There are a ton of campgrounds out there and it can be overwhelming trying to find the “best” one to call home! They range from independent places, chains (like KOA and Thousand Trails), city owned, state owned, and federally owned. Some only accept military/retired military, some only accept Class A’s, and some have age limits on the RVs or the people they let in. A lot of places also have dog restrictions based on breed.
We have a few things that we always look for in a campground: location to sightseeing, internet, full hook-ups, and a laundry room. Our biggest one is a good internet connection for school and work. There are a few different websites that I visit to check reviews: campgroundreviews.com, GoodSam, and Campendium are my first ones. After those, I will go to Yelp/Google Map reviews (make sure to type RV Campground or RV Resort, not just campground as you will get results that will not work with RVs or may not have hook-ups), and then to Facebook for the RV groups to see if anyone has stayed there before.
I always check multiple review sites, especially for internet issues, but sometimes you still don’t get it right. For example, the Garden of the Gods RV review stated that our 3 providers worked. However, when we checked in, there was a note with our paperwork saying AT&T did not work in the park. This wasn’t mentioned on the campground’s website at the time. (This is just one of the reasons why we have three internet providers!)
I also try to read about the general campground conditions (sites, roads, etc.). If a lot of reviews with bigger RVs say that sites or internal roads were tight or not well maintained, I will pass on that campground. We’ve even double checked the reviews on the way to a campground and changed our plans last minute based on the current conditions. Conditions of campgrounds can change frequently. For example, when we booked one Texas site, it had decent reviews. On the drive there, we were reading the reviews from the last week and it was filled with reports of sewage problems throughout the campground (eww!), so we frantically searched and found a new campground to stay in. The most recent one was a change due to a review saying the T-Mobile signals were weak. T-Mobile is where most of our working internet comes through. We have some hotspot data through our cell phones, but the T-Mobile hotspot is the workhorse.
Campground amenities can also be a big indicator for the nicety of a park, although not always. There doesn’t seem to be a regulation on who can call themselves a RV Resort vs a campground, so reading reviews are important! We had one Thousand Trails claim to be a resort and they only had a laundry room and a walking trail. Nothing else was available or was broken and the sites and roads needed some upkeep. On the other hand, we had a Thousand Trails in Orlando that lived up to the resort title with many amenities and things to do.
An on-site laundry is also a requirement for us, as we do not have a washer/dryer on our travel trailer.
We have learned to always check (recent) reviews across the different review sites. It can be worth spending the extra money to get a nicer campground, especially for longer stays.
As you may be aware, there’s a highly-rated series of books written by Matt and Karen Smith, entitled ‘Dear Bob and Sue.’ The books are a compilation of emails written by one couple as they travel across the country on a quest to visit all 59 of the US National Parks. They share their experiences (good, bad, and just plain crazy) with – you guessed it – Bob and Sue, their long-time friends back home. Today’s guest-blog post comes to you from the perspective of Bob and Sue (aka – Dave and Megan).
We’ve been friends with the Tepes for more than 20 years now, so suffice it to say, we’re familiar with their unique pursuits and willingness to go against the grain. And still, when they first told us about their plan to sell the house, buy an RV, and hit the road with their boys in tow – we said “You’re going to do WHAT????” We thought that they were nuts, but it’s no surprise that they made it happen, and we’re so glad that they did.
In the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine and lock-downs, we’ve spent a lot of time this year living vicariously through our friends. As the post cards roll in, we’ve tracked their journey by tacking them up on our own fridge here in Cincinnati – following them around the country, one blog-post at a time. We’ve read enviously about their experiences sand sledding in Colorado or surfing in San Diego and less-enviously about learning to empty the waste tank from the travel trailer or trying to make Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny RV oven. Those ‘learning experiences’ have kept us laughing and their pictures have kept us ‘oohing and awing’ and in some small way, they’ve given us the gift of sharing their adventure when the promise of adventure was something we all desperately needed.
As spring break rolled around, we had the opportunity to meet up with Ben, Sarah and the boys in Virginia. We went to experience Colonial Williamsburg and walk through the battlefield in Yorktown where the Revolutionary War was finally won. The historical sites were great (especially for our Hamilton-obsessed teenage daughter), but mostly we went to see our friends – to share a camp fire and some stories and hear about this crazy adventure first hand.
