Many people have to wait until their retirement years for the opportunity to drive an RV cross country to see our magnificent country. One of the benefits of military life, thanks to PCSing, is seeing many places you might not have traveled to early in life.
My husband and I were stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Oak Harbor, WA. Our next duty station would be clear across the country at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. Having missed out on our last cross country move because I was working in Washington DC, I was so excited to make this trip together with our pets. We were looking forward to seeing many of the iconic wonders of the United States.
We loaded our vehicle to the brim, like most military families do, and made our way to Walla Walla, WA, an area known for its Washington wines. We tried many different types of wines, called varietals, before calling it a night. The next day, we headed for Yellowstone National Park. We opted to take the scenic route through Idaho, called the Lewis and Clark trail. The picturesque and peaceful drive ended with an overnight stay at a little gem surrounded by snow covered roads, called Lochsa Lodge. They had the best pancakes I have ever tasted: huckleberry. We continued on our way the next morning, finally arriving in Montana.
Located near the small town of Gardiner, MT, the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is the only entrance open year round to vehicles. Since we were traveling at the beginning of April, the interior of the park was still closed. But the little town of Gardiner had a surprise for us when we arrived: elk grazing everywhere!
We entered the park and stopped off to chat with the park rangers. They advised us to be cautious, since animals were constantly moving around the park. As we began our drive through Yellowstone, we encountered an entire herd of buffalo on the road! As we drove slowly through the packs, the buffalo walked right past our car… if we opened our windows, we could have touched them! Throughout the drive, we saw plenty of other animals – buffalo…okay, tons of buffalo, a 14-point elk, coyotes, and bear tracks. Fortunately, we never did see a grizzly bear that left the tracks!
Yellowstone was very quiet and had hardly any visitors when we drove through. It was, by far, the best time of year to visit since the crowds were thin. This allowed us to relax in the awe and beauty of the park. We finished our day at Yellowstone by soaking in a nature made “hot tub.” We walked a half of a mile to the Boiling River, a place where the hot water flows into the cold river. Many bathers love to soak in this natural creation, complete with incredible rock formations all around.
Our next destination was Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. After getting a recommendation from some locals in Gardiner, we took a sunset drive through the Badlands National Park. The striking geological deposits in the Badlands contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds, and with its rugged terrain, you feel like you’re driving through a science fiction movie. Here and there, we saw bighorn sheep grazing on the rock formations. Being surrounded by such stunning landscapes, I wondered why no one ever recommended the Badlands before now. We eventually made it to Mount Rushmore, which was iconic, and definitely a must-see place on any cross country adventure.
The next part of our journey was all about reconnecting with friends and family we hadn’t seen in quite a while. We stopped in Nebraska for a steak dinner with my old roommate, and then made our way up through Michigan towards Toronto, Canada, which was the most direct route to my college town of Albany, NY. I looked forwarding to visiting some of my best friends, and their families, whom my husband had never met! Before making it to Albany, we stopped on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to take some photos with the falls still bathed in its winter glory.
We took a few days of much needed rest, and then drove a scenic route through New York to Massachusetts, and ended in Bridgeport, CT. Before we boarded the ferry to Long Island to surprise my family, we indulged in some lobster rolls and mac and cheese! Prior to moving to Whidbey Island, much of our family had not seen us since our wedding in September 2012. Our huge surprise visit was complete with some tears from my grandmother!
With the entire U.S. behind us, it was so much to be back in all the areas we have visited many times before.
Our next destination was town where my husband and I met, and where family and friends awaited our arrival: Washington DC. We had a few days to visit some of our favorite places in DC, especially Fado’s, the Irish bar, in Chinatown, where we met.
We had one more stop with more family in Virginia Beach before making the last leg of the journey to North Carolina. We got to play with the dogs on the beach, catch up with family, and rest a little from our long journey.
After 4,500 miles, we finally arrived in Cherry Point, North Carolina – our new home.
We were very fortunate and extremely grateful for the time we got to spend with each other, and our pets, on the journey. If your military travels require you to move across the country, I hope you take advantage of the possibilities that await you! Visiting with family and friends all across the country, and seeing some of the most magnificent places America has to offer was incredible. It’s one of those memories I will forever keep etched in my heart.
Posted by Nicole Messmer, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Cherry Point, NC