AND NOW…the long-awaited conclusion of the RV Trip from Hell:  A Rite of Passage – Part 4

***Cue Star Wars Music***
When we last left our heroes in Part 3, they were departing Glacier National Park in a dense, frozen fog after having freed their trailer from having its jack foot planted like a tree in the sandy grounds of the KOA because of the crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to them by their RV dealer in the absence of a proper jack foot.

[If you haven’t read the first 3, here’s a quick link to Part 1]


RV Commandment # 3:

Thou Shalt Read Every Sign

Headed out of town in the fog, our GPS told us to take a right turn.  Having learned the hard way to be suspicious of GPS units, we slowed down a bit before committing to the turn.  It was a pretty well-used intersection, as far as we could tell.  There seemed to be a number of different signs in all sizes, shapes, and colors; none of which we could read, of course, because of the dense, frozen fog that limited our visibility to about 15′.  I checked the paper atlas to see if the route seemed correct, and it looked like a feasible way for us to proceed.

The road onto which we were advised by the GPS to turn appeared to be paved.  That was a good start.  As best I could tell at that moment, this seemed to be a legitimate route.  It would have been nice to be able to read the signs, though.   The road wasn’t busy, but there was nowhere we could see to pull over to get out and read them, and you don’t want to come to a complete stop in the middle of the road when there is such poor visibility.  So, armed with the recommendation of the GPS and the confirmation of a route with a paper map, we made the turn.

This wasn’t the way we came to Glacier National Park, but that wasn’t really a concern.  In fact, I prefer not to retrace my route.  The road started to take us up in elevation, but we were surrounded by mountains, so it didn’t seem at all unusual.  After a bit of driving the fog periodically lifted from around us, although it continued to blanket the mountains off in the distance.  Down in the valleys below us there were the calm waters of lakes that reflected the mountains covered in snowfall.  The views were spectacular – if fleeting in nature.

Forbidden Mountain Pass, Blackfeet Reservation, Montana

Lake seen from the Forbidden Mountain Pass, Blackfeet Reservation, Montana

Soon, the fog returned and we were back to inching along at a snail’s pace for safety.  It didn’t take us long to figure out that this was probably not the way we should be going.  The road that had initially been so welcoming with its wide, paved surface soon narrowed considerably and started to climb at a rapid rate.  When we periodically came to breaks in the fog, we saw that the gentle, sloping hills on our right-hand side had morphed into sheer cliffs.  Hmmm…

The road was still paved and well-maintained (you come to appreciate the little things like this), yet we wondered about its narrowness and the sharpness of some of the curves we were encountering.  We figured that if we came to a place we could turn around that we should probably take it, but that seemed highly unlikely.

There wasn’t much traffic to speak of on this road (thank God!) other than the periodic 1930’s-style Red Bus Tour vehicles that would pass us now and again.  We had stopped to rest and snap a photo or two during a break in the fog when a driver of one of the said vehicles pulled a bit off the road and motioned for us to come over.

He informed us that we were on a road owned by the local Blackfeet Native American tribe and that RV’s were strictly prohibited.  He asked why we hadn’t heeded *all* of the the signs at the intersection.  We explained about the fog and asked what we should do.

He told us that really, we were stuck having to continue forward, as there were no turnarounds, and that we would certainly get a hefty fine if we got caught.  He advised us to be careful driving because it was a bit dangerous taking a vehicle of our size down this road.  Concerned, we asked if we would be ok or if we were headed towards certain doom.  He said he thought we’d be ok so long as we took it slowly.  He wished us luck and headed off with his busload of tourists.

Eager to get through this mountain pass as quickly as possible, we got back into the truck and carefully made our way to the other side of the pass.  We didn’t speed up, but we didn’t stop for any more photos, knowing this would mean being on the road even longer.

We were extremely fortunate not to encounter any patrols that day and counted ourselves lucky, having learned the Third Commandment of RV’ing:  “Thou shalt read every sign, no matter what.”  Except, maybe, for this one:

New Tiers

This photo bears no relevance to the story line other than it was snapped along our route somewhere in Colorado. I just couldn’t pass up including it.

