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It can be hard to find quick and fun places to stop when traveling on an interstate. One day when the kids were restless, hungry, and road-weary, we happened to find Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. It was the best part of our day and a great memory from our trip.
Here are some reasons to stop at Grant-Kohrs Ranch.
There is a large parking lot, restrooms, and water. We enjoyed a picnic lunch next to our van after our ranch tour. We felt rested and ready to hit the road again by the time we were done. It was great!
2. The kids can try using a lasso while the parents try cowboy coffee.
Wood crates, designed for lasso practice, are spread out in an open space between barns.
A cowboy makes coffee at a chuck wagon. Sip your drink while hearing stories of real life on the trail! Check out the chuck wagon to find out what people were eating and drinking. Imagine cooking with the tools they had and eating out on the prairie.
I never expected to be writing about packing for a pandemic road trip. I consider packing to be a highly subjective and personal topic. Everyone has different preferences and techniques for packing based on their needs.
So, here I am, mid pandemic, packing for our annual cross country road trip.
Below are 5 ways that Covid 19 is changing our trip.
1. Food. Much More Food.
We cook nearly all of our meals at the van and have been surprised how many beautiful and out of the way spots we have found only because we wanted to cook lunch.
With that being said, we also love fresh fruits, local food, and finding reasons to get out of the van mid-road trip. Over the years, I have learned to pack less food and stop more often. We enjoy checking out fruit stands and local grocery stores. We stretch our legs, soak up the culture, and buy food often during our trips.
This time, however, I have been stock piling food. Costco, Safeway, and homemade cookie baking have supplied enough food to live in our van for weeks. To CD’s dismay, I have even resorted to 54 single serving bags of chips, granola bars, drink boxes, and even a few bottles of water. I basically made my own convenience store in the back of our Sprinter. We will see how far it gets us!
2. Clorox Wipes and Hand Sanitizer.
While I like to keep things clean, I am not prone to wiping things down all day long. We use water with a spigot and a bar of soap to wash our hands before we eat. I typically carry one tiny bottle of hand sanitizer for emergencies. This time I packed two containers of Clorox wipes, two large bottles and three small bottles of hand sanitizer. I still have the bar of soap but that just didn’t seem like it would cut it. We will see.
I didn’t see this one coming. I have two adult makes with ties, two adult masks with elastic, two kids masks with ties, two adult N95s, two kids N95s, and a bit of anxiety. As a health care provider, I hope that we don’t get into a situation that seems like it requires a N95. Wish us luck.
Our first Sprinter camper conversion was a 2012 low roof passenger van with limited amenities. It didn’t work out.
We are a family of four and stand by our decision to camp and travel in a passenger van but our decision to start with a low roof van was ill informed and flawed.
5 reasons why we chose a low roof Sprinter:
It would be a more practical daily driver.
We could drive under bridges, park in parking garages, or go through a drive thru.
Additional vertical space wouldn’t offer additional benefits.
The kids can stand up and I can nearly stand up.
It cost less.
5 reasons why this reasoning was flawed:
A low roof and a high roof are essentially the same when using as a daily driver.
Parking in a parking garage, going through a drive thru, or driving under some bridges may not be possible in either Sprinter.
Vertical space adds many more storage options!
I really want to stand up. Oh, my aching back!
The low roof initially cost less but we lost any initial savings when we sold it four months later.
All about us.
We are a family of four, including two kids under 10.
More days are spent driving than camping.
We love windows!
CD is 6′ tall and I am 5’8″. We are both over 40 and maybe not as flexible as we once were.
Sometimes we stop along the road just to hang out in the van.
Money is a consideration but we would rather spend a bit more to have a van that suits us than have an aching back and a cluttered van.
Passenger Van: Pros and Cons
The kids can see.
Improved visual field when driving.
We can see if the kids are in the van from outside.
People can see in from outside. It doesn’t bother me really but it is worth being aware.
We spent a few hours and a little money making curtains. Each day we spend a little time putting up and taking down curtains.
Safe seats for the kids.
Seats for family members and friends.
Spare seats take up garage space.
The spare seats are not easily removed and re-installed.
Other Sprinter Amenities: Blind Spot Monitor, Electric Running Board, and Cross Wind Assist
These are things that our first van did not have. Do we enjoy these features?
Blind spot monitor: changes my experience every day!
Electric running board: a bench, a welcome mat, a table, and a reminder to close the door fully.
Cross wind assist: We think it actually helps.
Thoughts on rear AC.
Rear AC: It cools the van to arctic temperatures, even on the hottest days. Luckily, it cools all the way to the front as the main AC isn’t very effective. I sometimes walk to the back and realize that the kids need blankets while I am just right. We debate its importance each time we look at solar panels for our roof but then re-affirm our need for it each summer. Our solar panels will work around it and our Maxxair fan fit just fine.
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Walk a few blocks downhill from town and you will arrive at Waterfront Park. The Wenatchee river’s inviting swimming holes and beautiful scenery are made even more fun by a festive parade of tubes and kayaks.
