Road Tripping to the Rally and Back

Mark & Hilary Steves
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Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

In mid-2023, we won the lottery! This wasn’t (unfortunately) the multi-mega-dollar lottery. We won a spot at the official 2023 Leisure Travel Van Rally lottery at the “mothership” in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada. Since we bought our 2019 Unity FX, which we call “Zephyr,” we have heard the stories, read the articles, and seen the videos of the annual LTV Rally. It sounded like a good time–visiting the factory, attending seminars, and meeting fellow LTV owners. Even better, it would give us an excuse for a multi-week road trip and a chance to see parts of the United States we’ve never visited. So we started planning and were off on our adventure at the end of August.

22 days, 4893 miles, 11 states, 5 National Parks, and 2 countries. Like all long trips, there were speedbumps along the way, but once we got past those, the trip was a fantastic time filled with great memories.

Part 1: In the Frying Pan

We left our house along the Central Coast of California in morning fog. We typically start trips with long travel days (while fresh), which was no different. There are no sightseeing or detours, just 8 hours of driving to Laughlin, Nevada, and the heat, oh boy, the heat. As we pulled into our overnight spot at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Casino, the temperature gauge was reading 119 degrees, and it felt like it. It was so hot my eyeballs hurt. But that’s why we planned: we had full hookups and could run the blessed air conditioner for us and our three dogs, Odin, Thor, and Apollo.  We checked out the casino (buffet and craps!) before settling in for the night.

The next day was similarly hot, so we only stopped briefly in Seligman, Arizona, the birthplace of Historic Route 66. It’s the “birthplace” even though the road neither starts nor ends here, but because it was the locals in town that started the historic Route 66 movement to try to breathe life back into their town after the interstate bypassed it. It’s a cute town with some kitschy shops, and it served as an inspiration for the Pixar film “Cars.” A fun place for a quick stop if you’re on I-40 in that part of the country.

The view from our campsite in Laughlin, NV
Hilary standing next to “Mater” in Seligman, AZ


The town was fun, but the heat made it tough to stop for long, and we pressed to our overnight stop….at a gift shop. Yep, we stayed at a gift shop right outside the southern gates of Petrified Forest National Park. But this gift shop had electric hookups (yay for air conditioning) and proximity the next day for us to drive into the park when it opened. For $25, it couldn’t be beat.

Last year, when we drove cross country, we also stopped at Petrified Forest but had weather issues. Not rain, but very strong winds. So strong we dared not even open the doors to the RV, so much of the park was seen from our windshield. This time, there was no wind, but it was going to get hot, so we started early in the day with a walk around the petrified logs at the South Entrance station and then headed to Blue Mesa for a walk there. Petrified Forest is one of the few National Parks that allow dogs everywhere, so our boys got some walks in before the heat drove them, and us, back into the RV and back on the road.

Dogs and logs
The Blue Mesa trail is paved but does have an elevation change

Our stop for that night was another casino. We’ve actually found casinos to be good places to stop–they mostly have full hookups, and everyone that we’ve stayed at will pick you up at your spot and drive you to and from the casino. That night, we were at Route 66 Casino, and it was a full-fledged RV resort with big, open spots, multiple dog areas (with grass), pickleball courts, a pool, and a hot tub, which we definitely took advantage of. Inside the casino, there are restaurants and (if you want) gambling. That night, we walked out winners (with $30, but hey, a win is a win).

The last day of our southern start took us to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was another place we had wanted to visit last year but were forced to abandon because of the winds. This time, we quickly found a parking spot and spent a couple of hours wandering the old downtown area. That means Hilary shopped while I stood outside with the dogs, but eventually, we all got to eat in a nice restaurant called Church Street Cafe, which had outside seating for us and the dogs. Then, it was time to hit the road and start our turn to the north.

Part 2: A Close Encounter and Troubles

We left Albuquerque and spent the night at the Raton Pass campground. Like a lot of our stops, it was a good place for a one-night stay when all we wanted was level ground, a hookup, and a little space around us. The next day took us through Colorado Springs, where we stopped for brunch with old friends before heading up to the Denver area. As a military retiree, we can stay on military base campgrounds, and for the first time, we took advantage of that to stay at Buckley Space Force Base. Spots here were very separated, and while there wasn’t anything to do in the Famcamp, it served its purpose for the night.

Our campsite at Buckley Space Force Base
Zephyr by the “golf balls” (i.e. antennas)

But the next day is when the “troubles” began–the engine wouldn’t start. Luckily, I carry a plug-in charger, so after 10 minutes, the engine cranked up, and we were on our way. Curious, I thought, but no cause for alarm yet. This was just a driving day into Wyoming, and it was pleasant enough. Our dogs quickly adapt to life on the road, so they’re no concern on these driving days. We spent the night in Lusk, Wyoming, and the next day, we got ready to head out…but the engine didn’t start again. Once more, I used the charger, and we were quickly on the road again. But I was beginning to worry a bit.

