Yellowstone – Canyon Village

Because we are both working Lee and I have made a deal. Once we “clear” a section of the park together it is open to either of us going alone. That is part of the reason these first few posts are all going to be divided into sections because we are clearing the map.

On our second foray into the park I chose Canyon Village, because the roads were clear and I really wanted to see the canyon. The first time I saw a painting depicting this spot I was blown away and have always wanted to stand where Thomas Moran once stood.

Since we went in the evening after work, we knew animal sightings would be a crapshoot, but between the valley and the waterfall I didn’t really care. I do want to mention here that MANY people come with the desire to see animals and although I respect that (and want to see them as well) there is so much more to see here. If you only have a few days and come to check the grizzly bear box you may be disappointed. Instead I advise taking the park in all its natural beauty and letting the animal sighting come to you.

The road to Canyon Village actually has a small stretch of 7% grade and on another snowier day Lee turned around rather than attempting it. This evening though the roads were clear and the snow laden trees were gorgeous.

When we approached the canyon we realized that the trails closer to the falls (including artists viewpoint) were closed but thankfully the higher level viewpoints were open. There were three different views that we saw and everyone one of them was breathtaking. I haven’t seen anything quite like this since our visit to Bryce and the combination of snow, water, and valley blew me away. Truly I am not a good enough writer to express how it felt so I will let the pictures do the talking for me, but even they don’t come close to capturing the majesty.

You can see the walkway in the bottom center, but unfortunately it was closed. Can’t wait to go back and get up close and personal.

The smile says it all

Very few people were around and since the rules are that your dog can be outside your vehicle within 50 feet of the road we were able to let Jack out a bit, ON LEASH. He loves the fresh air and his nose is working overtime with all the smells. The pine trees and snow amongst the rocks were so beautiful as well and although it was a bummer we couldn’t hit the trails I am glad my first views were with the snow. We took a last few pics though because we were losing the light and headed back to the main area of the park.

On a whim we headed north towards obsidian cliff because Lee had heard there were grizzlies in that area. The locals and professional photographers all say if you are looking for animals 6am – 9am or after dusk are the best times so we decided to give it a shot. As we were advised we drove slowly along the road looking in the meadows and for cars pulled over. Truly as an amateur the best way to see things is to look for others who are experts at spotting and although sometimes you just miss the sighting when you don’t its really cool.

And in this case we got really lucky because when we saw a crowd we pulled over we got to see a grizzly bear!!! The bear was playing peekaboo in the woods, but by being patient we got a few shots with our long lens. This particular bear has a collar and a local told me it was bear 881 and was a 19 year old male. I asked how she knew that, but she got a little coy and said she knew her bears.

You can see the collar in this picture

We stayed for awhile and watched the bear but decided to move our truck to free up the area for other folks. We turned around and were heading back when we saw a horse trailer. Since there were cars on on both side of the road he waved us through and as we were passing we saw Forrie Smith (the actor who plays Lloyd on Yellowstone) in the truck cab pulling the trailer. Lee, always quick, stopped the truck and jumped out. He shook his hand and told him how much he loved his work and I managed to get a quick pic through the window.

Sometimes life hands you quintessential moments and I know meeting a Yellowstone actor, in Yellowstone park, while a grizzly grazed nearby was definitely one of them. We were both super excited as we headed back to our campground, but had one more stop as we passed a giant pool. I love this particular hot pool because it is right next to the main road and the hot water and steam go under the road into the river nearby. It was a beautiful night and the steam was billowing and capped a perfect evening.

Driving through the steam is cool

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

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Yellowstone – Old Faithful

One of the benefits of arriving in Yellowstone in late April is minimal crowds, but the weather was definitely problematic. I kept waiting for a clear sky day to go into the park, but finally realized that probably wasn’t going to happen so instead settled on a dry roads day. Although it was overcast it was still really exciting, and we finally entered our nation’s first National Park. Due to the time of year and weather not all of the roads were open, so we decided to focus on the Old Faithful section of the park.

