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Day 13: Nebraska & Colorado

This was a rough day.  We learned a valuable lesson about planning ahead.  So far, we’ve been winging it with the campgrounds, booking them as we roll into town.  That strategy didn’t work out with Denver though.  Find out why by reading below.

 

Day 13 (6/13/14): Omaha, NE | Denver, CO

We’ve been getting better and faster at unhitching the trailer from the truck and hitching it back up.  This morning though, not so much.  Our new slogan is “Camping ain’t easy.” Haha! We ran into a few obstacles.  However, I see them as a challenge to figure out and overcome.  Thinking back to our fun little trip along Lake Michigan where we got stuck on the dead-end street, we focused on the fact that we got through it.  We also reminded ourselves that we can now handle anything that comes our way! Okay…challenge accepted! We figured out the issues we came across and got on the road, leaving Omaha, Nebraska and heading to Denver, Colorado.

Now that we’re towing a 6,800 lb trailer though, our gas mileage has pretty much been cut in half and we can’t go as fast.  Therefore, it’s taking us longer to get from one place to the next as our speed has decreased and now we have to stop for gas every 200 miles.  The drive to Denver took all day and was our least favorite drive so far.  Most of the time we spent driving was in Nebraska, and the area west of Omaha becomes very flat with dryer grasslands.  Once we reached Colorado, I was hoping we would suddenly be in a forest, but that wasn’t the case at all.  Outside of Denver was very dry, flat and dull (a lot like what I initially pictured the Midwest to be like).  But luckily the further we drove into Denver, the nicer it became.

We had wanted to stay in the Denver area for quite a few days, and so far we had been booking overnight campsites as we were pulling into the towns.  We hadn’t had any issues with campsites being booked with no available campsites…until now.  When we were still several hours outside of Denver, I began calling campsites to make a reservation for the next few nights.  But I called all of the campsites in the Denver area (including some pretty far outside of Denver) totaling 18, all of which were completely booked for the weekend!

We were shocked! We assumed there would be ample campgrounds in Denver, but then we realized that it’s summertime, it’s the weekend, AND it’s Father’s Day weekend at that.  All of those factors added up to absolutely no availability.  Lesson learned: try to book at least the weekend campgrounds in advance, especially if it’s a holiday.  It’ll be challenging though because it’s hard to predict when and where we’ll be at any given point.  We like being able to roll into a town, get a feel for it, and then decide if we want to stay to explore it more or continue on to the next place.

IMG_3892That plan obviously didn’t work for Denver though.  We had actually wanted to stay there for several days, but with nowhere to stay for the night, we found a Cracker Barrel to park at and grab a meal while we figured out a back-up plan. Since Cracker Barrel is one of the few places with RV parking, we asked the manager if we could park there overnight, and he kindly agreed to let us stay.⁠ So far, so good, but the story continues…

Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel

Around 1am while trying to sleep in the Cracker Barrel parking lot, my hubby woke up to the RV rocking back & forth. He saw some guys outside by our RV and knew they were up to no good. Turns out, they were trying to rip the license plate off the back of the RV. Justin jumped out of the RV to try to scare them off, but instead, they pulled a knife on him and chased him through the parking lot while I was inside the RV calling 911.

Luckily, the a-holes trying to steal our license plate realized the police were on their way and took off. Thank goodness Justin wasn’t hurt, but by then we were completely traumatized and shaken up. After that, we weren’t in the mood to stay at that particular location and didn’t have many other options at that point. So, unfortunately, we had to cut our visit to Denver short. We took off in the middle of the night heading west on I-70 into the Rocky Mountains where we ended up staying the rest of the night at a hotel in Vail, CO. So bummed that we didn’t get to actually see or experience Denver!

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Days 11-12: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa & Nebraska

We drove through 4 states in one day! That’s our record so far for most states in a single day.  On day 11, we started off in Indiana then drove through Illinois and Iowa and ended up in Nebraska.  It was a productive day! Then day 12 was spent in Omaha, NE taking in the sites of the downtown area.

