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By Dawn S

Thanks to CoolWorks, John and I will both be trying out seasonal jobs in a spectacular place this summer. We want to take our Big Blue campervan with us, as our mode of transportation, so we can explore the area and van camp on our days off. We spent the last several months getting ourselves geared up and get our own Big Blue campervan ready to make the epic cross country road trip from the bottom right corner of the U.S. to the far upper left. For the van, we installed new windshield wipers, applied RAIN-X to the windshield and windows, got a safety inspection, and cut Reflectix to fit/cover and insulate all the van windows. We also purchased a NOCO GB40 jump starter, Zerostart Electric Heat Magnet, a mile by mile travel planner, a Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater, and snow tires. The snow tires had to be special ordered… they don’t get too many requests for those down here in Florida.

I wanted so badly for us to do this road trip out there together, but his job starts in late March, and mine doesn’t begin until early May. We didn’t want John doing this 5,000-mile drive by himself; winter weather is still a concern in late February and March. Ideally, it would take two people to help keep an eye on each other, the weather, share the driving and help with navigation. We were surprised when my daughter volunteered to be John’s road trip buddy. We both tried to talk her out of it… explaining that this is NOT going to be a FUN trip, it is going to be long days of driving, down snowy icy roads in the mountains, the weather is going to be cold and nasty, and you will be sleeping in the van… with your dad… who snores.

Texas Welcome Sign

But she said it was a once in a lifetime chance to do a dad-daughter road trip across the country from east to west, and then to the far north. She couldn’t pass up the chance and insisted she was going. Her husband and her work agreed, and her PTO request was approved. She was able to take a month off from work for the drive out, a short stay and the flight back home. John was hoping they could do the drive in 17 days or less. They decided to take a scenic route across the southern U.S. and stop at some iconic natural places along the way that Sara had never seen. This schedule would also allow time to hunker down in a hotel for a day or two if there was a severe winter storm, or if they had any mechanical issues with the van.

Spoiler Alert

They had an awesome adventure and got to see deserts, mountains, frozen lakes, tons of wildlife including coyote, bison, elk, caribou, lynx, and moose. They drove 6,627 miles through 15 states, and several Canadian Provinces. They slept every night of the trip in the van, even when it was single digit temps. Read on for details about the route they took and the remarkable things they got to see during their epic Dad-Daughter road trip adventure in the Big Blue campervan!

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Oklahoma Van

Cross Country Road Trip Part 1: Florida to Arizona

Day 1

A late start is better than no start

Sara had to work a long shift on the leave date, so they couldn’t get on the road until she got home, took a quick shower and ate dinner. It was a much, much later start than John had hoped for. I brewed a pot of coffee and sent it with him in a large Thermos. It was raining when they finally pulled out of the driveway at 8:00 PM. John’s detailed itinerary/schedule had them covering 465 miles on day one. They had a foggy drive in the dark through Florida and Georgia. After multiple coffee stops and pits stops at rest areas, and about eight hours of driving, they finally stopped for the night. I was relieved when I got John’s text message at 4:12 a.m. that they had made it past Atlanta. They pulled into a Pilot Travel Center truck stop West of Atlanta on I-20 West and slept for about four hours.

Day 2

Just keep driving

They drove all the way through Alabama, Mississippi, the corner of Tennessee at Memphis, and crossed the mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas. The temperature was dropping and it rained off and on all day, but they were still able to make good time. They covered their first 1,000 miles less than 24 hours from leaving the house. They drove through Little Rock and stopped for a steak dinner. They almost made it across the entire state of Arkansas. But all of that days driving, and yesterday’s late night caught up with them. They pulled into the Ozark Rest Area on I-40 West, and turned in for the night… and slept for TEN HOURS! We have always slept great in our Big Blue van–we call it “van coma.” I think the Reflectix on the windows probably helped keep the sunlight out and really let them sleep in. They will be setting a wake-up alarm going forward.

Rest Area Tip

Most rest areas do not allow overnight parking. You are usually ok to pull in and sleep for a few hours. My personal rule is “be long gone at first light, and always stay less than 8 hours.” Also, these are NOT campgrounds.  While you may use the picnic area, and restrooms, please do NOT set up “camp.” This means no camp chairs, clotheslines, or loitering, please.