Even if all the roads were open I would NOT recommend trying to see everything in a day or even two. This park is HUGE, with multiple sections that each deserve their own time in my opinion. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect, despite all the hype, but this park has absolutely blown me away. It truly has it all. Gorgeous vistas, tons of wildlife, waterfalls, and the geysers. Of course the most famous of them all is Old Faithful so of course that was high on my list. And did I mention this is the 150th anniversary of the park??? I would love to say I planned it that way but it is just a happy coincidence.

The entrance. Entering early or later is really important when things get busy because the lines we have heard can be two hours long.

We saw a sign when we entered that said watch for bison on the road and we were not disappointed. We had several up close and personal encounters with bison that first day and they were beautiful. We also saw some Trumpeter swans which I have only seen once before in Alaska. This was all less than 10 miles inside the gate which was a great way to start.

It’s hard to decide which pictures to highlight so I will share my favorites in gallery view and you can click on any for a larger version.

The rivers running through the park are absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t expect this much water.

The 14 mile drive to Madison was cool enough, but then we started seeing lots of geyser activity. That I did not expect as we would see billowing steam in all kinds of places. Yellowstone sits on an active volcano, and the steam vents and geysers are “release valves”. Frankly it’s incredibly cool and we stopped and took a walk around the Painted Pots area, one of the many walkways built through the geyser fields. We had a lovely conversation which a young ranger named Mary and then hit a section where three of them were all going off at the same time and we were in the middle. What an amazing feeling and I absolutely loved it!!

This pond reaches 195 degrees

The day was just filled with unexpected surprises and we hadn’t even gotten to Old Faithful yet. When we arrived we stopped at the gift shops first and met lots of other fulltime RVers who were working there. These stores are beautiful and had lots of staff so we picked up a couple of items.

We made it to the Old Faithful Visitor Center around 3:30 and to be honest I was a bit disappointed. Mostly that is because I am not that interested in the details around geysers, but it does have a beautiful large window you can see the geyser from while being inside. We finished the museum around 4:00pm and since the next eruption was scheduled for 4:14 decided to walk out and wait. Unfortunately it was cold and sleet while we were waiting but the eruption was pretty cool. Keep in mind this was off season and terrible weather and the crowds were still there. Can’t imagine what its like in season.

Because of the cold you mostly see steam but still really cool. VERY high in the air.

We were both really glad that we had checked Old Faithful off our list but to be honest I liked the experience at the painted pots better. Still its something everyone should do and I look forward to seeing the lesser known geysers in the future. Since we are here all summer our plan is to do the most famous attractions as early in the summer as we can and then spend the high season (July and August) exploring the lesser known places. Even in high season the park is supposed to be good between 6am – 10 am (prime animal viewing) and 6pm – Dusk. We have already made a couple more trips into the park in the evening and those are special as well.

So far I really love this park and I may come out of this experience with it as my all time favorite. I’ll continue to write about our adventures this summer and share my pictures!

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April 2022 Budget

April included a trip from Texas to Montana with multiple stops along the way. High gas prices aside we always spend more when we are traveling because we pay more for campgrounds, activities, souvenirs, and of course gas. With all the things we did in April I actually think $6800 is very reasonable. Please see below for more details.

Campsite Fees – $1,000 for fees on the move is really good for us and Lee’s idea of having us stay in more county and city parks is not only fun but saves in the wallet.

Entertainment – $635 was again not bad because it included first time visits to Fort Worth and Arkansas.

Dining Out – $625 was largely two meals we had with friends of mine in Fort Worth and additional “experience” meals during our travels. We are doing a much better job of not eating out as much on travel days.

Groceries – This is over $1K but by design. Anticipating higher costs and less choice in a small town like Yellowstone we stocked up on everything we could, using a lot of our basement space for non perishables.

Truck Fuel – $1414 isn’t totally awful considering how far we traveled. We worked really hard to use whatever method we needed to (EFS card, Gas Buddy, Wholesale club memberships) to get the cheapest prices we could.

