It’s my RV and I’ll dance if I want to

I’ve started singing and dancing while I make dinner every night and the kids hate me for it. SO much eye rolling and impatient grunting, and that’s mostly why I do it. Why shouldn’t I share my obsessive ear worms with my family? Sharing is caring, children.

The morning after our extremely epic space adventure we woke up thinking we were going to have a recovery day. It was A LOT of walking for my two small tax deductions and my lovely retiree with the foot problems. By lunch time we’d decided that the weather wasn’t going to get any better that week, we should just bite the bullet and head to LegoLand.

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She caught air!

I have two things to say about LegoLand. First, I enjoy that the kids can ride the rides without us. I mostly detest amusement park rides, and the children like to be independent, so it works. Second, LegoLand is VASTLY overpriced. I thought this about the nicer one in California, too, and had I known the state of affairs in Florida I would have skipped the Merlin passes all together. The Florida location can best be described as teetering on the edge between shit-hole and novelty. The park really shows it’s age, and it seems that there are no efforts to update the place. Everything is extremely spaced out and hard to get to. We got lost several times – even with a map. I can hear you whispering to yourself that it was probably my fault. Hush, you.

 

 

Nobody was there, it was like a ghost town. We rode this ride at least five times in a row.

It was a submarine ride that swung outward on your command. It was probably not safe.

They also had a two story carousel which they rode first and last.

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Admittedly it was kind of neat. Who wouldn’t want to ride those life-sized Lego horses up there? (hint: me)

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We completed the whole park in about three hours. Because this was our second day in a row filled with walking and being in public, Wesson was in tears by the end and Justin was a hobbling mess. Mara was happy, though!

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I felt terrible for those vacationers who bought tickets at the gate. Spend your money on Lego sets instead and you’ll be much happier.

Two days later we were on the move! This little guy apparently did not want us to leave. He tried to jump onto Justin’s hand when he unplugged the camper.

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Hey.

The first night of travel was spent in a Bass Pro Shops parking lot! We love some BPS! Always there with a boat to play on, a line of parking spaces to hog, and a curb to hang our bed slides over.

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There was a roundabout to go through to get into this lot. Roundabouts seem cool until your vehicle is sixty feet long, then waterboarding seems more attractive.

The next day brought us to our first real stop: Pensacola Air Station!

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This campground was really nice! It was right by the water.

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Don’t you just freakin’ love a watery sunset? That strip of land over there is Alabama, FYI.

Most of the military installations have museums of some sort. This place had a whopper.

Wesson has been wearing his Marine cammies every time we go on a base just to let everyone know where his loyalties lie.

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Look at that face! That boy is precious. If that plane had wings he’d have been gone. The gift shop had something that Wesson has been pining over:

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Dress blues acquired!

Daddy has a soft spot and deep pockets for the little Marine boy. We tried to talk him into a haircut to go with the uniform but he LOVES his long hair. Nine out of ten people assume that he is a girl and engage him as such (sometimes I wonder about people). He is quick to correct them but is never offended because there is nothing wrong with being a girl. He is confident enough in himself that it just doesn’t bother him. Rock on with your luxurious locks, baby boy!

We were off again on January 14th, but instead of going to ONE place, we went to FOUR places; Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, in very specific order. This also gave us three new states on our states sticker map, effectively closing the tauntingly barren gap we had lying between Florida/Georgia and Texas. Some people only count the states if they’ve slept there, other people have more creative criteria. We just have to go there as a family while full-timing. There are going to be some pass-through states, It’s the nature of the beast. Mississippi is just going to have to get over it.

We got into Texas just in time for a nice ice storm. By the second day our camper-cicle was complete. The south has let us down tremendously this year. We’d have been better off going straight to California.

Instead of hanging out in icy Houston we opted to head north to warmer weather. Totally makes sense, huh? We planted ourselves in Whitney, just south of Fort Worth and just north of Waco. If you remember last years stay in Whitney, we had a tornado tear through and hop right over the campground! For this reason I was nervous, but honestly what are the chances? I wore pants to bed so that I wouldn’t get flung into the woods in my underwear. It was the least I could do. Thankfully the days were not stormy and my fears were unfounded.

