Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (or, the things you find in the desert, part 2)

Joshua Tree is unlike any other US national park I’ve ever been to. We could only afford a few hours there, which, by and large is enough for a drive through, but I can’t wait to go back and do some real climbing when the kids are a little bigger. But for now, the rocks and plants and trees were so fun, and such a change from the other national parks we had visited recently.

Though we were staying south of the park, we entered from the West Entrance (which is on the northwest side of the park — note the Joshua Tree Visitor Center is outside the park limits) and headed for Hidden Valley.

We could have spent all day there. We spent a disproportionate amount of time there, and it was starting to get super hot. We hopped in the car and headed Skull Rock, but found it was super busy with people wanting the photo, so we didn’t stay too long.

We headed for the Cholla Cactus Garden having heard that it was an easy, kid-friendly hike. But, when we got there, we saw this sign. With some apiphobia going on (Charlie has an allergy to bee stings, and Stewart got stung on the very first day of our trip), I hopped out to check out the situation and got back in the car very quickly. It was just getting too hot and I wasn’t about to risk a bee sting without an epi-pen.

We continued down the Pinto Basin Road, which offered some pretty spectacular views – the kind that makes you feel so tiny – before we got to the Cottonwood Visitor Center, which the kiddos were very excited about since they hadn’t gotten their Junior Ranger activity books yet.
We quickly filled it out and did their oaths. Mae is still so young, and Stewart too, but some rangers are pretty tough on the “quizzing” section of the Junior Ranger program, and others are a little more empathetic. It doesn’t really matter – I would be so surprised to hear of a ranger withholding a badge from a four year old wannabe park ranger. They should rethink their profession if they did!

Tired from a hot, long morning, we headed back to our campsite, which by the way was supposedly 55+ (oops! Young families watch out for those!) but it was fine though I’m always conscious of how noisy we can be! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, swimming, running, and enjoying a gorgeous California sunset.


Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (or, the things you find in the desert, part 1)

(Happy New Year! Now that the holiday madness is over, I hope I can return to some more regular posts!)

Until recently, all I knew about Joshua Tree was that it was a U2 album. And all I knew about the Palm Desert area was that it was known for its mid-century modernist architectural and design style. Nonetheless, we were excited to get to California.

We found a place in Desert Hot Springs with availability and a pool, set the GPS and headed westward. When we got there, somehow, and maybe it was psychosomatic, but the air was different. It was still hot, but it was windy and the music was different – better (106.5FM on the recommendation of my good friend, La Carmina). I felt like we had been transported. And so, we ordered sushi.

One kid’s sushi plate. I’m a terrible food photographer – I can never remember to take photos before serving or taking a bite!

The next morning, Charlie had a couple quick calls, so I fashioned some activities for the kids before we headed to the outlets, on recommendation by our friends in Surprise.

I was so in awe of the number of wind turbines we saw on the highway. Turns out, you can do tours (including self-driving tours), but they were booked up on the times we were available so we couldn’t get a slot. Oh well, another bookmark for next time. In the meantime, here are some basics about wind energy from the American Wind Energy Association.

After we got our retail fill, we headed back to the campsite for lunch and a dip. We had ordered so much sushi because my eyes are always bigger than my stomach when it comes to sushi, I had the rest for lunch.

Following lunch and some down time, we headed back out to check out some dinos we had seen from the highway, the Cabazon Dinosaurs. The kids loved it, and I appreciated the misters to help manage the heat. It is a roadside attraction that’s worth stopping for, but I was not feeling so great, so it was hard for me to appreciate.

Before we pulled out of the parking lot, Charlie had to pull over by Spanky’s BBQ (or maybe it was Burger King?) so I could get out of the car and relinquish my lunch. I admit, I love sushi and hate food waste, but let this be a lesson learned: eat all the sushi in one sitting, and don’t try to save it for tomorrow. Also, don’t assume California has decent sushi even though it’s closer to the ocean.


Surprise! Why you trippin?

We left Sedona early for our next destination, Surprise, AZ, to make sure we could get there in time for the Seahawks football game. We were visiting some very good friends who got special clearance from their HOA for us to park in their driveway. Normally we would be able to see them a couple times a year, but not this year. Visiting them was a real treat and something we really looked forward to. Charlie was especially excited to have someone to watch and enjoy football with.

For two days, we enjoyed somebody else’s cooking, great conversation, and unlimited pool time. The kids bonded with our grownup friends, and I even got a Target run and two loads of laundry in! The kids were also very excited to run around in a house, and we were all especially pleased to have a bathing space that was larger than 2 cubic feet.

It’s funny the things we missed about home that I don’t even think we fully realized until we got to somebody else’s home. I thought it was going to be the convenience of Amazon, but it turns out that 1. You can get packages delivered to most campsites and friends’ houses, 2. We really don’t need that much, 3. You can probably find what you’re looking for at any big box store. 

It was nice to walk around a clean, friendly, residential neighborhood, too. The only real issue we had was getting power to the RV. It was over 100ºF so we had to keep the AC on from the morning, otherwise it would have been unbearable for dogs and nappers. (The AC isn’t powerful enough to make up that difference between melting & comfort.)

First we plugged into the garage, which is connected to the kitchen circuit, but that kept tripping. The only other reachable outlet was a 20amp hookup from the bathroom, which is GFIC. As a ground fault outlet for wet areas, it trips very easily. We had to turn off every single breaker in the RV except for the AC circuit just for it to work. We also couldn’t turn on any lights in the house bathroom. Eventually, we got it to work, tiptoed around everything electrical, and checked on the RV often. 

Note for future driveway camping: make sure to ask your host about amperage prior to a visit! 

Hawks won, tripped circuits sorted, got our fill of friend time – thank you, Surprise! 


Se-do-ya go offroading?

Going into Sedona, Charlie decided to Google “ORV Sedona” and found that there were tons of off-road trails. He watched a bunch of YouTube videos and found a trail he was interested in that was accessed through a residential area of Sedona. By reading forum directions and mapping street names, Charlie figured out that it was not too far from us. 

