Our last week at the campground was nice and quiet because we were the only ones there! We finished up some last minute items and had a nice meeting with our managers about the opportunities for next year. We won’t know for sure until November, but we’re confident something will work out. We also changed our days off so we could leave on Sunday, because we thought we might be able to meet Cori and Greg in Cheyenne along the way, and the extra day would allow us to spend more time with them, instead of just a few hours at the end of a long day of driving. Unfortunately on Saturday we learned that Denver was supposed to get snow, which changed the plan quite a bit.
We really wanted to see them (and as an added bonus Dave and Sharon just happen to be with them!) so I spent some time on Saturday re-routing us while Lee finished up last minute items on our rig. We definitely would be able to meet up with them, but in order to do that a few of our travel days would have to be a little longer than 300 miles, which we like to keep as our outer limit of driving, but it would definitely be worth it. And we would be going on new stretches of road (through Utah and Idaho) which is something I always enjoy. So we finished up our last gate closing on Saturday and were both up by 5:30am on Sunday. It still took us 3 hours to get on the road, but that was mainly because we double and triple checked everything. When you have been sitting for a while, it’s easy to forget your normal travel day routine and we were both extra cautious to ensure we didn’t have any issues.
The weather was absolutely perfect and because I-84 was still closed due to wild fires along the Columbia River Gorge from Troutdale to Hood River (we heard on the radio once we were under way that they opened one lane Sunday morning, but we were already going the other way) we headed east on U.S. 26 (Mt. Hood Highway) instead. From just past Government Camp we took OR-35 to Hood River to catch I-84 eastbound from there. We got to see Mt. Hood with a fresh dusting of now! It was a nice way to end our stay in Estacada, and the drive itself was a nice one.
Driving along the Columbia River
Our route actually took us through western Oregon, which we didn’t have time to explore this summer. It gets pretty hot there, so next time we will definitely take some trips early in the season, and it’s always a surprise how quickly the landscape changes. Lots of farmland, and quite arid, although we did have some beautiful views of the Snake River. Our campsite for the night was even along the Snake River, and the views were spectacular. We stopped at Catfish Junction RV Park because it was Passport America and the owner was really nice, and it was neat as a pin. Plus it only cost $16 which was very reasonable considering the view! Not to mention there were only about 4 rigs in the whole park. We particularly love travelling in the off season and shoulder season, because even parks that are normally cramped feel wide open when there’s nobody in them.
Pendleton area of Western Oregon
Our site was on the end and easy to back in. If you have a larger rig you might want to call ahead because not all sites would be that easy to get into.
Gorgeous view from the front of our rig
There are also numerous boondocking spots along the snake river and close to the campground, but on our first night on the road we wanted full hook-ups. When we have sat for a while Lee fills the black and grey tanks with about 1/3 water (I use the water meter to keep track of how many gallons I am putting in. It’s a very handy gadget to have for lots of reasons. – Lee) and the agitation from traveling helps to loosen and break up whatever sediment may have collected in either tank from sitting for so long. Lee calls it a poop smoothie. Since we sat for almost 5 months the tanks definitely needed it! We woke up the next morning and got on the road by 8:30am again, because I wanted to make sure we arrived at our next destination somewhat early. By choice I did not make any reservations, and generally in the off season this is not an issue. But you never know what you are going to run into, so if you time your arrival by around 2-3pm, you still have time to deal with anything that comes up.
This day of driving was not nearly as interesting, unfortunately. I didn’t really like the terrain all that much, although it did get much better when we hit Utah towards the end of the day. That was OK because I am trying a new thing while Lee is taking his driving turn. I can’t read in the truck, it makes me carsick, but I can cross stitch, and this is a fun thing to do because I can just stop when there is something interesting to look at. Lee and I have been splitting up the driving as well, changing drivers about every 2 hours, which also helps break up the long day. There was lots of construction and I swear it always happens on my turn, but surprisingly they still allowed people to drive 70 despite being down to one lane. I just set the cruise control to 65 and let folks pass me, because despite the relatively flat terrain, I just felt more relaxed. That section of highway was actually 80 mph but since there were 2-3 lanes folks didn’t seem to mind my slowpoke speeds.
