2023

I feel a deep sense of accomplishment for my year.

I tried to write about it. I drafted 22 “Written Recap” pages in my Google Doc account, storytelling the first two and a half weeks of the RV voyage in the southwestern United States. That occupied my time for the first three days of June. The writing paused because I needed to fill my creative brain with money-making tasks and client work. My free time seemed to never return, and my recap remains unfinished with the last thought of “poop emergency on a hike.” (I’ll let your imagination roam with that one!)

Our year is cataloged by coffee mugs, collectible silver tokens, and postcards mailed to my sister, Katelyn. It is measured by the miles driven, how many days between showers, and the number of photos we took of Quinn pooping in scenic places. Our year is bookended with a rowboat across the Rio Grande River and purchasing a 2017 Ford Transit which we named Glinda.

This is a *very* summarized version of the middle.

Read time: 35-50ish minutes… it’s the FULL year!

But you can skim it in far less – and there are SO MANY photos that I haven’t shared anywhere else!

In January, we drove through West Texas’ oil country to the literal edge of the United States and Mexico – Big Bend National Park. Having only taken our modified camper on one previous trip – the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma at the end of October – we needed a good shake-down trip to assess our ability and find any missing pieces before launching on our ambitious trip through the West.

We had never worked remotely with our Starlink internet. We had never used our composting toilet. We had never traveled with our water tanks filled. We had never driven such a far distance with Quinn. We had never camped in a place with required bear boxes. (Yes! There are bears in Texas!!)

Quinn was perfect, Starlink worked great, and the campground had no bears but did have the most beautiful views of the Milky Way we’d ever seen. We explored the park and visited Mexico for the first time by row boat. Any fear we had surrounding our 2023 goals faded away within that 10-day trip.

We charted, mapped, planned, and pinned for the next six weeks before the official “launch” on March 10.

Connected countries. A border without walls in its most beautiful state.
• Big Bend National Park Photo Collection •

Spring

The day was exciting. Our house was clean. The trailer was loaded. The idea that blossomed in September 2022 while driving home from Rocky Mountain National Park was minutes away. Our sweet, elderly neighbor Carol stood by our driveway to wave goodbye as we started the drive south.

We stopped for lunch in Amarillo at The Big Texan and visited Cadillac Ranch before continuing to New Mexico. We explored the city of Roswell and learned of it’s alien lore. Eventually, we pulled our trailer down a narrow, sketchy rancherman’s road that had no option of bailing and turning around to an open patch of land where we would set up our first boondocking experience (self-sufficient free camping) for a few crazy windy nights to explore Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

I had been nursing a back injury from a bad lift and a heavy piece of furniture while deep-cleaning our house. Eventually, I would also be nursing a rolled ankle from leaving the visitors center at Carlsbad Caverns. Like, we were not even walking on unlevel ground; no one was around, and the sidewalk was completely dry… I’m just clumsy. For some reason, my body decided living in a camper would be the *perfect* time to fall apart. 

Hueco Tanks State Park view of the Upper Rio Grande Valley

Surviving Carlsbad on a bum ankle and trying to avoid having to drive into straight-line, sustained wind of 35mph on a stretch of 115 miles of road without a gas station while pulling a billboard behind us… we tested our luck and our gas tanks, found a calm morning, and hurried toward El Paso, TX to hide from the incoming wind storms before our camping reservation at nearby Hueco Tanks State Park.

In El Paso, we enjoyed our first hook-ups (water and electric) of the trip and took a much-needed shower to wash off some of the desert dust. El Paso was beautiful, and I do hope to spend more time there, but the star of the show is genuinely Hueco Tanks. (To save on my space, read more about it here.) It was like an adult playground, but it also had a sacred aura. The indigenous people who lived in and visited this desert oasis left their marks with beautiful petroglyphs and other historic storytelling images. The park team does a fantastic job telling the story and sharing the area’s significance. It felt like an incredibly special place. 

We opened a bottle of wine and celebrated the one-week mark of our trip.

This was one of the busiest weeks we’d ever experienced. But it’s so odd. We were doing so much, but nothing ever felt like it was too much. Work was balanced. Meals were cooked. Quinn was walked, watered, and fed. At home, our to-do list is always lurking, our families always seem to need time-consuming help, and we often find ourselves bogged down with the pressure. Traveling removed all of that weight. Our daily life happened as normal, and the rest of our time was still ours.

Weekends became the best time to do long drives because instead of speeding from point to point, we could stop along the way. I mean, how else would we have been able to heed to the screaming billboards and exit right for the world’s largest pistachio?

Quinn experienced her first national park at White Sands. We experienced our first wine-based Harvest Host at Rio Grande Winery in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We camped in a forest and woke up to a foggy morning and elk 10 yards from our door. We failed a mountain pass due to a snowstorm and had to turn around in a snow-packed parking lot heading back to lower elevation. Finally, we would leave New Mexico and enter Arizona… a beautiful state with the worst drivers.

Las Cruces, NM view of the Organ mountains. I’m obsessed!!

Petrified Forest National Park was only 70 miles north of where we were our first morning in Arizona. Our original plans had us hitting it at a different time in our schedule, but if we could check it off now, we’d have a few more days to spend elsewhere. We were still running from some cold weather, so moving south as quickly as possible was ideal. A few cloudy hours of exploring later, we continued our way toward Tuscon and Saguaro National Park.

A detailed view of a piece of the many colors that can be found in petrified wood.

Saguaro National Park

Arizona is for the snowbirds, but it is not for me. Jared and I did our fair share of driving in 2023, and only one place sticks out in my mind for having terrible drivers. It’s not LA or Florida. With my chest out, I proclaim Arizona to have the worst drivers in the States. (And I come from a place often listed on rankings of the worst drivers!) Drivers aside, Arizona was beautiful.

