Category Archives: Airstream Road Trips

During Miette’s treatment she made a comment that she “likes cancer because we get to go places”. She was right. We hardly ever did trips besides the Feast of Tabernacles. One of our realizations was that we need to do more fun things as a family. Miette’s desire for an Airstream fits perfectly into that new commitment. So, we are going to document all our trips with Miette’s Airstream on this page and do our very best (finances permitting) to get the kids out more.

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Thousand Trails – South Jetty (Florence, Oregon)

Back in July we headed to Florence for a 50th family reunion and to get Miette and Brier to Florence, since its been so stinking long since Miette has been there and Brier never has. We stayed at the Thousand Trails in Florence. The campground is couple minutes south of the Siuslaw River bridge. Its on the same road that goes to the Dunes recreation area.

Overall, the campground was good. Tall pine and fir trees, lots of shady sites (actually, most of the sites looked shady). The downside to our stay and our bad electrical connection. The Airstream was giving a slight shock to us. After a couple hours of troubleshooting and by process of elimination, it turned out to be faulty campground electrical. We didn’t have an electrical tester, but the folks who tested it just after we pulled out and the end of our stay tested it and kept on moving.  We kept the Airstream unplugged instead of moving because we were next to family and it was a such a large and shady spot.

The campground was at a good location. There was no ocean views and wasn’t accessible to the ocean by foot, unless you wanted to walk for an hour or two. But it was only a couple minutes out of town. One thing I’m not digging about the Thousand Trails is the dusty gravel roads they have. These campground are old (obviously, the electrical is old). If you have a clean rig and RV going in, you will not going out; at least in the summer time. It’d be nice if they could spray the roads to keep the dust down. The loops are kinda tight for a long setup, especially if the neighbors aren’t being real careful about parking their rigs; some weren’t leaving a ton of room.

The amenities weren’t great. The pool was a pool. Nothing special. The lodge wasn’t anything to write home about. But there’s enough to do around the area that made this a non-issue. These aren’t really “resorts”. If you have that mindset going in, you won’t heading out. Its just a good, private place to park your RV for a few days. The bathroom facilities were decent but not as nice as Little Diamond (Newport, Washington). The staff wanted me to wait for them to clean before I took a shower. I politely said I’ll only be 5 minutes and they could start in the meantime. So there’s a lack of customer service issue that seems to be a theme with Thousand Trails, at least the two I’ve been to recently. There was also some sort of confrontation between two staff members. Sounded like someone was getting fired and the one being fired wasn’t having it. “Give me your key and radio” was repeated to a guy replying with “are you firing me? Are you firing me?” and so on. A little awkward for the guests to encounter when trying to just check in.

Oh well. I’m sure they worked it out. Maybe.

Thousand Trails – Little Diamond

We took the Silver Eagle up in a northeasterly direction to meet up with Shilowe and Dave at the Thousand Trails Little Diamond campground last weekend. It was the first time getting the Airstream out in the woods since last year at Cascade Peaks near Randle/Packwood; that too used to be a Thousand Trails.

This trip was hot. Over 100° leaving Tri-Cities. Over 100° on our way there. Over 100° on Saturday and Sunday. Monday brought some light rain in the morning which was such an awesome relief. However, once the clouds burned off it left a heavy humid hot day once again. Oh well. The kids had fun. There was swimming, there was fishing (even though there were no big fish) and there were s’mores and campfires. Overall, the place wasn’t spectacular but it was nice getting out of the 110° weather in Tri-Cities that weekend. It’s also good to be in the pine trees. Everyone is happier in pine trees :) We should all live around the fresh scent of evergreens.

Here’s a quick summary of the trip, wrapped up in a 5 minute video and some photos after that.

Camping at Sun Lakes

We took the 240 square foot portable silver shelter (also known as the Silver Eagle Vintage Airstream) 2.5 hours north for some camping at Sun Lakes Resort for the weekend. This was a small get together with some friends and family. There were 5 families and 4 of these portable dwellings in the Sun Lakes Resort campground. Ten adults, six kids and three dogs shared the campground with about a gazillion other human beings and canines.

Airstream camping
Entering a coulee in central Washington

As an update from the last Airstreamized travel adventure, most of the electrical issues have been resolved, at least to get things workable for more adventures. Wires have been reseated and clamped down. Small hidden obscure enclosed automatic breakers have been replaced to allow the truck to charge the Airstream battery while driving. About half of the high powered mini heaters known as 1141 automotive light bulbs were removed to conserve on battery consumption. When connected up to shore power, no breakers tripped, no appliances started beeping and no wires were sparking. This is all good stuff. What still needs to be done is a new fuse panel that is more protected. The current fuse panel is fastened to the bottom of the wardrobe wall. It’s exposed to everything and in a really bad spot. There’s a lot that still needs to be done so this Airstream is relatively maintenance free for Miette when she hauls it off to wherever it is she goes when she moves out of the house. I figure I have about 11 years to get it all done before she’s ready to Airstream off into the distance :(

Airstream Camping
All systems go (lights, A/C, appliances, etc)

Sun Lakes Park Resort is situated inside a coulee, at the north end of Park Lake. It’s a private campground that is inside Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. There’s a 9 hole golf course, miniture golf and recreational boat  It’s in the desert, so the foliage is manually planted. It is not a pine tree campground. However, since it is inside a coulee there are towering cliffs on each side so its not without geographical spectacles.

