Traveling in A Van: Cross-Country Honeymoon
Taken from our travel journals - more coming soon along with tips!
Day One - The Departure:
A cloudy day in Pennsylvania, as we wake up in the cozy guest house to the sound of rain on the roof. After two days of post wedding recovery, we are finally head to pick up our Escape Camper van for our two week trip across the country. Our mini-moon, as we called it, started as far east as you could go, right next to Ellis Island and would take us on the most life changing trip back to California.
We met “Ka-boom”, our trusty van for the next 12 days and opted for a sleeper pop-up on top to make the living situation as little easier. John, the Escape rep, called it, the Ferrari of camping and he definitely was not wrong. It was our favorite feature of “ka-boom.”
Once the walk through was complete and goodbyes were had, we packed her up and hit the road. We initially had plans to get as far as Pittsburg on night one but given the stormy weather and our late start, we decided to call it a night somewhere in western Pennsylvania. Where to stay you ask? Well none other than a Walmart parking lot! Sounds pretty shitty but to be totally honest, it was one of the most fun and exciting nights of the trip. Once we converted the inside of the van into our bed for the night and found a cozy parking space, we headed inside for some 24-hour supply shopping. Apparently 10PM in the ultimate time to shop at Walmart.
We had a blast goofing off and just enjoying the fact that we were married and the trip had officially begun. Probably not the way most couples spend their first night of their honeymoon but were not like most couples. We had a road full of opportunity ahead of us and that night we sleep like babies in our new home on wheels.
Day Two - Headed to Wisconsin:
Since we didn't make it out of Pennsylvania on day one, we had to put on some serious miles if we were going to get to South Dakota in 3 days. To break up the long drive, we stopped at Cuyahoga Valley National Park right outside of Cleveland. Not a whole lot there so we continued on. Miles and miles of driving and a whole lot of nothing. Eventually we decided to stop for dinner at a Sushi place (of all things) outside of Chicago. We ate like animals and laughed at how ridiculous people must have thought we were. After just one day of fast-food, the fresh Sushi and veggies tasted like heaven! With our bellies full, we pushed on and eventually called it quits in Devil’s Lake State Park somewhere in Wisconsin. Fell asleep to the sound of crickets and wind in the trees.
Day Three - Onto South Dakota:
We got an early start and left Devils Creek State Park to head west towards South Dakota. But before that...Walmart, for some much needed supplies to carry us through the next week. We spent what felt like hours getting groceries, camp essentials and some warm, cheap flannels for our western, colder mountain stops. In typical Anna fashion, the onesie Pajama section was spotted and she immediately turned into a five year old. After toying with the difficult decision of a unicorn, monsters inc. or a giraffe, the decision was made and the giraffe onesie became a part of the road trip. After we left Walmart, we stopped at a neat little gas station in Western Wisconsin and had to restrain ourselves from buying the local gas station cheese curds inside - after all, we were in the cheese state and it was pretty tough to resist. Regretfully, with no cheese curds, we hit the road once again, waving off van compliments from the road along the way. The remainder of the day was really just spent driving through Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota. As we crossed the Mississippi River and into Minnesota, we were starting to feel like we had actually accomplished some miles on the drive. After a few more hours we finally made it to the Badlands in South Dakota on the tail-end of an epic sunset. We quickly snapped some photos before driving into the park and getting denied a spot at a popular campground. Disappointed and defeated that we had no “planned” place to camp before dark, we found a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) a few miles away and spent the night surrounded by fellow travelers. Although KOAs are not the most “off-the-grid” boon-docking way to camp, they do have their perks. Showers and running water are one of those amenities that this far into the trip we were very grateful for. So after a hot shower, some starch filled food and a beer to wash it all down, we hit the pillow for a much needed good night sleep.
Day Four - The Badlands:
A misty morning in South Dakota. The kind of rain that annoys you more than gets you wet. Rather than cooking, and keeping our cookware dry, we headed into the park for some good ole country breakfast near the visitors center. Two full plates of hearty and greasy breakfast meats and starch, all for the low price of $25 and we were well on our way to a good day. We spent the better part of the morning driving through the misty loop road, which definitely fits the environment in the Badlands - barren, desolate, but full of wonder and mystery. We drove past big horn sheep and plenty of prairie dogs on the north side of the park. We both were just enjoying the beauty of the park and the freedom of stopping whenever we wanted. In the early afternoon the cloud cover dissipated and the sun began to sneak through cracks in the clouds. At this point we were way out on a dirt road at the upper end of the park when we noticed a field of yellow and gold textures from afar. As we moved closer we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a field full of sunflowers. Unfortunately weeks past it’s harvest, but still plenty of color for some epic photos. Across the road from the fields. behind a steel fence were a herd of Buffalo. We spent some time taking photos and admiring these amazing animals from a comfortable distance outside the fence before heading back out of the park for sunset. Since we had not yet set up camp, we wanted to give ourselves enough time, with light to spare to get situated and maybe hang by the site for the night. For dinner - bacon wrapped hot dogs with salad and beer; a meal for true roadsters. As the sun set on this barren landscape, we set up our camp chairs and faced west. Together, we watched the colors change and the sun set on the beautiful South Dakota landscape. It was a pretty spectacular ending to a really wonderful day - we were happy campers.