Leavenworth is at capacity and you don’t have a reservation.
You are headed northbound on 97 and just passing through.
7 Reasons To Love Staying at Wenatchee Confluence State Park
It is approximately 30 minutes from Leavenworth.
You may get lucky and get a deal! We arrived around dinner time. The park was full but they sometimes allow “overflow” parking for a fraction of the price! We scored a lake side spot with flush toilets, hot showers, bike path access, a beach, and a playground!
We rode our bikes on miles and miles of this trail. It circles the Columbia River with 22 miles of paved trail. The trail can be used to connect Wenatchee Confluence State Park with Horan Nature Area, Walla Walla Point Park, and Wenatchee Riverfront Park.
We spend most of a day that was intended for driving, riding this trail and I would do it again.
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My husband, myself, our 5 year old son, and 3 year old daughter traveled from Oregon to Ontario via British Columbia and Alberta. I had wanted to drive the Trans-Canada Highway for at least the ten years prior. It was everything that I hoped for and more!
It is like a mountain oasis on the banks of the Columbia River.
In 2016, when we were there, Revelstoke apparently had a population of just over 6,700 and by 2019 that increased to over 14,000. As far as I can tell, that is for good reason.
The town is full of local cafes and shops. Food options are endless. Whether you are looking for organic, homemade, local, vegan, vegetarian, grass fed, or just delicious, you will find what it! People are friendly and kind.
The mountain resort is modern and has views for miles. The mountainside lodging in June was too much of a deal to pass up. We signed on for a slope side 2 bedroom with a kitchen and patio. I recommend bringing food and drinks from town if you are staying more than a night but the room will not disappoint!
You will see bears if you are lucky. The mountain coaster is super fun. The views are remarkable.
I had never even heard of a spiral tunnel. When we saw our first one we were amazed. Then we wanted to learn more!
There are two view points. One along the Trans-Canada Highway just over 7 kilometers east of Field.
Basically, an train leaves Field going eastbound and goes through two tunnels, under the highway, across the river and into the Lower Spiral Tunnel. The train spirals up and exits the tunnel higher than where it started. It crosses the river again, goes under the highway, and into a second tunnel. It exits that tunnel higher yet.
You have the opportunity to see each end of the train at different altitudes at the same time. Does that make sense? It does when you see it!
The kids were ready to stretch theirs legs. This was near the highway and so popped in. The staff are kind and obviously care for the animals. The kids like it and I continue to find wolves kind of creepy.
It’s a nice stop and welcome rest break on the way east bound to Banff.
Mt. Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho are all packed into a short piece of the Trans-Canada Highway. I will let these parks speak for themselves. Stop at each one, especially Yoho. You won’t be disappointed.
It is spring in Utah when the rivers are running high, the sun is shining, and the roads are full of Colorado license plates. There is no better way to celebrate the end of ski resort employment than to leave the high country in favor of the red rocks of Utah.
I started this tradition prior to meeting CD and we continued it together every May until we moved from Colorado. Utah has so much to offer that I don’t even know where to begin. While the order is irrelevant, I will start southwest, go roughly northeast but stay south of I-70 and then end southeast near the four corners.
Zion National Park is my favorite, hands down. We have been there over and over. We have hiked end to end, climbed its peaks, and waded through its slot canyons. Its red rock is made more brilliant by the Virgin river and green trees. The proximity to the town of Springdale with its cold drinks and hot breakfast doesn’t hurt either.
Angel’s Landing is its most well known hike. It starts with switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. It is well known that I love switch backs for the exercise alone. There is no better way to start the day.
It isn’t until after the switchbacks that this hike really separates itself from the rest. Angel’s landing is no joke in terms of exposure and drop offs.
The trail narrows to one way. There is a chain link railing. You are exposed to the depths of the valley floor, more so in some places than in others.
My first time up Angel’s Landing was with my brother. Making it to the top was a rush. Making it back down alive was even better. The next time was with CD. The rush was not as great but the feeling of relief after was even greater. The third time was with CD again. The steps felt more narrow and the valley floor seemed a bit further than before. With that, I decided that three times up Angel’s Landing is likely enough for me.
We looked for other routes with bigger and better views. Observation Point hit the mark. It is a more physically challenging and longer hike. It climbs 2100 feet and rises 700 feet above Angel’s Landing.
Back country sites are accessible from the main entrance. Below is the view from our camp site along the West Rim Trail. It is worth noting that we started the hike with a crowd headed to Angel’s Landing. As soon as we turned away from that route, we were on our own. It was super windy and we were surrounded by dead trees. We woke up in the morning to distance runners coming down the rim trail.
Zion, Kolob Canyon
Kolob Canyon is Zion’s less known North entrance. It offers day hikes and backpacking trips with few other people around. Our back country site was in an old river bottom. Much of the hiking was in loose sand. Snakes loved it.