Airstream in Eltopia getting sushi
We stopped in Eltopia for some sushi at Mama Yum Yum’s. Yes, Eltopia had a good sushi place.

The drive from Tri-Cities is, how we say, “lacking” until just north of the town of Soap Lake. At that point the road meanders between cliffs on the right and long lakes on the left. Before we got to interesting geographical features, we were hungry hippos and stopped in Eltopia for some grub. Low and behold, there was a sushi place in Eltopia. Interesting. Mama Yum Yum was the place and it was actually very good. Better than most big city sushi places. Whodathunk one has to go to Eltopia to get good sushi. After scarfing down the Yum Yum goodies we continued on.

The Campground

The camping spots are pretty close together with pretty much no privacy. The trees are large but few. There are no shrubs or bushes to separate the sites. The picnic tables are on top of concrete slabs and each slab is about 2-3 feet part (to give you an idea on how close the sites are). It’s more like an RV Park. There’s even a sign showing the direction to the “Trailer Court”.

Airstream Camping
The sites were very close together, more like an RV park instead of a “campground”. These were the four sites in our group.

If you’re looking for privacy, don’t go here. If you’re looking for easy access to a lake, this place provides that along with peddle boats, row boats, plastic canoes and kayaks. There were virtually no bugs there which was excellent. The temps were cool as well, except for Sunday. We were worried about the smoke from local forest fires settling down in the coulee but that wasn’t the case either. The fires throughout the state did make it to where we couldn’t have a camp fire though – campfires are banned statewide at this point. That was a bummer.

Airstream Camping and Golfing
This photo was taken about .75 seconds prior to a hot pink golf ball literally flying past my head. She’s got a good swing.

The girls went on the peddle boats, Indy went fishing (of course) on the two man canoe and Brier played his first mini-golf. We all played mini-golf in the heat and ended up bailing out early in favor of ice cream cones and shade. It was a good decision. During the weekend the Moka Pot was out again. I tell you, making coffee with a Moka Pot is a labor of love (for coffee) – that hand grinding is work. While I drink my cup of joe hot about 99% of the time, on these adventures I’m willing to go with cold brew for the afternoon fix- er, I mean, latte.

Thanks to the group for setting up the weekend getaway. We’ll leave you with one last picture…

IMG_6179

Skagit County Fair

The latest travels have Miette’s Silver Eagle Airstream working its way up to Mt. Vernon, Washington, to get squeeeeezed into the Skagit County Fair. I mean it, literally squeezed in between other white box trailers with a few grass blades to spare. Miette and Indy were entering their guinea pigs into the fair with the 4-H group up there. Yes, we did say “Miette” is entering her guinea pig. On the way to Mt. Vernon, Miette acquired a very young guinea pig and immediately named her Tina Turner 2 (pronounced not as “the second” but as “Tina Turner Two”). Miette describes her as “so fluffy!!”.

For this Airstream, as the Silver Eagle, this was the maiden voyage over the steep hills between Yakima and Ellensburg, up the Kittitas valley, over Snoqualmie Pass and the beautiful Cascade Mountains, through the headaches of I-405 and the Seattle suburbs and up I-5… all with Lisa at the wheel!

Airstream at the Skagit County Fair.
There is an Airstream in the background behind the big red truck… sandwiched between the 823 other trailers.

Unfortunately, the trip hasn’t been without technical difficulties with the Airstream. There is some electrical issue that is being difficult to nail down so sometimes the fridge works, sometimes it doesn’t. No lights and no 12-volt circuits. There will be some heavy “influencing” directed towards the Airstream upon its arrival back at the house to get it to stop misbehaving. Wires, fuses, lights, appliances, batteries, inverters… you are ALL on notice: I have screw drivers, wire cutters, pliers, a hammer, a shovel, a golf club and a bad attitude towards electrical problems. I expect full cooperation from all components in the guts of said Airstream. Testify against and confess what the problem object is and you will be spared.

Airstream Skagit County Fair in Mt. Vernon
Miette’s Silver Eagle Airstream was not alone. This is the Airstream that started it all.

The Silver Eagle is not alone at the Skagit County Fair. The Cocheba’s and their Airstream that started all this (“all this” meaning Miette’s desire for an Airstream) was also parked across the gravel road from the Silver Eagle. Is the Silver Eagle jealous and thus throwing an electrical fit? Possible. I would think Airstreams are relieved to see one of its kind in the same vicinity. Like two comedians finding each other in a sea of serious smart people engaged in large technical worded conversations without a hint of a sense of humor. But then again, Airstreams aren’t people, have no eyes, brains or senses (besides water tank sensors) and so the idea of a “jealous Airstream” is utterly ridiculous. Let’s move on.