For those of you keeping score, we were wondering what would be next after…drumroll, please… having survived a “generator” that would not generate; a toilet issue that I wish I could forget; driving a volatile bomb around for several hours; having driven on unmarked roads clearly not meant for RV’s to travel that thrashed us around like a dragon in a Chinese street festival; having had to turn around 50’ worth of vehicle on a two lane road; dealing with a malfunctioning propane refrigerator that wouldn’t cool; having had the front end of our trailer planted like a tree in the sandy grounds of the KOA because of the crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to us by our RV dealer in the absence of a proper jack foot; and now … running from the Law on a forbidden mountain pass after having failed to heed the numerous signs to that effect which came in many sizes, shapes, and colors, but were unfortunately obscured by a dense, frozen fog in the area.

What possibly could there be left?  Forget the “Rite of Passage” idea – by this point, I felt like we were going through some sort of twisted hazing ritual and was wondering when we would meet the Trial of Beer Bongs.

Don’t Forget the Bear Spray

Feeling pretty lucky for having escaped the Blackfeet Po-Po on the aforementioned forbidden mountain pass, we bee-bopped our way southwards to Yellowstone.  It was now the latter part of September and since snow had begun to fall in the surrounding areas, Yellowstone was getting close to closing down for the season.  My online research had shown that we may encounter closed campgrounds in Yellowstone and that we might be better off trying to locate a place to park on one of the private campgrounds or RV parks on the northern perimeter of the park.  (Hey – one time that I actually looked up stuff about my destination in advance!)

We checked at a few RV parks as we began to get close to Yellowstone, but there was no room at the inn.  Why were they so busy if the season was pretty much over, we wondered?  Park after park turned us away, and at the last one we came to – practically at the gates of Yellowstone – they suggested we try a campground nearby.  They told us that it was a bit off the beaten path, but that it had some overflow area that might accommodate our rig.

We were pretty much out of options, so we followed the directions given to us. We wondered about the accuracy of these directions as we wound our very large rig up and through a neighborhood only a couple of miles from the northern gate of the park.  I was sure we had taken a wrong turn, although we were following the directions we were given to a tee.

The paved road lined with houses on either side eventually came to an abrupt end, and a rough gravel road devoid of houses began.  Ahead in the distance, we saw a sign indicating a campground ahead.  Go figure.  I suppose we were right all along.  The campground just seemed to be oddly placed.

The trip up to the campground wasn’t long, but it was plenty bumpy to make up for the fact that the drive was short. (Nothing in life is free.)  We didn’t like driving roads like this, but we had gotten far more used to it in the last week or so.

Not that I was getting paranoid or anything, but I was almost certain that someone with supernatural powers stayed about 20 miles ahead of us the whole trip and re-designed what we would encounter next based on our having succeed at the last trial.  It was if we were living in a terribly strange adaptive RV-ing video game of sorts.  That’s scary, because only one in 10 video game players ever finishes the game – really.  [I’m full of useless information of this sort.  Maybe this is why I have such a hard time remembering people’s names – no more room in my head.]

Well, that sure stacked the odds against us – as there were two of us.  Maybe one of us wouldn’t make it back alive..probably the one of us who was in charge of turning off the water hose in the Great RV Toilet Fiasco of 2010 (See Part 1 of this story).  But, I digress.

It was dusk by the time we got to the campground.  To state that it was “totally packed” would not even begin to convey how many people were there.  Most people were in tents – and they were strewn everywhere like a squatter camp after a major disaster. Individual camp site boundaries, if they existed, were not apparent.  Had we taken a wrong turn and stumbled into Burning Man or something?

Tents-a-Plenty

Ok, so I had to borrow a photo to illustrate what we saw. In all the chaos, I neglected to snap a shot. ©zach commons.wikimedia.org

To make matters worse, this campground clearly was not meant for RV’s – at least it certainly didn’t appear that way with the swarms of tent campers.  I guess the owners of the RV park that sent us here had never visited it themselves – there is nothing like a bit of helpful local knowledge.  It occurred to me that they could have been contacted by the supernatural being constructing our living video game trials mere moments before our arrival at their RV park.