Palo Duro Canyon Texas

Day 3

Wichita Mountains, Oklahoma

The weather was cool and clear. This was their first of several scheduled adventure days. As they drove across fields of cattle, horses, cotton, windmills and oil derricks in Oklahoma along historic Route 66, they took time to stop at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.  They enjoyed views of the mountains, rocks, lake, and prairies. They saw bison, turkey, free-range Texas Longhorn, a kestrel, flocks of geese, a huge prairie dog town, and heard coyotes howl in the distance.

They contemplated staying the night at Doris Campground, but it was still early, so they headed toward Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, Texas. This is “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” the second largest canyon in the country. They camped at the bottom of the canyon that night and enjoyed hot showers in the heated bathhouse. The temperature was 27, but they slept warm in the van under the down duvet and quilt. They did not need to break out the warm sleeping bags.

New Mexico Rainbow

Day 4

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona

Brrrr, it was cold. In the twenties, but “real feel” was 19 degrees. Time to dig out the wool socks and beanies. They woke up early hoping to catch the sunrise across the canyon, but it was foggy and overcast. The canyon was still beautiful with its layers of green, red, purple, yellow, and white clay and stone. They spotted deer, including several bucks, a cottontail rabbit and a coyote. They booked it through the rest of Texas and randomly spotted a bison and a camel in someone’s yard?!  They were fascinated to observe an entire field of wind turbines under construction. They stopped by the famous Cadillac Ranch, an art installation created in 1974. The ten nose-down cars were covered in so many layers of graffiti; the spray paint was several inches thick.

The sun came out for a little while as they drove into New Mexico. It warmed up into the ’60s, time to shed some layers. It rained as they neared Albuquerque, but then they were treated to an awesome sight: a desert rainbow. They stopped for some yummy Mexican food at lunchtime and saw their first bit of snow, already on the ground.  They observed a lone pronghorn (“antelope”) after they crossed into Arizona. They drove into a beautiful orange sunset and stopped for the night at a truck stop outside of Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest Arizona

Day 5

Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Arizona

The sun was shining as they took time to explore the 28-mile scenic drive through Petrified Forest National Park and the surrounding Painted Desert. There were huge mesas and 130-200+ million year old petrified logs. The ancient forest turned to stone was intriguing and expanded much farther than they expected. The Crystal Forest had full size chunks of quarts all over the hills. Next, they drove toward Flagstaff and the gorgeous white-capped San Francisco Peaks on their way to check out the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at Desert View Watchtower. This was a great stop, not too far out of the way, that allowed them to take in a view of this Natural World Wonder, even though they were on a tight schedule. After a long day of exploring, they were excited to cook a meal and chill out, outside of the van at camp that night. But it started raining as they checked into the Page Lake Powell Campground. The indoor Jacuzzi was closed (bummer). But all was not lost. The drizzle stopped and the night was salvaged. Gazing at the night sky in the desert was mesmerizing.

Antelope Canyon Arizona

Day 6

Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Sara had been excited and looking forward to touring Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Tour guides and reservations are required to enter the slot canyons. They checked into their scheduled Upper Antelope Canyon tour an hour early, as required. The tour was crowded, but the canyon was amazing. The light changed every 5-10 minutes, especially during the morning. It was incredible to see the changing features and colors. Their tour guide was super and walked them through the best camera settings to capture great shots due to the low light in the bottom of the canyon. They hiked less than a mile through the washout, but the slot canyon continues for another 15 miles and varies from 100-120+ feet high. Their favorite feature was an area called “Dragon’s Eye.” It was menacing.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona

They headed on to their next stop to hike the 1 mile round trip trail to Horseshoe Bend. This is where the Colorado River pulls a 270-degree turn. The hike was at elevation, and the Florida flatlanders had to stop and take a couple of breaks to catch their breath. But on the way back to the van, they challenged each other to hike without stopping. The cliffs were sheer 1,000-foot drops. You could see ripples, current, and blue and green streaks of algae and sediment along the river. It was beautiful.

They were watching the weather closely as winter storms were hammering most parts of the country. After six days, they had gone as far as west as they wanted to, and their route had kept them just south of the nastiest weather. But the time had come to make a right turn and start heading North. Stay tuned for a future blog post with Part 2 of their epic Dad-Daughter trip to find out what they encountered next!

And if you want to do a similar road trip, book your campervan from our Orlando rental site and drop it off at our Phoenix location.

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