It had been more than a year since we’ve seen them in person. Initial observations are in line with what you’d expect. We can report that Will is about a foot taller, Nick is even better with the guitar, Sarah is still a great cook (even with more limited tools) and Ben has found new ways to embrace his passion for hammocks. But more impressive is the way they’ve learned to adjust and adapt. We loved seeing how they’re using their space and resources to live, work and learn in such a small space. We can certainly make a joke or two about how life on the road has brought them ‘together’ in more ways than one, but beyond all of the amazing sites they’ve seen on this trip, this seems like another intangible benefit.
It’s possible (likely?) that our own kiddos won’t remember the day we ‘met’ Thomas Jefferson or learned how they made shoes and chairs in the 18th century, but I’ll bet they remember the weekend they caught up with their friends at a campground in Virginia, learned about the places they’ve traveled and life on the road, and maybe sparked the inspiration to pursue an adventure of their own.
Nope, these weren’t bodily problems, but the bathroom decided to kick up a little fuss this past week.
First a quick rundown on RV toilets. Turns out most RV toilets are gravity flushed: there is a foot pedal to open the slide, which when pressed will open the slide and a small amount of water is released to help gravity do its thing and slide everything down the pipe to the black tank. (Hence why we have a water jug in the bathroom. Sometimes with a lot of paper, you need to add more water to encourage things along. It also helps with the black tank not getting clogged with poop pyramids and it helps things dissolve well in the holding tank.)
RV Gravity Fed Toilet
It started with the toilet overflowing. A small amount of paper had not gone down all the way and kept the slide from closing all the way, so the water kept continuously running. However, that same toilet paper also kept the water from draining and it overflowed onto the floor and spread to bathroom wall, the hallway, and then our room. Luckily, it was just water and had only made it a couple of inches into our room and we were able to clean everything up.
Several days later, we noticed water around the base of the toilet. It hadn’t overflowed, the boys hadn’t missed as it was just water. It didn’t look like it was leaking from the water connection points, but it could very slightly be wiggled. From what I read, it turns out that there is a gasket holding the toilet to the floor. It is mostly pressure fitted, so we took the screw covers off and tightened it down. No more wiggling! I’m hoping this solves the problem, since I really don’t want to have to replace a toilet. NOTE: Ours used a 1/2″ nut.
Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed the shower floor was wet. No one had been in the shower since the morning, so it should have been dry. There was a small drip in the bottom left corner near the handles. Great. We did some research and took the handles plate off. We had to be pretty careful, since it is directly connected to the water supply pipes (which did not look like they had a good access panel to get to). Our shower is pretty small to start with, so it was a bit of a challenge to get to anything. I was able to reach in and tighten the hot water connection. I then had to remove and replace all the caulk and add the screws back in.
We went to Yorktown with our friends who were visiting for the weekend, the Piatt’s. I can honestly say that I don’t think any of us had high expectations (except for Will). However, we were pleasantly surprised. The Visitor Center was partially open for the bookstore/gift shop. The store had the passport stamps, but did not have any pieces of paper to use if you forgot your passport (or use in your journal like we do). You could buy a sticker sheet for $0.95 (+tax) to stamp though. All the kids got a Junior Ranger Program booklet to work on. A lot of the museums and houses were closed due to COVID, but there is a free audio app that you can download. The app has some information on different sites in town, as well as the two driving tours.
We walked into the town from the Visitor Center using a nice paved path. It wasn’t a long walk; I think they said 456 yards. We saw the Statue of Liberty, not to be confused with the one in New York. It was a super cute little town with some shops and a coffee shop, and the Historical plaques that Will had missed seeing in Williamsburg.
We stopped at the artists shop at York Hall and found a few nice pieces. Ben found a colorful quilt. It was History Day, so there were a few demonstrations in the front of the Hall, including some children’s games.
We walked down to the waterfront and saw the beach area. There were a few sections of beach and a fishing pier. It was pretty crowded, so we didn’t get near the water.
There are two driving tours you can take in Yorktown: the red (Battlefield, 7 miles) and the yellow (Allied Encampment, 9 miles). After circling back to the Visitor Center, we got into our cars and took the red driving tour. I had downloaded the audio app, so we were able to go to each stop, park in the lot, and listen to the tour. There are parking spots, so you can also get out to look at things and read the historical informational signs.
Yorktown was a neat area with a mix of history, beach fun, and shopping. It ended up being one of my favorite places to visit while in Williamsburg. (In fact, we went to the town twice!)
