I fast-walked and yelled over my shoulder every 5 minutes or so “hurry the hell up” until we got to the giant corn stalks stretching out in front of us with just the tail lights poking above the green horizon.

I don’t know what I pictured, which is perhaps the whole point, but I felt giddy as I raced between the fields and up to the stretch of graffiti cars, their noses firmly planted into the soil.  After a few handstand attempts, we started back to the campground while the sun rose high overhead.


 The landscape began to change before our eyes as we passed into New Mexico and I persuaded Papa pretty far off our path to end up at Ojo Caliente Mineral Resort…. an oasis hidden in a vast desert landscape.
NIGHT 7: OJO CALIENTE MINERAL SPRINGS RESORT, NEW MEXICO {approx 350 miles}  50 Los Banos Dr, Ojo Caliente, NM 87549.
What a welcomed relief after a dusty and bumpy week.  Ojo Caliente is this luxurious mineral pool spa attraction with pools of water running straight off the mountains that enclosed the resort.  Beautifull maintained, serene and peaceful doesn’t even begin to describe how perfect this little slice of heaven really was.  While the majority of patrons stay in little pueblitos sprinkled across the property, we parked Ethel the camper in their small and basic campground adjacent to the resort.  For a small entrance fee, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening soaking up the minerals and partaking in mud baths.

 I felt so overwhelmed with tranquility as I sat under the warm off shoot of water, letting the tension from the week melt away.  As day became dusk, we witnessed a sunset for the absolute books. One that lit the sky on fire and fizzled to a pink so vibrant you had to rub your eyes to make sure you weren’t dreaming.

That night we quietly ate at the wine bar on property before dozing off into a deep sleep under a blanket of stars, our dogs snuggling up by our sides in the familiar safety of the camper.

The property stretched far beyond the spa and campground to include a maze of trails weaving through the mountain terrain.  The following morning we rose early to stretch the dogs’ legs on a particularly strenuous hike.  The sun was heating up the landscape as we climbed over rocks, carefully looking out for any rattlesnakes before we stepped down.

Back at the camper, it was another breakfast of granola, berries and almond milk and we packed up and said goodbye to the little paradise we found in the middle of New Mexico.

Out on the road, we candidly clamored on and on about how refreshed and reenergized we felt.  That is until we fell speechless at the beauty of the empty road ahead.

After a long day of driving, we finally had made it to the one and only destination of the trip that I sanctioned as a ‘must see’: Lower Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend. 

NIGHT 8: PAGE-LAKE POWELL CAMPGROUND, PAGE, AZ {approx 400 miles}
849 Coppermine Rd, Page AZ 86040.
We spent the afternoon stocking up on groceries before settling into our little campsite spot, where I hopped online to book our tour for the following morning.  We snacked inside the camper while watching the presidential debates, which stirred our own lively debates over our very opposing political views.  And while our differences usually led to a lot of head shaking, Papa often surprised me with his insights.. leaving us to both agree to disagree.
The next day we took off early for nearby Lower Antelope Canyon, where we had to leave the camper generator running in the parking lot to keep the dogs from cooking inside.  Thankfully the AC not only worked well, it could keep ice cream frozen on the counter if there wasn’t someone like me to keep opening up the windows every chance I got.
At the park entrance, there are two competing tour companies operating the same exact trip.  One was sold out, so we were left with Ken’s Guided Tour, as it is prohibited to venture down inside the caves without a registered guide.
And so there we were, crowded with a bunch of other fanny pack tourists inside a holding room waiting for our guide to call out our number.  When a shaggy looking kid muttered ours, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that we didn’t get paired with a daredevil who’d take us off the beaten path or at least a natural science geek to fill us with fun facts.
Our group of 10ish followed the quiet Kenjo (he does get points for a cool name) out into the dunes where we waited in the scalding sun for the dozens of groups ahead of us to slowly begin their descent.  When it was our turn, I eagerly barrelled down the steeper than steep staircase to see if my expectations would be met. And oh my dear God were they.
The orange cave walls swirled around and above me – making every single angle look like an abstract artwork jutting in and out of the vibrant blue skies.  With my eyes as wide as I could get them I swirled around with my iphone haphazardly snapping this and that, cursing myself for not investing in a real camera for this experience.  Papa was equally amazed and I saw him fumbling about with his phone, trying just as desperately to capture this miraculous sight.
Kenjo moved us along at a snails pace as we began winding through the narrow passage ways and he told us a bit of the history of how this cave has evolved.  By now I was racking up 100 photos a minute and felt dumbfounded by the sheer beauty that surrounded me. Right as I was about to take another photo, Kenjo popped up beside me, took my phone and switched around some settings – teaching me a quick but well-received iphone photography lesson.  And
just like the majority of first impressions, I was ashamed that I prematurely judged.  Our guide Kenjo was an absolute gem and I feel so grateful we were assigned to his group.


