The Jones Family RV Trip of 2012 (with RV Tips)
We did it!
We did it! From Saturday morning, September 1 to Saturday the 15th.
Traveling 3000 miles with your family, inside the cozy confines of an RV will most certainly test how close you are as a family. I’m proud to say that I only wanted to drive the souped up, tricked out U-haul off a cliff once or twice throughout the entire 2+ weeks. This, I understand, means that we are considered to be a very strong family.
Most people that I talk to about the trip are those who are interested in taking a trip of their own, so I thought I’d share some tips that I learned along the way. The first of which is to never plan an RV trip that coincides with the Burning Man event. Apparently every RV in California is rented to people attending!
Stop #1 – Yosemite
Right off the bat we learned to add a minimum of 1.5 hours to whatever google maps said was the driving time. This allowed for stopping multiple times. You MUST stop multiple times in an RV, or you will go insane. The up side is that you don’t need to stop to go to the bathroom! The kids can just unbuckle, walk back and go to the bathroom, and then sit back down in their car seat. That, alone, was wonderful….I should say that it was wonderful to me; Gayle, on the other hand, having to unbuckle and walk back to assist Alistair was probably not the funnest thing for her to do.
RV lesson – We learned that trusting our Garmin to navigate us was a HUGE mistake. These GPS deals like to find the shortest route. They don’t care if you are driving on unpaved roads, through people’s driveways, down cliffsides, they are just going to show you the shortest way. This is why our trip to Yosemite took over 8 hours, and why driving during the day became much more preferable, and why loving your family is important…
We stopped at the Yosemite KOA which was great! KOA’s are perfect for beginner RV-ers. They have the water and electric hookups, or you can even get full hook ups with the sewer right at your site. And there are all kinds of things for kids to do.
Our first day was a long one. We got in way after hours, and the next day when we were supposed to wake up early and get on the 1.5 hour bus ride into Yosemite village, we all collectively said “Screw that!” and spent the day enjoying the KOA. They had a nice hike, swimming pool, a kid playground, and a low pond filled with enormous frogs. We had plenty to do.
RV lesson – There are two tanks, the grey water (sink, shower) and the black water (toilet) that need to be dumped from time to time. And when I say “time to time,” I’m saying every couple of days. That black water tank fills up surprisingly quick….quit looking at ME, we all used the toilet! And the grey water, we found, will fill up just as quick if everybody takes a shower on the same day. So don’t do that, or you might get an overflowing shower drain like us and have to drive your RV to the dump station in the middle of your stay somewhere. This would be the benefit of a full hook up site , with the sewer dump located right at your RV spot.
Stop #2 – Manzanita Lake Campground at Lassen National Forest
One of the coolest places we stopped was the Manzanita Lake Campground. This was the cleanest, most efficiently run campsite I’ve ever been to. No hookups, so this was our first attempt at using the RV’s generator. The generator allows you to use electricity (air conditioning, microwave, outlets). Here, we also enjoyed the convenience of the RV’s heater. We would wake up in the upper 30 degree morning and crank the heater. Then as we piled out of the RV in our T-shirts after breakfast, complaining of how sweaty and hot we were, we could see the tent campers all huddled around their fire in winter parkas, doing whatever they could to raise their body temperature an extra degree. Oh how we laughed at the freezing tent folks and their lack of warmth!
The boys loved playing around in the dirt and the trees….and there was plenty of that all around us.
The kayaking was amazing. The water was so clear you could see the large fish tooling around, and even though we caught no fish, the fishing experience was the best. Teaching Noble how to fish was one of the highlights of the trip. And I barely know how to fish, so I was trying to remember all the things my dad taught me growing up.
RV Lesson – There is so much to do and see at Lassen National Forest, but we were only there for two nights, and we didn’t have a car with us. Some of the roads aren’t really meant for an RV, with the 300 foot cliff edges with no guard rails and the tiny, winding roads. Or maybe let’s say they aren’t meant for an RV with a driver like myself.
Stop #3 – Crater Lake Resort in Fort Klamath, OR
The drive up into Oregon was interesting. Because of all the fires, the drive was extremely smokey. As we made our way through Shasta, the sky opened up and our eyes stopped burning. Crater Lake Resort was a great stop along the way. They have a beautiful little RV place right on a creek. This was a one night stop for us as we were making our way up into Spokane, and we couldn’t have asked for a better stop. Full hook ups, a really nice little shop for some essentials, and the coolest thing of all, they had this enormous grassy area loaded with a small kid playground, giant swings, canoes for the creek, bikes to borrow, and a large fire pit. Best part: it was all free. They didn’t charge for any of the extra stuff! They make it feel like you are staying at a relatives. Very cozy.
We took full advantage of the entire place. Kids played. We tried to canoe….I ran us, or I should say Gayle because she was at the front of the canoe, into a large tree bush thing. It was enough to have her mouthing curse words at me while I tried to explain that, “Hey, that’s the canoe life, baby! Sometimes painful tree bushes happen.” RV Lesson – NOT taking responsibility for a screw up and NOT empathizing with physical pain is NOT the best way to handle a canoe mishap.
