As a general rule, we limit our mileage to 150 miles per day. Our outer limit is 200. However, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out by now that when we use the term “rule,” we really mean “suggestion,” and we pretty much just do whatever we feel like and then figure out how to justify it later. This applies to things like driving mileage, caloric intake, and monthly budgets.
Sometimes, though, there really is a method to our madness. Some of our rule breakage simply comes from us realizing that the rules we developed were wrong, or wrong for that situation.
So, when I started looking at how to route us from Texas up to our summer spots in Idaho and Montana, I broke some of our rules right off the bat. Others, we broke along the way when we realized our plans needed adjusting. Either way, a lot of rules were broken. Fortunately, it all worked out.
Central Texas to Northern Texas
We rolled out of Austin on June 15 and immediately started with a longer-than-normal day – about 250 miles. We wanted to get through the Dallas Metro area (which, if you’ve never been, is quite large) before stopping for the night. We stayed at a Passport America park (that is also home to an alpaca farm) for two nights.
“Why two nights?” you ask? Good question.
The answer is that in our time on the road, we’ve learned that if something is going to go wrong, it will often go wrong on our first day of travel. This is especially true if we’ve been sitting in one place for a while. In this case, we hadn’t really driven Barney since we arrived in Austin way back in March, so we figured there was a good chance something might go haywire on our first big outing, and if it did, we might need time and supplies to address it.
And what do you know? Something did break, and we did need supplies!
Sadly, however, we didn’t realize we had a problem until the morning we were leaving, and by then, we didn’t have time to fix it.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a huge problem. The valve we use to change the direction of incoming water from our house faucets to our water tank failed. Kevin was able to force it into position to fill our tank, but that meant we couldn’t switch to city water and the valve itself was leaking into our wet bay. It’s not that big a deal to fix but you have to get a replacement valve, and when you’re trying to move 1700 miles in 11 days, it’s not possible to do that. Oh well. We managed.
Oklahoma City and the National Memorial
After a short day of just 150 miles, we pulled into our Oklahoma City campground and found it to be the most “Oklahoma” place ever. It had an operational oil derrick placed right at the entrance, multiple tornado shelters located in the center of the campground, and warnings that made clear the shelters weren’t just for decoration.
After getting set up, I jumped in the car and headed down to see the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.
The memorial protects the site and the surrounding area of the Alfred P. Murrah building. Visitors gain entrance to the memorial through large gates on either side of the park. The gates are known as the “Gates of Time,” one inscribed “9:01” and the other “9:03.” The bomb exploded at 9:02. The idea is life as people knew it stopped at 9:01 and the healing process began at 9:03.
A tranquil reflecting pool lies between the two gates, with tree lined grassy areas on either side.
One of those grassy areas protects the original rectangular footprint of the building.
168 chairs, one for each of the bombing’s victims, are lined up in rows which correspond to the floor of the building they were on at the time of the blast.
19 smaller chairs commemorate the 19 children who perished at their daycare on the second floor of the building.
Surrounding the field of chairs is part of the original wall of the Murrah building, its concrete encased rebar no match for the force of the bomb.
On the opposite side of the reflecting pool, a plaza protects a beautiful American Elm that became known as the Survivor Tree, since, against all odds, it survived the blast and has continued to flourish.
Outside the gates, on the sidewalk, a fence similar to the one that originally protected the site and became a memorial, still exists, and people still leave items to remember the dead, honor the survivors, and give thanks to the first responders, recovery teams, and community members who came together to help.
Also preserved was this raw message spray painted by a recovery worker on an adjacent building:
I walked around the back side of what had been the building to find its original plaza still intact. It looks like a million D.C. federal buildings built in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
However, off to the side is a fenced in grassy area with a sign noting that it was the location where the daycare’s playground once stood.
Cordoned off from the rest of the city, the memorial is quiet, peaceful, and moving, with elements that honor the individual victims, the survivors, the rescue and recovery crews, and the greater community. It is a solemn memorial but also a place that lives and grows, demonstrating the efforts of the community to defiantly stand up to those behind the atrocity.
A Kansas Sized Surprise
The 300 mile drive from Oklahoma to Kansas was, as expected, flat.
So, so flat.
Fortunately, though, it offered plenty to think about. For example, ‘Do commuters see this billboard and think: “Ya know, I need to lock in some good funeral pricing…”
Of course, all of this reminded me of another funeral home billboard I saw up in Michigan (while, as I mentioned in my last post, I can’t remember crap, what I can remember is thoroughly worthless information like in which state we drove by a weird billboard). Anyway, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it’ll cost you several hundred dollars more for presumably the same cremation services, so keep that in mind when you’re planning for your demise.
