Archive for the “Best of” Category
Reviews of favorite U.S. destinations, attractions, eateries, dog-friendly spots, and more
For the record, I still consider us full-time RVers, considering we only spent a couple months at Jerry’s Acres last year. It looks like we’ll only be here a few weeks this time, before we head to our favorite workamping job again back at the ranch. Barely enough time to reflect upon some of the most memorable highlights from the past 11 months on the road.
Click photos to view them larger, or check out our road trip galleries for more pictures. For details about all our stops this year, see our full-time RVing travel map.
A Couple New Favorite Sites
When we first left last May, we found free boondocking at Turquoise Lake near Leadville, CO. It was only free because the campground had not yet opened for the season, and there was still snow on the ground. But it was still fun roller blading at 10,000′ along the paved roads.
Thousands of miles later, near the end of this year’s journey, we discovered a new all-time favorite place where we will definitely be heading again. Goosenecks State Park near Bluff, Utah is simply amazing – remote, quiet, dark at night, with absolutely nothing to do but get some work done or go for a run and soak in the magical beauty – just the way we like it!
We decided not to park to close to the edge since we could let Wyatt run wild here. Luckily we met a fellow traveler who encouraged to look a bit further down the road from the busy parking area where it seemed lots of RVers stopped for just one night. We spent a week and are already looking forward to staying much longer next time.
Attractions and Special Events
Speaking of dizzying drop-offs, a more recent highlight from the past year was our recent Jeeping adventure with Kev, the founder of Nü RVers.
After stopping at the famed location where Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff, we proceeded to climb the most harrowing trail up out of Canyonlands National Park. I’m just thankful I wasn’t driving!
The first attraction we went out of our way to see this year was about nine months earlier before we even left Colorado. The Sand Creek Masacre National Historic Site sits off highway 96 in Eastern Colorado.
Other sacred sites where it felt like we were treading on hallowed ground were the Civil War battlefields in Virginia that we visited.
Fredericksburg, Virgina was also memorable because that is where we gave our keynote talk at the Greyhounds Rock Take A Bite Out of Canine Cancer conference. It’s the whole reason we headed East this year, to share our story about Jerry and help attendees learn How To Be More Dog.
Speaking of hallowed ground, another highlight was the spooky hay ride and haunted house at Stony Creek RV Resort in West Virgina. I’m not sure what was scarier though, the abandoned old house decked out for Halloween or the way the campground burned all the leaves in a pile that snaked through all the sites.
Another memorable event was meeting up with a couple of my sisters in Georgia. We don’t get to the East Coast often, so I was happy when one flew down from New York when we visited the other near Atlanta. No big sightseeing to report, it was great just to hang out and catch up with each other. Next stop: Luckenbach, Texas!
A year on the road just wouldn’t be the same without our annual pilgrimage to the center of the universe in the Texas hill country. We didn’t get stuck in Luckenbach this time, but we did enjoy a couple nights of cold beer and good music by the Doug Moreland Trio and others while boondocking in the cold.
Weather Report from the Road
Speaking of cold. Another memorable night was the coldest night we ever spent roadside boondocking.
From the ice on the road and the frost on our breath (inside the rig) the next morning, we realized why they named this tiny Texas town Sierra Blanco. As far as weather goes, I must mention Hurricane Sandy. Normally we high-tail it in the other direction when tornadoes or other major weather systems are in our path. But with our conference date in Virginia, we sat this one out about 100 miles south of where Sandy came ashore.
And speaking of sandy, one more memorable weather event this year was the three-day sandstorm that drove us away from Borrego Springs, back to the Slabs earlier than we wanted. But enough about the weather, let’s talk about some food!
Best Food and Drink on the Road
Rene and I rarely go out. Whenever we do, we make it special, or for a special event. One memorable outing was to the dive bar in Festus, MO where we had to toast Spoonie, since that’s where he was from. But this place was a highlight only for it’s smoke and cheap, bad drinks. Kris would approve.
One of the culinary highlights of the year was just a couple days prior at the renowned Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ in Kansas City. This place is a must visit for any meat lover. We lucked out and got there in between the lunch and dinner rushes. The line is usually out the door at this small gas station, and it was starting to form as we were finishing our meal.
