Charleston, South Carolina has been on my bucket list for years. And, visiting a gorgeous plantation was on the itinerary. As a boy mom, I get drug to dirt bike offroad parks, car museums, battle ship museums, deep sea fishing boats, and the list goes on. While I don't mind those, I couldn't wait to breathe in the history, culture, architecture, and FOOD of Charleston.
Charleston was everything I had imagined and hoped for. Giant live oaks with Spanish moss dripping from them draped over the streets, several hundred year old buildings stood perched on the side of cobblestone streets, and beautifully designed mansions standing in all their grandeur faced the battery. And the food. Oh my word, the food! I have yet to decide what the deliciously sweet concoction was that I dipped the most perfectly browned hush puppy in over at Leon's Poultry & Oyster Shop but my word, if I had a gallon of it, I would drink it right now! And, the oyster sampler over at Hank's Seafood Restaurant is the stuff dreams are made of. Per the usual, we took our rig on the trip and I had found us a great place to stay down at James Island Campground near Folley Beach. From paved bike paths and dog park to a full blown water park, this place had it all! On a side note, if you are traveling in a big rig, know that Central Park Rd. and Riverland Dr. are not for the faint of heart with narrow lanes and very low hanging tree limbs. It is, however, worth the drive! With all of these amazing attractions, the history of Charleston was what I was most excited about.
We made our way through town and up to the Magnolia Plantation on the Ashley River. I breathed in the smell of moss and dirt as we weaved down the shade covered foot path to the gardens. With a limited amount of time, we purchased our tickets, choosing the house tour as well as the Slavery to Freedom tour. We meandered through the romantic style gardens that have been open to the public since the 1870's. The lusciously wild array of camellias, daffodils, azaleas, and countless other flowers blooming was breathtaking. However, there was no time to stop, as we had a tour to catch!
We wove our way back to the depot stop next to the house and boarded a train for the Slavery to Freedom tour. We left the garden areas and drove past swamps on our way to a clearing where the slave houses were placed. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable sharing with us how Rev. Drayton had brought 12 slaves and sugar cane cuttings with him when they arrived in Carolina but the sugar cane had failed because it was too hot, so instead he chose to grow rice which is only native to Asia & Africa. In 1780 there were 1000 rice plantations in the South all dependent upon slave labor. The end of the Civil War and slave labor ended the rice industry. I wish I could remember our tour guides name, because I was so impressed with the facts that he shared, such as 3/4 of the value of the property during the slave trade was based on the slaves. If you took the slaves away, the property was worthless without anyone to work the rice fields. During the slave trade, 500,000 slaves were brought on a 1-3.5 month voyage across the Atlantic, chained in the bottom of a ship to come to North America. There was a 30% mortality rate and of those that survived, they would then live a lifestyle of servitude to be treated as chattel. We gazed upon the small white houses as the guide shared with us about children working fields, women sorting rice, and men building structures on the property. He shared with us how slavery was horrendous and this was not a time in America's history to be proud of.
After the presentation, our group was able to tour the houses and meander in and out pondering what it must have been like for a slave's family of ten to share the one room cabin, sleeping on the floor boards, and huddling around the fireplace for warmth. As I saw people shake their heads with downcast eyes, I couldn't help but feel rage rise up. If they only knew that slavery still existed. If they only knew that slavery didn't die on January 1, 1863. If they only knew that today, there are more people trapped in slavery than ever before in human history. Here people were, traveling to this destination, buying tickets to learn about slavery, and yet refusing to pull their heads out of the sand and see what is happening all around them. I could only hope that one day, our descendants will walk through a museum learning about the travesty of the human trafficking epidemic and hear how it had been eradicated forever. But for now, I would thank the tour guide, sip my sweet tea, and tour the stately mansion.
If you are looking for a plantation steeped in history and beauty, I highly recommend the Drayton family's Magnolia. And, if you've dreamt of the beauty and culture of Charleston, don't wait any longer. Go breathe it all in!
Brandi is a purposeful business owner, writer, speaker, and podcast host that enjoys traveling with her husband and sons in their Super C RV.
Texas! Where you can travel 11 hours straight without ever leaving the state. When Darren first suggested we head to Big Bend for our anniversary back in December, I thought he was crazy. However, now I can’t believe I’ve been in Texas all my life & never made the trek. Aside from the unrivaled scenery and laid back pace, there is just something so serene about the place. We’ve found a great RV park at a world class golf resort that is situated right between the State Park & National Park.
This year the kids chose Big Bend over snow skiing for spring break. I was secretly grateful to not be heading to a cold climate. The older I get, the less I can handle it. Plus, the metal in my back doesn’t play well with cold climates.
