Not the sound you want to hear when driving through the gate with your brand new 2021 Thor Hurricane RV! Thank goodness no major damage, but a few cute little holes in the awning – not so cute when it rains!!
We had talked before about taking an RV around the States, as we had done in Europe in the 70’s in a small home-built VW Combi camper when we were in our 20’s, but the draw of far-flung countries always pulled us away.
Then came COVID-19! Our plans for taking our grandson, Colin, to Wimbledon, and a family cruise were scuttled, and we were destined to remain in Houston through a long, lonely, hot summer.
Our wonderful kids suggested we take three months and do that road trip we had talked about over the years!
The timing for that RV trip was perfect! Only trouble was, we were not the only ones with that idea. We searched all the RV rental websites around Houston, nothing was available. We began driving outside the city to view new ones, and realized we would have to buy one, and quickly as they were flying out of the dealerships!
After doing as much research as we could in a very short time, and nixing a few after reading bad reviews, that we came close to purchasing, we settled on a 2021 T 34 ft Thor Hurricane motorhome with a brand new Ford V8, 7.3 liter engine (older models are mostly diesels with V10 engines) – this was supposed to be a huge upgrade!!! Haha!! (As you will see!)
So, we had one week to put our affairs in order, purchase all we needed and plan some sort of route. Thank goodness, our friends the Streets, had been on the road for a month already, and had pages of advice for us! Our learning curve was no curve – but straight up – inverters, levelers, grey tank (ok) black tank (yuck), potable water – 40 gallons, gas tank – 80 gallons, generator, etc., etc.
Amazon trucks arrived daily, we definitely pushed their profits up that month!!! We said our goodbyes – our friends thought we were crazy, and I thought we might be back after 2 weeks!!
That first night in Athens, Texas in a Harvest Host winery (explained later) was so perfect. We had finally left the bustling city and terrifying freeways, we had parked our ‘home’ in a spot overlooking the vineyard, and used our levelers (used to make sure we didn’t roll out of bed!) for the first time. We walked up to the little restaurant with outdoor seating – only 2 outside tables were occupied – with masks on, and felt the peace and quiet of our surroundings, and knew we had made the right decision!
First night stop at a Winery, just us and the vines!
We had 3 goals in mind for this trip, and one overriding factor, that we would stay away from cities, and visit National Parks, Forests and State Parks.
Goal one was the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We had viewed photographs from many friends who had been, and had watched National Geographic programs, and had hoped to one day get there. As we rounded the bend, and the grand majesty of these mighty mountains came into view – we were awestruck. So much so, that John pulled into the first area, so we could get a better view, only to realize it was for cars, not huge monsters like ours. We had a devil of a time turning around to get out!!! From then on, our home was called the ‘Monster.’ Each day and turn in the road provided more exciting vistas of these marvels – over lakes over rivers. We hiked String Lake, a mostly flat walk around the lake.
Magical Grand Tetons range
Traveling with your home has many advantages and disadvantages!
– Your phone is never left behind!
– Your toilet is a few steps away.
– Lunch or a snack are readily available.
– You have your wardrobe with you – changing is easy!
– You travel with your home! We are long and wide!
– Turning is difficult and reversing any distance is impossible. We had a few challenging and almost disastrous wrong turns, landing us in a donga (deep ditch), clipping a telephone wire and scraping a post at a gas station!
– Looking for parking spots, other than at Walmart is a challenge.
– Should you forgot one item at the supermarket – you have to take your home along with you!!!
Each National Park had its own beauty and uniqueness.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – the thermal ponds were colorful and steamy!
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – the drive up the Fall River Road, with its bends and drops. One of the highest National Parks – the Alpine Region – over 12,000 feet high.
Glacier National Park, Montana – we had to rent a jeep – our Monster was way too big – to drive the 44 mile ‘Going-to-the-Sun road’ that winds and twists and stretches northwards towards the sun.
Zion National Park, Utah – with its red, iron deposited hued peaks – highlighted in the sunset with deepening shades of purple. We hiked the Emerald and Narrows trails, with waterfalls overhead, and rivers alongside – all in 106 degree heat!
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – we drove to the north rim – less populated, but equally stunning views. Walked to Angels Landing Point – with sheer drops on either side – and closed eyes!
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – change of weather – freezing cold, but loved the very different and bewitching conical shaped rock formations, called hoodoos.
Capital Reef National Park, Utah – little known but beautiful rock structures in stunning colors.
Arches and Canyonlands National Park, Utah – famous rock arches and Canyonlands – trip to be described later!!!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado – black granite mountains with the Gunnison River hurtling below.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado – some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archeological site – with ancient cliff dwellings.
Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks, New Mexico – striations of colors – red, lavender, blue, in the rocks and fields and fields of petrified logs – 218 million years old!
Poor Siri says – ‘not you again’ – as we learn about the pioneers of the West, the devastation of the Indian tribes, and the million other things, like what time zone are we in, as we cross back and forth!
Harvest Hosts (HH) is an association of wineries, farms, distilleries, monuments and golf courses, where, for a modest annual fee, you can spend the night without cost. You are encouraged to purchase a bottle of wine or produce from a farm as a courtesy. There are seldom outside water or electricity hookups – this is called boondocking. The Hosts themselves are most welcoming and interesting and this became one of our most favorite overnighters.
We met an ex Silicone valley executive who gave it all up to become an alpaca farmer in Montana. A pilot who wanted a change and is raising Akaushi beef in Georgia. A lovely young lady who trained in the Coast Guard and who was the person in the helicopter who lowers the swimmer to rescue people in storm and flood situations. She actually was in Houston over Harvey, and helped rescue 90 people!! She now runs an event space in Montana, for a change of pace! A farming couple in Wyoming, the Jarvis’s, who volunteer at orphanages in Haiti and Kenya in the winter months, were so generous with their vegetables, herbs and flowers, that we enjoyed that night. We stayed at a stunningly beautiful winery in Idaho, with a charming Host who had been to South Africa, and fallen in love with the Cape Wineries. He joined us for a glass of wine, and biltong (South African beef jerky!) which I had brought along!
Harvest Host Alpaca Farm in Montana
We parked at a few golf courses along the way, where John played 9 holes, and I walked the course! The views out our front door onto the rolling lawns were peaceful and quiet. (Other than one that warned us of rattlesnakes – we did not go out after dark!!)
Golf Course through a Horse Racing Track!
In Buhl, Idaho we had the best steak we have ever eaten. The HH at this winery had a restaurant as well but since COVID unfortunately she has had very few customers. The huge dinner she made us was amazing and lasted for 2 more!!
We stayed at a Mushroom farm in Monroe, North Carolina and learnt all about shitakes and oyster mushroom farming!
Goal 2 was to sleep under the stars somewhere!!! This opportunity presented itself when we got to Kanab, Utah. Our traveling buddies, the Streets, have a good friend living in Israel, who spent many summers river rafting on the Colorado River, and he insisted that we do this sleepover at Toroweap – as an ‘unforgettable experience – not to be missed???’ How could we not!!
After securing a jeep rental, and a trip to our new favorite store (Walmart) to stock up on sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, ground mats, etc., we set off on this crazy adventure! It involved a 60 mile trip down a ‘washboard road’ and then a 3 mile clamber over rocks! The Permit required warned of ‘challenging and demanding skills’ ensure that you have adequate, food, fuel, inflated spare tire (!) lug wrench, tire lift’ – there would be no food, water, gas, lodging or phone service!!
We finally arrived – the vistas and remoteness were awesome!!! We chose our spot under a rock overhang for shade – it was 106 degrees!!!
We unpacked and set up camp – the girls were going to sleep under an insect mesh tent while the boys slept directly under the stars! We set up the barbeque and utensils as we only had flashlights for the darkness, in preparation for our dinner!
As it cooled down a bit we decided to hike to the Overlook! Armed with walking poles, water and first aid kit – we set off! Initially, we found a trail marked with cairns (rock piles) but soon seemed to lose track of them. Undaunted we could see – more or less – where the rim was and the probable Overlook. It was pretty awesome, with the view of the Colorado River miles down, and the glow of the setting sun.
Having taken many photos we set off back to ‘our rock’ hoping to catch a glimpse of it or the cairns. Well, neither were apparent. Sunset would be in 30 minutes, and we only had one flashlight with us! We clambered over rocks, made our way through gulley’s and finally saw our spot way in the distance!!! A measure of panic had, I must admit, set in, as I imagined spending the night without our newly purchased sleeping bags, food or anything else!! We made it back just before sunset!
We were all looking forward to or delicious barbecued steaks and veggies, only to discover that the fitting that we had just purchased for the propane tank did not match this barbecue!!! Not only no dinner, but no breakfast either of eggs and bacon!!!
The most beautiful part of the evening was actually about to begin! We took our chairs a few hundred feet away, and gazed up at the magic of billions of stars visible in the absolute darkness of being so far from civilization! There was a sudden glow on the horizon as the moon popped up and rose rapidly above our heads! A truly magical night!