So it looks like there will need to be some research in how to properly wire a battery, an inverter and a 12 volt circuit board. It will need to be done quickly since the Silver Eagle will be making it’s way up to Sun Lakes, Washington later in the month for its next travel adventure.

Lisa might post an update on how the showings went a bit later so stay tuned.

Airstream Renovations With Bunk Beds

Ah, the sleeping spot dilemma during an Airstream renovation project. You’re in the middle of renovating an Airstream (or a travel trailer in general) or thinking about which size of Airstream to buy so you can fit your family of 4, 5 or even 6. Where is everyone going to sleep? “The original design isn’t going to work” you say. So you ask yourself, “should we install bunk beds”? Thanks to our daughter, we’ve had the privilege to enjoy the ways of the Airstream life, even it was just for a bit. But spending a month straight in one gave us time to evaluate the layout for larger family. Based on that month long evaluation period, the following is what we’ve noticed. This article is geared towards Airstreams, but If you’re thinking about different layouts for a travel trailer in general, this article applies just as well.

To Bunk or Not to Bunk

Quite honestly, bunk beds are the way to go for Airstreamers with children, especially those who are going full-time with Airstreaming or RVing in general. Living (permanently or temporarily) in an Airstream or RV could be really fun, really bad or somewhere in the middle… depending on the layout of the sleeping quarters. If you’re in the middle of restoring or remodeling your vintage Airstream and deciding on custom building or having some custom built beds, you should really figure out how and where you want your family situated every night. Where will the kids sleep?

The 31′ Airstream Sovereign International with rear bath is a good length and layout to begin with, to redesign with 4 bunks. We have a large family, so stacking children is saving critical space. Children love the idea of bunk beds anyways; at least ours do. If there are multiple kids in your family, bunks provide them their very own bed instead of having to share a bed. I can tell you from experience, each child having their own bed is a big deal. Sharing a bed for a weekend trip might be ok, but if you’re thinking about a longer stay, the sharing gets old quicker than you’d think. Converting to bunk beds loses the original overhead storage but there are ways to make up for that (such as using the towing vehicle, if it’s a pickup, for a lot of storage). Families with 2 kids could get away with a bath in middle, but that doesn’t allow for friends to tag along.

1972 Airstream Sovereign International Layout
The layout of a 1972 Airstream Sovereign. showing the original twin beds.

The main reason for not having a rear bath (and instead, have a bedroom in the back) is for a private, always ready parents bedroom. However, that layout puts the kids towards the front and closer to the kitchen. From our month long experience in the Sovereign, the reason a front bed for parents works well is because the parents usually stay up later than kids and the kitchen is in use quite a bit (cleaning up dinner, preparing food for the next day, and most importantly, assembling adult beverages to end the day… all while the kids are sleeping or trying to get to sleep). This becomes a bit more difficult if the kids are sleeping towards the front. There is no greater space separation from the kitchen between the kids sleeping in the front section rather than the middle section. However, it is much more difficult to create a barrier (aka, door) to the kitchen if the kids were to sleep in the front. The front area and kitchen are more of a great room in these Airstreams. When it comes to noise in an Airstream trailer, every inch away from that noise is extremely valuable space and the ability to put in a door is even more valuable. Even though the doors are thin, they do take the edge off the noise being made during kitchen clean up. Also, if the kids slept in the fold out beds in the front, turning on lights to see in the kitchen would intrude in the kids sleep. Ideally, the bunks would be in the very rear with a middle bathroom. That would provide a bit more sound barrier rather than the kids being right next to the kitchen as they are now. Breaking down the dining table for the parents is a pain, but doable. We did it for a month and got pretty quick at it. The one thing we didn’t do as much as we thought we would was eating outside under the awning. Partly because the awning was a big task to set up but also because of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes. If we stayed in a cool place without the viscous, selfish, blood sucking insects, the outside table would be the main table, leaving the option to NOT convert the bed back to a dining table. When we knew we would be gone from the Airstream all day, we left the bed as-is. It all depends on each family’s “laziness” factor. Ours was probably above normal.

Bedding

After spending a month straight in an Airstream with bunk beds, one recommendation we would make is to have the bedding custom sized for that bunk. We used twin sizes and even those were really too big. It made it difficult to really keep the bunks looking kept up because there was so much bulk to the bedding. Custom sizing the bedding is something we need to do to our sleeping arrangements. We suppose sleeping bags would work well, but probably not for a long term solution. One our favorite types of bedding for an RV or Airstream is a nice wool blanket. Not only do they keep a body warm, they aren’t bulky. Bulky items become really exaggerated in cramped spaces. That -20 degree rated Mountain Hardware mountaineering jacket the size of Rhode Island ends up looking like Texas in the closet of a travel trailer (unless you get the pack-able version for $800 more). This applies more so to bedding. That queen sized down comfortable that looks so fluffy on your bed at home all of a sudden becomes a giant space eating monster.

