Well, we sold our house and became nomads for a reason: To get on the road and see the country. As it turned out, fulltime RVing made for a crazy-busy year as we traveled over 6,700 miles since buying our Winnebago Brave, while running my copywriting business and figuring out the nomadic lifestyle.
We were lucky enough to sell our Class C and Toyota 4-Runner quickly, and purchased a Honda CR-V to tow behind us. We moved over to the Pima County Fairgrounds RV park, which was nearly deserted and had a pretty good weekly rate.
We had Freedom RV install a Blue Ox tow package and an SMI Stay-IN-Play Duo auxiliary braking system. Getting the parts and finding someone to install this took much longer than expected, but finally by the end of March we were ready to hit the road. Here are some highlights.
New Mexico: Faywood Hot Springs, City of Rocks, Carlsbad Caverns
From March 28th through April 2nd, 2015 we enjoyed peaceful soaking in Faywood Hot Springs, a day exploring the hoodoos of nearby City of Rocks State Park and then a drive through El Paso and up past the Guadalupe Mountains to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We spent a few days at the White’s City RV Park, a rather dumpy place, while I worked on several writing projects.
We also took a short drive into the town of Carlsbad, a depressing, run-down village.
The RV park is right at the entrance to the national park, so one afternoon we drove up and explored the caverns before they closed for the day. The caverns are amazing. That evening I hiked up into the hills above White’s City, staring out at the Texas plains we would begin crossing the next day. As the sun set, two foxes loped through the grass only 50 feet or so from me. A beautiful way to end our time in New Mexico.
Texas: Wildflowers, river walks and long back roads
On April 3, we drove south on Highway 285 into the flat plains of western Texas. It was a small highway with a lot of big oil trucks and some beautiful wildflowers. We spent the night in Fort Stockton, where we stumbled across the Grey Mule Saloon, a small wine bar in an historic building in the old part of the town.
The next day we continued south on 285 to Del Rio. This was a pretty drive — remote with small, nearly-dead towns and lots of wildflowers. There were some hills as well and it gave me a chance to get used to downshifting with our new rig.
We passed Langtry where you can visit the Judge Roy Bean Saloon and Museum. We’re not really into tourist traps but I remember seeing the Paul Newman movie, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and just had to stop. It sits down in a pretty valley near the confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande rivers.
After Langtry we crossed a bridge over the Pecos that gave me a pucker-moment because we were gaining speed going down a hill toward the bridge and all you could see was the canyon dropping off on each side. Needless to say, I didn’t take my hands off the wheel to snap a photo. Sorry.
We spent three nights in Del Rio, first at Holiday Trave-L-Park, a place where we could get a Passport America discount. The climate was changing from where we had come across the Chihuahuan Desert, more subtropical and humid. We had to move from the first RV park because we couldn’t get good Verizon reception. The morning we moved, I noticed a blood streak down the side of our motorhome, coming from the top. The only explanation we could think of involved a bird of prey and its unlucky victim. Or there had been a murder. We quickly hosed it off and slinked away, feeling strangely guilty.
On April 7 we headed to San Antonio under threatening skies, the kind of skies we were going to see more and more. After getting lost, and almost taking out another car driving through downtown San Antonio, we finally found the Braunig Lake RV resort. We hung here for a few days to work, and explore.
We checked out the San Antonio River Walk, and ate at the disappointing Casa Rio. We drove to Floresville, and had a great lunch at a small-town cafe, Trail Rider’s Steak House. They gave us a free dessert, homemade bread pudding, which was really decadent. We love traveling the back roads of America, and seeing towns like Floresville. You miss all of this when you travel the Interstate.
We traveled from San Antonio northwest to La Grange, skirting severe weather near Austin on back roads in rolling, flower-covered hills. With ZZ Top playing in my head, we sat through a raging thunderstorm at Colorado Landing RV Park on the Colorado River in La Grange.
After our close call on San Antonio’s freeways, I didn’t want to drive the rig through Houston, so we continued east past Lake Conroe to Porter where we spent a week working and waiting out severe weather that was soaking our route into Louisiana.
Louisiana: Into the swamps and French Quarter
As we were pulling out of our site in the RV park in Porter, TX, I felt a little bump and heard people yelling. I looked out and saw a woman standing with her hand over mouth, like she had just witnessed something horrible. I ran out of the RV, thinking I had run over somebody, to see our back right fender crunched. We had clipped a power pedestal that was in our blind spot. The fiberglass fender was cracked. We taped it up the best we could and, feeling a bit intimidated, headed to Louisiana.
We passed through Lake Charles on I-10 then went north to Highway 190 to L’Acadie Inn and RV Park in Eunice. The land was soggy and soaked from a series of severe storms. Along the way, we started talking about a name for our rig — a Winnebago Brave. Julie came up with “Toaster” based on the kid’s cartoon, The Brave Little Toaster, which our daughter had loved. The Honda would become “Toast.”
