Changing Plans

Of course, sometimes the best laid plans have problems, so you need to be flexible. As we were planning our trip in the summer of 2021, we noticed a big one. Our two top destinations, the Kennedy Space Center and the Johnson Space Center, would be packed with people. And they are in two of the worst states for the delta variant of Covid-19, Florida and Texas. That is when we decided to put the NASA trip on hold at this time, but we have all of the planning we did saved in our Google drive, so it isn’t wasted. Maybe in 2023 we can try again. But then what to do in 2022? One of the big reasons for planning a winter trip is to get away from the cold winters in Michigan, and there are basically two ways to get warm. One is the Southwest, and the other is Florida. We would not go to Florida this time because we don’t think it is safe, so that left the Southwest. We did a trip out that way in 2017, when we took our niece along and visited the Grand Canyon and some of the Utah parks before going into Colorado. There is still a lot of stuff we didn’t get to see, and we would love to check it out. Step one was to compile some data on average temperatures so we could know which places are most likely to be warm in January or February, and again a Google Sheet was the solution.

Winter Temperatures in Western Cities
Winter Temperatures in Western Cities

To get the data, we would just search for “Average January temperature in (name of city)”. The Google result always brought back the high and low temps for the three months January, February, and March, so populating this spreadsheet probably didn’t take much longer than 25 minutes. The first thing we noticed is that the Utah parks are all pretty cold. This was not surprising, because elevation plays a big role, and all of Utah is on the Colorado Plateau, and probably avarges 10,000 feet (3 kilometers) above sea level. And Utah has a reputation for winter sports, and even hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002, and is slated to host again in 2030. Similarly, three of the places in New Mexico are in the mountains and are fairly cold. But Las Cruces is in the most southern part of the state, near Mexico, and looks like a decent possiblity. But the best is Arizona and southern California. Yuma has an average high in January of 71 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), and most of the rest of Arizona looks good (Flagstaff is in the mountains), and southern California looks pretty temperate for winter temperatures. So if we want to go there, is there anything we want to see on the way? We consulted our map of U.S. National Parks and Monuments, and noted that Big Bend National Park in Texas is on the way. That was on our list of places to check out, so we set that as our first major stop. In the previous lesson I did an example of how to plan a trip just using Google Maps. This time, I want to try RV Trip Wizard, an app that comes bundled in the RV Life paid membership. I want to get used to it because a lot of the RVers I follow on YouTube and in newsletters recommend it highly, and it does seem like it has a lot of features. For instance, Google maps does not have any settings for RVs that let you check height and weight limitations. Height is the biggest one, and my 13 foot (4 meters) high RV is not going to survive an encounter with a 12 foot (3 2/3 meters) high bridge.

RV Trip Wizard is available as an app for smartphones and tables, as well as a Web site. For ease of use I am doing the planning on the Web site since that lets me use my large 32-inch (81 centimeters) diagonal screen. So I went to the site at https://www.rvtripwizard.com/app, logged in, and got to work. You get a three-pane view when you are on a the web site on a computer. The left pane is the trip details, the middle is the map, and the right is the Reseach pane. Step one is to click the New Trip button in the upper left, in the Trip pane, and then enter your starting location, which for us is our home in Michigan. Then click on the Wrench icon in the Trip pane, and select Trip Settings. Here you can enter the height, length, and weight of your RV, and you can also enter truck information for your tow vehicle. Then in the Routing & Driving you can set how you want your route done. You can avoid tolls, avoid unpaved roads, etc. Then I made settings for how much driving I would allow. I set mine to 60 miles per hour (96 kph) because speed is how most RVs get into trouble. I have a good cruise control in this truck and plan to use it. I’ll just stay in the slow lane as much as possible. BTW, if I need to pull out and pass, my Freightliner truck has what it takes to do it. I then set my max driving time each day for 5 hours, and a maximum of 300 miles (483 kilometers). Towing a big trailer with a big truck is tiring, and you need to be alert the whole time. Bear in mind that these settings are for planning purposes, and you can always override them. What they will do is draw a circle on the map that you can use for planning.

In the center pane is the map display, and it looks like they get the mapping from Google. I zoomed out until I saw my planning circle.

RV Trip Wizard Map with Planning Circle
RV Trip Wizard Map with Planning Circle

The map in in the center is where we live, and from this I can see that we could comfortably drive to Toronto in a day, but that is the opposite direction for what we want. Instead, I am looking at Indiana and Kentucky. The other icons are all campgrounds of one kind or another, and if you zoom in even more will appear. It can get confusing, but in the Right pane you can refine this. Click Map Settings, and a Pop Up window will open. In this, I have turned on the button for Show Campgrounds. But on the right pane I can refine this in the Parks tab. I can narrow this down by Park type (Commercial private parks vs. State or National parks), Park Rating (RV Life also has a Campground Reviews app which I think is the source of this, so it is other campers), Park features (e.g. Pets Allowed, Big Rig Access), Hookups, Amenities (e.g. restrooms, laundry, showers) , Pricing, Recreation (e.g. pools, recreation trails), and finally Brands, Clubs and Memberships. You can decide which of these matter to you. In our case, we mostly want Hookups, Park Features (for our Big Rig Access) and Memberships for the portion of the trip where we are driving every day to get to our remote destination. At any time you change these settings, so when you get to the first long stop where you will spend a week or two, you can start looking at other factors like rating and price. The technique is that you zoom in then select your filters. As we saw last time, Terre Haute, Indiana was a reasonable one-day drive from our home, so I centered the map on Terre Haute and zoomed in. You will know you have zoomed in enough when you can start adding filters. They will show in red on the bottom of the Right pane. As I add filters, of course the options start to be fewer. I filtered on Big Rig access and Full Hookups, and saw about a half-dozen options in the Terre Haute area. At this point, you can click on each of the Campground icons and get more details. There is one in Terre Haute that is pretty highly rated, but also more expensive. But since we are only going to stay the night and drive off in the morning, we don’t need much. There were no Passport American campgrounds shown, but there is a Good Sam, and we have that membership as well. I clicked on the Icon, then clicked on Add to Trip, and now it is my first stop. Looking at the Trip pane on the left, it is now the #2 entry after our starting location, and it tells me we will drive 311 miles and it should take 5 hours and 10 minutes of driving. And a bonus is that the park appears to have pull-through sites, which means we can pull in and just hook up without removing the truck from the RV and hit the road quickly in the morning.

At this point, I can click on the Center button in the Campgorund popup window, and now I have a new circle centered on this campground.

RV TGrip Wizrd map centered on first stop
RV TGrip Wizrd map centered on first stop

This means I can start planning for Day 2 of our trip, headed for Big Bend National Park.

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