We made a pit stop at Biosphere 2 before reaching Saguaro National Park, where we would spend a beautiful sunrise photographing the towering cacti forests.

With a date shake from Naked Dates farm in hand, we push ahead to a BLM RV Meca (Quartzite, Arizona) for four days to sit still, catch up on work, and plan our next weeks.

Arriving to the town of Joshua Tree, we found another free camping location in a dried lake bed outside the Joshua Tree National Park boundary with many other car campers, small RVs, and van lifers. I totally get the hype around the area. I also learned where Big Bear is. I was trying to explain to Jared how the pop culture I consumed growing up often mentioned Big Bear and “seeing the snow” in relationship to LA. In my brain, that always meant these people were making a 9-10 hour drive north. I could only compare it to driving from Kansas to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. But, dude, Big Bear is so close to LA. You could go from the beach to a ski lodge in three hours. Mind-blowing for this simple Kansas girl.

After admiring the late-season snowfall in the background of the desert, we headed into Palm Springs in search of a trash can and Thai food before doing a DIY tour of famous homes and architecture – everything from Elvis’ Honeymoon House to the Trixie Motel.

California Sunrise • Oceanside, CA

I had visited the LA area once before with my mom for the DECA nationals her students were competing in. That trip was my first plane ride, my first time seeing the ocean, and a much-appreciated break from Mrs. W’s miserable math class. Returning to California 14 years later with my husband for his first time was such a blast. 

My family didn’t vacation like he did, so I’ve always been the one in our relationship who saw things for the first time that he’d seen as a kid. But California was my territory. In true hater form, Jared definitely thought he would agree that California is overhyped as highly populated areas are not our jam and he would probably pick a lake over the ocean any day. By the end of the first night, he was sold. The SoCal magic hit again. We spent a fair amount of time south of LA and then north of LA. We (JARED) pulled our little camper with Kansas tags through LA traffic up the 5, by the Hollywood sign, and through the heart of LA.

Remember what I said about Arizona drivers? LA drivers are SO good. It’s like there is a sense of community on the road; people use blinkers and allow for merging. It was some of the most compact driving we had done, but also the easiest city. 10/10

Tired? Short of breath? Cranky? Headache? You’re dehydrated.” Jared read the sign at the visitor center and then looked at me with telling eyes. I was all of the above. I remembered that sign for the entirety of our time in Death Valley. It was drier and hotter than the desert we’d been thus far. We should have definitely visited a month sooner because the days were HOT… and it was only hitting 90º F. That Death Valley sun is no joke. 

We did our absolute best to keep Quinn cool. We ran our generator to power the AC, covered our windows and used a blanket to tarp off the opening of the bed platform in our best attempt to block the heat from the main area in the camper. Quinn had a fan directly on her at all times. On the hottest day, we pulled Quinn into the truck and blasted the AC during a “driving only” tour. Making our way to the highest point in the park, we enjoyed the 75º temps for a while before rolling our way back into the belly of the heat.

Death Valley is up there on my list of favorite parks to photograph. There is so much beauty in its brutality.

Vegas, Baby! Turns out there is a place to camp on the Strip… behind Circus Circus, which is arguably the worst hotel to stay at while visiting Vegas. But the parking lot campground was great. 

We didn’t tackle any of the Vegas nightlife or shows, but we made sure to cross a must-do of the Vegas list: Bucchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. The most expensive and largest buffet. We had one goal: to taste everything offered. I’m fairly certain we did, but the cocktail at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden and a very large glass of wine from Pronto by Giada beforehand gave us a very big buzz. I was doing breathing techniques to help balance my brain while walking from our table to the buffet. Most of the food was delicious! We tried things we’d never pay for anywhere else. Honestly, the octopus ceviche was my favorite bite. 

Still buzzy and bloated, the walk back to our camper was rough. We made it, but those breathing techniques made a return. Vegas was a very pleasant time. I don’t think we’ll be back for many, many years, if ever, but the time there was great… expensive, but great.

Southern Utah and Northern Arizona blend together as the red rocks and sandstone portion of our trip. Zion National Park was beautiful, albeit crowded. With towering cliffs and stunning panoramic views, I totally see why it is so many people’s favorite park. Personally, it’s towards the bottom of my list. That’s not to say the time there was not totally worth it. We’ll probably go back for the Narrow hike some point. (Not only was it far too chilly for personal preference to hike in the river, but the winter snow caused very high river levels closing the hike for most of the tourist season.) 

The most memorable Zion moment came with views of baby big horn sheep. They’re just as cute as you’d imagine. 

When Jared and I visited Yellowstone National Park in May 2022 for our anniversary trip, we met so many kind people who would let us steal looks through their spotting scopes for views of bears and wolves. Jared found a decent scope online that didn’t break the bank like many of the professional ones could. We toted it around, but this was our first chance to whip it out. 

Up on a cliffside was a small group of female bighorn sheep. We lucked out and found a spot in the small lot to crawl out of the truck and set up the scope. Now, if you have spent anytime at all in national parks, you know that seeing someone with a scope or binoculars looking in one direction is an important sign. Needless to day, we drew a crowd. And there were babies!!

This human interaction is my absolute favorite part of visiting parks. The five minutes of community you build when sharing something like a spotting scope or pointing in the distance trying to describe the shape of the rock and tree to help guide someone’s view to the animals gives me all the feel goods. We had a small line of people of all ages waiting for a chance to see the adorable babies on the wall of rock. Knowing that we made so many people’s day is such a fulfilling feeling. Hearing the kids gasp with excitement or the older men say “welp, would you look at that!” makes me giddy. I was that person in Yellowstone seeing my first wolf. Someone gave me that feeling, and now we were able to give back. You get to know people and bond with them without ever knowing their names. All people come together for a shared moment of joy.