Having gotten over that first ORV hump of “I’m going to vomit” back in Moab, I agreed to go off-roading again. Primarily because I did not want to be left alone with the kids. Once we got there and aired-down our tires, we quickly found a rock to practice on. A group of gun-toting Jeepers showed up, and while Charlie was keen to link up with them, I thought we should move along… and of course we got lost pretty quickly. But once we stopped for a pee break, they caught up to us, so we followed them around for a while.

We found some pretty amazing viewpoints, and chatted from a distance about Jeep stuff and travels, but once it got into politics, I slowly backed into our Jeep and got the kids buckled so we could head off again. 

It was pretty interesting to see the Pink Jeep tours – they had maybe up to 6 passengers per Jeep, with those meat-packing sneeze guards, so it was in a way encouraging to see that tourism is still happening. I’m not sure what this means for COVID cases and safety, but with this industry decimated, I’m always curious to see how people are adapting. 

Our final climb was “Devil’s Staircase.” These ones always freak me out – I have visions of us scratching the bottom of the Jeep and puncturing something… but what do I know about cars! All I know is that whenever possible, get out of the vehicle and scout your route. And watch where you’re stepping – the guy in front of us did the same, slipped on some loose rock and fell 30 feet down! When asked if he was ok, he joked that he was a big guy with plenty of cushioning (wink).

Going down Devil’s Staircase

Anyway, we made it out, unscathed – even with me doing a little driving too! I will admit, it’s pretty fun! If you are ever in Sedona with a trail-ready vehicle, we recommend Broken Arrow!



Ok, it’s been a minute. Between the elections, work, upcoming holidays and life in general, it’s been hard to keep up! Getting something down has been a challenge, but I guess done is better than perfect, so here goes.

We had heard such great things about Sedona (how cute it is, how fun it is, how eco it is) we decided to forego the Grand Canyon so we could spend two nights in Sedona before getting to Phoenix. 

My highlight from Sedona was when we got take out tamales from Mr. Tamaliza – hands down the best tamales I have ever had. Other than that, Sedona is pretty – the greenery in the red rocks was such a contrast from Utah. But, this is my lasting impression of Sedona:

We arrived in the afternoon, and decided to head straight into town to see what the hype was about. 

Deciding on Mexican for dinner, we found Elote Café on Yelp so made that our destination, only to find out that the earliest we could get a table would be 8:30pm – way past bedtime. I also did not realize that entrées were at least $20, so that was above budget with kids.  

We decided to check out another place, Javelina Cantina, which again had an ages long wait, so we settled on Dellepiane Sedona, which was a quick(er) service place with outdoor dining options and no line. 

We got a some empanadas and chicken strips for the kids, which was fine, but despite being in the age of COVID, was so disappointed that even dine-in (outside) was all disposable cutlery, single-use drink containers, and so on. The food was fine – not particularly memorable – but when I asked where the recycling was, the server said to just throw it in the trash. 😒

We did a little shopping, and again, found the customer service to be lacking. Maybe I was too perceptive to it, but did not feel particularly welcomed, though we are in a weird time of COVID and xenophobia. In one store, we overheard two locals making plans for the evening but complaining about the traffic at the roundabout. Though I had heard about the issue of overtourism in Sedona and impact on local living, I was still caught off guard to witness it first hand.

Though we stayed in Cottonwood, just outside Sedona, again, I expected there to be some greater environmental conscientiousness, so perhaps my expectations were too high. Of course our RV park did not have any recycling, nor were there recycling receptacles in the streets like there was in Moab. I collected our recyclables and took them to one of the drop-off locations listed here. (Say what you will about recycling, that it only a minimal percentage gets recycled, but in my view, doing your part to close the loop and keep waste out of landfill is better than nothing. Of course, we should endeavor to just use less…)

Sadly, this tainted my impression of Sedona as an eco-destination, and which just doesn’t jive with its destination tagline, “The most beautiful place on Earth.”


Two Hours in Flagstaff

Cramming any destination into two hours is wholly unfair, but that’s all we could afford as we were trying to make it Sedona that afternoon. Flagstaff was on our list primarily because we have a 4 year old who has been obsessed with Disney’s Cars trilogy for the greater part of his life. The Cars soundtrack is also a popular choice while we’re on the road, of course, and John Mayer’s version of the song Route 66 mentions Flagstaff, Arizona. (It is worth noting the original is by Bobby Troup and has been covered by many artists since then.) 

So we pulled into Flagstaff right around lunch – there is RV parking available in town, right by the Visitor’s Center. There’s good signage, so the parking is easy to find. Be warned – it is pull in, not pull through, so you will need to unhook. The lot is attended! Parking is currently free due to COVID and to support downtown businesses. 

I had to hop on a call, so Charlie took the kids to grab some lunch from a drive through hot-dog place, Route 66 Dog Haus, where you literally drive through the building! 

After lunch, we hopped over to the visitor’s center which is on Route 66 in a historic Amtrak building (every 4 year old’s dream, right?!). They had a suspended train display (operable for 25¢) that the kiddos loved, as well as some pretty cool paraphernalia. I convinced Charlie that we needed a wall clock for the RV (digital clock don’t work when you don’t always have power!) and we are stoked about our purchase.

There is some neat artwork – Route 66 painted on the ground in the lot outside the visitor’s center, and some murals along the actual route.

We grabbed coffee from Stronghold Coffee (yay eco-minded businesses and kind baristas) and walked along N. San Francisco Street to check out some of the Route 66 tribute murals and some of those funky old hotels before heading on our way again…

Leaving you with this special scene from Cars:


Overnight Over the Colorado River

We’ve mentioned iOverlander in previous posts, but here is an example of why we like it so much – besides being an awesome resource to find dump sites.

iOverlander’s map and filter options make it easy to find what you need on the road

Our last night in Bryce Canyon, knowing that we had a long drive day ahead of us to Sedona, Charlie suggested that we forgo our last night’s reservation and head out after dinner so we could get a head start. 

