#EagleEyeIsEverywhere Travel Log: Kathleen’s Cross Country Road Trip

Eagle Eye writer Kathleen Cempa and her family took an epic cross country road trip this summer. This is their story…

Yellowstone National Park
  • Three weeks and around 7,000 miles across the U.S. and back. That is a pretty lengthy amount of time and distance to be away from home, work and friends, but somehow my family managed to swing it.

If you haven’t noticed, the United States is one large country.  On paper its around 610,994 square miles.  That number didn’t really mean anything to me until we set out to cross it.  It was then that I learned first hand just how big the USA really is.

With all that space, there is bound to some intriguing things.  Such as Texas’s abundance of cows (so, so many cows!), the Navajo Indians in Arizona and Utah, the Grand Canyon and the sheer beauty of its trails, the amazing Yellowstone National Park and much, much more.

First thing you should probably know, although my family has traveled before, we’ve really only visited pretty generic travel destinations like Disney World and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, they are very beautiful places to visit, but it gets repetitive after a while (I’ve visited Myrtle Beach 14 times). In fact, in all our travels, we’ve never left the east coast.  We’ve gone up and down it, sure, but never past the Appalachian Mountains.

So this year when my father heard that he had some extra vacation time, he suggested that we switch things up and explore out west.  The family was excited for this change of pace. We drew up a list of all sorts of places we’d like to visit, took work off and packed all of our things up into our camper and set off in the early morning on June 27th, 2015.

After a long day of travelling through Ohio, Indiana and partially through Illinois, we called it a night in a random Walmart parking lot. Which, I’d just like to note, was pretty creepy with all the truck drivers surrounding us.

In no time at all though, it seemed we were back on the road again (like that song by Willie Nelson) and travelling through Missouri, where we visited family we haven’t seen in a long, long, long time.

We spent a few hours of catching up on the family news and exploring their house and property, after which we said our goodbyes and promptly continued on our way to the border of Oklahoma, where we spent the night in a trailer park, which was nice and all, except it didn’t have good WiFi, which devastated my brother because his data was turned off to prevent excessive use.

Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest

As we continued to drive along the southern border states, we entered the Petrified National forest in Arizona. No, the forest wasn’t scared (like my papá kept joking), the trees were fossilized. The logs found in the park are estimated to have washed into a water basin over 200 million years ago during the Triassic period.

Additionally, the park encompasses a portion of the Painted desert, which is known for the extraordinary color of the landscape. However since most of the park is considered designated wilderness areas, we could only view the majority of the formations from our truck or balconies.

It was also around this time I realized that Arizona, was in fact, quite a bit hotter than Pennsylvania. When my Dad heard me, he turned around and very seriously said,

“It’s a dry heat.” He ended up uttering the phrase so much, I bought him a t-shirt with the saying on it.

cathedral rock sedona
Cathedral Rock, Sedona AZ

The next few days ended with us arriving in Sedona, Arizona, where our adventure truly began.

There was just so much to see, with so many art galleries, rock formations, hiking trails and wildlife, and we were busy the entire time.

One of the first things we did upon our arrival to Sedona was visiting Cathedral Rock, one of the largest and most beautiful rock formations there.  We got closer by hiking it and enjoyed views from the top.

The steep edges and horrifying drops were awe inspiring (and bone-chilling) and there were no guard rails. If I made one funny step, I could have gone tumbling to an almost certain death (which is a theme I found to be repeated throughout the entire trip).

As we hiked back to the car, we noticed a trail that branched off and lead down lower along the formation, so we decided to check it out.

What we found was very surprising. Sedona is considered a high-desert area, which is an area of arid land at a high elevation and can also be known as a cold desert, so when we discovered a creek at the bottom of the gorge. It was entrancing seeing the stark differences between area so close to each other. When you went up a couple hundred feet in elevation you found a dry, arid desert, but when you went down, there creek and forested region.

What had to be the most interesting thing to me however, was the fact that Sedona had such a great balance between, busy city and natural quiet. With Sedona being as popular as it is, you might think that the beauty of it’s natural backdrop would be lost to pollution or littering, however that wasn’t the case. No matter where you traveled, the marvelous-ness (is that a word?) of Sedona’s red rocks could never be forgotten.

Unfortunately, with the coming holiday weekend of July 4th, most places in Sedona (and everywhere else for that matter) were booked full so we were forced to move on.

After calling numerous campgrounds to inquire about a place to stay for a few nights, we finally got a lead. Which is how we ended up in Ash Fork, Arizona, staying a pretty shabby RV park.

The park allegedly had a swimming pool and WiFi, but that was only partially true. The swimming pool was under construction still and you could only get WiFi by sitting on the stairs of the main office. Not only that, but Julian, my brother was riding his bike to pass the time, only to have his tires popped by multiple “goat heads” which were seeds with large thorns. That was just the beginning of the disaster though, apparently we had been walking on them and brought them into the camper, where we stepped on them in our bare feet for the rest of the vacation.

