In a railcar with the desert visible outside sits, from left to right, Phil, his wife, two boys, and father-in-law.

Phil Bryant and his family at the Grand Canyon Railway. Photo © Sharp Shooter Imaging.

In my last post, I told you about Phil Bryant, a technical shift lead for a major electric utility, who recently experienced an eye-opening RV adventure with his family. Following his three-week trip last month, he kindly agreed to let me interview him about his memorable journey.

Here’s the second part of that interview:

American Nomad: What was your exact route (including flights and RV itinerary), and how long was the trip?

Phil Bryant: Wow! Our exact route? This one may take a while. In the beginning, the plan was to have my old buddy Earl drive us from Liberty, South Carolina, to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we would fly to Dallas and catch a second flight to Durango, Colorado – where the Sportsmobile was to be waiting for us. (Back in April, Pa drove the Sportsmobile out to his nephew’s home in Durango and flew home to South Carolina.)

Well, we were delayed in the airport in Charlotte and missed our flight. The nice folks at American Airlines worked with us and got us booked on the next flight to Dallas. Of course, this caused us to miss the only flight of the day to Durango. Once again, the airline personnel helped us out. We got booked on a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we rented a car and drove to Durango via Hwy. 550. I highly recommend driving up the 550. It’s a beautiful route!

Luckily, we sent most of our supplies out with the Sport back in April and had very little luggage with us. From Durango, we took Hwy. 160 to Mesa Verde National Park. The views alone were worth the trip! We went down to Spruce Tree House and took in the cave dwelling and ruins. It was awesome!

After Mesa Verde, we headed west on 160 again, toward Four Corners Monument. We ate sandwiches on the banks of the San Juan River, stopped at Four Corners, then turned south on Hwy. 191. This took us to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where we stopped for the night. The views and stories at Canyon de Chelly were fantastic.

We continued south on the 191, took I-40 West to Holbrook, Arizona, simply to check out the old Wigwam Motel and get our first taste of old Route 66. It was like a time machine. I loved it. I kept expecting to see Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel dragging a camper down the road!

From Holbrook, we got back on I-40 West to Winslow, Arizona, and Meteor Crater – one of the highlights of our entire trip! Yes, we are very nerdy! I’m an engineer and my father-in-law was a science teacher, so what do you expect?

Okay, then it’s back on I-40 to Williams, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon Railway. What a cool little town! It just so happened they were having both a rodeo championship and a BBQ cookoff in town, so things were happening. We actually got a hotel room in Williams for the night, then the next day, we rode the train up to the Grand Canyon. What a blast – I highly recommend it! Since that took all day, we spent the night at the KOA in Williams. A very nice campground, especially if traveling with kids!

From I-40 West, we sidetracked a bit and got back on old Route 66 through Seligman, Arizona. Yet another cool time machine – I think I saw Fonzie at the Sno-Cap Drive-In. From there, we continued west via I-40/Old 66 to Kingman, Arizona. We then took Hwy. 10 to Oatman, Arizona, which we’ve named “Donkeytown” due to the free-roaming donkeys all over town. That was a very fun place, but Hwy. 10 coming into town is treacherous, to say the least!

We took Hwy. 155 out of town to Bullhead City and Hwy. 95 north to Laughlin. From Laughlin, we crossed over into Nevada on 163 and took 95 North to Lake Mead National Recreation Area for the night. It was hot, hot, hot!

We drove over to Hoover Dam for a dam tour, headed to Las Vegas via I-515, then continued south on I-15 to Barstow, California. From Barstow, we took Hwy. 58 to 395 near Boron. 395 took us north to Hwy. 178, which led us to Bella Vista, where we took Sierra Way to Kernville and Wofford Heights. We camped at Tillie Campground – a very nice place! If you’re subject to motion sickness at all, I do not recommend you take Hwy. 155 from Wofford Heights toward Porterville! If you like roller coasters, though, have at it!

So, we took 155 over to 65, then went north on a road system designed by four very drunk, blind men. We finally located Hwy. 198 and followed it to the Giant Forest, where we camped at Lodgepole Campground. We left the sequoias pretty much the same way we came in. There was quite a bit of road construction in the park, so watch for delays.

We floundered around on many roads and finally made our way to Hwy. 101 (“El Camino Real”), following it south to Pismo Beach for the night. We took a combination of Hwys. 1 and 101 south, skirted L.A. via I-210, then hit I-10 and were officially headed back east. We camped in the Joshua Tree Wilderness – absolutely beautiful! – then, it was back on I-10 to Phoenix.