We delayed travel for a day trying to avoid high winds & storms, but didn’t succeed. Cool Hand Luke successfully navigated the rig through 70-75 mph wind gusts for the duration of the 11 hours it took us to make the drive. The poor guy's arms were so sore when finally arrived after fighting the winds bucking our rig the whole way. We pulled into camp with an hour of daylight to spare, set up, and threw some burgers on. The kids immediately took off to the the pool since it was 80 degrees but quickly found out that wasn’t warm enough for enjoyable swimming weather and decided to ride bikes and throw the football around instead. They were thrilled to see this campground full of kiddos on spring break! "Mom! There are so many kids here! This is the best place we've ever stayed!" They told me.
The next morning, we headed out for 9 holes of golf on one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever seen surrounded by the Chisos mountains, under a clear blue sky with hawks soaring over head, and the Rio Grande meandering its way along the course. The game went the same way it typically does. By the 5th hole, B had thrown a club and was totally over it while D had just warmed up. Lucky for me, I had the happy kid on my cart... The scenery on this course is second to none! Even if you're not a golfer, if you find yourself visiting Lajitas do yourself a favor. Rent a golf cart and ride around the course to take in the views. But, be smart. Follow golf etiquette and for goodness sakes, do not stand in the middle of the fairway snapping selfies while actual golfers are trying to tee off....
That afternoon was B's number one request for spring break: horseback riding. Neither the hubs nor D were very excited about it, but they indulged us. Darren has never been a fan of horses and had a bit of trepidation about the whole experience. As we received our pre-ride instructions, he leaned over and asked, “Have you ever been bucked off?” I assured him I hadn’t and there was no way these horses would buck. I explained to him that these are trail horses, ridden by novice riders multiple times a day, every single day on the exact same trails. They follow the leader and are totally calm. It was so fun to see B grinning ear from ear to ear in the saddle and watch Darren relax enough that he seemed to almost enjoy it. I loved being back in the saddle and taking in the scenery in. The landscape of the state park was perfect, the group was quiet, and I was able to talk to God while soaking in the serenity of it all. And then, after a gorgeous 2.5 mile ride through the desert mountains, the wind blew a plastic bag loose from a bush & across the trail in front of my horse.
Smoky (or Fred as his saddle tag read) jumped left & bucked me right. As my ribs took the full impact of hitting the ground, I threw my right arm up to protect my head & felt the full impact of a horse’s hoof stomp down on my forearm. I quickly scrambled to my feet and stood up rattled and doubled over in pain trying to regain the wind that had been knocked out of my lungs. The other riders, along with my husband and kids stared at me in horror as the guides tried to catch my horse.
I struggled and gasped to regain my breath as I gathered my bracelets that had been busted & ripped by the horse’s hoof along with my hat & cell phone while the guide brought my horse back to me. Every eye in the group was on me as I stood there rubbing Smokey’s neck and talking calmly to him. I could let the fear keep me from getting back on that horse, or I could eat my own words and get back on the horse that bucked me off. I remounted Smoky & my kids witnessed their mom practice what she preaches. I had to literally get back on the horse that had bucked me off. The horse remained spooked for the rest of the ride, and I'll be honest, I was happy to be back to the stables. Initially, my arm was the biggest source of pain, but as a few days have gone by the cracked/bruised ribs have been incredibly painful. I’ll live but I took some seriously injured and sore ribs home with me as a souvenir. I have to say that I was very surprised at the lack of concern on the resort's behalf. Having witnessed unrivaled customer service, I assumed they would have done whatever possible to make this right. However, I was told they would be happy to arrange me a doctor's visit but would be unable to refund the trail ride since, they had done nothing wrong. It was just simply a spooked horse. In my experience, tourist trail rides consist of incredibly docile well broken horses that wouldn't get spooked by a plastic bag blowing across the trail. I understand they are simply unpredictable animals, but coming from a place of hospitality, I would have appreciated the resort being a little more taken aback by the accident. Thank goodness it was me and not the kids, otherwise, the resort would have seen an entirely different side of this Mama, worthy of being covered by the evening news!
Back at camp I kicked back with ice on my ribs and arm while Darren taught the boys how to ride a bicycle backwards. Of course the oldest mastered it and spent the rest of the trip riding around the campsite like a circus monkey inciting people to point and laugh.
My social butterfly kiddos gathered other kids around our campsite to throw the football, ride penny boards and bicycles, and drink Dr. Peppers. While getting ready to take the kids up to the club for movie night, D stuck his head in asking if Brayden could go to the movies with us. “Brayden who?” I asked. “My new friend Brayden he’s outside,” he told me. I stuck my head out, introduced myself to him and asked if his parents knew he was going with us. He assured me they did and it was fine, but I told him we would go by and introduce ourselves first. This is how we met our new friends Jen & Justin who had just pulled into camp after driving straight through the night & didn’t actually realize their kid was going to the movie with strangers. We invited them up to the club with us while the kiddos met up with all the other campground kids and enjoyed hanging out at the theater watching Indiana Jones. This is my favorite part of the RV life. I love that our family is not only experiencing new destinations but making new friends also.