Nearby Sand Hollow State Park – STUNNING! (As promised: Quinn’s scenic poop.)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park • Utah (Arugable on if it’s actually pink sand…)

At White Sand NP we learned Quinn loves sand. I mean, she goes BONKERS when we find sand to play in. She hated the ocean, but LOVED the beach.

Not only does Quinn love the sand, but she loves “rock climbing.” We played in sand with Quinn and climbed a small cliff looking for fossilized dinosaur footprints near Kenab, Utah. Quinn pulled us up and over the rocks to the top. Tail wagging the whole time!

Kenab is a freaking cool area. Not only did we see a dino tracks in the wild, but we visited a family-owned cave museum. The Moqui Cave is so interesting. It’s owned by the family of Garth Chamberlain who purchased land with the cave in the 50s turning  it into a dance hall. Eventually, it became his own personal collection/museum. The worker there was his granddaughter who told us all about the history. It was fascinating. After the cave, we hiked up to the nearby Sand Caves. Dude… they were so cool.

View from dam at Lake Powell near Page, Arizona

This is the part of the story where we spent a lot of money on two different boat tours… Welcome to Lake Powell!

In this area of the US, a lot of the land is owned by the Navajo Nation, and tourism is a large money-maker for their community. This includes Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon was on my “I have to make that” list, but ultimately we decided against it. We didn’t have time for everything, and we hate crowds. It’s so highly popular for good reason, but we couldn’t commit. 

Instead, we booked a Lake Powell boat tour to get an up-close view of the impressive dam and stark cliffsides from the water. After the tour, we stopped at the damside visitor center and walked across the bridge above the dam. But when we looked on the canyon side, we saw a tour bus of people walking to little river motor boats. Immediately, we said, “How do we get on THAT boat?!” The next day, we had reservations for a 6 a.m. Glenn Canyon raft tour. Glenn Canyon was immediately put on our “We’ll be back!” list. We want to kayak the river next time!

Horseshoe Bend

The grandness of this canyon can speak for itself, I want to tell you about the California Condors. On our first evening at the Grand Canyon, we got within 50  feet of one sitting on the canyon ledge. Of course, it was the day I said out loud, “I’m not going to bring a camera. I just want to take it all in.”

I could not believe our luck. These birds are the largest native birds to North America, with wingspans reaching up to 10 feet. These suckers are HUGE. By 1987, all wild populations of the California Condor had become extinct due largely to lead poisoning from the condors eating animals killed by lead bullets. Birds in captivity were heavily protected in attempts to rebuild a population allowing scientists to  reintroduce them into their wild habitats again. There are estimated to be less than 400 California Condors in the wild spread across parts of southern California, southern Utah, and northern Arizona. The luck I felt on that day to have been so close to this animal is indescribable. And watching them soar in the sky is remarkable.

The Grand Canyon was our final big mile marker of this leg of 2023. Our destinations list was dwindling, and the end was in sight. To make the absolute most of it, I got on a bike for the first time in probably ten years. We peddled (e-bike assisted!)  30 miles of the Canyon rim. (This was so much fun and influenced us to purchase e-bikes for 2024.) I had anxiety for the first few miles, but eventually, it melted away, and we had such a good day. We did the long ride to Hermit’s Rest and soared on the downhill back to the rental shop. I think I hit 32 mph; Jared was a few higher.

The rest of our trip was us attempting to delay our return home as long as possible.

Leaving the Grand Canyon, we wiggled our way to I-40, aiming for Albuquerque. We found a “camping” situation at an RV storage facility on the outskirts of town near the Petroglyph National Monument. We spent a few days here catching up on sleep and doing a quick load of laundry. The monument allowed for an enjoyable evening walk with Quinn. We explored the adorable Old Town area and grabbed a meal at Church Street Cafe to check a Navajo Taco off our food list. It was SO GOOD. I wish I had written down my reaction at the moment, but we were blown away. 

We spent our last evening in the area near the Rio Grande. We followed a dog-friendly nature trail for Quinn’s evening poop walk and spotted a porcupine. Did you know they climb trees?!

Entering Colorado was sad, but the idea of a long, hot shower with unlimited water and a flushing toilet in seven days sounded dreamy. The plan was to set up basecamp in Durango and then do day trips to Silverton and Mesa Verde National Park. Unfortunately, we did not plan far enough ahead and missed out on timed tour tickets to visit the dwellings at Mesa Verde. We opted not to visit the park and put it back on our national park checklist.

Durango was super chill. I wore dirty clothes all week, because I couldn’t be bothered with another laundromat – I should have been bothered; we were a bit smelly. We drank some local beers and ate some tasty food. We opted to head out two days early and make our way back to Wichita by Saturday.

Driving home from Durango we saw the most vibrant rainbow either of us had ever experienced.

At the end of May, we celebrated my sister’s birthday. In June we spent our time making some repairs to the camper. (The stove/oven situation sucked, and the sink was too small.) We replaced the countertop, removed the stove, added a new sink, and built drawers to increase our storage space. Game changer!

Then we twiddled our thumbs, waiting for July’s second leg to begin.

SUMMER

Out of 63 parks in the United States, Glacier National Park ranked 10th in 2022 as the most visited park. That quantity of visitors makes the competition for campgrounds and ticketed entry steep. Six months before visiting the park, we had to battle it out online in a game of wifi speed and luck to secure space in the park.

With a tent, you can fit into any spot – pulling a trailer requires more pre-planning. We utilized Google Maps’ satellite view to chart which campground spots would be 1. Easy to pull in and out of, and 2. would have the best opening in the trees to allow us to use Starlink and continue working. Both of us logged onto our individual Recreation.gov accounts, aiming for two different spots that we felt would work, just hoping one of us would win. We did this three times for Glacier because we needed two in-park campgrounds and timed entry for each day.

