Head West! One Family’s RV Trip
Folklore tells us stories of how the geologic wonders of the western United States came to be, from Paul Bunyan forming the Grand Canyon to the trickster coyote turning the Legend People into stone to form the Bryce Canyon hoodoos. These stories lend a mythic allure to the west, which draws many families every year, including the Pearson family of Jeffersontown.
When Brian determined that he would be able to take a three-week vacation in 2016, Jennifer began doing research on renting an RV, but she realized that they rented out quickly. “I was posting on some RV forums on Facebook when somebody in Louisville saw my post and said, ‘We might be willing to let you rent from us,’” she says. After contacting their insurance company, the Pearsons determined that the private rental would work for their trip from late August to mid-September.
Because the RV was so big (at 38 feet) and Brian planned to do all the driving, the goal was to drive
between four and five hours every day. Their first stop on the way was St. Louis, Missouri, followed by Kansas City, on the line between Missouri and Kansas. Selina, Kansas, came next, and then the Pearsons had their first big stop: Mesa Verde in Colorado, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The family stayed a couple days there and then drove to Arches National Park. Bryce Canyon was next on the list, followed by Zion National Park.
The Grand Canyon was the last national park they visited before starting the journey home to Louisville. During the trip, they also veered into New Mexico and Texas.
Jennifer says Bryce Canyon was her favorite location because it is a mixture of evergreen trees and red rocks. With an altitude around 5,000 feet above Arches and Zion, it was considerably cooler, too. She and Claire did some horseback riding at both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. The family hiked at every park they visited, and both kids participated in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program.
Jennifer homeschools Claire and Ian, so the trip was both fun and educational. She laminated a map of the U.S. so that the kids could use dry erase markers to map the route they drove each day. She brought along books on the states they
passed through, as well as on Native Americans and the Pony Express.
The Convenience Factor
Jennifer says packing the RV took two days and felt strange. Rather than folding up clothes for a suitcase, she carried clothes to the RV to hang them up or put them in drawers. The convenience of not having to pack and unpack at each location was a big plus, as was not having to worry about whether they had left anything behind. “It’s like being a turtle,” Jennifer says. “You have your house on your back.”
The Pearsons took in the scenic canyon and valley views out west.
Having a bathroom and kitchen meant they didn’t have to make as many stops along the way. While Brian drove, Jennifer and the kids could play board games at the kitchen table.
Just the experience of being in an RV allowed the Pearsons to enjoy the journey. Jennifer says most trips are about getting from point A to point B as swiftly as possible, but being in the RV allowed them to be leisurely.
The Inconvenience Factor
There were some things about taking an RV that weren’t convenient.
Brian was not a fan of hooking up the sewage line and would don safety glasses, rubber gloves, and waterproof sandals each time he had to do it. Jennifer says she always paid attention to the ground to see if it looked soupy. Hooking up lines — including electricity and water — at a campsite took time and meant that the Pearsons didn’t want to unhook everything each day to drive to a national park. They decided to rent a smaller car once they got out west. Jennifer followed the RV in the rental car. They left the RV at campsites and drove the car to visit nearby parks.
The Pearsons didn’t realize how much maintenance RVs require. “I felt like I was calling the owner of the RV every day at first,” she says. During a repair, the service technician told Jennifer and Brian that the movement of an RV on the road is the “equivalent of going through an extended earthquake.” One day, while pulling slowly into an RV park, the RV rocked, which caused the microwave door to pop open and the glass tray to fall out and shatter.
Another time, when Brian went to open the front panel of the RV to restart the generator, the panel fell completely off. After contacting the owner to notify him, they called The Good Sam Club (which is like AAA for RVs). The representative said to duct tape the panel until the Pearsons could drive to Moab, Utah, and get it fixed, so they did.
Driving the RV was strenuous, especially when Brian had to deal with a high-wind advisory in Kansas. Even though he felt confident that he could do it — and he did — it isn’t something he necessarily cares to do again. Jennifer says the height and weight of the RV made it unwieldy and required Brian to make extremely wide turns, which almost felt like he was pulling into the middle of intersections. “I thought I could drive it until I sat in the driver’s seat and felt like I couldn’t see over the huge steering wheel,” she says.
Not everything on an RV trip is rosy.
On the Whole
Jennifer says that it might have been easier to fly out west and rent an RV there rather than spending a week driving round trip from Louisville. By the time the family was nearing the end of the trip, Claire and Ian were exhausted. When they rented an ATV in Utah, Ian actually fell asleep while riding in it. She says while the kids enjoyed the Grand Canyon, it didn’t have the overwhelming impact it might have had if it had been the first thing they’d seen on the journey.
The adventure did allow the family to spend a lot of time together, see some amazing sights, and learn about another part of the country. It also allowed Jennifer the chance to live out a childhood wish that stemmed in part from taking her dolls on all sorts of amazing imaginary adventures in a vintage Barbie RV. “This was a chance to live my dream,” Jennifer says.
Just as this trip left a memorable mark on the Pearson family, they may have left their mark on the west. One day, in the folklore of the future, storytellers may try to explain the meaning of the spray-painted graffiti left by Claire and Ian at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas — a roadside art attraction along Route 66 that visitors are encouraged to spray paint — and speculate on what this band of travelers did on their own epic journey.
The Pearson family left their mark with spray paint at Cadillac Ranch in Texas at a roadside communal art attraction.