The most memorable meal of the year had to be at Herby K’s, in Shrieveport, LA. This 77 year old icon of cajun cooking was just what we were looking for as we approached the Louisiana border and realized we hadn’t yet had any creole food. Disregard any reviews you may read about this being in a “bad” part of town. While the neighborhood has clearly seen better times, long ago, the clientele that kept pouring in as we left were obviously well to-do and knew that the best food is often found in a discreet little hole in the wall.
The Year in Summary
For most of the past year, we seemed to be traveling on somebody else’s clock. Much of it was spent preparing for our first public speaking engagement, and then we had to deal with Wyatt and spent far too long at Rainbow’s End. After that we made a B-line for a belated holiday visit with la familia. Once back on the road again, we were on our own time. We’ve enjoyed the last month or so as we worked our way back to the mountains.
We got back just in time to be greeted by a Moose and a major snow storm headed our way. But not until after the most harrowing drive ever, over Vail Pass, in the wet snow, after dark. Not fun, but better than the alternative of driving over the next morning with the risk of it being iced over, or closed.
It’s good to be “home” – wherever we park it.
What has been the highlight of your journey recently?
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Posted by Rene in Attractions, Best of, Campsites, Dream, tags: favorite places, Full-Timing Tips, Georgia, Maine, Okefenokee, Vermont, Virginia
As I recover from a sleepless night in a Passport America campground set a little too close to I-5 in San Diego, the time is right to wrap up my three-part series about our favorite places to camp around the U.S. This time we’ll cover the Eastern states.
I’ll be honest; the East Coast is NOT our favorite place to camp. As native westerners we are spoiled with wide open, free camping on public lands, which doesn’t exist seem to east of the Mississippi.
But there are upsides to traveling throughout the East Coast. In addition to experiencing some fascinating historic sites, the region did reveal some surprising gems to us, which made up for the stressful driving and crowded conditions. Our Passport America membership also helped ease the sting of the East Coast’s high RV park rates. Here are a few of our favorite places to go camping from Maine to Florida.
Lily Bay State Park
We made the effort to visit Maine and loved the usual attractions like Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, but Lily Bay State Park at Moosehead Lake stood out among all of them.
Not only will you probably see Maine’s legendary moose hanging out in the waters of Maine’s biggest lake, but it’s one of the most rugged, scenic and sparsely populated areas of the Northeast.
Bring your toughest bug repellent since you’ll be in Maine’s deepest woods and be prepared to get outside and off your phones and computers. The tree canopy in the campground obscures any satellite or cell signals. This is one place you can really get away from it all!
We’d heard a lot about how Burlington is a cool, progressive town and wanted to see if it would make our short list of potential places to settle down someday. We picked a spot at Burlington’s North Beach Campground, which is the best place to stay if you want to experience this fabulous college town up close.
This city-run campground is set on Lake Champlain within easy biking distance of downtown Burlington’s best attractions, like the weekly farmers market, food co-op and shopping.
Maybe we loved Burlington because it shares a strong resemblance to hippie dippie Humboldt County, our last permanent residence. With a greenie flair and a strong commitment to keeping things local, it’s a great town if you lean left and think different.
Bring your bike and bring your dog since Burlington is welcoming to both, but just remember if you decide to stay, in order to fit in properly you’ll need to grow a beard and drive a Subaru with a kayak permanently mounted to the roof.
Virginia is a beautiful state with tons of private campgrounds and some scenic but incredibly expensive state parks (nearly $40 a night for electric only sites!). Last fall we stayed at Lake Anna State Park in Northern Virginia and previously we camped at Claytor Lake State Park in the New River Valley near the southwest corner of the state.
Both parks had the usual state park amenities and were nice enough to stay at, but Claytor Lake is our choice because of its proximity to the fine college town of Blacksburg as well as one of our favorite attractions in Virginia, the Floyd Country Store.
Set along Virginia’s Crooked Road music heritage trail, Floyd is home to the Floyd Country Store, ground zero for local old timey, bluegrass and gospel music. Visit on a Friday night and for less than $5 you get to experience Appalachia’s best bands and musicians along with some of the finest clog dancing in America.
Get there early though, as this place gets packed! Saturdays and Sunday also showcase live music acts and inbetween you can peruse America’s largest selection of old timey music CDs and paraphernalia, ever. If you can’t make it, a live radio show during summer can bring Floyd to you.
