October 23, 2012

Life in a Tiny Trailer - the experience

Our tiny trailer compared to 'normal' RV's

As I mentioned in the last post about our travels, we spent a total of 55 days on the road and traveled almost 12,000 miles across our beautiful country.  Though we did spend time visiting with friends and family, we only spent 3 nights in hotels and the rest of the time – 40 days – were spent sleeping and living out of our tiny trailer.  That made for a lot of ‘together’ time in close quarters!  Darrell and I have been together long enough (almost 11 years!) to know each other’s quirks and know how to deal with them.  Even before the trip, we spent the majority of our time together so I wasn’t hugely concerned about it.  And we found that as long as we were doing something, driving, hiking, touristing, it wasn’t ever really a problem.  Of course by the end of the trip we were ready for some alone time!

Getting a little stir crazy in California

Overall, life in our tiny trailer was pretty easy.  Before we left, we put a good deal of thought into what we would be taking with us and were it would live, either in the trailer or the car.  By doing this, we knew what we had, were it was and how to keep things organized and neat, which was crucial to both of our sanities.  When things are organized you can find them and avoid fights about where things are and “why didn’t you put it back properly!?!?!”  Both of us spent time almost every day re-organizing the car too.  Though we tried our best to keep things in their proper places… things tended to pile up rather quickly.

Our packed car needing a little organization

We also had specific tasks throughout the trip which helped too.  Darrell did the majority of the driving because A) he is better at it than me and B) I was a far better navigator!  We divided cooking pretty evenly and whoever cooked got out of dish duty after the meal.  Darrell would usually set up the campsite when we pulled in and I would usually pick everything up before we left while he made breakfast and coffee.  My major task throughout the trip was keeping our trip box, journal and receipts up to date and in order – paperwork is something I’m quite good at! 

Darrell driving through the Badlands

Me navigating our way through storms in N.Y.

On the trip we got quite a few questions from people when we stopped for gas and at campsites.  The two most common were: ‘You sleep in that?’ and ‘Where’s the bathroom?’  Sleeping in the trailer was actually really comfortable!  The mattresses that I made provided just the right combination of squish and support.  Overall, when the bed was made up, it was just slightly smaller than a full size mattress so we also had plenty of room.  We also designed the trailer in a way so that you could comfortably sit up, kneel and move around without feeling cramped.  As far as the bathroom question, we always thought that silly.  Every campsite we went to had facilities and a few even had showers.  Granted, sometimes we did have to wait a few days between showers, but then we could factor in a stay at a KOA if we were desperate.  Besides, there’s something invigorating about washing your hair under the freezing cold water of an outdoor water spigot!

Probably one of my favorite parts of the trailer was the galley kitchen.  When we used to go car camping before the trailer, I hated having to drag out the box of cooking gear, set everything up and try to cook on often old and grody picnic tables.  With the trailer, I had a clean counter (at a wonderfully comfortable 3’ high), cooking tools ready at hand and a small sink to do dishes in afterword.  It was so nice not having to pack everything away at the end of the night – just shove it in and close the hatch!  It did take a little getting used to though.  It was small and once you pulled out the stove and had things cooking, most of the counter became inaccessible to work on.  We tried to order our cooking in such a way that all of the prep work was done first before we pulled the stove out to cook.  Also, because it was small, everything had to be put away properly or else it looked like a bomb went off inside.  Small messes look much bigger in tiny spaces! 

Darrell making breakfast at Wind Cave N.P.

A great way to end a long day of hiking!

By the end of the trip we had figured out our groove with the trailer and it really felt more like a home than just a camper.  Sure it got frustrating having so little storage space and having to pick up all the time, but it made the trip so much better.  I know I would never have lasted two months if we were using a tent!  Plus, at the end of a long day of hiking, driving or whatever, lying in the camper at night felt so comfortable, homey and secure!  I love sleeping in a proper size bed now that we are home, but every so often I do miss the coziness of our little trailer and am looking forward to the chance to use it again!

Relaxing with some hot cocoa.

A quiet evening at camp.

