Our story begins, as many stories have recently begun, with a pandemic. For Christmas 2019, we decided to eschew the typical Christmas gifts and give our kids (from 14yo to 26yo at the time) a number of "experiences" that we would do together as a family in 2020. This included things like a trip to New York City, a water park trip, and many more. What a great idea, right? We thought so, too... until COVID showed up and cancelled almost all of them! Needless to say, we were all pretty bummed. As the pandemic progressed into the summer, my longing to camp grew, although my wife had little interest in outdoor living without air conditioning. This led me to start my search for something that had been on my personal wish list for years: a pop-up camper. In my mind, it was the perfect compromise; it was not far off from tent camping unlike many of the hard-sided campers, while at the same time offering may of the "creature comforts" like air conditioning for the rest of my family who preferred less "rustic" accommodations. After finding an excellent deal on a well-maintained 1997 Coleman Bayport on Facebook Marketplace, my wife and I conspired to do something drastic. We were going to make up for all the missed experiences by planning a three-week, epic, great American cross-country road trip during our school system's winter break! Once we acquired the new-to-us camper in early August, we set about planning our epic adventure. We planned to leave on December 19, 2020, and we knew we needed to return before January 10, 2021 for the kids to return to school the next week. I purchased an annual subscription to roadtrippers.com, and we began laying out our trip. After prepping the camper by repacking the bearings and replacing all tires, getting a Mr. Heater Big Buddy to solve for heat, purchasing an annual pass for the National Parks, getting our TV (a 2016 Ford Transit) set up with a hitch, and collecting all of our essentials, we were ready to hit the road. FB_IMG_1608697241356 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:30 PM The first leg of our journey started from our home in Winston-Salem, NC heading west across Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the northern tip of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before reaching Zion National Park in Utah. On the way, we saw the impressive faux Parthenon in Nashville, marveled at the size of the Mississippi River, and discovered an endless array of windmills. We also stopped at Horseshoe Bend, which was much larger than we expected! Sadly, Antelope Canyon was not open for visitors at the time. We did stop at some historic route 66 sites, like the Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch. We tried our first Whataburger (big winner for all), although most of our meals were from our own supplies we carried with us and refilled at grocery stores. We stopped at a few different campsites, but our favorite locations were dispersed sites I found either through campendium.com or the iOverlander app. We arrived in Zion on 12/23 and stayed at the Watchman campground through Christmas. None of us had ever been this far west before, and the open land was breathtaking. Camping in Zion valley exceeded expectations; the light on the rock walls around us in both morning and evening was stunning. PXL_20201221_140618103 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:31 PM PXL_20201219_213320527 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:30 PM PXL_20201219_175910748 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:30 PM PXL_20201221_211636626 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:31 PM PXL_20201223_210733666 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:31 PM PXL_20201225_162225362 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:31 PM After leaving Zion, we continued west through Nevada, following the Loneliest Highway in America. When we reached California, we diverted north into Oregon enough to circle around and come down to the Jedediah Smith State Park, famous for its massive redwood trees. Not only did we love being in such a jungle-like atmosphere with some of the world's largest trees all around us, but we were only a few miles away from Crescent City, where we got to experience our first Pacific Ocean sunset. No filters were needed on the photos we took there! PXL_20201228_164202252 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:32 PM PXL_20201228_175624538 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:32 PM PXL_20201228_175143383 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:32 PM PXL_20201230_010049428 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:33 PM PXL_20201227_193821031 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:32 PM 20201228_135927 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:30 PM After staying a few days, we continued our journey down the coast, across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, before finally turning toward the east. With the shutdowns, our goal was to get all the way to Nevada, as there wasn't anyplace for us to stop and stay in the central or southern CA area. We made it to Las Vegas, where we stayed the night at a casino hotel, and we saw the lights of Vegas at night. The next day (after we did successfully net $40 at the casino - winner winner!), we visited the Hoover Dam, which was honestly much more interesting than I expected. I think I was just expecting a big dam and nothing more, but the architecture was impressive. After that, we continued our drive to get to the Grand Canyon's southern rim on New Year's Eve. We arrived later than expected, and paid the price. There was snow on the ground, and the Mather Campground was full. Thankfully there was an RV campground just outside the National Park which was pretty empty, not ridiculously overpriced, and even included hookups, which Mather did not have. We also got a little stuck in a snow drift while I was backing up with the camper, but thanks to some newly-acquired snow chains and a friendly ranger, we were able to get out of a jam. The Grand Canyon was impressive, but it was also the coldest place we stayed the entire trip, which surprised me. On the coldest night, it dropped to 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty chilly for a pop-up! Thankfully, our Big Buddy did not let us down! PXL_20210101_214706383 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:33 PM PXL_20210103_002336842 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:36 PM PXL_20201231_203400100 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:33 PM PXL_20201230_213949280 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:33 PM After staying at the Grand Canyon for a few days, we continued to Alamogordo, NM and did some sledding at the bright white gypsum sand dunes at White Sands National Monument. We also discovered the World's Largest Pistachio, and picked up some petrified wood at a kitschy "museum" (gift shop) outside the Petrified Forest National Park. Our next stop was at Carlsbad Caverns, also in NM, which was another impressive National Park destination. 20210104_124209 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:30 PM PXL_20210104_172734823 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:36 PM PXL_20210105_170444532 by theatleeclan posted Jan 18, 2021 at 8:36 PM By this time, we were well into our third week, and frankly, we were all looking forward to getting home and sleeping in our own beds. With some adjustments to our itinerary, we were able to complete our journey back through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina in a day less than planned. While the trip was long, and there was certainly conflict along the way with seven of us under the same roof, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. We saw and experienced so many new things, I am confident our whole family will remember this trip for the rest of our lives.