A monthly travel journal from two full time RV nomads about RV living and full-time travel.
It's the evening of December 1st and I'm sitting on the couch to write this, snuggled under a fluffy white blanket. Our little home is decorated for Christmas and I've taken to lighting apple cinnamon and pine scented candles every morning, and not blowing them out until we go to bed each night.
We are in Lyons, Colorado and the town is lit up with an eclectic assortment of multi colored Christmas lights. There is a pot of split pea soup simmering away on the stove and it all feels very cozy and content.
We arrived in Lyons on November 14th after a couple of gorgeous weeks at Dead Horse State Park in Utah.
Both of us were born and raised in Colorado, spending our entire lives here before moving into our 5th Wheel RV 19 months ago. It's where our daughters, extended family, and many of our friends are. So, during the holiday season, it's where we are as well.
Coming back to Colorado is always a mixed bag for us. As Colorado natives, we never imagined that any other place would ever feel like home. Every time we left the state, traveling for work or for pleasure, coming back to Colorado felt like coming home. Because it was home.
But a funny thing happened when we moved into a home with wheels. We realized that our sense of home didn't extend to the city or state in which we lived.
It was surprisingly easy to pack that deliciously comfortable feeling of being "home" into 400 square feet.
As we travel, the scenery changes, but we are always home. And, oddly, Colorado doesn't feel more like home than any other place.
So much about our world has changed since we became RV nomads.
Some of the changes were normal and expected. Our daughters moved out on their own, one settling into her first apartment, the other going away at college, both starting their own lives and making us empty nesters. We embraced the life of nomads, happily discovering that this lifestyle fits us exceptionally well.
Some of the changes were terrible and unexpected. We lost our son to suicide and watched as unfathomable grief moved in and made itself at home, just like it was part of the family. Which, I suppose, it is.
All of it has changed us in small and enormous ways. So, it's a strange thing to come back to our home state, where everything looks just as it did when we left it.
Of course, looks are deceiving. No place passes through time unchanged. But it sure can feel that way.
Coming back to Colorado means remembering the whole of our life before now. Memories both good and bad lurk around every corner. They are both welcome and not.
Coming back to Colorado means inserting ourselves back into long established social systems of our own making. Some feel like that soft, comfortable sweater, you pull out and snuggle into when the weather first turns cool.
Others are more complicated and feel confusing and stressful. Some have lost their shape alltogether and need to be redefined or let go with grace and gratitude.
Coming back to Colorado for the holidays means participating in some traditions, leaving others firmly in the past, and floundering our way through the creation of new ones with limited success.
Some of it makes me want to stay (beautiful daughters of mine). Some of it makes me want to run.
So, you know... life. Each of our lives are not unique except to us.
I think for many people the holiday season holds a similar experience - a time when the past, present, and future come together into a big gigantic mess. It's both pleasant and not. We look forward to it with both happiness and dread.
So, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate I hope in the midst of the madness there is also love and laughter, good food, good memories, and the opportunity to care and be cared for. I hope there is generosity. And I hope you get the one thing you most wish for.
Now. Here's where we were in November...
Dead Horse Point
Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah rises about 2,000 feet above the Colorado River and offers spectacular views of Canyonlands National Park. The area includes miles of hiking and biking trails and is only 30 miles from Arches National Park and the city of Moab.
As a friend of mine pointed out when I told her where we were heading next, "Dead Horse Point" is a strange name for a state park. Apparently, the point was used in the late 1800's as a corral for wild mustangs. The horses were herded onto a narrow neck of land that was fenced off with branches and brush.
At some point, a group of horses were left stranded in the area, dying of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.
A terrible name, with a horrific story behind it, to mark an incredible location that is 100% worth the visit.
Life is weird.
Dead Horse Point was not originally on our 2021 Travel Schedule.
The plan was to stay in Devil's Garden Campground in Arches National Park. But... Devil's Garden is a popular place and there are really only one or two sites big enough for our rig. And, whether or not those two spaces would actually work was a going to be a gamble.
So, when I logged into the reservation system on the first morning the spaces would be available for the dates we wanted and couldn't get either of them, we were both disappointed and relieved.
Soon after looking for alternatives to Devil's Garden, I discovered Dead Horse Point State Park and booked a space there instead.
Our space was nice and large and right next to a path that led to the canyon's edge. We walked down that little path several times over the 2 weeks we spent there to watch the sun set over the canyon.
Besides the incredible canyon views, one of the best things about Dead Horse Point is the trails. The park includes paved and dirt hiking trails and the Intrepid Trail System for mountain bikers which includes slickrock sections, looping singletrack, and sandy washes.
We made good use of our new electric bikes, chasing the last bit of daylight at the end of each workday and always managing to be near the canyon's edge at sunset.
