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Two months, 15,000+ miles — Part 1: The United States

NOTE: This is part 1 of a two-part series outlining travel plans for the summer of 2015. First we move across country, then comes Part 2: Backpacking Europe. Check back for updates.

I’ve got a two month window before I need to act like an adult again. Before starting a new job in mid-July, my wife and I hope to make the most of this adult summer vacation and cover some ground. By my calculations we’ll transverse more than 15,500 miles over the course of 60 days, from trucking our meager belongings back across the U.S. to spending a month backpacking around Europe. Here are plans for the first leg of that journey, driving California to Tennessee.

Part 1: Moving cross country from Redding, CA to Knoxville, TN

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again: We’re about to camp most nights on a cross-country move.

Sure, it’s a decision that’s probably not the right fit for everyone, and it does take a bit more planning than just booking a hotel room, but if you’re ballin’ on a budget like we are it’s a fun, memorable, and only kind of stressful way to save some big bucks on the road to starting anew.

Fortunately the United States — especially out west — has a huge cross section of national forests, national parks, state parks and other wilderness or protected areas to choose from. We’ve opted for mostly state parks on this route, mainly because they offer more developed camping options and aren’t far out of the way.

Between two people we’ll be transporting three vehicles 2,500+ miles across the U.S. in about five days. Our 16-foot Penske moving truck will tow one of our cars and we’ll drive the other. We’ll also be riding shotgun with a 60-pound pit bull, a diva tabby cat and a 17-year-old ball python named Michelle.

With that said, it’s important to plan a moving trip like this knowing you’ll have a trailer hitched to the back of a big, yellow box truck that you’re not at all comfortable navigating through tight turns or cramped spaces (at least that’s the case for me!). Pick campgrounds that let you reserve a site in advance, and make sure you book a pull through-type campsite so you don’t get stuck in a situation where you need to hit reverse out of a parking space or campsite.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Rock_Canyon_State_Park,_CA.jpg#/media/File:Red_Rock_Canyon_State_Park,_CA.jpg
“Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA” by Thomas from USA – Red Rock CanyonUploaded by PDTillman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  1. Redding, CA > Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA: 7 hr, 45 min
    Cost: $25-$37 a night
    Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=631
    Our first stop of the trip is probably the weakest link in my plan. Red Rock Canyon State Park looks like a cool place to visit, and that could prevent a problem since they don’t take reservations in advance. If the campsites fill up we’ll be SOL, and there are likely far fewer pull-through sites than the 50 total campsites listed online. The nightly fee is also kind of expensive and the park charges $6 for each extra vehicle. In this case we have a fall-back plan to camp at the Grass Valley Wilderness Area, a swath prairie run by the Bureau of Land Management only another 15-20 minutes down the road. From what I can tell from the website, camping is allowed, though there are no developed campsites (or nightly fees!).

    "Visitor Center, Homolovi State Park, Winslow AZ" by John Phelan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Visitor_Center,_Homolovi_State_Park,_Winslow_AZ.jpg#/media/File:Visitor_Center,_Homolovi_State_Park,_Winslow_AZ.jpg
    “Visitor Center, Homolovi State Park, Winslow AZ” by John Phelan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  2. Red Rock Canyon State Park (CA) > Homolovi State Park (AZ): 7 hr, 10 min
    Cost: $18-$38
    Website: http://azstateparks.com/parks/horu/facilities.html
    A stop steeped in history, the Homolovi State Park includes more than 300 Puebloan ruins. Pretty cool, right? Even better you can reserve your campsite online (for a $5 fee) and they offer a map that clearly shows which sites have pull-through parking. A basic tent camping site cost $18 a night, plus $5 to reserve online. However, the park also charges $15 per extra vehicle. But there is this confusing chart online that seems to say you don’t have to pay the extra $15 if the cars/drivers have the same address. I plan to call before making final arrangements. Our backup site is the Bonito Campground in the Coconino National Forest just outside of Flagstaff, or possibly the Flagstaff KOA.

    "Palo Duro Canyon 1" by Clinton Steeds from Los Angeles, USA - DCP_4415. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palo_Duro_Canyon_1.jpg#/media/File:Palo_Duro_Canyon_1.jpg
    “Palo Duro Canyon 1” by Clinton Steeds from Los Angeles, USA – DCP_4415. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  3. Homolovi State Park (AZ) > Palo Duro State Park (TX): 8 hr
    Cost: $19-$29
    Website: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon
    We decided not to detour to the Grand Canyon because it was a bit too far out of the way — every extra mile cost money, especially in a 16-foot moving truck. But the Palo Duro State Park in Texas seemed like a good alternative. It’s the second-largest canyon in the U.S., and you can make reservations online. It’s online booking system isn’t quite as easy to use as Homolovi’s so I still need to call and make sure we can claim a site that fits our needs. I’ll just add that to the to-do list…

    "Revised, Ruston, LA water tower IMG 5646" by Billy Hathorn (talk) - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Revised,_Ruston,_LA_water_tower_IMG_5646.JPG#/media/File:Revised,_Ruston,_LA_water_tower_IMG_5646.JPG
    “Revised, Ruston, LA water tower IMG 5646” by Billy Hathorn (talk) – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  4. Palo Duro State Park (TX) > Ruston, LA: 9 hr, 30 min
    Cost: Free!
    Website: N/A
    Yay for family! We’ll be staying with my wife’s aunt, uncle, and cousins on our stop in Ruston, Louisiana. That’s part of the reason we chose this exact route as well as going through the Atlanta area, where Melissa and I grew up and most of our family still lives.

    What is that? Is that Atlanta in the distance? I think it is. Photo via Clay Duda's long-lost iPhone 4s.
    What is that? Is that Atlanta in the distance? I think it is. Photo via Clay Duda’s long-lost iPhone 4s.
  5. Ruston, LA > Powder Springs, GA: 7 hr, 40 min
    Cost: Free!
    Website: N/A
    Again, yay family! We’ll be staying with the ‘rents in P-Town for a night before making a one-day round trip up to Knoxville and back to drop all our gear in storage. We’ll also turn in our rented moving truck there and drive that car we’ve been towing back down to the ATL.

    "Knoxville-from-sharps-ridge-tn2" by Brian Stansberry - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knoxville-from-sharps-ridge-tn2.jpg#/media/File:Knoxville-from-sharps-ridge-tn2.jpg
    “Knoxville-from-sharps-ridge-tn2” by Brian Stansberry – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  6. Powder Springs, GA > Knoxville, TN (and back): 3 hr each way
    Cost: Free!
    Website: N/A
    We’ll still have seven weeks before officially calling Knoxville home, but we need to be able to hit the ground running once we make it back to the states in July. So we’re dumping our gear and furniture there now to avoid having to rent another truck and move things again once we return.

Once all of the moving stuff is done we’ll have a few weeks to kick it before heading to the Euro Zone. Expect updates on those plans soon. In the meantime we’ll be zipping up to North Carolina for a wedding, hitting the Georgia coast to see more family and get a sunburn, and hopefully doing a bunch of other stuff we haven’t made official plans for yet.

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.