We only needed to get a couple hours under our belt, so we started looking for something on iOverlander. In terms of timing, we decided to aim for one site we found, Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, which was just on the Arizona side of the Utah-Arizona border. Our backup boondocking site was the Walmart, about 10 minutes down the road. 

When we got to the site, there were two other semis when we got there so we felt pretty good about it. The great thing about it was that it was a large gravel lot right off the highway, right around a bend. We couldn’t tell in the darkness of the night but we were pretty much right on the edge of that canyon.

Our view in the morning! What a pleasant surprise.

I’m so glad we found this spot. It was safe, quiet, and free.

We did end up stopping by the Walmart in Page, AZ to grab groceries the next morning. There were about 20 rigs parked in the parking lot! Just a note: I have been reading about the decline of the number of Walmarts allowing overnighters over the years. If you plan to stay in a Walmart, do some research before you pull in for the night to see if they allow it. Some have clear signs that prohibit overnight parking. The best thing to do is to call and ask. And when you do stay overnight, this is a gentle reminder to leave the lot as you found it (pick up your trash, dispose of it properly, never ever try to let your grey/black tanks “trickle,” and pick up after your dogs — so we can all continue to utilize and enjoy these facilities. Thank you!!


Bryce is Nice

At Bryce Canyon, we stayed at Ruby’s Inn Campground, which as dusty as it was, was a really great location for exploring the park. 

There is not much in Bryce Canyon City, and most of it seems to be connected to Ruby’s somehow (there is also a lodge and general store and gift store). I asked where I could get a coffee and they directed me to the general store, which… well, I’m not a coffee connoisseur, or a coffee snob particularly, but I do love a fresh-brewed Americano.

There is a rock shop across the street, which had some pretty amazing fossilized wood. They also had some horses, which… again… we’ll have to come back when the little kids are old enough to ride horses (age 7 was the minimum, I believe).

The next morning Charlie had a few more calls so I took the kids to the general store to grab a few supplies, and then decided to hunt for coffee. I am so glad I did – we found Bryce Canyon Coffee Co, which was phenomenal. It was one of those places that you walk in, and it smells of coffee beans. They also have a bunch of fun stickers and baked goods and beans for sale!

Bryce Canyon also has a shuttle, but our neighbors at Ruby’s advised that it’s best to drive to the eastern end of the park from the entrance, and then turn around and come back, since all the sites, parking, and viewpoints are on the north side of the road.

We got another Jr. Ranger book of course, and heeded our neighbor’s advice. It was also quite warm in Bryce Canyon, but I was so surprised to see a food truck there. They had hot dog and corn dogs and soft serve, which was pretty awesome! That drive was a really great way to spend the afternoon. The kiddos got their second Jr. Ranger badge – the ranger was much tougher on them this time, but we passed! We picked up a couple of lanyards to pin their badges too.

The next day was supposed to be cooler so we decided to do the Queen’s Garden Trail, apparently the easiest, quickest route down the canyon. The guides said that it is 0.8mi or ~2mi round trip… but it felt like it kept going and going and there was little shade. It felt like we went much further than 0.8 miles and we still weren’t at the bottom of the canyon. It apparently connects with another trail (Sunrise/Sunset) so we were a little confused. We ended up not making it all the way because it was just hot and everyone was getting a little cranky. It was beautiful nonetheless, and something else to save for next time.

We had a bit of down time at Bryce, which was much needed for the kids to just play, get dirty, and for us adults to get some solid work time, and do some laundry.

One of my favorite memories of our visit was when we decided to explore some of the off-road trails across from our campsite. It was mostly just dirt track, which seemed unexciting after Moab, but what we did find was wide open field. Which we are very excited about. The kids and dogs had a field day (pun!) running around. Then we still had a little time before dinner, so we headed back to the RV, dropped off the dogs, loaded up the bike trailer and biked up to the entry sign to take some selfies. It was such a great bike ride, a short 4 miles, and perfect to burn off a few extra calories before dinner. We really enjoyed this ride – along a smooth paved trail that was a gentle downhill, the kids had so much fun speeding. I think it was the thrill-induced and infectious giggles from them that really made this memory and highlight for me.

That night we decided to leave after dinner and get a head start on our long next day.


Welcome to Zion

Most people coming from Moab do Bryce Canyon National Park before doing Zion, but since we couldn’t get a reservation for a campsite that we wanted, we decided to head to Zion first. (Note: we stayed at Zion River Resort, which was very nice with spacious sites and paved roads – great for biking and walking. And they had recycling!)

After doing some reading on Utah’s Adventure Family, we realized that Zion Canyon – including the Narrows and the Lodge – is only accessible via shuttle unless you are a guest at the Lodge, which we were obviously not. So after a little more digging, we realized that due to COVID, the park was doing timed entries for the shuttle to limit capacity etc., so you have to either book your shuttle tickets 2 weeks in advance, or the day before. So, if you want to visit Zion Canyon, take note: 

Book your Zion Canyon Shuttle tickets the day before you wish to visit the park by logging in to Recreation.gov at 9:00am sharp.

Speaking from experience – I logged on at 9:05am and all that was left was the 1pm-2pm window, or the 2pm-3pm window. Tickets are $1 each, and you get a 1-hour window to board the bus. Tickets are emailed to you, so be sure to have it on your phone so park staff can scan it. You board the bus from the Visitor’s Center. The last window is 2pm-3pm, and once you return to the Visitor’s Center, your ticket is void. Also, if you are getting to the park later than first thing in the morning, note that parking can be a challenge. We saw a lot of people walking in from town. Pro tip: if you don’t have a login for Recreation.gov, make sure you have it because these tickets go faster than a Spice Girl’s reunion tour. 