Lighting

With our setup, we have 2 bunks on either side of the isle with only one overhead light to provide the light for all 4 beds. This doesn’t really work well. We would like to add a small separate light for each bed, so one kid can use their light without lighting up the whole “room”.

We have a wide range of ages, so the 12 year old might stay up a bit later reading than the 3 year who is zonked out. The center overhead light has its use, but if a kid isn’t feeling well and needs to have a one-on-one with the puke bowl or change clothes or etc, etc, etc, it would be nice to limit the amount of light emitted on the rest of the clan. Routing the wiring is the challenge for us now, since the bunks are already installed. If you have yet to build out your bunks, we recommend working in the electrical for a light for each bunk in the design. Yes, you could use battery powered LED lights with double stick tape, but replacing the batteries will get to be a pain when it comes to 4 lights and it also doesn’t have that custom built-in look.

Stop Debating

If you’re considering installing bunk beds, we say stop thinking about it and go for it! They look cool, they are very practical and functional and it’s an excellent use of space. Our kids love them and all their friends that see inside the Airstream are completely drawn to them. They are like little forts. They can custom decorate their own bunk space and with the 31′ Sovereign and they each have a part of a window they can look out. Only the bottom bunk can open the window though but that was never a problem, since we used the air conditioner a lot and the windows weren’t allowed to be opened. Unless they wanted the air conditioning police (dad) to take them to air conditioning jail.

So again, this was our evaluation from living in a renovated Airstream that had bunk beds installed. Not everyone might think the same. For some reason, those rear bedrooms are popular. When it comes to privacy for the parents, it definitely provides that. But a well rested child increases the parents chances for better behavior the next day – privacy for the child also has it’s rewards.

Or just throw the kids in a tent outside and call it good.

From Yellowstone to Home

Well, a week ago today we left Yellowstone and headed home to Washington state and wrapped up our (almost) month long trip across the country that came about with Miette trying to figure out what she wanted to do for her Make-A-Wish. She didn’t want to do Disney World or Disney Land. She said she “couldn’t keep it” so the idea of going to see  “Mee-maw” (her grandma) morphed and changed form until it finally ended in an Airstream (which she could keep) and a cross country trip.

Something About Those Airstreams

We woke in the morning, around 5:30am. The girls were eager to get an early start so we would make it home in time to see their good friends who lived across the street. They were scheduled to depart on a 2 week trip of their own the following morning. It takes a while for us to get completely ready to roll, so, after coffee, we were heading out of the Fishing Bridge RV Park at 7:30am. Low and behold there was a fellow Airstreamer leaving the park as well – first one we saw in Yellowstone. They waved to us with a thumbs up, we waved back. They turned left, we turned right.

Fishing Bridge RV Park in Yellowstone National Park
Looking down the row of non-Airstreams.

For some reason, its always cool to see another Airstream. Maybe its because we saw about 13,924 white boxed travel trailers on our trip and only a dozen Airstreams.  It’s refreshing to see that glimmer (sometimes a blinding glare) of the silver when looking down the row of standard RV’s. Not trying to knock those without an Airstream; I understand Airstreams are expensive and it really limits who can acquire one. However, vintage Airstream’s are out there for the same price, and most of the time less, than newer model white box trailers. The vintage Airstreams may not have all the latest greatest bells and whistles, but they last longer and provide that satisfaction of not blending in. But then again, some people don’t mind blending in… to each their own. I personally didn’t like travel trailers at all – but Airstreams, now those just are just cool looking and provide enough nostalgia for me to put down my backcountry pack (for a bit) and pick up the hitch. But I digress…

Fishing Bridge RV Park in Yellowstone National Park
It was the most trees we’ve seen in an RV park by far

Back to our day

On our way out we saw a large herd of bison in the Hayden Valley and a few more that were still laying in the grassy spots. A couple were walking along the white fog line of the road, close enough to force us to slow almost to a stop in order to get by in case they decided the crosswalk was right where they were standing. We were heading north to leave Yellowstone through Mammoth Hot Springs area and the northern entrance. We made a quick potty stop (already) at Roaring Mountain, showed the Airstream to an interested elderly French couple and took off, pushing the pedal hard (until reaching 35mph).

Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is the only place that I won’t touch the streams :)

The north entrance has its coolness with the Golden Gate and the Terraces and is probably more interesting than the eastern entrance inside the park; but when it comes to approaching Yellowstone, the eastern way still takes the cake.

We freaked out a little going through the Golden Gate and boulder field just after, hoping there wouldn’t be an oncoming tour bus. We dropped down into the small summer city of Mammoth Hot Springs and saw a herd of elk cooling off in the shade 10 feet off the main road/parking lot. We then dropped further down, leaving Wyoming, entering Montana into Gardiner. Of course we did meet a tour bus exactly at the bend at the Roosevelt Arch – we survived.