The last day consisted of Jeep riding through the state park visiting Dom Rock from the movie Fandango, & stopping on the roadside for the boys to throw rocks across the Rio Grande and in to Mexico. We topped it off with dinner with our new campground friends, visiting around the campfire, and s’mores roasting. The kids said this was the best camping trip we’ve been on yet and one of their favorite places. They’ve already, along with their new friends, requested we do this next spring break as well. So thankful for these experiences with our family, making new friends, and experiencing new places.
In 11 years, we haven’t managed to take a trip for our anniversary. We decided this was the year that we were doing it. We tossed around a few ideas of where we would go. My husband recommended Big Bend. I stared at him like he had a horn growing out of his forehead. My soul was yearning for an island. I needed the sound of the waves, the salt water spray in the air, and the warmth of the sun on my skin. But, he was right. We had the motorhome and the jeep and there were still places in our home state that we hadn’t yet visited. Plus, I had earned a trip from my company to San Francisco & Napa the following month. So, I would give him Big Bend. It was something he had been talking about for a while. I couldn’t for the life of me see why this would be on his list, but okay.
I did my typical research, looking it up on of travel review sites as well as the Facebook motor home groups that we belong to. Everyone raved about the terrain, stars, sky, and landscape. As great as this sounded, I was still skeptical. If I was going to Big Bend for my anniversary, I had better make sure there were things to do there that I would enjoy. So, I found Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa with Maverick Ranch RV park. This would work just fine. They had a spa so I could get a massage and a restaurant so that I wouldn’t have to cook my entire anniversary. The website mentioned world class golf, but neither of us are golfers, so this didn’t excite me.
I knew it was near the Rio Grande, so I thought that wold be cool since I’ve never actually been to the Texas border. Although, I'll admit, with all of the media coverage of what was going on at the border at that time, I was incredibly hesitant...
After six hours of delays and a less than smooth morning, we set out two days before our anniversary to make the 617 mile trek. We decided we would stay the night in San Angelo since we were so far behind. Neither of us like arriving to a campground late or driving in the dark on unknown roads. Plus, the Cowboys were playing at 7:25 so we needed to be set up and have the game on by then. We chose a KOA Holiday by the lake that a friend recommended and it was a fine campground. We’ve had less than pleasant experiences with “kōas” as our 9 year old calls them. We grabbed a bite at Twisted Root for dinner and watched some of the game before hitting up HEB and going back to the campground to finish the game and get some rest.
The next morning, we packed up and headed out. Next stop: Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa. The trip took far longer than what we had anticipated. Apparently if there is no cell service or GPS signal, Apple maps doesn’t account for the last 2 hours of the trip. We drove through the most sparsely populated parts of Texas I had ever seen where the land was dotted with pipeline, pumpjacks, and questionably livable “houses”. We finally turned south at Alpine to complete the last leg of the trip after what seemed like an absurd amount of hours driving. The terrain immediately changed. We started seeing mountains poking above the cloud line and red rock sculptures lining the road. We wound our way up higher and higher around the mountains until I couldn’t believe that such elevations existed in Texas. The Texas I know is flat and occasionally has a rolling hill. This was crazy! I had never seen anything like it. Once we descended into the ghost town of Terlingua, we decided to stop for gas before heading to the campground. A rugged looking character with a bushy grey mustache covering his mouth, unruly hair, and leathery skin leaned against a porch post staring us down while Darren fueled up. As he walked out of the store from paying, the character looked him up & down. “Can I ask you a question? Whatcha got going on in that trailer?” He said as he took a long drag on his cigarette through a nicotine stained white mustache. Darren, never one to meet a stranger happily replied. “Oh, my wife’s jeep is in there.” “Hmm..." he grunted. "I thought you might have some high powered surveillance equipment in there.” Darren laughed, “Surveillance equipment? Why?” he asked. He squinted his eyes as he looked Darren up and down with a scowl...“Well... look atcha”. Darren, baffled, hopped back in the truck and asked me what the old man meant. I looked at his outfit comprised of khaki Duluth utility pants, long sleeve green shirt, and grey cap and burst into laughter. “Babe, you came to the US/Mexico border dressed like a TX border patrol agent.” We were later informed that they had actually thought he was DEA. And thus we continue the tradition of people mistaking my husband for a cop on vacation.
We made our way down the 15 mile winding road to Maverick Ranch. There was a charming southwest cemetery at the entrance to the park and adobe pillars welcoming us. We drove past it and found our way to our spot. The park was gorgeous and had a 360 degree view of the mountains and canyons. I was warming up to this idea. We wanted to find out more information on where to go & what to do, so we immediately unloaded the jeep and hopped in to go explore. The main boardwalk up the street seemed to be where everything happened. The restaurant, bar, spa, and shops were there. I spotted the spa first, of course, and decided I would pop in to see what the weekend’s availabilities were. Gina told me that she could get me in right away. As a person that gets regular massages and has high expectations, I can tell you that Gina at Agave Spa is AMAZING! As she worked her hands deep into my angry muscles, I could feel the worries and stresses of the previous week slide away. I’m so accustomed to getting massages for maintenance and then rushing about the previously scheduled activities of the day, that I had forgotten what it was like to get a massage and not have anything else to rush off to.
