Category Archives: Tips for new RVers

Don’t miss this “Field Trip” to the Great American Eclipse

The last time I saw a solar eclipse I was barely in grade school. I remember my mom (who was a teacher) taking me out to the open field along with her 30 students where they all held up various box filters they had created in order to look at the eclipse for she was quite adamant that to look straight at the eclipse, I could burn my retinas. (Even a 99.9% solar eclipse of the sun can damage the naked eye. Looking directly at the sun without protection for more than a few seconds can cause blindness.) I remember feeling a little bit of trepidation and I was too afraid to look except for a brief moment (as I valued my eye sight.)

Well, approximately 40 years later, I have the opportunity to experience this event again and am determined to see the solar eclipse, safely, and in totality. (They didn’t have these CE and ISO Certified Solar Eclipse Glasses when I was a little girl, but while I’m thinking about it, you can be prepared and grab some shades here.)

On Monday August 21, 2017, millions of people in the United States will experience a unique event: a total eclipse of the sun. This is to be the first coast-to-coast “total” solar eclipse in 99 years across the United States and will last 2.5 minutes across a 60-mile wide mind-blowing total eclipse blackout from Oregon’s West Coast to South Carolina’s East Coast. (See map illustration below.)

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According to “About 12 million people are lucky enough to live in the path of totality, and about 200 million are within a day’s drive of the path.”

Fred Espanak of MrEclipse.com has calculated that the longest solar eclipse across North America will be in Kentucky and the lower tip of Illinois (see image).

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Courtesy Fred Espanak, MrEclipse.com
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This NASA chart lists eclipse times for cities in the path of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Credit: NASA

Because the shadow of the moon will move from west to east, totality will occur later in the day the farther east you travel. Use the NASA interactive eclipse map to find out exactly when totality will occur and how long it will last in the location where you plan to observe the eclipse. You can also download this map courtesy of NASA.

REMEMBER! Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. You can learn safety tips about viewing the eclipse here and ideas on how to make your own viewer here (see page 2).

If you plan on traveling to see the total solar eclipse, be sure to make travel plans in advance. And note that NASA predicts it will be one of the worst traffic days in history. To learn more about the North American 2017 solar eclipse, visit NASA’s page here or visit ExperienceAstronomy.com.

PS: The next solar eclipse will be in 2024 — a total solar eclipse will darken the skies above Mexico and Texas, up through the Midwest and northeastern U.S.

PSS: Don’t forget to grab some glasses early! I’m getting enough for our family (and our dog). As the demand goes up, I’m sure they’ll raise prices!

 

Are you getting the itch to travel? Yeah, me too.

It’s about this time of year that we begin to seriously think about warmer days ahead and what new adventures might lie ahead for our tribe to explore.

It’s been awhile since we’ve been to the beach — at this point, I’m thinking a trip to Tybee Island, GA as it’s been about five years since we’ve been there with the kiddos. On my list of “things I’d love to experience” is a live hatch of baby sea turtles and this region of Georgia offers opportunities to experience those up close. My little girl LOVES sea turtles and the boys would enjoy experiencing this, too!

Sea Turtle Swimming in Ocean

I also love this area because of the rich history of Savannah, GA and my Pinterest page is busting with ideas that are itching to be explored.  From there we could head north towards Charleston, SC or south towards Florida.

martin-luther-king-572586_1280It’s also been on my mind to explore Birmingham, AL and surrounding areas a bit more. There is rich history here in Atlanta and in Alabama relating to the Civil Rights Movement and this might be the year that we deep-dive into that with a trip to connect the kids to those events through visiting the sites where they took place.  There’s also a couple of car-making factory tours that I would love for my older teens to go on with the right planning. (I’m thinking that we’ll avoid this region during the months when tornados are more common tho’ — i.e. spring.)

It also might be good to do something more humanitarian and take the kids up to Tennessee to see if we can partner with the ongoing efforts to restore the region where fire took it’s toll this past year in the Dollywood area.  :*(web-forest-fire-blaze

Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

The reality is where we end-up going will partly be dependent on hubby’s work travel schedule.  But in the meantime, part of my process is to plan ahead by day dreaming on Pinterest. Pinning things that might sound of interest (should we get to that region), makes it a lot easier for planning to gel and come together when the time comes to put ideas into motion.

I encourage you to do the same today. Get a jumpstart on your own travel dreams with one of the boards I’ve started. And if you know of a great resource that I haven’t pinned yet, by all means send the travel idea my way. I love new places to visit and often locals know the best places to enjoy.

Let’s dream a little… So, where would you like to go and explore this year?

Travel Journal Hack & National Parks 100-Year Commemorative Stamps

Picked up a National Parks 100-Year Commemorative stamp sheet at the US Post Office yesterday. These would be great to use as you travel! If you’re not one to keep a travel journal, here’s a quick travel-journal hack that’s easy and inexpensive… Write on an oversized post card your experiences and mail back home to yourself! When you return home, you’ll have memories ready to put in a scrapbook!