Unfortunately, after a couple of days of John complaining about the steering and that something was going on with the engine, we took our Monster to Ford in Bentonville, Arkansas, only to learn that we had a major problem! They diagnosed metal in two of the cylinders, and advised us not to continue driving any distances. To add to that bad news, they were backlogged, and would not be able to begin the repair – which involved replacing the engine – for another 2 weeks!!
After recovering from the shock – this was a brand new 2021 engine!! We decided that we were not ready to pack up and go home, and would try and find a rental in the area!
After many hours of searching the web and making calls, we lucked out with a rental right in Bella Vista, where we were staying. Vangie and Doug couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating, and soon we were off again, (in a smaller but well fitted out RV) after settling Monster into her temporary home on the parking lot at the Ford dealership!!
We were now very brave and when the opportunity to drive through Canyonlands, Utah and up Shafer trail presented itself we didn’t hesitate.
We rented a jeep again – named Lucy- equipped with everything for off-roading!
Well – the drop off on either side and the twists and turns on the narrow road – really more of a pathway -had Linda and I praying with eyes closed!! The views were breathtaking but we vowed if we got back safely – that that would be it for adventure trails!!!
The windy roads of Shafer Trail
Goal 3 was camping on a Beach.
Since we decided not to go to California because of the wildfires, it looked like this was not going to happen! But we turned east and decided to visit the Carolinas instead. Huntington Beach State Park – on the South Carolina coast, was a great State Park with easy beach access. Our particular site was minutes from the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach, and it was gorgeous – white sand, blue ocean, and very few people! I loved the reflections on the water of the blue sky and white billowing clouds. We stayed for 2 days but could have camped there much longer!
We were now on our way back to Arkansas, supposedly to pick up our repaired Monster. Well – that was not to be. We got the call a day or two before we were due to arrive back in Bentonville, that there was still a missing part that would not be delivered until November 22nd!! Our rental was due back and we could not hang around any longer, so we decided we would have to rent an SUV and drive back to Houston. We were very disappointed with the sudden ending – but we do hope to travel more when we go back to get the repaired Monster!
Observations on our return:
Not much had changed – visiting our darling grandchildren was still distanced, masked and outdoors!
Our home was suddenly so enormous – the ceilings so high and the rooms so large! Our closets were overfilled, and the kitchen cabinets were filled with useless items. We had lived so well, with so little!
We needed a checklist before getting into the car – phone, mask, gloves, credit card – we no longer had our home with us wherever we went!
We have to be honest, we long to be back in the days of lakes, rivers and mountains, of maps and miles, and of silence, space and solitude, and barbeques.
We will have to go back, to pick up the Monster hopefully with her new engine installed, but the time for another long trip is probably not now with winter approaching, we are fair-weather travelers – unless we are indoors in front of a fire!
But RV traveling is definitely a new love for us!!!
(BTW: This is a small sampling of 3 months, 10,500 miles and 2,500 photographs – email me directly for more!!!!)
Postscript to the above – December 12th, 2020
To bring our tale to a complete ending – we will have to relate the final saga.
We returned last week, December 7th, to Bentonville, once again packing a one-way rental car with clothes, frozen cooked and other food and necessities, and planning to sleep over in Texarkana.
We were picking up Monster in Bentonville (we feel like it’s our second home!) with her brand new engine, and a full inspection completed to check the appliances, tanks, etc. after sitting on the Ford lot for 2 months.
Full of anticipation we drove Monster confidently off the lot with maps and snacks on the ready, to a State Park on a lake about 300 miles away. Suddenly after about 200 miles, the engine made a huge noise – and we thought it can’t be happening again! We took the nearby off-ramp, and it seemed to settle down, but as we entered the highway again, the noise returned, the engine heating light came on, and smoke started to rise! We were now right alongside a lane of whizzing 18 wheelers, trucks and cars!
John opened the engine and coolant was dripping everywhere, and the tank was empty!!!
To cut a long and distressing few hours short, two tow trucks finally arrived, diagnosed a faulty hose, and hooked Monster up to tow her to the nearby Ford Dealership. As we were leaving, a part from the tow truck shot back into the Monster’s windscreen and smashed it!!!
So... Another night in a hotel in Russellville, AR, another car rental to get us back home, another overnight, this time in Nacogdoches, and another 2 weeks to get a new windscreen from Florida, and then replace it!
This time we will not go back to get her – she will be shipped back to Houston all brand new – new engine, new windscreen, and complete check over.
Looking forward to the next adventure in the Monster!
- Purple Pins – Campsites
- Yellow Pins – Harvest Hosts
- Green Pins – National Parks
- Blue Pins – State Parks