Our Adventurous Summer of Travels: From the South to the Northwest

This summer, Brandon and I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After much prayer and consideration, we decided to move from Denver to Nashville and wanted to take advantage of that in-between time by traveling the country, seeing family and friends, and taking a massive break before we started our life in a new city. We knew we most likely wouldn’t get the chance to do something so special together (without kids in tow!) before we retire, so we went for it and didn’t look back.

On June 19, we drove our U-Haul truck from Denver to Searcy, Arkansas, where we would store our belongings and be stationed for the next month. All of our stuff fit in a tiny 5-by-8-foot trailer towed by our shared car. We got rid of most of our furniture, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post about our journey with minimalism.

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Searcy, Arkansas

We spent the next month in Searcy, staying at the house Brandon grew up in. We always love coming here, as we both feel so relaxed, comfortable, and truly “at home.” I spent a lot of time at this house during our first year of dating, and I even had a temporary bedroom that I would stay in for several days straight. This time, we had our crazy dog, all of our belongings, and lots of planning to do for our upcoming travels. But our stay in Searcy was a peaceful reprieve — the calm before the storm, if you will.

 

Gulf Shores

In the middle of our time in Searcy, the Ragsdale family (plus Brandon’s sister, Brooke, her husband, Travis, and their son, Connor) went to Gulf Shores in Alabama for their annual beach trip. I had never been to a Southern beach, so this was an especially exciting week for me. The water was as warm as bath water, which was quite the contrast to the chilly West Coast beaches I grew up going to. We spent the week lounging by the pool, swimming in the ocean, eating lots of food, and watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. On the way back from the beach, we stopped in Montgomery, Alabama for a few days to help Brooke and Travis pack up their home and move to Little Rock! In the same summer, Brandon’s parents were getting all of their kids back within a reasonable drive from Searcy.

 

Cross-Country Road Trip

Before the summer started, we knew we wanted to get to Seattle to spend a month with my family. My mom, stepdad, dad, stepmom, sister and her family, and my two brothers and their wives all live in the area. We could fly there, but we could also drive to make more of an experience out of it. Plus, driving meant we could bring our dog along for the ride, so it was a no-brainer.

In our FJ Cruiser that had recently been totalled from hail damage, we drove the 3,700 miles from Searcy, Arkansas, across the southwest region to Southern California, and then up the coast to Seattle. The whole trip took a total of 10 days, and we camped in a tent each night (except the one night we stayed with our aunt and uncle in Palm Desert). Brandon and I both hadn’t camped since we were kids, so it was a lofty idea to jump from amateur-level right into a 10-day serial camping trip. But surprisingly, there were no major problems throughout the entire experience — you know, the leaking tent or drinking water shortage you expect in these circumstances.

There are two ways to go about a trip like this: 1) Drive until your heart’s content, find a campground, cruise around to nearby attractions, leisurely sip on coffee, and take lots of pictures. OR 2) Be prepared with a detailed route, make campground reservations in advance, stick to a specific schedule, and pray that there aren’t any hiccups because the entire plan might be uprooted. (Oh, and still sip on coffee and take lots of pictures.) We chose the second option, and the trip (again, surprisingly) went off without a hitch. It also made each day like a challenge that we had to accomplish, and we worked together as a team in ways we haven’t had to before.

 

SOUTHWEST (Amarillo, Santa Fe + the Grand Canyon)

Frankly, we sped through this portion of the trip, attempting to cover as much ground as possible. Our first campground was in Amarillo, Texas, which was over 9 hours from our starting point. Looking back, this was the closest to a dramatic experience that we had throughout all of the campgrounds we stayed at. We went to a first-come, first-served campground and opted for a campsite positioned away from other campers, in a peaceful spot by a river. In theory, that sounded like a brilliant idea — until we were scared out of our minds in the middle of the night, as enormous bugs were swarming around the tent, smashing into the thin barrier between us and this insect infestation. We also had visions of serial killers on the loose, as we realized we were away from our key witnesses happily camping together in a pack just down the road. Thankfully, this was the last time we ever experienced this helpless feeling on the trip!