Luck was on our side. Glacier National Park had officially established itself as a cornerstone in our travel plans.

The plan was to leave Wichita in mid-July, but when we had the brain space to fully process the path leading us to Glacier National Park, it was evident that we needed to leave at the start of the month. Crazy long drive days are exhausting, and there was zero desire to sprint to any destination. Instead, we used the daylight to our benefit, worked our days as normal, and drove four or five hours each evening to reach the first park on the schedule – Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

Packing up and rolling out of town felt like second nature this time around. We figured out a system that worked well, saving us from walking into a trashed trailer after driving any distance. Everything was in place. Everything was packed… or so I thought.

I had this weird gut feeling 30 minutes from home, but I didn’t mention anything to Jared. I couldn’t remember actually putting our pillows in the camper. I recalled bringing them from our bedroom to the couch. After that, my brain was dark. A little bit later, I couldn’t see Quinn’s long leash. After a two-hour drive, we stopped for gas, allowing me to check before speaking up.

Shoot. My gut was right. A Walmart pit stop was required.

On our first night, we camped at a city park next to a baseball field in Nebraska.

Like Glacier, Wind Cave NP requires timed entry tickets. Unlike Glacier, we didn’t have to beat out the bunch to secure them. Wind Cave operates guided tours of the cave system, which includes a series of stairs down with an elevator ride back to the entrance at the end of your tour. On the second day of our drive, I received an email from the park informing us that the tour scheduled for Saturday was canceled due to an elevator issue, and it was not expected to be fixed until the following Monday or Tuesday. While we didn’t plan as detailed as we did in the spring, we still planned to only be in the Wind Cave/Custer area for the weekend. We quickly threw together our Plan B.

Forgoing the campsite we reserved in the park, we drove slightly farther to a site outside Custer, South Dakota, and relished a beautiful 62º F evening. A surreal feeling to be sitting outside under a blanket on July 7th.  Since we didn’t want to miss out on a caving opportunity, we found tickets to tour the nearby Jewel Cave National Monument on Sunday afternoon.

Since our day was free on Saturday, we used our time to visit Mount Rushmore, the scenic Custer State Park, and Sylvan Lake, aka the lake where they filmed part of National Treasure! The Black Hills are BEAUTIFUL. We did not expect to be in such awe of the landscape and by how many phallic rocks there were. It’s a highly underrated area of the country.

Slyvan Lake • Custer State Park

A person on the internet said, “When people visit us in South Dakota, I never take them to Badlands.” I cannot begin to express how very wrong that take is. Badland National Park is bad to the bone. And when you make it to Badlands, be sure to swing by Wall Drug. I don’t know how to describe it more than calling it a quirky tourist trap with a neat history. (Learn More.) Called in by the promise of free ice water, we treated ourselves to an overpriced hospital cafeteria-grade dinner and poked around each of the shops inside this one-square-block knick-knack shopping experience.

We spent our time camping in the neighboring grasslands on the Bureau of Land Management property (BLM) overlooking the textured walls leading us into Badlands NP. The place is a popular boondocking destination due to its unique beauty and easy accessibility for rigs of all sizes. Our last night there ended with wind and rain. Before the sun, we woke up to the sound of mooing… getting closer and closer. Eventually the cows had wander to our campsite to munch on the wet grass. I had to unzip the window flaps and ask that they kindly mooooo-ve on so my scaredy-cat dog would be able to go potty.

Before our time in the Badlands of South Dakota ended, I had one more stop to make. I needed to take Quinn down the road to Quinn, South Dakota.

Storm brewing over Devils Tower

Before our next national park stop, we made a side quest to the nation’s first national monument, Devils Tower. Established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy, as we call him), Devils Tower is the remnants of 65 million-year-old lava and erosion. The land is also an important place in the culture of over two dozen native tribes of the Plains and Black Hills areas.

Our time at Devils Tower was short, but we’re so glad it was added to the list. The warm day turned into a cool evening, watching a storm roll in over the tower before dropping a quick hail storm. We may or may not have been watching out the window at an older couple start a fire and set up a grill, seemingly unaware that a storm was about to let loose. We then laughed as they ducked inside their teardrop camper, leaving everything behind.

Before becoming president, Theodore Roosevelt went to the American West on a mission; Teddy wanted to shoot a bison.

That may be a very summarized synopsis of what happened in TR’s life. But he did fall in love with the West, and he is the president who is largely to be credited for our National Park Services and system. With the title of “the conservation president,” TR called for establishing 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird sanctuaries, 4 national game refuges, and 100 million acres of national forests. The dude did a lot. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits on the land where TR spent part of his life and is home to his preserved cabin.

TRNP has a herd of wild horses and a few “wild” longhorns!

During our time at “Teddy’s Place,” as we have dubbed it, the large Canadian wildfires were blowing smoke into the States. The smoke was high in the atmosphere, giving everything a diffused, glowy look. On the second day, we decided to partake in the Pitchfork Steak Fondue dinner. This fondue didn’t include any cheese but rather a bunch of steak cooked in boiling oil on the end of a pitchfork. Honestly, 10/10. The reviews online were mixed. We almost didn’t bite because of the nearly $45 per person price tag for a subpar-looking buffet dinner. After a “why the heck not?!” moment, we grabbed our dinner tickets for that night. The steak was great. It was juicy, and the fried exterior gave it a satisfying crunch. The sides were okay. But it was a lot of fun. Jared enjoyed the Teddy Roosevelt impersonator, too. (I wish I had a photo of him. The only word I can think of to describe him is “adorable.”)

*Gag* I cannot forget about the grasshoppers!