Day Five - Goodbye Badlands, Hello Yellowstone
Packing the van up to head to another location became easier the more times we did it. But this morning, we were in desperate need of our batteries being charged. After almost five days on the road our electronics were needing some juice and we had to take care of that before leaving South Dakota. Anna, still dressed in her onesie, walked over to an open electric hookup campsite and carried all of the charging cables that we needed and staked out until the van was packed up and we could leave our previous site. In most situations, we’d find this embarrassing, but we were on the road and sometimes you just need to do things that are a little unorthodox. With batteries charged, it was time to hit the road further northwest toward Wyoming - next stop Yellowstone National Park. We took a bit more of a scenic drive to Wyoming and went through much of southern Montana. For those traveling this way, it is absolutely gorgeous but with nothing or no one for miles of unchartered land. The drive into Wyoming took way longer than expected and we didn’t even end up getting close to the park until the sun was already setting. The scenic route took us through the national forest in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone, with the most insane sunset of the trip. Unfortunately, we were way further from the entrance to the park than expected, and with little gas left in the van, and empty stomachs we were definitely starting to get worried. Two hours later, we made it to our first campsite inside Yellowstone National Park. The weather was much colder than South Dakota, but we chose to sleep in the pop up anyway. Our feet were not happy about that the following morning.
Day Six - Geyser Glory
Waking up with the crisp Fall Wyoming air felt incredible. We spent the better part of the morning cleaning our dishes from the night before and packing up our van for a day full of adventure inside of the park. First stop - the visitors center to get some much needed info on the best places to see on a time limit. The visitor center in Yellowstone felt like a resort in itself, packed with tons of tourists getting ready for Old Faithful to go off and wandering into the gift shop for some last minute souvenirs for their travels. Our trip to the visitor center was no different. We killed some time grabbing lunch and asking the rangers some questions while waiting for the next geyser to go off at Old Faithful. As excited as we both were to see this famous landmark, it was pretty underwhelming and packed with too many people to fully enjoy the magnitude of what was happening. Once we got that out of the way we took to the van and drove the loop road, quickly stopping off at various geyser basins along the way. The weather was cold and way too windy to fully enjoy, but it made it nice every time we walked passed a geyser and got a swift 300 degree sulfer breeze to warm us up. We took a short 2 mile hike up to an overlook to see the Grand Prisma pools, another well known landmark of the park. Along the way we were held up by some eager Bison crossing the road and a few pronghorn as well. As we drove through the park, we couldn’t help but feel a little rushed and cheated that we would not have nearly enough time to embrace the magnitude of the park. Easily one of the biggest National Parks either of us have ever been to and to truly experience the sheer size of Yellowstone you really need a few days to do so. But regardless of time, we made the best of it. Later in the afternoon we drove to the northern part of the park to see some of the more famous waterfalls that make this park such a treasure. Lower Yosemite Falls was a must and we got their with an hour of sunlight to spare. The size of this waterfall and the valley it looks over was absolutely mind blowing and we were both at a loss of words for the first time of the trip. We quickly hustled to another overlook of the back of the falls, snapping photos along the way before we lost our ideal light. The life of a photographer is always slow during the day and the most stressful in the early mornings and magic hour evening when the light is best. As the sun began to set we spent the last moments in the park overlooking an open meadow, hoping for some clouds to amplify the sunset. But with a lack of clouds, and the heavy winds picking up we decided to pack it up for the night and head back to camp. Our last night in Yellowstone was the coldest of the trip and our frustrations with camping next to generators and RVs were starting to become real. The night was still beautiful though, sitting in front of a campfire and admiring some of the clearest skies we’d ever seen. Tomorrow we head to The Grand Tetons.
