Family Adventure through Scenic Southwest Canyon Country

During long Wisconsin winters, Karen Druszcak delights in plotting warm-weather RV outings. So when the Druszcak clan purchased a new motorhome a few years ago, she wasted no time in planning their maiden voyage – a month-long exploration of America’s desert southwest. Traveling with two teenage children can be tricky, so the family scheduled frequent stops laced with lots of museums, hiking and get-out-and-do-things experiences that would keep the kids interested and engaged.

The result? Plenty of terrific family memories, from peeking into ancient New Mexico cliff dwellings to tubing down a Utah river, from studying early petroglyphs to hiking the Grand Canyon.

KAREN: “When we travel, most of the time we’ve already investigated what we want to see through the Internet and travel books. In past years, we’ve gone north, toward Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. This time, we wanted to tackle a more southern route.

“We had just purchased our brand new motorhome, which was wonderful for a trip like this.

“At the time, my son had just turned 18 and my daughter was 14. Since we have teenagers, we purchased a model with a bath and a half – that just made it even more comfortable. Before, we’d had a smaller unit, which was OK when the kids were small. But when everyone is adult-size, it’s harder to stay cooped up together for an extended length of time.

“My husband and I started camping with those tents on wheels. We moved up to a small 15-foot self-contained trailer, then went to a pop-up when the kids were little, and then we moved up to a Class C. Now, we’ve finally found the motorhome of our dreams.

“I’ve always felt that you don’t make a connection with where you’ve been unless you get out and actually do things. So on this trip; we made it a point to give ourselves the time to do that.

“To get everybody out the door, we promised to stay the first night by Six Flags St. Louis. We usually try to travel between 350 and 400 miles a day. The next day we made it to Tulsa, OK, where we visited the Tulsa Zoo. On the way, we went to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, which was great. Then it was on to Oklahoma City, where we stopped to see the National Cowboy Museum and, of course, see the musical, ‘Oklahoma!’

“From there, we headed to Amarillo, where we stopped to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just south of Amarillo, which is very nice – our first feeling of really being out there in the West. We enjoyed driving through it, though several areas were a challenge for my husband, who was just getting used to our new motorhome! The roads are older and narrow – and on top of that, they were doing shoulder work – but he did an excellent job.

“We stopped at the Visitor’s Center, which had a nice museum and a picture window that looks out over the canyon. While we were there, they happened to have a book signing, featuring an author who had written fiction books about the canyon. That’s the fun of trips – running into those unexpected surprises.

“Next, we visited Santa Fe. At the Museum of New Mexico, they were featuring an exhibit from Russia that I’d read about in the Chicago paper. Then we headed to Bandelier National Monument, just north of Santa Fe, where you can visit 13th century cliff dwellings. I’m not a big ladder climber, but the kids enjoyed climbing up to peek inside the dwellings. We also went on a walk with a park ranger, something to make the experience more than a ride-through, to at least make a connection with the place.

“On our way west, we stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park, in Arizona, just west of the New Mexico border. It was a really beautiful day, so we just took our time and hiked some of the trails.

“Then we were off to the Grand Canyon. We decided to stay at the Circle Pines KOA in Williams, which is not really on the rim. But they have a nice campground, and they rented cars, so we didn’t have to tow one. It was about a 50-mile trip to the canyon, which was a little far. Next time, we’ll try to stay at the national park. But it was fun going through Williams in the evening because they’re on the old Route 66, so they’re set up with memorabilia and ‘50s-style restaurant.

“At the Grand Canyon, there’s always a lot to see. But with teenagers, they’re ready to move on after three days. The neat thing about touring by motorhome is that you can always say, ‘We’ll do that next time.’

“Next, we decided to head up toward Page, Ariz., right on the Utah/Arizona border, where we stopped to see the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

“Page is on Lake Powell, so we camped at a campground there, visited Glen Canyon and went on to what my son likes to call “that dam tour.” Next time, we’ll stay longer and try some houseboating.

“We headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, which is very different, very woodsy. Then we went through Pikes Spring and entered Zion National Park from the west side, to avoid going through the tunnel where you have to pay.

“We went through Springdale, Utah, which is a terrific town. There’s a campground steps away from the park entrance, and a shuttle bus runs through Zion, stopping where you choose, and also through the town of Springdale. We felt very mobile and really enjoyed it. While we were there, we tried a lot of trails. The one we enjoyed the most went through the Virgin River.

“You are actually hiking on a rocky riverbed – so beautiful. At the campground, the kids could go tubing down the river in the evenings.

“Next, we stopped at Cedar Breaks National Monument, in Utah. There were really beautiful red rock formations there that provided excellent photo opportunities. It’s so awesome that they’re really so red and the sky is so blue – a nice contrast. We stayed at Ruby’s Campground, right outside of Bryce Canyon.

“From the campground, we could walk to a rodeo and catch the shuttle bus that runs through Bryce. We took the Navajo Loop trail and also did a half-day horseback ride into the canyon.

“You know, back home in the Midwest we don’t tend to do a lot of hiking because of mosquitoes and busy schedules.  Out West, it’s so much drier – you can be outside without the discomfort of humidity and bugs, which was great. So we travel ready to hike. One backpack has raincoats, another water bottles, and another camera.

“When we stopped at the Kodachrome Basin, a Utah state park, we took pictures of the motorhome against the multicolored layers of rock. It’s a spectacular state park, available for camping also. We went on to stop at Capitol Reef National Park, where they have a lot of petroglyphs. Since we weren’t towing, we were kind of handicapped. There was an area we couldn’t go into because the motorhome was too long. But we did stop and take a neat trail called the Grand Wash Trail, walking in a dry riverbed.

“From there, we went to Arches National Park, a place that speaks for itself. Just absolutely magnificent. We made a point to visit Canyonlands across the road from arches, and that was our last park.

“You know, my daughter likes to tease me by saying, ‘Why can’t we stay home like other people?’ But we are out there building lots of good memories. Just being together as a family, we really enjoy our mutual company, enjoy those times doing things where it’s just us. That’s one neat thing about traveling in an RV – you always have your accommodations with you.

“Anyplace we’re together is home.”

 

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2 Comments

  • In 2012 we drove our Class C motorhome to California for our grandson’s high school graduation. On the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon and stayed in the park, just a half mile walk to the rim. It was great! With water and electricity hooked up, a dump station available, a grocery store nearby and best of all lots of canyon rim to view. Most of the people that we met on the rim were NOT from the USA. If you have never visited the Grand Canyon don’t rely on having seen pictures. It is not nearly the same. GO!

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