October 11, 2012

Journey Across the West - Part 4

Our final push home started on Tuesday the 18th of September.  We had been on the road for 46 days and even though we were still loving the trip (and each other)… we were getting tired and looking forward to staying in one place for awhile!  From Florida it was a 10 hour drive up to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  By now such a long drive didn’t faze us at all and we managed to pull in while the sun was still up.  We even caught a heard of Elk grazing at the visitor center – the only wildlife we managed to see there!

Elk at the Great Smokey Mountains visitor center

After all of the crazy landscapes, from vast deserts to ocean cliffs, it was nice to be back in something familiar.  The temperature had dropped by the time we reached the Smokys and there were hints of fall in the air.  Nights and mornings were cold with mist hanging in the air until late morning when things finally warmed up out of the 50s.  We did a few hikes through the park taking in the mountain views, waterfalls and quiet meadows.  I loved the area and definitely want to go back some day.

View from Clingmans Dome

Excitement at Rainbow Falls!

Cades Cove

The Blue Ridge Parkway over 450 miles long and though somewhat doable in a day, we decided to give ourselves two so that we could go at a relaxed pace and stop when we felt like it.  It was such a good idea!  The scenery along the Parkway was gorgeous and there were tons of pull off overlooks to take in the views.  There were also a number of museums, visitor centers and places to hike along the way which broke up the drive nicely.  We stopped at a lot of the pull offs and some of the way were Folk Art Center, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Mabry Mill and Peaks of Otter.  It was a relaxing, beautiful drive and if anyone had to travel in the area, they should definitely make this a part of their route.

Views from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking Glass Rock

Making friends near Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

Mabry Mill

Peaks of Otter - Darrell is bracing himself against the clouds of black flies!

The morning before we made our way into Shenandoah National Park, we decided to take an hour detour to the East to see Monticello.  I felt it was my duty as a student of architecture to visit Jefferson’s house and I was glad I did.  The home was so well designed and proportioned that even though it is high on square footage, it doesn’t feel large.  The grounds too were beautiful and perfectly laid out.  I decided that someday I would have a vegetable garden on par with his, though not 1000 feet long.

Amazing vegetable gardens at Monticello

Thomas Jefferson's house - Monticello

Shenandoah National Park begins right at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues to follow the mountain ridges for 100 miles on Skyline Drive.  Though I liked the Blue Ridge Parkway better for scenery, Skyline Drive was beautiful in its own way.  We arrived at the park in the late afternoon after visiting Monticello and were fortunate to grab one of the last 10 available campsites in the park!  Similar to Zion, we only realized after grabbing the site, that it was on a major thoroughfare, this time to the bathrooms.  So the evening was spent chatting with everyone passing by on their way back to their campsites!  The next morning was cold!  By the time we picked up the site and were on our way the car was still only telling us it was 38 degrees outside.  But we still managed a nice morning hike down to a small waterfall and stopped at a couple of the visitor centers.

Our last campground of the trip at Shenandoah!

Doyles River Falls

Views along Skyline Drive

That afternoon brought us to the end of our National Parks and back to cities and visits with more family and friends.  We left Shenandoah in the early afternoon and headed over a town just outside of Washington D.C. to visit with Darrell’s other Aunt and Uncle.  We had some good home cooked meals there and were able to take in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum next to Dulles Airport.  It was really fun and we got to see the space shuttle Discovery!  While in the D.C. area we also got to visit with our friend Charles who has been taking care of our cat Sophie while we’ve been adventuring.  It was really nice to see him and visit with my kitty (who remembers me!).  

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird

Space Shuttle Discovery

Snuggling with Sophie!

On Tuesday the 25th we made our last big stop in Baltimore, Maryland.  One of my good friends has lived there for the past 6 years and this is the first chance I’ve gotten to come down and visit with her!  While she was still at work we took in the National Aquarium which was really fun (aquariums apparently became a theme for us on the trip!)  They had a glass pavilion that was set up like a rainforest with birds and bats flying around and tanks with fish and reptiles native to Australia.  Very cool set up!  That night we at out at a place called Mama’s on the ½ Shell which was really good and it was great just talking and catching up!

