#RV Journal: A Trip Out West, Part One (Flintstone, GA to Stillwater, Colorado)

Ever since we before we got our first RV (a 36.5′ motorhome) and especially after we got our T@b travel trailer in late 2014 I had wanted to do a “big trip” out west, including basing at our daughter’s family’s home in Boise, ID. My wife was reluctant, and so far all the trips to see the “family out west” had been via airplane. This time it changed.

T@b in Rocky Mountain National Park

Yeah, I wanted to spend time like this, taking our accommodation with us. Rocky Mountain National Park at about 11,000′.

I hate flying on commercial airlines. I like takeoffs and landings. I like looking down at the ground through the window of the aircraft. I hate scheduling flights, getting to the airport on time, checking in baggage while worrying if it’s overweight or oversized, getting through security checks, sitting in the crowded gate waiting rooms, airport bathrooms, airplane bathrooms, worrying about finding a seat on those airlines that don’t have assigned seats, trying to find room for carry-on luggage overhead, the tight seating – basically everything about a flight on a commercial airlines except for about 3 minutes at the beginning and ending of the flights.

Then the last time we flew out to Boise, our connecting flight departing from Denver was delayed – it took them over 2 hours to change a light bulb. It had been a long day, and my muscles were starting to cramp as they do at what should be the end of every long day. As the airline approached the legal limit of time for keeping us cooped up on the “broken” airplane, they off-loaded us back into the now nearly deserted Denver airport, gave us time to make a dash to the restrooms, and then just as we were getting settled into a nearly-midnight stupor in the waiting area, announced reboarding. They must have found the right tool necessary to change that errant light bulb. While the airline offered us discounts on a future flight to compensate for our pain and suffering, I told them that I didn’t need it – I would never fly commercial again.

Perkins Boys

How could you NOT want to spend time with these boys?

I meant it. So when our daughter announced that she would need ankle surgery (“now, or get an ankle replacement later”,) and we decided to go to Boise to help care for their 5 boys while she was off her feet, flying wasn’t an option. We decided to take our T@b, take some time getting out, use the T@b as a spare bedroom while in Boise so no one in the household would be displaced, and then take some time on the return trip home to see more of the west. Turned out that we spent the month of September plus a few days in October in their Boise driveway, so when we headed back in was the beginning of the fall weather; a far cry from the hot August days we spent on the way west.

The following report covers the highlights and itinerary of our trip out to Boise. Included are links to more details of the campgrounds (or RV parks) where we stayed on the trip.

Overview: About 2,500 miles (7500+ over the entire trip), with our 11-day route out being from north Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and into Idaho. Spent 35 days in Idaho. We visited 3 national Parks on the trip out – Rocky Mountain, Canyonlands, Arches. After our month+ in Boise, we spent 18 days on the return trip, but that’s for another report.

(About the map picture below: This is a snapshot of a Google Map converted to JPEG. I was going to imbed a zoomable Google map, but after carefully dragging the routes to the actual road we drove and getting the “imbed” code, I discovered that when displaying the map, Google would “helpfully” reroute it over a “better” route. It skipped Rocky Mountain National Park entirely.)

Trip Map Flintstone to Boise

Trip Map Flintstone to Boise

Day 1, Aug 22:  Our first day was on a route we had traveled many times, taking I-24 out of Chattanooga through Nashville and on to its western end in southern Illinois. From there we took I-57 north in Illinois to Rend Lake which I remembered crossing on the Interstate, but we got off the Interstate for several miles, heading west over the lake to the Army Corps of Engineers’ North Sandusky Campground. Since this was territory that we had traveled a number of times there was nothing particularly unusual to us here, but it was a very nice (and inexpensive!) campground, on a very nice, large lake. This had been one of our planned longer days at 354 miles, so we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing. We did a drive around the campground, and then back to camp where I set up the stove/grill on the picnic table and fixed us some dinner; then off to bed. As a note, we got 15.4 mpg on this leg of the trip. I was satisfied with that gas mileage.

Access Road and Bike Trail

North Sandusky Campground Access Road and Bike Trail

Day 2, Aug 23: We got up and away fairly early on Day 2, being a bit excited that on this day we would be seeing parts of the country we had never seen before. We headed north on I-57, but when we got to I-64 we headed west toward St. Louis. New territory. We had started seeing some new flowers, including Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and one that until I got close to it didn’t recognize as a milkweed – Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata.) We stopped at a rest area and photographed the milkweed (and some other flowers) and then headed on toward St. Louis. The drive through downtown St. Louis was a bit of a thrill ride, as I recall, towing the T@b, trying to listen to the GPS, and watching the signs as I swapped lanes back and forth in the heavy traffic, but then as we made it through downtown, we enjoyed seeing the different things St. Louis had to offer – at least what we could see from the Interstate. It seems that there are quite a number of religious organizations which call St. Louis home, including the seminary of our denomination, Covenant Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America.