Once we left the park, a couple of the kooks fell asleep so we were off and running for the next couple hours, passing by a couple Airstreams within minutes of each other. This day was the day we saw the most Airstreams in one day. Maybe it was National Use Your Airstream on Friday Day? In total, we saw about 6 Airstreams that day. One of Miette’s favorite things to do was to keep an eye out for any Airstreams. When someone spotted one it went like this:

Person 1: “AIRSTREAM!! THERE!!” (Pointing off into the far distance)
The others: “WHERE?? WHERE??”
Person 1: “Over there!” (still pointing off into the distance)
The others: “WHEEEERE???”
Person 1: “THERE!!” (pointing to the Airstream that was now passing by)
The others: “Oooooo, coooooooool!”

Lunch and Beyond

Once child #3 and child #4 awoke, it was time to stop for lunch, fuel and coffee. We ate at Joe’s Pasty Shop in Butte, Montana. The staff was extremely nice and helpful and the food was good. If you’re stopping in Butte for lunch, check out Joe’s Pasty Shop. However, if you’re stopping in Butte for coffee, don’t expect much. The place we stopped at (I won’t mention any names like Florence Coffee Company) pulled our shots just shy of 10 seconds. Oh well, it’s maintenance coffee at this point, even though there is no way enough caffeine is going to get extracted in 10 seconds.

On our way towards Idaho, we finally passed an Airstream heading in the same direction as us, for the first time. It was a 34 foot Excella (three axles). Man, that thing was long; once we started passing, it took us a couple hours to finish. We waved with happy faces as we passed the towing vehicle, only to be greeted by what looked like a grumpy old man who didn’t wave back. Umph. Well, nevermind then.

We encountered a forest fire on a mountain just off the freeway near the Idaho-Montana border and saw multiple helicopters dropping water on it: very cool to see the helicopters but I’m sure the homeowners close by weren’t thinking the fire was too neat. After that, we stopped to fuel up. At this exit we saw what looked like another Airstream in a free overnight parking area (turned out to be an Avion). Low and behold, Mr. Grumpy Pants also pulled into the same parking lot with the Excella. We waved again, giving it one more chance.This time he gave a small little wave back. We’ll take it, I guess. We were guessing he was just transporting that behemoth and not actually an Airstream owner. Maybe he was grumpy because he had to haul a football field length Airstream?

The rest of the trip home was the typical drive from northern Idaho to home. We passed by Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital where Miette did treatment. She did her “thhhhhhhhbbbbpppppppptttt!” at the building as we passed. As parents, we have mixed emotions on that place. There are a lot of children suffering on that oncology floor (and other floors as well). We are thankful Miette is no longer a part time resident there but its also tough to not think about the others there. They treated us well there. The “thhbbpptt!” is more directed to cancer in general.

The Close Out

In closing out this trip journal, we’ll say overall it was a great experience. Obviously, as a family of 6 there were times when personalities made things difficult. The travel days were long but overall the kids did really great. We passed up a lot of sights that we would have loved to stop at. Unfortunately time was not on our side. A word of advice for those seeking to do a cross country travel trailer trip: take more than a month. One month was not enough at all. There are things you don’t realize are out there. If you’re planning it all out, I’m afraid your plans will be left at a rest stop on the second or third day.

Even though we all had great fun on this trip, we all agree on this: We would give this whole thing up; the Airstream, the trip, the sights, the experiences… we would give it all up without batting an eye, if it meant Miette didn’t have to go through what she went through in 2012. So the lesson is this for all those with young families, as we should have learned before: don’t wait till something horrific happens to your family to determine you need to spend more time as a family in adventures like this. The world will not fall apart if you decide to go a huge trip like this – it actually keeps turning.

So get your maps out, get your gear ready and do it now!

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was our destination when we awoke in Rapid City, South Dakota on Wednesday morning. We were hoping to be there around 6pm, time enough to have dinner and enjoy the cool mountain weather.  But then the Buckhorns jumped in our path, distracted us, and slowed us down considerably.

Buckhorn Mountains with the AIrstream
Approaching the Buckhorn Mountains from the east

Then, along came the little town of Cody, named after the American West legend, Buffalo Bill Cody, and had us open-mouthed again.  About thirty seconds after leaving Cody, when we were ready to buckle down and hit the road hard to make up for some lost time, along came the cliffs of Cedar Mountain and the deep gorge that is just below Buffalo Bill Dam. The gorge was only visible for a brief second or two before the road headed into a long tunnel but those two seconds were very captivating.  Wyoming teases its travelers. We sat on a flat road, through a mix of fields and sage brush and then BAM! A deep gorge and towering cliiffs. Unfortunately, there was no time to get photos and turning around with a 31′ Airstream isn’t something easily achieved with us rookies.


