This is an experience that was relayed to me by one of my best friends recently.
It was so interesting that I thought I would share it with you and hope that it gives you ideas for your first RV getaway.
My friend bought a top of the range RV but you could make the same trip on a budget, with any size RV or camper trailer.
My wife and I were sitting around one day wondering where to take our three teenagers on summer vacation.
Out of the blue, our son suddenly said, “Dad, I always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, can we camp there?”
Being a good dad, I listened to what he wanted. I also always wanted to see the Canyon myself and my wife was game, too.
Problem: we didn’t own an RV and didn’t know if my Ford truck would haul one.
As a red blooded male, I naturally turned to Google for answers to these questions.
I was hauling me, my wife, our three teens and our active Labrador.
Thanks to my corporate day job, money was no object. So I went for the best.
Where To Stay
First of all, a little research found me this very nice RV park.
It would give me options in terms of having a great home away from home for the kids and we could either cook or eat out, with several options available to us on the park.
Second, the Family Fun plan seemed best for our crew.
A variety of activities to keep the family happy, a train trip for our adventurous twins especially, and a nice restaurant for a special dinner one night.
The park said it could accommodate up to 50-foot trailers, but a little research convinced me I didn’t want anything near that large, even with five people and a dog.
What RV To Buy?
Trip Advisor reported about a 6 to 7-hour freeway drive would get us there from our home in the Tucson foothills.
No tough roads. So I could go big but not too big.
Some further research convinced me what I wanted for my family was a fifth wheel.
I ultimately decided on a Montana fifth wheel so the kids could crash in front of the TV after a day hiking the great outdoors.
This model honestly had everything to make everyone happy.
My wife loved the chef’s oven and the kitchen floor plan. The living room was a good family gathering place.
My research told me quality was important and Keystone is a good manufacturer so checked that off.
What Truck To Buy?
These calculations were so tough I almost gave the job to my corporate CPA.
I wanted to take a trip, not crunch numbers.
I ended up purchasing the 2018 Super Duty F-350 XLT, LWB with Crew Cab, 6.7L Power Stroke Turbo Diesel V8, DRW 4.30. I used a weight calculator to do the numbers.
I decided to purchase the best fifth wheel hitch I could find.
My goal was to comfortably exceed all required capacities and not worry about overloading my truck.
Although our original plans were for a summer vacation, as native Arizonans we know about Arizona summers.
Also tourism info didn’t recommend summer. So we ultimately took our trip during the kids’ spring break in April.
It would be a long cramped ride with the wife, three kids, and dog in my trusty Ford truck. Fortunately, state law permitted them all to comfortably ride in the Montana under mom’s watchful eye.
We had packed plenty of groceries for the trip. We anticipated only having to maybe stop for gas.
The Montana had a spacious 18-foot refrigerator, about half the size of a normal kitchen refrigerator.
It also had plenty of cabinet space for canned goods and dry food. Kids, as you know, survive solely on snacks and soda.
Because we are good parents who feed our kids nutritious food also, we also put fruits and those dreaded veggies in the refrigerator, along with meat to grill.
The cabinets held Hershey bars, graham crackers, and marshmallows for s’mores!
The refrigerator had enough space for not only our food but some of our dog’s beloved cheeseburgers. Every dog parent knows you have to keep the dog happy.
The Montana even had a coat closet we put the dog’s food and treats in, and stored her bed and other supplies there when she wasn’t using them.
With slide outs for the kids and a private bedroom for us, everyone’s stuff was ultimately packed in.
The kids were comfortable in the living room. The dog even had a fireplace to curl up in front of.
Since it was an option, we made sure we got a washer/dryer unit for the RV.
As the father of two teenage girls, I anticipated many clothing changes and wanting to impress any boys they met on vacation.
Road Safety Plans
It was important to plan bathroom breaks for the kids as well as gas up the truck.
You can’t use the bathroom in a towed RV without risk to life and limb.
Fortunately, as we were taking teenagers, we didn’t have to worry about tiny bladders. We did need to make stops so they could be comfortable though, you know how restless teens get!
I had bought an RV with safety glass because my family was traveling in it.
Receiver options for my truck were woefully limited, so in the end bought walkie talkies for all for communication between the RV and the truck.
I had made sure to have a generator installed for comfort and to make sure electronics stayed charged.
Off We Go!
One fine morning, after making last checks of all equipment and having made sure the truck was recently serviced and ready to tow, my wife and I, our three crazy kids and dog all set off towards the Canyon.
The weather is usually good in Arizona. It rains occasionally, but didn’t the day of our journey. We had clear dry roads, excellent conditions. A little traffic in town as it was spring break, but once we hit the open road it was pretty clear.