“Hey,” he thought to himself as the grin of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas formed on his face…“you know what they haven’t done yet?  They haven’t had to drive a slalom course full of tent campers at dusk in their 50′ rig.”

We managed to bob and weave through the squatter camp…uh, I mean campground…but, then we had to make a pretty tight U-turn at one point.  I got out to spot, and ended up having to move all of the rocks from a fire pit in order for my traveling companion to make the turn without taking out any tents.  Some curious campers came out to watch as we skillfully maneuvered in the tight area without squishing or sideswiping any of them like Godzilla out for a stroll through downtown Tokyo.

In the midst of our careful maneuvering, some people came up to us and said that people were starting to just take the “reserved” sites since it was getting late and it didn’t look like the people who had been there that morning were going to show up.  This particular campsite did not have official reservations, but people sometimes leave out lawn chairs or tell their neighbors that they are coming back, and that was apparently the case here.

The tent campers said everything was full everywhere – including the campgrounds inside of Yellowstone.  They advised us to take the site where we had just finished moving the rocks from the fire pit.  Part of me said that they just wanted us to quit driving around in the near dark and land somewhere so they could go back to their beer drinking and guitar strumming.  Fine by me.  I was exhausted.

Normally, we wouldn’t take a reserved camp site, no matter how informally reserved, but all of theses people seemed to be in agreement that we should do it.  Furthermore, they told us we’d be SOL if we tried to find anything else that night.  On their advice (and I think, a bit of pleading), we decided to stay where we were.  With a great deal of care, we could just barely squeeze into the space.  Other campers came over and helped to spot us in all directions as we maneuvered our trailer into place.

We thanked them profusely for their assistance in helping us get parked in the now very dark campground, and were about to head in to make dinner when one of them warned us that grizzly bears had been spotted near the campground the night before.

Bears?  Really?  And grizzly bears at that?

It must have been a fluke.  With so many people around, it didn’t seem likely that bears would come wandering through such an incredibly crowded camp at night.

My home state, Arkansas, has bear – black bear.  Sure, they are around when you camp in some areas, but they are quite skittish.  It’s pretty rare if one makes much of a nuisance of itself to campers so long as the campers are around and don’t leave food out overnight.  Food left out when you are away is fair game, however.

Grizzly bears, we were told by the campers, are different.  They aren’t bothered in the slightest if people are around.  It didn’t matter if your food was put up or not – they were going to try to get to it – and God help you if you were in the way.

OK.  Noted.

Grizzly bears in area.  Grizzly bears are dangerous.

There really wasn’t much that we could do about it.  We were parked for the night, and we were tired.  How does one deter grizzly bears, anyway?  That was a thought for another day when I had half a functioning brain cell left.  Besides, what were the chances that it was going to come back tonight?

We ate.  I popped my sleeping pill, and curled up in my bunk.  I had opted to make my sleeping quarters one of the bunk beds because I could build a little nest of bedding in the tightly enclosed space and keep myself pretty warm.  The bunk beds were located at the back end of the trailer which faced the woods in the manner we had parked.

At some time during the night, something scraped along the side of the trailer near my head.  I woke very suddenly, still dazed from the sleeping meds.  A branch, perhaps?  No.  Not a branch.

There it was again.  That certainly was no branch.  Whatever it was, it had mass far exceeding that of a small tree limb.  Come to think of it, all the trees were pretty far away from our rig.  There were some bushes nearby, but they were even too far away to have scraped the side of the trailer.

It thought that perhaps it might have been a dazed or intoxicated camper on his or her way to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night.  No.  Not unless he or she were the size of a Volkswagen Bug – and so drunk that our 37′ travel trailer didn’t register as a potential obstacle on his or her path to the impromptu restroom known as “that nice-looking bush over there that will do just fine, as the pit toilets stink and are 50′ further away in the other direction.”

Then, the noise came again.  This time, now fully awake, I noticed that the noise I was hearing sounded rough – like carpet being dragged along the side of the trailer and making a light thump against the side of our rig every couple of seconds.

My eyes widened.  Surely not.  Was I dreaming?  Was my imagination running wild?  What I was hearing sounded like the fur of a grizzly bear as it lumbered alongside us.