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Grand Coulee Dam | Steamboat Rock State Park – Part I

5kidsandarv-approvedWhen I am talking about Washington with someone from out of the area, there are two assumptions that usually happen with most who have never been to the State… 1) I find myself needing to clarify that I’m talking about Washington State and not Washington D.C. and 2) that the entire state is not a rain forest (as it is commonly assumed that all of Washington experiences Seattle weather). Seattle can be very wet indeed (I should know, I lived there for ten years), but many people don’t realize that the Cascade Mountain Range puts the western side of the state in a rain shadow and is fairly dry. When it comes to eastern Washington, water brings life to an otherwise arid region. This is the region we spent some time exploring and stayed a couple of weeks in the Grand Coulee region camping at Steamboat Rock State Park campground.  This campground is clean and easy to access. If you love to hike and play in the water with a boat/kayak, this will be a great destination for you and your family. It is a popular destination with the locals that are within driving distance, so we recommend booking in advance whenever possible.

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Our rig and set-up in front of Steamboat State Park
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Our twins venture out on their kayaks for a day of fishing on Banks Lake Reservoir  — created by the Grand Coulee Dam Project. There is a trail that you can hike to the top of Steam Boat Rock. The vista is worth the hike which takes 3-4 hours to go up and come back down.

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The boys’ catch for the day… Note: Be sure to check out fishing regulations for each state you visit as they vary from state to state. In Washington State (at the time of this posting), a fishing license is required for all individuals 15 years of age and over (our guys were 14 years old here.)  To learn more visit wdfw.wa.gov for Fishing and Hunting Regulations within Washington State.

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Los big catch
Big brother was so proud of his little brother!
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Our youngest son (age 5), pulled this beautiful bass out of Banks Lake. Nice catch!

Steamboat Rock State Park
51052 Highway 155
Electric City, WA 99123
Ph: (509) 633-1304

Campsite & Group Accommodations
Ph: (888) 226-7688

Hours:
Summer  6:30 a.m. – dusk
Winter  6:30 a.m. – dusk

The park is open year-round for camping and day use. The campground is partially open during the winter.  Park Winter Schedule

The main park has 26 tent spaces, 136 utility sites, three cabins, one dump station, six restrooms (four ADA), and six showers (four ADA). The park also has 12 primitive non-reservable boat-in campsites with vault toilets and water.

Individual campsites are reservable April 1 to October 31. Campsites are available on a first-come first-served basis from November 1 to March 31. Utility sites have full hookups. Maximum site length is 50 feet (may have limited availability). Tents must be placed within the designated tent pad.  There are mosquitoes during the summer months, so mosquito control occurs as required by the Grant County mosquito district evenings when weather permits. Two vehicles are allowed per campsite; campsite fee includes payment for one vehicle. Extra vehicle fees are due upon arrival. If you need to work with an internet connection, it also has (sometimes spotty) Wi-Fi. We recommend asking for a spot that has a stronger signal as it does vary depending on where you are camping.

Reservations can be made online or by calling 888-CAMPOUT (888-226-7688). For fee information, check their camping rates page.

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RV Packing Organization Tip: We pack the quilt my step-mother made for our kiddos — it is a panel piece of fabric with a picture of roads and buildings. It doubles as a spot for our littles to play with toy cars and army men (light weight and easy to travel with) and it can be used for nap time as we travel in the car or at bed time for extra warmth when needed.

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5kidsandarv littles in a hammock

RV Camping Tip: Pack a lightweight hammock as there are trees in some sites that were planted as a wind barrier and the spacing is such that you can hang a hammock. Here our littles have fun hanging out in the hammock.

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Some sites have RV and tent pads. Our site happened to have a tent pad, so our middle son who loves to tent camp (we call him our outdoorsman) had fun camping outside for a few days.

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Our son, Peyton, actually remembered a technique he had learned that the Native Americans used to pin down fish (sometime spear fish as well). He made a small version of the spear to trap crawdads he found in the shallow areas of Banks Lake.
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L.J. catches another bass — he’s on fire!
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Joshua likes to take his metal detector out to search for treasures. He found a lot of pennies!
Wild Turkeys Grazing at Steamboat State Park in Washington
Wild turkeys were grazing one morning outside our site. We also saw wild deer as well on occasion.

There is plenty of wildlife to enjoy in the area. We saw wild turkeys, wild deer, and quail while visiting. If you like to hike, there is a trail not too far from the campground that takes about 4-5 hours round trip.  Plan on 45-min to an hour to hike up and time to explore at the top and then another 45-min to an hour to hike back down.

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Recreational activities abound, but there are other things to do in the area as well… like see the Grand Coulee Dam — the largest hydroelectric concrete dam in the United States.

