There and Back Again: An LTV Tale (Part 1)

Mark & Hilary Steves
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Editor’s Note: Mark and Hilary Steves are members 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.

Just over three and a half years. That’s how long we’ve had the 2018 Unity FX we call “Zephyr.” In that time, we’ve taken quite a few trips in it, but with the exception of our pick-up drive from St. Louis to California, we’ve kept it close to home. Weekend trips up to wine country areas near us, maybe a local campground, and even day trips have been our normal. Last year we expanded a bit with a 10-day trip up into Oregon and back (which you can read about here), and that made us feel more comfortable planning a longer journey. So this year, we decided to finally make our first “big trip” – cross country and back in 30 days.

As mentioned in a previous story, I am a planner, so for my own sanity, this trip had to be planned well before we hit the road. A family wedding in New York provided a set date of where we needed to be and when. We also had a “no earlier than” departure date because of family visiting from overseas. That left us 8 days to get out to the east coast. Coming back, we would have more time, so we could take a different path and allocate for shorter driving days and more sightseeing.

I used RV Trip Wizard as the program/app to help plan the trip. There are other options out there, but I find this one to be pretty useful both in planning and when on the road to find campgrounds, get reviews, and figure out a path. My only issue with the program was their time estimates were quite a bit longer than actual (by over an hour in some cases). Maybe the program just doesn’t comprehend how easy it is to drive an LTV!

Our route, from coast to coast

Finally, after months of planning, making spreadsheets, getting reservations, and preliminary packing, we were at the “day before,” where we put all that prep to work and loaded up the Zephyr. Bright and early the next morning, we climbed aboard with Odin, Thor, and Apollo, headed out the driveway, and were finally on our way to…

…Day 1: Kingman, Arizona

Our first stop was Kingman and was only picked for the purpose of seeing family, which was where we would spend the night. For our first day, we made this a long one by covering 500 miles in about 8 hours, and the drive was easy. We arrived in time for drinks and dinner and got a good night’s sleep before continuing the next day to….

…Day 2: Holbrook, Arizona, and Standin’ on a Corner

The plan was to drive a little less for the next two days so we could see some sights. First up was Meteor Crater in Arizona, the world’s largest preserved crater.

That is one BIG hole.

There’s a nice visitors center with displays that provide general information about meteors and this site. There’s also a simulator “ride” with a talking jackrabbit that we’d recommend skipping unless you have young kids. Total time at the crater for us wasn’t long (after all, it’s a big hole, so not too much to see), but it was worth the side trip. We were able to keep the dogs in the LTV as it wasn’t hot, although monitoring their safety at stops was a prime concern wherever we went. I imagine this place could be brutal in the summer, so keep that in mind if you travel with a furry family. Later in the day, the wind was also starting to become a factor, so driving was becoming a bit tenser. Luckily we didn’t have far to go.

Just up the road to the east of Meteor Crater is the small town of Winslow, Arizona. If that sounds familiar to you, imagine yourself “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” Yep, it’s a fine sight to see, as immortalized in the Eagle’s hit “Take it Easy.” The town has embraced their tangential link to that hit song, with a “Standin’ on a Corner” park, complete with a building façade, a statue of “Easy,” and even a flat-bed Ford. When Glenn Frey died, they added a statue of him too.

Just “Taking it Easy” while “standin’ on a corner”

With Eagles music playing outside, and a few gift shops catering to the Eagles and Route 66 in general, you can spend a little bit of time here. Plus, you simply MUST take your photo there! We even got a good shot of the Zephyr making a slow cruise past the corner.

Crusin’ on Route 66

For us, that was pretty much the end of the day, with a short drive to Holbrook, AZ, and our RV park for the night. The next day our plan was to head to a forest.

…Day 3: Petrified Forest with a Wee Bit of Wind

As travelers with dogs, we are well aware that most National Parks limit where our four-legged companions can actually go. That’s why I was excited about Petrified Forest – no restrictions on dogs! They can walk on all the trails there. I guess since the only trees there are rocks now, they’re not as worried as they are in other parks. So, we were ready to do a little bit of walking that morning after we pulled into the park at the southern entrance. Unfortunately, it was a little windy when we got out, and when I say “a little bit,” I mean 40-50 mph (65-80 kph) winds! It was tough to stand, let alone walk. We did get the dogs out and tried to walk at the first stop but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to work. We got a few pictures, and then back to the Zephyr we went.