Rainforest setup at the National Aquarium

Views of the inner harbor in Baltimore

The morning of the 26th was our last day of driving and we would be back in Massachusetts that afternoon!  We drove up through Pennsylvania and New Jersey crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge into New York.  I wanted to swing into Somers, NY to show Darrell where I grew up.  My family and I lived there for 11 years before we moved up to Massachusetts and it was interesting to see how much had changed!  Finally we headed up Route 684 to Route 22 and by 3pm we were home! 

My old house in Somers!

Our journey lasted 55 days, took us through 28 states and had us drive almost 12,000 miles!  We visited 13 National Parks, 14 State Parks, 7 National Forests, 4 National Monuments, 2 National Grasslands and 1 National Lake Shore!  Plus the countless other National Forests, Grasslands and BLM land that we drove through along the way.  The trip was an experience that we probably will never have again and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to make a dream a reality.  This country is so vast and contains so many different and spectacular landscapes that I never really appreciated until this trip.  At some point in their lives everyone should just take some time to drive and experience the beauty that this country has to offer!

Cleaning off two months of grim and bugs at my parents

Journey Across the West - Part 3

From San Diego we finally started heading East after a month of driving West.  We had defiantly hit the traveling half-way hump in California, so we were ready to be traveling towards ‘home’ even if it meant another month on the road.  Monday the 3rd was our first day back on the road and we were headed to Grand Canyon National Park.  I was really nervous how hot it would be there because as soon as we hit the Arizona border the temperature soared to 109 degrees!!!  Luckily when we pulled into the park that night it was a cool 68 degrees and the next day the temperature stayed below 90 degrees.


The Canyon was magical!  Another one of those ‘this isn’t real’ places for sure.  I was slightly disappointed to find out that the glass bridge over the canyon everyone talks about wasn’t actually here but in the Hualapai Indian Reservation which was a 4 hour drive away.  But the National Park was probably more spectacular because it didn’t have the tourist attraction to take away from the views.  We stayed at the south rim of the canyon, mainly because it was somewhat closer to drive to from San Diego.  Our day was spent hiking into the canyon and along the rim, taking in our surroundings and visiting a few of the visitor centers. 

The tough part on the South Kaibab Trail

An appropriately names view on the South Kaibab Trail

Inside the Desert View Watchtower

The Vermillion Cliffs near the North Rim of the Canyon

Next on the list was Zion National Park in Utah.  Another first-come-first-served campground, we got there early enough to snag a good spot by the river.  The site also happened to be right along the bike path leading to the visitor center, so we had a lot of people stopping by asking about the camper!  Zion was like another world from the Grand Canyon even though it was only 4 hours away.  The temperature was also intense!  Though it wasn’t crazy hot – 95 to 98 degrees usually – the radiant heat from the sun was oppressive.  We did some amazing hikes in the morning (Angels Landing!) but spent both afternoons hiding out by the campsite in the shade and sitting in the river to cool down.

Angels Landing Trail

Resting at the top of Angels Landing

By Friday the 7th we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park, 2 hours East from Zion.  It is completely different and if you go to one, you have to go to the other!  Bryce is known for Hoodoos, pillars of rock created by erosion, and the canyon is filled with them.  It is unreal and the colors of the rock are amazing going from red to white and every shade of tan in between.  Walking through the Hoodoos was a completely different experience and this turned out to be one of the most fun days we’ve had on the trip.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

Do you Hoodoo?

We woke around 6 the next morning to be on the road before the sun came up.  Arches Nations Park was next on our itinerary and again had a first-come-first-serve campground.  This was a longer drive, about 4.5 hours and we had our first almost ran out of gas experience on the trip!  There was a long stretch of nothing along interstate 70 through the San Rafael Desert.  The car was telling us we had around 110 miles until empty which was great since we had about 80 or so miles until the next town.  Then we went up a giant hill and we were going the speed limit of 75… so our miles till empty suddenly dropped to 60 and we still had a long way to go!  The empty light came on when were about 35 miles away from the nearest gas station so every time we came to a downward hill we shifted into neutral and crossed our fingers.  By the time we pulled in the tank was reading below E so we were very lucky and we filled our spare gas can which was empty up until this point!  Whew!!

