Summer Chill-Out – US road trip recap

How this all started

I was sitting in Tucson during June 2017, enduring a major Arizona heatwave. It hit 115 degrees in Tucson, and the only saving grace was that we weren’t in Phoenix, which got up to 124! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I’d been trying to work on some Zennie projects, but it was so dang hot that by 8am it was already too much for me. And work goes slowly doing 2 hours a day!

Eventually, I came to my senses and said to myself: “Girl, why are you still here? Does your house not have wheels?”


Uh, yeah. It was definitely time for a US road trip! ๐Ÿ™‚

My first thought was to get to some mountains, FAST, in search of high elevations, tall pine trees, and brisk alpine air. What a heavenly thought, when you’re sweltering the days away in the Arizona summer heat…

5-star boondocking site along Colorado's East Fork Road
Ah… to be up in the cool mountain air again! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Road Trip Plan

Road trip theme: Chill out!

My major goal was to escape the heat and get into the mountains.

This is the advantage of having a mobile lifestyle — the chance to go wherever the weather is good, rather than having to endure a place you’d rather not be.

You can work WITH the weather, turning it to your advantage. High Colorado mountains in the summer, sunny Arizona deserts in the winter. Living in Zennie means I can travel with the seasons, like migratory tribes of days gone by.

But any smart migratory tribes would have been long gone ๐Ÿ˜‰ and it was time for me to get moving!

Looking at maps
Looking at maps – one of my favorite activities!

I pored over maps (one of my favorite things to do!), and decided to head east to New Mexico. I thought maybe a couple of weeks around Ruidoso and Cloudcroft would make a nice Summer Chill-Out getaway.

And I’m sure that’s true — they would have made a nice cool getaway! But things didn’t turn out quite the way I envisioned…


Summer Chill-Out : The Road Trip Reality

Instead of 2 weeks in southern New Mexico, I ended up spending 84 days in 5 western states. And in all that time, I never did make it to Ruidoso and Cloudcroft! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Summer Chill-Out

  • 84 days
  • 5 US states (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah)
  • 5,203 miles
  • Average 62 miles/day

I got off track almost immediately, detouring up to Taos to meet a friend. Other detours took me to Pagosa Springs and Durango to meet friends, and up to Wyoming for the solar eclipse.

Detours or not, for most of this road trip, the “Chill-out” theme worked well. I meandered through the mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, enjoying spectacular scenery and nice cool temperatures. The days were delightful!

BUT… At that point in 2017, there was a lot of news about Bears Ears National Monument being on the chopping block. People said that the Trump administration would probably decide to eliminate it or scale it way back.

So, I decided I had to go there IMMEDIATELY!

Who cares if it’s still 100+ degrees in Utah? I may never get this chance again, so it’s back into the furnace we go… ๐Ÿ˜‰


Goblin Valley, Utah
Utah is amazing, but HOT this time of year! So much for “chill-out”! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Summer Chill-Out : The Road Trip Route

As you can see from the map, this is a meandering route, which bears little resemblance to a path somebody would plan for getting from one place to another!

Route for Zennie's 2017 US Road Trip, Summer Chill-Out
Route for Zennie’s 2017 “Summer Chill-Out” road trip

I was really playing it by ear, deciding week by week and day by day where to go next. This is my favorite way to travel, staying open to opportunities, and making last-minute decisions. It’s a lot of fun, but nobody would say it’s an efficient way to cover the miles!


Summer Chill-Out : Top 3 Highlights

  1. Total eclipse at the Tetons. The total solar eclipse of 2017 was in many people’s travel plans this summer, as it traveled all the way across the United States. Folks from around the country flocked to places in the “Zone of totality” for the event.

    .
    I tried to resist. I had this sinking feeling that I’d drive all the way from southern Colorado up into Wyoming to see the eclipse, only to find that it was raining that day and we couldn’t see a thing.

    The Tetons during the complete solar eclipse
    2 photos about 15 min apart: before and during the total eclipse

    Eventually, I decided to go anyway, though my expectations were low. Was I ever wrong!! Our location right outside Grand Teton National Park provided a spectacular backdrop, and the eclipse itself was amazing! It’s one of the most memorable events I’ve seen.
    .
    And Zennie got to hang out with her special friend George, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Zennie and George at the total solar eclipse
    Zennie and her friend George got in on the eclipse action, too!

  2. Bears Ears and Canyonlands. Utah has some of the most amazing scenery anywhere! I’m including these two areas together because of the overlap. At the moment (before any chopping of Bears Ears by the current government), Canyonlands National Park shares a border with Bears Ears. In fact, when I was visiting Canyonlands, little did I realize that a couple of my favorite boondocking sites right outside the park were actually in Bears Ears! ๐Ÿ™‚
    View of Canyonlands from Bears Ears campsite
    Overlooking Canyonlands, from a perfect boondocking spot in Bears Ears

    Anyway, both of these areas feature beautiful twisty canyons, incredible rock formations with spires and bridges, and amazing hiking (as you might imagine)! Bears Ears also has a wealth of historic sites with ancient ruins and cliff dwellings.
    .
    I could happily spend a month or more exploring this corner of Utah. There is a ton to see, and more hiking trails than I’d get to in a lifetime. But next time, I’ll pick a cooler month! ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. A month in New Mexico. Before I started hightailing it north to meet friends in Colorado, I was just meandering for a month around New Mexico. I started in the Gila area in the southwest corner, and went all the way to a ghost town with family ties in the northeast.
    .
    But most of the month was spent looping up, down, and all around northern New Mexico and the area around Santa Fe and Taos. I found myself back at Wild Rivers (Rio Grande del Norte National Monument) a few times, since I like it so much that every time I went near, it drew me in with its powerful magnetic force. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back there again someday, perhaps for some backpacking!
Perfect spot at Rio Grande del Norte
At Wild Rivers, sitting on the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge

Summer Chill-Out : Top Lowlight

This was a tough decision….