Those canoes were cursed or something because another couple had used one of them and it capsized a hundred yards down the creek. The woman ended up walking back while the man paddled the canoe to the docking area. We happened to be close by and so I offered to help pull the canoe up onto shore. As I pulled the canoe, I inadvertently tipped it and he fell into the water…again. Oops.
And how about this for strange. There was a family there, with 5 kids, and I got to talking to the dad on the playground. It turns out he lives down here, and he works in Pasadena, in our area, on the police force! And we connected in OREGON! Small world. Great guy, great wife, really cool kids, and some eye opening stories around the campfire about being a police officer in Pasadena. I have an increased respect for these guys. I think more eye opening was how his wife was able to stay at home with 5 kids and not have permanent bags under her eyes. FIVE kids! And she knew all their names! Wow! I think by five kids, I would just start pointing and saying “you!”
RV Lessson – I realized the importance of double checking the sewer hose connection before dumping the black and grey water. How it works is that you connect the sewer hose, then you pull the release valve for the black water. All the pee and poop and such goes flushing down the hose and into the sewer. Once the black tank is drained, you pull the release for the grey water tank. The grey tank holds more and is released second so it can flush down any remaining “black water” into the sewer. Well, I must have had a bad connection because as I pulled the grey water release, I noticed grey water shooting out the side of the nozzle. As I reluctantly reached in to tighten the connection, with barely a touch the hose fell to the ground and grey water blasted out of the RV tank. If anybody was standing near me, they would have noticed that I turned into a frantic tween girl at that moment, “Eww eww eww eww” as I hurried to reattach the hose to the tank. Check your connections.
Stop #4 – Spokane, WA Grandma and Grandpa’s house!
We were supposed to stop at Mt. Hood on the way to my mom and dad’s house. The drive was 6.5 or so to a nice RV resort with a swimming pool and full hook ups. It was going to be a one night stop on our way to my parents; just a way to split the drive into two chunks. But in noticing that about hour of the Mt. Hood drive was spent driving AWAY from Spokane, it brought Gayle and I to the decision that we should just skip Mt. Hood and go for Spokane. We left Crater Lake early, and we decided we’d just take some big stops along the way, but we’d try to make Spokane in one day.
The drive was long, but we stopped in Bend, Oregon for over an hour to drive around the town and hit up a park. We wanted to see if it was a place we wouldn’t mind ending up someday. It was a very nice town. The people seem very outdoorsy, and also a little confused. It’s almost as if they leave the house not knowing whether they want to bicycle or kayak that day, so they just put them all on the car and opt to decide later. Most people were choosing bicycles during our quick visit. Maybe later that day they would switch to kayaks. Whether or not they did remains a mystery.
The next stop was along the Columbia river. There was a small state park right on the water with a place to actually go into the river.
And so that we could say we were in the Columbia river, we all got in and walked around collecting cool rocks and admiring a dead fish.
We arrived at my parents house around 10:00pm. At that point we were ready for a nice comfy bed!
We stayed at my parents for 4 (not long enough) days. Gayle and I got a date night, grandma and grandpa got to take the kids out to the park, and we got a chance to see the new location for my mom’s quilt store. They converted a bowling alley and it looks unbelievable! If you are ever in the Spokane area, you should check it out. Make sure to tell mom I said “Hi”, ok?
One of the highlights of the RV trip, for Noble, was the archaeological dig that my parents set up in their back yard. My dad had discovered the skeletal remains of a coyote, or a young deer, or…a small Tyrannosaurus Rex? and so he and my mom buried the bones, along with some other things in this dirt mound. Imagine the excitement in a young kid unearthing the historic remains of a dinosaur? So awesome…and so we are now the proud owners of the skull of a dead animal! We had to limit Noble to picking out just one bone to bring home. There was no way in hell we were going to bring a large bucket of bones home with us.
RV Lesson – Stopping off at your parents house is relaxing, and gives you a nice break from the confines of the RV. Grandparents are willing babysitters and they don’t charge…usually there are two sets in every family. I highly recommend grandparents.
Stop #5 – Portland, Oregon
We made a quick stop into Portland because Gayle and I have some very close friends there. It was a short stop, so my apologies to my Portland family who we didn’t get a chance to see (Next RV trip!) but we did get to hang out with our comedy family. We stayed with the Fetters’s. They have two super cute little girls. Liv is 4 and Pearl is 8 and they and the boys made volume together. And by volume, I mean that they were loud. When kids get together and play, they play…and they use their lungs. Wow!
STOP #6 – Crescent City, CA – KOA
Probably the most amazing drive we took was from Portland into the Redwoods. I had not been through there since I was very small, so I didn’t remember much about it except that there would be tall trees. My dad warned us that we would be awe struck. Total understatement. The size of those trees is phenomenal! Some of them have been around for more than 1000 years!