(Continue Reading)


5kidsandarv-approved5 Kids and a RV recommendations are based on personal experience and do not represent the business, agency, or not-for-profit we feature. We share our experiences in an effort to inspire parents to engage and explore with their children. As always, whenever trying something new, please use your own good judgement in what best suits the needs of your family to keep everyone safe while having fun.

5 Kids and a RV: “Let’s go learn something today.”
Copyright 2016

Wyoming & Montana | The Grand Tetons & Yellowstone

Just to recap, our journey westward was on a time crunch — we needed to get to Washington State in time for the wheat harvest which was coming early that year due to heat waves.  At this point in our journey, we had made it to Wyoming and the route that day was to see as much as we could see while passing through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  It was a Monday following the 4th of July week-end.

My friend, Jen, encouraged me to see the Grand Tetons, so this dictated our decision to enter Yellowstone thru the southern entrance.  As we got to the gate for the Grand Tetons, one good decision we made was to purchase a National Parks Annual Pass. We paid $80 for access to any National Park within the United States and it was money well spent, because we would go on to use this pass to cover our admission to not only the Grand Tetons, but also Yellowstone National Park, Mt. St. Helens National Park, Lewis and Clark National Park, The Redwoods, The Grand Canyon National Park, and the Carlsbad Caverns National Park (I feel like I’m missing one in this list — just know it came in handy a lot!) The pass is good for an entire year and covers admission fees for the entire family and your vehicle.  Note: If you have a 4th Grader in the family, you can get a free annual pass!

National Parks Annual Pass

You can follow details on the National Park’s website if you want to secure the pass before you travel, but we just purchased ours at the park’s entrance. Remember that with the annual pass, you can also get a discount on gift shop purchases which adds to your savings. And if you are over the age of 62, you can get a smoke’n good deal on this pass!

One thing we noticed right away was the cooler air and how FRESH the air smelled! The clouds hung low clinging to the mountains as we made our gradual climb that morning.

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We stop for a bathroom break and I managed to get all the kids to hold still long enough for a group shot.

We stopped in at Jenny Lake at the Grand Tetons and the water was beautiful and clear! (I’ll have to find my photo of us at the lake and will add it to this posting when I find where I archived it.)

The Grand Tetons

The mountains jutted up towards the heavens and literally we stood in awe of how majestic they appeared.

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We found a RV parking spot to park at the Grand Teton Visitor Center. Be prepared to hike to the sites from these locations! And don’t be surprised if cars take RV spots!
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Baby girl has the best big brothers!
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Some pretty wild flowers.
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A pretty meadow on the way between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.
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This deer grazing at the Grand Tetons was incredibly tame! She grazed while onlookers swarmed around her.

Yellowstone was gorgeous! The scenery just went on and on… until your eyes landed on all the people. Granted it was a holiday week-end, but folks, it was crazy busy with bumper-to-bumper traffic often and fighting crowds of people just kills any outdoor enjoyment for me personally. In fact, we quickly learned that if you’re towing a RV, you can’t get off on any of the side roads to visit some of the main attractions which was a bit of a bummer.

Tip: If you want to explore Yellowstone, plan to stay for a few days and have a spot where you can unhook from your travel trailer so you can see the sights that are often found on side-roads.

We were surprised to learn that you have to have a permit to put your own kayak into any body of water within Yellowstone AND you have to have your kayaks inspected. I guess there’s some sort of weed that can be brought in on kayaks that they don’t want to propagate so this is a safe guard they take. We knew we weren’t going to take our kayaks down because I had done some research in advance and knew that we didn’t want to purchase the permit for the boys to fish when we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights.

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One of our teens — they love being in the great outdoors and exploring new sites!
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So many pretty waterfalls in Yellowstone!
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On our way through Yellowstone we had a great learning opportunity for the kids as we crossed the Continental Divide three times in three different spots!

We crossed the Continental Divide three separate times while making our way from the south entrance to Yellowstone to the north entrance of Yellowstone. It provided a great learning opportunity for the kids!

We went to go see Old Faithful, but it was so crowded that there wasn’t a single place to park! All the RV parking spots were taken with vehicles that were not RVs nor towing! Big bummer as my husband had to circle and wait for us to see when Old Faithful would do her thing. We decided that almost an hour-and-half wait wasn’t worth it given the crowds and parking situation, so we opted to keep moving through the park as we were feeling the time crunch to get to Washington State.  It was shortly after leaving the Visitor’s Center at Yellowstone that we hit a major delay. We sat in crawling stop-and-go traffic only to discover people were enthralled with a small herd of buffalo. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen buffalo before, but I was like, “Really people?” An hour delay for this?!

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We encountered a huge delay and sat in traffic for nearly an hour because of these creatures. A heard of buffalo quietly grazed while people gawked nearby.

We would later laugh about how we saw more natural wild life in Washington State than in Yellowstone! But again, that may not be a fair assessment, because we only went through Yellowstone in a day.

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One of the many steaming hot spring found along our drive.