We had decided to avoid the mess in Phoenix and extend our trip a little bit, so took the 77 to Holbrook.
We intended to stay the night at the famous Wigwam Motel — we wanted to share a little Route 66 nostalgia with our kids.
There is nothing really between Tucson and Show Low except pretty scenery, so everybody was ready for a big stretch when we got there.
We stopped at Maverik Gas & Country Store to refuel, check the RV, and get something to eat.
We traveled on to Holbrook.
Thankfully there were no issues and we successfully checked into the Wigwam. Our kids were entranced with the idea of sleeping in teepees. It was more comfortable than we expected.
There was still time to see this great landmark, just a 48 minute drive from Holbrook.
Teenagers are like cats: made of pure energy unless they are napping. My wife and I still have a lot of life left in us too, so off we went.
It was late in the day and shortly before closing when we got there, and we were also tired from a day of traveling. So we opted to drive through.
We made our way of course to The Painted Desert Inn.
My girls love museums so they enjoyed this stop. Our son was a bit bored but tolerated his sisters’ interest.
The colors in the later light of day were epic.
Our children oohed and aahed at all the lovely rock formations. It was a very nice way to wind down the trip that day.
Next Stop: Winslow
It was an easy drive to Winslow once we were up and going in the morning.
Of course we had to stop: Route 66! Many sights to see in Winslow.
My girls have the shopping gene so enjoyed the Hubbell Trading Post.
For lunch we stopped in the Falcon Diner. Their large selection of diner food was a hit with all of us.
On To The South Rim
We had fun in Winslow so skipped seeing Flagstaff and drove straight through to the South Rim. AZ-64 took us pretty much straight to the RV park.
We had planned ahead and made reservations so just checked in at the kiosk.
The Grand Canyon: At Last!
After getting parked and settled, I of course had to do the hookups, being the guy.
I was a newbie so referred to an info site for help.
The pics and simple instructions made it easy even for a corporate Joe like me.
Our poor dog had been cooped up for the trip so she was super happy to run around the campground. Her red bandana flapped in the breeze as she played frisbee toss with the kids.
It was good for everyone to run around after traveling for a couple of days.
My wife used the kitchen to prepare side dishes and I hit the grill — I love to grill.
Soon I had steaks and hot dogs sizzling for us all to enjoy.
We ate and laughed while sitting at the picnic tables near the RV.
The girls talked about the pics they had taken, and posted them on Facebook. Our son ate most of the hot dogs. And the dog, of course, tried to steal more than her share.
After dinner cleanup came the part all had been waiting for: S’mores! There isn’t a place to build campfires, so once again we used the grill. A little basic instruction and soon the kids were coming up with their own creations.
By then we were all pooped and grateful for the comforts of the Montana. The kids watched a little TV and then happily went to their new beds.
We just curled up in front of the TV in our bedroom to wind down. Lights out on the first night in our new home!
The Mule Ride
How better to explore the Canyon than a guided tour on a mule?
We chose the noon ride so we could all sleep in; it was vacation after all.
After making sure we dressed right for the mule ride, we got to the bus and boarded it.
The kids said they felt a bit like they were back at school sitting on a bus.
Soon the bus deposited all of us at Yaki Barn and we hit the Bright Angel Lodge Gift Shop to finalize our preparations.
The kids all got matching sunglasses; they had been watching The Blues Brothers movie the night before.
That was a long four hours for an old man like me. My wife did better.
The kids just laughed and took lots and lots of photos. One of the mules stumbled on a rock and almost threw my daughter. Fortunately she hung on, none worse for the wear.
Then the bus ride back. I was beat; just wanted to relax, and glad for the Montana. I cranked out the awnings for shade. Had a bit of an issue with them extending, but a gentle tug got them all the way out.
My wife was tired too and I didn’t feel like grilling. Fortunately, the fully equipped kitchen allowed us to prep a quick easy dinner.
There was enough seating for us around the interior swivel table, so everybody hung out with a plate and ate inside the Montana. The kids had the latest Avengers movie on TV. Just like home.
All the traveling got to us, even the kids, and we crashed early.
Thank goodness for our comfortable mattress. But sometimes you wake up at 2 am. I think it happens to everyone, doesn’t it?
Since we were in a spacious RV, I was able to quickly make a cup of coffee in the kitchen while everyone was sleeping soundly.
Even the dog was snoring.
I stepped outside and looked at the stars. It was overwhelming, so many stars. You really have to go to a place like the Canyon to see a sky like that. I was truly in God’s country.