I left the massage relaxed, renewed, and ready to enjoy the rest of the evening. We stepped into the Thirsty Goat Saloon to inquire about dinner and found ourselves met with a room full of all men. Not one single female in sight. After being told that “they try” to have table service, we decided to go across the hall to the Candelia for dinner and realized that we had made a fantastic decision. The seared crusted ahi was as fresh and mouthwatering as if we were having it ocean side in Hawaii. After dinner, we made our way back to The Thirsty Goat Saloon to enjoy live music and people watch. Something that neither of us took into account while planning the trip was that it was a golf resort with a predominately male clientele. The ratio of men to women was literally about 50:3. So, married ladies, if your husband is looking for a great guy’s weekend, feel completely safe about sending him to this resort. There is literally no trouble to be had. To my single girlfriends, listen up. If you find it difficult to meet single men your age, go to Lajitas on a golf charter weekend. Guaranteed there’s a single guy there that just might interest you. We topped the evening off back at camp with a nightcap under the darkest sky spattered with more stars, planets, and comets than I've ever witnessed in any other open sky location.
The following morning, we woke up bright and early, grabbed our coffee, and headed out to watch the sun rise over the canyon and the Rio Grande. We found a great overlook where we could take in the morning’s artwork. There was a river below that was very shallow and not flowing much, but Darren assured me it wasn’t the Rio Grande. While we sat, waiting for the sun rise over Lajitas, I started looking at the map to find the Rio Grande and the border. Much to both of our surprise, that small river just a few feet below us was indeed the international border between the US & Mexico. We had been looking at the fields, mountains, and plateaus of Mexico all this time! It was such a crazy realization. There was no fence or “wall” just a shallow stream of water separating the two sections of land. I could throw a rock and hit Mexico. And, the water was shallow enough that anyone could wade across from either side. And somehow, it felt like the people of this area didn’t mind who comes and goes either way. They all seemed to be co-existing just find. It was so much more tranquil than what I had imagined the scene to look like.
We left our perch along the sunrise lit stream to go explore the National park and couldn't wait to hit some jeep trails. We had been told that there were great opportunities for jeep riding, and they were right. Thanks to the advice from a helpful park ranger, we took Maverick junction to Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive which provides some of the most pristine scenic views of the park's landscape you could imagine. From this paved windy road, we turned off onto River Road for a 29 mile offload experience through the park and along the Rio Grande and up to Black Gap Road. This treacherous offload trail led us to meeting the first people we had seen in 5 hours of riding through the park. We put the Queen Beest to the first real offroad test she's seen and were rewarded with an elevated overlook of the entire park and all its rugged vast beauty.
That evening, the staff at Candelia had prepared a private dining experience for our anniversary. We dined on a private patio overlooking the golf course with a view of the sunset. The candlelit dinner was set to the tune of a private soundtrack as we dined on a 5 course chef prepared meal of fried green tomatoes, grilled beets and goat cheese, couscous salad, filet mignon with bacon wrapped shrimp, roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus, chocolate covered strawberries and tres leches paired with a 2006 bottle of Ricci Sangiovese. It was a picture perfect ending to an anniversary weekend filled with adventure, unrivaled views, new experiences, and lavish pampering.
We left West Yellowstone and headed across Montana, Wyoming, and eventually into South Dakota. Just a few miles down the road on this 544 mile trek, as we wove our way through the Custer Gallatin national forest alongside the Madison and Gallatin Rivers, we witnessed a scene straight out of Field & Stream! Hundreds of anglers spotted the crystal clear waters for miles. They stood knee and waist deep in the rivers casting their flies repeatedly in hopes of catching salmon or trout. It was such a pristine scene that it looked like it was straight out of a movie! I so desperately wanted to camp a night in this magical forest but we needed press on down the road to make our destination before dark. I look forward to coming back with more time to enjoy the. Big Sky area and explore all the beauty that the Gallatin Forest has to offer.
Several hours down the road, we crossed the Little Big Horn River and drove alongside the Little Big Horn battlefield. We were excited to share the historical facts with our kids and soon found out they had no idea who General Custer or Crazy Horse were. Thank you very much standardized testing... So, I googled the battle and started sharing the facts with them to further learn that the battle took place on June 24-25, 1876. Um, hello coincidence! We just so happened to be traveling through on that very day, and couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried to.