One word of advice I’d offer… the way thru the north area of Yellowstone has some pretty steep drop-offs at spots and might be a little bit nerve racking if you’re a new driver in a RV. Even my husband was leery as we made our way through some narrow passages along a cliff side overhang.

We also hit an area of construction. Here’s another tip… If they mention there’s construction in an area, avoid it. Seriously — find an alternate route because you will be c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g at a snails pace AND your rig will get covered in dust, gravel and grime! Ugh!

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On our way out of the north exit of Yellowstone.

We did see some elk on the way out of the north entrance of the park. They also were really tame paying no notice to the people surrounding them.

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An elk grazing near the north entrance to Yellowstone.

When we left Yellowstone, we found the next town and stopped for dinner. We got out of the car and were SHOCKED at how dirty it had become from going thru the construction area in Yellowstone!

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Had to take a pic when we stopped to eat dinner that evening in Montana. Our poor vehicle and trailer was covered in dirt from the construction we went thru in Yellowstone.
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A close up of our running boards on our tow vehicle after we had left Yellowstone!

Feeling the urge to get as far as we could in Montana, we aimed our sights for Missoula, Montana and planned to roll into a Walmart parking lot around midnight to break our journey. When we arrived, we were surprised to find the whole back side of the parking lot lined with RVers tucked in for the night! We managed to find a spot towards the back of the lot and as we were moving the kids from the car to the RV, there was a truck that came through the parking lot with two guys yelling profanity to the RVers (and us), “This isn’t a F***ing RV Campground!” Over and over they yelled this at the top of their lungs directed towards the parked RVs. They past by yelling their rant and went to make another loop. My husband and I looked at each other and immediately decided to move on from that location. We didn’t need a drunk’n heckler and our safety sensors were tingling telling us to get out of there! So we loaded up the kids (it was about midnight mind you) and we got back on the freeway.

We used our app to try and find a spot to overnight and the first rest stop we came across was dark and unlit. We opted to continue to keep driving. It was about 1:30 am in the morning when we came upon the next rest stop (and last rest stop before heading over the pass). Thankfully, it was well lit and we pulled in next to a semi and helped get the kids to the RV where everyone immediately conked out after a very long day.  They were such troopers! We didn’t sleep long as the road noise was pretty loud from the nearby freeway, causing my husband and I to stir and wake around 6 am. We  got back on the road pressing on towards our destination and eager to cross into Washington State stopping to eat some breakfast after we got over the pass.

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Our overnight camping spot was a safe haven that night in Montana after a run-in with some crazies in Missoula, Montana.
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This is how we do breakfast on the go while traveling … some groceries that include fresh fruit and some muffins. And it does wonders for the driver to find a good cup of coffee for the road! 😉

In summary, I think my husband and I decided that in order to really do Yellowstone justice, we needed to NOT visit on a holiday week-end and we needed to plan to stay for at least three days so we could unhook and explore.

I do have to admit that the seismic activity in the area is disconcerting knowing that this was at one time a very active volcano.  I did love it for the educational aspect as we would go on to visit another volcano in Washington (Mt St Helens), so this was a great opportunity for the kids to see two very different types of volcanos. I will post about Mt. St. Helens at a later date, but for now, suffice to say, I am glad we saw the Grand Tetons, but Yellowstone was a bit of a bust and let down on a number of levels. Probably poor planning and expectations that were over-inflated on our part. Had we not been pressed for time and visiting at a time of year that wasn’t peak season, this could have been a great opportunity to explore and learn more about volcanos and geology.  It’s on our list to try again at a later date when time allows.


5kidsandarv-approved5 Kids and a RV recommendations are based on personal experience and do not represent the business, agency, or not-for-profit we feature. We share our experiences in an effort to inspire parents to engage and explore with their children. As always, whenever trying something new, please use your own good judgement in what best suits the needs of your family to keep everyone safe while having fun.

5 Kids and a RV: “Let’s go learn something today.”
Copyright 2016

Wyoming | Fried Beef and a Full Tank

As we left North Platte, Nebraska on a Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, we continued heading west through Wyoming. The road was straight and the land began to open up as farm land turned to ranch land with not a single tree in sight.  We saw dark clouds ahead and braced ourselves as we headed into probably the most intense electrical storm we’ve ever encountered in a RV.

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Now y’all we live in the South, so a storm with lightening and thunder usually doesn’t phase us too much because they happen pretty regularly from about May thru September as the warm air currents hit the cool air currents in our region. Sometimes the rumble of the thunder that rolls across the sky overhead will make the house shutter as the walls vibrate in response.

So, as we are beginning to drive into this pretty dark and imposing storm, it begins to dawn on me that there are no exits and that as lightening strikes on the open plain that there are no trees to attract the lightening to ground it. In some ways, we begin to feel like a sitting duck as we scurry along the highway. The rain the size of marbles began to pelt down on our vehicle  and the wipers swished back-and-forth just as fast as they could go.