Swamp Milkweed, Western Swamp Milkweed, Pink Milkweed, Eastern Swamp Milkweed - Asclepias incarnata

Swamp Milkweed – I photographed this at a rest area in Illinois

West of St. Louis we intersected with and joined I-70, our main path for the next few days. We took that road across Missouri, which frankly I remember little about. Maybe when I review my wife’s photos (she was photographing as I drove; I wasn’t) I’ll remember something noteworthy, but our next checkpoint and stop for the night was Lake Jacomo Campground, a Jackson County, Missouri facility within the County’s Fleming Park, adjacent to the town of Lee’s Summit. This is a nice campground away from traffic, but near any type of shopping in which you might have an interest, and also has some historical claim (but I have yet to run across a city / town that didn’t have some historical claim.) Our selection of this campground was that it was about the right distance from our prior stop, had the facilities and price we needed, and also was fairly near a CVS Pharmacy so my wife could pick up a prescription we needed. Our main memory of this campground is the underground bathhouse, which we think was built that way to double as a storm shelter.

Lake Jacomo Campground Bathhouse

The Lake Jacomo Campground Bathhouse is built into the ground.

Day 3, Aug 24: We headed out the next day looking forward to moving into yet another new

Kansas Road Scene

Ellis County, Kansas

state for us – Kansas – and at the same time expecting to be bored. After all, we’ve all heard the description of Kansas – “It’s flat.” We were surprised; we found Kansas to be a beautiful state. Sure, there are flat sections, especially in the west, but there’s a lot of interesting topography in the eastern part of the state.

Kansas State Flower - Sunflower

The Sunflower is the Kansas State Wildflower

We stopped in Ellis, Kansas, at the city-operated Ellis Lakeside Campground for the night, and took the opportunity to photograph “typical Kansas” scenes. During this day we had also discovered why Kansas’ state flower is the sunflower.

Day 4, Aug 25: On this day we headed for Colorado. Eastern Colorado is flat – at least as flat as western Kansas. But I was hoping that we’d get dramatic view of the Rocky Mountains as we approached Denver; after all, that’s what I’d seen from my only other Colorado experience – traversing the Denver airport. Unfortunately the haze was too great, and no views were available, even as we moved into the west side of Denver to Wheat Ridge, for our overnight stay at Prospect RV Park.

View into Estes Park

We drove through Estes Park on our drive from Wheat Ridge to Stillwater Campground via Rocky Mountain National Park

Day 5, Aug 26: We got up early the next morning – a Friday, but we were learning how quickly the days of the week become muddled on a trip like this – we got up eager with anticipation. We had been rushing across the country (relatively speaking) to get to Boise around Sep 1, covering 300+ miles per day (a full day when traveling at the slower speeds towing our T@b, especially when you include setup / takedown / meal preparation time.) But today was planned to be only about 135 miles, and most of that was actually to be in the Rocky Mountains, as we headed north through Boulder (where we stopped for breakfast) and on up a beautiful canyon to Estes Park, a magnificent gateway city to the even more magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park.

West Horseshoe Park of Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking up West Horseshoe Park, the valley we entered in the Rocky Mountain National Park

Our trip through the RMNP was excellent. We entered through the wide West Horseshoe Park – the valley of the Fall River. This is accessed via the Fall River Entrance Station on US34, which is also known as the Fall River Road until it intersects with US36 at Deer Ridge Junction, a short ways

Rocky Mountain National Park

Forest Canyon Overlook – Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road

View looking back at Trail Ridge Road near Rainbow Curve in Rocky Mountain National Park

up its ascent to the continental divide. After this intersection, the road (still US34) is known as Trail Ridge Road, a route that closes a few miles ahead in mid-October, opening again Memorial Day. This is understandable, because even in August we got snow near the summit. We made several stops along the way, enjoying some pretty amazing views, interesting montane dells, and alpine meadows.

Fireweed amongst raspberry at Rocky Mountain National Park

Fireweed amongst raspberry at Rocky Mountain National Park

After we reached the summit of the highway at 12,183′ – a record for us, and a relief that we were able to tow the T@b to that altitude with no problems whatsoever – we started heading down to the valley of the Colorado River. Our stopping wasn’t done yet, with some wildflower photography at Milner Pass (10,758′), and then after losing over 1,500′ in altitude over the next several miles (passing through some snow showers), we stopped in the valley to photograph some elk that were along the road. While we were now in a wide valley, we continued to enjoy the scenery that accompanied the little stream meandering around the valley – the nascent Colorado River

Kawuneeche Valley of the Colorado River

Kawuneeche Valley of the Colorado River – the first major valley of the Colorado River.

A few miles after exiting the national park, we pulled into the Stillwater Campground on Lake Granby – a beautiful stopping place for the day, and at 8,500′, a cool night. The bit of rain we got that evening froze on the windshield overnight. We were glad for the Alde heater in the T@b. It was cold but beautiful. The snow showers mixed with rain that we experienced on our way out of the park continued in the afternoon and evening, but they were scattered and intermixed with sunny weather as it changed from minute to minute. When he saw me photographing the mountains over Lake Granby, a local resident launching his boat took time to walk over and point out “Sleeping Abe Lincoln.”

Sleeping Abe Lincoln of the Rocky Mountains

Sleeping Abe Lincoln over Lake Granby in the Rocky Mountains, from Stillwater Campground. The continental divide runs along Abe’s profile.

Read the next installment of the report on our first long trip in our T@b camping trailer. It reports on our drive to and time spent in Moab, Utah.

 

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