After driving across the Northern half of Wyoming, we quickly learned that it looks exactly like Southern, MT…. Green rolling hills and very, very little else to see. By 7:00 PM, we arrived at Elkhorn Ridge Resort in Spearfish, SD. With a 360 degree view of the Black Hills, large wide open grassy spots plenty big enough to not only park our rig, but specifically set up for rigs like ours, a sparkling resort size pool and hot tub, state of the art basketball courts, tennis courts, and volleyball courts, stone fire pits with firewood provided, a coffee bar & bistro, and gift and wine shop, we had found our LUXURY RV park! Hey…I never once claimed to be a “camper” but I do enjoy Glamping! The hubs hopped out onto the concrete pad and exclaimed that all the hookups were in the exact right spot for our hoses and the concrete pad was level! I responded with “Yes Honey, THESE are our people!” The kids grabbed their basketball and excitedly ran off to the basketball court where they proceeded to put the major spank on a couple of 30 somethings from North Dakota while Dad grilled us burgers. After dinner we hopped in the jeep and made the 60 mile trek through the Black Hill forest to visit Mount Rushmore. We had been told the memorial is much more impressive after dark, and we were not disappointed! The lit up memorial was definitely worth the late night drive, even if we weren’t able to capture the experience on film. It was so cool being the only ones up there. We pulled over to the side of the road and just took it all in.
The next morning, we headed out to experience all the Black Hills has to offer (or at least whatever we could cram into a few hours.) We hit up the infamous main street of Sturgis as well as the Harley shop and then headed down the road to the Wild West town of Deadwood for lunch. We were excited to visit the stomping grounds of Outlaws Calamity Jane, Jack McCall, and Wild Bill Hickock. Of course, the kids had no idea who any of these people were until we visited the location where Wild Bill was shot, took them to lunch at a “haunted” hotel (brothel) full of artifacts, and witnessed a rootin tootin shootout reenactment on Main St. This wild and unruly town with historic hotels, saloons, and sites to visit is now their favorite town they've ever visited!
We continued through the forest and up the mountain to the Crazy Horse Memorial where the kids were able to witness the Lakota tribe and Ziolkowski family’s ongoing construction of the memorial to Lakota Leader, Crazy Horse. Here they were not only able to learn about the white man and native American’s fight over the land, but also about the battle of Little Big Horn, General Custer, and Crazy Horse. The kiddos were also able to take home a large chunk of the granite that has been carved out of the mountain. Having only seen Mount Rushmore at night, we decided to revisit the monument and do a walking tour to view it more closely. While the monument itself in impressive, the stories of the construction impressed me the most. Over the course of 14 years of construction, not one death occurred with the 400 men that dangled from ropes while carving the mountain.
On our way back through the Black Hills, we spotted a sign for Bear World “View grizzly bears, black bears, brown bears, wolves, and mountain lions in their own habitat.” With both the boys’ and my husband's number one goal for the trip being to see a bear, we abruptly made a left turned and pulled into Bear World. After safely and securely putting the tops back on the jeep in order to not get eaten, we were ready to drive through the preserve. We took pictures of elk, reindeer, wolves, and mountain lions as we all giggled and crafted a master plan to crop out all fences and share the images on FB like we had seen the animals out in the wild. We made a family pact that no one would ruin the joke.
We made our way to the backside of the property and entered the bear zone where black and brown bears slowly made their way across the road in front of us, walked alongside of us with their large rumps shaking, frolicked in the water holes, and scratched their giant backsides on the edges of their caves. The kids were so excited to finally see bears and the hubs made sure to pull up to a good angle for me to snap pics without any feeding stations or fences in the background. We had finally seen bears! Our trip was made!... or so we thought...
As we approached the exit, there was a large brown bear and smaller black bear playing to our right, while two brown bears on our left started growling at each other. “Alright!” We thought. “We’re gonna see some action!” We were watching these two waiting to see the fight break out, when Dad said “”Uh…. What’s that brown bear gonna do to that black bear? Um….Watch this.” This was quickly followed be the kids stuttering “Um… Mom?” and bursting into uncontrollable laughter and giggles. And…with the car in front of us stopped, leaving nowhere to go, we sat there and watched as the brown bear gave it to the black bear with all the machismo he could muster. As I sat in horror watching the large beasts’ furry brown rump shaking back and forth and his little tail bouncing up and down, all I could think was “Oh God! How do I explain THIS to the little one? He’s innocent! We haven’t had that talk yet! Oh Dear God! Help me! Make it Stop!” But, much to my horror this act seemed to not have a stopping point. He was in it for the good time AND long time. It would speed up, slow down, and speed up again. At this point, I’m recording because…. well, what are you going to do? The Hubs has tears rolling down his cheeks, the kids are laughing hysterically, and we’re all witnessing an act of nature that will become the single most hilarious experience we have ever had as a family! And, just like that, all the historical and educational lessons of Little Big Horn, Wild Bill Hickock, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy horse have just been replaced with Sex Ed class brought to you by The Bears. You’re welcome kids.
