The Joys of Finding Campgrounds

As the designated Trip Planner, I had been feeling pretty smug about choosing awesome campgrounds so far. So I figured as we left Arkansas and moved on to Mississippi, I would expect nothing less!

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The first campground we came to and where I thought we would stay, looked fine initially, but as we pulled in, we changed our minds about staying there. It was right along a busy highway and many of the sites weren’t maintained well at all. It was more of a full-time RV park and there wasn’t really much there for the kids.

Quick google check, and we were off to campground #2—about 1/2 hour away and the website looked oh-so-much better. A couple miles down this bumpy, deserted two lane road that ran next to some sort of power plant (nuclear plant for all we knew…) we probably should have turned back, but we were all ready to settle in, so we kept going.

This turned out to be the strangest campground I’ve ever seen. The little check-in office at the entrance gate was empty—closed? abandoned? We couldn’t tell. The whole front of the campground was enclosed in a barb-wire topped chain link fence. We drive on. NO ONE was in this very dilapidated campground, save one family Chad was convinced were the producers of a horror movie. They looked very friendly and waved energetically at us as we drove through to look at the sites. Every other site had a little “pond” created by recent rains, I guess, or maybe the adjacent Mississippi River overflowing its banks a bit. The whole place was just a bit creepy and so we made a democratic decision to move on (ignoring the kids’ votes of “Stay! Stay!” because there was a metal merry-go-round from the 60s that looked fun to them).

“Here’s a state park that’s only an hour a way” says the now sheepish Trip Planner, feverishly googling. So we drive on. Google didn’t mention that Mississippi puts speed bumps in the middle of their highways. LOTS of them. At least that’s what the giant cracks feel like from inside a motorhome. After the knife block went careening off the countertop and all the knives came flying out toward my parents and children sitting at the table, I was really praying everything would turn out ok. Our one hour turned into two (maybe more, I’ve already chosen to forget).

We did end up at a decent site in the state park. Chad managed to back in to the campsite, we got all settled, and he turns on the computer to work—next to no internet!! He can’t work without the internet! It was late, though, and we were all tired, so we ate supper and called it a night, anxious to move on in the morning. Although I almost lost my job over this one, there were no other willing candidates, except maybe an eight year old with an iPad, so I am still the Trip Planner.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas

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We arrived at the Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs National Park on Thursday evening. The campsite was right by a babbling brook, which the kids promptly hopped into. Smile

After we got set up, we went into town to explore and have dinner. We decided on Granny’s Kitchen on Central Street (greasy spoon diner, but had the sweetest southern waitress—college student wanting to do missions when she’s done), then explored a bit. We found the spot where the waters come out of Hot Springs Mountain:

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We learned all about hot water coming out of the earth last year and the year before, at Yellowstone, but this water is heated differently. The earth here isn’t volcanic. The rock around Hot Springs Mountain has tiny little fissures in it that slowly filter the water after it rains. It slowly makes its way deeper and deeper down (about 1 foot per year), heating as it goes. When it is finally forced quickly to the surface it retains that heat (comes to the surface at 143 degrees F) and is pure and safe to drink because the heat kills the bacteria. The water is odorless and good-tasting. And because of the slow rate of descent, the water we tasted is 4000 years old—from rains at the time the pyramids were built in Egypt!

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This town was built up around the idea that these ancient waters had healing properties. Eight bathhouses still line the main street in town, and though they are on property owned by the National Park Service, they are all leased to individual businesses, some of which still provide bathing experiences. We passed on this (partly because the two that were open for bathing that day had minimum age limits—hmmm…wonder why, at a bathhouse…we’ll just skip that, thanks.) Very interesting architecture, though, and the history of such a unique place is fascinating. Al Capone used to come here with his entourage of over 40 men, leased a floor of the local hotel and had several tunnels running to various buildings, apparently, to elude police when necessary. This is also the birthplace of Bill Clinton, and we learned at the “Arkansas Walk of Fame” that James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, Twila Paris and members of Point of Grace were also all born in Arkansas.

 

 

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Some of the Bathhouses along Central Avenue.

Very exciting to get back at doing Junior Ranger Programs!

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Have you ever been to Arkansas? How about Hot Springs? Have you “taken the waters”?