Thud!!! 

Crash!!!

Something had been knocked over outside not far from where I was lying motionless and not daring to draw a breath lest I become its next target.  Please, please, please let this be a very overweight, hairy, drunk camper who just knocked over a stash of someone’s stuff on the way back to the tent.

My curiosity got the better of me after a minute or two and although it was pitch black outside, I summoned some courage and tried to peek through the blinds – right about the time that there was a loud snort not far from the window.  I felt like the people trapped in the car in that scene from Jurassic Park where the T-Rex can’t see them, but is trying to smell if they are in there.

I.Was.Going.To.Die.

Oh, what a sucky way to go!  Frankly, I had envisioned my death more like getting my head smashed against a huge boulder while rafting some raging Class V rapid in some remote corner of the globe.  Oh, well.  There wasn’t much I could do about that now as I was only mere moments away from being processed into grizzly bear scat.

As I was beginning to contemplate the many gory details of the sad fate that surely awaited me, I heard loud banging of metal – first from one direction and then another.  These were the tent campers trying to scare the bear away by banging pots and pans.

Yes!  Yes!!  “Draw it’s attention away from me,” I thought, only then to realize that I was far more protected than these other folks.  Then I felt really bad for having though that.  Sorry-notsorry.  The loud banging lasted a few minutes and then subsided.  Apparently, it had worked.  There was much excited talking and rustling about in the camp as people checked to make sure everyone was ok.

All grew quiet again as the tent campers went back to bed.  It didn’t sound like anyone was in distress or need of assistance – aside from the frayed nerves, so I, too, went back to sleep – as best I could.

The next morning we consulted with the tent campers and a few of them had managed to get a look at it.  It was the grizzly bear we had been warned about.

I reached for my imaginary checklist of the Tests and Trials of the RV’ers Rite of Passage, and mentally checked off “Near Mauling to Death by Grizzly Bear.”  Yeah, I know, I know…that may be an exaggeration, but just go with it.  Grizzly bears can rip off car doors – punching through the thin walls of a travel trailer are well within their abilities.  As far as my mind is concerned – I sorta nearly died.

The RV Trip from Hell: A Rite of Passage - Part 4 (conclusion) Grizzly Bear

Ok, so this wasn’t *that* grizzly bear, but I did take this photo on my way to Alaska in 2015.  This is likely a juvenile because it was pretty small (relatively speaking).

And, with that, we had now survived a “generator” that would not generate; a toilet issue that I wish I could forget; driving a volatile bomb around for several hours; having driven on unmarked roads clearly not meant for RV’s to travel that thrashed us around like a dragon in a Chinese street festival; having had to turn around 50’ worth of vehicle on a two lane road; dealing with a malfunctioning propane refrigerator that wouldn’t cool; having had the front end of our trailer planted like a tree in the sandy grounds of the KOA because of the crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to us by our RV dealer in the absence of a proper jack foot; running from the Law on a forbidden mountain pass after having failed to heed the numerous signs to that effect which came in many sizes, shapes, and colors, but were unfortunately obscured by a dense, frozen fog in the area; and now…narrowly escaping being mauled to death by a hungry grizzly bear the size of a Volkswagen Bug.

The Grandeur of Yellowstone

The next morning we awoke and made our way the remaining couple of miles to the northern gate at Yellowstone.  Apparently, everyone else on Planet Earth decided to visit this same day.

North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

The very long line of cars waiting to get into Yellowstone at the north entrance. I waited until we were close enough to see the ranger shack to snap the photo. We couldn’t see it where the traffic started backing up.

Fortunately, the rather long line of cars was processed quickly by the rangers and we were soon on our way to see what Yellowstone had in store for us.  I worried because there were so many people coming in the gate that it would be so overrun with folks that I would want to turn around and leave immediately.  Surprisingly, with the exception of a couple of spots, it wasn’t too bad.  Yay!

I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve seen a lot of cool scenery.  I had heard that Yellowstone was an amazing place to visit, but until I went I had no idea how spectacular it truly was.  It is one of those things you have to see in person to appreciate its wonder – much like the Grand Canyon – but Yellowstone was about a million times better, give or take a hundred thousand or two.