With our eventful day coming to a close, we made it back to our oasis, Elkhorn Ridge Resort, where we were serenaded around fire pits under the strawberry moon by the music of local musicians. The kids played basketball and rode their Segways around while we enjoyed the concert and chatted with the other guests. We will most definitely put this on our list of parks to return to and if you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it.
This morning brought the melancholy feeling of the fun being over as we packed up and started making our way back home. Next stop: Nebraska…. Or Kansas… or if Cool Hand Luke is feeling it, this rig might just make its way all the way back to Texas.
Sunday morning we packed up and headed 94 miles NE to West Yellowstone, MT, our home for the next few days. The campground was another “kōa” and we were stacked in like sardines. However, the boys were overjoyed with the basketball goal, putt putt course, and abundance of kids.
With it being our buddy's birthday we decided to cook dinner and celebrate in the campground around the fire pit. We feasted on pork tenderloin, roasted brussels sprouts, baked potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and, key lime pie. Listen, campground food can be AMAZING!!!
While relaxing around the fire, our next door neighbor pulled up, hopped out of his car, and greeted us with “Hey der nayburs! We’re about to light a fir and drink sum beers!” These were the Nelsons from Minnesota & they were spending a few days touring Yellowstone as well.
Monday morning, we rolled out of bed, grabbed breakfast, packed lunches, and headed out to explore Yellowstone. Not knowing quite what to expect, we heeded the warnings of others to “pack plenty of patience” in order to deal with the traffic jams & tourists. While sitting in traffic for 30 minutes waiting to get through the gate, we started making a list of license plates from different states, and by the time we left the park we had found 38 out of 50 states (including Hawaii & Alaska!). We had been advised to take the North Loop in order to avoid so many tourists and view more wildlife. However, Old Faithful is in the South Loop, and the hubs said you just can’t go to Yellowstone & not see Old Faithful.... So, South Loop it was.
My pre-conceived notion of Yellowstone was one that looked very similar to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone and the hubs was expecting something similar to Arbuckle Wilderness. So, we were quite surprised with what we found. A word to the wise, it takes 3 full days to cover Yellowstone, and you should actually allow about a week to fully explore the majesty. But, in true family fashion, we blow in like a whirlwind, see & do as much as we possibly can in a short time period, and blow on down the road!
As we began our trek through the park, we were surprised to be driving on wide open paved roads winding through the mountains, along streams, and next to wildlife and geysers. The geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles were one of the most impressive and unexpected aspects of the park. Witnessing the boiling hot water, steam, and mud bubble up out of the ground is rather unsettling as you’re standing next to signs warning of “unstable ground”.
As our road led us on down to Old Faithful, we spotted a beaver swimming downstream, moose grazing, canadian geese swimming, and lazy bison not bothered by the tourist traffic. We arrived at Old Faithful, fought the crowd, circled the parking lots, and finally found a spot while a kind man from Chicago informed us we had 15 minutes until the geyser would go off. And, he should know since he had been there all day, watching the geyser go off every 94 minutes in an attempt to capture a perfectly timed family photo with 12 family members in matching t-shirts in front of Old Faithful. I can't make this stuff up. After waiting front & center amidst the crowd, the geyser went off as promised @ 1:47, and we were definitely underwhelmed... We decided that was it and left the crowd to go to the visitor center. Inside the center, we saw the estimated time of eruption to be 1:52 and it was currently 1:53. We looked out the window just in time to see steam billowing out of the ground and grabbed the kids to make a dash back outside to the viewing area where we then witnessed an awe inspiring marvel of nature. While the height of the geyser was impressive, we were both surprised that it didn’t make much of a noise. I had expected a boom somewhat similar to that of the Belagio Fountains.... And by the way Yellowstone, you could take a note out of the Belagio's book and set the eruptions up to perfectly orchestrated music... I mean, it's just an idea.
Leaving Old Faithful, we headed East to Yellowstone Lake where we watched bald eagles circle over head with snow-capped mountains in the distance and felt the chilly breeze blowing across the lake. Leaving Yellowstone Lake and heading north, we had our eyes peeled for grizzlies as we spotted tree after tree marked up by bear claws and streams filled with spawning salmon. Regardless of how much it looked like a great big hungry grizzly should jump out of the forest and snag a salmon from a stream, we never spotted one, much to our dismay. Well, at least to the boys' and hub's dismay. I'm totally fine not actually having an encounter with a massive beast that would snatch me up and devour me like I was last night's leftover lasagna.
As we wound our way alongside the Yellow River, we eventually made our way up to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower falls. The falls at the top of the canyon cascaded down and flowed through the deeply cut canyon filled with a multitude of colors from different rock and minerals. I have yet to witness Niagara Falls in person, but one passerby commented that she thought it was even more beautiful than Niagara. While it was gorgeous, I'll have to make that decision for myself one day.
