By Valerie C. Coffey
Mitch and I have been so busy with work and exploring new places that I haven’t blogged in over two months – I hope you can forgive me, dear reader. I have at least been posting frequently to my accounts on Instagram and Facebook, so if you’re ever wondering what we’re up to, please check out the action there. This week finds us in Page, Arizona, at beautiful Lake Powell! It’s great to have been in Utah’s red-rock country for the past six weeks. While in Bryce Canyon, Utah, two weeks ago, we celebrated our two-year “nomadiversary!” It’s hard to believe we are now in our third year of living, traveling, and working from our RV full-time!
Our travel post this week comes to you from our visit to Colorado Springs in June. Mitch and I spent six weeks in Colorado from early June through mid-July. We left loving the state even more than we already did. Before our full-time RV adventure started in 2012, we had both spent time in Colorado – Mitch on vacations, skiing and RVing with his kids, and Valerie having lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, for six years in elementary and junior high school. But neither of us had ever spent much time in the city of Colorado Springs – our loss entirely.
Garden of the Gods RV Resort sounds nice, right? Well, the RV park is not as impressive as its name. Although the website claims “spectacular views of Pike’s Peak,” we noticed that the trees pretty much obscure the view throughout the campground. It wasn’t even worth a picture of the RV in its site. But the location near the mountainous west side of Colorado Springs (near the town of Manitou Springs) was perfect for exploring numerous sights. In fact, CO Springs had *so* much to do and see, that our ten days there were barely enough.
Each of the following “Things To Do” are “Must-Sees” in and around CO Springs. Each deserves its own blog post. But as time, metered data, and cellular connection are limited, I’ll stick to just the top few.
By Valerie Coffey
We have not been posting as much to our blog as we’d like in 2016. I’ve only managed to write a blog post about once a month. Sorry! We’ve been so very busy! Let us fill you in!
Since I last posted about our travels, we’ve explored the entire southern border of the US with Mexico. We left from San Diego in mid-March, and have now gone all the way to South Padre Island at the tip of Texas!
Along the way we stopped in the Yuma area (near the border of AZ and CA) for a few days, where we visited with our friends Roger and Gail and I got the RV stuck in deep sand. (Yeah, I’m gonna cruise right past that embarrassing story and save it for another day.) Then we walked over the Mexican border at Los Algodones, a popular destination for retirees and RVers to get state-of-the art but inexpensive pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, and dental check-ups! We saved a lot of money and enjoyed some margaritas in the sunshine while we were there.
We stayed in Tucson for two weeks, visiting our friends Keith and Nicole Davis and seeing everything we missed last year, including Old Tucson Studios, Tombstone, and Bisbee. We saw Val’s cousins in Las Cruces, NM, and hiked nearby Dripping Springs Natural Area.
(By the way, if you’re wondering where we are, or you feel like you’re missing some of our adventures, be sure to “like” our public Facebook page, RVLuckyOrWhat. I post a pantload of stuff there, and only by “liking” our page will our posts come up in your newsfeed. You can also follow us on Instagram at RVLuckyOrWhat.)
All of this repeating of previous destinations from last year was mostly just to get to Big Bend National Park in the southwestern elbow of Texas – one of the biggest national parks left on our list to visit in the RV, and one of the hardest to get to! With over 800,000 acres of protected area, Big Bend is BIG, but only a fraction the size of Death Valley National Park in CA with its 3.4 million acres.
And much like Death Valley, Big Bend is the most amazing park most people have never heard of, much less been to (unless of course, you live nearby or have already discovered it). Mitch had never heard of Big Bend before we started our trip, and I’d only seen pictures of it online but didn’t know much about it. We set our sights on it for year two, scheduling it for early April. (Be sure to read my article, Ten Reasons Death Valley is to Die For, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.)
My expectations of our first long-awaited visit to Big Bend National Park included sweeping mountain vistas and hiking adventures. I also expected April in Big Bend to involve flowering cactus and extreme heat countered with cool views of the Rio Grande (the river that defines the border between Texas and Mexico). We were not disappointed. What I didn’t expect was how many amazing deep canyons it holds. Nor did I understand that Big Bend is an animal bonanza in the middle of the one of the most remote spots in the U.S.
By Valerie Coffey
In April of 2014, Mitch and I took our first RV trip together a few months before we purchased our new home on wheels. We thought a short trial voyage with a rental RV would be a good idea before we exchanged our sticks & bricks house in Massachusttes for full-time life on the road. (Um. Ya think!?) Mitch had some experience RVing on family vacations but me, not so much.
So we took a road trip, rented a 36′ Winnebago from a private owner in Pennslvania, and drove it to Virginia for a long weekend.
I was sold on the RV lifestyle immediately! What a rush to be riding high, looking out the big windshield at the view, angsting at every turn and at every overhead branch and cable, but every minute becoming more comfortable behind the wheel of a big rig.
But perhaps what *really* romanced me was the rental advertisement for the RV we rented. In the ad, the rig was pictured at a tropical waterfront site in Key West, Florida. The owner told us that he took this picture of his rig at Boyd’s Key West Campground, a popular RV destination in Key West that required booking months in advance. We couldn’t wait to get there!
Now that we’ve stayed for a longer period at numerous RV campgrounds in the Keys, we found Boyd’s was only the tip of the iceberg. The Keys are chock full of great places to camp or RV! We found some other sites we liked even better!
