We are total number nerds, so just like last time we got a a kick out of looking back and seeing the breakdown of what we actually did. We thought you might get a kick out of it too! So here we go:
Road Trip 2016 By the Numbers:
Total travel days: 38
States visited: 5
Nights car camping: 26
Nights in cabins: 1
Nights in hotels: 2
Nights with family: 9
Our 2016 southwest adventure was a total success. A huge part of that was our new and improved road trip machine — a vast improvement over all the tent camping we did in the fall. A big “thank you!” to our family and the real life and online friends who kept up with our adventures through Facebook and Instagram and gave us so many tremendous suggestions along the way. We loved reading your comments and sharing our experiences with you!
It took us much longer than planned to get caught up on all these posts, but we had way too much fun not to share everything we did and saw with you guys — so thanks for being patient! We have lots of awesome adventures planned for fall 2016 and are making plans to share them in a more real-time way this time around. In the meantime, check back through the archives and make sure you didn’t miss a thing!
Oklahoma City was our last official road trip stop — but we were still four campgrounds and thirteen days from being back “home” on the mountain.
Louisiana-bound to pick up our camper, our next stop was Shreveport / Bossier City KOA. It was not our finest camping experience; we arrived after dark, the tent camping area was poorly set up for car campers, and the mosquitoes were out in full Louisiana force. We were both eager to get home and ready to be back in our own bed.
Early the next morning we were up and on the road again, stopping at Tire Rack to pick up the tires Ryan had purchased online to replace our set after the Great Big Bend Blowout. With just a little squeezing we were able to fit them all in the back of the Tahoe and be on our merry way. It worked out great that the warehouse was on our way home — we saved almost $150 on shipping by picking them up ourselves!
Four hours later we were back in Baton Rouge, reunited with our camper after 37 days on the road. We spent the weekend catching up with family (and catching up on laundry), and having those new tires mounted. Tuesday morning it was back on the road; we spent the night at the Meridian East / Toomsuba KOA, adding a new sticker to our state map (Mississippi).
Less than an hour after leaving the campground the following morning we were horrified by a dragging noise coming from somewhere behind the truck. Ryan immediately pulled to the side of the road, and investigation revealed that one of the leveling jacks had come almost entirely loose, and was in danger of being pulled right off and flying under the axle! Fortunately, he was able to remove it entirely — but not until he spent a few harrowing moments under the camper on the side of the road at semi-trucks blasted past us.
Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any more mishaps, and the miles flew by as we passed through Alabama, into Georgia …
… into Tennessee …
… finally stopping just over the border in Virginia at Hungry Mother State Park.
We were so close, and yet so far — but we spent a lovely evening with the campground almost all to ourselves, enjoying the Virginia spring air and taking a little walk along the river that ran through the campground.
Another four hours on the road the next day brought us to our next-to-last destination: the Prince William Forest RV Campground in Dumfries, Virginia. We would spend a long weekend here to see Ryan’s brother’s commissioning into the United States Marine Corps!
After a weekend spent celebrating, spending Easter with his family, and no less than three viewings of Batman vs. Superman, we pointed our camper towards our final destination: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Home sweet home!
One way our Southwest Adventure ended up being very different from our last big road trip was overnight accommodations. During our fall 2015 trip we ended up staying in hotels 14 out of 42 nights — one third of the trip! This time around, mostly due to our upgraded car camping setup, we hadn’t felt the need to reserve a single hotel room.
But all good things must end, and after five weeks on the road, we were tired. Ryan had also been battling some pretty killer allergies throughout New Mexico and Arizona, and we were pretty sure that the car was full of the juniper that was leaving him with red, swollen eyes and sleepless nights. After a long driving day from Los Alamos to Oklahoma City, we turned to Priceline Express Deals and snagged a pretty good rate on a comfortable hotel room.
In fact, we were so comfortable we ended up just staying in the hotel room all day, sleeping, popping Claritin and watching TV. We reserved the room for another night and the following day were off to explore Oklahoma City.
Our first stop was Bricktown, a former warehouse district now full of restaurants, shopping, and other entertainment options. I loved this mural with postcard-like scenes from Oklahoma City’s history!
It was a lovely day out so we spent some time following the river walk, which felt like a much smaller and quieter version of the San Antonio river walk I’d so loved.
The river walk was lined with shops and restaurants, and the trees were just beginning to bloom.
At the very end of the river walk was this mosaic mural, depicting a sunrise, a buffalo, a redbud tree, and the names of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. The mural is cleverly designed so it looks like water is pouring from the buckets of three Native American women into the river walk.
It was pretty early in the day, and the river walk was very quiet. I’d imagine in the evening and on weekends it becomes much more lively.
This memorial stands at the site of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It is a beautiful and thoughtfully-designed memorial, and very sobering. If you’re planning a visit, I’d highly recommend reading the Wikipedia article first, to learn more about the symbolic elements represented at the memorial. Every piece of the design, from the “Gates of Time” at either end of the memorial, to the “Field of Empty Chairs,” has some deeper meaning.
We only spent a few hours exploring Oklahoma City, but I’m sure there’s lots more we could have done. We’d just reached what I call our “road trip breaking point” — that moment when we’re just ready to be off the road and back in our own bed. Does anyone have any recommendations for OKC, in case we ever go back that way?
