RealImaginaryWest 2017 – Route 66 & Southwest Road Trip

This September we’ll get our kicks on Route 66 as we head to the Southwest! The “Mother Road” starts in Chicago, so we’ll drive out to Illinois and follow it all the way to Los Angeles, camping for a couple of nights at the Grand Canyon along the way. After driving all the way to the Santa Monica Pier, we’ll visit Death Valley and the “Big Five” national parks in Utah. After our stops in Colorado, we’ll have visited TEN national parks in total!

This is our longest trip by far, clocking in at 24 days! We started planning back in January and have our itinerary ready to share below. Watch for our posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with the hashtag #RealImaginaryWest.


Our route along Old Historic Route 66 to the Southwest & Canyon Country for RealImaginaryWest 2017
  • 24 days
  • 6,800 miles
  • 13 states
    OH, IN, IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, CO
  • Old Historic U.S. Route 66: “The Main Street of America”, “The Mother Road”
  • Part of the Santa Fe Trail in Eastern Colorado and across Kansas
  • 10 national parks:
    • Petrified Forest National Park
    • Grand Canyon National Park
    • Death Valley National Park
    • Zion National Park
    • Bryce Canyon National Park
    • Capitol Reef National Park
    • Canyonlands National Park
    • Arches National Park
    • Mesa Verde National Park
    • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Cities:
    • St. Louis
    • Tulsa
    • Oklahoma City
    • Amarillo
    • Las Vegas, New Mexico
    • Santa Fe
    • Albuquerque
    • Flagstaff
    • Los Angeles
    • Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Dodge City, Kansas
    • Kansas City
  • Also:
    • Palo Duro Canyon State Park (TX)
    • Meteor Crater (AZ)
    • Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park (CA)
    • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NV)
    • Valley of Fire State Park (NV)
    • Kodachrome Basin State Park (UT)
    • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (UT)
    • Dead Horse Point State Park (UT)
    • Natural Bridges National Monument (UT)
    • Bears Ears National Monument (UT)
    • Monument Valley (UT-AZ)
    • Fort Larned National Historic Site (KS)
    • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (MO)

Continue reading RealImaginaryWest 2017 – Route 66 & Southwest Road Trip

A Blog Is A Slog – Catching Up

Perfect Is the Enemy Of Good

Sorry if following my blog is like driving in bear traffic. I hope at least that you’ve enjoyed seeing the bison. 🙂

Today is March 9, 2017. Our first RealImaginaryWest road trip was in July 2015, and our second was in July 2016. I’m still editing them. :-/ There are other trips in the Eastern United States I’d like to share with you too. There are also plenty of articles I have planned, like tips on how to road trip and tent camp more successfully so you can avoid some of our mistakes, and tips on equipment and places to see. And this blog is far from the only project I’m behind on.

But alas…I have been working against depression for the better part of the last two years, and that’s slowed me down. I have been battling perfectionism, carefully editing every photo I’ve shot and every line of text I’ve written to make sure it’s vibrant, interesting, informative, fun, and…perfect. >:-/ I love looking back on what I’ve finished so far—but I am constantly fighting the urge to go back and rewrite and rearrange things until I get the larger project finished.

The good news is, I think I am going to win the war! My ambitious goal is to have all of my journal entries from RealImaginaryWest 2015 and 2016 edited and up before we leave on our next big road trip. This is really important to me because I keep thinking of all the cool places we’ve been and I still wonder how my photos turned out. I spent so much time creating so many images and writing so much background on our travels…I want to see these projects finished more than anyone!

So if anyone is actually reading this blog, I hope you’ll feel rewarded as I actually deliver! I have big plans and I believe that getting super sick four time in the last two months may have actually uncovered key underlying causes to my depression. This means that I will hopefully finally have the health I need to focus and see this through. I look forward to finally getting our stories out there to share. I also hope more than anything that I’ll have inspired other people to get out of their comfort zones and explore this wonderful world we live in! Hopefully I can share what you won’t find in the brochures that will help you to be well prepared when you embark on your own adventures!

Hey, How Was 2016?

Anyway, enough about my craziness—let’s talk about RealImaginaryWest 2016! Our first trip in 2015 was exciting, and I think Becky and I both enjoyed ourselves, but we flew very much by the seat of our pants. Becky did a marvelous job planning everything up through Day 4 in South Dakota, and I had made some plans on where we’d stay in the Badlands and Yellowstone, but there were a ton of gaps that I never thought through before we left. Planning your first road trip while you’re on it is probably not a great idea for a couple of anxiety-plagued 30-somethings! I got manic trying to see and do everything, which wore Becky out because she functions much better with more downtime and at least some semblance of routine. I eventually wore myself out too, because I ended up at the emergency room from dehydration! Everything turned out OK (we even went hiking the day after I was in the ER) but I knew at the end of the trip that it would have gone better if we set up more specific priorities.