I am scarred from a traumatic daycare experience regarding grasshoppers. Some mean kid liked to throw them at me. So, having to walk through them at TRNP sent shivers down my spine. Jared was assigned the full duty of taking care of Quinn’s bathroom breaks… And I had to wear long pants the entire time.

Note: We cannot talk about the establishment of these federal lands without also mentioning the forced removal of the Indigenous People and Tribes who had their land stripped from them. It is a double-edged sword and has a complicated history. But taking land with force from people who lived on and preserved their lands for thousands of years as a way to preserve it” is wrong.

The smoke had lowered from the sky and filled the air all around. Soon, the entirety of the Dakotas would be covered. We had prepared mentally to deal with wildfires when reaching the PNW, but we didn’t expect to run into issues so soon into our summer. The sky was so smoke-filled that the sun became the most minor orange ball. With my 800mm lens, I could use the diffusion as a benefit and photograph directly toward the sun, capturing the sunspots! It was wild. 

A new plan needed to be formed as we didn’t want to follow our northern route and be stuck in the smoke for the next week. Onward to Montana!

One of our camper tires had issues holding pressure past a day or two. Before stopping for an overnight free camping spot near the Yellowstone River, we stopped by Discount Tire. They found nothing wrong, so we swapped it out for our spare and kept rolling.

With about a week to kill before checking into Glacier National Park, we had time to move slowly and sit still for a few days. The weather was heating up, and our options for camping spots didn’t seem too wonderful. Because we run mainly on solar power and use satellite internet, we couldn’t default to a heavily shaded area for a respite from the sun. We drove through Bozeman after stopping at a neat dinosaur museum on the Montana State University campus. We landed at Goose Bay Marina campground near Helena, MT, for electrical hookups, allowing us to power our AC easily. Nothing particularly fancy about these accommodations, but we had a fantastic view of a nested osprey!

Serving our inner children rang true to be the theme of the summer. Mining gems to any degree is one thing I have always wanted to do! Jared remembered this childhood dream of mine and suggested we find a place. Lo and behold, a sapphire mine nearby was open to guests. We spent a few hours sorting through pebbles, searching for beautiful light blue sapphires.

My friend and Owner of Eclectic Bleu Jewelry, Lucy, is currently cutting some of the stone and creating a custom piece of jewelry for me with my Montana sapphires.

With only a few nights left before we could FINALLY reach Glacier National Park, we drove an hour daily to a new small town with cheap campgrounds. I did a load of laundry. Jared washed the caked-on grasshoppers off the truck. Quinn cried at prairie dogs from the bed windows.

I could write a novel about Glacier National Park, and it still wouldn’t cover the total magical vibes that surround it.

Jared and I sat down to make notes about our trip. The first bullet for Glacier reads, “f***ing awesome.” And that nicely sums it up. Speed running this national park was not an option. We spent nearly two weeks camping in the area: Many Glacier, St. Mary’s, Two Medicine, and West Glacier.

Logging off work and closing our laptops started our first “vacation” of the year. We hiked to waterfalls, watched bears eating berries on the mountainside, attended informative and entertaining ranger talks several evenings, and rented a small motorboat at Lake McDonald. Many Glacier earned its spot as our favorite part of the park. Less crowded due to its more remote location, Many Glacier was filled with stunning views and wildlife encounters. One evening, we took a short hike to Fishercap Lake, where we watched baby moose and deer interact with curiosity as their moms stood guard. Meanwhile, a large bull moose waded through the water.

My most memorable moment at Glacier Lake happened on our second to last morning at Many Glacier Campground. I’m more of a morning person, so I typically take Quinn out first. This morning was just as planned. I put on her harness and leash, and we exited the camper, turning right to walk behind us on the main road. I walked her two campsites down, she pottied, and we headed back. So, returning to the camper, I approached from the left, having the cut between the tongue and the truck. I walked ahead of Quinn and, I kid you not, there was a freaking bear by our picnic table munching away on a small berry plant. Quinn saw nothing. I stuttered and loudly hollered, “HEY BEAR” – but my inflection went up at the end, making it sound like a question. “HEY BEAR?!?!” I heard Jared shoot out of bed while the bear perked up and looked at me with the biggest “AHH HUMAN” face before running off into the foliage.

It was a sub-adult black bear, and as it turns out, there had been one with its mom hanging out near the campground for the last month or so. (That would have been nice to know beforehand.) It was an experience that could have been scary. I wasn’t carrying my bear spray because there were so many people. I figured bears wouldn’t snoop around at that time of day. (Always carry your bear spray!) Overall, it gave me a good story to tell and raised my heart rate for 10 minutes.

(This is not the real bear.)

While in the area, we took a quick trip across the US/Canada border for a short afternoon at Waterton Lakes National Park – Glacier’s sister park.

At this point, the wildfires affecting our trip were not in Canada. Leaving Glacier NP, we saw billowing clouds. (Two days later, Glacier would be engulfed by the smoke from a fire burning near Hungry Horse.)

We stopped for famous Flathead cherries at a small farm stand after driving past the lake, which became nearly invisible compared to the view of it the day prior. We drove past a second large fire that diverted our path toward the Idaho panhandle. Fires dictated our path for the next few weeks.

The panhandle provided some relief. On Campendium we found a fairground campground in Coeur d’Alene to reconnect with the real world, see the Barbie movie,  and catch up on the last week’s work. And do a much-needed grocery shop! One more errand took us into Spokane, WA. – I’ve been using a shampoo bar for a while, and Jared joined me while in the camper. I didn’t restock before leaving Wichita, so we had to swing by LUSH to buy two more.

(Spokane, like several other places, had a pretty extreme wildfire over the summer. We, thankfully, missed it entirely.)

