After a couple of club outings in 1976, Phyllis and Bob Smith were talking about a trip cross-country to the East Coast.  It sounded like fun and we were planning to go after we received the Ford truck that Van had ordered.  We still were having problems with the Dodge truck and we had put a lot of mileage on it.  In the five years that we had it, we put over 78,000 miles.  A father of a friend of Carl’s  wanted to buy it.  He said he thought he knew what the problem was and that he could fix it.  We were happy to see it go.  It always seemed to have the red light on for overheating, but never overheated.  We tried everything but no luck.  One big scare was driving across South Dakota and it was 103°. We had the windows opened to get the breeze because we were afraid to put the air on.  The truck was a lemon from the beginning.  We hoped we would have better luck with the new truck. This one was called a club cab.  It had a seat in the rear of the cab, and room for passengers.


Before we left on our trip, Mary was expecting her second child sometime in February.  Bob was waiting for new orders, so he hoped they would be delayed.  AnnaMarie was born February 5th and she had a breathing problem so she was transferred from Grossmont Hospital to Children’s Hospital.  When she was released Mary wanted to stay with us, which she did.  Bob had to ship out, so Mary stayed here when we left on our trip with the Smiths.  She was with us a month or so before we left so she had time to get settled.  We were going to just lock up the house this trip, but since Mary wanted to stay here near her family, we agreed.  AnnaMarie was doing very well when we left so we didn’t hesitate to go. 


After giving the new truck trial runs with the club outings, it was time to get ready for our cross-country trip.  The Smiths had a motor home and we had the truck and our Ideal trailer. Phyllis and Bob are very congenial people and we always had a good time with them.  Phyllis was trying to loose weight, and every morning she did her exercises before we began our trip.  The first morning we met them on the viewpoint near Alpine and Bob led the way.  We used the CB to keep in touch with one another.


Our first stop was Benson, AZ, where the Lavender Pit Mine was located.  We had been here before when it was a working copper mine, but now it was a tourist stop.  They had tours that went down in the mine where the huge trucks whose wheels are triple the size of me, were on inspection.  From the bottom of the pit, you could see where the truck went around the pit in circles.  This was where they found turquoise and other precious stones. They found the gems after digging for copper for many years.  After our tour, we went to have lunch at the Copper Queen Hotel.  It was a real old–fashioned hotel, built sometime in the late 1890’s.


Our next stop would be Big Bend National Park in Texas, a two-day trip from Benson.  We drove on the main highway and after a night’s stay at Van Horn, TX, we took a country road.  No traffic at all.


We arrived at Big Bend and signed up for our spots at Rio Grande Village.  It was prettier than where we stayed last time.  Lots of trees and near the Rio Grande River.  The river in this area is very narrow and not very deep, almost like a creek.  Sandy was having a rough time because there were coyotes and other animals that would travel through the campground and she was ready to go after them.  There were also some javelinas now and then passing by.  They look like pigs, but are bigger and black and could be dangerous.  When we went off anywhere, we had to lock Sandy in the trailer.


Bob decided that he wanted some Mexican food and he found out that there was a place across the river at a little Mexican town called Boquilas.  We walked to the edge of the river and a young boy was there with a Banca, a real small boat.  We took turns crossing the river and, on the other side, they had mules to ride to town on. Phyllis, Bob and Van got on their mules very easily, but my mule wouldn’t stand still.  Well, I finally got on him with the help of the young boy and he held and was guiding the mule.  We came to a sandy spot that sloped about 15 inches.  Well, the mule started to run and I fell off of him.  Thank goodness for the sand, and it was the only spot of sand in the whole area.  I was okay but I would not get on the mule again, so I walked the mile to the restaurant while the others rode their mules.  Van walked with me on the way back, but Bob and Phyllis did great on their mules.


I didn’t think that I hurt myself until I tried to get out of bed the next morning.  My ribs were hurting, but Phyllis with all her Girl Scout training checked me and said that I didn’t break anything, just strained my ribs.  The only time my ribs really hurt was when I got into bed and when I tried to get up.  That went on for about 5 days.