We lucked out and managed to find a very nice RV site near the southern end of the park – complete with a pull-thru space and all.  Score!!  Now all we had to do was unhook and go sight-seeing.

Beautiful Pull-thru RV Site

This was the nicest site we found to park on our entire trip. Sure beats the one with the grizzly bear and tent camper city just north of the park.

Once again, we found our crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to us by our RV dealer that was supposed to act as a foot for the tongue jack to be woefully insufficient.  However, at this campsite there was a big rock that did the trick.  It was sturdy and had a wide base.  It also wasn’t going to wobble over like the aforementioned crappy wood block.  Double score!!!

The Perfect Rock

The Perfect Rock

Not lending it much thought, we tossed the rock into the back of the truck as we prepared to leave.  It was only after leaving Yellowstone and entering another national park that we realized we had inadvertently poached a rock from Yellowstone.  Whoops!  We weren’t headed back to Yellowstone, so we figured the next best thing to do would be to leave it in whatever national park in which we should next find ourselves.

I’m sure that in doing so we probably committed some federal crime and screwed up the geology of both parks.  Whoops!  Our bad.  We now had broken the very well-known Thirty-seventh Commandment of RV’ing:  “Thou shalt not poach inanimate objects from national parks to make up for the incompetence of thy RV dealer, even if they should provide you with a crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides to be used in the absence of a proper jack foot.”

Once outside of national parklands, we procured a similar stone from a roadside and used it the rest of the trip.

In the back of my mind I wondered if the reason the National Park Service was always running out of funds was due to all of the hidden cameras they had installed to catch hardened criminals such as us.  I silently worried to myself that we’d be yanked out of our RV in the middle of the night by men wearing black and carted off to federal prison without trial.  Hey – can you blame me?  You have been keeping up with how this story has been going so far, right?

We made our rounds through Yellowstone in two days.  On our limited time budget, we didn’t have very long to spend at any one place, but the time we devoted to Yellowstone was well worth it.  If I could go back, I would budget a couple of weeks to tour it.

We saw stinky (but pretty) sulphured springs, elk and bison, Yellowstone Falls, and even a big forest fire that was started by lightning one night. I’m quite sure we missed a number of wonderful things as Yellowstone is ginormous, but I was more than content with the things we did see.

Elk in Yellowstone at the Park Headquarters

Elk in Yellowstone at the Park Headquarters. There was a sign nearby that said “Don’t Pet the Elk.” I first saw the sign and laughed…then took a few steps and saw the elk on the other side of the tree. Oh! THAT elk.

 

Forest Fire in Yellowstone 2010

Forest Fire in Yellowstone

After exiting Yellowstone on the southern side, we drove down to Grand Teton National Park to see Jenny Lake.  We circled the parking lot for about 20 minutes until we lucked into a spot to park.  Once there, we got out, snapped a couple of photos and headed out.  Beautiful area, but waaaaay too many people for my taste.

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Me at Jenny Lake (Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming) looking at the throngs of people and wondering if we could pull off a shot that looked like I was the only person there. This was the second most crowded spot I’ve been to. The most crowded was Lake Louise in British Columbia. That looked like the Super Bowl had just let out.  Been there, done that, check.

Next, we drove down to Jackson Hole, which as you will recall was the original destination of the trip – pre-RV trip decision.  It was a nice place and all, but too touristy for me to want to spend much time there.  I was glad I had decided on the RV trip instead.  I bought a T-shirt (because you have to, right?), and we were back on our way.

We popped briefly into Idaho where we followed the Snake River Valley and stopped in to see the Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This is an ancient volcanic flood basalt area that was actually inhabited for a brief period of time, despite the nearly uninhabitable conditions.  A pretty nifty and unusual place to visit if you happen to be in the area and appreciate the out-of-the-ordinary.

Craters of the Moon National Park Idaho

This photo may not look like much, but this tiny little branch of a Twisted Pine tree may be hundreds to a thousand years old. It is so difficult to grow here that growth is severely stunted.