So we kept going on Highway 14. More distractions were in store as now we could see the beginnings of mountains. Big mountains. And what’s that? A wide shallow mountain river wandering through the valley floor? Are those fly fisherman? (Indy, put your head back in the window).  Are those gigantic beautiful log lodges and cabins on huge ranches with pine trees and meadows? The Shoshone River Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys ever designed. Washington State has some pretty impressive valleys in and around the Cascades and Olympics, so for all those north-westerners who haven’t seen the Shoshone River valley, that’s saying something. The mountains on either side of the river grew taller and taller and the road slowly gained in elevation the closer we got to Yellowstone.  We highly recommend taking this route into Yellowstone (unfortunately there was a certain girl who didn’t notice any of it due to some Nancy Drew books). The disease of MGTN (Must Get There Now) prevented photos from being taken. It was painful to not stop. Indy, the fly fisherman in training, moaned at each bridge crossing the river. The fear was that if we stopped, we would not want to continue on. Could it get better than this?

Umm… yes.

Finally, Yellowstone National Park

We arrived at the Yellowstone National Park entrance at last! After forking over $25, we immediately started climbing in elevation. Up and up and up and up through switchbacks and curves… all at 35 mph. One thing to remember: it takes a long time to drive distances in Yellowstone. Top speed is 45 mph (the sign said “45 means 45”). The road finally crested at the tree line and in the rocks beside Hoyt Peak and we started down towards Yellowstone Lake. The eerie remains of the 1988 fires were all around us at this point. Huge swaths of blackened sticks still remain, even 25 years later. I (Kelly) remember the fires vividly as our church youth group took a trip to Yellowstone that year. I remember seeing the smoke billowing from behind the hill as we looked on the Old Faithful geyser and then large flares a 1/4 mile off the road on our way back towards Jackson Hole.

We saw our first wildlife just before coming up to Yellowstone Lake. There were two bison standing in a small patch of grass. They were dark, still as a statue and almost looked fake. They weren’t eating or grazing, just standing still. Miette was excited! She loved getting to pet the bison at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Pennsylvania and this was feeding her passion even more.

Yellowstone Lake Summer Clouds in Yellowstone National Park
There were clouds moving through, close to sunset over Yellowstone Lake.

We stopped at the lake to finally take a photo since the clouds were SCREAMING for some photography to be performed. We were at Fishing Bridge RV Park a few minutes later. After a little mix up with our reservations in which Steve, the reservations guru on staff, fixed for us (thanks Steve!), we were setting up “camp”. This place was more of a temporary city than an RV Park. We pulled the Airstream through what looked and sounded like a street party. Nonetheless, we arrived, were tired and happy to be in Yellowstone.

The next day we awoke, had coffee from the Moka Pot using beans from Capitol Grounds in Montpelier (we were in a desperate search of beans in Vermont and finally found a local roaster) and spent a full day making the rounds inside the park. We first stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where Brier discovered that walking backwards on the boardwalk almost the entire time was fun (and slow). He did this for the rest of the day whenever a boardwalk presented itself.

Walking Backwards at West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
He is walking away from the camera, not towards

From there we headed north through the Continental Divide and made a quick stop at Kepler Cascades before dropping down into the Old Faithful complex. We ate at Old Faithful and waited what seemed like a really long time for the geyser to go (it was “late” by 25 minutes). It was amazing to see the amount of people that gather for that show. After some ice cream, we started heading further north with the intent to get to a place where there’s a swimming hole (somewhere around Firehole Falls – but we weren’t sure where). Brier crashed and so we took a side track to the Great Fountain Geyser so he could sleep a little longer before needing to get out of the truck. We waited 30 minutes for a smaller geyser to go off and then continued towards Firehole Falls. We ended up finding the beautiful swimming hole on a one way drive off the road. The kids loved it! It was not too deep for the kids and they spent a little over an hour swimming and enjoying themselves. A perfect natural outdoor pool.

Firehole Falls swimming hole in Yellowstone National Park
A swimming hole near Firehole Falls

From there we quickly (46mph) headed east to the “Canyon”  for a quick peek at the lower waterfall. We debated whether a bird we saw (the size of a dot) sitting way out on a rock formation was a bald eagle or osprey. We agreed on it being a bald eagle since it would be a better story to tell. After that we started the last leg south towards the RV park around 7 PM. The goal at the beginning of the day was to hit this section (the Hayden Valley) around evening time to increase our chances of seeing wildlife.  We saw a lot of bison, some up close, and Miette was ecstatic! She was counting them and lost track around 40 or 50. We never did see any moose, which Esme was really craving to see. We made another quick stop at the Mud Volcano. As I told Indy and Esme, I’ll tell you all as well: if you ever had the strange desire to let out a toot with a whole bunch of people around, do it at the Mud Volcano since it already smells like that. No one will EVER know it was you and you can walk around giggling to yourself, knowing what you just did and that no one has any clue about it. But I digress. We arrived back at the Airstream for some leftover chicken Caesar salad. It was a very busy day at Yellowstone National Park but worth every single one of the $25 entrance fee.

I’ll finish up Friday’s travels in the next post so stay tuned. Here are some photos from Thursday though.

Yellowstone… But First The Buckhorns.