We will be staying in one place for the summer with a free campsite so we will see how that impacts the budget.

Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
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First Time in West Yellowstone

Thankfully our driving day to West Yellowstone was a really nice one. In order to makeup the time we had lost the day before we did decide to push through. The drive was beautiful, especially when we reached the National Forest area and we loved driving along the Snake River.

We even found a beautiful rest stop to walk the dog. If you look right above the front of our RV you will see a bear cave.
We knew we were getting close to Yellowstone when we saw this sign. This is where Lee will be working all summer.

After a long driving day, we finally arrived at West Yellowstone a little later than we would like but were excited to arrive at our summer home, Fox Den Campground. Many campgrounds here are parking lots, but this one is older and has lots of trees. It also has a very nice family running it and they have gone out of their way to make us comfortable. Keep in mind if you come in April things are still pretty muddy (and snowy), but the clean air and lack of crowds might make it worth it.

The snow and mud can make walking Jack a little challenging. Had to give him a bath the first day when he jumped into a mud puddle 🙂

I had heard some negative things about the small town of West Yellowstone, but so far I really like it. The prices are higher (which we were prepared for) but not gouging like we have seen in other small resort towns. They also have all of the basic services including post office, library, police department, two small grocery stores, several gas station, restaurants, and tons of shops. Since the closest cities are Idaho Falls (1-1/2 hours) and Bozeman (2 hours) I was relieved to see the grocery stores carried the basics. In all fairness though I like the town now when hardly anyone is here, but I’ll let you know what happens when it is full of tourist for the season.

In addition to the services I mentioned there is a health clinic in town and three more in Yellowstone itself. Again I found that reassuring. Of course lots of restaurants and lots of hotels which range from the very fancy to more basic. These places get booked way in advance though so if you are planning on coming up here (even out of season) I would do some planning. When we arrived April 22 MANY of the places were still closed and the park itself only had main roads open. We have learned that most of the business in town are owned by various members of one large family and as their workforce trickles in more places are opened. Even without those places though this is a town people live in year-round. I asked one local who said the roads to Bozeman and Idaho Falls stay open all year long, which I thought was interesting.

Getting here early meant Lee was the first seasonal employee to start at the camera store and so far he really likes the job. He worked 10-6 five days the first week, but we are guaranteed at least one weekend day off together. We can even go into the park after he gets off work some days but unfortunately the weather has been really hit and miss. It has rained quite a bit and snowed several days and we have yet to have one clear sky day off together to visit the park. Still we have the whole summer so we are trying not to be too impatient with the grey skies and overnight freezing temps.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

One of Our Scariest Drives

The law of averages says that traveling as much as we do sooner or later we will get stuck in some tough road conditions. Although we have certainly seen our share of construction and possible bad weather, we have only had really had scary road conditions a few times. That hasn’t made us complacent though and Lee always checks road conditions along our route. As we all know the weather can change quickly and we are not always in an area where you can easily stop and wait it out.

When we left Cheyenne we had a relatively short 250 mile drive on I-80 West. It was windy, but less than we had been experiencing, and a bigger storm was supposed to be coming to Cheyenne the next day. We had built an extra week into our schedule but both of us were eager to get to Yellowstone and Lee thought he could solo drive the day and handle 40 mph gusts.

It started off OK with dry roads and manageable winds but pretty quickly we were at a higher elevation with some snow on the ground. Still it was pretty and the blowing snow wasn’t too bad except in a couple of spots where the conditions were near white out.

It was pretty at first

I got pretty nervous, but Lee said he was fine because the roads were still dry and clear. He took his time, drove with the flashers on, and I tried to stay as calm as possible. Things were going OK and then we hit the ice. I should mention here that we don’t have 4 wheel drive and climbing icy roads is problematic at the best of times. Add blowing snows and higher winds to the equation and it was a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully all of the traffic was going pretty slow because there was a FedEx truck stuck in one of the lanes. We could creep along with everyone else and things were OK but it got scarier when we passed the accident and everyone started to speed up. I was looking for a place for us to stop, but it was one of those areas with limited rest areas and the one we passed was completely full of trucks. That should have clued us in we were in trouble and for the first time we really wished we had a CB radio to know what was ahead.