Without the shuttle, you can drive up the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel, which is pretty sweet. It’s really dark except for shafts that were cut out to let light and air in! From the outside, those shafts look like tunnels from nowhere, as Stewart pointed out. Taller vehicles that want to pass through the tunnel need to be escorted ($15 fee) and traffic stopped on the other side because they need to drive down the middle to make the clearance height. This causes some delays in case you are in a rush anywhere!  

On the highway, there are a ton of little pull-outs for quick jaunts or snack stops. The kiddos were so happy to again, rock scramble. We stopped for a picnic before heading back to the Visitor’s Center for our shuttle. Of course, masks are required; unfortunately, not well-enforced.

Little miss fell asleep on the shuttle!

While the shuttle was convenient, I think next time, we will plan for cooler weather, AND we will rent some e-bikes to cycle that path rather than have to plan around the shuttle.

Mama Mule Deer

We were not prepared to hike the Narrows, but it was super crowded anyway. I think it would also be more enjoyable when the kids can hike it themselves. We took a quick look and filled up our water bottles with the mineral-heavy water. We hung out and saw some wildlife, but did not play in the stream due to the toxic cyanobacteria! We hopped back on the shuttle, got off at the Grotto, and did the mile walk back to Zion Lodge, where we promised ourselves a treat: iced coffee! There is a giant cottonwood tree in the middle of the grassy area in front of the lodge that provided a lot of shade. It was a lovely place to relax for a while.

I should also add: we grabbed a couple of Junior Ranger books – this was our first time doing it, and I can’t believe we didn’t do it sooner! The program is designed for 4 year olds + (adults can do it too!) but Mae – being a follower of all things her big brother does – got a book too and played along as much as she could. It’s basically a park activity book and you learn about what’s unique about the park and how to be a steward for the natural environment. In general, you do as many pages as you are old (4 years old = 4 pages) (different parks may have different requirements). To get the book, go to the visitor’s center, and ask a ranger for a book, and they will give you instructions. Then when you’re done, they’ll review the book and then you take the Jr. Ranger pledge and get a badge. It’s quite fun to collect badges as you visit national parks.

At this park, the Ranger just gave us 2 books and the badges, which was really great so we didn’t have to rush through it. We ended up finishing ours that night after we left the park; Stewart was SO proud!

Our first Junior Ranger badge!

More of Moab

I sometimes feel it’s hard to really understand the geography of a place, or what the fuss is about until you get there. Moab is one of those places. It’s a small tourist town about ten minutes south of Arches National Park and about 45 minutes south east of Canyonlands National Park. 

It is just so different from anything we see in the Pacific Northwest, so red, so grand, so arid. We were eager to get to Arches National Park, so we set out early to try and beat the heat.

Our first stop was the first turnoff lot (isn’t it always?!) and immediately, the kids were so happy to play on the rocks. They wanted to stay there and run and jump, but there was so much more to see! We did Double Arches – a short, easy walk with a rewarding climb.

There were quite a few people there. Parking can be a challenge as that spot has a number of short hikes including North and South Windows. As it started to get hotter and later in the morning, we opted to drive more, visiting the rest of the park and taking notes on the campground for future visits.

It was a hot day, so we headed back to the RV to cool off. Kids had lunch and napped while I did calls outside. After naps, we went to the pool, but left when it got too crowded for COVID comfort.

In the evening we went into town to find stickers for our door, and decided to grab dinner out. It was the first time we’d had dinner at a restaurant in months, and it was glorious. We chose Antica Forma, a great little Italian place with lots of outdoor seating. Not only was the food and service amazing – the kids sat and devoured their pizzas contentedly. But for once, it was so nice to not have to cook, do the dishes, or tell the kids to sit down and eat their dinners. Such a treat.

We ordered pepperoni and cheese pizza, calamari, primavera salad, sausage calzone, and a pizza dough and caramelized onions appetizer I don’t know the name of.

The next day set out for Arches again to see Sand Dune Arch, having read that it is kid friendly. We got to the park at about 9am to see a big line. (We arrived 9:30am the day before with hardly any line, but when we left about lunch time on both days, we noticed that they were turning away visitors with a sign that said “PARK FULL. COME BACK IN 3 HOURS.” Yay for visitor management and handling carrying capacity! I also wonder if it has anything to do with COVID?

Sand Dune Arch

In the afternoon, I took the kids to Canyonlands while Charlie did some calls. We headed for Island in the Sky, which is the closest to Moab, and it was beautiful! The section we visited is not too big, about 11 miles from the entrance to the Grand View Point Overlook. Unlike Arches where you’re amongst the hoodoos and the arches and windows, Canyonlands you are above everything looking down – talk about vertigo! But you’re so high up, it feels like you can touch the sky. No time to go back to Canyonlands this trip, but I would love to explore more with Charlie. 

A couple notes about Moab town – we all know Charlie’s favorite part of Moab. Mae loved the Moab Rock Shop – this might be every 2 year old’s dream! Stewart was ecstatic he ran into Tow Mater AND Monster Truck Mater.

Meanwhile, for me, while there was no recycling at our campsite, there is a recycling center in on the way to Hell’s Revenge. (Check out the website, there are some really great resources.) There are also yellow recycle bins on the sidewalks, which we took advantage of. (More about waste management in a future blog article!)

Onto the next stop! 


Hell’s Revenge (Otherwise Known as “One day My Wife Will Get Hers”)

by Charlie

For many, a trip to Moab wouldn’t be complete without a drive through the nearby national parks, and taking in the absolutely incredible topography. With its sheer rock faces and incredible red color, it truly is a sight to behold. If you haven’t been to Moab and the parks, do yourself a favor and put it on your bucket list.

But taking a look around Moab you are likely to notice something else – hundreds of Jeeps and Razor ORVs buzzing around like mosquitos on a humid summer night. Are they just showing off by driving through town with exhaust so loud it would be a ticketable offense in 49 states? Nope – the other gem of Moab is the miles and miles of offroad trails. But why would we care about offroad trails? We are just in a clunky RV.