Next, we spent two evenings camping near the Grand Coulee Dam. Why? Jared saw it on a map and thought listening to the Woody Guthrie song while driving there would be funny. It’s about the small joys in life.

Leaving the Grand Coulee Dam, we knew the Sourdough Fire in Grand Cascades National Park had started to grow. We opted to avoid more days of sitting in smoke and chose to drive straight through on State Route 20 in hopes of finding cleaner air. As it turned out, this was the correct decision to make. Six hours after we passed through, the highway closed for the next several days.

We were able to spend around 30 minutes at the popular Diablo Lake Vista Point, experience the high winds spreading the fire, and watch fire crews drop water near the town of Diablo to protect it from the spreading flames.

While we technically have crossed North Cascade off our park list, our visit was short, and we do hope to visit again.

The plan was to camp about an hour closer to Seattle at Baker Lake. When we arrived, the camp host informed us that everything within a 45-minute drive of the lake was filled. Why? There was a fishing tournament and “$3,000 on the line. They’ll be here until the winning fish is caught.” 

We had been traveling and looking for a place to go all day. Tired and hangry, we settled on another small-town RV campground. We spent two days sitting still, planning the trip for the next two and a half weeks.

I’m unsure if it was during the drive from Sedro Wooly to Enumclaw or the night before, but I a TikTok video of the Navy’s Blue Angels flying by the Space Needle in Seattle. As it turned out, the Blue Angels were set to perform a few hours later at the Boeing Seafair Airshow – an hour from where we were staying. We were not 100 percent sure we could make it, but we were going to rush through setting up camp and head back toward Seattle to find a spot to watch part of the show. Jared put Seward Park in the GPS. We had about an hour and a half until we thought the planes would start flying. Eventually, we hit the traffic of everyone else who had the same location in mind. Still, we found a parking spot and hurried down the hill, into the park, and to the lake shore to catch the fly-overs from the Blue Angel squad. So cool.

We spent many nights of this trip camping at fairgrounds. (Highly recommended for the price and location!) Enumclaw, WA, was no exception and was the perfect starting point for a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park. It was a cloudy Sunday, and we started with the best latte either of us had ever had at a little drive-through coffee stand. (I stand firmly that Starbucks is the WORST coffee in Seattle… even though it was founded there.)  We couldn’t plan for any hikes, because driving around the mountain would take 4-6 hours. Quinn wouldn’t have enjoyed a ride-along for that long, so she stayed behind to enjoy the days perfect napping weather.

The mountain was hidden behind thick clouds. That didn’t stop it from being probably the most beautiful drive of the entire year. There was something eerie as often we felt alone on the winding roads, but it was also so perfect. We drove around the mountain and followed the road to the highest point you can visit by car. We saw so many colorful wildflowers and little waterfalls. 

Another bonus: we made it in time for the tail end of cherry season! I bought a pound of my favorite cherries at a little roadside stand that I spent an hour pitting to bring back to Kansas for jams!

Jared and I had a trip to Seattle planned for 2020. It was always a place he expressed interest in visiting, and I wanted to make that happen. We had tickets to the Green Day tour for June. Obviously, in March 2020 all of those plans fell to the ground and caught on fire. So there was no better place to celebrate Jared turning 30 – a few days early. We would be in a National Park on his actual birthday.

He picked a whale-watching tour as his gift. We booked an afternoon tour through the Puget Sound Express! I searched to see what our best chances would be for orcas or humpbacks. It was a toss-up; there was a chance we could see both. I charged up a spare battery and clicked on my big camera lens. We eagerly rode on the front of the boat as it raced into the Sound. We had flashes of harbor porpoises and saw many sea birds before the stars of the show emerged. TWO HUMPBACK WHALES!! The guides identified them as Scratchy and Slits. I tried my best to be patient on their dives and surfaces where they would blow water into the air. I was not good at this. The dives would take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. And holding my giant, heavy lens to my face for that long was exhausting. I rested it on the ledge of the upper deck. I turned to look over my shoulder just as the entire boat audience exploded with joyful noises. I tried to lift my camera up – when I should have just turned to watch – and saw nothing past the splashing water. A whale had fully breached (jumped out of the water) right in front of us. Jared saw the whole thing, and I missed it! (I guess that makes us even for my wild bear encounter that he didn’t get to see.) Regardless of my sadness, the tour was beautiful, and I am so thrilled that Jared had such a magical birthday gift from the whales.

As part two of his pre-birthday celebration, we enjoyed a hot pot dinner after exploring Pikes Place. Seattle had treated us well, but it was time to forge ahead. Olympic National Park was calling our names!

Two very important things happened during our stay in Olympic National Park. First, Jared turned 30. Wonderful. Second… and this one is a life-changing moment… Jared watched the entire Twilight saga for the first time ever and has chosen to join #TeamEdward. (The correct choice.) 

“Bella, where the hell have you been, loca?” – Jacob Black

We spent four nights camping at Kalaloch Campground on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Olympic treated us to a beautiful morning at the Hoh Rainforest and a long, winding drive to *almost* the farthest northwest point you can drive to in the lower 48, where we enjoyed seafood (crab for me, fried salmon and chips for Jared) from Calvin’s Crab House. A small world moment happened as we were eating lunch. One other group pulled up shortly after we picked out seats outside. They all rolled out of the car, wearing K-State t-shirts and sweatshirts. We are not social, so we didn’t acknowledge that we are also from Kansas. But still, we hadn’t seen another sight of obvious Kansans since leaving Nebraska.

Our time in Washington had ended; I was in the driver’s seat, heading for Oregon. We knew that we’d have to cross the Columbia River. When we rounded a cliff, and the mouth of the river came into sight, our jaws dropped. And Jared started laughing. The Astoria-Megler Bridge is no joke! I am sure it’s totally chill for people who do it often. For me – SCARY. Hands white-knuckled on the wheel and eyes forward, I didn’t have a chance to even admire the river meeting the ocean.

