Trip Segment Overviews – Summer 2015

Updated Google Maps route with Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Black Hills added
Our seven travel segments shown on Google Maps

At this point in our planning, we had seven travel segments identified that we needed to account for.

While we don’t have to plan/book every night of the trip, many of the places we want to stay get quite full (especially sites that can handle a 33′ fifth-wheel plus 22′ truck). For summer weekends, most of the Oregon state parks were booked solid by January 1st, and some parks were booked solid even during the week. National Parks and state parks elsewhere are about as bad. Even private RV parks near popular locations had limited availability. This unfortunately meant that we needed reservations for many of our stays if we wanted popular locations (and we do). Even for areas we chose not to make reservations, we still need to allot a specific number of days so that we could plan the timing of the later reservations we need to make.

Making our reservations and the associated planning took us several months. As we leave on our trip, we’ve been done with our early reservations for a couple of months, although we’re still making occasional adjustments when availability opens up due to cancellations. I’m not going to list our entire current itinerary – hopefully you’ll find the blog interesting enough to follow along and find out where we end up. However, here is a brief preview of each travel segment.

Home – Texas

Due to the timing of a personal obligation and when we want to reach Texas, this will mostly just be four days of driving. We are hoping to sneak in a few hours of exploration at one of our stops.

4 days of travel, plus 9 days with Texas daughter

Texas – Grand Canyon

We have to cross most of Texas, all of New Mexico and a good chunk of Arizona. There will be a lot of driving, but we are hoping to incorporate a couple of interesting stops along the way.

8 days of travel, plus 4 days at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon – Yosemite

We’ll be south of Death Valley on this segment. Planning for very hot weather and few stops.

2 days of travel

Yosemite – south Oregon coast

Besides Yosemite and Sequoia, we are also planning to include another scenic stop plus hopefully some wineries.

12 days in the Sequoia & Yosemite area, then 8 days of travel

Oregon coast

Our stops (though not our time) are almost entirely planned on this segment due to the popularity of the parks on the coast. We’ll be spending a month on the coast, working our way from south to north. Annie will also be getting solar panels installed during this time.

32 days including an inland stop for her solar panel install

north Oregon coast – Black Hills

We are going to abandon the direct route for a while and meander through Oregon and Idaho before hitting the plains, mostly staying 2-3 nights at each stop. One factor in our planning for this travel segment is that we want to arrive in the Black Hills after Sturgis ends.

23 days, plus 4 days in the Black Hills

Black Hills – Home

With less than 1,000 miles to home and after 3 1/2 months on the road, we’re mostly planning one-night stops for this segment . However, we will meet up with our other daughter, son-in-law and grandkids for a weekend as we get closer to home.

5 days including a weekend with our midwest daughter

All of this is subject to change (stuff happens), but that’s what the trip looks like at this point. Over the course of an estimated 110 days, we are currently planning 37 stops ranging from 1-8 days each (3 day average). We are anticipating eight days of no hookups (power only from batteries plus solar and/or generator) and 36 days with full hookups (electric, water and sewer, which means that we can take long showers and do laundry). And my 7,000 mile estimate looks low, due mostly to the meandering route we’re planning from the coast through Idaho.

We’re very excited about most of our planned stops. We should be able to see a lot of interesting and beautiful areas and have a lot of photographic opportunities. We hope you follow along with our adventures over the next several months.

Camp Cooking? Not!

Image of herb and spice bottles filling drawer
One-fourth of our total kitchen drawer space is devoted to spices and herbs

Although we’ll be spending a lot of time in state and national parks, Opa and I plan to feast just like we do at home. Most of our campsites will have electricity. So now, cooking over the campfire or on a small camp stove is mostly in the past for us.

Three-burner stove, convection microwave and residential refrigerator
Our three-burner stove, convection microwave and residential refrigerator. With the convection microwave, we deleted the larger propane oven to get more storage space. Dog and cat food are going where the oven was.

Fifth wheels usually come with a three-burner propane stove top. We ordered ours with a small convection microwave oven and a residential refrigerator/freezer. Of course, we’re bringing along our tabletop outdoor grill. But we’re going to be living in this fifth wheel and that stovetop and convection microwave are a little small.

So what to do? Granted, we can’t take along the whole kitchen, so what can we take that will be most useful? Opa came up with an induction burner. It’s a nice big plate that works very efficiently and uses electricity. Great for making chili, gumbo, goulash, spaghetti sauces, or soups. Also, great for using a big frying pan just like you would use it at home. Opa also picked up a griddler which also uses electricity. It makes awesome panini sandwiches, burgers, etc. and has a flat surface for pancakes and bacon, and another plate for waffles. It can also be used to quickly unthaw frozen meats.

A pot of chili on the induction burner
Making chili on the induction burner

Then there’s the 6 qt. roaster. I love cooking in the roaster and it’s very useful since we only have the small convection microwave as an oven! Meatloaf, shredded pork, chicken, and the list goes on and on.