The Fed Ex truck in the middle was stuck and people were going around on both sides. You can see the roads here were thick ice and slush .

After the accident it got way worse, but Lee didn’t want to pull over because he was afraid with the ice on the side of the road we wouldn’t be able to get back on the road. We found out later wind gusts were 65mph in some spaces and the blowing snow and poor roads was terrible.

Not long after this we saw our first of five accidents, but there was no place to stop and all we could do was drive really slow with our flashers on. Lee handled it extremely well and I just tried to stay as calm as possible because a nervous passenger makes it much worse for the driver.

The one good thing was the further we went the less vehicles were on the road. We learned later that they had actually closed the road behind us and we were one of the last vehicles to make it through. Unfortunately we didn’t see any salt trucks at all and although many trucks were able to pull off the road the one remaining rest area was an uphill climb and Lee didn’t think he could make it. This was unfortunate because we were headed towards a steep downgrade, which are fine normally, but trying it with high winds and ice was not great. It was the last 9 mile stretch to get to Laramie though and Lee decided since it was downhill he could make it. Personally I never would have tried it but the driver makes the call.

The scariest part of the entire drive was when a huge gust of wind hit us and the truck and RV starting sliding across the ice into the other lane. No one was near us thankfully and Lee somehow managed to keep us on the road but it was terrifying. As you can see in the picture above though getting off the road wasn’t really an option so all we could do was take some deep breaths and keep going.

Thankfully though someone was looking out for us, because not only were there wind breaks through most sections of the downgrade the road was much better. Towards the end we saw a salt truck coming the other way and realized the road was closed and they had the ice trucks clearing the pass. That’s why most of the trucks pulled over and hunkered down.

Beautiful and blocked the wind
Roads got better
And really clean. This was what we saw at the end, a huge line of trucks and the road closed going the other way.

We talked about continuing since we had only gone 60 miles so far but I said absolutely not. Lee reminded me that our marriage was a democracy and I calmed down a little when we got gas and we talked about it. He might have kept going but thankfully God literally sent us a sign when we saw one that said I-80 west was closed to high profile light vehicles. Lee did say we weren’t really light but his heart wasn’t in it and we went and stayed at the fairgrounds where we had stayed before. Sometimes you just have to pay attention to the signs and call it a day.

The one bright spot in a tough drive. Happy Jack Road!

Just in case you think this is our worst travel day ever it is not. Our worst was while we were on our way to Alaska and Lee had to drive on a 10 percent grade in snowy conditions. That was really scary.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

Windy Cheyenne

There is a tendency when reading other people’s blogs to judge your life by someone else’s highlight reel. I’m certainly guilty of it and as much as I try to pepper in the reality of this life I am sure many of you skim over some of that and just look at the pretty pictures. This post is going to be about some of the least pleasant aspects of the lifestyle and for me at least one of my least favorites is wind.

I’m not talking about a light breeze here, I am talking about 40+ mph gusts that contain grit. This has to be one of my least favorite types of weather and the last time we saw it was when we stayed at City of Rocks in New Mexico. This kind of “keep you inside” wind is a real bummer. Especially when you are in a place you would like to explore. But this area is called the High Plains for a reason and with the exception of a couple of gorgeous days, our stay was largely about enduring the wind.

It didn’t help that we were there before the season opened, so most of the state and county campgrounds were without water which forced us into the Terry Bison Ranch RV Park. Don’t get me wrong if you are vacationing with kids this is a really cool place, but for us it’s not the type of campground we like to stay at. It’s more expensive for one thing and the sites were very close together, prompting Lee to pay the extra $10 for a deluxe site which put us off by ourselves in a corner. The coolest part was we had a nice view of the campground’s herd of bison and we were super close to the dog area which Jack loved.