We spent the next day exploring the city of Santa Fe, a new favorite of mine. This tucked-away Southwestern gem is so full of life, stunning architecture, beautiful art, and a certain warmth (and not just because it was a sunny day). We walked all over town with Olive, focusing our attention on the activity in the square, buzzing with people, music, and artists selling handmade Turquoise. We ate their infamous tamales for dinner, walked inside a beautiful church, ate ice cream, and then headed to our pretty (and surprisingly high elevation) campground in Fenton Lake State Park.

The next day, we headed west, making a quick stop at Four Corners, which we forgot existed until we were passing by it. Our next stop was the Grand Canyon, which was six and a half hours away, so we had to cover ground quickly. We arrived at the Grand Canyon in the early afternoon, and spent several hours exploring this jaw-dropping world wonder. It truly was more unbelievable than I had imagined, and I took hundreds of photos to try and capture what I saw — but I don’t think anyone ever can.

We then made the short drive down to Kaibab Lake Campground in Williams, Arizona for the night. The campground host told us it had just been pouring rain and was going to start raining again the next day, but we didn’t feel a drop of rain while we were there — or at any point on the road trip. We definitely lucked out in the weather department throughout the whole trip!

 

CALIFORNIA (Cathedral City, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, San Francisco, Sacramento/Woodland + Redwood National Park)

California made up the majority of our trip because of the state’s size and the overwhelming amount of things to see and do. We could still be exploring California right now, if we wanted to.

Next, we drove across the desert to stay with my aunt and uncle in Cathedral City. At this point, we were in desperate need of a shower, so this stop could not have come at a more perfect time. We enjoyed an afternoon with my aunt, uncle, cousins and grandma — and even had dinner at Olive Garden. After mostly eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beans and rice cooked on a camp stove, this food was extra heavenly.

We woke up early to eat with my cousin and her husband at the restaurant my grandpa started in Santa Barbara. Sambo’s was a widespread diner chain in the ‘50s through the ‘70s, and its first and last-standing location still exists along the beach in Santa Barbara. It was so good to be reunited with family, see my grandpa’s legacy in action, and show Brandon a piece of my family’s history.

We then headed up the coast (or so we thought) to stay at a campground situated along the ocean in Big Sur. Landslides in the area closed down major portions of Highway 1, which meant our campsite was nearly inaccessible. Instead of our picturesque drive we imagined along the cliffs of the California coast, we had to go inland quite a bit and then wind our way back out to the ocean to Kirk Creek Campground. Our detour added lots of time to the drive, so we barely arrived before sunset and had to set up camp in the dark. However, the uninterrupted view of the stars at night was remarkable, and the early morning sunlight was stunning. The camp host said we were there at an ideal time, because the road closure meant there was no traffic zooming by the campground at night, and the popular and usually-crowded Sand Dollar (Dog!) Beach would be deserted. We had this beautiful beach all to ourselves the next morning before we headed out — and Olive got to run wild in the sand.

San Francisco was our next stop. We ate an amazing lunch at Marlowe, walked between shiny skyscrapers, visited the infamous Pier 39, took pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, drank overpriced juice, admired the pretty houses squished together, and did lots of people-watching all the while. After a full day, we picked up Olive at doggy day camp and then headed to Olema Campground about an hour north of the city.

We then made our way to Sacramento, which was for selfish reasons, as I had spent about a year writing community-based content for a client based in Sacramento. After walking through the capital city, we made a special trip to the small town of Woodland to see our friends who had recently opened up an adorable coffee shop named Morgan’s Mill. It was so good for the soul to see old friends in a new place. We ate lunch with Hillary and Braden Niblock, and reunited with James Morgan and Hunter Beck — and then used their showers (as we hadn’t showered in a few days).

Next, we camped at Standish-Hickey State Park (weird name, pretty park). Our campsite was positioned between four campsites with the same family, who definitely did not follow the “quiet hours” rule. We felt like a grandma and grandpa irritated by loud neighbors, but our sleeping schedule had become very elderly on this trip.

We made the easy drive to the Redwood National Forest in the morning, and experienced our first truly leisurely campground experience. We arrived around 1 p.m. and had the entire afternoon to explore the surrounding groves of towering Redwoods, which were nearly as inspiring as the Grand Canyon. You think you can wrap your mind around the sheer magnitude of those trees, but it’s really impossible.