We stayed at Big Bend Park for a couple of more days, then we moved on to Lantry, TX and stopped to visit the museum of Judge Roy Bean, who they called the Law West of the Pecos. It was only a shed, the size of a garage, with a bar on one side of the room and table and chairs on the other. He was quite a man in his day.  From there, we traveled on to San Antonio.  We went to Mass in one of the oldest church in the area, very missionary style, long and narrow.  Very quaint and inspirational.


While we were there, we went to the Long Horn Museum where they had everything made out of horns.  There were picture frames and all kinds of furniture; something one doesn’t see every day.  It was right next door to the Long Horn Beer Brewery.  We also took a tour that included a boat ride down the river in the middle of the city and an old quarry that they had made into a beautiful garden.  We were really enjoying our trip and it was more fun having others to share the good times with.


From there, we detoured to Padre Island National Park.  We heard so much about it, and from there, to Galveston, TX and Lafayette, LA, where we went to a local restaurant.  All the natives were eating crayfish served heaping full on large 15 in. trays.  They all wore bibs because it was very messy eating, but they were enjoying their dinner.  It was something to see, but we northerners just ate regular food and enjoyed the sight.


Our next stop was New Orleans.  A RV friend had told us about a park that was very nice and near everything, so we found Parc D’Orleans and signed up for four nights.  We settled in for the night early because we were rather tired.  We were sleeping real well when we heard all this noisy racket.  We had no idea what it was and it went on most of the night.  The next morning, the Smiths and us were discussing the noise and we soon found out that we were parked right next door to a train changing area.  Now we knew why the wall of cement was built so high.  Then Phyllis remembered that the gent that told us about the park wore hearing aids, and he didn’t hear the noise at night.


We didn’t let the noise spoil our trip.  We took a tour of the city and a tour of the French Quarters at night.  We also took a boat ride up the Mississippi River and saw some of the old beautiful mansions on both sides of the river.  They are all been repaired and made to look like people live in them, but are all just show places now.  We also took a nightclub tour in the French Quarter.  Wasn’t very good.


We were there on Easter Sunday, so we wanted to go to Mass at St Louis Cathedral.  The early Masses were crowded and delayed all the Masses.  Phyllis and Bob said they found a church that they would go to.  When we did come out after Mass, we found them already waiting for us.  They found the church okay and were going to enter when they realize that it was a black church.  Not a white person there.  We took a walking tour of the French Quarter, then went back to get ready to move the next day and, hopefully, to a quiet campground.


Alabama was our next stop at Gulf Shores National Park.  The beach is right on the Gulf of Mexico and it is a beautiful beach.  Lots of beach and a huge beach building, but no customers yet.  It was still too cold for swimming.  But it was one of the prettiest beaches we’ve seen.  Some years later, they had a hurricane and it destroyed the whole beach area.


From there, we went to Port of St. Joseph, FL on the Gulf of Mexico.  We stayed there for 4 nights, then traveled to the Manatee State Park where we saw the manatees,.  funny looking big water animals.  They had a swimming hole; I guess you would call it, about l5 ft round.  Van and Phyllis had to try it.  They drove in and said it was freezing cold and it looked like it was bottomless, they could see the bottom, but couldn’t reach it.  It was a small park and not too many people there, but there were raccoons and they were very friendly. Next stop would be Sarasota, FL.


We stayed a month at the Sun N’ Fun Campground, but Bob wasn’t feeling very well and Phyllis said they were going to leave.  She drove the motorhome as well as Bob.  She said they would go to the Mayo Clinic in New York State.  He had been feeling poorly for so long that she wanted to find out just what was wrong.  We hated to have them leave, but we’d see them again when we returned home. 