TICKETS: $15/adults, $0/child (ages 0-15), Free with Interagency or Annual Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required, some buildings closed
If our campground has a fire pit or a grill, one of the easiest dinners to make are foil packet dinners. As a bonus, it doesn’t heat up the RV!
You can throw almost anything in aluminum foil and cook it over a fire, a grill, or in the oven. (Just make sure to double wrap in foil to help protect from burning over any flames.) We’ve done sweet potatoes (off to the side in the warm ashes), meatballs and vegetables, chicken/potatoes/vegetables.
The dinners are pretty easy to put together. On a large sheet of aluminum foil, towards the middle, place a few small pats of butter, or spray with a non-stick spray. Add a layer of sliced onions and a few vegetables. Add your meat, Place a few slivers of onions on top. Sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice (we like Cajun seasoning). Wrap up tightly. If the flames are still pretty hot, I will add another layer of foil to help keep things from burning.
Hey guys, this is another blog post by Will! Today I am here to talk about the amazing world of Historic Williamsburg! We visited Williamsburg with our friends the Piatts and had a great time. To start out with you will want to park your car, and then walk to the left of the building towards the side. You might see a shuttle there and if so you can get on that to get over to Historic Williamsburg. If not, you can take the path up ahead which is the cooler option in my opinion. You can see the plantation they recreated which includes a windmill that not only has rotating blades but the body also rotates as well to get more wind flow. The body part had to be manual though.
Once you get to Williamsburg you can explore whatever you want. A lot of the stores and shops are open and it is free to walk around if you haven’t decided on buying a ticket yet. We had prepaid for tickets however so we were good to go. We skipped the governor’s house right off because of the huge line and instead went to a historic house which had been left standing for all those years. It had a parlor, a guest bedroom, an office, and a socializing room on the first floor. In the back they had sheep and the kitchen. This was also where we saw our first tradesman a cooper. Williamsburg has many occupations in the town which make all of the different things that they sell and even construct some of the buildings. The coopers for those who didn’t know, were people who made buckets and barrels by putting iron rings around individual pieces of wood.
After we left the house we started wandering towards the armory, looking at all of the different things around the town. Once we got there we first saw the shoemakers. They, as you can probably tell, make shoes and told us all about it. The lady in the front was very helpful and told us that a skilled shoemaker could make 1 shoe in a 12-hour day. She also told us master shoemakers were expected to make 7 shoes in 6 days. She said that most men wore black shoes because they were the fashion of the day and that they were also easier to keep clean and fix. There was more variety in women’s shoes with some being made of different material and colors, but for men it was mostly black leather shoes.
Next, we went to the blacksmith which was right next to the shoemakers. There was another woman standing there with two men in the shop, one pumping the bellows and the other using a file on some tool. She told us that the most common item they made was farm equipment, but during the Revolutionary War they also made many weapons for the war cause. She said that to make the metal soft enough to mold you needed it at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and to get it really hot enough you needed it at 2,000 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. During her talk the two guys in the back pulled out a red-hot piece of iron and started pounding at it with their hammers which was pretty cool. She said that the metal they usually used was iron and steel which was pretty common in the United States so they didn’t require it to be imported during the war. I also found out later in the tour that the blacksmith also makes nails which are used in the construction of some of the buildings at Williamsburg.
After that we went to explore and came across some bathrooms and a shop. We all took turns going to the bathroom and also went inside to look around the shop. Nick got a pressed penny with the Capitol building on it. We also went to a nearby restaurant where we bought root beer, diet coke, and bread and ate it at the nearby benches. Then we went to the Capitol Building which was the seat of government in Virginia. It was hit by lighting, burned by people, and destroyed 3 times. On the last time they moved the capitol away where it promptly burned down again. The court ruled on large cases like murder, counterfeit, and robbery. You could choose to have a case by either peers or the magistrate which was a group of judges.
After the Capitol building we visited the jails where prisoners could be kept for 3 months (or more) before they were tried before the court, as the court only met during certain times. They also kept sheep and horses in the back which we later learned were used by weavers at Williamsburg to make clothing and yarn which you can buy at the gift shops.
We then visited the carpenters where we learned they made their own tools and build many of the buildings made of wood that are around Williamsburg. They told us that it took thousands of shingles to make the building they were currently under. They used nails from the blacksmith shop, which I thought was very cool. They even had a storage area in the attic of the building above them. They said they were going to soon construct a group of buildings and he pointed to a pile of wood which at the time I thought was a trash pile and said those were 8,000 shingles and that they needed 20,000 shingles for the whole project. At that I was impressed.