We had to be VERY careful opening the side door, or the wind might rip it off the hinges. One of us (Mark) had to go out first to literally hold the door when it opened, and we quickly determined that A) we would only go out the front cab doors, and B) we wouldn’t go out much at all. We continued the drive and pulled over for some scenic spots and picture opportunities. The park isn’t terribly big for those visiting, and there’s a good road connecting the south end to the north end. The south end is where the actual Petrified Forest is, but the “painted desert” of the north end is pretty fantastic. There is also a nice gift shop at the north entrance.

We did see another LTV in the parking lot (the same one on the road and at our stop for the night) but never got to meet the owners. Although we saw the park, we were in a bit of a hurry to get on the road. We didn’t have far to go that day (just to Albuquerque, New Mexico), but we expected the winds might get worse, and we could tell it wouldn’t be fun to drive, and we were right! Not fun at all! While LTVs are small(ish), they still have large flat sides that don’t react well to wind. It was white-knuckle driving down the interstate as the gusts were reaching up to 70 mph (112 kph), and the wind would blow up dust storms that reduced our visibility to near-nothing.

Yep, not what you want to see driving down the road

We eventually took a break at a highway gift shop an hour or so out of Albuquerque and realized that continuing on was not only exhausting but also dangerous. Luckily this was the one night on our outbound trip we didn’t have a reservation, so there was nothing to cancel as we looked for a closer spot. Just a few miles up the road was a casino with full hookups that had plenty of spots and cheap prices (only $17/night!), plus they would drive us to and from our site and the casino. We breathed a very big sigh of relief when we stopped. Leaving the dogs safe and sound in the Zephyr, we had a good dinner, played some craps, and even won $90! Overall, a good day overall, but exhausting. We hoped the winds might die down before we hit the road the next day on the way to…

…Day 4: Oklahoma is OK

Our sightseeing days were almost over, and it was time for serious driving. The winds weren’t great, but not as bad as the past two days, so we got an early start, drove past Albuquerque (we’ll see you next time!), and pushed our way east. Out of New Mexico, into Texas, where we stopped briefly at the Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas.

Somewhere under the paint, there might be a tire
Colorful Caddys

It’s an art installation where 10 Cadillacs were planted in the ground back in 1974. Today, you are encouraged to add your own paint to the cars (they even sell paint there if you don’t bring your own), and I think the many layers of paint are all that keep the cars together. It may not be everyone’s idea of “art,” but as a roadside attraction, it’s an easy, free, and quick stop. Back on the road, we got out of Texas into Oklahoma and an overnight stop at a nice-but-generic campground. After a long driving day, we were ready to sleep for the night because tomorrow would also be a “driving day, but we did have an overnight stop planned in Missouri for…

…Day 5: Superman and Ice Cream

We drove through Oklahoma City and left I-40, heading northeast towards St. Louis. The day turned a little overcast with periods of rain as we made our way to Carterville, MO, and our stop for the night at a Superman Museum and Ice Cream Parlor called “Supertam on 66”. This small shop has room for an RV behind the store as a member of Harvest Hosts. Inside, the place is filled floor-to-ceiling with Superman (and the occasional other Justice League members) memorabilia.

The new owners have kept the collection of the previous owner and still continue to serve super-delicious ice cream and brownies! Chris, the owner we met, was super-nice (pardon the pun) and not only chatted with us about Route 66 but also helped me get hooked up with power for the night (a rarity at Harvest Host locations). Down the street was an amazing Italian smokehouse with some super-delicious (pardon) entrées and drinks. The town is a little empty, a sad sight we saw at many small towns along the way, but it was a super stop for the night (okay, last pun).