 

As we weaved on, I put my phone down and ran my hand along the wall, lost in amazement.  Papa and I began pointing out odd shapes we made out in the formations, the way kids do staring at clouds.  Perhaps the tour was only an hour, but it felt like an eternity under the hot ground of the Arizona plains.

 As we walked out of the canyon, my heart felt so full that my dad had been just as blown away as I was by the experience.  I hope that I too never lose my sense of wonder.
Maybe we were just feeling spoiled from our previous day of pampering back in New Mexico, but we decided not to return to the basic campground that we had stayed in the previous night.  Instead, we headed to Lake Powell Resort and Marinas… a short but beautiful drive over an impressive dam holding back the strong waters of the lake we would soon find ourselves swimming in.

NIGHT 9: LAKE POWELL RESORT, PAGE ARIZONA {Approx 10 miles}

100 Lakeshore Drive, Page, Arizona 86040.

Oh it was so lovely to have our first day off from logging 300++ miles in the camper.  Although not booking ahead at the campground left us with a spot that didn’t have hook ups… meaning another night of generator use so we didn’t melt in the 1000 degree Arizona heat.

Possibly running out of generator juice was worth it though for the gorgeous lake views ahead of us and secluded desert landscape behind us. Even the little public restrooms were adorable little adobes.

We parked and walked the dogs down to the lake to swim in the murky waters.  Sure the shore was rocky and the water was so warm it didn’t offer much relief… but the backdrop? Something I’ll never forget.

 

After awhile, I started to panic that I hadn’t logged onto my computer yet today.  On the road, I was spending a few hours each day working through my never ending wedding checklist and trying to keep two social media clients oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t giving them my usual undivided attention.  I left Papa with the pups, grabbed my computer and took the inter-marina shuttle to the sprawling resort, where I thoroughly enjoyed my glass of wine with a view while I worked.

When Papa finally made it down to join me, I closed the computer and we sat for dinner inside the restaurant.  The salmon filet and green goddess salad were absolutely perfect.  What a welcomed healthy and creative dining experience after a week+ driving through middle Americas lard laden country.

Over dinner, we went back and forth on how we could squeeze in an extra day at the resort so we could take a power-boat cruise to Rainbow Bridge… a trip that would take a half day there, and a half day back.  Worried about the dogs, and our diminishing generator, we regrettably decided to continue onward towards California.

Under the bright stars, we took Clara and Shelly for a nighttime stroll before we retired to the camper for another nights sleep.

I had a hard time saying goodbye to Lake Powell the next morning, even though I was eager to finally see Horseshoe Bend.  We were pleased to find a little parking lot with a short hike to the popular tourist attraction located just off the main freeway.  And obviously from the pictures… this too didn’t disappoint.  Even Shelly got to take in the view of the Colorado River snaking around the bend way below.

 

 

We followed the river to the Grand Canyon, where we were lucky enough to get one of the last campsites available in the park.  It was a nominal fee for a small stretch of grass and dirt without water or electrical hookups.  Looks like we’d have to try our luck with another night on the generator.