Million Dollar RV’s

Then, it was south to Salt Lake City, Utah where we detoured quickly at sunset to see the Great Salt Lake.  We got there a bit too late for fantastic pictures, but the views were amazing.  When the sun had set and we couldn’t see anything, we headed off to Salt Lake City where we were sure to stop in to see Temple Square.  It was night time, and while the buildings were closed, it was still worth stopping to see.  The entire building is lit up at night and glows bright bluish-white.

Although we didn’t really spend any time in Salt Lake City, it seemed to be a very clean city and I wouldn’t mind going back to have a better look.  We were pressed for time again, so we decided to drive on a few more miles to reach Park City, UT that night.  We had been told by friends of ours to be sure to stop in and go down the Park City Alpine Slide, which is like a roller coaster with individual carts that can reach up to 30 mph as they are propelled by gravity down the mountain slope.  This was totally something I would enjoy – and I was stoked.

We saw an RV park near our destination and decided that would be the best place to stop for the night.  It was dark and we couldn’t see much, but we located an empty space and parked for the night as is the usual custom for RV parks.

When we awoke the next morning, it was clear that we had committed an RV societal faux-pas, thereby breaking the Fifty-third Commandment of RV’ing:  “Thou shalt not park thy travel trailer, though it be a brand new one, in a park filled with RV’s in the million dollar range – especially when you haven’t washed off all the dirt you got on yours from driving on the road that thrashed you about like a Chinese dragon in a street festival.”

We felt as if we had shown up to a black tie event wearing shorts and flip-flops, looking like the Clampets.

Perhaps ALL of the rigs around us weren’t in the million dollar range, but they were clearly in a price bracket that began with the cost of my three bedroom brick home.  We were being stared at by the people in these RV’s, so I couldn’t covertly snap a photo.

The Mad Rush to See Everything Else

Sadly, the Alpine Slide was closed for repair, so we headed back to the RV park where we hitched up our trailer and headed off – this time in the direction of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We drove through it, hung a sharp right at Denver and headed south to see the Great Sand Dunes.  That was a rather unusual sight as they just appeared out of nowhere.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. Apparently, if you have time, you can walk out and climb on them. We snapped a photo and left. For much of this trip, I felt like the White Rabbit.

From the Great Sand Dunes we headed due west, passing through Durango and on to Mesa Verde.  If you’ve not been to see the Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, you should make a special trip to visit.  Be sure to take the guided tour.  Our tour guide was outstanding and I found it to be very educational.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The best part about visiting Mesa Verde is when they pull the “Honey, I shrunk the kids!” maneuver in order to make you small enough to fit into the exhibit.

We couldn’t hang around long, because our trip was about to wrap up, so we headed north into Utah again and saw Arches National Park at sunset.  It was beautiful.  I wish we had arrived a few hours earlier so that we could have seen more and positioned ourselves for some better photos at sunset, but we were racing against time and beggars can’t be choosers.  We only had a 2 days left before we had to be back in Arkansas.

The next morning we got a very early start and then blazed to and through Bryce Canyon – pausing a few times for photos, and snapping others as we drove.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

One of the two or three quick stops for photos as we hurried through Bryce Canyon.

We made it to Zion National Park a little past noon and at the gate the park ranger informed us that our overall length was the equivalent of a semi truck and that there was no way we could bring the whole rig in.  Foiled again!

We would have to find a place to unhook.  So, we turned around and drove a bit back up the road and found a spot to leave the trailer.

We returned and spent a number of hours touring Zion using their bus system, which, contrary to what I had imagined, I actually enjoyed.  The busses ran frequently, you could hop off at any point, and there was a synchronized narration of what you were passing.  The drivers could also stop the auto-narration to point out wildlife up ahead, and they usually would slow down to permit people to snap a few photos before moving on.  It would have been even better if we had more than a few hours to spare to see it.

RV Trip from Hell: A Rite of Passage - Part 4 Cliffs in Zion National Park

Cliffs in Zion National Park

Having conquered Zion, we turned to head further south because I wanted to see the Grand Canyon a second time.  I had seen it when I was about 20, but I only got to see what was at the main visitor center and hiked down a bit into the canyon.  This time I was determined to see more, so we hurried along the South Rim for a bit until I felt content.

