Virginia Beach, VA to Durango, Colorado

Friday, April 28, 2006 - Alaska or Bust! We were underway about 10:00 AM, soon after rush hour, and arrived at the house of our daughter, Jenny, in Richmond, VA, a few hours later.

Driveway camping - a great way to visit friends and relatives. Close but not too close and all have their privacy. The host doesn't feel as obligated to feed and entertain us and the visit feels more relaxed for all of us.

The building behind our RV is not a garage nor is it a storage shed. It's the Tiki Lounge, a really cool place to hang out or party, watch TV, throw some darts, and have a few cool ones.

Monday, May 1, 2006 - We said goodbye to Jenny and, after a brief stop at Appomattox Court House, VA for a history lesson, we arrived at Camp Wal-Mart in Bristol, VA. We have spent 424 nights in this RV and 9 of those have been at Wal-Mart. We only stay at Wal-Mart when we are in a rush to get from point A to point B, driving late into the evening and/or leaving early in the morning. If we can find a spot along the curb with our slides curbside and somewhat hidden from view, we will extend the bedroom slide. Otherwise, we leave the slides in and try to look as if we are parking, not camping. We observe the RVers' Good Neighbor Policy.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006 - Here we are at Camp Sam's Club near Memphis, TN. We are right next door to Wal-Mart. We didn't stay at Wal-Mart because of the barriers shown at right. These are at all entrances to the Wal-Mart parking lot and are meant to discourage trucks. The height is 12' 4" and most RVs can clear the barrier. I wasn't sure about my RV. These barriers were also at the Wal-Mart in Jackson, TN.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006 - After a 3 hour drive, we arrived at the FamCamp at Little Rock Air Force Base. It feels good to slow down a bit - we drove 493 miles yesterday! Our average daily drive in this RV is 185 miles.

Last winter, while we were at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, we were invited to join the USAF Frequent Camper program. This program encourages eligible members to visit all or many of the FamCamps. For a cost of $25, you get 5 coupons for a free night of camping each and a logbook. At registration, an entry verifying the visit is made in the logbook. When visits have been made to 10 different FamCamps, another 5 coupons for free camping are issued. So, our next FamCamp visit at Tinker AFB will result in a savings of $26, more than the cost of the program.

Saturday, May 6, 2006 - Arrived at the FamCamp at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Interstate 40 through Oklahoma has some nasty sections with rough pavement, potholes, and heaves that make for some uncomfortable towing. Some of the worst Interstate I have seen.

While here in Oklahoma City, we visited the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This is a first-class museum celebrating the North American cowboy. It includes exhibits of the art and sculpture of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington and many other western artists. If you are a fan of the old West, you're gonna love this place.

Monday, May 8, 2006 - We are camped at a city park in Dumas, TX. It is actually a large, level asphalt area at the rear of the park with electrical hookups (50 & 30 amp) at each of the 20 sites. The sites are not marked except for the location of the electrical pedestals. A dump station and water spigot are nearby. And the best part - camping is free! (although donations are accepted). Only two negatives - they ask that you stay no longer than 24 hours and the train tracks are about 300 yards away. The exact location of the campground is N35 52.041 W101 58.778

Once you enter Oklahoma heading west, the land begins to take on the appearance of the Great Plains. The trees become smaller and fewer and the vegetation adapts to this semi-arid climate. Since trees no longer block the view, you can see for miles. Oil wells, cattle, and cowboy boots.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - After leaving Dumas, we made a brief stop at Capulin Volcano National Monument near Capulin, NM. Compared to Mt. St. Helens, it is not a remarkable sight but it was only a few miles from the road and access to the summit was easy and provided a great view of the surrounding countryside and the Rocky Mountains almost 100 miles away.

Arrived at the FamCamp at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs and woke up the next day to a cold crisp spring morning with a light dusting of snow! This is a beautiful setting in a Ponderosa pine forest at the base of the Rocky Mountains. We visited the Garden of the Gods and Seven Falls. Here are some pics.

We took the cog railroad to the summit of Pikes Peak. It was a clear day and we could see the Rocky Mountain range as it extended into New Mexico, 145 miles away. Because of the altitude (14,000 feet), Carol got dizzy and I could also feel the effects. The views were spectacular but the photos that I took were not very good.

