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Written by creekland on 07 Oct, 2006
In pretty much all of our travels we learn (by experience) some important tips that we always pass on when people ask us (in person) for advice. It only seems appropriate to add such an entry here too. This is mainly for those who live…Read More
In pretty much all of our travels we learn (by experience) some important tips that we always pass on when people ask us (in person) for advice. It only seems appropriate to add such an entry here too. This is mainly for those who live in the east - or perhaps anywhere but the rural west - who are contemplating taking a similar road trip out there. If you live in the rural west, perhaps you'll be amused - or say to yourself, "duh," but read between the lines and maybe contemplate what the east is like?
For our definition of "rural west" we're mainly considering west of the Mississippi, but looking at a map, perhaps these tips best apply for states west of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, etc. The definition of "rural west" doesn't apply once one reaches populated (IE coastal) California.
Tip #1: "Civilizations" in the rural west are far and few between. Just because a "town" makes the map doesn't mean you'll be able to get gas, food, and especially lodging there. One "town" we passed in WY had a population of 4. Therefore, get gas/food/bathroom breaks when the opportunity is there and be sure you can drive a couple hours at all times. You may not be able to eat at a specific time without a bit of planning and delay. Look for bigger towns for the basics.
Tip #2: Gas gets cheaper as you reach the bigger towns - and for a state to state comparison, use the website, US Gas Price Map. There's nothing worse than paying 20 cents more per gallon than you could have if you had waited 20 miles.
Tip #2b: If you need gas, but know it's cheaper shortly down the road, don't fill the tank... half full (or less) can usually get you to the cheaper gas.
Tip #2c: Gas tends to be unreasonably expensive IN the National Parks - so gas up outside of them or be prepared to pay...
Tip #3: Speed limits are faster in the west - even on the back roads (70mph is not uncommon for back roads) - so there's less of a reason to need to use highways unless that's the only road from point A to B. Hop off the highway and see some of these small towns. If the distance is shorter, you'll also save time. The views are certainly better and the lack of traffic is awesome.
Tip #4: Mom and Pop motels might be older, but are often quite adequate and tons cheaper than the chains if you're on a budget and don't need luxury - or simply want to support local. They don't always stay open for you to check in at late hours though. State Park campgrounds are also worth considering if you camp.
Tip #5: Local restaurants also tend to be quite good, so try them if you can. A big tip is if you see a lot of local cars outside, it's worth a stop. We've never gone wrong using that "sign." Without local cars it's usually worth passing - unless you're starving. Of course, this works in the east too...
Tip #5b: Have food/drinks in the car with you. Pretzel logs make a great, dry, snack that comes in handy when you realize you've misjudged where you might find a place to eat. Sandwich cookies were also a favorite with us - and string cheese. You'll be surprised at how good they taste when you realize you're at least an hour away from your next possibility...
Tip #6: Wyoming has to be the main state "where the deer and the antelope play." Towards evening you can't drive anywhere without seeing them - though they are most definitely in other states too.
Tip #7: If you want to find crowds in the west - stop at Wal-Mart. Everyone is usually there - well, that and the major National Parks. Incidentally, pretty much all Wal-Marts are set up similarly, so if you're used to shopping there, things are usually easy to find. You can locate stores easily by buying one of their Rand McNally maps and checking the front/back (depending on what state you're looking for).
Tip #8: It's almost impossible to avoid crowds in the major National Parks. To try to do so, get up and going EARLY when most folks are just getting up or eating breakfast. Hikes/drives/views are all MUCH less crowded before 9am. The "plus" to that is that's when many of the animals are active too. Also, eat "off hour" when you can - early or late. Weekdays are less crowded than weekends - and holidays can be atrocious.
Tip #9: If you want to camp in the major National Parks - and they take reservations - you usually need to make those super early - many times the first day they take reservations for the best spots. Some campgrounds are first come first served. Even the best of those fill VERY quickly though. In general, we absolutely love camping in the National Parks...
Tip #9b: Don't camp in some of the National Parks if you're afraid of bears... (we aren't). And DO put all your food in the bear boxes if it's recommended at the park. While the slides of many cars conditions after a bear opted to help himself to the food inside were neat - on a road trip, it would be awfully inconvenient to have that be YOUR car.
Tip #9c: National Park Campgrounds don't have swimming pools - and many do not have showers either. Those that have showers require that you pay for them - have quarters for most. If you're the first one showering in a while, expect cold water for the first minute or two that you've paid for. Campgrounds with less "accessories" tend to be MUCH quieter and less crowded... and you can still go to the other ones to use their showers.