Took a deep breath, thanked God I was alive, for my beautiful wife and precious children.
For my overwhelmingly successful tech company that enabled trips like this. I felt like this is what life is really all about.
We were glad of a good night’s sleep, because it was back on the bus bright and early to catch a 9:30 AM train.
Good thing my wife and I are in shape; we didn’t have much trouble boarding it. The kids of course all jumped on.
The gunfight was a bit hokey but fun. My girls laughed and cheered them on, and that made me happy.
The train’s interior was really nicely old timey and very well done.
An old cowboy with a guitar serenaded my beautiful twins, who giggled, turned red, and were enchanted. My son just rolled his eyes, but he was wearing a big grin.
The scenery was amazing. I just looked out the window and for once didn’t think about the office. I looked into the incredible beauty of nature and relaxed.
My wife sat next to me with her headphones on, listening to tunes, a smile on her face.
Exploring The Trail Of Time
As a hard headed CEO, I have never thought a lot about rocks.
But I was downright contemplative after the train ride. I was fascinated walking this trail. Seeing how incredibly old the earth is and how long it had been around made me feel young.
Seeing the history of the earth written in stone made me realize that there was maybe hope that mankind would survive our present circumstances. If not us, the earth will.
I thought a lot that afternoon, and not about microchips.
All the worries of my company and how well would the recent stock offering do vanished into the blue Arizona sky and ancient stone.
Instead of my tasteful grey office with the giant pane window, I saw the happy, slightly blushed face of my beautiful wife and remembered why I married her.
I looked at my children slightly further down the trail. They were all wearing their Blues Brothers glasses and teasing each other. And I thought, this is why you built the company in the first place. For all this.
Meeting Good Neighbors
One of the things we found out on our trip is RVing is social.
You meet good people on the way. We were so glad we met a lovely couple and their two dogs, who came up and did a sniff and greet with our dog.
A little growling, a lot of barking, and then fast friends.
There was plenty of common space in the middle of the campers, and the dogs took off chasing each other. They all gave up after a while and went back to laze in the sun.
The couple were taking a trip with the well-earned proceeds of their New Mexico jewelry business. They were internationally renowned silversmiths whose work was in demand worldwide.
They had bought a nice but smaller rig for them and their dogs.
Dreamcatchers hung from their awnings. The lady was wearing a large piece of quartz set in a nice silver setting.
Her husband read Rumi while drinking his favorite ale.
We found out they had a daughter who died. It was tragic: childhood illness, they couldn’t save her.
They never recovered or had more kids. Their dogs were their life now.
They loved their trip; RVing, they were thinking about selling their home, getting a bigger rig to live in, and traveling all across the United States. Already considering whether they could set up a home jewelry studio in an RV. Lots to think about.
I told them I wasn’t spiritual but somehow the Canyon had connected me closer to my family. That I was actually dreading returning to my grey office and stock portfolio and well tailored assistant.
They offered me a brew and we sat there in silence and drank. Our dog got up and ran after their two dogs who were chasing butterflies. In the distance I heard our son laughing as he told a story to his sisters.
It was our third and last day in the Canyon.
Already, I never wanted to leave. For this trip we left the Montana behind, piled in the Ford and drove the Desert View Drive.
The kids sat in the back and sang songs like they did when they were little. They grow up so fast.
My wife was going on about how much she liked the RV kitchen, how much easier it was than she thought, to do all the cooking she loved.
We had the windows down; it was a warm day. We had brought a picnic for lunch! Found a suitable stop and parked.
We unrolled the tablecloth and started setting out the paper plates. The kids helped their mom set it all out, then dug in.
A cooler of lemonade for the family hit the spot with the simple sandwiches, fruit and chips we had packed. A breeze hit my forehead and I stared up into the deep blue cloudless sky.
Suddenly my reverie was interrupted by excited then frantic barking.
The dog had found something. Unbeknown to us her leash had come loose, she had taken off a little down the road, off the road, and was worrying at something in a bush.
I snapped to attention and told my son to check it out. He obeyed his dad and ran to the dog who was now whimpering. Apparently she had encountered the business end of a skunk.
Oh no, what to do? We were many miles from a vet.
Additionally, the park requires that pets be leashed at all times. We thought we had her secured, but stuff happens to the best of us.
I frantically and literally jabbed at my phone, googling “What do you do when your dog encounters a skunk in the grand canyon.” Google is a man’s best friend.
Found this wonderful site. Huzzah!
All we needed was hydrogen peroxide, a lot of it, baking soda, and dish soap! Our dog would be saved without a vet visit!
