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In retrospect, one of the best things so far this year has been our Southwest trip… and one of the worst things so far this year has been our Southwest trip.  Why? Because we enjoyed the trip so much, we’d like to do it again, NOW!

Being our first time travelling & towing on a more-or-less daily basis we figured there’d be a learning curve, so here’s what we learned:

— The right equipment for the trip: We wondered if we made the right decision last Fall buying the Jayco 1007 pop-up. After all, we have a 24′ Sunline which is great for two people but, even during the trip, we concluded that the pop-up was the right camper for our travels. Our 1007 was easy to tow, easy to maneuver, easy(ier) on gas mileage – 17.5 mph the whole trip – had lots of room, & was no trouble parking, even in places like Santa Fe, NM where parking in-town can be problematic.

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Surprisingly we found that in the West the small-to-mid-size trailers dominate, not the large fivers & A’s seen here in the East.  We surmise that towing in altitude with a gas-powered vehicle is tough on the engine so better to have a smaller, lighter trailer.  Additionally, many of the campsites in the West are better suited to smaller RVs. (Sidebar: In a smaller camper, like our pop-up without toilet & shower, it IS nice to stay at a hotel once in a while.)

— Packing: As with our Sunline, we packed light in the Jayco too. We only packed what we felt was essential & didn’t get hung up on having “everything” along.  Even packing light, one-third of the stuff we packed for our Four Corners trip could have been left at home.  For us, the less we have along, the less we have to worry about!

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— Planning: Having three weeks on-the-road, we planned the daily amount of travel, places of interest, overnights, & then reserved accordingly. We did not reserve on weeknights but reserved on weekends.  A few weeks prior to leaving, I called most of the campgrounds & hotels we hoped to stay at to check on availability, which worked out nicely.

One bug-a-boo: Mapquest travel times are predicated on prevailing highway speeds; towing a trailer with 65-mph-tires means adjusting those times. 

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E.g., 120 miles on I-10 to Ft. Stockton in west Texas is listed by Mapquest as having a travel time of 1.5 hrs, but that’s at 80 mph. It took us more like two hrs because we could go no faster than 65 mph with trailer.  While I knew about the speed-rating on the Jayco tires, in planning, I didn’t account for it… but now I know.  

— Taking safety measures: Before the trip the Jayco got new tires including the spare as well as a friction sway control bar.  For the trip, we transferred our tire pressure monitoring system from the Sunline to the Jayco.  We had our F-150 checked over & had its oil changed before traveling. Of course, there are no guarantees but our trip was problem-free, so it was worth it. 

— Most of the places we camped, we would’ve enjoyed staying at least one more night for a variety of reasons – checking out the scenery, exploring the area, resting & relaxing.  Our trip didn’t allow this but it’s something to remember in the future.  🙂 

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We learned a lot on our road trip AND had a great time.  Little wonder we would do it again in a minute!

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On the way home, we stayed at several interesting places, however, I didn’t take many pictures.  It’s sort of a family phenomena where, maybe because we’re going home & the trip is drawing to a close, we just aren’t as motivated to take pictures, even when we’re staying in pretty places like the Lake of the Ozarks.

Heading east from Ft. Union, we overnighted in Dodge City where I took 0 pixs. I had hoped that we could camp at Ford County Lake, 7 miles northeast of Dodge which offers free RV sites, but we ran into tornado warnings and drove the last half-hour in heavy rain.  So, we chose to stay at the Best Western which was very nice but pricey.  Driving around town after supper, Dodge City was bigger than I expected; naturally the town is trying to cash in on the whole “wild-West-longhorns-cowboys-and-Wyatt-Earp” deal.

Driving across Kansas the next day outrunning the unstable weather, we made it to the Land of the Ozarks, a very pretty area in central Missouri, known for boating & fishing.

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We stayed at a Red Roof Inn, ate at Wild Willie’s Sports Bar which was very good, & toured part of the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Lake of the Ozarks is quite pretty & is one of those areas that you want to keep in mind to visit again when you have more time.

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The next day we drove on “blue highways” (Rte. 54) through Missouri & crossed the Mississippi River on a two-lane bridge at the small town of Louisiana, MO.  (A little blurry in the pix.) Zipping through Illinois we made it to Anderson, Indiana, just east of Indianapolis.  There we set up the Jayco for the last time at Mounds State Park, a lovely little park that features, as one might expect from the name, Indian mounds. 

We ate at the Nile Egyptian restaurant in Anderson, which was recommended by the very nice park ranger who checked us in.  A good supper if not a little different &, altho’ we were full, we stopped at Deluxe Donuts, highly recommended on TripAdvisor.  Definitely worth the stop, the chocolate donuts were excellent & the cranberry-orange muffin was the best my husband ever had.  (Always like to support local businesses when we travel.)

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From Mounds State Park, we headed home to central PA.  Our last day of travel was almost all Interstate – Bah humbug! – with a miserable bump-and-pothole laden stretch on I-70 in western PA.

We did exit the PA Turnpike early to make our annual end-of-vacation pilgrimage to the Hofbrauhaus restaurant in Abbottstown, PA.  Being particularly blessed with the places we ate during our travels, we enjoyed generous helpings of Wiener Schnitzel during our last road meal of the trip, already starting to reminisce about our wonderful vacation!

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One last look at Fort Union & it was time to head out on the road again, this time though going east.  Walking out to our F-150 & pop-up, we noticed that the Ft. Union flag was flying straight out, meaning 25+ mph winds would accompany us on our way home across the plains.

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We were blessed to have the wind coming from the southwest which made it, more or less, a tailwind.  (Beats having to buck a headwind.) But we were also glad to have purchased a Reese friction sway control bar prior to our trip.  All of us knew how windy it is in the central part of the country so, even tho’ Big Gray could have handled the pop-up without it, sway control was a “must-have” for all the places we went. 

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Of course, one look at the flatlands of eastern New Mexico and you can understand why it gets so windy.  We traveled with sustained 30+ mph winds from Ft. Union to the eastern part of Kansas.  And, ran into a band of thunderstorms which were spawning tornadoes near Dodge City which was our destination for the evening.

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I took this picture of Clayton, NM, out the front window of Big Gray and I think it sorta’ captures the feeling of the small plains town, stalwartly  surviving in spite of the weather, the droughts, the Depression, the wars & anything else that comes up.  This is the kind of thing we travel for, to see other places, to get an sense of where people live (& have lived), to broaden our horizons even just a little.