By Valerie C. Coffey
We left our sticks & bricks home in Massachusetts forever on August 14, 2014, driving away in our brand new Thor Tuscany 45-foot motorcoach for a year or more traveling the US.
We sold our homes, sold a lifetime of belongings, dropped of the kids at college, continued our jobs on the road, and have had the kick-ass adventure of a lifetime this past year, and have seen so much of the US! We have learned so much!
People commonly ask us — What’s the best thing you’ve seen? — an impossible thing to answer, because it’s entirely personal, based on our pre-RVing experiences, values, prevailing weather and our mood at the time. In one year, we have hit 42 states and have driven 25,000 miles in the RV with an additional 15,000 in the Hyundai Veloster tow car.
We have stayed at well over 100 different sites, including luxury RV resorts, campgrounds, RV parks that resemble parking lots, state parks, and national parks. We have managed to completely avoid an overnight stay in the parking lot of a 24-hr WalMart!
But we do have some answers!!
What is THE BEST THING we’ve seen??
Okay, well, we’ve had so many experiences, we can’t just name one. They’re all different! So many of our experiences were absolutely awesome! So we each named our top FIVE “Best Things!” to see what floats to the top.
Top Five for Mitch (in no particular order):
1. New Years Eve in Las Vegas, NV.
I have family members working at Vegas resort-casinos that made our New Year’s Eve super ridiculously special with an exclusive invite to the MGM Grand VIP party.
With friends and family, we watched Cirque du Soleil performers, enjoyed amazing food and drink, followed by more incredible performances, ending with Kelly Clarkson performing her hits and singing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight.
2. Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park (southern California):
We rented a Jeep to take the 6-hr round trip to Racetrack Playa, which requires a high clearance vehicle.
We made it a whole-day excursion by taking off on a one-track dirt road nearby, which took us up hair-raising, muddy and sometimes snowy cliff-side roads in one of the most remote areas in the US in January. All we had was a crude map and a sense of adventure. (We also had an emergency 911 beacon box in case we got into trouble — we don’t have a death wish!)
This video shows a bit of why it was such a thrill:
P.S. The mysterious rock movements have been explained by natural phenomena, but I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out the explanation. Some folks like leaving it a mystery.
If you don’t know why we think Death Valley is so special, read my post, Ten Reasons Why Death Valley is to Die For
3. Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana
This has to be one of the most beautiful trails in the US if not the world! We aren’t kidding. Glacier isn’t called the Switzerland of the US for nothing:
4. Duvall Street, Key West, Florida:
What’s not to like??? Summery weather nearly all year round, fun visitors and friendly locals, historic sights frequented by pirates and Ernest Hemingway, all combine to make Key West a favorite that we’ll be going back to again and again.
5. Coachella Music and Arts Fest in Palm Springs, CA
Coachella has come a long way since Val’s visit in 2006. The festival was well managed in 2015 to keep tens of thousands of participants moving, fed, entertained by up to nine simultaneous musical acts and innumerable stunning art and performance-art installations, and cool in the heat of 90- to 100-F weather in Indio, California, in April.
We were most impressed with how beautiful the Coachella fairgrounds are, and how participants rise to the occasion in celebrity-worthy attire.
And of course — seeing AC/DC in concert at Coachella was another bucket list item!
We won’t be in the Palm Springs area for April 2016, but we look forward to attending Coachella again someday soon!
Check out more about why we loved Coachella and how it compares to South By Southwest in Austin here.
Top FIVE Best Things For Val:
1. The bison herd enveloping our car in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
This was number six on Mitch’s list, but as I limited us both to five, I’m stealing it. The crazy pictures and video we got of hundreds of bison behaving badly this July in Custer State Park will never cease to be entertaining. These creatures are beautiful and mind-blowingly massive — their top weights of 3500 lb make them the largest land-dwelling mammal in the US.
And this video of a bull bison growling loudly to impress this chosen female is representative of what we heard from many of the bulls when we were stuck for an hour in a “bison traffic jam.” We had never heard such a thing!
2. Monument Valley’s 17-mile scenic loop
Early on in the trip, we drove the 17-mile scenic drive through Monument Valley in Arizona. We were absolutely blown away, enchanted, and happy that the Veloster survived when the Navajo guides said it wouldn’t.
3. Singing on Bourbon St. with a live rock band in New Orleans:
We were in NOLA one-week AFTER Mardi Gras (on purpose — read this post if you don’t know why), and I fell in love with this dirty, stinky, seedy city — because live music pervades every nook and cranny. And I got to be part of it!
I mean, you may know I karaoke my tail off on a regular basis, but being invited to sing onstage in the Music Capital of the US (Nashville ain’t got nothing on NOLA), on the number one touristy street, even if it was just a Wednesday, with a live band that I’d never met, and to do it well enough that they actually invited me back for a set the next night was a thrill for me. I felt like Ferris Bueller singing on the parade float on his day off!
The band “The Remedy” at the bar and nightclub “The Swamp” didn’t even know it was my birthday when they asked me to come back and sing lead on Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Heartbreaker.”
Mitch took video with my phone, which has the poor quality of a cell phone, but it could be worse:
4. Seeing my first live manatee in the wild in Homosassa Springs, Florida:
These graceful sea creatures called manatees are endangered. They are massive, and can grow as big as a bull bison to 3500 lb! And they are so gentle that they have earned the name sea cows. They are mammals and breathe air. They are fascinating and seeing them was a big bucket list item for me.
We didn’t manage to have a close-enough encounter to get a picture, as a matter of fact, we lost our underwater camera — (let us know if you find our red Olympus at the bottom of the Homosassa River!) but it made a big impression on me. Catch up on what happened on our adventure trying to find manatees here.
5. Seeing my first wild mountain goat in Glacier National Park:
What. A. Thrill! This first sighting was not only checking a long- awaited bucket list item, it was most fulfilling for the close nature of the encounter (which couldn’t be prevented) and the pure adorable-ness of the goat’s appearance and behavior.
If you haven’t seen the incredibly lucky video I got of this gorgeous mountain goat, check it out! I never tire of it.
With us, you can start to see some common themes:
- We love music, seeing music, performing music, hearing music — particularly rock music! Some people are foodies. We’re music-ies.
- We love nature. We love to out-hike and out-drive the tourists to get someplace remote where we can soak up a spectacular vista and hear the wind and water flowing.
- We love animals — (particularly me). Mitch is happy to see me so happy, and the more wildlife sightings we have, the more I think he gets it. It’s awesome.
So what’s the **winning** BEST THING?
We might *possibly* agree if held at gunpoint that Glacier National Park was the best thing we’ve seen this year. It’s the only thing that made both of our lists.
But we have a list of things that impressed us enough to draw us back for year two. YES — year TWO! We plan to slow down our pace and spend more time in the places we love:
- Seven weeks in Key West from mid-Oct. to mid-December!
- The manatee wintering area of Crystal Springs, Florida, in December…this time, we’ll get a guide so we can have a better look without losing our camera.
- New Orleans again, this time in the Christmas timeframe.
- We look forward to another NYE in Las Vegas for 2016!
- We’ll recover from NYE for two weeks in Death Valley in January!
- Finally, we plan to spend the summer exploring the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and Utah!
See you in the warm places!