Saturday, November 26, 2011

Camping with off-road vehicles

Recently a question came across the Facebook page for full-time traveling called Families on the Road. A gentleman wanted to know how campgrounds and state parks react to off road vehicles, ATVs in particular.

We have been traveling full-time for over three years and during that period we have hauled our off-road vehicles across the country. As we made the hard choices of what to bring on the road and what not to, our ATVs were something that had to come. Off-roading is something my husband and I have done since we were very young and is a family hobby we all enjoy. It was hard to imagine traveling to so many beautiful places and not get to experience from the seat of a four wheeler.

There is something different when you experience nature while being in it rather than driving by it in a vehicle or taking the same tour that hundreds others have taken that same day. Sure, we do those things, but sometimes we come across a place that is only accessible by off-road vehicle and that is when the fun begins.

Before I get all weepy eyed telling you the wonderful adventures we have had together in the wilds of America, I will get to the logistics of traveling with off-road vehicles.

This is how we do it.

We have a 42’ Toy Hauler fifth wheel camper. The back end of the camper comes down to form a ramp that we can drive our ATVs into. The room is 8 ½ by 12. The floor is rubber and has places for tie downs to attach. We payed the extra money to get a gas tank that is under the back room. It has a nozzle to put the gas into the ATVs. I must admit, we rarely have used it. I don’t like to have gas fumes in our camper. Call me crazy, but I like all our brain cells. I think my husband and son have lost enough siphoning gas out of our van for the ATVS.

When we started our trip we actually used the garage area to store our ATVs. After we had our last child we decided to take them out and make that back room into a permanent kid’s room. It has carpet on the floor, toys everywhere, and school books on the desk.

We bought a second vehicle, a 15 passenger van, which I drive. It hauls a 16’ flat bed trailer with four ATVs, 4 kayaks, a Kawasaki Mule, and bikes. My husband is a master at putting them all on like a puzzle. Tie downs, straps, and more straps are used to hold everything snuggly in place. He checks and re-checks each strap before we head out and at every stop to make sure it is safe.

My husband drives a Dodge Dually one ton pickup that pulls our camper. I drive in front of him with the van and flat bed. He stays behind to make sure the trailer is pulling right and everything is secure.

Not all campgrounds like two vehicles and two trailers. But, most don’t mind a bit. They usually have a spot for us to park our extra vehicles.

State parks are different. Usually they charge per vehicle and trailer. Some have even charged per kayak and ATV even though we weren’t going to use them there. Needless to say, we didn’t stay at those.

National campgrounds are more tolerant. They usually don’t care if you park on the grass, how many vehicles you have or how many people. They almost always are friendly and courteous. Some have a two week limit but others do not. Camping spots are usually larger and more space in between.

As far as riding on state or national campgrounds – they do not allow it. No riding on their property. They do not mind us parking our flat bed with the toys on it but by no means are we to ride them around.

We try to always let them know that we have no intention of doing that.

So, sometimes we have to trailer our off-road vehicles and other times we try to camp near a national forest so we can ride from our camper.

Each state has different regulations as far as stickers required to ride there. Different counties have different regulations also so be sure to check out local laws before making your camping reservations.

Now, to the cry me a river part of my post. I just have to write it, though. I want you to know why we go through the trouble of hauling these expensive toys across the country.

Life has never been easy for us. My husband was severely ill for 13 years with nerve damage to his face. When he was finally well, he decided to do this trip. Once again, life was not easy. Our first year on the road was really hard. That is why we did year two. The first year was not what we thought it would be so we wanted to keep going so we could experience the wonderful times on the road that we had sacrificed so much for.
Badlands of South Dakota

We love traveling now, but it is still hard. So, when things get tough, we leave our camper and go into our huge back yard, the United States. When I jump in the Mule with my kids and we head up a mountain to explore this amazing country of ours, all the troubles of yesterday, today, and tomorrow just melt away. Nothing else matters when we are traveling down a road with the wind in our hair and the dust at our back. We never know what is around the next bend; sometimes a mud hole and other times the most beautiful aspen forest or mountain.

We have ridden in deserts, mountains, forests, and near lakes and rivers. I love to bike ride, but I cannot take six kids on bikes 40 miles around a mountain or desert in a day. Driving through the landscape in our van is nice but how much better when we can get off the main road and be in the landscape instead of just viewing it.

I pray that God would give us a treasure when we head out on an adventure. We might find a beautiful tree or a sparkling stream. Sometimes the treasure is a rock worn smooth by the wind or a deer that lopes through the woods. Treasures are to be found everywhere if we just slow down our busy lives and take the time to look.

ride to the San Juan Mts outside of Mancos, CO

I can hardly wait for hunting season to be over so I can grab my kids and head out into the woods to learn about trees, fishing, hiking, beaver dams, deserts, drought, floods, and sun…by being in it, on our off-road vehicles.
Gabriel and I go for a winter ride in Mark Twain National Forest , Missouri

Cody on his ATV enjoying the desert in Arizona

Shae misses his KTM. He sure enjoyed while he had it!