Tip #10: There's no one or two states that have the monopoly on rude/inconsiderate drivers or people and there will almost always be one or two wherever you go. We like to laugh at them...(privately of course) and many still make our stories we tell to others. We have found higher concentrations of them in cities and on highways - and often wonder if the crowded conditions generally found there tend to bring out the "worst" in people or if it's just because there are more people - therefore making it more likely that you'll find those "special someones."
Tip #10b: It's rare to find those "special someones" at the LESSER (known) National Parks or Monuments - a NICE plus to visiting and staying at those places. It's also more rare (but not impossible) to find them on the back roads or in local restaurants or motels.
Tip #11: Heard the myth that the west is "dry heat" and you don't sweat? Well, it might be dry, but you still sweat... quite a bit on hot days too. Have water available at all times and don't even take a short hike on a hot day without it.
Tip #12: Many rivers in the west are dry in the late summer... still seems strange to us to pass over a "river" and see a dry bed. Since rivers are dry, so is the land. You really won't find natural "green" in very many places - only where they irrigate. Seems strange and it's definitely different. In many places you can literally drive for miles and miles and see lots of barrenness (with sage, etc). If you get bored easily, perhaps this will be a problem. For us, we enjoyed conversation...
Tip #13: Wildfires are common in the west - while you won't likely have issues with the actual fire, they can haze over views even many miles or states away.
Tip #14: Have flashlights with you. These are important if you camp, but they also came in handy in both Lava Beds National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns... unexpectedly so in both cases. Headlights are small and easy to either carry or wear.
Tip #15: Have hiking boots or shoes. Many trails are less developed in the west and require a good sturdy shoe if you want to go on them.
Tip #16: Slow down... not driving-wise, but mentally. Don't try to do a National Park in a day - or worse - two in a day. Take your time to actually SEE what you went out to see. Remember, you're on vacation. Be flexible, be open-minded, and be prepared to be astounded by nature's beauty of all sorts.
Written by creekland on 05 Oct, 2006
No review is worth much unless you understand the perspective of the one giving the review - otherwise, how do you know if you would agree or disagree? Should you see the sight - or will you be bored silly? So... more about us -…Read More
No review is worth much unless you understand the perspective of the one giving the review - otherwise, how do you know if you would agree or disagree? Should you see the sight - or will you be bored silly? So... more about us - and this trip.
We're a family of 5 (hubby, myself, 3 boys) and are Eastern US dwellers - having been born and lived in this section of the planet - from NY to FL (and some states in between) our whole lives - thus, our perspective. Our boys on this trip were 14, 12, and 10. It's our 2nd trip out west (didn't know about these reviews after our first one two years ago). Some places we visited were repeat visits and many were new. Our preference is seeing new places. We get more of a "high" from that I suppose. I guess it's our need to fill in our "mental maps" of the world. We often find that what we THOUGHT would be the picture, isn't... Our ultimate goal would be having the whole planet "filled in" but that's doubtful considering our finances...
On this trip, we added my nephew (age 16) and mom (you guess her age) for the first half. Neither have really traveled with us before (my mom had never camped either), so we wondered how we'd all adjust... (it worked out fine). They had to return at the end of August for my nephew to attend school, so flew out from Seattle. (This is our first year homeschooling our youngun's - they love it -but as a warning - homeschooling is not for everyone. Our kids are self-motivated and learn well on their own...)
Our trip itself had a two-fold purpose... first, we wanted to take our nephew to see some areas of the west (Badlands, Yellowstone, the Pacific) we enjoyed the first time as he's never had the opportunity to travel far. We added a few new spots in between other destinations. Then, when he and my mom went home, our family was to meander our way back with nothing really specific in mind - other than we wanted to see more National Parks. We ended up heading to the far south - the deserts, across to Carlsbad, NM, and eventually back through the Smoky Mountains. So, overall we did a huge loop - PA to SD, WY, MT, WA (with nephew and my mom) and OR, CA, AZ, NM, etc back to PA with just our family. We lost track of the miles and days - and, quite honestly, had a blast. We wish we were still out traveling... however, tis time now to earn money for our next trip.
Since we're not independently wealthy, for jobs, hubby works for himself in Civil Engineering and I substitute teach math and science courses in our local high school. This allows us time (and money) to travel. Well, that and the fact that we don't really plan on retiring in the "traditional" way nor is our house up to some folks standards. Hey, we all choose where we use our money - and we only have one trip on this planet - so we each choose for ourselves.
Then, you should know (for perspective purposes), we're not "normal" by typical American standards...we're weird - and we like it that way. We don't watch TV much, and aren't into fashion of any sort (function is of more importance to us). When we do watch TV, it's travel shows, history shows, animal shows (documentary style) or such things. Our boys get along fairly well with each other and aren't into video games as most kids are. They very, very seldom ask if we're there yet and never complain about a trip. They're as "hooked" on travel as we adults are. From a young age I overheard one of my sons telling a friend that he didn't consider a trip "long" unless we got to spend at least one night away from home and not with relatives! This other friend had considered traveling an hour to Grandma's house to be a long trip... Our kids have as much fun planning - and have their dream destinations (Africa, Antarctica, South America) just as we adults do. We're also not shopping or golf lovers - though we do have a huge magnet collection on our fridge - and could use another fridge!