Our first RealImaginaryWest road trip in 2015 just about fell off the rails on Day 9 of 18. I got some incredible images, like this one, but I almost ruined things for Becky…and myself, simply by trying to do too much in a day. I immediately slowed things down and saved the trip…but better and more considerate planning on my part in the first place would have prevented this!

Therefore RealImaginaryWest 2016 was much more thoroughly planned! I actually spent a great deal of time a month or two before researching and planning which specific activities and sights were important. I made several pages of notes and created a very detailed itinerary. When I shared this with people, many wrinkled their nose and said something to the effect of, “That doesn’t sound much like a vacation!” But hear me out, please!

Continue reading A Blog Is A Slog – Catching Up

RealImaginaryWest 2016 Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Iowa

We took I-80 west from Middleburg Heights, Ohio to the Super 8 in Davenport, Iowa.

Here We Go Again

After weeks and months of planning, we’re on the road again! We traveled 11 states, visited 5 national parks, and visited 3 Laura Ingalls Wilder towns in 2015. It was our very first big Western road trip. We loved it so much that we’re doing it again this year!

My biggest hope is also my biggest fear. (That’s when I figure the payoffs are biggest in life!) I hope that this year’s ambitious trip to travel the Oregon Trail route all the way to the coast and to four (maybe five) national parks will be doable on a realistic timetable. I really hope that it will be fun and…dare I say…epic like last year’s trip!

Continue reading RealImaginaryWest 2016 Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Iowa

Where We’re Exploring in 2016

Becky & I will always remember 2015 as a breakthrough year. We took the road trip of a lifetime and visited so many places we’d only ever heard of or read about. Maybe we saw a few of these places on TV, but it’s just not the same as experiencing it first-hand with someone you love!

But we didn’t just head West last year…we headed south during the peak fall foliage and toured historic and scenic places in Appalachia as well. We had a week off and saw parts of Southern Ohio we’d never seen, drove along the eastern edge of Kentucky and into the western tip of Virginia to visit Cumberland Gap, and then camped and hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Our road trip camping throughout the West emboldened us to do things we’d never done before. I never thought I could camp in a tent if the temperature dropped below 50 at night. I would never have dreamed that we could pretty much fly by the seat of our pants and find motels and campsites pretty much wherever we wanted to go. While it was nerve-wracking at times, I learned a lot about planning a road trip like this and so of course we had to do it again to apply what we learned and go see more!!! The Appalachian road trip was an outgrowth of this emboldening, but to really truly test ourselves, we needed to Go West yet again…

Lightning in a Bottle?

When we packed up our tent last October, we were ready to be done camping for the season and sleep in our bed for the next few months. As the fall and then winter went on and spring approached, we already had the fever to get out with our tent again! I pulled out the maps and decided to mark all of the national parks we still hadn’t seen, and began looking for a route that would allow us to see several parks in one trip like we did in 2015.

Last year’s trip was pretty easy to plan. It all started because Becky wanted to see where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, and I saw that those places would make an easy path west to see four national parks, and that we could then swing south to visit one more in Colorado before visiting my aunt and cousins in Denver for the first time in 29 years. It really felt like the trip of a lifetime, but then again, my trip around California in 2008 felt like the trip of a lifetime too…so even though I felt like we’d captured lightning in a bottle, my prior experience made me think that just maybe we could do it again…I mean, it can’t hurt to try, right???

Lembert Dome, near Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park when I toured California in 2008

Continue reading Where We’re Exploring in 2016

RealImaginarySmokies – Fall Color Camping in the Appalachians

We’re taking one more big road trip to explore our sixth new national park this year and take in the spectacular fall color in the Appalachian Mountains! We start off at our friends’ house in Delaware, Ohio and follow the Scioto River through Columbus to Portsmouth. After following the Ohio River briefly, we’ll head south on US-23 until we get into Northern Virginia, where we’ll go west to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Then, we’ll go through Knoxville and set up camp for four nights in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Finally, we move to Indian Boundary Campground in Cherokee National Forest for a night or two, and then we head back home to Cleveland on I-75 and I-71.

Let’s Capture Some Fall Color!