Leaving the canyon, we drove past herds of antelope, bison, and elk in the middle of vibrant green meadows. We made our way to exit the park and all agreed that it was one of the most breathtaking sites we’ve visited. As a tropical climate, beach loving Mama, I can assure you that Yellowstone has just as many exceptional views as my beautiful Hawaii does.
The next morning, we packed up camp and headed 544 miles Southeast across Wyoming to Spearfish, SD and the Black Hills to see what more adventure awaited us!
We’ve been off the grid for a few days & will be back off of it shortly. Apparently wifi is not readily available in the middle of nowhere USA...
Thursday morning started off rough with us being stranded in Ft. Collins, CO for several hours with blown fuses & non-working trailer brake lights. At this point, I had decided this trip was a horrible idea & we should turn around and go home. My perpetually optimistic husband, “Cool Hand Luke” said we would persevere and keep on trucking!
With Colorado in the rear view, we crossed into Wyoming and headed West. Several hours of driving through Wyoming, we learned that we had never before seen or even known such a sparsely populated part of America existed. We experienced the true Open Range! As we drove past rolling mountains, wild horses, cows, and hundred of pronged antelope, we also crossed the Continental Divide as well as the Oregon Trail. As the past few days of the trip had been rough, and we were both crotchety, it was a nice reminder to think about the original settlers that made this trip and all the harsh realities they faced. Our biggest concern at the moment was not running out of DEF fluid or fuel before the next stop (in these mountains, work from the top of the tank!”) And, even then, no one would die if we broke down on the side of the rode, unlike the settlers on the trail.
After hours of driving with no civilization in sight, we suddenly crossed into the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the terrain instantly changed. Enormous beautiful trees, amazing mountain views and lush greenery were everywhere. We spotted a sign warning of a steep mountainous curve ahead and this led us deeper into the forest around hairpin curves, steep declines, and long grades... I'm talking 10%! With every corner and downshift of the motor, I would let out a gasp while the cry out to Jesus and my breath caught simultaneously in my throat. Of course, this would be followed by Cool Hand Luke's irritation with me and the ever ready re-assurance that we were "fine"... Meanwhile, I'm envisioning our rig barreling down this harrowing mountainous road, missing the curve, plowing through the guardrail and sending our family plummeting to the bottom of the canyon and into the serene lake below. Despite the beauty of the views and the seemingly endless crystal clear lake the corners wrapped around, this is the point where it became in everyone’s best interest for Mama to pour a glass of wine & go to the back to drown her anxiety out with the mindless babble of The Real Housewives! Trust me when I say you haven’t lived until you’ve taken a 38’ motorhome pulling a 24’ trailer around those curves! Somewhere in the heart of that forest we crossed into Idaho and caught some of the most breathtaking sights ever...or so I’m told! We would later learn that this was the treacherous Teton Pass that motorhomes, RV’s, and big rigs are highly encouraged to NOT take! But, according to my husband, we were fine....and I should be impressed with his semi driving skills...
610 miles down the road from where we started our day, we pulled into the Mountain River Ranch outside of Ririe, ID and would call this place home for a few days. We were greeted by our sweet camp host who showed us to our sight (5 hours later than our expected arrival time) and settled in for the night (sans WiFi or cell service).
The next morning we were greeted by a group of very friendly Utah(ian’s?) They were a group of retired school teachers and principals that would, over the course of the next few days, go on to cook breakfast for us and demand we eat with them, invite our kids into their game day activities, change a spark plug on the kids’ dirtbike, compliment us repeatedly on how well behaved our kids are, and eventually invite us to camp at their summer home anytime we’re up that way. As far as the Utes go, I’ll be happy to camp with them anytime!
I hopped in the Jeep as the boys jumped on dirtbikes & we made our way across the Snake River, up the mountain, and 1.4 miles down the road to meet up with our friends and their little rugrats @ the 7N Ranch. The kids ran around and played under a beautiful blue sky and 360 degree Mountain Views until it was time for our dinner theater reservation.
As we all awaited a covered wagon ride down to the dinner, Mountain River Ranch had a new Sherrif in town and she was looking for the dirty scoundrels that made off with the gold. We watched the group of good guys and bad guys shoot it out on Main Street in the middle of the old West town, and much to the kids delight, the good guys won! We were then picked up by a team of gorgeous Tennessee Walkers hooked up to our covered wagon carriage and whisked away to the mountain top barn where we feasted on Beef Tri-Tip with all the fixings (including Huckleberry Ice Cream) and were entertained by all the fiddle playing, singing, and story telling we could ask for! By the end of the night, the kids were dancing and playing in the green grass under the sunset overlooking the mountains.