If you have seen the wide open spaces of Zion and are ready for a change, the Narrows may be your next stop. Do your research. Be informed. Watch the weather. These slot canyons are beautiful and it is good to pay attention if you plan to do much exploring. CD met a friend there for his fortieth birthday and they didn’t end up finishing their chosen route because of flash floods.
From Zion, you can get to Bryce Canyon in a short day. It is higher and cooler. This is great in the hot months and not as great in the early spring. It is smaller and more compact. The Hoo-doos are unique and impressive. I tend to pass through Bryce westbound to Zion or eastbound to Capital Reef but CD is a fan of the views at sunrise. He also has told me good things about a coin operated shower at the general store.
Apparently, he has a great memory of enjoying a post-hike beer from the general store while sitting on the lodge porch at sunset after a hot shower.
I rarely hear people talk about Capital Reef but we have found it to offer great hiking, impressive rock formations, and amazing views. I don’t recommend hiking there if you are hoping to meet people and chit chat over hand fulls of trail mix. The trails are largely empty.
At this point it is worth mentioning the San Rafeal Swell. It offers slot canyons with campsites tucked away on BLM land. My advice: Go there, if you have time. Bring your own shade. Do what I did and go with someone that has been there before – hopefully someone proficient at navigating slot canyons. Goblin Valley State Park is near by and may be a better choice if it is your first time in the area.
Canyonlands is easier to access from Moab than from the Southwest. The views are endless. The hiking is interesting and fun. Regions of the park have names like Needles, Island to Sky, and The Maze. Mountain biking the White Rim Road loop is popular and it is on my to-do list for sure. We have not camped in the back country but we have camped just outside the park and there are beautiful starry skies.
Arches is a straight shot from I-70 and is complimented by it’s close relationship with Moab. The Colorado River provides contrast to the red rock backdrop. The La Salle mountains rise up with snowy peaks and provide further contrast and depth to the scenery.
Moab is like the old west meeting a trendy art gallery. The restaurants and shops are full of personality and there are tour companies to suite everyone’s needs. You can sign up for 4 x 4 tours, mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, paddle boarding, horse back riding, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
While I cannot speak to the tour companies, I can attest to the hiking and camping. Hikes range from easy to more difficult. Arches is typically one of the more crowded Utah parks but for good reasons. Campsites are dotted along the river banks and range from rustic and isolated to developed and popular. I recommend them all!
Dropping down to the four corners, you can hop into Mesa Verde. While the cliff dwellings are interesting and worth seeing, you may find a bit of crowd. My favorite feature is its proximity to Durango. Check out the Silverton Narrow Gauge railway and head North to Ouray or East towards Pagosa Springs on your way out of town.
I could keep going on and on about Utah but will stop myself here for now. Utah is dense with natural wonders. I recommend going there and seeing it first hand.
Red rock dust from ten years ago still stains my hiking boots. Seeing it makes me smile.
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Our road trip was complete; we made it to Cairns! We ended our time with Kill Bunny by spending the night at the perfect camp site. Three or four other groups were camped there as well. It was a beach front parking lot with hot showers and all of the amenities.
People were curious as to why we had driven so far. We only met one other person that drove from Melbourne. He arrived in Cairns around the same time that we did but he started his trip four months before us. We hadn’t felt rushed. Actually, we kind of felt slow. CD walked from Mexico to Canada in four months; it would have felt weird to take that long to drive from Melbourne to Cairns but maybe we should have slowed down a bit more. I don’t know.
In any case, we made it! I felt a bit of relief when we dropped off Kill Bunny in one piece. I also felt a bit sad and lost.
Daintree Rain Forest
It was windy and overcast so snorkeling and diving boats weren’t expected to sail for a few days. We opted for a guided tour to the Daintree Rainforest and were the only guests and our tour guide, Jim, was pretty straight forward and he opened up with “back when I dropped out of society for bit.” He went on to offer advice on mango wine, lemonade fruit, and commune living. Additionally, he warned us about aggressive eight foot long snakes in the sugar cane fields, cassowaries that disembowel their victims, and crocodiles that leap from rivers. The tour included the site of Steve Irwin’s death and favorite local pubs. His dialogue covered politics, religion, hot sauce, Mexican food, human rights, the environment, and tequila.
The Great Barrier Reef
We spent the next few days drinking cocktails and waiting out the weather. The Great Barrier Reef was worth the wait. It was like snorkeling in an aquarium, as far as I could see. There was an oyster so large that it felt like it was out of a movie.
We flew back to Sydney and spent a day walking a hiking trail around the city. Don’t ask me what it was called.
Here are a few things we learned during our Wicked Camper road trip to Cairns.
Speed limits can be aspirations more than limitations
Brush turkeys can be aggressive
Cassowaries aren’t as prominent as the signage would have you believe
Sugar cane fields smell like sweet corn
It isn’t easy to see a platypus
When in danger in the wild I will throw CD to the wolves and run.
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