After leaving Arizona we were excited to cross back into New Mexico and experience the northern part of the state! And this time we’d have tour guides — Ryan and Emily, some of our best friends from college who now live outside Los Alamos. When we visited they were house-hunting and living with Emily’s parents, who were kind enough to let us camp out in their driveway. Our time in Los Alamos also gave us the opportunity to get to know their two little guys, James and Charlie, who we fell in love with and who kept us highly entertained through our whole visit!
To kick off our visit, Ryan and Emily gave us the driving tour of Los Alamos. The Rio Grande runs right past town, and looks much different here than it did down in Texas!
The next day, the six of us spent an awesome day hiking and exploring. We started at Valles Caldera, a gorgeous spot up in the mountains. When Ryan and Emily told us they wanted to bring us to the caldera, my Ryan googled it, and we were excited to discover that a lot of the filming for one of our favorite shows, Longmire, is done there! (If you’ve been following along with us since last fall, you might remember that we got to visit the town Wyoming town where the Longmire series is set.)
The caldera was beautiful, and incredibly large. Like the Grand Canyon, the scale is so big, it’s hard to comprehend. When Ryan spotted a cabin used in the Longmire series from the Visitors’ Center, he asked the ranger how long it would take to walk there, expecting an answer in the range of 10-15 minutes. As it turned out, the cabin was miles away, and most people take several HOURS to walk there and back. It seemed like a lot to ask of the little guys, and it was pretty cold that high up in the mountains, so we made a mental note to return in the future, and jumped back in the car.
Our next (and much warmer) stop was Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier is made up of 33,000 acres of rugged canyon and mesa country. Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE, and the monument features petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls. We had a great time hiking with these guys, who were real troopers during a long day of exploring with no naps!
We loved walking the trails around the homes carved out of the soft mountainside …
And Ryan even climbed up the ladder into a cave with a toddler on his back! Look at those cute faces peeking out of the rock 🙂
Like at Gila Cliff Dwellings, we were able to climb high up into the cliffs to explore the caves. The views were absolutely tremendous, although the high ladders were a little nervewracking!
At the top was large recessed cave…
… with a tremendous view of the gorge below!
We had an awesome time, and would highly recommend the Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument if you’re traveling in northern New Mexico. A big thank you to Ryan, Emily, James, and Charlie for hosting us — and to Emily’s sweet parents, too!
The Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert is totally alien landscape that, if I’d never seen it for myself, I would never have imagined existing in the United States. And yet, in northeast Arizona there are 109,000 acres of land that look like this:
I knew very little about the Petrified Forest before we stopped there while traveling from Sedona, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But I’m so glad we took the time to see it. It’s an easy-to-get-to stop off I-40, and can be explored in a few hours!
Since we were traveling east on I-40, we took the NPS recommendation and started at the south entrance of the park. We then traveled north through the park and picked up I-40 a little further east. (Westbound? Use the north entrance.) This map shows the layout of the park, which lies both north and south of I-40.
We stuck with our tried-and-true park exploration process, and headed straight to the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center near the south entrance of the park. The visitor’s center had some great geological exhibits that explained how the petrified forests were formed, a nice little gift shop where we picked up another set of postcards for family (something we’d been trying to do at every park we visited this trip), and of course, a fascinating video that gave us a great overview of what we were about to see.
We started our exploration right out the visitor’s center’s back door on the Giant Logs Trail, which showcased some of the biggest and best samples of petrified wood in the entire park — including “Old Faithful,” which is almost ten feet wide at the base!
It was super windy that day, so after a short hike around the trail, we quickly returned to the car for a driving tour. Petrified Forest National Park is quite large, and the easiest way to see the park is by car. The scenic 28-mile road running from one end of the park to the other is an excellent way to experience the park’s highlights. The park map highlights many scenic overlooks and other points of interest that you can stop at on the way.And let me tell you, the views were spectacular.
We drove past a number of stunning vistas and overlooks, no two the same, and some simply showcasing the natural beauty of the Painted Desert. Newspaper Rock is an archeological site that is actually neither a newspaper nor a single rock. It’s a high concentration of petroglyphs — over 650 petroglyphs covering a group of rock faces within a small area. The petroglyphs were created by ancestral Puebloan people living along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago. You can’t walk down to the rocks, but there is a catwalk and overlook for viewing, and free spotting scopes to get a closer look. Hard to get good pictures of without a great zoom lens, but really fascinating!
Eventually we ended up at one of the highlights of Petrified Forest National Park: the Agate Bridge. This natural stone bridge is a pretty cool stop just off the road. While visitor center photos show Victorians merrily walking across it, you’re no longer allowed to cross the bridge, despite the concrete reinforcement you can see in the photo below.
If you walk to the end of the bridge, you can see a cross-section of the tree, and the vibrant colors formed over the years.
We absolutely loved Petrified Forest National Park, and are excited to go back (hopefully when it’s less cold and windy!) to do some hiking, exploring, and maybe even some backpacking! PFNP really offers a variety of experiences, from a 2 hour quick tour, to days of up-close exploring and sight-seeing.
Have you been there? What was your experience? We’d love to hear in the comments!
Petrified Forest National Park “Extras”
Backcountry camping. Petrified Forest doesn’t have any developed campgrounds, but you can get a (free!) backcountry camping permit to hike into the park. It seems like such a cool, eerie place to spend a night!
Listen to Criminal‘s Triassic Park episode. If you’re planning on visiting the Petrified Forest, I’d highly recommend this podcast episode. It’s short — just about 20 minutes long — but it’s a super interesting behind the scenes look at the “problem” of petrified wood being stolen from the park. (If you listen to the episode you’ll learn why I put “problem” in quotes.)