Georgia is the last stop on this “best of” journey because I can’t find anything too significant about any other parts of the east or southeast. If you go to Georgia, here are our two favorite stops:
We went to Savannah for one reason: Bonanventure Cemetery. If you’ve ever read or seen Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you’ll know why we were compelled to visit.
Savannah wins as my favorite city on the east coast. It’s a city and it’s busy but the lush trees and dense foliage give you a sense of inner peace that’s rare in congested places.
The food is fabulous, Savannah’s genteel and diverse people are kind and the best part is there’s a nearby state park that puts you within about 20 minutes of everything. While lots of folks stay at Tybee Island, we took a gander at Skidaway Island State Park and decided to stay for a spell.
Set on the Intercoastal Waterway, this state park had tons of paths and places to explore and even had laundry facilities. This park was a world away from the buzz of Savannah but close enough to make it a worthwhile base camp to explore one of America’s greatest cities.
The Okefenokee Swamp
When we were cruising through Georgia, I told Jim we were near a funny little place called Okefenokee Swamp. He gets excited and says “Pogo!” I say “Who?” Then he proceeded to enlighten me on Walt Kelly’s Pogo, featured in the the long running daily comic strip featuring Pogo along with a rather political possum, and his cohorts deep in the Georgia swamps.
Jim practically swerved off the road to make turnoff to Okefenokee Swamp, which turned out to be our most memorable experience in the swamplands of the East Coast.
You have to really want to see Okefenokee Swamp, as it’s hours from any city, set in the middle of nowhere at the end of a dead-end highway with no facilities nearby.
Once you’ve arrived, the campground at Stephen C. Foster State Park is within walking distance of canoe rentals, which are the only feasible way to explore the swampy, buggy and fascinating plants and animals of Okefenokee Swamp — one of the buggiest, creepiest and coolest places in America.
I’m sure that in our haste to escape the madness of the frantic East Coast highways and jam-packed campgrounds, we missed out on a lot. Our prejudices about what camping means to us also probably also got in the way of a lot of cool things to check out.
If you have favorite places to RV and camp back east, do tell! We’ll be sure to put them on our map of places to see in future tours of the east.
Read my other two segments on our Favorite Places to Camp all around the country!
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In this second of three articles highlighting our most memorable and favorite places to camp in the U.S., here are the campgrounds and towns that made RVing in the Midwest fun for us.
What to Expect
We were such ignorant West Coasters when we cruised up into the Midwest the first time around in 2007. Neither one of us had any idea that we would find cheap camping, beautiful scenery, good eats and people so friendly they would invite us to their homes and churches just minutes after meeting us at a farm stand or grocery store.
One of the best surprises about camping in the Midwest was abundant and affordable city-owned camping facilities that range from basic boondocking to full hookups at a fraction of the price of privately owned RV parks.
In our early days we used the website FreeCampgrounds.com to find them, but now we rely on the Escapees Days End Directory. From urban campgrounds to rural places nestled inbetween farmland, we found lots of affordable places to park in the Upper Midwest, but not as many in Kansas, Missouri or Indiana where we spent time last fall.
Here are some of our favorite RV camping finds in the Midwest.
We went to Fargo just out of curiosity, to see if it was anything like the movie.
What we discovered was that it’s a far cooler town than we ever would have guessed. We might’ve considered living there if the winter weather wasn’t so crappy.
Fargo’s Lindenwood Campground made a perfect base camp to explore this booming tech-centric and oil-rich metropolis. The campground is set beneath beautiful canopies of huge trees and lush grassy banks that line the Red River. Get here later in the summer, however, since the park is often closed when spring snow melt floods the riverbanks.
When you’re camped at Lindenwood, a paved multi-use bike path can get you from your RV to the middle of downtown Fargo, where a buzzing scene of farmer’s markets, evening concerts and the famous Tochi Health Food Store is waiting with gourmet delights.
Another famous culinary landmark that’s also worth checking out is Hornbachers Grocery Store, a Midwest experience where you can dive into tasty Scandanavian staples like lefse and spotted dick.
Fargo is also extremely dog friendly, with lots of parks and outdoor eateries to enjoy with your pooch. Our Jerry had a blast here!
Fewer states surprised us more than Minnesota. Some things were exactly as we envisioned them to be; yes, Minnesota has at least a thousand lakes, the state bird is the mosquito and the people are exactly as Garrison Keillor describes. What threw us for a loop was the diverse scenery, from prairie to forests to big cities.