We played Bingo like before and visited with Pat and John and Mom and Bill.  The weather was good and we enjoyed ourselves there.  From Sarasota, we headed for Summerton, SC, to visit Irene and George.  While there, we went to Florence SC where they had a dental clinic where they extracted the teeth and put false ones in right away. The clinic was the talk of the nation, so I became a patient, but like anything else, it didn’t work for me.  Went back to Irene for a couple of weeks.  While there, we received the news that Dorrie had a baby girl of July 13, 1976, and she would name her Regina. After hearing the new, we headed for Des Moines. IA.  Traveled though Tennessee where there were a number of nice campgrounds. This was the area that usually had lots of floods and when FDR was president, he formed the Tennessee Valley Authority and built large dams, etc. to stop the flooding.  We continued on our way to Des Moines and the Griggs.  We parked on their side lawn and stayed about l0 days.  We met the whole family and they love playing card game.  Sometimes there were about seven of us playing and having lots of laughs.  Jack’s mother was living then and she was a busy woman.  She did a lot of quilting and made some wonderful quilts and she was always busy working in her garden.


From Iowa, we decided that we would travel across Minnesota and down to South Dakota to Keystone and camp there for a couple of days.  We visited Mount Rushmore and drove to where they are carving Chief Crazy Horse out of the mountainside.  They started carving the statue many years before and now in 2002 they are almost finished.  The father who started the carving died many years ago, but his boys have been continuing the carving.  It is huge and unbelievable.


From there, we continued our journey to Colorado Springs, CO, where we rode the cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak.  It is so steep that you are almost laying forward on the way up.  We stayed at the Garden of the Gods campground and every night the owner would give a little talk about the sites to see that are free.  We always thought that we would go back there again, but we never did.


We continued our journey across Colorado and stayed one night at Montrose before going south on the Million-Dollar Highway.  The highway received that name because it cost a million dollars for every mile.  We started out climbing very slowly and the truck and the trailer were slowing down.  We never realized that this road climbed to over 11,000 ft.  The top is called Red Mountain Pass, the scenery was beautiful, but we never dreamed that this road would go so high. But after the Pass, it descended and we reached Durango without any problems.  We heard all the stories about the highway after we arrived in Durango.  We stayed two nights because we wanted to ride the Durango and Silverton narrow track train.  We went from Durango to Silverton and back to Durango.  Very interesting train ride, very high in the mountains, and the tracks were close  to the edge and the train had many riders.  Silverton was an old mining town, now only for tourists.  While in Durango, we drove to Mesa Verde National Park where old Indian dwellings had been found where the Indian built their housing into the side of the mountains.  Our next stop would be Grand Canyon, AZ.

Silverton-Durango Railroad


We had no problem getting a spot at the Grand Canyon Campground.  Every thing seemed to going okay until the next morning when Van said that he didn’t feel good.   He called the Camp Hospital and talked to the nurse and she suggested that since he was near home to leave right away and get help at home.  So that is what we did.  We took what we felt was a short cut, driving down the Prescott road.  I remember driving up that hill in 1966, but going down with a trailer is something else. Every time Van put the brakes on, the truck would slow down fine, but the brakes on the trailer would squeak.  He finally got down the hill and driving on flat ground was great.  We stayed the night at Holtville and he had someone to come out and check the brakes. We would have another hill to climb in California, called Mountain Springs Grade, which is about 8 miles up, and a 6% grade, but you feel better if you have good brakes on both vehicles.  We arrived home safely and we both can remember that he was in the Naval Hospital, but neither remember how he got there since I never drive the truck, He recovered from whatever it was and we continued to enjoy our camping life.

The irony of the whole thing is that after we arrived back home, our next-door neighbor, Howard Armstrong, told us that he and his family had just returned from the Grand Canyon.  He arrived at the campground one hour before we did and he left one hour after we did!  If we had only known, we would have had someone to give us some support.  Not only that, but we had planned to stay at least one week at the canyon, but since Van got sick we left early.  Had we stayed at the canyon and came home as we had planned, we would not have been able to get home.  There was an earthquake and Mountain Springs Grade was completely destroyed, we would have had to find another way to get home.  We were very lucky that we arrived home when we did and able to get Van to the doctors.  He stayed in the hospital and whatever it was that made him sick, was taken care of and he came home feeling good again.  But it scared us both just the same, but very thankful that we had special help from our Guardian Angels who had us arrive home when we did.


updated: 20.11.2011