Once we paid for our spot, we drove down toward the South Rim, eager to get a little hike in before we caught sunset from the popular vantage point.  In typical Gilson fashion, we were lured by a vista not too far from our campsite and pulled over at the infamous tower for a photo and view of the canyon stretching far into the horizon.

We noticed a distinct coolness in the air at the tower and felt the wind pick up.  Wary about an incoming storm, we piled back into the big rig and continued on South.  But not only 5 more minutes into our drive and the skies had darkened to grey while the dogs whimpered at our feet.

Moments later the sky opened up and hail bigger than golf balls pummelled the camper ferociously from every direction.  We pulled off the road best we could and watched in nervous amazement as the canyon disappeared to our right behind a blanket of fog.  The aggressive hail ceased a few long minutes later as abruptly as it had started and we let out long sighs of relief followed by laughter. It took the pups a lot longer to rid their anxiety as they kept their faces firmly buried under my chair.

The still dark skies drizzled as we slowly winded down to the South rim and searched for parking.  We stayed inside googling the weather forecast and deciding what to do.  Thunder and lightening shook the sky, but we eventually left the comfort of the camper, mostly driven by curiosity to see the ridge.

Even in its mysterious gloom, we were still stunned by the vastness.  Both Papa and I had visited the Grand Canyon before, so our disappointment was thwarted by the memories of past trips.

To kill time for the storm to pass, we sat down for dinner at one of the tourist restaurants at the village.  The pricey food was unremarkable, but we were afforded a view that would have dazzled during a typical sunset.
It was time for another executive decision.   The rain wasn’t supposed to let up for 3-4 days and there weren’t any hook up RV sites available in the park.  Papa suggested we take off now for the closest campsite outside of the park, so we could at least finally get some fresh water in the tank.  I grudgingly complied while the rain picked up against our restaurant window.
Back in the camper, I called around until I finally found a campground that could accept such a late arrival and we took off into the darkness feeling defeated.
Exhausted, we strained to stay alert to any deer or antelope that might jump out into the road as we barrelled on through the park, the rain still pounding down.
We eventually reached the campground just as the rain slowed to a stop.  I could barely keep my eyes open to take out my contacts and fell fast and hard asleep the second my head hit the pillow.
NIGHT 10: RAILSIDE RV RANCH, WILLIAMS, AZ {Approx 200 miles}
To my dismay, we woke to the sun shining brightly over the little railroad adjacent campground.  My mind started scheming a train ride back to the Grand Canyon and I grabbed the brochure to read over while we had the complimentary breakfast inside this cute little campground cottage.
Papa pretty quickly shot down my plan and the weather confirmed it was a poor idea… but I couldn’t help feeling defeated that we didn’t get to ‘experience’ the Grand Canyon the way I had hoped.
So back on the road we went, and while I mapped out the course of our next day I felt panic set in.  We were so close to Los Angeles and the end of this dream-like adventure. 
 We chose Lake Havasu for our final stop for no real reason other than it seemed like the only logical place en route. When we got into town I was a bit turned off by how run down the area felt.  Touristy yes… but not bustling with energy as I was hoping. We drove around looking for a suitable campground until we found Pirates Cove, the silliest and most perfect end to our trip.

 

NIGHT 11: PIRATE COVE RESORT, Lake Havasu, AZ {approx miles }

The resort itself was pristine and rather whimsical.   They stuck firmly to their pirate theme with a beachy restaurant right on the Colorado River serving up a long list of tropical libations.  Along the banks, they had jet skis and boats to rent so you could putter yourself down the river to Lake Havasu and park at one of the dozens of bars and restaurants lining the river and lake.

The RV camping was quite a hike from the resort, but oh my word was it stunning. We pulled head first into a shaded large spot and could see the Colorado River directly in front of us as if it was our own private river.  Before the camper was even in park, I was floating in the river with road dogs.  When our stomachs started to grumble, I called down to the front desk to have the shuttle (a pick up truck of course) bring us to dinner at the pirate bar.