From Phoenix to Tucson, the desert is loaded with saguaro cactus – very neat. We pushed on to Tombstone, Arizona, and decided to live it up in a hotel for the night. Tombstone was fun! After Tombstone, we followed I-10 eastward to Rockhound State Park near Deming, New Mexico, for the night. We then stayed on 10 into Texas – it was Texas for a long time! We spent the next night near Sonora, then we were off to San Antonio, where we remembered the Alamo!

Ever eastward, we headed through Houston (TRAFFIC!), then camped at Valley Creek near Lumberton, Texas. Finally, we made it out of Texas and into Louisiana, followed I-10 through Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, and the Big Easy. We took the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway north, turned east on I-12, and came back around to I-10 again. We soon found ourselves camping in Shepard State Park near Gautier, Mississippi, and spent the next day playing in the Gulf waters near Ocean Springs. From there, it was pretty much I-10 to I-65 North to I-85 North to “home, sweet home.”

AN: I know that you’re a fan of extensive planning (good for you!), so I was wondering… How did you plan your trip? Did your fellow travelers offer input, or was it all left up to you? And, just out of curiosity, did you stick closely to your itinerary – or did you ever veer from the plan?

PB: I guess the planning began when I was a kid and first heard of these magical giant trees out west. I knew I had to see them one day! Beyond that, I did a lot of Internet research and used Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPS on my laptop to map out the route. Let me say the program is great! I won’t do a commercial for it, but it’s a huge help in planning – and while traveling, if you use the GPS locator feature. I first began using Streets & Trips back in 2005 while in Bogalusa, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. My company sent a group of us there to assist in restoration of the electrical grid. Streets & Trips helped us navigate in what was foreign territory to us. Anyway, my companions left most of the planning up to me. I did discuss the route with them a good bit, but I pretty much did the planning. While I am a planner, I also know chaos all too well. From the beginning, I knew a trip of this magnitude would need to be flexible. There were no time constraints, as in “We have to be at Four Corners at 11:45 sharp! Hurry Hurry!” We got where we got when we got there. The route was more of a guide than a plan. Midway through the trip, we actually changed a major portion of the plan. Using the mapping software, this was incredibly easy, too. Our leisurely pace was projecting a later arrival back home than planned, so we altered the course and got back on track. So, yes, I’m a planner, but not OCD about it. In my daily work, I am forced to make decisions on the fly.

AN: Having been a full-time RVer, I know how challenging living on the road can be, so I was just wondering… Did you have any mishaps along the way?

PB: Well, the first mishap was in Charlotte when we missed our first plane. This, of course, resulted in missing the second plane, which resulted in flying to Albuquerque instead of Durango and renting a car. We had a luggage mishap in that our luggage didn’t miss any planes. Our supplies that were sent out back in April were not on board when we picked up the RV, and we eventually found that we didn’t have the electrical hookup cord we needed for connecting in campgrounds. All that being said, there were no major malfunctions of any kind. We were very fortunate.

AN: What were your favorite moments, places, and landmarks during your trip?

PB: Unanimously, the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park! I honestly cried when I saw this place! It was magical. Words, pictures, and film cannot do it justice. Another favorite of mine was Canyon de Chelly. I knew very little of this place prior to the trip; it wasn’t even a planned stop. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.

AN: What did the kids enjoy most?

PB: Any place they could splash in the water! J.J., being an avid train lover, of course, says the Grand Canyon Railway was his favorite of all. Drake leans toward Meteor Crater and the town with the donkeys (Oatman).

AN: Did you or your companions learn anything new about America during your trip?

PB: Did we ever! One thing that stands out for us is that sequoias and redwoods are not the same thing and are not in the same place. I’m pretty sure my companions got sick of me playing tour guide as we traveled. As I said, I did several months’ worth of research prior to the trip. Another thing I learned and found very surprising was that Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary and averages only 13 feet deep. I guess we tend to think of bodies of water that large as being very deep as well.

AN: Would you take such a trip again? And if so, where would you go next time?

PB: There are already discussions of future trips… Oregon, Washington, across the Dakotas to the Great Lakes, the Northeastern states, and a few votes for a Canadian trek! Stay tuned.

AN: Would you recommend such a trip to other travelers?

PB: Highly! Get out and explore this wonderful nation of ours.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this fellow traveler’s tale. While Phil and his family might not have encountered every town, attraction, and state that they’d originally intended to see, they certainly experienced a lot in the time allotted. Now, as I mentioned in the first part of this interview, I hope that Phil’s experience has inspired you and your family to plan a cross-country adventure of your own. Happy trails!