We knew when we were shopping for an RV we would need a vehicle to transport us around while at our destination as the RV is much too large to easily take into town. So what do you do? You tow a vehicle – and there are a couple options when determining what you will tow and how you will tow it. I’ll save the towing how-to for another blog post and just get right to the point.

I knew a Jeep Wrangler would be the best tow vehicle (“toad” in RV lingo) for us – and I told Reggie just that. What she likely didn’t know was I didn’t have plans to buy just a stock Wrangler – but one that is trail ready. Ideally lifted. Ideally with oversized tires. Ideally with numerous tow points, lights and a winch, you get the point. Oh and ideally in my second favorite color – grey (or Anvil, as Jeep calls it).

So while we were driving to Moab I mentioned to Reggie that I would like to take the Jeep out on one of the off-road trails. “Everyone is invited,” I said, but I wasn’t sure who would truly be interested. To my surprise she said ok – but I believe her reasoning was less about the adventure and more about the prospect of being stuck with the two kids for hours on end without backup. Either way – I set our course for one of the most famous trails in Moab – Hell’s Revenge.

Now for those unfamiliar with off roading, a challenging trail isn’t just a dusty forest service road. It is a trail that requires precision, focus, and exact tire placement, but what it doesn’t require is speed. Hell’s Revenge is a journey over slick rock – monuments of such incredible form that their sheer beauty alone gives you chills. But strap yourself into a capable 4WD and creep over these steeps and, well, you may pee yourself – and Reggie did nearly just that on our first obstacle, “Baby Lion’s Back,” also known as “The Practice Run.”

We entered Hell’s Revenge rec area, paid our $5, and headed towards the trail. I wasn’t really sure where the trailhead was so we first started down a gravel path and came upon an obstacle called Baby Lions Back. Now if you haven’t heard of Lion’s Back in Moab – put that in your Google machine and watch a few videos. The land has since been purchased by private developers and is closed – but what we encountered is a smaller version that is very similar.

We pulled up to Baby Lion’s Back and I could sense Reggie’s distress as we were going to attempt to climb this thing. Then she verbalized it and I realized she was a little freaked out. Now Stewart in the back was all for it – cheering me on – and I believe that helped calm some nerves. So, having already aired the tires down to 20 PSI, I put Storm into 4-low and started our ascent.

Here we go!

It was frickin AWESOME! The Jeep climbed the slick rock with ease – Reg was ready to puke – and Stewart couldn’t stop giggling at the thrill. We stopped at the top and I got out to take some pics.

Future Jeepers

After this mini obstacle, we found the actual trailhead and started on our way, over similar obstacles. After only about 15 minutes, Reggie started feeling more comfortable. The steep climbs didn’t really faze her much – and I kept looking for more and more difficult terrain to conquer.

Now, there were some limits. Devil’s Hottub wasn’t one I was willing to attempt. Not without another vehicle to help pull me out if needed. Nor Hell’s Gate.

We spent several hours creeping over rock, chatting with strangers, and overall just really enjoying the day.

I believe I may have converted the wife into an offroad addict.


Worth the Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City was meant to be a “get our bearings and work for a few days” stop before doing a slew of parks. But we found that we really enjoyed it! 

Once we arrived and got hooked up, we made a quick dinner and decided to head into town to get dessert and check out Temple Square. 

Stewart has asked for ice cream tacos every day since.

I did a quick search on Yelp and was overwhelmed with choices! (But very few coffee options – take note, Seattleites.) We decided on Sweet Rolled Tacos in the Gateway area, and we were not disappointed.

If you’ve never had a sweet rolled taco, it’s essentially a vibrant colored, light and crispy waffle cone in the shape of a hard taco shell. It is filled with ice cream and mixins of your choosing, prepared on a frozen steel surface –chopped and mixed and flattened, then rolled into a tube and placed neatly inside the waffle taco shell, topped with even more goodies. It is pretty spectacular. 10/10 on presentation and Insta-worthiness.

It was gone before I could even get a good picture, of course.

There was plenty of outdoor seating, which is a bonus. Unfortunately, the whole area around Temple Square was under construction so we really couldn’t see too much.

While we were in Salt Lake City, Charlie had a bunch of work calls lined up, so I did a little research via Kids Out and About and found This is the Place Heritage Park. It is a beautifully manicured property that has horses, various types of pioneer homes and buildings, and statue vignettes that told stories of the time. It had a playground, lots of astroturf to run around on, a little creek to dip your feet in, and plenty trees for shade. Such a great find.

The highlight was definitely the gold panning. We each got a little pan and were given instructions on where to pan, and how to find “gold” (fool’s gold). And we got to keep whatever we found. The kids were so excited. We stayed for a while since there was only one other family gold panning when we got there and they left soon afterwards. We found quite a bit – and went back into the store to grab a little velvet jewelry bag for 50¢ to put it all in. 

As it started to get hot, we headed back to our campsite for lunch, but there was so much more we didn’t get to check out, including horses! I’m curious to see if there was also something on indigenous communities and Native inhabitants of the land. I’ll have to remember for next time. 

After lunch, we decided to head to Antelope Island, a state park about 45 minutes outside of town – perfect for a quick nap for the kiddos. It’s an island in the Great Salt Lake that is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Camping is allowed I believe with reservations, otherwise day use per vehicle is $15.

It was such a cool park! Things to do included rock scrambling, walking down to the lake, finding lizards, and visiting the ranch. Our favorite part was looking for bison. 

The next morning, we packed up and headed out. We made it as far as Provo before Charlie had to hop on his first call, so we found a mostly empty strip mall parking lot with a Dollar Store and Joann Fabric, and unhooked the Jeep. I took the kids to grab a few things from Trader Joe’s, and then we headed to the BYU Creamery to pick up some goodies! 

The BEST chocolate milk! And cookies & cream flavored chocolate milk, too! We also got a 1/2 pint of cookies & cream ice cream. Yum!

We headed back to the RV before our ice cream melted, had lunch, and then I took the kids to the Dollar Store to grab some temporary tattoos (awesome activity for travel days) while Charlie did his last call. 