In the morning, we had sun and a short day planned out to get us to another casino at…

…Day 6: Meet me in St. Louis

Our host at the Ice Cream Parlour had recommended some Route 66 attractions to stop at, and as we didn’t have a full driving day today, we took advantage of his know-how. We stopped at the Uranus Fudge Factory, and if you can get the pun in the name, this place could be for you.  Many witty and naughty puns are all over the items in this store (“the best fudge comes from Uranus”, etc.) – and the fudge is pretty damn good! Connected to the store is an Oddities Museum, with many remnants of the old sideshow carnival and freak shows that used to exist. While it was bigger than it looked from the outside, this was a neat place to stop and see some of these items from a bygone age.

The Fiji “Mermaid” at the Oddities Museum
Where the best fudge comes from

We didn’t have a lot of time to do the “Route 66 thing” on our trip as we were mostly on the interstates, but if you’re driving on the Mother Road or close to it, we’d suggest taking some time now and then to pull off and see some of the local history and color.

We approached and then passed western St. Louis, crossing the Mississippi River to the other side, where we went to Centennial Park. Directly across from the arch is a good viewpoint to see the famous landmark. After the obligatory pictures, our stop for the night was right next door.

The DraftKings at Casino Queen has a large RV park which is mostly empty at this time of year. We had reserved our spot and were sent the gate code, so we could simply drive to our site. The casino itself is pretty big, although the table limits were a little expensive for us (we’re not high rollers), and there were good views of the arch as the sun went down. Only two more days to go, and the next day would be a long drive to…

…Day 7: Finally, a winery!

For those who follow our other blog posts, you know we (really) like our wine (or the “red juice,” as Odin the corgi describes it). Yet we hadn’t planned any stays at wineries on this outbound trip, with the exception of this night at Sand Hollow Winery, which is just outside of Columbus, Ohio. From St. Louis, this is a long drive, and the drive got “longer” when I realized that we were going to lose an hour due to time zone crossing resulting in an earlier start. Along the way, we did a quick dog park stop, but even that was cut short when I realized we had to move fast to get to the winery before they closed. When we arrived, we were the only customers there and were greeted by the owner and parked in a field before tasting the wine.

Our spot on the hill
The dogs don’t look near as excited as their dad to be tasting wine

I’ll be honest – Ohio wine is not what we’re used to on the California Central Coast, but there were some decent wines, and we found a couple we liked and purchased. Tomorrow would be the last day of the outbound trip (in the RV), as we headed towards…

…Day 8: New Jersey, New York (and the non-RV portion of the trip)

This was another 8-hour driving day, but we squeezed a dog park in before arriving at my brother’s house in New Jersey, where the Zephyr would be parked for a few days. We had already decided the RV wouldn’t be feasible for the next portion of the trip. After some rest and family visits, we dropped the dogs off in a pet resort (very posh!) and headed up to Long Island for the wedding festivities. I would issue a strong warning for anyone considering heading that way in your RV. There’s a reason we saw no other RVs on the road up there because, on the parkways, it quickly became apparent that if we had driven our RV, we would have come out of some of the underpasses without our air conditioning unit, Winegard receiver, solar panels…and the Zephyr might have become a convertible (seriously – clearances were around 9 feet in some places). So having the car made life a lot easier, especially when we went into the city itself for one day because that is DEFINITELY someplace an RV shouldn’t roam. There’s so much to see in NYC, but for this trip, we went to the Top of Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and then a Broadway show and dinner – a fantastic single day in the city.

The view from the “Top of the Rock” on Rockefeller Center
A bustling Times Square

However, this brief respite from the road had to end, so after our day in NYC, we were back in New Jersey, picked up the dogs (who were EXHAUSTED after playing constantly for three days), had another day with family, and then set our sights westward and the beginning of our return journey.

…To be Continued

Without a doubt, I’d rate this first part of the trip a success. We saw the sights we had planned, some we hadn’t planned, and made good time. We had strong winds, which caused us to modify some of our plans, but it was better to be safe than to stick to the spreadsheet. The dogs handled the trip like pros, and we made sure to reward them with dog park stops when we could.  We ate at more restaurants than planned, but the food we had stockpiled would still be good for the return trip if needed. Gas was expensive, although everything seemed cheaper after leaving California!

Part II will cover the return, including more wineries, our visit to Utah parks, and more, so stay tuned!

The Return Journey was a little more relaxing.
Mark & Hilary Steves

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