The bar had horrendous food, but we didn’t care.  We ate and laughed while we reminisced about the past 10 nights that felt like 6 months.  What a trip it really had turned out to be.

That night we stayed up later than usual, sitting at our picnic table on the water playing rummy.  The nostalgia hung heavy in the air and I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to burst into tears any moment.  I was sad that it was over, but also so very overwhelmed with gratitude that I had these memories to hold onto for the rest of my life.  That night as I lay in the camper bed for the very last time, I snuggled Shelly a little tighter.  Papa was already snoring from the next room over, Clara peacefully asleep at his feet.  I just couldn’t  – and still can’t – get over this feeling that I am so lucky.  Lucky for a father with one hell of a sense of adventure.  A best friend who I’d never tire of sitting around a picnic table with or barrelling across the US singing along to Waylon Jennings.  Who shares my amazement of mother nature, and my insatiable appetite for trail mix.  Who is the best story teller I know… but also the best listener.  Who seems to know everything about everything, yet is still eager to learn and isn’t afraid to ask for help.  But it’s not just Papa, it’s my whole life.  A soon to be husband who encourages me to travel and loves me not just despite of my wanderlust… but because of it.  And a loving and selfless mother with an infectious sense of humor.  All of this swirled in my head as I lie in bed, wide awake.  What a surreal thought that tomorrow, I’ll be going back home to Los Angeles for the final countdown until I get married and start my own family.  One that I can someday pile into a camper… one that I can hopefully be just as wonderful of a parent to as my mom and dad have been to me.

We lingered at breakfast the next morning and took the dogs for one last final long walk in the sweltering heat of the Arizona sun… trying not to talk about the inevitable, that the trip would soon be over.

And just like that, it was.   On the drive back to LA, I called nearby campgrounds and hung up astounded by the astronomical prices they quoted.  Without a plan we drove right to my urban house… toying with the idea that God would grant us a miracle and we’d be able to get the camper into my narrow driveway.

We held our breath getting off the freeway and into LA afternoon traffic.  The narrow roads had us squeezing by cars with our eyes closed, praying we wouldn’t swipe anything in the process.  When we finally reached my house we both exclaimed, ‘no way in hell’ …but a harrowing turn later and we were in, with not more than 5 inches to spare on any one side.

And there Papa and Clara stayed for the next few weeks leading up to the wedding day before taking off alone back to Halifax, MA.  For Papa, this trip probably meant a little something more.  His last big adventure with his only child before he gave her away forever. But that’s far from the truth.  The sparkle of adventure in his blue and green eyes is all it takes, and we could be off again. And deep down, I hope he knows that.

As you can probably tell from the sappiness of this post, I’m balling my eyes out right now as I type this.. a year later.. in the middle seat of an airplane.  The cross country trips with my dad were something else… too special to really be explained in a quick blog post and a few photos.   But my hope is that it can inspire you to travel in the US.  Travel with a parent, a friend, a significant other, travel alone.. just get in the car and go.   To fall into the routine of a roadtrip.. to let the days stretch out along an open road as far as the eye can see, it’s just something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. You’re not too old, too young, too poor, too busy.  Find the time, put in a bit of energy, and go.

And so I leave you with my rambling advice, typed between the warm tears that still fall: Let the road take you and your intuition lead you. Let mother nature amaze you and let her reroute your plans.  Say yes to new adventures often, find the good in everyone you meet, and the humor in everything you experience. Wake up for sunrise.  Push yourself physically and challenge yourself mentally, but don’t take yourself too seriously.  Open your heart to the full range of your emotions.  Don’t be too proud to ask for directions or too mature to let your jaw drop in awe.  Build memories and revisit them often and always.  Surround yourself with people who inspire you, push you, and encourage you.  And if you don’t have those people in your life?  Hop in a car and go find them.  I’m sure you’ll run into a good soul or two along the way. And lastly, you deserve to feel full to the brim with gratitude and joy until you cry like a baby onto your laptop keys, let yourself experience it.  xo

 

Oh, and one last thing: take the damn dogs, they deserve it too.

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