I’ve talked about museum memberships before (I think). We’ve taken advantage of the wide reciprocity of the Lake Superior Zoo membership in the past. We took a break last year, because you can only visit so many children’s science centers without wanting to pluck your eyelashes out because of the redundancy. This year, we opted to buy a travel membership from Kern Pioneer Village in California because of their broad reciprocity. They are members of Time Travelers, North American Reciprocal Museums, Association of Science-Technology Centers, AND Association of Children’s Museums. If you do any traveling AT ALL this is a worthy investment. Anyway, for this reason we headed out to Waco one day to visit Baylor University and their AMAZING natural history museum. On the way, we saw a sign for something called Waco Mammoth National Monument. Whaaaaat?! How did we not know about this! Plans changed immediately.

 

…and we were SO glad that they did! The tour was fantastic! There have been 26 Columbian Mammoths found in this area, in what is the only nursery herd that’s ever been found in the US. The ranger that led us to the STILL ACTIVE dig site was awesomely friendly and gave us great information. Wesson is, like, the BEST person to have on your tour because he eliminates the awkward silence that is inevitably applied by adults who are still awkward and don’t ever give the docent anything to work with. He’s the participant that you wish that you were.

Also exciting? JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM! This was surprising because the place has only been in the National Park system for two years.

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Can you find ROADSCHOOL in there anywhere?

The kids had to take their Junior Ranger Pledge with one hand on a Columbian Mammoth tooth!

Thanks, Ranger Rachel from Virginia!

While we were in Waco last time I saw this big greenspace and drove right by, not even realizing it was that place from that show.

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I BARELY know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are but I wasn’t going to skip this again. The shop is exactly as clean and stylish as you would expect.

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This is only one part of the warehouse

The outside was a big, green area of fake grass where kids could play and adults could lounge around on giant beanbag chairs.

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Overall it was ok, nothing to repeat, but now we can say that we did it. If they were there behind the register slinging bags of fake flowers and gingerly wrapping giant timepieces it would have been more of a thrill.

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Saturn V shirt , like a boss.

 

The kids finally got to ride their unicycles! We’ve been lugging them around since we left Michigan in November, and Wesson hopped right on! Mara is almost there. If she believed in gravity a little less she’d be riding circles around her brother. For the record, that tennis court said no bicycles or skateboards and said NOTHING about unicycles. Also, we didn’t get caught.

If you want to learn more about unicycling, check out the Unicycle Society of America! This year’s North American Unicycling Competition and Convention is going to be held in Livonia, Michigan and if you’re in the area it’s worth a stop to see some awesome people do *almost* impossible things.

I had thought that I’d squeeze the rest of January into this post but we are so active right now life is moving faster than my fingers. I have SO much to tell you. Come back soon!

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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National Parks Four, Five, and Six, a Zip Line, and a Punch to the Eye

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Cousin Teddy had a way with words. According to the Ancestry.com app on my phone, Theodore Roosevelt is my seventh cousin, four times removed. Whether or not that’s true has yet to be determined but I like the idea. It gives me the notion that maybe the draw to explore these wild, wonderful parks is in our blood, and adventuring was our destiny all along. Also, maybe the kids are supposed to be presidents. Or maybe they should be photo-shopped riding atop a moose. Either or.

From the Dancing Eagle Casino we could extend our reach to three new places. El Malpais (mal pie EESE) National Monument was the next stop in our National Parks quest. Early explorers called this place El Malpais (which means ‘the badlands’) because most of the area is rough volcanic rock and their horses were unable to traverse the impossibly jagged ground. Honestly, people have trouble as well. We met the Chief Ranger for this area and El Morro and she told us about a man who was rescued from the area within the last year. It took them almost two hours to get to him on foot, and when they finally did reach him they couldn’t evacuate him. They had to call the Navy. Yes, the Navy had to rescue them from the middle of New Mexico. Not to discount the terrible experience for the man who was in trouble but hot damn, that had to be a cool rescue operation. The Chief said the planes whooshed by about 200 feet up from the treetops. I could tell that she was a little excited about it too. Good job, random unprepared hiker!

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This Ranger was super excited about the Junior Ranger swearing in and made sure to grab his awesome hat

After we had explored the museum and completed our Junior Ranger program (YAY) we headed out to explore the park we’d just learned about.

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La Ventana Natural Arch was so high and gorgeous. We stood quietly for a few minutes (seconds probably) to just take in the surrounding and ended up hearing some elk honking away. Justin also thought that he saw a large cat up in one of the holes in the wall but I’m going to pretend that he didn’t.

We also drove over to the sandstone bluffs to look out over the lava field. Again, a moment you could never fully capture.

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That little pool was teaming with life in the form of water bugs of various sorts, unaware that they are several hundred feet into the sky. I would have gotten a better photo of how high up we were but it was really windy and there is nothing to stop you from flying off into the lava rock. I’m adventurous but not stupid. Ok not that stupid. Ok, I wasn’t willing to go to the edge that day. Continuing…

The next day we drove in to Albuquerque to visit Petroglyph National Monument. It’s in a different kind of area compared to other parks. The pieces of land included in the monument have neighborhoods all around them instead of being out in the middle of nowhere. We were able to complete our Junior Ranger goals at the visitors center before we went out exploring.

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This Ranger was one of my favorites, as she was genuinely excited about ALL of the parks and not just her own. The rangers in general thought the kids were just awesome in their little vests covered in badges, clutching their Junior Ranger Camelbak bottles. We got a little carried away – but for a good cause.

The basalt rocks in this area have kind of a black varnish on them due to the desert environment and it provided ample canvas for the migrating travelers to etch a picture or two down to the gray basalt. No one is really sure what all of the glyphs represent and it’s offensive to ask the natives. We can only speculate what they mean. Some of them are obvious, like a bird or a snake. Others may have been placed there by ol’ Uncle Bob who wasn’t right in the head. We may never know.

We also went to a really cool city park in Albuquerque that had zip lines! The kids could have stayed there all night.

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The sixth park in our wondrous National Parks tour was a place called El Morrow National Monument, El Morrow meaning ‘the headlands.’

This area saw travelers of all kinds because it is the site of an ever present watering hole. People traversing the West could count on the pool at El Morrow which is fed from the runoff of melted snow from the cliffs above. The area is also significant because when people came through here they felt the need to write their names on the wall.

It’s pretty neat to see all the different names and such, and the park has done a great job at gathering information about a good majority of the people and including that in their self-guided tour.

I brought the selfie stick with us that day, a device that is incredibly superfluous yet fun to embarrass your family with.

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I LOVE this photo of us for a few reasons. One being that it shows the pool at El Morrow, another being that it captured the moment right after Wesson had inadvertently punched Mara in the eye. Justin and I were smiling like fools, oblivious to the collision,  Wesson with his ‘shit happens’ face, and Mara mid un-grinning. Candid moments caught on camera! Thanks, selfie stick! Before you tell me what a crappy parent I am for getting the giggles when I look at this photo, she was fine. She didn’t even cry and I don’t think that her eye was that black.

We had done it! Six parks in six days, and six Junior Ranger badges! I just love what we gain from the programs. In fact, ANYONE can complete the program, it’s not just for children. I’m looking forward to seeing just how many parks we can visit before we stop traveling. Who am I kidding? We’re never going to stop.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

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Take it Easy

As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

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This woman was from a remote pueblo in New Mexico

This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.

This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.

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♫ Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona ♫

Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.

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Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.

Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.

Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.

Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

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This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.

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There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.

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Right.. Left.. Oh well.

This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.

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Mmmm, cart burgers

Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.

I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.