Today was the start of my first major road trip in my little Roadtrek RV. As I swing out through Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, I’m not only looking forward to the sights, but interested to see what the road will show me about myself. You see, there is your perception of yourself and there is who you really are. The road disabuses you of the first and shows you the latter very quickly. For instance, I thought a few road trips ago that I was a wilderness type who would pitch my tent in a primitive campground and cook out under the stars. It took me one night on the road to bail on the camping, find the nearest KOA and book one of their Kozy Kabins. The road showed me that I’m not a wilderness type at all. Especially when I’m in places like Glacier National Park which is Grizzly country. Besides, I think my days of sleeping on the ground are long behind me. Enter my little RV, which I’ve named Buffalo Soldier in honor of the first guardians and rangers of our National Parks. We’re hitting the road for a large Southwestern loop. I figured there would be a learning curve. And there was.

The first thing I learned is that my initial day long haul from San Jose to Mojave National Preserve was a big miscalculation. A wiser and more experienced RVer than I am warned me that I should follow the “Three Thirty Rule”: drive no longer than three hours and thirty minutes in a day, or, at the very least, make sure you are at your campsite at 3:30 PM. After nearly 7 hours on the road, I now see the wisdom of that warning. First of all, you can’t do long hauls in an RV like you can in a car. Although my Roadtrek is surprisingly comfortable to drive, it still feels like driving a truck. I found myself needing to get out and walk around or take some kind of break every two hours. And, since this is the first diesel vehicle I’ve owned, I can’t quite believe that I’m actually going to find diesel very easily. So the first several hours, I stopped at every diesel station I found when the tank was only a quarter empty. Needless to say, that burned up huge amount of extra time.

Although I did take a lunch break at the famous Harris Ranch Restaurant. Hills joined me.

Although I did take a lunch break at the famous Harris Ranch Restaurant. Hills joined me.

I picked up a filet mignon for my campfire dinner.

I picked up a filet mignon for my campfire dinner.

Alas, there was to be no campfire for me. I finally reached Mojave National Preserve hours after I had expected to. The rangers were closing up the Visitor’s Center and told me the campground was “just down the road.” What they really meant was 10 miles down a road through the middle of the desert. And then the pavement ends.

At that point, there were about 15 miles of UNPAVED corduroy road leading through dry washes and out into the middle of nowhere.

At that point, there were about 15 miles of UNPAVED corduroy road leading through dry washes and out into the middle of nowhere.

Generally, when you see signs like this, it’s not a good thing.

Generally, when you see signs like this, it’s not a good thing.

Sunset was just on the horizon, so I drove faster than I should have. That led to everything in the RV shaking lose and things flying out of cabinets and onto the floor.

I pulled into Hole in the Wall Campground with minutes to spare. There was no way I was going to start a campfire. In fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to cook one of my emergency soups I’d stocked for days when I don’t have the energy to cook. I hope the road wasn’t telling me that I’m a crap RVer. I crashed without eating hoping that I’d do better the next day.

Which isn’t to say, I didn’t enjoy my first day, especially as I turned East from Bakersfield and got out into more high desert areas. It seems to be an interesting breed that lives out this way — independent desert rats. I wondered if it might be fun to live in the desert for awhile with an adobe house and a yard full of animal bones, Joshua Trees and found objects. Or maybe not, says the Road to me. At least I got more than my Joshua Tree quota for the day. On the way to the campground, I passed huge Joshua Tree forests that stretched for miles and miles. If Mojave can serve up this many Joshua Trees, what can Joshua Tree National Park do to top it?

The campsite was beautiful, if remote and scary to get to.

The campsite was beautiful, if remote and scary to get to.

Just me, Buffalo Soldier and the bunnies.

Just me, Buffalo Soldier and the bunnies.

And the Brittlebrush and the Teddy Bear Cholla.

And the Brittlebrush and the Teddy Bear Cholla

 

Then it was off to Zion National Park. Which was unfortunately, another lesson in how a four hour drive takes nearly twice as long in an RV. Having not eaten breakfast, I was afraid to break for lunch as I was too obsessed with stopping at every station that advertised diesel as I’m still convinced that the diesel station I just passed will be the last one I’ll ever see. Considering that I was stopping at every other gas station, I was surprised to find no attached Starbucks as you see in California. Then it occurred to me that there isn’t much call for coffee in Mormon country.

I finally found my mocha in what seems to be the ugliest city ever to be built in a stunning location. St. George is surrounded by brilliantly striped red and white cliffs. Which the town fathers have covered completely in cheap housing developments and strip malls.

The view improved as I headed into the amazing Virgin Gorge. It’s a steep winding canyon carved by the Virgin River. The river, I’m sure, is spectacular, except it was unfortunately covered with four lanes of highway. Most of my drive so far has been this dichotomy — incredible scenery marred by mining operations, large solar farms, casinos and high tension electrical wires.

I arrived in Zion with just enough time to take the mandatory shuttle bus on a complete loop to acquaint myself with the canyon. I’d heard that Zion is one of the most heavily traveled National Parks. In what I’m assuming is the off-season, there are still plenty of crowds. Tomorrow, I get off the beaten path and lose some of those crowds. But riding the shuttle, my impression was that it was a bit Disneyfied, as if Zion is “National Park Land”. It’s beautiful, but the crowds don’t really make it feel like wilderness.

Hallelujah! At the Gates of Zion.

Hallelujah! At the Gates of Zion.

With enough time to ride the shuttle on a loop through the park and take a viewpoint hike to see the Court of the Patriarchs.

With enough time to ride the shuttle on a loop through the park and take a viewpoint hike to see the Court of the Patriarchs.

But back to that steak. I thought tonight would be the night I’d cook it over the coals in my new folding grill. I tried to get that thing lit for over an hour. Finally, I begged a group of foreign exchange students to let me light a few of my coals in the campfire that they’d gotten roaring in what seemed like five minutes. By the time I got my steak cooked, the exchange students — all six of them — had piled into a two person tent and were making shadow puppets on the wall.

That left me reflecting on what the first two days have taught me.

*Drive less. And try to take the roads less traveled. Unless those roads lead you through 15 miles of dry washes and dirt road out in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

*Although I can get a fire going in my Sonoma wood stove with a match and a few sticks of Manzanita kindling, charcoal is a whole different proposition. Or else I don’t have the mad pioneer skills I think I do.

*There is a lot of puttering around, setting up camp and stowing away that goes into RVing. I’d better start building that time in. Because little Buffalo Soldier is starting to look like a disaster area.

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