Our day Wednesday seemed extra long for whatever reason in our mad dash for Yellowstone. We started off by hightailing it out of MIrror Lake State Park in Wisconsin Dells, heading north on I-90 towards Minnesota (Indy tried fly fishing in this lake, only to realize it really should have been called Algae or Swamp Lake State Park). The park itself was decent but the RV sites had shared driveways. They had plenty of room to spread out the sites more than they did. No matter, we were only there overnight.

Airstream Air Conditioning
Miette was enjoying the air conditioning much better than the humidity from Ohio the night before.

We stopped at La Crosse to stock up on some food, eat breakfast and fuel up. The truck was getting about 11-12 mpg the entire trip.  The goal was to try and fill up every 250 miles or so assuming there would be a place to do so – about every 3.5 hours. This would also be the time to stretch, snack/eat and use the restroom. When the traveling days are 10-11 hours, minimizing the stops are critical to prevent the day from heading into the “insanity” level. One thing we learned on this trip: when going across the country, a family needs more than a month. Driving 10-11 hours each traveling day was not ideal since the actual time, including stops, was 13-14 hours. That’s too long and we knew it but didn’t really have a choice since time was against us. Unfortunately there were a lot of sights we had to pass up due to this time crunch. Museums, landmarks, geological sites, etc. As an example, on Wednesday we entered South Dakota with the the intent to sleep over in Rapid City. We had to make it to Rapid City in order to make the next days goal of getting to Yellowstone a reality. This resulted in us passing through Badlands National Park in the dark. We got a tiny little glimpse before it was real dark and really wanted to stop and see it. Even more so after spending all day through the flats of southern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. Finally the geography was getting interesting just as it got dark. Sigh.

Regardless, we made it to Rapid City by 10:30pm. We stayed at the Lake Park Campground. This place was more like an RV park than a campground. The office people were very nice, the restrooms were very clean and it wasn’t a huge place, so overall it was a pleasant place to spend our 10 hours of rest. They weren’t any more pricey than the other RV Parks/campgrounds. For those staying more than a night at Rapid City, Lake Park had a nice location close to the lake: paddle boats, swimming and fishing. We, however, had a date with Yellowstone and needed to get going in the morning, which we did. We headed off into the Black Hills of South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. It was good to see pine trees and rolling hills/mountains again. Ever since leaving Highway 7 in Vermont, the geography of the I-90 route struggled to gain our attention much (we unfortunately were driving next to Lake Erie in the dark), with the exception of crossing over the Mississippi River and heading into the Minnesota. That was a decent 30 minutes.

Once we were through the Black Hills, we dropped down into Sheridan where we grabbed a bite to eat and fuel up. Dropping out of the Black Hills presented us with a nice view of the Buckhorn Mountains off in the distance. Before hitting Sheridan, there were signs saying how Highway 16 was a much better drive over the Buckhorn Mountains than our planned Highway 14. The signs said the scenery was better, the grade was less and it was a safer road. We stuck to Highway 14. Even though we have no idea what Highway 16 was like, we couldn’t imagine anything being a better scenic drive than Highway 14. Needless to say, we loved Highway 14 through the Buckhorns. To sum up that drive in 5 words or less: Wow.

The Buckhorns immediately presented us with a steep climb. We figured the road would go around some mountains and up some valley floors and find the lowest path into the range. Nope. The road tackles the first large mountain it comes against. Up, up, up and up we went. Think Cabbage Hill but no freeway, 3 times longer, way more curvy and definitely slower.

Buckhorn Mountains with the Airstream heading to Yellowstone
Looking down into eastern Wyoming from the Buckhorns.

Every switchback revealed a tremendous view of the eastern Wyoming. The elevation we were at made the Black Hills look like the plains of Illinois. Of course, Miette was a bit nervous looking down and may have been reconsidering her choice of going across the country at this time. Once the road began to level out, we found ourselves in a national forest with mountain meadows galore, rock formations, alpine lakes and free range cattle and sheep (and needing to suddenly stop for a sheep)… and very narrow road. The driver (Kelly) was tempted all through this drive with the sights screaming at him to take his eyes off the road. After about 30 minutes of pretty level roads, the route began to drop down the other side of the Buckhorns. As steep as the climb up was, the downward path was the same.

Buckhorn Mountains on the way to Yellowstone
Looking north out across northeastern Wyoming from the edge of the Buckhorn Mountains.

The scenery changed extremely fast from green forests and meadows to dry, rocky terrain. It was still beautiful though. The towering cliffs were dominating the view and was very impressive to the eye. The road went down a valley that a road probably shouldn’t go down.

Buckhorn Mountains
The Cliffs of the eastern Buckhorns

Cliffs on one side, stream next to the road on the other side and cliffs hanging over that stream. We were able to stop and grab some photos but the time thing was still against us. We never knew the Buckhorn Mountains existed. We do now. If anyone is ever going to go to Yellowstone from the east, take Highway 14 from I-90 over the Buckhorns… you will not be disappointed. I wouldn’t even hesitate to recommend those coming in from the west to make a longer trip into Yellowstone and catch the Buckhorns on the way in.

The Buckhorns were just the beginning of the geographical eye candy. The next post will explain our route after coming out of the Buckhorns and heading into Yellowstone, including our time there.