My original plan was to enjoy this year’s fall color while camping for the week at Hocking Hills State Park. This is hands down my favorite park in Ohio, and always gives me ample photographic opportunities. It’s easy to camp there over a weekend, though, so we’re there rather often. Our RealImaginaryWest road trip in July expanded my mind toward new possibilities…and got me thinking about how to scratch another national park off of our list.

Ash Cave at Hocking Hills State Park in Southern Ohio is the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi…and there are a million other beautiful things here…but we have been here many, many times…

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northeast Ohio

Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

The view from the top of Stony Man in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

We’ve hit three of the four national parks within a day’s drive…Shenandoah in Virginia, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and Cuyahoga Valley in our own back yard. The Appalachian Mountains should look incredible this time of year, although higher and colder elevations up north are probably well past peak color. Trees further south should be at peak this week just like our trees in Southern Ohio, so let’s go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park! When I floated the idea past Becky…she was on board, and I began hunting for campsites…

So off we go on another adventure to what will be our sixth new national park for the year! Back in July, we visited Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Before this, I was always afraid that camping in temperatures lower than 50°F would spell trouble for my asthma, so I never risked it. When I found out that overnight temperatures regularly dip below 40°F at most campgrounds in Yellowstone, I told myself to suck it up…because you’re camping in Yellowstone! Thankfully we risked it and everything was fine, which is great because we’ll have to endure a couple of sub-40°F nights early this week in the Appalachians.

It was well worth enduring chilly nights to enjoy a place like Yellowstone National Park!

Rough Itinerary

Day 1 Sun Starting in Delaware, Ohio, follow the Scioto River down through Columbus to Portsmouth. Follow the Ohio River and then US-23 from Ashland, Kentucky to about Prestonburg or Pikeville where we’ll hopefully find a cheap motel for the night.
Day 2 Mon Continue south on US-23 into Virginia, and then cut over to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, where the borders of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet. From there, we’ll proceed via Knoxville, Tennessee to Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Day 3 Tue Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Elkmont Campground.
Day 4 Wed Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Elkmont Campground.
Day 5 Thu Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Elkmont Campground.
Day 6 Fri Leave Great Smoky Mountains National Park and move south to Indian Boundary Campground on the Cherohala Skyway in Cherokee National Forest.
Day 7 Sat If we can get another campsite at Indian Boundary Lake, we’ll stay one more night in Cherokee National Forest.
Day 8 Sun If we’re still there, we’ll depart Cherokee National Forest and take I-75 and I-71 back home to Cleveland.

Continue reading RealImaginarySmokies – Fall Color Camping in the Appalachians

Afterword: Numbers & Notes

The Numbers

Looking back...
Ingalls Dugout Site in Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Clepsydra Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Huffers Hill at the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park
The summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado
Colorado State Capital in Denver
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kansas

By the time I returned our rental car today, here were some of the numbers from our trip:

  • 4,875 miles
  • 18 days
  • 11 states (OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD, WY, MT, CO, KS, MO)
  • 5 National Parks
    • Badlands
    • Wind Cave
    • Yellowstone
    • Grand Teton
    • Rocky Mountain
  • 1 National Memorial (Mount Rushmore)
  • 1 National Monument (Devils Tower)
  • 1 National Grassland (Buffalo Gap)
  • 7 National Forests
    • Black Hills
    • Bighorn
    • Bridger-Teton
    • Routt
    • Arapahoe
    • Roosevelt
    • Pike
  • 5 State Parks
    • Mirror Lake, WI
    • Mill Bluff, WI
    • Custer, SD
    • Keyhole, WY
    • Buffalo Bill, WY
  • 3 Laura Ingalls Wilder hometowns
    • Pepin, WI
    • Walnut Grove, MN
    • DeSmet, SD
  • First National Park in the World (Yellowstone)
  • First National Forest (Bridger-Teton)
  • Highest continuous road in the U.S. (Trail Ridge Road)
  • Top of a 14er (Pikes Peak)
  • 2 trains (Pikes Peak Cog Railway and RTD Denver light rail)
  • 1 sailboat
  • 1 rental car
  • Numerous hiking trails
  • Accommodations
    • 7 campsites (Pepin, Ingalls Homestead, Cedar Pass, Ponderosa, Canyon, Grant Village, Colter Bay)
    • 4 motels (Janesville, Rapid City, Craig, High Hill)
    • 1 covered wagon (De Smet)
    • 1 home
    • 1 emergency room
  • People We Saw
    • 1 aunt
    • 8 cousins
    • 5 cousins’ significant others
    • 6 old friends
    • 2 photographers
    • Several fellow road trippers
    • Many hospitable westerners

Things We Learned From This Trip

Continue reading Afterword: Numbers & Notes