And who doesn’t love fresh hot bread! Yup, the bread maker is coming too. These four extra appliances along with the convection microwave oven, the tabletop grill and, when necessary, the three burner propane stove, will allow us to feast just like we do at home.

Key Intermediate Destinations – Summer 2015

Having set our two primary destinations for the trip (Texas and the Oregon Coast), our next step was to identify important intermediate destinations that were not too far out of the way. While the home to Texas leg needs to be quick this trip, it is a long way between Texas and the Oregon coast and between Oregon and home, so some intermediate destinations are definitely in order.

Havasu Creek, near Grand Canyon National Park
Havasu Creek, near Grand Canyon National Park

There are tons of things in the southwest to see, but most of them are starting to get hot in May. We’re planning to escape winter for a while each year, so we should have plenty of opportunities to check out the southwest more thoroughly in cooler months.

One big destination along our southern route that is not hot in May is the Grand Canyon rim. Oma had never been to the Grand Canyon, and while I was fortunate enough to spend nine days on the Colorado river many years ago (Pipe Creek (via Bright Angle Trail) to Diamond Creek), I actually never spent any significant time on the rim. So the Grand Canyon became our first intermediate destination on this trip.

Continue reading “Key Intermediate Destinations – Summer 2015”

Getting Ready

Getting ready for this long trip has been a huge task.  It’s so much easier if you go for a week or two.  You can make do without a lot when you forget something.  But on a long trip, the trick is to think of everything you would need and or like, and then to make it fit without weighing down the coach too much.  Everything you take needs to be stowed as well so that it’s not flying all around while driving or even when leveling (sometimes that looks like an earthquake)!  Sure, there will be plenty of stores along the way, but I really don’t want to be doing that kind of shopping while traveling. Plus, I don’t want to duplicate items.  I’d rather spend my time exploring and relaxing.

This year “getting ready” has a lot of firsts.  It’s the first time setting up the coach, so many of the things will stay in the coach for repeated use. It’s putting together all of those things that is a challenge right now.  But it will make getting ready very easy for future trips.

Continue reading “Getting Ready”

Trip Goals and Preliminaries – Summer 2015

Google-Map-MKE-IAH-OR-MKEOur daughter, her husband and two grandkids live in Houston. They are far enough away that we typically only see them a few times a year, and then for only a few days at a time. We had met them for Mother’s Day several years ago on a shorter trip with our old fifth-wheel, and now that we had more time, we agreed we would meet them for Mother’s Day again this year.

We had also been contemplating travel destinations now that we were retired. One place high on our list that we had never been able to spend much time together in was the Oregon coast. It’s quite a hike from our home in the Midwest, and a vacation-length driving trip is mostly traveling there and back. With more time available now, the Oregon coast became our first (non-family) post-retirement destination.

Continue reading “Trip Goals and Preliminaries – Summer 2015”

Shakedown trip to Central Ohio

Dinner overlooking Camp Timber Lake
Dinner overlooking Camp Timber Lake


Prior to bringing Annie home, we spent two days at the dealer putting her through her paces. While this was very valuable – it gave us time to put most of the equipment to use, ask questions and get a few minor things fixed – it is much different than being out on the road, hitching and unhitching, leveling, setting up and closing up at each stop.

For her inaugural run, we concluded that a quick trip to Ohio to see my sister and her husband was the perfect test. We would head slightly south, hopefully find some warmer weather, put Annie through her paces on a real trip, and connect with family.

Continue reading “Shakedown trip to Central Ohio”

Alum Creek State Park (Delaware, OH) in early Spring

View of Annie and The Beast in site A6
Site A6 in Alum Creek State Park

Most of the Alum Creek State Park campground was closed when we were there. Only portions of a few loops were open. This wasn’t a big problem – when we were there, only about 25% of the sites were taken on the busiest day.

We had called the office before arriving. The campground office was closed, and the main office was full of misinformation. Not that they were exactly wrong on most of what they told us … they just left out key information. For example,

“There is a dumping fee of $10” – true, but only if you are not camping.

“Loops A & J are for ‘walk-ins’ (drive-ins?)” – true in peak season, but loop J was closed altogether and the other open loops were all walk-in according to the reservation site (it appears that reservations begin April 1 in 2015).

And so on. Bottom line, if you talk to the main office, double check everything they tell you.

The sites have 50 amp service but no water or sewer. The first site we checked seemed to have mud or something in the 50 amp ground slot, but with many sites open we just chose a different one. There is a dump station, but due to either the cold weather or lack of maintenance in the winter it was having issues.

Spacing between sites was generally good, and the campground is wooded. It was very quiet, although we were surprised at the number of people driving through the campground during the day. We speculated that it could have been people looking at campsite options for later in the summer, but it did make us a bit nervous when a beat-up pickup made frequent stops and watched us leave the campsite to visit my sister. No issues though.