We were in the corner with the RV storage area so Lee turned our RV so my view was of the Bison rather than the junker RVs. He’s sweet like that.

This campground is it’s own complex and has a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything with a steak restaurant, breakfast cafe’, ferrier school, wonderful gift shop, exotic animal area, train rides to see the buffalo, and horseback riding. Although we were able to walk around on the first day, most days the wind was so nasty I didn’t even want to walk around. Even taking the dog for his walk was challenging as the wind was gusty and could cause even Lee to unbalance at times.

It was quite the organization but almost everything was priced for a short summer season and not money I was willing to spend. Instead on the one good day we had drove around Cheyenne which was totally free. Being off season it was hit and miss on what was open but we did get to see some cool stuff. Cheyenne is the state capital but a relatively small town and it didn’t take long to see the stuff I wanted to see.

State capital
The historic governors mansion is free to tour. Lee toured on one of my workdays and loved it
They have a small area with live gunfight shows in season.

My favorite was the visitors center/train depot that you can go inside for free (train museum is extra). It’s a beautiful old building in the historic downtown section with a nice gift shop inside. Outside are lots of giant cowboy boots and pay particular attention to the tile inside because it is original.

Historic downtown had some neat shops and restaurants but the street was completely torn up for road construction which forced us to mainly walk on side streets. We did have dinner at one of the steak restaurants which was OK, but again overpriced for what we received. One of the things about northern tourist towns (ski towns aside) is they need to make their money in a 4 month period. We understand it, but in general we are priced out of anything we might want to buy.

Overall Cheyenne is a really nice town with all the basic services but I couldn’t see living there. It’s flat and there’s tons of wind plus they get major snow all the way into May. Still it was a good place to get ready for heading North and we filled prescriptions, got hair cuts, and bought me an office chair…all things that might be difficult to do in the small town of West Yellowstone. Definitely fun for a visit though. Lee loved it. It speaks to his inner Cowboy 🙂

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
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Sliding Shelves and Other Mods

Lee has been working on various modifications and improvements for the rig over the last few months and I have been collecting them as he made the changes and wanted to share some more of them here. The most challenging change he made was adding sliding drawers in the bathroom cabinet. We have some great shelving space in the bathroom but it’s hard to get to the higher shelves and the back (they’re two feet deep!) and frankly we lose site of what is in there. Lee added these cool sliding drawers so I can easily see what we have and reach it!

Lee set up a work area on the campground picnic table
Yes you can have a saw and do some woodworking from an RV!
This is what he started with. Because the space is deep super hard to see what’s in there
First Lee added the tracks

Then he built the boxes and put them on the slides. He said it was pretty simple the main thing was building the box sturdy enough to handle the weight but light enough it didn’t bend down when pulled out. He even stained them for me 🙂

Look how nice!!

It really is the little things in life and all these changes may seem simple but have made a nice change in our lives. We both find ourselves scratching out heads as to why we didn’t do these before. Look below for some simple mods that have made life easier.

Jack likes to climb on my lap on long drives but sometimes I want him to stay in the back. This net (which he can jump over if he wants) keeps him in the back unless I call him up. He’s not super crazy about it but he has gotten used to it and its better than crating him.
We haven’t had a full sized ironing board since the beginning but sometimes that’s exactly what is needed. Lee removed the wall in the back of the bed box and now a full sized ironing board fits in the space.
We used to have larger containers and they were always falling out of the cupboard and generally causing a mess. These stack very nicely and hardly take up any room at all.

Even in a small RV remotes can still go missing which drives me crazy. Lee found a perfect way to hang them though using a small magnet drilled into the wall and a magnetic plate on the back of the remote. He hung up the fan remote, TV remote, and Fantastic fan remotes and man has that made my life easier. No more hunting for remotes! FYI this trick could work in a house too.