We then visited the shop that sells all of the homemade goods for Williamsburg where I learned what all the trades were at Williamsburg. They have weavers, coopers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, and carpenters for both buildings and furniture. We took a look around and saw an old toaster (which was pretty cool) that had been made by the blacksmiths.
We then visited the grandest building in all of Williamsburg, the Governors Palace. And it was a palace indeed! In the entrance were hundreds of swords and guns for both infantry and cavalry. It had a huge courtyard and two other buildings for the kitchen and one for the slaughtering of animals. It had a ballroom and a reception area, and enough guns to supply a regiment of soldiers. It even had different musical instruments in the back and a huge emblem on the back door. It had a grand back area for a garden. We did the maze with various finishing times for the group.We walked around a little longer and then went home.
And that’s the end of the blog with Will. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to the blog, and to follow our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. See you soon, Will!
SARAH NOTES: Williamsburg was open to Visitors, although it was recommended that you buy your passes online. You have to choose your date of attendance when you book your tickets. Parts of Williamsburg is free; you can walk through the town and shops without paying the admission fee. However, if you want to go into certain areas or houses, then you do have to have an admission ticket. (For example, Governor’s Palace, carpenter’s yard, Wythe House.) Due to COVID, they are limiting the amount of people inside the buildings, so you may be waiting in line for awhile. I think our longest time was about 45 minutes. They call themselves a living history museum, so Will was a little disappointed in the amount of historical plaques to read. He made up for it by asking the blacksmith and shoe shop several questions though. We saw the Wythe house, the blacksmith and shoe shop, the carpentry yard, and the Governor’s Palace.
If you missed the Instagram video, here is a link to our video at the Blacksmith’s and seeing some adorable baby sheep.
TICKETS: Several options available. Single Day $35.99/adults, $19.99/child (6-12) . COVID Restrictions: masks required, book online for a set date, Visitor Center Closed, social distancing at some locations so you may wait in line.
HOURS: Hours vary. Most of the shops are open 9:00am to 5:00pm, but there are some evening programs based on the day.
PARKING: Yes, Visitor Center (with shuttle or a 1/4 mile walk) or at art museums
TIME RECOMMENDED: 2-4 hours
*Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
We wanted to take a moment to say Thank You to everyone who has sent us things on our journey. We love getting things from home and it helps us feel connected.
From birthday and Christmas cards, Venmo gifts, to decorations, coffee cups, and even Graeter’s ice cream…we can’t begin to express how much this means to us. We’ve even had a couple of visits, which has been amazing to see people we know.
The Tepe Family, The Arguedas, The Armstrongs, John M, Nancy, Anne & Tim, Jim and Mary, The George Family, Jeff, The Baucknechts, Nathan, Rachel, The Resnick Family, The Piatt Family, The Tosh Statt Family, Dan B, and all those who sent the boys birthday cards…Thank you!
We’ve been to quite a few of the National Parks this year. The America The Beautiful annual pass is really quite the deal at $80.
There are so many to choose from, and I think we all have our own favorites.
The Parks, Monuments, Preserves, and Historical Sites we have been to so far are:
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Yellowstone National Park
Grand Tetons National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Cabrillo National Monument
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (BLM)
Saguaro National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve (Barataria and Chalmette)
Everglades National Park
Biscayne National Park
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Colonial National Historic Park (Jamestown, Yorktown)
Sarah: My favorite is Yellowstone. There is so much to see and the landscape changes. One minute it is a flat field, then rivers and bison herds, then thermals (hot springs, geysers). There is something for everyone.
Ben: My favorite is Bryce. The landscape was very different; but beautiful with the hoodoos and different colors. I had a sense of accomplishment when we were done, as during part of it I didn’t know if we would finish the hike.
Will: My favorite is Colonial National Historic Park because of all the history.
Nick: My favorite is Zion. I liked hiking the Narrows.
Honorable Mentions: Carlsbad Caverns (it is quite the experience, it’s a little other worldly) and Everglades (so much wildlife)
Hey guys! Here’s another blog post with your favorite friend…Will! Today I am here to talk about another significant site from history, the Jamestown Settlement. This is the first settlement that successfully settled in America. It was led by Captain John Smith, who as most of you know befriended Pocahontas. She convinced her father to help the settlers, which allowed the first successful colonization in the New World.