Visibility began to lessen as we continued into the storm and the danger was evident in that we must keep moving cautiously, for if we stopped we might be in danger of another vehicle plowing into the back of us.  With our eyes fixated on the tail-lights in-front of us, we felt the dark clouds envelope all around us. We could only see about 20-30 feet ahead. Slowly we moved forward in faith with eyes peeled for any danger.

It was about then that my 5-year-old began to express concern regarding the storm. I could hear the fear in his voice, so I wanted to console him. I turned in my seat to talk to him so he could see my eyes and began to share with him the story in the bible how the disciples were afraid in a storm probably similar to the one we found ourselves in and Jesus simply slept peacefully in the boat through it. Luke retells that moment like this:

“As they sailed, He fell asleep, and a squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke Him saying, ‘Master,Master, we are perishing!’ Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters, and they subsided, and all was calm.  ‘Where is your faith?’ He asked. Frightened and amazed, they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him!‘” — Luke 8:24

I reminded my son (as I also reminded myself in that same moment) that Jesus was able to command the weather so we could trust Him to see us through the storm. Peace. Calm. Trusting in our Creator and those big ol’ guardian angles. I could see the words encouraged him, but before I could turn back around in my seat, a sudden flash filled the cab and the kids’ eyes got the size of big saucers! Evidently, in the field we were passing, lightening struck and according to my older two boys, the lightening had struck a cow in the field! My two oldests (they are twins) shared that there was a burst of fire and a cow left laying on it’s side! Yikes! Even still, we kept pressing forward through the storm and ended up going over a bit of a mountain and emerged to blue skies. I remember feeling relieved to put the storm behind us. We safely made it through!

Out of danger, I finally had the forethought to take a photo of the storm before we passed through it. Those blue skies were encouraging to see!
Out of danger, I finally had the forethought to take a photo of the storm before we passed through it. Those blue skies were encouraging to see!

Some helpful things to know when it comes to driving in severe weather:

  1. Check your weather app before embarking for the day. Make sure you have weather alerts switched on to warn you of any severe weather warnings and allow the app to track your GPS so that the warnings will move with you and not remain static on a fixed location.

2. Know what your warnings are:

  • A thunderstorm or tornado WATCH means that conditions are right for a thunderstorm/tornado to develop in the watch area. Be ready to take cover or evacuate.
  • A thunderstorm WARNING means that a severe thunderstorm/tornado has been reported or detected on radar, threatening danger to property or life. Take cover or evacuate if there is time and a safe escape route.

3. If you are able to, pull off at an exit and find a parking lot to wait out the storm. If there are tornado conditions, seek shelter inside a brick-and-mortar structure building immediately and stay away from windows.

4. If there is low visibility, do not pull over to the side of the road along the shoulder as you could get rear-ended by travelers following behind you.

5. Never drive into deeper water with a RV. Fast moving water from a flash flood can be deceiving and dangerous. Flooding causes deaths each year, so be careful!


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When we reached Rock Springs, Wyoming, we pulled off of the Interstate and chose to eat at Taco Time before heading north towards the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. The food wasn’t anything to write home about and the service was less than par. But, considering there weren’t too many options in the area where we could pull off and park to grab a bite, it would have to do.

After we packed the crew back up into the Excursion, we started to head north on State Route 191 and my husband realized that we were at less than a quarter of tank in fuel and that we needed to look for a place in town that was open to refuel. Remember, it was already past 5 pm on a Sunday night on a holiday week-end. We had pulled out in the direction we needed to go (north) and we found ourselves quickly on the outskirts of town with no where to turn around for fuel and following a truck loaded with explosives (after it passed us illegally on a double center line.)

Lucky us — we got stuck following behind a truck loaded to the brim with explosives that was driving fast and then slow and then fast again.
Lucky us — this guy decided to pass us and then we got stuck following behind a truck loaded to the brim with explosives that was driving fast and then slow and then fast again.

We began to check our map app on our iPhone and saw a small service station not too far down the road. We pulled off. Closed. I glanced at the tank gauge. Below a quarter of a tank. I went back to the iPhone map app to see where we might find a place to stay for the night. The nearest campground was at least an hours drive or more and we would need fuel before then…

We drove for a good 20 minutes with no buildings in sight and my eyes couldn’t help to keep glancing over at the fuel gauge. We learned that we were on the Lewis and Clark trail and due to our fuel predicament, we didn’t even feel led to stop and check out a national landmark as it was getting towards dusk and we needed to fuel up — stat! And nothing was coming up in our search as a gas station!