 

Day 11 (6/11/14): Michigan City, IN | Illinois | Des Moines, IA | Omaha, NE

We had stayed a couple of nights in Michigan City, IN while we visited Chicago.  We left Indiana this morning and headed back through Illinois en route to Iowa.  As we passed the state line between Illinois and Iowa, we drove over a much prettier area of the Mississippi River than the part of the Mississippi River we passed from St. Louis, MO to Illinois.

Once we were in Iowa, we were taken aback at how green and pretty it was with its rolling hills and never-ending crop fields.  I have to say, I’ve been impressed with the scenery in most of the Midwest states we’ve seen so far, especially Iowa.  For some reason, I always pictured the Midwest as consisting of flat, dry, blah grasslands, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how inaccurate my assumption was.  Iowa was a vibrant green with endless rows of crops covering the hillsides.

When I mentioned that there weren’t many trees though, Justin saw it differently.  He said, “If there were a lot of trees, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the landscape of the hills.” Hmmm…good point! Justin’s statement allowed me to truly recognize the hillsides and their enthralling waves of green.  Plus, we haven’t seen mountains since Albuquerque, NM, which helped us enjoy the hilly countryside even more.

We had originally planned on staying the night in Des Moines, Iowa, but when we drove through the downtown area, it was much smaller than we expected.  Actually, to be honest, it was too small for us, and we knew it wasn’t going to be the right place for us.  This was the basis of our decision to continue driving the additional 2 hours to Omaha, Nebraska where we ended up setting up camp for the night.

That night was scary though! There was an intense windstorm, and we literally thought a tornado was on its way if it wasn’t already there.  The entire trailer was shaking back and forth and felt like it would fall apart at any moment.  We kept waiting to hear sirens warning us that a tornado was coming.  I couldn’t sleep for fear that we would be sucked up by the storm like a modern-day Dorothy in our mobile home.

Apparently, I have a new-found phobia of tornadoes ever since we saw the tornado warning in Oklahoma. It was like a light-switch suddenly flipped on, and I realized “Oh yeah…there are tornadoes!” I guess since I had always lived on the west coast and never had to deal with them, I kind of forgot that tornadoes exist. I have since been reminded of them though and don’t want to live anywhere where they’re a possibility.  Luckily, there was no tornado and the wind got better, but overall Nebraska was pretty windy during the time we were there.

*** UPDATE: You may think I was being paranoid about tornadoes, but 3 days after we left Nebraska (on the exact same day I published this post before I even knew about it), there were TWIN TORNADOES barely more than 100 miles from where we had been staying!!! The even crazier part though is that if we had stayed in Iowa for 2 nights and 3 days like we had originally planned, we would have been in Nebraska during the tornadoes!!! We literally got out just in time! You can read about the tornadoes HERE.  ***

 

Day 12: Omaha, NE

Today we decided to explore Omaha, NE.  As we were heading to the downtown area, I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed.  It didn’t seem promising at all.  However, the further east we drove from the I-480, the more appealing it became.  Before I knew it, we were in the Old Market district of downtown with its charming cobblestone streets, historic brick buildings and abundance of eclectic restaurants and shops.

We ate lunch at the Twisted Fork where we had to try the Chicken Fried Bacon with its peppercorn white gravy (good call!).  We drove up to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge to connect two states.  The bridge is suspended over the Missouri river and links Nebraska and Iowa.  We walked across the bridge where we could literally be in two places at once! The state line runs through the middle of the river, so at one point on the bridge, you can stand on both sides of the state line with one foot in Nebraska and the other in Iowa.  How fun is that?! 🙂

From there, we headed over to see the fountain at the nearby Heartland of America Park where we witnessed its towering 300-ft vertical surge of water.  Then on the way back to our campsite, we drove through the Dundee-Happy Hollow Historic District neighborhood to get a peek at Warren Buffett’s home.

Warren Buffett's House
Warren Buffett’s House

We find it fascinating that the billionaire and 3rd richest man in the world still lives in the house he purchased in 1958 for $31,500.  I guess for Mr.Buffett, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I can see why he’s stayed there though.  It’s a lovely older neighborhood with well-maintained homes ranging from quaint cottages to larger more impressive homes.  If I lived in Omaha, that’s definitely where I’d want to be.