We love to meet the locals when we are traveling. There was a little bar, the Copperhead Road, next to the RV park. We walked over for a drink and met a couple who said they were members of Louisiana’s first biker club. While we were talking, the woman went outside and came back in with a club t-shirt she gave to Julie.
We continued on 190 the next day across the Atchafalaya Basin, passing swamp and thick forest that just begged to be explored. But when you’re driving a 23,000 pound motorhome, you can’t really take your eyes off the road to even drink in the scenery. I would love to come back here and spend time exploring the swamps. We then passed over the Mississippi River on an old bridge (Huey P. Long – O.K. Allen Bridge) and down into Baton Rouge. I definitely don’t take my eyes off the road going over bridges!
We intended to leave 190 in Baton Rouge and get on I-12 to Slidell, but missed the turn and ended up taking I-10 then I-55 back north. The roads in Louisiana are in pretty bad shape, but we weren’t prepared for the wild ride on I-55. The concrete road is on pylons over swamps. Between the pylons, the road seems to have sunk creating a wavy surface that bucked our RV violently. We had to slow down below the speed limit because we were afraid of damaging our towing setup.
In Slidell we rode our bikes on the Tammany Trace Trail, a converted rail-to-trail path that ran arrow-straight through towering pines and past turtle-infested swamps.
We met Shanon and Jeremy at the RV park. Shanon owns Richard’s RV Park in St. Bernard on the outskirts of New Orleans and close to the French Quarter. He offered his covered spot to us for a few days while we did some maintenance on the Toaster’s roof. It’s a great place to stay if you want to be close to the French Quarter without the high cost of other RV parks.
One evening we took a cab into the French Quarter. Much craziness ensued.
Florida: Navarre beach, Tampa and humidity
Julie really wanted to get to the beach for Mother’s Day, and was lucky enough to get us a waterfront spot in Navarre, Florida. On May 9th, we headed back to I-10, then followed Highway 90 past white sand beaches to Biloxi, where we got back on I-10. We took this to Navarre and the Emerald Beach RV Park.
Our spot was right over a little beach on Santa Rosa Sound. Across the sound was Navarre Beach and the ocean, where we spent Mother’s Day walking on the pier, playing in the surf and watching a dolphin feed on schools of fish.
After a couple of wonderful, but expensive ($75/night!) days at Emerald Beach, we moved on down the coast following Highway 98 through slow-moving traffic in the beach towns. Once we passed Panama City, the traffic lightened up and the scenery changed to thick stands of pine. There were signs warning about bears and you’d think you were in Yellowstone, not Florida. We spent the next two nights at the Ho Hum RV Park in Carrabelle where we encountered our first deer flies (ouch!) and watched sharks cruise around in the sound. I really liked this stretch of coast, with less tourist development and towns that reminded me of northern California fishing villages. But those deer flies …
We continued along 98 to Fanning Springs, where we spent the night in a nearly-deserted RV park along the Suwannee River. You could walk from the park to the river along a private boardwalk through a swamp.
The next day we drove to Tampa, and decided to park it for a month at the Paradise Lakes RV park. We wanted to take a break from constantly moving, especially since I was really busy with my copywriting business. When we could get out, we explored the area including Tampa, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. We also had our five-year-old tires replaced on the Toaster, after hearing too many stories of blowouts. The funny thing is, we never really spent time at the beaches because it was just too hot.
With a deadline to get back to Tucson by September, plus heat and humidity, driving us onward we left Pasco County and drove to the Atlantic coast. We stopped for a bit in Kissimmee to catch up on work, then drove to the coast and north to St. Augustine just in time for Father’s Day. Loved spending some time on the beach and at the seaside restaurants, but we had no desire to navigate the tourist crowds in such heat. We’ll come back to this lovely town.
Georgia and South Carolina: Strange lands
We followed I-95 up the coast to Georgia, but you couldn’t see anything beyond the wall of trees on each side of the freeway. Traffic was crazy. We pulled off in Darien for a couple of nights, which turned out to be a charming — if not a bit haunted-feeling — little town.
We followed Highway 17 through thick stands of oaks draped in Spanish Moss, until Savannah. Unfortunately, we didn’t think we had the time to stop and check out the city. Next time. We continued on toward Charleston and parked for a couple of days just outside of the city. We took a drive into Charleston, but it was too hot and humid to walk around much. It’s a beautiful city. We were there the day of the memorial for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who had been shot with ten other people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by that Confederate-flag waving asshole I won’t name. Many streets were blocked off.
We took a day trip to Edisto Beach, driving down narrow roads with tunnels of arching oaks. It was very pretty and exotic for us … especially all of the churches. We would pass through what we thought were towns, but seemed to be nothing but a collection of different churches. They all had different names and seemed to compete with each other. Where were all the people for all of these churches?
We drove northwest to Cedar Creek RV Park by Columbia. One day we drove into the city to the statehouse to witness the protests about removing the Confederate flag from the statehouse. The only thing we saw was a black man, dressed as a Confederate soldier and waving a Confederate flag arguing with a gay man about civil rights. The black man was against gays having civil rights. We were definitely strangers in a strange land.