Anyway, back in Kansas, if you need a pick me up after all that death talk, there’s a free pickle bar just up the road…
300+ flat miles later, we were surprised to see a “scenic byway” sign as we exited the interstate. All we had seen thus far was flat farmland, wind turbines, and oil derricks,
but, sure enough, as we drove down the road toward Wilson State Park, we were greeted with tree dotted rolling green hills as far as the eye could see.
Turning into the drive for the park, we were floored by the beautiful views that extended in every direction.
And while the campground was a bit tight, with sites arranged parallel to one another around several loops:
our site was right on the lakefront and offered easy, direct access to the water.
The lake was huge, multiple trails meandered up into the hills, and the views from the park’s highest points went on for miles. We would have loved to stay longer, but we only had one night.
Flat Kansas to Flat Colorado
The following day, we drove 250 miles from central Kansas, through the creatively named town of…
…before stopping for two nights at Shady Grove Campground in the tiny (and I do mean tiny) town of Seibert, Colorado.
Seibert, a five block by five block town with a population of just 216 people, has no shops or restaurants, one small grocery store, a couple churches, and no gas stations. There’s some sort of industrial complex and a very large school that apparently serves several local communities, and that’s about it.
Some of the roads aren’t even paved. We saw them come through with this grading contraption…
We stayed two nights (which was one and a half too many) and headed out.
Our plan had been to drive from Seibert across the northeastern section of Colorado and into Wyoming where we’d stop at the Walmart in Laramie for the night, followed 200 miles later by a Walmart in Rock Springs, followed by a trek north to a BLM campground called Warren Bridge for a night.
We quickly tossed all those plans out the window.
The roads were decent, there was no traffic, and the weather, while at times stormy, hadn’t been a real problem. So, from Eastern Colorado, we crossed the northeastern section of the state and headed due west across Wyoming. The total mileage for the day was about 350 miles.
We stopped for the night at Western Hills Campground in Rawlins, Wyoming, a large parking lot style campground that pretty much exists for people doing what we were doing.
Rawlins, Wyoming to Ririe, Idaho: The Homestretch
After a good night’s sleep, we hit the road once more. As we headed out, we expected to travel about 230 miles before stopping for the night, but over the course of the afternoon, we decided to just push through to our final destination.
Lucky for us, the whole drive was smooth and the scenery through Wyoming was increasingly picturesque.
350 miles later, we arrived at the lovely Juniper Campground in Ririe, Idaho. We discovered this gem in 2018 and it’s one of our favorites. Spacious sites, full hooks-ups, lots of greenery, on a huge reservoir, for $25 per night. I was able to tack on two nights to our original reservation which gave us a nice four night break to decompress from our lengthy northbound trek.
Grand Teton National Park
Even though we had done a ton of driving, we were only two hours from Grand Teton National Park. When we last visited GTNP in 2018, we only had one day to drive over, and it was during a summer filled with wildfire smoke everywhere we went. The photos I took that afternoon were gray, flat, and disappointing.
I really wanted to get some good photos of this gorgeous national park, so, this time, on a bright, blue sky, sunshiny day, I grabbed my camera, jumped in the car, drove two hours over Teton Pass… and arrived at the park just as storms were rolling in.
It just kept getting darker…
until it actually started raining on me…
So, basically, I spent four hours in the car and ended up with the exact same pictures I took in 2018.
I think I now understand why Ansel Adams just shot this stupid place in black and white.
One of the reasons we broke some of our mileage rules was we wanted to limit the number of times we had to check in at campground offices and interact with people in general. Before leaving Austin, we stocked up on groceries so the only non-campground stops we had to make were for gas fill-ups. In the end, of the six campgrounds we stayed at, five offered some version of remote or distanced check-in (pay in advance/paperwork emailed or texted/paperwork left on bulletin board or table, etc.)
We’ve continued to see campgrounds take the issue seriously as we’ve moved north through Idaho and into Montana. We’ve also noticed increasing mask compliance at local grocery stores – especially now that it’s been mandated by the governor in Montana (it was about 40% in Idaho Falls (where there was no mandate), 70% in Missoula (where there was a local mandate), and 90% in Columbia Falls (where there is now a statewide mandate).) All of this has made us feel more comfortable with traveling – though we seem to be staying ahead of the various hotspots and assume, at some point, we’re going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and have to call an audible. Until then, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and just try to stay vigilant.
Next up on the blog: We head further north to another old favorite, Henrys (with no apostrophe) Lake State Park in Island Park, Idaho.
Where we stayed:
Wagon Master RV Park, Sanger, Texas
Roadrunner RV Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Wilson State Park, Sylvan Grove, Kansas
Shady Grove Campground, Seibert, Colorado
Western Hills Campground, Rawlins, Wyoming
Juniper Campground, Ririe, Idaho