Saturday morning greeted us with all the excitement of the (big) boys’ highly anticipated cow-tag ride. We kissed the guys goodbye at 9 am and watched them ride off on their dirtbikes up the mountain and into the forest. The women and children hopped in the Jeep with the oldest kiddo following behind on his dirtbike and hit the gravel roads of the forest to do a little exploring of our own. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the tops were off the Jeep so it should be a great time! Quite a ways into the forest & higher up on the mountain, the skies clouded up, the temperatures dropped, and wet stuff began falling from the sky. The kiddo on the dirtbike was now covered in dust from head to toe, freezing, and wet, while the kids in the backseat were just slightly damp... We made it back to camp where we cleaned up and treated ourselves to hot chocolate and snacks while waiting on the big guys. At 3:30, the guys showed back up soaking wet, freezing, banged up, scraped up, and sore from head to toe. They had covered 65 miles in six hours and spent the last three getting poured on in 50• temps. The terrain was the most challenging that some of them had ever ridden and they had the battle wounds to prove it. After hot showers and clean clothes, we all made our way back up to the ski resort for a mountaintop BBQ dinner and raffle. The guys made off with a little loot and we headed back to camp for victorious stories of the ride shared around the campfire as battle scars were compared.
This morning it was the little boys’ turn to go for a serious ride in the forest, however Daddy’s sore muscles and minor injuries weren’t quite cooperating. So, as we packed up camp Tommy was kind enough to take them for a short ride. A little over two hours later, we thought we should go looking for them just as they came pulling back into camp. The little one had ran out of gas and was covered in mud head to toe. After a little siphoning of gas they had gotten him back on the trail and safely back to camp where he had his turn of sharing his adventurous stories of the trail.
Once clean & packed up, we headed North West into the Targhee national forest. Montana and Yellowstone National Park are just on the horizon and we can’t wait to see what it has to hold for us.
This summer, we pulled the plug and finally purchased the 38' Super C motorhome that we've been dreaming about for years. I've wanted one our entire marriage and the hubs finally jumped on board a few years ago. We've studied, researched, joined forums, etc. to ensure we got exactly what we wanted. And now, after months and months of actively shopping, we finally have our own rolling home! Some friends of ours invited us to Idaho for my husband to participate participate in a charity dirt bike ride in the mountains of Idaho. Since that's a little over 1000 miles away, we decided to make our first big trip one to remember and see as many states as we could in 10 days.
So, this morning, we hopped in the rig, pointed it North, and my stud muffin of a husband said “Babe! I’ll drive you anywhere you want to go, let’s do this! We drove 584 miles and made it to CO. After traversing eight hours across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, the skies started getting dark and ominous. As I started getting nervous, the television satellite went out at the same time the Severe Weather Warning popped up on my phone. The next 3 hours of the trip consisted of us driving the motorhome pulling a 24' enclosed trailer through Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, Flash Floods, Tornado Watches, torrential rain, high winds, and hail. Oh yes, I said HAIL... on my brand spanking new rig!
My anxiety was at an all time high and I was convinced we had made a bad call going on this road trip. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, the Check Engine light came on and I started imagining us broken down on the side of the highway in the middle of a tornado. However, my cool as a cucumber husband kept re-assuring me that everything was fine and we should just keep driving... into the ominous dark swirling cloud ahead... When I asked if we should be concerned about the Warning light he shrugged it off & said that it obviously wasn’t anything serious enough to shut us down. So, we kept on trucking...
At one point, we stopped at a truck stop for fuel as the skies were the darkest, rain the heaviest, and wind the strongest. I noticed there was a large amount of truckers pulled in here and not going back out on the road, so I suggested we follow suit. But, Cool Hand Luke insisted we continue on. In his words "Well, I'm not just going to sit here and wait for the tornado to hit me." *Sidenote: don't try this at home kids*.
We kept on full speed ahead and made it through the storms, rolling into Strasburg, CO just before sunset and in time to see the calm after the storm. I was so thankful to see that tiny crowded campground situated just between the interstate and the train tracks! However, not everyone shared that same grateful attitude.... The little one's first words were “Koa??? (pronounced kōa & not K-O-A). These are the worst campgrounds! They’re always tiny & filled with shady people!” The hubs then proceeded to follow up with “Yeah Babe, I’ve seen on Epic RV’s that there are luxury campgrounds all over the place. You should really look into booking some of those.”
I ignored the high maintenance men in my life, ate my pizza gladly, took a shower, thanked God for delivering us out of the perfect storm and laid my head down to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep only to be awakened by the sound of what resembles a freight train barreling through a motorhome.
We woke up this morning, poured a cup of coffee, turned on the local news, and saw stories covering the 2 confirmed tornadoes... one of which we drove directly under while leaving the last truck stop. And, Cool Hand Luke’s response was “See Babe! That rig handled high winds, heavy rain, and even a tornado with no problem!”
Who am I?
Hi! I'm. Brandi, founder of The Power Project. There are a few things I'm passionate about in life, and one of those happens to be my LOVE of travel! We enjoy traveling the world with our kids as well as the continental United States in our motorhome. I hope you enjoy some of our most memorable adventures!