Big parking lots in strip malls work really well for us in these situations – sometimes the state parks or rest stops don’t have great cell service, but usually if we can find a strip mall, we can be pretty certain that at least we’ll be able to tether for a Zoom call. 

Visiting places like Antelope Island and This is the Place and Sweet Rolled Tacos reminds me that even though our children are still little, they are sponges and we hope that we are setting them up to appreciate travel and the outdoors. As they start to form stronger long term memories, and it’s so cool to see them soak up these experiences and learn about flora and fauna, history and culture, and of course dessert mashups.


Hello Bugs! We are Outdoors!

We left Seattle just after noon. What a difference it makes to have the morning to finish packing. We planned to stay the night at Plymouth Park, WA – 4 hours being really the max amount of time we want to drive per day. Since we had a pretty full tank of gas, we only made one stop to dump. (iOverlander has a helpful map of dump sites.)

We made it to our campsite for the night just before 5. The kids were elated to see a playground across from our site, so we let them play on it since there was nobody else there, and as long as they didn’t touch their faces. This might have been the first playground they’ve played on since COVID, other than at home or at preschool. 

Playground surrounded by beautiful sycamores! 

They were so happy. 

And then Stewart got stung. I’m not even sure if it was a wasp or a bee, but he was so upset I looked over to see him sliding down the slide and a bug flying away from him. I scooped him up and we walked back over to the RV. 

We quickly washed the sting site and iced it, and our kind neighbors (everyone at the park was so nice) offered a tube of hydrocortisone. The brave little kiddo got over it pretty quickly, but we opted to have dinner inside seeing other bugs starting to swarm the picnic table.

Our dinner was marked by flies that somehow got inside. Thank goodness we have an electric fly swatter. (Highly recommend.) They just kept showing up – after we zapped one, we would see another land on the cabinet, or the TV, or the dog… Disclaimer: do not try to swat a fly that has landed on your dog with any kind of fly swatter, electric or otherwise.

Don’t stick your tongue on it either. 

After dinner, we had our usual after dinner walk – the park has campsites only on one side of a loop, so there’s one section that is essentially a straightaway, which was so fun to race with dogs and bikes. 

As we got the kids ready for bed we realized that a million and one gnats had made it inside! Charlie grabbed the vacuum to try to get them all but they kept showing up. They were attracted to the light – especially the LED light strip above the slide that we recently installed; Charlie wondered if they might be coming in through an opening in the weather stripping. It was a losing battle, so in the end, we turned off the lights since it was bedtime anyway. (At least it’s not ants or termites or mosquitos.)

Little trooper got back on his bike pretty quickly! 

Good night! 


How We Trip Plan

We’ve been asked this question, so here is our process for planning a trip: 

Usually we decide where we want to go, then we map it out on Google Maps and plan a route with approximately four hour intervals. (We’ve learned that four hours is about as much as the RV and the kids can comfortably handle in a day.)

We plug it into our handy dandy spreadsheet (here is a template), and then start to look for places to stay along the way. We try to stay in a mix of places, but also need to make sure there is WiFi and/or decent cell service so we can stay connected with work and family, so we’re often looking at private sites, at least on weekdays.

Our go-to resources lately are (in no perfect order), GoodSam, Harvest Hosts, KOA, Recreaction.gov and iOverlander. We have yet to try HipCamp, but am definitely curious! (What are your favorites? Have you tried HipCamp? Comment below!)

Depending on how long our trip is and where we are going, we try to book some sites in advance – especially the more popular ones. But Charlie is also pretty spontaneous so sites that book a year in advance don’t usually work out for us! I am also rather risk averse, so first come first served sites are not my favorite. (We had good luck one time though.)

Then we look at what we want to do – usually at a macro level, such as visit such and such park, then micro once we get there, e.g. any particular hikes. One of my habits is if we’re in a town or city is to check out some local bloggers or sites such as Yelp , Trip Advisor, Instagram, and online travel “magazines” like CondéNast Traveler, if we don’t have anything planned. 

Having a plan certainly gives me some comfort. We aren’t full-timers, so there is always an end date to our trips, and it’s helpful to know how long it will take us to get somewhere – and how long it will take us to get back.

Now that we have a plan, it’s time to hit the road!


Back in the Saddle

When COVID-19 hit, like so many, we really didn’t know what to do. We took it seriously, not leaving the house except for essentials. It was very frustrating – and still is frustrating – to not know the “right” thing to do, and to struggle with finding some balance. 

But eventually, the wear of being at home 24/7 with two young children, constant barrage of negativity, shared office/work from home blurred boundaries, and general COVID fatigue got to us. Plus the weather was starting to warm, and our new RV was just sitting in its parking spot waiting to be loved. 

These two were so excited to go on a trip
Stewart even drew us a map

We decided to find somewhere to go where we could boondock and be self-sufficient, as RVs are designed to be. Using iOverlander, we found an area in Central Washington that had several sites, which allowed us to have a backup plan. 

So, on a Friday afternoon in April, we headed that way, first arriving in a spot that had been shared on the site that was public land. Alas, it was closed, so we had to find our next closest option as we raced against dusk. 

Plugging in our next destination, the GPS told us to turn onto gravel road, which elicited a raised eyebrow from Charlie who is hyper-vigilant about damage to our vehicles. Nonetheless, I cross-referenced it with what was listed on the site and we decided to press forward, spotting a couple other campers in the distance. 

Uhhhhh where are you taking us?

We passed one camper and decided to go a little further, we passed another one, and decided to go just a little further down the road. Finally we got to a large flat area with maybe two other groups and found a spot away from them – you know, to be socially distant. We leveled, set up camp, and made some dinner. 

After dinner, we went for a stroll, and watched in awe as more and more campers showed up. We had found ourselves in an ORV (off-road vehicle) area managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Saddle Mountain. People were unpacking their dirt bikes and started zipping up and down the tracks. I’ll be honest, this was my first foray into dirt bike culture, and with two dogs and two small children, it made me apprehensive. But, Charlie was unfazed, having been riding dirt bikes since he was 8, and Stewart pretended his own balance bike was a dirt bike.

