This was a pretty good trip west, considering that we were covering a familiar route and thus were susceptible to the malaise of “the road too often traveled.”* Our experiments with alternate routes ended up much like you’d expect: some successes, some failures. On the positive side, we found some very nice roads through Kansas (and more through Missouri and Arkansas that we’ll try next year), lots of historic sites, several new state parks, and amazing scenery through New Mexico.
* apologies to Robert Frost
To the negative side, our cadence through the trip was off. Normally on a rush-rush trip (and two weeks to go from Vermont to Arizona is definitely a rush in our book), we’ll travel 350-400 miles for a day or two, then take a couple of days off to browse an area and recuperate from sitting in the car. This time we tried a different routine of exploring in the morning, then driving 200-300 miles to another interesting spot for the night so that we can explore it again the next morning. It was efficient but too grueling, and after a week of this I was burning out. So we’ve decided to go back to the previous method, at least when we don’t have time to do it a more relaxed way.
Still, we managed to do a lot of the things we like. I keep a trip tally of places visited and anticipated, on our white board in the Airstream. This trip we hit seven state parks: Darien Lake (NY), Maumee Bay (OH), Fox Ridge (IL), Sangchris Lake (IL), Pershing (MO), John Martin Reservoir (CO), Fool Hollow Lake (AZ), plus one Canadian Provincial park (Pinery in Ontario). That’s a win right there, because the camping experience in every one of those parks was nicer than almost any of the commercial parks we’ve ever visited. The state parks may have gotten more expensive since the Great Recession, but they are still a bargain if you like being out in the country.
We had no trouble at all getting into state parks in Illinois, Missouri, and even eastern Colorado with no reservations. Most of them were nearly deserted, at least during the week. I had expected we might have to spend a night at a Wal-Mart or similar because it should have been peak season in those states. Strangely, once we got west of I-25 into Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, everything was full. Admittedly the weather was fantastic, but it was a surprise to pull into a tiny place like Eagle Nest, NM and find no availability at either of the two state parks and most of the commercial sites—on a Thursday. But it always worked out, as it always does. (I often remind people that you always know where you’ll be sleeping when you have a travel trailer, so why get anxious about it?)
During the trip we managed to add to our list of national park sites, which is getting harder these days since we’ve visited nearly a third of the entire NP system. Kansas may not have a leading reputation as a tourist state but we certainly enjoyed Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site and Ft Larned NHS, and Bent’s Old Fort NHS in Colorado, and Apache Ruins Nat’l Monument in New Mexico. Anyone who is going to the WBCCI International Rally next June in Farmington NM should plan a half day at Apache Ruins, as well as a full day at Mesa Verde National Park.
Emma picked up a Junior Ranger badge at Apache Ruins. She didn’t have time to complete the programs at the other sites, which was another symptom that the cadence of the trip wasn’t right for us. By the time we got to New Mexico I had recognized the mistake and we started to slow down a little, taking three days to get through New Mexico along Rt 64 (spectacular) and Arizona. That means stopping and checking out things by the roadside like the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a picnic stop at 10,500 feet on Rt 64, views in the Salt River Canyon in Arizona (Rt 60/77), etc. Can you see our Airstream parked along the roadside in the photo below (way at the back)?
Our last stop was Fool Hollow Lake State Park in Show Low, AZ. It’s very popular and for good reasons; the sites are beautiful. We only go on weekdays because there’s no chance of getting a walk-up site on a weekend. This time we ended up in the midst of what appeared to be an Airstream gathering. To our left were two Airstreams parked together (a few tandem sites exist at Fool Hollow), to our right was a 1970s-era Argosy, and further down the loop we spotted two more late model Airstreams. It’s unusual to see this many clustered together, but it was just happenstance. Our neighbors to the left were playing classic 78-RPM records on a portable Victor record player, and told us they were planning to come to Alumafiesta in Tucson next January.
I mentioned in the previous blog that the GL was due for maintenance. It did a strange thing to us while climbing out of the Salt River Canyon area in Arizona. The computer decided to limit engine power for no apparent reason. It will do this if the transmission or engine temperature get high, but that wasn’t happening, and in any case it should restore full engine power when things cool off. This time it stayed at low power, which meant even on a flat road I couldn’t get past 48 MPH and it took forever to get there.
Even stranger, we didn’t get any sort of malfunction indicator. This car has something like 48 separate computers and dozens of sensors that measure absolutely everything, so even something small will set off dire warnings on the instrument cluster. This time, all seemed normal except for having no power.
We were not going to be able to get home like that, at least not while towing a trailer up hills, so I called the dealership for advice. They suggested just turning the car off and then on again–essentially, rebooting it. This worked and the problem hasn’t recurred since. Perhaps the GL was feeling a touch of “road malaise” too?
Still, I’m glad it is going in this week for a major maintenance interval so they can review any stored malfunction codes. At 97,000 miles the car is at an age where a few problems can be expected, but my standard is 100% reliability while on the road, so if anything seems amiss it will get fixed now.
Now that we are home, it’s time to unload the Airstream and get it ready for the next trip. We were drastically over-packed this year and the only solution is to get everything out and review what we are carrying. It’s really inefficient when you’ve got to move six items to get to the one you need. Any trips we do this winter will be more local, so we should be able to travel much lighter—without motorcycle gear, tenting gear, sewing machine, Wii, food for weeks, clothes for three seasons, homeschooling supplies, Aluma-event gear and costumes, etc.
This Saturday I am taking off (by airplane) to Oregon to attend Alumafandango. It would be nice to have the Airstream but I would be risking another case of road malaise if I tried to tow it 1,200 miles up and back in September. It doesn’t matter; I’ll be surrounded by aluminum all week anyway, thanks to the new trailer display by George M Sutton RV and the 85 or so Airstreams registered to attend. I’m looking forward to that!