Day Seven - The Grandest of the Tetons
Before heading out to Yellowstone for good, it was time for one last sunrise. A sunrise that was not as epic as we had hoped but a beautiful scene nonetheless. We headed to the lower geyser basin, about 10 minutes from our campsite to witness some early morning Geysers while the sun rose over Yellowstone Lake. Although nothing to compete with the epic-ness of the falls the day before, this basin was one of our favorites and felt so peaceful that early in the morning. After spotting a few elk roaming through the basin, we warmed up and stopped off at a breakfast buffet inside the park before heading south for the Tetons.
The Grand Tetons - the almost 14,000ft mountain range just south of Yellowstone, left us in awe for the entire two days we were there. Although only 30 minutes from Yellowstone this beautiful landscape felt completely different from it’s bigger brother to the North. As we drove into the Teton mountain range the colors of the Aspen really began to show. The vibrant yellows and rich oranges of these trees lined the mountain range, making everything look more like a painting than reality. With no reservations at any specific campsite, we decided to look outside of the park at the Bridger Teton National Forest. We had done some research on a campground called Shadow Mountain that had some killer views of the Grand Tetons from outside the park - which meant they were both free and a bit more rugged than what you’d expect inside the park. At this point we were ready for something outside the norm and away from other people for a night of some privacy. The only downside to doing this was we had to get to the campsite early to make sure we had a spot and without any camping gear to secure it, we would have to hang out outside of the park for the day - not a problem at all. After stopping at the visitors center to pick up some bear spray (yes, bears are an issue here) and a lesson from the ranger on how to properly use it, we headed toward Shadow Mountain. The first spot we found had a beautiful view up fairly high of the Tetons but was obstructed by a tall aspen directly in front of our site. And the only other site in the area (which was the perfect spot in the entire forest) was taken by a couple and they were not leaving any time soon. Given how risky it was to give up a spot so far from the park, we chose to take it as a reserve and set up camp for the night. It was still early in the afternoon so we chose to hike higher up into the forest to scope out some other vantage points. As we were coming down the backside of our hike we stumbled upon an opening that was an unclaimed campsite - and OH MY GOD - it was perfect. The view from this site was one we had both had pictured in our heads and not a soul was around to claim it. So, we sprinted, (carefully) back down the trail in our hiking boots, quickly packed the van and drove up to our oasis for the evening.
The most peaceful campsite we’ve ever stayed at and the best part about it…it was free. In the distance we could hear a handful of people at their campsites scattered throughout the forest but for the most part we were alone. Although super peaceful, it’s a very weird feeling when you are told that there are bears in close proximity to your campsite. Needless to say we were a little more careful camping here than inside the park. At this point in the trip we were both dying for a shower, so what better time to use our solar shower than here. For those that do not know what a solar shower is, it’s basically a 10 gallon bag that you fill with water and heat during the day. On one end is a handle to hang the bag from a branch or something with height and on the other end a small shower head. This bag came in handy so many times throughout the trip in environments like this one where a shower is not an amenity you can expect. We spent the rest of the evening sitting around a wonderfully crafted fire, sipping on some craft beer, eating a hot bowl of mac and bean soup and widdel-ing our own knives. The silence was so peaceful and if we could have stayed in the moment for the rest of the trip, we would have been content. Because of the fear of bears in the area, we ate early and packed everything up as the sun was going down to avoid any reason for a bear to come sniffing around. As the sun went down and the stars peaked out we got cozy and climbed up into our camper, leaving the sides open to the fresh Wyoming air under a sky full of infinite stars. The night was beyond perfect as we both fell asleep with permanent smiles on our faces. The rest of the trip would be hard to beat this night.
Day Eight - Teton to Jackson Hole
One of the many perks of visiting The Grand Tetons is how close you are to Jackson and the infamous Jackson Hole ski resort. Only 10 minutes down the road is the cozy little country town known as Jackson, which we had yet to visit. Today would change that. First - the most beautiful sunrise of the trip. We woke up around 5:30am to get a glimpse of the sunrise in front of the view that we worked so hard to find. Without any clouds, once again, the burn was not as epic as we would have liked but the second the sun rose over the peak to the east it lit up the top of the Grand Teton mountain range a beautiful pink color that we could have only seen from the exact spot we were watching it from. It was a pretty incredible experience to see such a beautiful sunrise without moving from the comfort of our rooftop camper. Naturally, we had our cameras ready to go to photograph the scene, but it was not lost on us how lucky we were in this moment.