But we were miles away from a grocery store and didn’t think any market in the Grand Canyon would carry hydrogen peroxide in liter quantities. Much less baking soda and dish soap.
But there was a grocery store in Cameron only 26 minutes away!
Our picnic was over. Hurriedly, we packed the truck and our now very smelly whimpering dog. I took off at the maximum speed the park allowed.
Save Our Pet!
It seemed to be a very long 26 minute drive to Cameron.
The poor dog was uncomfortable and the rest of us were too, even with all windows down and the fan cranked. The smell of skunk pervaded everything.
Finally, we found the store. I left all in the truck and walked in. All eyes were immediately on me. I suddenly realized I completely reeked of skunk!
I’m the CEO of a large company; I didn’t let their stares deter me.
I walked in like I was entering a business meeting dressed in my best suit and politely asked for what I needed. The staff gamely helped me. Everyone else gave me a wide berth.
I stood there checking out praying the card would work fast and no delays.
Of course it took a long time to dial my bank from the middle of nowhere. Someone in the store was quietly snickering. The cashier’s smile was clearly pasted on.
I have been in less uncomfortable business meetings.
As soon as my transaction was approved, I got out of there as quickly as I could reasonably exit. The snickering speedily turned into glee as I exited, the cashier vainly trying to shush it.
I gathered what was left of my dignity along with my supplies, got behind the wheel, and headed back to the Montana.
Need Lots Of Water
I was driving with a less and less happy family, a definitely unhappy dog, thinking where will I get the water to wash Millie?
Are there hoses? What do I need to hookup? How do I solve this?
A shower! The Montana has a shower!
I was extremely happy with my RV purchase at that moment.
I had a horrible problem: a skunked dog, a rapidly being skunked family, and far from just about everything.
Thanks to having heavily invested in the Montana, all I had to do was stick Millie in the shower and all would literally be well!
So that’s what we did. We got the pup in the shower, mixed everything together in a bucket, and thoroughly washed the poor thing. She was so grateful, whining and yelping as we washed her.
We toweled her thoroughly, fed her some of her dwindling supply of cheeseburgers, and then looked to ourselves.
We were all skunked!
At that point, the crisis was over and we started laughing about it.
Making terrible skunk jokes. Puns about smelliness. Axe body spray jokes.
Everybody took a shower. The twins were howling with laughter while they were in.
My son came out and gave mom a high-five, handed me the deodorant and said I needed LOTS of it.
We got that washer going; everybody changed into clean clothes and the smelly ones succumbed to laundry detergent. The truck would need detailed when we got home. Probably more than once.
I made a note to schedule my wife with her favorite spa for her own beauty treatment, so she would feel she was back to her lovely perfumed manicured self.
In the meantime, one of the girls had picked up what little air freshener spray we had thought to bring, spraying it everywhere, sprayed it at her brother.
He laughed and pushed her hand away. She ran after him and they ran outside, her squirting her brother the whole time.
The dog was back to her normal self and ran after them, wearing a huge doggy grin and barking like mad.
My wife smiled and curled up with the romance novel she brought. All was well in my little world.
The Long Trip Home
Happy, tired, not wanting to leave, we packed up on the last day.
I went around and unhooked everything. It felt like unhooking from the only reality I wanted to live. Back to the grey office. I was in a somber mood.
My wife was busy with the kids doing something and I was standing, lost in thought, by my truck. A tap on the shoulder brought me back to reality. It was our new friend.
She had a big smile on her face. She said she and her husband would never forget this trip, or the dog. Or us.
She handed me her business card, said keep in touch, we want you to have this to remember us by.
Pressed something into my hand and walked away.
I stood there, bemused. I had never made friends easily like that.
I was reserved in general. Lots of people wanted a piece of me, after all. I usually viewed most people with distrust, wondering what they wanted from me.
I opened my hand. In it was a tiny but colorful dreamcatcher. A little bit of color for my grey office. To remind me.
Of the wide open blue sky and the sun and breeze on my face.
Of the countless stars incredibly spread across the sky like a blaze in the infinite dark.
Of the ancient earth and the ageless stone. Of how for a moment I actually thought there might be a God after all.
Of the happiness in my wife’s eyes, and the softness of her slightly parted lips.
My daughters’ hair blowing in the breeze. My young strong son coming to manhood.
All growing too quickly. Time passing much too fast.
I took a family vacation to the Grand Canyon and ended up finding the meaning of my life.
What really mattered. The money I invested in the means to get us there was worth as much as any business investment I ever made.
Goodbye Grand Canyon. I am taking the lessons you taught me with me. Always. And I invested right. I will come back if life permits. I have the means now.
Thank you, stars.