From there we made our way on back roads to Spartanburg and the Carolina Foothills. This was peach country and we took several drives checking out the pretty, rural landscape.
Almost immediately after leaving South Carolina, we spotted the first real mountains we had seen since New Mexico — the Appalachians. We crossed into North Carolina on I-26 with the intention of going through Asheville and taking a back road over the mountains through French Broad Creek. But the exit came up too fast, and when you’re driving 23,000 pounds you aren’t that agile. We ended up on I-40 which we took to Newport, Tennessee.
From there we drove up Highway 25, through rainstorms and the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. We continued on 25E, stopping for gas in Gray, then on to I-75 and the Renfro Valley KOA. We went out to dinner and that’s when Julie realized she had left her wallet in the convenience store in Gray. We called and they still had it, so she drove back in the CR-V and retrieved it … adding 50 more miles to her day.
Into the Midwest: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska
We were feeling the pressure to get back to Arizona by the fall. Even though it seemed like we had plenty of time, I was working so much that we couldn’t always be on the move. Plus, we had been taking short drives, enjoying the back roads but not covering a lot of miles. When we left Kentucky on July 15th, we decided to make up time. So, over the next couple of weeks …
We drove north on I-75 to I-275, then west into Indiana. We then took back roads to Richmond near the border of Ohio. It was there, at a small bar with live music in a revitalized downtown, that we realized we were no longer in the south. For one thing, the southern drawls we had gotten so used to were gone. But I knew it for sure when a young woman walked in wearing a t-shirt that simply said “Science.” Not NASCAR. Not a picture of a confederate flag or the name of a honky-tonk bar.
We crossed Indiana on more back roads, going through lovely small towns, and exited the state at Roselawn. Then zigzagged through cornfields across Illinois, passing north of Peoria and trying to avoid some ominous weather. When we reached Rock Island, we pulled into a KOA — the only RV park around — to avoid a head-on collision with a severe thunderstorm. They charged us $65 because we didn’t have a reservation! I complained but they didn’t care. We parked in a sloping, gravel site and vowed to find a new park and try never to stay at KOA again.
We moved to Buffalo Shores recreation area on the Mississippi in Iowa. It was a fantastic campsite at only $20 per night. We then took more back roads across Iowa, which was surprisingly hilly, and got on I-80 west of Des Moines. We followed this to Omaha, Nebraska, where we spent a night on the Missouri River near the site of a Lewis and Clark expedition camp. Then we continued on I-80 past Lincoln, where we jumped off the freeway and followed the Lincoln Highway to Lexington (with a large Somali refugee population) and a fantastic campground on Johnson Lake.
Wyoming, Utah and Nevada: Familiar country
We continued east on the Lincoln Highway until Wyoming where we were forced to get back on I-80. We could see the Rocky Mountains now, and felt like we were back in familiar country. In Laramie, we spent the night in a truck stop where we didn’t get much sleep listening to trucks running their generators all night long.
We then drove to Fort Bridger and spent a couple of nights there before moving on to Marion, Utah and parking at our good friend’s ranch. Jeff Smith and Stacy Cluff live in a gorgeous setting in the foothills of the Uinta Mountains, and we had a great time hanging out on their porch and reconnecting. We then moved down to Salt Lake City and spent the next three weeks visiting family and friends. Since we moved from there in 1994, this place has grown and changed so much — and we have grown and changed so much — that we just don’t feel like we belong there anymore. But it’s a wonderful place to visit.
From Salt Lake we headed out before Labor Day on Highway 6 to Great Basin National Park, just over the border in Nevada. Our good friends Mike and Lisa Beyer met us out there with their trailer and we visited Lehman Cave and hung around the campfire laughing until late into the night.
We left Mike and Lisa and drove south through wonderful, Nevada desolation on Highway 93 to Las Vegas to visit our son, Jeff, and his family. We had been having trouble with our hydraulic leveling jacks, and as we entered the crazy, rudeness of Las Vegas freeways, a warning buzzer went off indicating that one of our jacks was descending. We took the nearest exit and saw that one jack had descended about an inch. After realizing it wouldn’t descend anymore, we kept going to the RV park. It was really hot and we think the heat caused the hydraulic fluid to expand, which caused the faulty jack to descend slightly.
We spent the next couple of weeks in Vegas. Our daughter, Ginger, flew in to meet up and ride back to Tucson with us. It was great to have all the family together again, but soon we were on the road again and heading back to where we started.
Returning to Tucson and adding a new Travelina
We left Las Vegas on Highway 95 and drove to Parker, Arizona where we spent the night at an RV park on the Colorado River, partying it up a bit at their floating bar. The next day, after traveling through 19 states and driving over 6,700 miles, we rolled back into Tucson where we would stay for the winter. Our first fulltime RVing adventure was over. Within three weeks of arriving, Julie found the dog of her dreams at the Tucson Humane Society. Now we have a new traveling companion: Peanut.