At the time we visited Minnesota we were still looking for a perfect place to live in a stick house. I’d heard a lot about the excellent quality of life and progressive attitudes in some parts of Minnesota and wanted to see if it lived up to its reputation.
A fellow RVer told me that Duluth was a fun city so we drove over to see what it was about. Bob Dylan got his start in Duluth. Clearly, the hippies came and stayed, thank goodness.
Duluth is like a mini-San Francisco on the shore of Lake Superior. Sure it’s seen better days as far as its economy goes, but when we were there it was clear that local economic development efforts were paying off. The tourism-based economic boom was responsible for a waterfront with scenery, museums and entertainment that rivals anything we’ve found in bigger cities.
When the hubbub gets to be too much, nearby forests and camping destinations offer quick relief from the 200,000 or so residents who call this region home.
Where to Camp in Duluth
If you go, the best place to experience Duluth is to park your RV on the marina. Yep, you can get a RV site with none or full-hookups at Lakehead Boat Basin. It’s a little pricey at around $40 a night for full hook-ups, but definitely worth the cost.
Don’t expect luxury accommodations. Lakehead boat basin is an asphalt parking lot. But it’s situated near downtown Duluth, and you can set out your lawn chairs to watch the massive ships sailing by as they wait for Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge (one of the few vertical lift bridges in the world) to grant port access.
Duluth’s climate is a lot like any coastal town, and you’d swear that you were looking out at an ocean, not a giant lake. We had a ball exploring this upper Midwest city.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is like a foreign country inside of the mitten state. With just three percent of state residents residing inside its borders, the U.P.’s tough and rugged locals are known as “Yoopers” who still strongly identify with their Scandanavian heritage and practically speak another language that you won’t hear anywhere else in America. Yoopers are an incredibly independent and resilient bunch, which makes sense considering that this area has some of Michigan’s most isolated towns and brutal weather.
Camping in the U.P. is available everywhere. Abundant water makes it a paradise for canoers but our reason for visiting was to see Whitefish Point, home to the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior and site of the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald Shipwreck in 1975.
Whitefish Point is also known as the Shipwreck Coast of Lake Superior. Over 150 massive ships have gone down in the bay and divers crazy enough to descend in these frigid waters can see perfectly preserved relics dating back to Civil War Days.
Since our diving days are pretty much over, we chose to experience Whitefish Point on terra firma, and spent time at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, where the bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains preserved after being hauled from the catastrophic waters just a few miles away.
Jim wrote a great description of our trip to pay respect to the hundreds of souls who lost their lives in Whitefish Bay.
As the northernmost point of Michigan, you can bet that the summer weather was gray, drizzly and dreary. But it made a great setting for experiencing one of the Midwest’s most lush camping areas.
Camping was exceptionally cheap and scenic at Andrus Lake State Forest, where we boondocked beneath thick forest cover and toured local UP attractions like the historic Centennial Cranberry Farm. We didn’t try any famous Yooper Pasties while we stayed, which is one reason why we will make it up there again some day!
Part Three Coming Soon
Our visit to the Upper Midwest occurred during our first two years as full-timers. Once we experienced the heart of Middle America, we knew there was no going back and full-timing was the life for us. Despite what left and right coast inhabitants may think, America is as diverse and interesting as any overseas destinations and years can be spent traveling along its blue highways without even scratching the surface.
While we do want to take more international trips in the future, for now we want to see as much of this country from the comfort of our home on wheels.
In my final installment about our favorite camping destinations, we’ll cover the East Coast and Southeast. Stay tuned!
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Posted by Rene in Best of, Campsites, tags: arizona, Boondocking, California, Colorado, destiinations, favorite places, free camping, Full-Timing Tips, new mexico, Utah, Washington
Can you name your top 10 places to camp in North America? We would love to hear your favorite RV camping locations whether they’re boondocking in the sticks or living in luxury on beachfront property.
Recently a reader asked us to name our favorite places to camp. This was a real challenge, since one RVer’s paradise might be a dump to someone else. But here goes:
The following list features our favorite and most memorable destinations after nearly six years on the road. I’m going to present these in a three-part series since if you’re like me, you have the attention span of a gnat and want bite-sized summaries.