Last but not least Lee added a checklist (with actual tabs you can move) to our fridge. It’s customizable so we picked our own items and now use it every time we pack up. Even though we have been full timing for over 7 years we still make mistakes sometimes and this checklist ensures the really important items aren’t forgotten about in a last minute rush. Whether you are new or experienced, I highly recommend this item!

Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on ITunes

First Time Staying at an Elks Lodge

Finding places to stay for just an overnight stay is an interesting challenge for most fulltime RVers because we don’t want to spend a ton of money on a quick stop. We also have different requirements for an overnight stay than most other people and for us Walmart is not a great option. Many of our friends are Elk members and have used Elk lodges for short stays and based on their recommendation, Lee and I finally were able to join the Elks.

I say finally because the process of joining takes some time. Not only do you need to be in an area where you can be sponsored (we had to provide three Elks members as references) but you should also plan on being in one spot for at least eight weeks. We have been wanting to join for the last several years but travel schedules and COVID restrictions made it tough for us. Thankfully we were able to join in Texas.

Let me start by saying The Elks is a great organization whether or not you use it for RV stays. Each chapter has its own individual charities and lots of activities for their members. Their overall mission of service and patriotism really resonated with us and the annual membership fee was reasonable. Based on what we have learned, I think joining is a great idea whether or not you use their RV spots for overnights, but that post is going to be about that specific experience.

Not all Elks have RV spots to stay in, but many do, and they are as varied as their chapters. Services range from dry camping to full hookups, and prices vary as well. Although some allow reservations, many are first come first serve and they also allow different lengths of stays. For an overnight, the length of stay isn’t that important, but we do know people who have stayed for longer stints. Like many other overnight options it is a mixed bag and our first two attempts do a good job of illustrating that.

Our first stop for example had full hookups, eight sites, allowed reservations and had a beautiful view of some rolling hills. Although it was close to the freeway it wasn’t a simple jump on and off like most RV parks we pick for overnights, so staying there did add some driving time to our day.

One of the benefits of staying in an Elks is that many have food on certain days. Unfortunately the restaurant was not open for the one we stayed at, but the bar was open. At the end of a long driving day, many people like to walk over, get a drink, and talk to some local folks. We are not big drinkers so that wasn’t a benefit for us, but I know other members who take advantage of that feature at most stops.

For us the two biggest features for an overnight are safety and a place to walk the dog. Safety is a very subjective thing and in my opinion does vary based on whether you are in a Coach or a Fifth Wheel. We tend to have a higher safety threshold than many people though so keep that in mind. Walking the dog goes hand in hand with safety because I usually do the evening walks. I hate walking him in places where there is trash on the ground he may get into or limited green space. That’s just me though, everyone has different priorities and for us the first place we stayed met them all. It did cost $25 a night, but the money goes to a good cause which is a great thing.

The second place we stopped was completely different. It was first come, first serve and we we weren’t sure what we were walking into because information on their website was limited. The Elks was in the small downtown area and although there was a decent park across the street, the pawn shop next door and general vibe of the area made us leery. They also only had 30 amp electric sites which would have been OK, but the sites were VERY short. Backing our 40 footer in would have been a challenge and we would have hung out pretty far.

This time we both gave it a pass and instead stayed at a beautiful county park close by for $20. My point here is by all means join the Elks and use them as an option but for us at least it will be one of many options, not necessarily our first choice. I know other people who stay at them every time they can and you may feel that way as well, but for us location does matter.

Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

Fort Smith National Historic Site

In my experience National Historic Sites are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are amazing but others could definitely use time and attention. So I wasn’t expecting much when we entered the Fort Smith area. It didn’t look like much from the outside and I also didn’t know much about why Fort Smith was important at all. What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. It turns out that Fort Smith was extremely important for a variety of reasons and the location has an excellent museum along with the ability to tour the original jail site.

Several famous movies were also set in Fort Smith including True Grit.