People arrived and rode around late into the night. The next morning, even more groups showed up, and all our space we saw when we first arrived was gone. So much for social distancing! 

Too close for COVID comfort

It was still early, so we went for a little walk – it was nice to just be outside in nature after having been stuck at home for so long. But on our way back to the camper, some off leashed dogs went after our dogs, and with teens circling us on their dirt bikes, I made the decision that we should leave – it felt like we were in the wrong place. I guess that’s the benefit of having your home on wheels is that you can just pick up and go whenever you want!

It felt good to just get out, and reinforced that we can be self-sufficient and travel, and not have to deal with people if we don’t want to!


Maiden Voyage Part 2

After all that, we didn’t even talk about our first destination… 

On our maiden voyage, we spent a night in Portland, OR, then moved on to Astoria. We stayed at the KOA there, which was actually pretty awesome! They had the typical pancake breakfast, kids bike-friendly property, the usual KOA works. They even had mini golf and a remote control car track. Keep in mind this was in February, before COVID. Keep in mind, most of the places mentioned in this post are open at the time of publishing, with COVID caveats (fires too). Check before visiting.

They even had a laundromat. I know this because on the way from Portland, we let little Stewart (he was 3.5 at the time) have a tablet while Mae napped, and he threw up all over the place. I have a pretty strong stomach and don’t usually get motion sickness, so for whatever reason, I thought he would be okay too. BUT, being in the RV is a LOT bumpier than being in the car towing a trailer. Lesson learned, no more screens while driving, but poor guy. At least we are not sympathetic pukers.

They even had an indoor pool, which was a real treat, since we went to the pool while the laundry was in. The only trouble with that was that evening dips in the winter meant figuring out how to hang our stuff to dry – another thing to learn in our new RV.

There must be a better way!

Anyhow, we really enjoy the Astoria area. There are big bridges, the Columbia River Maritime Museum with ample RV parking and space to run around outside even if you aren’t going in. There is Bowpicker Fish & Chips, which always has a super long line (bookmarking here to keep it in mind for the next time we roll through) and the Astoria Sunday Market – always love me a good market. 

Trails at the Fort Stevens campground

We stayed a night at the campground as well so we could check out Fort Stevens State Park, home of the Peter Iredale Shipwreck before heading home. 


The kiddos and dogs loved being at the beach of course. There is something special about Pacific Northwest beaches in winter. 


Maiden Voyage

Our first trip in Val, we drove to Portland, Oregon, for a school tourney for Ann. It was within a week of us bringing the RV home in early February. 

We had sold the Airstream that same week, and had just moved everything into the new motorhome, but we were still learning our way around and figuring out where to put everything to maximize the space (we are still figuring it out).  

We set off, putting Val to the test. In typical Pacific Northwest late-winter fashion, we were set for a rainy weekend. Somewhere on I-5 we drove into a large rainstorm and used the wipers for the first time.

We had only tested them once the day we bought the RV to make sure they worked by switching them on and off on the lowest setting, but it was a sunny day and didn’t put them through a real rain test. As it started raining harder and harder on the interstate, Charlie switched the wipers from low to medium speed with no issues. But before long, we got to a point it where it was raining so hard he had to switch the wipers on high to keep up with the downpour.

“DID YOU SEE THAT?” Charlie said. The driver-side wiper had gone up and stayed stuck in vertical position along the outside edge of the windshield, while the passenger-side wiper spun about 270º around and stayed stuck in a downward position.

The rain continued to blast the windshield while we were doing 50mph with no visible place to pull over – not that we could see anyway. Being in a Class A, sticking our arms out the window to wipe manually was not an option like Charlie used to do in his old Toyota FJ40. Meanwhile, the passenger-side wiper tweaked like a tween on one too many energy drinks, while the driver-side wiper occasionally fluttered but never moved beyond a half inch from its stuck position. 

We finally found a safe place to pull over. We got out and was able to lower the driver-side wiper back into position but the passenger side stayed stuck pointing down. With a little more pressure, Charlie was able to rotate the wiper clockwise back into its normal resting position, and away we went. 

We suspected the wipers would again get stuck if we attempted to use them on high so we drove with them on low where they would continually come close to doing another pirouette and get stuck again. 

Sure enough it happened. The driver-side wiper got stuck in vertical position and this time, the passenger-side wiper stopped diagonally across the field of vision. After a few more stops of readjusting the wipers, we just said forget it – it was better to get there before dark, so we just took it slow. 

Once we arrived at our destination, Charlie hit the Interwebs trying to find if others with a similar make/model had experienced the same issue. Indeed this was a problem, and after searching further, we found that Thor had actually recalled the system on wipers that were several years older, up until the year of our manufacture. 

(We contacted Thor to see if there was any chance ours could be repaired under recall, and after several months of emails sent, voicemails left with no response, finally, we received an email saying no, explaining that our RV was not covered under the recall, that it only covers the tightening of one single nut in the whole system, but they still encouraged us to take it to the dealer to have it checked out.)

In the meantime, we had to brainstorm quick fixes to keep the wipers from one day spinning so hard, centrifugal forces would cause it to fly clear off the RV and hit another car causing a 20-car pileup (worst case scenario). Charlie said to me, “Do you know those suction cup hooks we use in our bathroom at home? What if we used one of those on the windshield?” So we took the suction cup hook and placed it on the windshield, positioned in a spot that would stop the passenger-side wiper from dropping below the bottom of the windshield. 

To test it, Charlie sprayed the windshield down with water, turned on the wipers, and checked the position of the suction cup. He did this several times, and once he felt it was in the right spot, he put the wipers on high and to his delight, it worked. 

And you almost can’t even tell it is there (when you’re driving down the highway).

We will have find a long-term fix for this, but for now, we’ve got a few backup hooks, and the weather app.