Hiking in Arches National Park
The other thing we loved about Dead Horse Point is its proximity to Arches National Park. We visited Arches for the first time last year and couldn't wait to go back.
As with other national parks, Arches experienced record breaking crowds this summer. But by the time we arrived in early November, the crowds had died down substantially. We enjoyed a couple of sunny, 60 degree days at Arches with short lines into the park, and no trouble finding a space to park at trail heads.
Our favorite hike was Delicate Arch. It's a moderate 3 mile hike with about 500 feet of elevation gain along gravel paths and sections of slickrock. The higher you climb, the better the views.
Delicate Arch itself is the largest free standing arch in Arches. And it's massive, towering nearly 50 feet high.
Along the way we saw people of all ages and ability levels. Even though the hike can be somewhat difficult in places, it's within reach for most people, and 100% worth it.
Moab Restaurant Recommendation
One final thing I wanted to mention about our stay at Dead Horse Point State Park is a restaurant we discovered in Moab called Hidden Cuisine.
Needing to run a few errands, we headed into Moab on a Friday night and stopped for dinner at Hidden Cuisine, a small South African restaurant that's a bit off the beaten path.
We enjoyed our meal so much that we went back again the next week. If you're ever in Moab, do yourself a favor and check it out. We recommend the Lamb Shank, Bobotie, South African Style Ribs, and Flourless Chocolate Cake.
Thanksgiving In An RV
This year's Thanksgiving included 5 RVs + 2 tiny houses + 15 adults + 13 children + enough food to feed the entire state of Colorado + total chaos from morning to night.
Having had some time to reflect on the day, there are a few things I would have done differently...
The meal was somewhat of a "potluck", with different families contributing a variety of dishes. All the food was delicious, but in retrospect, a more cohesive menu with fewer dishes would have probably worked out better.
One of the biggest challenges was keeping the food warm. With limited space inside our tiny RV kitchens, my mother-in-law brought several chafing dishes that we set up outside.
By the time we were setting food out, it was late afternoon. The sun was going down and the temperature was dropping quickly. So, the food that we set outside, even in the chafing dishes, didn't have much of a chance of staying warm.
The other thing I would have done differently is the dessert table. Having hosted Thanksgiving at our home for the past several years, I'd always set out a variety of pies for dessert. I did the same thing this year, but wished I'd set out plates of cookies and bars - finger food dessert - instead.
Here are the recipes that I would likely use again for a similar gathering:
And here are a few recipes that would have worked better for such a large crowd:
A large pot (or two) of soup or stew that could be kept warm on a stovetop, such as:
Casseroles that retain their heat well, and can be easily reheated:
- Double Crust Chicken (or Turkey) Pot Pie
- Lasagna Bolognese
- Lasagna Béchamel with Mushroom Ragù
- Cheese Enchilada Casserole
Finger-food desserts such as:
- Buttermilk Caramel Cupcakes
- Brookies (Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownie Bars)
- Cherry Shortbread Crumble Bars
- Lemon Bars
- Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
We enjoyed a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning before everyone packed up and headed home.
I made my standard Everyday Buttermilk Pancake Recipe, which I've been making for years (and years). BUT, this time I cooked the pancakes outside on my new Blackstone griddle, cooking them 8 at a time. 🙌
Which brings me to...
This Month's RV Renovation Projects: Outdoor Kitchen Remodel!
Days before Thanksgiving, we finished the remodel of our outdoor kitchen, and I absolutely LOVE it!
As we mentioned in last month's issue of Let's get Lost, our Heartland Cyclone 5th wheel came with a standard outdoor kitchen that included a slide out metal countertop with a sink (no drain), a two burner gas stovetop, a super tiny refrigerator, and a television.
Here's how we transformed this space into something much more useful (for us):
- We replaced the metal countertop (and drain-less sink) with butcher block
- We replaced the two burner gas stove with a 22-inch Blackstone Griddle
- We removed the tiny refrigerator and added a slide-out shelf as a permanent platform for our Traeger Grill and Smoker
- We removed the television and added a metallic peel-and-stick tile backsplash.
The new set-up is perfect for the kind of outdoor cooking we like to do and a great compliment to our indoor oven and stovetop.
Having never cooked on a Blackstone before, I've now used it to make several meals and already know it's going to be one of our most used upgrades.
(See last month's issue for a before photo.)
The Tools of Our Lives: We are so screwed
This month, I want to talk about the tool we use more than any other: The screwdriver.
But... screwdrivers are boring and nearly everyone has used one, so I'm not actually going to talk about screwdrivers but rather my Milwaukee ¼ inch Hex Impact Driver.
When we first started out on this adventure of full time RV living, I was using a Milwaukee ½ inch Drill Driver.
Both drills run off of the M18 Lithium battery packs, which can be a bit expensive to get started with, but that's basically the same across all the different brands of electric battery tools.
