It’s always fun to compare your best-laid plans to reality. Here are the best-laid plans for RV Trip #2.  I wrote this while nervously eyeballing a foot of snow in the yard. But the weather app delivered: 70-degrees-and-sunny for a spring weekend on the Grasslands.

Trip Goals

  • Procure a meteor shower for my 4-year old, because she asked to “see a shooting star with Mama,” with total confidence that Mama could make that happen
  • Sandwich a little American History between our s’mores
  • Introduce my forest-dwelling cubs to a prairie ecosystem

General Plan

Two nights of boondocking on U.S. Forest Service land in Pawnee National Grasslands.

While camping reviews for the Grasslands range from “okay” to “meh,” I’m convinced we will make this memorable with proper research. And research is my jam.

Out and About

A prairie is not an amusement park. It’s simultaneously vast and subtle. I want my girls to acquire a sense of this: to open up, settle in, and contemplate some grasshoppers.

Trevor Pellerite, quoted here, puts it beautifully:

“If you just get out of your car and look around for 20 seconds, there’s nothing there . . . . But if you spend an hour walking around, you’ll notice there are ants going about their business, and there are grasshoppers on the sunflowers, and there are birds eating all the bugs, and there are five different kinds of raptors, and there are herds of antelope—it’s the fastest animal on the planet, and you get to watch it. It’s just this wide open space where there’s so much going on and it’s all in perfect sync.”

Accordingly, we haven’t planned many “activities.” Instead, my girls are going to be hearing a lot about my great-grandparents who homesteaded the North Dakota prairie, the Land Rush, the Dust Bowl, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Here’s the agenda, such as it is:

Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower:  We’re hoping for the best with this one.

Crow Valley Recreation Area: We’ll spend a couple hours messing around in the day use portion of this picnic area/campground, mostly so I can prate about why the settlers planted trees as windbreaks.

Hiking at the Pawnee Buttes: March to June, some overlooks and trails are closed to protect nesting raptors. The girls will be too wrecked to get up there anyway, if they even complete the 2-mile hike from the trailhead. But we may see some birds, and I’ve already made Child #1 read this brochure about Grassland history and geology.

(possibly) Missile Site Park, Greeley, Colorado: The caretaker offers weekday tours by appointment at this decommissioned 1961 Atlas E missile site. Reportedly, it’s a well-spent hour.  The site also offers dry camping for a small nightly fee, and, improbably, an RV dump, the use of which may-or-may-not be limited to residents of Weld County.

Campsite Activities

(in addition to card games and s’mores)

Shhh. Don’t tell the girls, but I’m surprising them with new kites. A whole prairie full of wind? Kites that cheap? Done.

Child #1 received a remote-control bird from generous grandparents. Experience has shown that this can be used only in tremendously wide-open spaces. We’ll bring that and pray the kids don’t step on rattlesnakes while they are chasing it.

The modeling clay is likely to make a reappearance.

Glamping Equipment

2014 Starcraft Launch 18 BH (with bunks of course, and a rear u-dinette that converts to an adult bed), from these very responsive and and impeccably well-organized private owners on RVShare.com.  Towing with our own SUV.

Area Research

With the girls along, considerations include:

  • Navigating the patchwork of federal, state, and private lands. We’ll rely on the U.S. Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM).
  • Respecting the areas designated for shootingOHV use (in season), and drilling operations.
  • On that last link, thanks to Paul Mags at pmags.com for his thoughtful travel report, and for embedding the Wild Earth Guardians’s map for easy access.
  • Monitoring InciWeb for controlled burn updates. (I heard that. It’s okay, Mom. There’s nothing planned.)
  • Teaching the girls to be “snake-awake” (I heard that, too, Mom. I’m on it.)

As I post this, the trip has been done, and done well. Yay research, but even more so, yay for in-person advice from Grasslands Office in Ault, Colorado.  Thanks to a generous NFS ranger who pointed us to the right places, we outstripped “meh” by miles. Without her, the trip would have been fine, but much different.

Sometimes it’s good to torch the itinerary.

We’ll be seeing the Grasslands again (which means you will, too). They’re a sleeper destination: little-overnighted, other-worldly, and only 2 hours from our house.  I’m giving this one an “unqualified success” sticker.