Jamestown started out as a place to get rich quick. Half of the first people to come Jamestown were gentlemen, men who fought in battles and were rich enough to be able to buy their own armor and weapons and lead men. These men were used to fighting and tactics, but not hard labor which led many of them to dislike their new life in the Americas. It probably would have been a downhill spiral as the two groups of people, gentlemen and commoners, fought over who would do what work in Jamestown if Smith hadn’t stepped in and said if ‘you don’t work you don’t eat’.
Jamestown also suffered many problems when it was starting up such as the fact that they had settled in native territory and slaughtered the natives there which were a part of a confederacy of natives at the time. That soured relations quite a bit and soon the settlers and the natives were at each other’s throats. The problem was that most of the men were not used to hard labor and most were unskilled and did not know how to make anything or work. They only had two trained fishermen so their food was in short supply. The drinking water was also unhealthy and some of it was even tainted with arsenic. They were, under the guidance of John Smith, able to finally build the fort which was 1 acre in all, and with the help of John Smith, soon began to trade with the natives and with Pocahontas.
The next big issue that Jamestown faced was the Starving Time. This event was caused because the settlers got on bad terms with the natives again and trade soon came to a halt. With only 2 fishermen and winter coming things were getting dire. They were soon eating their dogs, their horses, and even their own people. The first person to be cannibalized in America was Jane, a young woman. Eventually two ships who had originally come with a large fleet of ships arrived right when the settlers were abandoning Jamestown to try and find food. Horrified by the skeletal people, the new people shared their food with them and they all sailed back to recolonize Jamestown. The first big issue was that, because most of the buildings were made of wood, they were quickly deteriorating. They soon rebuilt the wooden post-in-ground houses and rebuilt with stone bases so that termites and ants could not enter the wood and so the wood was not at ground level.
Soon things were looking brighter for Jamestown. They were soon turned into the capitol of Virginia because of a huge crop that was making its way to Europe as quickly as it could be produced. A cash crop that changed Jamestown from a desolate fort that was struggling for survival into a huge port city and the capitol of Virginia. Tobacco! The people in England couldn’t get enough of the stuff. It was soon being shipped out of Jamestown and making the whole town very rich. Soon the state of Virginia made it legal to only bring tobacco out of Jamestown so that Jamestown became even more rich. This caused Jamestown to grow huge in size and led to more indentured servants and then, sadly, slaves.
The downfall of Jamestown was when the capitol of Virginia moved to Richmond and the laws that tobacco could only go through Jamestown were abolished. Soon many were leaving Jamestown as the city was losing money, and without money, no people would come. Jamestown soon fell into disrepair and the only thing left standing over the years was the old church tower that had been built out of bricks. In the 1900’s conservation efforts were made. A seawall was built to make sure that the coast would not erode more, and restoration of the stone towers was attempted. At the time it was assumed that the erosion of the shoreline had made it so that the original fort had been lost to the sea. Excavation began and soon that was proven false as they found the original ditch for the fort, several wells and post in ground holes were discovered. They also found tools that belonged to a smithy and old waste and trash that was covered up in wells or in basements. This included a helmet, a halberd, and a dagger.
After several excavations the National Parks bought the land and Jamestown fort and took over construction of the fort. They added a museum and most of the things you can now see here today. That is the long and complicated story of Jamestown. Thank you for reading and make sure to look at our other channels like YouTube, and Facebook. Goodbye for now.
Ben and Sarah Notes: Don’t picture seeing a historic town like you would in Williamsburg. While it does have several buildings, Historic Jamestowne only contains a few original structures: the original church tower (since restored and the church recreated). a house ruin, and some foundations. The rest of the buildings are recreations. There was a lot of reading, including the more in-depth Junior Ranger Program booklet. The houses and archeology pits were closed, although the Visitor Center and museum were open. The boardwalk was nice way to walk into the town area. It passes over a marshy area where we saw lots of turtles in the water. There were a few turtles upside down, which we thought was bad. Nick asked the Ranger, and he replied that some turtles can turn themselves over and they may be sunning and trying to get more warmth through the thinner belly shell. Or, they didn’t make it through the winter. Ben and I did learn one new thing I don’t remember learning in school: there was a Starving Time (where food was scarce and the town resorted to cannibalism).
TICKETS: WITH Annual NPS Pass $10/adults, children 0-15 free. WITHOUT Annual Pass: $15/adult. COVID Restrictions: masks required, houses were closed to tours. (The extra fee, even with the NPS America The Beautiful Annual Pass, goes to Preservation Virginia.)
HOURS: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
*Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.