With the best light of sunrise coming to an end we scurried to pack up the van and heat the car to drive back down to civilization. For another epic early morning spot we stopped at the Mormom Row Barn right outside of the Tetons, another iconic spot to photograph. We then spent the early morning securing another campsite for the night, this one unfortunately was not free, but was another beautiful spot surrounded by lush and colorful hints that Fall was in full force. Once we paid for our spot and made sure we had a solid place to sleep for the night, we headed into the park to spend a few hours checking some sights off of our list. Schwabachers Landing, the famous Snake River Overlook (often visited by the likes of Ansel Adams and other famous photographers, and a handful of other scenic overlooks. We stopped off at a local convenience store to pick up cold cuts and found the most secluded spot in front of Jenny Lake to enjoy our lunch away from tourists. Something we always try to do when visiting places that are as popular as these parks is finding the off-the beaten path routes that no one else will venture off to. By putting a little extra effort in, it really makes the experience more fulfilling and overall way more enjoyable. We enjoyed turkey, pesto sandwiches, cold lacroix and a view of the lake that was breathtaking. From that point it was time to head south for an afternoon of Jackson shopping and exploring.
At this point it was the first time we had really been around people outside of a campsite or national park, so we were pretty excited for a change of scenery and some much needed change of clothes. The town of Jackson is super cool and has that old western feel, with a taste of the old money influence. We spent a couple hours walking through souvenir shops, and local artist stores, laughing and enjoying having no set plan or agenda. To really fit in with the wealthy Jackson crowd we impulsively spent way too much money on matching Patagonia half zips…totally worth it. Dinner was definitely one for the books. We were recommended a local bar/restaurant by a townie, which did not disappoint. We sat at the bar drinking some hoppy IPA’s, and feeling it way quicker due to the elevation. The best part of the meal was the elk sausage that was included on an insanely delicious charcuterie board - gone in 60 seconds. We both discussed how amazing it would be if one day when we have kids we revisited this exact spot so we could all relive the trip as a family. It was a night we soon won’t forget and one that we both look back on fondly. Back to the campsite for some early shut eye with even more of the trip ahead of us.
Day Nine - Moments to Moab
On the 9th day of our trip, we intended to head out of Wyoming early as we were driving to Moab Utah to meet up with some close friends. The drive is not close so we knew we wanted to get on the road to avoid getting in too late..but Wyoming had one last plan for us before we left. After two days in Wyoming, we still had not been to Jackson Hole and in the summer months before the rush of the winter snow bunnies the resort has an Air Tram ride that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain - nearly 11,000ft in elevation. Sorry Moab - you’ll have to wait a little bit longer.
The air tram for the price is totally worth it and we recommend anyone visiting Jackson Hole in the off months to experience it. For $35 a person you get to ride up in one of the gandolas, normally used for skiing. You get an incredible view of the Teton Mountain Range and the Bridger Teton National Forest. As you continue to climb to the top, the view just keeps getting better. Unfortunately for us, we happened to go on a day where the surrounding wildfires had caused huge fog banks and haze for miles, blocking much of the spectacular view that they sell you on. Still, it was a pretty cool ride up. At the top of the mountain, you can walk the trails or hike any of the surrounding paths if you’re up for it. Given our timing we just chose to walk around and take photos, struggling to catch our breathe with every step. After about 30 minutes, we went to hop back on the tram to take us down, when out of the blue two hippie looking guys with Paragliding chutes on their backs held open the door…”Hey any of you guys wanna take the scenic route down? We have two spots left.” We looked at each other, contemplated what we were doing and sprinted off the tram faster than any other couple on there - securing our spot as the two brave souls who were willing to paraglide off the side of the 11,000 foot cliff. Something we are both very passionate about and find extreme satisfaction in, is living in the moment and being impulsive in situations like this. Saying yes to things and embracing uncertainty, which ticked all the boxes in this instance and could not have been more incredible. As we were in the air the smoke began to clear and the visibility became way better. With our cameras strapped around our necks, we made our pilots fly closer to one another so we could document this insane experience. Two years ago we went Sky Diving in Central California and although the rush and adrenaline is way higher jumping out of an airplane - paragliding is a way better experience.
About 20 minutes later and we were safely on the ground; an hour and we were headed south toward the western part of Utah - both so fired up and smiling cheek to cheek from one of the most memorable moments of the trip. Moab - here we come.
Day 10 - Who Wants to go for a Ride?
We arrived to Moab WAY later than expected the night before due to some Siri malfunctions and road closures. 12 hours later - we had made it to Moab and were ready for sleep. We woke up early in the morning, the first night of the trip we had slept in a real bed outside of the camper. Honestly, it felt like we had abandoned our van, but it was nice to have a hot shower and see our friends. The days agenda? Mountain Biking. Yep, something neither of us have done in years and were on the fence about, but ended up being the coolest part of the entire trip.