With the travel, we love nature and are not as fond of cities or "man-built" creations - though sometimes we do visit/enjoy those as well. We very seldom dislike a place - but do have preferences about what we like. We love finding "hidden gems" - wonderful places we didn't expect to find.
Getting out and seeing/experiencing nature is often a big part of our traveling. We love camping, hiking, snorkeling, diving, traveling back roads and eating at local places. With hikes, we're game for anything from 1/2 mile to 12 miles - pending our time allowances. Our boys are pretty sure-footed - we "old folks" often call them our "mountain goats." If we're caving, our youngest is nicknamed "mouse" as it's his job to crawl through spaces to see if it's worth it for the rest of us. In the water, we can snorkel for hours. For this trip, the "water" part really doesn't apply though. Our youngest is into all sorts of critters and is our resident critter and insect expert.
We often tent camp - though can be as varied in our lodgings from primitive camping to 5 star resorts. Flexibility is the name of the game. We have, however, discovered the budget goes much further with camping than with the 5 stars, so to travel more, we tend to opt for cheap.
While we appreciate good food and service, it's not really a priority with us. Often times we'll merely "forage" with items we buy along the way to keep in the van. If we do eat out, it's usually lunch - it's cheaper and allows us to stay out away from our campsite. We also have a rule when traveling - we can't eat anywhere we could have eaten at home. This eliminates a TON of chain restaurants and introduces us to many wonderful local eateries. Once in a while this rule gets broken, but it didn't on this trip.
Due to finances and where we were born on this planet, so far most of our traveling has been in the US and Canada. We hope to explore more world-wide in the future, but expenses for the 5 of us increases rapidly once we add airfare, etc, to do it, so who knows? We've been to 49 of the 50 states (need to see Alaska) and have done all of the Eastern Provinces of Canada except Newfoundland and Labrador (maybe next year?).
Anyway, we're always up to a challenge - love exploring - and hate crowds - so work hard at avoiding them. Driving on roads other than interstate highways is a big priority - at least - once we're at the place we consider our trip to have started at. We can use highways to get there quicker.
Hmm, can I think of anything else? Guess not right now... At this point, you should have an idea if you're "weird" like us and want to know more - or if you want to read more just out of curiosity and had no idea folks like us existed. If so, welcome to our world! :)
What? A road trip to National Parks and one of the journal entries you see is "Iowa?" What gives? Well, on our first trip out west we missed Iowa. It was the only mid-western state we missed. We simply couldn't fit it in without a…Read More
What? A road trip to National Parks and one of the journal entries you see is "Iowa?" What gives? Well, on our first trip out west we missed Iowa. It was the only mid-western state we missed. We simply couldn't fit it in without a lot of time out of our way and we had limited time (just a month on that trip). Folks that had been there told us it was just like the other states so we should cross it off anyway... we weren't expecting much... and certainly weren't expecting what we found.
Iowa is pretty!!! And no, it's NOT just like the other states - at least - not from our experience. We entered from the Southeast - at Davenport - drove to/through Cedar Rapids via highway, then went off highway taking mostly Rt 218. It's amazing how many times one gets to cross the Cedar River on that route! So while we only saw mostly Eastern & Northeastern Iowa, what we saw was pleasant to the eyes. There were pretty rolling hills and farmland - and not all this farmland was irrigated (as is the norm in the west). We saw small towns and while some definitely could use economic revival, all the people we met were extremely friendly. In all, the natural green scenery, rolling hills, and ruralness made us fall in love with this state and we regretted that we had only allotted time to just drive through it - spending only one night.
Iowa reminds us of our chosen home area of South Central PA - without the crowds that are moving in here - and without the mountains (highest point in the state is only 1670'). If we were looking to relocate our home base from PA, Iowa actually ranks up in the top two of places we'd seriously consider (HI being the other one). Remember on this that we love rural though - if you like cities and "people" things... your opinion on relocating might be different.
For a visit, if you're looking for a rural experience on a vacation - even if just some "slow time" en route to unwind - Iowa certainly should be worth considering. The welcome center we visited had plenty of smaller attractions to visit (we wished we could have) - and the state park we camped at was really nice (one of the best campgrounds on the trip - esp for the $11 price - see journal entry for more on that). All in all, with what we were told/expecting vs what we found - we thought a journal entry letting others know that Iowa might indeed be worth a look was in line...