Gas mileage had been good as we entered Oklahoma then dropped a bit as we encountered strong headwinds driving across the state. The next two fillups were below 10 MPG and I began to wonder if something was wrong with the truck. I had never gotten MPG figures that low before. We left Sayre, OK at 1800 feet altitude and began a slow but steady climb to 7800 feet as we crossed the Colorado state line. I hope that accounts for the poor gas mileage. Driving around Colorado Springs, I got almost 18 MPG (not towing) so that seems to indicate that the truck is OK.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 - This morning we headed out for Great Sand Dunes National Monument with a short stop at Royal Gorge Bridge. I thought this bridge was built by the Colorado Department of Transportation to carry traffic over the gorge. Wrong! This bridge was built as a tourist attraction and the road is there to bring in the tourists. Very little traffic is allowed on the bridge and RVs are definitely not permitted. The admission fee is $21 per person but we arrived at the right time (Mother's Day) and all mothers were admitted free and military (including retirees) received a 50% discount. Here are some more pics. We left the Royal Gorge and enjoyed a beautiful drive as we followed the Arkansas River upstream to Salida, CO.

We arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park and set up camp in Pinyon Flats Campground. Nice campground but definitely not designed with big RVs in mind. Out of 88 sites, I could fit in only 4 or 5. Fortunately, one of those sites was vacant when I arrived. No hookups, which is not unusual for national park campgrounds. We got our wildlife fix as three mule deer browsed just outside our window.

Weather in the Rocky Mountains sure changes quickly. In a matter of 10 minutes and 10 miles the temperature went from 71 degrees to 48 degrees and back to 71. I left Colorado Springs in shorts with the temps in the high 60's. Now it is blustery and cold and in the low 50's.

Monday, May 15, 2006 - This picture shows the scale of the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Those two little specks in the middle of the photo are people climbing the dunes. After a trip to the visitor center and a hike to the dunes, we were on the road by 11:00 AM headed for Durango, CO.

I survived the trip down from Wolf Creek Summit. I was worried about this part of the trip because it looked pretty nasty on my topographical maps. Nine miles of 7% grades. I had to stay in first gear at 25 MPH, otherwise, I could not keep my speed down without overheating my brakes. It is times like this that I wish I still had Big Red with its Jake brake.

Fuel MPG is back up to normal and we climbed some pretty serious hills on this last tank. Did I get some bad fuel in Oklahoma? These $100 fill-ups are becoming quite common. I remember two years ago, on our first trip out west, and diesel fuel was $1.529 when we left home. It was quite a shock when, 5 weeks later, our first fill-up in California was $2.229. Now I'm happy if I can get it for less than $3.00!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 - We are staying at United Campground, along the Animas River about 4 miles north of downtown Durango. I usually avoid private campgrounds because they often charge more than I am willing to pay and the sites are too close to each other. But United provides a good bang for the buck with full hookups, a full selection of cable TV channels, and free Wi-Fi with a strong signal and a fast connection. The campground sits in a grove of large cottonwood trees which provides ample shade.

The historic Durango-Silverton Railway runs by the campground and offers a good view of a late 1800's passenger train complete with a real steam engine. We thought about taking the train to Silverton but, with prices starting at $62 per person, we decided to drive instead.

Highway 550 north from Durango is a beautiful scenic drive right into the heart of the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies. This is especially true of the section from Silverton to Ouray, The Million Dollar Highway. As the road winds through the mountains, there are many narrow sections with hairpin turns, steep grades and very few guard rails. This caused Carol to freak out on several occasions because of her fear of heights.

After a short stop in Silverton for breakfast, we continued on to Ouray. Ouray is called the Switzerland of America because of its location in a high alpine valley surrounded on three sides by the San Juan Mountains. After a few hours in Ouray, we arrived back in Silverton just in time to see the arrival of the Durango-Silverton train. Silverton started out as a mining town and it has not changed much in the past 100 years. All streets are dirt and gravel except for the main thoroughfare.

Durango, CO to Page, Arizona