We then veered south again to visit Sedona, AZ.  My travel companion had been to Sedona a few years back and insisted that I take a hot air balloon ride like he had done.

Chillin' in a Cafe in Sedona, admiring the view.

Chillin’ in a Cafe in Sedona, admiring the view.

Apparently, there’s no such thing as getting last minute tickets to the hot air balloons, so we asked the people at the tourist office what they would do if they were going to be in town for an evening only.  We said we’d like something unusual and they told us we should do the “Sedona Star Gazing Tour.”

Of all of the places I’ve been and oddball things I’ve chosen to do, this was one of the most unique and surprisingly fascinating things I’ve done.  This is exactly why I don’t plan an itinerary.  Had I have done so, I probably would have missed out on such a cool experience.  I like to let things find me and I usually make split second decisions of what to do next based on the recommendations of locals – another reason I usually travel alone.  This split-second decision was a gem.

We were told to meet up in a parking lot on the outskirts of town at an appointed hour.  Because Sedona has ordinances that help to prevent light pollution, the area was very dark and the clear night sky was vivid.  Just hanging out waiting for our star gazing lecturer to show up was a treat.

Milky Way seen from the desert

Another borrowed photo as my photography skills and equipment couldn’t capture this.  © Skeeze pixabay.com

There were about 5 couples participating, and they showed up one by one, also in awe of the sky above them.  The lecturing astronomer had brought lawn chairs and blankets for us, so we were nice and cozy.  He lectured about the stars above us, using a remarkably powerful laser pointer with which he used to draw out the constellations in the night sky.  After a bit of lecture on what we would be seeing, he let us look through the good-sized telescope he had brought.  My favorite thing was a binary star system where we could see two stars that revolved around one another.  It was a great way to spend our last evening of the trip.

Heading Home

When the astronomy lesson was over, we climbed back into the truck and began the 17 hour trip home due eastward on I-40.  We traded off driving and resting every few hours so that we could do the whole trip in a single stretch – and we made it home, believe it or not, without incident.

We had crammed as much as possible into a two week trip (well, 14 days) and had covered over 6200 miles!  That was an average of 7 hours a day driving for those of you who don’t want to do the math.  Travel with reckless abandon and pay no mind to your watch.  You can sleep when you’re dead.

RV Road Trip 2010 - The RV Trip From Hell: A Rite of Passage

An approximate map showing our major stopping points

Best of all we had actually made it successfully through our Rite of Passage as new RV’er’s, having…

(All together, now!)

…survived a “generator” that would not generate; a toilet issue that I wish I could forget; driving a volatile bomb around for several hours; having driven on unmarked roads clearly not meant for RV’s to travel that thrashed us around like a dragon in a Chinese street festival; having had to turn around 50’ worth of vehicle on a two lane road; dealing with a malfunctioning propane refrigerator that wouldn’t cool; having had the front end of our trailer planted like a tree in the sandy grounds of the KOA because of the crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to us by our RV dealer in the absence of a proper jack foot; running from the Law on a forbidden mountain pass after having failed to heed the numerous signs to that effect which came in many sizes, shapes, and colors, but were unfortunately obscured by a dense, frozen fog in the area; narrowly escaping being mauled to death by a hungry grizzly bear the size of a Volkswagen Bug; having poached inanimate objects from a national park to make up for the crappy, lightweight, rounded off wooden block with bolts on two sides provided to us by our RV dealer in the absence of a proper jack foot; and the RV’ing equivalent of having shown up to a “black tie event” wearing shorts and flip-flops, looking like the Clampets.

Believe it or not, I voluntarily moved into an RV full-time less than 5 years later and took off for a 10,000+ mile solo trip (and counting) to Alaska –  and, yes, the adventure continued (hence the birth of this blog).  Apparently, there were still a few more tests I still had yet to pass.

Thanks for reading!  I’d appreciate feedback on the story in the comments section below.

Please be sure to check out other posts on the Life, Other Than blog to learn about what other RV-related fiascos I would encounter.  If you enjoyed this epic story, might I suggest you begin with “Uh-Oh! Major RV Problems” which is how the Great Alaska Voyage of 2015 began on a rather challenging and unpleasant note.