Leaving Vermont and Starting the Trek Back Home

We started our trek back home, leaving Vermont yesterday, after gathering our endless scattered belongings from Aunt Karen’s house, saying our goodbyes, loading up and making our way down Highway 7 towards Albany. The day started reasonably enough, but we quickly ran into a long traffic backup in Albany, getting onto I-90 (known to New Yorkers as the Thruway). Once we past that, we were making decent time. We knew it was going to be a long travel day; our goal was to make it to the other side of Cleveland. We arrived in Avon, Ohio around 11:30 pm, pulling into the local Wal-mart. Again, under construction.  There appears to be a nationwide WalMart expansion.  Be afraid, people.

This was the beginning of an excruciatingly long night. It was 76 degrees outside and the wind was not blowing at all. Inside the “Silver Oven,” it had to be at LEAST 90 degrees.  I bet these Airstreams are great in the winter for staying warm.  We pretended to sleep for a long time, but despite a pathetic little 12 volt Wal-mart fan teasing us with hints of a slight warm breeze, we were each stewing in our own juices. We admitted defeat around 2:30 AM. Smart phones to the rescue. Red Roof, $66 and 45 minutes later we were all lying in a cool hotel room. Unfortunately, the adrenaline of hurriedly trying to get the family to a cool place (and sipping on iced tea since Erie, PA), Kelly ended up not sleeping at all. But time doesn’t wait for anyone and the morning came real fast; so off we went. We cruised through northern Ohio and then snaking our way through the Chicago badlands (aka, the toll freeway system – we lost count how many times we paid $2.25 cash money). After the 62 miles of narrow lanes and heavy construction we made it to Wisconsin. There are two states that should fire their entire DOT staff. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Wow, Wisconsin roads are bad (but at least we didn’t have to pay to drive on the bad roads like we did in PA). Right now, we find ourselves in a campground just outside of Wisconsin Dells with the AC blowing cold… with time in the evening to roast a chicken. We’re not exactly sure how the family next to us is tenting in 82 degrees, 70% humidity and with giant, hawk size mosquitoes of prey. Us northwesterners must be humidity whimps. Yes, that’s exactly what we are. Give us the 8,000 feet up a northwest trail, cold temps at night and zero mosquitoes over a hot and humid Wal-mart outing any day.

Sorry, no photographs today. There isn’t much time for photos when we are busting our behinds trying to make good time. Our plan to is to hit Yellowstone on Thursday so stay tuned for some excellent media over the weekend.

Visiting Montpelier and Vintage Trailer Supply

Soo, we were off this morning about 9:30 AM (no small feat) to take a short trip to Montpelier, Vermont, which is pronounced mont-PEEL-ee-er, by the way.  I (Lisa) can’t get the French pronunciation* out of my head and Mont-PEEL-ier sounds like a cheesy English way of saying it.  We were headed to Montpelier on a specific mission; to meet and thank the crew at Vintage Trailer Supply for their thoughtfulness in providing parts and decor for the Airstream.  That great dishtowel map of Puget Sound on our Airstream door is courtesy of Steve and crew at Vintage Trailer Supply.

But first, lets take Route 100 and stop off at the Warren Country Store.  There’s a charming saying in Vermont that my sister has made me aware of:  “You can’t get there from here.”  Meaning navigation of the Vermont infrastructure is challenging.  Route 100 is under serious construction and we spent much of the time in stop and go traffic on gravel.  The Warren Country Store was wonderful, albeit pricey, with a plethora of organic, artisanal goodies, handmade or hand-grown by locals.  Upstairs, Esme gasped at the price-tag on a small leather purse she spotted – $138.00.  One of the conquests of the Warren Country store was a four-pack of elusive “Heady Topper” beer; also known as the Beer Advocate’s #3 beer on the list of Top 100 Beers of the World.  With our prize in tow, we left for Montpelier.

We pulled into Vintage Trailer Supply later than expected (shockingly) and got to spend a good half hour with the crew.  Thank you, Steve, Mark, Mike and lovely lady who’s name escapes us, for being quite gracious to the 7 kids who were quite antsy from the drive.  We talked plumbing and poop with Steve, the owner and mastermind behind VTS and chatted with Mark, the parts guy, about his kiddo’s fight with leukemia 14 years ago.  Mark’s son was also a Make-a-Wish kid, so he knew that journey all too well.

We romped around Montpelier and ended up on the capitol lawn, picking squash and basil from the vegetable gardens that grace the front entrance.  Vermonters, please go harvest from your capitol gardens— there is Swiss chard in abundance, patty pan squash ripening, peas are on, herbs galore and more.  We took a more direct, less arduous route back home and after a quick Sabbath dinner on Karen’s screened in front porch, hurried kids off to bed.  Oh, one lovely note…  Karen’s neighbor across the street has built an impressive brick, wood-fired bread oven and has been gifting us glorious loaves of bread during our stay.  Today’s variety was rosemary/olive oil.