Our family enjoys picnics up in the mountains.

We love to ride where the van can't go.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

4th of July in Oakley Kansas in the middle of the glorious wheat harvest.

After leaving Marysville, Ks, we spent the night in Oakley, Ks.  It is a very small town on the way to the border of Colorado.  We happened to arrive while the wheat was being harvested.  I told the kids how blessed we are to live in a country where there is so much food. 

That night we celebrated the 4th of July.  The fireworks were so short and so small but we thought it was great the town still held them.  I loved it just as much as a big show.  So many towns don't have the money for a show but somehow this little town found a way to spend some money to remember our freedoms and how special they are.

As I stepped out of our camper to watch the fireworks with my family and numerous wheat harvesters, I was taken back by the thick smell of cow poo!  Wow!  It was so smelly!  I don't think we have ever camped anywhere it stunk so bad.

We all laughed and thought it would make for a memorable 4th of July!

It was very surprising as we pulled into Colorado.  The landscape was extremely dry with almost no trees.  This type of terrain stretches for miles and miles.  There weren't many crops because of dry conditions.  Slowly, we made our way to the Rocky Mountains and finally saw Pikes Peak.  It was very exciting to see the famous mountain and our soon to be home for a month.

Pike's Peak is in our sights!

Pike's Peak in the distance.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Colorado or South Dakota? Where to go? ...On to Colorado!

Sometimes choosing where to go next is very difficult.  It is not just about what we want to see or where we haven't been; we have many things to take into consideration and that can take a lot of time.

This summer we had to chose between Colorado and South Dakota.  Shae, my hubby, had talked about going to Colorado all winter.  He had never been there and really wanted to go.  So, after our time was up in Texas and then Missouri, we were ready to head to Colorado.

Sadly, the area we were planning on going to had wildfires.  I had lung problems when I was pregnant and we try to stay in clean air environments.  Smoke is not one of them.  Also, with the wildfires in Arizona, the wind was bringing the smoke north and into Colorado.  With all of these complications, we decided to give it two weeks to clear up and if not we would head to South Dakota and the Black Hills.

With the hot weather fast approaching Missouri we decided to head to Marysville, Kansas for a week and then make our final decision there.

Thankfully, the fires were almost gone and that put Colorado on the agenda for the summer.  We love South Dakota and were a little sad to not go back, but we had heard so much about Colorado we thought we better go.

There were two campgrounds we were considering staying at for a month.  The first one was in Canon City on Hwy 50.  It is called Starlite Campground.  The rates were extremely affordable and it has a pool so we were a little excited.  The only down side is that it is in high desert.  We really wanted to see the forests in Colorado. 

At the last minute we found the Krystal Kangaroo Campground in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  Some friends of ours were doing some volunteer work at a Nazarene Camp in Divide, CO. and told us about the Krystal Kangaroo.  We would have gone to the Nazarene campground for volunteer work, but it does not have full hook ups and is over 9000' up.  Our friends had us up for dinner and it is a lovely camp that I do recommend.

On to the Krystal Kangaroo.... Well, we were told it is nothing fancy and that is the truth.  I even found an opinion on line about the place that was not favorable.  But, the price was great and it was in an area we wanted to see.  The ride up to the campground made me a little nervous -though, Shae had no problems with our huge camper.  He maneuvered it like a pro up the hills and corners to the campground.  Pulling in, we found the end spot that we requested.  I try to get a site on the end so we don't have neighbors on both sides.  The kids can get a little loud so it is better to have some privacy.  As we were deciding if the spot would work, the camp host came down.  She looked a little nervous as she saw both vehicles, camper, flat bed, four ATVs, four kayaks, seven bikes, and then six kids hiking around.  I reassured her we were respectful and good neighbors.  Someone had told us the camp hosts were not nice but I must disagree whole heartily.  She was such a nice lady.  We hit it off right away and felt at home almost immediately.  I find that if you just give a person a chance to shine, they will.  She was very welcoming and friendly.  The campground does have rules which we tried to obey.  I think as long as campers obey the rules and try to be respectful to the owners and neighbors, we can leave having a great time - for everyone. Also, the campground was clean and well maintained.  It is not a fancy campground, but for people who are there to see the sites and just need a good place to come back to, this is great.  We prefer not to park in towns so this campground was perfect.  It had beautiful views, privacy, quiet, and adventures with wild life.

While the guys were getting the camper pulled in, the kids and I were at the van.  Suddenly, a deer just walked out of the woods and right up to our van!  It wanted food!  Later we were told the deer there only like potato chips and popcorn.  The kids were hilarious as they stood in shock at the deer approaching our van.  I know that all wild animals can be dangerous so I told the kids to get to the other side of the van and I politely shooed the deer away.  It went around the van and to Cody who loved the visitor.

The excitement didn't stop there!

The camp host told us that there are two mother bears and cubs that frequent the campground.  There is also a mountain lion that comes in that area.  At this point I was thinking about leaving, with all of the kids, I don't like to be in the "wild animal" situation.  But, we decided to stay and give it a try.