But, even though we had a less than perfect camping spot,we made the best of it. In a town about 30 minutes away, Prescott (locals insisted that it if you wanted to sound local, you must pronounce it Pres-kit), there was a craft show, where we spent the majority of our time before the fireworks display.

Strangely, as I was walking through the craft show I had a lady stop me, look me dead in the eye and say, “Are you one of the Hot-Shots?”

After staring at her terribly confused and maybe even slightly insulted (how was I supposed to know what she meant) I asked, “Ummmm… what?”

“Hot-shots, you’re one of the Hot-Shots right?”


“Well you ARE a Hot-Shot right?” Still very lost on what she was even talking about, and a little concerned for her mental health, I just said uncertainly, “ah…no?” Then she looked at me, then at her friends, then back at me, and walked off.

As it turns out, in Prescott the Hot-Shots are the firefighters who fight wildfires, but there is also a horseback riding group there going by the same name. Maybe that was what she was talking about, but I don’t why she thought I was one!

We also ate at El Charro, a fabulous Mexican restaurant (who’d have guessed Arizona had good Mexican restaurants, right? Just kidding).  I ate way too much chips and salsa!

When it finally was time to watch Fourth of July fireworks, we realized if we wanted actual seats we probably should have got in line hours ago. But we pulled into a random parking lot overlooking the hill where they were setting them off, rolled down the windows, and proceeded to be eaten alive by mosquitoes (I have scars, seriously!).  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the show. Even though they weren’t front row seats, we had a good time together.

grand canyon
The Grand Canyon

As the holiday weekend wrapped up, we motored  to Williams, Arizona, where we booked a couple of nights at the Grand Canyon Railway. Originally, we had no intention of riding the train. We were just planning on driving up, back and then heading on our way, but after a couple conversations with fellow tourists, we ultimately decided take the train.

It was nice to take in the scenery by rail.  After a while of just truck, camper, truck, camper and back and forth, it was an interesting change of pace. I must say though, the ride would have been ten times better if I hadn’t spilled a large portion of my Coca-Cola all over myself! Apparently it the can had been shaken, so when I opened it it exploded all over me. That was a downer.

Even though my shirt was sticky and upsetting, I still hiked part of the way down a trail that led to the Colorado River, which proceeded to make my shirt sticky, upsetting AND sweaty. Fortunately, I managed to convince my papá in the gift shop that he ought to buy me a new shirt. I have never been more grateful to change clothes.

As we continued to explore the ledge of the Grand Canyon (there was no guard rails, I totally told you this would be repeated) I noticed a very extensive squirrel population, like you couldn’t walk five feet without one of them running in front of you. I also realized I REALLY wanted to feed one, because, hey, why not?  They were cute.

But before I could so much as throw them a crumb, I noticed a very convincing sign that read “Do Not Feed The Squirrels, They Carry the Plague!” which was translated into about ten languages. It’s safe to say the squirrels didn’t get any chow from me.

Before I continue, I would also just like to note that the Grand Canyon is so vast and breathtaking, it definitely should be on your bucket list of places to visit.

Sure, I knew the Grand Canyon was huge before I visited, but I was blown away by the enormity of it.  From where I was standing the Grand Canyon went the whole way to the horizon, and then kept going. Seriously though, I recommend visiting at least once…and then maybe a few more times.

Monument Valley

It felt like I barely even blinked and then we were at the Arizona/Utah border to see Monument Valley, the place where literally hundreds of western movies were filmed. Surprisingly enough, we found out that the land is still owned by the Navajo Indians. You could do a horseback tour, but I was informed by my mother that it “was just not going to happen,” because “there is no way I am getting on a horse!”  So we took a self-guided driving tour instead, but I feel like none of the magic of the landscape was lost.

I must admit, it was awe-inspiring to see such iconic images of the west just outside our truck door. We even saw the place where John Ford, a famous western movie producer, filmed many of his movies.  They even named it after him, “John Ford Point.”

After we spent a few hours marveling at the scenery, we clambered back into the truck to make it to Moab, Utah by sundown.

Arches National Park

When we checked into our campsite and hopped out of the truck, we realized that there were hundreds and hundreds of mosquitoes figuratively and literally out for blood. Everyone made a break for the camper, well everyone except for my dad who needed unhook the camper from the truck. I would have gone out to help him, but I figured he could handle it, maybe.

Afterwards, as I watched my dad come into the camper, with an obviously now stronger distaste for mosquitoes, I heard him mumbling about  “stupid bugs.” Then, after promptly killing any bug still on him, he told everyone we should get to bed because we had an early morning ahead of us.

As the morning rays peaked over the horizon, we were up and  visiting Arches, national forest. My favorite part about Arches had to be the North and South arches. Sure there were tons of beautiful features in the park, but for some reason, the size and simplicity of their shape really made them standout to me. Plus, they provided the only shade that could be found in the park too.

yellowstone 3
Yellowstone National Park

Around 6:00 am the next morning we woke up for the drive to Yellowstone, which my dad estimated to be around six to seven hours, maybe.