* Should I pick the fact that the solar panels failed and had to be replaced? My theory is that they were damaged by the expansion of the metal roof in Tucson’s extreme heat wave, but that’s another story…

* Or perhaps the blowout on a lonely highway in Utah, which also bent my exhaust and bashed in a storage compartment? If it wasn’t for that good samaritan who helped me out, but that’s another story…


Nope, the winner for Top Lowlight is (drum roll)…

  • A mouse! ๐Ÿ™ And then another, and another… I had Zennie about a year before getting the first mouse in my house, but there it was. It’s hard to explain why this is worse than a blowout, but it totally freaked me out, having this furry little creature sharing my space! ๐Ÿ™
    How can I get rid of a mouse in my motorhome?
    Yikes! There is a mouse in my motorhome! ๐Ÿ™

    I had a real battle on my hands to get rid of the mouse in my RV. And once I finally got rid of the first mouse, another appeared a couple of weeks later, and then another less than a week after that!
    .
    I had to learn a lot about mouse removal and prevention, which I wish had never been necessary. Just thinking about it now gives me shivers down my spine, and I seriously hope to never have to deal with this again. I’ve put in quite a bit of mouse prevention work, but in spite of my best efforts, there will probably come a day when I hear those furtive little noises in the night. No, please no! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ


Summer Chill-Out : Key places

  • Gila National Forest. This is a large national forest in southwestern New Mexico, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s high enough to be significantly cooler than the lowlands, though there aren’t the altitudes you see in Colorado. The Gila River and its branches run through, and there are many miles of hiking trails to explore. A few of the places I camped in the Gila were Cattlemen Trail, The Forks, and Apache Creek.
  • Cliffs above the river in the Gila National Forest
    Cliffs rise above the Gila River

  • Carson National Forest. This forest covers a large swath of northern New Mexico, and I looped around it a few times. The High Road from Santa Fe to Taos passes through this forest, and much of the area north of Taos is part of it, too. The mountains are higher up here, and once again, there’s enough here to explore that it could take forever.
  • Free boondocking campsite in the Carson NF
    Sweet little boondocking spot in New Mexico’s Carson National Forest

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park. When I think of Colorado, I see snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. But oddly enough, in this one portion of the mountain chain, the area below the peaks is full of giant sand dunes. These look like they should be in the Sahara, not the Rockies! It’s a unique and special place, and certainly worth a visit.
  • View from the top of the High Dune, Great Sand Dunes
    View from the top of the High Dune

  • Grand Teton National Park. Simply spectacular! I’d only been here in the winter before, so this was my first chance to get up close and personal with the mountains and do some hiking. Even if the eclipse had been rained out as I feared, it would have been worth the trip up here just for the hiking and wildlife viewing. I saw moose, bear, bison, coyotes, deer and antelope. The mountains themselves are stunning, and it was some of the most gorgeous hiking I’ve done in years.
  • Hiking in Grand Teton National Park
    Hiking in Grand Teton National Park was simply stunning!

  • Canyonlands / Bears Ears. I talked about these above, and don’t have much more to say except that they are amazing! I believe that the special features of Bears Ears deserve the National Monument protections that they currently have, and I’m so sad that it seems it will be dismantled soon. I’d rather see these beautiful places protected for the public’s enjoyment, wildlife and historical preservation, and future generations, than opened up for mining companies. I’m just glad I got to see it before that happens.
    Valley of the Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument
    Valley of the Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument

  • Summer Chill-Out : Road Trip Details

    TONS more info on places and events from this trip! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    PHOTO CREDITS: Mouse – Martyn Fletcher, All other photos – Deanna Keahey

Follow Deanna:

Hi! I'm Deanna, creator of Uphill Zen. I'm currently yondering around North America with my 1986 Toyota motorhome, Zennie. What makes my heart sing is travel, adventure, and the awe-inspiring wonders of nature. Finding ways to share that joyous spirit is what this is all about.

2 Responses

  1. Nikki Kindinger

    Wow! I have been planning a summer road trip for me and my two kids, and when I look at your map, I laughed at loud at how similar yours and mine are! We are heading up to Santa Fe, then Great Sand Dunes, meandering around Colorado for a bit, eventually getting to Grand Tetons, then back down through Utah (we’re going to Capitol Reef and Bryson Canyon Natl parks because the elevation should keep them cooler, at least at night!). Glad to see you enjoyed it!

    • Deanna

      Hi Nikki. –

      Thanks for your comment! I had to laugh when I read your comment about laughing about our similar plans. ๐Ÿ˜€. You definitely have some spectacular places on that list, and I’d say the trip is bound to be a winner!

      Happy travels! – Deanna.

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