That worry was soon replaced by splendor as we arrived at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. You see this tower from miles away, and it keeps getting bigger the closer you get. For me this place is famous from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, but even in the light of day with no alien spaceships around, it’s pretty impressive. We did encounter a long backup getting into the park and saw quite a few cars giving up and turning around. Since there was no room for us to turn around, and we really wanted to see it, we waited, and the wait was rewarded when a ranger finally started letting the cars through, we quickly found an RV parking spot we even spotted two other LTVs in the lot, and while we never saw the owners, we wondered if they were also on the way to the Rally.

I walked around the tower loop trail that circles the base. It’s a 1.3-mile paved trail, but it does have a few ups and downs, so Hilary (nursing a bad hip) waited in the Zephyr with the dogs.

We didn’t have far to go for our campsite, as we were staying at the KOA right outside the park. The tower was right behind our spot, which made for some good pictures, and we even played some mini-golf. Every night the KOA plays “Close Encounters” on an outside screen, and we stopped by for a bit but could feel rain coming and made it inside our LTV just before the skies opened up with a thunderstorm.

Our campsite has a great view of the Tower
The boys have their own Close Encounter

The next day, and, you guessed it, the RV needed the charger to start, and my worries were back. Then, an hour later, it wouldn’t start again when we stopped for gas. I used my jumper cables (another thing I always carry) and a friendly driver, and we were back on the road but now afraid to turn the engine off. The troubles were in full force, and then the winds picked up as we dodged a line of thunderstorms. They were strong enough to make driving difficult, and when we stopped for lunch (leaving the engine idling, of course), the wind ripped the side door out of my hand, and the lower strut broke. Luckily, there was no other damage to the door or motorhome, but my spirit was rapidly fading. We were calling around for anyone who could look at our vehicle, but as you can expect, there aren’t a lot of Mercedes service stations in North Dakota. After a long and draining day, we finally pulled into our campground (after driving down a mile-long muddy road that didn’t help with the outside appearance of our Zephyr). We settled in for a sleepless night as worry about what we would do filled my brain.

The following day, as expected, the engine didn’t start, but this time, the charger didn’t help either. We got the friendly folks at the campground to jump-start us, but I didn’t want to go anywhere until we could figure something out. After calling every auto repair place in town (who would suggest another place, who would suggest another place, who would suggest the first place we called), I finally tried the LTV factory in Winkler. Although they couldn’t help us directly, they suggested that any mechanic could do a battery test, so I called and pleaded with a local shop, and he agreed to fit us in. After accessing the battery (which is in the driver’s footwell of the Sprinter chassis, if you didn’t know), the result was—a bad battery, and I was actually relieved. This is better than a failure in other electrical components. He helped find a battery in town, and an hour later, I replaced it (the directions in the owner’s manual are very good for this), put the key in the ignition, uttered a soft prayer, turned it, and it started! It was like a weight had been lifted. The sun was out, the wind had stopped, and while we were a couple of hours late, we could proceed to cross the border and make the LTV Rally.

Part 3: Rally Time

One of my fellow LTV Explorers–Lori Rabey, has already written an excellent article on what happened at the Rally so I won’t repeat it here–it was a great event! There were informative seminars, cooking contests, a cidery tour, and even archery! We had asked for a spot in Zone 5, so while we were a little farther away from the main lodge, we had lots of room around us (for the dogs) and a great spot overlooking the pond.

Our parking spot at the rally in Zone 5
We were tickled that so many people recognized our pups

We toured the factory (with the famous Dean as our guide), which I would highly recommend if you ever get a chance. Seeing how our chariots are built and the awesome people making them made me even happier that we had decided on an LTV.

We really enjoyed the Rally, and if you’ve ever thought about it, I would definitely recommend it. The best part was meeting fellow LTV owners. We hope to meet up with some, like Randy and Anne and Bruce and Claudia, on future trips. With the troubles behind us, it was an enjoyable time, and over too soon as we were ready to head back home–but this time taking the scenic route.

Part 4: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

When we first applied for the Rally lottery, I searched potential routes and saw that Yellowstone National Park could be on our way back. As a “just in case,” I reserved the last spot in the Canyon Campground in the park, and once we got into the Rally, I was excited to be able to visit finally. Yet it would take a few days of driving to get there. There’s not much to see across North Dakota and Montana, although there are giant fields of sunflowers up there. The night before Yellowstone, we stayed at the Bozeman Hot Springs Campground, which, as the name implies, is attached to natural hot springs. It was a really nice campground, and the hot springs had multiple pools, most quite large, at varying temperatures. It was a nice break, and although we had to backtrack a bit to get into the park the next day, it was worth it.