A Parking Spot for Val

When we had Swifty we parked her in the carport. The airstream was 9’9” and carport was 10’6” at clearance height. Val measures 12’2″ which wouldn’t have worked. We decided instead to park Val in the space between the garage and the neighbor’s, which is delineated by a concrete wall. That space measures just under 10’ wide. Val is 8’3”. So, in preparation, Charlie sawed 12″ off the eaves, removed the gutters, and rewired exterior outlets – all to make sure Val could live there. It would be snug, but he was confident it would work. (You know where this is going right?!)

Well, they say there are two sure ways to test the strength of a marriage. The first is having children. The second is helping your spouse back an RV.

The day we brought Val home, we tried to back her in and after too many failed attempts, lots of throwing and kicking things, and swearing and other manifestations of utter frustration, we came to terms with the fact that there was no way we could make that turn without doing damage to the RV or the garage. We did not account for the overhang of the awning, the length of the rear overhang, the width of the back alley, and the angle we would need to turn a 32ft rig to fit in that spot.

Plan B was… well, there was no Plan B. 

So we parked the behemoth of a vehicle in front of our house, eclipsing the view of the street. (The neighbors didn’t seem to mind, thank goodness!) 

Charlie got to work on Plan B. I got to work on Plan C. Plan C was to find a place to store it – which we really did not want to do. (Quotes we received were about a few hundred dollars a month.)

Charlie’s plan was to increase the height of the carport by approximately 2 ft to accommodate Val’s extra height. We had two options – either we dig down 2 ft, or we raise the roof. Digging a 2-ft deep trench and repaving would be silly as it would be both costly and difficult to park. So we decided to raise the roof. Charlie strated researching what it would take to raise the roof, watching two dozen YouTube videos and contacting two companies that specialize in foundation lifting. We also asked our contractor if he could take a look and give his opinion on what it would take to make this happen. The foundation lifting companies felt it could be done, but required a $7,000 per day minimum, with an estimate of 1-2 days to complete, and our contractor estimated the same cost to lift, approximately $10,000 all-in to lift the roof. With the assumption that home projects cost twice as much and take three times as long to finish, this was not a cost we wanted to assume.

After analyzing the cost to purchase six 20-ton bottle jacks (~$50 each) and the lumber, beams, posts, we decided it would be much more economical – and dangerous – to do it ourselves, rather than spend a minimum of $10,000 by hiring trained professionals. 

We learned many things over the course of the project, importantly: 1. Update your estate plan. 2. Go slow. 3. Listen for cracking sounds. 

With posts on top of bottle jacks and beams on top of posts supporting the trusses, approximately two inches of travel per bottle jack, moving clockwise, and working on each bottle jack two inches at a time, it took about ten hours of lifting, measuring, securing, sweating, without incidental time (getting supplies, cleaning up each day, and so on).

Before too long, the roof was about 2.5 ft above the posts, and it was time to install the stud walls and extending posts for support. That took another day. After adding a little shear, we were ready – the carport now measured 12’10” at clearance in the center.

Then came the real test – see if she fits! 

What a relief!

Post note: after parking under the carport on a rainy day, Charlie decided to extend the carport with an awning he found off Amazon and installed that pretty quickly!

Post post note: with all the leftover lumber used for jacking up the roof, Charlie made some benches for a back porch seating/working/eating area! (We bought the table off Facebook Marketplace for $30.)

Spring is here!

Our first camping trip of the season was this past weekend and we went to Deception Pass, WA with friends, who enviably have their whole calendar lined up for the summer already!

Our preschoolers are the same age and we agreed that bedtime is whatever, so it was a lot of fun to kind of throw that rule out the window for once. (Mind you, my kids still work up at their usual 6:30am, so the idea that if they go to bed later they’ll sleep later is a total myth.)

Nothing too much to say except it is so beautiful! Awesome rocky beach in the shores of the Puget Sound, wooded hikes, great biking around the campsite, lots of people fishing at Cranberry Lake, which I would have loved to paddleboard too, but it was chilly and windy!

The campsites are also nice and wooded, pretty spacious, ample bathrooms and places to wash dishes, which was nice since we were boondocking and didn’t want to fill up our tanks with grey water.

We drove into Oak Harbor to get check it out and to get the kids to nap. Of course when they woke up they had to go to the bathroom so the nearest one was at the Dollar Tree there. Wow. This was the biggest Dollar Tree I’d ever been to, and a great selection of stuff too! Stewart picked out a unicorn headband for Mae, and they each picked out a Hot Wheel for themselves and their friends.

Two funny things: Mae named her unicorn horn “Horny” and when the kids were playing with their hot wheels, somehow they lost Mae’s and they couldn’t find it anywhere. I couldn’t find it anywhere either. But then I felt something hard on my shoulder… her car was stuck in my hair… because I haven’t washed or brushed my hair at all over the weekend, because we’re camping! Dry shampoo is what you do!

Setting the Scene

Well readers, it’s been a minute!

We’ve been mostly hunkered down in our brick and mortar this winter, doing our day jobs and trying to stay safe and sane. Looking forward to being vaccinated before the end of spring and feeling that little bit of relief about traveling.

As we prep for the camping season and catch up on RV life and blog, a couple of relevant movie recommendations:

Nomadland: written, edited, produced and directed by Chloé Zhao – for which she is up for several awards. It is also starting the incredible Frances Mcdormand. About a woman who fulltimes out of her motorhome/van, finds work with the seasons and meets others on a similar path. We watched this last week and I can’t stop thinking about it! Streaming on Hulu and Apple TV+.

Toy Story 4: not new but so good. Bonnie’s family takes an RV trip before she starts kindergarten! Forky brings a humorous perspective to the meaning of life, but also reminds me that the purpose of travel is about making meaningful connections with people and places, isn’t it. All star cast as usual, and had me in tears the first time I watched it! Streaming on Disney+.

RV: because all RVing families have to watch this classic. Also, Robin Williams. Free on HBO Max, $3-4 on other platforms.