About 30 minutes after arriving we hear the camp host calling to us to come to her home.  I put the kids in the van and drove the 100' to the front of her house. 

There they were....mama and baby.

We were so close to them, but in the safety of our van.  Mama decided to walk closer to us and the camp host walked to the van quickly.  We all know very well the dangers of a mother bear.

Mama bear didn't get too close and went back to her cute baby.  The kids loved seeing the bears.  What an amazing experience.  It was great because we were in the safety of our vehicle with a can of bear spray in a bag in the middle.  Otherwise, I would have had a heart attack.

And so begins our adventures at
Krystal Kangeroo
Manitou Springs

(sad update - the mama bear and cub had to be put down.  She was getting into homes and becoming a danger to those in the area.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pony Express Rides Again! Marysville, Kansas

Traveling this great country brings such amazing experiences.  Getting to enjoy the actual place where the Pony Express got its start.  Of course, the actual riders began in St. Joe, but Marysville is where so many of the important historical events happened. 

There is still the real Pony Express Barn that has turned into a museum.  I love taking the kids to the actual location where history happened.  Instead of just reading it in a book, which we do also, we get to hike, walk, explore, and study the original places.

It is not a huge museum, but very informative.  I recommend everyone go to this wonderful town and please, don't miss this museum!

The city pool is wonderful. We bought a season pass for our short stay as it
was less expensive than daily passes.

There is a little sod house to look at in the park.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Historic Trails Park in Marysville, Kansas

My earlier post talked about staying in the city park in Marysville and the wonderful Pony Express Museum.  I would like to share more of the numerous memories we made in such a small town.

We made the short drive to the Historic Trails Park.  There are plaques that describe the different historical trails that passed through Marysville on the way west.  There is the Morman Trail, Military Trail, Oregon Trail, California Trail, Overland Express, Pony Express, St. Joe, and Otoe-Missouria.

There is also a model of the original ferry that crossed the Big Blue River there in Marysville.  The Donnar Party crossed here and the first person, the mother-in-law died at this location. 

The park isn't far from town and doesn't take long to check out and is a great history lesson.

Ferry at Historic Trails Park

Plaque at Historic Trails Park

Friday, September 2, 2011

UTV in the Mountains of Colorado - Home School Fun!

We had a great time today taking my new Kawasaki Mule UTV up the mountains of Colorado to study beavers.  There is no better way than to actually see what you are learning and no better way of getting there but in an off road vehicle.
The trip to the dam was stunning.  All the kids were in seat belts, talking, laughing, and having a great time.  We have a roof on the top to keep the sun off the kiddos, so there were no complaints about the heat.  It was so relaxing for me – the mom.  During the day, life in the camper can get quite crazy, so those moments where all the kids are safe, happy, and hooked-in bring such a peace to my heart.  It is refreshing for my soul to take the kids up into the stunning Rocky Mountains for an afternoon of adventure and learning.
aspen forests near South Fork Colorado

While driving we talked about the Aspen trees, mountains, logging, and anything else we saw on the way to our destination, over 9000' up the mountain.

The Beaver Dam made a small pond that all the cows seemed to like to drink at.  As we jumped from the UTV, we had to dodge cow patties randomly dropped by the huge beasts.  At one point the cows seemed toCows at beaver dam in South Fork, Colorado think they could run us off.  I told the kids, “No way!  We drove all the way up this mountain to come here, it is our turn!”  The cows didn't seem to listen to me and continued to push us away from the pond.  Needless to say, I am not quite brave enough to run a herd of cows off of what is actually their home, so the kids and I climbed in the UTV to wait them out. 

Tytus honked the horn hoping to run off the cows at the beaver dam in South Fork, Colorado

Tytus honked our horn a couple of times, hoping to scare the cows, but they didn't even look up. 

After the cows moved on, we hiked up stream to play in the water, so we weren’t playing where the cows pooped.

Kids study beaver markings at beaver dam in South Fork, ColoradoWe didn’t see any live beavers, but we did see the aspens they had chopped down with their huge teeth. The kids made their own beaver dam in a branch off the main stream.  Cody helped them build it while I kept watch for poop, cows, bears, and mountain lions.  Thankfully we were by ourselves for a while!

kids help build their own beaver dam in South Fork, Colorado

Cody and kids were soaked building the beaver dam.  It lasted a little while before it fell apart. I guess we don't make very good beavers!

Our time in the mountains, exploring as a family, is one of my fondest memories of our trip.  As I write this my heart returns to those mountains…
 Sheri with kids at beaver dam in South Fork, Colorado
  Cody came along to help his mom on the adventure up the mountain in South Fork, Colorado
Beaver Dam in aspen forest South Fork, Colorado    
 Kids playing at beaver dam in South Fork, Colorado
Hanna reading books on uses for aspen trees in South Fork, Colorado

Hanna enjoys reading our books on the natural, edible, and medicinal uses for the plants around us.  Here she is studying how we can use Aspen trees and Ponderosa Pines.