We followed the 101 on the Oregon coast, passing by the popular Canon Beach area – mainly because we refused to pay those camping prices – to a little field-side campground on the outskirts of Tillamook. (Yes, the cheese place!) Our Tillamook layover would only last for a few nights. I needed a quiet place to focus on a large work project and good internet connections for a few meetings. But when in Rome, eat the free cheese samples. The only downside? The entire city is surrounded by dairy farms, leaving the air smelling of fresh manure. Quinn, however, was big fan.

We visited the creamery for an early dinner and to cash in on their free cheese samples before heading to Tunnel Beach for rock hunting. We found some beautiful clear agates, sea-polished shells, and a few tiny pieces of green sea glass. 

(We went back to the creamery the next day for ice cream… and with my tiny lunch bag to purchase cheese curds and keep them cool.)

On top of being known for cheese, Tillamook is one of the six remaining wooden blimp hangers built during WWII to house the Navy’s blimps. The hanger has since been turned into a museum, and it’s filled with fascinating history and artifacts. (Honestly, it’s a history-buff old man’s dream! Jared liked it, too.)

From Tillamook, we headed toward Bend.

I had row nine, center stage tickets to Noah Kahan’s Stick Season tour. We were so excited to see him perform! The night before the show, it was canceled due to the horrible air quality from numerous wildfires.

Not wanting to hang around the area and smoke coverage, we drove south toward Crater Lake National Park for a quick drive-through. Unfortunately, the smoke coverage disturbed many of the views. And being a Saturday, the park was far too busy for us to find easy parking while pulling a camper.

Although it did prevent us from going to Redwoods National Park, the wildfire-impacted portion of our summer had ended. And the next week and a half were honestly pretty dull. We drove into California to check out the Lava Beds National Monument, where we disinfected our shoes and explored old lava tubes turned caves with the help of our headlands. We camped on National Forest land for the night and drove an hour farther south to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Unfortunately, this park was a dud. The weather was overcast and drizzly for our three-day stay.

Lava Beds National Monument

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We then backtracked into Oregon to visit the deepest canyon in the US – Hell’s Canyon. Rightfully named, it was hot. But the roadsides were covered in wild plums we harvested, and I turned into a quick, tangy jam.

Tired of sweating and knowing we needed to find a way to keep Quinn cooled, finding a higher elevation was the only solution. And we could be in the Sawtooth Mountains in Stanley, Idaho, in a few hours.

The area was beautiful, and I took zero photographs. We enjoyed the perfect weather, visited a few of the mountain lakes, and enjoyed a phenomenal meal at the Stanley Supper Club.

Hands down, Idaho is our favorite state we visited.

There is something for everyone in this state. The mountains are beautiful, and the ancient volcanic history left behind some unreal and unique spots. We visited the Shoshone Ice Caves for a tour. We were blown away by the year-round ice lying just below the surface, fully insulated by lave tubes.

Sticking with the lava theme, Crater of the Moons National Monument is so incredible, too. The landscape was covered in black cinder cones – one of which you could walk up – and chunks of cooled lava.

The Snake River valley smells like onion farms and dirt, having some of the most fertile soil in the country – mainly due to its volcanic past. 

The Twin Falls area is built for daredevil BASE jumpers and is where Evel Kenievl’s famous Snake River jump took place. 

The small town of Blackfoot houses the Idaho Potato Museum, where you can learn about the potato farms, see the world’s largest Pringle, and admire a collection of vintage potato mashers.

Idaho is the perfect middle-home base if you love exploring western national parks. I do not desire to live anywhere with colder winters than Kansas, but Idaho is making a strong pull on our heartstrings.

Between Twin Falls and Blackfoot, we took an out-of-the-way dip down into Utah to see the Bonneville Salt Flats. They were cool, but we only spent 15 minutes since recent rainfall (the same rain that caused all of the issues at Burning Man) lightly flooded the flats, and we were not really into the idea of muddy shoes or dog paws. We spent the night next to Cabelas in Salt Lake City before returning to Idaho.

Grand Teton National Park is my favorite place... EVER.

I can think of no other place that can hold my attention and desire quite like Grand Teton National Park. The love I have for this piece of the planet is unmatched. 

We camped on a cliffside in the neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest with several other visitors. Mornings were met with the sounds of drones buzzing above as many of our mountain neighbors were trying to capture the mountain glow.

We drove nearly every inch of the park, looking for and admiring wildlife. Our favorite spot for this trip was at the Cattlemans Bridge — where there is not actually a bridge. In this spot, we watched three bald eagles fly around and perch in trees, waiting to dive for fish in the river. One even graced us with a 25-minute posing session. Another time in this spot, we saw a family of otters on the shore playing before they swam down stream.

No trip to Jackson Hole is complete without a morning stop at Cowboy Coffee. There is no better breakfast burrito than the one served at their downtown square location. 

Jackson is a unique place where the average home price is three million dollars. Jared and I refer to these homeowners (and many of the bougie tourists) as cowboy cosplayers. There are so many beautiful art galleries to enjoy. While all the art is out of my price range, window shopping is satisfying enough. I did, however, buy a print from a local artist at the more young and hip art gallery at the Dornans complex.

Our time in Grand Teton National Park would soon be over as we headed north to Yellowstone for the last stop of the year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we find our way back to the Tetons in the coming years.

After visiting Yellowstone National Park in May 2022, our favorite part was wolf-watching near Slough Creek before entering the Lamar Valley. When planning our Northwestern route for the year, we knew Yellowstone had to be included.