I, beginning to worry, began to pray that we would be able to find fuel and pushed any visual of us stranded in the middle of nowhere to the outskirts of my mind. Probably sensing the urgency of our situation, one of our 14-year-old twin sons felt led to help in that moment. He took his phone out and began to ask how to use the map app on it. He quickly realized that he could look ahead of where we were traveling and began to scan for any fuel stations on his app. Ten minutes into his search, as we inched closer to “E” on our fuel gauge, he exclaims, “There’s a fuel station up ahead on the right! Look here!”  I thought he must not be understanding how to read the app, because I didn’t see anything coming up on my map app and when I looked out my window, there wasn’t any building or structure in view. But sure enough — he showed me his map quickly… and there was a tiny fuel icon with the words, “The Station.”

Fuel Station in Wyoming Middle of No Where

As we got closer off in the distance you could see some lights, but no pumps or station were visible from the road, so we  decided to turn down the gravel road and check it out. It turned out to be quite a large service station tucked in behind a hotel and main building with about seven to eight pumps. There was a convenience station, but it was dark and closed. As we rolled up to the fuel station we scanned to see if any pumps were open — thankfully they had pumps that could be used after hours with a credit card! Thank the Lord! Relief hit like a tidal wave as we heard that all familiar sound of the nozzle being fit into our fuel tank.

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This fuel station was such a relief to find in the middle of nowhere! Learn from us and fill up right as you exit the freeway before moving on as you may not have road-way to turn around!

A lesson was learned that day to fuel up first thing off the freeway before driving away from the interstate.

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My husband smiles, thankful for answered prayer to find a fuel station in the middle of no where!

We decided we had enough excitement for one day and chose the next RV park that we encountered. We pulled in and stopped in at the office as dusk brought the day to an end. They had a spot we could pull through and camp for the night. Score! We didn’t even unhook from the tow vehicle and just put down our stabilizers to settle in for the night.

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Our gorgeous view the following morning from our campsite in Wyoming.

With the kids all tucked in their bunks and beds, I laid down and began to recount the day… So thankful for protection from the storm, answered prayer in finding a spot to fuel despite our lack of forethought, and a quiet spot to lay our heads down that night.  And I slept in peace, thankful for answered prayer.

Isaiah 26:3

The next morning was going to be another full day as we looked forward to seeing The Grand Tetons for the first time and Yellowstone!  And we were only two days from Washington State!

Pinterest Wyoming Fried Beef and a Full Tank


5kidsandarv-approved5 Kids and a RV recommendations are based on personal experience and do not represent the business, agency, or not-for-profit we feature. We share our experiences in an effort to inspire parents to engage and explore with their children. As always, whenever trying something new, please use your own good judgement in what best suits the needs of your family to keep everyone safe while having fun.

5 Kids and a RV: “Let’s go learn something today.”
Copyright 2016

When things don’t go as planned … two lessons learned on the Fourth of July

At the midpoint of our trip when we were half-way from Georgia to Washington State, we had our first obstacle to overcome. The previous day had been full of rough roads from construction in Nebraska and we were looking towards less jolting and smooth roads in Wyoming with the Grand Tetons as our destination that day. We had started out around 9 am, pulling out of a Walmart parking lot after overnighting in the parking lot next to some semis. This was the view outside my bedroom window that morning…

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We were all in good spirits as it was our nation’s birthday, July 4, 2015. We were making our way through Nebraska with our five kids ages 2 to 14 and our RV travel trailer towing behind our Excursion. We had only been on the road for an hour-and-a-half and had already pulled off on the road twice for potty breaks when one of my oldests said, “Is it possible to stop at the next exit? I need to go to the bathroom.” I sighed in exasperation and said, “Really? Seriously?! You couldn’t have gone the other two times we stopped?” It wasn’t that it was an inconvenience to stop (we are towing the family bathroom right behind us so it makes it actually quite easy when it comes to bathroom breaks) so much as it was one more delay to progress as I was eager to get to Grand Tetons.

But as it may, we were nearing the noon hour and my husband saw a billboard for Taco John — a fast food place we used to have in his hometown growing up — and as it had been over 20 years since he’d had a taco from there, we decided to make our stop the next exit in the little town of North Platte, Nebraska — home to Buffalo Bill — to see if those tacos were as tasty as we once remembered them. Taco John was about a mile or two in off the free way, and our GPS helped to route us to it quickly taking us through town. But as we pulled up to park near Taco John, my husband started pumping the breaks and with a concerned look on his face simply said to me, “Our brakes are squishy. I think they may be going out. The pedal is going all the way to the floor.” He was able to stop in a spot that was off the main road and near the restaurant, so we just decided to go ahead and feed the family and deal with the problem on full stomachs.

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5 Kids and RV Taco Johns in Nebraska

After our crew had eaten, Jes popped the hood on our towing vehicle and checked the brake fluid reservoir. It was empty! We had topped off all fluids before embarking on our journey across country and we quickly concluded that something must have happened while towing. But where we had parked was not a spot where Jes could safely get under the vehicle to check the brake line. So we had two things to solve: 1) figure out where to get more brake fluid on a holiday when stores were closed and 2) to find a safe spot to check out what might be causing us to lose brake fluid.

