We got up bright and early on a Saturday morning that happened to be my 41st birthday. We still had a lot of last minute things to do, and as those last minutes turned into hours we both got decidedly itchy to hit the road. Finally with everything squared away in the RV for our journey and the home for our absence, we left the house at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
That day's drive was meant to get us to "somewhere in Montana". That was about the level of planning we had for any stage of the trip; we would see where and how far the day took us and alter course/speed if needed to catch up.
The border crossing was pleasantly uneventful. One guy kept us busy talking while we could hear the other half-heartedly open and close a few cabinets in the back; then we were waved on. Thankfully he didn't open the cabinet with the (fake) machine guns or the (fake) 12 gauge pistol or the "tactical warhammer" or the very real combat and survival knives.... while all perfectly legal, that might have gotten awkward.
We did get to Eureka, Montana to catch up with an old friend and colleague of mine. We were apparently some of the first visitors he's had in five or more years of living at his acreage, and he and his wife greeted and treated us like royalty. He showed us around the place a bit, brought out a few of his favorite guns for us to admire, and mentioned that he had an RV pad out back and we were welcome to park there if we wanted to stop for the night. After brief discussion we decided to take him up on it. We'd only been driving for 6 hours or so, but given the lateness of our departure and the earliness of our morning we figured we only had maybe an hour left in us anyway.
The RV pad was just a small cleared area on his property next to a power outlet and a water hose, but it was home. It was a little sloped, but I didn't think that that would be a big deal and was too tired to break out the leveling jacks. Lesson number 1 of our RV introduction: Level is important. Sleeping slanted is not good sleep. Oh well :D
The next morning started quite literally with a bang, as he let me fire his prized .480 revolver at jugs in his back yard. Welcome to America! :D We chatted for a bit longer, then had to move on. We left laden down with gifts of hunted venison, salmon caught by his wife from the stream running through their land, and a small necklace from her import business for D. I felt terrible that we hadn't brought any gifts, but in all honesty we didn't know when we left if we were even going to be stopping there, much less about the hospitality and generosity we would receive.
Lots of anti-meth billboards in Montana. A depressing amount, really.
I took a picture from the cab in each state; they really only vary in color and brightness; always a road leading into the mountains... every shot pretty much the same. This is Montana's.
I will spare you the rest; according to one commenter they really made her not want to do any road trips :D
Montana is a big state, and we were traversing the longest part of it going north to south... eventually we hit Idaho well after sundown and shortly thereafter, we stopped at a RV park and called it quits for the day. I honestly don't remember exactly where :/
In the morning we saw billboards for "Idaho's largest Military Surplus Store". So you know where we stopped :D It honestly wasn't much, I mean it was big but mostly because they had 12,534 copies of everything they carried. For the Calgarians, imagine Crown Surplus mixed with Ribtor. OK, on second thought it was pretty awesome, but it wasn't anything we hadn't seen before either. I guess I was expecting racks of M240 SAWs or something. I still somehow spent $65, but that included some camo netting and warning flags that say MINES on them. Yes, I totally needed both; you'll see :P
Into Utah we go, and at some point the turn signals crap out. What is it with me and turn signals? So we got to do Salt Lake City rush hour with no signals. I did discover that if you put the 4-way flashers on in a flat black RV at highway speed in Mormon country people back off enough that you can change lanes anyways :D The only truly tense moment was when a state trooper pulled up behind me, lights blazing, and the people in the next lane wouldn't let me in... the 4 ways went on, people backed up, and the cop ripped past us thankfully with a bigger issue on his agenda than foreigners with faulty equipment.
Quick shot of the sunset as we headed towards the tiny corner of Arizona you go through en route to Nevada.
At some point in one of our gas/food stops...
CHAOS FLAVOR CHIPS? In a very unchaotic moment I read the label more closely and it was just all their other flavors mixed together.. ew. But cool nonetheless.
Late that night, weary and by the incredibly dim light of the crappy RV headlights, we found a campsite off the side of the road in Arizona, and immediately fell asleep.
The next morning, we awoke to a surprise - we had camped right next to a gorgeous red rock canyon; exactly the kind of landscape I've always been fascinated by. Pulling into our spot in the pitch dark we had not had any idea of what beauty surrounded us.
After soaking in the sights of our temporary front and back yards, we headed out once more into Nevada and some of the most striking terrain in North America.
We skirted Las Vegas and checked out the Hoover Dam. There is a security check to even get your vehicle onto the road that goes over the top of the dam, and I was once again glad that we had made all the RV's "costume" removable. We made some comment about the cheesy 70s interior compared to the flat black exterior and one guard said "Don't worry, we see worse... daily" :D Satisfied that it wasn't a bomb delivery device they waved us on.
The dam is an impressive feat of engineering, especially considering it was built in the 30s well before AutoCAD.
A tribute to those who died in the construction. All sculptures from the 30s just remind me of BioShock now.
This shows the new bypass bridge, the outbuildings in the canyon below, the crazy power line supports jutting out from the canyon walls on the left, and the main dam building on the right.
We walked across it and back, had a look at the architecture and the surrounding canyon, and then had to move on to the main attraction.
Next up was the Grand Canyon; the main reason for this jaunt 100km out past Vegas in the wrong direction. On the way there we passed mile after mile of dirty, desolate washed-out towns, all largely for sale... my desire to eventually buy a parcel of desert land to build a compound on started to dwindle. It's hot, the dirt blows everywhere, and the whole place has a depressing hardscrabble feel to it.
To get to the Grand Canyon Skywalk we had to travel 25 miles or so of badly washboarded, twisty dirt road. In one tight corner the back end slid out about 6 inches under power and I realized... "I'm drifting an RV!!!" :D So for a while there was more of that, just for the obnoxious hilarity of it, until the vibrations from the washboards caused the fridge door to fly open and our food to go spilling out all over the back end of the living area :/
Eventually we got to the Indian reservation the Skywalk is on, and the road was suddenly paved again and regular speeds could be resumed. Then we finally got to the canyon.
Neither Dani nor I had ever seen it before in person. I'm sure hundreds of thousands of words have been written to describe it, and where they have probably fallen short I'm not even going to try. If the word "epic" had not been appropriated by teenagers to describe a night of getting drunk it might be a good start. Suffice it to say that all of the marvels of human progress pale in comparison to the effects of water's simple, slow, but inexorable march over time. If you get the chance, see it. The skywalk juts out into the canyon and hangs over the canyon floor a distance that the tour guide described in units of "minutes of freefall" :D
Sadly, no cameras are allowed on the walk itself. The floor of it is glass, and supposedly one tourist dropped his camera and chipped it. I'm sure the fact that they will take pictures of you and for you and then sell them to you for $20 doesn't make them want to reconsider.
Walking on a glass floor that high above the ground is a bit of a trip. Jumping on it even more so :D
For a sense of scale, the river in this photo is 3 miles away.
The Skywalk is part of a historical park of sorts which also includes the ruins of an old cable car station that used to ferry guano miners across part of the canyon.
Standing on the ground, looking down at a helicopter...
These two again?
I was impressed that in this modern age of the nanny-state and warnings on toothpicks that the canyon edge was wide open. No guardrail, no fence, not even a sign warning of the effects of gravity over long vertical distances. It almost felt like both business and government trusted people...
There are a few other attractions on the reservation as well, such as examples of various kinds of native shelters, and a reproduction ranch where we got cowboy-action gunfighting lessons (which consisted of "don't aim, just draw and pull the trigger" - not sure I'll be taking that to heart :P) and hatchet throwing lessons, which I actually did learn from. We also got us some very good BBQ and it being closing time, headed back to the parking lot.
As we approached the RV, D asked "hey did the exhaust always hang down that low?"... and no, no it did not. A quick check revealed that the screw holding in the exhaust mount must have vibrated loose. Thankfully we brought a lot of tools expressly for this kind of purpose and had a hanger bolt left over from the window armor. We were on our way, exhaust secured in place, in about half an hour or less.
There was no drifting of the RV on the way back to the main highway. Once on it, we took the Hoover Dam Bypass, a recently completed new bridge over the Colorado River that eliminates the need for the security checkstop and the tourist jams.
Close to midnight we pulled back into Vegas and found an RV park for the night.... behind and affiliated with one of the large casinos. That town knows how to get the money into the gambling machines pronto. Given the hour and the fullness of the day already, we just went to bed.
In the morning I started the process of trying to contact my family in Vegas. Apparently they had all changed their cell numbers since I had last spoken to them (we're not exactly close, I guess) but I did know where one of them worked, at a large Walmart-esque chain store. So we went to the nearest one (needed to grab a few things anyways) and asked around, and I was eventually able to call him at his desk. We drove to the location he did work at, and then with him driving his car (big slow vehicle + no signal lights + big city = suck) we picked up another of the half brothers and we all went for pancake "lunch" at IHOP (And why do these not exist in Canada???) which was nice, and then the brother that was driving had to go back to work.
We had a few other errands to run in Vegas, including grabbing some additional RV costume items from a Halloween store and looking for a specific mask that D wanted from Il Prato but they didn't have it. Since we were in a casino at that point already we clearly had to play the Star Wars slot machine, too :D
After that we took a cab back to the RV, still where we had left it in the store parking lot, and proceeded to head towards the Wasteland. With the event not officially pre-opening until the next day, we looked for an RV park nearby. Like in Arizona, I was struck by the repetitive nature of seeing one dried-up town after another slip by us into the approaching dark. Eventually (and again well after sunset) we found one that was open near one of the many tiny airports that dot the Nevada countryside.
We drove back towards the Wasteland, having overshot it the previous night in the search for an RV park. Mexican lunch and a supply run in California City ensued, as well as a run through a car wash to get 2000 miles of bugs off the grill guard D had painstakingly made for the occasion. California City has both more real estate for sale, and more wandering junkies, than it had last year. One basically begged us to let him help us wash the RV, and then afterwards demanded $10 for his approximately 5 minutes of work. He got a pretty good deal with the $3 and polite "goodbye" that he got, IMO.
So far the trip had looked roughly like this, not taking into account all of our looking for RV parks, wrong turns, etc :D Finally we arrived, with most of the day still ahead of us for once!
We took our spot in the compound wall, put on the first part of the RV's costume, and began helping with setup...