After a few months of using the drill, I was getting frustrated with the size. It's a bit too heavy and gangly for most of the applications I was using it for.
So I finally bit the bullet and bought the ¼ impact driver and that made all the difference. It's a decently smaller tool, and is much easier to use in tight situations.
Also getting screws in and out is much better because it doesn't twist your wrist if what you are working on is jammed or stuck. Because it's impact I had a much better time getting screws out without striping them.
This is by far my favorite tool, it is really versatile and easy to use, and switching between bits is easy.
For the first 6 months of traveling, every single time we opened up the RV after traveling we had screws on the floor from somewhere. Sometimes we would find where they went, but most of the time we didn't. The RV manufacturing process is not strong on cleaning up, so I would not be surprised if there were lots of dropped screws in the ceiling.
Even though we purchased our rig brand new, there were so many places with half screwed in screws or extra screws lying around. If you are have an RV, you know this is just the truth of RV life, and so it's essential to have a great screwdriver.
(By the way, I haven't really found a reason to pick one tool set over any other. My main motivation for buying Milwaukee was that it is sold at ACE Hardware, Home Depot, and Amazon, giving me a decent chance of finding something that I need, no matter where we are.)
Our spot in Dead Horse Point State Park had electricity but no water or sewer hookups. To limit the amount of dishes, we relied heavily on recipes from this list of 50 One Pot Camping Meals.
But, I was also settling into cool weather days and in the mood for homey, comfort food. So, one night after a long bike ride, I Chicken Pot Pie, a recipe that's been a family favorite for over 20 years.
And, at the end of a particularly cold and windy day spent mostly inside, we turned on a movie while I made a pot of Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup and it 100% hit the spot.
I also made a Tamale Pie right before we left Dead Horse Point because it travels and reheats well.
And, as I do at the end of nearly every long-ish stay in a location that's a good distance from a supermarket, I relied on this recipe for White Beans on Toast because it's one of the best ways I know to create a delicious meal from a can of beans, some stale bread and whatever loose vegetables we happen to have rolling around in the back of the refrigerator.
What We're Reading, Listening to, and Watching
I have been taking my precious sweet time reading the latest Amor Towels book - The Lincoln Highway. I'm nearing the end, and as is the case with his other two books, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, I'm not ready to be done.
I read Rules of Civility years ago and it's one of only a small handful of books that I've read multiple times.
I was equally enamored with A Gentleman in Moscow, a delicious story about many things - history, politics, romance, espionage, parenting, friendship, and loyalty AND one man's love of good food and good wine. Early in the story, the main character orders a bowl of Latvian Stew, a dish that so intrigued me, I recreated the recipe.
I am just as in love with The Lincoln Highway and recommend it without hesitation.
Podcasts and Audiobooks!
This month, most of our listening hours were devoted to....
- My morning routine almost always includes listening to The Daily Podcast from The New York Times, and depending on the topic, What's Next from Slate.
- Both Steve and I are devoted listeners to Sam Harris's podcast Making Sense, tuning into each episode within a day or two of its release. I am not overstating things here when I say that this podcast often feeds my hunger for intelligent, reasonable discussion about important issues in a way that feels necessary for my well being.
- After re-watching A River Runs Through It for the first time in 20 years, we were inspired to do some research into the origins of the story, discovering that the movie is based on a semi-autobiographical novel. We immediately downloaded the audio version of the book - A River Runs Through It and Other Stories - and just started listening to it. Having spent time in Montana this summer, the imagery in the book is bringing back a host of welcome memories.
Movies and TV!
After writing last month about the entertainment value of Y: The Last Man (Hulu), we have officially given it up. It just got too over-the-top ridiculous for our tastes.
We are slowly making our way through the second season of The Morning Show (Apple), and still completely engaged and invested.
We have also been, intermittently, watching old episodes of Seinfeld because that shit never gets old. 😊
I also started watched a documentary mini series on HBO Max, The Way Down, about Gwen Shamblin, the founder of a diet program Weigh Down Workshop and The Remnant Fellowship Church. I might comment more on this series in a later issue. For now, I'll just say that anyone with an interest in cult psychology and religious ideology will likely find the series insightful.
December always finds me energetically contemplative about the year ahead. I am thinking about priorities, wants, desires... but not goals or resolutions, both of which I gave up a few years ago.
I am ironing out the details for our 2022 travel schedule, which I will publish soon. This blog will undergo some reorganization and changes, all I hope for the better.
I am learning to make plans for the future without holding too tightly to the outcome, and doing my best to enjoy the present. Cheers to that!
So, happy holidays, friends. May the last few weeks of the year include people you love and experiences that are meaningful and memorable.
Do you have questions for us? Comments, concerns, or recommendations? Please leave a comment below!