We checked our GPS and spotted a Ford dealership around the corner from where we were parked and thought they might be able to help us fix it… Nope. They were closed to celebrate the 4th of July.  We then spotted a auto parts store not too far away… Nope. Closed for the 4th of July.  We saw a small grocery store near the dealership and had hope — surely they would have brake fluid? They did, but it was the wrong kind. The reality of our situation began to sink in at that moment. We headed down the road and saw a small gas station open with a mini mart and we thought we might stop and check there… While my husband headed inside the “what ifs” began to hit. I began to worry, “What if we can’t find anyone open?! What if no one has the special brake fluid we need?!” As almost as quickly as the worried thoughts had come, I knew that worry was simply a lack of faith, so as I sat in the cab waiting with the kids, I bowed my head and we prayed for God to help us find the right oil and to figure out the situation. And then we continued to wait.

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As we waited, my middle son noticed two women smoking in a not so safe spot — not to far from propane tanks!
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Hooray! The right kind of brake fluid! Making a special note after this experience to always have a couple of these stowed away!

Thankfully, my husband emerged quickly from the store with three containers of brake fluid. He topped off the reservoir and closed the hood and I hopped out of the vehicle to help him navigate backing the RV onto the street as there was no way to pull forward and around in the tiny parking lot of the mini-mart gas station.

He drove slowly through town and navigated back to the Walmart Super Center located near the freeway and parked toward the back of the lot by some semis that were stopped to rest. The kids hung out in the car while I watched the area around my husband while he climbed underneath our tow vehicle to check out the brake line. Sure enough, some how the back brake line had gotten severed and  crushed and was leaking a steady stream of fluid. There was no way we could head over a mountain pass, let alone get on the freeway with our vehicle in this condition. Feeling stressed, both my husband and I, along with our children, bowed our heads in prayer, asking for God’s wisdom in how to handle the situation we found ourselves in at that moment.

Sure enough, some how the back brake line had gotten severed and  crushed and was leaking a steady stream of fluid.

Then with a deep breath, we went into problem solving mode. Our next thought was to see if we could get to a spot where we could unhook our tow vehicle from the RV. There were two RV places to stay nearby. One was flooded by the river and closed leaving us only one option. The good news was it was nearby. We called ahead while we sat in the Walmart parking lot and thankfully they had a spot open for us to park and stay the night while we came up with a game plan. We ended up checking into the Holiday RV Park and paid about $43 for the night after Good Sams and cash discounts.

Once we were settled in our site and unhooked, my husband began calling around. We tried the nearby Pilot truck stop and unfortunately they didn’t have anyone working because of the holiday. We also tried calling Good Sams which we had purchased for emergency situations such as this, but it wouldn’t be until the next Tuesday (3 days later) until they could send someone out — the day we were suppose to arrive at our destination.

After exhausting all of the options available to us, Jes decided to attempt the job himself — he had done jobs like this with his father who was a mechanic and even though it had been about 20 years since he had turned wrenches with his Dad, he felt confident he could fix it with the right tools and parts. So he unhooked the truck and he and our middle child (armed with extra brake fluid in the car) drove a mile to the nearest Advanced Auto Parts store — the only one we could find open on the holiday — to see if he could find parts to fix it himself. In the meantime, the heat of the day was setting in and it was over 96 degrees out, so I took the other four kids to the pool in hopes that it would lift our spirits.  We had been on the road for three days and laundry was already piling up, so we started a few loads to run while the kids swam.

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Cooling off in the pool at the RV campground we found on short notice.

While four of our kids and I were at the pool, Jesse and our middle son were able to find the parts needed to repair the severed brake line. They returned to the campground and were busy with the repair underway only to discover that he needed one more piece to finish the repair. Since everything was taken apart, he couldn’t simply drive the Excursion at this point, so he and our middle son took the pieces they needed and began to walk a mile+ back to the Advanced Auto Parts store in the afternoon 96 degree heat.

Upon arriving at the Advanced Auto Parts store, the manager who had helped them previously, noticed how hot our son looked and gave him a free water when he went up to buy one. And the part that we needed was not readily available in their inventory listing, so the manager began to take down boxes of other parts to see if the same part could be found in another box. He was able to successfully find the needed part and even took it back to crimp it with a special tool needed to join the two together — a tool we didn’t have — to connect it to the other part Jesse had brought with him.  It was because of this one man’s willingness to help us, that we were able to finish the repair job.  Jesse and our 11 year old son walked back once again in the heat with the parts that were needed.

I had just changed out of my swim suit when I went out to check on how things were going with the repair. Jes had returned from the auto parts store and had just put everything back together and was ready for me to help bleed the brake line and showed me for the first time the pieces that had been damaged. Our best guess was that it had happened the night before while going over some bumpy construction as at one point, we remember being concerned about the bumps. We had evidently bottomed out and hit the pavement  and the brake line got not only crushed, but severed in that moment.