We stayed at the Crescent City KOA. Another great KOA and the owners clearly loved the redwood trees that surrounded this park. We stayed in a great spot tucked in with the tall trees. We also took advantage of the little banana bikes. They were the perfect size for Noble, but as for Alistair and I, well, we made it work.
Stop #7 – Halfway Home
We decided to leave Crescent City a day early. We had talked to the KOA and learned of some neat places to stop along the way, so we decided that instead of hanging out at the KOA we’d work our way south, see some stuff, and then hit our next stop late at night. The idea here being that we’d end up at home on Saturday instead of Sunday. Having that extra day at home before the kids go to school seemed like a nice idea.
So we stopped off at the Trees of Mystery and were blown away by more Redwoods. Out front, there is an enormous Paul Bunyan and huge Babe the blue ox. There is a lot of Paul Bunyan history, as well as that of Bigfoot (one of Noble’s favorite things to talk about). This giant Paul Bunyan actually spoke. So Alistair and Noble took advantage and had a long conversation with the giant.
After the Trees of Mystery we took this route that was suggested to us called the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. It’s shoots off of the 101 freeway, but then runs right back into it at the end. I love scenic drives that you don’t have to back track on! The road takes you through wild elk territory, and we got a chance to see a herd of them.
Our plan was to get to San Francisco by night time. I didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic there, and our stop was at a beachside RV resort that was just past San Francisco. I was excited to see the Golden Gate bridge. Because San Francisco apparently doesn’t believe in wide lanes, or curbs, I didn’t really get an opportunity to really take in the Golden Gate bridge, or much of San Francisco for that matter. I spent most of the time praying, with poop in my pants.
We arrived at Pillar Point RV resort at midnight. And because it is a first come first serve place, we were met with a place that was 100% served. Tired, and with both Gayle and I cranky enough to snap, we decided to get back on the road and stop at the first RV place we could find. It was about a quarter mile down the road, and it was a Comfort Inn. Screw it, we needed to sleep. We would’ve pulled over to the side of the road somewhere, but my dad told us a horror story about when we were kids and he pulled over an RV along the side of the road. A cop knocked on the door at 2am and told him to move. That didn’t sound like a fun potential option. And with our current luck…
RV Lesson – book all your stays along the way. “First come, first served” is a dangerous, tricky game to play. Especially in the late hours of the night, after you’ve been driving all day and thought you are minutes away from sleeping.
Stop #8 – Home Sweet Home
Bright and early and with a fresh perspective (and a continental breakfast) we hit the road. Heading home. Just one more thing to do before we get home: The Monterey Bay Aquarium. What a great place! Gayle had discovered a parking tip for RVers…there’s a street called Wave, and if you take that past the aquarium, there is free street parking. We were lucky enough to land a spot along the road! After the Aquarium, we made a stop in Paso Robles for some dinner, and then we hit the road for home.
This was an epic journey for our family. We saw the west side of the U.S. and spent a great amount of time ooh-ing and aah-ing the scenery. We met some really neat people along the way. That said, we are glad to be home.
Final RV Lessons and More Pictures!
- Pack games or toys to give to the kids on the really long rides. This helps keep the “when are we gonna be there”s to a minimum. Stickers worked great for Alistair. Small little 3-in-1 legos worked great for Noble. 3-in-1’s are genius because they give you instructions for 3 things to build with the same small amount of legos. That equals, 3 times the amount of time they are occupied. And that makes the parent 3 times as relaxed on the drive.
- If you haven’t rented an RV before, watch the Cruise America video a few times until you feel like you’ve figured it all out. There are some things that could have gone wrong if we didn’t have that base knowledge going into the trip. I paid particular attention to the poop tank…I had fears of pee and poop exploding up and out of the RV, and so I made sure to figure that out.
- Keeping the RV level is key for the fridge to run properly…but there were some times that we were slightly tilted and it worked fine. The tilting, for us, was more noticeable when we went to bed. We got lucky, but we could have been screwed because we didn’t have levelers for the RV in the event that we had a highly non level site. Manzanita Lake, especially, has many non-level sites, and most of the RV’s there had various ways of leveling. Make sure you are equipped with a way to level where you park.
- Plan the hell out of your trip! Get the maps from AAA, plot your courses, and then double check them to see if it makes sense. I even googled freeways to find out if some were faster than others. The shortest way is not always the fastest, as our sucky trek into Yosemite taught us.
- If you are going to “wing it,” then plan to wing it. Don’t just wing it. Some people love being impulsive and spontaneous, but with kids in an RV and long days ahead, try and be realistic about it. Your kids WILL be hungry when it’s inconvenient and the RV site WILL turn you away because they are full.
- Make sure you love your family. You are in solitary confinement with them for the majority of the trip. Your bond will be tested. If you only like-like your family, you should probably take a plane. Our family is really tight, but I saw Gayle planning my murder a couple of times. You can see it in the eyes. I had some eyes of my own a few times. But we are quite good at brushing it off and moving on, so we pulled through like champs.
And now MORE pictures!