Boy, was he wrong! The drive from Moab to Yellowstone was something over 600 miles, maybe even more. THAT DOESN’T TAKE SIX TO SEVEN HOURS! Try at least 12!

On the upside, the drive was really pretty. We took a back road and for the majority of the trip there was nothing but open land.

On the downside, there was really nothing to do the entire time but sleep.

Well, I’m lying I guess, my papá taught me a game to play. You know how sometimes when you are driving there will be bottles along the road filled with something odd (I’ll warn you this is gross), well according to my dad those are called trucker bombs.  Which he defined as: Any bottle (milk/tea jug, water bottle, you name it) filled with trucker urine. I don’t know all the specifics, but apparently they use them, then throw them out the window to prevent them from having to stop. I don’t even know why this is a thing, but it sure is nasty.

Well any way, the name of the game was to see how many you could spot alongside the road. I’m telling you now, once you start noticing them, you can’t stop and it’s disgusting. But, I guess it passed the time.

yelllowstone tower falls
Tower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

When we finally pulled into Yellowstone (through the Montana entrance), I thought we were done with being on the road for the night. Nope, as it turns out Yellowstone is a fairly extensive park and my dad had booked a camping site which would have taken an half hour or so, but with the kind of traffic Yellowstone it was a little closer to an hour drive. On the way in we saw huge herds of Buffalo and it was really cool too see them up close, especially considering that they would stand just off the side of the rode.

As soon as we stepped out of our truck and walked to our camper to settle down for the night, I realized one horrific fact, there was no WiFi. In addition to no WiFi, there was NO service whatsoever.

I really should’ve expected it thinking back on it now. I mean really, there aren’t going to be any cell phone towers. But, I felt so isolated though, the entire trip I had been talking to my friends and catching up on the latest news. It was so lonely!

Life without connection to the outside world was strange at first, but I started grasping the basics of it by evening the next day.

After an early start to the day, we left the camper at the campsite and traversed through the scary new world that was Yellowstone. I soon realized that you see a lot of bison there, so much so that we didn’t even blink anymore when we saw one nearby.

I also realized that if a log sort of looked like a bear or any other critter, people would stop, whip out their binoculars and block traffic. So much traffic! It was bad, there was this one road where an elk sat near a building. Every. Single. day. And traffic would be backed up/ slow moving as it just sat there and stared at the tourists.

However, I found some gratitude to animal obsessed tourists in no time. Get this, I was riding on my bike along the road and since I was in a fairly remote area it was no problem. Then, as I’m biking along A lady yells out her window,

“Look! A bison!” As I was generally unimpressed by her declaration and with no bison in sight and continued on my way. I rode maybe 500 ft, and on my right, maybe 100 ft or less away stood a very large male bison.

Needless to say I hightailed it out of there, because Yellowstone has had problems in the past where people have been gored by Bison.

Thinking myself in the clear on a busy roadway, I look up and see said huge bison right in my path. I swerved out into traffic. Luckily I wasn’t hit by a car, but I was more worried about possibly being gored by bison.

As our stay at Yellowstone was coming to an end we ultimately decided we would regret it if we didn’t get to see Old Faithful in action, so we decided we’d give it visit.

On our last full day at the park we drove down to the southern area of it where Old Faithful calls home. Numerous other geysers also call that area home, and some apparently erupt bigger than Old Faithful, but don’t get as much credit. One of the reasons Old Faithful is so popular is because it regularly erupts every 30/45 minutes and it’s eruptions are still fairly large, despite the short intervals.

When we finally arrived at Old Faithful, we had nowhere to sit but along the bases of the viewing platform, which wasn’t too shabby except for excited little kids shrieking right in your ears!

Soon, I saw steam drifting off the top of the geyser. Looking down at my phone we still had another 15 minutes until Old Faithful was due to erupt.

Without warning, water burst from the top of the Geyser and shot skyward. A hush fell over the crowd as everyone just gawked at the eruption, and the little kids continued to shriek!

The whole process took somewhere around five minutes.

“Old Faithful” Yellowstone National Park

As we piled into the truck and finally left Yellowstone behind, we realized just how fast our vacation had gone. Sure we still had a couple days left, but they were reserved for driving and not much else.

It was a little sad leaving out west, just because there was so much more I wanted to see.

Three weeks definitely wasn’t enough time to fully visit everything.

You don’t really know how big our country is until you start to explore it, and then you realize how much more time you need to then ACTUALLY explore it. At some point when I’m older, I plan on heading back out to see more, but I know even then that I’d still have much to see.

To everyone who dreams of adventure and exploring the world, don’t discount the idea of exploring America first, because even though it may not seem like it sometimes, we are a widely diverse country in terms of people, climate, culture and landscape.

So, who knows? Maybe traveling around the United States might be your speed!