‘My kids led me to deserts, mountains, canyons and beaches on an epic US adventure’

Our trip started off as a lockdown project. I set the children up on Google Maps and asked them to devise an American road trip, visiting as many sights as possible in two weeks.

They came up with nine states and 3,600 miles, taking in desolate deserts, snowy mountains, dusty canyons, sunny beaches and an epic abundance of wildlife.

We enlisted the help of Cruise America and The Motorhome Experts to plan our endeavour in a 30ft RV (recreational vehicle), coming up with perfect routes to navigate around areas closed due to snow.

Over this three-part series, we share our awesome adventure, from Los Angeles, California, ending in Denver, Colorado, and exploring Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

And we were boondocking too – dispersed camping off the beaten track.

As the sun set over the surf of Huntington Beach, Orange County, in glorious 100F (38C) heat, we knew this was the start of something special.

Our RV was a real home-from-home, spacious with two double beds (one above the driver’s cab), a gas hob, microwave, toilet, shower, generator and heater.

Driving into Joshua Tree National Park, a large hare got caught in our headlights, running for a mile ahead of us until it remembered the roadside.

We camped in a quiet pull-out under the stars and rose before sunrise to hike the Lost Horse Mine trail.

An eerie, inky light filled the sky as silhouetted trees, recognisable from a certain U2 album, appeared like an army of shadow warriors, waving their spiky fists up at the sun as it rose.

Breakfast was pancakes cooked at Keys View, soaking up the 50-mile vista of Palm Springs and Coachella Valley before exploring the intriguing Skull Rock and Hall of Horrors formations.

For us, this trip was all about the journey, not just the destinations.

Crossing the Arizona border, we jumped on to the iconic Route 66 and braved the famous Sidewinder at Oatman, a Wild West town where burros (donkeys) roam the streets.

Not for the faint-hearted, this crazy road features 191 turns in eight miles with no guard rail through the mountain!

The Disney-Pixar film Cars is all about how places like Oatman became ghost towns when the interstate freeway was installed in the 1950s.

Seligman, the inspiration for the movie, looks like something from the film set with character murals, a classic motel, and a car and bike museum.

That evening, we stocked our RV’s fridge-freezer to last us a fortnight then, thanks to Walmart welcoming overnight campers, spent the night in the car park.

I never imagined I’d get to walk on hardened lava from a volcano but that’s exactly what you can do at Sunset Crater. It’s incredible.

We picnicked among the hardy flora that resolutely grew through the two-mile blackened rubble, transforming it into a pretty landscape in the heart of the forest.

Passing old-fashioned stop-offs like Hank’s Trading Post and Easy Joe’s Saloon and Navajo Indian trading stalls, the vista changed as we headed north into canyon land. Rock walls surrounded the valley layered with pink, grey, green, red and orange.

Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona
120 miles (2hrs)

Formed five million years ago, when the Colorado Plateau uplifted and trapped the river, the water cut through layers of sandstone resulting in a 1,000ft-deep, 270 degree, U-shaped bend in the canyon that looks stunning as the sun dips behind it. Free to visit, you just pay $10 to park.

We found a nearby spot to sleep overnight so that we could be up early to go to Lower Antelope Canyon.

Inside this underground, mile-long slot canyon, there’s fairy-tale magic in every nook and cranny as the sun glints through the cracks, creating a kaleidoscope of natural colours.

High winds and 60mph flash floods have carved the walls over millions of years, the vivid purples and fuchsias conjured through a mix of iron oxide deposits and sand.

If you look closely you can make out shapes that look like an Indian chief, a lady in the wind, a lion’s head and a seahorse.

Seeing really was believing although you may recognise this canyon from Microsoft’s screensaver. Yes, those photos are real.

You can only visit with a tour guide (and not in August when flooding is most prevalent). In 2013, its 40ft depths filled right to the top with water. There are ropes to get people out quickly, should the rain come.

It’s an absolute must-see but be sure to book in advance. The hour-long tour cost $50 for adults and $30 for children plus Navajo tax.

Under-eights and over-65s are not allowed due to the number of steps in and out of the cavern.

Crossing the state line into Utah, we lost an hour due to the time difference as we passed the red rock towers of Monument Valley and Mexican Hat, with its rock seemingly balancing on top.

We slept amid the red mountains in Moab, where we saw a beaver, then headed out as there was a Jeep Festival on.

The landscape changed like chapters in a book. We now found ourselves in cowboy country with large stretches of rugged, flat, grazing plains, Palomino horses and ranches with cattle horns above the gateway.

Driving over the snowy 8,000ft elevation of Douglas Pass, we had a heart-in-mouth moment when we realised we were horribly low on fuel.

I have never been so pleased to see a petrol station when we crawled into the next town!

The stunning 91-mile Flaming Gorge Reservoir is filled with crystal blue waters and surrounded by red rocks and lush green land.

We booked into a campground here so we could empty the waste, charge using the electric hook-up and refill the water tank in preparation to head into the wilderness.

The next morning, we discovered coyote and bobcat footprints all around our RV! A sunrise walk was spookily fun as we spotted some very large prints along the way.

We didn’t see a bear this time, but it wasn’t long until we stumbled upon a grizzly…

USA RV ROAD TRIP TIPS
Buy a second-hand US West road map for £3 on eBay, highlight your route, and mark off stops along the way.

Take walkie-talkies for reversing the RV and to avoid expensive phone bills.

Buy a National Parks annual pass for $80 on arrival to give the whole family unlimited access to more than 2,000 federal reserves including Joshua Tree, Sunset Crater, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Devil’s Tower.

BOOK IT

The Motorhome Experts offer USA road trips with rental of a Cruise America RV on a Flex Plan starting from around £326 a week for basic rental. Flights/fuel not included.

We stopped for a barbecue next to the dam, watching the most extraordinary sight – hundreds of prehistoric-looking ospreys with six-foot wingspans diving into the water to fish. Magnificent.
We stopped for a barbecue next to the dam, watching the most extraordinary sight – hundreds of prehistoric-looking ospreys with six-foot wingspans diving into the water to fish. Magnificent.