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Moving on east—to Arkansas

Thursday we said goodbye to our sweet, private campsite on the shore of Lake Eufaula after a visit to the simple and quaint little nature center at the campground and the “Frogatorium” (was too cute—basically a shed with a sign on the door that said the area was under video surveillance and the building was locked and required a tour guide; when we got one and went in, there was one little froggie up in a corner, probably wondering what he had done to become the only frog in the building.)

 

Here’s my RV co-pilot and “Total Package Navigator” control center:

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What would we do without these tools? GPS—trucker version, iPhone, iPad, laptop. If one doesn’t help us know how to get there, tell us the weather and attractions, and keep us in touch with all of our sweet friends and family, hopefully one of the others will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop? Hot Springs, Arkansas. Ready to taste those healing waters!

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Our Hike at Hot Springs

On Friday we decided to hike from our campground to the downtown area on a nature trail established in the 1920s as part of the fitness/treatment program at the local hospital. Walking was one of the primary forms of therapy, along with prescribed amounts of spring water consumed at designated times of day!

The trail was about a mile long, and up a pretty steep hill behind the campground. My eighty-something parents decided they wanted to give it a try too, but since they figured they’d go at a slower pace than the other four of us, they would start out earlier while we finished getting ready.

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We had a lovely hike—getting exercise, noticing the unusual plants and trees, and even finding a little friend rescued by Sweet Pea from a near-miss encounter with Spunky Monkey’s shoe.

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The trail was fairly steep and a deep-breather for us, so I wondered when we would catch up with my parents. As time went on and we didn’t see them anywhere, I started to get concerned. The only other place they could have gone was a turn-off that was even steeper than the one we were on. By the time we reached the town and hadn’t seen or heard from them, we were all concerned and decided we should go back to look for them. We figured they must have taken the turn up the steep trail, decided it was too difficult, and turned back, so we’d find them at the motorhome. I had been trying to call my dad’s cell phone, but kept getting voicemail. Soon after we started back, I tried calling one last time. Dad answered and to my concerned “Where are you?!” he said, “We’re in town—when are you going to get here?” They had indeed taken the “wrong”, steeper trail but still managed to get to town before us—all I can say is that I pray I’m as active as they are when I’m in my 80s!

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Cherokee Heritage Museum

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Chad needed to get caught up on work on Wednesday, so the kids, Oma, Opa and I headed about an hour north to Talequah, OK to the Cherokee Heritage Museum. We had briefly talked about the Cherokee Trail of Tears during Classical Conversations last year, but didn’t really know too much about it, so were looking forward to learning more.

 

 

 

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We saw a 1710 village with Cherokee summer and winter homes (very different from the Ute Indian teepees we are familiar with in our area of Colorado!) and had a tour with a very friendly Cherokee guide.

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They also had a 1800s village, showing how the Cherokee lived—they adopted many of the cultural ways of the whites around them, but still retained many of their own customs. They were one of the first groups to educate their girls and young women and had a very high literacy rate—go Cherokee! It was so sad to think about all the families forced to leave their native land and walk SO far, with so many losses (nearly 1/4 of those who left the east made it out here). But their story really is one of resiliency and courage in starting over. They are a very smart and resourceful people and did the most they could with the circumstances they found themselves in.

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That evening, it was back to the campground for roasting the MOST humongous marshmallows I’ve ever seen, walking in the near-dark, and watching the amazing sunset God painted. What a beautiful lake, campground and forest. We were all left with a very favorable impression of Oklahoma.

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Leaving Texas, on to Oklahoma

P6046101After two nights at the Amarillo Ranch RV Park, just off I-40, we headed out to Oklahoma. The campground was rather bare and dry, but it was quiet and clean and worked out quite well! There was a very clean swimming pool and hot tub the kids really wanted to try out, but we didn’t have time on this stop.

We did chat with one of our neighbors; he’s from Maryland and travels the country with his family in their 5th wheel “tellin’ people about Jesus” and spending however long in one city they feel God is leading them to stay. He’s been in Amarillo for a year and has scripture in vinyl letters all over the outside of his rig.

On our way across Oklahoma, we saw some of the tornado damage from the El Reno tornado last week, and what I assume was part of the Moore tornado a few days before.