Due to the very cold weather (below freezing) and our focus on spending time with family, we really did not explore the park at all.

Overall, it was basically what we expected from a state park. Having 50 amp service available was nice, and this will be our first choice the next time we visit central Ohio.


Camp Timber Lake (Huntington, IN) in early Spring

View from site 32; site 31 is to the right, and site 2 is directly across along the lake shore

There are not a lot of private campgrounds open during the winter and early spring here in the midwest. Camp Timber Lake in Huntington, Indiana is one of the exceptions.

Camp Timber Lake is located on a small lake, with small areas of woods along about two-thirds of the shore. Even in early spring it seemed to be a pretty setting.

Camp Timber Lake clearly caters to long-term and seasonal residents. The majority of the RV sites are allocated to these groups. There are also 19 tent-only sites. We noticed a little noise in the morning as a couple of residents behind us left the campground (for work, presumably), but it was brief and really not bad.

Annie and The Beast in site 31; site 32 is empty next to us. The wooden cover is over the site 32 winter water supply located below ground. You can see that our left wheels had to be raised off the ground to get level. Seasonal trailers are visible in the background.

Sites 31-34 are pull-through, full-hookup sites that are usable year-round. We stayed in sites 31 coming and 32 going. Neither was level front-to-back or side-to-side. (Site 33 seemed to be the most level of the four, but was taken.) During the winter and early spring, the water is below ground (to keep it from freezing), and it is a long reach down to turn it on. (There is a separate above-ground water tap that is used during warm weather.) The good news is that the below-ground valve is a lever-type valve rather than the common screw valve, so once you reach it turning it on and off was easy.

Empty waterfront sites 2 & 3 in front of us

With no one in any of the sites along the lake, we had great views from both site 31 and 32.

There being only one other transient RV during our stay, we did not have a lot of interaction with the staff. (The office was closed most of the time we were there.) However, our dealings with the office staff on check-in were good, and when I had difficulty getting the sewer cap off, it took less than ten minutes to get someone with a bigger wrench.

There were no issues with our dog. And with so much of the campground empty at this time of year, it was easy to find a spot well away from everyone to let the dog run off-leash after being stuck in the truck much of the day.

The zip-line courses were not running, but would probably be fun for the kids. They go across the lake in several places. Fair warning – some of the zip-line platforms are located in tent areas. It could be entertaining to have a front-row seat, but I’m not sure that I’d want my campsite to literally be in the middle of a very active zip-line area.

Overall, for early spring camping, we liked Camp Timber Lake enough to come back on the way home. It seems like it’s probably a good option in the summer as well, especially if you would use the zip-line.

We stayed here using the Passport America discount: 10% off on Thursday, 50% off on Monday.


About the Blog

Our primary purpose is to communicate with family and friends who have expressed interest in our travels.

We will also be posting some topics (campground experiences, for example) that may be of interest to a larger audience. We have benefitted from websites and blog posts of others describing campgrounds, points of interest and general rv/planning/traveling tips, and hopefully some of our posts will be useful to others planning their trips.

During our travels, we will try to update our blog once or twice a week. However, there will be times when we do not have internet at our campsite, so expect extended periods without updates on those occasions. The blog will also be quiet when we are between travels.

About Us

We are a younger (50’s) retired couple who love to travel. In our 20’s and 30’s, we traveled through a lot of the USA and Canada. Time and work eventually broadened our horizons to the rest of the world. Now that we are both retired and have more time, we are returning to our roots and are excited to begin new explorations of North America.

Although we enjoy exploring cities for a few days, we love natural beauty and the outdoors. The mountains, coasts and canyons of the West are our favorite areas. You are most likely to find us on public lands (frequently in a state park), but we also choose private campgrounds when they work for us.

We travel with a large dog (90 lb. mix) and a cat, both rescues.

Although we will travel for up to four months at a time, we still maintain a sticks and bricks house and are not full-timers.

Consequently, we consciously try to keep information that would make it easy to identify us off of our blog so that we don’t advertise that our house might be vacant when we are traveling.

About Annie and The Beast

As a rule, we don’t name vehicles. Our current truck and fifth wheel became the exceptions to that rule.

Annie is an Excel 31′ fifth-wheel that we ordered with several customizations. She got her name from Little Orphan Annie. On the day we signed the papers to bring her home from the dealer, Peterson Industries, manufacturer of Excel fifth-wheels, closed their doors after 50 years in business. She became an orphan, and shortly after was christened Annie.

The Beast is an F-350 dually crew-cab long-bed pick-up truck. It does a great job of towing Annie, who (fully loaded with gear and fresh water) weighs in at about 17,000 lbs (that’s trailer only). Although there are more beastly tow vehicles out there, this 22′ long, 8+’ wide “beast” is the largest we’ve owned and even when driving solo requires a lot more manuevering room than any car or short-bed, single-rear wheel pickup. Not surprisingly, the nickname was coined one day when trying to maneuver it into a space designed for more petite vehicles.