Sometime in June, I was able to score a reservation at the tiny Slough Creek campground with an alert that someone had recently canceled. This felt like winning the million-dollar lottery! This campground is the smallest and most beautiful in the park. And it was the exact location the Junction Butte wolf pack hung around the year prior.

Unfortunately, due to the road construction caused by the crazy rain event last June that washed out some of Yellowstones roadways, the pack had moved farther into Lamar Valley. 

No problem. Just look for the people with the big scopes (often on a hill) and you’ll have found the wolves!

We spent mornings and evenings looking for the wolves. One of the pros estimated them to be 1-1.5 miles away, but that didn’t reduce the excitement of watching them roam, nap, follow bison, and scurry away from a visiting grizzly.

Each visit to Yellowstone is just as special as the last. That is evident with anyone you speak to in the park. We met two couples, ironically both from the UK, during one of the mornings we were watching wolves. The first was an older couple who told us how they visit Yellowstone every other year, but due to COVID they had to miss the last few. This was their first trip since 2019. But now that the husband had retired, they hoped to make it every year going forward. Yellowstone draws you in. The second couple was visiting for the very first time. Jared and I chatted with them, shared our spotting scope, and traded Instagram information.

Yellowstone was the place that sparked our love for traveling national parks. Yellowstone is at the foundation of our story. 

The drive back to Kansas was long. Somewhere in Nebraska, we decided we wanted to sell our camper. We thought our next steps would be to finish touch-ups on our house and list it for sale while we searched for a new home. 

We worked toward that goal for a month. Then, while drinking our morning coffee, we watched Kara & Nate jump back into their van for a cross-country adventure. I knew Jared didn’t feel done traveling, and honestly, neither did I. The camper just didn’t feel like the way either of us wanted to continue. We thought the chapter of our lives was closing until that morning and that video. 

Why don’t we buy a van?

We had the money. We don’t have a ton of expenses, and we both had terrific years with our work. We don’t have kids. We both work remotely. Quinn was a champ the entire time. And we’re pretty dang good at building things. SO WHY THE HECK NOT?

A few weeks later, we drove down to Oklahoma City, purchased a 2017 Ford Transit with 36,000 miles, and named her Glinda. 

Currently, Glinda is sitting in the driveway with black trash bags taped over holes we cut for the windows that we’re installing. By April, she will be our new home on wheels as we head west again and then east! And then she’ll help us find a new home. Wherever that may be…

Month By Month

JANUARY
Big Bend National Park • TX
Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico

FEBRUARY
Wichita, KS

MARCH
The Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, TX
Cadillac Ranch • TX
Roswell Aliens • NM
Carlsbad National Park • NM
Hueco Tanks State Park • TX
El Paso, TX
White Sands National Park • NM
World’s Largest Pistachio • NM
Wine Vinyard Harvest Host in Las Cruces, NM
Elephant Butte Lake State Park • NM
Very Large Array drive by • NM
Failed mountain pass in a snowstorm • NM
Random small-town RV park • AZ
Petrified Forest National Park • AZ
Salt River Canyon Drive • AZ
Biosphere II • AZ
Saguaro National Park • AZ
Date Farm near Yuma • AZ
Quartzite, AZ • RV Meca
Joshua Tree National Park • CA

APRIL
Joshua Tree National Park • CA
Fruit Farm in SoCal Harvest Host • CA
Oceanside, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Getty Art Center
Griffith Observatory
Death Valley National Park • CA
Las Vegas, NV
RV camping at Circus Circus • NV
Zion National Park • UT
Kanab, UT (a personal fav)
Pink Sand Dunes State Park • UT
Lake Powell • UT+AZ
Horseshoe Bend • AZ
Page, AZ
Grand Canyon National Park • AZ

MAY
Albuquerque, NM
Petroglyph National Monument • NM
Durano, CO
Wichita, KS

JUNE
Wichita, KS

JULY
Nebraska Drive Through
Wind Cave National Park • SD
Custer, SD
Jewel Cave National Monument • SD
Custer State Park • SD
Mount Rushmore National Monument • SD
Badlands National Park • SD
Quinn, SD
Wall Drug • SD
Devil’s Tower National Monument • WY
Theodore Roosevelt National Park • ND
Medora, ND
Bozeman, MT
Helena, MT
Montana Blue Jewel Mine
Glacier National Park • MT
Waterton Lakes National Park • Alberta, Canada
Flathead Lake • MT

AUGUST
Barbie Movie
Coeur d’Alene (Coor-De-Layne) • ID
Grand Coulee Dam – FDR Lake • WA
North Cascades National Park • WA
Mt. Vernon, WA
Mount Rainier National Park • WA
Puget Sound Express Whale Watching Tour • WA
Seattle, WA
Olympic National Park • WA
Forks, WA Twilight Tour
Cancelled Noah Kahan Concert in Bend, OR
Tillamook, OR
Crater Lake National Park • OR
Lava Beds National Monument • CA
Lassen Volcanic National Park • CA
Hells Canyon, OR
Stanley, ID
Crater of the Moons National Monument • ID

SEPTEMBER
Twin Falls, ID
Twin Fall County Fair Rodeo
Bonneville Salt Flats • UT
Salt Lake City • UT
Blackfoot, ID
Eastern Idaho State Fair
Idaho Potato Museum
Grand Teton National Park • WY
Yellowstone National Park • WY
Wichita, KS

OCTOBER
Wichita, KS

NOVEMBER
Wichita, KS
Purchased our Van

DECEMBER
Van build begins!!

A very special thanks to my grandma who helped us tremendously with our many travels. She collected our mail, helped when we ran into issues with our RV registration, forwarded my client checks, and followed us the entire time on Apple's Find My to make sure we were always okay. We couldn't have comfortably trusted anyone else the role. You're the BEST of the best. We love you!!