This month has involved a lot of travel! Our first week was spent relaxing a bit in France after having hosted a slew of his family and friends. Then, we flew back to Canada, picked up Totoyaya, and headed south – as quickly as possible, for winter had definitely arrived in Ontario!
We crossed the US border in Detroit and made our way toward Chicago along the interstate highways (something we rarely do) to make good time. Then, we opted to take a bit of a touristy road trip south, following Route 66 from Joliet, Illinois (almost the starting point) all the way to Arizona. I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences along this infamous all-American Route very soon on the blog so do look out for that in the next week or so.
We opted not to take Route 66 to its final point in Los Angeles because we got side-tracked by the Petrified Forest National Park and the beckoning warm weather of Arizona’s southern cities. We spent a bit of time in Tucson, visiting the nearby Saguaro National Park, and ended our month in Phoenix. These two national parks were my first two in the United States, so I am looking forward to sharing my impressions and photos of these visits later in the month.
As for our time in Tucson and Phoenix, we’re here beginning our U.S. search for a new camper van. I expect that much of December will be taken up with this task.
This Month’s Statistics
Flights Taken: 3 (Montpellier to Paris; Paris to New York; and Newark to Toronto – it was a very long day!)
Countries Visited: Also 3 (France, Canada, and the US). As far as the U.S. goes, we stepped foot in 9 states (4 of which were new to me), thanks to our Route 66 road trip!
Kilometers Driven: A whopping 4,822! WOW, this is by far the most kilometers Bruno and I have ever driven in a month, and probably the most kilometers Bruno has ever done in a single month in all his 18 years of overland travel. Interestingly, all but 600 of these kilometers took place during the 15-day period between our departure from Toronto and our decision to leave Route 66 at Petrified Forest National Park.
Nights in Campsites: 10
Overnights in Parking Lots: 13. Read below for the details.
This Month’s Camping Situation
Finding overnight accommodation this month was a fairly big challenge. Campsites were even more expensive than in Canada, which I’d already complained was the most expensive country for camping I’d ever visited. In the U.S, most campsites (also called RV Parks) are between $30-50USD per night!! Not only that, but these parks are composed almost entirely of retirees in gigantic RVs and motorhomes, which isn’t our personal camping style. This is especially true in Arizona, where at least half the RV Parks are for 55+ only.
A few times we found cheaper campsites – like the run-down trailer park in Oklahoma, the communal campsite a couple nights later, and the state park campsite in Arizona – but a few times we paid $30 to camp for a night because we desperately needed a shower!
The other thirteen nights (though, somehow, it feels like more), Bruno and I sampled the gamut of spots that offer free overnight RV parking in the U.S. We tried rest stops along the interstate, Walmart parking lots, gas station truck stops (now called “travel centers”), and casinos. Of all these places, I preferred the Walmarts. We had access to 24-hour toilets, Wi-Fi, and a grocery store if we needed anything. It was also the quietest option because we were always able to find a back corner in the parking lot. More than all that, though, is that it was the most wholesome-feeling option. The rest stops and gas stations are full of male truck drivers, so I’m not very comfortable there, and at the two casinos we tried, we had to go through a large smoky room full of gamblers to reach the toilets.
With each of the free overnight parking options, though, I was pushed to levels of discomfort I have not yet known in my overlander life. You can’t bring out your camping chairs or tables, so we were limited to very small living quarters for 15-hour periods (which, to be fair, was also true at many of the campsites because of the freezing weather at times); you can’t cook outside, so we ate a lot of ready-made meals this month (which is not my cup of tea); and most importantly, there were no showers. I often went several days without showering, and once I didn’t take a proper shower for six entire days – a lifetime first!
If I wasn’t totally convinced that Bruno and I need a larger camper van with a toilet, shower, a larger water capacity, and a grey water tank, I sure am now!
Notable Camping Spots
We didn’t do any bush camping this month, mostly because we didn’t really have time to get off the beaten path. We did, however, find one superb campsite and another pretty decent one that I can recommend.
1) Gilbert Ray Campsite in Tucson Mountain Park. GPS 32.223229, -111.144689. This place is in a breathtaking setting, surrounded by the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. It’s just outside the entrance to Saguara National Park West and there are several hiking trails within walking distance of the campsite. It’s also very affordable – $10/night for a tent (we put a tent down even though we slept in the car), and $20/night for an RV (with electricity). There are restrooms and running water, but no showers (the only real downfall).
2) Communal RV Park on Lake Reno, Oklahoma. GPS 35.518753153948, -97.986223697662. We found this place by accident, and happily spent a day by the lake surrounded by Canada geese. The site is $5 for a tent and $15 for RVs (with full hook-ups), and there is a shower/toilet block. Besides the noise of the nearby highway, this was a pretty darn good spot.
Also, a note for RV people (and those that don’t need toilets or showers) – all through Oklahoma and Texas we came upon free RV Parks along the side of the main road in little towns. They are totally free and they usually come with full hook-ups, too. They are generally right along the road, there isn’t security, they don’t have toilets, and they are occasionally squatted by long-term trailers, but they are still a great option. We only stayed at one of them, though, because it was right beside a gas station for our toilet needs.
High and Low Points This Month
The low point this month was definitely the results of the U.S. election, especially because it occurred on the first day of our long-term travels within the U.S. The election briefly caused me to reconsider our travel plans, and it has triggered many difficult emotional and intellectual moments as I navigate the people and places I encounter. I guess that’s part of travel and personal growth.
The highlight this month was getting to visit my first American National Parks. My brother and sister-in-law gifted Bruno and me a one-year America the Beautiful National Parks pass, and we are so stoked to spend as much time in as many national parks as possible during our U.S. travels.
Another highlight was getting to celebrate my 3rd wedding anniversary with Bruno a few days ago. Since we were in Tucson, we opted for a totally American celebration – going to the movies and then out to dinner at a local Sonoran/Mexican restaurant!
What December Will Hold
Our sole goal in December is to find a new vehicle and begin converting it into a new camper van. I’m not sure whether we will find the vehicle in Arizona or California, but I expect we will spend Christmas and the New Year in the Pacific Southwest of the country. Stay tuned on the blog to see what vehicle we purchase and to watch the conversion process!