So why was Fort Smith important? The First Fort Smith (1817-1824) was built right on the edge of the frontier. By 1824 the frontier had pushed west and the fort was abandoned.

It changed hands a couple of times in the Civil War due to its strategic location on the Arkansas river. In 1865 the Fort Smith Council was held to establish relations with 15 Native American tribes. Although Native Americans had fought on both sides of the war the United States treated all tribes as defeated enemies and stripped what remaining rights they had away forcing renegotiation. This was also the end point of the Trail of Tears, which pushed the Cherokee (and other tribes) out of Florida and southern US into the Osage and the US soldiers manned the fort to “keep the peace.”

The expanded Fort Smith (1872-1896) was the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas having jurisdiction of Native American territory. US Deputy Marshalls rode from Fort Smith into the territories as the arm of the law. The barracks basement became a primitive jail with two large rooms holding up to 50 men each. Judge Isaac Parker, known as the hanging judge, presided over the court and heard over 13,000 cases sentencing, 344 were for capital crimes and of those 160 people were sentenced to hang.

The jail was indeed hellish and finally was stopped by a young women reporter. She wrote about the conditions which forced the government to change the jail.

There were lots of young gangs in the area and some famous names were either caught near or brought to justice in Fort Smith. These included the Cook Gang, Dalton Gang, Cherokee Bill, and Belle Star the Lady Desperado.

The lawmen who brought these folks to justice were US Marshalls and I was surprised to learn that in the early days they were little more than Bounty Hunters. They were paid $2 (and expenses) for the people they brought in alive and $1 if they were brought in dead. Most, if not all of them were as brutal as the men they retrieved they were just on the right side of the law.

Famous picture of a Marshall’s reunion.

Overall the museum was great and packed a ton of information into the space they have. I will say that the literature could use a bit of a refresh though because it felt a little slanted towards the white perspective. One of the most interesting areas was a recreation of Judge Parkers court room where he ruled for many years.

Overall a great historical site and I really recommend a stop if you are in the Fort Smith area.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

First Time in Ozark

I love small towns and personally believe that to truly see this great country of ours a person has to see where real people live. Because of that I intentionally wanted to spend some time in the rural western part of Arkansas and after some research Lee chose the town of Ozark. And yes Lee and I love the TV show Ozark, but to be clear that wasn’t actually filmed in this town. We did learn though that the first year of Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life was shot here and the town’s claim to fame is that they both worked at the local Sonic…but I am jumping ahead.

First we had to get settled in and Lee had put a reservation in at a cool COE (Core of Engineers) park called Aux Arc Park. Weird name right, but it makes more sense when you realize it is on the property of a dam that generates electricity for the area. Lee got a beautiful spot right on the water, but unfortunately when we arrived the site was taken. The gentlemen in the RV on our spot thought he had rented for two nights but unfortunately it was only one and the situation got more complicated when we realized the campground was 100% reservation only, and bookable online only and the local camp hosts had limited ability to help us solve the problem.

Thankfully a local person jumped in and said due to a family medical emergency he was leaving his site early and graciously allowed the other camper to move into it. That sort of small town kindness is always appreciated and within 30 minutes (the other camper was a C class) both he and we were in our correct sites. Jack was thrilled with all the new smells and I loved seeing all the birds in the area. There were pelicans, geese, cormorants and even an eagle I saw on two separate occasions. It was a really beautiful park and very well maintained. My only complaint was there was a train track across the water and the sound did carry, but other than that it was perfect.

Once we get set up, we usually jump in the truck and get our bearings. In this case with a tiny town (population 3684) that doesn’t take too long. Grocery store options are always at the top of our list, but I am always on the lookout for local thrift stores (they don’t always show up in google searches) and I like seeing where people work. In this case the local grocery store was Family CV’s although there was an old school Walmart with an extremely limited grocery section.