We entered Yellowstone at the North Entrance, which allowed us to start with Mammoth Hot Springs. The calcite deposits make it look like another world (or at least a frozen one). As our introduction to Yellowstone, it made it clear that we were going to see sights unlike anywhere else we’ve been.

Mammoth Hot Springs from below…
…and from above. Different views from every vantage point.

We continued down through the Park, aiming for the Midgeyser Basin and the Grand Prismatic Spring, although stopping at small turnouts when possible. The whole area is filled with smoking ground that makes it almost look like it’s on fire. The Grand Prismatic Spring was covered in steam, which made it difficult to really see the vibrant colors, but it was still impressive.

The (very) Grand Prismatic Spring

Along the road we got our first experience with a “Bison Jam”, as we were sitting in traffic while they ambled on and around the road.  It was our first time seeing them, but wouldn’t be the last during our short time in the park.  We skipped Old Faithful for this first day, and instead stopped at other geyser basins.  It truly is remarkable how different all the geysers can be.  Some are shooting water high into the air.  Some are bubbling mudpits.  Some are roiling and churning.  And some are just pools of water – just REALLY hot water.  All have their own sounds, and of course they all have that sulfur smell.

The active type of geyser
The more mellow type. But just as hot (and stinky)!

Before heading to our campsite, we visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, where we marveled at the waterfall and deep ravines. We just drove the South Rim of the canyon that day, stopping at Artist’s Point as the sun was starting to go down. When we got to our site, we walked the dogs and reviewed the day. We saw so much that first day and couldn’t find parking for the RV at one spot. It certainly helps coming mid-week in mid-September. If you can, I would highly recommend this time of year. I would imagine it’s a much different experience with the crowds in the summer (and not for the better).

The next day, we knew rain was coming in the afternoon, so we started early and headed towards Old Faithful, which didn’t disappoint.

Old Faithful eruption

After watching it “do its thing,” we looped around Lake Yellowstone, stopping at even more geyser basins and eventually back to the Canyon for more views on the north rim. We timed it perfectly, returning to the campground right as it started raining. That called it for the day, so we played some games and gave the dogs some much-deserved attention.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, looking to the left…
…and looking to the right. Both view from the North Rim overlooks

It was misty the next morning as we traveled out of the park through the south entrance, seeing more bison in the mist and on the road.

We took the south exit to continue through Grand Teton National Park. We took the outer road in that park, which I felt would give us better views of these tremendous mountain peaks. It took longer than I expected, but the turnouts and stops were worth it. Schwabacher Landing was an exceptionally lovely spot to see the mountains reflected in the stream, although it was a dirt road and a little walk to get there. The dogs spent most of the time in the RV, but we did coax them out for some pictures.

The view, and reflection, at Schwabacher Landing
I got the boys to pose at Glacier View turnout

Teton closeup
One of the famous Mormon Barns at the south end of the park

We spent this night at Lava Campground in Idaho, and while there were hot springs in the town, we stuck to the campsite for the night. The next day, we headed towards our last scenic spot at Cedar Breaks National Monument. If you’ve never heard of it, neither had we until I was planning the trip.  Only a few hours outside Las Vegas, this is a small park but with impressive views.  Reminded us of a small Bryce Canyon (if you’ve been there). The campground is all dry camping, but the spots were well separated, and ours was right on a large meadow.

The view into Cedar Breaks
Our campsite for the night

Even better, the clouds went away at night, and it was a spectacular night sky. You could see the Milky Way with your naked eyes, and I stayed up for a while trying to get some good astrophotography.

The view from right outside the camper

Part 4: The End

The last part of our trip took us to Las Vegas, where we stayed with friends for a few days. We enjoyed their company, as well as pool time, while the dogs really enjoyed finally being able to run free for a bit. Soon enough, we had the last drive home, finally returning after three weeks of traveling.

Although we had our troubles, I would rank it as a fantastic trip. Obviously, the National Parks and monuments we visited were spectacular and unlike anything else we’ve seen. I couldn’t even pick a “favorite” as they are too varied. Of course, the LTV Fall Rally was our motivation for the trip, and it didn’t disappoint. The folks at LTV obviously take pride and care in their work, and meeting fellow LTVers is always a highlight.

However, there is stress when it comes to long trips. We had our troubles, and we heard about others with their own “adventures.”  Unfortunately, I think that’s life on the road. You can prepare for some events and carry supplies like jumper cables and the new portable jump starter I now have, tools, and even replacement parts, but in the end, there’s also a certain degree of luck (or unluck) that you may face. While I don’t think it will stop us from further trips, it did reinforce the need to prepare as best you can and then adapt and overcome any hardships because the benefits are so worth it.

Mark & Hilary Steves

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