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We definitely bottomed out and hit the road as we went through that construction! Here you see the line crushed and broken in half.
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Jesse happy after a job well done! Thankful for how God answered our every prayer and that my husband had the ability and faith to complete the job!
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This pedal matters a lot when you’re traveling by RV!
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Our son with the water bottle he went to go pay for and the manager paid for it himself in the spirit of Independence Day.

With the truck repaired, we decided to drive it for a bit to test the repair out before hooking up and heading across a big mountain range. We drove it through town, grabbed some dinner, stopped in at a “tourist trap” for the kids to shop a little bit and came back to our RV to rest and finish up laundry. There’s something about taking a shower in a normal shower that refreshes you as well.  The kids recall laying on the merry-go-round that night and spinning while fireworks exploded in the area around our campground.

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No, this isn’t a real fort. It’s a store with some tourist paraphernalia to see and buy.

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We would have loved to check out Buffalo Bill’s place in North Platte, Nebraska, but had to save it for another time due to the holiday and needing to stay on our travel schedule.
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Our 2.5 year old daughter sizes up the native american in the grassy area behind the tourist shop.

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Our 5-year-old checks out a diorama of Buffalo Bill's Show in North Platte, Nebraska
Our 5-year-old checks out a diorama of Buffalo Bill’s Show in North Platte, Nebraska

Buffalo Bill diorama

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Buffalo Bill (William Cody) started his famous Wild West Show near his ranch in North Platte. The first rodeo was held in North Platte on July 4, 1882.
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One of our older boys wanted a “Jack-alope” which we thought looked good on the dash. It’s good to find ways to smile through difficult circumstances! 😀
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Leaving our emergency overnight pit stop — the Holiday RV Park in North Platte, Nebraska. It cost about $49 after discounts were applied. At the time of our stay, they had a pool, playground, showers, playground, and small RV spaces.

With all of us clean, fed, and with clothes folded and put away, we tidied up our trailer and started out for Wyoming the next morning, refreshed and ready to continue our journey towards Washington State.

Now, a year later, as I reflect on that fourth of July, there are two main takeaways from that experience:

  1. Don’t fuss over delays — they may very well be God’s providential answer to prayer.
  2. One person can make a difference in someone’s life.

PROVIDENCE:

Before leaving the comforts of our home, I had all sorts of scenarios run through my mind of what could happen and this one was not even one I had considered. The timing of how everything transpired that day was more than “coincidence”; my husband and I believe it was providential. Had my son not asked to stop to use the bathroom, we would have continued on the freeway and very well could have been without brakes to stop traveling at a high speed! When I think of what could have happened, I shutter at the thought and am grateful for God answering many a prayer for protection as we traveled.  As we recount all the things that happened that day…

  1. We were able to stop safely.
  2. We were able to drive the car and travel trailer a short distance to find brake fluid on a holiday when a lot of stores were closed.
  3. We were able to find the right kind of brake fluid.
  4. We were able to get back across town to a better spot.
  5. We were able to find a spot that was reasonably priced to stay the night and unhook to deal with our emergency.
  6. We were able to make it within walking distance to the one open auto parts store in town.
  7. We were only able to fix the repair with the help of a kind and generous person — otherwise our trip would have been delayed and we may have missed out on wheat harvest.
  8. We got a chance to rest a bit in the middle of our journey and clean some things.

God, in His goodness, answered the prayers of all of those who were praying for our safe journey. There would be many times those brakes would be pushed to the test and the brakes would hold firm and keep our family safe (I’ll have to write about the California experience sometime.) And our kids learned one more time, that we don’t serve an imaginary God, but the one true God Jehovah-Jireh (our provider) who cares for our every need.

HOW ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

The gentleman that helped my husband that day at the auto parts store went over and above to help meet our needs that day.  My husband shares that had he not helped search through boxes for the right part and offered to use his machine in the back to do the step we had no tool to do, we would not have been able to complete the job and we would have had to have waited for a mechanic which would have cost us days in the schedule and possibly affected our ability to get to Washington in time for wheat harvest which was coming early that year due to the high heat.  This manager at Advance Auto Parts store, not only went beyond in his customer service, he also encouraged us and especially our son learned a lesson on the power of kindness as he received a fresh ice cold water to quench his thirst.

OH! AND ONE MORE THING…

I guess there’s a bonus tip from what we also learned … it is a good idea to keep some extra brake fluids in our storage area for unexpected issues! From North Platte, Nebraska we headed out towards Wyoming which I’ll share more about in another post. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more…

— Erin & Jes + our 5 kids and a RV


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5 Kids and a RV recommendations are based on personal experience and do not represent the business or not-for-profit we feature. We share our experiences in an effort to inspire parents and caregivers to engage and explore with their children. On occasion we may post a review or provide information as an affiliate.

5 Kids and a RV: “Let’s go learn something today!

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