 

OREGON (Crater Lake + Portland)

After about a week in California, we crossed the border into Oregon, headed towards Crater Lake, which was way more inland than where we were in the Redwood National Park. Our drive took us through some of the most stunning scenery we had seen yet. Vibrant blues, greens and reds whirred past us as we cruised along winding roads lined with towering trees. But nothing prepared us for the views at Crater Lake. The lake water was the most intense, rich blue I had seen in nature — and I took dozens of photos attempting to capture its splendor, but again, I failed.

We made the short drive north to our campground at Silver Falls State Park, which was the nicest campground we had been to yet. In fact, each bathroom got progressively better throughout our trip. On the first couple of nights, you had to hold your breath as you peed in a hole in the ground, and then eventually, we had full-service showers in clean, state-of-the-art bathrooms. At this point, we had given up the possibility of showering, but it’s the thought that counts! (All hail, dry shampoo and baby wipes.)

Our final stop was in Portland, just about an hour north of the campground. While we love Portland and wanted to spend more time there, we were ready to get home at this point. So after walking around town for a bit in the morning and eating lunch, we decided to make the final (and relatively short) three-hour drive to our final destination in Washington!

 

Seattle

We spent the next month-ish at my mom and stepdad’s house in Woodinville, about 20 minutes outside of Seattle. She now lives on the lake that I grew up going to (we had a lake house on the opposite side), so it is always a nostalgic experience going home. Plus, Olive loved running around in the big yard, chasing birds, splashing in the water, and pestering our old dog, Frosty, and my mom’s cats. We got the opportunity to visit several wineries and tasting rooms, and even do our own DIY tastings at home. My mom and Steve always keep us educated about wine.

We also got to visit with my brothers, Adam and Jeremy, and their wives, Anne and Anna, who live just down the road. Going to Adam and Anne’s farm is always an adventure, as you visit with goats, alpacas, donkeys, cats, chickens, and...what else am I missing? We also hopped on a ferry to Poulsbo, where my sister, brother-in-law and their four kids live. They live in such an adorable beach town that feels like it’s from another era. We also spent a few days with my dad and stepmom in Bellingham, which is about an hour and a half north of Seattle, near the Canadian border. They opened a breakfast restaurant a few years back, and it is so fun to see the restaurant’s progress and my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit in action.

During our time in Seattle, my brother, Jeremy, made a joke about buying our FJ Cruiser from us, since we had mentioned we were going to sell it once we moved to Nashville. Long story short, they ended up buying it from us and we bought a new car the day before we left for Nashville! We found an unbelievable deal on a GMC Terrain but had to buy it right before we left, since Washington only gives you a nine-day temporary pass before you must register your vehicle in a different state.

 

Cannon Beach, Oregon

About two weeks into our stay in the Northwest, we went to Cannon Beach, Oregon, with my mom, Steve, Heidi, Sky, and their kids. I grew up going to Cannon Beach every summer since I was 4 months old, so it meant a lot to be back — and this time, with my husband. Adam, Anne, Jeremy and Anna joined us for the weekend, and we all got to hang out as a family in one place. I treasure those rare moments!

Since the early ‘90s, we have stayed at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center, which is essentially a family camp, with programs for both adults and kids. I have countless memories there, so this trip was emotional in both good and bad ways that I did not expect — difficult, as I mourned the loss of my childhood, but positive, as I looked back on those summers with joy.

 

Grants Pass, Oregon

On our way out of the Seattle area, just after we had purchased our car, we went to Grants Pass for our friends’ wedding. Cullen and Kaylee DeHart got married in a beautiful forest-meets-ranch setting alongside a lake in Grants Pass. We stayed with all of our Nashville friends in a giant cabin on the property, so this was like a massive reunion and a preview of what was to come when we moved to Nashville.

 

Heading to Nashville

We then made the trek back to Searcy to pack up all of our belongings, making a stop in Salt Lake City and Denver, where we briefly got to see a few friends. Once in Searcy, we started packing up our things into our moving truck, and made the official move to Nashville on August 25.

What a whirlwind of a summer. But it is certainly one I will never forget. Brandon and I are so thankful that we had this opportunity, and for the incredible ways it strengthened our marriage. We became an unstoppable team, working together to set up camp in the dark, or taking Olive to go to the bathroom in the woods, or figuring out the logistics of selling and buying a car. During the first year of our marriage, we were able to experience this invaluable season of growth, bonding, and carefree adventure.