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We were so thankful to have blue skies as we traveled across the state—it was hard to imagine contrast of the storm here so recently.

We camped the next two nights at Lake Eufaula State Park in Oklahoma. The campground was beautiful! It was so green, full of chirping birds, quiet and private and right on the lake. The kids got a kick out of walking around the campground in the dark, finding “treasures” of rocks, shells, bottle caps (Spunky Monkey’s favorite) and looking at the mushrooms and interesting leaves.

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Although we went to bed to a calm night outdoors, we were all awakened suddenly the next morning by powerful gusts of wind shaking the motorhome, followed by a very heavy rain and thunderstorm. After the storm passed, these guys (and one more camera-shy friend) showed up just a few feet from our camper:

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Have you ever seen a cuter face on a campsite visitor?

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Palo Duro Canyon State Park

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Even though my kiddos are 8 & 11 now, we all still LOVE our favorite picture books, and one of those is The Armadillo from Amarillo, by Lynne Cherry. Spunky Monkey and I were reading this book together a couple months ago and we read about Armadillo visiting the Palo Duro Canyon. Having lived in San Antonio for 3 years, I knew the other landmarks in the book are accurately described, but hadn’t heard of this one. So of course I googled it, and next thing you know, here we are visiting it, just like the Armadillo! It is called the Grand Canyon of Texas and is only about 45 minutes south of Amarillo. It’s 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, 800 feet deep and quite beautiful! (Can you see the tiny white roof in the center of the picture? It’s actually a very large tent on a hill midway up in the canyon.)

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The Mazda-mobile in the Canyon, loaded up with bikes.

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The Canyon was full of these prickly-pear cacti in bloom—yellows, pinks, oranges.

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Have you ever discovered a new place while reading a picture book with your kids, and then visited it? Tell me about it!

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Aaaaand, we’re off!!

After months of preparation, packing, sorting, purging, saying good-byes and periodically wondering “what were we thinking??!!” we left behind our home of 12 years for our lovely renters to take care of and hit the road in our new-to-us motorhome.P6025994 A whole year??! It’s hard to believe and I’m not sure with the hustle and bustle of moving, I’ve had a chance to fully process what it means to be gone from home, friends, and family for so long. But I’m trusting God that He has great things planned for us on this trip and I think the time and experiences with each other will be priceless.

My parents are such good sports to join us for the first two weeks of the trip. They are in their eighties now and are quite comfortable in the home they’ve had for nearly 50 years, but these two are Adventurers!! Sometime, with their permission, I’ll write their story. I think it’s full of adventure and has God’s handprints all over it.,.

So, we pulled out of Monument, CO on June 2, 2013, picked up Oma & Opa at their home near Colorado Springs, and headed out. Getting out of Colorado is always a challenge, no matter which way you go. Heading west from the front range (where Colorado Springs, Monument and Denver live, in a north-south line) involves driving I-70 through some gnarly mountain passes. The other 3 choices, I-25 north or south, or I-70 east involve miles and miles and miles of flat, usually brown, empty scenery. Don’t get me wrong—I am a Colorado native and I LOVE my home town. It’s just the getting there and back that isn’t too exciting.

Anyway, we left the I-25 south route and headed for Amarillo, TX. Along the way, we learned:

Google maps isn’t very accurate for OUR way of travel—what we thought would take 5-6 hours actually took about 9. We’re just a big (a whopping 25,000 lbs + towed car big!) slow beast.

Chad is an amazing driver, even after CRAZY hours the last few weeks, getting the house & RV ready and still having to work his normal job and deal with a slightly crazed wife and kids.

The gas pump is NOT our friend. Difficult to get to, easy to get blocked-in at, and NOT pretty tallying up our gas total! Ugh.

The Yucca is the state flower of New Mexico. (This and other interesting facts about the states we’re driving through are thanks to my dad, who prepared fun little quizzes he hands out to us all as we pass into a new state—making learning fun! Way to go, Dad!)

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Welcome!

I’m glad to have you follow along as I journal our family’s year-long adventure traveling around the country in our 36-foot Winnebago (aptly, the Adventurer model). We are a homeschooling, book-loving family of four from Monument Colorado, seeking to follow and honor God as we journey around the country.

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