Here’s our take on several amazing RV parks in and around Key West…
By Valerie Coffey
Travel + Leisure voted Charleston the “Best City in America” for 2015 — for the third year in a row! My first visit to Charleston in October 2015 was long-anticipated. For years, I’ve heard people say how much they love this southern city on the South Carolina coast.
“What do you like about it?” I would ask.
A typical response would be maddeningly vague: “Oh, it’s wonderful! The history! The art galleries! The architecture! You have to visit!” But I wondered, what’s it really like? Would I like it as much as everyone says?
And does it really qualify as the Best City in America?
For decades I lived in Boston with its even longer history. I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t care for most Southern comfort food. And doesn’t Charleston get a lot of rain and even hurricanes there (like Boston)? Call me a skeptic. And we only had a week, during which Mitch had two days of business travel. But let me try and answer the question better than I’ve heard it answered … Why is Charleston so charming?
By Valerie Coffey
We had to go to New Orleans for one dream of mine to come true.
Do you remember your childhood dreams? Did you dream of getting married to a royal (or never being married)? Having a big family (or not)? Having a nice home with a garden and a white picket fence? Having a nice car? A successful career? How about being an astronaut, fireman, supermodel, or actor? Some people dream of being a talented cook and opening a restaurant.
Not me. It’s a dream of mine to sing like a rock star in front of a crowd of enthusiastic fans.
Some dreams you have to work so hard for, that they are a special kind of reward when they happen. But like many dreams, being a rock star is a far-fetched one. The “American Idol” ideal takes so much talent and great gobs of luck, that I never for a second tried to pursue it. Besides, when American Idol started, I was 34, eight years past the cutoff age.
But sometimes you get a sampling of a dream come true, even without trying.
By Valerie Coffey
This has been the “Summer of National Parks” on our US tour via motorcoach — Arches, Grand Canyon, Smokey Mountains, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Badlands! And National Parks mean WILDLIFE! Our summer has been a glorious one with agreeable weather, beautiful RV parks, incredible scenery and lots and lots of amazing wildlife.
My favorite wildlife sighting was our first mountain goat in Glacier National Park — and I just happened to catch it all on video!
I love animals. To me, it isn’t much of a vacation until you see the wildlife. Mitch will attest that I walk down trails, calling, “Mountain goats, where are you?!” or “Now is a good time for bighorn sheep to appear, hint, hint!” And sometimes it works. Here are some neat amateur pictures and videos captured by Mitch and I.
Mountain goats and bison and bears, oh my!
By Valerie Coffey
We have had some misadventures in our ten months as full-time RVers:
There was the first day we drove off in our brand new 2014 Thor Tuscany motor coach, leaving behind our empty Sticks & Bricks home in Massachusetts forever. Only a few hours from home, Mitch was making an acute left turn in our 45-foot monster plus the tow car, just as the green light turned yellow…then red. It takes time for 60-+ feet to clear a tight left turn, and Mitch was being very careful, going slowly.
As the cross-traffic received a green light, an impatient driver in a Jeep Wrangler on the cross street to the left pulled two vehicle lengths ahead of the stop line, right up into the side of the Tuscany. Then she refused to move until the police arrived, trapping our toad in the middle of an intersection at rush hour in the NY-NJ-PA tri-state area. This bad decision on her part created a delay that gave me time to take pictures! The police cited her on the spot, and her insurance covered the body work to replace our left compartment doors and repaint them several months later.
Then there was the time we were crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming, on a Saturday night in December around 11 pm. We had two of our college kids aboard, and were trying to get over the mountains to beat an impending snow storm and pick up our stranded college freshman on winter break in Salt Lake City.
The Beast blew a fuel line and strewed about 30 gallons of diesel fuel across southeastern Wyoming before we could find a safe place to park and ride out the storm (read the whole story here). We managed to get her fixed before Christmas Day, but the kids may never go anywhere with us in the RV again, and we all probably have PTSD that can be triggered at the slightest whiff of diesel fuel. Snowstorm 1, Love Shack 0.
By Valerie Coffey
When Mitch and I planned over a year ago to visit San Francisco on our year-(plus)-long RV trip, spending time in the city was not the goal. We were in the area to pick up a friend and abscond to enjoy Napa’s wine country on Memorial Day weekend. The City by the Bay on a holiday weekend is a crush of traffic and tourists, which should be avoided…by everyone.
But as we got closer, my friend had to cancel and we decided to see the City by the Bay. So we designated one day, Thursday, to spend exploring.
San Francisco is like a home of sorts to me; I’ve been there numerous times since middle school for field trips from my then-hometown of Reno, for business conferences, and visits to see a college friend. I can feel my way around the city fairly well.
Mitch had been to the city for business, but he never had time to see much. So, it was up to me (Valerie) to plan the perfect one-day SFO experience for Mitch. My plan can work for anyone. So here it is!
As we move along in nearly 9 months of full-time RV travel, Mitch and I are often asked whether we have made progress in one of our key missions of the trip: finding another place to live that is warmer and cheaper than New England. With palm trees. Within commuting distance of a major airport for Mitch’s work and our continued wanderlust. Big enough community to keep it entertaining and convenient. Far enough away from a big city so that we can afford a big backyard space with a pool. Proximity to skiing is a plus.
As a matter of fact, we have narrowed down our choices somewhat! Here’s a little recap of our favorite and not-so-favorites.