Some mountains as we got closer to Utah
Finally we arrived at Willard Bay State Park and I was pretty disappointed. (Overall we are finding that state parks are not our cup of tea. They tend to be a little pricey for what we get. – Lee) There was no one at the gate so we had to use $30 cash, and since we didn’t have a campground map we had to drive around the campground, select a site, then drive back up and pay. None of the sites had water views,which was disappointing considering it’s on the water, and it’s pretty close to the interstate so you can hear a lot of road noise. On the plus side, the sites are nice and large, although not very level, and there was a nice paved path that took me down to the water. It was pretty down there and I saw lots of birds, but overall it was just too pricey for a very average overnight stay.
Our site was on the end which was nice
The paved nature trail
The beach area was great. I can see why this would be a big draw in warmer temps
Egrets were in the marsh and lots of song birds
Even saw a huge flock of what I think were coramonts flying overhead
Overall it was pretty, but I was really hoping it would be special enough to qualify us for a state sticker, but that was not to be. Our rule is we only get a state sticker if we spend the night AND see or do something unique to the state. The last piece is a bit subjective of course, but when I tasted the lake and it wasn’t salty I had to decide to save my state sticker for something else. Hopefully we will be able to get our Colorado sticker and Iowa sticker on our way to Indiana and Ohio, because it has been too long since I had the pleasure of putting a sticker on!
And then next morning I woke up pretty early and was as I was looking at Facebook and waking up I got pretty bummed out. Some people we know are taking their time exploring this area and their pictures really made me sad that we were flying by without doing or seeing anything. Utah is an area we have been wanting to explore for a while now, and I hated that we would be so close to Moab and not see it. It’s one thing to have Moab on your bucket list for example, but quite another to be less than an hour away and not be able to stop because of a schedule. That’s not exactly true, we could change our plans and see it, but for me, it’s not a place I want to just jump out and take a picture. It’s a BIG bucket list item and as such deserves more than a quick peek. It’s worth noting that in my old life I definitely would have stopped, because I wouldn’t have been sure we would ever get back. Now I am confident enough that we will return that I can afford to wait, but it’s still a bummer.
Plus, we are spending money like crazy.
Gas Diesel on the highway is around $2.90 a gallon, even with our 8 cents off Pilot discount and it’s about $100 every time we gas fuel up the truck. So, it’s going to cost us about $1,000 in gas diesel to get from one end of the country to the other, and it’s hard to watch the money we worked so hard for this summer slip away. More importantly, we are also “spending” 9 days of our precious time off, and since we don’t think we will have another long break until April, it’s hard to lose the time. We could slow our pace of course, and the temptation to do that is strong, but we have family and friends who haven’t seen us in over a year and that is important as well. I guess my point here is there is a tendency to see this lifestyle as freewheeling and completely without boundaries, and that simply is not the case for anyone we know. People have doctor’s appointments, family obligations, repairs to attend to, and financial constraints, all of which impact their travel. When you are just looking at Facebook pictures or blogs you forget about that, and even though I know better than to judge my life by someone else’s “highlight reel” I am still guilty of it.
Basically I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and then as often happens, the universe gave me a little nudge. Not ten minutes after writing the above couple of paragraphs I walked outside and there was a beautiful doe and her adorable, furry fawn less than 15 feet from our rig. I just stopped and stared and she stood there for a long time staring back at me, and finally they strolled away, unconcerned with my first-world full-timer problems. If I have a spirit animal, it is definitely deer, so the moment really spoke to me. It definitely brightened my mood and I quickly finished our morning routine and we got on the road.
The drive through Utah was much prettier than the day before. I had timed it so we missed most of Salt Lake City’s morning traffic, but it was still congested enough that it took some time getting through the city. It was more industrial than I thought it would be, at least what we saw from the highway, and the surrounding mountains were really pretty. Lee took the first shift, but we switched outside of town and our route took us off the interstate south of Salt Lake. We were driving US-6 to get between I-15 and I-70 and both of us were glad to be going through the countryside a bit. That part of the drive was really beautiful and although the road was pretty twisty turny it had great signage, and lots of passing lanes so I could drive at my own pace. The terrain also changed during the drive going from beautiful tree covered hills to some amazing canyons.
Grabbed a picture of the beautiful mountains at the Flying J before we jumped on Highway 6
This terrain was really pretty and we started to see some color
Then it turned into mining country with some amazing rock formations including Castle Gate pass. Unfortunately there was no place to stop and get a picture but this was really majestic
We also found a really nice, large travel plaza on Highway 6 and stopped for our lunch. Since the huge parking lot was practically empty I practiced backing up and I think I did OK. I haven’t backed up the rig since I went to RV driving school waaaay back in Spring of 2015 in the Outer Banks, so I was a bit nervous, but Lee talked me through it step-by-step and overall I think I did OK. I really need to take advantage of opportunities to practice this more in the future, because it definitely has an element of “feel” to it.
I wasn’t quite on the center line, but I was in the two outer lines
After our lunch stop we switched drivers again and the terrain down to I-70 was pretty barren. But when we reached I-70 and headed towards Moab we got to see some absolutely beautiful canyons, from the outside at least. We talked again about changing our route, it’s nice when you have no reservations so you can talk about things and Lee is great about last minute changes, but once again we decided to push on.
The drive on US-6
The canyons on I-70 from a rest area we stopped at
Finally we left Utah and entered Colorado and the terrain changed once again. There is a section along the Colorado River that has lots of wineries and fruit trees , which really surprised me and we were close to our stop for the night. It was only 3pm at this point, which turned out to be a good thing since I had planned to stay at the James M. Robb state park. I knew it would be pricey ($28 for full hookups and $7 daily entrance fee), but I wanted to try one of their state parks. The first section was in Fruita and since it was in town we skipped it for Island Acres which was outside of town and about 12 miles farther. Unfortunately I had the wrong address and we actually ended up in a third section which was day use only. Lee went inside and talked to them and we headed farther down the road, but it was actually 4:00pm by the time we arrived. The park was in this really cool canyon, but when we pulled in, once again, not impressed. Despite being right beside the river you couldn’t see it from your site and there was a train that ran through really close by, just on the other side of the river. Plus there was a distinct sewage smell in the area and after some discussion we finally decided to move on, to a more reasonably priced option that would put us a little closer to where we would be meeting up with our friends.
Cool entrance to canyon
I looked in Passport America and there was a nice campground about 1-1/2 hours away that was only $25 (with the discount) for the night. Lee said he was fine with driving and we kept going. Unfortunately we had to go farther east to turn around, and then go back 25 miles the way we came to get on US-50, but eventually we made it. About 11 miles outside of Montrose we checked in to Centennial RV Park. The office was still open when we arrived a little after six and it was a well-maintained and friendly campground. The Passport America price was right and we checked in and Lee quickly hooked us up to water and electric, and sewer. I made a quick dinner, trying a new fish recipe which we both really liked, and we both sort of collapsed. It was a long day and the driving wear and tear is a little cumulative. We knew we were tired when the person at check in asked us where we came from and neither of us could remember lol. I finally said Utah, above Salt Lake, but for the life of me couldn’t remember the name of the campground. But we are here and only about three hours away from Cori,Greg, Dave, and Sharon. Tomorrow we will be going over Monarch Pass, which on the eastern descent is about 6 1/2% grade for 10 miles, so we definitely wanted to be fresh for that drive. Looking forward to seeing our friends and taking a day off from driving, plus still hoping to get that Colorado State sticker!
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