The two main employers appeared to be a Butterball plant and the local Ozark bank corporate office. Obviously some money from these businesses had gone back into the community because there was a beautiful state of the art community center with an indoor pool. I also found a local thrift store that was only open Weds- Fri 10-2. If you ever see one with these sorts of limited hours I highly recommend checking it out, because they are volunteer staffed and the prices are always super good. For example I got a polo shirt and a pair of jeans for $1 each!

There wasn’t much in the way of restaurants though although we had an awesome (and inexpensive meal) at a Mexican restaurant. They also had an extremely busy Hillbilly Hideout restaurant in the local truck stop that was doing a brisk business the day we went to get gas. We didn’t eat there but I did get some General’s hot sauce in a really cool glass grenade container. The company is Veteran owned and operated and the $12 price was more than worth it.

All that being said it was a really short tour, so much so that when Lee saw a cow sitting in a field he doubled back so I could take a picture. Then we had to research why cows sit (usually stomach issues) and spent about 20 minutes talking about that. Ah the joys of small town life.

There wasn’t much else to see in town but another day we drove up the pig trail scenic byway to see Pig Trail Falls. Unfortunately this was one of those scenarios where the pictures online do not really reflect reality and despite lots of rain the falls were more of a trickle. Plus there was no where for poor Jack to run around so we just jumped out and took a couple of pictures while he had to stay in the car. Lee did like the crazy switchback road we had to take to get there though, and although I am sure the drive is beautiful in the fall not so much in the spring.

Speaking of rain its tornado season in Arkansas and unfortunately we were not immune. We’ve had really good luck over the years but there were two separate tornado touchdowns near us two days apart in one week here. The first was near Little Rock an hour to the east and was 3 miles wide when it touched down. The second was northwest of Fort Smith two days later and both nights were filled with general unease and multiple tornado warnings.

When you live in a camper tornados are no joke, especially because that weather comes with other nasty surprises. A microburst or high winds can fell trees that can take out a camper, large hail can also do extensive damage, and lots of rain can cause flooding if you are near water. Thankfully we were safe and just experienced lots of rain but it was a little tense. It made us realize why we largely avoid this part of the country in spring and for a variety of factors if you are planning on visiting the area I would recommend seeing it in the fall.

Thankfully we did have a couple of beautiful days and on Sunday we took a day trip to Fort Smith. Instead of going on route 40 though I asked Lee to drive Route 64 which took us through lots of small towns. The most interesting one was Alma which is the self proclaimed spinach capital of the world. It is one of the towns that is in transition, with parts of the downtown being beautified (with an awesome Popeye statue) and others falling apart…literally. The high school was huge though and they had a large theater center, but there is definitely still work to be done. Still we like seeing towns like this making an effort.

Awesome Popeye statue

We arrived in Fort Smith and realized that this was a city, albeit a smaller one. The population is 80,000 plus and it has all the stores you would expect. I also learned that it had a very rich history because at one time it was the gateway to the territorial west. It was the home of the US Marshalls and even has a beautiful new museum dedicated to them. Unfortunately it isn’t open to the public yet, but we drove by to see the outside of the building. Throughout town there are numerous statues for notable citizens including “Hanging” Judge Parker and Bass Reeves a famous Black US Marshall. You don’t have to look far to see hints of the wild west town it once was and despite its growth has managed to maintain some of its original character. We always appreciate that.

Bass Reeves had his own small park

The main thing we saw in Fort Smith was the National Monument, but that was so good I am going to cover that in its own post. After visiting though we were hungry and despite it being Sunday we were able to get a table at the local Calico County Restaurant. I love eating at local places and this one was terrific. First we got cinnamon rolls as our “bread” before the meal and for the first time had deep fried corn on the cob. The meal was really great, but I’ll be honest and say I gained a full pound from that one meal. Still the splurge was worth it and Lee even bought some no bake cookies to take home. They are his favorite. If you are wondering why I have more pictures of the restaurant than anything else that is how good it was.

Next up I’ll talk about the Fort Smith National Historic Site which was much more interesting than I though it would be.

Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes