Life should be fun! Now, I know it won’t be fun all the time, but what’s wrong with trying to make it fun whenever we can? That’s the way I try to make my family’s life – full of fun, learning, exploring, discovering. And fun trips with kids is one way we do it.
Let’s face it, homeschooling can get dull if the routine never changes. Not just for the kids, but for Mom, too. This mom loves change. I love adventure, and I want my kids to love it, too. There are so many wonderful people, places, and things to discover right here in this United States, so our family made it our goal to plan an RV trip with the kids, starting from Florida and going wherever our hearts lead! And we did just that! In 52 days!
From October 1st through November 21st, we traveled in our 32-foot motor home, while pulling our Buick LeSabre on a tow dolly, starting from Central Florida. First we traveled northwest into Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. Then we headed straight west.
As a parent, I make it my responsibility to introduce my children to as many opportunities as I can and help them explore the ones that really interest them. It might take a long time and hundreds of these introductions, but my goal is to help each child find his or her passion and let him run with it! Self-motivated learning is the kind that really sticks!
My story will explain what steps we found useful in preparing for taking a road trip with kids. I’ll show you the many places we visited along the way. We had two specific destinations in mind, but every place else was decided as we traveled. I had one MAJOR goal for this adventure: increased family cooperation and kindness.
Gathering the Needed Resources
First, we needed a motor home.
Having saved $6,000 for this purpose, my husband kept his eyes open for a suitable one. We bought a fifteen-year-old Coachman. It looked used, but everything worked, and looks didn’t matter that much to us. We spent another $600 for new tires and engine lines and hoses, and my husband, who is very handy with automobiles, made sure she was all checked out for a long trip.
For the RV and Buick, we packed:
- extra fluids and bulbs
- spare parts
- a heavy-duty jack
- wooden blocks
- repair tools
- work gloves
- Gorilla Tape
- cable ties
- electric-powered tire pump
For our home school, we packed:
- all the usual office supplies
- craft supplies
- composition books
- math curriculum
- reading material
- Geography Songs Sing Around the World
For our adventure, we packed:
- games and entertainment items
- National Parks information
- Good Sam campground directory
- Passport America campground directory
- appropriate clothes
- food, cooking supplies, and dishes
- cleaning supplies
- personal toiletries
For our expenses, we brought along two credit cards.
First Stop – Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta has a rich Southern history, and Stone Mountain does as well. The park is large and beautiful with lush evergreen trees, lakes, trails, a campground, tours, entertainment, and an opportunity to hike to the top of the huge granite monolith and experience the view for many miles.
Next stop – Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky
About 50 miles long and 10 miles wide, this beautiful passageway was created years ago by an earthquake. We drove and camped in breathtaking scenery, and stopped at scenic overlooks often. We saw our first bison there.
On to the Gateway Arch!
After skirting along the southwest edge of Illinois, we crossed over Ol’ Man River himself – the Mississippi! In St. Louis, we rode 630 feet up inside the (then named) Jefferson Memorial Expansion Memorial. The kids got excited to discover that one of the bridges that crossed over the water below has the same last name we do! Underground, below the Arch, is the exceptional, interactive Gateway Arch Museum highlighting the history of Westward Expansion.
An Unexpected Opportunity
Leaving St. Louis, we headed west and soon spotted a billboard telling of a popular international celebrity who would speak that night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Well, that was right on our way, so we attended the once-in-a-lifetime event before continuing on our adventure.
You see, since we didn’t have a set schedule, we had the freedom to be flexible!
So Far So Good — But Not For Long!
We spent the night in the parking lot of a Kansas Walmart off Interstate 70. (Gotta pinch that penny!) The next morning, the bearings of the tow dolly that was pulling our car broke apart as we pulled away. Yikes!
We carefully unloaded the Buick and slowly pulled our dolly to a repair shop. While waiting for repairs to get finished, we took the opportunity to tour Fort Hays State Historic Site. That repair cost less than a hundred bucks, and late the next evening, we continued to travel and learn.
Along this leg of our journey, we took our time and experienced these learning adventures.
- Missouri History Museum in Forest Park in St. Louis wherewe saw a full-sized replica of the Spirit of St. Louis
- Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
in Independence, Missouri
- Dodge City, Kansas where a woman in character costume told her life story – Mary Fields “The Woman Who Knocks Men Out in Saloons, Mary”. She was the first woman stagecoach driver.
- Fort Larned National Historic Site for a full re-enactment of the experiences of the fort’s past
- Santa Fe Trail
– all we could see were a couple of long ruts in the prairie; most of our learning came from brochures and videos
- A 6,000-cow-per-day cattle processing plant – very muddy and stinky
Spending four days in Kansas was NOT our plan, and we all got pretty tired of the monotonous landscape. In her journal, my daughter wrote in her characteristically droll manner: “I was not amused at the dreary Kansas plains. This is what we saw: puffs of grass, bushes, a cow, a windmill, a bump, another cow, bushes. That’s pretty much what we saw.”
As we crossed the border into Colorado, we celebrated with John Denver’s “Colorado Rocky Mountain High” playing and us singing and rejoicing at the top of our voices! Soon after, we could see Pike’s Peak in the far distance. We were seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time!
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80995
Then, on October 13th, we arrived at the much-anticipated Focus on the Family Visitor Center and had lunch at Whit’s End! Of course, we had to try the WodFamChocSod! (World Famous Chocolate Soda!) Our kids made a personalized Adventure in Odyssey radio production in the radio studio; two of my kids did the characters and two kids did the sound effects. We took the CD home with us as a souvenir! The spiral, 3-story slide was a hit! Our youngest went down it eleven times!
Our Favorite Campground
During our stay at Colorado Springs, we parked our motor home at what turned out to be our favorite campground, Mountaindale Cabins & RV Resort. This was our base of operations for these three days.
Exploring the Rocky Mountains
We spent several days sightseeing in the mountains of Colorado in our car. Each morning, we headed west to explore; each evening, we returned to the campground for the night. Our excursions included:
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Monarch Pass (a point on the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet elevation)
- Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Wilkerson Pass
- Pike’s Peak
Every site had a visitor’s center, and we always took full advantage of the learning opportunities in each. As it struck our fancy (and to take a break from riding in the car), we often stopped at interesting-looking shops and sites along our way, too.
A Funny Story About a Bag of Tortilla Chips
Spontaneous learning occurs all the time! An amusing event demonstrated the following:
“Ambient air pressure decreases as elevation increases!”
The bag of tortilla chips we’d purchased in the Central Plains traveled with us up the mountain. The normally low volume of air inside the bag expanded until it looked like it would pop the bag at any second! The kids were amazed! We all laughed and laughed! Then we discussed what was happening and why. It was a physical science lesson – on the fly!
What To Do Next?
I love maps! I spend an inordinate amount of time perusing them, discovering potential destinations, charting our path to get there! We’d accomplished our first goal for this trip: visit Focus on the Family Visitor Center. We’d learned some American history, economics, geography and geology, patience, and faith along the way. Now I wanted to make a plan to accomplish our second goal: see the Grand Canyon. But by which route? How could we get the “most bang for our buck” so to speak, along the way?
Knowing our motor home’s engine was not strong enough to take us through the high mountains, we headed south from Colorado Springs to bypass the higher slopes. Even so, she really struggled. Arriving in the southern region on Colorado, we visited the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve. We were surprised to find out that this 30-square-mile deposit of golden sand rises 750 feet and shifts regularly with the wind! We hiked out onto dunes and found grasses, a few trees, shrubs, birds, and critters, too!
Our Motorhome Broke Down
Such is life… So a big tow truck pulled her to the repair shop. We checked into a hotel and hung around the Alamosa area in southern Colorado for a day and a half. We found a Wednesday night AWANA youth program at a nearby church that the kids all enjoyed. When our motor home’s carburetor was repaired, I paid the man $700 (ouch!), loaded up the car on the tow dolly, and we were on the road again!
Continuing on our way, we:
- toured Fort Garland Museum, a historic military outpost in Costilla County, in southern Colorado
- hiked up a mesa to see the statues and Shrine of the Stations of the Cross in Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis
- explored Bandera Ice Cave & Volcano in northern New Mexico, hiking the one-hour trail to visit both
- stood in 4 states at the same time at Four Corners Monument
- hiked into the Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
- walked around El Morro National Monument, a.k.a., Inscription Rock, an oasis in the New Mexico desert along the Trails of the Ancients Byway
- drove through Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. (Wow! Such majestic beauty! This was my favorite place on our whole trip!)
- admired the Latter Day Saints Tabernacle in St. George, Utah
- saw real dinosaur footprints at St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site
Finally, Arrived at the Grand Canyon
We entered into Arizona from Utah, so we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was already late October; snow was everywhere! Our Florida children could hardly believe how much snow! Other visitors were sparse, and we had the whole long beautiful drive to the rim mostly to ourselves. The Visitor Center was closed for the season, so we explored the area on our own.
We all concluded the Grand Canyon to be disappointing. The part we saw just couldn’t hold a candle to the majesty and splendor of the 5,000-foot towering cliffs of Zion National Park that we’d visited the day before!
Where Should We Go From Here?
We had accomplished our two destination goals: Colorado Springs and the Grand Canyon. We were in no hurry to get back to Florida. Everyone was cooperating and at peace with each other, and we were learning so much! Since we had come this far, and the motor home was operating well again, we decided on a new destination:
The Pacific Ocean! None of us had ever seen it, so why not?
We consulted our maps again and made a plan. In Part 2 of my story, you’ll find out how many flat tires we changed and whom we decided to visit before heading home. I’ll also share how I taught my kids to compose quality writing every day in their journals while we traveled.
Continuing Our Homeschool (a.k.a., Worldschool) Adventure
Building character in my children is of utmost importance, even above academic acquisition.
RV travel with kids gave us concentrated practice in family cooperation and kindness. By taking advantage of the excellent free educational movies and exhibits at the dozens of visitor centers across the country, we all gained a deeper appreciation for other times, people, and places.
Journaling (in a strategic manner) about what they’d just discovered reinforced my kids’ learning. Today, I still cherish their journal entries recalling the splendid beauty of the natural world right here in our United States!
SO RELAX. Find creative, alternative ways to educate your children. You’ll learn so much, too!
What fun trips with kids has your family experienced? Please tell me about them!
If you have any questions about our trip, I’d be happy to share. Be sure to read Part Two next time.