Favorite West Coast Destinations
As California natives, we’re biased when it comes to camping on the left coast. Our favorite places to park our RV include:
Washington: The Methow Valley and The Olympic Peninsula. They’re wet, moldy and damp most of the year but copious amounts of rainfall make these areas one of the most lush, prehistoric regions in the U.S. Along with ample humidity and moisture, you’ll also enjoy small bandanna belt micro-climates in places like Sequim and Twisp, which present a nice break from the year-round gloom and doom weather.
California: Some of California’s most scenic and remote areas you can access by RV include: Humboldt & Del Norte Counties, Lassen National Forest, Highway 395, The Slabs and Borrego Springs. Growing up in the Golden State, I was lucky enough to explore rugged mountains and coastlines back in the day when there were fewer people who had the same idea that we did.
Today many of our all-time favorite places to camp in California are either overpopulated or remote and not accessible by RV. However you’ll still find lots of great RV camping destinations from Eureka to El Centro. You can’t go wrong in Cali no matter what time of year you visit.
Favorite Southwest Destinations
The Southwest is our favorite place to escape winter. Forget the expensive east coast RV parks and dense cities, the southwest is cheap, big and desolate. Frugal RV living doesn’t get any better than places like:
Arizona: Organ Pipe National Monument, Bisbee. These two favorites are located along the Mexican border, but we’ve never felt like we were in danger while staying there. Bisbee is a funky art town that hasn’t yet been ruined by artsy New Yorkers, and Organ Pipe has so much border patrol activity you can’t be camped in a safer and more beautiful place.
Colorado. We found our dream property in Colorado after looking all over the U.S.. Need we say more?
Colorado has so many public camping options I can’t even try to name all of them. Our favorite spots include the Lake City region between Gunnison and Silverton, and the Roosevelt National Forest that surrounds our “Jerry’s Acres” property near Fort Collins.
New Mexico: New Mexico’s diverse camping options range from alpine mountains in the north to flat, big desert in the south. Our favorite places to camp include: Jemez Springs (Fenton Lake State Park), Bottomless Lakes State Park and Rodeo de Santa Fe. Although springtime winds can be brutal, a visit here any time of year is worthwhile. And when we’re sick of picking grit out of our teeth, we head to Santa Fe where we can park cheaply at the rodeo fairgrounds and enjoy a world-class art town with an unforgettable ambiance.
Utah: Anywhere in the Canyonlands region like Mexican Hat Capitol Reef National Park or Green River rank high on our list not just because you can find dozens of free places to camp on BLM land, but because Capitol Reef is where we got engaged in 1996!
Texas: West Texas, specifically the Big Bend and Black Gap, have become our all-time favorite places to winter. This vast, open region is about as close as you’re going to get to free camping in Texas since free public lands are as rare in Texas as a Democrat in Dallas.
But even if you have to pay to camp, rest assured that this is one area that’s worth the money. After the Big Bend, the Hill Country around New Braunfels is our second favorite because of its proximity to awesome music, food and scenery.
These are our favorite places to camp. Now, how about yours?
Stay tuned for our next posts on our favorite places to camp in the Midwest, East Coast and Southeast.
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By all appearances, country music is dead in America. The mainstream country pop garbage on redneck radio might seem to indicate that we as a nation have turned a deaf ear to quality folksy tunes, but all you need to do is giddy up over to Texas to know for sure that great American music is thriving.
One of our annual stops for great live music is Luckenbach Texas. During an epic Texas flood or a brisk snowstorm like the one we encountered recently, we try not to let anything stand in our way of this musical pilgrimage.
Luckenbach also has one of the best overnight camping deals in the entire Hill Country Region. For just $15 a night, you get the privilege of boondocking on the property grounds.
What could be better than having your home within stumbling distance of the center of the universe?
Not a day goes by when there isn’t some kind of live music happening. Even the bartenders get into the act.
With no cover charge during the week, that means we give better tips to the band and imbibe on better beer at the bar!
Our last visit included a night with the Doug Moreland Trio. This fun Texas band is straight-up Americana at its best. It’s amazing how three guys can create such a big sound!
One of our goals in life is to have a piece of property somewhere in central or West Texas. With LUCK and hard work, we hope it’s stumbling distance to the center of the universe, Luckenbach, Texas!
Check out the Doug Moreland Trio for some great music. We’ll have our own videos of their act soon, but for now here’s a sample:
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