When we got to Arches shortly after, we found that the campground was full but we decided to spent the day hiking knowing there were other camping options nearby.  Another stunning landscape, the ground and all of the arch formations were a vibrant red.  It was very hot and I eventually succumbed to the heat and decided it was time to head out.  But it was a gorgeous park!  We went to the Moab Brewery that night for dinner which was near the park.  While there we figured the next park on our list – Mesa Verde – wasn’t really that far away, about 2 hours.  So we made a reservation over the phone at a KOA just outside the park for the night.  Then we could hit up Mesa Verde in the morning and make it to Great Sand Dunes for the afternoon!  Wahoo!

One of the many huge natural arches

The Grand Arch

Mesa Verde National Park is a small park that is made up of the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestrial Puebloans of the area.  There are a number of different dwellings throughout the park and we opted to do a ranger guided tour of ‘Balcony House.’  It was really fun climbing up and down ladders on the cliff face to access the dwelling and our ranger was full of information and really passionate about telling the story of the Natives.  After lunch we got back in the car and headed out toward Great Sand Dunes National Park.  Though the park has more than just the dunes, that really is the best part.  We got there around 5:30 and after securing our campsite, headed out onto the dunes to watch the sun set.  It was amazing!  The dunes are vast and at the base the of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.  The colors and shadows cast by the sinking sun were spectacular and being out there really brought out the kids in us.  It was basically playing in a giant sand box and was so fun!

Balcony House

Spruce Tree House

The sand dunes and mountains in the distance

Having way to much fun in this giant sand box!

When we were in Zion National Park, we decided that our journey should include a trip down to Florida to visit with one of Darrell’s Aunts.  So from Great Sand Dunes, our driving continued East and then South towards Florida on Monday the 10th.  We figured the easiest way to get there was through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and into Florida – and we gave ourselves 4 and a half days to get there so we wouldn’t feel too rushed  Kansas wasn’t too exciting, but we managed to stop at the world’s largest easel in Goodland, not far over the border from Colorado.  Other highlights along the way included a stop at Meremec Caverns in Missouri (which unfortunately didn’t live up to my childhood memories – so hokey!), a trip up the Arch in St. Louis, a pit stop in Metropolis Illinois to see the giant statue of Super Man, a night at Cloudland State Park In Georgia and finally a hotel stay in Atlanta, Georgia.

The world's largest easel!

The best part of Meremec Caverns

St. Louis Gateway Arch

My Superman!

I thought it would be fun to do a day in Atlanta and spend an afternoon at the Atlanta Aquarium, which I had heard was really amazing.  The aquarium itself was okay (I liked Monterey Bay much better) but it did have an enormous 6.3 million gallon tank that dominated the aquarium and held a huge assortment of fish, sharks, manta rays (my favorite!!!), great hammerhead sharks, and even 4 whale sharks!  It made the stop worthwhile and we spent the most amount of time near this exhibit watching the sea life.

Manta Rays in in the Big tank - this viewing window is 23' tall!

Whale Sharks!

We drove into Florida on Friday the 14th.  It was really nice hanging around with Darrell’s Aunt since we don’t see her very often.  She took us to some amazing restaurants, one of which was called 4 Rivers Smokehouse.  OMG… amazing barbeque!  And attached to the restaurant is a bakery/ice cream spot that gives you the option to add a cupcake to any milkshake.  Darrell may or may not have done that and it may or may not have been awesome.  On Sunday we decided to take in one of the parks and went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had been listening to the audio books for most of the trip so it seemed appropriate.  Normally I don’t like amusement parks, but this one was really fun and I finally convinced myself to take on some roller coasters.  I now know I love them!  We had a great time.

Hogwarts Castle - so well done!

My first roller coaster - The Hulk!

We decided to spend an extra day with Darrell’s aunt to figure out our last leg of the journey – North to home!  We knew we wanted to do the Great Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park, but we needed to figure out timing and who else to visit.  It was also a good excuse to spend one more day sleeping in and relaxing!